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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Major Transfer Updates in SerieA

A look into how the major teams in serieA has dealt in the transfer market so far.

League leaders and currently most active in the transfer market, AC Milan started their activities with the negotiation for Antonio Cassano who had fallen out with the Sampdoria president only to join a bigger club with higher ambitions. In the last week, Milan managed to sign two Dutch players in the wake of recent midfield injury crisis- Urby Emanuelson from Ajax and well known Mark Van Bommel from FC Bayern. Milan has done some shrewd business considering all three of their January signings put together hasn't cost them more than €3.3m after Van Bommel requested Bayern to terminate his contract to join the Italian giants for free. Since he has signed his contract with Milan only till June 30,2011 it is more of a short term emergency signing. Another talking point is that all the three players are cup tied and would not be eligible to play in the next rounds of Champions League.

Lazio has added some depth to their squad by signing Guiseppe Sculli from Genoa and if rumours are to be believed Swiss international Ziegler could also join the capital club from Sampdoria.

Juventus, the club which looked more likely the one to splash cash in the market and improve their squad, have been somewhat erratic in their transfer policies and dealings. Earlier when their transfer director Marotta insisted upon signing younger players in view of building a team with long term ambitions, their signing of Luca Toni from Genoa makes little sense. Juventus have always been a club who boasted the most number of Italians and most of them becoming Italian internationals too. But when the Italian national team looks short of new talent, it is always wise to focus on some foreign players who can add further quality to the team. Milos Krasic, their best player among the last summer buys, is a fair indication to why Juventus needs to look beyond just Italians. But all this talk seems to be falling on deaf ears as Andrea Barzagli, another Italian who is nowhere near his peak form, is heading to Turin from Wolfsburg.

Reigning champions Inter Milan have been quiet in January after bringing in Leonardo to the bench and seem to be content with the team they have, highly rated Andrea Ranocchia their lone buy after Walter Samuel was out for the season with injury. However, Moratti has recently expressed his interest in signing Pazzini from Sampdoria as a cover for Milito who has spent most of his time in the treating room this season.

AS Roma, the club themselves, have been in takeover talks for a while now and new signings are highly unlikely. Napoli is on the verge of securing the services of Espanyol defender Victor Ruiz. Sampdoria have taken the young Manchester United starlet Federico Macheda on loan and he is already showing his worth at the Marassi. Massimo Maccarrone looks set to join them as well after an unimpressive stint with Palermo.

Players like Alexis Sanchez (Udinese) and Domenico Criscito (Genoa) are very much the in-demand players even after their club presidents declaring they would stay.

AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™: How it fared......

I wanted to write this after the first phase of the AFC cup was over but it’s only now that I have some time and I decided to do some analysis on the way this tournament has been shaping up (Let me honest – I haven’t watched any of the games the whole of 90 minutes, Just a bit here and there)

The tournament has now reached the Semi Final phase and 3 out of the 4 teams who have qualified for this phase wouldn’t surprise you. Australia, South Korea and Japan are the top three teams in the Asian zone and it’s Uzbekistan which has sprung a surprise by qualifying for the semifinals ahead of other heavyweights such as Iran and Iraq.

Let me start with India’s performance and nothing great was expected from this team which is ranked 144 in the world and had the lowest ranking among the other teams involved in the competition. But yes they did play better than expected. If compared with another two teams who didn’t open their points tally i.e. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, India scored 3 goals while both the teams scored 1 each. But the flipside to this would be that India conceded 13 goals against Saudi’s and Kuwait’s 7 and 8 respectively. A wide open Indian defense dint help matters and if it wasn’t for some great goalkeeping by the Indian goalie the ‘GA’ column would have had a much bigger number.

Uzbekistan were a real surprise who managed to top their group and reach the S/F’s beating Jordan 2:1. The host nation Qatar was expected to perform and they showed the world that they can play. But as they host the FIFAWC in 2022 and policy states that the host nation is guaranteed a place, I feel they would meet the same fate as Bafana Bafana when they hosted World Cup 2010.

Australia and Korea Republic were supposed to bring the tournament to light in their own blistering way. But some lackluster performance by both teams (though they got the results) has not increased this tournament popularity. Korea especially have not performed as a team that had reached the semi finals of a world cup a few years back. However their quarter final game against Iran was worthy of a final, and it was a close game with Korea nicking it in extra time.

Four teams left to compete for this coveted trophy and it would be no surprise if Australia wins it, as they seem to be the complete Asian team. However I would wish Japan reaches the final and makes it worthy of a great Asian final. Its time to Wait and Watch!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leonardo's Revival at Inter: A Simple Job which Benitez Couldn't

When Rafael Benitez was hired at Inter Milan, Mourinho called Benitez lucky for inheriting a squad which won just everything that was there to win, a 'complete product' as Mourinho likes to call it. After winning the Champions League, almost everyone in the Inter dressing room hailed the psychological impact Mourinho had on this team. They just broke the European jinx after decades without the big trophy.

