What a Sunday! Spurs v Birmingham was on television, but I spent the afternoon glued to the BBC match tracker while listening to TalkSport’s radio coverage of the final day of the English Premier League season. At various times throughout the day Wigan, Wolves, Blackpool and Birmingham swapped places in the relegation zone. It was compelling viewing. In the end Blackpool and Birmingham joined West Ham in being relegated to the Championship. Most football fans will be disappointed to see Ian Holloway’s side go down, but few neutrals will shed a tear for the boring Brummies.
Arsenal fans, can you please tell me how your team came fourth in a two horse race?
What do Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Phil Scolari, Steve Clarke, Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink, Ray Wilkins, and Carlo Ancelotti have in common? All nine are successful, knowledgeable and respected football men. And, all nine have recently either left Chelsea Football Club of their own volition, or been forced out by their meddling oligarch, Roman Abramovich. Porto’s, Andre Villas-Boas is one of the names being mentioned to replace Ancelotti. The Portuguese coach is on the fast track to coaching stardom and with a number of high profile clubs interested in his services does he really want to take on the poisoned chalice that is the Chelsea manager’s job?
Tottenham’s, Sebastien Bassong is the latest example of a professional football player who is out of touch with reality. According to the Frenchman he has gone through “hell” this year because he is no longer a starter for Spurs. “Hell,” Sebastian is dealing with the aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami; or fighting for one’s country in Iraq or Afghanistan; or losing your home in a tornado; or being fired on by your own army for daring to march in support of democratic reform. Despite what Arsenal fans might think, “hell” is not being highly paid to sit on the bench at White Hart Lane.
Who was the idiot that scheduled the first royal visit in 100 years and the first ever UEFA final in Dublin on the same day? The Queen of England became the first British monarch to visit Ireland since 1911. She was in the city at the same time as thousands of Porto and Sporting Braga fans were at the Aviva Stadium, sorry Dublin Arena (silly UEFA marketing rule) for the Europa League final. By all accounts security in the city was exceptionally tight and transportation severely restricted. One shudders to think what UEFA and Irish authorities would have done had Scottish side, Rangers qualified for the final.
Manchester City will be one of the team’s competing for the 2011-12 English Premier League title, but only if they manage to convince Carlos Tevez to stay at the City of Manchester Stadium. City without Tevez are pedestrian, one dimensional and lack creativity, despite the best efforts of David Silva. Tevez provides City with more attacking intent and an end product that some of his teammates cannot replicate. Should he leave City as now seems likely, they will only win the league if manager, Roberto Mancini can persuade Cristaino Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to sign for the blues.
US midfielder, Lindsay Tarpley tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and will now miss the Women’s World Cup in Germany. Tarpley is a talented and experienced player and will be a major loss to Pia Sundhage’s side. The US can win the World Cup without Tarpley, but they will have no chance in Germany if anything happens to forward, Abby Wambach.
Congratulations to Rangers, Ajax, Barcelona and Manchester United for winning the Scottish, Dutch, Spanish and English titles respectively. Despite what the fans of Celtic, Twente, Real Madrid and Chelsea might believe, the four teams are worthy champions.
Manchester United’s draw against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park confirmed United as the English league champions for a record 19th time. Once Phil Dowd awarded the Red Devils a 71st minute penalty there was no doubt they would get the point needed to secure the title. However, the last five minutes of ‘play’ brought back the bad memories of West Germany and Austria at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The two neighbors contrived to see out a 1-0 win that saw both qualify while eliminating Algeria. Blackburn was content to let United have possession in the hope that the point that was good enough to see their opponents crowned champions would also help Rovers in its relegation fight. If there is such a thing as karma in soccer, Rovers will be relegated next week and one of Wigan, Wolves or Blackpool, three attacking teams will stay up.
West Ham United was relegated following a 2-3 loss at Wigan. The club owned by David Sullivan and David Gold with Karren Brady as managing director deserves to go down. The treatment of Gianfranco Zola, who last season kept the team in the Premier League and Avram Grant when pursuing Martin O’Neill as his replacement, was despicable. If ever a club owners’ and executive’s arrogance deserved to be rewarded with relegation it is them.
