November’s Giraffes and Lemons

With Christmas almost upon us the Premier League is beginning to have a familiar feel to it as the usual suspects congregate near the top of the table whilst at the bottom can be found the teams most people suspected would struggle. It is interesting however to see the top two places filled by teams who have no European involvement this season, with European competition shutting down shortly for a couple of months will the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City be able to pull away from Chelsea and Liverpool now their schedules are less crowded?

My Team Giraffe for November goes to the league leaders, Chelsea, who have continued to impress and, for a supporter who likes to revel in the defensive side of the game, who have been miserly at the back. Another way to gauge Chelsea’s recent success is the level of imitation which they have been awarded with a larger number of clubs beginning to dabble with three at the back!

At the other end of the table my Team Lemon for November has to go to Crystal Palace who are currently in freefall and were responsible for probably the worst defensive display I have seen in the last twenty years, and that is saying something if you remember I am a Stoke supporter!

Here then is my updated prediction for the end of the season (and how it has changed since the start of the season):

  1. Manchester City (1st)
  2. Chelsea (2nd)
  3. Liverpool (5th)
  4. Arsenal (4th)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (6th)
  6. Manchester United (3rd)
  7. Southampton (10th)
  8. Everton (7th)
  9. Watford (14th)
  10. Stoke City (8th)
  11. Bournemouth (16th)
  12. Leicester City (12th)
  13. West Bromwich Albion (13th)
  14. Middlesbrough (11th)
  15. West Ham United (9th)
  16. Burnley (17th)
  17. Swansea (15th)
  18. Crystal Palace (18th)
  19. Hull City (20th)
  20. Sunderland (19th)

Keeping with Crystal Palace my Individual Lemon of the Month goes to Alan Pardew for the sterling work he is doing moulding a group of talented individuals into a team who look like they don’t know what they’re doing and clearly don’t want to play for the manager.

Finishing on a more positive note my Individual Giraffe of the Month also goes to a player who won the respective team award. I thought about giving it to Victor Moses for his transformation into a wing back but instead the award goes to his fellow wing back Marcos Alonso. I for one was not surprised when Conte switched to a back three, partly because it has always been his preferred formation but also because Alonso was one of his first signings. Defensively he is strong but more importantly he is also one of Chelsea’s main attacking outlets and I predict by the end of the season he will have become a Fantasy Football favourite.

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Respect For Referees

In his last game the Boy gave away what I can only describe as, being a father, a rather dubious penalty. After the match I happened to see the referee in the bar and I decided to question him on his decision. In my defence I don’t usually seek out the boy’s referees but I knew the referee in question from work and I listened to his explanation of why he had given the penalty and he listened to why I thought he had got it wrong.

The whole conversation lasted less than five minutes before we embarked on more serious subjects, like what a prat Big Sam had been, but one thing that he said really made an impression on me. He asked me to thank the Boy for his politeness when he asked why he had been penalised. Listening to my friend I was shocked by some of the names he had been called, not only by players’ parents but also by the twelve and thirteen year olds he refereed.

At almost any youth match these days there is the type of parent who stands and bays from the side line, criticising the referee, the coach and the players, in a voice so loud that they can be heard on the other side of town. This type of behaviour not only ruins the enjoyment of other parents but also that of the children who are playing and more importantly it does have an effect on the children’s behaviours. In a child’s mind why is it so bad to mimic the foul and abusive language towards the referee that they hear on the side lines?

This disrespect for referees has been brought into the spotlight recently in New Zealand’s Stirling Sports Premiership because, just like watching your kids junior team, the spectators are right next to the action and the crowds are small enough that you can usually hear most of what is being said. Incidents like linesmen being called blind c**** and a female referee being told a decision she had given was only a foul in the women’s game!

Both of the above comments were made by players on the pitch and the players involved should have been dealt with severely by New Zealand football but as spectators we have a responsibility too.

I am not asking you to not get angry when a decision goes against your team just suggesting when you do shout out your disbelief to be mindful of the language you use. Football, as any fan will tell you, is all about passion and passion can be a good thing but it can also be dangerous and so often it is not left at the sporting ground when the match is finished but leads to irrational hatreds.

