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.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blackburn and Arsenal; An Unlikely Goalfest?

Neither of these clubs have shown themselves to be very good at defending this season.  In fact, they have often looked like drunken third-graders in defense.  And while both have struggled to score goals at times, it is not hard to see the potential for good attacking play.  Yakubu, even when not match-fit, is still one of the best goal-poachers in the world.  Players like Robin van Persie and Mikel Arteta are always going to be a threat.  Although most people wouldn't expect Alex Song to be playing the incisive through balls.  I have been waiting a year for Arsene Wenger to actually play van Persie with Marouane Chamakh, and when he finally did, the two combined for a goal within ten minutes.

The Long Slow Sunset of Kevin Davies

For the last ten years, through four managers and hundreds of matches, Kevin Davies has pretty much been the first name on the teamsheet for Bolton Wanderers.  He has never been seriously injured, and has served as club captain for the last few seasons.  There were a few occasions when Davies had to be shoehorned into the team as a right winger, but for the most part, he has earned his position on merit.  Never a prolific goal-scorer, he has been an effective player none-the-less, creating opportunities for teammates and managing several 10 plus goal seasons.

It has always been a delicate balance for KD though.  The manager has had to calculate the perpetual fouling, the easily given up possession, and the poor finishing in front of goal, then compare it to the myriad of headers and resulting flick-ons, the numerous free kicks won, and fairly reliable ten goals a season.  Unfortunately, in the last year or so, Davies' scale has finally tipped in the wrong direction.  At this point, Owen Coyle is playing his skipper purely based on reputation.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's All in The Finish

A few years ago Manchester United beat Roma 7-1 in a Champions League match at Old Trafford.  If you watched the match though, the reds did not look particularly dominant.  They had the same amount of possession as Roma, and Roma actually created more chances.  So why was it such a shellacking?  Finishing.  Manchester United had 7 shots and scored 7 goals.

Yesterday at the Reebok, Manchester United had 11 shots on goal.  6 were blocked by Bolton defenders, 5 found the back of the net.  Now don't get me wrong, Manchester United is playing tremendous football right now, but they are going to come back to earth at some point.  The club has some tremendous finishers, but this level of efficiency is just not sustainable.

To give some context, the top goal-scorers in the world, the big names that everyone knows, score a goal for every 5 shots, about a 20% success rate.  Wayne Rooney, for example, in 2009-2010, had 40 goals in all competitions.  It took him 257 shots to get those goals.  That's about 15%.  In 2010-2011, he had 17 goals on 169 shots.  That's about 10%.  This season, he already has 11 goals on only 44 shots.  That's 25%, and that is not going to continue.

Robin van Persie was at 19% last season.  Darren Bent, coming off of 2 straight twenty-goal seasons, is at about 20% over that time period.  Didier Drogba's best season was 2009-2010, when he scored a phenomenal 44 goals.  That took him 222 shots, a conversion rate of just under 20%.

Now, you might expect the top of the pile to be better than that.  Cristiano Ronaldo has 4 straight thirty-goal seasons under his belt.  Last season he scored a mind boggling 56 goals, including 40 in 32 league matches.  His conversion rate?  16%.  And Leo Messi?  He has 100 goals in his last 2 seasons.  He has taken just under 500 shots in that period.  20%.

My point?  5 goals from 11 shots against Bolton.  8 goals from 25 shots against Arsenal.  This is not going to continue.  We are more likely to see performances similar to what United did against Tottenham, wins, and for the most part comfortable wins, but 3 goals instead of 5 or 8.

What about Bolton?  They scored 4 goals from 18 shots against QPR.  Then 2 goals from 7 shots against Manchester City.  2 goals on 18 shots against Macclesfield in a Carling Cup match, and 1 goal from 10 shots against Liverpool.  Yesterday, in the debacle against United, Bolton did not score even though they took 22 shots.  Results from the last few weeks aside, I am no worried about Wanderers ability to score goals.  I am worried about our ability to prevent them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's a Mindset

At the height of the Allardyce era Bolton finished level on points with Liverpool.  Goal difference gave the Reds the fifth spot in the table, while Bolton had to settle for sixth and a UEFA Cup spot.  At that point Wanderers were routinely taking points of "top 4" clubs and many supporters probably considered us on level ground with the likes of Liverpool (The feeling was not mutual, as Liverpool fans don't consider anyone to be on level ground with them).

