Friday, 29 May 2009

Andy Gray again...

Sports - Football - UEFA Champions League Final

I find it weird, more funny, that every time Man Utd get outplayed and well-beaten, they just say they did not turn up. THAT IS NO EXCUSE! Every loser could say that!

Ok, they got the goals and points in the league when it mattered most and were crowned champions deservedly despite their four defeats. But to talk a defeat like this away by saying they just did not turn up and Barcelona are not as good as they are lauded, is a joke! Barcelona have scored over 100 goals this season, have also won their league and league cup, so, have done the treble - hm, how much and many times has Utd 1999 been hailed?! How hypocritical is that?!

So, Andy Gray, can you please take your Utd-red-tinted glasses off and just see who was the better team on the night and is the better team, no excuses, please.

Congratulations Barca.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

NatWest Series 2009: England shine and glow on home turf

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series 2009

Over the last couple of weeks it has been much more of a joy to watch cricket again, as an England fan that is.

Not even a couple of months ago, I wrote a blog on England, their unimpressive and worrying display, form and behind-the-scenes unrest when they were touring the Caribbean.

Obviously, England have always been more confident and successful at home, which team is not, but with all the problems they had, there was room and need for improvement either way.

When Andy Flower was announced as the new coach unsurprisingly, everyone pointed out what a big and difficult job he had in his hands. Many called it the much needed wind of change and demanded Flower not to give in and fall into the same main stream as the board has been criticised to have done many times before, which has led to failure too many times.

The fallout between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores just reminded everyone how crucial the reletionship between the captain and coach is, which made everyone the more nervous about the new appointment.

I think Andrew Strauss was the best pick, especially after the clash of the big egos. I am a big KP fan and was very disappointed his captaincy did not last longer and found it a farce how the situation with him and Moores was delt with.

But, it just proved that a captain needs to be someone who keeps his cool and his head on the shoulders in challenging situations - which reminded me of Alec Stewart, one of the best captains I have had the pleasure to watch in my time. That is why Strauss fits the role, I think, I see many similarities between his and Stewart's characters, attitudes and personalities.

Chris Gayle's confession and go against Strauss reminded me of Kevin Pietersen's whine-rant just a couple of months back - it just shows that the form does not help the mood and confidence and vice versa. It draws a sad picture of those supposedly-professional players and team leaders you are supposed to idolise and have idolised.

England have also included some promising new players into the squad. Tim Bresnan and Eoin Morgan were like a breath of fresh air, refreshing and boosting the whole team and their display.

Matt Prior, James Anderson, Paul Collingwood, Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah and the captain himself Andrew Strauss - they all looked much more comfortable and confident in their roles than before and contributed to the wins.

The impressive series has been completed and won without Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, an interesting point that should make the England selectors think about their choices for the Ashes; if they should rely on the old not-so-fit boys or go for the fit and promising freshers.

This series should have answered that question and should hopefully set Pietersen and the other older players a new personal challenge and wake up call to get a grip and pounce on his opposition like he used to do if he does not want to lose his place.

I am full of expectations and excitement approaching the Ashes now - much more than only a-month-and-a-bit ago... *fingers crossed*

UEFA Champions League Final 2009: Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United in one picture

Sports - Football - UEFA Champions League Final 2009

This picture speaks more than a thousand words and summarizes Manchester United's night best; apart from the first ten minutes, Barcelona commanded the match, rode United and Edwin Van der Sar's face says it all: The fear and fright, the intimidation and domination and eventual final resignation to defeat.

Congratulations Barca.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops: Picks of the Weekend

Sports - Football - Premier League

What a day! Manchester United confirmed again and underlined the strength and depth of their team that has taken the league crown for the 18th time - everything else but at their best, but still the most deservedly.

Newcastle on the other hand proved the exact opposite. The unrest behind the scenes, the lack of determination and passion on the pitch plus tough luck at some of the most crucial times, all together led to the much-dreaded but inevitable downfall and relegation.

Hull City have given and got JUST enough to stay up, mainly thanks to the distinctively impressive first half of the season.

Middlesbrough, like Newcastle, just lacked a little bit of everything - unlike Liverpool's starmen, who have achieved a record point-tally for their club. Never has a team gone unrewarded, without the title, with so many points.

Top Game: Manchester United's win over Hull did not only prove the quality of their youngsters but also confirmed that Sir Alex Ferguson knows what he is doing. I don't know why many kept ranting on and criticising Fergie for lining up a young team. We have seen for nearly a quarter of a century now, he knows what he is doing and he does it best. They have huge resources, so, why shouldn't they use them?!

Top Goal: Nicolas Anelka's goal was a beauty with the outside of his right foot, same goes for Robin van Persie's second. But Darron Gibson's far range stunner that won the match for United wins the laud from me, just one touch from Federico Macheda's cross, very convincingly impressive.

Top Team: United is the obvious pick again, but Liverpool deserve the same respect and recognition for reaching their club-record number of points. It is the first time a team with that many points has not been crowned champions, as mentioned above. They still did not lose any face, passion or quality, even after they were given no chance to catch up with United for the last month or so. They will most probably be darning the (lost) situation, but it is the best they have been in for many years which can only be the more inspiring and motivating for next season.

Top Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson and his record with United is untouchable. But nevertheless, Roy Hodgson and Steve Bruce have also done a brill job, securing and improving their teams status and stability/chances of progress in the Premier League.

Top Player: There are some obvious picks on the scoring list again this week, i.e. Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka, but my vote goes to Dirk Kuyt. In this match, like in all of them this season, he ran his socks of left, right and centre, enjoying chances himself - including the one that ended up as an own goal, but also being a quality provider again, too. Too often his contributions get overlooked and all the laud goes to the usual main playmakers and top scorers, as named above.

Flop Game and Team: I was disappointed with Newcastle. Them having the easiest fixture amongst the relegation-battlers, they seemed to be giving the least, fighting the least. The own goal conceded by Damien Duff hurt but it just did not seem like the Magpies cared jointly and severally. Shame to see them go down, but in the end, I cannot say the others deserved it less to stay up. As they say, the table never lies. As Alan Curbishley put it, it was a car crash waiting to happen.

Flop Goal: The Damien Duff own goal mentioned above just hurt the most. James Beattie's own goal he conceded against Arsenal looked the more comical - quality elegant shot, just in the wrong net...

Flop Manager: Alan Shearer, I just feel sorry for him. He was assigned with an impossible job, I think; not exactly the start you want to make in your managerial career. I don't know what Newcastle were hoping he could do, he is not a magician. They will all have to work hard and make major changes, on the pitch and behind the scenes, if they want to make a comeback into the top-flight.

Flop Player: David Edgar's sending off just reflects his team's season, what was he thinking?! Or expecting?!

My Predictions - Actual Scores

Arsenal 2:1 Stoke City - 4:1
Aston Villa 1:1 Newcastle - 1:0
Blackburn 2:0 West Brom - 0:0
Fulham 2:2 Everton - 0:2
Hull City 1:2 Man Utd - 0:1
Liverpool 3:1 Tottenham - 3:1
Man City 1:0 Bolton - 1:0
Sunderland 1:4 Chelsea - 2:3
West Ham 2:1 Middlesbrough - 2:1
Wigan 1:1 Portysmouth - 1:0

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops: Picks of the Weekend

Sports - Football - Premier League

This week has seen just one part of the relegation battle decided with West Brom losing out and the crown once again going to the kings Manchester United. The last week of the season will not lose out on tention and excitement though, with Newcastle, Hull City and Sunderland still to fight it out who will stay up and who will go down.

Top Game: Although there were not any goals to cheer about, I think both Manchester United and Arsenal were able to be happy about the 0:0 draw, United because it won them the title, Arsenal because they were spared from yet another thrashing.

Top Goal: Gretar Steinsson's far range goal for Boltons impressive, but Tuncay Sanli's overhead kick was breathtaking and and the more crucial for Middlesbrough's relegation battle. Fulham's goal was good team work and cool and calm completion by Clint Dempsey and Diomansy Kamara, the more painful for Newcastle though.

Top Save: Jussi Jaaskelainen made some great saves for Bolton, denying Hull City three crucial points. Pepe Reina did the same to West Brom and Jonathan Greening with a brilliant double save at the end of the match. It seemed to be a weekend of too-good-too-cruel goalkeepers, Fulham's Mark Schwarzer also palming away fine attempts from struggling Newcastle's Nicky Butt.

Top Team Fans: Again, I laud West Brom - to say they have been doomed for months, they still fought on and their fans cheered and sung them on. Great to see, shame to be relegated.

Flop Game: Portsmouth's comfortable 3:1 win against strugglers Sunderland increased the worry about survival for the Black Cats looking at the last weekend of the season when they have to face Chelsea. Of course it depends on how fellow strugglers Newcastle and Hull City play against Aston Villa and Manchester United respectively, too, but regarding all three opositions and their mindset and probable team lineup, I think Sunderland will not or should not be the most optimistic, that is for sure.

Flop Goal: Hull were maybe denied a win by Jaaskelainen but were given a goal by Trotters defender Danny Shittu who failed to clear the ball and gave Craig Fagan an easy chance to slide in and equalise. Steven Gerrard's march past Shelton Martis and through to West Brom's goal was heartbreaking to watch, especially after the urge to fight back West Brom have shown lately with hardly any hope left.

Flop Teams and Refs: Both Middlesbrough and Newcastle were the unlucky ones this weekend. Both teams have been on the wrong side of referees' decision too often this season. Injuries have not helped them in their quest either. This week, I just cannot see why Mark Viduka's goal was not given. There was no foul. It is just unrealistic to expect goalkeepers to stay untouched. They are just as much a player as the other ten men of their team are, so why can they not get covered or touched at all?

Flop Players: Jamie Carragher clashing with Alvaro Arbeloa is understandable looking at Carra's heart and desire for his team and their clean sheet but is everything else but productive and impressive. He had a point against Arbeloa, who was rarely in his cover position, too often too far forward, giving bottom-of-the-table West Brom too many too good chances in attack and to advance. But, the last thing any team needs is a feud on the pitch.

My Predictions - Actual Results

Bolton 1:1 Hull City - 1:1
Chelsea 3:0 Blackburn - 2:0
Everton 1:1 West Ham - 3:1
Man Utd 2:0 Arsenal - 0:0
Middlesbrough 2:1 Aston Villa - 1:1
Newcastle 2:1 Fulham - 0:1
Portsmouth 2:0 Sunderland - 3:1
Stoke 1:0 Wigan - 2:0
Tottenham 1:0 Man City - 2:1
West Brom 0:3 Liverpool - 0:2

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops: Picks of the Weekend

Sports - Football - Premier League

Top Game: Newcastle's win against Middlesbrough was the most crucial of them all. We will see if they left it too late or if it will keep them afloat.

Top Goal: Both of Diomansy Kamara's goals for Fulham were top-notch, but especially his second, the cheeky back-heeler, was a pleasure to watch, not if you were the goalkeeper though. Nicolas Anelka's fine strike curled and fooled its way past the goaly in a top-quality manner, too, only few players are able to do that.

Top Team: Manchester United is the obvious pick after their 2:0 win in a tricky derby, but their run and dominance has been going for weeks, so it is no surprise to find them at the top and near-cert champions. Stoke and Blackburn also deserve laud securing their Premier League status for next season, but I have to pick West Brom for still serving great goals and wins to their fans although they have been the team stamped as relegated for months now.

Top Manager: Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce will be thinking "job done" after both teams have most certainly reached Premier League safety with good wins this weekend.

Top Player: Carlos Tevez's response to all the stories and press coverage of his will to leave the club and critique on Ferguson could not have been better, a brilliant display and a more than satisfying goal. Many Premier League clubs will be cuing if it will be the case of Tevez leaving United.

Flop Game: Arsenal's thrashing by Chelsea was sad to see, a disappointment not only to their fans but to the neutrals that always knew them as title contenders, just to see them melt away like that. They definitely need players with experience if they want to be in the title race with a shout next season. The two 0:0 matches gave the impression that none of the teams wanted to score not even mentioning winning. Shame for the game. Why did they bother to turn up in the first place?

Flop Team: Hull City were a disappointment again this weekend, although Stoke's goals would have beaten many teams, still, the Tigers will have to show and do so much more to hang on to the Premier League which looks less likely looking at the points they have been dropping and Manchester United being their last opponents. They can only hope United will secure the title until then and will line up their B or C team against them.
Flop Player: What was Hammers' David Di Michele thinking when he fell to the ground touched only by air and with a definite chance to score right in front of his nose?! Good on Pepe Reina trying to shake his colleague awake to make him realise how pathetic his action and appeal were. Ronaldo also needs mentioning again for his moaning and spoilt crybaby attitude. Shame on him.

My Predictions - Actual Results

Arsenal 1:0 Chelsea - 1:4
Blackburn 2:0 Portsmouth - 2:0
Bolton 3:1 Sunderland - 0:0
Everton 2:1 Tottenham - 0:0
Fulham 2:2 Aston Villa - 3:1
Hull City 1:2 Stoke City - 1:2
Man Utd 2:1 Man City - 2:0
Newcastle 1:1 Middlesbrough - 3:1
West Brom 0:2 Wigan - 3:1
West Ham 1:2 Liverpool - 0:3

Friday, 8 May 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops: Picks of the last 3 weeks

Sports - Football - Premier League

It has been a while since I have made my last picks. Basically, I could not have dreamt up what has been going on lately, in my world and football world. Nearly everything you can find in a football dictionary has been happening, flourishing and feeding every football fans hunger and lust as well as tears and fears in the last couple of weeks - depending on which side you are on. So, with loads to choose from, I have picked what I feel have been the best and worst, the most crucial, decisive and important results, goals, actions and moments in the Premier league over the last three weeks.

Top Games: Liverpool's 4-4 draw with Arsenal was a throat-drying, voice-erasing nail-biter that led to dizziness and loss of score-who-what-how-when-orientation at times, especially at the end. Unforgettable.
Manchester United's wins at the Riverside and at home against Tottenham may have looked cruel to some, especially the oppositions' fans, but were the most crucial wins and deciders to whom the title will go and just showed with what quality and resistance United can hit back when there is just a hint of doubt in the air about their display and success.
West Brom's comfortable home win against Sunderland will not fool them out of relegation, but was great to see they have not lost their spirit. Good and refreshing for the game, less so for Sunderland who are still not completely freed of relegations worries.

Top Teams: Their runs say it all, Liverpool and Arsenal have only dropped 2 points out of their last 6 matches - and that was in the 4-4 crunching thriller-delight against each other they gave us mentioned above. With most of the spectators, fans and experts having written off their chances weeks ago to challenge the title or a direct Champions League qualification place respectively, it is great to see them keeping up the pace and that last glimmer of hope and chance to take that spot off their rivals after.
Same goes for Manchester United and Chelsea. Despite suffering more defeats, they have hit out goals, goals, goals and beauties of them when they were most needed. Manchester City and Tottenham need mentioning as well, who follow the top four with four wins of their last six matches and credit to their managers to getting them where they are after taking them over in worrying times a glance away from the relegation places.

Top Managers: As mentioned above, Harry Redknapp and Mark Hughes have come through a critical crunch-crisis time well and productively. I am looking forward to what we will get from them next season. I feel sorry for Ricky Sbragia and Alan Shearer, who have taken over two failing and falling teams and want to compliment and praise them on how they have been doing their job, staying realistic and withstanding all the doom and gloom well. I feel Roy Hodgson stays too unnoticed for the good job he is doing at Fulham and his positive but straight, realistic and honest way that more managers should take on. Same goes for Gianfranco Zola. I loved him as a player and he is establishing himself as manager slowly but well and surely now, too.

Top Players: There are always the obvious top picks like Torres, Gerrard, Rooney, Ronaldo; so, I feel no need of doing that here. Andrey Arshavin is another obvious pick after his quadruple versus Liverpool. I feel Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun have have run their socks and heads of for their side and deserve the recognition as main players and contributors in the Reds' title just as much and many times as the players named above get it. Same goes for Ryan Giggs. I was surprised he has not won the PFA player of the year award more often. He too often slipped behind the main players' media persona whilst being the backbone of the team for a very long time now. After a lot of criticism, Robinho has showed how crucial he is to his side against Everton helping his side to their first away win since August scoring and setting one up. With all his ups and downs, Man City can be happy with his season contribution overall and can only hope for more of it next season.

Top Goals: There have been so many, but stuck in my memory especially are Xabi Alonso's rebound bullet against Hull and Ryan Giggs' fine strike against Middlesbrough. Both goals Cesc Fabregas scored against Middlesbrough were beauties, too, not just the execution and cool, quality and unstoppable conversion of them, but also the exemplary team work and fine passing combination that led to them.

Flop Games: Manchester United's five-goal sinking of Tottenham was a shocking shame after seeing the first half Spurs enjoyed. The second half was shambles, and a worrying collapse by the London side after the mistaken penalty decision. Never nice to watch - unless you were a United fan of course. Hull's defeat to Sunderland surprised me after the Black Cats suffered a defeat against West Brom the week before, I thought the Tigers would be able to capitalise and get three crucial points to keep them safe, but, fool me.

Flop Teams: After their promising start to their first season in the top tier of English football, I think Hull City have made the biggest collapse of them all. Four defeats in a row, five out of the last six alone, against fellow strugglers amongst others that served them chances for points they should have grabbed for survival. Newcastle face the possibility of sinking down and out of the Premier League, too, for the first time since they won promotion to the newly-branded FA Carling Premiership 16 years ago. Alan Shearer is no miracle man, I feel sorry for him to be given that role but he has been coping well under the circumstances I feel.

Flop Managers: Phil Brown, Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez are all guilty of mouthing off accusations, assumptions and excuses for anything that could affect their team and kick off a conflict that they hope will distract their opposition and cause them to slip up and distract from their own leaks and errors. I just call that acts of childish, bad losers which I hate to see and listen to. Just concede your mistakes and laud the other teams success and quality and learn from them for the next encounter. The more respect and awe you earn from everyone.

Flop Players: Joey Barton has without a doubt used up his chances and opportunities to make up for his past offences and mistakes with his sending off against Liverpool. A line has to be drawn, full stop. Otherwise, young kids and players-to-be watching could be given the wrong idea of the game.
All the whining, crying and diving world players like Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo have been doing on a too regular bases, is made worse by the fact they are supposed to be the top and icons of the sport. Please, keep on your breathtaking play but lose your crybaby and spoilsport sides of character otherwise you will lose out on the respect and recognition you deserve as players of your quality and talent.

Flop Goals: David James' howler against Arsenal was a cringe and laugh - depending which side you are on. Liverpool's defensive leaks have not helped their title challenge of late, but on the other side of the pitch they have been scoring enough to keep them collecting crucial points. But still, it should not distract and take the attention away from their defensive problems, which is very unlike the red Merseysiders.

Flop Refs: Again and again, referees turn a blind eye or just blatantly cannot see from where they are standing on decisions that make out matches and the teams' season in the end. Be it corners, offsides, free kicks, bookings, sending offs or penalties - they are all crucial decisions that can lead to goals or should be goals that can change the run of play and decide results and the teams' destiny in the league. Why they have not introduced the video backup yet, I do not know! What does it take to have a look at a quick replay? At this decisive crunch time of the season, it has become more and more evident how desperate the game and sport is to introduce video replays to refereeing.

My Predictions - Actual Results

Aston Villa 1:0 Hull - 1:0
Liverpool 4:0 Newcastle - 3:0
Sunderland 1:1 Everton - 0:2
Chelsea 0:0 Fulham - 3:1
Man City 2:0 Blackburn - 3:1
Middlesbrough 2:2 Man Utd - 0:2
Portsmouth 2:3 Arsenal - 0:3
Stoke 2:2 West Ham - 0:1
Tottenham 1:0 West Brom - 1:0
Wigan 1:0 Bolton - 0:0
Newcastle 1:1 Portsmouth - 0:0
Arsenal 3:0 Middlesbrough - 2:0
Blackburn 2:2 Wigan - 2:0
Bolton 2:1 Aston Villa - 1:1
Everton 2:0 Man City - 1:2
Fulham 0:0 Stoke - 1:0
Hull 1:2 Liverpool - 1:3
Man Utd 1:0 Tottenham - 5:2
West Brom 1:1 Sunderland - 3:0
West Ham 1:1 Chelsea - 0:1
Chelsea 2:2 Everton - 0:0
Man Utd 2:1 Portsmouth - 2:0
Liverpool 1:1 Arsenal - 4:4
Man City 2:0 West Brom - 4:2
Tottenham 2:1 Newcastle - 1:0
Aston Villa 1:0 West Ham - 1:1
Middlesbrough 1:3 Fulham - 0:0
Portsmouth 2:2 Bolton - 1:0
Stoke 2:0 Blackburn - 1:0
Sunderland 1:1 Hull - 1:0