Pep Guardiola's four years at the helm of one of the greatest side in this sport's history wore him down. That was the message garnered from his press conference. The most arresting part was a sort of enigmatic half plea, "I need to find myself again."
This is not a soulless man. He was clearly not enjoying himself. There is so much pressure to replicate the sort of gaudy success expected of Barca season after season. Worse, with Mourinho around it would never be football as much as a journey to the darkest corners of your soul. Spending two years besting your arch rivals on the pitch while being forced to engage in the sort of mud wrestling your nemesis revels at can sap every ounce of energy while caking you in filth.
Then there was the accusatory drum of UEFA picking its favorites encapsulated by that infamous, " Por Que?" press conference of Mourinho feeding on every grievance and persecution at the hands of referees. Suddenly, there was an excuse for being ousted by brilliance.
Does this mean Guardiola's going to act in Hangover Part III in a copious cloud of ganja smoke as he tries to find himself? No, he needs to rest. Probably get away from the game for a bit.
This has been a hard season for Barcelona when you think of how they have reshaped the sport. At the forefront of it all is their former number four who took the coaching reins in 2008. In four years, Pep Guardiola transformed this team into an unmistakable presence. Barca merits the highest place as a sporting landmark with all the trophies they have won but that is but a narrow reading of what they represent to the world. They are also an artistic phenomenon. A lovely syncopation of fluid overlapping bodies hitting the perfect strokes and notes with their instruments, i.e., their mind and feet for a mind blowing virtuoso, an unforgettable visual and aural experience.
Naturally, this style or its elements have been imitated by many teams with varying degrees of success but we know the world wasn't really built in seven days or Rome in a day. Guardiola has been at this for years perfecting what Johan Cruyff brought to Barcelona in the 1980s putting his own special imprimatur on the defense as the Dutchman did transforming the attack.
The first instinct when Guardiola announced his stepping down was a base one. He was jumping off the ship at the first signs of adversity. But the man has been associated with Barca since he was a young teenager, first as a ballboy, then a player, more lately as the coach for their B team, and now the senior squad. This is 30 years of his life and there are few manager who can quite claim such roots or a lifetime spent at one club.
Guardiola's decision to remain faithful has been made easier identifying strongly with Barca's regional chauvinism but he has also used those politics as a spring board to become an obsessive innovator. The world gets to see him on the sidelines, a slim figure, encased in impeccable black, tie askew, and fashionably unshaven. There is nothing careless about that look as there is nothing careless about Barca's performance on the pitch.
Naturally such obsession although pleasing to millions of fans takes its personal toll. It is mentally and physically exhausting as a perfectionist when you try and control circumstances of an arbitrary nature. Guardiola has not had an easy time in the last few seasons and it showed in his demeanour. The team also seems to be papering over some cracks which are getting larger. It is time for both Guardiola and the Blaugrana to recalibrate, rejuvenate, and rededicate to their cause. He will return because Barca runs through his blood. By that time, Jose Mourinho would have moved on to a new club to spread his recipe of instant gratification and leave the legacy makers to their natural inclination.
This was a hugely entertaining match. End to end breathless action at the San Mames as each team went at each other. There was no let up in the second half. Athletic took an early lead through Mikael Susaeta as the Basques pulled level on aggregate. That would have been enough for them to progress to the finals. But Sporting came roaring back as Ricky Van Wolfswinkel's smashed in a rebound. The pendulum swung back to the Portugese.
The next two goals were crafted through the clever work of Ibai Gomez and Fernando Llorente. Just before halftime Llorente's nifty footwork created time and space to slip the ball to the advancing Gomez on the left who took a couple of steps to drive the ball past Rui Patricio. The duo combined late in the second half as Gomez took the ball one way and then cut back to leave the defense out of position with Llorente squeezing his cross past Patricio and the near post.
The Europa Cup has been the refreshing breath in European football with the Champions League failing to lift with its relatively turgid displays. Marcelo Bielsa has been an inspiration to this young Athletic team built entirely on their prodigious home grown system.
Will Arjen Robben come to haunt Chelsea? Banquo puts the shivers in Macbeth.
A Barcelona vs Bayern Munich final would have been an ideal exposition of the best football would have to offer. Lots of freewheeling attacking and horrendous defensive lapses would have made it a final to remember. But in its absence we should be thankful for what we did not get.
A Champions League version of El Clasico pitting Real Madrid vs Barcelona would have been a frenzy of media hyperbole, Twitter wars, Mourinho vs Guardiola, individualism vs system, nationalism vs autonomy, Cristiano Ronaldo vs Messi, Ramos vs Xavi. The world would have been privy to football's version of a bedroom farce for the next month or so. After that build up it would be 90 minutes of mind numbing theatrics - diving, tugging, mugging, rolling around poleaxed, referee baiting,10 men behind the ball, and the odd moment of brilliance. And so we dodged a huge bullet there. The fans of both clubs lick their wounds and have to find their jollies elsewhere.
We were also spared a Chelsea vs Real Madrid showdown which would have renewed speculation of a Mourinho return to his old club. He would have no doubt swaggered to the beat of Chelsea living off his legacy of tenacious defense with so many of his former players instrumental in the recent spate of successes. That would have engaged both English and Spanish tabloids in a wall to wall build up to the final. The match itself would be 90 minutes of 10 men parking the bus on both sides with John Obi Mikel and Pepe trying to outdo each other, "You're a Neanderthal but what am I?"
Chelsea vs Bayern's most potent sideline story is whether Arjen Robben will exact revenge on another one of his former clubs. It's not exactly the same as Banquo's spectre making Macbeth quake in his boots. The match up between both clubs is an imperfect end to this season's Champions League with the underlying feeling being how in blazes did Chelsea manage to come so far. But at least in footballing terms it gets to examine the eternal struggle between attack winning matches or defense avoiding a loss. There is also the perspective of two clubs finished domestically playing all out to win a title that will erase that unhappy outcome. In Chelsea's case winning the final might be the only ticket to getting back to the Champions League.
Bayern have amply demonstrated their explosive nature of its attack and in Gomez, Robben, and Ribery they have a perfect trident while leaving questions at the back. Chelsea have gone a different but no less effective route, capitalizing on their rare chances but also showing the defensive mettle that endears itself to no one but a few purists. The two sides also open up opposing but critical abstractions that are pertinent to the sport and its future away from what transpires on the pitch. Financial profligacy vs financial austerity. Individual wealth vs mixed ownership. Player activists vs sublimation to a system. Buying talent vs nurturing them.
The sport gets a thorough examination when these two meet at the Allianz Arena in less than a month, not some unending parade of sideshow distractions which leave the actual display of the sport on brittle ground.
David Alaba's handball should never have been. It was inadvertent for which the left back received a yellow card which leaves him out of the Champions League final against Chelsea. Cristiano Ronaldo made no mistake from the spot. The Bernabeu erupted again as Ronaldo made it a brace after Mesut Oezil dissected the Bayern defense with his through pass. But with the attacking talent at Bayern's disposal a 2-0 scoreline could not be considered safe as both teams came out swinging in the first half.
This Real Madrid team has its share of cool talent but there are players in their side who evolution has left untouched. Amongst them Pepe and Sergio Ramos and you can always count on one or both to make a bone headed contribution that proves fatal. That came in the 27th minute when Pepe felled Mario Gomez in the box. Robben scored the all important away goal to tie the aggregate at 3-3.
