It will take something monumental for the interim Chelsea boss to have any chance of winning over disgruntled fans
Just two weeks into his tenure as Chelsea interim boss and Rafa Benitez is already one of the favourites to be the next manager sacked.
It has been a torrid fortnight for the Spaniard who has had to deal with some fierce hostility from his own fans.
Last night he oversaw a 6-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in which the much-maligned Fernando Torres scored twice. Yet Rafa still faces an inquest into why the Blues have failed to make the knockout stages of the Champions League. Hardly his fault, that one!
I honestly don’t think Rafa realised (and I didn't realise either) how difficult it would be for him to win over the majority of supporters who clearly don’t want him at their football club.
I was at his opening match in charge against Manchester City and I can’t ever remember a new manager getting so much flak.
Whether or not he will eventually change the fans opinion of him is debatable but to have any chance he must find results and quickly.
Chelsea are still battling on four fronts – the World Club championships, the Premier League, the FA Cup and now the Europa League and will surely have to be successful in at least two of those competitions.
There’s no doubt it will take something monumental for Benitez to have any chance of winning over a disgruntled crowd and even that might not be enough. If it isn’t then he must do enough to impress potential suitors elsewhere.
Some believe Benitez was foolish to take the job in the first place - particularly on a temporary basis - but having been out of the game for a long period it was an opportunity he simply couldn’t turn down. It has given him a platform to re-build his reputation at one of the leading clubs in the world.
I think he needs to be careful how he goes about it though. He is known for being pragmatic and at times negative in his approach to games and yes, he does need to make Chelsea a tighter defensive unit.
But he must also allow his flair players to be exactly that. There are some wonderful individual players at the club who must be allowed the freedom to express themselves and not be shackled tactically.
Benitez also needs leaders on the field, particularly in the absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard who have been sorely missed in the last few weeks.
If those two aren’t playing then others must stand up and be counted when things are tough.
I do believe the title ‘interim’ manager doesn’t help Benitez in that respect.
All it does is undermine his authority with the players who, like everyone else, will be unsure as to how long he will be there.
Andre Villas-Boas paid the price for trying to change too much too quickly and the dressing room won the power struggle.
Roberto Di Matteo did little wrong and although hugely popular amongst the fans was never first choice of the owner. Benitez has that backing for now but not the supporters.
The Chelsea/Benitez marriage is a complex situation for sure. Your guess is as good as mine as to how long Benitez stays in the hot seat. All he can do is win matches and hope that is enough.
I will be an interested spectator at the Stadium of Light on Saturday where nothing less than three points will do!
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It can't be his professionalism that's in question, so perhaps it's a contract issue
There must be more to it than meets the eye regarding the situation Darren Bent currently finds himself in.
Aston Villa’s record signing is a proven goalscorer with over 100 Premier League goals, and yet he is unable to even force his way onto the bench.
It is not as if Villa are scoring freely either – they have the joint lowest goals in the league, having notched only 11 in 14 games.
I know that he’s only just returned from injury but for him to be sat in the stand where he is unable to influence the game seems very strange.
Don’t get me wrong, no player has a divine right to be in the starting line-up, or even in the squad, particularly if form or attitude have dropped below the required standards.
"Is it a contract thing? For instance Sunderland may be due another chunk of money on him reaching 50 league appearances - he currently has 47"
But I find it hard to believe that attitude could be a problem in the case of Darren.
I played with him at both Ipswich and Charlton and he was always spot-on with the way he approached both training and games.
George Burley and Alan Curbishley had to regularly drag both him and Darren Ambrose off the training field because they would spend every hour they could practising.
It was even known for them to return to the pitches when the manager had gone home so they could continue striking balls into an empty net.
Being cynical I wonder whether there is something in his contract which is making it difficult to play him.
For instance, Sunderland may be due another chunk of money on him reaching 50 league appearances - he currently has 47.
"At times his hold up play isn’t great but he is good in the air and comes alive inside the box"
I may well be reading far more into it than there is, but money is tight at Villa and my guess is that they will try to sell him in January to generate funds for the manager to spend on new players.
There is no doubt that Paul Lambert has a difficult job on his hands with a very young squad and he has shown he is willing to make some tough decisions.
For instance, Brad Guzan has come into the team in goal ahead of Shay Given which initially raised a few eyebrows, mine included, but he has been excellent.
And the system that Villa are playing at the moment with one striker has meant that Christian Benteke is currently in the side ahead of Bent rather than playing alongside him.
Lambert feels his all-round game is better and I can understand that thinking.
Darren would admit that his best work is done in the penalty area. At times his hold-up play isn’t great but he is good in the air and comes alive inside the box. For those qualities not to be utilised from the bench at least is a waste.
The hardest thing to do in football is to score a goal and that is why strikers are paid the most money.
I have been told by more than one manager that they are only as good as their frontmen because ultimately they are the ones that win you matches.
Goalkeepers and defenders keep you in a game but forwards win you them.
That is why I’m baffled by what is going on with Darren and hope for the sake of him, Villa and Lambert that the situation is resolved and quickly.
It's harsh on Di Matteo, but no surprise
I, like the vast majority of Chelsea fans and football fans in general, think that the decision to sack Roberto Di Matteo is harsh.
Having delivered the FA Cup, and far more importantly the Champions League, to the trophy cabinet at Stamford Bridge surely he deserved better.
However, logic doesn’t always seem to follow where Roman Abramovich is concerned.
In his nine years at the club he has had eight different managers and seems to hire and fire on instinct. But we can’t argue that the way he has dealt with management has been wrong, because Chelsea have won 12 trophies in his time at the club.
People often talk about stability and building foundations and point to what Sir Alex Ferguson has done at Manchester United as the example. That way would be my choice if I were a chairman but the Russian sees it differently and has the money to be able to do as he pleases. Success certainly hasn’t been absent his way.
"Di Matteo did have some luck along the way to winning the Champions League"
Although most of us think it is tough on Di Matteo, I don’t think too many are surprised. There’s no doubt he did a wonderful job last year in re-galvanising an ailing team spirit and he got the very best out of Didier Drogba in the process.
Winning the Champions League was the icing on the cake, and although you wouldn’t begrudge him it, he did have some luck along the way to achieving that feat.
The win in the final against Bayern Munich did give Abramovich a problem though. I’m not convinced the Italian was ever part of the long-term plan and indeed Pep Guardiola was sounded out before he was given the job on a permanent basis.
I think that this current run of two wins in their last eight games has given the owner the perfect excuse to make a change.
So who will be next? Well Rafa Benitez is the favourite with the bookies. He was approached with regard to the job before and is available.
"Harry Redknapp would relish the opportunity to be caretaker boss and would be a perfect fit"
He also has the added bonus of having brought Fernando Torres to England, developing him and getting the very best out of him at Liverpool. However, he also has the reputation of being pragmatic tactically and that will surely count against him as Abramovich has spent big on trying to bring a more flamboyant style to the Bridge.
I believe Guardiola is the man at the top of the wish-list but he is currently on a sabbatical from the game and would need some serious persuading to take a job with no history of longevity.
I personally think he will be true to his word and wait until the end of the season before deciding his next port of call.
So if Abramovich is willing to be patient and wait for Guardiola then another ‘interim’ manager is on the cards. If that is the case then my guess is that Harry Redknapp would relish the opportunity and would be a perfect fit.
Last year the dressing room needed a lift, which Di Matteo provided, and Harry could do likewise as he is the master of man-management. He would also enjoy working with some of the creative talents at the club and would definitely try and play the expansive style so craved by the owner.
We will see what happens and who is appointed but don’t be shocked if I’m writing about yet another change of manager at Chelsea in the very near future!
Spurs should play Defoe AND Adebayor
There is pressure on both teams with neither having made the best start to the season. This is Arsenal’s worst start to a campaign since 1982/83 whilst Spurs come into the game having lost three of their last four.
Both sides would have expected to be a lot higher than their current positions.
I used to love derby day. Okay I may not have played in any of the high profile derbies but games between Ipswich and Norwich, and Charlton and Palace were always special with a real edge and needle to them.
It is important to handle the atmosphere and not get carried away with the occasion. You must treat it as just another game and not do things you normally wouldn’t.
By that I mean don’t go chasing balls you can’t win and get dragged out of position because of it. Don’t dive into tackles just because the crowd are urging you to do so and don’t get unnecessarily involved in arguments with the opposition.
Those that keep their heads and keep cool under the pressure usually come out on top.
So what of the game tomorrow? Well historically this is a fixture that contains plenty of goals. I was at Arsenal last week and they were very good going forward.
Giroud was a major positive after a slow start to life as a Gunner and they will be hoping Theo Walcott will be fit as he too had an excellent game.
However, defensively they were poor and they have now conceded 16 goals in their last eight.
Mikel Arteta, the holding midfielder is not a natural defender and struggles to fill in for the full-backs who love to bomb forward.
