Anti Joga Bonito (Love All Football)

Celebrating club football and shining the light on incompetent and biased journos indulging in stereotyping and negativity.

Category Archives: Calcio Serie A

Random Thoughts 1 (on a rainy football-less Saturday)

It’s very quiet today in terms of football watching opportunities… there is the German cup final tonight… maybe I’ll watch to see if Kloppo can take one further title away from the loud Bavarians. It would be good if they end up complete losers across all competitions, in the same style as Bayer Leverkusen in 2002. But they are still favorites for next Saturday, no diggedy.

In the meantime, management of second tier EPL clubs is invited to take notice of the old guard sale at Milan AC. The departures of Gattuso, Nesta, Van Bummel (that’s purposeful – lame & cheap – but purposeful) and Inzaghi (the only man that José ever said he is afraid of) have been confirmed, and Seedorf as well as Zambrotta are also expected to move on. Good buying opportunities (in terms of increasing media profile and WAG coefficient) for QPR (if they stay up), and perhaps especially Reading, whose new boss’s wife has set the bogey.

But there is fortunately some major action taking place tomorrow. The EPL final round has turned out to be more of a hyping up opportunity than the media could have ever dreamed of, and Fergie has not disappointed by upping the stakes with a fine volley of his expertly crafted mind games. Mark Hughes must be wetting himself at the opportunity to ingratiate himself in the eyes of his former mentor, and who knows, maybe also the Glazers. Will certainly take a special place in the red’s hearts if he manages to frustrate Mancini’s boys.

Kanouté is celebrated by his teammates.

In Spain, it will be fascinating to see if Real Madrid can reach the 100 point mark by winning their last game at home against Mallorca, and perhaps even reach the +90 mark on goal difference – which makes for a nearly +3 average per game. Not bad for a defensively minded team masterminded by the enemy of football. Sevilla will be happy to turn the page on this season, but sad to lose one of its final greats from the phenomal epoch of the UEFA Cup double, Frédéric Kanouté, whose contribution and partnership with Luis Fabiano, Dani Alves, Jésus Navas and the others was a key factor in the success of the club. A great but yet very underrated player (check out his wiki if you don’t know his career, a couple of interesting points about his personal life and engagement on political issues), Kanouté also confirms in this little clip how much humility, integrity and sense of loyalty he has – estarás en nuestros corazones para siempre, Freddy!

Super capitano Javier Zanetti

Regarding Italy, it’s a big day tomorrow for the four clubs competing for the final C1-qualifying 3rd spot, namely (in current pecking order) Udinese, Lazio, Napoli & Inter, as well as Lecce & Genoa who will battle for survival in Serie A. Big thanks to my man Nick for passing on this superb post in honour of super capitano Javier Zanetti – like Clark Kent (copyright: Prince O), he never ages (and yet never has to resort to any kryptonite).

Finally, a mention of this documentary sent to me by my good friend P, otherwise known as Blu (of Downtown Boogie fame). Interesting but somewhat annoying documentary on corruption – while starting out promisingly on a cross-sports theme, it quickly becomes boring as it transpires that – despite it’s title (Sport, mafia & corruption) – it is going to all about vilifying football and presenting financial crime operating through online betting sites as an inevitable corollary of the former. Against a doomsday keyboard background that would have been great for a follow-up to the tedious Angels & Demons, and accompanied by a narrator whose voice sounds as if he is recounting the story of a genocide, the documentary descends into “modern football” bashing and low common denominator / soft leftie consensus on the general (and highly original) theme that “money is bad/corrupts”. They roll out a few statistics on the amounts involved – all of which pale in comparison to the sum of monthly irregularities in the financial industry. I am not saying there is no problem, but the general doom-mongering tone, as well as the gimmicky typewriter sound accompanied filming location sites legends, are supremely unhelpful. Still, I suppose it should be highly recommended viewing for all Juve fans – it seems this kind of stuff is still news to them.

  • Highlights: reminder of the dodgy Milan win against Napoli for the 1987-1988 title (see 5mins 30secs, or this YouTube video, around 6mins).
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Posticipo Brillante

The front pages of the Italian press will tonight be all black and white, but for the nerazzurri, it is like a re-birth. One almost wishes that the season was already over, as one could hardly pen a more fitting & emotionally uplifting scenario to wrap an otherwise difficult season that has tested the frontiers of complexity. This evening’s Milan derby has done a lot to restore pride and happiness, as well as remind the nerazzurri of the kind of passion that has been missing for most of the season. Even the ridiculously incompetent (or purposefully malignant?) refereeing trio could not dent the force of the hosts tonight, despite denying them a goal and then gifting a non-existent penalty to the visiting Milan AC.

