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Archive | March, 2010


Football Blog: THE BATTLE FOR CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOOTBALL
March 29th, 2013

The title race for this season is all but done and dusted, with Manchester United leading the way by a seemingly unassailable 15 point lead over second placed Man City with 9 games remaining. All eyes are now on the battle for the remaining top 4 spots, one which is getting more and more enticing by the week. Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea currently lie 3rd and 4th respectively in the table, but with around 2 or 3 other clubs in the reckoning as well, that order is sure to change one way then the other before the season is done.

With the fixtures piling up in the final and most important half of the season, here’s a look at all the contenders for Champions League football next season, and a verdict on where are most likely to finish.

1) Tottenham:

At the start of the season, it looked like Spurs had no chance of finishing in the Champions League. With new manager Andre Villas-Boas struggling to find his feet early on and no player really standing out, Tottenham looked certain to be beaten by the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal to a top 4 finish. But they have turned their season around quite dramatically over the past couple of months, and with Gareth Bale have an extraordinary run of games, have maintained their top 4 position for some time now. Last week’s defeat at the hands of Liverpool was a minor setback as they lost their hold over 3rd spot, but they still hold a healthy 4 point lead over 5th placed Arsenal. If they maintain their form and finish the season strongly, unlike last time around, they will surely compete among the elite of Europe next year. They are facing a tricky period at the start of April though, with Europa League assignments providing a pleasant distraction from their Premier League goals.

Predicted Finish: 4th

2) Chelsea:

The Blues were genuine title contenders at Christmas but after witnessing some shambolic events including the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, now find themselves 22 points off the top of the table. They have never slipped out of the Champions League spots thus far and are hitting form at just the right time in the season. They are facing the prospect of playing 6 games in 16 games though in the first couple of weeks of April, as they still active in both the Europa League and the FA Cup. Chelsea’s squad though, is by far the best among the teams competing for the Champions League and they should be able to pull through comfortably. They may even have an outside chance of finishing 2nd, with City witnessing a dip form and a gap between the two sides being cut to 7 points, with Chelsea having played a game less.

Predicted Finish: 3rd

3) Arsenal:

Arsene Wenger’s side have missed out on a trophy for the 8th consecutive year and are in danger of finishing outside the top 4 for the first time since the Frenchman took charge at Highbury in 1996. The Gunners currently lie in 5th and are only 2 points off the Champions League places, even though Chelsea have played a game less. They have hit form of late though, beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League before picking up an equally impressive away win at Swansea in the League. They may have left themselves with too much to do though, with both Chelsea and Spurs playing well and not looking like dropping too many points from now until the end of the season.

Predicted Finish: 5th

4) Everton:

Since David Moyes became manager back in 2002, The Toffees have been one of the most consistent sides in the country. They have always been in and around the top 4 spots without really threatening to break into it, and this season has been no different. They currently 4 points behind 4th placed Chelsea, albeit having played a game more, and victories like the one against Manchester City on Saturday, are proving that they are prepared to have a real go at challenging for Champions League football next season. It will though, be a step too far for them, even though they look good to finish above fierce rivals Liverpool yet again

Predicted Finish: 6th

5) Liverpool:

Brendan Rodgers’ side had hit some great form over the last month picking up some impressive victories against the likes of Swansea and Tottenham to keep their slim hopes of Champions League football alive. But just like everytime, they hit a snag. Saturday’s loss at the hands of Southampton all but extinguished all hope of finishing in the top 4 for the Merseyside club, as they now lie 7 points behind Chelsea, who have a game in hand.

Predicted Finish: 7th

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Football Blog: ASTON VILLA VS QUEENS PARK RANGERS: BOTH TEAMS LOOK TO CARRY ON GOOD FORM IN RELEGATION SIX-POINTER
March 17th, 2013

Aston Villa takes on Queens Park Rangers at Villa Park on Saturday in a game which can be described as nothing short of monumental in terms of the battle for relegation. The winner of this match will go a long way to securing their place in next season’s edition of the Premier League. Both sides come into this game on the back of victories last weekend and will look to make it two in a row.

Villa beat fellow strugglers Reading last Saturday and climbed out of the bottom three and into 17th, 3 points clear of 18th placed Wigan Athletic. They have won 2 out of their last 4 and another victory here over the side from Loftus Road will relieve a lot of the pressure on them currently. Paul Lambert’s men certainly have the quality in their side to secure safety, with the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke coming back into form, but results over the next few weeks will be vital. Their home form, which has for long been their saving grace, has not been too great of late, but a win against West Ham United last month followed by a spirited performance against champions Manchester City give the fans some cause for optimism.

