Montpellier’s Improbable Victory in Ligue 1

Ligue 1 in France is quickly becoming one of the most enticing leagues in all of Europe.  Many players in the league are developing into the world’s best, such as Eden Hazard, who has drawn interest from all the best teams ranging from Real Madrid to Manchester United.  Additionally, new money is flowing into Ligue 1 through Paris Saint-Germaine.  PSG was recently purchased by the wealthy Qatar Investment Authority, who are rapidly building the club into Champions League contenders.  With all these stunning developments, the most miraculous of all was that Montpellier, a typical Ligue 1 bottom-feeder just stunned everyone and became champions.

Last season Montpellier finished the league in 14th place.  The team was plagued by the fact that it depends on youthful talent for success.  The players were simply too young to compete on the professional level.  However, this season proved that waiting for players to develop and mature can reap bountiful rewards.

Striker Olivier Giroud is about to be a major star.  He led Ligue 1 in goals scored with 21 and at age 25, is just starting to blossom.  He has been called up to the national squad and will shine in EURO 2012.  He will be an interesting player to watch there.  Karim Benzema is the first choice striker, but Giroud may be given an opportunity to display himself on the international scene as a substitute or could even feature if manager Laurent Blanc opts to play two strikers.

Speculation has begun with Giroud linked to several major clubs in Europe.  Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin declared that any team wishing to purchase the striker would have to pay at least 50 million Euros.  Giroud wasn’t the only reason for the club’s success however.

Another young star is Moroccan playmaker Younes Belhanda, recently named France’s Young Player of the Year.  The 22 year old is a smart player whose best position is right behind the striker.  He has been compared to French great, Robert Pires for his brilliance.  Belhanda naturally has also been thrust into transfer speculation.  PSG is interested, as is Arsenal and Manchester City.

The captain of the squad is another youngster, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.  The 23 year old Frenchman also recently has been called up to join the France squad in the EURO’s and is on the radars of major clubs.  One club is Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga champions in Germany.  Yanga-Mbiwa plays as a central defender and was vital in Montpellier’s success.

Regardless of the summer transfer possibilities, Montpellier will grace the UEFA Champions League next season.  It is a major achievement for a relatively minor club, and hopefully these three stars will have the opportunity to represent the club for at least one year on the international stage before moving to larger clubs.  They have already proven themselves as victors in Ligue 1 and will be no pushover against the big boys in Europe.

Woes for Bayern Munich

The players for Bayern Munich have suffered considerably throughout their careers.  One may ask, how could professional footballers ever really suffer?  Well, take a look at how they have fared in the biggest games of their lives and you will understand.

First off, nearly the whole team was present when they lost the Champions League final against Inter Milan in 2010.  Two years later, they lost the same match but it was even worse this time around.  They lost on their home turf in a match that they totally dominated.  They even led during the penalty shootout but couldn’t convert.

Chelsea had magic on their side all throughout their Champions League campaign and it was no surprise that they won the final in this way, equalizing in the final minute, saving an extra time PK, and coming from behind in an epic shootout.

But Bayern’s team seems full of repeated losers.  Soccer is such a cruel sport.  Frank Ribery lost a World Cup final with France in 2006.  Arjen Robben lost a World Cup final with Holland in 2010.  A large part of the German players on the squad lost the EURO final in 2008 too.  Such players include Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, and Philipp Lahm.  There is a startling trend developing in the club that seems to perform well until the crucial match and then blows it.

You could see the utter agony on the faces of the players following Drogba’s victorious penalty to seal the game.  Players just collapsed on the pitch and were broken to tears.  Manager, Jupp Heynckes repeatedly went back to the topic of missed opportunities during his post game interview.  But what good is that?  How many missed opportunities does it take to show that your team crumbles under the pressure of a final?

Worse yet, this defeat merely adds more pressure for the next time that Bayern Munich will be in a European final.  Let us not forget that this is the same club that threw away a one goal lead in the 1999 final against Manchester United.  Two stoppage time goals snatched another victory from the German club and the horrors were rekindled on Saturday.

Bayern Munich finished the season empty handed, which included their 5-2 drubbing in the DFB Pokal (German Cup) final at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, who also snatched the Bundesliga title.  So where does the club go from here?  The season was actually quite decent, considering they reached two cup finals and finished second in the league table.  But finishing second in three competitions is just another three opportunities wasted.  The club needs to invest in some winners.  Players and coaches who have won major trophies could get them over that hump.  They need people with the belief that they will win…the kind of belief that Chelsea won the Champions League with.

Manchester United Shirt 2012/2013

Next season’s Manchester United home shirt and home goalkeeper’s shirt have been unveiled; and I’m feeling a little bit underwhelmed.  Although, as an avid collector, I will undoubted go and buy the shirts, I am not sure that this years shirts will make it to “wall status” in my collection and will more than likely be relegated to “drawer status”.

The color pattern is interesting, apparently a reference to Gingham being invented in Manchester, but that is all the shirt has going for it.

The shape and style is unbelievably plain, and the basic black neck adds a certain level of depression to the feel.  Even a white neck or maybe some white trim lines would have made a world of difference to this shirt.  Maybe something like large visible stitching…anything to make it more interesting.

The goalkeepers shirt is similarly plain, they just took the same green color keepers shirt they have used many times before, and stuck this gingham pattern over it.  After the pattern was decided it must have taken a whole 5 minutes to “design” this shirt.

I noticed they were are marketing the shirt has being made out of 7 plastic bottles…somehow this doesn’t make me feel better about spending $70 on a shirt.

Manchester City Wins Premier League in Dramatic Fashion

Manchester City hosted QPR in the final Premier League match of the season with extreme title implications.  A win was enough to guarantee first place in the league, but a loss or a draw would have paved the way open for their cross-town rivals, Manchester United to snatch the trophy.

Manchester City hosting Queens Park Rangers shouldn’t have been much of a match in today’s EPL, but the London side dug their heels in deep and gave City a run for their money, knowing relegation was a possibility at the day’s start.  Although QPR’s dangerous midfielder, Joe Barton, got himself sent off early in the second half, QPR had managed to take a 2-1 lead that they held until the 90th minute.

As scenes of misery unfolded at the Etihad stadium, Manchester United fans were already starting to celebrate.  Scores of City fans exited the match early, and one fan was even shown violently flailing his arms about in desperation up in the stands.  Roberto Mancini brought on every striker he had, including Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, who was given fifteen minutes to right all the wrongs he had created this season.

And it worked.  Dzeko headed in a cross.  Then Balotelli, while falling on his back in the penalty box, was able to muster a pass to Sergio Aguero, who blasted in the shot that sent the stadium into an uproar in the final moments of the match.  In what was one of the most dramatic finishes ever witnessed in British soccer, Manchester City was able to win and hoist the trophy which has eluded them for over 40 years.

It was a well deserved trophy, considering the cost of City’s players.  In the last few seasons, seemingly every big transfer name is linked to Manchester City, and scores of great players have arrived.  Beyond the impressive strikers, great players like Samir Nasri, David Silva, Yaya Toure, and Gareth Barry have all done their part to ensure that the Blue side of Manchester wins some trophies.

For the club, this should mark the start of a period of sustained success.  Similar to the rise of Chelsea ten years ago, Manchester City looks poised for greatness.  Their sites will now be set upon the UEFA Champions League where they will have to prove themselves against the monsters of Europe such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.  Their pocket-books are always open, and new faces like Lille’s Eden Hazard and Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie could make their way to the club in the summer.  With such a competitive side that is always looking to improve, Manchester City could well be on their way to becoming the world’s best club in five years time.

Battle for Third in the EPL Limps Along

With the impending Champions League final where Chelsea could swoop in for next year’s  qualification by beating Bayern Munich, the teams fighting for spots in the Baclay’s Premier League know that only a third place finish will guarantee an appearance in the Champions League next season.  The teams in question are Arsenal, Tottenham, and Newcastle.  The three clubs are separated by a mere two points and any one of them could claim as high as third or as low as fifth.

Therefore, with so much to play for in the last two weeks of the season, one would have been safe to assume that they would have played out some vital wins for their clubs, but each side stumbled this past weekend.  It began with Arsenal, who battled back to a 3-2 lead against Norwich City with ten minutes remaining through two brilliant Robin Van Persie goals only to be denied when Steve Morison brought the teams level.  The game finished as a draw and a stunned Emirates stadium felt a tremor of terror as their rivals, Spurs, were now in the driving seat to claim third position.

However, Tottenham had troubles of their own.  Already down 1-0 to Aston Villa in the first half, Tottenham sputtered further when Danny Rose was sent off for a silly challenge on Alan Hutton.  The team continued to press and managed to get a penalty which Emmanuel Adebayor converted to give them a draw.  This was a far cry from being the moment that Tottenham would finally finish higher than Arsenal for the first time in 17 years.  Once again, when they were gifted that opportunity they blinked.

Newcastle similarly were looking to overtake third place but had a much sterner test playing against league leaders, Manchester City.  Although the Magpie’s season has been splendid, beating City was always going to be a massive challenge.  The team lasted in a 0-0 deadlock until the 70th minute when Yaya Toure took the lead, and he eventually scored again late on to give the Blues a 2-0 victory.

The blank shots were reflective of unspectacular seasons for each team as they have looked grand at times only to revert back to stupidity and mediocrity.  The final fixtures of the season show Arsenal visiting West Bromwich, Tottenham hosting Fulham, and Newcastle visiting Everton.  Tottenham will have a slight advantage with the home game, but Arsenal will still be favored over West Bromwich.  Newcastle will have the hardest test again facing the 7th ranked team.

With everything to play for still, these matches should be fascinating.  Arsenal has their one point lead, but all it means is they alone have destiny in their own hands.  Arsene Wenger will be relieved for that blessing and should inspire the team to a victory.  They haven’t won in their last four games so the Gunners will need to turn fate back in their favor.

I predict that both Arsenal and Newcastle will win, leaving Arsenal in third, Newcastle in fourth, and Tottenham in fifth.  Fulham is a strong side and Clint Dempsey is a force.  I see them beating Spurs on their turf.  Tottenham usually slips on the massive occasion, and I predict it will happen again this weekend.  Newcastle has played very well and new striker, Papisse Cisse, is an unstoppable force, so I see them perhaps getting to taste the wonders of the Champions League with a victory.  Arsenal has experience on their side, and should manage to get the points on the road when they absolutely have to.