Posts Tagged european football

2011/12 Season Taught Me…


It’s How Well, Not How Long
It’s become easy for the longevity of some managers career to become inadvertently ridiculed by the exploits of some younging that’s propped from retirement from active football (a.k.a. from nothing) to become a better paid and/or a more acclaimed manager.

Depending on your viewpoint, Wenger’s greatest acclaim would be leading Arsenal through the 2003/04 season unbeaten, or leading the club to 15 consecutive appearances in the group stage of the lucrative UEFA Champions League.

There’s also the favourite of mine, his ability to ‘unearth’ such names as Thierry Henry, Nicholas Anelka, Emmanuel Adebayor and Francesc Fàbregas and make surreal profits off their departures from the club for the club. Hopefully Wenger will skip the economics this time and suceed in extending Robin van Persie’s contract.

All that said, Jose Mourinho was nobody when Wenger ruffled the established order that was Sir Alex Ferguson back in the late 90s. Now, the self acclaimed Special One has so far won the Champions League twice at two different clubs.

While Mourinho’s case is still much palatable to bear; being a ‘nobody’ in the managerial sense, here is Roberto di Matteo who was still active on the field when Wenger ruffled the established order… as was Pep Guardiola.

RDM has a Champions League title to his name, Pep has two to his along with two Club World Cup wins and as many European Super Cups. Wenger? Shishi!

Obviously one cannot discard his managerial abilities but Wenger needs to stop whatever fantasy that is making an inception seem to be the reality of his life and get dead serious with the job of winning trophies again or else, Guardiola, Mourinho et al will become the legends in the game and leave le Professeur to be just a manager respected just because…

At least, Sir Alex can say he’s won the Champions League twice. Wenger will say he lost a final… you see that? Lost? Remember that Valencia team that reached two successive Champions League finals after winning the UEFA Cup? History has them in the “ehyaa” folder, same folder that Arsenal team of 2005/06 is in.

Take Your Chances
Barcelona could have had 100% possession in either of the semi-final legs against Chelsea, yet we all know how that turned out for the Catalans as well as for the Bavarians afterwards.

It can be argued that Chelsea was most fortunate in both affairs but then again, Messi should’ve been a bit more precise with his penalty… or Robben should’ve hit his the other way of Cech.

In other words, all that possession will come to nothing if the team with the ball most of the time doesn’t take the chances when such come its way. And the danger in that is, possessive teams can become profligate in front of goal just because the players believe “we’ll create another chance… “… that’s fatal procrastination and how Real Madrid and Chelsea ‘unfairly’ pipped Barcelona in late April is good proof.

Penalty Won Isn’t Penalty Scored
Lionel Messi hadn’t missed a spotkick all season yet fate contrived to have him miss against Chelsea… Barça lost. A day later, Cristiano Ronaldo scored one in normal time only to see his spotkick during the shootout against Bayern saved… Real lost.

Arjen Robben scored two penalties that day, in normal time and during the shootout. Yet, Cech saved the Dutchman’s penalty in extra time that otherwise would likely have won the Champions League for the German club. He didn’t step up in the subsequent shootout… Bayern lost.

Juan Mata had his penalty saved by Manuel Neuer that night too but his teammates rallied well. Summarily, the very best players can miss six-yard sitters afterall. Even Stewart Downing did on the final day of the Premier League. Sheesh!

Circumstances Can Freeze Good Players Out
For various reasons, a number of exciting players became strangers to the field in the last season. Like movie like series, Jack Wilshere didn’t play a single competitive match. Remember the pre-season friendly Arsenal played against Köln? Remember his combination with Gervinho? I was looking forward to a lot of that but made do with Song’s combo with van Persie instead.

Then there’s Aleksander Kolarov at Manchester City, Stefan Savic as well. Both basically became surplus to requirement at the Etihad, Kolarov more due to Clichy’s consistency and Savic more for being far from the Kompany – Lescott quality.

But at Old Trafford, Berbatov’s quality is known but SAF preferred even Danny Welbeck ahead of the Bulgarian who plays at times like he can’t be bothered so Fergie must have thought ‘why bother the bros?’.

Alan Pardew on his part got Demba Ba FOC from West Ham, bang bang bang he went. Pardew got another Demba from Freiburg in January, bang bang bang Papiss went but at Ba’s expense.

All that banging however meant Leon Best became not the best option, coupled with some injury. Best simply slipped into the ‘memoriam’ folder at the Sports Direct Arena.

