Posts Tagged ‘premier league’
It’s not without a sense of irony that the high cost of tickets for Premier League matches was thrust into the spotlight by Manchester City supporters.
The £62 ticket price for a ticket to watch their team play away to Arsenal was no more than Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs have had to pay for the equivalent fixture. In fact, when considering that those four clubs have consistently provided Arsenal with their biggest games of the season, visiting fans of that quartet will have had to pay top prices at Arsenal for as long as the Premier League has existed.
Man City will likely be the only one of that group of clubs rated by Arsenal as “Category A” opponents who don’t have 3,000 fans willing to pay such a high price, and for a club whose fans have often boasted about both their numbers and their loyalty – as was often the case whilst averaging 28,000 in League One – it’s surprising that there isn’t high enough demand to sell their full ticket quota for their first visit to the Emirates as Premier League champions.
However, when considering that even a must-win match in the Champions League was played out in front of almost 8,000 vacant sky blue coloured seats, perhaps the club simply don’t have the size of following that has previously been claimed. There could have been no complaints at the £35 cost of a ticket for the clash with Ajax – especially when compared to the 80€ admission cost of the reverse fixture.
The other irony about the issue having been forced by Man City fans is that clubs like Arsenal have been affected more than most by the wealth of cash thrown around firstly by Chelsea, and then, more recently, Man City themselves.
In racking up huge annual losses through the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds directly from the pockets of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, both Chelsea and Man City enjoyed the kind of spending power with which no sensibly run club could compete.
In a short space of time, Arsenal went from having consistently been one of best teams in the land, to one which could no longer compete with the best at the league’s summit. Most of the club’s star players have opted to leave due to the lack of silverware, and with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules due to take effect from next year, Arsenal face a huge challenge if they’re to strengthen enough to challenge for a league title in the near future.
Of course, none of that may be enough to justify such a high cost of tickets. But if Arsenal are able to demand up to £126 for a single Premier League match and still see the stadium full for almost all of their games, then why should there be any pressure to lower their matchday prices? Why shouldn’t Arsenal be allowed to maximise their income in such a highly competitive sport? And why should they be condemned for simply trying to compete with clubs who have been fortunate enough to find themselves bankrolled by foreign multi-billionaires?
Last year’s league titles in Spain and England were won by the two costliest football squads in history, and the Champions League won by the next biggest spenders over the last few years.
All three of those successful teams were able to invest heavily before the new financial rules take effect. Man City fans might do well to recognise that they, like Chelsea and Real Madrid, were able to spend vast sums of money in a way that their rivals couldn’t match at the time, and won’t be allowed to in the future.
Arsenal are simply one of a number of clubs doing whatever they can to remain as financially competitive as possible. And in an imperfect footballing world, no one should blame them for that.
The best league in the world. The most popular league in the world.
Both are common phrases to hear, when describing the English Premier League. Of course, they’re almost always used by British journalists or ex-players covering the English game on TV.
The recent announcement of the FIFpro World XI for 2012 was heavily criticised by many of those same British-based experts, after it consisted entirely of footballers playing for clubs in the Spanish Primera Liga.
How could it be possible that the Premier League was not represented, they asked? There were no questions of why the team included no players from the German Bundesliga, or Italy’s Serie A. But then they aren’t considered as being the best league in the world.
The most controversial omission was Robin Van Persie, who was the best player in England during 2012. He was overlooked, legitimately, in favour of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao. The first two require no justification, though even Falcao managed to outscore Van Persie over the calendar year – as well as making a significant contribution to Atletico Madrid’s Europa League and European Super Cup wins.
There’s no question that the English league is the most hyped in the world, and it may even be true that it’s the most popular. After all, the revenue generated from worldwide TV rights are unmatched by any other top flight football league.
Whether it is the best though, is an entirely different question.
La Liga is generally seen as the next best league – again, based usually on the judgement of English-based experts alone. So in explaining the reasons why the Premier League rules, it is merely a case of those very people detailing why it is better than La Liga.
The main arguments usually include one or more of the following:
- English football is more entertaining to watch;
- There are only two strong teams in Spain;
- Every game in England is competitive, regardless of the gulf in class between the two competing sides;
- There is a better atmosphere in the stadiums;
- Most of the world’s best players play in England
Some of the above statements are often used with such conviction that they cannot possibly be false, but there is plenty that can be said in support of Spain’s case for having the strongest football league in Europe.
In Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga contains arguably the two best club sides in the world. Neither are invincible, but there wouldn’t generally be too many people who would strongly disagree with that assessment.
The strength of those two teams in itself doesn’t reflect the general health of the league, but a look at the performances of Spain’s teams in Europe over the last decade certainly points to a depth in the quality of teams further down the league.
