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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.

Liverpool Ruin Great Chance to Deny Champions

Liverpool played their first home match of the season at Anfield yesterday against the defending EPL champions, Manchester City.  Although they played an inspired match that featured two moments of pure class, they also wasted a glorious opportunity to make a statement this season and look to be of a similar of mold as last season, when silly mistakes cost them numerous points in the table.

Manchester City started the match brightly, as Carlos Tevez was a dangerous figure who made a few decent runs on the Liverpool defense.  But then City sort of fell asleep and the Reds took over the game creating the majority of first half chances.  The crowd got behind the team and you could feel that Liverpool was on the brink of a glorious upset.

Martin Skrtel headed in a wonderful goal off a corner kick and the Anfield faithful leapt with joy.  He made a powerful run inside to meet the ball and simply banged it into the net.  Manchester City looked hopelessly lost but managed to see the half out down 1-0.

Liverpool’s errors came to the light in the second half.  In the 62nd minute, Carlos Tevez played in a cross that really ought to have been cleared, but Martin Kelly couldn’t control the ball and it fell dangerously in front of goal to Yaya Toure who managed to equalize the score.

Yet Liverpool managed to take the lead again moments later from a brilliant Luis Suarez free kick.  The shot bent perfectly around the defenders’ wall and dropped into the bottom corner.  Goalkeeper Joe Hart didn’t have a chance at saving the shot, and again Liverpool benefited from a moment of offensive genius from a set play.

But Manchester City played the game smart and waited like snakes for their opportunity.  David Silva was substituted on for the final 15 minutes and helped inspire the Blues.  His incredible ball control was on fine display as he helped orchestrate attacks late in the game.

But his skill was not to be the determining factor in the match.  No, it was Liverpool’s shaky defense that threw away the win.  All game the defense had been playing dangerous passes back to goalkeeper Pepe Reina, but these had fortunately been just out of reach of the Man City forwards.

Skrtel played another silly pass back to goal in the 80th minute.  This time Tevez pounced upon the drifting ball and was able to circumvent Reina and score the second equalizer.

Tevez had said during an interview showed before the match that he didn’t care what types of goals he scored, as they all only count as one goal.  This was clearly evident on the day.  Liverpool scored two sensational goals compared to Manchester City’s two that were created from defensive errors.  Liverpool had fought hard and should really have claimed all three points, but there was a definite mark of resiliency for Man City who was able to muster up a draw in a match where they were clearly outplayed.  Liverpool will need to correct their defensive mistakes if they are to again become a force in the Premier League.

EPL Season Starts off Just as it Finished Last Year

Anyone hoping for great changes right off the bat in the EPL will have been disappointed to see the first round of matches continue in much of the same fashion that last season ended.

Arsenal got off to a lackluster result with a 0-0 home draw with Sunderland.  In typical fashion, the Gunners held the majority of possession and passed the ball around without creating more than a handful of chances.  Arsenal began last year terribly before improving to a 3rd place finish thanks to the exploits of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, but without those players their replacements couldn’t break the deadlock.

Liverpool fell flat on their faces with a 3-0 loss to West Bromwich.  The team looks resoundingly similar under new manager Brendan Rogers, and although they faced a few questionable decisions in the match, there really is no excuse for such a one sided score-line for what was once such a proud club.  It has been several long seasons of finishing outside the top 4 for Liverpool and this result suggests the trend is set to continue.

Manchester City had a more positive afternoon that featured a comeback victory 3-2 over Southampton, recalling memories of their stunning final day last year when they won the league at the death with a similar comeback of the same score over QPR.  Although they were able to stage the comeback more comfortably with ten minutes remaining in the match, their ability to find late game heroics will make them a force again in the Premier League.

Chelsea found success as new signing Eden Hazard earned an assist and drew a penalty in their 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic.  After their two early goals the team didn’t look very strong though, and striker Fernando Torres was largely ineffective at producing chances.  At least they were able to get a win though which is something they struggled mightily with during last season’s 6th place finish.

Manchester United will play against Everton tonight in a match that Red Devils fans would like to forget from last season.  During that April match, Manchester gave up two late goals in a 4-4 draw that saw them drop two points that would have won them the league.  Based on the other recurring themes from the last two days, I suspect that this match will be another hard fought draw, as Everton has the home advantage.

So it appears as if this season is starting off in a familiar manner, but with 37 games remaining for each team, surely there will be some twists and turns as the EPL season develops.

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.

Resurgent Strikers to Decide FA Cup

Liverpool and Chelsea square off in the final of the FA Cup next Sunday at Wembley Stadium.  It’s been an up and down season for both clubs as their Premier League form has been patchy but their tournament successes have drawn heavy applaud.  Two players who had been very poor for much of the season have recently lit aflame and are now on a collision course set for the match.  Fernando Torres, once the scourge of Chelsea drew acclaim for his Champions League sealing goal over Barcelona and his recent hat trick against QPR.  Alternatively, Luis Suarez, who has been suspended for a large swath of the season, is lobbing in goals from 50 yards out and also had a hat trick on the weekend against Norwich City.

Now the two players are set to feature in a game that can restore so much pride for their respective clubs.  To Liverpool, who won the Carling Cup earlier this year, an FA Cup represents a more prestigious and memorable trophy, and a win would mean a domestic cup double for the season.  For Chelsea, who aim for Champions League glory, the FA Cup is just another measure of success.  But, if they go on to lose the European final in Munich, bagging the FA Cup shows that the season wasn’t a total failure.

Fernando Torres has been dormant for so much of the season.  His form has led to many speculations and cries for Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge, and Salomon Kalou to see more playing time.  However, the stern resolve of Roberto Di Matteo looks set to pay off as the striker is beginning to resemble his old world class self ahead of the most pinnacle moment of Chelsea’s season.

Luis Suarez is no stranger to trouble.  During the 2010 World Cup, he blatantly used a handball to prevent Ghana scoring a late match-winning goal against Uruguay in the quarterfinals.  Suarez further angered the public when he was charged with racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United during a Premier League match.  Recently seeing out an eight game suspension, Luis Suarez returned to form this weekend with his hat trick.  However, he has also raised eyebrows for all the wrong reasons such as when he was caught trying to use his hands in scoring a goal against Wigan.

Regardless of character issues, Torres and Suarez should provide a thrilling matchup in the FA Cup final.  Both players are coming off of hat trick glory, and we can all hope to witness a bounty of goals at Wembley.

Champions League First Leg Upsets Set Stage for Exciting Returns

The second leg of a UEFA Champions League tie is always the most enthralling.  This is the true match where the victor progresses and the loser must simply wait until next season.  At this point of the tournament only four teams remain, and the winners will meet in the final match for all the glory of Europe.

In both cases, the pundits would declare that the underdog teams won the first leg.  Bayern Munich scrapped a very late goal through Mario Gomez against Real Madrid which gave them a 2-1 victory.  Now they will travel to the legendary Bernabeu and hold on for dear life.  Real Madrid will be thoroughly invigorated due to their victory over Barcelona on Saturday that basically assured them of the La Liga title.

Bayern Munich desperately want to win the semifinal.  As Borussia Dortmund recently claimed the Bundesliga, the Champions League presents their only opportunity for silverware on the season.  With the future of Arjen Robben up in the air, this may be their last chance to win a major trophy with the current make-up of the squad.  The Dutch playmaker is a crucial attacker to the side and will be extremely difficult to replace.

Further providing motivation for the German side is that the final will be held at Bayern Munich’s stadium.  The ability to play the ultimate match on one’s home turf would give Bayern much more favorable odds.  Look at how host nations have fared in recent world cups.  Germany excelled in 2006, as did South Korea in 2002.  In 1998, France won as hosts.  If they can hold onto their lead, Bayern Munich will like their chances to win the Champions League.

Chelsea stunned holders Barcelona 1-0 in London last week.  Salt was added to the wounds when Barcelona lost El Clasico and the Spanish League.  Many moons have passed since Barcelona was defeated two games in a row, and morale must be low within the team.  Overturning the deficit will be quite challenging, especially as Barcelona failed to secure an away goal against Chelsea.  Due to the UEFA rules, if Chelsea scores a goal in the game, Barcelona would actually need to score at least three goals and win by a two goal margin.

Chelsea seems re-invigorated and their manager, Roberto Di Matteo, will see the Champions League trophy as a route to securing a permanent job with the club.  Both ties are set for great excitement.  The Spanish clubs were deemed the favorites heading into the semifinals, and both teams lost the first legs.  Therefore, we will get to see them really go for it in front of their home fans.  I predict that only one of either Real Madrid or Barcelona will make the necessary turnaround to earn a final spot.  My money is on Real Madrid.  They are on a hot streak and are finally showing the poise that we expected when Jose Mourinho was brought in to be manager.

Mikel Arteta Making Arsenal Proud

Seen by the media and skeptics as a frantic move, the purchase of Mikel Arteta on deadline transfer day last August has proven to be yet another shrewd move by Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger.  Although Arteta’s adaptation to the Gunners’ playing style took a few months to develop, the creative midfielder has made a name for himself around the Emirates with his thunderous strikes from distance.

Arteta’s most recent goal was a glorious effort that came in the crucial moment of a Premier League match with Manchester City.  It was a must win game for both sides as Arsenal is in the race for vital Champions’ League qualification, and Manchester City desperately needs points to keep pace with Manchester United for the title.

Arsenal dominated the proceedings for most of the game, but it wasn’t until Arteta’s fantastic goal in the 85th minute that a breakthrough was reached.  This hasn’t been the first time that the talented Spaniard has scored late goals.  Only two weeks ago, Arteta banged in a tremendous free kick against Aston Villa in the dying moments.  When he hit the ball, it was a direct bullet of a shot that barely even rotated as it rocketed 30 yards into the corner of the goal.  The effort was selected as Arsenal’s goal of the month of March.

Arteta, who was a childhood friend of Real Madrid star, Xabi Alonso, has been a late bloomer of a footballer.  He began his career in the hallowed Barcelona youth system.  After failing to establish himself in the first team, he moved to Rangers FC of Scotland where he attained some success, winning the league and cup double in 2003.

After a failed move to his favorite childhood club, Real Sociedad, Arteta brought his talent back to the UK and became a star at Everton.  He was a vital part of the team during his time there, helping them qualify for the Champions’ League in 2005.  He was repeatedly Everton’s player of the season, winning fame and accolades for his ability to direct the attack, and for his vibrant goals in important matches.

However, during his later Everton years Arteta suffered serious injuries which kept him off the pitch for months at a time.  Never truly regaining his form, his career stagnated.  When Arsenal came calling last August, Arteta knew it was time to make a move to a powerful club.  He stated, “I am 29 years old so I haven’t got much time left to take a chance like this one.”

Arteta has done well to help the Gunners fill the void left by the departing Cesc Fabregas.  Although he was initially criticized for passing the ball backwards and sideways too much, Arteta’s recent goals have displayed a knack for pulling his team through in clutch moments.

He has yet to earn a spot in the Spanish national team squad, and when one sees the talent chosen before him they can understand why.  But, his recent displays may just be impressive enough to earn him a place for the EURO 2012 tournament.  As wonderful as Spain is, any team should employ the skills of a late game changer.   Arteta is truly a player that shows the leadership and determination to inspire his team to greatness.

Wolves Under the Magnifying Glass

McCarthy team selectionMany people and clubs involved in the Premier League are up to arms about Wolverhampton Wanderers team selection when they faced Manchester United at old trafford last night.

The Wolves team that Mick McCarthy sent out to play against the champions was largely second choice players; in contrast to United’s team sheet which was almost all regular first team players.

Predictably Manchester won the game easily and went joint top of the league leaving many other clubs with a bitter taste; seeing points gifted to their competitors.

Personally I can not see what all the fuss is about.  McCarthy made a pretty understandable decision.  He has two games in one week, one against United in which they would be very unlikely to get any points no matter which team they put out, and another match against Burnley.  So he has rested his key players to increases his chances in an already winnable match against Burnley.

This seems to make sense from Wolves point of view, and it just seems so crazy that the Premier League would try to force managers to make strategic decision not based on how it will affect their own team, but how it could affect position battles between other teams in the league…

I do feel for the fans who had traveled to see essentially a reserves team line up, but any true fan it going to want to see their team avoid relegation gather than be “entertained” for the one game they’ve traveled to.