Sunday, 17 February 2013

Philadelphia Phillies- prospects for the season

In 2012 the Phillies failed to clinch the NL East title for the first time in four years, and this season, Charlie Manuel will be hoping to resurrect his fallen superstars to form, in order to propel the team into
the playoffs.

A lack-lustre 2012 season was possibly due to the majority of the club being plagued with injuries, with the likes of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out injured for the majority of the season. Their ages, thirty-five, thirty-four and thirty-three respectively, appear to signal a slide towards the twilight of their careers. Each of them however, are easily among the best players in the MLB. Roy Halladay, the leader of all active players with sixty-six complete games, has won both the AL and the NL Cy Young award, accompanied by a perfect game and a no-hitter in the same season, during his illustrious playing career. Chase Utley is a one club man, much to the delight of Philly fans and is also an eight time All Star. Ryan Howard, the "6,4", "240 lb" first baseman, is a huge power contributor to the Philadelphia offense, averaging 44 home runs a year when healthy. It is this core of vital key players that the Phillies backroom staff will have to keep healthy throughout the season to ensure a playoff berth.

Unlike the rest of the Phillies ageing superstars, thirty-four year old Jimmy Rollins maintained his fitness commendably despite playing perhaps the most physically demanding position (excluding catcher) - shortstop. He was one of the bright spots of the 2012 campaign, leading a visibly weakened infield. Rollins consistently produced spectacular defensive plays and lead the team with 23 homers and 68 RBIs, as well as his scintillating speed causing havoc on the base paths. Juan Pierre, a single year Rollins' senior, enjoyed a return to form last year for a bit part player, leading the team with 37 stolen bases and producing a solid .307 batting average in a Philadelphia uniform. Thirty-four year old Cliff Lee's win-loss ratio belied his true performance as he too constructed a solid year's performance.

The additions of Texas' third baseman Michael Young and veteran reliever Mike Adams just adds to the pressure on the Phillies' ever-ageing staff. Michael Young brings leadership and a veteran presence, along with some offensive pop should he return to his stellar form of two years past. Mike Adams, with an outstanding lifetime ERA of 2.28, has been brought in to fill the void at the back end of the Phillies bullpen, an area which cost the team plenty of wins last season. Albeit phenomenal players throughout their careers, Young and Adams are unlikely to refresh and regenerate the squad's performance.

Contrastingly to the Phillies infield and pitching staff, the outfield has no shortage of youth. With the departures of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, the outfield spots were shared by Juan Pierre, John Mayberry Jr, Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix, and to some extent the impressive Darin Ruf. The opening day outfield lineup is a labyrinth of a problem which Phillies General Manager Charlie Manuel will have to solve. Particularly with the recent influx of youthful outfielders, in the form of Ben Revere and Delmon Young. Although they may be roaming the Citizens Bank Park outfield side by side, their styles of play could be no more different. Delmon Young was an integral part of the Detroit Tigers playoff run. For what he lacks in defensive prowess and speed, he makes up with his hitting, swatting 18 HRs and 74 RBIs in 2012. Ben Revere, meanwhile, is yet to hit a major league home run in his first two Major League seasons. He does however boast excellent defensive capabilities and terrific speed; swiping 40 bags in just his second season.

Ruben Amaro's offseason acquisitions will hopefully inject youth and extra ability into a hit-and-miss 2012 team. With the right balance of old and new, experience and desire to succeed, the Phillies will be bounding towards a playoff berth that was sorely missed in 2012. If the 'Big Three,' the fearsome trio of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, can stay healthy it will give the Phillies a strong base for success. In addition, if the Phillies experienced infield of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young with an astonishing 18 All Star appearances between them, can stay healthy, the Phillies should not be short of runs either. There are a lot of 'ifs' regarding the Phillies future but if it does all come together, success can be the only option.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

England v Brazil friendly (09/02/13)

