Tuesday, 18 May 2010

World Cup Predictions

With the World Cup 2010 in South Africa starting on June 11 I thought it was about time to offer some predictions for what will happen in the tournament. Overall I do not think that there will be many surprises in this tournament such as South Korea in 2002 or Greece at Euro 2004.

I believe that the only real surprise in this tournament will be France under the much maligned Raymond Domenech. I feel they will win their group and actually make it all the way to the Semi-Final. In the spirit of speculation I have gone through my tournament planner and have predicted the run all the way from the Round of 16 to the winners.

Round of 16

Match 1 (1A vs. 2B): France vs. Nigeria – I think that France will have enough to overcome Nigeria, who I believe will struggle with the pace and technique of the French side.

Match 2 (1B vs. 2A): Argentina vs. Uruguay – This could well be the match of the round with teo fluid attacking teams facing off against each other. I just feel that Argentina will have too much for Uruguay whose defense leaves a lot to be desired.

Match 3 (1C vs. 2D): England vs. Serbia – A very tough one to call and the second round could not be much more difficult for England. I am not sure whether it is nationalist pride overrunning reality but I think that England have enough experience to come through this game by the odd goal.

Match 4 (1D vs. 2C): Germany vs. USA – Germany are certainly not great and the USA are a rising force with some excellent match winners. However Germany almost always perform on the big stage and I fancy their chances of going through in this match.

Match 5 (1E vs. 2F): Netherlands vs. Paraguay – I would imagine that the Dutch have enough to win this game. Paraguay are always a difficult team to beat but the Netherlands have enough quality running through their side to progress.

Match 6 (1F vs. 2E): Italy vs. Cameroon – Dirty, old Italy should have too much experience and nous to come out on top against Cameroon, but they will certainly cause problems.

Match 7 (1G vs. 2H): Brazil vs. Chile – Another contender for game of the round with the solidity and skill of Brazil coming up against Chile’s lovely fluid and attacking 3-3-3-1 system. I cannot see past the Brazilians for this one though.

Match 8 (1H vs. 2G): Spain vs. Portugal – And now perhaps the most mouthwatering tie…CR9 vs. Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, and Torres. Should be a cracker and if Spain’s players are all fit they should have enough to overcome this most testing of matches. If Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, and Fabregas are all carrying injuries this could be the biggest upset of the tournament. Due to the troubles in qualification Portugal are not rated particularly highly but they will certain push Spain all the way. If they were not playing the Spanish I could easily see them in the Semi’s.


Match A (1 vs. 3): France vs. England – A real test for both teams but I just think man for man France have the edge and will knock England out in their customary Quarter Final place. Even if this goes to penalties this would be a decent victory for the French who by this stage will have achieved far more than expected.

Match B (2 vs. 4): Argentina vs. Germany – Another very difficult match to predict but I think Argentina will get their revenge for 2006 by knocking out the Germans. A game for Leo Messi to shine one thinks.

Match C (5 vs. 7): Netherlands vs. Brazil – What a game this will be. The Dutch will be very tough opponents for Brazil but I think their firepower, midfield solidity and excellent manager will be enough for Brazil to edge this.

Match D (6 vs. 8): Italy vs. Spain – A repeat of the Euro 2008 Semi-Final and I think that the outcome will be the same: Spain to win, although I do not think it will take penalties to go through.


Match I (A vs. C): France vs. Brazil – The end of the road for the French with Raymond Domenech going out after a creditable performance against the Brazilians. A game for the purists with some brilliant players on show and contrasting styles.

Match II (B vs. D): Argentina vs. Spain – What a potential match. Could easily be the best game of the whole tournament although that rarely happens when there is so much to lose. Messi, Aguero, and Higuan up against their Spanish buddies should be a brilliant spectacle. I fancy a Spanish victory here as they have overcome every challenge put in front of them over the last few years.

3rd/4th Playoff

France vs. Argentina – Who cares? But if I had guess I would say France will end up coming 3rd, which would leave Domenech with a record of 2nd and 3rd in his two World Cup finals. Not bad for a terrible manager huh?


Brazil vs. Spain – Brazil World Champions for a sixth time. What a final this could be and what a potential tournament. South Africa 2010 could well be remembered as one of the best tournaments of all time if the games I have predicted live up to their billing. I feel that as good as the Spanish are (and they have some significant tests to overcome to get here) they will not be able to live with the organization of the Brazilians.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Chelsea 2009/10 – End of Season Awards

Best Game - Chelsea 7 – Sunderland 2

There have been many excellent performances this season including both games against Arsenal, away to Sunderland, and the other two seven goal thrillers against Villa and Stoke.  However this game sticks in the mind as being the best of the lot (probably because I was at the match). The game was absolutely brilliant from start to finish with Ancelotti selecting a 4-5-1 system with the following players:

Belletti and Joe Cole had their best games of the season.  Malouda was hitting his stride, Anelka was smooth and very classy on the ball.  The team just clicked in all the right ways.   The system was very fluid and it continually evolved throughout the match depending on whether Chelsea had the ball or not.

When Sunderland came forward Chelsea played in the stated 4-5-1 but this was not an Allardyce-esque version of 4-5-1.  When Chelsea came forward their system became 4-3-3 and sometimes 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-2-1 with an excellent ability to switch shapes as they changed from defence to attack.  In addition to the excellent movement and constant pressure Chelsea looked deadly every time they attacked with four or five goals being of exceptional quality.  

