Saturday, September 27, 2014

Valencia's transformation

It has not been easy to be a fan of Valencia over the last 10 years. In 2004 the club won the UEFA Cup and the League, but since then the team has been in huge financial troubles and besides a Copa del Rey title in 2008, has not been part of any European elite. Whenever there have been great players, these have been sold to some of the big teams of Europe to cover the mounting losses: David Silva, Juan Mata, David Villa, Raul Albiol, Roberto Soldado... they have all gone.
But times may be changing.
In May the Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim bought the majority stakes in the club, and he has brought in a long list of new players for the new season. Firstly, they have contracted some exciting new players: Rodrigo de Paul, an interesting 20-year old Argentine from Racing; Lucas Orban, another Argentine defender from Bordeaux, and Nicolas Otamendi from Oporto, an Argentine player who was highly sought in the market. Additionally, they got the young German world champion Shkodran Mustafi from Sampdoria and the young Portuguese defender Ruben Vezo from Vitoria Setubal.
But Valencia has also been out borrowing players: from Rio Ave the Brazilian defender Filipe August, and from Benfica the two exciting young attackers Andre Gomes and Rodrigo. After only five games both players have already scored goals, and both are on the verge of entering their respective national teams (Portugal and Spain).
Valencia has also borrowed two players from Manchester City: Alvaro Negredo and Bruno Zuculini. Negredo is still to make his debut, and the young strikers will surely not make it easy for him.
The most exciting young striker of Valencia is 21-year old Paco Alcacer, educated in Valencia's own ranks. He made his national team debut in August, and has a great career ahead of him.
Valencia's integration of its young players has been great this season: Antonio Barragan, Carles Gil and Jose Gaya are all from its own ranks.
Many big clubs have already had their eyes opened on the young defender Jose Gaya, but the great thing for many Valencia fans is that the club may now be able to hold on to its players. All the new blood is already making an impact, but Valencia was able to keep some of the most important players from last season, most notably Pablo Piatti, Dani Parejo, and Sofiane Feghouli, who after a great world cup with Algeria, was a highly coveted man!
After defeating Cordoba 3-0 Valencia is leading the Spanish league ahead of Barcelona, on goal difference. Of course, there is a long way to go, and Valencia are not really candidates for the title. That said, Valencia has announced its intention to return among the top of Europe, and with the young team at their disposal, will certainly be a force to be dealt with.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The crazy weekend

I have gotten too old to have more crazy weekends. So it is great that the Premier League does it for me! This was indeed a footballing weekend in the Premier League that will be remembered a long time. Some of the "big" teams like Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton all forgot that you still need to play football against apparently smaller sides. Most notably Manchester United, with all its expensive overrated superstars, was 1-3 up against Leicester, only to be humiliated with a 5-3 defeat.
But at least there is one great side in Manchester: the defending champions of City were playing at home to Chelsea. Mourinho did the usual: let the others possess the ball, and we will strike back. Chelsea had only one shot of goal all of first half, but nobody ever believed it would be easy despite this! In the second half Zabaleta got a correct second yellow on a challenge on Diego Costa, and one man up, Andre Schurrle brought Chelsea ahead after a fantastic and characteristic counter-attack.
That was when the Chelsea legend Frank Lampard came on for Manchester City. Chelsea fans received their former hero with applause, but this stopped when Lampard scored his first goal ever for Manchester City, equalizing against his old club.
If anyone had to write the perfect script, it would have been this.
The match ended 1-1 and Frank Lampard was applauded by both the home and the away fans in a fantastic show of sportsmanship and respect. And it was a fantastic way to end the craziest weekend in the Premier League for a long time!

