Posts Tagged Bayern Munich

What Bayern Has (Inadvertently) Caused


When he was on a well earned sabbatical in New York, many football fans must have dreamed of what it would be like to have the man who led Barcelona through a spell of domination in world football join their respective favourite clubs and replicate his success with the Catalans.

It was a rude shock hence, when Pep Guardiola was announced as heir to the dynasty of Juup Heynckes, a man who at the time was on his way to lead the Bavarians to a spectacular treble, with the masterclass over Pep’s former club the crystal bubbles swimming all in that chilled glass of Heineken.

Pep’s ascension at Bayern’s helm was the start of what is turning out to be arguably the busiest and most high profile transfer window ever, with Mario Götze’s switch to Bayern from Borussia Dortmund, a move announced weeks before both met in that dramatic Champions League final which the then Dortmund player unfortunately sat out via injury, causing further stir well before the window opened.

The champions of Europe had made two formidable signings to an already formidable team, and they were made before two of the three titles in the treble were won. Psychological bullying to go with the on-field one they imposed on all season last season.

If Bayern, a team that lost only three matches all of last season; two of those coming at home weirdly, still found it necessary to add Pep and Götze to a team well groomed by a departing Heynckes, a team that had made the Champions League final in three of the last four seasons, then others needed to show their ambition in upstaging the German giants… or at least try to keep up.

Enter Pep’s former club Barça that finally secured the talent of Brazilian ace Neymar from Santos, a player the Catalans could play behind their superman Lionel Messi. But more importantly, Neymar is the signing Barça could rely on when a (12/13) Bayern or (11/12) Chelsea come along with kryptonite.

Then there is Paris Saint-Germain, the French club that has only itself to blame for losing on away goals to Barça in last season’s Champions League quarterfinal.

Le Parisiens paid over €100m to acquire fearsome striker Edinson Cavani from Napoli, defender Marquinhos from AS Roma and left back Lucas Digne from Lille OSC, signings which should be enough to quell the homefront threat of newly promoted AS Monaco that so far have signed Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan from a very sorry Malaga and James Rodriguez among others.

But the loss of the man responsible for bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura, Director of Football Leonardo, no thanks to his feud with the LFP, could be detrimental on the long run. Cavani’s arrival was his last act and the spotlight will now turn to Laurent Blanc who, for now, is a temporary replacement for Carlo Ancelotti whom they had to let go for Real Madrid.

Los Blancos, losing semi-finalists in the last three Champions League seasons, parted company with manager Jose Mourinho following a fiasco of a season that saw them come out tops in the 2012/13 series of the El Clasico but fall short where it mattered elsewhere, culminating in the embarrassing defeat to Dortmund in the Champions League semi-final first leg.

Florentino Perez has since paid top dollar to get Ancelotti as Mourinho’s replacement, Isco from a sorry Malaga and Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad while also soothing the ego that is Cristiano Ronaldo and holding on to Gonzalo Higuain till interested clubs do like he’s done in the market or the window closes – whichever comes first.

The latter in the above has frustrated Arsenal’s bid to bolster the perennially underachieving talented club, forcing the north Londoners to consider bidding £40m for Liverpool forward Luis Suarez. Which begs the question, why not hand that amount to get Higuain who is your true target in the window?

If indeed Arsenal are looking to piss Real off or force their hand in the Higuain deal by bidding for Suarez, who is admired at the Bernabeu, the Gunners could end up the biggest loser since Real have nothing to lose really while Liverpool aren’t a financially weak side, the type Arsenal enjoy poaching.

The Reds themselves have signed a few in order to help their cause of performing far better in the league at least, although losing out to Dortmund in the race for Mkhitaryan’s signature from Shakhtar Donetsk put a bad dent on that.

Along with the signing of Pierre Emerick Aubemayang from St. Etienne and the will to see Robert Lewandowski play in the yellow and black for the coming season (at least), his final season on his contract with them, Jurgen Klopp has a side that can perform as well as it did last season. You will recall, they lost the Bundesliga to Bayern, lost in the quarterfinal of the German Cup to Bayern and lost in the final of the big one to… yes, them again.

It would be interesting to have Dortmund drawn in the Champions League group stage with Real and Manchester City again. Would Klopp still come out top of the group with a smirk on him? Would Ancelotti and Zidane have made Real better? Can City qualify from the group stage in their third attempt? That would be Manuel Pellegrini’s true test in his first season as the manager of the ‘noisy neighbours’.

Employed from a very very sorry Malaga side, Pellegrini has pretty much stated that ‘eez nuffin’ for City to win the Premier League and do very well in Europe. Time will tell. For now, the arrivals of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Alvrado Negredo hold promise for the Citizens, as does the impending confirmation of Stevan Jovetic’s signing.

The activity at the blue side of Manchester poses a real threat to reigning league champions Manchester United that are still sulking from the inevitable retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the appointment of David Moyes whose presence is understandably underwhelming.

There’s also the loss of the race for Thiago Alcantara’s signature to none other than Bayern Munich as well as Kevin Strootman’s departure to AS Roma from PSV Eindhoven after being well followed for long by the Red Devils.

