Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Michael Gray interview

Michael Gray is most commonly known for his time at boyhood club Sunderland, in which they reached the dizzy heights of 7th in the Premiership in successive seasons. Gray also played for Blackburn, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday, as well as loan spells at Celtic and Leeds United (twice). The full-back also won three caps for England, with one of his caps whilst impressing in the second tier of English Football.

How does the Tyne Wear derby compare to any other football game you have played in?
It’s all about the passion and bragging rights. It was a game you just don't want to lose. Especially being a local lad.
You represented England whilst playing in then the Division 1; did you ever feel like you had to leave Sunderland to maintain your England place?
No because I knew that Sunderland was a team going places! It was just amazing to represent your country. I was so proud.
You played in arguably the best play-off final match ever, unfortunately missing a penalty in the 4-4 epic with Charlton, what were your feelings when you missed? And how did you recover to help win the Title the following season?
We came back stronger and it made me want to succeed even more! My passion was playing for my hometown team in the Premiership, which I was fortunate enough to achieve.
The first year in the Premiership saw Sunderland 7th, including a 2-1 win at Newcastle! And the following year, you repeated the 7th place finish and again winning at St.James's park, how tough was it to follow up them two seasons?
It was tough. Expectations were so high and the squad was the same. We needed new players but they never came. It’s a big shame really we didn’t push on.
Around that time there was rumors of you joining Newcastle, I take it they were never going to become reality?
Me joining my fiercest rivals would never have happened!
You just missed out on England's Euro 2000 campaign, so when Phil Neville, playing in your position, gave away the penalty which knocked England out; how did you feel towards him? Gutted or the old If I was playing that wouldn't have happened!
People make mistakes all the time. It could have been me but unfortunately I wasn't picked.
Is it true you rejected a contract at Manchester United to choose your boyhood club in Sunderland?
Yes I turned them down to play for Sunderland. It might have had something to do with Ryan Giggs playing the same position.
During your short period at Celtic you did play in the Old Firm Derby, how does it compare to the Tyne-Wear derby?
Both derbies are amazing to play in.  I wouldn’t like to choose between them. I’ve had great memories from both!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bayern's dominance overshadowed by Tevez saga

A Mario Gomez double ensured Bayern Munich maintained their stranglehold on Group A, as they beat Manchester City 2-0.

Despite dominating the opening proceedings, City were poor and Bayern scored twice in a seven minute period before half-time, both through the right foot of Gomez, which effectively killed the game as a contest.

With his side trailing by two goals, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini controversially brought off Edin Dzeko for the defensive minded Nigel De Jong, to the frustration of not only Dzeko but a clearly annoyed Carlos Tevez after the Argentine was snubbed in favour of De Jong. Reportedly the former United striker refused to warm up and come on in response to Mancini's decision.

The early oppourtunites fell the way of City, and the in form Dzeko should've opened the scoring from a Micah Richards cross, however the Bosnian striker's finish was tame and right at the impressive Manuel Neuer.

The attacking full back was again at the hub of City's forward play, and Richards' felt he should've had a penalty after an apparent trip from the former Blue Jerome Boateng. Replay's suggested there was contact however the referee Kassai didn't give it.

City's stranglehold on the match was beginning to loosen and Bayern Munich were now the ones threatening to open the scoring. Long range efforts from Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger were comfortably dealt with by Joe Hart in the City goal. The later should've given Bayern the lead however with a different chance as Thomas Mueller did brilliantly to create a chance for Schweinsteiger in the six yard box, however the German midfielder blazed over.

However the German's opened the scoring shortly after through Gomez after Hart failed to brilliantly thwart Munich for a third time. Ribery created the opener after he cut inside Richards and his long range shot was well saved by Hart, who expertly stopped Mueller from tapping in the rebound, however Gomez tapped in a simple chance.

Munich had a penalty appeal of their own as Ribery appeared to be blocked off by Vincent Kompany, however City couldn't prevent Bayern from doubling their first half lead. Dzeko felled Phillip Lahm, and Ribery's resulting free kick was headed goalwards by Daniel Van Buyten, and Hart again superbly repelled the header, however Gomez reacted the quickest to score from close range.

The second half saw a European masterclass in keeping the ball from Munich, as City, despite their negative change in De Jong on for Dzeko, Bayern dominated the midfield as Mueller and Schweinsteiger in particular were awesome.

The substitution of De Jong caused clear frustration for the snubbed Tevez, however his response in refusal to be brought on was appauling. The understandable disappointment of being ignored is fair, however with his side in a poor predicament, the players's poor reaction will result in the end of Tevez's City up and down career.

Bayern saw the second half out comfortably, and if it wasn't for Hart, Bayern and Gomez alike could've had their third. However it didn't matter and Munich sit comfortably at the top of Group A, and continue their incredible clean sheet record which has been extended to ten games.

For City however, the Tevez enquiry will start when the club arrive back from Munich and with a double header against Villarreal coming up, the incredible start they had to the season now seems a distant memory to the Citizens.

Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez

Match ratings

Bayern Munich team: Neuer 6, Rafinha 7, Van Buyten 6, Boateng 8, Lahm 7, Ribery 8 (Robben 90, 5), Dias 7, Schweinsteiger 8, Kroos 7 (Tymoschuk 82, 5), Mueller 8, Gomez 8 (Peterson 90, 5)

Manchester City team: Hart 8, Richards 7, Kompany 6, K.Toure 5, Clichy 6, Y.Toure 6, Barry 5 (Kolarov 73, 5), Silva 7, Nasri 5 (Milner 69, 5), Aguero 6, Dzeko 5 (De Jong 55, 5)

City battle to win over dogged Everton

Goals from second half substitutes Mario Balotelli and James Milner ensured City overcome a defensively good Everton in a 2-0 win.

