Posts Tagged manchester city

Over the Weekend: D’Tigers Edge Past Cameroun, Bluebirds Shock Man. City & More


Nigeria’s national basketball team has qualified for the second round of the African Basketball Championship, finishing top of her group at the competition ongoing in Abidjan following a thrilling 91-84 victory over Cameroun in their final group match.

D’Tigers had won the first quarter comfortably, only to be overhauled in the second quarter as Cameroun put themselves a point ahead going into the interval. The Camerounians then opened a nine point lead at a point in the third quarter, at which point the Nigerians began a late rally, trailing by three points at the end of the third.

By the fourth, D’Tigers were level at 84 all going into the final minute, scoring seven more points to seal a hardfought victory and set up a potentially straightforward second round clash on Tuesday with the Central African Republic that finished bottom of Group C.

Championship favourites Angola defeated the Central African Republic 85-80 in their final group match to finish top of Group C with three wins from three matches and set up a second round match against Mali tonight while defending champions Tunisia will face rivals Egypt tonight as well in another second round match.

Moving on from the Nigerian basketball team’s exploits, the Nigerian Professional Football League continued over the weekend with Kano Pillars returning to the top of the table ahead of Bayelsa United on goal difference thanks to a lone goal win over visiting Sharks of Port-Harcourt.

On a weekend all the away teams failed to score and were beaten, Bayelsa United went up to second place on 45 points with a 2-0 win over ABS of Ilorin.

Elsewhere, former league leaders Enyimba of Aba lost by a lone goal at Kwara United, dropping to fourth on 43 points, a point behind Kwara United. Warri Wolves got mauled 3-0 by El-Kanemi Warriors in Maiduguri, Shooting Stars were beaten 1-0 by Akwa United while Rangers fell to a 2-0 defeat at Dolphins in Port-Harcourt.

In the Barclays Premier League, former Manchester United forward Frazier Campbell’s headed brace helped Cardiff City come from a long range Edin Dzeko goal down and claim a 3-2 victory over Manchester City on Sunday, with Alvaro Negredo’s stoppage time goal for Man. City a mere consolation.

The win was Cardiff’s first at home in the top flight in half a century, and it thoroughly exposed just how much the injured Vincent Kompany is missed by the Citizens’ back four.

Elsewhere, Roberto Soldado’s second half penalty – his fourth goal in three games – was enough for Tottenham Hotspur to see off Swansea City while on Saturday evening, Liverpool once more had Daniel Sturridge and Simon Mignolet to thank in a lone goal win at Aston Villa.

In other results, Arsenal scored a 3-1 win at London neighbours Fulham, Newcastle United left out Yohan Cabaye again in a goalless draw with West Ham United, Mark Hughes’s Stoke City came from behind to beat Crystal Palace 2-1 and Sunderland got a 1-1 draw from their trip to Southampton.

South of England in France, title holders PSG got a 2-1 win at Nantes thanks to Edinson Cavani’s second league goal and Ezequel Lavezzi’s late winner. Archrivals Olympique Marseille now top the league with nine points after beating Valenciennes 1-0 courtesy of Andre Pierre Gignac’s late goal.

Billionaire newcomers Monaco dropped to second with seven points after being held to a goalless draw by Toulouse while erstwhile leaders Olympique Lyon fell to a shock 1-0 loss at home to Reims ahead of their difficult UEFA Champions League second leg playoff match at Real Sociedad in Spain.

The Spanish side drew 1-1 at Elche on Saturday in a La Liga match, dropping to sixth behind Espanyol on goal difference with the latter beating Valencia 3-1 in Catalunya. City rivals and title holders Barcelona maintained top spot with six points thanks to a lone goal win at Malaga.

Barça’s Spanish Super Cup opponents Atletico Madrid thrashed city rivals Rayo Vallecano 5-0 to go second with six points as well, while Athletic Bilbao and newly promoted Villarreal follow with six points too, with Bilbao beating Osasuna 2-0 while Villarreal got a 2-1 win over Real Valladolid.

Either of Granada or soon-to-sign-Bale Real Madrid could meanwhile join that quartet with a perfect record after two games, with a win when both sides meet tonight.

In Italy, the Serie A began with AC Milan stumbling to a 2-1 loss on Saturday at newly promoted Hellas Verona, whose goals were scored by veteran striker Luca Toni. Champions Juventus fared better soon after in a lone goal win at Sampdoria courtesy of a Carlos Tevez goal, in second in as many matches.

Elsewhere, Rafa Benitez’s Napoli reign started off with a convincing 3-0 win over Bologna, Inter Milan won 2-0 at home to Genoa as did Roma at Livorno, while Lazio got a 2-1 win over Udinese. The opening round of matches will be completed with Fiorentina’s match at home to Catania tonight.

And in Germany, Dortmund maintained their perfect start to the Bundesliga with a lone goal win over Werder Bremen, with rivals Bayern Munich doing same in a 2-0 pyhrric victory over city rivals Nurnberg, a match in which Mario Gotze made his debut for his Bavarians.

Schalke and Hamburg continued their bearish start to the season with respective 2-1 and 1-0 losses at Hannover 96 and newly promoted Hertha Berlin, results that left both clubs on one point after three matches with identical records in 15th and 16th place, ahead of another fumbling side Stuttgart that lost 2-1 at Augsburg and remain without a point.

One German racking up the points however is Sebastien Vettel, with the Formula 1 world champion opening a 46 point lead over nearest rival Fernando Alonso after winning his fifth race of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Vettel, who never looked like relinquishing the lead after going past Lewis Hamilton in the first lap, finished the race a massive 16 seconds ahead of Alonso; despite being asked in the third lap to conserve his car for the rest of the race by his RedBull team, while Hamilton finished a somewhat disappointing third having began the race on pole.

On that dominant note, it’s a wrap from here. Manchester United host Chelsea tonight in the Premier League’s first big match-up,the US Open serves off today, Sociedad and Arsenal will be out to seal a Champions League group stage along with Shakter Karagandy that takes a 2-0 lead to Celtic aiming to pull off a historic upset.

Then the big one on Friday between Bayern Munich and Chelsea for the European Super Cup in Monte Carlo. Thiago Alcantara willl miss that match for Bayern, and six subsequent weeks with an ankle injury… but that hardly takes the shine off the Bayern team or the match itself. Looking forward to it.

Have a pleasant last week of August. God bless!

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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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What Bayern Has (Inadvertently) Caused


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2011-12 Premier League: Pulsating End to Quite a Season


The neighbours have just got too loud and what frenetic manner to do so, making the Red Devils bel19ve they’d pipped them to the title at 93 minutes only for Edin Dzeko and Sergio Agüero to equalise right as Howard Webb blew for full time at the Stadium of Light and just as Manchester United was starting a ‘lap of honour’ respectively.

Manchester City, with those two strikes well into stoppage time, showed just why they deserved to be the champions, never failing in hope despite losing 2-1 at the time.

Yesterday, and later today when ‘noisy’ City parade the title through Manchester, saliva will morph to a choking stone down the throat of United fans who I’m sure would rather shut their door to the outside world for the day. Alotta folks will call in sick today over there, and that’s the ones that bother to call…

Meanwhile, Kieran Gibbs’ last ditch tackle in stoppage time proved crucial for my Arsenal, that huffed over the finish line in that lucrative third spot a point ahead of bitter neighbours Tottenham.

From the low ebb after ninety minutes at Old Trafford, the Gunners blazed from a point and a place above the relegation zone to third place, albeit with some mind numbing results along the way.

Liverpool provided us with most of those sort of results, ending a mediocre season with a lone goal loss at Swansea to finish in 8th place and ensuring Europe will be devoid of fallacies as Stewart Downing.

The Kop’s utterly disappointing season allowed for Everton to deservedly finish in 7th place and above their Merseyside neighbours for only the second time in the Premier League era.

The blue side of Merseyside should make the Europa League, as (I’m craving) the blue side of London do too. Chelsea finished 6th, have booked a Europa League place with their win at the FA Cup… but will want Champions League football by winning that competition.

Whatever made Jack Wilshere believe “every gooner will be a Chelsea fan (this) Saturday” needs to be expelled from his soul. No, we’d rather they be humbly satisfied with the Europa League place they have with the hope of having the Tiny Tots join them after losing their ensuing Champions League qualifying round affair early next season.

Relegation

Briefly, Bolton Wanderers had a sniff of surviving the relegation battle but Queens Park Rangers eventually survived instead, despite losing to Man. City with those goals.

Sad to see the Trotters go down, along with the abject Wolves and Blackburn Rovers, that needs to sort its administration out quickly or actually become what Portsmouth is now… a shadow.

Something Joey Barton may likely become as well. He subsequently has apologised to the team and its fans for his moment of shame in the second half when he had a thing against Argentines

And agreed, he’s an overly passionate footballer but Barton needs to control that otherwise his career will stay going downhill. Lord knows what drama would’ve unfolded had Balotelli found his way to him?

Highlights

I can imagine Alan Pardew with a sigh when he watches his former captain’s moment. Too bad Barton isn’t part of a Newcastle team that came close to clinching Champions League football but nonetheless, got a Europa League place by finishing at a very commendable 5th position.