Then the dark times began, and the manager did not even attempt to compete with clubs like Liverpool.

Now, Bolton are back.  There is not the talent level, nor the results of the Allardyce era, at least not yet, but the thinking has returned.  This is very important.  Under the Ginger Mourinho, lip service was paid, working hard for the cause and all that, but fans and players both knew we didn't stand a chance.

What Owen Coyle has brought to the club, more important than his eye for talent or tactical acumen, is the belief, the mindset, that we can win every week.  Not steal a point, not avoid embarrassing ourselves, actually beat clubs, no matter their position in the table.

This should be very interesting at Anfield today.  My prediction; 2-2.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Morality Play?

Bolton has signed a new sponsorship deal.  They call it a partnership these days, but it's with a company from Korea called Hanwha to be a new sponsor at the Reebok.  Hanwha will be placing advertisements around the stadium espousing their advances in solar energy.  Sounds good right?  Wanderers can always use the money from something like this.  There is a problem though.  Hanwha produces landmines.  Or to be fair, they produced landmines in the past, and may still do so.

No matter what one's political affiliation, I think we can agree on landmines being one of the most horrible inventions in human history.  South Korea is one of the few industrialized countries in the world that still allows the production of landmines, although the government claims none have been manufactured since 2000.

Either way, questions remain.  Are Hanwha's profits blood-money?  Should Bolton Wanderers not only accept that money, but enter into a "partnership" with this company?  Have Hanwha done anything wrong in manufacturing a product to meet worldwide demand?

Carling Cup - Bolton v Macclesfield

Owen Coyle said he was going use our entire squad today in the 2nd round of the Carling Cup, and this was true.  Tuncay Sanli's debut performance was the big story, and there are a lot of other places where you can read about that.  I prefer to focus on some of Coyle's more interesting choices, today and in the future.  A few inclusions were obvious; Mark Davies, Darren Pratley, David Wheater, and Adam Bogdan were definitely going to play from the start.

We miss you Stuart!
Wheater and Bogdan have clearly defined roles, they are the third-choice central defender and second-choice keeper, respectively.  They are good players, and could start for several clubs in the Premier League, but the men in front of them are entrenched.

It is a very different story for Mark Davies and Darren Pratley.  And this will be an important story throughout the season.  For most of last season, central midfield was our strength.  Stuart Holden, Mark Davies and Fabrice Muamba were always formidable, and often dominant.  Then Holden got injured.  Then Davies got injured.  Then our lack of depth got exposed.  Coyle was determined not to let that happen again.  He has signed Nigel Reo-Coker as well as Pratley for central midfield depth.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Match!

Shame about the result.  Bolton lost, yes, but they did present themselves in an admirable manner, particularly in the last 30 minutes.

And no, I do not know what the hell Jussi Jaaskelainen was doing on the Silva goal.  Sometimes a goalkeeper, no matter how reliable, just has a howler.  Normally I don't talk about fashion on the blog, but the new home keeper's shirt is just atrocious.  Hot pink?  What is this, a Poison concert in 1987?

For me, the most impressive performance was that of Martin Petrov.  That was why we signed him.  When he is fit and on form, he is still one of the best wingers in the league.  Now, he is not going to be that good, especially for 90 minutes, in all 38 league matches this season.  But if he can keep putting in those types of crosses fairly consistently, he is going to create a lot of goals for us.  His accuracy of passing, combined with Ivan Klasnic's finishing skills, will create a lot of goals for Bolton Wanderers this season.

Next is a Carling Cup match with Macclesfield, followed by a visit to "high-flying" Liverpool.  Given the lack of squad depth at Bolton, it will be interesting to see if Owen Coyle presents an opportunity to some of our really young players Wednesday, or mostly sticks to the first team.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Preview-Bolton Wanderers v Manchester City

Bolton and Man City are both coming off big 4-0 wins last weekend, but the ability of the two clubs to maintain those types of performances is, of course, quite different.