They do have Robin van Persie’s goals to bank on but he can only play so many games on the trot, which makes reinforcing the squad with a quality signing or two; hence, going (rather vainly) after Cesc Fabregas, and/or (mostly ‘or’) keeping Wayne Rooney (since he’s now an accomplished midfielder, to his subtle dismay) Moyes’ most important preseason task.

The thought of keeping a player at a club where he’s previously had transfer trouble with may entirely not be a good idea, leaving a hopeful silver lining for the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea who are very interested in the 27 year old Nike UK athlete.

Why Chelsea would want Rooney following the signings of Andre Schurlle and Marco van Ginkel, coupled with the return from loan of Kevin de Bruyne and Romelo Lukaku to complement a squad comprising Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses, Ramires, Demba Ba (yes!) and Fernando Torres (no sarcasm here)… just why? To bully the competition of course.

Otherwise City wouldn’t have bought those players, PSG probably didn’t need to get Cavani though Digne and Marquinhos were needed, sort of. Barça too probably didn’t need to get Neymar but Bayern left quite the scar.

Real would tell you Illarramendi’s for the future and Isco adds depth to a squad headed in that department by Mesut Ozil, ably backed by Luka Modric and Kaka… and Juventus, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente to complement Fabio Quagliarella, Matri and Sebastien Giovinco?

Bayern tops all that with Gotze and Alcantara joining up with Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, Arjen bipolar Robben, Mario Mandzukic, Javi Martinez, Xherdan Shaqiri, Luis Gustavo… and that’s just the midfield up. So unfair. Oh, and Toni Kroos who sat out the titles’ run-in last season injured. Such bulls!

It’s no contest that these are the clubs that would figure prominently in their respective leagues’ title race. Their performance among Europe’s elite is where the spotlight would really be.

Finally, the bullish nature of these clubs just goes to show how well thought through by UEFA the Financial Fair Play rule was, a rule that has as its victims this season an oh so verily very very sorry Malaga and Turkish side Besiktas among others whose financial muscles aren’t so Tyson.

Advertisements

, , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

During the Week: About Finals, Managers and More


I was going to start on an emotional note by lashing Jose Mourinho for starting Gonzalo Higuain on Tuesday night instead of Karim Benzema. In the end, two late goals from Benzema and Sergio Ramos gave majority watching in the Bernabeu and elsewhere a false hope of an unlikely qualification ticket.

In the end, Borussia Dortmund held on to qualify for this season’s UEFA Champions League final with a 4-3 aggregate win in a rather entertaining encounter whose second leg scoreline somewhat belies the true story of the match.

Real dominated on the night but Dortmund stubbornly came closest to opening the scoring when first leg chief tormentor Robert Lewandowski finally got through on goal, having been well marked prior to, only for Diego Lopez to, by the faintest graze of the ball by his glove, deflect the ball onto the crossbar and out for a goal kick.

Dortmund’s case wasn’t helped by Mario Götze’s early exit due to an injury and his absence was felt for the rest of the match. Unfortunately, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp reckons the Bayern bound midfielder is a big doubt for the May 25 showdown against the Bavarians. Honest talk or mind game? Time will tell.

Either way, Bayern’s concern will be to claim Europe’s top club prize in their third final in four seasons, and their intent was made clearly as a cloudless sky with another emphatic victory over Barcelona to complete an absurd, yet thoroughly deserved 7-0 aggregate annihilation of the Catalans.

Barça was made a scapegoat of a footballing punishment they’re otherwise known to dish regularly by a deathly determined Bayern side that will not give thought to being runners-up in the Champions League a third time in four seasons; especially after losing last season’s against Chelsea, on home soil, in that manner.

So all the better for Juup Heynckes’ side if Götze will not be available for the final, just as he definitely won’t be this weekend when both teams meet in a Bundesliga match. That said, Götze’s has played for Dortmund like he always has hence, a feeling that his talent will be missed very much next season and crucially for Dortmund in the Champions League final, should he miss it.

For now however, with the league title won already and Dortmund sure bets to finish second (20 points behind Bayern), both teams could field much weakened sides in a dead rubber match, just to not hint at what to expect from either side when they meet again at the end of May.

No such luxurious option for Chelsea in the Premier League when they visit a Manchester United that will likely play a mix of fringe and first team players on Sunday, with the Blues still chasing a top four finish in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

On Thursday, Rafael Benitez’s side made it to the Europa League final with a 5-2 aggregate win over FC Basel, coming from behind to claim a 3-1 win on the night with a stellar second half performance that saw Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and David Luiz with a long range beauty get the goals for Chelsea.

Next up for them there is a familiar opponent in Portugal’s Benfica that recorded same scoreline as Chelsea at home to Fernabahce to qualify 3-2 on aggregate for the final in Amsterdam on May 15, a match that would be Chelsea’s seventh Cup final in five years.

Considering that, in the years that have been the Roman era, it leaves one wondering why the London club have had almost as many managers as the years Abramovich has owned the club, putting what success is into some weird relative context.

Such weird relative context is what Benitez finds himself in now, remaining unwanted by the club’s fans since the day in November he was appointed till the end of this season when his interim contract will expire.

And that is despite reaching the Europa League final, the last four of the FA Cup and winning five of the club’s last seven league matches; a form that led to him being named Premier League manager of the month of April, as well as seven of the last 10 in all competitions.

