Sunday, April 29, 2012

'German Messi' Marko Marin

On Saturday, Chelsea confirmed the the signing of Marko Marin from Werder Bremen for a reported fee of €7 million to €8m.

The Germany international earned himself the nickname 'the German Messi' following a string of fine performances early in his career, but his progress seems to have stagnated as he has failed to make much of an impact in Bremen in the last couple of years.

Nevertheless, this didn't stop Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich from snapping up the 23-year-old. Perhaps the Russian believes he has signed the real Messi ...

Thanks for the memories...

Pep Guardiola ended speculation over his Barcelona future on Friday by confirming his departure from Camp Nou at the end of the season.

During his four-year spell in charge, the Blaugrana were ruthless, sweeping team after team aside en route to three consecutive Primera Division titles and two Champions League triumphs, among a host of other trophies.

With his place in the club's history assured, however, Guardiola decided it was time for a break...

Michel reacts to Bayern v Chelsea showdown

There was a sense of shock when Chelsea and Bayern Munich, against the odds, both progressed to the Champions League final at the expense of their more fancied opponents. Barcelona and Real Madrid were unsurprisingly red-hot favourites to stage a Clasico decider, with some even going as far as to say that the blockbuster clash was already in the bag.

Uefa president Michel Platini had admitted in early March that a meeting between Barca and Real would make a great final, but after Chelsea's resilient defending forced the Catalans out and Bayern sunk Los Blancos in a penalty shoot-out, the Frenchman will have to redecorate the Champions League trophy ahead of the May 19 final at the Allianz Arena.

Blues will not be following their leader

John Terry missed out on a chance to redeem himself for his penalty miss in the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, after a moment of madness from the Chelsea skipper saw him knee Alexis Sanchez in the back in the first half of the Blues' semi-final second leg against Barcelona at Camp Nou.

The ensuing red card means Terry will miss the final itself this time around, as his team-mates went on to defend valiantly for the best part of an hour without a recognised centre-half to book their ticket to the May 19 final in Munich in the most thrilling of circumstances.

The Chelsea bus rolls on to their next destination, but Terry will have to hitch a ride in the Lionel Messi boat after the Argentine fluffed his penalty and will also miss the final.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chelsea bus arrives at Camp Nou

Chelsea managed to defy the odds when they kept Barcelona off the scoresheet and secured a 1-0 semi-final win over the reigning Champions League holders at Stamford Bridge last week, but will they be able to repeat the feat at Camp Nou in the second leg?

The Blues' interim coach Roberto Di Matteo has insisted that his side will take the game to the Blaugrana in Catalunya in a bid to extend their advantage. Pep Guardiola, however, remains wholly confident that his Barca outfit will be able to defeat the west Londoners and that Lionel Messi will return to form having failed to score in the club's previous two fixtures.

Will Di Matteo keep his word and attack Barca from the start, or will he opt for the old park the bus routine?

الرياضة بتضحّك

This town ain't big enough for two

All that sets up nicely the mouth-watering Manchester derby on April 30 at the Etihad Stadium, with the league title firmly in both teams' sights. Will the red half of the city be rejoicing or will the blue half be making all the noise come full time?

Monday, April 23, 2012

109 not out!

April 21, 2012 could become one of the most important dates in Real Madrid's recent history. A 2-1 victory against arch-rivals Barcelona in the Clasico on Saturday could prove to be the defining moment of the Spanish season, as goals from Sami Khedira and Cristiano Ronaldo put Pep Guardiola's side to the sword for the first time in La Liga since 2008.

And to cap a memorable evening, Los Blancos have now scored the most goals in a single Primera Division campaign, surpassing the previous record of 107 set under former boss John Toshack in 1989-90, and achieving the feat with four matches remaining.

So not only have Madrid taken a significant step towards ending Barcelona's domestic dominance, but their astonishing scoring feat provides an extra sweetener for Jose Mourinho and his players.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Humble pie

With Borussia Dortmund on the brink of claiming their second successive Bundesliga title, Jurgen Klopp has been vocal in stating that Bayern Munich should recognise the achievements of their rivals.

The Bavarian giants, and especially president Uli Hoeness, have been critical of the Signal Iduna Park side in the past and the relationship between the two clubs is now more strained than ever.