Working under the shadows of Mourinho's achievements, Benitez completely changed the team tactics and there was growing dissent in the dressing room, most notably from the man who scored the brace against Van Gaal's men on that night in Madrid. Players were not motivated anymore and Inter looked they would even miss out the Champions League qualification for next season. Benitez discarded Mourinho's emphasis on ball work in the training sessions and rather utilised, or wasted, this time on gym work. Many pointed out this being the main reason for the constant injuries Inter suffered. So once Benitez was sacked after his famous 'Back Me or Sack Me' plea, Moratti's plan was to hire someone who would not change much the way team trained and played from that of Mourinho era.

Shocking appointment of Leonardo raised so many eyebrows at the other half of Milan than the Inter camp itself. Many questioned the rookie tactician's appointment over an experienced one. But Leonardo has always thrived in getting the best out of the squad. Last year he ensured AC Milan finished third with a very thin old squad and he was the person behind the short revival of Ronaldinho's game, who went on to record the highest number of assists in that term. There was little doubt that Leonardo was more of a motivational coach than a strategical one. As some say, coaches who work in the training session with the hands on player's shoulders. Mourinho acknowledged Leonardo immediately phoned him after his appointment and he had good words on the present coach. Leo has four wins in as many games under his charge now, and with their city rivals and league leaders dropping some points, Inter have their sights on scudetto again. They, now, look more like the team who won the treble under Mourinho.

All said and done, but the real test of Leonardo's managerial qualities would be the Champions League date with Bayern Munich in February where the tactician's true grip on his team is tested in a very different tactical environment. Leo's European adventure with AC Milan was dismal and if he can overcome FC Bayern over the two legs, then Inter would call themselves smart in hiring someone who walked off after bitter relationship with their fierce rivals.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Good, Bad and the Ugly!

The eccentric subject in question is the self proclaimed "Special One", Jose Mourinho. There are not many managers in world football at the moment who can lay claim to the kind of success that Mourinho has had over the past decade, and he probably is the most charismatic of them all. Some of the statistics are mind boggling to say the least. He has gone 145 home league games without defeat, dating back to his time at Porto.Also there has been no trophyless calendar year under his regime since 2002. So,there is no denying he is special and for some, he has already done enough to occupy his place in the pantheon of greats, and we leave that argument for another day.

Rewind to 23rd November, Match Day 5 of the UEFA Champions League, Venue: Amsterdam Arena, Occasion: Ajax V Real Madrid.

A clash of the two true European Giants, although the Ajax of today are nowhere close to their illustrious predecessors. The match turned out to be a walk in the park for Mourinho's men, with a 4-0 scoreline to show for their efforts.

But what caught my attention, though much later( I didn't watch the live match!), was a series of events in the closing stages of the match.

86 minutes on the clock and Xabi Alonso gets a strange red card; strange because of the circumstances and the manner in he which he earned it.Remember, Madrid are four goals to the good, and there was no point in deliberate time wasting. And minutes later, Sergio Ramos amazingly does a carbon copy of his team mate, which is when it becomes fairly obvious that Mourinho's ugly games are at play.

Alonso and Ramos were already on a single yellow card, and both get another one during the course of the match. Now, as things stood, if they were to earn one more yellow during Match day 6, they would have to sit out their last 16 match against what turned out to be Lyon. So, Mourinho passes on this piece of tactic onto them, and they get a deliberate second yellow each . Result: They sit out their inconsequential Match day 6, and they go into the last 16 with a clean slate.

While this is all within the rules, there has to be a line drawn somewhere for fair play. Mourinho, has to realise that this is not something that no one has thought of before, but just that they chose to play it fair.Platini, has to look to bring in something for this sort of foul play, rather than being unduly interested in the success/non-success of the English clubs, and how he can clip their wings.

This is not the first time we are seeing this from Mourinho, and it definitely won't be the last time either. While his success and audacity are well appreciated all over, these itsy bitsy things will not do him any good, and downfall will be that small bit sooner.


Bosnian Diamond brought to Eastlands

Edin Dzeko the ‘Bosnian Diamond’ moved to Manchester City for £27.5m from Vfl Wolfsburg and the question in mind which still needs to be answered is ‘Will this be a great move?’ I have no answers but only my opinions.

With a limited budget anyone playing fantasy football wouldn’t have been able to build a team Manchester City has at the moment. But with the Arab sheiks pumping money regularly the fee for Edin wouldn’t have been an issue at all. The only thing which needed some  was if Man City would fulfill Dzeko’s ambition of playing football at the highest level and with this move seems like he believes that Man city will be competing for the premier league title and also the Champions league.