Results in European competition are one of the few ways in which the strength of a given league can be truly measured and compared. Doing so would only lead to a conclusion pointing very much towards Spain rather than the Premier League.
Since 2000, six Champions League finals have included a Spanish club, five of them won by the team from La Liga. The other was Valencia’s 2001 penalty shoot-out defeat to Bayern Munich. The most recent three occasions have seen Barcelona triumph over English opposition.
In the UEFA Cup/Europa league over that time, nine different Spanish teams have reached at least the semi final, and there have been two all-Spanish finals. Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have each won the competition twice since 2005, and Valencia lifted the trophy in 2004.
In contrast, only six different English representatives have made it to the last four, and not since Liverpool defeated Alaves in 2001 has the Premier League delivered a winner.
For a league considering itself so strong, the performance of English teams in the Europa League has been quite dreadful. Every club in the top nine places of La Liga in 2010/11 had experience of competing in a recent a European semi final, though it’d be almost unimaginable for the same to be true of the Premier League.
Based on present league placings, such a scenario would have to have seen the likes of Swansea, West Brom and Everton mixing it with the continent’s best, while even Man City have so far failed to make any kind of impression on European competition despite resources that perhaps only one or two clubs in the world can match.
Middlesbrough and Fulham did managed to achieve some continental success by reaching finals in 2005 and 2010 respectively, though neither had to face Spanish opposition until the final. Both were beaten – emphatically in Middlesbrough’s case.
The only other argument from those above that I will address is that of how competitive the matches within each league are deemed to be. Is it really true that Real Madrid and Barcelona have games where they only have to turn up to win, whereas Manchester United and Man City have to fight much harder for any points earned?
It may appear that English games are more competitive, but is that based more on the style of football? Does the fact that English teams adopt a more physical approach give an impression that smaller teams compete better against the top teams in England than in Spain?
If results were compared, it would be difficult to see any noticeable difference.
How often do any of the teams near the bottom of the table cause any problem to one of the title contenders, in either country?
Wigan’s win against Man United last spring comes immediately to mind, but there are few other examples to offer from recent seasons. Barcelona were near unbeatable in the 2010/11 season but still lost 2-0 at home to Hercules, who were relegated and won only one other away game during the remainder of the season. Evidence that hugely surprising results do occur in Spain, too.
It was said of QPR’s win over Chelsea earlier this month that the result was further proof of something which simply wouldn’t happen in Spain. But Chelsea haven’t been consistent this season to keep up with the top two and are a long way off the league leaders.
Even in the two weeks since then, Real Madrid have been held to a goalless draw by bottom of the table Osasuna. Meanwhile, amongst the points dropped by Madrid last season on their way to the title were draws against Villarreal and Racing Santander – both of whom went on to be relegated.
In Barcelona, the likes of Messi, Iniesta et al. have helped the club to a record-breaking first half of the season. A first league defeat did finally occur yesterday, and it was to 12th placed Real Sociedad – a team who made Real Madrid work extremely hard to hold on for a 4-3 win during the previous round of fixtures.
There’s a lot for football fans to admire about the Premier League, but to boast that it is the best in Europe, or to dismiss so much that the Spanish league has to offer only goes to highlight an English bias that, beyond one’s personal preference, appears to be very hard to justify.
It’s funny how managers are treated so differently in the media.
Some are able to do no wrong, regardless of any periods of under-achievement or mistakes they might make.
Others can do nothing right, and their achievements are belittled – or credited entirely to someone else.
An example of the former is Mark Hughes, who did well with Blackburn, though achieved little beyond what was expected of him during spells with Man City and Fulham.
Hughes quit Fulham a year after taking charge, as the club failed to match his expectations. He wanted to manage at a club competing for trophies, or occupying Champions League positions.
Speaking of Fulham, his agent said at the time: “They are a great top 10, mid-table club and I think Mark really wants to be right up there competing in the Champions League positions, up there competing for titles. He’d like to win some cups.”
Quite what attracted Hughes to QPR given his lofty ambition remains a mystery. A promise of investment might have turned his head, but there was certainly no immediate prospect of silverware at a club battling to stay in the top flight.
The managerial change had little impact on the fortunes of QPR, and they finished the season in exactly the same position as they were in when Hughes replaced Neil Warnock – a single point outside the relegation zone.
Still, given a favourable perception of Hughes throughout much of the media, there’s unlikely to be too much criticism handed out, despite a dreadful time in charge of the team who are now firmly rooted to the foot of the table.
Contrast that to the reaction of Rafael Benitez’s appointment at Chelsea, which has been treated with rather a lot of scepticism – not only by fans of Chelsea but in the press, too.
“Benitez has plenty to prove” was the heading to an article by the BBC’s chief football writer, echoing the sentiments of Chelsea supporters who regard the Spaniard as not being a particularly good manager.
