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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Congrats to Birmingham and Sunderland as Leeds dangle over the wire

Crystal Palace beat Derby County today 2-0 at Selhurst Park to guarantee promotion for Birmingham City and Sunderland to the EPL. Both promoted clubs were relegated last season so to bounce back the following season is tremendous, given how other clubs have gone down and still remain in the Championship. In saying that, the plight of Leeds United in particular was highlighted by a 1-1 draw at home to Ipswich Town. With one more game remaining and barring a change of results that would lead to them winning and superseding Hull City on goals difference, the Yorkshire side who won the then First Divison title in 1991-92 before the Premiership began, featured in the semi-finals of both the UEFA and Champions League competitions against Galatasaray and Valencia in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 respectively, will go down to the third tier of League One for the first time in its history. This from a side who spent fourteen years in the top flight of English football.

Mentioning Birmingham City and Sunderland is to pay respect to their managers. Steve Bruce endured a torrent of media coverage that speculated over his inevitable dismissal from Birmingham owing to relegation and then poor results from late September into mid-October. Yet the board decided to keep Bruce, and they must simply be patting themselves on the back for doing so, the kind of backing I expected Alan Pardew to have received from his board at Upton Park. The Midlands side had fought almost neck-in-neck with Cardiff City for the summit of the Championship, seemed to have gone off the boil after Xmas with two wins and two draws from their first seven, but went on to record only three losses and one draw from their following twelve games, holding now top spot to guarantee promotion.

Sunderland Athletic is another story. The talk of a consortium headed by former player Niall Quinn, practically one of those well respected for his generosity in football, ended with Quinn taking over from Mick McCarthy as manager and Bob Murray as chairman but also with Sunderland losing their first four games in the Championship, placing them perilously close to the root of the table. Quinn then appointed former Ireland international team-mate Roy Keane, and after then Sunderland lost only eight, drawing seven, from 41 games which included an unbeaten run of 17 games since the beginning of this year. Now in runner-up spot, Roy Keane and Niall Quinn have aided the North-East side back into the Premiership.

Birmingham are away to Preston North End, Sunderland are at Luton Town in their respective final games next week. I sense a Sunderland draw and a Birmingham win to crown Birmingham City Championship winners. Leeds are away to Derby County, Hull City host Plymouth in their respective final games. I feel it is inevitable Leeds will not have the fortune to avoid dropping to League One.


Man Utd's front-running and flair is deserving of title win

From the first game of the season when Man Utd overwhlemed Fulham 5-1 at home I had a strong sense that Ferguson's side were on a mission to gain their first Premiership title since 2003. I wrote about it then in a post on 21 August 2006 titled: 'Rooney, Saha and Ronaldo have pace and mobility to spearhead title charge'.

This game was no mirage as Man Utd did what it is really important if you are to win a title - and that is not to put yourself out of the championship frame in the first third of the season. Their great start prompted me to write another post on 19 November 2006 titled: 'thirty four points out of a possible thirty nine is sensational going' where I concluded:

There is a long way to go yet this season but personally (as I wrote after the Fulham game) I think Alex Ferguson has moulded a team with the right combination of high quality experience, youth, talent and desire to push extremely close for the title this season.

And they have continued to front run with fantastic resolve and at times thrilling football to the extent that I can't recall a time when Man Utd have not occupied first place in the league table. Front-running in any sport is a true test of character and Ferguson should take credit for using his immense experience to ensure that his side continued to attack the title race with an all-out attacking philosophy and not play with any caution or nervousness as could beset a team who is out in front.

Chelsea's grinding effort to claw the gap has been admirable but for me the attacking spirit of Ronaldo and Rooney coupled with the inspiring 'rolling back the years' play of Giggs and Scholes has made me a supporter of Man Utd in this season's title race. Its the type of football that I generally prefer to watch and its good to see it rewarded.

Man Utd's comeback win over Everton at the same time as Chelsea's home draw with Bolton now puts Ferguson's side in pole position to achieve Premiership success with a five point lead with only three games left to play. The finish line is near and if I was Ferguson I'd challenge his team to win the title at Man City as they started the season at Fulham and have continued to show in many games since: win it with overwhelming attacking football.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lionel Messi's wonder goal

Comparativa gol de Messi y Maradona
Uploaded by cariacolov
We've seen some great goals over the years, some of which can be argued are on a par with Maradona's in the World Cup against England. If you haven't yet seen Messi's goal in the Copa Del Rey match a few days ago against Getafe, then sit back and enjoy!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The best league in Europe: The Premiership or La Primera?

I had intended to answer a comment and found myself typing potentially enough for another article. One comment from a commenter named Striker said:

"The debate has been opened , the EPL best league at the moment? Is this relevant?"

I replied:

"Not to me. I wonder if the media consider the EPL the best because there are three EPL sides in the last four. I don't know the critieria one would use to establish which league is the best and I'm not bothered about it either."

T added:

"Ferguson was the one who came out with the comment that the Premiership was now the best- but although the Premiership does dominate the semis Champs League line-up, it really is premature to say that. For example, although Liverpool beat Barca over two-legs, could even the most ardent Pool fan say that their Liverpool side is better than Barca's? Different but equal is how I would describe the comparison between the Primera Liga and the Premiership."

Using the Champs League fixtures between British and Spanish clubs maybe one criteria but surely included would have to be the UEFA fixtures too. Spain have three teams in the UEFA semis and I watched Spurs v Sevilla, both legs. Seville are second in La Liga and I have felt they look so far a team worthy not only of their league position but to be in the Champs League as well. La Liga itself has taken a different shape the past season or two. Sevilla, Valencia, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Real Zaragoza are currently going for the title whereas before the likes of Villarreal, Deportivo, Celta Vigo, Athletico Bilbao were common names amongst the title contenders.

In the EPL the top four are spoken of. Before it was the top three of Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal. I've always advocated for a title chase between six teams, therefore guessing the title winners would be less predictable and the title chase more enthralling. Plus it opens up the competitiveness of the EPL. I've also noticed a common trait with teams like Man City, Aston Villa, Blackburn, perhaps Newcastle, who are considered more mid-table teams who can start very well at the beginning of the season then falter as the season goes on. Then you see a common favour of the considered top teams emerging into the top places.

Take the top five sides in both leagues respectively: Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Bolton; Barcelona, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Real Zaragoza, Valencia. In terms of Barcelona's play in La Liga compared to that of Liverpool's in the EPL, plus the calibre of players both teams have in their squads, then one would point out Barcelona are better than Liverpool. Certainly most believed Barcelona would emerge into the QF as a result. The belief is Barcelona play better football in La Liga and have better players compared to Liverpool's general play in the EPL, therefore Barcelona will win. But football can either run along such thoughts or can throw surprises to the contrary.

What was the majority opinion on the winner of last year's Champions League final? Arsenal, who had finished 4th in the EPL, or Barcelona who had won La Liga? Arsenal had seen off Villarreal and Real Madrid along the way to the final, Barcelona overcame Chelsea. If the form of both sides in their respective leagues and their run-up of matches to the final were not enough, then it would depend on how they play when they met each other. Arsenal took the lead, the handicap of their goalkeeper dismissed early in the game, Barcelona came back controversially, as their first was argued to have been offside, and then scored the winner. Did this final tell a tale of which league is the better of the two?

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard said after Arsenal had overcome Villarreal in last year's Champions League semi-final: "Our league’s getting stronger and stronger all the time - I think you can see that in Europe because each year in the Champions League the English teams are doing better and better. I think certain teams underestimate the strength of the English teams." Good point, successive English sides in the Champions League final before Arsenal and Liverpool include Liverpool twice in '84 & '85 and before that was Liverpool twice, Nottingham Forest twice, Liverpool again then Aston Villa in the years '77 & '78, '79 & '80, '81 and '82 respectively. The Champions League began in 1955 where Real Madrid were the winners every year until 1960. To date Spain have had 11 European Cup winners and 9 runner-ups, England have had 10 winners and 3 runner-ups. Could this tell go some way to determine which league is better?

This is why I agree with Striker that the statement about the EPL being the best, with the added comparison by T of the EPL with La Primera Liga, is irrelevant. The teams in one league can look better than those in another but when one side from either league meet up, only one principle throughout football supersedes all in victory; the winner is the team who scores at least one goal more than the other. The most ardent LFC fan is not concerned with who is better, they are concerned with scoring that one goal more than the opposition, for that is the key to victory, not reputation. I would assume all teams would agree on that last point.

There is a BBC article relevant to this subject: that may be of interest. Take a look. Perhaps if football were to lose its respective domestic leagues and had an inter-European league involving all European teams (a bizarre notion I admit and not one I would like to see), then perhaps we could establish more.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Champions League round-up: 10-11/04/07

AC Milan take on Man Utd as Liverpool set up a repeat meeting from 2005 with Chelsea for the semi-finals of the Champions League competition.

Man Utd emerge into the semis following their absolute routing of AS Roma on Tuesday night, a match that produced not only eight goals but another significant night in history for British football. From the whistle Utd came at Roma and it was Michael Carrick who begun proceedings by picking up a Christiano Ronaldo pass and dinking the ball over Roma keeper Alexandre Doni from 25 yards, the first of three goals within 20 mins. Utd had Alan Smith on instead of the expected Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Yorkshireman had the effect on the game where his harrying and chasing down signalled for his colleagues to let rip on their opponents that culminated in the end to Utd's best goal.

Rio Ferdinand passed across the back to Wes Brown, Brown took three touches and then passed to Rooney. What happened after was the involvement of five players who applied only one touch to the ball. Rooney passed to Carrick, who passed to Gabriel Heinze on the left, Heinze passed inside to Ryan Giggs and Giggs chipped towards Smith, who then ran on to touch the ball first time past Doni. The goal herald Smith's first for Utd since scoring away at The Valley on 19th November 2005. As I watched that goal, I notice how Roma were so open at the back, with Christian Panucci not even within barge-pole distance to Smith. Ronaldo was not to be denied at all, ending the first half and toasting the beginning of the second with a goal, followed by another Carrick finish. Daniele de Rossi scored a consolation before Patrice Evra slid in Utd's seventh at Doni's near post.

[To the Anon comentor who said "I say stick Smithy in there with the Romans and get them scared so ronaldo and Giggs can get Rooney in there." - Seems that your prayers were answered by Sir Alex!!!]

A little mention on the crowd unrest prior to the match: the Manchester Police showed good force, good control and dealt with any incidence of potential trouble, with as many as 21 arrests, 12 Englishmen and 4 Italians charged. There is no connection made as to whether those arrested support either team at the moment but the night went on as above with no trouble inside the ground. The Spanish and Italian football federations and their interior ministries should take note.

Chelsea had the pressure of the Mestalla added to by Fernando Morientes' goal on 32mins and went into the half time break having to re-think their strategy. Come the second half it was Andriy Shevchenko on 52mins who pounced on the loose ball in the box that came across from Michael Essien, Miguel and Roberto Ayala focusing on Didier Drogba leaving the Ukrainian at the far post to touch in past Santiago Canizares. Michael Ballack headed a superb ball towards goal from Frank Lampard's freekick that Canizares got down to to produce the save of the night, the ball coming off his left glove to go up and over the bar.

But Chelsea's relenting pressure on the hosts' goal paid dividends in the last minute as Essien once again attacked down the right and smacked an unexpected shot that fizzed low towards Canizares' near post and went in via the keeper's boot. This marked another jot in the history books for English clubs as Chelsea became the first to win at the Mestalla since Leeds United did it in the Inter-City Fairs Cup on 16th February 1966 (and 1967).