Il Principe started things off brilliantly with a true poacher’s goal, but the fans then had to endure the now predictable officials’ “helping hand”. Unsurprisingly, the squad suffered after the gifted penalty was converted, and was further tested after the second goal by Ibrahimovic. But the ageing “senators”, led by the tireless and as usual exemplary captain Zanetti, have again confounded the critics by digging deep for that agonistic spirit that has characterised the side that won the historic triple in 2010. Let them now come forward and argue that the squad is old and depleted – they would be hard pressed to find evidence of fatigue and resignation in tonight’s performance. This was partly helped by the compact 4-5-1 formation (with Wesley occasionally venturing forward in support of the otherwise lonely Milito), but fundamentally this game was all about heart, guts and motivation in standing up for self and fighting injustice. Because it would clearly have been a case of daylight robbery had the visitors managed to get away with 3 points.

Instead of suffering what most observers mights have already banked on, the blue & black soldiers rose to the occasion, similarly in many ways to the return leg in 2010 in its dramatic intensity and sense of overwhelming favoritism for the opponent. And with what aplomb! Douglas Sisenado gifted us one of those goals that had forever endeared him to the nerazzurri fans in the past and notably in 2010, reminding all of his attacking flair and capacity to take responsibility.

The joy of this victory is doubly delicious as it presented the final blow to the cousins’ aspirations, condemning them to a title-less season and putting Allegri’s last season’s success into a more humble context.

It was certainly a most appropriate way to pay homage to one of the longer serving faithful, for whom it was the last game at home, Iván Ramiro Córdoba Sepúlveda.

The dream continues!

Back like Arnold Schwarzenegger…

Nice Jugs Arnie

Yes, bitches, the venom is back.

It is true, it’s been a while though… arguably he should have stopped at Terminator 2, and left it there at undisputed classic status.

But back to serious matters, it has indeed been a lame and unproductive football season… I’m talking about this blog of course. About as consistent as Wigan (but… capable of some heroics – at least I hope). The reason? It is difficult to separate the heart from the mind – that’s why I don’t believe in football journalism.

It’s not yet officially an “annus horribilis”, and with the prospect of José clinching the title from the so called “best football club in the universe”, and Inter again being able to entertain ambitions of Champions League football, things are looking up a bit. If City can manage to squeeze out Man U and Chelsea edges out the reds in the Cup final, I may even pop a bottle of the ole’ bubbly (even if I can’t stand the stuff, in my view it is one of those bourgeois “tick the box” exercises that you have to partake in, like having expensive V-necks and pretending to be interested in poncy expensive watches). The Champions League final is a major conundrum – the Mou KGB is still locked in debate over the party line to be adopted.

So why the slightly down feeling? Well, it has been a heck of an emotional roller coaster, and importantly, it’s not over yet! Everything could still go completely wrong, and a lot certainly has. All my preferred clubs have suffered this year:

1. Inter

Where do I begin? Apart from beating the cousins in January and appearing to be threatening for the title, it has been a miserable 9 months. Nearly every game (there are some exceptions, like the 5-0 thrashing of Parma, also back in January) has been an interminable sufferance, with near ridiculous defensive howlers and last minute disappointments, the worst of them being perhaps the double affront against Marseille, who has arguably exceeded itself in its inconsistency – but at least they have a Cup to their name this season. I’m not even going to talk about the embarrassing home defeats versus newly promoted

Young Strammacioni shows the old lady (i.e. Ranieri) what it means to have grinta

clubs that in past times would normally have been overcome with at least clean sheets. Hopefully the next few weeks, with the all-important return derby, will provide some cause for joy. The horrible twist is that if we beat them, those even more horrible black & whites will surely clinch it then – but sometimes one has to be egotist and accept imperfection as happiness. Clinching a Champions League spot would certainly be an achievement after so much instability (two coach changes, significant player departures, injuries, disappointing recruitment), though again, I fear the other side of the coin that may be the President’s penchant for going for another recency effect propelled “big name boss” (e.g. Bielsa). The young Strammacioni in the meantime is showing signs of promise – who needs a wooden villa? Not us. Perhaps the Prez should really stick to his financial fair play related low profile, bottom-up approach, get Coutinho back from Espanyol (where he has been making a name for himself), release a few senators, and give a new generation a proper shot at building confidence through experience and a real sense of responsibility and accountability to the fans.

2. Sevilla

The slide from consistent top half table performances that already started last year, foreboded by the departures of key players like Luis Fabiano, Adriano and Renato, and previously numerous other – now illustrious – former colleagues such as Dani Alves and Seydou Keita – has shown now signs of decelaration. Sevilla could still possibly clinch a Europa League spot, but I wonder if it will do them any good – it could actually make matters worse. The recruitment this year has not been too bad, and at least there are signs that the defense has stabilised – it is worth noting that at this point (after 34 games), Sevilla has the 3rd best defence in la Liga (not far behind Madrid), thanks to the additions of Emir Spahic from Montpellier, and a greater role for the chillean pit-bull and midfield marshal Medel, who has been consistently clawing at other team’s suave dribblers’ ankles. But though Trochowsky has shown skills and adapted well, he – as many others, notably the underwhelming Rakitic – are no replacement for the caliber of the aforementioned former luminaries. But again one has to look at the bright spots, and one of those (that I should truly have posted about) was the 0-0 against the “best team in the universe” at the latter’s home ground, with my hero Freddy K. standing up for himself and all of those other teams who are constantly and systematically at the receiving end of the favors that the Spanish football establishment continues to bestow on the darlings of football. Perhaps the President is happy with this state of affairs (two-three coach changes per season) but from observing how others fare with such practices, the fans’ worry is that Sevilla could soon find itself involved in relegation battles. Has Monchi lost his flair for new talent? I trust not, but the signs are not reassuring. Let’s hope at least that we hold on to Negredo and Jesus this year, but there will be big shoes to fill (literally) with the now likely departure (possibly retirement) of Kanouté.

3. Servette

It has been a rotten time for Swiss football, and particularly the Swiss-Romand sides. While the immediate future seems to have been secured to a degree (I’m not even fully up to speed – please comment if you are), the newly promoted Geneva club has enjoyed its share of despotic folly of a megalomaniac president who, though not as bad as his counterpart at Neuchâtel Xamax, has undermined all the enthusiasm and ambition acquired following last year’s promotion.

4. Chelsea (and it is purposefully in this positioning of emotional relevance)

André Villas-Boas

Needless to say that it has bit of a confusing season again, due mainly to the inconsistency of results, but the Terry-mania has not helped either. Predictably, the “team one” underperformed (in José we trust…) and subsequently got done by the team, though what the whole episode really helped to highlight is once again the short-sightedness and lack of sophistication of the owner and his current posse of henchmen, notwithstanding that there may have been serious issues in the Portuguese’s leadership. The Blues are still battling on 2 important fronts and, and should they clinch the ever elusive Champions League title, could suddenly find themselves the darlings of England (which will undoubtedly result in renewed self-delusion about England’s chances, though I am not sure about Terry’s inclusion in the squad). However at this point it feels to me like they’re more likely to repeat the loser feat of Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 (i.e. lose both Cups) than to surprise in Europe – and the 4th spot at this point appears like a bit of a challenge – key game next week against an ambitious and budding Newcastle side). Bright spot of the season? The steady and impressive growth of Ramires and his two beautiful chips against Spurs and Barça in the two cup semi-finals.

So, hopefully now you can at least sympathise (though I expect no mercy and no pardon) with the difficulties this emotional roller coaster has been providing yours truly in his self-appointed (and self-righteous) role of pseudo anti-football establishment bard. Despite some promising potential upsets (including the mancunian derby), I plan to keep my emotions in check over the next few weeks and invest sparsely. But hopefully the inspiration for writing will be all the better.

P.S. Hope Lille finishes 3rd (but would be nice if Inter could swoop for Hazard), and even more that plucky Montpellier pips PSG for the title.

P.P.S. note to self – consider choice of preferred Bundesliga club for next season – especially helpful for increasing hate focus against the noisy bavarians. And bravo Lulu (Favre).

May 21-22 Weekend Wrap-up

So it’s now definitely over in the U.K., Italy and Spain and although there is still one more day left in France, Lille have definitely clinched the title (and thereby a double) with the key point squeezed from a tightly contested 2-2 against PSG. Excellent goals all around, see highlights here. I, like many, do feel that this was well and truly properly deserved, Lille showing both flair and consistency through out the season – as demonstrated by Eden Hazard’s graduation from “best hope” to “best player” at the French player awards show (UNFP). Marseille will finish second no matter what now, while Lyon and PSG will battle it out on the last day for the all important Champions League play-off spot. 7 sides are still hanging on to avoid the last remaining place for the drop: AJ Auxerre , Stade Brest, OGC Nice, Valenciennes FC, SM Caen, AS Nancy, AS Monaco will be wanting to get a win from that last game next Sunday to make sure they stay up. If I have to choose one, I’d put my money on Monaco as they are the worst off of all the above, and I trust Aulas will do everything possible to ensure that Lyon does not miss out on the CL spot.

Soon in black and blue?

In Italy, Inter finished off with a fairly convincing win at home against Catania, with 2 goals from Pazzini (a magnificent volley for the 1st) and a 3rd from Nakamoto – watch here. The nerazzurris thus comforted their position in 2nd spot with 6 points behind Milan AC but also 6 points in front of Naples, who drew with Juve in Turin. On the number of games in charge, Leonardo thus concludes his half-term with Inter as the best coach in Italy but more on that later. Udinese drew with Milan in the evening and thus secured the right for the Champions League play-off spot: let’s hope they do better than Sampdoria last year – the blucerchiati have been going downhill ever since that terrible night on August 24 last year when they went down in the return fixture against Bremen after they initially looked good to have qualified, and things really got tough after both Pazzini and Cassano departed. The two wolverine brothers Lazio and Roma will compete to regain some prestige in the Europa League next season, with the bianconerris looking enviously on with a lot of bitterness – “una stagione disgraziata, la peggiore degli ultimi 20 anni”. Even those words, albeit from La Gazzetta, are quite revealing of Juve’s profound malaise because what could be worse than the calciopoli and relegation? These words are also symptomatic of the lack of understanding of the causes of the stagnation of the club, which is primarily the responsibility of the club’s management that has been unable to create a sound basis for stability and the building of squad cohesion. Things are not likely to improve next season as the club looks on for another providential but probably inexperienced saviour from the past.