However, with BVB on the verge of defending their title, the Bayern Munich president may have to follow Klopp's advice and finally "take off his hat to BVB's performances"...

Let's get ready to rumble!

With a thrilling Serie A title race between AC Milan and Juventus set to draw to a close, hostilities between the two Italian giants have not been contained to the pitch in recent months. A particularly contentious meeting between the two sides took place at San Siro at the end of February when Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed by the match officials, an error that Massimiliano Allegri simply refuses to forget.

The Ghanaian himself has an inventive solution for the rivalry between the two sides: "Allegri always talks about my disallowed goal against Juventus. When the season is over, I suggest a boxing contest between Allegri and Conte."

Well, if all else fails ...


Friday, April 20, 2012

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Didier leaves the Barca Boys trailing in his wake

In the wake of Bayern Munich's victory over Real Madrid on Tuesday, all eyes were on Chelsea to inflict similar punishment of their own in their semi-final first leg against Barcelona. The Blues were forced to adopt a counterattacking style against the competition holders, who unsurprisingly dominated possession for the most part, but in football you must grab your chances - something Barcelona appeared to take for granted, while Chelsea ensured their only shot of the evening counted for something.
However, their scalp over the Blaugrana would not have been accomplished without match-winner, Didier Drogba, who netted his third goal against Pep Guardiola's men. But arguably it will be his off-the-ball antics, rather than his goal, that will live longest in the memory. One criticism of the Ivorian is that he tends to fall to the ground a little too easily, despite his powerful physique, as evidenced by his countless trips to the Stamford Bridge surface. Still, the experienced forward had Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano trailing in his wake throughout the evening!

Munich thief leaves Madrid flat-footed

Prior to the first leg of Bayern Munich's Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid at the Allianz Arena, a mystery thief reportedly stole six pairs of boots and some shirts from the visitors' dressing room. Three pairs allegedly belonged to Cristiano Ronaldo, while the others belonged to Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema.

It may have made a difference, as in the end Bayern managed to win the match 2-1 courtesy of a last-minute winner from Mario Gomez, while Ronaldo, along with defenders Sergio Ramos and Fabio Coentrao, endured a night to forget.

Meanwhile, Marca are reporting that Bayern have failed to give any sort of explanation for the theft, despite the fact there are security cameras monitoring the dressing rooms. While it may well be a case of people going to extreme lengths for a piece of Madrid memorabilia, there is the nagging possibility that it was all just a bit of gamesmanship from the hosts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Robben seeks spinach strength

It has not been the best of weeks for Arjen Robben. After missing a penalty in Bayern Munich's potential title-deciding defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga last Wednesday, he then failed to inspire his side past Mainz at home on Saturday.

Now the Bavarians face the visit of a far more dangerous outfit in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final: Robben's former club, Real Madrid. The Dutchman has acknowledged that his side will have to be at their best to defeat Jose Mourinho's men and reach the final, which will be played at the Allianz Arena.

For Robben the tie against Real Madrid is also a chance to finally defeat goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who famously denied him in a one-on-one in the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Much like Popeye, the winger could well use a can of spinach to help him through this hardest of challenges ...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mata's 'ghost goal' spooks Spurs

Juan Mata scored a 'phantom goal' for Chelsea when they beat Tottenham 5-1 at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday.

The Spain international's shot didn't seem to cross the line, but referee Martin Atkinson was quick to award the goal that took the Blues 2-0 up early in the second half.

Three more strikes from Ramires, Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda followed, but it was the controversial decision to allow the second goal that had fans up in arms, with John Terry admitting after the game that he didn't think the ball had crossed the line.

'Donkey' Carroll wins the derby by a head

A late header from Andy Carroll earned Liverpool a 2-1 victory against city rivals Everton and a place in the FA Cup final versus the winner of the other semi-final between Chelsea and Tottenham.

It was a rare demonstration of the 23-year-old's scoring abilities, as the former Newcastle United striker has, at times, failed to justify his hefty €41 million price tag. But in the Liverpool derby, Carroll's strike proved decisive - a goal he celebrated like he had won the famous Grand National.

Team Anelka to the rescue!

With big-spending Shanghai Shenhua struggling in the Chinese Super League, the Asian outfit turned to Nicolas Anelka, nicknamed 'Le Sulk', appointing him player-coach for the fixture against Tianjin Ted.

