Archive for October, 2012

Does Harry have a Heart?

Yesterday, like so many who support the red side of town I walked away from another very ordinary performance and asking myself where improvement would come from? was the Melbourne Derby a one off performance?

We failed to penetrate the defence, we barely registered a shot on target and we have become more predictable than a Howard Webb penalty decision at Old Trafford.  Predominately we are a counter attacking team, but at every turn yesterday we slowed the ball up, looked for options in the middle and presented it on a silver platter to the best young domestic keeper going around Matt Ryan.  We are lacking a star quality, whether it’s a form or injury problem at the moment Fred doesn’t look like solving any problems this season.

Over the next week we are going to see a possible answer to our problems splashed all over the Herald Sun and Age publications, sadly these photo’s will be in the gossip/celebrity sections not the sports section like so many of us in Australia would prefer.

Earlier this year a poll voted Harry Kewell as our best Socceroos player of all time, whether you agree with this is an irrelevant point to me.  Harry is (or was) a quality player with the ability to change a game.  Late last season Harry started to show what he was capable of almost after a very slow start to Victory’s campaign after arriving with much fanfare.  Kewell is what Melbourne Heart are lacking, a star quality with attacking flair which has been notably absent in the Heart’s last three performances.

The new signing of Vince Grella is a very welcome addition to the Heart, but hardly a game changer.  Grella and Richie Garcia will ‘Boss’ the midfield and present chances to other Heart players but will rarely take any themselves.

YES, Harry is probably asking an unrealistic amount for his service, YES Harry hasn’t done a proper preseason; YES his family are still overseas; the original reason he left Victory, and YES we would be accused of taking yet another Victory player to build our squad.  If you are looking at these points you would say there is no chance of Harry pulling on a Heart shirt, but Harry has to realise if he has any burning desire to make the 23 man squad to Brazil (If we get there) he must sign for a club sooner rather than later.

Harry Kewell won’t play in the A-League this season, and may never pull a pair of football boots on again in a competitive match but he would be a great fit for the struggling Melbourne Heart.  The fact that we are even talking about him suiting up again while he’s on a promotion tour choosing Politix over sport is a combination of the media speculation/sheer fantasy but paramount to the type of player Kewell has been over the years.

Good luck on the punt Harry over the spring and thanks for your services to the Socceroos over the years, sadly I don’t think we won’t see you gracing our pitches again.

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Week 4 A-League predictions

A very tough week for tipsters in the round ball this weekend. If I were a smart man I would save my money for the horses this week, or keep it in my pocket; but I’m not so here’s my tips.

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory

This game has draw written all over it, but I do like the Victory anytime they are paying $3 or more. Last week they looked sharper than they have all season under Ange and a win should give them a confidence boost. Newcastle got the points in the F3 Derby but was helped along by referee Ben Williams and some bizarre decisions. Victory 2-1

Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix

At least the good folk of Adelaide have some football action to take their minds off the disastrous Kurt Tippett situation. Adelaide is still top of the league and will want to atone for last week’s poor performance. Wellington on the other hand has always struggled away from home and will want to improve on that this season. Expect Adelaide to hit the front in what should be a very tight match, but a determined Wellington will hit back and grab an equaliser. DRAW 1-1

Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers

The only game of the week I can predict with any confidence. If this were a match race the Roar would be at Black Caviar odds, but its football so you get a very generous $1.30 in some markets. Let’s call it what it is, the best team going around vs. a team that have not scored in 270 minutes of football. Brisbane should win comfortably and Berisha should have a field day Brisbane 3-0

Melbourne Heart v Central Coast Mariners

On paper this is the dullest game of the round, with Graham Arnold threatening to kill off any attack the Heart are willing to make during the match. The Mariners are not the most exciting team to watch, and on last week’s performance neither are the Heart. The battle of the keepers will provide an interesting battle but that’s about it in a game that will barely make the six o’clock news highlights. The Mariners have won 4 out of 6 encounters between the two teams and they are my value of the week. Mariners 1-0

Sydney FC v Perth Glory

Finally Bling FC managed a win, albeit against new club and new rival Western Sydney. The team are managing to gel together nicely but still rely far too heavily on the 37 year old legs of Del Piero. Perth will come to town lead by the determined Jacob Burns and will scrap and harass Sydney for the full 90 minutes and it should be an absorbing match to watch. A very tough result to call, but Perth looks toothless without Shane Smeltz so it’s Sydney for the last game of the week. Sydney 2-1

 

Our SUBstandard bench situation

Crowds are up, fans are buzzing and we are finally getting the kind of attention we deserve.  Football fans around the country should be enjoying this time and the positive light the ALeague is experiencing and should experience for the foreseeable future.

