Sunday, 4 March 2012

Newcastle 1-1 Sunderland

Super-sub Shola Ameobi equalised in stoppage time to secure Newcastle a point in a feisty encounter at the Sports Direct Arena.

It looked like it would be a game of two penalties as Sunderland scored theirs in the first half and Newcastle failed to convert one of their own in the final ten minutes until Ameobi popped up with the winner in the 91st minute.

Sunderland were forced to have their backs to the wall as Newcastle spared no expense in the search for an equaliser.

Referee Mike Dean awarded Sunderland a penalty after Mike Williamson was found guilty of shirt pulling in the box on Michael Turner and Sunderland broke the deadlock.

Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Arsenal, hit the back of the net from the penalty spot giving Sunderland the lead in the first half and meaning there are not the only team yet to score a penalty in the Premier League anymore.

Tempers flared throughout the match, between the players and the managers, and the slick, slippery surface did not help the wild challenges flying in.

Patience did snap in the second half and Stephane Sessegnon was shown red for raising his arm against Cheick Tiote in the 58th minute. Neither player had the ball but Sessegnon’s left elbow was raised and push backwards into Tiote’s chest.

Tiote’s reaction was delayed and he lay clutching his face despite being caught in the chest but you can’t raise your hands and the red card was justified.

There was much made beforehand of these sides’ disciplinary records namely, Tiote and Lee Cattermole who have their share of 46 yellow cards and four reds between them. Three of those reds are contributed by Cattermole and 19 yellows by Tiote.

Both players received yellow cards today for fouls against each other. Cattermole’s came after just 30 seconds and he followed it up by getting a red two minutes after the final whistle for verbally abusing Mike Dean.

Both teams had their fair share of chances with Sunderland looking the more likely to score before half time.

Alan Pardew made one change after the break which saw Hatem Ben Arfa for Davide Santon. Ben Arfa’s first contribution got his side a corner which almost resulted in a Demba Ba equaliser.

He then almost made the different late in the game as Newcastle put the pressure on Sunderland but his shot was hit straight at Simon Mingolet.

McClean came agonisingly close to doubling Sunderland’s lead but the tame shot was scrambled away by the leg of Tim Krul. Firstly, Krul kept out Bendtner’s low shot then recovered quick enough to stop the follow up from McClean. Superb goalkeeping and it shows why the ‘keeper was offered a new five-year deal earlier this week.

Newcastle felt they were denied a penalty of their in the final 15 minutes as the ball looked to have hit the had of John O’Shea but contact was minimal.

They were finally given one of their own when Frazier Campbell, who came on in the 71st minute to replace Nicklas Bendtner, took down Ameobi. Demba Ba stepped up to convert the kick but his effort was heroically saved by Mignolet.

As Newcastle hearts looked as if all hope was gone, the pressure eventually paid off against the ten men of Sunderland and Ameobi grabbed a winner as he smashed his shot past Mingolet in stoppage time.

Despite a fantastic effort by Sunderland to hold their lead for the last half an hour the Magpies finally broke the deadlock to share the spoils.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

AC Milan 4-0 Arsenal

ROBINHO: Two goals for Milan
Former Manchester City man, Robinho, struck twice to to put an end to Arsenal’s Champions League dreams as AC Milan ended Arsenal's unbeaten run against Italian sides to an embarrassing end.

Former Tottenham man Kevin-Prince Boateng’s stunning strike in the 15th minute put the Rossonieri ahead before Robinho doubled and then trebled their lead.

Ibrahimovic scored a penalty in the 79th minute to kill off the game beyond doubt and in doing so ensured that he has scored in every Champions League game he’s played in this season. Ibrahimovic made a nuisance of himself from the kick-off and looked every bit the player he says he is, creating and scoring goals tonight.

Arsenal had a good chunk of the possession in the opening ten minutes but their good spell ended there. Boateng’s strike of the night from the right-hand side rattled the underside of the bar and then the bottom of the net, leaving Szczesny helpless and Arsenal were 1-0 down before they knew it.

The pitch didn’t do either team any favours but it could be suggested that the wide-flanks, where the worst of it was, would affect Arsenal’s play more than the home side.

Arsenal’s defence were at their poorest since the start of the season and Milan’s front three of Ibrahimovic, Boateng and Robinho ran them ragged.

If things couldn’t get worse for the Gunners’ back line, Laurent Koscielny, who was their best defender by far and away with Vermaelen having a torrid time, had to be replaced with Djourou just before the break.