Anderlecht's transformation

Back in February I was in Brussels and went into watch he Brussels side play and defeat Mols in a match without passion, where the fans expressed deep dissatisfaction about their side. It is now September, and I am back in Brussels, having had to leave Liberia, and again went into watch Anderlecht, this time against Cercle Brugge.
What a transformation! There is a new coach in Besnik Hasi, who seems to have put renewed faith in the side. I saw them first last week against Galatasaray in the Champions League, where they almost got a victory. They have also started the league well, and after 13 matches remains undefeated, and may be well underway for a new title.
What is likeable about the side is the use of many young players. Dennis Praet did not even play against Cercle Brugge, where instead Aleksander Mitrovic, Matias Suarez and Andy Najar scored the goals. The young Honduran in particular was excellent, but also Ibrahima Conte gave the team very good forward movement.
In the end Anderlecht won 3-2, and differing from February there was a great atmosphere, joy and hope about the side. If anything was not good it was the two goals by Cercle Brugge; Anderlecht was in control of the entire match, and the to goals by Cercle Brugge were a dent on this.
But Anderlecht could be a team to watch this season!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A fantastic start

After many lousy days in Brussels, I was happy that the Champions League was starting, and I was not disappointed. I watched the Galatasaray-Anderlecht match. With a lot of young players Anderlecht were a pleasant surprise, starting offensive, and taking the lead by a young talented player, Dennis Praet. If they failed it was in lack of experience when closing down and in the last touch in front of goal, and that is perhaps why Galatasaray managed to equalize in added time. But 1-1 is not bad, and for the next match the Belgians will face Arsenal, who were run over by Borussia Dortmund.
How can I get tickets for the match here in Brussels!?

Some of the other interesting results were Real Madrid's 5-1 victory over Basel, where Benzema scored a historic 1000th European goal for the Spaniards. The other Madrid side, Atletico, lost 3-2 to Olympiacos in what for many will be a surprise, while Monaco beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0. With two goals by the great Carlos Tevez, Juventus defeated Malmo 2-0, while Liverpool had to struggle for a late 2-1 win over the Bulgarian underdogs of Ludogerets. Super Mario scored his first goal for Liverpool, but that, and the victory, are the only good things from that match for Liverpool fans.

I will eagerly be awaiting tomorrow's matches after what will seem like a never-ending wait!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ungrateful bastards

Things have not started well for Real Madrid this season, and yesterday they faced the defending Spanish champions of Atletico Madrid at home on Santiago Bernabeu stadium. On goals by Tiago and Arda Turan, Atletico Madrid gave Real Madrid their second defeat in three matches. Real Madrid, with all its new superstars is simply not working. Maybe it will change with time as players get acquainted to one another, but as it is now they seem like a tired group of men without confidence.
Real Madrid fans are not accustomed to this, and yesterday they expressed their dissatisfaction with the team, where in particular Iker Casillas received the bulk of insults and buhs.
It is sad to see such a great legend, who has given so much to Real Madrid and to Spain, being pelted by fans who should be supporting him in a difficult time.
I have never been a Real Madrid fan, and now I am even less when they have such ungrateful fans towards a fantastic player and a gentleman (and I say this about a man who has always played in teams that I have not supported!).

Small contribution to a never-ending discussion

I watched two fantastic football matches yesterday. First, Manchester City and Arsenal tied 2-2 in an intense match. Both teams will be contenders for the title, and both showed their determination. Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wiltshere scored two fantastic goals for an Arsenal side that had some excellent moments in the match, while the Argentinians Sergio Aguero and Martin Demichelis scored the goals of a Manchester City side that with a couple of shots in the post at the end, almost took all three points.
The next match I watched was between numbers one and two in the Premier League, Chelsea and Swansea. Swansea started well, and seemed poised for an upset when they went ahead 0-1 on an own-goal by John Terry. But Chelsea's new goal machine Diego Costa then struck with three goals, making it his seventh in four Premier League matches! Chelsea won 4-2, and are now leaders of the Premier League. Diego Costa is not an extraordinary striker, but a great coach can bring the best out of him, and Jose Mourinho has most definitely done that. Chelsea has an awesome striking force, but their defense is looking weak, and that could well prove to be

The discussion about which league is the best continues to be lively, with many concluding that the Spanish league is best due to last season's Spanish dominance in the European tournaments. However, in my view, the reason that the Premier League is the best (followed by the German) is that you get many more of these high intensity, dramatic and goal-rich matches than you see in for instance the Spanish league.