liverpool vs chelsea

Chelsea Wins The Loser Cup

The State of World Football is in Shambles.

Chelsea players celebrating the Europa cup win as if it was the Champions League. While objectively teams like Porto, Celtic, Shakhtar (who basically knocked them out of the Champions League) and even Wigan had more successive cup runs then Chelsea.  The first three made it to the elimination round of the Champions League while Wigan defeated Manchester City in the FA Cup final.

If Benfica had won the Europa Cup I would understand and even feel happy for their excitement, but we are talking about last years Champions League Winners!  The same “Champions” that just lost 6 tournaments in a row and that qualifying for next year’s Champions League was their major accomplishment for the season.  200+ Million dollars to win the losers cup and then run around celebrating even more than they did last year.

 

The State of European Football is in Shambles.

Maybe I am wrong, but it seemed classless the way the players paraded around after their success.  Unfortunately, most Chelsea fans are plastic and called this final “A Big Game” while in reality Wigan’s victory was much more important, impressive, improbable and worthy of their celebration. Wigan beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup, while Chelsea lost to the same team in the Semi-Final. The Blues were the first team ever to win the Champions League then subsequently got knocked out the group stage the following year. It was more evidence that their victory last year was simply a fluke, determined by the “Football Gods”.

It is a real shame that young players today have no idea what is important in life any more. They have no idea what team spirit and teamwork is about. All they think about when making the decision to join a club is “How Big the Club Is”. Players like Kagawa, Sahin, Nasri, Torres ruined their careers because they wanted to join bigger clubs then they were playing for , even though they were loved and played a massive role on their respective clubs.

But what about the players you will be playing with? Is it not important that the Captain of Chelsea was having an affair with the wife of his team-mate?  Do you want to play for a team that fires their manager every year? A team is a second family that you will be spending many years with.  The culture of the team and the behaviour of the players should be the main reason you join a team, not HOW BIG the club is or how WEALTHY the OWNER is.

The State of Football is in Shambles.

They better put an end to  teams like Manchester City, PSG and Chelsea or else other European leagues will go the way of Italy and the stadiums will have lots of empty seats.

 

 

 

Spurs vs. Sunderland 1

Spurs vs. Sunderland Preview: EPL Matchweek 38

By Daire McAnallen

Tottenham Hotspur play host to Sunderland at White Hart Lane on Sunday as the 2012/2013 Premier League season draws to a close with the tradition of all ten fixtures kicking-off at the same time. However, the only battle that remains is for a Champions League place and Spurs are undoubtedly the underdogs in this contest and must win to stand any chance of success. Even then, they are reliant on their north London foes to slip-up away to Newcastle with a draw or a defeat. Spurs were in the driving seat after their 2-1 win against the Gunners in early March but two subsequent defeats, away to Liverpool and at home to Fulham, offered Arsenal the upper-hand and Arsene Wenger’s side have won seven and drawn two since that derby defeat. However, since those two losses, Spurs have been unbeaten in seven to take this fight to the last day of the season.

Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland were also bracing themselves for a nail-biting last day of the season until Arsenal beat Wigan 4-1 on Tuesday night to confirm the Latics as the third club to be relegated after Reading and QPR before them. Wigan would only be one point behind the Black Cats if they managed to repeat their win at the Emirates in the same fixture last season but it wasn’t to be so Roberto Martinez’ team will compete in the Championship next season, while also taking part in the Europa League following their famous FA Cup win. However, Di Canio will be hoping to end their season on a high note after his team managed two 1-1 draws against fellow relegation-threatened Stoke and Southampton following their 6-1 capitulation against Aston Villa. As they’re currently in 17th place with 39 points, they’ll want to reach 40, at least, which could lift them a couple of places for the sake of pride rather than any massive monetary gain. However, Spurs have it all to play for and, although it might not be enough, I expect them to win this 3-1 with goals from Lennon, Bale, and Defoe, with the only former-Gunner to score on the day being Larsson for the Black Cats, although, if Arsenal manage to win as well, that could be the Welshman’s last goal in a Tottenham shirt.

Newcastle vs. Arsenal 1

Newcastle vs. Arsenal Preview: EPL Matchweek 38

By Daire McAnallen

Arsenal guaranteed Newcastle’s place in the Premier League for next season with a 4-1 win against Wigan on Tuesday and now the Gunners travel to St. James’ Park on Sunday in the hope of securing Champions League qualification. Lukas Podolski opened the scoring against the Latics before an excellent free kick equaliser by Shaun Maloney right on half-time. Theo Walcott then put the Gunners ahead just past the hour mark, with Podolski getting his second five minutes later and Aaron Ramsey scoring a rare goal three minutes after that to effectively kill the game. That defeat relegated Wigan just three days after they celebrated FA Cup glory thanks to a 1-0 win against Manchester City at Wembley. Newcastle were among a half dozen clubs who stood a theoretical chance of going down if Wigan won their final two games but Arsenal got them off the hook and prevented a nail-biting last day of the season. Of course, the Gunners themselves will need to win this game to secure a top four place if Spurs manage to beat Sunderland at White Hart Lane so Arsenal fans will likely have another 90 minutes of nervous energy to look forward to on Sunday.

