Aston Villa – Harchester United In Disguise?

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Eight months in charge and Tim Sherwood has being shown the door. The manner of the departure was predicted on this blog weeks ago but the sacking raises further questions on the internal running of a football club who was once a great club which has now descended into frenzied chaos. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the sacking and sees where Aston Villa go from here.

Sherwood Era

Let us be frank, this managerial period was just long enough to be a collegiate internship. Tim Sherwood rode into Aston Villa with optimism, emphasizing that the players would restore passion into the jersey. The results early door looked promising as Villa just managed to stave off relegation last season. The FA Cup run for some looked a distraction but it yielded the club’s best moment of the season; upsetting Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final. The cup run gave the club a feel good factor but the cup final humiliation to Arsenal was a defining turning point. Sherwood’s faith with certain player was not rewarded. The Villa players let him and the club down with an emphatically flat performance. Sherwood knew that massive reinforcements were required and so sets the background and context to one of the reasons why he was sacked.

Board Support

It is clear that Sherwood had not the full support of the club board. It sounds like Sherwood’s feedback on certain players went on deaf ears evident in his repeated attempts to sign Berbatov and Adebayor towards the latter end of the summer transfer window. The moves smacked of desperation but it showed that Sherwood knew that the club recruits brought into replace Christian Benteke were not of the quality required to offset the loss. Did Sherwood sanction the signings of Ayew and Gestede? Both players had potential, were young but were frankly risky signings for the club. It looks like the board had different views on who they wanted in the playing staff. It is a massive gulf in philosophy and to be honest, Sherwood’s day were numbered even before the season started.

Club in crisis

Aston Villa have being in crisis ever since Martin O’Neill left the football club. Yes, the cracks were starting to show in some respects but the club were comfortably upper mid-table. The one constant in this crisis has being the club board and owner Randy Lerner, an owner whose track record with Cleveland Browns is nothing to write home about. Lerner and rumors of selling the football club for the last eighteen months have created uncertainty throughout the football club. Their lack of support to the likes of Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood in the transfer market has being damning. Does the club have to get relegated before the club board and owner make the right decisions? Who in their right mind would take on this job? A board who have failed to support new managers, whose transfer viewpoints has clashed in the predecessor. Zero long term club planning and there are massive questions on whether Lerner will still be at the helm come the end of the year. The drama at Villa Park mirrors a series of Harchester United. Player indiscipline off the pitch, fan unrest, no football philosophy, a board and owner who do know where the club should go, a youth setup which has shown promise but has not led to an influx of fresh faces to the first team in key positions. It has all gone very Pete Tong.

Managerial Candidates

Remi Garde is the favorite but is a massive massive risk for the football club. The club board believe that a Continental European manager will get the best out the likes of Gil, Ayew, Gestede but his record with Lyon was admirable but let us face facts, Villa need someone to keep them in the division. Does Garde have the relegation battle mentality for the job? Nice football to the eye is great but if it does not get results early doors, Villa will be cast further adrift. Garde’s French football contacts will be pivotal in January but will any players fancy a trench warfare battle? If Garde scares off the board, then a British manager is the other route. Brendon Rodgers name is linked but honestly will he want to return so soon to a football club with massive stabliity issues both on and off the pitch. There are no real viable candidates to get Villa out of this mire anytime soon. Sunderland have played a masterstroke with appointing Big Sam, they will stave off relegation with a bit to spare. Villa on the other hand  look condemned unless the playing staff unite and perform collectively for whoever is mad enough to take on the job.

Playing Staff

The squad looks short in many positions. The defensive side of the team needs serious repair. Guzan is a good shot stopper but question marks on decision making, penalty area command and general back four communication have being exposed well before Tim Sherwood took the Villa job. The signing of Mark Bunn has added little to goalkeeping competition as Shay Given departed for Stoke in the summer. The back four is plighted with injuries. Ron Vlaar should be leading the team but his knee problems have caused massive leadership issues in the club. The other center back options lack the leadership of Vlaar and it has showed this season, no-one organizing and calling out players for lack of effort and focus. Micah Richards has gone backwards since his City days. Ciaran Clark is the leader in waiting but his tendency to make a big mistake each game did not fill Sherwood with the confidence to give him an extended run in the side. The fact that the likes of Nathan Baker have left for Bristol speaks volumes. Joe Bennett? The midfield area attacking options look decent. Sinclair and Gil are talented football players who on their day can turn a game with their skill and pace. Grealish (yes mentioned in this blog for the last time) shows flashes but his early promise has not materialized this season; all hype at this time. The striker options look glaring even at this early stage. Gestede has not produced. Ayew not far behind. Both players are inferior to what Benteke and Weimann brought to the football club on the pitch. Agbonlahor is going to be asked to take on the mantle of chief goal scorer but with his recent injury problems, it is a mantle which could weigh heavily on a player whose pace is his main strength. The side is depleted in several positions. There is no quick fix. The likes of Vlaar, Richards, Westwood, Sinclair and Agbonlahor will need to step up and pull the rest of the squad with them. The continental European contingent have ducked away at certain intervals over the last year. The new incumbent manager will need to take note, early promise and loyalty to this squad will not achieve long term benefits. January will be a busy time for Villa to secure their status in the top flight.

Rugby World Cup Thoughts

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Four teams entered last weekend with hope, ambition and dreams of lifting Webb Ellis. Four teams carried the hopes and dreams of their nations. Four teams who are from the Southern Hemisphere. Four teams who have demonstrated the squad depth, talent, pace and physicality to annihilate their Northern Hemisphere brethren. At the end of the weekend, New Zealand and Australia emerged from the arena as this year’s Rugby World Cup finalists leaving South Africa and Argentina to ponder what might have being. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and how his pre-tournament pick Proteas fell at the second last hurdle.

