Posts Tagged wigan

Over the Weekend: Elegant Fergie, Mancini Out and More


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do have a productive week ahead.

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Arsenal’s Week in Perspective


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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