Sunday, February 27, 2011

Birmingham City Defeat Arsenal 2-1 in Carling Cup Final

Stephen Carr lifting the Carling Cup

Amid all the talk about Arsenal's trophy drought, the injuries of Walcott and Fabregas, and anything else regarding the Gunners, it seemed like the media forgot about Birmingham City. I heard statistics cited regarding how Arsenal would improve after winning the Carling Cup, almost as if they had already won it. It seemed that way at Wembley as well, Arsenal practically forgetting that they still had to defeat Alex McLeish's Birmingham.

Among all of the hype around Arsenal, Birmingham were extremely dangerous in the first minutes. Birmingham were denied a penalty in the second minute of the match when Lee Bowyer was expertly played through by Zigic, and Szczesny sliced through Bowyer's legs without getting near the ball. Yet instead of a penalty for Birmingham and a red for the Arsenal keeper, the linesman wrongly flagged for offside.

Birmingham eventually found the opener, with Zigic's header waking up Arsenal from their trophy-winning daydream. Szcesny left his line to punch the ball out of his box, challenging the tall figure of Zigic, but the Serbian got to the ball first, and flicked the ball past the Arsenal keeper and into Arsenal's empty net. An easy goal in the 28th minute, made easier thanks to Zigic's height. A smart decision by McLeish to start with the Serbian forward.

Martins tapping in the winner
Arsenal were unable to do much against Birmingham, left with fast counter-attacks led by Nasri and Wilshere. The Englishman thundered a shot onto the Birmingham crossbar, with Arshavin taking the rebound and crossing for Robin van Persie to lash a volley into the far corner of the goal. An instinctive goal from van Persie, his well placed volley left Foster rooted to the line. The goal raised Arsenal's spirits just a few minutes before halftime.

In the second half Foster made some excellent saves, stopping Nasri and Bendtner from scoring a goal. Down at the other end, disaster struck for Arsenal in the 89th minute when Szczesny and Koscielny combined in failure. A long ball came over which either the defender should have cleared, or the keeper should have scooped up, yet both Arsenal players were too hesitant in their movements. The ball bounced off of the keeper's knee right to substitute Obafemi Martins, who tapped into the open goal for probably the easiest goal of his career.

The Birmingham City players celebrating after the final whistle

Birmingham City held on for four long minutes of injury time, and when the final whistle blew the entire set of Birmingham players, staff, and fans went crazy. The club has won its first major trophy since 1963, and back then the League Cup was barely considered a major trophy. That's a 48 year drought which McLeish ended, is that how long Arsenal are going to have to wait before they win a trophy? What are your thoughts on the Carling Cup final?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Italian Troubles In Europe: Napoli Out of Europa League

Being a big fan of Italian football, I find it slightly sad watching a constant decline for Italian teams when they play in European competitions. It all started with AC Milan's 1-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur: an ugly game, with Tottenham deservedly winning at the San Siro. After that, the Roma train-wreck crumbled against Shakhtar Donetsk, conceding three away goals in their 3-2 loss at the Stadio Olimpico. Then came Leonardo's turn at the San Siro, and while Inter Milan played well against Bayern Munich, the Germans pulled off a last minute goal to win 1-0. Finally came Napoli, the culmination of this disaster set of matches in Europe for Serie A clubs. A 0-0 draw in the first leg at the San Paolo against Villarreal seemed like a decent result, yet Mazzarri's team was unable to produce the goods away in Spain. A 2-1 comeback from Villarreal silenced any hope of Italian glory in the Europa League.

The Serie A has become like an old acquaintance, slowly falling behind the pack. Some remember the better days while most don't really care about this decline. While Inter Milan won the Champions League last season, it wasn't a victory for Italian football, it was a victory for a few individuals. A victory for Massimo Moratti, a victory for Wesley Sneijder, and especially a victory for Jose Mourinho. It seems like in the records of time, few will remember as an Italian side won the Champions League last season, most will remember it as, "Mourinho showed he was the best, again".

Some say it is the style. They say that the Serie A is too defensive nowadays, and against other European sides this method of play doesn't work. Yet every weekend I see a swashbuckling Roma side, lose 5-3 or 4-3. I see a scintillating Palermo team which plays wonderful football through the nimble feet of Javier Pastore. I see a free-flowing Napoli, with the trio of Hamsik, Lavezzi, and Cavani tearing through defences with rapidity and grace. I see it all in the Serie A, so why don't I see it in Europe?

It seems like fear to me. When a big challenge arises, the Italian instinct seems to be to close up. We don't see Maicon charge up the right wing anymore, instead he (along with the other fullbacks) will be cautious. Instead of seeing passes going towards the opponents goal, we see lateral passes from the defence, too afraid to move forward and maybe lose the ball. Sadly this can eventually become ugly. Tension creeps in as the clock ticks down. After a rough challenge, all of a sudden some Italian pride springs up, and the players argue like madmen with the referee. They yell at him, surround him, tug his shirt, yet the match continues as it was. It continues with an Italian side, too fearful to create anything.

The recent results in the Champions League and Europa League are all very negative. It seems like we could have no Italian teams in European competitions after the return leg of the Champions League. AC Milan need to overcome a spirited Tottenham, Roma need to wake up from their management nightmare to defeat Shakhtar Donetsk, and Inter need to finish the opportunities they create to knock out Bayern. Could it all happen, and three Italian teams progress to the next stages? I doubt it. For fans of Italian football, we'll be lucky if we see one team progress to the next round of the Champions League. A sad demise it has been for the Serie A.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Samir Nasri Shows How Player Loyalty Has Changed

Will these two remain at Arsenal for long?

Samir Nasri surely should be commended for saying he wants to stick around at the Arsenal until he helps them achieve ultimate success. But the fact remains that this pretty much fully represents the extent of modern player loyalty.

With Barcelona manage to keep its side together because the club's success and ability to pay large wages, the big challenge remains for clubs to want to develop talent. Even though they know that a fair amount of the players they turn into stars will leave for new pastures. With the Champions League odds suggesting Arsenal will be perennial contenders in Europe's biggest tournament, you'd think players would hang around, but sadly this doesn't seem to be the case.

It may appear old fashioned in this day and age to hope for more players to follow Gary Neville and Paolo Maldini, and spend their entire career at their club without even a whisper of them moving away to another side. Although the Bosman ruling may have caused the death of this tradition, it is still not ridiculous to hope for players to stay at one club longer than the length of one contract (or in the case of most players not even that long). Although the Arsenal betting suggests the club will always challenge for trophies, that doesn't seem to be enough for players these days.

When a contract length is decided not by how long the club wants a player, but instead how long the player will be happy with the wages the club sign him on before he starts to ask for a move or more money, then you know that there is something hugely wrong. Something is wrong With the way footballers are treating and respecting clubs and fans.

If football is not going to experience the kind of fan disenchantment that occurred in the 1980s, then players need to start looking back at history in order to avoid fans once more switching off from a game that no longer holds any interest for them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What is Wrong with Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea?

A man in a difficult position, Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti was a made man. He sat at the top of the Premier League having seen his side score more than 100 goals in a season – the first time since the great Spurs side of the 60’s –, a £9 million contract in the bag, and the promise of a serious assault on the Champions League in the 2010/11 season. This year should have seen football bets placed in favour of the Blues winning the Premier League cashed in.

It is not as if it all went wrong overnight. Chelsea started the season on fire; 25 goals in their first 6 matches. These goals showed a team that looked to shaking of the restrictions of Ancelotti’s diamond formation from the previous season. A balance was found as a team relatively devoid of width excelled with a three man attack of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda, the third who was allowed to drift into dangerous wide positions.

But slowly but surely Chelsea have seized up and grinded to a halt, and with their future at Europe’s top table threatened, their long term strategy has been somewhat exposed.

Ancelotti’s men have suffered from a certain degree of short sightedness. The attempts to inject young blood into the squad have failed, with the likes of Gael Kakuta and Daniel Sturridge unable to work their way past established stars into the first team – so much so that they have been shipped out on loan. This is all well and good in that it helps them gain experience, but now that Chelsea’s older stars are struggling, there is no one there to step in to help, no plan B. Without Abramovich’s backing in the summer transfer market before the president exploded into life in January, Ancelotti will have been frustrated with a club that looks to have stagnated.

