Popular Posts

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Could this Finally Be the Year of The Arsenal?

Santi Cazorla and Podolski celebrates
Arsenal are looking good, really good. Their 6-1 thumping of League One strugglers Coventry City in the Capital One Cup (League Cup) on Wednesday night saw the Gunners continue their fine start to the season. They have not lost a match in all competitions thus far.

The Premier League may still be at its infant stages with only five matches played at the time of writing this article but Arsenal’s start has been far more impressive than the sorry start they had last season. In five matches last season, Wenger’s men were sitting 17th, a point shy of the relegation zone, having lost three matches, won one and drawn the other one. They had a -8 goal difference having conceded a massive 14 goals, 8 of them against Manchester United and 4 against Blackburn Rovers who were to be relegated come season end.

The Emirates seat had never been hotter for manager Arsene Wenger with many pundits declaring his time to end his 16 year spell in the club had come. The inevitable loss of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona was compounded by the departure of Gael Clichy to Manchester City and it was no surprise then that many voices were calling for his departure including Rwanda President Paul Kagame, an ardent Gunners supporter.

But little by little, they got right back in, thanks mainly to the 30-goal man Robin Van Persie. That Arsenal had rallied back from relegation candidates to Champions League qualifiers come end of the season called for celebration. No one would refer to the fact that they had finished yet another season, the 7th in a row, without a trophy.

But could this be the season when Arsenal finally put a trophy to that Emirates cabinet which has been empty since the 2004-05 FA Cup was added? And just which trophy will that be?

The Champions League, which the London side has never won, may still be a long shot considering that you have clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich all gunning for it. Methinks they are still some light years behind those clubs to topple any of them if, and only if, they reach the final which will be played at Wembley on May 25, 2013.

That leaves them with the domestic cups. Their start to the Premier League this season has been good enough. They have gotten off the blocks with the form or real title contenders. With two wins (including a 2-0 victory away to Liverpool), three draws (one of them against Champions Manchester City) and no loss, they are sitting comfortably in 5th place with 9 points, four behind leaders Chelsea who they tackle on matchday 6.

Summer signings Santi Carzola and Lukas Podolski are fast making the departure of Van Persie to Manchester United forgettable. Gervinho is improving, Theo Walcott looks ready to commit his football career to Arsenal, Oxlade Chamberlin continues to mature and Abou Diaby is fitting well into Alex Song’s boots. The return of Jack Wilshere will be tantamount to a new signing. These players will be key if Arsenal are to put a serious title charge.

The comfortable 6-1 win over Coventry City in the League Cup which was largely expected earned them a date away to Reading in the fourth round. A win for the Gunners against the team that conquered Everton in the third round will take them to the last eight, and ever closer to a trophy.

The FA Cup doesn’t start for them until 5th January 2013, a time in which the league would have started to take shape. Where will Arsenal be?

There is no doubt that this season might as well be Arsene Wenger’s last chance to bring a trophy to the Emirates after a seven-year – and counting – drought. Judging by the start they have had in all competitions, it may be advisable not to bet against that happening.

Failure to bring silverware will see the club’s owners and fans run out patience and resolve that Le Professeur’s departure is indeed in the best interest of all the parties. Or better yet, Mr. Wenger himself may decide to end his 16-year relationship with club, at least for now. A return for a man who has won 3 Premier League and 4 FA Cup titles is always more likely than not.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jonjo Cements his Reputation as Gerarrd’s Most Likely Heir

Will Liverpool ever get another Steven Gerrard once the Anfield legend hangs his boots? May be not. But someone will definitely come close.

Fortunately for the Merseyside outfit, they may not need to wait for so long for that someone to come throughs. It may be early alright to point at anyone in the squad who will fit in the boots of Captain Fantastic but one player continues to look the more likely.

Signed from Charlton Athletic for an intial fee of £1.7 million in the summer of 2010, Jonjo Shelvey is slowly establishing himself as one of Anfield’s favourite sons. Managers continually pound on young players to take their chances when given an opportunity to feature in the first team and the clean-shaven attacking midfielder has been doing exactly that.

His ascension from being a Championship loanee to a permanent fixture for Liverpool just shows how much progress the Romford-born lad has made. When you watch him play for England U21 or against big guns in the premier league like Manchester City and Chelsea or in Europe, it’s almost unbelievable to think that he’s only 20 years old.

Against Young Boys in the Europa League on Thursday night, Shelvey came in as substitute in the 66th minute and it’s his two goals that helped a young Liverpool squad lock out the game against their impressive opponents.

His first was a well-worked Liverpool goal. Fabio Borini made a run down the left channel before squaring the ball to Jordan Henderson who found Jonjo inside the penalty area. The former Charlton man took his chance guiding the ball to the back of the net via his right foot to give Liverpool a 4-3 lead.