The match is at the Reebok, but so far this season home teams have not faired very well.  This fixture also starts a very difficult run for the Trotters.  After City, there is an early midweek Carling Cup tie against Macclesfield.  I would say this will give some of the fringe players a chance to impress, but given our injury list and relatively lean squad, there are not a whole lot of fringe players to use.  Either way, Macclesfield should be dealt with.  Maybe Tuncay Sanli will get his first start, and that will be reason enough to tune in.

That's when it gets tricky.  Bolton are away at Liverpool next weekend, and while I don't believe the Merseyside club is a title challenger, they are unlikely to allow the Wanderers to pick up 3 points.  The international break is then followed by a visit from Manchester United.  United will probably win via an Own Goal, a penalty, a dodgy sending off, and 11 minutes of stoppage time.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Question: What the Hell is a Frimpong?

Answer: A holding midfielder for Arsenal football club who is quite exciting going forward but tackles late and recklessly.  Not to be confused with a Song, a Diaby, a Flameini, or a Viera.

In all seriousness, Arsenal looked very young and inexperienced in their loss to Liverpool at the Emirates today.  The refrain in the media regarding this result for the home team is going to something along the lines of "same old Arsenal," and that is not wrong.

But the second, louder cry amongst a certain segment of the English football viewing population is going to "Liverpool is back," or "The Reds are a title contender," etc.

Don't believe this.  It's just not true.  Liverpool are not title contenders.  They are not even close.  I even made a small wager yesterday that they would finish below both Manchester clubs in the final table.  I can't wait to try on my shiny new Bolton shirt next May.

Liverpool have several weaknesses, and they start at the back.  If I thought that Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel would be the regular partnership for central defense at Anfield, I might give them a tiny chance, instead of no chance.  But it will be a cold day in hell before "Anfield Legend" Kenny Dalglish drops "Legendary Scouser" Jamie Carragher from the starting XI.   And Carragher is terrible.  he was always wildly overrated, but now he is a shell of his former  half-decent-defensively self.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What a Start!!!

As I wrote yesterday, Gary Cahill is top class.  Owen Coyle says he wants to offer him a new contract, and that negotiations are ongoing.  The next few weeks will show whether the Scot is being sincere, or trying to drive up the price (A frugal Scotsman, what a shock).

That said, QPR did create some chances, and Bolton will need to tighten up the defending a bit, as much as is possible when carrying the useless sack of meat that is Paul Robinson up and down the pitch.  I saw two weaknesses yesterday, and Robinson was definitely one of them.  He just provides very little going forward, and is a train wreck defensively.  Just about every threat comes from his side.  And the attacks in the middle have every space, because Cahill and Zat Knight shift to their left to cover for Robinson.  Getting beat and then fouling (pictured, right) seems to be the only task Robinson is capable of completing.

Great Result yesterday, but please Owen, drop Paul Robinson!

The second problem, there is no pace in our strikeforce, none.  Robbie Blake is still on his way to the other end of the pitch.  Ivan Klasnic is a great finisher, as he showed yesterday, but he needs someone with pace to play off of.  And Kevin Davies needs to be dropped.  The ratio of balls won to possessions given away plus fouls conceded has swung decisively into our opponents favor.  I would bring Tuncay into the starting XI short-term, but long term we need a pacy striker with an eye for goal to partner Klasnic.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bolton's Starting XI vs. Queen's Park Rangers

And so it begins...

Owen Coyle's first line-up is posted, and there is no doubt the manager has been hamstrung by injuries to Stuart Holden, Lee Chung-yong, Sam Ricketts, and Tyrone Mears.  Tuncay will not be available as his work permit has not cleared.  Now I don't know Coyle's plans, but for me, all 5 of those players would be starting if they were fit.  So here is a look at what the gaffer has conjured up with our remaining squad players;

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dark Clouds are gathering...

...two weeks before the new season starts.  The Wanderers are in danger of falling behind the pack very early this year.  First of all, the early schedule is brutal, absolutely brutal.  Our first game is what you never want to open the season, a promoted team away.  Fired-up fans, fired-up players, and usually a nervy draw that looks bad later in the year when others are getting 3 points at will.

