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Big Scores on the Big Day

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As the Premier League brought the curtains down until August we were treated to a final match day to remember. While it may not have been as exciting as last season, when the league was won in the 93rd minute of a game, but there was plenty of things to see.

Games of the Week

Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge for Manchester United proved to be one people won’t soon forget. They combined with home team West Bromwich Albion to produce nearly 40 shots, of which West Brom actually produced more of. United dominated possession of the game though and raced out to a 3-0 lead thanks to Shinji Kagawa, Alexander Buttner, and a Jonas Olsson own goal. The Baggies managed to pull one back before half time. It was then, at 3-1 down, that Romelu Lukaku was introduced as a West Brom player for the final time. The on-loan Chelsea striker will be returning to London now with his stock as high as ever. A quick goal cut the deficit down to 3-2 but United weren’t done. Robin van Persie and Chicharito both added a goal to make it 5-2. It seemed as if United were on cruise control at this point but there was more drama to come. Three goals in the last ten minutes, one by Youssuf Mulumbu in between Lukaku’s second and third, meant that this game ended in a draw with a score line that had never been seen before in the Premier League. Paul Scholes, who is retiring, was able to come on as a substitute one last time for United and, in true Paul Scholes fashion, managed to get a yellow card. This was probably the most action packed and exciting game all season, a fitting end to a legendary manager’s career. West Bromwich Albion 5, Manchester United 5.

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The other half of Manchester also provided for a shock result producing an exciting game. A resurgent Norwich side came to town and put the damper on what was already a somber setting for Manchester City. Norwich had to take the lead three times to finally kill off City’s advances. Within five minutes of the first and second goal by Norwich, City were level. Seemingly only capable of playing well under adversity, it took City just five minutes to respond to the first and second goals. However, Norwich were looking to play the spoilers to end the season and did just that when Jonathan Howson fired them ahead, again, in the 65th minute. With all of the games being played at the same time to end the season and with Spurs and Arsenal trying to finish in fourth, this game didn’t get the most viewers. Those who did choose to tune in, though, got one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. Norwich, a team that three weeks ago looked the most likely team to replace Wigan in the drop, showed that they were not scared of City’s reputation or strength. On the other hand, City, this years runners-up, seemed to have checked out a little early. The individual skill of each of the players, though, meant that even on an off day they proved they can find the net. Manchester City 2, Norwich 3.

Players of the Round

  • Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick off the bench to spur West Brom on to a 5-5 draw with Manchester United. Hat-tricks against United are rare enough to begin with, which makes this feat of one completed in 45 minutes all the more astonishing. The 20 year old Belgian scored 17 goals this season in the Premier League and was an integral part in guiding West Brom to this high of a finish. He bullied defenses all season long with his physical, direct style of play. He will now return from his loan spell at the Hawthorns to Chelsea, having written his name into the hearts of Baggies fans everywhere.
  • Kevin Nolan also scored a hat-trick to give West Ham the edge in a 4-2 win over relegated Wigan. Nolan capitalized off a big mistake by the Reading keeper to get his first, would slot home after running onto a fantastic through ball for his second, and headed home to complete the treble. Nolan has not been at his best by any stretch of the imagination, but this game showed that he can still produce at this level.
  • Jack Rodwell has largely been a forgotten man this season, only starting 6 games for Manchester City. He showed exactly why City splashed the cash for him over the summer, though, as he took his chance against Norwich to score two well worked goals. At times it seemed as if Rodwell might be the only City player who cared about the result. The 22 year old hardly put a foot wrong, playing a fantastic game that will be sure to impress whoever comes in as Roberto Mancini’s replacement. Whether or not that will lead to more playing time, though, remains to be seen.

