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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Unstoppable Eto'o

Inter Milan beat Bayern 3-2 in the second leg of the Champions League knockout round and they became only the second team in the Champions League's history to advance further after suffering a first leg defeat at home. It was Samuel Eto'o's night at the Allianz Arena after being involved in all the three Inter's goals. He scored the first and set up the other two. This match just confirmed what we already knew of Eto'o's capabilities.

Used as a classic No.9 striker during his Barcelona days, very few would have then imagined how influential he would go on to become for a treble winning Inter team. Under Jose Mourinho, he became widely used at the left of the attacking role in the 4-2-3-1 formation. This was one of the Mourinho's tactical masterpiece when he made Eto'o a threat on the left side. When Inter didn't have possession, he tracked back and helped the defenders. When Inter got the ball, he kept it well and supplied the attack. It was at this point when Eto'o's contribution for the cause of the team increased. Switching to the left helped Eto'o raise his game to another level. He was dribbling more, beating defenders at will. Not completely happy at that role, Mourinho, as he revealed later, had to convince Eto'o how this move can help them bring home the champions league trophy ahead of their game against Chelsea in the first knockout round. This season, however, he is back in his familiar No.9 position under Leonardo because of lengthy injury spells to Diego Milito. As the center forward, Eto'o can now not only score goals but also create a lot of chances making him one of the most lethal strikers in Europe at the moment. Fairly, he has given all the credit to Mourinho for making him a better striker.

He has scored 32 goals in all competitions so far, including eight in eight champions league ties. His tally of 19 in serieA makes him the third highest in the league, just one behind second placed Edinson Cavani and five behind the Udinese hero Antonio Di Natale.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gunners gunned down by Barca and Massimo.. Sorry, Massimo who?

Barca's 1st goal of the night, courtesy Messi

The more you would want to watch the 1st leg between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates, the less appreciative you will be after watching the 2nd leg at Nou camp. Shambolic performance by Arsenal and one Swiss citizen on the pitch. No, this guy isn’t from Arsenal or Barcelona. This was the man officiating the game who hogged the limelight for all the wrong reasons more than Barcelona who deserved it for all the right reasons. In the end there was only team which deserved to go through and rightly so Barcelona moved to the next stage in the competition.

After the 1st leg there were voices which described Arsenal’s performance as ‘something special’. The phrase ‘Arsenal coming of age...’ has been used umpteen times and for once Arsenal had a chance to live up to that but they failed miserably. And miserable is such a small word when you want to describe Arsenal’s performance. I am being very critical of Arsenal here and because I believed if the giants had to be slayed, it had to be done at this stage. As they move forward they are only gonna grow with confidence. And with Arsenal’s impeccable record in this season’s competition, 21 goals, better than any other team, Arsenal had to score.  But no Arsenal player had a single shot – on, off target or blocked which was highly disappointing.

The question was did Arsene Wenger give up even before the game began? Or did he arrive with a defensive strategy? Or was it that Barcelona were simply too good for Arsenal? The 3rd reason is very much true and I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. If anyone does, my only suggestion would be to watch the game again if you haven’t already done so. Arsene Wenger isn’t someone who quits even before a game has been played, but the feeling is that he got his strategy wrong. Without a natural DM in Song it was a costly mistake to play defensive football against Barca but Barca are so good at keeping the ball that it would be very difficult to play football!!. No shots on goal was as disappointing as it can get but Arsenal have no one but themselves to blame. The below stats point out as to why Arsenal had a poor poor night.

  • Barcelona had the ball for 49’ 3” while Arsenal had control for 22’ 41” of the game.

  • Barcelona completed 724 passes versus Arsenal’s 199.

  • Arsenal completed 71% of their passes while Barcelona’s completion figure was 90%

  • Barcelona's midfield trio was Javier Macherano (95 passes, 86% success), Xavi (133 passes, 90% success) and Andres Iniesta (105 passes, 92% success)

  • Arsenal's midfield trio was Abou Diaby (24 passes, 88% success), Jack Wilshere (33 passes, 79%success) and Cesc Fabregas (30 passes, 70% success)

  • No Arsenal player had a single shot  - on, off target or blocked. Seven Barca players had attempts on goal - including both full - back.

