If you ever hypothesized that the Europa Cup last season was the competition with the talent, the passion, and the more compelling matches, then you had your proof today. It was Atletico at the end looking as if it could have played another 90 minutes while Chelsea looked like it wanted back those 90 minutes, each minute more painful than the one before.
Radamel Falcao made them look like a team from Shrewington Newsbury and remember this is a Chelsea team that is exponentially better than the one that won the Champions League because they have you know, creativity now for £80m more and Fernando Torres improved version 3.7. The Spanish striker was returning to his old club for what should have been a sweet reunion but at the end was all snarly like and ready to punch every Rojiblanco fan in the face.
The Colombian scored a hat trick and each of his goals had this sweet, calculating touch. You realize Falcao is a pretty special player not because he scores a zillion goals. He is special because he makes himself available and seamless with the team.
It's not as if he has to have service at his feet, he's most happy to go to midfield or to the wing and help Koke, Arda Turan, Gabi and Adrian Lopez get him the ball which when he does, shows how he sets up with a perfect first touch. Then with a wiggle and shake, he creates space, affixes a mental map of goalie and gaps between goalie and obstructing structures or between goalie's legs, and pulls the trigger. If there were tests of visuo-spatial superiority, Falcao would be breaking all sorts of records. There are few who can do it better than Falcao. Check out his second goal.
All the smart money was on a move to Liverpool or Dempsey staying put. Liverpool in a bizarre twist offered no better than £5m which was actually worse than Villa's offer of £5m plus £2m at the end of the season. Villa were the first club to start the Dempsey roller coaster in the beginning of the day.
Dempsey rejected a move to Villa which is when Liverpool came knocking or should we say came to stick their tongues out and go nyah nyah. Fulham would not be insulted which is when Spurs came up with a late offer and it has been accepted. Dempsey cost Spurs £6m, which in all likelihood will turn out to be a very good signing.
One had hoped Arsenal would have been in the mix but this transfer deadline has seen them barely register a pulse.
The only interest was Michael Essien going on loan to an undisclosed club. Undisclosed? Arsenal sold Song the other day, Diaby is about a tackle away from being stretchered off for his 1870th consecutive season with an injury. It's Arsenal, its got to be. But Roberto Di Matteo said he would not sell to Arsenal. His club get torn a new hole by Atletico in the European Super Cup and in a revenge motif written by Quentin Tarantino he sends Essien to Atletico's crosstown rivals, Real Madrid.
No Hugo Lloris but a Slender Loris maybe on its way to the White Hart petting zoo
Who ever does business with Daniel Levy does it at his own risk. Luka Modric's deal was an exercise in hard nosed dealing and used car salesmanship with many twists and turns including one that involved Spurs selling to Chelsea to increase the price. Levy angered Florentino Perez which was quite priceless.
This time it is Lyon CEO, Jean Michel Aulas, no stranger to the hard sell himself accusing the Spurs chairman of scuppering the deal by going back on the price, talking out of both corners of his mouth. He's given a earful.
"We have had people speaking all night with Daniel Levy. He talks a lot and goes back on what we've agreed in writing. The things as they were at 5am were not the same at 10am.
"I would put it at 50-50 that Hugo goes to Tottenham. Agreements have not at all been respected. We've done what we can. The negotiation with the Tottenham directors has been the hardest I have ever had to undergo in 25 years."
The Joao Moutinho transfers have hit a snag too as the midfielder seen as a replacement to Rafael Van Der Vaart is not agreeing to personal terms although it appears Benfica has agreed to the £22m transfer fee.
Spurs have shipped off Van Der Vaart to Hamburg, Giovani Dos Santos to Real Mallorca, and Danny Rose to Sunderland.
Update; Sky Sports is reporting that Lloris has been spotted at Spurs Lodge preparing for a medical.
Loftus Road phones and faxes have been plenty busy this transfer deadline as Esteban Granero becomes another victim of Real Madrid's proud cantera system, a homegrown lifeline replenishing the club with talent before they went Galactico. He joins QPR on a four year contract for an undisclosed fee.
Stephane Mbia, the L'OM defender is also on his way to Loftus Road. QPR have also added Robert Green, Julio Cesar, Fabio, Park Ji Sung, Ryan Nelsen, Andrew Johnson, and Samba Diakite in a complete revamp of the squad. Mark Hughes is hoping all that Air Asia money is going to keep QPR aloft.
The 31 year old right back will be reunited with Roberto Mancini on a transfer move valued at £3m. City have already signed striker Scott Sinclair for about £8m, Richard Wright joins on a year long move from Preston as back up goalie to Joe Hart and Costel Pantimilion.
The Blues are expected to prise out holding midfielder Javi Garcia from Benfica for approximately £20m. A fee has been agreed upon with the requisite paperwork to follow. Matija Nastasic, the Serbian half back from Fiorentina will join shortly as underachieving Stefan Savic heads in the opposite direction.
Finally, City makes some moves. It's been a quieter transfer season and they went to the transfer deadline to do it. No eye popping figures except for Garcia's fee but Portugese and Spanish clubs typically lock in their players with ludicrous buy out clauses.
The hair and now. A hirsute pursuit comes to a end.
The rumour is that Fulham players and personnel still get discounted hair products at Harrods, which is why Dimitar Berbatov spurned Juventus, Fiorentina, and Spurs to land up at Craven Cottage. With improved hair gel, Berbatov will delight the Cottagers with slick moves and celebrate his goals by throwing bottles of Lazartigue into the crowd.
The man from Blagoewgrad, Bulgaria comes to Fulham on a two year contract which means Clint Dempsey's exit. But where? Oh, please let it be Arsenal.
Nicklas Bendtner in a suit with no sign of his underwear trying to escape
There you have it. A picture that proves that the Greatest Striker That Ever Was And Will Be has either cleverly bought a house in front of an Italian sign or has actually made the move to Juventus. Finally. A club that wanted him on second thoughts, maybe third.
His strike partner, Park Chu Young, who will be fondly remembered at Arsenal as an unparalleled bench warmer during the cold winter months has moved to Celta Vigo on loan.
The Liverpool legend has been sold to Stoke: Times are tough at Anfield
Charlie Adam who spanked the ball around with authority on the pitch and was mobbed off it as if he was Mick Jagger is departing for Stoke on a four year deal. In his closing statement the gap toothed legend said, " Gareth Bale may run but he cannot hide" and then he was gone. Poof. Just like that. Leaving millions of Liverpool fans feeling empty, strung out, and shoveling bags of Cheetos into their maw.
Andy Carroll, that pony tailed, long legged colt has gone to the Hammers on loan as Brendan Rodgers brings Swansea style to Liverpool. The lone striker up top disconnected from the rest of the pitch occasionally batting balls with his head is not how Rodgers sees football. With £35m heavy ones paid for him, he will be loaned out repeatedly to recover money, and then sold eventually.
Ibrahim Affelay who never really jelled at Barcelona having been injured for long spells in his two seasons departs for FC Schalke on loan with an option to buy. He will reunite with his old PSV Eindhoven coach, Huub Stevens. The German club sent Juan Manuel Jurado to Spartak Moscow which means Affelay is expected to fulfill the attacking midfielder role.
There was some buzz about Arsenal pursuing Affelay but with the Gunners trying to hold onto Theo Walcott and offloading a number of others, this was just going to be noise. The other name bandied about is Jesus Navas who is excellent but suffers from crippling separation anxiety away from Sevilla.
Mark Van Bommel's understudy is taking over at the San Siro
Gazzetta Dello Sport is reporting that Milan shocked off their socks by their weekend defeat to Sampdoria is adding Man City hardman, Nigel De Jong to their roster. With Jack Rodwell brought over from Everton showing signs of promise in the backfield and freeing up Yaya Toure to rove ahead, Roberto Mancini can afford to let go the Dutchman who is in his last year of his contract.
The sticking point is the price with City demanding € 8m and Milan negotiating for less. However, it appears personal terms have been worked out. De Jong fits in with the less cultured style under Massimiliano Allegri. In midfield, the Dutchman gets to work with Kevin Prince Boateng and Antonio Nocerino.
The Arsenal striker who was something when Robin Van Persie was sitting out injured is being linked yet again with Besiktas. But he might go to the Violas who have been violated by Dimitar Berbatov who if reports are to be believed made them pay for him and his agent's airfare and then never showed up. The Man Utd striker's new home is now Craven Cottage.
Park Chu Young has been linked with a Celta Vigo move, Andrey Arshavin is reportedly being pursued by Zenit St Petersburg, Sebastian Squiilaci is still on Bastia's radar.
Nicklas Bendtner goes kicking and screaming to Juve
The Greatest Striker That Ever Was And Will Be is moving to Juventus on a €6m loan with a view to a buyout. Juve was spurned by Dimitar Berbatov, left reeling from Fernando Llorente sticker shock, so with just a day left in the transfer market was scrambling to get some firepower to support Diego Milito. Alessandro Matri.
Bendtner on the other hand dilly dallied till the last minute expecting millions of clubs to call him up. With him gone, Arsenal is getting some traction as they look to offload a number of players who stand little chance of playing for the club.
Nothing went right for Barcelona in the first 30 minutes. Real were rampant running all over Barca not allowing them a whiff of the ball. It took two defensive errors to turn things around at the Bernabeu as Pepe who made his return in this leg volleyed deep into the Barca defense.
One doesn't quite know what Mascherano was thinking but he completely misjudges the trajectory and a lurking Gonzalo Higuain latches onto the ball and clear onto the goal making no mistake.
Madrid gets its second goal as Sami Khedira swings in another long ball from well beyond midfield which bounces off an unsighted Pique and Cristiano Ronaldo with a clever improvisation flicks it in front of him and then steams forward to collect the ball with a bit of a bobble. It gives time for Valdes to come out and narrow the angle while Pique recovers to straddle the goal line. Unfortunately for both, Ronaldo's shot which is rushed and hit straight to Valdes deflects off the Barca goalie and past Pique.
Real thought they had a third after Pepe directs a header from a free kick but it was called back because the defender had pushed Mascherano down. Barca then went to ten men because Adriano brought down Ronaldo as he became the last man standing. No doubts about that red card. It was as horrible a half as any. It reminded one of Arsenal facing upto Didier Drogba a few years ago with Mikel Silvestre in a horrific mismatch and getting eaten alive.
With everything going against them, Barca still managed to pull a goal back as Leo Messi who also read Soccerblog's article on the Magnus Effect used that law of physics to pull off a spectacular free kick that had the curve and the power to beat Iker Casillas. Brilliant. At the other end, Ronaldo almost matched Messi's brilliance with a wickedly curving shot which went narrowly wide. The scoreline although tied 4-4 on aggregate suited Real because of the away goal advantage but with the minutes ticking down, it was Barca came close to snatching a win with Pedro being blocked by Casillas and then Alba denied by Ramos coming in the way.
Luka Modric made his debut seven minutes before close and for Barca, Alex Song had an impressive second half outing. Tito Vilanova made a few head scratchers bringing Cristian Tello while having players of quality like David Villa and Cesc Fabregas on the bench. Under Vilanova, Fabregas is playing less and less minutes.
Athletic Bilbao's centre back Javi Martinez who can also play as a holding midfielder departs for Bayern Munich as the Bundesliga giants fork out a record €40m for him. He will give instant competition to Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luiz Gustavo, and Anatoli Timoschtschuk in midfield.
