Monday, 31 August 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Adrenaline was running high at Old Trafford, nerves were pumping wild at the Reebok Stadium and Stamford Bridge had plenty of reasons to cheer and jeer:



Top game: An intense encounter between bitter rivals made the match at Old Trafford the one worth watching most. Especially after all the furore Arsenal caused midweek in the Champions League qualifier against Celtic, all the eyes were on the players' and referee's actions and reactions. Everything and everyone was put under scrutiny.

Top team: Chelsea looked unstoppable with some beautiful fluent and fast play. It is only thanks to exemplary goalkeeping, Burnley did not end up thrashed by six, seven or even more. And this is the same confident and competent team that came to Stamford Bridge after they had beaten Manchester United and Everton.


Top player: It was a weekend of super-subs at White Hart Lane. Birmingham's Christian Benitez created most pressure and served for the equalizer. He was a livewire for his side. Peter Crouch was the same for the home side. He came on for an injured Luka Modric, who suffered a fracture to his leg. After missing a set of chances, the striker headed a free kick into the right corner of the net. Both players were crucial for their sides and the run of play, the home side ending up on top.

Top goal: Andrey Arshavin's super strike, a wonderful right-foot belter, which took the lead at Old Trafford, was the most crucial and decisive after just moments before that the Russian striker was brought down by Darren Fletcher and denied a penalty. Great statement to make and way to react and reply to that letdown by the referee. Steven Gerrard's bullet-volley from the edge of the box was just as breathtaking and opposition-silencing.


Top save: Burnley could have conceded dozens of goals if it were not for their goalkeeper Brian Jensen. Chelsea had 25 attempts, with over half on target, it could have ended up in a gate-crashing thrash, if the goalkeeper would not have been omnipresent and the top stopper he was on the day.

Top manager: Alex Ferguson must have said something right at half time, because United were a different side in the second half. They started the match holding off Arsenal, being chased around and laboured, not creating anything themselves. The second half, they put on the pressure and thereby made Arsenal slip up and give the match away. It was not the best and most convincing way of winning, but in the end, Ferguson got three points out of it and that is the main thing, especially against thier main rivals.


Flop game: Blackburn's goalless draw against West Ham was a wretched match, but the only disappointment of the weekend.

Flop team: Arsenal could not have been more hypocritical. They were the side on top, dominating the home side. Then they started to slip and give the match away with an own goal out of nowhere and stupid, stupid, stupid fowling, diving and whining.

Flop player: Emmanuel Eboue's dive, after everything that has happened in the last week, discredited and disrespected him and his side in my eyes. It was just plainly stupid and it has nothing to do in football, a supposed man's game.


Flop goal: Abou Diaby's own goal off a United counter attack started off the crumbling of Arsenal's cookie. The class performance and dominance could have hardly ended more ugly and stupid, with not much influence of the opposition.

Flop manager: Arsene Wenger and his antiques for the press and opposing fans to thrive on, just summed up the day for Arsenal. His and his side's childish actions and reactions look everything else but professional and will hardly make them champions or even win a case like the one against Eduardo. They have drawn a contrasting sad picture of themselves after starting the season with some beautiful football.

My Predictions - Actual Results
Blackburn 0:1 West Ham - 0:0
Bolton 0:2 Liverpool - 2:3
Chelsea 2:1 Burnley - 3:0
Man Utd 1:2 Arsenal - 2:1
Stoke 3:0 Sunderland - 1:0
Tottenham 2:0 Birmingham - 2:1
Wolves 0:1 Hull City - 1:1
Aston Villa 0:1 Fulham - 2:0
Everton 0:2 Wigan -2:1
Portsmouth 0:1 Man City - 0:1

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

This weekend once again saw twists and turns, delights and outrages, quality and embarrassments:


Top Game: Sunderland's win over Blackburn was the most contrasting result in relation to the actual match. How the ball did not end up in the net more than once for Blackburn and how they ended up on the losing side is inexplicable looking at the chances and dominance they had. They were on top and Sunderland struggling until the visitors fell asleep and gave away the match. Similar to Liverpool's defeat - just examples of when the scores do not reflect the match in the slightest. Seemed to be the theme of the week...

Top Team: Manchester United got back on track this week thumping Wigan. Arsenal served a quality match with plenty quality goals. And Burnley continued their high ride start to their Premier League campaign with a win against a struggling Everton side. But Blackburn and Wigan impressed me most. Both were on the losing side this week but created chance after chance and great entertainment and competitive football.


Top Player: Wayne Rooney scored his 100th and 101st goal for United, stealing the goals, match and show and making him the 21st centurian goal scorer for United. Michael Owen scored his first Premier League goal for the side, hoping to reach similar peaks as his Scouser colleague - which made me grin thinking back to the period he scored over a century of goals for their main rivals. How times have changed.

Top Goal: Carlton Cole's top-draw left-footed turn-strike for West Ham against Tottenham was a beauty. He created a lot of chances for his side, shame he also served Spurs one on a plate, giving the ball away to Jermain Defoe, who did not waste the present to equalise.


Top Save: Brad Friedel did a brilliant job for Aston Villa, making numerous stops and saves for his side. And if it were not for the saves Ben Foster made for Man Utd, the game could have developed very differently, the score not reflecting the threat Wigan were at times.

Flop Team: Liverpool created enough pressure from loads of possession but looked chaotic and clumsy at times, slipping up and losing the ball at crucial times. Man Utd did not look much better in the first half against Wigan, but certainly turned that around in the second half, making the defeat against Burnley fall into oblivion.


Flop Player: If Andriy Voronin or Ryan Babel were supposed to be match-saving subs and are the best Liverpool have on the bench, it indicates very much what they are lacking: resources, backup, alternatives. As I wrote in my season preview, they will need THAT player that can turn up when the team is disappointing and turn the game around. So far, not good and no one spotted.

Flop Goals: Lucas Leiva's own goal crowned and Steven Gerrard conceding a penalty just minutes after his side finally scored peaked the frustration and misery for Liverpool.

My Predictions - Actual Results
Arsenal 3:0 Portsmouth - 4:1
Birmingham 2:0 Stoke - 0:0
Hull City 0:0 Bolton - 1:0
Man City 2:0 Wolves - 1:0
Sunderland 0:1 Blackburn - 2:1
Wigan 1:3 Man Utd - 0:5
Burnley 2:0 Everton - 1:0
Fulham 1:1 Chelsea - 0:2
West Ham 1:3 Tottenham - 1:2
Liverpool 2:0 Aston Villa - 1:3

Aston Villa end Liverpool's unbeaten run at home

Sports - Football - Premier League - Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa

Liverpool experienced a frustrating defeat against Aston Villa at Anfield, ending their unbeaten run at home of over 30 matches.


The Reds dictated most of the match with over two thirds of the possession, over twenty attempts, half of which were on target. Aston Villa were kept more than busy and pushed back into their territory for most of the match.

A mis-hit by Fernando Torres led to a scramble in the Villa box, Yossi Benayoun ending up being denied and so too Steven Gerrard, foiled by Brad Friedel's feet. That was just one of many scrambles and misses for Liverpool, chance after chance they scrapped, slipped and looked clumsy at times.


Villa played a classic counter attacking game, their goalkeeper Friedel and defence, Curtis Davies especially, starring most and shining solid. When they won a free kick left wide outside Liverpool's box just part the half-hour mark, they made use of that rare chance of pressure and attack. Lucas Leiva headed the ball into his own net, changing the score against the run of play.

Just before halt time, the game turned even further on its head and more misery was piled onto the Reds. Liverpool's zonal marking strategy failed once again when Davies headed Nicky Shorey's corner into the right corner of the net, past Torres and Jamie Carragher. That made it 0-2 to Aston Villa at half time and left Anfield stunned, in disbelief after all their side's dominance and chances.


In the second half, Liverpool kept the upper hand, control and dominance of the game and play but not of the score line. Torres finally got a goal back, a free hit for the home side with just under 20 minutes to go.

But just minutes later, the game saw another twist, with an unlikely villain, Gerrard conceding a penalty after he brought down Nigel Reo-Coker inside the box. Ashley Young converted from the spot, sending Pepe Reina the wrong way and Liverpool onto the wrong side of the scoreboard and into turmoil after their second defeat out of just three games played so far in the new season.

Liverpool Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas (65 Voronin), Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (74 Babel); Torres. Subs not used Cavalieri, Riera, Kelly, Dossena, Ayala. Bookings 47 Reina, 77 Torres, 88 Skrtel.

Aston Villa Friedel; Beye, Davies, Cuellar, Shorey; Milner, Sidwell, Petrov, Reo-Coker; Young (79 Heskey), Agbonlahor. Subs not used Guzan, Albrighton, Delfouneso, Delph, Gardner, Lowry. Bookings 12 Young, 57 Reo-Coker.

1st half stats: Liverpool-Aston Villa
Attempts: 9-5
On target: 5-3
Offsides: 0-2
Corners: 2-3
Free kicks: 5-7

2nd half stats: Liverpool-Aston Villa
Attempts: 14-1
On target: 7-1
Offsides: 1-1
Corners: 5-1
Free kicks: 4-5

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Monday, 24 August 2009

Fifth Ashes Test, Oval, Day Four

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the fourth day:

Australia were crushed to a 197-run defeat and 2-1 series loss on the fourth day of the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Kennington Oval. After the Aussies had built up a productive and solid partnership past lunch, they gave away their wickets in extraordinary fashion. The last five wickets fell for only 21 runs, putting a sparkling glorious end to the series for England, who thereby regained the Ashes.



Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, Australia 171 for 2 (375 behind) at lunch: England for striking when Australia started to look comfortable and showed signs of consistency.

2nd session, Australia 265 for 5 (281 behind) at tea: England for once again seizing the opportunities when Australia were starting to build on their innings.

3rd session, Australia 348 all out, England win by 197 runs and regain the Ashes: England for well and truely outplaying Australia in this match, regaining the Ashes and deservedly so.

