Who should Rafa target

Who should Rafa target to improve for next season?

Assuming that Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is at the helm again next season and the fact Liverpool have endured a miserable time of it in 2009-2010, who are the players whom Rafa should be targeting to turn this around?

Let’s imagine for a moment that the Spaniard has a blank chequebook enabling him to sign the players he wants (yes, I know how unlikely that is at the minute at Liverpool, who are probably paying the milkman in Tesco vouchers).

Who should he target for next season?

  1. Jesus Navas (Sevilla) :

Liverpool’s main problem area, not just this season, but for the past 10 years, if not longer, has been wide midfield.

The fact that Benitez continues to play the likes of Yossi Benayoun (better centrally), Dirk Kuyt (a striker), Steven Gerrard (a travesty when played wide) down the flanks is more an indictment of the form of Albert Riera and Ryan Babel than an endorsement of the players abilities as a winger.

Liverpool need a fast, tricky winger to stretch teams in the same way that Nani or Valencia do for Manchester United, particularly down the right where Glen Johnson has done a manful job this season, but needs far better support.

Navas of Sevilla is the man. He is an outstanding young winger who would be a huge asset to Liverpool used down either flank.

2 Gareth Bale        (Tottenham) :

Insua may be a decent left back technically, but his lack of height and pace has been exposed time and time again this season.

Liverpool need to upgrade here and upgrade quickly and the best option for them would be to make a move for Gareth Bale of Spurs.

The Welsh youngster has been in exceptional form this season but Harry Redknapp has plenty of options and if a fee could be agreed, he’d make an excellent acquisition and a significant improvement over Insua at full back.

  1. Luis Suarez (Ajax) :

Rafa Benitez needs to dispel this myth that Liverpool are a better team when Steven Gerrard operates best as the second striker behind Fernando Torres, with two defensive midfielders tucked in behind him.

It has been plain to see over the past few games that when Gerrard is teamed in midfield with Mascherano and a partner is played alongside Torres, that Liverpool look much, much stronger.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, striking partners for Torres are thin on the ground, hence a move for a young, world class striker who can ease the scoring burden on Gerrard and Torres. Suarez is that man.

  1. Micah Richards (Manchester City) :

Richards seems not to be in the plans of Roberto Mancini and as a result he has fallen down the pecking order for club and country.

Liverpool need a powerful, muscular and young defender to replace Carragher and give much needed back up to Glen Johnson.

Richards would do this immediately and would be a long term solution in defence, filling in the role that Carragher plays for the club at the moment, full time centre back, part time right back.

He’s still raw and not yet the finished article, but he would get the chance to fulfil his potential at the club.

  1. Juan Manuel Mata (Valencia) :

If Navas is going to improve the right flank then a similar quality of player is needed down the left.

Mata fits the bill and Rafa Benitez is already believed to be acutely aware of this players potential, having been strongly linked with the Valencia star for some time now.

Mata would give the side balance, a naturally left footed player who would provide a similar quality of ball from the left as Navas would the right, though they could interchange wings whenever possible to switch the angle of attack.

The thought of Torres, Suarez and Gerrard feasting on their crosses from wide areas is food for thought for every Liverpool fan.

What kind of money can Liverpool spend?

But this flight of fancy needs to be tempered with the harsh reality that Liverpool do not have this amount of money to spend, or anywhere near it.

In order to fund such purchases not only would several players need to be allowed to leave the club, to raise transfer funds, but also free up space on the wage budget.

Therefore the likes of Riera, Babel, Benayoun (though it would be with a heavy heart I’d let the Israeli go), Skrtel, Insua, Aurielo, El Zhar and Degen would all be allowed to leave.

In addition, I’d give serious consideration to the future of Lucas Leivia and Alberto Aquilani and if the right offers came in, I would consider selling either or both of them. The same would be true for Kuyt or Agger.

It sounds somewhat drastic, but it could get worse. The alternative is losing either one or two of Gerrard, Torres and Mascherano and for me, losing either one of those players is worse than losing all of those listed above.

Continue Reading

Golf Preview

With my equilibrium perhaps damaged by the volcanic ash that seems to be enveloping the UK your intrepid correspondent missed the first day’s play at the Volvo China Open.

Or perhaps I’m just struggling to keep abreast of the European Tour’s quite incredibly haphazard early season scheduling.

Pablo Larazabal had a good start

Anyway with a day’s paly out of the way already I’ll restrict myself to pointing you towards a couple of contenders. Pablo Larazabal had a commendable start with a six under 66 leaving him just two shots off the pace.

