Thursday, May 5, 2016
if you would have told me at the beginning of the premier league season that leicester city would have won the title this season, i definitely would have laughed in your face. i might have said something mean about your knowledge on the sport of football. as much as it is my belief that anything can happen in sport, i truly did not believe this would happen. i'm not entirely sure that anybody in the football world believed that this could happen. in fact, it was just last week when i wrote a piece still giving tottenham a chance to win the title. even when the odds were stacked in their favour, i found it difficult to imagine that they would in fact win it. leicester drew with manchester united on sunday, needing a victory to seal the title. they were meant to wait. the pressure, however, was then shifted to tottenham as they needed a victory at stamford bridge against chelsea. they led 0-2 in the first half, but a spirited performance by chelsea in the second half saw them draw level at 2-2, and the match finished that way. leicester city, champions of england.
this achievement is the result of 10 months of extremely hard work. it's not easy to wake up and get to the etihad stadium to not only compete with the riches of manchester city (with the likes of aguero, silva & toure in the squad), but to then go on and score 3 goals and defeat them on their own pitch. when you think about the game of football, it's an extremely complex team game. to be able to compete and have a chance of winning matches, you really need every single person to be giving 100% and sometimes, that's not enough. leicester city have a strange squad on paper, but matches are not won on paper. let's start in goal, because where else would one start? kasper schmeichel comes from an obvious family. his father was the starting goalkeeper for manchester united for many years under sir alex ferguson and won 5 premier league titles along the way (as well as, a european cup). he was also the starting goalkeeper for an unfancied danish squad who were lucky to enter the european championships in 1992 (they were allowed entry when yugoslavia was disqualified due to the warfare happening in the region), going on to lift the trophy. safe to say; kasper has had massive shoes to fill. kasper played in every leicester premier league game this season and needed 10 games before he kept his first clean sheet. after that, however, the foxes improved defensively and they kept many more clean sheets along the way. kasper can thank his oddball defense in front of him for that. speaking of which, it should be mentioned that robert huth and wes morgan probably played every game together as the main center back pairing, claudio ranieri didn't "tinker" too much with this squad. as i'm writing that i'm thinking 'robert huth must have got a red card at some point this season,' just don't quote me on my statistics. the hard working fullbacks as well must be mentioned; christian fuchs and danny simpson. the intensity and guile that these two played with throughout the season must be commended. all 4 defenders who are aged around 30, played well as a unit. going up the pitch together and defending well together at the back end. huth and morgan can be noted as ones who scored some crucial goals down the stretch. n'golo kanté has been the player of the season, in my opinion. every great team needs that player who ghosts around the center of the park, winning the ball back often and making intelligent passes into the attacking third. kanté is this player. there's a saying that earth is covered by 70% water, and the remaining 30% is covered by kanté. it's absolutely unbelievable that this player was playing for caen in ligue 1 last season, because he should've been playing for barcelona. he was scouted by leicester, and purchased for a mere 8 million euros (5.2 million pounds). he has since made his debut for france, also scoring a goal in a friendly against russia. you can't have the success of kanté without the dependence upon danny drinkwater, often alongside him. like kanté, drinkwater has earned his first international cap in this emerging season, being selected to play for england in a friendly against the netherlands in march; he was man of the match. drinkwater has often been the link between kanté and the attacking trio of jamie vardy, marc albrighton & riyad mahrez. drinkwater has 7 assists on the season. released by aston villa (his boyhood club), marc albrighton must have been gutted. he has since found a great new home in leicester city, and a manager in claudio ranieri who believes in him. his performances this season have proved the doubters wrong, and he will be unlucky to have not seen an england call-up, as well. aston villa must be cursing themselves for letting him leave. vardy and mahrez have to be the story of the season, however. two players who have simply taken the premier league by storm. after scoring 31 goals in 36 appearances for fleetwood town (top scorer in the conference premier) and helping them to the title and subsequent promotion to the football league, vardy was the record transfer for a non-league player. leicester city paid 1 million pounds to get their man, and given where he is at right now... what a steal. it took vardy two seasons to establish himself at leicester, but in that second season, he scored 16 league goals helping leicester to the championship and promotion to the premier league. an extremely hard working forward, he has great pace and consistently causes problems in the attacking third. he is a bit of a poacher, who positions himself well in the box and knows where the goal is. leicester had a tough first season in the premier league and battled against relegation the entire way. they were rock bottom at christmas, which generally doesn't bode well for chances of survival. early in the season, vardy was the man of the match in a result against manchester united which saw them come back from 1-3 down to then defeat the red devils 5-3. vardy scored his first premier league goal, and played his hand in all of the other 4 goals. leicester ended the season picking up 22 points from the beginning of april to finish in a fairly comfortable 14th place. manager nigel pearson started a young algerian player named riyad mahrez 25 times that season, bringing him off the bench 5 times. he scored 4 goals and provided 3 assists. he did not gain any recognition from anyone, he was simply another player in a league filled with many great players. nigel pearson got the sack, and claudio ranieri got the open position. whatever claudio has done to bring mahrez to light has to be commended. perhaps, it was nothing more than mahrez himself becoming more adapt to the physical nature of the premier league. i have to believe that the tactics of claudio allowed mahrez to have a free role in the midfield, something that pearson may not have allowed. riyad was plying his trade in ligue 2 for le havre before being convinced to sign for leicester. he had never heard of leicester, and initially thought it was "a rugby club". he was signed for an undisclosed fee, although it has been reported that the fee is below 1 million pounds.
