So, the festive season is well and truly upon us, football matches are falling foul of the weather and it’s even snowing on They Think It’s All Over… However, to help myself find some Christmas spirit – something that’s hard to come by in this part of the world due to the sun shining all over the place – I’ve decided to try and think what a few Premier League managers will be hoping for from Santa Claus come Christmas Eve.
Some managers have had a good start to the season, others not so good, but the success or failure of their team come May could well depend on one little addition to a squad, or hanging on to someone in the transfer window, or steering clear of injuries. So who are three managers most in need of a little Christmas magic?
All David Moyes wants for Christmas is… a top class striker.
It sounds strange, given that they lie in a disappointing 15th in the Premier League, but Everton have played pretty well so far this season. They regularly boss games from start to finish, playing some really wonderful football akin to – dare we say it – that which regularly graces the pitch at the Emirates Stadium and the Nou Camp. David Moyes has brought us a long way from the Dogs of War I watched throughout the 90’s.
All that is missing – and it’s kind’ve a crucial ingredient – is goals. While the gravity-defying Tim Cahill has done his darndest so far this term with eight goals to his name, he has barely been supported by the real strikers in the squad. Yakubu notched one goal, while Beckford has hit two but missed a whole host of really very League One standard chances, while Louis Saha has failed to find the net at all this season. It’s all very frustrating.
Take the last game, at home to Wigan. Everton completely dominated the game and ripped Wigan to pieces on numerous occasions – ably aided by Wigan themselves, it has to be said – but no matter how many clear cut chances were made, the net simply refused to bulge. Rodwell, Fellaini, Coleman, Pienaar and Cahill all missed very presentable opportunites, but that’s not really the problem.
The sterling work of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar in particular, but ably aided by the rapid (and rapidly developing) Seamus Coleman and the likes of Arteta and Fellaini on occasion, have seen us create lots and lots of chances this season. But the trouble is, whichever striker out of Saha, Yakubu and Beckford happens to be on the pitch consistently fail to find themselves on the receiving end. One of the key skills when you’re a striker is ‘knowing where to be’, and these three just don’t appear to have it.
If Moyes can find himself a top class striker in January – and it’s a big IF, because funds are nigh on non-existant as usual at Goodison – then Everton will thrive as usual after Christmas. Someone with a nose for goal and a clinical air about them will delight in the wealth of assists that Everton’s more than capable midfield is waiting to serve up. If he can’t, well… the winter blues could hang around well into Spring and Summer around Goodison.
All Carlo Ancelotti wans for Christmas is… Frank Lampard back.
For years, the debate has raged over whether Frank Lampard can compare to England’s other world class central midfielder, Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. Popular opinion has suggested that while very good in his own right, Lampard just doesn’t have that bit of wow-factor that Gerrard has, the ability to inspire a team – in some ways, Liverpool’s relative mediocrity over the last few years has allowed Gerrard to shine brighter than he may otherwise have done, by carrying them togreater heights than should have been possible.
But, after a rip-roaring start to the season, Chelsea fans – and other English football fans all round the world – may be starting to realise just what a loss Lampard has been to Chelsea during his lengthy injury. While the early season form of Didier Drogba and, particularly, Florent Malouda saw Chelsea’s form continue for a while after lamps got injured, they have stumbled quite incredibly in the last month or so, and after looking like they’d be getting the Premier League trophy wrapped up in time for Christmas, they have now surrendered their Championship lead.
Of course, there have been other problems. John Terry has been missing too, but not for as long and not as consistently. The sudden departure of Ray Wilkins seemed to shake the club pretty heavily too, and Ancelotti certainly hasn’t seemed as sure of himself since that incident, but even Wilkins’ biggest fans surely wouldn’t deign to claim that the meltdown the Blues have seen of late is entirely down to his departure.
