Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gary Newbon presents the Pieman's blog

Barcelona deserved to beat Manchester United in the European Champions League final. They outplayed and out-passed a disappointing and nervous looking United team who had achieved so much during the season. No criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson who has won 25 major trophies as the United manager compared with 14 previously in the club's history. Barcelona were smarter and lots better on the day. United got it wrong, passed badly and just had a bad day at the office. They will be back..........

Newcastle's relegation to the Championship is a stunning but sad story. They have been in free fall for too long. It might be harder to get back than their fans believe. Alan Shearer by the way has it all to do as manager. He was a great player, he will always be a hero in Newcastle but to sit in the TV studios as a pundit and then take your first managerial job at a crisis club in the Premier League is a big ask. Alan may become a great manager but few start with their first job in the Premier League and make a success. Kenny Dalglish had a different set-up with Liverpool but usually average players who become great managers have cut their managerial teeth at lower levels, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, David Moyes, Martin O'Neill and so on. Martin will argue by the way that he was captain of his country and won a European Cup winners' medal - but you get my drift on the managerial front.

Aston Villa fans have turned on their former captain Gareth Barry for his move to Manchester City and for his reason for leaving after over 10 years at Villa Park. I know Gareth well. He is a very good player, an excellent person and took his captain's duties very seriously, attending more personal appearances for the club than anyone else. He was often Villa's best player. But football fans turn very quickly. Their treatment of former players can be pathetic. None of those now having a go at Barry would have turned down the chance themselves of doubling their wages and picking up a huge signing on/loyalty/bonus or however they phrase it in the contract! Barry even wrote a letter to the Villa supporters through the medium of the local newspaper, the Birmingham Mail.... However, without deliberately contradicting myself I do sympathise with the supports anger at Barry's reasoning that one major reason was for Champions League football. Unfair to Villa who finished sixth, higher than Barry's new club and just two places behind Arsenal. Gareth was badly advised to use that tack. He might have just confined his reasons, if he felt he had to give them more money and new challenges. After all Manchester City is currently about more money. Fans reserve the right to boo their own players when they think they deserve it. They should also recognise that a player who has given great service should be allowed to move towards or at the end of his contract. Villa will receive £12 million in transfer fee.

Other sinking ships in Titanic order after Newcastle.....Charlton, Norwich and Southampton. How low will they fall?...How did Phil Parkinson get the full time manager's job at Charlton after only one win in 18 matches as caretaker boss there?

Off-beat award of the season. Stoke City's Rory Delap for those huge long range throw-ins. Brilliant. And my Manager of the Year award would go to his boss Tony Pulis who did a wonderful job keeping Stoke in the Premier League when all the critics, including me, wrote them off for instant relegation.

My correct predictions of the season for different reasons: Manchester United to win the Premier League; Hull to stay up (they only just did!); Wolves to be promoted, Leicester to be promoted back to the Championship. Aston Villa not to finish in the top four (won money) and Portsmouth to finish below 9th (won money again!)

What I got wrong: Manchester United to win the European Champions League; Chelsea to be Premier League runner's up; Stoke to be relegated; Birmingham to be promoted through the play-offs (they won automatic promotion), Leeds to be promoted from League One and Cambridge United to be promoted to the Football League. Hey, you cannot get it all right!

Have a good summer. I hope the Pieman invites me back next football season!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gary Newbon presents the Pieman's Blog

Manchester United are simply the best. Both the Pieman and myself predicted that they would retain the Premier League when the season began. The addition of the World Club Championship and the League Cup are a big bonus topped by being on the verge of retaining their European Champions League. The final against Barcelona in Rome on Wednesday May 27 is the match all Europe will savour. United will win because they have a great squad and are covered in every position. They also have Cristiano Ronaldo. Of course Barcelona have some great players such as Lionel Messi but United also have the relentless Sir Alex Ferguson as their manager and he stays one step at least ahead of the rest...

No-one should be distracted by the Carlos Tevez situation. Sure, he has made an important impact every so often. Sure, he is a very good player. If he stays, great, if he goes, ok. His presence elsewhere will be disappointing for United but the cost will not be as much as is being made.