The feel good factor at Anfield Road ended on Sunday when a depleted Spurs team outplayed Liverpool to win 2-0. The football forums and blogs have been inundated with Liverpool fans and experts predicting the reds as title winners next year. They may well compete for a top four spot, but not the title. Kenny Dalglish has turned around the club’s fortunes, but his team has played without pressure, unlike Spurs, Man City and Arsenal since his interim appointment. Pool fans should keep in mind that the three biggest games Dalglish faced in that time against Man United (FA Cup), Sporting Braga (Europa Cup) and Spurs were all lost.
There has been a lot of discussion this week about the merits of Spurs, or Liverpool playing in next year’s Europa Cup. Harry Redknapp bemoaned qualification for the competition and the possibility of Spurs playing Thursday in Europe then Sunday in England. Harry, can you please explain how the Europa Cup schedule would be that much different to the Champions League schedule of a game in Europe on a Wednesday followed by a Premier League game on the Saturday?
FA Cup Final day used to be the highlight of the football calendar. Sadly, that is no longer the case. The FA has prostituted itself to the television companies, the Champions League and UEFA and as a result the Cup Final has lost its glamour. Man City and Stoke City deserved to play the game as a stand alone fixture as has been done for most of the competition’s history. Playing the game on a premier league weekend will not take away from the sense of joy felt by City’s supporters at winning the cup. However, it has taken away the sense of occasion that fans world wide used to love about the FA Cup Final.
The 1953 FA Cup Final remains one of the greatest games ever played. At 1-3 down, Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen inspired Blackpool to a 4-3 victory over Bolton Wanderers in what was to become known as the Mathews Final. How appropriate that on Cup Final Day the same two teams would repeat the scoreline in one of the games of the 2010-11 season. Matthews was one of the most attacking players ever to have graced a football field. The current Blackpool team plays in the tradition of Sir Stanley and the Premier League is all the better for them being in it.
Neil Lennon deserves some credit for his debut season as Celtic manager, despite his team finishing second to bitter rivals, Rangers in the Scottish Premier League. Lennon led Celtic to a League Cup Final where they lost to Rangers; to a total of 92 points, a tally that would have won every title since 2005; and to a place in next week’s Scottish Cup Final where they will play Motherwell. Not bad for a rookie manager who received death threats, bullets in the mail, a parcel bomb addressed to him which was intercepted by Scottish police, was attacked by a deranged Hearts fan during a game and endured the fans in the main stand at Ibrox Stadium serenade him to the tune of “what’s it like to live in fear.” What has now been conveniently forgotten is that Rangers were the preseason favorite for the title; had the more experienced manager in Walter Smith; had a more experienced team, one which contained players who had won the two previous titles; and spent more money on one player, Nikica Jelavic than Celtic did on most of its team. Lennon made some ill advised comments throughout the season, but considering the level of vitriol to which he was subjected he did well to help Celtic run Rangers as close as they did.
The US women beat Japan 2-0 in an international friendly in Ohio on Saturday. For twenty minutes the US was made to look very ordinary by the 4th ranked team in the world. Arsene Wenger once coached in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight and the Japanese women played Wengeresque football as they tried to pass the ball into the US goal. They paid for their profligacy when the American’s strength and power led to two excellent goals, the first of which was against the run of play. The US might yet win this summer’s World Cup in Germany, but coach Pia Sundhage is experienced enough to know that on the basis of this performance her team is not assured of being crowned world champions.
The LA Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls played out an exciting 1-1 draw at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night. The game had everything for fans of the game even Eurocentric ones. It had entertaining football, talented players and a terrific atmosphere from the sellout crowd. The game was a great advert for Major League Soccer. Too bad that few fans got to see it. The game was shown live on ESPN2, but at 11:00 p.m. east coast time. The game was worthy of being shown in prime time.
Credit to MLS for their suspending Colorado’s, Brian Mullan for 10 games for his potentially career ending tackle on Seattle’s, Steve Zakuani. Let’s hope the suspension sends a message to other associations to administer similar suspensions for tackles that warrant more than a red card and an automatic three game suspension.
The self proclaimed Special One, Jose Mourinho was finally put in his place by arch rival Pep Guardiola and Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal. Madrid earned a credible draw in the second leg at Camp Nou, but lost the tie with its cynical approach in the first leg. Barcelona did not cover itself in glory in the way its players dived and surrounded the referee at the Bernabeu, but over the two legs was the one team that tried to play, that tried to attack and that tried to win. One wonders how Real would have fared had the Special One allowed his team to attack Barcelona rather than try to stifle them. In the end the best team won and Mourinho’s reputation as the master tactician and psychologist has been compromised.
Mourinho has tried to convince anyone who will listen that he and Real Madrid are the victims of some vast UEFA conspiracy to ensure Barcelona’s domination of the Champions League and Spanish football. The Portuguese coach has a short memory. Was it not his Internazionale team that benefited from an incorrectly disallowed Barcelona goal in last year’s semi final? If UEFA and the match officials were out to get Madrid then Ricardo Carvalho, Emmanuel Adebayor and Lassana Diarra would all have received their matching orders in Tuesday’s game. Also, Mourinho, a real student of the game should be reminded that Real has benefited immensely form the position of power it has held in Franco’s Spain and with various royal families throughout its history.
Harry Redknapp spent last year and most of this reminding Spurs fans that when he took over as manager, the club had two points from eight games. Redknapp’s self promotion served to remind Spurs fans that they had never had it so good in the Premier League era and that Champions League football was a reward for the Londoner’s managerial nous. Funny then that Redknapp has not mentioned that particular statistic as Spurs have gone on a run of one win in 12 games. The latest performance against Blackpool was one of the worst Spurs have had in many years. Once again, the lucky Redknapp will not suffer the media scrutiny he deserves. The injury to Gareth Bale, the poor performance of the referee and Heurelho Gomes’ error will all deflect the blame away from Redknapp where the English media is concerned. Spurs fans though are starting to turn against Harry and he is now on borrowed time at White Hart Lane.
Manchester City seems destined for the Champions League while Liverpool may be the favorite to finish fifth and qualify for the Europa Cup. Spurs can still finish above Liverpool and should do all they can to secure European football next season and keep the Merseysiders out. However, the real winner might be the team that ultimately finishes sixth. It will not suffer the distraction of playing Thursday night Europa games next season and can concentrate fully on its Premier League games. Spurs or Liverpool might just find themselves competing for the league title should they not have the distraction of the Europe Cup to worry about.
Manchester United’s win against Chelsea has all but secured the Red Devils of their record breaking 19th league title. United can make mathematical certainty of knocking Liverpool off their perch with a draw or a win at Blackburn next Saturday, FA Cup Final Saturday. On the day that Man City hope to win their first piece of silverware since 1976 United can steal all the headlines with a win at Ewood Park. It will be bad enough for City fans with United winning the title, but it could get worse if Stoke was to win the FA Cup. Come on the Potters!
A draw, or a Chelsea win at Old Trafford would have opened the door for Arsenal in the title race had they won at Stoke City earlier in the day. How then to explain a performance that lacked urgency, commitment, desire, and dare I say it pride. In short, it was a gutless display by the Gunners as they meekly lost 3-1 at the Britannia Stadium. For once, the taunts by the Stoke fans of “are you Tottenham in disguise” was an apt one.
The Italian league used to be the best in Europe, but no longer and has lost ground to Spain’s, La Liga and England’s, EPL. Still, congratulations to AC Milan for winning their 18th Scudetto securing the Serie A title with a 0-0 draw at Roma…..Celtic lost at Inverness Caley Thistle on Wednesday night to hand the initiative to bitter rivals Rangers in the Scottish Premier title race. Both teams should get results in mid-week games against Hearts and Dundee United respectively which sets up another ‘helicopter Sunday’ next weekend…..Good luck to Swansea and Cardiff in the Championship play offs in the hope that both will make it to Wembley and set up an all Welsh final for the third and final place in the EPL…..The EPL relegation battle seems certain to go to the final round of games before being decided. West Ham is clinging on by their finger tails and is ruing the loss of talisman, Scott Parker to injury. Had the England international been fit down the stretch the Hammers would have secured safety by now. As it is, they will be playing in the Championship in a half empty Olympic Stadium.
