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.


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