Archive for August, 2013

Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 1

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.

Moyes 'guarding' RvP

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.

Negredo, Jovetic and Navas

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.

Mourinho during his first Chelsea spell flanked by Lampard and Terry

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.

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Over the Weekend: Moyes IN, Nadal, Bolt Ease to Victory and More

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.

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