About Me

My photo
Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Senior news reporter at the Grimsby Telegraph, UEA History graduate, former BBC Kick Off sports reporter & Lincoln City fan.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Barcelona thrash Real in 'El Clasico'

Spain striker David Villa netted two of Barcelona's five goals.
Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0

By Matt Scrafton
Tuesday 30 November 2010

Barcelona humiliated their age old rivals 5-0 last night in a scintillating display, perfecting their unrivaled 'tika-taka' style of football in the process.

As the rain drove down on the hallowed turf, halfway through the second half at Camp Nou; Jose Mourinho, witnessing his side being outclassed in all areas of the field and already 4-0 down by this point - cut a dejected figure, slumped back in his seat in the away dugout. The self proclaimed 'Special One', was hiding. This is a sight rarely ever seen. And the Catalan faithful were in no mood to let him forget, as the jubilant 98,000 strong crowd taunted the trench coat-wearing, greying Portuguese fellow who had proved to be such a menace to Barcelona's ambitions in seasons gone by.

Many anticipated a close game, two sides too fearful to lose that first pawn from the chessboard, too hesitant to make that first mistake that could prove to be so costly. But that didn't happen, this is Barcelona, they do things differently here. This isn't the Premier League, and Mourinho should have known that better than anyone else. The former Barcelona translator made a host of fatal mistakes before the match had even kicked off; why was the more defensive minded left back Alvaro Arbeloa not preferred to the rapid and attacking Marcelo? What was the need for four attacking individuals in the starting eleven (Ozil, Di Maria, Ronaldo & Benzema) who had no intention whatsoever to track back and help defensive duties? Why were the back four instructed to keep such a high line, when it's evident that Barcelona - the passing masters of Xavi and Iniesta in particular - thrive against such tactics? It's all well and good doubling up on Messi and closing him down as soon as he drops short to receive the ball, but that's just a waste of effort when the midfield trio of Busquets, Iniesta & Xavi were given free licence to do as they so wished - a criminal offence if I ever saw one.

The 'Special One' had no answers as Barca tore his side apart

But alas, sometimes there's just nothing you can do. Madrid could have fielded eleven Roman gladiators out there last night and they still would have been pummeled straight back to the capital. Pepe Guardiola's men were lightning fast out of the starting blocks. An electrifying start to the game from Barcelona was rewarded as Xavi dinked over the oncoming Casillas in the tenth minute, and Pedro tapping in from close range following good work down the left by the ruthless David Villa to put the hosts 2-0 up before Madrid had ever really got to grips with the game. The game was as good as over before the petulant Cristiano Ronaldo began his childlike antics - diving left, right and centre, shooting as soon as he turned towards goal, and then culminating with a shove to the Barcelona manager on the touchline as he hunted for the matchball in a futile attempt to get back into the match. I should say it wasn't just Ronaldo who was at it last night, it's an unfortunate trait of Spanish football that plagues their otherwise near-perfect style of football, resulting in the pointless dismissal of Sergio Ramos in the final echelons of the game as he pushed Spanish teammate Carles Puyol to the floor. Hardly the most sensible of things to do, but I would be lying if I denied the bushy-haired defender had it coming to him, as he rushed down the field to crowd the referee at every possible opportunity to claim a free kick and a booking for a man in white. Even the majestic Messi wasn't faultless, falling to the floor without contact and trying to con the referee on several occasions.

Real were restricted to fruitless counter-attacks as the previously suspect Sergio Busquets anchored the midfield triangle with exact precision, allowing Messi, Pedro and Villa to get in behind the fragile-looking Madrid defence on a startling number of occasions. This would never have been allowed by Mourinho in his Chelsea days, or even at Inter for that matter. Barca would be confined to long range efforts or patient periods of possession, as the likes of Essien, Makelele, Mikel, Cambiasso and Zanetti were instructed to flood the midfield area and cut out any potential supply from the illustrious Xavi and Iniesta. Yet this did not prove to be the case last night, as Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira afforded the Spanish midfield duo the freedom of Catalunya as they pulled the strings of Guardiola's fluent template of stylistic football. Barcelona completed 89% of their attempted passes and held 63% of the games possession in total; proving how beneficial it can be protecting the ball from the opposition - not only is it attractive on the eye, yet can also be highly destructive when mobilised in the right manner. But for all of Barce's dominance in the first 45 minutes, Real were only two down and would surely return to the pitch more motivated and revitalised.

But Messi and co. merely redoubled their delicate manoeuvres; contriving a sublime through ball to set up their next elegant finish, as Villa struck home for the third. What followed purely embarrassed Real, as Villa collected his second and his side's fourth, profiting from another assist from the little Argentinian to slide the ball home between the legs of despairing Casillas. And this is where Barcelona are at their best, keeping hold of the ball, frustrating their opponents, consistently moving the ball from player-to-player, triangles being constructed all over the pitch as Real were simply passed to submission. Xavi really came in to his own now, not as if he had gone missing before, completing 110 passes in total (a new record for a La Liga fixture). Substitute and youngster Jeffren came off the bench and completed the rout late on to add to Madrid's woes, pouncing on a measured lay-off from fellow substitute Bojan, ensuring Barcelona's rise to the top of La Liga in the process. Guardiola's Catalans now sit two points ahead of the tormented Madrid as the Spanish league nears the winter break.

