Stalemate at the top…

The top of the table clash at #StamfordBridge between leaders #Chelsea and 2nd placed #ManchesterCity ended in a mostly entertaining 1-1 stalemate after a #LoicRemy opener was canceled out by a #DavidSilva equalizer in the first half that saw City edge the Blues in possession and opportunities, with #Courtois making a couple of saves. #JoeHart had little to do all game aside from picking the ball from the net after the Remy opener. The real storyline from this game seems to be #JoseMourinho, who is trying (and succeeding) in becoming enemy #1 of anyone truly interested in the game with his constant sideline whining and complaining. Meanwhile, in the pack that’s following the current top 2, #ManchesterUnited cantered to a 3-1 win over #Leicester in a game where both #RVP and #Falcao finally scored but United still don’t look like the side they should, with the players they have on the pitch. #Tottenham in the meantime continue their fantastic run with a commanding 0-3 win away to #WestBrom with goals again from #Eriksen and 2 from #HarryKane; #Liverpool played some football reminiscent of last season (= wonderful) as they welcomed back #Sturridge from injury in a 2-0 win over #WestHam, with Sturridge and #Sterling both netting goals created by the silky smooth and every improving #Coutinho, who is quickly becoming much like the fabulous David Silva! A #Lukaku goal gave #Everton a desperately needed 3 points away at #CrystalPalace and newly appointed coach #Carver took #Newcastle to a 0-3 win at #HullCity.

In the #Bundesliga, there was finally news unlike any we’ve seen in months (feels like years) as unlikely 2nd placed #Wolfsburg hammered mighty #Bayern 4-1 in the first game post the winter break. The last time Bayern lost a game like that was against #RealMadrid in the Champions League semi-final! #Dortmund continue to struggle as a 0-0 draw at #Leverkusen leaves them bottom of the table. BVB and bottom of the table just seemed unthinkable juxtapositions 9 months ago!

#AtleticoMadrid put 3 past #Elche, while leaders Real Madrid, playing without their banned talisman #CristianoRonaldo came from a goal down to #DavidMoyes’ #RealSociedad to easily win 4-1, while over in the South Pacific, hosts #Australia beat #SouthKorea in a nail-biter of a final to win the #AsiaCup to round out an excellent week for the beautiful sport. Now if only that whiny pouty ‘special one’ could let it remain that way!

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When referees are bigger than the game…

#Barcelona did extremely well to overcome #AtleticoMadrid 4-2 on aggregate (1-0 at home and n0w 3-2 away in Madrid) in a game that was mesmerizing in the first half and then rubbish in the 2nd, largely due to the starring role by the referee. The best ref’d games are those where you forget the referee even exists – this one though was all about him. After #Torres scored in the 40th second of the game and #Neymar equalized in the 9th, his decision process went down-hill from there on. The brilliant #Juanfran earned a penalty when he was tripped up just outside the box and just after a #Miranda own goal to restore Barca’s aggregate lead, Atleti were denied a penalty for a #JordiAlba handball, which the Catalans broke from and scored at the other end (to Alba’s credit he made a lung-busting run all the way to the other end to make the final pass for Neymar to slot home) and to top things off, #Gabi was sent off at the stroke of half time for protesting the incident. As drama filled (and for the most part, wonderful) as the first half was, it was near impossible for the Madrid team to score 3 goals (away goal rule) with 10 men and ended the game with 9 and a whimper.

The drama of the domestic competitions continued over in the UK where #SheffieldUnited almost came from behind to upset #Tottenham but a last gasp #Eriksen goal mean that it will be an all-London final for the #CapitalOneCup when Spurs will take on yesterday’s semi-final winners #Chelsea at Wembley. Will Tottenham beat the Blues again (like they did in the #EPL a few weeks ago) or will #Costa put his ‘stamp’ on this one?

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Diego Costa is a dirty player, Courtois a genius!

The #CapitalOneCup semi-final leg 2 between #Chelsea and #Liverpool proved to be just as fantastic a game as the 1-1 first-leg with both teams playing fabulous flowing football. In the end, the Blues prevailed thanks to an #Ivanovic header, left unmarked by the useless #GlenJohnson (he was England’s big hope once upon a time) and largely due to the incredible giant they have in goal #Courtois who pulled off a couple of fabulous saves that could have changed the result of the game very early on. Liverpool played some beautiful football and were undone by the fact that they don’t really have a world-class striker to finish off some of the link up play that was a delight to watch. (That is their own doing really, given that they spent the money on #Lambert and #Balotelli – one an honest striker with decent skills at best, the other a petulant fool of a man, more interested in brawling than working hard)

But when it comes to brawling, #DiegoCosta seems to want it even more than he wants goals – and for the goal-scoring-machine that he is, that’s saying something. He should have been sent off twice in the game for cynical stamps on #Can and then #Skyrtel and the yellow he finally earned for brawling with #Gerrard was the least he should have had after similar tussles with multiple other Liverpool players. And watching #Mourinho mourn and whine and complain and gesticulate as though the world spends all it’s time trying to conspire against him and his otherwise excellent team, makes you want them to succeed even less. This is the problem with Chelsea – unless you are a Blues supporter (I don’t know, perhaps you really dig Mourinho or Russian money or as is rarely the case, live in and around Fulham but want to win something) you just find it really really hard to support this club as a neutral, which in reality, is unfortunate because they have an extremely talented and solid team that deserves the accolades it gets. It’s why them getting knocked out by lowly #Bradford in the #FACup 2-4 at home after leading 2-0 at HT was greeted with much cheer by all. That silly #ManchesterCity, #Southampton and #Tottenham were all knocked out as well by much lower opposition just added to the romance that is the FA Cup. Both #ManchesterUnited and #Liverpool being forced into replays by #CambridgeUnited (yup, real team – not just scholars plying their trade between classes) and #Bolton respectively helps highlight that magic.

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Upside down world!

#Arsenal won away. Arsenal won away against a top 4 team. Arsenal won away against a top 4 team without conceding a goal. Arsenal won away against a top 4 team without conceding a goal, while attacking sensibly on the counter. Arsenal won away against a top 4 team without conceding a goal, while attacking sensibly on the counter and were compact and well disciplined in defense.

It’s an upside down world today.

For the first time in a LONG time, #Wenger was able to outwit a top 4 coach by conceding possession and hitting their opponents, in this case #ManchesterCity on really well crafted counter-attacking play, while staying compact enough to deny even the likes of #Aguero and #Silva. The Arsenal faithful have got to be over the moon – this is so new for them and happens once in a blue moon BUT none as happy as the man who calls Wenger the ‘Specialist in failure’ as this defeat allows #Mourinho’s #Chelsea side to take a clear 5 point lead at the top of the table – if they can beat City the following game-week, it’ll be curtains for the defending champs in this title race!

#BigSam and his #WestHam side continue their impressive run (after knocking #Everton out of the #FACup on penalties) thrashing woeful #Hull 3-0 thanks to goals by #Carroll #Amalfitano and #Downing. The battle for places 3-6 is going to go down to the wire!

Over in the #LaLiga there was nothing upside down happening with the usual #Messi hat-trick (#Barca won 4-0 away to once-mighty #Deportivo) and #Ronaldo brace as #RealMadrid put their mid week loss to #Atleti behind them in a 3-0 win at #Getafe. Yay for sanity.

 

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Oscar-time!

On a day when a terribly uncreative #ManchesterUnited labored their way to a 0-2 win away to struggling #QPR thanks to goals by 2nd half subs #Fellaini and #Wilson AND #Liverpool overcame #AstonVilla 0-2 thanks to rare #Borini and #Lambert goals AND #Southampton had to battle hard to win at #Newcastle 1-2 thanks to a double from new boy #Elia AND #Tottenham had to rely, yet again, on a last minute winner from #Eriksen to beat #Sunderland 2-1, it was #Chelsea who showed how it was done, recreating their early season form, in a 5-0 thrashing away to #Swansea, who without #Bony (they sold him to #City this week) look a shadow of themselves. #Oscar not only ran the show, he also scored 2 wonderful goals alongside a double by (who else) #Costa and one for under fire #Schurrle, who might still be used as bait to get #Reus from #Dortmund if rumors are to be believed.

#LVG seems to continue to prefer his 3-5-3 (or 3-2-3-2, 3-5-1-2, 3-5-2-1) formation for reasons even he can’t adequately explain and it just doesn’t work in this United side. As star heavy as they are upfront with #Falcao #Rooney #DiMaria et al, they are absolutely rubbish behind and the 3 center backs that he has at his disposal are just not of the quality that the #Hummels and #Silvas of the world have to be able to bring the ball forward and still cover their spaces when other teams counter on the break. When he switched to 4-4-2 things got a little better and both goals arrived post that structure for the Red Devils today. That coupled with playing DiMaria as the second striker, clearly makes no sense and until the last 20 minutes, he looked like a deer caught in the headlights, trying to play with his back to the goal. He’s devastating when he can run at defenses and the sooner Van Gaal realizes that his formations aren’t getting the best out of £150+ million of talent, the sooner his side will start dominating these games.

