Archive for August, 2012

TORRES scores, that’s HAZARDous for everyone

Many thought the managerial career of Robert Di Matteo was over when he was shown the door at West Bromwich Albion.  The move turned out to be genius for both parties, West Brom celebrated their best performance in the league under now England manager Roy Hodgson, and Di Matteo now at Chelsea cannot put a foot wrong.

European champions and FA Cup winners last season Chelsea have now started the new season 3 from 3 and have looked very comfortable in each of their wins.  Eden Hazard looks to be the purchase of the season so far and striker Fernando Torres is back to his old form scoring goals for fun after his much publicised goal drought last season.  Luckily for the 19 other premier league clubs Chelsea are not in action in the premier league but competing for the UEFA Super cup vs. Althetico Madrid.

Elsewhere, Are Liverpool the most frustrating team in the league? Horrible against West Brom last week, they faced the champions Manchester City.  Throughout the course of the match Liverpool showed the league they can match it with anyone, but were undone by two poor defensive errors that handed City two gifts.  At least those supporters at Anfield can celebrate goals being scored.  Arsenal fans witnesses another 0-0 draw, this time at Stoke.

Who’s that bloke who scores all those goals last year at Arsenal, oh that’s right he was busy scoring his debut goal for bitter rivals Manchester Untied.  Fulham came to Old Trafford with high hopes after a great opening week win, sadly their hopes were over almost as quick than special guest Usain Bolt can win Olympic gold medals.  A Wayne Rooney injury was the only dampener for on the day, as United returned to the winners list.

Swansea and Everton both kept their 100% records scoring 3 goals apiece and recording easy wins.  Swansea now has a +8 goal difference, and this could only increase with games against Sunderland and Aston Villa games coming up.  Tottenham and West Brom shared the points after an injury time equaliser from James Morrison.

Turning our attention to this week’s action and Liverpool v Arsenal should be the standout game of the week, who knows what Liverpool team will turn up or whether Arsenal will manage to find the back of the net.  The most exciting game could be the Everton v West Brom match that is a battle of 3rd v 4th.  It’s very hard to right off the West Brom team, but Everton have been is stunning early season form.

Expect Tottenham, Manchester City, Newcastle and Manchester United all to pick up three points this weekend.  All face inferior opponents and are need to keep up with pace setters Chelsea early in the season.

@TheHardsWord hero of the week –  Eden Hazard, the Chelsea man is not only scoring or setting up goals at will, but is a key aspect of why Fernando Torres is back in great form.

Villain of the week – Aston Villa, no points, sitting bottom of the table and playing insipid football.  Whilst it’s only early days new manager Paul Lambert better get to work to turn the season around.

Who would you rather be – This week its Manchester United’s new recruits, both managed to get on the scoresheet against Fulham.  Kagawa has flown under the radar since Van Persie has joined the team.  More will be expected of RVP over the season but who will be judged a better success over the course of the season?

 

Over the next few days keep an eye on transfer rumours.  This Friday is transfer deadline day, and there is plenty of players still either looking for a club or a fresh start for the season.  Current rumours are linking Theo Walcott with an exit from Arsenal, while United bench warmers Berbatov and Michael Owen are still looking for new clubs.  Crazy money will be thrown around over the next 36 hours, but surely no deal can be as bad as the one that saw Andy Carroll land at Liverpool.

Until next week, enjoy all the action on and off the pitch

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Welcome to the Heart, Richard Garcia

Although not a household name Richard Garcia is a seasoned professional that brings a wealth of experience to the Melbourne Heart.  Some of you may have never heard of him, or at least not for a couple of years, Garcia was a member of the Socceroos squad at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, and was in the starting XI vs. Germany.  Remember him now, if not that’s okay by the end of this A League season you will have a firm understanding of his talents and capabilities.

Injuries have not be kind to Garcia over the past few years, but he has managed to play over 100 matches, for Hull City including 57 in the premier league.  I was never a massive fan of watching Hull City, but Garcia always put in a great shift for the club, particularly when former manager Phil Brown was in charge.  Goal scoring has been less so prolific, finding the back of the net 8 times over his career at Hull.

