Posts Tagged liverpool

Over the Weekend: Hewitt on Course for Djokovic Match, Bale Sale Sealed and More


Barack Obama went George Bush on Iraq, on Syria when he declared that the United States will get a military campaign going in the Middle Eastern nation. Then Yung6ix did a Kendrick on Control, on twitter when he declared himself best rapper in Nigeria. Then I went… no, I only did the needed, picked beans for the week while watching as much sports as I could. Here goes…

Years ago when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were the Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic of tennis, a certain Australian was the Andy Murray that tended to upset the balance every now and then till injuries ravaged his career to a halt and allowed Roger Federer and Nadal reign supreme after Sampras and Agassi were done dominating tennis.

Over the weekend however, Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years as he first upset sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro in a thrilling five set second round win before getting a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 6-1 win over Evgeny Donskoy and make the fourth round at the US Open for the first time in seven years.

It is an unlikely run for the 32 year old Hewitt who will now face either Mikhail Youzhny or Tommy Haas, fellow 30+ year olds against whom he holds healthy head-to-head records, thus making him favourite to set up a potential quarterfinal match with world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Serbian top seed was ruthless as he dropped just three games on his way to a straight sets win in his third round match, and was joined in the fourth round by defending champion Andy Murray who also won his match against German Florian Mayer in straight sets, having beat Leonardo Mayer of Argentina (no relation to Florian) in the previous round.

Also through to the last 16 is Tomas Berdych who has greatly impressed at Flushing Meadows and hasn’t dropped a set so far while in the women’s section, defending champion Serena Williams won her last 16 clash with Sloane Stephens; the young woman touted to replace her soon, in straight sets to set up a quarterfinal against Spanish 18th seed Carla Navarro.

While Navarro flies Spain’s flag proudly far away at New York, the natives back at her home would surely be forgiven for being distracted by activity from the Santiago Bernabeu, home of is-money-your-problem? side Real Madrid.

And Samuel Eto’o must have gone ‘been there, done that’ when confirmation of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer to Real was made. No, not because of the £85.3m/€100m transfer fee involved but because of the weekly wage the Welsh winger’s set to earn… a staggering £300,000, or not.

Bale’s weekly earnings will actually be £170,000 after tax, so yes, Eto’o can still feel good about himself that he once earned all three hundred grand every week while at Russian club Anzhi before his move to Chelsea where he’ll ‘humbly’ be earning around £135,000 every week.

More importantly, Bale’s record move – which eclipses the one that brought Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu – will not see him earn more than the Portuguese ace so egos may be bruised slightly but definitely not entirely upset eventually.

Putting pen to a six year deal ends the highlight saga in this year’s transfer window and thanks to the hierarchy governing when to shut that window, we may yet witness quite a number of high profile players move around in a domino effect off Bale’s transfer before the end of the day.

One such muted move sees Mesut Ozil suddenly close to sealing a €45m move from Real Madrid to Arsenal on a €7m per annum salary while Kaka could leave the Bernabeu for AC Milan for free four seasons after leaving Milan for Madrid for £56m. Lord!

There’s talk of Luis Suarez leaving Liverpool for money no be problem Madrid, a move which could see Karim Benzema leave the Bernabeu for none other than Arsenal just as Angel di Maria reportedly remains an option for the Gunners.

Simply put, today’s the sort of day the fainthearted stay offline and avoid the legendary and infamous rush of transfer day deadline updates… a day trolls will reign, medicals will hold, moves will break down at the last detail and what not. E! is the perfect channel for your kind, or a channel showing reruns of matches from over the weekend… just so the football fan in you stays sane.

A fainthearted Arsenal fan for instance would be very pleased to watch the club’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday’s north London derby, a match Mathieu Flamini made a telling second Arsenal debut and which was settled by Olivier Giroud’s well taken strike early on.

That win helped the Gunners rise to fourth on the Premier League table with six points, going above their £107m spent neighbours by virtue of goals scored, and champions Manchester United that fell two points behind after a lone goal loss at archrivals Liverpool.