It’s unfortunate that such a view of Benitez has stuck, but it demonstrates the power of the media to influence minds, often based on some personal biases or club rivalries.
Benitez arrived in English football at the same time as Mourinho, though brought much less charm with him than the Portuguese – an important quality these days it seems, as other have found out.
In taking charge of Liverpool, he also took on a far greater challenge than Mourinho was tasked with at Chelsea. There was money to spend, but the amount was limited each season and in undertaking the complete overhaul of a squad which had failed to deliver under Gerard Houllier, Benitez needed to bring a host of players with the budget.
It would have been far easier to identify an entire team of superstars and sign them up instantly, as Chelsea’s wealth allowed them to do.
The sheer amount of work required to take Liverpool from a a fourth place to title challengers was something that critics were either unappreciate of – or who simply chose to ignore it in order to continue piling the pressure on Benitez.
At the start of the 2004-5 season, Benitez’s first in English football, he was competing with two sides who already had Premiership winning squads at their disposal – both had been crowned champions over the previous two seasons – and the might of Abramovich’s free-spending Chelsea.
The fact that Liverpool competed for the title at all during Benitez’s tenure is testament to the huge improvement which took place over during the five years he was at Anfield.
Yes, the final season was a disappointment but it was also one in which the whole club was emboiled in off the pitch problems. Football was overshadowed by politics and transfer windows passed by with Liverpool expected to make a profit through player sales rather than continue investing to secure their position as title challengers. Few managers, if any, would have coped more admirably under the circumstances than Benitez did.
Up until the final year, the overall picture was one of massive progress.
Under Benitez, Liverpool reached two Champions League finals, something not even Man United had managed to do in the Champions League era.
Domestically there was a memorable FA Cup triumph and even if other pieces of silverware wouldn’t impress the likes of Chelsea or Man United, such as the UEFA Super Cup or the Community Shield, they were nevertheless trophies that the overwhelming majority of Premier League sides would have been delighted with.
Outside of Merseyside though, little credit is given to Benitez for a lot of what was achieved between 2004 and 2009.
His Champions League win was with Gerard Houllier’s team, the critics say. But if that’s the case, then Jose Mourinho shouldn’t be given any credit for what he achieved at Chelsea, given that he was successful only thanks to the team that Claudio Ranieri built. Even some of the key signings who only arrived at Chelsea after Ranieri was sacked, such as Petr Cech and Arjen Robben, were players who struck pre-contract deals in January – long before Mourinho was in the frame.
Noone would believe that to be the case and Mourinho should rightly be credited as the man who secured the Premier League title with Chelsea, just as Benitez was responsible for leading Liverpool to Champions League glory in Istanbul. The argument against Benitez crumbles even further when bearing in mind that Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia – two of Liverpool’s most important players throughout the successful campaign in Europe – were signed by him.
Of his signings, there were mistakes made certainly. But with the restrictions in place – i.e. no bottomless pot of cash – gambles had to be taken and some quite obviously didn’t pay off. Again, he’s not alone in that regard. If the list of failed signings at Man United and Chelsea were carefully analyzed, there would be mistakes there too. The question would be, is the team still improving? And in most cases, the answer is usually yes, despite the mistakes.
To focus on the mistakes serves to do little justice to an overall record that included huge successes. In 2009, Liverpool’s side included some of the continent’s best players in almost every position with the likes of Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres all players signed by Benitez.
The last argument levelled at Benitez is regarding the amount of money spent, something else used by his detractors to “prove” that he is simply not a top manager. As already mentioned, his Liverpool side was one that needed an almost complete rebuild of the squad, and with the squads of rival clubs were in a much healthier state, requiring much less investment.
But even after considering the vast difference in quality of the squads inherited, Jose Mourinho still outspent Benitez during the three years that they each managed in England together. Should not the ‘special one’ have been able to get more out of the considerable resources already at his disposal?
In Benitez’s case, he was under almost the same amount of pressure to deliver a title. Liverpool fans are often accused of believing that they have a divine right to compete for titles, but whilst many were realistic enough to see the size of the task Benitez faced, there was unrelenting pressure from the media for Liverpool to challenge for – and win – the Premier League title.
Other teams who haven’t historically been as successful as Liverpool, would be under no such pressure, even in the same circumstances. Tottenham, for example, invested heavily and on paper were able to put together a strong enough squad to compete with the top four teams. But their top four finish in 2010 was celebrated as a monumental achievement when the same end result at Liverpool would have been deemed a failure.
Now at Chelsea, there’ll be many who are hoping that Benitez fails in order to prove that they were right about him. But with a good set of players available, I fully expect him to have Chelsea competing for the title this season.