The Championship is a very tough league, and Garcia will be no doubt ready to go when he steps on the park in 43 days time for the season opener, the Melbourne derby.  Coming into the A League from this league will only be a good thing for Garcia, and I’m sure Melbourne Heart have got themselves a very good player for season 2012/13.

I could be channelling my inner Dennis Denuto but the vibe I’m receiving when this signing was announced is a very positive one.  Garcia will slot right into our midfield, and could be one of the more dominant players of the season.  Although not as well known as Socceroos midfielder, I’m predicting Garcia to have either a similar impact on the pitch as his more famous team mate Harry Kewell did at Melbourne Victory.  I see this A League season as a springboard to future Socceroos caps Garcia hopes to win.  Brazil 2014 is only two years away, and Garcia will be 32.  Two great seasons of football in Australia should hold him in a great position to be on the plane bound for Rio.

It is very hard to entice footballers around the age of 30 who have Socceroos experience.  Once again I tip my hat to John Didulica and the Heart scouting team.  Garcia has been through the renowned West Ham youth setup and is bringing vast amounts of experience to the club.

So what is the downside, I can only see one at this stage.  How can you fit Fred, Germano, Thompson, Dugandzic, Kalmar and Garcia into the one midfield, that’s something I’ll leave for head coach John Aloisi to work out.

With the likes of Garcia, Macallister, Gerhardt and Tadic joining out squad in the off season it’s not a question of if we will make the playoffs this year, but more so a question of what we do in them.

Not so Jolly Rodgers

One week down, many more to go, but Manchester City, Chelsea (twice) and Newcastle all managed wins, but I can’t say the same for Liverpool.  This time last year Brendan Rodgers would have been deliriously happy with a 5-0 win to Swansea, but fast forward 12 months and he is leaving the Hawthorns not only without points, but in charge of the proud club of Liverpool where fans are far more demanding.

Things should improve for Rodgers, he has the budget, players with unlimited talent and a large support base but although a loss to the mid table West Brom doesn’t appear disastrous it could be the start of a horror month for the new man in charge.  A trip to Sunderland is the only relief in the Reds schedule over the next month, Rodgers could be feeling the pinch as Anfield plays host to champions Manchester City, and perennial challenges Arsenal and Manchester United over the next month.  If things don’t go to plan for the new manager he better have his affairs in order before the Merseyside derby in late October, otherwise his reign could be a shortly lived one.

Elsewhere in the league QPR and Norwich both copped five goal hidings, Manchester City left it late against newcomers Southampton and Tottenham were outclassed in Newcastle.  Arsenal was held by a defiant Sunderland and Chelsea needed only six minutes to put the Wigan game beyond any doubt.  Everton were victorious over more fancied opponents Manchester United, a 1-0 score line flattered United, but don’t tell Sir Alex that he thought the game was much closer.

Manchester United’s signing of Robin Van Persie is yet to yield any results on the score sheet, but he isn’t alone with big names Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll and Mario Balotelli all failing to make an impact week one.  Chelsea’s new signing Eden Hazard showed he is worth every penny of the big transfer fee, making an incredible five assists over the course of Chelsea’s two opening games.

This week’s fixtures will give a better indication of how good Fulham are when they travel to Old Trafford, Tottenham will be looking for their first win against Liverpool slayers West Brom, and Norwich and QPR will both be looking to atone from their awful start.  Liverpool face back to back losses when they host Manchester City, and Chelsea host Newcastle in what is my game of the week.

TheHardsWord hero of the week – Fulham striker Mladen Petric managed to score a brace in the season opener in the 5-0 rout of Norwich.  The clean sheet was Mark Schwarzer’s 141st; he is now 2nd on the all time Premier league list.

TheHardsWord Villain of the week – Australia’s own Adam Fererici.  The Reading keeper made a howler on his premier league debut, only to be saved by a late penalty from Adam Le Fondre penalty.  The week didn’t get any better for the Aussie keeper, where he let in four against the European champions Chelsea.

Who would you rather be: Former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers or current Swansea manager Michael Laudrup.

