September 16, 2009
When the draw was made, two names jumped immediately into the spotlight. They had swapped teams over the summer and were then promptly drawn together in Group F; Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were never going to get an easy transition to their new surroundings.
• Wenger: Winner was inevitable
• Harris: Gunners provide the thrills
• Carter: A tale of two strikers
• Benitez: Result was important thing
• Wednesday UCL Gallery
Indeed, the talk before the game had been of the reception that Zlatan would receive from the San Siro faithful. He had not exactly been complimentary about the Italian side upon his departure and had stirred up some interesting comments from his former team-mates. However, if there was anyone hoping for an Adebayor-style baiting, they were left disappointed.
The smiles and banter in the tunnel beforehand suggested that it would be easier night for Ibra’s ears, if not his legs, than many anticipated. And so it proved when he stepped on the pitch. His first touch was swiftly followed by a failure to reach Dani Alves’ cross, but he soon had a better chance - blazing over, when he really should have done better. The jeers were lost amid the celebrations that he had not scored.
Barcelona certainly started the brightest, while Ibrahimovic shone above his rival early on too. Showing all the technique and touch that made him such a star in Italy, the Swede seems a focal point for the runs of fast forwards like Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry; while his power and aerial ability make him the ideal central striker.
Ultimately, he may not prove to have the same devastating impact at the Nou Camp as Eto’o though. The Cameroonian showed that the Swede was not the only quality striker on the pitch with a sublime nutmeg on Gerard Pique, although was not able to capitalise on one of his few chances.
Looking a dangerous prospect with the ball at his feet when he got it, Eto’o suffered from a lack of support as the Inter midfield failed to get him enough of the ball. Ibrahimovic often made things happen one-on-one while at the club and, on this evidence, Eto’o may have to do the same.
Despite both strikers’ inability to break the deadlock, the noise level towards Ibrahimovic increased in the second half. The Swede put in a late tackle and then went to ground too easily under a challenge from Walter Samuel, much to the annoyance of the Italian fans; but once again he failed to silence them when he spurned a good chance when he lifted the ball over the ‘keeper and onto the roof of net.
Frustration growing, Inter (and Eto’o) made little impact after the half. But then Barcelona (and Ibrahimovic) could hardly find their shooting boots either. Neither forward-line appeared able to stay onside, while Jose Mourinho’s negativity meant that it was difficult for Inter to do anything but hold off their Spanish opponents.
In the end, so much hype at the clash of the two strikers meant that a 0-0 scoreline probably left fans from either side feeling that they had missed out.
Ibrahimovic has suffered from criticism that he cannot play at the highest level in the past and he was unable to shake that tag against his old side. But then Eto’o did not add much weight to the claims that he can be the man to transform Inter into Champions League contenders. Much work to do on both sides of the biggest swap deal in the game's history.
September 15, 2009
Some teams just seem to have entertainment in their DNA. Tuesday night’s round of Champions League fixtures provided Europe with its first glimpse of Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Madrid, and the new generation of galacticos did not disappoint against FC Zurich.
Fluid and fearsome in attack but shaky at the back in their 5-2 victory, this Real side may have rapidly evolved under the second rule of president Florentino Perez but their hereditary problems persist, racked as they are by the same defensive doubts even as they exude confidence further up the pitch.
After five consecutive seasons of failing to reach the quarter-finals, this is the year that Madrid, having spent in excess of £200 million over the summer, are supposed to once more consummate their love affair with the European Cup.
Nine-time winners, more than any other club, Madrid’s search for a perfect ten has been a painful one in recent seasons but the captures of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso seemed to ensure they were once again a formidable force in the European game. Even rivals Barcelona were trailing in their wake before orchestrating a huge transfer for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But much less attention was paid to the defence. Summer signings Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa both started in Switzerland but Royston Drenthe, still to convince, was installed at left back. It was not a defence that had the complexion of likely Champions League winners.
They were not truly tested in the first half as Pellegrini’s forward three, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Gonzalo Higuain, all netted in a convincing display of attacking football. Higuain, purposeful and dangerous as always, was surely inspired by the sight of Benzema brooding on the bench, waiting for a chance to come on and prove his quality.
Raul, meanwhile, must be determined to prove he merits a place in Pellegrini’s star-studded side and his goal, coupled with Filippo Inzaghi’s double against Marseille, means the two ageing forwards sit proudly atop the all-time European goalscorers list with 67 strikes.
It was only after the break that Real suddenly looked exposed. Iker Casillas gave away a penalty that looked very much in the Eduardo mould as Alexandre Alphonse fell under minimal contact before Xavier Margairaz scored from 12 yards. Within a minute of an incident that would surely have come under UEFA’s remit had they not withdrawn their sanction against the Arsenal striker, Silvan Aegerter had wriggled free to head home from a corner.
It was a double setback that had those old defensive doubts creeping in once more.
Real waited until 89 minutes to secure the victory when another Ronaldo free-kick humiliated keeper Johnny Leoni, who had a very poor night, even if Guti’s sumptuous chip in injury time was a real moment of beauty.