AC Milan were troubled by their own injury problems and manager, Allegri found himself having to bring on Urby Emanuelson for the injured Clarence Seedorf just after the 10 minute mark.

Robinho made it 2-0 before half time heading home a perfectly chipped ball from Ibrahimovic from five yards out.

Half time saw changes made from Arsenal and a final Champions League appearance for Thierry Henry who replaced the lacklustre Theo Walcott.

But the change didn’t rectify the problems and Robinho doubled his tally for the night after an unfortunate Vermaelen slip on the edge of the box allowed him the space to pick his spot and smash his effort towards goal.

Arsenal very nearly got one back just after the 60th minute when Henry and Van Persie teamed up to create a rare Arsenal chance which forced a save from ‘keeper Marco Amelia.

The French maestro flicked the ball up with his heel for the prolific Van Persie to strike it on the volley but Amelia did well to tip the shot round the post.

Szczesny’s first save came in the third minute of stoppage time when he was forced to stop a later strike from Pato. Four Milan shots hit the back of the net and the other ten were off-target.

Arsenal have an important couple of weeks ahead with the FA Cup game then Tottenham and Liverpool in the league. If they continue to perform the way they did tonight then their season will be over sooner rather than later.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Liverpool 0-0 Tottenham

Gareth Bale missed a late chance to snatch all three points for Tottenham, despite missing their manager, in what was far from a classic at Anfield.
Spurs managed to keep Liverpool at bay and neither team really deserved the victory although the home side marginally had the better of the chances but could not find a way through a resolute Spurs defence.
Redknapp failed to make the journey north, due to court commitments, no doubt, but he would have been proud of the discipline his team showed.
SUAREZ: Return spiked with controversy
The return of Luis Suarez, who came on to rapturous applause from the Kop, saw him almost make the headlines but he fluffed his header from 6 yards with under ten minutes to go but Bale definitely had the pick of the bunch with his chance.
The Welshman was through on goal after making a bursting sprint for Pepe Reina only to fire his shot straight at the ‘keeper.
A rare sliced shot from Gareth Bale near the six yard box sent a Spurs chance begging just ten minutes after the break.
The first half was also a  particularly uneventful affair with a cat making most of the half time headlines. Yes, a moggy ran onto the pitch and caused the game to stop while various stewards, and Brad Friedel, tried to catch the poor animal who was trespassing on the pitch.
Liverpool tried two free-kick takers in the first half, first up Gerard and then Bellamy both with the same outcome; the ball went straight into the wall from a promising position.
The game was scrappy all round actually with both teams struggling to maintain any prolonged period of possession with Jay Spearing and Andy Carroll looking particularly woeful.
Man of the match, Scott Parker, said: “When you come to Anfield it’s difficult, we’ve come here and got a point and that’s the most important thing.”
Suarez’s comeback was not without controversy when he kicked Parker in the box by accident, of course. He protested his innocence but I’m not sure his eyes were on the ball. Maybe the balls more like. Parker confirmed to Andy Burton that his ‘crown jewels’ are in one piece.
The one manager who was present, Kenny Daglish, said: “We are really pleased with the way that the team kept our shape, we have played the top sides and we’ve done really well.”
Despite Liverpool having the lowest conversion rate of chances to goals in the league Daglish insisted that he had nothing to worry about and a cup final to look forward to.
He remained characteristically defiant on the Suarez subject, he said: “Fantastic for us to get him back, he should never have been out in the first place.”

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Macclesfield Town 1-2 Torquay United

Macclesfield were served up a defeat sandwiched in between their FA Cup ties with Bolton and now have more injuries to contest with after George Donnelly limped off with a groin strain.

The manager, Gary Simpson, was left disappointed with his team’s ability to cope with set pieces, from which they shipped two goals.
“The most disappointing thing is that we have conceded again from two corners. I wanted my big players and my big defenders to come and deal with stuff and at the minute we’re not doing it,” he said.
Torquay broke the deadlock from a set piece through Ian Morris who headed home a looping header for The Gulls in the 52nd minute to score his first goal for the club.
Macclesfield’s defence were caught out again from a set piece giving Mark Ellis the time to position himself correctly and fire an overhead kick into the back of the net less than 20 minutes later.
Simpson was sympathetic, he said: “I think sometimes it’s just how it goes and we struggled today. We have one or two struggling from injuries.
“I can’t fault the endeavour to try and get back into the game and we kept going and kept going,” said Simpson.
“We’ve got a few injuries, George had to go off because he’s got a groin strain and Sam [Wedgbury] is still struggling and we have had to cancel his operation,” he explained.

