Thursday, 24 January 2013

Alessio Cerci: From bad boy to wing wizard

Having made his debut for Roma at the age of just 16, much was expected from Alessio Cerci, however as of yet he has failed to deliver.

However, could 2013 be the year Cerci fulfills his undoubted potential? A good first half of the season has culminated in Cerci putting in two goal scoring performances that have landed  six points since the start of the year.

alessio cerci torino

Monday, 21 January 2013

Why AVB has it harder at Spurs then the media favourite Redknapp ever did

Last weekend saw Harry Redknapp face his former employees for the first time since his questionable sacking in the summer. Under Redknapp Tottenham had their best four years of Premier League football, peaking at Champions League qualification in 2010, however if Andre Vilas-Boas was to bring Europe’s elite competition back to White Hart Lane, then it’d surpass Redknapp’s achievement.

Not for one second am I suggesting ‘Arry’ didn’t do an amazing job at Spurs, that isn’t in question. When he took charge back in 2008 the club were adrift at the bottom of the league after picking up just two points from eight games and in 24 months were facing the likes of Inter Milan and Werder Bremen in the Champions League.

AVB's Spurs rescued a late point against Manchester United on Sunday

What am I saying is everything was in piece for Redknapp to succeed at Tottenham. He had the core of a very good squad in the form of Luka Modric, Michael Dawson, Aaron Lennon and the then underused Gareth Bale. During his tenure the transfer windows were all about who he was going to add, with none of the departures against Redknapp’s wishes. In Andre Vilas-Boas’s first transfer window he lost two world-class players in Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart.

Vilas-Boas hardly arrived at White Hart Lane with a glowing CV in English football following his dismissal from Chelsea just seven monthsinto a five year deal. For me he arrived at Chelsea at the wrong time, and his timing at Tottenham was even worse if anything. Whoever followed Redknapp was always going to be under extreme pressure. Not many saw the former Portsmouth manager’s dismissal coming, leaving fans and pundits alike confused.

And following just two points from their opening three games, including 1-1 home draws with the likes of Norwich and West Brom, the White Hart Lane faithful were growing restless very early on. However much to his credit, Vilas-Boas has turned it around! Spurs sit fourth in the Premier League and even have a better points return from the same fixtures as last year.

The pressure was heavily on Vilas-Boas following their 1-1 draw with Norwich

One thing Redknapp has always had is he is loved by the media. AVB can’t say the same. Ridiculed for his job at Chelsea, and not given the respect he deserved for his amazing season with Porto. Going into the game at Old Trafford, a tabloid printed a piece suggesting there was ‘choas’ at White Hart Lane, with all the star players not liking the new manager in charge. Subsequently Tottenham went to Old Trafford and stunned the hosts winning 3-2, something Spurs haven’t done since Gary Lineker and go back in 1991. The majority of the players at the end of the game hugged their manager, and clearly want to play for the ‘gaffer’ as Gareth Bale said at the end of the game.

Despite having a return of just 0.25 points per match from their first eight games, Spurs were never going to be relegated the year ‘Arry’ took over, they had too much quality, meaning there was only one direction for them, up! Champions League qualification the very next year however was beyond their expectations, but they didn’t have to fight off the sort of quality that exists currently in the Premier League.

You could easily suggest that eight teams can realistically challenge for Champions League football, whilst only six could in the 09/10 season. The two that missed out on the top four where Manchester City and Liverpool. City weren’t the machine they are now; whilst Liverpool were on the start of their heavy slide which saw them slip from 2nd the previous season to 6th and even lower since.

With both Manchester clubs seeming to have a stranglehold on the top two, realistically there is only two spots left, and with Chelsea favourites for third, meaning it’s likely if Vilas-Boas is to qualify for the Champions League, he’ll have to do something no Spurs manager has done in Premier League history, finish above their London rivals Arsenal!

Tactically Redknapp has always been questioned, and there are signs that Vilas-Boas has already answered a few questions that were asked last year. Tottenham struggled when playing both Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermaine Defoe in a 4-4-2 last season, with Redknapp often leaving Defoe on the bench, often hinting the two couldn’t play together. Yet Spurs’ recent fun of good form (seven wins in nine over Christmas), started when AVB changed from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2, with Defoe in particular in fantastic form this season.

Having conceded a ridiculous amount of late goals in the earlier stages of the season, Tottenham appear to have stopped that rot and are defensively much stronger than at any previous point so far, meaning they’ve given themselves a very good platform to qualify for the Champions League for only the second time, and if they are to do so, I wonder if AVB will get the credit that Redknapp did for the same achievement? 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Bradford on verge of Capital One cup final!

Bradford City stunned Aston Villa to take a stranglehold in their Capital One Cup semi-final, following the 3-1 victory at Valley Parade this evening.

Carl McHugh's 88th minute header ensured Bradford go to Villa Park with a two goal buffer and give them the ultimate chance of producing the unlikeliest of cup finalists.

Nekhi Wells gave Bradford the early goal a shock usually requires and as Villa missed a host of chances, the League Two side punished them as Rory McArdle's header made it 2-0. Andi Weimann pulled Villa back in the match; however the Bantams two goal lead was restored via McHugh.

A place in the final isn't guaranteed for Bradford, however Paul Lambert will be furious that his side appear to have blown an amazing opportunity for a date at Wembley.

As for Bradford, Phil Parkinson who was given the boot by both Hull and Charlton has masterminded an incredible achievement, and whatever happens in the return leg, this run will go down as one of the finest in living memory.

Parkinson has guided Bradford to 8th in League Two

Aston Villa actually came out the quicker, and with Charles N'Zogbia consistently finding space, an early goal for the Villains looked inevitable; however the usually reliable Christian Benteke couldn't convert two very presentable chances that fell his way.

Despite their slow start, very much against the run of play, Bradford opened the scoring through Wells.

Joe Bennett conceded the cheapest of corners, and despite dealing with the original dead ball, Zavon Hines was first to the cleared header, and his shot was deflected perfectly into the path of Bradford's leading goalscorer who beat Shay Given with an assured finish.

Nahki Wells
Wells gave Bradford the ideal platform 

Bradford nearly doubled their lead from another corner and Hanson was only denied by Fabian Delph's clearance off the line.

The League Two's greatest threat came from down the right, with the former West Ham winger Zavon Hines giving Bennett a torrid time. And one of his many deliveries nearly brought about a second goal, however Hanson headed into the ground over.

N'Zogbia was behind every good Villa did, and he created another chance for the Premier League side, but Gabriel Agbonlahor shot straight at Duke from in and around the penalty spot.

Villa again started the half the quicker, but a poor touch from Ciaran Clark meant the centre half couldn't get a shot away despite the freedom of the six-yard box.

On another evening Benteke could've had a hat-trick, however Duke produced his best save of the evening following a diving header from the Belgian international. 

Darren Bent arrived around the hour mark and was guilty of not leveling the tie, following a shocking miss! For the first time in the game Duke was at fault following a poor spillage from a N'Zogbia shot, and with the goal gaping, Bent headed over from all of two yards.

Incredibly Bradford scored a second through McArdle. Captain Gary Jones's corner was cleared back to him, and his delivery was perfect for the McArdle to show the £24million Bent how to head home!

Hanson who won pretty much ever header that was put in the penalty box from open play almost made it 3-0, but his effort clipped the bar and went out for a goal kick.

With time running out, Villa were in desperate need of a lifeline, and the in-form Weimann gave them exactly that! Benteke's knock down from a long ball was perfect for the Austrian who beat Duke to the ball before slotting it home to give Villa the goal they merited.

Amazingly the scoring hadn't ended, and McHugh scored Bradford's third of the evening, heading superbly home from another pinpoint Jones set piece.

The third goal stunned Lambert's side, and even when four minutes of extra time were signaled, Villa didn't look like reducing the arrears and for the majority of the overtime the ball was in the Villa half.

Few gave Bradford a chance of eliminating another Premier League side given the two legged factor, however come the return leg at Villa Park, the League Two side may even be slight favourites.