The hero, villain & ‘who rather be’ are new weekly columns.  Every week I will be looking for Hero/Villain nominations via the @TheHardsWord twitter account.  You can send your ‘Would rather be’ responses to the same account.

That wraps up another weekly Premier league report, until next week enjoy the action on the pitch.

It’s back….

Last season we witnessed the most compelling sporting finish of all time.  Three minutes, two rivals, one city, priceless if you’re a City fan, devastating if you back Sir Alex.  All other football fans could only wait with anticipation until August 18th, and here it is.

Will this season produce the same final day excitement? Probably not, but I’m willing to swap that for around 9 months of heart stopping action watching the best footballers in the world (apart from those 2 in Spain, you know who you are) play in front of packed house  streaming into our living rooms on the other side of the world.

One will win, three will fall but it is so much more than that, this is nonstop action from the first whistle.   On the Australian front we have lost golden boy Tim Cahill to the bright lights of New York, but Adam Federici and Brett Holman have joined Mark Schwarzer and Chris Herd to provide us with plenty of talking points when we are wiping the sleep from our eyes at the office Monday morning after an onslaught of action.

Predictably I think Manchester City will win, and win comfortably.  The squad seems far more settled than over previous years, but will sure to be looking over their shoulder for bitter cross city rivals Manchester United.  European champions Chelsea cannot be ruled out either, especially if Spaniard Fernando Torres can once again find the back of the net.  Arsenal will continue their run of trophyless seasons, which could draw the curtain on Arsene Wenger’s managerial career at the Emirates.

Tottenham and Liverpool will keep the top four honest, but will need a surprise run of results if they are to claim a treasured champions league place.  At the risk of being unpopular I am predicting an average year at St James Park.  Newcastle fans will still be walking on cloud nine but the Europa League will prove more of a distraction than a benefit at the Toon.

Everton, Sunderland, Fulham and Stoke all fit into the ‘safe, but a good cup run would be nice’ category. I predict them all to finish near the top half of the table, but European qualification will only come from an exciting cup run.  Fulham could surprise this season, but for those new to the league I wouldn’t waste much time watching any Stoke matches; their usual dour defensive struggles will end up with you asleep just after half time.

Aston Villa will hold the interest in most Australian households with the signing of Holman, and constant improvement of young Chris Herd.  Expect some improvement, but their main aim will be finishing above midland rivals West Bromwich AlbionQueens Park Rangers fans will have barely recovered from their final day heroics of Jamie Mackie and brain fade of Joey Barton but with some funds injected should be somewhat safer this season.

Norwich, Wigan & Swansea will be mixing it with newcomers to fill the bottom three places on the table.  Wigan avoided the dreaded drop to the Championship but I’m afraid Roberto Martinez will run out of luck.  New Swansea manager Michael Laudrup will need to find the right mix of attractive and winning football to keep the Welsh team’s premier league status.

Of the new comers West Ham United should finish highest, but as a football fan it’s great to see the return of Southampton and Reading.  Southampton, from a pure football fairytale point of view, and Reading lifts the Australian representation.  I’m predicting bad news for Swansea, Wigan and Reading fans, with a late day scare for those at St Mary’s.

I’ll probably be wrong with my predictions, but can guarantee bone crunching tackles, cracking goals and some late season nerves for most football fans.

Actions speak louder than Words

The old, but true saying “Actions speak louder than words”, but never has it been so true at these Olympic Games.  Some say the Australian Olympic team has been a failure during London 2012; others put our decline on the medal tally down to other nations simply improving, and outperforming us on the world stage.

I believe it’s a mixture of both but am regardless of our final medal tally am proud of the vast majority of our Athletes competing.

I thought I would look back at the performances of those athletes who were in the press for all the wrong reasons before the opening ceremony even began.  Three swimmers immediately come to mind, James Magnusson, Kenrick Monk & Nick D’Arcy one track athlete John Steffensen, and Olympic veterans Russell Mark and Natalie Cook.

Not for one moment am I questioning their efforts of the last few years to reach London, but their lead up to the games was hampered in various different ways throughout.