No further developments in Fernando Llorente's move but Athletic president Josu Urrutia insists every single penny of Llorente's €36m buyout must be paid up before the wantaway striker moves on.
James Collins scored a hat trick at the impregnable fortress, the Britannia stadium which saw Arsenal labour to a scoreless draw over the weekend. Seven goals were scored, three in extra time, as Stoke came back twice to level. Collins had the last answer in the 118th minute right after Peter Crouch equalized for the Potters. Later Paolo Di Canio praised his side saying they played like Barcelona at the Britannia.
Eh, what happened to the "But can you beat Stoke away on a rainy Tuesday night" that you keep hearing about?
With the clubs poised at a tantalizing 1-1 in the 83rd minute, a black cat streaks across the Toronto FC half of the field just in front of goal. In the next 10 minutes, Toronto concedes two more goals to lose the match, a CONCACAF Champions League group encounter, 1-3, to Santos Laguna at home.
Hopefully the kitty was not harmed by security although she might have left some of the fans feeling blue.
Pimping the players? Its money to Stan the Man and the Arsenal septuagenarians
Is Arsenal breeding a particular type of player mercenary? Those without any loyalty to the club, constantly on the lookout for the big payoff from the next big club? It's so easy to trash them when it appears so black and white. This season alone, RVP's agent supposedly made such outlandish demands that there is no way Arsenal can meet his demands or Alex Song is a ill disciplined, disruptive locker room presence who wore out his welcome and the club was forced to sell him.
Or is this just smoke and mirrors for Arsenal pimping their marquee players so they can get as much from them because that is exactly the way Stan Kroenke operates his American sports franchises while they spiral into mediocrity. Denver Nuggets, St Louis Rams, Colorado Rapids, and Colorado Avalanche. One time contenders, now also rans since Kroenke's takeover. Symbols of benign neglect. Decay. Star players sold.
It is Theo Walcott's turn now to leave the club. He has declined to extend his contract even as no other club has come calling. An interesting aside in the Guardian article which documents his unfruitful negotiations is Wenger's now familiar insistence only last week that the winger was "very important" to the club's future. Only to be followed by the bewildering display of Arsenal dithering on sitting down with Walcott's representatives to thrash out his future. Where did we see that just the other day? Oh yes, Alex Song.
We all realize that players can hold their clubs hostage and even in the midst of serving multi year paper contracts can refuse to show up to practice or to tour with them forcing the club to sell them as in Luka Modric's case. But Arsenal might be the first club where the manager calling each of his marquee players off limits serves as a dog whistle to sell the lot, the whole bloody lot. If he's made captain, his armband actually has his sale price affixed to it.
Unlike AC Milan, which is in a financial hole and made no bones selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to retain some semblance of solvency, Arsenal is a fairly well to do club run by a boardroom that has seen these player sales increase capital and drive up their share prices by a considerable factor to make handsome profits. That's the business model. Alisher Usmanov was actually speaking the truth and the reason we hate him is because he looks like Jaba the Hutt.
It is easy to see why this would be couched with a holier than thou attitude. You have to turn the tables on the players, making them the scapegoats to hide the unpalatable truth that Arsenal in the end are just pimping out their players. Is there one single player other than Cesc Fabregas who has not left Arsenal in recent years under a cloud? What happens in this club that sucks out the milk of human kindness from each of them? We hate Man City and Chelsea because they buy titles but at least they spare us any pretenses. Arsenal on the other hand gives us these testimonials of faith and loyalty while seemingly helpless preventing any player from leaving. Zero for eight. Cash in the bank.
That was some terrible defending. Kudos to Falcao but he was made to look sensational by a sleep walking Athletic Bilbao side. One has to say, Falcao seems to be perfecting the art or science of being at the right place and at the right time (see second goal) to take advantage of those errors which is a form of genius. A nose for goals.
Atletico might be in the top four this year. Pushing perennials Sevilla and Valencia hard.
This weekend's loss to Sampdoria set off alarm bells ringing at AC Milan with Adriano Galliani putting in a double shift signing Bojan Krkic from Roma and bringing in M'baye Niang from Caen. The latter was also linked strongly to Arsenal in the pre-season.
Galliani also appears to be tracking Nicklas Bendtner and the Dane's agent brought up a possible loan move.
" I can not say anything but it is possible that there will be news soon. The situation could unlock and Nicklas may leave Arsenal, also on loan."
Arseblog has a run down of players who could find new homes including Theo Walcott whose contract negotiations for an extension seem to be going nowhere. It's all about money. But Walcott seems to be stuck in some twilight zone, not quite winger, not quite striker, but maddeningly inconsistent and in the two matches this season, not effective enough.
Reports from China indicate Didier Drogba and his former Chelsea team mate, Nicholas Anelka could leave Shanghai Shenhua because the club is unable to meet its wage commitments because of an escalating shareholder row. Both Drogba and Anelka earn a mind boggling £300,000 per week to play for 10th placed Shenhua.
Having watched Arsenal's final third frustrations against Stoke and Sunderland, it is clear as Arsene Wenger himself suggested, there appears to be something missing. He stated, " we are not spontaneous enough in some situations."
Well, one can't think of a more spontaneous goal scorer than Drogba and before one says he's too old, he won last season's Champions League for the Blues. If Fernando Torres has gotten his scoring groove back on it is because he's finally been freed of Drogba's shadow and it might be added, he's getting some pretty good service at his doorstep from Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.
As many more astute have suggested, goals will come when all the new parts mesh together and the old parts shake off their long injury absences. It will take time. But you cannot leave too big a gap in an unforgivable league. There has to be a brand of individuality and also tested goods in the Premiership to keep the opposition honest while Arsenal find their feet. Drogba might relish a league return to a club that he used to virtually destroy single handed. He's a player who can break a stalemate. Manufacture a goal out of nowhere. Intimidate defenses into making mistakes.
That late minute scoring chance that Oliver Giroud missed in front of goal against Sunderland? That would have been at the back of the net in a trice with Drogba. The two Sunderland defenders who snuffed out Podolski's half chance bundling him off the ball would have been sitting on their behinds. Drogba is not half bad when it comes to set pieces. Some of those free kicks are keepers and there is every chance he would have done more damage from the 18 corners Arsenal poured in those two matches.
Be bold. Take a chance. If Drogba is available, offer him a return to the Premiership to a club where he can make a difference. He's risen to every other challenge. This is one more.
Newly promoted Sampdoria delivered a message for AC Milan and it wasn't a good one. Christian Abbiati could not move a muscle as Andrea Costa powered in his header to give Sampdoria the winner. In another disturbing sign, the San Siro was half empty as the fans stayed away, disillusioned by the club's failure to sign quality replacements for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. The club's new signings Giampaolo Pazzini and Christian Zapata haven't inspired the faithful.
Milan came close when Mario Yepes thought he had a goal when his powerful header nearly beat Sergio Romero but the Argentinian goalie flung himself acrobatically to make a finger tip deflection as the ball came off the post and back to him for a spectacular save. Kevin Prince Boateng also came, oh so very close, as his wickedly swerving shot would have beaten Romero but unfortunately the ball hit the upright.
This maybe a long season for Milan as they appear a bit lightweight in front. The back four seem cobbled together with veterans Daniele Bonera and Mario Yepes, entering their third decade with the Colombian hitting 36 years of age, holding the centre. On the other end of the spectrum, Mattia De Sciglio, all of 20 years was making his fourth appearance as right back while Luca Antonini, his counterpart on the left flank, has a history of costly blunders.
The little Croatian finally lands up in the Bernabeu after Daniel Levy made life miserable for Florentino Perez. He could not have arrived sooner to help reverse Real's faltering start to the Liga.
Spurs have tabled a bid for Rennes midfielder Yann M'Vila who most Arsenal fans have included in their fantasy team but the money offered is supposed to be a wee short of club expectations. Contrary to rumours, Arsenal have not made any inquiries of M'Vila's availability although some other Premiership sides have.
Just a gut feeling, Wenger's next purchases will be a hair trigger away from the midnight expiry of transfer deadline and it will involve Premiership players.
Does anyone remember Alex Song being a particularly disruptive, ill tempered, undisciplined sort? Was he a wantaway? No, not really. These stories of him showing up late for practise and mouthing off in the locker room could be a switch and bait from the real reasons. They were quite well timed. Obviously the boardroom approved selling off Arsenal's assist leader to Barca. We still don't know quite why.
This is just a theory but they wanted to get as much for him without prolonging a Fabregas like saga before the financial fair play rules kicks in next season and clubs get their books examined by UEFA's proctologists. There could be a wait and watch spending limbo for a few seasons before clubs find or exploit loopholes.
The end result is one more player who leaves with a cloud hanging over the head and with very little good to say about the club. Paradoxically, we have a manager known and respected the world over for his nurturing attitude towards young players. Ivan Gazidis may defend this boardroom as being transparent but it seems more and more closed off to fans that love and follow Arsenal.
An Osasuna side that refused to be intimidated put Barca to the sword. The other Llorente, the one who is not sulking, Joseba, scored his debut goal finishing off Rolando Lamah's surging cross with an acrobatic volley for the first salvo. Osasuna had a golden chance going two up after Sergio Busquets getting a bit too cute lost the ball but Nino's shot just about bounced off the upright. Tito Vilanova thought Busquets had been fouled and was sent to the stands for protesting.
However, it was the team from Pamplona left aggrieved after a sequence of events led to Barca's bitterly disputed equalizer. The referee obstructed Patxi Punal allowing Barca to forge ahead from which Alexis Sanchez received Messi's pass in a fractionally offside position leading to a frantic interchange from which the Argentinian scored. Punal lifted his hand in an unmistakable gesture and received his marching orders. Thereafter it was the Messi show as he directed a centre with a cultured left foot and the ball slithered past the goalie into the left hand corner.
Note to Arsenal. Barcelona do not over elaborate when they are pressed for goals. Messi is equally adept at scoring from distance as is Iniesta.
Paging Nuri Sahin. Please return immediately to Real Madrid, do not stop at duty free to pick up chocolate bonbons, board the next flight. We have a problem. Only one point against the also rans. Luka may not do it.
Getafe's heroes were Juan Valera with a superbly placed header and then Abdel Barrada, the pick of the Azulones, in a breakaway with Adrian Colunga, finishing with aplomb. The Merengues were let down by a point blank Mesut Oezil miss and some terrible defending on set pieces as Jose Mourinho shuffled his pack bringing in Karim Benzema, Jose Callejon, and Alvaro Morata, but to no avail. Gonzalo Higuain scored for the second match in a row finishing off a heads up play by Angel Di Maria.
How bad was it? Fabio Coentrao received a red card for yelling sweet nothings at the referee from the sidelines. Real are now five points adrift of Barca and in the football world that is a chasm between the two titans. Afterwards, Mourinho did not mince words.
" Getafe's win was well deserved. Real Madrid played terribly. It's one of those matches that did not frustrate me. I was not at all surprised by the final score based on what I observed during the game. The way we played was unacceptable".
Martin Skrtel was responsible for three of the four goals scored today at Anfield in an engrossing match. Liverpool went ahead as Skrtel attacked a corner throwing himself at the ball and absolutely buried the ball past Joe Hart.
In the second half, Roberto Mancini introduced Jack Rodwell which allowed Yaya Toure to roam up front. The big unit delivered as Carlos Tevez's cross which should have been an easy pick for Pepe Reina was instead interfered with by Skrtel whose flick hit Martin Kelly awkwardly on the chest and fell straight to Toure with an easy knock into goal.
