Monday, 28 April 2014

Sleeping Dogs

Mark O'Sullivan returns with the second of his Inspector Leo Woods mysteries, Sleeping Dogs, as we re-acquaint ourselves with the middle-aged Dublin police officer who is also a former UN peacekeeper who has a drug habit and suffers with the disfigurement of Bell's Palsy.

Woods' new case revolves around the shooting of gangland leader, Harry Larkin, who has been shot three times and is dying in a Dublin hospital.  Whilst ranting in his final moments of lucidity, he speaks to nurse Eveleen, 'find my daughter, Whitney'.

So begins the caper as Whitney a gangster's daughter has gone missing, a hit and run accident is linked to the shooting of Harry, and whilst Leo along with his partner Helen Troy, start digging they find more and more secrets about the Larkin's family history as acts of abuse and murder rear its ugly head.

O'Sullivan brings a calm to his writing, never rushing scenes with dialogue when not necessary, establishing scenes and landscape with great purpose.  However, at times the plotting can get a bit confusing in terms of recalling the timeline of past events with the present day; and the inclusion of a deaf lead protagonist is whilst novel a bit endangering to any screen adaptation.  Also the possible love interest for Leo never materialises and is somewhat dismissed quickly without a real explanation.

That being said, Leo Woods is a great leading character; feisty, tough, bold and funny whilst still being world weary. The world of police politics is prevalent and acutely obtained in the depiction of Woods' superintendent who has ambitions of a pundit on Irish television's own Crimewatch; and the cast of characters allows for more stories to be told. This reader for one would like to see more of Woods and Troy together, as they spend a lot of this narrative apart due to procedures.

Do not let sleeping dogs lie, in fact you will struggle to put the book down.

Sleeping Dogs is out now in Hardback from Random House and Transworld Publishers

Sunday, 27 April 2014



Known documentarian Alex Walker presents his first feature film Fossil which is released on DVD and VOD on Monday 28th April from Rabbit Publicity.

Harking back to the famous French cinema of the 1960s and 70s such as La Piscine and Le Mepris, the film is also influenced by the psychological drama Knife in the Water by Roman Polanski.  The film focuses on an English couple, Paul and Mills (short for Camilla) seek to rekindle their fading marriage following a miscarriage, they choose to go to a French countryside retreat to seek privacy and a chance for romance to resurface. The potential for redemption is disrupted by the arrival of another couple an American and his French girlfriend who hijack their holiday home.

As the couples become more friendly, sexual tension rises to the surface and secrets begin to unravel as familiarity breeds contempt and a class war between the two males appears. 

In the first few scenes, we see the English couple separate from each other. Paul (John Sackville) travels to a medieval village, whilst Mills (Edith Bukovics) stays at the poolside.  Whilst Paul is happy to wander, Mills is feeling sad looking at her face and twiddling the wedding ring as she contemplates the thought of leaving Paul.

After an argument, Paul gets lost and bumps his head on a fossil and upon their return to their holiday home they notice Richard (Grant Masters) and his beau, Julie (Carla Juri) in their pool.  After an initial provocation, the English pair allow the outsiders to remain for dinner and eventually stay for the majority of their holiday.  However, the psychology and the dynamic causes friction to appear leading to a shocking incident to happen and change the course of the film.

Featuring only the four performers mentioned, Walker's concise script allows all four roles to gestate naturally in the conversations which show a keen ear to dialogue but nevertheless carry significant weight as secrets are shared.  Walker makes the point that sometimes you cannot even confide your biggest secret to your life partner, Mills does eventually share the big secret with Paul by which time it is too late.

Walker, who also is editor, edits efficiently although he is somewhat let down by the musical score by Patrick Burniston which sounds very ominous over the opening credits which shows his hand too soon, yet their is a lighter moment of scoring twenty minutes into the film which would have served the opening better.

Walker is helped by his cinematographer Ollie Downey (who shot the Bafta winning short Mixtape) who shot the film on a RED One camera at the height of summer.  The definition of the picture is high quality with such clarity and beauty of the French landscape.

The acting is superb by all involved, though the most arresting performance is by that of John Sackville as the husband Paul; a man clearly in love with his wife who is unsure of what to do at times yet Walker allows Paul to hold the screen at times and his raised eyebrow here or there speaks volumes for the way Paul feels at that moment.

