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Posts Tagged ‘Marcus J Mitchell’

I joined just over 3,000 fans at the Racecourse ground for this match, although I am not an official Wrexham fan, I still cheer for the home side like any other, wishing them to do well.

I decided before I left that I would write a match report for this game, little did I know I would happen upon one of the most eventful games I can ever remember, goals galore and almost as much action off the pitch as on it.

I’ll start by apologising for the length of this post, match reports aren’t normally this long but being as this game was so eventful, I felt the whole story needed to be told.

After seven straight wins expectation was high going into the double header against Crawley, but despite arguably being the better side over the two matches the dragons only took 1 point.

That leads us to todays match against Gateshead, the home side make two changes, Marvin Andrews comes in at centre back for Frank Sinclair and the hugely influential Jay Harris returns after suspension to replace Jamie Tolley. 

Wrexham (4-3-3) – Maxwell, McMillan, Ashton, Andrews, Creighton, Blackburn, Harris, Keates (C), Morrell, Mangan, Pogba. SUBS – Taylor, Sinclair, Cieslewicz, Tolley, Knight-Percival

Gateshead (4-4-2) – Deasy, Tavernier, Liddle, Curtis, Clark (C), Brittain, Nelthorpe, Turnbull, Gate, Fisher, Shaw. SUBS – Farman, Baxter, Winn, Wake, Gillies

Gateshead kicked off and before Wrexham had even touched the ball it was 1-0, Shaw appeared on the left hand side of the 18 yard box, tried a cross which came back off Andrews and he rifled it inside Maxwell’s near post with only 23 seconds gone. 1-0.

After nine minutes Wrexham have a corner which Keates plays low to the edge of the box but Harris puts it just over.

Wrexham are piling on the pressure now after 11 minutes Mangan coming in from the left wing teases the full back but his shot is deflected behind, from the resulting corner Andrews has a free header which he crashes against the crossbar.

However one minute later Wrexham equalise, a scramble after a corner and Keates slides a ball through to Mangan who in turn squares it to Morrell for an easy finish.

An eventful game is being almost overshadowed by an organised protest over the ownership of the club and ground, read more about that here.

With just 15 minutes on the clock its 2-1 to the away side, Wrexham fail to clear their lines which results in a tap in for Nathan Fisher.

Things go from bad to worse with a Brittain cross being handled in the area by the much maligned Andrews, Brittain stepped up to make it 3-1 to Gateshead.

The dragons had a chance on 21 minutes when Morrell received the ball inside the area, a clever turn but sadly a tame shot which was easily saved.

Wrexham seem to be doing a lot good work but for no return, a good move involving Keates and Blackburn sees the ball end up with Morrell, but his square ball is agonisingly out of the reach of Pogba.

Almost unbelievably after 32 minutes it becomes 4-1, a good run by Gate finds him free in the box and a quick square ball leaves Fisher with the easiest of chances to double his tally for the game.

The game quietens down for a while with chances being scarce before a hopeful cross by Tavernier into Wrexham’s area gets left by all defenders and Nelthorpe runs in unchallenged at the back post to make it 5-1.

As the board comes up saying 3 minutes extra to play Pogba starts a run from well inside his own half and takes a shot from all of 25 yards but just over.

Phil Turnbull tries the same from the opposite side with a little more success forcing a great save from Chris Maxwell, the resulting corner being cleared off the line by McMillan.

At half time it’s Wrexham 1 – 5 Gateshead.

A change of formation by Saunders at half-time as well as two substitutions, Tolley on for Pogba and Sinclair comes on for Blackburn as Wrexham start with a 3-5-2.

Four minutes in and Wrexham have a good chance, Ashton with a long ball into the box, which is knocked down by Morrell for Tolley to half-volley, but it was straight at Deasy in goal.

On 51 minutes Gateshead thought they had their sixth goal when Sinclair turned in a Brittain cross only for it to be given offside as Shaw was running ahead of him.

After an hour the demonstrations against the owners step up a gear, banners being waved with messages against the owners (this comes after an official notice on the Wrexham website banning negative banners) it seems to have been organised but I’m sure the score line wasn’t helping.

This clip doesn’t show it that well but you get the idea..

[kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&uri=channels/377163&tbid=1284&p=p/3498&height=399&width=416]

Wrexham have been far better this half and a chance is created when Sinclair puts a good cross in for Mangan but his header is weak and easily saved.

But just one minute later the fight back is on, a high cross into the area looks to be comfortable for the keeper but he drops it under the pressure of Taylors challenge and Tolley pokes it in to make it 5-2.

However any chance of that fight back is short-lived as Wrexham continue to fall apart, on 72 minutes a free-kick on the touchline is whipped in by Brittain and Shaw has a free header to make it 6-2.

Wrexham’s indiscipline starts to show as two quick yellow cards are issued, Sinclair for dissent and Ashton for a bad challenge on Brittain. The free-kick is played in and finds its way back out to Brittain who places a cross perfectly on the head of Shaw, he is unmarked to complete his hat-trick and make it 7-2.

Wrexham continue to make chances and on 83 minutes Morrell is put clean through by Keates but is stretching for it and Deasy makes a good save.

There are no more goals but as the board goes up to show two minutes of injury time the demonstrations step up another level as around 40-50 fans storm the director’s box to show their dissatisfaction with the owners. The stewards quickly step in and peace is restored.

The final whistle sounds and the game finishes 7-2 to Gateshead, talking to the assembled press nobody can remember Wrexham ever conceding seven at home before so this was a new record.

The protests continued outside the ground for a while after the game and lots of police turned up to make sure nothing got out of hand, it was a peaceful (but very loud) protest and eventually it all calmed down.

Needless to say it was one of the most astonishing games I have ever seen and I am privileged to have witnessed it, even if the result wasn’t what I, nor the 3,000 others at the racecourse wanted to see.

Man of the match: Martin Brittain, 1 goal and 4 assists showing a class above this league.

Marcus J Mitchell.

Here are highlights courtesy of the Wrexham Supporters Trust

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When we started this blog we wanted it to be a sports blog covering lots of different sports, so far we have covered football, tennis, snooker and cricket, there are other sports we intend to write about to keep this as varied as possible. We were also very careful to make sure this does not become a blog about Liverpool FC, there are plenty of LFC blogs out there and even we don’t want to have another one, however myself and George are both fans of Liverpool so it is inevitable that we are sometimes going to write about the club that we love (even our one guest post was by a Liverpool fan about Liverpool FC).

But at least this is a positive post as opposed to my last article about the Liverpool management which was posted on December 30. I wrote it in the aftermath of a 1-0 home loss to Wolves and begged for Roy Hodgson to either resign or be fired, Liverpool were languishing in 12th place and a relegation battle was a very real possibly, the league table tells it’s own story…

Then on 8th January every LFC fan got their wish, Roy Hodgson was sacked, to make the news even sweeter Kenny Dalglish was handed the task of turning this dismal season around. His first game in charge was the small matter of Manchester United at old Trafford in The F.A Cup, we lost 1-0 but the signs were encouraging. Then it was a trip to Blackpool who had turned us over at Anfield 2-1, a great start by LFC was rewarded with a brilliant Torres goal after 2 minutes, things were looking good for about another 5 minutes before the inevitable happened, LFC couldn’t take the game to the opposition and Blackpool capitalised, scoring twice before half time and holding on for their second 2-1 victory over Liverpool this season.

Were things changing though? Was Kenny’s influence starting to show? Were Liverpool beyond help? All good questions and you felt some would be answered at Anfield on Sunday 16th January (my 32nd birthday incidentally) when we faced Everton.

Only 10 minutes in I knew I was watching a different team, aesthetically they were the same as before but you could feel something different, it was like they had a new focus, a new enthusiasm, a new mentality, Kenny’s presence was starting to be a factor. Liverpool took the lead mid-way through the first half with a great strike by Meireles, his first LFC goal. It looked as though a victory was a formality but 1 minute into the 2nd half Distin scored from a corner, 6 minutes later Beckford scored (which was Ben Thornley’s fault!) and that gave Everton the lead, fortunately we were awarded a penalty from which Kuyt made it 2-2 and that is how it stayed. I said after the game that I would still have been happy even if Liverpool had lost as it was just so nice to see them playing well again.

Now what Kenny needed was a win and that was delivered only 6 days later with a very comfortable victory over Wolves at Molineux, it was a fantastic performance with one of the goals of the season from the ever improving Meireles. The game was overshadowed somewhat by the controversy surrounding the female assistant referee, Sian Massey and the comments made by Sky Sports presenter and commentator, Richard Keys and Andy Gray, I am not commenting on it,  just making reference to the fact it was at that game where the incident occurred.

Suddenly the table started to make better reading…

 

Obviously 10th is unacceptable, but it was unthinkable 3 weeks earlier.

Next game was home to Fulham, it wasn’t a great performance but enough was done to secure a 1-0 win, back to back victories and back to back clean sheets, the Steve Clarke effect was being felt as much as the Kenny Dalglish effect.

In between the Fulham match and the upcoming Stoke match was the end of the transfer window, I have already posted about it before so won’t go into it again, highlights were…Torres went to Chelsea, we got Carroll and Suarez, I am happy with it as are plenty of LFC fans.

Back to Stoke, we had been fundamently outplayed by Stoke in November and needed to keep this run going to banish the memories of that defeat, another goal from Meireles and a debut goal from Suarez coming off the bench meant a 2-0 win for LFC and another clean sheet.

This brings us to our last game before this post was written, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the hype surrounding Torres was crazy, will he play? Won’t he play? Will he score? Will Carragher try to break his legs? In the end only one of these things happened, he played, well…sort of, 65 minutes of anonymity and he was substituted. Meireles was the hero once again as he pounced on a Cech error to score and Liverpool held on for a fantastic 1-0 win.

For the record that is now four wins from four, two home and two away, with no goals conceded, the instant impact that Dalglish is having is in such contrast to the negative, boring football employed by Hodgson, I like Hodgson the man, but he was the wrong man for this job and proved it so.

So exactly one month after Daglish was appointed and was asked “Do you think you can get Liverpool out of this relegation battle they are heading for?” he now gets asked the question “Do you think you can make the Champions league places?” Here is the current league table that proves the impact Kenny has had…

More enjoyable though than moving up the table and keeping clean sheets is the way LFC are playing, I have spent a long, long time watching Liverpool matches on TV and thinking ‘this is awful, I want to change the channel’ I never do and just endure the boredom. Not now though, now watching Liverpool is fun again, you can see how much the players are enjoying it, how much the Anfield faithful are enjoying it, you can even see how much Kenny Dalglish is enjoying it, and all of this has happened in just…. one month.

Roy Hodgson said during one of the darker times of his tenure that you need “plenty of time to get a new managers methods across”

No you don’t, you need to understand the club, understand how to handle the players, be tactically astute against other clubs, know how to speak to the media, know how to buy a player that will enhance the squad (that is not a dig at Konchesky, he always tried his best, its just his best wasn’t enough) but most importantly, you need to know you are manager of Liverpool Football Club…

…and that is something Kenny Dalglish definitely understands.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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I think my favourite January transfer window cliché is…

It’s silly season

…It is said because clubs will only sell players for crazy amounts of money, but it never actually happens, as Sky Sports News have repeatedly said, last year’s total for the entire window was just over £29m.

However, there must have been something in the water at this year’s LMA Xmas do because it has gone….well…silly.

This is what was so silly…

January 7th – Manchester City sign Edin Dzeko for £27m, this wasn’t a crazy price considering he was one of the most sought after strikers in Europe but his transfer fee almost covered the entire expenditure of last years window.

 

January 19th – Aston Villa pay massively over the odds for Darren Bent completing the transfer for an astonishing £24m.

Not a lot happened until January 30th, when Spurs put in a number of bids for a series of unobtainable Spain based players, making offers for Aguero, Negredo, Rossi and Llorente, none of these bids were accepted and Spurs finished up with nobody. But the rumour mill involving Fernando Torres started up and media reports suggested Chelsea had put a bid of around £35m in which was rejected out of hand by Liverpool. However some journalists suggested that Torres was keen for this transfer to happen.

So we move onto January 31st, transfer deadline day, It started with Newcastle claiming they had rejected a £30m bid from an unnamed club, although ‘Sky Sources’ suggested it was Liverpool, seemingly getting ready for life without Torres. Liverpool also were just awaiting the formalities to seal the deal to sign Luis Suarez.

A lot of faffing around was followed by this amazing series of events…

…Liverpool confirmed the signing of Suarez for £23m, breaking their transfer record (Torres’ transfer was £20m)…

 

…Then also confirmed the new British record transfer of Andy Carroll for £35m, a staggering amount of money for a player who has only scored 34 goals in his professional career, this also meant that Liverpool had broken their own transfer record for the second time in 2 hours, oh and it is the 7th largest transfer in the history of football…

 

…Carroll’s transfer would have been the 6th highest transfer in world football but just 3 minutes later, Chelsea confirmed the signing of Fernando Torres for £50m, the highest fee ever paid in British football and the 4th highest fee in the world behind Ronaldo (£80m), Ibrahimovic (£60m) and Kaka (£56m)…

 

…the total spent is just over £215m, that is nearly ten times what was spent 12 months ago.

Now there are a lot of “experts” saying that the money spent is simply ludicrous, I have a different opinion on this, if a club offers a certain amount of money for a player and the other club accept this offer then the player can move between the clubs, why should the value be any issue of yours or mine, I won’t be poorer because Liverpool have spent £35m on Carroll, I think Carroll is an excellent player and I am truly excited by the prospect of him and Suarez linking up, so the cost is irrelevant, they needed players to replace Torres and Babel and have bought them.

Let me say this, as a Liverpool fan I have never been so excited watching transfer deadline day unfold, I’m devastated Torres has left but that chapter is over and a new one is about to begin.

But it has been a bit silly though.

Marcus J Mitchell.

P.s. I feel like an idiot for forgetting to mention Apostolos Vellios, Evertons ‘nominal fee’ signing, so here he is (thanks to KevCeeJay for the reminder)…

…This is also the only time Everton fans will see him for the next three years before he is farmed out on loan to Swindon before being released.

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We recorded a Sportscast last September when both me and Marcus predicted Andy Murray would win the Australian Open 2011. A bold prediction? Maybe. Nadal had just won Wimbledon, Murray was struggling for form, and Federer was, well Roger Federer. Other players, like Soderling, Berdych and Djokovic were all winning matches and climbing the rankings, so why the confidence in Andy Murray? Well, he lost in the final of last year’s Aussie Open, and is on record as saying the hard court surface suits his game. However, my main reason was Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros, and Federer at Wimbledon. Meaning if he was going to win any, this would be his best opportunity.

I’ve been following Murray’s career since he burst on to the scene as a gangly teenager by winning the US Open junior title. Predictable hype followed his success, and after replacing Tim Henman as British number one within 2 years of turning professional certainly increased the anticipation that Murray might be the next Fred Perry.

He was coached in Spain, his Mum refusing to let him enter the LTA’s youth coaching set up fearing they would turn his undoubted potential into the next Jeremy Bates (and I’m not knocking Batesy, I remember the delight I used to feel when a British player reached the second round at Wimbledon, never mind the second week!)

