All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘liverpool’

Wheat, Here; Chaff, There

Posted by hiphopmama on September 12, 2009

van persie man city
As much as I don’t want to say it, I feel like this may have been the week where the contenders separated themselves from the pretenders, or where the wheat finally separated itself from the chaff, if you will. It pains me, mostly because I’m an Arsenal fan but also because I’m desperate to see someone (ANYONE) other than ManU hoist that trophy, with as many changes in that top four oligarchy as possible – other than Arsenal’s place in it, of course.

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United
1-0 Defoe, 1′
1-1 Giggs, 25′
1-2 Anderson, 41′
1-3 Rooney, 78′

So Tottenham playing well was a good thing for me, because, despite their heated rivalry with Arsenal, it was another team putting pressure on the biggies and they had the chance today to knock off the reigning champs. They failed, and big time. They opened the game in brilliant fashion with a laser of a bicycle kick from Jermain Defoe inside of the first 50 seconds putting the North London side up 1-0. But then United did what they always do – slow and steady to the finish line. In the 25th minute, Ryan Giggs curled in a free kick to knot the scoreline, and Anderson blasted one past Cudicini just before halftime to give ManU the lead for good. Paul Scholes had a typical Paul Scholes day, sliding into two dangerous tackles and earning himself a red card in the 59th minute. Being reduced to ten men didn’t hamper United much, though, as Rooney tiptoed right down the lane to slot home Manchester’s third and final goal of the game.

And just like that, Tottenham’s supposed coming-out party was put on ice, if not abandoned altogether, and their 100% record went out the window as well in favor of a clear statement of intent from the defending league champions. Spurs just seemed short of answers today, scoring early but then never really finding anything else to punish ManU with. Perhaps the loss of Modric had a role to play in this, but whatever the case, it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of their stay at the top of the table.

Manchester City 4-1 Arsenal
1-0 Almunia (og), 20′
1-1 Van Persie, 62′
2-1 Bellamy, 74′
3-1 Adebayor, 80′
4-1 Wright-Phillips, 84′
4-2 Rosicky, 88′

I don’t even want to talk about this one. Maybe I’m officially a soccer nut if a loss like this can screw up my whole day, because that’s what it did. I watched the rest of the matches I recorded today after this, but only grudgingly and with the bitter hope that the other big teams would fail too. I’m not going to bother describing each goal, because it will just depress me further. The first was tragically comical in everything from the ball’s lofted trajectory off Micah Richards’ bulbous head to Almunia’s hapless expression as the ball ricocheted off his own melon and into the Arsenal goal. 1-0 City despite Arsenal looking the better side in the opening minutes. Things were pretty even for a while after that, until Arsenal started piling on the pressure in the second half, eventually resulting in a goal by Robin Van Persie to tie things up. For a good ten minutes after that, it seemed inevitable that we would get another and take the lead, but there was some kind of lapse in the aftermath of Adebayor’s very intentional kick to Van Persie’s face and Alex Song’s foul of revenge on his former teammate. City parlayed the resulting confusion into a lightning quick counterattack and a strike from Craig Bellamy to restore their lead. And then Adebayor scored (that’s all the description I’m going to give) before jetting to the other end of the field to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. Cunt. It might have been the fastest I’ve ever seen him run. If he had hustled like that last season, Arsenal might have competed better down the stretch. But no matter. He got his ticket (check?) out of London and over to the trendy new Manchester side, where it must be said he is playing quite well. He reminds me of my separated parents, only NOW doing all the things he should have been doing all along to salvage his former relationship. Do I sound bitter?

There was one silver lining in this match, and it was the return of Tomas Rosicky, including a sweet goal in his first game back. It came on some gorgeous link-up play between he and Fabregas, who lofted the ball to the little Mozart, who in turn needed just one touch to send it on its way. The whole Arsenal side looked better after he was introduced, so everyone just pray he can miraculously avoid anymore injuries for a while and we may have a winning combination on our hands.

Liverpool 4-0 Burnley
1-0 Benayoun, 27′
2-0 Kuyt, 41′
3-0 Benayoun, 61′
4-0 Benayoun, 82′

Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea
1-0 Faye, 32′
1-1 Drogba, 45′
1-2 Malouda, 90′

Two very different victories here, but with very familiar overtones. Liverpool absolutely ran rampant over Burnley, with Yossi Benayoun netting a hat trick and effectively setting up Dirk Kuyt for the fourth by blazing the shot that Brian Jensen parried into Kuyt’s path. Chelsea, on the other hand, needed another late-game winner to beat a bottom half side, but they, like Manchester United, proved that it doesn’t matter how you earn those points, as long as you get ’em. They secured all three today and kept their perfect start going, now having won five games in five tries. Only they and Manchester City can claim a 100% record going forward, with Chelsea having played one more game at this point.

Which brings me to a question I have for my own theory: if the true title contenders are separating themselves from the pack this week, what does this say about Man City? Because I don’t really consider them contenders for anything other than a Europa League, or at least I didn’t before the season started. I’m hoping I’ve just come up with a faulty explanation for the weekend’s turn of events, but I’m beginning to worry. They can’t be the real deal, can they?

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Champions League Group Stage Draw

Posted by hiphopmama on August 27, 2009

Once you recover from the cleverness of the title of this post, continue on to find out the eight groups set up by today’s draw for the next phase of the UEFA Champions League, followed by my thoughts on them. Go on, treat yourself.

Group A
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Bordeaux
Maccabi Haifa

I can’t see Juventus having too many problems making their way through to the knock-out rounds in this group. No offense to either Bayern or Bordeaux, who will present tricky match-ups at the very least, but none of these teams has the same quality as Juve. Munich is the likely favorite to go through in the second spot, but look out for current Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux to challenge all parties.

Group B
Manchester United
CSKA Moscow
Besiktas
Wolfsburg

Sir Alex is sitting pretty after drawing this group, as Manchester United won’t face a single team from either Italy, Spain, or France, although they do have to contend with Bundesliga champs VFL Wolfsburg and Russian Premier League runners-up CSKA Moscow. Still, the Mancs should have little difficulty navigating this group, although I would love to see a shock results from the German upstart club.

Group C
AC Milan
Real Madrid
Marseille
Zurich

Humdinger of a match-up in this one, as Kaka makes his first return to the San Siro since moving to Real Madrid. Marseille are a very high-quality third team as well, so this one should be interesting till the end. It’s a tough group to predict in some ways, because we have little indication as to how the retooled teams of AC Milan and Real Madrid will perform this season. Milan’s opening day win over Siena was convincing enough, and Real Madrid’s preseason form was fairly encouraging, but real competitive play is another story altogether so we’ll have to see. Group C will definitely have some of the best storylines, though, no matter the outcome.

Group D
Chelsea
Porto
Atletico Madrid
APOEL Nicosia

This is one of just two groups that has three teams I could legitimately see getting through. You have to feel Chelsea are a lock, but both Porto and Atletico have equal claim on that second spot in my mind, at least for now. If Atletico’s strikers maintain the level of form they had last year, and if their back line can achieve some semblance of solidity, they should sneak through. But Porto are always tough at home and will be looking to secure their own place.

Group E
Liverpool
Lyon
Fiorentina
Debrecen

This is the other group with a three-way traffic jam at the top. Once again, the English team is the clear favorite, but Lyon and Fiorentina will really duke it out as well. Lyon will be playing to prove something after being knocked off the top spot in Ligue 1 by Bordeaux after seven straight years at number one, and finally breaking through in European play would help in that regard. I still expect the Viola to top them, though, and bolster the Italian presence in the quarterfinals.

Group F
Barcelona
Inter Milan
Rubin Kazan
Dynamo Kyiv

In case you needed any more Spain-Italy drama, you’ll get to see Eto’o and Ibrahimovic face each other after swapping teams as Barcelona and Inter face off in this easiest of groups to pick. Inter are the favorites to defend their Serie A crown, and Barça are favorites to win just about everything else, so unless they somehow cancel each other out, both will be waiting for the next draw for the knock-out stage.

Group G
Sevilla
Stuttgart
Rangers
Unirea Urziceni

This is the bland kind of grouping that convinces me that UEFA isn’t fixing these things, at least not at this early stage in the tournament. The lack of star power doesn’t mean a lack in quality, though, as Sevilla have a very solid team and Stuttgart have some big name players as well. Granted, most of them are cast-offs from bigger teams (Jens Lehman, Alexander Hleb), but the Germans will still have something to say about the outcome of this one. I’m happy to see Sevilla with a relatively clear path to the quarters here. They deserve it after all their workmanlike effort in La Liga, and more people need to see Jesus Navas. Wow.

Group H
Arsenal
AZ Alkmaar
Olympiacos
Standard Liege

As an Arsenal fan, I am more than pleased with the draw they got. As with ManU, they won’t have any competition from the biggest leagues (in Arsenal’s case, no Spain, Italy, France, or Germany). AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege are the champs of their respective leagues, and Athens is always a tough place to play against Olympiacos, but with no Real Madrid, Inter, Juve, etc., you’ve got to think they got off easier. Hopefully they can lock up their spot relatively early and not have to bank on getting a result in Athens in that final game.

So that’s that. Barcelona-Inter and Real Madrid-AC Milan are the headliners of this group stage, which should mean some good head-to-head match-ups but with each team still making it through to the quarterfinals. I never completely understood how they set up the qualifying rounds, but it has indeed opened the way for some teams we wouldn’t normally see, a number of whom have a real shot to make it out of the group stage. Aside from pulling for Arsenal, I’m hoping for a good showing from the Spanish sides, because it’s about time La Liga started making a stronger showing outside of just the big two. Sevilla look poised to move on, and Atletico will like their chances as well, so we shall see. I don’t know how I’m going to wait till September 15th-16th to get this thing rolling.

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Boo Hoo

Posted by hiphopmama on August 24, 2009

lpool-villa
Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa
0-1 Lucas (og), 34′
0-2 Davies, 45′
1-2 Torres, 72′
1-3 Young (pen), 75′

I don’t have time to write much, but I had to get a word in on this one. This makes two heartily satisfying failures for disliked opponents in the opening weeks of the season. Not much can compete with Manchester United’s stumble against Burnley, but at least they were on the road. Liverpool, on the other hand, were playing at home, where they didn’t lose a single game last season, and they couldn’t get the job done. In their defense, they were playing a staunch Aston Villa side that was typically well prepared by coach Martin O’Neill, and they were rather unlucky not to have gone ahead inside of ten minutes. All that aside, though, the game was theirs to take by the neck in the early going and they failed to do so, allowing O’Neill’s men to sneak in and steal it away from them.

Both teams had been under fire after disappointing starts to the season, and I think many expected Liverpool to fully bounce back in this one after romping all over Stoke City last week. And they had their chances to grab the lead right away, but a surprising lack of composure in the box left them goalless after three quick attempts. They still looked threatening for a long while after that, until an Ashley Young cross ricocheted off Lucas Leiva and past Reina into the back of the Liverpool net. Then, with the allotted minute of extra time already expired, Villa scored on a corner (which was disputed as well in its awarding as well) courtesy of Curtis Davies’ skyward scalp. Benitez was furious that time hadn’t already been called, but them’s the breaks and Liverpool defended it poorly.

The Merseysiders took a while to warm up in the second half, but when they did, they brought the pressure on full tilt and finally (and inevitably) scored on a volley by Torres into the top of the net. With their domination of the ball in the Villa half of the pitch, it seemed only a matter of time before they tied the game up. But Villa held firm, stepping in at all the right moments to knock balls away and alleviate the pressure, and the pushed Liverpool on the counterattack when they could. Only three minutes after Torres got them back in the game, Gerrard made a silly challenge on Nigel Reo-Coker, who probably wouldn’t have gotten to the ball anyway, and set up the penalty that sealed the game. Ashley Young calmly put it past Reina, and Liverpool visibly deflated. That was the most surprising part – watching the feisty Liverpool team seemingly concede defeat with so much time left on the clock and a recent history of miraculous comebacks to draw on. It was like they didn’t have the confidence to keep going or the belief to push for the difference-making goal. It doesn’t all come down to this, but I still think Xabi Alonso is going to be too big of a miss for them this season and will prevent them from achieving the same heights they did last year, when they still finished second. They may still make it to the silver medal spot, but it will be on many fewer points and to much greater disappointment from fans who expected this year to be an improvement on the last. My thoughts? Oh well. =)

p.s. Props to Brad Friedel for an excellent game between the pipes. He continues to amaze.

p.p.s. And also to ESPN for the good broadcast. It was the first I’ve gotten to watch of their Premier League coverage, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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Random Week 1 Predictions

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

In a very limited number of matches, there have already been quite a few surprises and the question now becomes whether or not particular teams are as good/bad as they looked in their earliest outings. These are my gut feelings as to which teams are pretenders and contenders at this most preliminary of stages.

  • Manchester United are finally going to fall off their championship pace, but not by as much as many think (or as I would like). I know they’ve looked pretty mediocre in their first two matches, but they are a historically slow-starting team and Sir Alex is a strong enough coach that I’m sure they will eventually settle in and start rolling off games. If nothing else, Rooney will at some point hit a groove and score something like 30 goals in 4 matches to earn them a few points. Will it be enough to keep them at the top of the table? No, but they’ll do better than they should based purely on quality of management.
  • Manchester City will both exceed and fall short of people’s expectations. Now a lot of this depends on whose expectations we’re talking about, but the point is true nonetheless. They will exceed expectations because haters and hypocritically bitter opponents (see Chelsea fans’ “money isn’t everything” banter) are already writing them off as impostors masquerading as the real deal and are predicting middling returns on their investments. While I believe their weaknesses at the back will eventually be their undoing – and while I would love to see them flounder in general – I find it hard to believe that the assembled group of superstars won’t at least mildly improve their fortunes over last year, when they finished 10th. That said, I don’t see them making any drastic jumps in the table, and they will probably be lucky to qualify for a European spot at all. Having splashed out close to £100 million in the summer transfer market, mere qualification will inevitably not satisfy the owners and some supporters, who will have their own ideas about how the money might have been better spent. If a top four spot is in their future, it’s a long-term plan at this point.
  • Last season’s upstarts will be under pressure even if they produce similar results. I expect both Martin O’Neill and David Moyes to be on the hot seat at some point this year, mostly because they got their teams to perform so admirably last year. Everton and Aston Villa secured their positions as the best non-Big Four teams in 2008-’09, but this will be more of a curse than a gift in ’09-’10 as both will be expected to improve upon last year’s performances despite the improbability of this task. Fair? No, not particularly, but I see it on the horizon nonetheless.
  • Tottenham will be all up in the mix. No one doubts that Harry Redknapp produced magic when he took over for Spurs last season, but I fully expect him to continue the upward movement at the club and get the most out of a typically underperforming yet talented squad. Bringing both Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe back into the fold will bolster the team, as will the addition (again) of Peter Crouch. They’re currently sitting at the top of the Premiership table, and while that certainly won’t lost, don’t be surprised to see them hovering around the danger zone till late in the season.
  • Arsenal will surprise people with the consistency of their challenge. Yes they’re still young and still a bit iffy at the back, but they are no joke and this year Wenger’s faith in his youngsters will finally start to pay off. In just two games, we’ve already seen improvement from players like Denilson and Song, neither of whom was dubbed as having much potential to rejuvenate the squad last season. Now, with another season under their belts and that much more savvy to draw on – not  to mention with a healthy Fabregas and Arshavin for the full season – they will take their game to the next level. Look for them to be challenging for the title till the bitter end.
  • Chelsea are indeed that good and will likely win it all this year. They finished not far off the pace last season, and that was after a horrendous run under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Now, with a squad almost entirely carried over from last year’s, further time to gel, and (hopefully) some consistency in coaching, they are poised to reclaim the title and bring it back to London. Liverpool only just missed a chance to win the Premiership last season and would have been the obvious choice to hoist it this year had they not last their midfield maestro Xabi Alonso. Without him pulling the strings in the center of the park and making things go, I just don’t see them mounting the same kind of challenge. Chelsea, on the other hand, have essentially the same team they had last season with the potentially key addition of Yuri Zhirkov to bolster an already strong left side that includes Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, and Joe Cole. Couple that with arguably the strongest central defensive pairing in the league in John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, as well as a playmaker with metronomic consistency in Frank Lampard and you have the recipe for a Premiership champion. I’m an Arsenal fan at heart, but I believe they’re a year and a defender away from true contention, so a Chelsea title would be the next best thing. Say it with me now: Anybody But United.

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Em’s Bits and Bites

Posted by hiphopmama on April 22, 2009

Too lazy to write a real post (or form a full sentence, apparently), so I’m going with bullet points. Feel free to appreciate my intellect at an appropriately discounted rate.

  • Surprise, surprise: Derrick Rose was named Rookie of the Year for the 2008/09 season. Not that anyone didn’t see this coming, but the official word is always nice. He was a shoe-in, to be honest, mostly because of the composure he showed at the toughest position in basketball – point guard. OJ Mayo had a great year as a pure scorer at the two-guard spot, but that doesn’t come close to measuring up to the load Rose had to shoulder in running his team’s offense and managing the flow of the game. Plus he just looks so cool out there doing what he does. He’s got the less pompous version of Phil Jackson’s expressionless face. Through the good, bad, and ugly, Rose is unfazed, at least outwardly, which must give the team that follows his lead an assured sense of confidence in tight situations. Case in point games one and two of the Boston series. To quote my loquacious husband on that one: Die Celtics die.
  • In another far from shocking decision, the Mavs’ Jason Terry was named Sixth Man of the Year. As usual with this award, it was handed out to a player who could just as easily be classified as a starter, but Cro-Magnon Man (AKA Mark Cuban) isn’t complaining. Terry is a great firebrand off the bench – when he actually starts the game there – and had a good season, averaging 19.6 points. Another almost-starter who could have been in consideration is the Lakers’ own Lamar Odom, but he started more than the eleven games Terry did due to Bynum’s injury. 
  • Lil Wayne is picking the Lakers to win it all this year. On his blog for ESPN, he also divulged that he’ll be rooting for the purple and gold in their quest for the title, and that “‘Bron Bron” has already been informed of his allegiances. Aww, how nice. ‘Bron Bron must appreciate his honesty. 
  • WTF is wrong with everyone but Manchester United in the Premier League? Does no one else really want to challenge for this thing? Fair enough, Liverpool and Chelsea were taking on class opposition in Arsenal and Everton, but all either could manage was a draw. Chelsea are much guiltier of letting one go in their 0-0 draw at home against Everton, where they really should have found a way to break the deadlock and stay on the pace. Liverpool at least gave a valiant effort against an inspired Arsenal side in a thrilling 4-4 draw at Anfield, but with Manyoo’s win against Portsmouth, United are now three points clear with that dreaded game in hand. They will need to fumble it away in order for Liverpool to catch them now. Boo.
  • Why didn’t GolTV show the Barcelona-Sevilla match today?? I had reminders everywhere to make sure I set it up to record, but the damn thing wasn’t even on. I need a Setanta channel for La Liga and Serie A. Can someone make this happen for me? Pretty please? I don’t waste enough time watching sports yet.
  • There is some great hip hop coming out right now. Aceyalone’s “The Lonely Ones,” The Grouch & Eligh’s “Say G&E!”, Cunninlynguists’ “Strange Journey Volume One,” Mr. Lif’s “I Heard It Today”… If you take it back a little further, you get Brother Ali’s “The Truth Is Here,” k’naan’s “Troubadour,” Drake’s “So Far Gone”… And we’re still waiting on new Busta Rhymes, Freeway, and (gulp) Eminem. I’m not expecting anything from that last one, but one or two good songs would be appreciated. Thank god we’re out of the first quarter of the year, when almost all hip hop life ceases. I can’t live without new music. Fuck MIMS – music is MY savior.

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Two Out of Four

Posted by hiphopmama on April 15, 2009

adebayor-villarreal

Arsenal 3-0 Villarreal (Agg: 4-1)
     1-0 Walcott, 10′
     2-0 Adebayor, 60′
     3-0  Van Persie (pen), 69′

Porto 0-1 Manchester United (Agg: 2-3)
     0-1 Ronaldo, 6′ 

Of the four teams through to the Champions League semifinals, you could say that two of them came off my wish list – the two London teams, to be exact. I couldn’t be happier at Liverpool going out, except if Manyoo had bombed out as well. Instead, the always well-coiffed Cristiano Ronaldo ensured his team a place in the final four with a superb strike from 40 yards that sailed past Helton and was enough to seal the deal. Porto presented a few dangers, but they were mostly manageable and nearly all from set pieces, which Man Utd defended decently enough.

Arsenal put on a much more impressive display against Villarreal. Walcott broke the deadlock early when some weak defending saw him through, and he chipped one beautifully over the Villarreal keeper. The Spaniards never looked particularly threatening, other than the first few minutes of the second half, but after that the Gunners kicked it into another gear. Adebayor atoned for some boneheaded play with a lovely finish on the counterattack off another Fabregas pass. They topped it off with a Van Persie penalty kick on what was admittedly a dubious call made by the referee’s assistant. 

These two teams will face each other on April 29th, while Barcelona will face Chelsea the 28th, and once again we see the Premier League with three of the final four Champions League teams. Even with that numerical advantage, you have to give the edge at this point to the Spanish representative, Barcelona, who are once again on the rampage after a tiny hiccup in form in La Liga. Good luck to Chelsea in that one. As for Arsenal, they are the underdogs of the bunch, but I could see them pulling off an upset against the reigning champs, setting up a possible rematch with Barça. Just two more weeks to wait.

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Chelsea-Liverpool Goes the Distance

Posted by hiphopmama on April 14, 2009

Is it over yet?

Is it over yet?

 

Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool (Agg: 7-5)
     0-1 Aurelio, 19′
     0-2 Xabi Alonso (pen), 28′
     1-2 Drogba, 51′
     2-2 Alex, 57′
     3-2 Lampard, 76′
     3-3 Lucas, 81′
     3-4 Kuyt, 82′
     4-4 Lampard, 89′

That. Was. Ridiculous. Going in up 3-1 with a trifecta of away goals and Liverpool’s captain and offensive engine out injured, Chelsea must have felt pretty safe in their Champions League position. John Terry did have to sit out, having reached a suspension-worthy number of yellow cards, but Carvalho was available and both Alex and Ivanovic have been filling in nicely. All they really had to do was hold on. But in a complete turn-around from the typical pattern in this match-up, we saw another offensive explosion with eight goals and countless changes of momentum. 

The first half was all Liverpool as Chelsea looked tentative in giving up two early goals to give their opponents renewed hope. The Blues came out of the break a different team, though, and they were pressing forward from the start. Aside from a couple scary moments in the early going, when Cech looked suspect and Ivanovic had to clear one off the line with his head, Chelsea controlled play for the first 20+ minutes. They hit quick on the counterattack, and Anelka sent a low cross into the six-yard box. Drogba was there to meet it, but in the end it was deflected into the goal by Reina himself, who was visibly upset with himself for a long time afterward. If that one didn’t put it away, the next one surely did, or should have, when Alex absolutely DRILLED a free kick past Reina, scalding the back of the net. It looked to be set up for Lampard or Ballack, but Alex ran onto it and simply kicked the shit out of it, seemingly catching the Liverpool wall unprepared and off guard. And just in case the Chelsea faithful were in doubt, Lampard added another off a Drogba cross in the 76th minute.

6-3 aggregate with three away goals? Fifteen minutes remaining? Easy finish, right? Wrong. Liverpool kicked it into another gear out of nowhere, going for broke and being rewarded when Lucas’ long-range effort deflected off Essien and past Cech. Okay, 6-4 aggregate, still fine, right? Wrong again. Just one minute later, Liverpool scored again, just blitzing the Chelsea defense up the left with Kuyt heading home the cross from Riera. 6-5 now, and one more goal puts Liverpool into the semifinals. Well, shit. It was now officially “oops I crapped my pants” time. Luckily, the nervousness only lasted another seven minutes before Lampard put it well and truly out of reach with a shot that banged off both posts before going in. Liverpool still managed another scare, ruffling Cech and forcing Essien into a goal-saving header, but it was too little and (finally) too late. 

This is always a good match-up but usually of a very different ilk. Everyone was expecting some 0-0 or 1-1 type games, but we were instead treated to a 12-goal explosion that lasted until the very last minutes. It was exciting as all hell, especially to the disinterested observer (if there is such a thing with these teams), but it should never have come to that, at least from the Chelsea perspective. No matter, because now they’re through to the semi’s and set to face Barcelona – gulp – and their brigade of ass-kickers. They can’t feel overly confident about that one, but then again no one was picking them to oust Liverpool either. I suppose anything can happen, and after seeing this I’m both more and less confident about their chances against the Spanish giants. More, because they managed to snuff out a surging Liverpool side. Less, because it happened in such dramatic fashion when there was no need for it. You can bet that if they give Barcelona those kind of chances, the Catalans will gladly take them.

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Good News All Around

Posted by hiphopmama on April 8, 2009

Manchester United 2-2 Porto
     0-1 Rodriguez, 4′
     1-1 Rooney, 6′
     2-1 Tevez, 85′
     2-2 Mariano, 89′ 

Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea
    
1-0 Torres, 6′
     1-1 Ivanovic, 39′
     1-2 Ivanovic, 62′
     1-3 Drogba, 67′ 

It’s been a good 48 hours for me as a sports fan. My Lakers routed an inferior Kings team, and I got all good outcomes in Champions League quarterfinal action. After watching Arsenal fight back to claim a slight edge via their away goal draw with Villarreal, I was treated to a surprisingly tight game between Man Utd and Porto. I fully expected United to steamroll the Portuguese team, kinda like Barcelona did to Bayern today, but instead Porto struck first with a goal within the first five minutes and put Fergie’s squad on the back foot. The goal came as the result of cascading errors from Manchester, but Porto soon returned the favor when Bruno Alves very generously played the ball right into the path of Wayne Rooney, who had only the keeper to beat in order to tie it up. It was an edgy game the rest of the way, with United dominating possession and creating plenty of chances but never able to break through while Porto settled for the occasional counterattack. Things stayed level until the last five minutes, when substitute Carlos Tevez scored from close range off a lovely flick from Rooney. The Old Trafford faithful must have thought that was the final blow, but there was one more dagger left and it was in Porto’s hands. Not long after United scored their second, Porto broke out another blistering counterattack, Lisandro found Mariano Gonzalez alone on the left, and he stabbed it past Van der Sar before the big keeper could fully close out on him. Now, with two away goals in their back pocket, Porto return home to play the second leg in a stadium where no English team has ever won. It still seems far-fetched to say United are anything but full contenders, but it does even things up a bit now, doesn’t it?

And it wouldn’t be crunch time in the Champions League without a Liverpool-Chelsea match-up. This time it went down in the quarterfinals with Liverpool riding a wave of excellent form which included an impressive win against Man Utd at Old Trafford in the Premier League and a routing of Real Madrid in the UCL. Chelsea have looked resurgent under Hiddink, but the loss to Tottenham a couple weeks ago took the wind out of their sails somewhat and relegated their title hopes to the Wishful Thinking bin. So it was interesting to say the least to see them put in this kind of performance at Anfield, where Liverpool hadn’t lost in a couple millennia or so. It didn’t start promisingly for the Blues, who went down early on some sweet set-up play by Liverpool which resulted in a clinical strike by Torres. After that, though, the Merseysiders wilted from view into an indistinct mass with no one stepping up to carry the weight. Drogba followed the goal almost immediately with a one-on-one chance that Reina managed to stop, and Chelsea kept their foot on the pedal. Branislav Ivanovic became the surprise hero after he scored two goals, both headers off Chelsea corners, and gave his team a commanding lead with the two away goals. Drogba capped it by scoring Chelsea’s third off an assist from Malouda and putting Liverpool’s Champions League dreams in serious doubt.

Barcelona also embarrassed Bayern Munich, making them look like a B-league squad rather than the Bundesliga juggernaut they’ve been. They put four goals on them in the first half, then settled back and wiled away the second 45 minutes. I didn’t care too much about this one, but I always like to see Spanish sides do well, so I consider it a personal victory too. God has well and truly smiled on me.

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Champions League Draw Reality

Posted by hiphopmama on March 21, 2009

If you’ll recall, these were the quarterfinal match-ups I was pulling for, out of some misplaced sense of fairness to the better teams:

  • Manchester United-Villarreal
  • Barcelona-Porto
  • Liverpool-Chelsea
  • Bayern Munich-Arsenal

As it turns out, I only got one of the four match-ups right – Liverpool-Chelsea – but that doesn’t count for much given how many times those two have played in the Champions League recently (read: every year). So here are the actual match-ups as of Friday’s draw:

  • Manchester United-Porto
  • Barcelona-Bayern Munich
  • Liverpool-Chelsea
  • Villarreal-Arsenal

Aside from the Premier League quarter, the best of the bunch seems likely to be Barça vs. Bayern, which pits two teams in excellent European form against each other. Both have high-powered offenses, Bayern’s led by Luca Toni and Franck Ribery, Barça’s by Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, and Samuel Eto’o, among others – and some solid midfield players. I see two key advantages for Barça that are likely to tip the scales. For one, Barcelona’s defense is the stronger of the two, especially if Puyol is healthy, as they can line up some combination of El Capitan, Rafa Marquez, Pique, Dani Alves, and The Ageless One Sylvinho. Abidal, the first-choice starting left back, is injured at the moment, but Sylvinho has filled in adequately for him and Bayern doesn’t have much to threaten that side with since Ribery tends to play from the middle. Which leads to the second point, namely that Bayern don’t have the tools to exploit Barça’s few weak spots. Their midfield isn’t strong enough to contend with the hefty possession command that Barça get from the likes of Yaya, Busquets, and Xavi. In the end, I believe Barcelona simply have too much for Bayern to handle at virtually every position. Not that it won’t still be a good couple of games, but I don’t see any surprises coming out of that one.

Manchester Utd drew one of the two teams they must have been eyeing and can’t be too sad to be facing Porto. Obviously, “all the teams at this stage are very good,” as everyone is required to say, but among equals, some are more equal than others. There isn’t much to discuss here – Man Utd should skate to the semis.

I’m pleasantly surprised to see Arsenal have the good fortune to draw Villarreal. No disrespect to Pellegrini and the Yellow Submarine, but when you had a chance to face Barcelona or Manchester United, Villarreal doesn’t look quite so daunting. It will still be a tough match, but even more than that, it should be fun to watch. Pellegrini’s trademark style of play will definitely look good paired up with Wenger’s, so it will be an eye-pleasing match-up at the very least.

And then there’s Liverpool-Chelsea. Was there any way this could be avoided? You just knew it was coming, whether in this round or the next. They also seem to be spoiling each other’s tea party, and this year will be no different. I’m not sure who to give the edge to here. Normally you’d have to say Liverpool, with their history in Europe and comparatively better season overall, but things are changing at Chelsea. Or at least they were until today’s lost to Tottenham, but that’s a topic for another post. Hiddink has the Blues playing tougher and with a sense of purpose, and with the Premier League essentially out of reach, the UCL takes on that much more importance for them. Same goes for Liverpool too, though, and I really don’t see them slipping up at this point. Much as I’d like to, I can’t put my money on Chelsea, although I’ll certainly be rooting for them. 

And I still don’t see anything preventing a Barcelona-Manchester United final.

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Champions League Draw Dreams

Posted by hiphopmama on March 19, 2009

You can’t really call it a prediction because it’s all based on luck, but these are the quarterfinal match-ups I’d like to see, if we were constructing it like an NCAA bracket with the strongest teams playing the, well, less strong teams. 

  • Manchester United-Villarreal
  • Barcelona-Porto
  • Liverpool-Chelsea
  • Bayern Munich-Arsenal

As a bigger fan of Arsenal and Chelsea than most of the other teams, I’d prefer to see them play the likes of Porto or Villarreal, but in terms of strict fairness, Barcelona and Manchester Utd have earned those lesser teams. I think it’s pretty obvious that those two are far and away the strongest clubs in Europe this year, although Liverpool is on their heels at the moment. I can’t make much of an argument either for or against Bayern because I don’t watch much Bundesliga action, but they have certainly looked impressive in UCL matches. 

In looking at the remaining teams, the only screwy thing that could happen – along the lines of all three Italian teams facing English opposition in the Round of 16 – would be if the four English teams were somehow kept away from each other entirely. There was plenty of talk when the draw for the last round happened about how it was a marketing dream to have more Premier League teams in the later rounds, and an even bigger boon to advertising revenues if we could get another all-England final. Personally, I think that’s a little boring. While I believe the Premier League is the strongest in Europe right now, just watching English teams duke it out seems counterproductive at the very least. If I wanted to watch Man Utd play Liverpool for high stakes…wait, I just saw that last weekend. I certainly wouldn’t sniff at a London finals match-up, but a little more diversity would definitely be a plus. It’s probably a moot point, because I really don’t see anyone beating Barcelona, at least not for a while, and the draw isn’t likely to shake out that way. For the sake of the tournament’s integrity and continued sale-ability, I hope tomorrow’s draw is less suspicious than the last one.

Anyone but United ’09!

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