Posts Tagged UEFA Champions League

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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Is the Red Devil You Know Really Better than the Angel You Don’t?


Having won the UEFA Champions League in 2005/06 (2-1 vs. Arsenal) and again in 2008/09 (2-0 vs. Manchester United), Spanish giants C. F. Barcelona now appear to be favourites to once again reclaim Europe’s most prestigious club competition following the semi-final first leg matches. According to statistics (from Opta Sports) no club has overturned a 2-0 defeat in 15 attempts at the semi-final stage of this competition, a result the Catalans achieved on April 27 against fierce rivals Real Madrid; all the better at the Santiago Bernabeu home of the Merengues.

The result may have been different had Real’s Portuguese defender and a sturdy defensive midfielder of late Pepe not been sent off quarter of an hour into the second half with scores still goalless, albeit it would be biased to let that take the shine off the very well executed brace by Argentine phenomenon Lionel Messi whose second saw him weasel past four white shirts before finally slotting past Iker Casillas for his 52nd goal of the season in all competitions for Barcelona and 36th goal in all his Champions League appearances, which has seen him go past German legend Gerd Muller on the all time top-scorers list.

Meanwhile a repeat of the 2008/09 final is on the cards after the Red Devils finally got two goals past the impressive Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 in the second half after the German goalkeeper kept his side in the tie with a string of saves in the first half. Barring what happens to any of the teams’ players in the second leg matches, Manchester United stand in better frame to match the ingeniousness of Barcelona. However, it would be very difficult for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to reclaim a trophy it won in the 2007/08 season.

First factor going against United is the unfair fluidity Pep Guardiola’s charges have attained when it comes to team play, which leaves opposition teams either having to play a faster pace game, have at least a 90% completion rate in its passing game and then have a minimum of three players that each can produce a moment of magic from any part of the pitch. There also is going about grinding the game to scrap, not allowing Barcelona the fluidity they have perfected and successfully implemented in a majority of matches in all competitions this season before then going about to win such match.

And yes, United’s attacking third comprising an in-form Wayne Rooney with goals and assists paired with this season’s revelation in perhaps all of Europe, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez with his great technique at positioning and not just goals scored but important match winners time and again that have seen him earn himself a starting shirt ahead of Dimitar Berbatov (left out completely in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Germany) can pose quite a threat to the rampaging Catalans.

This is complemented by Edwin van Der Sar who stands stalwart between the sticks, the imposing Nemanja Vidic who is the heart of the Red Devils’ defence and a midfield based more on effectiveness than on flair through veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs alongside Michael Carrick and Anderson with Nani especially and Antonio Valencia most capable of the flair part of the business.

All that said, whichever of the aforementioned midfielders Sir Alex puts in the starting line-up must play like they sometimes have over this season in order to not see Rooney having to come deep just to get a feel of the round leather, a scenario the Red Devils team must avoid otherwise Chicharito would be left isolated upfront and Rooney would have been taken some distance from a range where he can actually cause damage.

It would be the best starting Scholes as he has the ability to achieve a pass completion rate the Barcelona forwards enjoy supply from their midfield while starting Giggs would be a better idea than starting Luis Nani as the vastly experienced Welshman has been more consistent over the season and more so lately than the Portuguese whom one isn’t sure would turn up on match-day. Carrick is also capable of achieving a good pass completion rate but like Nani, one can never know which Michael would turn up on match-day.

Based on this seeming uncertainty in midfield that normally would not be glaring against most other oppositions, United may still just find Barcelona a riddle a bit too hard to sort out.

©ð.òÁ

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Top Ten Players of 2009/10


This would normally have come at the end of May but being a World Cup year, I held it till the Mundial was over before coming up with players I feel deserve to be so recognised. Obviously, performances at the World Cup in South Africa has a lot to do with the players that have made this list; a lot, not all to do with who makes this list.

10.
It’s a three-way tie here made of Luis Suarez of Ajax, Englishmen Jermaine Defoe and Bobby Zamora of Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham respectively.

