Posts Tagged ‘ Manchester City ’

Old Futbol Buffet–Food Coma

My Saturday began with a dodgeball tournament, and for some reason I blocked off several hours in my calendar.  Turns out it doesn’t take that long, especially when you’re not very good.  Started the competition at 11am, eliminated by 11:45 and off to the bar for the 12:30 kickoff of Manchester City v Swansea City.

The match wasn’t that great.  Swansea barely saw the ball, although when they did in the first half, they were quite dangerous with Luke Skywalker (I mean Michu) leading the line and Ashley Williams causing problems on the left hand side for the Swans.  Second half, not so much, and I never felt they were getting back in to the game.

The Citizens won the game on the moment of brilliance from Tevez.  Simple as that.  The hosts had very limited moments of fluidity and by the end I was trying to figure what Mancini was trying to accomplish with Tevez, Aguero and Balotelli upfront.  Felt Kolarov (substituted at halftime) was completely nondescript, which is fine, but you are playing with 11 players not 10.

Taking the big picture, Simon Curtis wrote this on the Manchester City blog for ESPN FC:

Mancini’s insistence on result over performance is logical, especially during a phase where performance is not up to last season’s high standards. There have been very few sightings of the slick, incessant passing, the overwhelming possession, the lung-busting powerplay that marked so many of City’s games during 2011-12. As in Amsterdam, it was again conspicuous by its absence, but the sight of City in second place in the table with nine games played, despite not yet having hit anything approaching their stride must be a sobering one for the rest of the top six.

After watching the longest game in Premier League history, we switched to the second half of Nancy v PSG.  The game was disconcerting on several levels.  Couldn’t tell if Nancy’s field was the latest in artificial grass technology or the finest pitch every created.  (Confirmed the former by Cedrick Heraux, renowned Ligue Un expert living in Lansing, MI.)  The lighting was weird, creating an unnatural sheen on the grass and every close up showed a perfectly level surface with no cut ups.  Then there was PSG wearing the short sleeves with gloves.  Not a big fan.  Either go long sleeve or lose the mittens.  The quality of the game was AWFUL.  Menez was a turnover machine. He would not pass, would not shoot, would not do anything until he gave the other team the ball.  Pastore was barely involved and Ibra was Ibra.  Like the City game, one player won the match with a sick finish, stunning in its power and accuracy to take PSG to the top of the table.  Jonathon Johnson on the PSG blog for ESPN FC heaped praise on Blaise Matuidi for his performance for the visitors.  Didn’t pick up on it at all, probably because I don’t know very much about PSG and I was too distracted by the loose passes and crunching tackles.

The last game of the day for me was Rayo Vallecano v FCB.  David Villa opened the scoring for the visitors and after a tightly contest affair of about an hour, the Blaugrana took absolute control, eventually winning 5-0.  The hosts went down and responded by pushing forward which left them more and more exposed.  Have to admire the fact that they did go for it but it was all for naught.  Leo Baptistao was starved of service and I didn’t see much in the attack.  As for FCB, I am really starting to wonder about Song and Sanchez.  Song was moved into central midfield to support Cesc and Xavi and seemed to be well placed but I don’t know.  Something is still missing.  As for Sanchez, he is channeling his inner Bojan and trying so hard and not getting the results.  On as a sub to grab an easy goal or two and build his confidence, he went the other direction, making things worse, constantly straying offside needlessly and usually picking the wrong pass or not delivering the correct one.  Aggravating to watch.

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Sunday I headed to the bar to meet with up the guys from Mid-Michigan United not knowing what awaited me over the next four hours—nine goals (that counted), too many talking points to mention, and unbelievable drama.

Everton 2  Liverpool 2

Suarez was immense.  An absolute terror for the Toffees in the first half, he was, in the modern parlance, unplayable.  Everton got back in the game and managed to equalize before halftime, which brought a sensational first period in the pouring rain to a close.  End to end, tons of chances, and meaty challenges.  Fantastic atmosphere.

What Liverpool did tactically in the second is beyond me.  I’m thinking Coates for Sahin with Sterling an advanced forward, was part of a 3-5-2.  The youngster was able to stretch the hosts’ rearguard with Suarez active underneath.  Johnjo was brought in to for bite, but it almost seemed there were too many cooks in the Liverpool midfield kitchen.

The game could only end one way: Suarez, the current villain, for the win. As the headline and journalists were about to hit enter, the AR raised his flag.  At first we thought it was for offside but there were some reports on twitter that the infringement was on Coates for climbing up the back of his marker.  Regardless, the goal was chalked off, and the two city rivals shared the points.

Chelsea 2  Manchester United 3

Having seen the Reds and Blues of Liverpool put on a show, the Reds of Manchester and the Blues of London saw the controversy, comebacks and goals of the Merseyside Derby and raised it.  United, similar to their explosive start against Newcastle, overran Chelsea in the opening 20 minutes or so, went 2-0 up and looked set to blow the title race wide open.  And then the new Chelsea took over, aided by United’s lack of drive.

