Monday, August 29, 2011

It was a great Sunday for Manchester as it saw both Manchester City and Manchester United cruise to victories over Tottenham and Arsenal.  It was not a good day for North London sides as it saw their teams lose by a combined ten goals, and with the transfer window closing in a couple both sides are left asking if their squads are strong enough to compete with rivals to the north.

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
It was an unbelievable day for Edin Dzeko on Sunday and the forward could not have been asked for a better performance.  Dzeko’s four goal performance was more than enough to earn Manchester City the victory it deserved, while Spurs fans will be left asking when their squad will be able to find their way out of the bottom spot of the Premier League table.  Dzeko opened the scoring in the 34th minute, after a tight opening half hour, with a leaping right footed finish to a lovely Samir Nasri cross.  Nasri and Dzeko would find each other on the second goal as well, striking in the 41st minute.  Nasri’s cross again found Dzeko who was somehow able to get his head to it and leave Brad Friedel helpless to stop the perfectly placed header. 

The halftime break provided a slight reprieve for Tottenham, but the scoring would kick up again in the 55th minute, again from Dzeko who found himself in perfect position after a touchline run from Yaya Toure.  Nasri would get his third assist of the game after playing Sergio Aguero in on goal with a perfectly weighted through ball before Aguero skinned Spurs defender Michael Dawson and blasted the ball past Friedel.  Younes Kaboul was able to get a goal off of a headed corner kick to save some face for the demoralized Tottenham squad.  The unquestioned man of the match Edin Dzeko would cap off his day with a lovely left footed effort from the edge of the box, bringing the final score to 5-1 in favor of the Citizens.  All the goals can be seen here:

Spurs will be left asking a lot of questions of their squad as a result of their performance.  New arrival Emmanuel Adebayor was unavailable for the match, and according to manager Harry Redknapp, unhappy midfielder Luka Modric had requested to be left out of the squad.  With just a couple days remaining in the transfer window, Spurs must make a move in an effort to boost the squad and gain some momentum to move off of the bottom of the Premier League table.  On the other side, Manchester City appears to be suitably prepared to make a title challenge against their cross town rivals in red.

Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Arsenal entered Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon in desperate need of a result to renew faith in beleaguered boss Arsene Wenger.  They left Old Trafford with more questions being asked; only this time “Should Wenger be fired?” has now been added to the laundry list.  After losing Samir Nasri to Manchester City, Wenger has been keen to say that big market transfers are not necessary to bolster the squad, but Sunday’s 8-2 drubbing at the hands of United showed the gap in talent between the two teams.

Danny Welbeck opened the scoring after outmuscling Johan Djourou and heading home Anderson’s floated ball.  Young Spanish keeper David De Gea has come under fire for some blunders in this early season, but they did not stop him from turning the momentum of the game by saving Robin Van Persie’s penalty kick.  United carried that momentum forward with Ashley Young scoring a magnificent curling shot and Wayne Rooney would score the first goal in his hat-trick effort shortly before halftime.  Theo Walcott did manage to get one back for Arsenal before the halftime whistle, but their relief would not be for long. 

Rooney kicked off the second half scoring before being followed by Nani, and Park Ji-Sung.   Robin Van Persie would score Arsenal’s second goal in the 74th minute, only to see United strike back with two more before the final whistle, with Rooney capping off his hat-trick and Ashley Young adding another in stoppage time.  It was a thoroughly dominant performance from the defending champions and their squad looks ready for the challenges, while Arsenal have been left wondering what to do after going their last six Premier League games without a win.  All 10 goals in this epic beatdown can be seen here:

If it has not been made blatantly clear that Arsene Wenger must do something to add to the squad before the close of the window, however I am unsure if Phil Jagielka is the solution to Arsenal’s problems.  The current squad is lacking a significant amount of creativity in the midfield and must add a playmaker if the squad is going to remain in contention for a Champions League place.  If they are unable to add this element to the team, they may be looking at Europa League football or worse for next season.

Chelsea vs. Norwich City

Chelsea started the day with high hopes, with Drogba and Torres making a rare co-appearance in the starting lineup, however neither would finish the match as Chelsea were faced to fight back again in the face of adversity.  The day began well enough for the Blues as Jose Bosingwa opened the scoring just five minutes in to the match with a right footed twine seeking missile from just outside the penalty area that beat John Ruddy.  Chelsea’s backup keeper Hilario was tested several times in the first half, but Norwich was unable to find the back of the net thanks to some good goalkeeping and defending. 

The second half would begin innocently enough for Chelsea, but the game was drawn level by Norwich in the 63rd minute when Grant Holt took advantage of a mistake by Hilario after catching the keeper sixteen yards off his line with an overhead kick.  Just minutes later the match would take an ugly turn when Didier Drogba was knocked out cold by Norwich keeper John Ruddy.  Drogba had been called offside just before the two players went in on an aerial ball, Drogba’s head made contact with the ball an instant before Ruddy’s fist knocked the Ivoirian unconscious.  Drogba spun in the air as his body fell to the ground unconsciously, his head making contact with the ground first.  The 33 year old striker was administered oxygen on the field before being stretchered off and taken to hospital.

After a long wait due to Drogba’s injury, play resumed and Ramires found himself running with space at Ruddy.  After playing the ball around Ruddy, Ramires was taken down and the referee pointed to the penalty spot along with showing Ruddy the possibly overdue red card.  Backup goalkeeper Declan Rudd made his first appearance in a horror situation which saw him staring down a Frank Lampard penalty.  Lampard struck the ball firmly down the middle past the new debut keeper to give Chelsea the lead.  New arrival Juan Mata would earn a goal on his debut after taking advantage of a Ritchie De Laet mistake making the final score line 3-1 for Chelsea.  It was another inspiring performance in the face of adversity, with both of Chelsea’s new signings Mata and Lukaku playing well on their debuts, the highlights of which can be seen here.

Liverpool vs. Bolton
Saturday’s final match took place at Anfield, between Liverpool and Bolton and it was a day to remember for Liverpool fans as both Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam scored their first goals for the club.  Jordan Henderson opened the scoring in the 15th minute after Luis Suarez fed Stuart Downing who volleyed the lovely cross on goal, only a fine save from Jussi Jaaskelainen kept it out of the net, but not for long as Dirk Kuyt fed Henderson the rebound and the young midfielder unleashed a beautiful curling effort past the Finnish keeper. 

Charlie Adam had his hand in the second goal, as it was his corner that met the head of Martin Skrtel seven minutes after halftime to extend the Reds’ lead to two.  Just a minute later, Adam would find himself with space, thanks to a square ball from Kuyt, just outside the area and fire a low shot past Jaaskelainen.  Ivan Klasnic was able to take advantage of a Jamie Carragher mistake and score a meaningless goal with time winding down, but the day belonged to Liverpool, in a game they dominated.  Highlights can be seen here:

The Rest of the EPL Weekend Matches:

Sunderland and Swansea played to a boring 0-0 draw:

Ryan Shotton’s 89th minute goal earned Stoke their first win of the season over West Brom: 

Two goals from Leon Best were enough to get Newcastle past Fulham:

Blackburn missed two penalties and was defeated by Everton:

Two “lucky” goals from Franco di Santo lifted Wigan over QPR:

Aston Villa and Wolves remain undefeated in a goalless draw:

Outside of England:

Cristiano Ronaldo opened his La Liga campaign with a hat-trick as Madrid crushed Zaragoza 6-0.

Mario Gomez scored a hat-trick despite missing a penalty to lift Bayern Munich over Kaiserslautern 3-0.

Samuel Eto’o scored in his debut for Anzhi Makhachkala, as the side drew 1-1.


We’ll have a look at Barcelona vs. Villarreal and discuss any transfer news, which is sure to pick up with the close of the window looming large.

Edin Dzeko earns the background thanks to his four goal effort, but Ashley Young equally deserved it thanks to his two spectacular goals.

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 by Lex

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Friday, August 26, 2011

This week saw Arsenal anticlimactically qualify for the UEFA Champions League against Udinese, but still has not seen them sign replacements for the recently departed Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, although they are still rumored to be interested in Phil Jagielka.  Arsenal also made an underwhelming £6 million bid for Bolton’s Gary Cahill, which was quickly rejected.  Nasri’s Wednesday transfer to Manchester City rumored to be around £25 million is the latest and possibly final signing for City this off season. 

Chelsea has finally completed their £23.5 million signing of Juan Mata.  In the wake of that transfer, rumors arose of a possible exit by fellow Chelsea left winger Florent Malouda.  Chelsea has also made a bid for Alvaro Pereira, but Porto does not seem too keen to let their left back go saying that Chelsea will have to meet his minimum fee release clause to sign him.  Chelsea’s pursuit of Luka Modric has continued this week despite claims from Harry Redknapp that he is not for sale.  In what may be another instance of ‘Arry’s wheeler dealer transfer style, Chelsea is expected to have to increase their bid to £40 million to acquire the central midfielder. 

Tottenham have not let the Luka Modric saga deter them from the transfer market.  This week they finally completed the season long loan for Real Madrid’s Emmanuel Adebayor.  Adebayor should be a good signing for Spurs as they were lacking at the striker position and the experience up front of Adebayor should serve as a good target for Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon crosses.  They also completed the loan deal for Juventus winger Iago Falquem, while it looks as though their attempted signing of Real Madrid’s Lassana Diarra has fallen apart. 

Alberto Aquilani completed his season long loan move from Liverpool to AC Milan.  Liverpool is also expected to make an effort to sign Craig Bellamy on a free transfer from Manchester City.

They ever controversial, Joey Barton’s crazy summer will finally see him escape from Newcastle after completing a transfer to QPR.  The move also sees him sign a new 4 year contract

Manchester United has announced that they are unlikely to make any more moves during this transfer window, but did announce they would be negotiating new contracts with both Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.

Wigan is expected to make moves for both Shaun Wright-Phillips and Vladimir Weiss.

Outside of the Premiership, Diego Forlan is expected to complete his move to Inter Milan this week.  Forlan will replace Samuel Eto’o who left Milan for Anzhi Machachkala earlier this week. 

The legendary Jimmy Bullard has signed with Ipswich Town.  After a rough month for both club and player the two are joined after Ipswich were on the receiving end of a 7-1 drubbing from Peterborough. 

That’s all the news for today.  I can’t wait for this weekend’s matches.  Tottenham vs Manchester City and Manchester United vs Arsenal should both be interesting affairs. 

Posted on Friday, August 26, 2011 by Lex

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This past weekend while England and other leagues around the world were enjoying their fixtures, the Spanish cathedrals of the game sat empty and silent.  Players from La Liga stood together in solidarity to protest the current financial situation gripping their leagues.  For the better part of two years, players from several clubs have not been paid by their clubs.  The current financial situation of the Spanish football leagues is a prime example of how real world policies and business actions are affecting the game we love. 

Over the past few seasons, clubs in Spanish football have been operating while amassing increasingly large amounts of debt.  While operating while incurring debt is commonplace in football, an increasing number of Spanish clubs are entering into administration.  In the top two divisions of Spanish football, 22 of 42 clubs have entered into administration.  While in administration, many clubs choose not to pay their players or pay only a portion of their salaries.  La Liga has offered to pay €10 million into a pool to pay the unpaid wages of players, but the amount of unpaid wages has grown to an estimated €50 million from last season alone. 

In the English Premier League and Football League, any club that enters administration is subject to being deducted points.  This penalty does not exist in Spanish football and as a result teams are allowed to operate at a loss while being promoted to the top flight, as three newly promoted clubs have done this season in La Liga.  Instead of operating as a deterrent as is the case in the English system, the Spanish system allows administration to act as an opportunity for owners to cut costs.  Many owners do this by not paying players or transfer fees, other clubs are left with miniscule travel budgets, while in the case of Hercules they cannot even afford hot water or a proper locker room for players.

