Archive for February, 2013

Real Madrid vs. Manchester United:  The clash of the European giants

February 13, 2013 7:45 PM UTC
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu — Madrid
Referee:‬ F. Brych‎

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The wait is finally over.  The champions league is back and what’s more enticing than the two most valuable clubs in the world facing each other in the knockout stages.

Real Madrid comfortably defeated Sevilla 4-1 while Manchester United also emerged 2-0 winners against Everton over the weekend. United’s victory has elevated them to a comfortable 12 point lead whereas Madrid still trail arch-rivals Barcelona by 16 points.

Ronaldo is in devastating form, scoring a hat-trick inside 60 minutes before being substituted by Mourinho against Sevilla. United have to be extremely wary of their former player of the year as Ronaldo’s good form, more often than not, translates to good fortune for Madrid.

Young Raphael Da silva has been handed the responsibility to stop the Portuguese forward from wrecking United’s bid for the Champions league.

Wayne Rooney will have to be at his best if the Red Devils hope to overcome the reigning Spanish Champions. Rooney has been deployed in a deeper role by Ferguson this season. To the Scotsman’s great relief, the move has proved to be massive success. His excellent work-rate coupled with the ability to produce dismantling passes has helped United in breaking many mean defenses. The Englishman’s tendency to fall back and assist the defense also lets Robin Van Persie to linger freely around the opposing defense.

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Robin Van Persie has flourished as a lone striker at his new club. A role he is exceedingly familiar with; since his time at Arsenal. The Dutchman just cannot stop scoring. He leads the goal scoring charts in  the EPL with 19 goals this term; thanks to his clinical finishing and intelligent movement around the box.

Both the sides Defenses have looked complacent throughout the season. Madrid have conceded 22 in 23 league matches whereas United’s defense has been penetrated 31 times in 26 league games.

United’s inspirational captain Nemanja Vidic returned to the starting lineup against Everton and looked solid throughout the game. The Serbian needs to put in a brilliant performance to stop Madrid from scoring. When the Serbian was missing from action, United’s defense looked increasingly cumbersome against testing attacks. United’s defensive arbiter couldn’t have returned at a better time than this.

Madrid can find solace in the promising young figure of Raphael Varane, who is seemingly getting better after every match. While Sergio Ramos has struggled to recreate the form he displayed last season, severely deflating Madrid’s title defense  However, the French centre back looks like an unfinished gem vying for the final polish…

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Varane was the man of the match in the recent el classico, outshining both Messi and Ronaldo.

Kaka put in a good shift over the weekend against Sevilla, but Mourinho usually doesn’t start the Brazilian against big teams; disappointing millions of fans world over. One who might be smirking at the predicament is Luka Modric. Even though he has looked out of form since forever, he holds invaluable experience of playing in the premier league day in day out for years. No-one knows who will start this Wednesday but we’ll have the answer sooner than later…

United goalkeeper De Gea might be sweating over the prospect of facing Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese has a well-deserved reputation of scoring then and again from distance; his deadly shots are known to catch keepers by surprise; lacerating their confidence.  De Gea needs to hold his own against one of the best strikers of the ball, if United are to have a chance at taking anything away from the Bernabéu.

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Ronaldo has had 39 shots in this year’s champions league, 25 more than any united player in the competition.

One factor that might influence the game is match fitness. Sir Alex fielded his strongest lineup over the weekend; a move that might backfire. Real Madrid played safe, as influential playmaker Ozil was rested whereas Ronaldo and Benzema were recalled to the bench relatively early. The clash is anticipated to be a strenuous meeting. Each team will try to capitalize at any errors in defense and even a short lapse in concentration can prove to be the difference.

The mouth watering encounter promises something special.  Every football fan around the world is looking forward to Ronaldo facing the club that made him into the global superstar he is today. Both sets of fans better not expect any harmony as it’s going to be a heated fixture; progression in the champions league is profound for the two clubs. What excites us is the question, who will reign supreme and how will that transpire?

What captures one’s fantasy is when the underdog outdoes the front runner and shocks the world in more ways than one.

Southampton versus Manchester City. It was just going to be another field day for the current Premier League champions, but it turned out to be a rather feisty affair instead.

To put the stature of the two clubs into perspective, let’s look at the highest transfer fee paid by each club for a player in the modern era.

Southampton v Manchester City - Premier League

Manchester City spent a mammoth 38 million for Sergio Aguero in 2011. Southampton also splurged a considerably large amount of 12 million for former Bologna playmaker Gaston Ramirez in 2012.

However, the club struggling around the bottom of the table defeated the champions by a mocking 3-1 scoreline.

The first goal resulted from good work by the pacy Puncheon on the right wing. He passed it to Jay Rodriguez to tuck in; the shot was parried by Joe Hart but Puncheon latched onto the rebound and scored.

One just couldn’t ignore Southampton’s new manager Mauricio Pochettino’s animated antics around the technical area. The Argentine was relishing every bit of his team’s brilliant performance…

To City’s dismay, things were going to get worse.

That goal was a calling for City’s big stars to prove their worth. For the multi-million pound signings to showcase their skills and vindicate their price tag. Nearly everybody expected City to get going, but how wrong were they…

Southampton looked more comfortable on the ball. Yes, when I say that I mean Steven Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin were holding play and providing better delivery for their forwards then Yaya Toure and David Silva. They had the essence of solidity which City lacked throughout the match.

City’s summer signing Javi Garcia looked out of sorts; he just couldn’t find his role. You know, could’ve been the weather. It never snows in Spain now, does it?

Joe Hart had recently saved a Ronaldinho penalty in a midweek international fixture against Brazil. As amazing as that is, not everybody is able to parry away a regular shot by Southampton’s bulky forward Ricky Lambert.  Hart spilled a shot by Lambert into the path of a deserving Steven Davies, who happily tucked it into the net.

Southampton’s engine endeared himself to the fans, while Hart and Mancini watched helplessly. Mancini’s effort to encourage and inspire his team proved rather futile, as City slumped into a more deplorable condition.

City’s talismanic playmaker David Silva just couldn’t recreate his magic in the early stages of the game. As the half progressed he started to look better; trying to deliver defense-piercing passes into the Southampton box.

All that pressure finally rewarded the Citizens with their first goal, as Dzeko scored off a ball by Pablo Zabaleta just before the break. The always revered comeback was on…

And then, Gareth Barry scored, no, not for the Citizens, but for the Saints. One of the most horrendously funny own goals ever. Lambert produced a fairly weak grounded cross from the left and Gareth Barry incomprehensibly passed it to the bottom right of his own net.

Southampton v Manchester City - Premier League

The City fans looked flustered, and so did Mancini. From that moment on, City needed something special; usually that someone special is the giant form of Yaya Toure.

Yaya Toure, another one of Mancini’s multi-million pound signings, justified his price tag in the first half. He did what he does best, bossing the midfield, breaking up play and holding the ball well. As the game reached the 65th minute mark, he started looking increasingly fatigued. Even the ever so dependable Toure looked listless after that point. The demanding nature of the Premier League and the recent African championship finally started influencing Toure’s performance.

What Mancini could’ve done is substituted him, but he didn’t. A livelier Jack Rodwell or Scott Sinclair could’ve certainly provided more than a sluggish Toure, whose legs had literally given up.

A desperate Mancini threw everything forward. Then, the Italian produced a masterstroke. He substituted in two fullbacks in the form of Maicon and Kolarov to replace the two most creative City players on the field, Silva and Nasri.

Again, one wonders why he would take such an absurd decision when a natural winger and an attacking midfielder had been warming the bench, craving for opportunities. All this is evidence as to how Mancini is slowly losing his head.Image

Is it Mario again Mr. Mancini? remember how Mancini salvaged the troublesome youngster from Inter Milan in the summer of 2010?

Southampton defended like knights fighting for glory and recognition. While Aguero and Dzeko tried and tried, Hoovield and Maya Yoshida defended with an unforgiving vibe in their play. Southampton reigned supreme in every part of the field. Manchester City looked sordid, as if their engine was rusted.

What Southampton did was that they simply flooded the midfield. While other teams in the Premier League mostly sit back and defend against the champions, they didn’t. Mauricio Pochettino exuded an aura of faith and trust in his team that most managers fail to do against the bigger teams around Europe. It elevated Southampton’s belief, and that certainly showed on the battlefield.