Bacon, Eggs & Football

A Premier League blog with a little European football thrown in for good measure

So you want to be a Trequartista?

Huh? What’s that? Some kind of fruity European dance?

Perhaps I should explain..

The Trequartista, A.K.A, the secondary striker is the undefined role of a forward who roams around the final third behind a target man.   In layman’s terms: The Totti Role. Some have argued that this ambiguous position is the most important in the game of football.

Why you ask?

Well…

The freedom of the 9 1/2 or the ‘Trequartista’ allows the player to dictate their team’s attacking play either running with or onto passes, threading balls of his own through defences, and lets not forget the ability to bend in a lethally pin-point free kick.  Surely there is more to this position than just goals, glory and (in Totti’s case) great hair? Sadly yes.

Much like the graduate job application there are a series of minimum requirements. Unfortunately many are un-teachable.

A high level of technical ability, class and confidence seem to be essential.  The natural talent to lead an attack, the peripheral vision to pick out your team mates as you terrorise defenders, anticipating their run and the necessary weight with which to adorn a pass. Last but by no means least, the bravery to recognise the perceived impossibility of a pass and to make it possible.   You may have noticed the word natural in there. So much of what a Totti-like creator does needs to come naturally.

The outstanding second-strikers of past and present; the Del Piero’s, Messi’s and Rooney’s of this world were all blessed with an ability to anticipate things infront of you, to manipulate perceived events and then to ultimately dictate the outcome. This raw talent is what separates the ‘run of the mill’ from the ‘exceptional’, the ‘Shelveys’ from the ‘Gerrards’. This awareness, both tactical and positional, comes hand in hand with a decision-making capability.  Usually players that are destined for the upper echelons of attacking football will possess unwavering composure. The knowledge of when to shoot and when to pass instead.

Given the game is ultimately settled by goals, an ability to finish is a must-have.

Suddenly this job sounds quite tough?

Well add onto this the element of responsibility that you are expected to be the main outlet for your team’s creativity and let’s not forget the other key component of being a successful Trequartista; leadership.

Totti has been the poster boy for Trequartista’s since I can remember. He has set the benchmark to which pretenders to his throne must strive to surpass.  Having sat atop his perch as the Lord of Roma, scoring goals, creating chances and putting on a show he is in the autumn of his career. However, all is not lost as his influences can be seen on those players touted as future trequartista ambassadors are maturing. Rooney and Messi may have taken the position and added their own colour to it, but the Italian’s underlying qualities remain.

Clearly it takes a lot to be an effective trequartista, most of which you can’t be taught. But who wouldn’t want to be the attention grabbing goal scorer and creator of chances that could lead their teams to glory? The one who towers over a free kick or harasses defenders with trickery and pace? Despite the fact it is so difficult to pronounce, It surely has to be the most popular position in the game?

In recent times the likes of Zidane, Del Piero and Totti have passed the baton on to a new wave of 9 1/2’s allowing the game to evolve. While the abilities of these legends of not so long ago have faded, the positions which they made their own have inspired the creators of today.

The World’s ‘Best’ League?

You will have all heard someone at some point (last day of last season?) say that the English top flight is the best league in the world, a hefty claim and one that obviously must be examined. Is it really possible to pinpoint one of the many leagues across the world as the best?

All of the so-called die-hards out there, relax, this isn’t a destruction of the league you love. Don’t start commenting about how much of an idiot I must be and how I don’t know anything about football. Like you, I love the premier league. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t but you can’t make a claim without any evidence.

There is no doubt that the Premier League is an outstanding league. However, if you were to compile a list of the criteria that constitutes the world’s finest league would the English top flight top the charts? In terms of unpredictability? Quality of football? Entertainment? Quality of teams and individuals? While it may be one of the more entertaining, I fear that it isn’t the top dog these other areas.

Lets start with a common theme from last year. The thing that often leaves you cursing that rash trip to Willy Hill on a Saturday morning; unpredictability. The events of last season were an exception in a league that has been widely known as one dominated by ‘the big four’. Other teams have come close to breaking the monotony; villa (honestly), spurs, Newcastle and Everton are doing their best this campaign, but none have been able to stay at the top table. Only 5 teams have won the premier league.

Hop across the channel and since the beginning of the English premier league, 10 different teams have lifted the French domestic league trophy. One could argue that it is therefore twice as exciting?

 

Who is the best team in the world? (Don’t just say Chelsea..) Can the Premier League truly boast the best team in the world? If you were to bet on the winner of the champions league at the start of the season would it be an English team?

The answer is probably no.

If the English premier league cannot claim to house the world’s best team then should it be out of the running for the best league in the world? Realistically most people would argue that the two best teams ply their trade in Spain.  Obviously everyone has their own opinion as to which two teams are superior but I think many would agree that Barcelona and Real Madrid (the most successful team in the history of the European cup, winning it 9 times) are atop the tree.  This isn’t the only feather in La Liga’s cap as the bulk of the names on the Ballon d’Or shortlist year after year are from the Iberian Peninsula. The likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso…not to forget Ronaldo and Messi.

What about the quality of football on display? While the premier league has sides capable of producing majestic, flowing, engaging and exciting football it also houses some teams more accustomed to the  ‘Sam Allardyce’ technique. There are few teams in the European leagues with similar reputations of their love of the long ball tactic. Other teams such as Stoke have often been accused of killing the sport and in many ways play a unique brand of ‘anti-football’ in which they set out to stop the other team playing anything that resembles the game we love. Other leagues like Italy’s Serie A are not only well known for match fixing but also for the depth of technically talented footballers they produce. The Italian game is based predominantly on players’ ability with the ball at their feet, unlike in England where ‘Big Sam-style’ has been so effective. Some prefer to watch the technical attributes on display in Italy and Spain rather than that closer to home.

And what of the South American samba school? The Brazilian and Argentine leagues suffer from a lack of coverage in the UK but are rife with unpredictability.  Many of you will probably think of Santos or Corinthians with regards to the league’s best teams? You may be surprised to discover that Santos lie in a lowly 9th (out of 20) while Corinthians haven’t fared much better as of late, they sit in 7th.  River Plate, one of Argentina’s best-known teams, having won the league title the previous season were relegated in 2008. Evidence of the League’s unrivalled unpredictability.

 

So where does the Premier League top the table?  Surely, after last season’s antics, you would be able to put forward a good case that it is the most entertaining?  Whether it was Man United tearing Arsenal apart 8-2 at home before the early season terminators (Man City) showed up and put 6 past them in their own back yard. The loss of one of the previous winners of the league title to the championship, the fight for fourth place, an average of 2.8 goals per match or the ridiculous final day of the season, I doubt many leagues could top that.

This is not in any way meant as an attack on the premier league. After all I would back myself as one of its biggest fans, however, I wanted to put across that, in the same way as it is impossible to choose between Messi and Ronaldo, it is not realistic to label one league as the world’s best.

