Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Second Half

The teams continued to attack as before, with no subs at the half. A cutting Messi run ended with him scorching a shot well wide but Barcelona have begun to push forward enough to force Man U into conceding corners. In the 58th minute, Tevez ripped a strong shot that Valdes deflected. The camera cut to Henry warming up in the 59th minute. The action was coming end to end, as Nani made a great run down the right, turning Milito this way and that the missing his chance. And in the 61st minute, on comes the Frenchman, the World Cup Winner of '98. Perhaps he'll lift his first Champions League cup ten years later. The ineffectiveness of Eto'o forced Rijkaard to sub him for Bojan a bit later. The game continued in fine fashion, as the close of the second half saw Puyol pushing up on the left, crossing a great ball in to Deco, who couldn't rise high enough to make contact. The ball fell in the box and Messi came forward but contact in the box took him down. It might have been a penalty, but not tonight in Old Trafford. Man U brought on an injury sub for Evra, as Mikael Silvestre came on for the left-back. The whole charade used almost three minutes of injury time. With three more minutes gone by, Ronaldo fouled Messi on the sideline and a free kick was given. Valdes came forward on the free kick but the Reds defense was awake, clearing the ball and thus earning their place in the final. A great game from the Stadium of Light, an entertaining second leg match that saw Man U as the hungrier side, deservedly winning. So it's an all-English final in Moscow. Tomorrow we'll know who Man U will face.

Champions League: Man u - Barcelona (2nd Leg)

Barcelona looked strong at the outset, attacking and controlling much of the possession. The return of Carlos Puyol saw the back four more confident and in control, passing the ball well and allowing the midfield to be creative and control the pace of the game. But Manchester United are such a brilliant team, all it took was a poor clearance at the back which fell to Paul Scholes, who settled the ball dribbling forward and crushed a volley from well beyond the eighteen yard box, a real cracker that curled right, above Valdes' head, which was turning in disbelief. Following the goal, Manc U seemed more in control, pushing forward, hungry for the second goal having drawn first blood. Messi had a great shot, cutting inside from the right wing, beating Evra and hooking a shot toward the far post, which Van der Sar was equal to. Barcelona's attacking flair continued, and Van der Sar had to step in to claim some balls, taking a knee to the face from Wes Brown and another kick later in the first half. He called for a trainer in the 39th minute and looked as if he might come off. With Kuszczak on the bench, Ferguson knows he has another solid keeper available. An attack late in the first half saw Messi beat two defenders and play a one-two with Deco but Rio was all the wiser, beating Messi to the ball over the top and clearing the ball to safety. The half ended 1-0, with wily Paul Scholes the difference maker. We'll see which of the tacticians makes a change, I wouldn't be surprised to see Iniesta come off for Henry. Could be interesting to see how Thierry does against some of his old rivals.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Barcelona's Sad Season

I suppose now is a good time to discuss Barcelona's lack of form this year. Last year the team was knocked out of the tournament by Liverpool in the first knockout round amidst lack of team cohesion as Barcelona dropped key points after the new year, eventually losing the title to Real Madrid. The key summer signings of Gabi Milito, Francois Abidal, Toure Yaya and Thierry Henry led many, myself included, to name them favorites for this year's Champions League. Unfortunately, Barcelona's form has been poor, as they have struggled to demonstrate their lost dominance. Today's result was a continuation of that trend, as they beat Schalke 1-0 on a messy goal by Toure. Barcelona attacked well, creating a number of chances, but the lack of a central attacking midfielder was felt, as both Deco and Ronaldinho were out with injury. Sunday's result of a goalless draw against Getafe was just an embarassment. Real Madrid have continued to drop points but Barcelona have haplessly let such opportunities slide. In retrospect, I would have to say that the signing of Henry was a bit of a mistake, as last year Barcelona won many of the games they have drawn or lost in Spain. The prolonged absences of Eto'o, Messi and Ronaldinho have had their effect and the defense looks a lot stronger with Abidal and Milito, but the attack has been choppy and inconsistent at best all year. I can't see them getting past Manchester United, especially with Puyol out for the first leg with two yellow cards. Hopefully Laporta and Rijkaard will let this team gel over the summer and we'll see our old faithful Barcelona next year. And most of all, please don't let Barca get rid of 'dinho, he's primed for a comeback. You heard it here first.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Champions League: Liverpool v Arsenal (2nd Leg)

Well, the past week has seen two 1-1 draws at the Emirates in London, and I for one was ready for a change. The first half of today's match saw Arsenal attacking in concerted fashion. The initial twenty five minutes saw both teams attacking from end to end, with Liverpool on the losing end. As Arsenal sent bodies forward they began to create confusion in the box and a loose ball was played out, but fell to Hleb, who deftly put the ball on the feet of Abou Diaby. The tall winger stretched forward, ricocheting the ball off Reina's shin and into the net. Arsenal continued to push forward, looking for the second goal. But Liverpool held off the charge and then equalised in the 30th minute, the goal coming off Hyppia's head on a corner. Senderos completely blew the defense and his future presence in the Arsenal side should really be questioned. His lack of any attempt to play the ball, or the player, lead me to question his ability to defend in important matches. Wenger is a great scout but perhaps he got this one wrong.

