Rafa Benitez is a Twat

November 15, 2010 — by Sean

I'm telling you, it was THIS BIG

Milan beat Inter yesterday in the 175th Derby della Madonnina, 1-0 from a penalty taken by Ibrahimovic in the 5th minute (or around the 5th minute, very early at least). It was a rough game, with both sides playing very physically. The Rossoneri were more determined to sit in defense and disrupt Inter’s attack, though they did put together some dangerous movement in the final third, while Inter never looked like they would score, their attack fizzling consistently before reaching the danger area. This was in no small part due to Gattuso’s doggedness and complete disregard for personal safety.

There were plenty of points to consider in the game: Ibrahimovic sending Materazzi to the hospital, the bench-warming skills of Ronaldinho, the speed and strength of my new favorite Milan player Kevin-Prince Boateng…but let’s focus on Inter’s coach instead.

Benitez took a team with no changes to the side that won the Serie A title and the Champion’s League title last year, and has them 6 points off the lead and currently out of a Champion’s league qualifying position. His response, (I paraphrase) “I need new players in the transfer window.”

Let’s take one of his strikers, Diego Milito, who last year was Serie A’s top goalscorer. Under Benitez, he’s been total shit. What’s Benitez’s take on this?

Last season this team won lots of games in the end because Milito scored lots of goals while now he has problems.

Brilliant stuff, Rafa. Hey are you thinking maybe that your team, the team that won it all last year, isn’t good enough, and you should buy a bunch of new players in the transfer market this January? That seems to have worked well for you at Liverpool, where you left a flailing side after having spent millions dollars over your time there on players not worth a damn, then blamed it all on the owners. Oh, here’s a quote from you:

Who could arrive in the next transfer window? All the players expect someone of quality to maintain the level of the side, a side that in the past season won a lot and therefore got tired and has struggled to start again.

I seem to remember one of your excuses at Liverpool was that the owners didn’t know anything about football. Well your new owner does, and this is what he thinks of your side’s performance.

I did not like it at all, as we didn’t do enough to deserve to win. It seems difficult to move forward playing like this. It doesn’t seem to me like we suffered against Milan’s play. The problem is that we actually didn’t play. It’s a different thing entirely and much more grave. I didn’t like anything. One can understand losing a derby, but this time I didn’t like the approach or the aftermath. We didn’t do enough to think about winning. This won’t do at all. It was an ugly game and we did nothing because we became different.

Not good, Rafa, not good. You blame your players, the staff and your former owners, and never yourself. Soon you will be exposed as a fraud and run out of Italy.


Champions League Matchday 4 Video Highlights: Madrid-Milan, Spurs-Inter, Arsenal-Шахтар

November 4, 2010 — by Suman

In case you missed the this week’s Champions League action, here are highlights from three of this week’s 16 matches:

Tottenham Hotspur 3, Inter Milan 1: In the performance of the week, which has made him the talk of European football, 21-year old Welshman Gareth Bale led Spurs to a big victory at home over defending champion Inter.  Though he wasn’t involved in Spurs’ first goal (Modric feeding van der Vaart for that one), he singlehandedly created the latter two by streaking down the left wing and feeding perfect, nearly identical low crosses right into the path of the goalscorer (Peter Crouch for the 2nd, Pavylyuchenko for the 3rd (that after Samuel Eto’o had pulled Inter back to 2-1 with a suberb finish).

Here is the Guardian’s “as it happened” commentary on the last goal, to read along as you watch:

GOAL! Spurs 3-1 Inter (Pavlyuchenko 89′) That is just outlandish from Bale! He received the ball around the half-way line and simply belted it 20 yards beyond Maicon and set off after it. He got there first and, best of all, played the perfect pass across the face of goal, inviting Pavlyuchenko to smash it simply past the keeper. Bale has blown Inter away tonight.

Video: CL Highlights: Tottenham/Inter


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.


Champions League starts today! Matchday 1 Fixtures

September 14, 2010 — by Suman

What is arguably the World Cup of club soccer starts later today–the UEFA Champions League.  Like the World Cup, it features most of the top players in the world, and consists of 32 teams that will compete in a group stage to advance to a knockout phase.   Unlike the World Cup, however, it’s an annual affair–and stretches over 8 months, with this year’s final to be played on Saturday May 28, on the storied pitch of Wembley Stadium.

The group phase starts today, with “Matchday 1” consisting of 8 matches today (Tuesday Sept 14): 2 games in each in Groups and 8 matches tomorrow (Wednesday Sept 15).   Today’s 8 matches feature the 16 teams in Groups A, B, C, and D, with tomorrow’s from the other 4 groups (E, F, G, and H).

Looking ahead, the group stage consists of 6 Tuesday-Wednesday “Matchdays” to allow for home-and-away round robin within in each group (each team needs to play the other 3 teams in its group twice–hence 6 matches): Sept 14-15, Sept 28-29, Oct 19-20, Nov 2-3, Nov 23-24, and Dec 7-8.  The top two teams in each group will advance to the knockout phase, with the Round of 16 matches February 15-23 and March 8-16 in the new year; the quarterfinals April 5-6 and April 12-13; the semifinals April 26-27 and May 3-4; and the final on May 28.

We’ve got full details on the Matchday 1 fixtures below, but here’s what jumps out at us among today’s 8 matches (and what to watch):

(1) Defending champion Inter Milan starts its campaign for two in a row today against Dutch side Twente Enschede; this match is on Fox Soccer Channel (FSC; and like all of today’s and tomorrow’s matches, kicks off at 2:45pm ET). Ironically, Inter is led on the field by Dutch midfielder and World Cup star Wes Sneijder; but unlike last year, they won’t be led by manager Jose Mourinho (called by some “the special one”), who has moved to Real Madrid, in an attempt to try to repeat his managing success there. See here for some coverage of how Mourinho has taken to some sniping at his successor at Inter, Rafa Benitez.

(2) Tottenham Hotspur squeezed into the competition a couple weeks ago, by eliminating Young Boys of Switzerland in qualifying; see John Lally’s preview of that game for some idea of what it means for Spurs to be back in Europe.  They’ll visit Werder Bremen today; you can watch that one when it’s rebroadcast on Fox Sports Espanol at 5pm ET.

(3) Manchester United stays at home, hosting Scottish side Rangers.  The story line here is Wayne Rooney, who returns to the field after Sir Alex Ferguson kept him on the bench this past Saturday against Everton (the club that signed him at the age of 10!)–ostensibly to spare him what would have been graphic but creative verbal abuse, following Rooney’s domination of the English tabloids last week (see here if you missed that story!).  That game is being televised live on Fox Sports Net (FSN; as they say, check your local listings), but will be rebroadcast on Fox Sports Espanol (FSE) at 7pm ET.

(4) Finally, the match we’ll likely be watching at CultFootball HQ this afternoon: Barcelona vs. Panathinaikos at the Camp Nou, live on FSE. Barcelona was the favorite to win the Champions League last year, only to be foiled in the semifinals by Mourinho’s Milanese defense. They’re coming off a shocking home loss over the weekend, so it will be interesting to see how they fare today.

See below for the full list of today’s and tomorrow’s fixtures.


The Balotelli Effect

July 20, 2010 — by Sean1

A move by Mario Balotelli, the high-strung striker at Inter, could see a number of subsequent movements among heavyweight sides. If the 19 yr-old product of Ghanian immigrants moves to Man City, it would free up funds for Inter coach Benitez to buy his old holding midfielder Javier Mascherano, or possibly the Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko (also on City’s radar) from Wolfsburg. The Balotelli deal is waiting for Robinho to move on, and Bellamy is sure to head off as well.

And now it seems that Chelsea are in the mix too:

Chelsea’s No 1 priority remains Torres, but the Spain striker feels loyalty to the Reds and would be keen to stay if the club show signs of being competitive once more. The Blues have also previously tracked Atletico Madrid’s Sergio Aguero and Alexandre Pato of AC Milan, but Ancelotti recently admitted his admiration for Balotelli. ‘It’s difficult to find a young player with this quality,’ said Ancelotti. ‘Even England struggles to find a player at this level.’


Cole to ‘Pool, Mascherano to Inter?

July 20, 2010 — by Sean7

Joe Cole is headed north to Anfield in a deal that sees him making £90,000 a week for the next four years. Not a bad haul, and he’ll probably get to play some too after falling out of favor down in London town. A nice signing for Hodgson, who is currently fretting over attempts at his holding midfielder, Javier Mascherano. Seems the old gaffer wants to bring the Argentine down to Milan. Hodgson is clearly anxious, even if he says he’s keeping cool:

Hodgson has placed a call to Mascherano, but has not heard anything back.

“He doesn’t need to make contact with me,” said Hodgson. “I’ve made contact with him telling him I’m looking forward to seeing him in training when he returns from his holiday but I did make the point in the voicemail that I didn’t expect him to contact me.

“I just wanted him to know that I had been in touch and that I was thinking of him. I didn’t ask him to call me back. I don’t have a lot to say to him, to be honest, other than ‘welcome back’.”


WC2010: “The tournament of 4-2-3-1”

July 17, 2010 — by Suman1

"Spain have adopted the Barcelona formula, which seems to be the way club football is going"

From a Guardian Football column by one Jonathan Wilson, published just before the WC2010 final between Spain and Holland, and brought to our attention at that time by one otheradamnovy; the column is titled “The Question: What have been the tactical lessons of World Cup 2010?” and open as follows:

This has been the tournament of 4-2-3-1. The move has been apparent in club football for some time; in fact, it may be that 4-2-3-1 is beginning to be supplanted by variants of 4-3-3 at club level, but international football these days lags behind the club game, and this tournament has confirmed the trend that began to emerge at Euro 2008. Even Michael Owen seems to have noticed, which is surely the tipping point.

Click thru for more–much more: commentary on the tactics of Spain, Germany, Holland, Argentina, Ghana, and Brazil, with some notes about all that fit into the context of club football tactics over the past decade , e.g.: