Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Champions League Thoughts

Partizan Belgrade and Arsenal played a very strange match.  Three penalties, two missed, as well as some strange goals, and other questionable challenges, all added to Arsenal's usual reluctance to punish inferior teams.  The big question for Arsenal, other than why didn't Wenger buy a better keeper this summer;  Was Gael Clichy rested with Chelsea coming on Sunday, or has he been dropped for Kieran Gibbs (pictured, right)?

Ajax looked good, as I thought they would.  They didn't have enough to turn over Real Madrid in Madrid, but AC Milan have no answer for the young legs and silky skills of the Amsterdam lads. Milan were extremely lucky to hold on for a point, it should have been 4-0.  I really think Ajax kept Martin Jol and kept their World Cup stars because they think they are good enough to make a serious run in Europe this season.  Can they win the Champions League?  Probably not.  If they go out in the group stage will they sell their five best players in January?  Probably.  But if I am one of the big clubs, I do not want to see Ajax in the round of sixteen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Result for Bolton!

But they probably deserved the win.  Nemanja Vidic and Johnny Evans struggled against Johann Elmander and Kevin Davies, and Bolton had several opportunities to secure all three points.  The referee didn't allow Fergie time, the customary 47 additional minutes for Manchester United to steal an undeserved victory, because Bolton was showing more of a threat, and the added time would have been a disadvantage for Mr. Ferguson and his merry band of misfits.

Seriously, Manchester United's midfield is only occasionally impressive (because Paul Scholes is old, and can't perform in every match anymore), and they lack the depth to affect the game from the bench.  Stuart Holden bossed the game from the center of the park, and Lee Chung-yong, along with Martin Petrov, finally had the effect Bolton fans have been waiting for.

All in all, a good result for Bolton, a lucky point for United, and some momentum for the Wanderers heading into and important run of (winnable) fixtures.  There are worries (no home wins, a tendency to concede soft goals), but Bolton have seven points from six difficult games thus far, and their play is continuously improving and evolving as the squad becomes more comfortable with Owen Coyle's system.  Things are looking up.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Formation against Manchester United

Strange as it sounds, this may be a good time to play United for Bolton.  Just before a big Champions League match-up, teams can be distracted from the job at hand.  And United have a big one at Valencia on Wednesday night.  Alex Ferguson may decide to rest some players against Bolton, which has proved disastrous in the not so distant past.  But there is another reason I think Bolton could get a result here.

Wanderers strength, the midfield, especially central midfield, is Manchester United's weakness.  Either Scholes or Fletcher will be rested on Sunday, but Ferguson doesn't even have the personnel to rest both.  And the replacement will be Michael Carrick, who is useless.  Bolton can exploit this weakness, but I believe that to do so Owen Coyle will need to abandon his beloved 4-4-2.

Coyle will also need to switch around some players in the team, which he does usually seem willing to do, even after a good performance against Aston Villa (The performance against Burnley was not as good, but given the 8 changes that were made, it's not really relevant to the form of the first team).  I think he will have to go with a different formation to create the best match-ups against Manchester United.  Basically, a 4-1-2-3.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My prediction for the starting XI was spot on, and after a scant 9 minutes, young Rodrigo Moreno has already had a shot on goal.  If the early action is any indication, this is going to be an open match...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Carling Cup - Burnley v. Bolton Wanderers

The home supporters will have nothing better to do than shout obscenities at Owen Coyle, but I don't think that will really have any bearing on the match itself.  I think Brian Laws will play his entire first team, as his aforementioned supporters will be baying for blood.  Owen Coyle, on the other hand, will send out what is essentially a B team for this one.  The thing is, I like our B team.

Adam Bogdan will continue in goal, and the lad has shown definite potential, it will be no surprise if he is our number one keeper in a few years.

Due to injuries and suspensions, the back-line will be very similar to what we will see against Manchester United in the league on Sunday.  Gretar Steinsson at right-back, as usual, a partnership of Zat Knight and Sam Ricketts in the middle, and the one change, Marcus Alonso  at left back.  All eyes will be on Alonso, as many in the Bolton universe would like to see him replace Paul Robinson in the first team, and the sooner the better.

The midfield is where we will see some big changes.  We know that Mark Davies and Matt Taylor will start, and it is very likely Tamir Cohen will be in the first eleven as well.  And given the players available to Coyle, I think he will play a 4-2-3-1.

Manchester United v Liverpool, Who Cares?

At the risk of enraging a large portion of northwestern England, this match is just not that big a deal anymore.  Liverpool is just not a threat in the league.  It is no different from when Manchester United play Everton, or Aston Villa, or even Sunderland.  It is a club with  large fan base, a few really good players, and a good deal of money to spend on transfers, but realistically, a club that will finish between fifth and tenth.  Maybe they can beat one of the big clubs on their best day, but over the length of the season they just don't have the talent or depth to compete at the highest level in England.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wanderers Draw

Bolton fans have a long history of blaming Mike Dean for everything from Kevin Davies' lack of goals to global warming and fluoride in their drinking water.

In the first half of today's match, they may have had a point.  Both Lee Chong-yung and Johann Elmander were brought down in the box. Neither is a player known for going down easily.   The first penalty claim, involving Lee and Stephen Warnock, was debatable.  It looked quite obvious that Warnock brought the Korean winger down, but Lee's touch had been heavy.  You could argue that he had lost possession and was not going to get to the ball either way.  I am not saying I agree with this argument, but it can reasonably be made.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aston Villa v Bolton Wanderers

Apparently, some day soon, Aston Villa will have a new manager.  He is a good manager, and the club's performances will probably improve under him.  If the past is any indication, all that will do is create unrealistic expectations for the managers that come after him.  Bolton have also been down this road.  Only now, under Owen Coyle, is the club finally starting to emerge from the shadow of Sam Allardyce.

This weekend's match could give us a preview of this new era, as club captain and aerial warrior Kevin Davies looks very unlikely to feature.  Now, you never want a player to get injured, but Wanderers are not going to be able to have a full break from the Allardyce team until Davies rides off into the sunset.  The truth is, it is hard to argue that he still deserves an automatic place in the starting XI.  Unfortunately, he is only one of several Bolton absentees this week.  The Bolton team will look something like this;

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Champions League Upsets

I could also call this entry "How the Mighty have Fallen."

AC Milan and Read Madrid are both at home against clubs one would normally expect them to beat.  But not this season.  AC Milan have been in decline for quite some time.  Italian football observers, myself included had been saying Milan were too old for a couple season's when they won the Champions League in 2007.  That triumph was a combination of smoke, mirrors, luck, guile, and the brilliance of Kaka.

Several of the players from that squad are still around, but they are well past their sell-by date.  The Italians have tried to prop themselves up by bringing in some younger players (young being relative), but none of them have really worked out, and financial considerations forced them to sell Kaka.  In a desperate attempt to appease their supporters (especially the ultras, who will throw their flaming Vespa at you if displeased), Milan have brought in some big name attackers, although none of them live up to their reputations very often.

Milan barely qualified for this competition last season in Serie A, and I think they are in danger of missing out once again this time around.  Their priority early in the season will be to advance past the group stages of the Champions League, and that will not be an easy feat in this group.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Champion's League a Distraction???

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday mark the triumphant return of the group stages of the UEFA Champion's League, always a glorious and wonderful thing.  At least until clubs like AC Milan and Liverpool decide that boring 0-0 draws are the best way to advance.  Wait, you mean they weren't doing that on purpose?  Ohhhhhhhhh.

Anyway, for some clubs, it seems that the World's biggest club competition may have led to subpar performances this weekend.  Barcelona lost to, and to be fair, were soundly beaten by, newly promoted Hercules.  AC Milan also lost to a new member of Serie A.  AS Roma drew on Saturday, and I think we all know (and took immense pleasure from) what happened to Manchester United.

Most of the clubs in European competition, at least this European competition, are pretty much guaranteed to be dwelling in the upper echelons of their domestic league table, so they often put an almost irrational emphasis on the Champion's League.  Given the prestige involved, as well as the financial benefits, it is hard to blame them.

Calm down calm down!!!

Honestly, Bolton was not going to beat Arsenal today.  It was a solid performance for the first 60 minutes or so, and yes, the sending off of Gary Cahill was unjustified, and yes, it changed the whole match.  But really, Arsenal were eventually going to finish one of their 653 chances.

So put the noose away Bolton supporters, Stuart Atwell did not cost us this match.  The boys from north London are just a better team than us.  No surprise really.  I suppose you could say that a free kick on the edge of the box rather than a Cahill red card would have led to us tying things up at two and then charging on to victory, but I think you would be wrong.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Everton v Manchester United

This match is interesting on many levels.  The English media is focusing on the Wayne Rooney circus, but I don't really care about that.  You see, Manchester United play Glasgow Rangers in the Champion's League next week, and I am sure Alex Ferguson would love to rest some players ahead of that match.  But Everton won this match last season, and they always play their best against big clubs.  It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Everton finally get their season started with a win and Manchester United get beat by overlooking an opponent.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arsenal v Bolton

If anyone is interested in joining me, I will be watching this match live at the Baker Street Pub, at the corner of 63rd St. and 1st Ave., on the scenic island of Manhattan.  And just to warn you, I will be accompanied by an Arsenal supporter.

