April 10, 2009
Just seven matches remain for most clubs on this season so several teams have a lot of work to do. One example is Middlesbrough who are deep in the relegation zone. If they have any chance of not playing in the Championship next season they have to beat Hull City at the Riverside tomorrow. Newcastle are in a similar position and have an away date with Stoke City. Certainly a winnable match but also a necessity for a club in as much trouble as are Toon.
Back at the top, Liverpool will need to respond to the beating they took at the hands of Chelsea in the Champions League mid-week in hosting Blackburn. Should be no problem but with Gerrard possibly missing the match, you never know. Chelsea host Bolton in an attempt to make up some last-minute ground on Liverpool and Man United. Meanwhile, United travel to Sunderland for a match against the seventeenth place Black Cats. After several difficult weeks, will Sunderland be the antidote for United? And Aston Villa will host Everton in a match that will help determine the final European qualification spot, fifth place. Villa have been in possession of at least fifth for many weeks with Everton patiently moving closer each week. The Toffees can take fifth with a win but it would have to come at Villa Park.
Blackburn @ Liverpool – Liverpool
Bolton @ Chelsea – Chelsea
Hull City @ Middlesbrough – Boro
Manchester United @ Sunderland – United
West Ham @ Tottenham – Spurs
West Brom @ Portsmouth – Pompey
Arsenal @ Wigan – Arsenal
Newcastle @ Stoke City – Draw
Everton @ Aston Villa – Everton
Fulham @ Manchester City – City
Results Thus Far:
Week 1 – 19 points
Week 2 – 16 points
Week 3 – 12 points
Week 4 – 13 points
Week 5 – 13 points
Week 6 – 27 points
Week 7 – 14 points
Week 8 – 22 points
Week 9 – 18 points
Week 10 – 19 points
Week 11 – 11 points
Week 12 – 10 points
Week 13 – 16 points
Week 14 – 13 points
Week 15 – 9 points
Week 16 – 18 points
Week 17 – 11 points
Week 18 – 14 points
Week 19 – 15 points
Week 20 – 23 points
Week 21 – 21 points
Week 22 – 20 points
Week 23 – 21 points
Week 24 – 14 points
Week 25 – 23 points
Week 26 – 11 points
Week 27 – 16 points
Week 28 – 19 points
Week 29 – 22 points
Week 30 – 16 points
Week 31 – 19 points
April 10, 2009
Paolo Guerrero and Hamburg Push City to the Brink
Three of the four UEFA Cup ties in the first leg of the quarterfinal round went to the home sides while the fourth ended in a harmless nil-nil draw.
After Stephen Ireland scored in literally the first minute of action for Manchester City, Hamburg responded with three goals of their own and gave Hamburg a 3-1 home victory at the AOL Arena. Joris Mathijsen answered almost immediately with his 9th minute goal while Piotr Trochowski (penalty) and Jose Paolo Guerrero broke the match open with their mid-late second half goals. The fact that City lost away is not at all surprising as that has been their regular status domestically. Perhaps salvaging an away goal will give them an advantage on the return at Eastlands.
At the RSK Olimpiyskiy, Tomas Hubschman and Rodrigues Jadson straddled half-time with their goals as Shakhtar Donetsk defeated Olympique Marseille 2-0 in Ukraine. Amazingly, at this late stage in a European competition, the biggest rivalry in Ukraine could come to pass in a final in Istanbul (Shakhtar-Dynamo).
Diego continued his fine run of form for Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup by tallying a brace at the Weserstadion in a 3-1 victory over Udinese. Hugo Almeida gave Bremen a 3-0 lead before Fabio Quagliarella scored a very late goal to at least tack one away goal on the board for Udinese. This match up is a very important one for Italy in general as Udinese are the last Italian club left in Europe. If they cannot earn a spot in the semi-finals or finals, it is possible that Italy would earn only three Champions League positions rather than the four they currently enjoy (I think not until the 2010-11 season though).
Finally, a relatively calm match saw Paris Saint-Germain host a nil-nil draw with Dynamo Kiev. While PSG have to be pleased that their efforts resulted in a clean sheet at home, they’ll need to be more active while in Kiev to advance through to the semi-finals.
The return legs will be played next week.
April 9, 2009
Having just passed two interesting days in the Champions League, the UEFA Cup retakes the European stage today. All four quarterfinal first legs will be played today. I won’t break them down as I do Champions League but here are at least the match-ups and where they’ll be played. I’ll have scores and comments this evening.
Olympique Marseille v. Shakhtar Donetsk (RSK Olimpiyskiy)
Manchester City v. Hamburg (AOL Arena)
Dynamo Kiev v. Paris Saint-Germain (Parc des Princes)
Udinese v. Werder Bremen (Weserstadion)
April 9, 2009
With two draws on the first day, yesterday’s matches were surprisingly, even shockingly one-sided. Starting at the Camp Nou, Barcelona thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0. Amazingly, that was the half-time score. Lionel Messi scored twice and assisted on Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry’s goals. Messi almost had his hat trick but a fantastic save by Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt kept the fifth goal off the scoreboard.
