Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona


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When playing the best team in the world, the opposition has to get the elements right:

  • Tactically well prepared
  • Best squad available to execute the plan
  • The entire squad to have a very good day at the office
  • Good fortune: Eg: injury ridden opposition, few refereeing decisions; world’s best player to take a day off.

Apart from the single goal conceded due to a defensive lapse of concentration, Arsenal were well worthy of the result.

Teams

There were no elements of surprise in the playing XI with Puyol out injured and Sagna suspended. Both teams went out to play their natural game with their usual formations. Return of Nasri from injury was Wenger’s boost.

First 45

With a backing of a vociferous home crowd, Arsenal started the game with a wonderful tempo, bossing possession and giving a piece of their own football to the best passing team. With hardly 6 min into the game, a late but intentional tackle from behind on Messi, saw Alex Song getting into the book, which in the circumstances was very harsh. This didn’t seem to hamper his game much, as he continued to be involved in a series of small fouls thereafter [4-5] and each time he fouled, the crowd waited with baited breath, hoping the dreaded second yellow wouldn’t pop out.

A couple of free flowing passes in the final third saw some lovely link up between Cesc, RvP and Theo. Nasri seemed to take a bit of time to get into the game, not willing to stretch his hamstrings. This lead to a lot of space opening up for Alves to run behind  Nasri and every movement forward through acres of green pitch on the right, threatened to punish Arsenal.

Twice Villa – Messi duo coupled to beat Arsenal’s high line with through balls, whilst Messi missed his opportunity, Villa didn’t and the score read 0-1. Though in this case, Clichy was culpable for losing shape and playing Villa on. As the half grew on, the possession stats quickly reversed, with Barca homing into easy possession as always and threatening to breach Arsenal’s high line.

At the other end, RvP had a couple of good opportunities to test Valdes, one stinging the keeper, the other abysmally wide, after being sent thru with some lovely quick short passing. When such opportunities pop up we expect, RvP to convert and it seemed like it might come to haunt them.

Second 45’+2

Barcelona resumed services in the second half, but Arsenal looked keener to make an impression and the impressive defensive work by Koscielny to thwart off threats was remarkable. The lad played with a lot of confidence and authority, and seemed to be marshalling the line very well. Jack Wilshere was getting some nifty footwork going in the middle of the park, and was soon finding himself speeding from box to box with an intent to deliver. One such beautiful run, sent RvP through but again he failed to test the keeper. In another he dribbled past 3 players, played a 1-2 with RvP and was denied a goal scoring opportunity by a desperately diving Abidal.

Barcelona were surprisingly getting stifled in midfield with the gritty work by Cesc and Jack working up Xavi and Iniesta. So Pep swapped David Villa for Keita to address some defending. Walcott was hardly given any space to rip down the channel today, so Bendtner came on. Arsene expressed his intent replacing Arshavin for the booked Song. Nasri moved in central, leaving the left wing for the Russian. The Arsenal full backs were making more open runs on the break whenever possible and one such beautiful reverse pass from Clichy, released RvP into the box, who scored a lovely goal from a tight angle between the keeper and his near post.

The impact of the goal and the sudden change in tempo was evident. The Arsenal players had an extra step in their attack, were making more positive runs and soon caught Barcelona on the break where a superb cross into the box was curled in from 15 yards by Arshavin beating the keeper and two defenders. The quality of the strike deserves due credit, for a player who had just come on and made the most meaningful contribution.

Barcelona came close to an equalizer in the dying moments of the game when a soft back pass header from Arshavin almost landed Szcesny in a bit of bother but Arsenal managed to hold on to mark a remarkable comeback.

Final Verdict

  • Arsenal have improved as a unit. Did not let their shoulders drop after conceding. Were defensively very impressive though one lapse cost them an away goal.
  • Koscielny, Wilshere were standout performers for Arsenal.
  • Messi uncharacteristically missed 2 bread n butter chances on goal, and was ruled offside for the one he did net.
  • Will 2-1 help them withstand the barrage at Nou Camp.. we will have to wait and see.
  • It was an eye soothing 1.5 hrs of football and that is why we follow this beautiful game.

