In the Championship, not enough credit or attention is being placed on the job Paul Ince has done at Blackpool thus far this season. The Tangerines have a thin squad, and I tipped them to be relegated to League One this season. But Ince has been resourceful, playing players out of position and spurring on performances. Friday’s 1-1 draw at Huddersfield was improbable (especially because James Vaughan missed a late penalty) but yet another excellent result where Blackpool rode out waves of opposition attacks with good shape and organization as well as timely tactical changes.
Ince’s failure to get another shot in the Premier League based on a bad run with Blackburn five years ago is especially shocking when you consider the number of recycled managers in that period. Sol Campbell’s admission last week that he may have to leave England to manage should have been biting about institutional racism in the English game. Brian Deane, the former Leeds and Sheffield United star, has become a good coach in Norway and perhaps Campbell, like Deane, will have to leave England to get a coaching opportunity since, like Deane, he is black. As for Ince, I do not know what besides institutional racism is stopping Sunderland or some other club needing a manager from seriously considering him.
My sources indicate that MLS expansion will see Orlando City move up from USL PRO (the third division of soccer in the US) while Atlanta and Miami/Fort Lauderdale markets who have existing second division clubs are being vetted for potential expansion not involving the current clubs. I am told Atlanta is closer than Miami to happening, but that the league would like to be in both markets by 2018 at the latest.
Nigel Clough’s time is finally up at Derby. Honestly, I had come to the conclusion given the Rams inability to progress during Clough’s long tenure that due to his family association with the club he had a lifetime job. But one really bad week that began with a crushing defeat at Pride Park to Reading, continued with League Cup elimination and culminated in the loss of the Clough’s family derby to Nottingham Forest was too much for the owners.
Leeds United are off to a poor start under Brian McDermott but his Championship teams almost always started slow at Reading and came good. This is important for suffering fans of Leeds to note.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid side looked completely shell-shocked by Diego Costa’s early goal and it took the entrance of two former Spurs stars, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale to even remotely stem the tide. It seems hard to believe that Atletico Madrid now has full confidence to go into the Bernabeu and win.
Real Madrid looked poor in midweek against Elche. Isco started the season dynamically but his limitations and inexperience are now on full display.
In the Premier League, Jose Mourinho has finally figured it out and if he continues to play Juan Mata as a number 10, Oscar out wide and Fernando Torres up top, the sky is the limit for Chelsea. Tottenham on the other hand are really struggling to get over the hump against top sides. Defeated by Arsenal, outplayed and out thought at home by Chelsea in the second half, AVB’s project needs time and patience. The pressure building on Spurs thanks to high expectations is unnatural for the club and unfair to the new players and the manager.
Anyone surprised by Manchester City’s loss to Aston Villa hasn’t been paying attention to a) my the City team and b) my comments on the EPL Talk Podcast. The Blues are NOT a team built to win away from home in the league after letting Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure and Carlos Tevez left this summer, while the club looked only to Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe for potential replacements. The club did not sign a single player this summer with experience in English football. Concentration lapses and mental errors have added up for City this season away from home and while many City supporters want to play attractive football.
Roberto Mancini proved that getting results away from Eastlands often meant being narrow and compact. I have made this point repeatedly but mouthwatering football, demanded by many supporters of clubs in the northwest of England does not always translate to good results. I understand why many City fans favor the Pellegrini approach but they must be willing to accept a downturn in results from the Mancini era in order to do so. I am not saying it is implicit that if you play nicely you don’t achieve results, but with a non-established power like Manchester City, the new style was always going to run the risk of a decline in league place. Stoke at another level may experience a similar situation this season. It’s also worth noting the easiest portion of the Blues schedule is now over and next week starting with bogey team Everton, who Manchester City has beaten just twice in the last fourteen league meetings, City faces a gauntlet of imposing fixtures. Based on the start and fixtures played thus far, the Blues have the flimsiest title credentials of any highly fancied Premier League club at this point.
Fulham are in big trouble. I am not quite sure how they arrest this decline with the current set of players and Martin Jol. I think Jol might be sacked at the next international break. The team is now almost entirely his and the results continue to get worse and worse. With new ownership probably fearing the drop, Jol’s days must be numbered.
Manchester United’s home performance against West Brom was appalling but I am not ready to write them off just yet. David Moyes’s teams often started slowly at Everton yet eventually came good. I believe with some tough fixtures out of the way, the Red Devils will be okay as far as the Top 4 go, but to win the title is going to take some effort at this point. One bright spot for United on Saturday was Nani’s creative flair — something that has been sorely lacking outside of Wayne Rooney this season for Moyes’s side. It took fixture congestion and poor performances to get both Nani and Shinji Kagawa a proper run out but now that Moyes has seen both, It would be surprising if he opts again for Ashley Young in big games.
It takes a Lionel Messi injury to get this sport attention on a College Football Saturday. ESPN is in nonstop College Football mode on all its US based networks, but they included a mention of one non-American football item in its lead stories on the ticker all day Saturday. That was Messi’s injury.