Oct 312012
 

It has been announced today that Henning Berg has been appointed manager of Blackburn Rovers following the sacking of unpopular former manager, Steve Kean.

Whilst Berg is a former player at Ewood Park, the appointment is a strange one when you look at his managerial past. He was sacked from his last post over a year ago after picking up just 1 point from a possible 24 in his third season at Lillestrøm. Overall, he won just 30% of his 90 games in charge. They finished 2 points clear of the relegation zone in his first season and 10th out of 16 in his season.

Berg has been working as a football pundit at 2-studio since leaving Lillestrøm, which would again suggest he is an ill-matched choice for Blackburn.

What makes the situation all the more strange is the fact that Berg has previously heavily criticised Blackburn owners, the Venkys, and said that no manager with credibility would take the job.

“To take over a Premier League club would be fun, and even a Nationwide club,” he said in May when asked about the prospect of managing his former club. “But it’s clear, if you are to be be a manager, you must have the right owners. To become a manager of a club with such an owner is insane. There are no managers with any credibility that would take such a job. They would be shooting themselves in the foot. Yes, you can be there for a few months, then nothing works and you can not do what you want, and then it becomes something else entirely. The ownership situation must be clarified first. So I hope that Jack Walker’s family, they still have money, who come and buy the club back and starts running club for the principles of Jack Walker had when he was alive.”

Oct 312012
 

There were other things to do on Tuesday night. As storms lashed the Jersey shore, one of us – celebrating a wedding anniversary – walked like a man to see The Jersey Boys. Reading v Arsenal’s 12-goal thriller was on the telly and West Auckland beat Birtley Town 5-4 in a penalty shootout after sharing six goals. Pete Sixsmith did what he usually does and pitched up at the Stadium of Light. He left thinking his £15 might have been better spent …

Well, we saw Plan B in operation last night. It wasn’t very good. It was as ineffective as Plan A – and that wasn’t very good either.

For those lucky enough to be doing something else (watching The Jersey Boys, thrilling to Reading v Arsenal, cutting your toenails), Plan B was a change in midfield and the introduction of a second forward.

Both David Vaughan and Louis Saha have been promoted by this writer as possible answers to our problems. Both have looked useful whenever they have appeared. Both were seen as players who could seize the opportunities they were given.

After last night, where they were the most mediocre of mediocrities, they should be thinking very carefully about where they would like to go in January, because they failed to seize that opportunity and now can be seen as players who were never quite good enough (Vaughan) or, regrettably, past their best (Saha).

They were not the only ones and on the journey home I thought about the 15 point season and drew some comparisons.

Is Adam Johnson any better than Andy Welsh? Is John O’Shea’s distribution any improvement on Gary Breen’s? Is Carlos Cuellar any quicker than Danny Collins? On last night’s showing, is Steven Fletcher any more effective than Andy Gray?

All are rhetorical questions, but the fact that I was even thinking them is a serious cause for alarm, for believe me, this was as dismal as the F A Cup losses to Brentford and Notts County and made worse by the facts that we were comprehensively outplayed by local rivals.

A bright opening with Sessegnon jinking down the wing soon faded as Middlesbrough’s midfield two, Grant Leadbitter and Nicky Bailey seized the game and ran it. Both are good Championship players who have found the top division hard work in the past, but they were far better than Cattermole (ran around a lot, didn’t foul, passed the ball sideways) and Vaughan (ran around a lot, didn’t foul, passed the ball backwards).

Once they had established control, they used the ball, bringing their big barnstorming centre forward Ishmael (was his mum frightened by a great white whale?) Miller, who created the goal by running at Jack Colback and going on and on and on as Colback back pedalled.

A sharp cross to the near post and Scott McDonald was ahead of Cuellar to turn it in. From that moment on, we huffed and puffed but never looked like blowing the Boro house down.

The substitutions made little difference. Campbell came on and looked lightweight. McClean came on and looked as he has all season – poor. The ball was lumped forward in desperation, hoping for a Demba Ba moment but it was not forthcoming and the players departed to deserved booing, jeering and catcalls.

The manager was straight down the tunnel, presumably to collect his thoughts before speaking to the media. I would imagine that a darkened room and a cup of hot, sweet tea would have been necessary before he could face them and try to give some kind of explanation for what was a performance of such ineptitude that seasoned watchers were comparing it with the (very) dark days of Lawrie McMenemy.

We are in desperate need of a couple of wins. The more we draw, the more we slip down the table and the bottom teams are bound to start a little surge sooner or later. They can score goals – we can’t and the longer this drought goes on (a Sunderland player has not scored for 5 games) the more pressure is heaped on the defence. If we go a goal down, that is the end of the game because we create so little.

At times my frustration was vented on Adam Johnson, our marquee signing and the man who, it was hoped, would propel us to the heady heights of the top half of the table. He was pursued assiduously, welcomed as an almost prodigal son and has been a flop.

He cannot get past a man and last night, this current England player, was marked out of the game by Justin Hoyte (from the 15 point season!!) and a £150,000 signing from Doncaster Rovers, George Friend, who had a cracking game. Once again, Johnson was substituted and once again 30,000 people were left wondering what all the fuss is about.

I though Middlesbrough were excellent and played some very good football. It was neat and tidy, sharp and penetrative and at times it flowed beautifully. They are an effective Championship side and Tony Mowbray has done well to fashion such a good team from the rubble of the dismal Strachan experiment.

Do we have a Plan C now that A and B have been seen to be ineffective? We face another set of strugglers on Saturday (albeit strugglers who can win tricky Capital One Cup ties) and it is very much to be hoped that something can be done to give us some spark, some push.

Gardner in midfield? Meyler involved somewhere? A place for McFadden? He must have sat on the bench last night and thought “Thank goodness I am only here until January”.

So, more doom and gloom and I have probably annoyed some of the readership. If the O’Neill experiment fails, I do not know where the club will go. We need to keep our nerve, nobody more than me. But I go to football to enjoy the experience and come out with a buzz. That has been absent this season.

The siren call of the Northern League is getting ever stronger.

Oct 312012
 

Luis Suarez should have had a hattrick on Sunday in the Merseyside derby but his third goal was ruled out by a late and incorrect offside call from the linesman. Before realising the flag had been raised, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard ran the length of the pitch to celebrate. After the game, he was very critical of Everton’s style of play and likened them to long ball specialists Stoke.

“I thought we were fantastic and stood up to a team that are very similar to Stoke,” he said. “Every single time they get the ball to the goalkeeper it comes in long. Everton are effective because they have some big, physical lads in the team. We had a young, small team out there who were men and stuck together. There was only one team who came to play football and that was us. Everton are not better than us.”

This is an interesting assessment from the Liverpool captain because Everton had more attempts on goal than Liverpool, both on and off target, as well as enjoying 56% possession of the ball to Liverpool’s 44%. Everton completed 78% of their 399 passes whilst Liverpool completed 77%, with 100 of these passes coming in the attacking third for Everton compared with 63 for Liverpool. Most interesting of all though is that both Everton and Liverpool attempted 47 long balls in the game.

Everton defender, Phil Jagielka, was quick to respond to Gerrard’s criticism, suggesting the Liverpool captain must be fairly riled to give such an overreaction. Everton are currently 5th in the league whilst Liverpool are in 12th, one point ahead of Stoke, which might explain some of the frustration.

“I suppose it’s a backhanded compliment,” said Jagielka. “Stevie must have thought Liverpool were in a game to come out which such comments. It makes you chuckle, but if Stevie is saying things like that, there must be a reason behind it which must be that we are doing something well.”

Having been given time to cool down and watch the game, Gerrard has backtracked on his stinging criticism, and blamed his comments on being annoyed about Suarez’s disallowed goal.

“Just to clarify I’ve watched the game again and I’ve seen some of Everton’s matches this season, and what I said in relation to their style of play went too far,” he said. “I was frustrated by the disallowed goal from Luis when I spoke and also some of the things that have been said about Luis in recent weeks, which haven’t been fair in my opinion. As captain I have a duty to stand up for our players when I feel they are unfairly singled out. But it wasn’t my intention to disrespect Everton or Stoke for that matter and I certainly didn’t intend any disrespect to their manager or players. I have the utmost respect for David Moyes and Tony Pulis and the job they have done at their respective clubs. My main issue was with the goal that wasn’t given and that Liverpool did not get the three points I felt we deserved in what was a fantastic derby match.”

Oct 302012
 

You would have been forgiven for thinking the biggest controversies from Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge involved the timing of Fernando Torres’ red card and Javier Hernandez’s offside goal, but hours after the final whistle, Chelsea confirmed they had lodged a formal complaint against referee Mark Clattenburg for “inappropriate language” directed at two of their players.

