Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ashley Young for Manchester United (v Arsenal), 28 August 2011

OK, so he's six foot six tall, has won 75 caps for one of the world's leading sides and is a (relative) bargain at £7.6 million. But is Per Mertesacker really the answer to Arsenal's woes?

Sunday saw their defence totally outclassed by Manchester United and so I'm not sure a slow, lumbering centre half would have been all that much help. Clearly Wenger needs reinforcements and the Gunners aren't going to win a title with Johan Djorou and Laurent Koscielny at the back. Mertesacker, though? Surely he'd have been better off with Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba or Phil Jagielka? (although all three are lumping great old fashioned defenders, to be fair).

I can see the financial advantages of spending £1.8 on the South Korean captain - Arsenal should recoup that on shirt sales in Seoul within a fortnight or so - but I'm less convinced that Mertesacker is the missing piece of the Arsenal jigsaw.

(And, while we're on the subject of Arsenal, why hasn't Wenger got shot of Arshavin, yet? I haven't seen a player so disinterested since, well, Tomas Rosicky....)

By the close of the transfer window we should have a better idea of whether Arsenal are genuine title contenders or whether they're about to be usurped by the likes of Stoke City, Newcastle United and Sunderland. It could go either way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kevin Doyle for Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs Fulham), 21st August 2011

If you'll forgive the indulgence, I would just like to take a moment to salute the genius of the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Mr. Michael Joseph McCarthy. In the wake of his team's 2-0 victory over Fulham on Sunday, Wolves were briefly sat at the top of the Premier League table. Not that Big Mick was allowing anyone to get carried away with that. When asked his reaction to the club's league position, McCarthy wasn't messing about:

"My reaction: bothered. I'll tell you what I don't like: we start bottom every year, don't we? By alphabetical order. It's nice to be top after two games"

Way to go Mick: rage against the injustice of ordering the table alphabetically before the season starts!

There was some speculation that Fulham's performance was affected by their early-season (June!) involvement in the Europa League. True to form, Mick made it pretty clear that it wasn't really on his 'to do' list for Wolves to qualify for Europe:

"If we ever get anywhere near the Europa League, I'll be horrified. If it's through fair play, I'll even go out and kick a few opponents to make sure we don't qualify..."

Love him or hate him, Big Mick is an antidote to some of the anodyne crap that gets spouted in post-match interviews, isn't he? Here are a few corkers:

"I was feeling as sick as the proverbial donkey."

"Anyone who uses the word 'quintessentially' in a half time talk is talking crap."

"We've got the drug testers here today. They shouldn't be going to see the players. They should go to see the officials instead."

"I'd rather be favourites for Premiership relegation than favourites to win the play-offs"

...and my two favourites:

"'Matt Jarvis for England'? Yes, I heard those chants. It’s when they sing ‘Mick McCarthy is a big-nose wanker’ that I don’t hear the crowd.

[on being asked what he thought of the own-goal Wolves conceded in the 60th second of their game against Reading in 2009] "Fucking abysmal, that was what I fucking thought of it. C'mon, let's get to it, I'm trying my best here. What did I make of it? I thought it was the best bit of fucking football I've seen in a long time. Do me a favour. It was a crap start to a game. There you have it, can you print all that? Fucking rubbish, absolute tosh. Drivel. Shite. Bullshit. That's what I thought of it. Did that help? I'm quite pleased, apart from the fact that's given them the poxy result, I'm fucking livid about it – of course I am. So, there you have it."  Listen to this one in all of its glory here.

He's a legend.

With the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has dropped his astonishingly childish campaign of silence against the BBC, I'm devastated that Mike Phelan will no longer be dazzling me with his wit and insight after United games.   I suppose I'll have to make do with Mick.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Riccardo Montolivo for Italy (v Spain), 10 August 2011

Now then. You don't need us to tell you that the FIFA World Rankings are a load of old toilet. Indeed, we were saying the same thing six years ago (this excellent piece by Swisslet explains how the ranking system works - it is the same today except only four years of results are taken into account, not eight).

Whilst there may be complicated mathematical rationale for arriving at the rankings, you only have to look at them and have a vague knowledge of international football to know that they're clearly cobblers.

For example, the reigning World and European champions, Spain, are no longer considered the best side in the world, mainly because they lost a pointless friendly in Italy earlier this month. Instead, we're supposed to believe that an (admittedly good) Holland side are the best team, despite losing to Spain in the last World Cup Final.

And, even more hilariously, England are, apparently, the fourth best side in the world. Fourth! We couldn't beat Switzerland, need some good results to even qualify for Euro 2012 and yet we're considered a better side than Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, France....

Uruguay - World Cup semi finalists and Copa America champions are behind England. How does that work?

And, Haiti are now above Wales. Now, I'm not the world's leading expert on the Haitian football team, but I reckon Wales could have them, you know....

What an utter waste of time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anderson for Manchester Utd (v Tottenham Hotspur), 22 August 2011

Footballers Names Mrs LB Has Misheard During Commentary: Part 8

Snorts of laughter come from the adjacent room.

"Really? They call him 'The Gayer'?"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Luis Suarez for Liverpool (vs Arsenal), 20th August 2011

It usually doesn't do to scrutinise my pre-season predictions too closely.... and barely two weeks into the season, I'm already wondering whether Yossi Benayoun really is going to be the fulcrum at Chelsea..... but I did say this about Arsenal:

"I can't see him being sacked, but what are the odds on Wenger walking out at some point this year?"

