Friday, April 30, 2010

Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers

Spurs have everything to play for (As in the brave new world of the Premier League, 4th place is everything) and Wanderers have nothing to play for (Hard to see the lads getting fired up to finish 14th as opposed to 16th).

This match could go one of two ways. Spurs could start like a house on fire and quickly establish their dominance against an indifferent Bolton team already thinking about summer holidays, or a loose and confident Bolton squad freed from the pressure of a relegation fight could spring a surprise. The former is far more likely. And the home team almost always wins this match-up.

Last week Owen Coyle gave Ivan Klasnic and Vladimir Weiss a chance to show what they can do. They responded by leading the team to a 2-0 halftime lead. The lead did not last, but it seems likely that those 2 players will get another chance from the beginning. I'd like to see some other fringe players given the opportunity to show what they can do in these final few matches.

I think this may be a very exciting, very attacking game. I am going for a 2-2 draw.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Loan Players

Jack Wilshere and Vladimir Weiss both spent the second half of the season with Bolton Wanderers thanks to loan deals from their parent clubs, Arsenal and Manchester City, respectively. Both are very young, and were not going to feature on clubs challenging for the league title and a Champions League spot. That statement will still be true next season, and that is what makes this interesting.

Owen Coyle has already stated that he would like to keep both players for another year.

Jack Wilshere has said he would be open to returning for another season if he cannot get into Arsenal's first team over the summer. Wilshere is very good, but he is at least a year away from starting for a team of Arsenal's caliber. I think the chances of Wilshere playing for Bolton next season are very good.

The situation is murkier where Vladimir Weiss is concerned. He was in the squad every week, and appeared in most matches, though sometimes not until very late. Two weeks ago he stated that he was very disappointed at his lack of opportunities and was looking forward to returning to Manchester City. Then he played a great second half against Stoke City and started the match against Portsmouth. Maybe he has softened his stance on returning after that.

Weiss and Lee Chung-Yong are very similar players. I am not sure if Lee is better, but he is certainly more experienced. I think his presence will probably be enough to prevent Weiss returning to The Reebok next season.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bolton Wanderers v Portsmouth

Great first half gave Bolton a 2-0 lead. Terrible second half led to a 2-2 draw. The point was enough to assure top flight football next season, although realistically, that had already been done.

Starting this week I will be looking at some individual players, trying to determine who will be back next season, and who will move on.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

35 Points

I have written here and in other venues that 35 points would probably be enough to stay in the Premier League this season. This past weekend Bolton came from behind to triumph 2-1 over Stoke City. This win put us squarely on 35 points. 7 points clear of the relegation zone with 3 matches left. It has been an inconsistent season to say the least. Owen Coyle came in late in January and seemed to stabilize the club as a whole, although the results were still very mixed.

I am hoping Coyle will use the last few matches to give our fringe players a run in the team. This will help the club to determine whether to bring these players back next season, as well as showcase them for any potential suitors. This would be my preferred starting XI against Portsmouth on Saturday;

Hunt, Shittu, Cahill, Samuel
Weiss, Mumba, Wilshere, Riga
Klasnic, Elmander

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stoke City v Bolton Wanderers

This one may not be pretty. Stoke seem to be following the Bolton model from the Sam Allardyce era, and they are trying to secure mid-tabe stability for the second season in a row. The Wanderers under Owen Coyle, on the other hand, are still looking pensively over their shoulders. They are 5 points clear of the relegation zone with 4 matches to play. I think most of those around the club are fairly confident of survival, but a result today would go a long way towards fortifying Bolton's position.

Coyle has named an unchanged squad from Tuesday's match against Chelsea, which means we will see a 5 man midfield, with Jack Wilshere the primary support for Kevin Davies. I am skeptical of this Sam Ricketts as a holding midfielder experiment Owen Coyle seems to be trying, but the performance overall was very good against Chelsea, and their is plenty of attacking potential on the bench in Ivan Klasnic, Johann Elmander, and Vladimir Weiss, so let's hope for the best.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chelsea v Bolton Wanderers

The Wanderers make the long journey down to London Tuesday, and the chances of them coming back in a good mood seem slim. Chelsea are at the top of the league, 1 point clear of Manchester United and 3 points ahead of Arsenal, and judging by their current form they have no intention of relinquishing that position. Bolton, on the other hand, have lost 3 in a row and only remain 5 points clear of the relegation zone because of other club's terrible form.

If I were Owen Coyle, I would use this match to experiment a bit. Bolton have not scored in (I believe) 8 of their last 11 league matches. It is time to try something new. We are likely to get anything from this match, so why not go for it. Put on a show, attack, attack, attack, and see what happens. To be fair, the problem has not been creating chances really, but putting the chances created on target. Here are some suggestions;

Attack wide with the fullbacks: Chelsea play very narrow through the midfield, and this is an area where they can be exploited, but Paul Robinson cannot be involved. I would play Gretar Steinnson at right-back and Sam Ricketts at left-back. They can both get forward, and there will be space to put balls into the box.