Whilst nothing official has been confirmed, the reported allegation is that Clattenburg called Juan Mata a “Spanish tw*t” and John Obi Mikel a “monkey”.

It has also been reported that neither of the players heard these insults personally but were told of them by their team mates. Oriol Romeu has confirmed Mata only found out about the alleged insults after the game.

“Neither Juan nor Fernando told me they heard it because from what I have understood they didn’t hear anything,” said Romeu. “It was someone else who heard it, but not directly at them. It was another player who heard it and that is what they told me. I didn’t hear anything as I left quickly to go home but after talking to Juan he told me there was some problem and he had to stay. I only know Chelsea made a complaint and I think there could really be a problem if what Chelsea players say happened really happened. If there was really a racist comment or something said against a Spanish player this will be serious. We know in this country people are very vigilant about these issues.”

The names being mentioned as those who heard the insults and passed the information on are David Luiz and Ramires. As the videos below show, neither of these players have a strong grasp of English, if any at all, which adds doubt to the likelihood of them hearing what they say they did. It is also incredible to think that a referee, whose mic can be heard by three other officials, would use racist language on the pitch. That would be hard to believe in any scenario, let alone right now, when the awareness of racism in football is at a peak. However, something being unlikely doesn’t mean it is untrue, as the FA found when determining John Terry was guilty racist abuse when he was England captain. This incident has to be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. Whilst you would like to think there is nothing sinister behind the allegations, that frustrated Chelsea players didn’t seek revenge for what they believed to be a poor performance from the referee, at this stage, without all the information at hand, the most likely explanation would be a misunderstanding from the Brazilian players. It is puzzling that Ramires and Luiz heard the insults but Mikel and Mata did not.

With the insults apparently taking place on the pitch, Mikel confronted Clattenburg after the game in his office, along with manager Roberto Di Matteo, assistant manager Eddie Newton and chief executive Ron Gourlay.

Clattenburg, his assistants and fourth official are understood to have been stunned by the claims, with Michael McDonough, Simon Long and Michael Jones denying hearing anything of that nature over the officials’ microphone link-up.

Some reports this morning have claimed the exchange was like a “pub brawl” and the threat “I’ll break your f**king legs!” being directed at Clattenburg. Whilst there is the possibility of consequences for the referee, it’s hard to imagine that Chelsea will avoid punishment for their reaction, if the reports in today’s papers are accurate.

Clattenburg filed his match report, including details of the exchange after the match in an “extraordinary incident form”, and the FA have begun their investigations. Clattenburg will today formally deny the allegations when he meets with the FA.

All in all, this is a very strange story and hopefully one that is resolved quickly. Clattenburg will not be officiating any games this weekend, not as a punishment, but to keep him out of the limelight. With just trickles of information available at present, it’s hard to form much of an opinion, but the FA will be closer to working out what actually happened after meeting with Clattenburg today.

Oct 302012
 

At Spurs this year was a summer of change, which while not a revolution of Russia in 1917 proportions (though perhaps Villas-Boas is Trotsky to Mourinho’s Lenin) still saw fairly seismic changes at Spurs. There was a change of manager, change of playing style and a big change of personnel.

Luka Modric left to sit on the comfy looking substitutes bench at the Bernabeu, Rafael Van der Vaart departed to rescue Hamburg, Ledley King retired with his knee blown to bits while in the biggest transfer story of the summer, former “New Beckham” hotshot David Bentley left to general bewilderment and ridicule to join FC Rostov of Russia on loan. It’s never a good sign when a player joins a club that is so little known the country it plays in has to be mentioned next to it in press reports.

There have also been new signings. Some very good, like Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen and some not so good, like Gylfi Sigurdsson. But there are ever decreasing links with the Redknapp era at Spurs. Younger players are getting more of a chance, the Europa League in a novel move is actually being taken seriously while tactics are no longer just sporadically mentioned by Kevin Bond when ‘Arry is trying to buy a new cardigan on eBay but an important part of Tottenham’s footballing philosophy.

Still, for all of Redknapp’s foibles and faults his time in the White Hart Lane dugout was Spurs most successful for a generation. Of those players that remain from his reign as manager, the one who’s started this season strongest has arguably been Sandro.

In true Redknapp style, Sandro only got his chance in the first team due to injuries to people above him in the pecking order. He’d barely played a match for Spurs after signing from Internacional late in 2010 when due to injury and suspension he wound up starting in one of Spurs biggest games in years, away to AC Milan.

