UEFA Cup: Everton, Tottenham have the heroics but forget the fundamentals

Everton 2, Fiorentina 0  (Fiorentina wins 4-2 on penalties)

The curse of the 12-yard kick. Yakubu faked out Fiorentina’s keeper, but hit the post. Jagielka tried to sky it top left corner, but he missed down the middle instead. Despite Everton’s dominance at home in regulation time, you could sort of tell it was still Fiorentina’s game. Andy Johnson put the first one in, earning vocal support from the crowd for the rest of the game. Mikel Arteta provided the shock, however, ripping a shot from 30 yards out which caught the Italians off guard. This loss stings, but it doesn’t take away from the fact Everton have found consistency in play and a confidence that they belong in the top five. Timmy Howard was in net, but couldn’t get a jump on any of the penalties including Mario Santana’s which sent Fiorentina onto the quarterfinals. With 9 games left in the EPL, the Toffees can now concentrate on finding their way to higher ground – a place they might even deserve to be – the UCL.

Tottenham 1, PSV Eindhoven 0 (PSV wins 6-5 on penalties)

Who else but Dimitar Berbatov to score the equalizer away from home? It was Jermaine Jenas and Pascal Chimbonda, however, who couldn’t hit the crucial penalties that a young PSV seemed to ease through. Berbatov was kept quiet for 80 minutes until – as if not to be shown up by Arteta’s long range bomb – the Bulgarian unleashed a ferocious volley that blew by PSV’s keeper Gomes. The Hotspur were resilient, but one can certainly question Juande Ramos’ need to alter the formations and tactics on the fly – his insertion of Lee Young-Pyo for his first appearance in 2 months, Zokora at holding mid (which I liked actually), etc. They equalized away from home, however, and got the result they needed until the end. Ramos summed it up nicely to ESPN Soccernet…”You can’t train for penalty pressure”. Sounds like another post in the making…

Other Results:

Zenit St. Petersburg 2, Marseille 0 (Zenit win on away goals, 3-3) – it’s not that Marseille didn’t have their chances, but the away goal they let up in France came back to bite them in the ass; Djibril Cisse was kept quiet, while no one had an answer for Pavel Pogrebniak who struck for a brace and put the Russians through

Hamburg SV 3, Bayer Leverkusen 2 (Leverkusen wins on away goals, 3-3) – HSV had the attacking edge, but Leverkusen converted first. Rafael Van der Vaart led a potent attack, however, that mustered three in a decent effort that unfortunately need 4 goals to go through. Theofanis Gekas was again the decider in the issue scoring Leverkusen’s push through goal. Jose Paolo Guerrero and Trochowski also scored for HSV, while Sergei Barbarez found the first goal for Leverkusen.

Getafe 1, Benfica 0 (Getafe won 3-1 on aggregate) – Benfica sputtered to another loss this one coming several days after their now former boss Jose Antonio Camacho left his post (i.e. was sacked). There was no real urgency coming from the Portuguese and Getafe used that to extend their ‘cinderella run’ into the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. Apparently, Manchester United assistant Carlos Quieroz is in Benfica’s sights for the manager’s position – and that would be great news for Freddy Adu.

Anderlecht 2, Bayern Munich 1 (Bayern won 6-2 on aggregate) – Bayern lost the game but won the war and also gave some invaluable experience to some of their younger players in the process. Young Brazilian central defender Breno has a bright future in Munich and he got his first run-out in the UEFA Round of 16. Highly-touted prospect Toni Kroos also played the first half and left seemingly with a knock. Both 18 year olds were a bit outplayed by Anderlecht’s 20-year old Ukranian Aleksandr Yakovenko, but they didn’t need to shine – they just needed to win.

Action Continues…

Werder Bremen vs. Glasgow Rangers (Rangers hold 2-0 lead) – Rangers firmly hold the lead in this one and if they don’t blow up should find themselves in the quarterfinals.

Sporting Lisbon vs. Bolton (Tied 1-1) – Bolton’s Gary Megson has opted for a second-tier line-up in this one as he wants to rest Diouf, Nolan, Jaaskaleinen, McCann, O’Brien, Campo, and Ricardo Gardner for a relegation battle vs. Wigan this coming weekend. Staving off relegation over European glory? Bold, but smart. Still no Johann Smith for this one though.

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EPL Daily 1.23: EJ to England, Cousin to follow? but Fulham knocked out the FA Cup

EJ TO ENGLAND: Eddie Johnson has signed for Fulham to join an ailing strike force of Shefki Kuqi, David Healy, and Diomansy Kamara. Johnson joins as part of new coach Roy Hodgson’s turnover of the Cottagers as they sit in a dead heat for a relegation battle. Defensive reinforcements have already been brought in in the form of Norwegian Brede Hangeland and creative Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen. There are talks taking place with unsettled Glasgow Rangers’ striker Daniel Cousin as well. The deal is for 3 1/2 years.

BERBATOV: Dimitar Berbatov’s wrestling with Tottenham quieted down a bit after the Hotspur’s trouncing of a young Arsenal side in the Carling Cup semifinals.

BIANCHI: Rolando Bianchi – Manchester City’s . His time with City started strong and fizzled recently. Bianchi admitted he 1. hates England 2. hates English football and 3. wants back to Italy. Well to Italy he goes – on loan to Lazio.

MCFADDEN: The wantaway Everton striker has completed his move to Birmingham as the Blues became rather keen on him after his recent form. The Scotsman moved for $10 million. Birmingham has done well this transfer window – bringing in young Argentinian striker Mauro Zarate on loan and keen to bring in Guglielmo Stendardo in on loan from Lazio.

FA CUP ROUND 3 REPLAYS:

Bristol Rovers 0, Fulham 0 (Bristol R. wins 5-3 on penalties)

Roy Hodgson played a rested squad in their replay with Bristol Rovers. Dempsey and Bocanegra went all 120 minutes in a losing cause, one that many expected Hodgson to lay in to his players for. Instead, he defended them and placed the blame on himself, but the truth is, they’re still looking for a win in Hodgson’s reign. Jimmy Bullard played the bad man, missing the PK that allowed Bristol to move ahead.

Derby County 1, Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Derby wins on penalties 4-2)

A Kenny Miller saved the Rams from embarrassment putting their only shot on goal in the back of the net. The match went to overtime and Derby played like the underdog most of the way, throwing hard tackles left and right. Eddie Lewis came in for an ineffective Giles Barnes (rare) and wreaked havoc for a solid 80 minutes on the left side. Deadlocked through overtime, it came down to penalties and Derby didn’t disappoint. Sheffield Wednesday missed their first two, while Eddie Lewis and Kenny Miller converted theirs making it somewhat of a no-contest.

Barnet 0, Swindon 0 (Barnet wins 2-0 on penalties)

In the ugliest display of penalty taking I have seen in a long time, Barnet came out on top. Billy Paynter had probably the most up and down, roller coaster day of his career. First, he scored in the 42nd minute to put Swindon Town up 1-0. Ten minutes later, however, he was hiding in a corner after he put one in the back of his own net. Then to end on a definitive note, Paynter botched his PK attempt as all Swindon Town penalty takers went on to miss their respective attempts.

CARLING CUP SEMIFINALS:

Chelsea 1, Everton 0 (3-1 on aggregate)

Chelsea booked a place in the final as Joe Cole drove the proverbial nail in Everton’s coffin snuffing out in the process a spirited effort from the Toffees. Everton fought with tough tackling and relied on a couple players returning from injury to test the Chelsea defense. Andy Johnson was scrappy as usual, while Manuel Fernandes returned for what seems to be his 40th stint with the club. Either way, Chelsea is through to the final against Tottenham.

Tottenham 5, Arsenal 1 (6-2 on aggregate)

Odd game – but Tottenham pulled apart a shaky Arsenal defense consisting of no one particularly guilty of inconsistent play. The backs were captained by Bakary Sagna and William Gallas, while young goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski got the start in goal. Other surprising names included Justin Hoyte, Denilson, Armand Traore. These youngsters aren’t exactly scared of the spotlight, but no one could cope – not even Gallas and Sagna – with the quality of Jermaine Jenas, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Keane, Berbatov, and a nasty shot from Frenchmen Steed Malbranque. Wenger put on the studs too late – with Adebayor, Eduardo coming in later in the game (Adebayor eventually bagged the lone Gunner goal) and Cesc Fabregas in right after Wenger got a whiff of trouble – the 20 minute mark. Tottenham got the result they deserved in this instance, as last week in the first leg – they came out with a 1-1 draw after firmly holding the upper hand. On top of that, as seen above, a Carling Cup final might be what the Spurs need to keep Dimitar Berbatov around. Best Arsenal moment of the night was probably the friendly fire – Bendtner vs. Adebayor (it’s off in the distance, watch for it). Investigation to follow.

