Sunday, October 30, 2011

Limitless Lazio Prospers With Klose's Goals

In the past, Lazio have always been lacking the final step to reach the "big" Serie A clubs. While the club has always been competitive under Claudio Lotito's control, they have never managed to push into the highest echelon of Italian football/soccer. Yet this season it seems that Lotito has created the perfect team. With the two brilliant signings of Djibril Cisse and Miroslav Klose, Lazio has now become a side which looks ready to compete for the scudetto.

It has been the former Bayern Munich striker, Klose, who has truly prospered at his new club. His six goals in the Serie A campaign have allowed Lazio to rise into third place, just one point from the top of the table. His latest goal was in this weekend's 3-0 away victory over Cagliari, a well placed diving header. It was Djibril Cisse who provided Klose the perfect cross, and the two forwards have shown fantastic chemistry throughout the entire season.

This weekend's victory was Lazio's fifth of the season, and it maintains their unbeatable away record. While Lazio suffered a loss at home early in the season to Genoa, after that Edy Reja's team has had few problems. A 2-2 draw away against AC Milan, and the 2-1 victory (Klose scoring the late winner in the final minutes) in the Rome derby over Roma show that this team is prepared to compete with the greatest of the Serie A.

Klose's diving header to make it 2-0 for Lazio away at Cagliari.
Next week Lazio will have to travel to face Napoli in one of the biggest tests of the season. It is important that Reja manages to strengthen his defence, as Napoli's trio of Lavezzi, Hamsik and Cavani have few problems creating goals. Of course, for Lazio we'll see Klose and Cisse up front with the trequartista Hernanes behind them.

It is going to be a massive clash, as both managers are astute tacticians and will have to find ways to shut the other side's forwards down. Yet Klose has shown that it's almost impossible to keep him quiet, as his movement and experience tears through defences. The German has been impeccable in front of goal, and he has propelled Lazio into third place. Whether or not his great scoring form will continue into next week at Napoli's San Paolo stadium, we'll just have to wait and see.

What are your thoughts on Klose's magnificent form in Serie A? Can he lead Lazio to victory over Napoli next week? Can Lazio push for the scudetto? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mario Balotelli "is an enigma" says David Platt

Manchester City manager David Platt has spoken positively of Mario Balotelli’s behaviour off the pitch, describing him as an ‘enigma’ and praising his improved maturity. The Italian striker was in fine form at the weekend, scoring two goals as City hammered Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford, and he has certainly appeared to be more consistent at the start of this campaign.

 Referring to the much talked about 21-year-old, Platt said:
“I don't think he is a difficult player to manage. He is not someone who sulks. People saw his talent but they perhaps saw it in fleeting moments last season. His behaviour has always been good but there have been too many ups and downs in terms of his concentration levels. But they are there and have been for a good two to three months now. He will lose concentration but you can snap him back out of it. He is never down for a week - it is 10 seconds and then he is out of it.”
Platt finished off by saying, “He is an enigma”.

There is no doubting Balotelli is having a positive influence over City right now two. He played a starring role at Old Trafford of course, but he has scored four other goals so far this season and is a very important part of Roberto Mancini’s plans. He is a fan favourite as well. After opening the scoring at Manchester United, he revealed a t-shirt saying "Why always me?" and plenty have been bought by City fans to pay tribute to one of their newest heroes.

As for Mancini’e men as a whole, they will be very pleased with life right now. Many people with betting money have them down as favourites to win the title. Their derby victory at Old Trafford was a significant turning point in their rivalry with Manchester United. Of course, many sporting tips are saying that the race is far from over – there are only five points between them and second place after all – but there is no doubt whatsoever that City are showing signs of being a major force in world football over the next few years.

Next up for Manchester City and Balotelli is a Carling Cup tie against Wolves. Whether the Italian forward will be able to produce his magic again, we'll have to wait and see.

