United lay down title gauntlet



Manchester United’s destruction of rivals Manchester City may have set the tone for the coming Premier League season. City, who have been tipped by many to win the title, were forced to surrender in the Community Shield on Sunday despite a two goal lead.

While the result underlined the fact that Utd are the team to beat this season it also highlighted their rosy future ahead with youngsters Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck both impressing.

With City still to intent on playing defensively – in spite of their embarrassment of attacking riches – and Chelsea very much a work in progress with Andres Villas-Boas trying to trim the years away from an ageing squad, the Red Devils look the team to beat once again this season.

Arsenal transfers frustrate fans

In the summer break Arsenal have made three signings; two of them attacking – Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – with the only defensive addition 19-year-old Carl Jenkinson from Charlton.

Obviously, the new faces are not what the Emirates faithful had hoped for. With Arsenal still yet to end their trophy drought serious pressure will be on Arsene Wenger for the first time.

The Gunners are not short of creative midfielders, with Japanese starlet Ryo Miyaichi also gaining a work permit after being on loan at Dutch club Feyenoord last season, so the inability of Wenger to bring in new defensive recruits is even more baffling.

If Arsenal fail to sign two from Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Christopher Samba and still do not improve on their ability at set pieces serious questions will be asked by the fans.

Newcastle sell off the family silver

While Arsenal’s transfer policy is confusing Newcastle United’s seems to be kamikaze. Kevin Nolan has been allowed to leave the club for West Ham, while Joey Barton, arguably the Magpies best player last term (apart from Cheick Tiote) and Jose Enrique could be heading for the exit.

Many of the players that have been bought in such as Yohan Cabeye and Sylvain Marveaux are unproven in the Premier League and their early form will be watched eagerly by the St James’ Park faithful.

However, fans will not be enthused by the arrival of Man Utd misfit Gabriel Obertan. Expect another difficult season on Tyneside.

Five reasons why Hughes deserved the boot at City

Having won just two of the last 11 games under-pressure Mark Hughes finally got the boot at the Manchester City.

The Blues moved quickly to replace the Welshman with Italian coach Roberto Mancini in a move which has been widely criticised (actually almost exclusively by the BBC).

5Live pundit Alan Green slated the City owners and questioned the capabilities of Mancini and the idiots on the Match of the Day sofa kept repeating the words “time”, “gel” and “patience” without trying to even have an closer look at Hughes 18-month spell in charge.

Becasue it is not only the results under Hughes that have been poor…

Poor scouting
Besides a few exceptions, notably the signings of Nigel De Jong and Vincent Kompany, Hughes displayed an ignorance of the world game. If you look at the players which arrived during the summer they were all Premier League players with good reputations.

Hughes could have bought better players available on the European market, with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ruud Van Nistelrooy among the better known players available for transfer.

His ex-Manchester United team-mate Steve Bruce is the perfect example of how to think outside the box and develop a proper scouting network. At Wigan Bruce brought through the excellent but little known Maynor Figueroa, Hugo Rodallega, Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios – something Hughes failed to do.

Failure to manage big names players
The best managers can manage big name players but Hughes just couldn’t keep all his stars content.

While Craig Bellamy has been immense for the entire season Hughes was unable to coax the best form, or even consistency, out of Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor or Carlos Tevez during his tenure.

Tactical errors
Hughes failed to get to grips with the balance of the City midfield.

Once Gareth Barry arrived at the club it was increasingly difficult to fit De Jong, Stephen Ireland and the former Villa midfielder into the same central midfield.

When City started leaking goals they needed more steel in the midfield and Ireland or Barry could have been sacrificed for a partnership of De Jong and Kompany – fit since September – to sit in front of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott.

Inability to defend
City’s ability to defend from both open play and set pieces cost Hughes dearly.

With the ability to get goals from wide players Bellamy and Wright-Phillips, Hughes could have provided more defensive cover for his centre backs who failed to give anything like there best form.

He’s Mark Hughes
If you are going to provide a manager unlimited money to build the squad dreams are made of would you give that golden opportunity to Mark Hughes or a manager of your own choosing?

While Hughes has won nothing, Mancini has landed the Coppa Italia with Fiorentina and Lazio as well as winning the same trophy twice more and the Serie A title three times with old club Inter Milan.

Man Utd, Liverpool and the defence of Adebayor


Owen late show steals points for United

Any away fans at Old Trafford over the last 20 years would have had sympathy for Mark Hughes this weekend.

The former United striker saw his unfancied City wide comeback three times yesterday – only to lose out to a 95th minute strike from Michael Owen.

Pundits have pointed to the fact that the referee was in his rights to add an additional two minutes to the allotted four minutes – due the Craig Bellamy’s dramatic equaliser and the introduction of Michael Carrick during injury time.

But over the years United definitely seem to have the rub of the injury time green securing late, late wins against QPR, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday in the last two decades.

Whether ‘Fergie-time’ exists or whether the Red Devils have a knack of securing late victories is unclear but we’ve all seen enough to it is not purely coincidence.

Liverpool show frailties in West Ham win

While Liverpool also took all three points at Upton Park this weekend manager Rafa Benitez must be concerned over his side’s defence.

The bedrock of Liverpool’s relative success has been built on a sturdy defence but it seems the Reds will not be able to rely on their rearguard action at least for the time being.

While Jamie Carragher has always lacked pace and has been prone to a mistake he has been worse than usual of late. And the jury is still out on Martin Skrtel.

Liverpool need to get Daniel Agger back quickly or cross their fingers until January and dip into the transfer market.

Adebayor criticism masks appalling fan behaviour

No-one could dispute that Emmanuel Adebaoy’s stamp on Robin Van Persie recently was disgraceful.

But over the last week he has been roundly criticised for running the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans after his recent goal at the Ctty of Manchester Stadium.

However, very little has been said about the Arsenal fans.

While his actions were not wise fans should not be excused for the aggressive reactions.

There was no need, and no point, in surging forward to remonstrate with the Togolese – especially after the abuse they gave to him all game.

Arsenal throw down title gauntlet

Despite being heavily tipped for a finish outside the Champions League places in the Premier League this season Arsenal fired a warning shot to their rivals with a thumping 6-1 reverse at Everton.

Arsene Wenger’s charges outplayed the home side at Goodison Park who remain largely unchanged from last season when they took 5th place.

While many pundits, notably Steve Claridge, have doubted whether Arsenal can still compete with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool (and the nouveau riche Manchester City) the Gunners showed that they can amaze as well as frustrate.

It is easy to get carried away with on the opening day of the season and it is important to remember that the season is played over a full 38 games but Arsenal showed that they are too good to be taken lightly.

Combine that with the fact that Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd were all unconvincing in their opening games and we could be on for one of the closest title races since the Premier League began.

City prove that money isn’t everything

While it is often said that money talks in football, the recent plight of the world’s richest club Manchester City proves that riches don’t necessarily bring success.

During the last transfer window, Middle Eastern investors rode into Eastlands on a wave of optimism and proved their credentials buy snatching Robinho under the nose of Chelsea for more than £30m.

Following the transfer the club were linked with dozens of the world’s best players including Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas, Liverpool’s Fernando Torres and Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas.

And despite Sven-Goran Eriksson leading City to a top half finish last season, the club has wilted under new manager Mark Hughes and currently sit just two points above the relegation zone.

A sobering point in for City fans is the signing of Wayne Bridge for a reported £12m and £100,000 a week in wages.

Many thought the club would be bringing in some of the greatest players in world football to fund an assault on Champions League qualification.

But it seems that they are now buying second rate players to stave off relegation.

Robinho right in his Real spat

While Brazil international Robinho may appear misguided in his last gasp move to Manchester City he was certainly right in his criticism of Spanish champions Real Madrid.

It was not wise to hold his own press conference to secure a move away from the Bernabeu but the reasons behind his desire to leave the club appear to be more than valid.

Once Real had set their sights on securing Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Ronaldo, it was made perfectly clear to Robinho that he was surplus to requirements.

Arrangements were made for his departure and Los Merengues and – after conceding defeat in their battle for Ronaldo – tried to bring in Joaquin from Valencia as his replacement.

The real villains of the piece are Chelsea. In their arrogance, they believed that they were the only club capable of matching Real’s asking price for the young Brazilian.

The Blues let the transfer run down the wire believing that they could secure a deal at the last minute on their terms – leaving Robinho out to dry.

With City coming in at the death with their British record breaking £32.5m deal the deal was sealed – and with Robinho’s position at Real untenable he had no choice but to accept.

While it remains to be seen whether Robinho can live the physical nature of the Premier League his quality is not in doubt. But with his heart set on move to London, will his heart be with Manchester City?

One thing is for sure – City are finally serious about breaking the Premier League’s big four.

Hughes could prove the unlikely casualty of managerial merry-go-round

As Sven Goran Eriksson’s departure from Manchester City was finally confirmed and Chelsea upped their search for a new man at the Bridge the unlikely casualty of the whole episode could be Blackburn’s Mark Hughes.

The former Manchester United striker has worked wonders in his role at Ewood Park with a unerring eye for picking up transfer bargains such as David Bentley, Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz.

But with the Welshman linked to both jobs, already having held talks with City, he may be undone by his own ambition.

In his time with the Rovers’ Hughes has been backed by the board, with the power-keepers more than happy to let him steadily progress in his role.

However, with Grant and Eriksson only given mere months to bring sweeping success to their clubs it is unlikely that Hughes would be afforded more time in either role.

Hughes would do well to remember the plight of Bolton’s Sam Allardyce.

Big Sam slowly built his reputation at the Reebok stadium, only to have it torn to shreds in less than hale a season at Newcastle United.

Even though Hughes appears to hold the key to a golden managerial future he should choose his next move very carefully.