With Reading taking on Manchester United at Old Trafford and Wigan facing a rejuvenated and in-form Newcastle United side, this is a great chance for Villa to pull clear of the danger zone.

A win though, will by no means come easy, as Harry Redknapp’s QPR side are finally fulfilling their potential. It is a mystery to everyone how a squad with the likes of Esteban Granero, Park Ji-Sung and Jose Bosingwa in it have been bottom of the table for the majority of the campaign. Two wins on the bounce though, have propelled them from relegation favourites to a side with a real chance of staying up. They are still bottom, albeit on goal difference, but a win here against Villa will change the entire scenario. They will remain in the bottom three no matter what the result here, but three wins in a row will be a huge catalyst to their survival bid.

Relegation is staring QPR right in the eye while Villa are looking more and more likely to survive. This game is, to use the cliché, a six-pointer, because the winner will not only pick up a vitally important three points, but they will also get a much needed dose of confidence which will help them in their bid to come good at the business end of the campaign.

Prediction:

This is an extremely tough one to call because with both these sides, one really doesn’t know what to expect, such is their inconsistency. But the manner of QPR’s recent wins has been much more convincing than that of Villa’s victories, and the star-studded squad of the London side is finally starting to deliver. If they are to pull off the Great Escape, which they looking more and more capable of doing, a win here is imperative. This will be a cagey encounter but the difference in the quality will tell and the away side may just come out on top by the narrowest of margins.

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Football Blog: TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR VS INTER MILAN EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW
March 9th, 2013

Among all the ties in the round of 16 stage of the Europa League this season, there is no doubt that the one between Tottenham and Inter Milan is the one that stands out. The blockbuster clash evokes memories of 2010, when the two sides met in the group stages and a certain Gareth Bale announced himself in the big time scoring a magnificent hat trick at the San Siro, in a game that Inter won 4-3. The second leg at White Hart Lane was another thriller and Bale starred again, ripping right-back Maicon to shreds as Spurs prevailed 3-1 against the then defending champions in a night that was right up with some of their greatest ever.

Three years on, Tottenham’s steady progress has continued, while Inter have declined alarmingly. Andrea Stramaccioni’s side finished a lowly 6th in last season’s Serie A campaign and has lost most of the players that played an instrumental role in their Champions League win in the 2009-10 seasons. The likes of Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder, Maicon, Lucio and Julio Cesar have all left the club, while Captain Javier Zanetti and Diego Milito are not the players they once were.

Spurs, on the other hand are looking like the force to be reckoned with on current form, and the form of winger Gareth Bale is nothing short of extraordinary. With 9 goals in the last 7 games for both club and country, the Welshman has established himself as one of the best in the business, and keeping him quiet will be top priority for the Italians.

Previous round showing:

Tottenham were given a tough encounter at the round of 32 stage against French giants Olympique Lyon. After prevailing 2-1 at White Hart Lane thanks to two brilliant free-kicks by Bale, Andre Villas-Boas’ men needed a last gasp stunner from Moussa Dembele in France to secure a 1-1 draw and progress. Had Dembele not scored, they would have been knocked out on away goals.

Inter Milan had it much easier against Romanian side CFR Cluj, winning 2-0 at home and 3-0 away. Fredy Guarin and Rodrigo Palacio starred over the two legs for Stramaccioni’s side.

Prediction:

There is no doubt that on current form, Spurs hold a definite edge over Inter. Keeping Bale quiet has proved impossible for every side that has faced him over the past couple of months, and all eyes will once again be on the 23 year-old as he attempts to weave his magic and choreograph another win for the Lilywhites. Also with home advantage on their side, Tottenham should be good enough for a win here.

Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Inter Milan

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Football Blog: MANCHESTER UNITED 1-2 REAL MADRID: ANOTHER BIG GAME OVERSHADOWED BY A REFEREEING DECISION
March 6th, 2013

It was Mike Phelan, and not Sir Alex Ferguson who took his seat in the post-match press conference after Manchester United were knocked out of the Champions League following a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid. Sir Alex, in Phelan’s words, was ‘too distraught’ and ‘in no fit state’ to talk to the media after he, just like millions of Manchester United fans all around the world felt that his team had been robbed of a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

The Scot seemed to have his tactics spot on, with Madrid struggling to break down his side’s well-drilled defence albeit having loads of possession. The clear-cut chances were all falling to United and when Sergio Ramos put through his own net early in the second half, there seemed to be no way back for Jose Mourinho’s men.

But then came the moment that will be talked about for a long time to come. The decision that left everyone in the stadium, including the Real Madrid players and fans, absolutely dumbfounded. Nani went for the ball without looking at the laterally onrushing Alvaro Arbeloa and instead caught the right-back on the side of his stomach. Both players went down injured for a while, but when the Portuguese got up, he was stunned to see referee Cuneyt Cakir waving a red card in his face.

The incredulity of the decision shocked everyone. Jose Mourinho, always quick on the uptake, instantly removed Arbeloa, who was already on a yellow card, to thwart any possibility of it being 10 versus 10. He brought on Luka Modric, who made the telling contribution in the 67th minute.

What Madrid had lacked till then was the cutting edge in front of goal, despite dominating possession. Modric picked up the ball 30 yards from goal, beat a defender before unleashing an unstoppable swerving effort which went in off David De Gea’s post.

From then on, Madrid didn’t look back. 2 minutes later, it was 2-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo stealing in at the back post to tap in a low cross from Gonzalo Higuain. United were clearly devastated, but Sir Alex brought on Wayne Rooney late on in an effort to stage an improbably comeback. They had their chances, but were not clinical enough to score an equaliser and set up a grandstand finish.

Though the result and the outcome of the tie cannot be changed, this is another great European game that will be talked about for all the wrong reasons. Chelsea – Barcelona in 2009, Barcelona – Inter Milan in 2010 and Bayern Munich – Fiorentina also in 2010 and are some of several examples of games which have been marred by refereeing decisions.

It is high time that UEFA examines the situation and scrutinises the quality of some of the referees that are taking charge of some of the biggest games in world football.

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Football Blog: NORTH LONDON DERBY PREVIEW
March 4th, 2013

For most periods in the past few years, the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hostpur has mattered only to the fans as a means to earn the bragging rights till the next encounter. It hasn’t been important in a way where both clubs are fighting for a common goal and the game has gone a long way to deciding their fates. Arsenal has been the team to beat in the area since the Premier League began while Spurs have had their moments without really threatening to tip their neighbours in the table.

For the past two seasons though, Tottenham have put in a strong claim to become not only North London’s top side, but the top side from the whole of London. Last year, they were tipped as contenders for the title at one point in time but after a miserable run of results in the second of the season, they finished 4th behind Arsenal. This season, everything looks a lot different.

Going into this game at White Hart Lane, Arsenal lie 4 points behind Spurs and a loss would undoubtedly put them too far adrift. Tottenham are currently in 3rd, with Chelsea in 4th and Arsenal in 5th. The fight for the Champions League places is shaping up dramatically and it is the teams who put in the most consistent run of results from now on till the end of the season that will book their place in next season’s edition of Europe’s most elite club competition.

Key men:

1) Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hostpur):

Bale is not only Tottenham’s main man, but also the main man in the context of the game as a whole. If he has a great game, it will very difficult for Arsenal to stop him and get something out of this game. The Welshman has been in stunning form of late, scoring 9 times in his last 7 games for club and country, including an absolute belter of a winner last Monday at Upton Park to give his team a 3-2 win over West Ham. Though there are several doubters of his that still exist and say that his form won’t last, Bale is looking unstoppable and is in his best run of form of his career. His goalscoring ability is an added plus to his pace and crosses, and the Arsenal full-backs are sure to have their pockets full throughout the 90 minutes.

2) Santi Cazorla (Arsenal):

Cazorla has been in great form of late, scoring goals at regular intervals and controlling midfield excellently with Jack Wilshere. He scored both Arsenal goals in their 2-1 win over Aston Villa last week and has acclimatised to the English Premier League really quickly after his move from Malaga in the summer. He and Wilshere will play a vital role in this game and with Spurs’ central midfield looking slightly threadbare; Cazorla will get plenty of opportunities to bomb on into the box and try to score.

Blast from the past:

Last season’s encounter at White Hart Lane saw the home side run out 2-1 winners, with goals from Rafael Van Der Vaart and Kyle Walker sandwiching Aaron Ramsey’s strike for Arsenal. Since then though, the sides have played twice in the Premier League at the Emirates, and Arsenal have won both those encounters by a thumping 5-2 margin. Revenge will definitely be on the cards in this one.

Prediction:

Tottenham come into this game in slightly better form than the Gunners but most of that has been down to one individual in Gareth Bale. If Arsenal can keep him quiet, they have every chance of sneaking all three points back to the Emirates. But with home advantage on their side, Spurs might just be good enough to win this one.

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal

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