RvP had the goals but it was Mata that was on fire in the match.  His free kick was truly special and it gave the Blues the platform from which to salvage something in the second half.  Truth be told, once Ramires nodded home from close range there was only one team winning the game.  Until Clattenberg intervened.  Young’s run on Ivanovic was clever and put the Serbian defender under pressure.  The Chelsea defender did nick him and deserved a card but not to be sent off.  United still could not break down the Blues and Mata continued to look dangerous.  And then Torres saw red.  I felt it was a dive from the off.  I guess Evans claimed later that he did touch him but I don’t know.  As one of the fans at the game said afterwards, the ref has got to realize the context of the game.  You can’t send Torres off there.

Chelsea down to nine men hung on bravely before conceding the winner in debatable circumstances.  Cech took the sting out of RvP’s shot and then a gang of Chelsea defenders beat Chicharito to the goal line to clear.  Rafael instantly fired back into the goal box and the Little Pea was first to react.  Cries of offside are still being claimed, and based on the replay maybe he was.  Here’s my take.  Complete pandemonium, players reacting in split seconds, the critical moment, all lead to the time for a decision.  How is a human supposed to keep track of all that?  On another day he’s offside and each side leaves with a point.

My biggest concern is that United has already used up a ton of luck, karma, and get out of jail cards.  Comebacks against Southampton and Stoke; absolute screw jobs against Liverpool and Chelsea.  We are only a quarter of the way through the season, and the Red Devils may lack the rub of the green later in the season when the title hangs in the balance.

Chelsea are the real deal.  I fear them above City because once they started moving through the gears, the results were stunning.  There is a concern that they may fade after the break, which RdM needs to start addressing.  More Sturridge.  More Betrand.  More guy with the unpronounceable name.  He knows his best eleven and has a group that can bring the title back to London, but he needs to save it for the key games and not burn it out in November.  A three horse race in May?  Could happen in the season of the weird.

Scott the Red tried to keep things in perspective after United’s controversial win at Stamford Bridge.  Any of the calls could have gone a different way, but the Reds got the breaks and broke a 10 year streak without a win at Chelsea.  While Rooney dominated the first half hour, RvP was called out for special praise and De Gea is his #1 choice in goal.  United are back in the hunt and there is still a lot of the season ahead of us.

Karan at the Chelsea SB Nation blog took the long view in his post, noting that Chelsea are actually surpassing expectations this season and have now been given chip on their shoulder for the upcoming fixtures.  I have watched the Blues twice this season, away at Arsenal and at home against Manchester United.  The match against the Gunners was a classic counterpuncher’s effort while the United game saw them lose the opening rounds, completely take over the fight, only to have the judges steal it from them at the end.  This team can win the league.  There’s not doubt in my mind now.

Zonal Marking analyzed the match on his website.  He saw United’s 4-4-2 morph into a 4-1-4-1 once the lead had been established while Chelsea came back into the game but were not able to unlock United from open play.  I agree with him that it would have been interested to see how the game would have played out at 10 v 11.  I imagine it would have been similar to the Chelsea/FCB Champions League semi.

All in all, a fantastic weekend of footy.  This weekend was a glimpse into what life would be like without a wife and kid, sitting on barstools, drinking, yelling, absorbed by men kicking a ball made of space age polymers.

Old Futbol Buffet–Footy Free

This weekend, I did not watch a single game.  You’re welcome.  Why? You ask.  By me not watching I created an environment of drama and goals.  Chelsea on 4-2 at White Hart Lane; United won 4-2 against Stoke; City grabbed three points at the death against WBA; Barcelona won 5-4 at the Riazor; and Valencia stole the match late at home against Athletic Bilbao.

Spooky at Dear Mr Levy saw Spurs’ start slow in part due to the absence of Dembele and Bale, rebound with a higher tempo second half but in the end capitulate due to defensive lapses.  Watching the highlights, what was Walker doing in the second half?  Not tracking, not marking, not shielding the ball out of play.  Spooky addressed and asked for patience towards the young player.  As MOTD stated, Spurs asked questions (at least for a little bit) and the Blues responded.

James Martin of ESPN FC summarized an open game in which he felt that Chelsea stepped it up.  See above.  Walker went missing and gave Chelsea plenty of room to operate.  James mentioned Gallas’ struggles as well as his clearances led to two of the visitor’s goals.  In the Blues won three more points as they look to cement their claim as title contenders.

Danny at Bitter and Blue saw the Champions (still have a hard time writing/saying that) grab all three points at the Hawthorns.  Despite Milner being sent off in the first half, City took the game to WBA and were eventually rewarded.  Stat Attack from Danny:

Eight of City’s 17 goals this season have been scored in the final five minutes, with five of these netted in the final five minutes. Nine of Dzeko’s last 11 goals have been to earn a draw or get the win.

This last statement led to Danny wrapping up the post.  Is Dzeko a super sub or what?  Have to say that watching the run in to last season and the early part of this season, he fits the bill.  After Aguero, Tevez, Silva and Balotelli run defenders ragged, he steps in and seals the deal.  The storyline will be whether he remains happy with that role.

Musa Okwonga of the Manchester United Blog for ESPN FC looked at the attacking triangle of Welbeck, van Persie and Rooney for Manchester United.  The three of them combined for all four goals, showing a cohesion that could put the Reds back in to the title chase.  Unfortunately the defense still needs shoring up and may ultimately prove the deciding factor come May.

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Articles and Pods

During the international break, I skimmed the internet, visiting sites previously unknown or ignored in my routine.  I came upon a post on Bleacher Report about players that United might get rid of in January and possible replacements moving forward.  Out: Nani, Josh King (striker I don’t know too much about), Bebe (forgot he was even on the team), Macheda, and Robbie Brady (a possible left back option going forward but if he wants to stay in contention for Ireland, he needs to be playing).  Who to bring in?  Hangeland to rebuild the center of the defense and Strootman to strengthen the center of midfield.  Yes to all of the above.

Occasionally I’ll check out the Pitch Invasion podcast.  Episode 8 looked back at the found of the Chicago Fire, with Peter Wilt, the founding General Manager of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club recounting the forming of the club, including the badge, the name (original name was going to be Chicago Rhythm?), the kit and development of the supporter culture.  I remember going to early games at Soldier Field, actually cheering against the home team so that I could support DC United.  Good times.

The USMNT has moved on to the next round of qualifying after a tougher than expected semi-final round.  A lot has been written and said in the last week regarding Klinsmann’s time in charge, just over 14 months.  I listened to two podcasts that examined his time thus far: Beyond the Pitch and Men in Blazers.  Both pods touched on the fact that a massive sea change has not occurred under the German and that is big ideas have not become concrete actions.  Alexi Lalas was on Men in Blazers to discuss this as a former player and current pundit, which made for an interesting conversation.

Finally, Grant Wahl looked at the emergence of beIN Sport in theUS and Europe for SI.com.  The network has the US rights to several leagues—Italian, French and Spanish—plus it has picked up USMNT away games, which previously were impossible to find.  From a US viewing perspective, the channel has essentially combined GolTV and Fox Soccer Plus, with the real losers being the German Bundesliga (still on GolTV, which has been dropped by DirecTV per Wahl’s article) and the English Championship (Bueller, Bueller).

But another loser may be the American soccer consumer.  BeIN has all of these leagues but only one feed.  (Sorry, that’s not fair.  They have the Spanish feed but guess what?  Americans would like to watch games with English commentary.)  My question is this: How do you show everything?  A recent example was the massive one time convergence of rivalry games that occurred two weeks ago: El Clasico, the Milan Derby and PSG v Marseille.  Here’s what beIN chose to do in their infinite wisdom: viewers only got to see the second half of the Milan Derby live as it was shoehorned in between El Clasico and the French game.  What?  That will be the norm as important games in Italy and Spain are typically shown in late afternoon Eastern time.  With no online platform, you can only see the live games that they show.  The rest are shown on delay, and in the internet age, they should be able to do better.

Every time they make a decision between leagues, they piss off people.  A couple of weeks ago, the Juve/Roma game (typically a big rivalry game, especially more so this year with Zeman in charge of the Romans) was not broadcast live.   The Juventini were PISSED and with good reason.  This is a big game and fans were not able to see it live, having to go into media blackout if they wanted to watch it without knowing the result.  Where will the channel put their focus as they to strike a balance between all of the leagues?

So far we’ve got a terrible name, poor distribution and only one screen for three important European leagues.  Can’t fix the first one without MAJOR re-branding.  I pray every day for a better name.  Distribution will be fixed over time.  I can’t believe that they won’t be in more homes by next summer.  Comcast will come around and so will AT&T.  As for the third, that’s where it gets tricky.  If they don’t add an online option to provide customized viewing and then we are at their mercy as I see it.  Maybe I want to watch Getafe v Osasuna or Genoa v Catania or Le Havre v Sochaux.  And I can’t because it conflicts with another match in another league.  And there is no option beyond illegal internet feeds.  That doesn’t seem right.

On top of all of this, is their pursuit of the EPL.  If they get that, everything I have mentioned will be negatively affected at a rate of 10, while causing the probable collapse of FSC.  While I don’t really like the channel (studio shows, graphics, choice of live Champions League games), you can’t argue with the access they provide to the game—constant repeats, online options, two channels. If they go away then beIN has a virtual stranglehold on the American soccer viewer.  I’m not really in favor of that.  Not only do I find that wrong on a very basic level, but basically I’m swapping Rob Stone for that annoying skinny blond that is constantly on in between games doing her best deer in the headlights routine.

Old Futbol Buffet–Couch Potato Edition

Saturday was a beautiful autumn day in Lansing, with citizens out and about shopping, enjoying the weather and tailgating for the big MSU/OSU football game.  How did I enjoy the day?  Sat inside a home or bar and watched over eight hours of footy.  The day began with the 7:45am Arsenal v Chelsea and ended with the 4pm Sevilla v FC Barcelona match.

Arsenal 1  Chelsea 2

Arsene Wenger probably did not sleep Saturday night.  The Gunners are the most eye catching team in the Premier League at the moment, yet the results are not following.  The hosts dominated the European Champions but were sucker punched twice and got nothing from the match.

The first Chelsea goal came out of nothing as Arsenal shambolically defended a free kick.  The Ox, on for the injured Diaby, left David Luiz open.  The Brazilian missed the header but Torres was able to volley home as Koscielny got twisted around.

The Gunners struggled without Diaby initially but eventually found their attacking strategy, which was to get into wide areas.  Eventually the alien known as Gervinho made up for last week’s debacle with a fantastic finish.  Halftime came with matters all square and Arsenal having every chance of winning.

They kept pressing after the interval but were wasteful in front of goal.  Arteta did a solid job of winning the ball back, but he was slightly culpable for Chelsea’s second goal. He was slow to react after losing the ball and put Vermaelen in trouble.  The resulting set piece was floated in by Mata and the bending ball was not dealt with. Then AFC put on their subs but these changes unbalanced the team, as the Ox ran around all over and Theo was marginal.  Giraud should have equalized towards the end but his effort hit the side netting.

Chelsea put in a veteran performance and the Gunners did everything but convert their chances. The Blues probably only had a handful of chances, scored two and Torres, who was meh, made a hash of a break away.  The back line for CFC was solid and Cech made two great saves.  As for Arsenal, Cazorla was decent but missed two chances outside the box.  Jenkinson was fantastic, showing real drive and determination at right back.  Still waiting for more from Podolski though.

The Arseblogger tried to keep things in perspective after the Chelsea game, noting that Arsenal were superior for most of the match but failed to take their chances and made mistakes at the defensive end.  Fair comment and I think the Gunners are a top four side, with one caveat—can they do it against the smaller clubs?  When they play Wigan and Stoke and Reading can they unlock packed defenses and maintain concentration for the one or two moments they are under pressure?  If the Gunners can, then they will be right there.  If not, then a fourth place (or lower) awaits them.

Zonal Marking was not impressed by this clash of London teams (although he was impressed with Oscar), focusing his analysis on the each team’s left side and Arsenal’s substitutions and shape after going down 2-1.  What I saw as Arsenal unbalanced after Diaby’s exit, ZM explained as a move to width as Ramsey moved inside and the OX, naturally a wide player, played in the right hand channel.   As for the Gunners finish to the game, their lack of shape (ie almost no linked midfield) allowed Chelsea to maintain possession and kill off the game rather than keep it the high tempo which kicked in after the Blues’ second goal.

Fulham 1  Manchester City 2

The Cottagers got off to a great start as Mark Halsey, the villain of last week’s Liverpool/Manchester United match, awarded a very soft penalty.  Petric converted and for 85’ minutes, it looked as if Fulham would hang on for a point.  But alas, the Citizens overwhelming talent won the day.

Kun Aguero canceled out the opening goal just before halftime and then Mancini threw on attacker after attacker in search of the winner.  Eventually it was Dzeko who won the points scoring almost immediately after his introduction with minutes remaining.

Big result for City given the outcomes of the day.  Unfortunately for Fulham, who tried to hold into the second half, Riise’s poor clearance created the half chance for Dzeko. David Silva was head and shoulders the best player on the field, gliding past defenders, creating chances and pulling the strings.  Special mention must be made of Brian Ruiz who did everything he could for the hosts.

I must have been watching a different game than Kristian of Cottagers Confidential.  He felt that Fulham deserved a draw.  True, they defended well and did whatever they could to stop the Citizens but they were hardly dangerous.  Also, he didn’t feel Ruiz did enough, which, considering the circumstances, he did all he could for the cause.  Fulham were surprisingly good for me.  As I told my mate, I wouldn’t have thought that Baird and Sidwell were a Premier League center midfield pairing, but they marshaled the game well.  The team as a whole was well organized and will give lesser teams trouble.

Suffering Bruin jotted down some thoughts after the game for the Bitter and Blue blog.  Can’t agree with him enough about using some sort of video to weed out fouls and resulting penalties like the one on Riise.  Despicable.  He also mentioned the lack of pace for City.  I don’t see it that way.  I see clever, technical players who are able to maintain possession in tight spaces and create chances in other ways (example would playing in Zabaleta in time and time again) rather than mazy or heaving runs from all over the pitch.  City are right behind the chasing pack and now turn their eyes toward Borussia Dortmund.

Manchester United 2  Tottenham Hotspur 3

Much was made of Spurs poor record at Old Trafford so of course United crapped their pants and gave up a 23 year unbeaten run.  The Red Devils first half was utter dreck as their defense was exposed time and time again.  Vertonghen got things up and running, driving right at the United defense and no one picked him up.  His shot ricocheted off Evans and put the visitors up just two minutes in.

Things got worse minutes later as Bale beat Rio for pace and scored the second.  The opening 45 minutes showed a couple of things—Spurs have got real pace that unsettle the best teams; Giggs and Scholes can’t start and or play together at present; every time RvP goes down, the Red Devil Nation holds their collective breath.

The second half produced the usual United fightback, as Nani converted a fine cross from Rooney.  Dempsey immediately replied as Defoe wriggled free, setting up Bale, who unleashed a vicious blast that was only partially saved by Lindegaard and Dempsey tapped in.  Kagawa was able to quickly reduce the margin back to one but that was to the end of the scoring.  A fine effort from Spurs and despite dropping into a defensive shell, they left with all the points, their third league win in a row.

Rooney’s introduction gave the hosts a spark and he was terribly unlucky on his free kick that hit the post.  Kagawa is still positive but doesn’t play towards goal so his impact can be negated.  Scholes still has it but the team must be working around him for to influence the game.  The comeback was inspiring and depressing at the same time.  Southampton required an amazing effort and Liverpool needed the helping hand of the referee.  12 points from six matches and yet this team is nowhere near top form.  Only time will tell if this is the typically slow start and if real problems are on the horizon.

Spooky was thrilled with the result.  His thoughts at Dear Mr. Levy see a team starting to move in the right direction, full of speed and hunger and led by a coach coming into his stride.  I agree with him that Walker struggled and will need to improve defensively in order to shore up the defense, but with the firepower available, performances like the first half could be the norm.

Reading Doron’s comments at the Stretford End 24 hours after the match put things in perspective.  Besides praise for Scholes’ second half, the lack of presence in midfield, which affected the entire first half, and Rooney’s introduction, Doron addressed the fact that Fergie got the line up wrong, simple as that.  He will not make the same mistake next time.  My guess is that he will use a more athletic, high energy team that stretches Spurs as they exposed United in the first half.  He made the changes and almost salvaged something from the match, but the poor start and key moments went against the Reds.  His statement towards the end should be put on the United locker room bulletin board:

Why oh why can’t United start games like they seem to have to start second halves? In every game bar one in the league we’ve had to come from behind which isn’t good enough at all. Can’t the players be motivated from the off or is it more to do with Fergie picking the wrong team to begin with and having to make changes?

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MMMSL Over 30 Playoff Final

CCFC claimed the over 30 playoff title last night in a 4-3 in Double OT thriller over Grand Saints.  Down 2-0 early (Hagan and McNally?), we battled back to 2-1 (Christensen)  before halftime and then the two teams did their best Manchester United/Tottenham impression.  CCFC scored right at the beginning of the second half through James Glenn before Grand Saints responded moments later to make it 3-2 (Drauer?).

Later on Brett earned a penalty, which was converted by Wael Awad to make it 3-3.  There were several chances for both teams to win it in regulation but extra time it would be.  Not much in the first period, but early in the second session, Brett won another penalty.  Will Robinson slotted it home to put CCFC ahead.

We then had to survive an onslaught to run out winners.  Fantastic season for the lads.  12 win and 2 draws in the regular season (Champions) and playoff champions.  Our first double since 2006 that made the post match beers that much more satisfying.

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Articles

Jonathan Wilson commented on Liverpool’s start to the season (the worst since 1902) ahead of the weekend’s fixtures.  Their poor start may be down to two factors—tough fixture list (Arsenal, City and United) and conversion of chances (somewhere in the neighborhood of 6% before Saturday’s match).  On the plus side, while passes attempted remains static, their completion percentage is higher, so Rodgers may be having some sort of effect and the Reds are pleasing to the eye.  Wilson posits that: The good news for Rodgers is that passing, the absolute core of his philosophy, has improved, even given the tough start. The bad news is that individual errors keep undermining the effectiveness of the overall structure.  Maybe the season really did start on Saturday with their 5-2 thumping of Norwich.

Grant Wahl touched a couple of interesting tidbits in his weekly column for Planet Futbol.  Klose’s honesty (he admitted using his hand and got a goal overturned); Stuart Holden’s return to Bolton; Sounders vote of confidence of their GM; and Columbus hosting USMNT games.

Old Futbol Buffet–Being: Screwed

This weekend was filled with football from Spain and England.  Saturday I managed to catch a couple of La Liga games in afternoon, and then Sunday started early with Liverpool hosting Manchester United, which was followed by Manchester City v Arsenal.  This was followed by my Over 30 Semi Final before some beers and pizza and then bed.

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Saturday

Went up to the pub for Real Betis v Espanyol and FC Barcelona v Granada.  Haven’t totally collected my thoughts on those matches yet, but the first match was dire.  Not many chances and rarely held my attention.  The FCB match was fascinating as the Blaugrana could not break down the visitors until El Capitan made the breakthrough minutes from time.

After that I headed to Lansing’s Old Town for the Bluesfest.  While down there I listened to band while watching the first half of the Michigan and Notre Dame game.  No skin in the game and I was ready to throw my beer through the TV as Denard threw pick after pick and put pressure on the Wolverine defense.  Ugh.

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Sunday

Liverpool 1  Manchester United 2

The Reds from Liverpool got hosed.  Even as a fan of the Red Devils, there is no other conclusion from the game.  Halsey had a howler and these things happen.  He missed a trick though.  For Shelvey, if he had gotten a yellow for his challenge on Rafael towards the beginning of the match then gets a yellow (and so does Evans) and then he is off.  As for the penalty, very little contact and Valencia forced the referee to make a decision.

United were not sharp. Maybe it was Liverpool, maybe it was the Champions League virus, maybe it was the personnel.  The defense was in shambles, with players getting tackles wrong and constantly letting Suarez run at them.  In the midfield, Giggs was wasteful in possession and Nani was awful.  Can’t get him on the bus out of town soon enough.  Kagawa was decent in possession but not incisive enough.  There wasn’t a killer ball, a direct punch at the opponent.  Scholes came on the second half to get hold of the ball and pushed Giggs outside for Nani.

LFC were still dangerous after the red and deserved the lead and probably a little more from the match. Glen Johnson owned Rafael and the hosts should have exploited that more. Probably the biggest revelation of the match was the Spaniard Suso.  He was fantastic and an upgrade on Borini.

The Red Devils win was less than satisfying, as they were poor and probably didn’t deserve anything from the match.  Again the question remains:  Will LFC stay with Rodgers?  They played well but the results are not coming.

Doron and Nik focused on Fergie’s lineup for their post at the Stretford End.  The gaffer didn’t get it exactly right and was forced into changes, especially in midfield, but, in their opinion, the back five were solid and proved the manager correct.  Issues remain for United despite the three points, which they are quick to point out.

Ed at The Liverpool Offside remains optimistic despite the loss and increasing injury list for the Reds.  Suso’s performance gave him hope as did Liverpool’s performance before and after the red card.  Unfortunately the club is in the relegation zone after five matches.  A run of results will get them clear, but when does that run start?

Manchester City 1  Arsenal 1

Don’t know what to make of this match, other than Joe Hart is an amazing keeper.  City played well after the midweek disappointment but were missing a gear.  Yaya never got going and Aguero was just a half step off.  In the end, City’s directness compared to Arsenal’s patience made for a nice conflict and a fully rested side might pose more problems for Londoners.

As for the Gunners, I have started a paypal account to buy Gervinho a first touch.  Old joke but never get tired of it.  Several times he got in and just gave it away.  Then at the end, he created some space for himself and put it in row Z.  How good is Cazorla?  This year’s David Silva, we’ll see if he can do it for an entire season.  Jenkinson looked confident and was a presence both attacking and defending on the right side.

The Arseblogger was pleased with the performance, which saw the Gunners go to the home of the Champions and get something from the match.  The teamsheet was quality with a couple of quiet performances from Diaby and Poldolski.  The team was assured in possession (a little too assured for me—shoot the damn ball) and earned a deserved point.

Harkiano at Bitter and Blue still cannot figure out if the Citizens start to the season is solid, sluggish or poor and is looking to the next five matches to make a conclusion.  Again City played well but Silva and Yaya did not have enough of an influence and the strikeforce could not finish off the limited number of chances they had.

Finally, Zonal Marking looked at the 4-2-2-2 of City against the 4-4-1-1 of Arsenal, although to be fair, the formations were fluid and unbalanced times.  He focused on the match-ups around the pitch and each manager’s second half substitutions.

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Podcasts

Uli Hesse joined Anto on Beyond the Pitch to discuss the current storylines in the Bundesliga, including Dortmund’s attempt to win three league titles in a row and Bayern’s signing of Javi Martinez from Athletic Bilbao.  They also touched on the German National Team and their mentality heading into the next competition.  Finally, Uli has written a great piece on the founding of the league at ESPN FC, which I highly recommend.

The panel on the Lovely Left Foot pod gave their thoughts on this summer’s transfers and also commented on the early rounds of games across Europe, while revealing boredom with the current Champions League set up.  Have to say, Match Day One was not short of excitement.

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Other stuff

My Over 30 team, CCFC, reached our tournament final for the third year running.  We destroyed our opponents and now go for the double next Sunday.  Our opponents ground out a win against a team that one my teammates described our version of Chelsea from last year.  Hard to watch and the beers only helped a little.  Sunday we go for glory.

Currently I’m reading Philippe Auclair’s book on Eric Cantona.  Can’t recommend it enough as he tells of Le Roi’s rise through French football to his days at Leeds and United.  Learning a little bit about the history of Ligue Un and the Les Bleus as well.  Good stuff.