Ivan Klasnic. He is the only forward that we have who makes you feel like he is going to score every time he touches the ball. I think he could play off Elmander quite well, but Coyle, much like his predecessors, would sooner drink hot piss than drop Kevin Davies, so that will not happen, but I can live with Klasnic and Davies up top.

Move Jack Wilshere inside. Everyone keeps saying he will move inside eventually, just do it now. It worked when we did it with Stuart Holden, and I think Wilshere is a similar player. He will see more of the ball, and it will allow us to get some legitimate pace wide in the person of Vladimir Weiss. It is a very young, very attacking midfield, but I like it. Why not give it a try, we have nothing to lose.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why I am not a Gambler...

So my prediction of Arsenal winning the Champions League seems not to have worked out. That is no real surprise to be honest, it is hard to go against Barcelona, and almost impossible when Messi is on form in the way he was last night. Next they will come up against Inter Milan, where Jose Mourinho will likely resort to the "anti-football" that everyone hates him for.

Tonight's all French tie is a bit more straightforward, as Bordeaux are unlikely to overturn a 3-1 deficit. They do have an away goal though, so if they go up 1-0 things could get a little dicey for Lyon.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bolton Wanderers v Aston Villa

This was a tough loss to take at home for Bolton. Neither side played especially well, but I actually thought Bolton edged it on overall play. The difference was simply a moment of brilliance from Ashley Young. And the Wanderers just don't have a player who can finish like that.

There are several players on Bolton, such as Lee Chung-Yong and Jack Wilshere, who are very good on the ball. Ivan Klasnic is a great finisher, but he is a poacher. What Bolton don't have is a player who is going to create his own shot out of nothing and put it in the back of the net. I think that type of player should be the number 1 target for Owen Coyle in the summer.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bolton Wanderers v Aston Villa

This match-up has featured some great moments in the past, but this week Aston Villa and Bolton are both coming off of hammerings by title contenders. But there was a very different level of quality to the performance in these defeats. Bolton played Manchester United pretty tight last weekend, with a ridiculous own goal the only thing preventing the game being level at halftime. Villa, on the other hand, were absolutely shellacked by Chelsea. There are varying opinions on what effect those results will have on tomorrow's match.

Martin O'Neill has been saying for weeks that his players are tired, and they looked it against Chelsea. Fact is, the manager has only himself to blame. The squad he has built at Villa actually has a reasonable amount of depth, but O'Neill refuses to rotate his players, and this has cost him not only this season, but the past few seasons, as Villa have made great starts but faded late. His most significant injury worries are Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner, Richard Dunne, Emile Heskey, and John Carew. I think most of them will end up featuring, either on the bench or from the start. To me, Milner has been outstanding this season, and it will be a big blow if he can't play all 90 minutes.

Owen Coyle has been much more willing to rotate his squad, as he has named 18 different players in the starting XI since his arrival in late January. At this point though, with 6 games left in the season, we have a pretty good idea who he will start with. The goalkeeper is obvious, and has been for 12 seasons now. Zat Knight and Gary Cahill will start in the centre of defense, hopefully for year to come. Fabrice Mumba will sit in front of them, again, hopefully for years to come. Jack Wilshere and Lee Chung-Yong will play on either wing, and Kevin Davies will spearhead the attack along with Johan Elmander.

That leaves 3 positions of interest. It has been hard to get a read of Coyle's opinion regarding the fullbacks, because injuries and suspensions over the past 2 months have meant that Sam Ricketts, Gretar Steinsson, and Paul Robinson have all played together more often than not. Now that the back-line is healthy again, we will see who Coyle trusts for the run-in.

The other opening, an done that has caused a great deal of debate amongst Bolton supporters, is the second, more attacking, central midfield role.

Tamir Cohen has been the default choice, starting 25 matches this season. I think Cohen is a good player. He will not be nutmegging defenders and chipping the keeper after a mazy run, but he is a decent passer, a good defender, and has popped up with the occasional goal, although not recently.

A lot of supporters prefer Mark Davies, and he is quite a promising youngster. He played an absolute blinder against Arsenal in January, but Williams Gallas butchered his leg late in that match, and although Davies has featured a few times since then, the ankle has obviously bothered him and he prevented his reaching the same heights.

Ricardo Gardner has been very good in several central midfield appearances, but at this point in his career he is always injured. He has recently returned to training after a thigh problem, but I doubt he will feature in this one.

There are a couple other options, such as dropping Elmander into this role and starting Ivan Klasnic up front, or playing Riga Mustapha as the attacker in a midfield diamond, but those are unlikely. Some would like to see Wilshere moved into the middle and Vladimir Weiss given a chance from the start, but Coyle doesn't seem interested in giving Weiss that opportunity.

A draw would bring Bolton 6 points clear of the drop zone, while a win would push their cushion to 8 points with 5 matches to play. As for the clubs around them, Wolves are at Arsenal, where they will get nothing, and Wigan are at Fulham, where they can expect a point at best. West Ham are at Goodison Park, where they will lose, and Hull City are at Stoke, where a draw would be a good result for them, but is unlikely. Burnley host Manchester City, but I think they are just about relegated, and Portsmouth are already down.