With David Moyes's side keeping Manchester City at bay brilliantly for an hour, Roberto Mancini's decision to leave the unhappy Carlos Tevez on the bench paid dividend's when the Italian Balotelli opened the scoring.

Everton, who have won on their last four previous trip's to Manchester City, started the brighter and Maroune Fellaini caused Joleon Lescott problems early doors, however they failed to test Joe Hart in their dominant period

Jack Rodwell did a good man marking job on Manchester City's David Silva, and with the Spaniard being marked out of the early proceeding's, the pressure was on Samir Nasri to take ahold of the game, however the former Arsenal player was quiet as City failed to create any clear cut chances in the first half.

Manchester City came out of the blocks quick in the second half and Sergio Aguero was starting to get more into the game, however it took the change of Balotelli for them to open up a resolute Everton.

Consistant pressure from Mancini's side resulted in the opening goal as Aguero kept ahold of the ball to find the Balotelli whose shot took a little knick of Phil Jagielka giving Tim Howard little chance in the Everton goal.

The goal ensured Everton had to come out and look for a leveller, and David Moyes was furious that a Vincent Kompany apparent trip on Louis Saha wasn't given on the edge of the area.

Despite some spells of pressure Everton didn't look like breaking down City, and it was infact the Manchester side who scored the second goal of the game. Royston Drenthe gave the ball away in the midfield and Silva, who started to lose the shackles of Rodwell after Balotelli's opener, slid a perfect pass through for another sub in James Milner who beat Howard well.

A late clearence from Stefan Savic off the line prevented Fellaini from reducing the defecit in stopage time.

The win for Manchester City was a deserved one and shows the club has the character and patience to break down sides who are going to come and try and frustrate sides at the Etihad Stadium.

Manchester City player ratings: Hart 6, Richards 7, Kompany 7, Lescott 6, Clichy 7, Barry 6, Nasri 6 (Savic 5), Silva 8, Y Toure 7, Dzeko 6 (Balotelli 7), Aguero 8 (Milner 7)

Everton player ratings: Howard 7, Hibbert 7, Baines 7, Jagielka 7, Distin 7, Neville 6 (Drenthe 5), Coleman 5 (Vellios 5), Cahill 6 (Saha 6), Osman 7, Felliani 7, Rodwell 7

Sergio Aguero (right) and Leighton Baines battle for the ball

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The weekend's Italian Round up (Done before midweek games + Inter sacking)

Link to goals and tables from Europe

Previous week's round up
Rest of Europe La Liga  Serie A

Serie A
Napoli were too good for AC Milan in a fantastic game which saw Edison Cavani score a hat-trick in a come from behind 3-1 victory, in doing so firing a warning to their Serie A rivals.

The result see's Napoli top the table after two consecutive 3-1 win's, where AC Milan slide down to 17th after just one point from their opening two games.

Alberto Aquilani opened the scoring with a brilliant header, after good work from Antonio Cassano. However Napoli's response was quick as Cavani lashed home from a Marek Hamsik free kick just two minutes later. The striker turned the game on its head after a great counter attack, spearheaded by the impressive Walter Gargano who set up his Urugyian counterpart who beat Cristian Abbiati at his near post. Cavani completed the scoring as well as his hat trick just seven minutes into the second half as he smashed home after Alessandro Nesta's failed clearence.

Napoli fully deserved the three points and under Walter Mazzari are geniune title contenders. Their 3-4-2-1 formation is very efficient and AC Milan never really looked like winning this match after Cavani had levelled.

How Napoli regularly lined up last year, however they've been improved with the addition of Gokan Inhler and Goran Pandev.

A.S Roma bounced back after defeat at home to Cagliari last week, with a good defensive display in the San Siro away to Inter Milan, as both Italian giants picked up their first point of the season in a goalless draw. The game's real talking point was the unfortunate injury to Roma's new number one Martin Stekelenburg after a collision with an onrushing Lucio. The Brazilian defender tried to hurdle Stekelenburg however his boot caught the keeper and the Dutch goalkeeper had to be substituted in the first half. The game on the whole was a lively encounter as both teams spurned good chances to steal a victory, with Wesley Sneijder's deflected effort somehow creeping wide.

Juventus, like Napoli, made it back to back wins with a 1-0 victory away to Siena. The match winner came in the shape of Alessandro Matri. Siena rarely threatened the Turin side, and the margin of victory should've been more. The goal came after great work from new signing Mirko Vuckenic who got the byline brilliantly to find Matri, who after his discomfort in front of goal last week, will no doubt be pleased to have finished the simple chance.

Udinese joined Napoli and Juve at the top of Serie A as they beat Fiorentina 2-0 with goals coming from  a Antonio Di Natale penalty and a Maurico Isla drive. Despite losing key players in the summer, Udinese have started the season well and Arthur Boruc in the Fiorentina goal was a busy man in ensuring the scoreline was respectable.

Genoa came from behind to beat Lazio with scoring a 71st minute winner. Guiseppi Sculli opened the scoring from a Miroslav Klose cross, before the Argentine Rodrigo Palacio finished cooly to level the scores early on in the second half. With the game looking like ending all square, Juraj Kucka finished the easiest of chances to ensure the three points were Genoa's.