Many tipped Liverpool as good as through to the semis' because of the 0-3 aggregate from the Philips Stadion last week but nonetheless the job needed to be done and dusted last night, so no focus on last week's score. PSV caused a threat in the third minute when skipper Phillip Cocu crossed well from the left for the Peruvian Jefferson Farfan to beat Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia to a header, touched away by Pepe Reina. With Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher on the bench, Jermaine Pennant and Bolo Zenden positioned on the wings, Rafael Benitez maintained a more low-key approach to the game that was marred by Craig Bellamy's injury on 17mins, a jarred knee. Pennant ran down the right on 26mins to cross for Crouch to hit a half volley, the PSV keeper Heurelho Gomes diving left to tip away. A Zenden free-kick curled inches away from goal later on.

Farfan shot from outside the box for Reina blocked away as PSV showed early in the second half their threatening intent, Crouch replying with a shot that went wide. Minutes past the hour, PSV's quest was further hampered by the straight dismissal of central defender Dirk Marcellis as he slid in to tackle Zenden. Replays showed the Dutchman's right studs caught Zenden's boot, but nothing more than a caution, if not a word of warning, from referee Roberto Rosetti. The Liverpool fans felt so and applauded Marcellis off. Minutes after Liverpool scored as John Arne Riise attacked towards goal and crossed, Gomes dived to tip the ball away, Robbie Fowler (on for Bellamy) steered the ball away from the touchline to pass it across the area for Crouch to touch in.

So it is AC Milan who will go through to meet Man Utd in the semis, though the Italian side had to ride an uncomfortable journey through the second half as Bayern Munich came at them often to bring themselves back into the game. Bayern's undoing came firstly in the 27th minute as Kaka's pass was collected by Clarence Seedorf and as he paused within the Bayern defence, Seedorf then moved to his right to confuse both Lucio and Daniel Van Buyten to slid a low effort past Oliver Kahn's stretched right hand. Milan had renowned marksman Fillippo Inzaghi alone upfront and following a couple of moments where his touch had let him down, the marksman struck. Gennaro Gattuso passed to Seedorf central to Bayern's goal, and the Dutchman flicked on the ball with his back to goal to Inzaghi, who was between Lucio and Van Buyten and precariously offside by a foot. Nothing given, and the defenders made no appeal, Inzaghi went on to dink the ball over Kahn.

That was mostly the tale for the first half, not forgetting Bayern made some chances via the movements of Andreas Ottl, Mark Van Bommel, Christian Lell who replaced Sebastian Schweinsteiger, and Roy Maakay that went astray. But in the second half it was mostly Bayern and Milan's Dida had to be alert to deny Van Bommel as the Dutchman looked to strike from all opportunities. Kaka could have extended the lead as he danced into the Bayern box only to be denied by the veteran Kahn. Van Buyten's effort towards the end was blocked out by Dida's dive and Bayern eventually had to succumb to the inevitable as the final whistle blew. They had earned the right for at least more time but failing to score at all perished any more hope.

The dates and venues, then, are:

Tuesday 24th April, 7.45pm, Old Trafford, Man Utd v AC Milan;
Wednesday 25th April, 7.45pm, Stamford Bridge, Chelsea v Liverpool;
Tuesday 1st May, 7.45pm, Anfield, Liverpool v Chelsea;
Wednesday, 2nd May, 7.45pm, San Siro, AC Milan v Man Utd

Good luck to Spurs tonight. I sense the possibility of Spurs winning 3-1 or there being a 2-2 draw so hoping that Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Aaron Lennon, and possibly Ledley King being fit for the fight.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Premiership review: 09/04/07

Twelve teams in action this Easter Monday while others take a back seat break due to the European commitments of Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs this week.

Fulham 1 v Man City 3

Previously I stated Fulham are not concerned with the relegation battle below and are more focused on emerging up the table. Yet going into this match with Man City, they looked over their shoulder nervously A defeat here by one goal and a Charlton win by two goals would have brought Fulham two places away from the zone. If there was a match to recover from their 4-1 rout by Everton, a Man City side fighting to evade relegation, at home, seemed ideal. But City have come away with 4pts from their previous two games and are in good form. Emile Mpenza outfought Moritz Volz, the ball squeezed across the penalty box with Michael Brown's clearance instead putting Fulham in more danger and Joey Barton latched onto the ball to slide it past Antii Niemi.

Fifteen minutes later Fulham were under a counter-attack from which Barton advanced down the middle to slide a pass to DaMarcus Beasley on the left, the American given too wide a berth to miss, scoring no.2. In the second half City scored their third when Tomasz Radzinski claimed handball from the ball's contact with Nedum Onuoha, which looked more ball to hand and was not given, City then immediately cleared as Barton picked up the ball and aimed to feed Darius Vassell on the right. Leroy Rosenior tried to control the ball with an outstretched foot but instead slowed the ball down for Vassell to run onto and side-foot in off Niemi. Fulham gained their consolation with another fine Carlos Bocanegra header from a corner.

Watford 4 v Portsmouth 2

Watford are still mathematically possible to avoid relegation, needing to win all their games and licking wounds from a Middlesbrough routing. Portsmouth wanted to follow a successful disruption to the title race and three points on Saturday with another victory to push them within touching distance of a UEFA Cup placing. They had fended off the current top team and now faced the current bottom team but there was a contradiction. While Watford allowed Pompey the lead with Matt Taylor scoring again wth a sweet curling effort on his weaker foot, Watford then entered into third gear. Hungarian Tamas Priskin broke into the box past two players and was upended by contact from Djimi Traore. Penalty given and Hameur Bouazza duly obliged from the spot.

Tommy Smith ran down the right, confronted by Taylor and Traore, his cross was punched out by David James, the ball falling to the oncoming captain Gavin Mahon who lashed a fierce left-foot volley from outside the box past the keeper. It was his weaker foot too and showed great technique.

