Saturday, April 25, 2009

Champions League Semi-final Preview

The semi-final first legs are coming up this week and what contests, they promise to be.
Barcelona vs Chelsea at the Nou Camp.
Two very different sides, who play differently. This is the leg, where Chelsea need to defend really well. Terry, Alex, the full backs and Michael Essien will need to be immense. Going forward, though with Drogba back in form, they should be able to test the Barca defense.
For Barcelona, the holy trinity of Messi, Eto'o and Henry will be expected to score a few as usual. But for me, it is the trio behind them, Xavi the playmaker, Iniesta the puppet master (as Sportcenter put it the other day) and Yaya Toure the anchor man who have been equally brilliant and they would hold the key in the battle for midfileld superiority.
I can't predict a winner for the tie yet, but expect a narrow win for Barcelona at the Nou Camp with crucial away goals for Chelsea. 3-2 to Barca.

Manchester United vs Arsenal at Old Trafford.
United vs Arsenal has always been the greatest game on earth for me. United, the most successful team in England for the last twenty years or so, against my team. It is a rivalry that has captured the imagination of people around the world and I believe these two teams produce the games of greatest quality and beauty when pitted against one other. Let me make it clear that while I don't like United, I respect them, not just for what they have won, but also for how they play the game.
Coming to this match, United are definitely the favourites. Their season has been slightly different to what we have come to expect from them, with lesser number of goals being scored by them, but more importantly much, much lesser number of goals being conceded by them. You get the sense from them that they are in control of a game at any point. With Vidic and Ferdinand at the back, I don't expect Arsenal to be troubling them much at OT. The only player who I see, being a serious threat is Walcott with his pace and current good form. On the other hand, if Arsenal do not improve significantly at the back, United will punish us.
I will not dare to make a prediction, but here is my rather practical wish list: I hope the game is still alive when the second leg starts in the Emirates and we get an important away goal (or 2).

Liverpool 4 - ARSHAVIN - 4 !!

What a match, it was at Anfield, this Tuesday. An absolutely amazing game, which oscillated from the brilliant to the bizzare, back and forth, providing great entertainment, joy and despair all along the way. Liverpool were dynamic going forward. They exerted tremendous pressure on the rather patched up Arsenal back line and literally took the game by the scruff of the neck. Rarely, if ever, have I seen the Gunners under such pressure and for such a sustained period of time. And yet, Liverpool have been having some defensive frailties of their own in the last month or so and boy, did Arsenal, sorry ARSHAVIN !! punish them. In the end it was a tremendous game, the second 4-4 that we have had this season and while on the balance of play, I have to say we did not deserve to win. But Arshavin for his amazing play certainly did, and hopefully he will win soon at Anfield.
Some points worth noting from the match were:
1) Fernando Torres is magnificient. His turn of pace to beat a defender, once he receives the ball is breath-taking.
2) Arshavin's second goal will remain in memory for a long time to come. The ability to sense that a defender can put under pressure in a seemingly innocous situation, followed by taking the ball away and then finishing it off with a stunning strike that beats a great keeper in goal just shows what a player he is. I am glad he is at Arsenal and will be lighting up the premiership for a few years to come.
3) Theo Walcott has now produced two scorching runs at Anfield in just over a year. And both have resulted in goals which put us in a winning positions in the tie/ match. Unfortunately, on both occassions we have conceded immediately and lost/ drawn the match. This one felt like deja vu.
To sum it up, Liverpool were devastating, Arsenal were diabolical at times (at the back), but Andrei Arshavin was stunning and the result was a reflection of his brilliance, rather a fair score line.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Keeping the faith

What a week it could have been !! A clinical and classical performance, midweek against Villareal took us through to the semi finals of the Champions League where "the bestest team in the world" awaits us. More on that in a later post. However, that performance had all Arsenal fans buzzing with hope and excitement, looking forward to the FA Cup semi final against Chelsea at Wembley.

We lost 2-1 in a hard fought match. There were some individual mistakes and we paid dearly for them. However, there is no score or need for finger pointing. As an Arsenal Fan, all that I ask from my players is that we play with commitment and passion and I saw that on the pitch.

We are going through a rather long trophyless time at Arsenal, but there are certain principles based on which this club lives and dies by and I hope it stays the same. I hope we manage to retain our players for the coming seasons and we can look forward to them with great hope and expectation.