Other results
Cagliari 2 Novara 1
Atlanta 1 Palermo 0
Bologna 0 Leece 2
Catania 1 Cesena 0
Parma 2 Chievo 1

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Gasperini sacked after just five games

Inter Milan have sacked Gian Piero Gasperini after just five winless games.

The former Genoa manager was a surprise selection to replace Leonardo, and despite such a short period at the club, I feel Massimo Moratti was right to sack Gasperini.

Inter Milan slumped to a poor 3-1 defeat away to newly promoted Novara last night and quite frankly they were appalling. Their inability to retain the ball against a Novara side, who despite defending well, weren't great at keeping the ball themselves, was the worst I've ever seen from an Inter side bereft of ideas and attacking fluidity.

One failure doesn't result in Gasperini becoming a poor manager, however the timing for him to join the club just wasn't right. With an ageing squad and the severe decline in form of some of their key squad from the 2010 treble winning side, Gasperini was never going to succeed.

The defensive unit that so brilliantly thwarted Pep Guardiola's Barcelona just fifteen months ago has deteriated. Lucio, Christian Chivu and Javier Zanetti all performed admirably that night in the Nou Camp, however fast forward to last night, defensively Inter Milan were awful. Novara had three, they could've had five. Takayuki Morimoto was man of the match for Novara and gave Andrea Ranocchia a torrid time, resulting in the later being sent off and conceding a penalty for the vital second goal.

Its not just defensively however that Inter have been poor, their forwards have been in serious decline. Diego Milito was one that received praise for their treble season, with the striker scoring 22 league goals as well as two in the Champions League final. However the Argentine's form has been bad for a while now. The striker followed his 22 league effort with just five goals in Serie A last season and despite two on the opening day this season, the former Genoa forward hasn't scored since and really looked out of touch last night. The loss of Samuel Eto'o is huge, the striker scored 53 goals in two seasons with the Nerazzurri and the burden of replacing the Cameroon strikers goals falls heavily on Diego Forlan, who like Milito, has been poor since a great 2010 season and Pazzani, who despite a good back end of the 2011 season, will struggle to find the net as regularly as Eto'o.

Despite a couple of good seasons with Genoa Gasperini hasn't got a CV that fills a chairman with confidence, and the move was seen as a similar one to AC Milan's decision to appoint Masimmo Allegri, which worked well for the later in their successful 2010-11 Serie A campaign. Allegri, like Gasperini had minimal experience in the top flight of Italy, however after Gasperini's ultimately awful spell at Inter, its fair to say the similarities end there.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rest of Europe round up

Rest of Europe round up


Bayern Munich and Mario Gomez in particular were amongst the goals in Germany as they thrashed a poor Freiburg.

The German international scored four goals in this one sided encounter as Bayern made it four wins in a row to top the Bundesliga, putting behind them their opening day defeat at home to Borussia Monchengladbach. Franck Ribery got two as well as a late goal from substitute Nils Petersen. Munich made a good week great with a brilliant win in Spain against Villarreal in their Group A opener.

Dortmund's inconsistent defence of their title continued as they lost 2-1 at home to newly promoted Hertha Berlin. The result saw the Champions slide to 11th in the table, five points behind Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen, with the later beating Hamburg 2-0 thanks to a double from former Chelsea striker Claudio Pizarro. Defeat for Hamburg ensured they remained bottom of the league, with just one point from their opening five games. Despite Pizarro's goals, Marko Marin was in fantastic form and after losing  Per Mertesacker on deadline day to Arsenal, the club will no doubt be delighted to hold onto their prized asset.

Felix Magath got revenge on Schalke, for sacking him last season, as his new employers Wolfsburg won a entertaining match 2-1 with Mario Mandzukic scoring late on to secure a comeback victory. The win was a needed one for Wolfsburg who had won just once in their opening four games, in contrast to Schalke who would've gone level at the top of the Bundesliga with victory in the Volkswagen Arena.

Other results saw Leverkusen thrash newly promoted FC Augsburg 4-1 in the Friday match, which saw them, for a short while top the league. Hoffenhaim moved into fifth with a 4-0 away thrashing of Mainz who were the surprise package of the 2010-11.

The best of this weekend's fixtures undoubtedly see's the return of Manuel Neuer to Schalke as Bayern Munich travel to the Veltins-Arena in a top of the table clash. Munich haven't conceded a goal since the opening day of the season in all competition, however Schalke haven't struggled to score this season with Jan Klaas Huntelaar with four goals to his name already.

Ligue 1

Champions Lille came from behind to beat St.Etienne 3-1, with two goals from their star player Edin Hazard. An own goal from former Newcastle defender David Rozenhal gave the home side the lead, however Hazard levelled in superb fashion with a solo goal after beating three St.Etienne players. His second goal saw Lille take the lead for the first time in the match as his smashed finish went into the roof of the net. New signing Joe Cole set up the third for  Ludovic Obraniak who finished with style.

The early pacesetters Montepellier extended their stay at the top of the table with victory at home to Nice. A 74th minute strike from Souleymane Camara was enough to claim all three points in a 1-0. Lyon moved to second of the Ligue 1 with a 2-1 away day victory against Dijon. Bafetimbi Gomis scored the winner eight minuites into the second half. Marsielle's poor start to the season continued with a home defeat to Rennes. Bordeaux, like Marsielle, also continued in drab fashion as they could only muster a goalless draw at home to Evain. PSG beat Brest 1-0, as Javier Pastore scored the only goal to fire the Paris side to 4th in the

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ipswich too strong for a poor Coventry side.