If you can match the 18/1 that Paddy Power are offering he might keep your interest going into the weekend.

Scottish golf’s seemingly interminable wait for some good news goes on but take a look at the odds offered on Alistair Forsyth who the bookies seem to be leaving in the middle of the field despite a solid 69 seeing him get close enough to the heart of the action in the first round.

After the drama of Tiger’s return and the brilliance and emotion of Phil Mickelson’s win the PGA Tour needs a moment to catch its breath this week. With a number of players sitting deciding to give the trip to South Carolina a miss it seems as though even the Harbour Town Golf Links does not offer relaxation enough during the Verizon Heritage.

KJ Choi is always solid

KJ Choi went hole for hole with Tiger across four days at Augusta and didn’t blink so you can expect the solid Korean to be unfazed by the competition this week.

Paul Casey and Martin Laird lead the British challenge but don’t overlook the third member of the UK triumvirate.

Englishman Brian Davis is full time on the PGA Tour and is capable of the kind of sound play, consistent golf that might just get the job done this week.

Tom Gillis was a Nationwide Tour graduate last season and has got off to a solid start on the main tour this time around. Six cuts made and four finishes inside the top 25 point to a solid enough year and he’ll know that his best chance of securing his card early is to shine in weeks like this when the competition is slightly weaker.

His recent experience on the Nationwide Tour also means he knows his way around a leaderboard as well as most players. His unknown status will make his odds generous and he could be a good outside bet here.

Robert Allenby will soon secure a win

I’d also take a look at South African Tim Clark. A player that seems to have been around ever but gets on with his business as quietly as anyone he’s enjoyed a strong start to 2010.

Three top ten finishes in nine events has been solid enough to take him into the top 25 in the early season FedEx Cup standings and make him look a strong contender in this field.

Finally I’ll stick in the southern hemisphere to cast my eye over Robert Allenby. Few are more consistent tee to green that the unassuming Australian. Question’s remain over his short game – who doesn’t know that feeling – but he’ll find that less of a problem here than at Augusta.

He’s already knocked on the door this season. It surely won’t be long before he holes enough putts to secure a win.

Continue Reading

Champions League semi finals preview

One of the most wonderful things about football is that despite months of progress through the group stages, hundreds of games, meticulous tactical preparation and the genius of some players, it may well yet be a volcano in Iceland which is the biggest influence on each of this week’s Champions League semi final first legs!

Barcelona face a long trip across Spain, through France and into Italy to take on Inter Milan for the first semi final, a trip of over 1000km that is taking them almost two days to make.

Will Inter take their cue from Espanyol?

On the field, Jose Mourinho’s men will be heartened by the way city rivals Espanol managed to negate Barcelona at the weekend, holding their city rivals to a goalless draw.

No doubt Jose Mourinho will have his own plan of action at hand to deal with the free flowing football of the Catalan side.

Mourinho has, after all, faced Barcelona twice this season, a 0-0 draw in the home leg of their group game followed by a 2-0 defeat in the Nou Camp. The “Special One” will have learned much from those encounters.

Messi’s influence?

Many eyes will now be focused on Lionel Messi, but the Argentinean may struggle to influence the game, particularly in the first leg. Inter will no doubt haveformulated a plan to keep him quiet and Messi’s best performances this season have tended to come at the Nou Camp.

If the Italians can wrestle control of the game in midfield and get at the Barcelona defence, which I still maintain is by far the weakest aspect of the side, I feel Inter could perhaps sneak a narrow victory in the first leg perhaps by a single goal.

Certainly Samuel Eto’o will have plenty to prove against his former club and with Diego Milito in good goalscoring form, allied with Inter’s vast defensive experience and Mourinho’s tactical genius and home advantage over a Barcelona team forced to travel for many hours across land to get to the game, I strongly fancy the Italian side to hand Barcelona a rare defeat.

My advice is to get on the 3.20 on offer with Betfair for an Inter home win against a Barcelona side that looked particularly muted at the weekend.

Bayern odds on against Lyon?

Wednesday night sees the two less fancied teams in the competition square off in the beautiful Alianz Arena in Munich as hosts Bayern face off against the big underdogs in the competition, Lyon.

Most of the betting sites online have Bayern as strong favourites for this first leg and given their resurgence in form in recent times under Louis Van Gaal, and their strong home form in particular, it is hard to argue against that.

However Lyon have shown great resilience this season in the Champions League. The French side have beaten Liverpool at Anfield already this season and having come through their all-French quarter final with Bordeaux, they will be confident going into the clash with Bayern.

Problems facing Lyon on and off the field

However the French side face two problems, firstly there is the seven hour bus journey taking them from their home to Munich, due once again to the ash cloud.

