Not to labour a point that’s already been made, but there seems to be a bit of a disconnect here. Gary Cahill, on completing his move to Stamford Bridge:
“Chelsea is a massive club, it is a club that looks to win trophies season in, season out and it is a big opportunity for me to be a part of that.
Opportunities like this, you can’t turn down.
This is the right move for me at the right time and I would like to thank everyone at Bolton because I’ve had a great four years at the football club.
My spell with Wanderers has enabled me to break into the England squad, and I would particularly like to thank the fans for their support along the way.”
Yup, an opportunity so valuable and so hard to turn down that Cahill took two weeks to agree on personal terms. Apparently, Cahill had to eventually settle for just the £80,000 a week - rather than the £100,000 that he was asking for. Tough times.
I know that the ‘players get paid too much’ opinion has been around for a long time now, but is there not an issue when average players are asking for such exorbitant wages? Even more so when players put their demands for cash above the advancement of their careers.
Football fans have a long memory, and if Gary Cahill gets off to anything other than a flying start, those protracted negotiations are going to haunt him. The moment he hesitated, Chelsea should have told him to do one - Andres Villas-Boas needs players that actually want to play for the club, not those that are happy to as long as they’re paid enough to do so. Huge difference. Cahill’s not a good enough player to be behaving like this.
Oh, he’s an England International is he? Well, only sort of - and anyway, so was Matthew Upson.
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Tuesday 8pm, Ewood Park
Blackburn 11/10 Draw 10/3 Bolton 7/2
A hammer-blow for Blackburn this weekend, as defender Scott Dann has been ruled out with what is euphemistically being described as a ‘groin’ injury, he joins soon-to-be minor surgery patient Gael Givet on the sidelines. Junior Hoilett returns to the squad.
David Wheater is again suspended, as he completes his four game ban for his dismissal against Everton - meaning that Owen Coyle will likely select the same squad that lost to Fulham at the weekend.
Where to begin with either of these teams? Bolton, sinking without trace, bereft of confidence, unable to defend anything - and Blackburn? Well, much the same - but with added fan pressure. Not good times in Lancashire.
A strange statistic - Blackburn have scored in every game they’ve played away from Ewood Park. Sometimes when a team struggles, and the manager’s under pressure, playing away can be an advantage - the focus is more on the home team rather than their visitors. Given the magnitude of this game, what it will do to the loser’s confidence, and the relationship between the fans and the team - Blackburn would probably prefer to be playing at the Reebok.
There were signs at Fulham on Saturday, that Bolton aren’t quite as poor as the table suggests - and if you look at the eleven players they’re putting on the pitch, then surely this is a team that has to start performing eventually. A deflection, a fortunate refereeing decision, whatever - that’s what Bolton need. Just a bit of belief - losing’s horrible, but it’s infectious. Still, Mark Davies, Fabrice Muamba, Ivan Klasnic, Gary Cahill? These may not be spectacular players, but they’re good - and certainly don’t belong in the relegation debate.
I say this every week, but the first goal is crucial - really this time. Blackburn don’t want to hear the crowd’s reaction to going behind, and Bolton’s confidence is too fragile to rebound from conceding early on the road. There’s just a bit more to the visitors though, and they’re more capable of grinding something out than their hosts - that, and Scott Dann’s absence just about tip this.
Bolton edge it, 2-1.
Saturday 3pm, Craven Cottage
Fulham 4/6 Draw 7/2 Bolton 11/2
On another day, Clint Dempsey doesn’t deflect in the opener at the Liberty Stadium and he scores his penalty - Fulham would then have been four games unbeaten.
Martin Jol’s team are the kind of side that you really have to work to unpick, the Liverpool game showed that - and at Craven Cottage they’ll always be an awkward opponent.
One certain change for the home side: David Stockdale will start in goal as Mark Schwarzer has been ruled out for six weeks. For the visitors, Nigel Reo-Coker should play a part after recovering from a hamstring injury, and Ivan Klasnic is fit to start. David Wheater is suspended after his red card against Everton.
When you’re in the kind of position that Owen Coyle are, you need some luck - you need a favourable refereeing decision, a poor performance from your opposition, or anything else that can jolt a team out of a malaise. Interestingly, Bolton have scored first in only 20% of their games, and that’s a statistic that needs to be reversed if they’re to get anything from South West London tomorrow.
