Controversial Match Gives Chelsea First EPL Defeat of Season

Chelsea hosted Manchester United at Stamford Bridge over the weekend and the match proved to be one of the most exciting games of the young season, complete with impressive goals, questionable red cards, and resounding controversy.  Manchester United came away 3-2 winners in a stadium where they haven’t won in roughly a decade, and Chelsea were left to rue the questionable decisions of referee, Mark Clattenburg.

Manchester United came out soaring and quickly established a two-goal lead from some lovely play by Robin van Persie.  Chelsea settled into the game and actually established a dominance in time of possession, but the Manchester club was the more effective in the early stages of the game.

However, Chelsea was able to get back into the match shortly before half time, when Juan Mata directed a superb free kick into the side of the goal.  It was the perfect way to go into the break for Chelsea, and one could feel the momentum shift after the goal.

Early in the second half the teams were level when a succession of crosses finally found the head of Ramires, who guided the ball into the net and set the fans alight in celebration.  Chelsea now looked the stronger side and would have been the bettor’s choice to go on to victory.

However, the decisions of the referee soon took the game elsewhere.  Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for a soft foul on Ashley Young.  In Clattenburg’s defense, Young was free in on goal and his foul denied him a goal scoring opportunity.

Only minutes later, the red card made a second appearance as Fernando Torres received a second yellow card for diving and was sent off. This was a very questionable decision as replays showed that Jonny Evans had made a slight touch.  Torres probably embellished the foul by falling so hard, but his sending off was a very harsh move by Clattenburg.

As Manchester United took hold of the game with a two-man advantage, they pressed forward and finally scored with Javier Hernandez from a short distance after a great cross by Rafael. Replays showed that Hernandez was slightly offsides at the time of the pass, but he was moving back and was behind defenders when he scored. In real time the decision would have been nearly impossible to see, but in examining the highlights, Chelsea should rightly feel slighted.

Controversy erupted from here on out.  The managers were shown exchanging less than friendly words on the sideline, and a steward was injured late in the match.  Reports surfaces that he was injured by items thrown from the stands, and this could be an embarrassment for Chelsea.  Further accusations erupted soon after the final whistle when Chelsea filed an official complaint to the FA that Clattenburg had not only ruined their chances, but had also used inappropriate language towards Chelsea players, including using a racial slur.  Time will tell if these accusations are well-founded or arose from resentment over how the game enfolded, but this truly has become a match of supreme controversy.

Regardless of the findings of these investigations, Manchester United came out to play, and were well-deserving of the victory.  The race at the top of the table has now tightened, and hope has been given to all of the other title contenders this season.

Everton Looks to Build Onto Hot Start in Derby Against Liverpool

The Merseyside Derby is always an enticing affair between the two Liverpool clubs, and next week’s Premier League match should be no different.  Although Everton haven’t won against Liverpool since 2010, they have had the more successful season so far this term and will have the home-field advantage playing at Goodison Park in this match.

Everton is currently in 4th place in the league after beginning the year with an enthralling 1-0 win against Manchester United.  They built off of that victory and have since defeated Southampton, Swansea, and Aston Villa.  Their only defeat has been away to West Bromwich who is one of the surprising darlings of the young EPL campaign.

Everton has built a solid start from some of their excellent players and solid defensive play.  American goalkeeper Tim Howard is a great presence between the posts while offensively the team has benefited from relatively new striker Nikica Jelavic and midfield dominator, Marouane Fellaini.  Steven Pienaar has also brought a real edge to the team, although he will unfortunately miss the derby due to a suspension from a red card he earned last weekend at QPR.

Everton has slumped recently with two draws in their last two Premier League matches, although one could argue the QPR draw was a success since the finished the game with only 10 men, and both matches have been away from home.

Understandably, the team has seen a rather easy start to the campaign with Manchester United their only true test, however, that is set to change starting with this Liverpool match.

Liverpool has been woefully average, and this poor run has continued into this year.  Other than the five goals by Luis Suarez, the Reds have not been anywhere near up to par.  They are currently 12th in the table and have only managed two wins in eight matches.  They head into this match on the brink of desperation, and would be especially embarrassed should they fall to their greatest rivals, who look to be overtaking them as far as the most successful football club in town.

As bright as Everton have looked, this match will be quite tough.  Derby atmospheres always make for an unpredictable game, but with the injured Fellaini struggling to gain fitness for this match and the suspended Pienaar, the team could find chances difficult to come by.  Perhaps Kevin Mirallas can earn some playing time in this match and make a difference.

Either way, the Everton Liverpool game is sure to be an exciting match as these two clubs, both hungry for a win tussle horns in a heated rivalry battle.  I foresee an Everton victory 3-2.

Belgium Looks Strong in 2014 World Cup Qualifying

Ten long years have passed since the European nation of Belgium last played in a major international tournament.  They were once regulars and boasted strong teams.  However, after an abysmal decade, the “Red Devils” look to be in serious contention for a place in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and feature a squad filled to the brim with exciting young talent.

The most dazzling of such players is Eden Hazard.  After establishing himself as a star in Lille of France’s Ligue 1, Hazard moved to Chelsea this past summer and has emerged as a brilliant young player. The winger has great speed and touch on the ball that terrorizes defenders.  In just seven EPL matches this year, Hazard has already notched 6 assists and scored 2 goals.  He also has drawn penalty fouls on several occasions.  At only 21, the sky is the limit for this wonderful playmaker.

But that is merely the tip of the iceberg.  Belgium has a set of young, fearsome strikers in Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke.  Lukaku is a Chelsea player on loan at West Bromwich, and has scored several important goals for the club.  He is a large, physical presence that many in London hope will resemble former Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba.  Benteke is also a strong and big striker and recently moved to Aston Villa.  He has already opened his scoring account there and also scored the opener in Belgium’s 3-0 victory in Serbia this past weekend.  A third striker in Kevin Mirallas is very capable:  He also scored in Serbia, and now plays for Everton after he led the Greek league in scoring at Olympiakos.

Another Everton player who is vital for Belgium is Marouane Fellaini. The massive central midfielder with a big Afro has been a great physical presence in the center of the pitch.  Also, he has a wonderful ability to score the occasional goal, like his winner for Everton when they beat Manchester United on the league’s opening day.

Defensively, Belgium is also stacked with talent.  Center backs Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen both captain elite Premier League clubs in Manchester City and Arsenal.  Jan Vertonghen is another great defender and recently signed with Tottenham.

What makes this team so exciting for now is that nearly all of these players are under the age of 25.  They are all growing up together and just getting their careers started at major clubs.  Manager Marc Wilmots must be licking his chops in preparation for what could be the best feast of football that Belgium has ever delighted upon.  Their 2014 World Cup qualifying group is winnable for the team with only Croatia and Serbia as main threats, and they have started the group well, beating both Serbia and Wales and drawing with Croatia.  They next play Scotland and will surely be eyeing three points.

Marc Wilmots was captain the last time Belgium was at a World Cup in 2002, and is now their manager.  Hopefully he can help create some magic within this squad because on talent alone, they could be a major threat to any team hoping for World Cup glory in Brazil.

Chelsea Just Keeps on Winning

The London club has come out of the gates firing on all cylinders this season, winning 6 matches and drawing only once in the early stages of the English Premier League campaign.  Many predictors’ worries over the Chelsea squad came down to whether or not Fernando Torres would be able to keep up the goal-scoring to the levels that Didier Drogba had before his departure from the club this past summer, but Torres has played in wonderful form.

Torres has scored four goals this year and looks to be back on the right path after he struggled so much when he first joined the club nearly two full seasons ago.  Residing under Drogba’s shell, Torres went countless hours without goals and was even benched during big matches, but this season as Chelsea’s single striker the Spaniard is looking to be solid.

Another Spanish player who is taking aim at the Premiership is Juan Mata, who arrived at the club last year.  He has become the creative force in the midfield that is giving teams fits across England.  The midfield is full of playmakers including recent buys Eden Hazard and Oscar.  Both players are young but incredibly talented.  Hazard has scored twice and added four assists.  Oscar has yet to score in a Premier League match but did net a fantastic goal against Juventus in the Champions League.

The young midfield trio has been so spectacular that Frank Lampard has actually been relegated to the bench on occasion to make way.  He does play well when called upon and is second on the team with three goals.  However, he is aging at 34 and the team is being smart by beginning the process of replacing him.

The one danger with excitement surrounds the teams they have played so far this season.  Although they did beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates just over a week ago, they haven’t played very well against big teams and have enjoyed a rather easy start to the campaign.

How Chelsea fares against Manchester United and Manchester City will show us what caliber of team they possess and I still fear that Chelsea will struggle against strong defensive teams.  But nevertheless, the team’s start needs to be commended.  They have beaten all the clubs that they are supposed to beat and that is the toughest task in the EPL, so Chelsea should enjoy themselves and feel positive about how this season develops.

Following the international break, the schedule is set to become harder.  Chelsea next travels to Tottenham before a double slate of matches against Manchester United, one in the Premier League and one in the Capital One Cup.  Fortunately, Chelsea will have the home support of Stamford Bridge, but they will need their fans’ support as they embark on the tough matches ahead this year.

Borussia Dortmund will Struggle to Repeat as Bayern Munich Starts Hot

Last season, the German powerhouse team Bayern Munich started incredibly well with 12 straight victories in all competitions.  Their season fizzled out, Borussia Dortmund overtook them, they lost the Champions League Final against Chelsea, and they were beaten soundly in the DFB Pokal final by none other than Dortmund.  Thus, their bright start to the season finished with Bayern Munich coming away empty handed.

This year, Bayern has again started in scintillating fashion, claiming 9 straight victories and already hold top position in Germany’s Bundesliga.  Their goal differential of 17 is far and away the best of any team, and once again the club feels poised to have a wonderful season.

For Borussia Dortmund, who valiantly fought back to win the title last season, they are once again on the back-foot to begin their season.  Dortmund’s 31 game unbeaten streak was ended a few weeks ago by Hamburg, who look decent with the return of their former star player, Rafael van der Vaart.

Then Dortmund played out a fantastic 3-3 draw with Frankfurt, a team currently second in the Bundesliga who look better and better each week.  As a result, Dortmund currently sits third in the table on 11 points, a full 7 points behind Bayern Munich.

Perhaps their struggles have been due to the departure of Shinji Kagawa, and excellent Japanese winger who moved on to Manchester United this summer.  Although Dortmund does still have a very talented side, they lost their most creative attacker.

A lot of the workload will fall onto new signing, Marco Reus.  The young German forward is a full international, played at EURO 2012, and has already scored five goals for his new club.  Sharing the offensive duties with Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, and Ivan Perisic, goals will be sure to come through for Dortmund.

Their defense has also been solid with Mats Hummels leading the back line.  The big young defender is already an experienced starter for the Germany National Team and has earned praise as one of the nation’s most impressive youngsters.

But once again this team will have to fight back from behind to overcome Bayern Munich, and although they managed the feat last year, I feel it will be very hard to overcome the deficit again.  Munich has an incredible roster with Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery, and a whole crew of Germany’s finest players like Philip Lahm, Mario Gomez, and Thomas Muller.  Their new summer signing, Javi Martinez is an experienced midfielder and has been a part of the Spain National Team squad that won both the 2010 World Cup and EURO 2012.

Surely, the Budesliga campaign will have some more twists and turns before the season is out, but I think Bayern Munich means business this year.  Their season fell horrendously short last year, and their players will be ever so hungry to achieve some success this time around.  For a team that has so much promise and talent, I think they will be a hoisting a trophy at the season’s end, and my bet is that they will become German Champions in the Bundesliga.