News

  • Laurent Koscielny’s goal was enough to give Arsenal a 1-0 victory over Newcastle, meaning they will play in the Champions League at the expense of fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur. This is the 18th season in a row that Arsenal have finished above Tottenham. Tottenham, having finished in 5th place, will now play in the Europa League instead.
  • Frank Lampard, having recently taken over as the top all-time scorer for Chelsea, was awarded a one year contract extension, putting to an end months of speculation about his future.
  • Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City, and Stoke City will all need new managers before the 2013-2014 season starts. Chelsea manager Rafa Benetiz was only in on an interim basis. Everton lost manager David Moyes to Manchester United, where he will replace Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester City relieved manager Roberto Mancini of his duties with two games left to go. Tony Pullis departed Stoke after the end of the season. All of these changes mean that Arsense Wenger, who has been in charge of Arsenal for 17 seasons, is the longest tenured Premier League manager. The second longest is Alan Pardew, who has been at Newcastle for three seasons now. Jose Mourinho, having just left Real Madrid, is the favorite to return to take the Chelsea job, while Manchester City are rumored to be in for Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini.
  • Edin Dzeko, apparently on his way out from Manchester City, is reportedly in discussion with Napoli about a possible move. It is believed that City would be interested in taking Edinson Cavani away from Napoli. The two players could be part of a swap deal.
  • This season saw 1063 goals scored in the Premier League, 3 less than last year. Robin van Persie was the leagues top scorer with 26 goals.

Der Klassiker, not El Clasico

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When the Champions League semi-finals were drawn, many people began envisioning an exciting “El Clasico” for the Wembley final, thinking Barcelona would end up squaring off against Real Madrid. Instead, the German teams prevailed, although they took very different routes to do it.

The Games

Real Madrid hosted Borussia Dortmund knowing they would need a 3-0 win to advance. While on the one hand it seemed like an impossible task, the other hand reminds us how many good teams that Madrid has bested at the Santiago Bernabeu before. Madrid came out attacking from the word “go,” knowing that an early goal was imperative. While Dortmund might not have shown the attacking flair of the first leg, they showed disciplined defending and could have put themselves up 5-1 on aggregate after a few chances. Madrid really should have put away a couple of chances early on, but Dortmund’s resolve showed why they are a team that is now in the final. The game was all-Madrid at the end, with goals coming in the 82nd and 88th minute. With five minutes added on and Madrid firing on all cylinders, it seemed like the Spanish side were going to be able to do to Dortmund what Dortmund themselves had done to Malaga in the previous round. Instead, though, the Germans held on and booked their place at Wembley. Real Mardid 2-0 Dortmund, 3-4 to Dortmund on aggregate.

Barcelona chose to leave Lionel Messi on the substitutes bench (and never brought him on) for their second leg with Bayern Munich in a game that reminded everyone who watched it how important the Argentine is to the Catalan side. Barcelona were lackluster and had little creativity going forward. In typical Barcelona fashion, they held the ball well and completed 557 passes (compared to Bayern Munich’s 430 total passes). Their inability to do anything with that, though, cost them yet again. Bayern Munich was out to make a statement in this game and, though they didn’t see the ball nearly as much as Barcelona, they came out to win. Arjen Robben and Thomas Mueller both had goals in the second half, sandwiching an unfortunate own goal by Gerard Pique, in what was an emphatic ending to a two-legged tie that the German side completely dominated a team that has been considered by many people to be the best team in the world these past few years. Barcelona 0-3 Bayern Munich, 0-7 to Munich on aggregate.

Key Players

  • Mat Hummels put in a great defensive shift for Borussia Dortmund. True, they conceded two goals all the same, but if it weren’t for some important blocks and tackles by him then Real Madrid could easily have been through. He was a strength in the back. Hummels doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves, but this game highlighted how important he is to Dortmund.
  • Thomas Mueller put in another good shift for Bayern Munich. He scored a goal and was generally a nuisance to Barcelona. He ran and ran, getting in position to receive passes and distribute the ball again. He has shown great composure over the course of this season and is elevating himself to what many people would consider “world class” status.
  • Sergio Ramos was the captain for Real Madrid on Tuesday’s win over Dortmund and played one of the best games he has had in some time. He scored the goal that made it 2-0 to Madrid and had a few other chances that could have had the score be 3-0. He completed 64 of his 79 passes and was lively with the ball. He was the start of many of their attacks and could have pushed the result the other way on another night.

News

  • The Champions League final will take place on May 25th at Wembley Stadium in London, England. This will be the first all-German final in the Champions League era of European competition. Borussia Dortmund will be considered the home team.
  • Mario Gotze, who will be moving from Dortmund to Bayern Munich in the summer, came off injured after just fourteen minutes in their loss to Real Madrid. The injury is reported to be a torn muscle in his thigh. The club doctors remain optimistic that he will be able to make it back for the final, but admit it is a race against time for the German international.
  • This will be Bayern Munich’s 10th appearance in the Champions League final. They have won 4 and lost 5, with their most recent appearance being last year’s penalty shoot-out loss to Chelsea. Borussia Dortmund will be making their 2nd trip to the final, with their only previous visit being a 3-1 win over Juventus in 1997.
  • Gerard Pique will be suspended for Barcelona’s next game in European competition, which will most likely be the group stages of next year’s Champions League.