Football should also be something which generations can share together, a time for parent and child to bond in despair as they watch their team lose again or to celebrate together as their favourite players lifts the cup. And it is because of these bonds being forged that it can be also be a time when a child’s behaviours are formed. So the next time you want to shout obscenities at the referee, as he is conned by a dive from an opposing player please, be mindful of the child that may be sitting next to you, your restraint just may help them out in later life.

Watford 0 – Stoke City 1

Allen suspended, no Clumsy or Glenda and the Captain and Phil Bardsley also injured. If ever there was a time for Mystic Mark to look into his crystal ball and come up with a spark of inspiration, it was Sunday and as the Boy and I sat down to watch the match we both wondered if Mystic Mark’s crystal ball had lost its connection. Mame at right wing back, three at the back and Super Jon up front! This was never going to work.

Yet work it did, from the kick off the enforced changes seemed to galvanise the Stoke team as they fought for each other and once they had imposed themselves on the game early on the football began to flow. Imbula, back in the starting XI, was the lynchpin as Arnie, Shaqiri and the two wing backs began to pass the ball around a bemused Watford midfield and it was Stoke who deservedly had the first chance when Mame’s overhead kick was blocked before Bruno and Super Jon saw their follow ups blocked.

At the other end of the pitch Lee Grant was having a quiet Sunday lunchtime although he did have to snatch a 25 yarder out of the air after Charlie Boy gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the park. But this was an isolated incident and Stoke continued pressing forward with Arnie nodding a cross from the right only for Super to tamely head the ball into Gomes’ grateful arms. The Watford keeper was less fortunate moments later when Charlie Boy rose to meet Shaqiri’s header sending it towards the base of the post and Gomes was only able to parry the ball back into his own net.

The expected Watford response to going a goal behind spluttered into life briefly with the hosts crafting a couple of half chances but the improvised backline of Bruno, Muniesa and Johnson looked comfortable as Watford’s woes continued. In fact it could have been Stoke who finished the half with the next goal but for an outstretched leg denying Super Jon after some neat interplay between Shaqiri and Arnie. Could of then became should of almost straight after the interval when Arnie raced from inside of his own half and squared the ball to Super Jon who has to watch in agony as the ball rolled in front of him with an open goal beckoning.

In the stands the home fans began to turn on their own players as the match’s intensity began to fall and in response Mazzarri decided to throw on first Ighalo and then Okaka in a clear attempt to get the ball in and around the Stoke penalty box but Bruno and the boys were able to deal with everything Watford tried to throw at them.

Maybe Stoke were a little fortunate that the referee waved play on after a hopeful Watford penalty shout, I have seen them given before, but whilst Watford were doing all the attacking it was Stoke who were looking the more dangerous when they broke and it was from one of these quick fire breaks when Shaqiri outpaced Britto. The Watford defender, in desperation, tugged on the Swiss’ shirt earning himself a second yellow and for the remaining five minutes it was the visitors who looked to add to their first half goal with Pieters and Imbula having shots from distance.

This win, and especially the first half display, is a pleasant pick me up after the shambles in our last match against Bournemouth. Stoke dominated one of the teams who many expect to be in and around the bottom of the top half come the end of the season, with a makeshift formation and personal but next week’s game against Burnley is another we need to win if we have ambitions to finish above the likes of Watford so as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • 3-4-3 or whatever it was worked well as a one off and was, in hindsight, the best formation for the players available. It may also be the way Mystic Mark wants to go in the future, it did get the best out of Arnie and Shaqiri, but a lot of thought and hard work would need to be put in before it became Stoke’s preferred formation.
  • Whilst Mame was simply Mame, hard-working, willing to play anywhere and run down any lost cause to ask whether he is Stoke’s answer to Victor Moses is a little premature. Defensively Diouf was all over the place at times and before this experiment was repeated the player needs to undergo an intensive defensive boot camp
  • Even though I don’t expect Hughes to play the same formation next week I hope the manager took note of how much more effective Arnie and Shaqiri were playing further infield.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Mark Hughes

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Another confident display

Glenn Johnson – 7               His attacking instincts were stunted by playing as part of a back three but did his main job of defending well

Marc Muniesa – 7                Got the chance he wanted as if Stoke do go with a back three would look comfortable there.

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Immense. In the absence of the Captain put in a captain’s performance

Erik Pieters – 7                     Solid if unconvincing

Charlie Boy – 6                     Maybe a little harsh seeing as he set up the goal but gives the ball away too cheaply to play so deep.