The doubters will be disappointed to know that Benitez is a man with quite a thick skin. And based on the vast majority of his nine years with Valencia and Liverpool, he’s also quite a good football manager.
Well, Roberto Di Matteo lasted longer as Chelsea manager than some.
The Italian’s 262 days in the job make him the fourth longest-serving of the eight men who have held the Chelsea manager’s job since the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003.
It doesn’t make the decision to sack him any easier to understand though, and once again raises questions of who exactly Chelsea’s Russian owner is capable of trusting over a period of time that is long enough to bring about stability to the club.
Di Matteo was appointed on the back of a successful time as caretaker that included success in the Champions League and FA Cup.
His appointment was in many ways similar to that of Avram Grant, who stepped in following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho and led Chelsea to their first ever Champions League final – one which was lost only due to John Terry’s missed penalty kick.
Grant’s failure to land the Premier League title failed to earn him a permanent contract however, and the highly rated Luiz Felipe Scolari took over. Though even Scolari’s reputation as one of the world’s top coaches couldn’t help him survive once Chelsea hit a bad run of form in January of 2009.
Next was one of the most decorated coaches still involved in the game, Carlo Ancelotti – a man of vast experience and double-winner of the Champions League with Milan. His task was to bring that very trophy to Stamford Bridge. A domestic league and cup double in his first season might have been enough to earn a second year at the helm, but absence of any further silverware meant only one thing the following spring.
Following the failure of an experience coach to live up to impossible expectations was a shift to the inexperienced Andre Villas-Boas. It was supposed to represent a change of approach, with less pressure to deliver instant results and an emphasis on phasing out the old guard and freshening up the team.
That didn’t work, either. Senior players were unhappy, and weren’t afraid to say so. Villas-Boas out, Di Matteo in, and what followed under the leadership of a man whose only previous managerial experience was during a short-lived reign at West Bromwich Albion, defied footballing logic, given what had gone before.
On the verge of Champions League exit in March, Chelsea’s fortunes turned dramatically and thanks to a combination of solid defensive performances and wasteful finishing by their opponents, the west Londoners overcame the challenge of both Barcelona and Bayern Munich to lift the Champions League trophy for the first time in their history.
In doing so, they were the first team to ever triumph in Europe in the same year as being the sixth best team domestically. History may have been achieved, though there was clearly work to be done for Chelsea to do in order to have any chance of repeating their achievements, or returning to a position of challenging for the Premier League title.
Much of the necessary reinforcements looked to have been in place with a massive programme of spending during the summer to bring in stars such as Eden Hazard and Oscar, both of whom played a part in propelling Chelsea to the top of the league in October.
But once again, Abramovich has wielded the axe after a relatively short period of poor form – and the man who played a major role in helping Chelsea become champions of Europe has become the first Premier League boss to lose his job this season.
There should be no talk of any crisis at Chelsea, but with Abramovich again showing the impatience he has become notorious for, there will certainly be questions of whether anyone is capable of matching the colossal expectations that will be placed upon them.
Pep Guardiola may have been the most successful manager in Barcelona’s history, but could even he replicate that at Chelsea, or thrive at a club where so many other managers have tried and failed?
The list of other top managers who may could be tempted is much shorter than when the Chelsea have appointed managers in the past – in part because they’ve tried so many of the biggest names already.
Fabio Capello is one who hasn’t yet had his opportunity, and both Harry Redknapp and Rafa Benitez will be mentioned due to their immediate availability.
Guardiola would be the fans’ choice, but would be forgiven for considering the job is one which has too much risk. And unless Abramovich, prior to sacking Di Matteo, has already been in contact with a potential successor, he may find that there aren’t too many other managers willing to take such a gamble, either.
If that is the case, he’d have only himself to blame.
Another season of top flight football begins tomorrow, and it’s the time when everyone is out to prove their knowledge of the game by making bold predictions for the next 9 months.
However, there is frequently a touch of the unexpected in all sports and football is no different. How many people would have confidently placed Newcastle in contention for a Champions League spot last season? At the other end of the table, correctly guessing the teams who will be relegated is perhaps the most difficult of all Premier League predictions.
So, following some mixed fortunes last year, here are my 2012/13 Premier League predictions.
Champions: Manchester City
My hope for this season is that the title is a bit more closely contested throughout the whole season. There can’t possibly be a final day to match the drama of last season, but before each of the Manchester clubs had taken turns in throwing away big leads at the Premier League summit, it had looked as though Man City would be wrapping up the league championship with half-a-dozen games to spare.
Most of the pressure coming City’s way is likely to be applied by local rivals Man United, as well as from big-spending Chelsea. Each of those two sides will be boosted by star signings such as Eden Hazard and Oscar at Chelsea, and Robin Van Persie at Man United, but the overall squad strength of Man City is the reason that I consider them still to be the favourites.
