Tag Archives: Soccer

The Legend of Didier Drogba continues to grow…

Words cannot express the delight when I read Time’s inspirational puff piece on Didier Drogba.  My friend pointed out that it’s written from the perspective of how we want to view him, and he’s absolutely right in that regard.  The article focuses on Drogba as an inspiration to society, and not so much on his footballing persona.  Drogba as a footballer is highly feared and respected, but he’s not exactly the most beloved.  He can be dramatic and temperamental at times, but it belies his passion and love for the game.  As a person and humanitarian, though, Drogba is larger than life.  The world would be a better place if we had more Didiers running around.  But we only have one, and that’s good enough.

Of all the teams in the World Cup, the Ivory Coast is highly worth watching(The others for me are Spain, Argentina, and England).  They are in the same group with Brazil and Portugal, but I wouldn’t write them off for one second.  Part of me believes that a compelling sporting tale could be written by Drogba and les Elephants if everything goes perfectly for them this summer.

My advice to you is to read the piece, think about it for a moment, and then watch this clip.

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1984685_1984949_1985240,00.html

MP

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“April showers bring May flowers.” – Mr. Koenig, my high school history teacher and former mayor of the Agoura Hills.

It’s late April, and we are quickly approaching the best time of the year to be a sports fan.  NBA playoffs, soccer league & tournament conclusions, the Monaco & Turkish Grand Prix, the Tour of California for the first time in the month of May, and for those who care enough, hockey playoffs and the start of baseball season.  The 2010 sporting season bloom will be particularly special for a number of reasons, but which one will stand out as the most memorable?  Here’s what(and who) I’ll be watching:

King James & his L-Train posse

Lebron is objectively the best player in the NBA today, and he could very well be the G.O.A.T.  He can affect every aspect of the game, and his own game is starting to reach its peak.  His Cavs first round matchup with the Bulls is a small gift from the hoops gods, although there’s realistically no chance the Bulls will advance.  But it’s still the best first round series worth watching.  Lebron has already scored 37, 40 and 39 in the last three games, and it’s possible he could have a 50-10-10 game real soon.  Derrick Rose & Co. will put up a good fight, but in the end they’re just men amongst a King.  Witness.

Kobe & Pau Gasol’s power struggle

If the Lakers are going to repeat this year, it’s Gasol, and not Kobe, who needs to be rock for the team this year.  Kobe will always be the main attraction in LA, but you can already see that he’s starting to age and break down a little.  Kobe has been taking some questionable shots lately, which he tends to do when he wants to assert his control and leadership over the offense.  Gasol has been the more consistent and disciplined player this year on both sides of the ball, and Kobe should acknowledge this.  But he won’t, we know that.  And now Kobe has to deal with scoring phenom Kevin Durant and an electric group of young talents, including fellow Bruin Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and rookie reserve James Harden.  The Thunder trounced the World Champs 110-89 in Game 4, and it seems quite possible that this series could go to game seven, and could come down to a single play.  But Kobe has plenty of help around him, he just needs to use it.  Except for Fisher, the starting five is good enough to all take turns anchoring the offense, and Kobe should let everyone do what they do best.  Feed Bynum in the post, run picks and screens with Gasol, kick it out to Artest and Fisher occasionally, and just run the offense, Black Mamba.  Like Phil says, triangle.

Chelsea’s reascendancy in English soccer

You know the words, “Blue is the color…”  Chelsea just trounced Stoke City 7-0 to maintain their 1 point lead over Man U in the Premier League.  Chelsea is also set to defend their FA Cup title against Portsmouth on May 15.  If the Blues manage to pull off their first ever domestic double, then they will have redeemed what seemed like just weeks earlier a lost season.  Next week’s match against Liverpool is the final major test, will we rise to occasion?

Another epic Barca comeback?

So Barca got outplayed and outscored 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Inter.  It was startling to see the Barca machine get picked apart and outplayed for the better part of 90 minutes.  But do I expect to see them to put on a show when they face off again back at Camp Nou?  Absolutely, because that’s what they’ve done in every big match the past two seasons.  But really all I care about is being entertained.

Jenson Button, the new #1 at McLaren

Button just won his second race of the season at the Chinese GP with a master class demonstration of managing a wet race from the front.  Many pundits, including the almost always wrong Eddie Jordan, predicted that Button’s decision to move to McLaren would be an egregious mistake by the current world champion, but Button has silenced his critics with some inspired yet calculating drives.  Lewis Hamilton has been equally, if not more, electric behind the wheel, yet you get the sense he’s sightly unnerved by his teammate’s early success.  We could see a repeat of 2007, when Hamilton and double world champion Fernando Alonso fought out a bitter intra-team rivalry, which concluded with both McLaren drivers missing out on the Drivers championship by one point to Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.  But it’s 2010 now, Raikkonen is out of F1, Alonso took over his seat at Ferrari, and Button and Hamilton are the two most recent world champions.  Button and Hamilton have repeatedly voiced their respect and admiration for each other, but it’s evident both are focused on asserting their supremacy within the team.  So far, the advantage goes to Button, who’s won two races already to Hamilton’s zero.  The prospect of an entire season of Brit on Brit racing action makes me giddy, and one can only dream of Button and Hamilton’s girlfriends Jessica Michibata and Nicole Scherzinger having to coyly sit next to each other in the paddocks as their boytoys duke it out on the track.

Personally, I think Button takes it yet again, but I think it’s safe to say there are no losers in this contest.

Michael Schumacher’s last stand?

The comeback of Michael Schumacher to F1 was hailed in the racing community as the return of the Master to his domain.  Think Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, or Lance Armstrong.  His return, however, has been anything but a procession of race wins.  He’s consistently struggled all season to match the pace of his promising young teammate Nico Rosberg, and he currently stands in tenth place in the Drivers championship.  Mercedes recently announced they plan to unveil a redeveloped Mercedes W01 that they hope will better suit Michael’s driving style.  If it works, then Schumi could be the driver to watch for the rest of the season.   If it doesn’t, then it’s possible that Michael will re-retire at this season’s end, despite his three year contract to drive for Mercedes.  If he does prematurely re-exit F1, which would likely be for good this time, what kind of damage will he suffer to his legacy?  Would it reopen the discussion topic of who is greatest F1 driver of all time?  I say no, I refuse to say no, but only time will tell.  Clearly the heat is on the German, will he wilt under the pressure or rise above it and reaasert his reign over the F1 universe?

MP

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Chelsea’s(and Carlo’s) Last Stand

So my Blues are set to face off against bitter rivals Man U. tomorrow in a pivotal match to determine the winner of this year’s Premier League title.  It has been quite the silly season for Chelsea, but we are still in position to finish strong and bring some silverware back to the Bridge.  Now granted the loser of tomorrow’s match could still come back to win the season mathematically, but it’s unlikely that will happen.  Assuming there is a winner tomorrow, the momentum gained will presumedly propel the winning team towards another league title.  The question is, who will come out on top?  Time to take a look at the lineups each side will likely field tomorrow:

Chelsea – Drogba, Anelka, Malouda, Lampard, Ballack, Obi Mikel, Ferreira, Terry, Alex, Ivanovic, Turnbull.  The physical style of Premier league play has had a significant impact on the top teams, and Chelsea is no exception.  Essien, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech, Carvalho, and Bosingwa are all first team players and all are out for tomorrow’s match and/or the rest of the season.  And Ancelotti just divulged that Drogba has been playing for months with a mild sports hernia, which explains his decision to rest Drogba in last week’s drubbing of Aston Villa.  Despite his nagging injury, Drogba is having the best season of his career, and the team will be looking to him to provide some electricity and swagger up front.

Ancelotti has been switching between a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formation this year, something tells me he’ll be utilizing the latter for tomorrow’s match for several reasons.  Anelka’s poor form as of late means Drogba has been a marked man, evidenced by Inter’s effective neutralization of the talismanic Ivorian over two matches.  Putting three forwards up front will stretch the opposing defense, and hopefully will give Drogba more room and time to operate.  Having a fourth midfielder would give the team better balance, but Ancelotti doesn’t seem to fully trust Joe Cole or Zhirkov just yet, and so having a fourth midfielder seems like dead weight, as least in his eyes.  Chelsea will need to be mindful of defending any counterattacks thrown by Man U, especially with the depleted back line.  Ironically, Chelsea made their name by playing solid, stifling defense and moving forward off the counterattack, so let’s hope everyone’s prepared to get a dose of their own medicine.  I expect Chelsea to set a fast pace and attack frequently from the onset, but if we fall behind early, it’s happened before where we panic and push the tempo a little too hectically.  But I’m going to stay positive and keep the faith, hopefully I’ll be rewarded with a Drogba brace, or even better a team onslaught like what happened last Sunday.  I’ll be holding my breath the entire match…

Man U – Berbatov, Park, Carrick, Fletcher, Valencia, Nani, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Neville, Van Der Sar.  I hate to admit it, but before his injury against Bayern, Wayne Rooney was the MVP of the Premier League, and perhaps in all of European football.  One shouldn’t misinterpret my comments, however, as me saying Rooney is one of the best players in the game, or that he’s a favorite of mine, cuz he’s neither.  But his relentless drive and bullheaded British hustle has been rewarded with a consistent and at times prolific output, evidenced by his 34 goals in all matches this season.  So when he hobbled off the pitch at the end of last week’s Champions League match, one can only think any hope of the Red Devils winning any silverware were erased along with his departure.  But if Man U does have an edge against Chelsea going into tomorrow, it’s the fact that they have been overachieving the entire season, and despite the loss of their striker, they are still a strongly galvanized unit on the field, and their mental toughness will surely reveal itself once again tomorrow.  Man U might not be the most talented team, but except for Barcelona, they might have the strongest chemistry.  I expect their midfielders to anchor the offense and maintain discipline on defense, and one can only speculate as to what type of form Berbatov will show tomorrow.