AC Milan 0 – 1 Tottenham Hotspurs


After a long break, trying to stay up for a late champions league match seemed more stressful than it used to be, but was worth it when I woke up ten min into the first half. I’d missed the pre match buildup, the formation and the injury lists. But it took me only 5 min to realize which team was calling the shots. Harry did not come up with a full strength team, and by ‘full strength’ I mean a team without BALE and Modric [bench], however a fit Van der Waart was always a key.

Spurs were beyond doubt calling the shots for the first 30min, making the home team look old and slow. Industrious quick passing, long balls targeting the infallible Peter Crouch, and VdV dictating most of the play in the absence of Modric, Milan were a shadow of what was expected of them. They lacked desire, the lanky Ibra straying offside once too often, the veteran midfielders were given no space or time on the ball by some clinical interceptions by the Palacios – Sandro – Pienaar triumvirate. More than two-thirds of Spurs attack was left winged through the Pienaar – Ekotto – Vdv – Crouch quartet which was surely a tactical approach, however every move which saw Lennon one on one with the Milan full back, resulted in a delivery to the box.

The remaining 15 min of the first half saw some scrappy passage of play with Milan able to contain the flow, and Spurs losing some of the rhythm and momentum going forward, however the defensive back four and Gomez were  hardly tested, and Harry would have been very satisfied with the team’s performance.

The Milan captain Gattuso was cutting a frustrated figure as he was literally swatted away in any aerial challenge against the 6’7’’ English forward.

The Milan coach was no doubt the one who had to do all the halftime work, and a positive move with injection of pace and strike came through Pato in place of an ineffective Seedorf. Spurs looked to start the second half just like the first, with a clever half turn chip over the keeper by VdV just going past the top corner.  Ten minutes later a blatant red card offence – a two footed driving tackle from Flamini took Corluka out of the game, however both were lucky, former to still be on the pitch and latter to not have broken a leg. The reluctance of the referee to not book the home player for an offence as clear as ever, is beyond me. But we have grown to become so accustomed to the fallacies of the UEFA, it was no surprise to see such an incorrect decision being made. A fiery Gattuso over the Corluka incident, shoved Spurs first team coach, Joe Jordan on the face [reminded me of CR7 recently pushing Pep for not giving the ball to him] and Jordan stood his ground.

The injury to Corluka added more spice to the game with Pienaar‘s retribution by tripping Thiago immediately, but not even one percent cynical. A lot more unnecessary tangles continued between Crouch and Gattuso and for all the latter’s frustration he got yellow carded for a clean tackle which saw him writhing on the carpet like a boy who has just been denied something he so badly wanted!

The yellow card meant he misses the return clash at White Hart Lane. But Milan continued to prod with more authority in the latter half of the game and came close twice but two brilliant saves by Gomez and a bit of luck meant this might just be their day.  With only ten min to go, a superb break started through Kranjcar releasing Lennon, saw Crouch slot in his 4th goal in 7 matches, a crucial AWAY goal in the context of the game and Harry couldn’t have been happier.

But bad scenes erupted towards the end of full time, with Gattuso head ‘nudging’ Jordan again and Bassong retaliating. Surely this incident has marred and probably snatched the limelight away from a tactically astute and perseverant performance by Harry’s  men and one can only imagine an Italian miracle will hinder this up and rising Spurs side from reaching the quarter finals.

FINAL VERDICT

  • Spurs were the underdogs coming into this game, but a surprisingly poor show by the Italian veterans could very much end their European dream.
  • Impossible to pick star performers in the Spurs team, they played as a wonderful unit right from back to front and are worthy of the WIN and returning with the precious Away goal.
  • Gattuso’s boiling over more so at his team’s hapless play, is still no reason to justify his indiscipline on and off the pitch. UEFA are always better making decisions off the pitch, so expect him to be treated to a lengthy vacation.
  • Harry’s request to review Flamini’s yellow to a red will surely fall on deaf ears.
  • Excellent start to the European campaign for England and lets hope Arsenal will ‘attempt’ to seek revenge 🙂

 

The month of January and all of its Glory


I look forward to January as I get myself the luxury of a wildcard to revamp my struggling fantasy team. While I sit at my desk, rack my head and ring in the changes, weeks – months of planning and strategic transfer bids are made in the Barclays Premier League as teams try to get themselves out of a hole, players get loaned out for play time, some try to do something which could potentially make or break their career while others try to pull of the wonderful last minute deals.

Ever since the introduction of the mid season transfer window in 2003, teams were initially circumspect on the spending and reluctant to tweak their sides, but in recent years we have seen the window getting blown off with some huge transfer currency.

This January a total of £223.47M has been burnt up on permanent deals [excluding the add-on deals]; the highest ever in the history with the top 3 chart busters

  1. Fernando Torres – £50m to Chelsea
  2. Andy Caroll – £35m to Liverpool
  3. David Luiz – £21.3m to Chelsea

Last 5 Windows



Chelsea

October marked a completer U turn to the Blues in the title race. They stuttered, stumbled, fell off the perch in the face of some poor form, untimely sacking of Carlo’s staff; lack of depth in the squad exposed when a couple of injuries and suspensions wrecked havoc. Things got so bad that even Carlo’s future ran the business for the tabloids. Reinforcement was due, Roman obliged.

  • David Luiz £21.3m
    • Relatively unknown to many, this young Brazilian started his career as an attacking midfielder, but now finds his zone in central defence, and can play full back too. A wonderful personality on and off the pitch, he had a wonderful 09’-10’ season with Benfica.
    • His hefty buyout clause meant only the big players stood a chance, with Roman beating the Sheikh to him.
    • Verdict: Excellent buy, could be the ideal player to be a part of rebuilding the side.
  • Fernando Torres £50m
    • He needs no introduction. A proven Club record, a natural all round goal scorer, on the back of a World Cup Victory, his injury streak the only real concern. But to judge his goal scoring capability based on liverpool’s last two seasons would be criminal.
    • Considering the availability of service in the squad, Torres and Drogba are forwards any fantasy manager would play day in day out and to see this happen live on the pitch is a dream every Blues fan will realize come this Sunday. [I really hope Carlo wont bench him.]
    • I have no words of adulation for this fellow, on a personal note, I consider him the best forward in the entire Premier League; he deserves to be playing top football and in a way he did speak out his heart.

Liverpool

Yes Rafa screwed them over when he left in the summer with a dodgy squad for Roy Hodgson to handle. The team never really got to terms with the manager of the season and now we have King Kenny creating something that was not there in the first half this season = TEAM CHEMISTRY. John Henry made promises when he took over the mantle at Anfield, that he would put pool back on the map. Well 6 months down, it seemed like whatever little remaining was also disappearing fast. His splashing of the money gained from the Torres Mega bonanza is POSITIVE.

  • Andy Caroll £35m
    • He is a young promising kid, making waves at NUFC, recently wore the England shirt, but does he deserve to be the biggest British transfer ever at £35m.. IMO, NO!
    • As outrageous as his eventual price was, his claims of not being wanted being refuted by Alan Pardew, is a load of bollocks– after all he is the one who handed in the transfer request.
    • To be wearing the number 9 shirt, to be filling in or rather continue where Torres left won’t be too hard, since Torres has been terrible this season while Caroll is having his best!
  • Luis Suarez £22.7m
    • The cannibal, the cheat, call him what you may, atleast now we get to see some hands on action right here in the Barclays.
    • In the wake of Babel’s exit, the Uruguayan probably was in the scheme of things to pair with Torres, but Kenny has gotta get the Andy – Lou partnership going instead.
    • With Caroll still a few weeks away, we will get a good show of him in the coming weeks.