He’d thought he might get a game when Spurs had previously been at the San Siro, away to Inter in the group stages. He got to the airport thinking he was in the squad only to be told he wasn’t in the squad and to go home. Having just moved from Brazil, helping Internacional win the Copa Libertadores to find himself not even making the bench for the fourth best team in England must have been humbling, not to mention potentially traumatic for a young man living literally and metaphorically thousands of miles away from his homeland.

Yet thrown in at the deep end, away to AC Milan in the Champions League last of 16 round, partnered by strength and brute force’s Wilson Palacios he was superb. He made his tackles, tracked Milan’s attackers, passed the ball nicely, ran his socks off and contributed heavily to Spurs amazing 1-0 win that night, one of the best wins in the club’s history.

That night and since then he has shown himself to be quick, aggressive, very strong, excellent positionally, a superb tackler tackler capable of using his long legs to amazing effect at times while also capable of getting forward to good effect. Few can match him for power and strength in the middle of the park. Even fewer can manage to look like the late great Socrates (the Brazil midfield genius not the Greek mathematics genius) as much as he does.

If he has a weakness, it’s that with the ball at his feet he’s either very good or very bad, tending to be in certain matches very profligate with possession. Like ex England fast bowler Devon Malcolm when he’s on, he’s very good. When he’s off, he couldn’t pass wind never mind a football.  Also as good as his tackling is he’s prone to accruing a lot of yellow cards and giving away needless fouls. But he’s young, should improve on those weaknesses and mostly he’s an impressively consistent performer.

After his superb display in the San Siro, the next season and a half was frustrating for him. Though he performed well when given the chance in the first team, he was prone to two nagging presences. The first was injuries which constantly left him short of fitness and meant he never got a long, consistent run in the first team and the other was Scott Parker, whose great hair, comic Englishness and sterling play partnering Modric meant Sandro didn’t have a place in Redknapp’s favoured starting line-up, which of course he rarely changed.

But this season he has been an ever present in league matches, starting matches and becoming one of the leaders of Andre Villas-Boas’s leaner and meaner Blue and White Army. Villas-Boas’s wish for a side that presses opponents more intensely suits the quick, powerful and strong Sandro down to the ground.

He’s had help from Mousa Dembele, who’s so far been an excellent signing from Fulham as a surging presence in the Tottenham midfield. The pair of them have been a dynamic presence, whether it’s winning the ball from the opposition, closing down space for opposing players to play in or rumbling forward to join or initiate Spurs’ potent counter attacks. Dembele tends to do more of the attacking and Sandro more of the defending, but both do the others’ job when necessary and cover for each other like all good partnerships on a football field do.

Both have played excellently, powering Spurs to one of their best ever Premier League starts. Scott Parker’s absence has perhaps been a blessing, as Sandro has thrived in his absence and continued to cement his reputation as one of Europe’s finest young defensive midfielders. Along with Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe, he’s been the best of the players Redknapp left behind for Spurs so far this season. All three, unused to consistently starting a big run of games either due to injuries or not being picked have for various reasons had long runs in the side, and all have taken their chances well.

For all of Sandro’s play on the pitch though, off the pitch he’s that most dreadfully clichéd of things, a ‘character’. In British footballing parlance a ‘character’ is usually a borderline alcoholic who played for dozens of clubs up and down the football league ladder and now plies his trade on the after dinner speaking circuit, appearing on Keys and Gray’s show on Talksport or worst of all, being Paul Merson.

Not Sandro though. He plays guitar, is capable of terrific feats featuring a water bottle and Bruce Lee kung-fu and also apparently is a keen darts player, having met Bobby George and played against his son. He could probably qualify for the version of the World Darts that’s on the BBC every January with a bit more practice (though to be fair, Abu Hamza could and he has a hook for a throwing hand).

Still, Sandro is a special breed. A dart throwing, guitar strumming, kung-fu kicking footballer who does everything with a sunny disposition and a smile on his face is a rare thing indeed. With so many gifts, it’s no wonder he’s a fan favourite.