Harry Redknapp is a lucky manager. Spurs lost to Chelsea in controversial circumstances, but the manner of the loss has once again allowed Redknapp to avoid criticism. Spurs are in the middle of a run of one win in their last 11 games. However, the media has not focused on the team’s performances as much as it has on the errors by Hurelio Gomes that cost Spurs against Real Madrid and Chelsea and the red card for Peter Crouch and the illness to Aaron Lennon that cost Spurs in the first leg against Madrid. Tottenham were outclassed against Madrid and tactically naïve as they conceded yet another goal in the first five minutes of a game and two from corners. Despite this the focus of media coverage was on the individual players and Spurs hard luck story. The team was eliminated from the Champions League and fallen to sixth in the EPL because of poor results that owed nothing to do with luck. Tactics, fitness, organization, player selection and formation were more to blame for Spurs poor run and they are all Redknapp’s responsibility.
Last Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal first leg between Real Madrid and Barcelona hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Jose Mourinho’s tactical approach was to have Real Madrid frustrate, intimidate and stifle Barcelona. It was Mourinho at his best. Madrid and Mourinho have come in for a lot of deserved criticism for their role in the darker side of the game, but some Barcelona players are not beyond reproach too. Having said that, what did people expect? The game was built up beyond all proportion – can Madrid stop Barcelona? Can Mourinho win a third Champions League title? Who is better: Messi or Ronaldo, Mourinho or Guardiola, style or pragmatism and Catalonia or Royal Spain? It was a powder keg tie to begin with and the immense pressure placed on both teams only added to the hype, a point forgotten by the media especially those in the UK. Would a Spurs-Arsenal, Liverpool-Man United or Celtic-Rangers Champions League semifinal have looked much different to the events at the Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday night?
Major League Soccer missed a great opportunity to establish itself on the world stage when Real Salt Lake lost to at home to Monterrey on Wednesday night. RSL’s 2-3 aggregate loss in the CONCACAF Champions League Final meant the team failed to qualify for the FIFA World Club Championship. RSL and MLS have missed out on the chance to test themselves against the likes of Barcelona in Japan next December. MLS will have to settle for the New York Red Bulls representing the league against Arsenal and Paris St. Germain in the Emirates Cup in London in July.
Neil Lennon was castigated by many in the Scottish media and by large sections of the Rangers support for cupping his ears when walking off to a torrent of abuse at the end of last week’s Rangers-Celtic game. The much publicized events prior to the game meant that Lennon’s action was arguably ill advised in the circumstances. So where is the same level of condemnation for the Rangers marketing representative who approved providing every fan at Ibrox a Union Jack flag for the Celtic game, or for kit man, Jimmy Bell who embroidered a message of congratulations to Prince William and Kate Middleton on David Weir’s shirt for the Motherwell game? No other club in Britain showed its support for the royal wedding in either manner, so why was Rangers the only club to do so? Both were politically provocative and the silence from the British media is embarrassing.
The EPL will have one of the game’s most interesting characters back in the league next season. Neil Warnock led Queens Park Rangers to the Championship title and promotion to the EPL. I cannot wait until the fixtures are released to circle the date of QPR v Arsenal, or more to the point, Warnock v Wenger. It was a bitter sweet weekend for Warnock because his beloved former club, Sheffield United was relegated to League Two. Despite the ignominy of relegation the future looks bright for the Blades because its youth team will face Man United in the upcoming FA Youth Cup Final. Two former top flight clubs, Brighton and Southampton have been promoted back to the Championship while former greats, Huddersfield Town could join them in going up. How long before Brighton manager, Gus Poyet is approached for a managerial role at Chelsea or Spurs?