So what does this all mean? Well for starters it completely confirms my thoughts going into the match that recent domestic success (or failure) has a big impact on how a club plays in Europe. With a full month in between matches, this Bayern side was simply not the only that clubbed Sporting Lisbon over the head. Barcelona have the most explosive offensive output in this tournament. Bayern are not as good as some of the English clubs but I think we have to consider Barcelona the favorite going forward.
Meanwhile, at Anfield Chelsea came back from an early deficit to rout their English rivals in Liverpool, 3-1. Fernando Torres scored in the sixth minute for the Reds, but that was all they would muster against the more competent Blues. Branislav Ivanovic earned goals on headers six minutes before half and again twenty-five minutes later. In the 67th minute, Didier Drogba put Liverpool out of their misery with a third away goal and a comprehensive victory. Really, only Torres played well for the Reds. Everyone else on the pitch found himself outmatched by his Chelsea counterpart. Particularly strong for Chelsea was Michael Essien.
So I ask again, what does this mean? Liverpool have a huge uphill battle if they want to reach the semi-finals. Trailing by two goals on aggregate and having given up three away goals is no way to make a strong case. It is possible though, to win at Stamford Bridge, especially as the Blues will be without skipper John Terry whose accumulated yellow cards will keep him out of the return leg. But interestingly the idea I put out yesterday that the first home side have been at a disadvantage in recent Champions League meetings between Liverpool and Chelsea has held true, at least so far.
April 8, 2009
After yesterday’s draws, two more Champions League matches grace us with their presence this afternoon.
Chelsea @ Liverpool
We’ll start in England where Chelsea will travel to Liverpool in an all-England clash at Anfield Road. Both clubs have been playing well lately and are currently third and second place in England. This is the fifth consecutive year that these two clubs will meet in a knock-out round of the Champions League. Last season of course Chelsea won in the semi-finals and advanced to Moscow where they would lose to Manchester United. Liverpool had won previously in semi-finals including 2005 when they defeated AC Milan in Istanbul.
So what of this match? In each of the past two years the home side in the first leg has been at a disadvantage, allowing away goals and eventually losing on aggregate in the second leg. So can Chelsea get on the scoreboard more than once at Anfield, even if they don’t win the match? Odds are yes. Liverpool are a strong side but they won’t be able to give the home fans a clean sheet and thus put themselves in jeopardy for the second leg.
Prediction: Liverpool 2 – Chelsea 2
Bayern Munich @ Barcelona
The other quarterfinal today is an odd case. Bayern unmercifully thrashed Sporting Lisbon in the last round and were hailed as favorites to win the cup. But a very poor run of form lately in Germany have seen Bayern fall off the pace near the top of the Bundelisga, including a 5-1 destruction at the hands of Wolfsburg just last weekend. Barça have been playing very well and are in firm control of La Liga, having withstood a strong, late challenge from Real Madrid.
With today’s match at the Camp Nou, expect the fireworks to be on display from Barça. Bayern are a strong club for sure but they can’t possibly play as well as they did in the round of sixteen. And however much Liverpool apologists would like to claim, current domestic play does make a big difference in mid-week Champions League matches.
Prediction: Barça 3 – Bayern 1
April 7, 2009
Mariano's Equalizer for Porto, a Stunning Result
Is this the spirit of 2004? Mariano’s 89th minute equalizer gave the Portuguese side a 2-2 draw at previously impenetrable Old Trafford against Manchester United. Cristian Rodríguez and Wayne Rooney traded goals in the first fifteen minutes, setting up a long spell of 1-1 football. Late substitute Carlos Tevez scored what appeared to be the match-winner in the 85th minute. But somehow Mariano appeared unmarked in the waning moments, knocking in the tying goal.
While Porto could easily lose at the Estadio do Dragão in the return leg, this draw does set them up very nicely. The two away goals especially will give them a lot of ground to work with in the return. But for United, what happened. Did they just expect a victory at their hallowed ground? Did they fall asleep after the Tevez affair appeared to send them to glory?
Meanwhile, in a simultaneous match at El Madrigal, Arsenal used Emmanuel Adebayor’s incredible volley to draw 1-1 with Villarreal in Spain. Though star Marcos Senna had given the Yellow Submarine an early lead on ten minutes, the Gunners’ response via Adebayor gives the English side great hope in the return leg. Not only did they acquire the much-needed away goal but the quality of the strike that did it should be inspiring going forward.
Tomrrow’s matches feature Barcelona at the Camp Nou against a very much out of form Bayern Munich as well as the vastly intriguing Chelsea-Liverpool front leg from Anfield Road. So far no side has emerged as favorite so we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow.