Monday, October 31, 2011

What began as a dream start for Chelsea after an early goal from Frank Lampard ended in a nightmarish finish for the Blues as Arsenal was able to earn a much needed emphatic away win at Stamford Bridge.  The Arsenal victory was led by their captain Robin van Persie, who continued his spectacular form with a hat trick on Saturday earning Arsenal their first Premier League away win since April of last season.

Lampard’s 14th minute goal was equalized by Arsenal 22 minutes later when Robin van Persie slotted home a pass from Gervinho after Aaron Ramsey found the Ivoirian with a ball that threaded the needle between Chelsea’s defense.  However, the first half would end with the Blues on top.  After squandering several quality chances including a Daniel Sturridge half volley that just ran wide and having a goal disallowed for an offside call, John Terry found himself on the end of a Frank Lampard corner and buried the ball in the corner of the net.  The high spirits for Terry and Chelsea would not last.

The second half opened with Chelsea leading, but Arsenal played with an intensity and fire that they had been lacking for much of the season thus far.  Arsenal forced a save from Peter Cech just a few seconds into the half and continued the pressure for several minutes before Gervinho found a streaking Andre Santos, who then beat Peter Cech to equalize for Arsenal.  Just after the restart Arsenal were on the receiving end of a break from the referee after their keeper Wojciech Szczesny avoided a red card after a foul just outside the penalty area on Ashley Cole.  He received a yellow card instead and made a very nice save on the ensuing free kick from Frank Lampard.

Just a few minutes later Arsenal saw themselves ahead after a superb individual effort from Theo Walcott.  Walcott lost his footing while running between four Chelsea defenders, but quickly regained it and dribbled through and beat Peter Cech on the near post.  Chelsea was forced to make changes after the goal that included the introduction of Romelu Lukaku, Raul Meireles, and Florent Malouda.  The game continued to be a tight affair until Chelsea found an equalizer in the 80th minute off of a brilliant strike from Juan Mata that found the back of the net.  In the celebration Mata urged his Chelsea teammates back to their own half to search for a winning goal in the match’s remaining ten minutes.

That breakthrough goal would come, but it certainly was not what Mata and Chelsea had in mind.  An errant back pass and slip from John Terry was all Robin van Persie needed to find himself clear in on Peter Cech and after skinning the Chelsea keeper made the score 4-3 in favor of Arsenal.  With 85 minutes gone in the match it looked as if Arsenal would surely be the winners as a result of this late goal which could be considered shambolic for both Malouda and Terry. 

After Arsenal took the lead, Chelsea threw men forward in an effort to find a late equalizer.  After having several half chances at a goal, Arsenal broke out from their own end with numbers.  The ball was eventually at the feet of van Persie who finished off his spectacular performance by beating Cech on his near post again, giving Arsenal the final score line of 5-3. Maybe Arsene Wenger does know what he's doing after all.

RVP gets the background for decimating Chelsea with his hat trick.

Levante has been one of the best stories in the football world with their improbable run of performances.  Sadly their winning streak came to an end this weekend, I’ll leave that summary to a much better writer Sid Lowe whose article can be found here:

Posted on Monday, October 31, 2011 by Lex

No comments

Monday, October 24, 2011

When the final whistle blew on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford, Manchester City had left no doubt they were the best team in the city.  It was an occasion for City fans to celebrate as they earned their largest victory over their rivals in their clubs history and handed United manager Sir Alex Fergueson the biggest defeat of his legendary career.  The 6-1 victory lifts Manchester City 5 points clear in the English Premier League after Chelsea fell 1-0 to Q.P.R.

From the match’s opening moments, David Silva just looked a touch above his opposition on the pitch.  It began in the 14th minute when he dribbled his way into the thick of the Manchester United defense and five United defenders could not dispossess the Spaniard.  His presence was felt everywhere on the pitch, his dribbling was fantastic, and his passing was truly a joy to behold.  Silva’s genius was even seen in his inaction when he left James Milner’s pass untouched for Mario Balotelli who fired it past David De Gea for the game’s opening goal.  After scoring, Balotelli lifted his shirt to reveal a t-shirt saying “Why Always Me?” referring to the Italian’s crazy weekend that saw his house with severe fire damage after an accident involving fireworks in one of his bathrooms.