This game is for me the game of the season because I believe that it represented the first time that Chelsea played exactly how Ancelotti wanted them to.  The style of play was not a million miles away from his that he used which he used at Milan and was achieved all without the aid of 26 goal man Didier Drogba.  In effect this was the real starting point of the (hopefully) long reign of Chelsea's charmingly insouciant Italian.   

Worst Game - Chelsea 1 – Bolton 0


It might seem a bit strange to select a game that Chelsea actually won as the worst game of the season bearing in mind the number of loses chalked up this year.  However this really was one of the most disappointing performances of the season. Coming off the back of beating Man Utd 2-1 at Old Trafford this was the chance to really ram home the advantage, yet there was no invention, no passion, and the crowd was exceptionally tense.   

In a way this game summed up the fact that this season nothing could be taken for granted.  Just when I expected Chelsea to kick on and claim the title they appeared to either froze (against Spurs) or lost their composure (against Man City).  Whilst this game has proven to be crucial in gaining Chelsea three vital points the performance will live long in my memory for being so abject.    

(Dis) Honourable Mentions: Wigan 3 – Chelsea 1, Chelsea 2 - Man City 4.  

Goal of the Season - Ashley Cole vs. Sunderland

An "accomplished finish from the left-back after he finds himself furthest forward chasing a high John Terry through ball. Bringing it down in one touch, Cole turns inside his man and lifts the ball over the goalkeeper from close range".

A simply brilliant strike from Cole that was the icing on the cake to my game of the season: 

Honourable Mentions: Didier Drogba vs Liverpool (Anfield), Deco vs. Sunderland (SoL).

Season to Forget - Joe Cole

It pains me to say it but I think that this may be the last season that Joe Cole plays for Chelsea.  Prior to his injury he was a key player for Chelsea adding finesse and technique to a team built on power and organisation.  Recovering from an injury can be a long road but his five months out of the team seem to have diminished Joe Cole as a player and with the impending end of his contract I do not expect to see him playing for Chelsea next season.   

Immediately on his return he looked rusty but hungry and showed enough class for Ancelotti to dub him a "genius" after one particularly brilliant performance against Blackburn in late October.  However since that point he has predominately failed to live up to that billing.

It seemed that Ancelotti's preferred 4-4-2 diamond was ideally suited for Joe Cole and he excelled on his come back playing at the "tip" of that formation.  As soon as Ancelotti changed his system to a variant of 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 that role disappeared and Joe's poor form began soon after.  After being left out of key games his head seemed to drop quickly and he did not seem to be able to change games as a substitute.

The nadir for Joe was when he was subbed on for Ballack against Inter after 62 minutes at Stamford Bridge in the last 16 of the Champions League.  What was a tightly poised game suddenly became very flabby.  Chelsea lost their shape and Cole did not really know where to go.  That tactical decision by Ancelotti appeared desperate and highlighted Cole's failing form and inability to change a match.

Whilst he has played on occasion in big games since I think that Joe will be deemed surplus to requirements in the summer as Ancelotti aims to freshen up the squad.  I wish him good luck for the future wherever he goes.

Most Improved Player - Branislav Ivanovic

This is quite a tough selection because there have been a number of players who have improved markedly this season.  Mikel is developing into an excellent midfielder and Malouda has become a key first team starter but for me the most improved player this year has been Branislav Ivanovic.

His strength, stability and excellence in the air have all added an extra dimension and when he has been injured this season Chelsea's increasing defensive fragility has been exposed (most horribly against Spurs at White Hart Lane).

I believe that as time goes on Ivanovic will develop into a formidable centre-back and will become the natural heir to John Terry.  It would hope that within the next 2-3 years he will form a solid partnership with young Jeffery Bruma.  Whilst the Terry/Alex partnership is still serviceable I expect Ivanovic to continue his solid displays at right-back for the foreseeable future with interesting competition played by Bosingwa when he returns to fitness.    

Honourable Mentions: Florent Malouda, John Obi Mikel.

Player of the Season - Florent Malouda

There have been three real standout performers this season at Chelsea: Flourent Malouda, Didier Drogba, and Frank Lampard. Picking just one of them is difficult because they have each been excellent for different reasons: Lampard for his continued excellence and goal scoring from midfield; Drogba for his leadership of the line and goals; and Malouda for his all round contribution to the way that Chelsea have played this season.

However only one player can be selected and for me the award has to go to Malouda – without him the team would not have functioned at anywhere near the level that they have. As seen against Inter at Stamford Bridge when he is marked out of the game Chelsea are invariably lost for ideas and inspiration. What has impressed me most about Malouda is that he can just as easily fit into on the left of a 4-3-3 as in more central position when Ancelotti uses his 4-2-3-1 system.

Malouda has excelled this season and built on the excellent platform that he set under Hiddink towards the end of the 2008/09 season. He brings fluidity of movement, excellent mobility, defensive nous, and the ability to run at players with the ball at his feet. In addition to that he has managed to develop his goal scoring and the timing of runs into the box where his now a real danger when balls are played into the box.

If he does not start for France at the World Cup instead of Henry or Govou then Domenech has clearly lost the plot more than we all thought.

Honourable Mentions: Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard.