Old Futbol Buffet–Manchester 2 London 0
This weekend was another feast of footy. I got started early, taking the day off on Friday and heading over to Soccer Zone for lunch time drop in soccer. From there, I took in as much as I could.
Earlier this summer I came across Ty Schalter’s post about the US Men’s National Team after one of several debacles during the Gold Cup. Little did I know that this was his first post on footy and that he was an expert on American Football, particularly the Detroit Lions. I added him to my twitter timeline, and through his tweets was able to talk semi-intelligently (my fault, not his) with my Lions friends. Last week he posted that he was going to a local indoor soccer facility to try to play the game he had discovered. The result was this post, which I highly encourage you to check out. Anyway, I asked him how it went and that I would try to get out there. My Friday opened up and off I went. True to his word he was wearing his 2010 USMNT Away jersey with Dempsey on the back. I brought my personalized jersey (JUNIOR #7) of the same year and joined in. Great guy with a desire to learn about the game. Check him out on twitter (@lionsinwinter) and on his blog.
It has been years since I’ve played pick up at Soccer Zone but not much has changed. Too many people on the field, too much dribbling, too much of another language. The teams were dominated by Hispanics, which is fine but they do enjoy dribbling, which is fine at the beginning when everyone is full of energy. By the end, it just becomes a series of 1 v 1 battles and counter attacks. In the end, it was a good run, and thank goodness I knew a couple of people so that at least I would get a pass once in a while. Afterwards, I headed to the bar to watch Borussia Monchengladbach against Bayern Munich.
Borussia Monchengladbach 3 Bayern Munich 1
I didn’t know anything about BMG but now I know: Marco Reus. (Raphael Honigstein examined the move of Reus to Dortmund instead of Munich.) Slight but quick, he terrorized the visitors every time he got the ball. He opened the scoring after a comical clearance from Neuer and then pulled the strings the rest of the match, setting up the third as the hosts crushed the winter break leaders. Die Roten were blunt in front of goal with very few ideas and chances, as Gomez had a decent header saved and the goalkeeper saved a long range shot in the first half. In the second half, Jupp Heynckes brought in more attackers but it made little difference. BMG just sat farther and farther back to hold the visitors at arms length and eased to victory. I have no idea how the Bundesliga title will end, and really don’t have time to keep track of it, but the league is filled with very talented players that will soon be playing for Bayern or another big time in a big league.
Uli Hesse looked at who might be pulling the strings in an unbelievably dramatic Bundesliga season, with three teams tied for first and another just one point behind.
I had been checking scores throughout the day, so I knew that Chelsea had drawn and that Deuce had scored a hat trick, and I headed up to the bar for the Juventus game, forgetting that Liverpool was playing Bolton. I looked up at the screen and ignored the bartender as I stared at a score that could not possibly be true: Bolton 3 Liverpool 1. After the shock wore off, I looked around and saw a man in red with his face buried his hot cider. “Tough day at the office?” I asked. “What? Yeah.” And that is how I met Roger, a Liverpool fan in pain. He told me he wasn’t even disappointed in the result and that the team is beyond words. We talked through several tactical and player adjustments, but Liverpool’s current situation is beyond me.
Atalanta 0 Juventus 2
It had been several weeks since I had seen The Old Lady live, so I wanted to see how Conte’s men were doing. They got off to a great start with Pepe dragging his shot past the far post early. Then utter despair set in for me and several Juventini I follow on twitter. There was about a 15 minute stretch that was truly painful to watch. Desperate defending, horrible possession (literally could not put three passes together) and a lack of energy. Atalanta were on top and the ball was bouncing dangerously around the Juve penalty area, usually cleared by Chiellini. But ten minutes from the interval, the Bianconeri started moving through the gears, creating several dangerous chances, and looking a much better prospect. Would this be a sign of things to come or just a momentarily blip? Turns out it was the former.
Juventus came out firing and were finally rewarded after ten minutes, Pirlo crafted himself some space to deliver a simply wonderful ball to the far post that Lichtsteiner headed home to give the visitors the lead. A moment of genius and quality. Juve built on their pressure and were in the ascendency but did not land the killer punch (Matri was particularly wasteful) while looking susceptible to a low blow (see last week’s game). Pepe had to be subbed after an injury and on come Marrone. Ten minutes from time, he surprised everyone with a flick through the Atalanta rearguard that Giaccherini dutifully scored to put the game beyond doubt. A truly beautiful goal.
The Old Lady are Winter Champions. Hollow title. The title is far from decided but say what you want, Conte has done everything he can to bring silverware back to Turin. Here’s hoping that the shield is sown on the famous black and white jersey next season. (And that Juve are one step closer to the third star).