The zip and zest in the first half was gone in the second half replaced by a cagey affair as both teams seemed reluctant to concede what could be the defining goal. But Bayern looked the more authoritative on attack with the sure footed Gomez uncharacteristically flubbing an easy chance in front of goal. It was Real looking a bit nervy going back to defend. They also looked leggy after the draining El Clasico encounter over the weekend.
Gustavo who had been merrily fouling away without any booking received his comeuppance after seemingly bringing down Oezil. Replays showed he had actually executed a superb tackle to get all ball. The booking was costly as he joined Holger Badstuber and Alaba further depleting Bayern of key personnel for the finals.
Extra time came and went without incident. It was onto the penalties and a test of mental fortitude and determination to get that win (read Germans). An occasion for both goalies to show their skill and mettle. In this showdown both Iker Casillas and Manuel Neuer were superb but the difference was the German had the tougher saves to effect especially Ronaldo's in which he cranked up all the power. And then came Sergio Ramos's bumbling attempt which will be replayed all over the world. The ball is in orbit having become Jupiter's latest satellite.
Somehow it brings to mind the butter fingers Ramos displayed in dropping the Copa Del Rey atop the bus and the trophy was crushed. It relieved all the pressure of seeing Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm miss their chances badly. Bastian Schweinsteiger made no mistake with his winning spot kick. Jose Mourinho disappeared without a word down the tunnel.
Ramires is the man. The Brazilian provided that laser like cross to find Didier Drogba in the first leg to score the only goal and the winner in the first leg.
In the second leg in the Camp Nou, Frank Lampard finds Ramires who raced ahead of a slowly reacting Barca defense to chip the ball over Victor Valdes to score a goal that Messi would be proud to embalm in his trove of unforgettable goals. Did Ramires dream up that strike? The skinny Brazilian whose legs motor up and down unflaggingly is known for providing an impetus to the attack but he's been accused equally unflaggingly for lacking a footballing brain. That was genius.
A groggy Chelsea reeling from two goals down and John Terry's ejection got back on its feet. The second half saw Leo Messi miss a penalty and a Chelsea defense that defied Barca time and time again with Petr Cech standing like a colossus in front of goal. Fernando Torres administered a sucker punch in extra time as Chelsea exited the Camp Nou in a blaze of glory.
Roberto Di Matteo is now one match from Roman Abramovich's dream of realizing a Champions League trophy. After all the coaches with world class credentials the Russian oligarch has wooed to Stamford Bridge, some who have come very, very close but never really delivered on that promise, his best bet lies in a coach whose philosophy can be best summed up as "live and let live."
Chelsea can also count on their fingers, a Barca rendered unambitious and deflated after the El Clasico encounter over the weekend. It was the second time in a row they had conceded a goal within seconds off scoring one of their own. It speaks of making do with an older and makeshift defense exposed as vulnerable to opportunistic counterattacking. Which poses this interesting question after Man Utd was outclassed in last year's Champions League finals. Would the Red Devils have fared better this year, maybe even won, if they had met present day Barca at this crucial stage? Absolutely yes.
The all Iberian showdown between the Lusos and the Basques kept up the Europa Cup's fast growing reputation of put whatever you're doing down and enjoin (an amalgam of join + enjoy) the thrill a minute, eyeballs to the wall, non stop, box to box action on display by some of the world's best talent. The Champions League hogs all the limelight but the scouts and coaches are scouring the Europa Cup for their next signing. This match had plenty of exhilarating stuff.
Jon Aurtanexte shot the Basques ahead through what appeared to be a marginally offside goal. Sporting came back late through former Liverpool midfielder Emiliano Insua before sealing the comeback with a Diego Capel scorcher that flew between Gorka Iraizoz and the near post. In between these events, the sides logged about a million Scott Parker miles.
Sporting had about a dozen close looks at goal with the intriguingly named Ricky Van Wolfswinkel a particularly egregious offender while Bilbao were clearly not at their best with the likes of Fernando Llorente, Susaeta, and Iker Munian in subdued mode. However, the silver lining is that all important away goal.
The action continues next week at San Mames. Will it be an all Spanish final?
Diego's stock plummeted after his underwhelming Juventus stint where he fell out with manager Ciro Ferrera and headed for an acrimonious exit. The Brazilian did not endeared himself at Wolfsburg with his temperamental ways and he was loaned out to Atletico.
The move seems to have paid off. Diego seems to have re-discovered his Werder Bremen form which established him as one of the world's pre-eminent creative forces. In Radamel Falcao and Adrian Lopez, he's found the two perfect outlets. And there is the slippery and omnipresent Arda Turan, whose persistence paid off in Atletico's first goal. It's an attack machine and the question for Diego Simeone is to tighten up the defense so that Atletico remains competitive in the upper echelons.
Yesterday, Diego was the catalyst behind all the set pieces that troubled Valencia no end. A beautifully calculated long ball found Falcao beating the offside trap and the Colombian, messi-esquely used his left foot to dance around defenders before uncoiling a peach for his brace and Atletico's fourth and final goal.
Valencia are by no means out of it. They captured two vital away goals through Jonas and a late Diego Costa strike setting up an intriguingly poised return at the Mestalla. Stay tuned.
Today was Piermario Morosini's funeral. The Livorno midfielder died tragically five days ago on the pitch of unknown causes with the autopsy proving inconclusive. But it is likely he suffered from sudden cardiac arrest that claimed the lives of Marc Vivien Foe, Miklos Feher, Antonio Puerta, Dani Jarque, and others before him.
Most recently, Fabrice Muamba's collapse on the pitch a month ago was a consequence of sudden cardiac arrest. The Bolton midfielder is making a strong recovery.
Morosini's story is a story of improbable odds, noble acts, and personal grief. It makes his death even more poignant. RIP to a brave son.
On Wednesday evening, Barca in a rare moment of self doubt, looked back to contemplate an axiom that applies to all except a chosen few. Football is indeed a cruel sport.
We give kudos to Didier Drogba's clinical strike and a defense that held up against the Blaugrana waves that marauded the Chelsea third for immense portions of the game. But lets put this victory into perspective. No one in their right mind would discount factoring lady luck as part of Chelsea's perfect game plan. It had to be that way.
Chelsea had to score from one of its rare chances at goal. Check.
Chelsea had to have Petr Cech come up with spectacular saves. Check (pun intended)
Chelsea would be rescued by goal line saves and the goal structure. Check.
Barca had to have the sort of game against Milan at the San Siro. Check.
Alexis Sanchez was made to rue his chance when the crossbar came in the way of his chip over Cech. Ashley Cole cleared Fabregas's shot before it crossed the line. Cech denied Fabregas, Adriano, and Messi. And late in added time Pedro had his opportunity denied by the upright. This would in all probability ended on a 4-1 advantage. Instead Barca now have to return to Camp Nou to end the aberration.
Leo Messi did everything humanly possible to manufacture a goal through proxy but his supporting cast of actors could not finish. Yet, in one huge cruel stroke, he became responsible for the one goal that made all the difference as Frank Lampard swiped the ball from under his feet to send Ramires soaring down the left. It all happened in a nano second as Puyol, Mascherano, and Adriano were left adrift when Drogba arrived to meet the Brazilian's low cross.
