EPL Weekend Recap: the Reds burn themselves, Chelski tops Arsenal, and Darren Bent the super-sub

Saturday, March 22nd

Newcastle 2, Fulham 0

Roy Hodgson did arguably nothing to try for the win in this one. Basically, Jimmy Bullard had free reign in the midfield and his “amazing shot” was deemed as the way to score. Yet none of his long range efforts hit home. McBride and Johnson started up front, but no service was given to them – except the time where both of them missed a well-struck cross 10 yards from goal. Other than that, it was frustrating as hell to watch them try and post Eddie Johnson up on Taylor and then have EJ pass it back while the Magpie centrebacks pressured him. Occasionally, this would produce space on the wing – but Simon Davies picked a bad day to become invisible (especially after a great performance against Everton). Coupled with Sunderland’s win, Bolton’s tie – it’s not looking too good for the Americans. Newcastle didn’t look too dangerous either but when you have game changers like Michael Owen and Obi Martins – games like this are bound to go your way. Owen scored the second, while Mark Viduka – back after a small stint on the sidelines – struck early for Newcastle. 

Tottenham 2, Portsmouth 0

Two late goals from Darren Bent and Jamie O’Hara gave the Spurs . One could even say the Jermain Defoe decision really affected an otherwise even match-up. Utaka, Baros, and Kanu couldn’t make up for the absence of Jermain Defoe who has struck for 6 in 6 games since coming over to Pompey. His absence, however, was part of the loan deal originally agreed upon in order to get his transfer from White Hart Lane to Fratton Park done before the deadline. Berbatov and Robbie Keane gave Sol Campbell and his back four some problems, but couldn’t find the net. It wasn’t until Ramos inserted Darren Bent in the 70th minute (super-sub mode like Jermain Defoe no less) that the goal followed. Bent also had his hand in youngster Jamie O’Hara’s goal several minutes later.

Other scores:

Middlesbrough 1, Derby 0 – Eddie Lewis played all ninety, but Sanli Tuncay gave Boro the win.

Blackburn 3, Wigan 1 – Two red cards – Samba for B’burn and Palacios for Wigan – headlined a physical performance. When Santa Cruz is on brace form though, the Rovers are really hard to beat. Brad Friedel did his part on the defensive end yet again.

Sunderland 1, Aston Villa 0 – The big upset of the weekend. Thanks to Michael Chopra’s 83rd minute winner, the Black Cats received some much needed breathing room.

Everton 1, West Ham United 1 – Yakubu’s early goal was countered a late Dean Ashton goal that Timmy Howard could do nothing about. Jonathan Spector came on in the 82nd after returning from successfully leading the US U-23s to an Olympic berth.

Reading 2, Birmingham 1 – A huge step-up from an unlikely hero allowed the Royals to grab three against a relegation foe. Cameroonian Andre Bikey captained an effective back four and also scored the brace that gave Reading the win. Valued at $30 million, Mauro Zarate grabbed the consolation goal for the Blues, who looked pretty disorganized. Marcus Hahnemann did his duty, while Bobby Convey didn’t dress. Stephen Hunt kept his stock rising heading into the offseason with another inspired performance on the wings.

Bolton 0, Manchester City 0 – A point is a point right now for the Wanderers and even though Gary Megson said Nicolas Anelka’s absence won’t matter in this relegation battle, they could have used the now Chelsea man on Saturday. One good sign for Bolton was that they dictated the run of play, but their remaining fixtures put them in dark territory the rest of the way. 

Sunday, March 23rd

Manchester United 3, Liverpool 0

Liverpool was in it – they were getting crushed on shots attempted, etc, but they were still in it to say the least. That is until…Javier Maschareno bitched himself out of the game. The Argentinian decided to continue protest of a call past the boiling point of the head ref while he was already carrying a card to his name. None of his teammates decided to intervene and tell the man to shut his trap. Right before half time, Mascherano was sent off and United took control of the game. The Reds fought, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani both broke through with 10 minutes to go and the game was put out of reach. Wes Brown scored the first goal for United. Can anyone stop Ronaldo from scoring?

Chelsea 2, Arsenal 1

Didier the decider. Two late goals from the Ivorian trounced an earlier go-ahead goal by Arsenal’s fullback Bacary Sagna. Sagna headed home a Cesc Fabregas corner and his first goal ever for the Gunners to push ahead 10 minutes into the second half, but Drogba came through after surviving a frustrating first half. Partly thanks to Lampard and Joe Cole’s endeavors in the midfield, Drogba was given the firm opportunity to lift the spirits of Chelsea’s faithful past their growing disdain for Avram Grant’s tactics and style of play. The Blues have moved into second now, trailing Manchester United by 5 points – making that eventual derby a BIG one. 

Champions League Draw: Quarterfinals and Semifinals

I am sure you’ve already seen it but the quarterfinal draw looks like:

Manchester United v. AS Roma – can Roma avenge the 7-0 drubbing of last year? they did in the group stages

Barcelona v. Schalke 04 – as inconsistent as Barca has been as of late, I wouldn’t put a Schalke shocker out of order, Kevin Kuranyi likes clutch games

Chelsea v. Fenerbahce – another possible upset, but Chelsea will probably see the Turks off with no problem – Mateja Kezman might want to give his old club a lot of trouble though

Arsenal v. Liverpool – battle of the on-form strikers, Adebayor vs. Torres, I’d go with El Nino if I had to pick right now

Semifinal Draw

Manchester United/AS Roma vs. Barcelona/Schalke 04
Chelsea/Fenerbahce vs. Liverpool/Arsenal

Well, what do ya think? Will United breeze by Roma? Is Fenerbahce really an easy draw for Barcelona, especially with how they’ve been playing as of late? Who will come out on top in the Battle of Britain???

Barnsley does it again! Beats Chelsea! Bye bye Avram…Man Utd gone as well.

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You know it was meant to be when a guy (Kyote Odejayi) who hasn’t scored in several months, heads home the lone goal by outleaping Carlo Cudicini in the 66th minute. Did anyone else enjoy Cudicini’s 360 degree flail after he realized Odejayi was going to beat him to the ball? Perfect ten.

Barnsley still had to withstand a haphazard Chelsea offense for the last 30 minutes, but it was easy to see that the Blues weren’t up to the challenge. They played like amateurs. Not one person stood out, unless you count disgusting tackles as standing out (Ricardo Carvalho in the last couple minutes).

Both giants were slaughtered today – Manchester United and Chelsea are gone. A ten-men United gone after losing to Portsmouth 1-0 earlier today. Sulley Muntari converted the penalty after Tomasz Kuszczak was sent off for a trip up in the penalty box. Portsmouth and Middlesbrough remain of the EPL clubs and it’s safe to say who the favorites are…

Barnsley (okay, Portsmouth, but still…). They played way above their standards today and Chelsea were forced to play down to them, their tactics, their pace. Brian Howard had another great game and is really making a name for himself. Was this an example of a team not being able to adjust from a smooth technical game to a scrappy heap of raw soccer? Can you really tell me that Joe Cole and Michael Essien really can’t adjust to that!!?

Anyways, that game made my day. Share your thoughts below.

More UCL Predictions: Chelsea, AS Roma, and FC Porto

FC Porto vs. Schalke 04
(0-1)

Coveted winger Ricardo Quaresma has promised a win at the Dragao, but it is Schalke with the one goal lead. Porto will be heading into this with a bit of momentum as Schalke still in the race for the Bundesliga title has lost three consecutive league games. If Kevin Kuranyi can find an early goal on the counter, Schalke could do what they did in the first leg – defend. The German international’s lone goal in the last encounter was partly due to a Helton handling mistake, but with the way things have been going, Schalke is going to have to take whatever they can get.
Prediction: 2-0 (2-1 on aggregate, Porto)

Real Madrid vs. AS Roma
(1-2)