Hail Hail New Zealand

New Zealand in seven days have demonstrated to everyone why they will go on and retain the Webb Ellis trophy next weekend. Their ability to change game tactics during games to exploit opposition weakness and style of play to achieve victories have being nothing short of sensational. The France massacre was built on fine running lines from a dominant back row performance providing fast ruck ball to expose an opponent whose defensive system was torn to shreds. The South Africa victory was built on the pack, execution of the pack fundamentals to absorb Springbok physicality and when the opportunity arose to hit the Proteas with sucker punches in the red zone. Caino’s try highlighted New Zealand’s ability to identify space and defensive mismatches. South Africa’s tendency to defend outside in was ruthlessly exposed as Kieran Read spotted a mismatch with Caino and the South Africa second row. The pass leading to this try was suspiciously forward but if the touch judge freezes to make a decision, you take the points with both hands. The second New Zealand try in the semi-final was a joy to watch, several pack phrases forced South Africa to sacrifice numbers outside and it was again ruthlessly exposed by the mercurial Dan Carter to pass to Ma Nonu who forced Pietersen to neither commit the outside runner or tackle Nonu. The lack of decision making from Pieterson allowing Beauden Barrett to dive for the corner with ease. It was a simple try but it was the manner in how New Zealand constructed the score after soaking up South Africa pressure during the Caino yellow card sin bin decided the game. It is the key difference between the Kiwis and everyone. The clarity of thought from the players in black jerseys compared to anyone else in the tournament is unmatched. South Africa in those ten minutes before and after half-time had a chance to put a dagger into the New Zealand team, five points up and a player advantage, they failed to add width to their play to stretch New Zealand who when presented with a player advantage stretched the Springboks to breaking point. Dan Carter at out-half continues to shine, his game management and kicking were outstanding in the semi-final, a day when the weather deteriorated with each passing minute. Carter’s drop goal in the second half was phenomenal and his speed of thought in all facets of play makes him the standout performer of this tournament. New Zealand advance to the final knowing that they have being tested thoroughly by South Africa, their defense, their pack and attacking lines were examined and they passed with flying colors. New Zealand focus on their performance while other are preoccupied with them. This is what sets them apart. The best rugby team to play in the game in the professional era. Next weekend should be very very special.

Cheika Managerial Masterclass

Take an exuberant Argentine team who have shown their ability to pass ball at will (Ireland will testify to that), take a coach who spotted planned training ground moves and you have a managerial masterclass which won Australia their final place. Simmon’s early intercept try rewarded Australia coaching network to identify how Argentina passer tries to engage opposition at the gain line before passing to a colleague in a deep position. Simmons read the play and the try was never in doubt as the second row’s pace resulted in the pivotal try of this semi-final match. It rocked Los Pumas game plan, their attacking lines became more tentative thereafter fearing more interceptions. Los Pumas game plan of playing open rugby played into Australia’s hands. Argentina forced to get back into the contest spilling ball and resultant swift Australia ruck ball allowing Foley to launch Ashley Cooper, Folau in space. Ashley Cooper will rarely score three easiest tries in his international career but the hard work of the pack to provide platform, Genia’s ability to pass ball were evident in all the tries scored by the winger. Argentina were a well beaten unit come the final whistle. Their set piece was fine but lost the contact area and the back row struggled to deal with the influential Pocock at the breakdown. The early intercept try was just what they feared. They were suddenly 14-3 down after the first quarter and with Australia complacency nowhere in sight, it was mission impossible. The tears in the Argentine camp started long before the final whistle.

Officiating Woes

I would have loved not to mention the match official performance but it would be wrong not to point out the sheer inconsistencies witnessed last weekend. John Lacey froze early doors; perfect position to see the Kieran Read’s forward pass to Caino so why not alert his match referee of a potential forward pass? To not ask Garces to review with the TMO was incompetency of the highest order.

The interpretation on clearing out players at the break down has to be reviewed post this tournament. When a referee sees no issue with a tackle but the TMO does, it is time for a frank discussion on what constitutes dangerous play. Victor Matfield’s alleged illegal tackle at the breakdown in the second half when Garces had awarded a Proteas penalty was another body blow for South Africa.

Wayne Barnes and the chop tackle penalizing was laughable yesterday when the match official turned a blind eye to the tackle during the tournament before the semi-final. Inconsistency has plighted this tournament and it is not a tournament where the officiating crews will memory with any great fondness. It drives team management, players and supporters to despair. Nigel Owens surely will get the final nod and a more assured consistent officiating performance should be produced.

Farewell South Africa

My tournament pick have fallen. They could not have worked any  harder during this semi-final loss. The loss was decided on fine margins and the Proteas were victim of a number of key officiating decision but this was a small part of the defeat. The lack of discipline at times proved the fatal blow. Brian Habana’s yellow card before Barrett’s try bordered on the ridiculous and his sprint towards Carter before the Kiwi out-half started his conversion run-up after the first NZ try were damning. South Africa’s squad depth when it came to the crunch also was not of the quality of New Zealand. The last quarter on Saturday emphasized this as New Zealand game managed the contest to a conclusion. The back row and half-backs controlled the game with the pack instructed to keep the game at close quarters. Meyer’s game management and tactics were at times one dimensional and when they were asked to adapt their game plan during the Caino sin bin were not flexible enough to adapt and hit the decisive blow. Close but no cigar. South Africa leave this tournament with rebuilding the key. Matfield, Burger, Jean De Villiers, Brian Habana all leave stage left from international rugby after next weekend so the question is who replaces these rugby giants. Meyer’s future is uncertain as well so the word transition could be bandied around with the South Africa when the Summer international series commences next June.

Rugby World Cup Thoughts

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Craig Joubert

Craig Joubert is the name on every rugby supporters lips today as the South African has being ridiculed to high heaven for his controversial penalty award to Australia to knock out brave Scotland yesterday in an epic RWC quarter final. It was a bitter sweet end to a marvelous contest which ebbed and flowed throughout but it was the phrase of play immediately after Scotland had decided to hit the three lineout pod which had the internet seething. The decision was poor but in fairness when I saw the incident first, I thought the ball had hit a Scottish hand before Jon Welsh caught the ball. It was only when the slow motion replays were shown that the truth emerged. It was a poor decision but Joubert was taken to the cleaners by his ineffective line judge Glenn Jackson. Jackson flat out refused to make any decisions yesterday evident in his blase response to when Drew Mitchell barged into Stuart Hogg in the last five minutes, surely a penalty but the New Zealand could not be bothered to allow Joubert to view the incident to the TMO. The incident has sparked further debate on the role of the TMO. The TMO needs to have greater powers to adjudicate on all aspects of play. The offside decisions were off limits but surely after this debacle, the TMO has to get involved in these decisions as the line judges appear incapable of assisting their colleague in the middle. I feel for Joubert. Everyone makes mistakes but when he made a horrific one, the support structures to come to his aid failed him and the game’s integrity. Joubert’s reputation has taken a hit. His line judges go on as if nothing happened. Glen Jackson’s role in the incident must not be forgotten, utterly clueless to Joubert. Joubert needs to come out and issue a statement on the incident, not just for clarification but also to potentially save his international refereeing career. Joubert’s conduct at the final whistle was horrendous and left a sour taste to everyone who watched the game. A PR disaster for the tournament has being created and is potentially the memory of the tournament now. Shocking nightmare scenario for the organizer. Where are the rugby values and integrity? They were absent yesterday at Twickenham.