Respect: the players unite for a minute's silence before the game

Roy Hodgson's England dismantled a Brazil side who didn't deliver on the audacious talent anticipated by the footballing masses. An early Ronaldinho penalty and rebound, awarded for an arguably dubious handball against the Man Of The Match Jack Wilshere, was commendably saved by Joe Hart, who responded to recent criticism with a stellar performance. Twenty-seven minutes into the tie however, the deadlock was broken as Rooney scored with a measured finish after a surging run and perfectly weighted pass from Wilshere resulted in a rebounded Theo Walcott shot. After the break, the highly rated PSG midfielder Lucas and Fluminese striker Fred were introduced and it was the latter who capitalised on Gary Cahill's error, dispatching the ball past a flailing Joe Hart with his left foot to equalise. However, the victory was salvaged in some style as Frank Lampard curled a half volley in off the post from the edge of the area, reiterating his claim for Premier League football with his beloved Chelsea.

England looked fairly comfortable throughout in an unfamiliar approach (4-3-3) under the reign of Roy Hodgson. The midfield trio of Gerrard, Wilshere, Cleverley operated efficiently with Gerrard adopting a slightly deeper position, marshalling the team and spraying passes to the pace of the front three, in order to accomodate the attacking threat of Wilshere and Cleverley. Wilshere was phenomenal, dribbling through masses of Brazilian defenders and adeptly threading passes behind the defensive line. Both Wilshere and Gerrard appeared confident in the formation, who knew exactly what their respective roles were. Contrastingly, Cleverley's performance was, whilst hard-working, sub-par and offered little to either the defensive or attacking aspects of the game. Possession was kept intelligently as Wilshere prowled, waiting for an opportunity to expose the Brazilian defence. Particularly with the pace of Walcott and Welbeck, and the shrewd movement of Rooney, holes were not difficult to find. Walcott utilised his pace intelligently, drawing Adriano (the Brazil left back) towards him and then knocking the ball past him and accelerating, taking advantage of his opponent's shift in momentum. The highly rated Barcelona left back was made to look distinctly average by Walcott's blistering speed and was replaced in the final third of the match. Wayne Rooney's alertness and superior technical ability allowed him to trouble and draw away the Brazilian defence to create space for Welbeck and Rooney. Welbeck was possibly the weakest of the front three despite his impressive domestic performances.

Midfield battle: England's Jack Wilshere attempts to win the ball from Brazil's Oscar

The England defence was led by Chelsea centre half Gary Cahill. Although usually a consistent performer, his defending was ridden with errors and it was his own mistake that lead to the Brazil goal, as he strode forward with the ball with misplaced confidence before surrendering possession, leaving the England defence completely isolated. Despite this, having defenders who are comfortable in possession is essential to the success of the 4-3-3 formation, so perhaps he can be forgiven. In the heart of defence, he was accompanied by Manchester United right/centre back Chris Smalling, who produced an unconvincing display. For me, he was a surprise inclusion as a player who is only ever good enough to play out of position in an unfamiliar role for Manchester United, never mind at centre back for his country; a position that requires leadership and decisiveness. Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole ( making his one hundredth appearance ) both performed solidly as England regulars. Joe Hart contrasted his domestic form, pulling off a series of stellar saves, which will dissuade any doubters of his class.

Brazil, on the other hand, failed to live up to the hype. Luis Felipe Scolari had an extraordinary amount of talent at his disposal, from old to new, from the household name Ronaldinho, to the prodigious talent of Neymar. Both disappointed. The Brazilian strike force failed to exploit the frailties of the English back line, lacking in both fluidity and sharpness. Two experiened camaigners in Ronaldinho, who now applies his trade for Atletico Mineiro in Liga Do Brasil, and seasoned striker Luis Fabiano also playing domestically in the Liga Do Brasil for Sao Paulo, contributed next to nothing. The charismatic flair of Ronaldinho had vanished from his toothy-faced grin and he displayed none of the expected skills and tricks, like the elastico (or flip-flap) which he has become renowned for. Even his distribution was a let down, failing to weight the pass to perfection even when rare glimpses of an opportunity presented itself, often not created by their own play, but by the mistakes of England players. Luis Fabiano failed to produce a shot that would class either as on target or off target. Nevertheless, it was the absence of an awe-inspiring demonstration of Neymar's supposedly sublime talent that disconcerted the fans enjoyment of the match. Neymar is a player who is considered to be in the same league of ability as Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. Whilst he did exhibit signs of pace and some dribbling ability, his overall performance was poor, missing Brazil's best chance of the entire game, blazing wide of the gaping goal as he slid in from no more than five yards out. Perhaps, it was the accolade surrounding the individual skills he performed that relentlessly circulate the internet that cloud football fans perception of his class. Coupled with the fact that he plays in the Liga Do Brasil, his true ability cannot be verified as he is yet to face top class opposition.

