Football for the couch potatoes

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Prem Predictions

Sheff Utd 0-3 Chelsea
Arsenal 2-1 Everton
Portsmouth 1-0 Reading
Bolton 1-1 Man Utd
Fulham 1-1 Wigan
Liverpool 2-1 Villa
Watford 0-2 Spurs
Newcastle 1-0 Charlton
West Ham 2-1 Blackburn
Man City 1-0 Boro

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Real Robbery

As far as big matches go, this one takes the cake. Real Madrid vs Barcelona last night certainly did not disappoint.

If you needed an indication of the quality on display you just had to count the number of world cup winners on display. Barca had Zambrotta, Thuram and Ronaldinho; Real had Cannavaro, Roberto Carlos and Emerson.

Capello recalled stalwarts Ivan Helguera and Guti and again left Beckham on the bench. Barcelona left out Marquez and Edmilson with Andres Iniesta and Lilian thuram preferred by Rijkaard.

The game was barely minutes old when good build up play from Real released Sergio Ramos on the right. Playing at fullback, the Spaniard's cross took out a static Barca defence and Raul rose majestically to power his header past Victor Valdes. It was a terrific header from the much maligned Real captain who was naturally thrilled to have scored what was just his 2nd league goal all year.

You might have felt the worst for Barcelona right there and then as Real, buoyed by the excellent start, looked well in control with Robinho a constant threat.

But Barcelona aren't champions for nothing and they slowly started to impose their fluid passing style on the game and dominated proceedings. Lionel Messi in particular was their biggest threat as he bamboozled Roberto Carlos before teeing up Eidur Gudjohnsen who had to score from 8 yards out. He only found the side netting and one wonders if it had been Eto'o, whether Barca would have been level there and then.

Messi was proving to be a constant thorn in Real's side as he continued his elusive running and came close on several occasions. By then, Barca were firmly in the ascendency and it looked a question of when rather than if they would equalize. DIsplaying the brand of football which has won them fans all over the world, Barca dominated possesion and pinned Real back in their own half much to the annoyance of the Bernabeu.

Towards the end of the half came the game's key moment. Emerson, having already been booked, went in late on Messi in what was a clear yellow card offence. The Brazilian stayed down with a supposed injury however in what can only be described as gamesmanship as he was obviously trying to avoid the inevitable 2nd caution. Incredibly, the referee failed to realise his intentions and the long stoppage took the sting out of the incident and Emerson escaped the red card.

The half time whistle went with Barcelona wondering just how they were trailing and not having a numerical advantage.

No changes were made at the start of the 2nd half as the game continued its familiar pattern of Barcelona possession and stout defending from Real Madrid who were led brilliantly from the back by the Italian world cup captain Fabio Cannavaro. He marshalled the defence superbly and was resolute in the face of all the trickery from Ronaldinho and Messi.

Real had struck early in the first half and they did so again 5 minutes into the second half. Again the delivery was from the right - this time from Robinho - van Nistelrooy went in bravely for the ball and beat the challenge of Valdes who surely should have done better. 2-0 to Madrid and Barcelona had every right to feel aggrieved.

There was still time though to salvage a point but as it was in midweek, Barcelona struggled to break down a packed opponent's defence and if anything it looked like Real who were going to score again with van Nistelrooy agonisingly close to scoring a 2nd with a glorious chip from outside the area coming back off the bar.

Giuly and Saviola were both sent on but whatever momentum that was gained earlier was gone as Real stood firm to record a vital win which pulls them within 2 points of their great rivals.

A terrific end to end match played in tough conditions at such great skill only served to highlight the gulf in class between this clash and the English equivalent a few hours earlier between Liverpool and Manchester United.


Man of the Match - Raul

Rijkaard Regret - one does feel Barca's coach might have got it wrong by starting Deco, Xavi and Iniesta in midfield. They might have outnumbered Real there but were certainly outmuscled by Emerson and Diarra.

Beckham's Bane - the former England captain only saw limited action and despite all the postive noises coming from himself and Capello, his future at the Bernabeu is far from certain.

Player Ratings

Iker Casillas 7
Safe when called upon

Sergio Ramos 8
Excellent game for the young Spaniard who looks much more comfortable at fullback

Ivan Helguera 7
Quietly efficient at the back, he might have played his way back into the manager's good books

Fabio Cannavaro 8
Showed why he is regarded as the best defender in the world - superb

Roberto Carlos 7
Solid if unspectecular - Real would take that

Emerson 6
Lucky to stay on but was tireless in midfield

Mahamadou Diarra 6
Worked hard in midfield but is struggling to win over the Real fans who clearly prefer Guti

Guti 6 (Beckham)
Largely annonymous

Raul 8
Brilliant header to silence his critics, The captain led by example with commitment and aggression. All this playing in an unfavoured right sided role

Robinho 8
Excellent in the first half in particular, he was far better than his much more illustrious compatriot Ronaldinho

Ruud van Nistelrooy 7 (Reyes)
Worked hard all game and took his goal well


Victor Valdes 6
At fault for the 2nd goal

Zambrotta 5
Given a torrid time by Robinho, the Italian had a night to forget

Lillian Thuram 6
Would have been disappointed with the defence's overall performance

Carlos Puyol 6
Not one of his better games

Sylvinho 7
Did his best to support the midfield but was wasteful in possession

Xavi 6
Poor performance from the vice captain. Rijkaard needs more from him

Deco 6 (Giuly)
Hauled off early in the 2nd half, he was ineffective in a congested midfield

Iniesta 6
Neat and tidy but too similar to Xavi

Messi 8
Barca's best player, would have been disappointed to have missed several good chances

Ronaldinho 7
Plenty of possession but the magic wasn't here tonight

Gudjohnsen 5 (Saviola)
Barca need an out and out striker to replace Eto'o and for all of Gudjonsen's skill on the ball, he lacks the goalscorer's instinct of Eto'o and Larsson. Saviola, though less skilful, might be better suited to the team as he is direct and a true goal scorer.

Premiership Roundup

The biggest match of the weekend was that of Man U versus Liverpool but the big story after this week's round of matches is that Arsenal are back and hapless Liverpool are out of the title race.

Liverpool were expected to go to Old Trafford and grind out a result to get their title bid back on track and while they started brightly enough, it all went downhill once Paul Scholes scored late in the first half.

Liverpool never looked likely to equalise with Gerrard never comfortable wide right and Luis Garcia having an absolute rubbish performance. It wouldn't surprise if Garcia wasn't a Liverpool player this time next season if he repeats today's performance.

Manchester United themselves weren't particularly impressive but the win for them takes them joint top with Chelsea and they looked well placed to push Chelsea for the title.

But is it only Chelsea they're chasing? Arsenal produced a superb display of attacking football to thrash Reading 4-0 and in truth, the scoreline did flatter Reading. Henry looks sharp again after a slow start to the season and players like Hleb, Rosicky and van Persie are gelling well and this was reminiscent of the Arsenal of a couple of seasons back where they were simply brilliant. It's not a one off result too as they have beaten Man U already and Potato Pundit hopes Arsenal can make it a 3 horse race for the title this time around.

Elsewhere, Bolton continued their fine form with a win at Blackburn while West Ham and Newcastle fans must be genuinely worried about their sides recent run of results.

Anyways, the big one is up next in a couple hours - Real Barca. Stay tuned for the full match report.

Benitez Bashing - surely he needs to take the blame for Liverpool's woeful start to the season. Players out of position, team selection which has not worked, surely he needs to go if this keeps up?

Everton Excellence - with Liverpool struggling, maybe their Merseyside rivals can beat them to a Champions League place?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Scholes Screamer

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Super Sunday!

This sunday brings about 2 of the biggest fixtures in European football - Manchester United host Liverpool and Real Madrid square off with Barcelona in el classico.

The rivalries between the teams are intensely fierce and the pressure is firmly on Rafa Benitez's side to come away with a positive result from Old Trafford to breathe new life into a championship challenge which is fading quickly - and it's only October!

A defeat will put them 11 points adrift of United and even the most ardent Liverpool fan might have to concede that they would be out of the title race, something terribly disappointing for a team tipped to be Chelsea's biggest challengers this season.

In many ways, this fixture is similar to that of Arsenal's visit to Old Trafford a couple of weeks back where pundits were predicting that a defeat would rule the Gunners out themselves. Arsenal of course produced a sparkling performance without Thierry Henry and won 1-0 - how Liverpool must be hoping they could kickstart their season with a similar result.

But can they? Do they have it in them to come to United and beat them? Potato Pundit feels that they definitely are capable of winning here based on their desperation and quality in the side but Manchester United are steadily improving and a certain Mr Rooney is back on form.

This is a tough match to call but the Potato Punt here is a 0-0 stalemate.

The 2nd blockbuster match on sunday is the clash of the Spanish champions Barcelona and a desperate Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

You could say that Real Madrid are in a similar need for a result as Liverpool following several shambolic performances this season, the latest being a 1-0 loss to Getafe where they managed zero shots on goal in the entire match.

The pressure is firmly on eminent Italian boss Fabio Capello who has hardly set the Real Madrid fans' pulses racing. The Italian has been accused of adopting negative, boring tactics and is heavily criticised for pairing Emerson and Diarra - 2 defensive midfielders - in the middle. Fans are crying out for more entertainment from the side but Capello is clearly in a no win situation. On one hand he has the produce instant results while on the other, he is expected to entertain as well.

Capello has been a champion in his managerial career with Roma, Juventus and AC Milan. In his past spell with Real, he won La Liga and seems to have the ability to transform good sides into great ones. This latest challenge is arguably his toughest but despite a few blips so far, there is potential in this Real Madrid team.

His greatest challenge is to coax the best out of his ageing stars. Raul, Ronaldo, Emerson, Beckham, Roberto Carlos and Cannavaro are all approaching the end of their careers and Capello needs them to perform once more if they are to succeed this term.

Barcelona themselves arrive in Madrid in far from ideal condition. Defeat to Chelsea in midweek coupled with poor performances from Ronaldinho and Puyol have raised doubts whether the side still has the same motivation this season after last season's all conquering exploits.

Barca have not been at their best this season so far but one does cast an eye back to the same time last season where they were hardly at their best too. They definitely have a bit to prove following the defeat to Chelsea but they do appear severely affected by the loss of top scorer Samuel Eto'o who is such a vital player for them. Ronaldinho, Messi and Deco create plenty and they do need Eto'o's lethal finishing to convert their pretty football into goals.

Real Madrid and Barcelona should be a very tight, tense affair with Capello's side in particular anxious to avoid a repeat of last season's humbling at the Bernabeu when Ronaldinho absolutely destroyed them. Potato Punt - 1-1.

Drogba Delight

The Champions League brings about some of the biggest clashes in European football and yesterday night was another such occasion as Chelsea and Barcelona sqaured off yet again in a fascinating clash of champions.

Much of the pre-match talk was of the supposed notion that this latest clash was less significant than past editions but once the Belgian referee got proceedings underway it was clear that both sides were determined to emerge the victors with Chelsea snapping away tigerishly at the Spanish side and Barcelona looking to impose their flair and invention on the match.

Chelsea started off slightly better with Essien looking powerful in the midfield and their fullbacks Boulharouz and Cole keeping the menacing Messi and Ronaldinho in check.

The first real chance came to Drogba who profited from another surging run from Essien who had capitalised on Deco's reluctance to track back. Dorgba's touch took him clear of Marquez but Barca keeper Victor Valdes kept him out. The rebound bobbled to Shevchenko who looked set to end his goal drought only to be denied by the Mexican Marquez who recovered to make a brilliant saving tackle.

In fact the game seemed to hinge on the Barcelona midfield's reluctance to track back with the likes of Lampard and Essien finding space with their runs from midfield. However when things broke down Barca would have the numbers and looked to capitalise on the counter attack.

In what was turning out to be a contest between the drive and power of Chelsea and the flamboyant ball retention of Barcelona it was Barcelona who gradually came into the game more with Messi forcing a terrific save from debutant Hilario.

In fact, they nearly scored one of the great European goals when intricate flicks and pin point passing led to Xavi forcing another save from Hilario at his near post which seemed to signal a spell of Barca dominace where Messi and Cole went head to head in what was to be a terrific matchup.