Let’s hope he doesn’t change. For Spurs’s sake. Not to mention there being a home World Cup he could be a big part of in two years’ time…

Oct 292012
 

Torres was shown the wrong card twice

Replays showed that there Evans did catch Torres just above the ankle, but it probably didn’t help Torres’s cause that he fell to the floor clutching his knee. If that’s not simulation, wonder what is. However, what Chelsea fans seem to have conveniently missed out is that Torres should have been sent off for the De Jong style kung fu kick on Cleverly. He probably got away with it because Cleverly didn’t display the epileptic fits that Drogba did when Evans hacked him down a few seasons ago. Chelsea could have been 2-1 and 10 men down, and none of this would have mattered then.

Case of déjà vu down United’s right flank

United’s current No:7 and No: 2, Antonio Valencia and Rafael Da Silva respectively, has been an effective pair down the right over the last season and a half, and yesterday was no exception. They combined well for the second goal, catching Ashley Cole out of position. Valencia might not possess Beckham’s crossing or dead ball skills but he provides ample defensive cover if Rafael moves further up the pitch, or inwards. It’s this added defensive ability that gets him the nod over Nani on the right.

The enigma that is David De Gea

He’s probably one of the best shot stoppers in the league, and he has the reflexes of a ninja (explains the amount of saves he does with his gangly legs!). But, at times, he doesn’t help his cause with moments of indecision or poor clearances. There were examples of both yesterday, with an unnecessary shuffle to the left before he dived to the right in vain for Mata’s free kick, and a poor clearance that almost led to Mata scoring again but redeemed himself by saving the shot. Take no credit from Mata’s brilliant free kick, but the save from Mata’s free kick at last season’s encounter was a harder one to make as the ball was heading to the top corner. If De Gea had stayed his position at first and dived to the right, he probably could have got his hands to the ball. De Gea made some crucial saves yesterday and the gaffer must continue to put his faith in him.

United need Rooney’s energy in the middle

At the start of the game, United were roughly set out as a 4-1-4-1 with Rooney and Cleverly in the middle and Carrick sitting in front of the back four. After the sending off, United reverted to a 4-4-2 with Rooney slotting in the middle with Carrick. During both formations, his incessant running and tracking back ensured that the Chelsea midfield didn’t overrun United’s. True, Chelsea had the lion’s share of the possession in the last 15 minutes of the first half. But this was also attributed to United giving the ball away cheaply, after having won it back brilliantly on many occasions by Rooney. However, he still needs to keep his temper in check as it was his petulant foul on Hazard after having the ball nicked away from him that lead to Mata’s goal.

Young has given more cannon fodder to his doubters

Ashley Young had a poor summer at the Euros, and injury has seen him sit out much of the start of the season. However, it was a bizarre decision (and the only incorrect one I reckon) by Sir Alex yesterday to start with the winger and give him a full 90 minutes. Having just come back from injury, he looked out of sorts, couldn’t keep the ball, and didn’t manage a successful dribble past Ivanovic. With both Rooney and Van Persie taking on dead ball duties, Young wasn’t even able to provide a customary cross into the box. Fans have good reason to question the business decision to snatch him for a vastly inflated fee last summer.

Oct 292012
 

Martin O’Neill and plenty of Sunderland fans came away from the Britannia Stadium happy with another point in the bag. After all Stoke can be a difficult team to play and apart from last season’s snowy encounter, the Potteries hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Black Cats in recent times. Pete Sixsmith’s growing disillusionment with the Premier League has been well documented in his earlier match reports and there is little here to suggest that the feeling has been diluted. What follows is his cathartic therapy in an effort to forget…..

Never let it be said that this column does not do its homework. I suggested at half time that the game was little better than a Wear Valley Sunday League Division 2.

So, in the interests of professional journalism (unlike the execrable Lee Ryder who published all kinds of allegations against Sunderland fans in his laughable column in a certain Newcastle based “newspaper”), I did my research and, after a visit to the shops, I wandered down to Shildon Rec to see what was going on.

I came across a Wear Valley First Division game between two sides at opposite ends of the table and I have to say that I should retract my statement. It wasn’t very good, as the visitors added three times in the ten minutes I stood and watched, to the seven goals they had already notched up. As I left, they looked as if they were going to score again. I averted my eyes from the shambolic defending, but I had seen the visitors string a few passes together and inject some pace into their attack – not something I have seen a lot of from a Sunderland side this year.

So, the game on Saturday wasn’t quite as bad as I tried to make out, but it was a stinker – played between two teams who are struggling to find their identity at the moment.

From our point of view, we came away with a point, defended resolutely, worked hard and had a couple of half chances, which we failed to take. There were some signs of recovery, but they are as fragile as those currently being lauded by Messrs Cameron and Osborne, although they are more likely to materialise.