Marco and Aaron at Juventiknows commented on Juventus’ latest victory. Juventus were in control, especially for the last 55 minutes but I feel that the poor section in the first half was ignored. I still don’t get what Vidal does but obviously it’s something. One red flag the guys raised was fatigue and that will be critical to the Old Lady’s chances, especially if they go on any sort of Cup run.
Paolo Bandini remarked on Juventus’ position thus far in the season, noting several key factors—coaching, hard work, and the emergence of several players.
So I put together a watch party at the local party for Epic Sunday (Fox’s ad campaign for the day). Had a nice turnout and it was fun to watch the game with fans of different rooting interests, whether that be in the teams or players for their fantasy teams.
Manchester City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Spurs needed at least a draw to keep their title hopes alive, and a win would turn the title chase on its head. The first half was awful, being the very definition of cagey, but the second half had it all—goals, ref decisions, and drama. City got up 2-0 as Spurs lost the organization that had kept them in the match, yet responded by capitalizing on a mistake by Savic and equalizing on a wonderful goal by Bale. The game was creeping towards the end with both teams content sharing the points when disaster struck. City lumped the ball into the penalty area and once the ball bounced there was only one outcome: King scissored Balotelli who stepped up and converted the penalty to win the three points. All this despite the fact that the Italian should have been sent off earlier for a foul on Parker. Devastating loss for Spurs who did well to recover. What remains to be seen is if they are the Valencia of England, the best of the rest (ie third) but not a title contender.
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2
Piers Morgan was fantastic on the FOX pregame, using the word “we”, ignoring Eric Wynalda and bringing a passion to the pre-game festivities. The first half that followed was a slightly less cagey version of the City/Spurs game, with United grabbing a goal just on the stroke of halftime when Giggs found Valencia at the far post. The second half was enthralling as Arsenal rallied to put United on the back foot, creating an end to end game that was decided on two mistakes. The Gunners equalizer came through Rafael’s action going forward. His decision was fine; his execution was poor. When he got into the penalty area, he needed to create a goal, a goal kick or a corner kick. Instead he got tackled, lost the ball, and the resulting counter attack led to RvP’s goal in the area Rafael had vacated. Arsenal deserved a goal and got it through a United error instead of their play. Then Wenger subbed Chamberlain for Arshavin. Why? If anything, he should have subbed off Walcott, as the England International created havoc but couldn’t cross, pass or shoot. Shortly after coming on, the Russian was tortured by Valencia, who came inside him pretty easily, got a return pass from Park and found Welbeck who slammed the ball home from close range. Based on the Oxe’s play, I doubt that would have happened if he had been on the field, but Wenger defended the decision afterwards. Gunners fans have to be scratching their heads about the Professor’s decisions.
As for United, Jones’ injury looked serious, only because it was self-inflicted. There have been conflicting reports about whether it is a knee or an ankle. If he goes down, I fear for United’s challenges on several fronts. Basically they will be down to Smalling and Evans in the back, and some sort of Giggs, Scholes and Carrick combo in the middle. It will take some real smoke and mirrors to win the title with those players. Also, there was some conversation around the bar about where Chicharito was. Not worried. Fergie is going to ride Welbeck for as long as he can. The Mexican will still have a say this season, it will just be after Welbeck’s run is over.
At The Republik of Mancunia, spirits were high after the game against Arsenal, with key contributions overcoming an inspired side and several injuries. Even they had a word to say about the Arshavin sub as everyone gets their boot in to Arsene.
Zonal Marking reviewed the game and concluded that Ferguson got things right over the 90 minutes while Wenger played the cards he was dealt but may have made critical errors in his substitutions.
The Off the Ball pods were solid last week. On Wednesday, the guys had Leighton James on to discuss the new Welsh National Team coach Chris Coleman, and Rapheal Honingstein informed listeners on Cisse, who signed for Newcastle, as well as some additional background on this year’s surprise Demba Ba. Graham Hunter made his usual appearance on Thursday to reflect on yet another El Clasico and the possible futures of each club, and Martin Lipton to talk about John Terry’s legal situation.
Roger and Michael looked back on the issues of the EPL from the previous week on the Men in Blazers pod that will be quickly forgotten after another round of action. Roger also talked his trip to the San Siro for the Milan Derby, which seemed to be more entertaining for the fans rather than the game itself. I drank Boddingtons during the United game as a tribute.
The panel on the latest World Football Phone In talked about the legacy of the African Cup of Nations and World Cups for hosts countries; Beckham staying in the US; George John’s loan from MLS to West Ham; the quality of play at the African Cup of Nations; and FIFA’s failed World Cup rotation policy.