Second Half
The game recommenced in similar fashion, with both teams continuing to show their class and determination. In the 69th minute, Fernando Torres scored his 29th goal of his debut season, and his 22nd at Anfield, settling a volley and turning inside, losing Senderos in the process and scorching the ball past Almunia. The keeper stood no chance and Torres demonstrated his ability to open games on his own, as the striker had been kept silent up to this point. Arsene Wenger brought on Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie soon thereafter and the decision paid benefits. In the 84th minute, Walcott ran three quarters of the field in posession, beating at least four defenders before lightly passing inside to Adebayor who converted, tying the match and seemingly setting Arsenal up to advance to the semis. But it was not to be at Anfield, not today; just two minutes later, supersub Ryan Babel was pulled down in the box from behind, resulting in a penalty. And who better than Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain and scorer supreme, unfazed in late European competition, a practiced hand, who slotted the ball beyond the diving Almunia. Finally, with Arsenal continuing to struggle, displaying their tenacity, sent too many men forward and got caught, as Ryan Babel scored the insurance goal, ending a beautiful four-goal half of topnotch European soccer. Truly, this has been the best match I've watched since El Classico last spring (Real 3-3 Barcelona). This one should be on ESPN for a few weeks, be sure not to miss it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Champions League: Barcelona v Celtic

This game has lingered in the back of my mind for the past month, or however long it's been since the bracket was announced. With Celtic my favorite club, and Barca second, obviously I felt torn. So I sit here at the office, wearing my Celtic kit, ready to cheer on my two favorite teams. The game started well, as both teams were determined to get the opener. In the 16th minute, Celtic played the ball down the left flank, and Barca's defense was unable to clear as the ball bobbled around in the box, eventually crossed by a Celtic player into the diving head of Venegoor of Hesselink, who drove the ball past Valdes. Barcelona, always dangerous, stepped their game up while Celtic were patting themselves on the back. Messi and Deco linked up for a one-two to tie the game, as Messi one-timed his shot over the diving Boruc. Nearing the end of the second half, which Barca controlled for the vast majority, another Celtic possession in Barca's half, this time the cross came in behind the attacker, Robson, leaning off balance, he nudged the ball toward goal, a desperate attempt that nonetheless beat Valdes, who paid for his positioning as the perfect lob fell over his outstretched hand. I was ecstatic and had to hold in my joy, as watching soccer is not necessarily the most kosher thing to do in an office. As halftime came, I found myself just hoping for the status quo to hold. Unfortunately, Barcelona had something to say about that.
A few minutes into the second half, Henry curled a beautiful goal from the top-left corner of the box, bending the shot to the left into the side netting. Boruc had no chance and this goal shows Henry back in form, the type of shot that made Henry famous. In the 79th minute, as Celtic's defense continued to tire, Barcelona scored again, with Messi the malicious messenger. A failed Celtic clearance ricocheted off another defender and fell to Messi's feet. He made a quick move and struck, scoring the winner and once again exhibiting his quality. A sad result but a great game, it will be hard for Celtic to not only win at the Camp Nou, but win while scoring at least 3 goals. Quite a challenge.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

UEFA Cup: Bayern Munich v Aberdeen

In the ugly duckling of European club competitions, we saw today a giant club (Bayern) in one of the best leagues take on a good team (Aberdeen) in a truly B-level league (Scotland). The game began with some real back-and-forth action, as both sides strove to score the opener. Bayern came into this match a two or three goal favorite and I think the 11 from Aberdeen were the only ones who thought they stood a chance. Well, 24 minutes in, a ball bounced around in the Bayern area, was controlled by Aluko who deftly laid off a pass to an oncoming Walker, who bent the ball right around de Michelis and under diving keeper Rensing. The boys in Red had done it, scoring the opener in fine form. But Bayern is a beast, as all fans know, the counterattack coming strong as a ball forward from Lucio came into the top of the box, Luca Toni headed the ball in Klose's direction. The Polish-born striker crushed a volley across the face of goal into the upper-left corner. All credit to Bayern, but even more to Aberdeen, as the young Scots battled forward time and again, their will keeping them in the contest. And, with less than five minutes to go in the half, it paid off, as the men in red rushed forward on a counter, the ball was quickly played on, a one-touch putting Aluko one-on-one with a defender with the ball at chest height. Aluko touched the ball to his chest, turning inside on the defender, chested the ball to his left foot and ripped his running volley under Rensing. Another great goal for Aberdeen. The second half saw more of the same, but Bayern's depth showed, as Philip lahm played a strong role in the second half in place of Christian Lell, and a penalty was conceded on a handball in the box. Altintop struck well but the Aberdeen keeper stopped the shot, only to have the rebound fall to Altintop for a poke-in finish from inside of five yards. A great game of football which saw a lot of heart, this was a huge upset for Aberdeen even though they only drew. It will be hard for them to advance, as the second leg will be played at the Allianz Arena.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

EPL: Arsenal v Newcastle United

Arsenal played a more conventional lineup today than last week, starting Adebayor, Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini, giving them a considerable advantage in midfield against a Newcastle United side that tried to push forward and were rewarded with (at last count) eight offsides penalties, many of which were too close to call. Nonetheless, Arsenal struck when they had chances, as in the 40th minute when Mathieu Flamini attacked down the left flank, hurtling a defender's tackle and running toward the flag. Flamini's cross was perfect, meeting an onrushing Adebayor who outmuscled his opponent to the ball and headed it home. Arsenal dominated the possession battle (59-41) and the second half saw more of the same, as Owen and Smith were called offside more often than they deserved. Arsenal's second goal came in the 73rd minute, when Flamini blasted a curling shot from the upper-left side of the box: the ball curled to the outside, away from the goalkeeper and into the side netting. Arsenal's final goal came in the 80th minute, and should have been called offsides, but the refs seemed a bit preferential and let it go, allowing Bendtner to one-touch the ball to Fabregas who ripped a volley with his left into the back of the net. Arsenal played very well, Hleb looked electrifying, Fabregas played his role well as usual but Flamini made the game his, tackling well and assiting on the game-winner and scoring the insurance goal on a play he created himself, from outside the box. Newcastle's scoreline could have differed quite a bit but the offsides calls hurt their determination and some were simply wrong.