World Rugby

To compound the Twickenham controversy came the statement tonight from World Rugby effectively throwing Craig Joubert to the wolves. The statement effectively stated that the referee screwed up royally so what happens now? Does Scotland have rights to launch an appeal on the result? Are Scotland due compensation for the officiating error? What is the position of World Rugby to the result? It creates an incredibly messy situation. Does every refereeing decision during this tournament needs to be reviewed? The system in which referees are operating under is insufficient and one must wonder what Jerome Garces and Wayne Barnes are thinking ahead of their RWC semi-final assignments this weekend? What happens if a penalty decision similar to what Joubert initially saw is repeated? Does the TMO need to get involve or will the assistant referee crew actually do their job and provide their feedback in a professional manner to their colleague in the middle. It is a mess, quite frankly it is an embarrassment to the game for World Rugby to come with a statement such as this. It leaves the organization open to ridicule and litigation. This controversy has suddenly taken a turn for the worse.

New Zealand

While everyone is commentating on shocking officiating and I have not even started on Argentine prop Herrera for his tackle in the ruck against Ireland, New Zealand stole the show on the pitch this weekend. What a performance to put France to the sword. Yes, France gave up the ghost after thirty minutes but it was as clinical a performance at this stage of the competition for many a year. Dan Carter is peaking at the right time for New Zealand. His penalty kicking and kicking out of hand was exhibition stuff in stark contrast to Freddy Michalak who capped off a miserable tournament with a blocked kick which led to the opening try early doors. Carter oozed class throughout and his three quarters were spoiled with the quality of distribution from their ten. Ma Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Savea were receiving ball at such pace and precision that France could not cope and massive gain line yards were effortlessly made. New Zealand’s pack were competent but one imagines that the South Africans will pose more problems than France in the set piece. Woodcock’s loss is massive and I suspect the semi-final will be a cliff hanger. New Zealand were exceptional last weekend, motivated to avenge the defeat to France in Cardiff eight years ago and it was mission accomplished. I am eagerly looking forward to see how they try to dismantle the teak South African outfit.

Ireland

Difficult morning in Ireland after a miserable exit from the tournament. Schmidt hitting the party line that inexperience cost the team but his system was dismantled. Argentina exposed flaws in the outside defense of Ireland and perhaps throws a debate on team selection. Dave Kearney was wholly exposed on the wing defensively and that first Argentine try will be the stuff of nightmares. Keith Earls at thirteen was solid until yesterday but the caliber of opponent stepped up to such a level that the Limerick man was unable to create openings. The pack were on the back foot throughout and the passive defensive system deployed by Les Kiss gave Argentina easy gain line yards. It all pointed to an emphatic loss and so it proved. Our squad depth was not as good as the media and management let on. Luxury squad selections such as Furlong when the need for extra back row and back line options is galling. Ireland choked like four years ago choked; injuries or no injuries. Ireland’s focus was on France and not on the knockout stage, akin to four years previous with Australia and not Wales. The Southern Hemisphere papers could not contain their laughter at the abysmal performance. If Joe Schmidt had any intention of taking on the Lions New Zealand tour, he can forget about it now. The system was exposed as one dimensional, physical grunt with little in the way of creativity or ball playing ability. On reflection, Ireland scored the majority of their tries when teams were down to fourteen men.  Little flair in the Ireland team was seen during this tournament (glimpse or two against Canada and Romania) but the big games failed to ignite the back line fully. Henshaw must be nurtured to become more a skills player than physical gym battering ram, the player has serious potential in the international scene. Interesting times lie ahead for Ireland. Game plan evolution is required and the IRFU have to cultivate a culture where the basic skills and not physicality is awarded particularly at underage and schools game to develop the next generation of players. It is a sobering exit from the tournament and the issues exposed will take years to fix.

Rugby World Cup: Argentina 43 – 20 Ireland

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The Rugby World Cup semi-final invites are out and there is no Northern Hemisphere side at the party. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at how it all went so badly wrong for Ireland this weekend and sees how it could be potentially resolved (clue, it is not a quick fix).

Los Puma

The Ireland media coverage during the lead up to the Argentine match was on the euphoric French win (devalued considerably after last night), the injuries to key personnel and of course the citing of flanker Sean O’Brien for the open punch on Pascal Pape last weekend. There was frankly no real analysis on the Argentine side who have being the only team to seriously threaten New Zealand in this tournament thus far. The paper clips were there for the Argentina management and squad to read and nail on the dressing room wall and it was the perfect answer to the supposed Irish media sporting correspondents on what the priority story should have being this week.

Emotion

To say that Argentina were up for this contest would be a massive understatement, the national anthem player reaction spoke volumes; this was a defining day in their rugby career and each player to a man were not going to let their team mates or nation down. Ireland on the other hand looked relaxed and composed during the national anthem but the mentality did not change in the key opening exchanges which defined the pattern of the contest.

Back Row Dominance

Argentina in the first quarter utterly dominated Ireland in all facets of play. With Ireland requiring two to three players to stop Argentina ball carriers, it was no surprise that Argentina took the front early. Dave Kearney left flat footed defensively which led to a 2 on 1 situation which Matias Moroni was never going to botch. Argentina realizing that the Ireland front five pack were struggling went for the throat and a second try came within the first ten minutes. Juan Imhoff stripping all Ireland players for pace to touchdown after a deft kick ahead. Rob Kearney’s view from full back in the opening half must have being the stuff of nightmares, team mates falling off tackles, back row annihilated in the breakdown exchanges forcing the Leinster full back to come into the line defensively leaving gaps for Argentina to exploit with an astute kicking game. Argentina won today because their pack was more cohesive and their back line had better footballers to spot gaps and identify Ireland weakness. Argentina targeted the outside channels throughout and the majority of tries came from these areas, disappointing for Ireland as this was an area that Ireland had tried to target due to the suspension of Marcelo Bosch.

Argentina’s early salvo did come at a price. Herrera was sin binned for a cynical late tackle on Keith Earls and another piece of naivety from the Pumas gave Ireland a lifeline in the contest with Luke Fitzgerald scoring superbly after being released down the wing by Robbie Henshaw. This was a rare occasion where Ireland enjoyed any success with the back line. The unit was stifled throughout due to impressive Argentine defensive line speed and chop tackles. The lack of back line then placed more pressure on the half-backs to deliver and unfortunately Murray and Madigan failed to hit the heights of last weekend. Murray was under pressure from the first whistle, a beaten pack meaning good quality clear out ball was non-existent. Madigan could not get his back line to fire and his penalty kicking was hit and miss. The penalty miss before half time was a dagger to Ireland hearts. Yes, Ireland did launch an excellent fightback to close the lead to three points but Argentina were soaking up the pressure and you always sensed that Los Puma would get opportunities to keep the score board ticking over thanks to their superior scrum.

Pivotal Moment

The decisive game winning score capped Ireland’s day up perfectly. A messy Ireland scrum led to Conor Murray’s knocking on at the base of the scrum, the resultant scrum to Argentina was clinically executed by Argentina and a swift phrase of play had Tuculet over in the corner. It was game over, the gap was out to thirteen points and Ireland were like a boxer on the ropes waiting for that final punch to finish the contest and it came with an additional ten points in the final ten minutes. Argentina deservedly advance, their work rate, tactical execution and ability to punish opponent’s indiscipline with unerring penalty kicks from Sanchez caught the eye. Argentina are the tournament dark horse and have to be considered a dangerous threat for Australia next weekend.