Barcelona v Real Madrid line-ups:
Barcelona: Valdes, Dani Alves, Abidal, Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Carvalho, Pepe, Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Ozil, Di Maria, Ronaldo, Benzema.
Referee: Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez.
Goals: Xavi, Pedro, Villa x2, Jeffren.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Fickle nature of football threatens to plunge the sport into new levels of absurdity

Top bosses are under pressure to deliver as money continues to engulf the sport

By Matt Scrafton
Tuesday 23 November 2010

Roberto Mancini is under pressure to bring success to Man City 
You've all heard the cliche - "football is a results based business". Has this much-banded-about-phrase ever been so significant, especially in today's ruthless climate of football?

Despite a sterling 4-1 away win for Manchester City at Fulham on Sunday afternoon, the Italian Roberto Mancini's job is certainly still on the line. This remains, regardless of City's more than respectable place in the Premier League table after just 14 games - 4th, sitting just three points from leaders Chelsea. Now, I'm not suggesting City's start to the season has exactly been perfect. They've lost at places like Sunderland and Wolves, whilst being thrashed 3-0 by Arsenal only a few weeks back. Yet this, is surely no major crime? Especially seeing as title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United have also suffered similar punishments. And this is all without ignoring their impressive home wins against both Liverpool and Chelsea, respectably.

And sure, Mancini has made some extremely questionable purchases in recent transfer windows. Undoubtedly he's acquitted a wealth of talent, especially in the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jerome Boateng, Alexsandar Kolarov and Mario Balotelli. Whilst I do not deny the extreme talent of some of these individuals, I'd suggest he's probably gone out and bought the 'big name players', as opposed to just buying two or three players that would fit in to the side and make an impact straight away. The tactic adopted by Jose Mourinho in his stint at Chelsea, I would argue would have been far more appropriate, rather than flashing the cheque book at the first 'galactico' that comes your way. And totally ignoring the remainder of City's squad for a minute, the club from the north-west would be nowhere without their talismanic striker, Carlos Tevez.

I'll repeat, I'm not claiming Mancini is certain to bring silverware to Eastlands. But the Italian deserves time, patience from the owners and directors, and full support from the success-hungry supporters. It's also quite alarming to note that the main bulk of pressure that appeared on Mancini's head, was following two 0-0 draws at home, prior to the Fulham game, versus Birmingham and their Manchester rivals.

Ancelotti admitted his position at Chelsea is "in trouble" following a run of three defeats in four games

This leads me to the man pictured above, Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti - funnily enough another Italian. His side sit top of the table, along with main title rivals Manchester United - on 28 points. Hardly the worst crisis I've ever witnessed, I must say.

His side have a ratio of at least two goals for every game they have played, only conceding 9 goals in their opening 14 games and also sit top of their Champions League group, having almost certainly qualified for the next stage after four wins from four games. Admittedly, Chelsea are in the midst of a poor run of form, losing to the likes of Liverpool, Birmingham, and possibly the most alarming of all - a 3-0 defeat to Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have had to contest with a number of key injuries in recent weeks, which have certainly affected their recent results and have threatened to halt their title ambitions. Key individuals like Alex, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are all either injured, or just returning from long term absences. I know what you're thinking, a club of Chelsea's ambition and stature should be able to deal with such a problem. And whilst I admit there's an element of truth in that, I'd suggest even the top sides suffer from damaging injuries, especially to the likes of Drogba and Lampard, who have often proved to be the difference between a draw and a victory in recent years for Chelsea.

So, taking all this into account, I'll be distraught if Ancelotti loses his job in the next few weeks. Not because I'm a Chelsea fan, far from it in fact. But because I like to see sensible decisions made in football, and as a neutral in terms of the Premier League, I enjoy the thrills and spills of one of the leading divisions in Europe. I'll consider giving up football for life if the manager of the current champions is sacked following three or four defeats. In all likelihood, it won't happen. Even Abravomich isn't that impatient. But then again, nothing should surprise you any more in football - there's been plenty of ludicrous decisions made by chairmen and owners in the past, and there'll be plenty more in the future.

