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Just For Kicks

Berbatov Magic

Despite the harsh criticism he has received since his early days in the United shirt, Berbatov’s performance against Liverpool on Sunday alone, justified each and every penny of the hefty price tag that Manchester United shelled out for him. The Merseyside Derby is the single most important game of the year for both sides; the fixture’s  history is rich with entertaining encounters between two teams that feel nothing but hatred for one another.

Dimitar Berbatov’s performance against United’s eternal enemy was enough to etch his name into folklore. Between two bullet headers, he scored with a stunning overhead kick. His athleticism and finesse shone in a moment of brilliance as he controlled the ball on his knee before unleashing a spectacular overhead kick with Liverpool defenders swarming around him. Pepe Reina was left flat-footed and speechless as he saw the ball soar into the back of his net.

Berbatov’s performance, while overshadowing United’s defensive frailties, will be a welcome boost. Wayne Rooney hasn’t yet produced the form that saw him carry United for much of last season.

Berbatov, with his performance against Liverpool, has certainly won over many of the fans and critics that initially doubted him.

A Strange Week of Results

For all the top clubs that suffered shocking results over the weekend around Europe,  there was, thankfully, the excuse of international football. Despite the fatigue involved in travelling across the globe to represent your country (not to mention the two midweek games), the teams you would put your money on to collect the three points – the Milan’s, Manchester United’s, Roma’s, Barcelona’s, Liverpool’s and Bayern’s – were all left red-faced with embarrassed. Moreover, the fact that it was very much business as usual for their primary competitors such as Inter Milan, Arsenal, Chelsea and Real Madrid would be a matter of worry for those teams. Here is a break-down of the great ‘shocks’ of the weekend.

An Herculean Effort

Any person in their right mind would have bet that Barcelona would easily conquered recently promoted Hercules. After, it was a team that started with Messi, Villa, Iniesta and Mascherano (just to name a few) and played in a fortress that is their own Camp Nou. However, their opposition played in such a way that the spirit of their more accomplished namesake would have been proud. Nelson Valdez netted twice for Hercules as went out to win a memorable and historic win.

Fabulous Four Fall Flat

They were labelled favourites after the events that transpired over the final  few hours of the summer transfer window. Robinho and former nemesis, Zlatan Ibrahimovich were brought in to add to the already formidable Brazilian duo of Ronaldinho and Pato. Despite all that, AC Milan were another of the teams to fall to another one of those newly promoted giant killers. Their 2-0 loss to Cesena, yet again enforces the fact that despite the riches up front, Milan are not that adept at defence. Away games also seem to be an issue; this was their fourth loss on their travels.

Fall of Rome

When Roma, a team with title aspirations, visited Cagliari, a middle table team, one would never have expected the score line of 5-1 against Roma. Once they were a man down (after a horror tackle), and a goal down at 2-1, they were vulnerable to an waves of Cagliari pressure. The loss will be a shock to fans, and pile more pressure on Ranieri.

Roo’ing Another Missed Opportunity

Puns such as the above one dominated headlines throughout the week in the build up to Saturday’s fixture between Everton and Manchester United. The ‘will he or won’t he’ play Rooney questions were answered when Sir Alex Ferguson announced his team to face Everton; Rooney was completely left out of the team. On paper, again one would have picked Alex Ferguson to get the better of his countryman David Moyes, however, as it has been in recent fixtures, Everton at Goodison Park are a tough opponent for Manchester United. Failures to clear the ball in the air from Patrice Evra (who is looking really fragile at the moment after his world cup exploits) and Johnny Evans allowed Everton to score whenever they got forward. Gary Neville’s age showed as he failed to deal with Steven Peinaar.

This has been a very interesting week in regards to shock results. Liverpool succumbed to a 0-0 draw against Birmingham. Man City and Tottenham couldn’t manage a better result than 1-1 draws against Blackburn and WBA respectively. Bayern Munich, as well, failed to win. Teams such as Real Madrid and Inter won, although not convincingly. Add to that the humbling Spain suffered by the hands of Argentina.

This was indeed a strange week.

Season So Far

International Break. A time when fans of domestic leagues sit – twiddling their thumbs – patiently waiting for the return of their favourite stars from their exploits with their respective countries to don the colours of their club. It can be a frustrating time for the fans and club managers alike considering the fact that teams in La Liga and Serie A have barely had time to rev up their engines having played just one game each.

Meanwhile, the cloud of suspense seems to have lifted a little in England; after three game days, we can claim to have a better understanding to the frequently asked questions during preseason (Will Chelsea be able to perform to the same standards with a core of 30-somethings? Can Mancini’s squad of multi-millionaires gel together? Will Rooney EVER score again? Can Tottenham, yet again, leapfrog Liverpool and its woes or will Roy Hodgson finally build a squad healthy and strong to challenge for titles? Etc. Etc.) 

Pre-season favourites Chelsea, have marched on to three impressive victories, amassing a total goal scored tally of 14 without allowing the opposition to breach their defence. 6-0, 6-0 victories (scorecards usually seen only on a tennis court) was capped off by a 2-0 victory against Stoke. What is more frightening is that the goals for Chelsea are being contributed from more than one source. The likes of Drogba, Lampard, Malouda, Anelka, Kalou and Benayoun have all had their name on the score sheet, with the last four all netting against Wigan, a team with such defensive frailties that it appears that they are missing the ‘prowess’ of Titus Bramble. However, to their credit, they managed to get collect three points against Tottenham, a team, who without  a doubt are still a little hung-over from their exploits in the Champions League qualifiers. Nevertheless, I still think that Spurs have the capabilities to see off the likes of Liverpool and finish in the Promise Land or the Top 4. Their case seems to be strengthened by the last minute signing of Van der Vaart.

Elsewhere, Manchester United recovered from the hiccup against Fulham and managed a routine victory over against West Ham (a team appearing to be in direct competition with Wigan to be on the top of the Goal’s conceded table). Paul Scholes appeared to have discovered the Elixir of Youth; his all-action performances, like that of his counterparts at Chelsea, belie his age.

Cross town rival’s Manchester City’s beginning to the season, has been bitter-sweet. A convincing victory against Liverpool was sandwiched between a draw, and more-glaringly, a loss against Sunderland. Money has seen City purchase a plethora of talent overnight, however, time is something that might not be afforded Mancini. He needs to act fast in building any sort of team identity, lest he fall flat in a similar fashion to his predecessor Mark Hughes.

The Premier League circus will be back in town this weekend after the return of its’ stars. It sure is an exciting time of the season as the boiler, i.e. the Premier League, finally starts to heat up.

Looking Back at Historic Win

“Iniesta’s in the middle. Torres has tried to find him. Its broken for Fabregas. Oh, Its Iniesta. This is it! Goal! Spain have surely won…!” The triumphant commentator on BBC bellowed as the Spanish team finally broke the stalemate against the Dutch. It was truly a magnificent goal that deservedly won Spain its first World Cup – after all, the build up to the goal stuck to the recipe that Spanish have found to be so successful during the past tournament. It had the quick passing, the controlled build up, and, an exquisite touch and turn by Iniesta that led to a sublime volley into the back of the net.

As the net bulged, the entire stadium erupted in colours of red and yellow. Though the Spanish team had its supporters in every corner of the globe before the match, the Goal worked wonders in brining a new found sense of zeal and unity amongst Spain’s historically divided regions.

Football might have been the answer to Spain’s troubled past.

Spain never was able to shine upon the world stage due to the vast cultural, traditional and language barriers that divided players, coaches and fans. In the past, players displayed more allegiance towards Andalusia, Catalonia or the Basque Country than they ever showed for the Spanish Cause. Similarly, the fans felt more affinity towards their home town football clubs based in Barcelona, Madrid or Seville than they ever had for their own National Team.

Nor did the Spanish Flag bring a sense of patriotic fervour amongst the Spanish. Since the era of Franco, the flag had come to be a symbol of his oppressive right wing dictatorship for people from various regions of Spain. Even today, many from the Basque Country, or Catalonia do not consider themselves part of Spain; rather, they would prefer the rights self determination. In fact, Spain has been described to be a country containing numerous nations.

However, the success of the multi-cultured Spanish team (whose members came from all regions of Spain) saw the Spanish flag unfurled with as much pride in Barcelona as it was in Madrid. Vicente Del Bosque, the manager of the Spanish team proudly proclaimed: “There are players from all over Spain in the squad. We are united and I hope the same feeling of unity occurs back in Spain.”

Though it has been slow coming, many people, such as the Catalans, have started to embrace their countries team. For the Catalans, it could be down to the fact that Spanish adopt a similar style to their beloved FC Barcelona’s artistic play. Or it could be down to the fact that up to seven players (including David Villa) that took to the field against the Netherlands, ply their trade in Barcelona.

Regardless, the triumph in South Africa shall be welcomed in Spain as it unites its people in victory. Football has managed to do what politicians struggled with for many years.