In 1967 Celtic came from behind to beat Inter Milan and win the European Cup final. On a cold, rainy night in Glasgow 45 years later they defeated Barcelona to secure their second greatest night, on the day after they turned 125 years old.
The Glasgow Herald & Times Newspaper has a gallery on their website titled ‘Glasgow’s Greatest European Nights’ featuring names synonymous in the European history of the green and white hoops. Jimmy Johnstone, Tommy Gemmell, Alan Thompson & Henrik Larsson among others are highlighted and now it is time to add Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster & 18-year-old Tony Watt to that gallery.
Celtic were magnificent, scoring a goal in each half to cause the biggest upset in this competition for some time. The goalscorers in Wanyama and Watt will rightly get the plaudits but this was a true team effort, one Neil Lennon and his assistants could have only dreamed during their preparation.
The first goal was one drawn off the training field, from a set piece, swung in brilliantly by Charlie Mulgrew towards Jordi Alba at the back post who had no chance in the size advantage over Wanyama who headed home.
So often how a huge underdog starts against Barcelona is pivotal and from start to finish Celtic defended in numbers, showed incredible concentration and kept compact through the middle.
It, of course, didn’t take Barcelona long to counter such tactics but Celtic stuck to their plan even when the inevitable Barcelona onslaught took place. Unlike many clubs who would have to wait until half-time to be told what to do, the Spanish giants targeted the flanks, particularly through Dani Alves and Pedro on the right side. Indeed, the majority of the visitors’ best chances came via crosses, Jordi Alba’s ball that wasn’t touched in, Alexis Sanchez’s header from a ball by Alves and Pedro’s header off the post from Alves again.
Yet Celtic still managed to more than just hold out as their back four all played their part, in particular left back Adam Matthews who had pace to defend narrowly and then break wide when needed.
In goal, the athletic Fraser Forster thrived on being busy, made a brilliant save to push Lionel Messi’s shot on to the bar and, like all top goalkeepers, regularly showed his quality with his feet. As his side tired he again brilliantly stopped the World Player of the Year, palming away another effort while at 1-0.
Tito Vilanova made three subs in the second half to attempt to break down Celtic, throwing on Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa but none made much of a difference. Fabregas was more direct than Alex Song, who was taken off after not being sent off by the referee, and played a part in a quick 1-2 with Pedro that led to Messi’s injury time goal but by then Celtic had two goals.
Incredibly, the second goal of the game came from the home side and it was a moment that will be told and told again for generations to come. Foster’s long ball was poorly dealt with by Xavi and substitute Watt sprinted through and brilliantly shot the ball past Victor Valdes.
The ground was rocking prior to that legendary moment but it reached an amazing crescendo when the ball hit the back of the net. Sometimes writing or talking about an atmosphere in a football ground is a little bit like saying a library was quiet or Hawaii is a wonderful place to go on vacation but tonight’s spectacle at Parkhead was absolutely taken to new heights by the a terrific home crowd. “I’ve never seen an atmosphere better than that,” added Lennon after the game.
It was fitting that the fans were so heavily involved because everyone connected to this club played their part in what is a magnificent evening for them. This was not a smash-and-grab victory. When they got the ball they had the courage to play and Lennon deserves credit throwing on Watt when the game was 1-0.
The youthful Watt, who looks like a boy who should be studying for his A levels, summed up his night after the game, saying: “it’s the best moment of my life, I will look back when I am older and think wow we beat Barcelona in the Champions League, nothing better than that is there?”
Thanks to the local paper this image will live forever for Celtic fans:
Manchester City once again fail to win in the Champions League, all but eliminating them from the next stage.
Things are never dull with Manchester City and a game that started with everyone talking about a Roberto Mancini rant ended in the same manner as the Italian marched on to the pitch to demand answers from a referee who blew the final whistle went many expected him to award a penalty.
With the game tied in the final seconds a free kick was sent into the box and Mario Balotelli’s arm was being pulled back by Ricardo Van Rhijn but none of the officials decided it was worthy of a penalty. It was the kind of call where you would probably see more officials give it than not, but the attitude of City’s players and manager afterwards was disgraceful and is another example as to why neutrals struggle to like this side.
Sergio Aguero, who scored just minutes earlier only for it to be wrongly given offside, joined Balotelli in running directly up to the referee with the Argentine manhandling the official. And then he was joined by his manager who walked on to the pitch to voice his anger at the official. No matter how you slice this, injustice or not, there is simply no excuse for that behaviour from Mancini and it is little wonder that many players under his stewardship continue to show petulance. Football is a game full of emotions but players cannot make excuses for manhandling officials and managers have no reason to march onto the pitch and into the face of officials.
The two major decisions that went their way will lead to extreme frustration for this club but they should not blind what was an average performance from a side that featured 14 players who collectively cost £238.5m.
City started brightly but after twenty minutes were down 2-0 thanks to some shambolic defending at two separate corners. The first one came on ten minutes, a corner needlessly given away by Matija Nastasic in the first place, that wasn’t dealt with twice by City defenders before Ajax skipper Siem De Jong slotted home.
The second was even easier for the visitors as De Jong ran to the near post, wasn’t tracked by Yaya Toure or followed by Gareth Barry, and headed home easily. Zonal marking or man marking this time it simply didn’t matter, it was just a matter of men taking responsibilities and attacking the ball in the box. Something City failed to do against Martin Skrtel at Anfield and Laurent Koscielny at home in September.
The Etihad was silent and Mancini was laughing, stunned in disbelief that they’d conceded in that manner. Twice.
