Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bolton Wdrs v Swansea City,Reebok Stadium,28/1/02. Swansea City v Chelsea, Liberty Stadium, 31/1/02.Match previews.

Baggy Trousers.

Suggs will tell you, because he's a Chelsea fan, and Madness were always students of the bizarre, that when you're squatting on the Stamford bridge touchline under Roman's unforgiving gaze, it's as well to look as if you know what you're doing.

And their current Manager, Andre Villas Boas, from a long line of top-notch top-money talent at least looks the part.

Think on this.

There comes a stage in every man's life when both he, and most other people, recognize that the view of his legs may have been a great deal more pleasant some years ago. Before, in fact, his fast approaching (or,being kind, lately arrived at) Middle years.

I recently viewed a picture in a photo album that showed me, as a youth, on Port Eynon beach, in a rather snazzy set of tartan short swim trunks. It was on an early date with my eventually-to-become wife, and, looking at that photo now it was obvious I was never going to become some buff Charles Atlas type figure, but, even so, it's not a figure that I'm the least ashamed of.

In contrast, the last time I saw Owen Coyle, Bolton's once-not-so-long-ago well regarded Manager, he did remind me NOT to get snapped on the Gower nowadays without my Chinos, especially at this time of my life, lest I give people the appearance of Les Dawson on Justin Bieber's legs.

You know what I mean - for goodness sake Man, put some trousers on!

I know, I know, - it has little to do with a football Club's abilities on the field - it's just that I'm a little more comfortable seeing Brendan Rodgers on the sidelines, looking vaguely similar to a Mourinho/AVB type Gaffer in smart casual robe, than some Herbert Chapman-esque type figure, shorts and all, who looks as if he's about to go for a quick fag behind the bike sheds, as some did, in the past.

Forgive me if I'm being unfair - I'm certain that Coyle is as much of a "bright young Manager" type as our own Brendan, or Andre for that matter, it's just that image, in the modern age, reflects reality, and as Marshall McLuhan once said.. "the medium IS the message.

To labour the Trouser metaphor, one thing we won't want to do this weekend, when we go to fellow PL club Bolton in the FA Cup 4th round tie, is to be caught with our pants down. Ouch. (All right, no more, I'll get my coat).

We come off a painful 2-0 loss to a buoyant Sunderland in a game where the frustrating result left us hoping for a lesson-learned performance/s to come. First up, at the Reebok, then back home to the Lib.

Squad rotation will, not surprisingly, play a part.

It's been interesting to listen to and then watch Brendan Rodgers put this rotation to good use, particularly over the demanding Christmas period of games, and it can be argued that the side's first Away win at Villa was crucial both in the ongoing fight for PL stability, and the Manager's attempt to progress in the unfolding FA Cup.

It can also be advanced that it has contributed as well to the use of the lesser utilized squad players, this being another important tool in further bonding squad unity, and thus strengthening what BR feels is a crucial issue of Squad Morale. Players have said, individually, how it has helped them feel a vital part of this brilliant journey we're on.

What we've seen as fans for ourselves is a gradual improvement in performance levels, (think Man Utd to Tottenham to Arsenal), albeit it with sometimes the wrong result (Sunderland,most recently).

So that leads us to the 2 upcoming games as I've said.

We've been drawn Away to Bolton in the Cup Tie, and whilst we'd all have been happier and more confident at The Lib, it remains a game that I, along with many Swans fans, think we can win.

Let's look in more detail at Bolton, a Club that like us came up initially via the play-offs, but over the years since then has proved under various Managers that it's both possible to stay in this Division, and create a modern identity that matches an historic past.

Whilst being managed by the still well regarded "Big Sam" Allardyce, the side was always considered a model from the Stoke City mould - get it long and forward, compete for the second ball/knockdown, battle like blazes (bruises included for free), and make the game seem as hard as the (almost always) inclement weather. In other words, NO club, top 4 particularly, ever came away from the Reebok with a pleasurable report, either to, or from, Bolton

The Home crowd loved it, the Away fans less so. Whilst they've since gone on to ostensibly develop more esoteric tendencies, given their League start this year, I suspect that many Trotters will believe that getting further progress this year can, and does, show a discernible return to those values of "bash and boss".

This can be seen from their very recent besting of Liverpool, 3-1, last Saturday evening, despite what the stats tell us.

In that game, the swarming MF press through Mark Davies, Nigel Reo-Coker, and the wide momentum provided by Chris Eagles and Martin Petrov, led directly to the first two goals.

