Saturday, May 28, 2011

Barcelona Overcome United To Win The Champions League

It was an inevitable result wasn't it? I, being a United fan, had stupidly chosen head over heart and as a result ended up sticking a bet on David Villa to score in the 90 minutes with Barca ending worthy winners. I felt dirty immediately afterwards but I maintained I was being 'realistic'. When I told my friend of the bet he was inquisitive to why I lodged a bet AGAINST my own team. That word 'realistic' came up again and he just shook his head in disappointment. It really was an act of greediness - agreed - but I felt that no matter how United performed Barca would prevail as the winners. And that's what happened.

When news broke late in the afternoon that Darren Fletcher was beginning the game on the bench for the Red Devils question marks flew around the world suggesting that Sir Alex would choose lacklustre midfielder Darron Gibson or would he lean towards Giggs and Carrick trying to stifle Barcelona's irreplaceable midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta. There was also questions over how Sir Alex would go about stopping Argentine wizard Lionel Messi who was intending on breaking his duck on never scoring on English soil last night.

When the teams were finally announced there was an instant shock from both camps as Barca captain Carlos Puyol had been left on the bench - due to not being fully fit - and Dimitar Berbatov had been excluded from the United match day squad, replaced by veteran Michael Owen. Darren Fletcher also began the game on the sidelines for United, as Fergie had opted for an original 4-4-2 formation with Rooney and Chicharito employed up front as they were given strict orders to heckle the Barca players from the off. Barcelona displayed their traditional 4-3-3 with the only change being Mascherano in centre-back in place of the half-injured Puyol.

The opening ten minutes were arguably the most interesting of the game as both teams were pressing vigorously, trying relentlessly to regain possession of the ball which would subsequently be relinquished of soon after from waves of high pressing up the field.

However, after this frivolous opening exchange the pressing game soon died down - well for United anyway - and Barcelona began to string passes after passes, continually forcing United into gifting possession away time and time again. The Catalans were rewarded for their persistence with a goal just shy of the half-hour mark. Xavi, as resilient as ever, strolled through midfield and found Pedro on the right who controlled the ball and hit the back of the net after his right-footed shot left Edwin Vader Sar rooted to the spot. United then responded emphatically with Wayne Rooney grabbing a much needed equaliser just seven minutes later. The Englishman picked up the ball on the right side of midfield, played a neat one-two with Ryan Giggs before swiping home past Victor Valdes to level the playing field.

The half ended one-a-piece with United the happier team going into the break as they know themselves that they were dominated in about every department by a Barcelona team on the verge of greatness. However, Sir Alex would have to deliver one of his most inspirational team talks to date if his United side would defy the Catalan side and claim their 48th piece of silverware of the Scot's reign.

Both sides came out to a rapturous reception from their respective fans and Barcelona continued where they left off, pressing United into near-death. As a result, it was Barca who retook the lead thanks to a magical Messi moment. The 23-year-old Argentine picked up the ball 35 yards out before prancing forward unchallenged and unleashing a dipping, curling shot that evaded Van Der Sar and broke Messi's duck of not scoring on English soil in over 900 minutes. The response was inevitable.

United failed to ignite in the second-half and were second best to everything they contested which resulted in another Barcelona goal, the goal that effectively ended the contest. Man of the match Messi danced expertly past Nani on the right-wing before dashing into the box where the ball found its way to David Villa on the edge of the box. He controlled it and wrapped his foot around the ball so perfectly that the ball found its way nestled into the top right-hand corner. 3-1, game over. It was a contest for about 70 odd minutes or so but Villa's goal helped Barca to their third Champions League final victory in five years and its fair to say that they are up there with the greatest clubs in the history of the game.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Revitilised Liverpool Ready To Start Challenging Again

January 8th, 2011. Roy Hodgson's just been given the boot by the Liverpool board after guiding them to within four points of relegation and is immediately replaced by Merseyside legend 'King' Kenny Dalglish. His first game is an almost impossible task away to Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup. Things don't go according to plan and a first-minute penalty was enough to see United through although they were somewhat helped by the harsh sending off of Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard. Dalglish had only been in-charge for the best part of a day and somehow he managed to already better the job previously done by Hodgson. Not many fans knew this would signal the start of a revival from the Reds but with King Kenny at the helm anything is possible.