The biggest advantage Real has today is the fact that they managed an away goal in Rome during the first leg. They are home at the Bernabeu but Real’s time since the first leg 2-1 loss has been frustrating, eeking by a pesky Recreativo side last weekend, 3-2. Injuries have depleted Bernd Schuster’s squad selection prospects hurt him most on the backline with Sergio Ramos suspended, Christoph Metzelder. The midfield and forward corps could miss the Dutch trifecta of Arjen Robben (definitely missing), Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Wesley Sneijder. AS Roma travels to Spain with little to worry about injury-wise, but certainly a lot to play for.
Prediction: 1-1 (2-3 on aggregate, AS Roma)

Chelsea vs. Olympiakos
(0-0)

Chelsea’s 4-0 win over West Ham United this past weekend mixed with media reports of Chelsea players ready to abandon Avram Grant make it a ‘pull-it-together’ kind of match-up at Stamford Bridge. The Blues will have to strike early and often in order to put away that freak, 90+ minute away goal that puts the EPL title chasers away. The Greek champions managed to beat Lazio away from home, 2-1, and it’s likely the Blues know that.
Prediction: 2-0 (2-0 on aggregate Chelsea)

Yesterday’s Results

Arsenal 2, AC Milan 0 – Cesc Fabregas’ long-range take was nice but don’t you think it was a little more the questionable anticipation of Zeljko Kalac?

Barcelona 1, Celtic 0 – Xavi, CHI February Best XI pick (posted tonight), comes through again but their win is overshadowed by an injury to Lionel Messi

Manchester United 1, Lyon 0 – Lyon looked dangerous in the second half, but experience, some dude named Cristiano Ronaldo, and composure seemingly always trumps flashiness and youth in the end

Sevilla 3, Fenerbahce 2 (5-5 on aggregate, 3-2 Fenerbahce in penalties) – a great game for those spectators that were neutral, for a report on this see Ryan’s – a Sevilla faithful – post

EPL Weekend: Everton Reclaims 4th, Former Goalscorer Forssell returns, Lampard Ejected

Saturday, March 1st

Birmingham 4, Tottenham 1

Not many were expecting this result and it’s pretty certain that not a soul would have expected Mikael Forssell to hit for a hat-trick against the Hotspur no less. Sure enough, that’s what happened. The true ‘nail in the coffin’ came with Sebastian Larsson’s swerving free-kick beating Paul Robinson to his right and putting Birmingham two clear right after half-time. The Blues had Tottenham’s number this season, taking both match-ups, and this is the worst loss Juande Ramos has suffered since his takeover. It’s pretty safe to say that Pascal Chimbonda and Younes Kaboul will never be deployed centrally on defense again. Think of Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu’s worst days together with the Nats and multiply it exponentially. Ramos could barely watch…Birmingham will breathe a sigh of relief though as this puts them a little higher up in the fight for top-flight survival.

Reading 1, Middlesbrough 0

A big win for Reading, against a lesser quality side Birmingham’s opponent Tottenham, but three points nonetheless. James Harper has a knack for scoring those injury time goals then going dormant for a good 10 games, but he made his presence known against M’Boro. The Royals didn’t get many chances, but Shorey and Ingimarsson kept Middlesbrough rather quiet. Bobby Convey didn’t dress.

Manchester United 3, Fulham 0

Brian McBride couldn’t revive his magic versus United as the Cottagers were trampled on from the beginning. Eddie Johnson and McBride coupled up front as Fulham managed several decent attacks, but United got much-needed rest for their stars as their return leg vs. Lyon fast approaches and some contributions from unlikelies. Owen Hargreaves hit his first in a United shirt on a well-taken set piece, while Park Ji-Sung actually tucked away a header to make it 2-0 before half-time. Then with 20 minutes to go, Sir Alex Ferguson put in Ronaldo, Rooney, and Anderson and their entrances quickly pinned Fulham down. A Simon Davies own goal ensured the victory for Manchester and dug a deeper hole for the struggling Cottagers.

