Match Day 38 was Premier!

It’s called The Premier League for a reason and Match Day 38 culminated in one of the best climax’s in English football I have seen. Many announcers commented on the excitement this season as Manchester United and Manchester City battled with 18 other teams, which came down to 5 minutes of extra time before the league champion was crowned.

I am sorry to say most American’s can’t understand the excitement of football…soccer as many know it as. Not sure why, maybe because 45 minutes of continuous action is too long to follow. No commercials, means no beer runs. For some it’s the lack of scoring, a 1-0 game can be a thrilling game, much like a pitchers duel in baseball. Many I know find the game of football…err soccer boring. That’s fine. Many people give me about 3 minutes of watching the beautiful game with me, while at work, make a few comments and move on.

Fair enough, but today’s action some of the most amazing football I have seen played! It came down to the final day as both teams came in tied on points, but Manchester City had the goal differential advantage, a number that Manchester United would not be able to overcome. Unfortunately Manchester United let a lead slip away between Match Days 33-36, scoring only 3 points to Manchester City’s 12 points including a shocking loss to Wigan Athletic and derby loss 1-0. Either one of those games go for 3 points, even a 1 poin and Manchester United would have won their 13th Premier title, but it wasn’t to be today.

Queens Park Rangers played all out today, especially after thug, Joey Barton was sent off with a red card for an elbow thrown at Carlos Tevez in the 55th minute. Just 7 minutes prior Djibril Cisse had tied the game at 1-1, after a defensive lapse by Joleon Lescott. It would be 11 minutes later that would change the course of the game as Armand Traoré made a run past the Man City defense down the left side and his cross found an unmarked Jamie Mackie, who’s diving header put QPR up 2-1.

It was the 10 men defense of QPR and the play of Paddy Kenny that kept QPR on top, as Manchester City dominated possession and the shot advantage, but they came out without their shooting boots on. Yet Kenny came up with very big saves until the end of the game.

Thanks in part to Joey Barton’s red card and the ensuing drama getting him off the pitch, 5 minutes of stoppage time were added. This would be costly for QPR and conversely Manchester United, who played out their 3 minutes of stoppage time, defeating Sunderland, 1-0 and claiming the Premier League. Their celebration was very short lived.

Back to back goals in the 94th and 95th minute of the match sealed the victory and the league for Manchester City. Edin Džeko came off the bench in the 69th minute and his head found the ball off a corner kick, which brought Etihad Stadium to it’s feet! On the ensuing kickoff, QPR gave up the ball and went back into it’s defensive posture, which had been very good since going down to 10 men. Unfortunately the last minute of stoppage time saw Sergio Aguero beat the slide tackle of Taiwo and launch a shot near post, which found it’s way past the defense and Kenny to seal the victory for Manchester City.

It was truly an amazing end to an amazing season. Hopefully the Champions League Final between Bayern München and Chelsea prove to be just as exciting. For those who watched the semi-final between Barcalona v Chelsea, today’s Man Cit v QPR game was similar in nature, as Chelsea played down a man for much of the second half in that game and turned back every attack that Barcalona (arguably the best team in the world) threw at them. As a result of the 2 goals today, QPR gained a bit of respect and will remain in the Premier League for another season, avoiding relegation.

Football Weekend….in the UK

It’s more often than not I wish we lived in the U.K. where the nation’s sport was football. No, not the American kind you find owners locking out players over their collective bargaining agreement and not being able to agree on $9 billion. That’s the NFL for you. This weekend kicked of the action in the English Premier League. Unfortunately being stuck at work on opening weekend I was only able to catch parts of about 4 games, along with highlights from the day.

For me the match of the day was Liverpool v. Sunderland. After the frustrating 2010-2011 season for L’pool it started off on the wrong foot with a draw against the Black Cats. After missing a penalty shot, Luis Suárez redeemed himself with a 12′ goal. That lead would last until 57′ minute when a beautiful volley found the far side of the goal from Sebastian Larsson. An early season goal that could end up being the goal of the year.

Not too surprising to see four games end in draws on Saturday, including the Gunners v. Newcastle and Joey Barton. Barton was deliberately stepped on by Alex Song, the officials missed it and that incident led to a later disagreement that involved Barton and Gervinho, who was red carded.

Today we will see how Manchester United starts against West Brom and Chelsea against Stoke City. Monday we will see other big off-season spenders, Manchester City v. Swansea City. It looks to be another great season in top flight football in the EPL. I plan to be very involved watching this season, as well as Serie A and the battle at the top in La Liga! Also great to know the Mexican League is very early to watch on Saturday afternoons. Viva Cruz Azul!