With his impeccable record at Wolsfburg Mancini seems to have made the right choice by bringing in Dzeko who could be crucial in partnering Tevez and also keeping Tevez at Man City despite his regular bouts of homesickness. Dzeko’s influence might be more prominent on Man City than any of the signings including Adebayor or Balotelli.

66 goals in 111 games for Wolsfurg is no small feat and it is this kind of performance which will springboard Man City to the very top. But will it happen at Eastlands is my question. The team has lot of individual stars who on their day can win the game on their own but this is not gonna happen week in week out. It’s here that Dzeko’s usefulness to the team will be tested. The day all the 11 on the pitch play as team will Dzeko and Tevez be at their best. Also the winning mentality needs to be maintained by Mancini irrespective of the opposition else Dzeko will be no good like in the game against Arsenal(Boring Boring Boring!!) where Tevez was totally ineffective.

With Dzeko in, it’s time for Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz to go in seach of greener pastures. Balotelli might still stay but how Mancini uses him will determine his length of stay at Eastlands. Only time will determine what worth this diamond is to Manchester City.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Liverpool FC - The future. Bright or Dark?

I'm writing this piece because there seems to be a general feeling that the sacking of Roy Hodgson was a sign of impatient owners and a fickle fanbase. So this will hopefully provide a balanced view of the situation.

Kenny Dalglish's reign as Liverpool manager has begun with two defeats in a row. One was a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in the F.A cup and the other was a 2-1 defeat to Blackpool in the Premier League. So are these worrying signs? In my opinion, no it's not.

To understand the situation the club is in right now, we need to go back to the time when Rafa Benitez was the Liverpool manager and the club had just been taken over by Tom Hicks and George Gillett had taken over the club in 2007. After the 2-1 defeat to AC Milan in the Champions League. Rafa said that Liverpool needed to move quickly in the transfer market . His exact quote was "I don't want more money than anyone else, I'm not saying I need £40million to spend on top strikers. But if we have money I need to use it, and the key is to use it quickly. We need to move quicker than Chelsea and Manchester United, and this is a crucial time. It is not always a question of the amount you pay, but how quickly you move. I have targets in mind and if we cannot make a major signing in the next week I will be disappointed. If we miss out now, it might be a struggle to make the top four again next season." Now what was the significance of this statement at that time? I spend most of my time going through various Liverpool FC forums. There are some users there who have contacts at the club (apparently). But whenever they've posted any info, more often than not it's turned out to be true. So, what's the significance of Rafa's quote? It gives us a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes at that time at the club.

Hicks & Gillett weren't the owners that the fans had hoped they'd be. Their list of promises included beginning the construction of the new stadium would start within 60 days of their purchase of the club and letting the manager buy "Snoogy Doogy" for the team if he wanted to. Who or what this snoogy doogy is a mystery to this day. Hicks & Gillett had bought Liverpool using a leveraged buyout. Though I don't understand the concept completely, what they did was to buy the club by taking a loan using the club itself as collateral. Sounds weird? Welcome to the world of high finance! Anyway Hicks & Gillett put a lot of debt on the club. They informed the manager, Rafa Benitez, that he would have to sell players to finance any new player purchases. This isn't a very smart thing to do if you need to compete at a high level. So over the years Liverpool have lost Bellamy, Crouch, Alonso, Mascherano, Benayoun to name a few without adequate replacements. Some might say Liverpool's chase of Gareth Barry was the cause for Alonso's departure which actually strengthens my point. What Rafa had wanted was to keep Alonso and but Barry. But since the owners wouldn't fund it, he had to make a choice. Alonso's previous two seasons weren't so good so Rafa made the decision to offer him to various clubs. But the move fell through, Alonso had his best season as a Liverpool player and then went to Real Madrid the following season. The money from the Alonso sale went straight into the owners' pockets.( Before someone screams Aquilani, let me clarify that the his purchase wasn't a straight cash deal. )

So Xabi Alonso left the club after the 08/09 season where Liverpool got their highest ever points total in the Premier League, but lost the title to Manchester United. Alberto Aquilani was brought in for the following season, but since he was injured, he only played a part towards the end of the 09/10 season. We all know what happened that season. The team simply collapsed, with Alonso's absence playing a very big part. Liverpool finished 7th and Rafa Benitez left the club by mutual consent (read: sacked). At this point of time, the future was bleak for the club with the burden of debt starting to become heavier. The club was struggling to keep up with just paying off the interest of the loans. It wasn't the best situation for anyone to be in.

The club appointed Roy Hodgson as the new Liverpool manager. He was brought in to steady the ship, so to speak. He was seen as someone who would keep things under control while the club was being sold. But things didn't work out as expected. Roy not only lost games against teams that normally should be beaten easily by Liverpool, he also alienated the support by his bizarre comments. Referring to the fan protests against Hicks & Gillett as something that was unfortunate and an obstacle, saying Northamptom town as formidable opponents, saying a against Everton at Goodison Park would be utopia were just some of the gems Roy came up with.