What are your thoughts on Balotelli and his growing role at Manchester City? Still a child or finally matured? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Boca Juniors Continue to Chase Tevez

Boca Juniors are hoping they can agree a deal to sign Manchester City's outcast striker Carlos Tevez, according to reports. The Argentine forward was suspended by the club earlier this month, following his refusal to come on as a substitute in City's Champions' League defeat to Bayern Munich. After that incident, Roberto Mancini has made it clear that Tevez will never play for the club again.

City have accepted that to allow the player to leave, they will have to accept a cut-price £20m for his services, but Boca may not have the financial resources to fund such a move. Instead, it is understood that they would be looking to bring Tevez in on a loan deal when the transfer window re-opens in January.

Sports betting pundits note how Tevez played for the Buenos Aires club during the early part of his career, between 2001 and 2004. Whether City would be open to loan deals remains to be seen, although it is believed they have already rebuffed several enquiries. West Ham were reported to have been interested in taking the forward back to Upton Park in a remarkable swoop, but their offer was shunned.

Boca Juniors fans would welcome Tevez with open arms.
Before the whole "substitution saga" broke out, Tevez had made his intentions to leave the club clear throughout the summer. He almost joined his former club Corinthians, but the deal collapsed at the last moment when the Brazilian side was unable to negotiate the financial side of the deal. While several Italian clubs have been linked, it remains questionable whether Tevez would be open to such a move, having expressed his interest to move closer to his family.

Indeed, that is what most of the issue in recent seasons has centred around, with him making it clear to those placing sports bets that he does not enjoy life in England. Tevez's scoring record at City has been mightily impressive. In just 65 league appearances, he has notched a staggering 43 goals, helping the side to qualify for the Champions' League for the first time last season. But now it seems like Manchester City don't need Tevez anymore with their star-studded forward line.

What are your thoughts on Tevez leaving Manchester City? Would a move back to Argentina be good for him? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Roberto Carlos Chasing Big Name Trio for Anzhi

Roberto Carlos instructing Anzhi players

Roberto Carlos recently hinted at Anzhi's interest in more world-class European players.The former Brazilian full-back and current joint-manager of Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala has revealed he would like to bring Arsenal center forward Robin Van Persie to the club during the January transfer window.

During the summer transfer window, Anzhi surprised the football/soccer world by purchasing Samuel Eto'o from Inter Milan. The club made the Cameroon striker the best paid football player in the world after offering him wages believed to be around £8.7 million a year. Roberto Carlos said he could see Van Persie as well as Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka and Santos youngster Neymar moving to Anzhi and in New Football Kits later this season.

The former Brazilian international said this to the French TV show Canal Football Club:
"We want to make a club the calibre of Real Madrid or Barcelona, Anelka is not the only player. Nene from PSG and Van Persie from Arsenal are players we are following. And Neymar? I talked to him. If Real, Barca or Manchester United cannot pay the transfer fee, we will pay it. (Owner) Suleyman Kerimov can offer what he wants."
Speculation over Van Persie’s future increased after the Dutchman entered the final two years of his current deal with Arsenal which expires in 2013. The Gunners haven't offered an extension, creating a scenario similar to the one that led to Samir Nasri joining Manchester City this summer. Therefore a transfer for Robin van Persie wouldn't be a massive surprise.

Roberto Carlos was the first big name arrival at Anzhi after billionaire Keriomov bought the club in February. Since then the Brazilian has gone on to take over managerial duties alongside Andrei Gordeyev after previous manager Gadzhi Gadzhiev was sacked earlier in the season. Roberto Carlos attracted big names to Anzhi like Chelsea's Yuri Zhirkov and PSV Eindhoven's winger Balazs Dzsudzsak. After that, Anzhi pulled off the big transfer which brought Samuel Eto'o to the club.

Anzhi are currently 8th in the Russian Premier League and are reportedly eying up a major European manager to take up the reins on a permanent basis. Whether or not this massive money project works out will be interesting, but for now it has attracted plenty of media attention.