Now, we all know that the media like a good crisis, and they've certainly been doing their best to put the pressure Wenger on after a poor start that has seen Arsenal gather a single point and no goals from two games. 

Every bar room expert knows that Wenger needed to sign a strong goalkeeper, a dominant centrehalf, a midfield ballwinner in the mould of Patrick Viera and a goalscorer to play up front with the ever-injury-prone Robin van Persie.  What do they get? A 19 year old defender,  a 17 year old winger and an apparently very volatile Ivorian striker.  How typically Wenger those signings are.  Worse yet is the loss of skipper and heartbeat of the side, Cesc Fabregas, to Barcelona and the likely departure of Samir Nasri to a rival Premier League team.

You hardly need to be an expert to sense the upheaval going on at the Emirates, and it hasn't taken the press long to gleefully get their classic "club in crisis" headlines out.

It's early days though, isn't it?  Even though the Fabregas and Nasri have been expected to leave for some time, most of those same critics reporting on the turmoil in North London were still predicting that Arsenal would finish in the top 4 in the Premier League.  Yes, they do probably need to make some signings in the next couple of weeks before the transfer window closes, but there is still time and, although it's not really Wenger's style to splash the cash around near deadline day, who's to say that a couple of well-judged signings might make all the difference to Arsenal's season?

Arsenal's next few games are critical: the second-leg of the Champions League qualifier with Udinese, then a trip to Old Trafford in the league for a Super Sunday fixture on 28th August....then a home game against Swansea before bogey side Bolton at the Emirates and then Spurs away on 2nd October. 

Is it too soon to say that Arsenal's season could effectively be over by October?

It's a cliche AND a statement of the obvious, but these really are a make or break few weeks for Arsenal.  I doubt they'll ever sack him, but maybe, just maybe, Wenger will decide that enough is enough before the leaves have come off the trees.

Interesting times.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Robbie Keane for the Republic of Ireland (vs Scotland), 29th May 2011

The transfer of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal to Barcelona may have dragged on, but surely not even the most ardent Arsenal fan begrudges him his move back to his hometown club; the team he has supported all of his life.

Even though he was clearly delighted to be joining his new club, Fabregas was classy enough to pay tribute to the club he was leaving behind:

"I was just a servant and spent eight years there when I gave absolutely everything.  It didn't show in the cabinet, I only won one FA Cup really, and this is the biggest regret I will have in my career, probably, not to be able to lift a trophy as Arsenal captain. I will always be an Arsenal fan because what they have done for me is unbelievable and I will never forget it."

Compare and contrast with the transfers of Robert David "Ballbag" Keane, who joined the LA Galaxy for £3.5m this week:

This week: "I have always wanted to come and play in MLS so it's the perfect combination for me and a dream come true"

20 August 1999: "It has always been my dream to play in the Premiership and I'm over the moon to be joining Coventry."

31 July 2000: "It's every kid's dream come true. I am absolutely delighted at the prospect of joining a world-famous club like Inter."

14 May 2007: "They say five clubs and all that, but I am very settled here [at Spurs] and am really enjoying it."

28 July 2008: "I've been a Liverpool fan all my life, going back to when I was a kid growing up in Dublin, and I always had a Liverpool shirt on my back. To be sitting here today in a Liverpool tracksuit is a dream come true."

6 February 2009: "I'm delighted to be back [at Spurs]. This is a club that's dear to my heart."

1 February 2010: "I am a Celtic fan and did not have to ask much about it. I always wanted to play for Celtic and it works for all parties."

31 January 2011: "I'm ready to help West Ham stay up. I feel I have plenty left to offer at the highest level for at least the next four or five years."


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Peter Osgood for Chelsea (v Milan), 16 February 1966

We, at Cheer Up Alan Shearer, hate Barry Davies.

Now, you may wonder how we can say such a thing. He's 73 years old, for heaven's sake. It's like saying you hate someone's grandad. (Well, he probably is someone's grandad so it's, er, exactly the same as saying that.)

Thankfully, he has retired from football commentary. Although the same cannot be said for all the other sports which suffer from Barry’s patronising musings. We have heard him commentate on gymnastics, on ice-dancing, on obscure Olympic events. For Lord's sake, we thought we'd finally got rid of him until he turned up at Wimbledon this year.

The BBC applaud his wide ranging skill and general sporting knowledge. We say “jack of all trades, master of none”.

When was the last time you heard Motty commentating on pursuit cycling? Or badminton? Quite right. Never. Motty is a proper 'one sport' commentator.

The problem with Barry Davies is that he applies his (and we use the word very loosely) “style” to everything he does. As we see it, this style involves:

1. Setting the scene by using language that makes it sound like you’re watching a 1950s police drama.

2. Patronising every mistake, foul or infringement by using words like “quite unnecessary”.

3. Spending five minutes saying nothing because you think the viewer respects you for doing that (when actually what they want is commentary which is what you are being paid for).

4. After the five minutes of silence, making a noise that sounds like you’ve just been walloped in the gonads.

It’s the noise that angers us the most. Yelling “oooooooooooooooooooooof” when something of importance happens. Making a career out of the noises Paul Whitehouse makes as the “suits you” character is frankly preposterous.

Anyway, this somewhat irrational hatred of the doddery old duffer did, six years ago, lead to a brand new football related comedy feature called “Mr And Mrs Barry Davies” telling the ordinary day to day tales of an ordinary sports commentator. It wasn't any good in 2005, and it's certainly not any good now. Is that going to stop us bringing it back? Oh no.