Rodwell was involved in Liverpool's second goal when he was adjudged rather harshly by Andre Marriner to have handled the ball when it actually deflected off his legs and a free kick awarded. Luis Suarez who has two personalities released the one that reads Soccerblog to use phenomena like the Magnus Effect in a moment of genius. Hart tumbled down but it was goal from the moment it left the foot and bent around the wall.
However, the last laugh belonged to Skrtel who under the slightest bit of pressure hurried a back pass that unerringly found Carlos Tevez who scampered down gratefully with the ball, twisted past Reina, and slotted the ball for the equalizer. There was still some time left on the clock and it became end to end between the two teams who desperately looked for the winner.
Liverpool played fluid attacking football in spells especially when Suarez and Joe Allen were on the ball but City with its deep bench (Mancini brought Silva out in the second half) managed to dodge yet another bullet. To be fair, Anfield has proven a tough place for them to boss around.
Steve Bould seems to have whipped this Arsenal defense into shape. Introducing zonal marking and taking away Stoke's greatest strength, its set pieces. They were so effective that they did not concede a corner and the free kicks that Stoke took were dealt with decisively by Mertesacker and Vermaelen. Vito Mannone for someone with such little match experience looked surprisingly steady and the few times he was tested he was on top of things.
With Abou Diaby still trying to find his feet and coming off second best in the tackling department it was good to see Arsenal players track back to help the defense out. Diaby also had a great chance in the box to score but he took an eternity to get his feet sorted out and then dismally scuffed his shot. To end the match without conceding a goal at the Britannia can be taken as a huge positive. But at the other end, we still have no clue as to who would step up on the scoring front in the absence of RVP.
Santi Cazorla kept the midfield buzzing, Lukas Podolksi looked more direct today, and Oliver Giroud offered some hints as well holding the ball but being wasteful with some of the half chances he had coming his way. He also created the biggest intake of breath when in the 89th minute he chipped in an audacious shot from about 25 yards out that just whisked the top netting. Tonnes of possession as was to be expected but there was just that running out of steam and lack of cutting edge in the final third.
As superb as Arsenal were negating Stoke on its set pieces, there was an equal level of ineptitude converting their own set piece chances. Having Mertesacker, Giroud, and Vermaelen should be an advantage. One could only count Alex Oxlade Chamberlain's header coming remotely close to goal after Arsenal rained in 11 corners and four free kicks in advantageous positions on the pitch. Three of those crashed into the wall.
A note about Gervinho. This man twists and turns, gets into the box as easy as butter but then fails to look up, shoots into players, sprays a pass to nowhere. Its harder to find a more frustrating player. Maybe a periscope as a birthday present might help.
Stoke were also fortunate when a falling Andy Wilkinson stuck his hand deliberately to stop Podolski's shot but it went unnoticed by Lee Mason. The same Wilkinson should have been sent off when he lunged into Vermaelen with his studs up in a late challenge. But the most shameful part was when the Stoke crowd greeted Aaron Ramsey's arrival late in the second half with boos. Neanderthals.
Arsene Wenger did not look terribly unhappy at the result but Tony Pulis was beaming at the end. The Arsenal manager has given some indication there could be at least one and possibly two more players coming in before the end of the transfer market. One should be a holding midfielder because at this time Arsenal are actually doing a City like double act with Arteta covering for Diaby and spurning his own creative instincts.
Wojciech Szczesny is out with a rib injury. With Per Mertesacker and Carl Jenkinson filling in for Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna, this means more pressure on the back four to step up. Add Abou Diaby making his second Premiership appearance after a long, long injury absence and this could be a very long afternoon for the Gunners on set pieces and counterattacks.
The Old Lady got off to a winning start as Stefan Lichtsteiner opened the scoring. Andrea Pirlo sporting a beard sent in a low grounder from a free kick which Parma's goalie, Antonio Mirante seems to have gathered before it broke the plane of the goal but after refusing to award a goal the referee reversed his decision consulting with the linesman.
Juve's coach Antonio Conte lost his appeal and is banned from coaching the team on match day for the next 10 months.
Bundesliga champs Borussia Dortmund won their season opener against Werder Bremen through goals from their wonder boys Marco Reus and Mario Gotze. Werder pulled back one through Theodor Gebre Selassie.
Sahin had set his heart on coming to Arsenal and it was the club's insistence on a provision to buy him out that became a deal breaker. That and Arsenal refusing to pick up the major share of his weekly wages that would have pushed his loan move to the region of £6m - £7m (over £4m in wages + £2m for the loan) which let Liverpool back into the mix. Paying that much money for a player with no hopes of being permanent does not make economic sense to a club that is well known in the sport for being notoriously tightfisted.
Why would one want to spend so much money on a player who could prove invaluable to the club's success only for him to march right back after the season to Madrid because there is no negotiating a permanent move. It is perverse and illogical. Yes, it is disappointing to lose Sahin, he is an undoubted talent. But we can pay some more money and get a midfielder such as Yann M'Vila on a multi-year contract. They have different strengths but M'Vila is a more traditional holding midfielder. That makes more sense now we've lost Song.
Arsenal's brand of creativity, record of developing players, and competing in the Champions League is what attracted Sahin. If you're going to leave Real to gain match experience then why not play for a club that checks of all those boxes. Liverpool can claim him and give out all the spin but the fact is he was Arsenal's to lose but the reasons he was lost makes for sound economic sense.
Enough sympathy for Fernando Torres. The misfiring Chelsea striker a £50m boondoggle seems to be on the mend with his confidence and touch. Unfortunately, he seems to have also some taken some Lee Strasberg acting lessons and his theatrical dive in the box while Vernon Anita pulled his leg back was enough to fool Phil Dowd. It was Eden Hazard getting his first goal from the spot kick. Hazard seems to have landed in the Premiership with his undercarriage wheels on for a smooth landing.
Torres tried the same stunt against Fabricio Coloccini and this time Dowd booked him. However there was no mistaking the quality of the second goal as Juan Mata cleverly back heeled the ball into Torres's path and his strike was imperious and swift leaving Tim Krul akimbo. No upright, no crossbar. It was Mata, Hazard, and Torres providing a trident that skewered Newcastle. And if you were to look at the MOTD highlights closely, you cannot sing enough praise for John Obi Mikel who was a rock stopping a number of inventive Newcastle attacks early enough from developing into a threat. Mikel does all the unglamorous stuff which allows all that invention upfront. Chelsea endured some anxious moments with David Luiz being a trifle cavalier and there was a pronounced lull which allowed the Toons breathing room to come back in the second half.
But this side is fast, fast, fast. It's a generational shift as the new Chelsea seems to be the equivalent of a rapid deployment unit in military parlance whereas the older squads were built on industrial grade strength and a less attractive direct approach. This is more to do with Roman Abramovich and Michael Emenalo's vision and less to do with Roberto Di Matteo, whose zen like presence on the sidelines allows all this talent to percolate nicely on the pitch. In their ranks, Ramires, Oscar, Marin, and Moses, to turn the heat on if need be. A perfect 3-0 start for them and if these displays are predictors, they will be right up there with the Manchester clubs at the end of season.
Hugo Rodallega came down inadvertently on Wayne Rooney and his studs opened up a nasty gash just above the knee. The injury happened in stoppage time and it came following a Fulham free kick which was blocked. The Utd striker will be out for a month or more and he will also miss out on England's World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine next month.
Robin Van Persie starting for the first time for Utd was on target with a characteristic left footed half volley against Fulham. His goal drew Utd level after Damien Duff showed some fine improvisation off a set piece to lean his left leg onto the ball and guide it through a thicket of defenders past De Gea.
Shinji Kagawa also opened his Utd account smartly putting in a rebound after Mark Schwarzer was unable to hold onto Tom Cleverley's shot. It did come from an offside position but the Fulham appeal was in vain. Kagawa has the Borussia Dortmund class about him. He is proving to be an excellent signing. Rafael made it three as he headed the ball down from a perfectly weighted cross by Ashley Young.
De Gea has improved as a goalie and there is no one better when it comes to reaction saves but he still shows some weakness when it comes to crosses and set pieces. Fulham were let back into the match as De Gea's indecision in dealing with Mladen Petric's cross saw him flail at the ball only for it to bounce off an unsighted Nemanja Vidic for an own goal.
Fulham came back strongly in the last 20 minutes and really pushed Utd hard benefiting from a soft midfield. Utd lost a step after Kagawa was taken off and Rooney replaced him. The Utd striker made more of an impression with a terrible gash sustained on his knee when he collided with Hugo Rodallega's studs. This Utd team can score goals but it has a makeshift central defense and a right back who shows imperfect judgment. They also lack a midfielder who can consistently protect the back four. And De Gea is error prone. Lots of squeaky bum time this season. As an Arsenal fan, RVP's roll out today was a painful one to watch.
Could Everton become a top four contender? Marouane Fellaini was once again bestial, an unstoppable force, collecting his second goal aerially. Steven Pienaar back to his former club got them off to a smoking start and then it was red hot Nikica Jelavic laying the lumber on unfortunate Villa with Everton's third. In between, Villa were reduced to 10 men as Ciaran Clark was given marching orders for tugging at Jelavic. Everton have always made life difficult for themselves with their sluggish starts and it is their strong finishes that keeps them in the upper tier. So this bodes well for them.
Villa managed to collect a consolation as Karim El Ahmadi long distance attempt had enough swerve to fool Tim Howard. But Paul Lambert's team looks in danger.
What a shambolic display by West Ham! Jussi Jaaskelainen in goal just makes an unhloly mess as he reacts too late to Angel Rangel's shot allowing it to deflect off his hands straight to goal. Then more disaster as Michu steals James Collins's disaster of a chipped back pass and the rush is on but the Spanish midfielder beats Jaaskelainen for his third Premiership goal.
What is remarkable about Michu's goal which shows up clearly in the replay is he starts his run well before Collins's mishap as if he was anticipating this happening and just keeps going. For £2m, he's provided the most bang for the bucks amongst the debutantes.
Swansea completed Sam Allardyce's afternoon of misery when Danny Graham sidefooted Wayne Routledge's centre as West Ham again looked all at odds in defence. The Hammers were inept and Allardyce looked like he was waiting for the earth to swallow him. But take nothing away from the Swans. They are easy on the eye and playing with the assurance of a veteran Premiership team. It would have been hard to stop them even without those blunders. Michael Laudrup seems to have taken this Swansea squad and polished it more after Brendan Rodgers did much of the spadework. Yes, that Brendan Rodgers.
A fitting tribute to the red haired Swede producing his finest moments as an Arsenal player. He could tear it up with his speed, cause havoc with wickedly curling shots, and most importantly never gave up. A real little terror he was. He went to West Ham then onto Seattle and finally to the J-League all the while gracing men's magazines as a metrosexual icon before calling it quits. Thanks Freddie, for the memories.
Well, cue Ashley Cole like shenanigans at work over here. Fulham launched a complaint with the Premier League accusing Liverpool of making an unofficial approach for Clint Dempsey with the wantaway striker now poised to miss his second match in a row. The PL has responded by looking into certain comments made by Liverpool officials. They are also contemplating referring the case to a three man tribunal.
In a sign of jumping the gun, NESN, the media arm of Liverpool's parent company, FSG, posted up Dempsey's signing on their website.
It's probably stretching it a bit by saying this is a "tap up". It's not as if Clint Dempsey, his agent, and Brendan Rodgers locked themselves in a hotel room and thrashed out personal terms in secret. Jose Mourinho set the bar which will be hard to knock down. But Fulham through this tactic can hope to force Liverpool to part with more money or better still hope this distraction slows down Liverpool enough to create uncertainty in Dempsey's mind and force him back to re-negotiate his contract.
The star of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a big fan of San Lorenzo and Real Madrid. In his childhood days living in Argentina, he grew up loving San Lorenzo while in Europe he is an ardent follower of Real Madrid. But he hates the present coaches of both clubs, that is, Ricardo Caruso Lombardi and Jose Mourinho.
"In Spain I am fan of Real Madrid, but I hate Mourinho. In Austin Powers there is Mini-Me. Well, for me, Caruso is the mini-Mourinho, both have the same cowardly approach. You have a team that can play ball but they do not " he said.
"No guts, no glory. You need to go forward without fear. As a fan, that's what I think and I say."
Mortensen goes back to Argentina several times a year to follow San Lorenzo in the Liga, so he's not some hack spouting off on the sport. He's presently in Buenos Aires shooting for Ana Piterbag's film Todos Tenemos Un Plan.
Did we say Viggo was a fine actor? American Yakuza, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and The Road.
Finally the M57 to Liverpool to end all this in-sahinity
Reports from Spain, the Guardian, and the Beeb indicate that Arsenal were unwilling to budge from their position to keep Nuri Sahin on just a year long loan move seeking instead a provision to make him permanent. This did not find favour with Real Madrid. The other sticking point was that Arsenal balked at paying a large share of his £120,000 a week wage which he is receiving at Real.
Let that percolate for a while. This is in Spain on the verge of a financial collapse with a 24% unemployment rate paying a footballer who has played barely a dozen games since his arrival a year ago and is still getting paid £120,000 a week. Even with a scaled back £90,000 per week, Sahin on loan would be Arsenal's top paid player, even before touching the ball. Ridiculous really. No wonder the sport is in such bad financial shape. Arseblog makes a good point with some more money thrown in we can get a player like Yann M'Vila on a permanent move.
Liverpool put themselves in pole position after they assured Real they were only looking at a short term move while picking up the major share of the payment tab. There are other reasons with Jose Mourinho personally pushing a Liverpool move as a big favour to his old associate Brendan Rodgers. The English side had a tough go in their Europa Cup first leg playoffs against Hearts bailed out by an own goal. After the West Brom shellacking, this further underscores Rodgers's need for creative players.
Horrible, horrible mistake by Victor Valdes. What was he thinking? With the match in the bag for the Catalans by a mile, Valdes's bad first touch on a back pass allows Angel Di Maria to swoop down on him and as the goalie tries to clumsily dribble the ball away, loses his nerve and balance, falls and a predatory Di Maria gratefully finishes off. It allowed Real to collect a vital second goal at the Camp Nou.
Painfully, the goal came right after Barca missed a golden chance to go four up to the good. Messi latching onto Iniesta's pass was unable to place the ball past Casillas with Pique a bit removed from the rebound as Real was able to shepherd the ball away to begin the chain of events leading to Valdes's meltdown.
The Merengues only need a 1-0 score in the return leg at the Bernabeu for them to lift the Spanish Super Cup.
And can anyone get better than Andres Iniesta? As Ray Hudson would put it "simply magisterial." Xavi's third goal was surreal as Iniesta at his finest as he slalomed his way past three defenders and then in a blink of an eye threaded the needle to find his midfield compatriot running into the box.
Lets face it, Real have no such quality in the midfield. They are far too direct and too counterattacking to nurture talent like Iniesta. However, those are their strengths and with Cristiano Ronaldo having solved his dry spell against Barca, they match up well with their bitterest rivals. Also what seems to have improved the quality of recent matches is the absence of overt gamesmanship, referee baiting, theatrical diving and rolling, and senseless tackling that were the hallmarks of previous encounter. Pepe not being on the pitch was a huge help. Although Ronaldo running into Messi with a hip check sending him tumbling and then pointing to his shoulder shows he still carries a chip.
Even Gary Cahill admits as much. That goal turned the tables on Reading as goalie Federici was sent upfield for a corner in a desperate search for the equalizer. It left him stranded while Chelsea made its breakaway move for the fourth and final goal.
Check out this rocket from Braga's Ismaily Dos Santos against Udinese in their Champions League qualifiers. Luckily no one was harmed while the ball sizzled its way through all those zillions of Higgs Bosons to cleave the net. For the record Braga came back to equalize against Udinese but the Italian side were able to get that crucial away goal.
It was Hazard time again. The Belgian has been on fire and there is no mistaking his impact in two consecutive wins. 4 assists in two matches! Reading as did Wigan found out he was a handful in the box leading to an opening penalty with Frank Lampard duly converting. Hazard has such a compact frame and a low centre of gravity he dances around in these tight spaces with quick feet.
But Reading refused to go away and Pavel Pobregnyak conjured up a beautifully angled header to put them level.
The Royals went ahead after Danny Guthrie's free kick squirted through a collapsing wall and Petr Cech reacting the wrong way saw the ball deflect off his body into goal. Chelsea restored parity after Gary Cahill with a long distance drive caught Adam Federici by surprise. It appears their back line looked more composed on attack than on defence.
Then came the goal that changed the complexion of the whole game as a clearly offside Fernando Torres collected Ashley Cole's centre and scored just his eighth league goal in 48 appearances. This is getting to be the stuff of conspiracies. An increasingly desperate Reading then brought Federici forward in a do or die corner and it did not work leaving them absolutely vulnerable at the back. Hazard went flying down the pitch on the counter and then squared to Branislav Ivanovic left with a simple tap in.
So lets see. Lampard has two goals created by Hazard, three have gone to defenders, and the only one by a legit striker is an offside. Whatever it is, it looks like Chelsea if it can keep its defensive problems down should be able to shoot its way out in a post Drogba era.
Looks like the future of US women's soccer is in very capable hands. The U20 World Cup got going in Japan and the USA celebrated a 4-0 thrashing of Ghana in their opening match. Maya Hayes scored a hat trick after Ghana's Linda Addai scored an own goal to get the scoreboard rolling.
The USA face China on Friday, 23rd August, at 5:50 EST. Coverage on ESPN/ ESPN3.
A Barca team featuring many reserves and sparingly used first team members with the exception of Ibrahim Affelay and David Villa lost to Sampdoria on a very, very hot afternoon. The match also featured Jonathan Dos Santos, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, and goalie Jose Pinto.
Sergi Roberto showed signs of becoming part of the first squad firmament picking up the MVP. Lots of typical possession and movement but Barca lacked the finishing touch. Sampdoria struck very early through Roberto Soriano's header in the very first minute. The Gamper trophy thus goes to Genoa.
We did not have too wait too long for the tasty treats to begin. Tomorrow both titans clash in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, the first title on the line.
For Real, Pepe woke up in the hospital after his nasty clash of head with Iker Casillas and the extent of his problems were quickly discovered when he reportedly said, " My name is Pablo, where am I?" It's just a little less disturbing than waking up transformed into a giant insect and calling himself Gregor Samsa.
Leo Messi has gone 362 minutes without scoring a goal against Real, a fact which Marca gleefully rubs in with salt. In Messi terms that is 5 lifetimes of not scoring. Marca points out that his scoring form against Real dried up in the matches featuring Fabio Coentrao. Which maybe happenstance but it is one that Real will gratefully accept.
Real will start Coentrao, Mesut Oezil, and Marcelo, who have all been cleared to play. Jose Mourinho is also expected to give the nod to Gonzalo Higuain who was impressive against Valencia while Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to step it up after a somewhat subdued start to the season. Barca can expect to get back Alexis Sanchez. There could be a possibility of Alex Song seeing his first action as a Blaugrana. His former Arsenal team mate Cesc Fabregas will play his 50th match since arriving from the Emirates.
Anton, come join us, smell the sweet, sweet smell of tax free money
David Conn's article in the Guardian focuses on Anton Zingarevich, the owner of Reading and the son of billionaire businessman Boris Zingarevich. The younger Zingarevich owns the club via Thames Sports Investment which is offshored in Gibraltar, a tax haven for owners who avoid paying capital gains taxes or stamp duty should they sell their shares for a profit in the future. It's a growing trend with the Glazer family moving their registration the the Cayman Islands, and it begets the question of tax fairness which has become one of the centrepieces of the US presidential elections.
Conn is a fine journalist and his articles are impeccably timed with a view to setting off a round of inevitable teeth gnashing and angst at the commodification of a slice of English history by outside investors with few qualms shafting the very system they are buying into. But there is little one can do apart from b and m. The fans want their clubs to win, spend money on high priced transfers who will do that, and end years of being born with a wooden spoon.
A few years ago, City's marquee players were Paul Dickov and Giorgios Samaras in a club that flitted in and out of the Premier League. Now, it's a club that pays Roque Santa Cruz to keep away from the Etihad while they chase the likes of Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli with stratospheric sums of money. It all worked out last season when City won their first top division title in 44 years.
Reading fans are the same too. They were a great little team to watch under Steve Coppell and that first Premiership season they overachieved with players like Kevin Doyle and Steve Sidwell. Second year they fell back to earth returning to the Championship. They fully well know the perils of chronically underfunded clubs. But under the new ownership with the promise of Roman Abramovich type of money they probably expect more. Parking money in overseas tax shelters by an owner with a fine looking wife is a mere technicality if fans can fulfill their desire for instant gratification.
The greatest left back in the history of the sport retired two weeks ago but this is the free kick that made him immortal. And unbeknownst to him, he used very well established laws of physics to generate that stupendous lift and spin that seemingly defied every law of physics.
The video above explains a little bit but to learn more here is a classic that really explores in depth how he achieved that kick.
It is not that difficult to comprehend if one remembers the basics of aerodynamics learned in school (Bernoulli's theorem). It's been 15 years since that day, and we still see free kicks crash into walls, sail harmlessly over, or hit the stratosphere.
Looks like Real are ready to ship Nuri Sahin over on a year loan move but are balking at Arsenal's insistence that the contract include the possibility of buying him out on a permanent deal at the end of the stay.
Real is playing it safe in case Sahin finds form and some of the other midfielders that he slipped down the pecking order either leave, get injured, or don't play to par. Nothing talks like money so it would mean bonus sweeteners and a signed photo of Mourinho defecating on the financial fair play rules booklet presented to Arsene Wenger.
For doing this. Actually, there should be some sympathy for the Newcastle manager because the ball clearly rolled out for a throw in but the linesman did not appear to be paying attention. Pardew made a more forceful "wake up" gesture than needed.
His subsequent apology will most likely have no effect. The FA is set to come down with a 3 match ban plus a fine. All this comes with a heavy dose of irony as Pardew urged his players to imbibe the Olympic spirit before the match.
Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano are all set to trade clubs. Pazzini will be moving to Milan as he no longer fits in with Andrea Stramaccioni's plans while Cassano is moving to Inter because he's Cassano and a rolling stone.
Both clubs are strapped for cash but Milan is worse off but are willing to pay €7.5m in addition to offload the striker who will find fewer gays out in Inter's locker room (ah, just a joke). Cassano is to undergo a medical and Pazzini has already agreed to personal terms where he will be paid €2.8m annually for three years. The agreement was thrashed out at the highest level following a summit between Massimo Moratti and Adriano Galliani.
The Serie is shaping up to be quite an open affair this season. Champions Juve will no doubt feel the pinch of not having Antonio Conte coaching on the sidelines although a 10 month ban in Italy seems to have been redefined as training with the players and talking tactics but not coaching on match day. Conte can obviously take lessons from Jose Mourinho, the master of touchline bans adept at semaphoring his assistants what needs to be done. There is talk of Fernando Llorente coming to town but he's been linked to so many clubs its hard to take seriously. Plus, no player would like to adapt to a new system with such a coaching vacuum.
Stramaccioni's Inter are still gelling under him and of concern is their defense that leaked goals all year long. Milan has to deal with the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Motta, two vital players to PSG, opening up more questions to whether they can mount a meaningful title challenge over a long season. With so many uncertainties, the odds favour Napoli, still largely intact minus Ezekiel Lavezzi unless Chelsea raids last minute for Edinson Cavani. It appears Daniele De Rossi will commit to Roma despite all the talk about City spiriting him away for €30m. And even Lazio look good.
FC Sheriff Stadium, a top notch stadium which stands out amongst its poorer counterparts
The NYT has a fascinating article about FC Sheriff Tiraspol, the dominant soccer team of the Moldovan league which has won the national title 11 times in the last twelve years. Well good, yes, but the funny fact is that FC Sheriff Tiraspol is not based in Moldova but in the breakaway sliver of land called Transnistria, which borders Moldova to the west and the Ukraine to the east.
Transnistria, an offshoot of the disintegrating USSR in the early 90s was supposed to accede to newly formed Moldova but instead decided to fight a war of independence while declaring its autonomy. It maintained friendly relations with Russia, creating a Supreme Soviet style government and allowing the Russians to run a military base outside of Tiraspol, its capital.
However, the soccer team is a different story, as FIFA/ UEFA refused to grant it legitimacy because of the political dispute and so instead FC Sheriff became part of the Moldovan league. Where much to the chagrin of the Moldovans, it has flourished becoming the regions best known team with a spanking top of the line stadium and pitch. It is also the only team that gains eligibility to compete for the Champions League. Their fans seemingly love rubbing it in when they win against a Moldovan side often seeking confrontation with their in your face celebrations.
Sheriff Tiraspol is owned by two former KGB agents, Viktor Gushan and Ilya Kazmaly, who made their fortune in the region in real estate and oil. Sheriff, the parent company runs everything from gas stations to supermarkets to a mobile phone network. The real owner is supposedly Igor Smirnov, the former premier of Transnistria, a godfather like figure who allegedly uses the company as a front for his money laundering operations. Unsurprisingly, Sheriff has been accused of undue influence in the political process as they have looked to support politicians who push a pro business agenda.
To that end they have supported Smirnov, an old style Soviet apparatchik but also put their eggs in other baskets including the reform minded Renewal, the main opposition party, whose former chairman Yevgeny Shevchuk came to power last December running as an independent on the platform of business reforms and a closer relationship with Moldova which was frowned upon by Russia who supported his rival Anatoliy Kaminski, the former assistant speaker of the Supreme Soviet, and now present speaker. Shevchuk used to sit on the board of Sheriff.
It's all complex and murky and tied to Transnistria's ambiguous existence, finding common cause with disputed territories like South Ossetia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Abkhazia and yet tied uneasily to its hosts through the soccer team. As the NYT article points out, the spokesperson was happy to talk about the team and their league chances but he was less forthcoming about putting Transnistria on the map or where they got their money from. FC Sheriff are now in the midst of their Europa campaign and are meeting L'OM on Thursday.
Marouane Fellaini was a beast. You knew it was coming as he battered a makeshift Utd defense unceasingly with his physical presence. Utd finally broke in the 57th minutes as Fellaini rose above Michael Carrick to thump a header past David De Gea from a Darron Gibson corner. De Gea also produced a fine goalkeeping spell as he kept out a number of close calls. With this win, it is safe to say Everton is Utd's bogey team.
RVP was trotted out in the 69th minute and no, he did not break an ankle, but he did not score either. Rooney looked like he was carrying a load. But Shinji Kagawa turned in a pretty impressive debut performance. Sir Alex was forced to draft Carrick alongside Nemanja Vidic with Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, and Rio Ferdinand all out with injuries and they were mauled by Fellaini.
Watch out, this season might have some surprises at the top.
"We do not want to sell our players - so all the players who have contracts will stay here unless we decide otherwise. We want to keep our best players. We have answered that in nearly 80% of our press conferences and at some stage it has to stop, because the past has shown that this question is useless." (April, 2011)
Not when it comes to doing business apparently. Giving up any pretense of plugging the yawning gap between Utd and Arsenal and selling them the team's captain and top goalscorer. Wenger became even divorced from those principles when he shipped his most improved midfielder without much fight to a club that has become notorious for strong arming Arsenal for four years now. There were less lucrative options. He could have held RVP's feet to the fire and told him to honour his last year on his contract. There are reports that Song was a disruptive presence but Wenger could have reminded him that he had two years left in his contract. But that might endangered Song's price tag. A less reported consequence of financial doping while the focus is on clubs who are its principal drivers are players who are actively abet this phenomenon. Wenger is an activist when it comes to financial fair play rules but when it came to passing up £40m of business as a matter of principle, he blinked.
Arsenal are a youthful club:
Not anymore. The average age of the starting 11 yesterday was 25 years. Two years go it was 22 years. Age creep has begun and this is the first time in five years that it has hit a quarter century. If you look at the new additions, Wenger has been going in for more experience bringing in Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla, and Lukas Podolski, to the mix possibly as a way to combat the perception of a talented but naive Arsenal squad that self combusts.There is still an obvious emphasis on developing players but Arsenal's success in that front has been measured in their selling price and not actual silverware. For a self sustaining model to work, Champions League participation is even more important, which in light of Arsenal's lowered expectations is probably as good as a title. But to assure participation, self immediacy and self protection not predictions are the order of the day.
Arsenal have a cutting edge in creativity:
It was Mark Hughes who famously said Arsenal practised the dark arts a few years ago in another prickly side-line encounter. A dog whistle to not English enough and full of unwanted foreign creativity. At this point, at least on paper, Chelsea wear that mantle. Juan Mata, Marko Marin, Eden Hazard, and Oscar. The Blues have taken over the odds in tearing apart the opposition in a moment of genius. The Toons show that edge too with Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheikh Tiote, and Yohan Cabaye, all providing some nifty highlights to a growing reputation. City have David Silva and Yaya Toure for some silky smooth touches of their own. United will do it through the wings in the form of Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa. The Gunners have some fine talent in Santi Cazorla and should pick up even more if Nuri Sahin joins but they are not the only kids on the block anymore. Yesterday, we kept up the possession stats but Sunderland provided other less accomplished teams with a template for future frustration.
The self sustaining model is efficient or sustaining:
There is now a lacunae in the generation of players sold to make substantial profit and the next. With Song gone, there are no players left who Arsenal can point to for a great return of investment. A business model such as Arsenal without investor money relies heavily on match day receipts (the most expensive ticket prices), TV and appearance money, commercial and merchandising revenue, wage demands, and player sales. The last part might get even tougher with financial fair play rules kicking in at least till clubs come up with ways to cook the books. Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin have yet to prove themselves and it might take a number of years till Arsenal get their hands on the amounts of money they've been used to getting each summer. This adds pressure on developing commercial and merchandising streams which Arsenal have been notoriously slow in developing (barring that one time Highbury real estate windfall) and the few that are active are mired in less lucrative, long term deals. Hopefully, Ivan Gazidis can generate more by exploring tie ups in developing markets in Africa, Asia, and even S. America and negotiating better paying sponsorship deals. A longer pre-season tour might become an inevitability. Arsenal re-started this strategy after 12 years last season and more fixtures and more countries might be added.
Alisher Usmanov will never get a seat in the Arsenal boardroom
How long will one keep the barbarians at the gate? RVP's statement of a club that had a divergent vision from his lifted the lid on the Pandora's box of seething resentment of the non-seated bloc of investors at the seated bloc of boardroom members. Basically, after blasting the boardroom for the RVP debacle, Alisher Usmanov then launched into a laundry list of accusations all documented in a letter where Peter Hill Wood and other shareholders were guilty of artificially inflating the stock prices of their holdings and selling them to Stan Kroenke for handsome profit. They were further accused of not using that money to bring down the club's debt obligations incurred through building the Emirates. It put Peter Hill Wood on the defensive and his explanations were rather weak tea. With Kroenke, a majority owner in virtual absentia, not willing to bolster the club with his own money for transfers or even to lighten the debt, these line of attacks will continue and there might come a time, (see fourth point), when Usmanov's money could prove to be irresistible ins supplementing a self sustaining model under pressure and he could be placated by giving him or his representative a place at the table.
A brace from Lionel Messi, and goals from Carles Puyol, Pedro, and David Villa as Barca sauntered through their opening fixture against Real Sociedad. The opposition got a consolation from Chory Castro.
Perhaps no goal was as satisfying as Villa's coming back to the game after an 8th month injury absence. He took his jersey off to reveal "Imposible Sin Vosotras" written on his undershirt which translates to "Impossible Without You" referring to his wife and two daughters. Villa then went to the sidelines to embrace his physical therapist. That was cool.
Through the match Tito Vilanova looked impassive, barely reacting, looking even more thoughtful with each goal. Maybe he was saving himself for Villa's goal which he actually applauded.
A couple of observations: This goal would not have been scored if Iker Casillas had stayed on the line. That was his mistake. But even the slimmest of chances punching the ball away evaporated after he got into the way of an out of control Pepe who launches himself with the single purpose of annihilating Jonas. As it were it was Casillas clashing heads with Pepe and coming down partially concussed as Pepe lay on the pitch with a nasty cut on his forehead.
All this happened while a blissfully unaware Jonas scored the goal with his header as cool as you like. He must have been surprised to see the body count it took after he turned around to celebrate.
His strike leveled Valencia with Real after they had gone up with Gonzalo Higuain's goal which came after a tennis match between him and Diego Alves.
As per the Daily Mail, ESPN, and the Beeb. Now backed up by AS. The Beeb says that it will be a year long loan move but with a view to making it a permanent deal. An announcement is expected early next week but there are reports that Sahin is already in London.
Jose Mourinho's first choice was Liverpool because of his past association with Brendan Rodgers who coached Chelsea's reserve side while he was there. But Sahin's personal preference was Arsenal and the chance of playing in the Champions League. Which in the end, the Merengues had to respect.
What an absolutely engrossing match. City showing the fortitude and strength to dig deep to come back to equalize and then score the winner gives an indication of how hard it will be to stop them from repeating as Premiership winners. This was on a continuum from the last match of last season with the title on the line against QPR and then Sergio Aguero producing that immortal moment in the very last minute.
Aguero unfortunately had to be stretchered off in the 13th minute after brutally twisting his knee. It did not look good. City should have gone ahead after Hooiveld brought down Carlos Tevez spinning around after receiving a clever little backheel by Samir Nasri but the Saints were let off when Silva completely botched the penalty. The Spaniard had one of his poorest games which should put this win in context. But City have the luxury of Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri, two players who can turn things around as they did.
Nasri hoofed the ball to a marginally offside Carlos Tevez who benefited from a lenient linesman and the quicksilver Argentinian darted to the outside and sent in a low shot near post which Kelvin Davis should have dealt with instead the ball squirted through an inviting gap left between him and the post.
Nigel Adkins who reminds one of a slightly less ruddy Sir Alex Ferguson brought in Ricky Lambert, puzzlingly left out from the starting line up after the half and the Saints quickly had their best spell as the Championship top scorer equalized with a familiar killer instinct. It got better as former Rangers midfielder Steven Davis on his debut and his first touch buried the ball past Joe Hart after Adam Lallana laid it off nicely for him. It quieted down the Etihad instantly and as the camera panned over, it showed faces creased with worry.
This was a Saints side who had come to play. But just like they did against QPR, City were able to equalize after a goalmouth melee saw the ball come to Edin Dzeko who poked the ball through. Thereafter, it was end to end action with the Saints coming close to adding a third but they were stopped and City broke on the counterattack with Mario Balotelli finishing off the move with a shot that hit the sidenet. The big man should have done much, much better. A Yaya Toure's free kick had Davis in all kinds of trouble but he managed to bat the ball away and the Saints defense crowded out Silva.
City were rampant by now. Edin Dzeko came close with his header eliciting lots of oohs and aahs and you wondered how much of this the defense could take. Finally, it did crack as Clichy sent in a perfectly weighted cross that Daniel Fox should have glanced away for a corner. He provided a perfect assist heading the ball straight into Nasri's path and the Arsenal turncoat had no complaints with that kind of service. He celebrated by running to the sideline peeling off his jersey and his undershirt read Eid Mubarak which got him a booking.
There was a fair bit of defending to do with about 10 minutes to go but City's experience saw them through. Full marks to the Saints for entertaining the neutrals with a hard fought match against the champions. But City with this display showed they will be tough to knock off as favourites to repeat as Premiership titleholders.
Eid Mubarak to all the millions of Muslims at Ramadan's end.
7 minutes of Eden Hazard was enough for Chelsea to win against Wigan. The Belgian was as good as advertised, crafting a beautiful spin move that lost Ramis and then sprang forward a great pass which found Branislav Ivanovic of all players motoring forward to smack the opener in the 2nd minute. Four minutes later, Hazard proved too skillful for Ramis again with the defender bringing him down with an industrial challenge at the edge of the box. Frank Lampard scored from the spot on automatic.
Mind you, this is a Wigan side who ended last season as one of the best sides, showing daring and inventive football. They did not lay down and as the match went on looked far more assured on the ball than Chelsea who noticeably took their foot of the pedal. But they could not finish. Roberto Di Matteo has untold riches in the midfield and Oscar replacing Hazard tells you the juggling act he's confronted with. In fact, with Juan Mata, Marko Marin, Ramires, and the possible addition of Victor Moses, this might be as steep a learning curve for the coach as it is for the players.
Spurs, overwhelmingly the better team in the first half, paid dearly through two bits of individual brilliance from the Toons. First, came Demba Ba's scintillating goal and then Van Der Vaart and Aaron Lennon were left defending Hatem Ben Arfa who was in the mood to make both pay when he made his run to the edge of the box. Dreadful inevitability. The winger was brought down and Martin Atkinson had no hesitation pointing to the spot.
The only decision to be made was whether it would be Ba or Arfa taking the spot kick. Arfa clearly had the upper hand in the matter and he struck it sweetly for the Newcastle winner leaving an egg for Andre Villa-Boas's debut. Minutes before, Spurs were able to counter Ba's goal with Defoe's putback after Tim Krul could not hold on cleanly to the striker's rather gentle header.
There was no Luka Modric whose transfer to Real Madrid is almost in the bag. The wantaway's agent is traveling to Madrid on Monday to finalize the personal terms of the contract. Both clubs are haggling on the add ons and bonuses to the £35 million figure that appears to be agreed upon. However, Spurs are holding back in no seeming rush as they also need replacements for Modric before the deal is finalized.
Joao Moutinho is a strong possibility although Porto themselves are playing hardball. Spurs are also looking to augment their strike force with Adebayor not agreeing to a permanent move and unsurprisingly Fernando Llorente, getting restless at Athletic Bilbao, is increasingly linked to White Hart Lane.
No sympathy for QPR the second time on opening day. This time the Swans bollixed them, 5-0 as Michu got a brace on his debut. The situation got dire and then just when it couldn't get worse, great scott, they were sent clear with a fifth and final goal. Michael Laudrup could not have asked for a better start from Brendan Rodgers's old team.
QPR have not been shy spending money and being spanked like this at home cannot be too pleasing to Mark Hughes or Tony Fernandez.
Oy vey! This was not supposed to be. Ten man Liverpool sank like a stone in the second half at the Hawthorns. A stunning goal to the good by Zoltan Gera and then Daniel Agger is sent off for a touchy feely push on Shane Long as the West Brom striker enters the box. Long misses the penalty. But no worries. The same Long tumbles over Martin Skrtel's offending leg a few minutes later and this time Peter Odemwingie converts.
It's all over for the Reds as Romelu Lukaku heads Liam Ridgewell's cross past Reina. John Henry is getting on the phone with Roy Hodgson to bring him back to Anfield. Not quite, but the result must have proved tremendously satisfying to the former Liverpool manager who was bundled out quite unceremoniously after just half a season. In a day of intertwining club connections, Steve Clarke, who left Liverpool after Kenny Dalglish was sacked and was hired by West Brom saw his former club implode as his debut trumped Rodgers.
If you wanted to know where the goals were going to come for Arsenal in the post RVP world, then this was not the match to provide those answers. Sunderland packed it in the second half and the best chance fell to Oliver Giroud with all the dimensions in the world at his disposal after Santi Cazorla's brilliant pass found him but he shanked the ball. It was embarrassing to say the least. His moment to write history and he came up short. As it were a late goal would have been enough to ensure a win.
Arsenal's new purchases were all on display and Cazorla on a hot day was head and shoulders above anyone on the Emirates pitch. At times he looked too good for this Arsenal side and his face mirrored that frustration. Playing centrally just behind Lukas Podolski, his two footed qualities kept the defense guessing so much that Martin O'Neill was forced to delegate Lee Cattermole to shadow his every move.
Podolksi drifted in and out of the attack not looking especially sharp or physical. There was a chance for him to capitalize on his footspeed when Gervinho's pass from midfield found him but with an empty goal in front of him he was beaten rather easily to the ball by a defender. On another occasion, Walcott's quick feed into the box found him being bundled out by Craig Gardner and Carlos Cuellar, who were pillars in this Sunderland defense.
The first half saw an Arsenal playing at half pace seemingly trying to get their passes right and there was just a lot of lateral movement. Only Gervinho and to some extent Walcott down the wings tried picking up the pedestrian pace. Cazorla fired a warning shot but Simon Mignolet was alert in palming the ball over the crossbar and later Gervinho's cut back saw the Spaniard coming in front of Podolski to hit a first time drive which went narrowly wide. Poldi might have fancied that chance himself because it was about the same way he scored his second goal against Koln. Walcott could have put Arsenal up just before the half but he couldn't keep his header down from Cazorla's cross and then he side netted a waist high ball from a sharpish angle.
It was Sunderland who looked engaged in the initial 20 minutes of the half and James McClean had a very good chance after beating the offside trap but his shot was well stopped by Szczesny. Later, Jack Colback tested the Arsenal goalie with his left foot.
Song was not on the pitch with his Barca transfer to be completed over the weekend and Wenger started with Abou Diaby. The Frenchman had a decent game given he managed only five games last season. He was physical and when the occasion merited showed some attacking chops but the biggest test he managed to pass was remaining fit for the 70 minutes before being replaced by Aaron Ramsey. Bacary Sagna's place was taken by Carl Jenkinson who was not tested very much against a non-existent Sunderland attack but going front he was off with his crosses. That is one aspect of his game that Sagna has improved tremendously over time.
Arsenal picked it up in the second half but by that time Sunderland had given up any pretensions to an attack. Gervinho again provided all the danger down both flanks but with him there is always this great uncertainty with what he's going to do next with the ball. He gets you to the box but he either takes too many touches and when he decides to shoot or pass, the defense has already closed him down.
It's the first game of the season and quite understandably Arsenal didn't come flying out of the gates. There were three new players, a holding midfielder and a half back coming back from long injury absences, and a second string right back. It will take a bit of time to gel to get their ground game going. What Arsenal did not do well was on set pieces which is another way of breaking the logjam. They managed seven corners but not one looked threatening and they were unable to force a save out of Mignolet on the free kicks.
The FA has spoken. Rio Ferdinand is to be fined £45,000 for re-tweeting "choc ice" used to describe the sense of betrayal when Ashley Cole took the stand to defend John Terry in his racial abuse trial against Rio's brother, Anton Ferdinand.
There are a few ways of looking at this away from the abuse angle.
First, getting docked £45,000 for a crime by association. Rio became notorious for a force multiplier effect by picking on the "choc ice" derogation which was not even his and spraying it to a large army of followers. It became polarizing because of his colour, connection to the sport, and to the plaintiff. Otherwise it would have been just another witty observation.
Second, it serves as a reminder that even in this post racial society, one has not completely turned the page away from the ghetto-ization of race and colour. We live in a world where tribal allegiances rule and perceived betrayal is swiftly punished.
Third, this would have never been if Ashley Cole and John Terry were not such easy targets outside of Stamford Bridge. If we look at it from that point, £45,000 is a small amount to pay. Both have a long list of transgressions that left copious amounts of slime. Cole defending an indefensible Terry brought to the fore, more of that same ooze.
Fourth, there is a glaring lack of professionalism in soccer. It is getting easier and easier with the use of more powerful social media toys at one's disposal to air out instant grievances to even larger segments of population. This feeds into the second point.
Arsene Wenger pretty much admits it. The negotiations are in the advanced stage with the arrival of Josep Maria Bartomeu and Raul Sanllehí to London two days ago to discuss terms of his transfer. There is just haggling over money.
It's amazing how Barca get behind a transfer when they want one. The players carry out a intense psy-ops campaign to win the heart and minds of the targeted players welcoming him to the warm embrace of the Camp Nou talking up how invaluable he would be to them. The media are recruited and there is a never ending churn of articles to make him feel like he's the best thing since sliced bread. We don't just envy what Barca does on the pitch, it brings its tight interlocking possession tiki taka game to its transfer activities.
The kicker with Nuri Sahin who's looked on as a replacement is that he's now more likely to go to Liverpool which means if Arsenal want him then they need to start making the case directly to the player. Fan out Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, and Thomas Vermaelen out onto the airwaves and social media to bring Sahin to the Emirates. Yes, despicable me, does that sound like what Barca would do?
Money, its a gas. Don't give me that do goody goody BS.
There are ways of ending a relationship amicably or fifty ways to leave your lover. But Robin Van Persie chose a entirely different route altogether by publicly denouncing the club and as per Amy Lawrence made some outlandish demands during his talks with the Wenger and Gazidis. It left the Arsenal manager with no other option but to negotiate his transfer. There was irrefutable evidence that the club was putting up good money to bring in quality transfers which lays his central tenet to waste.
Such statements are usually made to force the hand of the club and to kick to the curb any emotion that might cloud your judgment. No, RVP had made up his mind that he did not want a Cesc Fabregas like saga where the player had to say laudatory things to his mentor and the club that shaped him while the signs all pointed back to where he began his footballing career. It slowed things down to the point where Arsenal had literally to engage in hand to hand combat with Barca for three whole summers before Fabregas finally ended up in the Camp Nou.
The thing going for Fabregas was that he was still very young when this all began. For RVP, there is no such luxury. He's hitting 30 years of age, massively injury prone, with time running out. Putting out feel good vibes and platitudes would have put a huge degree of confusion in the proceedings, slowed it down, and then both camps would have battled back and forth with more Sir Alex like public pronouncements about how Arsenal were violating every bit of confidentiality and putting up barricades on doing business. Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs would have been inducted in the PR war. With Juventus basically shooting themselves in the foot and City not biting, the roads led to Old Trafford.
The whole situation reeked of potential acrimony going all the way to the end of transfer deadline and beyond. Then dealing with a disgruntled, menopausal striker, who if the gun laws had been less restrictive in the UK might have thought of going postal. Meanwhile all the chatter would have been about how Arsenal were afraid to cede the Dutchman to their onetime rivals. On the pitch any sign of drop off in performance or injury, faked or real would have been taken as a sign that RVP had checked out of the club. The whole thing would have led to one conclusion. It would have been wise to get rid of RVP when we had the chance and make money while at it.
We have to thank RVP for that. At least he chose to be honest about leaving the club and whether it is for trophies or money or both, he goes to a club that keeps those assumptions honest. Utd is a winning side and they have a very high ceiling on wages when it comes to their top players. We were spared any nostalgia about a rivalry getting in the way of doing good business. Perhaps Kenny Dalglish was onto something when he said success should be re-defined away from just winning titles.
What really doesn't get talked in all this while we are still beating Arsenal with a broomstick becoming a "feeder club" is how City has spooked Utd into taking such a huge risk with a 29 year old semi crocked striker who has had one and half good seasons and is sure to keep the physio staff busy overtime. A perfectly good transfer policy has been jettisoned because Utd has seen young players with perfectly inflatable resale potential bypass them. It is unsettling when a 20 year old like Lucas Moura is snapped up by PSG for £40m without even considering Utd's shiny brochure of accomplishments. You are forced to go to the market to buy some knockdowns but the market knows you might be coming and they take away the clearance sale signs. RVP's desperation to get out of the club fed into Utd's desperation to keep abreast of City. Result: Arsenal get a £24m check.
Leo Messi's recent national goalscoring is well ahead of his Barca output. He scored his 9th goal in five matches. Unleash the kracken as they say. Sami Khedira got the ball rolling for Argentina with an own goal, Messi followed suit, and then it was the goal of the day when Angel Di Maria absolutely belted the ball from 30 yards out.
Things could have gotten worse but Messi was unable to convert a penalty kick after Angel Di Maria was brought down by first goalie Ron-Robert Zieler who also received his marching orders. Benedikt Howedes scored a consolation for Germany.
One current Arsenal player and a former one contributed to Spain's 2-1 winning score. Santi Cazorla swung a ball which had all kinds of movement past the Puerto Rican goalie and then Cesc Fabregas hit a full blooded volley to get Spain's second. Marc Cintron scored a consolation for PR.
£23m is a nifty piece of business for a semi to permanently crocked striker who when he can play healthy scores. The good thing too is that this bit of business was resolved so quickly before it became a major drag on the season's start.
Truth be told, RVP has been a peripheral figure in Arsenal's recent existence which explains why his departure doesn't have the same gut wrenching quality as say Cesc Fabregas last year. It was serendipitous Van Persie managed to remain healthy last season to score all those goals and help Arsenal to third place and a Champions League spot. That was a good bit of work too.
RVP's departure is yet another sign of a waning Arsenal vs Man Utd rivalry that has been one sided to the extreme in the recent past. But it is doesn't feel so onerous because the overwhelming debt obligations of both clubs are now major preoccupations, more so in the case of Utd.
This deal is a strange bit of reversal from Utd's policy of never spending money on a player over 26 years because of diminishing resale value and the only exception and it was an egregious one was the £31m they spent on Dimitar Berbatov whom they cannot get rid off. RVP also has to settle personal terms but he's expected to get nothing less than £200,000 per week and if you compute that over four years then Utd are forking out about £60- £65m for him.
In the 79th minute Brek Shea squirting free down the left nutmegs his way through and then crosses the ball to Terrence Boyd whose back heel is swept into goal by Michael Orozco Fiscal. In a bit of comeuppance Orozco plays for San Luis in the Mexican Primera.
The goal came after Mexico dominated the proceedings and had the better chances.
This was the 25th meeting in Mexico and before this the USA's record was a dismal 0-23-1. Tim Howard was the other hero coming up with some spectacular saves to deny Mexico.
There are evident fault lines developing between Nuri Sahin and Jose Mourinho even as it becomes inevitable that he will leave Real Madrid on a loan move to the Premiership. The question is where?
There is competition between Arsenal and Liverpool for his signature. Sahin prefers Arsenal as a club where he believes he can prosper for a year under an avowed admirer in Arsene Wenger. With Alex Song's credentials as holding midfielder requiring lots of behavioural modification, Sahin is assured of substantial playing minutes. The possibility too of Song decamping for the Camp Nou has been playing out in a familiar way and so far Wenger has been holding out as per the Spanish media.
Jose Mourinho is offering Sahin a Liverpool gig as a plug to his past association with Brendan Rodgers who coached Chelsea's reserve team during his time and earned the Special One's respect with his success. He publicly praised Rodgers's appointment as Liverpool coach saying it would bring back their glory days.
If one were Sahin, this should be a no brainer. Arsenal offers the best possible opportunity to develop further playing alongside talent like Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, and possibly even Robin Van Persie if he stays. Liverpool also does not give him the opportunity to shine his wares in the Champions League. Plus, there is the added attraction of a future long term move should Song move to Barca.
The title should actually read what fails Brazilian soccer? Clearly, with all its unsurpassed talent, Brazilian soccer should have no ailment. Jonathan Wilson's article in the Guardian exposes Brazil's fatal flaws when competing against teams which individual talent may find tough to overcome.
Against Mexico in the Olympics finals, as the clip shows, slipshod defending had much to do with the scoreline which suggests that Brazil has yet to find the next generation of savvy, physical, and athletically gifted defenders to takeover from Maicon, Lucio, and Juan.
That was the imprimatur left by Dunga which worked well in the 2007 Copa America but three years later the pendulum shifted the other way when Felipe Melo became the poster boy of his overtly physical, less skillful, defensive posture during the 2010 World Cup. However Dunga's allocation of resources to defensive mettle in an otherwise missing facet of Brazil's game made other team's sit up and take notice. Such mistakes would not have been tolerated.
Dunga should also be appreciated for championing Elano, who would have made all the difference to this Olympic side, connecting backfield to the frontlines. Against Mexico, the twin pivots of Romulo and Sandro were quite circumspect doing little to create other than steering the ball out of harm's way in the backfield. Ganso is a good player but he's obviously struggling to recover after his injury absence. There was another reason why Dunga was able to do more with his squad. He deliberately spurned highly individualistic players like Adriano and Ronaldinho going in for lesser lights like Vagner Love and Fred. In the present line up Hulk would have definitely got a call up to a Dunga squad because of his work rate and willingness to play as a team member.
Since Tele Santana, football in Brazil has been a variation between defense and offense light. The losses of the 1982 and 1986 teams seem to have preyed on the Brazilian psyche in a very negative way. Those scars were seen in a very boring and defensive minded Brazil team win in the 1994 World Cup and then repeating in 2002 against very ordinary competition with a more forthcoming attack. The problem with this U23 team that will surely form the nucleus of the 2014 squad is that they have do not have enough quality competition to iron out the problems between now and the World Cup. But Dunga could possibly do something to help Neymar tamp down on showboating and track back to help those overly ambitious and attacking wing backs.
Fabrice Muamba who was last seen carrying the Olympic torch from Greenwich to Waltham Forest on July 21st announced his retirement after his doctors advised him against returning to the sport.
As everyone in the sporting world knows, Muamba collapsed this year in March while playing Spurs as his heart stopped beating for the next 78 minutes. Quick witted medics who administered defibrillation and weeks spent in a specialized cardiac care unit brought him back to life. His recovery was nothing short of a miracle and he was back on his feet in four months. However, training and playing competitive football in the world's toughest league over a 9 month period is a different story altogether.
Naturally, there was disappointment.
" But the news I received was obviously not what I had hoped it would be and it means I am now announcing my retirement from professional football. "
Muamba is still undergoing further medical treatment and traveled to Belgium to see a specialist there. Clearly, he's still not out of the woods.
There are any number of things Muamba can do now. With his inspirational story, he can become a goodwill ambassador for the sport. Muamba can start a foundation to shine a spotlight on hidden heart conditions that have claimed a number of athlete's lives. Much needs to be done to improve the diagnosis and treatment of such conditions. There are huge disparities in testing procedures between leagues because of the cost factor. Football also sorely needs able and honest administrators and Muamba with his maturity and level headedness could become one.
We wish Muamba all the best for the future. Football stood still, fans held their breath in the days after his collapse. He was part of our lives and for a period of time he unified a fractious sport across continents, leagues, and clubs. He will always be a legend for that remarkable piece of history.
Lukas Podolksi returned to his former club and scored a brace, the first through a penalty, and then sweeping in a second from a cross by Kieran Gibbs. Thomas Vermaelen opened Arsenal's account heading in a corner and Gervinho provided an exclamation point spurning his usual instincts to pass up a scoring opportunity and actually score himself.
All the new signings were on view and they turned in good performances. Oliver Giroud can consider himself unlucky not to score with Koln's goalie denying him two clear chances. Santi Cazorla took over as the creative hub in the middle and Arsenal's attack flowed through him. He looked very, very comfortable. One gets the feeling we might be singing his praises very often in his debut season.
RVP made a significant second half appearance wearing the captain's armband. His contribution was secondary to a growing belief that he will stay on despite the rumours of a hotline chat between Sir Alex with Wenger over a possible deal. Arshavin and Gervinho's presence on the pitch continued the overweighting of the left channel which resulted in three of Arsenal's four goals. With Alex Oxlade Chamberlain shifting centrally, Arsenal now rely on Theo Walcott as a consistent threat to provide a counterbalance between the flanks.
Looks like Barca, FIFA's favourite club have their beady eyes set on Alex Song. Their manager Tito Vilanova has telegraphed his intent landing the Arsenal midfielder. And just as in the past, its the players who are softening up the target.
"He's a great player. If he joins the club we will welcome him with open arms", said Gerard Piqué.
What Barca wants, Barca gets. The good thing this season is that Arsenal have taken pre-emptive action and should make signing Nuri Sahin a priority. Even if Song's transfer does not work out it is wise to have someone of Sahin's talent putting pressure on him from the bench.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte has been banned for 10 months
Robin Van Persie can rule out going to Juventus.
Their manager, Antonio Conte was banned for 10 months following a sentencing handed down by the Italian Football Federation's Disciplinary Committee on match fixing charges while he was coaching Siena. Juve will also be without assistant coach Angelo Alessio who was also suspended for eight months and member of the coaching staff, Cristian Stellini, left the club in disgrace after accepting a 30 month plea bargain.
The disciplinary committee reduced Conte's sentencing by 5 months from the 15 months requested by the special prosecutor but rejected the manager's 3 month €200,000 plea bargain.
This means Juventus has a coaching vacuum that needs to be addressed even before the season begins. Beppe Marotta, the GM who was totting up the amount needed for Robin Van Persie's arrival at the club by offloading the deadwood in the club now has to turn his attention to who will fill Conte's shoes should Juve fail in their appeal.
Marotta who was banking on €25m generated through sales of Milos Krasic, Felipe Melo, Eljero Elia, and a few others, might be able to meet Arsenal's transfer fee demands for RVP but the question is whether the Dutch striker would now like to go to a club that faces coaching uncertainties or more largely to a league tainted yet again with a match fixing scandal that put the spotlight on Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe, two of RVP's potential team mates. Both were acquitted of charges but these cyclical binges of corruption surely plants seeds of doubt into RVP's mind as to the stability and sanctity of the Serie.
With City seemingly on hold with any transfer activity much to the ire of Roberto Mancini that would leave Utd with their nose in front in courting RVP. Of course, the big questions is whether they can match Arsenal's transfer fee. The other option is becoming more clear. Let RVP play out his final year at Arsenal and lets see what happens after that.
Canada completely outplayed by France in the second half managed to score an extra time goal by Diane Matheson following a scramble for the ball in front of the box. Before that heartbreak, France had peppered the Canadian goal with a plethora of shots, one that unluckily hit the upright, with the rest sailing over the crossbar. But Canada perhaps also believed they deserved a bit of luck after their contentious semi-finals against the USA that was decided after some controversial calls went against them. The bronze medal was some vindication.
France continues to show tremendous improvement. They're unmatched in talent. All they need now is to have the self belief and the finishing qualities to rise to championship material.
Kaka was there and we half expected him to be in a Rossoneri jersey but against his former club where a rumoured return hangs in the air, he showed a deft touch assisting in three goals. Angel Di Maria got the crowd warmed up thumping in a magnificent 25 yard volley to open up proceedings.
Milan in one of their rare endeavours answered back by Robinho following some nifty one touch stuff and afterwards the Brazilian celebrated by kissing a female fan's hand as the stadium went aww. But then came the Ronaldo show and the winger finished Kaka's pass with aplomb. He was congratulated by Fabio Coentrao whom he remotely acknowledged while his eyes never strayed from the TV screen showing the replay. We would hate to see Ronaldo in a chamber of mirrors. He would never leave.
Real added insurance with Ronaldo's second goal. Sergio Ramos got into the act heading in Kaka's corner and Callejon finished off with Kaka's third assist of the evening. Looks like Jose Mourinho's got their motor runnin'.
Carli Lloyd's brace and some superb goalkeeping from Hope Solo guided the USA to a sweetly savoured victory over a very accomplished Japanese side. It was a hard fought match and although the USA emerged as victors, Japan in large spells looked more threatening with some very neat and inventive passing.
Lloyd's first goal was a piece of great opportunism as Abby Wambach would have no doubt scored as Alex Morgan's cross had the Japanese defense rooted to the spot. But just as Wambach swung her leg in anticipation of directing Morgan's service into goal, Lloyd got in a fraction ahead launching her header to open for the USA. No big deal to a 143 goalscorer. She can afford to cede the limelight to others on occasion. But there was no mistaking Lloyd's critical second goal as she burst through from almost the half line bearing down on goal and then belting the ball from open field with pace and movement to beat Miho Fukumoto.
The goal came against the run of play as Japan really cranked up the pressure forcing Solo into making at least two very good saves in the first half. Japan should have equalized in the first half but Solo somehow was able to spring up at the right time to push Yuki Ogimi's header onto the crossbar and out of harm's way. Christine Rampone was at hand to effect an inches away goal line save after Solo was beaten in a melee.
Later in the first half, the USA dodged a veritable bullet when a handball on Tobin Heath was not called. But the USA finally ceded a goal as the Japanese triangular passing game came calling in their box and in a rare defensive lapse, it fell to Ogimi to direct the ball into goal after a mad scramble to clear failed. In another big moment, Rampone was robbed of the ball by Mana Iwabuchi and as she raced down and launched her shot for the potential equalizer it brought back painful memories of the World Cup match when the US was minutes away from a win. Fortunately for the USA, Solo was in no mood to give any quarter and she brought off yet another fine save.
The victory gave the USA their fourth gold medal in five Olympics since women's soccer was introduced in the 1996 Atlanta games with the only blip at Sydney, twelve years ago. Japan might have had the edge in talent but the USA made up for it having more self belief, a belief that they were robbed a year ago. That is what they call destiny. It makes you virtually unstoppable.
Who else but Abby Wambach to put an exclamation point:
"But anything less than winning for us is a failure. And we worked tirelessly all year long to prove that we still can win and we are still champions."
Wembley's hallowed ground saw a record breaking 83,000 fans watch a entertaining and high quality final with few histrionics and played in the Olympic spirit. Someone remind us. After the high voltage stuff dished out in the women's matches, there is a men's final to be played tomorrow?
As iconic an image: Could the USA top this in the finals?
Yes, all you football/ soccer lovers. This is one of the most anticipated clashes, the USA vs Japan showdown, all year. Destiny had both countries renewing their rivalry in the Olympics women's soccer final. The USA for redemption. Japan for continuing their recent supremacy. The USA have been in fantastic form with Megan Rapinoe in our book, the player of the tournament. We're unabashed fans of hers. But if she's set the bar there is no leveling off with Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd, who have been stellar.
The Nadeshiko have had no break out players but their defense has been extremely well organized and compact and they have relied on clinical efficiency to score goals. The US women should boss the ball around while Japan will play rope a dope. Both teams have scored all important goals through set pieces and once again they could be the determining factor.
For those who have taken off work. The match will be aired live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBC Sports. For those who cannot, there is live streaming on NBC sports and ESPN's minute by minute. For the record, 83,000 + fans are expected to attend today's finals at Wembley. This is a huge day for women's soccer.
Only at Real would some one with the skills of Nuri Sahin go unappreciated. Which of course is topic for a larger debate, would Real recognize raw talent if it bit them in the behind or only if it had a multi-million dollar price tag? But this is what Arsenal would get if his proposed loan move works out. And it is very impressive.
The deal on Robin Van Persie is that Sir Alex went public to pressurize Arsenal on loosening their grip on the striker for a cheaper price. RVP has not been an easy sell and there is a growing belief in certain camps that he maybe persuaded to stay on. His logic of a club without ambition was pre-empted to a certain degree with the influx of quality signings made.
The more intriguing development is Alex Song now exploring his id and weighing transfer options, possibly to Barcelona. Naturally, with all the talk of Nuri Sahin coming on a loan transfer from Real, the first instinct is he a replacement for Song?
Sahin's background is that he did not get enough playing time at Real after he failed to impress Jose Mourinho and grew increasingly disgruntled sitting on the bench. He will expect to be playing significant minutes at the Emirates. Is this at the cost of Song? Last season Song discovered his creative instincts as he became Arsenal's most incisive passer. But he was guilty of trying it too often and also neglecting his chief job description, protecting a vulnerable back line.
Song has not had competition for his position in a long time. Denilson was no match, Abou Diaby has been too injured, and Emmanuel Frimpong is still a few seasons away from being the answer. In this context, Sahin, a more traditional midfielder should be seen not as a replacement but as challenging Song, reining in his ambitious forays up front and his tardy responses going back.
These were especially noticeable when Mikel Arteta was out and Arsenal went into a swoon giving up some cheap goals. Besides, if Sahin is a direct replacement for Song that would be too many new players untested in the Premiership holding key roles. There are various ways of bringing good healthy pressure on a player and Wenger is not going to give up on one of his success stories on a problem that can be easily solved. Sahin's rumoured transfer should be seen as a complementary move.
Yuki Otsu's magnificent strike in the 12th minute gave the Japanese men hope that they too could emulate their women's team entering the Olympic finals but El Tri happened to be much stronger. Marco Fabian, Oribe Peralta, and Javier Cortes scored to turn things around as Mexico marched to their first Olympic finals.
Check out Peralta's second goal which came after Japan coughed up the ball under pressure. Every bit as good as Otsu's.
The CF Malaga man is finally a Gunner. And he's losing no time talking about his ambitions to see Arsenal end a long drought without silverware. Cazorla seems to have come to the Emirates with the right attitude. His statement should earn many more fans.
"There's a very good squad here and we want to fight for titles and win titles."
In the past at Villareal and for Spain, Cazorla built a reputation for his impressive flank play although Arsene Wenger probably has a more central role in mind since both Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere's return from injury have now been pushed back, in the latter's case to the end of October. Cazorla also seems to have done his homework consulting with former Arsenal talismans Roberto Pires and Cesc Fabregas. Gunners will get to see him polishing his wares in pre-season against Koln.
With the news that Arsenal is also negotiating Nuri Sahin's loan move from Real Madrid and M'Baye Niang of Caen, the young French international, the club can now hardly be accused of being unambitious. By being pro-active in the transfer market, Robin Van Persie might have to re-evaluate his fundamentally divergent vision of the club. City have cooled their RVP interest which leaves Utd and Juventus who have balked at Arsenal's transfer fee demand. The odds of RVP staying put just got better.
Sepp Blatter was around to see his fondest dream of seeing women playing in "tighter shorts". Yes, he really did say that as a way of attracting more male spectators amongst many of his other pearls of wisdom.
The match underscored the importance of having a good goalie and in Miho Fukumoto, the Nadeshiko had theirs. She must have stopped at least a half dozen shots by the French who pressed hard in the second half.
At the other end the first goal scored by Yuki Ogimi came off a terrible goalkeeping error by Sarah Bouhaddi who made a meal holding onto the ball. The French goalie was also caught miserably out of position when Mizuho Sakaguchi headed the ball into the left hand corner following another set piece.
The French finally breached the compact Japanese defense as Eugenie Le Sommer operating on the left flank and a real thorn directed a cross past Fukumoto in the 75th minute. Two minutes later, the French had a golden chance to equalize when Le Sommer was brought down in the box but Elise Bussaglia with all her experience pushed the penalty just wide.
Its all working out according to plan. The USA meeting Japan in a highly anticipated rematch after last year's World Cup loss.
An instant classic. Christine Sinclair was a one woman wrecking crew for Canada as she scored a hat trick with the USA having to play catch up with each of her goals. They had a reply each time and then went one better with Alex Morgan's 123rd minute header for the winner as seconds remained in the match.
Sinclair scored her first goal after a 1-2 with Melissa Tancredi in the 21st minute following a counterattack. Canada took that 1-0 lead into half time. In the 53rd minute, the USA leveled terms as Megan Rapinoe's curling corner sneaked into goal. The Canadian captain then scored her second nodding the ball from a cross past Hope Solo with perfect timing and placement in the 66th minute.
Two minutes later, with the Theatre of Dreams patrons just about catching their breath, Rapinoe, the player of the tournament in our estimation, just belted the ball across the goalmouth hitting the upright and into the back of the net for a spectacular equalizer. It took just three minutes for Sinclair to drive Canada back in front, as the striker with another display of preternatural timing headed the ball past Solo from a corner.
The match's turning point came on two controversial calls. The referee raised many an eyebrow booking goalie Erin McLeod for the rare offense of holding on the ball for too long. Through the indirect free kick, Rapinoe (who else!!), sent the ball crashing right into Eva Marie Nault who reflexively put her arm up for a spot kick. Abby Wambach calmly slotted the ball past McLeod to give the USA a lifeline into extra time which was finally settled when Morgan rose above the Canadian defense to put Heather O'Reilly's cross over McLeod.
Brave Canada. Our northern neighbours would not be remiss in feeling hard done by. Those were two very debatable calls. But the USA were heroic. Women's soccer has the perfect recruitment tool for the next generation. Brandi Chastain could only yelp in unintelligible sound bytes.
The USA face familiar foes Japan in the final. The Nadeshiko beat France, 2-0.
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!