Archive for December, 2007

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan Preview – The ‘Derby della Madonnina’ is Upon Us

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan 2007-08 - The ‘Derby della Madonnina’ is Upon Us

Note: This is a guest writer article, written by Subhankar Mondal. It was originally published on the Soccerlens blog.

El Clásico? Cosa diavolo è sto ‘El Clásico’? Or in other words, “What on Earth is this ‘El Clásico’ you speak of?” That’s the question being posed in Italy this weekend and there’s a valid reason for that. For on Sunday, a seismic force that owes its origin to the history shall rock the city of Milan and tradition shoved deep down in the ground; for on Sunday a chasm shall be constructed distinctly in Milan and volcanic eruptions are guaranteed.

If you think that this is a meteorological forecast ridiculously being rippled across on a football blog site, then you are utterly, utterly wrong. Instead, this is a lookahead to the Derby della Madonnina, the Inter Milan vs. AC Milan derby, that is set to storm to the center-stage in the Italian Serie A on Sunday.

This is a derby that is almost a hundred years old, a derby that would’ve never opened its eyes upon the light of the world if there had been no wrangling over the signing of foreign players; a derby that over the rapidly flowing years has come to be relegated to second (maybe even third) place in Italian football (the Derby d’Italia i.e. Juventus vs. Inter, is now firmly established as the most important match in Italian football calendar). But when Internazionale (or more affectionately, Inter Milan) and AC Milan lock horns at San Siro on Sunday there will no dearth of passion, spark, fire and rivalry at all.

Massimo MorattiThe history of the two clubs is paradoxically intertwined into one. Milan were established way back in 1899 and were absorbed in nationalistic ideals so much so that they wouldn’t allow any foreign player to don on their colors. This kindled a rift inside the club and those in favor of the induction of foreign players into the side broke away and formed Internzionale in 1908 and the city of Milan has been torn apart into two fragments since.

Silvio BerlusconiMilan traditionally are the people’s club, a club that has supported by the working class people in southern Italy. On the other hand, Inter are the bourgeois club, an aristocracy that has been blessed by the rich hands. But over the successive decades, such a distinction in terms of economic class has broken down. Indeed, Italian President Massimo Moratti is a oil tycoon while Milan is owned by the billionaire and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Yet a cluster of Milan supporters still come from the working class background while Inter fans still do perceive their Milan counterparts as basically inferior to them in almost all sectors. The ultras (or, “ultrà” as they are called in Italy) are there from both clubs but their actions and recognition are much allayed by the reputation of the clubs. Even so, violence and trouble at the Milan derby have been frequent.

The ugliest incident of violence cropped up in the 2nd leg of the 2004-2005 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final match at San Siro. Milan were leading the match 1-0 (and 3-0 aggregate) when Inter supporters decided to get themselves thick into the action. Bottles and coins started being rocketed onto the pitch, flares started flying onto the field and Milan custodian Dida was hit with a flare on the back of his shoulder and the often crippled and almost always paralyzed UEFA at last convened to investigate into the violence in Italy.

Dida's incident in the 2004-05 Champions League match vs. InterThus security has been tightened at the San Siro for the clash and thee are one or two signs that trouble might be hatched during the course of 9 minutes. And the main perpetrators could be Inter Milan players in not so much as instigating the crowds to go wild as in pissing on even more frustration on the Milan unit. This is technically a home match for Inter and the bulk of the 83,000 crowd will be Nerazzurri fanatics and should the Inter players gallop on with their ruthlessly breathtaking form, then Milan will be in deep, deep trouble.

Inter are the current Serie A leaders with 40 points from 16 matches and are 7 clear of their nearest challengers, who are not AC Milan. Inter Milan have won the last 5 matches in the league and have won 7 of the 8 Serie A matches they have played so far at San Siro. The Nerazzurri have also kissed the ball 35 times into the back of the opposition net and with strikers Zlatan Ibrahimović and Julio Ricardo Cruz scoring 9 times each.