Old Futbol Buffet–#SurvivalSunday

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.

Man City

38

28

5

5

64

89

Man Utd

38

28

5

5

56

89

——

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.

Old Futbol Buffet–Blues, Yaya & Third Star

Originally I had May 5th all worked out.  Get up, go for a quick run, then head over to the pub for the FA Cup Final, and back to my house to get ready for a community event.  Plan the work; work the plan.  Then the FA decided to move the game to 5:15p local time, which threw off my finely constructed plans.  So I got up, went for my run, checked the score of the Arsenal game (HOLY COW!) and started my media blackout.  After the event, I took a nap and headed up to the pub to watch the replay.

I should have taken a longer nap or drank more at home or done something else because the first half made me want to poke my eyes out with a fork.  LFC were awful, playing 60 yard balls to a striker who is like 5’8”.  The Reds also could not play down the middle and constantly pinned themselves in the channels which led to turnover after turnover.  But Chelsea were not exempt from criticism either despite heading into the interval up 1-0.  Cech’s distribution was terrible as over back pass to him ended up as a throw-in at midfield.  Drogba had obviously been working on passing with his chest during training as that was only the way he could connect a dot.  Finally, I know Mikel does something, I just don’t know what it is.

The second half was a little better as some good build up play led to Drogba’s goal, with Skrtel and Reina very unlucky as the ball went through the Slovakian’s legs to give the goalkeeper no shot.  Carroll was immediately introduced and thought he played well.  I missed his goal.  Why? Liverpool played another wasted ball into the channel, so I immediately went back to my beer.  I looked up to see the big Englishman celebrating. After some more Liverpool pressure came the controversial non-goal.  To be honest, I still don’t think it was a goal.  Between the freeze frame and how the ball came out, just have to give Cech kudos.

In the end, Chelsea got the measure of the game right, doing just enough to ease past a poor Liverpool side.  And did I mention that Jose Enrique is shambolic?  Wow! What a bad game at the end of a poor season for the Spainard.  No way he’s getting a ticket to Poland and Ukraine.

John Brewin summed up the game for Soccernet, noting that Chelsea now has four FA Cups in six years, with four different managers.  As for the Reds, he focused on their poor start and a lack of presence from Suarez and Gerrard.

Zonal Marking saw the game as basically two completely separate games – Liverpool before Carroll, and Liverpool with Carroll, with Chelsea following their game plan and getting the result.

As for the league, Villa secured Premier League football next season (despite only winning seven times) and put a real dent in Tottenham’s chances for the Champions League.  Yaya led the way for City against Newcastle, scoring both goals to give every advantage to the Citizens next week.  United rebounded with a home win against Swansea(entirely predictable) and will now need a favor from former United great Mark Hughes next week.

The panel on the Manchester United Redcast tried to get excited for a final day in which the Reds are not in control.  They looked ahead to next season and identified five players to get rid of: Park, Anderson, Berbatov, Owen and the twins.  Funny as always, we’ll see how Sunday shakes out.

—-

What a day in Serie A.  After the Buffon blunder in midweek, which I feel partially responsible for*, things were tense as Juventus travelled to Cagliari for Match 37.  The game was moved to the same time as the Milan Derby, so that the league leaders played at the same time to increase the drama.  Juve took care of business, winning 2-0 while Milan fell 4-2 to Inter, results that meant the Old Lady was crowned champion officially for the first time since 2003.

Giancarlo Rinaldi tied this success back to the 2003 victory in his post for Football Italia, noting the presence of Conte, Buffon and Del Piero threading throughout both triumphs.

Paolo Bandini commented on the proceedings as Conte delivered the title for Juventus through a mixture of man-management and tactics.  Plus he hit the highlights of a crazy night at San Siro.

Juventiknows.com assembled some great videos and pictures of the celebrations.

The celebrations of Juventus’ scudetto game continue to hit the web, including this great video compilation from Sky Italia of the build up, dramatic moments at the end and raucous scenes afterwards.  Plus Del Piero wrote a letter praising the fans and the players who supported the club through thick and thin.

*I haven’t watched a Juventus game since mid-March and they have been winning almost every match, barely giving up a goal.  I tune in for the last 15 minutes of theLeccematch and watch in horror as Buffon loses the ball in front of the goal.  Had they lost the title, I may had to into hiding.

—-

Pods

Ken Early interviewed Roy Keane for Off the Ball and they discussed Keane’s future while also revisited the Irishman’s bust up at World Cup 2002.  Things get frosty.

The panel at the SI Soccer Roundtable wrapped up the Manchester Derby and looked at the battle at the bottom going into the weekend.  Plus they discussed Hodgson’s hiring for the England job.