As for the match, I must admit I am not especially confident of Bolton getting a result.  I think Bolton will defend fairly well, and I think we will create a fair amount of chances on the break.  Arsenal will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% possession, and they will look lovely in their movement and control about 40 yards from Adam Bogdan.  It will be a joy to watch.  Of course, the problem arises when the gunners fail to turn that possession into goals.  Two of the players who specialize in turning the pretty passing into points, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, are out with injuries.  That may not be enough to get Bolton any points, but it could help make things nervy for Arsenal fans.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Playing for England...

I understand why a player such as Kevin Davies, Matt Taylor, or even Kevin Nolan wants to play for England.  In addition to the measure of pride in representing your country, it is a very public recognition for reaching a certain level of performance.

I understand all that, but international football is a harsh mistress.  And once she casts her spell on you, it is nearly impossible to leave her.  For every Paul Scholes, who manages to retire with dignity and career intact, there is a Michael Owen, an Owen Hargreaves, or a David Beckham, a player who ravages his body and derails his career in continued search of those elusive England caps.

This brings me to Gary Cahill (pictured).  I understand his desire to play for England, and I am very curious to see how it will affect his career.  Michael Ricketts career is in ruins because of his reckless pursuit of international recognition.  Shawn Wright-Phillips spent several years warming the bench at Chelsea because he thought it would help his England career.  The same is true of Wayne Bridge and Steve Sidwell.  Michael Dawson is going to be out for months because of an injury he got playing for England.  Theo Walcott, still a very young player in need of match experience, will probably miss a month after getting hurt today.

Monday, September 6, 2010

International Break

I know some people will complain about the break this week, but I don't agree with them.  There are international tournaments, and qualifying matches have to be played for them.  Those matches need to be scheduled at times when it is possible, weather-wise, to play all around the world.  Sometimes you have to accept the reality of the situation.

That said, I like the new game days for the internationals.  Having the matches on Fridays and Tuesdays gives the players enough time to return to their clubs and prepare for the next weekend's matches.  This is especially important for countries in places such as Asia and South America, as well as big clubs in Europe.  These competing interests are never going to see eye-to-eye, but anything FIFA can do to make the relationship less antagonistic is a positive development.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gary Cahill v Martin Petrov

Some may claim that Bulgaria visited the new Wembley Stadium in London last night to play a UEFA 2012 European Championship qualifier, but all I was paying attention to were the Bolton Wanderers players that featured in the squads on either side.

Martin Petrov started on the left wing for Bulgaria, just as he does for Bolton, and he saw precious little of the ball, just as he does for Bolton. Now, some players always seem to be in open positions, but as you look closer you realize they have put themselves in an area where it is almost impossible to give them the ball. Petrov is not doing that, he is getting himself into threatening and available spots with great frequency for club and country.

So why isn't he seeing more of the ball? The answer is a bit strange. He is too clever. At least, he is too clever for his current teammates, many of whom are talented enough to find him in these positions, but rather young and inexperienced. There are also some veteran players who should be able to find him, but just don't have the technical ability to do so.

I think this will sort itself out. As youngsters such as Lee Chung-yong, Fabrice Muamba, and especially Stuart Holden become more accustomed to playing with Petrov they will learn how to find him in space. When that happens, Bolton will start to look a threat going forward, at least much more than they do now.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Arsene Wenger only named a 20-man-squad for the first half of the season, primarily because so many of his players are under 21 and do not need to be registered. But it doesn't matter how many players he named in the squad, because none of them is a top class goalkeeper. And without a top class goalkeeper, Arsenal are not going to win the Premier League.

This club certainly has the talent on the field to compete for the league title. But Manuel Almunia is a disaster waiting to happen. I don't know why Arsene Wenger doesn't see it. It must be extremely frustrating for the fans. Hell, it frustrates me, and I am not even an Arsenal fan.

Apparently Wenger finally upped the offer for Mark Schwarzer to £4 million, which Fulham found acceptable, but it was too late for them to find a replacement and get that deal done. This deal could have been done three months ago! Why wait until the last minute and take the chance that it won't go through?

I was almost going to pick the Gunners to win the league this season, especially if they managed to bring in someone like Schwarzer, or even better, Shay Given, but I have zero faith in Almunia, so it looks like another third place finish for the boys from North London.