Archive for March, 2013

During the Week: Eguavoen Out, Heats Doused and More

For the first time since the Nigeria Professional Football League began on March 9, no away win was recorded yet Matchday Four witnessed the most number of teams pick up a point on the road.

At Maiduguri Bayelsa United was two goals up and looking full value for a win that would’ve taken the Yenagoa club top of the league, only for El-Kanemi to score two goals in the closing half hour and claim a share of the spoils.

Sunshine Stars also conceded late on to settle for a 1-1 draw at Dolphins while Enugu Rangers and Enyimba were also held to 1-1 draws at Kaduna United and Nembe City respectively, with Nasarawa United coming away from Warri with a point in a goalless draw against Wolves.

The drawn matches played out by Sunshine, Rangers, Enyimba and Bayelsa allowed champions Kano Pillars return to the top of the league courtesy of a 2-0 win at home to Shooting Stars. Pillars now have nine points from four matches, ahead of Sunshine Stars and Rangers by point. Kwara United lies fourth on the standings, also a point behind Pillars, after beating Heartland by a lone goal in Ilorin.

In other matches, Wikki Tourists climbed five places from the foot of the table with a 2-0 win over Akwa United while Sharks of Port-Harcourt dropped to the bottom of the league with a 2-0 loss at Gombe United.

Apart from putting Sharks at the foot of the table, it also got the club’s management to begin a search for a new manager after Austin Eguavoen; a former Super Eagles and Flying Eagles manager, resigned from his post with the club.

And already, manager of last season’s CAF Champions League semi-finalists Sunshine Stars, Gbenga Ogunbote has reportedly been approached to take over the reins at Port-Harcourt.

Away from the home league, the Flying Eagles failed in their attempt to defend the Africa Youth Championship crown after losing 2-0 to the young Pharaohs of Egypt in a semi-final earlier in the week. The Egyptians will now face Ghana for the AYC crown later today in Algiers, after the Black Starlets beat Mali on penalties; with Ghana’s goalkeeper saving three spot kicks.

Mali’s young Eagles faced Nigeria in the third place play-off last night, with Nigeria getting revenge for the opening day defeat to the Malians with a 2-1 win courtesy of second half goals from Aminu Umar.

On the international front, world and European champions Spain returned to the top of their World Cup Qualifying group with a hard-fought 1-0 win at France, while Germany, Belgium, Croatia and the Netherlands remained on course to seal qualification from their respective groups with respective wins.

Spain’s win came courtesy of Pedro’s goal, but the pacy forward will be unavailable this weekend for Barcelona’s match against Celta Vigo. The Catalan giants will also be without Carles Puyol, full backs Adriano and Jordi Alba through injury as well as first choice keeper Victor Valdes who continues to serve a suspension.

However, manager Tito Vilanova will be back at the club but likely won’t be in the dug-out just yet against Celta, after completing another round of treatment for his throat cancer in New York.

In Chicago meanwhile, the star-studded Miami Heats side saw a remarkable run of 27 successive matches won come to an end on Wednesday night in a thrilling 101-97 loss against the Chicago Bulls. The loss left the Heats six wins short of the all-time record of 33 straight matches won set by the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 1970s.

At a point though it seemed the Lebron James led Heats would make it 28 wins on the bounce after the visitors had overturned a double-figure deficit; as it had done in two previous matches this month, and taken the lead in the third quarter. But the Bulls refused to succumb and in the end claimed a historic win.

Away from the basketball, it was reported/rumoured that US intelligence agency, the FBI had arrested Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in “God’s own country”. The Russian’s spokesman, and later himself, would soon after debunk those reports but, why they emanated in the first place leaves one curious.

Someone else who did get arrested was father of Gary and Phil Neville, Neville Neville (had to check the name multiple times) on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman in her 40s. The 63 year old Neville was later released on bail till May while an enquiry over the incident ensues.

In the mean time, action returns to the major European leagues this weekend with Juventus’ visit of Inter Milan in the Serie A the match to watch, along with Bayern Munich’s match at home to Hamburg in the Bundesliga. A win for both sides would edge them closer to their respective domestic league title.

In France, PSG went even closer to the Ligue Un title with a lone goal win over reigning champions Montpellier last night, thanks to a late Kevin Gameiro goal. The win opened an eight-point gap for PSG over Olympique Lyon that hosts Sochaux on Sunday while third placed Marseille, a further two points behind, visit Nice.

In England, Manchester United visit Sunderland in a much healthier position than the last time both teams met at the Stadium of Light. Then, United had won by a lone goal but lost the league title on goal difference to city rivals Man. City. Today, the Red Devils head into the early kick-off 15 points clear of City, that hosts Newcastle United later on today.

Elsewhere, Chelsea face a potential banana skin match at Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur will hope to end a run of three straight losses in all competitions at Swansea while Arsenal host relegation threatened Reading as the Gunners keep chase of Chelsea and Spurs in the race for a top four finish.

In Nigeria, third placed Rangers will host fourth placed Kwara United in this weekend’s top bill match of the NPFL. Sharks will be at ‘home’ to Dolphins in the Port-Harcourt derby while Sunshine Stars will host Lobi Stars at Akure and league leaders Kano Pillars will be guests of ABS in Ilorin.

That’s about it with the round-up. Will be rooting for Kwara United in their tough trip to Enugu, as well as Lazio at home to Catania… and Andy Murray in the Sony Open in Miami as he looks to become Tennis’ number two player should he defeat David Ferrer in the final there.

Have a great Easter weekend! Jesus is Lord!

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Over the Weekend: Kenyans Ruffle Feathers, Vettel Ignores Orders & More

The Nigeria Professional Football League saw matchday three encounters hold across the country over the weekend, with Sunshine Stars of Akure going top of the table, a couple of big clubs getting back to winning ways and yet another away win being recorded.

At Akure, Sunshine Stars edged to an entertaining 3-2 victory over visiting Gombe United to go top of the league with seven points, a point ahead of six clubs led by Shooting Stars that claimed a 3-1 win over Lobi Stars.

Enugu Rangers is third, with a game in hand, and are followed by Bayelsa United and Enyimba after both won 2-0 at home to Wikki Tourists and El-Kanemi Warriors respectively, while Akwa United jumped to sixth with a lone goal win over league champions Kano Pillars that dropped to seventh to round-up the teams on six points.

In other results, Heartland thrashed Kaduna United 4-1, a goal just before the hour mark gave Kwara United a 1-0 win at Sharks of Port-Harcourt while ABS completed the Ilorin clubs’ double over Port Harcourt clubs with a 1-0 win over Dolphins in Ilorin.

Since the league suffered a number of postponements before eventually commencing earlier this month, a full programme of matches will take place in midweek and the weekend with Shooting Stars visiting Kano Pillars, Kwara United welcoming Heartland to Ilorin, Sunshine Stars going away to play Dolphins and Enyimba also being away at newly promoted Nembe City some of the midweek ties.

Apologies for stating in the last post that there would be no league matches over the weekend, the World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Kenya as well as the Flying Eagles’ final group match at the Africa Youth Championship taking place last Saturday led me to believe so.

Being the first match since, much to the pleasant surprise of pretty much all her citizens, conquering Africa at the Nations Cup, the expectation ahead of the qualifier against Kenya was, basically, to whitewash the East African visitors.

Alas Kenya took the lead, against the run of play, via a well struck free-kick nine minutes from half time. Before then, Victor Moses had had a shot blocked by a last ditch tackle while Brown Ideye saw a goal bound header cleared off the line.

Indeed Nigeria was playing well, John Mikel Obi particularly was impressive on the day with a few visionary passes but there crucially was no gainful end result coming and it was time to read the real script.

Second half almost followed the trend of the first, almost. The Kenyans parked their bus while the Super Eagles, champions of Africa, again and again sought after at least a goal. And just when a shocking home loss looked an inevitable conclusion to the encounter, just when Nigerian tweeters would have to swallow their tweets of Thursday… Nnamdi Oduamadi got Nigeria a face saving equaliser three minutes into the five minutes of stoppage time given.

Oduamadi, by a twist of fate, was a 75th minute substitute for the man whose goal won us the Nations Cup back in February, Sunday Mba. Mba surely passed on the ‘heroics’ spirit to Oduamadi.

On a serious note, the 1-1 draw, which leaves us level on five points with Malawi atop our qualifying group, probably is the perfect result for Nigeria at the moment. Hopefully it will have the Super Eagles show better precision in front of goal, more so with the FIFA Confederations Cup coming up.

In other World Cup qualifiers, Morocco fell to a shock 3-1 loss at Tanzania, Samuel Eto’o scored both goals as Cameroun edged Togo 2-1 in Yaounde, Ghana got a 4-0 win over Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire won 3-0 at home to Gambia and Equatorial Guinea emerged 4-3 winners in a thrilling affair against Cape Verde.

Away from the adults, the Flying Eagles qualified for the World Youth Championship holding later this year in Turkey after easing to a 3-1 win over DR Congo in their final Group B match at the ongoing AYC in Algeria.

All four AYC semi-finalists are now through to the WYC but Nigeria will hope to defend her AYC crown starting with a semi-final match against Group A winners Egypt. The other semi-final will see Mali face fellow West Africans Ghana.

In Formula One, Sebastien Vettel bolstered his chances of retaining the world drivers championship title for a third successive season by winning a dramatic Malaysian Grand Prix, albeit in rather unsavoury circumstances.

First Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso crashed out of the race very early on, then 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton; in his first season with Mercedes, erroneously made for a pit-stop at his former team McLaren’s, only to be waved through to his actual team’s pit.

The Briton would then have the benefit of team orders and finish third ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg who finished in fourth, after being told to not go past Hamilton in the closing stages of the race; a decision that left Hamilton embarrassed and feeling undeserving of his podium place in the post race press conference.

But Hamilton had it much better, as he didn’t have to deal with answering questions with Rosberg around, unlike Vettel who mostly kept being evasive and apologetic about the manner the race was won while Mark Webber tried to veil his massive anger/disappointment at the whole plot that had played out on the tracks.

Locked in a battle with his Redbull teammate with 15 laps to go, Vettel disregarded team orders to ease off Webber and ‘overtook’ the Australian on his way to going past the chequered flag first. Webber later admitted that he let his world champion teammate go ahead seeing as he wasn’t letting up.

While the above may be strange to aliens of Formula One, it is nearly common practise to have a team give certain orders that favours one of its drivers over the other. Michael Schumacher especially gained from such orders in the twilight of his time at Ferrari at the expense of Felipe Massa.

Vettel’s ‘disobedience’ however is a new one, made even worse by him replying that he is the faster of the Redbull drivers and hence, should be in the lead/shouldn’t be told to ease off. On a larger view, it could trip off a ripple of bad for Formula One as a competitive sport.

In hindsight, if Vettel had ‘allowed’ Webber win the race it would have put Webber on top of the drivers’ championship standings with 35 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who finished in seventh in Malaysia, on 33 points while Vettel would be level on 33 points with Raikkonen in third place.

Alas what obtains now is Vettel being top with 40 points, Raikkonen second with 33 and Webber coming in at third with 28 points. Had the wisdom of the Redbull team principal prevailed, Webber winning the race and Vettel finishing second would have given Redbull same 68 points it has now anyway on the constructors’ championship standings, while more imperatively putting both drivers in good stead on the drivers’ championship standings.

That’s their mess to deal with internally though, and one gets the feeling now that a race would be tailored in favour of Webber for the sake of team spirit, which for now seems lost somewhere down the drain.

On a lighter note, in Tennis, Serena Williams made it to the fourth round of the Miami Masters with a straight sets win over Ayumi Morita of Japan, after riding to the venue of her match on a bicycle to beat traffic on the way and not be late for the encounter.

Older sister Venus Williams unfortunately retired due to injury, while former number one Caroline Wozniacki suffered a loss. Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na however made it to the next round with Serena.

On that note, here’s to a beat-the-deadline, no-bad-blood week ahead. Cheers.

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During the Week: Against a Winter Cup, End of a Kop, KPB Now Racism Cop & More

2022 is quite a while ahead in time but being a year of the football World Cup, there’s little harm talking about it now, more so since it would be the first World Cup held in the Middle East. The talk about it at the moment comes from the Premier League in England and the problem… it being staged in winter time rather than its usual summer schedule.

According to a Premier League spokesman, “We are opposed to a winter World Cup for obvious practical reasons that would impact on all European domestic football”, which is contrary to what a FIFA vice-president, Briton Jim Boyce as well as Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards said in support of Qatar staging the mundial in winter.

What the Premier League’s spokesman seemingly failed to reason is the likelihood that staging the 2022 World Cup in June; even with the possibility of airconditioned stadia, would pose a great health risk to everyone directly involved with the tournament, with regards especially to sporting participants and teeming spectators, due to temperatures potentially peaking at 50 degrees celcius.

The above quote shows that the Premier League is only concerned about how its business will be affected by a winter World Cup; which would certainly see the Premier League going on a winter break to allow for players to participate at the World Cup.

Along with the fact that the Premier League is the only high profile European league that doesn’t go on a winter break; hence the commercially lucrative period of four humanly gruesome matches in a week/eight days for most EPL clubs, whatever “obvious practical reasons that would impact on all European domestic football” he is on about are total hogwash without need of being known.

For long already, it has been clamoured for the Premier League to take a cue from its counterpart leagues and introduce the winter break, to prevent player burn-outs as the curtain closes on a season and (however slightly impactful) helping its club representatives as well as the national team fair much better at respective competitions.

One man whose name is among those likely to be mentioned when listing some of the league’s and nation’s best striking talents is Michael Owen, who, on Tuesday, released a statement to, with “an immense amount of pride”, announce his retirement at the close of this season after 17 years of professional football.

Now an injury ravaged 33 year old on the sidelines at pseudo-rugby club Stoke City, Owen will be remembered for his goals for England (especially against Argentina and Germany) and mostly as a Liverpool player, without doubt the best period of a career that saw him play for Real Madrid, Newcastle United as well as Manchester United.

It was at Liverpool he was a feared striker and scored a majority of his club goals in a glorious partnership with Robbie Fowler (and Steve McManaman behind them), helping the Reds to a treble in 2001 as well as being awarded the Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year) that year; long before it was merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year award… a time when players who deserved the awards won the awards.

And while Owen’s career after leaving Liverpool took a dive, he still managed a fair four seasons at St. James’, won a league title and two domestic Cups with Manchester United, scored a late winner in a Manchester derby voted the best Premier League match in history and for now is the English national team’s fourth leading all time scorer with 40 goals from 89 appearances, nine goals behind the all time leader Sir Bobby Charlton.

The end of his career certainly isn’t glitterry as should be; what being injury prone can do, but his prowess in front of goal in his prime and at most times in his decline, along with what he achieved individually and with different teams, ranks him arguably among England’s top five strikers ever, which is quite a position among/ahead of names such as Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright among others.

Not one to regret how his career will end, Owen tweeted last night “Don’t really do regrets but if I did, I regret not playing against San Marino in my career! Seems to do wonders for your goals tally!”.

England last night thrashed lowly San Marino 8-0 in one of several World Cup qualifiers played in Europe, with Belgium winning 2-0 at Macedonia, Wales coming from behind to beat Scotland 2-1 in a fiery derby at Glasgow, Portugal needing a late goal to earn a 3-3 draw at Israel and Spain being held to a shock 1-1 draw at home by Finland ahead of their crunch match with France next week.

In Africa, Nigeria will face Kenya on Saturday looking to consolidate on top spot in their qualifying group although a match-up already took place on Thursday after tweeters from both nations engaged in a tweetfight that trended worldwide after the Kenyans expressed displeasure at the poor hosting of their national team in Nigeria ahead of Saturday’s match.

While the tweet war was highly amusing, it should not cover the sad reality in African football that sees visiting teams usually being maltreated in order to hand the home team a psychological advantage ahead of a match, a habit that needs to stop.

Another ‘habit’ that needs stopping is racism and AC Milan’s Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng voiced his opinion on it, urging that racist players should not be allowed to play football again while racist spectators be banned from stadia for life.

The midfielder, who spoke during a United Nations event to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said “If there’s a fan who has done something wrong and he can never come to the stadium again, that is
something that can hurt you because you’re a fan and you love the sport. Or a football player who does something wrong, who is racist, and can never play for the club again or can never play in the country again. These are the things that hurt and I think this is the right way to go. [It needs to be] very strict, very hard and make it very clear.”

Extreme? Maybe yes, most likely no. And him, who has suffered racist abuse himself to the point of walking off the field in January during a friendly match, suggesting such punishments indicates the severity of the abuse players receive at stadia. Now, Samuel Eto’o going all emotional on us during a La Liga match while he was at Barcelona doesn’t seem a tad an overreaction now.

Boateng meanwhile is to become a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination taskforce, which would be headed by Jeffrey Webb, a FIFA vice president, while the identity of other members as well as full details of sanctions to be imposed on racists in the sport would be made known soon, the latter expected to be revealed at a FIFA congress in May.

Wrapping up with matters on the field, Nigeria’s Flying Eagles got their Africa Youth Championship campaign in Algeria back on track with a lone goal win over Gabon in a Group B match on Wednesday, with Mali booking a semi-final spot and a berth at the World Youth Championship with a 2-1 win over DR Congo.

The Flying Eagles, the tournanent’s defending champions, must now defeat the Congolese in their final group match on Saturday to book a semi-final ticket and make the WYC as well. And with the senior national team up against Kenya, there will be no league matches this weekend.

Instead, those matches were played during the week with Rangers going top of the Nigeria Professional Football League with six points from two matches thanks to a 2-1 win at newly promoted Nembe City. Reigning champions Kano Pillars is second on goal difference thanks to a 1-0 win at home to Bayelsa United.

Sunshine Stars is one of three other unbeaten sides in the league and lie in third place on four points following a 1-1 draw at Kwara United that has now drawn its opening two matches along with El-Kanemi Warriors that was held to a goalless draw by Wikki Tourists.

Other results from the league in midweek saw Heartland draw 1-1 at Warri Wolves, Enyimba and Dolphins win by a lone goal at home to Nasarawa United and 3SC respectively while Lobi Stars beat Akwa United 2-1 in Makurdi and Kaduna United claimed a 2-0 win over visiting Sharks.

And on the heel of those round of matches, the league received a financial boost of N550m from its title sponsor, which also paid N100m in compensation to Total Promotions; the outfit that initially got the rights to be title sponsor of the league.

All that settled, I’m looking forward to Nigeria’s senior and cadet teams posting good wins over Kenya and DR Congo respectively and make the weekend more worthwhile.

Do have a good one as well.

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Seen this many times before but… reminding ourselves often times wouldn’t harm.

Morning Story and Dilbert

When I was a kid, my Mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work. On that evening so long ago, my Mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad.

I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my Mom and ask me how my day was at school. I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite!

When I got up from the table that evening, I remember hearing my Mom apologize to my dad for burning the biscuits. And I’ll never forget what he said: “Honey, I love burned…

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A Liebster for the Pain

That’s how chief blogger cum med student kemmiiii nominated me for a Liebster award and for that, I probably owe madam (and the blog actually) a non-football related post.

A Liebster is an award given to bloggers with under 200 WordPress followers (sorry if your follower count is more and you’re on my list). The Liebster Award originated in Germany and Liebster means dearest or beloved, and Liebe is love.

However Liebster sounds to me like the name of a drink, a slightly alcoholic drink not available in Nigeria… yet. Seriously though, I wasn’t going to do this but that would be pure ingratitude and disrespect to kemmiiii for the gesture, which comes with certain rules. Besides, I had fun writing this up. So, the Rules are:

1. To thank the person who nominated you.
2. To list 11 random facts about yourself.
3. To answer the questions they have asked you.
4. To nominate 11 other people.
5. To ask the nominees 11 questions and,
6. Last and definitely least, to let them know you have nominated them.

With number one inadvertently out of the way, thank you once again Kemmiiii, these are a first team of random facts about myself.

1. Gianluigi Buffon: Along with Rap, I furiously enjoy listening to music from gloriously eargasmic voices and classical composers. So God bless Tchaikovski, Hans Zimmer, Arlen, aunty Celine Dion, sister Dido, mummy Enya, Adam Levine and a few others. Amen.

Still, Eminem over all-o’-you! All. O’. You!

2. Carl Jenkinson: I could never be as patriotic as my dad.

3. Jordi Alba: I hated/loathed/despised writing and never wished to be any kind of writer. But man proposed and Oga at the very top categorically thought otherwise. Aal iz well.

4. Blaise Matuidi: Everyone knows I love football, but I enjoy hockey just as much. I don’t know any ‘star’ players, but I love the sport.

5. Thiago Silva: I’m young, hardly wild and almost free from the basic level of education attainable. Oh Jesus!

6. Laurent Koscielny: I can’t completely trust another person.

7. Cristiano Ronaldo: I kind of hate deadlines, and clothes. Such limitations those.

8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: I never take life as ‘seriously’ as most seem to.

9. Radamel Falcao: My blood is Horlicks!

10. Juan Mata: I’m shy. “True to God!”

11. Gareth Bale: These are the players I’ve never bought when playing Football Manager; the best game ever. Can you go two seasons unbeaten in the league? Can you win three consecutive League Cups? Can you play in three successive European Super Cup finals and win at least two? Can you win and defend your Champions League and World Club Championship titles? Without once ‘resetting/restarting’? No? Come, le’me teach you… -_-

On to Kemmiiii’s questions to her nominees:

1. Money, Power, Respect. Choose two.
Easy. Money and Respect. All blessings and glory and honour and power to *clears throat*… *raises right hand and points finger to Heaven*.

2. What is your idea of religion?
To as much as possible practice what the Good News preaches. God help us.

3. Have you ever considered politics?
Never. And God willing I’ll keep to my word about it.

4. What do you do for fun?
Bathroom rapping. Football Manager playing. Movie watching. Music listening. Eating. Visiting my siblings. Being boring.

5. What one word do you think describes me?

6. What one word describes you?

7. What’s music to you?
Refer to Gianluigi Buffon to have a good idea.

8. Do you have a plan B in life? If yes what is it?
Yes. My degree.

9. What book will you recommend for me to read?
On Writing, Stephen King. Think of it as The Writer’s Bible, King King’s Version.

10. Why did you start blogging?
For practice sake, and WordPress is my playground.

11. Say something totally random!
♪ Sometimes the dream to make it is more fun than it is to actually make it. ♪, then whatever it is Phyno was yabbin’ on Ill Bliss’ song came to mind.

My 11 Nominees
Unfortunately, as this is for WordPress bloggers, I can’t come up with a first team of nominees as most of the blogs I enjoy are on other blogging platforms. That said the roll call includes:

1. Movie Pencil.
2. OctopusSaxy’s Blog.
3. DeoluBubble.
4. Kemmiiii, yes you’ve been nominated yet again.
5. The Kaleidoscope.
6. A Monk’s Word.
7. Awizii’s.
8. Goonerdaily.

My questions to you:
1. Has your mother ever called you “mad”?

2. What one thing would you never buy if you had £1b in your account today?

3. Have you ever been to the east (of Nigeria)?

4. If yes, what’s it like there? Never been.

5. Are you, today, who you hoped 5 years ago to be?

6. Frank Spencer and Mr. Bean, Who’s worse/better?

7. What’s the oddest item you saw on sale while stuck in traffic?

8. Are you considered a tweet-celeb? -_-

9. Gay rights, yay or nay?

10. Can you cook?

11. Are we done yet? 🙂

That was fun. Plus, I now know a number of blogs I can follow off the nominees list of others… which basically is what the Liebster is all about in my view.

Have a great day.


Over the Weekend: League Titles Almost Won, Nadal’s Big Return and More

We know about the Mayan calendar, there is the conventional calendar and there also is the woman’s infamous biological clock, now I am certain there should be a Latic calendar and a Sillywhites’ clock following the weekend’s round of Premier League matches.

Wigan usually get on an ascendency in the closing weeks of a league season and this season’s proving no different, beating Newcastle United 2-1 to make it four wins from its last five matches in all competitions in its quest to avoid relegation (yet again) and (refreshingly) win the FA Cup.

At White Hart Lane however, Tottenham Hotspur’s self-implode clock seems to have begun ticking after former striker Dimitar Berbatov scored the only goal in Fulham’s win there on Sunday. The loss is Spurs’ third successive defeat in a week following those at Liverpool the weekend before and at Inter Milan last Thursday.

And while the entire club would strongly disagree, three losses after a dozen matches unbeaten raises the eerie aura of a close season meltdown Spurs have always experienced following an amazing spell in every season since Martin Jol’s time as manager there. Funny, Jol is now Fulham manager.

The Lillywhites’ next four league matches will have them face Swansea, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea, a run which has the two legs of their Europa League quarterfinal against FC Basel sandwiched.

The next month from this moment can’t be any more crucial and Andre Villas-Boas’ side will either stay true to their seasonal meltdown or break the cycle and at least finish in the top four and make next season’s Champions League.

A win meanwhile would have put Spurs within two points of second place, as Manchester City had lost 2-0 at Everton on Saturday. But now, Spurs have dropped to third on 54 points, with Chelsea now a point in third and four points off second spot after a 2-0 win over West Ham United.

In that match, Demba Ba was shockingly profligate in front of goal, wasting genuine chances for which Fernando Torres would have been crucified for had it been him missing them; not to say Torres would have scored if he was on the pitch.

Nikica Jelavic on the contrary fired home a late second to seal City’s fate at Goodison, while Robin van Persie’s drought continued though Manchester United opened a 15-point lead thanks to a lone Wayne Rooney goal win over relegation threatened Reading.

Van Persie remains three goals behind the league’s leading scorer Luis Suarez who also failed to score as Liverpool fell to a 3-1 defeat at Southampton, a loss that dropped the Reds to seventh with Merseyside rivals Everton replacing them in sixth place.

As a result, Suarez has 22 goals while van Persie has 19… yet a certain Lionel Messi has two more league goals than the Premier League duo, notching his 42nd and 43rd in this season’s La Liga in a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

That win restored the Catalan side’s 13 point lead over second placed Real Madrid that twice came from behind to register a 5-2 win over Real Mallorca while Atletico Madrid stayed a further point adrift with a 2-0 win at Osasuna thanks to a Diego Costa brace.

In Italy, Juventus remained on course to retain the Scudetto title courtesy of a hard-fought 2-0 win at Bologna. Napoli kept the title race barely alive with a 3-2 win to remain nine points adrift while Mario Balotelli scored his sixth in six matches to help AC Milan to a 2-0 win and stay two points behind Napoli.

PSG on its part squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at St. Etienne, yet made its advantage at the top of Ligue Un five points as second placed Oympique Lyon lost at Bastia. And Bayern Munich in Germany won 2-1 at Bayer Leverkusen though Borussia Dortmund kept the Bavarians’ lead at 20 points with a 5-1 win over Freiburg.

While European football leagues’ leaders largely have no credible challenge, the top players in Tennis look to have their work well cut out following a run of results that culminated in Rafael Nadal winning the Indian Wells tournament.

The Spanish former world number one came from a set down, the first set he’d lost all tournament, to defeat Juan Martin Del Potro 4-6 6-3 6-4. This is after beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals before overcoming in-form Tomas Berdych in the semis.

With Del Potro himself beating Andy Murray in the last eight before edging past world number one Novak Djokovic in the semis; ending a run of 22 wins as a result, the level of competition on this season’s ATP tour looks much stiffer.

Same may also be said for the Formula 1 season which started off down under with Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen winning the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso while reigning champion Sebastien Vettel had to be content with third place after starting the race in pole.

Still too early to conclude how competitive the F1 season will be, unlike last season which saw the opening seven races won by different racers before Vettel sped away with the title.

In Africa, the preliminary stages of both continental club football competitions continued with Nigeria’s representatives ensuring they hold advantages going into their respective return matches in a fortnight.

League champions Kano Pillars recorded 4-1 win over AC Leopards and Rangers drew goalless at Vital’O in the Champions League while in the Confederations Cup, Lobi Stars won 3-1 at home to Muculmana while Heartland could only win 2-1 at home to US Bitam.

Finally… the U20 Africa Youth Championship kicked off in Algeria with Mali’s young Eagles exacting some revenge by beating Nigeria’s Flying Eagles by a lone goal in Group B. Hosts Algeria drew goalless in the opening match against Benin Republic while Ghana fell 2-1 to the young Pharaohs of Egypt.

Nigeria will next face Gabon on Wednesday before wrapping up its group matches against DR Congo on Saturday. Hopefully, the Flying Eagles will recover from the Mali defeat and make it out of the group stage to the semi-finals, which guarantees a spot in the World Championship.

With that, it’s a wrap. Osaze Odemwingie took to twitter yet again to vent his feelings about how he is being treated at the club and more, even though he tweeted he was not trying to force a move away from West Brom. Eitherway, he is set to get some disciplinary actions as the club has stated he will be dealt with “internally”.

Have a stress free week ahead.

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During the Week of Comebacks and More

For the first time in 16 seasons, there will be no English club in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but Arsenal came mighty close to sustaining that record after a generally unexpected victory at Bayern Munich in a week seemingly impossible deficits were cancelled out though only two sides notably got the required results and made the next stage.

Malaga’s reverie debut season with the elite continues as the Andalucians out-thought FC Porto in a 2-0 home win, qualifying for the last eight with a 2-1 aggregate score and setting up a tantalising clash with enterprising Germans Borussia Dortmund.

Fellow Spaniards Barcelona had a 2-0 deficit to deal with and after only five minutes in the second leg, Lionel Messi scored his first goal from open play against Italian opposition in a most technical fashion, doing a one-two with Xavi before sending a curling effort into Abbiati’s top corner from the midst of four AC Milan players.

That goal for me shows just why the diminutive Argentine is easily loved by many as equally as he is easily despised and for the latter group, winning the World Cup should appease their grievances. But that’s another day’s discussion.

In the present, Messi scored another on the night, David Villa showed he still has it with a fine third before Jordi Alba showed great fitness (EPO induced like the rest of the team is suspected? Ah well) to put the tasty toppings on a sumptuous performance from the Catalans who now face glamour French side PSG in the last eight.

Arsenal needed similar performance against Bayern Munich and though it wasn’t pretty, it was efficient enough to draw level on aggregate. The Gunners’ 2-0 win however wasn’t enough as Bayern went through on away goals where Italian champions Juventus await.

It was the first time this season a team had kept Bayern from scoring at home, it also ended a run of 11 successive victories and 23 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Painfully for the Gunners and gooners, that win (‘gallant’ as the one over Milan last season) will likely mean the obvious need to make the club capable of actually competing for titles rather than the world’s sympathy will yet again be overlooked.

Over at the other north London club meanwhile, overlooking the importance of having a team capable of at least not falling apart without Gareth Bale as it did at the San Siro on Thursday night is what Andre Villas-Boas shouldn’t be doing on his part.

Tottenham Hotspurs’ manager was of the opinion that his side basically do not have to prove its worth without the Welsh talisman in the side, only to go 3-0 down at Inter after regulation time before losing 4-1 after extra time on the night but go through to the last eight of the Europa League thanks to the away goals rule.

With or without Bale, most definitely with Bale, the continued participation of Spurs, along with Newcastle United and Chelsea, in Europe’s second tier competition would be key in keeping England’s coefficients on the up.

The coefficients are points used by UEFA to grade every European league based on each league’s teams’ performances in the Champions and Europa League, so the farther a league’s representative(s) go on the continent, the more points gained in its coefficients.

And more teams from a league going farther is an added advantage for that league, which explains the fuss about no English side making the last eight of the Champions League. Thankfully for the Premier League, there are three teams in the Europa League’s last eight.

There, Spurs have been drawn against Swiss side FC Basel, Chelsea will have to overcome Russian side Rubin Kazan as they look to ‘replicate’ FC Porto that won the Champions League and old UEFA Cup in successive seasons, and Newcastle face Benfica of Portugal in perhaps the toughest draw of the last eight.

As a result, Newcastle’s priority now lies there, making Wigan Athletic favourite to come out winners when the Magpies visit the Latics in one of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures, especially as Wigan are involved in the relegation battle.

In the pick of this weekend’s programme, bottom of the table QPR’s quest to escape relegation continues in a daunting trip to fellow strugglers Aston Villa that lies just a place above the drop zone.

Without saying, a win for QPR, or even a draw for Harry Redknapp’s side is crucial, more so with Reading – in 19th place above QPR only by goal difference – away at league leaders Manchester United.

Elsewhere Arsenal visit Swansea as the Gunners continue their chase for a top four finish, while Everton host second placed Manchester City, Liverpool visit Southampton, Tottenham face Fulham and Chelsea host West Ham United in two London derbies.

Elsewhere in Europe, third placed Bayer Leverkusen host Bayern Munich on Saturday, looking to complete a double on the Bavarians in the Bundesliga and at least postpone the visitor’s inevitable title win.

Personally, looking forward to the start of the Formula One season this weekend in Australia. My favourite driver Jenson Button’s title chances are virtually non-existent with the likes of Lewis Hamilton – now with Mercedes – and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari at the fore to depose reigning champion Sebastien Vettel, a tough ask seeing as Vettel has won the last three championships.

Along with the tennis at Indian Wells, where Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to reach the semis, along with preliminary stage matches in Africa’s Champions League and Confederations Cup, it is a loaded weekend, as always.

Have a good one.

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Over the Weekend: League Begins in Nigeria, Wigan in Cup Hysteria and Much More

Formerly known as the Nigerian Premier League, the Nigerian Professional Football League, after many delays to its commencement, finally went underway for the ‘2012/13’ season over the weekend with a number of outstanding results.

Defending champions Kano Pillars picked up from where it finished last season off with a lone goal win away at Wikki Tourists of Bauchi. Now, considering the potential violence that can erupt over an away team’s ‘audacity’ to claim all three points in the league; whatever name it is referred to, Pillars’ bodes well for the league’s image on the larger picture.

Hence, the biggest and most unexpected result of the weekend came from Owerri where Federation Cup (Nigeria’s FA Cup) holders Heartland fell to a 2-1 defeat, at home, to Nembe City… a newly promoted side. While it doesn’t guarantee Nembe will pull a Swansea for the rest of the season, it is most refreshing such result can occur.

The season kicked off in Enugu on Saturday where Rangers edged rivals and last season’s runner-up Enyimba by a lone goal while a goalless draw was played out in Ilorin between city rivals ABS and Kwara United.

Shooting Stars of Ibadan claimed a 2-0 win over Gombe United, Dolphins of Port-Harcourt lost by a lone goal at Akwa United as did Lobi Stars and Kaduna United at Bayelsa United and Sunshine Stars respectively, while Sharks beat Warri Wolves 2-1 in Port-Harcourt.

It’s great to see the league kick off here after much bickering in the boardroom, bickering which has been the major bane of the league’s growth for years and a lasting absence of such can only have the league produce more Sunday Mbas for the national team as well as see the clubs perform creditably in continental competitions consistently.

Having satisfied the saying about charity’s roots, three goals in a four-minute spell midway through the first half saw to Everton’s shock exit from the English FA Cup at the hands of Wigan Athletic, leaving David Moyes still without a trophy in his entire career. Gooners, take note.

However, when Wigan’s knack for going on a hot streak of form with the season winding up is considered, the win at Everton becomes less of a shock but the scoreline remains so. Before the match, Moyes had stressed the importance of winning the Cup, a view mirrored by a number of his players and indeed they played well, it just wasn’t meant to be for Everton.

Elsewhere lower league outfits Millwall and Blackburn Rovers will meet again at Ewood Park after playing out a goalless draw on Sunday while Carlos Tevez was the driving force behind Manchester City’s 5-0 demolition of Barnsley, scoring a hattrick and getting an assist too.

The tie of the round came from Old Trafford with Chelsea coming from two goals down and earn a replay in a 2-2 draw. Thankfully, Howard Webb didn’t take the spotlight of a Manchester United match for once, but the managers did.

In an outgoing week the Red Devils had to deal with going out of Europe in ‘that’ manner along with speculation over Wayne Rooney’s future and his weight, Rafa Benitez piled a bit more (or has attempted to) for United to deal with after stating that Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t shake hands with him before the match.

Both managers, with a bad blood history from Benitez’s Liverpool days, didn’t share a handshake at full time either with Benitez saying he was “with my players celebrating”. And on the pre-match handshake snub, “I was waiting for him at the beginning, so you should ask him. I have education. I was ready.”

Rafa, funny man. Trying to ease the pressure on himself by taking on another manager when there’s a replay to prepare for may not be the best idea (his spat with Mourinho while at Inter Milan comes to mind) and now, I have a feeling it would be a painful end to the FA Cup for Chelsea come March 20.

The winner of that replay will face Manchester City in a ‘final before the final’ while Wigan’s four-minute win has been rewarded by a draw to face either Blackburn or Millwall in a match that will likely see its winner qualify for Europe regardless of the outcome in the final.

That is because their potential final opponents look odds on to clinch European spots in the Premier League and thus wouldn’t require the Europa League berth from winning the FA Cup, with Man. United favourites to win the league, Man. City some way off in second place but looking sure bets to qualify for next season’s Champions League and Chelsea chasing a top four finish to make the Champions League or at worst finish in fifth (or sixth) and reach the Europa League.

Chelsea’s, and Arsenal’s push for a top four finish was helped by Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-2 loss at Liverpool, a match that could have seen Spurs actually go within two points of second place and five points clear in third place had they won.

Gareth Bale didn’t score for the first time in seven matches, but he did provide the Spurs goals scored by Jan Vertonghen. However it was Luis Suarez that shone brighter, opening the scoring early on to take his league tally to 22 goals before winning a late penalty which Steven Gerard converted for the win.

Liverpool have now won three successive league matches as well as gained only a second win over a team in the top half of the league as the Reds push for a Europa League place.

The win got Liverpool to sixth on 45 points, two points behind Arsenal that however has a game in hand at home to out of form Everton that is in seventh place behind their Merseyside rivals on goal difference.

Other results from league matches played saw West Brom come from behind to beat Swansea 2-1 and replace their opponents in eighth place while the biggest results were QPR’s 3-1 win over Sunderland, which puts QPR just four points off safety, and Aston Villa’s 2-1 win at 19th placed Reading, getting Villa out of the relegation zone.

In Europe, PSG went five points clear in France with a comeback 2-1 win over Nancy coupled with a goalless draw between Olympique Lyon and Olympique Marseille in second and third respectively.

Juventus and AC Milan were the big winners in Italy, with Juve opening a nine point gap at the top courtesy of a lone goal win over Catania coupled with second placed Napoli’s lone goal loss at Chievo Verona.

Milan got a 2-0 win at Genoa on Friday and is now two points off second place and four points clear in third after Inter was beaten at home by struggling Bologna while Lazio also got beaten at home by Fiorentina, the latter rising two places to fourth as a result.

In Spain, Lionel Messi scored his 40th league goal and extended his run of scoring to 17 consecutive La Liga matches, as Barcelona beat Deportivo 2-0. Atletico’s lone goal loss ensured Barça is now 13 points clear at the top with Real Madrid now in second place thanks to a 2-1 win at Celta Vigo, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring both goals for Real and becoming the first player ever to score 25+ goals in his first four seasons in Spain.

Both players stay setting records with reckless abandon and so is Bayern Munich, after twice coming from behind to claim a 3-2 win and go 20 points clear atop the Bundesliga. Second placed Borussia Dortmund lost 2-1 at Schalke in the Ruhr derby while third placed Bayer Leverkusen failed to take advantage as it lost by a lone goal at Mainz. If all goes well, Bayern will win the league over the next three matches, with six games to spare then.

The phenomenal Bavarians, in their treble quest, will now focus on making the last eight of the Champions League when Arsenal visit the Allianz Arena with Bayern holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg.

Barça on their part have a 2-0 deficit to overturn against AC Milan while Schalke will be spurred by its Ruhr derby win to go past visiting Galatasaray as the Royals, along with Bayern, look to join Dortmund and make it three German clubs in the last eight.

For long, the argument has been on what league between Spain’s and England’s is the best. Now it seems the Bundesliga has not only joined that race but is leading it.

That however is another day’s discussion, it’s a wrap for now on what was a most eventful weekend.

Do have a productive week ahead.

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During the Week: What a Card Can Do, FFP Farcical and More

Jose Mourinho did say the world would stop when both teams met in the return leg of their Champions League first knockout round match, what he and the world didn’t envisage was the referee’s decision being the source of the ‘stop’.

Manchester United had just taken the lead and the way it was going, Real Madrid was going to have a tough time getting back in the match… until Luis Nani’s foot ran into Alvaro Arbeloa as both went for a ball.

Cuneyt Cakir’s decision to show Nani a straight red left the Portuguese perplexed along with the rest of Old Trafford, while Sir Alex Ferguson was miffed. Yes he had stamped into Arbeloa’s ribs going for the ball but he clearly didn’t intend to.

That said, Cakir maintains he made the right decision and in time those who feel otherwise (pretty much ‘everyone’ in a general sense of the word) would see so. Roy Keane, much to ‘everyone”s disdain agreed it was the right decision. Most importantly however, former reverred referee Pierluigi Collina stated the referee’s decision was the right one.

All that said, such decisions cut deep into the emotions of those associated with the team affected. And apparently, it is capable also of overshadowing an entire match elsewhere as Borussia Dortmund’s very impressive 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk same night almost went unnoticed.

Nani’s red anyway only brings back memories of Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting a straight red at Valencia for basically going after the ball with an opponent like Nani (more so without a high foot), or Robin van Persie’s infamous red at the Nou Camp while he was at Arsenal… or Laurent Koscielny’s red against Manchester City, not to mention Vincent Kompany’s later in same match though his was later rescinded… and many more ‘unfair reds’, life goes on really.

And as life goes on, the money keeps piling up for the already rich clubs. At least it does for Paris Saint Germain that reportedly is close to selling its naming rights to its Parc des Princes stadium, a deal which could earn the glamour French side €100m a year.

If that sponsorship deal with the Qatar National Bank happens, coupled with the four year, $800m deal it has with the Qatar Tourism Authority, PSG will be in line to get about €250m at least from next season.

Such whooping amounts, excluding prize money from the Champions League where it is now in the last eight along with domestic competitions and other sponsorship deals, puts PSG well over the green line as it concerns UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule.

And it goes to show how much of a farce the FFP rule really is, requiring clubs to get their finances in order so as to prevent obscene spending by clubs in the transfer market. A club like PSG however can still make audacious moves in the transfer market as it did in the signings of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan at the start of the season.

Then there’s the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona that already pull massive revenue from merchandising alone, Chelsea, Manchester City and co with wealthy owners and Arsenal with its peculiarly shrewd yet lucrative financial methods, the FFP really would do next to nothing to ‘sanitise’ the transfer market and/or curtail their excesses.

On the contrary, an Everton or Bayer Leverkusen for instance, which in all honesty cannot attract the kind of sponsorship suitors the rich clubs can, will have to make do with far less lucrative deals and only earn more by doing great in the domestic and continental Cups and/or managing to qualify for the Champions League group stage regularly.

What the FFP would ultimately achieve is create a financial gulf between the mega rich clubs and the financially stable ones, opening a yet wider gulf between the rich clubs and the modest likes of Everton for example. Simply put, the rich get richer and the rest just exist.

Would the potential of rich clubs getting richer affect homegrown talent coming through to the first team? Possibly. Then again, that’s why the smaller clubs are there so the homegrown talent get loaned to them till it’s there time.

There always are exceptions though, one or a handful of clubs that do manage to break the monopoly and ruffle the feathers. Tottenham Hotspur may well be one such club, after picking successive crucial wins in the last week.

First the Lilywhites beat local rivals Arsenal last weekend to hold the advantage in the race to finish in the Premier League’s Champions League spots, before easing to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in a first leg, last 16 match of the Europa League.

It however remains to be seen if the club can keep hold of Gareth Bale, the nucleus of Spurs’ above average season so far, beyond this season. In my opinion I think Bale will remain at White Hart Lane, with qualification to next season’s Champions League and Europa League glory within their grasp.

In the Europa League, Spurs are favourites to make the last eight – and indeed go all the way – along with SS Lazio that came away from Vfb Stuttgart with a 2-0 win, while European champions Chelsea has its work cut out following a lone goal defeat at Steaua Bucharest.

Fenerbahçe hold a lone goal advantage from its trip to Napoli’s conqueror Viktoria Plzeň while Newcastle United will be confident ahead of the home leg after playing out a goalless draw at Samuel Eto’o’s Anzhi Machačkala.

The Magpies, who were without Papiss Cisse and only played Shola Ameobi for about half an hour in Russia, will have both available as they look to edge even closer to the Premier League midtable in the match at home to Stoke City on Sunday.

