All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘martin o’neill’

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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