And this season is not yet over and I keep the faith, as always.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The virtues of silence

They say that while speech is silver, silence is golden. I have always believed in this dictum, preferring to keep my mouth shut at every possible occasion.

You see, I consider myself the strong and silent type. That is the image that I have always tried to project of myself, especially to the fairer sex. Well, come to think about it now, I am hardly someone who will remind you of Clint Eastwood in terms of appearance. And to be honest, I am not very strong either. In fact my physical and fiscal strengths leave a lot to be desired. And my scorecard in pursuit of someone to love is this: Affairs till date - Nil, Girlfriends acquired - Zilch, Dates been on - lets not get into that territory..... You get the drift......

Well, here's a little confession, the strategy of projecting yourself as "the strong and the silent type" is as mainly due to the fact that one doesn't know what to say at opportune moments, that one is too dumb to say anything remotely intelligent.

When it comes to things like debates and group discussions, my record has been almost as dismal :(. In one of the GDs that I had attended last year in my campus recruitment process, I remained so silent that in fact, a fellow participant actually looked at my miserable face, took pity on me and brought me into the discussion, only to be out-shouted by another guy in about 15 seconds !!

But being silent has its fair share of advantages as well. As a kid, if you are silent in class, you are less likely to be hauled up and punished by your teachers in case the class is making a lot of noise !! In fact, being silent in class is always likely to get you in the good books of your teachers (as long as you keep churning out good marks in exams). I guess on this count, I did a pretty good job.

There have been some other situations as well, where my silence has been beneficial. In my articleship days, I had a senior manager (for whom I have tremendous respect) who is a very hyper (i.e. aggressive) character. He speaks, works and talks at a furious pace, and it is difficult for most people, especially newcomers, to cope up with the speed of his speech and thoughts. But my blank, expressionless face coupled with (one of his favourite terms incidentally) my "dignified" silence helped me sail through turbulent times, so much so, that after a while, I had become one of his favourite subordinates.

So there you go, that is my experience of silence and its virtues (and vices !). In case you do want to be "The Strong and Silent Type", click on this link: It is a little more serious and a lot more helpful than my blog.

A week is a long time in football

A week can be a long time in football. And it was illustrated beautifully in the last couple of games played by United and Liverpool. But before that, lets do a quick review of the champions league quarter final first leg matches.

Villareal - Arsenal. I predicted a 1-1 and so it finished. Villareal had a great first half, but Arsenal came back rather strongly in the second half, with Adebayor's stunning effort, being the excalamation point. The match is balanced on a knife's edge, and I can't predict a winner. But I will be doing my best, praying that my Gunners go through :).

Manchester United - Porto. I predicted a 3-1 win home win for United, but it finished 2-2. Porto were good value for the draw and are taking a significant advantage in terms of two away goals back to the Dragao. But I would still back United to go through with a 1-0 away win.

Barcelona - Bayern Munich. My prediction was a 4-2 win for a Barca. I got the 4 goal part of it right, but Bayern never turned up with their part. Barcelona are through to the semis, and I forsee more goals from them in the second leg. Is there a better attacking force in the world than Messi, Eto'o and Henry ? If there is, I would like to see them play !!

Livepool - Chelsea. I had predicted a tight 1-0 win for the Reds at Anfield, but boy was I wrong. Chelsea played a blinder in a 3-1 drubbing with Branislav Ivanovic's head playing a key role against Rafa's zonal defence. But as they say, Spaces don't score goals, players do and that's what Chelsea did. They are almost there, but not quite. Not against Liverpool and memories of Istanbul still fresh in our memories.

Coming back to how a week is a long time in football, let us just reflect on Liverpool and United's last few days. On last Saturday, Liverpool played away at Fulham and literally pounded the Cottagers goal throughout the game, but with no luck. And just when it seemed, they would blow their chance of going on top, Benayoun scored in injury time for a well deserved and inspiring win for the Reds. Next day, United came up against Villa at Old Trafford, with a patched up defence which was missing their 3 top centre backs. And Villa promptly took advantage getting 2-1 ahead, with 20 minutes to go. Ronaldo scored his second goal to equalise and the match looked as if it would end in a draw with United dropping a couple of crucial points. But enter, Frederico Macheda, an Italian teenager on his debut. He comes with an absolutely stunning strike in injury time and United have the 3 points, the lead in the premiership and more importantly momentum on their side.

But as the events in the week in the Champions League quarter-final showed, the momentum proved short-lived with United conceding two crucial away goals to Porto with the equaliser being very late, to leave them in a tough spot. But next day, Liverpool got battered at home by Chelsea, and their champions league ambitions almost over for the season.

Both the clubs and their supporters have experienced tremendous highs and lows in the past week as the football has continued to remain rivetting in both the Premier League and in Europe.

Looking forward to this coming week to see more ups and downs in this fascinating season.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Firaq and memories

Went to watch the film - Firaq last week. Had known that the movie was about the Gujarat riots of 2002. Thinking about that, brought back a memory which is shared here.

It was the month of March in 2002 and I was appearing for my 12th Standard Board exams. With the exams going on at that time, I had not been following the events happening in Gujarat too much. It was possibly the Hindi Exam that day. My seat for the board exams that year was in a school in Park Circus, Kolkata. All of us were in the hall about 20 minutes before the paper was to start. Getting ready to take on the paper, sitting quietly, focussing on the next 3 hours. Just then, a lady teacher who was our invigilator that day, came to the front of the class. In a quiet, dignified voice, she briefly told us about the events going on in Gujarat and asked us to stand up and have a minute's silence to pray for peace and harmony.

I have never been able to forget this incident and every time the mention of Gujarat and the riots come up, this incident crops up in my mind.

I wish such things don't happen in the country again. I don't know and honestly don't want to blame anybody but I wish we become more tolerant as a people and a country.

Champions League Quarterfinal Preview

The champions league quarterfinal draw has thrown up a number of intriguing matchups. Here's my take on what I expect in the first leg matches.

Villareal vs Arsenal: This match pits two "footballing" sides in a rematch of the 2006 semi-final which Arsenal won thanks to a goal from Kolo Toure at Highbury in the first leg. A lot has changed in both the sides since then, but not their coaches. Expect a match of technical expertise from both sides, with the unit whose mid-field comes out on team likely to win it. There won't be much in this one, but the events of this weekend suggest that Arsenal will have the slight edge going into it. Villareal lost 3-0 at home to Almeria, but more importantly may have lost their sensational winger Santi Cazorla to injury for the rest of the season. Arsenal on the other hand welcomed back Adebayor and Fabregas into the team and the duo were instrumental in a convincing 2-0 win over Mancester City at the Emirates.
My prediction: 1-1 (with Arsenal gaining a precious away goal)
Dangermen: Villareal : Giussepe Rossi (ex Man U - motivation in itself to hurt the Gunners)
Arsenal: Emanuel Adebayor (back from injury, back in form and hungry).

Manchester United vs Porto: This is one of those matches which the press had been claiming to be a walk in the park for the Red Devils. But events since then, with the double loss to Liverpool and Fulham in the league coupled with some injuries to Berbatov etc. have meant that they are not in the best shape. Still, they are quite possibly the best team in the world and at home should prove to be too strong for a Porto team. The revenge angle for the 2005 defeat would only make the Red Devils more hungry.
My prediction: 3-1
Dangermen: Manchester United : Wayne Rooney (Suspended in the league, so would be rested and motivated to do damage)
FC Porto: Lucho Gonzales (The one man in the Porto team who can take the game by the scruff of the neck in the midfield).

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich: Two teams, who can score lots of goals as the last round has shown. Bayern have Ribery, Klose, Toni, Podolski et al. Barca have the trinity of Henry, Eto'o and Messi. Expect goals and lots of them !!! However, Bayern's shock thrashing at the hands of Wolfsburg over the weekend might dent some confidence. The match will showcase the passing, movement and skill of the Catalans against the power and directness of the Bavarians with all the ingredients of making it the most explosive matchup of the last eight
Predictions: 4-2
Dangermen: Barcelona: Lionel Messi (Quite simply the best in the world at the moment)
Bayen : Frank Ribery (Possibly the best European player at the moment :) )
Liverpool vs Chelsea: And finally we come to what has now become an annual fixture of the Champions league. Playing against each other over 5 straight seasons in addition to their domestic meetings means that these sides know all that is their to know about their opposition, quite literally. I expect that this meeting will go ahead on expected lines. Liverpool would be desperate not to concede the away goal and I feel that they just might be successful. Look for a tight, tactical battle in a crowded midfield.
Predictions: Liverpool 1 - Chelsea 0
Dangermen : Liverpool - Steven Gerrard (In good form and with Torres, possibly makes the most dangerous combination in Europe now)
Chelsea: Frank Lampard (Big match player, would need to be at the top of his game to counter Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard)

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