Charlie Adam and Steven Gerrard, for Liverpool, were stymied by sheer weight of numbers, and their side suffered an uncomfortable period where they were simply taken out of the equation by a hard tackling, bothersome, nuisance of a presence from a side determined to give an up-yours to a supposedly more talented XI.

Liverpool's 4-2-3-1 line up was bullied by Bolton's 4-1-4-1, with N'Gog (ex-Liverpool) leading the line, and the aforementioned 4 anchored by Fabrice Muamba, in an excellent impersonation of how Claude Makelele gave his name to a holding, defensive, MF position.

At the back, Adam Bogdan continued to deputize for the ageless excellence of Jussi Jaaskelainen in goal, with a solid, but vulnerable, back 4.

That back 4 was made up of Gretar Steinsson at RB with old friend Sam Ricketts, fit again and playing well at LB. The CB's were the error prone Zat Knight, strong in the air but vulnerable to pace, and David Wheater- the England U-21 player who came from Middlesbrough and is expected to replace the recently departed Gary Cahill, reluctantly sold to Chelsea as he was out of contract in the summer.

In that very good win v Liverpool, it was interesting to see Mark Davies further confirm his top reputation as a skillful, box to box influential MF'er and play very similarly to the injured American Stuart Holden, still out as a result of a Johnny Evans tackle in a League game against Man Utd last March. He, Holden, has still to recover. Evans was sent off, and was suspended for three games.

This, along with the unfortunate foot injury sustained by Chung-Yong Lee has generally been recognized as being a major reason for Bolton's midfield struggles this season, but against Liverpool, Reo-Coker and Mark Davies, as well as each scoring to put Bolton 2-0 up, along with Eagles' effective through-field press and play, allowed them to get the key tactical initiative in the game.

Incidentally, having mentioned an ex-Swan in Sam Ricketts, there is also, of course, the presence at the Club of another, Darren Pratley, but it's equally fair to say that he is not flavour-of-the-month with their fans. Possibly the Home crowd thought they were getting a direct replacement for Stuart Holden, who's skill level is in advance of Prats, and who's running capacity is as strong as Prats' undoubted stamina-based game.

Notwithstanding DP's fabulous clincher v Forest last year and his passionate performances for us, Holden is missed for this sort of goal.

The depth beyond the first XI confirms that this is a strong PL Club, so Ill just list the whole of them here...

1 Adam Bogdan GK, 2 Gretar Rafn Steinsson DF, 3 Marcos Alonso DF, 4 Paul Robinson DF, 6 Fabrice Muamba MF, 7 Chris Eagles, 8 Stuart Holden MF, 9 Tuncay Sanli STr, 10 Martin Petrov MF, 11 Ricardo Gardner MF, 12 Zat Knight DF, 14 Kevin Davies STr, 15 Tyrone Mears DF, 16 Mark Davies MF, 17 Ivan Klasnic STr, 18 Samuel Ricketts DF, 19 Nigel Reo-Coker MF, 20 Robbie Blake STr, 21 Darren Pratley MF, 22 Jussi Jaaskelainen GK, 23 Sean Davis MF, 24 David Ngog STr, 25 Dedryck Boyata(on loan from Man C ) DF, 26 Rob Lainton GK, 27 Chung-Yong Lee MF, 28 Gael Kakuta(on loan from Chelsea, 31 David Wheater DF, 36 Michael O'Halloran STr, 37 Joshua Vela MF, 39 Joe Riley DF, 43 Jay Lynch GK.

There are some well known and rated players there, highlighted for me by Tuncay Sanli, the ever skillful Turk and Kevin Davies, the seemingly everlasting bruising forward. Of late, Davies has been left out (once unthinkable at Bolton), but that has seen David N'Gog, the young fresh recruit from Liverpool begin to replicate his alleged talent where, at Clairefontaine, a typical description of him was as a "young Thierry Henry" type.

That may be taking things TOO far, but you see what I mean.

Since I've mentioned both Gaffers, here's a point to chew upon.

Don't forget that Owen Coyle, who was recruited from near neighbors Burnley, controversially, mid way through that Club's recent Premiership debut season, has generally had the sort of press that our own much revered BR gets currently. You know what I mean- "bright young manager", "future of the British game", etc, etc.

Those accolades, however, for OC have been recently tested. Bolton's Home PL record reads W2,D1,L8 and the fans have been grumbling and mumbling. Not, of course, in the "Steve Kean-Out" type of pelters meted out at Blackburn, but uncomfortable, for sure. I'm not sure this "means" any thing other than to remind me of the fickle nature of some football fans.

