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Archives for September 2008

Torres key to Liverpool hopes

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Phil McNulty | 15:43 UK time, Saturday, 27 September 2008

Fernando Torres spent almost an hour of the Merseyside derby frustrated and at odds with the world - then took just three minutes to demonstrate why Liverpool's hopes of ending their long wait to land a Premier League title rest largely on his shoulders.

Torres spent most that hour complaining to referee Mike Riley about what he thought, wrongly it must be said, was heavy-handed treatment from Everton's defence.

He eventually picked up a yellow card, but finally focused his attention on being a world-class striker again to make it three straight home defeats in the league for a bitterly disappointing Everton side.

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Ashley's short-term gamble

Phil McNulty | 14:06 UK time, Friday, 26 September 2008

Newcastle United's appointment of Joe Kinnear as interim manager is proof that owner Mike Ashley and his sidekick Dennis Wise will not be bowing to the mob - and that the club has unlimited powers to surprise.

"Cockney Mafia Out" has been one of the core themes from Newcastle protesters demanding the removal of men like Wise and Derek Llambias after Kevin Keegan's exit.

And despite an international career with the Republic of Ireland, Kinnear is very much regarded as an honorary southerner after a lengthy playing career at Spurs and a managerial reputation forged in the "Crazy Gang" hothouse of Wimbledon.

This means the arrival of the 61-year-old, who has been out of football since leaving Nottingham Forest in 2004, is hardly going to push the protesters from the gates of St James' Park.

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Time for Everton to deliver

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Phil McNulty | 10:29 UK time, Friday, 26 September 2008

Everton and Liverpool devoured column inches and claimed headlines on a daily basis in a summer of sub-plots on Merseyside.

And while Saturday's first derby meeting of the season promises to be dramatic enough on its own, the events of the summer still provide an intriguing backdrop to activity on the pitch at Goodison Park.

Contracts, takeovers, signings (or lack of them) - accompanied by so many differing versions of events that one seasoned observer of Merseyside football told me "it's been like covering four clubs not two."

The stakes are always high in a game that shed its rather fanciful "friendly derby" tag many moons ago - but for Everton in particular, the coming days could shape their entire season.

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Man Utd miss chance to break spell

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Phil McNulty | 17:20 UK time, Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sir Alex Ferguson loves delivering a psychological blow - and he wore the look of a man who knew Manchester United had missed an opportunity to land a big one on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Ferguson may have settled for a point before kick-off, but his post-match assessment drove at the heart of the disappointment he was feeling.

How he would have relished being the man to end Chelsea's incredible unbeaten home record in the Premier League stretching back to 2004, and it will gnaw away him that his team failed to afford him that opportunity.

United led and dominated, as they did at Liverpool, before uncharacteristically retreating into their shell and allowing Chelsea to recover and earn a deserved point which could easily have been turned into three.

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Ferguson will relish Chelsea battle

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Phil McNulty | 07:54 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008

Sir Alex Ferguson welcomed Luiz Felipe Scolari to the Premier League in trademark fashion - namely with a psychological dig below the belt in the shape of a jibe about Chelsea's ageing squad.

It was the first shot in a phoney war rather than a serious assessment of a Chelsea side that pushed United to the last day in the title race and came within a penalty kick of beating them in the Champions League final in May.

But it will be intriguing to see Ferguson's theory put to the test at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as a United team who have made a poor start to the season face Chelsea, who are on a mission to make a nonsense of his comments.

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Walcott and Capello stun Croatia

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Phil McNulty | 23:36 UK time, Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Zagreb

Slaven Bilic ended his inquest into England's destruction of Croatia accompanied by the strains of "My Way" booming out of a sound system situated near his left ear - a suitably bizarre end to a surreal night in Zagreb.

Regrets? Well, Bilic had more than a few as he surveyed the wreckage inflicted by a superb England performance and a stunning statement of his talent from 19-year-old Theo Walcott.

Bilic, who it is almost impossible to dislike, even had a "what did the Romans ever do for us?" moment as he tried to unscramble his senses.

"Until the first goal Walcott was not so good" - so basically he was pretty hopeless until he had the audacity to score three goals and generally take Croatia to the cleaners. Fair enough.

It was difficult to work out who was more stunned - Bilic, or those of us who pitched up at The Maksimir Stadium claiming a point would be just cause for celebration and left barely believing the emphatic victory margin we had just seen.

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Capello at home in hostile Zagreb

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Phil McNulty | 18:24 UK time, Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Maksimir Stadium in ZagrebZagreb

Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium is 96 years old and looks its age - an unwelcoming hotch-potch of concrete, glass and rust that exudes hostility even when it is almost deserted.

A running track that has seen better days swerves its way around the pitch where Fabio Capello's England face Croatia in what could be a defining World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

The old place might look a bit run-down but it has just got something - you know it will be a wild and emotional ride when almost 40,000 Croatians cram in to see another meeting with England.

And yet England coach Fabio Capello believes his players may just find this undisguised bearpit more homely that their own lavishly-appointed £750m Wembley headquarters.

Not the greatest advert for the jewel in the Football Association's crown, but Capello backed his argument with footballing logic.

