Posts Tagged ‘English Premier League’


There was a moment during Leicester City’s unveiling as Premier League Champions at the King Power stadium following their victory against Everton. While players were taking turns to lift the trophy some of them had to literally drag a reluctant player from the background, thrust him with the trophy and make him lift it while all along he was blushing with the new found fame. It was N’Golo Kante, the midfield destroyer around whom most of team’s victories was scripted. Leicester City’s extra ordinary tale from bottom of the premier league to champions in a matter of a solitary year is filled with sub plots of such individuals who raised themselves from obscurity to one of the biggest titles that they could ever hope to hold, English Premier League Winners. But it all begins with a manager, the perineal bridesmaid who has finally become the bride.

Claudio Ranieri finally has that league trophy that has eluded him in all of the 26 years that he thrust himself in managing a football club. He is to the premier league what Goran Ivanisevic was for Wimbledon. When Ranieri was announced as Leicester Manager at the beginning of the season following the controversial yet successful Nigel Pearson, there were a lot of eye brows raised in doubt which included yours truly. Despite managing some big clubs has been always identified as a cup winner than a league winner. But why would they turn to a man who had failed so badly in his previous assignment in Greece? There was a sense of Leicester simply trying to stay afloat in the league or they just did not have many choices. Lest we know that they were making a coup very similar to the ones they pulled off in bringing in the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante. And how well has he done! He turned a team of mostly second choices and discards into a fearless well-knit unit where everybody knew what they were doing and played for each other than for themselves. I guess this is what he had always wanted. Not a top team of glorious individuals but a team that he could mould. Reminds us a bit of Valencia and Rafa Benitez doesn’t it? And how in the world did he make 4-4-2 relevant again? All it took was a compact back four and Kante with excellent support act from Danny Drinkwater. Finally, a good old fashioned English football. It helped that the foxes barely played more than a game a week for most part of the campaign. But so did Liverpool in the title chasing 2013-14 season. We all know how that ended! Brendan Rodgers first fell under the Chelsea bus and tried to close an outrageous 12 goal gap with Manchester City with two games to spare. Ranieri simply chose to play the opponent by their merit. Experience do counts.

Perhaps nobody epitomises the fearless spirit of the foxes than their poster boy, Jamie Vardy. From the interviews he gave to college students as a non-league player to being mentioned in awe by the likes of Gary Linaker is no mean feat. His searing pace, finishing ability and that touch of audacity while leading the line for Leicester made him the face of Leicester city and rightfully so. But none of this would have happened without the outstanding Riyad Mahrez who deservedly won the PFA player of the year. His trickery and skill has been the real difference to the Midland club’s rise to the pinnacle of English Football. Despite all their creative ability, the foxes’ fans owe a lot to their two colossal central defenders in captain Wes Morgan and Robert Huth who put their bodies on their line week in and week out while also coming up with the occasional but all important goals. Leicester City was relentless throughout the season but the key to that was staying injury free (which they did) and Ranieri’s vision to play a game on its merit and give enough respect to the opposition but at the same time closing the games out when it is done and dusted. No extravagance and focus only on crossing the line game after game. At the same time, it did not look like Chelsea’s parking the bus trick.

The real question however will rise now. Will Leicester City be able to maintain this? Purely on gut instinct I feel that they will most likely finish outside the top four next season. Will they be able to do well in the champions league? If they get out of their group, it will be a miracle. But there is no doubt that they will enjoy their football and their fearless attitude will give them new fans but Ranieri for all his experience will know that it will be tough for them in Europe. Are we in for more surprises from the Tinker man and his fearless foxes? Because on face value any European standard forward will shred both Morgan and Huth to pieces and if they get out in group stages, then a long journey in the Europa league awaits. They won the league by fielding fewer players than any other team. Will they be able to sustain the pressure of playing in four tournaments and 60 games a year? Will Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City do a Nigel Clough and Nottingham Forest?

Their first step will be in tying their star players to long term contracts and secondly in bringing quality backups. The scouting team that spotted the likes of Vardy, Mahrez and Kante will have do overtime to bring in new players of such promise. There are a million questions but now is not the time to answer them. Now is a time to celebrate one of the greatest sporting triumphs of all time. A reinstating of the belief that it’s not always about money and that hard work, focus and dedication still has relevance in modern day success stories. This is not a fairy tale. This is a tale of one team unwilling to give up and ready to fight like their lives were dependent on it. Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri has done it. The team did not bully their opponents nor did their manager played mind games with other managers and players. They just played good football. And for that we thank you.


Sports can be such a different career in a lot of ways. Sports persons peak at an age when young men and women take baby steps in their careers. They retire in an age where every other professional attain their peak powers. The moment their bodies don’t respond to the mind, they call it quits. Yet in such a short career span, sport can be so satisfying and fulfilling. As a professional sport, dominated by club games, football can be so demanding on a player’s body and mind. Yet with their endurance and skill set, they manage to illuminate our hearts as well as the stadiums they play in. This particular season in English football, many players who would be branded as greats in the not so distant future and one manager who is probably the greatest of them all, chose to call it a day. Here is a look at those amazing people.