Mr And Mrs Davies – Part 1

At the restaurant.

[Barry and Maureen Davies walk into the Chinese restaurant. They are seated by the waiter.]

Maureen: “It’s nice in here isn’t it?”

Barry: “Welcome to the Woo Sang. It’s a balmy night in Romford as you join me for this Chinese meal. It’s the sixteenth time we’ve met in this restaurant and so far it’s nine-six to me in terms of who has paid the bill. The restaurant has been decked out for the occasion in the colours of the Dong-Hang-Ming dynasty dating back to several thousand years ago.”

Maureen: “What are you having for a starter, love? I’m having the Sesame Prawn Toast.”

Barry: “Oh, that’s dreadful. A dreadful mistake, and I wouldnt be surprised if that costs you the whole meal. Terrible. What were you thinking? I can’t believe you didn’t even consult the assistant for a second opinion before making that decision. Frankly that could alter the whole outcome.”

Maureen: “And them I’m having the Sweet and Sour Chicken”.

[Barry looks at the menu in silence for six and a half minutes]

Barry: “Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooof. Lovely rice. Love-ly rice.”

(Admittedly, this feature may not run to a whole series. That won’t stop us trying, though.)

Sergio Aguero for Manchester City (vs Swansea), 16th August 2011

30 minutes on the pitch.

A goal with his first touch and an assist with his third.

Two goals and one assist on debut.

A 4-0 victory.

Very average. 

Mancini better pray that he can keep Carlos Tevez and Mario Ballotelli happy in Manchester if City are going to achieve anything this season.  He'll be kicking himself for not going in for Joel Campbell now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shane Long for West Bromwich Albion (v Manchester United), 14 August 2011

So, the Best League In The World is back with a bang for a brand new season of, well, exactly the same as we're used to.

1. Opposition manager has a go at Stoke City

If there's one thing likely to get our hackles up, it's the assertion that teams who do not play Barcelona-esque fancy football are somehow less worthy than other sides. The whole idea of football is that there are an infinite number of ways a match can turn out, and countless different styles of play, player and tactics.

This time it was new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas having a pop at Stoke for their 'over physical style' (conveniently ignoring the presence in his side of John Terry and Didier Drogba, neither of whom would back out of a fight if one were offered).

Arsenal under George Graham and Arsene Wenger are two very different types of side but both ended up winning the league. Teams play in different ways, and we wish Stoke all the luck in the world.

2. Joey Barton makes headlines

Joey Barton is to the back page of the Daily Express what Princess Diana and Madeleine McCann are to the front page. This time it was his scuffle with Gervinho and his 'being stamped on' by Alex Song that thrust the wantaway Newcastle midfielder into the spotlight.

Barton had a point regarding Song (who will no doubt receive some retrospective punishment) but dragging the Ivory Coast striker up by his shirt and roughing him up a bit before throwing himself to the deck after the faintest caress on his cheek didn't do Barton any favours. To be fair to Barton, he has acknowledged that he 'went down a bit easily' but, yet again, trouble follows the controversial midfielder.

3. Arsene needs to sign a centre half and holding midfielder

How many seasons have we been saying this now? And what will he do? Sign a diminutive trickster to add to the twelve he already has on his books.

4. Kieron Dyer gets injured

You really couldn't make this up, could you? 35 appearances in four seasons. He's only 32, you know.

5. Sir Alex proves once again that signing goalkeepers is his Achilles heel whilst Sky's analysis is ****

Mark Bosnich. Massimo Taibi. Andy Goram. Tim Howard. Jim Leighton. Les Sealey. Ben Foster. Fabien Barthez (to some degree). Roy Carroll. Ricardo.

And now we can add David de Gea to that list. Looking like a beanpole student who can't find his way to the lecture theatre, de Gea flapped and fumbled his way through his league debut looking a pale shadow of the impressive character who helped Spain to the European under 21 title.

Clearly he will adapt to life in England (Peter Schmeichel famously had a nightmare in his first away match at Wimbledon) but a 20 year old playing behind novice centre halves for the next few weeks could cause Sir Alex some sleepless nights.

Whilst we're on the subject, Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville's inane analysis on Sunday was something to behold. The pair blamed de Gea's nervous performance on 'having to come to England and cope with an intimidating atmosphere.' This is the same goalie who has played 100 La Liga games including matches at the Bernebeu as an Atletico player, yes? I gather that's much less intimidating than a Sunday afternoon in West Bromwich....

Sigh. Not much changes, does it?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sebastian Larsson for Sunderland (v Liverpool), 13 August 2011

Just a reminder that if you like Cheer Up Alan Shearer you can follow us using other modern social media type thingummies.

We're on Twitter @cheerupno9 and we're also on Facebook as, would you believe, Cheer Up Alan Shearer.

We don't have a LinkedIn account as, frankly, we don't know what that is...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Luis Suarez for Liverpool (v Sunderland), 13 August 2011

Listening to the Liverpool v Sunderland match on Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the back four selected by Bernard Cribbins at Anfield.


Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds like a Manchester United Carling Cup defence from about 2007. Does Cribbins really think that he can challenge for a European place with a bunch of hapless Manchester United cast-offs?

Dear oh dear. He'll be signing John O'Shea and Frazier Campbell next...