What are your thoughts on Anzhi's transfers and policies regarding spending huge sums of cash? Are you against it? Should money be allowed to control the beautiful game? Share your thoughts and comments below!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Inside EA Sports Vancouver Studios: FIFA 12

It's been a long time since I've posted, but I've got something pretty cool for any fans of the FIFA videogame series. I was able to get a tour of EA Sports in Vancouver, Canada where the FIFA series was developed. Not only that, but I got to talk to the lead gameplay producer of FIFA 12, Aaron McHardy, about the new player-impact engine, precision dribbling, and tactical defending. It was an amazing experience, and I made sure to snap as many pics as I could to share with you.

If you're only interested in reading about my chat with FIFA 12's lead gameplay producer Aaron McHardy, scroll down to the FIFA 12 section.

Just entering EA's majestic studios was an experience on its own. The Vancouver studio is EA's largest, and it hosts over 1,000 employees. Television screens were everywhere in the reception/waiting room area, showing off EA's latest games and releases. From there we made our way to see the kitchen and dining area. Steve, my guide, explained that any type of food (sushi, steak, hamburgers, waffles, and whatever else you could desire) was always available thanks to the dedicated staff of cooks. Of course everything from the grand architecture to the chairs and tables was polished and refined to a finite degree.

Volleyball and basketball courts next to the soccer field.
Talking with Steve, he took me around the building to show me the benefits and perks of being an EA employee. Cafe's litter the multiple floors, one of them even had a deep blue think-tank vibe environment to provide a calm place for employees to sip coffee and mentally prepare their work. But if you've got food and coffee, you're also going to have to exercise.

A majestic set of fields and courts outside (soccer/football field, outdoor basketball court, outdoor sand volleyball court) are laid out for the leisure of the employees. I was told that there's a pretty competitive community centered around playing soccer/football with teams and leagues going at the studios!

Yet being in rainy Vancouver, indoors is often where employees will be during a rainstorm. A vast expanse of gyms, massage rooms, along with an indoor basketball court are all provided for employees. Along with this, there's an expert physiotherapist who comes in a few times a week, allowing employees to book appointments when they're feeling injured or sore.

The gym is also impressive, offering just about every variety of machinery to strengthen the human body. There are also spinning, yoga, and aerobics classes offered at various times of the day for employees to take advantage of.

After seeing these impressive sports facilities, it was time to move onto the gaming areas. We passed through the empty NHL 12 development workplace (empty because the game had already been finished and shipped), and through Black Box where the legendary Need for Speed Series is crafted.

It's important to know that the studios aren't just a bland workspace. Every different game development area has its own vibe and feel. NHL's workspace was filled with hockey jerseys everywhere, FIFA's had soccer/football jersey's and banners covering every inch of free space, and the Need for Speed area was covered in brilliant screenshot artwork of past games.

EA Studios also features a large movie theatre/presentation room, allowing employees to present ideas, and sometimes watch the latest movies. For example, when the final instalment of the Harry Potter series was released, EA managed to get a copy and play it in their theater for their employees to watch.

The FIFA developers are big fans of real-life football/soccer as you can see
What also impressed me was an area called EA University. It was a room filled with powerful computers, made for the sharing of knowledge. The idea is that when the developers of a game find and create something new and interesting, they show it and teach it to the other developers so that they can implement it in other games. This allows for a constant level of growth, letting employees tutor each other and help EA's technology advance continuously.


At the end of the tour, I got a chance to sit down with Aaron McHardy, the lead gameplay producer of the FIFA 12 series, and ask him a few questions about the new game. I delved into the new Player Impact Engine, Precision Dribbling, and Tactical Defending, asking him what they were trying to achieve with these new additions.

Aaron explained that all three elements were put together in order to step up the FIFA series to a much more realistic level. All three new features complement each other, allowing for insightful defending, space-creating dribbling, and realistic collisions when the two combine. This trinity of features was created to allow players much more time around the top of the opposition's box, just like in real life games. This way the gamer can utilize the skills of Xavi, Sneijder or Lampard to their full potential, having the time to slip through balls for the forwards or blast a shot into the top corner.

Lead gameplay producer Aaron McHardy helped me
 understand the big and subtle changes in FIFA 12.
I also asked about the new shielding mechanic which allows players to dribble while shielding. Aaron explained to me that the dribbling system while shielding is the same as the Precision Dribbling, so that it can be as realistic as possible. This way forwards can position themselves with a few small touches, and then suddenly burst free of their marker or rifle a shot with the space they've created.

Finally, I asked about my favorite element of the FIFA series, skill moves. As you might have already seen, there are a few new skill moves in FIFA 12, like the elastico-chop (a tricky combination between an elastico and a heel chop) and some new freestyle moves. Aaron talked and pointed out how some previous skill moves have been refined.

Like the Scoop Turn (a particular favorite of Aaron's) used to be a very mechanic and robotic move in FIFA 11, difficult to properly pull off and with only one angle to turn at. But now in FIFA 12, the Scoop Turn has become a move which can be used in many new situations. It can be utilized to quickly breeze by a player on the wing, or it can be a full turn by a center-forward to nutmeg a defender. This is just one of the many moves which have been given a refined new set of animations, allowing for multiple uses in various situations.

Talking with Aaron, I got to see that the FIFA series is in good hands. Not only are they making some exceptional changes to the mechanics of the game, but the team is doing its best to make the game accurately depict the sport in real-life. With the passionate people (like Aaron) at the helm of the operation, the FIFA series will continue to be the best soccer/football game out there.

It was a wonderful experience getting to visit the studios and talk to Aaron. A big thanks to Steve Frost, Aaron McHardy, and all of EA Sports for making this possible. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Derdiyok Scores Breathtaking Goal for Bayer Leverkusen

I don't often watch the Bundesliga, and I rarely watch Bayer Leverkusen. Yet Eren Derdiyok's bicycle kick might be enough to turn me around, and make me into a Bundesliga fan.

Bayer Leverkusen were hosting Wolfsburg at home and drawing 1-1 after having taken the lead. In the 65th minute Derdiyok decided he wasn't interested in a draw, and so he performed a stunning bicycle kick winner.

Sounds simple doesn't it? Check the goal out below:


Is this the best goal you've ever seen? It shows great control, presence of mind to flick it over the defender, and the great amount of skill to bicycle kick it into the goal. Share your thoughts about the goal in the comments below!

Chelsea Underline Title Credentials

While the football world has spent the opening period of the Barclays Premier League season purring over the form of the Manchester Clubs, Chelsea have slipped firmly under the radar and have almost been written off as title contenders.It is true that both United and City have been the most impressive of the frontrunners so far and played the best football, but a quick look at the league table shows Chelsea tucked nicely in third place just three points behind the Manchester rivals.

It could be argued the media focus on Manchester is not unusual. Even when they were winning trophies, Chelsea were never the glamour club in the eyes of the media and Chelsea shirts have never topped the bestsellers charts at online football stores. The assumption in recent weeks has been that the title is Manchester bound this season. Yet nobody knows more about going too fast out the blocks than Chelsea. Last season, the title was all but handed to them after just a handful of games as they, like United and like City, looked unstoppable as they brushed aside all comers.

Yet problems were to follow as the Blues embarked on a disastrous season that at one stage saw them in danger of missing out on a Champions League spot and would ultimately cost boss Carlo Ancelotti his job. Chelsea's start has been solid if not spectacular. They were written off as title contenders after their opening day draw at Stoke, but as Manchester United showed this is not an easy place to go and it could prove to be a point gained rather than 2 points lost. Even in defeat at Old Trafford, Chelsea played well and were it not for some rather erratic finishing they could have taken something from the game.

