So far so good.....

Published: Monday, 08 October 2018

So as we break for the second time this season, I think we’re beginning to get some idea of how the season is going to unfold.

It’s still very early, but we’re beginning to see some patterns emerge. Of course, there’s enough time yet for some real drama to unfold somewhere - and it will - but there’s some ‘shape’ about the PL now.

The three at the top have been terrific. I expected to see City and Liverpool there - it’s Chelsea that have surprised me. I thought it would take Maurizio Sarri a lot longer to get his team going, but they’ve flown out of the traps. There’s one very good reason why as well - Eden Hazard, who I reckon is the best player in Europe right now. I suppose that might also make him the best player in the world! If that’s the case, then he’s done exactly what Joe Cole told me and Andy he would when he came on our talkSPORT radio programme back in 2011. Joe was playing with Hazard at Lille and said to us ‘the kid will one day be the best player in the world’.

Hazard has been fantastic this season - playing where he always should’ve done - up top causing havoc with his pace and fast feet. Watch how quickly he manipulates a ball. How smartly he gets a shot off with so little effort. He’s clinical. Brilliant. And he’s one of those that you know WILL score when he gets in one-on-one. How Joe must wish he’d been given that role when he was at Chelsea - but Mourinho had him doing what he demanded of Hazard - getting up and down and putting a shift in defending. What a waste.

Anyway, we’ve got 3 unbeaten, with Arsenal and Spurs right on their heels. I’m still not sure what to make of The Gunners. Yes, they’re on a fantastic run, but let’s not forget, they lost their first two - against Chelsea and City - and they haven’t really had a test since. Look, Emery is obviously having an effect, but they still look soft centred to me. Let’s remain positive though - they played some wonderful stuff at Fulham and Ramsey’s goal was a joy - from back to front. His gesture on scoring was interesting. Did you see it? He opened his arms and looked totally puzzled. Was it a message to Emery? Almost certainly. What are Arsenal thinking letting this guy walk away for nothing at the end of the season? It’s madness. A committed, professional, one-club man is so rare these. In Ramsey, Arsenal have got one - and they don’t want to offer him a new deal? It’s crazy.

Spurs have made their best start to a PL season - but I still think they’ll end up being the ‘nearly’ men again. They haven’t got the numbers required to mount a serious challenge.

Despite the win Saturday, United are still in a desperate mess. You know my feelings on Mourinho. I’m so disappointed because I really thought he’d deliver at Old Trafford, but he’s done what he always does. The place is toxic and it’s all his fault. I had my say in my last blog, so let’s leave it there.

Bournemouth have been brilliant so far. What a job Eddie Howe has done. When will someone trust him with a big club I wonder? And Wolves - they’re a great watch right now. Both clubs should finish top half.

Leicester are in and out. So are Watford and Everton, but you can see signs of progress at Goodison. They still desperately need a front man though. As we know, Watford made a really bright start, but we might just have seen the shape of things to come at the weekend.

Burnley are better without the distraction of Europe. I know Sean Dyche said he wanted to have a go at the Europa League, but quietly I reckon he’s pleased to be out of the competition.

Brighton should be ok. Chris Hughton will have set a ‘point a game’ target and they’re spot on again. It was a ploy that served them well last season.

Palace need a result at home or I fear Roy Hodgson will come under the cosh. Mark Hughes will find himself under pressure as well if he doesn’t sort out Southampton’s home form. They were poor v Chelsea. There was no energy. No fight. No ambition. This isn’t all Mark’s fault - there’s been a ‘drift’ at St Mary’s now for quite some time. It is Hughes’ job to sort it out though.

The Hammers are interesting. When they’re at it they’re very good, but I still fear it’ll be a long season. Spending money doesn’t guarantee anything. I would add this - they’re much better with their skipper, Mark Noble, in the side. What a terrific leader he is. A ‘proper’ player as Graeme Souness might say! The problem is that he can’t get about anymore. I mentioned this early season - it means he can’t play alongside Jack Wilshere. He can’t run now either, so you can’t have them both in the same team. Jack’s injury must’ve come as something of a relief to Pellegrini, but what does he do when he’s fit again? I wouldn’t play him. Simple.

Fulham have got to be really careful after Sunday’s beating. Jokanovic needs to find a system that works in the PL. I get the feeling he’s still searching, but time is against him.

Cardiff are down. So are Huddersfield. And that leaves Newcastle. They won’t go down. I was pleased to see Benitez make that same statement this weekend. Fair play to him - they had a really good go at Old Trafford and who knows how it would’ve turned out had they been awarded the pen they were due at 0-2. It was a stick on. As we saw at Anfield - there are no guarantees from the spot, but I’ve said this so often, when you’re in the backyard of the big boys you simply want what you’re due. It was a pen. I’m sure 0-3 would’ve seen them win the game.

One last thing. Why on earth was Antony Taylor in charge at Old Trafford? He lives in Altrincham - 6 miles from the ground. Not for a minute am I suggesting that he was biased - but he’s open to the allegation of favouritism isn’t he? Why did the PGMOL made such a daft decision? There are plenty of other refs who could’ve done the game. I’m confused by the decision making. The PGMOL once stopped Graham Poll taking charge of a game at Arsenal because he lived in Tring - 30 miles away. What’s the policy guys? We all need to know.

Man dis-United

Published: Tuesday, 28 August 2018

It’s over Jose. It’s time to go. You’re kidding yourself now. You’ve lost your players, the club is a mess and if you think the support of a couple of hundred fans at The Stretford End is public backing?  You’re wrong. 

As the ‘glum one’ stood in front of those fans applauding I honestly thought he was saying ‘thanks, and goodbye’. Perhaps he was. Perhaps he was expecting the axe to fall Monday night? Unless something changes dramatically and quickly it will. It’s only a matter of ‘when’. 

I didn’t see the brave, bold, adventurous performance that Mourinho talked about. I didn’t see a team that deserved a two-goal half time lead. I listened to my beINSPORTS colleague Andy Gray make the very accurate assessment that a half-time draw was about right. Yes, Lukaku missed a sitter and a very good chance to bury a header, but Spurs should’ve had a pen - Jones pushed Moura over. It was a pen! 

Anyway, by the end United weren’t just beaten, they were mesmerised by Spurs and their only answer was the familiar Plan B - drop it on Fellaini’s head. 

I told you last week that Mourinho had lost his players. They don’t skip about a playing surface as Spurs did - or City and Liverpool do - they look like they’ve got divers boots on. There’s no life in them. It’s Manchester United - but not as we knew it. Nothing like it. 

And as Mourinho left the arena, pausing to applaud that handful of fans - later claiming that he had the backing of ‘the best judges’ - perhaps he hadn’t noticed that Old Trafford was half empty before the final whistle. I’ve never seen anything like it. United fans leaving before the final whistle? No-one would walk out of that stadium before ‘Fergie-time’ because they knew impossible was nothing on so many occasions down the years. 

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No way Jose

Published: Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Well that’s another one I got spectacularly wrong! I remember writing that I believed Mourinho and Manchester United were a ‘match made in heaven’. In fact, I was so sure about it that I had United to win the title in his first season at Old Trafford. Er - wrong. And wrong again!

My reasoning was that Mourinho had been the course before. I reckoned that Guardiola would need a year to adapt, but once he had there would be trouble for the rest. So, I’ll claw back a little bit of respect there!

I just couldn’t see how Mourinho could fail. He’d got a job he’d always coveted. He knew the Premier League. He was smiling again and he was going to get backing from United - to date £401m of it.

He hasn’t failed entirely. He’s won trophies. He returned United to the Champions League, but not with a smile or a swagger, it’s all been done with a growling, snarling aggression.

I don’t have a problem with ‘effective’ football. There are many different ways to play the game. If you’re Sean Dyche you’ve got to ‘grind’. You’ve got to work damned hard for everything you get. Nothing comes easy. But that shouldn’t be the case at United. Never the case at United.

There’s no fun anymore at Old Trafford. It’s hard watching United. They’re slow. They’re laborious. They don’t frighten the opposition these days. At the weekend Brighton were the better team. They were better in every position.

Mourinho sat brooding. His players largely ignored him.

Read more: No way Jose

As you were...

Published: Monday, 13 August 2018

It’s back! The opening weekend gave us plenty to talk about, ranging from an early farce from the refereeing dept and many of the things from teams that we expected to see. As you were then!

Liverpool looked terrific, but they were helped enormously by an inept West Ham. My goodness, if the Hammers play like that all season they’ll get themselves into real trouble. They were far too easy to play against. I’m sure they’ll win matches at home, but playing like that - wide open and with two players in the middle of the park that can’t run, they’ll get beaten most weekends. Pellegrini needs a re-think - and fast. 

They set up perfectly for a Liverpool team that looked sharp and crisp in everything they did. James Milner, who probably won’t start when everybody is fit, epitomised their hunger. Twenty-two of Liverpool’s last 34 wins have now come with at least a 3-goal margin. That’s impressive.

I’m on Liverpool for the title as you know. Klopp has spent well for more than a year now. He’s the manager that got everything he wanted this summer but the added plus is Daniel Sturridge. If he really wants to play football again, rather than sit in the bath or the treatment room, Liverpool have got a real bonus ball. There’s no doubting Sturridge’s ability. Rightly, there have been plenty of questions about his application. If he’s got his head straight - he’ll be a fearsome addition to the Red challenge.

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My 3 for the drop

Published: Tuesday, 07 August 2018

I hate talking about who’ll struggle because as we start again everybody is full of hope and full of expectation. Why spoil it?

The first thing the three promoted clubs will have to get used to is NOT winning every weekend. As all three swept through the Championship winning became a habit. It won’t be like that now. If they win 10 games they’ll have done really well and that should guarantee survival. It seems strange, but that’s exactly what Nuno Espiroto Santo, Neil Warnock and Slavisa Jokanovic will be thinking. Getting those wins won’t be simple.

You need fixtures to fall for you. Don’t panic if it doesn’t fall into place early on - the key is not to get isolated. If teams are in touch come March/April it’s entirely possible to get out of trouble with a run of games against opposition that don’t have anything left to play for. So much movement happens in those last few weeks.

Amongst the strugglers will be Huddersfield. David Wagner produced a miracle keeping them up last season. He’ll have to do it again. I’m a little surprised he stayed, but delighted he did and his loyalty deserves to be rewarded.

Cardiff will be down there. I’d love to see Neil Warnock have a successful season. The King of Promotions has earned the right, but I can’t see it. They’ll be up against it from day one.

I think Fulham will be ok. They’ve got a goalscorer in Mitrovic and that’s so important. If you can’t get goals you’ve got no chance.

Wolves should be fine as well. The Premier League have cleared their unusual way of doing business so it’s full steam ahead. If they need a ‘survival’ injection in January they’ll get it. That’s if the owners and Jorge Mendes wish to continue the project - or will they cash in and concentrate on Villa, where similar things are happening?

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It's Liverpool's.

Published: Monday, 06 August 2018

If Liverpool don’t win the title with this squad they’ll never win it again. Jurgen Klopp now has all the tools he requires to end ‘the long wait’.

I like what he’s been doing. In January and again this summer he addressed areas that Liverpool were desperately short in - centre back and goalkeeper. I said after their CL surrender that unless he got himself a good keeper he’d never win anything.

I don’t mind at all that he’s been spending. You’ve got to spend, now more than ever before - and you can go all the way back to Sunderland’s ‘Bank of England’ team to find clubs that have ‘bought the title’. You have to. They all do.

I can hear United fans screaming now ‘but we didn't’. Yes you did. There isn’t a team in PL history that’s spent more. Add it all up from the moment Fergie took charge.

I know Klopp arrived claiming that he’d do it differently. He was playing the party line. Those in charge of the money at Anfield weren’t going to be throwing it about until they were convinced by him.  There have been times they must’ve wondered - but now I believe they’re right behind him.

So Klopp has GOT to deliver. It’s some achievement to have taken teams to a total of six finals - but he can’t afford to lose another one - not that a cup final will be the priority this season. The league HAS to be. He’s got to show he can be a winner again.

They were closer to City last year than any other side. As we saw - on their day they could be better. Now they’ve got to find the consistency to do it every weekend. And it’s got to be EVERY weekend.

Of course City will be most people’s favourites, but I believe their priority will be CL. Guardiola has spent a fortune piecing together this team and they blitzed the title last season. They were an absolute joy to watch, but he’s got to take it on. Winning another title wouldn’t do that. He’s got to win the CL, something that he has failed miserably to do since leaving Barcelona and critically - something he hasn’t done without Messi.

Read more: It's Liverpool's.

Football wasn't coming home

Published: Monday, 16 July 2018

What a wonderful World Cup. Congratulations to everybody involved in both the organisation and delivery.

I was in Moscow in January. What an impressive City it is. I’m so pleased that so many more people have seen it now. It was described to me as ‘Europe’s hidden secret’. Not so ‘hidden’ now. If you ever get the chance - go.

This World Cup was always going to be a success, despite all the doom-mongers predicting otherwise and the demands of those ‘politicking’ hoping to get the tournament moved. Russia delivered - and now all roads lead to #Qatar2022. Trust me - this tournament will blow you away. I’m privileged to have seen the plans. I’ve been watching the county prepare these last five years. #Qatar2022 will deliver on its promise ‘Amazing’ and when it’s all over - just as we have Russia - people will have fallen in love with a country now very close to my heart. Why? How? Forget it. It’s all systems go for a World Cup, the likes of which we will never have  previously seen.