We now know that we have a very good goalkeeper who is not frightened by the nasty boys of Stoke who pepper his goal with deep centres and long throws, roared on by a fanatical and hostile crowd.
This is mainly because he has grown into his job and makes very good choices as to when to come and when to leave it to the usually excellent O’Shea and Cuellar. Plus, Stoke don’t really do that any more. Delap has disappeared and they have gone for a tricky winger in Kightley rather than fullbacks who sling the ball in to hard men like Fuller and big men like Jones.

The crowd has lost its edge, or maybe they reserve it for the annual visit of Le Professeur, Arsene Wenger, because that is the quietest I have ever heard a Britannia Stadium assembly. Maybe they are getting bored with the poor stuff that middle of the table Premier League teams serve up.
In truth, there is little to write about. Cattermole did well on his return, moving around quickly, organising everyone and going an entire 90 minutes without clattering into anyone or incurring the wrath of a hesitant Mark Halsey.

The back four looked solid, once Gardner had tightened up on his flank and Rose did well, although he too often rushes his final ball and gives it away. Colback was tidy in midfield as was Larsson, but once again, the two wingers, who O’Neill has put a lot of faith in, failed to deliver.
Johnson looks as if he is ploughing through treacle at times as he attempts to beat a man and then comes back inside. Is he fit? Is there a problem with him moving back to the North East? He must be close to being left out of the starting line up as Saha and McFadden look for opportunities to start games.

McClean worked hard but consistently failed to take advantage of some decent ball from Colback, failing to take on and beat some diligent Stoke defending. It is harder for him this year as teams are wise to him, but we have seen so few of those great crashing runs and a little too much of him cutting inside and losing the ball.

Up front, Fletcher plugged away and he may well have had a good penalty claim. I couldn’t be bothered to wait up for it on MOTD so I am not in a position to say. We’d probably have missed it – and who is our penalty taker? We don’t seem to get very many as we are rarely in the opposition’s box.

So, a real stinker. This mornings Observer report concentrated on what both managers had to say and had little to say about the game. This may well be a combination of the paper employing someone to sit and watch it on some obscure foreign channel rather than go (cheaper and better for the journalist’s mental health) and the fact that it was such a bloody awful game that there was hardly a noteworthy incident to write about.

I sat through it and so did 27,000 other hardy souls who must have thought as they made their way home that there were better ways to spend an afternoon than this. It was as far removed from the beautiful game as Conrad Black was from reality on Have I Got News For You, but a sight less entertaining.

We now go into a series of games against middle ranking teams like ourselves and a cup tie against local rivals who have found a bit of form, albeit in a lower division. Lose the next two games and there may well be grumbling of an Olympian nature as we have two tricky away games. We need to win the home games and with some conviction.

Let’s hope that we can shake off this lethargy and start to play football again.

Oct 292012
 

Chelsea FC have lodged a complaint against referee Mark Clattenburg for using “inappropriate language” against two of their players. Reports claim that Clattenburg called Juan Mata a “Spanish twat” and more shockingly, called John Obi Mikel a “monkey”.

With these comments set to be investigated, it’s interesting to see that Clattenburg doesn’t have a blemish free past, and has courted plenty of controversy in his career so far.

1. Clattenburg suspended – August 2008
Mark Clattenburg was suspended pending enquiries into reports regarding his alleged debts. The Football Association and referees’ body Professional Game Match Officials Ltd acted after allegations relating to debts of companies connected to him. Clattenburg was set to take charge of the FA Community Shield clash between Manchester United and Portsmouth but was replaced by Peter Walton.

A joint statement from the FA and PGMO read: “PGMO is aware of media reports concerning alleged debts incurred by companies connected to referee Mark Clattenburg. It has been decided he will not officiate any matches pending enquiries into the background to these reports.”

Clattenburg’s firm MC Electrical Retail NE Ltd was wound up under the Insolvency Act on 27 June, Newcastle County Court confirmed. Friend and business associate John Hepworth took legal action in a bid to recover a debt reported to be almost £60,000. In May, Mr Hepworth served Clattenburg’s firm with legal papers demanding £59,589.

2. Doing as Gerrard tells him – October 2007
Mark Clattenburg awarded Liverpool a penalty after he judged Tony Hibbert had brought down Steven Gerrard in the box. Clattenburg pulled out a yellow card to book the Everton man, before Gerrard had a go at him, leading Clattenburg to put his yellow card away and replace it with a red one.

