Archive for the ‘ General ’ Category

Cardiff City Clinches First Promotion Bid for Next Season

Craig Bellamy

 

Not many 0-0 draws will be celebrated in the fashion that Cardiff City celebrated their scoreless match with Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night.

By earning the one point at the Cardiff City Stadium, the Bluebirds became the first club to secure promotion from the Championship to the Premier League.

Malky Mackay’s club have been dominant in the second division all season. With a 13-point gap on the playoff positions, third through sixth, with three matches remaining, a spot in the EPL was easily secured.

The promotion marks the first time in 53 years that Cardiff will play in the English top flight and it will give Welsh football fans a chance to see a Welsh derby in the EPL next season between the Bluebirds and Swansea City.

As for how the rest of the Championship clubs fared on Tuesday, second-placed Hull City were unable to extend the gap on third-placed Watford after losing 1-0 on the road to Wolverhampton.

Third-placed Watford also fell on the road on Tuesday by losing 1-0 to Millwall at The Den.

Brighton and Hove Albion jumped over Crystal Palace in the race for fourth by playing to a 0-0 draw with Peterborough United. Palace fell 3-0 on the road to Ipswich Town.

In the battle for the final playoff position, which is sixth place in the table, Leicester City reclaimed their spot in the top six by beating seventh-placed Bolton Wanderers, 3-2, at the King Power Stadium.

Jeffrey Schlupp’s 79th minute goal was the game-winner for the Foxes, who lead Bolton and Nottingham Forest by one point in the race for sixth.

A full slate of matches will be played on Friday and Saturday as the race to join Cardiff in the EPL next season intensifies.

Here is how the Championship table looks after play on Tuesday.

Club Matches Played Points Goal Differential
Cardiff City 43 84 27
Hull City 43 77 11
Watford 43 71 23
Brighton & Hove Albion 43 66 18
Crystal Palace 42 66 10
Leicester City 43 64 23

Ronaldo Must Be at His Best for Real Madrid to Beat Borussia Dortmund

Ronaldo Celebrating

 

When Real Madrid faces Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semifinals, you might think that the Spanish side is the prohibitive favorite to advance to the final.

You would be incorrect, I’m afraid.

Borussia Dortmund still hasn’t lost a single game in this year’s Champions League, beat Los Blancos 2-1 in Germany during the group stage in November and tied them 2-2 in Madrid two weeks later, after Mesut Ozil tied the game for Real Madrid in the 89th minute. For that reason, it will be up to Cristiano Ronaldo to lead his side to victory.

Again.

It may seem obvious that Ronaldo must be on his form against Dortmund, but generally Los Blancos have enough talent to beat opponents even if he isn’t the man of the match. Against Dortmund, I’m not so sure that’s the case.

While Bayern Munich has already wrapped up Bundesliga, Dortmund has lost just once in all competitions since the beginning of March and has proven to be one of the elite sides in Europe this season. Players like Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski would start for most clubs in the world.

Plus, Dortmund has the look of a charmed team after scoring two goals in stoppage time against Malaga to advance to the semifinals. Sometimes, nothing in sports is more insurmountable than a team with a bit of luck on its side.

And seeing as they would have moved forward on aggregate had the team’s group stage meeting been a semifinal, some folks might even consider Dortmund the favorites.

Real Madrid is the more popular squad, however, so it’s no surprise that over at Bovada Los Blancos are considered the favorites to reach the final. The fact that Ronaldo is the best player in the game might alone be the reason Real Madrid is favored.

And Ronaldo will have to play like the best player. He’s once again having an epic season, with 50 goals and seven assists in all competitions for Los Blancos. He’s been particularly dangerous of late, scoring in seven straight games for Real Madrid (with nine goals during that time).

With a league title pretty much out of the question at this point, winning a Champions League title is now the top priority for Real Madrid. And you have to think Ronaldo would like nothing more than leading his team to that title rather than seeing it go to Lionel Messi and Barcelona.

Not that it’s a given that Barca can get past Bayern Munich, of course. In fact, I think it’s the German side that will win that tie, but that’s just me.

In the end, must like Messi must come up huge for Barca against Bayern Munich, Ronaldo must be at his very best against Dortmund. Barcelona and Real Madrid might be considered the top superpowers in European football, but these German sides are the real deal and aren’t about to be intimidated.

Radamel Falcao Would Not Be the Answer for Manchester United

Falcao

 

 

Radamel Falcao is a world-class striker, but is he really going to solve Manchester United’s problems?

 

Sir Alex Ferguson and the Red Devils apparently believe so, as the club is reportedly throwing its name in the hat

It’s almost impossible to argue that United’s attack isn’t strengthened by bringing in the Colombian striker. A partnership of Falcao and Robin van Persie would be the most intimidating in the world.

Goals haven’t exactly been a problem for Manchester United, though. The Red Devils have scored 71 times in the Premier League, which is 10 more than Chelsea, who is in second place.

The Wayne Rooney transfer rumors are seemingly neverending, so the arrival of Falcao would likely either precede or follow the departure of Rooney. You can see where United would want to replace a striker of Rooney’s reputation with another big-name player.

But what about Javier Hernandez?

Chicharito is still only 24 years old. While not the quality of Falcao at this point, there’s every reason to expect the Mexican striker would be able to suffice in the absence of Rooney. Hernandez has scored 11 goals in 26 domestic and European league matches this season. He’s energetic and always manages to pounce on any chance in the box. You could very easily see Hernandez scoring 20 goals next season if he’s given a starting role. Plus, the money spent on Falcao would inevitably subtract money from the transfer budget that could be spent much more wisely elsewhere. Ferguson is not a heavy spender during the summer, so it’s unrealistic to expect him to break the bank this season.

United spent a little over £50 million on the trio of David de Gea, Ashley Young and Phil Jones back in the summer of 2011. Something comparable could be expected this summer. But with Falcao taking up £27 million, that doesn’t leave much to spend on what has been United’s biggest issue: midfield.

Surely the club would be much better off spending the lion’s share of the transfer budget on a player like Kevin Strootman, Sven Bender, Mario Gotze, Isco, Victor Wanyama, Etienne Capoue or any combination of those players.

Manchester United is built for success in England. There’s no doubt about that. Bringing in Falcao would be a shot across the bow of Europe’s elite that the Red Devils are back to take their place atop the throne of club football. But what good will Falcao be if Ferguson leaves the midfield untouched?

It’s hard to envision United being any more successful in Europe than it currently is by continuing to rely on Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Anderson to occupy the midfield. You can have the best strikers in the world, but there rendered ineffective against good clubs when you don’t have a ball-winner or someone to pull the strings in the midfield.

Falcao is a great player, but he should not be the top transfer target for Manchester United this season.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo Can Power Real Madrid to UEFA Champions League Title

Ronaldo Celebrating

 

Real Madrid hasn’t hoisted the European Cup in over 10 years, but superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo is determined to change that as he’s poised to lead Los Blancos to their 10th UEFA Champions League title in 2013.

Never mind the debate over who the best player in the world is—Ronaldo is the best player for Real Madrid. Following his sensational ninth-minute goal against Galatasaray in the first leg of Madrid’s quarterfinal tie with the Turkish club on Wednesday, it seems losing is no longer an option for Ronaldo, as Madrid is now unbeaten in its last 11 matches, dating back to early February.

Ronaldo’s early goal also extends his UEFA Champions League goal streak to four straight matches.

As far as the squad is concerned, Madrid looks like a safe lock for the semifinals, barring an away collapse next week. Ronaldo and company lead comfortably on aggregate and will advance to the next stage even with a 2-0 defeat on April 9.

But the better news for Madrid supporters is that Ronaldo is firing on all cylinders heading into the most critical stages of the UEFA Champions League.

If his match-winner at Old Trafford last month wasn’t enough to prove it, his electrifying go-ahead goal at Bernabeu certainly serves as overwhelming evidence that the 28-year-old forward is in his physical and mental prime.

Plus, Madrid currently has rival Barcelona’s number, having defeated Barca three times out of the two clubs’ last five meetings and earning draws in the other two. Barca is one of the favorites to reach the semifinals and perhaps the UEFA Champions League final in May.

Ronaldo certainly wouldn’t mind matching up again with the world’s top player in Lionel Messi, especially considering he has scored a combined five goals in Madrid’s last five meetings with Barca.

Other contenders like Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich pose threats to Real Madrid, sure, but neither club possesses an individual go-to talent quite like Ronaldo. Dortmund gave Madrid problems in the group stage earlier this season, but was severely out-shot (36-23) and out-possessed (61-39 percent on average) in two meetings. Surely Madrid will love its chances going up against them again in a potential knockout stage.

As for Bayern, winning the UEFA Champions League has proven nearly impossible as of late. The German powerhouse has finished as runner-up in two of the past three years, scoring just one goal in two final defeats in 2010 and 2012.

The difference?

Bayern lacks a go-to talent like Ronaldo—a player that not only rises above the pressure match after match, but also often delivers in the biggest moments.

Cristiano Ronaldo is surging right now, playing some of the best football of his career, and so is Real Madrid. Behind the strength of that superstar talent, Los Blancos are the hands-down favorite to hoist the UEFA Champions League crown next month.

Rodgers: Liverpool do not need to sell Suarez

Suarez and Downing

 

The Reds boss has acknowledged the importance of keeping the Uruguayan at Anfield but claims the club is under no pressure to allow him to leave in the near future

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has claimed that there is no need for the Reds to sell Luis Suarez despite persistent speculation linking the striker with a host of top European clubs.

Suarez played a key part in the 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday, winning the penalty that Steven Gerrard converted to put Rodgers’ team ahead.

The Uruguayan is in the running for player of the year honours but Rodgers says that there is no pressure that might force the club to cash in on their prize asset despite the fact that they look set to miss out on Champions League qualification once again.

“It is very important [we keep him],” Rodgers told reporters. “He is a wonderful player. We don’t have to sell him. There is nothing like that.

“He is very happy. We don’t need to sell him for the money. We are trying to build a good group here and we want to keep striving forward, so there is no need to sell him.”

“He was away on international with Uruguay, he came back late on Thursday, but was in training on Friday,” the coach explained.

“I’ve got to say I noticed how tired he looked; his face, his body, he just looked totally shattered. But he came in today and his willingness to work for the team and sheer quality were incredible. He frightens defenders.”

The Liverpool boss believes that Gerrard, meanwhile, can go on to emulate the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in enjoying a lengthy career at the top due to his day-to-day professionalism.

“Those guys [Giggs and Scholes], it’s not what they are doing now, its what they did earlier on, when they were 17, 18, 19 and 20,” he added.

“Look at Steven Gerrard, he has every chance to play until his late 30s. He never has a lazy day. He is a remarkable man. Look at his running level. Look at his fitness. He has been like that all season.

“He had to have an injection in his ankle, but he is a top, top player. His commitment to succeed at Liverpool is incredible, I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Gerrard’s current contract expires at the end of next season and Rodgers confirmed that the midfielder would be offered the chance to extend his stay at Anfield.

“That is something on the agenda,” he said. “That will happen in due course.

Rodgers paid tribute to the 26-year-old’s display after a tiring week that included significant amounts of travelling to represent Uruguay during the international break.

Talent Watch: Bernd Leno

Bernd Leno

 

Bernd Leno is a German footballer who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, as a goalkeeper. Germany have a rich history of producing goalkeepers over the past decade and at the moment there is something of a golden generation of up and coming talent with Ron-Robert Zieler, Thomas Kraft, Marc-André ter Stegen and now Bern Leno all waiting in the wings. Starting life out at VfB Stuttgart, Leno extended his contract in May 2011 until June 2014 and just a few months later was sent out on loan to Bayer Leverkusen in order to gain some first team football. Instantly establishing himself as a first-team regular, Leno became the youngest German goalkeeper ever to play in the Champions League in September 2011 when he featured against Chelsea. After a series of impressive displays many have earmarked Leno as a future international and his short stay was enough to convince Leverkusen to take him permanently which was confirmed in November 2011 in a deal which keeps him at the club until 2017.

Is This Manchester United’s Easiest Title Win Ever?

Ferguson with the title

 

It is very easy to recall better teams than the current crop for every one of the “Big Five” except of course City.

Certainly the title race was a much closer affair in 2007/08 when the top three (United, Chelsea and Arsenal) finished within four points of each other. That in itself shows what some people may already suspect and that is how far some teams have fallen away. Liverpool were only 11 points back in fourth place that year. The following season, they ran United all the way to the wire, losing by a mere four points.

Compare those performances of only four or five years ago with last season. While United and City slugged it out until the last minute of extra time on goal difference, Arsenal finished 19, Chelsea 25 and Liverpool 37 points back.

So the most impressive thing about this season’s epic performance by United is that while they have leaped so far ahead of their cross-city rivals, the other big clubs have made no real progress whatsoever. And while some people will point to Robin van Persie making the difference, that would be a harsh under-estimation of what Sir Alex has achieved having been hurt so badly by last season’s collapse.

With just one key signing he has gelled his squad, including far too many players that have had “so-so” seasons, into arguably the most impressive team in many a year.

Frankly United have crushed them. Irrespective of three matches still to come, they have won all five of the matches they have played against Arsenal, Chelsea, City and Liverpool. Only resurgent Spurs have threatened them.

So you would have to concede that the competition has deteriorated. That suggestion is also backed up by the failure of any Premier League club to get past the last 16 of the Champions League.

Of course some of the matches haven’t been easy, especially in the first half of the season. United conceded far too many goals and a host of “narrow squeaks”.

Nevertheless, since they have had a full complement of defenders back from injury they have conceded far fewer goals, including none in their last five matches.

So the story has been one of scoring plenty in the first half and conceding few in the second.

Sir Alex was determined that United would not succumb on goal difference this season and that target has probably been achieved.

For the first few months it looked as if they might set a new goal-scoring record for the Premier League and indeed the top division. That is unlikely now. 69 so far only equates to 90 for the season.

In that epic 1999/2000 season, United scored 97 goals on their way to their 91 point total. So you would have to conclude that mathematically this was their best title win to date.

However, that season they drew seven matches and lost three. With nine matches still to go, United have also lost three but only drawn two matches.

Irrespective of those three tough matches still to come, therefore, there is every prospect that this could turn out to be the easiest title ever.

On a pro rata basis their 74 points to date translates into 97, the same as in 1999/2000. But if they can go the rest of the season unbeaten surely this will be their best ever; and a triumph for a manager whose passion is still there at 71 after a mere 26 years at the greatest club in the world.