Archive for August, 2013
If more people played Football Manager more often, the need for the media to stretch the slack rubber of explaining why Arsenal remains among the Pot 1 (top seeded) teams when drawing clubs into their respective UEFA Champions League groups would be more unnecessary than it already is (for those who know).
That written, Arsenal, which completed the signing of former midfielder Mathieu Flamini on Thursday, would probably wish it wasn’t a Pot 1 team afterall following being drawn with a trio of runners-up from competitive leagues; Olympique Marseille from Ligue 1, a league it currently leads, Napoli from the Serie A in a repeat of their dramatic Emirates Cup tie in preseason as well as enterprising German side Borussia Dortmund that also finished runner-up of last season’s Champions League.
Reigning champions Bayern Munich were drawn with Manchester City, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen in Group D, a group Bayern should have little trouble qualifying from. Man. City meanwhile will fancy their qualification chance this time having crashed out of Europe altogether at the group stage of the last two seasons.
Russian side CSKA on paper will fancy making the knockout stage and upsetting City, however slim that chance is on paper, or at least finish third and drop to the Europa League. Plzen on their part will be buoyed by knocking Atletico Madrid out of last season’s Europa League when they go into matches in this group from next month.
In other groups, there’s Barcelona, that scrapped to the Spanish Super Cup title over Atletico, and AC Milan finding themselves drawn together again in Group H, with Ajax and Celtic the other teams in that group. Group G comprises winners of four of the last six Europa League titles as FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and Zenit St. Petersburg come up against each other along with Austria Vienna.
Then there’s Real Madrid and Italian champions Juventus in Group B alongside last season’s quarterfinalist Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen while PSG are firm favourites in Group C ahead of Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht while English champions Man. United will come up against a supposedly weakened Shakhtar Donetsk side, German darkhorse Bayer Leverkusen and this season’s exciting prospect from La Liga, Real Sociedad in Group C.
And Europa League holders Chelsea will contest Group E with Kevin Prince Boateng’s new club Schalke, Steaua Bucharest of Romania and Swiss side FC Basel. Before then, Jose Mourinho’s side come up against Bayern in this season’s European Super Cup match at Prague tonight.
Both sides boast of strong first team squads filled with an abundance of midfielders and in Chelsea’s case, strikers, after the Blues completed the signing of Cameroun forward Samuel Eto’o from Anzhi days after completing the hijack of Willian. The spotlight however would shift from the duo to the opposing managers, espcially Mourinho who has a poor record of just three wins in 15 meetings against Pep Guardiola to mull on.
Nigeria’s basketball national team have much to mull on concerning the way forward after first losing to Senegal by a point at the quarterfinal stage on Wednesday before falling to another shock 79-76 loss to Cape Verde in a 5th-8th place semifinal playoff on Thursday.
D’Tigers however recovered to thrash Morocco 105-87 in a 7th-8th playoff and complete a gruelling three matches in as many days in Abidjan, finishing a disappointing seventh having placed third at the last Championship in 2011.
Favourites Angola meanwhile are through to the last four there along with hosts Cote D’Ivoire whom they face in a semifinal tonight, with Egypt to face Senegal in the second semifinal as the last four battle for three World Championship spots available.
While the Basketball Nations Cup ends this weekend, the US Open, which began on Monday, truly begins as most of the top seeds have eased through the opening rounds and are now preparing for the third round.
One wee bit of a shock was however recorded when British player… no, not Andy Murray, he’s still on course to defend the title, but Dan Evans who came from a set down to defeat Australia’s Bernard Tomic and set up a third round tie against 19th seed Tommy Robredo. Women’s 5th seed Sara Errani was also knocked out in the second round by compatriot Flavia Penneta in straight sets.
Champion Murray will only just play his second round match against birthday mate Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, while the other usual suspects – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na – are already through to round three which serves off this weekend.
Major highlight of this weekend though will come from football in the Premier League where archrivals Liverpool and Manchester United face off in Sunday’s lunchtime kickoff at Anfield before Tottenham Hotspur visit Arsenal in the north London derby later on Sunday.
Tottenham, conveniently drawn in Group K of the Europa League with Anzhi Makhachkala earlier today, head into the derby feeling better than this time last week when their deal for Willian was hijacked, having completed the signings of Erik Lamela from AS Roma and Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches while Ajax playmaker Christian Eriksen is close to agreeing a deal with the Lilywhites.
Other matches in the Premier League this weekend sees Hull City travelling to face Man. City in Saturday’s early kickoff followed by Cardiff City aiming to add another scalp in Man. United-£36m bid-rejecting Everton, Newcastle United hosting Fulham and Sunderland away at Crystal Palace in the evening kickoff.
In France, league leaders Marseille face second placed big spenders Monaco, while champions PSG welcome Guingamp to the Parc Des Princes and Olympique Lyon will look to put behind their Champions League exit at Real Sociedad when they visit Evian on Saturday.
Sociedad welcome Atletico Madrid to San Sebastien in a potentially thrilling La Liga match on Sunday, champions Barcelona visit Valencia afterwards while Real Madrid host Athletic Bilbao in Sunday’s (rather very) early kickoff.
Real’s Champions League group adversary Juventus will be at home to Lazio in a Serie A match on Saturday evening a fortnight after beating the Romans 4-0 to win the Italian Super Cup. Before that match, Napoli will pay Chievo Verona a visit.
And in Germany, Dortmund have the chance to regain top spot from Bayern (that drew 1-1 with Freiburg on Tuesday) if they pick a win from their trip to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.
Before then, Bayern could have dropped to fourth place even should Bayer Leverkusen, FSV Mainz and Hertha Berlin win their respective matches away at fumbling Schalke, Hannover 96 and Wolfsburg.
Finally from the home front, Enyimba went top of the league with 46 points after 28 matches, ahead of Bayelsa United on goal difference, following a 3-0 win at home to Gombe United in midweek.
Bayelsa drew goalless at Sunshine Stars while champions Kano Pillars dropped to third, a point behind the leading two, after a 2-0 loss at Heartland, with Kwara United a further point behind in fourth place following a 2-0 loss as well at Nembe City.
With that, it’s a wrap from here. Billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet turns 83 on this day, actor Mark Strong turns 50, Charlie’s Angel Cameron Diaz and legendary former Czech midfielder Pavel Nedvěd turn 41 today as well and American tennis player Andy Roddick is 31 today.
To them and everyone else celebrating, best wishes of the day. And here’s to a pleasant weekend to you all. Cheers!
Rise with the sun to pray. Pray alone. Pray often.
Be tolerant of those who are lost on their path. Ignorance, conceit, anger, jealousy and greed stem from a lost soul. Pray that they will find guidance.
Search for yourself, by yourself. Do not allow others to make your path for you. It is your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.
Treat the guests in your home with much consideration. Serve them the best food, give them the best bed and treat them with respect and honor.
Do not take what is not yours whether from a person, a community, the wilderness or from a culture. If it was not earned or given, it is not yours.
Respect all things that are placed upon this earth – whether it be people or plant.
Honor other people’s thoughts…
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Nigeria’s national basketball team has qualified for the second round of the African Basketball Championship, finishing top of her group at the competition ongoing in Abidjan following a thrilling 91-84 victory over Cameroun in their final group match.