"They won seven of the eight games they played together last season dispelling the myth that they can’t play as a pair"
Fulham created numerous chances from breaking into the channels and putting balls into the box and if Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelan play as high up the pitch as they did last week then Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will have plenty of joy.
For Spurs a lot will depend on how brave AVB is with his selection. I would be tempted to put the Gunners defence under pressure and select both Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe, if fit, in the starting XI.
They won seven of the eight games they played together last season dispelling the myth that they can’t play as a pair.
I also think AVB needs to be braver with his substitutions at times. He has been guilty of trying to protect a lead too often and has paid the price because of it.
It should be a cracker and as there have been more draws in this fixture than any other in Premier League history, I am going to sit on the fence and go for 2-2!
The only way to stop it is hit them where it hurts most
On Sunday we saw the ugly issue of diving rear its ugly head again – firstly with Luis Suarez’s comical celebration and secondly Fernando Torres being sent off for perceived simulation.
The issue is not going to go away without something drastic being done.
All problems have a solution. The solution to diving is retrospective punishments.
When players get fined – it’s not too much of an issue. When players miss games that’s what hurts the most. If you ban players for simulation, they’ll start thinking twice about it.
There should be a panel after each game and if they see a player go down without contact and it’s a clear dive they should award a three-game ban to the offender.
"If managers know they’ll be without one of their stars for long periods they will be telling them not go down. Simple"
Take Liverpool for example and Suarez. He’s their only striker and the only Red really scoring any goals. If you take him out of the team, Liverpool are really in trouble.
If he comes back and hasn’t learnt his lesson and does it again you could increase it to a four or five-game ban.
If managers know they’ll be without one of their stars for long periods they will be telling them not go down. Simple.
The Torres situation was difficult. He’s gone down very easily and he could, and should, have stayed on his feet.
He just has no confidence at the moment. He had a chance to be through on goal on his right foot and he chose to go to ground to try and get a free-kick. That is the sign of a player lacking belief. He just didn’t believe he’d be able to get on the end of that ball. We’ve seen flashes of his class this season, but not enough of it.
"Alex Ferguson is right - Torres has given himself a problem by going down"
Everything’s been designed to get the best out of the Spaniard this season - the players they’ve bought, the system they play – so he’s got no excuses for me now.
If Robin van Persie and Torres had swapped shirts yesterday before kick-off Chelsea would have won.
It can’t be simulation because he was touched, so it’s a harsh sending off. But Alex Ferguson is right - he’s given himself a problem by going down. He should have stayed on his feet.
I never got a yellow card for diving, but I did once get accused of diving by Arsene Wenger. I was playing for Charlton against Arsenal at the Valley and I got a knock on the knee and went down.
I got straight back up to follow up the second ball, but the ref had already blown for the initial foul. Paulo Di Canio stepped up to score and we ended up drawing 1-1.
Wenger gave me a bit of stick in the press and said I dived, but there was contact and I never appealed for it.
When you spend like QPR have, it upsets the harmony within the squad
After a turbulent first season back in the Premier League which ultimately culminated in survival on the last day, the hope for QPR would have been for a much smoother ride this time around.
Victories over Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal in the closing weeks coupled with another summer of huge transfer activity certainly raised expectation levels, with many tipping mid table as a minimum aim.
Two months into the season and the Hoops sit bottom of the pile with just two points on the board and with the pressure mounting on manager Mark Hughes - so what is going wrong at Loftus Road?
I personally think that the massive turnaround in players has been a problem.
"The importance of team spirit to a club should never be down played"
There were 12 new arrivals in the summer and, yes, it can take time for them to settle, but I also feel that by bringing this many in has had a negative impact on the dressing room.
The importance of team spirit to a club should never be down played and from the outside looking in I get the feeling that all is not happy at Loftus Road.
A number of players that have played their part at QPR over the past couple of seasons have found themselves surplus to requirements.
None of Luke Young, Jay Bothroyd, Joey Barton, DJ Campbell, Rob Hulse or Tommy Smith were even given a squad number for various reasons and have been forced to go elsewhere for first team football.
Four of them have managed to get a loan deal away, Smith has signed for Cardiff and Luke Young remains at the club.
And what about Robert Green? He arrived from West Ham on a free transfer and started the season as first choice goalkeeper. After, admittedly, a couple of below par performances he has been quickly replaced by Julio Cesar and finds himself on the bench.
"Hughes is still unsure as to what his best side is as he has tinkered with both personnel and formation"
I’m sure he isn’t best pleased about the situation. It certainly isn’t ideal to have so many high profile players on big wages sat on the bench or even in the stand - especially when they think they should be playing.
