Looking ahead to the biggest matchups in La Liga, Serie A, and the FA Cup, respectively.
Real Madrid (1st) vs. Villareal (3rd). Los Merengues passed their first test of the second half with flying colors, edging a strong Atletico side 2-nil last weekend. Atletico's front partnership of Forlan and Aguero got a lot of the headlines going in, but it was Real's aging-like-fine-wine strikeforce of Raul and van Nistelrooy that decided the match. Oh, and Iker Casillas made two or three incredible saves (yawn) to run his clean sheet record to six matches straight in La Liga. Villareal, meanwhile, are quietly having a great season. They've been injury-free all year (oh snap, there's a jinx waiting to happen), and are putting a strong challenge in to regain Champions League football, something they've gone without for two seasons. Nihat has been in fine form up front, Pires is showing he's got something left in the tank, and the most talented young American (er, Italian... what kind of crap is this) in world soccer has 8 goals in La Liga competition.
The verdict: Sorry, Villareal. Real Madrid have been completely dominant at the Bernabeu, scoring 23, conceding 7, and winning all 9 games played. Count on them to sink el Submarino Amarillo, but Iker really can't keep this up, can he? Real Madrid 2 - 1 Villareal.
Udinese (5th) vs. Inter Milan (1st). Poor Udinese. Playing well all season, they're now faced by the second of two Milan juggernauts in two weeks. But just because they've become Job for the scheduling gods, doesn't mean there's not hope. Last week, Inter struggled mightily against a mediocre (that's charitable) Parma side. In fact, they had no business DRAWING that game, let alone winning it. Instead, a harsh 88th minute penalty for handball was converted by Ibrahimovic, who then won it with an excellently controlled ball in injury time. Udinese were also extremely unlucky to lose last week, defending well, but falling victim to poor refereeing decisions and then Gilardino's extra time strike.
The verdict: Things probably won't get any better for Udinese. Fiorentina is sitting in what was their fourth place spot, and look like a sheed to defeat lowly Empoli. Inter can't afford to drop points with Roma churning out results, and they won't. Udinese 0 - 1 Inter.
Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur (FA Cup 4th Round). Tottenham dismantled (there's no other word for it) the old enemy on Tuesday in front of a giddy White Hart Lane. To get to this fixture, new manager Juande Ramos took them past a solid Reading side without conceding a goal (!). It's for good reason, then, that many Spurs fans are proclaiming the corner turned. Not so fast, though. Their next three fixtures, including this one, are: away to Man U, away to Everton, and home to Man U. That's brutal. If they get out of that stretch with one win, I'll be convinced they're finally on track.
The verdict: Scoring is never a problem for Spurs; they're only two behind (44) leaders Man U and Arsenal (46) in the league. However, they can't stop conceding. On Tuesday, even when playing near-perfectly, they couldn't keep a clean sheet. Ronaldo, Rooney, and Tevez aren't going to let them, either. Man U 3 - 1 Spurs.
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Carling Cup Semifinal, Second Leg.
A trip to Wembley is a trip to Wembley. That's all I have to say to those who claim the Carling Cup is not worth the concern of a big club. That's nonsense, and as everyone knows, the only time a cup "doesn't matter" is when your club hasn't won it. The opportunity to take the kids to another final is here, but this is going to be the first game of the season when the odds are stacked firmly against the Gunners.
Before their second league meeting, I went against the conventional predictions of a comfortable victory for Arsenal on my other blog. Sure enough, it was a close game that took a brilliant Almunia penalty save and an incredible header from Bendtner on his first touch of the match to win it. (Please note that this is probably the only occasion on which I've predicted a result perfectly, hence the tooting of mine own horn.) Arsenal again kept their unbeaten run against the old foe alive when Theo Walcott scored the luckiest (or unluckiest, depending on your perspective) late equalizer in the first leg.
History is clearly on the side of the Gunners, who won in convincing fashion in this same fixture last year. It's also on their side in that Tottenham have consistently failed to win against Arsenal in this century. That's right. 1999. In a period spanning nine years and 21 matches in all competitions, Spurs have yet to take three points.
However, Spurs have to be massive favorites to end this drought. There's (technically) no possibility of a draw; this one will go to penalties if necessary. They're at home. They're playing very good football. Aside from the three-headed Roonaldez monster of Man U, there isn't a strike force with a better understanding than Keano the Younger and Berba. Arsenal are most likely fielding a starting lineup bereft of Cesc Machine, Mattuso, Ade 3000, van Injured, SuperTom, Arcade Fire, Ashley Who?, Sideshow Bob, and England's #1, and though that's not to say some of the aforementioned won't make a bench appearance, knowing Wenger, he'll stick with the kids for as long as possible.
That all said, I'm still going to refrain from making a prediction even though Arsenal definitely shouldn't win this match. Tottenham are the most infamous chokers in the Premiership and consistently the victims of horrible fortune (lasagna, anyone?), especially when their North London neighbors are involved. On a final note, I, for one, have never seen Arsenal lose to Spurs, and though this is an "unimportant" cup with the B squad, that won't lessen the sting if they do.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
It was three-nil to the Gunners in a match that refilled Arsenal's perscription. You see, before this season started, Arsenal went to the doctor and was perscribed Awesome pills. They were running a bit low last week. I can keep this metaphor going if you want... no?... are you su, you're sure.... ok. Well Fulham's defensive shape conceded wing advances and so Arsenal did just that. The runs by Clichy and Rosicky up the sideline were particularly refreshing as they reminded me of Arsenal earlier in the year when they were unstoppable. Before I get ahead of myself, the match was not Arsenal's finest. It was however, proof of a few things:
1 - Adebayor is seemingly much less clumsy with his headers as both were effortlessly and confidently placed. Definition "No Doubters."
2 - He also sees the ball very well. He reached the ball at his highest point, which is a shaving below the cross bar (that = head 10 feet in the air) with his momentum carrying him away from the ball. They were class act headers in traffic I guess is what I should say.
3 - Rosicky makes me happy. He's super fast and that makes his side faster too. Arsenal's devastating counter attacks were lacking without him so it's nice to see him back.
4 - Arsenal needs Clichy to streak up the sideline like I need sage and cayenne on my maccaroni and cheese.
5 - Again, three nil was the perfect score to put me at ease especially after Man U struggled against Reading.
This pains me write, but after these last two matches, I'm officially on, Is Something Wrong With Cesc watch. My quick observation is that Fabregas receives the ball in the defensive third flat-footed and in the offensive third with no space. Completely ignoring the fact that he hasn't scored since ManU, I don't see him attacking/pressing.