Friday, March 11, 2011

Good Day!

It wasn't such a great night for English teams in the second tier of European competition as Liverpool and Manchester City both lost.

Shevchenko (remember him?) scored for Dynamo Kiev against City but the result was overshadowed by Mario Balotelli having to come off due to an allergic reaction.

It turns out the guy is allergic to some types of grass. No kidding! Man City paid $38 million bucks for a guy who is allergic to grass. You can't make this shit up.

Also today is a pretty cool animated piece looking back at Gareth Bale's demolition of Inter Milan. You can find it below in Dominic Raynor's Off The Ball column.

Tomorrow brings yet another installment in the Manchester United (Sir Alex) vs. Arsenal (The Professor) rivalry. Since 1996 there have been some great moments and even better quotes. This time out the clubs are attempting to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Judging by the other teams left in the competition you'd have to assume the winner of this tie will go all the way, but as the Carling Cup showed us recently, assumptions are just that. Tomorrow's match takes place at Old Trafford and will be televised live on Fox Soccer Channel at 12:15pm EST.

We've also got a nice piece on the first competitive international match ever played on Palestinian soil.

Have a great weekend.


The Joy of Six: Great Passes

Barcelona, Brazil and Bergkamp all inevitably feature as we pick some of our favourite moments of creative genius.

How To Save the FA Cup

Scott Murray:
A Five Point Plan

Chris Bevan:
Would a revamp save the Cup, or ruin it?

England: FA Cup Weekend Previews & Predictions

The FA Cup has reached the quarter-final stage and Manchester United's clash with Arsenal takes centre stage. Manchester United beat Arsenal 4-0 the last time the teams met in FA Cup action at Old Trafford in February 2008 and they will be the pre-match favourites to advance to the semi-finals. Saturday's other game sees injury-hit Birmingham entertain Bolton at St Andrews with manager Alex McLeish hoping at least eight wounded players are fit enough to feature. The blue half of Manchester play on Sunday with ambitious Manchester City hosting surprise package Reading at Eastlands. The weekend's final clash sees hard-to-beat Stoke City host resurgent West Ham at The Britannia.


Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Preview I
Preview II
Jim White: Watershed moment for Wenger's philosophy

Birmingham vs. Bolton

Lawro's Predictions

Manchester United v Arsenal: A Timeline of the Rivalry Between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger

It may have mellowed in recent years but the rivalry between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger looks set to be revived again this season with Manchester united and Arsenal in direct competition for the FA Cup and Premier League.

November 1996
Sir Alex Ferguson bristles at the notion of Arsene Wenger, newly arrived at Arsenal, as a cerebral ‘professor’ of football. “They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages,” says Ferguson. “I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages.”

Spain: La Liga Weekend Preview, Phil Ball's Quiniela & Guillem Balague's Column

Real Madrid will look to turn the heat up on Barcelona ahead of what could be an important week in their season when they play Hercules. With Barca not playing until Sunday, when they face a tricky trip to Sevilla, Madrid could provisionally cut the Catalan side's lead back to four points if they can down Hercules at the Bernabeu.

Phil Ball's Quiniela

Guillem Balague's Column

Italy: Serie A Weekend Preview

AC Milan are riding a four-match winning streak in Italy as they go into their home match with bottom side Bari. Allegri's men are five points clear of second-place Inter Milan.

City rivals Inter, the only Italian team still alive in European competition, will take on Bayern Munich in Germany next week. Before that, Leonardo's men will look to keep up their impressive league form with victory at Brescia on Friday.

Inter have won seven of their last eight league games.


Mario Balotelli grass allergy caps bad night for Manchester City against Dynamo Kiev in Europa League

Whether the £24 million summer signing from Inter Milan will come into contention for the home FA Cup quarter-final with Championship side Reading on Sunday remains to be seen.

Balotelli, 20, eventually came off in the 57th minute last night, after being over a minute late coming out for the second half, with City losing 2-0 in this last-16 first leg game.

He appeared in some distress and was constantly rubbing his face before being replaced by Carlos Tevez.

It is understood 20-year-old Balotelli is allergic to certain types of grass.

Is this a joke?

Playing For Pride: The Palestinian Football Team Kick Off At Home

To the rest of the world it was just another match in the blizzard of international fixtures, the first hurdle for two footballing minnows on the long road to qualification to the London Olympics. But in Ramallah, Palestine's meeting with Thailand assumed far greater importance.

Forty-nine years after the Palestinian FA's formation and 13 since it was formally recognised by Fifa, this game was the first competitive international match ever played on Palestinian soil. Before the kickoff the players knelt and kissed the pitch, venerating the soil on which they were finally allowed to play.

Jonathan Wilson in Eastern Europe

Politics and funding rows have put Romania's showcase stadium for next year's showpiece final under threat.

Romania's stadium for next year's Europa League final is in trouble.


Liverpool's Gerrard out for up to a month after surgery

Manchester United's Nani out for at least the next three games

Arsenal's Szczesny was out for six weeks with a finger injury

Arsenal's Fabregas out for at least two weeks with hamstring injury

UEFA Europa League: Thursday Review

It was not a good night for English sides in the Europa League as both Liverpool and Manchester lost their last-16 first legs. Braga will take a slender one-goal lead into the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie at Anfield next week after an early penalty from Alan proved enough to see off Liverpool. Former Chelsea star Andriy Shevchenko left Manchester City with a mountain to climb as his 25th-minute strike sent Dynamo Kiev on their way to a 2-0 first leg win in the Ukraine. The 34-year-old blasted the opener from an Andriy Yarmolenko cross then Oleh Gusev scored a superb second 13 minutes from time to leave Roberto Mancini's men with a huge task next week.


Dominic Raynor: Off The Ball

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, the FFF suspended a village club president after a comical bid for Lionel Messi, Atletico's "not a single ball to the blonde" campaign, a 13-year-old fan takes Reading to court for selling his favourite player and footballers are scientific geniuses.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Adriano to snub Newcastle and Tottenham for Brazil

Brazilian striker Adriano has claimed his future is in Brazil despite being linked with a move to the Premier League. The 29-year-old joined Roma in the summer but after just five appearances for the club, his three-year deal was terminated this week.

The former Inter Milan star has been linked with a move to Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur.

Those sounds you hear are sighs of relief from Newcastle and Spurs fans...

No police charges for Chelsea's Ashley Cole after shooting work placement student Tom Cowan with air gun

Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole will escape prosecution for shooting a work placement student with an air gun at the club's training ground.

JP Dellacamera moves from ESPN to FSC

JP Dellacamera is moving from ESPN to Fox Soccer Channel to become play-by-play man for its Major League Soccer telecasts.

Dellacamera will work FSC’s 14 Friday night telecasts, which are exclusive to the network. He had been paired with John Harkes for U.S. national team broadcasts on ESPN and worked the World Cup on ESPN Radio. He also is entering his second season as a broadcaster for the Philadelphia Union.

Richard Williams: Arsène Wenger's sense of injustice veils deep-lying Arsenal issues

Eavesdropping on Arsenal supporters during the flight to Catalonia, it was interesting to hear one of them compare Wenger to L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. "What Arsène's running isn't a football club – it's a cult," the fan said. Barely even half-joking, he was representing that large section of the support to whom Wenger's pursuit of his vision has been too single-minded, and that a more flexible and realistic attitude to investment and recruitment would have long ended the drought since the club's last trophy. What they want is for Arsenal to act like the other big clubs.

Sid Lowe on Barcelona vs. Arsenal

Arsene Wenger told Pep Guardiola to congratulate Massimo Busacca, but the Barcelona coach was more interested in congratulating his players. The Swiss referee might have been important during Barcelona's 3-1 victory against Arsenal in a Champions League match Tuesday at the Camp Nou. He might even have been decisive. But Guardiola preferred to believe it was his players who were the difference. The trouble is, on their own, they might not have been. With Busacca, they won the match, eliminated Arsenal and advanced to the quarterfinals; without him, we will never know if they would have done so. The doubts will not go away. Nor will the anger and the accusations.

Tim Vickery: Menezes ignores Ronaldinho and Robinho in latest Brazil call-up

I took a wander from my apartment here on Monday and one of the first people I saw was Ronaldinho, sitting enjoying a leisurely beer in a temporary break from the revelries of Carnaval. Seated to his right was another Ronaldinho, doing the same thing. On his left, yet another ...

In truth, they were all just people wearing Ronaldinho masks, one of the big hits of this year's festivities. But the real thing has been just as omnipresent, making up in 2011 for all those carnivals he missed while he was freezing on the other side of the Atlantic. Ronaldinho has been seen at carnival balls and taken part in the giant samba parade and in street processions. Rio de Janeiro has quickly taken him to its heart -- or certainly the fans of Flamengo have.