Another great pod from the World Football Phone In.  Couple of highlights:

  • The legacy for Poland and Ukraine after Euro 2012 especially as Ukraine are struggling with infrastructure.
  • Status of Brazilian league and the CBF and possible call ups for 2014.
  • Anderson trade for James Rodriguez from Porto.
  • Great venues. Vallecas, Velodrome, La Bombonera, etc.

—-

Article

A friend on Facebook and twitter posted this article.  It struck me as interesting because of the political and ecopinomic comparisons that seem to be ignored by the uniformed.  I really don’t care if you hate soccer.  That’s fine.  I don’t enjoy other sports but I don’t go around railing against.  There are dozens of games; you can’t like them all.  Just keep your opinions to yourself, especially if you have a platform like Beck orRome or Kornheiser.

—-

Europa League Final

To be honest I missed first 15 minutes of the match, getting my son situated and all that at the pub, so didn’t even see Falcao’s opener live. After that Bilbao had plenty of possession but lacked the necessary quality in final third. The second goal was a stupid turnover and then an amazing finish from Falcao. To be fair Los Leones were slipping all night with both goals indirectly caused by defenders playing on roller skates.  Bielsa went right to the bench for the start of the second half, but it didn’t do much to change game. Eventually Diego completely killed the game off with the third goal minutes from the end.

Overall, Simeone’s side got everything just about right.  An early goal, disciplined defending from all players and a quick, dangerous counterattack.  For Athletic, Muniain had a good game but wasn’t able to influence the game enough; Ander was poor; Llorente was isolated; and Amorebieta struggled all match.

Zonal Marking assessed the game, noting that Atleti’s early goal set them up perfectly to sit back and counter.  With Bilbao having a hard time breaking through the middle and also not being able to stretch the play wide, the winners were able to absorb pressure and get forward quickly, with special praise given to Falcao.

Billy at AtletiFans.com reveled in the fine performance of Los Colchoneros, appreciating the actions of the rearguard, Diego and Falcao.  Their twelfth win a row in this competition saw Atleti raise a European trophy for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, at the Athletic Bilbao Offside site, the title of Jack’s post match wrap said it all—Heartbroken. Maybe the occasion was too big for Los Leones as their sharp, incisive game was blunted by an organized Atleti team.

Old Football Buffet–Dark Days

I am in a very dark place footballing wise.  It started twelve days ago when Didier Drobga knocked the ball in from close range to give Chelsea a vital 1-0 lead heading back to the Nou Camp. The following Saturday, CR7 rounded off a fantastic counter attack to seal the La Liga title for Real Madrid.  Seventy-two hours later, Barca ran out to a dream start before hitting a wall covered in Chelsea Blue to get eliminated from the Champions League.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Manchester Derby rolled around and added to my misery.

Ferguson clearly went for the draw, going for experience and energy in the midfield.  But City ran circles around United, with Nasri having a particularly good game, and on another day Aguero would have had a goal or two.  Kompany’s goal was coming, especially after a series of corner kicks followed by poor clearances.  I felt if United could have made it to halftime, the pressure would swing back to City and allow the Red Devils the crack they would need to break the game open.  Instead down a goal away from home, the changes did not come quick enough for me.  Young brought something but I felt Valencia was well off the pace, with very little drive in front of goal and a lackadaisical attitude in the defending third.

Zonal Marking assessed the game, noting that Fergie may have had the tactics right but the personnel wrong.  Park was brought in to nullify Yaya Toure, which I found shocking, because Toure had a fantastic game, snuffing out play and charging forward more and more as the game progressed.  Giggs was overrun by Nasri and Zabaleta on the left side, but I’m not sureYoung,Valencia or Nani would have done much better.  Mancini got his subs spot on as he nullified any change United tried to make.  As Zonal Marking mentioned: This was evidently a completely different type of game from the 6-1 earlier in the season – it was low on technical quality, but high on tension.

Doron Salomon echoed the sentiments regarding the right formation but wrong players in his post at Stretford-End.com.  He went one step further criticizing the lack of fight and goal scoring chances in a big match.  United have the easier run in but the dropped points against Everton may well be the difference in the title fight this year.

The momentum is well and truly with City as they go to Newcastle next Sunday. If the Magpies go at City, they may be in trouble.  As for the QPR game, my hope is that Hughes will take a team fighting for survival and fuel them with his hatred for the blue city of Manchester, causing them to stumble at very last hurdle.

As for the battle for third and fourth in the Premier League, all I can say is giddy up.  The midweek games could reconfigure the table dramatically, especially Chelsea v Newcastle, setting up two weekends of crunch time games.

My other team, Juventus, crushed Novara to get one step closer to the title.  Of course, I can’t take any solace in that because I have only been watching them from afar, having not seen a game since the Old Lady’s thrashing of Fiorentina back in mid-March.  Juve could claim the title this weekend if results go their way.

Roberto Gotta handicapped the race for third in Italy as teams headed into the midweek fixtures.  Roma are a long shot but still in with a shot, but Inter seems to have the momentum with Napoli possibly getting back on track just in time.