Where now Ireland?

Ireland exit the tournament. The terms “brave”, “hard working” and “injuries” will be branded in the Ireland papers in the morning but Ireland were given a reality check in the performance levels required to get to the world’s elite top table. The French game last weekend lured everyone into a false sense of security, the squad depth that was lauded prior to this tournament could not cope with losses to several key players today and a defensive tight system (hallmarks of Ireland since Schmidt has taken over) was cut to pieces by Argentina, exploiting passive defensive to make numerous gain line yards and space around the Ireland fringes. The Ireland injuries were massive but even if all the players were available for selection, I doubt if Ireland would have won. Ireland’s skill set would have still being inferior to Argentina’s and the penalty kicking options of Los Puma would have usurped anything that Sexton or Madigan could offer. A massive learning curve day for Ireland players, fans and management.

The Ireland national rugby team are at a defining cross-roads. What changes are required to the IRFU system to elevate the national team from the mediocrity of quarter final exits? Argentina’s ability to use their intelligence to identify Ireland defensive gaps was quite telling today. Ireland’s composure was thrown out of the window as gym strength was used primarily to attempt to smash holes in Argentina’s defense. No Ireland player today was able to play heads up rugby, look at options with any clarity to launch decisive attacks. Maybe Luke Fitzgerald was the only guy to do so but it was a damning indictment of the rest of the team today. No genuine quick fix to the problem.

The playing staff are honest as the day is long but the development of players who can execute the basic fundamentals of the game with world class frequency is now required. The schools game is built on strength than skill, school players are sacrificing basic skills for gym strength. IRFU policies on how to improve the skill standards across all grades is now paramount. The amount of injuries sustained by Ireland in this tournament indicates that Ireland’s game plan is built on physicality, this needs to change. The warning signs were provided during the pre-season defeats to Wales and England but today was the defining statement in how much Ireland have to improve to even compete with the likes of Argentina. The gap between NH and SH teams has widened. This will be a long term strategic decision but one that has to be delivered for Ireland to rid their reputation of bottlers in Rugby World Cup quarter-final phrase.

GAA – Senior Championship Draws 2016

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Not a ounce of dust has gathered on either Liam McCarthy or Sam Maguire in Kilkenny and Dublin respectively and the glorious confines of Montrose (RTE) are calling out the draw for next season’s senior football and hurling championship draws. Hawkeye Sidekick not one to mope about a televised draw and to see the sight of Marty Morrissey on the telly runs the rule over the provincial draws and tries to spot a potential dark horse from the chasing pack.

Munster Senior Hurling Championship

Robert Frost could not contain his delight when the old firm rivals of Tipperary and Cork were drawn in the opening round of the Munster SHC. The game to be played in Thurles as Pairc Ui Chaoimh continues to be off limits due to renovation work has the potential to be one of the games of the year. Both teams under new management, a sense of new beginnings for both sides with the victor gaining serious momentum before meeting Limerick in the semi-final. It is a hard game to call. Will Cork’s physicality and work rate improve to the level required to challenge Tipperary? Will Tipperary be able to find fresh faces to improve the squad? Those questions are a long way off from being answered but it is guaranteed to be a bumper crowd in attendance. Limerick await the winners; it is a tough assignment for the Shannonsiders considering they are coming into the championship cold and their potential opponent building momentum from their opening round tussle. Limerick contrary to the clubs have pulled a masterstroke in appointing Dinny Cahill as hurling skills coach. His resume and ability to improve teams is evident in his role with Portumna, St Thomas winning both provincial and All Ireland honors. His work in Antrim a couple of years ago was praised by seasoned pundits. Cahill will improve Limerick in their first touch and basic fundamentals of the game which were sorely lacking throughout last season. How the Limerick clubs cannot see that Limerick need a senior team skills coach of the caliber of Dinny Cahill is bordering on arrogance? The other side of the draw has Waterford pitted against Clare. An intriguing tie as Clare will be much improved with the decision that dual players will be able to play for the hurling team. Podge Collins will be a huge addition to the squad. Can Waterford build on last season’s success? The second season syndrome will be posed by media of the Deise next season. Derek McGrath will need to evolve his charges  into a far more attacking outfit. Their defensive style of play worked a charm in the NHL but when the pitches dried up in the summer, the tactic was blown away by Tipperary and Kilkenny at the business end of the championship. I suspect Waterford with the return of Padraic O’Mahoney to have the edge in the championship. Munster SHC is primed for another stellar season next year. I personally cannot wait.

Munster Senior Football Championship

Let us be frank. When Kerry and Cork were kept apart in the draw tonight, it is a nailed on certainty that both power houses of Munster football will recommence their rivalry in Killarney next July. Kerry and Cork have questions to answer during this off-season. Kerry will look to rebound from a disappointing All Ireland football final performance. Cork yet to announce a new manager albeit Billy Morgan is rumored to be a leading candidate have redemption on their minds. Cork on another day could have upset Kerry in the first Munster Football final but had no response once Kerry gave them a lesson in the replay; work rate, tactical nous were exposed and Cork’s season spiraled out of control culminating in a shocking loss to Kildare. The rest of the chasing pack will be just that; chasing shadows when Cork and Kerry await in the provincial last four fixtures. Tipperary on paper looks like the team that could (and it is a big could) an upset but with the departure of Colin Riordan to the AFL pastures of Sydney Swans, it looks a forlorn hope. Roll on July and El Classico.

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship

My Geography is going to pot. Kerry and Galway are playing in Leinster, tear up the school books and tell the examiner that GAA borders are endless. Kerry enter the Leinster Hurling championship for the first time in the opening pool round and with two home games will fancy their chances of upsetting Carlow, Westmeath and once hurling superpower Offaly. The Offaly fixture should arouse Kerry player motivation as they will face former manager Eamonn Kelly who takes the reins of Offaly next season. Offaly should (provided the commitment is there) top the pool and will be probably joined by Westmeath. Whoever advances from the opening pool will face an arduous task in the quarter finals as Galway and Laois will lie in wait. This draw was a blessing for Galway, managerial chaos at present, they now have time to get their act together and should advance from their side of the draw. The most intriguing fixture is Dublin and Wexford in the quarter final, two teams who massively under performed last season. The fixture hopefully will build momentum for the victor to face the challenge of Kilkenny in the other semi-final. Kilkenny and Galway on paper look primed for another appearance in a final but Wexford and Dublin will hope to upset the odds.