Everyone is waiting for the last Sunday of the season of the Premier League (May 24th, 4 p.m. kick-off) to see who is finally relegated and what team Manchester United start with, just three days before the ECL final in Rome. United will be at Hull, one of four clubs trying not to be in the two who go down with West Bromwich Albion. The fixtures are Sunderland v Chelsea; Hull v United; Aston Villa v Newcastle and West Ham v Middlesbrough.... WBA are bottom and gone. Middlesbrough have 32 points and minus 28 goal difference; Newcastle have 34 points and the best goal difference with minus 18; Hull 35 points and minus 24 with Sunderland 36 points and minus 19.... It’s down to the wire. I was at the Hawthorns to see the Baggies lose to Liverpool on Sunday. I will be at Villa Park this Sunday and expect Newcastle to be beaten. Funnily enough, I think West Bromwich are better than the others at the bottom!

Sir Alex will want United to win whatever side he picks. That's in his nature and he would not want to be accused of causing an upset. But he has to think of Rome. Anyway, these clubs have had the previous 37 games to have made sure they were not in this position. Football people often look for excuses and blissfully choose to ignore their own shortcomings either in a match or the season. Or in some cases both!

The play-off finals are about to be staged at Wembley. The biggest one is the Championship game with the winners of Sheffield United and Burnley being promoted to the Premier League. It’s a tough call but I fancy Burnley. They have had a marathon season, over 60 games, with a run to the 5th round of the FA Cup and semi-finals of the League Cup before going out in extra time to Spurs. Owen Coyle has done a great job as manager. Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell will be favourite to bounce this club straight back after controversial relegation last season.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gary Newbon presents the Pieman's Blog

All season I have been predicting that Manchester United would retain the Premier League. I knew they were good but now they seem to be the best team in the world. They have a great manager, great players, a fantastic attitude to playing football and the power and depth to achieve it. They need four points this week to clinch the title again and with home matches against Wigan and Arsenal they could do it before second place Liverpool even play again! I really believe they can also retain the European Champions League and become the first club to achieve back to back competition wins in this ECL. United against Barcelona in their perfect-looking final.

Alan Shearer eventually achieved his first win as Newcastle manager at the sixth attempt… and good luck to him. Shearer is clearly making a difference. The 3-1 home win over relegation rivals Middlesbrough could be enough to keep them up with two matches left. They may need another win... last games are home to Fulham and then away to Villa. But the St. James's Park win on Monday means it’s now West Bromwich Albion bottom, then Middlesbrough and now Hull. You would not want to bet against those three going down. I was wrong about Stoke. Everyone at the start of the season was predicting relegation for Stoke. Their manager Tony Pullis made the Britannia Stadium a fortress with 9 wins, five draws and just four defeats. They dug in to win with the loudest crowd around. Take a bow Tony Pullis.

UEFA need to address two problems in the European Champions League competiton. They must put their very best referees in charge of the later stages of the competiton. Tom Henning Ovrebro may have been the best referee in Norway for the last five years and he may have taken over 20 ECL games but I did not see any mention anywhere of him being amongst the elite in Europe. He had a shocker at Stamford Bridge for the second leg of the ECL semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona. He missed at least one penalty decision for Chelsea (maybe two were penalties but not all four!), but it was not a conspiracy to stop a repeat on an all English ECL final again! Anyway, if that had been the case (and it was not) then the referee would not have sent off a Barcelona player. By the way, as you may have seen, that was a mistake as well! Yet the behaviour of some of the Chelsea players afterwards was terrible. Some must be punished. Didier Drogba using crude and obscene language into a love TVC camera with millions upon millions listening around the world deserves severe punishment. His captain John Terry should not have condoned it and manager Guus Hiddink should have publicly criticised him as Reading manager Steve Coppell did about one of his player’s bad on-pitch behaviour at the weekend. The fact is – yes, the referee did make mistakes but so did some Chelsea players. Drogba missed a good chance and Michael Essien failed to mark and defend properly for the very late Barcelona equaliser. The culture to always blame the referee and not the shortcomings of the players is beginning to become so predictable and boring!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gary Newbon presents The Pieman's Blog

An English team will be in the European Champions League for the fifth season running. That's a fact because Manchester United will play Arsenal in one of the semi-finals. Arsenal are playing very well but I take Manchester United to be defending their title in the final in Rome at the end of May. In the other semi-final Chelsea will play the Spanish giants Barcelona. I would not want to write off Chelsea but Barcelona with the likes of Lionel Messi are well fancied. I think Barca will shade it.