“The referee went to book Tony Hibbert holding a yellow card, Steven Gerrard walked past him (the referee) and it changed to a red,” said Alan Stubbs. “We saw the replays. That’s disappointing. We were 1-0 at half-time and on top, we had control of the game.”

Clattenburg was given a weekend off officiating following this incident.

3. Yellow card for double leg-break – February 2002
After failing to send off Stockport County defender Dave Challinor for a foul on Martin Pringle where the player’s leg was broken in two places and his career effectively ended, Clattenburg opted to give only a yellow card to Challinor. He then sent off Stockport’s then player-manager Carlton Palmer for dissent after arguing that his own player should have been sent off!

4. That Nani goal against Tottenham – October 2010

5. Clattenburg criticises Bellamy – December 2009
During a game between Manchester City and Bolton, City personnel alleged that at half-time, Clattenburg asked members of their bench: “How do you work with Craig Bellamy all week?” In the second half that followed, he booked Bellamy twice, once for dissent and then for diving, although replays suggested he was actually fouled.

Oct 282012
 

Chelsea v Man Utd, Sunday 16:00

Chelsea and Manchester United occupy the top two slots in the Premier League this season, and Sunday game already looks like a potential turning point in the title race

Despite a disappointing Champions League outing in the week, Chelsea’s Premier League form has been dominant. Last weekend they dispatched Spurs 4-2, with goals from Gary Cahill, a brace from Juan Mata, and the final goal from Daniel Sturridge

That performance means Chelsea now have four of the top five ranked players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, with Juan Mata now sitting in top spot ahead of Fernando Torres in 2nd, Eden Hazard in 3rd, and Branislav Ivanovic in 5th.

Mata now has three goals and five assists to his name and has completed 271 passes in his opponents half. That’s the fifth highest number of passes overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index

Mata covered 6.95 miles against Spurs, the most by a Chelsea player in a single game so far this season, while Ramires 6.69 miles in the same game was the second highest, and the 64.62 miles as a squad the most by Chelsea as a team so far this season

Cahill will increasingly be in the spotlight as John Terry serves his four match ban. Cahill already has two goals to his name this season, and has made an impressive six blocks

With Cahill’s defensive team mates Branislav Ivanovic scoring three and Ashley Cole also on the score sheet in the Premier League so far this season that means six of Chelsea’s eighteen goals have come courtesy of their defenders this season

Brazilian wonder kid Oscar has netted twice in the Champions League this season but is still to find the net in the Premier League competition. Oscar has had 13 attempts at goal without scoring, including nine on target. No other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index has had so many shots on target without a goal.

Manchester United were also 4-2 victors in their last game, beating Stoke. Rooney scored twice with his first goals for United this Premier League season (as well as putting into his own net) while Robin van Persie and Danny Wellbeck added to the scoreline.

Van Persie remains joint top goalscorer in the Premier League with an impressive six goals from eight games. Van Persie’s goals have come from 17 shots at goal. His rivals for the golden boot, Michu and Demba Ba, are both also on six goals this season, but have required 20 and 30 efforts at goal respectively to reach that total

Van Persie has a shots on target percentage of just 47% percent, but still has one of the best minutes per goal ratios in the league with one every 106 minutes and 40 seconds so far this season. Frighteningly, that means if the Dutch striker can get more of his efforts on target then his goal scoring rate can improve even further

Paul Scholes picked up his fourth yellow card in just 440 minutes of play this season against Stoke, though the midfielder may consider his reputation has gone before him as he had committed just nine fouls for those cards compared to Aston Villa’s Karim El Ahmadi who has committed 17 fouls and received four yellow cards

Rooney looked determined for United, and his 6.75 miles against Stoke was the joint highest distance covered by a United player in a single game this season. Meanwhile Carrick’s 6.63 miles was enough to put him fourth overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for distance covered with 49.56 miles

Oct 282012
 

Southampton v Tottenham, Sunday 15:00

Southampton were swept aside 4-1 by an impressive second half performance from West Ham in their last Premier League game

A consolation goal from Adam Lallana wasn’t enough to prevent defeat, and Southampton’s goals conceded column now reads 21 from 8 games

Lallana’s first goal of the season came after 14 efforts at goal with 8 on target so far. Lallana also has an impressive four assists, coming having delivered 16 crosses and completed 179 passes in his opponents half

Despite Southampton’s poor run of form, Morgan Schneiderlin continues to impress in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He has now won more tackles than any other player with 28 won and just 13 lost, to add to his impressive stats on distance covered. 7 of those tackles won were in the game against West Ham as Schneiderlin tried to prevent the oncoming West Ham attack.