Danger man: England full back Glen Johnson attempts to get to grips with Brazil's Neymar

One highly touted prospect did however, deliver an exciting performance, PSG's attacking midfielder Lucas Moura, who replaced Ronaldinho at half time, reflected a passing on of the torch from one talented generation to another. PSG splashed out forty-five million euros to acquire his services from Sao Paulo in the recent January transfer window. Lucas Moura outshone his attacking counterpart vastly, with outstanding pace and close control. Chelsea's Oscar, who was arguably Brazil's best player also impressed in a Brazil shirt as he orchestrated any attack with a range of passing and nimble footwork. Fluminese's Fred was a surprise package, clinically finishing courtesy of his weaker foot after a Gary Cahill error. Fred also clipped the crossbar just minutes after his goal, curling in a wicked effort from the edge of the box. Julio Cesar, who has been lavished with praise succeeding his domestic performances for QPR, had a mixed performance in my opinion. I believe he is over-rated. Although his reactions and shot-stopping are consistently spectacular his handling and decision-making leave a lot to be desired, and this was no more apparent than in this fixture. Cesar made an almost ridiculously good save from no more than three yards from a Gary Cahill header. However, he often punched the ball away, conceding possession unnecessarily and spilling the ball sporadically after a comfortable save. Brazil's defensive line were average with the exception of Dani Alves who nullified Danny Welbeck's pace and looked a threat offensively, galloping down the right -hand side touchline.

England and Brazil are both supremely talented national sides that have failed to accomplish over the last decade. Although Brazil may be superior in terms of raw talent and ability, in this fixture, England looked more organised and well-drilled than their South American opponents, mainly due to the influence of Roy Hodgson. This was key to their success and England appeared to have better team chemistry, rather than a team of individuals. Brazil and England are also both teams that seem to be building for the future, particularly with the rise of the England u-21's who demolished Sweden u-21's in midweek without some of their most promising of talents. And Brazil, who every year, produce the next line of superstars like an assembly production line. But the question has to be asked, when will these two teams finally get it together and challenge Spain for the world's top spot, and Roy Hodgson and Luis Filipe Scolari will hope it will be sooner rather than later, if at all.

Roy Hodgson greets rival boss Phil Scolari

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Serie A - boring?

The conventional opinion on Italian football is that it is tiresomely boring, with Italian teams more than happy to sit on a one goal lead. Particularly with the influx of Italian managers into the English game, ( Roberto Mancini, Fabio Capello, Roberto Di Matteo ) their style has not helped to contradict the traditional view on Italian football. Despite this, there is no doubt to the strength of Serie A in comparison to Europe's top leagues with Juventus' recent domination of Chelsea in the Champions League group stages. The league has also attracted football's most controversial talent in the form of Mario Balotelli - who just days ago opted for a £20 million move to AC Milan.

Those who continue to laud over the dullness of Serie A clearly have not watched AS Roma play. They epitomise all that is enjoyable about football, free form football and a constant willingness to attack no matter the situation. Zdenek Zeman has implemented an unorthodox approach in contrast to the rest of the league and has no shortage of admirers from football pundits. Despite the perceived praise, he is under pressure from the Roma board because the thing of utmost importance escapes the team slightly - consistent results which would propel the team towards European qualification. Throughout the course of the 2012/13 campaign Roma have scored the most goals yet have also conceded the most goals. The term 'Zemanlandia' accurately sums up Zeman's  brand of football - 'indicating spectacular attacking football where supporters were unstoppably entertained.'

