Here's The Pitch: Sept. 9, 2013

    Monday, September 9, 2013, 4:53 PM [General]

    FREE KICK: So what's been going on since we last got together? Whether it's the masterpiece theatre presented by the Barclays Premier League or the grand stage of the international game, soccer has produced plenty of drama. Let's find out who deserves to take a bow, and who needs to make way for an understudy. It's time to kick start this thing. 

    BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE: The first act involves Gareth Bale. As early as December of 2012, I declared my allegiance to the Welshman as the Premier League’s 2012-13 MVP, and arguably the third best player in Europe (behind Messi and Ronaldo). While it was my hope that Bale and Tottenham Hotspur would have a lengthy marriage, money will always be an attractive and irresistible mistress. Real Madrid shed nearly 100 million Euros to import Bale from the premiership, and now they, and by extension La Liga, are dating one of the sport’s most desirable players; meanwhile, without their leading man, Spurs has scored just two goals in their first three League matches.  

    There was a character from the 1970’s TV show "The Mod Squad" named Linc who had a well-coiffed afro to go along with a cool persona. Marouane Fellaini can match Clarence Williams III north of the scalp, however, when in the glare of the spotlight, the Belgian is more Miley Cyrus than James Bond. With Manchester United sputtering like a Volkswagen on a cobblestone street, manager David Moyes plucked his former Everton player to firm up a flabby and unsightly Red Devils midsection.  

    Moving on to Arsenal, after an opening day loss to Aston Villa, Arsene Wenger must have felt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Thumbs down was the verdict across north London with the belief that the Frenchman was pinching pennies, but wins over London rivals Fulham and Tottenham have turned those thumbs upside down, and with the arrival of underrated Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid, it appears that Arsenal will be serious championship contenders throughout the campaign.

    Overall, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" can best describe the action on the pitch. Liverpool undefeated? Man U not within the top four? Jose Mourinho with some head-scratching decisions at Chelsea? Hold on tight passengers, the 2013-14 season promises to be a roller-coaster ride.

    UNITED NATIONS: It's often been said that revenge is a dish best served cold, and after the USA defeated Costa Rica in blizzard conditions six months ago in Denver, the Ticos declared war - and while CR won last Friday's battle 3-1 in San Jose, Uncle Sam's Army remains poised to plant the Stars and Stripes for CONCACAF supremacy and book a first-class ticket to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

    As for Mexico's shocking 2-1 home loss to Honduras on that same Friday night and the sacking of manager Jose Manuel de la Torre minutes after the contest: I refuse to love thy neighbor. El Tri are in fourth place and currently sit on the outside looking in, as only the first three teams automatically qualify for the World Cup, and Mexico’s soccer team would lose an unopposed popularity contest amongst US soccer supporters. All eyes are now on Columbus, Ohio, site of Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier.

    That's it for now. Hit me back with your questions and comments:

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    Here's The Pitch: Kicking off the 2013-14 Calendar

    Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 12:37 PM [General]

    FREE KICK: I liken this blog to a car, and a shiny, new 2013-’14 model is just about ready to roll out of the showroom floor and hit the road. But first, let’s take a test drive and kick the tires concerning some of the issues that caught my attention the past two-and-a-half months of the BPL offseason.

    MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND: The typical summer breeze was more like a windstorm these past three months within the Barclay’s Premier League, and as usual, the bulk of the huffing and puffing was blown by the League’s big men on campus.

    Sir Alex Ferguson’s unexpected retirement from the good-ship Manchester United had the most strength, and while we can agree that all good things eventually come to an end, this observer believed that the most successful manager in the history of British football still had many miles left to travel. But, taking the baton for the next leg of United’s journey is David Moye; while at Everton, Moyes hardly had the tools that many of his peers enjoyed, however the boyish-looking Scot was still able to craft a sturdy structure worthy of European consideration on an annual basis.