While Jack Wilshere excels for Arsenal and Javier Hernandez and Rafael Da Silva are given opportunities to play first team football at Manchester United, there is not a single young player making their way through to the first team of Chelsea.

The unproven Spaniard
The Italian manager has also had problems thrust upon him in the shape of Fernando Torres. The Spaniard is a shadow of his former self, unrecognisable from his Liverpool pomp. The £50 million pound man has to play, simply put, for both his sake and the sake of the club – but that leaves Ancelotti with a headache. The previously employed threesome of Anelka, Drogba and Malouda worked well, with Malouda drifting off the front two while Anelka occasionally dropped slightly deeper, meaning there was some variation in their attacks.

With Torres in place of Malouda, Ancelotti has three very similar strikers. All three men are quite adept at playing on the shoulder of the last defender and often look to make runs in behind the defence. The problem is that in their last Premier League game against Fulham, the distance between the three was minimal as they bunched together to no great effect. Anelka is forced to go deeper in search of the ball, curbing his creativity in a role he is no more than adequate in, while Drogba and Torres attempt similar movements. Chelsea’s threat has receded and their variation diminishes. Torres may still come good this season, but on this form he is unlikely to be installed as football betting favourite for the top scorer award any time soon.

Of course injuries have played their part, the loss of Drogba and Frank Lampard for large portions of the season have hurt the team. And perhaps the greatest loss of all has been Michael Essien, who still looks short of form in midfield. In their absence, some of Chelsea’s play has been ponderous at best.

Against Fulham last week, Chelsea seemed happy to shift the ball slowly between midfield and defence, and teams have been quick to figure out that two simple, well organised banks of four would deal with the slowly attacking team. Without the physical presence of Drogba, who looks to still be recovering from his bout of malaria, and the attacking link up play of Frank Lampard so crucial to Chelsea, the team's attacking threat curbed further.

A disappointed team, recently knocked out of the FA Cup
But where does that leave Ancelotti? Well on the brink, truth be told. Owner Roman Abramovich will not tolerate their under-performing for much longer and their Champions League tie against Copenhagen is a must win, yet ironically remains a lose-lose situation for Ancelotti. A comprehensive victory over both legs will be expected as a given, anything less will be pounced upon.

Those placing football bets know that Ancelotti is a fine coach with an excellent record, and the signing of David Luiz looks to be a good one. But his squad needs addressing, both in terms of balance and personnel.

Ancelotti has recently set his sights on a top four finish, and after the FA Cup defeat against Everton and the Premier League title out of reach, the Champions League looks to be the only competition in which his side can make an impact. If Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t overcome Copenhagen easily, then he will be in serious trouble.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Importance of Dani Alves to Barcelona's System

Is Dani Alves slightly undervalued?

Barcelona is a system. The team is an organic, constantly shifting, free in motion, confusing and befuddling many teams which face them. Yet looking at the side which defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-1, I realized something I had never before. Throughout the entire match, although Bilbao were doing their best to cope with Barcelona's tight passing, they were truly unable to cope with Dani Alves.

The Brazilian right back was a monster, fearlessly tearing up the right wing, providing sumptuous crosses for the rest of the team. During the match I repeatedly saw Xavi with the ball at his feet, chipping through the left side of Bilbao's defence for the waiting Dani Alves. The Spaniard's impeccable passing accompanied with the Brazilian's tireless ability to get behind the Bilbao defence was devastating throughout the match.

While often Dani Alves would be a step too far ahead and be caught offside, when wasn't, he decided the match. Although during the build up of the first goal Dani Alves was offside (not noticed by the linesman or referee), in the second he wasn't. All it took was a piercing pass floated through by Xavi for Alves who cut into the Bilbao penalty box, and from there Alves took one touch to pass it off to David Villa who smacked it in. The second goal was even more delightful, from Xavi's pinpoint pass, this time Alves took two touches, one to control and the other to square the ball to Messi for a tap-in.