As I mentioned at the same stage last year, it’s likely to be City themselves who are the biggest threat to them winning the title, and there’s sure to be something – or someone – to cause unrest within the squad. But they still had just enough to be able to overcome their off-pitch difficulties last season, and I expect that to be the case again.
Top Four: Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool
The top four used to consist regularly of what became known as the big four – Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Everton managed to break-up the establishged quartet in the 2004/5 season, and Tottenham threatened to push Arsenal into fifth place on a couple of occasions. But it wasn’t until Man City really began to demonstrate their power in the transfer market that the “big four” was truly dismantled. City’s surge up the table coincided with Tottenham finally living up to the potential that they’d shown for a number of years, and in successive seasons, both clubs qualified for a first taster of Champions League football.
Liverpool have been the biggest losers of that so far, but Arsenal have also looked to be at risk of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Arsene Wenger, and it seems only a matter of time before they do miss out on the top four.
Liverpool finished the season poorly in the league, but regular bad finishing in front of goal was the primary reason that so many good performances during much of the first two-thirds of the season failed to earn the deserved number of points. For that reason, I don’t consider Liverpool to be too far away from genuinely being able to break back into the top four, although I can’t see them finished higher than fourth.
Tottenham were another club who had a period where results were poor even though the performances themselves were good. Fortunately for Spurs, they were in a strong position to begin with and also finished the season well.
With Arsenal weakened significantly by the loss of Van Persie, I think the race for fourth will be between Spurs and Liverpool. Both have managers who I rate highly, though if Brendan Rodgers can make the slight adjustments needed to help Liverpool turn many of their draws into victories, I predict Liverpool will edge it.
Relegation: Wigan, Southampton, Norwich
Predicting the three teams to go down is almost like picking three random names out of a hat consisting of 10 or 12 clubs. It’s often the case that one or two sides struggle to the point of being written off by Christmas, but it’s not always the most obvious club. Managerial changes can make big differences too, either for the better, such as Fulham appointing Roy Hodgson, or for the worse, such as Wolves’ sacking of Mick McCarthy last season.
It’s rare for all three promoted sides to survive, and of the three clubs to come up last season, only QPR ever looked in danger of the drop. I expect there to be much more discomfort for Norwich and Swansea this year, with both clubs having lost the managers who masterminded such respectable league finishes last term. Of the two, I think Norwich are most at risk, and they looked particularly vulnerable in a few of their matches at the end of the season.
Of the promoted sides, West Ham have enough experience to remain in the top flight. Southampton and Reading only have to look at last season to realise what is possible, but I don’t expect either team to match the mid-table finishes of Norwich or Swansea. Both have prior experience in the Premier League, but having been in League One only 15 months ago, I can see Southampton struggling the most to avoid the drop.
Wigan complete my trio of teams and having enjoyed some of the drama produced by their previous relegation escapes, I’m actually hoping that I’m proved wrong. If Roberto Martinez can see his team getting the kind of results that Wigan were achieving at the end of last season, then perhaps this will be a year without quite as much stress for the Wigan fans.
It’s fair to acknowledge that even when results were bad, Martinez stuck to his style of playing football and it was that which proved the catalyst for wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as at home to Man United. Can Wigan perform like that from the start of the season? Will they cope without the likes of Hugo Rodallega and Mohammed Diame? If so, they have every chance of staying up. But it’s unlikely that even Wigan have any more rabbits to pull out of the hat should they find themselves in such a precarious position again.
I wasn’t surprised to see King Kenny shown the Anfield exit yesterday. However, nor would I have been surprised if Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s Boston-based owners, had opted to stand by the man whom they themselves appointed only a year ago.
There were strong arguments supporting each course of action and whatever decision Liverpool’s American owners were to make would involve taking a risk.
Liverpool’s 2011/12 season is not an easy one to assess. Reaching the final of both domestic cup competitions in the same season is no mean feat, and in Liverpool’s case, it involved having to overcome the best two club sides in the country as well as Chelsea and Everton.
That the Reds couldn’t repeat their Carling Cup win over Chelsea when the two sides met in the FA Cup Final at Wembley may be the source of some regret at Anfield given that their opponents were far from being at their best. Once Liverpool got themselves going they were already 2-0 down, and the task was just too much of an ask in the time remaining.
As disappointing as it was, the FA Cup loss is unlikely to have had anything to do with Dalglish’s sacking, even though a return of two trophies would certainly have made FSG’s decision much more difficult – possibly resulting in a different outcome.
However, while the club’s results in cup competitions have been excellent, results in the Premier League have ultimately cost Dalglish his job – and that’s where progress really becomes difficult to measure.