Anyway, as I said, Russia was a triumph of organisation. Do I agree that it was the ‘best ever’ on the pitch? No. I don’t.

I don’t think it ever reached the heights of previous competitions. Ask yourself - do you remember six really good games from the 64 we watched? You don’t do you? It was ok, but little more.

The view in England was probably excitedly different because Gareth Southgate’s team exceeded all expectations. It was great to see people enjoying watching their national team again. It’s good for football in England in general.

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Oh what a night - 1981 and all that

Published: Friday, 25 May 2018

Oh what a night that....May 27 1981. My work should’ve been done as Liverpool kicked off against Real Madrid in Paris.

I was Radio City’s ‘scout’ in the build-up. Our Sports Editor Clive Tyldesley (still the best football radio commentator I’ve ever heard) had sent me ahead of the pack to make sure things worked smoothly for Liverpool’s commercial radio station come the big week.

To be honest, I hadn’t travelled outside the U.K. much in those days and being sent to Paris to ensure the biggest night of our season went well was quite a daunting task. On a previous visit I was entrusted with finding a hotel, making sure we could park our monstrous outside broadcast truck - for nothing - in the middle of the French capital, oh, and making a half hour documentary on what Liverpool fans should expect when they got there. I had 48 hours to do it all.

Where on earth do you start with a task like that?  I did what we all did in those days - asked Liverpool’s club Secretary, Peter Robinson, if he could help. In a typically terse telephone conversation he gave me the number of a friend of his - I’ll never forget him - Dr Pierre Huth - a dentist! ‘Whatever you need’, he said ‘he’ll fix it’. As he always did, - Peter hung up before I could say ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.

A dentist? What the fuck? What use was he going to be? Anyway, armed with just his number - off I went.

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Be careful what you wish for...

Published: Thursday, 17 May 2018

How many times have we been here? And here we go again. Doesn’t anybody ever learn from the lessons of history?

It was after Charlton parted company with Alan Curbishley that I heard myself muttering ‘be careful what you wish for....’. Do you remember? After three 10th places finishes in the PL, with a club that Curbs had dragged back into the big time, the hierarchy at The Valley decided it was time to ‘go in another direction’. In fairness, they did. But it didn’t quite work out as planned and the PL has seen nothing of Charlton since.

What a pity the decision makers at Arsenal have been brow-beaten by high profile celebrities that should know better - and the bully boys on the social media - into change that simply doesn’t feel right. I watched the Chief Exec, Ivan Gazidis, wax lyrical about Arsene Wenger on the day it was announced that the manager would be leaving Arsenal. If Wenger was watching he could only have thought the same as me ‘hold on, if I’m this good why are they kicking him/me out?’ 

It just doesn’t feel right to me. At different times I’ve wondered whether change was necessary at Arsenal and every time I’ve come back to the belief that it wasn’t. Wenger is a class act. You can’t buy the sort of experience he’s got. And I believe he’s right when he says his team is maybe only 2/3 players short of a title challenge.  

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Who's next ?

Published: Friday, 20 April 2018

So now we know. Arsene Wenger will leave his job at the end of the season and nothing will ever be the same again at Arsenal.

I’m sorry that he’s decided to go, but I understand totally why the decision has been made. I phrased that carefully as well, because I don’t believe he made it. He’s been nudged, make no mistake about that.

Wenger is a decent, honest man and that makes him something of a rarity in football.

He’s also an Arsenal man to the core, as he proved so many times when turning down every big job in football to honour contracts and remain at The Emirates. He’s been offered them all and said ‘no’. That’s why I’m disappointed in the manner that he’s leaving now. He deserved better than to be pilloried by large sections of the Arsenal crowd and - worse - by high profile people in the media who claim to support the club and should know better. Stirring up the hatred - and at times it’s been that - was totally wrong.

Wenger only knows one thing - football. He’s an expert on the subject and he’s fascinating to listen to. At beINSPORTS we’ve been lucky enough to sit with him once a month for the past few years and listen to him talk on every subject you care to mention. Any individual that’s played the game. He’s an encyclopaedia. He knows more about our game than anyone I’ve met. Arsenal are going to miss that, but they’ll miss his steady hand a whole lot more. I wonder when we’ll start hearing Gunners’ fans lamenting and regretting what they wished for? 

Read more: Who's next ?