Five minutes after going two down, Toure, having given Ajax a goal, got one back from his side when he held up the ball superbly and volleyed home.
The ground woke up at this moment but it was Ajax who remained calm and assured in this phase, passing superbly, creating triangles and exposing City in wide areas, getting in behind full backs who were asked to bring much-needed width to City’s attack.
Once again this game leaves more questions than answers as to how Man City should play. They started with two holding midfielders in Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry, went to one at half-time and improved and finished with none, making Toure the deepest midfielder. Samir Nasri continues to look at his best once he is able to come centrallywhile Aleksandar Kolarov’s five minute cameo at the end gave a glimpse into what could have been had be started. These decisions, of course, fall on Mancini, a man who at the end felt his team deserved to win the game saying ‘the referee and linesmen were really poor and we played very well in the second half’.
The fact that the Premier League champions let it get to such a scenario should not be ignored, however. Thankfully, skipper Vincent Kompany, not for the first time, told it like it is: ”We still would have liked to do enough before (that decision) to win the game, we need to learn from this. We let ourselves down on those two phases and those two goals are not good. “
Two points from four games is also not good and City are now likely out of this competition at this stage once again. Ten games and just three victories, two against a side now playing in the second tier in Spain and one against a side that was already through. City’s managers and players can talk about luck and poor decisions if they want but the fact is they simply have been inadequate in this competition and found out by sides who have treasured the ball better than them.
Siem De Jong
Six Super Stats
Only two clubs have managed to qualify for the next round with a maximum of two points after four matches: Lokomotiv Moskva in 2002/03 and FC Porto in 2004/05.
City have drawn more matches at home in the CL than they have won: 3 vs 2.
Man Citycame back from 2 goals behind. Two weeks ago their neighbours Man United did this vs SportingBraga. United won that match 3-2.
Ajax have scored four of their six CL goals from corners this season. This is more than any other club.
Both corner goals were put away by Siem de Jong, who scored his first CL brace.
Yaya Touré scored his fifth CL goal – his fourth for City – and his third in November.
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Ten years ago Arsenal’s players celebrated together on the Old Trafford pitch having secured the Premier League title after a comfortable 1-0 victory over Manchester United. Just four days earlier they had won the FA Cup and now Arsene Wenger’s side had accomplished the double in the finest manner he could have imagined, becoming the best at the home of the previous champions.
On that Wednesday night in May of 2002 Arsenal fans chanted ‘there’s only one Arsene Wenger’ and who could blame them? After all, they’d completed an unbeaten away run all season, scoring in every game and secured the title by defeating the champions in a match without the injured Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.
A BBC poll, asking who was the most responsible for their title success, revealed just how respected Wenger was with him getting 46% of the votes, ahead of Thierry Henry at 31% and Freddie Ljungberg at 13%. Missing Adams, Bergkamp and Henry at Old Trafford that night, Wenger sent out this starting XI to get the job done: David Seaman, Lauren, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Ray Parlour, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira, Edu, Kanu & Sylvain Wiltord.
Ten years on, Arsenal, fresh off selling their only world class player just weeks earlier to the aforementioned Manchester United, went into battle on Saturday with this XI: Vito Mannone, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Lukas Podolski & Olivier Giroud.
The performance they gave was only too familiar these days for Gunners fans as the side were once again left humbled at Old Trafford. Since that wonderful day in the history of Arsenal Football Club in 2002 they have won just one of eleven league meetings at Old Trafford and have now lost nine of their last 11 matches against Manchester United in all competitions. In the last ten years since that day they’ve won one Premier League trophy and two FA Cups. In that time, Manchester United have won five Premier League trophies, a Champions League, an FA Cup and three League Cups.
And yet the chants still continued on Saturday: “there’s only one Arsene Wenger.” Later followed by “we want our Arsenal back!”.
And in that lies the confusion. A mixed message sent by fans of the football club towards chief executive Ivan Gazidis and the board. It appears – and like I said it is far from clear – that the majority of Arsenal fans want Arsene Wenger and a team competitive enough to compete with Manchester United each season. There certainly no longer asking to win the double every year. However, if they want Wenger to continue at Arsenal then they cannot ask for a team anywhere remotely similar to that one a decade ago and must stop dreaming that they belong in the discussion as title contenders who can compete with teams such as United. Those who want Wenger gone can demand that and be frustrated that a man given the freedom to be the guardian of this great club has made significant mistakes that is now the reason for such a gap in quality between themselves and United.
The Transfer league website shows the signings for Manchester United and the signings for Arsenal in the last ten years and it is miserable reading for Arsenal fans. Running through the numbers gives the biggest reason why United are who they are in 2012 and why Arsenal are who they are.
Since the end of the 2001/02 season Manchester United have spent £396.3 million on transfer fees to acquire players. They have recouped £240.8 million on transfer fees for players, for a net total spend of £155.5m.
Since the end of 2001/02 season Arsenal have spent £256.8 million on transfer fees to acquire players. During the same time they have recouped £273.5 million on transfer fees for players, for a net total spend of MINUS £16.7m.
Both sides have made the Champions League every season in the last decade but only one talks about that being a significant achievement. The reality is Arsenal are a shadow of their former selves and under Wenger have a man in charge who is no longer what the fans require in the boardroom, the transfer market and on the sidelines.
Off the field, the Frenchman continues to show no signs of being someone who will hold the board accountable for the lack of money spent on players. Turning the Van Persie signing into a positive thing and simply not accepting that they should have kept him for a year and not made a profit was just the latest example of a club that has lost its way. On the field, he remains tactically inept sending out players who have not reached their potential for him in a rigid system that he rarely breaks from.
