Archive for September 29th, 2007

Serie A matchday 6 – Roma sees red against Inter

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Serie AAs a kid playing soccer in your youth, I’m sure you eventually wondered about the following hypothetical situation: an opposing striker is through on goal, and you’re the last man trailing behind him. Should you take him down and stop the danger, knowing full well you’re going to get sent off, or should you hope that your keeper is going to save the goal? Here’s another: your keeper is down, you’re the last defender on the line, and the ball’s about to enter the net. Should you try and go for the handball (hoping that no one will see it) with the risk of a red card for your team (but then with the chance your keeper will stop the penalty)? This Saturday my friends, we had a perfect example of why you should never ever go for that handball. Indeed, after the 28th-minute “save” of Ludovic Giuly (who apparently played professional volleyball in a former life), Roma-Inter was effectively over.

Roma-Inter 1-4

The starting line-up for Roma had few surprises in store: the usual 4-2-3-1 line-up with David Pizarro and Ludovic Giuly on for injured Alberto Aquilani and Rodrigo Taddei. Roberto Mancini on the other hand completely revolutionized his team: Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the lone striker and a massive 5-man midfield (with Figo and Cesar on the wings). An obvious indication that Inter’s manager main goal was to shut down the fast 1-touch passing game of the Giallorossi. On a funny note: by taking a look at Inter’s bench today (Crespo, Cruz, Pelè, Solari, Adriano, Suazo), with the exclusion of Toldo the Nerazzurri were starting this match with SIX (6!) offensive substitutes! In the event of a defender injury for Inter, manager Roberto Mancini would be in very deep waters…

Zlatan and Dacourt can celebrate, Inter is up 1-0 and Roma are down 1 playerOnly 1 minute had passed on the clock and Roma obtained their first chance: on a push forward by the Giallorossi Mançini got fouled on the edge of the box, setting up Francesco Totti for a perfect free-kick opportunity. As is often the case with Roma set-pieces lately, the Giallorossi captain asked one of his teammates for a two-time kick  and then went for power. Inter Keeper Julio Cesar got down well to parry, but then really had to summon a supersave to prevent Mançini’s tap-in on the ensuing rebound.

Onto the other end, Inter’s reaction was almost immediate: a hard volleyed attempt by Esteban Cambiasso, too central to give the Roma keeper any problems. The match at this point was very much in balance: Roma tried to activate their trademarked up-tempo playing style, but the Inter defense (Walter Samuel above all) kept the Gialorossi’s offensive verve in check. That is until Mançini obtained some free space on the edge of the box again, and went for a low shot towards the first post in the 27th. Julio Cesar parried away into corner.

The ensuing set-piece kick was the beginning of the end for Roma. Wow really? This early into the match? Yes. Totti’s choice to play a short corner turned out to be a grave mistake because the pass was intercepted, and Inter could immediately start the counter-attack. An inch-perfect through ball by Maxwell for Cesar set up the Brazilian midfielder all alone in front of Doni. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s instep PKThe Roma keeper pulled out a miracle save to parry the shot (which wasn’t all too great to begin with), but the rebound went straight to Ibrahimovic ready to power the header in. However, as he was running back toward the goal line, Roma’s Ludovic Giuly executed a perfect lay-up pass for Mexès, who then went for the spik… erm no wait, wrong sport. Penalty shot for Inter, red card for Giuly, and 1-0 for Zlatan.

Roma manager Luciano Spalletti was now left with a big problem: a goal to catch up and a man down to replace. Repositioning Simone Perrotta on the right provided a temporary solution, but as for that goal to catch up, Roma would have to pull some real magic out of their hats. Fortunately, the maneuvers of the Inter players (who could now breathe easier, with the man advantage) slowed down a bit, and the half ended with the 1-0 Inter scoreline.

Simone Perrotta had the momentary 1-1 equalizer for Roma…After the break, finally some good news for Roma: Olivier Dacourt (pulled muscle) and Zlatan (stubbed toe) were forced to come off injured. Then some even better news: a reckless dribble by Maxwell on the edge of Inter’s box allowed Pizarro to poke the ball towards Perrotta. Controling the ball in the center, the Italian international blasted a low ball into the bottom-left corner of the net to tie the game. 1-1.

Remember the ‘good’ news I mentioned before though? The injuries forcing Hernan Crespo and Julio Cruz to come off the bench? Turned out they were not so good after all. Following a great 1-2 exchange, Cambiasso penetrated the Roma defense and blasted a hard shot at Doni. The ensuing rebound reached Crespo (who had started the play) with an open net, and there’s very few the Argentine striker will miss in those circumstances: half-volleyed bicycle kick for the finish. 2-1 Inter. 3 minutes later, it was Cruz‘s turn to strike: edge of the box, powerful but accurate shot low on the ground, inside of the post (Doni not completely innocent on this one). 3-1.

Julio Cruz has just made it 3 for Inter… the match is pretty much overAt this point, the Giallorossi had given up. Inter were exploiting the leaks of the Roma defense from all parts, delivering the final blow with an Iván Córdoba header in the 68th. 4-1 the final score.

Red card aside, the Nerazzurri victory bears a big mark from their manager Roberto Mancini, who in terms of tactics hit all his choices dead-on: the starting line-up at the beginning, but more importantly the substitutions (Crespo and Cruz, authors of 1 goal each). Inter may have begun the season on a slow note, but when called into action in a potential morale-breaking moment (conceding the equalizer with a 1-man advantage) hit back with all the might their offensive arsenal provides. Spalletti on the other hand, must reflect deeply on the 8 goals the Roma defense conceded in their last 3 games.

The win over Roma in the 2006-07 season last year was the beginning of Inter’s lone run towards the Champions title. It’s still early to make that kind of prediction now, but the final 4-1 scoreline sends a clear signal to all the Inter adversaries out there: the Nerazzurri are still the main favorites for the Scudetto this season. .

 A.S. Roma
 F.C. Internazionale Milano
GOALSCORERS: 29’ Ibrahimovic (I), 53’ Perrotta (R), 57’ Crespo (I), 60’ Cruz (I), 68’ Córdoba (I)
ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni – Panucci (69′ Cicinho), Mexès, Juan, Tonetto – De Rossi, D.Pizarro – Giuly, Perrotta, Mançini (69′ Vucinic) – Totti (76′ Esposito). (bench: Curci, Ferrari, Brighi, Barusso). Coach: Spalletti.
INTER (4-5-1): Júlio César – J.Zanetti, Córdoba, Samuel, Maxwell – Stankovic, Dacourt (51′ Crespo), Cambiasso, Cesar, Figo (77′ Pelè) – Ibrahimovic (50′ Cruz). (bench: Toldo, Solari, Adriano, Suazo) Coach: Mancini.

The Summer’s 20 Most Expensive Transfers – Their Performance So Far

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Some might think it would be hasty to make such as an assessment so early into the season (after all, European leagues have only begun for a month or two) but it is interesting nonetheless to have a preliminary look at how some of this Summer’s signings are performing. Indeed, some managers (such as Sir Alex Ferguson, who isn’t entirely happy about how Anderson has coped with the club’s expectations at Man Utd) are bound to get restless if their new players don’t start delivering soon.

So from Gazzetta dello Sport, here’s a list of the 20 most expensive transfers of the Summer break, along with a letter grade for their performance so far.

Fernando Torres
Atl. Madrid ð Liverpool
Fernando Torres, age 23El Niño‘s first encounter with the English Premiership so far has been excellent: 3 goals in the EPL, and a hat–trick in the Carling Cup. Benitez has a lot to be smiling about.A
Arjen Robben
Chelsea ð Real Madrid
Arjen Robben, age 23He made his debut with the Blancos only a few days ago, the Dutchman now needs to find his place in a Real Madrid team that already seems to be up and running. No grade
FC Porto ð Real Madrid
Pepe, age 24He didn’t do too badly in the pre–season matches, but his performance in the Spanish Super Cup game vs. Sevilla was a disaster. He’s been sitting on the bench ever since. C–
Wesley Sneijder
Ajax ð Real Madrid
Wesley Sneijder, age 23The Dutch midfielder isn’t exactly a revelation, but no one thought he’d be scoring in almost every game and that he could take free–kicks better than Beckham. A+
FC Porto ð Man Utd
Anderson Luís de Abreu Oliveira, age 19Still a mystery. After his work permit problems, he hasn’t gotten much playing time with the Red Devils but when he did, played very poorly. F
Franck Ribéry
Marseille ð Bayern
Franck Ribéry, age 24The Bundesliga hasn’t had a player this good in years: he’s become the indispensible dynamo of the Bayern team, forming an absolutely lethal trio with Klose and Toni. A+
Owen Hargreaves
Bayern ð Man Utd
Owen Hargreaves, age 26The England international is still struggling with a few injury problems, but has done good in the few matches he’s played so far. Ferguson trusts him, so we’ll have the chance to see more of him in the future. No grade
Simão Sabrosa
Benfica ð Atl. Madrid
Simão Sabrosa, age 27So and so. He’s been outstanding in some matches, disappointing in others. But inconsistency is a problem the whole Atletico Madrid team seems to be having at the moment. B–
Darren Bent
Charlton ð Tottenham
Darren Bent, age 23He’s been struggling with injury problems since the end of last season. However, considering that the club already has Berbatov, Keane and Defoe, the Spurs may have spent a little too much to buy the English striker. No grade
Thierry Henry
Arsenal ð Barcelona
Thierry Henry, age 30Eto’o's injury promoted the Frenchman to a fixed starter spot, but while Henry showed bits of what made him a great player at Arsenal, he still needs to fit into his new team. For a player of his standards, his debut has been fairly poor. B–
Alexandre Pato
Inter. P.Alegre ð Milan
Alexandre Pato, age 18We really won’t know how good he is until January, when he’ll be eligible to play with his new team. So far, a friendly match against Kiev and a nice goal. No grade
Sport. Lisbon ð Man Utd
Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha “Nani”, age 20He’s got the same vices as Cristiano Ronaldo: excessive feinting and too much love for spectacle. But the kid’s got one hell of a personality, and when his stuff works everyone’s on their feet. A
Diego Forlán
Villareal ð Atl. Madrid
Diego Forlán, age 28Two goals in the Spanish Liga sor far. His partnership with Sergio Aguëro needs improvement, but it’s a good start. B+
Florent Malouda
Lyon ð Chelsea
Florent Malouda, age 27Having just lost José Mourinho, things are very delicate at Chelsea at the moment. However, the Frenchman has played very well with the Blues so far. A
Gabriel Milito
Zaragoza ð Barcelona
Gabriel Milito, age 27Barça bought him for a transfer fee that Juventus couldn’t afford. So far, despite a few occasional fu**–ups, the Argentine’s been doing fairly well. B+
Carlos Tévez
West Ham ð Man Utd
Carlos Tévez, age 23The exact transfer fee is still unknown (unfinished business), but so far the Argentine has shown a lot of heart. His first tally for Red Devils was the all important match–winning goal vs. Chelsea. B+
Manuel Fernandes
Benfica ð Valencia
Manuel Henriques Tavares Fernandes, age 21He hasn’t had the chance to show his full potential yet, because the competition at Los Che is fierce. But the talent’s there, only time will tell. No grade
Ryan Babel
Ajax ð Liverpool
Ryan Babel, age 20In the few games that Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has given him, the Dutch youngster has alredy shown bits of pure class. Ambitious, he can bring the Reds undeniable quality in the offensive zone. A
Aiyegbeni Yakubu
M’boro ð Everton
Aiyegbeni Yakubu, age 24He still needs to work out his teamwork with Andy Johnson, but in the meantime he opened up his goalcount in the Premiership and in the Cup. B
Kader Keita
Lille ð Lyon
Abdul Kader Keïta, age 26His was the most expensive ingoing transfer in Lyon’s history, and so far the Ivorian striker still has to repay the confidence put in him. He’s on the right track though. B