Thursday, January 29, 2009

Phil's Notebook: Barca, Bargains and Beckham

Following a good reception for my first post in this series, "A few notes from the week", I've decided to make the now-rebranded series, "Phil's Notebook", a regular fixture.

This Piqué-d my interest
Sold back to boyhood club Barcelona by Manchester United for £7million this past summer, Gerard Piqué (22 on Monday) has quietly established himself as a top class defender back in Catalonia, starting regularly alongside Carles Puyol. Gabriel Milito, brought in last year under Frank Rijkaard, cost three times more and failed to make a real impact. Pep Guardiola has managed this team flawlessly.

Bargain buys
Aston Villa winning the signature of Emile Heskey for only £3.5million may be the most decisive transfer of this window. Aston Villa's odds of a top four finish are very, very good at the moment.

Incidentally, Robin van Persie is on his longest injury-free stretch in some time and has quietly found his way back amongst the top two or three strikers (on quality) in the Premier League. He assisted or scored almost every Arsenal goal in January. Having come in the summer of 2004 for £2.75million, he stands out as a bargain worth remembering.

From Blackburn to Olympiakos
Matt Derbyshire, Blackburn's young prospect and perpetual substitute, has gone on loan to Greek side Olympiakos for the rest of the season. Such broadening of footballing horizons will only improve his game and his character. While Matt Derbyshire will probably never be a great footballer, one suspects that England might have lifted a trophy by now if its most promising players (you know the ones) had gained the crucial extra 5% by leaving their narrow English comfort zones.

Everton's 4-6-0
It's only partly accurate to call it that. It's more of a 4-4-1-1 with midfielders Fellaini and Cahill up front. The kind of 4-6-0 pedants like me enjoy involves a bit more fluidity and movement when attacking or regaining possession - something which Everton will probably gain over the coming weeks of playing like this.

Andriy Arshavin
It's quite popular to slag the guy off at the moment, but he does possess a great deal of quality and is a far better player than Roman Pavlyuchenko by most accounts. Arsenal were linked with him about a year before Euro 2008, let's not forget that either. I certainly don't think he's the player we needed most, but he can excel in England and I have a feeling he could make an instant impact.

What to watch for this weekend
If Arsenal fail to win against West Ham and Aston Villa beat Wigan, we can begin to talk about UEFA Cup/Europa League football for the Gunners.

Tottenham travel to Bolton in what must be a relegation six-pointer. I'm hoping Bolton lose.

If David Beckham plays well against Lazio on Sunday, look out for Milan hinting at a permanent deal. The MLS would want £8million, from what I understand.

Real Madrid travel to Numancia - can they close the gap on Barcelona? My feelings about Madrid are well-documented, but they do show extraordinary spirit and the acquisition of Lassana Diarra has been a rare masterstroke on their part.

Premier League Punditry returns on Sunday at Sporting Madness.


Andrew Bucholtz said...

Pique is a very good player. I was quite impressed with him during his run with United. Still, it doesn't seem they've missed him too much, as everyone from John O'Shea to Jonny Evans has filled in at centre back and done a nice job of it. The Barca move has probably worked out well for both sides: United got some cash and Pique got a chance to play regularly, which he wasn't too likely to have while stuck behind Vidic and Ferdinand.

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