Sunday, March 30, 2014

Liverpool on top

The excitement of the Premier League is now among three teams now: I think only the most avid Arsenal supporters believe the team can still be champion, but of course, you cannot discount any team!
Chelsea had a chance to stay on first spot, but their defeat to Crystal Palace takes them a step back. In the meantime, Manchester City's 1-1 against Arsenal, also prevented them from taking first place in the League, and they remain 2 points behind Chelsea on third spot, but with two matches less.
In the meantime, Liverpool were playing at home against Tottenham, and because of the other results, a tie would be enough to put them on top. In the first match in London they won 0-5, and today they again destroyed a Tottenham side that is absolutely unable to perform against big teams. 4-0 for Liverpool, who is now on top, two points ahead of Chelsea.
Liverpool cannot afford to lose a step against Chelsea or Manchester City, but they are certainly in contention to take their first Premier League title and win their first English championship since 1990.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spanish drama

The only match worth watching in the Spanish league has for ten years been the Real Madrid-Barcelona match. It has always been splendid, and tonight was no exception. I watched the dramatic match with a mixture of Spanish and international people in the bar called Sajj, in Sinkor, in Monrovia, in a lively atmosphere for what became a fantastic match.
FC Barcelona needed to win in Madrid in order not to lose contact with the two leaders, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. And the match ended with a controversial 3-4 victory for the Catalonians. Three penalties, two of them unexistant, and four great goals in what was a great match between two evenly matched sides. In the first half Real Madrid seemed to have things under control as they went ahead 2-1 on two goals by a Karim Benzema who exposed the feeble Barcelona defense in the penalty area. But when Messi equalized for 2-2 right before halftime things went back to zero for a Real Madrid side that had been better in the first half. Barcelona mended their defensive holes in the second half, but still went down 3-2 as Ronaldo scored on a penalty that had been outside the area. Things seemed to go Real Madrid's way until the penalty on Neymar, which also gave Sergio Ramos a red card.
This broke the match, as Ancelotti took out Benzema for Rafael Varane, to defend the tie that would put them on top spot.
But it was not to be. A clear penalty, this time, on Andres Iniesta meant that Messi made it 3-4, and put FC Barcelona one point from leaders Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who are both tied with 70 points (with Atletico ahead on goal difference).
All three teams are now in an intense fight for the title. Every right-minded football fan supports Atletico Madrid, but I would still doubt that they can carry it all the way. It is likely to be a contest between the usual suspects, with FC Barcelona taking an important step today.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wow Rooney!

If Manchester United is to recover in the Premier League their stars will need to lead the way. With Robbie Van Persie out for six weeks, much of the pressure falls on the great Wayne Rooney. Today he showed he can take the pressure when scoring both goals in Manchester United's away victory to West Ham. The first goal was spectacular: nearly from the halfway line he pounded the ball over the goalkeeper in a kick that takes the skills and confidence of a great player.

Arsenal massacre

There is no other word for what Chelsea did to Arsenal today: a massacre.
Everything started wrong for Arsenal when first Samuel Eto'o, and then Andre Schurrle brought them ahead 2-0 in good attacks exploiting Arsenal's weaknesses. The 3-0 goal proved highly controversial. I was watching the match in a bar in Monrovia, and nobody understood why Kieran Gibbs was sent off when it was clearly Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who had saved the ball with the hand inside the area? Apparently the referee has admitted it was a mistake.
What a lousy referee, and why do they not use TV images? (during the long time it took for the referee to make the decision, the entire world had seen ten times who the culprit was). In my job, I would get fired for a smaller mistake.
That said, this meant nothing to Chelsea's superiority, and 6-0 was none too small against an Arsenal team that had obviously given up after the third goal.
Chelsea is now the best title contender, but there is a long way to got with Manchester City and Liverpool on its tail. Arsenal on the other hand, definitively lost their title aspirations today. The question is whether it is also time to get rid of Arsene Wenger? He remains one of the best coaches in the world, but has he lost the passion for Arsenal? Is he too content as it is going? I doubt Arsenal would do better with any other coach (even with some of the best), but the question of whether he should continue has become a bit more open with today's massacre of his side.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Champions League quarterfinals

I do not feel that the last-16 of this season's Champions League was overly exciting. Most games were largely decided in the first match, and only Manchester United fought back to a memorable, if not wholly deserved, comeback against Olympiakos.
Today was the draw for the quarterfinals, and these look more exciting:
  • FC Barcelona-Atletico Madrid: A Spanish quarterfinal between the giants of Barcelona and the newcomers Atletico Madrid, who will have another chance to annoy the Catalonians. FC Barcelona will be under pressure as favourites and being behind in the league, so expect a dramatic clash!
  • Real Madrid-Borussia Dortmund: This will be a repeat of last season's semifinal where the German underdogs managed to upset the Spanish favourites in two excellent and emotional matches. This season Borussia Dortmund is not looking as strong as last season, while Real Madrid have been looking to become better and better. If anything, Real Madrid are bigger favourites than last season, but they must never underestimate the German side.
  • Paris St. Germain-Chelsea: The current league leaders in England and France is bound to be good. The Parisians have become stronger and stronger under coach Laurent Blanc. They are leading the French league, which they are likely to win, and have looked strong in the CL. Chelsea is fighting to keep first spot in the Premier League, but under Jose Mourinho they are a dangerous team that can beat anyone.
  • Bayern Munich-Manchester United: A quarterfinal between two of the greatest clubs in the world is bound to be interesting. However, this time Bayern Munich would seem way too strong for Man U, which is struggling in the Premier League and struggled to be in the quarterfinals. Bayern Munich are surely big favourites, but Manchester will have everything to fight for, and the match will surely be worth watching.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Manchester United's bleak near future

Perhaps more than Liverpool's great performance in their 0-3 victory over Manchester United, was the low level to which Manchester United has sunk. I am not going to comment on whether David Moyes is the right coach; I think everyone expected a period of instability after Sir Alex Ferguson's exit, but it is clear that besides the poor tactical choices, Manchester United's players have lost confidence. Robbie Van Persie, who was a goal machine last season, misses shots he could have made with his eyes shut. And the defense is much more worrying, with particularly Rafael increasingly seeming like a blind man. Even Juan Mata, who joined the club with such fanfare, seems a shadow of himself.
Manchester United are effectively out of the title race, and seem unlikely to make it to the Champions League. In that self-same tournament they still have a ray of hope, but must play much better than they have done against Liverpool if to avoid elimination by an Olympiakos side that overcame them by 2-0 in Greece.
So what is to be done? David Moyes is under pressure, and many will be claiming to get a new coach. However, it may come down to what Sir Alex Ferguson has to say. If the club continues to believe in Moyes' project, they may be willing to have a couple of bad seasons as Moyes builds up a strong side. That is nevertheless a great luxury in modern football, where patience is a rarity. It remains to be seen what they will do, but it may be many years before we see Manchester United with a title again.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Football is emotion. No more than that"

I found it very interesting to read this interview with Jose Mourinho in the Esquire Magazine. Surely Mourinho is a controversial man, easy to dislike, but there is no doubt he is a genius as a football coach, most notably that so many players adore him. It is fascinating to read about that in the interview. But more than anything, I admire his reflections on the "relevant irrelevance" of football: "Football is emotion. No more than that."
Yesterday Mr. Mourinho displayed great emotion when he was expelled from the pitch when his team Chelsea lost to Aston Villa.
What ever one may think of the controversial Mr. Mourinho, he is a rare species in the world of football: an intelligent man.