While La Liga remains one of the premier domestic leagues in the world, the growing disparity between its top two clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona has become an issue.  Both clubs make in excess of €120 million in domestic television rights, while other clubs receive only a fraction.  Third place finishers, Valencia has been forced to sell players such as David Villa, David Silva, and in the coming days Juan Mata as well as receiving a bailout from the regional government to finance the construction of a new stadium.  Other clubs such as Levante have not paid any transfer fees, acquiring all their players through free transfers. 

Despite the differences of financial safety between their clubs, players from all teams including Real Madrid and Barcelona have agreed to take part in this strike.  They demand that the clubs find a way to pay the players’ lost wages before they return to the field.  While a solution will hopefully come soon, the sustainability of the current Spanish system has been drawn into question.  This strike is giving us the opportunity to ask:  How can a league with clubs operating at a combined €3.5 billion loss continue to function?  What can be done by UEFA and FIFA to correct these problems? Will the growing disparity between two of the world’s most successful clubs doom the rest of the league to financial insolvency? 

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

In what was one of the biggest matches of the second week of fixtures in the EPL, Tottenham were forced to play without their star midfielder Luka Modric.  Modric who has been at the center of a rumored transfer to Chelsea was sat out as a result of his “head not right.” Manchester United was without their two star center backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, leaving both squads at less than full strength.  The first half was a tight affair with both sides earning chances and forcing saves from their respective keepers.

The game would change at the hour mark with Manchester United’s chances increasing, young forward Danny Welbeck found his way onto a Tom Cleverley cross and headed home the game’s opening goal.  However, the best was yet to come from Welbeck.  In the 76th minute Anderson played the ball to Welbeck who returned the pass with a spectacular backheel that left the Brazilian with plenty of space and time to beat Brad Friedel.  Friedel had a solid game for Spurs, making several impressive saves, but as the game went on his defense left him out to dry.  Wayne Rooney capped off the scoring with a header from a Ryan Giggs lofted ball.  United secured the league’s #2 spot with their 3-0 win, while the loss put Tottenham all the way at the bottom of the table.  Extended highlights can be seen here:

No new transfer stories today. I’ll get at those tomorrow.

One bit of news though, John Obi Mikel's father has been freed by his kidnappers.  He has contacted his family and will be reunited with them soon.  

Posted on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The second weekend of Premier League action kicked off on Saturday and Manchester City are already showing the benefits of their off season spending spree as they take the division’s top spot.  Newcastle and Sunderland faced off in another edition of the Tyneside Derby, and Andre Villas-Boas was able to guide Chelsea to a win in his debut at Stamford Bridge.  Liverpool was able to provide more anguish for Arsenal, 
while there were no matches in La Liga this weekend due to the player’s strike.

Newcastle vs. Sunderland
The weekend kicked off with the Tyne-Wear Derby at the Stadium of Light and as always proved to be a hard fought affair between the two northern sides.  Unsurprisingly, Joey Barton found himself at the center of another controversy, although this time it was for sending a header towards goal, which was unfairly kept out by last week’s hero Sebastian Larsson’s arm.  Appeals for the handball were wrongly denied by Howard Webb and the game went on.  Sunderland dominated possession for long periods of time, but lacked a final pass or a finish several times throughout the affair, while Newcastle enjoyed most of their opportunities from set pieces. The sides remained level through halftime, but a breakthrough was finally found in the 62nd minute when Ryan Taylor curled a beautiful free kick past an outstretched Simon Mignolet for the game’s only goal.  Sunderland had a few opportunities to draw level down the stretch, but their best opportunity was denied by Newcastle keeper Tim Krul with just three minutes remaining.  Highlights here:

Liverpool vs. Arsenal
In the first marquee matchup of the Premier League season, Liverpool got the best of Arsenal in a match that saw the game turn when Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off in his first start for the Gunners.  After picking up an early yellow card, in the 70th minute Frimpong was late to a 50/50 challenge with Lucas Leiva and sent the Brazilian tumbling which earned him his second yellow card and a dismissal.  The game had been an even affair up until that point, with chances being enjoyed by both sides.  Arsenal’s best chance came from Frimpong who saw his effort turned aside by Pepe Reina. Liverpool broke through as a result of an own goal when a ball played for Luis Suarez was cleared by Ignasi Miguel off the chest of Aaron Ramsey past Szczesny.  Luis Suarez added insult to injury by adding a second goal in the 91st minute off a counter attack.  Full highlights can be seen here:

Aston Villa vs. Blackburn Rovers
Aston Villa breezed to victory of Blackburn Rover’s Saturday afternoon.  Gabriel Agbonlahor scored the match’s best goal just 12 minutes in after turning Michel Salgado inside out and firing a shot past Paul Robinson.  Emile Heskey doubled the tally in the 25th minute after being set up by Agbonlahor.  Blackburn was able to peg one back when Morten Gamst Pedersen headed home after a cross from David Hoilett.  However, Aston Villa would make it 3-1 after Darren Bent beat Paul Robinson from close range.  The win is the first for the Villains after the departure of their superstar Ashley Young, who joined Manchester United. Full highlights here:

Everton vs. Queens Park Rangers
Everton continued their woeful week Saturday, losing to QPR just days after announcing their financial difficulties.  David Moyes’ squad never really looked like winning.  The match’s only goal came after Phil Jagielka’s botched clearance went directly to Alejandro Faurlin, Faurlin played the ball to Buzsaky then to Tommy Smith who was able to turn and beat Everton keeper Tim Howard with a curling shot.  Ross Barkley made his professional debut for Everton during the match and looked good throughout the match.  Tim Cahill had the best of the chances for Everton, but missed with headers multiple times throughout the match.  Highlights here:

Swansea vs. Wigan
The first Premier League game played outside of England saw neither side score.  Keeper Michel Vorm was the hero for Swansea, having his second impressive performance for the newly promoted team in as many weeks.  Vorm stopped a penalty from Ben Watson to keep the game level after receiving some assistance from his goalposts and crossbar, but was able to see out the 0-0 draw.  Highlights can be seen here:

Chelsea vs. West Brom
An early error by Alex saw West Brom’s Shane Long outmuscle the Brazilian defender to score his second goal of the season, which gave West Brom the early lead in Andre Villas-Boas’ home debut.  However the day was saved by Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka who both had goals to see Chelsea win their first match of the season and first under their new manager.  Anelka’s goal came just seconds after a penalty shout when Frank Lampard went down in the box, but Anelka ran only to ball and took a shot which deflected off of Jonas Olsson and past Ben Foster.  Jose Bosingwa split the West Brom defense and delivered an inch perfect cross to Florent Malouda who calmly finished for Chelsea’s second goal.  The 2-1 victory saw an unimpressive performance from Fernando Torres who was taken off for Didier Drogba after an hour.  Chelsea are expected to announce new arrival Juan Mata to the club today.  All the goals can be seen here:

Manchester City vs. Bolton
David Silva followed up his midweek goal with another impressive performance as Manchester City was able to defeat Bolton in a battle between the two sides at the top of the early Premier League table.  Silva began the scoring in the 26th minute when his shot bounced off the hand of Jussi Jaaskelainen and into the goal.  Gareth Barry added a second goal ten minutes later with a screaming shot from outside the area off of a corner.  Just two minutes later Ivan Klasnic would get one back for Bolton with a left footed strike that found its way through the legs of Joe Hart. City would get a goal just after half time from Eden Dzeko to make the game 3-1.  Kevin Davies was able to head home a free kick from Martin Petrov to pull the game back to 3-2, but it would not be enough for Bolton.  Aguero’s second performance was not as impressive as the first as it saw him hit the crossbar from 10 yards out.  His replacement in the 68th was the much maligned Carlos Tevez, who received a round of applause from the traveling fans despite demanding an exit during the off season. All the goals can be seen here:

Norwich City vs. Stoke City

Norwich City were a little but unlucky not to have earned their first win in the Premier League this weekend, as a stoppage time header from Stoke’s Kenwyne Jones earned the Potters a draw.  Ritchie De Laet got a head on the end of a Bradley Johnson free kick to score the game’s first goal in the 37th minute.  Leon Barnett was sent off in the 64th minute after holding back and dragging down Jonathan Walters inside the penalty area.  The ensuing penalty from Walters was saved by John Ruddy and Norwich settled into some deep defending with ten men.  Jones’ headed goal came of a lofted ball from Glenn Whelan.  Highlights can be seen here:

Fulham vs. Wolverhampton
Fulham were shocked on Sunday afternoon by Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0.  Kevin Doyle made up for an early miss by making the most of his second opportunity in the 42nd minute, somehow finding space in the box among 3 Fulham defenders.  Wolves would add to their tally just a few minutes later before halftime with Matthew Jarvis firing home a loose ball after Roger Johnson’s header had hit the post.  Fulham had several opportunities to find the net in the second half but were denied by Wayne Hennessey.  Both goals can be seen here:

In Other News:

Manchester United takes on Tottenham tonight.

Samir Nasri’s never-ending move to Manchester City will hopefully be done in the next couple of days.
Chelsea have come to an agreement with Valencia for Juan Mata, the official unveiling is expected to happen today.  Chelsea also made a £30 million bid for Luka Modric, who has been left out of the Spurs squad for today’s match against Man Utd.

Several reports have Samuel Eto’o becoming the world’s highest paid footballer after coming to an agreement with Anzhi Makhachkala.  The reported deal would see him paid 30 million per year, which would put him significantly ahead of the Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Robbie Keane scored in his MLS debut with the Los Angeles Galaxy as they went on to beat San Jose 2-0.
American captain Carlos Bocanegra completed a move to Rangers, joining fellow Americans Ale Bedoya and Maurice Edu.

Tomorrow will have a recap of the United vs. Spurs match as well as a piece on the Spanish player’s strike.

Gabriel Agbonlahor earns the background today for his wondergoal. 

Posted on Monday, August 22, 2011 by Lex

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Once again Lionel Messi’s immense quality shines through in a matchup between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.  In a match that had its fair share of ugliness, Messi rose above the turmoil and earned his team a victory with beautiful passing and equally beautiful finishing.  The match was a testy affair from the opening whistle and saw Mourinho’s Madrid finish the day with a total of six yellow cards and two red cards. 

The tone was set from the opening minutes when both teams earned fouls for hard challenges from Sami Khedira and David Vila.  The early going was in favor of Madrid who registered several good chances, forcing saves from Victor Valdes. However the match’s first goal would go to Barcelona scored by Andreas Iniesta on a fantastically played through ball from Lionel Messi that left the Real Madrid defense carved open.  After Iniesta calmly lifted the ball over Iker Casillas to make the score 1-0 the match would really begin to heat up.

Just five minutes after Iniesta’s opener, Real Madrid would strike back.  A long corner fell to Karim Benzema who fired it across the box and after deflecting off of Dani Alves found the foot of Cristiano Ronaldo.  Ronaldo calmly flicked the ball past Victor Valdes to level the score after being played onside by Eric Abidal, who was quite impressive otherwise.  Just a minute later a ball found Pedro streaking down the left side and after a cut inside around Fabio Coentrao to lift a shot that looked destined for the back of the net, only to see it punched over the bar by Iker Casillas.  A few minutes later Cristiano Ronaldo found himself space with the ball on the edge of the box and fired a fierce shot that was deflected onto the bar by Valdes.  Valdes was called upon again minutes later when he pushed a shot from Mesut Ozil wide.  The end to end action continued when Casillas was forced to make a save on Messi who had found space between Madrid’s defenders. 

Then just before halftime the moment came that broke the deadlock and possibly caused a stroke for Ray Hudson.  Lionel Messi chested a ball at the edge of the box to Gerard Pique who returned the pass with a magical backheel onto the waiting laces of Lionel Messi, who lifted the ball over the sprawling Casillas to give Barcelona the 2-1 lead.  It was an absolutely stunning goal that has to be seen.

After halftime both sides settled in and it led to a many tight clashes with yellow cards being given to both sides.  Ronaldo was booked as was Javier Mascherano and the newly entered Marcelo who replaced Sami Khedira who had earlier picked up a yellow.  Pepe was finally booked in the 62nd minute for obstructing Messi who would force Casillas to save a low shot on the near post after a great run of play by Andreas Iniesta who weaved his way through the defense.  Tensions continued to grow as Gonzalo Higuain was brought on for Angel di Maria and Adriano replaced David Villa.  Adriano’s entrance to play would see him tormented as he was repeatedly brutalized by Madrid’s defenders. 