Zeman is an advocate of the 4-3-3 formation and the characteristics of his team are: a high defensive line (offside trap) , high pressing and wingers with the ability to cut inside and score. Of course this system only works with a wealth of quality players and with the likes of the footballing veterans Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, who provide Roma's quality in the middle of the park. De Rossi offers the back line an extra shield of support whilst Totti is involved in nearly every attack with his outstanding technical ability. This season, Totti has provided the second highest number of assists behind Napoli's Marek Hamsik. In addition,Roma have also introduced some prodigious talents. Erik Lamela has been a revolution as a winger with pace, power and an ability for crossing and shooting. However Lamela's talent is unlikely to be further developed under the guidance of Zeman as Roma lost 4-2 at home to a Cagliari side battling to escape the relegation places; placing the Czechoslovakian's job under major doubt.

Although Roma's football is impressive, it is not as effective as the gargantuan of Italian football - Juventus, who remained unbeaten throughout the entirety of the 2011/12 Serie A season. Continuing on the progress made in their previous campaign, Juventus are three points clear atop of Serie A and have developed their impervious defensive record further with the least goals conceded in the league so far. Juventus are however, more defensively minded perhaps, but still play with an attacking flair under Italian manager Antonio Conte. Regularly, Juventus employ a 3-5-2 formation with three established centre halves in Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. The two wing backs are integral to the 3-5-2 set up and can evolve it can evolve into either five defenders or five midfielders, giving Juventus fantastic versatility depending on the situation. Juventus have scored just one goal less than Roma but have conceded just sixteen goals compared to Roma's forty two.

Whilst there are many defensively minded teams in Serie A, there also many others to match in any other of Europe's top leagues. There are at least eight top quality teams in the Serie A with each playing host to some of Europe's hottest emerging prospects. The likes of Napoli challenging for the title with the much coveted Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani, and Internazionale, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Udinese and Lazio, who would be a threat to any team. I believe much of the opinion that Serie A is boring, is, in part, created by the influence of Italian managers on the English game, not by the Serie A itself.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Philippe Coutinho

The promising Brazil youngster began his career at Vasco de Gama and was quick to impress top European clubs at the age of just sixteen. His superb dribbling ability and outstanding vision, coupled with an array of deft passing and tactical awareness, displaying maturity beyond his years, earned him a €4 million move to Serie A side Inter Milan. After two years struggling with injuries and a lack of first team football Brendan Rodgers brought Coutinho to Liverpool for a fee reported to be worth £8·5 million.

Despite a history of injury problems at such a young age, it should not be a worry for Liverpool fans as the majority of his injuries were muscle strains, caused by a rigorous strength and conditioning programme in order to add muscle to his slight frame. Perhaps with a more sensible muscle building programme employed by Liverpool staff, Coutinho will be able to make a swift transition to the physicality of the Premier League. Addressing his lack of first team football, Coutinho was a regular starter under the unsuccessful reign of former Reds boss Rafael Benitez, and after two seasons riddled with injuries, spent an impressive 6 months at Espanyol under the current Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino, who was battling to retain Coutinho's services at his new club.  Despite his successful 6 month loan deal, Coutinho will need regular playing time in order fulfil his maximum potential and Reds fans will hope he can flourish under Brendan Rodgers' regime. "I'm really looking forward to developing him and seeing him work. I got a good insight into him last year when he was at Espanyol, he's a real talent and a good, young, exciting player - but also a real good professional and that's key as well."