Fossil is out on 28th April on DVD and VOD
Watch the trailer here

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Jack Lacey Interview

Following on from my review of American Crow, I finally tracked down the author Jack Lacey who allowed me the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the book and the lead character, Sibelius Blake.
American Crow
Tell me a bit about your background, 
did you always have ambitions to be a novelist?
-  I've always loved storytelling as a kid, especially at school and used to make up spontaneous stories on the spot for everyone. I wrote poems and songs as a teenager, then later became a journalist, so words have always been important as well as using my imagination to convey them.

I never dreamed of being a novelist as such - I always wanted to be an actor as a child, but quickly realised I wasn't good enough after leaving school! I started writing fiction when I was 29 after a friend of mine asked me to write a collection of short stories with him for a book. Halfway through he decided to go off and study so I ended up finishing it alone and writing my first book - which was four Novellas inspired by the Roahl Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected (which was very popular in the 70's on television)

Why did you decide to self-publish American Crow?
- As for publishing American Crow (my fourth novel) independently I decided I wanted to put something out there which hadn't been chopped and changed by editors and publishers responding to changing trends. I have taken the traditional path before and in some ways it can be exceedingly beneficial, so at the end of the day its what works for each writer. The major plus is MOMENTUM, being an independent. You can get a book out there relatively quickly after writing it, where as the waiting time is usually over a year with an industry published novel from point of sale...

And how have figures been thus far?
-  Sales figures have been pleasantly surprising, but as its the first in a series I've decided to keep the price low to build up my readership so I'm not making a mint just yet! I think self publishing through Amazon KDP is excellent for new writers, the benefits outweigh the negatives, and if you start making strides publishers and agents will circle if you want to team up with one, so I think its a win win situation personally. My advice is crack on and go indie, don't waste years touting it around to agents as you can lose a lot of time doing that, as well as lose your creative mojo through all the changes they usually ask you to implement.

Who is Blake built around? Would it be wrong to state you are 
influenced by the works of Lee Child?
-  The Blake character developed naturally over years through the various books I wrote. He's the best of the main protagonists from those novels. I wanted to create a character with a pinch of originality. I hope I've achieved that. I've always loved that roguish anti-hero. He's not based on Jack Reacher at all in my mind, as much as I like Lee Child! I draw the comparison for marketing purposes to give the novel a genre peg especially as its a new series, but the two characters are very very different. The lonesome hero, noble vigilante is as old as the hills...

'Blake' also was born from my time living in London. I lived in South London for ten years in the nineties. I love London and the psyche of the true Londoner - their directness and humour and honesty. Blake is an amalgam of that, and also a bit of a hard man - very street wise and pretty cool. All the things im not...ha ha.

What other influences have you absorbed?
- As for influences I was greatly influenced by Ian Flemming, John Fowles's The Magus and Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, also, I was brought up on mythological tales and the workds of Brother's Grimm and personally love the allegorical, layered tale which is why there is a pinch of cliche with the characters and a soulful underbelly.

Why set the book in America?
- I decided to set the book in America because I had a past life there. My research encompasses my own personal journey as well as my creative one. I like the cultural contrast too of Blake in this setting. I hope it gives the story another layer... 

You impart an environmental agenda into the novel? Your bio states 
a vested interest in nature. Can you elaborate on that for me?
- The environmental aspect is precious to me too, and I've always felt strongly that I wanted to write an engaging thriller which had a transformative journey in it as well as carrying a poignant theme. I used to write about the environment before I was a health journalist so its important to me that a story goes beyond 'guns and girls'. I think we can inspire and inform with fiction as much as we can with non fiction sometimes.

It's very brave to kill off a main protagonist (in this case two) 
in front of Blake, what was the creative decision behind that?
- I killed off the love interest to make finding the girl a lot more satisfying experience! I also like to surprise and move the reader. Personally, I hated having to do bump off Nancy Stringer!

What are your intentions for the future? Blake's future remained
open at the book's conclusion?
- Blake will be returning soon - the bones of the new plot are grinding into place, and it will be another fast-paced road trip, part-set in the U.S, with some interludes in Europe. I'm very excited about this next story and the particular environmental theme I've chosen, as it is very apt at the moment! (though I can't give anything a way currently...)

- A paperback will be out in 2014 of American Crow all being well, and I plan to do a book tour to publicize this further as well as do talks about my own spiritual journey surrounding the Missing Series which is crazier than Blake's! 
 You can purchase American Crow on here 
Jack Lacey is on twitter @JackLaceyBooks

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Alice Hoffman, most famous for her book Practical Magic (which became a film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), returns with her latest novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things.  Set in New York City, 1911 it tells the coming together of two young lovers, Coralie and Eddie, as the city of New York goes through some huge changes.

Coralie Sardie, is the only daughter of the the owner of the Museum in the title.  Brought up alone by her father all her life, with the help of housekeeper Maureen, Coralie has lived in a world of wonder until her father makes Coralie part of the exhibition.  In the museum, there are displays such as the World's Heaviest Woman, cojoined twins, the Wolfman who talks like an English gentleman; all wonders and oddities from around the world.  However, a change is coming to the Coney Island venue as a rival business, Dreamland full of fun, frivolity and amusement rides is coming to town and changing the concept of family entertainment.

Eddie Cohen, is a Russian immigrant photographer who is spied upon by Coralie.  Coralie feels a sense of change and boldness in her when she sees Eddie for the first time; could he be her kindred spirit and love of her life?  As Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman's disappearance and the dispute between factory owners and labourers.

Hoffman uses the narrative trick of starting each chapter with either Coralie or Eddie looking back at the events in a first person voice and then changing back to a third person voiceover of all the events.  This serves as a basis of the elder characters explaining their actions with the benefit of hindsight, yet we as the reader are not left out of the loop of narrative thrust as we bear witness to two standout fire set pieces which are fittingly evoked in all their brazen glory.

Hoffman renders the two young lovers well giving a voice to them both as they go through changes.  For Coralie, it is the start of her sexual awakening as she meets Eddie for the first time and for Eddie it is his first steps into manhood as he has to overcome those who want to suppress his ambition. 

Whilst an obvious work of fiction by an esteemed novelist, there is enough in her to appeal to the young adult readers of the Twilight series; two star-crossed lovers who must fight to be together; brilliant set pieces, deception and lies abound between Coralie and her father.

All in all, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, is a novel that finds a writer at the top of her game who has written a fictional novel full of imagination and mystery yet set in a historical context evoking a bygone era of New York City starting to become the most famous city in the world with the advent of electricity before the Jazz Age and Great Depression put it firmly on the map.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Paul Mendelson Interview

Having had the pleasure of reading The First Rule of Survival, the debut novel by Paul Mendelson before its UK paperback release on Thursday 17th April; I contacted the novelist on twitter @MendelPS and he was happy to answer some questions for me via email.  To Mr. Mendelson I am eternally grateful for his time and to read my review of the novel, please follow the link here.
 The First Rule of Survival
- What was the gestation of The First Rule of Survival?

From a really early age, I have always written stories - my study's drawers are filled with unpublishable novels - and, about four years ago, I decided to write an adventure story set in Cape Town, in the style of the early James Bond books. I loved doing it and the few friends to whom I showed it were very keen that it should be published. A couple of literary experts said that they liked the writing, but that the story was not quite right for publication, and they persuaded me to write something more serious. 

- Have you always wanted to write a work of fiction?

My writing career started off at the National Theatre when, being in the right place at just the right moment, I was lucky enough to have a one act play produced. "You're Quite Safe With Me" attracted quite a lot of publicity as, at the age of 21, I was the youngest playwright to be performed there. From that, I got a literary agent, and found myself working on scripts for TV series like "The Bill" and "Moon and Son". That kind of writing didn't agree with me, and I moved away from fiction into writing non-fiction on mind-sports such as bridge, poker and casino gaming, as well as a weekly column for the FT and feature articles for magazines and newspapers elsewhere in the world. All this time, short stories, novels and other fiction has been spouting from my pen/keyboard - but just for fun. Now, it seems, the fun is over...

- Born and bred in London, what is the appeal and attraction of South Africa for you?

I was invited to Cape Town just as negotiations for Nelson Mandela's release were coming to fruition. I stayed with a family deeply involved in anti-apartheid politics and spent much time with politicians and campaigners. I fell in love with this large family and the city of Cape Town, which I thought was one of the most interesting and beautiful places on the planet. I have been visiting pretty much every year since. It's my spiritual home now.

- How much research was required into the SAPS and politics of the country?

Without being at all party political, I have always been fascinated by politics and particularly the formation of a new constitution in South Africa. The transformation from the years of hideous oppression to one of the most forward-thinking constitutions in the world was an extraordinary achievement. Several of my friends there had 
friends in the SAPS, so it was wonderful to be able to get opinions from different officers about crime and the institution of the SAPS itself.

- What are your influences? Which thriller/crime writers do you admire?

James Elroy is my ultimate inspiration. His early work is incredibly raw and immersive in the culture of America in the 1950s and 60s, and I marvel at the simplicity of his language and the power of the images he creates. Then, his more recent work incorporates a series of fascinating (if quite repellant and amoral) characters weaved into American history from the time of JFK to more modern times. In this later work, his use of language is amazing - a contemporary form of poetry; the speech rhythms and the breadth of story-telling awe-inspiring.
Other writers who I think are fantastic would include Deon Meyer - in my view South Africa's pre-emininent thriller writer - whose books impress me more than I can say; Michael Connelly's early Bosch novels; Robert Crais' seemingly effortless prose-style and sharp wit, and Mark Billingham's gritty and truly frightening London crime stories.

- How long did it take to write with redraft and edits?

Because I was writing it more for my own pleasure than with an eye on publication, I took my time and the whole novel took perhaps two years to come together. Then, it required substantial cutting as it was way too long, but with excellent editors - Krystyna Green and Martin Fletcher - it wasn't too painful. There were, basically, no re-drafts, just one or two short extra passages recommended to me for clarification. Then, almost a year's wait until publication.

- Vaughan de Vries is a magnetic personality, will we be seeing more of him?

Thank you for saying so. I wanted to try to create a character who, like everybody else, is far from perfect, but with a strong moral compass (whether you agree with his moral code is another matter). In the SAPS now, if you are a senior white police officer, you certainly have to be determined to find your way through the layers of positive discrimination and general life-sapping bureaucracy, to do any work. This is what De Vries strives for.  And, yes. De Vries is back in the sequel which, as I write this, is sitting on my desktop, 98% completed, and hopefully will see the light of day next year.

- You write books on card games also, was it always an intention to write a work of fiction to show another string to your bow. Myself, I have many interests as my blog can show, so find it hard to focus on one specific category. Is that a cause for concern or just another challenge?

Your blog's subject matter is certainly diverse and, these days, it seems rather old-fashioned just to be interested in just one or two things - everything is happening so fast. My brain is split into two defined parts: the creative and the logical/arithmetic.  I have written 12 books on various mind-sports and I still earn my living teaching and writing about bridge and poker, probabilities and strategies for casino gaming and other odds-based activities. I've done this for thirty years and the creative side of my brain is definitely telling me that it is about time the logical side backed off and let the creative side have free rein so, all being well, there will be a little less bridge and poker work, and more fiction writing because, really, this is what I love. I guess like other artists (I use the term generously in my case) you have to suffer for your art and, earning your living doing other things, is what most writers have to do these days.

- What are you working on currently?

Having just finished the sequel to "The First Rule of Survival", I am already at work on ideas for my third book. I have plans for more De Vries mysteries, but also a slightly skewed version of a detective story set in the UK. I can't decide quite with which to move forward yet. I guess it will depend on whether Vaughn de Vries captures the imagination of enough readers to warrant his return. personally, I hope so.
Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Ultimate Warrior

Only four days after he was inducted into his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame on a Saturday evening, news broke of the death of James Hellwig, the Ultimate a Warrior at the age of 54. Whilst the cause of death was not reported, his use of stimulants during his initial run of WWE will no doubt have a factor.

Considering the number of appearances he had made over the weekend, and his presence on the Wrestlemania XXX pay per view and the live Monday Night Raw telecast, it makes the sudden death all the more shocking and saddening.

Along which the death of Macho Man Randy Savage last year, the work of wrestling has lost two of its biggest and recognisable icons; and while their deaths are not comparable to those of Owen Hart, Eddie Guerrero and even, Chris Benoit where we lost those superstars during their prime.  The death of the Warrior is all the more prophetic as their was a lot of talk about legacy over the weekend.

Legacy is important to the WWE - their new tag line being 'Then, Now, Forever' - and three superstars talked about their legacy over the pay per view.  John Cena said he was fighting Bray Wyatt for his legacy after 12 years of competing. And in the match between Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, two legacies were effected.  Brock Lesnar's is enhanced by becoming the only man to defeat the Phenom at the Show of the Immortals, and the Undertaker chose his last match to be that of a defeat.

The Ultimate Warrior was one of the WWE's biggest stars during the late 1980s and early 1990s due to his physical presence, high intensity and hysterical microphone promotions.  He was much mimicked but equally adored.  Warrior was larger than life in every sense of the word, it is a shame at the stimulants that helped him become larger is the item attributable to his unfortunate death.

Whilst Warrior will never be recognised as the greatest technician in wrestling history, his style nonetheless transcended, you need only look at he fan reaction when he won his first Intercontinental title against the Honky Tonk Man at Summerslam 1988; the crowd erupts in rapture.

He was engaged with some great matches, two that come to mind are the Intercontinental title match versus Rick Rude at Summerslam 1989 and the Career Ending match versus Randy Savage at Wrestlemania VII.  Two matches where two better wrestlers carried Warrior to create good chemistry.

For me though I am glad that the Ultimate Warrior was allowed to make peace with the WWE and Vince McMahon, have one more moment in the spotlight to add to his legacy and hopefully he passed

I Am Pilgrim

I Am Pilgrim is unlike any action book you have read. It is unlike any espionage book you have read. It is unlike any thriller you have read. It is unlike any book you have ever read before.

Terry Hayes, a renowned movie screenwriter of such works as Mad Max/The Road Warrior  (which he co-wrote) with George Miller, releases his first novel from Transworld Publishers. It tells the story of Scott Murdoch, the best special agent in the history of the CIA, the former 'Rider of the Blue' the man who stepped back from espionage work to write a book about committing the perfect crime, which leads to help being re-enlisted to he front line, and attempt to stop a smallpox being released in America by a terrorist.

We think his name is Scott Murdoch, he goes by three different identities during the book's narrative and numerous flashbacks. That is the beauty of this mammoth book of nearly 900 pages, Hayes allows himself the time to tell the story and yet he writes with such a clear and precise purpose that the book rocks along like a Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code which covers as much in half the pages.

The jet-setting narrative and location jumping will make people think of the Brown novels where protagonists jump on planes as quickly as they change trousers, however, Hayes is of a more intelligent ilk and every movement of Pilgrim is necessary to track down the man who wants to destroy America.

The book starts in New York, with a murder in the Eastside Inn with Murdoch meeting his colleague Ben Bradley. The murder is reminiscent of motives put in Murdoch's book under the pseudonym of Jude Garrett, which leads to the globe-trotting. We follow the terrorist from Iran to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Lebanon.  Pilgrim travels from America to Turkey with diversions to Bulgaria, Germany, Milan and Saudi Arabia and back to the climax in Turkey.

However, Hayes loves his characters and wants you to understand them, hence the extensive flashbacks of the back story for all including a clear explanation for the terrorist's actions; the extensive look back at how he obtains the deadly pox strain is brilliantly executed.

Another thrilling sequence is when Ben Bradley tracks down Murdoch in Paris.  It is important that the flashbacks are extensive and not indulgent; the fact being that little morsels of detailed information are implanted within them to maintain your attention as a diligent reader.

The reader is rewarded with great chases, shoot-outs, mind games and the tension reminiscent of a Tom Clancy novel, it is fitting that this novel is released a year within of Mr. Clancy's passing as this is the novel a red-hot Clancy might well have written in his day and age.

Terry Hayes has succeeded in writing what will become a milestone piece of action espionage writing, a game changer in the same vein of John le Carre, Lee Child and Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal - writers that Hayes indebted to.

By writing a book of such girth where not a page is wasted and not enjoyed, it might make other writers take note that in this day and age of immediacy and quickness; if the novel is executed well there is still a place for the 900 pages of thriller writing.

I Am Pilgrim is released on paperback on May 8th from Bantam Press/Transworld Publishers

Monday, 7 April 2014

The First Rule of Survival

The First Rule of Survival

South Africa in recent times has become a melting pot of crime and misdemeanour due to the high profile murder trial of Oscar Pistorius and the ongoing extradition case of Shrien Dewani, who killed his wife Anni on honeymoon in the country during November 2010.

Using first hand knowledge of the country he visits frequently, journalist Paul Mendelson releases his first novel, The First Rule of Survival.  It tells the story of Vaughan De Vries, a policeman in the a Western Cape who is on the case of three young boys who were abducted and been missing for seven years.  De Vries and his colleagues have all been haunted by the case.  Cleverly, Mendelson employs a dual narrative technique of showing us the cops during the present date and flash backing to the original abductions in 2007 so we see the anguish of investigating a case that may not garner positive results.

Child abductions have featured frequently in literature from Alice Seebald's The Lovely Bones to Dennis Lehane's brilliant Mystic River. Whilst the hysteria of those Bostonian characters are not reached in Mendelson's novel, he nevertheless does have in De Vries that typical male police officer.  A man who is persistent and determined to exorcise the demons of being so wrong years ago, if you saw the film Prisoners, Jake Gyllenhaal's detective Loki you may recall that sort of determination which is familiar in the depiction of De Vries.

After one particular ordeal, a colleague asks De Vries how does he live if you have he ghosts of every victim in your head? His answer encapsulates the character

'Why do you think I get up every morning? I have a bond with every victim I encounter. If I don't know my victim, if I don't understand them as if they were my friend in real life, how can I hope to unravel who killed them and why?

Whilst I may be referring to too many American references in my review, it should be noted that they are instrumental in the finished novel.  Whilst Mendelson does well in establishing the world of Cape Town helped by his first hand knowledge, too often this reader felt he could have been reading any American crime novel due to the dialogue used and the office politics so frequently referred to.  Too infrequently, there is not enough South African dialect or vocabulary used in the dialogue.  The odd 'Ja!' is used for impact but if it were not for the well honed descriptive writing of space and landscape by the author, other readers would be confused as to which country they are in.

However, you do not want to offer too much of a disservice to the book which is quite gripping especially at times such as when De Vries goes underground and finds the body of one of the missing young boys in a freezer but the atmosphere that Mendelson invokes as De Vries wanders around in near darkness is expertly rendered.

While the dialogue does not zip along like a Lee Child novel (a writer who has given his personal validation to the novel), Mendelson should be pleased with the construction and execution of a lead character whom this reader would like to encounter again in future works.

The First Rule of Survival is out on paperback on Thursday 17th April but available on kindle now from now

Friday, 4 April 2014

Negative tactics in Champions League


Two supposed super-powers of Europe faced daunting first legs away from home in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Both would have hoped for better results, yet neither were helped by their negative selections in personnel and tactics which invited the home sides to prosper.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the tie between Manchester United and reigning European champions, Bayern Munich was settled by Pep Guardiola's decison to not play an out and out striker, and instead select Thomas Muller upfront in a false nine role with ball handlers behind in an attempt to pass around Manchester United and eventually breakdown the United defence.

The improved defensive display by United was due to the fact that Munich did not play to the weakness of either Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, which is pace that scares them. Whilst Bayern had all the possession, United took the lead and it was only the introduction of Mandzukic that supplied Bayern with the impetus to score their equaliser.

Bayern have a vital away goal, and on paper should progess to the semi-finals due to their formidable home form, yet that is in domestic competitions. The last time they faced an English side in a knockout fixture at home, they lost 2-0 to Arsenal but thanks to a 3-1 first leg victory went through on away goals.

Chelsea also scored an away goal, however due to some inept goalkeeping and defending, they conspired to concede three goals to a Paris St-Germain team that were flattered by the 3-1 scoreline.  Chelsea also started the match without a recognised striker on the field, with Andre Schurrle leading the line yet the Schurrle's best form this season has come from the right wing and inside to the field; his hat-trick at Fulham can attest to that.

So why did Jose Mourinho not start either Fernando Torres or Demba Ba? Mourinho would have started Samuel Eto'o had he been fit, as the Cameroonian can lead the line well, timing runs and press up the field.  Schurrle was meant to press from the front yet could not forcing Oscar, Wilian and Eden Hazard to do more work in midfield.

Mourinho has clearly lost faith in Torres whose two year malaise is seemingly never-ending and Ba has shown little of the form that warranted a move from Newcastle to West London. Tellingly, Chelsea had little of the ball in the final third and their away goal came from a penalty converted by Hazard. 

Whilst the deficit of 3-1 is not insurmountable, as the victory over Napoli in the Champions League triumph of 2012 can attest to, Chelsea have certainly made the task more of an uphill challenge for themselves. 

Yet why such negativity, such attempts are trying to avoid the worst case scenario and invites the home team to gain momentum.  United could have had two goals before Vidic's set piece header and been 3-0 up.  Last season, Borussia Dortmund demolished Real Madrid in the first leg at home and winning the tie seemingly.

The old adage of having the second leg at home, is possibly a myth. You cannot be eliminated after the first leg, but the tie could well be over.  Chelsea will hope their pedigree will hold them in good stead nonetheless.

Follow me @JamieGarwood

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

How Moyes/ManU just might

David Moyes and Manchester United outdid themselves and surprised many by drawing with current Champions League holders, Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in the first leg of their quarter-final.

Bastien Schweinsteiger cancelled out Nemanja Vidic's opener to keep the tie even going back to Munich next Wednesday. Whilst the tie is even, Munich are in the ascendancy due to the vital away goal, Man United did enough to suggest they can compete and make it hard work for Munich to become the first team to retain the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola sent out a Bayern side without an out and out striker a la his false nine at Barcelona, spearheaded by Thomas Müller with more midfield luminaries; Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Philip Lahm.  All horizontal passing and possession, led to little chances as the United defence of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand stood firm.

What Guardiola ignored or failed to realise was that the gameplan of keeping the game in front of the defence plays into the hands of stalwarts like the United central defence pairing.  Guardiola feels that possession is nine tenths of the game, if you have the ball you win.  Yet United's weakness and especially those of an ageing Rio and Vidic has been exposed by pace as Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge can attest to.  Play counter-attack at pace with zip and you have United chasing shadows, Moyes had the benefit of playing Phil Jones at right back to give some more stability and insurance.

Moyes made a reputation of making his sides difficult to defeat and break down at Everton, and knowing that he was facing a formidable opponent he had to rock their boat and make them work for it.  The plan was to probably score one goal and stop Bayern scoring that away goal. Guardiola's personnel selection played into Moyes' hands, yet it is telling that once he injected Mario Mandzukic into the match Bayern created more clear cut chances eventually leading to the equaliser.

Man United did create chances especially Danny Welbeck whose pace frightened the make shift Javier Martinez in defence (Martinez is suspended for the second leg), yet Welbeck could not convert a one on one with Neuer.  Yet United scored a goal from that most English of archetypes, the set piece. A great corner delivery from Wayne Rooney was met by Vidic who cleverly diverted to the net helped by the absence of any defenders on the post in a redundant zonal marking system.

This provides the hope for United in the second leg will be to get that away goal that they will vitally need to progress to the semi-final.

The other morsel of hope is that Bayern Munich have this tendency to freeze at home in the Bayer Arena especially against English sides. They have not won the last four games at home to an English side starting with the final defeat to Chelsea three years ago, then the 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal, 2-3 versus Manchester City (which they led 2-0) and they drew 1-1 with Arsenal in the last round.

Do Bayern freeze at home or do the robustness of English sides disrupt their tempo? After starting Marouane Fellaini in midfield, Moyes need that injection of creativity offered by Shinji Kagawa to create chances for Welbeck and Rooney, he will also hope the injury that caused Antonio Valencia is not serious for him to miss out.  Kagawa was influential in the 5-0 away demolition of Leverkusen in the group stage.

David Moyes and Manchester United surprised many by not being embarrassed, now they have a real opportunity to cause a major surprise in Munich next Wednesday.