The new owners were very patient with Hodgson but clearly their patience was running out. So just a couple of days before Liverpool's FA cup tie with Manchester United, Hodgson left the club by mutual consent (again, read: sacked) and Kenny Dalglish was appointed as manager till the end of the season. Was this a knee jerk reaction? It does not seem so. All decisions made by the new owners seem to be made with careful thought behind it. So although the situation might seem bad, I think all Liverpool fans have reasons to be atleast a little optimistic.

Very little has been said about the Liverpool FC's new owners , The Fenway Sports Group. The fact is that they are very serious people with a long term vision. One has to keep in mind that these people have brought the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in 2004 , a team that had not won it since 1918. They achieved just two years after taking over the team. While it would be unrealistic to expect Liverpool to be winning everything in sight after two seasons, I think it would be fair to assume that these people know what it is to be in charge of a team whose fanbase is starved of silverware. It is well known that the owners place a lot of emphasis on youth development, which is always a good thing. The short term results might not be so good, but you can be quite certain that for the long term, Liverpool Football Club are in safe hands.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Swedish Short Film - The Referee

Everybody knows what happened during the infamous World Cup qualifier between France and Ireland. Perhaps this film would change the way you look at the referees hereafter. It is a beautifully shot film on what happened before and after that night in Paris.

The Referee | Rättskiparen [2010]

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Chosen One's for 2010

Ballon d'Or Winner : Lionel Messi

Messi the star, deserves the Ballon d’Or and there cannot be any doubt about it. He has been a complete player for both Barcelona and Argentina. The pace, the skill, the finishing touches he possesses would tempt any manager select him ahead of anyone else in their starting XI. The other contenders Xavi and Iniesta are no less than better Messi in their own way. They helped Barca to win the league and also guided Spain to their first World Cup ever with Iniesta scoring the lone goal in the final. But I guess no one should have any complaints with Messi taking this one away coz he is truly worth it.

FIFA World Coach Of The Year : Jose Mourinho

Mourinho may not be liked by many for his attitude and his style of football but you cannot question the results he gets for the clubs and by winning FIFA World Coach of the year Award he has proved it once again that it’s only his results which count. He joined the ranks of legendary Ottmar Hitzfeld by winning the UEFA Champions League with two different clubs, once in Porto in 2004 and with Inter last season. He guided Inter to a treble and most importantly the Champions League which eluded Inter for a long long time.

World Coach Of The Decade : Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger has been Arsenal’s dutiful servant for the past 15 years and he has been rewarded once again by being named World Coach of the Decade. The Arsenal manager edged out Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho to take the award handed out by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. He might have had a barren run for the past 5 years but his dedication and commitment to the team certainly is getting recognised.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is the Arsenal bench good enough?

A few might laugh at the title of the post who think the first team of Arsenal itself is not good enough, let alone the bench. But I'm convinced that this Arsenal team atleast the first team has enough quality to win everything this season. Hmm.. Champions league I'm not sure :) Because of Barcelona, the team that Arsenal face next. The midfield of Nasri, Wilshere, Arshavin, Rosicky, Walcott, with Chamakh and Van Persie upfront should be enough to beat almost every other team in Europe.But the case with Arsenal is simple, you can say, they simply can't defend. Lot of blame these days is put on the goalkeeper, yes they were atrocious sometime back,but these days they are decent.
For me, the problem lies in the defensive midfield area. Some might say Song is good, I agree he's good for 4 out of 5 matches, but that is not good enough at the topmost level. I agree its impossible to give your 100% in all of the matches. So the problem is with the team, they don't have a back up for Song. Denilson is not good enough, Eastmond is not yet ready, Diaby is never fit, Ramsey is not ready for the top level yet. And Song knows he has no competition for his spot. He's always his lazy self, some say he has enough quality,I'm not yet convinced.

To say Arsenal bench is not good enough is not right, Rosicky whom I rate very highly isn't even starting these days. Is it because he was out of the team for most of the season last 2 years because of injury, I don't know. Yes, the team with Rosicky, Bendtner, Denilson, Eboue, Arshavin drew Wigan away, again at Leeds. They don't get enough matches under their belt, look a bit rusty.

Credit to the team they are stillin it, in all 4 competitions, ok luckily. So there is still time for the first team, the bench to improve. Beat Chelsea at home, Won against Everton,Wolves,Aston Villa,Birmingham, Mancity etc away which not many teams have done. Man City is a shit team. Do you invest 200m to play that football? I don't know. People who watched Arsenal-City game would understand. Nothing is out of sight as yet.

Anyway Happy new year to everyone hoping Arsenal win everything this season. :)

Until next post.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Uncle Woy is gone!

So finally the Liverpool owners have had enough with the genius that is Roy Hodgson. Liverpool Football Club have announced that Roy Hodgson will leave the club and Kenny Dalglish will take charge till the end of the season.