Two-one down for the second half yet James, on his former ground, denied a number of strikes on goal, but couldn't prevent a third as Priskin volleyed in Steve Kabba's cross at the far post. Watford made it four when Bouazza ran onto the ball and was intially denied by another James save, only to gather the ball, turn inside Linvoy Primus and stroke in the ball at the second attempt. Pompey brought on Rennes loanee Arnold Mvuemba for Sean Davis and the Frenchman controlled Gary O'Neil's cross, after O'Neil worked his way around three players, to strike a volley past Ben Foster.

Aston Villa 1 v Wigan 1

A contentious match where netiher goal should have been allowed. Wigan took the lead when a corner in the 20th minute found Thomas Sorensen clearly being pulled by vice-captain Matt Jackson, the ball falling to Lee McCullouch's header and Emile Heskey by the goalline well positioned to score. Villa's appeals were waved away. Then the moment where one could say Wigan have that kind of luck to produce out of the blue. Luis Antonio Valencia and Wilfred Bouma both went to challenge, the Ecuadorian lunging in with both feet studs showing that simply left the eferee with no choice but a sending-off, particularly as it resulted also in Bouma having to be replaced.

Villa also scored in illegal fashion five minutes into the second half, as Gareth Barry passed through for Patrik Berger, who was narrowly offside by a foot but play went on, Berger's low cross coming off Gabriel Agbonlahor to go over the line despite the efforts by Leighton Baines in clearing it. Villa began to test keeper John Filan and he responded well, although a second Olof Mellberg header was touched by the Australian but bounced towards the goal line. The keeper then reacted to touch the ball away but it had gone over the line as much as Villa's equaliser, yet was not given. Filan received a booking earlier for time-wasting and later on conceded a corner, kicking the ball away in frustration causing referee Mark Halsey to speak to him to calm down, or be sent off. Paul Jewell said nothing goes Wigan's way but they should have been 2-1 down and had Filan dismissed.

Bolton 1 v Everton 1

The fight for fifth-place that would put the respective team within points of fourth-place, it seemed typical for this fixture to end a draw though neither side would have wanted it considering the result at St James' Park. Joleon Lescott has been superb for Everton, particularly recently against Fulham, but yesterday he was found wanting in awareness. Ivan Campo floated over a freekick and the Everton players all moved up to catch any of four Bolton attackers offside but for some reason Lescott remained back to defend, playing them all onside. Kevin Davies controlled and shot pass Tim Howard. Everton equalised through James Vaughan as the Bolton defence ran into each other, the ball spilling to Vaughan to score under Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Two matters of concern: El Hadji-Diouf maybe a favourite at The Reebok but should have been dismissed in the second half. He should have been booked for a clear handball in front of the Everton goal in his attempt to mask it as a header, and therefore should have received another booking when he went over the ball in a challenge with Phil Neville, his studs landing on the skipper's shin. Secondly, Vaughan was challenged by Abdoulaye Meite in the Bolton box, quite innocuous, yet the contact severed an artery in Vaughan's left leg, his boot heel red with blood. He was taken to hospital and is said to be OK.

Newcastle 0 v Arsenal 0

From the highlights Arsenal appeared to have come away unscathed when they could have been reeling from defeat. I had discussed with T before about playing at St James' Park when Liverpool lost there 2-1 and he mentioned how it was a difficult place to go to for three points. Perhaps both sides could have been described as below par but Newcastle had more chances on goal and could not convert despite the pace of Obafemi Martins and Kieron Dyer causing problems. Arsenal had their answer through Emmanuel Adebayor going close with a header and vice-captain Gilberto Silva also going close. With Scott Parker unavailable and Shay Given off through injury, Nolberto Solano took over as captain and was there on hand to twice deny Silva on the goalline. Newcastle went closest through James Milner's right wing effort on goal that curled inwards over Jens Lehmann and off the crossbar.

Charlton 0 v Reading 0

This was an opportunity for Charlton to use home advantage and steer futher away from relegation. A win of four cleear goals would have moved them into 16th, and Wigan down, but not one goal occurred in a game where Reading were in the ascendency to score. Charlton went close when Talal El Karkouri's header came down off the crossbar, the Moroccan appealing the ball went over the line but replays showed it had not. Reading poured on the pressure but it was their lack of accuracy that let them down when presented with excellent chances to score. Leroy Lita could be in trouble with the FA as he and El Karkouri had words during play and Lita's head could be seen to tilt towards El Karkouri, the Moroccan slumping to the ground. I sense the contact was either minimal or not at all, which makes the Moroccan somewhat more of a thespian, but the intent could be argued as a probable point for discipline.

Following revelations today, if Alan Pardew had an arrangement with ref Graeme Poll for Poll to signal if a player is near to receiving a second caution, that would be wrong. Alexandre Song was already cautioned in the first half for a tackle on Steve Sidwell and appeared to have shown Poll conduct that warranted a signal to Pardew, at which Song was subbed. This is tantamount to avoiding a decision that could have an influence on the game in Reading's favour. Had Song been dismissed, one man less Charlton could have been made to pay for the disadvantage. No one should have the opportunity to influence any decision-making by the referee or any official in any way during play.

Champions League tonight:

OK, a note on today's Champions League 2nd leg quarter-finals. Man Utd host Roma and we can without the nonsenseof any threats, words that could instigate bad tension and the rest of it. Roma are capable of scoring, and even one goal would be disastrous. Any repeat of the lack of focus that led to Saturday's defeat at Pompey would concede that one goal, so it is imperative Utd remain in attack and shut down Roma at every moment. Utd have the capability to strike from any angle through Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, and were Sir Alex to employ Ole Gunnar Solskajer from the start with Rooney, then Utd should prosper tonight.

Chelsea flew out to Spain for their Mestalla fixture, Valencia rested David Villa from their defeat at Athletico Bilbao at the weekend and somehow I sense Chelsea will score the goals needed to emerge into the semi-finals. Jose Mourinho has mentioned he could not afford to rest Didier Drogba in the same way, such an integral part the Ivorian is of Chelsea's quest for the remaining three trophies, but it is also the marshalling at the back of Petr Cech, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho that is equally important. Not many players are unfazed by the support in large volumes of the opposition away from home, with the Valencia fans as passionate as any of the La Liga teams.

It is not to say the other Chelsea players will be fazed but if you had to choose three or four players to count on for a keen focus on the pitch than anywhere else, I would choose Terry, Carvalho and Drogba. I think these three are key to a victory tonight. Valencia will have to rely on guile, quick movement and control under pressure to get behind the Chelsea defence.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Premiership Review 06-07/04/07

The Tale of Four Keepers

Yesterday's matches involved the influence of four keepers in three key games. Chelsea were kicking off early against Spurs, followed by Arsenal v West Ham and then Portsmouth v Man Utd. It was expected all three matches would end in triumph for the clubs in the top four of the table but there were some surprises.

Petre Cech made a difference when Chelsea needed him in the second half. After Ricardo Carvalho collected a pass to the right and struck the ball low from 20-25 yards past Paul Robinson, Cech made top saves from Mido and Dimitar Berbatov to keep the lead Chelsea's way. It seems that Spurs had to forfeit extra preparation by playing this game within 40 hours of ending at Seville, whereas Chelsea had more than 48 hours to prepare. Because Chelsea have their European game on Tuesday, this game went ahead yesterday and I think it should have been postponed until another more convenient time for both teams. I think Martin Jol was smart to choose the Sevilla game as the most important of the two.

Another keeper, another London derby, and another clean sheet. Yet this was Robert Green for relegation-threatened West Ham against the mighty Arsenal at The Emirates. T and I had called on why Alan Curbishley had installed Roy Carroll instead of leaving Green in when he took charge and it became clear enough who the better keeper was to the former Charlton boss. Following on from their unlucky defeat to Spurs at home, West ham have had two consecutive wins since and seemed to have gained more confidence. Arsenal in turn aimed to cement a Champions League place and show a more determined spirit after the Anfield defeat last week. No one has won at The Emirates in all competitions since its opening and as the Hammers needed three points, with Charlton emerging out the relegation zone on Good Friday, it seemed very unlikely they would get any joy.

From the beginning the home side pressurised the West ham with effort after effort to no avail. With near misses too many to note here, the visitors were living a charmed moment on the pitch but they gained a lead from nowhere when they went on the break and one high ball later Bobby Zamora stole from behind Kolo Toure to aim a hooked ball over Jens Lehmann just beofre the break. Arsenal threw an onslaught of chances at West Ham and on almost every occasion Green blocked them out, with the crossbar and post aiding and abetting. This was reminiscent of the same fixture at Upton Park and West Ham's defensive stance against Man Utd at Upton Park this season. Green made saves in those two games and he made many more yesterday. An unlikely three points keeps the Hammers two points away from safety. An unlikely defeat keeps Arsenal in 4th place and two points away from 5th place Bolton.

The third keeper was David James, who seeked another clean sheet to record his 142nd in the Premiership, a feat that would replace David Seaman in the records book. To consider he would do so against Man Utd was likely as a West Ham win at Arsenal but Portsmouth started the brighter of the two and got at Man Utd to restrict them any time or space to pass and move. Christiano Ronaldo had a great chance to take the lead but aimed wide. Yet it was another parried shot that troubled Edwin van der Sar which was identical to that against Roma which gained Portsmouth the lead. It was Benjani Mwaruwari's shot outside the box, the parry and then Matt Taylor stealing in to tuck away the rebound. Utd had two penalty shouts involvng Linvoy Primus and Wayne Rooney and the referee got both denials right, excellent intervention by Primus.

Then with minutes closing down, Taylor's attempted ball for Lomano LuaLua was intercepted by Rio Ferdinand, only for van der Sar to be badly positioned out from his goal and the ball simply rolled on by into the net. I don't know why the keeper looked to come out in the first place and van der Sar seemed at odds with himself why he was my fourth keeper. Utd came back when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's shot was not held by James and John O'Shea stealed in the consolation, but other than that James had kept out fierce drives from Ryan Giggs and Alan Smith amongst others. James' beard may attribute him to that of Moses, ironically parting a Red sea of his own, while the question rises whether playing with 10 men on Wednesday, a key player missing, had made its toll on Utd.

Wigan v Bolton featured a six-pointer. After their Premiership entrance last season, Wigan are fighting to remain there. Bolton looked to hold the UEFA place and step over Everton into 5th. Emile Heskey help to bundle the ball over the line with a deflection off Nicky Hunt but Bolton were soon level when El Hadji-Diouf's shot cannoned to Nicolas Anelka to touch in. Then two attacks found Wigan on the complete flat foot. Andranik Teymourian found acres of space on the left and was found by Diouf's ball to slot under John Filan and repeated the position again to head in Kevin Davies' curling ball.

Blackburn took the lead against Aston Villa when Phil Bardsley brought down Morten Gamst Pedersen in the box and Benni McCarthy scored from the spot. Moments later Patrik Berger equalised from his slight touch on Bardsley's ball from the right. Villa had a real soft penalty given when the ball struck Ryan Nelsen's arm, which he did not do intentionally but Brad Friedel was equal to Gareth Barry's fiercely struck kick but when Gabriel Agbonlahor was played onside, he raced to deposit Berger's through-ball past Friedel.

