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.