Does make you think, though, doesn't it?

The key to this game will be, surely, the respective Managers' willingness to commit to a win as much as their needs to balance the upcoming PL games just 3 and 4 days later. For Bolton that means facing Arsenal at Home on Wednesday, whilst we go a day earlier when Chelsea come to the Liberty.

That leads me to believe that BR will go with a bigger switch around than OC in terms of personnel, but tactically I expect no different shape for us other than perhaps a balance that leans toward 2 of the main 3 MF'ers being of a defensive rather than attacking bent. Similarly, I'd not be surprised to see Gerhard Tremmel go between the sticks.

As has been said about defensive capability, we will need a heart so big it could crush this town , because , if not, even walls fall down.

Interesting times. Let's have a quick glance at the following League game then.

As we've all come to recognize over the last few years at Stamford Bridge, for the Manager particularly, success doesn't necessarily lead to longevity. The wants and needs (some would say whims and fancies) of your Modern Russian Oligarch are quite difficult to predict.

AVB's immediate predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti, can certainly testify to that. The urbane, eternally classy Italian was dismissed just a year after winning the Double of PL and FA Cup, for the failure to either replicate or better that achievement by finishing Second. No time for losers, eh?

In their most recent "disappointing" 0-0 Away draw at Norwich - personally I thought it was a good point- it was enlightening to read of Grant Holt's assertion that with Drogba away at the ACN, Norwich, tactically, were content to let them cross the ball. The plan was "to keep tight, to show them wide".

He was surely hinting that Paul Lambert, a Manager who will alter tactics within a game for the right end result, had deemed that a front end that included Sturridge and Torres were far more dangerous when allowed to play through the middle. From the result, and reports and sights of the game I've had, it seems to have worked.

You don't need my pen pictures of either the 2 mentioned above, along with Juan Mata, Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard et al to know that most all of the players in the Squad, are outrageously gifted footballers.

AVB, this year's boss has, however, not been QUITE able to produce a blend that has visibly shown the blazing attacking success that both their fans and Russian Owner demand. Let's just take the pleasure involved at glancing at some of the blistering talent we're getting to see this year.

This is the full squad.

1 Petr Cech, 2 Branislav Ivanovic, 3 Ashley Cole, 4 David Luiz, 5 Michael Essien, 6 Oriol Romeu, 7 Ramires, 8 Frank Lampard, 9 Fernando Torres, 10 Juan Mata, 11 Didier Drogba, 12 Mikel, 15 Florent Malouda, 16 Raul Meireles, 17 Jose Bosingwa, 18 Romelu Lukaku, 19 Paulo Ferreira, 20 Josh McEachran, 21 Salomon Kalou, 22 Ross Turnbull, 23 Daniel Sturridge, 24 Gary Cahill, 26 John Terry ,33 Alex, 34 Ryan Bertrand, 40 Henrique Hilario

The fixtures in the side are likely to be these.

Petr Cech has a legitimate claim to be one of the PL's best ever goalkeepers although some will claim he never really got back to his best subsequent to being kicked in the head by then Reading's Steve Hunt. Still wears a protective custom built head guard to protect a bone weakness. Still brilliant.

England's Ashley Cole could say the same about the LB position, which he's made his own. Similarly, the ever controversial John Terry at CB. Is it fair to say though that one of AVB's issues is to judge just when these Grade 1 players have just a teensy-weensy bit "turned the career corner" as it were, and to plan, and integrate, their successors?

In Terry's case, one could argue that David Luiz, the Brazilian, and England's Gary Cahill were exactly that sort of purchase. Ryan Bertrand - the U-21 full back covers Cole, but Ashley still plays 95% of the time, and is still as strong defensively as he's good at breaking forward for width.

Neither spare keeper, Hilario or Turnbull, will figure in any long term change in goal. They are cover, no more.

RB is a problem position never quite solved. Jose Bosingwa, the Portugese flier and current occupant, gives excellent pace and width going forward, but can be defensively unsound. In a game they want to lock up, Branislav Ivanovic, the Serb, is their go-to man, but then he lacks the creativity they demand in the attacking third.

Nowadays, Paulo Ferreira, an early Mou-era signing, is no more than emergency cover. Alex has been frozen out and will soon depart.

In MF, there's a wealth of talent, but no less heated debate.

