Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “I have some experience in difficult situations, all managers do, but at this time we have lost four league games and people are talking about the quality, the depth of the squad. But again, like last year, the main thing is to be calm, work hard and find solutions to the problem. That is the only way in football. If you lose and donâ€™t play, you think about it for a week, ten days, but this week we have an opportunity to change everything. It can change everything for the positive. Last year we were talking about draws and then we got 86 points. My obligation is to be positive because I think we have more quality than we are showing now. As soon as we play well twice, hopefully this week, people will start saying maybe I am right. If we win on Sunday, we will be four points behind [United, who are top of the table] and that is not bad. Last season, with the draws every week, it was as if you lose a game. At the end we were four points off [United], very close, so we have to have confidence in the team and players, keep working hard, and I am sure we will win games.” – Rafa Benitez.
Runner-up: “I think the second part of [Liam Ridgwell’s] challenge did the damage. It is a double tackle. The first part is a very good tackle but the second leg was more dangerous. He cut through with his second leg. I don’t want to believe that Walcott is targeted but I know how the game is in England.” – Arsene Wenger.
Today’s overview: Fight. Fight. Fight.
Today’s round-up begins with news of a relationship breakdown between The Guardian and Leeds United after the broadsheet learned yesterday that they have been banned from Elland Road.
David Conn goes public with the story. “The Guardian will not be reporting from the [Leeds-Norwich] game because, we were informed this afternoon, we have been ‘banned’ from Elland Road. The reason given was that this is the club’s reaction to the articles I have written recently, which have reported that there is a mystery about who owns Leeds United… The barring of the Guardian tonight means, sadly, that we cannot report the performance of Leeds’ team, who have been in dominant form this season, on this, the country’s best-read newspaper website, or in the newspaper itself.”
For the Irish to reach the 2010 World Cup they will have to negotiate passage past the French. But, according to the bullish Tony Cascarino, it is Les Bleus who should be worried ahead of the playoff. “I don’t think Ireland have anything to fear from their opponents in next month’s play-off but the French should be nervous. They are far from the great side we remember from a decade ago. They’re even a long way from the team that got to the final of the 2006 World Cup.”
Taking a far more reasoned approach to the Ireland-France tie is the Irish Independent’s Daniel McDonnell. “It was the opposition they wished to avoid in the scenario they simply did not want. That’s the bottom line… Like many of the great nations, they strike fear because of reputation rather than form. Whether their deficiencies are significant enough to open the door for Ireland is another matter. For now, we look forward with hope rather than expectation.”
Is Svennis getting ready to return to Sweden?
Much like his history with women, Jamie Jackson paints the image of Sven flirting with the competition without committing himself either way. “It is thought that if Eriksson were to be made a firm offer by the Swedish FA he would be keen to take the post, though whether he could share the role with his current commitments at County is questionable.” The Telegraph add that “Eriksson [is] part of a shortlist of ‘five to 10 names’ which also includes Fulham manager Roy Hodgson amongst others.”
Chris Wheeler, flagging up Sven’s secondary passion of money, doubts that Eriksson will take the Sweden job for financial reasons. “Sven Goran Eriksson will have to take a huge cut on his Â£10million contract if he quits Notts County to become the new coach of Sweden.” Yet, the Mirror’s tag-team of Neil McLeman and John Cross have the final say, barking “Sven-Goran Eriksson is ready to quit Notts County and take up the Sweden managerâ€™s job… Mirror Sport understands Eriksson is very keen on the Sweden job as doubts grow about Countyâ€™s long-term future, highlighted by Sol Campbellâ€™s high-profile departure from the club.”
The problems at Anfield continue to focus minds this Tuesday, with Kevin McCarra noting how things could get worse without Benitez. “Benitez is crucial in holding the club together. Without him there would have been even more focus on the already beleaguered Tom Hicks and George Gillett… Matters may not be going well for him, but there is enough unease at Anfield without dismissing him.”
That said, Sam Wallace cannot help point out how the Reds’ are blowing their opportunities for success this season. “Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United are undeniably worse off and have stumbled already. Chelsea have lost two games in a row and are at the beginning of a year-long transfer ban. At Arsenal, as ever, progress is uncertain. But most of all Manchester City are not as good as they undoubtedly will be in one year’s time. For this season at least, there is a chance that Liverpool, having finished second last time, needed just to improve by the finest of margins to win the league. They do not look like doing so.”