  • Barcelona recorded 21 shots - 12 were on target, five off target and the remainder were blocked.

  • In his 56 minutes on the pitch Robin van Persie had attempted eight passes.

  • The Dutchman had not touched the ball in the oppositon penalty area.

  • The only Arsenal player who logged an average position in the opposition half was substitute Andrey Arshavin.

  • Arsenal committed 19 fouls to Barcelona's 8. Five of those fouls were attributed to Jack Wilshere.

  • Manuel Almunia has conceded ten goals in the 271 minutes he has played against Barcelona in his career. That's a goal conceded every 27 minutes. 

Van Persie's plea falling on deaf ears

UEFA champions league which is considered to be one of the world's biggest competitions, has been repeatedly setting low standards in refereeing and this game was no exception. Massimo Busacca, a Swiss referee is well known for handling the UEFA cup (now Europa League) in 2007 and the final of the Champions league in 2009. But after his bizarre peformance in this game how did he handle such big profile games remains a mystery. The sending off of Robin Persie for kicking the ball after the whistle was blown though is correct by the letter of law, was an aboslute ridiculous one. Not an ounce of common sense was displayed by the referee and the fact the time between the referee's whistle and the shot was one second rubs salt into the Arsenal wound. It was the key decision and the wrong one. No-one will ever know what the outcome would have benn but it certainly had an effect on the course of the game as it is hard enough to play Pep Guardiola's side with 11 men, let alone 10. He sent off the wrong man, while Laurent Koscienly was having a field when he should have been sent off not once but twice, once for a tackle on Pedro which resulted in a penalty and then for a tackle on Xavi. Also how could he have missed the tackle by Abou Diaby on Messi which was a clear penalty, raises doubts not only on the referee's calibre but also UEFA for letting these men handle such crucial games. Micheal Platini should have a dig at his own men before he even points fingers at players, managers and club officials.

Game over, Champions league dream washed away, where do Arsenal go from here? This loss is a boon to Arsenal as it lets them concentrate and keep them fresh for the remaining premier league games and the FAcup which might lead them to the elusive silverware. With Manchester United losing 2 games in a row, the league title is wide open and Arsenal will ot get a better oppurtunity than this. It's upto Arsene Wenger and his boys not to repeat the mistakes which has eluded them of a title for 6 years.

Till then the wait cotinues when everyone can say without doubt 'Arsenal have come of age.....'

P.S.: Special thanks to Justin and Jenson. This post is the result of the small but fruitful discussion we had on Fb. Hoping to have many more of them.. :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United. The Sweet Sound Of Silence

Do you hear it? No? Listen closely. Can't you hear it? "All I hear is silence" I hear you say. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the sweet sound of silence when Alex Ferguson refuses to speak to the media whenever things don't go his way. So, how did such a joyful event come to pass? Well for starters, Liverpool beat Manchester United 3-1 on Sunday keeping the title race very much open.

Both Liverpool and Manchester United came into this match on the back of defeats to West Ham and Chelsea respectively. Arsenal had drawn with Sunderland the previous day. This was a great chance for the league leaders to consolidate their lead at the top. Well, that is if they won the match. For the match Liverpool lined up with Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Gerrard, Lucas, Kuyt, Meireles, Maxi, Suarez. Manchester United had 11 players on the pitch and Phil Dowd.

The game started off in quite a lively fashion with Liverpool dominating. Luis Suarez, who really is looking like a great buy by Liverpool, had a half-chance to score but failed to control Raul Meireles' pass. This was just a taste of the things to come. At the other end, Berbatov had a shot glance off the post with Reina beaten. But the breakthrough came at the 34th min with Suarez producing a moment of magic, skipping past 3 players and passed the ball to Dirk Kuyt who had no trouble tapping it in at less than 2 yards from the goal. Five minutes later it was Nani who was the provider with a bizarre header back to Kuyt from Suarez's cross. Kuyt headed the ball in, again from less than 3 yards from the goal. 2-0 to Liverpool.

You could sense the frustration coming out from the Man Utd camp. Things reached a boiling point when Jamie Carragher tackled Nani harshly with his studs making contact with Nani's shin. The referee Phil Dowd, who had a decent game so far, reached for the yellow card to be shown to Carragher. But Nani (who was seriously injured. Apparently.), clearly not satisfied with this, walked around to face the referee showed him the wound. Dowd didn't appear too impressed with the theatrics. But Nani isn't someone who gives up so easily. When Gerrard placed his hand on his shoulder, he somehow felt extreme pain and fell down again. Now just to be clear, the tackle was really rash. Carragher should have been more careful and in my opinion, it was a straight red card. But when I saw Nani prance around like a tearful ballerina trying to get players sent off, all I could think about was the story of the boy who cried wolf. You deserve what you get, You reap what you sow, are some other phrases that spring to mind.

Play resumed after Nani was stretchered off to well deserved boos. Shortly after that Rafael, a graduate of the Paul Scholes Tackling School, flew in two footed on Lucas which caused another ruckus with Martin Skrtel losing his cool and shoving the defender away. Suarez endeared himself to the Liverpool fans even more with his cheeky tug of Rafael's hair during the fracas. Phil Dowd finally blew the whistle bringing an entertaining 1st half to an end.

The second half started with Manchester United dominating and Liverpool sat deeper inviting the pressure. Compared to the first half, the second was fairly subdued. Liverpool were close to scoring a couple of times, but somehow couldn't find the breakthrough. It finally came in the 65th min. Luis Suarez's freekick was saved by Van Der Sar, but Dirk Kuyt was there to put in the rebound into the net to complete his hat-trick. Liverpool 3-0 Manchester United. Game Over.

Hernandez got a late consolation for the away team with a header from Berbatov's cross denying the hosts a clean sheet. But overall, a good day for Liverpool.

Mr.Ferguson showed the world(again) that he's a sore loser with a self imposed media blackout. The only reaction to come out of the Man. Utd camp was Rio Ferdinand's tweet - "Bad result, no excuses." For someone who's been in the game for so long, behaving so petulantly is disrespectful to the fans of his team.

But everyone else is enjoying the sweet sound of silence.

So here's hoping the blackout continues for a very long time!


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chelsea's Goliath and Bison key to success...

Dubbed as a game between the strongest attack and the meanest defence of the season the game between Manchester United and Chelsea showed why Chelsea still have it in them to finish the season on a high despite the drubbing they have received from the opposition both on and off the field in recent times. To ignore Chelsea could be a mistake and that’s what the club would want at the moment. This is not a post match analysis of the game but a Chelsea fan’s appreciation of the club’s performance and to prove a fact as to why fans never give up on their clubs even at worst times.

Since the arrival of Fernando Torres at Stamford Bridge the talk has been of his form and predictions of failure in forming an alliance with Didier Drogba who has been an ever improving player since his arrival in 2004. Also rumours that Drogba would be on his way out have been an advantage to Chelsea keeping the opposition distracted. Torres, Drogba and Anelka are wonderful strikers and having all three in the starting line up would be a dream for any manager. This could be a good headache for Ancelloti considering that there would be competition for spots keeping the players at their best. Torres hasn’t sent the ball into the net in the games he has played for Chelsea but he has been improving since his nightmare debut against Liverpool, the team he left to join Chelsea. Back to the game against ManU, Anelka and Torres were preferred to Drogba and it might have been for the best as the fury built within him for being dropped to the bench was unleashed in the last 30 minutes when he literally had the United defense dancing to his footsteps, resulting in Vidic being sent off who was frustrated by Drogba’s play drawing him to commit a foul on Ramires.

15 points behind and in 5th position was enough warning for Carlo Ancelotti’s men to step up to the occasion and when you are playing Manchester United you have no reason to let yourselves down. It would have been every non United fans prayer to see Chelsea win and the final result would have been relief for everyone except Sir Alex Ferguson who has got in to trouble with the FA for his rant against referee Mark Atkinson. First 10 minutes lit up my spirits when I saw Chelsea play sparklingly, but as the clock slowly ticked to reach 1st half my joy was short lived as Chelsea were not able to stamp their authority going a goal down at half time. It looked like Chelsea fans had to contend with the fact that Chelsea would be 18 points behind ManU at 90 mins but it didn’t have to be. And on display was a show which showed everyone as to why Chelsea still have their morale up, why Drogba is still a tormentor for the opposition and why Lampard still can score penalties.

Bison and Goliath
One person I haven’t yet mentioned about is David Luiz. He was bought to the squad to fix a slightly leaky defence but he would have inspired any striker with his well timed strike. He was the Goliath of the team taking down the opposition at will with some well timed tackles. Honestly speaking he was lucky to be on the pitch when he brought down Rooney, but hey hey…It’s Rooney you are talking about, the guy who caught Wigan’s McCarthy with an elbow in Manchester United’s precious game. If Sir Alex had no problems with that then he should not be around throwing tantrums for this. When you play well, you make your day and that is what Luiz did. He had an awesome day on the pitch and I hope he has a wonderful time playing at Chelsea.

I would certainly like to shower special praise on the Bison for putting up a splendid performance. For people who may not know who I am referring to its Michael Essien. The hard working guy was at all places at all times. Defending when it needed the most and pushing forward keeping the United defence on their toes. He has been magnificent and at times single handedly controlled the way the game has been played in midfield. You would have watched the game and hardly missed Essien at any moment. He may not have put the ball in the back of the net but his attacking play combined with some smart defending might have just put Chelsea’s season back on track.

90 minutes and it was Luiz and Lampard‘s name on the score sheet but it was a team win. Each of the Chelsea players who played a part in the game deserved it and I could hardly see the selfishness Chelsea players are accused of in front of goal. Top 4 finish might just be an understatement and I would be overjoyed if they can do well in the Champions League and accomplish something they haven’t yet achieved. Hoping that by end of May the ghosts of this season are wiped out. Cheers to a Wonderful team!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Milan beats Napoli, but problem persists....

It is not often that when a team wins 3-0 and goes 5 points clear at the top, you still find a lot of flaws in that team. It is true that a win can cover up a lot of issues, something that wont be talked about until the team starts losing. AC Milan beat Napoli 3-0 on Monday night but it revealed a few things.

Milan still seems to be struggling to find the right combination between Pato and Ibrahimovic. Yes, Pato scored a beautiful goal and set up another yesterday but Ibra's involvement in these goals was minimal. They might have provided some excellent one-two passes inside the box, take a look at it again and you tend to feel something is still missing between the two. On the contrary, the passes between Pato and Robinho looks more complete. They can find the passes between each other's feet so fluently and regularly, naturally because both are Brazilians playing together in the national team as well. Time seems to be running out for the Rossoneri in this aspect as there is another talented striker on the bench ready to come on and make an impact. Allegri seems to be uncertain on whom to start with. Pato has an excellent goals to minute played ratio but Ibra performs better with Cassano alongside him.

Ibrahimovic has done himself no good to get rid of the 'Big Match Flop' tag. He has scored goals at will against the smaller clubs but he has failed to score against Juventus, AS Roma, Real Madrid and more recently Tottenham. Interestingly, Milan have lost in all of them. If yesterday's game was considered a big one, he did score the first one, only from the spot, as he did in the Milan derby. However, his presence was more lively in the derby and that could be the only big match performance he can boast about.

Tottenham showed just how poor Milan's fullbacks are. Yesterday's game showed how much other teams tactically target this weak link in the Milan team. Napoli's game plan was evidently to shift the play to the wings, more from the right side to unsettle Jankulovski who made his first start since May 2010. Maggio had a poor match, so did Dossena who struggled to get past Gattuso. On the other hand, there was little help for the Milan forwards from their fullbacks offensively. Passing was mediocre, number of crosses even lesser. The only way Milan found any sort of width was Pato and Robinho drifting on either sides. Their technical abilities covered up the weak links in this Milan team.

Looking into the positive side of things, the talking point was indeed Pato's performance. Finally, he seems to have found the form for the first time under Allegri and capped it with a fine goal.