‘Fergie-Time'; coming soon to a match near you

Diving is a disease in the game of football and the recent spread of the infection has riled many a fan. However, managers are increasingly becoming aggrieved by something that, in my opinion, is much more frustrating than Luis Suarez swan dives. Game delaying tactics have become commonplace in the modern age as teams look to grind out results.

Try as they might, referees can’t seem to stem the tide and too often teams are able to leave the pitch with more than they deserve.

Goalkeepers have managed to introduce a period of preparing-to-prepare to take a goal kick, defenders have some how become more susceptible to suspicious injuries in their own boxes and throw ins have taken on the look of a game of hot potato as the ball is passed from one indecisive team mate to another.

Teams are regularly relying on these methods to guide them to the final whistle.

Many argue that time wasting is insignificant as the referee knows to add it all on at the end of the half. Whilst true in some cases it doesn’t address the root of why teams push their luck and do it in the first place.

Keepers will look to snatch any attacking impetus from an opposing team seeking an equaliser or winner through the art of the snail paced goal kick. Every team’s keeper has at one point said to themselves ‘hmm maybe the ball would look better on that side of my 6-yard box?’ Or ‘oh wow I have lots of mud on my boot, I had best kick it against the post for a sustained period of time’.

If its not the keeper then another member of the opposition will play his part as they try to pretend no one is available to receive a throw in or that a wall is too close.

But why do they do it?

To put a halt to any chance of the other team building a rhythm or tempo that might threaten their goal.  If a game becomes less fluid then you have more chance of making it through without conceding further, even if the referee feels the need to add 3, 4 or 10 minutes to the end of the half.

I realise this may sound like an article written by a grumpy old purist, and for that I apologise however, it ruins football as a spectacle.

When I notice a player make a sudden dash to the far side of the pitch before the subs board is lifted, so that they can amble back, to where they just were immediately seeming to lose the ability to run that had just guided them to the other side of the pitch, it is frustrating.

So what is to be done?

Officials try their best to validate a booking for time wasting yet most of the time a player seems all to happy to receive it. With few exceptions I haven’t heard of players being sent off for excessive dallying. If anything a caution seems to be interpreted by players as an invitation to waste even more time! It seems that other than a pathetic gesture to speed up play, having already booked a player, referees are unable to take further action?

Last year at a Carling Cup game, I witnessed a reserve keeper write the book on  ‘how to procrastinate while taking a goal kick’. As he knocked the ball further behind his goal he seemed to magically catch his studs in the netting, but then as the referee approached to help he was suddenly, somehow able to untangle his leg and place the ball. Just as he readied himself to take the kick, having tied both shoelaces, his manager chose to make a sub. In the end he got what he deserved as the opposition went on to score 2 in the last 10 minutes to win the game.

Game delaying tactics are understandable; Nevertheless, they ruin the game. As attendances dwindle up and down the land, the art of legal cheating must be stopped.

St George’s School For Dragon Slayers

St George’s Park; a facility ahead of its time, 30 years too late?

When you cast you eyes over the newly opened £100 million Burton facility you can understand just why the FA have been blowing their own trumpets so hard lately.

The potential it has to produce a team with the ability to compete and win the World’s largest tournaments remains to be proved. However, the wide scale prediction is that it shall usher a culture of coaching excellence into the England set-up that, in theory, should help to elevate the technical ability of generations to come.

Wait is this not common knowledge? As the park first opened its doors in august there remains little to discover about what its intentions are and how they will be carried out.

The FA has been thoroughly ramming this point home for the past few years and is convinced that the not-so-innovative facility will allow the national team to make up the ground, lost in recent decades to the international powerhouses of Spain and France.

Last year saw the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan. This scheme has seen extensive changes to the academy system throughout the premier league and was backed by the FA in return for clubs’ support of St George’s Park. So Premier League clubs are the ones in control of youth development, not the facilities at St George’s Park.  Players shall journey here should they make an England youth team, or play for the national side. They may visit if injured or undergoing physiotherapy but St George’s Park does not boast a residential set up.  Essentially it shall act as a training base for England teams of all ages and according to FA president, David Sheepshanks, shall be an ‘Oxford and Cambridge of coach education’.

Seemingly the FA hasn’t held back. The menu of facilities on offer includes; injury prevention and analytical centres, research into the mental side of the game (something that recent English teams have been accused of lacking), A hydrotherapy pool, 5 gyms and an astro of such quality that apparently UEFA would allow it to host champions league game! There is even a school of thought developing on how to win a penalty shootout.

My question to you is; will this solve the riddle of England’s inability to dominate and ultimately win international tournaments? In my opinion there is more to the shortcomings of the national side than a lack of the testicular fortitude required to win a penalty shootout.

When players feel that international duty is an opportunity, which they can choose to, take or leave (Ben Foster, Peter Crouch) then there is a problem. Crouch’s decision to make himself unavailable for the standby list, having been overlooked for the Euro 2012 squad epitomises the contaminated status of international duty.  Granted Roy Hodgson has done well in remedying some of the well-documented challenges that come with being England manager, the development of a genuine team spirit is probably his toughest. For this to happen Hodgson must create a collective philosophy into which all the players can invest. In turn this will help to resurface the atmosphere in which players will once again feel proud and privileged to represent their country.

Roy and the FA need to rediscover that ethos in which playing for England mattered and something worth fighting for.  But how?

Football should be fun. It should be something that is enjoyed. Playing for England seems to be the opposite at the moment. There seems to be an all-consuming fear among the squad of what will happen should they fail. Mental fragility is a big obstacle that needs to be overcome, the remedy to which has been presented in the form of St George’s Park.   Fingers crossed, the facility will provide the next generation of England stars with the opportunity to appreciate the significance of wearing the shirt from a young age.

Professor Neville and the Monday Night Football Academy

Gary Neville has revolutionised the world of football punditry.

If you are able to overcome the inevitable club allegiances of the ex man-utd right back you will realise that the pint-sized Mancunian has transformed Monday Night Football into a centre of footballing education.

Many ex-players have struggled when they found themselves in the chair of punditry however; Neville has proved an exception to the rule.

The outstanding accuracy of his analysis was demonstrated last weekend when Chelsea travelled to the Emirates Stadium. In the post game segment he defied popular belief of Arsenal’s defensive rebirth this season, under the guidance of Steve Bould, by highlighting the errors that allowed Juan Mata to snatch the winning goal.

The main problem that Neville identified with the Gunner’s back four was the lack of a leader. Unlike so many other ex-player pundits he went on to explain his thoughts and made a direct comparison with the solidarity shown by a Chelsea team, marshalled by John Terry.