England: Wednesday's Premier League Report

1 - 1
Birmingham City


UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Reports & Analyses

0 - 0
AC Milan
(agg. 1 - 0)

Kevin Palmer at White Hart Lane

Kevin McCarra at White Hart Lane

Phil McNulty at White Hart Lane

Richard Williams at White Hart Lane

Duncan White: End of the road for Milan vets

Italian Press Reaction

Schalke 04 3 - 1 Valencia (agg. 4 - 2)

Report I
Report II

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

U.S. to play Canada, Panama, Guadeloupe at Gold Cup

The Americans open Group C play against Canada on June 7 at Detroit, play Panama four days later at Tampa, Fla., and close the first round against Guadeloupe on June 14 at Kansas City, Kan.

Ernst Bouwes in Holland

For a modern day saviour the Superman cape has become a bit of a cliché, although football fans in Rotterdam would be forgiven for dressing up a Japanese high school kid in one, should they get the chance.

Referees whistle up a storm

They are only making a rod for their own backs according to Martin Samuel...
Stop the violence or kiss football goodbye
The head of the referees' union says officials could quit if the level of criticism directed at them continues
Refs' union warns officials could quit
Man Utd's David Gill says the FA should not handle discipline
Gill blasts the FA

Giggs and Tendulkar age well

Sportsmen are not supposed to get better at the end of their careers, but nobody told Man Utd star Ryan Giggs and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Tim de Lisle pinpoints their virtues ...

What Giggs and Tendulkar have in common.

Tonight's Champions League games

Not only did Spurs and Schalke enjoy successful first legs, both are banking on attacking football being their best route into the quarter finals. Schalke will be hoping Raul can score again against his compatriots, while Tottenham will be welcoming back Flamini to London with open arms.

Tottenham Hotspur v AC Milan: match preview
Back in the rhythm: Robinho wakes up from City nightmare
Raul hopes European love affair continues

Shaktar destroy Roma

Shakhtar Donetsk see off 10-man Roma to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time.
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 AS Roma 0

Barcelona too hot for Arsenal

It'd be ludicrous to claim Barca didn't deserve to progress to the CL quarter finals. Even after the first leg there was a sense of history being written by the victors, as the Catalans could have been three up by half time in London. That said, those claiming van Persie's dismissal last night made little difference aren't really talking much sense. Had Arsenal received a red card after an hour in the first leg Barca would probably have gone on to win easily, and commentators would have been saying the same. But Arsenal didn't, and managed to turn the game round. Would they have done so again with 11 players on the field yesterday? Probably not. But the chance towards the end of the game showed that at 3-1 Barca were still at risk. And even Bentner's own mother would admit the odds of taking such a chance would have been much higher had van Persie been on the pitch rather than her son.

The game highlighted not only that the belief Arsenal and Barca play the same style of play has been exaggerated, but also the change in Arsenal's style over the past few years. Barca pin opponents in their own half, denying time and space by hunting in packs. This enables them to dominate play, but can leave them open to a quick counter attack, as Arshavin's goal in the first leg showed. The Arsenal of Pires, Henry and Vieira, with their quick transfer from defence to attack through one-twos, might have opened Barca up. But the Arsenal players of today like Rosicky, Diaby and Nasri love having the ball at the feet. This form of possession football brings its own advantages, but ultimately played right into the hands of Messi and co.

Gunners cling to excuse after new humbling by Barcelona
Cesc Fabregas inhibited as his return to the Nou Camp ends in disappointment
Key Clashes
How the players rated

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Previews

(agg. 1 - 2)

Preview I
Preview II

van Persie decision to come prior to kick-off

Team News

Alan Smith's Three Key Clashes

Phil Thompson's Preview

Paul Hayward: Arsenal's Ultimate Test
Martin Samuel: Jack Can Make Pep Pay

Nasri Primed For Ultimate Test
Key Battles

Camp Nou: The Vatican of Football
Four Managers: How Arsenal Can Win

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma (agg. 3 - 2)
Team News

Americans In The UK: Stuart Holden And Clint Dempsey Ignite Spark

The U.S. has cranked out its fair share of panic-attack-quelling goalkeepers, but this season has really showcased the creativity that American soccer players possess. On Saturday it was Fulham's Clint Dempsey and Bolton's Stuart Holden once again providing the spark in the attack, helping their squads nab big wins in the Premier League.

