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.