The coverage has been outstanding from all at Fox Sports, and I’m really enjoying the new Shootout show during Sunday night primetime.  ABC grandstand are doing a fantastic job with their always professional radio broadcast, and their other shows are providing great insight.  Blogs, podcasts and twitter feeds have been full of praise for the competition (well, maybe not Ben Williams) and from the outside it looks like the league is finally nearing a place so many of us expected it to be when it first started.

My one main concern still is the fact that teams are only allowed four players on the bench.  Given one of those spots is a keeper this only allows coaches to have three outfield players.  Over the weekend during the five games 26 out of a possible 30 substitutions (87%) were made, indicating the importance of the role the substitute plays during matches.

At present most teams go with the theory of one defender, one midfielder and one attacker on the bench due to restrictions the league have placed on clubs.  Tactically I find this too restrictive those in charge, and normally forces player shuffles and results in players playing out of position for the last portion of the match.  Yes it could lead to a more unpredictable result for the neutral, but as passionate fans we want to see players from our club play in roles they were initially recruited for, not playing in makeshift roles due to injury or circumstance.

It is my understanding that the shortened player bench is requested by some clubs due to the extra financial burden an extra player(s) would put on the club, requiring extra flights/hotel rooms etc for those increased numbers.  To me this is farcical, we are a professional league and we are now attracting some great crowds, both from a television audience, and through the gate.  I want to see the best contest possible and in order to do this an increased bench is required.

I know that you can’t change rules midseason or midweek (unless you are that other sporting code in the country) but this should be very high on the ALeague agenda for season 2013/14.  Increasing the bench by one or two spots will see an increase in skill level for the game thus making it yet more attractive to everyone involved.

At the moment coaches are too restricted by this outdated concept.  Yesterday was a perfect example of this, Melbourne Heart players were looking out on their feet, and down 1-0 to Perth Glory.  Coach John Aloisi only had a central defender to bring on to the pitch so he opted to leave him on the bench and play the final 10 minutes with fatigue struggling players due to a limited bench.

We are playing some marquee players upwards of $2 million per season, and we can’t afford to fly an 18 year old kid to matches for an increased bench, I think not; It’s time to roll with the times ALeague and increase the standard of play through and increased bench.

P.S Don’t even get me started about those plastic Bunnings chairs we use, can’t wait to see Del Piero get subbed and sit in a $10 garden chair.

Heart breaking for fans

Although only a round two fixture playing against a half strength Wellington Phoenix squad should have proved an easy task for almost the same XI that defeated the much fancied Victory the week before.  In football, just like life there are very few certainties and we cannot take anything for granted; maybe we should have told a few of the players that.

I am, and always will be a loyal fan of the Melbourne Heart, but what I witnessed Sunday is something I don’t want to see from my club for a very long time.  Honestly that was one of the worst performances from the Heart I have witnessed, and it didn’t portray what the club stands for.  We are a club that will always be in the shadows of our older rival Melbourne Victory and we need to attract new fans, and keep our old fans through sheer hard work and attractive football; Sunday we did neither.

I like many others made the walk from Flinders street station, to Melbourne’s home of football AAMI Park, there was a special buzz in the air, a crowd in excess of 10,000 and optimism levels for those in red and white were off the scale.  This was going to be a great day, we would score a few goals, probably sub Fred around the hour mark to allay any injury concerns and walk away with the three points.  Someone just forgot to tell a plucky young Wellington Phoenix our plan, or some of our players.

We opened the game very slow and happy to pass the ball around at the back, to me it looked like we were trying to conserve some energy from the first minute, given the conditions, and some of the players match fitness.  This was mistake number one, we were playing against a much younger squad who were trying to impress a stand in manager whilst the better half (Ifill & Huysegems aside) were playing World Cup qualifiers in a tropical location.

Phoenix had the best two opening chances, and if it wasn’t for some individual brilliance by Aziz Behich and a quality finish from Matt Thompson it could have been 0-0 after 25 minutes.  When the first goal went in there was an easy that came over the crowd that we could settle in and enjoy the match.  But over the next 20 minutes my frustrations contninaully grew as we missed chance after chance to kill off the game.  Fred seemed content to walk the ball into the net, whilst others missed easy chances.  We just didn’t appear switched on or too fazed from missing these chances, we just sat back and expected the three points to come to us.