Wenger has had some low moments at Old Trafford in recent years, being banished to the stands and losing 8-2 last season, of course, but his player’s latest effort mirrored the characteristics of those running the club. A complete lack of ambition and quality.
Robin Van Persie dragged himself off the pitch after that 8-2 last season and those who watched his face knew his days at Arsenal were coming to an end. Saturday’s 2-1 loss sounded close but wasn’t and the next best Arsenal player wanted elsewhere will have stored that performance in his memory. The Gunners are no longer a club anywhere close to competing for the title and in a sport where players demand two things (money & trophies) they are no longer a side searching for a new identity. The jury is in, Arsenal fans. You are right, there is only one Arsene Wenger but you need to know this is your Arsenal.
Observations from the other games this weekend
Penalty miss aside, Wayne Rooney was magnificent against Arsenal, particularly sitting deep on Mikel Arteta when Arsenal had the ball. Arsenal have struggled to create in the final third this season but United didn’t give them many opportunities, denying Arteta the freedom to start plays and dictate the game.
According to Statszone, the number of passes Arteta has received in games this season prior to Saturday have been – 99, 58, 79, 77, 90, 52, 100, 89, 62 for an average of 78. The low numbers of 58 and 52 came against Stoke & Chelsea, Arsenal’s two worst performances this season heading into the weekend. Rooney kept Arteta to 50, a remarkably low number and 40 passes lower than he received at Manchester City in September.
Manchester City’s travelling circus arrived at West Ham on Saturday and although the result was not one they were looking for they did show signs of improvement, much like at their last stop at West Brom. Samir Nasri’s role centrally got the best out of him and I’d like to see Mancini play a central three of Yaya Toure, a fit Javi Garcia and Samir Nasri through the middle away from home with two forward thinking wide men to the side of them.
City, who were guilty of missing some poor chances on goal, were actually quite fortunate to get a point after Kevin Nolan’s goal was wrongfully given offside. And so poor decisions by referee assistants continues and it is not just ones that are not allowed, as Jordi Alba’s goal in Spain and Arturo Vidal’s in Italy showed. Decisions that could have been overturned in 30 seconds if a referee is allowed freedom to not be surrounded and get the right call from an extra official watching on a monitor in the stands.
I’m not sure how Everton didn’t get three points at Fulham on Saturday. The Toffees were denied all three points by a 90th minute goal by Steve Sidwell but, despite going a goal down, they were by far the best side, terrorizing Fulham’s full backs and getting a brace from Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini’s second reminded me of something former Evertonian Duncan Ferguson would have done.
Luis Suarez had a magnificent game against Newcastle on Sunday and fully deserved it to be highlighted by a breathtaking individual effort that levelled the score in the second half. However, the time is now for Ian Ayre and Brendan Rodgers to capitalise on this form and and start work on bringing a big name to play alongside him. The Uruguayan has such good movement that he can play deeper, slightly off a centre forward (not named Andy Carroll) and this will allow Liverpool a chance to get more goals in the team. Against most Premier League sides they will still be able to play two disciplined wide players and the two forwards inside a hybrid 4-3-3 and not get overrun in midfield, particularly if you can a midfielder such as Steven Gerrard on the right side who can tuck in and make up the numbers.
Sunderland are in a mess, Martin O’Neill is finally feeling the pressure of the passionate home fans and it might be time for him to drop a couple of big names to the bench. Their biggest issue remains creating chances and the poor form of Stephane Sessegnon, asked by O’Neill to play just behind Steven Fletcher, is a major reason for it. Sessegnon has struggled this season connecting with the wide players who also have not been good enough, particularly Adam Johnson who remains a limited player with poor decision making.
The seeds were sewn for Aston Villa’s victory at Sunderland on Saturday in their first away match at West Ham in August. On that day Villa passed better than they had done at any time under Alex McLeish (452 successful passes from 557 attempts) despite being behind for more than half the game. Saturday’s win may have been the first time they won (and even scored in the second half) on their travels since January but, the second half at Southampton aside, Villa have actually played confident away from home this season, keeping the ball down and passing extremely well in a 4-2-3-1. Christian Benteke’s led the line superbly on his own, holding the ball up well and causing Sunderland’s defenders no end of problems. However, the main reason for the assurance shown on the ball was the performances of two 22-year-old’s in central midfield. Ashley Westwood and Barry Bannan were very impressive, dictating the tempo of the game and combining for an 83% pass accuracy rate, an excellent level considering it was the first time they’ve played together at this level and the fact they had no traditional ‘ball-winning’ midfielder as Karim El Ahmadi was suspended. Without the Moroccan the pair combined to create and prevent, keeping it simple and more than matched the more experienced pair of Lee Cattermole and Craig Gardner.
Six Super Stats
Tottenham failed to score in a PL match at White Hart Lane for the first time in 30 PL home matches.
Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Swansea means they have conceded eight goals in their last five PL matches, having conceded only two in the opening five PL matches of the season.
Van Persie has scored 14 PL goals with his right foot since the start of last season – only Sergio Aguero (22), Wayne Rooney (19) and Demba Ba (15) have more right-footed goals over the same period.
Van Persie has now scored against all current 20 PL clubs. The only other player who has ever scored against all these 20 clubs in the division is Yakubu.
Manchester City drew 0-0 in a PL match for the first time in 11 months – since at West Brom on Boxing Day 2011.