Small Clubs with Heart

It’s rare you hear about a club in the US in any of the major sports, where a team resides from a small city. It just doesn’t happen. Small market clubs end up being a loosing proposition in many cases. Just take a look at your favorite sport and I am sure you can relate. San Diego Padres are considered a small market club and will never compete with the likes of a Yankees or Boston.

In football…sorry, soccer for those Americans who don’t follow European football it is decidedly different. There is the Barclay’s Premier League, which is top flight football in European. All teams in England strive year after year to be promoted. Beyond the Premiership is the Coca-Cola Championship League, which is home to teams relegated from the top league or teams who achieved success to be promoted. The other lower divisions are the League 1 and League 2 under the Coca-Cola Championship. No sport in the US is like this, where a small team is promoted, the only comparison could be a minor league affiliation in baseball, even that is a different.

Last season saw Burnley, town of 22,000 inhabitants be promoted to the Premiership. As with many lower division teams it is always a great thing for the team and the fans who are loyal to the end and support their club at all levels. Burnley opened home play last night against last season’s champion, Manchester United. Most gave Burnley no chance in hell of winning, let alone scoring a goal.

An interesting note hear while watching the game last night (on my DVR). The entire town of Burnley could fit inside Wimbley, which is home to Manchester United (holds 70,000+). Yet last night was not to be for Man U, who could just not click, while playing a weaker opponent. It was a great feeling watching and experience a lower division club, newly promoted after 33 years taking on the same team tame relegated them from the Prem 1-0, 33 years prior.

Burnley was able to gain the advantage last night on a great volley to the upper corner of the near post that would end up being the game winning goal (only goal of the game) for a 1-0 victory. Everything was going Burnley’s way from deflected balls, to penalty saves to the break. Man U could not muster much in terms of coordination and seemed to be frustrated by what Burnley did to them. Some claim Ronaldo could have pulled 1, possibly all 3 points for Man U. We can only speculate.

While Burnley might not win more than 4 or 5 matches this season, they have begun this Premiership in grand fashion, by taking down the perennial champions. This match was a great spectacle! One that will live long in the hearts and minds of Burnley. Even if they don’t win another match this season, I think we saw the sort of heart the club had, as well as some talented players on the pitch. If you get a chance, catch a replay of this match.

What Does it Say?

I am sure the sportswriters all across the globe all have similar topics regarding the state of Italian football. What does it say, when three of the top Italian teams, in Inter, Juve and Roma all go down in defeat over the course of two days in UEFA Champions League play? Does this mean English football is that much superior to the game the Italians play?

I watch plenty of footie from the UK and Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal are much like their Italian counterparts in terms of quality of football on the pitch and their positions in the table every year. Of the three Italy v England matches, two of them were scoreless draws in the first leg. Only Arsenal managed a lone gone, courtesy of a penalty kick, after dominating Roma for much of the match. Arguments can be made for the other matches, as Mourinho defends his team’s play against the Reds, while Juve came close numerous times versus Chelsea, but came up short in the end.

Of the three Italian team, Inter’s exit is probably the most shocking, come up short in a 2-0 loss to SAF and the Red Devils. Seems only fitting though, that in his years at Chelsea he was at the top of his game, only to lose another match to Man U. This was the real title that Jose was after, not the scudetto in Serie A. Mourinho last won the CL in 2004 with Porto and exited in the semifinals twice while at Chelsea, so while his track record is proven, his team just did not have enough to finish off SAF’s Red Devils.

The Roma match was a roller coaster of emotions, being down 1-0 AGG heading back to the Olimpico for the second leg. After a dominating performance by the Gunners, it was talked about pregame to be much of the same. Yet Roma is always resilient and a tougher team to play in Rome and they proved it yesterday. It only took 9 minutes when Juan found the back the net, after a pass came through the box and was slotted past Almunia.

This was a big goal goal for Roma and their fans, as it allowed them to draw even on aggregate goals. Roma proved to be the stronger side much of the match and produce quality chances in front of Almunia, but could never finish. As with most matches, there was a controversial no-call by the Spanish referee on Matto, as he appeared to have his jersey pulled from behind by Clichy, causing him to go to the ground. Yet nothing was rewarded and game play continues.

Baptista had a horrible showing much of the match. He came on late in first period as Juan exited due to injury and seemed to be a step behind and a pass off. He did have a chance to seal a victory for Roma on a beautiful cross which was flicked on my Totti, but Baptista tried for the one-timer and it was for not.

Arsenal showed some prowess late in the second half and much of two, 15 minute overtime periods, but the score remained 1-1 as the match went to spot kicks. Dona was riding high after he saved the first attempt, as Roma converted. Unfortunately, Roma’s season would come crashing down after 7 penalty kicks when Max Tonetto stepped up and put the ball over the crossbar. While I don’t lay the blame on him, I do put some of the responsibility on the shoulders of Mirko Vucinic, who half assed an attempt right at Almunia, evening up the PKs after the second round.

So where does that leave Italy football? Sure, Inter will go on with win their third scudetto in Serie A, while Juve and Roma will both finish in the top five and be back in the Champions League next year. What does this say about the World Cup, upcoming in 2010? I don’t believe England has a better squad than Italy and now with many players imported to play in countries like England and Italy it’s more difficult to judge the on field talent when its brought together. The 2008 Italy squad was unique, in that all the players played in country. Not the case any longer. I do think Italian football will need to look within, in order to have better showing next year. Here is to Man U winning the Champions League, as well as the Premiership, the FA and the League Cup, which they have already completed.

Beckham. You Schmuck!

Me! Me! Me! That sums up “Dave” pretty good. Obviously Man U had good reason to get rid of him, so off to Spain he goes. The Real Madrid was not a good one and “Becks” was all but washed up. Bye bye England National Team. Then the stupid Americans toss truckload of cash at him and he comes to the USA.

With Becks TRYING to play hardball, not wanting to return to the MLS (can’t blame him there, the league is terrible!) his only option is to stay on at an aging AC Milan. I am sure MLS and the Galaxy will come to terms of AC Milan (and Adidas) and Beckham will buy another home in Italy so his slutty wife can spend all that money is supposed earned playing American soccer.

But seriously he is in for himself, nothing else. While AC Milan and Serie A is much superior to the MLS, it’s no real surprise he wants to stay and play for a winner. Of course Milan will continue to play second fiddle to Inter, Juventus and possibly even AS Roma (okay, so I am dreaming there).

So while his experiment in the MLS has failed, much like other “stars” before him Beckham will continue to play out as an aging superstar for one more shot at what he considers glory. World Cup 2010. Although at this stage in qualifying, I don’t see England as a favorite to win, but who knows. I am sure Becks will do enough, regardless of continent and make the national squad for his last time before he announces his retirement at the end the World Cup 2010.

Community Shield

The 100th FA Community Shield was played today in the UK with Portsmouth going up defending Prem Champions Manchester United. This kicks off the new season, as there are a full slate of matches next weekend, which I am looking forward too. As for the NFL…pffft.

The game was rather uneventful, as the Red Devils were not even fielding a full team with some big names not in the lineup, like Rooney, Ronaldo, Hargreaves and others. Portsmouth, winners of the FA Cup last season look to make a run for the championship this season, or at least be in the top four. But they did not play well, outside a great game from the flamboyant, David James.

When this guy is hot, look out he is one of the best in the game. But sometimes his aggressive play style gets the best of him and those easy ones end up in the back of the net. Not today though, he kept Pompey in the game, even though they could not muster much offense.

The big name signing of Peter Crouch was rather quiet, coupled with Jermaine Defoe they did not really click in the match. Most of the offense was seen at the opposite end of the pitch, with James continuing to make save after save.

The game was 0-0 at full time, which mean a penalty shoot out. Pompey looked terrible from the spot, but I do think Van De Sar has something to do with that, as an opposing figure between the sticks. Portsmouth missed, scored and the next two were saved as Man U went on to win their 7th FA Community Shield.

Next weekend is shaping up nicely with some big games to kick off the new English Premier season with many big names on new teams. As for Serie A, they kick off the last week in August. More big signings for clubs like AC Milan, Juventus, Inter as well as my favorite, AS Roma. Football, not throwball is back!

A True Championship!

One of the BEST football games I have ever seen took place today (well yesterday) in Moscow. The Champions League Final! For the first time ever it was an all English final featuring Manchester U versus Chelsea.

Just a week prior to this match, Manchester United won the Premiership straight out, as Chelsea allowed a late goal for a 1-1 draw. Manchester United would have won regardless, even with a Chelsea win because of goal differential.

Today’s game was live from Moscow on ESPN. How I missed the live broadcast of it, I don’t know. I guess I was looking for a REAL football channel to cover the action, not a wannabe football channel. Thankfully we had two of the best announcers in Martin Tyler and Andy Gray.

I was able to catch the entire game on Setanta after it had been concluded and I knew the outcome (because I had to watch a penalty shootout on Soccerway.com), but that did not make the game any less dramatic or exciting.