After that, we run the northwest gauntlet, City-Liverpool-United.  It's quite possible Bolton could have no points after 4 matches.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another USA tour

And once again the Wanderers come nowhere near where I live.  Oh well.  The important players aren't really fit yet anyway, and I suspect we will make a couple significant signings in late August.

So I guess I didn't miss too much...

Still, it would be nice if they came to New York at some point.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gardner Stays

Ricardo Gardner may have been born in Jamaica, whom I am watching play the US in the Gold Cup semi-fina this afternoon, but he now calls Bolton home.  It was this stability, and his family's comfort with the northwest, that caused Bibi to turn down Sam Allardyce's offer of a big money contract with West Ham and stay at Bolton for less money.

I have always liked Gardner, but he is no longer the marauding left-back that may have been the best in the premiership for a year or two under Big Sam.  At 32, his extraordinary pace robbed by age and injury, he is little more than a role player, versatile and good for depth, but not to be relied upon.  Realistically, if Gardner makes more than ten appearances next season, it is probably not a good sign for Bolton.  That said, it will be nice to have him around.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fare Thee Well Dear Wanderers...

Word has been leaking out that Bolton have offered some players new contracts while letting others go.  Robbie Blake has a deal for next season.  Ricardo Gardner has been offered something (with a rather severe pay cut I would imagine) and he has a decision to make.

Jlloyd Samuel has been cut loose.  I don't quite understand why he has been frozen out by Coyle, especially in favor of Paul Robinson.  When Samuel was first choice two season ago, he had a fine year, and he was a big part of the reason we stayed up.  Maybe he is just too much to deal with off the pitch.

Joey O'Brien is leaving as well.  Thinking about him just makes me sad.  Whenever he was fit, all four of our recent managers made him first choice in central midfield, and he always played well.  He simply couldn't stay on the field.  Some bodies just aren't built for the abuse of professional sports.  I hope the change of scenery does him good, perhaps he can build a career somewhere else.

I am sad to see Tamir Cohen go as well.  He was never going to be first choice at a Premier League club with top 10 ambitions, but I thought he was decent midfield depth. 

Let's just hope Owen Coyle can bring in some upgrades this summer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barcelona Wins the Champions League

And they deserved it.  It was a great match for the first 50 minutes or so, but at that point the Catalans possession advantage started to pay off.

What's next for Barcelona?  They are a fairly young team overall.  Valdes is 29, Busquets is 22, and Pique is 24.  Dani Alves is 28, but still has a few seasons left as one of the top right backs in the world.  Javier Mascherano seems to have been around forever, but he is still only 26.  Carlos Puyol is 33, and Eric Abidal is 31, both are at the tail ends of their careers, but neither is all that important to Barcelona at this point.  The defense looks to be in great shape going forward.

Barcelona play a 4-3-3, and they use three legitimate forwards up top.  Those forwards are chosen from David Villa (29), Lionel Messi (23), Pedro (23), Ibrahim Affelay (25), and Maxwell (29).  This is probably the best attack in the world, and will remain so for several years.

This brings us to the midfield, the one place where Barcelona may have some issues.  Everything they do is  orchestrated by Xavi and Iniesta.  Iniesta is only 27, but Xavi is 31, and both, between La Liga matches, Champions League, Copa del Rey, and international matches for Spain, play a lot of football.

Iniesta is already a little injury-prone, and that will only get worse as he ages.  Xavi, as good as he has been , is not likely to stay at this level for more than 2 seasons.  Euro 2012 could be his sort of last hurrah.

So hold out hope world, Barcelona may only be the best team on the planet for two more seasons.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bolton's Goal-scoring Prowess...

...may once again be dependent upon Nicolas Anelka.

No, the Frenchman will not be returning to the Reebok, but where he plays next year will have a big affect on who is up front for the Wanderers.  If Anelka stays at Chelsea, that could well mean that Daniel Sturridge is available on loan for another season.  As we all know, Owen Coyle would love to have the young striker back at Middlebrook Leisure Center.

However, if one or more from Anelka, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda, and Salomon Kalou decides to move on, Sturridge will probably feature in Chelsea's first team next season.  If this scenario sounds familiar, that is because we went through the same thing with Jack Wilshire and Arsenal last season.