Secondly and perhaps more worrying for their hopes, is an injury to striker Lisandro Lopez making him a doubt for the game. Should the striker miss the tie, his loss would be a huge blow to Lyon’s hopes in this crucial first leg.

Bayern, in contrast, have few injury concerns and come to the game fresh from another outstanding performance in the Bundesliga, where they smacked seven goals past Hannover at the weekend.

In form Arjen Robben scoring a hat trick to add to his catalogue of key strikes for the German giants.

Given that Lyon could be without Lopez, the seven hour journey to Munich and the form of the German giants, it is hard to argue with the most betting sites appraisal of the game.

This looks to me like being a solid Munich win and you can get that at 1.73 with Paddy Power at the moment.

Continue Reading

Preview – Open de Andalucia and Arnold Palmer Invitational

First Europen Tor event in Europe for the season!

The European Tour’s relaxed attitude to geography means that this week’s Open de Andalucia is actually the first of the season’s events to take place in Europe.

The tournament is co-promoted by Malaga native Miguel Angel-Jiminez and the Spanish influence is extended throughout the field.

Jiminez has won four out of his 16 tournament victories in Spain and we can expect him to justify his place amongst the favourites with a strong showing this week.

The big hitting Alvaro Quiros leads the betting just now and he to should still be involved in the final shake up on Sunday.

Pablo Martin ready to bounce back

Take a look also at Pablo Martin. Another local boy, he had a great start to the season with a win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and a tie for sixth at the South African Open.

His form has dipped since then but that is a lot to do with the death of his father and a tie for 38th on six under in Morocco last week suggests he’s finding his feet again.

This will be an emotional homecoming and if he can feed into the goodwill he can challenge at the weekend.

Danny Willett would look to lead the British challenge. A former world amateur number the Yorkshireman has already posted three top ten finishes in six events this season.

He was only denied an each way placing last week with a double bogey down the last. He looks set fair to build a solid professional career and odds in the mid twenties could well tempt this week.

No Tiger in the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Tiger continues to dominate the US headlines without yet hitting a ball in anger. He’s skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, maybe a relief to the rest of the field who have watched him take home the honours six times in the past.

With no Tiger around, Phil Mickelson slots in as favourite, but is still searching for form in 2010.

Steve Stricker is best of the rest with the bookies and I’d say it’s worth looking around to try and find odds generous enough for an each way punt on the American.

Graeme McDowell sat last week out and will arrive fresh from his tie for sixth place at the WGC-CA Championship a fortnight ago.

His closing 66 there was an indication both of his form and his love for being in at the sharp end in big American events. Expect another strong showing as he finishes his preparations for his beloved Masters.

Another with an eye on Augusta will be former champion Mike Weir. A solitary top ten finish would seem to be scant reward for a solid enough start to the season for the Canadian left hander.

Good news for us though as the odds are likely to make backing the unassuming Weir more than tempting.

Pat Perez came close here last year before finishing tied for fourth and although his form since then has been patchy this is a course that suits him.

Last year’s experience will have given him the confidence to deal with any pressure that comes his way in Arnie’s backyard. Another top five finish is not impossible this year.

The South Africans

Finally a couple of South Africans catch the eye.

Charl Schwartzel has been in great form to lead Europe’s Race To Dubai so he’ll be keen to make an impression in the States.

And Trevor Immelman, another former Masters champion, has not had his troubles to seek in the past couple of years with injuries and poor form. He’s too good a player to stay in that rut forever and it won’t be long before he is challenging again.

Where better to start than at the home course of the man who is still, in many people’s eyes, the greatest Master of them all?

Continue Reading

Who will be the Slam champions 2010?

After his victory in the Australian Open final against Andy Murray, Roger Federer will no doubt be hoping that he can complete a world famous Grand Slam of victories this year in the men’s competition.

Serena Williams will also be hoping that she too can lift all four majors in one season, but it looks like being a very tough task for both of these immeasurably talented tennis stars to get anywhere near that achievement.

French Open: The tough challenge from Europe…

The next major is the French open at Roland Garros and this is a particularly unhappy venue for Federer, who has won just once here, in 2009.

However Rafael Nadal will be seeking to reclaim his crown as king of the clay courts once again and there is an increasing number of talented players who are a real threat to Federer on this surface.

Robin Soderling was a finalist last year, Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer are both excellent practitioners on the surface and Gael Monfils is always a threat in his home country, especially at odds as high as 67.0, with Titanbet.