Leinster Senior Football Championship

This will be short and sweet. Meath and Dublin will be physical but that will be the highlight as Dublin will cruise through the province without hitting second gear. Kildare or Westmeath in the other side of the draw will fancy their chances of getting to the final but they will be blown away by Dublin in the final. The point spread odds in the final for Dublin will be ridiculous.

Connacht Senior Football Championship

The lost two counties of Ireland have being found safe and well. London and New York – come on down to the Connacht football party. Roscommon will be happy with the draw. An opening championship fixture in New York will  then setup a quarter final appearance against Leitrim which then going with form will setup a rematch with Sligo in the last four. I sense no repeat of the shock produced by Sligo next season. Roscommon with Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay at the helm surely cannot be caught on the hop again. The other side of the draw sees Mayo travel to Ruislip and the challenge of London. London still looking for a new manager and lack of new player talent coming through should mean that Mayo advance to a meeting with neighbours Galway in the semi-final. Will Galway produce a performance to upset Mayo? The gap has reduced but can Kevin Walsh distill enough confidence and tactical nous to his players to beat Mayo. If Mayo were to fall in the provincial championship, the media will have a field day on the players. This looks an interesting championship and Roscommon look the dark horse to win the championship. Mayo’s reluctance is Roscommon’s gain as Kevin McStay will provide invaluable expertise to Roscommon next season.

Ulster Senior Football Championship

Fermanagh were one of the stories of the championship but the draw for next season’s championship spells doom. Fermanagh should beat Antrim who are in free fall but with Donegal in the quarter final, it could mean a swift exit from the championship. The top half of the draw looks the most compelling. Derry, Tyrone, Armagh and Cavan are all competitive. The Derry and Tyrone encounter has physicality written all over it. The bottom half of the draw has Donegal, Monaghan and Down. It is difficult to pick a winner from the pack. This championship is balanced – both sides of the draw have marquee fixtures unlike last year which saw Derry, Donegal, Tyrone and Armagh in the same side of the draw. Ulster football fans will be eagerly awaiting next season already.

Hawkeye Sidekick Predictions – 2016

Munster Senior Football: Kerry

Munster Senior Hurling: Waterford

Leinster Senior Hurling: Kilkenny

Leinster Senior Football: Dublin

Connacht Senior Football: Roscommon (underage promise reaps rewards)

Ulster Senior Football: Donegal (tentative vote)

Rugby World Cup: Argentina Preview

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The dust has settled on the pool stages. Ireland are counting the cost of a superb win over France with an injury list which would be more appropriate in a war zone. Argentina are quietly taking care of business with an emphatic victory over a Namibia outfit who were subjected to a horrid four day game turnaround. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at Ireland next opponents and identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the Argentinian challenge.

Argentina – Form Guide

If the Ireland rugby fan is expecting the same old Argentina next Sunday, they will be sadly mistaken. Argentina have built on their traditional values with a dynamic passing game when provided with time and space. Their supporting lines from the pack and back line has being a joy to watch in this tournament and formed the basis of their away victory over the Springboks in the Rugby Championship. Argentina competed extremely well against New Zealand in the opening Pool C clash at Wembley. Yes, they may have lost 26-16 at the end of this contest but for a hour of this game, they went toe to toe with the reigning world champions with a performance full of adventure and purpose. Argentina’s adventurous style was ultimately their undoing in the second half, losing possession to New Zealand deep in their own territory. An Argentina team in the past would have kicked the leather off the ball into touch but gone are those days. Argentina since then have shown their dynamic game plan with emphatic victories over Tonga, Georgia and Namibia. Many will say that the last three opponents were not up to much but they dispatched those teams in efficient manner giving all their squad vital game minutes. They advanced to the last eight with minimal injuries but suspension woes has cost them the services of Galarza and potentially pivotal three quarters Marcelo Bosch for an incident against Namibia last weekend.

 

Argentina – Game Plan

Argentina have provided plenty of variation in their tactics so far in this tournament. The New Zealand game saw Argentina committed to a running game off the fringes which caused the Kiwis endless problems particularly in the opening half. Their two tries on the day showed everyone which is good in Puma rugby; the first try was classic Argentina with the pack taking the ball up with aggressive running lines off the fringes of the ruck, the second try was launched by a maul which appeared at first look to stall but Argentina’s pack ability to change direction was superb in putting New Zealand on the back foot. Argentina’s adventurous style of play was unveiled, they were not content in just kicking the ball into enemy territory, they decided to launch counter attacks deep in their own half. The plan worked for a time but when New Zealand made the required adjustments in the second half, more aggressive defensive line speed forced Argentina turnovers. It is a tactic that Argentina will perhaps curtail in favor of solidity next weekend but loose kicking from Ireland d will see Argentina attack from deep and spark their passionate fans into life who have being phenomal.

Argentina – Star Players

The Argentina squad have several world class players on show against Ireland. The front row is on a par with the best in the tournament, scrum set piece is their par excellence and will pose Ireland problems. Ayzera and Creevy are excellent in set piece situations. The line out has functioned but pressure will be applied by Ireland lock combination  and is a potential area where Ireland can exploit with the suspension of Galarza. The scrum is the foundation, the platform where Argentina will look to gain a foothold in this contest. The penalty kicking of Sanchez has being on point from both close and long range and will start to keep the score board ticking over if allowed to progress.

The back row is led by the Toulon clubman maestro Juan Fernandez-Lobbe in their ranks. He is the general of the pack, the Argentinian equivalent to Sergio Parisse of Italy. Fernandez-Lobbe will control the lineout calls and strategize his pack in maul and breakdown scenarios. Ireland will have a strong examination from Argentina in the forward battle, even more so with the injuries to O’Connell / O’Mahoney and the probable suspension of Sean O’Brien. Argentina will try to expose the back row withdrawals. The pack battle looks incredibly intriguing. Both sides will target the other in different facets of play.

The Argentina half-backs and back line have exploded into life in the last three games of the tournament. Juan Imhoff leads Argentina try scoring stakes with three tries in the tournament. His explosive line running caught the eye particularly against New Zealand and his tries have rewarded the player for his supporting running lines. Bosch controls the three quarters and if suspended will be a massive blow for Argentina. Bosch is an excellent tackler and his appetite to do the hard yards for colleagues in defensive and breakdown situations is to be commended. Bosch’s suspension will leave a massive void in the Argentina back division and Henshaw / Earls and Fitzgerald will look to exploit any weakness. Argentina have scored tries at will in their last three games of the tournament but they have shown lapses in concentration leaking a number of soft tries. The lapses in concentration have being around the fringes as well as break down in their outside defense. Argentina will no doubt improve on this aspect of play. We have not mentioned Sanchez and Hernandez, two fantastic football players who can win games with the unerring boot. Ireland will have to produce another outstanding performance to beat this outfit. Argentina will come with different looks on Sunday but Joe Schmidt provided that the players on duty are sufficiently recharged from the bruising France encounter will look to counter the threat with pressure on the set piece and look to exploit Argentina in the three quarters particularly if Bosch is suspended. Roll on Cardiff already.