He progressed quickly up the mens rankings, and secured a number of notable victories over the then invincible Federer. He won more Masters Series titles in his first five years, than Tiger Tim did in his whole career. He has also reached two grand slam finals, losing both to breathtaking performances from Federer. Finally, in August 2009, he reached number two in the world rankings, another British record. But the nagging, constant and frustrating elephant in the room still reminded us that, so far, he’s won the same amount of grand slam titles as Henman, Bates and Bogdanovic.

Murray seems to annoy a lot of British tennis fans, his aggression; his on court antics; his lack of Queens English and to the odd idiotic xenophobe, the fact he’s Scottish. His attitude toward Brad Gilbert was questioned, although that partnership was somewhat forced on him by the inspirational LTA (assuming a mens grand slam title would reduce the focus on the depth and quality of the overall British tennis standards). His fitness levels, his serve, his tactics and his commitment have all been called into question at one time or another. His occasional decision to miss the Davis Cup has led to calls of selfishness and betrayal. The vast majority of these criticisms, in my opinion, are way off the mark.

He needs to be selfish. He needs to put himself first. You don’t play for your country very often in tennis, you play for yourself. When he starts taking the weight of a nations expectation on his shoulders, he’s doomed. Just like Henman, you could see him wilting under the pressure. Murray goes for shots. Murray sits back and defends. Murray comes into the net after his big booming serve. He’s got the whole package. He’s equally strong on his forehand and his backhand. No, he’s not got the extreme power of Nadal or the finesse, perfect technique and genius of Federer; but as he gets older, he regularly dispatches the rest of the field with relative ease. The only question left for him to answer is a victory in a grand slam event. Me and Marcus predicted the Australian Open would be the one. Let’s hope we’re right…

*(This is a funny little bonus from the ever brilliant Anton Vowl – Andy Murray’s ‘Grace Jones Face’

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As we approach the end of the transfer window, the stakes start to rise. Who will break first? Players handing in transfer requests; agents releasing statements to the rumour-mongering ever-knowledgable gossip columnists and managers singing club anthems.

In past seasons, we’ve even had players refusing to play

The Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, has revealed the moody Bulgarian refused to play in games against Sunderland and Chelsea, in which the team dropped five points during their worst-ever start to a season, culminating in Juande Ramos being sacked last weekend. Talking about Berbatov agitating for a move to United over the course of more than a year, Levy said: “We had a player that had refused to play two Premier League games for us, was having a detrimental impact on the dressing room and we’d known for a year that this player wanted out of this club.” Levy added: “I don’t think he treated the club with the respect we deserved. We put him on the map. He signed a long-term contract with this club and I think he should have stayed.”

Is it simply a case of expressing your interest in a player by making a formal bid to the club or do clubs contact the player’s agent – declare an interest – and hope this will unsettle the player? Or is it even more complicated? Damian Commoli has recently been appointed to oversee the transfers at Liverpool, and according to Kevin McCarra is a keen advocate of

Moneyball, the renowned book by Michael Lewis that was published in 2003. Its subject was the Oakland Athletics and, specifically, the general manager Billy Beane.Every manager hopes to crow over an outstanding player he secured for next to nothing. Beane was different because he was not following a hunch so much as questioning traditional attitudes about what it was that truly made the difference in a game. He also has a passion for football and, specifically, an allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur. Comolli, of course, worked at White Hart Lane as director of football for three years and during that period he came to know Beane. “We have been talking at length since 2006 about data application in both football and baseball,” said Comolli. “Everything I’ve been doing has come from what the A’s have been doing in terms of collecting and using data.”

One of the reasons for the Oakland ‘A’s’ success was that they were the first club to start questioning the traditional methods and assumptions of the Major League Baseball Draft System. They ignored the group of scouts at the club who tended to focus on physical athletes (who had the ‘look’ of a potential baseball star), select high school players instead of college players and continue with the same old tried and tested scouting philosophy. Billy Beane and his Oakland backroom team developed a computer programme that analysed specific skills, based on a large range of statistical data.

Instead, they drafted for unconventional statistical prowess: on-base percentage for hitters (rather than batting average) and strikeout/walk ratios for pitchers (rather than velocity). These undervalued stats came cheaply. With the sixth-lowest payroll in baseball in 2002, the Oakland Athletics won an American League best 103 games. They spent $41M that season, while the Yankees, who also won 103 games, spent $126M.

Beane then applied techniques in the transfer market he had learnt studying game theory, a fascinating area of applied mathematics now used in economics, political science and, I suspect, football transfers. Here is a brief explanation from Avinash Dixit, University Professor of Economics at Princeton University,

Game theory studies interactive decision-making, where the outcome for each participant or “player” depends on the actions of all. If you are a player in such a game, when choosing your course of action or “strategy” you must take into account the choices of others. But in thinking about their choices, you must recognize that they are thinking about yours, and in turn trying to take into account your thinking about their thinking, and so on.

These are exactly the kind of interactions that exist within the football transfer market. Prof. Dixit goes on to say,

…some aspects such as figuring out the true motives of rivals and recognizing complex patterns do often resist logical analysis. But many aspects of strategy can be studied and systematized into a science — game theory.

If this isn’t hurting your head yet, then you haven’t got a real head…

Similar ‘mind games’ or game theories exist in advanced poker strategy and other games or markets based on incomplete mis/information.