It took time for Dalglish to finally feel at home again at Liverpool but when those Reds hit form there were no stopping them. The results that followed that narrow defeat away to United was an unforeseen defeat at Anfield by relegation threatened Blackpool and then they were held at Goodison in a four-goal thriller. The next game against Wolves initialised the upward curve in Liverpool's season. They were magnificent, Fernando Torres specifically, as they cruised to a 0-3 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers. After that it was another win, this time facing off against Fulham. Then it was Stoke, the game to which Luis Suarez opened his Liverpool account and after that it was Chelsea who arrived to town, looking to catch United at the top. A Raul Meireles goal midway through the second-half decided the fixture and Liverpool were on a run of five wins in their last six. They were rapidly propelling up the Premier League table and in a matter of three or four matches they were back challenging for a place in Europe. It was very much down to the man of the moment Kenny Dalglish. The man who led the Merseyside club to an incredible seven league titles, as well as three European cups and five domestic cups. The King was back, but could he keep up the form that had been long overdue for the Reds?

The answer was yes and FSG rewarded him - as well as first-team coach Steve Clark - with a new three-year deal keeping him at the club until 2014. On the last day of the season Liverpool were facing stiff competition from European rivals Tottenham for that much coveted 5th place. Liverpool travelled to the Midlands to do battle with Aston Villa while Tottenham were at home entertaining relegation threatened Birmingham. Spurs began the day with a one-point lead over the Merseysiders and by the end of the day the Londoners retained their Europa spot with a hard-fought 2-1 win over relegated Birmingham.

So King Kenny's Liverpool failed to qualify for a European competition, so what? Dalglish took on a hell of a job when accepting the proposal and the initial aim was to get as far up the table as he could, and he did just what the doctor ordered. Giving first-team debut's to youth academy graduates such as young John Flanagan and Martin Kelly prove that Liverpool have more than enough to contend at the highest level even without influential skipper Steven Gerrard as he'd been out for long periods of the season.

 This revitalised Liverpool team look European worthy now thanks to Kenny's return and with a Summer of recruiting ahead of them, next season promises to be an exciting one, whether they contend for the Europa League, Champions League or the title.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Super-Injunctions Should Be Banned

Former Big Brother star Imogen Thomas has been barred from revealing the Premier League footballer she had an alleged affair with.

For a while now, people have been complaining about these 'super injunctions' granted to big TV personalities/footballers to protect their family man image in front of the public domain. Alas, last week when an anonymous citizen created a twitter account and allegedly tweeted several different stars who were given a super injunction, things got a little out of hand. Within hours the account had amassed tens of thousands of 'followers' and at the time of writing this, it holds more than 109,000 fans.

These 'super-injunctions' are a problem in this modern era. For those of you unaware of what a super-injunction is, it is a gagging order granted a judge that bars the media from exposing the details of the story as well as forbidding any mention of the story itself. Super injunctions have been in existence for years but yet they are only coming into the mainstream now.

The twitter user, which I cannot name for legal reasons, tweeted six times all within a 10-minute time frame about stories which had previously been prohibited from entering the public. John Terry is the biggest story to date who held a 'super-injunction' preventing the media publishing any details about his ex-teammates wife Vanessa Perroncel up to when it was decided that the injunction was dropped in late January 2010 as Terry had only sought to keep his sponsorships and kit deals instead of remaining as an iconic football family man.

I for one agree with the public that these super-injunctions should be brought into exile. Its showing favouritism to big stars in the sport and it once again arises the whole debate of how well known people are treated superiously to normal people. Big sports personalities have an image to protect and when they commit a cowardly act such as cheating on their wife with a mistress or something of the sorts, they have the chance of keeping that in the dark by means of this world renowned 'super-injunction'. Us 'less important citizens' are in danger of immediate circumstances if word gets out of our mistake as we don't have this privilege unless we fork out a load of dosh. Its only fair if we get the same chance as those footballers do or else all hell will break loose and the court system will implode quite stunningly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

5 Moments That Defined United's Season

They're champions. For the nineteenth times. And thoroughly deserved. I took a look over the big moments that took their toll on United's record breaking season:

Man Utd 3-2 LFC

Well you didn't expect me to leave this out, did you? It was an unexpected goalfest between the two rivals and even more unexpected was the dazzling hat trick from the Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov which inevitably decided the game. In the weeks that had passed United had forfeited many a leads, including the two goal leads they held at both Goodison Park & Craven Cottage of which they squandered and when Steven Gerrard equalised late from the spot it seemed this match would be heading the same route had it not been for a late winner from Berba to steal all three points. Undeserved, maybe, but this was a sign of things to come that would the Liverpool's 18 title triumph come to an end.

Aston Villa 2-2 Man U

United's away form continued to spiral and at Villa Park, conceding twice to Stewie Downing and Gabby Agbonglahor, they had their first defeat of the season virtually staring them square in the face. United, however had other plans and were left to dig deep when youngster Federico Macheda and ruthless centre-back Nemanja Vidic both netted late on to salvage a well-earned point for the visitors. The Villains could've felt they'd been hard done by but then again, this was only the beginning of things to come from a hell of an eventful season for the Reds.

Blackpool 2-3 Man Utd

This game defined the definition of champions. Blackpool, like Aston Villa, had taken an early two goal advantage and went in to half-time seemingly cruising along. 70 minutes had been played and United still hadn't shown up when BAM, out of nowhere, Dimitar Berbatov pulled one back and reduced the deficit to just one goal. Blackpool's flaky defence then crumbled under the copious amounts of pressure United were applying and United scored twice in the final 15 minutes to claim a victory almost as significant as those famous Turin and Barcelona comebacks. It was a pivotal moment in the title race and one which inevitably extended their unbeaten record in the League to twenty eight ames.

West Ham 2-4 Man Utd

Again a comeback of similar proportions to that of Villa & Blackpool, we were inching ever closer to the business end of the season. It was the same ol' story for United as their awful away form made yet another appearance which handed the Hammers a much needed two-goal lead heading into the break. United were 13/2 at the beginning of the second half to stage a much needed comeback and at the time of their first goal they were priced at 18/1. A spectacular hattrick by the in-form Wayne Rooney paved the way for a United fightback and Javier Hernandez scored late-on to rub salts in the wounds for the poor Hammers. United had shown 'the stuff of champions' as they say, and there was no doubt that they would inevitably go on to win the league if they kept showing this kind of spirit when they went behind.

United 2 - 1 Chelsea

36 seconds was all that it took to break the deadlock in this title-deciding game. A delightful through ball from Ji-Sing Park released Javier Hernandez who kept his cool and slotted it past the hapless Cech as United began to run riot. Just twenty one minutes had elapsed when United doubled their lead through Nemanja Vidic when he headed home from a Ryan Giggs corner. Frank Lampard cut the lead into half when he scored from the spot midway through the second-half but it wasn't enough as United virtually secured the title for a record nineteenth time. Their home form went unrivalled among Europe as they dropped only two points - to West Brom - and claimed a monumentus 52 points from a possible 54 points on offer (assuming they beat Blackpool next week). Their away form was one of concern and having only taken 5 wins from an offer of 18 away fixtures, they depended heavily on their title rivals dropping points in order to obtain the coveted number nineteen title and in the process knocking Liverpool off their perch.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chicharito The Revelation To United's Season's

As the old cliche goes, a picture says a thousand words.

When Javier Hernandez first descended upon Old Trafford last July after a successful World Cup with Mexico, not much was suspected of the young hitman. In fact, he was largely seen as just a back-up for Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney. But as the season progressed and Berbatov's form melted faster than a 99 in the blistering Summer heat, Sir Alex decided to give Mr Hernandez, his eager 21 year old, a taste of Premier League football and from that moment on he never looked back. Despite featuring mainly as a sub up to October, fans were already relishing the prospect of him partnering fellow hitman Wayne Rooney in a 'relationship made in heaven'. It took time for this relationship to blossom but when Sir Alex finally began to give Chicharito a run of games, he took chance after chance after chance. At one point, he even boasted 10 Premier League goals from just 14 shots on target.

February rolled around and after scoring consistently from cameos off the bench, Sir Alex decided to hand the Mexican a rare start in the match vs Wigan at the end of the month as a reward, and trust me it had been a long time coming. The resulting performance from the 'Little Pea' signalled the beginning of the end for Berbatov and his United career as Javier netted twice and grabbed a MOTM award as United ran out comfortable winners 4-0. Lord Ferg then decided in favour of Chicharito for their next game as they travelled to Stamford Bridge to lock horns with Chelsea. However, Hernandez was foiled by a resilient Chelsea defence and was subsequently chosen on the bench for the next game at Anfield. Berbatov moaned and slouched his way across the pitch throughout the game and so when Hernandez was introduced at half-time, it would've seemed that his positive influence would be able to breed new life into the United side continuing their awful run on the road this season. Hernandez went on to score in injury-time but the match itself ended 3-1. Hernandez was then regiven his first eleven place vs Arsenal next weekend, and again for United Champions League match vs Marseille at Old Trafford. Much to Berbatov's dismay, the Little Pea bagged a brace along with yet another MOTM award. 

