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English Premier League

The FA & Premier League need to step up fast

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After the ringing of my alarm in the morning, the first thing I hear, like many others, is the sound of talkSPORT. The station is simply first-class in its football coverage. However, last week the main talking points have been based around the more unsavoury aspects of the game.

Spitting and FA charges have been the hot topics of discussion. Whether it be talkSPORT, Sky Sports News or the national press, these stories have dominated the headlines. Yet when I hear or see the next in line on the ex-player conveyor belt put his two bob in about how disgusting spitting is, am I the only one who thinks it’s getting tedious now?

Yes spitting is completely wrong and it has no place in football, or wider society for that matter, but can we just let Pappiss Cisse and Jonny Evans take their punishments and get on with it? Cisse apologised, he’s accepted his charge, let’s just move on.

Stories such as these that dominate headlines are becoming increasingly common in the modern game, and it’s really starting to wind me up. The media certainly doesn’t help matters. They love incidents types of incidents because it sparks debate. But to me, this is not what I want to be listening to, watching or reading about as a football fan.

There has also been a noticeable rise in the number of refereeing decisions that have been scrutinised in the media recently. With players much more fitter and athletic now compared to when the Premier League first formed in 1992, adding to the fact that the game is essentially a non-contact sport now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for officials to correctly get the big decisions right.

This season specifically, it seems the main talking points that Gary Lineker et al discuss on Match of the Day is what the referee got right and/or wrong, rather than the quality of the game itself.

It’s so blatantly obvious that referees need help. Goal-line technology has been a great addition to the game, arguably it came later that it should have, but refs are crying out for some sort of referral system to aid them. You can almost see the fear in their eyes after every decision they make. Referees are scared they might be next to have their performance scrutinised after 6 different TV angles show the striker received a flick of his hair which caused him to go down.

Another story has been running regarding West Ham striker Carlton Cole. On Friday he received a £20,000 FA charge for comments he made on Twitter. Incredibly, The FA has collected over £350,000 for Twitter offences since 2011. But this begs the question, what has that money been used for?

Like many people, I feel that the FA is so out of touch with the game now. Fining people for tweeting is not going to help the game in any way, shape or form. It is not going to solve the underlying defects in the game at grass-roots level. It is not going to be put towards plans to allow referees access to a referral system.

These are just two of the many issues that are wrong with the game in this country, yet The FA are more than happy to just sit back and fine people for making comments on social media. The governing body has to be doing more in my opinion.

In recent years there’s been a huge increase in the number of fans who have turned their backs on the Premier League to go and watch non-league football. The average Joe is becoming more and more disillusioned with football at the top level.

Football and the Premier League is now a multi-billion pound industry; £5.136 billion has been paid for Premier League TV rights for three seasons, meaning even more money will come into the game at the top level. Will this see ticket prices fall? Early indications suggest not, which quite frankly is disgraceful.

When you start losing the fans, something’s wrong. But this doesn’t seem to bother the Premier League or The FA. Going to the football was once a hobby, now it’s a financial burden for the masses. Attendances for England international games have fallen dramatically in the last few years. Who in their right mind would pay £65 to watch us thump San Marino at Wembley?

Quite simply, both the FA and the Premier League need to step up. So many issues need to be addressed, and with more money coming into the game than ever before, there really are no excuses. As the late, great Bill Shankly once said “Football is a simple game”…

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Stoke City

Three things Paul Lambert must address to ensure Stoke City’s survival

Martyn Cooke

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Paul Lambert
Photo: Reuters

Stoke City have announced that Paul Lambert has been appointed as the club’s new manager after signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Premier League strugglers.

The 48-year-old succeeds Mark Hughes, who was dismissed after The Potters were knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier side Coventry City earlier this month, and must now shoulder the responsibility of guiding the club away from the relegation zone.

Stoke are currently eighteenth in the Premier League table and are facing up to the realistic possibility of dropping out of the top flight for the first time in almost a decade.

Lambert’s appointment has brought an end to Stoke’s prolonged search for a new manager that has reportedly seen the position turned down by a number of high profile candidates.