The football transfer market, especially in a restricted time period during the January window, is complicated by so many external forces. What other clubs perceive your budget is? What other clubs think you think they think the value of the player is? What other clubs watching the negotiation or bid think you will bid so they can ‘bluff’ bid to drive your purchase price higher. Billy Beane was an expert at playing other clubs off against each other, increasing the market by talking to newspapers about ‘the next big thing’ he had no intention of signing.

The current January transfer saga (other than Bent and Adam) has been the attempts to sign Luis Suarez. Here are a few examples of the rumours and factors relating to the potential sale of Suarez.

The level of truth in any of the reports needs to be questioned because the source is rarely, if ever, named. The other problem is the loose valuation of the player. The range is £15-£35 million. Liverpool were ‘reported’ to have offered £12.5 million and Ryan Babel (who has just moved to another club for £6 million) taking the total cash value to £18.5 million. This seems to be a fair initial offer, on the lower end of the price range, adding a player who had previously played for Ajax, would not need to acclimatize, whilst remembering that Ajax have got major financial problems and need to cash in on some of their assets. As with any negotiation, the first offer is usually rejected. Both Ajax and Liverpool will be aware that Liverpool expect the first offer to be rejected, but it does offer a slight insight into the maximum bid Liverpool are likely to make.

A mind game of imperfect information, negotiations carried out in public as well as private, under the glare of expectant fans desperate for a ‘major’ signing. The complex nature of transfer negotiations are often ignored in the football press with tiny soundbites and flashing yellow tickers reporting an estimated figure, the contract length and press conference clichés stating the player ‘wants to be at the club for a very long time’ and confirming ‘it had always been his dream to play for the club’. Liverpool might have someone attempting to apply complex theories to select a pool of players the manager can choose from, but they won’t have the success Billy Beane had, he was the first to try it, and we must remember

The main focus of a “Moneyball” approach is about maximizing use of whatever resources you have, and while the methods can be of great help to clubs with limited resources, they can be champions-winners for affluent ones. Chelsea and Arsenal, two of the top four spenders in the Premier League, already use them. It seems unlikely that Manchester United has thrived without them.

Not quite the simple game described here by the right-wing libertarian enlightened-one Old Holborn. We were discussing Andy Gray and Richard Keys,  two popular cavemen who once drove the Premiership brand forward.
Clearly he’s too intelligent to waste his time ‘pointing at pretty colours’. He’s evolved. Just (don’t) check his blog, you wouldn’t know it.
George Allwell

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As Ryan Babel is preparing himself for his move to Hoffenheim in Germany, I find myself asking the question…

What went wrong?

At the tender age of 20 he signed for Liverpool for a fee in the region of £12m (varying reports suggest somewhere between £11m and £13m) which is a lot of money to put on such young shoulders. But seeing the performances that he had been putting in for Ajax Amsterdam and the Dutch national side it seemed he would hit the ground running and be an excellent acquisition for LFC.

Added to that he joined the club only 10 days after a certain Fernando Torres had signed, so the pressure was very much on the Spaniard to succeed taking the focus off Babel.

Before Babel joined Liverpool he was linked heavily with Arsenal as the long term replacement for Thierry Henry and you can see why, he is a player very much in the same mould, lightning quick, powerful, can take a man on and score goals, but Liverpool beat Arsenal to the punch and signed the Dutchman up.

If we had a machine that could create an alternative reality I would love to see what would have happened to Babel had he been bought by Arsenal instead, if he had been under the wing of Arsene Wenger, who is so revered for his nurturing of young talent.

I may be ridiculed for this opinion but I think that if Babel had signed for Arsenal, or indeed Chelsea with Mourinho or Manchester Utd with Ferguson, he might very well be one of the top players in the Premiership now, dare I say even the world. To go back to my description before, he has lightning pace, ask any defender in the world what he is scared of most, I guarantee he will say pace. He is physically strong yet surprisingly agile and can trick his way past players with ease. He can shoot from just about anywhere with terrific power, I can recall a couple of Champions League goals in particular that were outstanding strikes. Put all of this together and you will find yourself with one hell of a player, yet somehow his amazing lack of consistency meant he only made 90 appearances in over 3 and a half years and most of them were from the bench.

This is not a criticism of Rafa Benitez, far from it, I was a big fan of Rafa and thought he brought some players on really well, Alonso, Torres and Reina all became world class footballers under the tutelage of Rafa. The problem is, that for every success with Benitez there was a failure to go with it, and sadly for Babel he has to put in the failure column.

So off to Germany he goes for a fresh start, at still only 24 he has plenty of time to rediscover his talent and I’m certain that this will be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, I’m just disappointed that he couldn’t make it at Liverpool, because in today’s market getting a world class player for £12m would seem very good business, instead they take a £6m loss and wonder what could have been if only that amazing talent had been realised.

Good luck Ryan.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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In the last few weeks I have been to three Wrexham FC league games and have loved every minute of it, first up was Bath City on January 3rd at home (The Racecourse Ground), I actually wrote an article about this match, or more precisely about Mathias Pogba, Wrexham overcame good opposition to win 2-0 and start a mini charge up the league.

Next up on the following Saturday was another home game, this time it was Grimsby Town who were the visitors, Grimsby came into this game having scored no less than 16 goals in their previous 3 matches so would provide some serious opposition. Wrexham continued with the enigmatic Pogba up front and Mark Creighton making his first start at centre back after signing permanently for the dragons, he had previously been on loan from Oxford Utd but fancied the move north.