Looking at tonight’s Champions League match with Lyon, Henry Winter ratchets up the enormity of of the occasion for the Reds. “Lyon’s visit is only a group-stage encounter yet it feels a make-or-break game for Benitez’s side. Winded by an inflatable pitch invader at Sunderland in the Premier League, defeated last time out at Fiorentina in the Champions League, Liverpool know they cannot falter tonight. The Premier League title already looks beyond them. Only Europe offers salvation.” But, as John Lichfield explains, beating Lyon will be no easy task. “Despite the loss of Karim Benzema and their veteran Brazilian playmaker, Juninho, Lyons have started like a train, with six victories and two draws in Ligue 1 and two victories in the Champions’ League.”
Ian Wright adopts a typically controversial line to argue that it would be good for Liverpool to be dumped out of the Champions League early on. “Losing to the French club will leave them floundering in Europe and facing an undignified and unexpected exit in the group stage. It sounds shocking… but maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing… if needs must and the club cannot compete fully on two fronts, then it’s the league which is the big priority for the fans. There’s a lot of money involved in Europe but that’s not the fans’ concern.”
In the “watch this space” article of the day, Andy Hunter builds up tension ahead of the Liverpool-Manchester United match this weekend by claiming the Mancunians are planning a Darren Bent tribute stunt. “Liverpool have sold out of the Â£10 “Beach Set” that diverted the team’s title prospects at Sunderland… United supporters are suspected of being behind the increased demand for Liverpool beach products, with a ‘tribute’ to Bent’s goal planned but risk having them confiscated at the turnstiles on Sunday.”
Matt Hughes delivers happy news to Arsenal fans as it now seems that Arsene Wenger will be staying at the club for a long time yet. “Wenger expressed his wish yesterday to continuing working in football for as long as he is physically able. Wenger will review his commitment to Arsenal every two years after his contract expires in 2011, but confirmation of his reluctance to retire comes as a huge boost to a club living in fear of the day he chooses to walk away.”
Emily Benammar tells the story of how Emile Heskey incurred the wrath of Fabio Capello while on England duty. “The 31 year-old… was reportedly caught sending text messages under the table as the squad sat down for a team meal while in Ukraine last week… the 63-year-old reacted furiously to the rule break and reiterated to his entire team the importance of them respecting his code of conduct.” Fleshing out the story is Sam Wallace. “It was also reported that Capello threw a metal tray against a wall in fury when he spotted Heskey texting. However, it is understood that his anger was not quite so well choreographed. Instead the England manager accidentally dropped the metal meal cover on his plate when picking up his dinner. Then when his players looked up at the noise, Capello spotted Heskey and began his haranguing.”
Continuing the theme of English bad-boys, the Daily Mail try and make a mountain out of molehill having come into possession of photos of Peter Crouch on a night out. “Peter Crouch has risked the anger of hardline England manager Fabio Capello after looking worse for wear in a London nightclub during the early hours of Sunday morning. Crouch was photographed inside the Movida club, dancing with his shirt unbuttoned and his jeans soaked either by sweat or a spilled drink. The England striker then continued the antics by poking his lanky frame through the sun-roof of a moving people carrier after leaving the club at 2am.”
In the standard Tuesday European round-up in the Guardian, Raphael Honigstein looks a why the goals have dried up in the Bundesliga, Sid Lowe unravels how Depor’s cut-price squad is again surprising Spain’s big boys, while Paolo Bandini points out that Inter have won all six matches in which Wesley Sneijder has featured.
Keeping focus on Serie A, Chris McGrath pokes holes at the Italian top flight. “Stripped bare, Serie A remained mired in all the retro horrors that had to be tackled before the Premier League could achieve its recent hegemony: outdated stadiums, violence, falling attendances, insularity on the pitch. Add a sprinkling of corruption and scandal, and you have a pretty depressing landscape.”
Lastly, The Sun seemingly invent the rumour that “Spurs are lining up a Â£5million move for Club Brugge defender Vadis Odjidja in January.”