His second was what fine individual efforts are made of. Collecting the ball from Hendo in the midfield, Charlton’s youngest-ever first-team player raced down the middle of the pack past everyone before unleashing a right foot shot past Marco Wolfli in the Young Boys goal. And for the second time in the night, he treated the travelling Kops to his trademark celebration where he mimics wearing sunglasses with his hands.

Jonjo’s performance at the Wankdorf Stadoim reminded me of Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick against Napoli in the 2010 Europa League. Shelvey was on the field that night when the Reds took on the Partenopei at Anfield. Napoli silenced the Kops when they took the lead at the half-hour mark courtesy of Ezequiel Lavezzi. But a 13minute hat-trick from substitute Gerrard saw the Reds claim all the three points.

On Wednesday, there wasn’t Gerrard on the pitch, nor in the substitutes bench. But there was Jonjo Shelvey who did to Liverpool what they are used to seeing from their ageing captain.

"He is still only 20 years of age and is developing and growing all the time and you saw his confidence when he came on," Reds manager Brendan Rodgers said in his post-match report.

Shelvey has definitely arrived into the scene and Liverpool’s midfielders should probably be looking over their shoulders. Gerrard may be?

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Barca Survive Spartak Scare as Juventus Rally Back to Draw with Chelsea

Chelsea midfielder Oscar scores against Juventus

Lionel Messi came to the rescue of his Barcelona team for the umpteenth time Wednesday night when he scored a brace inside 8 minutes to help the Blaugarana avoid an embarrassing defeat against Spartak Moscow at Camp Nou.

The mercurial Argentine netted in the 72nd minute to draw Barca level before tapping in the winner in the 80th minute to squeeze three points out of the match

The Catalans looked well on course for a win inside the quarter-hour mark when Tello carved in an effort from outside the area to give them the lead. Barca controlled the match but were hit at the half-hour when Dani Alves led the ball into his own net to draw level for the Russians.

Barca threw everything for the remainder of the half with both Cesc Fabregas and Dani Alves coming close but the half ended in a 1-1 stalemate.

Spartak took the lead in the 59th minute after a well-worked counter attack that started with Ari charging down the left channel before releasing the ball to Aiden McGeady who slid it to Romulo who beat his marker Adriano before slotting past Victor Valdes.

Tito Vilanova’s men huffed and puffed as they looked for the equalizer. The success would come in the 72nd minute with Lionel Messi tapping in from close range after brilliant work from Tello on the left.

The winner came 10 minutes before the final whistle via Messi who headed home from an Alexis Sanchez cross to give the home crowd a win to cheer for but they know they might not be so lucky next time. In the other match in the Group, Celtic drew 0-0 with Benfica.

In Group E, Juventus rallied from 2 goals down to draw 2-2 with defending champions Chelsea. Brazilian star Oscar scored two superb in two minutes to give the Blues a 2-0 lead but Arturo Vidal’s 38th minute strike opened the game heading into the interval.

Chelsea’s relaxed attitude in the second half proved costly especially in the 80th minute when John Obi Mikel gave the ball away with substitute Fabio Quagliarella beating off an offside trap to slot between Cech’s legs for the equalizer.

Shakhtar Donetsk beat Danish Champions League debutants FC Nordsjælland 2-0 to claim the top spot in the group. Henrik Mkhitaryan scored both goals either side of half time to give the Ukrainian champions the win.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos were both on target for last season’s losing finalists Bayern Munich in their 2-1 win over Valencia. Haedo Valdez scored the consolation for the Spaniards in injury time.  BATE Borisov shocked everyone but themselves when they trounced French Ligue 1 champions Lille 3-1 at the Grand Stade Lille M√©tropole. Aleksandr Volodko, Vitali Rodionov and Edgar Olekhnovich gave BATE an unlikely 3-0 half-time lead and they hanged on in the second half for the win. Chedjou scored the consolation for Lille.

Finally in Group H, Michael Carrick scored the only goal for Manchester United as they beat Galatasary 1-0 at Old Trafford. CFR Cluj won 2-0 away to Sporting Braga to move to the top of the group. Rafael Bastos scored both goals.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Champions League Day 1: Ronaldo Wins it for Madrid, Milan Fire Blanks at San Siro as Arsenal Edge Past Montpellier

It’s been a while since Cristiano Ronaldo was seen celebrating a goal for his team Real Madrid. But then again, there hasn’t been much to celebrate at the Bernabeu as the Madridstas season hasn’t really kicked off the way they would have liked to.

Their league form has been wanting to say the least and it seemed they were on the brink of a defeat Tuesday night against Manchester City in their Champions League group stage encounter.