On a day new players Victor Moses (on loan from Chelsea) and Mamadou Sakho were in the stands, some way off a disgruntled England manager Roy Hodgson, it was Daniel Sturridge’s instinctive finish – his third in as many – that settled the battle of the Reds at Anfield and hand the winning Reds a third win in as many matches and a two point lead atop the league table.

In some other Premier League matches, second half goals from Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure’s sweet freekick got Man. City a 2-0 win at home to stubborn Hull City (Tigers [never forget]), Swansea City won 2-0 as well at West Brom and Everton drew a third consecutive match in a goalless stalemate at Cardiff City.

Jermaine Pennant’s freekick helped Stoke City to a lone goal win at West Ham United and fifth place, Paolo di Canio was left miffed and ‘brainless’ was used as a qualifier after Sunderland’s 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace while ‘sublime’ would be a suitable qualifier to describe Hatem Ben Arfa’s late strike in Newcastle United’s lone goal win at home to Fulham.

In Italy, Juventus bashed Lazio 4-1 on Saturday with Carlos Tevez scoring the final goal there and help Juve maintain a perfect start to the season, though last season’s runners-up Napoli now lead the league thanks to goals scored following a 4-2 win at Chievo Verona.

Inter Milan and AS Roma follow Napoli on the table with six points apiece following respective 3-0 wins against Catania and Hellas Verona, with Fiorentina now in fourth with six points as well – ahead of Juve thanks to goals scored – as a brace each from Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez sealed a 5-2 at Genoa while AC Milan won 3-1 at home to Cagliari for their first league win.

PSG got a second league win after four Ligue 1 matches as stoppage time goals from Adrien Rabiot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw off Guingamp and lift the reigning champions to fourth on the table with eight points, two points behind new leaders AS Monaco that came from behind to claim a 2-1 pyhrric win at Olympique Marseille; a match Monaco’s Radamel Falcao scored the equaliser before going off injured.

In Spain, Lionel Messi put his recent injury troubles behind with a first half hattrick that helped Barcelona to a 3-2 win at Valencia whose goals were scored by Helder Postiga before half time. The win left Barça top of the league with nine points, just ahead of Atletico Madrid that beat Real Sociedad 2-1 on Sunday.

City rivals Real lie fourth but also with nine maximum points so far courtesy of a 3-1 win over fifth placed Athletic Bilbao while newly promoted Villarreal kept up their surreal start to the season with a 3-0 win at bottom-without-a-point Osasuna with Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche scoring the third there.

Elsewhere, Kevin Gameiro scored twice as Sevilla came twice from behind to draw 2-2 at home to Malaga while Espanyol and Celta Vigo remain unbeaten in sixth and seventh respectively, with Espanyol playing a goalless draw with Nosa Igiebor’s Real Betis and Celta being held 1-1 by Granada on Saturday.

Borussia Dortmund meanwhile remain unbeaten and with a perfect record even after four Bundesliga matches, securing a hardfought 2-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt to regain top spot from Bayern Munich that is two points behind on 10 points.

A trio of teams failed to take advantage of Bayern’s 1-1 slip last week at Freiburg, with Bayer Leverkusen losing 1-0 at Schalke to remain on nine points in third, Mainz losing 4-1 at Hannover 96 to drop to fifth place on nine points behind their conquerors on goal difference while Hertha Berlin lost 2-0 at Wolfsburg to remain on seven points in sixth place.

Moving on to African football, Orlando Pirates maintained top spot in Group A of the CAF Champions League despite falling 2-1 at Zamalek of Egypt. The South Africans, with seven points, however lead on goal difference ahead of second placed Zamalek and their fellow Egyptians Al Ahly that beat Congo’s AC Leopards 2-1 in the other group match.

In Group B, Esperance of Tunisia opened a two point lead thanks to their lone goal win over Sewe Sport in Tunis and Cotonsport’s 1-1 draw at Recreativo do Libolo, a draw that left Cotonsport in second place with seven points.

Finally in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Bayelsa United now lead the table with 49 points following a 1-0 win over Sharks on Sunday. The Yenegoa club is followed by champions Kano Pillars that won 2-1 at home to Enugu Rangers while Enyimba dropped to third with 47 points after a goalless draw at Dolphins on Saturday.

In other matches, ABS of Ilorin drew 1-1 at Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Akwa United thrashed visiting Sunshine Stars 4-0 and Heartland recorded a 1-0 win at second from bottom Wikki Tourists of Bauchi.

On this day, tennis legend Jimmy Connors was born in 1952. Others born on this day include delectable actress Salma Hayek in 1966, former boxing Briton Lennox Lewis in 1965, Malian striker Freddy Kanoute in 1977 and my favourite actor Keanu Reeves in 1964. You should watch his latest film 42 Ronin.

Others born on this day include Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, Bayern Munich’s Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez, former ‘next big thing’ from Brazil Alexadre Pato, English midfielder and twitter troublemaker Joey Barton and Nigerian defender Danny Shittu.

Sadly (or not), Shittu isn’t on the 23-man list of players named by Super Eagles manager Stephen Keshi (and approved by the NFF) for this weekend’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Malawi in Calabar.

All the best to the Super Eagles in that match, and to you in the month of September.

Have a great day ahead. Wenger, you too… please!

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Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 2


Seeing as that game I returned to on football manager was lost eventually, thus adding propane to my already blazing virtual hatred for Javier Hernandez, it’s better to indulge in this writing distraction some more and salvage my season afterwards. Something I fear Arsenal will end up doing yet again this season in the league.

Arsenal could’ve been a true title contender if £55m was spent on Gonzalo Higuain and Marouane Fellaini/some other workhorse of a midfielder such as Luiz Gustavo who’s recent link turned out as nothing having now signed for Wolfsburg. Even Jack Rodwell, if the club had made an effort to sign him early in the window, would have been a very good signing for me.

Alas! Arsène Wenger’s let the economist he is get the better of him so far, to the detriment of his dearly beloved club. News of Mikel Arteta being set to miss four to six weeks with a thigh strain has further dimmed the optimists at the Emirates Stadium, something a Gustavo arrival would’ve prevented.

Wenger’s previously been always on about how the quality players who can fit into the Arsenal way are not on the market or the money to get them isn’t available. A first XI’s worth of those were available this transfer window as was the money (let’s give him and Gazidis the benefit of doubt on the money bit), yet it came down to him expecting Brendan Rodgers to be the fool this year and sell a prized asset to a rival. Such delusion!

Wenger’s continued stance to not adapt entirely to the transfer market dynamics (despite the clear fact that breaking ‘the bank’ for two quality players will not scratch Arsenal’s finances) will have Arsenal not in the running for the league title once more. The Gunners however could finish higher than usual in third, if his (a bit thin) squad, show the grit and form from the closing weeks of last season.

Having virtually same set of players allows for a sustained progression, off that close season run from the night in Bavaria which every player at the club would readily want to remind fans and critics alike. But injuries (as Arteta’s might show), possible suspensions and inevitable burnouts (Cazorla and Giroud will testify) will greatly threaten that.

The best Arsenal can do now is win a Cup, something they embarrassingly refrained most casually from doing last season. That would tear a veil of sustained failure from the club’s loins and set it on track for further successes, especially in the league.

Take a look at Swansea City. Despite switching off in the league for about two months after romping to the Capital One Cup, one can argue that the Swans had a relatively better last season than Arsenal. It was understandable that the Welsh team, with a decent (numerical) but very talented squad, faded in the league after winning a Cup.

Which makes the summer signings there all the more impressive. Wilfried Bony hit 30+ goals last season. You may want to be condescending about it since it was only the Dutch league, then you remember, a lot of very good players such as Luis Suarez came from that league. Make no mistake, Bony and Michu will bring torment upon the rest of the league and I expect that to start right from Matchday One, fittingly against the reigning champions.

Michael Laudrup did very well to keep Ashley Williams at the club, my thought being that Laudrup played the Sinclair card there. He also did well to get Jonathan de Guzman back on loan for a second season just as the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey gives his midfield more depth to ensure they put up a commedable display in their debut in Europe while also faring better than last season in the league.

In fact I feel the Swans can finish in the top 5 this season, making them the biggest threat; not Tottenham Hotspur, not Liverpool and certainly not Everton, to the teams that finished in the top four last season. I’m even envisaging Liverpool having a better season than Spurs would… it’s just a thought, I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s an enticing thought.