Alvaro pullng (or is it pushing?) his weight

In Spain, Sevilla have incredibly managed to hold on to 5th spot despite achieving the same number of points as the two Atleticos, thanks to arelatively good recent run of results and last night’s victory against Espanyol, and in particular two magnificent goals from Alvaro Negredo – watch here. For a fairly chaotic season including a messy change of manager and the departure of one of the two main goalscorers (Luis Fabiano), that’s quite an achievement. Real Madrid finished 4 points behind Barça, evil José’s defensive outfit managing to put a paltry 8 goals past bottom placed Almeria. Cristiano Ronaldo thus finishes as top goalscorer. Valencia and Villareal confirmed their spots as 3rd and 4th, respectively, which they have been holding on to for some time, so it was only logical. On a sad note, Deportivo la Coruna drop down to Liga B: incredible to think that not so long ago they were challenging Milan, Manchester United and other European greats for European trophies.

RM flying high on positivity

In England also, the season came to a climactic finish with a mega relegation scrap between Wolves, Birmingham, Blackpool, Blackburn and Wigan. After a pretty thrilling 90 minutes of switcheroo for the drop spots, destiny settled on Blackpool and Birmingham. There will be general sadness for Blackpool who put in a very entertaining though defensively naive campaign, conceding far too many goals including on this final very important day, but not as much for general meanies Birmingham, and especially none from the Emirates. Smiles all round here though for Wigan and their coach Roberto Martinez, who would have to be top candidate to win the prize for the most positive coach in football today, maintaining a serene and positive outlook on his team’s potential through the most difficult of times. And I’d like to believe that it had a part in them finishing well – remember: not many people win away at Britannia. Elsewhere, Mancini’s Mancity (or the other way around) finished off in convincing style by seeing off Bolton 2-0. Arsenal settle for fourth place and will have to go through the Champions League’s play-off round to see some European football next season – I’d love it to be against Villareal. Well done to West Brom’s own Big Chief Tchoyi for grabbing a treble to save the blushes from his coleagues’ atrocious defending. I certainly wish I’d seen these ones coming for my Fantasy Football team selection but like Blak Twang, I ain’t done too bad. Following the day’s games, Chelsea have finally put an end to the least thrilling gossip trail of the second half of the season by confirming the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti. All bets are now on as to who will be Roman’s next big money move – it would be nice to see Pep Guardiola trying out his skills in a different environment so the world can assess his skills outside the warm nest of Daddy Cruyff.

P.S. Speaking of Everton, thought Id mention that – thanks to a perceptive WSC reader’s letter a few years ago – upon watching MOTD tonight I was delighted to anticipate Everton defender’s Seamus Coleman’s second yellow and thus red card and thus confirm that the BBC’s golden rule “if they show you a player getting a yellow card, that means he’s getting the second later on” is truly and well still operational.

European Weekend Review May 11, 2011

Javier Pastore (not to be confused for a big pussy i.e. the Sopranos-famous Vincent Pastore)

It’s all over in Italy as Milan have sealed their title win thanks to yet another clean sheet in Rome. Despite a rather insipid 0-0, the additional point was sufficient for Silvio’s crew to finally reconnect with some domestic success after many years of frustration. Congratulations might have been on the cards but after hearing about Gattuso’s rather lowly comments towards Leonardo the mood here just isn’t very sporty. Inter on the other hand dispatched relatively easily with Fiorentina despite breaking some cold sweat in the second half after Fiorentina pulled one back but youngster Coutinho’s first goal in nerazzurro (a fine curling yet sharp free kick à la Wesley) restored the 2 goal lead that Inter had confidently acquired in the 1st half. Lucio thought he would add spice and freak the fans out with a careless ball loss that brought the best out of Julio Cesar towards the end but the game (view highlights) finished on 3-1, thereby helping to reduce Milan’s lead to 6 points. The win and the renewed confidence (so good to see El Muro back on the bench), combined with that declaration, now means that we will be sharpening the knives in the hope to meet the red & black once again in the Cup final for a revenge opportunity, but in the meantime tomorrow’s official colour is pink: forza Palermo, we’re counting on you Pastore.