The same is true in the women’s draw with Serena facing stern opposition from Belgian duo Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, not to mention former champion

Ana Ivanovic and the underrated Elena Dementieva. However for me, the challenge from Europe is very strong and I think that Nadal and Henin will triumph in Paris.

Wimbledon: Can Federer make it number seven?

It is at Wimbledon where Federer will stand his best chance of lifting another Grand Slam this year. The Swiss maestro is almost untouchable on the surface. But I find no value in the odds offered by the betting exchanges.

Challenge will come from Nadal once again, but also expect Murray and the big service games of Mario Ancic and Novak Djokovic to dominate.

Federer however will be confident of claiming his seventh title, to equal the modern day record of Pete Sampras. In the womens draw it is hard to see past the power games of both Williams sisters on grass.

Both breezed to the final last year and it is hard to make a case for anybody to break their stranglehold on the surface, though this year, I feel Venus may well be motivated enough to break her sisters grasp on the title.

The US Open: Time for Murray to shine

While Federer will be confident of another hard court success in the US, the time will be right for Britains Andy Murray to make a real run at the title he himself feels offers his best chance of a Grand Slam title.

Although comprehensively dismantled by Federer in Australia, the Scot should be confident of victory at Flushing Meadow which suits his game and also his personality.

The women’s side should also see a change in that despite the Williams sisters being on home soil, I expect a strong challenge to emerge from the Eastern Europeans with Safina, Dementieva and Ivanovic all needing to prove their class in a major.

It’s hard to look past Kim Clijsters as well, and with a year on the circuit behind her, Justine Henin should also be right in the mix.

So all in all, it promises to be a spectacular year and here, in short are my tips to take the three remaining majors this year, together with an outside bet worthy of consideration.

French Open :        Men : Rafael Nadal  – There’s never been a better player on clay and Nadal will prove it again at Roland Garros this year.

Women : Justine Henin – She went close in Australia and with more games behind her and on her favourite surface, she will end the Williams sisters dominance.

Outsiders : David Ferrer & Elena Dementieva

Wimbledon :        Men : Roger Federer – The Swiss maestro will make it number 7, but it will be much tougher this time around.

Women : Venus Williams – The Williams sisters will continue to dominate on grass, but this time Venus will get the edge in a tense final.

Outsiders : Mario Ancic & Caroline Wozniacki

US Open :        Men : Andy Murray – It’s time for the Scot to produce at the highest level. Clay and Grass are not his best surfaces, and the US Open should be his no 1 aim this year.

Women : Dinara Safina – She’s been number one, but without the Grand Slam success to back it up. That could change at Flushing Meadow this year

Outsiders : Novak Djokovic & Caroline Wozniacki

Continue Reading

Masters – He’s back!

Odds on Tiger offer no value

Well, he’s back. Whoever wins this week’s Masters at Augusta the eyes of the watching world will be on only one man. Tiger Woods’ return has stolen the narrative in the build up to the event and he aims to steal the show on Sunday night.

It will be compelling to watch him try, to see how this most complete of competitors copes with a world that knows him better, or thinks it knows him better, than it ever did before.

The bookies seem to think he’ll have retained the aura that makes almost invincible when he’s at his best. It seems difficult to believe that he can return with no warm up events and dominate one of golf’s toughest tests.

They might well be proved right but the odds on Woods don’t favour the punter.

The same might be said for Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Mickelson’s odds are somewhere in the mid teens – although this reflects his special relationship with Augusta rather than a recent run of sustained form.

While Els’ best form in a couple of years has catapulted him back into the exalted company of Woods and Mickelson.

The Europeans

The European challenge is headed by Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey. Harrington would be my pick and he certainly seems in the mood to perform well.

Westwood, Casey and Ian Poulter are three Brits who need to prove they can close the deal at Majors.

Might they start well and fade? The Leader After The First Round odds are well worth investigating for the English trio who are capable of moments of inspiration but can falter over 72 holes.

And what of the great hope of European golf? Rory McIlroy’s form might not have been white hot in 2010 but Augusta responds to players who come equipped with the intangible ingredient of a little magic in their bag.

And McIlroy is likely to respond well to the aura of Augusta. A match made in heaven? I’d certainly be tempted by an each way bet at the very least.

A look at the outsiders

What surprises might we see from further down the field? Former champions like Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman are not in the best of form but they do know what it takes to perform at Augusta so their long odds are not unattractive as each way punts.

We’d all like to see a fairytale performance from Matteo Manassero as the Italian amateur becomes the youngest ever player to compete at The Masters. He’s not a contender but might his odds in the To Finish In The Top Ten charts entice?

