Wednesday, February 26, 2014

B - B - R

Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid is a very likeable side. He has brought in many young players from Real Madrid's youth side, but at the same time he has managed to get most out of the stars. In the Champions League match match against Schalke 04 tonight the B - B - R (Benzema, Bale, Ronaldo) was deadly: with two goals each they were instrumental in destroying the German chances for advance with a 1-6 away win (that said, Klaus Jan Huntelaar's goal for Schalke was the best of the match!).
The first leg of the last-16 of the Champions League have seen Real Madrid rise above the rest in spite of some impressive result by other sides as well: Bayern Munich's 0-2 away win to Arsenal continues to make them favourites. FC Barcelona's 0-2 away win to Manchester City also put them back as contenders for the title in spite of the current difficulties, and Paris St. Germain's 0-4 away victory to Bayer Leverkusen also made them a team to be reckoned with. In my view the favourites must be Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, but anything can of course happen.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Since I am in Brussels in decided to go into see the Belgian champions Anderlecht play against the bottom-team Mols. Anderlecht seem unlikely to win the Belgian title. Standard Liege have a commanding lead in the first spot, and Anderlecht are currently fighting for second spot against Club Brugge. In today's match Mols played with a massive defense and Anderlecht had difficulty finding inspiration to open the score in what was not an overly exciting match. The US midfielder Sascha Kjelstan opened the score with a header. He was all in all the best player of the Anderlecht side, and also made the assist for the second goal by the young Venezuelan Ronald Vargas (did I not have a good karma for Venezuelan footnball?).
Anderlecht won the obligatory victory, but fans were clearly not happy and gave their side a lot of whistles at the end of the match. It is clearly a crown accustomed to better results and better play, and today Anderlecht seems not to be delivering.
That said, I enjoyed being to a match and having some Belgian beers.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Arsenal on top

Arsenal is back on top of the Premier League, two points clear of Manchester City and Chelsea, after the Londoners today defeated Manchester City 0-1 in Manchester on a goal by the always-good Branslav Ivanovic.
Manchester City could not continue its goal machine in what was in some ways an unlucky match where neither David Silva or Yaya Toure had a particularly good day. On the other hand Chelsea played like a team that believes they can take the title. Their new player Nemanja Matic was excellent, and will surely add to the side's depth. They were very sure in defense where Ivanovic and Gary Cahill were outstanding in front of another outstanding goalkeeper in Peter Cech. Chelsea were always deadly in their counter-attack where they hit the post three times!
The three teams, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea now have a small margin of six points down to Liverpool on fourth place, and it seems likely that the champion will be found among these three. But be sure it will be dramatic!

Atletico on top

What a wonderful footballing weekend in Spain: Valencia beat FC Barcelona and Real Madrid managed 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao. This meant that for the first time in a long time, neither of the teams are in first spot in the Spanish league; that honour was taken by wonderful Atletico Madrid, who trashed Real Sociedad 4-0 and are now four points clear of the two favourites.
It is great. Atletico Madrid deserved to be there, and deserves to win the title, showing that you can win it on hard work, discipline and team-spirit, and not just money and superstars.
While I unashamedly admit that I hope Atletico Madrid wins the title, I must admit that I also doubt they will. They still have the two crucial games against their arch-rivals, notably the last round match which will be against FC Barcelona in Barcelona. Besides their fans being fully behind them, FC Barcelona is not unlikely to get a friendly home referee, as such big teams usually do against the little guy....

Saturday, February 01, 2014

RIP Luis Aragones

Luis Aragones appeared to some as an old, vulgar, dictatorial, and for some racist, old man. But it was clear that his football players loved him, perhaps seeing in him a father figure who said things directly and the job got done.
Because indeed, Luis Aragones got the job done of bringing Spanish football to the top of the world after decades and decades of disappointments and underperformance. But Luis Aragones greatest feat was to give Spain a football identity that they had lacked. He had the privilege of one of the greatest footballing generation Spain had ever seen, but he gave them a purpose and led them to their first major title, the 2008 European Championship. Luis Aragones created a team, like he said in one of his most memorable phrases to his Spanish national team in 2008 (my translation): "You are all an exceptional group. If I do not get to the final with this group I am a shit, who has created a shit team."
It was not a shit team for sure.
Surely Luis Aragones had been groomed to lead Spain to glory. He was from Atletico Madrid, where he had become a legend as coach and player, and as such, he never had a particular preference for the two arch-rivals in Spanish football. At the same time, nobody knew Spanish football as intimately as him. From 1974 to 2004, when he became national team coach, he managed eight different Spanish clubs, including FC Barcelona. More than anyone he understood the strengths, but also the weaknesses of his country when he took over the national team, and went about forming the style and team spirit that made Spain the best in the world. His mantle has surely been taken over by Vicente del Bosque, who has continued Luis Aragones legacy.
Spain lost what was surely the greatest influence on their team ever. RIP.

Valencian justice

In the rather one-sided Spanish league I have done little to follow my favourites of Valencia, who are struggling in the middle, and in the recent transfer window got rid of more players (Valencia has gotten rid of of 12 players since July, including Soldado, Guardado, Cissikho, Gago, Albelda, Tino Costa, and now most recently, Ever Banega, who nevertheless never really managed to make his mark in the struggling club), and are not close to even a Europa league spot in the Spanish league.
So it was not with great optimism or expectations that I turned on the TV to watch Valencia visit FC Barcelona in mighty Camp Nou. Valencia have not won there since 2003, and in fact had not defeated FC Barcelona in a league match since 2007. No reason to be expectant; just a glimmer of hope.
But I am delighted to say that Valencia can still surprise me!
They went 1-0 down early in the match, but in the end of the first half they punished lack of concentration and organization in the Catalonian defense and Daniel Parejo equalized. Shortly after Pablo Piatti brought Valencia ahead FC Barcelona got some of their usual referee assistance when they were awarded an outrageous penalty kick for an unexistant handball. Messi made it 2-2 (his first league goal since September 2012!), and then my glimmer of hope got a bit dimmer.
But Valencia did it: Francisco Alcacer scored a third for the Valencians after an excellent run by Sofiane Feghouli. And it ended like that even, even though Messi came close to an equalizer. But in the end it was the right result for a Valencia side that needed this so much (and little did I realize that so did I).
FC Barcelona are now set to lose first spot in the league to either Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid. This is fantastic for the Spanish league, if not for the Catalonians, who will nevertheless always have referees to support them.