We will therefore see another manager leave Stamford Bridge even though that manager has, in a matter of months, performed relatively well. Unlike Roberto Di Matteo’s time however, Benitez isn’t just unwanted by the club’s Russian owner but also by the club’s fans who previously criticised Abramovich’s for making hasty decisions when it came to sacking a manager instead of exercising patience and backing a manager.

Only manager that didn’t get the hasty treatment was Jose Mourinho who left after losing a power tussle with Abramovich years ago. Old wounds however heal over time and if nuances are to be believed Abramovich could fulfill the wish of majority of Chelsea fans and bring the ‘Special One’ back to the Bridge. Time will tell.

Mourinho meantime has, with some discontent, been going on about being a ‘useless’ manager after only managing to win a league title, two Copa Del Rey titles and a Spanish Super Cup in his three seasons at the Bernabeu as well as reaching three successive Champions League semi-finals and another Copa Del Rey final.

He went further to reveal his regret at not getting Diego Lopez earlier than he did while insinuating some players (Iker Casillas perhaps one) are not exactly pleased with his training methods.

All that comes soon after he’d talked about wanting to be where he was loved following Real’s Champions League exit, saying “I know in England I am loved. I know I am loved by some clubs, especially one.” and adding he will only decide his future at the club when he meets with Real president Florentino Perez at the end of this season.

Ahead of that time, he will try to have Real Madrid put Barcelona’s league title celebrations on hold when Real Valladolid visit the Bernabeu, while Barça host Real Betis needing a win and for Real Madrid to lose in order to wrap up the La Liga title this weekend.

Elsewhere, PSG could win the Ligue Un title this weekend as well with a win at home to Valenciennes along with other results going their way. Same scenario applies for Juventus when they face Palermo in the Serie A.

Coming home, Nigeria’s last representative in continental competitions will on Sunday look to qualify for the group stage of the CAF Champions League but Enugu Rangers must at least earn a score draw at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola to do so after the first leg ended goalless in Enugu.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly need an outright win at home to Bizertin to qualify after a goalless first leg, as does Esperance of Tunisia at home to JSM Beja, while another former champion TP Mazembe have a 3-1 deficit to overcome at home to Orlando Pirates.

AC Leopards, that knocked Nigeria’s Kano Pillars out on away goals in the previous round, meanwhile made the group stage on Friday night via penalty shoot-out after losing the second leg against Algeria’s ES Setif 3-1 to leave aggregate scores tied at 4-4, having won the first leg 3-1 as well.

Finally in boxing, Wladimir Klitschko will defend four world titles against former sparring partner Francesco Pianeta on Saturday night, with the latter unbeaten in his professional career. Klitschko on his part has suffered three losses in 59 fights but has won via knockout 50 times, so Pianeta really is up against a brick here.

With that, it’s a wrap here. Today marks the 19th anniversary of Rashidi Yekini scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal at USA ’94. It sadly is also the first anniversary of his death. May he rest in peace, amen.

Wish some form of respect will be paid him in next week’s Nigeria Professional Football League matches just as the Hillsborough 96 will be remembered and Everton fans appreciated when the Merseyside derby is played at Anfield on Sunday in one of this weekend’s highlight matches, as both sides chase a Europa League spot in the Premier League.

In Italy, Inter Milan visit second placed Napoli needing a win desperately to keep hopes of finishing in a Europa League spot alive while Fiorentina host Roma with the former seeking a win to keep faint Champions League qualification hopes alive. Then there’s relegation threatened Deportivo la Coruña, unbeaten in its last six league matches, hosting third placed Atletico Madrid at the Riazor later today.

Whichever match catches your fancy though, do enjoy it along with the rest of your weekend. Cheers.

, , , , , , ,

4 Comments

Thoughts on Barça’s Humbling


The first leg embarrassment was heartwarming and fun to watch, but the second leg of Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich at the semi-final stage of club football’s biggest competition left me immensely perplexed at what had happened. Someone literally signalled ‘shut your mouth’ at me minutes after the third goal went in.

All night Barcelona never looked like scoring and each time they tried to threaten, times they actually got a shot towards goal, it simply was a part in Manuel Neuer’s training session schedule. The one real save he made was from a Cesc Fabregas shot from outside the area, which says a lot about both teams.

On one foot, Barcelona’s undoing wasn’t entirely down to Lionel Messi’s absence from the match; which unlike the first leg was because he was actually absent and not metaphorically so. It wasn’t even majorly down to that I believe, since there are matches that Barça have won without Messi in the past as well as lost with Messi involved.

Barça’s undoing was, and has been, basically down to the other members of the team (keyword) not rising to the occasion when they needed to. Hence, the convenience of Dani Alves (and to an extent, Gerard Pique) suggesting after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss that an alternative to their Messi reliance must be found.

Truth is, Barcelona have always had the alternative to Messi’s reliance. David Villa was a fearsome striker when he arrived from Valencia, as was Alexis Sanchez when he did from Udinese. And Fabregas? He was the instrument used, to devastating effect, to bring the false 9 formation to life at last year’s Euros with Spain.

That’s three alternatives already, ably backed by a midfield comprising Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez who can keep the ball as long as their feet pleases and deliver a buffet of passes to the danger area as often as they see someone make the right run or create just about enough space to shoot at goal.