Chelsea 4, West Ham United 0

Another outclassing, but this one with a different theme. Lampard converted a penalty early on only to be shown a red after retaliating on a tackle made by Luis Boa Morte. Controversy ensued but by then Chelsea was up 3-0 thanks to Michael Ballack and Joe Cole. An hour without Lampard made Chelsea a much more disciplined squad, taking the chances when they had to. A counter-attack led to Ashley Cole’s first goal of the season (and in a long time) which he converted from a seemingly impossibly acute angle. Needless to say, that was West Ham’s luck. Jon Spector dressed but didn’t play for the Hammers.

Blackburn 1, Newcastle 0

Newcastle’s losses have become less embarassing at least, but regardless, their slide continues. Actually the only real embarassment in this match-up was missed chances. Obafemi Martins is his 30 minutes couldn’t find the target, nor could Michael Owen (who later apologized publicly to his teammates for his inaccuracies). One person who did find the net was young Rover striker Matt Derbyshire and he did it in dramatic fashion, 90th minute to push Newcastle farther down the table. Roque Santa Cruz tested Newcastle’s defense all day, but it was David Bentley who put Derbyshire through for the injury-time clincher. Brad Friedel played all 90 and once again led the Rovers to another shutout.

Other Results:

Manchester City 0, Wigan 0 – Sven-Goran Eriksson was understandably angry after this one as Citeh looks nothing like the first half of the season, Wigan held strong though

Derby 0, Sunderland 0 – Another angry manager in Roy Keane, but at least Paul Jewell should feel an ounce of happiness after this. Poor guy. Eddie Lewis went the whole 90, Benny Feilhaber dressed for the first time in a long time, but overall it was the worst played game all weekend.

Sunday, March 2nd

Liverpool 3, Bolton 1

The Reds were fortunate to be given a 12th minute gift of an own goal. Jussi Jaskaleinen – a keeper not used to odd mistakes like this – seemed to be tracking a Gerrard shot wide but instead corralled it into his own net. The play seemed to demoralize the Wanderers defense as Jussi was busy the rest of the game, playing rather well. Liverpool’s offense was too strong however. Though rumored to be restless at Anfield, Ryan Babel put together a fantastic game scoring the go-ahead goal and terrorizing the wings. Fabio Aurelio added the third with 15 minutes to go with a Jon Arne Riise-like strike. New signing Tamir Cohen pulled back a consolation goal for the relegation strugglers as their job was made worse by yet another home loss. Martin Skrtel is really starting to settle down in the back for Liverpool, but it’s going to take a while before anyone can compare him to Liverpool’s Nemanja Vidic.

Everton 3, Portsmouth 1

Someone should discipline Yakubu more often. David Moyes spouted praise for the Nigerian striker after he struck for yet another two goals in an organized victory over European competition hopefuls Portsmouth. Pompey fielded an odd line-up with Muntari and Kranjcar moving equally on the wings as well as in the middle, but Everton stuck on the course. Yakubu hit for an early goal in the 1st minute only to see Jermain Defoe continue his scoring run with new club Portsmouth and equalize before halftime. Tim Cahill came to the rescue with a high-flying header, wide open, but extremely acrobatic to break the deadlock. Yakubu added the insurance goal with about 10 minutes to go, giving him 18 for the season. With the win, Moyes got the added bonus of rest for an injury-hampered Mikel Arteta who they will certainly need for their final push. Even with the 3 points, Moyes is relatively certain it is Liverpool that will pull out the 4th place finish. What words can I even say about how Tim Howard is playing right now…

Juande Ramos vs. Avram Grant – Ramos and Tottenham take the League Cup!

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I had to lead with something a bit uplifting this Sunday in the wake of Eduardo’s career-threatening injury on Saturday. Tottenham’s 2-1 stunner over Chelsea in the final of the League Cup provided a small window to forget about not only Eduardo’s injury though…also I was able to forget that both Reading and Fulham moved closer to certain relegation with time running out, Heerenveen giving up a two goal lead after an ejection left them a man down for 70 minutes, and let’s not forget Houston’s terrible 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bare and Gamba Osaka. Yikes.

Back to the good stuff though. Juande Ramos has really turned this Hotspur team around. The Spurs have always threatened the Big Four in terms of reputation and the ability to draw young talent, but never have they been able to match the pace and consistency of the Big Four ON the pitch. Tottenham’s 2-1 extra time win today was just what they needed to maybe push them over the threshold.

