What to Watch This Weekend, Part 2: Newcastle-Manchester City, Derby della Madonnina

May 6, 2012 — by Suman


Sunday, May 6

EPL, Newcastle United vs Manchester City (8:30amET, FSC & Fox Deportes): A massive game in the Premier League, both for the title race and Champions League qualification.

Following Man City’s tense 1-0 victory in last Monday’s much-hyped Manchester derby, this match becomes the new title-decider. If City win this one, they’ll need only a final day win over Sunderland at home to claim the title (assuming Manchester United win their final two–versus Swansea at Old Trafford later today, and at Sunderland on the final day).

But Newcastle will be fighting for a win here as much as City. They’re even with Spurs on 65 points, who play Villa today–only 2 points behind Arsenal, who slipped up badly this weekend with a 3-3 draw at home against Norwich.

And Newcastle is equally in form, especially January signing Papiss Demba Cissé.  He’s the talk of the league after scoring 13 goals in 12 appearances since coming over from the Bundesliga’s SC Freiburg (where he was also prolific–his 22 goals last season, in his first full Bundesliga campaign, were 2nd only to Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez).  But he’s especially the talk of the league after his spectacular exta-time goal Wednesday at Stamford Bridge–frontrunner for goal of the season. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now; if you have, watch it agian:

Key matchups: Cissé and his Senegalese strike-parter Demba Ba against the City’s center back pair of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott; and in midfield, Newcastle’s creative Frenchman Yohan Cabaye and Ivorian hardman Cheikh Tioté against the likes of Yaya Touré, David Silva, and Samir Nasri. Watch also for another creative Frenchman on Newcastle’s wing, Hatem Ben Arfa.

Interesting historical resonance: City are looking to win their first title since 1968–when they clinched the title with a 4-3 victory over Newcastle at St. James’ Park, allowing them to squeak past crosstown rivals Manchester United.  In addition to the photo above of the opening goal, see the rest of the Telegraph’s gallery of photos from that day.

Serie A, Inter Milan vs AC Milan (2:45pmET, FSC, Fox Deportes & La Derby della Madonnina , i.e., the Milan derby.  Not only one of the most storied and heated rivalries in the game, but also, as if often the case, a match with big implications for the Serie A table. Like the Newcastle-ManCity match, this match simultaneously impacts the race for the domestic title as well as Champions League qualification.

AC Milan sit one just point behind still-undefeated Juventus.  So they’ll need Juve to slip up, either today against Cagliari or next week at home against Atalanta. But they’ll certainly need to keep winning to give themselves any hope of winning another Scudetto.

On the other hand, Inter have had a roller coaster of a season.  They’ve been on the rise again over the past month, after Claudio Ranieri was sacked and Andrea Stramaccioni was promoted from manager of Internazionale Primavera to manage the senior squad.  But they now sit in 6th place, one point behind 5th place Lazio and 3 points behind 3rd place Napoli and 4th place Udinese. With the top 3 finishers in Serie A going to the Champions League, while 4th and 5th go to Europa, Inter will need at least one of those teams to falter in order for a return to European competition next season.



AC Milan Needs to Beat the Top Teams, Stat

February 3, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


The Tevez-Pato “will he? won’t he” questions ricocheted every which way this January as the musical chairs transfers song played at AC Milan, but at the end everyone retook their own chairs. Boring. Perhaps they were dating Berlusconi’s daughter, or were on £200,000 a week slave wages that no one else could match, but whatever the reason, that anti-climax will be followed up by a busy February and early March. The Rossoneri take on first-place Juventus twice in the Coppa Italia and once in the league, Napoli and Udinese in the league, not to mention the two Champions League legs against Arsenal.

It all starts with the home match/grudge match against Napoli this Sunday at 2:30 ET (Fox Soccer).

To put the upcoming matches in perspective, Milan has not beaten any team in the top five in a league match this season, including the painful loss to Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in January. Furthermore, Napoli beat Milan 3-1 in their only other matchup this season. If Milan continues to find itself unable to beat the top teams, this upcoming run could prove very difficult and very damaging.

However, aside from the Tevez-Pato dud of inaction, Milan did bring in five reinforcements over the window to deal with the second half of the season, including striker Maxi Lopez from Catania and out-of-favor midfielder Sulley Muntari from Inter. Coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Lazio that could have seen them take pole position, they have everything to play for—and conversely, everything to lose.

Napoli has stuttered to a string of draws and a defeat to Genoa of late, but Cavani fired them to a 2-0 victory over Inter in the Coppa Italia last week and they could come roaring back this Sunday.

Feb 5, 9:00 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Napoli
Feb 8, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Juventus
Feb 11, 12:00 ET  Udinese  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 15, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Arsenal
Feb 19, 9:00 ET  Cesena  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 21, 2:45 ET  Juventus  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 25, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Juventus
Mar 3, 12:00 ET  Palermo  vs.  AC Milan
Mar 6, 2:45 ET  Arsenal  vs.  AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 15 goals in the Serie A this season. But should he get injured or need a breather during the fast-and-furious fixtures ahead, Lopez may be called into action. Alexandre Pato suffered a thigh strain last month that may see him missing out on the next 4 matches, including the home leg against Arsenal. Lopez was not top-choice at Catania, so while there is cover, it’s not of the same quality. The decision between Lopez and Tevez was never one of equals, rather of finances.

New loan signing Muntari continues his international engagements with the Ghana national team in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and may not be back in time for the Champions League fixture against Arsenal in the San Siro, either. Muntari was brought on to help bolster a depleted midfield that has lost Mathieu Flamini, Gennaro Gattuso, Alexander Merkel and Alberto Aquilani to injury. Kevin Prince-Boateng also has spent quality time on the injury table of late.

Obviously, with talented players such as Thiago Silva, Robinho, van Bommel, Seedorf, Ambrosini and Zambrotta all hale and hearty, the team is not in crisis, but performances this month could very well determine their fates in all remaining competitions: the league, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.

It should be getting quite interesting quite soon.


Football as Art: Gareth Bale Animated

March 23, 2011 — by Suman

This fantastic video was making the rounds of the footy interwebs last week–animator Richard Swarbrick (@RikkiLeaks) with an dreamlike impressionistic rendering of Gareth Bale’s Champions League performances vs Inter Milan:

This blew up especially after it was listed at #1 among “Our Favourite Things This Week” by Guardian Football–they specifically linked to the Run of Play’s post of it, titled “Bones Like Ghost” (“If there were a channel that showed live matches in this style, I might forget what living people looked like”).

For those of you that somehow haven’t seen the “IRL” version of Bale v Inter, see here. Though that video clip, like most of the hundreds of soccer highlight videos on YouTube, has a jarring soundtrack–which is a regrettable phenomenon that Run of Play addressed in an earlier post: “On Soundtracks“:

It’s a universal in football that the only people who take the time to find every single Dennis Bergkamp goal on film and then edit them together into an attractive looking YouTube-length clip listen to either emocore, pop schlock, or trance/house music.

Finally, whenever we revisit Bale v Inter, we’re reminded of Gazzetta dello Sport’s line–still the best of 2010 by our estimation.  Translated from the Italian by the Daily Mail: “‘He is devastating. How else can you describe him ? He doesn’t have one extra gear but three. This time he didn’t score but he assisted. He is a force of nature.”

"L'Inter crolla col Tottenham. Bale scatenato. Benitez: "Troppo veloci"


Bayern One Step Closer to Revenge

February 24, 2011 — by Sean

Danijel Pranjić — It would've been worse for Inter if he hadn't gone off early with an injury.

Bayern Munich were in the Lombardy region this evening, where they met last year’s Champions League winners Inter Milan at the San Siro. By chance you ask? Well certainly not. This was the first 90 minutes of their knockout round tie, and the Bavarians   certainly weren’t playing for a draw.

Inter were without Milito—the man who scored the winner in last year’s final—though he’s only just back in form after taking the first half of the season off for various knocks to body and mind. The Italians came out in a 4-3-2-1 (the Christmas tree, if you like) to face the German’s 4-2-3-1, Eto’o up top for Inter and Gomez the man at the point for Bayern.

It all started off cagedly as you’d expect from this phase of the cup, especially when there’s an Italian side in the mix. There was an early chance off a set piece sent in by Sneijder that then went sailing into the stands off the foot of the center back Ranocchai (the man had a generally awful game, sending dangerous loose passes about the back before being subbed with ten minutes remaining). And another opportunity in the 22nd minute when the lively Eto’o worked up the right wing and placed an opportunity on the foot of Cambiasso, but his blast was stifled by newly-chosen first choice keeper Thomas Kraft. But that was it for the champions, the rest of the half saw them compressing the center and turning away crosses from the quick-footed Bayern wingers.

Immediately following the Cambiasso chance Bayern were up the field, and from this point on they bossed the match. Die Roten were having success up the left flank with Ribéry and the Croatian Danijel Pranjić overlapping and creating a general nuisance for Maicon. Robben looked sure on Bayern’s right, and his cross at twenty-two minutes found Ribéry’s disfigured head, before making its way onto the crossbar. Ten minutes later Panjić had to come off with an injury, but the attacking movement simply worked more up the right through Robben then, with Thomas Müller dropping back from an attacking midfield roll to collect and help the ball from right to left.

The second half was more of the same, with Bayern even more intent to bring a lead back to the Fatherland. Müller had a chance right at the start, finding space in the box before sending an open header well wide. As they settled into the second half and looked for openings, Munich were stroking the ball around for such long periods that the home fans had the chance to build up quite a whistling dislike. They were struck silent in the 55th minute when Robben sent in a strike that hit the post after some clever movement between the attacking four.

Inter were quick to counter after that chance. It was in fact a very punch, counter-punch affair, though the Germans threw many  punches that the Italians simply avoided without attempting a counter-strike. Attack seemed reliant on getting the ball to Sneijder and then to Eto’o (who remained dangerous throughout). And in the 57th minute Eto’o created a great opening for himself and fired a wicked shot in at Kraft, who could only turn it onto an onrushing Cambiasso. This time the spear-bald Italian sent the ball into the upper deck—crisis averted.

Gustavo stiffles Stanković

In the last ten minutes with the score still level at zeros, Inter began to push up. They caused a number of corners and forced the Bayern defense to scramble to keep the ball out (Thiago Motta forced a sturdy save at the end with a fierce header). This, though, was when Bayern’s Brazilian center back Luiz Gustavo showed his true class. Calm in possession, the part defensive mid /part center back twice took the ball from a dangerous position and simply ran up the field away from danger, leaving the Inter attackers helpless behind him.

Just when it seemed like the game would run out without a goal being put through, Bayern manufactured one final surge up the pitch. Robben collected the ball on the right, dipped inside and sent a blast at Júlio César. The Brazilian keeper couldn’t hold onto the ball, but the Inter defenders had let go of their marks, allowing the great poacher Gomez to lope in unhindered and slide the ball into the net. Bayern with a death blow in the 90th minute, and well deserved after they’d very much dominated the game.



The 2010 FIFA Club World Cup

December 16, 2010 — by Suman2

FIFA Club World Cup 2010Seven teams have been competing in Abu Dhabi over the past week in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup: Inter Milan (Italy), Pachuca (Mexico), Internacionale (Brazil), TP Mazembe (Congo DR), Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (South Korea), Al-Wahda Sports Club (UAE), and Hekari United FC (Papua Ne Guinea). The final is set for Saturday: Inter Milan vs, surprisingly, TP Mazembe.

Hekkari are the first club outside of Australia or New Zealand to qualify; but they immediately fell to host side Al-Wahda in the qualifying round.  Al-Wahda went down to Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the quarterfinals, and they in turn lost to Inter Milan in the semis.

The UEFA and CONMEBOL champions go straight into the semifinals–which no doubt has contributed to every previous final match being a UEFA vs CONMEBOL affair (see below).  But this year TP Mazembe made it to the finals by beating Pachuca and then Internacional.  See our lengthy post here on TP Mazembe and more on how they reached the final; see FIFA’s site for the full bracket of results leading up to the final.

Via Wikipedia, here are the details of how the seven clubs qualified–the six winners of the various Confederations’champions leagues plus Al-Wahda as winner of the host UAE’s league:


FIFA Club World Cup Finalist: TP Mazembe Out of Lubumbashi (DR Congo)

December 16, 2010 — by Suman2

Tout Puissant Mazembe - Founded in 1939

How did Tout Puissant Mazembe–based in Lubumbashi, the 2nd largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo–become the first club from outside of Europe and South America to reach the finals of a Club World Cup?

Most immediately, by upsetting the Brazilian side Internacionale 2-0 earlier this week in the semis.  (And thus preventing an Inter v Inter final. Inter Milan defeated South Korean club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3-0 in the other semifinal; Internazionale will play Mazembe in the finals this Saturday).

The highlights show a couple nice finishes by the Congolese (and some relatively lax defending by the Brazilians):

For a more detailed account of how TP Mazembe reached the final, see this Guardian blog entry: “TP Mazembe continue journey from karate kids to the top of the world“; the “karate kids” reference alludes to a shameful showing in a club tournament in Kigali in May, against Rwandan army club APR FC:

Opponents of APR complain that the army club benefits from generous refereeing when playing at home and Mazembe felt they were being kicked with impunity. When the referee denied the visitors a penalty, the perceived injustice got a bit too much for some Mazembe players. Their captain and prolific striker, Trésor Mputu, protested so furiously that he was sent off and he did not, alas, go quietly.

Instead he and several team-mates chased the referee around the pitch; the midfielder Guy Lusadisu was the first to catch up with the official … and laid him out with a flying karate kick. Oh dear. The match and then the whole tournament were abandoned and Fifa banned Mputu and Lusadisu for a year. Mazembe’s hopes of retaining the African Champions League seemed doomed. The loss of Mputu, who last year was voted the best player playing his club football in Africa, was considered especially debilitating.

Here is the video of the flying karate kick in Kigali:


Weekend Standouts: Samir Nasri & S.S. Lazio

December 6, 2010 — by Sean1

An exciting weekend as always around world football, and more action to come with Champions League matches tomorrow and Weds. For now, let’s take a quick look at the fantastic goals of Samir Nasri vs Fulham. “The overbite”, as we call him in the Cult Football offices, has hit top form this season, and his composure on the ball and willingness to shoot is sorely needed, especially with Arshavin going missing in the attack of late. Enjoy!

How about dem aquile?

From Italy, Rafa Benitez continues to lose, this time to Lazio. The result puts Lazio in second place and sends Inter dangerously close to losing any invitation to european tournaments next year. Lazio are actually a very entertaining side to watch, and absolutely dominated Inter on the way to a 3-1 victory. Particularly outstanding were the Brazilian midfielder Hernanes and his point man in attack Mauro Zárate. Hernanes has a deft touch and an eye for just the right pass, while Zárate has an excellent sense of space, is a strong runner and classy finisher.  We will be paying attention…


Inter lose again

November 21, 2010 — by Sean

The team with the blue and black stripes has lost the will to win, going down 2-1 to Chievo and falling to 6th place in the Serie A (they’d be in 7th, and out of european club competition completely if not for goal difference).

What the team especially doesn’t need is to lose yet another starting player. But it looks like that’ll be the case, as Eto’o is sure to serve some multi-game ban for this headbutt on Boštjan Cesar.