Many of us may forget that Neville is also assistant to England manager, Roy Hodgson.  This adds a certain spice to his punditry situation, as he must be wary of which players he is seen to criticise or praise in an unbiased manner. This precarious position was tested on last week’s MNF when Neville was questioned with regards to the international future of Ferdinand following Terry’s retirement. However, he responded like a veteran when he spoke of Roy Hodgson and reminded the audience that Hodgson had made it clear he wouldn’t take 34/35yr old seasoned-internationals to sit on the bench as it may impact the squad’s morale. He was clear and succinct in his response, which effectively did not close the door on the subject but also evaded a potential headache for his boss.

Neville continued his tradition of against-the-grain punditry following the United v Spurs game on Saturday evening. Again with regards to Ferdinand, although this time it was about the centre-back’s performance, not his international future. Neville’s opinion on what had transpired at Old Trafford was unique (within the sky studio at least). He acknowledged that Rio may not be the quick young buck he once was but then went on to compare the United defender to similar players (Tony Adams and John Terry). He suggested not only that Ferdinand is quicker than either of them but also that unlike Adams and Terry he rarely finds himself exposed in one-on-ones (An example of a skill that the common fan may skip when they are debating who is a better player).

He also doused the flames of the belief that Ferdinand is injury-prone. Many seem to forget that having not missed a league match through injury since January, only Wayne Rooney started more games than the Rio last season.

Finally, Neville turned his attention toward United’s wingbacks (a position of which he may know a thing or too about) praising their attacking impetus but going on to grill Evra and  Rafael for their defensive inefficiency and work rates. Outlining the flaws in Ferguson’s back four against Spurs, the former right-back paid particular attention to their inappropriate depth and the gaps left behind when attempts were made to disposes Bale and Lennon.

Not since the days of Andy Gray has an ex-player applied their knowledge in such a way that they are able to explain the complex inner workings of football in a way we can understand. However, Gary Neville has established himself as the league’s top pundit and, in my opinion, has surpassed the benchmark that Gray set during his time with Sky Sports. It is his ability to selectively pick out and apply past experiences and his own knowledge to help us at home get a better understanding of the game we so love that sets him apart.

So long as Neville does not morph into a sexist Scotsman, he looks set for a lengthy reign as ‘King of the Pundits’.

Ryder Cup Distracts while Magpie’s start anything but ‘Black and White’

If, like me, any of you spent Sunday night watching the emotional rollercoaster that was the closing stages of the 2012 Ryder Cup, you may have forgotten that any football actually took place this weekend.

As I sat there peering through the gaps in my fingers at Martin Kaymer standing over the decisive putt, for once the Premier League had been lodged deep in the back of my mind. However, as the drama has subsided and the European team are waking to the bleary-eyed hangovers that they so deserve lets try to remember just what the weekend revealed.

Lets start with Southampton. No one can criticise the Saints for their attacking impetus and the determination with which they tear at defences. Their enthusiasm has seen them come so close to a couple of early upsets and any other team in the League would tremble at the prospect of a trip to Goodsion Park at the moment. However, Nigel Adkins needs to solidify the base of the team’s attacking ability by getting his defence in order. A more resolute back four would only help his side’s attacking potential. If Southampton are to survive this season then they need to think about diving into the January window and investing (despite being the 7th highest spenders in Europe this summer!)

As Newcastle took to the pitch on Saturday afternoon wearing a feminine plum number they had hoped to kick-start a thus far lacklustre campaign. But despite their best intentions they only succeeded in further confusing their loyal ‘Toon Army’ regarding the where-abouts of the team they saw last season. The absence of their Talismanic centre back, A.K.A ‘The Puyol of The North’ (Coloccinni) and an injury to Tim Krul, the man who was the reasons for so much of last season’s success, clearly continued to impede Pardew’s side. On the upside for Magpie’s, Demba Ba seems to have re-discovered the goal-scoring form that catapulted him into the limelight last season. However his partner in crime seems to have gone south for the winter a little early this year, but while one of them is scoring the Geordies will be ‘reet propa chuffed’.

The next talking point from the weekend comes to us from West London where the reigning champions showed some signs ominous for their title rivals. Their season, like Newcastle’s, has been disrupted so far due to some injuries to key players, and the absence of the key cog in their title-winning machine. David Silva’s majestic form of last season had evaded him until their trip to Craven Cottage where the little Spanish magician put Martin Jol’s side to the sword. They seemed to find the gear they have been lacking, albeit rather late in the game, reminiscent of the last campaign, which enabled them to inundate the Fulham defence. The league may have been led by the Blue and Red areas of London so far City have sent a warning to the pretenders to their throne.

Paul Lambert hasn’t won himself many admirers in the midlands during his limited time with Aston Villa and after Sunday’s game I fear that the Scotsman may have lost himself another. Having chosen to rotate his squad early in the season (by opening up the number one keeper position to challenger Brad Guzan) in a move many have questioned he has shown he is not afraid of big names or egos. Shay Given was the first victim of Lambert’s philosophy. The Irish keeper, who has been held in the highest regard since he began competing to be first choice keeper back at Newcastle in 1997, voiced his unhappiness with his gaffer’s decision to seat him on the bench. This weekend it was the turn of Darren Bent to warm the bench. Bent’s opinion of his new manager’s choice was made quite clear by his post game comments and his body language whilst he warmed up on the sidelines. Although he came on to grab his team an equaliser against rivals West Brom, it was apparent that Bent wasn’t best pleased at his omission from the starting team.

Finally, having returned from injury and worked his way back into City’s first team, Sergio Aguero spoke out about how English players are more favourably treated by Premier League referees than foreign players. If you look at the weekend’s action the Argentine may have a point as his colleagues; Zabaleta and Tevez and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez were all denied arguable penalties. Aguero was asked if he felt that foreign players were subject to tougher treatment from the English referees and the City striker said he thought they were. He went on to say that it was something that happened across the world and that players who come from the country in which the league is based always receive slight privilege.

Is Aguero onto something with his statement? Or is it just that the much-documented increase in diving in the modern game (that leaves the Soccer Saturday purist frothing at the mouth) has left referees with the little option but to guess whether a player has been taken down or that he just enjoys Swan Lake?

Otto’s Prem Predictions #2

Hello lovely readers, welcome to your weekly Bacon, Eggs & Football and a Happy Friday to you all.

It was a week for the youth teams as the Capital One Cup came to town. Premier League bosses across the land decided to rest their big names for the delectable footy feast that awaits us this weekend. Join me as I don my Jeff Stelling hat and let us take a gander at what the next few days may hold.

SATURDAY 29th SEPTEMBER

Arsenal v Chelsea

Two of the league’s main contenders meet in a game that is traditionally full of goals. Despite the fact that Chelsea’s defence can boast the most clean sheets so far this season and Arsenal’s back four have been looked unusually resolute I predict goals. Arsenal’s midweek game (against Coventry..) demonstrated the depth they possess in their attacking armoury. Giroud finally got himself a goal, the forgotten man Arshavin popped up on the score sheet and Theo again tried to stake a claim to play upfront. These promising signs, coupled with the form of new boys Podolski and Cazorla, mean that for once Arsenal fans have reason to be optimistic.

