UEFA Champions League: Ronaldo and his “big head”, a 17 year old bails out Barca

Manchester United 2, AS Roma 0

It’s called ‘having a team’s number’. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney made sure of that. The heart of the Red Devils scored the first away goal without the aid of his backheel but instead it was his head and it put one foot for Manchester United into the Champions League semi-finals. Roma was without their usual maestro Francesco Totti and it showed with a lack of definitive finishing – but he will be back next Wednesday for the return leg. A 2-0 defeat at home will mean all things will have to go Roma’s way at Old Trafford. United was not without their inconsistencies, however, as Roma dominated the run of play for the first 15 minutes only to curse themselves over missed opportunities and the superb acrobatics of Edwin Van der Sar. Roma has a knack of scoring away from home, having done so twice this competition so far, and they will be looking to exploit a possible gap in defense left open by an injured Nemanja Vidic. Oh – by the way – it was Ronaldo’s 36th goal of the season. Unreal. It prompted Roma’s midfielder David Pizarro to call Ronaldo a “big head”.

Barcelona 1, Schalke 04 0

17-year old Bojan Krkic grabbed a much-needed away goal early in the match and led Barca to a 1-0 win in Germany. Highlighted by physical play, Rafa Marquez and Puyol organized a stingy defense capable enough of keeping Schalke’s big men Altintop and Kuranyi away from Valdes’ net. Nothing went on target for the Germans, whereas Thierry Henry troubled a weak left side and supplied the winning square pass to Krkic (the first of only 4 chances throughout for Barca). Near the end, things got sloppy, the crowd became weary, and whistles were heard in an attempt to prod Schalke into action. No luck, Barca takes the away goal back to Nou Camp. With Krkic’s goal, he became the youngest player to score in Champions League history.

TODAY’s GAMES: Liverpool vs. Arsenal, Chelsea vs. Fenerbahce

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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.

Gimme those predictions: Champions League Round of 16, Leg 2

Tuesday, March 4th

AC Milan vs. Arsenal
                (0-0)

The Gunners could go either way – too young, inexperienced to win at San Siro or young enough to not care or allow intimidation to get in the way of beating Milan at home. Wait…but is anyone telling Alexandre Pato to be nervous?
Prediction: 1-0, AC Milan

Barcelona vs. Celtic
                (3-2)

According to the girlfriend studying abroad in Barcelona, the town is OVERRUN by Celtic jersey-wearing fans, but none of that should affect the outcome of this game. Messi and company won’t mess up a good thing, especially when they need to refocus after a disastrous 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid this past weekend. Barca is angry and Celtic haven’t won a road match yet in this season’s competition. Doesn’t mean the Hoops won’t fight hard…
Prediction: 2-0 (5-2) Barcelona

Sevilla vs. Fenerbahce
              (2-3)

Sevilla has home advantage which means it’s a virtual guarantee that Luis Fabiano, Frederic Kanoute, Dani Alves will be at the top of their game. If by chance, Alex and Mateja Kezman can catch Drago and Alves sleeping and get an early one, Sevilla could fold under pressure. This is going to be another high scorer though.
Prediction: 3-1 (5-4) Sevilla.

Manchester United vs. Lyon
                     (1-1)

Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson really wants Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa for the $90 million Lyon is asking for? Or is this a mind game – Sir Alex trying to mess with the youngsters’ heads before a big game. It’s a little bit of both and if Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney work their usual magic, even first team goalkeeper and long term injury returnee Gregory Coupet will have a lot of work to do. Nemanja Vidic is supposed to return as well to shore up the defense, one that wasn’t tested much against Fulham. For Lyon though, all it takes is a Juninho set piece – home or away – to put things in the right place for OL.
Prediction: 2-1 (3-2) Manchester United.

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…

FA Cup Round 5 Draw: ManYoo gets the Gunners; Round 4 Review

FA CUP FIFTH ROUND DRAW (to be played Feb 16/17)

Bristol Rovers vs. Southampton
Cardiff vs. Wolverhampton
Sheffield United vs. Middlesbrough
Liverpool vs. Barnsley
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Preston North End vs. Portsmouth
Coventry vs. West Bromwich Albion
Chelsea vs. Huddersfield

Clearly the big match-up here is Manchester United drawing Arsenal in a battle that looks stacked in United’s favor. This is as long as Ronaldo is firing on all cylinders when Feb 16 and 17th rolls around. Regardless, if he underperforms – it isn’t bad to have Rooney and Tevez on the same squad.

ROUND 4 ROUND-UP

Saturday, January 26th

Arsenal 3, Newcastle 0

Kevin Keegan got an in-depth look at Newcastle’s play, only making his roster turnover increasingly imminent. Emmanuel Adebayor had his way with the piecemeal Newcastle defense, while his in-squad enemy Nicklas Bendtner sat on the bench waiting for his go. Adebayor’s 18th and 19th goals of the season didn’t come until late, speaking well for the umm…resilience? of a Newcastle squad that most likely will see a more youthful approach in the upcoming fixtures. Even Nicky Butt couldn’t get things right, putting one in his own net with time running out.

Liverpool 5, Havant and Waterlooville 2

Minnows Havant and W. fulfilled a dream by going twice up on sharks Liverpool. Not too bad. Liverpool eventually calmed down, however, as Yossi Benayoun made up for blowing a close range chance early to come back with a hat-trick (his second of the year). Slovakian signee Martin Skrtel got his second start and didn’t look up to Vidic-class, but he’s yet to settle. Young Brazilian Lucas Leiva got his first goal for the Reds, while Peter Crouch ended the madness scoring the fifth and final goal.

Chelsea 2, Wigan 1

Nicolas Anelka put a masterful finishing touch on his first Chelsea goal, pulling a ball out of the sky and volleying it past a sprawling Chris Kirkland. He then set-up Shaun Wright-Phillips for the second Chelsea goal that eventually proved to be the game-winner. It really is good to see this guy at a top club again as it has been one hell of rollercoaster career for him. Antoine Sibierski made it interesting with a swerving shot with about 5 minutes to go, but Chelski withstood the challenge.  

Middlesbrough 2, Mansfield 0

Dong-Gook Lee kept Mansfield at bay with an early 17th-minute goal. The underdogs really looked poised to be the under-performing squad who was without their playmaker Sanli Tuncay.

Wolves 4, Watford 1

Jay DeMerit’s Watford couldn’t get back on track as they were picked apart by a merciless Wolves squad led by the two goals of young Irish striker Andy Keogh. DeMerit went the full 90 as the Hornets bowed out of FA Cup competition.

Portsmouth 2, Plymouth 1

New signing Lassana Diarra showed his worth right away, putting Pompey up in the 34th minute and equalizing after an early 5th minute Chris Clark goal for Plymouth. Niko Kranjcar provided the gamewinner. Pompey was missing the work ethic of Diop and Muntari badly as Plymouth looked the fitter squad at times.

Preston North End 4, Derby 1

Talk about beating someone while they’re down. Preston did just that, regardless of the announcement that Derby has been taken over by American investors. Maybe these investors will demand Benny Feilhaber plays. Karl Hawley led the charge for PNE, while Robert Earnshaw grabbed the consolation goal for the Rams (his first in a billion years). It’s early but the new signings aren’t helping…

Coventry 2, Millwall 1

Millwall missed Zak Whitbread and Maltese ManYoo killer Michael Mifsud (say that five times fast) worked his magic again. This time at Millwall’s expense. Mifsud provided the winner early in the second half. It was his 16th of the season.

West Bromwich Albion 3, Peterborough 0

Goals from Roman Bednar, Robert Koren, and Kevin Phillips secured an easy win over P-boro.  The Eastern Europeans are working out well for W.B.A. as Bednar is Czech and Koren is Slovenian.

Southampton 2, Bury 0

So’ton destroyed Bury. No real contest and many didn’t expect otherwise. Goals from rising star Andrew Surman and Grzegorz Rasiak did Bury in and ensured Southampton’s faithful that they could survive without coach George Burley, who just took over the Scotland position.

Huddersfield 1, Oldham 0

Luke Beckett secured a 5th round tie for Huddersfield, despite getting beat around by a rather efficient Oldham set-up. But it was Beckett’s finishing that provided the win.

Bristol Rovers 1, Barnet 0

Bristol took their seat as lowest seed to advance despite beating Fulham in the third round. The Rovers are in the fifth round for the first time in 9 years thanks to Richard Lambert’s goal in the 49th minute. The real help came from Barnet’s Jason Puncheon who missed a penalty kick just 5 minutes before.  

Sunday, January 27th 

Sheffield United 2, Manchester City 1

Young Jamaican Luton Shelton took advantage of Michael Ball’s mishap (in his defense, those blue and white balloons really get in the way) to fire United in front of City. Neither Elano nor Petrov could  jumpstart City’s offense against the Blades. They had to wait until prospect Daniel Sturridge came on in the 46th for an equalizer to be scored. Yet another defensive mishap, however, and a favorable deflection, led to Jon Stead’s finish and the 2-1 win for the Blades. Sucky day for City as many believed they had a shot at it all…Sheffield United will take on yet another EPL squad in the next round – Middlesbrough – but there’s a good chance Boro could be without their rock in the back, Jonathan Woodgate.

Manchester United 3, Tottenham 1

ManYoo didn’t disappoint in setting their fifth round tie with the Gunners. In fact, they showed they were clear favorites dispatching a ‘hot’ Spur club. It wasn’t all glitz and glamour for the Red Devils, especially when Robbie Keane is on the pitch. Keane fired the first goal home in the 24th minute and Carlos Tevez’s equalizer was more luck than craftsmanship. The real turning point wasn’t until the 69th minute when Michael Dawson was sent off for a blatant hand ball in the box, setting up Cristiano Ronaldo for his 24th goal of the year. His 25th came with time running out after an individual effort from 20 yards out trickled through Radek Cerny’s wickets.

Cardiff 2, Hereford 1

No surprises here, although Cardiff were obliged to make things tougher for themselves letting Hereford dictate the course of play. City’s finishing was with them, however, as Hereford couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn until it was too late. Cardiff had already tucked away two before Theo Robinson’s consolation goal in the 77th minute.