The Magpies have had a poor campaign by the standards of Alan Pardew’s first season and a half at the club. The distraction of the Europa League, an abundance of injuries to key players, and the loss of Demba Ba to Chelsea in January have all contributed but their inconsistency will still be a major concern to Pardew. The French players who joined in January have shown some signs of hope for the future and they should be well bedded-in ahead of next season, although their owner Mike Ashley may be reluctant to spend much more money in the summer as a result. Arsenal will certainly take some hope from Newcastle’s last two results at home when they were beaten 0-3 by local rivals Sunderland before being humiliated 0-6 by Liverpool. Their 1-2 win at QPR last week all but assured their safety before Arsenal’s win against Wigan guaranteed it and they’ll want to regain some pride at home following those disastrous results. However, Arsenal are unbeaten since they lost to Spurs in early March and they now have the upper-hand on their north London neighbours with a one point advantage and a plus-15 goal difference, so their fate is most certainly in their own hands. The Gunners’ impressive unbeaten run has included seven wins and two draws and, if Spurs fail to beat Sunderland on Sunday, Arsenal will finish in the top four. However, Arsene Wenger would rather have an eye on the Chelsea game, instead of the Spurs one, as a win for the Gunners will hand them third place if the Blues lose at home to Everton. Finishing third would mean avoiding a potentially tricky Champions League qualifier so Arsenal will be out to win on Sunday no matter what Spurs do at White Hart Lane. In the improbable, but possible, event that Arsenal and Chelsea finish exactly level – on points, goal difference, and goals scored – there could, in theory, be an unprecedented playoff for third place. If Chelsea draw 0-0 and Arsenal win 1-2, for example, then this rollercoaster ride for Champions League qualification may see another day. As interesting as that would be, I don’t think it will happen and I can see Arsenal winning this 0-1 with Cazorla scoring the all-important goal in a nerve-whacking game for Gunners fans.

Chelsea vs. Everton 1

Chelsea vs. Everton Preview: EPL Matchweek 38

By Daire McAnallen

Europa League winners Chelsea have secured their Champions League place but a win against Everton at Stamford Bridge, in David Moyes’ final game in charge of the Toffees, would guarantee them third place, thereby giving them a direct route to Europe’s premier competition. Interim manager Rafa Benitez has done all he can at his time with the Blues but he will be added to the list of discarded coaches that have worked under Roman Abramovich. Benitez’ predecessor, Roberto Di Matteo, also had a very successful time as a short-term manager during his reign as caretaker boss last season when he won the FA Cup and Chelsea’s first ever Champions League after another short-lived manager, Avram Grant had taken them to the final in 2008. Of course, Abramovich caved-in to fan pressure by appointing Di Matteo as manager but wasted no time in axing him when things went awry earlier in the season. However, if the rumours are true, next season could see the return of the one man that the Russian owner seemed to believe in: Jose Mourinho. If so, one of his main challengers for the title will be in the dugout at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. David Moyes enjoyed 11 seasons in-charge of Everton before being personally chosen as Alex Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford. It’ll be a massive step-up for the Scot and it remains to be seen whether he can handle the pressure and deal with the level of expectancy that comes with being the manager of Manchester United.

The Blues are three points ahead of Spurs in fifth place and because they’ve got a vastly superior goal-difference of plus 16, they’re assured a top four finish. However, they’re only two points ahead of Arsenal with a one goal advantage and two more goals scored. Therefore, it’s theoretically possible that Chelsea and Arsenal could finish dead-level if the Blues draw and the Gunners win away at Newcastle. So, for example, if Arsenal win 1-2 and Chelsea draw 0-0, there could be an unprecedented playoff to decide third and fourth place, which means the season may not finish on Sunday after all. The Toffees, meanwhile, are guaranteed sixth place as they’re five points clear of Merseyside rivals Liverpool in seventh and six behind Spurs in fourth. Everton therefore have very little to play for but they’ll want to give Moyes a send-off befitting of his time there and, after their fine display in a 2-0 win against West Ham last weekend, they’re sure to make a game of it at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea could have some tired legs after their Europa League heroics on Wednesday night when they beat Benfica 2-1 in the final. Fernando Torres opened the scoring when he rounded the ‘keeper and coolly slotted home before Oscar Cardoza equalised from the penalty spot and Branislav Ivanovic won it in injury time with a looping header back across goal and into the top corner. That late winner prevented extra-time and possible penalties so the Blues will be grateful to have avoided that but it’s still been a long season for the London club with a ludicrously scheduled post-season US tour still to come. But I still believe that they have enough to cross the finish line on Sunday and secure third place with a 2-1 win and goals from Mata and the returning Ba, with Baines scoring the final goal in David Moyes’ reign as Everton boss and, if we’re to believe the speculation, it could be Baines‘ last goal for the Toffees before he follows Moyes to Old Trafford.

Real Madrid's new coach Portuguese Jose

Has Mourinho Been Successful At Real Madrid? Part 2

Real Madrid and Barcelona would square off once again in the preseason in the Spanish Super Cup, which pits the league winner against the cup winner in a two legged home & away tie. Barcelona eventually walked away victorious and lifted the trophy, but not before Jose’s antics kicked in. During a scuffle which stemmed from  a Marcelo red card for a tackle on Fabregas, Mourinho got involved by poking the eye of Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova:

The Madrid press lambasted the “Special One” for his classless behavior, but this was typical Jose. Many were calling for his head and claimed that his behavior does not represent the institution of Real Madrid and its values. However, Mourinho was not phased. He was ready to get the season under way.

The next match was the first clasico of the season in the Bernabeu and Barcelona were simply too strong for Madrid, despite conceding an early goal from a Victor Valdes blunder. They scored 3 consecutive goals and won the match 1-3. This was the lowest point for Madrid fans. They must have been thinking to themselves “How on earth do we defeat this Barcelona side”?

However, as the season went on, Madrid continued to get stronger and more determined, while Barcelona started dropping points in away matches, which would ultimately be their demise. Real Madrid were pummeling Spanish opposition, often by 6 goal margins as Cristiano Ronaldo and co. were ruthless in front of goal. Ronaldo, Benzema, and Higuain were sharing the goal scoring duties while Barcelona were limited to the one-man army that is Lionel Messi. Despite the Argentine’s brilliant performances, he did not have Pedro and Villa to share the goal scoring burdens and this would cost them dearly. As the final clasico of the season approached, Barcelona needed a win to make a push for the title, but Cristiano Ronaldo silenced the Camp Nou with a strike and effectively sealed the title for Madrid. Not only did Madrid finally pick up a major piece of silverware, they finally defeated their arch rivals in an important match.