United had to be the first English team to win in Porto. The presence of Rio Ferdinand in United's defence was a big factor. I am so impressed with Wayne Rooney and his incredible work rate. Manchester United are looking strong and back in business. They have won the World Club Championship and the Carling Cup. They play Everton in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley on Sunday. Everton are doing so well but they do not have the resources, strength or as much talent as United. David Moyes has got his side playing like a real team but I expect United to return to Wembley for the final. That leaves the Premier League. United are of course reigning Champions of the PL as well. They have a one point lead over Liverpool with a game in hand. Liverpool have just six matches left. United to retain this title as well! Hey, they could still win all five trophies. Sir Alex Ferguson deserves it!

Liverpool were involved in a fantastic ECL quarter-final second leg tie at Stamford Bridge. They were 3-1 down from the first leg at Anfield. After falling behind several times in the amazing return Liverpool led 4-3 but Frank Lampard's second goal made it 4-4 and sealed it for Chelsea. What a regular star Lampard proves to be for Chelsea.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he fancies the ECL semi-finals with Manchester United. He has to, but they are on a great unbeaten run in the Premier League, they are fourth and look certain to nail another ECL place next month. It’s great for Arsenal that they have their three best players back, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin Van Persie. Add the likes of Theo Walcott who scored the first goal against Villarreal, and of course they play Chelsea on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-finals.

The Premier League proves once again it’s the best and strongest there is in the world. The Chelsea v Liverpool match was football at its most exciting. The best match of the season anywhere!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gary Newbon presents The Pieman's Blog

Sir Alex Ferguson takes gambles to win matches. His latest was vital. On Sunday with the club trailing Liverpool in the Premier League and Aston Villa in the match itself Sir Alex threw on a 17 year old substitute Italian Federico Macheda for his debut. His stunning winner three minutes into added time was the stuff dreams are made of. United are now one point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand (v Portsmouth) and with 8 matches left (7 for Liverpool who appear to have an easier run in). This 3-2 win could be the result that actually makes the difference! United were without five very important players through suspension and injury. That's how big a result they pulled off. I have been tipping United all season. No change now. I also have big bets with two wealthy Aston Villa fans from last August. I said Villa were not ready yet to be in the top four. They have been closer than I expected but I will be proved right in the end and collect!

Liverpool have been more consistent in team selection. Like United they can score plenty of late goals. Liverpool have scored 8 times after 90 minutes this season - the latest in the 1-0 away win at West Ham from substitute Yossi Benayoun. Liverpool are scoring lots of goals at present and looking very confident. But I still think Chelsea can pip them to runner's up spot even if Liverpool have by far the easiest looking run in to the season of the top four clubs. And what a match on Wednesday in the regular European Champions League pairing of Liverpool at Chelsea. It’s the quarter-final first leg tie at Anfield. I do not know which club will get through over the two legs because it is always so tight with so few goals. But my money would just edge Chelsea. We will see!

Alan Shearer lost his first match as Newcastle's manager. He had 8 matches to save them from relegation. No surprise losing to Chelsea who have the best away record in the Premier League but a bad defensive mistake by Newcastle's Coloccini led to the first goal... and the Toon will need more than the Messiah to save them. Television pundits do not often make great first time managers! Newcastle need someone with proven experience right now. I think it is a daft gamble that will not work!

Fabio Capello is certainly the experienced choice for England. He has instilled discipline and fear in the England squad in the right way. The World Cup group six that England are topping with 100 % record after 5 matches is not very strong but the matches still have to be won. England at the half way mark will qualify for the finals in South Africa next year.

What of the others in the UK and Ireland? The Scots must ideally beat Norway away and Macedonia at home in the autumn to win a play-off place behind Holland in group 9. Wales have no chance now in group 4; Northern Ireland's home wins over Poland and Slovenia puts them top of Group 3 but Slovaki are just one point behind with two games in hand. So the Irish matches in both Poland and the Czech Republic are huge if the Irish are to stand a chance of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986.The Republic of Ireland drew 1-1 at leaders Italy in Group 8 thanks to a late, late goal by Robbie Keane. The Republic are now second, two points behind the World Champions. Difficult games in Bulgaria and Cyprus may settle the automatic issue.

Scotland and Rangers took action against Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor. They were relegated to the Scotland subs bench after breaking a late-night drinking curfew but when both players gave V signs at the match to photographers when on the bench they were banned for life by Scotland and suspended for 2 weeks by their club Rangers. Well done, both club and country. Disgraceful behaviour by both players.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gary Newbon presents The Pieman's Blog

The Premier League title race has been thrown open after a couple of amazing weeks. The football is still in Manchester United's favour but it’s a lot tighter now. Just to add to the tension with eight games left (9 in the case of United) the competition takes a breather for a week or so as we concentrate on the International matches. I'll comment on those in my next blog but the definite results and facts concern this wonderful Premier League season.

Who would have thought that Liverpool would strike 13 goals in three successive matches - 4 nil at home to the famous Read Madrid team in the European Champions League, 4-1 at Old Trafford in the home den of the reigning Premier League Champions Manchester United and then 5-nil at home to Aston Villa. Wow! All this and their manager Rafa Benitez at last signing a new contract. One point the game but Manchester United with nine games left do have a match in hand - at home to Portsmouth - and despite the pressure and suspensions I do believe they have the manager and quality to get them home. They have been there before. Liverpool have not won the League title since 1990 and I do not accept they will win all eight remaining matches. But what a finale in prospect.

The long season is catching up on Aston Villa. No win in eight matches in all competitions and they are down to 5th in the Premier League - probably their final position. The depth and strength in quality will result in the Big Four - United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal being the top four yet again and taking the four English places in next season's European Champions League. Do you agree? Do you think Manchester United will be champions again or have I got it wrong about Liverpool? Will Arsenal or Aston Villa finish fourth?

And what about relegation. I have West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough to go down with Newcastle in the absence of manager Joe Kinnear as the other club to finish in the drop zone. Unlike many other I do think last season's promoted clubs Hull and Stoke City will survive by the skin of their teeth. Do you agree?

Try and catch my latest show with Tom Ross. We had a right barney 20 minutes or so in! It is a wonder we agree on anything. Still, that's football. It’s all about opinion. The Pieman wants you opinions. Try our website for emails and texts and we'll answer them in the show. Back next week with the show.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gary Newbon presents THE PIEMAN BLOG

My European Champions League predictions were correct. All four English clubs are through to the quarter-finals. Liverpool thrashed Read Madrid at home to complete a double in both legs; Manchester United saw off Inter-Milan and Jose Mourinho without conceding a goal, Chelsea overcame Juventus in Turin while Arsenal won a nail biting penalty shootout in Rome against Roma. England 3 Italy 0... The draw is this Friday, March 20. Love it. England will retain the Champions League. I see the only danger as Barcelona. Agreed?

Meanwhile in the Premier League we were all shocked by Liverpool's 4-1 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United. I do not believe that Liverpool thought they would win by such a big margin. Who would have thought that United's outstanding central defender Nemanja Vidic would have made bad blunders and been sent off? He has been outstanding this season but it was a nightmare afternoon for him. He was also sent off in the defeat at Liverpool earlier in the season. Seven players have been sent off against Liverpool in the PL this season - Vidic with a double! Manchester United still have a four points lead with a game in hand. They will still retain the PL. Agreed? Fernando Torres was brilliant for Liverpool. He is the best striker in the world. Agreed?

Arsenal are in fourth place albeit on goal difference. They beat Blackburn 4-0 at home while the next day Aston Villa lost 2-1 at home to Spurs. Villa's small squad is floundering at long last and although they have done better away from home this season with their speedy counter-attacks you cannot see Villa in their present form getting much out of their next two matches - away to Liverpool and then Manchester United. Everton who will be Villa's next opponents at Villa Park are closing on the Midlands team. The ever changing face of football but as I blog the Big Four are 1-2-3-4!

The powers that be have decided that Howard Webb is the Premier League's best ref. I am no longer convinced. I put Alan Wiley, who was excellent at Old Trafford, and Mark Halsey above Webb these days. Any thoughts?