The early penalty in the second half was the correct call, and although it was sheer stupidity from Simon Colosimo to intentionally handball on the goal line.  I am of the thinking it was pure defensive instinct and can let it slide.  Worst case scenario if there was no handball the goal would have stood and we still had 43 minutes to score against a relatively inexperienced XI who had never played a match together.

New coach John Aloisi made the defensive move straight away of attacker for defender, but it was a little too defensive for my liking.  Why didn’t we push Matt Thompson back into defence (a role familiar to him) and keep attacking the young Phoenix team.  Instead we were at a numerical disadvantage and level on the scoreboard.  Fred and Dugandzic frustrated me all day, to them it was like an easy hit out and both didn’t appear up for the challenge of a plucky team, both went through the motions and missed key opportinuites at important stages of the match.

The loss of David Williams proved a big one before the start of the game.  This severely limited out attacking options from the bench and Aloisi seemed reluctant to risk young striker Jason Hoffman near the end of the match.  If you’re attacking the game wouldn’t you use this type of player?  Don’t get me wrong Aloisi is a far better manager that I will ever and I fully trust his appointment, but why sit a player on a four player bench when you don’t have faith in the guy.

I walked away from AAMI Park a very despondent supporter, not only frustrated at the way we played the game on Sunday but the fact we have failed again in front of a decent crowd at potentially new audience.  Derbies aside we haven’t played good football when we have decent crowds.  My fear is that through all the good work of the marketing campaign, recruitment and derby wins we will still be playing to an average crowd of 7500 at the end of the season.

We have a tough run over the next fortnight (Perth away, Mariners home) and will be lucky to secure maximum points from either encounter.  Yes, it is only round 2, but Sunday we dropped two points and I hope that isn’t crucial come April.

My punting guide to Opening Weekend

Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Friday 19:30 AEST
Traditionally derbies are very hard to bet on, the rule of thumb is to back the draw and be done with it.  Not this week I’m afraid for Heart fans.  Victory have recruited well over the long off season, whilst Heart have lost many young stars to overseas clubs.  I see even money as great value for Victory, particularly as Heart are without midfielder Jonatan Germano through injury.  If you fancy a flutter first goal scorer Archie Thompson may prove some value as he has found the back of the net in his last Socceroos appearance.

Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC
Saturday 16:30 AEST
It has been touted as one of the biggest sporting signings in Australian history, so where else would Alessandro Del Piero be making his debut than windy Wellington.  The game is even being beamed into Italian homes, such is the mans pulling power.  Somewhat about the match itself, Wellington have recruited well in the off season picking up Jeremy Brockie for the loss of Chris Greenacre, but have lost some experience  in the midfield thru the retirement of Tim Brown.  Sydney will take time to learn to adapt under new coach Ian Crook and I see the draw as the most likely outcome for this match.  Punters don’t be sucked into the Del Piero novelty markets, even the great man himself doesn’t know what to expect of himself on Saturday.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Central Coast Mariners
Saturday 19:45 AEST
To those of an AFL background this Western Sydney team won’t be a walkover like its namesake in that code.  I expect them to be very competitive and surprise a number of teams throughout the year.  Having said that let’s not forget you have a team that has started from scratch playing against a team that finished top of the table last season.  Graham Arnold will have his men primed for the season opener and ready to give the Wanderers a frosty welcome into the competition.  If this was any other code you would expect very short odds so take the juicy 1.80 odds available in some markets.

Newcastle v Adelaide
Sunday 15:00 AEST
Possibly the hardest game of the round to tip the result of.  Newcastle have recruited former England international Emile Heskey over the past week, but one doubts his match fitness levels as he has only been in the country for a week.  A cameo appearance off the bench could be the most one could ask for at this early stage in the season.  As for Adelaide they fly back from their Asian cup quarter final in Uzbekistan Thursday morning Australia time, hardly the ideal perpetration.  Given this, and being the first round of the season I am leaning towards Newcastle to get the three points on offer.

Perth Glory v Brisbane Roar
Sunday 17:00 AEST
the game myself, and thousands of football fans have been looking forward to all winter.  We all remember the controversial circumstances of how last years grand final finished in, now it’s Perth’s chance to gain some revenge.  Brisbane are without championship manager Ange Postecoglu and will take time to adjust to a new way of playing, whilst Perth have bolstered their defence with through the signing of former Gold Coast defender Michael Thwaite.  Both teams are at similar odds, a d normally I would be backing the draw, but given home ground advantage and the revenge factor I think Perth will get the narrow victory.

Sydney FC

PREDICTION: Winners, Del Piero will bring big things to Sydney.  Yes TheHardsWord has jumped on the SydneyFC bandwagon too.

BEST FINISH: Champions in 2005/06 & 2009/10

THE SIGNING: When the twittershpere went into meltdown with the rumour Alessandro Del Piero I was like many and thought the deal would never happen, but it was great ALeague clubs were chasing International superstars no matter what their age.  When the rumours became reality it was a watershed day for the league proving the the world Australian isn’t just a place for a holiday.

THE LOSS: Losing last season’s golden boot Bruno Cazarine and midfielder Shannon Cole could be considered losses, but neither will have a dramatic impact as SydneyFC improve dramatically on last years results.

THE STAR: Over 200 goals for Italian giants Juventus is as good a reason as any to say why Del Piero will be the star for Sydney.  Del Piero is more than a goal scorer, he is a complete player and superstar.  If Alessandro delivers even half of what is expected of him football in Australia will be thankful those at Sydney had the courage to sign him.

THE X FACTOR: Brett Emerton debut year didn’t set the world on fire, but it did show glimpses.  Emerton is a footballing professional and will not only be eager to regain his form at club level, but also his place in the National team.  With the signing of Del Piero, Emerton will almost be a forgotten man and should reveal with the opportunity.

OFF THE PITCH: Sydney FC should gain unprecedented international exposure and crowd numbers on the back of signing a footballing superstar, but will they.  Sydney sports fans are known to be fair weather fans at the best of times but this should test their love of football.  The transport deal included in the membership package is another reason why fans should join up.

GOLDEN BOOT: Yes you guessed it, Del Piero again.  I’m not prepared to back new signing and Croatian journeyman Krunoslav Lovrek in what appears to be a one horse race.

THE MATCH: The first ever Sydney Derby will be highly anticipated by all.  Sydney FC should see this as their chance to stamp their authority over newcomers West Sydney, unlike what happened in Melbourne two seasons ago.

THE START: A tough trip across the Tasman to open the season against the Phoenix, before the club spends the next month in their home state.  Sydney faces Newcastle at home before the inaugural Sydney derbyPerth Glory will provide a great challenge the week after before they travel down the road to face Central Coast.

Brisbane Roar

Over the last few seasons Brisbane has taught Australian fans of the game that you can play the beautiful game, and win.  The tag Roarcalona has been thrown around when describing the team and it’s a justified tag.

Brisbane will be around the mark this season, and won’t be affected by the loss of master tactician Ange Postecoglu to badly.  The team showed signs of being human last year with their losing streak, but then showed the football world what a champion team they were winning back to back titles.

PREDICTION: 2nd Expectations are high, but the Roar will fall just short of creating history.  As Meatloaf said two out of three ain’t bad.

BEST FINISH: Champions is 2010/11 & 2011/12

THE SIGNING: Young Korean Do Dong-Hyan from all reports has settled in Brisbane well and is full of pace and skill.  He should fit in well in what is the standout midfield of the league.

THE LOSS: Not a player, but the coach.  Ange Postecoglu will be a bigger loss than most think up in Brisbane, his ability to get the best out of the players and creating a belief they can win from any position, as proven in their 26 game winning streaks.

THE STAR: Thomas Broich, who else but the best player in the league.  Broich is the main reason why Brisbane have won back to back titles, and will be a driving force in their search for the three peat.   Broich’s ability to create through midfield creates no end of problems for opposition coaches.

THE X FACTOR: Last season Besart Barisha took the league by storm continually finding the back of the net, but can he do it again one year later.  Much was made of his celebrations when the controversial penalty was awarded in the dying stages of the grand final.  His first appearance of the season in Perth could give him an early instalment of what to expect at venues around Australia.

OFF THE PITCH: Can Brisbane continue their ‘Roarcelona’ status of the Aleague?  Under the watchful guise of new boss Rado Vidosic Brisbane will look to their polished midfield to continue their domination.  After hosting yet another grand final last year Brisbane fans should continue to turn out and support the most watchable team in the league.

GOLDEN BOOT: Berisha should win this in a canter.  Eric Paartalu and Thomas Broich may contribute to the scoresheet now and again, but Berisha is the recognised scorer for the Roar.

THE MATCH: The opening fortnight is massive for the club, with a trip to Perth to contend with first up.  Perth will be looking to seek some sort of revenge after the way the Grand final ended last season.  Follow this up the return of Ange to Suncorp stadium.  It will be interesting to see how the fans react to their one time leader against Melbourne Victory.

THE START: See above for the opening fortnight and follow that up with a tough trip to Wellington.  The Roar should be confident of taking six points away from their next two home clashed against Western Sydney and Adelaide.