This is really good news and hopefully will lift the team ahead of the trip to Old Trafford to meet Manchester United for the third round FA cup clash. Kenny Dalglish is the greatest Liverpool player ever as well as one of the best managers we've had. But he's been out of football management for a long time now, so we'll have to see how things work out. But I'm confident it'll be better than anything Hodgson has ever done in his whole career. He's (Kenny, not Roy Hodgson) won three European cups, seven league titles and five domestic cups in his time at Liverpool. He became a player-manager at Liverpool in 1985 and guided the team to a FA cup and League double. He won 3 league titles and two FA cups from 1985 to 1991.

So let's see what happens tomorrow. I wasn't looking forward to the match with Roy in charge, but with King Kenny back, I'm a little more optimistic. Whatever the result tomorrow I'm confident that the team will not be playing hoofball anymore. That's good enough for me for now.

Boring Boring Boring!!

Midweek football continued this week and though I am a bit late in posting about it I really thought I should be doing it and here I am with my report on the game I watched - Arsenal vs Man City. I preferred to watch this one over Chelsea's game against Wolves assuming it would be nail biting one keeping me at the edge of my couch but no, it was boring, boring and only boring.

Jo got a rare start in Man City's first team this was a shocker!! What was Mancini thinking??!! Jo would score a goal against a team in form and that too Arsenal. That was ridiculous to begin with and I proved right. He hardly made a difference to the game and till the end I could see only one team on the pitch and that was Arsenal. What a game they had only to be denied by the woodwork more than twice and the man between the posts for Man City – Joe Hart. If it weren’t were for these two factors Arsenal would have won atleast by a 5 goal margin. Man City never looked aggressive and they had come with a negative mindset which might not help their cause in the long run. A top team who has ambitions are to play against Europe’s best team cannot be negative. There wasn’t any entertainment till the 90th min when Sagna dint seem to agree with a decent tackle by Zabaleta and the two were seen like two wild bulls locking horns with each other and the referee Micheal Jones was left with no other choice but to send them both of them off which did seem to be harsh on Zabaleta though. Luckily his red card has been rescinded after City’s appeal which otherwise would have meant him missing three games. Arsenal have decided against appealing Sagna’s red card which automatically gives him a three match ban. And with no goals throughout the game I couldn’t agree with the Arsenal faithful chants of Boring Boring Boring targeted against an ultra defensive away team!!

Let me get back to one of the factors which prevented Arsenal from scoring i.e. Joe Hart. What a game he had. He single handedly kept the Arsenal strikes at bay saving his team. He has once again shown why he deserves the number one spot ahead of Shay Given. He is one of the best goalkeeper’s in England and should be a regular for England henceforth atleast. Special praise for Zabaleta and Kompany for their skillful, hard but sensible defending. These three seemed to be going through their job whereas the rest seemed to have gone to a deep slumber. Tevez lacked the support he usually gets from his midfield and he seemed ineffective against some good defending by Arsenal.

Arsenal have grown as a team but they still lack that final touch which would not only give them wins but also titles. They have raw pace which is an advantage against most teams. They have learnt to defend in the opposition’s half preventing counter attacks. All that is needed is for them is to put the ball in the back of the net as much as they can to kill the opposition chances of any comeback. When they do this they will surely be as good if not better than the invincible Arsenal team which included Henry, Pires, Viera, Bergkamp among many others.

Chelsea were expected to win against lowly Wolves but all they did was score an own goal, resulting in a defeat which wouldn’t hurt more than losing the title. They have to realize that unless Man Utd lose 2 or 3 games in a row they have no chance to win the title. They could better concentrate on the Champions league which is still missing from their Trophy cabinet.

After a hectic holiday season, the FA cup this week is a welcome break for the teams playing against lower division clubs. Manchester United would be fighting against a down and dusted Liverpool team which carried on with their poor display this season with a loss against Blackburn. Watch out for more upsets in the FA cup. Signing off…..

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Managerial merry-go round

Roy Hodgson, Carlo Ancelotti, Gerard Houllier and Avram Grant- Four managers who will be missing a heartbeat everytime their phone rings, after last night's results. As for Uncle Roy, its something that he ll be used to by now. As for Houllier, we ll spare him the missing heartbeat-he has already taken taken time off from football in the past due to heart ailments, not surprisingly when he was managing Liverpool.

The three clubs in question, i.e Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham, must be in a quagmire as to how to go about the firing process. The norm these days seems to be, sack the manager hastily as in Blackburn and Newcastle's cases (though not in these cases), install a caretaker and then plan on a long term process, which usually ends with the caretaker becoming the manager( there is an extreme dearth of talent on the manager front, apparently). And it seems to be working, atleast so far, considering the upturn of fortunes for Blackburn and Newcastle.

However, to make it easier for the clubs, here is a proposal. A managerial merry-go round.
Here is how and why it will work.

Ancelotti to Liverpool: Ancelotti would always have been more suitable at a more "European" club. He is afterall someone who won two European Cups as a player in the span of five years, then managed Milan to two and a half European cups(ask any Milan fan) between 2003 and 2007. This being the case, Chelsea was always going to be a misfit for Ancelotti. And Liverpool stastistically is as European as they get.

Hodgson to West Ham: Uncle Roy ought to have learnt his lesson already. He is made for the smaller, under achieving clubs, where he can atleast have the satisfaction of having the feeling of success, according to him, great success. He infact felt so overwhelmed with his achievements that after being sacked as Blackburn manager, he said "Of course, my track record, if people bothered to study it, would put me in the same category as [Sir Alex] Ferguson enjoys today(around 1998), but people don't talk about what I've done outside England". He apparently has great success in Sweden, Switzerland and the likes. So this particular move should be a no-brainer. A win-win for all.

Grant to Chelsea:Why was he sacked in the first place? He led Chelsea to their first and so far only European final, and he was not to blame for the loss("He" is still around!), and finished second in the league after Mourinho was sacked midway through the season. He merits a second chance, he might as turn their fortunes.

So, there you go. Spin the wheel!!!

AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011

Qatar a small country in the Middle East will be hosting the AFC Asian Cup from Jan 7-29 and what a chance it is for this tiny state to show to the whole world what's in store when they host the FIFA world Cup 2022. 16 top teams from all over Asia will be contesting for the coveted title which is held once in four years.

With less than 2 days to go for the start of the tournament I wanted to just promote Asian football when everyone of us is obsessed with European football. They may not be the most elegant or mind blowing players but they surely do keep the spectators at the edge of their seats.

The Asian teams at the 2010 world cup Japan, Korea Republic, DPR Korea, Australia have all found a place along with defending champions Iraq, Runners up Saudi Arabia and hosts Qatar. The other teams which make up for the 16 are I.R.Iran, India, China, Jordan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Syria.

Some of the known names are Australia's Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer,Brett Emerton who play in England, South Korea's Lee Chung Yong who plays for Bolton and Shinji Okazaki playing for Stuttgart.

I will be supporting Kuwait and hope they make some good progress during the tournament but with heavyweights like Iran and Japan around it will be an uphill task for them if they would want to win the title.

This tournament may not garner a lot of interest worldwide but it surely will have some spectacular moments, some ups and downs and will definitely give us a new champion. Wishing all the success for a wonderful tournament!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

SerieA Game of the Week: Inter Milan vs Napoli

Ten points is what seperates Inter Milan and Napoli when they face off at the San Siro on 6th January. Interestingly, this season has seen a new twist in the serieA standings. Its Napoli who are leading Inter and sitting prettily in second place. But the next two fixtures can really demonstrate Napoli's Scudetto chances as they welcome Juventus to the San Paolo on the next matchday.

However, Napoli has always impressed the neutrals this season with their exciting brand of football helped by the amazing trio of Edinson Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. Walter Mazzari, their master tactician, has given such a fluidity to this team with his 3-4-1-2 formation. And now they are, ready to face to face the defending champions. It is a big test for Inter too. Leonardo's first game in charge with Inter will be a tight affair as they cannot afford to lose further ground on league leaders Milan who are already 13 points ahead, although Inter have two games in hand( definitely not easy ones).

Among the other games, Juventus face Parma in the lunchtime kick off. Parma's Giovinco, Candreva and Palladino have special reasons to do well against their former side. Milan travel to Cagliari with new signing Antonio Cassano likely to make his official debut as a substitute.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Chelsea 3 - 3 Aston Villa : Late Drama Robs Chelsea 3 points

Celebrations after Terry scores Chelsea's 3rd goal
CHELSEA: Cech, Ferreira, Bruma, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Essien, Lampard, Anelka, Drogba, Malouda. Subs: Turnbull, Bosingwa, Kalou, Sturridge, Van Aanholt, McEachran, Mellis
ASTON VILLA: Friedel, Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Clark, Ashley Young, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing, Heskey, Agbonlahor. Subs: Marshall, Pires, Albrighton, Delfouneso, Bannan, Lichaj, Herd.

Carlo must have had the worst headache in recent times before the game. Alex out with surgery, Ivanovic suspended for picking up five yellow cards,a leaky defence and a ‘SCARED’ attack, Carlo had no option left but to bring in young Jeffrey Bruma to partner Terry in the centre of defence. What he might have not expected was Chelsea scoring through a Lampard penalty on 23rd min after a soft tackle by James Collins on Malouda which by no means should have been a penalty. Villa got back when Essien knocked Reo-Cocker to the ground in the box after an error from Ferreira who should have cleared the ball quickly enough and Ashley Young sent Cech the wrong way to equalize. Aimless passing, not many chances created and two goals through penalties on either side summed up the first half. The only star of the half was referee Lee Mason who seemed to be enjoying the game by dishing out yellow cards as soon as he saw someone knocked to ground. He surpassed his own record of an average of 4.5 yellow cards per game by booking 9 players by the end of the game.