EPL Weekend: Boca scores, United falls, Arsenal pushes forward

Saturday, December 29th, 2007 

Tottenham 6, Reading 4

You almost HAVE to start out with this one as weird results such as this one don’t come around to often in the EPL. Dimitar Berbatov had 4 of the 6 Spurs’ goals and reiterated after the game that he was poised to leave come the New Year because he still thought Tottenham (even with the new coach) had no chance at trophies. His four put him at 8 for the year and right into the thick of the scoring leaderboard. It was Reading, however, that went up 2-1 with almost a half to go but then all went to hell. There were 7 goals in the last 40 minutes. Robbie Keane was kept quiet on the day despite a PK chance that was snuffed by Marcus Hahnemann. Dave Kitson scored two for the Royals pushing his total to 8 as well, but it was still Reading’s 2nd lopsided drubbing of the campaign (remember that 7-4 loss to Portsmouth). Not a good habit to get into…Khalifa Cisse and Ivar Ingimarsson scored the first two goals for Reading, while Tottenham got a rocket from Steed Malbranque and a PK miss follow-up from Jermain Defoe to go with Berbatov’s 4 goal performance.  

West Ham 2, Manchester United 1

The hiccup that no one expected would happen, especially with the recent form of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo showed up to play yet again, scoring in the 14th minute to put the Devils up 1-0 and things seemed dandy. It was the Hammers that took control though, creating more chances, and giving Tomasz Kusczak some trouble in goal. They didn’t break through Rio and Vidic until the 77th minute when guess who? ANTON Ferdinand (Rio’s brother and West Ham’s central defender) headed one home. Matthew Upson then provided the winner aerially about 5 minutes later, bringing ManYoo crashing back down to Earth. What’s worse is it was Cristiano Ronaldo who could have effectively put the game away in the 68th with a Jonathan Spector PK gift, but he missed wide right proving he’s not a soccer God yet.

Fulham 1, Birmingham 1

The Cottagers looked like the home team and both Americans – Bocanegra and Dempsey had good days. Boca found the net early on with a near post run as he nodded it past the sprawling Maik Taylor putting Fulham up 1-0 and making new boss Roy Hodgson jump a bit for joy in the stands. They pressed forward again and again, but it was Sebastian Larsson’s Omozusi-deflected (poor kid yet again) long range blast that tied the game up. Dempsey really did look effective, but nothing of worrisome proportions to Taylor in net. Fulham will have to gear up for a tough second half of the season and expect some personnel changes to prepare for that…Michael Parkhurst anyone?

Chelsea 2, Newcastle 1

The Magpies falter yet again. Salomon Kalou’s 87th minute put-away amongst offside controversy put the death grip on Sam Allardyce’s job status. Either way, Newcastle managed only 2 shots on net, 1 of which hit its target. Michael Essien put away the first goal of the day in a penalty box-scrum, but ultimately he had one of his more forgetful performances of the season. Nicky Butt equalized on a well-executed counter attack that saw him start the play and end it, but after that, Newcastle went limp. Nothing to report except that Chelsea’s class took over and Allardyce was relegated to admitting defeat.

Arsenal 4, Everton 1

Tim Howard looked particularly helpless in goal but it certainly wasn’t as if received any real help from his back four. Eduardo – Arsenal’s Croatian Brazilian – picked apart Lescott and Yobo repeatedly for two goals cancelling out Tim Cahill’s opener at 19 minutes. Adebayor added his 11th of the year and Tomas Rosicky hit for a near-post screamer to add insult to injury. There were two sent off in this fixture and for about ten minutes, Everton had the upper hand as Nicklas Bendtner was ejected for a childish tackle. Mikel Arteta – a great deal older – threw a brutal looking elbow on Fabregas minutes later and was given his marching orders as well. A 4-1 win puts Wenger’s boys on top by two points and proved me stupid as only a couple days ago I had announced Everton’s “arrival”. Oh well.

Middlesbrough 1, Portsmouth 0

Southgate’s Boro grabbed a shock away win against an impotent Portsmouth squad. It was Pompey that provided most of the attacking flair but they were repeatedly tempered by a Woodgate-led back four. Pompey manager turned felon Harry Redknapp cited fatigue as the biggest factor in the loss, but whether it was fatigue-induced or not, the finishing was pretty much piss-poor. Why the Kranjcar/Muntari set-up was given a rest, with the African Nations Cup coming up and Muntari leaving, is beyond me…

Aston Villa 2, Wigan 1

Another hard fought Aston Villa win. Two late goals from Curtis Davies and Gabriel Agbonlahor sealed the deal at Wigan, ruining Titus Bramble’s first-ever goal celebration with the Latics. All-in-all, the game produced few real attacking efforts and if it came down to a defensive stand-off, I would bet my life on the Villans. The man of the day was Curtis Davies though as he looked like a guy worth keeping, something Martin O’Neill has been waiting for all season. Wigan still sits in the relegation zone with Liverpool looming and not making matters any easier.