When we talk of the old brigade rising to the occasion, its always Lampard, Terry, Cole, and Drogba. Left out of that equation, Cech. He is the original war horse, an unmistakable figure wearing that Knute Rockne gridiron head gear. He has been on the receiving end of a lot of fan flak but yesterday, he was an obdurate sentinel keeping Chelsea's hopes alive.
Can Chelsea pull it off at the Camp Nou? A 0-0, 1-1, and even a 2-1 Barca result puts them into the final. They fought Barca to a standstill four years ago with the same personnel on the pitch. Mourinho parked the bus as ten men got behind the ball. That is one way to do it.
We're back! After more than a week of suffering from flu like symptoms that left me prostrate, weak as a kitten, and delinquent with blogging. A week away from the world's game is like being away for a lifetime. But thankfully, it was to this game that we make our return.
It was all Bayern in the second half. Phillip Lahm was immense skipping aside Fabio Coentrao, presently being decked by the Madrid media machine for his pathetic performance, to send in that low cross into traffic which Mario Gomez skillfully evaded to slide the ball into goal in the 90th minute.Obviously all that cigarette smoking has left Coentrao short of breath because Lahm cut through him with ridiculous ease all day and night. The Allianz Arena was rocking to "Seven Nation Army". Bayern 2 Real Madrid 1.
How Howard Webb missed giving a penalty when Gomez was gang tackled in the box in the 85th minute plumb before his eyes one can never know. Actually, one doesn't know why UEFA entrusts any more English referees with officiating matches after what has gone on in the Premiership/ FA Cup. There was Martin Atkinson whose incompetent display against Spurs in the FA Cup semi-finals saw him re-write the definition of a ghost goal. Goal line technology can only help those who are wrongfully done by referees or linesmen who don't see the ball cross the line. What about imaginary goal lines? The ghost goal line?
Madrid did get that all important away goal after Cristiano Ronaldo missed an absolute sitter but on the follow up Mesut Oezil made no mistake linking with CR7 to make this an evening of goalscorers with former and present Bundesliga connections. Franck Ribery shot Bayern into the lead after Sergio Ramos flubbed a clearance from a corner. The goal was questioned by Jose Mourinho who thought it was offside. On replay he does have a point and in addition, Badstuber might have handled the ball.
Pepe was quite well behaved for most part of the match but this being Real, there is Ramos and Marcelo, his understudies in the fine art of skullduggery. Webb should have sent off Ramos and Marcelo for their terrible from behind fouls instead of just booking them. Once again, Mourinho chose a familiar "park the bus" routine after the equalizer. This was proven woefully wrong against a Bayern side with no shortage of attacking options.
The action now moves to the Santiago Bernabeu for the second leg next week. Real will have to improve their performance dramatically just as they did against Barca in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey quarterfinals. But before that they face their nemesis on April 21st in an El Clasico return that could decide Liga supremacy. Mourinho has his hands full.
Pepe provides the best argument against creationism. He is also badly in need of foe vs friend identification. The Real Madrid defender is emblematic of Jose Mourinho. If the Special One rejoins the Premiership he will brings its collective IQ down to protozoan levels.
Mario Balotelli not quite taking a good hard look at the mirror
Well, that was quick. Less than an hour after Arsenal buried a stake into City's title hopes, the City manager was on the air talking about Mario Balotelli not playing the rest of the season.
"I am finished. We have six games and he will not play in the next six games."
This point maybe moot because Balotelli already faces a three match ban with the potential for three more to be tacked on if the FA takes a dim view of his studs up tackle on Song which should have resulted in his marching orders in the first place.
More importantly, Mancini indicated Balotelli could be finished at City and sold in the summer. But Mancini himself may not last. This transfer season is going to very, very interesting. City face the real possibility that the Al Nahyan's will reevaluate the poor return of investment in the squad. Spending your way to titles is one thing but if you're just throwing fabulous amounts of money to be a footnote, then the present path is untenable.
An old enemy gives Man Utd the gift they crave. Yes, Arsenal untitled for the last seven years bequeaths Utd, their almost certain 13th Premiership accolade. Isaac Newton predicted this many centuries ago. It's also called the law of gravity in minor circles.
The focus was squarely on whether City would revive its fading hopes for a first Premiership but Arsenal had plenty riding on a positive result themselves. A 15th year of Champions League football with Spurs, Chelsea, and Newcastle pressing hard.
Lets say this. Mario Balotelli should not play. Period. It's not enough to say he's a talented maverick. Because that talent seems to have mutated into a virus that feasts on unmitigated lunacy and bizarre behaviour. Why always me? it's obvious to everyone except Balotelli.
That dangerous studs up foul on Song could have snapped his shin in half. How Balotelli was not sent off in the 17th minute is a mystery. The FA if they do their homework should hand out a retroactive red. It did not matter from a performance standpoint because he did very little of consequence and his battle with Sagna came to an ignominious end when he fouled the Arsenal right back for his second booking and sent off in the dying minutes of the second half. This maybe a six match ban which means that he's free to go back to Italy and disrupt more press conferences.
Arsenal were the superior side with lady luck deserting them at key moments. Vermaelen interjecting himself in the middle of RVP's goalbound header, RVP's header hitting the upright after Song found him one on one with Joe Hart, Walcott's angled drive finding the far post with Vermaelen muffing the follow up and Benayoun whiffing on the rebound.
Just when it looked like the Gunners would have to settle for a frustrating draw came Arteta's big moment, dispossessing Claudio Pizzarro, and then driving the ball from distance, the ball bending enough, to beat Hart low on his left. A stunning strike and it begs the question why Arsenal does not engage in it more.
It came after minutes of sustained Arsenal pressure through the flanks as Sagna, Arteta, Song, and Rosicky took advantage of a tiring City side. The win did not come without consequence as Laurent Koscielny earned a yellow, his 10th of the season and will miss the next two matches.
Aaron Ramsey's most notable contribution was his horrible finish as he screwed his shot a million miles wide missing a golden chance to heap more misfortune on City. A few more things. Walcott had a game where some not so distant traits re-emerged. Song forced his passes too often with the lofted pass finding RVP as one of his few successes, Benayoun was clever but one wishes he had a few more pounds on his frame. Rosicky always looked to push forward but at times his feet were quicker than his eye.
All this pales in comparison to the high priced duds on display in a City side. Samir Nasri was a colossal failure booed everytime he got the ball, Yaya Toure did not last. Sergio Aguero was invisible. Silva was not even on the bench. Vincent Kompany was the only impressive presence. Where was the City side that put six goals through at Old Trafford? Are we talking about the same century? The camera cut away after Arteta's goal and there in the stands was a group of grim faced City honchos with Khaldoon Mubarak, the CEO looking extremely pinched. Roberto Mancini might not last another match.
This has been a bad weekend for the men in charge of match proccedings. Today's edition of bumbling officials featured Lee Mason and Ceri Richards conspiring to send QPR's Shaun Derry off for a love tap on Ashley Young who fell on the pitch like he had been poleaxed. The spot kick was duly converted by Wayne Rooney. The worst of it: Young was offside by at least two yards and this should have been a free kick to QPR.
