Posts Tagged ‘ Serie A ’

Strip Club–Extras Edition

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I’m a Juventus guy and it took a lot of lubrication (read Honey Brown, Newcastle, and Summer Shandy) to get me through this post, but I felt I had to get this out.

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Inter entered the 2010-11 campaign as the kings of Italy and Europe.  Mourinho had led the club to a historic treble that included the elimination of FC Barcelona in the semis of the Champions League (thank you volcanic ash) before a comprehensive victory over Bayern Munich in Final.

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Of course the Special One left shortly after lifting the European Cup to attack his next challenge with Real Madrid.  Enter Rafael Benitez.  After relatively successful stints at Valencia and Liverpool, Rafa would take the reins of a team looking to stamp their authority in all competitions.

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The Spaniard only lasted until December as poor form in the league could not make up for winning the Italian Super Cup and FIFA Club World Championship.  Leonardo took over, leading the Nerazzurri all the way up to second in the league and another Coppa triumph against Palmero.  However in the Champions League, Schalke hammered the Italians in the quarter-finals, winning 5-2 at San Siro and 2-1 at home.

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Their away kit for the 2010-11 season is stunning.  But divisive.  Comment threads across the interwebs sway between the extremes of love and hate.  I fall in the love category.  I have a knockoff away jersey from a couple of years ago that is simple and elegant in all white.  This top takes that basic, beautiful foundation and adds the sinister symbol of the city of Milan and the club Internazionale—the serpent.

inter

From the Inter Milan Wikipedia page:

Animals are often used to represent football clubs in Italy, the grass snake, called Il biscione or Serpente representing Inter. The snake is an important symbol for the city of Milan, appearing often in Milanese heraldry as a coiled viper with a man in its jaws. The symbol is famous for its presence on the coat of arms of the House of Sforza (who ruled over Italy from Milan during the Renaissance period), the city of Milan, the historical Duchy of Milan (a 400 year state of the Holy Roman Empire), and Insubria (a historical regional area which the city of Milan falls within).

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The entire strip is clean and sharp, and this post from Soccer Bible has some nice pictures and descriptions.  I haven’t done any searching for this jersey, but if I could find a really good deal on it, I might consider buying it.  I may not ever wear it, but just having it hanging in my closet might be enough.  Yes.  I know. I have issues.

Old Futbol Buffet–Red Dawn

Manchester United 4  Newcastle United 3

Due to Winter Storm Euclid, I was able to watch Manchester United v Newcastle United in a highly entertaining match even though neither team played that well.  The confrontation produced seven goals and a dramatic ending.

From the not learning from previous mistakes department, Sir Alex started Giggs and Scholes.  I need to check the stats but that pairing usually results in dropped points, and for most of the match that looked to be the case again.  Carrick played well but struggled to control the game in the middle and Newcastle punished on of his giveaways as Ba’s shot went through Evans’ legs and de Gea teed it up for Perch to slam home.  United then responded but didn’t really threaten Krul’s net.

However a poorly defended free kick by Newcastle resulted in a United equalizer.  Newcastle maintained their composure and scored a controversial goal as a Simpson’s shot came in which Evans turned into his own goal trying do ward off Ba.  The goal was given, then not given, then given. Just before the interval Marveaux rattled the crossbar with a free kick which would have put Sir Alex’s men in deep trouble.

The second half was worse in technical terms with sloppy passing and movement preventing the Reds from putting the Magpies under pressure.  Evra’s equalizer was a little fortunate and Krul who had great performances last season against United should have done better.  Cisse punished United’s lax marking off a throw in as Obertan cruised down the left hand channel and squared for the striker who banged it home for the visitor’s third lead.

RvP squared the match again and Chicharito sealed the points after several missed opportunities.  United were fluid going forward but wasted far too many chances against Newcastle and Swansea.  The pessimistic part of me believes that the luck and the late goals will dry up, and if the Reds don’t tighten up defensively, another trophyless season awaits, as they will be exposed against better opposition both at home and abroad.

Manchester United 2  West Bromwich Albion 0

Sir Alex made several changes to the team, brining in Kagawa behind Welbeck, with Cleverley supporting Carrick.  Young’s hard cross was turned into the net by a WBA defender and from there United took control of the match without finding the second goal.  The Reds had several good chances on the half hour mark but desperate defending preventing another goal.  WBA enjoyed a brief spell just before halftime thanks to a series of set pieces.

There was a little more balance to start the second stanza but WBA still had a lot of men behind the ball.  The introduction of Lukaku changed the match in my opinion as his strength and energy upset the United rearguard.  My guess is that Clarke saved him for the second half to go against a tiring defense.  After all the possession, RvP finally put the game to bed with a lovely finish to seal the points.

Couple of player notes:

  • Welbeck was serviceable, with a decent workrate and interplay but he is still not top class.
  • Cleverly was iffy, providing energy but several turnovers and a lack of ideas around the 18.
  • Smalling keep things steady at the back, staying to his task but not providing the offensive oomph of Rafael.

Daniele of Red Rants watched a changed United team overcome a heavy pitch and determined opponent to secure three points and go into 2013 top of the table.  Kagawa’s return gives Sir Alex more options, especially with Rooney’s injury and Daniele feels that Valencia may need a rest.  But who would replace him?  Not the best game and much less drama than the Newcastle match, but the result is what matters.

Matthew Evans shared his thoughts on WBA’s performance for ESPN FC.  Despite several injuries, the Baggies regrouped in the second half and Matthew saw a better effort from debutant Thorne and some good play from Lukaku.

Midseason thoughts

United are seven points clear but the deficit is far from convincing.  The Red Devils have plenty going forward, especially with everyone fit but the attack can be stymied and will be shut down against organized and fit sides.  With the defense leaking goals, I can see narrow defeats in the spring that could cost them the title.  City continue to lurk and may lose the title only because their manager is substandard, but without a European distraction, there is every chance that the Citizens will close the gap.  Chelsea are an outside bet as Rafa has secured the defense.  If they can find the goals, they could mount a serious charge.

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Articles and Podcasts

Anto had Italian commentator Owen Neilson on the Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss the Serie A at the Winter Break.  I have not been following the league at all this season, so I took the opportunity to catch up.  Owen and Anto acknowledged that Juventus are champions.  The Old Lady has a significant lead at the break, and the chasing pack are not strong or consistent enough to catch the Bianconeri.  As for Anto’s beloved Milan, they broke down the problems at with the Rossoneri, including the Brazilian clear out and the possible burnout of Stephan El Shaarawy.  Fiorentina and Roma are doing great things this season, while Palermo is struggling at the bottom.

Another league that has gotten away from me is the Bundesliga.  Raphael Honingstein provided a year in review of the German league for SI.com, focusing on the rise of Borussia Dortmund, who won a league and cup double and progressed from the Group of Death in the Champions League.  He also praised Marco Reus as player of the year and SC Freiburg for a fantastic year of results.  Raphael concluded with a look at the German National Team and their “traumatic” defeat at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012.

Michael Cox (aka Zonal Marking) jotted down his 10 moments from 2012 for ESPN FC.  What a year.  Chelsea winning the Champions League (reading Michael’s comments I was reminded of Robben’s missed penalty in extra time—aargh!!); Spain’s wonderful performance in the Euro 2012 Final against Italy; CR7’s crushing goal at the Nou Camp that secured the league for Real Madrid; and Zambia winning the Africa Cup of Nations. I admit that I didn’t watch a single minute of the tournament, but I knew about the story.  The death of Zambian National Team actually made it in to SI way back in the 90’s, and I can still remember reading the article and trying to imagine the pain of losing an entire generation of players.  20 years later the promise was fulfilled and what a moment for the players and the country.

On the latest episode of The Big Question podcast, Aaron discussed the future of college soccer with Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer.  Both agreed that there is no one answer for how the college game fits into the puzzle of American Soccer.  I think Travis summed it up best, saying that “There are different paths for different players”.

I follow college soccer even less than MLS and went to my first college game in years last fall to support MichiganState and the Red Cedar Rowdies.  Didn’t see much in terms of next level talent, but there were two UConn players that I could see having a chance. The elite players in America need to be Europe. That has been my stance for several years.  To be the best, you need to play with the best.  Having said all that, the college game is another road to the professional game for the next tier or two of player.  The MLS has to draw from somewhere, but financial considerations and conference realignment may have something to say about the collegiate game in the near future.

Old Futbol Buffet–Spuds Smashed

This weekend was hit and miss in terms of footy.  Saw some La Liga action on Saturday but missed the North London Derby and United’s shock defeat at Norwich.  Did manage to catch the second half of the Juventus game though and was 0 for Sunday due to working the concession stand at the MSU basketball game and then having church.

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Arsenal 5  Tottenham Hotspur 2

I wanted to see the game but due to the 745am EST kickoff and life intervening, I missed it.  I woke up and checked the score: 3-1 to the Gunners.  Scrolling through the updates, Adebayor scored the opening goal and then got sent off 18 minutes in.  Several people tweeted that it was the striker’s best performance for Arsenal and that the Gunners should have evened things up by putting on Andre Santos.