Second half seemed no different for Chelsea from the previous few games as they found themselves behind after Ashley Young’s cross to Downing was headed into the net by ‘The Gentle Giant’ Heskey. Chelsea got on Kalou and Sturridge for Ramires and Anelka as they forced themselves forward for an equalizer. It took them 39 minutes in the second half when a block by Friedel fell back to Drogba who cleverly evaded a defender and a powerful shot goes in off a Villa defender who was on the line. There was more twist to a so far boring game when a great save by Friedel off Drodba’s header lands at Terry’s feet and Chelsea’s brave captain made no mistake as he squeezed in a goal and 3 points for Chelsea. Wait! Was it 3 points gained or 3 points lost. And indeed it was 3 points lost for Chelsea as on 91st min Marc Albrighton lifts in a teasing cross to the far post and Ciaran Clark steers a header into the empty net or so you could call it as the Chelsea defence seemed to have disappeared but had eyes only towards the assistant referee for an offside which in reality looked to be mockery of a ‘SCARED’ Chelsea team. However it was great to see Villa’s American owner enjoying his football. Two minutes more and there it was, points shared by both teams which wouldn’t do much good for either side.

A win for Chelsea would have been unfair on the Villa team who were the better team for a greater part of the game. Friedel was tested for the entire 90 minutes and were it not for him Chelsea would have been out of sight by the time Clark scored Villa's late equalizer. Dunne returned to the squad maybe after owner Randy Lerner’s intervention and he certainly justified his presence. No idea how Ferriera is still a Chelsea player and £17m Ramires is still finding it difficult to adjust to the Premier league style of play which is costing Chelsea a great deal in midfield. Nicolas Anelka looks better off if he is shipped to the MLS if he EPL is not meeting his needs. Only Lampard looked like creating and providing chances and his saving grace was the penalty scored after he had missed his last three penalties. Chelsea will find it difficult to contest for the top spot after dropping 17 of the last available 24 points and Carlo will have his hands full to get this team up and running once again like the start of the season.

Transfer window couldn’t have come at a better time and Chelsea need to grab this opportunity to bolster their defence which looks no better than a big hole in a sinking ship in a big ocean. Hoping Roman has his cheque ready..

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chelsea Vs Aston Villa 2nd Jan 2011

Chelsea will look for a win today when they take on Aston Villa at 18:55 IST(+5:30GMT) after they won their 1st game of the previous 7 available. Chelsea will have to improve and be better in front of goal if they need to be in contention for the Premier League title. Lampard back in the team is a big boost. Aston Villa who are languishing at 16th in the table will look to boost their confidence and performance with a win over Chelsea. However it's not going to be easy after their defeats in the last week against Man City and Redknapp's Spurs.

Chelsea will be favourites however they haven’t been consistent in recent games and Villa could cause an upset. Watch out where this game is headed and stay glued to the post match report!!!

Transfer Window Opened

With the month-long transfer window opening at 0001 GMT on 1 January we hear all sorts of rumours in various websites, tabloids and most importantly from our friends and colleagues whenever we talk about football but the critical - and beautiful - difference are the signings that will be made.. ;)

Everyone is invited to comment on this and have atleast one transfer news here.You can also mention who should be going where and what difference it could make to a particular squad. Please no references to any wesites, blogs or tabloids. No prizes for getting it right but one post will surely be dedicated to all who have got it right. :)

Remember not to start arguing with each other. Lets all follow the motto of FAIR PLAY.. :)

Liverpool 2-1 Bolton Wanderers - Captain Fantastic to the rescue!

Well well, who would've thought eh? Liverpool won the game thanks to goals from Fernando Torres and Joe Cole with Kevin Davies scoring for Bolton.

First the teams.
Liverpool - Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Aurelio, Kuyt, Lucas, Meireles, Maxi, Torres, Ngog. Subs: Jones, Gerrard, Cole, Kyrgiakos, Babel, Poulsen, Kelly.

Bolton -
Jaaskelainen, Ricketts, Cahill, Knight, Alonso, Moreno, Mark Davies, Muamba, Taylor, Elmander, Kevin Davies. Subs: Bogdan, Petrov, Klasnic, Blake.

Yes, Uncle Woy finally decided to start with Agger and Aurelio at central defense and left back respectively. Paul Konchesky was "rested" after his distinctly average performances in the past few games. Steven Gerrard was on the bench because he was apparently tired after the game against Wolves.