Chelsea’s goal scoring power cannot be denied. However, they find themselves atop the league due to the form of their defence rather than that of their abundant supply of attacking midfielders. With Torres, as ever, struggling to find the net they are forced to look elsewhere for possible goal scorers. While Hazard, Oscar and Mata’s creativity would enhance any team going forward they can’t be relied upon to score the goals that Di Matteo needs. Unless the creators can apply the finishing touches themselves or Torres decides to find the form that continues to elude him then Chelsea may struggle to breakdown a sturdy Gunners defence.

Score Prediction: 2-1  

Everton v Southampton

Southampton managed to get their first win last week against a faltering Aston Villa. Nigel Adkins was beaming at the final whistle and rightfully so as his team finally earned themselves some points to justify their early season performances. I like the way that the Saints play, albeit a little Gung-Ho (throw in a little Football Manager speak) and I think with someone like Lambert upfront they will always get goals. However their defence is woeful and their keeper, Kelvin Davies, has looked well out of his depth in this league. They travel to Goodison Park to play an Everton side that, despite their loss to Leeds midweek, are playing as well as I can ever remember. They went down to Wales last week without Jelavic and still turned over the Swansea side that set the pace earlier in the season. Gary Neville said on MNF last week that the Baines-Pienaar combo is the best wing back-midfield partnership in the league and I think you would struggle to disagree. I think Fellaini will again dictate the tempo in midfield, while Mirallas looks a shrewd signing by the Toffee’s penny-pinching manager.

Score Prediction: 3-1  

 

Norwich v Liverpool

Liverpool definitely didn’t deserve to not get anything form the game last weekend. The Shelvey sending off was questionable to say the least but it was the same old story for Rodger’s men. They are one of the brightest sides in the league going forward and you could make an argument that they boast one of, if not the strongest core midfield in the country. However, despite the numerous chances they create they can’t seem to convert! Suarez is one of the best players I have ever seen when it comes to running at defenders. He gets past them more often than not but for some reason is unable to finish more than 1 of every 50.

Norwich look a little lost this season. They offer very little going forward since Grant Holt retreated into a cave once he was declined a move away from the Canaries. Their success of last season was based on Ruddy’s outstanding keeping but so far he has been ruddy (I apologise) average. I think when the biggest name you bring in to the club during the summer is Robert Snodgrass from the Championship you have reason to worry. Hughton’s side need to find their killer instinct and become more Golden-Eagle than Canary.

Score Prediction: 1-1

 

Fulham v Man City

City’s uncharacteristic start to the season was massively inflated by their loss to Villa midweek. Mancini’s side are unrecognisable. Their imperial performances of last season are quickly becoming forgotten as is their fear inducing reputation. Losing in the Capital One Cup is obviously not the biggest deal (sorry Capital One but no one cares) however; the game proved that City are yet to find last season’s form. Beating Wigan away last weekend was a good result for Jol’s side and it seems Berbatov has helped ease the loss of Dembele and Dempsey. Craven Cottage is where Fulham play their best football and against an under-par City side they will hold no punches. These games are traditionally hard fought and susceptible to some rash challenges but City usually come out on top. I think the Manchester side’s dominance in the middle of the park will be the difference and this will be one of those games where they’re not in top gear but still grind out the win.

Score Prediction: 1-3

 

Reading v Newcastle

Reading need to pick up their points at home if they are to have a hope of staying up but I just don’t think they will. Upfront they have some a quality player in Pogrebnyak yet this strength is massively lacking elsewhere in their squad. If they can’t supply the big Russian then how can he score the goals they need? Newcastle have had a mixed start to the season but I think they turned a corner when they took a point from Everton. They were able to grab a 1-0 win against Norwich last weekend and that is a promising sign of their ability to get a result without playing well. Having rested much of his starting team against Man United in the week, Pardew will be able to call upon his strongest side (minus ‘The Puyol of the North’ who is out with a hammy injury) that will have too much for McDermott’s team. Demba and Papiss shall take the Royals back to school for some extra reading.

Score Prediction: 1-2  

 

Stoke v Swansea

Swansea travel to fortress Britannia on the back of a humping at the hands of Everton last weekend. Laudrup’s side may have been the season’s early flyers yet their wings have been well and truly clipped after their second successive defeat. Teams seem to have worked out the Swan’s footballing style. They are weak when they don’t have the ball and they lack steel in the heart of their midfield.  Laudrup needs to make a decision whether he will continue with what Rodgers put in place and adapt or if he wants to reform the club completely. This is not a great fixture in which to experiment though and Swansea will need to rely of their counter attack if they are to take anything away with them. Pulis will instruct his side to play the ‘anti-football’ they do so well and that has taken points from Arsenal and City. If Stoke can get the ball off Swansea then they shouldn’t have too much trouble.

Score Prediction: 2-0  

 

Sunderland v Wigan

Despite the fact that Martin O’Neil’s side are yet to pick up three points this season I don’t think the ex-Villa manager has reason to fret. The ease with which Fletcher has come into the team and started to bang in the goals means it is a matter of time until Sunderland get that elusive win. This will be the game in which they do just that. Larsson, Sessengon, McClean and Fletcher are all fit and given Al-Habsi’s recent performances shall be licking their lips at the goal scoring possibilities that Saturday holds. Martinez will bring his team to the North East and they will go about their business as usual, trying to play a passing game. However, in front of an expectant home crowd at the Stadium of Light the Black Cats will slaughter them. Wigan have looked poor this season, and their fans should prepare themselves for yet another scrap to survive come May.

Score Prediction: 3-0  

 

Man United v Tottenham

I’m a big fan of these games and in think that they are more exciting than most of United’s other fixtures against the top sides. There is always some controversy thrown in with some goals and some heated challenges, which always make for a good watch. Spurs come to Old Trafford on the back of a couple of solid results. AVB’s team have managed to get the points without playing fantastically well (wow I have said that a lot today….) and it is a case of the manager getting to grips with the club’s expectations and Vice-Versa. It will be interesting to see how AVB puts his side out against one of the league’s strongest sides. Whether he will continue to use Defoe upfront or if he will call on Adebayor to pose a different challenge for United’s defence will be a consideration. United will be able to welcome Rooney back after he played midweek against Newcastle and Fletcher should be fit enough to start. The return of the Scotsman will be a massive boost to Fergie’s team and will take some of the pressure of their evergreen Ginger Nut to set the tempo. However, it’s not all-good news for the Red Devils as Nemanja Vidic will be out for another couple of months after further knee surgery. The significance of the Serbian’s absence is enhanced when you consider that Jones and Smalling are also still out. I expect United fans shall be nervy about whether or not Ferguson will choose to use Carrick in defence or if he calls upon one of the youngsters that played so well midweek. (I am not forgetting that Evans is fit…it’s just…well…..he is horrifically bad)

Score Prediction: 2-1

SUNDAY 30th SEPTEMBER

Aston Villa v West Brom

This is another of the weekend’s big games. Despite being a neutral I love the midlands derby games. Last season when Wolves were in the mix there were some absolute crackers and it’s all because form means absolutely nothing. Villa were humiliated last week in the second half against Southampton which was relatively unsurprising given the team’s lack of cohesion and experience. However, this lack of experience may assist Villa in the derby as the young lads will really throw themselves into the game. They have a point to prove and as one of the most traditional teams in the country with on of the largest followings they need to step up and deliver soon. Coming into this game having gone to Manchester and beaten City on their own turf will have been just the boost that Lambert wanted and his team will run out on Sunday full of belief. With Lukaku upfront for the Baggies and their early season form you can’t write them off but I think Villa will knick this at the death.