Rugby World Cup: Ireland 24 – 9 France

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Pool D was emphatically put to bed this afternoon when an inspired Ireland second half performance put France to the sword at the amphitheater of the Millennium Stadium. This victory will go down as one of the best performances produced by an Irish representative side in the history of rugby. The backdrop facing Ireland management and players at half-time was quite stark. Their two inspirational leaders on the pitch were out of the game due to injuries. Johnny Sexton was the first to depart, plagued with an abductor problem early doors was then compounded by a textbook bone crushing tackle from Picamoles after twenty-five minutes. Paul O’Connell led the team from the front imperiously in the first half and it was more selfness work from the Limerick man at the ruck which forced his early exit. The clear out from Fofana was fair but the hamstring went one way and the leg the other, it was a horror injury on the replays. If this is the last we see of Paul O’Connell in an Ireland jersey, the phrase in play which led to his exit spoke volumes; like a warrior in the middle of the ruck competing against at least four French players giving as good as he got. Legendary career in the green jersey.

Game Plans

France started the game in abrasive mood, attempting to out muscle Ireland in close quarter exchanges. Ireland to their credit held firm and the expected onslaught from Bastareaud were materialized helped in no small part to Henshaw and O’Brien stopping the colossal three quarter repeatedly on the game line. With France’s primary ball carrier threat nullified, Ireland set to work on the France set piece starting with the lineout. Ireland asked Guirado to throw to his second and third lineout pods and he failed. Devin Toner, Ian Henderson and Peter O’Mahoney consistently disrupted French set piece ball to such an extent that Le Bleu were working on scraps, slow ball for Michalak to work with and Saint Andre had no answers to stem the tide. Once the lineout misfired, suddenly the scrum started to go backwards. Nathan White (kudos where it is due) and Jack McGrath then reveled in the scrum caused by French front row now starting to feel pace of the game. France’s pack was well beaten at the end of this contest. L’Equipe will have a field day on this display but credit Ireland for exposing the flaws of France in the set piece and also the breakdown where O’Brien, O’Mahoney, Henry and Heaslip all nullified France ball and won their individual battles with a bit to spare.

Ian Madigan

The Leinster man was dropped into the deep end and he produced in spades. Madigan played with such a flat line, it posed France endless problems on who to pick up defensively. The Tommy Bowe run was superbly executed and raised doubts for France in terms of inside out defense. Madigan’s penalty kicking was excellent and his kicking distance with ball in hand ultimately gave Ireland a platform to build on in the second half. The emotion shown by Madigan at full-time spoke volumes; he delivered at the highest level and is a game which will define his rugby career going forward. A performance full of endeavor and high skill. Sexton’s departure was nullified today. A massive complement to Madigan.

Heroes

The Ireland team had several heroes. The front row was competent throughout. Rory Best was my man of the match for his all action performance. His lineout delivery was on point throughout but it was his contribution in open play which caught the eye, several key turnovers at the breakdown and his link up of play with Ireland backs was exceptional. Best is getting better with every game. The second row had an excellent display. Henderson and Toner in the second half gave leadership; decided to challenge the French line out and carried endless ball. The back row’s role in this game has being well documented. Conor Murray – how cool was the Munster man for the second try? To touch down at the post was a clever move and totally deceived France on the try line. Robbie Henshaw has arrived on the world stage. His defensive work was on point but it was ball carrying when provided with go forward ball that caught the eye. He exposed Bastareaud defensively with several lung bursting runs which gave Ireland splendid attacking platforms. Keith Earls did not let the side down, he will be disappointed with his knock on from Tommy Bowe’s excellent run but his tackle count and defense could not be criticized. The back three of Rob / Dave Kearney and Tommy Bowe was on point throughout. Bowe and Kearney looking for ball and won several aerial exchanges. This was as complete a team performance from Ireland. France had no answer.

Suspension Woes

Sean O’Brien will inevitably make an appearance with the IRB disciplinary panel for the punch on Pascal Pape. The punch surprisingly was not caught by either Nigel Owens or TMO. It will be interesting to see how Ireland state their case to the disciplinary board, hoping for a one week ban.

France

Le Bleu have their backs against the wall. A quarter final showdown with New Zealand next weekend awaits. The French media will slaughter the players more so than management. Saint Andre has being the butt of many jokes during his tenure and I think the French media will focus more on the players this time. Michalak set the tone with a thoroughly unconvincing opening penalty kick. France will rue their early missed penalties to setup the platform to win this contest. Ireland were let back into the contest after twenty minutes and they did not look back. The pack were well beaten, something that the French pride themselves in. The set piece at times was shambolic. Guirado at hooker failed to deliver quality lineout throws and his props were on the back foot throughout. The surprise was how Mas and Debaty went backwards in the scrum late on. Numerous issues for France to address. Parra or Tillous-Borde? Intriguing selection poser at half-back as Michalak had one of those enigma performances. New Zealand will be wary, expect a French backlash next weekend. Saint Andre is gone but several players could join them in that category if they do not beat New Zealand.

Ireland

Fantastic result. Leadership in spades but this result has come at a cost. O’Connell and O’Brien are as good as out next weekend against a dangerous Argentina outfit. The positives were that several players took the leadership mantle on when Sexton and O’Connell departed the field. Schmidt’s coaching is exceptional, the team executed the plan to the letter of the law. A repeat performance and Ireland will be in good position to beat Argentina but it won’t be easy. Savior the victory, lip the wounds and come again next weekend all guns blazing. What a day. Ireland fans and players were immense. Proud day for the Emerald Isle.

World Rugby Cup Preview: Ireland vs. France

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After three weeks acclimatizing to the RWC, Ireland face into their tournament defining fixture. A match against perennial abrasive, hard to read France awaits at the cauldron of Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the game and sees where this defining Pool D contest will be decided.

Team Form

Both sides come into the contest with questions to answer. Ireland started the tournament with an emphatic victory over Canada and showed Ireland’s ruthless nature by putting Canada to the sword with four tries in the opening period, the majority of the damage done in a ten minute spell when Jamie Cudmore was sent to the sin bin. Romania were next for Joe Schmidt’s men and they won with minimum fuss with the back three of Earls, Zebo and Bowe catching the eye. If Ireland were starting to lose the run of themselves, then the reality check was provided last weekend. Italy’s abrasive gritty performance gave Ireland a timely reminder that performance is key. Ireland under performed in all facets of play, the pack struggled to gain any sort of supremacy while the back line were starved of quality go forward ball. If Peter O’Mahoney had not foiled Furno at the corner, it would have being interesting to see how Ireland would have reacted.