It was an up and down day for the Hotspur as the match started well, but it was Chelsea who found the net first heading into the end of the half. Didier Drogba – trying to rekindle his pre-African Nations Cup form – hit a free kick that confused the hell out of Tottenham’s Paul Robinson. The Spurs and Ramos felt a bit hard done by that as they held strong the whole half with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate looking like a Vidic/Ferdinand pairing. The second half – both teams cooled down a bit, but Tottenham came alive late with Aaron Lennon patrolling the wings. His efforts paid off in the 70th minute when Wayne Bridge handled one of Lennon’s attempted crosses with his hands and Berbatov stepped up to coolly finish the penalty.

Regulation-time ended in a draw and changes were made, but the same suspects stood out. Woodgate quarterbacked an efficient defensive corps, while Lennon and Berbatov sparked the offense. The consistent play paid off for the Spurs when Woodgate found Jermaine Jenas’ free-kick with his head (well, it sort of found him) and beat Petr Cech in the 94th minute. They then snapped back to tactical form and denied Chelsea an equalizer for the last 26 minutes. Not even the long awaited return of John Terry and a healthier Frank Lampard could inspire the uninspired. Tottenham’s victory was their first League Cup since 1999.

Chelsea’s Greek Deadlock Made Worse – Threats, Sanctions?

Avram Grant called Chelsea’s performance the “worst performance since he took charge”. Without Frank Lampard in the starting line-up, the midfield looked oddly quiet against Olympiakos who were content to sit back and not muster any attacks against the Blues defense. Didier Drogba looked dejected – not himself – probably due to a African Nations Cup hangover of sorts. Solomon Kalou and Frank Lampard came on with some time to go, but by then the urgency was gone. Chelsea players looked satisfied with an away draw – which against Arsenal/Real Madrid/etc. would have been sufficient. Regardless, the Blues return to Stamford Bridge next week hoping a whiff of home will wake them up. Other developments have done the ‘waking up’ however…

Apparently, Avram Grant received anti-Semitic death threats at Chelsea’s training ground yesterday in the form of a package, with a note, containing a powdered substance that was later deemed to be harmless. The note also threatened Avram’s wife, Tzofit. Grant didn’t open the package as he was in Athens…the training ground, however, was shut down for a while after a staff member opened the note and package saying, ‘You are a back-stabbing Jewish b******. When you open this letter you will die a very slow and painful death.’ Clearly, there aren’t any good words to say about this…

In lesser – but still pretty bad – news, Chelsea is also being ‘told on’ by Serie A’s Reggina. The Blues apparently approached and effectively ‘poached’ Reggina’s most coveted youth prospect, Vincenzo Camilleri – 15 years old. Camilleri was expected to sign for Reggina when he turned 16, but opted to skip a scheduled youth team match and head to London to solidify the deal with Chelsea. Reggina’s chairman Lillo Foti is mostly disturbed with the fact that Camilleri’s move not only robs them of a big talent, but also of all future benefits, etc. He then tries to deflect the economic impact by saying that it could also destroy a young kid’s career, being moved that young, put into a crop of youth prospects all of the same if not better talent levels, etc. This is something that has been going on for a long time and it seems everyone (normally the losing club’s chairman) has a bad taste for it, but yet nothing has been done. Even UEFA’s president Michael Platini denounces it, but nobody really made a fuss about Astrit Ajdarevic’s move from minnows Falkenbergs in Sweden to Liverpool (let alone the WHOLE Liverpool youth movement this past summer). Or Fluminense’s Brazilian ‘whiz-twins’ Fabio and Rafael moving to Manchester United (even though there is an agreement between Fluminense and United). How should these situations be dealt with? Higher premiums for youth players? How do the clubs get properly compensated for such an undetermined loss?

In better news, Paulo Ferreira signed a new 5-year pact with Chelsea, effectively tying the rest of the Portuguese defender’s career to Stamford Bridge.