Sunderland 3, Bolton 1

Roy Keane’s boys continued Bolton’s downward spiral, putting a three-spot on the lowly Wanderers. Former Man Utd winger Kieran Richardson hit first in the 13th with hot prospect Kenwyne Jones following suit twenty minutes later. It was a finishing clinic as there weren’t many chances in this one, nor were there expected to be many. El-Hadji Diouf tried to take matters in his own hands, pulling one back before half-time but the Black Cats held strong. Darryl Murphy provided the icing on the cake in injury time, but the real question after this result was: is Nicolas Anelka moving on?? Without Anelka, I can only see relegation for the Wanderers unless someone learns how to spend money over at Reebok Stadium. Sunderland aren’t in a great way either and sit – along with Bolton – right above the relegation zone.  

Sunday, December 30th 

Blackburn 2, Derby 1

Roque Santa Cruz scored his third goal in 2 games and this one ensured at least a point with lowly Derby County. The Paraguayan striker now has 10 on the year and is rapidly closing in on Cristiano Ronaldo at the top. It was David Bentley however, who also has had a great past couple games, that provided the gamewinner and the heroics for the Rovers. Matt Oakley opened the scoring for the Rams as they converted on their first real offensive drive but fizzled after that. The Rovers poured on shot after shot (a whopping 18 on goal), but the true turning point was Steve Howard’s botched penalty attempt. Brad Friedel guessed the right direction and kept Derby’s lead at only one. Then Santa Cruz and Bentley took over.

Liverpool 0, Manchester City 0

An exciting deadlock to say the least. Big men of the day were Man City’s Vedran Corluka and Irish veteran Richard Dunne. Not that Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher had a bad day or anything, but it was pretty quiet on Pepe Reina’s side of the field. Sven’s Citeh fought off a rather tame barrage and centre-back Dunne probably blocked at least 5 of those attempts himself and kept Torres at bay. Carragher on the other hand kept Elano quiet, snuffing any chance Man City had to move up in the standings. Dunne took the cake for best performance of the day with his acrobatic clearance off the line after a nifty Joe Hart save almost trickled into Man City’s goal.

EPL Daily 12.20: 5th Richest Man picks a team; Bangura stays for now; Cup semis set!

Alhassan “Al” Bangura – the Watford midfielder and Sierra Leone native – was granted the opportunity to qualify for a work permit, which effectively has kept him from being sent back to Sierra Leone for the time being. If it was a ‘regular’ work permit hearing, Bangura would still be packing his bags, but apparently the 19-year old has been granted a special hearing by an independent panel consisting of Home Office members and football-related officers. We should know more in a couple of weeks, but as of right now the prospects look pretty good.

TAKEOVERS: Birmingham City has terminated any takeover talks with Carson Yeung’s company Grandtop International Holdings. On the other hand, Queens Park Rangers has an extremely promising moneybags suitor on their hands. Pegged as the 5th richest man in the world, Lakshmi Mittal (an Indian steel magnate worth over $100 billion) has reportedly bought a 20% share into QPR, a club in crisis for some time now. This is even AFTER some Formula One businessman (Flavio Briatore, Renault team boss, and Bernie Ecclestone – Formula 1 chief) took over the club in November. If Mittal decides to dip into his war chest then QPR, who sits at the bottom of the Championship right now, could rival EPL clubs in the transfer market. Just like Roy Keane at Sunderland, though, the trick will be luring them to Loftus Road in London. Key word: London. Shouldn’t be too hard.

CARLING CUP: Frank Lampard and GASP! Andrei Shevchenko sandwiched a Peter Crouch ejection with goals booking Chelsea a place in Carling Cup semifinals, along with Arsenal (3-2 win over Blackburn with a ‘watered down’ squad), Everton (2-1 victors over WHU), and Tottenham (2-0 winners over Man City). At least if Pepe Reina goes down with injury, all Merseysiders now know they have Charles Itandje to back him up. That guy was superb.

Semi-final pairings set!

CHELSEA vs. EVERTON and TOTTENHAM vs. ARSENAL
1st Leg will be week of January 7th, Return Leg will be week of January 21st

DIMITAR BERBATOV: Reports are coming out that that Bulgarian striker could be headed to Manchester United in return for cash and a couple players. New Hotspur coach Juande Ramos says otherwise though. In short, Berbatov ain’t goin’ anywhere.

MLS ALL-STAR GAME: According to the Toronto Star, the MLS has contacted Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid to be 2008’s All-Star Game opponent. And of course, due to the American investor connection of Gillet and Hicks, Liverpool is the front-runner. Liverpool might also be slated for a friendly in Montreal around the same time as it has already been confirmed that they will be touring USA and Canada this coming summer.

A GRINCH AT READING?: Steve Coppell is having all Reading players report to training on Christmas day. This policy has been labeled, “Forget Christmas” as the Royals have upcoming matches over the Holiday break against West Ham and Tottenham. Sitting in 13th means a couple of wins could catapult them into European competition contention. Apparently, their Christmas will be winning those games…