As the first half continued, both sides enjoyed half chances, with the best chance being spoiled by United defender Johnny Evans as he missed an open chance from a Wayne Rooney pass.  The teams went into the locker rooms at halftime, with City up 1-0 and looking strong.

The game would change just a few minutes after the halftime break, with Johnny Evans making a disastrous mistake, by dragging down Mario Balotelli after the Italian striker found his way in on goal.  Evans was shown the red card for the professional foul and as the Northern Irishman trotted off the pitch, so too did United’s hopes for victory.   

Silva had his hand in City’s next goal with some spectacular dribbling before moving the ball to James Milner who fired a cross to Mario Balotelli who buried the chance in the back of the net.  The onslaught continued for City when they earned another goal nine minutes later, with Sergio Aguero capping off another spectacular run of play from City with his 9th goal of the season to tie Wayne Rooney atop the scoring table.

Darren Fletcher was the lone goal scorer for Manchester United after a nice little one-two with Chicharito before a nice first touch finish that found the upper corner over an outstretched Joe Hart.  The goal would serve as no consolation for Manchester United, as the worst was yet to come for them.

Just before stoppage time, Rio Ferdinand conceded a corner kick off a misplaced back pass to De Gea, and United was made to pay for their mistakes again. This time Edin Dzeko found a goal after the ball was flicked on by a Gareth Barry header and Joleon Lescott kept the ball from going out of bounds.  Then in the 91st minute, David Silva found his way onto the score sheet after an excellent break by Manchester City with an excellent slotted shot past De Gea.  Edin Dzeko squandered another late chance for City before earning his second goal of the day thanks do a surgical pass from David Silva that dissected the United defense and made the final score 6-1 in favor of Manchester City.

This weekend has left City standing at the top of the table, five points clear of Manchester United and now enjoying a considerable advantage in goal differential.  Big things were expected of the club traditionally considered second best in Manchester, but few could see them being so good this soon.  Now boasting one of the league’s top goal scorers with Sergio Aguero, along with who many consider to be the top player so far with David Silva, Manchester City has to be considered one of the top clubs in the world and are definitely the team to beat in the English Premier League.

Roberto Mancini's smiling visage gets the background for orchestrating such a perfect dismantling of Manchester United. Tune in tomorrow to hear about Lionel Messi's struggles against Sevilla.

Posted on Monday, October 24, 2011 by Lex

No comments

Thursday, October 20, 2011

As soon as the mohawked Raul Meireles unleashed a right footed shot past Genk’s keeper Laszlo Koteles, it marked the beginning of a great game for Chelsea and a long night for Koteles.  The 25 yard strike was just the tip of the spear as the Chelsea attack scored 5 goals in their victory Wednesday night against Racing Genk.  This victory is yet another in a fantastic run of form that has included victories over Bolton, Everton, and Swansea.

Undoubtedly the highlights of the night were the two goals from Fernando Torres.  This marked the Spaniard’s first brace since pulling on a Chelsea jersey, and it was to the delight of owner Roman Abramovich and the Stamford Bridge faithful alike.  Torres’ first goal came in the 11th minute off a nicely placed ball from Frank Lampard that played Torres between two Genk defenders; Fernando was then able to slot home the finish with a calm right footed strike.  His second came sixteen minutes later when Raul Meireles crossed the ball as Torres was streaking in front of the goal. Torres met the cross with a perfectly placed header that beat Kotleles on the far side of his goal. 

The rout continued fifteen minutes later when Branislav Ivanovic rose above the crowd in the box to head home the set piece from Florent Malouda.  With four goals scored in the first half, Chelsea looked comfortable to sit back and enjoy possession, but after several chances early on in the second half Chelsea finally found their mark in the 72nd minute.  Salomon Kalou fired home the rebound after Fernando Torres had his hat-trick bound shot denied by Koteles. 

Despite not coming against the biggest opponent, Chelsea’s recent string of dominating victories shows they are becoming comfortable with the squad that has been built around them.  The transition from the defensive minded tactics dating back to Jose Mourinho to the current flowing attack favored by Andre Villas-Boas seems to be complete, with Juan Mata popping up all around the pitch making his impact felt.  Frank Lampard’s play has improved significantly from the beginning of the season and his recent run of games is the perfect example of Villas Boas’ system taking shape.

With this weekend’s Manchester derby and Chelsea taking on Queen’s Park Rangers, they could find themselves sitting in second place within striking distance of table toppers Manchester City.  For a team that was largely considered third best in the three team race for the Premier League title, they are now showing that they may be title contenders themselves.  If Villas-Boas is able to help Torres recapture the form that made him worthy of the £50 million outlay then Chelsea will likely find themselves with a lot to play for as the season continues.

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 by Lex

No comments

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The international break ended with a mixed bag of emotions for American fans, who saw their new manager Jurgen Klinsmann win his first match Saturday as USMNT manager, but just three days later it saw Klinsmann’s squad fall again, this time to Ecuador.  This latest loss brings Klinsmann’s record to 1-3-1 as USMNT manager.

The match Saturday night against Honduras was a rather even affair between the two sides. While the Americans enjoyed a few chances in the opening minutes of the match, Honduras had the first real opportunity of the game when Jerry Bengston found himself clear in on Tim Howard.  Howard was forced to make a low save and the ball was played out, but the defensive lapse showed the squad’s lack of cohesion.  The USMNT quickly regained control of the match and it was Clint Dempsey’s well placed left footed strike that gave them the 1-0 lead that would hold up for the remainder of the game thanks to some very nice saves from Howard and a shambolic miss from Brek Shea.

Tuesday night’s match against Ecuador began in a similar fashion, with Klinsmann selecting an identical squad, with the exception of Oguchi Onyewu starting at center back in place of Michael Orozco Fiscal.  Timmy Chandler was given the arduous task of marking Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, and performed the task admirably, with Valencia being ineffective for long stretches.  The first half of the match saw the United States display some of the early game promise that is becoming a trademark of the Klinsmann era, however like most Klinsmann era games thus far they were unable to take advantage of their scoring opportunities.

As the game went on, Ecuador became comfortable settling three midfielders in front of the four defenders and with 7 behind the ball, the US had trouble coping with the overwhelming defense.  Clint Dempsey became lost in the swarm of defenders while others took their shooting opportunities from distance, yet were unsuccessful. 

After halftime the United States had changed to a 4-4-2 formation rather than the 4-1-3-1-1 they had been playing after making a number of substitutions.  Klinsmann appears to be using these friendly matches to experiment with different formations and tactics, but so far they don’t seem to be working.  The halftime changes had little positive impact on the Americans and their best opportunity to score came from an outside shot by Demarcus Beasley that was directly at keeper Maximo Banguera. 

With their leading playmaker Valencia being contained on the right side by Timmy Chandler the Ecuador attack focused on the left side of the pitch where Steve Cherundolo was repeatedly exploited for his lack of pace.  Ecuador’s goal came off a quick throw in on the left side which was crossed into Jamie Ayovi who was able to beat Tim Ream to the ball and head home the game’s only goal.  This positioning mistake by Ream was just another to be added to the list since he has joined the USMNT as a squad member.

So as the United States suffered yet another defeat, these first five matches should serve as a bit of a wakeup call to American fans.  While Ecuador may not be a team to be trifled with having made two of the last three World Cups, the USMNT is not seeing the results that fans have come to expect of him.  With no competitive matches until World Cup qualifying begins in June, Klinsmann still has some time to find his preferred tactics, but what those tactics are going to be remains a question. 

One common thread between the friendlies is that the USMNT looks to attack from the opening whistle, which has yielded a number of scoring chances early in matches, but as opposition adapts and begins to absorb the attack, the US has looked unable to cope.  The American attack under Klinsmann pushes higher up the field than under Bradley, but it leaves them vulnerable to counterattacks and has only seen the US score two goals in total. 

The midfield in the last two matches was anchored by Kyle Beckerman who covered ground well, but his passing left a lot to be desired, the same can be said for Maurice Edu who had a poor first half performance yesterday.  Beckerman anchoring the midfield makes sense if America would be playing in a major competition this coming summer, but the Real Salt Lake captain will be 32 when the USMNT travels to Brazil in 2014.

This stretch of friendlies seems like it should be the perfect opportunity for Klinsmann to give playing time to the younger squad members in hopes that they can come together as a unit.  As much of a treat it is for MLS fans to see Kyle Beckerman or former LA Galaxy striker Edson Buddle take the field for the USA, in the long run it doesn’t serve much of a purpose as both are not likely to feature in upcoming major competitions. 

Something that has become increasingly apparent under Jurgen Klinsmann is that he is dealing with a major obstacle that no other nation is dealing with.  American collegiate soccer is that obstacle and it is likely the leading factor contributing to the long-term underachievement of the USMNT.  While the rest of the world’s 18-23 year old footballers are playing professionally, American players compete in leagues that are largely poorly coached, poorly attended, and players are compensated only with a college scholarship.  While US Soccer does its best to find the most talented youth players and train them accordingly, this gap in development clearly shows why the USA can boast the world’s leading youth soccer programs, but fall far behind when it comes to the senior squad’s success.  Hopefully Jurgen will be able to create new ways for some of the 18 million youth player to break through.  

Posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 by Lex

No comments

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

United States Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has announced his squad for this week’s upcoming friendlies against Honduras and Ecuador and has recalled center back Oguchi Onyewu to the squad after he had been left out of Klinsmann’s previous selections.  Other new arrivals in the squad are Nick Rimando, goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake, and Danny Williams, the German-born Hoffenheim midfielder who just acquired his American passport this past Friday.

These three new additions to Klinsmann’s squad are joined by regulars Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, and Michael Bradley.  Landon Donovan was also called up to the squad, but his lingering quad strain has forced Klinsmann to call up striker Edson Buddle as his replacement.  These regulars are still looking for their first win under Klinsmann, who in his first three matches earned two draws and a loss to Belgium in three friendlies.

Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea, Timmy Chandler, and Teal Bunbury are all included in the squad, giving it the look towards the future that Klinsmann has spoken about since entering as manager.  Bunbury is currently on a good run of form, scoring 3 goals in his last 4 matches for Kansas City.  Timmy Chandler has been a constant presence for FC Nuremburg, who currently sit mid-table in the Bundesliga.  Agudelo and Shea have both struggled for their respective MLS clubs as of late and will hopefully be rejuvenated by the return to the USMNT setup.

This week Klinsmann also won another battle for a dual-nationality player, with Hoffenheim midfielder Fabian Johnson’s switch from the German youth system to the USMNT being approved by FIFA.  Johnson had 20 caps at the U-19 – U-21 levels for Germany, but chose to play for the United States. Despite approval being granted by FIFA, Johnson will not feature in this week’s matches due to being sidelined with a neck injury.

The main story from this squad announcement is Onyewu’s return to the squad.  After Klinsmann seemed to use his first few matches to search for depth and improved ball playing from the back, he has returned to Bob Bradley’s choice at center back.  Onyewu is a decent defender overall, he uses his body well, but his lack of speed and acceleration leave him out of position at times against quicker strikers.  He also struggles in contributing anything to build up play and his passing play from the back does not seem likely to improve. 

After difficult spells with AC Milan and FC Twente, Gooch made his way to Sporting Lisbon this season and has enjoyed a good run so far and even earned a goal.  You can hardly blame Onyewu for the move to Milan, despite it stalling his career, but hopefully he will be able to continue his career revitalization with the USMNT this week.  Also looking to rebuild his career is Demarcus Beasley, who recently moved to Mexican side Puebla after an unsuccessful spell at Hannover. 

Also included in the squad is Kyle Beckerman, who is enjoying a good season with Real Salt Lake.  Beckerman was involved in an incident last week where he leveled Daniel Paladini with a vicious, dreadlocked, headbutt. 

Overall, American fans can be happy with the side selected.  The squad will lack some star power without the presence of Landon Donovan, but this squad should be more than enough to get wins from Honduras and Ecuador.  If they do not, then it may be time for fans to panic.

Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2011 by Lex

No comments