Unfortunately for Madrid, they once again got knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich in the semi-finals on penalty kicks. They would have to wait another year to contest for “La Decima”.

As Jose’s second season drew to a close, the Madrid press were divided. Some were praising him for winning a major title after a long wait. Others were expecting a Champions League title or at the very least, an appearance in the final. After all, this was the task Mourinho was appointed for.

However, if we look at the overall scope of the season it was actually quite a successful one. They not only won the league title convincingly on Barcelona’s turf but their performances in the champions league were impressive. They “blitzkrieged” their way into the knockout rounds winning all 6 matches in the group stage and nearly got to the final of the tournament. It was not a perfect season by any means, but it was a step in the right direction. Mourinho would get another year at Madrid.

As the 2012-13 season began, Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other in the 2-legged Spanish supercup. The only difference this time was that Barcelona was the cup winner and Madrid the league winner. Having broken their Barcelona “hoodoo”, Madrid were a lot more confident when facing their arch enemies. They defeated Barcelona and took the trophy for the first time since 2008. More importantly, they now had the edge over their rivals and knew how to beat them.

Jose Mourinho’s power began to grow at the club. Their president Florentino Perez even went as far to sack their director general Jorge Valadano over the summer due to his disagreements with Jose Mourinho. He quoted:

“We have decided to end the contractual relationship with Jorge Valdano. The experience of this season has shown the need for a new organizational structure giving authority to the coach and avoiding dysfunctions with the directorate general,” he said. “I do not want to hide the pain I feel at the exit of Jorge Valdano, but my feelings cannot be a reason for not taking the necessary decisions.”

All seemed rosy for Mourinho as he was getting results on the pitch and off the pitch, but this would be his highest point. Soon after, Madrid started dropping points in the league to minnows like Granada, while Barcelona had their best ever start to a season going unbeaten in 20 straight matches.

The league title was wrapped up January, and Madrid turned their attention to the Champions League. They were in the group of death with Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax. They were not very convincing like the previous year, as it took them until the final matchday to clinch qualification and only managed 3 wins in the group stage.

Reports started emanating from Spain about a locker room divide at Madrid. Major journalists were reporting that Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos wanted out of the club as long as Mourinho was still there. The reports intensified as Sergio Ramos was benched for a champions league match against Manchester City. He was also criticized publicly by Mourinho after a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in the league.

Club captain Iker Casillas also fell out of favour with the Portuguese and lost his starting position to Diego Lopez. Mourinho claimed he preferred Lopez over the Spanish International due to his ability to command the penalty area and play it out from the back. Many Madrid fans turned on Mourinho at this juncture, claiming that Iker is a legend of the club and cannot be benched, despite several subpar performances. Real Madrid Center-Back Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo have also been on the receiving end of criticisms from their coach during the season. However, journalism from the football world should always be taken with a grain of salt, as they are more interested in selling papers than actually reporting the truth, but there has certainly been some controversy in the Madrid camp. One thing is for sure, the Real Madrid players do not have the same sort of affection Inter Milan players had for Mourinho.

As the knockout stages of the Champions League approached, Real Madrid got paired with Manchester United. The first leg in Madrid resulted in a lacklustre 1-1 draw, which was not the best result for Madrid. It seemed that every time Real Madrid faces a top team who does not have a strong attacking intent, they look clueless. Mourinho’s tactics are most effective when a team attacks them, giving them the ability to hit on the counter. They do not take a proactive approach to games, and will suffer if they have to take the initiative. The 2nd leg was a perfect example of this, as United had the away goal and could play more conservatively. Madrid did not look to score until after the controversial Nani red card incident. They eventually capitalized on the man advantage with 2 goals and won the tie, but even Jose himself said that Real Madrid were not the better team.

Madrid then breezed past Galatasaray in the quarter-finals until they met Borussia Dortmund in the semis. The german giants utterly dispatched Mourinho’s Madrid by scoring 4 goals on them. Perhaps in this tie, it was not Mourinho’s redundant tactics which did them in, but his inability to make his players sacrifice for the team. Dortmund looked a cohesive unit, while Madrid still looked like a bunch of individuals, even after 3 years. This match was the culmination of the entire “Moudrid” project, and it had failed.

With the amount of funds and power he was granted at Madrid, one would have expected more from him. Mourinho was not able to create a champions league winning team at Madrid, but this is the hardest tournament to win. Were the expectations too high? Granted, he improved the team and helped them over the mental barriers of first round exits and reached the semi-final of Europe’s elite tournament 3 times in a row. He also added some silverware to his cabinet and helped the team overcome their fears of Barcelona, but was this enough? Was the “special one” appointed solely for the purpose of bringing “La Decima” to Madrid? Surely, no one hires a Jose Mourinho for the purpose of long-term squad building. There are far better managers for that. However, it’s undeniable that Mourinho has elevated Real Madrid’s level based purely on results. If that was the expectation from him, then he has succeeded. But with Mourinho, you always expected something extraordinary, and he could not deliver. He certainly had all the tools at his disposal to create magic and bring in La Decima, but alas, he failed.

 

joise

Has Mourinho Been Successful At Real Madrid? Part 1

Has Jose Mourinho been successful at Real Madrid?

As rumours are circulating about Jose’s departure from Spain, we take a look back on his 3 year stint at Real Madrid. It was no surprise when a club of Madrid’s stature hired a manager of his pedigree. Los Blancos were in crisis mode when they decided to hire the best manager in the world.

Real Madrid had lost the league title 3 years in a row to Barcelona and were consistently being knocked out of the Champions in the round of 16 to teams they were expected to beat, such as Lyon. This was unacceptable for a club like Real Madrid who are arguably the biggest and most prestigious club in football history. Something had to change. Enter the Special One.

Prior to Mourinho’s arrival at Madrid, Manuel Pellegrini guided Madrid to a record breaking 96 point season. Unfortunately for him, Barcelona registered 99 points the same year and took their 3rd consecutive La Liga title. Los Blancos management had seen enough and gave Pellegrini the sack. Jose Mourinho was appointed as Real Madrid manager after guiding Inter Milan to a historic treble winning season. He captured the Champions League title for Inter after a 40 year drought, defeating the Champions of England, Germany, and Spain along the way. The charisma and leadership portrayed by Mourinho during his time at Inter made him the most desirable manager in the football world. Skeptics believed that his style of defensive counter attacking football would not suit the Madrid football world, as they are accustomed to attacking football.

When Mourinho took the helm in the 2010-11 season, he had an adundance of offensive talent available to him. The likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema, , Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, and Xabi Alonso had to share the limelight.  This was the most expensive Madrid squad in history, weighing in at over 400 million euros. The media, fans, and pundits expected instant success from Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, but how was he supposed to take a handful of individuals with no clear vision and no defined system and turn them into champions? Well, it would not be easy.

Upon their first big match of the season, they had to face a vengeful Barcelona side at the Camp Nou. The Catalans had a sour taste in their mouth from Jose’s last visit, as he had knocked them out of the Champions League dramatically and celebrated by running across their pitch. The Blaugrana were foaming at the mouth as they prepared for revenge, and boy did they get it. It was November 29, 2010, and it was the night where Barcelona played arguably their best match of football. They destroyed Real Madrid 5-0, otherwise known as a “manita”. The fans and the players rejoiced. Revenge had been served on a silver platter, and Mourinho’s reactions after every goal were priceless.

Barcelona took top spot in the league and the their next meeting would be in Madrid at the Bernabeu. Barcelona were ahead on the league table so Madrid needed a positive result out of the game. This league-clasico would be the first of 4 consecutive clasicos, as the teams were to meet subsequently in the Copa Del Rey final, followed by a home & away in the Champions League semi-final. Both teams had to focus on one match at a time, and Madrid knew that if they wanted to make a push for the league title, they could not settle for a draw at the Bernabeu. However, this was exactly their game plan. They played a very defensive match, with a majority of their players sitting deep in their half, comfortable at ceding possession to the Catalans. At one point during the match, Madrid showed no intention to retrieve the ball, so Barcelona played keep away by circulating possession within their back four. There were jeers from the Bernabeu faithful, and the match ended 1-1. It was a good result for Barcelona who stayed at the top of the league. Pundits and fans criticized Mourinho after the match saying his approach was too negative. There was definitely a learning curve for Mourinho, as this was no ordinary team he was facing.

A few days later, the teams contested in the Copa Del Rey final. Despite an equal performance from both teams and a dubious offside call on a Barcelona goal, Cristiano Ronaldo headed in the game winner in extra time, allowing Madrid to lift the trophy. Los Blancos had finally got one in over their arch rivals and had a trophy to show for it, but the real test would come soon after. They had to face the Catalans once again on the biggest stage in club football – the Champions League. The first leg of the semi-final was in Madrid and this was the match with the infamous red card incident. Real Madrid centerback Pepe was shown a straight red for a tackle on Dani Alves.

There was a great deal of controversy over whether contact was actually made with Dani Alves’ leg. Nonetheless, Madrid were down to 10 men. Jose was furious at the call and decided to make himself heard, but his protests got him sent to the bleachers. He had a miserable look on his face, which only got worse when Lionel Messi capitalized on the man advantage and scored two away goals for Barcelona, effectively putting the tie to bed. See Mourinho’s outburst below:

The 2nd leg resulted in a 1-1 draw sending Barcelona through to the finals as they eventually lifted the trophy.

The season ended and Real Madrid did not have much to show for it, except for a broken Copa Del Rey trophy (thanks to Sergio Ramos dropping it off the team bus). However, the 2011-12 season would be the breakthrough season for Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho despite a shaky start.

Continue to Part 2…

 

 

161171213_2898713

Roberto Mancini Sacked

Roberto Mancini has been sacked as Manchester City manager after his 3 and a half years at the club. It has been reported by the BBC that assistant manager Brian Kidd would take charge for the remaining 2 matches. City released a statement saying “This is the outcome of a planned end of season review process that has been brought forward in light of recent speculation.””

Manuel Pellegrini is heavily favoured to replace Mancini at the club but the 59 year old Chilean denied rumours that he has already been appointed as manager.

Mancini’s showings in the Champions league in the last 2 seasons have been lacklustre, as they failed to reach the knockouts in 2 successive years. His man management has also been questionable at times, especially in the handling of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli.

More info to come…

Arsenal vs. Wigan

Arsenal vs. Wigan Preview: EPL Matchweek 37

By Daire McAnallen

It’s as must-win as they come for both sides on Tuesday night as Arsenal take on FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic at the Emirates Stadium. Spurs kept up their end of the bargain with a 1-2 win against Stoke thanks to another rare goal from former-Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor. That leaves Arsenal two points behind their north London rivals, so they must win this game-in-hand to put their Champions League fate back into their own hands come the season finale on Sunday. Wigan’s focus at the weekend was taking part in their first ever FA Cup final which they won with a dramatic injury-time goal from substitute Ben Watson, leaving Manchester City inconsolable and making it much easier for their owners to let Roberto Mancini go in the summer. Wigan’s celebrations were no doubt cut short by the sobering thought of their relegation battle. Victories for Norwich and Newcastle on Sunday makes them all-but-safe, while Sunderland only managed a draw with Southampton, which leaves them on 39 points, four above the Latics, but their vastly superior goal-difference means a draw and a win won‘t be enough for Wigan to catch them. Next in line are the Saints, Fulham, and Aston Villa, who are all on 40 points, so Wigan’s safety is dependant upon two wins from their final two games, which is a very tall order considering their opposition is Champion-League-chasing Arsenal and fellow-relegation-threatened Villa.

The Gunners are expected to have goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and full-back Kieran Gibbs available after rib and hip injuries, respectively. However, French striker Olivier Giroud will serve the final game of his three-match suspension and will therefore be available for their trip to St. James’ Park on Sunday. The Latics have no fresh injury concerns after their historic FA Cup win on Saturday so Roberto Martinez will have the same squad to choose from with Jean Beausejour and Adrian Lopez expected to return on Sunday for their final game at home to Villa. The equivalent fixture last season played a crucial role in Wigan’s survival when early goals from Franco Di Santo and Jordi Gomez gave them a 1-2 win at the Emirates. However, this game comes much later in the season and Arsenal have more at stake so I can’t help but feel that Wigan have left it too late to mount a serious survival challenge with their defeat to Swansea last week making their escape little more than a mathematical possibility. Of course, you should never doubt a team who have just won the FA Cup against all the odds and Arsenal would rather play almost any other team in the league in their penultimate game. The Gunners have drawn their last two at home, against Everton and champions United, after four consecutive wins but they’re unbeaten in their last eight at the Emirates, since Manchester City won there in January. It would mean the most dramatic up-and-down week in Wigan’s history but I think Arsenal will condemn them to relegation with a 2-1 win and goals from Walcott and Podolski, with Maloney’s consolation too little, too late to save the Latics from the drop.

1

Photos from Bayern Munchen Beer Celebrations

Bayern Munchen played their final home match of the 2012-13 Bundesliga season as they celebrated Bavarian style with celebratory beer showers. Enjoy the photos below:

Even Manuel Neuer got in on the action

Manchester-City-Wigan-Athletic-Martinez-Manci_2942136

Man. City vs. Wigan Preview: FA Cup Final

By Daire McAnallen

Manchester City will be hoping to secure their only silverware of the season when they take on Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. This is Wigan’s first appearance in an FA Cup final and it comes in the midst of a relegation battle where they’re three points from safety with two games left to play. Some will see this as a happy distraction for the Latics, while others may point to it as an added factor in their derailment, if they do indeed go down. City surrendered their defense of the title to rivals United some time ago and they are currently 10 points behind the Premier League champions so this could give them a much-needed boost at the end of what has been a disappointing season for the Citizens.

City have close to a full squad to choose from with Scott Sinclair the only notable absentee after the winger had surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder. But Sky Blues midfielder and talisman Yaya Toure is fit after recent concerns about fatigue, while their Spanish playmaker David Silva is in contention to start for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury in their victory against the title winners a month ago. Roberto Mancini is also expected to start Costel Pantilimon ahead of Joe Hart in goal as he has played in every round of the competition so far. The Latics rate centre-back Antolin Alcaraz with no more than a 50-50 chance to play as he’s struggling with a hamstring problem, while they’re also expected to drop their regular ‘keeper Joel Robles in favour of Ali Al Habsi, who played in the semi-final.

Wigan’s road to Wembley got off to a shakey start with a 1-1 draw at home to Bournemouth before they won the replay 0-1 and scraped through with the same scoreline against Macclesfield. But they steadied the ship and grew in confidence thanks to a 1-4 demolition of Huddersfield before their most impressive result in the competition: a 0-3 win at Goodison Park against Everton. They then beat Millwall 2-0 in the semi-final at Wembley and, with Premier League survival as their main priority, they’ll feel they have very little to lose in the final against City where they are undoubtedly the massive underdogs. City have scored 15 goals on their way to the final with no replays required as they cruised through the rounds knocking out Watford, Stoke City, Leeds United, and Barnsley before their biggest test against Chelsea in the semi-final, where they conceded their only goal of the competition. The Citizens are, of course, the overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy and I expect them to do so with a 3-1 win and goals from Nasri, Aguero, and Dzeko with Kone getting on the scoresheet for the Latics, who will now concentrate their attention on trying to stay in the Premier League.

Aston Villa vs. Chelsea

Aston Villa vs. Chelsea Preview: EPL Matchweek 37

By Daire McAnallen

Two teams who are a win away from achieving their season’s goals meet for an early kick-off at Villa Park on Saturday as Aston Villa take on Chelsea. In fact, this is Saturday’s only Premier League match as it’s FA Cup final day with seven more fixtures on Sunday and the finalists themselves playing their games on Tuesday night. Of course, Chelsea were narrowly beaten in the semi-final at Wembley by Manchester City but they do have another final to look forward to on Wednesday night when they take on Benfica in the Europa League. The Blues also played a crucial match last Wednesday when they drew 2-2 with Spurs, having led twice. A win would’ve guaranteed them a Champions League place but three points here will have the same result. Meanwhile, Aston Villa are all but out-of-the-woods in their battle against relegation and a win here would confirm their escape, although a draw would likely suffice, taking them to 41 points with Wigan six points behind with two games to play.

Villa right-back Matthew Lowton, who’s been a regular all-season, was forced off with a thigh strain in their 1-2 win against Norwich last weekend and faces a late fitness test before being selected for this game. However, Villa will definitely be without Irish centre-back Ciaran Clark, who has a foot injury, and midfielder Karim El Ahmadi, who has a thigh problem. The bigger news for Villa this week comes in the form of captain Stiliyan Petrov’s retirement from football, 15 months after he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. However, manager Paul Lambert has suggested that their former number 19 will be offered a role in their backroom staff and will always have a place at the club. Having been left on the bench against Spurs, Frank Lampard will return to the starting line-up for the Blues as he attempts to equal the club’s goalscoring record, while defensive midfielder John Obi Mikel is available again after overcoming a hip problem. Ryan Bertrand is still out with a knee injury, while Eden Hazard and Victor Moses are doubtful with calf and leg problems, respectively. Chelsea will be hoping to win this so they can put their concerns regarding Champions League qualification to bed before they play the Europa League final on Wednesday, a competition they’ll be hoping to win but one which they’d rather not defend next season. Villa should survive if they pick up a point in either of their two remaining fixtures and, although this could be a close encounter, I think Villa will have to wait for confirmation of their survival as I expect Chelsea to win this 1-2 with goals from Oscar and Ba either side of Weimann’s for Villa.

Chelsea vs. Spurs

Chelsea vs. Spurs Preview: EPL Matchweek 36

By Daire McAnallen

Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur meet at Stamford Bridge for their game-in-hand over Arsenal as the London clubs continue to battle it out for the two remaining Champions League places. Chelsea’s 0-1 win at Old Trafford on Sunday kept them in pole position for qualification as they remain in third place, one point ahead of Arsenal and three ahead of Spurs. The latter, once again, relied on a late winner from Gareth Bale to secure a 1-0 victory against Southampton that keeps them in contention. However, the pressure is on Andre Villas Boas to get all three points upon his return to Stamford Bridge as a draw would leave them one point behind Arsenal, leaving their fate out of their own hands. A win for Chelsea, meanwhile, would ensure a top four finish for them so both sides have every reason to go for it on Wednesday night.

The Blues will have Eden Hazard available after a calf injury kept him out of the win at Old Trafford but John Obi Mikel remains out with a hip injury, as does Ryan Bertrand, who has a knee problem. Long-term absentee Oriol Romeu is back in contention after returning to full training following his knee injury. Spurs should have winger Aaron Lennon available after he was substituted on Saturday with a tight hamstring, while Mousa Dembele is also expected to be fit after recovering from a hamstring injury himself. Chelsea have won seven consecutive home games in the Premier League and an eighth would effectively guarantee their Champions League place as it would put them six points clear of Spurs with a vastly superior goal-difference and only two games left to play. Spurs have won three and drawn one of their last five away games but their general form hasn’t been as good as their fellow-London rivals for a top four place. However, despite the importance of a win for either side, neither team can afford to lose this so I’ll go for a 1-1 draw with Lampard getting a milestone goal and Dempsey equalising for the away side.

Man. United vs. Chelsea

Man. United vs. Chelsea Preview: EPL Matchweek 36

By Daire McAnallen

Champions Manchester United welcome old rivals Chelsea to Old Trafford in the second match of an excellent Premier League double-bill on Sunday. United are unable to beat Chelsea’s record points tally after they drew 1-1 with Arsenal last weekend but they’ll relish the opportunity to damage Chelsea’s Champions League aspirations by beating them on their home turf. The Blues beat Swansea in a straightforward 2-0 win last weekend, which keeps them in third place, three points ahead of Spurs and one ahead of Arsenal, who they also have a game-in-hand over. However, that game-in-hand is against Spurs at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday so, although they’re in pole-position for a Champions League place at the moment, everything hinges on the outcome of their next two fixtures.

United could have Paul Scholes back in the squad for the first time since January after he recovered from a knee injury, while captain, Nemanja Vidic, is also available after overcoming a calf strain but Danny Welbeck is out with a knee problem. Ashley Cole was suspended and Demba Ba was ineligible for Chelsea’s 3-1 win against Basle in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday. The 5-2 aggregate win takes them to the final against Benfica and, although Torres scored one of their goals, it’s likely that Ba will replace him in the starting line-up at Old Trafford, with Torres likely to get the nod on Wednesday. The Blues will be hoping to catch the champions sleeping on Sunday but they don’t have the best record at Old Trafford of late with one win and three defeats in their last four visits. However, I’ll go for a 1-1 draw on this occasion with Rooney and Ba getting the goals in an entertaining tussle that sets up Wednesday’s game as a must-win for both sides.

Liverpool vs. Everton

Liverpool vs. Everton Preview: EPL Matchweek 36

By Daire McAnallen

There’s very little at stake other than pride and bragging rights at the Merseyside derby as Liverpool take on Everton at Anfield in Sunday’s early kick-off in the Premier League. Liverpool are on the back of a 0-6 demolition of Newcastle United where Philippe Coutinho looked like a world class playmaker, while Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge bagged themselves a brace. It was a day when everything went Liverpool’s way, with the cherry-on-top coming in the form of a late goal for Fabio Borini, who’s been frustrated by injuries all season and has lost his place in the side as a result. It was the perfect antidote to Suarez’ 10-match ban, although anything short of a win here will serve as another reminder of what it is they’re missing when the Uruguayan isn’t playing. Everton are in sixth place, five points ahead of their rivals and just outside the running for a Champions League place. It’s been a good season for David Moyes’ side but their progress will largely depend on whether or not he remains at the club for next season, which may require an injection of funds in the summer. Either way, they’ll be hoping to stay ahead of their local rivals, which they’re sure to do if they avoid defeat on Sunday.

The Reds have a fully-fit squad to choose from with captain, Steven Gerrard, expected to play after receiving treatment on his long-standing shoulder problem, which led to his substitution last weekend, while Fabio Borini is edging closer to match fitness but is likely to start on the bench once again. The Toffees should have midfielder Darron Gibson available after he recovered from an injury picked up against Sunderland two weeks ago but skipper, Phil Neville, has been ruled out with a knee injury. Gerrard scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win in this fixture last season but I think it’ll be closer this time so I’ll go for a 2-2 draw with goals from Sturridge and Coutinho for Liverpool and Mirallas and Jelavic for Everton.

QPR vs. Arsenal

QPR vs. Arsenal Preview: EPL Matchweek 36

By Daire McAnallen

Newly-relegated Queens Park Rangers take on Champions League-chasing Arsenal at Loftus Road in Saturday’s late kick-off in the Premier League. Harry Redknapp’s side bowed to the inevitable last weekend in a suitably dull scoreless draw with Reading, who will join them in the Championship next season. Redknapp is expected to remain as manager and will be hoping to offload some of their less valuable, high-wage players, while holding on to a few of their prized assets. It’s certainly a massive challenge for the man who was tipped to become the new England manager just 12 months ago before being sacked by Spurs and then replacing Mark Hughes at QPR. Redknapp will have no excuses next season as he has the opportunity to build his own team, albeit with the less attractive prospect of Championship football to draw players to the club, rather than inheriting someone else’s but chairman, Tony Fernandes, will have very little patience so it’ll be do or die as far as promotion is concerned. However, for their last few Premier League games, they have very little to lose, which could be bad news for Arsenal, who are in desperate need of a win. The Gunners drew 1-1 with Manchester United last weekend, with the returning Robin van Persie inevitably scoring the equaliser after Theo Walcott gave them an early lead. Although it was a decent result against the new champions, it leaves them in fourth place, one point behind Chelsea and two ahead of Spurs but both of their London rivals have a game-in-hand over Arsene Wenger’s side.