Wrexham controlled the match but couldn’t find the breakthrough until the 70th minute when the brilliant Jay Harris struck a powerful shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner.  I am not a scout nor a manager and there are reasons both those things are true, but in the last few games Harris has stood head and shoulders above his team-mates and should be alerting managers from the league above with his displays.  I am sure nobody from Wrexham nor their fans would like to see him go, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see him move up the leagues.

Andy Morrell sealed the win with a neat finish 6 minutes later and that made it two wins from two, I spoke to Neil Woods (Grimsby Manager) after the game and he simply said..

Dean’s (Saunders) system was better than mine and no matter how we changed it, we couldn’t create a chance.

It was bitterly cold at the ground that day but still over 3,000 turned up to watch the game, the Racecourse can hold around 11 – 12,000 so there were plenty of empty seats, clubs like Wrexham need these seats filled in order to create the revenue which is vital to survive.

This was no more apparent than the last match of my trilogy, away at Southport on Tuesday 18th January. It was another freezing night and in the bar before the game I hardly saw any home fans at all, we got into the stadium at the away end and took our places, looking across the ground the home support was almost non-existent, the attendance was officially 1,500 of which I’m certain two thirds was from Wrexham, it genuinely felt like a home game.

The game itself wasn’t the classiest of affairs, Wrexham were the better side and deservedly took the lead after 24 minutes when Andy Morrell knocked the rebound from an Andy Mangan shot and held on for the remainder of the match, one thing of note is the food situation at Southport, we went for a half-time pie and they had run out of everything except Hot-Dogs, the stadium wasn’t exactly overflowing but they still hadn’t prepared for how many turned up.

My point to all of this is that if you, like me, are a football fan but aren’t able or cannot afford to go to Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or the Emirates, then make your way down to The Racecourse Ground, Haig Avenue, Aggborough or Church Road, I have found the atmosphere to be just as electric as the big grounds, the standard of football might not be as good but the commitment remains the same. The worst thing is that none of these teams have billionaire Sheikhs, Yanks or Russians funding them, they have you and me, so if you can’t go and watch the Barclays Premier League then try the Blue Square Premier League instead, for a fraction of the price you will have just as much fun.

Marcus J Mitchell.

P.S. You can always Sky+ Match of the Day anyway!

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The emotional and long awaited return of Kenny Dalglish (an L before the G as well as after!) is something that I am very happy about, his first game in charge was a throwback to the late 80’s battles with a match against the old enemy – Manchester Utd.

However several incidents during the match caused Ryan Babel to do something that is completely and utterly unacceptable…have a laugh. He posted a photoshopped picture of referee Howard Webb in a Man Utd kit.

Here is the picture in question…

…Oh and because I don’t have to be held to the same standard as Ryan here is another…

Thank god I’m not a professional footballer; otherwise I would be facing a massive fine and possibly a ban. I doubt it is possible but if anybody anywhere has a contact inside the F.A please, please show them this post to highlight how ridiculous it is to curtail free speech.

“Maybe I’ve been out of the game too long but let’s see if they can find a sense of humour”

And he joked:

“I don’t think he’s clever enough technically to have drawn that up himself.”

This surely shows that even Kenny himself doesn’t think of it as that bigger deal but the F.A have gone ahead and charged Babel anyway.

So can any pro footballers who might get to read this please, please, PLEASE use your right to free speech and say or post anything you wish, surely they won’t ban all of you.

Marcus J Mitchell.

P.s. Don’t blame me if you have got banned, if I told you to jump off a cliff would you do that?

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I’m sure that a lot of you will have read Will Swanton of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph’s 10 point plan as to why England won’t win the Ashes. So here it is, but with my take on Mr. Swanton’s ludicrous list.

1 Overrated

They walked around The Oval after their dominant home summer like they were God’s gifts to Wisden. Here’s who they really beat. No one. Nuffies and cheats. England clean-swept the worst team on the planet, Bangladesh, and then won three out of four Tests against rotten Pakistan. Now they’re portrayed as superstars.

You can only play who is put in front of you and England easily and nonchalantly dispatched both Bangladesh and Pakistan with ease, they were rightfully ranked above Australia before the Ashes so had every right to feel confident and be rated by the public.

2 Kevin Pietersen

He might be growing a moustache for a very good cause but he’s still getting around looking like Dirk Diggler out of Boogie Nights. His most recent Test efforts have been the biggest joke. John Buchanan was right with his assessment of Pietersen. Buchanan was panned because the truth hurt. There’s more than one ‘I’ in Kevin Pietersen and it hurts morale.

He wore the moustache for a charity that was started in Australia no less, but go ahead and mock anyway. Every batsman has a run of good and bad form but without doubt the Aussies would love KP to have been playing for them. 227 at Adelaide tells its own story too.

3 No top speedster

Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn are respectable quicks. But they lack the fear factor. Every truly great attack has someone pushing 150km/h, like Mitchell Johnson does for Australia. None of the touring fast bowlers are frightening. Away from swing and seam-friendly England, that doesn’t leave them with much.