The right-back was truly instrumental in Barcelona's victory. While of course he is surrounded by Xavi (who serves delightful passes with ease), Messi, Villa, and many other players who make things easier for him, Dani Alves is under-appreciated for his importance in Barcelona's system.

While Messi made some mind-blowing slaloms through the entire Athletic Bilbao team, the Argentine was unable to score. He needed the help of Dani Alves on the right wing to make a timed run, and serve him the ball to score the winner. Now with 19 assists in 34 appearances this season for Barcelona, maybe Dani Alves is a much more important player for Barcelona than many people think.

Soccer Books to Read: Inverting the Pyramid, Tor!, and Morbo

I'll admit it, I'm not a big reader. While back in the day I used to devour books of any topic, nowadays I tend to sluggishly skim through books, mainly because the ones I read are uninteresting to me. So, I decided that it was time to change that, and to get some books I would read, enjoy reading, and learn something from.

I browsed, looked around, and found plenty of interesting choices. Ultimately I narrowed my list to three, and ordered them off of Amazon. They are, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan WilsonTor!: The Story of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, and Morbo by Philip Ball. I chose these three because I need to brush up on all three subjects. I know little about football tactics, my knowledge of La Liga is limited, and my knowledge of the Bundesliga is near to nothing.

I've heard great things about these books (especially Inverting the Pyramid), and I really look forward to reading them. They should come within four to seven business days, and by the time I begin reading them it'll be a few weeks from now.

I'll be reviewing each book once I've read it, hopefully giving you a little taste of the books, what they're about, and whether you'd like to read them yourself. Links to the books on Amazon are below, and if you've already read any of these books, or have something to say about them, do comment.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lionel Messi in New Adidas F50 Adizero Prime Commercial

I usually don't post many ads/videos, but when I saw this one from Adidas, I had to post it. The F50 Adizero Prime are being hyped up by Adidas, and this ad with Lionel Messi has become one of my favorites.

While I usually prefer Nike ads (mainly because they tend to be much more epic compared to Adidas which has always been slightly cheesy), this new Adidas ad is my favorite right now. It starts with a few seconds of Lionel Messi, juggling the cleats, and the ad just gets better and better from there. The camera angle is dynamic and amazing, and the final line by the commentator gives the ad all the awesomeness it might have needed.

Here it is below:

My favorite ad I've seen yet, even better than Nike's Write the Future. But what about you? What do you think about Adidas's newest ad? A step in the right direction? Share your comments below!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Raul Scores to Earn Schalke 04 a 1-1 Draw Away To Valencia

Schalke 04 came back from a goal down to draw 1-1 against Valencia at the Mestalla. While Valencia were dominant playing at home, Schalke had plenty of chances and could have won the match if Huntelaar and Junmin Hao had scored their chances. But it was Raul who scored Schalke's important away goal, the Spaniard scored his 71st goal in European competitions.

Both sides had chances in the first minutes, with Huntelaar having the best one when he was in front of the goal with the ball in the air. Yet instead of smashing it into the net, the Dutch forward completely missed the ball with his foot, comically failing to score. Valencia then scored in the 17th minute with Soldado, who pounced on Mathieu's cross and tapped it in with ease.

After that, Schalke had a penalty shout when Topal protected his face with his hands inside Valencia's box. While many Schalke players were protesting for a penalty, the ball was crossed towards Kluge, who's header was tipped onto the crossbar and out of play by Valencia keeper Guaita.

Raul then forced Guaita to make another good save in the second half, with the striker volleying towards the bottom left corner of the Valencia goal. At the other end of the field Ricardo Costa scored, but his goal was wrongly ruled for an inexistent offside.

Then in the 64th minute Raul received the ball in the box, turned with his first touch, and slotted a classic finish to equalize for Schalke. It was a wonderful goal, and I'm glad to see that Raul is still able to produce his goalscoring touch in the Champions League.

Schalke will rue the fact that Junmin Hao didn't do better with his opportunity in the final minutes of the match. One on one with Guaita, Hao could only manage to release a weak shot which the Valencia keeper tipped out for a corner.

Schalke also had Schmitz sent off in the 90th minute after receiving his second yellow card. Initially the referee had given him a yellow card and forgotten that he had booked the player for a second time, but his assistant reminded him that two yellows = a red, and so Schmitz was sent off.

Therefore Felix Magath will have to do without Schmitz for the return leg in Germany. But if Schalke manage to not concede and play as well as they did today, progressing past Valencia won't be difficult. What were your thoughts about the match? Share them in the comments below!

Tottenham Get Crucial 1-0 Away Win Against AC Milan

Creator and scorer celebrating

The way which Tottenham have gone about their business in the Champions League is wonderful. Instead of watching a lifeless match at the San Siro, we got to see Tottenham win away from home in their fearless and adventurous style.

While the final score was 1-0, Tottenham were continuously working the ball in from the flanks, exploiting AC Milan's weak fullbacks. In the first half AC Milan seemed lifeless. Letting Aaron Lennon and Rafael van der Vaart dominate with almost no difficulty.

There were two injuries during this match, one to Abbiati and one to Corluka. Abbiati was replaced by Marco Amelia in the 17th minute after a strange corner in which Abbiati must have clashed his head against something. It seems like he had trouble standing, and apparently he has been diagnosed with a minor trauma to the head. Throughout the match, Corluka was pumping in crosses for Crouch until the 57th minute when Flamini swung in with a two-footed tackle, injuring and forcing Corluka to be substituted. The Frenchman should have been sent off with a red card, yet he only received a yellow. Corluka on the other hand was on crutches with a protective cast, watching Jonothan Woodgate make his return for tottenham.

Tottenham continued to hassle AC Milan, with Sandro and Palacios holding the midfield well. Crouch probably should have put away a few good chances, but the lanky striker ultimately decided the game in the second half. The Milan midfield was sluggish, with Seedorf unable to create, and Gattuso only able to pick fights with Tottenham's coach Joe Jordan (a former AC Milan player).

Corluka crumpled on the ground after Flamini's terrible tackle
The second half was slightly more entertaining. AC Milan were more dynamic with the introduction of Pato who replaced Seedorf, yet Tottenham were fearless as ever against the rossoneri. While the match became entertaining for a while, it slowly became more and more tense, with fouls and arguments (mostly from the home side) overtaking the actual play.

Yet Tottenham were intent on scoring an away goal. A quick counter-attack with Lennon running from the Tottenham half all the way to Milan's box, blazing past Yepes with no trouble. From there, Lennon delivered a delightful ball on the ground for Crouch to slot past Amelia.

It was nice seeing such a hardworking side reap the rewards. The 80th minute goal was the proper punishment for the incompetent Milan side, which did its best to react in the final minutes. Ibrahimovic managed to get a goal, but it was disallowed because of his blatant shove to Dawson - as he tried to make space for himself - before scoring it. In the end, it was the central defender Mario Yepes who came closest to score for Milan, but Gomes made a fantastic one-handed save to stop the goal-bound header.

Peter Crouch scoring the only goal of the match

An entertaining match which has major repercussions for AC Milan. Tottenham on the other hand must be extremely satisfied with the result, and hope that they can contain the rossoneri at White Hart Lane. What were your thoughts on the match? Share your comments below!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wayne Rooney's Magical Goal Wins Manchester Derby 2-1

Is Rooney finally at peace with himself?

Watching Manchester City this season, they've grown on me. They aren't the most likeable of clubs, yet somehow they have an amiable feel about them.

Maybe it's because they make everything more interesting, with their big spending accompanied by big aspirations. At least, that's what they were supposed to do this weekend. They were supposed to make the Premier League a little more interesting in this Manchester derby, with many fans willing Roberto Mancini's side to dish Manchester United their second defeat of the season.

While Manchester City went to Old Trafford with a relatively attacking mentality, it was Manchester United which claimed the Manchester derby. While Manchester United won, Manchester City were probably the more convincing of the two sides, with a historic goal winning the game for Manchester United.