Ipswich Town got a vital three points as they easily overcame a poor Coventry side 3-0 at Portman Road this evening.

After a very inconstant start to the season which has seen Paul Jewell's Ipswich win one in their last six league and cup matches, a win was essential for his experienced side with tough away games at Middlesbrough and West Ham United up next.

Under Andy Thorn Coventry are one of the favourites for relegation this season and despite picking up their first win of the season last week against Derby, they were always second best to a much improved Ipswich.

Martin Craine headed into his own goal early on and Keith Andrews continued his impressive goal return with his fourth since his loan move, as Ipswich stunned Coventry with two early goals. A second half goal from the impressive Jason Scotland completed a 3-0 victory for Jewell's side and see's them move up to 13th in the Championship.

Ipswich fielded a side consisting of no less then ten former Premier League players, however it was the only one with no such top flight experience who shone the brightest in the 21-year old Aaron Cresswell who was just as brilliant in Coventry's half as he was his own in a man of the match performance.

Coventry stuck with the same XI that beat Derby last week, however it was Ipswich's lone change from their last encounter which played a huge part in the opening goal. Scotland, in for Darryl Murphy looked to have headed home from a beautiful Aaron Cresswell cross, however on closer viewing it was Coventry defender Craine who headed past Joe Murphy in the Coventry goal.

Michael Chopra should have doubled the Suffolk sides advantage however after good work from Grand Leadbitter, the forward blazed wide. However Chopra's miss wasn't too important as only a few minutes later the former Newcastle man lifted the ball superbly into Keith Andrews who finished brilliantly on the half volley past Joe Murphy.

Chopra was guilty of spurning a succession of presentable opportunities, in a first half in which Ipswich were truly dominant, however it was Andrews who missed the best chance for a 3-0 lead when he headed wide from a Jimmy Bullard corner.

The first real chance of note for Coventry came in the dying stages of the first half as Cody McDonald headed a Sammy Clingan corner towards goal, only to be denied superbly on the line by the impressive Cresswell.

After the break McDonald was to blame for not bringing Coventry back into the match after missing two great headed chances. His first chance was from a Clingan free kick and the former Norwich man headed his opportunity into the ground and over David Stockdale's bar. And the striker's second chance was just as good as Lukas Jutkiewicz did well to find McDonald, only for his finish to be poor.

Scotland ensured the three points were Ipswich's as he finished off a lovely team goal with a composed finish. Bullard found the Trindad striker in the Coventry half, and after a nice one-two with Chopra, he was too strong for Craine, and finished with great aplomb.

Some late Coventry pressure failed to see them reduce the deficit and Ipswich ran out comfortable victors.

Ipswich side: Stockdale 6, Edwards 7, Collins 7, Sonko 7 (Delaney), Cresswell 8, Leadbitter 7, Andrews 7, Bullard 7, Bowyer 6, Chopra 6 (Murphy), Scotland 8 (Emmanuel Thomas)

Coventry side: Murphy 7, Keogh 5, Hussey 6, Craine 5, Christie 5 (Cameron), Clingan 6, Bell 5, Baker 6, Bigirimana 5 (McSheffrey), Jutkiewicz 6, McDonald 6 (O'Donovan)


Friday, 16 September 2011

La Liga round up

After looking at the first week of the 2011-12 Serie A season, here is a little piece on the second week of La Liga.

Real Sociedad fought back brilliantly, with two quick fire second half goals, to rescue a point in a 2-2 draw against the La Liga and European Champions Barcelona.

Barcelona started fantastically and were two up inside the first 11 minutes with goals from midfielders Xavi and Cesc Fabregas. However the Catalan giants failed to extend their lead through a combination of missed chances and good goalkeeping from Claudio Bravo and they were made to pay as Sociedad levelled the game through two headed goals from Imanol Agirretxe and Antoine Griezmann.

Malaga won their first game of the season as they comprehensively overcame a poor Granada side. Santi Cazorla and Joaquin both scored twice in a 4-0 victory.

Cazorla opened the scoring when Grenada were slow to realise a slow corner. The former Villarreal man recieved the ball on the edge of the box and his left footed effort wasn't the strongest of shots, however it had enough to beat Roberto in the Granada goal.

A second goal wasn't long in coming and a Joaquin header doubled their lead in the 25th minute. Cazorla gave the ball to an on rushing Jesus Gamez whose beautiful cross was headed in superbly by Joaquin, with a header his goalscoring centre forward team mate Ruud Van Nistelrooy would've been proud of.

Cazorla scored a beautiful free kick last week in defeat to Sevilla and the Euro 2008 winner scored his second set piece of the season to make it 3-0. Cazorla opted to place his free kick under the jumping Granada wall, and despite it not being the cleanest of strikes, the goalkeeper was beaten.

Cazorla was in superb form and he assisted Joaquin for their final goal with a chipped past through for the former Valencia player, who volleyed home to complete a comfortable victory for the newly financed club.

Cazorla was in fantastic form in Malaga's 4-0 victory

Valencia overcome Atheltico Madrid 1-0 thanks to a Roberto Soldado winner early in the second half. Athletico have struggled to adapt to life without Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan and haven't scored in either of their opening games. Falcao, their summer signing from Porto, has struggled to adapt to life in Spain so far, however the Colombian will come good.  Valencia however have started the season well again with back to back victories, with Soldado in goalscoring form.

Real Madrid continued their 100% winning start to the season with Karim Benezema scoring twice in their 4-2 win over Getafe. The Frenchman opened the scoring in the first half, finishing off a lovely team goal with a superb finish after Mesut Ozil's slided pass. Miku beat the Real Madrid offside trap to level the game with a smart finish past Iker Cassilas to ensure the underdogs went in at half time level. A Cristiano Ronaldo penalty put Real back in front before Benzema extended Madrid's lead. Miku scored his second of the game to keep them in game. However Gonzalo Higuain ensured Real wouldn't be caught with a smart finish late on.

Elsewhere in Spain Sevilla scored late on to rescue a point against the 10 men of Villarreal who nearly pulled of a shock win as Diego Lopez, the Villarreal keeper was sent off after 21 minutes. Alvaro Negredo missed the resulting penalty, however the striker tapped in the rebound. Guissepi Rossi levelled the scores with a well taken penalty. Marco Ruben ensured Villarreal came from behind to take the lead with a great finish from a tight angel, however they couldnt hold on as an Alexis header crept past the former Spurs keeper Cesar.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Serie A week one round up

The Italian Serie A season got off to a brilliant start with no less then 35 goals in the 10 games, including a home defeat for A.S. Roma and a late win for Palermo against Inter Milan.

Last week I predicted Roma to be AC Milan's closest rivals and I don't expect that to change despite their poor performance to go with the result against Cagliari. The team has brought in many new faces and with a new coach the team will take time to gel. The game itself saw Cagliari open the scoring mid way through the second half when Jose Angel's poor headed clearence hit Daniele Conti in the penalty box, giving Conti time to turn and smash the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg in the Roma goal.

Barely a minute later Angel's day turned for the worse when the Spaniard was sent off for serious foul play. The game went into injury time with Cagliari leading 1-0, and they doubled their lead in the third added minute through a solo goal from substitute Moestafa El Kabir, who beat Stekelenburg with a good finish. Daniele De Rossi finish from a saved free-kick saw Roma half their defeciet, however with the full time whistle straight after the goal, no undeserved hope was aroused.

Andrea Pirlo starred on his Juventus debut as the Old Lady easily overcame a poor Parma side. Full back Stephan Lichtsteiner opened the scoring on his league debut, after Pirlo's beautiful chipped past found the former Lazio man who finished well when one on one with the Parma keeper.

Alessandro Matri was guility of spurning many oppourtunites, however it didn't matter as Simone Pepe doubled Juve's lead with a drilled finished on the hour mark. Another debutant in Arturo Vidal, made it three with a half volley from outside the box. The former Leverkusen man started on the bench, but is expected to be a key player for Antonio Conti's new look Juventus side.

The best goal was saved till last however, as Pirlo once again showed he still has his incredible passing range with a beautiful lifted ball into Claudio Marchisio who superbly lifted the ball over Nicola Pavarini to make it four. A late Sebastian Giovinco penalty failed to dampen the magnitude of how one sided the encouter was.

Elsewhere in Italy, AC Milan drew 2-2 with Lazio on Friday night, with all four goals coming in an action packed first half. Miroslav Klose and Djibril Ciise stunned the hosts with an early goal apiece, both well taken finishes. AC Milan were fortunate they were still in the game before Antonio Cassano ensured Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn't miss from a yard. Four minutes later, the creater of the first goal levelled the scored when Cassano headed home from a corner.

Palermo edged a classic against Inter Milan 4-3. Diego Milito had opened the scoring for Inter, before Fabrizo Miccoli levelled. The Argentine again gave Inter the lead, only for Abel Hernandez to draw Palermo level for a second time. With the game heading towards an entertaining draw, there was three goals in the last five minutes. The former Benfica man Miccoli doubled his account for the game as Palermo took the lead for the first time, before Pinilla put the game out of reach of the 2010 Champions. A late debut goal from Diego Forlan couldn't save Inter as they lost their first game of the 2011/12 season.

Udinese started life without the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Cristian Zapata and Gokan Inhler with a comfortable 2-0 away win against Leece, with captain and club hero Antonio Di Natale unsuprisingly amongst the scorers. Manchester City target Alessandro Cerci scored Fiorentina's second in their easy 2-0 home win against Bolonga.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Chelsea make winning start

Second half goals from David Luiz and Juan Mata were enough for Chelsea to overcome a decent Bayern Leverkusen side in their Champions League opener.

For large spells of the game Chelsea were average and Leverkusen can feel slightly unfortunate not to leave Stamford Bridge with a point. Until Luiz opened the scoring the game was cagey and a drab affair, and with Manchester United up next in the league for  beaten 2008 Champions League finalists, Andre Villas-Boas's side will have to improve.

Both sides had early questionable goals disallowed, with Leverkusen the team with more reason to feel aggrieved as Omer Toprak's header was cancelled out for an apparent push on Chelsea's Florent Malouda. Whilst a combination of Fernando Torres's backheeled flick towards goals and Raul Merelies's attempt at guiding the ball home was disallowed as the latter's contribution was deemed to have interfered with play.

The only real other chances of note in a quiet first half saw Torres and Daniel Sturridge both thwarted by Leno in the Leverkusen goal.

After the break Leverkusen attacked with more threat and on his return to Stamford Bridge Michael Ballack nearly gave the 2002 finalists a surprise lead, however his one on one chance was saved well by Petr Cech, who otherwise had little to do.

With his side struggling to break down Leverkusen, Villas-Boas brought on Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard, and despite neither have a part in the opener, the goal arrived shortly after the duo's entry.

Luiz started and ended the move of the match to give his side the lead. After a surge into the German's half, Luiz found Ashley Cole who fed the ball into Torres whose first time lay-off was superbly curled in from the Brazilian centre half giving Leno no chance.

Moments later Mata nearly doubled the hosts lead, however he didn't have to wait long to register his second Chelsea goal. Torres did well to escape the challenge of Luiz Castro, and when he bore down on Reno in the Leverkusen goal, the Torres unselfishly squared for his Spanish compatriot who had the simplest of tasks to finish off with the goal gaping.

Elsewhere in Group E, the Belgain side Genk held Valencia to a goalless draw, meaning Chelsea topped the table after the opening round of games.

Chelsea's David Luiz
Luiz's curling effort opened the scoring for Chelsea.

Preview to Serie A and review of 1st La Liga week

Serie A

Champions AC Milan start the defence of their title tonight against a strong Lazio side. AC Milan had a strong transfer window bringing in the likes of Philpe Mexes, Taye Tawio and Alberto Aquliani aswell as completing permanent deals for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin Prince Boateng. Lazio brought in expierenced forward Miroslav Klose as well as  Djibril Cisse, and the duo are both expected to start tonight in a new look strikeforce having lost the former Birmingham City striker Mauro Zarate to Inter Milan.

The league's big spenders Juventus and Roma both start the new season with new managers and new optimism. Despite Italy only having three Champions League participants for the 2012/13 season, these two will be confident of challenging the likes of Napoli for the key third spot. Juve have brought in the likes of Mirko Vucinic, Eljero Elia, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal in an attempt to force their way back into Europe's elite competition, however for me I don't think they will have enough about them to do so.

The other big spenders in Roma however have a better chance, with not just exicting additions but clever and needed ones. The obvious loss of Mexes and Vucinic to their rivals will be huge, but new manager Luis Enrique has brought in no less then 17 players, and if the team can gel quickly then I can see them challenging Inter Milan for a second place birth. Fernando Gago, Bojan Krkic, Miralem Pjanic, Simon Kjaer, Pablo Osvaldo, Erik Lamela and Gabriel Heinze were all added in an highly exiciting window for the Rome side.

Inter Milan for me this year will struggle to really live with AC Milan at the top of the league with the choice of manager a suprising one. Gian Piero Gasperini's failed at Genoa despite big name signings, and the move is in similar fashion to AC Milan's move for Massimiliano Allegri, which was an obvious success. The loss of Samuel Eto'o is a huge one with Diego Milito really struggling to find the form of the treble winning season. Giampaolo Pazzini and Mauro Zarate are very hit and miss players, and much pressure will be placed on new signing Diego Forlan to replace Eto'o's goals.

My top 7 prediction
1) AC Milan
2) Roma/Juventus
3) Inter Milan / Napoli
4) Napoli / Inter Milan
5) Juventus/Roma
6) Udinese
7) Lazio

La Liga

The La Liga kicked off a week before the recent international's and somewhat unsuprisingly the dominant duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona won 6-0 and 5-0 respectively and already take their position at the top of La Liga.

You don't have to be a football genius to realise that these two will top the table come June and their infatic start to the season only goes to show the dominance the duo have over the rest of the Spanish League.

Athletico Madrid began life with Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and David De Gea in uninspiring fashion with a 0-0 draw at home to Osasuna. The amount of transfers in and out of the club obviously have dictated their start and it will take them a while to gel properly, with Falcao and Arda Turan good additions to the club.

Malaga the huge spenders in La Liga started life with a 2-1 defeat away to Sevilla. Manuel Pellegrini's side were poor in the first half and Alvaro Negrando exposed Malaga's centre half uncertainty for the first goal before a lovely finish doubled their lead. Despite a good second half showing, they only had new signing Santi Cazorla's wonderful free kick to show for it. The club were scheduled to play Barcelona on the first week of the season, meaning they would've had a doubly as hard start, however with Granada and Real Mallorca up next, expect to see them improve in not only performance but points. Sevilla in comparison to their opponents have had a relatively quiet transfer window with Manu del Moral and Martin Caceras their two big deals.

Friday, 9 September 2011

AC rescue point in lively opener

First half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano rescued a point for the Italian Champions in a enthralling start to the Serie A season.

Early strikes from both of Lazio's new look centre forward pairing Miroslav Klose and Djibril Ciise looked to have given Lazio a shock victory at the San Siro, however a Ibrahimovic tap in and a Cassano header earned a share of the spoils for the Serie A champions.

Alberto Aquliani making his debut for the Rossenari should have given his new side the lead when well placed early on, however it was the Rome side who grabbed the early incentive via the German Klose.

Stefen Mauri did superbly to get a ball into the box under pressure from Luca Antonini, and Klose, with a superb first touch took the ball away from Alessandro Nesta, engineered some space in the Milan box to finish past Christian Abbiati. The finish was by no means world class, but the Italian keeper couldn't keep it out, and the goal gave Lazio a lead against the run of play.

The goal spurred Lazio on, and for 10 minutes AC Milan were all over the place, and Ciise, who was a consistent threat could have doubled Milan's trouble, only to put wide.

However Ciise's goal wasn't long in waiting as he headed home brilliantly to give Abbiati no chance whatsoever in the Milan goal.

An injury to Gennaro Gattuso saw Mark Van Bommel enter the fray and be it the change or the position Milan found them in, the Rossoneri responded brilliantly with two quick fire goals.

Their first goal was one of real quality, as Cassano, who had a quiet time with AC last year, played a superb one-two with Aquilani, before squaring the ball for the Swede Ibrahimovic who had the simplest of tasks to tap home from within the six yard box.

Kevin Prince Boateng, who on the whole had a quiet game for Milan, saw his shot from the edge of the area well saved by Albano Bizzarri, however from the resulting corner AC drew level. Aquilani's corner wasn't the best and Cassano at the near post headed past Bizzarri into the far corner. With neither post being marked by a Lazio player, the flicked header saw Cassano score his fifth league goal in the red and black of AC Milan.

The fourth goal of the match was the end of the chances in a brilliant first half in which neither side covered themselves in glory defensively, especially Milan who at times were very poor in allowing Lazio so frequent chances.

The second half failed to live up to the drama of the first half, with AC Milan dominating, however failing to have the cutting threat needed to get the winner.

Infact it was nearly Lazio that stole the points mid way through the half when the former Liverpool forward Ciise used his pace to get beyond the Milan defence and knock the ball past Abbiati only for Alessandro Nesta to somehow prevent the French striker from his second and Lazio's third.

Nesta prevents Ciise from giving Lazio all three points

Both Ibrahimovic and Boateng saw tame long range efforts easily saved by the impressive Bizzarri. The draw represented a fair result and both sides will probably be happy with a point.

Milan will need to improve defensively with two hard away games in both Europa and domestically up next in the form of the European Champions Barcelona and the Edison Cavani spearheaded Napoli, who will be boosted by the addition of Inter striker Goran Pandev for the visit of AC. Lazio themselves have Europe to contend with the visit of FC Vaslui, however a more difficult challenge awaits in Genoa who were very active in the Summer transfer window.

Antonio Cassano and Alberto Aquilani, AC Milan (Getty Images)
Both Cassano and Aquilani were key in Milans two goals

New Zealand start with comfortable win

New Zealand opened the 2011 World Cup with a dominant 41-10 with over Tonga

Two tries alike from Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui gave the All Blacks a comprehensive 29-3 half time score. The expected second half onslaught however never happened and until Ma'a Nonu's late try it was Tonga in fact who lead the second half score line.

After failures at both the 2003 and 2007 World Cup the pressure is on the host nation to put right the wrongs of the two prior tournaments, and with they key group game against the side that defeated them so memorably in 2007 France, there are bigger games to come.

Carter's lovely hand off saw Sonny Bill Williams burst through the Tongaian defense, and with men over, a try was inevitable for the All Blacks, and the World Cup debutant Dagg touched down with ease for the first try of the Rugby World Cup.

Beautiful handling from Sonny Williams set Isaia Toeava away who released Kahui, who was left with the simple task of touching down for the second try of the match.

Dagg again touched down not long after, to ensure New Zealand romped into an early 22-0 lead. The try was created by a typically strong Nonu run with the ball down the Tongan right and Williams's superb offload to Dagg gave the All Black the third try.
Kahui's superb one handed catch from Dagg created a solo try for the New Zealander. After collecting the ball Kahui's strength and pace was too much Vungakoto Lilo, and once the full back was dispatched of, a simple touch down gave New Zealand their fourth try.On the stroke of half time Tonga got their first points on the board as Kurt Morath's well struck penalty meant the first half score was 29-3.
 The second half took 10 minutes to get going, as New Zealand were slow coming out of the traps, however their first attack of the half was brilliantly reppelled by Tonga who showed superb last ditch defending which had eluded them in the first half.

It took New Zealand 18 minutes to get the break through in the second half after Jerome Kaino touched down. The work for the try was all done by Kahui who did superbly to collect his own kick forward before offloading superbly to Kaino who had the simplest of tasks to score the All Blacks fifth try.

A Tonga spell in the New Zealand 22, clearly frustrated the home support, and Tonga got the try their second half performance deserved. Alisona Taumalolo, the second half replacements, scored after New Zealand failed to stop the Tonga pressure.

Tonga's second half lead didn't last long though as Ma'a Nonu scored his first try of the match after an incisive break from New Zealand lead superbly by the try scorer.

The result was never in doubt however New Zealand's second half showing cleared frustrated an agitated looking Graham Henry.

New Zealand's victory kept their unbelievable run of winning every Rugby group game, stretching the run to 23 games. And with their next group A game against Japan, the chance of them extending their run is surely inevitable.

Despite the incredible stat, New Zealand players and fans alike would rather they saved their victories for the later stages of the competition, and finally live up to their tag of favourites for the first time since 1987.

New Zealand winger Richard Kahui dives over for one of his first-half brace against Tonga
Kahui touching down for the first of his two tries

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Djokovic books Semi final spot

Novak Djokovic book his US open semi final spot after Janko Tipsarevic was forced to retire in the later stages of their quarter final.

With Djokovic two sets to one and 3-0 up in the fourth set, when Tipsarevic, who was clearly struggling towards the end of the match, called it a day, meaning Djokovic progressed.

The world number one often wasn't at his best and frequently let his fellow Serb of the hook with unforced errors, which proved costly in the second set. However Djokovic still had enough in his locker to assert his dominance on the match before Tipsarevic's retirement at 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (3-7), 6-0, 3-0.

In an entertaining first set which lasted 84 minutes, both players broke the others serve three times, with both Djokovic and Tipseravic failing to hold their serve when serving for the set. And so it went to a tie break, something the level and closeness of the tennis it deserved. However the world number one was simply to strong in a one sided finale to the opening set and eased to a comprehensive 7-2 tie break win.

Tipsarevic will no doubt looked to the failure to hold his serve when 6-5 ahead, gifting the Australian and Wimbledon champion three points in the game when he was well placed in the rally.

Tipsarevic certainly put the disappointment of failing to see out the first set however and came out of the traps quickest and flew into a 3-0 lead in the second, and had his chances to gain a double break 4-0 lead, however Djokovic defied his fellow Serb and stayed in the set. And with a certain sense of inevitability about it Djokovic broke back the very next game to bring the second set back to serve. The set followed serve all the way to a second successive tie break. This time Tipsarevic's threat didn't distinguish in the important game of the set, and at 3-2 to the lower ranked Serb, a clearly frustrated Djokovic gifted his opponent the first mini break of the tie break. A fired up Tipsarevic served brilliantly to engineer three set points, and Djokovic continued his error stricken game by hitting a simple chance long, to level the scores.

Despite his monumental effort to bring the game level, Tipsarevic was facing down the barrel in the third when Djokovic broke twice early on to take a dominant 4-0 lead. With Tipsarevic needing help from the physio, it was clear the set was over and Djokovic brought up three set points with a beautiful forehand down the line, however the dogid Tipsarevic prevented two of the three, only to double fault to gift Djokovic the third set 6-0.

After somehow managing to chase down a Tipsarevic drop shot and engineer a winner, the world number one recovered from a tricky position in the opening game of the fourth set, and went on to break Tipsarevic for a 2-0 lead. Djokovic followed Tipsarevic's suit by calling for a trainer early in the final set, however Tipsarevic was forced to retire just one game later, ensuring Djokovic continued his incredible run in 2011.

Djokovic will now face either of his last two grand slam semi finalists, in either Jo Wilfred Tsonga who he defeated on road to his Wimbledon crown, or Roger Federer who defeated the Serb in the French Open.

Ricardo Carvalho retires from international duty under cloud of controversy.

In a move that has gone under the radar in the last week, the Real Madrid centre half Ricardo Carvalho has retired from international football with immediate affect.

The reason behind the former Chelsea players actions are believed to be behind Paulo Bento's decision to leave the 32 year old defender out of the starting XI in Portugal's Euro 2012 qualifier with Cyprus on Friday.

The move comes as a huge shock, with Carvalho a key part of the Portugal set up. The defenders form for Real Madrid has been impressive and forged a strong partnership with fellow Portugese star Pepe, something that the former Sporting Lisbon manager Bento, felt the need to break up, with Bruno Alves starting ahead of Carvalho.

Carvalho didn't take the decision to not select him well stating "Never before have I felt as disrespected or my dignity so hurt, the only option was to leave.” And despite the dramatic scenes surrounding the game, Portugal eased to a 4-0 victory with Cristiano Ronaldo again grabbing the headlines with another two goals.

One thing for sure is that Portugal have a fine array of centre halves avaliable to them, with Porto's Rolando completing the four centre halves Bento choose for the doubled headed qualifiers, and with the decision to not play Carvalho a tactical one, it is clear Bento believes the likes of Alves and Rolando are able to step into the gapping hole left by Carvalho.

Despite turning Portugal's Euro 2012 campaign around, winning all four of his qualifiers in charge, after they had only managed one point from their opening two games when Carlos Querioz was in charge, Bento's time in charge of Portugal has been a tempermental one, falling out with Jose Boswinga, again for failing to select the defender, as well as Carvalho.

Carvalho in 2010-11 Real Madrid.jpg

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Scotland keep faint Euro 2012 hopes alive

A Steven Naismith second half winner was just about enough as Scotland edged past a tricky Lithuania side, who had chances late on to level the game.

The win keeps Craig Levein's sides qualification chances intact, with group minnows Liechtenstein up next for the Tartan Army.

After Scotland's controversial 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic on Saturday, anything bar three points would've all but mathematically ended their hopes of progressing to Poland and Ukraine in 2012. And in a first half performance that continued the trend of their performance on the weekend they were dominate, and only a lack of composure prevented them from scoring early.

The first real chance of note fell to Christophe Berra who blazed over from four yards after a dangerous Barry Bannan cross wasn't cleared properly. Despite the chance falling onto his least favoured right foot, the Wolves centre half really should've opened the scoring.

Don Cowie joined Berra on the guilty list when the Cardiff midfielder blazed his well presented chance over the bar. However it was captain Darren Fletcher who spurned the Scots best opening in on the stroke of half time.

Inexplicably Lithuania's Tadas Labukas handled the ball from Bannan's free kick, gifting Scotland the chance to open the scoring. Unfortunately for Scotland though, their penalty misfortune continued as Fletcher saw his tame effort easily saved by in the Lithuanian goal.

Despite the penalty miss and the half time whistle the Hampden Park faithful didn't have to wait long for their sides opener, in what proved to be the crucial move of the match. The impressive Bannan, received the ball from David Goodwille, and the Villa man found Naismith all alone in the Lithuanian penalty box, and the forward finished brilliantly with a first time shot.

The relief was palpable around the ground, and with the sides only prior victory a last minute one against bottom side Liechtenstein, the emotion due to the breakthrough was understandable.

The goal scorer Naismith twice in quick succession missed the chance to kill the game off, and the Scottish match winner was nearly made to pay as Lithuania threatened an unlikely leveler as Tomas Danilevicius saw his well connected header go marginally wide of Alan McGregor's far post.

However that was to be Lithuania's best chance and snatching a point and shortly after the Icelandic referee blew a close to the action, in doing so ensuring Scotland secured a massive three points, which means they now trail Czech Republic by two points in Group I.