Month: February 2015

Manchester City 1 (Aguero ’69) Barcelona 2 (Suarez ’16, ’30)

Luis Suarez’s return to England resulted in a bang as his brace put Catalan giants Barcelona in a commanding position ahead of the second leg at Camp Nou.

The ex-Liverpool forward, who netted 31 goals in 33 league matches on English soil last season, set Luis Enrique’s side on their way with just 16 minutes played.

His headed knock-on landed back into his path and he was agile enough to steady himself and slot the opener into the bottom corner.

Suarez slid in his, and Barcelona’s second, on the half hour mark off the base of the post to all but end the tie as a contest before half-time.

A traditionally sumptuous bit of Barcelona pass and move resulted in the second which Ivan Rakitic started and Suarez finished, with a jinking Lionel Messi run and a pinpoint low Jordi Alba cross in-between.

Sergio Aguero responded on 69 minutes with an equally aesthetically pleasing strike, he latched onto a neat David Silva back-hell and lashed the ball into the back of the net to keep slim City dreams alive.

Gael Clichy was given his marching orders four minutes later though for a second miss-timed challenge and his second yellow card. The first of which for slicing down Rakitic, and a similarly stupid challenge on Dani Alves brought Clichy’s night to an end.

Messi had a 90th minute penalty saved by Joe Hart, and the headed rebound went wide to keep City somewhat in the contest, but with an uphill battle.

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Liverpool’s Ministry of Defence is the key to their recent surge

Unbeaten in the Premier League since December 21 2014, Liverpool are now well and truly in the mix for a place in the top three, largely due to the very thing that hampered them last season.

Offensively, Liverpool were dynamite in 2013/14, scoring 101 goals in 38 games, largely thanks to Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez with 31 goals and runner up Daniel Sturridge with 21 of his own.

Defensively, however, they fizzled out. 50 goals were conceded by the Reds, 12 teams conceded more, only two of which (Tottenham and Newcastle) finished in the top half.

A collapse at the back in the iconic 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace when 3-0 up comes to mind as the match that lost Liverpool the title.

This campaign has pretty much been the complete opposite, Liverpool’s strikers have been rather pathetic, while defensively they have improved massively, despite early season stick.

Summer signing Mario Balotelli has just one Premier League goal, as does Fabio Borini, while Rickie Lambert and Sturridge (who has been out injured until recently) have just two each.

Simon Mignolet’s goalkeeping has been brought into question regularly this season, despite this though he does have the joint second highest amount of clean sheets (10) from 24 games. Only Southampton’s Fraser Forster (12) has more.

Simon says "don't let them score": Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.

Simon says “don’t let them score”: Mignolet can thank his defence for his clean sheet tally.

This is largely due to Brendan Rodgers’ new system of defenders with three centre backs – Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and the most impressive of the trio Emre Can playing in-between the wing-backs of Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.

Can and Markovic deserve the main plaudits here, due to them both being played in unfavoured positions.

Bayern Munich castaway Can has slotted into the heart of Liverpool’s back line since his £9.75 million arrival from Bayer Leverkusen in July, and does not look out of place despite his astute frame and young age of 21.

Markovic, meanwhile has adjusted to playing in a deeper role than what he was used to at Benfica and Partizan Belgrade.

Moreno too on the other flank is the closest thing Liverpool have come to replacing the marauding full-back that was club legend John Arne Riise, probably best underlined by the gif of each player’s first goal for the club.

http://gfycat.com/HiddenCloseGibbon

Not forgetting Anfield cult hero Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian has been subject to both boo boys and fan boys during his time in Merseyside, but everyone loves him now – and rightly so.

Seven of the 10 clean sheets Liverpool have amassed this season have came when Lucas was in the side with the 28-year-old also boasting a passing accuracy of 86%, and has also made 57 tackles in 14 games.

Although the other end of the pitch has been a problem for Rodgers’ side, Philippe Coutinho is now more pivotal to his side and Sterling has blossomed in a false nine role up top, leading the club’s scoring charts with six goals.

Sturridge’s return to injury, and hopefully form, may now make this Liverpool squad the most complete in recent history as they march on to the coveted Champions League places.