Giannelli Imbula – 8            More like the player we thought we brought in January

Mame Diouf – 8                   Too defensively suspect at the moment to make wing back position his own. Nether the less worked his socks off and posed real questions down Watford’s left

Shaqiri – 8                             Was more involved playing closer to the striker and provided a few moments of magic

Arnie – 9                                Back to his arrogant best, the only thing that is missing now is the goals

Super Jon – 7                        Another who ran his socks off but the chance at the start of the second half showed he is missing a yard or two of pace

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 7            Maybe Mystic Mark is right and Crouch deserves another year but only if he realises ten, fifteen minutes at the end of the game is all he is going to get

Manager

Mark Hughes – 9                  Tactical masterstroke or a message from the other side? Whatever prompted the team selection was inspired and showed good reactive thinking by bringing on Two Meter Peter to counter the threat of Okaka.

Referee

Robert Madley – 6                  It was clear from the start he was not going to accept any dissent, the difference between the two teams was Stoke realised this and even Arnie only complained to his team mates. Also stayed strong and didn’t give either of the two soft penalty shouts towards the end of the game.

Hope and Hypocrisy

At the weekend the Wellington Phoenix lost 2-1 to Melbourne City but rather than being despondent the Phoenix fans should look at the way their team played and realise come the end of the season they should be in the play-offs. Yes, the Phoenix left Melbourne empty handed but all that separated the two teams was an unlucky ricochet.

I know Eddie Merrick and Andrew Durante are complaining about the Melbourne City penalty which eventually won the game but if you look at the penalty awarded to the Phoenix and the one awarded to Melbourne there is a little bit of hypocrisy at play here:

There is no doubt that Barbarouses’ shirt was tugged but personally I am annoyed by the theatrical dive from the Phoenix player who after beating his man would have been able to attack the Melbourne goal if he had stayed on his feet, instead the curse of the modern game came into play and Barbarouses dived. In the end the Phoenix got what they deserved but if the referee hadn’t have given the penalty they had wasted a great chance of a goal and more importantly the next time Barbarouses goes down I will be questioning whether there was any contact?

Similarly, I can see no reason why the Melbourne City penalty wasn’t given. Rossi is the player who pulls at Fornaroli’s shirt and whilst it is true the Melbourne player grabs hold of Rossi’s shirt this is after the foul has been committed and you could argue was only done to steady themselves.

There has been a lot of discussion this season over the quality of the refereeing in the A-League and whilst there have been some shockers the number and severity of these are not to dissimilar to any league around the world. Manager’s like Merrick need to be careful that these constant attacks don’t become background noise because when a true miscarriage of justice does occur, just like Barbarouses’ diving, it is going to be difficult to judge whether it is real or just another boy crying wolf!

Autumn Internationals Round Up

Another round of the Autumn Internationals has come and gone and once more there are a few talking points and for once talk of dirty play and refereeing doesn’t centre on the All Blacks, who finished their year with a hard fought win over the French.

The All Blacks Finish Their Year Off With A Win

Although the All Blacks left Paris with a win and despite what he says to the press, Steve Hansen has to be a little concerned at the apparent closing of the gap between the All Blacks and the Northern Hemisphere teams. Coming off a dominant defence of their Rugby Championship no doubt the Kiwis were expecting to blast away their Northern Hemisphere opponents but, Italy aside, this has not been the case. Yes, the All Blacks got revenge against the Irish at the Aviva but this match is going to be remembered as a collection of what ifs. Fast forward a week to Paris and again, although the All Blacks were victorious, more questions than answers were raised, most notably:

  • Are the All Blacks as dangerous if both Israel Dagg and Ben Smith are missing? In my opinion no, they need at least one of these players on the pitch to provide the spark which can unpick opposing defences.
  • How important are Brode and Sam Whitelock? These two locks are going to go down as amongst the best who have ever played the game and it is a testament to their characters that they don’t complain when the ball players get the limelight. Along with Kieran Reid they are the reason why the All Black defence is so impressive. Like Dagg and Ben Smith, if they both get injured the All Blacks will find themselves missing a key component to what makes them so daunting
  • Has the Aaron Smith airport fiasco affected the player? Without a doubt but here at least there is some good news for the Kiwis. TJ Perenara, whilst not of Smith’s quality when the Highlander is at his best, is a more than capable replacement and would walk into most international sides.
  • Has this been a good year for the All Blacks? Not really. They may have won the World Rugby team of the year but in the last few weeks their aura of total dominance has slipped. Last year most people would have been surprised if France had run the All Blacks so close, at the weekend I don’t think too many people were surprised at all.
  • Should the All Blacks have won team of the year? Let’s wait and see what England do against Australia

