Posts Tagged ‘nzonzi’

Evolution underway, losing Hope, three mediocre lions, Australia’s challenges

September 11th, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s long-awaited evolution is underway.  At West Ham we played with style and panache, emerging worthy winners.  The most telling difference was simply going all out to win an away game.  Steve Nzonzi carrying the ball forward and initiating play combined with overlapping full backs gave is a platform to dictate the play and apply pressure to our lacklustre opponents.  Jermaine Pennant’s impressive winner was just reward for an impressive showing from The Potters.  However we still have a long way to go and we have a precedent to limit our expectation.  At the end of the 1996/97 season Lou Macari left Stoke.  Despite his popularity it did seem he’d reached the end of the road with us.  During a poor run of form near the end of the season Macari repeated with monotonous regularity his belief Stoke had to play 100 mph football to be effective.  Many of us felt he recited his mantra to hide a lack of ideas.  In October of the 1997/98 campaign we won 1-0 at Maine Road to move up to a handily placed 6th in the table.  Macari’s replacement Chic Bates had adopted a softer approach and we played with more craft.  The wheels fell off soon after however.  We quickly became a shambles and were deservedly relegated.  Mark Hughes has made an impressive start to his Stoke City career.  We must however keep expectations in check.  Hopefully the coming years will be as enjoyable as the first three games have been.

England women’s football coach Hope Powell was sacked.  Powell had been in the job for fifteen years and oversaw a complete overhaul of the women’s game in England.  As a result  women’s football has a much higher profile.  That experience shouldn’t be wasted.  When the FA didn’t renew Bobby Robson’s contract in 1990 it wasn’t just  his managerial services that were lost.  It meant eight years of experience were also dismissed and the new manager had to start from scratch and grow into the role.  The same mistake shouldn’t be repeated.  Powell has an understanding of what is required and her experience and familiarity with the various challenges involved could prove useful to her successor and the FA as a whole. To repeat the mistake of 1990 would be foolish, she could still be a useful asset to football.

In World Cup qualifying England showed  discipline to play out a 0-0 draw away to Ukraine.  The game itself was hardly a classic but the visitors earned a priceless point and took a significant step to Brazil.  While England’s focus was a positive from the game the ongoing deficiencies continue to blight the team.  In particular, the inability to keep possession is a glaring fault which never gets addressed.  This ongoing flaw is why we should be spared any bombastic posturing from anyone attached to the Three Lions next year.  Of course, there are still people who inexplicably expect England to challenge for trophies.

One of the main talking points emerging in recent weeks is the increasingly fragile Joe Hart.  His errors are too common and it’s  surely only a lack of competition ensuring his place in the England team.  His error in the recent friendly against Scotland was indefensible and with some crucial qualifiers imminent it’s a legitimate point of concern.  For many years David James was a frustrating figure.  James could make saves no other keeper could.  He had a valuable combination of sharp reflexes and rare agility, yet he never had the nuts and bolts of the job right.  Too often positioning was flawed and crosses were flapped at… these flaws overshadowing his many positive qualities.  Hart is only 26, if he is prepared to apply himself and strive  to improve he can avoid being the next David James.

In a friendly match Melbourne Heart’s new signing Orlando Engelaar broke his right leg.  He’ll now miss a significant part of the forthcoming A-League season. Injuries are a horrible part of the game for any player.  Hopefully he can make a full recovery and make a contribution to the season.

If anyone was in denial over the scale of Australia’s task to prepare for next year’s World Cup, their 0-6 defeat to Brazil will have been a rude awakening.  There are some crumbs of comfort though.  The point has to be made Brazil are one of the favourites to lift the trophy next year, it’s not as if Australia were expected to win the match, and, of course, it was only a friendly!  There is also a friendly against France in October in which Osieck can start to work on the defensive flaws and, more importantly, how to help his players to keep and use the ball more. Australia’s outlook and expectations will be largely determined by who they face in the group stage.  2014 will be Australia’s third consecutive World Cup and after drawing Brazil and Germany in 2006 and 2010 respectively, Aussies can be forgiven if they hope for  a kinder draw in December.

The Serie A season is underway.  After two consecutive titles Juventus began the campaign with an ominous statement of intent as they hammered Lazio 4-0 in the Italian Supercup.  The acquisition of Carlos Tevez suggests it wouldn’t be a major shock if they added a third consecutive Scudetto to their trophy cabinet. The match also highlighted some of Serie A’s ongoing troubles as racial abuse was heard from the stands.  The issue of bigotry combined with run down stadiums hooliganism and the lingering issue of match fixing have resulted in Serie A losing much of its stature in recent years.  Juventus manager Antonio Conte has stated it could be years before an italian club wins the Champions league again.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Some of the clubs signed some big name players in the close season but all the owners fans coaches and managers involved will be hoping Antonio Conte’s words don’t prove to be prophetic.