Gabby Agbonlahor ended a run of 28 PL matches without a goal, netting his first since Villa’s 3-2 home win against Norwich on November 5, 2011.
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I used to like boxing. A lot. However, the older I got the more wise I got to what was happening, particularly at the amateur level. A sport that was so pure was being ruined by corrupt officials and judges. This past summer I found myself watching random fights again at the Olympics and the only thing that had changed was the mind that was watching it. Fighters were getting flat out robbed. The crowd knew it and even strongly voiced their displeasure, yet the IOC, much like the sport’s governing body, once again buried its head in the sand, ignoring a serious issue that not only affected the individual outcomes of the contests but the complete validity of the sport itself. There a few things worse as a sports fan than watching officials intentionally change the outcome.
Indeed, if an international sports council was set up to monitor the integrity of different sports it is fair to say boxing would be a frequent visitor into the dock. And so to would soccer, a sport that would force the council to answer regular claims of incompetence from officials. The claims would come in so often that the council would have to further investigate why such a billion dollar sport opens itself up to constant similar accusations.
Let’s take an in depth look into the most recent claim that comes from two high-profile matches on Sunday in the English Premier League. Of the 380 matches this league has in a season these two particular games, a Merseyside derby and a clash between two of the best teams in the league, are in the top 10 in terms of level of tension even before a ball is kicked. Top officials, Andre Marriner and Mark Clattenburg, who are both on the FIFA list to be used internationally, were appointed as the referees. Both games started well, with the away teams racing into an early 2-0 lead before the home side’s leveled 2-2. Tensions rose on and off the field, and then game-changing decisions were made. Marriner’s assistant, Simon Bennett, incorrectly ruled Luis Suarez was offside when he scored in injury time and therefore denied Liverpool all three points. Replays of the incident immediately showed Bennett’s poor judgment.
Referee Clattenburg later in the day made an equally shocking decision when he elected to send Fernando Torres off the field for simulation. From his vantage point he thought Torres went over opponent Jonny Evans and fell to the ground in an attempt to win a free kick. Replays showed Evans clipped Torres and the referee was wrong.
In both cases our made-up ISC, and the majority of the fans watching worldwide, have two decisions to make. Do they go on to find the officials guilty of incompetence saying they made mistakes but they did not deliberately do it? Or do they find them guilty of intentionally having it out for Suarez and Torres? Boxing fans may well side with the latter, and with their minds poisoned we can’t blame them, but surely most football fans would agree the decisions were done without intent.
The ISC would certainly come to that conclusion but with football in the dock for such charges thrown their way once again they would surely look at ways to eradicate these claims once and for all and their findings would most likely look like this:
Football is a game where many people’s failings lead to many people’s success. Why then are they asking officials to constantly be right all of the time?
If so much emphasis is put on the decisions of officials why are most of them not full-time, younger and not as fit as the players playing the game?
From timekeeping to foul play far too much is asked of officials by everyone involved in the game.
Asking officials to judge simulation, or diving, is a very difficult task. It can be very subjective as you are asking them to know whether there was intent. The same can be said for the ruling of intentional handball.
Instead of pressuring referees to stomp out diving, which is currently happening, FIFA and UEFA should be the ones to force it by giving their leagues the right to review such punishments on video the next day, much like the way they do for violent conduct missed by the referee during the game.
Officials need time to get decisions correct. This sport is one of the fastest team sports in the world and officials need to be given more than a split second to make their judgments.
Football must learn from rugby and when major decisions need to be made, such as scoring plays or incidents that decide whether players stay on the pitch or not, referees need to know there is a system in place for them to ensure what they saw was correct.
At this stage players need to play the part. In the event the referee is unsure of a scoring play or a potential red card incident he must be given the freedom to stop play, go to an area on the field and consult with an official watching on television elsewhere. Players must not be allowed to go near the referee at this stage.
Football must stop this obsessive need to want the game to continue instead of taking one minute to ensure a major game-changing decision is right. If you feel such time takes away from the flow of the game then you need to watch more matches. Every red card these days leads to a stoppage of at least a minute while the players all crowd the referee and grumble. It was 1 minute and 16 seconds before the game restarted after the Torres red. Another example was the recent red card awarded to Cheick Tiote of Newcastle United last week when a delay lasting two minutes and 39 seconds – full of complaints and other examples of petulance - took place before the game restarted. Just think how much better the game would be if a referee was allowed to blow his whistle, run to an uncrowded area of the pitch and talk to an official who had the opportunity to watch the incident from a different viewpoint. Once the ruling is given, players may not like it but they’d be much less likely to argue if they know someone had the benefit of seeing it from multiple angles. Benches would be less likely to crowd around 4th officials and insult each other and fans would be less likely to throw things on the field.
All-in-all it was an unsatisfactory Sunday in the Premier League and although it is easy to shout abuse and have anger towards officials, at the end of the day they simply made mistakes at their place of work. The fact that they affected two high-profile football matches is the fault of the sport, a billion dollar industry that won’t take the pressure off them by inserting some very simple rules that won’t make significant differences to how the game is watched or broadcast. Chelsea and Liverpool will be disgusted by the decisions that went against them but so were Newcastle at Goodison Park last month when the ball crossed the line and the goal wasn’t awarded, so were Wigan last week at Swansea when Arouna Kone’s last minute goal was wrongly called offside and so were QPR on Saturday when Arsenal’s goal wasn’t ruled offside. Grab a ticket and get in line. Just don’t lose sight about whose fault it really is.