D’Tigers had won the first quarter comfortably, only to be overhauled in the second quarter as Cameroun put themselves a point ahead going into the interval. The Camerounians then opened a nine point lead at a point in the third quarter, at which point the Nigerians began a late rally, trailing by three points at the end of the third.
By the fourth, D’Tigers were level at 84 all going into the final minute, scoring seven more points to seal a hardfought victory and set up a potentially straightforward second round clash on Tuesday with the Central African Republic that finished bottom of Group C.
Championship favourites Angola defeated the Central African Republic 85-80 in their final group match to finish top of Group C with three wins from three matches and set up a second round match against Mali tonight while defending champions Tunisia will face rivals Egypt tonight as well in another second round match.
Moving on from the Nigerian basketball team’s exploits, the Nigerian Professional Football League continued over the weekend with Kano Pillars returning to the top of the table ahead of Bayelsa United on goal difference thanks to a lone goal win over visiting Sharks of Port-Harcourt.
On a weekend all the away teams failed to score and were beaten, Bayelsa United went up to second place on 45 points with a 2-0 win over ABS of Ilorin.
Elsewhere, former league leaders Enyimba of Aba lost by a lone goal at Kwara United, dropping to fourth on 43 points, a point behind Kwara United. Warri Wolves got mauled 3-0 by El-Kanemi Warriors in Maiduguri, Shooting Stars were beaten 1-0 by Akwa United while Rangers fell to a 2-0 defeat at Dolphins in Port-Harcourt.
In the Barclays Premier League, former Manchester United forward Frazier Campbell’s headed brace helped Cardiff City come from a long range Edin Dzeko goal down and claim a 3-2 victory over Manchester City on Sunday, with Alvaro Negredo’s stoppage time goal for Man. City a mere consolation.
The win was Cardiff’s first at home in the top flight in half a century, and it thoroughly exposed just how much the injured Vincent Kompany is missed by the Citizens’ back four.
Elsewhere, Roberto Soldado’s second half penalty – his fourth goal in three games – was enough for Tottenham Hotspur to see off Swansea City while on Saturday evening, Liverpool once more had Daniel Sturridge and Simon Mignolet to thank in a lone goal win at Aston Villa.
In other results, Arsenal scored a 3-1 win at London neighbours Fulham, Newcastle United left out Yohan Cabaye again in a goalless draw with West Ham United, Mark Hughes’s Stoke City came from behind to beat Crystal Palace 2-1 and Sunderland got a 1-1 draw from their trip to Southampton.
South of England in France, title holders PSG got a 2-1 win at Nantes thanks to Edinson Cavani’s second league goal and Ezequel Lavezzi’s late winner. Archrivals Olympique Marseille now top the league with nine points after beating Valenciennes 1-0 courtesy of Andre Pierre Gignac’s late goal.
Billionaire newcomers Monaco dropped to second with seven points after being held to a goalless draw by Toulouse while erstwhile leaders Olympique Lyon fell to a shock 1-0 loss at home to Reims ahead of their difficult UEFA Champions League second leg playoff match at Real Sociedad in Spain.
The Spanish side drew 1-1 at Elche on Saturday in a La Liga match, dropping to sixth behind Espanyol on goal difference with the latter beating Valencia 3-1 in Catalunya. City rivals and title holders Barcelona maintained top spot with six points thanks to a lone goal win at Malaga.
Barça’s Spanish Super Cup opponents Atletico Madrid thrashed city rivals Rayo Vallecano 5-0 to go second with six points as well, while Athletic Bilbao and newly promoted Villarreal follow with six points too, with Bilbao beating Osasuna 2-0 while Villarreal got a 2-1 win over Real Valladolid.
Either of Granada or soon-to-sign-Bale Real Madrid could meanwhile join that quartet with a perfect record after two games, with a win when both sides meet tonight.
In Italy, the Serie A began with AC Milan stumbling to a 2-1 loss on Saturday at newly promoted Hellas Verona, whose goals were scored by veteran striker Luca Toni. Champions Juventus fared better soon after in a lone goal win at Sampdoria courtesy of a Carlos Tevez goal, in second in as many matches.
Elsewhere, Rafa Benitez’s Napoli reign started off with a convincing 3-0 win over Bologna, Inter Milan won 2-0 at home to Genoa as did Roma at Livorno, while Lazio got a 2-1 win over Udinese. The opening round of matches will be completed with Fiorentina’s match at home to Catania tonight.
And in Germany, Dortmund maintained their perfect start to the Bundesliga with a lone goal win over Werder Bremen, with rivals Bayern Munich doing same in a 2-0 pyhrric victory over city rivals Nurnberg, a match in which Mario Gotze made his debut for his Bavarians.
Schalke and Hamburg continued their bearish start to the season with respective 2-1 and 1-0 losses at Hannover 96 and newly promoted Hertha Berlin, results that left both clubs on one point after three matches with identical records in 15th and 16th place, ahead of another fumbling side Stuttgart that lost 2-1 at Augsburg and remain without a point.
One German racking up the points however is Sebastien Vettel, with the Formula 1 world champion opening a 46 point lead over nearest rival Fernando Alonso after winning his fifth race of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Vettel, who never looked like relinquishing the lead after going past Lewis Hamilton in the first lap, finished the race a massive 16 seconds ahead of Alonso; despite being asked in the third lap to conserve his car for the rest of the race by his RedBull team, while Hamilton finished a somewhat disappointing third having began the race on pole.
On that dominant note, it’s a wrap from here. Manchester United host Chelsea tonight in the Premier League’s first big match-up,the US Open serves off today, Sociedad and Arsenal will be out to seal a Champions League group stage along with Shakter Karagandy that takes a 2-0 lead to Celtic aiming to pull off a historic upset.
Then the big one on Friday between Bayern Munich and Chelsea for the European Super Cup in Monte Carlo. Thiago Alcantara willl miss that match for Bayern, and six subsequent weeks with an ankle injury… but that hardly takes the shine off the Bayern team or the match itself. Looking forward to it.
Have a pleasant last week of August. God bless!
While the country remains grappled in deadlocked dialogue between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government, sustained poor power supply, uncertainty over the status of Shekau’s heartbeat or lack of, a couple of errant pastors and what not, some of her sportsmen have provided a good bit of reprieve from those… at least for me.
At Cote D’ivoire, the African Basketball Championships (Afrobasket 2013) dunked/tipped off on Tuesday with the host nation easing to a 64-47 win over Algeria in Group A while Senegal came through a close encounter against Egypt 72-70 winners.
Nigeria’s campaign began on Wednesday with a 74-59 win over Mali in Group D while neighbours Cameroun fared even better, defeating Congo 74-43 in the group’s other match. Defending champions Tunisia meanwhile edged Morocco 56-54 in Group B and favourites Angola opened their account with a 75-50 win over Cape Verde in Group C.
Nigeria then recorded a convincing 93-75 win over Congo on Friday night to seal qualification from the group stage for D’Tigers. Cote D’Ivoire and Angolan are pretty much through following wins in their respective second matches on Thursday, with the Ivorians beating Senegal 74-46 while Angola got a 91-73 win over Mozambique.
Also on Thursday, back home, in football, Warri Wolves qualified for the final of the Federations Cup courtesy of a 2-1 win over Akwa United in a replayed semi-final encounter after the initial match on Wednesday was halted due to bad weather with scores level at 1-1.
Wolves will now face Enyimba of Aba that had earlier reached the final thanks to a lone goal win over Lobi Stars, making it the fifth time in eight seasons the Aba Elephants have reached the final of the competition.
Enyimba’s focus however returns to the league, where they travel to face fourth placed Kwara United in Ilorin in one of this weekend’s matches, as both sides hope to sustain their contention for the league title.
Two other teams in direct contention too; champions Kano Pillars and Bayelsa United, come up against Sharks of Port Harcourt and ABS of Ilorin respectively, aiming to take advantage of the result from Ilorin and consolidate their title charge.
Beaten Fed. Cup semifinalists Akwa United and Lobi Stars will also be home this weekend, with Akwa Utd taking on Shooting Stars while Naze Millionaires Heartland will be Lobi’s guests at Makurdi.
Other matches will have Dolphins at home to Rangers in Port Harcourt, Sunshine Stars visiting relegation threatened Wikki Tourists in Bauchi, Elkanemi Warriors hosting Warri Wolves in Maiduguri and Nembe City making the short trip to face Kaduna United.
In England, Manchester City got their season underway in emphatic fashion, handing Newcastle United a 4-0 thumping at the Etihad to go top of the league ahead of city rivals Man. United. And City will look to build on Monday’s thrashing when they pay Welsh newcomers Cardiff City a visit on Sunday.
Before then, Arsenal will get the weekend’s Premier League programme going when they visit Fulham in a London affair on Saturday. The Gunners go into that encounter with fragile confidence following a 3-0 win at Istanbul against Fenerbahçe in a Champions League playoff match.
While Laurent Koscielny’s early injury looked to be the start of another miserable evening, an inspired second half (especially from Aaron Ramsey) saw the Gunners virtually book their place in the group stage with the margin of victory, which came through goals from Kieran Gibbs, Ramsey and a Giroud penalty.
In other first leg UEFA Champions League playoff matches played in midweek, two spectacular, better-after-every-view goals gave Real Sociedad a commanding 2-0 win at the Gerland against Olympique Lyon, PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan played out a 1-1 draw as did Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki at Schalke 04.
Zenit eased to a 4-1 win at Pacos Ferreira of Portugal and Switzerland’s FC Basel won 4-2 at Ludogorets Razgrad but the biggest result came from Kazakhstan where Scottish champions Celtic got shocked in a 2-0 loss to Shakhter Karagandy… that had a sheep ‘sacrificed’ before kickoff.
Down in the Europa League, Marko Marin scored twice either side of a Kevin Gameiro goal for temporal club Sevilla, as the Spaniards came from a goal down to slaughter Slask Wroclaw 4-1 in one of several first leg qualifying matches played on Thursday.
Fomer Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez began competitive life as a Fiorentina striker in good form, scoring in la Viola’s 2-1 win at Grasshoppers while Wilfried Bony continued his in like manner as Swansea City recorded a 5-1 win at home to Petrolul Ploiesti of Romania.
Elsewhere, Udinese lost 3-1 at home Sloban Liberec, Spartak Moscow drew 1-1 at St. Gallen and Roberto Soldado made it three goals in two appearances for Tottenham Hotspur in the 5-0 win at Dinamo Tbilisi, scoring twice for the Londoners on the night.
That win should’ve been the cake on which Willian’s £30m arrival would be the icing. Spurs looked set to land the attacker, weeks after usurping Liverpool for him, until Roman Abramovich whistled by with an extra £2m to hijack that and ensure the Brazilian attacker would now join Chelsea instead, even after having his medical at Spurs; something Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho implied should have been kept secret in an amusing press conference.
Now everyone’s wondering why Chelsea would move for Willian when there’re Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Andre Schürrle and dear Victor Moses already choking in that department… I already wrote about that here. Besides, the Brazilian made quite an impression on Chelsea while with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Willian’s imminent arrival at the Bridge, coupled with Mourinho saying the club could bid for Wayne Rooney again afterwards, fills Monday night’s league clash between the Blues and champions Manchester United at Old Trafford with even more expectation than already anticipated.
For Daniel Levy and Andre Villas-Boas, the sentiment would be different, whatever the outcome of their home match against Swansea on Sunday is. With Gareth Bale set to join Real Madrid, Willian would have been an ideal replacement though the Lillywhites will now pursue a deal to bring in Erik Lamela from AS Roma.
The Italian side; that has already parted with Marquinhos and Pablo Osvaldo but brought in Gervinho and Kevin Strootman, begin their league campaign away at Livorno on Sunday while the Serie A season kicks off on Saturday at Verona where last season’s third placed side AC Milan are visitors of newly promoted Hellas Verona.
Champions Juventus, on a high after claiming the Super Cup in emphatic manner, then play at Sampdoria later on Saturday while Napoli host Bologna, Genoa visit Inter Milan and Lazio host Udinese in some of Sunday’s matches there.
In Spain, champions Barcelona visit Malaga on Sunday without Lionel Messi who went off injured in the 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Super Cup. Atletico host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday while city rivals Real visit Granada on Monday.
In France, Monaco went top of the league for the moment after being held to a goalless draw by Toulouse on Friday night, thus failing to equal a record of a newly promoted side winning the opening three Ligue 1 matches, a record held by Toulouse.
Lyon can now regain top spot with a win at home to Reims, while Olympique Marseille or St. Etienne could also go top if they win respective matches against Valenciennes and Lille and other results go their way. Elsewhere, PSG visit newly promoted Nantes in search of a first win this season following two draws so far.
Penultimately in Tennis, draws for the last grand slam of the year sees third seed Andy Murray begin his title defence against Michaël Llodra, well ahead of a potential semifinal against top seed Novak Djokovic; whom Murray beat to win last year’s title.
And unlike before when a Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer match would’ve been the potential second semifinal, both men could potentially face each other a round earlier in the quarterfinal instead; owing largely to Federer dropping to seventh in the lastest world rankings, his lowest rank since 2002.
The women’s draw sees too seed and defending champion Serena Williams starting off her US Open defence against veteran Francesca Schiavone. And barring any upsets, Serena would face second seed Victoria Azarenka in the final in a fortnight.
The US Open will serve off on Monday without world number three Maria Sharapova who withdrew from the slam due to an ‘inflamation’ in her shoulder. Probably what happens when you consider changing your name to ‘Sugarpova’ for the duration of the grand slam.
Finally on this day after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced he’ll retire next year, Thomas Edison patented the motion picture camera in 1891 while in 1981, Mark David Chapman is sentenced 20 years to life in prison for the murder of Beatles singer John Lennon.
And happy birthday to everyone celebrating their birthday today, including Nigerian football striker Joseph Akpala, Portuguese fullback Jose Bosingwa, American comedian Dave Chappelle, Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn and Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom. Deceased former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have been 84 today as well.
Now I’m off to sort my fantasy league team. Have yourself a great weekend then.
The IAAF World Championship came to an end in Moscow on Sunday with the Jamaicans signing off in grand style by claiming gold in the 4x100m men and women’s races, with sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce finishing with three gold medals each.
While the men’s race was a close affair till the baton was passed on to Bolt in the final leg, the women’s race was a jog in the avenue for Fraser-Pryce and co as the Jamaican women finished some light years ahead of the rest of the field.
The drama in those races however came well after when, after doing a lap of honour round the Luzhniki to celebrate their third place finish, Britain’s men’s relay team were informed of their disqualification right before the medal presentation.
That meant Canada, whose team finished fourth, were awarded bronze eventually. According to officials, the British relay team were disqualified due to the second baton exchange occuring outside the changeover zone… much to the utter disappointment of the British team.
Only for a bit of consolation to come by the Britons soon after, as their female 4x100m relay team got bumped up to third place following the disqualification of the French relay team that finished second, for the exact reason the British men had been disqualified.
Nigeria’s participation in Moscow meanwhile ended on a sour note as the women’s 4x100m relay team dropped their baton during a changeover and finished last on Saturday hence, failed to qualify for Sunday’s finale. Team Nigeria therefore finished the World Championship with Blessing Okagbare’s silver and bronze medals from the long jump and 200m to show for.
Much attention however was on the Premier League, which kicked off over the weekend at Anfield where a Daniel Sturridge strike in the first half was the difference between Liverpool and Stoke City, with Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saving a late Jon Walters penalty to ensure Liverpool won by that lone Sturridge goal.
The late drama there was ample prelude for an eventful weekend that saw Arsenal fall to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa courtesy of two penalties converted by Christian Benteke while Arsenal defenders Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna went off injured either side of Laurent Koscielny getting sent off in what was a shambolic start to the league season for the Gunners.
Champions Manchester United eased to the top of the league with a 4-1 demolition of Swansea City courtesy of braces from Robin van Persie again and Danny Welbeck, whose lob for his second and United’s fourth capped a clinical performance by David Moyes’s side.
Chelsea were also comfortable winners, defeating Hull City (Tigers) 2-0 in a match that saw a Frank Lampard penalty saved early on only for the midfielder to rifle home a 35yard freekick to put the Blues 2-0 up. Elsewhere at Selhurst Park, debutant record signing Roberto Soldado’s contested penalty got Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
Across the channel in France, Olympique Marseille, Monaco and St. Etienne kept up with Olympique Lyon’s perfect start to the season, with Marseille beating Evian TG 2-0 at the Velodrome, Monaco crushing 2012 champions Montpellier 4-1 with goals from Emmanuel Rivière with a hattrick and Radamel Falcao who is reportedly unsettled at the club. That has to be a bad joke.
St. Etienne also won over the weekend to be level on six points with league leaders Lyon that had beaten Sochaux 3-1 on Friday. Champions PSG on their part had Edinson Cavani to thank for salvaging a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Ajaccio.
The Parisians somehow failed to score more as a combination of good saves from Guillermo Ochoa (football managers, aye!), three goalline clearances and the woodwork on two occasions ensured PSG’s 39 shots to Ajaccio’s one didn’t reflect in the final score, leaving PSG four points off the pace already.
In Germany, champions Bayern Munich managed a lone goal win at Eintracht Frankfurt courtesy of a well struck effort by Mario Mandzukic, though rivals Borussia Dortmund went top of the league, ahead of Bayern on goal difference thanks to a 2-1 win at home to newly promoted Braunschweig (loving the pronunciation of that every passing week) in a match that saw all three goals scored in the closing 15 minutes.
Juventus needed not to wait that long to stamp their supremacy as overlords of Italian football though, taking the lead in the Supercoppa against Lazio through substitute Paul Pogba midway through the first half before three goals in six second half minutes from Giorgio Chiellini, former Lazio defender Stefan Lichtsteiner and debutant Carlos Tevez sealed a 4-0 win for the Old Lady.
Spanish football overlords Barcelona began their title defence in crushing fashion as well, tikitaking to a routine 7-0 dispatch of Levante from the Nou Camp, a match in which Barça led by four goals by the half hour mark and went into the half time break six goals up. World player of the year Lionel Messi got a brace, of course… as did Pedro. Even Xavi and Dani Alves got a goal each in a win that seemed like stuff from preseason.
Title rivals Real Madrid had it much tougher however, needing a debut goal by attacking midfielder Isco four minutes from time to earn a hardfought 2-1 win over Real Betis at the Bernabeu in a match that saw two own goals by Betis’ Damien Perquis cancelled out for offside.
Isco’s former club Malaga meanwhile lost by a lone goal at Valencia, Atletico Madrid scored a 3-1 win at Sevilla with Diego Costa scoring a brace and Real Sociedad prepared for the Champions League playoff against Lyon in midweek with a 2-0 win over Granada.
In Africa, Orlando Pirates of South Africa maintained top spot in their CAF Champions League group following an impressive 4-1 demolition of Egyptian giants Zamalek, thus opening a three point gap lead atop Group A, ahead of AC Leopards of Congo that lost 1-0 at home to another Egyptian giant Al Ahly.
While the Egyptians have performed below par so far, their Tunisian rival Esperance now leads Group B with six points, ahead of Cameroun’s Coton Sport, following a lone goal win at Sewe Sport. Coton on their part beat Recreativo Libolo 2-1 and send the Angolans to the bottom of the group with three points after three matches.
No Nigerian club is involved in this season’s group stage; with Libolo knocking Enugu Rangers out in the final qualifying round. And Rangers’ quest to make a return to Africa’s elite club competition got a slight boost courtesy of a lone goal win over Gombe United in a Nigeria Premier League match on Sunday.
That win puts Rangers in eighth place on 36 points, a point behind Gombe and Sunshine Stars and seven points behind leaders Kano Pillars that lost 2-1 at sixth placed Sunshine Stars in Akure. Pillars now hold a one point lead over three clubs, with Warri Wolves maintaining second spot after losing by a lone goal at Nembe City in Kano.
Enyimba rose to third courtesy of a 1-0 win at home to Kaduna United while Bayelsa United slipped to fourth place on the league table following a 2-0 loss against Shooting Stars in Ibadan.
Other results saw Kwara United drop to fifth with 39 points following a 2-1 loss at Nasarawa United, Heartland pipped Dolphins by a lone goal in Owerri, Sharks edged Lobi Stars by the same score in Port Harcourt and El-Kanemi Warriors drew 1-1 at Akwa United.
Wrapping up with tennis, former world number three Rafael Nadal’s US Open preparations went well enough after claiming his first Cincinnati Masters title with a 7-6 7-6 victory over American John Isner.
The win, which makes him world number two with Andy Murray dropping to third, was Nadal’s ninth title this year and ensured his unbeaten streak on hard courts this year remains intact. The Spaniard has also now won nine of 12 tournaments he has played in this year, losing in the final of two other tournaments before losing in the first round at Wimbledon.
In the women’s tournament, world number two Viktoria Azarenka came from a set down to win 2-6 6-2 7-6 (8-6) against top ranked Serena Williams who played the match with a ‘stomach strain’.
Rather more interesting was news that world number three Maria Sharapova and coach Jimmy Connors parted company over the weekend. Sharapova had been beaten in the second round in Cincinnati by Sloane Stephens, her first match since making Connors her coach following a similarly disappointing campaign at Wimbledon.
With that, it’s a wrap from here. Manchester City and new manager Manuel Pellegrini begin their Premier League campaign at home to Newcastle United tonight while Arsenal will look to recover from crumbling on Saturday when they come up against Turkish side Fernabahce in a UEFA Champions League first leg playoff match on Wednesday.
The Gunners will be without Bacary Sagna and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with neck and injuries respectively while at the moment, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky may miss the match as well. And Arsène Wenger is still content Yaya Sanogo is his only signing (so far) this summer. All is well.
On this day in 1612, three women – the Samlesbury witches – were accused by a 14 year old and subsequently put on trial for practising witchcraft. All three wimen were however acquitted. 80 years later to the day, five people (including a clergyman) in Massachusetts were not as fortunate as they were executed after being convicted of witchcraft. No such history yet from the folks in Benin City or Ogbomosho though.
And while I have no friends celebrating their birthday today, there’s former US President Bill Clinton who turns 67 today, Matthew Perry of ‘Friends’ fame who is 44 today, (not so) Fat Joe is now 43 while Italian footballers Marco Materazzi and Allessandro Matri are 40 and 29 today respectively.
Also, American musician Nate Dogg would’ve been 44 today and Reeva Steenkamp, murdered (maliciously or otherwise, court will soon decide… most likely decide manslaughter) by boyfriend Oscar Pistorius, would’ve been 30 today. May they keep on resting in peace, Amen!
Have yourself a great week ahead!
The week started on a low for Nigeria after Blessing Okagbare made a slow start in the 100m final at the IAAF World Championship in Moscow and never recovered from that, finishing in sixth place very well behind Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (rare name make up) who clocked a world leading time of 10.71 seconds.
The Jamaican sprinter would later claim gold in the 200m event and complete a double-double; winning her events consecutively at an Olympic and the following World Championship, same feat British long distance runner Mo Farah achieved when he won the 5000m event in Moscow to add to the wins over 10000m last week and at both events at the London Olympics last year.
Okagbare meanwhile performed much better in the 200m final, settling for third place and a bronze medal to add to the silver she won in the long jump at the start of the Championship; Nigeria’s first medals in the Athletics World Championship since 1999.
In Durban, South Africa, Nigeria’s Super Eagles put in a good perfomance to defeat South Africa 2-0 to claim the Mandela Challenge title courtesy of two second half goals by halftime substitute Uche Nwofor, earning only his second cap on Wednesday night.
Other friendly matches were played worldwide, Barcelona defender Dani Alves heading in a peach of an own goal to hand Switzerland a lone goal win over Brazil, ending an 11 match unbeaten run for the 2014 FIFA World Cup host. Reigning world champions Spain meanwhile laboured to a 2-0 win at Ecuador while England came from behind twice to defeat archrivals Scotland 3-2 at Wembley, with Ricky Lambert heading home England’s winner minutes after coming on for his first cap. Dreamy!
Elsewhere, Uruguay won 4-2 at Japan, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal salvaged a 1-1 draw for Portugal against the Netherlands, Belgium and France played out a goalless draw in Brussels, Germany came from behind to draw 3-3 with Paraguay and sure-to-join-Arsenal-for-long-only-to-sign-for-Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain gave Argentina the lead in a 2-1 win over Italy in Rome, with Higuain’s Napoli teammate Lorenzo Insigne netting Italy’s solitary goal late on.
All that ahead of this weekend when the European league season will fully come alive, with the Premier League and Primera Liga kicking off while the German Budesliga and Ligue 1 enter their second week of matches.
In England, Arsenal’s quest to not go a ninth season without a trophy kicks off today when Aston Villa visit the Emirates in one of seven opening day matches of the 2013/14 Premier League season, which starts off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City now managed by Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes.
A new era starts for defending champions Manchester United in a daunting trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City, with all eyes on David Moyes whose eyes will likely be on Robin van Persie to help in quelling the doubts hovering over him since being handed the task to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement.
Over at Stamford Bridge, great expectation is what hovers over returning manager Jose Mourinho whose Chelsea side welcome newly promoted Hull City (Tigers) on Sunday afternoon, a match preceded by Tottenham Hotspur’s London affair with Crystal Palace, another newly promoted side, at Selhurst Park.
In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid begin another power tussle for the Primera Liga title on Sunday, both sides under new management, with Barça hosting Levante and Real also starting at home against Real Betis.
Also under new management is Bayern Munich that began the season last weekend with a 3-1 win at home to Borussia Monchengladbach. Pep Guardiola’s Bavarian (bully of a) side visit Eintract Frankfurt this weekend, the host team looking to recover from a heavy opening day defeat at the capital.
Hertha Berlin, that crushed Frankfurt 6-1 then, visit Bayern’s local rivals Nurnberg on Sunday, with 2011 and 2012 champions Borussia Dortmund playing right after at home to newly promoted Braunschweig.
In France, Olympique Lyon got a 3-1 win at Sochaux on Friday night to maintain its perfect start atop the standings after two matches. Olymique Marseille and Monaco could join them with wins over Evian and Montpellier respectively, while reigning champions PSG will be out for a first win when Ajaccio visit the Parc Des Princes on Sunday night.
The big match on Sunday night takes place in Italy where back to back Scudetto winners Juventus face Coppa Italia holders Lazio in the SuperCoppa. Lazio would be without its captain Stefano Mauri whose appeal of a six match ban slammed on him for his involvement in matchfixing was delayed.
In Nigeria, Kano Pillars, with a game in hand, regained top spot in the Premier League with a 3-0 win over ABS of Ilorin while Warri Wolves slipped to second spot following a goalless draw at homd to fifth placed Enyimba of Aba.
Bayelsa United rose to third place with a 4-1 win over Akwa United, Kwara United built on their lone goal win at Heartland last weekend with another lone goal win at home to Enugu Rangers, a win that takes them up to fourth spot with two matches in hand.
This weekend, Kwara United travel to Lafia to face relegation threatened Nasarawa United, Enyimba play at home against Kaduna United, leaders Kano Pillars go on a tricky trip to face Sunshine Stars in Akure and Rangers host Gombe United in some of the league matches.
No more dull weekends with all the football available now… at least for the majority. And fortunately for IAAF, the World Championship comes to a conclusion this weekend as would the Cincinnati Masters where Maria Sharapova was beaten by American Sloane Stephens in only the second round.
Obviously this post should’ve come up Friday night or Saturday morning but some how, was unable to put it up. Now done, for righteousness’ sake.
‘Over the Weekend’ roundup will be up on Monday. Cheers!
Seeing as that game I returned to on football manager was lost eventually, thus adding propane to my already blazing virtual hatred for Javier Hernandez, it’s better to indulge in this writing distraction some more and salvage my season afterwards. Something I fear Arsenal will end up doing yet again this season in the league.
Arsenal could’ve been a true title contender if £55m was spent on Gonzalo Higuain and Marouane Fellaini/some other workhorse of a midfielder such as Luiz Gustavo who’s recent link turned out as nothing having now signed for Wolfsburg. Even Jack Rodwell, if the club had made an effort to sign him early in the window, would have been a very good signing for me.
Alas! Arsène Wenger’s let the economist he is get the better of him so far, to the detriment of his dearly beloved club. News of Mikel Arteta being set to miss four to six weeks with a thigh strain has further dimmed the optimists at the Emirates Stadium, something a Gustavo arrival would’ve prevented.
Wenger’s previously been always on about how the quality players who can fit into the Arsenal way are not on the market or the money to get them isn’t available. A first XI’s worth of those were available this transfer window as was the money (let’s give him and Gazidis the benefit of doubt on the money bit), yet it came down to him expecting Brendan Rodgers to be the fool this year and sell a prized asset to a rival. Such delusion!
Wenger’s continued stance to not adapt entirely to the transfer market dynamics (despite the clear fact that breaking ‘the bank’ for two quality players will not scratch Arsenal’s finances) will have Arsenal not in the running for the league title once more. The Gunners however could finish higher than usual in third, if his (a bit thin) squad, show the grit and form from the closing weeks of last season.
Having virtually same set of players allows for a sustained progression, off that close season run from the night in Bavaria which every player at the club would readily want to remind fans and critics alike. But injuries (as Arteta’s might show), possible suspensions and inevitable burnouts (Cazorla and Giroud will testify) will greatly threaten that.
The best Arsenal can do now is win a Cup, something they embarrassingly refrained most casually from doing last season. That would tear a veil of sustained failure from the club’s loins and set it on track for further successes, especially in the league.
Take a look at Swansea City. Despite switching off in the league for about two months after romping to the Capital One Cup, one can argue that the Swans had a relatively better last season than Arsenal. It was understandable that the Welsh team, with a decent (numerical) but very talented squad, faded in the league after winning a Cup.
Which makes the summer signings there all the more impressive. Wilfried Bony hit 30+ goals last season. You may want to be condescending about it since it was only the Dutch league, then you remember, a lot of very good players such as Luis Suarez came from that league. Make no mistake, Bony and Michu will bring torment upon the rest of the league and I expect that to start right from Matchday One, fittingly against the reigning champions.
Michael Laudrup did very well to keep Ashley Williams at the club, my thought being that Laudrup played the Sinclair card there. He also did well to get Jonathan de Guzman back on loan for a second season just as the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey gives his midfield more depth to ensure they put up a commedable display in their debut in Europe while also faring better than last season in the league.
In fact I feel the Swans can finish in the top 5 this season, making them the biggest threat; not Tottenham Hotspur, not Liverpool and certainly not Everton, to the teams that finished in the top four last season. I’m even envisaging Liverpool having a better season than Spurs would… it’s just a thought, I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s an enticing thought.
Of all the pretenders, Spurs have quite a bit to prove largely no thanks to the Modric-esque saga of Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger should’ve been cashed in, replaced with Gervinho (who’s now at Roma) or a Scott Sinclair with a fraction of the transfer fee received, using the rest to bring in good defenders. Instead, Spurs will start the season with a makeshift defence.
The arrivals of striker Roberto Soldado, winger Nacer Chadli and midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue add needed potency and stability to their respective positions. Succeeding in keeping Bale would go a long way as well, but the defence – if left without reinforcement – will be their undoing this season.
Spurs’ back line is up for easy picking this season, as newly promoted Ligue 1 side Monaco vehemently showed the world just over a fortnight ago. Jan Vertonghen’s absence should’ve been highlighted much more than Bale’s was. Even then, having him fit does little to sort the similarities with a poorly built structure in ghetto Lagos.
The backline at Anfield is in a fairly better state, Simon Mignolet is a good goalkeeper, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Aly Cissoko on loan from Valencia are good full backs and while not world class, the combination of Martin Skrtel, Sebastien Coates, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure at the centre should be decent enough through the course of the season.
Liverpool’s midfield is usually climatic; one day piss poor irrelevant only to be championship (no, not the lower league) material the next day, and Philppe Coutinho – along with a fit Lucas Leiva – will be central to whatever orchestrations are composed from there this season for a forward line that actually can be impressive on their day. Given, Daniel Sturridge can be a pipe of a player at times, he always is a threat in the area.
Suarez may sulk through the opening weeks of the league but fortunately (when the big picture is well observed) for the Reds, he’s going to sit out the opening six matchdays… enough time to quell a good number of the demons toying with his emotions about leaving Anfield or staying.
Unlike Christian Benteke who had a sudden epiphany at Villa Park and signed an extension to his Aston Villa stay, the latest instalment in Suarez’s eventful time at Anfield could end up being a good catalyst that’ll see Rodgers’s side having a real go at Champions League qualification next May. It is Suarez’s desire to play Champions League football, Rodgers is very determined to keep the Uruguayan forward at the club hence, the ambition there would be to finish in the top four this season or have little choice than to let go of their prized asset.
Rodgers (AVB and maybe Moyes too) obviously hasn’t sought Paul Lambert’s advice on such matter, seeing as the Aston Villa manager managed to keep his prized asset. Not to say Villa will fare greatly this season but Benteke’s presence upfront, along with Brad Guzan’s in goal, will help Lambert steer Villa through a decent season.
Lambert’s former club Norwich however look like they’ll fare better this season, with Ruddy back in goal after missing most of last season injured. Then there are the quite impressive signings of strikers Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, arrivals that should ensure the club won’t miss Grant Holt who now plays at Birmingham City.
Newcastle United have reinforced their options upfront, adding Loic Remy on loan from QPR and Yoann Gouffran on a permanent basis from Ligue 1. The Magpies also got right back Mathieu Debuchy from the French league, to add to the dominantly French speaking squad, which the club would hope translates to a good enough season fighting for a Europa League spot at best.
Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux and Moussa Sissoko will be key in midfield for Alan Pardew’s side, who also has the options of Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Dan Gosling to make for quite a decent group of midfield players at St. James’ Park to last a gruelling season.
Pardew will also be pleased to have Remy and Gouffran to call upon now should first choice striker Papiss Cisse fail to show a more lethal touch in front of goal as he largely did last season. All that said, Newcastle have the potential to finish in the top half of the league and even go for a spot in next season’s Europa League.
Newcastle, on paper, should perform better than Everton even. Unlike Pardew who’s been at St. James’ for a bit, Roberto Martinez is new at Goodison, but that’s about it really. Martinez is a talented manager who is attack minded, a philosophy players such as Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Stephen Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas, new signing Arouna Kone and, to an extent, Bryan Oviedo, Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic can live up to.
Martinez couldn’t deliver much while at Wigan Athletic due to a shambolic defence. He however has a resilient set of defenders at Goodison Park so all he can hope for is that the players deliver in the final third for him. It’s that or opposing teams will pick the Toffees apart on the counter and Tim Howard then won’t be able to keep balls from the net.
There’ll be goal line technology to assist Howard and other Premier League goalkeepers and defenders settle controversial moments now, having being installed in all Premier League stadia. Could end up being the difference between a team being relegated or staying up.
My favourites for relegation this season include West Brom; now without Lukaku who’s back at Chelsea and still with a poor back line, Stoke City now managed by Mark Hughes, Hull City despite some decent signings and whose chairman wants to change the club’s name to Hull City Tigers… rugby union behaviour!
There’s also Crystal Palace (and I promise you it’s not because Marouane Chamakh has joined them) and Cardiff City; promising dealings in the transfer market but still doesn’t seem right to me. I’d like to be proven wrong with Cardiff though.
Fulham and West Ham should do well for a midtable finish, as should Southampton ably led by Ricky Lambert. Sunderland, with almost a new set of first team players signed so far, including American forward Jozy Altidore and Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio could leave quite a good impression on the league this season. (Wanted to comment on the quality of his goal tenders but that would overshadow the potential of the rest of the team, so… ).
… so I’ll end it here and look forward to the opening weekend, which kicks off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City in the early kickoff. Arsenal then host Aston Villa, Manchester City welcome Newcastle’s French gang to the Etihad, Chelsea host Hull City (Tigers) and champions United embark on a tricky trip to face Swansea in Saturday’s evening kickoff.
Here’s to another entertaining season. And to all Arsenal fans… just take it easy.
Liverpool vs. Stoke City (12:45)
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (15:00)
Norwich City vs. Everton (15:00)
Sunderland vs. Fulham (15:00)
West Ham United vs. Cardiff City (15:00)
West Brom vs. Southampton (15:00)
Swansea City vs. Manchester United (17:30)
Crystal Palace vs.Tottenham Hotspur (13:30)
Chelsea vs. Hull City (16:00)
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (20:00)
Going into a match, having just come out of a gruelling Christmas schedule with a six match unbeaten run to lie third on the league table, two points off the top, my team fall behind midway through the first half against a team two places off the relegation zone.
Rubbish! And perfect time to pause football manager and feel most inclined to put down this preview of the 2013/14 Premier League season, a season which comes with a sense of the new mixed with the usual, high octane drama we’ve become accustomed to season after season.
Last season, Manchester United reclaimed the league title from the noisy neighbours and as a result went past Liverpool as the team with the most league titles, thanks largely to the goals of Robin van Persie; the last genius gamble of long serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson who finally let go of the thinking cap and chewing gum at the Theatre of Dreams.
Inevitably, the new man at the helm will be banking on the flying Dutchman in his quest to begin a reign as Fergie’s successor on a high, off what has been a turbulent run up to the season, no thanks to speculation on Whine Rooney’s future at the club as well as failed bids for Barcelona duo Thiago Alcantara (who opted to join his former boss Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich) and Cesc Fabregas who ‘decided to stay put’ as well as for his former boy Leighton Baines.
That leaves David Moyes with pretty much the same squad that came from behind on numerous occasions to win the league. Only difference now from then is, can Moyes’s charisma evoke that similar spirit Fergie was always conjuring from his players on their way to a 20th crown last season?
Having gone fruitless years being a pain in the a.k.a.-donkey of the bigger clubs while at Everton, the expectation is that having a better squad and much better budget at his disposal now would make a ‘better’ manager of him. His ability to make the best out of what he has and potential to be at the helm for long – stability – is what got him the job and what is hoped would ensure sustained success at Old Trafford.
But his failure to land transfer targets however, point to an inferior character incapable of commanding a presence, a respect where it matters. It certainly cannot be at the level of Fergie’s but it right now is quite far from convincing even most fans of the club that Moyes is the ideal man for the job.
As a result, rivals for the league title, swirling around as sharks would at the presence of blood, have made their moves and all that’s left now is for them to go for the kill and take the league title from the Red Devils.
First shark in the tank is Manchester City that finished second last season, having failed to replicate the drive which led the club to a most dramatic title win minutes after Man. United thought the title was theirs in 2012. Hence, the hierarchy at the Etihad relieved Roberto Mancini of his job and replaced him with seasoned Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini.
A number of players have also been added to the squad there, with Fernandinho joining from Shakhtar Donetsk, quickfeet Jesus Navas from Sevilla, followed later from same club by striker Alvaro Negredo, with Montenegrin forward Stefan Jovetic arriving from Fiorentina some time between the two Spaniards.
Fernandinho’s arrival gives the spine of City’s midfield a bit more dynamism to the one already provided by Yaya Toure. Javi Garcia never got going last season and with Jack Rodwell still in the mix of the hustle to be Toure’s starting partner in midfield, it’s looking like it’ll be a long season for Garcia.
Upfront, Pellegrini has an enviously potent forward line consisting of Negredo and Jovetic joining Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko, with support over the season from Fernandinho and Navas joining a midfield already rich with Yaya Toure, Silva, Samir Nasri, James Milner and Javi Garcia… not to forget Rodwell and Scott Sinclair who may leave the club on loan for this season.
However, Man. City’s main failing last season was the defensive lapses that brought about a number of unexpected losses, an issue that should not be a bother this season after all if the goals are regular from the wealthy choice of forwards he’s assembled. Otherwise, Pellegrini’s got a coming headache.
Having captain Vincent Kompany and the rest of the back line fit and in form (Joe Hart’s bipolar form comes to mind here) all season would be crucial to Pellegrini’s main test as new manager, which will not necessarily be how well he performs in the league, as he could lead City to a third place finish and still be regarded a success based on how well he does in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup, especially in the former where the real test is.
Man. City’s embarrassing displays in the last two European seasons pose a threat to their domestic ambition. Doing well in Europe could hamper their league performance and vice versa. Pellegrini’s job will therefore be to strike a right balance in the Premier League and Champions League or end up only delivering what Mancini could to the oil money, unsatisfactory success.
From the blue side of Manchester to London’s, a shark swirling about Moyes, also with a new man at the helm but, unlike the previous two clubs, a man who is returning to familiar terrains.
Chelsea have satisfied the yearn for European success unlike City, and in fact won the Champions League and Europa League in successive years. The Premier League, last won 2009/10, will be the main goal at Stamford Bridge and Jose Mourinho knows all to well how to go about winning it.
He was the one who won the Blues a first league title in half a century, going right ahead to retain that title the following season. Now armed with more experience from Inter Milan and Real Madrid along with a diabetic wealth of choice in players, without forgetting his undying love of life in the Queen’s most pretigeous league, Mourinho and Chelsea are the genuine favourites to win the league and break the recent hold of Manchester on the title.
Fernando Torres may not have the chance to be the undoing of Chelsea’s title quest, even though I feel he’s been improving in front of goal lately. Not to say he’s close to his old lethal self but… he’s been improving. And if indeed he falls short again, there’s Demba Ba. The Senegalese however has a prone to going on a drought in the second half of the season following a flourishing first half. What then? Hello Romelo Lukaku.
If there is a set of players highly motivated to prove a point this season, the Belgian striker’s name would be at the top of that list. The imposing young striker left good memories from his loan spell last season at West Bromwich-Albion and has looked good in front of goal this preseason for the Blues.
And with a creative force led by Juan Mata that also comprises Eden Hazard and Oscar, along with Victor Moses and new boys Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurlle, the problem for Chelsea won’t be the number of chances created but the number of those taken. Who Mourinho picks as the man with the task to convert those chances will be key to Chelsea’s success this season.
Among the three teams written of in this piece, Chelsea (much to my biased side’s dismay) are favourites for the league title based on the facts that Mourinho knows the league well enough and he is the sort of manager who can get his team to grind out the needed results at crucial stages of the season.