Manchester City

When you already have a squad worth over £300m, you wonder if there is any more toys left in the shop to buy. The Arab has a lot of expensive toys and he has added one more to it.

  • Edin Dzeko £27m
    • Tevez has been doing a lot of work, captaining the side, scoring all the goals, assisting, inspiring, cribbing about home, threatening to quit, so he could use some help.
    • Dzeko has been already impressive with the couple of games he played, adds spine to a team that is looking to make a mark this season.

Manchester United made the Andres Lindegaard signing official £3.5m, while Arsenal did nothing and yet is cribbing about others who did!

Here is a summary of the permanent signings.


Manchester United 1-1 Valencia


 

Anderson scores the equalizer (© DailyMail)

After a quiet weekend with the away game to Blackpool called off, the Manchester players were all fresh and ready to start for the final group stage match of the Champions League.

Sir Alex Ferguson promised pre-match he would be fielding a strong side, with a formation of 4-4-2 with Rooney and Berbatov up front with the young Ben Amos between the sticks.

Having Fabio start at left back, clearly it wasn’t the best team to put out, yet there was enough firepower to grab all points off the fixture. Valencia came to Old Trafford having nothing to lose, knowing any win for them would get them top of the table, while a draw would let United hold.

This was probably Manchester United’s most watchable football game among all the group stage games. Valencia started well with over 60% possession in the first ten minutes and it was riveting end to end stuff all throughout the game.

United’s brightest player on the pitch was Anderson. He looked fresh from the start, latching onto loose balls in the centre of the park and trying to split through the centre of Valencia defence [with quite some success] to set Rooney or Berba free.  Ando created 2 chances for himself and missed one which was a sitter, but what was most distressing was the number of times Berba was one on one with the last defender or the keeper (3) and dint convert any of those.

As united continued to pile on the chances, they were made to rue their poor efforts in the final third, when Carrick in the middle of the park lost possession leading to a quick break and an unmarked Hernandez slotting between Ben’s legs.

Nothing much changed at half time except that Fabio continued to struggle to keep the shape back four leaving Vidic to do quite a bit of covering. Rio Ferdinand was subbed out 5min into the second half, seemed more like a precautionary one with two big games (Arsenal and Chelsea) coming up.

United continued to knock on the doors until a brilliant effort from Wayne Rooney cutting in and curling a right footer to the left top corner of Guaita’s goal only to rebound off the crossbar. Persistence eventually gave fruit to a clean strike from Park Ji Sung stinging the keepers hands falling right to Ando’s welcoming left foot to drive it in.

Initially after equalizing though united did look comfortable, Ando started tiring and Valencia spending a lot more time in United’s half lead to SAF switching to a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping and that did the job. Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher had a run-in to say the least.

Pros:

  • Anderson is a livewire in the centre of the park and provides the much needed vision and speed to shift ball from defence to offense in a few seconds and clearly the best player for me on the pitch today. Got his well deserved first goal for United at OT.
  • Rooney and Berbatov continue to show the brilliant link up play and chemistry 2 strikers should have in a 4-4-2, with the former making good progress and almost scoring with a brilliant effort.
  • Ben Amos had a fairly satisfactory day on duty, with no serious qualms apart from the goal he could do nothing much about.

Cons:

  • Fabio looked out of position a number of times, his judgement on when to hold and when and how high to push up the pitch needs to be addressed.
  • Berbatov was disappointing today for the number of goal scoring opportunities he wasted. He needs to buckle up with Hernandez knocking at the doors.
  • Anderson was struggling last 15min, needs to work on his fitness.

My Player Ratings:

Ben Amos: 7.5, Fabio: 6.5, Vidic: 8.0, Ferdinand: 7.0, [s] Smalling: 7.5, Rafael: 7.5, Park: 8.0; Carrick: 7.5, Anderson: 9.0, Nani: 8.0, [s] Giggs: 7.0, [s] Fletcher: 7.0, Rooney : 9.0, Berbatov: 8.0

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