For the next 75 minutes, QPR played a man down making their long odds even longer. Utd obviously was in no mood to let go off that gift wrapped offering. It was a sea of red around the QPR D and only Paddy Kenny making some out of this world saves kept the margin from growing larger. Like sharks smelling blood, Utd just kept circling and circling with the question being when the citadel would be breached. It took the second half and a terrible miscue by Adel Taraabt for Paul Scholes to seize his opportunity to thunder a shot which bounced awkwardly before Kenny and scoot past him for an insurance goal. Old Trafford could breathe easier with the familiar feeling of yet another Premiership title coming home.
Can anyone doubt Juve's quality in midfield when you have the creative spark of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, and Mirko Vucinic combined with Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella's attacking instincts? It's all clicking for Juve at the right time. Today, they ousted a gritty Palermo side with goals from Leonardo Bonucci and Quagliarella and went on top of the Serie as Milan were shocked by laggards Fiorentina.
The Old Lady also has the stingiest defense in Europe, the single biggest factor in their unbeaten season. They are on track for their 28th Scudetto.
La Liga has a title race. It's on after being off since the end of January when Real Madrid were steam rolling their way through. Barca are now just three point behind the league leaders with their 4-1 win over Zaragoza.
Leo Messi scored a brace for his 59th and 60th goal, the first player to do so since Gerd Mueller's record breaking achievement of 67 goals for Bayern Munich in the 1972-73 season. He has at least 10 more matches to break that record and no one in their right frame of mind is betting against that not happening.
The Argentinian has 11 more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo in all competitions. The two are neck and neck with 38 goals to 37 in the race for the Pichichi but the main difference is in the Champions League where Messi has 14 goals to Ronaldo's eight. Ronaldo has 3 goals to Messi's two in the Copa Del Rey, while the Barca no 10 has 3 goals in the Spanish Super Cup to CR7's one.
Messi also scored in the European Super Cup (1) and the Club World Cup (2), the two competitions that Real Madrid could not go to.
Clint Dempsey's 19th and 20th goal for Fulham sent the Wanderers back to relegation angst.
The American sent in an absolute blinder of a free kick. Adam Bogdan had no chance. It was Dempsey's 14th Premiership goal for the season, a Fulham record. Minutes later, Damien Duff sent an inch perfect chip for Dempsey to post his second goal. He had a great opportunity to score his hat trick in the second half but his shot trickled wide. Mamadou Diarra rounded off Fulham's domination.
Is there a club where a letter predicates success as much as at Fulham? The D's are deadly. Dempsey, Duff, Dembele, and Diarra.
Dave Bryan looks on stonily as Roberto Martinez gives him a piece of his mind
Wigan was robbed of a win against Chelsea by an incompetent linesman. Dave Bryan was guilty of letting both Branislav Ivanovic and Juan Mata's goal stand although they were clearly off side, the first more so than the second. Instead, Wigan now almost surely face relegation.
Roberto Martinez was rightly irate calling Bryan's display "disgusting" which of course means he will be punished by the FA and face a touchline ban and a fine. Meanwhile, Bryan will go on refereeing without facing any consequence, without re-training, or technology to prove him wrong.
Watching the match on FSC, one was also struck by the reaction of "pundit" Eric Wynalda, snickering like a schoolgirl dismissing these blunders as a deserved win for Chelsea and three points in the bag. Warren Barton, who should know better having played for Newcastle, the struggle for promotion, hinging on games like these, was no less disappointing describing it lamely as Chelsea riding their luck. C'mon you two, this was a Wigan side playing invigorating football in Stamford Bridge who should have won. At least have the good grace to acknowledge that rather than prejudging a Chelsea win. They also missed a great opportunity to renew calls for video review technology.
Even small clubs have a heart and soul. In fact, that's all they have sometimes.
Tom Hennings Ovrebo has nothing on Dave Bryan or Mike Jones.
Bryan is the linesman who declared Branislav Ivanovic onside when the defender was off by a mile when he scored his goal and Jones, the referee who after consulting him assented to that decision. It's all a bit ironic given the backdrop of the forthcoming Chelsea vs Barca semi-final encounter resurrecting all that angst at Stamford Bridge unleashed three years ago in reaction to Ovrebo's decisions.
Chelsea felt they were robbed at that time and after all those years still harbour a persecution complex. Wigan will feel the same but the rationalization is they are a small side and its just relegation they face, not in the same league as an over leveraged club buying a Champions League final. So suck up that dismay, Premier League minion, and go kindly into the night.
The Blues were toiling till Ivanovic's goal with Ali Habsi and a Wigan side proving to be more than equal. The Latics had decided not to park the bus but through Victor Moses and Mohammed Diame played some sparkling football with Diame burning the ozone with his equalizer, both brilliant and genuine, a claim that Chelsea cannot have on both their goals. Mata was also proved offside when he bundled in that added time goal after Torres's volley clanged off the upright.
Roberto De Matteo might through passivity, i.e., not ruffling his senior players feathers have earned his team a number of victories but he had no clue to this match. He was truly saved by an incompetent group of referees. Or more sinisterly, are we seeing Calciopoli enter the shores of England? Will Dave Bryan's children be put through Eton and should we check on the cars he keeps in his garage a few years from now.
Sol Campbell is a class player. The best Arsenal centre back and probably one of England's best in that position. He has a new gig as Guardian commentator but one wishes he had not written this as a first article.
Arsenal are in the midst of a crucial campaign to finish in the top four and to second guess the squad and suggest changes to the back room staff can wait till the end of the season. Campbell is not some blogger (ahem.... ) trying to generate noise to drive traffic to his site. He is a club legend writing for one of the most respected news outlets in the world. His opinion matters to many and he will get a listen to but this is hardly the time as tomorrow his former club face one of their sternest tests in that commitment.
A more salutatory piece on Arsenal's comeback or the Ox as one of the most promising English talents to emerge or tactical advice to Vermaelen and Kos on how to stop Silva and Aguero would have been more fitting. After reading the article one also finds that it really adds little to what we already know. Wenger as neat freak concerned about dust accumulation while simultaneously littering the sidelines with thrown water bottles. That's some contradiction. Was that also picked up in Japan?
Lets characterize this match as one that you would not choose to introduce anyone to the sport of soccer. It was a match thick with overall incompetence and incoherence. Still in those misconstrued passes there was something oddly compelling in the same train-wreckish way Sarah Palin flunks the most basic of foreign policy questions. Spurs can claim to have one of the Premiership's most sure eyed passers in Luka Modric but he was afflicted with the same disease affecting Rafael Van Der Vaart, Gareth Bale, Assou-Ekotto, Scott Parker, giving the ball away time and time again.
The main point of contention was a clear Phil Bardsley handball off Adebayor's header and at the other end Parker also guilty off the same. Both were not called. Aaron Lennon came on late in the second half and put in a nice cameo that almost resulted in a goal but Van Der Vaart flubbed the chance. Sunderland stuck to its water tight defense and an occasional flash of ambition on attack.
Both teams dropped points but this surely hurts Spurs more.
It was the Papiss Demba Cisse show again! Another brace and the second one had genius written all over it. And a hat tip to Yohan Cabaye for creating both chances.
The Toons are now in fifth just behind Arsenal and Spurs. They are the cleverest team in the Premiership when it comes to opportunism. Swansea unsurprisingly dominated possession but unlike Newcastle did not have a player with the improvisational skills of Cisse or the quick eye of a Cabaye. Brilliant, brilliant, all around. Cabaye's passes cutting incisor like to isolate Cisse to do what he does best. Stockton to Malone, Marino to Duper. Simple as that.