In the first minutes, Manchester City created some great chances, with the Old Trafford crowd holding its breath too often for their tastes. United held out well, and before halftime they found the lead. Nani was quickly played through the City defence, and Pablo Zabaleta let the winger slip by and finish past Joe Hart. This first goal can almost be wholly attributed to Zabaleta's poor positioning and defending. The left-back didn't come back to form a rigid defensive line, instead he left a hole for Manchester United to exploit. From there, he gave Nani a free run towards goal, not covering Manchester United's Portuguese star.

The first half came to a close with a dominant Manchester City held back by poor incisiveness in front of goal and a defensive lapse of concentration.

In the second half, Manchester United are barely competent, doing their best to hold off Manchester City's constant forward pushing. Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Yaya Toure, and surprisingly, Micah Richards, were all fantastic in combining to create chances. The 22 year-old full-back was solid offensively and defensively, always first to the ball and covering the right flank with endless running.

In the 65th minute Manchester City's efforts are repaid with a goal. Subsitute Shaun Wright-Phillips crossing low from the right wing for Edin Dzeko in the middle. The Bosnian shoots towards the right hand post, but the shot deflects off David Silva's back, leaving Van der Sar to watch the ball spiral into the left side of his net.

After the equalizer, Manchester City realize that they could win the derby with a bit more persistence. Mancini's side puts Manchester United under heavy pressure, forcing Van der Sar to make an outstanding save and Vidic to make some breathtaking interventions.

Yet somehow, this unconvincing Manchester United found the winner. Manchester United widened the field, giving the ball to Nani who crosses a high looping ball towards the middle of the box. Rooney has a bit of space around him, and produces a magnificent overhead kick, with the ball flying into the top right corner. Certainly a contender for "Goal of the Season", and the goal could easily win the 2011 FIFA Puskas award.

Wayne Rooney's spectacular winner

With this 2-1 victory, Manchester United overcome last weekend's loss to Wolves with a historic derby win. This unconvincing Manchester United side has been saved by Wayne Rooney and his fantastic goal. Roberto Mancini has admitted that Manchester City is out of the title race, and that Rooney's goal was fantastic. Yet the Citizens deserved more from this Manchester derby. What do you think? Share your comments below!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Liverpool Starting To Tick Under Dalglish

Speaking after their loss at Anfield last week, Stoke City manager Tony Pulis was quick to defend his side, stating that the main difference between his team's 2-0 home win back in November and the match he had just witnessed was the venue. Perhaps it was a case of sour grapes, or maybe he was just trying to pick his side up before their game against Sunderland this weekend, but there was clearly a massive gap in quality – not just between the two sides on the pitch, but also the two performances on display from Liverpool.

Under Hodgson, the direct football which was seen by some as a plan to simply play it safe in a season of transition was absolute suicide against a physical Stoke side, and the rigid 4-4-2 formation which was sent out week in, week out was easy pickings for Pulis' men. Dalglish showed the bravery and wisdom to change the shape, employing three centre-halves against Stoke's pairing of Carew and Walters, and as a result they limited the Potters to just one shot on goal over the ninety minutes. Of course, the Stoke betting always suggested they would struggle, but Liverpool did well to contain them.

Not the best debut for Fernando Torres
It is this sort of thinking which is what a Liverpool side lacking in self-belief needed more than anything, and Dalglish's fantastic relationship with the fans – something his predecessor simply never enjoyed – means that he can afford to take such risks without fear of backlash against either himself or his playing squad. The result has been three consecutive Premier League wins, complete with three clean sheets. Surprisingly enough, Hodgson never managed this feat. The Europa League betting suggests this new look side could even go on to win a trophy.

Although it was obviously a blow to lose a striker of Fernando Torres' quality, the fact that new boy Luis Suarez opened his account on his debut – in front of the Kop no less – will have taken much of the sting out of his move to Chelsea. And with record signing Andy Carroll yet to play his first game for the club, it would seem that there is even more good news round the corner – if the pair of them can form the sort of partnership that their ability and price-tags suggest they are capable of then it may soon be a case of "Fernando who?"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Messi vs. Ronaldo: For the Better or Worse of La Liga?

Rarely do we see two players have such fiery seasons. Both of them with 24 goals in 22 matches in La Liga, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have already scored countless hat-tricks, with undoubtedly many more to come. We could compare the two forever, analyzing every delightful pass, backheel, and goal, trying to finalize which one of the two is the player of his generation.

Like a hurricane of statistics, Messi and Ronaldo are eclipsing their teammates. They've become a constant, always trying to keep up with each other as the world watches with joy. They've dragged the spotlight onto La Liga, attracting more and more people to the Spanish game. They've become La Liga, a Portuguese and an Argentine, their individual competition eclipsing La Liga, for better or worse.

But we pay attention to La Liga, don't we? We keep an eye on what's going on around the Catalan and Madrid pair, mostly to see if anyone can keep up with them. Villarreal is trying, but it's hard work trying to keep up with the first and second placed clubs, which combined have a goal difference of +92. If you were to combine Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two have scored 48 goals, more than any other team in La Liga (other than Barcelona or Real Madrid). It's ludicrous. It's ridiculous. It's almost unfair.

Seeing Lionel Messi waltz to a hat trick against Atletico Madrid is mesmerizing. Watching Ronaldo blast a double against Real Sociedad is scary. I'm rarely watching anyone else, it's all about the two of them. Barcelona's system feeds Messi, surrounding him with unselfish players looking to play in a beautiful way. Real Madrid's Ronaldo obsession is what he craves, with every pass filtering through him, always giving him chances to individually light up the stage.

Everyone else almost loses their identity as Ronaldo and Messi's individual battle rages on. Kaka's return has barely raised an eyebrow. Of course, it's nice to see the Brazilian returning to form, but how will this affect Ronaldo? The two players are raised on a pedestal above everyone else. Even Jose Mourinho is a step below the two phenomenas.

We hold our breath when we see Messi stride into his time-stopping gallop. We bite our nails watching Ronaldo line up a free kick. We aren't watching La Liga anymore, we're watching Ronaldo vs. Messi.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Will January Signings Make Their Impact?

This mid-season transfer window has been exciting! While I expected a couple of minor signings here and there, I would've never imagined the deals which went on this January. Here's what went on in the English Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga.

In England Chelsea were the biggest spenders, snatching Fernando Torres and David Luiz for a total sum around 70 million Pounds. Liverpool decided to spend over 55 million Pounds to buy Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, bolstering their front line well. West Ham got Robbie Keane on loan from Tottenham, and Aston Villa's big signings were Jean Makoun, Darren Bent, and the American Michael Bradley. Manchester City bought the Edin Dzeko while Sulley Muntari from Inter Milan joined Sunderland along with Sessegnon from PSG.

Pazzini has scored three goals in two appearances for Inter
There were some big names on the move in Italy as well, with Inter Milan snapping up Pazzini, Kharja, Ranocchia, and Nagatomo. Juventus got rid of Amauri while bringing in the amiable Matri in, along with the decrepit pairing of Toni and Barzagli. AC Milan also made their mark, getting the Dutch pair of Emanuelson and van Bommel along with Antonio Cassano and central defender Legrottaglie.

In Spain, it was Malaga which did most of the buying. After their ownership takeover this past summer, the new Qatari president, Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani, has been spending money without many worries. Malaga bought Bayern Munich's veteran defender Martin Demichelis to strengthen the defence, along with Atletico Madrid's promising young keeper, Sergio Assenjo, on loan. Malaga also bought Roma's Julio Baptista along with the young Argentine Diego Buonanotte (some hail him as the next Messi) from River Plate.

Afellay has already scored for Barcelona
Barcelona and Real Madrid made their mark on the January window as well. Barcelona bought the attacking midfielder/winger Ibrahim Afellay from PSV Eindhoven, while Real Madrid got Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Manchester City.

So many big signings! And many of them have already begun to make an impact at their new clubs. Right now Giampaolo Pazzini, Luis Suarez, and Edin Dzeko are looking like the best signings of the window. I can't wait to see how these new players work out.

What do you think about all these January signings? Which ones do you think will make a difference for their club? Share your comments below!


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