Thursday, September 24, 2015

Inter Milan Back on Top of Serie A

After last season's disappointing eighth placed finish in the Serie A table, Inter Milan seemed to be slowly devolving into a mid-table club just five years after their historic treble under Jose Mourinho. However, after a strong summer transfer window in which Jovetic, Kondogbia, and Ljajic were recruited, Roberto Mancini was given one last chance in order to bring the nerazzurri back into the Champions League places.

In their midweek fixture against Hellas Verona, Inter Milan managed to grind out their fifth consecutive win of the season, maintaining their perfect streak and sticking to the top of the Serie A table with a three point lead over Fiorentina. While their performances haven't been spectacular (winning their first five matches with only six goals scored), Inter Milan has shown to be much more resilient and focussed compared to their past few seasons.

Roberto Mancini has solved the defensive problems (Inter have conceded only one goal in these opening five matches) with new signing Alex Telles and the returning Davide Santon finally providing a bit of stability in the fullback positions. Gary Medel has proven to be a fairly acceptable centre back with the injury of Miranda, and the new signing (and former Juventus midfielder) Felipe Melo has been exceptional in giving the side a much tougher midfield to break down. It was in fact the Brazilian who scored a powerful header to beat Hellas Verona 1-0.

The Inter team celebrating five wins in their first five matches
In terms of attacking options, the faithful Mauro Icardi continues to be Mancini's chosen centre forward, with Jovetic, Perisic, Ljajic, and Palacio being rotated in and out of the attacking trident. Although Jovetic has been the only truly outstanding attacking player for the nerazzurri, Perisic has shown flashes of his ability, Ljajic is a known talent, and Palacio provides plenty of leadership and experience seeing as he is the only one of these players who is above the age of 25.

While it's still early on in the season, this revitalized Inter Milan side has already managed to defeat AC Milan in the Milan derby, and perhaps most importantly manages to trudge their way to victories even when not performing anywhere near their best. However, Roberto Mancini's true test will come this upcoming weekend when Inter hosts second-placed Fiorentina at the San Siro. While the Viola will be looking to end the nerazzurri's streak and make up the current three point deficit, if Inter manages to grind out yet another victory, then the nerazzurri will have truly returned to their top level form of seasons passed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ruthless Chelsea Overpower Nine-Man Arsenal

After finally managing to break out of their astonishing streak of two losses in their midweek Champions League victory against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Jose Mourinho's Chelsea hosted Arsenal in an intense derby. While many eyes at Stamford Bridge were fixed on the two managers curtly shaking hands without even glancing at each other, many of the Chelsea faithful also had an eye on the benched John Terry who was replaced by Kurt Zouma in the starting eleven.

Both sides took a few minutes to rev their engine as the match continuously built in rivalry and excitement. Arsenal's speed created a few early difficulties for the questioned Chelsea defence, however Chelsea's speedy counter-attack was always a threat. With two former players on the pitch, it had to be former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas to spark Chelsea into life with sharp passing. Pedro's return to the lineup gave plenty of attacking support as Hazard and Diego Costa's interplay threatened in bursts.

Partway through the first half, the most integral cog in Arsenal's midfield, Francis Coquelin, looked like it was about to break down. The Frenchman played on despite not looking completely healthy, maybe also because the Arsenal bench didn't have a proper replacement to hold the midfield. While this might have seemed unfortunate for Wenger's side, it was in the final minutes of the half that events swung definitively against Arsenal.

Gabriel's not-so sneaky kick against Diego Costa
Diego Costa's tempestuous physicality up front led to a stray elbow and hand, both nastily being slapped across Koscielny's face. The Chelsea forward then proceeded to chest Koscielny to the ground as the French defender tried to stand up, leading to the heated Gabriel coming over to wrestle Diego Costa away from his teammate. Referee Mike Dean must have missed Diego Costa's initial elbow, and thus gave Costa and Gabriel a yellow each. In the following arguments and discussions, Gabriel lost his cool and earned himself a second yellow with an aggressive kick of the heel at Costa.

Arsene Wenger started the second half by replacing the partly injured Coquelin with Callum Chambers, however, Diego Costa's dark magic already left its mark, and Arsenal's ten men were unable to stop Kurt Zouma from heading in the opener from Fabregas's free kick. As the second half continued, Diego Costa was continuously in the middle of events as he played what could be considered one of the best matches of his season. Arsenal's ten men had difficulty managing Chelsea's advances, however were still able to occasionally create a dangerous opportunity with the darting Alexis Sanchez.