The first half performance from the Reds was dire. Meireles was brought off for Gerrard in the 21st min with a injury which was the only thing Liverpool did that seemed worth noting. Oh, and Maxi Rodriguez headed the ball onto the Bolton corssbar which was Liverpool's only meaningful effort on goal in the first half. It was a very dull affair and I almost fell asleep when Bolton rudely woke me up by scoring. Aurelio gave away a freekick in the 43rd min which was taken by Matt Taylor and was headed in by Kevin Davies. It was so easy that he almost walked into the area and casually headed the ball into the net. Lucas had a great chance to equalize later on but put the ball inches wide. The first half ended with Bolton holding the lead.

The second half began with Liverpool looking much livelier, with an intent to score. Sure enough it was the Gerrard-Torres combo, with Gerrard providing a great pass and Torres finishing it on the volley past Jaaskelainen. From this point on it was Captain Fantastic driving the match. Well if this's the way Gerrard plays when he's tired, then can we please make him run a marathon before every match? He was everywhere demanding the ball and tying to make things work. Bolton rarely looked threatening from then on. Liverpool created much better chances and the defenders of the away side had to defend very well to keep the scoreline unchanged. Bolton had a couple of shots at the goal which were comfortably saved by Reina. Joe Cole came on for David Ngog, who had played pretty well upto that point. Finally at the 92nd min with 2 minutes of stoppage time remaining, Gerrard swung in a great ball into the Bolton far post which came off a Bolton defender, caught Maxi Rodriguez's toe poke on the way and was bundled into the goal by Joe Cole. Liverpool held on for the remaining time and the final score read Liverpool 2 - 1 Bolton Wanderers.

So, while I'm happy with the win, the manner with which we got the win was truly sad to see. It has been the story of Liverpool's season at Anfield so far. Sloppy first half, slightly better second half and hope the team nicks a goal or two. Roy Hodgson is so ridiculously out of his depth it's painful to see. And he doesn't help himself with his mindboggling interviews. It'd be best for all parties if he just left, but since he has said he wouldn't be resigning under any circumstances, I guess he'll just have to be kicked out with a fat paycheck. According to the latest rumours, the owners have already begun to actively search for a new long term appointment for the Manager's position. We'll just have to wait and see how this pans out.

In other news - Manchester United won 2 - 1 against West Brom (arrgh!!) . If they win the title this time, my brain will explode. Seriously, there's something screwed up with the universe nowadays. Maybe those guys at CERN experimenting with the LHC are messing things up. Hmmmm ...

Also, Arsenal have won 3-0 against Birmingham City. Goals from Van Persie, Nasri and an own goal from Roger Johnson gave the Gunners the win.

Next up for Liverpool is an away match against Blackburn Rovers. Here's hoping for another famous draw there. :P

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First post from Starfish Stevie

So I finally got the invitation to contribute to this blog :) . I'll be posting mostly about the club I support i.e Liverpool Football Club. With the genius that is Roy Hodgson in charge, I'm sure I'll have enough material to post. Well there's nothing more to add now except that Liverpool will take on the mighty Bolton Wanderers at 20.25 IST on ESPN. I'm sure Uncle Woy will be looking to scrape a famous draw against a formidable team.

Next up will be my post match rant.

Welcome to The Beautiful Game

"Look, I'm a coach, I'm not Harry Potter,". "He is magical, but in reality there is no magic. Magic is fiction and football is real."
-         Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid coach after Real Madrid drew their 1st game of the season 0-0 against Mallorca

Way back on 31st May 2002 when the 17th FIFA World Cup began I watched my 1st game of football (on TV ofcourse, would love to watch a game at a stadium someday). Ranked number 1 then and champions of FIFA World Cup 1998 France against minnows Senegal ranked number 42 in the world and playing their 1st and only ever world cup till date. And in normal circumstances you would say world number 1 thrashed Senegal then you would be wrong because Senegal beat France 1-0 and what a sight it was as France crashed out of the tournament without a single win and without scoring a single goal. This was when football got interesting and I realized that even the mighty had a huge fall.

Football or Soccer as called in some parts of the world could be described as a game of uncertainties. More than less you would not be able to predict what would be the course of the game or the final result. The passion, the enthusiasm, the energy of the game keeps me and millions of football fans around the world glued to ‘The Beautiful Game’. In a game when 90 minutes are being played there would hardly be a moment you would want to miss. You know in 90 minutes where your favorite team is heading. IN or OUT.

Football has also had its share of scandals. Be it Maradona’s ‘Hand Of God’ against England in 1986 or the 2006 Italian League scandal or the recent FIFA bribery scandal. But to be honest football is bigger than all of this. 90 minutes, 22 players, one goal, that’s all that matters. This has been the spirit why football fans are growing round the globe.

I have started this blog so that views, comments and thoughts could be shared about the game we all love and enjoy. ‘FOOTIEMAGIC’ definitely contradicts what Mourinho has quoted but for all the followers of the game at the end of the day to see their team win and go ahead couldn’t be any smaller than a miracle. Wishing everyone a good time at footiemagic. Let the motto of FAIR PLAY be followed forever. :)