You can totally get behind this Newcastle team and I'm an Arsenal fan. What's not to like? Cisse, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Gutierrez. It's a whirligig of creativity. How did Wenger, Sir Alex, Dalglish, Redknapp miss out on The Cisse? They're losing their touch or their scouts are just looking for the safest choices.
Antonio Conte denies match fixing allegations while at Siena calling it a "hoax"
The Juventus manager has been in the spotlight following disclosures by Antonio Bellavista, a central figure in the match fixing scandal sweeping the Serie, that he had asked a friend to contact Conte when he was at Siena to influence the outcome of the Siena vs Sassuolo match. Bellavista claimed Conte was called up and in addition a text message sent. According to reports, Conte did not respond but might still fall afoul of the Cremona prosecutors for a "failure to report" this illegal contact.
The call and the text was a confirmatory follow up to an already agreed upon scheme whereby Siena would chalk up an impressive victory over Sassuolo which they did with a 4-0 margin.
While these might be mere speculations, they are still nevertheless, extremely damaging. Unsurprisingly, Conte was forced to came on the air to denounce it as a hoax and an attempt to distract him now that Juventus was challenging AC Milan so strongly for the Scudetto.
"I do not have to defend anything. I'm not disappointed, nor angry or surprised. All this is part of the game. It's a game I do not agree with and it's not good. But there it is. I read the news that I was involved in several newspapers and it made me smile. The same news was reported by a newspaper 8 months ago."
He went on to add that he was focused on wresting the Scudetto from Milan and he had no doubt the judicial investigations would ultimately reveal the whole truth. This is going to be yet another Serie rollercoaster ride as the repercussions from the first Calciopoli continue to reverberate after six years.
A penalty miss by Cleiton Xavier in the 64th minute made all the difference to Sporting Lisbon who squeaked out a draw to edge Metalist on aggregate. Metalist were the much better team this evening and Rui Patricio was a busy man under the bar.
However, it was the Portugese side against the run of play going ahead through Rip Van Winkle ..... Ricky Van Wolfswinkel's header. Metalist came back in the second half as Jonathan Cristaldo cut inside to beat Patricio with a belter. But then came Xavier's big muff up and the Ukrainian side ran out of answers.
Sporting now meet Athletic Bilbao while Atletico face Valencia in the penultimate showdown before the Europa Cup finals. If this is not proof of a dominant La Liga, then we have a certificate that shows Balotelli is sane to show to you.
Probably the most entertaining quarter-final on display with a plethora of attack minded players on both sides. Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Raul, Jose Manual Jurado for Schalke while the Basques had Fernando Llorente, Oscar De Marcos, and Iker Munian.
It was Huntelaar in great form this season lashing a shot past Gorka Iraizoz who raised Schalke's hopes for an upset win at San Mames. But Marcelo Bielsa's side who shown a tenacity of purpose to match that creative flair answered back through substitute Ibai Gomez's equally stunning strike. Raul put the Germans ahead one more time but once again Bilbao matched that with a Markel Susaeta goal.
At the end the teams drew 2-2 but Athletic continued their Europa Cup campaign with their superior 6-4 aggregate.
Adrian Lopez led a multitude of defenders in a merry romp around the box as Hannover's goalie Ron-Robert Zieler lay on the pitch giddy from Lopez's spinning around. As Hannover's defenders recovered from vertigo, Lopez slipped the ball into goal.
Mame Diouf managed to equalize for the German side before Lopez's Colombian counterpart Radamel Falcao added his exclamation point.
Valencia became the first of three Spanish clubs to march to the Europa Cup semi-finals. The semi-finals will be an all Iberian affair with Sporting Lisbon joining Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, and Atletico Madrid.
Los Che swamped AZ Alkmaar. Adil Rami scored a brace with Jordi Alba and Pablo Hernandez adding to the tally.
Andrea Maseillo, the former Bari defender and a central figure in Calciopoli2
As many of us have heard, Calciopoli 2 is vending its way through the Serie in warp speed. In the eye of the storm, Andrea Massiello, the former central defender for Bari who has been arrested on charges of match fixing. Eleven others including many of Masiello's Bari team mates have also been arrested in the police dragnet. The match that sparked the current investigation was a 0-2 loss to Lecce that staved off relegation for that club. Masiello scored an own goal in that match and later confessed being paid 180,000 euros. Bari by that time was relegated in the 2010-11 season.
The investigation has now widened to a number of matches that include some very big names in the Serie, including AC Milan and AS Roma.
Specifically, five matches involving Bari vs Milan (1-1), Bari vs Chievo (1-2), Bari vs Sampdoria (0-1), Roma vs Bari (3-2), Palermo vs Bari (2-1) all played in the last few months of the Serie are the focus of the prosecutors office at Cremona.
The Bari vs Milan match is receiving close scrutiny after investigators intercepted a call to former player Antonio Bellavista (one of those arrested) on March 11th, 2011, two days before the Milan match from an unidentified man comparing notes on their success in contacting Bari players to drive the end result in that fixture. In the Roma vs Bari encounter, Angelo Iacovelli, another Bari player under arrest, recalls he was at a meeting in Masiello's house in which he was offered money by Bellavista and his accomplice De Tullio, days before the Roma match. Bari lost that match, 2-3.
Milan won their first Scudetto in seven years. Roma made it to the Europa League. Calciopoli2 could claim some very big names and leave the FIGC with serious egg on their face for the second time in five years. These are the sort of scandals that make Italy the most corrupt Western European country.
John Terry's ribs cracked after they were used to make Eve
John Terry revealed he had a terrible time breathing in the Benfica return leg at Stamford Bridge having suffered what he thought were cracked ribs sustained in the first leg. He was subbed off after an hour and is to undergo a scan. He's one tough guy if that is what he's diagnosed with having played all 90+ minutes in the win against Villa. There is not much by the way of treatment except nature's course but in that time they hurt something awful every time one breathes.
Chelsea need him more than Roberto De Matteo because not only is he a talisman but in addition, he's also their de facto coach. Bad timing because they have entered fixture congestion as the race to the league top four, the FA Cup, and the CL showdown with Barca all come up in double quick time. There is literally no time to breathe, eh??
This is very encouraging. Fabrice Muamba continues to make steady progress to recovery. Still a long, long road ahead.
Bolton as a club also put some distance from the relegation zone despite being consumed by Muamba's life threatening condition (he was "clinically dead" for 78 minutes) in the latter part of last month. They won 2-1 against QPR before that fateful FA Cup match against Spurs in which Muamba collapsed leading to a postponement of their Villa fixture. They won against Blackburn and Wolves after resuming their season. Owen Coyle deservedly earned the Manager of the Month award.
The best moments came in the 67th minute and the 82nd minute when Gustavo Manduca and Esteban Solari scored Apoel's goals. At the Santiago Bernabeu no less! Real played real spoilsports to this David slayed Goliath story as Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace with Kaka, Callejon, and Angel Di Maria adding to the tally.
Well done, Apoel from Nicosia! By going so far in the CL, you did what Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City, Inter, Napoli, Valencia, Lyon could not do. Best of all you give smaller clubs hope.