Given the confusion that seems to exist over Bobby Zamora’s squad status, Moussa Dembele has to pinpointed as the key threat in the Fulham side. Dembele is an example of a player that, if he was with a more high-profile club, everyone would rave about him. He’s quality - strong, direct, and purposeful. The ‘between-the-lines’ way in which he plays, will make him very difficult for Bolton to handle - that will require exactly the kind of discipline and concentration that’s been lacking from their play.
Home win, you can’t look beyond that - Bolton sinking further into the mire.
Gary Cahill: Half as good as everyone thinks, three times as expensive as he should be
Am I missing something with Gary Cahill? Has everybody seen something that justifies the lavish praise he seems to receive - and was I just not watching that weekend?
Cahill reminds me of Jamie Carragher, a player who’s built a reputation on recovering from his mistakes rather than actually being a good defender.
Is this all because he’s a ‘footballing centre-half’? Has being comfortable with the ball at your feet suddenly become a more precious defensive commodity than positioning? Than anticipation? Than marking forwards out of a game?
That ‘footballing centre-half’ thing is actually only valuable when it’s coupled with all the above, because ultimately a defender is at his most important when he doesn’t have the ball.
Cahill is an example of the increasingly common English tax that seems to be applied to homegrown players - and that’s an ability mark-up as well as financial. If Gary Cahill was playing for a Bundesliga side, or a team in Ligue 1, would Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal really be falling over themselves to try and overpay for him?
“Oh, fuck me, he’s British, he must be worth twice as much and be twice as good as his performances suggest.”
This is the Jordan Henderson rule, that being English is the intangible that makes everything reasonable.
“Oh he’s developing.”
“He understands the league”
“He’s grown-up in the physical culture of the domestic game”
Yeah, yeah - whatever. There’s a reason why Bolton concede so many goals and are rooted to the bottom of the league.
Whoever buys him deserves to get their fingers burnt, he’s a myth - the only saving grace to which being, that his contract expiration date will half his transfer fee.
Another January window-catastrophe waiting to happen.
That’s how you finish. He may not be in the best shape, and I don’t believe for a second that he’s under thirty, but what a priceless commodity the Nigerian has in his game - goalscoring. I wrote last week that one of the few positives that Blackburn fans can cling to, was their team’s ownership of a proven Premier League forward.
His first was sensational, his second and third were studies into goalscoring instinct, and his penalty was the knockout blow that did for Swansea.
Gary Cahill’s sending off
A nonsense. It’s not referee Stuart Attwell’s fault that this occurred on the same day as Mike Dean’s failure to dismiss David Luiz, but that it did just serves to demonstrate the lack of consistency in Premier League officiating.
If that’s William Gallas or Younes Kaboul making that tackle, are they seeing red for it? I doubt it. Apply some common-sense here - Scott Parker is fifty yards from goal, there are covering defenders on the other side of the pitch. How is that a clear goalscoring opportunity? I can accept bad decisions when they’re debatable, but not when they contradict the rulebook.
Attwell likes to give big decisions, that they’re frequently incorrect seems to go unnoticed by the FA and Keith Hackett - this is also the referee that awarded the phantom goal between Reading and Watford in 2008. Do you want a conspiracy theory? Go on then…
Attwell, at 25, was the youngest referee to ever take charge of a Premier League game. He took charge of his first football league game in 2007, and by 2008 was officiating at the top of the pile. That’s a pretty steep progression. Attwell has been fast-tracked to the Premier League for the public relations benefit of having a young and visible referee at the top level.
What do you see if you look back on his career? A history of ‘losing control’ of games and of baffling decisions. Not just ‘poor’ decisions, but ones that are genuinely mystifying.
He’s making ‘big’ decisions in order to demonstrate his authority in games - he’s taking every opportunity to show that he can face-up to the personality of the league.
Tenuous? Maybe, but still…
Saturday 3pm, The Liberty Stadium
Swansea 13/10 Draw 9/4 Bolton 5/2
It’s the kind of naivety that Swansea showed against Wolves last week that could undermine their attempts to stay in the Premier League. This is a crucial game in their season, because it’s the first time they’ve had to rebound from adversity. You can’t lose two-nil leads away from home, or if you do you can’t feel sorry for yourself afterwards. Wolves were dismal last week, and should have been killer off long before Kevin Doyle got on the score sheet.
Bolton are not good. In fact, any team that loses at home to Sunderland is pretty questionable. Owen Coyle’s side find themselves in the relegation zone after three, which is where they thoroughly deserve to be - no cutting edge, bad defending, and not a lot of confidence. Not a great combination.
If Swansea can play the type of football that they’re capable of, then they’ve got the tools to carve Bolton up tomorrow. The only cloud of doubt, is over their ability to defend set-pieces. They’re not in any way convincing in their own box, and Coyle will be fully-aware of it.
Keep the ball well and don’t concede too many free-kicks in their own half, and Swansea should have enough here - and the 13/10 is really tempting.
2-1, home win.
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Arsenal 4/9 Draw 11/4 Bolton 5/1
The odds available for the home win reflect just what a difficult period this has been for Arsenal, but it’s not quite the crisis that the media are telling you that it is - but beating Bolton tomorrow is an absolute must, as next up could be a potentially humbling trip to White Hart Lane.
For the first half-an-hour at Ewood Park, Arsenal actually played very well - they moved the ball around with a purpose that hasn’t been there for a while, and were unlucky not to be further ahead. Unfortunately though, so fragile is the confidence in that team, that the morale was always going to plummet as soon as Yakubu equalised, especially given the sloppiness that allowed him to do this.
Relax though, because this is a new defence - and it’s still one that’s missing Thomas Vermaelen. Another plus for Arsenal fans, is that Bolton have been quietly getting worse by the week.
The three points taken from Loftus Road remain the only return for Owen Coyle so far, and his side have been well-beaten by Liverpool, humbled by both Manchester clubs, and embarrassed by Norwich at home. They’re not scoring goals, but they’re conceding a lot of them. One bright spot on their horizon is the return of Stuart Holden after the injury sustained at Old Trafford last season, expect the American to make the bench tomorrow.
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s so wrong with this Bolton team, the absence of Chung-Yong Lee and Johann Elmander shouldn’t have reduced them to what they currently are - but maybe those factors, combined with a slightly less-effective Kevin Davies, just haven’t been addressed properly. Chris Eagles doesn’t look like a Premier League footballer, and we know that David Ngog definitely isn’t - it’s a hard thing to say, but Jussi Jaaskelainen also looks to be in terminal decline. Not a time for optimism, and tomorrow’s visit to Emirates Stadium is unlikely to improve the mood.
Theo Walcott against Paul Robinson? The league table may suggest an equal crisis in both camps, but Arsenal still have too much for Bolton.
Arsenal by a goal or two.
Underwhelming Summer aside, there’s very little that can get in the way of the optimism that accompanies the Premier League’s opening day. Traditionally, newly-promoted teams do well in the August sunshine - it’s the ides of March that tends to cost them their top-flight status.
If QPR’s Summer has been underwhelming, Bolton’s has been a disaster. Johan Elmander was out the door as soon as last season finished, and Chung-Yong Lee’s double lower-leg fracture has left a huge hole in their midfield. Chris Eagles and Darren Pratley have arrived at the Reebok, to a collective ‘meh…’
In spite of their lack of Premier League quality, QPR are a unit, and a unit built around a talented - if absurdly lazy - playmaker who possesses the creativity to unpick Bolton tomorrow. Owen Coyle’s side will be just fine this season, but this might be a team that needs a good six weeks to settle into the season, so go for Rangers tomorrow.
Take the home win at 6/4, and DJ Campbell to score at any time at 17/10.
It’s a strange time of the season, and beware the teams that have nothing to play for any more.
The Saturday kick-offs offer a lot of value, as the bookies look to know as little as the rest of us - the 7/5 on West Brom at home to Villa looks like an excellent place to start. Newly resilient under Roy Hodgson, expect them to take all three points against a Villa side who are already essentially safe and in a state of flux because of the unfortunate Gerard Houllier situation. Never underestimate the advantage of a team having to win a game more than their opponents.
For similar reasons, the even money available on Blackburn beating Bolton reflects the necessity of a home win at Ewood Park - and don’t forget that Blackburn deserved a whole lot more than they got from the Manchester City game. City were desperate for the points to consolidate Champions League qualification, Bolton have already booked their flights for the summer. Home win.
Expect Spurs to give their usual limp showing at Stamford Bridge. There are just some teams and away fixtures that always end up the same way. If a market was available for this kind of thing, you would wager on Tottenham wasting some good early chances and then succumbing to a 3-0 defeat. The 3-0 Chelsea victory is priced at 9/1 though, and is pretty generous.
Accumulator? Watford to delay the celebrations at QPR by winning at 11/5, Millwall to beat Swansea at 6/5, and Huddersfield to win at Champions Brighton at 2/1.