Celebrating club football and shining the light on incompetent and biased journos indulging in stereotyping and negativity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite losing out on the night to a resilient Villareal side that would not completely lay down their arms, Porto go through to the final in Dublin in convincing fashion on a 7-4 aggregate score. And in the process, Falcao has written his name in European football history in bold letters by bettering Jurgen Klinsman’s record of 15 goals in the European competition by 1 (so far), and possibly 2 even if you consider the qualifyers.
Villa-Boas and his team can now contemplate repeating the feat of José’s side in 2003 by another historic treble (or quadruple if you include the Portuguese supercup). One piece of this glorious romp, the league title, is already acquired with an impressive string of new records and notably a hefty point lead over historic rivals Benfica, whom they will be not be meeting in the final as in the other semi, Braga has succeded in pulling off yet another remarkable performance by extracting qualification at the expense of the Lisboetas.
Despite the lesser gloss of the Europa League, it is a telling accomplishment for Portuguese football to be providing not only the two sides for the final, but also two promising young managers, André Villa-Boas & Domingos Paciência. Beleza.
I hope that all the whinging “beautiful football” people bothered to tune in to the Europa League to see a very entertaining game between Porto and Villareal (at the Estádio do Dragão) which ended in a six goal orgy. If not, it’s OK, they are forgiven for missing it, I do understand that the marketing of the “beautiful game” does not encompass such lowly sides from the South of Europe, so feel free to catch the highlights here.
Despite being down 1 goal just before half time, Porto staged a very convincing comeback with striker Falcao netting 4 goals on the night, 1 penalty, 1 short distance slot in, and 2 magnificent headers. This third highly impressive performance by the Colombian striker (he already scored 3 against Spartak Moscow earlier in April at home, and 3 against Rapid Wien away back in December) will surely see his name popping up on cash rich managers’ summer shopping lists, as will probably Hulk’s, who did not score tonight but provided one assist and has otherwise enjoyed a great season. Hopefully for them they (or their agents) will know better than to succumb to Steve Bruce’s or Alan Pardew’s swan songs.
Undoubtedly I also now expect the pro-Barça or joga bonito leaning hacks to opportunistically raise the stock of André Villa-Boas (the “little José”) to stratospheric levels in typically simplistic and infantile juxtaposition to his mentor. The man definitely does deserve props for what he has achieved as Porto have literally obliterated all local opposition this year and will probably emerge as the favorites for the final, so don’t get me wrong; but I’m certain it won’t even be another 48 hours before we’ll be subjected to more of the same kind of cheap and patronising trite drivel as uttered by the two stooges on Channel 5 (one of which was a most infuriating Scotsman that seems to be such an unavoidable staple of football on British TV) masquerading as football philosophy, to further castigate Mourinho and score brownie points with all other respectable aficionados. The best illustration of these people’s ignorance and baseness was the statement that André Villa-Boas “should be – no disrespect to Porto – looking for a job at one of Europe’s big clubs”. Maybe someone should inform them that in the last decade Porto won both a Champions League and a UEFA Cup, a feat that only one so called “English” club can match: Liverpool. But then that Porto side was coached by a guy called José Mourinho and you see, it’s not very fashionable to be supporting him… or at least not until he wins something else again.
Anyway, mega props to Portuguese football for fielding 3 clubs in the semis (and especially Braga for making it through so many rounds and persevering after a fairly grueling Champions League group stage), and for heading for what seems likely to be a spicy all-Portuguese final.