    Other pieces that moved upon the BPL chess board included Roberto Martinez, who checked from relegated Wigan to Everton, Man City’s hiring of Manuel Pellegrini, and Stoke’s employment of Mark Hughes, but check-mate was provided by the grandmaster, Jose Mourinho, who following a fairly successful stint at Real Madrid has rejoined the world’s top domestic league. Buyer beware, though, as Mourinho has had more movement than Ex Lax, and as to whether or not the Chosen One lasts five years at Chelsea, I’m taking the under.

    TOURNAMENT TUSSLES: France was crowned King of the Under-20 World Cup which took place throughout Turkey, and while an afternoon nap had more drama than their victory against Uruguay in the final, the tournament as a whole was more Van Gogh than Pollock.  Several soccer scribes felt the U.S team under-achieved by not advancing past the group stage, and upon closer inspection, our fate was sealed before the  tournament’s first tackle when the Red, White and Blue was placed shoulder-to-shoulder alongside France (the eventual champions), Ghana (a semi-finalist that lost to France), and Spain (one of the pre-tournament favorites).  Still, three cheers to head coach Tab Ramos, who had his team employ an up-tempo, attacking groove reminiscent of a James Brown gig.

    In my view, Brazil’s 3-0 victory over Spain in the Confederation Cup final was fool’s gold. The Spaniards played possum in the 2009 edition of the same tournament, losing to the USA during the elimination round, but we all remember what happened 12 months later when the sport’s most valuable trophy was on the line.

    Meanwhile, a ham-and-cheese sandwich was more appealing than the USA’s CONCACAF championship to this observer, as I refuse to join the chorus trumpeting wins over the likes of Belize, Cuba, and El Salvador. The most significant development, really, was Mexico continuing to wobble like a college freshman after his first keg party.

    HE DOESN’T KNOW “JACK” DEMPSEY: Exactly one year ago, Clint Dempsey was riding shotgun; despite the respect from then-manager Martin Jol and the adoration of Fulham’s faithful, the Texan did his best bank robber impersonation and held up the London-based side demanding to be shipped to a higher-profile squad. I wrote at the time that being a big fish in a small pond was more valuable than swimming as a minnow within a vast ocean, but Dempsey felt otherwise and took the bait. Subsequently, he was gobbled up hook, line and sinker by Tottenham Hotspur, and after just one season America’s top soccer export was cast off to sea and now finds himself in MLS as a member of the Seattle Sounders. As a comparison, this season he’ll perform at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall while his previous gig was New York City’s Carnegie Hall, and it ranks as the worst career choice since Coke Zero was introduced to the marketplace.

    PENALTY KICK: Next week is the start of the 2013-14 BPL season. We’ll kick it for real come next week, and I’ll also go on blast concerning the Wayne Rooney/Chelsea soap opera. Until then, hit me back with your comments:


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    Here's The Pitch: The 2012-13 season's final act

    Monday, May 20, 2013, 1:59 PM [General]

    FREE KICK: If recent Super Bowls were a jab, last season's BPL finale was an uppercut, as Manchester City scored a pair of injury time goals in defeating Queens Park Rangers to swipe the crown from hated Manchester United. A bowling ball would’ve fit into the mouths of soccer fans during those final frantic minutes at Etihad Stadium, and City’s margin of victory in claiming their first title since 1968 was goal differential the size of a fingernail.  

    It was not the same this season, as sadly, much like the month of March, the 2012-13 Premiership season went out like a lamb, with the final Sunday having as much potency as a Shirley Temple. Man U had the crown locked up weeks ago and QPR, Reading, and Wigan, the FA Cup champion, were already relegated prior to the start of play, so the only suspense was between Arsenal and Tottenham, with their matches determining who would finish fourth and claim a berth in the Champions League and who would place fifth and drown their sorrows with a pint (and a Europa League invite). Let’s kick start this thing one last time.

    NEWCASTLE UNITED vs. ARSENAL: Gunners manager Arsene Wenger welcomed back fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud from suspension for this important encounter, and while Arsenal played with a sense of desperation and purpose, strangely the same could not be said for Newcastle. Alan Pardew's side was thoroughly spanked by Arsenal 7-3 in their first meeting of the season, so their lack of a cutting edge on this occasion was surprising. The Magpies proved to be compact at the back and took a scoreless tie into the locker room at the intermission, but early in the second 45, Arsenal finally struck gold. Theo Walcott's free kick was knocked down inside the box, where Laurent Koscielny outmuscled Fabricio Coloccini to deposit the game's only goal. Walcott had a chance to put the final nail in Newcastle's coffin near the end of regulation, but the midfielder mistakenly went with style over substance and his shot clanged off the post and skipped harmlessly out to sea. The Gunners would not pay the ultimate price for their mistake, however, and they qualify for the Champions League for the 16th straight year, a remarkable achievement. Three months ago, Piers Morgan demanded that Arsenal's management firm give Wenger the boot, but the opinionated talk show host had his vocal chords on mute following this result. Arsenal 1, Newcastle 0

    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs. SUNDERLAND: With all matches starting at the same time in the final week, Spurs entered the contest with the belief that a victory would seal the deal towards Champions League qualification. In the end, referee Andre Marriner had as much of a bearing on this match as the 22 players.  In a scene reminiscent of the UFC, Gareth Bale was wrestled to the ground in the 26th minute, and Marriner, one of the least experienced arbiters in the Premiership, must've been waiting for Bale to tap out; instead of pointing to the spot, the referee went with a yellow, wrongly carding Bale for diving.  Early in the second, Marriner again felt the wrath of the Tottenham faithful for refusing to whistle the Black Cats for a clear handball, and Spurs were hotter than July. Finally, 15 minutes from time, the official made a correct decision when he banished Sunderland's David Vaughan to the locker room after the defender hacked down Aaron Lennon. With increased acreage at his disposal, Bale finally found the back of the net with his customary left-footed fastball to the upper outside corner, a special goal from a special player. On March 3rd, Spurs held a seven point lead on Arsenal, but two months later, they lost out to their London rival by a single point. This is a case when a victory must have seemed like a loss.  Spurs 1, Sunderland 0

    WEST BROMWICH ALBION vs. MANCHESTER UNITED: Instead of a Hollywood ending to Sir Alex Ferguson's 26-year coaching career, the fans were treated to a scene straight out of the Twilight Zone. How else could one describe the Red Devils allowing three goals in the final nine minutes to snatch a tie from the jaws of victory? The 5-5 stalemate was the first of its' kind in the history of the Premiership, and Romelu Lukaku's hat trick was rendered a mere afterthought as the world continues to turn around Ferguson and Wayne Rooney; once again, number 10 was not featured in Man U's game day lineup, and Rooney reportedly is upset with his set-up role in the team's offense. Hey, I hate paying taxes, but it's something that I'm ordered to do, so I do it. If Ferguson was wavering in his decision to retire, this result likely ended all doubts. WBA 5, Manchester United 5

    CHELSEA vs. EVERTON: This was the final game for Everton skipper David Moyes before he sets sail for Old Trafford, where he'll try to fill the large shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson, and it was also the last hurrah for Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez. At one time, Fernando Torres was as unpopular as a dentist on the day after Halloween, but the enigmatic striker would score his first goal since December 23rd to lift the Blues to a third place finish in the standings. Regular readers of this column realize that I'm the captain of the Rafa Benitez fan club. His 2013 Chelsea resume is reminiscent of Bob Lemon's stint as New York Yankees manager in 1978, when Lemon was the third manager hired by George Steinbrenner that season but led the Bronx Bombers to a World Series title despite staring down a 14.5 game deficit in the month of July. Benitez is like the stray dog that wanders onto a front porch during a rain storm looking for a meal, a warm blanket, and a scratch of the belly, but Chelsea's rabid supporters welcomed the pooch with a kick to the curb. Chelsea 2, Everton 1

    LIVERPOOL vs. QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Another heartfelt send-off, this time involving Liverpool's Jamie Carragher; the defender was never the fastest or most talented player, but smarts and guile propelled him to a stellar 16-year career. Philippe Coutinho tallied the game's lone goal with a tremendous piledriver from 30 yards out, and that’s that for QPR. Their “get up and go” got up and went a month and a half ago, and next season they'll play in England's Triple-A league.  Liverpool 1, QPR 0

    MANCHESTER CITY vs. NORWICH CITY:  With the firing of Roberto Mancini as head coach, last season's champions checked out of this contest long before kickoff. The game's final goal was also the loveliest, as Jonathan Howson cut through defenders Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, and Pablo Zabaleta much like a lawn motor shreds through grass. Man City will require a heart transplant if they are to compete for a Premiership title next season. Norwich 3, Manchester City 2

    SOUTHAMPTON vs. STOKE: Stoke kept tabloid writers worldwide busy during the week with a series of embarrassing charades. Striker Kenwyne Jones discovered a pig’s head in his locker, and in response, a teammate had his windshield shattered into tiny crystals. Much like the conclusion of final exams on a college campus, I can understand having the lads let off some steam, but Stoke brewed enough tea for an entire continent. Luckily for them, they put down their toys at kickoff and put in work for the entire 90 minutes to pick up a draw. Southampton 1, Stoke 1

    WEST HAM UNITED vs. READING: This refreshing and breathtaking affair was spotted amongst a mostly stale and lackluster Sunday across the premiership landscape. Reading was already one of three teams headed for demotion, but they refused to wallow in self-pity, climbing off the canvas to negate an early 2-0 West Ham lead before Kevin Nolan netted a pair late in the second half. West Ham 4, Reading 2

    SWANSEA vs. FULHAM: After a spell of eight straight winless results, Fulham finally came away from a match with all three points. Bryan Ruiz moonwalked a pass to Alexander Kacaniklic for Fulham's first goal with Dimitar Berbatov authoring the second score, and the London side would add a third to close the books on their first road triumph since New Year's Day. Mark Schwarzer was terrific between the pipes for Fulham, and while a 40-year-old netminder is never in high demand, Martin Jol should go out of his way to ink the veteran to a new deal. Fulham 3, Swansea 0

    WIGAN vs. ASTON VILLA: Given Wigan’s week, they could have had a starring role in “The Hangover Part 3” lined up. Just a few days after winning the FA Cup for the first time in the club's history, the little engine that could found themselves on the wrong side of relegation following a loss at Arsenal, but Roberto Martinez's side refused to go down without a fight on their final day in the Premiership. They reluctantly coughed up an equalizing goal in the 60th minute for a 2-2 stalemate, but it's my belief that Wigan won’t be down for very long. Wigan 2, Aston Villa 2

    PENALTY KICK: This blog hopes to return at the start of the 2013-14 campaign. I don’t know how many regular readers I’m reaching, nor if you folks are informed and entertained by my writing, but I love watching the Premiership and I can only hope that my passion for the beautiful game shines through on this page. If you have a comment or a question, please address them to me at See you in the fall!

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    Here's The Pitch

    Monday, May 13, 2013, 11:20 PM [General]

    FREE KICK: F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice." With 38 continental trophies in his 26-year tenure, Sir Alex Ferguson has firmly established Manchester United as the New York Yankees of British football. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Dimaggio ultimately exited the stage, and at age 71, the most decorated manager the sport has ever seen has taken his final bow. His departure leaves as many questions as there are answers, but those riddles can be solved at a later date. Let's kick start this thing.

    MANCHESTER UNITED vs. SWANSEA CITY: Following an emotional pre-game ceremony before Ferguson stepped on the Old Trafford pitch for the last time, poor Swansea had to feel like the lamb being led into a den of wolves. Unbeknownst to them, there was some backstage turbulence involving Wayne Rooney. The Red Devil with the largest pitchfork has asked for a transfer and was not included on the team's roster sheet, and conspiracy advocates noticed that the two combustible individuals shared a less than heartwarming embrace when Man U were awarded their championship medals. The situation is similar to that of David Beckham several years earlier, but, even on his last day, Ferguson's number one commandment that no player is bigger than the club rang true. Rio Ferdinand was lonelier than a geek on a Saturday night in slotting home the game-winner three minutes from time, as the veteran defender took up a spot at the far post and had a corner kick fall gently into his lap. You really didn't expect United to lose in Sir Alex's final home game, did you? Manchester United 2, Swansea 1

    ASTON VILLA vs. CHELSEA: Now this is a horse I can ride! This was the most thrilling and exciting match of the weekend by the length of a soccer field; there’s so much to write about and so little space. Here goes: Christian Benteke opened the scoring for an underdog AV squad early in the first half, but Frank Lampard, the Derek Jeter of Chelsea, would net the equalizer in the 61st with a high, rising fastball to the outside corner. Later, Lee Mason was more pickpocket than referee when he reached into his lapel to show red to Ramires and Benteke, and wide open 10-on-10 football was the result. After central defender John Terry was carted off with a leg injury, Lampard would score the game-winner in true Hollywood splendor; it was an all-star production with Ashley Cole and Eden Hazard having co-starring roles before the leading man accepted his Oscar, and then, in a scene not witnessed since the Beatles invasion of the U.S. in the mid-60's, Chelsea supporters rushed onto the pitch to join in the celebration. Not only did the goal move No. 8 into first place on the club's all-time scoring list, it also ensured a top-four finish and a Champions League berth next season for Chelsea. Lampard is headed to MLS (and specifically to the L.A. Galaxy), but why work in the minor leagues when you can still hit major league pitching? For Villa, their BPL existence for 2013-'14 will likely be determined on the final weekend. Chelsea 2, Aston Villa 1

    STOKE vs. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR: Stoke's participation in the Premiership for next season is secure while Spurs continues its Lindsay Lohan-like roller coaster ride, and anything less than a Top 4 finish will leave hearts crushed in north London and a possible exit door at Gareth Bale's locker. On this day, a cracked pillar would’ve provided more support than Tottenham's backline on Steven Nzonzi's opener, and when Charlie Adam rushed to take a free kick, Spurs was busy counting the house. With 87 minutes left to play, Stoke was on top, but lanky Texan Clint Dempsey leveled the match 17 minutes later when he lobbed a change-up from 35 yards out. Later, Adam was shown red after two questionable decisions – to this impartial observer, on both incidents the midfielder was only guilty of an abundance of hustle – to put Spurs on the power play for nearly 43 minutes, and after misfiring on several quality scoring chances, Emmanuel Adebayor, the man Spurs fans love to hate, tapped home the winner courtesy of a Dempsey cross. Spurs comes through with a must-have victory, but they'll need some help if they are to leap-frog Arsenal and into a top four finish. Tottenham 2, Stoke 1

    EVERTON vs. WEST HAM UNITED: If Sir Alex Ferguson's final act played Broadway, then David Moyes' Everton farewell played at a VFW hall. The Everton field boss will take over for Ferguson next season and his last home game with Everton also brought with it an outpouring of emotion. Comparatively, Everton shops at K-Mart for its talent (compared to Man U, Man City, and Chelsea, who shop exclusively at Bloomingdales), but season after season, Everton was always a threat to qualify for the Champions or Europa Leagues. During his tenure, Moyes had the uncanny ability to turn hamburger into steak, and he would go out a winner thanks to a goal in each half by Kevin Mirallas. Everton 2, WHU 0

    FULHAM vs. LIVERPOOL: It seems like once their Premiership membership card was stamped for next season, Fulham folded their tent; on this day, they suffered their fifth straight defeat, and can only look in the mirror to locate the guilty party. Dimitar Berbatov nodded home the first goal of the contest in the 33rd, but Daniel Sturridge would score the next three for the Reds. The first one received four stars, as Liverpool journeyed Route 1 with a long pass and Sturridge did the rest, treating poor Aaron Hughes much like Michael Jordan abused Craig Ehlo and Byron Russell when they were left one-on-one with the immortal one. Later, after connecting on his hat trick, Sturridge decided to bust a move; he’s not a great dancer, buthe's a pretty good soccer player. Liverpool 3, Fulham 1

    SUNDERLAND vs. SOUTHAMPTON: Ahh, yet another match this writer can sink his fingers into, a match with enormous implications for both clubs. The mission was hardly impossible: win the match, gobble up all three points, and ensure your Premiership existence next season. The Black Cats have been on the prowl since Paolo Dicanio took over as manager last month, but surprisingly it was Southampton who enjoyed the better of play in half number one. The match was scoreless until the 68th when Phillip Bardsley did his best Matt Harvey impersonation and whistled a fastball past a defenseless Artur Boruc to make it 1-nil Sunderland, but the lead would last for just six minutes before Jason Puncheon tied the game in knots. It was a blue-collar, lunch-bucket goal for Puncheon, who placed his rebound past Simon Mignolet from the front porch despite being prone on all-fours. They say a tie is like kissing your sister, and these two squads puckered up to Marge Simpson. Sunderland 1, Southampton 1

    QUEENS PARK RANGERS vs. NEWCASTLE UNITED: Newcastle needed a positive result to alleviate their relegation fears, and QPR provided the perfect vaccine to their ills. Rangers offered an illusion by scoring the game's first goal on a questionable penalty kick decision, but the Magpies got mad and then got even on a PK of their own; Hatem Ben Afra delivered the goods, and it ws 1-1 after 18. Later, for the second consecutive week, QPR offered some Will Ferrell-type comedy, as goalkeeper Richard Green and defender Jose Bosingwa did their best “Who's On First” routine until Jonas Gutierrez arrived on the scene to deliver the punch line, and Gutierrez did the work while Yoan Gouffran got the glory. Alan Pardew is one of my favorite managers, as while I can't vouch for his technical abilities, his ruthless honesty during his postgame press conferences is as refreshing as a spring morning. Newcastle 2, QPR 1

    NORWICH CITY vs. WEST BROMWICH ALBION: Back in 1991, Michael Spinks fought Mike Tyson in the most anticipated boxing match since the Ali-Frazier three-fight series in the 1970's. That event was more sparkler than firecracker, ending after just 90 seconds with a Tyson knockout win, and while this contest was hardly Tyson-Spinks or even Mayweather-Guerrero in the build up, it certainly looked like the former on the pitch. WBA decided to curl up in a fetal position after absorbing the first body punch that the Canaries threw, and it was a position they wouldn't budge from for the entire 90 minutes. Much like several teams mentioned above, Norwich needed a win for their Premiership survival, and they got it. Norwich 4, WBA 0

    ARSENAL vs. WIGAN and READING vs. MANCHESTER CITY: Originally scheduled for Sunday, both of these matches were postponed until Tuesday, May 14 due to Man City and Wigan meeting in the FA Cup Final on Saturday, a match Wigan won 1-0. In the grand scheme of things, Reading vs. Man City means little, as Reading will finish 19th and be relegated no matter what while Man City has second place and a Champions League berth locked up, but Wigan vs. Arsenal is perhaps the biggest fixture of the week. Arsenal is two points behind Tottenham for fourth place and can jump into the driver’s seat with a win, while Wigan needs a win to avoid relegation; the FA Cup champs are four points behind 17th-place Sunderland, but as Sunderland won both fixtures between the teams, they would own the tiebreaker, so Wigan needs a pair of wins (and a Sunderland loss to Tottenham next Sunday) to survive the cut.

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    Here's The Pitch: May 6, 2013

    Monday, May 6, 2013, 4:52 PM [General]

    FREE KICK: This season’s Barclay’s Premier League standings are much like an ocean, in that danger and intrigue can be found near the bottom instead of at the top. Three teams face the Premiership firing line, with Reading and Queens Park Rangers already blindfolded and dangling a cigarette from their lower lip; currently, Wigan is the third team set to be demoted, but Sunderland, Newcastle, and Aston Villa entered the weekend just five points above sea level. For those four “contenders,” it’s time to grab the life preservers and float to shore, because with relegation comes a loss of some 40 million dollars in TV revenue. It’s time to find out which teams sink and which ones swim. Let’s kick start this thing.

    MANCHESTER UNITED vs. CHELSEA: The more compelling matches of the weekend involved Wigan, Aston Villa, and Newcastle, but when the Red Sox and Yankees of the Premiership line up across each other, it instantly becomes the lead.  With the 2012-13 BPL title already in their bank account, Man U did not have the determination of their opponent, and the match was more chess than football, with more probing and poking than fury and drive. The Red Devils were checkmated in the 86th when Oscar spotted Juan Mata just inside the box, and his left-footed slider found the lower right corner of the net via a Phil Jones deflection for the game's first and only goal.  A few minutes later, Chelsea's David Luiz and Man U defender Rafael engaged in hand-to-hand and elbow-to-elbow contact;  Rafael acted last with a swift kick to his fellow Brazilian's calf, sending the curly-haired one down in a heap, but as he grinned sheepishly at his Tony Award-winning play, Rafael was shown red by referee Howard Webb.  Did Rafael deserve a card? For sure, but yellow would've been my color of choice. With the win, Chelsea has a 13-5-5 record under Benitez, and while the Spaniard is still looked upon as Benedict Arnold by Chelsea supporters, history will flatter his 2012-'13 accomplishments.  Chelsea 1, Manchester United 0.

    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs. SOUTHAMPTON: Earlier in the week my hero Gareth Bale was anointed Player of the Year in the BPL, and he rescued Spurs on this occasion with a left-footed slider that gave his team all three points. The goal was pure Picasso; while traveling right to left at top side, the Welshman unleashed a left-footed rocket that left Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boric sprawling like a contortionist. Just a tremendous individual effort from captain clutch, and while Bale already had my vote as the Premiership's MVP months ago, I'll now raise the pot and go all-in: Gareth Bale is the third best soccer player in Europe, ranking below Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.  Tottenham visits Chelsea during the midweek, and the winner claims all the chips in the race for a Champions League berth.  Tottenham 1, Southampton 0.

    SWANSEA CITY vs. MANCHESTER CITY: Many years ago, Billy Preston had a hit song entitled "Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing"; this match had plenty of nothing, but that shouldn't come as a surprise, as Swansea's BPL survival kit for next season is secured, and ditto for Man City's 2nd place finish.  Swansea enjoyed the better of play while Edin Dzeko was the goose that had the game's golden opportunity.  If he was on the golf course, his opponent would've had him pick up the "gimme,” but somehow the Bosnian's effort from three yards out missed the target. Swansea 0, Manchester City 0.

    QUEENS PARK RANGERS vs. ARSENAL: QPR has already been sentenced to the Minor Leagues, and it took just 20 seconds for their lack of desire to appear, as that's how long it took for Theo Wolcott to open the scoring. Wolcott should've recorded a hat trick, though, as he turned into a plumber later in the first half in striking the pipe, and in the second half, his right-footed sinker was denied via a fine save from QPR keeper Joel Robles. Loic Remy had the home side's top scoring chance late in the second, but his swirling effort fell just wide. After the match, QPR manager Harry Redknapp declared that his team gave maximum effort, but to that I quote another song that I'm fond of: James Brown’s "Talking loud and saying nothing.” There's a reason why they are the rear end of the Premiership table. Arsenal 1, QPR 0.

    LIVERPOOL vs. EVERTON: On Saturday the U.S. hosted the Kentucky Derby, the most exciting two minutes in sports; well, this match was the dullest 90 minutes in soccer. I haven't seen so much promise go to waste since Vanilla Ice. Liverpool spilled a six-pack into the Newcastle net one week earlier, but they went cold turkey on this day; clearly they missed Luis Suarez, who sat out the second game of his 10-game suspension. In the second half, referee Michael Oliver suspected foul play when he disallowed an apparent Sylvain Distin goal; somehow, the arbiter ruled that Victor Anichebe interfered with netminder Pepe Reina, but replays showed that the only contact the Nigerian made with Reina was with his breath. I expected more from both clubs but that would be the theme of the weekend throughout the BPL. Everton 0, Liverpool 0.

    NORWICH CITY vs. ASTON VILLA: After a 2-1 victory against Everton back on February 23, Norwich sat mid-table and could not be blamed for making off-season plans; however, the Canaries haven't won since, and now find themselves in a battle royal for Premiership survival. Aston Villa had only lost once in their previous four, and despite fielding the youngest team in the BPL, they've displayed nerves of steel in avoiding what was a near-certain drop one month ago. AV midfielder Gabriel Agbonlahor has a love-hate relationship with fans and management, but Saturday's date was deep and passionate, as Agbonlahor put on a Lebron James-like performance in lifting his team to victory. His goal to open the scoring was Selma Hayek’like in its beauty, and after Grant Holt deservedly tied the game in knots on a penalty kick, Agbonlahor ran onto a long outlet pass and delivered the goods from five yards out.  Aston Villa climbs to the summit of premiership survival, the 40 point plateau, while the buns are becoming quite squeaky at Norwich.  Aston Villa 2, Norwich 1.

    WEST HAM UNITED vs. NEWCASTLE UNITED: The Hammers can sleep peacefully assured of membership in the Premier League next season, while Newcastle's issues would best be handled with an hour on Oprah Winfrey's couch. Alan Pardew has a locker room full of characters, and with Fabricio Coloccini and Hatem Ben Afra recovered from injury, the manager added character to his ship of fools. Pappiss Cisse had the best scoring chance, but his slow roller was cleared off the goal line; at regular speed it appeared to be the wrong decision, and after viewing several replays I haven't changed my opinion. Yet another scoreless outcome…ugh. West Ham 0, Newcastle 0.

    WEST BROMWICH ALBION vs. WIGAN: Seeing his Wigan squad fighting for survival is an annual rite of passage for manager Roberto Martinez, and  I would not be the least bit surprised if Michael Corleone's quote from “The Godfather Part III” – “Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in" – is etched above the locker room door.  Just one loss in the last two weeks would've meant the death sentence of relegation for Wigan, but they always seem to find a stay of execution; on Saturday, it was actually two stays of execution, as the Lactics erased a pair of one-goal deficits. On March 17, I facetiously wrote that Callum McManaman deserved to be put on trial for his Paul Bunyan imitation in nearly sawing off a Newcastle player's leg, but his game-winner in the 80th courtesy of Shaun Maloney's heavy labor finds him King for a day. Rocky lives in the form of Wigan. Wigan 3, WBA 2.

    FULHAM vs. READING: Nigel Adkins was appointed Reading's interim manager on March 26th, and six fixtures later, he was able to notch his first win; unfortunately, the victory came 30 days late. Hal Robson-Kanu  and Bryan Ruiz would each score twice, and Martin Jol should be embarrassed because Fulham has mailed in their season, stamped return to sender.  Reading 4, Fulham 2.

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