Sheff Utd couldnt use home advantage to persuade Newcastle off from three points. Obafemi Martins shot from the 'D' of the penalty box for the lead but Christian Nade touched in for the equaliser some 15mins from time. A Utd effort for a winner looked under away but with 10mins left Newcastle forced a corner from which Stephen Taylor outjumped all to head in. With Charlton gaining a draw at Man City, Utd slip into the relegation zone equal on points to Charlton, with West Ham two points behind them both. Wigan lay in 16th place two points away from Charlton/Sheff Utd and the potentiality is West Ham could join Charlton out of the zone, dragging in Sheff Utd and Wigan, the way performances are going.

Watford went away to Middlesbrough and left there routed. Mark Viduka needs to be closed own thoroughly otherwise he twists and turns players and 95% of the time plays an intelligent pass or scores. Michael Johnson's ball was headed across by Stewart Downing for Viduka to score from yards yet Damien Francis stole in on goal to equalise, only for Johnson to weave around again and find George Boateng for a 25 yard shot past Ben Foster. Second half, Viduka picked up the ball in the Watford box and while off-balance confused three Watford players before he stopped and delicately chiped a curling ball into the net. Fabio Rochemback latched onto a ball to complete the scoreline.

Everton repeated the same scoreline in their match on Good Friday against Fulham at Goodison Park. Carlos Bocanegra headed in unchallenged from a corner but Mikel Arteta found Joleon Lescott on the left for the defender to thread a cross into the box low for Lee Carsley to equalise. Everton added a second as an Arteta corner found the head of Alan Stubbs, and then a third as Andrew Johnson found Arteta in assistance and the Spaniard curled in a low ball for James Vaughan to turn well on and shoot past Antii Niemi. Finally another Everton attack brought on by Arteta allowed the Spaniard to unselfishly square across for sub Victor Anichebe to side foot into goal. This result, prior to Bolton's win, moved the Toffees into 5th place and opens up well for the Bolton v Everton fixture tomorrow.

The European matches may have taken their respective toll on Utd and Spurs, particularly given the crowd trouble, and the same could be mentioned in regard to Liverpool. Not the sharpest we have seen them at recently, Reading made more of the game in the opening stages. Yet it was an opening on the counter that suited Alvaro Arbeloa, who came out from the Liverpool half looking to play in the offside Craig Bellamy but instead exchange a pass with Peter Crouch to go on through and curl around Marcus Hahnemann. Yet Reading's tempo didn't relent and Liverpool were under pressure again, fromwhich Reading capitalised. Brynjar Gunnarsson picked up on Stephen Hunt's ball on the right and then shot sharply through Arbeloa's challenge and across Pepe Reina for the well-earned equaliser.

A Reading freekick later found Crouch heading against his own bar and it seemed the Reds were fighting to maintain some order against the home attacks. Eventually Liverpool settled into rhythm and almost scored when Dirk Kuyt's effort skimmed across the penalty box just out of reach of Steven Gerrard, but it was Jermaine Pennant's cross minutes from time that forged another chance for the Dutch striker to head down past Hahnemann.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

EFT player of the month for March 2007: Carlos Tevez!

The EFT player of the month for month was as tight as it gets with Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo featuring almost exclusively in the voting among our five man panel. But in the final count it was the West Ham forward, Tevez, who edged the voting to scoop our award (and get his picture on the site!).

For me Tevez has been an electric player to watch in March. He was man of the match against Spurs where he scored a classy free-kick and converted another home goal in an important win against Boro. He also had a good game at Blackburn where he was memorably involved in the goal that never was. Overall the young Argentinian forward showed massive determination and an excellent attitude for the West Ham cause last month which undeniably set the tone in the whole team to earn much-needed Premiership points in their battle for survival. There is still a long way to go for West Ham if they are to defeat the odds and maintain Premiership status- but with Tevez in the team and fighting hard they still should retain hope.

Friday, April 06, 2007

When I think of Fredi Kanoute at Spurs....

I think of this!

I love this goal- it is a true belter! And the commentary is entertaining too!!

Last night Kanoute's Sevilla side beat his old club in a controversial UEFA Cup quater-final first leg in Spain. I was really looking forward to this match - which is something I rarely say when it comes to UEFA Cup matches! - as I anticipated an attractive encounter between two teams constructed with a big attacking mentality. The always-excellent Robbie Keane than scored after 68 seconds to underline what I felt about these match being able to guarantee goals, only for a terrible refereeing decision handed Kanoute an opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot- which he did with consumate cool.

It was an outrageous decision by the Luxembourg referee - really he could have no excuses because it was clear that Robinson dived and palmed away the ball with good timing before colliding into Adriano.

Sevilla scored a second before half-time and the score remained this way at full time to leave the tie nicely poised for the second leg next Thursday. It will be the biggest European night at White Hart Lane for some years and I expect Spurs in their current form to be able to score. What's more questionable is whether they can stop Sevilla from scoring an away goal or two.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Champions League provides goals....and also more mayhem.

Tuesday evening brought seven goals and two good matches. Liverpool made good their opportunities in the Philips Stadion to come away with a 0-3 lead to take into the 2nd leg at Anfield. Steven Gerrard's header, John Arne Riise's control and volley, and Peter Crouch's header have made PSV's coach Ronald Koeman conceded defeat in PSV's progress, but the objective is half done so Liverpool need to remain professional and secure a semi-final place with a win all the same. One thing marred the win in Fabio Aurelio's Achilles injury that rules him out for up to four months, a a time where his recent inclusion had provided well for Liverpool.

I had the opportunity to record and therefore watch the full coverage of AC Milan v Bayern Munich. Bayern seemed laid back in their attack whereas the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Kaka added pace and guile to their attacks. Bayern's man was Owen Hargeaves who tidied at the back and made runs down the right on occasion. Pirlo met on the end of a fabulous freekick to head past rookie keeper Michel Rensing but Bayern have shown their resolve against Real previously and equalised through Belgian defender Daniel Van Buyten.