Real will take their appointed place in the semi-finals against Bayern. Where they will face the wrath of the Robben, rejected by Real.
Many missed chances. And nerves jangling right to the end for Chelsea. Benfica did not have any of their four recognized center backs including Garay, Luisao, Vitor, and Jardel. Jorge Jesus, the Benfica coach had to rejigger his back four using Javi Garcia, a midfielder and Emerson, a left back.
Chelsea got the ball rolling through Frank Lampard's penalty after Ashley Cole was shoved by Javi Garcia in the box. The stare down between Lampard and Benfica's goalie Artur was quite riveting with Artur snaking his tongue out giving his opponent the eye. Maybe it was a dream involved a nice bottle of Chianti, fava beans, and yummy baked Lampard pie? In the 40th minute Maxi Pereira got sent off for a stupid lunge on John Obi Mikel for his second booking after receiving his first for jawing back at Damir Skomina, the same referee who earned Wenger's wrath in the Milan Arsenal match.
The man advantage was not exploited by Chelsea who went through a series of missed opportunities including a Ramires plumb in front of goal. Things turned very, very nervy in the 85th minute when Garcia atoned for his penalty giveaway by guiding his header past Cech from a corner as Chelsea fell asleep. Another goal and Benfica would be through on the away goal advantage.
Chelsea bunkered down as Benfica conducted a few very close raids but in the end with their whole team pressing, Aimar's free kick was headed out by Mikel and suddenly Meireles had acres of space to run on the break and smash the ball from distance for Chelsea's winner and eventual ticket to the semi-finals.
They will need to improve stratospherically to have a chance of ousting Barca. That or maybe Tom Hennings Ovrebo will dust himself off to officiate and go maverick on UEFA's favourite team. This time it will be Xavi mouthing off and Busquets chasing Ovrebo.
Caleb Porter's tactics came under fire in the U23 failure
The CONCACAF region will be represented by Mexico and Honduras at the 2012 London Olympics as the qualifiers drew to a close on Monday with Mexico beating Los Catrachos with a late Miguel Ponce strike in the finals.
The glaring omission: The USA. The U23 team coached by Caleb Porter, lost to Canada, 2-0 and in the most crucial of moments gave away a last second goal to El Salvador to crash out of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers.
In the aftermath, Porter, the University of Akron coach accepted much of the blame. But Eric Wynalda, on FSC who likes nothing better than to throw conspiratorial, ill thought out bombs blames US Soccer and its honchos for this monumental setback by hiring Porter. He is a NCAA coach with no national experience, blah, blah, blah. Listening to Wynalda it would seem soccer in the USA moved to the medieval ages in a space of a tournament.
This more thoughtful, well written analysis by Matthew Doyle gives a better understanding of where it went wrong for the USA. The talent was there but Porter chose the wrong formation and stubbornly stuck to that bit of dogma even when it went wrong. Now, I don't profess to follow the U23 team but I know a bit about the 4-3-3 which as everyone knows is used by Barca to deadly effect.
I am also a huge Arsenal follower where the 4-3-3 was used regularly when Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner were at the club. The similarities between the U23 side and Arsenal, especially in the department of silly defensive lapses were remarkable. Alas's last gasp goal is exactly the sort of goal Arsenal would give away. The 4-3-3 works beautifully only if you have the defensive discipline and the personnel willing to track back once you lose the ball or who can reclaim the ball quickly. Both Arshavin and Walcott were defensive liabilities in that system. It requires closing down the gaps to stop counterattacks like the one that doomed the USA.
There has to be a recognition on the part of the back line when to go forward and when to fall back and Arsenal for the most part did a lot of back pedaling leaving a lot of inviting space in front of goal to have a go (cf., Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4).
Arsenal have since settled into a 4-2-3-1 formation with Arteta and Song sitting back deep. Since Arshavin's departure, Walcott and Gervinho have improved following up on the ball. It's obviously a work still very much in progress (read QPR) but there have been fewer heartbreaking goals.
A more conventional 4-4-2 as Doyle points out would also have helped the US attack with Adu and Shea crossing to Terrence Boyd and another forward to overpower the El Salvadorians who showed vulnerability in the air. It should have never come to Sean Johnson failing to keep out Alas's goal because even if the USA had won, the 4-3-3 version used by Porter for this group on the pitch would not have guaranteed any future success.
Ivica Olic got both of Bayern's goals as Franck Ribery stamped his authority on this game. French goalie Steve Mandanda was put up a magnificent display in a losing effort. It looks like a Bayern vs Real semi-final unless Apoel pull off a miracle. Marseille go back home to a tattered domestic season with Didier Deschamps's coaching future in jeopardy.
Barcelona and especially Lionel Messi did not wear their shooting boots today. And because of that they kept AC Milan in the hunt despite their numerous scoring chances. As an example, an early opening created by Cesc Fabregas's delectable flick left Messi one on one with Abbiati and he shanked wide.
It was left to Luca Antinioni's foul on Messi and the resulting spot kick for Barca and Messi to open their account. Milan countered though Nocerino, who may be a foot note on the talent rolls but he's probably there in the first ten list on effort. Motoring down he took Zlatan Ibrahimovic's angled pass and with a nice first touch rolled the ball past Valdes to score the equalizer. Barca looked reactive and vulnerable on defense all evening. Pique's hips don't lie anymore and Puyol looks like Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler.
The match turned decisively just before the half when Nesta tugged on Busquets's jersey off a corner, a rarely called offense but adjudged by Bjorn Kuipers to rise to the level of a penalty. Nesta in turn was gangtackled by Puyol. Milan of course was left flabbergasted but Kuipers might have felt a goal scoring opportunity was being obstructed. This being Barca, it fed into all the conspiracy theories of favouritism from UEFA. No matter, Messi buried that penalty.
Iniesta added an insurance goal showing a classy first touch with the ball falling to him following Abbiati's deflection of Messi's effort. Barca could have added more but Thiago and Adriano missed point blank chances.
The strangest part of the evening was Barbara Berlusconi's kept man, Pato in a rare appearance replacing Kevin Prince Boateng and then 15 minutes later trudging off with an apparent injury as Maxi Lopez came in his place. Pato is earning hundreds of thousands as he sits out the season with injuries and lives on the moon dating his boss's daughter. What happened to him? He was at one point one of the brightest stars in the firmament.
The semi-finals is looking more like a Chelsea - Barca match up unless Benfica causes an upset. A certain Tom Henning Ovrebo still has the power to enrage thousands of Chelsea fans.
Just when Arsenal thought it had gotten rid of that fish head
The weekend did not prove to be too kind to Arsenal's prospects of finishing in the top four. They lost to QPR and their rivals, Chelsea, Spurs, and Newcastle all caught a headwind to put Arsenal's hopes for a top four finish in jeopardy.
In doing so, a few atavistic features resurfaced again, buried in that seven win streak. Soft in the midfield, lack of width, too slow and error prone on the counter, and too unfocused on defense.
Arsenal's giving away goals is sort of expected. But the winning streak was conjured up because of a few good things. None of that happened on Saturday.