The club hierarchy were initially keen on securing Gary Rowett, prior to him agreeing new contract with Derby County, and have also been snubbed by Espanyol manager Quique Sanchez Flores and Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill.

Essentially Stoke have had to be content with securing their fourth-choice managerial candidate and there is a considerable amount of uncertainty and frustration among supporters that the club were unable to attract a more prestigious figure.

However, with time running short prior to the transfer window closing at the end of the month The Potters have elected to hand the job to Lambert, who has been out of work since leaving Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer.

The former Scotland international faces an uphill task to convince Stoke supporters that he is the right figure to rally behind and must now take on the challenge of saving the club from the drop.

Here The Boot Room looks at three things that Lambert needs to do in order to retain Stoke’s Premier League status.

Organise the defence

Mark Hughes’ position as manager was made untenable by his inability to organise an effective defensive unit.

The Potters currently have the worst defensive record in any of Europe’s top-flight divisions and have conceded 47 goals in 22 league games so far this season – that is an average of over two a game.

Furthermore, the last eighteen months of Hughes’ reign was characterised by heavy defeats, especially against the so-called ‘top teams’, on a regular basis. Stoke have already been hammered at the hands of Tottenham (5-1), Chelsea (4-0 and 5-0) and Manchester City to name just a few.

So Paul Lambert’s immediate concern is to plug the leaky sieve that is Stoke’s defence.

The 48-year-old needs to get back to basics by making The Potters organised, fitter and harder to beat. That might mean taking a more conservative or pragmatic approach and that may result in having to side-line some of the club’s more enigmatic and creative players in order to create a team that is more defensively solid and robust.

If Lambert can close the floodgates and stop Stoke leaking goals then he will have already have solved the team’s most prominent issue.

Find a system that suits the players available

Stoke City’s issues this campaign can be largely attributed to the formations and systems deployed by Mark Hughes that simply did not suit the players that he had available. This is exemplified by the Welshman’s decision to play 3-4-3 despite having no natural wing-backs – eventually being forced to shoe-horn Mame Biram Diouf, a forward by trade, into a right-wing back role.

The current squad is not short of talent, but rather it has been widely misused in the past eighteen months, and it is now Paul Lambert’s responsibility to find a way of maximising the potential of players such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Ramadam Sobhi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and, maybe even, Saido Berahino.

The most obvious solution would be to revert to a back-four, yet it is what the 48-year-old does with the midfield and attacking units that will define his career at the club.

He has plenty of questions to answer: does he use Shaqiri as a winger or a number 10? Does he play with a lone striker? Does he play with a front two? What system will get the most out of Darren Fletcher and Joe Allen in the central of midfield? Which wingers does he place his faith in?

At this stage, Stoke supporters will be willing to buy into whatever decisions that Lambert makes as long as they are logical and appear to be part of a clear, definitive game plan. As long as they do not have to see a striker being forced to play as a right-back they will back into their new manager’s decisions

Get supporters onside

There is no secret that Paul Lambert was far from being top of the managerial wish-list for Stoke City supporters and it is no surprise that the fanbase has been left feeling underwhelmed by his appointment.

However, the club’s failure to secure a more high-profile appointment now leaves The Potters with little option other than to rally behind what was effectively the hierarchy’s fourth choice option to succeed Mark Hughes.

Lambert faces a difficult challenge to steer the club away from the relegation zone and he needs to get the supporters onside as soon as possible.

The Bet365 Stadium was once renowned for its loud, raucous and passionate atmosphere after Stoke first achieved promotion in 2008. The crowd often had a key influence on matches and a trip to The Potteries was something that opposition players feared.

However, that atmosphere has dissipated in recent seasons following the club’s steady decline under Hughes and if Lambert can give supporters cause to rally around him then they can play a crucial role in the relegation battle as the metaphorical ‘twelfth man’.

The only way that Lambert can do this is by inspiring some fight, drive and determination on the pitch, which is something that has been sorely lacking in recent months.