Score Prediction: 3-2

 MONDAY 1st OCTOBER

QPR v West Ham

Mark Hughes’s side have started to establish themselves as of late. The draw with Chelsea and the performance against Spurs is evidence that they have begun to gel. With the quality of players they have you would expect that once they are able to develop this a bit more they would start to leap up the table. The issue for QPR is in defence. At White Hart Lane they were undone in the blink of an eye and in midweek they were the victims of a cheeky Pogrebnyak flick. The Hammers ground out a solid point against Sunderland last weekend and Kevin Nolan was quality. Yet while Allardyce’s team have done the job at home it has been a different story on their travels. Big Sam is eagerly waiting for the return of the equally big Carroll who will play a defining role in the East Londoner’s season. For now they may struggle to get the goals but as we saw last weekend they will create chance after chance when Nolan is playing.

Score Prediction: 2-1

Soccer Saturday-Eve: Otto’s Predictions

Good Evening one and all!

Welcome to this week’s edition of Bacon, Eggs & Football!

 The season’s first week of eagerly anticipated European football draws to a close and it was well worth the wait. Oscar introduced himself to the Stamford Bridge faithful with a dubiously ‘deliberate’ goal; Ronaldo took Man City to school while United scraped through yet another European home game. However, don’t fret lovely readers! The fun doesn’t stop there as we welcome a tantalising, titillating and traditionally unpredictable weekend of Premier League action.  Forget Merse, Le Tiss, Thomo and Charlie, I will be your Jeff Stelling and this is your Soccer Saturday-Eve!

SATURDAY 22nd SEPTEMBER

Chelsea v Stoke

Chelsea’s European triumph of last season was based upon their ability to park the bus. Therefore the way in which they sacrificed their 2-0 lead to Juve in midweek will have left a bitter taste in the mouths of their West London faithful.  Having drawn their first 4 games of the season you may predict yet another deadlock for Tony Pulis’ side. Safe to say that if each Prem team was a colour, Stoke would be an uninspiring grey. They are well capable of getting the job done however; I think Chelsea’s attacking options and home advantage will see them win this game. Sitting top of the table and with a fully stocked armoury of creative options, Chelsea will have no trouble in breaking down the team that has been dubbed the ‘League’s Most Boring’ (by me). Stoke are undoubtedly a force at Fortress Britannia but Chelsea’s midweek highlight (Oscar) may just have a say in this match.

Score Prediction: 2-1

 

Wigan v Fulham

Wigan’s survival, as ever, rests on their ability to pick up points at home. Had Berbatov not had the blinder of a game he did last week against West Brom I would have tipped a Wigan win. However, the suave (essentially sleazy looking) Bulgarian stands in the way if the Latics and his confidence will be even higher than normal (if possible) after his last performance. In addition, Wigan’s defence has looked leaky as of late with some uncharacteristically poor performances by the ‘Oman’ian Stall’ion’ that is Al-Habsi.

Score Prediction: 2-2

 

Swansea v Everton

Monday night’s match against Newcastle may have raised suspicions regarding Everton’s ability to see out a game. Granted they should’ve been out of sight before Demba Ba went on to equalise for the Toon, but the game was incredibly open. I think that a trip down to the Liberty Stadium will be a tricky one for the Toffees as they face a Swansea side that were brought down to Earth last weekend.  I expect the Swans to be as fluid as ever and if Vorm has a good game he can keep any team out. Jelavic will be a big miss for Everton if he doesn’t feature (after hobbling off against Newcastle I don’t think he will?) but I think their new Belgian, Kevin Mirallas, showed signs that will ease fans worries.

Score Prediction: 1-1

 

Southampton v Aston Villa

A very tough call but I think this could finally be Southampton’s chance to get points. This game will depend on how well Nigel Adkin’s players are able to apply themselves. Having been in the lead against two of the League’s top sides but then gone on to lose those games moral must be low on the south coast. On the other hand Paul Lambert’s Villa side were convincing (for the first time in a very long time) against Swansea last weekend and things may be looking brighter for the midland’s club. However, having seen how Southampton performed at home to United and the way in which the St Mary’s crowd drove their team on, I have faith that they will get a result. Villa may have won well last weekend but that was at home and their team is very young and inexperienced.  Reliable Ricky Lambert (quickly becoming subject to punters’ financial backing at local Sir William Hill-top gambling establishments) will grab a cheeky goal to keep his form ‘a flowin.

Score Prediction: 3-2

 

West Ham v Sunderland

Sunderland are starting to look very good under O’Neil. Fletcher’s arrival has solved the goal problem and with McClean, Adam Johnson, Sessengon and Seb Larsson they have arguably the best attacking options outside the Prem’s top 6. West Ham have had a good start to the season and are sitting in a tasty 8th position. Their points tally has been based upon the strength of their veteran keeper and Big Sam’s ability to entrench the importance of clean sheets into his squad. However, they lack depth. Carroll is a big miss as we saw last weekend against Norwich. Personally I have never rated Carlton Cole, Nolan is a quality midfielder but not a reliable goal getter. I struggle to see where their goals will come from.

Score Prediction: 1-3

 

West Brom v Reading

These teams were both turned over in their last League matches. A Spurs side that finally hit something like top gear exposed Reading and West Brom were undone by Odemwingie’s rash kick. The Baggies will miss their Nigerian forward’s trickery and deliveries but they can rely on Shane Long and the on-loan Lukaku to do the job. They have had a great start to the season at home and are yet to concede a goal at the Hawthorns. On the other hand Reading’s defence provides cause for concern. They were made to look extremely amateur by AVB’s side and, like the Hammers, they have little squad depth. Upfront, The Pog showed his class whilst at Fulham last season yet he can only score goals if he gets good service.

Score Prediction: 2-0

 

SUPER SUNDAY! (23rd SEPTEMBER)

 

Liverpool v Man United

This game of football has been somewhat lost in a whirlwind of controversy and hype. Liverpool’s first game at Anfield since the Hillsborough developments, which will hopefully be respected and observed by all. This week Sir Alex has highlighted the significance of recent events not only for United and Liverpool fans but football supporters in general. So it’s fingers crossed that this game can be remembered for all the right reasons and not for inappropriate chanting or anything Suarez-Evra related. I expect this game to follow its usual pattern and be another archetypal derby day. As ever it will be a tight affair and although Liverpool love spurning chances in front of goal I think that the occasion coupled with United’s dodgy defence will help them find their touch. With RVP back to full fitness, Kagawa looking bright and Scholes pulling the strings, Pepe Reina’s goal will no doubt be subject to a siege.

Score Prediction: 1-2

 

Man City v Arsenal

Tough shout here but it would appear all is not entirely well at the Ethiad. Having thrown away their lead at the Bernabeu in the last 10 minutes of the game, City received first-hand a tough lesson in European football. Although their forwards could grace any team in the World (other than Dzeko who is just awful) their defence has not yet found the steely resolve that guided them to the title last season.  On the other hand, Arsenal are a revelation. Their new signings are showing the benefits of Arsene getting his transfer targets in early and they’ve only conceded the one goal so far. That said, their defensive pairing is yet to face an attack with as much guile and pace as City’s. Mertesacker (a.k.a. ‘The Wall’ as he is known in Deutschland) is by no means the quickest and the young keeper; Mannone could face a barrage of Argentinean thunderbolts.  The result of this game depends on where Mancini plays Toure. If he starts with him in an advanced position then City will create chances (as we saw in Madrid) but if Mancini does his usual, and only chooses to push the Ivorian up late on, then Arsenal could control the game. Realistically, Arsenal haven’t faced a true challenge yet and I think City shall show them what they’ve been missing.

Score Prediction: 2-1

 

Newcastle v Norwich

The Magpies showed how good glimpses of their attacking best once Pardew brought on Ba at Goodison Park. It was an improvement on their trip there at the end of last season… but only just. However, Newcastle are a different side at St James (its not getting called the sports direct arena..Don’t complain) and Norwich are yet to win this season. I expect Chris Hughton’s return shall not be a pleasant one and that the attacking prowess of Hatem Ben Arfa and the unhappy Demba Ba (if he gets to start!) should be enough to dispatch the point-less Canaries back to East Anglia.

Score Prediction: 2-0

 

Spurs v QPR

Tottenham finally got up and running against Reading last weekend and their Europa game against Lazio showed it wasn’t a fluke. Despite not scoring on Thursday night Spurs created a handful of chances and really should have won the game. Dembele has been able to bring the form he showed for Fulham across London and with Sigurdsson, Bale and Lennon all supplying an inform Defoe I think they will be too much for QPR.  Mark Hughes’s side turned in a spirited performance against Chelsea last weekend and Julio Cesar showed he still has it…some of it anyway. However, I think that they still need time to gel. They have brought in a ridiculous amount of players in the last couple of transfer windows. Fans would be forgiven for not recognising their starting line up and therefore they can’t be expected to fire on all cylinders too soon.

Score Prediction: 3-1

 

 

What do you think? Will Man City put The Gunners in their place? Will United upset the Anfield crowd? Will Stoke be able to defeat the reigning European Champions?

 

A Year On From Old Trafford Nightmare…Have Wenger’s Arsenal Turned A Corner

Bonjour lovely readers, fresh off the back of a Mo Farah inspired effort in the Great North Run I welcome you to this week’s editions of Bacon, Eggs & Football! 

The international break has come and gone and as a Scotsman I say GOOD RIDDANCE! Having kept a keen eye on all those premier league starlets that sauntered off for a weekend of half-hearted international football, lets see if they were able to bring their A-game back with them.

The weekend was a tasty one; 10 games, 26 goals, a red card and some invisible handshakes. As we wave goodbye to the ‘Super Summer of Sport’ lets don our Tom Daley speedos and dive in!

Lets begin with a look back at the weekend’s action.

Spurs finally chose to demonstrate why people are so excited about their attacking prospects on Sunday in their 3-1 away win against Reading. Defoe, who so capably demolished the Royals defence, said after the game that Tottenham’s season starts now and I’m sure AVB would be all to happy to agree with that! Defoe showed what a quality finisher he has been for the last decade scoring a couple as Tottenham dominated a Reading team who hadn’t played a game for 25 days. Brian McDermott’s side seemed to be lacking the basics; their fitness was poor, passing slack and their organisation was non-existent. McDermott said he didn’t recognise his team in the first half (insert ‘specsavers’ gag here). So some of the pressure will no doubt have eased off AVB after last night’s result however a spanner is waiting to be thrown into the works. With Defoe in a rich vein of form and once again leading the line for England (albeit in Rooney’s absence) where does this leave Adebayor? The summer signing arrived thinking that he would pick up where he left off under Redknapp as the target man, a role in which he was able to score 15+ goals last season. Yet his instant integration into the Spurs side has gone the same way a Lloris, seemingly he will truly have to prove his worth.

We move to the fortress (home of anti-football) that is the Britannia stadium. This was Man City’s 4th successive 1-1 draw away against Stoke at their defensively saturated cauldron of a ground. The result is proof that while Stoke may have their critics for the style of football they play, they can definitely get the job done. Ryan Shawcross should take a lot of the credit for his heroic goal line clearance at the death, while Roberto Mancini wont be surprised to know that the LA Lakers have made an approach for Peter Crouch. As Gary Neville described it Crouchy’s ‘cheeky’ handball going unnoticed by the officials was a piece of luck that Tony Pulis was delighted with after the game. From Man City’s perspective it was, as ever, a very hard fought game. Again their imperial defence of last season seemed to go missing and Mancini’s increasingly predictable tactic of pushing Toure forward late on didn’t have enough time to fully impact the match. Toure had only just begun to truly influence the game in his more advanced position as it came to a close. Mancini knows that City perform better when Toure is playing higher up the pitch so WHY NOT START HIM THERE?! The Italian chooses to do the same thing every time City are struggling to control a game and the Ivorian always makes a difference.

Javi Garcia, a product of the Real Madrid academy system was a positive for City this weekend. A good debut capped off with a goal yet Mancini’s side remain clean sheet-less in the 2012/13 campaign. Next up City travel to a Bernabeu where cracks have steadily begun to appear. The unhappy Ronaldo coupled with some unusually average early season performances should provide City with optimism.