Observations from the weekend’s games
In an era where far too managers stick to a system no matter the opponent, Sir Alex Ferguson once again showed his tactical versatility early in Sunday’s game. Much of the talk heading in, was how United would be able to handle Eden Hazard, and it proved difficult as the game wore on, but not before they had a two goal lead, targeting that side of the field by playing a 5-4-1 without the ball, tucking Rafael in, and putting Antonio Valencia at a very deep right midfield position.
It was a pity the game will be remembered for what Clattenburg did because it was a great encounter between two heavyweights whose styles countered each other well. For example, at times, United benefited putting Wayne Rooney in central midfield and Ashley Young running centrally from a wide area yet Chelsea found a way to exploit that and show, once again, another side of them under Di Matteo when playing superbly while behind.
It really was a game of two halves at Goodison Park. One full of emotion, mistakes and goals and one gotten hold of by managers, in particular Brendan Rodgers. His changes, specifically to a back three, worked very well as they went man-for-man at the back, pushed the full backs higher to not get too deep in wide areas and put Raheem Sterling up top to keep the full backs deeper to prevent a 2-on-2 situation.
We should no longer be surprised when Everton find diamonds in the rough and it appears Kevin Mirallas is another. Mirallas was very impressive in an uncharacteristic wide left position but sadly left injured at half-time which definitely made Liverpool’s second half much easier. The Belgian international has pace, confidence and two feet that will cause full backs no end of problems no matter what flank he plays on.
Manchester City were very poor against Swansea and were fortunate to have Carlos Tevez in their side. One moment of class was enough once again. Remember, City have won all 21 league games at home in which the Argentine has scored in.
I fear for Swansea while Michel Vorm is out. The Dutchman has not been as good this season as he was during last season (hard to be, to be fair) but he remains one of their best players and being out for6-8 weeks now is the worst time to do so. He could miss anywhere between 7-10 Premier League games.
Reading against Fulham was an outstanding game. Two teams playing wide-open 4-4-2 styles meant midfielders had a lot of time on the ball yet the game really turned on changes made by the two managers. Bryan Ruiz came on and dropped a bit deeper than Dimitar Berbatov, causing the home side no end of problems. His goal capped a great 35 second, 15 pass movement to make it 1-1 but two goals each in the last 13 minutes led to a thrilling 3-3 draw with subs Gareth McCleary and Hal Robson-Kanu scoring for Reading.
Thrilling was not a word for the early game between Aston Villa and Norwich City, unless you support the Canaries. Forget those who said Joe Bennett’s red card gave Norwich impetus and changed the game, because they were by far the better side even when 11 played 11. They should have won.
It may be Villa’s worst start in 43 years but few are worried around Villa Park and because of the lack of pressure Paul Lambert will get time to go about it his way. Lambert’s side look like they lack experience yet he will not pick Shay Given, Alan Hutton, Stephen Warnock, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia and, occasionally, Darren Bent. At least there is now a direction at the club. Those around Villa Park just hope it is not a road to relegation.
It had been 524 days since we saw Jack Wilshere play for Arsenal and he had been missed and brought a needed touch of assurance and quality to their midfield. However, even with the young Englishman back, along with Bacary Sagna, Arsenal still struggled to break open an organised QPR side. Stuck in their 4-3-3 formation, Arsenal struggled to get advanced runners beyond playmaker Santi Cazorla and needed a moment of madness from Stephane Mbia to finally find more space. They scored their goal, which should have been called offside, with a winger (Jamie Mackie) playing right back, a right back (Jose Bosingwa) playing centre back and a right/centre back (Nedum Onouha) playing left back.
Six Super Stats
Stephane Mbia was given QPR’s ninth PL red card in 2012, equalling the PL record for most ever red cards in a calendar year, level with Everton (1995) and West Ham (1999).
Before Sunday, Mark Clattenburg had yet to send off a Chelsea player in 17 PL matches.
Manchester United win their first PL match at Stamford Bridge in 10 and a half years, since a 3-0 win in April 2002.
Sylvain Distin made his 385th PL appearance, more than any other foreign (non-British or Irish) outfield player, surpassing Dutchman George Boateng (384).
Southampton’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham means their 26 goals conceded after their first nine PL matches of the season is the most ever, two more than the 24 Bolton had conceded after nine matches in 2011-12, and Sheffield Wednesday in 1999-00.
Timed at 92:52, Papiss Cisse’s winning goal against West Brom was Newcastle’s latest winning goal at St.James’ Park in the PL era and meant it was only the second time in 21 games that Cisse and Demba Ba scored in the same game.
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An enjoyable game played at a high quality sees the German champions mature on the European stage to earn a significant three points over powerhouse Real Madrid.
Dortmund, a talented side whose reputation of being a top club in Europe was still hindered by their performances in this competition last season, now finally have a landmark victory against a top club.
They full deserved the three points on this night ending Real Madrid’s 10 match group winning streak by displaying a solid, narrow system that frustrated Jose Mourinho’s side. In fact, Madrid, who had 24 shots on target in their opening two games of this tournament, managed just two in Germany.
The most interesting battle came down Dortmund’s right where full back Lukasz Piszcek was allowed to regularly join the play in an advanced area, giving stand-in left back Michael Essien all sorts of problems. The intelligent movement of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze created overlaps that Real Madrid failed to nullify. Cristiano Ronaldo is not a player who will track deep on the wing so the emphasis was placed on Xabi Alonso to do so, yet he was poor when asked to move over.