Africa may not like him no thanks to his hand in Ghana’s quarter final exit, but Suarez is a fine player nonetheless as shown in the three goals he scored at the World Cup on the back of 47 goals in 46 starts last season for Ajax, putting him in good stead to replace Diego Forlán as Uruguay’s main man. Besides, if not for his handiwork, Forlán most probably wouldn’t have got the Golden Ball award because Uruguay would definitely have crashed out.

Defoe appears on this list thanks to his goals that helped Spurs reach the League Cup final, FA Cup semi final, finish 4th in the Premier League and qualify for a first ever UEFA Champions League. Redknapp’s continuous faith in him (from West Ham to present) has consistently being repaid in kind. Admittedly his World Cup was average but he did score a goal (more than Wayne Rooney).

And Zamora, whose crucial goals helped Fulham finish respectably in the league and imperatively in their amazing run to the final of the maiden Europa League, shushed his critics all in a season plagued by injury which ultimately cost him a place with England’s party to South Africa.

9. Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos

It’s difficult to place a defender among the best of them all but Ramos in my view is an excellent defender and with an average of one goal in three games for underachieving Real Madrid last season coupled with a solid performance for newly crowned world champions Spain at the World Cup, fully deserves his place here.

8. Maiçon
It’s a pity Brazil met the Netherlands in that quarter final match either side could have won and had Brazil won, Maiçon would have come in higher on this list. He had a good World Cup, scoring quite a goal but it is his season with treble winning Inter Milan that catches the eye. Maiçon was consistent for the Nerazurri and was one of the stars that helped Inter to that treble.

7. Thomas Müller

Thomas Muller

Thomas Muller

The 20 year old has had a season to remember having broken into the German national team with top rate performances for Bayern Munich on the Bavarians way to winning the league and cup double as well as losing in the Champions League final. Müller capped his season with five goals and three assists at the World Cup to win the Golden Boot award ahead of David Villa and Forlán.

6. Lionel Messi
In my initial shortlist of players, Messi actually did not make the top ten…something definitely wrong there and this is the best I could do for the Argentine hope following a World Cup below expectations for country and a season parallel to our expectations. Messi remained true to his pace, menace and sheer will to disgrace opposition – until Mourinho came with his tactics and the Germans with their machines. Messi remains a fan favourite and his four goals against Arsenal (for me) in the quarter final of last season’s Champions League sums just why.

5. David Villa

David Villa

David Villa

Fernando Torres is regarded as the golden boy of la Roja but a month at South Africa surely must have changed perspectives with Villa running the show up front and from the flanks too, scoring five clinical goals and simply justifying the £30m or so Barcelona paid Valencia for his services. Asides scoring, Villa was a team player (sometimes) and had more shots on target at the Cup than anyone else – the move from modest, cash-strapped Valencia was only a matter of time and his form for Spain with his new club mates leaves the world to wonder, who will stop Blaugrana 2010/11?

4. Arjen Robben
He’s one of those Dutchmen that fall prey to injury season after season and he’s had his little fair share this season which gives his accomplishment this season even more credence in my books, helping Bayern Munich to a German double and the Champions League final as well as playing his part in the Netherlands run to the World Cup final despite missing the group stages (safe for the substitute appearance in the third match). He however will rue for a long time his missed chance one-on-one with Iker Cassilas (who by the way, finished at no. 11 on my shortlist or having more players at the number 10 spot would just have made this lose some cred) that most probably would have won the World Cup for Oranje…bygones I guess.

3. Xavi Hernandez
Xavi’s only flaw is the lack of goals in his games, safe for the occasional free kick and poachers effort otherwise it would be his name; and not Messi or CR9 (with all due respect), that would be on every football lovers’ lips. That said, he again was at the heart of affairs for Barcelona as Blaugrana won a Spanish double and fell short of retaining the Champions League against eventual champions Inter Milan with his ever pinpoint assists and overall vision and intelligence.

2. Diego Forlan

Diego Forlan

I’ve only heard Sir Alex Ferguson state his respect for players he sold twice – Jaap Stam and Forlan. Forlan without question was the spine behind Uruguay’s run to a fourth place finish at the World Cup, finishing with five goals and capping his campaign at South Africa with a goal that had class glossed all over it against the Germans. That, plus a season with Atletico Madrid that saw him lead the Spanish side to the Europa League trophy caps a terrific season for the late bloomer.