Nick D’Arcy – Swimming bad boy, not only was he found guilty of a caulis assault on fellow swimmer Simon Cowley he declared himself bankrupt to avoid any payment of the $180,000 in civil damages.  D’Arcy was also embroiled in the facebook gun photo scandal with fellow swimmer Kendrick Monk which saw him leave the Olympic village immediately after the completion of his event.

The facebook scandal was blown out of proportion but D’Arcy will never be able to endear himself to the Australian public again.  His results in London were far below par and I doubt we will see him pulling on the Australian swim (white or yellow) cap again.  London Results – 13th in 200m Butterfly

Kenrick Monk – Also caught up in the unfortunate facebook scandal that shouldn’t have been, but has a past history when he made a false report to police after falling off a skateboard to avoid embarrassment.  London Results – 14th in 200m Freestyle, 5th in 4x200m Freestyle relay

James Magnusson – Not a failure by any standards, but his own.  More a victim of circumstance combined with some immaturity shown after his poor relay swim.  Magnusson declared to the world he would go to London, get the gold, and jump on a plane home.  Sounds simple in theory but when you are competing against the world’s best touching home first isn’t as easy as it seems.  Unfairly attacked by some portions of the media after not wanting to comment after his relay team, it was all downhill from there.

I don’t think we paid enough credit to Nathan Adrian who recorded one of the best swims of the meet to beat Magnusson by the barest of margins.  One thing is for sure, this Aussie swimmer will be a little quieter before Rio.  London Results – 11th 50m Freestyle, SILVER 100m Freestyle, 4 x 100m Freestyle relay 4th, 4 x 100m Medley relay BRONZE

John Steffensen – The man with the mouth was embroiled in a racism row before the games with Olympic officials that dated back to 2008.  This issue should have been dealt with at the time or soon after, not 4 years after the event.  Steffensen has always been an outspoken athlete, but usually has the talent to back it up.  Over the last few years Steffensen ability on the track hasn’t matched his ability to get some air time with various issues with athletics Australia.  London Results – 11th 4 x 400m relay

Natalie Cook – Our golden girl from Sydney should have enjoyed her 5th and final Olympic campaign but couldn’t help enter the ‘Who will carry the flag?’ debate.  Her tantrum was nothing short of bizarre, but her back pedal shortly afterwards was as unconvincing as James Brayshaw’s rowing knowledge.  More time spent working on her game instead of practicing carrying the flag would have come in handy as her and beach volleyball partner Tasmin Hinchley failed to win a match and were bundled out in the preliminary rounds.

Sadly now some Australian fans will remember Cook for her flag antics, and not the great legacy she has created for beach volleyball in Australia.  London Results – Lost all three matches, knocked out at first group stage.

Russell Mark – From an athlete with previous games experience I found his room request quite staggering, yes if given the choice most athletes would want to room with their significant other but when it’s the Olympics in London, not a European vacation.  From that moment on Mark’s hopes of producing a medal were shot.  Shooting is extremely tough mentally, and demands the athlete to focus solely on the competition.  London Results – 20th in Men’s double trap qualification.

Whilst we will never be able to tell if their distracted lead ups contributed to their below par performances looking at the bulk of the results indicates to us that they have.  Hopefully for those who pull on the green and gold in either Glasgow or Rio will learn from these experiences and have the knowledge that actions do in fact speak louder than words.

Aus vs USA Different sexes, same result likely

Australia faces world super power the United States in both the men’s and women’s basketball competitions over the next 48 hours.  Both are sudden death but at slightly different stages of the tournament.

The Boomers (Men) will be playing with nothing to lose, facing a hotter favourite than Usain Bolt was in the 100m.  Fresh from Paddy Mills buzzer beater over a higher ranked Russian outfit, the boomers should be up for the challenge early, but will need to rely on some kind of Olympic fantasy to realise a win over the much fancied Team USA.

The Boomers have been far from poor in this Olympics, considering their key man Andrew Bogut is back home still suffering the effects of that painful elbow injury and the national league is less popular than Julia Gillard’s carbon tax.  One would expect a quarter final loss to be admiral at this level to Team USA, a team that boast the likes of Durant, James, Kobe and Anthony but not this team, over the years the Boomers have learnt to become fighters and scrappers, and don’t expect them to leave anything out on the court against any opponent, no matter what their reputation.