That is largely thanks to Hatem Ben Arfa’s creativity behind, initially, Demba Ba who threatened to keep scoring but ended with 17 following a goal drought, and Papiss Demba Cisse who picked up from where the first Demba left off, scoring 13 goals since his move from Freiburg in January.

His goal in stoppage time at Stamford Bridge must surely get the nod for goal of the season. Followed by any of Peter Crouch’s volley against Man. City, Robin van Persie’s flying winner against Everton, Ben Arfa’s solo effort or Papiss Cisse’s second against Swansea.

There were lots of stunning goals this season, a season that became the Premier League’s highest scoring season ever as yesterday’s 32 goals meant 1,066 goals were scored in the just concluded season, to break last season’s record of 1,063.

More Records

At 2.81 goals per game, this season is the best as regards that, beating last season’s by .01. Van Persie also came one short of equalling the most goals scored in a 38 game season with his 30 goals.

The Dutchman also hit the woodwork the most times in the league, 10 times according to Opta Sports’ @OptaJoe.

It’s the second time in Premier League history that all three promoted sides maintained their Premier League status and kudos to Swansea and Norwich City for finishing on a high.

And champions Manchester City won 20 successive matches at home before that thrilling fightback against Sunderland at the end of March.

Squad of the Season

Goalkeepers
I’ll go with City’s Joe Hart, Swansea’s Michel Vorm and Tim Howard of Everton.

Defenders
Kyle Walker and Bacary Sagna get the right back slots. Leighton Baines and Gaël Clichy get the slots at left back. Vincent Kompany, Gary Cahill, Laurent Koscielny and Fabrizio Coloccini fill the centre back positions.

Midfield
I’m going for nine midfielders, comprising Yaya Toure, Juan Mata, Paul Scholes, Mikel Arteta, Gylfi Sigurðsson, John Mikel Obi, Scott Parker, Steven Pienaar and David Silva.

Forwards
These will be Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Agüero and… Nikica Jelavic… and Jermaine Defoe.

All said and done, I’ll have to find something worthwhile doing for about a dozen weekends when the EPL will be in hibernation. The Euros and Olympics will provide some consolation through that period.

For now, congratulations to Manchester City. The longstanding throne of the ‘Big Four’ is now a myth with their triumph coupled with the Sillywhites finishing fourth. Next season will be a new era in the Premier League and hopefully, new tidings for my Arsenal.

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Down to the Last Laugh: Chelsea or Newcastle?


Chelsea welcomed Newcastle United to the Bridge with quite a lot of imperative side stories attached to the encounter between sides gunning for a finish in Champions League places.

Though the Blues are in the Champions League final; where a win over ‘hosts’ Bayern Munich will secure a place in next season’s competition regardless of their league position at season’s end, a win last night would put them a point off 4th place and two off third.

But interim manager Roberto di Matteo had an eye and a bit of the other on this weekend’s cup final against Loserpool as evident with the line-up devoid of Lampard, Juan Mata and the Drog from start.

Admittedly though, Chelsea’s line-up was strong enough with Fernando Torres apparently off the hook regarding whatever kept his scoring boots from him along with Mikel, the midield -eses among others.

As for Newcastle, they came into this encounter off of a thumping from my club of April Wigan. And with Manchester City visiting on Sunday, their performance at the Bridge would largely if we should look forward to a City romp or a thrilling affair.

Papiss Demba Cisse hit a drill past Cech just under 20 minutes and let Kompany and company know what to expect on Sunday. And if they missed that memo, the Senegalese bargain made sure they got the message with a speculative, moment of ‘what the sporting fuck did he just do??’ four minutes into the dozen minutes of stoppage time given.

Alan Pardew’s celebration(s) almost summed it up. Coupled with the goal against Swansea, Cisse in my opinion will get the goal of the season award… apologies to my captain vantastic, you get second place here.

So, with Newcastle coming away 2-0 winners, it’s a three-way fight for two Champions League places in the league along with Arsenal (66points) and the Sillywhites (65points) that is ahead of the Magpies on goal difference.

Here’s the juicy twist though, Chelsea on 61 points isn’t mathematically out of it from the league point of view with two games to play. But last night’s loss makes the date at Munich even more crucial for them and for the three ahead of them.

I’ve always loved Mario Gomez and his crew!

Last night’s result also set up what I hope will be an engrossing encounter between Newcastle and Man. City. I did tweet that City would win the derby but not the league and anything other than a win for City on Sunday would likely vindicate that tweet.

Other Side Stories
Cisse’s brace made it 13 in a dozen for the Senegal international, a record goal return equal with Kevin Phillips and Micky Quinn (BBC).

You have to feel a bit sorry for Demba Ba then, who was denied a goal by Cech’s bar last night to extend his goal drought past the thousand minute mark. Demba’s become a Fernando :(.

Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed a number of scary moments this season and one would’ve thought Mikel Obi had loosened the screws holding Tiote’s head last night.

So the 12 minutes of stoppage time wasn’t a ‘PDP’ move to let Chelsea back in the game (if you didn’t watch the match), though John Terry did see a goal bound effort cleared off the line just before Cisse’s fantasy strike.

While hoping Tiote’s all good, the Sillywhites were kind enough to push Bolton deeper into the relegation water with a 4-1 win at the Reebok… not minding how it’d go with Muamba’s heart.

Either way it was good seeing Muamba in the stadium, his first time in public since his heart stopped while playing same opponent couple months ago.

Over at Firenze though, hearts raged in the 2-2 draw between Fiorentina and Novara. By the end of the night, Delio Rossi had been relieved of his job as Fiorentina manager.

For a neutral, it may have been comical when the incident occured after 30 minutes of the match. With Novara 2-0 up, Rossi substituted Adem Ljajic.

The Serbian, bemused by the sub, applauded his manager’s decision. Rossi was not so pleased by this and menacingly confronted the player down the tunnel.

While it was wrong of Rossi to outrightly lose his cool, I feel the Fiorentina president should have imposed a heavy fine on the manager and player for the confrontation.

Sacking Rossi is a bit heavy handed, especially in light of the Violas sadly precarious place on the Serie A table at 15th position. Que sera…

On a final note, I thought I’d clear it up. Punkenstein is an alter ego of @_deleke, same one that writes occasionally for @goonermemoirs.

Have a pleasant day.

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The Rich Also Cry Mancini


It’s all fun and games until the City starts to fall apart and Manchester City may well need to check its excesses before it self-destructs owing ironically to its most potent weapon, near limitless wealth. Having been bought over by Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City has transformed into a feared adversary in the transfer market especially and more importantly on the pitch, though the latter remains arguable.

In any case, the oil riches have elevated City from mid-table obscurity under the likes of Steve McLaren and Sven Goran Eriksson to the lucrative top quarter of the league as well as Champions League football courtesy of its 3rd place finishing last season. This, coupled with high profile players being signed at will and pampered with wages pushing the line of absurd, certainly the club’s stature has improved surreally.

All that could however lead the club back to obscurity, given a more celebrated one, what with the pampered players such as Carlos Tevez and more recently Mario Balotteli giving the world a peek into the illusion that clouds the air at the Eastlands. Unfortunately, rather than trim its excesses, it may well be a fine manager in Roberto Mancini that will bear the repercussions while the brats stay on.

Mancini is known for being an excellent manager especially when it comes to resource management if I may put it that way. The Italian, since his managerial debut with Fiorentina, holds a record of reaching at least the semi-final of a Cup competition in every season he has managed a club. This includes Coppa Italia triumphs – in his only year at Fiorentina, at Lazio as well as four consecutive times at Inter Milan – as well as reaching the UEFA Cup semi-final with Lazio and winning the FA Cup last season at City.

Therefore his managerial abilities, tactic wise, remains very sound in my opinion but the other side of his abilities is in question. I believe Mancini’s main problem is being exposed to an obscene amount as transfer budget right after six seasons managing in a debt-riddled Serie A. He left Fiorentina with the club then perilously close to bankruptcy, Lazio was heavy in debt in the two otherwise successful seasons he spent at Rome and Inter Milan’s finances can be described as secure when he reigned at the San Siro and became their greatest manager in three decades with a complete lock down of the Italian league and cup titles.

So being able to thrive with little resources, Mancini was employed under the assumption he would properly manage a complete opposite of what he is used to. Alas, it has been a mess so far off the pitch and the level of ego at a club that pays at least £140,000 weekly to at least seven first team players with six more not far behind in earning at least £90,000 weekly leaves much to desire when it comes to the individuals being a team.

Egos then will see more players than not advocating to be left untouched in the first eleven at all times, some for all 90 minutes at all times even as Balotteli’s attitude seems, leaving dear old Mancini with the headache of what to do with; for example, his front line that at the moment comprises unsettled Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko, Balotteli and new arrival Sergio Aguero without forgetting David Silva…

From the above, Adebayor can be left out seeing as he is determined to force a move away, one less source of migraine for Mancini there. And moving on, one may argue having good depth but there are times, a lot of times, when it is individual brilliance that rescues City from an embarrassing situation in a match as Tevez, Yaya Toure and maybe Silva can testify from last season’s performances. City surely can’t hope this would be the case all the time.

And in all this, Mancini still wants to add two players to the squad as quoted to stating last week and you start to wonder if there is a script at City…

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