(Real Madrid form update: - Real continued their poor start to the defence of last seasons La Liga title. Their loss to Sevilla is their 2nd in 4 league games this season. Mourinho has had the worst start to a season of his career)

Meanwhile, City’s neighbours welcomed their relatively local rivals, Wigan, to the Theatre of dreams. United have only conceded 1 goal at home to the latics in their last 9 games and History dictates that Wigan do not enjoy themselves at Old Trafford.  Moses’ Ten Commandments famously began ‘1. WIGAN SHALL NEVER GET A POINT AT OLD TRAFFORD’ and, true to the bearded wonder’s words, Roberto Mancini’s side have struggled recently. Saturday proved to be no different as United romped home. Once Welbeck’s early belly flop had reaped its just reward of a saved penalty United began to take a hold of the game. On a day all about their heroes, who have contributed to past and present successes, it was fitting that Paul Scholes should be the one to pop up with the first goal; a trademark run, ghosting into the 6 yard box and pouncing on a rare Al-Habsi spillage. Yet it was a day for what seem the future heroes of Old Trafford as two debutants were on the score sheet. Buttner’s goal was reminiscent of a three-legged dog as he rambled into the box bouncing the ball and his body off Wigan players before lashing toward goal. However, Nick Powell’s strike was much more refined and rather predictably sparked comparisons between United’s new young midfielder and their well-aged ginger nut. Perhaps a future replacement yet lets try and not put too much pressure on him, after all in terms of show-filling Scholes is tiny so his feet cant be that big…..

(Galatasary Form Update; - Ex-Bolton man, Johan Elmander, has helped the Turkish club to the summit of their league. They won their weekend fixture comfortably beating Antalyaspor 4-0)

 Van Persie started on the bench for United this weekend while his old club tried to maintain the momentum gained form their victory at Anfield. Cast your minds back a year or so ago. Arsenal had just lost 8-2 to Man United, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas had upped sticks and left London for pastures new and there the Gunners were sinking. Wenger, in a Dale Winton style supermarket sweep moment, launched a late dash into the transfer window to try and remedy the situation but fans were worried. At the start of this season, having lost their dutch goal machine/talisman and drawn their first two games without scoring a goal fans were losing faith. However, the Liverpool game has proved a real turning point for the Gunners. They are only 2 points off top spot and have actually showed signs of progression following a less than convincing start.

So what’s different? They have brought in quality players like Podolski and Cazorla EARLY in the window as opposed to the last week of July. Wenger has allowed them time to become part of the setup at Arsenal and has integrated them effectively. (Ignoring Giroud who has so far been beyond unconvincing, to be polite) It was Podolski, the Gunner’s new German (Polish) recruit, who disposed of Southampton in typically efficient style as the Londoners racked up a 6-1 win.

(Montpellier Form Update; - Last seasons Ligue 1 champions lost their last domestic game 3-1 newly promoted Reims. Giroud’s old club are currently in the bottom 5)

The recent Hillsborough disaster developments have meant it has been a momentous week for Liverpool as a city their football club. An emotional week that came to a close with a well deserved point taken from the Stadium of Light (yet a point will have left the fans disappointed as it signals their worst start in over 50 years) Yet again Raheem Sterling enhanced a quickly growing reputation as his quick feet unlocked Sunderland’s defence to allow Suarez to equalise. Steven Fetcher had earlier put O’Neil’s side ahead with a well-taken goal, his 3rd in 2 league starts (my tip of him as dark horse for golden boot is looking promising, early days I know). His finish left every Scotland supporter questioning why Craig Levein wont just grow a set and play him in the national side. Over the weekend Fletcher was asked, on twitter, if he would play for Scotland again if asked to which he responded simply with ‘yes’. LEVEIN GET ON YOUR BLOODY PHONE!

Returning to London, and a game in which the focus revolved around the pre-match physical contact (or lack of) of two men rather than the result or the nature in which the match was played. I am not going to talk about handshakes…much. There has been enough controversy about it over the weekend and frankly I couldn’t care less about who shakes whose hand before a game. After a game it makes sense to congratulate someone who has played well, swap shirts or shake hands but forcing players to do so before a match is obviously just going to cause problems. (Looking ahead to the Liverpool v Man United game this coming weekend the hype around the Evra-Suarez situation is already bubbling.)

Anyway back to the game. It was very average. Julio Cesar had a good debut and showed glimpses of the ability upon which he built his reputation at Inter. Chelsea never really got going but QPR’s defenders seemed determined to not let their West London Rivals score. After being subbed in the second half, Torres threw a strop and stormed off down the tunnel having made his 50th appearance for the Blues. After his first 50 games for Liverpool Torres had 33 league goals. In the same number for Chelsea he has 9.  Chill out El Nino you just had a bad game…another one.

(Juventus Form Update; – Juve won their weekend game 3-1 against Genoa. The defending Italian champions have won 3 out of 3 in Serie A and are unbeaten in 42 league games.)

Staying in the West of London, Fulham put on a show at Craven Cottage, led by their new, ‘revitalised’ Bulgarian forward. Since leaving United Dimitar Berbatov has become a complete footballer, at least that’s what his manager thinks. Following Berba’s 2 goals on his home debut at the cottage, Jol confessed his love for his new frontman. He is convinced that the striker will go on to be the best in Fulham’s history. This is quite a claim but if he continues as he did against West Brom he will certainly be well remembered. Man United fans among you will argue that this is trademark Berbatov. Mercurial as ever, he will pop up and score 10 goals in 3 games and then go missing for 6 weeks.  Yet I urge you to not be so sceptical. At United Berba was one of a collection of world-class strikers and thus his chances were limited. At Fulham he is very much the main man. He will be the target of the through balls, corners and crosses and he will take the penalties. He obviously just wants to be loved before he calls it a day and who can blame him.

Paul Lambert can breathe easy for the first time this season as his Villa side finally turned in a confident performance.  Judging by his praise for new signing, Christian Benteke, he is delighted with the young Belgian forward and predicts a bright future for him in the midlands. He did well to pounce on an Ashley Williams mistake (his second in as many games) and finish it off with composure. Earlier in the game Villa’s young right back, Mathew Lowton scored an absolute blinder on his debut. Not bad for a boy who played his football in league 1 last season with Sheffield United. For Swansea and Laudrup this was a reality check. The Swans were shown just how fickle football can be having had their wings clipped following their explosive start. How Laudurp’s side can respond to this defeat will set the tone for the remainder of the season.

As I type, a Demba Ba inspired Newcastle are staging a rallying siege on the Everton defence. Having taken the lead early on through Baines, the Toffees ran the entirety of the first half. The toon army couldn’t get any shape or rhythm to their game but Everton failed to capitalise and, after he was brought on at half time, Ba made them pay. Both teams exchanged blows late on, Anichebe’s header hitting the underside of the bar and clearly crossing the line before being disallowed (HMM MAYBE WE SHOULD HAVE GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY!!!) only for Ben Arfa to pick up the ball and be cynically brought down by Pienaar as he tried to prevent a Newcastle break. Having had a Fellaini goal ruled out for offside earlier in the second half Everton will no doubt feel that they got their rewards when Anichebe slotted past Harper late on. Goodison Park exploded!….until….the Toon Idol that is Demba Ba got on the end of a bouncing ball in the Everton box and poked home to equalise. An enthralling match finished 2-2 and both teams have right to feel aggrieved and relieved with a point. Accompanied by another sterling performance in the studio by Gary Neville (whose quality analysis is undeniable) it was to use the old cliche; ‘an excellent advert for the Premier League’.