Alonso was poor throughout. He lost his midfield partner Sami Khedira to injury in the first half and that may have had an impact but he was frustrated by Dortmund’s ability to press intelligently and close down the gaps.
The game, played on a wet surface that impacted passes, ignited on the 36th minute when Pepe, another Madrid player who struggled in this game, carelessly gave the ball away and Robert Lewandowski did the rest, sprinting in and finishing superbly past Iker Casillas.
The lead lasted less than two minutes when Ronaldo scored his 28th Champions League goal in his 31st match for Real Madrid. It was no surprise to see it come down the left, Mesut Ozil’s fantastic ball behind the advanced Piszcek caused Sven Bender problems and Ronaldo lifted the ball brilliantly over the onrushing Roman Weidenfeller.
At the interval, 1-1, was a fair and accurate reflection of the opening 45 minutes but credit Dortmund for not only winning the second half in terms of the score but also in their performance. Jurgen Klopp has instilled a belief into this side that wasn’t evident last season and it shone brightly as they pushed for a second goal.
Inevitably, it came down their right, Mario Gotze this time cruised by the combination of Essien and Alonso to cross a ball that wasn’t dealt with by Iker Casillas and his defenders. The ball spilled out to the onrushing Marcel Schmelzer and he drove the ball past the Spanish number one.
Madrid couldn’t find the extra gear that some expected and now travel back to Spain sitting second in this group midway through. They will remain favourites, however, to top the group at the end but with Man City losing the path for Dortmund is clear. Four points from Madrid away, Ajax at home and Man City at home and they will qualify from the apparent group of death. A task a talented, yet fragile, side could surely have achieved last season and must surely accomplish now they have belief in themselves following this victory.
Six Super Stats
Real have scored in 14 consecutive away matches in the CL, equalling the all-time record by Bayern (2005-2009 and Barcelona(2009-2012).
Real’s 10-match winning streak in group matches came to an end. They remain equal withBarcelonaon 10 group match wins in a row
RealMadridplayed their 350th Champions Cup/Champions League match, most of all clubs.
Ronaldo scored his 43rd CL goal. He has now scored equal many goals away (21) as in home matches (21) with one goal scored on neutral ground. At the same time it was the first CL loss for Ronaldo in a match in which he scored (26W -3D – 1L).
Real have conceded five goals in the first three matches of the CL group stage. In the last two season they only conceded two goals in the entire group stage (six matches)..
Iker Casillas played his 125th CL match to equal Clarence Seedorf in third place of the all-time list behind Rául (142) and Ryan Giggs (130).
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The European Champions get battered in Ukraine by a far superior Shakhtar Donetsk who won by one and should have won by a lot more.
They may well have won 27 games in a row heading into this match (read that again), not lost in any competition for almost a year and never lost to an English club at home but now they might start to get some respect in the Europe’s fiercest competition. A 2-1 defeat of the reigning champions is a significant message to be sent across Europe for this wonderfully constructed side and those fortunate to watch it will know their dominant performance was one not highlighted in the scoreline.
Chelsea’s nightmare night started early, Shakhtar taking the lead after 177 seconds when Brazilian Luiz Adriano caused David Luiz a problem before a fortunate bounce put Alex Teixeira open on the right and he did the rest. A move started and ended by a Brazilian, a theme that would set in for the rest of the evening.
It would get worse for Roberto Di Matteo midway through the first half when Frank Lampard limped off for Eden Hazard. Now, on the face of it, that would seem a good thing for Chelsea but it was clear Di Matteo wanted Ramires in a wide area in this match, yet he was denied a chance to see how that would work for a long time. Hazard’s arrival forced the Brazilian to join John Obi Mikel centrally and up against the home side’s electrifying pace was forced into a defensive role for the majority of the game.
The thinking behind Ramires in a wide area was probably to help deal with the impressive Willian on the flank but also to improve their own transitional game. Di Matteo would have surely drawn up scenarios where the ball is picked up deep and having Ramires close to a central midfield duo not only keeps a man regularly on that side (as opposed to the forever moving Hazard) but also keeps his team closer together, rather than becoming two teams – one as a back six and another as a front four. Once Hazard came in, the thinking may have been, lets counter them with our big guns, much like at Tottenham when down 2-1, but quite simply Shakhtar were too smart and technical for that to happen.
Mirceu Lucescu’s side deserve all the plaudits this victory will bestow on them. Few teams will work harder and find space better than Chelsea this season. Few teams will continue to show great hunger and desire to attack them when leading 1-0, and then 2-0. In Willian and the impressive Henrikh Mkhitaryan they have creators who are willing to do hard work off the ball but also be a real threat with direct play on it.
In Fernandinho, the 27-year-0ld Brazilian midfielder, they had the game’s best player, a midfielder who tackled superbly, intercepted key passes and had the assurance even when the ball to penetrate in deep areas and look for teammates. Seven minutes after the restart, it was exactly that kind of effort that got him a goal, his first in the Champions League since he scored in 2008 against Barcelona. Hazard, who picked up the ball on the halfway line, tried to dribble the ball out and was intercepted by Fernandinho who found Adriano, kept sprinting into space and then received the ball and drove it past Cech. It was harsh on Hazard, who had little outlets because Mikel had started the move and was out of position.
The look from the Czech goalkeeper said it all. If it wasn’t for him Chelsea would have lost by a lot more on this night. The English speaking media will concentrate on ‘a poor performance’ by the champions and they definitely were not even close to the standards this club now expects but to focus on the woes of Di Matteo’s side would be unfair on Shakhtar Donetsk. Every single player for the home side did an outstanding job in this game, they attacked with phenomenal pace from deep areas, exposed Chelsea in transitions and look like a side who could now win this group.