The Red Cards and Penalties at Twickenham

England’s match against Argentina had more plot twists and considerably better acting than Shortland Street but what it also had was a group of officials who, in the main, had a good game and were not afraid of making the big decisions.

To send a player off after only five minutes takes balls as this could have completely ruined the game but Pascal Gauzere got the decision spot on. Elliot Daly may argue, and it must be noted that neither Daly or anyone associated with England are complaining about the decision, that the contact was accidental but it was foolish and most importantly dangerous and he deserved to be sent off because it was dangerous and not because of how the Argentinian player landed.

Later in the game there was a similar incident with Johnny May being taken out in the air but this only resulted in a penalty because May landed on his side. This is a ludicrous rule where the outcome of an act of dangerous play is taken into account when deciding on the punishment. A dangerous tackle is a dangerous tackle, intent may be considered but it doesn’t matter if one injures an opponent more than another, they should be both receive the same punishment. It is these types of grey areas in the game which I feel are letting the match officials down and allowing modern players to manage the referees.

Has the Northern Hemisphere pulled level with the Southern Hemisphere?

It is fair to say South Africa and Argentina will be heading home shell shocked by their performances on tour. To lose to England was perhaps expected, as the current incarnation of the Springboks is not even an average team compared to their predecessors, but to return to South Africa without a win has got to send shockwaves through the country.

Argentina may not have expected to win all of their matches they would have felt confident of beating Scotland and let’s be honest they lost against England despite playing against a team reduced to fourteen men after only five minutes.

Despite the soundbites Steve Hansen gives out he will not be too pleased with how their Northern tour panned out which just leaves Australia, who may yet claim to have had a successful tour if they manage to beat England at the weekend.

For years the Rugby Championship has been applauded whilst the Six Nations has been derided on this side of the equator but in the last month England, Ireland and even Scotland and Wales have shown that when they play their games against the supposed Southern Hemisphere heavyweights they can compete and win. These game plans may not always be successful all of the time but they will be more successful more often than trying to play the likes of New Zealand and Australia at their own games.

Team of the Week

After all I have just written about the Southern Hemisphere teams you may be surprised I am nominating one as my team of the week but Tonga deserve to be mentioned for their thrilling last minute win over Italy.

It has been well documented in the press about how Tier 2 teams don’t get the big games they deserve so to see Tonga get the win in Padua was fantastic. Italy being in the Six Nations hasn’t really worked for them yet, and I would be great to see the likes of Georgia being able to challenge for their place but the lack of matches the Pacific Island teams play is an injustice. I know there will be financial constraints but expanding the Rugby Championship to include the winners of a pre-tournament, tournament amongst the likes of Japan, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would allow these countries to have more games and provide a carrot to strive towards.

A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 12

Another bad week for almost everyone, with an average score of 46, which means I am not too disappointed by my miserly 40 points. The big concern for me is Coutinho getting injured and Shawcross being ruled out with a calf injury. Let’s hope The Captain is back for the Burnley game!

28-11-2016-after

After another low scoring week my Giraffe of the Week goes to Victor Moses, who seems to have nailed down the right wing back spot at Chelsea and who was the beneficiary of some woeful defending by Spurs. There were a few nominees for this week’s Lemon of the Week, including myself, but I have decided to award this dubious honour to Romelu Lukaku, a player who runs hot and cold and is currently running sub-zero.

28-11-2016

With Sobhi and Bony not getting onto the pitch I have decided to rejig my compulsory three Stoke players and, for this week only, I will have only two. With the uncertainty over Wilfried’s future at Stoke I have decided to transfer the Ivorian out and replace him with Charlie Austin, who’s Saints play Crystal Palace at the weekend, a team who after watching them against Swansea are going to have problems with the type of threat Austin provide.