Friday, May 25, 2012

Chelsea’s Improbable Champions League Run Defied All Odds

Chelsea’s end to the season will go down in the history books as a grand run of upsets. One can only point to sheer determination and the wills of higher powers to understand what gave Chelsea the winning touch.
After Chelsea had lost to Napoli in the opening knockout round 3-1, and manager Andre Villas-Boas was fired, the club looked destined for implosion. But the team responded by winning the return leg 4-1 in extra time to progress. Then, against all odds Chelsea defeated Barcelona with a ten man standoff that was a match for the ages.
In the final there was more drama. After going down 1-0 to Bayern Munich with ten minutes to go, Chelsea equalized at the death, Petr Cech saved an extra time penalty, and the Blues won through a penalty shootout to take the trophy back to Stamford Bridge! All this was accomplished in Munich's own stadium! Never has such an improbable run filled with so much excitement produced this sort of Champions League victory.
In attempting to explain such a result one must look at a few bold moves that turned the season around for Chelsea. First, owner Roman Abromovich fired manager Andre Villas-Boas. The young manager had dug a large hole for the club and seemingly was terribly disconnected from the players. Abromovich had been criticized for his quick firing of managers but he clearly got this one right. Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo performed magic to propel Chelsea to two cup victories and clearly inspired the players. It was a hard move by the owner, but it was this single moment that brought success to the season.
Di Matteo had some brilliant decisions as well. He gave the starting striker role to Didier Drogba in the major matches. Quite controversial, the call was obviously correct. Fernando Torres had been given every opportunity to prove himself but was flailing about and hardly sniffing chances at goal. Drogba started scoring crucial goals in many big matches.
Drogba opened the scoring against Napoli to start overturning their two goal deficit in the second leg. He also scored the only goal in the first leg Champions League semifinal against Barcelona. The goal, right at the stroke of half time, gave them a monumental victory over the Spanish side and proved vital in earning a spot in the final.
Further scoring on the big occasion, Drogba claimed the eventual winner in the FA Cup final against Liverpool. Drogba saved his best moment for his last though, scoring an 89th minute equalizer against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. The goal was a trademark Drogba header, powered in off of a corner kick. Even more, Drogba sealed the win with his penalty kick in the shootout.
So for me, Chelsea’s season was saved with a gutsy call by the owner to fire Villas-Boas and the sensational soccer that Drogba has played in his final Chelsea games. The striker will forever be a Chelsea legend, and he performed his best when the team needed it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trouble Ahead For Manchester United?

Manchester United has been struggling all season, recently losing big matches to Manchester City, Blackburn, and Everton. However, looking at the general picture, something seems to be lacking with Manchester United. Manchester United has long been getting by on their reputation, but it seems they are starting to lose their identity. Many people are blaming Alex Ferguson for this sudden shift in personality, but the reality remains, that Manchester may not have the same players that he is used to having. Back in 2008 when United was crowned kings of Europe, they had Cristiano Ronaldo, now they don't. Obviously the issues are deeper than Ronaldo, but the fact that Ferguson still employs 4-3-3 counter attacking formation is a little suspicious. Ferguson may have to devise a new approach to try to pull the best out of his players.Ferguson's job security is no tin question with all he's accomplished at his time at United, but the time has come for the team to reestablish its identity. Perhaps, getting some new players, or a change in style, but whatever the case, people's patience is starting to run thin, and winning seems like the only needed solution at this point.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Did Pep Guardiola Step Down As Coach Of Barcelona

Despite the fact that Pep Guardiola has been called by some as the best manager of the last 30 years for the trophies he has won, and for his style of play, he is planning to step down as manager of Barcelona at the end of the year. Despite the fact that Barcelona had recently lost to Chelsea in the League of Champions Semi-Finals, they still had a strong year, and by all accounts everything was going excellent. However, recently reports are coming out that Guardiola is stepping down as a result of clashes with the president, and some players. Guardiola was worn out, and he admitted recently that he wants to leave to spend more time with his family, but that is not the only reason that he is stepping down. By all accounts Guardiola has been a player's coach, one that protects his players and will go down with them. When he took over Barcelona, he felt he needed to get rid of Ronaldinho and Deco, because they were not his style of players. Gerard Pique was dropped, Cesc Fabregas was benched, and Dani Alves is perhaps on his way out too. Perhaps, Guardiola sensed that maybe this is the time to go. You pay a huge price for sticking around a team for too long, and Guardiola being a player once himself understands that better than anyone. So what now? The team that Guardiola beat around Messi will probably remain at the top as long as Messi is around, but Guardiola leaves behind a huge void to fill. Who can take his spot? For now it will be his longtime pal and assistant Tito Vilanova, but what about after? And what job will Guardiola take next, maybe the next manager of England as some are suggesting? I guess we will have to find out and see.

Most Enticing Match of the Year to be Championship Playoff Final

Lost in the whirlwind of anticipation that surrounds the UEFA Champions League final featuring Chelsea and Bayern Munich is the hope shared by fans of two Championship clubs in England that will be tested earlier in the day on May 19th. West Ham United and Blackpool are set to square off in what many people consider to be the most entertaining match of the season. Here is why:
Winning the Championship playoff final at Wembley is the ultimate moment of glory for lower level clubs as it will see them through to the Premier League next season. Along with millions of extra dollars, the prize will enable the club to face off with giant English teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea, and the two Manchester clubs on a weekly basis.
The only hope for teams down in the lower dungeons of English soccer to play these teams resides in the domestic cups, including the Carling Cup and FA Cup. Only if they do well in these tournaments will a side meet a major force, but for Premier League clubs, such matches occur often. Playing major clubs is a monumental boost for a team. Not only is there likely to be more fans at the park, but a victory inspires the faithful like nothing else and can will a team on to further success.
But there’s only one way for Blackpool and West Ham to taste such riches. They must win the match at Wembley. There is an all or nothing feeling to the game. Win and you’re in with the big boys. Lose, and endure another season of boring Championship matches.
Then consider the effect such a result will have upon the transfer window. What young talent doesn’t want to join a Premier League side, especially one who can foot the bill for a transfer? Recruiting new and exciting players brings in more hope and excitement around a club and propels them to a legitimate level of professional sport. For the loser, everything just stays the same.
Further fueling the intensity of the match is that both Blackpool and West Ham know what the Premier League is like. The two clubs were relegated from the Premier League in 2011, so they are both looking for the quick rebound to the glory days. For the winner, hope and pride shall be restored. For the loser, the Championship will start to feel a lot more like home.
West Ham finished a full 11 points ahead of Blackpool in the table and is seen as the heavy favorites. They also drubbed Blackpool 4-0 and 4-1 during the season, but as we have seen in recent years anything can happen in one glorious match. The last two playoff finals featured scorelines of 3-2 and 4-2 so we can expect goals aplenty.
So while you’re sitting in eager anticipation of the Champions League final, and listening to news about who is and isn’t suspended, and how it will affect the biggest game in Europe, go ahead and turn the channel over to what could quite well be the most thrilling contest of the year.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The myths and realities of legends Roberto Baggio and Zinadine Zidane

          When examining the 1994 World Cup and the 1998 World Cup two names seem to jump out at you immediately, Roberto Baggio and Zinadine Zidane. Baggio and Zidane were the heros of Italy and France respectively. Zidane is considered the biggest star on home soil in 1998, while Baggio is widely heralded as the Italian hero in the 1994 World Cup in America, guiding his team to the final, before tragically missing the final penalty in shootout against Brazil. However, if you look closely maybe they weren't the biggest stars, but heroes nonetheless. It is hard to separate myths from reality, particularly for younger fans of the sport who are taught that Zizou and the Divine Ponytail were legends of their time, and they were, nobody is taking that away from them. However, sometimes fans can get sucked in watching some poor quality highlights of some event, without knowing the whole story. Let's take a look at Baggio first. While Baggio is widely recognized as the star of the 1994 world cup for the way he catapulted soccer for that specific time, and his charismatic persona, he actually struggled in that World Cup, until the semifinals. Baggio did not score in the first two games of that tournament, and was virtually invisible until the semifinals, where he you could argue single-handledly won the game 2-1 against Bulgaria, pushing Italy into the world cup final. He was virtually invisible in the final against Brazil, and missed that famous penalty in the shootout. Baggio did score 5 goals in that tournament, and had some great moments, particularly in the semi-finals, but you could make a case that he was not the best player in that World Cup. Baggio will forever be remembered as a hero, for his dynamic style on the field and off, particularly in the 1990-1994 period, but his 1994 World Cup performance is a little suspect. Zidane is another case, in where he was widely remembered as the best player and hero of the France squad that beat Brazil in the final. However, when looking closely it is really hard to make that statement. For one, Zidane missed 2 of the 7 games, having been suspended in the second game against Saudi Arabia for stomping on a player; This was the first time, and certainly not the last time that Zidane would get in trouble for his temper. He played decent, not well, until the final where he scored those fantastic headers against Brazil, and played a good game overall. However, was he really more outstanding than Thuram, Deschamps, and Henry. It is hard to say. However, what separated Zidane and Baggio, in the 1998 and the 1994 World Cup, and throughout their careers for that matter was their magnetism that raised their teammates play, as well. Looking past the numbers, Zizou and the Divine Ponytail were natural born leaders, and it takes much deeper to see that.