The Difference Between Benitez and Di Matteo

December 19th, 2012 by Michael Cox

difference between benitez and di matteoSuch is the emotional connection between Liverpool and Rafael Benitez, his opening weeks at Chelsea haven’t been judged in isolation, but instead through the prism of his status as a former manager of a (modern) rival. For his debut match in charge, the story was Chelsea fans booing, then afterwards attention turned to some minor comments he’d made about Chelsea’s plastic flags several years ago.

When talk turned to football, Benitez’s Liverpool past still dominated proceedings. At Anfield, Benitez was frequently criticised for two things he did reasonably well – he defended zonally from corners, and his side generally had a fine defensive record, while he rotated his squad like the majority of other top-level managers. Would he persist with those strategies at Chelsea?

Zonal marking and rotation?

Well, he’s used a hybrid system when defending corners – three players defend the edge of the six-yard box while five players man-mark. Another man is ‘spare’, ready to pick up an additional attacker or defend space, while the final outfielder stays on the edge of the box. It’s worked fine – there were a couple of nervous moments against West Ham, but defending corners has yet to become a problem.

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Stuck Between a Taylor and a Hard Place

December 13th, 2012 by Lenny Boyle

phil taylor the rock of pdcThe stars have aligned to conjure, potentially, the greatest PDC World Darts Championship ever. Since the Premier League: Phil Taylor, Robert Thornton, Phil Taylor, Simon Whitlock, Michael van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld and Phil Taylor have all won PDC majors.

Taylor has three; in the form of the Matchplay, Premier League and Players Championship finals.

Three majors is a pretty shoddy outlay from Taylor in a year of darts. Of course, for anyone else, three majors in a year would be the crowning achievement of a lifetime’s work; a twelve month span never to be equaled, something to tell gathered grandkids.

Little Timmy, Grandpappy won the Premier League, Matchplay, AND Players Championships all in one year. The year of our lord 2012.”

Grandmama, Pappy’s finally gone senile. He says he won three majors in a year, he’s gone mad. Get the old man sectioned.”

But that’s anyone else. Three in a year is amazing. But for Phil? It’s all a bit – and I hate this word – meh. Whatevs. I hate that word as well.

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Ferguson Has Found His Big Game XI

December 12th, 2012 by Michael Cox

man unt big game xiSir Alex Ferguson has become a master of squad rotation in recent years, planning line-ups in ‘blocks’ of matches, often weeks in advance. He works out when he can afford to rest his star players, and when they need to be fresh ahead of a crucial match.

It’s not an original concept, and it’s no different to the strategies favoured by many top coaches, but Ferguson has rarely been criticised for his rotation. Rafael Benitez encountered much opposition at Liverpool for resting key men, and that issue (along with zonal marking at corners) was one of the obvious lines of questioning when unveiled at Chelsea. Granted, reports might treat the two men differently in general – but managers only get criticised for rotation when it doesn’t work.

Despite his constant rotation, Ferguson is always aware of his best XI, or at least his ‘big game’ XI. Often, he won’t use it three or four times within one season, instead saving it for the most difficult opposition. For example, in United’s 2010/11 campaign – when they won the league, reached the Champions League final and the FA Cup semi-final, Ferguson had decided on his favoured XI by the second half of the season. Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs were the midfield combination, while Wayne Rooney played just behind Javier Hernandez. Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-Sung were fine ‘defensive’ wingers, while a back four of Rafael or Fabio da Silva, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra protected Edwin van der Sar.

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Carlo Ancelotti – A Managerial Conundrum

December 5th, 2012 by Michael Cox

carlo ancelotti domestic conundrumFor a coach renowned as one of the finest in Europe, Carlo Ancelotti’s domestic record is far from sparkling. In fact, it’s rather underwhelming. Every season since the summer of 1999, Ancelotti has been in charge of a big club with genuine title aspirations – Juventus, Milan, Chelsea or Paris St-Germain. That’s 13 seasons, and yet he’s won only two league titles.

It started at Juventus – in two seasons, Ancelotti was twice a runner-up. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Lazio side of 1999/2000 was highly impressive, Fabio Capello’s championship-winning Roma team even better the next season. Ancelotti hadn’t failed, as such, but he acquired a reputation as a bit of a bottler, someone not quite ruthless enough to lead champions, perhaps the same way Claudio Ranieri is viewed.

It was a surprise when he was appointed by Milan the next season. Let’s be fair: we can forgive him for not competing in his first season, 2001/02 – he took over in November with a fractured squad. With Rui Costa struggling to settle, Andrea Pirlo not yet converted to a deep-lying playmaker, Clarence Seedorf still at crosstown rivals Inter, and Kaka in Brazil, Ancelotti’s task wasn’t to win the title. His final position of fourth was as good as Milan could have expected – it qualified them for the Champions League, which they went on to win the next season.

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Celtic v Spartak Moscow FREEbets Preview

December 5th, 2012 by Paul Wilson

celtic will be hoping gary hooper repeats his goal scoring form against spartak moscowBoth sides go into this fixture on the back of some poor domestic performances. For Celtic, who will be competing in their 150th European Cup match tonight, they must better Benfica’s result away to Barcelona at the Nou Camp to progress into the Last 16 of the Champions League.

As for Spartak Moscow, they’ll basically be playing for pride. Sitting at the foot of the group, their points tally is so poor even if they do manage a win tonight at Celtic Park they’ll still be unable to even qualify for the Europa League safety net.

Domestic woes for both Celtic and Spartak!

Celtic have failed to win any of their home games since that astounding 2-1 victory over Barcelona just over 4 weeks ago.

A draw against St. Johnstone in the league was followed by defeat to Caley Thistle and their poor home form was once again compounded last week when they failed to dispatch 2nd Division side Arbroath in a 4th Round Scottish Cup tie.

Thankfully for Celtic their away form hasn’t suffered similar jitters with convincing wins over Aberdeen and Hearts to help them cling onto the top of the SPL by just 1 point from a chasing Hibernian.

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