Last night, none of that happened. Other than Fabregas’ first half effort, Xavi shot over from close range (before desperately, amusingly, seeking for non-extant penalty), Pedro sent weak shots at Neuer… it overall was the worst struggle I’d seen Barça made to put up in seasons, bringing us to the other foot.

The Bayern team let their host have the ball and try to conjure something with the possession and passes before nicking it and countering. On one such occasion, Arjen Robben was sent clean through on goal… but the persona in him we hate decided to try dribbling the last recovering defender when proving to the world yet again what an overrated footballer Victor Valdes is was the only option on the menu.

Then there was another moment when Robben cut in from the right to the edge of the penalty area but kept going on the edge before his eventually taken shot was blocked when the option to lay the ball to the man on the left was there. He had taken that option at a point in similar circumstance in the first leg and it almost led to a goal then.

If you noticed, the ball hardly went to the right for the rest of the first half after those moments, and when the ball did go there, Philip Lahm was usually the recipient. Now you see why the perfomances of full backs are usually judged upon the wingers ahead of them.

But that changed in the second half and that one change was what led to the three further blows Barça got, with Robben not trying to dilly dally on the ball but be incisive with it hence, the cut back and shot that was the first goal.

After that Bayern served their host a full dish of their tikitaka meal, along with fingerlings that were the further two goals from Pique’s own goal and Thomas Müller’s header for a comprehensive and overly deserved victory.

The Catalans had not just been defeated on their hallowed grass, they’d been rolled over with a foot to face the sky by their German dementors, spat and urinated on severally and left to begin to come to terms with the severe humbling they’d just been put through.

In the end, a reliance on Messi is Barça’s actual strength, their most powerful tactic which works most of the time. But when the maestro is unavailable, can the alternatives show up?

It therefore should be that since Messi will be chosen upfront all the time ahead of natural 9s (I honestly still don’t see Messi as one), then Barça should quit buying the Villas, Zlatans, Sanchezes, Eto’os and instead, get a Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard or Franck Ribery who can actually provide from the wings rather than a striker turned pseudo-winger.

Till then, Barça will continue relying on Messi to deliver the goods and he will most of the time, killing a few more highly potential careers along. But on days when he meets an inspired midfield and/or defence like at the San Siro against AC Milan or against Bayern in both legs (using Iniesta as yardstick for Bayern’s efficiency in the second leg), well… goodbye.

, , , ,

Leave a comment

During the Week: 10 for Suarez, Eight for Germans, 30 for Blatter & More


After all said and bit, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was slapped with a 10-match ban by the English FA for his Hannibal moment on Branislav Ivanovic last weekend and according to the FA’s statement, Suarez, who has decided not to appeal the ban (to avoid further fuss me thinks), pretty much made the much debated ban to be that lengthy by his own doing.

In their statement, the FA, among various other points, made it clear that previous incidents involving the player hadn’t been considered when deciding the severity of this punishment and that since biting was alien to football, along with the fact that by disputing their first statement saying a standard three-match violent conduct ban would “clearly be insufficient” for his bite, he (Suarez) had failed to fully grasp the seriousness of the matter at hand hence, the length of his latest football sabbatical being 10 matches.

Meanwhile seeing as biting, contrary to the FA’s statement, is more ‘human’ than alien to football thanks to previous incidents by Suarez as well as Jermain Defoe on Javier Mascherano, not to mention a few other bizarre happenings on the field such as Cantona’s kung-fu kick of a Crystal Palace fan and Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt to the chest of Marco Materazzi at the 2006 World Cup, there indeed – as shown above – were many instances the FA could have drawn some inspiration from before butchering Suarez with that ban.

It thus leaves a question mark on the justifications the FA felt it had in handing Suarez the ban for biting, while same player got two games less for racially abusing Patrice Evra in 2011, or John Terry who got a further four games less as ban along with a fine of £220,000 for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand… or the instance of Joey Barton who got a 12-match ban for his violent conduct (no biting) in a match against Manchester City.

The FA on one hand is right in wanting to make crystal clear the “seriousness” of Suarez’s Sunday bite, the 10-match ban on the other hand mostly equally, if not more so, sends out a crystal clear message about the FA being a committee of clowns who hand down punishments as it suits the mood or as the tea/coffee tastes on the day.

As it is now, tackling a player and having to be separated from another (Barton on Agüero and Tevez) is more serious than (a certain extreme of) biting ala Suarez which in turn is a more serious offence than (a certain extreme of) racism ala Suarez as well as (another, apparently less-extreme degree of) racism ala Terry and so on.

Terry on his part was back in the ever tinkered Chelsea starting line-up and missed a late, how-did-that-not-go-in chance in Switzerland though a 94th minute David Luiz freekick – the last kick of the match in fact – gave the Blues a 2-1 win at FC Basel in the first leg of a Europa League semi-final, with Fernabahce beating Benfica by a lone goal in the other semi-final first leg match.

It was Basel’s first home loss after nine European matches just as it was Chelsea’s first away win after suffering four losses in their last five away matches in Europe, setting up the return leg nicely for them as they look to inversely follow in FC Porto’s steps by winning both major European club competitions in successive years.