I think Daniel Sturridge is an outstanding player, and I want the absolute best for him and his career, I just hope that best involves a 25-goal season for the Wanderers in 2011-2012.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Wrote It. I Stand By It???

When I was writing my preview for Birmingham City, I felt they would stay up.  This is what I wrote;

Will they go down? Probably not. But I think they will be in or near the bottom three all season, and if they survive it will be by a scant point or two, possibly even on goal difference. They will end up with a point total in the high 30's...

Currently, with two matches to go, Birmingham City are 16th.  They have 39 points, 3 above the relegation zone, and a goal difference of -18.  I get to pat myself on the back for this one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Central Midfield

I don't intend to blame anyone for yesterday's loss to Fulham.  Bolton have been poor away from home all season, and this was just another in a long lineof performances that should be forgotten.  I half expected to see Owen Coyle walking up to people at Harrods with a sweaty map and asking which way to the Thames.

That said, central midfield, thought to be a strength a few months ago, has really become a problem.  Throughout a good part of this season the triumvirate of Stuart Holden, Mark Davies, and Fabrice Muamba controlled the middle of the park.  Times have changed though.  Holden has a long term injury, Davies has had to deal with a few niggling ankle problems, and Muamba, while impressive, has a somewhat limited skill set.  In the last few matches, we have seen Johann Elmander, Tamir Cohen, and even Ricardo Gardner partner Muamba.  Now, I like all three of these players, and I think each of them has something to contribute.  None of them is an adequate replacement for Davies or Holden though. 

Megson signing Sean Davis has been out for almost two years, and at this point, we have to say a comeback is unlikely.  The same holds for Joey O'Brien.  The strength of the position is OK, as long as our first choices are fit, but we need to work on the depth.  As we get closer to summer, I will address each position and how important it is for us to add players.  At this time, you can assume central midfield will be relatively high on the list.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bolton Wanderers v Stoke City

The team lists are out, and it is Ivan Klasnic partnering Kevin Davies up top.

Johann Elmander returns to central midfield, where he was so impressive last weekend.

Paul Robinson is back, and after two weeks on the sub's bench to avoid suspension, I am sure he will be overly anxious to kick somebody.  Will be a shocker if he doesn't get a yellow card in the opening fifteen minutes.

Stoke's back four looks to be lacking pace, the best way forward might be to get Lee Chung-yong or Martin Petrov in behind.  Stoke have Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant on either side.  I think we will see a lot of diagonal balls early (from both sides) to try to bring the wingers into the game.  That is where both clubs are strongest today.

Kickoff is less than a half hour away.  Wembley is rocking.  It is going to be epic.  Cummon Bolton!!!!!!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

FA Cup Semi-finals

Some of you may have noticed that the headline for this post has an -s at the end.  Yes, it is plural.  There are actually two FA Cup matches this weekend.

Now, it is no surprise that the Manchester Derby has received more coverage, it is certainly more of a glamour tie than Stoke v Bolton.  However, I have watched some recent sports news from the UK today, and the first match got all the coverage.

Normally this type of thing doesn't bother me, but this match at Wembley is a big deal for Stoke and Bolton, and to not even get a mention on a 60 minute sports news program seems awfully disrespectful.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Whenever I Think I Know What I am Doing...

...I look back at my preseason predictions.  Just a few gems;

On Wigan, currently bottom of the table, I wrote;

A couple injuries and some bad breaks could pull the Latics down into the relegation battle, but more likely they will have one or two good runs of form that will be just enough to safely ensconce them in the 13-16 range of the table. 

On Wolves, currently 19th;

Owen Coyle Wants Goals!

Bolton's manager has put out an extremely attacking lineup for today's home match against West Ham.

It's a little unclear what the formation will be, but I will try and discern what I can.

Zat Knight partners Gary Cahill in his return from injury.  Consequently, there is not even a place on the bench for David Wheater.  Coyle has played our two most attack-minded fullbacks, Gretar Steinnson and Marcos Alonso.

Fabrice Muamba will hold in front of the back four, while Martin Petrov and Lee Chung-Yong will rampage up and down the wings.  Now this is where it gets confusing.  Kevins Davies and Daniel Sturridge are up top, but where is Johann Elmander playing?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bolton Wanderers v West Ham United

I am not as down on the Fabrice Muamba-Tamir Cohen central midfield pairing as some supporters, but it does leave us lacking creativity in the middle of the park.  For a more detailed preview, check out this entry at the Manny Road blog.


Maybe distracted is the wrong word, but I feel like some of the intensity has left this Bolton side in the last couple league matches.  I can't say I blame them.  They sit eighth in the table on the magic 40 points, they have an epic FA Cup semi-final at Wembley coming up, their free-flowing style of play has made them media darlings, and they no longer have an insane red-haired man screaming at them every day.

The supporters have joined this party as well, they are talking about the trip to London, talking about summer signings, and generally enjoying a great season.

The media has also joined in.  In fact, this article in the Bolton Evening News focuses not on the game at hand (West Ham visits tomorrow), but on the summer plans of Johann Elmander, whom Owen Coyle desperately wants to keep at the Reebok.

I would like to see Elmander stay, and I think there is a good chance he will.  Johann knows he has a good situation in Bolton, and he has been nothing but appreciative towards Coyle for revitalizing his career.  Many supporters have been bleating about loyalty and what not, but I have no problem with him letting his contract run out.  He's 29 years old, this will probably be his last big contract, and I don't blame him for wanting to keep all of his options open.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mental Mistakes

When it comes to sports, no player is ever perfect.  No matter how good an athlete you are, there are balls you can't reach, attackers you can't catch, shots you can't reach, etc.  It's physics, it's reality, and much as we wish it wouldn't, it sometimes intrudes on our little world.  However, these are physical mistakes.  Everybody is going to make physical mistakes, and these are easily forgiven.

Mental mistakes on the other hand, are an entirely different animal.  Most mental mistakes are avoidable, and usually pretty easily so.  Flying into a challenge with both feet off the ground 80 yards from goal in the first ten minutes of a Champions League match is certainly avoidable.  Doing so twice, in the first leg of the biggest match in your club's history, is downright stupid.  As Peter Crouch trudged off the pitch today, the fans at the Bernabeu Stadium chanted, "Tonto, Tonto!"  This means, "Stupid, stupid!"  I see no reason to argue with them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

USA 1 Argentina 1

I didn't watch this whole match, only about 60% of it.  And it is only a friendly, which the US probably took far more seriously than their South American opponents.  But I thought the Americans were impressive.  They spent a lot of time defending, however they did a good job of it, their positioning was solid, some of the young players looked very capable, and whenever the US did put together an attack, there was really a sense of a legitimate threat.

Stuart Holden will be missed on both sides of the Atlantic, but the US actually looks better equipped than Bolton to cope in his absense.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stuart Holden

The American midfielder has been Bolton's player of the season without a doubt, but now he is out for six months.  Just a terrible blow for the club as well as the player, who has had bad luck time and again in his young career.

I just hope that Holden can come back as good, or even better, than he has been this season.  At 25, he should be just entering the peak of his footballing powers.  The worst part is that it looks like he will miss the start of next season as well.  He his having surgery today, hopefully we will know more after that.  Just gutted with this news.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Manchester United 1 Bolton Wanderers 0

I hate Manchester United.  I usually don't traffic in that sort of emotion.  Honestly, I don't get into rivalries all that much.  I usually think it is just another team that we have to beat, but over the past 2 seasons I have really grown to hate Manchester United.  The smugness.  The sense of entitlement.  The xenophobia.  The blatant intimidation.  And worst of all, the lack of talent or ability.

When I see Alex Ferguson pointing at his watch and basically saying, "You cannot blow the whistle until my team wins," I just want to vomit.  And then, the worst part, THE INTIMIDATION WORKS!  The referees in England listen to him.  Inexplicably, illogically, the referees listen to him.

I am trying to articulate why I hate them, but who cares.  I just do.

I hate Manchester United.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

FA Cup Quarterfinals

Wanders are going to Wembley for the first time since 2000!  I was attending Uni in Bolton at that time, living in Orlando Village at Thynne Street, right across the way from the Cattle Market and just down the road from a chicken slaughterhouse.

We lost to Aston Villa in the semi-final that year, but times have changed.  I know several Bolton fans would like to see us face Manchester United if we get to the final, in a replay of 1958.