In true MOTD style we finish with the weekends least exciting game. Despite a handful of chances for both teams neither possessed the quality to finish any. However, Big Sam seems well aware that in the context of survival the currency of the Premier League are clean sheets.  Having made some canny signings in the summer, not least James Collins and Jussi Jaaskaleinen, West Ham’s defense looks the most assured of the promoted clubs. Granted that isn’t much of a claim given Southampton and Reading’s frailties. As the ingenious Allardyce revealed; if you are able to keep 38 clean sheets then you are guaranteed 38 points which should in-turn gurarntee that you will leave to experience ‘second season syndrome’.

Well done Sam, now its just a case of conceding no more goals for the remainder of the season….given how many teams have done it before, that should be easy.

Wayne Rooney: The missing link in Man United’s midfield?

Wayne Rooney is Manchester United’s fourth highest scorer of all time, having netted 143 goals in six seasons at the club, but could he soon find himself playing a deeper role in midfield?

Rooney’s strike rate must be considered exceptional when you take into account that he has scored the majority of his goals in a withdrawn role, often playing in behind Berbatov or Danny Welbeck. Temperamental, dynamic and talismanic – terms commonly associated with the United striker. Rooney’s adaptability means that in the current era of versatile forwards he is able to play in most advance positions whilst racking up an abundance of goals. Despite his shirt number he isn’t a typical No. 10. His specific role is difficult to pinpoint having played lone stiker, supporting forward, attacking midfield and more recently – the deep lying playmaker.
So is Rooney destined to take up this midfield role that for the past few seasons has so often been the critic’s focus when picking apart United’s strength? The Old Trafford team’s inherent issue of recent years has been a lack of grit, creativity and passion in the centre of the park. Kagawa’s arrival has brought an injection of flair yet realistically they are heavily reliant upon the likes of Anderson (who has never been the same player since his injury), the ‘lacklustre’ Carrick, and the ‘evergreen’ Scholes.  Tom Cleverly is undoubtedly a rising star as his most recent performance for England against Moldova demonstrated however, he is still relatively young and I doubt could cope with having to be the required spark needed to ignite United’s engine room. Therefore, it would appear that there is a vacancy in midfield at Old Trafford, perhaps one that the increasingly marginalised Rooney could assume.

In the 2010/11 season Rooney played a supporting role to Berbatov, the designated target man of the campaign. The Bulgarian went on to record his best season with United (although he remained a lazy bugger) in no small part due to Rooney. In this slightly deeper role the Merseysider was able to hone and display his natural playmaking abilities. Through experience he began to look for killer through balls whilst keeping his cool something he isn’t particularly know for. In addition to this creativity Wayne was still scoring goals, managing to grab himself 16 that season, but his main influence was through his possession and control of the ball. His range of passing meant he could set Berbatov away, feed the widemen and, when the opportunity arose, finish chances himself. His desire to leave the club only months before had been forgotten as the inspirational striker once again bore his heart on his sleeve and convinced the fans of his dedication to the club. It was his team and he was its focal point. Creating, scoring, tackling, passing Rooney was gradually becoming the complete player many had predicted.

If we look back at last season, Rooney started up top with Welbeck. As more of a poacher, Welbeck made the runs and created the space that allowed Rooney to drop off and help United’s creative department. As the campaign continued he filled in for Fletcher taking up a more possession-focused role and provided Carrick with some help in the centre of midfield. Despite deputising for absent midfielders, Rooney went on to score 35 goals in 45 games yet more importantly perhaps was his streak of 31 games without a booking. The main cause for concern, regarding Rooney’s potential as a midfielder, would have been his temper. The length of his spell without a caution revealed that the abusive and irrational Rooney of old was gone and in his place came an increasingly composed, determined and selfless player (perhaps he has Kai to thanks for that).

So Rooney undoubtedly has the ability to become a centre midfielder for Manchester United in the Gerrard or Lampard mould. However, you have to consider whether the club could cope without him leading the line?

We must look at their current attacking options to make a decision. With that in mind, the arrival of Robin van Persie may speed up the process of Rooney’s drop back to the middle of the park. With the injury that Rooney sustained against Fulham, RVP was effectively handed the role of leading United’s attack and did so with gusto. The Dutchman has quickly assimilated into the attacking philosophy that the Theatre of Dreams is known for managing to develop a productive relationship with Shinji Kagawa on the way. The seamless combination play of United’s new recruits will no doubt have the supporters grinning like Cheshire cats however, one man who may be slightly concerned for his future as a result is Rooney.

When RVP came in, people immediately questioned whether he and Rooney could play together. Many argued it was a shrewd tactic by United’s experienced manager, while others saw it purely as a statement to their city rivals as paying big bucks for senior players doesn’t feature regularly in Ferguson’s repertoire. Obviously the two have yet had the opportunity to show that they can function well together, yet given how naturally Kagawa has adopted his position of creativity you would think Ferguson wouldn’t be too quick to disrupt things. It is for this reason I believe Ferguson may well look to utilise and condition Rooney as a centre-midfielder now. In addition, if you consider that it tends to be ammunition supply for the front men that has let Man United down as of late, Rooney’s passing could remedy this.

However, it’s all well saying he would be good at the role but what does the player think? Well very politely, Mr Rooney has recently been promoting his new autobiography and his book reveals his thoughts regarding a possible position change. Conveniently, Rooney has said that he is considering becoming a centre midfielder in the future as the quality of his game declines. In the middle of the park Rooney feels he can be more involved in the game and see more of the ball. However, he goes on to say that he would only make this move toward the end of his career sighting an expected lack of sharpness and speed as his motivation. In my opinion he may need to start considering a little bit earlier than that (i.e. now!) unless he plans to retire in the next couple of years. Rooney wouldn’t be a stranger to a playmaking position having slotted into the role last season when Ferguson’s side was struggling with injuries (the period that ultimately led to the return of United’s infamous rash-tackling ginger-nut).

Despite increasing uncertainty for Rooney regarding his future at United since RVP’s arrival, the future is bright (but not orange). The Merseysider’s adaptability has enabled him to form partnerships with strikers of different strengths. Welbeck, Berbatov and Hernandez are all ambassadors for varying forward techniques and each has different abilities but Rooney has thrived with them all. Unlike United’s past heroes, the likes of Best, Cantona and Ronaldo, Rooney does not have lofty opinions of himself. Seemingly, he remains modest despite his ability and is much more of a workhorse than a show pony.

What do you think? Should Rooney continue to lead the line alongside RVP? or should he drop in to United’s midfield and assist in Cleverly’s development whilst creating chances for the Dutch frontman? In my opinion he possess the characteristics of traditional playmakers and is on the road to becoming the most complete English player of his generation. The passion and creativity he brings to the game could provide the catalyst to revolutionize Man United’s engine room which, of late has looked increasingly mediocre.

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