On paper, Chelsea objectively has the edge in terms of talent, but the old saying of hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard seems salient here.  Chelsea has been up and down this season, while Man U just seems to chug along with the consistency of steam locomotive.  And I won’t deny that the Slip of 2007’s Champions League final doesn’t loom over our heads, because the truth is it still hurts.  And finally, the future of Ancelotti could very well be determined by tomorrow’s outcome: a win could potentially save his job, but a loss will much more likely spell his departure.  Either way, the intensity of tomorrow’s match should be as great as any CL final, and both teams have everything to gain and everything to lose.  Let’s just hope we don’t see a tie, which would be the ideal outcome for 3rd place Arsenal.  I don’t have anything against the Gunners, I respect their core principles as a franchise, but a team that failed to win any of their matches against both us and Man U doesn’t deserve in my opinion to be in the hunt for the title(sorry GOA, but that’s just how I feel).  Self-righteous teams and fans aside, our focus is solely on tomorrow’s match, and our eyes are on the prize of the three most valuable points of this season.  Now who wants to sing along?

MP

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The Boys in Blue – The end of an era?

CHAMPIONS!  Just not this year.  The Chelsea-Inter matchup in the knockout Round of 16 of the Champions League was the most intriguing of all the pairings, on and off the pitch, and sadly my Blues were eliminated today after a 1-0 loss and 3-1 on aggregate goals.  I can accept today’s defeat, unlike the Slip of 2007 and the Sabotage of 2008.  The question is where do we go from here?  And what is going to happen to skipper Carlo Ancelotti, not to mention some of our key pieces in Joe and Ashley Cole, and Nicolas Anelka aka the Lamar Odom of European football?  My intuition tells me Anelka and Ancelotti will be back, and the Coles will likely be shipped out after season’s end.  Chelsea will undoubtedly be a player in the offseason transfer market, the names that keep popping up include Franck Ribery of Bayern Munchen, promising young prospect Alexandre Pato of AC Milan, and David Villa of Sevilla, who would be fantastic alongside my beloved Didier Drogba.  But who knows?  It’s not like the season is over just yet, Chelsea still has the Premier League and the FA Cup to play for, but the truth is our main aspirations were in the Champions League, and now that’s its over, are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the modern day Blues?

It’s not like our first team is filled with spring chickens.  Drogba is 32, Frank Lampard is 31, as is Anelka, Captain and World’s Worst Husband John Terry is 29, although he looks like he’s a solid five years older, and Michael Ballack is 33, which hopefully means he’ll hang up the cleats sometime in the near future(if you guessed correctly, I’m not a fan of the German).  Thankfully we have some young players in Daniel Sturridge(20) and Gael Kakuta(18) to complement our middle aged midfielders Michael Essien(27), Florent Malouda(29), Cole(28), and Yuri Zhirkov(26), who I think has the potential to grow into a formidable box-to-box wingback. But realistically the nucleus of the current squad has a shrinking time window to recreate the success of 2005 and 2006, when they won back to back Premier League titles.  The shift could very well start after this season, as Ashley Cole’s discontent likely means he’ll be gone, and there won’t be a shortage of suitors for the talented yet temperamental left back(He’s high on Real Madrid’s wish list).  Anelka has shown flashes of fine form, evidenced by his play earlier this season, but he always seems to regress and more often than not looks like a lost space cadet out on the field, and now he wants a hefty pay raise to the vicinity of 125,000 pounds a week, which is a steep price for a mediocre second striker.  Joe Cole has had to deal with injuries which have affected his play, and his hardline negotiating stance with team management seems to have backfired, as there has been an ominous lack of contract discussions to keep the hometown player with the team he supported since his childhood.  And Deco has been somewhat of a bust, although he can’t be entirely faulted for his shortcomings, as a lack of playing time has hampered his integration into the system.  Despite his previous commitments to staying in London, he recently admitted he would like to return to his homeland Brazil to play for Corinthians.  I don’t blame him for wanting to leave, the body of work he’s achieved merits an opportunity to play full time, and as a veteran he could provide a steadying presence on the pitch in addition to sharing his wealth of knowledge of the game to his younger teammates.

The other question mark looming over the Bridge is the future of Ancelotti, who has brought stability to a team that in the last three years went through more managers than Tiger went through hoebags at his local restaurant/strip joint.  Ancelotti may not be as magnetic or cerebral as the Special One, but think of him more as an endearing and conservative uncle, as opposed to the fiery and petulant primadonna Mourinho.  I hope Abramovich decides to keep uncle Carlo, but you know how those Russian billionaires can be…

It’s time like these when I wonder if I chose the right team to support, but the sting of defeat is only temporary, and I still love my Blues.  Contrary to what my friends Charles and Michael, who are Arsenal gooners, say about Chelsea fans being fair weather bandwagonners, there is still a strong legion of fans who support our team, in the lean and fat years.  Abramovich has brought an expectation of success to the club, and while you may not like his business tactics, at least he’s made them relevant again, which you couldn’t say about Chelsea before he arrived.  I imagine this is kind of what Chicago Cubs fans feel every year, hopeful that their team will finally make the Leap, but not surprised when they come up short.  Oh well, no time to dwell on what could have been, tomorrow is a new day.  In the mean time, I’m going to listen to the Chelsea song to keep my spirits up, want to join me?

“Blue is the color…Chelsea is our name!”

MP

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