Although the team succumbed to a loss 1-0, the veteran French forward assumed the captain’s armband and played the entire 90 minutes. One cannot help but wonder what role at Shanghai Shenhua is in store for him in the future ...

Bombs away!

The 2011-12 season promised so much for Liverpool. The permanent appointment of Kenny Dalglish in the Anfield hot seat, coupled with the hiring of former Tottenham director of football Damien Comolli and over €120 million (£100m) being splashed out on new players since the Frenchman's arrival 15 months ago seemed to be the right way of going about things following the dismal reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

However, despite lifting the League Cup in February, the plan has gone into disarray. The Reds suffered their worst form in over 50 years after a run of six defeats in seven matches, while many of their new signings have failed to justify their hefty price tags. But with the God-like status of 'King Kenny' on Merseyside, Comolli appears to have been earmarked as the fall guy. Question is, will he now be walking alone at the club ...?

Plain sailing in Madrid and Turin ...

As the season enters its crucial period, individuals can become heroes in key moments.

That was the story in the Spanish capital on Wednesday night when Cristiano Ronaldo netted yet another hat-trick to guide Real Madrid past city rivals Atletico, and in Turin where Alessandro Del Piero came off the bench to seal a vital win for Juventus over Lazio to send his side to the top of the Serie A table.

However, in Germany it was a different state of affairs when Arjen Robben sunk his Bayern Munich side in the defeat at Borussia Dortmund. 

First the Dutchman played Robert Lewandowski onside for the only goal of the game, before he twice cost his team a point when he failed to convert a penalty and then missed from close range. It's sink-or-swim time for Bayern in the title race, but it looks like Arjen is doing both.

Pele set to unleash his jinx online

Brazilian football icon Pele caused a stir in the Twittersphere on Monday by becoming the latest high-profile figure within the game to join the micro-blogging site, instantly amassing over 145,000 followers. The 71-year-old launched his account by tweeting: "Hello world, thank you for welcoming me to Twitter. I am very excited to share my life with you. Love, Pele."

So far, so banal. While widely regarded as one of the greatest to have ever played the game, the 71-year-old has also earned a reputation for quirky sound bites and dubious predictions. It is only a matter of time before he refers to himself in the third person, calls out Diego Maradona and predicts the USA to be the next superpowers in world football - although the 140 character limit might prove to be a bit of a hindrance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Di Matteo forced into juggling act in Chelsea fixture circus

Victory would have seen Chelsea rise to fourth position in the league, taking a huge step towards qualification for next season's Champions League. However, the result meant that the west Londoners remain in sixth position, two points behind the vital cut-off spot for Europe's premier club competition.

With the team still competing on three fronts, the pressure on Chelsea is increasing by the week. It will need to be a fine balancing act if Di Matteo is to mastermind his side to success in the FA Cup and Champions League, as well as a top-four finish.

'Why always me?' Mancini ponders ...

Roberto Mancini was left asking: 'Why always me?' on Sunday, as his Manchester City side lost 1-0 at Arsenal to leave them eight points behind Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title.
A late Mikel Arteta goal sealed the three points for the Gunners, but it was the antics of Mario Balotelli that really grabbed the headlines after the Italian was sent off for two bookable offences, and was his usual petulant self throughout the game.

Having just dealt with the Carlos Tevez saga, Mancini must be wondering why he has to keep babysitting his players while fighting Sir Alex Ferguson for the Premier League crown.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Conte snatches Scudetto shield from Allegri's grasp

After AC Milan suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Fiorentina on Saturday, Juventus took the initiative in the race for the Scudetto by reclaiming top spot with a 2-0 win over Palermo in the early evening fixture.

With just seven games left to play, the unbeaten Bianconeri now lead the sprint for the Serie A title, and coach Antonio Conte will be hoping his side can hold on to their advantage and see off Massimiliano Allegri's reigning champions.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cisse at the double as Pardew hits the jackpot

This time last year, Newcastle United were struggling for goals in the wake of Andy Carroll's £35 million departure to Liverpool, but 2011-12 has been a different story. It was Demba Ba who won all the plaudits in the first part of the season, but January changed all that, as a certain Senegalese striker named Papiss Cisse arrived at St James' Park from Freiburg for a significantly lesser fee than was received for the much-derided England striker.

And Cisse hasn't looked back since, scoring the winner on his debut against Aston Villa. While Ba has struggled to replicate his early form following the Africa Cup of Nations, his countryman has continued to rake in the goals. His most recent double against Swansea meant he has now scored more than once a game - nine in eight matches - delighting manager Alan Pardew and leaving Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger to ponder what could have been ...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lost for ideas!

It has been a season to forget for Alexandre Pato. The AC Milan striker has scored just four times in nine starts this season, but for a moment it appeared his campaign had turned a corner after reportedly declining a big-money transfer to French giants Paris Saint-Germain, in what was hailed as a refreshing display of commitment to the Rossoneri cause.

However, a recurring muscle problem has thrown a spanner in the works and on Thursday, AC Milan announced Pato will miss the rest of the season following yet another knock, sustained during his brief cameo against Barcelona in the Champions League. Club doctor Jean-Pierre Meersseman admitted the forward's injuries have baffled him and his staff, but they now have a few more months to devise a new treatment!

Beat Barcelona, then we'll talk ...

When Andre Villas-Boas and Chelsea went their separate ways, the Blues were on the brink of Champions League elimination. European domination has long been the dream of ambitious owner Roman Abramovich, who has dispensed with a host of coaches, including the Portuguese, for failing to deliver his most-coveted prize.

However, under the stewardship of Roberto Di Matteo, the Blues have had an upturn in fortunes, and edged ever closer to the Champions League final with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Benfica in the quarter-finals on Wednesday night. However, the Italian will have to win a few more games yet if he wants a permanent stay ...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

One for the history books!

Barcelona's 3-1 win over AC Milan on Tuesday night put the Catalans into the record books again as they became the first team to reach five straight Champions League semi-finals, while also equalling the mark set by the great Real Madrid side of the late 1950s, who did, however, win the European Cup five years in a row. Barca boss Pep Guardiola, who had claimed before the match that his team would "need a ladder" to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will now be desperate for his side to become the first team to retain the trophy in the Champions League era, and lift the title for the third time in four years.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ferguson's side sprint for the finish

Momentum swung the way of Sir Alex Ferguson as his Manchester United side earned a 2-0 win over a relegation-embroiled Blackburn Rovers, moving them a step closer to his 13th Premier League title.

They left it late, but after Antonio Valencia broke the deadlock in the 81st minute, Ashley Young added a second in a performance which Ferguson stated 'typfied the history' of Manchester United. The Red Devils stretched their lead at the summit of the league to five points as their arch-rivals Manchester City slipped up at home to Sunderland.

Since losing their first game of the calendar year to Newcastle United, Ferguson has led the reigning Premier League champions to 31 points from a possible 33, putting them in the lead of the race for the title.

Liverpool trip up after comedy of errors

It was a day to forget for Kenny Dalglish and his Liverpool side as they went down 2-0 to Champions League-chasing Newcastle at St. James' Park on Sunday.

In a comedy of errors that encapsulated the Mersysiders' entire campaign, Andy Carroll was booked early on for diving when he had already rounded Magpies keeper Tim Krul. Pepe Reina was then sent off late on for a headbutt on James Perch, which resulted in left-back Jose Enrique pulling on the gloves.

Dour Scot Dalglish was left exasperated at the final whistle, as his side look to have let Champions League football - much like Carroll - slip from under them for another year.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mancini left tearing his hair out as City, Balotelli & Aguero self-destruct

Eight points clear at the top of the Premier League at one point earlier in the season, Manchester City now find themselves two points adrift of Manchester United after Saturday's 3-3 draw with Sunderland, having played a game more than their city rivals.
Sergio Aguero reportedly ruled himself out of action for two weeks by slipping down the steps of the team coach, while Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov had to be pulled apart by team-mates after squaring up over a free-kick during the Sunderland epic. Anything and everything seems to be going wrong for City at the moment. It's no wonder, then, that manager Roberto Mancini is currently tearing his hair out, while United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson laps it all up. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Manchester City go fishing

With the summer transfer window fast approaching, Manchester City have started planning their next big-money moves, with some of the world's best players being linked with a switch to the Etihad Stadium.

Despite Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Robin van Persie reportedly being targets for the English club, an audacious plan to lure Cristiano Ronaldo to Eastlands is rumoured to be in place.