1. Wesley Sneijder
Not saying he’s going to be named World Footballer of the year but then again, he won the Italian league and cup and the Champions League being the playmaker of the Nerazzuri before coming so close to lifting a first World Cup for the Netherlands…enough ingredients in my opinion to be named the best footballer for the year #nodisrespect. And to think he is a Real Madrid reject, along with Robben! Sneijder has come a good long way from his torrid time at the Bernabeu where ironically he won the Champions League.

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Wouldn’t it Be Fun?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And there was Ovrebo


Now I thought it was just the English referees that made farceful decisions on the football field and like Polly, along came Tom Henning Ovrebo who wore the all black in the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg between Chelsea and Barcelona.

Drogba falling under Abidal's challenge in the box

Drogba falling under Abidal's challenge in the box

First though, a few classic referee decisions. In the 2006 World Cup against who was it again, Croatia had a player sent off by a referee from Queensland but that was after the Croat got three yellow cards.

Then there was the other ref who turned a blind eye to Cristiano Ronaldo taking his shirt off in celebration against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League very recently.

But none comes better in farce than Ovrebo’s display at Stamford Bridge; and before you all go “why’s this Gooner sulking” and so on, the ref even got a decision or two wrong on Barcelona’s part. First Florent Malouda being pulled by Dani Alves.

Maybe the referee felt a bit of Malouda’s toe was outside the box so the foul did not warrant a penalty. That’s the only excuse I can think of for Orvedo as the Norwegian cannot possibly claim he had no clear view of the foul…he was right in the action.

Then there were the two shouts for penalty by Drogba. I’ve actually seen both given but I’m tempted to say being Drobga, you kinda lose a good bit of credibility when you fall under challenge in the area and we all know how the Drog is along with Cristiano Ronaldo and maybe Fillippo Inzaghi.

Then came Abidal’s red card. It would be easy to say it was deserved but emotions aside, Abidal was not the last man as Yaya Toure was closing in on Nicholas Anelka when Abidal and Anelka tripped each other; though Abidal feels he was the one tripped. Eitherway, that was no red card, and as a matter of fact, no card at all!

Red Card or not?

Red Card or not?Orvedo took the farce to new heights when Anelka's flick to get past Gerard Pique was caught by the Spanish defender's outstretched arm, 10 out of 10 those have been given but welcome to the new generation of referees fathered by Orvedo. After that, you just got the feeling Barcelona would score somehow and like we all say, the rest is history.Andres Iniesta turns the night Blue at the Bridge

There however was time for one more controversial decision as Ballack’s stoppage time volley deflected off Seydou Keita. Now I wouldn’t say that was a definite penalty, let’s just leave that at that.

In all, I felt like I was watching the CAF Champions League (no offense) as clearly, something just was not right about the ref…or maybe UEFA and/or FIFA aren’t fans of watching a consecutive all-English final?

Whatever it is, the referee totally spoiled the spirit of the match and made the champions league semi-finals, in all, a total no-contest; yes Arsenal put up nothing like a broom let alone a challenge against United!

So now, I’ll just do with watching Kano Pillars and Heartland rep Naija in the CAF Champions League. I think at least one of them would make the final stages of the competition. you?

Drogba bearing his mind out to Ovrebo

Drogba bearing his mind out to Ovrebo

Last word, Drogba’s theatrics after the final whistle was totally immature and unwarranted but can you really blame him? Yes the world will say yes he was wrong (and somehow I found his show quite comical)  but then being Drogba; known for his theatrics in the box, no one would take him seriously. Anyhow, here’s hoping for a clean and true final…I’m backing United on this one, going by my earlier prediction and not by sentiments.

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Decision Time for Premier League Big Four


 

 

Emmanuel Adebayor scores against Villarreeal in the UEFA Champions League 1st leg at El-Madrigal

Emmanuel Adebayor scores against Villarreeal in the UEFA Champions League 1st leg at El-Madrigal

It would be foolhardy for any football loving person to say (at this moment in time and in the seasons to come) that the English Premier League is not the strongest in the world and the reason is not far fetched…Queensland is guaranteed at least one club in the UEFA Champions League final for a fifth consecutive season.