What will the #Gunners do tomorrow when they travel to #ManchesterCity?

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2014 Ballon D’Or is Cristiano again!

Last year’s winner and man who had the most incredible season, leading #RealMadrid to that #LaDecima they so desperately desired and broke so many goal-scoring records along the way, #CristianoRonaldo is the 2014 #BallonD’or winner yet again.

Many argued that #ManuelNeuer should win this year and they were well placed in that belief – he’s been colossal in goal for both #Germany and for #BayernMunich and any other year he would probably have been a shoe-in to win it BUT the year that Ronaldo had made it difficult for objective voters to overlook last year’s Ballon D’or winner and on balance it was a fair result. Neuer will be on that podium again for many years to come, given just how incredible he is as a goal-keeper.

For now though, parabéns Cristiano!

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Super Sanchez and the Saints, go marching on!

After the blue half of #ManchesterCity gave #Chelsea a 2 point advantage in the title race after dropping points at #Everton is a 1-1 draw that saw the Blue side of Merseyside equalize thanks to another #Hart howler, while the Blues of London overcame an impressive #Newcastle to win 2-0 thanks to goals by #Oscar and #Costa, the red half of #ManchesterUnited managed to conjure up a 0-1 defeat to visiting #Southampton giving the Saints an identical 2 point advantage in the race for 3rd! United dominated possession but looked toothless in attack and lacked any meaningful creativity in trying to break down the best defense in the #EPL, which is alarming given that Messrs #RVP #DiMaria #Mata and #Rooney were on the pitch for the #RedDevils!

#AlexisSanchez continues to show he is the best player in the Premiership after a dominating performance (yet again) in a 3-0 win for #Arsenal over visiting #Stoke, scoring 2 and creating one for #Koscielny (he could well have run over and placed the ball on Laurent’s head, such was the precision of his cross). With #Tottenham losing 2-1 to the dream-return to #CrystalPalace for new manager #AlanPardew (must be so cool to coach at a stadium that genuinely adores him), it’s advantage #Arsenal this week atleast, in that battle for 4th. #Liverpool kept their return to winning momentum going with a battling 1-0 away at #Sunderland and #Burnley #Leicester and #WestBrom all got important wins at the bottom of the table in a week that City, United and Spurs would want to forget in a real hurry.

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“I have your number, Carlo!”

There is something about this #AtleticoMadrid side and it’s dynamic coach #DiegoSimeone that is hard to put a finger on. With no real Galacticos in their midst, they still manage to outplay, outrun and often, outwit the best of the best out there, primarily #RealMadrid after a superb 2-0 first leg win at the Vicente Calderón in the #CopaDelRey. It’s got to be that wonderful balance of discipline, art, heart and technique that Diego has instilled into his battling charges that have them constantly one-upping their cross-town Galacticos (aside from that heart-braking #ChampionsLeagueFinal defeat).

After 22 straight wins, Real have now lost 3 on the trot, if you include the silly friendly against #ACMilan 2 weeks ago. That’s a lot of losing for a side that has the players it does, at the price they acquired them and the form they’ve been in. Mini crisis anyone?

In the meantime, kudos Diego. Kudos Atleti. You have our respect.

 

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Moyes beats Barcelona – not a headline you’d ever imagine!

The #LaLiga returned from it’s sensible winter break with 2 big upsets – #RealMadrid had their 22 match winning run cut short by a fantastic battling performance by #Valencia, coming from 0-1 down to win 2-1 at the Mestalla, while mighty #Barcelona were beaten at #DavidMoyes’ #RealSociedad 1-0 in a game that on paper no one could have given a chance to the much maligned ex-United Manager’s side to even draw, let alone win. But win they did and combined with a routine 3-1 win for #AtleticoMadrid against #Levante means that 1 point separates the top 3 in Spain (although, Real do have a game in hand).

Over in the #FACup the big boys of the #EPL all made their way through to the 4th round with relatively ‘late’ wins with #ManchesterUnited winning 2-0 away at #Yeovil thanks to a #Herrera stunner and a #DiMaria break-away; #ManchesterCity came from behind to beat a battling #SheffieldWednesday 2-1 thanks to 2 birthday goals from #Milner; #Chelsea put 3 past #Watford and yet another brilliant #Sanchez performance (and goal) helped #Arsenal beat #Hull 2-0 in a repeat of last year’s final. Even though the big 4 won, the romance of seeing sides as far as 87 places below them fighting as hard and making it as difficult as they did, makes these games entirely worth watching.

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