Then there’s Park Chu-Young. It’s seeming like Wenger only bought him to piss off Lille that was on the edge of signing him at the start of the season so le Professeur must’ve thought “they didn’t sell me Hazard eh?! Might as well jack their move for Park then!”.

The star of frozen out players though has to be Man. United’s Bebe! Seven million just so he can seldom make appearances… for the reserves?! Investigate away UEFA, please!!

Big Teams Can Lose Real Big
And it’s little wonder the north London clubs finished behind the Manchester ones after the former got shredded on the same weekend early in the last season, the weekend Man. City left White Hart Lane 5-1 winners while Arsenal got done 8-2 at Old Trafford.

Then Man. United lived through the massive, right from the gut spit on the face they got from Mario Balotelli and the rest of the noisy neighbour gang. The Red Devils also got the beat down at Newcastle United while Arsenal scored five to defeat city rivals Spurs and Chelsea in games that produced 15 goals between them.

In all that clash of the titans above, Liverpool instead got the wrath of the not titans in losing to opponents that really should’ve been beaten. They lost to Swansea and Wigan Athletic but those two…

Those two were a nuisance to the big teams with Wigan getting the scalp of Liverpool, Man. United and Arsenal before thrashing Newcastle 4-0. Swansea on their part beat Liverpool, Arsenal and Man. City, and left a mark on Chelsea and United.

Miscelleanous
Oil money is good please, very good. City have won the league, Anzhi stays poaching at the big clubs… they’ll get it right soon. PSG have only itself to blame for Montpellier’s Ligue 1 triumph but we all agree le Parisien is set to dominate the Ligue 1 as Lyon did not too long ago.

Chelsea’s oil money finally won a Champions League and now, I can’t but pray Alisher Usmanov buys enough shares at Arsenal! Praying for some tycoon to buy Lazio and restore the glory days of Sergio Cragnotti albeit without the boardroom troubles.

Further up the Italian league and the Old Lady is back. Unbeaten through the league season and beaten by Napoli to the Coppa Italia means Juventus went through the Italian football season with just a defeat… greatness!

While Juventus seems to be back, along with the promotion of Torino to Lega Calcio; bringing back the Turin derby to Serie A fixtures, Italy waved farewell to a number of fond names there.

Alessandro Del Piero played his final game for Juve in the Coppa Italia final loss while veterans Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gatusso and Clerance Seedorf will leave AC Milan this summer. An emotional end to the Italian campaign all round.

And an emotional campaign it was,especially with the Livorno player (Piermario Morosini) that died of a cardiac arrest. May he rest in peace, amen. Makes Fabrice Muamba’s recovery from same situation all the more appreciated.

To Stay Quiet Till Full Time
No I don’t mean how City win the league in the afterlife, sort of. Someone here had wagered on a Bayern win and (no) thanks to Thomas Müller begun to brag how he’d become N30,000 richer.

We were happy for him… then Drogba equalised!

The End.

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Champions League Match Day 2 Preview – Group E to H


First off, here’s how match day one went in the four groups on preview:

Group E: Bayern Munich 2-0 AS Roma. CFR Cluj 2-1 FC Basle

Group F: MSK Zilina 1-4 Chelsea. Olympique Marseille 0-1 Spartak Moscow

Group G: Real Madrid 2-0 AFC Ajax. AC Milan 2-0 AJ Auxerre

Group H: Arsenal 6-0 Sporting Braga. Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 Partizan Belgrade

Much has happened since a fortnight ago when these matches were played with Chelsea and Arsenal falling to first league defeats of their seasons, Bayern being stunned at home by surprise Bundesliga leaders FSV Mainz, Roma edging Inter Milan in Serie A in what should prove a real confidence booster for the Italians and Real Madrid dropping points in a goalless draw against newly promoted Levante to leave los Merengues playing chase in la Liga already.

In Group E, Roma’s seeming revival will be tested by CFR Cluj at the Stadio Olimpico which may prove a bit too imposing for the visiting Romanian side. A win for Roma in this match is especially crucial as any other result will deeply jeopardise Giallorossi’s chance of making the knock-out round. Bayern Munich, that have French winger Franck Ribery back, is favourite to win the trip to Switzerland to face Basle as the Bavarians will be out to get the home loss by Mainz behind them.

Group F sees an attractive fixture with French champions Marseille visiting the Stamford Bridge fortress to face Chelsea and its former striker Didier Drogba. Marseille may not have the quality of players or home advantage as Manchester City but there is much the French side can take to the Bridge. That said, Chelsea is known to recover very well from losses as against City on Saturday and Marseille will be made to rue losing its first match at home to Spartak. The Russians can consolidate on that crucial win with what should be a stroll of a game against visiting debutantes Zilina. A win for Spartak there would mean six points in the bag before a dreaded double header of games against Chelsea with the Blues visiting Russia in the first of those games in mid October.

