Monday, 30 November 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Top game: Manchester United's win against Portsmouth and the flood of goals at West Ham against Burnley. The prior was more of a contest than expected - in the first half that is, but then United capitalised as usual. The Hammers looked like they were going to throw away a comfortable lead, well, not really in then end. Entertaining twists and turns all the way, all one way in the end, for United and West Ham.

Top teams: Chelsea and Portsmouth; Chelsea outplayed and -classed Arsenal, who squandered the chance of catching up with the top two, whilst the score looked harsh against Pompey. They were on top in the first half, it just all crumbled to bits in the second half. It was still a good reply to all the problems behind the scenes and the change of management. It was an encouraging display for Avram Grant to work with and make progress.

Top player: Didier Drogba; I can only say again and again, I wonder how the Blues will do without him when he departs for the African Cup of Nations in January... Ryan Giggs is another obvious choice, his date will never run out with United it seems.

Top goal: Ivan Klasnic's smart turn and finish for Bolton wins it for me. Fulham had enough chances to come, take and go with all three points but instead they had to settle for a point thanks to the lively Croatian striker. I loved Hull City's celebration to their equaliser against City, cheeky.

Flop game: Everton were unlucky not to get anything out of the derby, they were so much better than Liverpool. Jo nearly got a hat-trick of disallowed goals and the opening goal for the Reds was against the run of play and undeserved. Unlucky for the Toffees... I honestly do not know what Liverpool expect from such lacking performances, three points is definitely not worthily!

Flop team: Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool... I will not repeat it again. Anyway, what was up with Spurs after thrashing Wigan 9-1 the other week, they looked very subdued and the shadow of that side this week?! What a contrast! Harry Redknapp will hopefully have a word...

Flop referees: What the hell was going on with the referees this weekend?! Penalty after penalty given, goals disallowed left, right and center... If that was supposed to be a clear stance against video referees, that they can do the job without technological help, they are having a laugh!

Flop goal: Again, Liverpool's opener... It was just a lucky (or unlucky, depending on which side you see it from) deflection off Joseph Yobo, Yossi Benayoun's shot looked like it would have otherwise gone wide. Dirk Kuyt's goal just added salt onto the wound, an easy tap-in as Everton looked to have given up and run down after all their dominance. Both goals came against run of play.

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

Poor Reds Rob Toffees

Sports - Footbal - Premier League - Liverpool 2:0 Everton

Liverpool were lucky to get away with anything from the match at Goodison Park, not to mention two goals and three points!

Everton looked the more coordinated and better organised, pressing and pressing, enjoying most of the possession and chances throughout the match, not letting Liverpool have even just a peek at the goal.

A rare Reds attack ended up in the back of the net and put the guests ahead against the run of play (12). Javier Mascherano's shot from far-out was deflected in by Joseph Yobo leaving Tim Howard stranded to his left. It was lucky for Liverpool, unfortunate own goal for Everton, as the shot looked like it would have gone wide without the defender's intervention.

Everton continued to press on, Jo seeing two goals disallowed before half time whilst Liverpool had their only real chance of the half, created by Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua, saved brilliantly by Howard.

Everton stayed clearly the better in the second half, keeping in mind they have only ever come back from behind against Liverpool once since WWII. Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini pulled a spectacular double-save from Pepe Reina with just under 20 minutes to go, a match saver.

To make matters worse for Everton, after all their dominance and a good save by Howard against Albert Riera, Yobo gave the ball away to Johnson who provided Dirk Kuyt with an easy tap-in cross from the left to make it two for Liverpool. After all their hard work, Everton seemed to have outplayed themselves.

Football can be a cruel world, as Ireland got to know the hardest way too against France most recently. But, Liverpool can hopefully use this bit of fortune to their advantage, to turn their season around for the better, to get them out of the hole they have fallen into over the last couple of months, even if it has to come at some cost, like it was Everton's today.

Everton Howard; Hibbert, Yobo (Neill 23), Distin, Baines; Pienaar, Cahill (Yakubu 82), Heitinga, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov; Jo (Saha 66). Bookings Heitinga 84. Subs not used Nash, Coleman, Gosling, Baxter.

Liverpool Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua; Kuyt, Mascherano, Gerrard, Lucas, Aurelio (Riera 78); Ngog (Benayoun 75). Subs not used Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Aquilani, El Zhar.

1st half stats:
Attempts: 7-7
On target: 3-2
Offsides: 4-0
Corners: 3-2
Free kicks: 5-3

2nd half stats:
Attempts: 5-6
On target: 4-2
Offsides: 1-0
Corners: 0-4
Free kicks: 5-9

Possession: 45.4%-54.6%
Passing Success: 75.8%-73%
Tackles/Success: 22/68.2%-35/68.6%
Territorial Advantage: 54.7%-45.3%

Referee: Alan Whiley
Man of the match: Pepe Reina

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Liverpool Win In Vain

Sports - Football - UEFA Champions League - Group Stage

Debrecen 0:1 Liverpool

It would have been too good to be true.
Liverpool were in a too sticky situation, in a too deep hole, full stop.
With only one win in the last ten matches in all competitions, a must-win situation for a chance to progress to the last 16, also relying on Lyon to get something against Fiorentina in the other group match and not even counting all the injuries, ifs and buts - the odds were impossible, miserable, against the Reds.

Liverpool did start positive at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium and all-attacking. After just four minutes, Jamie Carragher provided David Ngog with a header from left outside the box, who put the ball into the back of the net and Liverpool in the lead with a cheeky left-back-heeler.

The Reds pressed and pushed on with a lot of possession and chances. Dirk Kuyt was the most frustrating, missing a low open header off a free kick by Steven Gerrard (11) and an easy tap in off a cross by Fabio Aurelio (16).

The second half continued in the same red trend, but now knowing Fiorentina were ahead against Lyon thanks to a first half penalty, minute by minute, the weight grew on the team and fans, knowing they would this win would not be enough anyway.

Debrecen came close to equalise late on reminding Liverpool as they know all too well, one goal is not enough to sit back and wait for the final whistle to declare the win. Pepe Reina blocked Adamo Coulibaly's shot off the line shortly after Gergely Rudolf's solo-attack from the right ended wide.

Rafael Benitez's changes late on were questionable once again, taking off the three best players of the night. But, I guess it was just to waste time and save players and the result at least.

In the end, all the edge and nerves were all for nothing and too late. The game looked more like a lower league match after a promising start. Even with all their chances, I cannot say Liverpool would have deserved to progress ahead of Fiorentina or Lyon.

So, Liverpool are out of the Champions League and can see what they can scrape out of what is left for them in the deep holes they are in: In the Europa League, Premier League and FA Cup. It is all fair in the end, same goes for their league display, run and position.

Debrecen Poleksic; Bodner, Meszaros, Mijadinoski, Foder (Dombi 62); Szelesi, Kiss, Szalaky (Coulibaly 77), Czitkovics; Leczko, Rudolf. Subs not used Pantic, Ramos, Komlosi, Bernath, Varga. Bookings Szelesi 23.

Liverpool Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Gerrard (Aquilani 92), Aurelio (Dossena 89), Kuyt; Ngog (Benayoun 77). Subs not used Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Spearing, Skrtel.

1st half stats:
Attempts: 1-5
On target: 0-3
Offsides: 0-0
Corners: 0-6
Free kicks: 9-12

2nd half stats:
Attempts: 4-11
On target: 2-4
Offsides: 3-1
Corners: 3-4
Free kicks: 7-9

Sky Stats:
Possession: 29%-71%
Passing Success: 72%-87%
Tackles/Success: 16/88%-20/80%
Territorial Advantage: 42%-58%

Referee: B. Kuipers
Man of the match: David Ngog

Monday, 23 November 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Top game: Hull made a great comeback against West Ham. It was a scruffy encounter but highly entertaining to watch. But the match of the day, week, month, season, etc. has to be Tottenham's thrashing of Wigan. I was on my break at work when I listened into the second half on the radio. I caught four goals and joked to my colleague I would miss another ten after I went back to work - I could not know I was not too far off...

Top team: Chelsea and Tottenham were certainly the dictators and dominators this weekend, but have also shown most constistency and quality this season so far, in the long(er) run and look most promising in the title race and chance to break into the top four (respectively, although I am not making any definite predictions).

Top player: Jermain Defoe rode the show this weekend, rubbing it under Carlo Ancelotti's nose who should be on the priority list for England. All of his goals were lovely to watch. Aaron Lennon was a top provider and scorer himself, too. This weekend was not only great for Spurs but for England also.

Top goal:
Darren Fletcher's goal for Manchester United was like a stroke of lightning. Patrice Evra's fine run and cross was met and headed back by Antonio Valencia, to be crashed into the left corner of the net by Fletcher, a right-footer, both feet off the ground. Beauty.

Flop game: Stoke's win against Portsmouth was the least laudable effort, display and match, from both sides. Portsmouth missed the best chance they had, Kevin-Prince Boateng with a soft penalty kick, easy to hold onto for Steve Simonsen. Stoke's goal was the only highlight in an otherwise dim match, a great build-up finished off by a fine finish by Ricardo Fuller against his former side, great turn into the corner of the net.

Flop team: Believe it or not, Chris Kirkland was the best player for Wigan, as he was the only one who seemed present and alert. Wigan were absent, especially the defence, not closing in on Tottenham players, giving them too much time and space, a too big comfort zone. In the end they just gave up. I think they are all too right promising their fans refunds as they did not turn up and were a waste to watch, full stop.

Flop player: Dirk Kuyt has been the most annoying player of late, falling, slipping, tripping and diving at every take of the ball and if he stays up ot gets an obvious chance on goal, he just cues it high or wide or just nowhere to be caught. He is really looking off the reel, but I guess that just reflects his side's display and run.

Flop goal: Bolton's own goal which made it 0-2 to Blackburn will be found amongst thos famous bloopers list in a long time to come. It was due to lack of communication, but Jussi Jaaskelainen was the guilty party charging in the way he did as Samuel Ricketts was not at fault doing the obvious passing it back when there was not too much pressure around. A howler.

My Predictions - Actual Results
Birmingham 1:1 Fulham - 1:0
Burnley 1:3 Aston Villa - 1:1
Chelsea 3:0 Wolves - 4:0
Hull City 0:0 West Ham - 3:3
Liverpool 1:1 Man City - 2:2
Man Utd 2:1 Everton - 3:0
Sunderland 1:3 Arsenal - 1:0
Bolton 0:0 Blackburn - 0:2
Stoke 2:1 Portsmouth - 1:0
Tottenham 3:0 Wigan - 9:1
Fulham 2-1 Blackburn - 3:0
Hull City 1-2 Everton - 3:2

Friday, 20 November 2009

Shame on Henry

Sports - Football - Internationals - World Cup Qualifier

The more I watch it, the clearer it gets to me: If Fifa want to set a stance against cheats, they should take action to warn all the other offenders-to-be, in this case disqualify France and fine and suspend Thierry Henry.

But, I know that will never happen. Football is the only sport where cheats get away and on a regular basis, too, especially of the big teams. So, it is no surprise we have seen and will see it again and again. But at some point it has to stop and something has to change!

It is rhetorical question whether a video referee would have made a difference. The clear answer is, YES! France would not have been awarded the goal, Henry would have been booked, a free kick would have been awarded to the Republic of Ireland and play would have continued with Ireland still in the qualifier, with more than a shout as they were the better side throughout the match.

We obviously do not know how the match would have developed from there, if it would have gone to penalties, or one of the sides would have caught a late (but fair) winner - but we surely know how it would not have ended: An unfair shame and scandalous cheat!

One can only speculate how Fifa would have reacted if it would have happened the other way round, Robbie Keane the offender and France the losers. I suspect we would have read a clear statement the next morning about what actions will be taken.

When I reflect back at how many times they threatened and had a dig against England and their fans, with fines and suspensions, up to disqualification, it would be more than hypocritical if, as I suspect and expect, nothing will follow on this offence.

But presidents Sepp Blatter (FIFA) and Michel Platini (UEFA) were never the ones to jump in for the underdogs or ring in big changes. Instead, they just waffle on and ignore the problem-maker(s) when it matters most (and it is especially amusing regarding that the latter is a Frenchman).

My question to them and all football associations' presidents, executives and directors (managers and players, too) is: When will they learn from the other sports to make football a true sport again???

Monday, 9 November 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Top game: The top two's clash was the biggest focus of the day, especially as the result went against the run of play and once again a referee was put under scrutiny and questioned by an unhappy Alex Ferguson. He had a point, but his team ended up with niente, that is the way life goes sometimes.

Top team: Arsenal are the one to watch at the moment. Both Chelsea and Manchester United have shown their lacks and weaknesses but the Gunners have been thrashing left, right and centre. I am just curious how they will play against one of the top two - having lost against Manchester United and City early-on in the season but grown from strength to strength since then. I cannot wait for their clash against their London rivals Chelsea end of this month.

Top player: Shay Given once again saved his side from defeat. He let three through but kept so many out, City could have ended up thrashed. They can call themselves lucky they have drawn their last five Premier League matches, because without their keeper most of those draws would have ended up in defeats.

Top goal: A super substitution by under-fire Hull City manager Phil Brown turned the game around for the home side and eased the pressure on him, for the international break at least. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scored the crucial winner with just a couple of minutes to go, the fans were understandably relieved. Cameron Jerome's screamer against Liverpool wins my vote, breathtaking. Birmingham were unlucky not to have left Anfield with all three points after that diamond of a goal.

Top manager: Sam Allardyce rang two changes with his side trailing 1-0 at half time against Portsmouth and what a difference they made: Jason Roberts and Benni McCarthy replaced Morten Gamst Pedersen and El-Hadji Diouf, the prior scored two, the latter being the provider for the last. It could hardly have gone better for the Blackburn manager.

Flop game: Wigan recorded the lowest home attendance anywhere in the league this season, not good. The top-two clash was definitely not under the top-two matches this weekend, looking at the lack of chances, action, etc., it was definitely not the most entertaining for the neutral eye.

Flop team: Chelsea disappointed. Most predicted a thrash, but Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba wasted the few chances they had. They got lucky to get away with a win. Liverpool tried and tried their best, chance after chance, but were lucky to get a penalty and away with a point. Birmingham held them well. Liverpool will have to dig deep if they want to get out of the hole they have fallen into - with just four points out of the last five games.

Flop player: Dirk Kuyt disappointed for Liverpool. He wasted a lot of chances by not being aware of what and whom is around him. Liverpool had a lot of chances, which they saw going to waste. A lot of fans are ringing for change - but I just question where it will come from and who it could be, because I cannot think of anyone who could work wonders on this side under the turmoil-cirumstances on and off the pitch.

Flop goal: Should Chelsea's goal have stood? Darren Fletcher got the ball but did aggressively push into Ashley Cole, free kicks have been given before for similar tackles. Same goes for the offside appeal against Drogba - he got no touch and had thereby no direct influence in the run of play, it would have gone in one way or the other. It was harsh against Manchester United who were the better and dominant side, but how many times have United seen such decisions fall their way - it is tough luck sometimes.

Flop manager: Rafael Benitez left the changes very late once again against Birmingham. He was forced to bring on not top-fit Steven Gerrard earlier than planned due to injury to Albert Riera. But the run of the matches and results of late just show he has to change something about his tactics, if it is not too late already.

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

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Top game: The obvious picks would be Liverpool's sorry defeat against Fulham, Arsenal's thrashing of Tottenham and Chelsea's show time win at the Reebok Stadium - but Portsmouth's crucial and convincing 4-0 win against an eratic Wigan will have a massive and the biggest impact on a side that has been cursed and given up on by most.

Top team: Birmingham were brilliant allround, in attack and defence, so too Fulham. And have Portsmouth risen from the dead with their win, or was it just a one-off? I hope not, it was great to watch.

Top player: Aruna Dindane's hat-trick and Shay Given's saves made both of them the most crucial players for their sides - the prior giving Portsmouth the win and three much-needed points; the latter making save after save, sparing Manchester City from defeat and saving a point for them.

Top goal: Nicolas Anelka, Deco and Didier Drogba co-starred in Chelsea's fourth goal. They made it look like a show time choreography, well rehearsed and put on stage, showing up Bolton how deluded they were of their hopes and chances against the show makers.

Flop game: Everton against Aston Villa was the dullest of all games, but still had two goals and two red cards in it. That indicates a lot to how highly-pitched the Premier League is.

Flop team: It was a day, week and month to forget for Liverpool - the confident win against Manchester United has been the only exception, but seemed far far away, on a different planet with this display. Tottenham were just as disappointing when you expected the upmost against their local rivals.

Flop player: Drogba was once again the drama queen of the game. A top quality, world-class player like him should not be in need of such poor and childish actions to take advantage of the opposition. It is just sad to watch divers and whiners and it is even sadder he is not the only one and that they all represent their team, the league, the sport. They should be more aware of the responsibility.

Flop goal: Why was Nikola Kalinic's goal not given for Blackburn?! It was nowhere near offside as replays showed! It would have been his first goal for the side, not that it would have made much of a difference to the result as Manchester United rode the show and deserved the win.

Flop referees: The weekend saw a record of nine red cards! There were a lot of iffy decisions amongst them, the referees did everything else but hold back, giving the impression they had it in for the whole Premier League lot!

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