The fact is, Chelsea really do look short of a little bit of inspiration lately. Occasionally they’ll spark into life and cut a team open in the powerful and efficient manner we’ve come to expect, but they spend great periods of games now poking the ball around almost aimlessly, waiting for someone to produce a bit of magic. Even when Michael Essien is playing, they lack a certain drive from midfield, some forward momentum to get them going.
That is what Frank Lampard brings to Chelsea. He’s always in motion, he’s busy, he buzzes around, he always wants the ball, and he’ll keep it moving. He won’t play the long, raking passes of his more illustrious England partner Gerrard, but he uses the ball well, and he drives the team from it’s heart. More than anything though, his timing of runs to the edge of the area and his ability to find the net from almost any situation has deprived Chelsea of that sort of ‘get out of jail free card’ that all the great teams need.
It’s often said that successful teams can win games when they’re playing badly. Chelsea are playing badly right now, at least relative to their potential, but they’ve played badly in previous seasons too. In previous seasons though they always had Lampard fit, and popping up with crucial goals when they were most needed. If Ancelotti is to have a happy Christmas and retain the Premier League title come May, he will be asking Santa desperately for a fully fit Frank Lampard.
All Owen Coyle wants for Christmas is… for everyone to forget about Johan Elmander.
Bolton: really the success story of the season so far. And it’s not just that they’re sitting pretty in seventh place either (with, as I write on Sunday morning, a game in hand), it’s the manner in which they’ve earned those points so far this season. Since the days of Sam Allardyce at Bolton, they’ve very much been a team who would try to out fight oppositon teams, less talented, but every bit as hungry. Coyle though, has changed all that.
They play a really nice brand of football, they get the ball down, the likes of Lee, Petrov and Holden are all capable footballers and they’ve given Bolton an extra dimension. That hunger and fight is still there, as is the “out ball” to Kevin Davies when they need it, which only makes them a tougher prospect. Bolton can play you either way, if one doesn’t work, they’ll try the other, and it’s proving effective.
Just as important though, has been the rebirth of Johan Elmander. I thought when he signed for Bolton that he’d turn out to be a good buy, but he’s sure taken his time in proving me right. He has proved a prfect foil for Kevin Davies, always in the right place for his flick downs, he has got great feet and certainly knows where the back of the net is. He gives a focal point to Bolton’s play that was previously lacking.
That’s not to insult Kevin Davies. He’s a crucial part of the system, but finishing has never been his strong point. For the old Bolton, he was perfect, because his bread and butter was aerial balls into the box, and that suited them fine. But now that they’re playing a more expansive game, Davies needs help up there, indeed, without someone like Elmander alongside him, they’d score far fewer goals, and be much less successful.
The problem is that whenever a striker at a so called “smaller” club starts scoring goals, the big boys come a-sniffing, and there are always bigger clubs on the lookout for a goal scorer. To make matters worse for Owen Coyle, Elmander’s contract runs out at the end of the season, so he has a bit of a conundrum. Either he makes some money off him now – but not what he’s worth – or he gets the most out of him for the rest of the season and hopes he’ll sign a new contract, which is probably quite unlikely.
In all honesty, it doesn’t look good for Bolton fans hoping to see Elmander producing moments of magic at the Reebok for a few more seasons. Which is why Owen Coyle will be hoping that Father Christmas can make everyone forget about him entirely for the month of January. Whatever happens though, I can’t help that the future of Elmander – or the identity of any replacement Coyle brings in – will shape the rest of Bolton’s season.
What about the rest…?
Of course, there are plenty of other obvious candidates. Avram Grant would probably like a few simple points, Roy Hodgson will be pining either for an away win or to turn back time and not leave Fulham, Harry Redknapp will be asking Santa for some new knees for Ledley King and poor old Chirs Hughton will be hoping for a Mike Ashley shaped punch-bag. Really, it’s been such an up and down start to the season, that every manager will be hoping for that little something to give their side a boost, so please leave a comment: what does your team need in order to make their season a success?