Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Best Week of Football Ever?

As per usual, we needed a win. For once I thought we actually would win. For a pessimist like me this is unusual, but due to our great record against the Wolves, I had tentatively predicted a 2-1 win to the Albion. What was to come I had never imagined in all of my wildest dreams. 5-1 the score ended up, a veritable cricket score. I have seen some great Albion-Wolves games in the past 20 years, the first one I remember being the game with THAT Darren Bradley goal (The uninitiated can view this goal here: The first and only time I have ever seen a Wolves player receive a standing ovation from the Albion faithful with his name being chanted with gusto around the Hawthorns. The player in question was none other than Cyrille Regis. Doesn't matter what shirt that man wears on his back and quite rightly, he is nothing less than an absolute fucking hero. That game ended 3-2 to the Albion and gave me a real taste for this derby which, no matter what anyone says, is not the Black Country derby due to Wolverhampton being in Staffordshire.
But I digress, the most recent fixture was an absolute cracker. Albion looked like they meant business from the off. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that supporters have craved since Roy's persistent experiments with 4-4-2. Peter Odemwingie unusually started on the right with Marc-Antoine Fortune playing the lone striker role. Liam Ridgewell also made a start after his transfer from Blues. The tactic at the beginning of the game seemed to be pass around the Wolves midfield who were light in numbers compared to us and hit them on the break, getting the ball out to Jerome Thomas who had the Wolves defence browning themselves every time he ran with the ball. We were completely dominant for the first half, which is why it was such a surprise to see the teams enter the dressing rooms at half time at 1-1. A great goal from Steven Fletcher, it has to be said, but completely against the run of play.
By this point Thick Mick has obviously tried to address Albion's dominance in midfield by moving Matt Jarvis into the centre to support Steven Fletcher and Ebanks-Blake out to the left. With Kevin Doyle already starting on the right, this meant that Wolves had three central strikers on the pitch. But two of them were obviously unhappy with their temporary jobs as wingers for the day. And I bet Mick still wonders why they sacked him.
It was no good though, a scrappy goal from Jonas Olsson following a ridiculous clearance from a corner ensured Albion went in front. Then it started. Odemwingie hit a stunner. Then Keith Andrews making his debut, booed at his every touch by the fickle Dingles and for so long maligned by Rovers fans finished off a great passing move and suddenly we were 4-1 up. I have long felt sorry for Keith Andrews, despite his Wolves connections. I always thought Rovers looked a better team with him in it, especially under Allardyce and for Giovanni Trappatoni he clearly seems to be the first name on the teamsheet. That goal, I'm sure, will make him beloved of Albion fans everywhere for years to come. Even if he does nothing else.
After Andrew's goal, Odemwingie turned defeat into humiliation by bagging his hat trick. It was the perfect day, how could it get any better? Easily it turned out. The rumours started circulating on twitter that Rangers were about to go into administration. It turned out to be true, and despite the potentially devastating effects for Scottish football, I bloody love a good gloat. Karma is a fantastic thing sometimes.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Thoughts on last night's Clasico and the upcoming second leg.

Next week will be interesting. Guardiola has consistently got the better of Mourinho in the Majority of Clásicos (with the exception of last years Copa del Rey) and on the evidence of last nights performance he's still nowhere near. Not that Madrid haven't vastly improved since last season because they have and will probably win the league as a result. But a league title without a Clásico win is generally viewed as a Pyrrhic victory by most Madridistas, who will not be pleased by Jose’s comments today that state it would in fact be “great”. Like a Rubik's cube being twisted into shape Barça were at their fluid best last night with both goals coming from usually goal-shy defenders; the ever talismanic Puyol and the criminally underrated Abidal. Madrid had started well though, with a fine goal from Ronaldo to underline Real's early domination of the game. It was not to last though as the Rubik's cube took its final twist and Barça clicked into gear. Unlike the last Clásico in the league way back in December,  Real seemed unwilling to press much beyond goal-kicks, letting Barça build from the back in a way which was only really likely to have one outcome. Going to the Camp Nou next week will not be an easy job, they will need to press and attack by playing Barça at their own game and it should make for intriguing viewing. 

What particularly interested me in this game, as with the previous Clásico, was the use of Alexis Sanchez as an orthodox centre forward, with Messi playing as a classic number ten behind him. Quite often in League fixtures this season (admittedly of less importance) Cesc has been given the number nine role with  Messi in his old right wing role, cutting inside. The formation used in the previous two Clásicos (with Iniesta on the wing and Cesc in midfield alongside Xavi) appears to be Guardiola's preferred 'big game' formation. Also interesting was the use of Dani Alves as an actual right back, not having Puyol to come across and cover for him. It appears that with Cristiano Ronaldo, even Alves has to defend. It did work though, with Ronaldo switching flanks after Callejon came on in the 67th minute. 

On the other hand though, it seems highly unlikely that Mourinho will be too bothered about being knocked out of the Copa del Rey next week. It would take something really special to come back and I’m not convinced Madrid have it. Jose wants the league anyway and unless Real flounder spectacularly, they will get it and despite the the Champion’s League being ‘Mourinho’s competition’, really it is Barça’s to lose and I certainly won’t be betting against them.