France have being Jekyll and Hyde in this tournament so far. Lethargic periods of France play in all their tournament games so far has being dossed with sprinkles of French quality; effective clear-out work at ruck time, strong set piece which has allowed the likes of Bastareaud and Fofana to hit the game line with speed and purpose. Saint Andre like Joe Schmidt has given all his squad game minutes but unlike Ireland, you do not get the sense that Saint Andre knows his best fifteen. This is particularly evident in the out-half selection this weekend. Michalak gets the nod over Morgan Parra – unpredictability wins over consistency in selection. Michalak on his day can beat any team on own courtesy of game management awareness but can as easly cost his side dear (i.e. erratic play calls, inconsistent penalty kicking). He is an enigma. Ireland will hope that he has an off day.

Team Selection

Ireland’s first fifteen selection for the most part reads along with familiar lines. The interesting calls were the inclusion of Devin Toner and Keith Earls. Toner’s form against France in 6N action was key to this selection. The Leinster second row’s ability to win lineout ball and control restarts were pivotal points in his inclusion. Ian Henderson will be disappointed with his omission but his contribution off the bench with thirty minutes to go will be crucial in terms of ball carrying and tackle count. The Keith Earls selection now makes sense when news filtered through this morning that Jared Payne’s tournament is now over. Earls has being entrusted to create attacking opportunities at thirteen. The question is whether Earls will even get any quality ball against France. Italy last weekend prevented Ireland at the breakdown getting early ball. France will look to do the same.  Earls tackling ability has improved this season, will not let the team down. Luke Fitzgerald is a quality option to come in to make the impact off the bench. I sense the pivotal battles will not be focused in the three quarters. Mike Ross will have to go the full eighty minutes. The thought of Nathan White coming on the park quite frankly scares me in terms of set piece and open play. France have named a team who will try to batter Ireland’s pack to submission with power and increased pace in the front five. Arous, Slimani are effective scrum operators but their real asset is their pace with ball in hand around the fringes. Guirado aids to this dynamic front row unit but is his lineout skill set sufficient to provide France with the required platform with the likes of Toner and O’Connell around? France’s key line is the back row. Dusaitour, Chouly and Picamoles strike an imposing unit. The breakdown area will be huge on Sunday and this line have proven year in year out that they will be up for the battle. Their sheer ability to make yards after being tackled will mean good go forward ball for Tillous-Borde and Michalak to launch swift France attacks. Ireland cannot kick aimlessly as the likes of Speeding and Nakaitici will relish the opportunity to run with ball in hand with interest. Ireland’s key strength will be their ability to execute game management scenarios at certain times. This is in stark contrast to the unpredictability of Michalak who at times can be found wanting in doing the right thing at the right time.

Verdict

The key question is which pack will be dominant on the day? Ireland’s lineout has functioned well but the scrum has struggled to gain any supremacy particularly evident in the Italian performance. France have named a front row who are dynamic ball carriers but their scrum is diminished slightly when you compare that to the likes of Mas and Debaty in reserve. This is where Ireland could get a foothold in the contest particularly in the first fifty minutes of this contest. With minimal back line play, this crunch tie is going to be decided in the trenches. Scrum infringements will be met with celebratory roars by both set of supporters like they won the actual tournament. The penalty kicking then comes into focus. Which penalty kicker will hold their nerve the most? Sexton’s penalty kicking from less than 30 meters is strong but outside 30 meters could be problematic. Michalak to be honest — all depends what side of the bed he gets out of. Parra will be lights out on the penalty kicks as well so for Ireland to win, Sexton will be a pivotal figure. I am not expecting much in back line play. Yes, Bastareaud is a beast but Ireland will have schemes to nullify his threat with fast defensive lines. This game is a battle of the packs. This is really too close too comfort, think Ireland to edge it purely because they have built up a sufficient lead early doors in the contest. The finger nails will be bitten to the core. France will finish the game like a thoroughbred running strongly to the finishing line, their bench will impact the contest but will it be too late? Two nations hold its breathe.

Euro 2016 – October 8th Highlights

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David slayed Goliath in Dublin. Northern Ireland are booking the camper vans and flights to France as I type and Scotland reflect on where it all went so wrong after a summer of great hope and expectation. Hawkeye Sidekick takes a look at this evening’s action and tries to comprehend how the Republic of Ireland beat Germany at the rocking Aviva Stadium.

Long way home for Deutschland

Shane Long will hate me for saying this but he is becoming the quintessential super-sub for club and country. Sprawled from the warm confines of the bench after sixty-five minutes, the Gortnahoe Glencoole man relished the opportunity and his goal will be replayed when the Ireland sporting year is reviewed. Darren Randolph’s clearance to Shane Long was the pass of the night, exposed Germany’s defensive high line. Shane Long’s pace is underrated as he strode with purpose into the German penalty area. His shot was superbly taken giving Neuer no chance. Cue manic celebrations. Germany try as they might could not break the Republic of Ireland wall albeit how Thomas Muller failed to score from close range at the end of the game is beyond me? This was the classic rearguard action. Republic of Ireland with 33% possession were forced on the defensive pretty much throughout. Germany controlled possession without finding a cutting edge for the most part albeit did create three genuine goal scoring chances from Gundogan, Schurrle and of course that too good miss chance from Muller. Republic of Ireland’s players performed incredibly well despite the pressure exerted by their more illustrious opponents. The back four (relatively inexperienced) grew into the contest. Christie, Keogh, O’Shea and Ward were solid and compact. Christie stood out particularly in the second half, constantly foiling German attacks with blocks. The midfield area was always going to be a hard ask but they were admirable despite the movement and possession enjoyed by the likes of Reus, Ozil and Kroos. McCarthy was his typical abrasive best, winning tackles and providing cover for the back four. Brady and Hoolahan were the marquee ball players who were asked to deliver Ireland’s threat from set piece and open play. Yes, attacking opportunities were limited but both players were prominent in all that was good with Ireland. The ten minute spell before Long’s goal saw Hoolahan in a more advanced role, this led to Daryl Murphy’s chance. Murphy worked tirelessly and John Walters has being the player of the campaign for the Republic of Ireland; his work rate is infectious and his link up with Long in the closing stages meant that the hosts rearguard were able to enjoy some periods of rest. Darren Randolph continued his club form with a confident cameo when Shay Given was forced to withdraw. Ireland management have to be applauded to switch allegiance to Randolph. Forde will feel aggrieved but his lack of first team football with Millwall was the key point. Randolph has featured for West Ham in both league and cup, his form has being consistently good. The win will be remembered for many a year but all eyes are now focused on Warsaw on Sunday. 2-2 draw will be enough for the Republic of Ireland to qualify automatically but not even thinking about it tonight, bask in the glory of an epic triumph. The rearguard of rearguard victories.

Lewandowski Lewandowski Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski had a point to prove with Scotland tonight. During the leadup to this contest, the Bayern Munich striker recalled how his shin pad was broken after a challenge from Scotland central defender Greer when the two side met in Warsaw during this campaign. Lewandowski broke Scotland hearts at the start and the end of the game to rescue a point for Poland who after a promising start retreated into a defensive shell which was never going to hold the lead. Scotland to be fair did enough to win this contest. It was a stirring fightback supported by a passionate home crowd. Ritchie and Fletcher’s smart finishes had Scotland in control entering the 93rd minute but Scotland’s inability to defend the set piece allowed the equalizer to trickle over the line. It was a devastating blow and no time to recover. With the Republic of Ireland beating Germany, the qualification campaign was over. What went wrong? Scotland were in control of their own destiny in August. Four points clear of the Republic of Ireland but it all went downhill as soon as Scotland went to Georgia and lost in early September. The result jolted Strachan’s charges and hesitant defending against Germany meant that the Republic of Ireland were now in third place. Opportunities were lost for Scotland during this campaign. The 2-1 loss to Germany away was a game where Scotland played well and should have come away it at least a point. The Georgia loss away though was the killer result and in a group of fine margins, it was a result which ultimately led to elimination tonight.

Northern Ireland

What an achievement for Michael O’Neill and the NI players and backroom staff. They have qualified for the Euro 2016 finals courtesy of a 3-1 win over Greece at Windsor Park with a game to spare. Northern Ireland’s work ethic and quality set piece delivery from Norwood and Brunt will always create chances and tonight was proof. Yes, it was a nervy start. McGovern had to produce a smart save on fourteen minutes but once NI asserted midfield dominance, the opening goal was not long in coming. Stephen Davis’s run and glided effort capped off an excellently worked opening goal down the flank. Greece were rattled and NI put the game to bed with a two goal cameo just after the restart. Norwood’s corner delivery setup Magennis’s looping header for two nil and when Davis’ second of the night was scored, it was party time in Belfast. Energetic performances have encapsulated NI’s qualification. Their rock solid defense and ability to launch swift counter attacks away from home caught the eye. NI are worthy finalists. Roll on the draw already. Congratulations

Random Soccer Thoughts

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Managerial Merry Go Round?

The biggest kept secret in Melrose is officially out. Brendon Rodgers is sacked by Liverpool FC. The writing was on the wall as soon as last season and the Stoke 6-1 loss at the Britannia. If the Fenway Sports Group were decisive, they would have ended the tenure there and then. However, they did not pull the trigger and gave Rodgers more money to spend on players while farming out players from the Suarez money the previous season on loan (Markovic). Liverpool FC are at a cross-roads. Where do FSG see the club going? Winning and ambition are one thing but how will they compete with the Manchester City, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain to secure top class talent. Liverpool’s signing policy is more in hope than signings will succeed. There needs to be a change in approach in transfers as well as conducting contract negotiations. The Gerrard and Sterling negotiations saga were embarrassing for the club; no-one will know the full extent of whether Rodger’s presence at the football club contributed to those discussions breaking down but the way it was handled by the football club was inadequate. Rodgers will be disappointed but it did not look like the Anfield faithful had anymore faith in the Northern Ireland man. Carlisle League Cup fixture was the final nail in the coffin; no reaction from the fans, wonder if Bogdan had not made a couple of penalty shootout saves, would Rodgers have survived until today? Rodgers will get another top flight job (Villa job looming again) and this experience will only improve him as a manager. Football management, small margins between winning and losing. If Stephen Gerrard had not slipped against Chelsea, what might have being? The appointment will be eagerly anticipated. Wondering if Stevie Gerrard’s mansion will be back up for sale soon? Property merry go round. The property is jinxed.

Meanwhile in the North-East, Dick Advocaat decided to do an ‘A Team’ escape from Sunderland today. Advocaat should have left the club in the summer. When an EPL club has to convince someone to stay on as manager, enough said. Advocaat’s heart for the job was elsewhere after a torrid summer of missed transfer targets. Younes Kaboul would drive you to desperation, no wonder the Dutch man walked out without seeking a penny from Ellis Short. Sunderland to look to Sam Allardyce to save the season already. The Sunderland playing staff are in for one rude reality check when they arrive back from international football duty.

Merseyside Stalemate

Brendon Rodgers did not lose his final game in charge of Liverpool. Liverpool were the superior team in the opening half and Ings close range opener was well merited. Everton had their moments but were pinned back for periods. Naismith’s header produced a great save from Mignolet. Everton did well to get back on level terms before the interval. Lukaku again scoring to make the EPL Fantasy Football League scouts to take note (3 goals in two games). Everton like against WBA did come out in the second half and try to win this derby late on but the decisive second goal never came despite good periods of dominance. A draw was probably a fair result. Sakho and Lukaku’s spat at the end of the contest was a highlight. Who says derby games do not matter?

Arsenal Stroll

Thank you Manchester United for making an easy choice today in terms of what to watch. United were simply floored by a rampant Arsenal in the first twenty minutes. United’ defensively have serious issues with attacking pace. Swansea and now Arsenal have exposed United’s lack of pace defensively. I felt for Blind and Darmian in that opening twenty minutes, they were under the cosh. Walcott’s movement was world class today and allowed Sanchez the space to score at will in that opening period of the game. United never got to the pace of the game and the hosts high line and work rate meant possession was too frequently lost in dangerous positions. Ozil enjoyed his afternoon today and must be an enigma for an Arsenal supporter. How can a player of his talent not produce performances like this week in week out? Cech’s save on Martial just before the interval emphasized how big a miss Wenger made in the midweek Champions League debacle. The EPL season is all over the shop. City back on top but for the first forty minutes, Newcastle should have being out of sight.

Next Managerial Casualty

Jose Mourinho was at his mercurial best when interviewed post game yesterday. Chelsea are in crisis (mens and not ladies team). Every week, there is a different issue to contend with. From the embarrassing supporter behavior in Paris, to Eva / JT and players not doing what the special one requires; the problems are mounting for the Portuguese manager. Roberto Di Matteo is looking like a Chelsea managerial stud with each passing week of this season. The international break has come at an opportune time for Chelsea, time to review and regroup. Chelsea will turn the corner eventually and a top four finish still looks a possibility given the indifferent form of the likes of United, Arsenal. Time will tell but Mourinho has laid down his cards on the table. He is going nowhere. He requires club backing or else. The next managerial casualty looks to be in Aston Villa. The post Benteke era is looking ominous for the Villa, lack of goals and the inability to keep clean sheets means that they are now four points behind the rest in the battle for the drop. Tim Sherwood is under pressure and a trip to Chelsea does not look promising. If Villa cannot beat Swansea at home on October 24th, Sherwood is as good as gone.