Eh? Oh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nani for Manchester Utd (vs Manchester City), 7th August 2011

ST's annual(-ish) Premier League Predictions

Look, let's be honest about this: predicting the results of the Premier League is a fool's errand.  Not that this stops everybody from doing it, of course.  In case you hadn't noticed, top flight football is back in England this weekend, and you will already have read in-depth analysis of each of the twenty teams in the league in every single newspaper, most magazines and heard previews all over the radio.  The fundamental problem with every single one of these previews is the basic predictability of the league: most people are agreed on the entire top 7, many with Manchester Utd as champions and arguing over the odd place here or there for the rest.  Below Everton, who seem to have a consensus of opinion that backs them as being better than most, but not THAT good, the rest is a bun fight where the remaining 13 sides in the league appear to be much of a muchness.  A good or bad start could mean that the rest of the season is determined in the first five games: pushing for the top 10 or a battle against relegation.

The Premier League likes to market itself as being the BEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD, but the overall quality seems to have dropped, and if Manchester Utd win it again, and we're left picking the bones out of the race to finish 4th and to avoid the drop, where does that really leave the league?  Don't get me wrong: I'm a Wolves fan and I relish the fact that, in spite of escaping the drop by the skin of our teeth last time, we could harbour serious hopes of making a step up and finishing much more comfortably in the league...without ever really troubling the top 6.  Although, it should be remembered that even lowly Wolves managed to get wins last season against Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs.  Were we really so surprised that Barcelona outclassed the team that outclassed the rest of the league?

I was reminded of another problem with the Premier League when listening to the radio the other night.  Steve Claridge was positively frothing at the mouth in incredulity at Arsene Wenger's failure to sign a dominant centre half or a big centre forward.   Apart from the absurd situation that sees someone like him -- a journeyman ex-pro with precisely no managerial experience -- commenting on a much garlanded managerial legend like Wenger, the sheer lack of context is breathtaking.  Arsenal do have challenges this season, but most people see them pushing for a top 4 finish again this year.  How many other teams in the league would kill to have problems like the ones they have?  If you think the coverage of the riots has been overwhelmingly London-centric, then the coverage of the Premier League is overwhelmingly focused on three or four clubs: both Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal in particular. 

Perhaps you can't really blame the media, maybe this is what the fans really want to see.  Look at the number of comments on the Guardian's pre-season previews: the preview of Swansea currently has 74 comments, the preview of Manchester Utd has 1,194.... with most fans regurgitating things in their comments that they have seen in the media with a bit of added bile and partisanship thrown in for good measure. Real, insightful comment is rare.... just as it is in the articles above the line.

Come on then, let's get this (mostly) annual shambles on the road.  Bear in mind that I tipped Liverpool under Benitez to win the league in this once.  They didn't.  They finished 7th and their manager left the club.  Hmmm.   I'll try not to labour this too much: the main thing is our predictions for the league table.  As with everybody else's previews, the rest is basically nonsense.

Here we go then.  Enjoy.

1 Manchester Utd
LB’s prediction: 1st
Last season 1st

There's a pretty good argument that says that, although they've had a busy summer in the transfer market and may yet add a certain Dutch maestro from Inter, Manchester Utd have strengthened their squad without strengthening their strongest XI.  As their victory in the Community Shield would seem to indicate, they can probably expect to run away with the league again this year.  Bragging rights over Liverpool aside, isn't the club's real target to overhaul Barcelona to become the champion club of Europe?  Given how comfortably beaten they were in the final last year, and given the signings that Barcelona have (or are about to) make, is that realistic?  They'll win the league again.  What more needs to be said?  More importantly, he's a great manager, but how much longer do we have to put up with Alex Ferguson either refusing to speak to the media at all (the BBC, anyway.  Mike Phelan?  Seriously?) or listen to his inanely childish "mind games".  Are we so in thrall to everything about this club that we will play out anything they say as news, regardless of how banal it is?  Wait, don't answer that.

One to Watch: Tom Cleverley – the new Paul Scholes?
Fantasy Pick: Hernandez – goal sniffer supreme.
The gaffer is: Older than Ryan Giggs.

2 Manchester City
LB’s prediction 2nd
Last season 3rd

Mario Ballotelli. I'm not a City fan, but if I was I would surely be close to the point of deciding that no matter how talented he might be, he can't be worth the effort. I reckon I'd be pretty close to coming to the same conclusion about Carlos Tevez too. By all accounts Sergio Aguero is a genius though, and Mancini seems to have a steely core about him that belies his rather dapper image. I'm increasingly getting the impression that he's the kind of guy who doesn't take all that much shit. Ignore all that fluff about their own club jet and how the owner personally controls 10% if the world's oil reserves... even forget if you can quite how much money they've spent on the squad. The bottom line is that Mancini is slowly putting together a side that may be able to mount a bid for the title. Laugh at them as nouveau-riche vulgarions sitting in a stadium that they initially designed without a trophy cabinet. It's surely only a matter of time, isn't it? If there's steel in Mancini, then there's steel in his side too. This season is too early, but they're beginning to look ominous.

One to Watch: It’s got to be Sergio Aguero, hasn’t it?
Fantasy Pick: Joe Hart’s clean sheet record is worth a look
The gaffer is: big scarfed and well coiffed.