The 2nd half was barely a minute old when Drogba lit up the game with a goal worthy of winning any game. Having miscontrolled Ashley Cole's cross, his little flick took Marquez and Puyol out before smashing the ball past Valdes from the edge of the box. It was a terrific strike almost a mirror image of his winner against Liverpool earlier in the season.

The goal brought about a reaction from Rijkaard who brought on Andres Iniesta and reverted to three at the back. The pace of the game increased as Barca committed more men forward with the tricky winger Ludovic Giuly sent on in search of a equaliser.

However with the Barca defence more and more exposed it was Chelsea who looked most likely to score another with Shevchenko spurning a glorious chance to make it 2-0. It was a miss symbolic of his recent fortunes and one which he would surely scored if in better form.

Barca's ability though was always latent but there just didn't seem a frontman to profit from the probing play of Messi and Deco and they were limited to long range shots which Hilario was always comfortable with. Samuel Eto'o was definitely a big miss and if Barca are to defend their European crown, Eto'o would definitely play a big part in it.

Despite having plenty of possesion in the 2nd half Barcelona seldom looked like finding an equaliser and with Ronaldinho having another disappointing night, the much vaunted Barcelona side were made to look ordinary in the 2nd half as the likes of Essien and Lampard dominated with their power and dynamism.

So a typical 1-0 win to Chelsea and the 2 teams meet again in a fortnight and Barcelona can ill afford another poor performance such as theirs in the 2nd half.

Man of the Match - Didier Drogba
It was either Drogba or Essien but Drogba's goal earned him the honour

Hilario Handles -
The 3rd choice goalie did himself proud and will be delighted with the clean sheet

Barca Bummer -
Frank Rijkaard might be a little worried following this poor showing from his side. Despite short spells of brilliance, the likes Ronaldinho and Puyol were poor and the European champions need to respond this weekend against Real Madrid. With Werder Bremen winning on the night, another defeat to Chelsea in 2 weeks' time might see the unlikely prospect of the defending champions out in the group stages.

PLAYER RATINGS
Hilario 7
Boulharouz 8 - Few right backs can claim to have kept Ronaldinho in his pocket but the Cannibal was excellent
Carvalho 8
Terry 7
Cole 7
Makelele 6
Essien 8
Lampard 7
Ballack 6
Shevchenko 6 - Worked hard but he desperately needs a goal to kickstart his season (Robben 6)
Drogba 8 (Kalou)

Valdes 6
Zambrotta 7
Marquez 8 - Excelled at the back but team mates let him down
Puyol 5 (Belleti 6)
van Bronckhorst 6 (Iniesta 6)
Edmilson 6
Xavi 6
Deco 7
Ronaldinho 6 - Another disappointing performance from the supposed best in the world
Messi 6
Gudjohnsen 5 (Giuly 7)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chelsea - Barcelona Preview

Chelsea play host to defending champions Barcelona in what is another chapter in their recent but fierce rivalry.

While not exactly a must-win for both sides, one does sense the need to win tonight is more for bragging rights than survival in the competition as both sides are expected to progress from a group which contain minnows Levski and German outsiders Werder Bremen.

The pre-match build up has been dominated by the injuries suffered by both Cech and Cudicini with the former expected to face up to a year out to recover from his frightful injury last weekend thus the spotlight is firmly on Nene Hilario, a former player of Mourinho's at Porto, who has to deal with a similarly weakened Barcelona attack who are without the Cameroon livewire Eto'o who's out with a long term knee injury.

The reigning African Player of the year is central in the Catalans' much feared attack and his loss could prove significant for Barca not only in this match but also in the next couple of months. Ronaldinho is of course, the main attraction in the Barca frontline, but Eto'o's absence cannot be downplayed as he is such a vital player for his team.

His replacement is none other than Eidur Gudjohnsen, the former Chelsea frontman who joined Barcelona in the off season.

While Gudjohnsen is a skilful talent, one does doubt his ability to put one over his former captain John Terry who will know all about his former team mate's strengths.

The match itself should be very tight with both sides probably happy with a draw as a result but im tipping Chelsea to edge it 1-0.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gerrard falls

Thursday, October 12, 2006


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