Napoli in the meantime lost away to resilient Lecce (see great 2nd collective goal punctuated by a superb strike by ex-Sevillano Chevanton here) and thus their gap with Inter has now widened to 4 points. On paper this would probably mean that the fight in San Paolo next Saturday against Inter would be quite bitter, but as things seem to be souring by the minute between the coach Mazzarri and his president Dino de Laurentis, perhaps the motivation won’t be as strong since in addition the azzurris are fairly strongly positioned in 3rd place and will furthermore missing their talismanic goalscorer Cavani, red-carded during this game. A fierce battle for fourth place is now on between Lazio, Udinese and Juventus (who again managed to draw tonight at home to Chievo).

In England in the meantime, Man U’s 2-1 win against Chelsea (view highlights) has given Fergie’s team the decisive 6-point lead that pretty much seals the title race. Mathematically the Red Devils can still drop the ball if they lose both of their last 2 games and Chelsea somehow cruise through both of theirs and end up with a better goal average (they would have to achieve a 3 goal improvement on Man U in these 2 games), thereby stealing the title on the basis of the latter. However the probability of that happening is fairly low at this point considering as well the two games that the teams have to play and the moral advantage that Man U have through this win over the current champions, as evidenced by the celebrations at the end. Arsenal in the meantime have failed to capitalise on the Blues’ defeat in losing 3-1 to Stoke City at the Britannia, as the “rugby team” (as they were affectionately dubbed by the Gunners’ faithful) coached by Tony Pulis put themselves in an excellent mindset for next Saturday’s FA Cup final against fourth placed Manchester City. The light blues lost away to Everton despite starting strongly as late goals from Distin and Osman keep them pegged in fourth position with an apparently very strong resurgent Liverpool challenging for theirs and Spurs’ European passes. The relegation battle also promises to go down to the wire as things remain very tight at the bottom.

Elsewhere, anti-José fans should note yet another defensive outing by the blancos as they humiliated Sevilla by a mere 6-2 away at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. That’s only 12 goals in the last3 games but it’s probably still too defensive for most. Barça in the meantime drubbed local rivals Espanyol with a defensively reckless 0-2 win.

In France, Lille’s bid for the title regained credibility through a tough but determined win away at Nancy on Saturday, and was further reinforced by Lyon’s emphatic win at the Gerland against 2nd placed Marseille (see video highlights here). Good to see Cris being decisive again and regaining some authority in the club. PSG will be delighted of course, although the Lyon win puts them back in fourth place as they only managed a point against a Monaco side that has finally begun to find some form. Rennes, who were previously competing for 1st place, have fallen off the rails and will be fortunate to finish 5th considering the strong performances from France’s most attractive side (by joga bonito standards, but actually they very creative) Sochaux, who again confirmed their potential with powerful win against Bordeaux (see highlights here) that has finished off Tigana’s mandate.

In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund missed the chance to seal the title through defeat at Werder Breme but it’s now probably just a matter of 1 or 2 games. In the meantime, Bayern comforted themselves (for their miserable season, by the club’s lofty standards) with a 8-1 win over relegation bound St. Pauli.

P.S. thanks to Prince O for highlighting both Chevanton’s goal and Gattuso’s outburst.

Good Easter Weekend

Convincing results for a number of favorite teams, and notably:

  1. Vincente al Olimpico

    Calcio: Inter win at home (watch video highlights here) – following a convincing display on Tuesday at the Olimpico against Roma (0-1 victory for the black & blue in the 1st leg of the cup semi-final), it was always going to be tough to follow-up with another strong performance. And indeed it was not easy nor particularly graceful, but the result is there again: thanks to its character and resourcefulness, and aided a bit by the terrible state of the pitch (for once, though it has potentially cost us many points and also again Dejan Stankovic for another injury), Inter took all three points from a decisive confrontation with direct rivals Lazio. Down 1 goal and reduced to 10 men after yet another one of Morganti’s special favours that he mainly reserves for Inter – namely the red card for Julio César resulting in a penalty converted by Zarate – Inter seemed in a bad shape. But thanks to Wesley Sneijder’s free kick before half time and despite being one man down, the nerazzuri sourced serenity and skill from their deep stock of character and took the lead again through some cool finishing by Samuel Eto’o. Thought there were some close shaves in the 2nd half (Zarate going wide and/or hitting the crossbar on a couple of occasions), Leonardo’s squad were finally able to claim another important victory that sees them go second following Napoli’s second defeat in a row at resurgent Palermo (watch video highlights). Milan, meanwhile, maintained a clean sheet and grabbed a goal for another 3 points from Brescia.