So much for the time of ridicule endured when they crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage eh? Now it is the hierarchy of Spanish football suffering the embarrassment in the Champions League following the first leg semi-final matches played on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Definitely Bayern Munich were going to be tough opposition for Barcelona on Tuesday night, but quantum physics tough? It was shocking to watch as the Bavarians ripped the Catalans apart with a 4-0 humbling. It was heartwarming and fun to watch as well.

Indeed Bayern got away with favourable decisions in the goals scored by Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, who by the way played by far his best match this season on the night, it was clear Bayern deserved the win and dare I say the margin of it.

What with the manner Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez neutralised the ‘threat’ of Lionel Messi’s presence and rendered Andres Iniesta anonymous, allowing Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Robben to wreck the havoc they brought upon the feeble Barça backline.

But not to be outdone, following a similarly high tempo first half display, Borussia Dortmund raised their game several levels higher and scored three second half goals as well on their to scoring four goals against Real Madrid to complete an 8-1 aggregate win for the Bundesliga over La Liga… perhaps initiating a power shift as well.

Apart from the mistake that led to Real’s away goal, Dortmund never looked inferior to a vastly more experienced and expensive Real side. Gundogan was imperious in midfield while Robert Lewandowski showed great technique and composure in the open-play goals he scored; with the third being my favourite.

It was fitting that someone else took the headlines, a day after Dortmund confirmed that Mario Götze; the nucleus of Dortmund’s trinity, will join Bayern next season. Even Marco Reus’ game was exceptional on Wednesday night and there was little to show Götze’s exit would be a deep blow.

Dortmund have always produced the good players, Shinji Kagawa hasn’t been missed, neither was Tomas Rosicky and I reckon Götze’s imminent exit would either bring a new name to the spotlight or see a slight change in formation that will get Nuri Sahin fully back in the Dortmund fold… or Christian Eriksen – who has been linked to Dortmund – could come in from Ajax as a replacement, and that would be an exciting transfer if it happens.

Away from the European drama, action resumed in the Nigeria Professional Football League with defending champions Kano Pillars maintaining its hold of top spot despite a second successive goalless draw, this time at home to Heartland.

With 16 points, Pillars now lead Rangers and Nasarawa United by two points after both lost their respective matches and the opportunity to go top of the league. Rangers fell 2-1 at Lobi Stars that is now in seventh place while Nasarawa fell to a 3-0 loss at Dolphins.

In other matches, Bayelsa United is now fourth on 13 points after a lone goal win over Sunshine Stars while Kwara United followed up its draw at Enyimba with a 2-0 win at home to Nembe City, rising to sixth with 12 points, behind Shooting Stars on goal difference.

Shooting Stars lost 2-0 at El-Kanemi Warriors, Enyimba lost by a lone goal at Gombe United, Kaduna United and Warri Wolves played a 1-1 draw in Kaduna as did Wikki Tourists against Sharks of Port-Harcourt in Bauchi.

Further up north on the continent, Nigeria’s U17 national team have reached the final of the African U17 Championship in Morocco following a 4-2 win over Tunisia on Wednesday with Isaac Success scoring a brace.

Those goals put him on seven goals in the lead for the golden boot award, with teammate Kelechi Iheanacho right behind him with five goals scored so far. The free scoring Golden Eaglets will face their Ivorian counterparts in Saturday’s final in a repeat of their group stage match which the Ivorians somewhat surprisingly won by a lone goal.

That match is one of many exciting ones to look forward to this weekend, with PSG on the verge of winning the Ligue Un title and needing a win at Evian on Sunday to do so. Problem is, it was Evian that recently knocked PSG out of the Coupe de France at the semi-final stage on penalties.

Elsewhere, Juventus visit Torino in a Turin derby while Real visit Atletico Madrid on Saturday in another derby. Cristiano Ronaldo has been ruled out of that encounter with a leg injury with Jose Mourinho’s assistant hoping the Portuguese ace recovers in time for next Tuesday’s return leg against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

In the Premier League, Arsenal players will form a guard of honour for former striker Robin van Persie and his Manchester United teammates who visit the Emirates on Sunday after winning the league title on Monday.

In tennis, Rafael Nadal came through two matches in one day to make it 37 consecutive wins at the Barcelona Open and set up a semi-final with Milos Raionic who also won two matches on Friday to reach the last four.

Nadal, whose run of 46 consecutive matches and eight titles won was ended by Novak Djokovic in the final of the Monte Carlo masters last week, is looking to win his eighth Barcelona Open title having won every edition since 2005, missing the 2010 competition due to fatigue.

No such thing for former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner who keeps opening old sores in the FIFA’s hierarchy, this time revealing how he’d been given $6m in exchange of winning Sepp Blatter the presidency back in 1998.

Running against then UEFA President Lennart Johansson, Warner claims he was personally handed a $6m grant to build the centre of excellence on land owned by him in exchange for votes that would win Blatter the election.

Money exchanged, Warner says he delivered 30 votes for Blatter, who according to him was João Havelange’s chosen successor. The poll finished with Johansson getting 80 votes while Blatter got 111; 31 votes more.

Having resigned from FIFA after some allegations of corruption were brought against him, Warner has since tried opening a few worm cans that would bring a few names down, especially Blatter. Where this latest episode leads, we await.