As it turns out, pace is overrated; England’s bowlers barely touched 90 mph (or 93.21 mph as they put it) but looked and indeed were, far more dangerous than the random selection of “bowlers” they put up. Johnson was so bad after the 1st test he was dropped for the 2nd, despite bizarre claims he was ‘rested’. The only time Johnson was dangerous was when he was swinging the ball, pace had nothing to do with it.

4 Passive captain

Andrew Strauss has to lead by example because his introverted demeanour doesn’t get the blood pumping too much. Only his scores do. He leads with quiet assurance when things are going well. But he comes across as introverted and submissive when things start going pear-shaped.

I don’t need to defend Strauss so I won’t, but Ponting needs to be questioned as captain surely? That is now three Ashes series defeats and during this series his captaincy was at times a joke. Strange field positioning, wrong bowlers at the wrong time and whatever you read to the contrary, it was Ponting that didn’t want Hauritz in the team. He ducked the last test and left poor pup to face the wrath of the media, he is one of the greatest players of all times but sometimes you need to do what’s right for the team. Learn from Paul Collingwood Mr Ponting.

5 No superstars

Pietersen is as good as anyone when he’s in the mood, but he hasn’t been in the mood for a long time. He couldn’t make a hundred against Bangladesh – his 99 was close but no cigar – and Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Johnson can smell blood. Graeme Swann is the only Englishman to make a world XI right now. England are successful because they know their limitations. Which means there are limitations?

A current world XI would include more Englishmen than Graeme Swann, I don’t believe however, that any Australians would make it in at all. Bollinger, Hilfenhaus and Johnson smell blood? Between them they didn’t take as many wickets as Anderson took on his own. Oh, and again, KP scored 227 in Adelaide.

6 Over-analysis

They’ve faced bowling machines with footage of Australian speedsters running in at them – and still didn’t want to know about Mitchell Johnson. They’ve given themselves three weeks in Australia to acclimatise but haven’t played on pitches like the monster they’ll encounter at the Gabba. Every breath they take is a part of a suffocating plan. There’s no freedom, nothing instinctive or adventurous. Paralysis by over-analysis.

At no point during the entire series did any of England’s batmen look like they were bothered or scared by the bowling of the Aussies. Is this because they are fearless by nature? Some are, but mostly it is because they prepared themselves and analysed the opposition properly. As for the machines that replicate Johnson’s bowling, you simply couldn’t make a machine be that random, other than one decent swinging spell he was incredibly ordinary. As for the “Monster of the Gabba”….517/1 is all I have to say to that.

7 No depth

In such a cramped schedule, injuries are bound to hit both camps. England are in serious strife if they lose any of their first XI. There’s a vast gulf between their top-tier players and those on the standby list. Australia can only hope and pray that off-spinner Monty Panesar is called in for Graeme Swann. Australia have eight Test-standard speedsters in the queue.

This is by far the stupidest of all of these 10 points, England lost Broad after two tests so Tremlett came in and took 17 wickets in 3 tests at an average of 23. Bresnan replaced a jaded Finn who had already taken 14 wickets at 33 and took 11 wickets at 19.5. Lots of numbers and facts but essentially, England’s “back-up” bowlers were almost better than the first choice attack. Also, anybody thinking Eoin Morgan wouldn’t have knocked at least a century against this very poor bowling attack is crazy.

8 Chokers

This is England we’re talking about. Losing is a tradition. Think soccer World Cups. Think Tim Henman at Wimbledon. Think every cricket tour of Australia since 1986-87. They always arrive talking themselves up, vowing they won’t wilt under the heat and pressure and scrutiny, then wilt under the heat and pressure and scrutiny. They’ve hired a self-described Yips Doctor – because they need one.

If they did hire a “Yips Doctor” then it worked a treat, but if we are talking about choking then England certainly isn’t the team that should be mentioned. Traditionally England do struggle in sporting events but when everything clicks, they are more than a match for anybody, the Australian rugby team who played in the  2003 world cup final will testify to that.

9 Warm-ups

Everyone keeps rattling on about England’s perfect preparation. They must be having a laugh. A few of them made runs at Adelaide Oval. It’s like batting on the Hume Highway. Anyone seen the scorecards? Western Australia rolled England for 223. South Australia dismissed them for 288 on the Hume. And Australia A ripped through their top order in Hobart A yesterday. Perfectly prepared? Piffle.

All of those matches showed where the problems were and what mistakes are being made, then they were all corrected when it really mattered, it was the Australians who peaked far, far too early in those games.

10 Scars

Five of their top six batsmen are the same lot who stumbled and bumbled through the 5-0 loss on England’s last trip to Australia. The scarring is deep and real. Jimmy Anderson’s memories of Australia are all nightmarish. He averaged 45.16. Broad and Finn are yet to play a Test series in Australia. Hard surfaces jarring bones and muscles, oppressive heat – they won’t know what or who has hit them.

I would suggest that instead of scarring those players it spurred them on to play at the highest possible level and with a mentality that was “we will not be beaten”. Six of England’s top seven batmen all scored centuries during the series and as for Jimmy Anderson, he was simply unplayable. Hard surfaces jarring bones and muscles, oppressive heat – they won’t know what or who has hit them – this must be how the Aussies feel.

Marcus J Mitchell & Will Swanton (sort of!)

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By George Allwell…

It was the fifth El Clasico victory in a row. One more victory against Real Madrid and Barcelona would equal the record for successive victories in the biggest football match of them all. Two victories and they would be the greatest. The classic team. Sid Lowe writes in his summing up of the 5-0 victory,

The fifth goal had to arrive and when it did, it mattered. It turned a baño – a bath, a drubbing – into a manita, a little hand. A goal for every finger. The most perfect of beatings.

Pep Guardiola, the architect of this current Barcelona side, is currently on the same winning streak. Five wins out of five. Invincible.  Another manita.

This was the fifth time Barcelona had defeated Real Madrid 5-0.

Super Manita.

It was also revenge. The Champions League was wrestled from these parts by the master tactician, the self-confessed Special One, the man charged with bringing back success at the arch-ist  of all arch-rivals; the new manager of Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho. The enemy. He could see the weaknesses. He had the plans. He’d done it before. Well, Inter Milan (the team who JM won his 2nd Champions League title with), who came to the Nou Camp earlier this year with a 3-1 lead in a Champions League Semi-Final second leg, managed to qualify yes, but they didn’t manage a shot on goal. They only had 24% possession. They sat deep, the tried to soak up the pressure, they managed to concede just the one goal. He had become the only doubt. Last night that was all destroyed.

It was Mourinho’s biggest humiliation. He’d never even lost by four goals before. The Spanish press were also rubbing it in, especially the Catalonian ones.

The front page of Sport, a Catalunya-based daily, had a picture of a splayed hand with the headline: “5-0. Slap to Mourinho. Thrashing, humiliation and leaders!”

It added: “Footballing lesson from Barça to Madrid, who received another historic thrashing at the Camp Nou .”

Does it make a massive difference in the context of the destiny of the league title? Of course not. They are only 2 points ahead. Real Madrid may have been replaced at the top of the table, but if Guardiola and his team take their foot off the gas even slightly; Jose and his £250 million team will pounce. Madrid are a squad filled with world-class talent. Spurs are currently flourishing after picking off (Rafael Van Der Vaart) the left overs from the Bernabeu. This isn’t about talent though, this is about footballing philosophy. Mourinho improved in terms of possession last night but these are small scraps of hope. Opta Jose

“Barça-Real FT stats – Shots 15-5, on target 6-2, Passes 684-331, Pass completion 89%-74%, Possession 67%-33%, Fouls 12-16.”

Mourinho, and every other team that plays Barcelona, tries to contain them. They try to contain the system. The super system.

Stability and La Masia. These are the key factors. The core of the team has remained the same over years and there has been only 1 coach change in 5 years. Compare that to 6 or 7 changes at Real Madrid. Also, the core of the team which is playing currently for Barca, played together at junior levels. So they have a natural understanding with each other which makes it easy for them to play together.

Who do you think it was that said that? The Barca president? The manager? The Catalan press? No, those words were spoken by,

…a staunch Los Merengues’ fan….a Real Madrid fan speaking about FC Barcelona.

This system does not just play pretty football. Not like Arsenal. This team wins things. Consecutive league titles. The sextuple. Possibly the only time that will ever happen, although you wouldn’t put it past this team doing it again. How can you? How can you ever go into a game involving Barcelona and not predict a win? Home or away? Remember this result came off the back of a 8-0 away victory last week. The Bleacher Report highlight arguably the main reason for their success. The youth system.

Barçelona’s youth system is unique, not only in the standard of player it produces, but also in the methods of training and education used when grooming the game’s next generation of stars.

Do they play competitive game after competitive game instilling the winning mentality of the Special One? Win, win, win. Do they coach a number of different tactical philosophies to adapt to different situations when facing different teams? No. I’ll let the best player in the world and product of the system, Leo Messi explain,

“The Barcelona youth programme is one of the best in the world,” Messi said. “As a kid they teach you not to play to win, but to grow in ability as a player. At Barca, we trained every day with the ball, and I hardly ever ran without a ball at my feet. It was a form of training aimed very clearly at developing your skills.”

Not just one youth team though with a few expert coaches. The cantara is the youth academy.

Barçelona’s cantera consists of 290 players, 15 teams, and 110 employees.

Mass skill development. The teams play the same way as the first team. They learn to keep the ball. The comparisons with Arsenal are fair. Arsene Wenger has very similar beliefs (and is probably better in the transfer market than any Barcelona manager ever) about how a football club should be run. Receive a pass, one touch (no more than two, unless you’re Messi), pass, move into space. Sid Lowe says it best,

Barcelona completed 636 passes, Madrid 279. “They could have played with two balls,” wrote Roberto Palomar, “and Barcelona would have controlled both.” Xavi, the best central midfielder in Spanish history and the man who ran last year’s clásico, completed 114 of 117 passes. It was the sixth time he has gone over 100. Busquets and Iniesta moved the ball with a pace and precision, usually with a single touch.

A single touch. That final goal late into the game that created the Super Manita, that gave the game a goal for every finger, might be the final touch in a season Mourinho will want to forget. A time in Spain that could end without a league title, without a Champions League crown, a time that could make him start to yearn for the acceptance from The Classic Team; Barcelona Football Club. Decide for yourself.


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