Of all the pretenders, Spurs have quite a bit to prove largely no thanks to the Modric-esque saga of Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger should’ve been cashed in, replaced with Gervinho (who’s now at Roma) or a Scott Sinclair with a fraction of the transfer fee received, using the rest to bring in good defenders. Instead, Spurs will start the season with a makeshift defence.

The arrivals of striker Roberto Soldado, winger Nacer Chadli and midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue add needed potency and stability to their respective positions. Succeeding in keeping Bale would go a long way as well, but the defence – if left without reinforcement – will be their undoing this season.

Spurs’ back line is up for easy picking this season, as newly promoted Ligue 1 side Monaco vehemently showed the world just over a fortnight ago. Jan Vertonghen’s absence should’ve been highlighted much more than Bale’s was. Even then, having him fit does little to sort the similarities with a poorly built structure in ghetto Lagos.

The backline at Anfield is in a fairly better state, Simon Mignolet is a good goalkeeper, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Aly Cissoko on loan from Valencia are good full backs and while not world class, the combination of Martin Skrtel, Sebastien Coates, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure at the centre should be decent enough through the course of the season.

Liverpool’s midfield is usually climatic; one day piss poor irrelevant only to be championship (no, not the lower league) material the next day, and Philppe Coutinho – along with a fit Lucas Leiva – will be central to whatever orchestrations are composed from there this season for a forward line that actually can be impressive on their day. Given, Daniel Sturridge can be a pipe of a player at times, he always is a threat in the area.

Suarez may sulk through the opening weeks of the league but fortunately (when the big picture is well observed) for the Reds, he’s going to sit out the opening six matchdays… enough time to quell a good number of the demons toying with his emotions about leaving Anfield or staying.

Unlike Christian Benteke who had a sudden epiphany at Villa Park and signed an extension to his Aston Villa stay, the latest instalment in Suarez’s eventful time at Anfield could end up being a good catalyst that’ll see Rodgers’s side having a real go at Champions League qualification next May. It is Suarez’s desire to play Champions League football, Rodgers is very determined to keep the Uruguayan forward at the club hence, the ambition there would be to finish in the top four this season or have little choice than to let go of their prized asset.

Rodgers (AVB and maybe Moyes too) obviously hasn’t sought Paul Lambert’s advice on such matter, seeing as the Aston Villa manager managed to keep his prized asset. Not to say Villa will fare greatly this season but Benteke’s presence upfront, along with Brad Guzan’s in goal, will help Lambert steer Villa through a decent season.

Lambert’s former club Norwich however look like they’ll fare better this season, with Ruddy back in goal after missing most of last season injured. Then there are the quite impressive signings of strikers Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, arrivals that should ensure the club won’t miss Grant Holt who now plays at Birmingham City.

Newcastle United have reinforced their options upfront, adding Loic Remy on loan from QPR and Yoann Gouffran on a permanent basis from Ligue 1. The Magpies also got right back Mathieu Debuchy from the French league, to add to the dominantly French speaking squad, which the club would hope translates to a good enough season fighting for a Europa League spot at best.

Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux and Moussa Sissoko will be key in midfield for Alan Pardew’s side, who also has the options of Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Dan Gosling to make for quite a decent group of midfield players at St. James’ Park to last a gruelling season.

Pardew will also be pleased to have Remy and Gouffran to call upon now should first choice striker Papiss Cisse fail to show a more lethal touch in front of goal as he largely did last season. All that said, Newcastle have the potential to finish in the top half of the league and even go for a spot in next season’s Europa League.

Newcastle, on paper, should perform better than Everton even. Unlike Pardew who’s been at St. James’ for a bit, Roberto Martinez is new at Goodison, but that’s about it really. Martinez is a talented manager who is attack minded, a philosophy players such as Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Stephen Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas, new signing Arouna Kone and, to an extent, Bryan Oviedo, Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic can live up to.

Martinez couldn’t deliver much while at Wigan Athletic due to a shambolic defence. He however has a resilient set of defenders at Goodison Park so all he can hope for is that the players deliver in the final third for him. It’s that or opposing teams will pick the Toffees apart on the counter and Tim Howard then won’t be able to keep balls from the net.