3 Chelsea
LB’s prediction 3rd
Last season 2nd

They're ageing and have a lot of their players seemingly prepared to sit out the end of their contracts, but Chelsea may just be a force again this season after a period of relative calm. The reason: André Villas-Boas. Perhaps it's all hype and wishful thinking, but there just might be a touch of the Mourinho's about this guy. Hell, if he can get this lot playing exciting, attacking football, then winning the league should be a cinch. Frank Lampard has been off the boil a bit recently, but he's actually grown on me in recent seasons, and I find myself hoping that he's one of those players who has a long, Indian summer at the end of his career. John Terry you can keep, though... and don't even get me started on the full back. There's something unlikeable about this particular generation of Chelsea players, and therefore about the club itself. It probably doesn't help that Roman Abramovich always looks to me like he's sneering down from the executive box. If he gives André Villas-Boas a chance (i.e. longer than a single season) and let's him make his own signings and pick his own teams, then perhaps they'll be able to make a challenge for the title. You'll notice we've predicted a third place finish though, eh?

One to Watch: Josh McEachran is making waves
Fantasy Pick: Yossi Benayoun could be the fulcrum
The gaffer is: Mini Mourinho?

4 Arsenal
LB’s prediction 4th
Last season 4th

As Steve Claridge droned on about on Five Live the other day, everybody knows that Wenger needs to sign a defender, a striker and probably a goalkeeper. Well, he's sort of right, isn't he? It was unthinkable not that long ago, but the storm clouds seem to be gathering around Arsene Wenger. He has money, we're told, and yet he seems to stubbornly refuse to spend it on anything other than lightweight teenage midfielders. Worse: the club look likely to lose two massively influential figures in Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. These are interesting times to be an Arsenal fan, and no mistake. Perhaps he'll stun us all with both the quality of their football and their ability to guts out tough games against the likes of Bolton and Blackburn. It's not totally out of the question, and maybe Wenger will surprise us all by signing Joey Barton and Kevin Davies, but there seems to be an air of decline about this Arsenal side. Shame really. When they're a their best, they play sumptuous football. I can't see him being sacked, but what are the odds on Wenger walking out at some point this year?

One to Watch: Arsene Wenger. May blow up this year.
Fantasy Pick: Gervinho
The gaffer is: apparently unable to sign a dominating centre half

5 Liverpool
LB’s prediction 5th
Last season 6th

Ugh. I'm not even going to give them the satisfaction of a preview. They seem to have a media profile vastly in excess of any of their recent success on the field, and I haven't got the energy to make any predictions for them.

One to Watch: Luis Suarez. Electric
Fantasy Pick: Is Charlie Adam really the new Xabi Alonso? Really?
The gaffer is: Mostly incomprehensible

6 Tottenham Hotspur
LB’s prediction 6th
Last season 5th

Harry Redknapp probably couldn't believe his luck when he got this job, and he's used his wheeler-dealing to build a pretty handy side that got some amazing results last year, especially in Europe. If he can keep Gareth Bale fit, then who knows what's possible, but I can't help but feel that they've peaked. How can you build a side when your best players are turning their gaze elsewhere in order to further their career. Modric took a while to fill his potential at White Hart Lane, and the club put a lot of faith in him.... but he seems to want to leave. If he does, especially if he ends up at another Premier League club, then that's not a very good sign is it? They'll probably defend appallingly and thrill us with their passing and attacking intent, but I doubt they'll be consistent enough to seriously push for a top 4 finish again. Shame really... it's good to mix it up at the top a bit, and it was definitely fun while it lasted.

One to Watch: Heurelho Gomes. Clangers a go-go.
Fantasy Pick: Bale or van de Vaart are obvious. Friedel maybe?
The gaffer is: over performing?

7 Everton
LB’s prediction 7th
Last season 7th

Solid. I'm not sure what else to say, really. I have to take my hat off to Phil Neville though: I assumed that when he left Manchester Utd, he would be revealed as being not all that good and that he had won 50 caps for England simply by playing in an outstanding side. I was wrong - he's a gutsy, hard-working player with a lot of skill and he's a great captain. He's surprisingly eloquent and he scored an amazing goal against Wolves at Molineux last season. A credit to his profession. I wonder how long David Moyes will stay though, making the most from limited resources and consistently over-performing on a shoe-string. Until Sir Alex retires, maybe?

One to Watch: Ross Barkley – another talented young English midfielder
Fantasy Pick: Phil Jagielka – well, might still sign for Arsenal.
The gaffer is: in need of a move?

8 Sunderland
LB’s prediction 8th
Last season 10th

In the end, not a bad season last year, although with ten games to go, they looked as though they might be in some serious trouble. Since then, Steve Bruce has brought in almost an entire team of new players. Once they've introduced themselves to each other, they might be able to string together a run of results on the pitch that seem them chasing up the table. Bearing in mind what I've just said about Phil Neville, it will also be interesting to see how Wes Brown and John O'Shea react to their new environment since their moves from Old Trafford. On paper, they're great additions to the squad and will add priceless experience... but can that translate onto the pitch. Is it just me, or is Steve Bruce looking increasingly like a tubby Bernard Cribbens?

Ones to Watch: John O’Shea & Wes Brown. Were they actually any good or just in a really good team for all those years? Time to find out.
Fantasy Pick: Asamoah Gyan – world player of the year nominee last season. Sebastian Larsson might be cheaper though and he scored goals at Birmingham, of all places
The gaffer is: ugly.

9 Stoke City
LB’s prediction 9th
Last season 13th

I've seen them described as 'a poor man's Sunderland', but the truth is that Tony Pulis has done an amazing job here. They might have been crushed in the cup final last season, but they are more than just holding their own in the Premier League... they seem to be getting better and better. They've always been big and strong and difficult to play, but Pulis seems to be slowly adding some real quality. They still seem to be dependent upon Rory Delap's monster throws, and they might well be distracted by a run in Europe, but this is a side on the up. How childish was it of Pulis to recall all his Peterborough loan players after they sacked Darren Ferguson though? Who was he trying to impress, exactly? Not a team many people enjoy playing, but good luck to 'em, I say. I still slightly amazed that the fans still don't really like the manager. Seriously?

