Anti Joga Bonito (Love All Football)

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

Tag Archives: Ramires

It’s not a straight line or an equation…

A few words on the CL semi-finals… (now that the black armband has come off from Wednesday’s disappointment…)

Cristiano's poor form in penalty shout-outs continues (he missed in Moscow 4 years ago)

Yes, it was very disappointing to accept that José will not be in the final, as well as to see him displaying some uncharacteristic signs of emotional weakness. Don’t really care so much for Madrid, but the mouth watering prospect of a potential double for JM was so compelling that it was hard to accept disappointment, hence the radio silence of a few days. In addition, the actual penalty shout-out, itself another emotional roller-coaster (my favorite concept at the moment), was about as impressive (from a technical standpoint) as Switzerland-Ukraine a few years ago – they are still picking up the birds that Ramos brought down from the Bernabeu side roof.

But in a way it is good for football that the two noisy and steadily more annoying favorites from Spain, generally held (except in the UK) to be the European country with the highest standard of football at the moment, did not make it through. It is a case of two mini giant-slaying feats, in the context of the Champions League. Though Chelsea and Bayern are far from being the Davids (of Goliath association, not Edgar) of the story, it is nevertheless good proof to the doom mongers and nostalgia bashers (of the football of yore) that modern football results can not be “bought” or predicted, and that at the end of the day it comes down to what happens on the pitch, the impact of micro-cosmic decisions made in split seconds, nerves, grit and concentration. In my view (and I said it at the time), the decider is the last minute goal conceded by Madrid in Munich – José’s face at the time said it all. Madrid still has some maturing to do, and perhaps it is reassuring (and calming to the nemici) to realise that the so called enemy of football is actually human after all, and sometimes vulnerable like the rest of us. But José please work a bit on the penalties for next year – it is most definitely your weak spot.

Ooops... there goes my final

As for the “best team of the universe”, though it was delightful to see them lose their cool (and especially Busquets collapsing as Nando’s ball rolled into the net), they remain as formidable as ever. Though many pundits will now undoubtedly start turning their vests and adjusting their forecasts for next season, the whole thing was down to a few key misses that only a few months ago (and certainly last year) would have found the back of the net. In that sense, Chelsea may have been a fortunate beneficiary of the fatigue and lack of confidence that Barça have found themselves in due to the pressure piled on them by José’s Madrid. But this should not diminish the fact that the Blues’ old guard put in a formidable performance, largely inspired by the initial feat accomplished by their still present mentor and his Inter in 2010. And that IS football – as so well put by this contemporary in the ever reliable WSC (minus points for not being brave enough to own the “anti”).

Highlight of the two nights: the Ramires chip – a true golasso, and far from an isolated feat – he scored some beauties this season, including a very similar goal against Spurs at Wembley a few weeks ago in the FA Cup semi-final.

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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).

The Blues Got The Blues

No one should be particularly surprised about Chelsea’s nth elimination from the quarter finals of the Champions League.  Even a cursory analysis of their performance at Stamford Bridge during the 1st leg of the fixture against Manchester United would be enough for most punters to conclude they did not have many chances of making it through.

Hey Antonio, what was that about stepping up a level again?

However, unlike for some other clubs covered in these pages, Chelsea’s issues are actually profound and significant.  Ever since the abrupt and unexplained dismissal of assistant coach Ray Wilkins last November (apparently due to his challenging the owner’s impromptu feedback session after a defeat), the collective quality and hunger of this supposedly effortlessly winning team has consistently and significantly dropped, only to be further exacerbated by the arrival of the undesirable arch-rival Torres. It was very obvious to any observer at Stamford Bridge last week that the Spaniard is a complete outsider to the squad. Despite a relatively industrious work ethic and the procurement of a few biting chance (like the header which forced a great save from Van der Saar in the 2nd half), the former most promising young Spanish talent seems a faint shadow of his former self. Importantly, all that shoulder shrugging, mistimed racing and generally perplexed facial expression indicate that he does not appear to be in sync with his teammates who generally seem to regard him with as much affection as a bride’s spy gatecrashing a bachelor party (spiteful tongues might hasten to specify that the bachelors in question are rather old). Has he already contracted Shevashentitis at such an early age? It was not yet suspected of being contagious.

Unfortunately, as was evidenced by the recurring agonizing cringe sequences experienced by the Blues’ faithful during the 1st half of the Stamford Bridge leg, the problems are more fundamental.  With barely an opponent in sight, Chelsea’s players were frequently unable to effectively sequence simple one-two exchanges, let alone mount any kind of serious assault on Man U’s defenses. Other than getting very upset at the referee for supposedly unfair decisions, there was very little genuinely inspired and focused effort dispensed, so much so that throw-ins would often take several tens of seconds to execute, such was the lack of players seeking the ball.

Oh my God John, I think you're in danger of breaking sweat!

One might be tempted to explain that by laying the blame on Ancelotti for picking a somewhat unusual squad, with the inclusion of the extremely underwhelming Bosingwa and totally disoriented Zhirkov who UEFA Cup heroics now seem a very distant memory.  Chelsea’s 2nd leg performance, of a slightly better caliber and with a classic Drogba goal, lends some credibility to this theory.  However, closer inspection of the lack of attacking spark and above all genuine commitment to the collective cause suggests a team at the end of a cycle.  One had just to catch a glimpse of Salomon Kalou’s face as he was waiting for Anelka to crawl off the pitch: I would expect to find more enthusiastic marines for cleaning out the plastic toilet boxes in the Iraqi desert.

At this stage of the discussion, the standard analysis by the attendant TSR (1) consultant recruited from the nearest local bar will inevitably highlight the presence of too many stars within the Chelsea squad, the supposed problem of “big egos” and top of this amazing insight with the habitual singing of praises of old timers Giggs & Scholes on the other side (2).  While the above analysis did evidence a group of players mechanically going through the motions, it is most certainly too early to write off some if not all of them, just as it was too easy for the French media to write off Patrice Evra who is possibly having one of his best club seasons ever. Aafter all let’s not forget that Chelsea won two titles last year, and the likes of Ramires, Essien or even John Terry, who plied his usual trade rather effectively across both legs, still have great potential.

And yet, it is perhaps time to move on.  But not for the reasons supposed by most.  And in fact therein lies the main challenge – how does one do that with a club whose management structure is inherently short-term oriented and dysfunctional?  The fundamental problem, as illustrated by the club’s recent history, is that of a team’s (coach and players) collective coherence slowly and surely eroded by the constant and generally incompetent meddling by senior management (and not just the owner) in the sporting affairs of the team.

Roman should not be surprised that many fans are dreaming about the return of José to Stamford Bridge. Unfortunately – with this management in place – they can keep on dreaming.

What do you mean, "go out there and fight?"

(1) Television Suisse Romande

(2) If you’re in luck, you might even get a reminder of the French team’s “mutiny” against Domenech last summer at the World Cup in South Africa

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.