  2. Negredo arms his lob against Diego Lopez

    La Liga: Sevilla win at home against fourth placed Villareal – initially knocked out by two quick punches in the 1st half (Rakitic free kick and another sumptuous goal by Negredo – see approx. on 13 seconds on this video highlight), the yellow sub marines (cheap pun intended) looked the more dangerous of the two outfits in the 2nd half. Subs Rossi and Cani both added potentcy in construction and Villareal came close on several occasions as Sevilla’s defense looked increasingly like its usual shabby self as the game went on. However, one important mistake allowed Sevilla to stretch their lead to 3-1 (Romaric) and despite Villareal pulling one back through Marchena, they ultimately held on to that one goal lead to claim 3 important points for a possible European place. It was not a pretty sight by any stretch, and by comparison the Barça-Real game on Tuesday way poetry compared to what went on (notably the new “ball-throwers” scandal which will undoubtedly go on for a few days despite condemnations by the president Del Nido and the coach Manzano). As noted earlier, Real Madrid won at Mestalla 6-3 against Valencia while Barcelona also got their 3 points away against Osasuna, winning 2-0. Atletico Bilbao is also doing quite well in 5th place thanks to claiming victory against local rivals Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Notable results / news from other championships:

  1. EPL: it’s always a delight to see Arsenal lose, and while Liverpool returned to winning ways with an emphatic win over Birmingham City, Man U squeezed out another minimalist but actually deserved win (given the number of opportunities created) at the expense of Everton. Chelsea meanwhile (as reported in a previous article) managed 3 against West Ham (goals and points). As Wigan and Wolves also lost, the relegation battle is looking as bitter and tight as ever, and it seems that it will go down to the last game.
  2. Ligue 1: Lille dropped two more points away at Lorient. Nobody has benefited yet as PSG also dropped 2 and Rennes stumbled on a surprisingly resilient Monaco who are now out of relegation zone. Marseille can go top of the table if they win the southern derby at home against Nice, while Lyon will also be looking upwards with more hope as they receive a disappointed Montpellier looking for a rebound after defeat in the Ligue Cup final on Saturday (against Marseille). Props to Didier Deschamps for confirming with another title.

Like KC & The Sunshine Band, that's how I like it

The Spirit of August 29

To paraphrase that much revered sage that was Bill Shankly, why is football so much more important than life and death? Because in a totally irresponsible and careless way we commit our emotions to something which is totally out of our control, that is 11 lads (or usually less if it’s Inter) running after a ball aiming to take it and keep it away from another 11, both groups of which ultimately want to put it in the back of the other ones’ net. Sometimes that will yield incredibly exhilarating outcomes, putting the kind of wind in our sails that defies earthly laws; at other times, it will sink us to the bottom of our self confidence and morale.

For Inter fans (of which I am one), but also all the Inter haters (of which there are many, in Italy and beyond, most of which don’t have the courage to declare themselves openly as such), this week has seemingly stretched the depths of the latter.  The double whammy of a scoreless defeat to Milan in the derby, followed by an even more humiliating drubbing by Champions League first timers Schalke 04, is threatening to put a serious stop to Inter’s confidence and ambitions.

But should we really doubt? Should this moment of doubt and contextual underperformance really rock the foundations of the renaissance of the dream that goes by the name of Leomuntada?

For sure, all is not well in the Inter camp: the last two games have highlighted again the importance of that key quality that the enemies of Inter often point to with feigned outrage as the “joga feio”: defensive robustness. The 7 goals leaked in the last 2 games have indeed exposed a recurring theme of this season, underscored by injuries, that of a certain (i.e. occasional) frailty in Inter’s defense. For these last two games, this should not really be so surprising to any informed observers of the game. Lucio, the current remaining (functioning) pillar of the nerazzurre defense from last season (the other one being Samuel), was absent from both games due to suspension, and a significant portion of the team was fatigued from its international duty commitments. Not as much could be said for either Milan’s or Schalke’s squads.

This is not to take any credit away from the performance of these opponents as indeed congratulations are in order, and especially for Schalke who exhibited the same kind of steel and composure at San Siro as Inter had done in the Allianz Arena two weeks before that. The aim is rather to highlight the specific current main challenging area for Leonardo’s team. The paradox illustrated by the two games that seems to escape most of the critics is that Inter – in terms of the features of its football system – has slipped not because of its supposed main and only quality (i.e. defensive and collective solidity) but rather due to its relative absence, at least in relation to its two winning opponents. If Milan is doing so well this season, it is not so much because of its attacking flair: true they have scored 54 goals so far, but both Inter and Udinese better that with 56 goals so far, and Napoli is not far off with 50.  What is distinguishing Milan this season is their defensive strength, as exemplified by the lowest total of goals conceded at 22, 7 less than the next best Lazio who currently has taken in 29. The point is equally demonstrable on the flip side of the coin, namely the attacking front, as Milan failed to score against Tottenham Spurs over 180 minutes and has therefore found itself out of Europe once again. Inter, on the other hand, scored two brilliant goals on Tuesday, one of which may end up as one of the most spectacular goals of the season (Barça’s second goal against Shakhtar Donetsk, by Daniel Alves, being quite impressive too, by its audacity and elegance of execution).