One to Watch: Jonathan Woodgate. If he’s fit, then that’s a brilliant signing. If…
Fantasy Pick: Rory Delap, innit?
The gaffer is: hidden behind a baseball cap

10 Fulham
LB’s prediction 10th
Last season 8th

Mark Hughes is a plum, isn't he? Not an especially glamorous job, but I'd have Martin Jol over Hughes all day long. Jol was treated pretty badly by Spurs, in spite of doing a pretty reasonable job and Fulham have courted him patiently, kept in touch with him, and then finally landed their man. The squad has probably been overperforming, thanks more to Roy Hodgson than Hughes, but Jol might just be able to maintain that level of performance I can't see them really threatening much beyond 10th, but they're one of those clubs that seem to be well run and deserving of the success that they get. Mohammed Al Fayed gets a mixed press, but by all accounts he is a pretty good chairman prepared to back his manger to the hilt. That Michael Jackson statue is amazing though.

One to Watch: Andy Johnson. England international, apparently
Fantasy Pick: John Arne Riise… if he’s anything like he was at Liverpool, anyway. Maybe he's here mainly to babysit his brother though?
The gaffer is: underrated and back in London

11 Aston Villa
LB’s prediction 18th
Last season 9th

LB is convinced they are going to struggle this year, and given the kerfuffle over the appointment of Alex McCleish and the loss of their best performers from last season, it's really not hard to see where that opinion comes from. I'm not convinced though: they had a tough season last year and flirted with the drop-zone for quite long periods of the season. Young and Downing may have gone, but Charles N'Zogbia is a shrewd, Premier League proven performer and Shay Given is surely a more than adequate replacement from Brad Friedel. McCleish may be hated on both sides of Birmingham -- and I saw a "Love Villa, Hate McCleish" at Glastonbury this year -- but I can't help but think that he might do a job. He's no Martin O'Neill and I'm sure it won't be pretty, but I can't see them going down.

One to Watch: Shay Given. He’s good. Look out for him.
Fantasy Pick: Charles N’Zogbia. Great replacement for Ashley Young, surely?
The gaffer is: disliked by the locals. All the locals.

12 Bolton Wanderers
LB’s prediction 15th
Last season 14th

When Bolton reached the FA Cup semi-final last year, all of the coverage in the broadsheets was about Owen Coyle and what an amazing, talented, up-and-coming manager he was, and how his team was really going places. No one seemed to want to talk about Stoke at all. The result, a 4-0 tonking, rather put Coyle back into his box and may have encouraged some of the talent-spotters apparently sniffing around him to look elsewhere. Perhaps in the long-run that will be a blessing for Bolton and maybe the extra time Coyle has spent at the club will help them to take the next step. Then again, with Kevin Davies still playing up front and throwing his elbows around, the spectre of the side that Big Sam built will always be there.

One to Watch: Tom Eaves. The new Kevin Davies.
Fantasy Pick: ummm.
The gaffer is: Progressive. Although probably less so since that semi-final tonking by Stoke last season. And can you be with Davies up front? Really?

13 West Bromwich Albion
LB’s prediction 11th
Last season 11th

Roy Hodgson was treated appallingly by Liverpool fans last year: before he'd even really started, they were all parping on about how the manager of the year wasn't big enough for a club of their stature. Things didn't work out and he was quickly moved on, but he went to a club with real problems and very quickly turned their season right around. They flew up the table and out of trouble. Fans will be hoping they can get a better start this year and push on, but a season of stability would probably be no bad thing either. Was their a better striker in the league than Peter Odemwingie last year, by the way? 15 goals playing for this side? Amazing performance.

One to Watch: Ben Foster – his career seems to have stalled
Fantasy Pick: Peter Odemwingie – 15 goals last year got Juve interested (although personally, I have a soft spot for Zoltan Gera)
The gaffer is: better than Liverpool fans deserved

14 Newcastle Utd
LB’s prediction 14th
Last season 12th

Another one of those clubs where many fans seem to have very firm ideas about the kind of club they are supporting and the kind of football they should be playing. Better to lose every game 4-3 than win every game 1-0, they told Sam Allardyce. WTF? Do they know how league tables work? The club has been run by morons for almost as long as I can remember, from Freddie Shepherd's lot to the current Mike Ashley regime. They've made a hatful of money out of the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool, but how much of that has been used to strengthen the team? Joey Barton, for one, is clearly not impressed. In fact, Barton's Nietzsche and Morrissey quoting Twitter feed may be the most entertaining thing about the club in the coming season. Poor old Alan Pardew. He's not very exciting, and I get the feeling that he generally talks a better game than anything else, but he's on a hiding to nothing here, isn't he? (unless you take the view that, with his career record, he was damn lucky to get this job in the first place...) I seem to be predicting a lot of clubs to decline this season. Well, here's another one.