I am just glad to see the club progressing.  In less than two years Owen Coyle has completely transformed Bolton Wanderers from a drab, unmotivated group under Gary Megson to an exciting, hard-working, high-scoring barrel of fun.

My hope is that the additional cup matches, plus the fact that we have already reached the magical 40 point mark in the league, will allow some of the fringe players an opportunity to show us what they've got.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Luis Suarez

It's the 40th minute of Liverpool v Manchester United, and the home side has just gone up 2-0.  Both goals have been scored by Dirk Kuyt, but both have been set up by Suarez.

The Suarez signing was widely mocked in England, with most pundits making a joke about him being a good goalkeeper (because of the handball on the goal line at the World Cup), then a reference to Afonso Alves (a South American striker who scored a lot of goals in Holland, the flopped in England), but really not knowing anything about Suarez himself.  If they had watched any of Uruguay's matches prior to the Quarterfinal against Ghana, they would know that Suarez was outstanding in every facet of the game.  He and Diego Forlan were the best strike-partnership at the World Cup.

I think Suarez will have one and a half or two fantastic seasons for Liverpool, and then, much like Fernando Torres, move on to a bigger club.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bolton Wanderers 3 Aston Villa 2

What a match!  Another outstanding end-to-end affair at the Reebok.  Bolton didn't play as well as they are capable, in fact, Aston Villa will feel rather hard done by after this one, but you have to take advantage when you are on top.  That means finishing the chances you create.

In Ivan Klasnic and Daniel Sturridge the Wanderers have two top class finishers.  And Gary Cahill is not too shabby either.  Remember, in roughly 25 matches last season, before his shoulder problem, he scored seven goals.

Overall, there were some defensive blunders, and the finishing by Villa was not great, but both sides played very well in attack.  More importantly, this win puts Bolton on 40 points for the season, with nine matches to go.  I think mid-table was always the goal, and we should be able to push on after this, well clear of the relegation battle.  It is probably a little early for a return to European competition, and I think we will fall short of that, but an eighth place finish in Coyle's first full season, with a good portion of the squad (Wheater, Lee, Holden, Muamba, Davies, Alonso, Cahill) under 25, bodes very well for the future.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Newcastle United v Bolton Wanderers

It is a miracle of biblical proportions that this match finished 1-1.  Anyone who watched the action for any extended period of time would have expected a 5-5 goal-fest.  Johann Elmander was on the right wing again, a decision many people are questioning, but he ended up getting a Newcastle player sent off and actually had a pretty good match overall.

Once again though, all eyes were drawn to Daniel Sturridge.  This kid is an absolute beast.  Four goals in four for Bolton, and he does everything well.  Incredible skill on the ball, power, a good shot with both feet, creates chances for his teammates, and whenever he gets the ball I feel like the entire stadium comes to their feet, almost in expectation that something spectacular is going to happen.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

FA Cup Fifth Round

Bolton Wanderers are traveling down to London to take on Fulham at Craven Cottage.  And there had better be a winner, because neither of these clubs can afford a replay.

Bolton are quite shorthanded at the back for this one.  It is not just how many you lose that hurts you, but who you lose.  Sam Ricketts is Owen Coyle's most versatile defender, he can play anywhere along the back 4.  So when there have been injuries in defense, Ricketts has often been the man to pick up the slack.  But this time it is Ricketts who is hurt.  And that leaves Bolton without a recognized right back for tomorrow's match.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Champions League Star Peter Crouch?

The goal was really made by Aaron Lennon, and his run was so good that even he couldn't screw up the cross.  AC Milan really did not look a threat.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic created a few chances late, but for most of the match you would have thought Tottenham were the home team.

In my humble opinion, AC Milan are a spent force, and their current position perched atop Serie A only speaks further to the steep decline in the quality of that league.  It's hard to see anything but a fairly easy home win for Spurs in the second leg of this tie.

As for Tuesday's other match, Schalke have an away goal and Valencia are not known for traveling well, especially to Germany.  It's hard to see anything other than the German side advancing to the last 8.

Monday, February 14, 2011

David Wheater

I thought this deal was a bargain at twice the price for Bolton (I admit I was not alone), and approximately two appearances into his Wanderers career, it appears I was right.  Two games for Wheater, two clean sheets for Bolton.

