Saturday, April 30, 2005

Congrats to Chelsea

Now that the Premier League title officially shifts from north to south london:

We can focus on the real battle - Arsenal vs Manchester United. It will be interesting to see how both sides play out the rest of the season. With a date in the FA cup finals looming, Arsenal and Manchester United have something to aim for, however there is also second place in the Premiership and the automatic Champions League qualification at stake. With a four point lead, Arsenal has the pole position. But Arsenal are hurt, with Henry and Campbell trying to come to match fitness for the FA Cup final. Would Wenger risk their status if he needs to secure points for the second place finish? Manchester United still has to navigate a visit from Chelsea, however with the Premiership title wrapped up and a potential Champion's league final, will Chelsea play a B-side at Old Trafford? Or will Morinho like nothing more than to stick it to Sir Alice, I mean Sir Alex? The final games should be fun to watch, as the Arsenal and Manchester United rivalry keep the entertainment value high.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Oh Henry where are you?

With the FA cup finals looming, it begs the question, where is Henry? He has missed the past few games and there are constant rumors that he will miss the FA Cup finals. This is not good. First, Wenger should not play Henry the rest of the season, unless it is for 45 minutes to get his legs back under him, but if there is any fear of recurring injury let him rest (after a full season in his legs I am sure he will not be "rusty"). Second, start playing line ups with Man U in mind and without an Henry option. Use these last few games to run out a formation that can counter Man U, control the midfield and clamp down on the Rooney - Van Nisterlroy - Scholes stike force (maybe experiement with a 5 player mid-field a la Blackburn, with Reyes alone up front). Finally, rest other players such as Vieira, Pires, Campbell...we will need them at their top form to be able to slay Man U.

The next few games are good "practice" for what should prove to be a historic FA Cup final.

Monday, April 18, 2005

FA cup finals

Arsenal - Manchester United...what a way to end the season. Not sure there is anything that needs to be said about this match up. Predictions to follow.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Arsenal FA cup finalists again!

Arsenal defeated a defensive minded Blackburn this morning to advance to the FA cup final to meet the winner of Man U - Newcastle. Blackburn lined up 5 midfielders in an attempt to slow down and break the pace of Arsenal, one would see this working considering Arsenal were without their magician, Henry and their defensive bed rock - Campbell. However with Pires playing the way Pires can play, Arsenal were able to slot 3 goals and defeat Blackburn. Granted two of the goals came in the end of the game, but Arsenal's second half passing and movement appeared to be the Gunners of old, the one that has sewed fear in the hearts of the Premiership teams.

However the team they face in the finals will be much more difficult to defeat, especially if we see as everyone would like a Manchester United - Arsenal final, a match that would pit two teams with no silverware in a winner take all battle for the last piece of available silverware. If we are lucky enough to have such a match up, it will be well worth the price of admission.

One thing that intregues me, is Arsenal's success at the single elimination tournament such as the FA cup but their lack of success in similar format in Europe. Maybe it is because Arsenal's knowledge of style in England? Or is it because they play lower ranked opponents during the process? The fact that Arsenal made their 5 "final four" in 5 years, and will be playing in their 4th final in 5 years begs the question - if Arsenal can find success in this tournament why do they fail so miserably in the Champion's League or UEFA cup?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Champions League Semifinals

For the first time since 1999 england will have a team in the finals of the Champions League, while PSV proves to be the dark horse in this year's tournament but in the end I think that AC Milan will emerge victorious.

AC Milan has the fire power needed to capture the title. After dispatching Manchester United, rather easily and then beating city rivals Inter, AC Milan will defeat a scrappy PSV and then meet Chelsea in the finals. I think that Chelsea will find a way to defeat Liverpool, but I think those matches will be prove to be the best pairing of the tournament. Liverpool is playing above themselves and with the return of Cisse may have the solutions up front to give Chelsea a scare. But Chelsea is playing too well right now, they have the parts needed to defeat their Premiership rivals.

However in the finals I think we will see the experienced AC Milan defeat Chelsea. I think that Herman Crespo will play a huge role in that game. He is playing with a chip on his shoulder for how Chelsea treated him and will channel this to give AC Milan another Champion's League title.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

San Siro fireworks

Those of us that watched or saw the "highlights" of the Champion's League match yesterday between AC Milan and Inter Milan realize that football fans have not evolved during the past 20 years since the tragedy at Heysel.

For the readers that do not know what I am refering to, in 1985 the Champion's League finals was marred in tragedy when the Liverpool and Juventus fans rioted causing the death of over 30 spectators when many were crushed by crowds fearing for their lives when a number of hooligans began an open brawl in the stadium. The game ended with Juventus hoisting the title (1-0 victory on a Platini penalty), but a title that was to crown the Platini led team as one of Europe's best was instead marred and remembered for the tragedy that preceded the game. While thankfully no fans were gravely injured yesterday the demonstration of the Milan fans was inexcusable and quite frankly frightening.

After Inter scored a late goal, that was not allowed for a foul on the AC keeper Dida, the Inter fans (it was an Inter Milan "home" game) began showing their distaste with the referee decision by showering the field with lite flares turning the pitch into a surreal environment with lite flares littering the pitch billowing smoke and flame into the air. Now mind you, Inter was already eliminated from the competition being down 3-0 on aggragate, so the fans were protesting a meaningless goal. But even if this goal was the difference between going through and being eliminated the behavior is inexecusable. Where was security? Why were the fans allowed to bring in flares? I have been to football matches in France and in each case had to pass through at least 2 security gates where I was searched and patted down...even here in the US when I attend a sporting event I have been patted down and searched to ensure nothing that should not be brought to the arena is allowed in. When you see the number of flares that ended up littering the field it is apparant that it was not one or two that slipped through the gate but anyone that wanted to bring in a flare could do so.

Shame on Inter for this terrible lapse in judgement and security. FIFA should punish them severly for this, maybe playing games with a closed gate (no fans allowed), fine Inter, disqualify them for Champions League or all European competitions next season (after the Heysel incident all British teams were banned from playing on the continent for 5 years). Maybe this loss in revenue will force Inter to revisit their security for matches.

Football is a passionate sport, just look at games in South America, Europe, Asia etc. Fans have passion for their clubs and countries and are not afraid to demonstrate this passion at matches. Most of the time these fans make Red Sox - Yankee fans look like tame sheep. While I love the passion that is associated with football I also fear that at times it gets out of control. Recently we have seen an Asian Nations Cup final marred by Chinese fans rioting when their national team lost to Japan, running amock in the street burning Japanese flags, fighting Japanese fans. We have seen a referee at a AS Roma match hit in the head with a battery (actually that sounds much like Yankee Stadium behavior). We have witnessed fans at a Paris St Germain match delay a game with flares (once again how do these get into the stadium to start?). Something will need to be done with regards to fan control in stadiums. FIFA and UEFA need to instate hard punishments:

  • Home and away teams are responsible in managing their fans. Home teams are responsible for stadium security, visiting teams are responsible for the fans that attend the games if they get out of hand that team pays the price.
  • Teams whose fans are the genisis of problems pay the punishment: fines, exclusion from European competition (depending on severity dictates time frame), loss of points if incident occurs in a domestic game, having to play games with closed gates.
  • National teams should be held to the same rules. They should be fined, have to forfeit matches, and depending on the severity banned from major competitions.
  • The fans who cause the problems will have to be punished as well, fined, thrown in prison, banned from all stadiums etc.
The events at San Siro have no place in sports, the passion is appreciated the manner to demonstrate that passion was misguided.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chelsea...destined for a double?

Chelsea's 4-2 drubbing of Bayern begs the question, with an insurrmountable 13 point lead in the Premiership and a 4-2 home win in the Champion's League 1/4 finals will Chelsea vault themselves to a historic double for the London club? Heading back to Munich with a 2 goal cushion it would appear that Chelsea have it wrapped up to make it to the semi-finals. Plus with their large lead in the domestic chase, they can afford to rotate their squad to ensure they are fresh...but not so fast. Last season Chelsea waltzed into the Champion's League smei finals after finally getting the Arsenal monkey off their back. Only to run into the cinderella of the tournament, AS Monaco and an inspired Morientes. Chelsea still have to go into Bayern and not lose by 2-goals...I think that if Chelsea head into Bayern and hope to emerge with a 0-0 draw or at most a 0-1 loss, I fear that they could be setting themselves for a trap. With 2 away goals, I think that Bayern will have strong motivation, if they can score an early goal all things will be in with a potential all england Champion's League semi finals of Chelsea vs. Liverpool, Chelsea and the lads need to ensure that they are focused on the game in Munich. Chelsea need to open the game as if it were any other in the prem, look to get an early goal and really put the pressure on Bayern...but nothing is completed yet...far from it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Wiltord, the forgotten man

As Wiltord and his Lyon teammates played PSV to a 1-1 draw in the champions' league does Wenger and the rest of the Arsenal brass scratch their heads wondering why they allowed this player to leave for nothing? Wiltord has been the forgotten man in football, but whenever he plays for the French national team or his club team he produces. He scored 6 goals during the European Cup qualifiers (tied with Trezeguet and Henry), he has tallied 5 goals during the Champions League already, he scored some big goals for France (Euro 2000 tying goal in injury time versus Italy), scoring big goals for Arsenal (in 2001 against Man United to seal the Premiership), tallying double digit goals for Arsenal. Yet he was outcasted as a disposable asset by Arsenal...yet he has shown with Lyon and with France this year that he still has plenty left in the tank. Maybe with his goal scoring ability and his general talent, Arsenal would be fighting for first place and not second place this season.
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