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The Hazardous game

By James Boden :  18/03/2009 :  Comments (25) :
The reason for that title is because that?s what the Champions League is. It?s such a phoney competition it?s untrue. Ok, I wouldn?t be complaining if we finished 4th and won it next year but it would hardly be deserving now would it?

The trouble is that now the top 4 places are apparently reserved for only 4 teams ? others are lagging behind due to financial strains. Someone needs to break into the top 4 this season I feel or that may be it. We will be playing catch up forever after that.

So, with 9 games to go, we find ourselves in 6th place on 48 points, just 4 behind 4th place Arsenal. After a terrible start, to find ourselves in this position going into the final few months is quite an achievement. Even a few weeks ago, it looked to have been way out of our reach but, due to Villa having a bad spell and us getting a few points in, it now looks a possibility. The thing is, can we really push these 2 all the way?

I would love to think we can but I have my doubts. Sure, we appear to have an easier run-in than them two but when have Everton ever made things easy? And given Moyes's record of falling apart at the end of the season, I don?t see a big deal to be optimistic about. If you look at our run-in, aside from Villa and Chelsea, all are winnable. And if we are serious about getting to that 4th spot then we may need to possibly win one of them two games.

Portsmouth on Saturday is a massive game for us; fail to win and we can forget about any Champions League push. I don?t want to hear us this ?well, they are fighting relegation? bullshit. They are fighting relegation because they are shit. A lot has changed since they humiliated us at Goodison in August. Almost at the same time as it fell apart for them when Redknapp left, we started to pick up. Saturday is a must win ? anything other than 3 points isn?t good enough ? simple as that. Arsenal have the Barcodes so expect them to win there. Ok the Geordie Boys may be owed a win but then aren?t Pompey?

Say we and the Gooners both win... then that really puts the pressure on Villa as they are now 3 points behind Arsenal and just 1 clear of us. Although Liverpool beating them Sunday would benefit us, I will never cheer those Gobshites unless we can win the league from it, so a draw will suit me fine.

If we are still in the race by the time we play United in the Cup then you never know... it might give us massive confidence. If we can somehow win that then I could really see us pushing on from there. But if I had to choose between finishing 4th or winning the FA Cup, well I?m sorry it has to be the cup.

It?s been far too long since we won something and I think that would be a greater achievement. But that?s just me and if we could somehow muster both then we will be onto something.


Reader Comments

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Paul Hardcastle
1   Posted 19/03/2009 at 03:50:39

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John, like many, I can?t see much farther than the next game, and you?ve gone and cast down the "must-win" card... that worries me; we?re really not that great at "must-win".

Then you came out with this: "Someone needs to break into the top 4 this season I feel or that may be it. We will be playing catch-up forever after that."

Err... here?s some news for you: we?ve been playing catch-up all our Premier League lives. We caught up one season, and we did the impossible ? yes, we broke into the top four!!! Shock and awe... But do you know what? It made no difference whatsoever.

So the idea that, "this may be it" is just nonsense: there is always next season... and if not, then the season after. What?s hard is to make a sustained breakthrough ? where we dislodge one of the Sky 4 not just in one season but for 3, 4, 5 seasons on the trot. Then ? and only then ? will it make any meaningful difference.
David Ellis
2   Posted 19/03/2009 at 03:57:02

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We have a good chance of catching Villa ? in fact I think we will. We have very little chance of catching Arsenal. It?s possible, but unlikely.

Much rather win the cup than finish 4th. Big 4 dominance will not be broken by one-off entries into the Champions League (we have been there before remember).

Financial crisis and Liverpool?s inability to re-finance it's loans later this year may well break them. Chelsea have had the money taps turned off in an attempt to at least try and break even. Both these clubs are already saying that they need to sell to buy ? same as us ? but at least a more level playing field. The times are a changing...

Brian Williams
3   Posted 19/03/2009 at 04:32:18

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Villa are on the same points as Arsenal and four ahead of us!!!
Mark Tan
4   Posted 19/03/2009 at 04:56:14

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Paul, I could not agree with you more. Whilst qualification for the Champions League would be sweet, this has to be done on a sustained basis to make any difference to the coffers. Also, let's not forget getting past the hurdle of the qualification round for the Champions League where we so painfully fell at the last time of asking.