QPR was allowed to boss around in midfield because Arsenal seemed to have smoked some good stuff (right on cue Marouane Chamakh brings out the shisha). They lost all the important tackles. Aaron Ramsey's inclusion on the wing is a classic Wenger brain fart. We've seen this before. Sometimes Wenger's tactics are dictated by a sense of fairness rather getting the best XI on the pitch to achieve a desired a result. "Oh, he's the captain of Wales, he deserves a start." Gervinho or Ox should have been the natural choice. Why they whey were not there is a mystery that boggles just like those disappearing socks in a dryer.
There was hardly any movement on the wide areas as Ramsey drifted into centre creating a redundancy with Rosicky. And when it came to the counter Song and Rosicky tried to force the issue with a spray of errant passes. What had worked in those stirring comebacks came to nought against QPR.
Arseblog correctly points out it wasn't just Thomas Vermaelen at fault for the winner. He slipped yes, but Samba Diakite was allowed that much space because Song and Arteta did not react to close the gap between Vermaelen's slip up and entry into the box. Sagna and Kos were present in the box but out of position. It was a moment of indiscipline and inattention to an unfolding situation. And oh, Arsenal just get the wobbles everytime a physical centreforward like Bobby Zamora charges ahead.
Arsenal's remit through a process of elimination is very clear. It needs to finish in the top four. Unlike Spurs or Chelsea there are no distractions like the CL or the FA Cup left. Chelsea's player mutiny ended with Roberto De Matteo taking over and they've been on the up ever since, Newcastle are riding a hot streak since their Arsenal loss, and Spurs are swinging back around after being battered the last month.
This coming weekend Arsenal face City desperate to close the gap between Utd and a title. Later in the month, Chelsea who are direct competitors come visiting. And two relegation threatened teams in Wigan and Wolves. All these teams have huge stakes in a win. Arsenal need fire in the belly and no break downs in concentration and discipline. They can ill afford to slip up. Fans have to keep up the pressure, RVP has to exert his captaincy and regain his scoring touch (yes, two games without a goal constitutes a crisis), and Wenger and Pat Rice have to devise methods to ensure every Arsenal player does what he needs to do to win.
Now five points clear of Man City. Two late goals. A rocket by Valencia from an acute angle. Ashley Young's exclamation point a few minutes later. Sir Alex very happy. Man Utd very happy. Title all but sealed. End transmission.
This has to go down as one of the most pathetic expositions of defending. The Galaxy could have propped up cardboard cutouts of AJ DeLaGarza, Sean Franklin, Andrew Boyens, and Todd Dunivant to do a better job. For a number of seasons defending was the Galaxy's achilles heel and one of the reasons for last year's success was their water tight back four.
The Revs were buoyed by Shalrie Joseph and Lee Nguyen who were outstanding. The rookie Kelyn Rowe caught the eye with his first MLS goal. The Revs also got some great minutes from Chris Tierney, Ryan Guy, and Saer Sene as they kept Josh Saunders a busy man under the sticks.
At the other end, Matt Reis was rarely tested with Beckham coming close with a free kick and Edson Buddle flubbing a simple chance with a clear path to goal. The Galaxy had to wait till late in the second half for Robbie Keane's goal to narrow the gap. Becks was subbed off at half time and from reports had a meltdown. Not good for his Olympics prospect is it?
Old Liverpool hand Sami Hyypia becomes Leverkusen's interim coach
A string of poor results including a weekend loss to Freiburg ended Robin Dutt's reign at Bayer Leverkusen. Dutt's team was sitting in seventh in the Bundesliga far removed from its runners up position last season.
Bayer announced Sami Hyypia, coach of the reserve team and Sascha Lewandowski, the U-19 head honcho would manage Leverkusen to the end of the season. Hyypia is well known in the Premiership having spent 10 years at Liverpool with over 300 appearances and as part of the 2004-2005 Champions League winning team. Would he like to come to Liverpool and coach? There maybe a job vacancy this summer.
The Nadeshiko were the better team in the first 45 minutes getting a number of chances with their quick interchanges. The USA relied a bit too much on Alex Morgan who was quite dangerous but there was no midfield presence to graft out scoring opportunities. In the 32nd minute Yukari Kinga put Japan ahead after Hope Solo was able to stop the first shot but off the rebound Kinga, the right back put the ball into the net.
The USA equalized in the 72 minute after Carli Lloyd's pass was sloppily cleared right into Morgan's path by a Japanese player and the in form striker made no mistake. At first the goal was ruled offside by the lineswoman but the referee adjudged correctly that the Japanese defender had kept Morgan onside.
The Kirin Cup is being contested by the USA, Germany, Japan, and Brazil. The Nadeshiko have yet to be beaten by the US since the Women's World Cup victory last year. Their last meeting at the Algarve Cup in early March also resulted in a win for Japan .
Marco Fabian was the standout player scoring a goal and assisting in Alan Pulido's goal as Mexico brushed aside Canada in the CONCACAF region semi-finals to qualify for the London Olympics. El Tri also added insurance from Miguel Angel Ponce after Canada had leveled the score through Marcus Haber's header.
Honduras beat El Salvador in the other semi-finals, 3-2 in overtime to take the second qualifying spot. Mexico and Honduras meet each other on Monday to decide the winner of the CONCACAF tournament.
A fine hat trick and a clever assist for Mehdi Ballouchi's goal capped a busy evening for the Arsenal legend. Kenny Cooper also got on the scoresheet with his spot kick after Dax McCarty was brought down in the box.
Good thing the Red Bulls scored a lot of goals because they looked shaky at the back and Ryan Meara did not have the best of outings. Sana Nyassi and Justin Mapp provided the strikes for the Impact.
This match had everything. Nine goals. Two red cards. Three penalties. Pepe Reina wasn't the only goalie sent off as Julio Cesar suffered the same fate bringing down Rodrigo Palacio. And Andrea Stramaccioni's debut win which rested on a very fine margin till the very last minute.
Inter went ahead as Diego Milito "El Principe" scored a brace including a thumping header off a Diego Forlan cross and then Walter Samuel combined with Lucio to put Inter in the driver's seat. Genoa narrowed the gap after a corner was blocked by Cesar but the ball looped towards Giuseppe Sculli who launched an athletic bicycle kick which deflected into goal off Emiliano Moretti. At half time Inter were ahead, 3-1.
On resumption of play, Javier Zanetti handled a cross from Sculli for a spot kick which Palacio successfully converted.
Mauro Zarate was recalled for this match and the ex-Lazio man produced a beautiful curling strike. The goal of the match and the weekend as Inter maintained a two goal cushion. Genoa weren't done yet as Palacio broke free and was brought down by Julio Cesar in the box. The Inter goalie was sent off without much ado and Alberto Gilardino was spot on with the penalty.
At the other end, Giuseppe Belluschi caught Fredy Guarin in a scissor tackle and the Colombian went tumbling for the match's third penalty. Belluschi received his marching orders and Milito completed his hat trick. Genoa dipped deep into its bag of tricks as an onrushing Sculli was scythed down by a high flying Lucio. Gilardino was at hand for his second penalty conversion.
Finally, the match wound to a close and a relieved Massimo Moratti broke into a smile. For Stramaccioni it was fist pumping time.
Mario Balotelli busted into Andrea Stramaccioni's press conference unannounced last week and against Sunderland yesterday he tried hijacking Kolarov's free kick. Lots of jostling and pushing as Nigel de Jong tried crowding him out till finally Vincent Kompany, City's captain having had enough told him to take a hike.