Having a big squad also leads to selection problems - they are yet to name the same line up for successive games.
I know they have suffered with injuries but the constant changing of the team doesn’t help. You get the feeling that Hughes is still unsure as to what his best side is as he has tinkered with both personnel and formation.
I was working with Nigel Winterburn this week and he suggested Hughes should decide on his strongest XI and injuries permitting stick with it for four or five games.
I agree that that would help bring some stability, particularly at the back.
Although they were able to bring Ryan Nelsen to the club it is easy to see why trying to get another centre-half in was a priority.
"Defeats to West Ham and Swansea on their own patch will hurt the most"
Both Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Dawson were mentioned although neither materialised and defensively they have simply not been good enough.
They have conceded 16 goals in seven games with only Norwich and Southampton letting in more.
Travelling away from Loftus Road is something that will need to improve as well. They have picked up only three points from a possible last 51 away from home which suggests they need more determination and steel in the team.
It is fair to point out that the fixture list hasn’t been kind. There is no disgrace in losing to Man City and Spurs away from home and West Brom likewise after the start they have made.
The point they gained at home to Chelsea was a good one but defeats to West Ham and Swansea on their own patch will hurt the most.
On a positive note the signing of Esteban Granero looks an inspired one. He is a very good player and his most recent performance at the Hawthorns suggests he at least has settled in well.
I also think Junior Hoilett will prove to be a good buy. Add those two to the existing quality of the likes of Taarabt, Faurlin and Cisse then going forward they should be okay.
It is getting the balance right between being exciting going forward and yet solid defensively that Hughes will be searching for.
With the money they have already spent on transfer fees and wages though the fans will want more than to just be okay, but for the foreseeable future their bumpy ride looks set to continue.
The Premier League's 'big four' sides are all struggling to find balance in midfield
My son is attached to the Colchester United academy and plays every weekend against other professional teams so I get to see a lot of youth football. I have been really impressed with the philosophy of Colchester and most other sides to be honest in their quest to improve the technical ability of youngsters.
Most people see Spain as the benchmark in terms of quality on the ball and therefore huge emphasis is put on touch, movement, passing and being comfortable in possession.
I agree entirely that this is the best way forward but I also think that it shouldn’t detract from defending and tackling being regarded as skills in their own right and that these arts are not neglected because of an obsession to solely improve technique.
Like anything else, football goes in phases and currently there appears to be a fixation with No 10s - advanced midfielders playing off the front man or, in Spain's case, not even playing a forward at all!
Top four are top heavy
Chelsea have got their own little collection of No 10s with the likes of Mata, Oscar, Hazard and Marin and there are plenty scattered throughout the Premier League including David Silva, Cazorla and Kagawa.
Not that long ago the archetypal central midfielder was box-to-box, strong and powerful. Players who liked a tackle but could play as well.
How good were the battles between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira? Yes, at times they could step over the line and in no way can you condone some of their actions but they made a huge difference to their respective teams. They were both physical and had great energy but they could pass well too. Their performances set the tempo in games and they had an authority that you rarely see anymore.
I am not saying that one type of midfielder is better than the other but I certainly think that it's important to get the balance right. I'm not sure if clubs are doing that at the moment. I feel that genuine defensive/box-to-box midfielders like Keane and Vieira are a dying breed. There is no doubt that United and Arsenal would both be stronger for having them in their current sides.
Big teams weakened by exodus of holding players
A lot has been made this season of the inability of the top two from last year - City and United - being unable to keep clean sheets.
I think City have tinkered too much with their formation, flitting between a back three and a back four but they have also missed the presence of Gareth Barry or Nigel De Jong sitting in front of their defence.
With United, they have had so many injuries to deal with that they've been unable to field a consistent back line. That definitely hasn’t helped, but I also think they have missed Darren Fletcher sitting in front of their back four.
Chelsea and Arsenal have both made good starts in terms of goals conceded so far in the Premier League but I feel they too are both top heavy with attacking midfielders.
In that respect, I was amazed that they were willing to let Essien and Song respectively go to Spain. Chelsea also allowed Meireles to leave and I’m not sure that Arsenal's Abou Diaby, the replacement for Song, will stay fit all season to prove himself.
Maybe these sides feel they are OK in that area but I think they are light – we'll see if I’m right as the season progresses.
There are players in the Premier League who are willing to sit in front of the back four, makes tackles, defend and allow the more attacking players to do their stuff going forward but they are becoming few and far between.
Scott Parker of Spurs, Check Tiote of Newcastle and Lucas of Liverpool all fit that bill and there’s no doubt that the Reds have really missed the Brazilian in their midfield.
The laws on tackling have definitely been improved for the better and are designed to protect the more skilful players. The tackle from behind and reckless lunges (not always with two feet) have rightly been clamped down upon but perhaps they have stopped players going in for challenges they previously would have, for fear of getting a red card.
Maybe I’m old fashioned in thinking that a good strong challenge between two committed players should still be part of the game. A hard tackle when things aren’t going well for your team can lift the crowd. I’m not saying kick someone for the sake of it but if there is a 50-50 to be had then go in fairly to win the ball.
I really do feel that a lack of top quality defensive midfielders is contributing to teams conceding more goals. But maybe that’s a good thing in a way. I guess the fact that sides are being more adventurous and attacking makes for an extremely exciting league.
Teams certainly aren’t settling for winning games 1-0 as George Graham's Arsenal were once famous for!
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The Toffees have all the right ingredients to upset the big boys
After Everton beat Manchester United on the opening weekend of the season, many were suggesting that this could be the year that they make a legitimate challenge for a Champions League place. One swallow doesn’t make a summer but subsequent performances have certainly backed up that claim.
The Toffees are playing with total confidence and with an attractive attacking style which hasn’t always been the case. Even David Moyes has said he would be happy to pay to watch some of the football they are currently playing.
Last weekend they went to Swansea, notorious for their passing ability, and had 60% possession and 30 shots on goal - not many sides will go to the Liberty and produce stats like that.
One of the criticisms over the past few years has been that the squad lacked depth and they were unable to sustain their form if they were hit by key injuries.
Moyes has done brilliantly over the course of the last two transfer windows to try and rectify that. Money is tight at Goodison and he has had to generate his own funds to strengthen.
Out has gone Jack Rodwell and in has come the likes of Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith, Bryan Oviedo and the permanent re-signing of Steven Pienaar.
"There is no better crosser from left back in the Premier League than Baines"
The capture of Pienaar has been particularly crucial. He combines so well with Leighton Baines down the left and has a wonderful eye for a pass.
He likes to come inside off the flank and combine with his midfielders and front men and in doing so allows Baines to utilise the width which he vacates. There is no better crosser from left back in the Premier League than Baines.
Last January saw the arrival of one of the missing pieces in Everton’s jigsaw. For all their endeavour and good play, they lacked the finishing touch and in Nikica Jelavic they have found a potent striker with good movement.
The worry was that if he were to be injured how would they replace him, but they may have found the answer. In recent weeks he has indeed been out but Victor Anichebe has come into the side and proved a real handful and for the first time in his career scored in back to back Premier League games.
It would no doubt have been a blow to lose Tim Cahill in the summer who left to go and play in America, but his departure has ironically brought out the best in Marouane Fellaini.
It has meant that the big Belgian has played further up the pitch just off the striker where he is much more of a goal threat. In that respect he reminds me of Yaya Toure who I also feel is better utilised in a more advanced position.
"One monkey on the back of Everton and indeed Moyes is the lack off a trophy in his time at the club"
Fellaini’s aerial ability has already proved too hot to handle for most teams and individuals but he is equally adept and skilful on the ground as well.
I think Moyes generally prefers to work with a smallish squad so although they now have more depth, it is still not as big as many teams in the division. What they do have though is players who are happy to play in a number of positions which gives them flexibility.
The likes of Phil Neville, Leon Osman, Jonny Heitinga and Pienaar are all happy to play all over the pitch which gives Moyes more options.
One monkey on the back of Everton and indeed Moyes is the lack off a trophy in his time at the club.
The clubs last silverware came in the FA Cup in 1995, so in that respect the defeat to Leeds in the Capital One Cup will have really hurt.
However, being out of that competition and also the lack of the European action that other clubs vying for the top four will have, should in fact help their ambitions in terms of their final league position.
Well known for having slow starts, they have got off to a flier which has put them in good shape for the rest of the year.
One concern for the Toffees is that come January the big boys start circling over Goodison and they could offer a figure they just can’t turn down for key players like Fellaini and Baines.
As long as things are going as well as they are now though, I’m sure that Moyes would be able to convince his board to wait until the summer at least. It’s early days I know but Everton look well placed for an assault on the top four.
Real Madrid and their manager Jose Mourinho have agreed to part company at the end of the season, with Chelsea hot favourites to sign up their former m... More Real Madrid and their manager Jose Mourinho have agreed to part company at the end of the season, with Chelsea hot favourites to sign up their former manager.
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