Weekend wrapup: The big dogs of Europe disappoint

September 28, 2010 — by Suman2

Un buen delantero...y un buen hijo tambien!

It was an interesting weekend in Europe, filled with unexpected results–the big dogs all across the continent came up short. Chelsea, Arsenal, Inter Milan, and Bayern Munich all suffered ignominious defeats, while Manchester United and Real Madrid could only manage disappointing draws. The only power that didn’t disappoint their supporters was Barcelona, which won convincingly. (Question: Are there other European club sides that rank with these six?)

In England, previously perfect Chelsea lost to Manchester City 1-0, the lone goal coming off a tremendous individual effort by Man City’s dogged and talented Argentine captain, Carlos Tevez. (Keep scrolling down for video of Tevez’s goal, among others.)

But the two sides chasing Chelsea in the standings failed to capitalize: Man U had to come from behind twice to salvage a 2-2 draw against Bolton. That was far better than Arsenal, who were shockingly down 3-0 against unheralded West Brom late in the 2nd half. Two late strikes by the young Frenchman Samir Nasri (a replay of one of which is included below) made the score a more respectable-looking 3-2, but Arsenal came off their home pitch with many more questions than points.

Meanwhile, on the Continent, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, last season’s Champions League finalists, and the clear favorites to win their respective domestic leagues, both lost as well. Bayern lost 2-1 to minnows Mainz, while Inter went down 1-0 to AS Roma–a club with a rich history, but this year’s edition had struggled at the start of this season.

But last year’s Champions League finalists and their respective pursuits of finishing atop Serie A or the Bundes Liga are secondary compared to the annual epic struggle between Barcelona and Real Madrid for the La Liga title.  The drama d’Espana is especially intense this year, as Real Madrid have of course brought in The Special One, whose tasks are to win the Champions League and La Liga–any less will be considered a failure by the demanding Madridistas–and by Mourinho himself.  But Mourinho’s Madrid failed to bring the flair, being held to a very surprising scoreless draw against Levante.  Meanwhile, Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1, slipping ahead of Real Madrid in the table, though still second to surprising Valencia.

For more on these matches, check the links below–and the videos.

Man City 1, Chelsea 0: The Guardian’s Football blog runs one of their patented “5 Things We Learned From…” lists. The 5 things in this case being: “Chelsea is not invincible”, “12:45pm kickoffs are no fun” (“There is a definite pattern of 12.45pm kick-offs drifting into a sense of anti-climax. The crowds tend to be subdued, as if they are nursing a collective hangover. The football can be lethargic, almost dreary at times”), “There’s more to come from David Silva”, and “Nigel de Jong is more than just a kicker”:

The problem when you ram your studs into an opponent’s chest in a match watched by three billion people – about half the world’s population – is that people tend to remember it.

It is De Jong’s lot, therefore, that he will probably always be remembered as the guy who committed possibly the worst foul ever to be seen in a World Cup final, and maybe got away with one of the worst miscarriages of justice given that he received only a yellow card.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking he is just a modern-day hatchet man. De Jong is the enforcer in City’s midfield, strong in the tackle, quick to the ball, a man who gives the impression he would run through a plate-glass window for his team. He likes to make his presence felt and, at times, he does trespass into an area of recklessness. But when he gets it right, as he did here, there are few better defensive midfielders in the business.

One thing we did not learn from this match–because it’s something well-known to anyone who’s been watching Man City over the past year, or watched Argentina in the World Cup this summer–is that Carlos Tevez is a striker you want to have on your team. Not only is he a lethal finisher, he’s a fighter. Tevez’s goal Saturday against Chelsea was not the most spectacular in the Prem League this weekend (nor was it the the most spectacular Tevez scored; cf. Arg v Mex in the WC2010 Round of 16)–but it’s deservedly the goalof the week given the context and it’s import:

West Brom 3, Arsenal 2: Also from the Guardian: a match recap (“Arsenal left puzzled by nightmare loss to West Bromwich Albion“) points out how and where West Brom’s surprisingly creative and skillful attack picked apart Arsenal’s very suspect defense–it wasn’t all much-maligned Arsenal ‘keeper Manuel Almunia’s fault:

Almunia could plead in mitigation that all too often he had about as much cover as Gypsy Rose Lee, though with less support from the fans. From the first minute [Jerome] Thomas, once a member of Arsenal’s youth team, was going past Bacary Sagna as if the right‑back wasn’t there – and often he was not – while on the right Brunt and Jara motored through the Place de Clichy as if the lights were stuck on green. Greater awareness from the centre-backs, Sébastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, might have prevented Albion’s first and third goals.

All 5 goals in the match are worth seeing. West Brom’s 3 goals for their quickness and creativity–not only from Thomas, Brunt, and Jara, but also from the young Nigerian-Russian Peter Odemwingie (yes, that’s right, Nigerian-Russian–born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan but raised in Nigeria). Odemwingie caught our eye in a previous West Brom match, vs. Spurs. We’ll write more about him in the near future.

On the other hand, Nasri’s two goals were just about the only bright spot for the Gunners. He took it upon himself to bring Arsenal back when they were down 3-0–and he very nearly did, with a pair of composed and clinical strikes. The first one especially, which came in #3 in the Top 5 compilation above. Here are all the match’s highlights:

Man U 2, Bolton 2: Like Arsenal, Man U’s defense appears suspect; but at the very least check out Nani’s goal (#2 in the Top 5 above). It’s strikingly similar to Tevez’s–both players receive the ball in the center circle, take it solo to the top of the opponent’s penalty box, and hit low hard shots that find the side netting–but Nani’s is better really. Whereas Tevez is challenged by just a single defender (and hardly challenged at that), there are 4 Bolton defenders that have a shot at tackling Nani. He really is a special player–this reminds us again that it’s a shame an injury kept him out of the Portuguese side in the World Cup. He may have made that team somewhat fun to watch at least.

Real Madrid 0, Levante 0: How surprising was it that Levante was able to hold Real Madrid to a scoreless draw?  Read the latest edition of Sid Lowe’s essential weekly La Liga column, this one titled “Levante’s reversal of fortune makes paupers of Real Madrid’s princes“; Lowe describes the vast economic gulf between Levante and the financial Goliath that is Real Madrid:

Real Madrid, the club whose budget is 27 times as big as Levante’s, the club who have spent almost €500m in the years in which Levante have been busy spending nothing. Levante’s income each year is 2% the size of Madrid’s. For every euro they get from television rights Madrid get 11 and they pay their most expensive player, Felipe Caicedo, €350,000 a year gross (Manchester City pay the rest). That’s less than Cristiano Ronaldo makes in a week.

Barcelona 3, Athletic Bilbao 1: Barcelona put its aberrant loss to Hercules further behind them, beating Los Leones of Athletic Bilbao 3-1 on a sopping wet pitch up in Basque Country, off goals by Malian Seydou Keita and Catalans Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets–midfielders all, as Barca’s strikers (David Villa, who has yet to find the finishing touch he demonstrated in South Africa; Pedro; and substitute Bojan Krcic–with Messi sitting this one out due to that nasty ankle inury) failed to find the back of the net.

Roma 1, Inter 0 & Mainz 2, Bayern Munich 1: For commentary on these two, we bring you back to this side of the Pond, and refer you to the NYT’s Rob Hughes, who writes a nice weekly soccer column for the Times Sports section.  In this week’s column, he ties together some observations about these two upsets (including some especially interesting notes about Mainz) with the Man City-Chelsea (or “Abu Dhabi City versus Chelski”) battle:

All three games largely featured the “pressing game,” or the systematic shutting down of space to prevent supposedly superior opponents from displaying their talents. All three, in that respect, reflected the first round of the recent World Cup, where suppression overruled expression.

Hughes’s lyrical concluding lines, after describing Ancelotti and Mancini’s chess match of catennacio:

City had the one irrepressible, impish individual who on the hour broke the deadlock. Carlos Tévez, Argentine by birth, impulsive by nature, sprang from the center circle. Chelsea backed away, nobody daring to tackle; so Carlito kept on running until he scored.

A labyrinth of caution undone by one man’s instinct. Thank you, Tévez.


  • Suman

    September 29, 2010 at 4:07 AM

    For much more on Roma’s victory over Milan, see ZonalMarking’s analysis (which includes this video clip of the highlights), and this description of the game-winner:

    Vucinic went onto win the game with an excellent header. In the space of a few seconds he showed tremendous centre-forward play in three different ways – by having the intelligence to make a run across the defenders towards the near post, the bravery to put his head in against Lucio’s raised foot, and the technical quality to angle his header across Julio Cesar and into the far post. It was a very rare moment of attacking quality in an otherwise underwhelming game.

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