Euro Football Rundown
A great set of World Cup Qualifiers was immediately followed by fantastic Euro football league action this weekend. After Sweden’s daring comeback against the Germans in Berlin in midweek, Milan and Deportivo attempted to repeat their own personal resurgences while Bayern, Barcelona and Juventus continue to dominate their respective leagues. The following are the five most crucial moments of the weekend.
5) Milan almost complete comeback draw away to Lazio
What is happening to the black and red San Siro giants? It is a very hectic atmosphere at the Via Turati club especially with yesterday’s 3-2 loss away to Lazio. In eight games this season, the Rossoneri have only been able to claim two wins, one draw and an astonishing five defeats – not the ideal record Milan supporters were hoping for.
The Aquile took the lead with a Hernanes shot that deflected off AC Milan captain Daniele Bonera that caused the ball to loop over step-in ‘keeper Marco Amelia. The second was a wonder-goal from the on-form Antonio Candreva who is having a fantastic season having earned his first cap in three years with Italy in midweek. Candreva unleashed a dipper from distance that went over Ameila’s hands and dropped into the top left corner.
At the start of the second half, Lazio began where they left off. Candreva’s precise cross found an unmarked Miroslav Klose to volley in from eight yards handing Lazio a 3-0 lead.
Was Milan down and out? Well, they were down but certainly not out. The Rossoneri began to increase the pressure when Allegri decided to throw Alexandre Pato into the mix which was his first appearance since February. His introduction proved crucial for Milan as it revived the Diavoli. Pazzini had his glancing header finger-tipped from under the bar. From the resulting corner, Pato’s effort was just off target.
Low and behold, the pressure paid off as Milan cut the lead to two goals when De Jong’s sliding touch off Emanuelson’s free-kick was enough to send the ball into the net: 3-1. Confidence was soaring when Stephan El Shaarawy got another back as the Italian-Egyptian cut down the left to roll in a low right-foot shot into the bottom corner: 3-2 with 12 minutes left in the game. In the final moments, the Rossoneri continued to pour the pressure. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. This result leaves AC Milan in 15th position level with third last place with seven points. This means that Berlusconi’s men are battling relegation at the moment. It is definitely a dark era for Milan. On the other hand, Lazio are having a great season so far as the Roma-based side currently sits in third place with 18 points, on par with Inter.
Key fact of the moment: Allegri does not seem to learn from others at all. The tactician has is heart set on a 4-3-1-2 formation which is what the side is used to. In midweek, Riccardo Montolivo put in two great performances for Italy in the ‘trequartista’ role which is that 1 position behind the two strikers. Kevin Prince Boateng has certainly not been himself this year, is growing frustrated and is frustrating others with his poor performances. It is maybe time for Boateng to find a spot on the bench to make way for Montolivo, El Shaarawy and Pazzini.
4) PSG take top spot after Marseille shock defeat
Paris-Saint Germain continue their good run of form in Ligue 1 as Carlo Ancelotti’s men defeat Stade de Reims in Paris 1-0. The lone goal was bagged by Kevin Gameiro adding to his tally of three on the season as the French International striker headed in a superb Maxwell cross at the far post. It was not an easy game for PSG as goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu was needed to parry a Diego penalty at the 40th minute after Gregory van der Wiel was penalized for a handling offence in the box. This win allowed PSG to temporarily draw level with Marseille on 19 points.
While PSG continue’s to win, fellow title contenders Marseille found life difficult Sunday against lowly Troyes as the race in France’s Ligue 1 heats up. It was not a good weekend at all with second last place Troyes snatching the three points at the 88th minute mark when Benjamin Nivet popped in the game winner.
Key fact: Bad news for Marseille. Team leading goal-scorer, Andre-Pierre Gignac left the match with a serious injury. Marseille boss Elie Baup stated after the match that he does not know how long Gignac will be out. APG has scored five of 12 goals for Marseille.
3) Bayern Munich collect record 8th consecutive Bundesliga victory
The top-rated German club are the only side in one of the top European leagues to keep their perfect record intact winning eight straight matches. Bayern continue to lead the German league with 24 points, five points ahead of second place Eintracht Frankfurt.
It is definitely an amazing accomplishment for Bayer Munich, a feat that will be difficult to repeat for any team. It certainly does not look like Jupp Heynckes’s men will lose this season making it eight for eight with a 5-0 thumping against Fortuna Dusseldorf. Bundesliga leading scorer Mario Mandzukic opened the scoring with his 7th of the season when he was left wide open to slide in a shot from six yards. Summer signing Luis Gustavo made it 2-0 nine minutes before halftime with a lucky deflection off the head of Fabian Giefer – the Dusseldorf GK. Thomas Muller, the second Bundesliga leading scorer, added a third when he blasted home a one-timed effort from just inside the area. Muller slid in the fourth after David Alaba put in a low cross into the six yard box. Finally, Brazilian winger Rafinha coolly finished a Ribery pass to make it five on the night. It was absolute destruction and demoralizing for the home side. Unlike the German national side against Sweden in midweek World Cup qualifying action, a magical comeback was not in the cards for Dusseldorf on this night which is too bad as it would have been a great story to read.
2) Barcelona escape embarrassment with 5-4 win over Deportivo
It was a very entertaining match between Deportivo La Coruna and Barcelona as the home side dared to attempt a sensational comeback. Lionel Messi was once again the centre of attention along with Cesc Fabregas. Jordi Alba broke the deadlock only three minutes in when Fabregas placed a precise through ball onto the feet of the on-running left winger who calmly finished the play into the bottom corner. Then, Messi fed Argentine Christian Tello on the edge of the box who ran towards the defence, zigged left, zagged right with a burst of speed and fired home – awesome solo effort – 3-0 Barcelona.
It looked to be a one-sided affair until Deportivo began to pour the pressure going forward. Javier Mascherano fouled Ivan Riki in the box forcing the ref to whistle a PK for the home side that Pizzi converted to the top right corner of the net. It didn’t end there as Depor cut the lead to one when Bergantinos’s strike from 18 yards trickled in after Victor Valdes failed to smoother the daisy-cutter – 3-2 and game on.
Before half time, Barcelona restored its two-goal lead when Messi netted after being set up by ex-Gunner Cesc’s yet another slide-rule pass. Fabregas’s vision on this day was incredibly spot on – 4-2.
Quickly after the restart, Deportivo La Coruna was awarded a free-kick outside of the area that Pizzi spectacularly curled into Valdes’s near top corner. One-goal game.
Of course, Lionel Messi is not a fan of losing a game that should have been in the bag much earlier when he secured his hat-trick with a piercing run through the middle past three defenders which ended with the Argentine picking out the bottom right corner – two-goal lead restored on 77 minutes.
Deportivo, however, continued fighting and two minutes later Jordi Alba turned in a Depor cross into his own net to cut the lead to one once again! But the Cinderella story would not be for the home side as time ran out and the Blaugrana claimed the three points. Barcelona continue to lead the way in La Liga on level points with Falcao’s Atletico Madrid with 22 points.
Key fact: Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova opted to leave out 32 year old Xavi, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro. With a fresh and healthy 25 year old Fabregas, Xavi is not really missed. Pedro normally starts but the Spanish tactician decided to give Argentina youngster Christian Tello some time against a weak Depor side. Javier Mascherano was red carded in the 49th minute. In addition, with the absence of Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Dani Alves, the Catalan defence is significantly weakened.
1) Juve subs sink Napoli ship
On Saturday, the first Scudetto showdown took place with Juventus battling it out tooth-and-nail with contenders Napoli in Turin. This was a balanced encounter between these two sides which is quickly becoming a rivalry worthy of being called ‘Il Classico’. Juventus were missing leaders Gianluigi Buffon and Mirko Vucinic.
In pre-match conferences, the Bianconeri and Azzurri technical staff claimed to have studied one another to a ‘T’ as the Old Lady stated she would put pressure on the wings with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah pressing hard on Juan Zuniga and Christian Maggio respectively. The Azzurri, on the other hand, appointed Marek Hamsik and Valon Behrami the job of stopping Andrea Pirlo in the midfield. However, these strategies would come to be as the shown in the game.
The match began with entertaining football from both sides with Sebastian Giovinco and Claudio Marchisio going close to the go-ahead smashing efforts at the keeper. Edinson Cavani went extremely closer to taking the lead with a spectacular curler from a free-kick from the edge of the box to smash the right side of the up-right! After the 30th minute mark though, the entertainment was slowly diminishing as the match became a more and more scrappy affair with both sets of players containing and committing fouls causing the ref to make some questionable calls (this time in favour of Napoli and not Juventus) which in turn slowed down play.
In my opinion, Juventus masterminded their game plan with a two-pronged approach. Firstly, Antonio Conte’s tactics are usually based dominating possession, intensity and movement. Napoli, against Juventus in recent matches anyway, normally focuses on containment and counterattacking which worked well for the most part in the Italian Super Cup in Beijing. This time around though, it seems that the tables turned. The percentage of possession at the end of the game finished in favour of the visitors with 52% for Napoli against Juve’s 48% – at the Juventus Stadium? Interesting. Upon viewing the game, it was quite clear that the Juventus players’ objective was to contain Napoli and hit back on the counter allowing Walter Mazzarri’s men more time on the ball to which they are not accustomed. Juve’s containment plan worked to perfection seeing that the Bianconeri did not concede any threatening goal-scoring opportunities except for Cavani’s free-kick. The Bianconeri produced at least four quality scoring chances.
Secondly, the second half subs made all the difference in this fixture and credit goes to the current interim coach Angelo Alessio for making the right calls. Alessandro Matri, Martin Caceres and Paul Pogba replaced a leg-cramped Fabio Quagliarella, an injured Kwadwo Asamoah (who was having a great game) and the surprisingly sub-par performer Arturo Vidal respectively. Caceres and Pogba scored within a minute apart of one another with the Uruguayian bagging a header from a Pirlo corner at the 80th minute followed by an impressive left-foot volley from 19 year old youngster Paul Pogba from the edge of the box.
Key fact of the match: First, Napoli’s plan of stopping Pirlo did not work well at all as the Ballon d’Or candidate was unpredictable by continuously moving to find space. Second, Juventus has a lot of depth on the reserve list. It does not really matter who plays because the tactics and technical abilities remain unchanged. Therefore, in order for Juventus to make a push to claim a possible treble this year, the coaching staff will need to effectively implement turnovers so that the players will always be fresh. Napoli is not to be taken lightly as this is a developing side with a project for the future. They are in line in challenging for the Scudetto but this year anyway, it is more Juve’s to lose than Napoli’s to win…if you know what I mean.
Juventus remain unbeaten in Serie A extending their undefeated streak to 47 matches and are currently first with 22 points. Napoli follow in second with 19 points.