Ibrahimovic and Cruz, a lethal striker pair for Inter MilanMilan have 3 games in hand but that can’t let them escape with any excuse for gathering only 18 points all season. The Rossoneri have won just 4 of their 16 matches and have lost 3, scoring just 20 and conceding 10 goals. But even more disturbingly, Milan have yet to register a win at San Siro this season.

All these data, facts, figures and statistics lead you by the hand to last season’s circumstances. Inter Milan won the scudetto last season in so dominating a style that most bookmakers have placed money on Inter to win the Italian championship this season too. Inter’s record breaking 17 consecutive wins in the Italian top flight was highly hailed by all football pundits although question mark hover dangerously over their playing style.

Zlatan, Cruz, and FigoInter might have been the best team in the Serie A last season but they weren’t the most entertaining side—AS Roma and AC Milan were. This time around too, Roberto Mancini has sacrificed style at the altar of substance and neutrals do complain the lack of aestheticism in this immensely efficient Inter side. In fact, only Ibrahimović and Luis Figo are the only entertainers in this Nerazzurri squad and with Figo’s absence through injury, the Swedish mercurial striker has been the lone flagship of good football.

But at least Inter are winning and at times winning by drilling in 4 goals (4-1 against Roma and Genoa and 4-0 over Torino) and if Milan can do half as much, manager Carlo Ancelotti would be more than just glad. Just like last season, the Rossoneri have had their title hopes evaporated into thin air like volatile hydrochloric acid right from the world go. Just like last season, Milan have struggled for goals.

Just like last season, Milan’s best player has been the world’s best player Kaká who is also their top scorer in Serie A with 7 goals. Just like last season, Milan have failed to strengthen their aging squad in the defense and the frontine. Just like last season, Milan in 11th are struggling for a Champions League berth.

And everyone would be hoping for a 7-goal thriller in the first Milan derby of 2007-2008, just like last season. Inter won both Derbys della Madonnina last season but their 4-3 victory in the first act was a sensation, the best match in Europe along with that Lionel Messi-inspired 3-3 El Clásico drama in March. Milan and especially Kaká played with flair and intensity but Inter’s superior bench strength, young legs and swift counter-attacking moves aided by some comic Milan defense won the Nerazzurri full 3 points and if you follow the formbook, then you would certainly be putting your money on an efficient Inter side which Juventus manager Claudio Ranieri described recetly as a machine.

But as the severely tortured cliché has it, when there’s a derby at stake, the formbook flies out of the window, leaving not so much as its dirty underwear behind.

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Here’s some additional Inter Milan vs. AC Milan statistics, courtesy of Sportpress.com:

Head to Head Record, 1992-2007:

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan - Head to Head Record, 1992-2007

2007-08 Serie A Match Record so far:

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan - 2007-08 Serie A Match Record so far

UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Draw (2007-08): It’s Going to Be Tough for Serie A Teams…

Friday, December 21st, 2007

UEFA Champions League

The draw for the 1st knockout round (Round of 16) of the UEFA Champions League took place at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland, today at 12:00 CET (a preview of the draw here). Italian teams didn’t get very lucky, and picked what probably were the toughest opponents of the lot.

I’ll make a more elaborate analysis later in the day, but for now here are the draw results.

.

2007/08 UEFA Champions League
Round of 16
to be played 19/20 February & 4/5 March

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Celtic
Celtic
vs.
Barcelona
Barcelona
Olympique Lyonnais
Lyon
vs.
Man Utd
Man Utd
Schalke 04
Schalke
vs.
Porto
FC Porto
Liverpool
Liverpool
vs.
Inter Milan
Inter Milan
AS Roma
Roma
vs.
Real Madrid
Real Madrid
Arsenal
Arsenal
vs.
AC Milan
AC Milan
Olympiakos
Olympiakos
vs.
Chelsea
Chelsea
Fenerbahce
Fenerbahce
vs.
Sevilla
Sevilla FC

UEFA Champions League – Possible Team Pairings in Friday’s Playoffs Draw (2007-08)

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

UEFA Champions League

The draw for the 1st knockout round (Round of 16) of the UEFA Champions League takes place at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday 12.00 CET.

The remaining 3 Italian teams (AC Milan, Inter, and Roma) will be eagerly awaiting to know their next opponents. While the Milan clubs have a limited list of “potential dangers” awaiting them (Arsenal, Liverpool, and Lyon notably), the Giallorossi have every chance of picking a very tough nut to crack (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Chelsea, or Porto).

Let’s have a look.
(note for a full preview of the knock-out draw team by team, see Soccerlens’ “2007/2008 Champions League 2nd Round Draw: Preview” post by Eddie Griffin)

Milan

AC Milan have made at least the Quarter-finals of the Champions League in each of the last 5 seasons, and you have to fancy their chances of doing so again, even with Arsenal, Liverpool, or Lyon potentially being paired with them. They’ve been atrocious at home in Serie A this term, but it’s been the complete opposite in Europe, where they won all 3 group matches at the San Siro. That prowess will come in handy if they do wind up getting one of the tougher matchups in the draw.

However, the recently-crowded Club World Champions will be counting on the morale booster that their victory against Boca Juniors provided, as well as their multi-award winning (FIFPro, Ballon D’Or, FIFA player of the year etc. etc.) star player Ricky Kaká.

In addition, Carlo Ancelotti will have the added striking power contribution of Ronaldo (who should back to full health by then), as well as their star youngster signing from Internacional de Porto Alegre, Alexandre Pato. Much-needed ammunition for the Rossoneri, who could very well be in for a repeat performance of their 2007 triumph in Athens.

Inter

Inter won’t have to worry about facing Roma, but much like the AC Milan cousins they could be paired up with Arsenal, Liverpool, or Lyon. In addition the Nerazzurri could have a tough tie with Olympiakos, who have won on Italian soil already this season, having beaten Lazio 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico on Matchday 5.

A pairing with Arsenal would be a bad run of luck for Roberto Mancini & Co., given the Gunners’ excellent form in the Premier League currently (just recent victors of Chelsea this week-end), but would be a chance to erase bad memories from the 5-1 demolition the Premiership giants inflicted the last time they visited the San Siro, in the group stages of the 2003/04 CL.

On an added note, the Nerazzurri will be without out of favor striker Adriano (who was not even inserted in the CL list in September, but who could have been added for the knock-out round) because the pesky Brazilian will be spending the next 6 months on loan to Brazilian club São Paulo. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Julio Cruz maintain their current form however, that should be plenty for Roberto Mancini.

Roma

Roma finished 2nd in their group, which means they any adversary they draw could provide a serious challenge. The biggest candidates are obviously Barcelona, Arsenal, or Chelsea, but the French Ligue 1 and Portuguese SuperLiga champions Lyon and Porto should definitely not be underestimated.

The Giallorossi’s main objective for the knock-out stage will be to have captain Francesco Totti ready at full fitness when the time is right, as the ex-Azzurri international has been struggling with a foot injury these past months, which limited his appearances with La Magica. In the worst-case scenario in which Totti would have to miss the knock-out round however, the Giallorossi have done fairly well in his absence (with striker Mirko Vucinic stepping up to the plate on more than one occasion). For a team that makes teamwork & deadly short passing their weapon of choice, Roma might be alright even without their captain.

Of course, if they have to face the likes of Leo Messi, Cesc Fabregas, or Frank Lampard… that would make for an even greater challenge, one that coach Luciano Spalletti would welcomingly do without.