For now, do have a blessed weekend. Mine already is, today especially.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

During the Week: 40’s the New 30, Reckless Joey and More


In some cases where one is determined (or desperate) to get a romantic relationship started (or keep an already existing one going) with that one older person, “age is nothing but a number” gets uttered. For Taribo West however, age became an unwanted topic.

The former Nigerian international, among a few (like Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) to have played for both Milan clubs, was commented on (whatever for) by a former Partizan Belgrade President. And indeed Zarko Zecevic was enthusing about erstwhile Pastor Taribo’s time at Belgrade, stating that West played well during his stint there.

Problem is, Zecevic indicated in his compliment that West was a good dozen years older than he claimed to be when he joined the club in 2002, saying the former defender was actually 40 years old rather than the 28 he claimed to be. Meaning Taribo will be 51 years old now rather than 39 as found when you ask Google or check his wikipedia page.

Apart from (perhaps) inadvertently and innocently staining what was intended to be complimetary remarks, Zecevic by so saying has given the suspicion on the eligibility of a number of Nigeria’s historic Atlanta 96 winning team another attempt at resurrection.

Taribo has debunked the comments by Zecevic, saying “I have my record in the professional League with Obanta United since the 1990’s and all along, I have been keeping with my true age.” while also pondering why it is now such matter has been raised, almost a decade after he left the club.

Age falsification has been a menace in Nigerian sports, so much it has become banter among football lovers in the country, especially when the male and female junior national football teams participate in international competitions.

For some time, another source of banter, via his tweets, has been English midfielder Joey Barton who is on loan at Olympique Marseille from Queens Park Rangers and has tweeted certain (un)popular opinions about the end of his tumultuous time at Newcastle United, matters involving him at QPR, players called up or otherwise to the English national team and, among others, Justin Bieber.

However, his tweet in which he referred to Thiago Silva – of archrivals Paris Saint Germain – as an overweight ladyboy has landed the very opinionated Barton in some trouble, with PSG threatening to take legal action against the player and his club while the French Football Federation ethics committee will now look into the matter with a view to suspending Barton from competitive matches for the comments.

Barton and l’OM have since released a statement, apologising to PSG (which would be a rather humbling experience for l’OM) and to the Brazilian defender for the comments made soon after PSG’s dramatic 2-2 draw at home to Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League first leg quarterfinal match.

Despite starting the match on Tuesday night in rampaging manner and being denied a goal by the post, PSG fell behind some minutes to half time when a delightful Dani Alves pass over the defence found none other than Lionel Messi.

The drama came in a Messi-less second half when PSG equalised midway through the second half via a Zlatan rebound with Zlatan clearly offside. Xavi would then put Barça back in front from the penalty spot with a minute left in normal time, only for Victor Valdes to (amusingly) fail in keeping out a rather tame Blaise Matuidi shot four minutes into stoppage time.

Tuesday night’s other encounter saw David Alaba* score the competition’s second fastest goal ever – at 25.02 seconds – as Bayern Munich once again put up an efficient performance in a comfortable 2-0 win over Juventus at the Allianz Arena.

Real Madrid put up an even more precisive display on Wednesday
night in easing to a 3-0 win over Galatasaray at the Bernabeu, while elsewhere in Spain, Borussia Dortmund showed just how a team can be wasteful in front of goal in its goalless draw at Malaga.

Swiss side FC Basel showed a bit of Real Madrid and Dortmund on Thursday night in a Europa League quarterfinal clash at Tottenham Hotspur, racing to a 2-0 lead and missing further chances as Spurs fought back to claim a costly 2-2 draw.

Andre Villas-Boas had described his players as being “superior” compared to the Basel side ahead of that match, yet it was Basel that looked the likelier of both sides to win on the night. A bad night was made worse for AVB and Spurs when star player Gareth Bale was stretchered off in the closing stages with an ankle injury.

AVB previously had stated (after beating Inter Milan 3-0 in the first leg at the round of 16 stage) that the club didn’t need to prove it could play well without the Welsh winger in the team. Now with Bale out for two weeks and the return leg at Basel sandwiched between matches against Everton and Chelsea as they battle to finish in the Premier League’s top four coming up, AVB will hope his earlier assertion hasn’t met with Karma.

Chelsea and Arsenal will be out to take advantage of any Spurs slip-up at Goodison Park on Sunday, with Chelsea; fresh off a Juan Mata inspired, Fernando Torres-scoring 3-1 win over Rubin Kazan, hosting Sunderland on Sunday as well in Paolo di Canio’s first match as the visitors’ manager, while Arsenal visit West Brom on Saturday where a win will put the Gunners in the top four for 24 hours at least.

Newcastle United, that lost 3-1 at Benfica in the Europa League after taking the lead in Lisbon, welcome Fulham to St. James’ while Europa League chasing Liverpool host West Ham United. But the biggest match comes up on Monday night when both Manchester clubs clash at Old Trafford.

A win for United will put the Red Devils one match from a 20th league title but City, bolstered by Yaya Toure signing a four-year contract extension on Thursday, will be out to put the celebrations on hold for a little longer.

Elsewhere this weekend, Bayern Munich will clinch a 23rd Bundesliga title with a win against Eintracht Frankfurt, regardless of other results, while in Italy, Spain and France, Juventus, Barcelona and PSG still have a little way to go before clinching their respective domestic league titles.