Predictable rubbish, an A League renewal, Milan sunshine, Chelsea’s chaos

March 1st, 2013 No comments

The most depressing aspect of Stoke City’s dreadful showing at Fulham is the predictability.  Yet another failure to impose ourselves on the game, yet another glaring display of tepid inadequacy on the road and inevitably, yet another predictable away defeat.  Sometimes when Stoke play I get a warm thrill of nostalgia.  If we get a corner and the Stokies present give a roar of excitement it sounds like an old friend.  A good Delilah still gets the blood pumping.  When the TV cameras scan the aforementioned Stokies I instinctively look for faces I recognise and smile when one is located.  Saturday night’s game at Craven Cottage was certainly not one such occasion.  From the start our team seemed set up to try and squeeze out a grim 0-0 draw.  Despite failing to sustain any pressure on our opponents we seemed relatively comfortable for most of the first half.  Those few seconds before half time exposed one of the great failings of the approach, Dimitir Berbatov’s volley was the kind of brilliance nobody can really legislate for and the original gameplan has to be altered to get back into the game.  From that stage, especially against a side as devoid of creativity as Stoke are, it’s pretty simple to hold onto a lead…. you just keep discipline and hold positions and play the game out.  Predictably, Fulham easily managed to stifle our laboured efforts to reach parity.  Some of us may choose to hide behind the fanciful notion that had Jon Walters converted his penalty we’d have rallied to win the game, but comfort in ifs and buts is as lame as it is desperate.  The point also has to be made that as Jon Walters stepped up to take the spot kick many of us had little confidence he’d score.  His miss was utterly predictable.  This wretched ‘performance’ also carried some absurd displays of indiscipline.  Steven Nzonzi was outrageously, undeservedly fortunate not to get a red card for smacking Ruiz in the mouth.  That Nzonzi was fired up and seeking retribution for his earlier elbow in the face proves his intent.  Robert Huth may not be so lucky.  His elbow on Senderos was sheer thuggery.  He now faces the prospect of a three match ban and he can have nobody to blame but himself.  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed. Hopefully Tony Pulis has asserted his authority and punished him appropriately.  Our next away match is at Newcastle.  Next time it needs to be different.  Our away displays are now worse than at any time since promotion.  For side known to be combative and resilient, away from home we are increasingly easy to beat, a soft touch, dull, insipid and utterly predictable.

There was good news for the A-league last week with confirmation that Alessandro Del Piero will stay with Sydney FC for at least another season.  Despite his clubs lowly league position Del Piero is a huge success for the game here.  His arrival raised football’s profile on the Australian sporting landscape and his decision to activate the second year of his contract increases the league’s credibility.   In addition to all this he can still show moments of intrinsic skill few others can match.  Many of us are already excited about seeing him next season!

Milan’s 2-0 victory over Barcelona was thoroughly deserved.  The Rossoneri played with focus and discipline and stifled Barcelona’s glittering collection of superstars.  Even Lionel Messi couldn’t get out of the red and black  cage.  Milan pressed, took their chances and emerged worthy victors.  At the final whistle the San Siro almost exploded with delight, 80,000  together as one!  The cameras scanned to manager Massimiliano Allegri who was most entitled to savour the euphoria.  At the start of the season Allegri was under serious pressure.  His employers indicated they wanted Pep Guardiola to replace him and his sacking seemed a formality, every match they played had the air of a public execution.  It’s a cliche, but Milan’s passage to the quarter final is far from guaranteed.  While they are in a strong position to go through, Barcelona are fully capable of overturning the deficit.  The point has to be made however, having weathered the early season storm Allegri must have cherished last weeks sunshine.

Next weeks Champions League 2nd leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United could prove to be a defining moment of Jose Mourihno’s reign at the Bernebeau.  The tie is finely poised with Manchester United securing a precious away goal in Madrid but knowing the sheer quality of Real Madrid’s players (one player in particular) suggests deciding to sit back and invite pressure could be football suicide.  The remains of the tie will be shaped by the next goal.  Most importantly Manchester United must make sure they aren’t in a position where they have to chase the game. When Real Madrid took the lead at the Nou Camp Barcelona were forced to press forward in search of an equaliser.  The visitors  played the ball forward with unerring accuracy to expose the spaces behind the hosts increasingly populated attack.  You can be sure Alex Ferguson will have taken note.

The malaise at Stamford Bridge continues.  Talking to the media after the FA Cup victory over Middlesborough, Rafael Benitez criticised Owner Roman Abramavic and the supporters.  During his press conference Benitez emphasized his disappointment at being given the title ‘interim manager’.  His contract only lasts until the end of the season but it’s hard to imagine him lasting that long.  Some may suggest his outburst was ill advised but if he is being undermined by his employer why shouldn’t he speak out?  It’s almost ten years since Roman Abramovic bought and bankrolled Chelsea.  Despite the bottomless pit of spending money, and the chance to work with some very talented footballers, Chelsea remains a very difficult club to manage.


Comfort for the bereaved, equality in the workplace, evolution and a remarkable career

September 18th, 2012 No comments

Wednesday September 12th 2012 was  historic.  450,000 documents related to the Hillsborough disaster, and subsequent cover up, were finally released into the public domain.  In the House of Commons, British Prime Minister David Cameron formally apologised to the families of the victims.  It’s possible that younger people have no idea of what happened on that terrible day in April 1989.  No idea of the contempt we, as football supporters, were held in by all tiers of authority… especially the police.  No idea that for several years the moment we associated ourselves with a football match all civil rights were immediately lost.   It was  former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police John Stalker in the 80s who said he was aware that many police knew that football matches were one time they were “Let off the leash”.   Anyone who regularly attended matches knew that the mismanagement and victimisation we received would be deemed unacceptable in any other area of society.  Hillsborough was a tragedy for all football supporters. Sadly, the police cover up and scandalous tabloid lies led to many people, including football fans, just reinforcing their own prejudices about people from Merseyside.  Hopefully the release of documents has helped to enlighten people regarding the terrible incidents of that day. Most importantly, we can hope that the families and friends of the bereaved can gain some comfort and that this is a step towards justice.  RIP the 96.

The Stoke City evolution maintained steady progress against champions Manchester City. Steve N’Zonzi made an encouraging start to his Stoke career with some neat incisive passes and Garcia’s equalising goal aside, we defended with discipline and characteristic tenacity.  We were fortunate that the officials didn’t spot Crouch’s handball in the run up to the goal, but any Stoke supporter who remembers Alan Wiley’s hopeless catalogue of errors when Manchester City visited the Brit in the 2009/10 season won’t feel too guilty!  Man City’s equaliser arrived in the 35th minute when a free kick was floated into our box and we failed to pick up Garcia, who nodded home.  From that point we were satisfied to get to half time at 1-1.  Stoke started the second half in the ascendancy. We kept the ball in the opposition half well and managed to assert pressure on the visitors.  In all fairness to Man City they absorbed our pressure well.  The main aspect where their technical superiority was noticeable was  when they played from the back.  We pressed and hassled but they were rarely flustered and usually kept the ball.  A frantic finale saw Asmir Begovic make a remarkable reflex save from Garcia’s header.  The last kick of the game was Ryan Shawcross’ impressive last ditch clearance off the line following Dzeko’s lob over Begovic.  The most poignant moment of those crazy final minutes was Michael Owen making his Stoke City debut to a rapturous welcome!  All in all a draw was a fair result and we thoroughly served the point.  One negative aspect to the game was Andy Wilkinson foolishly lashing out at Balotelli.  Had Mark Clattenburg, or any of the officials spotted it, Wilko may well have seen red, jeopardised our point and he still risks an FA penalty. Our right back is 28 years of age and should know better than to react to any provocation.

To her credit German Chancellor Andrea Merkel has told gay footballers they should have no fear of publicly announcing their homosexuality.  As in most nations, no high profile German player has ever ‘come out’.  Sadly, Merkel’s words are unlikely to encourage many gay players to open up.  An anonymous gay Bundesliga player recently stated that if he was to come out he’d feel his personal safety could be at risk.  Other employers have structures in place to ensure equality in the workplace.  Sexuality based prejudice shouldn’t have to be an issue in this day and age.  In 2012 this is a very dark stain on football’s character.

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid have made a shaky start to the season.  4 points from 12  is not what was expected at the Bernabeu. Combine poor form with Cristiano Ronaldo strangely informing the world of his sadness, all is not well. 10th place in the league and 8 points behind Barcelona, their Champions League campaign could be the only road to redemption.  When Mourinho was appointed the Galactico was the manager.  Mourinho was appointed to bring the European Cup to Madrid and was the one that couldn’t possibly fail.  When they face Manchester City on Tuesday more than points will be at stake.

Benfica start their Champions League campaign  without captain Luisao who has been banned for two months for physically attacking a referee.  This story is odd on several levels, one being that this incident actually occurred during a pre season friendly against Fortuna Dusseldorf. A friendly!  How would he cope with the intensity of a Champions League Final?  Luisao is actually the Benfica captain.  While other nations aren’t as preoccupied with captaincy as the English, surely more responsible leadership than that is to be expected.  Why is the ban so short?  An offence of such magnitude should be treated with the utmost seriousness, instead he’ll be back in the team by December.  Combine that with the meagre two match touchline ban Alan Pardew received for manhandling a linesman officials could be forgiven for feeling authorities are failing to support them adequately.

An increasing focus on statistics removes some of the warmth from football.   There are times when they are worth mentioning though.  On Saturday, in his 700th game for Manchester United, Paul Scholes completed 41/45 (91%) of his passes and scored a goal.  Scholes scored in his 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th, 500th, and 700th games for Manchester United.   A bucketload of medals are the spoils of a very  impressive career, but did he have an off day when he made his 600th appearance??