The signs are positive for Chelsea. With Frank Lampard back among the goals with a hat-trick at Bolton and Fernando Torres starting to show signs of a return to form, there is more than enough quality for Andre Villas-Boas men to mount a title charge. After the disappointment of last season, perhaps operating in the shadows with lower expectation levels could be just what Chelsea need, particularly with Villas-Boas in his first season in the Premier League. I wouldn't class them as favourites, but Chelsea are definitely not just also-rans in the race for this years title.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports blogger who writes about football gifts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chelsea and Manchester City Hitting Top Form

Sturridge refrained from celebrating for both of his goals.
Chelsea has been having problems getting into their groove this season while Manchester City is surrounded by the maelstorm of the Tevez fiasco. Yet both clubs displayed dominance this weekend, winning by four goal margins away from home. Chelsea defeated Bolton 5-1 while Manchester City broke down a dispirited Blackburn side 4-0.

Bolton Wanderers - Chelsea

Chelsea had few problems against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok stadium, Lampard claiming a hat-trick in a 5-1 victory for the Blues. A srong start and an early goal for Chelsea when Daniel Sturridge headed in from a corner just 90 seconds in. The young forward had been on loan at Bolton the season before, and he managed to refrain from any celebrations in front of the Bolton crowd. But there were plenty of celebrations when Frank Lampard finished off a smooth Chelsea move (with flicks of the heel and one-touch passing) on the 15 minute mark. Any questions about Lampard's age, or ability to continue being an integral part of the Chelsea system were already being dispelled.

Lampard celebrates his three goals.
As the first half wore on for Bolton, it only got worse for the young keeper Bogdan (replacing injured Jaaskelainen). A low shot from the edge of the box by Sturridge bounced over the Bolton keeper and into the net for Chelsea's third. The fourth came soon after, with Bogdan spilling a long shot by David Luiz, allowing Frank Lampard to jump on the rebound and tuck it away. The first half ended with Chelsea 4-0 up, Sturridge and Lampard both on fire as Bolton fans booed their players (especially Bogdan) into the dressing rooms.

In the second half we saw a revival of Bolton's spirits and strength. Coyle's team pulled one back about a minute into the second half, Boyata powerfully heading it in from a well-delivered free kick by Petrov. Now we were beginning to see Chelsea's frailty. Bolton continued pushing forward, creating some chances and even forcing Ivanovic to make a goal-line clearance (which looked slightly over the line). Yet when Lampard completed his hat-trick (another well crafted passing move between him and Drogba), Chelsea seemed content.

Chelsea showed their dominance away from home against Bolton, with a slick passing style which Andre Villas Boas has been instrumental in achieving. Without Fernando Torres, the team has no problem creating goals. Daniel Sturridge has been improving at a rapid pace, and Frank Lampard has shown that he still has quite a bit to offer the team in their run for the title.

Mario Balotelli's anticipating finish.
Blackburn Rovers - Manchester City

As for Manchester City, Roberto Mancini's players met much less spirited opposition at Blackburn's Ewood Park. The first half was a tight, with Aguero having to be substituted (Samir Nasri replaced him) for injury in the 28th minute, leaving Mario Balotelli as the central striker. The Italian was dangerous, with shots just inches wide and curling onto the post, yet Manchester City went into halftime with the score at 0-0.

In the second half Manchester City managed to find the breakthrough goal thanks to some magic by Adam Johnson. The winger got the ball at the edge of the box from a corner, and he promptly curled it into the far top corner. Just two minutes later Balotelli got his well-earned goal, a tap-in assisted by substitute Samir Nasri. At this point Blackburn were unable to retaliate and the match was already decided.

City fans share their thoughts about Tevez.
Share yours in the comments below!
Nasri got the next goal after some tricky movement and passing with David Silva, and Savic got the fourth with a well-placed header in the dying minutes. While the media has exploded around the Tevez ordeal, Roberto Mancini managed to keep his team together and break down Blackburn. Even if Aguero had to come off for a bit of a groin problem, Balotelli showed that he has the strength and ability to be the lone striker in Mancini's system.

What are your thoughts on Manchester City and Chelsea's impressive performances? Do you think one of these two sides will win the title? Share your thoughts below!


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