Struggling to compete in the match, the Gunners lost another man when Santi Cazorla's tackle on Fabregas was just a fraction too late (and a bit too forceful as well), earning him a second yellow with ten minutes remaining. While it seemed like destiny that Diego Costa would score the sealing goal, the opportunity came to Eden Hazard. The Belgian's deflected shot gave Cech no chance, the former Chelsea keeper defeated by his former team in his former stadium.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Playstation and UEFA Bring the Champions League App to PS4

A screenshot of the UEFA Champions League app on PS4
Sony recently announced on its European blog that it will be collaborating with UEFA in order to bring the Champions League App to the Playstation 4. While many (including myself) hoped that this would be a convenient way to have access to live or on demand Champions League matches for this upcoming season, sadly, it seems like this isn't a feature.

Despite this, the Champions League app still does bring some watchable Champions League action for Playstation users. In the blog post it provides some details regarding watchable matches:
PlayStation Plus members will also be able to relive some of the most memorable moments from the UEFA Champions League archives, with a number of Classic Matches available to watch via the in-app player. 
A range of matches from past seasons will be available at different times throughout the season, in 5 and 20 minute edits. The following Classic Matches are in the app to watch from today:
  • Juventus 1-3 FC Barcelona – Final, Berlin 2015
  • Man. Utd 4-3 Real Madrid (Agg: 5-6) – Quarter-finals, second leg, 2002/2003
  • FC Bayern M√ľnchen 1-1 Chelsea FC (aet, Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties) – Final, Munich 2012
The important piece of information there is in the fact that "Classic Matches" seem to be exclusively only for Playstation Plus members. However, regarding the app's other features, it seems like non-Playstation Plus users will be able to participate in the Fantasy Football, Predictor, and Top Five games in which you can compete against friends on the PS4 leaderboards.

While there will be prizes for doing well in these games, there are some restrictions in place here as well. PS4 users in the United States of America, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina won't be eligible to win prizes, which leaves a huge amount of football/soccer crazed fans out of the action. Although the blog post doesn't mention whether a Playstation Plus membership is necessary to participate in the games and win prizes, part of me thinks that it will be required.

What are your thoughts on Sony and UEFA's exclusive collaboration on PS4? Will you be participating in the games in hopes of winning prizes? Share your thoughts below!


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Manchester United Defeat Liverpool with Martial Magic

After a disappointing defeat to Swansea City, Manchester United lined up against their fierce rivals Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. Both Louis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers set their sides up in a disappointingly tentative manner for the big clash. Manchester United had Fellaini as the lone striker, supported by Mata, Depay, and Ander Herrera, with Carrick and Schweinsteiger rounding out what played like a six-man midfield. On the other hand, Liverpool were without the suspended Coutinho due to his red card against West Ham.

After a first half devoid of excitement, both sides loosened up as Luois van Gaal put on Ashley Young for Memphis Depay. Less than five minutes into the second half, the Red Devils pulled ahead with a neatly orchestrated free kick which culminated with Daley Blind curling Juan Mata's setup into the top left corner. Manchester United continued to look the more dangerous side, and when Joe Gomez took down Ander Herrera in the box, the Spaniard capitalized and blasted in the resulting penalty.

With less than ten minutes remaining, Benteke lit up the Liverpool scoreboard with an unstoppable bicycle kick. The Belgian coordinated perfectly in order to claim a spectacular goal, which will surely be a contender for goal of the season. Despite pressing for the equalizer, Liverpool slipped up at the back when United's nineteen year-old substitute Anthony Martial cut inside from the left wing and curled in the final goal to seal the victory.

With this win Manchester United manage to stay in second place, just five points behind their city rivals' lead at the top of the table.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Barcelona Claim UEFA Super Cup Over Sevilla in Goalfest

It took just three minutes for the first goal of this season's UEFA Supercup. Sevilla's Ever Banega curled in a free kick just outside the area, leaving Ter Stegen standing still and Barcelona chasing the game. Luckily, the blaugrana talisman quickly replicated Banega's free kick at the other end. Messi curled in his own effort to equalize, and then with fifteen minutes on the clock he blasted another free kick in off the post to give Barcelona the lead.