Eyes on Sunday will be on Anfield and Old Trafford however, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur squaring up in a league match while Chelsea embarks on a tough trip to face Man. United in a 6th Round FA Cup match. Both matches however kickoff half an hour apart, which is just plain wrong but we’ll manage.

Before Super Sunday in England, in-form AC Milan will prepare for its Champions League match at Barcelona next week with a trip to struggling Genoa in the Serie A tonight, while in the Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund visit Schalke 04 on Saturday evening in the Ruhr derby before La Liga’s bottom side Deportivo La Coruña face Barcelona at the Nou Camp later on Saturday.

On Sunday, after the big matches in England, there is second hosting third in Ligue Un when Olympique Lyon play Olympique Marseille while Lazio and Fiorentina face off in Rome as both chase a win to keep them in touch of finishing in a Champions League place on the Serie A table.

Other matches to look out for this weekend include Bayern Munich hosting Fortuna Düsseldorf, primed for another win on Saturday as the Bavarians barge towards the Bundesliga title while struggling Nancy visit Ligue Un table toppers PSG also on Saturday.

Reading and Aston Villa meet in a Premier League relegation battle at the Madejski on Saturday, Atletico Madrid will look to maintain second place in La Liga ahead of Real when sixth place Real Sociedad visit the Calderon while Juventus face Catania in Italy.

Hopefully, a referee’s decision won’t overshadow any match this weekend, even if Howard Webb has been appointed to oversee the FA Cup match at Old Trafford.

With that, it’s a wrap here. Hope you have an exciting weekend.

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During the Week: Sorry Rafa, Storm at Barça, Being CapaBale & More

Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez unexpectedly went uber-emotional on us with his outburst aimed at fans of the Blues who simply will not roll the welcome carpet out for him at Stamford Bridge, and this is months after his appointment by Roman Abramovich.

Initially via an interview with BBC Radio’s 5 Live before butressing his weary feelings at the post match conference of the club’s FA Cup win over Middlesbrough, Benitez blasted the fans for their misguided priorities and/yet inadvertently made their day by stating he would be gone at the end of the season.

The Spanish tactician did make reasonable points about the fans wasting their time and energy on banners and angst against him when they should be supporting the club as well as being appointed ‘interim manager’, a tag that implied he wouldn’t last on the job.

That said, Benitez couldn’t have been expecting to be treated at the Bridge like he was a business class passenger on a long-haul Emirates flight as his appointment by Roman Abramovic was more of putting him on an interstate economy class ride on an Eurostar coach.

Besides those comments made about Chelsea while he was in his prime at Liverpool; a period in which both sides met more often in all competitions than any other two teams in all of Europe, made him a persona non grata at the Bridge. His appointment thus only made it easier to have him suffer for those comments.

But would Benitez have succeeded as Blues boss? Having won the UEFA Cup at Valencia and the Champions League twice at Liverpool? I honestly believe he would have failed as he currently is and I’ve elaborated on why I feel so in this post.

Simply putting it, Benitez failed because of Fernando Torres, Roman Abramovic and most of all, because of his eagerness to return to activd management. And that’s putting aside the tense reception from the stands from the onset.

Ironically, a former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas took his Tottenham Hotspur side past the Blues into third place on the league table following a 3-2 win at West Ham United on Monday night.

That win was secured by a 90th minute strike from Gareth Bale, bringing the Portuguese manager to name his left wing ace as the Premier League’s likely Player of the Year winner just as football fans argued on Bale being on the level of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bale being in exceptional form is much different from him being exceptional and comparison’s with Messi and Ronaldo seem a tad premature for me. He does take his freekicks a bit like CR7 but that’s about it for me. Even comparing him to the Ronaldo we saw in his final season at Manchester United seems a bit out of place.

But to take nothing from Bale, he is in fearsome form much to the delight of folks at White Hart Lane and one can say he is incomparable at the moment since he is two or three notches below The Two just as he is alone at a level just above the rest.

Barcelona on its part have been brought down from its exalted exclusive zone of being incapable of playing fluid football or even being outplayed following a humbling 3-1 defeat to archrivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

That defeat saw Real qualify for the final of the Spanish Cup while also inflicting a first home loss on the Catalans in 22 matches, prompting more theories about Barcelona’s recent poor form.

One theory believes the club’s form comes just after the Fuentes doping saga, which named the club among its beneficiaries, broke. Another believes it is Tito Vilanova’s absence that is to blame. I like the idea of the former more, just for the drama inherent.

And oh what drama would break out if all the milk from the boiling Metodo 3 cow is spilled just as the club is enduring a low.

Seriously, if Gerard Pique was spied on by the club because of fears that his relationship with Shakira would lead to a dip in form, only for the club to then deny being responsible (or in the club’s words, not having “documentary evidence”) for him being followed when he realised so, that action would put a cloud over Barça’s painfully sustained public integrity.

If the club could treat Pique, who seems a model player of the Barça way, this way, potentially losing to Real twice in four days will only be a small cause of a migraine the hierarchy must deal with. Winning at Real this weekend will be a very welcome distraction for Barça but for once, the odds are not (ever) in their favour.

The coming El Clasico is one of the highlights of what will be a super weekend of football, kicking off tonight in Italy where second placed Napoli hopes to end a run of five winless matches at home to Serie A leaders Juventus.

That is followed by third placed Lazio travelling to AC Milan on Saturday (and here’s hoping Lazio gets a big win there), there is the El Clasico, then the north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal on Sunday at White Hart Lane.

All that after a week that saw Angel di Maria and Ronaldo wreck havoc on Barça before di Maria got himself sent off in bizarre manner, followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring twice to get Paris Saint Germain a second win over Olympique Marseille in three days.

There was also Bayern Munich’s lone goal win over Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal, a scoreline that lies about Dortmund matching Bayern in the contest… Bayern displayed its superiority and it really is a mystery how they didn’t win by more goals.

Finally, a story that really amused me and no, not John Pantsil being found unconscious on Tuesday morning after reportedly attempting suicide, a report that has been bluntly denied. Pantsil needs to get his business together though.

The story that amused me came from Switzerland where former AC Milan gladiator Gennaro Gattuso has been appointed player-manager at Swiss club Sion after former manager Victor Munoz was not fired but demoted to the position of club scout after a heavy defeat by FC Thun. That is just all sorts of awkward.

With that, it’s a wrap here. I’ll watch the north London derby with bottles of Lucozade by me. Arsenal tends to do that to one and being in recovery, watching the derby… I’ll need the boost, something to Bale me out, if it all goes wrong for Arsenal on the day.

Have a great weekend then, and a great month of March too.

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