UEFA Champions League Links:

  1. Bayern Munich soccer gear
  2. Real Madrid soccer gear
  3. UEFA Champions League: Road to the Final

 

Germany 8, Spain 1

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We are halfway through the semi-finals of this years UEFA Champions League and what a week it was. It was a record setting pair of midweek match-ups as many personal milestones and firsts were hit.

The Highlights

The first game of the week saw last years runner-up Bayern Munich blitz Barcelona, defeating the Catalan giants 4-0. Barcelona, of course, saw most of the ball, but Munich came out to play strong on the wings. Barely seeing any of the ball in the center of the field, the Germans preferred to build out of the back and go down the wings to great success. Barcelona has never looked so vulnerable. Bayern Munich was a very disciplined, hard working side and put Barcelona to the sword. Many teams have become wrapped up in the occasion before and had a hard time playing to their top level against Barcelona, but Bayern didn’t back down. This game was a joy to watch, with Barcelona’s fluid passing and Bayern Munich’s solid, hard-working, never quit industry matching off so well in their favor. Barcelona managed 1 shot on target the entire game. The Germans were a bit lucky, with replays suggesting that Mario Gomez was offside for their second goal and that Thomas Mueller had fouled a Barcelona player in the build up to their third. However, they could have just as easily had a penalty very early on when it appeared as if Pique handled the ball in the penalty area. It all evens out in the end, as the saying goes.

Something must have been in the water in Germany, as the next day Borussia Dortmund came out and ran over Real Madrid to the tune of 4-1. This game, somehow, was able to top the excitement and action of the night before. Both teams came out fighting. Real Madrid saw more of the ball, but Dortmund took care of their chances. Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring after just 8 minutes for Dortmund and, rather than collapse, Real Madrid stepped up their efforts. They turned up the pressure and went close on a couple of different occasions. Dortmund felt they should have had a penalty shortly before half-time, but 30 seconds later found themselves with a tie game as Cristiano Ronaldo had equalized at the other end. If the first half was great, the second half was immaculate. Both teams pressing, attacking, and creating chances. Madrid had a few chances to score a few more goals, but Robert Lewandowski was the star of the show, scoring three more goals in the second half to seal a famous 4-1 win. You could do worse than this game to show people why this sport is called “the beautiful game”.

Top Players

  • Thomas Muller was important for Bayern Munich in their 4-0 thumping of Real Madrid. He scored a diving header to open the scoring and then poked in from close range at the end to finish the game off. He had an assist, too, as well as setting a screen, somewhat illegally, to block off a Barcelona player to let Arjen Robben grab his goal. The German international had what looked like, at the time, it would be the best game of the week.
  • Robert Lewandowski became the first player to ever score a hat-trick against Real Madrid in the Champions League when he scored four goals on Wednesday. Each goal seemed to be better than the last. He got on the end of a cross from Mario Gotze to slide his first home in the 8th minute. For the second, it seemed impossible at first glance that he was onside, but he was level as the ball was played in to him for him to collect with his right, spin around, and hit with the outside of his boot to guide it into the corner. The third, shortly after, he pulled back and struck with players closing on him and put it perfectly in the top corner. The fourth, a penalty, was cheekily hit straight down the middle. One of the best individual performances that will ever be seen.
  • Marco Reus looked dangerous in the midfield for Dortmund, too. He provided an assist for one of Lewandowski’s goals, had a few shots himself, and was a tidy all around player. He could have been man of the match if Lewandowski hadn’t played phenomenally. An all around fantastic player and important part of Dortmund’s midfield, he will be just as important in the second leg.

News

  • Cristiano Ronaldo became the fifth player to score 50 goals in the Champions League. Raul, Messi, van Nistelrooy, and Henry have previously reached that landmark. He has found the net in six straight Champions League games.
  • This was the first time in Champions League history that two teams have conceded 4 goals in a set of semi-final games.
  • Jordi Alba (Barcelona) will be suspended for the second leg after receiving another yellow card.
  • Real Madrid will host Dortmund on April 30th, while Barcelona will host Bayern Munich on May 1st for the second legs.
  • News broke shortly before these games happened that Dortmund’s influential midfielder Mario Gotze will be heading to rivals Bayern Munich over the summer for a fee believed to be in the range of £31.5 million ($48.6 million). Teammate Robert Lewandowski is rumored to be considering making the same move.