Sevilla's surprise lead was quickly nullified singlehandedly by Lionel Messi, leading to an uphill struggle for last season's Europa League winners as Barcelona continued to surge forward in brilliant attacks. By the end of the first half Suarez slipped a pass across the box for Rafinha to finish, giving Barcelona the 3-1 lead.

The second half kicked off with Barcelona seemingly coasting their way to the trophy. Suarez capitalized on a Sevilla mistake, receiving a mistaken pass, and made it 4-1 for the Blaugrana while Sevilla looked completely lifeless. However, the quick scoring trend continued, and five minutes after it looked decided for Barcelona, Jose Antonion Reyes pulled one back for Sevilla. Luis Enrique must have still felt the game was won, and subbed off Iniesta for the younger Sergi Roberto.

Without the veteran midfielder to pull the strings, Barcelona were less dangerous and sluggish in their defending, ultimately conceding a penalty to Sevilla which Kevin Gameiro blasted in to make it 4-3. With belief flowing back into the Sevilla team, ten minutes from the final whistle the two substitutes combined to equalize. New loanee Ciro Immobile wriggled into a crossing position, giving Konoplyanka the chance to tuck the ball into the back of the net.

With extra time, both Luis Enrique and his side began to take things much more seriously while Sevilla began to look tired after their monumental effort to come back. Pedro was put in for Mascherano, and it looked like Sevilla could barely cope with the angered Barcelona. Soon enough, the Barcelona substitute who had been left out of the starting eleven (due to the transfer talks with Manchester United) jumped on a parried shot by Sevilla's keeper Beto to make it 5-4. Although Sevilla created a couple of goalscoring opportunities in the dying minutes, a missed header by Coke and an open goal for Rami which he blasted wide off his knee, Barcelona held on to claim the UEFA Super Cup for a fifth time.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chelsea Suffer 4-2 FA Cup Knockout against Bradford City

In an upset described simply as "a disgrace" from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, league one side Bradford City have knocked out Premier League leaders Chelsea from the FA Cup with a 4-2 victory at Stamford Bridge. With the quadruple now impossible, Chelsea must still face the stern test of the second leg of the Capital One Cup against Liverpool on Tuesday night, along with next weekend's visit from second placed Manchester City. After the disappointing result against Bradford City, Chelsea will now be forced to recover and step it up in their remaining domestic competitions, while still keeping an eye ready to face Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League round of sixteen.

Despite the lower league opposition, Jose Mourinho still fielded a respectable side with experience. With Cahill and Azpilicueta in defence, along with Oscar, Ramires, and Drogba all starting, the Premier league leaders seemed to be coasting as they grabbed the lead with Cahill popping in a sneaky flick from a corner. The second came with a smooth counterattack after Ramires stole the ball in midfield, with a quick-moving give and go between the Salah and the Brazilian who neatly finished. Yet Bradford City were able to pull one back before halftime, with the unmarked Stead receiving the ball from a set play before blasting it into the top corner past Cech. 

As the second half wore on, Mourinho brought on Fabregas and Willian for Salah and John Obi Mikel in the 70th minute, however five minutes later Bradford City found the equalizer with Morias finishing off a scramble in Chelsea's box. At this point Mourinho brought on his final substitute, replacing Loic Remy with Eden Hazard, yet Bradford were still uncontainable going forward. It was Halliday who gave the visitors the 3-2 lead, his first time shot from the top of the box unreachable for Cech. Despite being up, Bradford City continued to charge at the champions rather than defend their lead, and were rewarded when the substitute Yeates tucked in their final goal in stoppage time to complete the 4-2 comeback. 

Although Mourinho can still look at Liverpool's unimpressive 0-0 draw against Bolton and Manchester City's 2-0 loss to Middlesborough, their defeat was still the most comprehensive collapse of any Premier League side in the FA Cup round this weekend. Stamford Bridge will be looking for a positive result against the Reds (still without the injured Daniel Sturridge, who should be back in time to face West Ham) on Tuesday night in order to continue on in the Capital One Cup. Following that, the true test to consolidate their Premier League dominance awaits when Manchester City visit London next weekend. Be sure to check out the current Premier League odds, as both sides will be looking for victory at all costs on Saturday night. 

What remains for sure is that Jose Mourinho cannot allow his Chelsea side to put in another similar performance in their upcoming matches, or else their treble could be at stake. Share your thoughts about the match along with predictions for the upcoming fixtures below.

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