The supporters will give the manager and the team their full support if they see their side putting everything into the cause that they can – it is now down to Lambert to show that he can stimulate a dramatic improvement in performances.

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Liverpool

Why Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson was one of the signings of the summer

Jake Jackman

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Robertson
Photo: Reuters

Andrew Robertson isn’t a household name, but he established himself as one of the best young players in the Premier League performance with an excellent performance against Manchester City.

Few expected Liverpool would be able to topple the runaway league leaders, especially after the departure of Philippe Coutinho. However, the Reds delivered one of their best performances since the appointment of Jurgen Klopp and took the three points to consolidate their own position in the top four.

It was a nervy end to the match as the visitors fought back to grab two consolation goals, but given the incredible energy that the home side showed since the first whistle, a stuttering end can be forgiven.

The 23-year-old was a signing that went under the radar during the summer and those football fans that don’t have their finger on the pulse may not have known that he had moved to Anfield. Despite a good season with Hull City, it is rare to see a player move from a relegated side to one in the Champions League.

There aren’t a lot of quality full-back options in the Premier League and Robertson showed enough to justify a transfer. It was a risk, but at the price of an initial £8 million, it was one worth taking.

The club’s official site reported the following quotes from Klopp upon the deal being announced:

“For Andrew, this is another big step on what has been a quite incredible personal journey in a very short space of time.

“I know our environment will benefit him and help him push himself even more than he has already. This is a player who does not limit his ambition.”

Klopp can’t be faulted for his record in the transfer market since arriving at Liverpool. His big money purchases have all been successes, but his decision to bring Robertson could represent the best value for money. The Reds’ boss clearly saw something in his character that suggested he would develop quickly at Anfield and his emergence in recent weeks has proven him correct.

The left-back was eased into life at a top-six club and made only three appearances for the club before December, two of which came in the Premier League. For Klopp, he needs to fully trust that a new player understands his style of play.

Those already at a high level, such as Mohamed Salah, can be expected to step straight in as they have a lot of experience of playing different systems. However, Robertson had been playing a more traditionally British system at Hull City and likely lacked the tactical knowledge of the rest of the squad.

Since the start of December, he has made the left-back position his own and his efforts against Manchester City showed that he can stand out against the very best. He was given a difficult task of marking Raheem Sterling, the former Liverpool player.

The City winger has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season and is among the top scorers. He would have been relishing the opportunity to return to Anfield and shine, but he was kept quiet by Robertson.

The former Hull City player was keen to go forward and support the Liverpool attacks. His distribution and decision making were both superb against Manchester City. In the past, we have seen Liverpool full-backs get caught upfield as they try to stick to Klopp’s strict tactical instructions.

It is difficult to master playing the position in this system, but Robertson is showing maturity beyond his years. He completed 79% of his passes, which is a good accuracy given they were playing an opposition that press high up the pitch.

Talking of pressing, Robertson was relentless in this area of his game and regularly put pressure on the Manchester City attackers. He was directly responsible for a number of turnovers as he didn’t stop running from the first minute to the last.

There was one incredible moment when he chased a ball back to Ederson and followed it until he eventually fouled Nicolas Otamendi. The Kop responded with a cheer fitting of a goal. They could see his effort and responded to it. Although he didn’t win possession, his manager would have been delighted with that phase of play.

His aggression was shown through his tackling. Robertson completed seven tackles and was only beaten twice on the dribble. Considering he was coming up against the likes of Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, this is a very impressive return.

In addition to his tackling, the Scottish international made seven clearances to relieve the pressure on his team. The last few minutes were nerve-wracking for the home side, but the left-back remained assured in his defensive work.

Although he has a lot of areas to improve, Robertson is getting better with every game and he is establishing himself as a top-six full-back. Liverpool gambled on his potential and Klopp’s ability to develop it. His slow introduction to the first-team coupled with some excellent performances during the last six weeks show that the German manager knows what he is doing.

The 23-year-old’s performance against Manchester City captured the nation’s attention. He now needs to push on and consistency deliver at that high level.