Performances have generally been better than in either of the two previous seasons. It’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that, with a couple of notable exceptions, Liverpool dominated all of their league fixtures in the first few months of the season.
Progress was clearly evident, as was the quality available throughout the squad despite the team’s difficulties in converting the many chances that were being created.
By February, Liverpool may have trailed the top three by some distance but fourth place remained a realistic goal. Only after a home defeat to Arsenal – another match in which Liverpool dominated and should have won – did the target of Champions League qualification appear unattainable, but even at that stage of the season it would have been unthinkable to imagine Kenny Dalglish losing his job.
Liverpool’s form in the three months following the loss to Arsenal is more likely to be the period of the season that has led to doubts in the minds of the owners as to whether Dalglish is still the man to get the most out of his players. Performances were poor, and were reflected by the results which followed.
Fulham won at Anfield for the first time in their history and in doing so, completed a league double over Liverpool without conceding a goal over the two games. Fulham were one of four teams that Liverpool failed to score against – a list which included Stoke as well as newly promoted Swansea. Meanwhile, West Brom won their first match at Anfield in 25 attempts dating back to 1967 and Wigan, who were being kept off the bottom of the table only on goal difference, also went home from Merseyside with all three points.
For all of the positives on show, there have been too many signs of a team simply not making the progress expected of them, which gave FSG two important questions to answer.
Firstly, was there a confidence that Dalglish would be able to guide Liverpool back into the Champions League next season with largely the same group of players who have been involved in the club’s lowest league placing for 18 years?
Putting aside all loyalty to Dalglish, it would be easy to understand why the owners would have doubts, especially when bearing in mind that having recognised at the turn of the year that all Liverpool were missing was better finishing, Dalglish found himself unable to bring about an improvement during the second half of the season.
Secondly, was there a trust in Dalglish’s ability to invest wisely, particularly after spending large amounts on players who have yet to represent good value for money?
Again, there are difficulties in defending last summer’s transfer dealings, when huge sums were invested in players specifically brought to Anfield in order to boost Liverpool’s prospects in the league.
The players brought in were those who knew the Premier League and who wouldn’t need the time to adjust to the style of English football. It’s not fair to make a final judgement of each player on the basis on one year, though not one summer signing can yet be considered a success at Liverpool.
When considering issues such as the above, John W Henry and co have clearly concluded that too many question marks remain over whether Dalglish is the man who they trust to help realise their ambitions for LFC.
Whilst I feel that any manager appointed at any club should be given at least two full seasons before he is under threat, it’s obviously important that the manager has the board’s full support at the start of the season. Any lack of confidence in Dalglish would only be highlighted further if, for example, Liverpool were to start next season badly, and uncertainties over the manager’s position once the season had started would only contribute to an unhelpful atmosphere at the club and threaten to destabilise the whole campaign.
For that reason, and taking into account the doubts that quite clearly exist in Boston, removing Dalglish immediately is probably the right move, even if it means losing a few friends on the Kop in the process. The success of FSG’s next managerial appointment will determine whether any frustration towards them for dismissing a Liverpool legend can be quickly forgotten.
Dalglish won’t leave the Anfield dugout as a manager who has failed, but rather as one who has succeeded in steadying a ship which has endured much turmoil over the last 2-3 years.
And despite the lowly Premier League finish, Liverpool FC is a much more attractive job to a potential new manager than it has been at any stage during the previous two years.
For that, Dalglish deserves more credit than anyone.
The 20th Premier League campaign saw its final round of games yesterday and a chance to reflect on a mixed bag of pre-season predictions.
Back in August, I picked Man United as title winners – purely based on Man City’s unique ability to shoot themselves in the foot whenever they seem to be making progress.
Ironically, after Man City had done exactly that – losing a comfortable lead in the title race and falling eight points behind Man United in April – it was their Manchester rivals who self-destructed, and in doing so left themselves needing a highly improbable combination of results on the final day in order to take the title.
Yet it was a combination of results which looked set to occur at the moment when the final whistle was blown at the Stadium of Light, where Man United had beaten Sunderland.
Man United were technically the league leaders at that stage, with Man City’s home match against QPR still to finish, and with QPR holding a 2-1 advantage as the game entered a second minute of added on time, there was every likelihood that Man United would stay on top.
Even an equalising goal by Edin Dzeko wasn’t enough to swing the title race back in favour of Man City, but an almost immediate winner in the 94th minute by Sergio Aguero sealed one of the most remarkable title wins, and City’s first since the 1960′s.
Chelsea and Liverpool – my picks for 3rd and 4th place – both had disappointing league campaigns, though each club did at least collect some silverware to show for a more impressive showing in knockout competitions.
Arsenal did qualify for the Champions League after a roller-coaster season of their own. Recovering from a poor start, a surge in form put them in pole position for 3rd place before a late wobble almost led to Arsene Wenger’s side throwing it away.
Tottenham’s form was quite the opposite. After a slipping out of contention for the title shortly after the turn of the year, they went on to drop out of the top four altogether before recovering in recent weeks to finish ahead of Newcastle, who lost three of their final four games.
Spurs still have a week to wait in order to discover whether or not their efforts will be enough to see them qualify for the Champions League. A Chelsea win against Bayern Munich would see them, rather than Spurs, claim one of the four slots allocated for English clubs.
Away from the teams battling for the title or for a top four position, I predicted that Everton would be 7th, which they did. Unfortunately for David Moyes’ team, the Carling Cup was won by a side finishing lower in the table, which prevented a Europa League place from being available to the 7th placed team in the league.
Offering predictions as to who will go down is always a risky exercise before the season has kicked off, but only a late Stoke goal denied me a two-out-of-three success rate! Swansea never looked in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, and deserve credit for following the likes of Wigan, Stoke and Reading in surviving a first year in the top flight when so many people expect them to go straight back down.
Bolton’s inability to hold on for a win at Stoke yesterday meant that it was they, rather than QPR, who would go down. They joined Blackburn and Wolves in dropping into the Championship next season.
Blackburn’s miserable 18 month spell in the hands of new owners had already seen them end a 12-year run in the top flight, and after Wolves sacked the man who had kept them in the Premier League during the previous two seasons, they went on a 13 game run without a win to ultimately finish 12 points from safety and end the season rooted to the foot of the table.
For the neutral, it’s been a great end to a season which at one point looked on course to have every major position decided long before the campaign ended.
As a Liverpool fan, it’s just been great to end the season!
Wigan are becoming the Premier League’s finest escape artists. The manner in which the club continually flirt with relegation before eventually going on to secure their top flight status is starting to look as if Wigan get themselves into ever more desperate situations each year simply to provide themselves with a challenge.
Here are three of Wigan’s great escapes.
The greatest escape of all. After an impressive first top flight campaign a year earlier, Wigan looked to be following it up with another solid season, and were nine points clear of 18th placed Charlton Athletic by the middle of March.
Relegation wasn’t even on the agenda.
But that all changed after taking just three points from their next eight games, and Wigan went into the final weekend of the season in 18th position, three points behind West Ham and Sheffield United.
Ironically their last fixture was away to Sheffield United and Wigan knew that only a win would be enough. Such a scenario would even have led to both sides staying up if West Ham had lost to Man United, who had already been crowned Champions. But Carlos Tevez’s infamous winner for West Ham ensured that the Londoners were certain to survive, and Sheffield United v Wigan became a straight contest to decide who would go down.
Against the odds and playing with 10 men following a sending-off, Wigan won 2-1 and went level with their opponents on 38 points, but leapfrogged Sheffield United by virtue of a +1 better goal difference.
It was the narrowest escape of any Premier League team to have avoided relegation, and given that the two sides involved were facing each other on the last day, remains perhaps the most dramatic last day survival in the Premier League era.
A 4-0 home defeat to newly promoted Blackpool was just about the worst possible result with which to kick off a new season and Wigan’s 6-0 loss to Chelsea only a week later left the Latics looking like early favourites for the drop.
The defeats continued – albeit they were not always quite so emphatic – and Wigan looked during much of the season like a side who were very much in danger of going down.
Although they were never more than a couple of results away from getting out of the bottom three, Wigan continually failed to pick up the results that they needed, and occupied 20th place in the league with less than a month of the season to play.
A fixture list consisting of four away games and just two at home was hardly the most appealing for a team who desperately needed to pick up points, but Wigan did finally start to do just that. The highlight was a 90th minute Charles N’Zogbia winner in Wigan’s penultimate match of the season at home to West Ham, who had led 2-0 at half time – an outcome that would have sent Wigan down.
On the last day of the season, even a win for Wigan – in a difficult away fixture at Stoke – wasn’t guaranteed to be enough. Wigan took three points, which ultimately proved to be good enough to see them stay up – helped by some favourable results in games involving their rivals.
Having not learnt anything from their narrow escape only months earlier, Wigan got off to another dreadful start this season, taking only five points from their first 11 games.
A run of nine straight defeats in all competitions had many people writing off Wigan’s chances by early November. And with Wigan remaining at the foot of the table in mid-February, five points from safety and having endured a separate ten match run without a single win, all evidence suggested that their luck was finally out – and that Roberto Martinez’s side were relegation certainties.
But while a host of clubs above them were enduring a run of defeats, Wigan picked up a few draws during February and March which helped them to edge a little closer to safety.
It was enough to climb off the bottom of the table, but Wigan remained in the bottom three, with a far tougher looking set of fixtures were still to come.
Stranger things have happened in the Premier League than a relegation-threatened team winning against a top-four club, but Wigan were in a position that demanded they would need to win more than just one of their games against top clubs.
An astonishing sequence of results saw them win four such games, but not until after they’d taken maximum points in away wins at Liverpool and Arsenal, and also beaten both Manchester United and Newcastle did Wigan appear to have any genuine hope of survival.
If 2007 was the most dramatic escape, then Wigan’s form over the last weeks of the 2011-12 season in guaranteeing another season of top flight football surely mark their most impressive escape – one that was sealed with a 1-0 win at Blackburn, a sixth win in eight games.
If only Wigan could start a season in such fine form…
Continuing from my earlier post concerning yesterday’s Premier League game between Newcastle United and Liverpool, the most unsavory aspect of the afternoon other than Liverpool’s performance was James Perch’s involvement in the sending off of Pepe Reina.
Watching the incident as it happened, it looked like a gentle headbutt by Reina and a massive overreaction by Perch. Even so, I expected Reina to be dismissed because regardless of how much contact may actually have been made, there was clearly some violent intent and the laws of the game demand that a red card be issued for such an action.
But the replays also confirmed the exaggerated role played by Perch, with one angle even appearing to show the possibility that there wasn’t even any contact at all between the players.
Whether the reaction by Perch – instantly throwing himself to the ground and rolling around as if punched by a heavyweight boxer – had any bearing on the referee’s decision or not will be known only to the official himself.
There have, however, been similar instances when players have touched heads and only a yellow card given – one example being Liverpool’s league fixture at Fulham earlier in the season when Clint Dempsey reacted aggressively to what had actually been an entirely fair challenge by Bellamy. Dempsey clearly aimed a headbutt at Bellamy during a heated exchange between the pair but was only cautioned, perhaps because Bellamy had stayed on his feet.
So could Reina have escaped with only a caution yesterday had Perch not feigned injury in a manner which unfairly did a fellow professional no favours? Again, only Martin Atkinson could answer that question.
But given there was no need to go to ground holding his face, there should also be measures in place to issue retrospective punishment to players such as Perch who can clearly be proven to have reacted dishonestly. Had he stayed on his feet and Reina not been dismissed, there would have been ample opportunity for the FA to review the decision after the match and issue a suspension if it was felt that one was warranted.
On the whole, the FA have done well in their aims of stamping out dangerous two-footed challenges and elbowing and have recently stepped up their anti-racism campaign, but playacting is an area which the FA have never properly addressed. Too many players know that if they can get away with it at the time then there’ll be no further repercussions.
It’s one of the last forms of cheating that is simply accepted by the nation’s football authorities, and a change in approach to dealing with the problem by those at the FA and the Premier League is long overdue.
How many footballers would roll around pretending to be injured despite not having been touched whilst watching on as an opponent is sent off, if they knew that that their own actions would be scutinised and could themselves lead to a lengthy ban?
Perhaps it’s time to find out.
Aside from the financial considerations, there’s a number of reasons why, after years of being an ever-present at Anfield, I started to grow fed-up with the modern game – and two of them were perfectly illustrated at Newcastle yesterday.
The first reason was the issue of cheating, and I’ll cover that in a separate article later today.
The second was the manner of Liverpool’s performance. I’m not of the opinion that paying spectators deserve to be entertained, or have a right to see good quality football. Despite the hype and promotion of “the product” by the Premier League and television companies, the game of football, even at the highest level, remains first and foremost a sport.
But the one thing which supporters should be able to expect is effort and determination – even on a bad day, as yesterday undoubtedly was for Liverpool. Such a quality was lacking from too many players to name individually, and that has been a theme during too many recent league games even if the manager has cited other reasons for an alarming run of league form.
Tiredness can’t be blamed. Liverpool have enjoyed progress in two cups, but have still played fewer games than many – if not all – of the teams who have competed in Europe this season.
Clubs with ambition should expect to be playing twice a week at this stage of the season, and it’s a certainty than Man United won’t be happy with not having a European game to play this week – or an FA Cup semi final in two weeks time.
Nor can blame be levelled at the quality of squad that Kenny Dalglish has available to him. While it may lack the same depth as some of the teams further up the league table, it is much stronger than it was in January 2011 when Dalglish took over.
The progress on the pitch was evident for much of the first half of the season, when only poor finishing cost Liverpool the points that their football often merited. The club’s season-long problems in converting chances is much more a reason for their current league position than a relatively recent run of poor results.
Contrary to the belief of some, it’s not yet a crisis. But the Reds face a difficult FA Cup semi final and also a fight to finish seventh, and only with a greatly improved attitude from Liverpool’s players will the club manage to stop a run of form which threatens to give the season a disastrous feel to it.