In his first interview with LFC, Coutinho spoke confidently about what he believes he can bring to the team : "I'm a player who likes to make moves and to play along with the attack, passing as well as scoring. I like dribbling and playing near to the box - that is a strength I have. " These are assets Liverpool have been short of this season with much of the chance creation dependent on Luis Suarez's broad shoulders, especially with Steven Gerrard adapting his game slightly to drop into the role of a central defensive midfielder. Liverpool's new signing is comfortable with both feet,  has strong tactical awareness and discipline and has been likened to his Brazilian counterpart Oscar. When Rodgers was quizzed regarding Coutinho's ability he responded: "He's a wonderful talent and a great technician, he's got pace, strength and power. He's flexible - he can play in midfield or off the sides. He's a really exciting player and another great product to come into the league."

The 20 year old's prospective weaknesses are few and far between but weighing in  at just 71kg supported by a 171cm frame will do him no favours as he attempts to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League. In addition, he favours himself as an attacking midfielder and is likely to lend no assistance whatsoever to the defensive side of the game. Liverpool fans should not expect a Dirk Kuyt type of work ethic either.

Philippe Coutinho also reflects FSG's transfer policy as they consistently invest in young players with great potential, the philosophy being that even if they don't reach the heights they promise, their value will still be reasonable. Conversely to the disputed success of Liverpool's recent signings, Coutinho will hope to make an immediate impact. With his array of abilities, the Brazilian will hope to contribute to the final third of Liverpool's play and kickstart the club's efforts to reach Champions League qualification. 3 minute video of Philippe Coutinho's best bits

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

"Stoke football" - long ball tactics

Tony Pulis has built a physically imposing, hard-working team which has amassed a high amount of points over the last five premier league years. The Britannia has become a fortress which many teams dread visiting because they are most definitely not in for an easy afternoon. The features of Stoke's play are: an extreme aerial threat, direct passing, physical defending and maximum effort throughout.

According to English Premier League Index, somewhat unsurprisingly, Stoke have committed the largest total of fouls in the premier league season so far. This style of play is epitomized by their captain, Ryan Shawcross. He is frequently criticized for ' holding' in the penalty box during free kicks, a subject which has been debated frequently in past weeks. However, in the eyes of some, he received his just desserts as he was elbowed, punched and headbutted discreetly by the normally mild- mannered Marouane Fellaini, who, in turn, received a  3 game suspension.

Although long ball tactics will continue to be criticised, Stoke's success can no longer be ignored. This was no more apparent than in Stoke' s home fixture against Liverpool, which was also a battle of contrasting styles. Brendan Rodgers has attempted to adopt the possession style of play for Liverpool which has been so successful across the continent, particularly with Spain's recent domination of world football. There is no question over which style is favoured in terms of aesthetics, as possession football is consistently touted as  what has become, the beautiful game.

The match began in a somewhat typical brash Stoke fashion as Ryan Shawcross hauled Luis Suarez to the ground, conceding a penalty which Gerrard confidently dispatched. However Tony Pulis' side quickly responded, fashioning two goals with their trademark aerial ability. Almost the definition of tireless hard work and determination, Jon Walters converted from a cross that trickled away from Liverpool centre back,  Martin Skrtel. Stoke's strike force bludgeoned the Liverpool centre backs throughout, and their efforts were rewarded only minutes after their opening goal as Kenwyne Jones rose highest to power his header across the line and past the flailing Pepe Reina. There were glimpses of technical prowess also as Jon Walters superbly volleyed to score Stoke's third goal and put the result beyond doubt, and, as of the 27 December, put Stoke in 8th position, 3 points clear of  a Liverpool targeting Champions League qualification.

Similar tactics have been utilised by Sam Allardyce's West Ham, an advocate of the 'long ball' game and have seen his side propelled into the periphery of the top half of the Premier League despite having been promoted from the NPower Championship the previous season. It could also be argued that Neil Lennon used similar tactics to get the better of arguably the greatest team in the world - Barcelona. Celtic suffocated Barcelona's passing game by crowding the centre of the pitch and forcing the opposition to progress down the wings, only to cross the ball to the all too obvious weakness of a lack of height and aerial prowess, much to the jubilation of Celtic Park.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Hey. (Introduction with photos)

Sport has always been my favourite thing ever, whether it is watching or playing.
My favourite sports are:

Baseball, Football, Tennis (and Cricket)