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Newcastle United

Takeover developments suggest troubling times ahead at Newcastle United

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle
Photo: Reuters

Newcastle United are entering into a tense period of their history and the stakes have never been greater. News broke on Tuesday that the takeover talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley had broken down. Sky Sports were the first to report the story, publishing the following quotes from a source close to the Magpies’ owner:

“It is only right to let the fans know that there is no deal on the table or even under discussion with Amanda Staveley and PCP.”

The source went on to say that the talks had ‘proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time’. The reaction on social media was predictably a bad one, as many supporters stated that the same description could be used to discuss Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club.

It could be that the story is a cleverly released one by the Newcastle owner’s camp and brinkmanship on his part, but this is the latest of a long string of disappointing events for the club’s supporters. For them, it feels like the Sports Direct tycoon will never release his hold on the club.

A source close to PCP Capital Partners and Amanda Staveley was quick to address the story. Their side of the talks were keen to make it clear that the consortium had made a bid for Newcastle and that remains on the table.

“PCP Capital Partners made a carefully considered bid in November and it remains on the table.”

It is impossible to completely believe any story that has been leaked to the press during these takeover talks, as the media is a tool used to increase pressure on the opposite side. The takeover of Newcastle United was always likely to be a complex business deal that wouldn’t take place over night, despite Ashley’s optimistic Christmas deadline.

It could be that there are more twists and turns to come where the PCP bid is concerned. However, this story has to be taken at face value and supporters should be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which is Ashley remaining at the helm for the foreseeable future.

Why would no takeover be devastating for Newcastle?

Mike Ashley has been owner of the football club for over ten years and the club have been in the Premier League for the majority of those. Why would another few months of his ownership be a bad thing for Newcastle United?

Well, for Newcastle supporters and those that closely follow the club, that is a simple question to answer. Ashley suggested, during his interview with Sky Sports in August, that he was unable to compete with the rest of the Premier League financially and that, concerningly, the club bank was running on empty.

“So people outside of football looking in sometimes think that’s how much you have in the bank, I must make it crystal clear that I am not wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City etcetera, not just Man City. It’s basically a wealthy individual taking on the equivalent of a country. I cannot, and will not. “

The namedrop of Manchester City was interesting at the time, as nobody was expecting Mike Ashley to compete with the club funded by oligarchs. However, the sobering fact for Newcastle fans is that their club (£38.07 million) have spent less than both Huddersfield Town (£51.08 million) and Brighton (£42.84 million) since the three clubs were promoted last season.

Against Swansea City at the weekend, the Magpies started the match with eleven of the players that had been at the club last season in the Championship. Mike Ashley has refused to provide the finances required to grow the team to the next level and their precarious position in the Premier League is a reflection of that.

A third relegation in the Ashley tenure is a real possibility without investment this month. As yet, that hasn’t been forthcoming and, judging by his actions during the last 12 months, few supporters are expecting it.

That could lead to further conflict with manager Rafa Benitez. The Newcastle boss has been very public about his desire for more players. The Spaniard is aware of his very powerful position at the club as he is the one person preventing the supporters from directing their anger at Mike Ashley.

If he isn’t given what he wants, he may consider walking away and that is a situation that the owner must avoid.

Benitez is both Ashley’s best asset and biggest threat. The manager has improved the atmosphere around the club and as long as he is in post, the supporters will believe that better times are ahead.

In addition to that, he is a world-class coach and capable of producing better results with an average squad. Newcastle are currently out of the relegation zone and considering the talent at his disposal, that is a huge achievement. However, if he was to leave his post, a crisis would quickly follow and it would be difficult to see the club maintaining their Premier League status.

The next few weeks and months promise to be crucial in determining the future of Newcastle United. There is nothing wrong with Mike Ashley walking away from talks with PCP and Amanda Staveley. If the deal wasn’t right and little progress was being made, his decision is understandable.

However, as the current owner of the club, it would be unforgivable not to invest before the transfer deadline. The squad isn’t good enough and needs an injection of quality. If that isn’t given, Benitez’s future would be cast into fresh doubt.

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