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Time for England to trust Joe Cole

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Phil McNulty | 13:44 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

BARCELONA

Joe Cole was once described by Jose Mourinho as "a player with two faces - one beautiful and one I don't like."

Mourinho saw the unacceptable face of Cole in October 2004, when he accused him of neglecting defensive duties and effectively reducing his own team to ten men after scoring Chelsea's winner against Liverpool.

So Cole was back on familiar territory in Barcelona on Saturday when England coach Fabio Capello showed his grasp of English can cross the training ground to the shop floor, with poor Joe in the firing line again.

We got the Beauty and The Beast of Cole according to Capello - but he still showed enough to suggest England will need him in the World Cup qualifier in Croatia on Wednesday.

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England must raise game in Zagreb

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Phil McNulty | 22:35 UK time, Saturday, 6 September 2008

Barcelona

England will be glad to see the back of Andorra - an aggressive irritant that exposed their limitations and raised serious anxieties ahead of Wednesday's World Cup qualifier in Croatia.

Fabio Capello's side got the job done eventually, but it was accomplished with little of the purpose and cohesion that might lift spirits ahead of their entry into the hothouse atmosphere of Zagreb.

Capello was more animated than at any time during his reign when he met the media on Friday - and similar terms can be applied to his agitated arm-waving in the technical area of Barcelona's sparsely-populated Olympic Stadium.

And this is because Capello, although he knows Croatia will present a contrasting and arguably more rewarding challenge, will also be acutely aware that England will suffer unless they can conjure up a serious improvement in the next four days.

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Buoyant Capello leads from the front

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Phil McNulty | 19:42 UK time, Friday, 5 September 2008

Barcelona

England coach Fabio Capello was in expansive - almost joyous - mood in the same Barcelona room where Steve McClaren shrunk, with the Italian giving the most dynamic personal performance of his short reign.

It was in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium 18 months ago that McClaren cracked under the strain of hideous personal abuse from fans and the sheer strain of a faltering Euro 2008 campaign.

McClaren cut his media conference short with the infamous words: "Gentlemen - if you want to write whatever you want to write you can write it" - and of course everybody did.

He followed that up with a light-hearted (hopefully) request for the England coach driver to mow down one of his tabloid critics as he stepped out in front of the team bus leaving the stadium.

Capello cut an altogether more authoritative figure than his cruelly-lampooned predecessor as he delivered an assured, humourous and occasionally combative performance as the curtain-raiser to the first competitive game of his international coaching career.

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Time for Capello to deliver

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Phil McNulty | 10:36 UK time, Thursday, 4 September 2008

Fabio Capello's time for transition is over - the experimentation is at an end and the real business of the new England era begins.

It's the start of the Fifa 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign and matches against Andorra and Croatia. It's the start of the serious business and time for compelling evidence that the Italian is worth the reported £6m-a-year lavished on him by the Football Association.

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Ashley leaves Newcastle in chaos

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Phil McNulty | 10:10 UK time, Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Kevin Keegan has not been sacked. Kevin Keegan says he has not resigned. But would you risk a large amount of money right now on him being Newcastle United manager for their next game at home to Hull?

No - didn't think you would and neither would I.

Talks are ongoing between Keegan and Newcastle over his future as the fog of uncertainty and chaos continues to shroud the Tyne's football followers.

One thing we do know with absolute certainty is that Newcastle is once again a club in chaos, with fractured relationships at the top of the club and a management structure that is fatally flawed.

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Keegan exit turns heat on Ashley

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Phil McNulty | 13:15 UK time, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Kevin Keegan has left Newcastle for the final time - plunging the club's fervent following into mourning once more.

If his first departure in January 1997 sent shockwaves reverberating well beyond Tyneside, this latest parting comes with little more than a minor tremor.

The shock comes in the timing, only three games into the new Premier League season and 24 hours after the signing of striker Deportivo La Coruna striker Xisco and Valencia midfield man Ignacio Gonzalez.

But it could be that the arrival of those relatively unsung players was a catalyst for a split that leaves Newcastle owner Mike Ashley in a hugely vulnerable position.

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Robinho deal caps day of drama

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Phil McNulty | 08:53 UK time, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Manchester City produced a defining moment that changes football's landscape when they stole Robinho from under Chelsea's nose.

Chelsea and Roman Abramovich were suddenly forced to think the unthinkable on a gripping day of deals and counter-deals that kept fans hooked until the last fax had been fired off and the final contract signed.

Abramovich found, like so many others in so many other sports have found before them, that someone bigger and more powerful always comes along eventually.

But did anyone in their right mind think it would be Manchester City - the eternal sideshow of English football?

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Capello may regret Owen exclusion

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Phil McNulty | 09:11 UK time, Monday, 1 September 2008

Fabio Capello has already demonstrated a capacity to surprise - but it is to be hoped England do not live to regret what amounts to a massive gamble by the Italian coach.

Capello's England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia contained two major stories, namely the inclusion of Fulham's Jimmy Bullard and the exclusion of Newcastle United striker Michael Owen.

No-one could accuse Capello of playing it safe by leaving Owen out of the squad that leaves for Barcelona later this week, but quite a few will accuse him of plenty more if England do not come back with a haul of at least four points.

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