Chelsea

Battle of Giants

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Just because you deserve something, doesn’t mean that you always get it. Bayern knows that very feeling in every sense of the word. Bayern Munich thoroughly dominated the Champions League final game versus Chelsea but just came a few penalties away from making the trophy their own. Although Bayern were at home in this game at the Allianz Arena, the Blues fought long and hard to stifle Bayern’s attacks and then take their turn in scoring.

The scoring started in the 83rd minute when Thomas Müller headed home a spectacular cross. However, Chelsea held their resolve and Didier Drogba headed home Chelsea’s first corner with only two minutes to go. With the scores tied, the game entered extra time and another twist in the game occurred when Drogba clumsily knocked over Franck Ribery in the box. From the subsequent penalty, Arjen Robben drilled his penalty low but Petr Cech was equal to it as he gathered it from under him quite well.

Only one thing could decide the game now and so the two European giants went to penalties. It looked like Chelsea would lose the shootout as Juan Mata was denied by Manuel Neuer, but Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger missed and Drogba calmly tucked his penalty away to give Chelsea the trophy. With the victory, Chelsea qualified for the Champions League the only way they could and so denied Tottenham their birth in the UCL (even though they finished in 4th).

Although Bayern looked destinied to win with their plethora of chances, they were unable to finish them and their mistakes led to their demise. For Chelsea, with all their eggs in a basket to qualify for next year’s UCL, they showed true guts and class to overcome the onslaught and satisfy Roman Abramovich’s dream of being European champions. The only thing that indeed did disappoint was the commentators. I mean, honestly, could Gary Neville and Martin Tyler have been more biased in their commentary?

Jonathan Zinser

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Road to Munic

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Barcelona vs. Chelsea  

The revival at Chelsea continues under Roberto Di Matteo as they clinched their spot in the semifinals with a win over Benfica on Wednesday. However, their next test will prove quite a difficult one compared to their quarterfinal match. Playing Barcelona as everyone in the world knows is to say the least near impossible to beat and to make it worse Barcelona is currently in top form.   Chelsea cannot possibly outscore the Catalonians so they must repair their leaky defense. John Terry and David Luiz must be in top form for this match and if Branislav Ivanovic can continue his great scoring run from set pieces then the Londoners have a smidgen of a chance.   Barcelona had a tougher road to get to this point in playing Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan; nevertheless, they handled this opposition quite easily. If Messi and Alexis Sanchez keep up their superb form, then they have a great chance of advancing to the final.

Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich  

This is simply the game of the year, no doubt. Two domestic powerhouses meeting up in the semifinals is the dream of every soccer fan. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are both in great form in the Champions League and have been sweeping aside their opponents. The combined superstar power from both teams will make this matchup excellent. Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez from Bayern Munich have been in hot form with scoring, and Cristiano Ronaldo is doing his norm. All in all, these two powerhouses will produce nothing less than a dogfight for the right to a birth in the final.

Jonathan Zinser

UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals

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Favorites Cruise

Chelsea 1-0 Benfica

As hard as it was to attain a positive result last time out for Chelsea, this away win will do them wonders. In Roberto Di Matteo’s 2nd UEFA Champions League game, Chelsea found it hard to unlock Benfica until surprise starter Salomon Kalou made the difference in the 75th minute with a clinical finish. Di Matteo did exactly what Andre Villas-Boas did in resting six veteran players except his reasoning was tiredness; the Chelsea boss recalled John Obi Mikel, Kalou, and former Benfica defender David Luiz.

Benfica struggled to kick start themselves at home and giving up an away goal makes their semifinal chances even slimmer. Although they had more chances, only eight ended up on target-the most important being Nicolas Gaitán’s cross that was almost diverted into the goal by Ashley Cole’s foot.

Real Madrid 3-0 Apoel Nicosia

Karim Benzema’s brace and Kaka’s goal put a rest to the Cypriot “Cinderella” Apoel. Kaka was introduced in the 63rd minute and immediately made an impact as he set up Benzema’s first and tucked away his own. Jose Mourinho’s substitutions made the difference as all of the goals were scored after the 74th minute with Kaka a vital piece in each goal.

Now on the brink of elimination, Apoel will have to do the impossible (something that they’ve been doing the whole tournament), and that is score four goals without Real scoring two. Apoel never seemed to have a chance in the game with Real dominating them in attempts, 25-0, and possession, 78%-22%.

AC Milan 0-0 FC Barcelona

AC Milan survived a prolonged Barcelona onslaught to hold their visitors goalless, but will leave the San Siro wondering how they blew some guilt-edge chances. A series of Barça attempts came up empty unlike usual, but will look forward to head back to their home hunting ground in Barcelona.

Kevin Prince-Boateng squandered their best chance in the 3rd minute when he took too long to release his shot inside the box and allowed for Gerard Piqué to block his attempt.  Next, in the 20th minute, Clarence Seedorf put Zlatan Ibrahimović clean through only for him not to convert from point-blank range. Milan will lament these missed chances for sure as they head to the Camp Nou and should brace for another Barça blitz.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Marseille

            Without their usual goalkeeper Steve Mandanda in goal due to suspension, Didier Deschamps preferred 32-year-old Elinton Andrade, their third choice keeper, to number two Gennaro Bracigliano, and his decision backfired in the 44th minute when Andrade’s mistake gifted Mario Gomez his 11th UCL goal of the year.

Munich had the better chances as Marseille’s defense looked shaky without their leader in the back, Suleymane Diawara. However, Marseille had the best chance of the game in the 7th minute when Rod Fanni’s powerful header from a Mathieu Valbuena corner was acrobatically turned away by Manuel Neuer. It was hardly Munich’s best performance, but it was good enough to defeat a Marseille team that is in a terrible run of form domestically.

Jonathan Zinser

Another Casualty

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Another managerial casualty of the Roman Abramovich era was confirmed Saturday afternoon as Andre Villas-Boas was sacked hours after his side’s 1-0 defeat to mid table side West Brom. Abramovich spent nearly 14 million pounds to bring in the Portuguese manager from FC Porto.

Attempting to bring in a new era, Abramovich brought in Villas- Boas to resurrect the Blues to their title challenging years of years’ past. After bringing in Juan Mata from Valencia and Oriol Romeu from Barcelona, it did, indeed, look like Boas was starting to usher in a new guard. He slowly began to ostracize Frank Lampard by leaving him on the bench for newcomers Romeu and Raul Meireles. Meanwhile, John Terry was being pressured for time by David Luiz and January transfer Gary Cahill. Everyone from the title winning side of 2008 pushed out to make way for a new manager, and now, he’s gone. So, what next?

For now, Chelsea has appointed their caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo as acting manager for the rest of the year. Although Di Matteo has managed before in the Premier League, he is not among the likely replacements for the job, as Abramovich would favor a larger name like Guus Huddink or Rafael Benitez. With a new manager, comes a new player especially with Chelsea and their big spending owner. Villas-Boas did have a positive transfer market last summer when he brought in Meireles, Mata, and Romeu, but a new coach will most likely want to bring in more players to complete Boas’s project of a youth revolution. Look for the Blues to cash in on Terry, Lampard, Drogba, and possibly Torres (yes the 80 million dollar man), and bring in young stars such as Eden Hazard or Angel Di María while also moving their own young starlet Daniel Sturridge to striker if Torres moves on.

Moving forward, Abramovich will most likely do what he’s done for his whole time at Chelsea, which is hire a manager and then when success stops coming, immediately fire them. There must be an alternative solution, but Roman isn’t a man with patience…and it’s a pity.

Jonathan Zinser

Round 22 Premier League

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Predictions & Analysis- EPL Round 22 “Big Games” (Home Team First)

Norwich City vs. Chelsea

I say: Draw, 2-2

Though Chelsea thumped Norwich City back at the beginning of the season, City has adjusted well to the Premier League since then. Norwich are yet to record a clean sheet this season, but are boosted by this game being at their beloved home ground, Carrow Road. Look for Norwich to come out strong against the Torres-led Blues strike force like they did when they defeated another top 6 team, Newcastle United, at home.

 

Fulham vs. Newcastle United

I say: Newcastle United Win, 2-1

Despite losing Demba Ba due to the African Cup of Nations, Newcastle still scored and won last week thanks to wonderful displays from Hatem Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi. Yohan Cabaye, Newcastle’s talismanic midfielder, is an injury concern after he was fouled hardly last weekend. Cabaye’s midfield partner, Cheick Tiote, is on international duty for the Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations as well. Fulham will have to pounce on the Magpies weakness in the midfield if they want to win this game.

Manchester City vs. Tottenham

I say: Manchester City Win, 3-1

After Manchester City pummeled Spurs earlier this year at White Hart Lane 5 to 0, Tottenham found a great run of form which saw them shoot up to 3rd in the table, where they are now. Spurs will not want to “spurn” this chance of getting ever closer to City, as they enter the weekend 5 points behind the league leaders. The task will prove challenging as Tottenham are away in this fixture, but title challengers must take some points in these games.

Arsenal vs. Manchester United

I say: Arsenal Win, 2-1

Definitely the gutsiest of the predictions, but I believe Arsene Wenger’s side will have a different mindset this weekend than they did last week after a lackluster display against Swansea as they lost 3-2. Wouldn’t it be something if we saw the old duo of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie against their old formidable rival, Manchester United? Though this would produce a classic strike force, Wenger has other issues. His main concern should be his defense; Laurent Koscielny is the only 100% healthy starting defender. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen both have been hampered by injury the last few weeks, and the Gunner’s youngster Miquel would be baptized by fire if he starts this game. Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, and Dimitar Berbatov would all scare a  healthy defense, so Arsenal and Miquel should be petrified if their backline isn’t on their game on Sunday.