Overall, the teams played very offensively, just look at 27 shots Chelsea had. An unheard of number! The action was all Manchester United in the first half, with some good end to end action and beautiful header by the second best player in the world, Christiano Ronaldo. Oh the best player, Kaka, of course!

A late, “excuse me” goal by Frank Lampard evened the team, as Edwin Van Der Sar slipped coming out, cutting down the angle, as the ball took two odd ricochets off players and ended up in the net.

The game was great into the second half, as there were some great chances for both team, especially Man U. Yet with all the action and excitement, no goals could be had by either squad. This meat overtime periods.

If the only unfortunate event, Didier Drogba, lost his head for a moment and had a swipe at Nemanja Vidic on the chin, late in the 114 minute after some “controversy” on a throw in by Manchester United. As the scuffle broke out, players had to be separated and when it was all said and done, two yellows and one red were handed out.

Now this event alone did not loose the game for Chelsea. It was just a black eye on Chelsea and looks even worse in how things transpired.

The penalty shootout was exciting! No other word can describe it. Petr Cech made a great save on Ronaldo, who pussy footed up the ball and was not rewarded. That alone was enough to give Man U the finger and present the CL trophy to the Blues. But more drama was to unfold.

England and Chelsea Captain, John Terry strode up the ball, rain coming down facing Edwin Van Der Sar. It was one of those sporting moments that defines “the agony of defeat” (remember the ski jumper on Wide World of Sports?). Terry made his approach and just as he struck the ball, his planted left foot gave out, and as if in slow motion, the ball went right, off the woodwork.

At that point Chelsea was done. It was truly Manchester United’s match to give away. Ryan Giggs and Anderson both scored, while Nicolas Anelka, the newest member of Chelsea took his shot, to the left that was saved by Van Der Sar. The match was over.

Truly one of the BEST matches to be watched, all-time. I have seen some good matches, some exciting matches, some dramatic victories. But this game captured the essence of “the beautiful game.”

Man United Future Footballer

I think the video says it all. For a 9 year kid, Rhain Davis is pretty god damn amazing footballer. He was just signed by Manchester United of the Premier League in the UK. His skills are very impressive. Could he be the future Wayne Rooney?

Beckham Arrival Overrated?

I have never been a big David Beckham fan going back to his days with Manchester United. He is one hell of a footballer and his accomplishments are quite impressive: FA Premier League Champion 6 times, FA Cup winner twice, UEFA Champions League once. Pele also listed Beckham as one of the Top 100 greatest living footballers in the world. So to his credit he is nothing short of a football good in the eyes of many.

Much like Pele, Beckham leaves the European (and Spanish) League flies across “The Pond” and lands in Tinseltown, Los Angeles, home to the L.A. Galaxy a team that has struggles this year in the MLS. Pele came to the NASL at age 35 in 1975 to the highly profiled New York Cosmos, where he played until 1977. Beckham at 32 years of age is getting on in his football career. It did not come as a big surprise when Man U. did not want him back, instead going with youth up front, so Beckham took his namesake and game to Real Madrid. Was his time in Spain a bust? If you base that decision on championships, then no Real Madrid won their first La Liga title in 3 years with the help of Beckham.

On January 11, 2007 it was announced that Beckham would follow in the footsteps of Pele and take his game to America, where football is known as soccer and has very little support compared to the other major sports like baseball, American football and basketball. The deal was 5 years up to a reported $250 million to play for the L.A. Galaxy. What sort of impact will he bring to the Galaxy is yet to be seen, but many of the reports I have heard are “team oriented.” It is no longer just about Beckham.

Will he be able to help the Galaxy who have 13 points with only 3 wins in 12 games? Sure I do think he will be able to bring his experience and talent to the MLS and America help the team win. I don’t think his impact will really help increase the interest in ‘soccer’ in the U.S., which is what many are banking on. Sure, those into the game of soccer in the U.S. are excited for his arrival, but I for one see it more as a PR move more than a smart move. Revenue for many of the MLS teams cannot be all that high and having to shell out $250 million for a single player is quite a bit.

Pele helped introduce the game of football to America from 1975-1977, I remember watching him on television and in person against the San Diego Sockers. Pele made 64 appearances and scored 37 goals, but he was a true ambassador of the game. Beckham leaves Europe with a turbulent past, the jury is out as to what sort of impact he will have on the league, the game and brings more Americas out to see one of Europe’s best.

Note: Oddly enough he will play his first match against a team he knows all too well, Chelsea, when they face the L.A. Galaxy on July 21.