But Madrid are capable of such genius. With their ranks and ranks of attacking talent they will be a threat to any side. Against the likes of Barcelona, Inter and Manchester United, will they be fatally exposed at the back?
It is defensive concerns that persist and even a truly historic spending spree has not erased that element of their genetic make-up, to the considerable benefit of neutrals everywhere.
The FA have handed a double charge to Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor following his mindless antics against his former club Arsenal at the weekend and let's hope they follow through with the maximum punishment - a cumulative five-match ban.
After scoring City's third goal in the 4-2 win over the Gunners the Togo striker, complete with knowing grin, galloped the length of the Eastlands pitch to celebrate in front of the travelling support, which resulted in furious fans throwing missiles and jostling stewards.
Those scenes were ugly, but the stud-marks Adebayor left on the bloodied face of former colleague Robin Van Persie were an abomination. Van Persie later claimed he had been the victim of a "mindless and malicious stamp" and the FA certainly seem to agree that there was intent.
Referee Mark Clattenburg admitted that he did not see this incident, but had he done so Adebayor would have been sent off for violent conduct. That alone would carry a three-match suspension, but factor in the dubious tackle on Cesc Fàbregas and the huge effort it took to purposefully taunt the opposing fans and the striker needs to be made an example of.
Those who make flimsy excuses for Adebayor about being caught up in the emotion of the moment, having been jeered by the Arsenal fans for most of the match, need to remember that not all players incite the fans of their old clubs and stamp on heads of former team-mates.
In fact, on the same Saturday on which Adebayor made such a fool of himself we saw one such example.
Former Hull City defender Michael Turner scored on his debut (well it was later given as a Kamil Zayatte own goal, but it was Turner's header) for his new club Sunderland against his old employers and then held up his hand to the Tigers fans as if to say "sorry, but I'm doing my job".
Compare that with the reaction of Adebayor. Yes, Turner was not jeered by the fans who once backed him but that was because of his general professionalism and personal conduct.
Had Adebayor not demanded a huge salary increase after one good season in an Arsenal shirt, agitated for a move to AC Milan when the cash wasn't forthcoming and then headed to Eastland's for a bumper pay-day following a half-baked season at the Emirates then his standing with the fans might not have been so bad.
Conversely, Turner helped Hull to win promotion to the Premier League, played with commitment as the club remained in the top flight and then quietly moved to Sunderland when the Tigers somewhat surprisingly accepted the Black Cats' transfer bid. As a result, Turner retained the respect of the fans. Presumably he is now standing on the moral high ground shaking his head at the antics of Adebayor.
The Togo striker's old colleagues at Arsenal put it best when they accused him of acting with a lack of "class". Hopefully he will have a five-match period on the sidelines to think that over.
September 3, 2009
Just when you thought the dullest transfer deadline day ever had dampened the spirits, something like this happens.
A contractual dispute between French club Lens, winger Gael Kakuta and English club Chelsea, which has been rolling on since 2007, has reared its ugly head to the extent that the Premier League title favourites are not allowed to bring in any new players for the next two transfer windows.
It turns out that having all the money in the world makes no difference when you break the rules and FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber has come down hard on those responsible. Chelsea have been charged with ''inducement'', and fined, while the ban has attempted to send a message to the rest of the footballing world.
But will it make a difference? Top players on top wages already exist in abundance at Stamford Bridge and there is little to suggest that Carlo Ancelotti will be overly bothered by the prospect of not being able to improve his squad over the next few windows. January certainly isn't a time that the big-boys traditionally bring players into their squads.
The club have hardly set the market alight with their signings in this window either. Ross Turnbull, Daniel Sturridge and Yuri Zhirkov arrived, but nothing like the spending that we have seen in the past. The days of Roman Abramovich bringing in £50m worth of talent appear to be gone and the 130,000 euros fine will be a drop in the ocean. Quietly, the Russian may be quite pleased.
The club can take heart from the precedent, too, as it involved a French club. Roma were banned from signing anyone for a year in 2005 for their signing of Philippe Mexès, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport cut their ban to one transfer window. Expect something similar to happen when the might of the Blues are involved this time around.
Still, Chelsea have been walking a fine line over transfers for a while now. The Ashley Cole situation is well-known to everyone in the game and resulted in fines from the FA, while John Obi Mikel's move from Lyn Oslo (via Old Trafford) was controversial as they had to pay £12m to United and £4m to Lyn, after a contract issue was resolved before it was heard by FIFA.
Indeed, something like this was always going to happen as they targeted players without much thought for their clubs. Money talks, but in this case it has got them in trouble and it could spell the end for Peter Kenyon. It will be interesting to see if FIFA follow suit with other clubs, as Chelsea cannot be the only guilty ones.
The irony is that it is a player who would not have been in the spotlight, had it not been for this news. Kakuta was on the verge of breaking into the first-team and would probably have been involved in their Carling Cup games this season, but he was hardly worth all the hassle.
The Blues will recover from their latest setback, but only if FIFA uphold the ban will they make a statement that this kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated. Perhaps, like the recent diving controversy with Eduardo, it is the first of many future cases to be opened.