2013 UEFA Champions League 2nd Leg Quarterfinal Recap

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We are down to four teams left in the Champions League now. While we won’t know what the match-ups are until the draw on Friday morning, we can take a look back now at the second legs. With 14 goals across the four games, there was a lot of action to see.

Games of the Round

We’ll start with Tuesday’s exciting and controversial match between Dortmund and Malaga. The first leg ended 0-0 in Spain, so it was all to play for in Germany. As with the first leg, Dortmund controlled the early part of the game. However, Malaga took a shock lead after 25 minutes which meant, seeing as it was an away goal, Dortmund would now need to win outright to go through. Dortmund, though rattled, regained control of the match shortly before halftime with a very well worked goal. Controversy would first rear it’s head shortly after the hour mark when Marcel Schmeltzer appeared to push Jesus Gamez in the face as he went by him. It would have been Schmetlzer’s second yellow card, but, amazingly, the referee decided to give a yellow card for Gamez, who in truth did react theatrically to the push. Malaga had appeared to win in controversial fashion when they went ahead in the 82nd minute. Replays suggest that the goal should have been disallowed for offside. Dortmund would be level in the 91st minute and would win the game in the 93rd, with the winning goal also appearing offside, twice even, in replays. Controversy, drama, late goals, and attacking play made this game an absolute beauty to watch for neutrals. If you wanted to introduce someone to this sport and have them get a feel for how much passion was involved, you could have done a lot worse than this game. You feel a bit for Malaga with this being their first ever appearance in the Champions League, but as the saying goes, “football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.” Dortmund 3, Malaga 2.

Barcelona hosted PSG in the other highly anticipated match for this round. After a 2-2 game in Paris in the first leg, this game was set up to be a thriller. Barcelona was seen as especially vulnerable, given that Lionel Messi was injured and did not start. Of course, Barcelona dominated possession of the ball, but PSG showed they were no pushovers. Both teams created some nice chances before half-time, but it went into the break at 0-0. Shortly after the restart, though, PSG took the lead. Zlatan Ibrahimovic haunted his former employer yet again, releasing Javier Pastore with a great through ball that he slotted past Victor Valdes. Barcelona, on the brink of exiting Europe, decided to gamble on Messi. Although he was clearly not at his best, he was good enough. He was involved in the equalizer, trying to play through David Villa before the ball rebounded out to Pedro who lashed it home. PSG created a few more chances, but were unable to find a second goal. Both sides had plenty of chances in another display of great teamplay, but it was Barcelona who was left to count their lucky starts to have survived this game. A great game, even if it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Barcelona 1, PSG 1, Barcelona advances on away goals.

Players of the Round

  • Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the first 8 minutes for the second Champions League game running. He scored a second goal in stoppage time to bring his tally to 11 goals in 10 Champions League games this season, the most of any player in the competition. The Portuguese man has been in sensational form, doing his best to make everyone forget about his rival at Barcelona. Although Real Madrid lost that game 3-2, his two goals (three if we count the one from the first leg) meant Real Madrid cruised to a 5-3 aggregate win.
  • Marco Reus scored Dortmund’s second goal in the 91st minute, lifting their spirits and leading the team to do their best impression of the 1999 Champions League final, where Manchester United famously scored two stoppage time goals to defeat Bayern Munich 2-1. Reus could have had a few goals across the two legs, and at times seemed to single-handedly be dragging Dortmund back into things.
  • Mario Mandzukic scored for Bayern Munich to lead them to a 2-0 (4-0 on aggregate) victory over Juventus. While the Italians may have shown a little fight at times, Munich dominated most of this game. Mandzukic stretched the Juventus defense well, and was rewarded for his efforts with a goal.

News

  • Adriano (Barcelona), Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), and Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid) are suspended for the first leg of their respective semi-final matches.
  • Michael Essien (Real Madrid) had to go off injured in their 3-2 loss to Galatasaray. It appeared to be something wrong with his hamstring. Real Madrid could be lacking in their backline if he is unable to recover.
  • The semifinals will see one of each of the first legs played on April 23 and 24, with the second legs coming on April 30 and May 1.