One to Watch: Joey Barton – whether he plays or not.
Fantasy Pick: Fabricio Colocinni. Great hair.
The gaffer is: on a fool’s errand

15 Wolverhampton Wanderers
LB’s prediction 13th
Last season 17th

I'm biased, of course... there seems to be a prevailing view that Wolves were unlucky last year, and that staying up was no less than we deserved after our gutsy performances against many of the top 6 sides. The alternative view, and one held by Mick McCarthy, I'm sure, is that the league table doesn't lie. We were bottom at Christmas and damn lucky to escape the drop on the last day of the season. It's no good beating Liverpool away if you lose to Wigan at home the very next game. Sure, we've played some decent football at times, but we've also conceded far too many goals. The signing of Roger Johnson, immediately installed as the club captain, was a good one and he should go a long way towards staunching the flow of goals, but I'm not convinced that he's going to be enough on his own. I love big George Elokobi to bits, but is he really a premier league quality defender (although his winner against Utd counts in his favour, obviously). Jamie O'Hara adds a touch of guile to the middle of the park, but have we got the goals? Sylvain Ebanks-Blake has never quite lived up to his promise in the top division, but have we got a 20 goal striker in the side? Doyle and Fletcher have been good for us, but neither is exactly prolific (the snobbery of Arsenal fans when confronted with the rumour that Wenger might be looking to sign Doyle was astonishing and insulting, by the way. I'd have him over Bendtner any day of the week). I expect us to improve this season, but we're like many of the other sides down here: we could finish 10th or we could get relegated. Interesting times. McCarthy is a stone cold legend, though. His press conferences must be worth the trip on their own.

One to Watch: Michael Kightley. Much injured, but at his best he’s a better player than Matt Jarvis.  Looked a bit tubby in pre-season, mind (if not as tubby as Sylvain Ebanks-Blake)
Fantasy Pick: Jamie O’Hara will be the lynchpin and will score goals
The gaffer is: loud, honest and funny

16 QPR
LB’s prediction 19th
Last season promoted

Well, this one could really go either way, couldn't it? Warnock has been here before, and he's a decent, experienced manager... but the club environment isn't exactly what you'd call stable, is it? Promoted clubs have done okay over the last few years, in spite of the immediate tendency to put them amongst the favourites for the drop. They were 1st in the Championship last season, at a canter, and you'd expect them to have the financial backing to make a go of it. Really, it's pretty hard to tell though, isn't it? As always, it may depend on how they start. Bolton, Everton, Wigan, Newcastle, Wolves. They could get off to a flyer.... or they could be about to learn just how big the step up in class really is. I remember our first fixture in the Premiership when we got promoted via the playoffs: Charlton at home. It's the kind of game you fancy you might be able to do something, and they put 4 past us. It was the start of a very long season indeed. Much depends upon QPR's first month of the season.

One to Watch: Neil Warnock. He won’t be able to help himself.
Fantasy Pick: Hmm. Adel Taarabt should get goals, assists and bookings
The gaffer is: the new Ian Holloway, who was – of course – the new Neil Warnock

17 Wigan Athletic
LB’s prediction 16th
Last season 16th

Well, Roberto Martinez officially seems to be a hot property as a manager and is likely also entirely secure in his job. Wigan escaped relegation on the last day of the season, but Dave Whelan is so in love with Roberto that he wouldn't have sacked him even if they had gone down. He allowed Aston Villa to approach his manager in the close season, confident the approach would be rebuffed... and it was. The love affair, it seems, is mutual. It's widely expected that Whelan will allow Martinez to leave to go to a bigger club at some point in the near future, but I'm sure the plan will be to do that in an orderly fashion during the close season. The problem is that football doesn't always work like that. Wigan have done brilliantly since coming into the division, in spite of the fact that they are one of those clubs who discover players who they then can't stop from moving on to bigger clubs in the division. Charles N'Zogbia will be a big loss for them, and it remains to be seen if they can keep on unearthing the players who keep them in the division. I predict a struggle, but maybe they're one of those clubs who can all pull together to beat the odds. I can't help but root for them.

One to Watch: Victor Moses – promising young stiker, if he gets his chance
Fantasy Pick: David Jones. Always liked him at wolves.
The gaffer is: unsackable?

18 Blackburn Rovers
LB’s prediction 20th
Last season 15th

With apologies to GJ, who sits next to me at work and is a Blackburn fan, but it looks like it's going to be a long, hard season at Ewood Park this year. A change in ownership, the appointment of Steve Keen as manager and an air of general uncertainty all seemed to contribute to a season that only saw them safe from relegation on the final day of the season (when, to be fair, they raced to an early 3-0 lead against Wolves at Molineux). Venky's, the new owners, have spoken of their belief that Blackburn can finish in the top 4, and have apparently made approaches for the likes of Ronaldinho, Marco Vucinic, van Nistelrooy, Kaka and Robinho, but the likelihood is that Keen will start the season with a cloud over his head and unrealistic expectations in the boardroom. Their start to the season doesn't look too bad (Wolves again, followed by Villa, Everton and Fulham), but I've got a bad feeling about them. With no disrespect to Keen, it feels like a mid-season change of manager waiting to happen, and I can't believe that's going to help them. Phil Jones has gone (to Man Utd) and his partner in the defence, Chris Samba, may well be on his way out of the club too. It doesn't exactly shout consistency, does it? A long season ahead, I'm afraid. I'm not sure Ronaldinho would be all that much help, to be honest. Michel Salgado is a legend though.