To be fair, that is probably oversimplifying things.  He may be a more complementary partner though, for Zat Knight or Gary Cahill.  Cahill and Knight are both so big, it somewhat limits their mobility.  Don't get me wrong they both have good pace, and move pretty well for their size, but Wheater may be just a bit quicker.  I have yet to see any results from the scan on Zat Knight's knee, but I am hopeful that he will only miss a week or two.  Wheater is certainly an excellent replacement, but I will be happy when we have three healthy, classy central defenders on the roster.

The situation in defense aside, it was a fine performance against Everton, and hopefully it will herald a return to form for Bolton.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Right Wing

Daniel Sturridge is a monster, he really has to start for Bolton Wanderers.  As I wrote in my last post, Owen Coye is not dropping Kevin Davies.  That is the pairing up top.  Against Tottenham, Johann Elmander started on the right side of midfield.  He worked hard, and he is certainly skillful, but this left us with no pace on the right wing.  And the fact that Matty Taylor and Paul Robinson were the combination on the left side meant we had no pace on either wing.  We are just not going to win many matches that way.

If it were up to me, Rodrigo Moreno and Lee Chung-yong would be the starting wingers.  It seems more likely that Lee and Martin Petrov will be Coyle's preferred pairing.

I am very interested in seeing the starting XI when Bolton play Everton on Sunday.  The more pace in the team, the better.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Boys a bit special...

Daniel Sturridge debuted with a goal, giving Bolton a deserved win over Wolves at The Reebok.

What will be interesting to see is the starting XI for this weekend's away match against Tottenham.  A lot of Bolton supporters are calling on Owen Coyle to play Sturridge from the start.  The funny thing is they are split almost down the middle on who to drop to the bench from the current forwards, Johann Elmander or Kevin Davies.

The truth is that Coyle, much like Gary Megson, Sammy Lee, and Sam Allardye before him, will never drop Kevin Davies of his own accord.  That means the only way Sturridge starts is if Elmander drops to the bench.  Elmander has 10 goals this season, but has not been scoring a lot recently.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Absolute Tonking

And to be honest, we were due.  We have an inconsistent goalkeeper, subpar fullbacks, a swashbuckling style, and a manager who has no qualms throwing on 4 forwards when we are behind in the second half.  It was inevitable that at some point we were going to concede 4 or 5.

I don't think there is a need to panic.  We are in a poor run of form right now, but the Chelsea match Monday was not as bad as the scoreline would indicate.  The loss away to Stoke is the only game this month where you could say Wanderers played terribly.

I think fitness issues and some injuries have contributed as well.  I would not be surprised if we beat Wigan in the FA Cup on Saturday and that starts a good run of form for us.  I still think we will end up mid-table.  And one of the hallmarks of a mid-table team is inconsistency.  So all the supporters who are freaking out just need to relax, drink a beer, and shut their pie-holes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Transfer Speculation

Bolton have been linked with a few players over the past month or so.  There are really only two types of transfers in January; The Foregone Conclusion and The Complete Shock.

The Complete Shock is what happened to Sunderland last week, when Darren Bent suddenly and unexpectedly announced he was moving to Aston Villa.  Nobody had a clue it was happening until it was done.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm Back.

Good day loyal readers and Wanderers supporters.  I have spent the past couple weeks happily wandering the hills of Spain and Morocco, but now I am back, and ready to talk some football.  Bolton play Chelsea in a couple days, and that will no doubt be an interesting match;  However, I would like to spend today's posts addressing transfer speculation.  And believe me, about 95% of it is unfounded, unrealistic, unlikely to ever even be discussed, speculation.

First the confirmed signings;  Andy O'Brien went to Leeds.  I liked him, he was what they call an "honest" player, but he was barely up to premier league quality at his best, and he is well past that now.  I wish him luck.

Tope Obadeyi's loan deal with Shrewsbury Town expired.  He is back with Bolton after making nine starts for town and impressing no one.  He is still only 21, but he won't feature for the first team, and probably will be let go this coming summer.  We have had a few of these over the past few years, winger/forward types with a lot of pace and little else.  None of them have worked out.  It does not appear Tope will be the first.