Nine days into the New Year and I don’t know if I will see a more exciting game in 2011 than the one Milan and Udinese served up at the San Siro. Shifts in momentum, both sides committed to attack from every position on the field, eight goals and final second dramatics – it had everything.
Alexis Sanchez sat in behind lone striker Di Natale but when Udinese attacked it came from every direction. Full backs, centre backs, midfielders – all had a license to get forward and support. Udinese swarmed Milan for most of the first half but still went in at half time tied with Milan’s equalizer very much against the run of play at the whistle.
Milan started the second half strongly but this it was Udinese’s turn to score against the run of play. Sanchez with a brave header – he also started the move around the half way line – and then Di Natale with the simplest and most brilliant of finishes. On the break Di Natale simply checked back and cut inside on Bonera and literally passed the ball into the Milan goal.
Milan responded with Cassano on for Seedorf and going with three at the back. And it was Thiago Silva – one of the back three – who played a major role in Milan coming back to tie the game. First Silva’s cross was put into his own net by Udinese defender Benatia. It was followed by Silva feeding Cassano who threaded the most delicate of passes to Pato to make it 3-3.
But there was still more. German Denis who had come on for Di Natale held his run beautifully until Isla played him in (3-4) but Ibrahimovic stole in to equalize with the match in injury time.
Breathe taking stuff it was.
Prior to his appointment one of the knocks against Kenny Dalglish was that it had been so long since he sat on the bench that the game had passed him by. Time will tell if this is or is not the case but it was encouraging to see Dalglish do something that the majority of managers are reticent to do. And that is to inject some youth into a time of crisis.
Years ago it was common for managers to give younger players a chance when a team needed shaking up but in times of trouble nowadays managers are far more likely to opt for the players of experience. The introduction of Shevley, N’Gog and Babel (although I am not sure that he should still be considered a youngster) and starting Martin Kelly was a sign already that Dalglish will go about the business very differently than Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson.
Leicester City were a much brighter side than I expected – and by the reaction of Manchester City they were caught of guard as well. Leicester caused the Manchester City defence all sorts of problems at corner kicks and the City defenders will be glad they don’t have to deal with new signing Bamba each week. I haven’t received any reports on his performances for Hibs this season but he was mentioned in dispatches on a number of occasions the season before.
The Ivory Coast World Cup Finals player was described as a player who was comfortable on the ball, could play centre back or in midfield but needed a good talker or organizer beside him to get the very best from him. A favourable impression was also made by another World Cup player lining up for Leicester – Yuki Abe. He covered well, his distribution was consistently good and he looked like a player who would not be out of place in a higher league.
Edinson Cavani has been getting rave notices for his goals for Napoli since arriving during the summer from Palermo. He added another three goals to his Serie A total to bring his tally to 13 already this season. His hat trick all came from headers and each was a perfect illustration of movement, cunning and intelligence – with bravery tossed in for the third one. Juventus could not deal with speed of thought or foot.
Real Madrid v Villarreal gave us another fantastic game of football. Great goals, a bit of nastiness in the second half, controversy over the third Real Madrid goal and no doubt Mourinho will get more than his fair share of headlines. Villarreal’s goals were wonderfully constructed and executed by Cani and Marco Reuben who nearly landed at Wigan Athletic last year at this time.
Ronaldo was outstanding and potted another hat trick. There was controversy over the third goal but if we truly believe that the attacking side should receive the benefit of the doubt then the officials were correct to allow the goal.
And what about Alonso’s delivery that led to Real and Ronaldo’s second goal –wicked.
Juventus left 2010 behind with realistic thoughts of hauling in Milan and making a run at the Serie A title. But with only two games of 2011 played Juventus’ dream has held up as well as 99% of New Year’s resolutions – poof and gone. A traumatic Thursday loss to Parma 4-1 at home was followed by a 3-0 thumping by Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Sunday.
One of the major reasons for Juve’s resurrection has been an improvement in their defending and the resultant reduction in the goals against. A team that had given up on average a goal and a half a game had cut that to a goal a game. Seven goals against in two games seem to indicate that it is back to the drawing board for Luigi Delneri.
I have already mentioned the problems the Manchester City defence had from Leicester’s corner kicks but there was also a horrible error by Joe Hart. Hart had a lapse in concentration as he mishandled a routine cross from Paul Gallagher and Andy King took full advantage to get Leicester back to 2-2.
For Roma it was case of the old Juan-two against Sampdoria. Unfortunately for Roma it was two catastrophic errors by substitute Juan that turned the tide in Sampdoria’s favour. The first was a short pass back and goalkeeper Julio Sergio was forced to dive in on Palombo – penalty kick (scored) and a red card for Julio Sergio. With only five minutes remaining Juan made a hash of a simple clearance and Guberti slid home the winner.
That was a sickening collision that saw Villarreal defender Angel’s straight leg make contact with the goal post at speed after he had collided with Diego Lopez his goalkeeper. Angel made his way back onto the field but only a minute or so later he collapsed in a heap with no player close to him as he planted the leg again. This time he was stretchered off and did not return – it looked very nasty.
Spurs cruised to a 3-0 win over London rivals Charlton and it means that they made it the 4th round of the FA Cup for the last five years. Leicester City won 3-2 against Spurs back in 2006 in the 3rd round.
It is now 11 years since Juventus last won a game in the Stadio San Paolo.
Liverpool last won the FA Cup in 2006 but they have also lost in the 3rd round in four of the last seven seasons.
There have been 35 goals in the last six meetings between Milan and Udinese.
When Villarreal took a 7th minute lead at the Bernabeu it was the first time Real Madrid had trailed at home under Jose Mourinho. And after the 4-2 win Mourinho is now within touching distance of 150 home league games without a loss. The streak started in February 2002 and now extends to 145 matches. (A 3–2 loss to Beira Mara as I know you wee going to ask.)
Of the top eight clubs in Serie A only Inter and Napoli came away with full points. Milan and Udinese drew with each other; Palermo played out a scoreless draw with Chievo; the two teams from the capital city Roma and Lazio lost to Sampdoria and Lecce respectively; Juventus lost to Napoli.
From Opta Jose (not that Jose) – The penalty miss by Juan Mata of Valencia was the first by Valencia since 2007 and brought an end to 19 successfully taken spot kicks in La Liga. Mata did however score the only goal of the game against Levante with seven minutes left to play.
At 2-0 up and with less than twenty minutes to play Brescia must have felt that they were on their way to a first away win against Fiorentina since 1970. Three Fiorentina goals in the space of quarter of an area turned the game upside down.
A team coached by Claudio Ranieri has never beaten Sampdoria – that is a total of ten games.
If you had correctly predicted a draw between Leicester and Manchester City you would got four times your money back.
Player of the Weekend nominees
Robert Snodgrass (Leeds United)
Lawrie Wilson (Stevenage)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
Bamba (Leicester City)
Cristian Zapata (Udinese)
Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
The winner to be announced on Monday’s Fox Soccer Report. However, I must admit I am torn on the selection this week.
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