Madrid’s equalizer would eventually come in the 82nd minute as a poorly taken corner from Kaka bounced to Benzema.  The Frenchman’s initial effort was turned away, but received a return from a Pepe header and put it past Valdes.  The goal was unquestionably sloppy, but Madrid’s play for the majority of the second half had been bruising, yet effective defending, and the goal seemed fitting for the occasion. 

Cesc Fabregas would make his debut, replacing Pedro just after the goal and it was his pass that began the run of play to the brilliant Messi finish that would win the day for the Catalan side.  Fabregas played the ball to Adriano who fired in a pinpoint cross to the streaking Messi who met the ball with a left footed strike past Casillas.  It was another stunning goal scored by the Ballon d’Or winner and it truly lived up to the match that had preceded it.

Despite seeing their side go down, Madrid was not done fighting.  Marcelo met the newly arrived Cesc Fabregas on the touchline with a two footed tackle that hacked the Spaniard down at the knees.  He received a straight red card for his efforts, but the scrum between the two clubs had formed with tempers flaring on both sides.  Mesut Ozil appeared to be slapped at some point and had to be restrained by teammates, staff members, and even Adriano before being shown the red card along with possibly slap culprit David Villa.  However the most shocking moment of the melee came from Jose Mourinho, who tugged the cheek of Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova.  Mourinho received a push for his troubled, but his pursed lipped visage shown to Barcelona conveyed the feeling that it was Mourinho that had won the day.

After the tempers had cooled and play was briefly resumed, the final whistle was blown and Barcelona had won their first silverware of the campaign.  In just one match Cesc Fabregas had earned more trophies with Barcelona than during his entire stint with Arsenal.  Afterwards Mourinho dismissed the Barcelona victory as a “tiny little title”, but the actions of his players on the field displayed that the competition held some importance between the two squads.  The Spanish Super Cup exceeded all expectations for this writer and it was a fantastic tie to watch.  All of the major highlights can be seen here:

Jose Mourinho’s cheek tug and Marcelo’s horror tackle can be seen below:


Demands have been made for the return of John Obi Mikel’s father who was kidnapped last week in Mikel’s native Nigeria.  It was reported that the kidnappers had demanded £80,000 for the return, but this has been dismissed and new reports state that “sizable” ransom demand was made, but cannot be released for security purposes.  Mikel has again made himself available to play this weekend. Once again I hope this situation is peacefully resolved soon.

Chelsea has opened negotiations with manager Villas-Boas former club Porto for Joao Moutinho and Alvaro Pereira.  The club has also had an offer rejected by Valencia for Juan Mata, another bid is expected in the coming days.

Romelu Lukaku’s transfer to Chelsea has finally been completed.

Hull City has released their record signing Jimmy Bullard after placing him on suspension during pre-season.  Rumors have Jimmy Bullard showing up to training still drunk, wearing his club outfit from the night before.  WHAT A LEGEND!

Spurs have been linked to Emmanuel Adebayor, Lassana Diarra, and Scott Parker, possibly preparing to sell Luka Modric to Chelsea.  QPR have also been linked to Parker, having made a £4 million offer last night.

The Sun has reported that Liverpool has made a £10 million plus David Ngog and Raheem Sterling in exchange for Bolton’s Gary Cahill.  Arsenal is also rumored to be interested in the player, but we all know Wenger never signs anybody.

It appears that Samuel Eto’o’s move to Anzhi Makhachkala has stalled as Inter want more money for the 30 year old striker.

Blackburn, Everton, and QPR have made bids for Nedum Onuoha, while West Brom only expressed interest.

Tony Pulis says that Ryan Shawcross isn’t going anywhere.

Other rumors have Balotelli being loaned to AC Milan, Kaka returning to AC Milan, and negotiations between Man City and Inter over Carlos Tevez breaking down in favor of them signing Diego Forlan for considerably less.

Posted on Thursday, August 18, 2011 by Lex

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sergio Aguero made an immediate impact in his Premier League debut with an impressive performance in his 34 minute substitute appearance.  After replacing Nigel de Jong in the 61st minute, Aguero was able to fire home a cross from Micah Richards for his first goal, just seven minutes after coming on.  This added to Edin Dzeko’s effort just eleven minutes prior, which came after a save by Swansea keeper Michel Vorm that bounced directly to the Bosnian striker.  Vorm made some acrobatic saves and managed to keep a clean sheet for the first 57 minutes before the Man City onslaught became too much.  Aguero was not finished with a goal though and two minutes later added an assist to his tally with an overhead flick to a waiting David Silva who calmly fired it home.  Aguero capped off his performance with a second goal, a lovely strike from 25 yards out to increase the margin to 4-0 in favor of Manchester City.  All the goals are here:

Aguero’s impressive introduction into the Manchester City squad should serve as an example of what the team has in store for the rest of the Premier League.  The squad is already bursting with talent and with Carlos Tevez’ impending exit from City, Aguero seems to be fitting into the goal scoring role quickly.  With Aguero, Dzeko, and Yaya Toure leading the charge, Manchester City should make a serious title challenge this season.

Transfer and Rumors

While Chelsea still has not completed their signing of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, they appear to be targeting another bid at Luka Modric.  They also are in talks with Liverpool regarding midfielder Raul Meireles and Belgian outfit Genk for 20 year old Kevin de Bruyne.  Also, according to reports in The Daily Mirror Nicolas Anelka has requested a transfer away from Stamford Bridge after Fernando Torres was selected over him this weekend. This should make for an interesting week at Chelsea.

Arsenal has come to terms with Galatasaray over Emmanuel Eboue who would be yet another Arsenal veteran leaving the Emirates this week. Don’t worry Arsenal fans Arsene Wenger has said that he may not spend any of the money received from Fab or Eboue’s exits, so you’ll have plenty to replace the Champions League profits from next season.

Diego Forlan is being targeted at Inter Milan, possibly to replace Samuel Eto’o who is currently undergoing a medical at Anzhi Makhachkala

Owen Hargreaves has been offered a contract by West Brom.

Finally, Robbie Keane will be taking his talents to Los Angeles where he will join David Beckham and Landon Donovan in their quest to win the MLS Cup.

Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The first weekend in this year’s English Premier League campaign kicked off with a mixed bag of matches that saw red cards, missed penalties, Joey Barton at his best, a match postponed due to rioting, and when it was all said and done left Bolton standing on top of the table (for now).  Freddy Adu made his return to the MLS and debuted with the Philadelphia Union.  To cap off the weekend, we also saw another El Clasico matchup between Real Madrid and Barcelona, which left nothing for fans to complain about. 

Liverpool vs. Sunderland            
Saturday’s matches opened up the EPL season with a relatively exciting affair at Anfield between Liverpool and Sunderland.  The match provided its share of excitement right from the opening when Luiz Suarez was pulled down in the 5th minute by Kieran Richardson.  Suarez failed to convert the penalty, blasting the ball into the stands, but was able to correct his mistake when he headed home a free kick from new arrival Charlie Adam.  Sunderland would not give up, and continued to fight for an equalizer, eventually finding one on a spectacular volley from Sebastian Larsson, that was so good it is now the background.  Both sides had chances down the stretch for a winner, but the game ended in a 1-1 draw.  Full match highlights including Seb Larsson’s masterstroke can be seen here:

Fulham vs. Aston Villa  
Fulham and Aston Villa played to a scoreless draw largely thanks to Irish keeper Shay Given’s safe hands.  Given was called upon by his team five times and was able to answer each time.  It was good to see Given actually on the pitch as opposed to the bench where he has spent the majority of the last two seasons.

Wolves vs. Blackburn   
Wolves were able to overcome an early goal from Blackburn’s Mauro Formica and a penalty save from Paul Robinson to earn a win in their Premier League opener.  Mick McCarthy’s side was led by goals from Steven Fletcher and Stephen Ward, who was able to hammer home the winner after Kevin Doyle’s penalty was saved by Robinson.  Despite the best efforts of Blackburn’s Ruben Rochina and David Goodwillie, Blackburn could not equalize and they were met with a chorus of boos upon the closing whistle. Highlights here:

Bolton vs. QPR
Bolton was able to cruise and to the top of the table with a 4-0 victory over newly promoted Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.  Goals from Gary Cahill, Ivan Klasnic, and Fabrice Muamba were also accompanied by an own goal by QPR’s Daniel Gabbidon.  It was truly a bad day for the The Hoops as it also saw new signing Kieron Dyer leave the match with what appeared to be a broken metatarsal, although x-rays have revealed no break and Dyer is expected to return in a few days.  Despite Neil Warnock’s claims that it was not time to “commit suicide”, with captain Adel Taarabt’s looming departure, QPR fans may want to begin tying the noose.  Full highlights from the beatdown can be seen here:

Norwich vs. Wigan         
Newly promoted Norwich City was able to earn a point in their first Premier League match, drawing 1-1 with Wigan Athletic.  Franco Di Santo earned Wigan a penalty when he was fouled in the box by Ritchie De Laet, and Ben Watson hammered home the spot kick to give the Latics the early lead.  Norwich was able to capitalize on a mistake by Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi, when the fumbled ball fell into the path of Wesley Hoolahan who fired it into the back of net.  Norwich keeper John Ruddy (along with his posts) was impressive on his debut, making several saves to keep the game level despite the best efforts of the Wigan attack. Full Highlights can be seen here:

Arsenal vs. Newcastle  
Arsenal and Newcastle faced off in the final match of the EPL’s opening Saturday.  The game would end in a goalless draw, but not without its fair share of entertainment for the fans.  Newcastle turned in a solid performance overall, led by their transfer listed superstar Joey Barton.  Despite some nice passing from Andrei Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky, Arsenal were unable to break down the Newcastle defense, led by their new skipper Fabricio Coloccini.  Barton, always the man for controversy, yanked the new Arsenal arrival Gervinho to his feet by his collar after the Ivoirian simulated contact, attempting to draw a penalty.  Gervinho responded by slapping Barton in the face which led to Gervinho seeing the red card and an early shower.  Newcastle almost managed a winner at the end, but a good save by Arsenal’s Szczesny kept the game level.  After the match Arsene Wenger praised Barton for his performance, but said he would not look to sign him despite the departure of Cesc Fabregas and looming exit of Samir Nasri.  Highlights here:

Chelsea vs. Stoke           
Andre Villas-Boas’ debut with Chelsea had them traveling to the Brittania Stadium to face off against Stoke City.  Both sides had their fair share of chances, with the majority of Stoke’s coming in the first half off of a Matthew Etherington free kick.  Shouts for penalty were made during the first half when the ball appeared to make contact with Chelsea skipper John Terry’s arm, but Stoke’s pleas were denied.  Overcoming a concussion suffered midweek; Fernando Torres led the Chelsea attack, creating several opportunities including a very nice run towards the end of the first half that was capitalized with a mishit ball that went wide.  Chelsea looked dominant in the second half and they were unlucky not to score largely due to the performance of Asmir Begovic in goal and Ryan Shawcross and Jonathan Woodgate in defense.  Their best opportunity came from Nicolas Anelka who had his chipped shot tipped onto the bar by Begovic .  The game would end in a goalless draw.  After the match Villas-Boas complained about the persistent fouling of Stoke, a tactic that comes as no surprise to fans of the EPL. Full highlights here:

Manchester United vs. West Brom        
Manchester United’s title defense campaign began Sunday afternoon against West Bromwich Albion.  The scoring was started in the 13th minute when Rooney received a return pass from Ashley Young and fired a low shot into the goal.  United were forced to overcome another David De Gea goalkeeping disaster, which saw the  young Spanish keeper miss a relatively easy shot from Shane Long that ended up in the back of the net.  Ashley Young earned United the winner, but not the credit, after making a quick run down the left flank and taking a shot that deflected off of Steven Reid past Ben Foster for the own goal.  The game was not without consequence for the defending champions, as they saw both starting center backs Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand taken off with injuries to their calf (2 weeks) and hamstring (6 weeks) respectively.  Highlights can be seen here:

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona          
Outside the EPL, Spanish giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona faced off in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.  The Santiago Bernabeu was buzzing with excitement as Jose Mourinho and company itched to set the record straight after suffering defeat to Barca in the Champions League semi-final.  Their excitement continued when Mesut Ozil opened the scoring the 13th minute with a left footed shot following a pass from Karim Benzema.  Their excitement would be short lived though as Barcelona would fight back twenty-three minutes later when David Villa would unleash a perfectly placed right footed strike into the top corner of the net.  Barcelona would take the lead just before the end of the first half when Lionel Messi used his speed and the slick surface to weave through the Madrid defense and score.  The second half was a testy affair, but saw Xabi Alonso slide a shot along the ground past Victor Valdes for the equalizer.  The match would end level at 2-2, but not before both sides would appeal for penalties and tempers would flare between the sides.  This sets the stage for an exciting second leg at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.  Highlights here:

Ray Hudson's masterful commentary on the David Villa goal:

Thoughts on the Weekend:
Villas-Boas complained about the rough play from Stoke after Chelsea was unable to secure a win.  This may have come as a shock to Villas-Boas, but surely his staff was aware of the tactics that Stoke would use.  The Brittania is regarded by many as one of the toughest away fixtures of the season for many, no doubt as a result of these tactics and the rabid Potters fans, but Chelsea were not prepared to be hacked, grabbed, and harassed by Shawcross and company.  This must change before the next match.  That all being said I admire the way Stoke play and their performance to earn a draw should be praised.

Joey Barton admitted that he “made a meal” of the incident with Gervinho, but what else can be expected from Barton?  Barton’s controversy continued after the match on Twitter when he accused Gervinho of trying to “cheat” Barton and his teammates.  Despite all his controversy and the animosity he draws, Barton is good for the game.  Every game needs a villain and Barton certainly has no aversion to being one when the time calls for it. 

Arsenal is in big trouble.  After losing Fabregas this weekend and with Nasri set to leave any day now, Wenger has got to scramble to replace his two best players.  Even if he is to use some of the money to sign players like Scott Dann or Gary Cahill, they will do little to restore the creative genius that Fab and Nasri provide.  Unless they splash on a signing before the close of the transfer window, I would wager on Arsenal dropping out of the Champions League spots. 

I was excited to see Freddy Adu sign for my favorite MLS team, the Philadelphia Union, on Friday and was surprised to see him start the match on Saturday against FC Dallas.  Despite being booked for a “reckless” tackle, Adu gave a decent performance during his hour on the pitch before being replaced by Danny Mwanga.  Once Adu gains the match experience and regains match fitness I would look to see him making a nice attacking force with Sebastien Le Toux and Mwanga as Philadelphia makes their way into the playoffs. 

On a more serious note, Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel’s father, Michael Obi, was kidnapped on Friday evening in Nigeria.  Despite receiving news of this less than 24 hours prior to Chelsea’s match with Stoke, Mikel played the entirety of the match after speaking to his mother.  So far no ransom demands have been given, and an investigation by Nigerian police is underway.  Sadly this isn’t the first time a Premier League player’s family has been targeted.  I hope that this situation will be resolved expediently and peacefully, and that Mikel’s father is returned safely. 

Pat McCourt’s midweek goals against the Faroe Islands seem to be earning him some attention from at least one Premier League club, Liverpool.  Although the club have made a number of midfield signings this year, McCourt’s dribbling genius could find its way into Anfield from Celtic if some reports are to believed.  

More to come during the week.

Posted on Monday, August 15, 2011 by Lex

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Yesterday was the final day of the summer season for many footballers as their international squads break up to begin the European domestic seasons.  Despite having only one competitive match, the Euro qualifier between Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands, there was plenty of excitement to go around as there were quite a few entertaining friendlies for passionate fans and neutrals alike. 
Northern Ireland vs. Faroe Islands
The lone competitive match of the day was Group C Euro 2012 qualifier that had the minnows from the Faroe Islands traveling to Belfast to take on Northern Ireland.  A rainy night in Windsor Park had some very nice football to show for it as Norn Iron captain Aaron Hughes scored his first international goal, burying an early attempt.  Chances kept coming for Northern Ireland as Steven Davis buried an opportunity 20 minutes after half-time.  However, the star of the show was “the Derry Pele” Pat McCourt, who managed to earn himself two very nice goals and commanding the midfield throughout the game.  Northern Ireland would finish the match winning 4-0, bringing them within 2 points of second place Slovenia with a game in hand.  Pat “Messi” McCourt’s second goal, a fantastic effort weaving through the Faroe defense can be seen below.

Brazil vs. Germany
Elsewhere, the friendly between Brazil and Germany was probably the most entertaining match of the day.  Although the Germans dominated most of the possession in the first half, they could not manage to break ahead until early on in the second when Bastian Schweinsteiger netted a penalty.  Mario Gotze would follow it up a few minutes later latching onto a great through ball from Schweinsteiger.  Robinho would get one back for Brazil on a penalty following a foul in the box on Dani Alves, but it would not be enough as Schweinsteiger assisted Andre Schurrle in the 80th minute to put the Germans up 3-1.  Neymar managed to earn a consolation goal as he fired home a clinical finish from outside of the box making the final score 3-2.  All the goals below: 

Italy vs. Spain
Italy and Spain faced off in a match that will sadly have impact on the upcoming domestic seasons as it saw both Fernando Torres (concussion) and Gerard Pique (thigh) both pick up injuries.  Ricardo Montolivo scored early on following a nice run of play with a chipped finish off the bottom of the crossbar.  Xabi Alonso blasted a penalty past Buffon after a foul in the box on Fernando Llorente to even the score.  Alberto Acquilani put a deflected shot past Victor Valdes in the 84th minute to give Italy the lead and the win.  Italy appear to be bouncing back from their World Cup woes quite nicely as they sit atop Group C.  All the goals below:

France vs. Chile
France and Chile played a good close contest.  The scoring was started in the 19th minute when Loic Remy beautifully headed home a cross from Karim Benzema.  The game was a testy affair that saw the sides earn a total of five yellow cards and had a goal from France’s Kevin Gameiro disallowed.  Chile would eventually equalize late in the game, following a nice run of play and great assist from Alexis Sanchez before Nicolas Codova fired home a perfectly placed shot. Both goals below: 

Ivory Coast vs. Israel
The Ivory Coast and Israel played a very entertaining game as well that saw the sides score a total of 7 goals.  Cote d’Ivoire jumped out to early lead following first half goals from Yaya Toure and Didier Ya Konan and added another after the half from Didier Zokora.  Israel would fight back though, with a 78th minute goal from Itay Shechter and an 80th minute goal from Maor Melikson.  It wasn’t meant to be though for the blue and white side as Didier Drogba converted from the penalty spot just two minutes later giving Cote d’Ivoire the 4-2 lead.  Melikson would peg back a consolation goal in the closing moments of the game, giving him a brace for the evening in an entertaining affair in Switzerland. All seven goals here: 

United States vs. Mexico
Finally, the match that America had been waiting for, the beginning of the Jurgen Klinsmann era against their fiercest rivals Mexico.  I had been eagerly awaiting this match since the departure of Bob Bradley and was anxious to see how Klinsmann would immediately impact the squad.  The lineup included more of the youth and Latin influence that Klinsmann had referenced with the inclusion of Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco, and Juan Agudelo (making a substitute appearance). 
The Philadelphia crowd was in form as America took the field, sadly the USMNT’s level of play was not up for the occasion early on, with Mexico dominating possession and earning the majority of the scoring chances in the first half.  Oribe Peralta would score from a nice flick on a pass from Andreas Guardado after a short corner to give Mexico the early lead in the 17th minute.  Despite several more scoring chances, Mexico would be unable to put any additional shots on target for the remainder of the game. 
The second half saw a reinvigorated USA squad take the field and gain a larger share of the scoring chances.  Guillermo Ochoa, fresh off his “tainted meat” suspension from the Mexican squad, made a nice save on a header from American captain Carlos Bocanegra.  The introduction of Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea, and Robbie Rogers into the game saw the USA attacking with more vigor and they were rewarded a few minutes later when Robbie Rogers slotted home the equalizer following a perfect pass from Shea in the 73rd minute.  Rogers and Shea’s immediate impact on the game was continued as the USA enjoyed several more scoring chances in the final 20 minutes.  Landon Donovan drew shouts for a penalty when he was taken down in the box by Francisco Rodriguez.  There were additional cries for a red card when Gerardo Torrado pulled down Robbie Rogers, who looked to be clear in on goal.  Torrado was only shown the yellow card and the match ended even at 1-1. Full match highlights can be found here: 

Klinsmann lived up to expectations in his first match as manager, making impactful substitutions and showing faith in the youth that he had brought into the squad.  Despite both sides missing key players, Mexico’s Javier Hernandez and USA’s Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, both sides looked good for stretches of time.  I look forward to the next time the USMNT take the field on September 2nd against Costa Rica and a true test against Belgium on September 6th.  

Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, August 8, 2011

I wear the names of better men when I take the field.  Terry, Drogba, Roberto Carlos; they all inspire me to be a better player.  I try my hardest, but usually fall short of playing up to their immense standards.  Football (soccer) has become more than an obsession over the past 5 years, it has become an addiction.  From frantically checking the transfer rumors every morning in July and August to waking up with a hangover at 7am to catch the Chelsea match, to playing 10 hours a week, there’s nothing I won’t do for the beautiful game.
My passion for the game began during the ’94 World Cup.  I was caught up in the passion and excitement of the tournament, especially from the USA squad that had given the country its best performance to date, in front of the home crowd.  Players like Eric Wynalda and Cobi Jones made me proud of my country’s performance, despite being devastated at losing to Brazil.  The following fall I would begin playing in the U-6 league in my hometown. I eventually progressed through U-8 and began to play for the local traveling team.  Sadly when the time came to choose between the two footballs, I chose American football.
My love for the game was periodically rekindled throughout my childhood and teenage years, I remember staying up all night to watch matches during the 2002 World Cup and playing countless hours of FIFA.  Roberto Carlos became my favorite player as I consistently wondered how so much magic could come from a man so small.  I casually followed the English Premier League for two seasons before choosing Chelsea as my team.  My real passion would be ignited during the 2006 World Cup.  On a Wednesday morning, I watched Didier Drogba fight as hard as a man can despite being overmatched by a superior Argentina squad.  That match cemented Drogba’s place as my favorite player and football’s place in my heart.
Over the next few years I would find myself doing everything to gain a deeper knowledge of the game.  Thousands of hours were spent watching Youtube videos of past and current legends, playing FIFA and Football Manager to gain a deeper understanding of the game, watching matches on every third party streaming program I could find, and playing as much football as I could.  Over those years my knowledge and skill of the game progressed, albeit my knowledge far succeeds my skill. 

I developed a liking for Carlos Tevez and his intensity, John Terry and his steadfast leadership, and Juninho for his right footed free kick sorcery.  I loved Mourinho for his audacity and tactical excellence (and naming the Barcelona squad) and hated Avram Grant for his perceived ineptitude.  I love the grace and skill of Neymar and the brutality of Vinny Jones.  I love that Riquelme never sprints and Park Ji-Sung never seems to stop.  I love the jeers shouted from a mostly empty Newry City Ground and the din of the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium on a Champions League night.  Every match leaves something to be appreciated.

Most of all I love that football is played in every country and is a culturally universal sport.  I love the way it brings people together from all different backgrounds to share what they love.  I have made friends and met people I would never have otherwise and continue meeting new people through the sport.  For the upcoming season I will be writing about Chelsea, the Premier League, the Champions League and anything else that catches my attention on this blog.  I hope that you will join me and that you may take some enjoyment from the sport that brings it to millions around the world.  

Posted on Monday, August 08, 2011 by Lex

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