Saturday roundup

Champions League matches start up again next week, which meant that most of the big teams in Europe were playing today. I watched Bayern out of the corner of my eye, and some of Ajax as well, but I was mostly focused on the EPL and La Liga. I was paying enough attention to Serie A to see Juventus’s unbeaten streak broken by Inter, though – kind of a sad moment on principle.

Here are some of the highlights:

Arsenal Woes Continue

The scoreboard said Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal at the end of the match, but that was flattering to Arsenal. They were better in the second half than the first, but generally lacked imagination and were sloppy with their passes. RvP opened the scoring early on (and, with a show of class, did not celebrate the goal), but while it took United until partway through the second half to get a second, they rarely looked threatened. Arsenal’s goal came from Santi Cazorla at the very end of the match, and while it was brilliant, it was the only really brilliant thing they did all match. United were a bit wasteful, most notably with Rooney’s missed penalty, but still, they did more than enough.

Arsenal have now lost three of their last five games (Norwich, Schalke, and United), and had close calls against QPR and Reading in the other two (ranked 20 and 18 in the table, respectively). On Tuesday, they play at Schalke, and they’ll have to turn it around in a hurry to get a result. Even if they lose, they should still be able to move on without too much trouble, but we all know how that can go.

United have also had some difficulties lately, but unlike Arsenal, they’ve managed to grind out wins (midweek Chelsea match notwithstanding), and they were certainly more convincing here.

As a sidenote, the linesman who called RvP offside after he put the ball in the back of the net a second time seemed to find something very amusing, but I’m not clear on what it was.

Chelsea Stumble Again

Swansea City 1-1 Chelsea. It was a fair result, too – both teams played well, and deserved to take something away from the match, especially in the face of the hail that started raining down on them with ten or fifteen minutes left in the second half. For the second round in a row, Swansea came out against a league heavyweight swinging, and this time, they took something away from it. They’re showing that despite being a bit erratic, they’re capable of great things.

Good result for Swansea. It was a good result for Chelsea, too, but they probably won’t see it that way. They’ve lost a lot of ground to Manchester United in the past week, and it may prove costly. (Yes, I know they won midweek, but I suspect they would have preferred to beat United in the league than in the Capital One Cup.) This week they host Shakhtar Donetsk, who beat them a couple weeks ago, and it’s a must-win if Chelsea want to keep their UCL hopes alive past the group stages.

Chelsea often start strong and then start to drop points in November. Now that United have taken the lead, it could be the start of a long slide down. Alternatively, it could just be a rough couple weeks. We’ll see.

Celta Deserved Their Promotion

At risk of sounding like a broken record, Celta’s performance tonight was true bravery – unlike what I suspect we’ll see from Celtic on Wednesday. Celta came out against Barcelona, pressed hard, and deserved better than the 3-1 scoreline that the game ended with, especially since Barcelona’s third goal was miles offside (though it was a nice finish, especially for a LB). Barca probably would have won anyway, but it’s games like that that make you wish that La Liga’s powerhouses dropped more points, so that teams like Celta had a real shot of walking away with something.

Of course, if they keep playing the way they have been, they’ll start walking away with something anyway. Regardless, Barca and Madrid could be in for a struggle in the spring when they play Celta away.

Celta were just promoted this season after five years in Segunda, and it’s nice to see them back. They’ve played a lot of seasons in the first division, and were becoming regular fixtures in Europe (mostly the UEFA Cup) before they were relegated in 2004 and 2007 (after bouncing back up for two seasons). 2004 was even more tragic than Villarreal’s last year – Celta actually made the Round of 16 in the UCL before going down. Ouch.

Nobody expects them to manage that, of course, not immediately, but it’s good to see them back where they belong, and they’ve proven that they haven’t lost their fire by a long shot.

Valencia End Atléti’s Unbeaten Streak

It was a day for that, I guess.

Valencia have had a very inconsistent start to the season. They’ve had some good games and a lot of poor ones, most of those on the road – their strong home record has saved them from total humiliation. They started the season on a good note, getting a second successive draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, but it was downhill from there.

Atlético Madrid, on the other hand, roared out of the gate and hadn’t been beaten since April. On paper, they were likely to win today despite their recent poor showings at the Mestalla. However, following a very rough match that involved diving, bad tackles, and (accidental) cleats in Falcao’s forehead, it was Valencia who came out on top. They take their unofficial title as “best of the rest”/”third best team in La Liga” very seriously, and these Atléti upstarts needed to be dealt with. Or something like that. Maybe this will be the turning point for them, because if they’re going to qualify for the UCL again, they need it to come soon.

Thankfully, that poor form hasn’t extended to this season’s UCL, where they sit atop the table on goal differential (ish) after the first three games above BATE Borisov and Bayern Munich, following victories over BATE and Lille and a 2-1 loss at Bayern that critically kept the scoreline down, largely courtesy of Diego Alves. They host BATE this Wednesday, and a win will be critical.

Following yet another solid home performance, hopefully that won’t be too much of a problem.