Rangers will have striker Bobby Zamora back from his three-match suspension but on-loan Spurs midfielder Andros Townsend is a doubt with a hamstring injury, while centre-back Christopher Samba will undergo a late fitness test on his knee problem. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andrew Johnson will miss the rest of the season having had surgery on their ankle and knee injuries, respectively. The Gunners are still without suspended French forward Olivier Giroud, so Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will once again vie for a central role, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski remains sidelined with a rib injury. This could certainly be a tricky test for Arsenal and it is common for a relegated side to start picking up points against the odds but I still think the Gunners will win this 1-3 with Wilshere, Walcott, and Cazorla getting on the scoresheet and Remy putting himself in the shop window with a goal of his own.

Aston Villa vs. Sunderland

Aston Villa vs. Sunderland Preview: EPL Matchweek 35

By Daire McAnallen

Monday night’s Premier League match is a massive relegation clash between Aston Villa and Sunderland at Villa Park. Villa suffered a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United last Monday, which clinched the trophy for the Red Devils. Wigan also lost last weekend so Villa are still just three points ahead of the 18th-placed team, although the Latics do have a game-in-hand. The bigger blow for Villa last weekend was the victories for Stoke City and their opponents on Monday, Sunderland, which lifted both clubs to 37 points, alongside Newcastle United. Paolo Di Canio’s short reign as manager of the Black Cats has already taken them to within one win of 40 points following their incredible 0-3 win at rivals Newcastle and their impressive 1-0 win last weekend against Everton. Di Canio will be aiming for a third consecutive win, rather than settling for a point, which should make for an exciting game as both sides chase a crucial three points.

Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor played the full 90 minutes against United after returning from a groin injury so Paul Lambert is only without his long-term absentees, Chris Herd, Marc Albrighton, Richard Dunne and midfielder Gary Gardner, who is working his way back to full fitness after missing most of the season with knee ligament damage. Former Villain Craig Gardner is set to return for the Black Cats after suspension while Phil Bardsley is fighting to shake off an ankle problem but striker Connor Wickham will miss out once again with a calf injury. Despite both sides going for a win, I think they’ll likely share the points with a 1-1 draw and goals from Benteke for Villa and Sessegnon for Sunderland.

Arsenal vs. Man. United

Arsenal vs. Man. United Preview: EPL Matchweek 35

By Daire McAnallen

Arsenal face the toughest task this weekend of the three London clubs chasing the final two Champions League places as they host Premier League champions Manchester United on Sunday. United secured the title with a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa last Monday, making it mathematically impossible for anyone to catch them, although they clearly had the trophy sewn up some time ago. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s main goal of Champions League football is far from secure but they have won five and drawn one since their defeat to Spurs, lifting them to third place. However, they are only one point ahead of Chelsea and two ahead of Spurs, while both of those sides have a game-in-hand over the Gunners so it’s crucial that they get one over on their old rivals on Sunday as Robin van Persie returns to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since his move to United.

The Gunners will be without striker Olivier Giroud, who starts a three-match suspension, so Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski are competing for a central attacking role, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski remains sidelined with a rib injury. Ferguson may opt to freshen up his starting line-up with captain, Nemanja Vidic, back and Rio Ferdinand, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck also in contention, while Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick may be rested as they were carrying injuries in the game against Villa. United are still pushing for a record points score but there’s no doubt which club has more at stake in this game. Arsenal played out a scoreless draw against Everton in their last home game but won four on-the-bounce previous to that, although United have the same form away from home with four wins before their draw at West Ham. This should be a fascinating tussle but I think a 2-2 draw is on the cards with Walcott and Podolski scoring for Arsenal and Hernandez netting for United before a cruel equaliser from the returning van Persie, who has found his scoring boots again, just in-time to play his old team.

Chelsea vs. Swansea

Chelsea vs. Swansea Preview: EPL Matchweek 35

By Daire McAnallen

Chelsea will be hoping to remain in the top four with a win against Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Blues drew 2-2 against Liverpool last weekend, keeping them in fourth place, but they are now just one point ahead of Spurs and one behind Arsenal, although they do have a game-in-hand over the Gunners. Swansea, meanwhile, have been in poor form of late with two draws following three consecutive defeats in the league. However, they are sitting comfortably in ninth position with 42 points on the board so they can afford to let their season peter out after their Carling Cup success, which they won after beating Chelsea in the semi-final.

The Blues should continue their forward-rotation with Demba Ba returning following his ineligibly in the Europa League where Fernando Torres played in their 1-2 first leg semi-final win against Basel. Centre-back Gary Cahill is in contention for a start as well after he was an unused substitute in Thursday’s game following his six-week absence with a knee injury. The Swans have a fully-fit squad with Neil Taylor due to return to the bench after eight months out, while Wayne Routledge may replace Luke Moore in the starting line-up with Michu again moving up front. Chelsea will set themselves up nicely for a Champions League place with a victory here and I think they’ll get it with a 3-1 win and goals from Cahill, Mata and Ba, with De Guzman netting for Swansea.

Newcastle vs. Liverpool

Newcastle vs. Liverpool Preview: EPL Matchweek 35

By Daire McAnallen

Newcastle United will be aiming to hit the magic tally of 40 points when they entertain Liverpool at St. James’ Park in Saturday’s late kick-off. The Magpies are six points clear of 18th-placed Wigan but the Latics do have a game-in-hand so Alan Pardew‘s side aren‘t out-of-the-woods yet. No one expected the Toon Army to be in this predicament after an excellent season last year but a host of injuries to crucial players, the loss of Demba Ba and the distraction of the Europa League have all contributed to them underachieving but they’ll be hoping to secure safety so they can put 2012-2013 behind them and start afresh next season with their Gallic-filled squad. Liverpool’s season has been dominated by Luis Suarez, and just when it seemed like he’d be making headlines for the right reasons, he went and bit Branislav Ivanovic which has resulted in a 10-match ban that will keep him out until September after he chose not to appeal the decision. It’s a massive blow for Liverpool and, of course, for Suarez himself, who was in contention for a Golden Boot and numerous Player of the Year awards. The Reds are currently in seventh place, five points behind Everton and six ahead of West Brom, so they have very little at stake for the remainder of the season. However, Suarez has been their shining light this season, making it a memorable and successful one for them as Rodgers builds for next season, which they’ll have to begin without their key man.

The Magpies could have midfielder Cheick Tiote back after he resumed training this week following a hamstring injury, while captain, Fabricio Coloccini, has also returned to training after a back problem but he’s short of match fitness after seven weeks on the sidelines so he’s unlikely to start. However, the Toon Army will be without midfielder Sylvain Marveaux, who’s out with a groin injury, while full-back Davide Santon has a hamstring injury and could miss the rest of the season alongside goalkeeper Tim Krul, who’s out with a shoulder problem, and utility man Ryan Taylor, who has a cruciate ligament injury. In the absence of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge should take his place after coming on to score one and provide an assist for the equaliser in their 2-2 draw against Chelsea last Sunday. Forgotten forward Fabio Borini, who’s been out since February with a dislocated shoulder, is training again and may make the squad in what could be a very timely return to action for the Italian. Newcastle and Liverpool have been involved in some classic encounters over the years but this could be a scrappy battle and with four consecutive home wins before that shock 0-3 defeat to rivals Sunderland, I think the Magpies can regain that form with a win here. Therefore I’ll go for a 2-1 win for the home side with goals from Cabaye and Sissoko with Sturridge responding for the Reds.

Wigan vs. Spurs

Wigan vs. Spurs Preview: EPL Matchweek 35

By Daire McAnallen

Two sides battling at opposite ends of the table, but for equally important prizes, meet at the DW Stadium as relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic play host to Champions-League-chasing Tottenham Hotspur. Wigan were dealt a major blow last Saturday with their 2-0 defeat at West Ham, having dominated for most of the match. Their misery was amplified by wins for Stoke and Sunderland, taking the red and white sides six points clear of them. However, The Latics still have a game-in-hand over their closest rivals and Aston Villa are only three points ahead of them and they play Sunderland on Monday night so Wigan can crawl back into contention if they start picking up points again following two consecutive defeats in the league. After a critical 3-1 win against Manchester City on Sunday, Spurs are only one point behind fourth-placed Chelsea and have a game-in-hand over Arsenal, who are currently two points ahead of them in third place. Therefore, its crucial that they better their London rivals’ results from here on in if they’re to avoid another season without Champions League football.

The Latics are set to reshuffle at the back with Jean Beausejour due to return and Maynor Figueroa likely to drop back as Antolin Alcaraz is out for three weeks with a hamstring injury. Spurs have some positive news regarding three key attacking players with Aaron Lennon back from a knee injury and Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe suffering no reaction to their respective ankle and pelvis problems suffered during the City game last Sunday. Wigan have won their last two games at home, against Newcastle and Norwich, but this will be a major test against another club whose season’s top target is hanging in the balance. A win for either side may help them on their way to achieving those goals while dooming the defeated side to failing with theirs so this could be a nervous encounter between different clubs in a similar position but both of these sides only know one way to play so this could be an exciting, attacking spectacle. Wigan are well capable of causing an upset, especially with their backs against the wall, but I don’t think they’ll pull this one out of the bag, despite their best efforts, so I’ll go for a 2-3 win for Spurs with Parker, Dempsey and Defoe getting their goals and Kone and Di Santo getting on the scoresheet for the home side.

Man. City vs. West Ham

Man. City vs. West Ham Preview: EPL Matchweek 35

By Daire McAnallen

Manchester City will be coming to terms with failing to defend their Premier League title when they host West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium in Saturday’s early kick-off. United beat Aston Villa last Monday night, making it mathematically impossible for anyone to catch them, although the trophy was all but sealed and delivered to their doorstep some time ago. To compound matters, City also lost 3-1 away to Champions-League-hopefuls Spurs last Sunday so they’ll be hoping to make amends against another London club this weekend as they attempt to win four consecutive games at home. West Ham, meanwhile, reached 42 points with a 2-0 win against relegation-threatened Wigan last Saturday, which keeps them in 10th position and should secure their place in the league for next season. The Hammers were fortunate on the day but took their chances while Roberto Martinez’ side squandered theirs and they’ll be hoping to continue their five-match unbeaten run at the Etihad, although this fixture has been far from kind to them in the past with three defeats and one draw at this particular stadium.

The Citizens will have three hamstring-ravaged players back in contention with David Silva returning after three games out, while Sergio Aguero sat-out the defeat to Spurs and James Milner was forced off at half-time in that match. Another hamstring casualty, Jack Rodwell, could also be available after missing two months with the injury but full-backs Maicon and Micah Richards are still recovering from their knee injuries. The Irons will be without defensive pair George McCartney, who has a knee injury, and James Tomkins, who has a calf problem, but key midfielders Mark Noble and Joe Cole could return to the starting line-up after successful appearances from the bench in recent games. West Ham have drawn their last two away games, against Liverpool and Southampton, and also managed a commendable scoreless draw against City at the Boleyn Ground earlier in the season but getting a result at the Etihad may be beyond their grasp as City will no doubt be hoping to make a statement of intent for next season. Therefore I’ll go for a 3-1 home win with a hat-trick for Aguero and Carroll getting on the scoresheet for West Ham.