Seven points from the first three matches does include two home wins – where they do play quite differently – and an away match at Chelsea next will be a far sterner test but the 1-1 draw between FC Nordsjaelland and Juventus could not have been better for them, and indeed Chelsea, as the look primed to now qualify out of Group E.
It had been close to two weeks since the Premier League kicked a ball in anger and yet the moment the travelling circus returned it did so with a real statement. In fact, statement might have been the key word of the weekend. Chelsea made a statement of intent when they really needed to show it, as did Manchester City, while other players decided to not wear ‘Kick it Out’ t-shirts in a statement to the FA’s anti-racism campaign that led to quite frankly a disgraceful statement from Sir Alex Ferguson.
City overcome significant obstacles to earn biggest win of the season – Football managers do not look forward to matches right after an international break and quite often they can lead to upsets. That has not been the case, however, with Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City, winners of their last five league games out of the break, heading into Saturday. Those victories have been achieved thanks, in part, to the size of their squad and it was that squad depth that guided them to three unlikely points at West Brom on Saturday. The game in itself was one of the best this league will see this season. City started well and with James Milner in a central midfield role, alongside Gareth Barry, controlled the game in midfield. What to do with their sixth man (think back four and one holder before him) has been a challenge for Mancini this season, particularly away from home. He picked two defensive minded players alongside Yaya Toure at Fulham but ended with none as they chased the game while at Stoke he picked one and ended with two as he looked to survive an onslaught. On both occasions his side struggled to create enough chances to win the games. Saturday at The Hawthorns, for the first 20 minutes, was very different. Milner has the defensive acumen to drop deep when necessary but the energy and bravery to run forward, move into wide areas and be a crucial distributor for more dangerous players in front of him.
Everything was going to plan until Vincent Kompany stepped up and lost the ball. Recognizing the danger, Milner smartly sat deeper, something others may not have reacted to as quickly, but the quick-thinking James Morrison played in a fast Shane Long who had the beating of Milner and forced the England international to bring him down when through on goal. City, down to 10 men, brought Samir Nasri deeper and more centrally in a narrow three alongside Barry and Toure and asked Mario Balotelli to play more central alongside Carlos Tevez. Balotelli, booked early for a petulant kickout after losing the ball, had actually played really well on the left side with the ball but remains a real concern without it, showing a lack of discipline when asked to marshal a side with some brief moments of defensive responsibilities. Despite being down a man, City still managed to create chances against an organised Baggies side, yet it wasn’t a surprise when the home side took the lead through Long, pouncing on Peter Odemwingie’s long-range effort to steer it past Joe Hart. Mancini reacted by doing what he did at Fulham, asking Edin Dzeko to go on and score, and removing a defensive midfielder in Barry. After taking less than a minute to score at the Cottage, Dzeko did it again heading home a free kick by Tevez with 10 minutes to go. It led to a breathtaking end to an open game with both sides going close to scoring until Dzeko won it for the champions. The goal was one we’re used to seeing with City, coming from a quick counter deep in their own half, featuring a delightful pass, this time from sub Sergio Aguero, and a cool finish from the Bosnian. Those who watched games at Spurs and Manchester United last season will not have been surprised one bit. City fans will tell you that their team played at their peak during a period that included wins at those teams last season and although they are not there yet this result and overall performance came close to what Mancini’s side offered away from home at the start of last season.
Chelsea find another gear when they needed it most – The second candidate from the weekend for game of the season so far came at White Hart Lane where Chelsea stormed to a 4-2 win. Without Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele, Spurs looked out of sorts for the first half but came out after the break, down 1-0, with real intensity, got the ball into wide areas and rocked Chelsea back thanks to goals from William Gallas and Jermain Defoe. On the hour, now down 2-1, Roberto Di Matteo’s side faced their biggest test of the season. The tremendous trident of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard went back to work and proved to be unstoppable for Tottenham. Mata, thriving in a more central area, started and finished a move to make it 2-2, after Oscar stretched Spurs with a great cross, and then their best work yet came on 69 minutes when Hazard dropped in and supplied a delicious ball for Mata to effectively win the match. Kyle Walker and Gallas, a player culpable for two poor clearances on goals one and two, were called out for their positioning on the goal by some pundits, but the goal was simply created by a moment of genius from Hazard. Sometimes we just have to stop trying to find a fault for goals conceded. By the time sub Daniel Sturridge had poked the ball home in injury time, Chelsea and their adventurous manager had sent another sign of their identity change since becoming champions of Europe. This is no longer a team that will use the front man as a reference point for others to run onto. Chelsea will go as far as Oscar, Hazard, and the Matador will take them and with names like that they badly need a pop group style nickname. Any takers?