Or will the veterans have their day again? Fred Couples has a proud record at The Masters and, his competitive instincts newly honed on the Champion’s Tour, it would not surprise if he managed to place on Sunday.

Where else might we find value in one of golf’s most competitive fields?

Robert Allenby might lack some finesse around the greens but his pure ball striking can only be an asset and he’s certainly worth having a look at in the Best Rest of the World stakes.

He tees off with Mickelson and YE Yang in a tantalising 3-Ball over the first two rounds. All pairings and stats here.

Finally take a look at the outright betting on Matt Kuchar who has been in sound form in 2010 and, crucially for Augusta, is putting well.

Or how about Steve Flesch? He’s struggling for form this year but he’s finished sixth and fifth in the last two Masters so his generous odds are hardly taking account of his knowledge of American golf’s most hallowed track.

Continue Reading

A Silent History Of Deaf Football

If you combine one of the most common and profound disabilities suffered by people in the world today, deafness, with the most popular game in the world, football, you should discover a crossover market large enough to warrant at least some awareness of the sport of deaf football within the general population.

Unfortunately, many football fans have little or no conception about what deaf football is, or actually entails.

The history of deaf football is very old

Fewer still actually realise that the history of deaf football is older than almost every professional club in the United Kingdom.

In 1871 Glasgow Deaf Athletic Football Club were founded just eleven years after Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world and the club is still going strong to this day, as part of the Scottish Deaf Football Association.

To put that into context, Glasgow Deaf Athletic are older than both the cities famous Old Firm teams, Manchester United or indeed almost any major club you’d care to name across the globe.

25 active deaf football clubs in Great Britain

In Great Britain at the moment there are 25 active deaf football clubs and most of them compete happily in the mainstream football leagues that are part of the fabric of the British amateur game countrywide.

In addition, all British deaf teams can compete in the British Deaf Football Cup, which has been running each year since 1959. English deaf teams can also play for the English Deaf cup, while the Scottish teams compete in their own national version of the competition.

However it is not just at domestic level that the deaf game continues to thrive. There are now Deaflympics tournaments that feature deaf football (the last one being held in Taipai in 2009).

Like professional football, there are European and World competitions which national teams from all corners of the globe compete and the level of competition is every bit as competitive as at the professional level for both men and women.

The disability do of course affect the players ability

One of the more common assumptions people make about deaf football is that the disability should not really impinge greatly on a player’s ability to play the game.

While this may be the case in terms of actual football skill, what is often overlooked is just how much reliance is placed on being able to hear in the game.

From hearing the referee’s whistle, instructions from your manager or fellow players to even simply being able to hear the roar of the crowd, being deaf in football places you at a significant disadvantage to others who can hear fully.

Despite this, the notion of deafness in the game is still termed a “hidden” disability.

Internationally accepted criteria deems deafness as having a sensory impairment of, on average, a loss of 55 decibels or more in their best ear. Furthermore, to ensure fairness, all players must remove hearing aids before the game.

This can have a knock on effect in that it can affect a player’s balance.

The deaf game counters these problems by having specially trained officials who will work with a signer on the sidelines. He is the person that the deaf players will frequently look to in the game to communicate the information they need to play.

It is a wonderfully simple and elegant system which detracts nothing from the quality or pace of the game.

Some great players would be considered deaf

The fact that deafness is considered a ‘hidden’ disability is borne out by the fact that some household names in British football would be considered deaf by the criteria outlined above.

Arsenal legend and formerly leading goalscorer at the club Cliff Bastin is one such player, as are England ace Rodney Marsh and former Liverpool and Southampton midfielder Jimmy Case.

However it is suggested that many deaf players do not make it to the top level, not due to any lack of footballing ability, but simply because of the perceived problems caused by their disability.

These ill-informed perceptions are without any real foundation in fact. I don’t know of any Premier League manager who would not want a Cliff Bastin, Rodney Marsh or Jimmy Case in their squad.

Deaf football may have something of a silent history in the past. Hopefully as attitudes change and as the sport gains wider acceptance and understanding within the football community, the future will elevate the sport into the wider consciousness of the mainstream.

The sport and the dedicated footballers, who represent their teams and countries with distinction, don’t deserve to continue to be a part of a silent minority.

Sources : Websites

Great Britain Deaf Football  (www.britishdeaffootball.com)

US Deaf Soccer (www.usdeafsoccer.com)

Books :

Deaf United – A history of football in the British Deaf Community, by Atherton, Russell and Turner  ISBN : 0946252467

If you look for British Deaf Football Clubs or International Deaf Football Federations, contact: www.britishdeaffootball.com


Continue Reading