And it's not just the Premier League that is plagued by rich owners thirsty for instant success, such decisions have filtered their way down to the Football League and the lower leagues of England. Taking my club, Lincoln City, as the prime example - we have had four managers in the space of four seasons (John Schofield, Peter Jackson, Chris Sutton, and current manager Steve Tilson). Hardly the perfect remedy for success is it? Whilst at the time I was impartial to the departures of two of those managers, it's a worrying statistic that clearly outlines why the Red Imps are currently languishing down at the wrong end of League Two. And again, this isn't an isolated example. Sides up and down the country are ridding their clubs of their managers, at the first sign of trouble, bowing down to the demands of a fickle minority of supporters. And they have the audacity to be surprised when their new appointment fails to improve results, which results in a spiraling circle of sackings, resignations and unorganised chaos throughout the league system.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Imps go global

Meet 'Matias', the anonymous Argentinian who I came across completely randomly on an internet football forum. Bizarrely commenting on a thread titled, 'Comprehensive Spending Review', Matias reveals his persona whilst outlining his thoughts on the Coalitions latest plans for cuts. If you were to guess which football club Matias supported, the clubs that would immediately spring to mind would be Boca Juniors and River Plate, would they not? You would have thought so, but this intriguing individual has broken the mould, he supports no other than League Two Lincoln City.

Javier Saviola - (featured for River from 1998-2001) surely more of an attractive proposition than Imps striker Delroy Facey?
So I hear you ask - why exactly is 'Matias' attracted to such a random, lowly side such as Lincoln? When he could be visiting more glamorous venues such as El Monumental, a stadia that holds 65,000 rowdy spectators, compared to the Red Imps more modest 10,000. Here's an explanation from the Argentine himself:

"I Know Red Imps because I played with them in an old PC Game called "PC Futbol". Then, when Championship Manager and Football Manager came, I used to play with Lincoln too. A few years ago I began to follow Lincoln in "Real Life".

In Argentina I'm fan of a small club too, the club is "Instituto" and has the same shirt.
In Argentina I'm fan of a small club too, the club is "Instituto" and has the same shirt."

The red and white stripes of Argentinian second division side, Instituto

What an extraordinary, yet wonderfully bizarre tale. This just goes to show the extent of football on a worldwide scale. Whilst, for me, this minute, yet peculiar anecdote suggests that the romantic side to football, is thankfully not yet dead, despite the popular stories of greed, corruption, diving and infidelity, that the British tabloids only love to tell us all about. 

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Don't believe the hype

Getty Images: Bale impressed in both games against Inter.

27 year old Dutchman Rafael Van der Vaart has played with some of the best players on the planet; varying from Raul, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Wesley Sneijder, Robinho, Robin Van Persie, to Arjen Robben. Yet following Tuesday night's superb 3-1 victory for Tottenham against Group A rivals Internazionale; Sky Sports thought it necessary to ask Van der Vaart whether he has ever played with someone as world class as Gareth Bale.

I'm not sure why the extreme media overreaction has enraged me so much - I should probably be used to it by now. Following Wayne Rooney's sterling return of goals in last seasons campaign; 34 in 42 to be precise, the British media proclaimed the Manchester United forward as the best player on the planet, and the greatest English player since Bobby Moore. Okay, I might be going a tad over the top there, but you get my drift. It just so happened that certain sections of the media ignored a certain two other players, amongst a whole host of other footballers who can easily claim to be as good as Rooney, if not better. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are far more accomplished footballers than Wayne Rooney, consistently performing to an unbelievable standard for three or four seasons running, compared to the Englishman's one. But they don't play in the Premier League, so don't count, remember?

So this brings me neatly back to 21 year old Welshman, Gareth Bale. Here's a few quotes to give you a good idea of certain reactions to his recent performances:

"If anything you're understating the case. He is, without doubt, the best left sided player in the world. his pace, directness and killer ball are unparalleled."

"He is now - and this is not over-stating the case - one of the finest attacking left-sided players in the world."

"Tottenham will now be looking at sums of £50m+ for the lad"

There's plenty more as well, these comments are just the select few. Now, don't get me wrong - Bale is clearly an extremely talented footballer, who has the potential for bigger and better things. But the lad has only been on form for the last five or six months, and the media's reaction has come about as a result of two games - yes, two. Bale was superb last night, he gave the world's alleged best right-back, Maicon, an absolute torrid time down the left wing. And last week, he did superbly to pick up a hat-trick in the San Siro, although it needs to be made clear that Inter were already four up by that point, that 'keeper Julio Cesar had a mare for two of the three goals, and that manager Rafael Benitez brought on a 34 year old, immobile right back in Ivan Cordoba to deal with the pacy Welshamn. It's also pretty handy that the media just forget the way Premier League full-backs, Rafael and Phil Neville kept him quiet in recent games. 

I can see it now, the media will continue to hype up Bale to an unbearable extent (in the process of doing now), and then when he's at the peak of his performance; they'll enjoy knocking him right off his pedestal. Just in the same way that Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney have suffered. Is it not possible for journalists to enjoy the performances of certain footballers, yet allow them to keep their feet on the ground? It's quite a depressing obsession the British media have, and I don't like to give excuses for poor performances of certain England players - but it certainly has a detrimental effect on our national side.

I can complain all I like, nothing will change though. The media will always continue with their reactionary nonsense, however much I moan; and the gullible masses will lap it all up. I'm rather glad I don't own a TV, or read tabloid newspapers - I don't think I'd be able to deal with The Sun's reaction to last night's game, or Sky Sports News fornicating over Gareth Bale's pass completion. Pass me the sick bucket please.