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The table below outlines all the possible pairings in the Round of 16 draw tomorrow. As a reminder:

  1. 1st-ranked teams from the Group Stage will be drawn to play against 2nd-ranked teams (i.e. the group winners cannot be drawn against each other, and the group runners-up cannot be drawn against each other).
  2. The winners and runners-up of the same group cannot be drawn against each other.
  3. Clubs from the same country cannot be drawn against each other.
  4. The group runners-up shall play their 1st-leg match at home.

.

Possible pairings in
Friday’s Round of 16 Playoffs Draw:

.

AC Milan AC Milan Inter Milan Inter Milan
Arsenal Arsenal
Liverpool Liverpool
Lyon Lyon
Schalke Schalke
Fenerbahce Celtic
Olympiakos Olympiakos
.

.
AS Roma Roma Schalke 04 Schalke 04
Barcelona Barcelona
Real Madrid Real Madrid
Sevilla Sevilla
Chelsea Man Utd
Porto AC Milan
Inter Milan
Porto
.

.
Arsenal Arsenal Liverpool Liverpool
Barcelona Barcelona
Real Madrid Real Madrid
AC Milan Sevilla
Inter Milan AC Milan
FC Porto Inter Milan
.

.
Man Utd Man Utd Chelsea Chelsea
Olympiakos Olympiakos
Schalke Roma
Fenerbahce Fenerbahce
Celtic Celtic
Lyon Lyon
.

.
Barcelona Barcelona Real Madrid Real Madrid
Arsenal Arsenal
Liverpool Liverpool
Roma Roma
Olympiakos Lyon
Schalke Schalke
Fenerbahce Fenerbahce
Celtic Celtic
.

.
Sevilla FC Sevilla FC Porto Porto
Olympiakos Olympiakos
Liverpool Arsenal
Roma Roma
Lyon Lyon
Schalke Schalke
Fenerbahce Fenerbahce
Celtic Celtic
.

.
Olympique Lyonnais Lyon Olympiakos Olympiakos
Real Madrid Barcelona
Sevilla Sevilla
Man Utd Man Utd
Chelsea Chelsea
AC Milan AC Milan
Inter Milan Inter Milan
Porto Porto
.

.
Celtic Celtic Fenerbahce Fenerbahce
Real Madrid Real Madrid
Barcelona Sevilla
Sevilla Man Utd
Man Utd Chelsea
Chelsea AC Milan
Inter Milan Barcelona
Porto Porto

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Gideon Baah, Future Chelsea FC Wonderkid?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

 Earning the respect of Michael Essien (which may well be a fellow Ghanaian, but is also a player of international level and member of one of the top 10 European teams), that’s no easy feat. Earning the respect of the entire Chelsea youth team after only 1 week of trial, that’s something even more special. But getting the aforementioned Essien to recommend you to the Chelsea board for a quick contract, before the other clubs snatch you… now we’re talking wonderkid material! The fairy tale of Gideon Baah, now at his 2nd week of Trial at the Chelsea FC Youth Academy, seems to have no end.

Last month, Baah was the winner of a football reality show (“Metro MTN Sports Academy“) in Ghana, whose main prize (on top of cash money (~$5000), a Hyundai Accent car, and a all-expense-paid trip to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup) was the chance of a 2-week trial at Stamford Bridge. The 16-year old youngster managed to beat off competition from 32,000 other applicants to win the reality show in Accra, thus earning his ticket to London. So far Baah’s experience with the Blues has gone so well, that Chelsea’s star midfielder Michael Essien has recommended the board to offer the lad get a real contract.

Everybody is happy with how Gideon played in the first week with the Chelsea academysaid Essien to Ghanasoccernet.com. “I have monitored his performance from afar and think he is capable of fitting into the academy and progressing to reach the first team. I am not saying this because he is from my country but because he is a talented player as people at the academy are saying. I am confident if he is given a contract he’ll develop into a world-class player for Chelsea and can also develop to help my country“. Essien concluded: “I took him to the to meet some of the first team players and this experience has increased his desire to stay and I am confident if he is given the chance he will excel“.

As for Baah, who by the way is a left-footed offensive midfielder, the youngster still seems to be on cloud nine after the first week. “I can’t believe what is happening to me“, he said. “I am positively surprised with the support I have received from Essien and what he has done to help me since I came here. You wouldn’t expect a player of his calibre to come down to the academy let alone coming to visit me and also to give advice and support. (…) This is what has pushed me to do more here so that I don’t disappoint him because he has put his heart on me to stay here.“On top of Essien, Baah also received the full nod of approval from the Chelsea junior team captain, Nana Twumasi (who was also born in Ghana, but has a few caps as a junior England international). “Gideon is a fantastic talent with amazing skills and he has already won many hearts here at the academy“.

The only dark shadow in Gideon’s fairy tale seems to be the truth regarding his (surprise surprise)… age. Not uncommon amongst African players (Martins anyone?) there seems to be a discrepancy between his profile from a group of Ghanaian soccer sites and that of the Metro MTN website: the former tag the youngster with 16 years, the latter with 20. Until that’s cleared up, the youngster (who has been given the number 52 jersey at Chelsea) keeps scoring goals and impressing his watchers (during last week’s Wednesday training, he outwitted 5 players including the keeper to score into the empty net).

Other tidbits about Baah (from his Metro MTN profile) are that his favorite color is sea blue, his international idol is Kaká, and that he dreams of winning a UEFA Champions league trophy with a European club.

Hey what do you know… Chelsea’s team kit is blue… :mrgreen:

Fabio Capello’s Salary and Choices for Backroom Staff Raise a Few Eyebrows in British Press

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

The official appoitment of Fabio Capello as England manager is making a lot of ink flow in the British press these days (especially the official “unveiling” & associated press conference, held yesterday Monday), but nothing compared to the astronomical contract the Italian coach has signed with the English FA (over £4.8m i.e. €6.7m, plus an additional bonus in case of World Cup victory). The Daily Mirror‘s printed version headline (“CAPE££O”) is quite explicit in the matter, and makes a strong suggestion along the lines “we paid you a sh**load of money, now get us a World Cup”.

During an interview with the RAI Italian TV station, Capello declared that the England job would be the last of his managerial career. “It would be really nice to finish with a World cup win. (…) I’m be expecting a much more complicated job than if I were managing a club team, and I know there’s a lot of expectations from this appointment, but I think that my team and I will achieve great objectives together“.

According to The Independent, those objectives might be extended for an extra 2 years (to include leading England to Euro 2012), even though Capello and the FA have agreed to a re-discussion of the Italian coach’s contract terms at the end of 2010. Indeed, in case of an England failure at the South Africa World Cup, this “escape clause” would permit the FA to avoid a major cash leak (to avoid paying Capello until his contract runs out, or handing him an Eriksson-style termination compensation). Should Capello and his staff succeed in the task of winning BOTH the next World Cup and European championships however, they would cash in a total of over £30m (i.e. €42m). A record-breaking amount if that were to happen, which would make Capello the most paid manager in football history.

Joining the Daily Mirror‘s tirade against Capello’s salary, The Times also points the finger at how much the English FA will be paying the ex-Real Madrid coach & Co. Speaking of the “& Co.” part, the fact that Capello’s staff is (for the moment) exclusively composed of Italians is another thing the British papers raise a few eyebrows on. The Times is hoping that, in addition to Galbiati, Neri, Baldini and Tancredi, common household names such as Stuart Pearce (current Under-21 manager) or Alan Shearer (or perhaps even Tony Adams and David Platt, as suggested by the Daily Telegraph) could complete the Don’s staff.

On that last eventuality far less optimistic is The Sun, which a few days ago titledFab..1 FA..0“. The well-known English tabloid maintains the idea that, on top of getting what he wanted in economical terms, Capello also managed to impose his fully Italian technical staff, excluding the possibility of “made in England” elements within the Three Lions (apart from the players themselves, obviously).

Something to keep an eye on over the next few days…