Friday, September 16, 2011
Paranoia is in the air
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds. Under the microscope this week: Kenny Dalglish on "contentious decisions", Steve Bruce on borrowed time, Steve Kean feeling the heat, and what Fernando Torres and Swansea have in common.
Kenny Dalglish: Bottling it all up
Odd comments escaped Kenny Dalglish's mouth post Liverpool's 1-0 loss at Stoke City. The Scot said he has previously bitten his tongue over contentious refereeing calls, but will now consult with the Reds' owners with regards how to vent his ire which stems from what he feels to be controversy in each of his team's four league matches this season. There's a sense of the paranoia about his words, the Scot stating: "Every one [of the contentious decisions] has gone against us." No matter how ambiguous the intimation, to suggest there might be a conspiracy against Liverpool by officials is a strong and bold allegation to make. Still, it earned him a visit from referees' chief Mike Riley at Melwood this week.
It can be opined that most football fans feel, at one stage in the season, his/her club is victim of not getting the decisions their way. This is not isolated to Liverpool. Perhaps Daglish's comments were barbed, thought out to offer distraction - almost Sir Alex Ferguson-like - from a disappointing loss that was down to a lack of clinical finishing rather than penalty appeals. Maybe he's just feeling the strain, as hope turns into expectation. Their next acid test is Tottenham away on Sunday, the Reds having performed well in their last trip to North London when their passage to victory versus Arsenal was paved via an opener that was offside. Oh.
Steve Bruce: Dead man walking
That the story of club-record £13 million addition Asamoah Gyan joining Al-Ain on loan emerged only a few hours prior to Sunderland's home meeting with Chelsea last Saturday was unfortunate timing for Bruce, for it provided cynics with another stick with which to prod the Wearsiders' boss in his post-match press conference following a 2-1 loss. Sunderland were expected to lose, and the scoreline was not shameful, yet the outcome furred decaying home form that has seen the club lose eight out of their previous nine league matches on home turf.
The number of empty red seats against Chelsea (one of the 'big four') was eye-opening, with an attendance figure of 36,699 - the Stadium of Light's capacity is 49,000 - indicative of the loss of faith in the side. A home meeting with Stoke City on Sunday seems unlikely to yield a greater stream of supporters through the turnstiles. While the faith in Bruce from the fans appears to be fading, the powers that be have indicated this week that they continue to back their manager.
However, the evidence against Bruce is mounting. His win percentage in charge of Sunderland now reads 30% - the worst of his managerial career - and he is currently second-favourite with the bookmakers to be the next top-flight manager to feel the chop. Norwich away and then West Brom at home follows Stoke. These are three games where something of a return is expected to help relieve the pressure on Bruce, who, with Gyan gone, will look to loan signing Nicklas Bendtner to realise his ego, for better or worse.
Blackburn: There may be trouble ahead
Yes, it is an embryonic table, but they are already bottom of it; their draw last weekend at Fulham not enough to appease the Steve Kean haters. Indeed, a 1,000-strong protest against the manager is planned ahead of Saturday lunchtime's meeting with Arsenal. Those up in arms feel Kean is the cause of their plight, the club unlikely to generate momentum unless a new boss is brought in. Even compared to the aforementioned Bruce, Kean's win percentage reads achingly worse at 25%. A home match versus the Gunners is not what the doctor ordered.
Or perhaps it is. Arsenal are a wounded animal whose scars have not healed. And it should be noted that Blackburn were unfortunate to lose versus Everton as two missed penalties were punished, while there were some signs - a first point gained, and 11 shots on goal to Fulham's 14 - of encouragement to take from the Craven Cottage stalemate. Furthermore, a centre-back partnership of Scott Dann and Christopher Samba reads well on paper, and it was Kean that targeted and landed the former.
Time, though, does appear to be ticking on Kean's time at the helm. Yet to remove him after a home clash with Arsenal would pang of the pointless. The fixture with Newcastle on September 24, which follows a Carling Cup tie against Leyton Orient, will provide a far more realistic barometer of their plight. This week, Blackburn's owners issued a statement pleading for support from the fans, yet, perhaps tellingly, there was no mention of Kean.
Fernando Torres: Firing blanks
This man desperately needs a goal. It doesn't have to be sublime, nor an example of the Torres of old. Just a deflection of his backside would suffice, something that means his record no longer reads: one goal in 23 games for Chelsea. This, remember, for an outlay of £50 million. After being benched against Sunderland came a story this week of Torres allegedly describing some of his team-mates as "slow" - yet it appeared a lot of hullabaloo about very little. And on Tuesday, Torres started in the Champions League, not scoring but at least providing two assists. The foreplay was not, though, what Roman Abramovich splurged eight figures on. This publicised impotency has turned from embarrassment to sympathy.
Swansea: Flying against the wind
Their goals scored column reads zero. But it doesn't deserve to, really. Swansea have not played badly this campaign so far, they haven't looked out of ideas in an attacking sense. They've just lacked composure when the chances have presented themselves, that cutting edge. You fear for them. And the alarm bells will be ringing at deafening levels should they become the first team in Premier League history to fail to find the net in their opening five matches. The chance to avoid such a blemish comes against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
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