Since Caude Makelele's retirement, they've been looking for a "Makelele-type" to fill the "Makelele-role". Initially, Mikel Jon Obi, the Nigerian was groomed and persisted with, but they've eventually become frustrated by his penchant for slowing play down too much, and Oriel Romeu, snaffled on loan from Barcelona, seems to fit the bill better, and Raul Meireles, a late pick up from Liverpool, can sit deep either with Romeu, or instead and as well.

Lampard is currently out with a slight muscle tear, so we may get to see the magnificent Michael Essien, but this sort of "superior Model Kemy Agustien" has only recently returned from another long, debilitating injury. If he can get back to his best, he is some player.

They also have the 18yr old man-boy Romelu Lukaku, signed from Anderlecht, a sort of Didier Drobga-light, and a wonderful future talent.

Florent Malouda continues to frustrate the Bridge faithful, but Daniel Sturridge is obviously benefitting from last year's loan to Bolton, and seems to have grown from boy to man with a concomitant upturn in performance and effectiveness. Again, huge skill, huge talent.

Last to look at in MF, there's the terrific Juan Mata. With a skill set that's almost a match for his countryman David Silva at Citeh, he, along with Silva's team mate Sergio Aguero, have surely been the top 3 recent imports to the PL. This continuing investment in the Premier League is one of the things, surely, that attracts such interest, and makes every member club fight so hard not to be "At the end of the Line", as it were, and to fight for one more season.

That's my bias, I know, and ignores the defensive solidity also required in this League, but then I'm a sucker for the pass and dribble, as opposed to the mark and tackle.

The legs of the side (and more, much more) this year have come from Ramires, a sort of Sandro (of Tottenham) with a bit more Brazilian attitude. After a rough PL intro, he has grown into both fan and Managerial favour.

At the front end of the pitch, they will miss the still rampant Didier Drogba, and the frustrating Salomon Kalou, both at the African Cup of Nations.

So Fernando Torres will likely lead the line. We all know the trials and tribulations this world class striker has, and still continues, to have, in integrating fully and getting back to his Liverpool era form and substance. He still remains for me my favorite "outfield opposition player" for some sublime past moments, and I wish him well in his quest to rediscover that form - just NOT against us, NOT this week.

Our very own Josh McEachran, on loan to us from them, is a part of this squad too, and although he will not be allowed to play for us against his parent club, it should tell us something about how far we've come to be able to attract that caliber of player to come to us for the rest of the season.

As I've hinted earlier, my feeling is that given the current form of both teams, we are certainly capable of getting a positive result - from both this, and the previous game. It'll all come down to tactics, and performance.

So what, ultimately, can we look forward to?

Well, what we can be certain of, because it's what we've become used to, is a 100% commitment from the whole of the squad. I'm certainly not skilled enough to predict specific lines-up, but I do believe that BR and staff will again rotate, hopefully, to equal, satisfying extent.

It will of course be difficult both at the Reebok, and at the Liberty. I think, if we see a full-on performance from the mixture of players chosen, then the bulk of our support will trust to their ability to get satisfactory results.

What though, would constitute for us, satisfactory results?

On a personal level, I'd take 2 draws. That way we'd get another bite at the cherry of the FA Cup, at Home, which would both be a bonus financially and a chance to progress, with a further point in the League important in our quest to stay a PL Club.

That way too we'd get some more chances to see BR strut his stuff alongside the AVB's of this world, and, who knows, maybe one day the Special One himself. And what of him, Mourinho, I hear you ask ?

Well, he's currently going through what's kindly described as a Bumpy Period at Real Madrid. Yes,that's right, Real Madrid. Read it again. It really is that good.

This is a time in our history where we can legitimately link our current side and current Manager in a piece that realistically describes the level that we've got ourselves into.

Doncha' just LOVE it.

Onward, Swansea City.

Celebrity Fan Alert
For Bolton = Amir Khan, Vernon Kay, Paddy McGuinness
For Chelsea = Suggs, Tim Lovejoy, David Baddiel, Sir Richard Attenborough and a whole lot more.......

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Pierre, now you've made me really nervous. I was comfortably confident for Saturday, and comfortably hopeful for Tuesday night but now I'm bricking it. There is nothing like a serious kick in the teeth from reality. Oh well. Great report as usual. MOTD or SS could take lessons here. Not to mention radio Cardiff. Sorry I meant Real Radio there, slip of the tongue.Thanks again, look forward to the post match victorious reports.