2013 UEFA Champions League 1st Leg Quarterfinal Recap

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The first legs of the Champions League quarterfinals are complete, so it’s time to reflect on the past two days. With the return legs coming next week, things have set up for some pretty good matchups.

Games of the Round

The best game of the round was Paris Saint-Germain’s dramatic 2-2 draw with Barcelona at the Parc des Princes in Paris. This was a great game to watch from start to finish. Barcelona had the lion’s share of possession, as they do in most games they play in, but PSG did not just sit back and take it. The French side had as many shots on target as the mighty Catalans did. In fact, PSG was unlucky not to be ahead before even five minutes had passed when Ezequiel Lavezzi broke through the Barca defense. Sergio Busquets cleared the ball away as far as his own post was fortunate that he didn’t score an own goal. Of course it was Messi who broke the deadlock, scoring a nice goal after a fantastic ball in from Dani Alves. Former Barcelona man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who originally had been suspended for this game, scored the equalizer from an offside position in what can only be described as a missed call by the German officiating team. Things went back and forth, but it looked like PSG would escape with a draw when, to their horror, goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu conceded a penalty in the 89th minute. The drama didn’t end there, though, with Blaise Matuidi sending Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes the wrong way deep into stoppage time to bring things level again.

The other exciting game to watch was Real Madrid’s 3-0 thumping of Galatasaray. While the scoreline is one sided, the game was anything but. Both teams carved out good chances and shared the ball about evenly throughout the 90 minutes. It was, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo who opened the scoring for Madrid, lofting the ball over an out-rushing Fernando Muslera. Karim Benzema would add a second in the 29th minute when he slotted home from a short distance out. His replacement, Gonzalo Higuain, would also find the net after being on the pitch for only eight minutes. This game showed good attacking soccer throughout and could have easily ended differently, in particular with a few penalty shouts that the Turkish side will feel they should have been awarded. On another night, Galatasaray could have so easily walked away with a result. Instead, the Turks find themselves on the end of a 3-0 deficit. Since 70/71 in Europe, a team winning 3-0 at home has qualified on 311 of 333 attempts.

Players of the Round

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic originally was going to be suspended for this match but ended up being a terror for his former employers. The ex-Barcelona man was potent in attack. Even though his goal shouldn’t have counted, it did, and have provided the assist on the second as well. His height in particular made him dangerous against Barcelona’s shorter back line. Ibra, as he’s known, had an excellent game, and reminded everyone who watched why Barcelona picked him up in the first place in 2009.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, is another player in fine form at the moment. He scored his 9th goal in 9 Champions League appearances this year. While in the past he has been criticized for not showing up for big games, he has been outstanding this season. The Portugese wizard took 7 shots this game and was constantly threatening to add a second goal to his name.
  • Malaga have goalkeeper Willy Caballero to thank for being level at 0-0 when they head to Germany. The Argentine goalkeeper was absolutely fantastic, denying Mario Gotze and Marco Reus throughout the night. In truth, Dortmund could have done better with a few of their chances, but Caballero looked like he was eight feet tall out there at times. While Malaga will still face an uphill battle, they didn’t give up an away goal thanks to his fine performance.

News

  • Lionel Messi came off injured at halftime in Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with PSG. He will for sure miss this weekend’s match with Mallorca, but could be good to go for the second leg. The doctor’s will reassess him after the Mallorca game. Javier Mascherano (Barcelona) was also injured in the game and will be out for around six weeks. Blaise Matuidi (PSG) will be suspended after picking up another yellow card in the first leg.
  • Stephan Lichtsteiner (Bayern Munich) and Arturo Vidal (Juventus) will be suspended for the second leg of their match up. Bayern Munich has a 2-0 lead in that tie.
  • Malaga captain Weligton and Manuel Iturra both received cautions in their 0-0 draw with Dortmund, ruling them out of the second leg.
  • Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray), along with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), will likewise miss out on the return leg of their games. Alonso and Ramos appeared to intentionally seek out the cards to serve their suspension now, with a 3-0 lead, rather than risk picking one up in a semi-final. Madrid has been punished for this tactic before, so the possibility of an extra ban for the players and/or manager Jose Mourinho looms.