In Group G, Ajax must utilise its youth and home advantage against seven time champions Milan that have former Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in its fold along with Alex Pato, Robinho and the ever dreaded Ronaldinho to bank on to ruffle the Ajax back line. Luis Suarez will be key if Ajax is to win otherwise, experience will play in favour of Milan with a point from the trip in the least.

Milan will also be driven to win by the looming fixture with Real Madrid coming after this and with the Spaniards not in top form, an upset in the form of a loss or draw against Auxerre will swing the group advantage to Milan… Jose Mourinho has his work cut out.

Finally from Group H, Arsenal face a tricky trip to Partizan Belgrade without captain Cesc Fàbregas and goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who was chief culprit in the shock 2-3 reverse at home to West Brom in the Premier League, giving Polish keeper Lukasz Fabianski a starting berth and his chance to be Arsenal’s first choice keeper. Safe for that department, the Gunners should get a point at worst from this trip. Braga meanwhile must pick up from an appaling opening day display at the Emirates when Shakhtar visit Portugal looking to consolidate on its opening day win over Partizan. Any less than a win for Braga will poise Shakhtar for the double salvo in October against Arsenal and a reunion of Eduardo da Silva with his former employers.

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Arsenal’s Week in Perspective


It’s been a good start from the north London club this season with 10 points from four league matches in second place in the Premier League, a good return in front of goal despite the spate of injuries in that department as well as a laudable stingy manner of the defence so far.

Arsenal’s next two matches however have the potential banana skin effect glossed on them especially the trip up north to face Sunderland on Saturday, but first, the visit of Sporting Braga of Portugal on Wednesday night as this season’s UEFA Champions League kicks off this week. The Gunners should be wary of complacency against Braga even though there is a sterling home record standing in the Gunners’ favour against teams from Portugal. Braga pushed FC Porto in its last league match, twice in the lead before losing 3-2 at the Dragao while the club – steadily gaining a reputation of being stubborn – was responsible for the knock out of Celtic in the second qualifying round before gaining the scalp of Sevilla in the final qualifying round.

But Arsenal should have enough quality to overcome Braga on Wednesday night. Marouane Chamakh is slowly seaming into the team and so far is making up for the absence of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner to injury. Captain Cesc Fàbregas still turns in the assured performances, Tomas Rosicky has been in exceptional form, Samir Nasri is back early from injury, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny have been okay in defence all to make injuries to the earlier mentioned along with Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen just for the moment.

A win against Braga being a good bet, it will be a real test to see how Arsene Wenger’s lads can rally to keep up the pace in the league in a tricky trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland.

Sometimes, it’s not the team Arsenal is up against but the manager and Steve Bruce knows how to make visiting clubs have a rough, if not outrightly bad afternoon. The Black Cats may be terrible travellers but at home, the spirit suddenly takes possession and when that happens, even Arsenal find it difficult to play in their usual stride of sleek passing till they decide when it’s time to find the back of the net.

And that ‘just one more pass’ syndrome may well be Arsenal’s undoing at the Stadium of Light. As I’ve said in previous articles here, it is games as this against Sunderland that will really help in Arsenal’s quest to end the title drought suffered since ’05. A look at Tottenham Hotspur for example. The lilywhites ultimate achievement will be to have a better season than Arsenal, meaning beating their north London arch rivals whenever their paths cross while dropping points against clubs like Wigan and West Brom…clubs the three points should be an assured collect. Till Spurs overcome their inferiority complex, Arsenal will keep finishing better than Spurs…maybe for the League Cup.

My opinion, four points from the two games this week will just be acceptable from the Gunners but two wins will be more like it to keep proving their title credentials this season because you get the feeling “beautiful football” may soon become boring to the faithful…

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UEFA Champions League Day 1 Preview – Group E to H


The wait is now down to the hours for the kick-off of the UEFA Champions League and you can view the preview of Group A to D at http://wp.me/puIC6-3u while Group E to H is previewed here.

Group E
Last season’s beaten finalist Bayern Munich and Italian giants AS Roma would straight away pop up as favourites to qualify from the group, but that’s what the paper says. Based on form, Bayern will need to raise their game a notch coupled with a bit of luck in front of goal when the Bavarians begin their campaign at home to the Italian club that on its part, has to raise its game well more than a notch coming on the back of a rattling 5-1 humiliation at Cagliari. I’m thinking Bayern will use this game as a launch pad for what has been a below par start to the season while the light seems a long way off in the tunnel Roma is in now.

As for the other group game in Romania between CFR 1907 Cluj-Napoca and Swiss champions FC Basle, I’ll go for a Cluj win even though Basle are a decent side coupled with the fact that the club – with very similar stripe to Barcelona – has started its domestic season on a good note but the trip to the Eastern bloc may prove too daunting for Basle against a Cluj side that is capable of getting a much bigger scalp in its campaign based on the adventure of previous seasons in this competition.

Group F
Here’s how it is here. We have French champions Olympique Marseille, Russians Spartak Moscow and debutantes MSK Zilina looking forward to fighting for valuable points against each other while only hoping for whatever against overwhelming group favourite Chelsea. The Blues are in exceptional form with four league wins from four…but in truth, Chelsea is prone to a bit of a struggle on the occasional odd trip and that to virtual unknowns Zilina may well not turn out to be a stroll in the park for the Premier League leaders.

The other game between Olympique Marseille and Spartak Moscow at the imposing Velodrome should have a more competitive edge. It is games as this that Marseille, the champions of 1992, must win to stand a strong chance of making the knock-out rounds and I’d have fancied l’oM to achieve just that had a certain Mamadou Niang remained at the club…still not enlightened to the wisdom of allowing him leave. Anyway, Marseille should nick this one even if it turns out tough.

Group G
Touted as the group to watch (trying not to use the cliche), the group could just turn out to be a straight fight for top spot between favourites Real Madrid and AC Milan with Milan confident of its chances against Real having had the better of the Spaniards at the Bernabeu after a draw in the San Siro the last time the two met. But I like the starlets from Ajax, led by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and backed up by a good ‘keeper in Marten Stekelenberg. The team spirit of the Dutch side may fall just short of upsetting the odds to claim a second round berth but it sure should create a few headaches, starting with the trip to face Real Madrid that has failed to impress so far under new manager Jose Mourinho but we all know the Portuguese tactician will take any kind of win – scrappy or classy – even at the expense of a goal feast…three points are three points no matter how it is gotten and Real will be out to do just that against Ajax. Milan meanwhile will be out to erase the shock loss at Cesena on Saturday with an assured display against visiting French debutantes Auxerre and the presence of a fearsome attack comprising Ronaldinho, Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should undo the French resolve. Ibrahimovic especially has something to prove to his new employers following a missed penalty against Cesena…not what he had in mind for a first impression no doubt.

Group H
Should Arsenal fail to win all its home games in this group, there is going to be trouble to simply put it. The Gunners on paper are runaway favourites but Sporting Braga knocked out Sevilla in the final qualifying round while not many clubs fancy trips to places like Donetsk or Belgrade. I therefore see this group staying competitive till match day five and six and here is why. Arsenal is not exactly a good guest on Portuguese soil nearby, let alone the frozen fields far at the former Soviet. So having two home games in its first three matches I feel may play to Arsenal’s advantage especially if the Gunners get a good result in the trip to Partizan Belgrade on match day two. Match day one against Braga at the Emirates should meanwhile be a good one for Arsene Wenger’s side in light of the very dismal record of visiting Portuguese teams to England.

Shakhtar Donetsk should have enough of themselves when Partizan visit Ukraine in the group’s other encounter on match day one. It will be interesting to see how former Arsenal striker Eduardo will fare for Shakhtar in the competition especially against his former employers on match day three when the Croatian will be at the Emirates in what will be an emotional return.

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Ahead of the Champions League Draw


So who do you reckon will face whoever in the UEFA Champions League group stage, with the hour for the draws drawing ever so close now.

Pot One has last year’s finalists Inter Milan and Bayern Munich along with English trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, Spanish champions Barcelona, AC Milan and Olympique Lyon that I feel will make quite an impact again this coming season following their capture of talented midfielder Yoann Gourcuff from Bordeaux.

Pot Two is highlighted by Real Madrid; no thanks to losing out in the first knock round to Lyon last season, the sixth straight time los Merengues have bade bye to the competition so early, AS Roma, Werder Bremen and Olympique Marseille. A lot of eyes will be on Tottenham Hotspur in Pot Three that also has Scottish champions Rangers and Ajax Amsterdam while Pot Four has got among others, FC Copenhagen, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Auxerre, Spartak Moscow and MSK Zilina (no offence, who?).

Also watch out for the likes of Portugal’s Sporting Braga in Pot Three after knocking out Sevilla in the final qualifying round as well as a certain Bursaspor from Turkey…whatever happened to Fernabahçe and the likes?

My guts tell me Real Madrid would probably get their nemesis Lyon and I’m counting on Raul making a return to the Bernabeu as well in Schalke colours. The Red Devils could also draw Rangers, just to play up the Scot link with Sir Alex and Tottenham should get ready for one of Barcelona, Inter Milan or AC Milan, I’d prefer Barça!

But hey, it’s just my guts! The real draw will be known from 17:00 BST and the group stage will kick off from September 14 and 15…now the season’s completely started!

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Wouldn’t it Be Fun?


Would it not be fun if Stuttgart the the football world a favour and pulled off the shock of the competition by defeating CF Barcelona in the Champions League second round?

How about French Ligue 1 leaders Girondins Bordeaux going all the way and lifting the last Champions League trophy competed for in this Millennium’s first decade?

And by the way, that Bordeaux win would come at the expense of an enterprising, yet unlucky FC Sevilla that came back from two goals down to force extra-time at 2-2, go ahead early in extra time, only to allow the Frenchies pull off a comeback of theirs and win 4-3 after 120 exhilarating minutes of football?

It would be lovely to see all that and a few more happen after watching draws for the knock-out phase of the competition made but thing is…most of it won’t (if not all) unless of course we get a re-run of FC Porto and AS Monaco from ’04.

In my opinion, Real Madrid looks sure bets for an umpteenth second round exit; Olympique Lyon may not be performing as well as they are used to in Ligue 1 (down in 4th place) but Real; with all the talent, didn’t quite inpress (me) in the group phase and Marseille could’ve got the ticket instead but they aren’t made of the stuff Lyon is and I count on Lyon to continue its good UCL record against Real.

As for the Italians, pity! Be not deceived by Chelsea’s current form. We’re talking of February; a time Drogba and Essien should be back from the African Nations Cup just as the league title race heats up (which is when Chelsea really get to stride).

Manchester United also get their stride at that period. Besides, Leonardo’s got no fan in me and recent Anglo-Italian history just doesn’t favour a fair return to Old Trafford for David Beckham and the rest of Rossoneri.

Truth is, everyone wanted to avoid the English sides (except if Liverpool had made it….actually, no!) so FC Porto (with one win in, what…a dozen visits to Queensland) joins the club of “oh dear” when they square up with Arsenal (who, hopefully for all Gooners, have acquired a forward or two by then).

Everyone also failed to list Bayern Munich on the Christmas wish list but Fiorentina was unfortunate…or are they now? the Viola did pretty well in the group stage and (to me) seem a most appropriate opponent for the Germans who I think are getting to their best.

In all, we’re in for some cool football (as usual) from the knock-out phase and sentimentally, I’d love for Arsenal to go all the way but the favourites for me are Barcelona while rank outsiders are Bordeaux…they’ve really impressed me!

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of Arsenal, World Cup Qualifiers and What Have You…


Arsenal now must prove not a few cynics wrong when the international break is over after Robin van Persie; scorer of eight goals in his last 11 matches for the Gunners, got an ankle injury in the Netherlands friendly match against the Italians.

RvP injured vs Italy '09

Robin van Persie in agony for the Netherlands

For those who appreciate good football, this comes as quite a blow to all (in that category) and Arsenal faithfuls especially seeing as he has also come in with eight assists as well.

It leaves me wondering if manager Arsene Wenger would buy a forward in the January transfer window with RvP out for at least eight weeks and the following names came to mind…Mauro Zarate (SS Lazio), Luis Fabiano (FC Sevilla), Lisandro Lopez (Olympique Lyon), Vedad Ibisevic (TSG Hoffenheim) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (AC Milan).

Unfortunately, all the above players will not crucially be eligible for Arsenal in the Champions League competition having themselves been involved in it or the new Europa League…all but Ibisevic, a Bosnian international whom I hope to see at the World Cup (at Portugal’s expense) and in Arsenal in January…wishful thinking, I know!

Speaking of the World Cup, Portugal must really be dreading the trip to face the Bosnians on Wednesday especially as the home team on Wednesday will be full of confidence after twice hitting the Portuguese post in the lone goal loss of the first leg.

I’ll be rooting for the Bosnians in the second leg although reality has a strong way of setting in; with a goalless draw probably thrown in by the “god of soccer”…if ever there was such thing. My reality…I would love to see a 3-1 win for Bosnia over Portugal.

France did one heck of a good job with the win at the Irish and I don’t see Raymond Domenech contriving to get himself more “fans” by throwing away the home leg. As for Russia, they have a bit of work to do while I hope Greece makes it instead of Ukraine.

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