Everything about the 2022 Qatar World Cup is a complete and utter disgrace

A FIFA taskforce today recommended that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should take place in November and December, unlike every other World Cup which is held in the summer. This is not a new possibility, but this morning’s news tells us that FIFA seem to have made their minds up.

The statement released by football’s governing body read “the only remaining effective option is the November/December window.”

Oh no FIFA, oh no it is not. Everything about this tournament is fundamentally wrong, in a football sense, and most importantly, in a human sense.

1) The timing of the tournament:

Summer temperatures in Qatar reach, and exceed, the 40 degree Centigrade mark and can go up to around 155 Fahrenheit, which for anyone who knows the slightest thing about weather will understand that that would be nothing short of torture to play football in, never mind the highest level of football with the added pressure all that brings.

Put it in winter then! No, because that means every single one of Europe’s domestic leagues will be interrupted. (Europe take up 12 of the 32 teams in World Cups, more than any other continent).

2) Qatar Law:

Qatar’s attitudes towards homosexuality are…queer? Steady, don’t want to annoy them, do we?

Being gay in Qatar is an arrestable offence, with both male and female homosexuals being sentenced for up to five years in jail, with this being applicable to non-Qatari residents too.

Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s head honcho, responded to this by suggesting “I’d say they [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities.” Nice bloke.

Not quite so much Qatar being held in winter of 2022, but winter of the stone ages.

Not the moment of truth, the moment of lies: Qatar announced as 2022 hosts.

Not the moment of truth, the moment of lies: Qatar announced as 2022 hosts

3) Working conditions:

Amnesty International published a 2013 report into the working conditions of Qatar. Said report suggested that workers were “being treated like cattle” in the run up to the tournament, with thousands enduring abuse when building stadiums etc.

The Guardian newspaper also did some analysis and calculated that around 4000 people would have died due to work related incidents by the time the World Cup is under way. The beautiful game.

FIFA investigated Qatar to improve working conditions. No action has been taken as yet.

4) The bidding process:

All of this makes you wonder why FIFA would give Qatar the World Cup. I’ll tell you why.

In 2011, The Sunday Times reported that committee members Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were paid $1.5 million in exchange for their votes in favour of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA requested evidence of this, it was provided to them, and Blatter rejected it. Odd.

Jack Warner, then vice president of FIFA, meanwhile leaked an email from FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke that suggested Qatar had “bought” the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

German FA President Theo Zwanziger ordered FIFA to have another look at the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, to which Blatter replied Spanish and Qatari bid teams did try to buy votes, but were unsuccessful.

This whole sorry mess has brought FIFA, and the sport, into more disrepute than ever before. 500 words from me can perhaps be best summed up by comedian David Schneider’s image.

DS

Paris Saint-Germain 1-1 Chelsea

Edinson Cavani’s second-half header denied Chelsea a key away win in the first-leg of their last 16 Champions League clash.

Uruguayan Cavani swept in Maxwell’s delivery from the left hand side nine minutes into the second half to ensure that PSG earned a share of the spoils.

It was his sixth goal in the Champions League this season which makes him the tournament’s third top scorer.

Branislav Ivanovic had initially given the English side the lead with a headed goal of his own 36 minutes on the clock in what was his 30th goal in Chelsea colours and his 27th since August 2010.

John Terry’s low cross was flicked on exquisitely by Gary Cahill into the path of defender number three in the move Ivanovic for the vital away goal for the Blues.

PSG were the ones who looked more likely to go into the Stamford Bridge second-leg with the advantage from the off.

Blaise Matuidi had a header palmed away by Thibaut Courtois and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was foiled seconds later, again with a headed effort.

Chelsea took the lead against the run of play, but the Parisians were not deterred, with Ibrahimovic coming close again, denied by Courtois’ feet and then Cesar Azpilicueta blocked Matuidi’s goal-bound shot.

Cavani had another go in the closing stages, but shot wide after a neat bit of footwork but this was a match with little goal-mouth action.

Jose Mourinho’s side were below par but that away goal gives them advantage for the rematch in three weeks’ time.

PREVIEW: PSG v Chelsea

Diego Costa’s much awaited return to the Chelsea fold has been confirmed by manager Jose Mourinho ahead of the Blues’ showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.

Mourinho is worried, however with the lack of game time from his powerful centre forward due to a suspension that was dished out in the 1-0 win over Liverpool in the Capital One Cup.

“He will start but a long rest is not good for him,” the Special One conceded. “I don’t think it’s good for a player to be three weeks, or three matches, without starting a game. So I don’t think he’ll be in the best condition.

“A little rest is welcome for everyone; a big rest isn’t good for the players. So we are not going to see the best Diego. I hope I’m wrong, but probably he will need this game to try to get back to his best.”

Costa has not scored in the Champions League yet for Chelsea, despite leading the club’s goal scoring charts with 17 goals.

It is not a good omen for the West Londoners, who have not won on French soil since a 3-0 win, coincidentally over PSG, in September 2004, in what was Mourinho’s first Champions League match as Chelsea manager.

PSG themselves are unbeaten in 32 Champions League matches at home, a record that stretches back to December 2004, with their last home loss coming at the hands of CSKA Moscow, who won 1-3 at the Parc des Princes.

Laurent Blanc, PSG manager, is anxious of his side’s injury woes though, stating “You cannot play against Chelsea without being 100%”.

Yohan Cabaye (groin), Serge Aurier (thigh), Lucas Moura (also groin) and Thiago Motta (calf) will all miss tonight’s encounter

Not a problem Chelsea have though as only John Obi Mikel (knee) is unavailable for the away side and January addition Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina is eligible.

Oscar and Willian have “little problems” but are in contention for a starting birth, and the same can be said of play-maker Cesc Fabregas who looks to have recovered from a recent illness.

Chelsea are the only English team to have beaten PSG in France (with the aforementioned 3-0 in 2004, along with a win by the same score line in 1994-95).

Costa and co are the highest scorers in the Champions League this campaign with 17 goals, seven of which have come on the road, which will concern their French counterparts, as they have kept only one clean sheet in this season’s tournament (a 1-0 win over APOEL).

The 2012 champions are also unbeaten in their last four away European matches, as they look to take revenge from the 3-1 defeat they suffered here last season.

Ezequiel Lavezzi, an own goal by David Luiz (now at PSG), and Javier Pastore scored the goals for the hosts in April, with Eden Hazard’s penalty provided an away goal for Chelsea.

Andre Schurrle and a last minute goal by Demba Ba (both have since left Stamford Bridge) sent Chelsea through to the Semi Final.

The FA Cup is Manchester United’s Holy Grail

It may not be the ultimate prize in English football, but for Manchester United, the FA Cup might just lead to bigger and brighter things in the next era of the club.

The Red Devils are the highest ranked team left in the prestigious cup competition, following the shock exits of Chelsea and Manchester City to Bradford City and Middlesbrough respectively.

It should lead to a relatively easy route to Wembley for United, who have so far bumped off League One Yeovil Town 2-0 at Huish Park and League Two Cambridge United 3-0 in an Old Trafford replay and will face a second League One side, Preston North End, in round five.

Darren Fletcher’s deadline day move to West Bromwich Albion made him the last member of the 2004 winning FA Cup squad to leave Carrington, meaning not one member of the current team has won an FA Cup while at Manchester United.

Absent: It is 11 years since Manchester United lifted the FA Cup

Absent: It is 11 years since Manchester United lifted the FA Cup

None of the current class have won a trophy at the club since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, with David Moyes enduring an awful solemn season at Old Trafford, finishing seventh, but Louis van Gaal has started the rebuilding process.

Unlike teams such as Arsenal and Liverpool, Manchester United have not struggled to attract the global stars during their decline with Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao being just four of the nine high profile arrivals since Ferguson’s farewell.

Although United are doing well in third, they seem out of the title race and were unceremoniously dumped out of the Capital One Cup 4-0 by Milton Keynes Dons as well as being out of continental competition due to last season’s lowly league standing.

Which means the FA Cup is the only competition they are fighting for this season, and fight they should do, as it could give the trophy-less dressing room the catalyst it needs to become a great again.

 

 

Time for QPR to be daring in manager market

Harry Redknapp’s abrupt decision to resign as Queens Park Rangers manager could be the catalyst for the West London club to reinvent themselves.

Redknapp opted to leave Loftus Road due to an ‘upcoming knee operation’, just one day after the often described ‘wheeler-dealer’ manager failed to sign anyone on transfer deadline day, which many associate the 67-year-old with annually – whether he likes it or not.

In Redknapp’s tenure, QPR picked up an unhealthy reputation of signing players on high wages who did not have either the talent, desire, or both, to earn the big salary.

The R’s were relegated from the Premier League in the 2012/13 season with the likes of Julio Cesar, Christopher Samba, Tal Ben-Haim, Samba Diakite, Park Ji-Sung, Adel Taarabt, Estaban Granero, Stephane Mbia and Loic Remy all on their books.

Not to forget Jose Bosingwa who was pictured smiling when he left the pitch as QPR’s relegation was confirmed following a 0-0 draw at home to Reading. Samba joined Rangers from Anzhi Makhachkala for £12.5 million in that January, earned a reported £100,000 a week, then rejoined the Russian club six months later for £500,000 less.

No laughing matter: Bosingwa epitomised the poison dressing room at QPR

No laughing matter: Bosingwa epitomised the poison dressing room at QPR

They were expected to bounce back to the Premier League easily due to their financial backing from Tony Fernandes, but hopped rather than bounced, finishing 4th, however winning the play-offs – beating Derby 1-0 with a last minute Bobby Zamora strike, although Derby dominated proceedings at Wembley for large periods.

Despite Charlie Austin blossoming, QPR languish in 19th this time around, losing every single away match to date as well. Which is why it’s time for them to make a bold appointment.

Tim Sherwood is currently the bookies’ favourite to succeed his fellow former Tottenham manager and that would not be such a bad choice.

Sherwood boasts a 59% win rate as Tottenham manager, more than anyone else in the club’s history (Redknapp’s was 49%), and Sherwood is a young boss who has only fairly recently left the greatest game on earth, not something Redknapp can claim.

Sherwood was arguably unfairly dismissed by Spurs just six months into his 18 month contract in what was the worst kept secret in recent Premier League history. He won 14 of his 28 games in charge.

QPR coach “Sir” Les Ferdinand is also in the frame, but legends have been used before as inspiration to guide a club to greater things and examples such as Alan Shearer (Newcastle) and Stuart Pearce (Nottingham Forest) has not worked. Garry Monk at Swansea has had great success, however, Monk had been at the Swans for 10 years. Ferdinand may not get the same backing from a dressing room he has only known since last October.

Glenn Hoddle too is in the fold, despite being out of work since resigning from Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2006. He revolutionised English football with the success of the 3-5-2 system, long before Louis van Gaal, taking Swindon Town to the Premier League, then getting the England job after continuing the success at Chelsea.

The risky safe options: Les Ferdinand and Glenn Hoddle

The risky safe options: Les Ferdinand and Glenn Hoddle

Comments suggesting the disabled were punished for acts they did in a past life led to his sacking though, and his career has never really recovered. Punditry for ITV has begun the rebuilding work, but it may be all too late. Hoddle’s ideas on and off the pitch seem out of touch.

A more left field and ambitious appointment would be that of Real Madrid assistant manager Paul Clement. The relatively unknown 43-year-old spent time as the academy coach at first Chelsea, then Fulham, before moving onto a brief coaching role at the Republic of Ireland.

He returned to football in 2007, back at Chelsea, working with the youth team and then joined the first team set up under Guus Hiddink in the 2008/2009 season as the Blues won the FA Cup. He stayed on for Carlo Ancelotti’s time at Stamford Bridge, winning another FA Cup as well as a Premier League title before working with a less successful manager, Steve Kean, at Blackburn.

The damned life at Blackburn was swapped for the Notre Dame when Ancelotti signed him up for his Paris Saint-Germain side that would go on to romp to the 2012/13 Ligue 1 title by 12 points.

Dream Team: Paul Clement (right) with Zinedine Zidane (left) and Carlo Ancelotti (centre)

Dream Team: Paul Clement (right) with Zinedine Zidane (left) and Carlo Ancelotti (centre)

Carlo came calling again, this time for none other than Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, and the rest of the Galacticos are under the mentorship of Ancelotti and Clement. Madrid are now La Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League holders, after finally clinching La Decima.

Madrid’s sunny shores may be too tough to leave for Clement, but he has expressed a desire to become the figurehead of a football club, and, being the son of QPR legend Dave Clement, he may not be completely out of reach.