Bayern's Lucio had tackled Kaka before in the box and was judged fairly so for the same scenario with much more clarity to end up a penalty was a staggering decision. Kaka duly deposited the spot-kick and Milan looked to have the leg won. But 30 seconds from the end of injury time Bayern had a freekick, which Milan failed poorly to clear which allowed the ball to bounce to Van Buyten again and his left-foot shot squeezed past Dida at the near post. Bayern refusing to die, they will miss their captain Willy Sagnol through injury for he 2nd leg at the Allianz Arena.

Last night brought not so prosperous news for English football. Valencia seemed to have arrived at Stamford Bridge with a number of absentees in Fernando Morientes, Edu, Rubén BarajaCarlos Marchena and the clown David Navarro, and therefore would not have much resistance to Chelsea's attacks. But Valencia did well to prevent Chelsea capitalising on promising attacks, with the exception of Roberto Ayala's blatant shoulder barge on Andriy Shevchenko which the referee bizarrely did not act upon, not even a freekick. Yet when Joaquin picked up a loose clearance outside the Chelsea box and aimed a shot which David Silva failed to divert on goal with no one near him, Chelsea showed an opening they would be stung from later on. On the attack Silva linked up with David Villa and then ran on a little with the ball before unleashing an angled 20-25 yard shot that went over Petr Cech with awesome precision.

From set-pieces Chelsea had the better of players in the air in Shevchenko, Didier Drogba, John Terry and Jon Obi Mikel to name four in comparison to Ayala, Emiliano Moretti and perhaps Asier del Horno, and there was one freekick that proved this to me, where I texted my collegaue T to say Chelsea's key would be set-pieces and headers to equalise. So when a Santiago Canizares clearance went to Ashley Cole and Cole chipped a ball forward for Drogba to run onto and head over the Valencia keeper, I would say I was near enough to prediction. Valencia would be more content with the draw to return to the Mestalla with but Chelsea have shown they are capable of a performance that levelled against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, so indeed when Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho states the tie is open, it is.

The talking point of the night. Following from the scenes at the end of the Valencia v Inter Milan 2nd leg came crowd scenes of anti-social behaviour, Sky Sports cameras showing Roma fans banging on rows of plastic fencing secured between them and the Man Utd fans, taunting them, the Utd fans running over to retaliate presumably in kind, to be met by a horde of Italian riot-gear clad police beating them back with batons and shields. This is by far not the entire footage of what happened in the Stadio Olimpico but from what I saw the police dealt with the Utd fans and left the Roma fans alone. This to me says the police were more fearful of the Roma fans and dealt with the minority Utd fans, very unfair.

This is the same football ground where Roma played Galatasaray in 13th March 2002, where the away players were aimed at with objects. The same ground where Anders Frisk, who attended last night's game as an independent observer, was hit with an object that left him bleeding profusely from a forehead wound during the Roma v Dinamo Kiev game, 15th September 2004. There needs to be a thorough investigation into the safety and control of fans, and a review into the security procedures that should include searches, as Frisk stated he was allowed through without being searched. Perhaps because they were familiar with him why he was not searched.

On the pitch Man Utd imploded with the sending off of Paul Scholes, who was booked on 25mins for a reckless challenge with both legs from behind on Christian Wilhelmsson and then left his leg out as captain Francesco Totti went on the attack eight minutes later. Some 11mins after that a Roma corner found its way to Rodrigo Taddei, whose shot deflected off Wes Brown past Edwin van der Sar. Yet on the hour mark Utd received their equaliser as van der Sar collected a shot, threw to Christiano Ronaldo and his run allowed him to release Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who chipped a sweet ball over for Rooney to chest control and then simply tee up a shot that had goal all over it. However Utd went behind seven minutes later when on the break Amantino Mancini, who had previously produced four step-overs to dazzle Lyon's 'Anthony Réveillère before scoring in the previous round, porduced a shot that was tamely parried by van der Sar, and Mirko Vucinic immediately reacted to shoot into the net.

Sir Alex Ferguson was content with the result because of the away goal and Man Utd at home is expected to be a stronger show than last night. The crowd scenes will give the impression the Man Utd fans are spoiling for trouble following on from Lille fixture, something which I understand the Italian sports writers have mentioned. There appears to have been little in condemning what appeared to be heavy-handed tactics solely against the Utd fans, whereas the alternative should have been simply forming a barrier between both fans and the secured plastic fencing, fencing which would need to be of height to prevent objects reaching over.

Tonight is Spurs quest in the UEFA Cup at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan of Sevilla, who are very strong in La Primera Liga. I sense a good battle between the two who both have stern attacking abilities and a determined defensive line, it's the tie of the competition for me and hopefully will make for a fast pace entertaining match.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Premiership weekend review - 31st Mar - 01st Apr

Title race:

Man Utd 4 Blackburn 1

A game of two halves. Utd went close through a Christiano Ronaldo strike and Wayne Rooney agonisingly failing to make the goal bulge after being mere yards from goal. Utd suffered two setbacks after the half hour mark. Nemanja Vidic landed awkwardly and appears to have dislocated his shoulder, something which is worrying me as an epidemic in the Premiership this season. Secondly, in-form Matt Derbyshire capitalised on a loose ball. Michael Carrick's attempt to cut out Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross diverted the ball towards goal but was stopped by Edwin van der Sar, only to set up for Derbyshire to strike high into the roof of the net.

One goal is never enough at Old Trafford and particularly away against Utd. It takes a strong resolve to keep them out when they come calling for an equaliser. Blackburn seemed to have gone to sleep in the second haf as Utd came at them. Paul Scholes latched onto a loose ball from a panicked Blackburn defence to dance past Ryan Nelsen and Neil Warnock to slot the equaliser. After Rio Ferdinand nearly knocked unconscious a fan while recklessly kicking the ball in frustration, and Ryan Giggs whacked the crossbar from yards, Carrick slotted in no.2. Ronaldo's freekick was too hot for Brad Friedel and Ji-Sung Park touched in the third, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came at the back to slot in the fourth.

Watford 0 Chelsea 1

I count Chelsea as being a tad fortunate to come away from Vicarage Road with three points. They had their chances almost equally to that of Watford, and it was one game they could ill-afford to leave with anything less. The funny thing for me was that which may have puzzled most, how Lampard cannot be fit to play on Wednesday but cleared to play for Chelsea. Perhaps Steve McClaren decided, wisely, to rest Lampard and not risk him for the Watford game, which would have frustrated Jose Mourinho because Mourinho wants all his best players available as possible. Chelsea look to count the blessing of a late late goal and Andriy Shevchenko for supplying the great chip for Saloman Kalou to pop up and nod in the winner.

Relegation threat:

Charlton 1 Wigan 0

The proverbial six-pointer. It came down to a penalty decision that some may say was cast-iron, others may see it as soft. The ball is floated in in the second half, Wigan's Fitz Hall challenges Herman Hreidarsson and apears to have impeded him, he goes down, then the loose ball is pounced on by Marcus Bent and Hall then sticks a leg out rashly and the striker goes down. The decision is given for the challenge on Bent. namesake Darren steps up and coolly slots the ball away past the agonising hand of John Filan that almost saved it. Now Charlton are a point behind Sheff Utd, three behind Wigan.

Newcastle 0 Man City 1

Seems that a revival of the senses is occurring with the Manchester Blues. An away win at The Riverside, another North-East away win at St James' Park. The fhome fans may well have booed the home side at the end but I felt they had bad luck in the chances they could not convert. Emile Mpenza had a shot come off the corssbar earlier before Joey Barton then Michael Johnson combined to find Mpenza, who shot across goal to beat Shay Given.

West Ham 2 Middlesbrough 0

Just as Man City have found some fortune in their last two games, so have West Ham. An away win at Ewood Park and a home visit from Boro has brought them six points that keeps them chasing Charlton out of the zone. With Javier Mascherano off to Anfield, Carlos Tevez is the new Teddy Sheringham, the talisman through whom passion, determination, fight and pride surges through for the Hammers. It was his cross that was deflected via two Boro players into the path of Bobby Zamora, who slotted in. Then a high ball was challenged by Tevez and a Boro player and then came off Andrew Taylor, who knew little of it, faling to Tevez to smash into the roof of the net.

Bolton 1 Sheff Utd 0

Bolton are chasing a UEFA place and are in a good position with that objective. Sheff Utd are in need of points for Premiership survival and are in a perilous position in that objective. Going to The Reebok stadium is tough for several sides, Liverpool and Arsenal spring to mind, and it was no picnic for the visitors. So they had Paddy Kenny in great form in goal as Bolton couldn't break through via Nicky Hunt, Kevin Davies and Nicolas Anelka but eventually anelka broke into the box and set up Davies for a shot that eluded Kenny.

3rd - 4th place:

Liverpool 4 Arsenal 1

Both sides had internationals on duty in the week and I wondered if particularly this would take its toil on the Liverpool players. It may have done on Steven Gerrard, who came off quite early in the second half and applied ice to his thigh. Hopefully that is a precaution with the CL game on Tuesday but with Gerrard playing behind the lone striker Peter Crouch, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso were forming superbly in midfield. Peter Crouch was missed due to his broken nose and questions have arisen as to whether he could actually grade with better defenders in front of him. His performance against Spain casted a cloud over his contribution for England and here on EFT he was referred to as "an overrated, static beanpole". On the form he produced yesterday, more than most have doubted Crouch at their loss.

Jermaine Pennant and Alvaro Arbeloa combined well for Pennant to deliver a low cross, to which Crouch beat Kolo Toure to touch past Jens Lehmann. Next, Crouch was fouled, Alonso took a quick freekick to Fabio Aurelio, and the Brazilian swung over a superb ball for Crouch to get onto and head clear past Lehmann. Emmanuel Adebayor came close with a header over the bar and Julio Baptista shot wide when the Togolese played him in. After Gerrard departed, Pennant was fouled and it was Aurelio again who delivered the freekick for Daniel Agger to glance a header in. Adebayor headed a good header on target but for the outstretched fingertips of Pepe Reina but Arsenal gained a corner from which Aleksander Hleb delivered, Toure nodded on and as Reina's tips got to the ball, Gallas guided the ball in.

Eighteen minutes remaining was enough for a comeback, bearing in mind how the Gunners came back against Man Utd at home, but then Crouch was brought into play again after the ball was played to him. He controlled with his right, skilled it across to his left and shot past Lehmann. It was an overdue show from Liverpool, and Crouch, and it was one which we now need to repeat seven more times to hopefully secure our place in the top four, and take into next season.

And that leaves.....

Fulham 1 Portsmouth 1

Chris Coleman isn't contemplating relegation fighting. Fulham seem a side that is past worrying about the drop and far more concerned about improving up the table. They have released Steed Malbranque and Luis Boa Morte, two good attacking players, and have had to do without Jimmy Bullard and Antii Niemi for periods. They went behind to a superb Niko Kranjcar curling effort that Niemi knew nothinhg about until it went past him. Yet having made three subs already, Ian Pearce suffered a knock to his foot and was limping through it when the ball came to him in the last minute and his shot deflected into the net past an otherwise unbeatable David James.

Spurs 1 Reading 0

I felt Spurs dominated the game overall and Reading also gave a good account of themselves away from home and at a ground where the hosts are very stubborn. Though Spurs attacked well with promise, it took a somewhat dubious penalty decision to seperate the sides. As Robbie Keane and Greg Halford challenged for the ball in the Reading box, it came up and contact was made with Halford's arm. The referee judged that it was handball with intent and gave the penalty, and I think it was a fair decision. Keane stepped up to score. Spurs was guilty of squandering chance after chance particularly in the second half and it could have paid heavily when Leroy Lita's header came off the crossbar, but Spurs held on.



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