Since the beginning of February, Berbatov has only managed a mere two goals. Only two bloody goals. Javier Hernandez on the other hand has mustered 9 in 17 games. The thing about Berbatov was that although he has scored 22 goals this season, a large portion of them came in games where he scored 5, 3, 3, and 2. So if you take them away we have a total of 9 goals scored in 35 appearances. That's averaging just under a goal every 4 games. He's dangerously inconsistent. So inconsistent there are already reports linking him elsewhere due to Hernandez's prolific record.

What Hernandez has done since arriving is nothing short of remarkable. Scoring 20 goals in your debut season is a tough enough assignment but for a team with the calibre of Manchester United? Wow. In fact, the last United player to score twenty goals in his debut season was none other than Ruud Van Nistelrooy himself. And what a revelation he turned out to be, eh? 

United fans can already smell the desperation that reeks from Berbatov's dressing room and unless he can pick up some consistency, he can call it quits on his United career. "Moan all you want, it wont change my mind" was a phrase my mum used to coin every now and again when I was a kid and I figure it fits the bill perfectly for the Bulgarian's scenario.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Favourite Athletes

A hero from rugby. A hero from football. A hero from golf. Scroll down to see more.

Brian O'Driscoll

Bit of a gimme this one, the Irishman is a non-stop bulldozing machine. Every match he gives 100% and although he may not be as influential as he used to be he still chips in with important tries, as he did when Ireland squeezed past England in 2009 on their way to a first grand slam in more than 60 years. 

O'Driscoll inspires me simply because of his passion for the game (and maybe a tad because he's Irish!). I remember watching him play on the Lions Tour when I was younger and I was in awe. I mean, the things he could do with the ball were just incredible. His hunger and desire for the game have remained with him throughout his career and when he was unjustifiably speared by New Zealanaders Kevin Mealamu and Tana Umaga I feared the worst for arguably the world's best rugby player. That dislocated shoulder sidelined Drico for 5 months and although rugby fans around the world were thrown into panic, BOD came back stronger than ever and with it, consolidating his place in rugby history.

As centres are more renowned for their ability to break the oppostions back-line, O'Driscoll is a more gritty, on the ball player than most centres. He becomes most involved when the ball's on the ground however as a centre he's made a name for himself for scoring tries, and some quite wonderful tries at that.


Ryan Giggs                                                                                                                                

Truly an inspiration. A gift from the football gods. The Welshman has competed in every Premier League season since its introduction in 1992 and he remains as key as ever to the United squad. To remain playing football at the highest level for the better part of twenty years is simply remarkable. Even after competing all these years his physique for the sport is still as sharp as a knife and he has continued to run the United midfield, wherever he plays in the park.

The Welsh Wizard inspires me simply because of his hunger for the game, even at this stage in his life. Most athletes usually deteriorate as they ascend upon their 30's but Ryan Giggs is a wonderful exception, and a brilliant example to the kids at that. Children all over the world idolise the 11 time Premier League winner and rightly so as he continues to set a good example on the pitch, as well as off the pitch. Giggs also boasts numerous records including scoring in every Premier League season to date, most appearances in a Manchester United jersey, as well as most recently, becoming the oldest player to score in a Champions League game at the age of 37 years and 148 days. His loyalty to Manchester United goes unrivaled among the football world and he has gained monumental respect from players, clubs and fans for his time spent at United. He is truly a footballing great.

Luke Donald

Until earlier this year, nobody would've suspected that this Englishman would be competing among the top golfers in the world but here is, playing the golf of his life already boasting 6 top 10 finishes in just 7 events this year. The world no.3 never really got going in the early part of 2010, only making 5 top 10 finishes coming up to September. But my oh my, how he turned on the style from then, finishing the year strongly with 2 top 5 finishes in his last three outings.

I like Donald purely because he's the underdog. I know that's never really a reason to have somebody as your 'favourite' but I just find watching him play fascinating. For instance, I was delighted for Luke when he won the WGC Accenture Matchplay event earlier this year at Doral, playing flawlessly the whole tournament. He's quickly established himself this year as a top class golfer and jumped 4 places in the world rankings in the process, climbing to a career high 3rd which he currently holds. Having proved himself as a serious challenger earlier this year at the Masters I'm hoping he can keep his act together and maybe win one of the three remaining majors, preferably the British Open at Royal St. George's GC in July as there would be an amazing reception from the home crowd if he won, being English of course.