One to Watch: David Goodwillie. Can he score goals south of the border? He wasn’t all that good up there, was he?
Fantasy Pick: Hmm. Experienced keeper and good defence, but would you risk it?
The gaffer is: 1st to be sacked

19 Norwich City
LB’s prediction 12th
Last season promoted

I can't see it, can you? I know the Premier League is a goldmine, but this is a club that had to refinance their debt only last season, so spraying the money around in an attempt to stay up simply isn't on the cards for them. Maybe they're looking at the Watford model of management: budget to be in the championship and then take the odd season in the top division as a financial bonus. It's a bit depressing for the fans, but it's perhaps the most sensible approach a small club like this can take. They played good football last year, but where are the goals coming from? Delia will no doubt be loving it, but Norwich may win the award for best away fans and lots of friends this year, but little else. Still 2 promotions in 2 seasons isn't bad going, eh? Paul Lambert looks to be a good manager with a ruthless streak (he's told several of last season's promotion winning squad that they won't be required) and you never know. A good start against Wigan and who knows where they might go. LB clearly rates them... 15th, eh?

One to Watch: Grant Holt. Legend. Unit. Not necessarily in that order.
Fantasy Pick: Russell Martin, if only because he’s called “The Norfolk Cafu”
The gaffer is: doing a great job

20 Swansea City
LB’s prediction 17th
Last season promoted

This season's Blackpool: promoted via the playoffs with a brand of attractive football and virtually everyone's tip for the drop. Still, 9 years ago the club needed to win their last game of the season (at Hull) to avoid dropping out of the football league entirely, so the fact that they're here at all is a pretty amazing story. Manager Brendan Rodgers has some interesting players at his disposal: Leroy Lita, Luke Moore, Craig Beattie, Danny Graham, Joe Allen.... who knows, if they take Blackpool's example and stick to their principles against the big boys, then who knows what they could achieve? Like Blackpool, I have them going down, but LB gives them a chance. Opening game of the season? Man City. Ouch.

One to Watch: Angel Rangel. A rapper’s name if ever I heard one. More realistically, Scott Sinclair scored 23 goals last season and will need to score plenty again this year to give his side a chance.
Fantasy Pick: Wayne Routledge. England U21 and on the fringes of the senior squad, once upon a time. Now 26 he has a lot to prove.
The gaffer is: a club legend already, presumably.  Nicknamed "Buck", obviously.

In summary then….

# My Predictions: LB's Predictions:
1Man UtdMan Utd
2Man CityMan City
11Aston VillaWest Brom
12Bolton WanderersNorwich
13West BromWolves
18BlackburnAston Villa

Enjoy the season everyone.

What do you reckon will happen?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Glenn Mulcaire for AFC Wimbledon (vs Bromley), 17th July 2002

Here's a bizarre one: before 'investigative reporter' Glenn Mulcaire decided to find out what was going on in the celebrity world by listening to their voicemail messages, he was a tidy non-league footballer.

The man they call 'Trigger' retains a special place in the hearts of all AFC Wimbledon fans as, astonishingly, he scored the club's first ever goal, against Bromley, back in 2002. 

It was an absolute belter too.....

Will Buckley, writing in the Guardian back in 2002, penned these strangely prophetic words: "Trigger - less than a decade from becoming a household name."

Aye, for all the wrong reasons.

[by LB, but posted on his behalf whilst he's on holiday]

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Luke Moore for AFC Wimbledon (v Crawley Town), 29 July 2011

After his nine years with Robbie Jackson and subsequent five years with Sonia, Bianca, Mickey, Vinnie and Gus, I'm sure that many of you, like me, were wondering what became of Eastenders' most famous dog (other than Ethel's little Willie, obviously).

Rumours abound that Bianca killed Wellard by feeding him chocolate, before scattering his ashes on the allotment. However, when I was reading the match report of AFC Wimbledon's Carling Cup match with Crawley Town this week, I was delighted to note that the loveable mutt has found a new home at Kingsmeadow.

He put in quite a shift as Wimbledon's number 8, apparently, before being substituted with 13 minutes to go...

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Craig Westcarr for Notts County (v Brighton and Hove Albion), 7 May 2011

So, as promised, here we are. Your lovely Guardian Guide recommended, occasionally hilarious football blog returns after a period in the wilderness.

You'll be pleased/dismayed that many of our old features will be returning. Our award winning* comedy series At Home With Barry Davies will run from the beginning, there'll be plenty of Players Names That Mrs LB Has Misheard During Commentary, the continuation of our 101 Great Goals feature and an smattering of wildly inaccurate predictions.

Oh, there may well also be the odd focus on the lesser known European leagues (blame LB, he's the one that thinks the Eredivisie is the best league in the world).

But first, to mark our triumphant return, it's time to tackle the close season's most important piece of news. I don't mean the Women's World Cup, Cesc Fibreglass, the Copa America, Mario Balotelli, Luka Modric or the World Cup draw.

No, we'll start as we mean to go on: with the first piece of silverware of the 2011/12 season. Yes, Notts County's Mr Magpie has won the 2011 Football League Sunflower Sprint.

The County mascot's dreams were realised at Uttoxeter Racecourse after he sprinted past all his fellow Football League mascots to claim victory in the showpiece charity event.

According to the Notts County website, 'his training started last year and saw him lose half of his body weight in an intense training regime consisting of mental exercises and yoga.'

Mr Magpie, said: "I got lucky. But I would have done anything to win."

In second place was Burton Albion's Billy Brewer whilst, in a great race for the East Midlands, Nottingham Forest's Robin Hood was third.

Billy said he felt some competitors had been given an edge because they were allowed to start further down the track on account of their big feet. But he added: "Apart from that, it went well. I ran fast."

(* not actually award winning)