Review of The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan

Great history puts in the moment of the people experiencing the events. It gives you a sense of what it must have been like.

The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan does this. Reading the book you can picture the zookeeper at the Berlin zoo having to keep the rare stork in his bath to protect it. You can see in your mind’s eye very clearly what it must have been like to take part in the Soviet night attack that used so many floodlights it was like daytime. You can comprehend the Berlin residents who waited in line for milk and bread in the middle of bombing raids.

The Last Battle is a really engrossing read. Furthermore, by covering the last few months of the war it gives the history fan like myself insight to a period which many narratives of the war skip over or give in very brief detail.

A strong recommend.

Six Nations: Have the French already got one hand on the trophy?

The Autumn internationals are over and the post-mortems have begun on the Northern Hemisphere teams.

Did Ireland reveal a fundamental character flaw when they threw away a lead against New Zealand?

Will Wales make it an historic unprecedented three titles in a row?

Can England step it up from an encouraging autumn series?

Rugby Union fans will spend many an hour debating these questions in the lead up to the 2014 Six Nations in February.

I would contend that these Autumn internationals and performances will have almost no effect on the outcome of the Six Nations Championship.

More likely than not, the outcome of the Six Nations has already been decided six months previously and thousands of miles away from the playing fields of Twickenham, Cardiff and Dublin. The outcome of the Six Nations has most likely been determined in Australia.

Throughout the months of June and July the English and Celtic players undertook a gruelling tour of the Land Down Under playing three Tests against Australia and seven other tour games.

Ultimately, the Lions won a momentous victory defeating the Wallabies 2-1. No doubt they will rightly look back in pride at their summer work.

Equally, however, there can be no doubt that the tour will have taken something out of them.

By contrast the French players will have had the summer to rest up and prepare. History suggests that this gentle preparation will give them a decisive advantage.

In the Six Nations directly after the Lions tours of 2010, 2006 and 2002 Les Blues have won the the Championship each time clinching the much sought after holy grail of the Grand Slam twice. The chances are they will do the same again in 2014.

Five most underwhelming signings of the season so far

The Premier League is big business. Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on players every transfer window. The five players below cost around a combined £91.5 million.

Yet for every success story there is a failure. For every Ozil there is a Veron.

The list below is the five players who have so far failed to live up to their price tag since completing summer switches to England.

Erik Lamela

Replacing Gareth Bale is not an easy task, and to be fair to Lamela he is just one of the raft of players that Spurs spent the Bale money on. Still, last season Lamela scored 15 goals for Roma in Serie A making a reputation for himself as a creative goal scoring winger.

Compare this to his performances for Tottenham and you can almost wonder if it’s the same player. Except for one good game against FC Sheriff in the Europa League, he has drifted anonymously through games playing so poorly that he has only one league start to his name.

Tottenham must have thought they were getting more than this when they paid Roma
nearly £26million.

Ricky Van Wolfswinkel

When Norwich pulled off the signing of Van Wolfswinkel from Porto for around 10 million Euros it seemed like an inspired piece of forward planning.

Norwich had struggled to score goals all season and in Van Wolfswinkel they had signed a player who in two years at Sporting had scored a goal almost every other game. Surely Wolfswinkel would bring some of this form with him to Norwich?

It started well enough with a goal on debut. Since then however Van Wolfswinkel has not only
failed to score but averages a pitful 1.5 shots a game and zero successful dribbles.

Its not just that Wolfswinkel does things poorly its that he doesn’t seem to do much at all. Norwich are not a club that can afford to spend such money for so little return.

Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini cost Manchester United £27.5 million. He was the first and so far the only major transfer of the David Moyes era.

Expectations for Fellaini were high – he often dominated games for Everton but at United the most memorable thing he has done is get sent off in the Champions League at Real Sociedad.

Indeed Fellaini has been so poor that the defender Phil Jones now seems to be ahead of him in the pecking order.

Iago Aspas

Liverpool should be thankful that Luis Saurez failed to manufacture a move away from Anfield for his understudy Iago Aspas has hardly looked up to the rigours of the Premier League.

Restricted to a handful of appearances Aspas has failed to score, and his only contribution has been a single assist against Stoke.

This sort of return is not good enough for someone who cost almost £8 million, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him slide out of Liverpool in the same manner as Fabio Borini.

Stevan Jovetic

It seems harsh to put Jovetic in this list. He has only made one start and two substitute appearances all year.

I don’t get to see him train, but it’s entirely possible that his training performances deserve this. Plus it can hardly be said Manchester City are struggling to score.

Still anyone who saw him play for Fiorentina knows that he was a player capable of scoring
sublime goals; a real talent. To see City pay £22 million for him and then not play him is just depressing.

Tony Pulis is the man to keep Palace up

I had this post written before Palace beat West Ham 1-0, honest. Besides Palace’s win on Tuesday night just adds, at least a temporary luster to my point so I’ve tweaked it slightly to include this.

My point is this, Tony Pulis is the best choice the Palace board could have made give themselves the best chance of survival.

I say this not because, I am a fan of Pulis’ style of football. Its awful. The ninety minutes I spent watching Stoke play Wolves a few seasons back were some of the most boring, neck-pain inducing I have ever experienced.

Still it would be petty to deny its effectiveness.

Pulis has managed teams to Premier league survival in the recent past. He kept Stoke up for six years and might as well have ‘been there, done that’ stamped across his baseball hat.

His style of football is effective and proven. By contrast his two of his relegation rivals Fulham and Sunderland are being guided by managerial first timers. Rene Meulensteen might be a great coach but he has no significant experience as a number one. Sunderland’s Gus Poyet ultimately failed to achieve promotion at Brighton and has no prior Premier League experience.

Secondly, the players Palace have to work with aren’t as poor as their league position would assume. Jedinak, Campaña and Bannan give Palace the makings of a combative midfield, while Jason Puncheon is a winger who always poses a threat with his pace.

Perhaps most importantly though their defense is no worse than their rivals. Palace have conceded 22 goals. One fewer than Fulham, Norwich, Sunderland and not much worse than Swansea and Cardiff. Defensively they are at a similar level to the teams around them.

They aren’t getting hammered week in week out, they are losing by the odd goal. A manager like Pulis should be able to instantly improve on this.

Thirdly, it won’t be hard to adapt to Pulis’ tactics. It’s fair to say that Palace are going to play a somewhat direct game that seeks to get the ball from defence and attack as quickly as possible.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to get for Pulis to get his players doing this. After all they are technically good enough. Plus if the players don’t get on board with it then they can easily be replaced by hungry Championship players built like mountains.

All this was confirmed by Palace’s victory against West Ham. This gave early preview to how Pulis will seek to secure survival. Blood, Sweat and tears i.e. lots of hard work. Followed by artillery barrages that shell the opposing back line.

Time and again the Hammers attack broke against a hardworking organised Eagles defensive line which then got the ball forward as quickly as a ball could fly. Palace’s style was then confirmed by the goal a header from a cross after a set piece broke down.

It may not be pretty but I certainly wouldn’t bet against Pulis keeping Palace up.

A Christmas full of cheer for Arsenal

Even now the pundits are not keen on Arsenal’s title chances. Still with the busy Christmas period beginning they are four points clear. It’s time to reevaluate Arsenal’s chances.

Firstly, they are four points clear. This isn’t a massive lead but it is still a lead. You would absolutely rather be top by four points then second place looking to overturn a four point deficit. Plus, in reality a lead of four points isn’t the whole story. Its a four point lead over Chelsea sure but it’s a six point lead over Manchester City and a nine point lead over the champions Manchester United. Realistically two of Arsenal’s biggest rivals need to be near perfect from now until May if they want to challenge.

Secondly, the Arsenal attacking unit is good and looks as if it can only get better. Arsenal are second highest scorers in the division and they are comfortably winning games despite missing chances. Once they start putting their opportunities away Arsenal will start putting five or six past teams regularly. On top of this Theo Walcott is returning to full fitness, Lukas Podolski should become available for the busy Christmas/New Year push and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is not too far behind. These reinforcements will allow Arsene Wenger to keep the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud fresh.

Lastly, other teams have bigger problems then Arsenal. Arsenal have a settled side and way of playing. They were the only big team to go into the season without experiencing managerial upheaval and/or player revolt. This stability probably accounts for Arsenal’s ability to go to and win at places like Cardiff where their rivals have dropped points. By contrast Arsenal’s rivals are not settled. Jose Mourinho seems unsure as to what his best Chelsea side is. Does it include Juan Mata and not Oscar or Oscar but no Mata?

Manchester United have a midfield that aspires to be a paper tiger. Michael Carrick is injured. Tom Cleverley is struggling. Phil Jones is a defender playing out of position. Marouane Fellaini is struggling to settle and Ryan Giggs is too old to play every game.

Manchester City, for all there rapacious goal scoring at home, simply don’t look the same side away from the Eithad.

So there you have it. Three reasons why Arsenal should win the title. Of course they should also have beaten Birmingham City in the League Cup final so make of that what you will.

Crazy Targets

“Set your goals high , and don’t stop till you get there”

Those are wise words Bo Jackson. I wholeheartedly support them. Goals are important. For there is after all nothing sadder than a goal that is missed. As a young whippersnapper I had a goal. A dream if you will. I dreamed of world where I would be able to complete a full lap on Crazy Taxi arcade mode.

Many, many, many an hour I spent labouring on this Herculean task racking up hundreds of thousands of pounds of virtual property damage and many a time I came close. But success always eluded me. The game conspired against me, its virtual denizens stabbed me in the back time and time again. Time passed and with weary heart I set aside my goal of Crazy Taxi completion. I abandoned my dreams and instead focused on trifling matters such as exams and drinking.

My goal escaped me but now I have been offered a second chance technology has marched forward and delivered onto my Kindle Crazy Taxi. Now I vow to thee that a train, bus ride or spare moment will not pass until my goal of completing a full lap has been achieved or my Kindle has been smashed into a million tiny little pieces in a fit of righteous rage.

Review – The Last Stand

This might be the blandest film I have ever seen. Despite being an action film there is almost nothing to excite or interest the viewer. Even when bullets are ripping holes through bodies there is no excitement although I will accept that the blood splatter effects are mildly fun to look at.

Whenever Arnie’s on screen things take a turn for the worse. The film moves from blandness to being both bland and slightly depressing. Whatever you think of Arnie’s film career at least he was always a presence on screen; even if it was one that couldn’t act. In this film Arnie has no presence and looks every one of his sixty odd years. Watching him on screen is an uncomfortable experience. Sadly Arnie is not helped out by his co-star Chevrolet who seems to be dragged down by the script much as it was in Michael Bay’s Transformers.

I would not recommend this film to anyone. It doesn’t even get so bad its good. It’s just dull.