The Italian striker went all sulky while Mancini from the touchline looked he couldn't believe his eyes. The City fans quite tolerant of Balotelli's shenanigans till now reacted with boos. They are in a fight for the title with Utd. The last thing they need is dissension within the team.
A fantastic Brad Friedel save, a quick throw to jump start a blistering counterattack as Luka Modric finds a galloping Gareth Bale down the left and the wingback cuts back to Rafael Van Der Vaart following up. The Dutchman sends the ball flying past Michael Vorm. Swansea come back through Gyulfi Sigurdsson and then dominate the ball in the second half.
But Spurs capitalize on the Swans very soft defending on set pieces. Van Der Vaart swings in a corner and Adebayor rises unmolested and untouched to hang in the air for an eternity and head the ball past Vorm. Great goal but Ade was made to look good by a defense that did not even challenge him. Again, minutes later Aaron Lennon's laser cross finds Ade as Swansea fails to react.
Spurs snap their losing funk and are now level with Arsenal on points with the Gunners barely ahead on goal differential. Chelsea and Newcastle keep up the pressure as the race for third and fourth hots up again.
Papiss Demba Cisse is the best winter transfer maybe of all times in the Premier League. Exaggeration? 7 matches, 7 goals. He's scored three winners already against Aston Villa on his debut, Norwich, and Liverpool today. And to top it they have all been easy on the eye.
Andy Carroll continues to toil and really made a meal of a golden opportunity against his former club as he dove with Tim Krul about a yard away from contact. What was going on in that head? None of the answers look good and Martin Atkinson gave him a yellow.
Hatem Ben Arfa again proved to be the catalyst. The Frenchman when he feels like it can tear apart a defense and he was responsible for both chances. In Papiss Cisse, the Toons have found a clinical finisher.
Liverpool's league misery went past breaking point as Pepe Reina reacted badly to James Perch's tripping him up and head butted him in a rush of blood. Off went the goalie in the 82nd minute. Newcastle on the other hand are just three points from Arsenal clinging to their third spot. They have won three straight and look dangerous.
The heady days of the NY Cosmos: Ahmet Ertegun, Mick Jagger, Giorgio Chinaglia at Studio 54
Giorgio Chinaglia, the former Lazio legend and one of the faces of the NY Cosmos passed away today from a heart attack. He was 65 years old.
From Swansea City, a third division club in 1955 where he stole milk bottles to New York City as part of the NY Cosmos via Lazio where he became a legend for his goalscoring exploits, Chinaglia was a larger than life figure, rather full of himself, but always entertaining. He was also a phenomenal goalscoring machine and when he came from Lazio to NY in 1976, he was the highest paid soccer player in the world, earning the princely sum of ..... wait a minute ..... $85,000 per year.
Chinaglia scored 98 goals for Lazio and was the NASL's top scorer with 242 goals in 254 matches. The Lazio striker also represented Italy in the 1974 World Cup. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1979 and was inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame in 2000. At the time of his death, he was co-hosting a two hour soccer show with Charlie Stilatano, The Football Show, on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Bob Iarusci, one of his closest NY Comsos friends had this to say about Chinaglia, "I can honestly say that I can't recall a time when he went more than two games without scoring a goal. And he scored against everybody. It's one thing to score in the league games but another to go to Montevideo and score three against Nacional or go to Buenos Aires and score against Boca Juniors. I think he and Gerd Muller were the greatest I've ever seen ...... he was a machine."
He was also meddlesome, polarizing, and insanely jealous of Pele. Gavin Newsom in his inside look at the NY Cosmos in Once In A Lifetime gives the scoop in a locker room brawl between the two which reduced Pele to tears. Forthright as ever, the Italian accused Pele of not providing him the service he needed to score goals. Pele, the mild mannered low key Pele had had enough, criticizing Chinaglia for his selfishness in the penalty box. "You shoot from no f**king angle." Chinaglia never one to back down from a confrontation, hopped down from his stool, screaming, "I am Chinaglia. If I shoot from some place it's because Chinaglia can score from that place."
While Pele and Franz Beckenbauer left the Cosmos before it folded up, Chinaglia stayed on having bought a controlling stake in that club. The Cosmos by that time had been in decline for five years and was part of an indoor league having failed to attract the sort of attendance that saw 60,000 filling Giants Stadium at their peak. However he had no capital or administrative expertise to back up his rhetoric of saving the club. Bankrupt, the NY Cosmos was expelled and two weeks later without its flagship the NASL suspended its operations on March 28, 1985.
An emotional prelude to the match as Villa's captain, Stiliyan "Stan" Petrov diagnosed with acute leukemia was given a show of overwhelming support from fans and players from both sides.
Petrov was in the stands to see his team take on Chelsea and the warm up saw players wearing "Support Stan" T-shirts. In the 19th minute, a sustained round of applause greeted his jersey number as a visibly moved Petrov acknowledged the support of the Villa Park faithfuls. The Bulgarian midfielder begins treatment on Monday in London.
Chelsea continued its turnaround under Roberto De Matteo with some moribund players like Daniel Sturridge finding their scoring touch. Branislav Ivanovic contributed a brace but the biggest accolades were left for Fernando Torres scoring a stoppage time goal. Villa made a fight of it as James Collins tonked in Eric Lichaj's long throw and then the American wing back guided Marc Albrighton's cross for Villa's leveler.
Much has been written off RDM's player management skills perhaps a trifle gentler and more flexible than Andre Villa- Boas. It seems to have elicited the right response from the players. But one wonders what AVB did right at Porto taking them to the top in his first season without a single loss? More it says to the prima donnas habituating Chelsea who need their egos to be stroked. RDM has made it less about him and more about them.
The Sunderland result just might prove crucial in deciding City's title hopes. Utd face Blackburn, a match they are almost sure to win which could stretch the lead to five points.
Three things to take from this match. The petulant and self destructive display of City's players on the pitch will be seen as a major factor in their thwarted ambitions. Patrick Vieira's comments on how Utd have profited from referee favouritism appear self serving with Phil Dowd's decision to award a dodgy spot kick after Edin Dzeko clearly used "simulation" to come down in the box.
James Milner who was partly responsible for giving away Sunderland's first two goals got into a slanging match with Roberto Mancini. This paled in comparison to the childish display by Balotelli who jostled with team mates over taking a free kick before being told to butt out by Vincent Kompany. These events overshadowed what was actually a creditable turnaround by City to force a 3-3 draw after being down 1-3. Balotelli got two goals including the penalty from Dzeko's dive and Kolarov scored the equalizer. David Silva whose creative spark fueled City for most part of the season looked worn out and he was subbed off in the second half.
It was Sunderland providing all the right talking points in this match with Martin O'Neill in contention for manager of the year having whipped the Black Cats into shape. Utd will have to thank Arsenal because it was Seb Larsson, a former Gunner giving them a brace and Nicklas Bendtner on loan looking like a real centre forward also scoring. Bendtner's goal was a vintage on the money header off a cross by Sebastian Sessegnon, who was also involved in Larsson's goals.
SoccerBlog.com is a fan-driven site founded by Christian and Shourin. Our goal is to cover the beautiful game and talk about some of the issues that may not be covered elsewhere. Since we aren't any good at playing, we decided to talk about soccer instead!