Super-sub Ian Morris
Macclesfield managed to claw one back through an arrowed header from Shaun Brisley after a cross from Elliot Hewitt on right hand side as The Silkmen pushed for a point from the game late on.

Torquay have now managed four league games unbeaten now and move up to 8th place on 41pts, worthy of a play-off place.
Gulls’ Boss Martin Ling was pleased with his sides’ tough performance, he said: “It was pleasing to show that we have got a lot of credentials going forward and a lot of character.
“They’re strong, they get it forward quickly and we had to match that but you could just see that the gaps were starting to appear and we were always likely to pick them off.”
Ling was left with a potential selection problem in the wake of Ian Morris’ good form, he said: “I’m really pleased for Ian he puts it in day in and day out in training and he certainly does the job when he’s given the chance.”

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Tough Tests For Manchester Clubs In Europe

Manchester City and Manchester United face tough ties in the Europa League draw which was made today.

City have drawn the holders, Porto and United face seasoned European competitors, Ajax; a match worthy of Champions League status rather than Europa League.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who has never faced Ajax before in European competition in his 25-year tenure, said: “Ajax are a good team, I'm looking forward to it.”

Manchester United Defender, Chris Smalling, said: “It was a massive disappointment going out of the Champions League. This will be a good test. A lot of the teams will be keen to do well.

United won’t be taking the Dutch giants lightly and nor they should. The four-time European cup winners are trying to rebuild their place within the continent’s elite and are hoping to cement that status with a win over United.

Ajax Commercial Director, Henri Van Der Art, said: “For our fans it is a fantastic match. There are two famous teams who respect each other.”

Manchester City, on the other hand, face a Porto side who went unbeaten last season in an impressive run.

The Portuguese team were lead to victory in this competition last year by, now Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas.

Smalling battling against Bursaspor

Manchester City Administrator Brian Marwood, said: “It's amazing. We've gone through the hardest group in the Champions League and now got the holders of the Europa League.”

Because of the fixture scheduling and the fact that both Manchester clubs may have to play home matches on the same night City will be forced to move their tie.

City will be forced to move because United have a higher UEFA coefficient rating and will probably play their matches on Wednesday nights at 6pm.

This is obviously not great for fans with work commitments wishing to attend but it’s better than the Thursday afternoon option which was discussed earlier this week.

If City proceed they will face either Sporting Lisbon or Legia Warsaw. If Manchester United are successful they face the prospect of either Lokomotiv Moscow or Athletic Bilbao however the Manchester clubs cannot meet each other until the quarter-finals at the earliest.

The first round of games will take place on the 16 and 23 February.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Complications and Implications

Arsene Wenger admitted that he is familiar with the term “When it rains, it pours” and I’m not surprised; it’s certainly pouring at the Emirates. The feeling is that Wenger’s actions in the next ten days could threaten to destroy or perhaps reinforce his legend at Arsenal Football Club. Liverpool recorded their first win at Arsenal for 11 years and Arsenal finished the match with a team that resembled a Carling Cup side rather than the crucial Premier League encounter this undoubtedly was. Szscensy – Sagna, Miquel, Vermaelen, Jenkison – Lansbury, Ramsey, Nasri – Van Persie, Bendtner was the ten man side that finished the game yesterday and Arsenal looked desperate. 

Nasri: Staying or Going?
The choice to play Samir Nasri and bring on Nicklas Bendtner from the bench, two players who have publicly expressed their desire to leave the club before the month is over, suggested that Arsenal’s squad is extremely thread bare. It also highlights the fact that no replacements for these players have been purchased; a situation that the Arsenal fans will be hoping their manager rectifies sooner rather than later.

Liverpool, on the other hand, looked very much the opposite; showing their squad’s strength by bringing on Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez on to change the game in the last half an hour. Dalglish has brought in several hard working players of Premier League standard in Carroll, Downing, Suarez. None at a cheap price undeniably, but the players are now available to Dalgish, something Wenger surely envies. Both teams were coping without their inspirational captains, Fabregas having left for Catalonia and Gerrard still nursing an injury, and no doubt Liverpool’s squad was much better equipped to deal with that draw back.

Tough Time For Wenger
Considering the gulf in experience and value of the two squads the result did flatter Liverpool slightly. Shortly after going down to 10 men after Frimpong was shown a second yellow for a high tackle on Lucas, Arsenal were dreadfully unlucky when a Miquel clearance bounced back into the Gunners’ net off Aaron Ramsey’s chest. Granted, the Welshman didn’t know anything about it but the goal symbolized the way his game had gone. He was caught in possession several times, while his positioning and passing were often wayward. Arsenal had no-one on the bench to come on and put him out of his misery and he was left to struggle on. Arshavin was similarly disappointing and failed to re kindle the form that saw him score 4 against Liverpool a couple of seasons ago, while his opposite wingman Theo Walcott also struggle to make an impact on the game. The only solution Wenger had was to substitute Walcott for centre forward, Bendtner, hardly a game changer.

There were a few boos at the final whistle, although these were apparently not as audible as the Sky microphones would have you believe. Besides, it seemed they were mostly directed towards the referee Martin Atkinson. The officials undoubtedly had a poor game, failing to notice that Suarez was offside for the first Liverpool goal and that Robin Van Persie should have been awarded a penalty late on after being dragged down in the area by his shirt at the hands of Jamie Carragher.

There is no doubt that Arsenal’s situation is somewhat unfortunate; the injuries to Wilshere, Koscielny and Djourou certainly have not helped, but the suspensions are entirely their own doing. Song and Gervinho are currently one game into serving a three game ban for entirely avoidable offences, while the impressive and positive Frimpong will now miss the Manchester United game, thanks to is na├»ve over-enthusiasm. 

Kenny Dalglish: On The Right Track

Liverpool look like they will develop into a very dangerous side with a bit of time and the right management but they really should have beaten that Arsenal side by more. The struggled draw at home to Sunderland last week shows there is still work to do. The code has not quite been cracked at Anfield but, they certainly look like they will have an input into the race for the Premier League title.

As for the Gunners, well the next ten days are very important for the club given that the transfer window closes on September 1st. They take a slender lead into a tough Champions League qualifier, and the result will surely make or break their season. Arsene Wenger needs to act quickly and decisively.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Andre Villas-Boas

As Chelsea embark on a new season with a new manager, their 5th in seven years, it seems right to suggest that this one might be the one they give a little more time to. He’s young, he’s handsome and he did quite well with Porto, ring any bells…

Of course the similarities have been apparent between Villas-Boas and Jose Mourinho, the statistics are similar and even John Terry has commented on their similar personality traits. Not surprising since the now Chelsea manager worked with ‘The Special One’ for a number of years. Mourinho even once referred to the youngster as “my eyes and ears” when he was head of the Opponent Observation unit at Stamford Bridge. So, he is no stranger to the English game and is fluent in English due to his time in the UK with Mourinho and an English grandmother on his mother’s side. Such a good student is he that he took Mourinho’s record of 33 matches unbeaten in all competitions with Porto and bettered it by three.

At the tender age of 33 there have been doubts expressed about whether this man can take charge of a dressing room filled with egos like Drogba, Terry, Malouda etc. all fighting for places. Yet, he seems to have his players on the same wavelength and seems keen to providing Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich with what he wants; attractive football. Something else which drew the Russian owner to Villas-Boas is his European Trophy winning experience. After last years success with Porto in the Europa League Villas-Boas took Porto on their longest unbeaten run in Europe. However, that doesn’t guarantee success with his newly inherited Chelsea team. It does guarantee plenty of pressure, though.

Many have called for this to be the time that Abramovich gives his employee at the helm the precious gift of time, many feel that if Villas-Boas is unsuccessful in his first season that his job may be feared for and some pundits think that he is most likely to fall flat on his face given the enormity of the task ahead. Already he has some big decisions to make in terms of personnel in transfers and the squad he will pick to start against Stoke tomorrow.

The Chelsea manager has made no secret of the fact that he will stick with the 4-3-3 system that worked so well for him at Porto. However, this does leave him with selection problems/privileges depending on which way you look at the situation. A 4-3-3 formation would mean that he will have to decide whether he will start Drogba or Torres and it’s likely that the two will very rarely play together. He will then have to find a way to fit Anelka, Malouda, Kalou, Benayoun, Sturridge and anyone they may sign (possibly Modric) into that mix and find the best fit, no doubt, with the watchful and judgemental eye of Roman Abramovich keeping a close eye on proceedings.

There is a fantastic interview with Andre Villas-Boas in today’s Telegraph on his footballing philosophy. Well worth a read.