To put the match in perspective, we are playing against the second best team ever assembled on an Olympic basketball court (Yes, 1992 Dream team were better).  Our players have come from leagues in various parts of the world (Spain, Australia, USA, Greece, Russia & Serbia) and will be relying on that famous Aussie spirit and grit to even come close to the far superior US team.

The Opals (Women) have a far more realistic shot when they play their semi final against the heavily favoured US team.  A shock loss against France bought this game forward by a couple of days but after a dominant fourth quarter performance over China, the Opals should be ready for the challenge.

Much of our hopes will be pinned on the performances of flag bearer Lauren Jackson and young star Liz Cambage.  Both have been in foul trouble at various stages of the tournament, and the US will be looking to exploit this.  The Opals know they can match the US in different aspects on the court, but their depth is far superior to ours.  We will need to keep out best line up on the court for the majority of the game to match it with the US.  We have beaten them in the past, but not on the Olympic stage.

The pre tournament loss of playmaker Penny Taylor through injury is a significant loss, and one I don’t think we can cover.  The Opals don’t seem to have the same spark as previous years, but I think they can come away from London with a bronze medal.

Both games will be watched with anticipation both here and the United States, but I’m afraid both may have the same result.  The Opals should run with the US for much of the 40 minute contest, while I’m afraid as soon as the US put their game faces on, the Boomers will only see dust in their rear view mirror.

Whilst I’m predicting disappointing results for both Australian teams, it is an opportunity to see our teams matched up with the best in the world, isn’t that what the Olympics are about.

These Girls got game

Their campaign couldn’t have suffered a worse start, playing trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, the Hockeyroos keeper Toni Cronk watched helplessly as the kiwis managed to snare a goal in the first two minutes of play.

New Zealand went onto win the game by that single goal and it looked like any medal hopes had disappeared before the Olympic tournament was barely underway.

Since then the Australian’s have rarely put a stick wrong, a convincing 3-1 win over the higher ranked Germans put their medal hopes back on track, and was followed by a hard fought 1-0 win against the improving Americans.

The girls looked a little disappointed walking off after their next game only beating the lowly ranked South African team 1-0, despite dominating possession and having more shots at goal.  An early goal by Jade Close was enough although there were some late scares in the camp over the last few minutes of the game.

The Hockeyroos now enter their final match with their Olympic destiny in their own hands, a win against pool favourites and a semi final awaits but a loss will see their hard work go unrewarded for yet another Olympic campaign.  One thing in the team’s advantage is that the game is scheduled as the final pool match, so the Hockeyroos will know exactly what is required to reach the medal round.

For those of you who haven’t caught the girls in action as yet, here is three to watch in what will be an enthralling contest.

Toni CRONK (1) – Australia’s goalkeeper, and the Hockeyroos player of the tournament so far.  She will have her work cut out tonight against the skilful Argentines, but will be up to the task.  Might have been caught off guard in the first match, but since then hasn’t put a foot wrong.

Anna FLANAGAN (9) – Australia’s leading scorer in the tournament with 2 goals always looks dangerous going forward.  Flanagan uses her pace to her advantage, but is also solid in defence.  Keep an eye out for Anna in front of goal, particularly if we find ourselves down in the early stages of the game.

Emily SMITH (26) – A little disappointing so far in London, but will be wanting to shine in Australia’s final pool game.  So often the Hockeyroos best avenue to start an attack Smith relies on her close stick work.  At times a fiery customer and definitely someone the Argentines must look out for.

The Australians must start well, and control the match from the midfield.  At times we have looked slower that our opponents and Argentina won’t be any different.  It’s won’t be easy for the girls, but nothing is at the Olympics.

A win will see the medal campaign continue, but a loss may even see the girls finish as low as fourth.  Expect a cut throat atmosphere with the Hockeyroos leaving nothing on the pitch.

Set your alarm clocks tomorrow morning at the action kicks off at 6:05am (AEST) and support an Australian team with such a rich Olympic tradition.  The game will be shown on Foxtel channel London 2.