There’ll be goal line technology to assist Howard and other Premier League goalkeepers and defenders settle controversial moments now, having being installed in all Premier League stadia. Could end up being the difference between a team being relegated or staying up.

My favourites for relegation this season include West Brom; now without Lukaku who’s back at Chelsea and still with a poor back line, Stoke City now managed by Mark Hughes, Hull City despite some decent signings and whose chairman wants to change the club’s name to Hull City Tigers… rugby union behaviour!

There’s also Crystal Palace (and I promise you it’s not because Marouane Chamakh has joined them) and Cardiff City; promising dealings in the transfer market but still doesn’t seem right to me. I’d like to be proven wrong with Cardiff though.

Fulham and West Ham should do well for a midtable finish, as should Southampton ably led by Ricky Lambert. Sunderland, with almost a new set of first team players signed so far, including American forward Jozy Altidore and Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio could leave quite a good impression on the league this season. (Wanted to comment on the quality of his goal tenders but that would overshadow the potential of the rest of the team, so… ).

… so I’ll end it here and look forward to the opening weekend, which kicks off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City in the early kickoff. Arsenal then host Aston Villa, Manchester City welcome Newcastle’s French gang to the Etihad, Chelsea host Hull City (Tigers) and champions United embark on a tricky trip to face Swansea in Saturday’s evening kickoff.

Here’s to another entertaining season. And to all Arsenal fans… just take it easy.

Saturday
Liverpool vs. Stoke City (12:45)
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (15:00)
Norwich City vs. Everton (15:00)
Sunderland vs. Fulham (15:00)
West Ham United vs. Cardiff City (15:00)
West Brom vs. Southampton (15:00)
Swansea City vs. Manchester United (17:30)

Sunday
Crystal Palace vs.Tottenham Hotspur (13:30)
Chelsea vs. Hull City (16:00)

Monday
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (20:00)

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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: 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!

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The Perilous Plain Arsenal Treads: Fàbregas, Season 4


The protracted tussle between nascent Premier League underachievers Arsenal and world conquering Barcelona to have midfielder Francesc Fàbregas in their respective teams is currently seeing its fourth season play out; complete with the usual rumoured agreements behind the scenes and blown out of proportion comments among other plots in a number of episodes in this saga.

This season’s tussle actually set off in the run up to the last UEFA Champions League final with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique posing with a picture of Fàbregas taken down from a wall at the Arsenal training ground; an opportunity that came about with the Gunners granting the Catalan side access to its training facilities ahead of the win at Wembley over Manchester United.

This same duo, along with Liverpool keeper Jose Reina, also succeeded in forcing a Barça jersey on Fàbregas after the Spanish national team lifted the 2010 World Cup at South Africa; a campaign that saw Fàbregas contribute to the success even in his bit part role.

Back then (Fàbregas: Season Three if you may), Arsenal was going to have none of it as regards negotiating any fee for his transfer to the Nou Camp. Currently, the stance has changed with the Gunners willing to negotiate having set their asking price at a staggering £60m.

Importantly and fortunately for Barça and otherwise for Arsenal, what has not changed is the silverware cabinet at the Emirates Stadium, which bolsters Barça’s approach for Arsenal’s talismatic midfielder coupled with the fact that the Nou Camp (with all bitterness in admitting so) is Fàbregas’ home.

Arsenal’s move; however perilous it is, to appear as lending a listening ear to Barça’s approach for the player may well be what will keep Fàbregas at North London since it puts the Gunners in the light of not forcing Cesc to stay at the club (the perilous part of it), which then puts Barça in the light of being desperate for a player it in reality has no need of with the likes of Seydou Keita and Ibrahim Afellay behind the spotlight of Xavi and Andres Iniesta just as Thiago Alcantra is staking his claim to more appearances in the Barça first team especially on the back of his sterling performances at the recently concluded European U-21 Championships that Spain won.

Hence, by holding out for a fee that is obviously well out of Barça’s valuation of the player as well as what the club can afford, Arsenal has somewhat put itself in a win-win situation and put the courting Spaniards in a win-at-a-great-cost position.

Again, Arsenal’s position here is precarious due to Arsène Wenger’s transfer policy of not spending more than a footballer’s valuation in his economic view. So should Fàbregas join Barça because the Catalan giants actually meet Arsenal’s valuation or Arsenal accept Barça’s reported next offer of £35m, Wenger’s policy would mean the already disgruntled and disillusioned Arsenal fans would have to endure a seventh, eighth and perhaps ninth season without a trophy.

The second part of this piece will elucidate why I say this…

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London Olympics: Football’s Headache in Uniting a Kingdom


At club level, England boasts of some of the world’s best football teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United, alone with eight European Cup wins to their name along with the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea while Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City should probably have their ambitions of breaking the Big-Four’s monopoly taken more seriously based on both’s improvement over the last few seasons, culminating in Spurs reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter final in only its first appearance last season and City lifting the last FA Cup, defeating city rivals United along the way.

The rest of the British Isle lies well behind the English Premier League both competitively and lucratively with the closest competition, the Scottish Premier League, being a standard golf course apart from matching the EPL’s prowess and global appeal with some yards to spare.

While the biggest clubs from the other nations of the British Isle have been unable to match their English counterparts, those nations have actually produced quality footballers that have reached the heights, some of whom are Liverpool’s Scottish manager Kenny Dalglish who is part of Celtic’s greatest team of all time along with fellow Scot Jimmy Johnstone. Other fine footballers these nations have produced are Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale from Wales, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gordon, Kris Boyd and Allan McGregor from Scotland as well as Irishmen John O’Shea, Ian Hart, Roy Keane and Robbie Keane among many others.

Unfortunately, most of these footballers along with their English counterparts have achieved naught in their international sojourns despite their potential being capable of earning such acclaim as evident with their individual successes at club level.

Hence, the British Olympic Association’s move to have a Great Britain football team participate at the London Olympics of 2012 rather than the individual nations with the logic being to afford footballers from each nation of the Isle such as those aforementioned; and the individual nations on the side, the chance to have a taste of success at the international level.

It should be noted that the closest international success came to any nation of the Isle was at the European Championship of 1996 with England only able to reach the semi-final stage. A decade and half of underachievement at four FIFA World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic Games have since been endured.

This gives credence to the BOA’s idea of a Great Britain football team representing at the Olympics London will host. The manner the Association has gone about bringing the team to fluid fruition may however have put the dream in jeopardy with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations claiming that the BOA only approached the English FA with the idea, and therefore cannot be seen to be in agreement with creating a football team for Great Britain.

The trio also stated that being a part of the proposal will confuse the individual identities of the nations. This is despite that FIFA has assured the BOA of each nation’s identity remaining intact in the aftermath of them contributing to the cause.

I strongly believe both sides should drop the egos and reach a compromise on the matter because in reality, none of the nations in the Isle can put up a commendable showing, let alone win Olympic gold come 2012; England’s U-21s a typical reason as to why. Having the best of each nation however may see Great Britain put up a commendable performance in front of the cheering faithfuls on home turf.

As it is now, should BOA go ahead with its plan of having a Great Britain football team for the first time since the Rome Olympics of 1960 without reaching a compromise with the trio that are being initially stubborn, then such team will likely predominantly compose of English players. Any success achieved then would not be shared!

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EPL Players of the Season 2010/11


Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez, the little pea in the big league

Snapped up from Chivas Guadalajara just before a commendable World Cup campaign in South Africa for Mexico, ‘Chicharito’ arrived Old Trafford, scored 13 goals in 21 league appearances and made such an impact at the Theatre of Dreams that Dimitar Berbatov’s long overdue return on goals for the money spent on him could not save him from losing his first team place to the diminutive Mexican.

Peter Osaze Odemwingie
Mostly condemned for moving to a club of Westbromwich-Albion’s stature by fans back in Nigeria and abused racially for leaving Lokomotiv Moscow by fans of the Russian club, Osaze went about his business and his sterling performances for the Baggies through the season; bagging 15 goals along the way, was more than enough to silence his critics and announce his talents to the English game. Being named PFA Player of the Month twice added good icing to his cake.