Spurs looked at one stage like defeating league leaders Chelsea in their last game, going 2-1 up through goals from William Gallas and Jermain Defoe before capitulating to a 4-2 loss

Defoe’s impressively confident start to the season under Andre Villas Boas continues, and his goal was his fifth of the season coming from 40 shots at goal with 60% on target. Only Luis Suarez has had more attempts this season, but the Liverpool striker falls behind Defoe on accuracy having got only 47% on target

Spurs midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson was prolific at Swansea last season, but has yet to score in the Premier League so far for Spurs. Sigurdsson has had 16 attempts at goal without scoring, the joint highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Sigurdsson did, however, cover more ground against Chelsea than any Spurs player has in a single game this season – something he did regularly for Swansea. Sigurdsson covered 7.05 miles in total, inspiring Spurs to cover their highest cumulative distance of the season with 65.31 miles. That performance by Sigurdsson was the 7th most distance covered by an individual game this season

Oct 282012
 

Everton v Liverpool, Sunday 13:30

Everton needed a stroke of luck against QPR in their last game to leave with a point, with their equalizing goal coming from a Sylvain Distin header which rebounded off the base of the post and in off QPR keeper Julio Cesar

This Merseyside derby will see the top two crossers in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index go head to head. Leighton Baines has delivered 41 crosses while Steven Gerrard has delivered 37, with each being credited two assists.

Baines and Gerrard are also two of the top three Englishmen in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for passing, with 224 and 261 passes completed in their opponent’s half respectively. Tellingly for English football, Gerrard who is the top English player for passes completed is still over 100 passes behind Arsenal’s Spanish midfielder Santi Carzola who has completed 384 passes

New Everton signing Kevin Mirallas is surely due a change of luck soon, and must be hoping the Merseyside derby will be the place for it. The striker has had 24 shots on goal with an impressive 71% on target, but has just one goal for his efforts this season.

Phil Jagielka impressed for Everton against QPR, and has now jumped up to third in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for clearances having made 17 in 8 games so far this season

Raheem Sterling continued his coming of age as he scored the only goal as Liverpool beat Reading 1-0 in their last game

Glen Johnson has had a typically attacking start to the season, and has had 13 efforts at goal, more than any other defender in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index

Luis Suarez continues to terrorise defenders by running at them this season. Suarez has completed 21 dribbles more than any other player and 8 ahead of second place Arouna Kone

Suarez had nine shots at goal against Reading, the joint second highest for a player in any one game this season. Tellingly, however, only three were on target

Brad Jones, deputizing for Pepe Reina against Reading, must have felt that he drew the short straw coming into that game. The eight saves he made was the most either Liverpool keeper has had to make this season.

The 61.98 miles covered by Liverpool as a squad in that game was their second highest total this season, led by Joe Allen’s 6.67 miles, the third highest from an individual Liverpool player this season and enough to keep him second in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for overall distance covered with 50.73 miles.

Steven Gerrard is also in the index’s top ten for distance covered with 48.43 miles covered, enough for 8th place

Oct 282012
 

Victor Valdes
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 10-years-old
First team appearances: 470

Martin Montoya
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 9-years-old
First team appearances: 16

Carlos Puyol
Born: Lleida, Catalonia
Joined the club: 17-years-old
First team appearances: 563

Gerard Pique
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 10-years-old
First team appearances: 190

Jordi Alba
Born: Barcelona
Joined the club: 9-years-old
First team appearances: 10

Xavi Hernandez
Born: Terrassa, Catalonia
Joined the club: 11-years-old
First team appearances: 643

Sergio Busquets
Born: Sabadell, Catalonia
Joined the club: 17-years-old
First team appearances: 204

Andres Iniesta
Born: Fuentealbilla, Spain
Joined the club: 12-years-old
First team appearances: 417

Cesc Fabregas
Born: Arenys de Mar, Catalonia
Joined the club: 10-years-old
First team appearances: 60

Pedro Rodrigues
Born: Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Joined the club: 17-years-old
First team appearances: 183

Lionel Messi
Born: Rosario, Argentina
Joined the club: 13-years-old
First team appearances: 343