Partnerships:

- 127 runs between Ricky Ponting (66) and Mike Hussey (54): After two wickets in consecutive overs before lunch, Ponting and Hussey batted past lunch and into the afternoon. Their partnership actually got the "could-it-be-possible-for-the-Aussies" thoughts and discussions going, until a brilliant move and direct hit by Andrew Flintoff run out Ponting. That turned the tide again - if it was ever gone from England in the first place. Four balls after their captain's exit, Michael Clarke was run out, too, and not long after that, Marcus North followed him after being stumped by some sharp work from Matt Prior. "Stupid clowns" is what the commentators chose to call the batsmen and summarize the Aussie players' display and how they passed that test of stamina at the most crucial of times and tests. Extraordinary moments.


- 91 runs between Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin (34): Hussey and Haddin held Australia past tea, until the inevitable collapse came- the last five wickets falling for just 21 runs, all edged and caught off some fine, slick and smart bowling. They just avoided an even worse defeat, nothing more.

Bowling: Graeme Swann and Steve Harmison picked Australia apart. Stuart Broad, Flintoff and James Anderson were also effective but less lethal this time around - Flintoff's only wicket contribution was a superb throw smashing into the middle stump to run out none-other than Ricky Ponting. In the end, they all contributed in one way or the other; ball, field and/or atmosphere.


Ups: All the players that have been doubted and criticised most have risen and flourished to the occasion: Man of the Match Stuart Broad tops the English wicket taking list of the tournament with 18. He is the only bowler to have achieved the five-wicket hawl twice in the series and is followed by Swann with 14 wickets. Both of them won the last deciding test match with their wickets; not to forget Anderson and Graham Onions with their vital series contributions of 12 and 10 wickets though.

And last but everything else but least Man of the Series skipper Andrew Strauss, who led his side in exemplary fashion and tops the runs list with 474 runs, one century (the highest individual score of the series with 161 runs) and 3 half centuries. He beat Michael Clarke with 448 (2 centuries, 2 half centuries) and Ricky Ponting with 385 (1 century, 2 half). Hopefully, all those stats and facts are examples England can buils on and indications for a glorious future, even without top men like Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

The Australian bowlers and Ashes debutants starred for their side, Ben Hilfenhaus with 22 wickets, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson with 20, but with their lack of variety, they lost out to the English variety of weather, pitches and bowlers.

Downs: Not all players shone, some disappointing continuously and should maybe be worried and made to fight for their positions: Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell. Nine out of ten occasions, they all failed to impress and make the most out of bat and ball and thrive in their position. Even the lower order were able to make a better job of it, a couple of times. I am not saying they should be withdrawn and cut off straight away, but just indicating where I think improvements have to be made and who needs wake-up calls.


Hero to zero: Ricky Ponting, the legend of a captain he is, has not achieved a series win on English soil so far. The Australian fans and media layed the blame firmly on their skipper after another deafeat - but this side is in the rebuilding process and has a long way to fill their legends' shoes, the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, Mark Waugh et al.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Fifth Ashes Test, Oval, Day Three

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the third day:

Warwickshire batsman Jonathan Trott lead an entertaining batting display by England with his debut century on day three of the final Ashes Test at the Kennington Oval. With their lack of spin, Australia were unable to get an early breakthrough, Trott and his captain batting patiently and defiantly to a century partnership. When the wickets started to fall, the lower order added entertainment, flamboyancy and plenty of runs and boundaries, giving the Aussies a record total of 546 to win the match and retain the Ashes.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, England 157 for 4 (329 ahead) at lunch: England for some defiant cricket, making the Aussies look unimposing and unperilous.

2nd session, England 290 for 7 (462 ahead) at tea: England for smashing away any glimmer of hope for Australia, even after losing wickets.

3rd session, England declared 373 for 9 (546 lead), Australia 80 for 0 (466 behind) at the end of day three: England for setting Australia an impossible task, needing to break all records to retain the Ashes.


Partnerships:

- 118 runs between Andrew Strauss (48) and Jonathan Trott (50): Both dominated the Australian bowlers with patience and defiance, nothing extravangant, no flash and bang, just quality test match cricket. They confidently walked down the pitch against Stuart Clark, hitting fours down extra cover, square, backward point, all over the ground. Strauss obviously cursed himself after he gave away his wicket, a lovely little edge for a bowler, caught by Michael Clarke for 75 off 191. Trott stayed on more of a background player, watching the others bash and smash whilst he contributed with some beauties and plotted on.

Matt Prior's bad judgement led to him being run out for just four, a direct hit by a brilliant throw from Simon Katich. Andrew Flintoff fired 22 off 17, his last contribution as a England test batsman. He tried to play a lofted shot to Marcus North, over deep long on, when he was caught by Peter Siddle. Stuart Broad continued the flash, 29 off 35, with some beautiful drives and graceful boundaries, dismissing the Aussie bowlers. After consecutive boundaries, Broad spooned one in the air, caught by Ricky Ponting. But England had already extended the lead to over 400.


- 90 runs between Jonathan Trott (20) and Graeme Swann (63): The entertainment continued with Swann joining the party, coming down the pitch against North with some lovely reverse sweeps. He was eventually caught behind when he tried to hook the shot but it spooned off the slice of the bat to Brad Haddin. James Anderson came on to watch Trott finally pass the 100 mark, a committed, clynical, solid innings with drives, cuts and pull shots, making Australia look woeful. The declaration came as soon as the centurian fell, caught by North for 119 off 193, England 333 for 8, leaving Australia chasing a massive 546. Australia started strong on 80 for 0 at stumps, but will need a miraculous innings and partnership if they want to stay in the match and Ashes with a shout.

Bowling: Australia's lack of spin has cost them dearly. North was the most effective with four wickets, Mitchell Johnson contributing with two, Clark and Ben Hilfenhaus more anonymous but one wicket each. None of them was a constant threat though, each conceding a bulk of runs and boundaries, Siddle and Clarke ditto. In the end, it was England's smashing and bashing batting that led to the wickets and catches, less the bowling, Strauss' wicket the exception, lovely little edge for North.


Ups: Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries in many beautiful varieties and ways - Trott leading the lot with his debut century.

Downs: Captain Strauss could have reached the sky if only he had not given away his wicket just before lunch. He is still the leading run scorer of the series though.

Hero to zero: After the fourth Ashes Test, everyone was on about the Aussies being a threat and in form, a big threat. I have seen nothing of that in this test. Shocking.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Fifth Ashes Test, Oval, Day Two

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the second day:

England's last wickets fell early in the morning, all out for 332 runs, on day two of the fifth Ashes test at the Kennington Oval. Their bowling started just as frustrating, looking dangerous and aggressive at times but not getting the breakthrough they needed before lunch. It could not have turned more dramatically and changed more drastically after the interval though: Australia crashed sensationally, losing ten wickets for just 87 runs in under 30 overs. They got a couple of wickets and some pride back in the last hour-and-a-bit of play but will need much more to drag themselves back into the match with England leading by 230, with seven wickets in hand.


Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, England 332 all out, Australia 61 for 0 (271 behind) at lunch: Australia for keeping their cool and grip on the game.

2nd session, Australia 133 for 8 at tea (199 behind): England's bowlers swept the Aussies away, unbelievable, undreamable session!

3rd session, Australia 160 all out (172 behind), England at the end of day two: Australia for scraping back a couple of wickets when it was most crucial and it looked all doom and gloom for them.


Partnership: 61 runs between Shane Watson (30) and Simon Katich (26): The only notable partnership for Australia. Watson and Katich were able to overcome early nerves and shivers, frustrating the opening bowlers. Watson fell first after a delayed start after lunch due to rain, dead lbw from a full delivery by Stuart Broad. The young bowler, who had a point to prove against his doubters of late, then began a role with Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke all falling victim to his spree - two lbw and the last caught low by Jonathan Trott at short extra-cover. The Aussies could not recover from the Broad massacre. Graeme Swann added his sword to the fight, having the only little glimmer of hope and light in the dark and depressing Australian batting line-up caught by Alastair Cook, out for 50 off 107.


Bowling: Stuart Broad starred once again, achieving his third Test five-wicket haul, Graeme Swann helping out with four wickets of his own. That did not leave James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff with much to take, although they created most of the early pressure, to no avail though. The Aussies did not look too much in danger until after the interval, when Broad came into it, explosive and lethal for Australia. Freddie snatched the last one in the end, leaving the Aussies with their lowest total at the Oval since 1997 and their fourth-lowest post-war.

Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson were able to remove Cook, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, all three of them looking like they did not want to be at the crease in the first place. They did not stay there for long, caught out for nine, four runs and one run respectively. That left captain Strauss on 32 and Jonathan Trott on 8 at the end of the second day.


Ups: Wickets, wickets, wickets - it definitely was worth any money or time spent on the second day. England could not have dreamt up a better start, just like the Aussies in the fourth test. But, careful, the last time England enjoyed a spree like this (third Ashes Test at Edgbaston, day two), Australia were able to bat out a draw... Not this time hopefully!!!

Downs: A couple of the umpiring decisions were horrendous, lbw when it hit the bat, catch when it was nowhere near the bat,... But when you are on a role, things like this swing your way and that certainly was the case for England today. Australia got a lucky decision back, Collingwood's wicket coming off a no ball by the looks of it. It all evens out in the end.

Hero to zero: Not for the first time, I am left wondering what all the fuss is about Freddie Flintoff?! Broad and Swann stole the show, so, why is all the flap and talk always about Freddie, if he, will he, won't he?! And who was KP again???

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Fifth Ashes Test, Oval, Day One

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the first day:

England won the toss and chose to bat with Andrew Flintoff back from injury and Jonathan Trott making his debut against an unchanged Australian side at the Kennington Oval. After losing an early wicket in the morning, England recovered well up to lunch and played some beautiful cricket, hitting boundaries on a regular basis. But, one by one, the England line-up fizzled out, each contributing their little part, ending the first day of the final Ashes test disappointingly but something the bowlers can work with at 307 for 8.


Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, England 108 for 1 at lunch: England will have been the happier having recovered and built up a partnership after they had lost an early wicket.

2nd session, England 180 for 3 at tea: England kept the scoreboard ticking and the entertaining cricket going, eventhough they lost a couple of wickets.

3rd session, England 307 for 8 at the end of day one: Australia pulled the advantage back and shattered any hopes of a high score for England, no batsmen reaching a century, once again.


Partnerships:

- 102 runs between Andrew Strauss (55) and Ian Bell (41): After Alastair Cook fell early, giving a catch away to Ricky Ponting with a poor shot off the side of the bat for 10 off 12, the England skipper showed his team again how to work the works and score the runs, until lunch at least. Bell joined in and also contributed some beautiful and brutal cuts for fours. Strauss eventually got out for 55 off 101 with his only underdetermined shot of the day - which replays showed came off a no ball. Unlucky.

- 62 runs between Ian Bell (31) and Paul Collingwood (24): Bell continued strong after his captain's departure, completing a hard-earned half-century and looking to continue nice and strong. Collingwood worked hard to keep up with his batting colleague but just did not look like he was comfortable in his role and got caught in gully. Bell fell shortly afterwards for 72 off 137, an inside-edge onto his stumps.


- 48 runs between Jonathan Trott (22) and Matt Prior (18): The debutant, replacing Ravi Bopara, started nervously, edgy and a bit silly but later showed off some cheeky and bold shots with Prior contributing well, too. But it did not last long enough to build anything solid, Prior losing control and giving away a stupid shot and catch to Shane Watson, falling for Mitchell Johnson's change of pace. Andrew Flintoff fell cheaply for only 7, giving a catch away, after being applauded and cheered onto the pitch for his last match in an England Test shirt. Trott got run out for 41 off 81 thanks to quick thinking by Simon Katich, the debutant thinking he smacked it, but got snapped out of it. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad looked like they were going to hit off a great partnership again, putting runs on the board whilst Australia would have thought they could and should cut through the lower order. But those hopes were dashed, Swann falling to the last ball of the day, caught behind.


Bowling: Peter Siddle got four of the day's wickets, looking the most dangerous from the first overs of the day. Mitchell Johnson had on and off spells whilst Ben Hilfenhaus looked unlike his normal excellency. But most of the wickets came from the batsmen's inconsistency and insecurity. Just when you thought they had started something they could build on, they gave their wickets away stupidly. The pitch changed throughout the day, showing uneven bounce and bursts, which will encourage the England bowlers for when they come to field.


Ups: Some beautiful batting, quality drives, brutal cuts, many boundaries, great to watch.

Downs: Too many wickets on a too regular basis, no big partnership, no big individual scores, i.e. centuries, once again.

Hero to zero: Funny contrast how Flintoff was cheered and applauded on like a hero and legend he is - but how much quieter he left the field again shortly after falling cheaply. Hopefully he can do a better job with the ball.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Only six matches were played mid the second week into the new season. But they did not disappoint and offered at least as much entertainment and action as the first weekend encounters all together. And again, there were some shockers and screamers in the extraordinary mix. What more does a football fan want?!


Top game: Manchester United's defeat to Burnley was obviously the biggest shocker, Tottenham's thrashing of Hull City the most entertaining display.

Top team: Tottenham are the team on fire! Like Arsenal last weekend, they were unstoppable and made their opposition's defence look non-existant, this time Hull City being the victim.

Top player: Burnley's goalkeper Brian Jensen was here, there and everywhere, right up the opposition's nose. He gave Manchester United no chance to get an attempt close, making even a penalty save look easy. Tottenham's Jermain Defoe was just as omni-present, hungry and tormenting, just like he was last weekend, too. This time he got the hat-trick he deserved. He is on a roll - and a half.



Top goal: Again, there were so many quality goals to choose from, but Robbie Blake's cracking strike with his right foot was the most shocking, unbelievable and unforgettable! In their first top flight home match in 33 years, the winning goal could not have been better, smiles not bigger and the cheers not louder. Glen Johnson's debut goal for Liverpool was a stunner as well, spectacular jump-turn shot.

Top save: David James made a brilliant save just before his stupid blind act conceded a penalty, fully stretching to his right, making up for his sleeping defence. Pepe Reina's sharp move to his left denied Rory Delap and condemned Stoke to a thrash-defeat.

Flop game: Again, no game disappointed, although Birmingham and Portsmouth left most of the action late, squeezed into the last minutes. But those couple of minutes made up for the wait, too.


Flop team: Man who? Man Utd were frustrated and will wake up the next morning thinking it was all just a bad dream. They could not net any of their 17 attempts, more than double their opposition's chances, or get anything all-too threatening created from over 62% of possession. Scary but made a change. Who said football was predictable?

Flop player: David James, what were you thinking? He was not anywhere near the ball when he ran into Sebastian Larsson and why did he go for it in the first place? He should have stayed on his line, and let his defenders do their job on the wide.

My Predictions - Actual Results
Sunderland 0:1 Chelsea - 1:3
Wigan 1:0 Wolves - 0:1
Birmingham 1:0 Portsmouth - 1:0
Burnley 0:2 Man Utd - 1:0
Liverpool 3:0 Stoke - 4:0
Hull City 1:2 Tottenham - 1:5

Monday, 17 August 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

The 2009-2010 season kicked off with a couple of surprises, a collection of beautiful goals, Arsenal topping both lists:

Top Game: Everton 1-6 Arsenal - I still cannot believe the score when I read and see it now, unfeasible for anyone to have predicted that one right! Goals, goals, goals and beauties they all were, every football fan's phantasy - apart from Evertonians of course.


Top Team: Arsenal will be the side with the biggest smiles on their faces, laughing back nice and loud at all of their critics who predicted doom and gloom for the young side, after they had lost their main players Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure in the transfer window. Again, all the goals were quality and joyful to watch - unless you are a Toffee.

Top Player: Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas defied all his doubters and shone as provider and scorer in the 6-1 romping of Everton at Goodison Park. Many thought he will be the next player to leave the club for a nice lump of cash, but he proved he wants and is worth the shirt and arm band, for keeps.

Top Goal: There are many goals to choose from, most of them from Arsenal, one beauty after another. But my vote goes to Hugo Rodallega's wonderful 25-yard volley over Brad Friedel. Wigan stunned many with a shiny dominant display, Aston Villa especially.

Top Save: There have been a number top-draw saves, but Pepe Reina and Man Utd's Ben Foster lead the list for me. They took most of the breath away and made the heart stop for that split-second of thought and uncertainty, if the ball has gone in or not, on a couple of occasions. Liverpool could have been thrashed by three or four goals, if Pepe would not have made those crucial stops, from sublime to subliminal, denying Robbie Keane to score against his former side and get his sweet revenge.

Flop Game: For the first time, the Premier League has seen the season start without any draws, every game and crowd enjoying/cursing goals, so, no complaints here.

Flop Team: Everton could not have feared or even dreamt up a worse start to a season, a nightmare-disintegration it was. It is their worst home defeat since 1980, say no more. They cannot keep on blaming it on the Joleon Lescott-fiasco, will he stay or will he go. There are eleven players per side and none of them turned up for the Toffees on Saturday.


Flop Player: Jamie Carragher was a shadow of his usual solid self, leaving Sebastien Bassong free to head in Luka Modric's spot-on free kick. He took a knock early in the game when he collided with Martin Skrtel, who required stitches and was taken off eventually. That could explain him being off the pace and less able to cope and cover but cannot be an excuse or make up for his side's sorry display and deserved defeat against a refreshing and promising Tottenham side.

Flop Goal: Stephen Jordan put the ball into the net from a trademark Rory Delap throw-in, could not have been more perfect connection-goal - if only it was not his own net. Those are the moments you just want the ground to swallow you... Stoke 2-0 Burnley...

Flop Manager: Rafael Benitez has been ranting once again, this time against the referee for not giving the away side more than one penalty. He seemed to have forgotten his team were shambles for most of the match and were well and truly and fairly beaten. With all the ifs and buts about the penalties, Tottenham could have had three or four goals anyway if it were not for Pepe, but Rafa obviously forgot or missed that. Think before you rant Rafa!

My Predictions - Actual Results
Aston Villa 1:0 Wigan - 0:2
Blackburn 1:1 Man City - 0:2
Bolton 0:0 Sunderland - 0:1
Chelsea 1:0 Hull City - 2:1
Everton 1:1 Arsenal - 1:6
Man Utd 2:0 Birmingham - 1:0
Portsmouth 0:1 Fulham - 0:1
Stoke City 1:1 Burnley - 2:0
Tottenham 1:2 Liverpool - 2:1
Wolves 0:1 West Ham - 0:2

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Fourth Ashes Test, Headingley, Day Three

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the third day:

England survived until lunch thanks to an impressive batting innings and partnership by Stuart Broad (61) and Graeme Swann (62). But the inevitable defeat came shortly after lunch, Mitchell Johnson completing the third five wicket haul of his career and finishing off England, who were well and truly beaten by an innings and 80 runs.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, England 245 for 8 (200 behind) at lunch: Australia, as the only "worry" for them was if England could avoid an innings-defeat.

2nd session, England 263 all out, Australia beat England by an innings and 80 runs: Australia for dashing even that little hope, thrashing England by over an innings.

Partnerships: 108 runs between Stuart Broad (61) and Graeme Swann (46): A little spree of just 78 balls - 73 runs of the partnership coming from just 5.3 overs - added at least a bit of fun and smiles to the English faces, even if the result was clear and inevitable, one way or the other. After James Anderson and Matt Prior fell early to Ben Hilfenhaus, caught at slip and behind respectively, the match could have ended within the opening hour.

Bowling: Johnson got the five-wicket haul Peter Siddle denied Hilfenhaus, who ended up with four. Siddle knicked a wicket, having Broad caught at backward square-leg and ending an entertaining, but in the big picture, meaningless partnership. Johnson then finished England off having Swann caught behind and Graham Onions bowled, knocking the off-stump over and England out. The Aussies were the stars, Johnson and Hilfenhaus especially, without a doubt, dazzling England out of the park. 

Ups: The England fans got to see more batting and entertainment from the England bowlers than from the top order on the previous day. At least a little bit entertainment during the great depression - the fourth Ashes test.

Downs: Will England be able to get back from this? I know, it is only 1-1, but with the Aussies on fire and England in the dumps, I am not to sure they will be able to get the win they require to regain the Ashes.

Hero to zero: Everyone keeps saying this could not and would not have happened if Kevin Pietersen and/or Andrew Flintoff would have been fit to play, but I do not think so. Stop moaning and start looking: These Aussies, on fire the way they were in this test, would have wiped out KP and Freddie just alike - especially because both have been and shown only a fraction of their best over the last year-or-so.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Fourth Ashes Test, Headingley, Day Two

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the second day:

Australia comfortably added 249 runs to their total for their last six wickets on day two of the fourth Ashes Test at Headingley, Stuart Broad finishing off the lower order with four wickets on the day. That left England trailing by 343 runs and reeling once again after they ended the day five wickets down for only 82 runs, leaving no doubt whatsoever, they will be heading to the Oval needing to win the final test if they want to regain the Ashes, unless a miracle can happen.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, Australia 306 for 5 (204 ahead) at lunch: Australia after enjoying a comfortable morning, no threat whatsoever.

2nd session, Australia 445 all out (343 ahead) at tea: Australia after losing their last five wickets for "only" 142 runs but still being on top.

3rd session, England 82 for 5 (261 behind) at the end of day two: Australia after shattering any hopes for England of producing a miracle-saviour innings.

Partnerships: 

- 152 runs between Michael Clarke (93) and Marcus North (52): England once again could not get the line and length right, giving Clarke and North enough space to place their strokes and proceed play as comfortably as they had the day before. Clarke eventually fell lbw to a Graham Onions' yorker after achieving a marvelous 96 from 138 deliveries. 

- 70 runs between Marcus North (37) and Mitchell Johnson (27): After Brad Haddin got caught out with a premeditated shot for only 14, North and Johnson brought more frustration to and runs against the home side. The short pitch finally paid off against Johnson, who put the ball down Ravi Bopara's throat and was caught for 27 off 53 deliveries. North completed his second century of the series in style, smacking the ball for six and capitalizing of a wary England attack like he had enjoyed all day. He fell for 110, giving Anderson an easy catch and Broad his sixth wicket with Australia finishing the innings 445 all out. 

- 58 runs between Andrew Strauss (17) and Alastair Cook (32): Coming out after tea trailing by 343 runs, it left England with more than just a mountain to climb. Australia started too straight, giving Strauss and Cook a start and creating a glimmmer of hope that England would at least not get thrashed by an innings - but that was not of long last after the skipper fell lbw to a terrific length delivery by Ben Hilfenhaus. One can always dream - all nightmares for England in this test match though with the Aussies on fire.

Bowling: Stuart Broad will have hopefully shut up all the critics who were calling for his head after he completed a five-wicket haul and was the only bowler to create a threat with figures of 91 runs off 25.1 overs with six maidens and 6 wickets. James Anderson looked the most vulnerable, uncomfortable and was the most expensive at 5.5 runs per over. Steve Harmison stayed out of line, length and sorts. Hilfenhaus and Johnson showed them up again, taking five wickets between them by the end of the day - the two completing in not even a couple of hours what took the five England bowlers over a day's play!

Ups: Broad's 5er - would have obviously been celebrated more and louder under different circumstances. But I was still happy and cheering for him, have to grant him that much, especially after all the criticism, threats and calls for his place he had to take lately.

Downs: The poor lbw decision against Bopara just reflected and completed England abysmal couple of days. Made me think of the Dr Pepper advert, "What's the worst that could happen?" - my answer to that: just look at England the last couple of days!

Hero to zero: England - I do not want to pick on an individual because I feel the whole side was a letdown. They will have to dig deep if they want to escape from this with the Ashes urn.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Fourth Ashes Test, Headingley, Day One

Sports - Cricket - Ashes

My picks of the first day:

Australia could not have dreamt up a better start on the first day of the fourth Ashes test at Headingley. After losing the toss and being put out to field, the Aussies ripped England into bits getting them six wickets down by lunch and eventually all out for only 102, Peter Siddle crowning the bowling lineup with five wickets for just 21 runs. England recovered somewhat by getting four wickets by the end of the day, but will need a nigh-on miraculous session on day two, to stay in the match.


Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, England 76 for 6 at lunch: Australia for shattering chaotic England to bits, they could not have dreamt of a better start after losing the toss.

2nd session, England 102 all out, Australia 69 for 1 (33 behind) at tea: Australia for ending England's misery quickly and smashing any hopes away of similar bowling success for the home side.

3rd session, Australia 196 for 4 (94 lead) at the end of day one: England will be a little bit happier after taking much-needed and crucial wickets, overall-advantage still goes to Australia though.


Partnership: 119 runs between Shane Watson (51) and Ricky Ponting (78): They played with England, boundary, after boundary, after boundary, whilst the home side looked like amateurs, not knowing where to put or do what, bat and ball. No question, England were outplayed and can be happy the Aussie captain had an absent moment and gave away an lbw after narrowly getting away from a run out the previous ball. Andrew Strauss showed his frustration and aggrevation, stomping across the field, telling off his bowlers and pointing them out the obvious, they have been disastrous, positioning his fielders like a net around them to avoid a total thrash-bash.

Bowling: Every bowler starred for Australia, chipping in with wickets: Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson with one each and Stuart Clark with three before lunch before Siddle swept the England tailend off the field with four more, to complete the high-five for the fast-medium bowler. All ten wickets were caught, reflecting England' insecurity and shambles with the bat, going for every ball, falling for every trap and Australia's dominance with the ball, getting most out of the swing and bounce and placing the balls spot-on.


The opposite applied for the England bowlers. They seemed to have learnt nothing from their downfall, bowling too short and giving the Aussie batsmen plenty of food to chew on and enjoy and get boundary after boundary after boundary. Steve Harmison and James Anderson were the most expensive and ineffective bowlers at a run rate of around 4.5, the prior disappointing most after a promising start when he started aggressively and got Simon Katich caught out on his third ball making it 14 for 1.

Stuart Broad formed the biggest and nearly only threat after that, getting the ball spot-on, snatching a couple of lbws which finally saw captain Ricky Ponting out for 78, 140 for 3, and Mike Hussey for a spicy 10, leaving Australia at 151 for 4. That was after Graham Onions had got the breakthrough and Watson out lbw after he had reached his half-century, the second wicket for 133, which broke the flourishing partnership and left England hoping that will be the last one for Australia.



Ups: That the horror-day has finally found an end for England at stumps. All joy for Australia, even if England got a couple of wickets in the end, thehome side were made to look like total amateurs, not having a clue where is what and how. Thank god, the day has ended!

Downs: Everything, England's batting - if you can call it that, England's bowling and even England's fielding at times, leaking runs and letting Australia off because they feared to be thrashed. This has been the worst day for England these Ashes so far, like the second day of the last test was for Australia.

Hero to zero: After all the hype and calls for Harmison's recall, he utterly disappointed, groping for consistency, to no avail, bowling some horrific deliveries and expensive overs. Apart from his early wicket, I could not stop shaking my head, although he was not the only disappointment of England's bowling lineup.

Third Ashes Test, Edgbaston, Day Five

Sports – Cricket – Ashes

My picks of the fifth day:

Michael Clarke and Marcus North got Australia through the day and sealed the draw of the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston. After the Aussies lost a couple of wickets before lunch, their record-partnership of 185 runs carried Australia past tea and safely to the draw. England were left frustrated after pouncing on their extraordinary 1st innings but getting nothing likewise out of the pitch or ball on the last day, leaving their advantage at 1-0 with two tests to go.


Run of Play: Advantage to...

1st session, Australia 172 for 4 (60 lead) at lunch: England for taking a couple of wickets, leaving the pressure on Australia and looking for another collapse.

2nd session, Australia 293 for 4 (181 lead) at tea: Australia for holding through brilliantly, strongly and not looking threatened or uncomfortable at all.

3rd session, Australia 375 for 5 (263 lead), match drawn: Australia for getting the draw, frustrating England for the last day, thanks to Clarke and North.


Partnerships:

- 84 runs between Shane Watson and Mike Hussey: There was no swing on offer for England on the last day, so, the Aussies were able to begin the day in comfortable and assured fashion.

- 185 runs between Michael Clarke (89) and Marcus North (96): Clarke and North rode the show after lunch with hardly any threat or danger on offer from the other side. A pain and torture to watch for the England fans, who were hoping for and expecting another blast like on day two, but got none-the-like. The sweeter the taste of the record-partnership was for Australia and their fans.


Bowlers: Graham Onions and Andrew Flintoff started the day, to no avail. They were replaced by Graeme Swann and James Anderson, who also got aggrieved by the state of the pitch and play that came from it – but not for long. Watson tried to drive Anderson on his front foot after he was worked over by some Flintoff brutes, ending up feathering the ball to be caught behind and ending his partnership with Hussey. Stuart Broad removed Mike Hussey on 64 just before lunch, capping a fine over by drawing the left-hander forward, leaving the wicket keeper Matt Prior with an easy, simple catch behind. But that was the best the bowlers could get out of the day, North the only other wicket to fall at the end of the day, unlucky not to have reached a century to cap off his fantastic innings and partnership with Clarke after he was caught in gully for 96. At that stage, the Aussies knew, they had escaped defeat comfortably, leaving Clarke on to reach his century before they waved him off, happy with the record and draw.



Ups: The lunch break – it left the hopes high and the mouths watering, Australia could have another major collapse after lunch like in the first session on day two and give England a chance to win the match. Juicy visions, possibilities and predictions were discussed...

Downs: It was never meant to be, England's bowlers got nothing and nowhere after lunch, similar to the shortened play on the first day. It made the day a long torture for the bowlers, team and fans – not on the Aussie side of course. They will be delighted and deserve to be after holding through strongly.

Hero to zero: Why was James Anderson left out for most of the day's play after his superb 1st innings haul?! What was Andrew Strauss thinking?! I am totally lost trying to find an explanation to the bowling line-up that started the day and that started after lunch, if England really wanted to make an attempt of winning the match.