Bully Ferguson out of line with comments regarding Rio Ferdinand – I elected to not start this column with this story, something some newspapers didn’t do on Sunday. I understand it is a big story, but personally I am getting a bit tired of stories away from the matches being bigger than those inside them. Handshakes anyone? Court appearances? Tweets? And now T-Shirts. Rio Ferdinand’s decision to not wear the ‘Kick it Out’ t-shirt during the warm up was his own choice and one he should not be disciplined for. We must remember here that just because John Terry has apologized it doesn’t mean the end for everyone. The Ferdinand family, like all victims of racist abuse, will deal with such incidents far longer than most, yet far too often victims are forgotten about in the modern game. The defender had every right to make that decision but because his boss called out Jason Roberts on Friday for saying he would do the same thing, he forced the United manager’s hand. Instead of keeping the same stance from his quote about Roberts and saying, simply, he disagreed with Rio’s choice, Fergie went a step further once again: “ ”I’m disappointed with Rio Ferdinand not wearing t-shirt. It’s an embarrassment for me and he will be dealt with, don’t worry about that.” What a pity Ferguson couldn’t step out of his own world for a moment, stop worrying about himself and what he said the day before and come out with a message that would sympathize with victims and castigate those found guilty of using racist language. Like Ian Holloway did last week in this fantastic interview. That would have sent a far bigger message than having players wear t-shirts before most people are in their seats and television broadcasts begin.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in Saturday’s late one – The Good – Every credit must go to Norwich City for their first win of the season and their first over Arsenal for 20 years. They showed a work rate and defensive discipline that we hadn’t seen this season and deserved the three points. The Bad – Arsenal were poor and reminded their fans, if they needed it, why they are not legitimate title contenders. The side has a history of switching off in games they should win, lacking tempo, and without real world class players they simply cannot afford to have off games. They are now 10pts now that they are behind Chelsea. Ugly – Vito Mannone is simply not good enough. Arsenal have a history of poor goalkeeping errors and it is back to haunt them again with Wojciech Szczesny injured. Mannone was not the only player who was poor for Arsenal on Saturday but his key error cost them the game.
Steven Pienaar’s red card was laughable – QPR-Everton played an entertaining 1-1 draw in the final match of the weekend but the red card handed out to the South African was diabolical. The challenge, which saw him given a second yellow card, wasn’t even a foul and because of referee Jon Moss he will now be forced to miss next week’s Merseyside Derby. It wasn’t a good day all around for Moss to be frank.
Raheem Sterling gets his just reward – It was another game at Anfield where Liverpool struggled to score but the one goal they got showed just how clever a player Raheem Sterling is. When you watch him it isn’t difficult to see why Brendan Rodgers consistently chooses him over bigger names. His off-the-ball movement is fantastic and absolutely necessary in that 4-3-3 system which requires wingers to cut in and allow Luis Suarez the licence to roam around, knowing he will have people in central areas to play off.
Villa fans hope Christian Benteke is not the new Savo Milosevic – Fulham’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday was easily the least entertaining match of the weekend but followed a similar script for Paul Lambert’s side. Villa look comfortable on the ball but offer little going forward and have started a trend with their new Belgian signing starting to regularly miss key chances. It is way too early to wonder if Benteke will miss the chances that ‘Savo Misalotavic” or “Savo Mileswideovic” did at Villa Park but Benteke needs to start putting away those chances to end that comparison sooner rather than later. For the record boss Paul Lambert laid down a very strong statement himself about Benteke post match, saying: “He’ll be a major player for this club, that is for sure.”
De Guzman’s deadly dead balls - Last season Swansea scored just seven set piece goals (19th out of 20 in the league) and was an area they had to improve on for this season. Despite them not scoring any until Saturday, the loan signing of Jonathan De Guzman has already helped in that area this season and is outstanding corner, which Michu headed home, proved to be the key moment in the game against Wigan. Swansea badly needed the three points to end a winless run at five before a tough run of games (they play Man City, Chelsea & Newcastle in the next four weeks) and it came from an unusual avenue. One Michael Laudrup will hope to see more of.
Southampton’s defence on pace to be one of the worst this league has seen – The stats tell you the Saints defence have conceded on average three goals per game so far and are on pace for 114 goals against. However, behind the stats are performances even more concerning. At Upton Park on Saturday, Nigel Adkins’ side were atrocious in defence, not strong enough marking set-pieces and gave West Ham far much time on the ball in open play. Some credit must go to West Ham for getting to 14pts already after eight games and they showed tremendous character to come out the way they did in the second half after a dull first half display but already it is clear how better equipped they are at this level than the Saints who finished above them last season in The Championship.
Newcastle save their best for their rivals – It doesn’t take much for Newcastle fans to get under the skin of Sunderland fans. One win in their last 16 Tyne-Wear derby games will do that to them but heading into Sunday’s derby there was a lot of optimism around The Stadium of Light. Once the game was over, though, it was clear, despite the 1-1 result, that Newcastle are a far superior side, having found a performance that was close to their exceptional displays last season. Alan Pardew’s men were excellent for the majority of the match and would have won the game comfortably if Cheick Tiote had stayed on the field.
We’ll have more on that game and all of the 10 Premier League matches this weekend in our indepth EPL Podcast available later this morning.
Six Super Stats
At 2 mins 11 seconds, Yohan Cabaye’s goal was the quickest Sunderland have conceded in the PL at the Stadium of Light. The previous was James Morrison (3 min 35 secs) for West Brom in a 2-2 draw in October 2011.
This was the first time in PL history Manchester United and Manchester City have come from behind to win on the same day.
Tottenham’s 20-match unbeaten run at home in London derby matches ended. It had stretched back to 2007.
At 17 years and 317 days old Raheem Sterling became the second-youngest ever PL scorer for Liverpool after Michael Owen (17-143).
Manchester United have conceded seven goals in their four PL home matches this season – their most at this stage of a top flight season under Sir Alex Ferguson and most in 36 years, since they also conceded seven in their first four home matches in 1976-77.
Manchester City are unbeaten when conceding the opening goal this season – two wins and two draws. In total, they have come from behind to pick up 11 points this season – only Manchester United (12) have more from this position.
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