And, of course, if they can’t turn it around domestically in time, they could always just win the Champions League. Chelsea managed it, after all, so clearly with enough luck and an inspired keeper anyone can. And Valencia don’t just have one inspired keeper – they have two.

Sounds like a good plan to me.

Anyway. Atlético now drop 3 points behind Barcelona, though they still maintain a 5 point lead over Real Madrid. The next few weeks will tell us if this was a one-time loss or the start of a decline. I’m inclined to think the former, honestly – I think Atléti are made of stronger stuff than that. I expect them to go into the all-important derby with Real still ahead of them in the table, though that may not stay the case when the match is over.

Other News

Málaga have dropped to fourth, something I think we all saw coming. They lost 2-1 at home to Rayo, something that should surprise no one. Rayo were coming in off a long string of losses, but Rayo are also incredibly inconsistent. Anything can happen when they step out onto the field. They’re great to watch. Hopefully they won’t carry this into midweek, where they have to face AC Milan.

Real Madrid beat Real Zaragoza. Ronaldo didn’t score. Zaragoza had a legal goal ruled offside, in just another example of big teams getting the calls. Some kind of electronic method to tell offsides would be a welcome addition to the game.

It was a bad day to be a London team for Tottenham and Fulham, too, but I suspect West Ham was quite happy about their draw with City.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern are back on their winning ways, as are Hannover. Not a minute too soon – both have important midweek games, Bayern in the UCL and Hannover in Europa. Dortmund only managed a draw at home to Stuttgart and Schalke lost to Hoffenheim on the road. We’ll see if they recover for their clashes against Real Madrid and Arsenal on Tuesday.

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4 responses to “Saturday roundup

  1. Pretty solid roundup, everything was covered in well, short and sweet. Really wondering what is happening to the gunners. They seem to be hitting a wall as of late, seems winning is a habit. Since they lost the Chelsea a month and a half back, they have slowly but surely gone downhill till now they are struggling to beat QPR and Reading, then they lost to Norwich. Would be pretty sad to see them fall. Chelsea also seem to have hit a slight snag but to be fair Swansea is a good team a draw was a fair result. What do you make of both their chances of progressing from their respective groups?

    • Thank you! 🙂

      I see Arsenal moving on. They’ve looked better, and Schalke may well top the group, but at the end of the day, their group just isn’t one of the more competitive ones (no insult meant to Olympiacos and Montpelier), and they’ve got a decent lead. A win against Olympiacos would be enough to guarantee them moving on, and just a draw could be enough.

      Chelsea, on the other hand, could be in trouble. There’s not as much room for error in their group. Beating Shakhtar this week will be crucial. If they don’t win (preferably by more than a goal, since GD could come into play), I don’t think they’ll move on. Juve are going to stop drawing and start winning soon, and Shakhtar are just too good.

      I see United and Arsenal making it through fairly comfortably. If Chelsea win this week, they’ll probably move on, too. If not, it’ll be Europa for them, IMO.

  2. I was watching the Manchester United – Arsenal match and I got so pissed with the referee when he gave Manchester United the penalty shot for a hand play. Is it only me who thinks that some FIFA rules are a pile of ****. I just don’t get it, how is it a hand play when the ball hits your hand? When I ask this rhetorical question people tend to start arguing about the positioning of the hand and all that, but seriously, how ridiculous is that? I respect some of the referees who ignore this rule and do not give a penalty for that, but some are just ridiculous. The ball hit hand and not the other way around. The player, let’s say, was just covering his face or just hold hands close to him, yet he gets his hand hit by opponent with the ball and it’s a penalty shot. What’s your opinion about that? I’m not a fan of either of these teams, but I was really relieved and happy that Rooney missed that undeserved(imo) penalty. Anyway I think Manchester united looked better overall and deserved to win, which they did.

    • Oh, I know. The handball rules get a little ridiculous, especially since there’s so much confusion about what exactly the rule is.

      Officially, a penalty should only be awarded if your hand was in an “unnatural position” – that is, hand to ball rather than ball to hand. By the rulebook, ball to hand or protecting yourself against injury should never be a penalty. However, the way referees interpret this can be radically different. Refs who don’t award a penalty for the sorts of situations you’re describing actually aren’t breaking the rule, just interpreting it. However, some – like the one today – tend toward a very strict interpretation of it that doesn’t always seem to be in keeping with what the rule actually is.

      It’s even worse in Spain – a handball is an automatic yellow if the ref judges it to be in an “unnatural” position, no matter where you are on the pitch. Thiago got a red against somebody – Mallorca, maybe? – in March, and that was why, because he was already on a yellow. It’s ridiculous. I’m all for calling penalties when they should be, and I understand that refs make mistakes, but with handballs, I think refs should be conservative and give players the benefit of the doubt, you know?

      I like Arsenal a lot, but I honestly don’t mind United, so seeing them win and move to the top of the table was nice. Given the choice between United, City, and Chelsea, United win by a wide margin.

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