So this opera is far from over. What the champions must now do is regain their composure at the back and recreate the collective spirit of Nou Camp last April in tandem with the one that enabled them to put 4 past Milan on August 29, 2009. This challenge starts tomorrow against Chievo. For more inspiration, the nerazzurre (and their fans) can help themselves by watching recordings of that inspirational performance, or that of Deportivo la Coruna in April 2004 who scored as many against Milan in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final to see them out of the competition. After all, isn’t Schalke actually called Schalke 04? If that isn’t destiny calling, I don’t know what is.

Initially I was planning to wax lyrical about how Leonardo has been a major contributor and certainly a guiding inspiration for team’s rebound from the profound collective and personal malaise instilled by the faceless and profoundly antihuman régime of the goateed fatso from Anfield. On second thoughts (and I have had time to reflect since Tuesday), I do not feel the need to do that. Just as in January when they had to pick themselves up, these are the defining moments of champions DNA – finding the conviction and the resilience in the face of adversity. And we relish at that. Bring it on.

C’mon Brighi, gtfohwtbs!

How is it possible for the Italian football authorities to reduce Ibra’s initial 3 game suspension for the punch on Bari’s Rossi to only 2 games? 20/20 is a mutha, really. Apparently, he was trying to get the ball, according to reports. Yes, Fergie would probably agree, Rooney was trying to do the same the other day. Galliani and him should start a club. Unbelievable. Here’s how I feel about that.

Great Week (March 19-20 Weekend Overview)

It’s been a GREAT week in football – it is indeed very rare that things go so well in terms of combined successes of favorite teams:

  1. Inter beat a plucky and very well organized Lecce side who simply refused to go down until the very end and whose only mistake was to allow Pazzo Pazzini a little bit too much space to create the decider. As Leonardo pointed out in the interview after the game, it shows that there are no simple games in the calcio, and certainly none that you can count on winning with a cigarette in the mouth. Inter will regret the fact that Lucio received a yellow card that – added to his collection – will force him to miss the derby with Milan but on the other hand there is much to laud in Chivu’s performance in his original role as central defender. As Milan lost on Saturday away at Palermo, the gap between the two is now -2 points. However it’s getting ever tighter at the top as both Udinese and Napoli, led by the ever inspired Cavani who netted a double, won their games, so there is no room for complacency at the top for anybody.
  2. In Spain, Sevilla grabbed 3 points on the road against Valencia, thanks to a single goal by Rakitic. Coming after the heroic performance and achievement of holding Barcelona at home, this is a very important for Sevilla’s bid to secure a European spot – they are now just 1 point of Espanyol and Atletico who are both on 43 points in 5th and 6th position respectively. The top 3 all won: Real overcome city rivals Atletico by two goals to one, Barcelona managed the same score at home against Getafe, while Villareal’s single goal away at Bilbao proved enough.
  3. In England, Arsenal again dropped 2 points and might have dropped more were it not for a spirited comeback with goals by the brilliant Arshavin and still vibrant Van Persil. Spurs fans in particular will surely have lots of laughs for the next two weeks rewinding over Arsenal’s defense’s latest blunder – more cringe than an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 7.

    Another Almunia howler, assisted by Squillaci

    Man U grabbed a point from Bolton in the dying moments of the game through an unexpected rebound ball provoked by Berbatov, while both Chelsea and Liverpool dispatched their opponents Manchester City and Sunderland (respectively) with two goals apiece and a clean sheet. Spurs couldn’t put one past a resurgent West Ham. Fellow bottom tablers Wigan and Wolves both grabbed full 3 points, confirming that the final games will ensure more drama for bottom 8 teams who are within 3 points of each other.

  4. In France, Marseille beat PSG in the not so enticing hexagonal classico that is no more but could have been, thanks to an André Ayew header. Lille is still in the lead thanks to beating Brest away by 2 goals to 1 as well as the tie between aspiring challengers Lyon and Rennes who tied at Gerland. Lens pulled off the surprise of the weekend beating Montpellier away 4 goals to 1, which drew some interesting comments from the ever controversial Lulu Nicolin.
  5. In Germany, 4th placed Bayern bounced back from their defeat to Inter with a victory over Freiburg, while Hamburg fancied themselves a tennis player and slammed Koln by 6-2 to lift their spirits from their defeat against the Bavarians last week-end, with Croatian international Petric providing 3. Leaders Dortmund dropped 2 points in a tie with 5th placed Mainz who thereby confirm their good run, and so Leverkusen’s win over Schalke 04 (with one goal provided by another Swiss player Derdiyok) still gives them some hopes of challenging for the title but it will be tough. Third placed Hannover overcame Hoffenheim.

