Posts Tagged Chelsea

Not Every Whistle Blower Can Be a Collina But


Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks made a legitimate analysis on BBC Sport’s post-match analysis of the fiery London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, which the Blues won 2-0 courtesy of a Kurt Zouma header and a deflected Eden Hazard goal early and late in the second half respectively.

Before the goals however, it would not have been much of a surprise if the match had gone on to finish goalless, or to have seen either side steal a win with a fortuitous goal. Arsenal were hardly at their fluid best at Stamford Bridge but nonetheless were holding their own against a Chelsea side that can probably be seen as on a resurgence having secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season, scoring six and conceding none to boot.

In another realm of reality, Zouma scoring his first Premier League goal against a rival could have been the major talking point. Another realm of reality could have chosen to ponder on whether Hazard’s so far form is on the mend having scored, albeit off Arsenal defender Calum Chambers.

Perhaps we could have been going on about how Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger managed a (rather frosty) handshake before kick-off but ‘forgot’ or were too occupied to share another at full time, with Wenger walking right down the tunnel while Mourinho, understandably, shared a warm hug with a man he still trusts completely, John Terry.

As we would have it though, in whatever realm of reality you choose to exist, the major talking point had to do with two Brazilian born players, each on either side who threw up what perhaps has been missing in a lot of so-called derby matches in the English top flight; tempers!

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts after being sent off against Chelsea, while Diego Costa watches on.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista struggling with Chelsea’s Pedro and Branislav Ivanovic while Diego Costa watches on

That happened just before halftime and imagine after such altercation, both players remained on the field for the rest of the encounter, all riled up and just itching for the other to as much as glance along their path for a proper brawl to break out and perhaps for more slaps to be served two or three involved faces.

Arsenal fans and many neutrals can go on all week about how insert your feelings about the striker’s behaviour here disgusting, despicable, unacceptable, unsporting, irritating and appalling Costa’s part in getting Gabriel sent off was but what is a derby if neither side has at least one player being a tick in the skins of his opposition all game?

Didier Drogba held a psychological card on Philippe Senderos and Arsenal for a long time, same hold Costa seems to be having on a lot of opponents in the Premier League having previously been involved in confrontations, but somehow not getting sent off in his ‘two’ seasons so far in the Premier League.

Everton's Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Everton’s Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Which is why I agreed 100% with Spurs fan Crooks, ironically riled about an injustice to an Arsenal player when he said, “We all want to see 11 against 11. It’s a great game” and indeed it was, until referee Mike Dean felt it appropriate to send off one party in the altercation and leave the other on the field with just a yellow card for his troubles. Would not have been the 11 on 11 one wanted, but 10 on 10 was not a bad option at all. Alas.

Dean’s only fault as it turns out, was not showing that red card to Costa as well when he showed it to Gabriel for if he had, we probably would be scrambling for the best resolution footage of a classic tunnel bust-up between both players and possibly their teammates off the field and bench… along with the coaching staff… and both managers, tantalisingly.

However, showing just one red card brought an imbalance to what was – to that point – a contest of two sides looking to bounce back for different reasons. Instead, we were left to consume a largely one-sided second half (inevitably) which saw Santi Cazorla get himself sent off to add a feeling of injustice for Arsenal fans and a need for justification for Chelsea fans.

Good old days, one would have had a good time or held a proper grudge (depending on what side of reality you existed) at Martin Keown for (in)famously rubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in the final minute of that match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003.

I mean… Keown was just getting started but look at Ashley Cole too

… Keown was getting warmed up now even though Ruud was all cool…

… think the angle in the last one did an injustice to this moment…

… but very few moments beat this ‘point driven straight home’ part of this moment of what used to be a proper rivalry.

After the incident (between Costa and Gabriel that is), Keown tweeted he would have loved to play against the Chelsea striker. That tweet reeked of an emotion missing in current Arsenal players and a whole lot at others club who have to be ‘appropriate’ or risk being farcically charged by the trigger happy FA for the comment deemed ever so slightly inappropriate.

The Arsenal manager and others of his kind should not always expect the opponent to play nice and allow the other team be the better team. That is not how the football gods (not Messi and Ronaldo but their mythical ancestors) ordained the procession to go, otherwise they would be a bunch of bored lawmakers who doze off during once-a-quarter sessions.

But all of that is for another feast of sporting battles.

Admittedly not every Mike Dean can be Pierluigi Collina great, not even Collina’s compatriot Nicola Rizzoli who saw PSV Eindhoven’s Héctor Morono get his Ryan Shawcross on and do a Ramsey on poor Luke Shaw during a UEFA Champions League encounter, which Manchester United eventually lost 2-1 with Morono scoring one of those goals for PSV.

Excuse me while I do a Crooks complimenting Dean before slating him, Rizzoli is a top official otherwise he would not have been named Serie A Referee of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 nor would he have been chosen to officiate the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

But in the Champions League group stage match in Eindhoven, Rizzoli covered himself in all the aforementioned adjectives for Diego Costa when he (for the benefit of doubt) forgot to book Morono for his rash challenge on Shaw. Had he done so, and given the player the red card he deserved, would PSV have won?

So, one must disagree with Crooks when he implied that referees should not try to be in the spotlight. In fact, they should have the spotlight right on them as much as the one beaming on Costa’s [insert adjectives] behaviour in order to make the referees realise how much their decisions actually impact on results.

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Over the Weekend: Bittersweet Bronze for Brits, Red Devils, Barça Start off in a Blitz & More


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!

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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: Elegant Fergie, Mancini Out and More


I’m terribly sorry if the quote comes across as very inappropriate but “It never hits you till it (casket) goes down” was how it hit that last Sunday, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager, after 27 years at the helm.

The stadium was red throughout, players from both sides minus Judas-tendencies gave the 71 year old a guard of honour and appropriately, goals in each half from Javier Hernandez and Rio Ferdinand’s first in five years ensured the wily Scotsman’s Old Trafford reign ended on a high… complete with the league title presentation that followed the match.

Ferguson, who before the match came out of the tunnel chewing on a gum after greeting members of the youth team, acknowledged the crowd for the years, implored them to support “the new manager” as they’ve done him, praised the team for the league title and convincing manner it was won, honoured Paul Scholes who (finally… for the second time) retired and… didn’t hug or spend more than a moment with Wayne Rooney upon the latter’s turn to receive his championship medal.

The cold treatment resonated around the stadium whose spectators neither booed nor more importantly cheered the 27 year old that handed in a transfer request last week right after Fergie announced he’d retire end of this season.

Indeed Rooney’s timing of his request couldn’t be more off and considering that, unlike the first time when he tried forcing the club’s hands with a transfer request years ago, Rooney no longer is arguably United’s most important player. Would be interesting if he joined Arsenal but the French capital seems a more likely destination at the moment in which all are just rumours.

Word also is that Radamel Falcao is potentially going to play in France next season for principality club AS Monaco, which only returned to the Ligue 1 but is owned by yet another Russian billionaire who, coupled with the (French Football Federation challenged) tax exempt the club enjoys from being based at Monte Carlo, is bent on spending the club’s way to the echelons as the Qataris at Paris St. Germain are doing.

The spending at the French capital yielded some fruit on Sunday night when a lone Jeremy Menez goal early in the second half gave PSG the win it needed at third placed Olympique Lyon to claim its first league title in 19 years and third in its young, 41 year history.

Whether it marks the start of a dominant period; similar to that of Lyon in the last decade, for PSG predicted by many when the money came to town remains to be seen, especially with the fact that PSG’s win makes it a sixth consecutive season a different club has won the Ligue 1 (Lyon in ’08, Bordeaux in ’09, Marseille in ’10, Lille in ’11 and Montpellier’s first ever last season).

All that without mentioning Monaco’s coming to the big boys circle, a coming which would pretty much be stamped with Falcao’s arrival, confirmation of which is reportedly being held back till after Atletico Madrid’s Copa Del Rey final match against Real Madrid which holds on Friday at the Bernabeu.

That match would be fundamental to both Madrid clubs’ season after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Espanyol by Real confirmed Espanyol’s city rivals Barcelona as La Liga champions on Saturday, only for Barça to come from a Falcao goal down to claim a 2-1 win at Atletico on Sunday, rubbing it in on the clubs from the Spanish capital.

Though they may have become much less glamorous than their Spanish capital club counterparts, the Italian capital clubs had contrasting fortunes over the weekend, with Roma managing an eventful goalless draw at AC Milan in a match that saw Francesco Totti get sent off and Mario Balotelli get racially abused by Roma fans; earning the Giallorossi a £42,000 fine.

Lazio meanwhile fared better in getting a third win on the bounce at home to Sampdoria earlier on Sunday. And with both sides to face off for the Coppa Italia in June, sixth placed Lazio went two points clear of Roma with a game to go, but remain two points behind Udinese that occupies the last Europa League spot in fifth place after a 2-1 win over Atalanta.

Further up the table, Napoli sealed second spot and group stage qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 win over relegated Siena while Fiorentina closed the gap on third placed Milan to two points with a lone goal win over Palermo, a result that sent Palermo down to Serie B while Fiorentina and Milan’s fight for the last Champions League spot will be settled on the final day this weekend.

In England, Tottenham Hotspur occupy that spot thanks to a comeback 2-1 win at Stoke City, which put them three points behind Chelsea that guaranteed a top four finish with same result as Spurs, earned through second half goals midfielder Frank Lampard who as a result became the club’s top scorer of all time with 203 goals.

Chelsea now lead north London rivals Arsenal by four points, though the Gunners can reduce that gap to a point in Tuesday night’s crunch match at home to Wigan Athletic. The Latics visit the Emirates desperately needing a win to keep fading hopes of sinking with the relegation ship alive.

And they go into the match on a skyhigh following a not so shocking 1-0 win over Manchester City to win the FA Cup on Saturday via a 91st minute Watson header. That result inevitably led to the sacking of Roberto Mancini who was relieved on Monday night from his job there. Fair? Arguably, yes.

Whatever the case is, Mancini’s availability adds to an increasing number of high profile managers who will be available for appointments ahead of next season and hence, makes the ‘manager transfer market’ far more interesting to follow than that of the players… moreso after PSG blocked Real Madrid from approaching Carlo Ancelotti to replace Jose Mourinho.

Maybe Los Blancos will turn their focus on Mancini now, or interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez. Certainly not Arsene Wenger whose Arsenal side meanwhile also desperately need a win against Wigan to get back into the top four and keep the chances of qualification to next season’s Champions League entirely in their hands.

Back home, it’s still early days but results from match-day 11 fixtures played over the weekend has seen competition at the top of the Nigeria Professional Football League become intense, with the top 10 clubs separated by just three points.

Kano Pillars remain top of the log with 19 points from 10 matches, despite a crushing 3-0 loss against a ‘motivated’ Enyimba side whose players were last week put on half pay following a string of poor results.

Rangers and Sunshine Stars failed to take advantage of the reigning champions loss at Aba, with Rangers held to a 1-1 draw by fifth placed Bayelsa United in Enugu while Sunshine drew goalless at home to third from bottom ABS of Ilorin.

Ilorin’s bigger club Kwara United recorded a 2-0 win at home to El Kanemi Warriors to rise to fourth on the league table with 18 points, behind Rangers and Sunshine respectively on goal difference while Shooting Stars of Ibadan dropped to ninth with 16 points following a goalless draw at Port Harcourt against Sharks.

Heartland got a 2-1 win at home to Akwa United and is now seventh with 16 points, a point behind Bayelsa United and Nembe City that both occupy fifth spot due to their identical record so far, while Wikki Tourists of Bauchi remain bottom of the league with nine points despite a 1-1 draw at Nasarawa United.

Rounding up, Serena Williams claimed her 50th singles title in tennis after beating world number two Maria Sharapova to win the Mutua Madrid Open barely a fortnight to the French Open Grand Slam in Paris.

While winning that, older sister Venus Williams continued to show signs of “maybe it’s time I do a Fergie” at the Rome Masters as she was beaten in the opening round by Laura Robson.

In the men’s section of the Madrid Open, Rafael Nadal overcame Swiss man Stanislas Wawrinka for his fifth title in seven tournaments since returning from injury, losing in the final of the other two and putting him in the best form possible ahead of his favourite grand slam on the calendar.

And in Formula 1, another Spaniard claimed victory as Fernando Alonso of Ferrari won the Spanish grand prix in his hometown Barcelona ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen amd Ferrari mate Felipe Massa, while world champion Sebastien Vettel could only finish in fourth ahead of his RedBull mate Mark Webber.

Vettel however still leads the drivers’ championship with 89 points, though Raikkonen is now just four points behind in second place while Alonso managed to cut Vettel’s lead on him to 17 points.

That’s the bit from here. Would be very interesting to see if Arsenal confine Wigan to relegation or Wigan seriously dent Arsenal’s Champions League ambitions in Tuesday night’s highlight match.

Also in Tuesday night, a sulking Manchester City visit Reading while on Wednesday Chelsea will look to win a European cup in successive seasons when they play a Benfica side smarting from a stoppage time 2-1 loss at archrivals FC Porto in the Europa League final, a loss that put Porto a point ahead of Benfica atop the league with a game to play. Painful.

Anyway, here’s to an Arsenal win on Tuesday (a loss would definitely jolt Wenger et al to life but… ), a Benfica win (just because… ) and a productive week to you wherever you are.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do have a productive week ahead.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Benitez Has But Himself to Blame


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

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

I was going to compare his outburst with that of Arsène Wenger’s recently but both men’s blown cool are fundamentally very peculiar to each other. For one, Wenger’s was a lot more amusing. On another, Benitez hasn’t gone eight seasons without a trophy.

And while a majority of both club’s fans have certain levels of hatred/negative disposition towards both managers and would just love to see them leave, at Arsenal these fans just want a trophy and for the manager to spend big money in the transfer market. For Benitez, he simply isn’t welcome at the Bridge.

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

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

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

But would Benitez have succeeded as Blues boss? Having won the UEFA Cup at Valencia and the Champions League *once at Liverpool? Casting all grievances aside, I honestly believe he would have failed as he currently is and here is why I feel so.

There is the Fernando Syndrome/Torres Factor ongoing at the Bridge. Only very few managers would come to Chelsea and not even consider giving Torres an umpteenth second chance. Others would simply not want to believe £50m can go to waste just like that. Well, there’s always a first time.

Second is the Roman factor. Benitez in my opinion cannot thrive under such kind of authority, as evident in his spell at Inter Milan where Massimo Moratti reigns. At Valencia and Liverpool, the hierarchy were far less… authoritative.

At Liverpool, the hierarchy has allowed managers bring in certain players including Jordan Henderson for an obscene amount and even Joe Allen. It’s under this sort of loose reign Benitez thrives on, not somewhere his request to get a player will be sanctioned or worse still for him, where there’s isn’t time and space to bring in more players owing to the lot already available.

Ideally Benitez would have a certain set of calibre of players, usually Spanish, that he would bring to the club in order to see his methods come alive. At Inter where he failed, and the Serie A generally, Spanish players aren’t exactly in demand there as it is mostly natives along with South Americans, a few Africans and a variety of others that thrive there… any variety but the Spanish one.

Without making Barcelona’s defeat at AC Milan an example, a product of the Spanish giants makes for a perfect example and Bojan Krkic is whom I write of. Going to Italy was always going to be the wrong move and though he has spurts of brilliance, he generally has declined as a footballer over the seasons.

Third, going to a club that looks set to begin searching for a 10th manager in as many years when the season’s over, was a poor choice for a manager of Benitez’s calibre and I can only blame his eagerness to return to active management for this poor choice by him.

Benitez pretty much threw himself at Liverpool, like a desperate woman complete with her red bra showing and bit too much make-up, only for Brendan Rodgers to be appointed. In the end, the lure of a good looking first team squad of players (especially the midfield) may likely have deceived Benitez into a hasty decision.

He probably should have waited for a suitable job vacancy from a modest club in La Liga or the Premier League; Swansea would have been a good project for him, or from the Bundesliga (Wolfsburg for instance) to show up. There, his rustiness in management may likely have been forgiven for a season just as he would be allowed to bring in his calibre of players.

But being a multiple-time European cup winner, Benitez most likely didn’t and still doesn’t see himself going a step or two down to manage a modest club and increase their stature with a finish in a European spot on the league table along with a good cup run.

And I really feel he should have gone this route having performed miserably at Inter, where he inherited a solid title winning team yet decided to allow his predecessor Jose Mourinho play games with his mind and make him focus on a trivial war of words rather than sustaining the team he met there.

In truth, Benitez may feel unfairly treated at the moment and maybe, just maybe some of us feel or want to feel sorry for his plight but the fact is, Benitez should never have taken the Chelsea job and since he did, he only had the heat coming for him.

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