Personally I am trying not to get too ahead of myself and looking forward to the run in one game at a time, especially the one on April 19 ne ne ne nineteen nineteen! (Sorry, Paul Hardcastle, just could not resist the dig.)
Phillip Mosley
5   Posted 19/03/2009 at 05:44:54

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Every game has to be approached as a "must win" game. Anything less and complacency will set in.
Will Leaf
6   Posted 19/03/2009 at 07:29:55

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The reason why nothing changed when we finished 4th is because:

1) We failed to get beyond the qualification rounds as mentioned above, thereby missing out on many millions

2) More importantly UEFA opened the back door for Liverpool to qualify despite finishing 5th

The Sky 4 have operating budgets that now presuppose advancement deep into the "Champions" League. The only way to smash their hegemony is to deprive them of this constant revenue stream. I’d like it to be us, but I would not begrudge Villa helping us spoil the Sky 4’s party over the next several years.
Eric Myles
7   Posted 19/03/2009 at 08:36:13

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Will Leaf, another reason we failed last time.

3) We failed to strengthen out team with additional players both in terms of quality or squad numbers due to lack of money.

So what has changed if we qualify for CL this time round?
Mark Scarratt
8   Posted 19/03/2009 at 09:52:50

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I think we can catch Villa but not Arsenal.
Villa have gone off the boil thanks largely to their small squad and their poor attitude to the Uefa Cup, which has lost them momentum at a vital time in the season.

Arsenal are too strong. The best we can hope is 5th. I hope we win the FA Cup, but if we do that only means qualification for this new Europa League.

Winning the FA Cup carries the same reward as finishing 5th or 6th in the league. That can?t be right, so perhaps the FA should open up one of our Champions League places to the Cup Winners. That would have the effect of teams taking it more seriously, and more chance of an outsider breaking into CL.

Last year was a case in point as Portsmouth won the cup, although had the winners qualified for CL I am sure the bigger teams would have taken it more seriously.

As for the Champions League. It is not a league after the early stages, as it becomes a knock out cup competition from the last 16 onwards. So why is it called a league?

If we qualified we would probably get Juventus or Real Madrid in a qualifier anyway, whilst Liverpool would probably get Wrexham Reserves.
Tom Owen
9   Posted 19/03/2009 at 11:56:32

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If we did qualify for the Champions League, It would be like winning the league as it is some achievement considering our poor start and long term injuries.

I do agree that I would rather win the FA Cup than qualify for the Champions League but, think how much financial boost it would give us if we qualified for the Champs League.

How much would we get from winning the FA Cup? I think it's only £1,000,000, but don't take my word for it, I'm not 100% sure.
Tom Owen
10   Posted 19/03/2009 at 12:04:59

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Just reading Mark’s comment, I totally agree that the team who wins the FA Cup, should be granted a place in the Champions League. Im sure I read Platini was thinking about that idea.
Paul Connell
11   Posted 19/03/2009 at 12:22:09

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Why would we want the Cup Winners to get a Champions League spot when we have greater chance of 4th? The fact is it is easier to win 7 league games against shit Prem sides than to win 2 against Man U and Chelsea/Arsenal in the cup.

I am not saying the cup is impossible but we should recognize this is our best chance of 4th since we got there 4 years ago. Despite Arsenal's strength and returning numbers, I look at their run-in and can see a high probability of at least 2 losses and a few draws. I could be wrong and will simply say so in May if I am but I can?t see them stringing a high number of wins together.

If I am right, this just leaves the question: Can we take advantage? The merchants of doom have already decided that, because of our recent finishes under Moyes, history dictates we can?t. Another point of view is that if any team is really due a strong finish to the season it?s Everton. In the main, against the teams we will play, we are harder to beat and possess a greater goal threat. This means we don?t have to dominate games to string wins together.

Arsenal are a better side than us, no doubt, but does that give them a god-given right to out perform us in a 9-game league with harder fixtures? Of course not. If we take advantage of their slips it?s completly realistic we can take it down to the wire.

Also in relation to the mythical claim we have to choose between the Cup and the League, what a load of bullshit. Everton are a momentum side ? if we do well in one, it breeds success in the other.

Do you think Arsenal fans are debating if the Cup or 4th is more important? Of course they aren?t, because they will expect both. I understand the difference in resources but you can?t buy belief, and it?s certainly not beyond reason to believe in our manager and his side.

Ian Tunny
12   Posted 19/03/2009 at 12:55:33

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I disagree with some of you on here, I think if someone can break the top 4 it would make a massive difference and would give them a better chance of doing it the next season. I think the reason there was no affect when we broke the top 4 last time was for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, although we broke the top 4, we never actually made it to the group stage of the CL competition where all the money is so we might as well have not finished 4th because we never benefited from the money you would normally get.

Secondly, if we prevented Arsenal from reaching the Champions League places they would loose a lot of money which they are depending on to pay for their new stadium, add to that a lot of their players are on massive wages, Arsenal could not afford to miss out. Their players are also big time Charley's and would want Champions League football and so the likes of Fabregas would soon be on their way to Barcelona on the cheap.

Thirdly the reason this didn't have the same affect to Liverpool when they finished 5th was because of the typical freakish luck they receive when they won the Champions League which is worth about £50m and still got to stay in the competition!

So, provided Arsenal don't win the Champions League and we got 4th, and reached the group stages, I think we would be finishing in the top 4 for a long time.

It's a very big IF unfortunately...
Kevin Quinn
13   Posted 19/03/2009 at 13:28:33

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Saturday's game is massive, if we can get a win with us playing the early game, it gives us a chance to put the pressure on the teams above us. Although when we have played lunchtime kick offs in the past Fulham/West Brom we haven't played well. Granted we have won both games but we will need to up the preformance if we are to win at Pompey.
Gary Creaney
14   Posted 19/03/2009 at 14:00:05

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Eric Myles, you asked " So what has changed if we qualify for CL this time round?".

Isn?t it obvious? A much better squad of players in terms of quality and not necessarily quantity. There are no Marcus Bents or Kevin Kilbaduns running about this current team. Also, we now will have some sort of European co-efficient which means we don?t get drawn against the very toughest of teams like last time.

And who knows, this time we might even strike it lucky by finishing fourth and Arsenal don?t go on to win the fucking thing.
Tony Williams
15   Posted 19/03/2009 at 14:26:16

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Gary, I hope you are right, I really do... but it didn?t help last season did it? We were paired against a Champions League qualifer loser who has won their Belgian League whereas the other English teams in the Uefa Cup, some who hadn?t played in Europe in years, ended up with Norweigan Farmers. Our co-efficient didn?t do us any good then.
Dennis Karanikolopoulos
16   Posted 19/03/2009 at 02:56:42

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I came across this article, where Neil Allen from the Portsmouth News actually acknowledges Everton are still a chance for the top 4!!

I thought it was nice to hear SOMEONE in the press noticing us, especially in light of recent posts highlighting the press shunning us.

Personally, I think Arsenal have too much class and will finish 4th (so long as Eduardo stays fit), but Everton will finish 5th and that will really annoy the Villains... can't wait for that!!!

Am I the only one that can't understand our sudden policy to not guard the posts when we're defending corners?? I thought Moyes had gone mad on the weekend, it's the most basic principle in football... dearly hope we don't see a repeat of that!!!

Will Leaf
17   Posted 19/03/2009 at 16:04:25

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Opening up the FA cup for a CL spot would add more uncertainty to qualification as it relates directly to the Sky 4. Don’t forget however that prior to last year the previous non-Sky 4 team to win the FA Cup was....Everton, 14 years ago. The 2008 FA Cup appears to be an outlier, and if we had not beaten Liverpool, the whole Sky 4 cartel would likely have been in the FA Cup semis for 2009.

Another disadvantage we have is that even if we qualify for the CL we have a very small squad and would have to expand at large expense. We cannot simply do the usual "rabbit out of the hat" and break our transfer record with a single player purchase. And if we expand too much in quality/quantity (ie higher overall wages) and do not qualify the next couple of years we risk financial meltdown.

To break up the Sky 4 you need to either make it more difficult to qualify - less CL spots (not likely to be supported by the usual suspects), or actually make it easier to qualify. I would support opening up one or two more Premier spots for CL qualification, FA CUP winners, and why not the League Cup. Anything to break the iron grip Sky 4 aristocracy. Not going to happen, of course, but they ruined the whole shebang when they did away with the purity of the old European Cup.

I am not familiar with the design of this Europa Cup, but I am sure it will be no less stupid than the UEFA Cup it is replacing.
Chris Brigden
18   Posted 19/03/2009 at 17:24:04

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I believe our game against Newcastle is a must-win game. I?m confident we will win it but we can?t get careless as Newcastle have some quality finishers in Martins & Owen.
Damian Kelly
19   Posted 19/03/2009 at 18:09:52

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"If we did qualify for the Champions League, It would be like winning the league as it is some achievement considering our poor start and long term injuries"

No, sorry, it really wouldn't be ? it would be like finishing 4th. Yes, it's nice and feels better than 5th or 6th but winning is something completely different ? just ask those who remember the difference in how it felt in 1985 and 1987 compared to 1986. No allowance is made in the record books for poor starts or injuries.
Paul Lally
20   Posted 19/03/2009 at 18:52:05

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Europa Cup details -

Sounds good to me... or is it another subtle, long term step towards a European Super League, with 2 divisions.
Ian Trickett
21   Posted 20/03/2009 at 00:40:07

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We dont deserve to be in the Champions League until we prove we belong to be there. Not by sneaking 4th but by making a decent fist at winning The Europa Cup next season. That is what we should be talking about, Ok the money is not there, but we have to establish ourselves before any flights of fantasy in any superior competetions.
Anthony Dyer
22   Posted 20/03/2009 at 01:08:14

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If we qualify for the CL then we obviously belong there. If we have the luck of the draw then anything is possible. We have to start our progression somewhere and at sometime, in my opinion the sooner the better. Our problem for most of Moyes's tenure has either been bad starts or bad finishes to the season.

When we have a team that is ready to play from day one and keep going until the final day then we will have established ourselves as regular top 4 contenders.

If we cannot even imagine breaking into the top 4 then we are just going to stagnate and fall back into the bad old ways and all the hard work put in so far will have been in vain.

David Johnson
23   Posted 20/03/2009 at 03:51:57

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The Liverpool - Villa match is a tricky one. I think I?d rather Villa won then slipped up in later games. I hate Liverpool and the scum of the earth that follow them with about as much passion as I love Everton. Then again, The Mancs and Chelsea are streets ahead of the shite anyway.

Still, let's hope Villa really work it up the Red Shite. I feel ashamed that I even contemplated cheering on the scum even if it was just for a nanosecond. At the end of the day, there will be consolation whichever way the chips fall.

On a lighter note, just finalised a deal for a house in Knowsley Village. Maybe Kirkby is not such a bad idea after all.... Only joking, lads. Don't give me grief; I?m happy to go in the car even if it does mean only two pints. It's a bit greener than Scotty so happy days.

Great site ? must keep off the other forums, they are full of lard-arsed cretins who can''t take a joke and hold a grudge. Never used to go near 'em ? it?s only DK that made me want to be heard. Still, best keep off 'em before I end up like that myself. Can't believe I was sad enough to post on 'em.

So to finish off ? Kenwright out! Fuck the Reds... Fuck Kirkby and up the blues.

Beth Louise Carter
24   Posted 20/03/2009 at 11:15:28

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The Champions League?

What a silly name that is, when teams from their respective countries can qualify for the tournament by finishing in third or fourth place to have a shot at winning it.

The European Cup, as I always call it, is after all the same trophy that the great Madrid team won in the 1950s and what Celtic lifted in ?67 as the first British side to take the accolade, but in recent years the competition has been trivialised by teams coming in finishing nowhere near as Champions of their respective leagues as sometimes going on to win the damn thing. Take the shite in Istanbul just recently as a prime example. Even United were not Champions of the Premiership in 1998 when they went on to win it in Catalonia the following season (still makes me groan when I think back to the last few moments of that night).

Champions League for Champions only, at least that?s how I feel about it. It devalues the competition having all the also-rans entering at a shot of glory.

And as for our chances, who?s to say we could not do it again, but make no mistake it will be a tall order, Arsenal have got back on track and Villa will more than likely turn the corner at some point, I think what happens in our semi-final meeting with Ferguson?s all stars will be pivotal to our chances of making 4th. It would be fantastic to do it again, but I think maybe this season the FA Cup would be a more plausable objective.
Anthony Scotland
25   Posted 20/03/2009 at 23:10:00

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Let's look at the bigger picture here. Our squad is, at the moment anyway, a first 11, kids and crocks. So a point away from home against any side is a GOOD result. We?ve got a very slim chance of finishing fourth but 6th would have to be seen as another good season. Let's start putting things into perspective eh lads. Pompey are shit but, and you mighn?t like this, but our SQUAD isn?t much better. A point at that pit would be a good point.

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