mahrez, vardy and leicester started the 2015-16 season under claudio ranieri, and won their first match 4-2 over a struggling sunderland side. mahrez scored 2 goals, vardy and albrighton with the other 2. danny murphy stated on match of the day that: "leicester had great energy and good pace. riyad mahrez was absolutely sensational." a sign of things to come, perhaps. claudio ranieri has always been a bit of an oddball character, but was loved by the english media after his stint with chelsea. after that first victory, marc albrighton noted: "ranieri didn't want to change too much, but he has new ideas and we are taking them on board." claudio inspired his squad before the match using the kasabian song 'fire' to help out. ranieri claimed: "when you go on the pitch and you hear the song fire from kasabian, that means they want warriors." leicester went 10 games without a clean sheet, which prompted ranieri to raise the stakes a bit. "i want to buy pizza, but my players don't want pizza, maybe they don't love pizza," ranieri said. "because i said when we make a clean sheet, i will buy everybody a pizza. maybe they wait until i say 'okay, a good dinner'. "i told them, the clean sheet, i buy everybody a pizza. i think they wait until i improve my offer, okay a pizza and a hot dog." it was these types of stories that kept the english media very interested in this leicester city team, and of course their great play throughout. despite going 10 games without a clean sheet, they sat 2nd in the table scoring in every game they played. jamie vardy set the premier league record for goals in consecutive matches, scoring in 11 consecutive matches eclipsing the record previously set by ruud van nistelrooy. they were playing beautiful football, allowing teams to have the ball and playing the counter exquisitely. the pace of vardy was their secret weapon, not to mention the football brain of riyad mahrez. they were winning player of the month awards, as if it were easy. mahrez had 10 league goals by december, vardy had pushed almost the same number by the end of october. these players were playing unbelievably. in january, ranieri had described the two as "priceless" which obviously was a ploy to avoid any suitors. they were top at christmas, a remarkable turn around for a club that was bottom exactly a year prior. they continued to hold up the league into the new year, battling with tottenham, manchester city and arsenal. each time their rivals slipped up, leicester seemed to get those points needed to further increase their lead. entering april, vardy scored 2 goals in a victory over sunderland, taking his league total to 21. that result also ensured champions league qualification for leicester, the following season. all that was left was to clinch the title, and it was a tight battle with tottenham but in the end, tottenham created problems for themselves drawing with west brom at white hart lane and chelsea at stamford bridge. again, leicester picking up the points needed when rivals faultered. 4 leicester city players made the pfa team of the year including vardy & mahrez, of course. vardy was honoured by the football writers as the player of the year, while mahrez earned the award from the professional footballers.
to put into words the extreme improbability of this success is almost impossible. when you look at their odds to win the premier league at the beginning of the season, that speaks volumes. 5000-1. why wouldn't someone throw a punt on that? easier said now.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
in all honesty, i'm being forced to write this piece to back up my claim that leicester city will slip up. i know, laugh it up... but, stranger things have happened in football. on monday night, tottenham had the opportunity once more to keep the pressure on leicester city in first place. if you can remember correctly, last monday they had the chance to close the gap because leicester had drawn west ham. tottenham then went on to beat stoke city 0-4, and closed the gap by 2 points. well this weekend, those 2 points gained were then erased once more. leicester city hosted swansea city at the king power stadium and looked ruthless and relentless. swansea never stood a chance. they ran away 4-0 winners, even without jamie vardy in the lineup (due to the red card received last weekend against west ham). the pressure was on tottenham, on a monday night. a different kind of pressure, because it wasn't just a result that they needed to close a gap, it was a result they needed to stay relevant in the title race. hosting west brom doesn't seem like the trickiest of tasks, however, tottenham simply did not play the way that they have all season, and drew 1-1. so, the title race looks like this: leicester city - 76 points, tottenham hotspur - 69 points. a difference of 7 points. i would tell you the rest of the league standings, but it has been determined that arsenal and manchester city have mathematically zero chance of winning the title. so, it's a two-horse race. had tottenham beaten west brom at white hart lane, the point difference would have been 5, and not 7. as of right now, leicester city can win the barclays premier league title with a win at old trafford against manchester united this saturday. should they indeed do that, or even simply win the title on another day, believe me, i will write the most adoring piece on their season because honestly it's been nothing short of incredible. i'm not a hater, i can respect talent and sheer will when i see it. i've been saying all season that they will slip up, and they have not. i believe that they have 3 very difficult games to finish the season, i'm not saying that they can't do it, i'm saying they have 3 huge tests. beating manchester united at old trafford is no easy feat, especially how they have been playing of late. having said that, tottenham have to travel to stamford bridge to face chelsea on monday and that will be equally challenging. leicester city travel to manchester united, then host everton before travelling to chelsea on the final day of the season. tottenham travel to chelsea, before hosting southampton and then, travelling to newcastle to wrap up their season. tottenham have the odds stacked against them, but they simply need to look at these 3 games and think '9 points (3 wins)'. obviously, leicester city will be thinking the exact same, but can they handle the pressure this late in the season. only time will tell. i know one thing, i won't be missing any match in the race from here on out. it's set up for a grandstand finish, and it's not to be missed.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
- the relegation battle in the premier league is always interesting to follow (unless the title race becomes any closer). in basic terms, the 3 worst clubs in the league get punished for not being able to compete and go down to a lower league (which in turn, sends up it's 2 best teams, and 1 team scraping through a tournament playoff between 3rd-6th). aston villa were officially relegated to the championship on saturday after falling to a 0-1 defeat to manchester united. being relegated, especially this year, could be devestating for a club. that's primarily due to the television money being substantially larger than previous years for each premier league club. when a club is relegated, the money that comes in is usually nowhere near the amount taken in by premier league clubs and such. clubs typically downgrade their playing staff, to balance the budget. there was no real surprise that villa were relegated this season after performing dreadfully the entire way. however, it's the battle between the remaining 2 spots that is especially interesting. newcastle united, sunderland and norwich are the 3 teams vying for 1 remaining spot in the premier league. sunderland defeated norwich 0-3 on saturday, bringing them to within 1 point of norwich (who currently occupy that last remaining spot). important note: sunderland have played 1 game fewer than norwich. newcastle, who appear to be the team most likely to go down, gained a morale boosting 3 points after defeating swansea city 3-0. they climbed to 28 points, 2 points behind sunderland and 3 points behind norwich. another important note: newcastle also have played 1 game fewer than norwich. that game disappeared yesterday when newcastle had the opportunity to go level on points with norwich in that final premier league spot. they had manchester city in their way. on the night, a 1-1 draw appears to be disappointing, however, against a team as strong as city it can be more than they had expected. so... sunderland appear to have the upper hand at the moment due to that extra game, victory could see them not only go ahead of norwich but also gain a 3 point advantage on newcastle (their bitter rivals in the north-east). stay tuned, this promises to get juicy.
- leicester city finally slipped up, but don't tell their supporters that. they grinded out a 2-2 draw with west ham on saturday which left both teams hating on referee jon moss. jamie vardy gets sent off for a second yellow card after moss had deemed the striker to dive in the box trying to win a penalty. he had already put the foxes 1-0 before getting his marching orders. west ham took the lead late in the second half through goals by aaron cresswell and andy carroll. leading 1-2 into the dying seconds, jon moss crushes the hammers with a penalty call on an apparent foul in the box by carroll on jeffery schlupp. it seemed a very soft call, and pundits claimed moss was making up for the penalty call against them earlier that lead to the andy carroll goal. regardless, leonardo ulloa scores the penalty and leicester only get 1 point at home rather than 3. an opportunity to gain 2 points in the race for the title, that tottenham couldn't pass up. they travelled to stoke on monday, hoping to gain those 2 extra points on leicester closing the gap to 5 points between them. harry kane got them going early, and they never looked back. despite dele alli missing a glorious chance, he still managed to grab 2 goals for himself and kane scored 2, as well. 0-4 for tottenham, 2 assists for christian eriksen. i feel like we can write the same thing week in, and week out about tottenham. they are performing extremely well as a unit, and i wouldn't be surprised if they go on to finish top ahead of leicester city.
- before monaco even had a chance to play on sunday, psg had increased their lead at the top of ligue 1 to 30 points. which makes me beg the question: is this league relevant anymore?
- i know the toronto raptors lost game 1 on saturday at home against the indiana pacers, but lost in the disappointment of that was a brilliant result for toronto fc on the road in washington. sebastian giovinco scored the only goal of the game early on in a 0-1 victory. it's tough to imagine a toronto where the results of the soccer club outweigh the results of the hockey club or basketball team, but that is a toronto that i strive to live in. one day, the community will be talking about toronto fc on a daily basis and gloating over the success of the team. i know this day will come, eventually.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
pardon my enthusiasm on this one, but i can't resist... liverpool won a completely crazy two legged tie versus dortmund! after drawing the first leg 1-1 in germany, it was back to liverpool for the second leg and hopes were high at anfield. dortmund had other ideas, storming into a 0-2 lead within the first 10 minutes of the match. liverpool pushed to get some goals back, and left themselves open to the counter against a lethal dortmund attack but the score would stay 0-2 at halftime. jürgen klopp had to revitalize his troops. with the aggregrate score being 1-3 for dortmund, liverpool needed to score 3 goals without reply to get to the semi-final. they started the half well, and divock origi pulled a goal back... now only 2 goals needed. dortmund again flexed their power, when mats hummels drove into the liverpool half and sent marco reus through on goal to sweep past simon mignolet. 3 goals needed again, without reply. 33 minutes left in the match, the prospect of liverpool advancing seemed bleak. klopp makes two changes bringing on daniel sturridge and joe allen, and removing adam lallana and roberto firmino. immediately, joe allen makes an impact, getting on the ball in the midfield and starting a move that leads to another liverpool goal. he wants the ball at his feet, passing and moving into spaces where he can have the ball. he links up with philippe coutinho who plays a one-two with james milner before gliding the ball into the bottom corner past roman weidenfeller. 2 goals needed once more, surely this can't happen. liverpool sustain the pressure getting chances left, right and center. eventually, in the 77th minute, liverpool gain a corner kick. dortmund make a change to combat the pressure with a more defensive midfielder in ginter replacing the free-flowing midfielder kagawa. the immediate corner finds its way past the front post, and mamadou sakho ghosts into an open position to guide the ball past weidenfeller and into the far corner. anfield erupts! just under 15 minutes left to find one more goal and get to that semi-final. would they do it? would they ever... european nights at anfield have always brought more times of joy than sorrow, and this thursday night would be no different. into injury time now, and liverpool have won a free kick in the dortmund half. milner to take; quickly notices a dart from sturridge into an open area outside of the dortmund box, he send the pass there. not resting on his laurels, he makes a run into the box himself, eager to get the ball once more. sturridge looks to lose his footing but finds it quickly enough to nutmeg the defender and play the ball into milner. his touch is heavy and the ball is almost past the touchline but on a night like this, he was always gonna reach it. he somehow gets his foot just under the ball before it goes out, lifting it high into the box. the goalkeeper races across with the ball, there's three liverpool players there: lovren, sakho & origi. lovren leaps, as high as he can. he's going to make contact, can he beat the 'keeper? the ball looks to be headed for the goal post, it just sneaks inside! scenes... absolute scenes. this is what football is all about. this is why i'm so in love with this game, this club. just when you think there's no way this team will win, they do. call it what you like, but the phrase "heart as big as liverpool" certainly applies here. absolutely unbelievable stuff. if you were unable to watch the game, do yourself a favour and youtube the result, the highlights are incredible.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
before i begin, i must correct something that may have been lost in translation in my previous post. in that post, i started with "tomorrow: we will find out if paris can finally get past the quarter finals of the champions league." of course, i'm aware that they have made it to the semi finals once in their existance, however, i was alluding to their very recent history of being dumped out in the quarter finals. three years in a row prior to the result on tuesday.
right... did you watch those matches?! my work schedule prevents me from actually watching these midweek fixtures, but i was able to listen to the manchester city/psg commentary (which, i'd recommend to any football fan when unable to see the event). from what i could tell, manchester really wanted it. when you watch a football match and you can see the desire of one team being greater than that of the other, it's really obvious who will then go on and win the match. having said that, despite the desire of manchester they were really fortunate that psg lost thiago motta on the stroke of halftime to injury. that definetly threw a wrench into the plan of laurent blanc, and what was to come in the second half. on the other side of that... you could say that psg were fortunate not to be down a goal, and down a man after a collision in the box between sergio aguero and kevin trapp. trapp was lucky that he had defenders back, and that aguero was headed away from goal but, aguero really should have made them pay from the spot. psg had a large percentage of possession in the first half, but never looked threatening. whenever manchester city got the ball they looked threatening, again going back to that previous desire statement. paris seemed to have a gameplan: defend, keep the ball, frustrate manchester city and of course, don't concede a goal. i believe that losing motta changed that gameplan, but the story of the match to me personally was that manchester seemed to want the result more than paris. they got the result, a 1-0 victory thanks to a sweet goal by kevin de bruyne and now they can look forward to the semi finals.
i could go on and on about how valuable cristiano ronaldo is to real madrid, but i simply don't have that time on my hands and you probably don't want to continue to read for hours and hours. let's just say... he's extremely valuable. being down 2-0 from the first leg in germany, madrid needed a large result. i think everyone in the collective football universe knew that not only would they get the result they needed at home, but that ronaldo would be the likely hero. i texted my friend in manchester before the match just to see what he was thinking about the result. i'm always cagey when it comes making predictions because i've been so wrong so often in my life. he stated "i think madrid will win huge tonight. like 4-0 or some shit." i bet if i had asked him who he thought would score, he might have suggested ronaldo would score at least two. ronaldo scored three goals and madrid were comfortable winners. again, i could go on and on but we don't have the time.
last night provided the biggest shock of the tournament, as holders barcelona were dumped out by a plucky atlético madrid side. again, i was unable to watch the match and this time i had decided against the commentary but i had my brother texting me the updates. which is always a good laugh for me. he doesn't quite understand why it's funny for me or anyone else, but i'll share some texts and hopefully you will understand my point.
"athletico madrid!" (sic)
"fuck i wish simeone was coming to the prem league... and to chelsea"
"suarez should be off... just like he should've been in the first leg"
"he elbowed godin in the eye and his eye is all swelled up like he's been in a boxing or mma fight"
"neymar is such a bitch"
"the tension in the soccer match is insane... all barca pressure now..."
"penalty for athleti!" (sic)
"should be a red for iniesta, but isn't! diego is fuming!"
"man, felipe luis was brilliant there on the break that led to the penno... and watching him i'm like 'what was mourinho thinking letting him go?!' - i've said that about quite a few players now"
"another huge call... free kick in a dangerous area... should be a penno and a red card against atleti"
"all over! crazy..."
it's great having a brother that shares the same passion as you do, and who understands that when you can't watch a game, he's got your back even when you don't ask for the updates. look at all of that, even if i was watching the game, i'm still entertained.
benfica failed to beat bayern and a 2-2 draw meant that they were eliminated. i'll give bayern some credit here, they almost blew it... almost.
Monday, April 11, 2016
tomorrow: we will find out if paris can finally get past the quarter finals of the champions league. if they do not, england will have a representative in the semi finals. the first leg was 2-2, which leaves manchester city in the drivers seat. they are at home and the only way this match goes to extra time is with another 2-2 full-time score. having two away goals really sets this match up to be one for the ages. manchester city have never been this far in the champions league, and paris would love to prove they are not the club that always falls short. tune in, this will not be one you will want to miss.
in the same respect, the other match on tuesday will not be one to miss. it's very difficult to watch two matches at one. i have tried, and i have failed. respect to those that can multitask like that. i would still choose the manchester/ paris match to watch but if you have a thing for madrid, then go on, watch that. madrid went to germany last week as favorites to beat wolfsburg and likely by a large score. those that follow the bundesliga knew, it would not be that simple. it wasn't. madrid struggled, and lost 2-0. they know that they need a massive result tuesday. not only would they want to score a few goals (three would be the best number, i'd say), they also want to keep a clean sheet. not as easy as it seems.
wednesday, we have two ties that are separated by a goal each. the marquee matchup has to be: atlético vs barcelona. you would be foolish to bet against barcelona, but could they be defeated? absolutely. they were defeated this weekend by lowly sociedad, in la liga. they are not playing their best football. there's no doubt that they have the best forward three in world football, but you need to bring it everyday. the two home teams: atlético and benfica (vs bayern munich), just need to win 1-0 to stay alive. if benfica win 1-0, the match will go to extra-time and possibly penalties. i would think that this situation won't happen, but in football you just never know. if atlético win 1-0, they will move on to the semi finals at the expense of barcelona. again, in football you just never know.
i know i may get ripped over this but i'll just come out with it... the europa league is significant. there, i said it. i believe it as well. the only reason i will continue to say this and believe it, is simply because of the fact that the winner will gain entry into the champions league the following season. the three remaining spanish teams are already in a battle for that last spot anyway. villarreal are the likely team to finish 4th in la liga. will that change their view on doing well in this competition? not a chance. sevilla have won this thing two years in a row. liverpool are on three titles, one behind current holders sevilla. dortmund and shakhtar, are arguably champions league teams. all of the ties are in the balance, 3 out of 4 separated by a single goal (the other match, a 1-1 draw).
there will definitely be a spanish team in the semi finals of each competition. three remaining in the champions league (two drawn against one another), and three remaining in the europa league (another two drawn against one another). can we finally put to bed this question of which league is better? i hate to admit it, but the premier league cannot compare to la liga at this given moment. until we can have continued success in these european competitions, we are simply a league just like any other (ligue 1, bundesliga, serie a). la liga can say they are the best, and prove it with their european pedigree. the premier league can argue that their league is much more competitive, but that means nothing when you can't prove yourself against the best that europe has to offer.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
"good vibes" says sturridge on his instagram account...his body language suggested otherwise. in this post, he is praising sheyi ojo for making his debut for liverpool and for setting up the go-ahead goal. sturridge did well to get into a position to score the goal and finished gracefully. no celebration...does he have to? not really. why does he look so unhappy? you would have to ask him. i would assume that he is unhappy with himself more than anything else. he had a great game, although he might have scored a couple more goals. strikers can't be totally happy unless they're scoring goals. he scored a goal; but the fact that he looked unhappy after the game is great. you want your players to be hungry to succeed, to strive to do better and for a striker, you want them to want to score. he has been overshadowed in recent games by the performances of divock origi. this belgian kid has bulked up (seemingly at the request of his manager) and looks like a far better player in doing so. he knows how to score and link up play, but he was often being pushed off the ball when he started at liverpool. much too small and light, for his own good. he fights for every possession now, and defenders have a real tough time pushing him off the ball, with his added muscle. he scored a great goal midweek against dortmund, albeit with a slight deflection off of the defenders ankle. you could see what it meant to him. he was chosen to start the game over sturridge, and he showed the world just why with his goal. sturridge scored one goal today against stoke, origi scored two. could that be why he looked upset after the match, who knows? if he continues to play well, and origi keeps putting the ball in the net, liverpool supporters can be looking at the next great front pairing for the club. it's exciting times for the club, would it kill you to smile, daniel?
quick shout out to leicester city, who continue to lead the way in the premier league. wouldn't it be wonderful if they win the title? i still doubt that they will win every game from here on out. it's up to their rivals to win and keep the pressure going. at this point you would have to say that tottenham are the only club who could likely catch them. i've seen stranger things happen in football.