The Rest

Americans On The Continent: Winner Winner, Turkey Dinner

Freddy Adu played 90 minutes for Rizespor over the weekend, scoring a cracker of a goal to propel his side to victory and second place in the league.

In the 32nd minute, Adu received a pass from a teammate at the right edge of the opposition area, turning with one touch to escape his defender and fizzing a curled shot just inside the far post past the outstretched goalkeeper.

Adu and his teammates celebrated the victory, which took them just one point off the leaders in the Turkish Bank Asya 1. League.

The Rest

Paolo Bandini in Italy

Ten months after guiding Sampdoria to a top-four finish the future looks grim for both Gigi Del Neri and his old club.

Gigi Del Neri on brink at Juventus as 'broken' Sampdoria tumble again.

Raphael Honigstein in Germany

Struggling Bundesliga champions appear to be stuck with an arrogant and stubborn manager no one wants.

Bayern Munich 'keep calm and carry on' with lame duck Louis van Gaal.

Ashley Vickers of Dorchester Town sent off for tackling 'Borat'

The Dorchester Town player-manager, Ashley Vickers, was sent off in a Blue Square Bet South match against Havant & Waterlooville. Vickers intervened after a second-half pitch invasion by a man who was wearing only a bright green "mankini" and white socks.

Is the price right? Aston Villa quoted £4.8m price-tag for USA international Micheal Bradley

Borussia Monchengladbach have quoted Aston Villa £4.8million for their midfielder Michael Bradley. The USA international is on loan at Villa Park but has played just twice for Gerard Houllier's men.

Georgina Turner on the EPL

Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:

Tim Vickery in South America

Is David Luiz destined to be a pillar of the defence and a leader of men for club and country? With their latest Brazilian acquisition, have Chelsea signed the new Lucio?

There are clear similarities, not all of them complementary.

Luiz, already in Portugal with Benfica, first appeared on the radar screen of the average Brazilian fan during a disastrous World Youth Cup campaign in Canada in 2007, mixing up some slipshod defending with disciplinary problems. It was all slightly reminiscent of Lucio's introduction to the great Brazilian public at the 2000 Olympics.

Henry Winter: Mark Clattenburg takes a month off as furious referees submit five-point plan to save game

One of the country’s leading officials, Mark Clattenburg, a man trusted by Uefa to oversee their games, is taking a month off from Premier League duties to escape the relentless opprobrium. Clattenburg’s elite colleagues are furious such a respected official has been pushed to the brink.

Some of the criticism levelled at referees is legitimate but most is excessive in a sport that has become so high speed and so high profile in a country so quick to apportion blame. Managers, players and pundits make far more mistakes than referees yet are rarely subjected to the same brutal, forensic scrutiny.

Nani Fallout

Angry Nani out for up to a month.

Nani let down by Manchester United's silence over Jamie Carragher.

BBC to talk to Premier League over Sir Alex Ferguson's vow of silence.

England: Monday's Premier League Reports + Table

Blackpool 1 - 3 Chelsea

Richard Jolly at Bloomfield Road
Paul Wilson at Bloomfield Road

Man Utd2917933360
Man City2915862053
Aston Villa298912-1333
West Brom298813-1532
West Ham2971012-1331

Phil Ball in Spain

It's been a tireless week of football, with a full midweek programme having been played, and two of the three Spanish sides (Valencia and Barcelona) playing for their lives in the Champions League this coming week. The sofa is likely to stay warm. Besides, there has been incident a-plenty occurring off-stage too, which I'll try to shed some light on during proceedings.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Good Day!

It was a quite a match at Anfield yesterday. The Carragher/Nani incident was great theater. Do you think if Nani had just stayed down and showed his sliced shin to Phil Dowd instead of getting up, running around and then falling down again, Carragher would have seen red? I think so. But since the Liverpool defender only got a yellow, Rafael was allowed to stay on the pitch as well following his Barton-esque two-footed challenge later. Regardless, the better team on the day won and Liverpool fans have to be optimistic about things going forward. Suarez was excellent and with Andy Carroll making an appearance the future looked a hell of a lot brighter than it did a couple of months ago. As for United, the return of Vidic will certainly help but if Nani is set for a prolonged absence things could get interesting.

Of course, Arsenal have their own injury issues and looked uninspired and limp without Cesc and Van Persie in their nil-nil draw with Sunderland. Over in West London Petr Cech reckons Chelsea can still win the league. They'll begin that journey tonight at Blackpool. I won't count anyone out at this point -- it's been such an odd season. Usually at this point one or more clubs will get in gear and make a march for the title. Not this year. It's more like a stumble to the finish line. The rigors of World Cup 2010 are certainly an influence.

The other big news of the weekend came from the brilliant minds at FIFA. No more snoods. I can just imagine all those clowns in a room debating the merits and dangers of a neck-warmer. Some things are simply too important not to address, I suppose. Unlike the white elephants left to South Africa and FIFA's $631 million profit over the last four years. FIFA are like SPECTRE. Where is James Bond when you need him?

Elsewhere today we've got a nice tribute to fat strikers (Neil Shipperley, anyone?), Martin Samuel on Kolo Toure and a look at the designs for Siena's new stadium. Mrs. SSN and I had the privilege of enjoying a raucous Siena/Roma match a few years back, and although the present ground is a fantastic little stadium right in town, the idea for the new place looks pretty cool. And that's pretty cool.


Monday Night Football

Blackpool vs. Chelsea


Bloomfield Road, Blackpool

3pm EST

U.S. TV:


Massive Attack: A Loving Tribute To Fat Strikers

In this era of sport science and controlled diets you might think that, without some washboard abs, you'd never make it as a footballer. So here's a (snugly) fitting tribute to some of the burlier, bulkier blokes who still terrorise defences.

That's how you score, lads! Arsenal's Wilshere, Nasri, Clichy and Fabregas watch New Jersey edge out Toronto at O2 Arena

Chelsea's Peter Cech also took in the spectacle in London with his side not due to play until Monday when they visit Blackpool.

Martin Samuel: Kolo Toure gave a slim excuse which carries little weight in the sporting world

In sport, every failed drugs test has its official apologist, whether it is the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Zapatero, for the cyclist Alberto Contador, or the equally august Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, jumping to the defence of his former player Kolo Toure.

Wenger explained Toure's A sample by claiming the defender had merely taken slimming pills belonging to his wife, while Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini went so far as to dedicate Saturday's win over Wigan Athletic to the former club captain, describing him as a fantastic man and a serious professional.
He may be both. Equally, he may be a rotten drug cheat.

Siena's new stadium will be below ground level

As Siena sit in position for promotion back up to Serie A, preparations are being made to ensure they play future matches below ground level. The unusual design for the club's new stadium kind of looks like an in-ground swimming pool and is the winner of the prestigious 2011 Architectural Review Future Projects award.

Italy: Serie A Weekend Review

Inter Milan demolished Genoa with a stunning second-half display to keep chase of AC Milan at the top of Serie A with a 5-2 victory. Inter also pulled clear of third-placed Napoli, who were held to a 0-0 draw by relegation-threatened Brescia as goalkeeper Michele Arcari had an inspired afternoon. Lazio are fourth after beating Palermo and their new coach Serse Cosmi 2-0. Fiorentina moved within two points of Cagliari as they beat Catania 3-0. Adrian Mutu scored twice in the first half before Alberto Gilardino made it 3-0 after the hour mark.


Spain: La Liga Weekend Review

Barcelona maintain their seven-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid following the weekend's round of matches.


England: Premier League Weekend Review, Reports & Analyses

Liverpool produced a fine display to dispatch rivals Manchester United 3-1 - Dirk Kuyt scoring a hat-trick in a fiery encounter which resulted in a media blackout from the Red Devils. There was another thriller as Wolves and Tottenham played out a 3-3 draw in a fitting tribute to former defender Dean Richards, while Bolton stole the points following a ding-dong encounter with Villa. West Brom, West Ham, Fulham, Everton and Manchester City all won, although Arsenal were held by Sunderland.


Another masterpiece from Jamie Carragher...

Liverpool 3 - 1 Manchester United
Richard Jolly at Anfield
Kevin McCarra at Anfield
Henry Winter at Anfield
Richard Williams at Anfield
Phil McNulty at Anfield
Five Things We Learned
Player Ratings

Arsenal 0 - 0 Sunderland
Dominic Fifield at the Emirates Stadium

Fulham 3 - 2 Blackburn
James Callow at Craven Cottage

Wolverhampton 3 - 3 Tottenham
Stuart James at Molineux

Five Things We Learned

FIFA bans players from wearing "dangerous" snoods

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Saturday that snoods are "dangerous - it can be like to hang somebody.''

The Fifth Official

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.