Losing at The Emirates Stadium wasn’t a shock, but to go through an entire match without a period of sustained pressure on the Arsenal goal was as infuriating as it was predictable. At Old Trafford in October we lost, but at least we made a game of it. Similarly, at Stamford Bridge Chelsea were mightily relieved to dig out a late winner agaainst us. Two defeats but we’d taken the game to the opposition and given them something to worry about. At Arsenal we seemed to set out just to snuff out Arsenal’s threat at the expense of everything else. The nature of Arsenal’s winner may lead some to suggest we’d been unfortunate. It’d be a flawed perspective. Andy Wilkinson made a bad challenge that presented the opportunity. When you spend so much time camped in your own third of the pitch you are susceptible to the receiving end of the games quirks. When you give free kicks away, as Stoke do far too often, you are vulnerable. Overall Arsenal were worthy of their victory but on that showing Bayern Munich have little to fear. Next up Stoke face Reading. It isn’t melodramatic to suggest it’s a must win game for us. There is a lot at stake. We haven’t won since Boxing day. At Christmas time Reading looked doomed, we looked as if we could make a run at a Europa League spot. If Reading were to win at Britannia on Saturday they would be only four points behind us and deliver a big blow to our morale and it’d do nothing to quell the mutterings of discontent in the Stoke support. As with many difficult spells for football teams our current situation is nothing a win won’t put right, and on Saturday we really need to.
Anyone connected with Manchester City casting envious glances at Mario Balotell’s impressive debut for Milan should think again. Nobody ever doubted Balotelli’s ability. Few can deny that ‘on his day’ Balotelli would be an asset to any of the top clubs in Europe. The question is, how often did Mario have ‘his day’? He’d clearly hit a dead end with Manchester City and when the big money offer arrived it was wise to take it. Balotelli’s time at Manchester City was far from a failure. He was part of the team that won the FA Cup and followed it with a Premier League title winners medal. For all that, the cold hard truth is when it’s over it’s over. Observe and replace.
Elsewhere in Italy, Napoli briefly got that Maradona feeling on Saturday when they went joint top of the league with Juventus. Edinson Cavani may not quite be a Maradona but he is priceless to Neapolitans right now. The Uruguayan sits proudly on top the Serie A leading scorers chart. However, one of several differences between now and the Maradona era is the simple issue of finance. The Italian League isn’t as prosperous as it was in the 80s. If some of the European powerhouses come knocking there could be an irresistible offer. Napoli should treasure days like these, they might not be as sustainable as they’d like.
On transfer deadline day Peter Odemwingie became a subject of ridicule. Awaiting his transfer to QPR to be finalised he sat in the Loftus Road car park and waited. And waited. And waited and waited. No such deal was made and hapless Peter was left to lick his wounds and endure international humiliation. Some may not accept this but Odemwingie is actually deserving of sympathy. Going to the effort of driving to London suggests he’d been told to do so, maybe by an agent or a club official, we may never know the full story as clubs take great pride in treating information like this with utmost confidentiality. Whatever the motivating factor, Odemwingie looked foolish by the end of the day. Transfer deadline day has become a huge hyperbole drenched media event. Television cameras are placed outside stadiums across the nation hoping for a slice of information, rumour or hint that helps them deliver news to a grateful populace. In the days before 24 hour sports channels, and a drooling social media, we may not have learnt of a transfer until reading the following days newspapers, and we didn’t know, or care how the move had come about. Perhaps Peter Odemingie’s biggest problem was that there is nowhere to hide in 2013.
It was upsetting to see Paul Gascoigne’s latest public meltdown. At a public meeting he was shaking and incoherent. Following the incident Gazza travelled to the USA to attend a rehabilitation centre. Since retiring from playing his numerous problems have been well documented. He’s rarely far from the headlines and I, like many others, fear the worst when I see his name in a newspaper headline. We can only hope he can address his issues and the latest attempt at rehabilitation proves to be successful. As Terry Venables has said, “Only Gazza can save Gazza.”
The Champions league restarts next week with the tie between Real Madrid and Manchester United the fascination of the first week of fixtures. The Jose Mourinho/Real Madrid situation is almost farcical. it’s abundantly clear that Mourinho isn’t wanted at, neither does he want to be at, The Bernabeu. In recent weeks he’s talked longingly of a return to the Premier League. Real Madrid’s players seem as if they would be happy to see the back of Mourinho, Iker Casillas in particular. Amid the bitterness, Mourinho won’t leave and the club won’t sack him! On taking the reins at The Bernabeu Mourinho’s brief was clear… he needs to win the European Cup. While they remain in that competition he still has hope of fulfilling the terms of the mission statement. The players could hasten his departure by having an off day. The internal politics involved are so overwhelming anyone can be excused for forgetting there will be two football matches taking place!