He was the most naturally gifted striker that England has ever produced. Fast as a blur, boyish charm and with the kind of instinct inside the box, he was a nightmare for defenders around the world. But post his explosive start and prolific scoring for Liverpool, Michael Owen never really found that gear at Real Madrid where he found his chances limited among the galaxy of stars at the Bearnabeu. His career hit rock bottom after a plethora of injuries he sustained during his stay at St James’ Park. But that did not stop Sir Alex Ferguson from signing him (Being a Reds fan, I was livid to say the least).  Though he played fewer matches during his time at Manchester Unted, he did make his mark with a signature last minute goal in that amazing Manchester derby. Despite his move to United, he is still my favorite striker. Two moments still stays fresh in memory, that amazing goal at the ’98 World Cup game against Argentina and his brace in the FA cup final against Arsenal in 2001 where the Gunners did not lose to Liverpool but to Michael Owen.

A season of goodbyes, none bigger than Sir Alex Furguson.

He would probably go down as one of the last one club player in the premier league. The great wall of Liverpool, Jamie Carragher’s legacy lies in his loyalty, commitment, using maximum use of one’s potential, fighting instinct and most of all, being the ultimate team man. He was the bedrock of Liverpool’s defense for the past 15 years and every time I see his name on the team sheet I feel secure and assured. Images of an exhausted Carra fighting cramps but still throwing his body around against a marauding Serginho in 30 tiring minutes of extra time at the Champions  Trophy finals in 2005 still stands out. Wonder if anyone can replicate that.

He retired a year ago only to come back at his boss’ request. Though he had a very ordinary season by his high standards, one can’t take away the fact that Paul Scholes is one of the strongest pillars on which lies the museum of those glittering trophies that United won in the Ferguson Era. United will sorely miss and will need a midfield general that was Scholes. Who is going to deliver those killer passes from deep in the midfield? Who is going to dictate the game? Can Michael Carrick step it up?

He is a superstar in more ways than one. Despite not being an exceptionally talented player, with his dead ball skills and that precise, defense splitting pass, he was such a potent weapon in any team’s midfield. But David Beckham’s footballing legacy lies beyond the pitch. He was an icon, a poster boy who drove people, especially women to watch the game. Though the game is much bigger than him, he became the reason why a lot of people watched football. That is something very few people can do. You can talk about Dennis Bergkamp’s technical acumen, laud Steven Gerrard’s leadership or wonder how cool Alan Shearer is every time he puts it past a keeper. But you always need a Beckham to make people watch all that in the first place. He was football’s brand ambassador.

The English Premier League has indeed lost its sheen a bit after the decline and retirements of so many greats in recent years. When I first started to watch the game seriously, I remember the great battles between two amazing quartets. Sir Alex Ferguson’s trump cards Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Ruud Van Nistelroy for Manchester United against Arsene Wenger’s invincible geniuses Robert Pires, Patrick Viera, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry for Arsenal. When will we ever get to see something like that again?

And now the biggie, the actual reason why most of you are reading this article. Being a Reds fan it is such a difficult thing to talk, let alone praise someone from 40 miles away, especially one who vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch and did that successfully. But of late, Sir Alex Ferguson is held in such high esteem that it’s okay to do so. Looking at him from beyond my mental borders, I have to say, “Thanks Fergie”! I remember my time in Manchester when I used to work at the Theatre of Dreams as a bartender, interacting with the club’s long standing members. They spoke so fondly of Sir Alex and how he is the source of all the glittering trophies that begs for space in the Museum downstairs and that no matter who comes and goes, as long as he is there United will be fine. I wonder if they can still say that next season.  Yes they do have a credible replacement in David Moyes, handpicked by Sir Alex himself, but it remains to be seen how the Red Devils play from here. Of course in all those interactions, I had to put up with a lot of RED faced poking, making a mockery of Liverpool’s current form and I had to endure all that with a straight face. Damn me and my dignity! I also vividly recall the aura that he carried. I remember this one time in the 1969 Suite inside Old Trafford where I was working, suddenly there was a buzz around the place. It was strange because I already saw Christiano Ronaldo, Nemaja Vidic and Ryan Giggs walk into the suite a while back and it was all normal. But this time there was a lot of buzz and this time it was Sir Alex himself. In a flash, the whole place transformed into some sort of a hypnotized magic hut. Everyone, including the players themselves was looking at him and only at him as he moved from table to table greeting the members. That aura is carried only by one other sporting icon that I know;  a little man who got the most British of all crowds in Brighton buzzing when he walked in during a tour match, a certain Sachin Tendulkar. Very few personalities justify this increasingly over used term, but from the next season “Football will never be the same again”.

This season significantly closes the chapter of the end of a beautiful era in EPL. With only the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Cole & Ferdinand left, let’s hope that the Suarezs, the Carricks, the Matas, the Hazards, the Wilsheres, the Bales and the Walcotts will step up and become the next set of greats to have played the beautiful game. There certainly is talent but it also needs careful nurturing. This is where I hope the Rodgers’, the Villas-Boas’, the Martinez’, the Ladrup’s and the Mourinho’s will step it up.


          Balaji Ramamurthy

          Editor – Football, The CouchExpert

          September 17, 2011

 

Firstly here are last week’s actual results:

Saturday

1. Arsenal vs Swansea: 1-0

2. Everton vs Aston Villa: 2-2

3. Man City vs Wigan: 3-0

4. Stoke vs Liverpool: 1-0

5. Sunderland vs Chelsea: 1-2

6. Wolves vs Tottenham: 0-2

7. Bolton vs Man United: 0-5

Sunday

1. Norwich vs West Brom: 0-1

2. Fulham vs Blackburn: 1-1

Monday

1. QPR vs Newcastle: 0-0

Prediction results:

Me – 9 points (1 exact score + 6 correct results)

Harshit Khanna – 7 points (7 correct results)

Varun Atri – 11 points (2 exact scores + 5 correct results)

Mayank Gupta – 6 points (1 exact score +  3 correct results)

Standings as of now:

1. Me – 28 points

2. Harshit Khanna – 26 points

3. Varun Atri – 24 points

4. Mayank Gupta – 23 points

5. thecognitivenomad – 13 points

Onto this week’s predictions,

Saturday

1. Blackburn vs Arsenal: 1-2

2. Aston Villa vs Newcastle: 1-1

3. Bolton vs Norwich: 1-0

4. Everton vs Wigan: 2-1

5. Swansea vs West Brom: 1-1

6. Wolves vs QPR: 1-1

Sunday

1. Tottenham vs Liverpool: 2-1

2. Fulham vs Man City: 0-3

3. Sunderland vs Stoke: 1-1

4. Man United vs Chelsea: 2-1

Keep your predos coming in via comments!


          Balaji Ramamurthy

          Editor – Football, The CouchExpert

          September 9, 2011

 

Firstly here are last week’s actual results:

Saturday

1. Aston Villa vs  Wolves: 0-0

2. Wigan vs QPR: 2-0

3. Blackburn vs Everton: 0-1

4.  Chelsea vs Norwich: 3-1

5. Swansea vs Sunderland: 0-0

6. Liverpool vs Bolton: 3-1

Sunday

1. Newcastle vs Fulham: 2-1

2. Tottenham vs Man City: 1-5

3. West Brom vs Stoke: 0-1

4. Man Utd vs Arsenal: 8-2

Prediction results:

Me – 5 points (5 correct results)

Harshit Khanna – 9 points (1 exact score + 6 correct results)

Varun Atri – 5 points (5 correct results)

Mayank Gupta – 8 points (1 exact score +  5 other correct results)

Standings as of now:

1. Me – 19 points

2. Harshit Khanna – 19 points

3. Mayank Gupta – 17 points

4. thecognitivenomad – 13 points

5. Varun Atri – 13 points

Onto this week’s predictions,

Saturday

1. Arsenal vs Swansea: 3-1

2. Everton vs Aston Villa: 1-1

3. Man City vs Wigan: 4-0

4. Stoke vs Liverpool: 1-1

5. Sunderland vs Chelsea: 1-2

6. Wolves vs Tottenham: 1-2

7. Bolton vs Man United: 1-2

Sunday

1. Norwich vs West Brom: 1-1

2. Fulham vs Blackburn: 0-0

Monday

1. QPR vs Newcastle: 1-2

Keep your predos coming in via comments!


         Balaji Ramamurthy

          Editor – Football, The CouchExpert

          August 25, 2011

Firstly here are last week’s actual results:

Saturday

1. Sunderland vs Newcastle: 0-1

2. Arsenal vs Liverpool: 0-2

3. Norwich City vs Stoke City: 1-1

4. Aston Villa vs Blackburn: 3-1

5. Wolves vs Fulham: 2-0

6. Everton vs QPR: 0-1

7. Swansea vs Wigan: 0-0

8. Chelsea vs West Brom: 2-1

Sunday

Bolton vs Manchester City: 2-3

Tuesday

Man Utd vs Tottenham: 3-0

Prediction results:

thecognitivenomad – 4 points (4 correct results)

Me – 8 points (1 exact score +  5 other correct results)

Harshit Khanna – 5 points (5 correct results)

Varun Atri – 8 points (1 exact score +  5 other correct results)

Mayank Gupta – 9 points (1 exact score +  6 other correct results)

Standings as of now:

1. Me – 14 points

2. thecognitivenomad – 13 points

3. Harshit Khanna – 10 points

4. Mayank Gupta – 9 points

5. Varun Atri – 8 points

Onto this week’s predictions, here we go!

Saturday

1. Aston Villa vs  Wolves: 2-1

2. Wigan vs QPR: 1-1

3. Blackburn vs Everton: 2-1

4.  Chelsea vs Norwich: 3-0

5. Swansea vs Sunderland: 1-1

6. Liverpool vs Bolton: 1-1

Sunday

1. Newcastle vs Fulham: 2-0

2. Tottenham vs Man City: 1-2

3. West Brom vs Stoke: 1-1

4. Man Utd vs Arsenal: 2-0

As usual, keep them coming in via comments!