Juventus face a relatively easy (on paper) match at home to Pescara in the Serie A on Saturday while Barcelona host Real Mallorca also on Saturday, with PSG facing a tricky trip to Rennes on Saturday too.

Away from the top, the Rome derby between Lazio and Roma on Monday night should make for interesting viewing, with both sides chasing a top five finish which guarantees at least a spot in next season’s Europa League. Another is Wigan Athletic’s trip to Loftus Road to face QPR in a relegation battle.

In Africa, Nigerian champions Kano Pillars take a healthy 4-1 lead to their first round second leg CAF Champions League match at Leopards on Saturday, with Rangers hosting Vital’O on Sunday in Enugu following a goalless first leg.

Naze Millionaires Heartland take a slender 2-1 lead to their second leg CAF Confederations Cup first round tie at US Bitam while Lobi Stars held a 3-1 lead against Muculmana in their first round match. Unfortunately, the Makurdi based side got crushed 7-1 in Mozambique on Friday night.

The Rome derby is the match I’m most looking forward to this ‘weekend’. Whichever match is your choice, hope you enjoy it, as well as the rest of your weekend. Cheers.

, , , , , , ,

2 Comments

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.

, , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

During the Week: Oscar Pistorius, Arsenal Precarious & More


A week after Valentine’s Day turned tragic for the blade runner, paralympian and indeed, olympian, Oscar Pistorius may well get himself a favourable verdict in his bail application over the killing of his girlfriend Reeva.

And if he is granted bail, it would largely be thanks to defense lawyer Barry Roux’s meticulous approach to the case along with the prosecution’s far less meticulous handling of it.

First, the prosecution’s case against Pistorius was looking great until they brought their witnesses in. 600 meters away? And then the witness became unsure of the distance to back up their claim of hearing screams from Reeva before she was shot dead.

For me, that was the turning point to swing the case right back in Pistorius’ favour. Coupled with Roux’s focus on Pistorius being the only (physical) witness at the crime scene and thus, focusing on (favourable) probablities based on that fact rather than conjuring allusions based on vague recounts of the incident by ‘witnesses from a distance’, Pistorius seems set to guarantee his innocence per se. He did shoot the damsel but (no) thanks to the prosecution, all he’ll have handed him is manslaughter.

Worse still for the prosecution was the revelation of the case’s chief investigator having history of being charged with seven attempted murders, along with the (distracting) history of cases where he investigated Pistorius, which would make it seem that Botha (the chief investigator) was on a personal vendetta against Pistorius. **was**, since on Thursday he was replaced as chief investigator of the case, another blow to the prosecution.

The bit when the prosecution pointed to a magazine publication in which Pistorius is said to own a house in Italy also weakened the prosecution’s case. Getting a statement from that magazine’s editors to back that claim would have been better.

After all said over what was, may have been and was not done, Pistorius’ application for bail looks to be coming to an end and if he does get the verdict in his favour, he pretty much will be a free, heartbroken and single man with a few lost sponsorship deals.

Pistorius heartbreak is heavy, Arsenal’s is serial, after being outdone by an efficient Bayern Munich side in a first leg round of 16 UEFA Champions League encounter played at the Emirates Stadium. At the end of the 3-1 drubbing though, it did seem Arsenal was the away team.

That defeat effectively ends Arsenal’s relevance in Europe unless the Gunners pull off an unlikely comeback in the return leg, like it nearly did (and really should have done) last season against AC Milan where the Gunners won 3-0 in the second leg after losing the first by a goal more.

This Bayern defeat however comes right after lackadaisically letting Blackburn Rovers through to the next round of the FA Cup, raising questions once again about Arsène Wenger’s capability as Arsenal manager.

The players, especially current captain Thomas Vermaelen and future captain Jack Wilshere believe it is the players and not the manager that is to blame for Arsenal’s current precarious state.

Then if the players are to blame, why not let go of most of them and bring in a set of players that can get the right things done at the club? Cue Theo Walcott in who reiterated the massive talent in the dressing room that only need to translate that onto the field during matches.

So, in summary, the manager hasn’t lost his marbles, the players, however very good they are, are letting this manager down big time but because these players are supposedly very good, there would be little or no need to have them replaced by new, marquee signings.

Arsenal is a peculiar club indeed and it is painful to see the club that tried to propagate the idea of a complete football club on and off the field being well beaten at it by clubs that, ironically, have perfected what Wenger keeps trying to achieve.

On one hand, Bayern Munich have reached the final of two of the last three Champions League finals and are on their way to winning the Bundesliga in record fashion, having complemented its team down the years (Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribèry and co.) with the addition of very good players (Dante, Manuel Neuer and Mario Mandzukic) along with the likes of Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller who came through the ranks.

All that comes complete with a solid financial model off the pitch that makes the Bavarians formidable both on the field as well as off it. Thus spending big when necessary, just to ensure the team is capable of playing great/efficient football at the very top level isn’t a problem for the Germans as exemplified down the years in the signings of Ribery then, Neuer much later and most recently, Mandzukic.

Then on the other hand is Barcelona that now plays the most attractive football conceivable; a title Arsenal solely held once, having complemented the core of its team (Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi) with additions down the years of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (briefly), Jordi Alba, Alexis and Alex Song (through the transfer market) as well as Pedro, Cristian Tello and Thiago Alcantara (through the ranks, just like Messi and Fabregas initially).

Add that to the club going out of its way to allow a sponsor’s name on their jersey (now held lucratively for Barça by the Qatar Foundation), massive gate receipts and a public profile that staggers across the world, money isn’t the problem for the Catalans… at least they’ll scale the FFP hurdle set by UEFA.

At Arsenal however, the core of the team keeps changing no thanks to the exit down the years of Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Ashley Cole, Mathieu Flamini, Kyle Bartley, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Alex Song and most atrociously Robin van Persie among others.

Had at least four of the above been kept and got joined by Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Francis Coquelin, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott who have come through the ranks as well as any two of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal from the transfer market, Wenger would certainly not be so stressed at the moment.

The club’s heavy focus on the financials at the expense of the team itself has denied it being a combination of the current Bayern and Barça teams it had the immense potential to be. Now instead, Arsenal is simply a spoilt rich child accustomed to losing yet not too bothered to change that trend.

Barcelona meanwhile is that spoilt rich lad that has everything going for it most of the time. And the very sparse times something doesn’t go its way, well, the ‘haters’ come alive and basically amplify this lad’s low moment.

Indeed Massimo Allegri’s players gave him what he expected of them, to neutralise Barça’s inevitable possession prowess and possibly take the chance(s) that come their way. And among a few that propped, the Rossoneri buried two.

That defeat did show the Catalans’ reliance per se on Messi can also be made to be an albatross. Milan expertly marked Messi out as well as kept the other threats in the Barça team at bay so while the visitors had a chunk of possession – as usual – it came to nothing.

That fact was a source of overflowing glee to many who came up with ‘stats’ and analysis but as I stated at the start of a post exactly a month ago, “You know a team is very good when its lost matches make the headlines… ”

While Milan is in a much better position than the last time both teams met in the Champions League at last season’s quarterfinal stage, their two-goal lead this time is far from secure and the onslaught they will have to bear from this Barça side at the Nou Camp is better left imagined.

Last time out, Milan held Barça to a goalless draw at the San Siro before Messi scored two penalties and set up Iniesta to secure a 3-1 win in the return at the Nou Camp. Messi may have been caged on Wednesday, he may have a poor record in Italy but hardly at the Nou Camp. Milan will have to ‘play even better’ than on Wednesday to get a desired result.

Or maybe not, seeing as Liverpool and Atletico Madrid played well and got a good result but not the desired result while Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea were staring at elimination till stoppage time efforts from Belgians saved both London sides’ blushes and let them progress in the Europa League.

Atletico’s exit, shocking as it was, feels so much like a silver lining moment since now, the club can focus squarely on finishing at least above city rivals Real Madrid in La Liga just as winning the Copa Del Rey is also a possibility for Diego Simeone’s side.

Moussa Dembele and Eden Hazard’s late equalisers against Olympique Lyon and Sparta Prague respectively edged the Londoners through, much to the slight delight of fans of fellow Londoners Arsenal that lie fifth in the Premier League where the London trio chase the Champions League spots on the league table.

Other teams through in the Europa League include Lazio that beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate, Inter Milan with a 5-0 aggregate win after easing to a 3-0 win at CFR Cluj, Zenit after barely surviving a second leg barrage at Liverpool to eventually go through on away goals and Newcastle United that got its first ever win at Ukraine, a lone penalty goal from Shola Ameobi, to qualify by the same score at the expense of Metalist Kharkiv.

The biggest result of the night for me came in Napoli’s 2-0 loss at Viktoria Plzen, which completed a massive 5-0 aggregate win for the Czechs over the Italian side that previously was favourite to win the competition along with Atletico.

The Naples side have the whole weekend to drain the anguish of the Europa League exit out of their system ahead of their trip to Udinese on Monday night, a tricky trip that could further pile misery on them.

Biggest match in Italy this weekend however is the Milan derby on Sunday. AC go into that as favourites, with their domestic season on the right track having steadily caught up with the top and now occupy third spot. Inter however will go into this match in bipolar form, securing that win over Cluj in Europe either side of a hapless display in a 4-1 humbling at Fiorentina.

Another match to look forward to this weekend is at the Parc des Princes where Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint Germain host third placed Olympique Marseille on Sunday, with David Beckham reportedly to make his PSG debut in that match.

Super Sunday in Europe begins in England where second placed Manchester City host third placed Chelsea while on Saturday it’s first from top versus first from bottom when Manchester United visit Queens Park Rangers.

Weekend looks very exciting for neutrals, more so with Swansea City set to take on Bradford City in the Capital One Cup final on Sunday at Wembley. Massive day for both clubs and while it would be some story if the Bantams won, I’m all for a Swansea win, if for any reason better representation of England in the Europa League next season.

On a more personal note, I’d just be very content not to have a repeat of last weekend when all the clubs I support across Europe, somehow, lost their respective league matches… all six clubs; Arsenal, Lazio, PSG, Hearts, Werder Bremen and Deportivo La Coruña.

Latter two face Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively on Saturday so… I won’t even bother checking back on them till Monday morning.

Till then, have yourselves a glorious weekend!

, , , , , , ,

6 Comments

%d bloggers like this: