Posted by hiphopmama on August 27, 2009
I’m not going into any detail on this, but what the hell is going on at Real Madrid right now? I celebrated when they paid top dollar for Kaka. I didn’t blink when they spent untold millions on the Coiffed One. And nary an eye was batted when supplies were further exhausted to bring in Xabi Alonso. All good players, mind you, but not too subtle or nuanced a transfer policy, don’t you think? Understandably, they were always going to have to trim some fat from a squad that was already overlarge, and credit where it’s due, they axed the first and foremost on my list, Gabriel Heinze, early on. Michel Salgado was – rather unceremoniously, in my opinion – let go despite his years of service. Makes sense, they’re both aging defenders with little role to play in the new-look squad. Huntelaar eventually made his exit as well, making his way to Milan after some good finagling. Fine, they do have a glut of strikers at this point, so someone was going to be on the outs.
Things had appeared to slow down for a while, and then BOOM – Alvaro Negredo is gone, sold to Sevilla. Yes, they have a good buy-back clause on him, but why sell him in the first place? He did brilliantly with Almeria and looked poised to help spearhead Real’s front line, for a long while into the future, yet they let him go. Ushered him out the door, more like it. Ta-ta to another canterano. Transfer speculation appeared to slow after that, with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder looking likely to stay put. And now, what do we hear? Robben will find himself at Bayern Munich for the upcoming season, and Sneijder is to land at Inter Milan. This after I had convinced myself of their importance to the squad for this transitional year, while the new players find their way into the fold. They added the kind of depth crucial to any team hoping to contend in multiple competitions over the course of a long season. And besides that, Robben was the team’s most dangerous creative player in the games played so far with the new group, changing the landscape of the game when substituted for CRon and clicking with teammates far better than Pretty Boy did. I just don’t understand it. These are the kind of moves that will derail Real’s title hopes, especially when you consider Barça are returning essentially their whole team after winning the triplete with another year of chemistry under their belts. Until this, I thought they had a decent (if outside) chance to unseat the champions. But now, I must agree that Barcelona look all but assured to win it again. And all so Real can sign another unnecessary and overpriced superstar A YEAR FROM NOW. Ribery may be an excellent player, but he is far from an essential ingredient, and I don’t believe he is worth weakening the current squad for. Oh well, I guess. Who knows better – Florentino or me? Let’s just hope that quarter of a billion proves its worth, and soon. There will be no grace period, at least not anymore.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: alvaro negredo, barcelona, bayern munich, cristiano ronaldo, florentino perez, franck ribery, gabriel heinze, huntelaar, inter, kaka, michel salgado, primera liga, real madrid, robben, wesley sneijder, xabi alonso | Leave a Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on August 24, 2009
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.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: ashley young, aston villa, brad friedel, curtis davies, epl, fernando torres, liverpool, lucas leiva, martin o'neill, nigel reo-coker, pepe reina, rafa benitez, steven gerrard, xabi alonso | 2 Comments »
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.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: alex song, andrei arshavin, arsenal, arsene wenger, ashley cole, aston villa, carvalho, chelsea, david moyes, denilson, epl, everton, fabregas, frank lampard, harry redknapp, jermaine defoe, john terry, liverpool, malouda, manchester city, manchester united, martin o'neill, peter crouch, robbie keane, scolari, sir alex ferguson, tottenham, wayne rooney, xabi alonso, yuri zhirkov | Leave a Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on April 14, 2009
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.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: albert riera, alex, aurelio, barcelona, champions league, chelsea, dirk kuyt, drogba, frank lampard, ivanovic, liverpool, michael essien, nicolas anelka, petr cech, xabi alonso | Leave a Comment »