The Arseblogger was content to ignore the tactics of the game and focus on the result.  The former Arsenal striker was the focal point, both of the blog post and the match.  As for the Gunners themselves, Cazorla and Wilshere were picked out for praise and Giroud was amongst the goals again.  5-2.  That is all.

For a Spurs perspective, I read Spooky’s latest post at Dear Mr Levy.  The fragility of Tottenham Hotspur—caused by missing players, the chopping and changing of the defense and the mismanagement of the transfer window—was exposed as the Gunners took Spurs apart.  Spooky was happy that AVB went for it even with ten me but the crucial period before halftime meant there was only going to be one result.

Zonal Marking examined the game noting that AVB surprisingly went with a 4-4-2 that used power and pace going forward and a high line defensively.  The Portuguese manager stuck with the approach, moving to one forward but his team tired, conceding the game just before the interval.  He switched to a 3-4-1-1 in the second half, but after the initial pressure wore off, the Gunners picked off the visitors.  Special mention was given to Walcott, not only for his goal but for his play on the right hand side, combining with Giroud and allowing Sagna to overlap.

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Juventus 0  Lazio 0

I watched the Old Lady for the first time this season, catching the second half on Saturday.  A couple of things: loved the all black kit.  The numbers and names are sharp and really pop off the back of the kit.  Loved the 3-5-2 formation.  Wingbacks getting involved.  Center of the pitch under control. Juve dominated the proceedings, although they did seem susceptible to the counter.  Despite their energy and chances, the ball would not go in, and that led to two dropped points.  @agiamba tweeted after the match that it was a good performance but the goalie made three great saves.  Agree to a certain extent.  They were in control but poor crossing and some poor finishing kept this game from being won.  The bianconeri have bounced back from defeat and still lead the league by four points over Inter.

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Finally, what a weekend for MSU soccer, both varsity and club.  The Men’s team travelled to South Bend on Sunday after defeating ClevelandState on Thursday.  The Spartans fell 3-0 but finished the season strong, winning the BIG 10 Tournament Championship.  As for the club teams, tweets came across my timeline late Saturday night that both the Men’s and Women’s club teams won their respective National Championships.  Amazing accomplishment.  Congratulations to Scott, Dan and all the players.  Make sure to read Dan’s recaps of the women’s games.

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Articles and Pods

Gabriele Marcotti joined Anto on the Beyond the Pitch to discuss current storylines in Serie A, including Juventus’ European challenge, the success of new Inter manager Stramaccioni, the problems at AC Milan, and De Rossi’s future at Roma.  Highly informative as usual.

Jonathan Wilson profiled Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu for SI.com.  Very interesting backstory as he moved from the pitch to player manager to challenging Steaua’s dominance in the 80’s.  Now he has the Ukrainian champs on the cusp of the round of 16 of the Champions League and poised to make a run in the competition.  Although Lucescu favors youth, he has a veteran backline that may make the difference this time around.

Finally Steve Rushin wrote on entertaining piece for SI.com contemplating the question: What if life was more like soccer?  The possibility of extra time, brandishing red cards, “diving”, and moving your focus on to the next challenge are all possibilities.  Have to say my favorite part was this:

After all, the single greatest existential quandary that humans face in life also bedevils soccer: Once you leave the game, you are not allowed to return.

Weekend Warrior

Call it what you want—Super Sunday, Survival Sunday, D-Day—his Sunday is going to be an epic day of footy with key relegation battles and the races for Europe in England and Spain.  Mid Michigan United is planning a massive watch party on Sunday, starting at 10am.

In England, City controls the destiny of the title.  If they match United’s result, they are Champions for the first time in over 40 years.  As for the top four, Chelsea’s slip up against Liverpool means the only way the Blues can get back into the Champions League is to defeat Bayern on May 19.  Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle all slipped up in Round 37, meaning all three have a chance at third and fourth.  Down at the bottom, Blackburn are down, meaning that Bolton and QPR will have to get results to avoid the drop.

All games at 10am EDT.

  • Manchester City vs QPR, ESPN2/ESPN3
  • Sunderland vs Manchester United, FX
  • Chelsea vs Blackburn Rovers, SPEED
  • Swansea City vs Liverpool, FUEL
  • West Bromwich Albion vs Arsenal, FSN
  • Tottenham Hotspur vs Fulham, FOX Soccer
  • Stoke City vs Bolton Wanderers, FOX Soccer Plus
  • Norwich Cityvs Aston Villa, FOX Soccer 2Go
  • Wigan vs Wolverhampton Wanderers, FOX Soccer 2Go
  • Everton vs Newcastle United, FOXSoccer.com

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As for La Liga, the top three places are set.  There is competition for fourth and the Europa League spots, which will be determined based on the winner of the all Spanish affair in the Europa League Final.  I don’t pretend to know all the permutations, so I’m just going to watch.  Down at the bottom, five teams will be going all out to avoid the last two relegation spots.  The momentum is with the two teams currently in the relegation zone: Real Zaragoza and Sporting Gijon, while fortune is not favoring Rayo Vallecano orGranada.

Sid Lowe gave a quick summary of the relegation possibilities:

Relegation:Granada 42; Villarreal 41; Rayo 40; Zaragoza 40; Sporting 37.

• Rayo and Granada face each other, Villarreal go to Champions League-chasing Atlético, Zaragoza travel to nothing-to play-for Getafe and Sporting go to Malaga, who are also chasing a Champions League.

• If Sporting, Rayo and Zaragoza all end on 40 points, Sporting survive. If Rayo, Zaragoza and Villarreal end on 41 points. Rayo go down. If Rayo and Villarreal end on 41 points, Rayo go down. If Villarreal and Zaragoza both end on 41 points, Villarreal go down. If Rayo and Zaragoza both end on 41 points, Zaragoza go down. If there is tie on 42 points between Granada and Villarreal, Granada go down.

All games at 2pm EDT

  • Villarreal v Atlético Madrid
  • Málaga v Sporting Gijon
  • Getafe v Real Zaragoza
  • Levante v Athletic Bilbao  ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
  • Rayo Vallecano v Granada
  • Espanyol v Sevilla FC DirectTV 477
  • Racing Santander v Osasuna  DirectTV 478
  • Real Madrid v Mallorca GolTV

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One final note.  In Italy, final day drama was avoided as Juventus won and Milan lost last Sunday, so the Old Lady is back on top.  The struggle for third will be waged between four teams, Udinese, Napoli, Lazio and Inter, with Lazio and Inter playing on the last day.  I haven’t followed the league closely enough to handicap the race but should go right down to the wire.

Udinese

37

17

10

10

15

61

Lazio

37

17

8

12

7

59

Napoli

37

15

13

9

19

58

Inter

37

17

7

13

5

58

All times 2:40 EDT and games on ESPN3

  • Catania vs. Udinese
  • Lazio vs. Inter (also on FSC)
  • Napoli vs. Siena (also on FS+)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Old Futbol Buffet–A Loss, A Draw and A Win

These posts usually focus on the EPL with a smattering of Juventus information and analysis, but this weekend was all about El Clasico.  Saturday was spent nervously anticipating the big game (thank God I did not get up for Arsenal v Chelsea), in part because of the need for a win and in part due to the slightly unnerving loss to Chelsea in midweek.  I showed up to the bar early to watch Spurs lose AGAIN, as they could fall from third to sixth in a matter of weeks.  Don’t even know where to start with them.  But back to the confrontation between the two Spanish Super Powers.  Thousands of words were written before and after, and I won’t try to add to the deluge (too much). I also won’t try to break down tactics or drill down on the stats or put this game into the context of almost 100 years of conflict.  I’ll just concede the title and move on.

Barca’s team selection was surprising, especially Tello and Thiago, but exciting because the Blaugrana were going for it, aiming for the only result that would help them—a win that would cause a nervous breakdown in the capital.  However, Tello struggled.  He provided width, but lacked the final ball and his finishing was poor, to be kind.  Thiago came into the match, and in the second half I thought he had more impact as he dribbled the ball out of deep midfield.

Real Madrid’s first goal was a cluster, as Valdes could only kill the ball in front of goal and Puyol just didn’t hoof it out.  I helped organize an El Clasico Watch Party, and the crowd was pretty pro Barca so there was a lot of face palming at that moment.  A sense of doom and resignation was setting in until the equalizer, during which the place went nuts, but the celebrations were cut short after CR7’s goal.  The winner, stunning in swiftness and execution, was a confluence of factors: Ozil out wide, CR7 cutting in the middle, Puyol, Masch not coordinating their efforts, and Valdes out of sorts.

Barcelona’s goal was scrappy, but it was the result of driving at Madrid instead of passing side to side or negatively, which made the game feel like an offense versus defense drill.  Against Chelesa, the Blaugrana had tons of possession and were dangerous, just didn’t finish, while in the game against Real, they had possession but were blunt, not sharp, and relatively easy to manage for Los Merengues.

In my preview of the season, I opined that the extra games would catch up with Barcelona, and I feel that my thoughts are being validated.  They have reached the final of the Copa del Rey, the semis of the Champions League and participated in the Club World Cup this season, so as the Blaugrana hit crunch time, they are missing that extra gear, which allows them to put the necessary distance between them and their opponents.  Is this the end of Pep’s team?  We won’t know until it’s over and the heights are hit less and less frequently.  But look at next year.  Sanchez has been a decent signing and will continue to make an impact.  Cesc should be back to full fitness, both mentally and physically, which should give the manager more options.  Hopefully Pedro will back on song and Villa will be back from injury.  Plus the cantera players will learn and improve and add dynamism to the team.  Tello will learn from this match; Cuenca will continue to improve; and Thiago will grow as the heir to the midfield three.  Continuing on to next year, both teams dropped points this season and will drop points next year, but the rivals keep putting pressure on each other to be great and both will be at each other’s throats for silverware next year.  And that’s all we can ask.

Zonal Marking wrote an excellent summary of the game, noting that Barcelona did not have enough directness in the game (until Sanchez and Pedro entered) and were not clinical enough in front of goal.  Real’s set up was typical, 4-2-3-1, and they executed a brilliant game plan, which included a mixture of pressing and sitting back and swift counterattacks.

John Pelini at El Centrocampista had similar thoughts, noting that Messi did not have enough support in attack as teams are crowding Messi in an attempt to blunt the Barca attack.  Mourinho picked the same 11 as he played against Bayern and was rewarded with an effort that produced key goals, finely tuned counterattacks and organized defense.

On to Sunday . . .

United v Everton at Old Trafford was early Sunday morning, and I figured that it would be a drab 1-0 home win.  So I got up, started cleaning the house, checked the score: 1-1 at halftime.  Not great but . . . Next time I checked, United was up 3-1.  Great.  Title 20.  Check.  But then I refreshed and to my horror, I saw the score was 4-3 to United and while I was scrolling through the commentary, Everton equalized just before the death.  With City beating Wolves 2-0, the gap is down to three, setting up an epic confrontation next Monday.  I’m taking the afternoon off to focus on the game that will determine which half of Manchesterthe trophy will reside.  Can’t wait.

Andy at the Stretford-End.com enjoyed the exciting match, including an impressive performance from Fellaini.  He wondered if Ferguson might have gotten the substitutions wrong towards the end as United looked to add a fifth instead of protecting the three points.

Later that day, Juventus hosted Roma in a key match for both sides: Juve in their quest for the scudetto and Roma in their fight for a European spot, with an outside chance at third, the last Champions League spot.  My son had something that afternoon so I followed the game on twitter.  The Juventini were all over it, letting me know that Vidal had put the Old Lady up 1-0.  Shortly after Vidal scored a second, then Stekelenburg took down Marchisio, got sent off, and Pirlo converted the penalty kick. Milan’s draw and Juve’s 4-0 win puts the Old Lady up by three points.  With just five matches to go, the black and whites are close to a 28th title after years of suffering.  I think to fail now, Juventini might be more heartbroken than the relegation to Serie B.  Forza Juve.

Aaron recapped a devastating performance by the Bianconeri at Juventiknows.com.  High marks were given to the five man Juve midfield that ran the show and overwhelmed their opponents, while the defense has solidified into the best unit in Italy, only giving up one goal in the last six games and 18 for the season.

Finally, Grant Wahl did a feature piece on Brad Friedel, who has started every match for his clubs (Blackburn, Aston Villa and Spurs) since the beginning of the 2004/05 season.  An amazing reward for dedication, fitness and desire.

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Podcasts

The World Football Phone In on 4/14 was fantastic.  The panel explored why they loved this game; the Brazilian striker Fred and his prospects of playing at the World Cup; the rise and fall of the Uruguayan National Team, from the dominance of the 20’s and 30’s to their footballing wilderness to a fantastic performance at World Cup 2010; and the success both on and off the field of the Seattle Sounders.

Janusz Michallik was on Beyond the Pitch to look at the issues of the day.  His comments on the eventual use of video replay were interesting, in that the broadcasters will demand it in order to justify huge contracts for a game that is decided fairly.  Straightforward and opinionated, Janusz gives an interesting perspective on players, teams, leagues and topics.