 

This run began in 2005 when Liverpool performed a most remarkable comeback to defeat AC Milan on penalties, then Arsenal had to contend with watching Barcelona drool on the trophy in 2006; and later sell their Igwe to the club at a fee that still baffles me…

2007 was AC Milan’s time to gain revenge on Liverpool with a well earned 2-1 win; Liverpool was outplayed in that match, while in 2008 we were dished an all English final between Manchester United and Chelsea whose fans made SO mush noise on the fateful day you’d think PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii had become prophets of football!

Also in three of the last four seasons, the Big Four of English football have all made it to the quarterfinal stage of the competition and I dare say all would’ve made it to the semi-finals as well had it not being that UEFA separated teams from same country until the semi-final stage. But still, three clubs for a third season running…that’s nuts!

I’ll be looking forward to this season’s semi-final pairings; they are classic encounters with Chelsea and Barcelona meeting for the first time since two key factors left; Ronaldinho and Jose Mourinho, to be replaced by the Trinity (Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry) and a Dutch wanderer (Guus Hiddink) along with the mafia at the Bridge (think Terry, Lampard, Drogba, Ballack and maybe Cech).

That match promises to be the goals as Barcelona (or more specifically the Trinity) just can’t but score while Chelsea have grown a “if you score three, well we’ll get four of ours” attitude lately.

Against Barcelona though, it would be in Chelsea’s interest to drop that mentality or some damage will be done to their mentality simply because Barcelona not only scores goals aplenty (and sometimes way too easily), they barely concede much these days. No wonder Messi was bold enough to say Barcelona at this point can achieve absolutely anything ala la Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League; perhaps the English league if they were drafted to play in it too!

In my personal opinion, I’d rather not have an all-English final this season. That means I’d rather not have Chelsea play in the final…not out of hate but simply to spare my ears of the episode that played themselves on the untarred roads of Las Gidi…as in, someone should teach these folks some decency!

If the Blues make it through though; which I along with more than half of the football world very much doubt for obvious reasons, all well and good too for the status of the English Premier League in Europe.

But really, the semi-final to watch is Arsenal against Manchester United because not only are these two arch-rivals (good old days of Roy Keane and pat Vieira nose to nose) but this would be the first time ever they’ll play each other in Europe and as derby rights go, both sides would love to have the first scalp on the other for that sake and a place in the “Roma Finale”.

This brings me to a fact everybody seem to be overlooking and sincerely I don’t know why. Arsenal, more than any, hold the key to the destiny of their ambitions to end a trophy drought as well as the other three’s trophy ambitions.

Arsenal still play Liverpool (away), Chelsea (home) and Man U (away) in the league and I’m not going to write out the scenarios that could play out should Arsenal win all three of those (very possible) or lose all three (very possible too) or lose two and win one and so on and so…

Then there’s this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley and as expected, my Blues’ frenemies have been telling me how Arsenal will fall bad and hard and yada yada yada…I’ve reserved my comments since the day we beat Hull City…I’m still not going to say jack to those noisemakers except one thing…Shut up!

And finally, there’s the semi-final against United. On paper, this match is vey balanced unlike the other semi-final, so the thing is if Arsenal win, United will squarely focus on the Premier League while Arsenal could play its cards at winning the Champions League and gaining an automatic spot in next season’s group stage notwithstanding their league position at the end.

Should United win, the Red Devils will have to divide attention on the UCL and EPL (not forgetting FA Cup), therefore giving Liverpool (and Chelsea) a chance at the league and Chelsea a go at Europe. Arsenal meanwhile would then focus on finishing 3rd in the league (very very possible should it win those three league fixtures) which in case you didn’t know would earn an automatic spot at next season’s Champions League group stage…

With all said, it’s my opinion that Chelsea could end up the biggest losers of the four having more to lose than they realise; Chelsea could actuallly win a treble! Liverpool would’ve been the biggest losers but they won’t be losing a Champions League semis or final nor are they in the FA Cup…it’s just the league for them. Man U is in the same shoes with Chelsea while Arsenal have the FA Cup and Champions League to really worry about.

 

My prediction:

Premier League title: Manchester United
FA Cup: Would actually lose for Everton to win it
Champions League: Anyone but Barcelona (this one’s my guts talking)

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