Sunday, January 15, 2012

Was that a tumbleweed I just saw?

Some of you may have noticed a distinct lack of activity on Musings this month.  There is a reason for that.  I have been offered, and accepted, the opportunity to write for a Bolton Wanderers blog called Lion of Vienna Suite, on the SB Nation network.

Given that this blog receives heavier traffic than Musings, and is part of a massive network with a heavy promotion element, this decision was a no-brainer (kind of like dropping Paul Robinson).  My two online homes will link to each other.  While my analysis and commentary about Bolton Wanderers will appear exclusively on Lion of Vienna Suite, Musings is not going dark.  It will serve as an archive of my previous Bolton-related writing, while also presenting a platform for me to express my opinions on other world events, such as political intrigue, pop culture madness, and San Francisco Giants happenings (Melky effing Cabrera, that's really the best Sabean could do??!!).

So, it's a brave new world, I hope you will join me there.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sam Ricketts back.  And he is playing left back.  Thank goodness.  Even if he is not match fit.  Even if he is not match sharp.  Even if he is still on crutches.  All of that could be true, and he would still be better than Paul Robinson.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bolton Wanderers v Relegation (and Aston Villa)

If you look at the past several seasons in the top flight, there is always a club that is "too good to go down."  Newcastle held that title at one point, and West Ham has held it three or four times.  Leeds and Southampton in 2004 and 2005 were too good to go down.  Millwall and Birmingham played in Europe the seasons after they went down.  It kills me to say it, but this season's Bolton team has that feeling.

Big names are underperforming; Gary Cahill, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kevin Davies, Martin Petrov, Tuncay, Paul Robinson

Injuries have exposed a lack of depth and creativity; Stuart Holden, Lee Chung-yong, Tyrone Mears, Sam Ricketts, Marcos Alonso, Ricardo Gardner

Bad luck seems to play a part in a lot of results; Red cards, shots off the post, flukey deflected goals for the opposition.

UEFA Champions League

Let's review.  Manchester City needed to beat Bayern Munich to have any chance of advancing out of Group A.  They did, but it didn't matter.  Napoli won, so they will join Bayern in the knockout stages.  Both will be threats in the next round, although the Germans are probably joint favorites to win the tournament.  City will be disappointed, but it may be better for the club in the long run.  They can now focus on domestic matters, and I believe they will win the league.  They also have a very good chance to win the Europa League.  It is not the European trophy they wanted, but it could give them substantial momentum going into next season's Champion's League.

CSKA Moscow ended up joining Internazionale in the next round.  Neither looks likely to go very far.  Inter are old and slow, CSKA are short on talent.  All evidence of Group B will be disposed off very shortly.

I thought Group C would make a splash, and it did.  Manchester United join their neighbors in the Europa League, Benfica and FC Basel go through.  Neither have a chance of winning the trophy, but both are frisky enough that other clubs will want to avoid them.  Rosters that are old and slow will have particular problems with these two.  The aforementioned Inter Milan will desperately want to avoid FC Basel.

Ajax lost and Lyon won by a combined 9 goals.  Group D was left in chaos.  Real Madrid are co-favorites to lift the trophy in May, Lyon looked dead a few days ago.   But now the French club have a few months to regroup and maybe even add some talent to the squad.  I predict Arsenal will draw Lyon in the next round.

Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen go through in Group E.  There were some twists and turns, but this was what most expected way back in August.

Same with Arsenal and Marseille.  A few surprises in Group F, but ultimately what we all knew was inevitable.

Group G give us Apoel Nicosia and Zenit St. Petersburg.  Both are both nice stories, but the fairy take should end after the round of 16.

Group H was the most predictable of all.  Barcelona are favorites to defend their title, and AC Milan have finally gotten younger after many years of futility with an aging squad.  The Italians are probably not a threat to Barcelona and Real Madrid, but they may be in a year or two.

Tomorrow's draw will give us a good idea of who might be a surprise entrant to the last eight, and who might have their European adventure ended prematurely.

Friday, November 25, 2011

UEFA Champions League Groups

There is only 1 match left in the group stages, and though several question marks remain, most of the big boys have assured themselves of advancement to the round of 16.  Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Arsenal, and Barcelona are through as group winners.  That's 5 spots.  AC Milan have also qualified.  No surprises there.

Group A looked difficult from the outset, and despite Villareal's performance, has lived up to its billing.  Napoli play Villareal in Spain, and while it is no sure thing, the Italians seem likely to get at least a point there.  That means, in order to advance in their first Champions League appearance, Manchester City have to defeat high-flying Bayern Munich.  The game is in Manchester, and already-qualified Bayern may rest some players, but the Blues are still behind the 8 ball at this point.  It may be Europa League for them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Downward Dogs

Bolton Wanderers are struggling right now, more for consistency than anything else.  Under Owen Coyle, Bolton have always been a Jekyll & Hyde team, not just within a season but often within a match.  In the first half of last season, we scored (often more than once) when we were on top, and rode our luck when we weren't.  This year's problem is that whenever we play poorly we concede goals, and lots of them.

Some would say that bad luck with injuries has caused this defensive frailty.  Dedryck Boyata, Marcos Alonso, Tyrone Mears, Sam Ricketts, and now Joe Riley have all missed time.  That argument is valid.  My first choice back four if everyone were fit would probably be Mears at right back and Alonso at left back, with Boyata and Gary Cahill in the middle.  However, all the blame can't be placed on injuries.  Zat Knight, Gretar Steinnson and David Wheater are certainly capable defenders, and both performed quite well last season.

Our defensive problems cannot be solved by personnel alone.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Don't Want to Get Carried Away...

...But what a performance!  Bolton Wanderers really got it right today.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows that scoring is not our problem.  Only Chelsea, Arsenal, and the 2 Manchester clubs have more goals than Bolton.  The five goals was great, yes, but the defense was far more significant going forward.  The difference?  Fabrice Muamba and Nigel Reo-Coker working together as a pair of holding midfielders.  Reo-Coker handled the center of the pitch fairly well, with support from Mark Davies.  Mumba had one job; Protect Paul Robinson.  And he did it with aplomb.

Chris Eagles also seemed to get the message.  For all of his skill going forward, and he was impressive today, Bolton's problem is not scoring goals, it is keeping them out.  Protecting Robinson, who is clearly our weakest least, is critical.  Maybe in a few weeks, when Ricardo Gardner is back from suspension, when Marcos Alonso and San Ricketts are back from injury, this will no longer be an issue.  Robinson will be nowhere near the first team, and Bolton will be climbing up the table.  However, until we get those players back, Muamba would appear to have a very important job to do.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The definition of Insanity

Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. 

Relevent example; Owen Coyle starting Paul Robinson at left back each week and expecting him not to be directly responsible for conceding goals.

Now, I know some might consider the continued involvement of Kevin Davies just as egregious, but I addressed this in September most recently, and in April, plus a time or two before that.  It is a different type of problem.

At least Kevin Davies has been a valuable member of our squad for many years, and he can probably still contribute in a part-time role.  Robinson however, is crap, and has always been crap.  As long as Robinson is starting we will be in trouble.  Most clubs don't even bother attacking the right side of the Bolton defense.

The whole league can see it, why can't Owen Coyle?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Unchanged Side?

That is what Owen Coyle will probably do today against Sunderland.  He will name an unchanged side from last week's win over Wigan Athletic.  I think this is a mistake.

Watching the match against Wigan, I couldn't help but think that the 3-1 scoreline flattered to deceive.  Wigan had a lot of space in midfield, and Sunderland have a much better midfield than Wigan.

The primary danger man is Stephane Sessegnon.  He is quick, creative, a great passer, and will sit just behind the striker.  I think he needs to be accounted for, and in my opinion, the best way to do it is to play a 4-5-1 formation.  A lot of players looked good last week, and they should keep their places, but Captain Kevin Davies hasn't looked good since early 2010.  I would drop him and bring in a midfielder.

Boyata, Cahill, Wheater, Gardner
Reo-Coker, M. Davies
Petrov, Pratley, Eagles

Sunday, October 2, 2011


I really don't even know what to say at this point.  I will try to write something later in the week.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stuart Holden Heartbreak Horror!

Terrible news.  Bolton's American talisman, after one game back, a 2-0 win over Aston Villa in which Holden was every bit the puppet master he had been before his injury, has to have another surgical procedure on his knee, sidelining him for six more weeks. 

Now it is true that Bolton have had a shocking schedule to start the season.  They have already faced Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, with Chelsea to come this Sunday.  But the fact remains, they are bottom of the table, with three points from six matches.  I believe, partially because of the fixtures played thus far, Wanderers can recover from this.  But a healthy Stuart Holden (not to mention a healthy Lee Chung-yong) is critical to any grand revival.  In his absence, it may be time for a change of system and personnel.  My proposal;

Gretar Steinnson, Gary Cahill, Zat Knight, Dedryck Boyata
Mark Davies, Fabrice Muamba
Martin Petrov, Tuncay, Gael Kakuta
David Ngog

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Basel's 3-3 Win against Manchester United!

First thing, this was an incredibly open match, something you don't often see in the Champion's League.  Both clubs were bombing forward, creating loads of chances, trying to score at every opportunity, and generally leaving themselves wide open to counter attacks.  It could have very easily been 5-5 at halftime, United's 2-0 lead at that point flattered to deceive.  Each side came way with a point, but I suspect the Swiss club's changing room was a far cheerier place.  They got a point at Old Trafford.  Alex Ferguson can't be happy with 2 points from two matches in Europe. 

However, Ferguson only has himself to blame.  Possibly the biggest reason United has run rampant in the Premier League this season is the Scot's willingness to let his high octane youngsters run free.  He has put the reins on in Europe though.  Maybe wisdom is the better part of valor, but Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, and Park Ji-Sung didn't look experienced and composed, they looked slow and unimaginative.    

This is not a new problem.  Ferguson has always been conservative in European matches, often too conservative.  You can make an argument (and many people have) that given the talent and resources at his disposal, and the teams he has assembled, Sir Alex should have more than two Champion's League trophies.  Since he took over in 1986, AC Milan have won it 5 times, Barcelona have won it 4 times, and Real Madrid have won it 3 times.  Hell, Porto have won it as many times as Manchester United.

Suffice it to say, it will be very interesting over the next few months to see if the hot shot youngsters that are tearing apart the EPL will be allowed to strut their stuff in the midweek matches.  I don't think they will, and this timidness will prevent Ferguson's lifting of a third European Cup.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

UEFA Champions League-Bayern Munich v Manchester City

Champions League returns today, and the marquee match-up features the pedigree of Bayern and the pocketbook of Man City.  There are big names all over the pitch, inlcuding on the bench, as Arjen Robben and Carlos Tevez will not feature from the start. 

For me the most important player on the German side is Bastian Schweinsteiger.  He has to control the match from central midfield if Bayern are to get a result.   The movement of Man City's front 4 (David Silva, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguerro) is sublime, and Munich's suspect backline will be eviscerated if their midfield maestro cannot effectively shield them.  That's only half the job though.  Everything Bayern do going forward is also dependent upon Schweinsteiger.  Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos provide great movement and skill in their own right, but they can't create without number 31 pulling the strings.  I thought he was the player of the tournament at the 2010 World Cup, ahead of even Xavi and Iniesta, and he will need to put in that type of performance tonight. 

Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure will be charged with stopping the Bayern leader.  I just chuckled a bit.  We may see Nigel de Jong relatively early on in this one.  I just don't think Schweinsteiger can do it though.  Man City just have too many threats.  2-1 to the blues, an impressive away win.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Someone needs to play there...

When I lived in Hawaii, I often visited Kapiolani Park on Saturday afternoons to join in the myriad kick-arounds that were taking place.  The hardest part of these informal matches was finding four (more often 3) people willing to play as a defender.  The title of this post was the usual refrain in eventually convincing someone to step to the back of the attacking queue.  Bolton Wanderers have a bit of the same about them at the moment.  Owen Coyle's philosophy allows for central defenders and (especially) fullbacks to bomb forward at any and all times.  The holding midfiedler is also given a rather long leash in his forays into the offensive end of the pitch.

Bolton are shipping goals at the moment, and more attention really needs to be paid to the defensive end.  I have stated several times that I think Paul Robinson is a big part of the problem and needs to be dropped.  Beyond him though, I don't believe it is a personnel problem, but a formation problem.

When Wanderers have been at their best under Coyle they have featured a central midfield of Fabrice Muamba and Stuart Holden.  Muamba is a destroyer, an incredibly fit and powerful athlete who breaks up play all over the field.  Holden, while quick and good in a tackle, is blessed with an amazing sense of positioning.  He is always exactly where he needs to be.  Now that Holden is back from injury, I believe Coyle will return to this central pairing.  I still don't think we will beat Chelsea next week, but after that, when our season really begins, I think Bolton supporters will be reminded how lucky we are to have Holden and Muamba at our disposal.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bolton in Crisis!

Or so the Bolton Evening News will scream today.  I don't want to be quite that dramatic, but there do appear to be many problems, particularly in defense.  In my (possibly biased) mind, all of these problems can be traced back to Paul Robinson.  As I stated in my last entry, Robinson is clearly the worst player in any top flight league in Europe.  There is not a single football-related skill he possesses.  Worse, his mere presence forces the entire team to shift out of position in a vain attempt to cover up his inadequacies.  In the second half of Wanderers' game against Norwich, it reached the point where Zat Knight was just going all the way to the sideline and essentially playing left-back.  Unfortunately, this left a huge gap in the middle, which led to both Norwich goals.  I don't blame Knight though.  Big as he is, it is impossible for one player to cover the entire left side of the field.

Long story short, Owen Coyle needs to drop Paul Robinson.  Now.  I don't even care who replaces him, anybody would be better, and noone could possibly be worse.