Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Manchester Will Face Chelsea in Title Game

Chelsea 3 Liverpool 1

Michael Essien is a machine. I was hoping he’d score on that maze like run but maybe he should have crossed it instead of trying to slot into the near post. But the real deal today was Drogba, perhaps the pre-game trash talking by Benitez turned him from the flopper to the strong goal scorer he once was. He nailed the ball into the lower corner on the first goal and proceeded to run to the corner flag and slid on the ground. That wasn’t the end of his celebration though, thought better of it and slid on his knees in front of the Liverpool bench.

Michael Ballack cracked a shot from forty or so yards away that Pepe Reina pushed wide. Ballack never seems to sprint or make any quick moments, always straight-backed posture as he jogs along the pitch. I guess he doesn’t need to sprint when he’s reading the game rather than diving in. He's a player that doesn't seem to be doing anything and then scores off a header or long range shot.

It was a lively match, good possession play by both clubs, but Chelsea deserved to win the match what with the great play from Essien, Drogba, Carvalho, Lampard, and so on. I think overall their collective play, positioning, role players, and general desire were much higher than The Reds.

Javier Mascherano deserves praise—he’s a solid piece to build any team around.

Early on in the game Torres had a chance to score, Gerrard had put him through with a sharp pass but he dribbled in too close and didn’t get the shot off early enough. If they’d scored then the game might have swung their way.

Now Chelsea and Manchester United will battle for the EPL title and then the Champions League title. Ferguson looked on from the stands, wonder who he was rooting for.

Turquoise Blue Period for Barca

Manchester United 1 Barcelona 0

Barcelona was decked out in their turquoise blue, a beautiful color for a jersey, but with the end result being they failed to advance it more symbolized the somber blue period for this once renowned Barcelona club.

As the camera scanned the players during the Champions League anthem, Eto’o gave a wink. He would also race off the pitch when he was substituted out for Bojan with about twenty minutes to go. I just like his forthrightness, his seriousness and his joy of the game. I was hoping that we’d see more of Eto’o and his wink and smile, but it wasn’t to be. Not many clear cut chances for Barca again with all the possession.

It was a day for Paul Scholes, who at 33 years old doesn’t have too many finals left in him. Scholes latched onto a poorly cleared ball from Zambrotta (centered right into the middle) and knuckled the ball into the far corner on the hop. You never see much emotion form Scholes but it was all over his face after this one. He was like a child at a surprise party with his face all joy and disbelief at his good fortune.

I think the game deserved another goal, and one from Messi or from his magic wand so to speak. As the announcer said, he was a wizard with the ball, cutting up Manchester United at times, slipping past and around defenders, or straight up dicing them as he did Paul Scholes in the corner towards the end of the game.

One thing did show through, Barcelona did battle to the very end, all the players showed respect and heart in the game, but they just lacked that extra punch. Messi never seemed to be phased, no matter the stage of the game, he just kept plugging away but didn’t have enough help. If there was anyone who didn’t get involved as much he normally does it was Iniesta.

Alex Ferguson referred to Barcelona’s style as the ‘passing carousel’, and said they wouldn’t change their game. He was right, there was no change and there were moments that it looked like Barcelona might nip on in for a goal. But there was no momentum for Barcelona, nobody that lifted the game’s emotion. Messi was steady and deadly. Deco was clever and shifty but that extra something wasn’t there. In some ways it’s like they just need or are used to Ronaldinho adding that something else—the older brother taking things on the chin. Stepping up to take the free kicks and score important goals.

Perhaps Gudjohnsen would have been a smart player to start, used to the English game having played with Chelsea?

It was a sparkling match from the get go, and Manchester was lucky to get a break and thankful for Scholes exceptional finish. Before, the first fifteen minutes were all Barca, looking like a repeat of the game at the Nou Camp. But once the Scholes’ goal was in they were off and running, momentum on their side and a new spirit in the team.

If you look at all the players from both clubs you can’t really find fault with any of them. Henry, even though he played a short time, did create and have a few chances on goal. He’s never been one to score with his head. Henry, even more than Eidur Gudjohnsen should have been given the start since he knows the English league so well. Maybe he’d add that spirit.

One player that stands out though from both teams is Tevez. He holds on to the ball so well, knows when the team needs to win a corner, knows amazingly how to use his body and let the ball bounce where it needs to and scoop it up, he’s always steering the ball into his own space and then laying it off. What I loved though is when he chased back and slid in and won the ball.

The emotion was clear in Cristiano Ronaldo; a few times he drove at Barcelona and ended up with good chances on goal. But he also mopped about and complained, even earning a yellow card as Zambrotta shielded him off the ball.

Giggs came on late and settled things, but did try to force a lofty through ball over to Tevez. He’d just come on though, and had to get a sense of the game. I’d say if there’s one thing that’s different about Giggs and then Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s that he’s more apt to make that extra pace or cross when he should. A few times Ronaldo or Nani had broken free exceptionally well, dragging the defender in on the dribble and then cutting back out for their shot. But there were moments when they’d done all this, drawn all the attention, and there was an unmarked teammate on the far post wide open. I just see Giggs seeing those players—he’s the wise old veteran and these players will soon learn to find the player. Look out when they do. Both teams really are full of incredible young players.

Ji-Sung Park is what Dirk Kuyt is for Liverpool, a tireless workhorse who plays smart soccer. Only Park is a bit more skillful I’d say.

The crowd at the Theater of Dreams was loud and boisterous, more so than they have been, with flags waving and songs being song. In the past they’ve been castigated for being too sedate and posh, there was nothing but noise form them today.

On to Moscow to face The Blues or The Reds—the EPL is quite good it seems.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Landycakes Celebrates a Bit Too Much

He may be MLS Player of the Week, but Landon Donovan didn’t earn any style points with his ridiculous antics over the weekend. Here’s the video clip – you can see it right after the first L.A. goal. There’s Donovan, screaming at his marker who has fallen on the play.

Now the defender wasn’t some scoundrel, it was Patrick Ianni. The same Patrick Ianni who would be a priest if he wasn’t playing professional soccer. And there he was, on the receiving end of a remarkable verbal lashing from the man considered to be the best active American soccer player.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gary Neville is Back

Manchester United 1 Roma 0

It was good to see Gary Neville back in a Manchester United uniform after 13 months on the sidelines. He pulled up the captain's arm band when he entered the pitch with great satisfaction I'm sure. He even got in a tough tackle near midfield as it looked like he was playing sort of a left sided central midfielder.

But the match was about Tevez and Hargreaves. Tevez scored on a marvelous header from a cross by Owen Hargreaves--who should make all Canadians proud. He's fit in nicely with the Red Devils and had a good game against Roma. Hargreaves was everywhere, and got the assist on the winning Tevez goal. His cross bending in perfectly for Tevez to glance home with his head--Tevez did make a savvy dive to meet the ball, but a cross worthy of Beckham.

Oh how bad must Roma feel these days, Manchester has made their lives very frustrating and woeful. What a match lies ahead in the semifinals, Barca versus Man U, let's hope Messi is fit to play but sadly, Ronaldinho I hear is gone for the year.

Tevez Header

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I Have a Competition In Me

"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people."

Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2

It was either the 'competition' line from There Will Be Blood for the title of this piece or 'I've abandoned my boy', think the competition line fits this game better, as both teams never gave up, nobody abandoned nothing.

I was thinking I’d much prefer to watch the Barcelona match on Wednesday, seeing how these clubs have just played one and another the game would be a hunkered down one goal type of conservative stalemate—Benitez going the route of advancement by any means possible. But this was a back and forth game from the first whistle.

Crouch got the start. Both he and Henry are two forwards that are seemingly destined for the trading block and will be looking for new homes next year.

How helpful would it be for Arsenal to have the services of Rosicky? The dynamic Czech midfielder adds that extra spice to a side that controls the ball so well, but he’s lost for the season.

Best third installment since Empire Strikes Back. Think Derek Rae was right with this introduction. A ‘wall of sound’ from the Liverpool faithful that watched on.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

LA Won't Fold Yet

LA Galaxy 2 San Jose 0
What a difference a few days make, and what a difference an early goal makes, and what a difference playing a poor team who's just been brought back into the league makes. Momentum equals confidence and LA refuel their confidence with nutmeg goal by Beckham ($5,500,000.08). If San Jose's goal early on wasn't offside, this game could have been much different.

The Galaxy got off to a marvelous start against San Jose through the hustle and pressure of Donovan, who won the ball and setup Becks to the point he could not but score. Sure, sometimes those chances are so easy they give you too much time to think. But Beckham has played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, and England--he's the real deal.

San Jose is a team that's going to have a tough go this year if this game is any early indicator, as they failed to piece much together in this first game. There were moments that Beckham didn't even touch the ball and the Galaxy were slicing around the Earthquakes with near flair. For the majority of touches by Beckham, he was able to initiate a number of dangerous attacks and that's what sets him apart. The Galaxy need a forward badly, or need Gordon ($72,504.00 per year) to turn into Van Nistelrooy quick like. But that's like Henry joining Seattle, it won't happen.

Looking on in the crowd were Posh and the kids and Kobe Bryant and his wife's ring and the rest of the family in tow. The Galaxy put on a smart display of football--they looked cohesive and Donovan ($900,000.00) is a player that you'd love to see in Europe. Since he has a full array of talents but is playing in a Sunday league when you compare his abilities to those he's plying his trade against day in and day out. If he could play in Europe he'd really prove he's a star, right now he's just a star in a lower level league when compared to the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, and so on.

But don't knock Donovan for any lack of toughness. He's a player who battles, and is always srunning and getting into the mix. In the past he has had games where he fads into the background, but those are much more rare these days. In one moment, Nick Garcia met Donovan's upper leg with his foot as both players didn't hold back from going for a fifty fifty ball near the half line.

Two players who'd you expect to have an impact on the game didn't, Romiro Corrales and Ronnie O'Brien, neither had their names called enough. O'Brien did whip in a cross across the goalmouth but there was no one there. Kei Kamara, a tall forward who was active throughout the game, held the ball up for San Jose fairly well but didn't have much help or there was no communication between him and the other forward. This is just the first game for this club though and in the MLS you just need to win ten or eleven games to get into the playoffs. I think they'll struggle but come together if they keep up the fighting spirit.

So the story is LA's on the rebound and have a lot to build off of. Their coach remember has played for a few good teams in his day. Oh how great it would be to be a young player joining this side. Ruud Gullit was drinking a lot of water on the sidelines, his eagerness and desire clear, he wants to win. Look for LA to pick up a few more players and go on a good run. The absence of Xavior was probably a blessing for this club too.

Extra: LA's defender Brandon McDonald ($12,900.00), yes that's his salary, needs Becks to throw a few dollars his way now and again.