Robin van Persie
This Dutchman’s form for Arsenal, laden as always with time on the sidelines due to injury, deserved a trophy but just like his goal in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, it simply didn’t prove enough. Van Persie however should be proud of his individual performances this season having finished with 18 league goals this season; the first of those scored on New Year’s Day, equalling the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo and former teammate Thierry Henry for most goals scored between January and season’s end. He also shot his way to breaking Didier Drogba’s record of scoring in six consecutive away league matches by scoring in nine consecutive away league matches.

Luka Modric

Luka Modric

Luka Modric (Spurs' engine) would be the player in the background with both arms raised, with Van der Vaart (Spurs' sleek exterior) celebrating in the fore

Where Rafael van Der Vaart was the sleek outer design of the Tottenham Hotspur team, Croatian playmaker Modric was the engine under the hood that truly ran the show with space-opening passes, playing self and team out of trouble and providing the occasional assist. Modric indeed is the unsung star of Tottenham this season and you just feel a far less calamitous goalkeeper and more consistent forwards will see the top echelon of the Premier League be even more competitive.

Darren Bent

After leaving Sunderland in January the dearth in goal became obvious at the Stadium of Light, much to the benefit of Aston Villa where between the New Year and March he became top scorer of the Villans with 10 goals in 16 league appearances; including two in a memorable win at Arsenal at on the penultimate weekend of the season

Wayne Rooney
All he needs is a moment to show why every opposition defender is ever unsettled when Rooney appears on the starting sheet of Manchester United on any given weekend and weekday. Every season his game improves steady and his scoring touch has remained at a good level for a forward, his team play has improved tremendously and it’s when the team performs that managers are happy; individual performances come as added bonus really.

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines played in all of Everton's league matches this season, scoring five while at it

Everton would be better off in the league had the club attained same level of consistency as Baines. His occasional goals and high return on assists only bettered by Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drogba (according to Opta Sports) along with assured performances week after week for all 38 league matches amazingly, deservedly earned him the club’s Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season as well as Goal of the Season.

Jack Wilshere
Bolton Wanderers had a request to have the teenage English midfielder back on loan at the Reebok Stadium rejected few days to the start of the season and it proved to an invaluable decision by Arsène Wenger as evident by a consistent return of stellar individual performances for Arsenal all through the 49 matches he played in all competitions; one that deserved a trophy as reward… one that eluded the team.

Gareth Bale
Most unfortunately for the Three Lions of England, Bale is Welsh. A fact that made his explosive form for Tottenham Hotspur one worthy of much praise and enough for him to win the PFA Player of the Year although… winning that accolade was perhaps a bit of a hasty decision from the Queens’ men.

Edwin van Der Sar

Edwin van der Sar

Edwin van der Sar saving Anelka's spot kick in the 2008 Champions League final

This here is a Dutchman that has tasted the highs (Ajax) and endured the lows (Juventus and at Fulham; no offence to the Cottagers) of football hence retiring on a high at Manchester United after a top quality season of performances in all competitions is just what van Der Sar derseves. Van Der Save earned that nickname with string of saves that belied his 41 years and hopefully the Red Devils won’t go through the conundrum of finding a replacement like it did after Peter Scheimichel retired.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart applauding Spurs' fans after a match

Following in the individual steps of countrymen Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder… out of Real Madrid, van der Vaart added a bit more flair to the game of Tottenham Hotspur, culminated in his 13 goals in 28 league appearances for the Lilywhites and a commendable campaign for the club; one that saw Spurs reach the Champions League quarterfinals in its maiden appearance in the competition.

Ryan Giggs

Ageless Welshman has now won one less league trophies than Arsenal has in its history. If that does not hit you enough in the face, think of it this way; only three clubs in all of England has won more league titles than he has… and the picture should be settling in now. Even at the ripe age of 37 when it is goalkeepers that attain their peak, Giggs proved very instrumental in Manchester United’s title winning campaign with his experience coming in handy and the evidence of speed in him still that belies his age. This here is a Welshman that has got better with age.

And others worthy of making this list fall below:

Didier Drogba

Samir Nasri

Charlie Adam

Antonio Valencia

Dirk Kuyt

Nemanja Vidic

Brede Hangeland

Nani

Charles N’Zogbia

Carlos Tevez

Yaya Toure

Dimitar Berbatov

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