Besides, the Chelsea squad doesn’t seem as one on the brink of tearing apart, unlike City where four internationals are vying for two striking spots, if not one (depending on Pellegrini’s choice of tactics) and the duo of Yaya Toure and David Silva seem untouchable in midfield. As for United, they are title contenders simply because of van Persie. One bad injury… it’s either Rooney or the little pea step up in the Dutchman’s absence or it’s over.
The rest of the league? There’s Arsenal to lead them, followed in no particular order by Swansea City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. I’ll rather write about them in another post, a sequel if you may. But right now, I’ll finish my match on football manager… whose makers by the way have announced and released screenshots of FM14. Exciting times.
The European football season is finally coming to life, bringing an end to enduring so many week(end)s of making do with football from the FIFA Confederations Cup, the cadet European Championships and the Women’s European Championships even, for those of us feeling that deprived.
Not any longer, as the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 season kicked off over the weekend just as the Community Shield, the curtain raiser to the Premier League season, was contested for between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic on Sunday at Wembley. And it took all of six minutes for Robin van Persie to put the Red Devils in front and by so doing, reiterate the fact of his importance to the club’s, and new manager David Moyes’s success or otherwise this season.
The Dutchman underlined that fact with a second goal just before the hour mark of what was a largely underwhelming 2-0 win over a Wigan side now of the Championship and starting life after manager Roberto Martinez who is now at Everton. Yes, United could have done a whole lot better but as has been the mantra in competitive matches, getting the win is what matters and how it’s got is secondary.
Ask PSG, that would’ve paid a million over the asking price if there was one on offer for a win at Montpellier in the season opener of Ligue 1. The filthy rich, expensively assembled overwhelming favourites to win the league Parisians instead settled humbly for a 1-1 draw at the club that upset the odds in 2012.
Remy Cabella’s 10th minute goal put Montpellier ahead while Maxwell, of all players in PSG’s firepower, equalised for the visitors on the hour mark. The other billionaire club on the contrary started off with a win though for long it seemed Monaco would start off in similarly tipid manner as their money league rival.
Goals in the 82nd and 87th minute from Rivelliere and Radamel Falcao (1-0 Cavani, yes it’s on in case you didn’t know) however gave Monaco a 2-0 win at French Cup holders Bordeaux. The principality club now share fourth spot with fellow newcomers to Ligue 1 FC Nantes that also won 2-0 at home to Bastia on Saturday.
Elsewhere, likely title contender Olympique Lyon got the biggest win of the weekend in a nice 4-0 thrashing of Nice, Olympique Marseille lie third following a 3-1 win at newcomers Guingamp, Lille won by a lone goal at home to Lorient as did St. Etienne, that began life without Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, away at Ajaccio.
St. Etienne probably would be joint leaders with local rivals Lyon if the Gabonese striker was still with them, instead he was in Germany helping last season’s Bundesliga runner-up Borussia Dortmund to a big 4-0 win at Augsburg, scoring a hattrick on his league debut for Jurgen Klopp’s side with Robert Lewandowski putting aside off season squabbles to smash home the fourth from the spot after assisting Aubemayang to his third.
The biggest win of the weekend however came from the capital where Eintracht Frankfurt, one of last season’s surprise performers, crumbled to a 6-1 demolition at newly promoted Hertha Berlin. The other newcomer to the Bundesliga, Braunschweig played well but were unfortunate to lose 1-0 at home to Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Title holders Bayern Munich got their campaign underway on Friday with a routine 3-1 win at home to Borussia Monchengladbach, before sending out a ‘second string’ side to record a 4-1 win on Sunday with Mario Gotze marking his return from injury with a brace there.
Elsewhere, Klaas Jan Huntelaar got himself an early birthday present after netting a brace in Schalke’s 3-3 draw at home to Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen got a 3-1 win at home to Freiburg, Wolfsburg lost 2-0 at Hannover 96, Stuttgart lost 3-2 at Mainz and Hoffenheim played out a 2-2 draw at home to Nurnberg.
While business is only getting started in Europe, matchday 24 matches were played in Nigeria, with Warri Wolves going a point clear at the top of the standings after playing out a 1-1 draw at Lafia against Nasarawa United, a match in which Nasarawa failed to score two penalties. Pillars follow in second place with 40 points after losing 3-1 at Shooting Stars behind closed doors in Ibadan.
Elsewhere, Bayelsa United is now third with 39 points thanks to a 3-0 win over El-Kanemi Warriors, while Enyimba follow in fourth place, a point behind, after getting a 2-0 win over Nembe City in Aba. Other results saw 10-man Kwara United claim a lone goal win at Heartland, Rangers beating Kaduna United 2-1 in Enugu, Dolphins losing 3-0 at Sunshine Stars and Akwa United getting a lone goal win at home to Wikki Tourists thanks to a 93rd minute strike.
Away from football, Rafael Nadal eased to the Rogers Cup title in Montréal, his 48th win in 51 matches this year, with a straight sets 6-2 6-2 demolition of Milos Raonic, a win that will see him rise to third on the new world rankings behind Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in the semis, and Andy Murray who lost in the doubles final there.
In the women’s event of the Roger’s Cup held in Toronto, Serena Williams romped to the title with a 6-2 6-0 win over Sorana Cirstea of Romania, as she prepares for the final grand slam of the year in New York in a few weeks time.
Another woman in fine form is Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare who leapt a distance of 6.99 meters to win a silver medal in the women’s long jump event at the ongoing IAAF World Championships in Moscow on Sunday.
The 24 year old will now turn her focus to the sprints where she is one of the favourites to claim gold in the 100m, having posted a personal best time of 10.78 seconds to win the 100m event at the recent London Anniversary Games, just a blink off the world leading time of 10.77 seconds posted earlier this season by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who also is competing in Moscow.
The biggest headline so far from the Russian capital came from none other than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt who claimed gold in the men’s 100m final with a relatively slow 9.77 seconds, ahead of American Justin Gatlin and another Jamaican Nester Carter who finished third ahead of two more Jamaicans… yet it’s Americans testing positive for dope. Life.
Great Britain’s Mo Farah beat off the challenge of Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan to win 10,000m gold, and is now preparing for the 5,000m race as he aims to do a double-double as winning the 5,000m would make him world and olympic champion over both distances, a feat which has been achieved only by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia between 2008 and 2009.
While Farah and Okagbare prepare to etch their names in history, a number of international friendlies will be played during the week including the Mandela Challenge between South Africa and Nigeria’s Super Eagles in Durban on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, England will face rivals Scotland in Wembley as part of events to mark the FA’s anniversary, Portugal will play the Netherlands, Italy face Argentina, Belgium host France in my pick of the bunch, Germany face Paraguay and world champions Spain play against Ecuador.
Wrapping up, the IBM personal computer was released on this day in 1981 while Cleopatra in 30BC committed suicide by letting asps bite the life out of her. Extreme. Unlike her, people such as tennis legend Pete Sampras, Dutch striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Community Shield winner Tom Cleverly and AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli will value life more today as they become a year older.
Many happy returns of the day to them, and to my friends Deji, Lorine and everyone else born today. To every one else, have yourselves a pleasant week ahead.