With five minutes remaining on the clock, City were 2-1 up and looked to be on course of getting a famous win at the Bernabeu but two goals inside those five minutes including Ronaldo’s winner in the 90th minute gave the hosts the win.

In truth, Madrid never struggled in this game and could have killed the game in the first half were it not for some impressive saves from City custodian Joe Hart who ensured the half ended in a stalemate.

Madrid continued to bomb forward in the second half but they would fall behind against the run of play in the 69th minute when substitute Edin Dzeko pulled City ahead with a left-footed strike off a Yaya Toure through ball.

Mourinho had seen enough and decided to make a double substitution in the 73rd minute by introducing Luka Modric and Karim Benzema for Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain. The reigning La Liga champions looked dangerous almost immediately and they drew level three minutes later with Marcelo curling in past Hart from just outside the penalty area.

Real continued to push on for the winner but it’s Roberto Mancini’s men who seemed to have grabbed it when Aleksandar Koralov curled in a free kick that evaded everyone to put City 2-1 to the good with five minutes before the final whistle.

The Bernabeu crowd was rocked and no one could have predicted what would transpire inside the last five minutes. First, Karim Benzema fired in from the edge of the box to make it 2-2, giving way to CR7 to score the winner in the 90th minute, one that drew wild celebrations from the Madrid fans, Mourinho, but most importantly, Cristiano Ronaldo himself.

In the other encounter in the group, Robert Lewandowski strike in the 87th minute helped Borussia Dortmund grab a vital 1-0 win over Ajax at Signal-Iduna-Park in Dortmund.

In Group B, Arsenal continued their dominance over French clubs by beating Montpellier 2-1. Younes Belhanda gave the French champions the lead in the 9th minute via a penalty but two goals in two minutes from Lukas Podolski and Gervinho broke the hearts of the home crowd.  German side Schalke won 2-1 away to Olympiakos.

AC Milan failed to register a win at the San Siro when they were held to a 0-0 draw by Anderlecht  while Malaga romped past Zenit St. Petersburg 3-0. Lucho Gonzalez and Steven Defour were on target for Porto in their 2-0 win away to Dinamo Zagreb while PSG eased past Dynamo Kiev 4-1 with new signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva both netting for the Ligue 1 outfit. The other two goals were scored by Argentine Javier Pastore and Alex. Kiev’s consolation was scored by Miguel Veloso.

On Wednesday, champions Chelsea will start their title defence at Stamford Bridge against Juventus in Group E. Shaktar Donetsk welcome Nordsjaelland in the other group encounter.

Barcelona will have home advantage against Spartak Moscow while Celtic will play Benfica. Lille play host to BATE Borisov in Group F with last season’s losing finalist Bayern Munich hosting Valencia.

Manchester United versus Galatasaray and SC Braga versus CFR Cluj are the other fixtures.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Real Madrid Host Manchester City, Arsenal Visit Montpellier as UEFA Champions League Returns

The 2012-13 UEFA Champions League season kicks off this week with Real Madrid versus Manchester City the pick of the bunch in Tuesday’s opening fixtures.  
The Premier League and La Liga reigning champions clash at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid in what promises to be mouthwatering clash between two modern football heavyweights who have never played against each other before.
Madrid go into the match under a poor run of form in the domestic league which has seen them collect only four points in four matches and trailing archrivals Barcelona by 8 points.   
Jose Mourinho has a fully fit squad to chose from and will be relying on star man Cristiano Ronaldo to sparkle in spite of his reported unhappiness.  Jose Mourinho’s team are seasoned participants in Europe’s premier club competition unlike their Eitihad opponents who will be making only their second appearance in the competition after crushing out in the group stages the previous season.   
But Manchester City are yet to lose a game this season and will be happy to welcome back Sergio Aguero from injury. City have the squad to take them all the way and in Roberto Mancini, they have a manager who has tasted success at the big stage. Another fixture in Group D will see Bundesliga Champions Borussia Dortmund host their Dutch counterparts Ajax at Signal-Iduna-Park in Dortmund.  
 In Group A, big-spending Paris St Germain will host Ukraine outfit Dynamo Kyiv as Porto travel to Stadion Maksimir in Croatia to meet Dinamo Zagreb. Ligue 1 Champions Montpellier will be hoping to put a stop to Arsenal’s impressive start to the season in a Group B encounter which will also see Olympiakos clash with German side Schalke.
  Spanish side Malaga are currently sitting second in La Liga, two points behind Barcelona, and will make their champions league debut at home against Russian side Zenit Saint Petersburg who will be keen to unleash €40 million signing Hulk.   
Six-time winners AC Milan will begin their campaign at the San Siro when they welcome Anderlecht.
And That's thesteifmastertake!!