Survival Sunday was all that Fox could have asked for. Goals, tension, flashpoints, a constantly updating table and a title that was literally won with the last kick of the last game. Hours after the final whistle, I am still emotionally spent.
We set up a Watch Party at the local Buffalo Wild Wings so that we could watch all of the games at the same time on several TV’s. Keeping track of five matches was much more difficult that I had imagined, especially as one game affected another. Spurs scored early, Arsenal immediately responded. Then the Gunners went behind as did Newcastle. United took the lead at Sunderland, and then minutes later City were gifted a goal by poor goalkeeping. And so on. Next year, if we get this lucky, I need to do a minute by minute to show how circumstances changed throughout the two hours.
I had conceded the title after the Everton draw but when QPR scored to go up 2-1 with ten men, I actually started to believe. I was screaming for United to get a second to give fans (namely me) some breathing space, and as the minutes ticked away, I told a fellow United fan, we’re almost there. And then the most unbelievable two minutes since the United Treble happened. I knew that City would score a second so when Dzeko scored I was concerned that time was still on the clock. Time for the shift, the shift from the red half of Manchester to the blue. When the ball was hoofed into the box, everything slowed down. Super Mario couldn’t quite control the ball so he just prodded it along. Aguero started dribbling, slowly fooling defenders and creating just enough space to agonizingly wind up and send a laser that found its way, frame by frame, into the back of the net.
Having just finished Fever Pitch (again), the thrill of a last minute goal to win the title was fresh in my mind. As I told my friend moments after the game, in between disappointed sobs, this is as close as we will get to the 1989 Championship moment. James Tyler at soccernet tweeted it perfectly: Aguero is the new Michael Thomas. And then it was over. City were champions and the disappointment and the pain and the taunting and the second guessing and the what ifs could begin in earnest, fueled by beer and whiskey.
My best friend, who is a United fan, called moments after the final whistle and we commiserated. Fergie was so close to his greatest coaching job ever. He lost Vidic and Fletcher yet patched a team together, dusting off Paul Scholes in midseason, to get United within goal difference of the title, finishing with the most points by a second placed team in the history of the Premier League. What now for the Reds? For the first time in five years, the Red Devils finished the year without a trophy. I don’t have a coherent plan right now. Maybe in time it will come to me, and hopefully this is just a blip and not the end of an era.
After all that, the Philadelphia Union hosted the New York Red Bulls, the first MLS game I had watched this season. I had planned to do two things during the match: one, watch Thierry Henry because I had heard he was off to a great start, and two, take a nap, so that I was well rested for the La Liga games. Well came to find out that Henry was hurt and may be out for the season. As for the nap, I had to park further away than I had planned so I couldn’t sneak out to the car and I couldn’t really take a nap in a sports bar.
New York scored early but the Union was able to equalize pretty quickly with a nice header. Then came the game changer. Adu received the ball in the box, tried to split two defenders, was tripped and went down. Whistle goes. Penalty to Philly right? Wrong. Yellow to Adu, which was his second and he was sent off. The card was harsh. There was contact and the ref may not have given a penalty but you can’t give a card. When Adu emerged from the locker room to watch the second half, he was given a standing ovation by the fans.
The Union came out firing to begin the second half, scoring a fantastic goal through Pajoy. The ten men from Philly were able to hold out for another twenty minutes before the Red Bulls equalized. Then a defensive mix up ten minutes later allowed the visitors to score their third. Philly had a chance to win it at the end but couldn’t quite put it in.
Next up was the remainder of La Liga games, which I will get into later this week.
Adam Digby examined a couple of stats in Juventus’ run to the championship for Who Scored. How did they win? Here’s a couple of reasons: tops in Italy in possession percentage, passing accuracy, and shots, combined with an ironclad defense—least amount of goals conceded and shots allowed. Adam also noted that Pirlo was integral to the team, proving that he still had gas in the tank. Forza Juve.
Football Italia posted comments from Antonio Conte in the aftermath of Juventus’ scudetto clinching win, and he expressed his belief in himself and the squad, noting that getting buy-in from Buffon, Del Piero and Pirlo was key at the beginning.
Last Wednesday, Off the Ball talked to Xavier Rivoire about the French squad preparing to train for the Euros, and the curious process of calling up players in phases. As for the squad itself, core players from the disastrous 2010 campaign are out—Henry, Anelka, and Toulalan. Xavier also mentioned that Trezeguet may be back in the frame.
Jonathon Wilson looked at the prospects for Athletic and Atletico the Europa League Final for Fox Soccer. Economics are likely to heavily influence the futures of both clubs, as fantastic performances from players such as Falcao, Diego, Muniain, and Llorente mean that bigger clubs will come calling. He also talked about the impact of both managers—Simeone’s fierce intensity and Bielsa’s attacking verve.
Grant Wahl wrote a piece on Giuseppe Rossi’s change in fortune from the 2009 Confederations Cup to this season, which was devastated by 2 ACL injuries. He also addressed some of the vitriol expressed by US fans toward the player. The next chapter for this player should be very interesting.
Doron Salomon examined Manchester United’s season for Stretford-End.com. Among the issues he looked at: Fergie slipping regarding tactics and mind games; finances (it’s worth pointing out that United have had £500m drained out of the club by their American owners (who’ve not put a penny in)); United seemed not ruthless enough and their fans are not giving them the fervent support that is needed; the squad will need improvement, perhaps a marquee signing, as City will upgrade.
Paolo Bandini looked back at Alessandro Del Piero’s emotional farewell at Juventus Stadium, commenting that Del Piero’s career is not to be expressed in statistics as much as memories. His departure, added to those of Nesta, Inzaghi, Gattuso and Seedorf, will leave a big hole in Serie A next year.
The Guardian crew put together a review of the Premier League season, including comments on great goals, great matches and the frantic last moments of the season. Worth a watch.
In the same vein, Off the Ball’s podcast on Monday recapped the last day, cutting together audio commentary from half a dozen sources to give the reactions of broadcasters, fans and players. The first half hour of the pod is epic.