In addition, there were some super goals this weekend that are definitely worth a mention – see if you can catch them on youtube or wherever else it is you go for your replays:

  • Jelen 1st (and 2nd in fact) with Auxerre against Sochaux: another classic by the always electric Pole (pun intended). Got to see you back in form, Ireneusz.
  • Luis Suarez for Liverpool’s 2nd against Sunderland: glad to see new “conejo” doing so well, even if it is with Liverpool. Mind you, without Stevie G and in black, they’re becoming almost watchable. If they could lose a few more of the less attractive facets brought in by the formerly much celebrated Spaniard with a goatee (notably Carragher. Lucas and possibly Kuyt too), they might actually become sympathetic.
  • Charlie Adam’s free kick for his 2nd against Blackburn on Saturday – class.
  • Gervinho’s goal for Lille’s 2nd against Brest: kind of similar to that scored by Luis Suarez.
  • Chelsea’s 2nd goal by Ramires, against Manchester City: a cheeky entry with the ball through City’s defense, followed by a very confident slot-in to the left. It is great to see the Brazilian finally hailed by Stamford Bridge, he has been one of the most consistent (though admittedly not the brightest) of Chelsea’s players this season, grinding away in midfield like a gremlin that’s just had a swim.  His fellow countryman David Luiz is also doing very well and outshining most of his colleagues.
  • Real Madrid’s goals against Atletico – the 1st by Karim Benzema and the 2nd by Ozil – are both quite nice. Check out also the splendid strike by former Sevillanista Daniel Alves as well as Manu’s goal for Getafe in this summary. By the way, did anyone notice that by the end of the game there were no less than 3 former Sevillanistas on the pitch for Barça at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan last week? Daniel Alves, Seydou Keita and Adriano had all plied their trade in Andalucia before heading north for the big bucks. No wonder I’m feeling a little bitter.
  • Speaking of Udinese, their opener against Catania by the Swiss international Inler will undoubtedly have Swiss fans wondering why the national side cannot manage better results than 0-0 against Malta. A small mention for Roma’s Francesco Totti who pulled off another double, helped with a penalty for his 200th goal in the calcio. No doubt he was motivated by the idea of denying his old enemy Sinisa Mihajlovic the full 3 points; there’s nothing like derby motivation.

Scudetto Sempre Aperto (Pareggi Weekend)

Nagato Eto Brescia March 11 2011

A time for consolation

It has been a tough week-end in the calcio for any Inter fan after the nerazzurris tied away at Brescia on Friday night. Not just because of another 2 points lost to the Lombards, (Inter had already dropped 2 when hosting them at home in November), but also because the overwhelming impression at the end was that victory was actually at hand for Leo’s team who simply failed to kill the game. No game is easy in Italy when bottom teams are often capable of creating surprises against the strongest sides, but in this case Inter have mainly themselves to blame. Unlike in November, when the team was already suffocating under the incompetent and stifling coaching (if we can call it that) of the fatso from Anfield, on Friday there were many chances to put the game away after Samuel Eto’o had once again got the ball rolling on the 18th minute. Pandev had 3 clear chances on goal which he all infuriatingly spoiled, the clearest of all being the last one towards the 82nd minute where his heavy touch in controlling the ball prevented him from lifting his head to see the goalie coming out to block his low shot. He also spoiled another chance for Sneijder after Eto’o cleverly slipped the ball backwards (following another one of his mazy runs in the opposition’s box), but he probably did not hear the shouts of the Dutchman claiming the ball. However he was not the only guilty party on this one, as Sneijder also had a pretty clear shot on goal which he powered away directly at Arcari, at the expense of a more targeted effort that would might have had a chance of fooling the Brescia keeper.

Furthermore, Leonardo’s changes were perhaps not the most inspired since he joined and may have contributed to increasing sense of frustration (in the middle of the 2nd half) that could be felt within the Inter ranks after so many misses, and that was not lost on a brave and battling Brescia side who sensed a coup was possible. In particular, the introduction of Cordoba in central defense (in place of injured Lucio), followed shortly thereafter by his re-alignment on the left to make way for Materazzi, as well the late replacement of Europe ineligible Pazzini by Khardja (instead of Pandev) possibly all combined to sow doubt in the confidence of an Inter side that had seemed entirely in control in the 1st half and a good portion of the 2nd.

Ultimately, it was perhaps one of those nights when it simply wasn’t meant to be as Caraccicolo once again crucified the nerazzurris on 85 minutes after a clumsy back header by Cordoba. If anything, Inter could have walked away with nothing from this game had it not been for an amazing Julio Cesar who once again saved a penalty from Caracciolo and thus preserved a valuable point for his team.

Note to President: take example from Madrid’s practices and buy Caracciolo next season so we can have him help out with the primavera.

HOWEVER: Milan dropped 2 points at home on Sunday afternoon to bottom Bari, which leaves things open for Inter as well as hungry chasers Napoli (victorious away against Parma) and especially Udinese who are on file.  Combined with the expulsion of Ibrahimovic following violent conduct against Bari’s defender Rossi, that should result in some quietly smug grins on the faces of  Interistas on Monday morning. Those grins might even turn into resolute smiles if the Italian disciplinary committee does its due and sanctions the Swede with no less than the statutory minimum of 3 games’ suspension, but knowing their history, it will most likely only be 2 games as they look to compensate il Cavaliere for an otherwise tarnished anniversary.