Saturday, 31 March 2012

Blogging From A-Z Challenge

As you may have seen on the right of my blog, I'm joining in the Blogging From A-Z Challenge. The premise is pretty simple; I've got to post 26 posts in April, one for each of the letters in the alphabet. I'll be starting tomorrow with my post for the letter A, so subscribe to my blog for an exciting April covering a wide range of sporting topics!

On top of those 26 posts I'll also be blogging on current sporting news. We've got another excellent month of sporting events coming up, including Champions League and F.A. Cup semi-finals and the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament. Happy days!

Friday, 30 March 2012

AFL Round 1 preview: Collingwood vs Hawthorn

Hawthorn and Collingwood meet tonight in a replay of last year's classic Preliminary Final. The Hawks will go into this clash full of confidence, after an impressive pre-season which has seen them become many people's favourite for the flag. However the Pies will not lie down easily, and the dominant team of last year's regular season will want to show that they're still the team to beat.

Form line

Collingwood have won 4 of their past 5 matches against Hawthorn, with their only defeat coming just before the 2010 finals when the Hawks won by 3 points. The Pies comfortably disposed of the Hawks by 41 points in their only regular season clash last season, before narrowly winning the Preliminary Final by 3 points. 

Hawthorn have looked the more impressive team in the pre-season, winning 4 of their 5 games and just falling short against Richmond in their only defeat. Collingwood looked sluggish in their pre-season defeats to Melbourne and Adelaide, but looked much sharper in a comfortable victory over the Saints, with Travis Cloke looking particularly sharp in the forward line


The Pies have been hit heavily with injuries, which should provide a real test to their much-vaunted depth. Captain Nick Maxwell is perhaps the biggest loss, whilst missing key defenders Nathan Brown and Chris Tarrant will also hurt, putting a lot of pressure onto Ben Reid's shoulders.

The Hawks biggest loss is the late withdrawal of captain Luke Hodge. Liam Shiels will also be missed, with the underrated midfielder being a key link player in the Hawks strategy of breaking through the zone with clean disposal. Jarryd Roughead should return soon, but will also sit out this game.

On paper the Hawks appear to have the stronger line-up, with the Pies naming three debutants and two more players with under 10 appearances to their name. If they're to be competitive in this game much will depend on the form of the Magpie's young guns.

Key Players

Ben Reid was arguably the competition's best defender in 2011, with the young defender winning All-Australian honours for the first time. He had a Grand Final to forget, but was also carrying an injury in that game and is now back in peak physical condition. Whether anyone can stop Buddy is within doubt, but Reid is certainly as well equipped as any other defender in the game.

Sam Mitchell had his best season to date in 2011, with the in-and-under specialist averaging over 30 disposals a game. His total of 30 Brownlow votes would've seen him claim the medal in most years*, with his tally only being beaten by a record tally of 34 by Dane Swan. If he can continue to get his hands on the ball first in the middle the Hawks will be hard to stop this season.


After dominating the competition over the past two seasons it's impossible to rule the Pies out of this game, however their injuries should give the Hawks the edge in a tough, physical encounter. I think Ben Reid is capable of limiting Buddy's influence, but the Hawks should have too much strength in the middle and up forward, and will get home by a couple of goals.

Hawthorn by 12 points.

*Sam Mitchell was ineligible for the 2011 Brownlow Medal due to receiving a one-match sanction in round 5.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

AFL season prediction: The individual awards

Brownlow Medal

I've seen a number of people tip Buddy Franklin as a potential Brownlow medallist this season, but it's hard to see him taking it away from the clutch of midfielders who usually dominate the voting. He has polled well in the past, but even the best forwards struggle to be as consistent as the mids. Gary Ablett should also be in contention, and I'd love to see him take home a second Charlie to cement himself as an all-time great. However, the Suns will lose lots this year, so he'll struggle to pick up many 3-voters and may have to settle for another top 5 finish.

My pick will come from a team who'll win the majority of their games, and I'm picking a player the umpires love, Joel Selwood. Long thought of as a potential winner of the award, I believe he'll be inspired after being named the new captain of the Cats. It'd also be great to see a couple of new players up there this year, and Dustin Martin & Nathan Fyfe both have the games to poll highly and consistently.

Coleman Medal

Whilst I'm not convinced Buddy Franklin can win the Brownlow this year, he deserves favouritism for the Coleman Medal after picking up his second award last season. However his final total of 71 in 2011 was the lowest for a winner since 1975, and even if he improves on that figure this year I'm not convinced it'll be enough to take home the medal.

Jack Riewoldt notched up 78 majors in 2010 to win the award, and managed another 62 in an underwhelming season last time round. With the improvement I see in the Tigers this season, I think he's definitely capable of 80+ goals in 2012, which should be enough to see him take home his second Coleman Medal.

AFL Rising Star Award

Dyson Heppell won the AFL Rising Star Award last year, ending a run of midfielders claiming the honour. This year I think another non-midfielder will flourish, with John Butcher being my pick to take home the accolade. As previously mentioned in this blog, Butcher played 4 games last year for the Power, picking up 11 majors. He's fast with good agility, and has an excellent set shot technique, managing to capitalise on most of the opportunities that come his way.

Leigh Matthews Trophy (AFL MVP)

There's usually a different winner of the Leigh Matthews Trophy to the Brownlow Medal, with Gary Ablett (2009) and Ben Cousins (2005) being the only players this century to take out both awards in the same year. This year I believe the Leigh Matthews Trophy will come down to a 3-way battle between some of the game's biggest stars; Gary Ablett, Scott Pendlebury & Lance Franklin. Despite me having him missing out on both the Brownlow & Coleman Medals, I think Buddy will have a great year and his peers will pick him out as the MVP of their league.

Friday, 23 March 2012

AFL season prediction: 4th-1st

Fremantle Dockers

Why here: The Dockers were cruelled by injuries in 2011, having at least 10 players ruled out each week of the season. They still managed to finish 11th, and have the talent to better their 6th place finish in 2010. Much will depend on how quickly they manage to adapt to new coach Ross Lyon’s demands. If they embrace his methods a high finish is on the cards.

Key Player: Is there anything Nathan Fyfe can't do on the football oval? Despite his relatively skinny frame he’s one of the best contested marks in the competition, and can rack up contested possessions like few others. Should he increase on his tally of 18 goals, which is well within his capability, he’ll be the complete AFL player.

One to watch: Hayden Crozier gained national attention midway through last season with his spectacular mark against WA in the national under-18 championships. He’s unlikely to get much of a chance in the seniors this term, but if given a go is certainly capable of something equally special with his leaping ability.

This season will be a success if… the Dockers adapt quickly to Lyon’s defensive gameplan. They’ve got the potential to be a great side, and whilst they may still be a year or two from challenging for the flag they can ruffle a few feathers this year.

Geelong Cats

Why here: The footy production line down at the Cattery continues, with the next batch of Cats youngsters appearing ready to step up and keep the Cats in Premiership contention. They’re a well-rounded side with few weaknesses and a strong gameplan, and the 7 home games they play at Kardinia Park could easily provide 28 points for home.

Key Player: New captain Joel Selwood is the beating heart of the current Premiers. Fiercely competitive on the field, he always gives his all and rarely has a bad day at the office. If there’s a contested possession to be won and Selwood is around the ball expect him to emerge with it.

One to watch: Billie Smedts has been much-hyped in the pre-season and the young Cat should get plenty of time on the oval to showcase his skills. Quick and agile, the utility player seems to have finally gotten over his injuries and is ready to make an impact.

This season will be a success if… the Cats win another Premiership. It’s difficult to see the Cats finishing outside the top 4 after 5 consecutive seasons in the top 2, so they should be in the mix at the business end of the season.

Collingwood Magpies

Why here: The Magpies smashed the competition for the majority of last season, before limping home and falling over in the Grand Final. They’ve got a strong line-up with star players all over the field, and have given plenty of playing time to their youngsters over the past few seasons, who have shown they’re up to the task when required.

Star player: Scott Pendlebury may be the Brownlow favourite, but Travis Cloke is more important for the Pies structure. An imposing forward, he’s quick and strong, making him almost impossible to stop in a one-on-one contest. His kicking improved last year, and in the first half of last year’s Grand Final he was unplayable.

One to watch: Peter Yagmoor showed plenty in the pre-season for the Pies, and should get his chance to impress in the seniors this term. A lovely kick of the ball, he plays off the half-back line and is capable of helping to fill the gap left by Leon Davis’ departure.

This season will be a success if… the Pies avoid any more long-term injuries. They’ve already lost Krakouer and Macaffer, and any more setbacks will begin to severely test their depth. Otherwise it’s hard to see the Collingwood juggernaut coming to a stop anytime soon.

Hawthorn Hawks

Why here: The Hawks have been the pre-season fancies for many tipsters, closing in on the Pies in the Premiership betting market. It's easy to see why they're so liked; they've got a good mixture of youth and experience, with sublime kicking skills all over the park. Since round 1 last season they've only lost to the Cats & Pies, so have to be considered as one of the favourites.

Star player: Lance 'Buddy' Franklin is one of the most exciting players in the history of football. At his best he's capable of scoring a major from anywhere within 60 metres of the goal, with his booming left foot a real weapon. His only problem is some inconsistency with his goal kicking, particularly with set shots, however when he's getting 150+ shots a season that can be excused. 

One to watch: Jack Gunston won the Mark Bickley award for Adelaide's best young player in 2011, before controversially stating his desire to move back to Victoria and naming his preferred team as the Hawks. He's a great kick of the ball and should find plenty of space in the forward line to significantly improve on his tally of 19 goals from 12 games last season.

This season will be a success if... the Hawks successfully manage their players throughout the season. The Cats & Pies have both learnt in the past couple of seasons how important it is to have your star players ready to perform in September, so the Hawks will have to make sure they're similarly well prepared.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

AFL season prediction: 8th-5th

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Why here: The Kangaroos have finished 9th in the past 2 seasons and will be confident of taking the next step this year. They've got a young, improving team, and play hard, contested football. On top of that, they've got a soft draw which will help considerably; playing Gold Coast, GWS & the Bulldogs twice.

Key player: Todd Goldstein proved himself as one of the elite AFL ruckmen last year, notching a league-high 741 hitouts in 21 games. At 23 he should still have plenty of improvement left in him, and if he can add a few more goals to his game he'll become one of the competition's most valuable players.

One to watch: Yet to play a senior game, Majak Daw is still well known amongst the AFL community as the competition's first Sudanese player. The athletic youngster is an excitement machine capable of the spectacular, but still lacks a bit of footy know-how. Due to North's strength in the ruck department he's unlikely to play much, but should make his debut at some point this season.

This season will be a success if... the Kangaroos manage to beat the teams around them in the ladder. They're unlikely to make much of an impact against the top teams, but should be pretty consistent and if they manage to win the close games could sneak into the top 6.

Richmond Tigers

Why here: Richmond have a number of players of genuine class who can take their club to the next level, and provide some excitement for their success-starved fans. They're lacking a little bit of depth, particularly in the defensive half, but I think their top-end talent will win them more games than they'll lose.

Key player: It's tough to pass over Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin & Brett Deledio, but Dustin Martin outshines them all. In his second season he averaged over 22 a game disposals whilst notching up 33 goals. He should improve on both on those numbers this season, and has the potential to be a future Brownlow medallist within the next few seasons.

One to watch: Initially seen as the Tigers' future ruck, Tyrone Vickery was thrown forward with much success last season grabbing 36 majors. With a lot of the opposition's defence focused on stopping Riewoldt, Vickery is smart enough to take advantage of the space Riewoldt vacates, and good enough to finish the chances that come his way.

This season will be a success if... the Tigers' mid-tier players manage to up their output to complement their stars. They may be unheralded at the moment, but if the lesser-known Tigers can take the next step they will make their team very difficult to beat.

Carlton Blues

Why here: The Blues have been talked up as a genuine Premiership threat in some quarters, but I feel they're still lacking in key areas. They're without a power forward who can kick 50+ goals, with a lot of the pressure falling on small forwards Eddie Betts & Jeff Garlett. A lot of weight will also fall on key defender Michael Jamison's shoulders, with the rest of the Carlton defence lacking his pure stopping ability. 

Key player: Chris Judd has been an elite AFL player for the best part of a decade after bursting onto the scene for the West Coast Eagles in the 2002 season. His game may not be quite as explosive as it once was, but he's still capable of taking a game by the throat and dragging his team over the finishing line.

One to watch: Number 12 pick in the 2009 draft, Kane Lucas, should be looking to secure his place in the Blues midfield this season. He's a classy runner who's capable of breaking through the lines and lighting up a game. Hopefully he can stay clear of the injuries which ruined his campaign last season.

This season will be a success if... the Blues manage to crack the top 4. They weren't too far away last season, and anything less than a Preliminary Final appearance will be a disappointment to the club, their players and their fans. 

West Coast Eagles

Why here: The Eagles made a remarkable rise up the ladder last season, rising from a wooden spoon in 2010 to 4th place in 2011. They've got a healthy mixture of exciting young players and experienced campaigners, but will have been hurt in the pre-season by the loss of medium forwards Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski. They'll be extremely tough to beat in the west, but whether they can regain their top 4 spot will depend on how they perform on the road. My feeling is that they may fall just short.

Key player: Dean Cox returned to his best last season after a couple of relatively disappointing campaigns. The mobile ruckmen has been freed up by the emergence of Nic Naitanui, with the pair being a fearsome combination in the middle and around the ground. The premier ruckman of the past decade should still be at the top for a few years to come.

One to watch: Brad Sheppard is an athletic defender with good skills and a fine work ethic. He didn't really manage to break into the Eagles team last season only playing 6 games, but should get another chance in the seniors this team and is more than capable of making a spot in their defence his for the next 10 years.

This season will be a success if... the Eagles manage to avoid any more serious injuries to their senior list. They don't have quite the strength in depth some of the other top teams have, so each further injury will test their squad to the full and will limit their ability to manage their top players throughout the season.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

AFL season prediction: 12th-9th

My AFL season predictions continue, with the teams from 12th to 9th:

St Kilda Saints

Why here: After finishing 1st, 3rd and 6th on the ladder in the past 3 seasons it’s hard to escape the fact that the Saints are on the slide. They finished last season strongly, but were outplayed by Sydney in a home final and were well behind the top 5 teams. A few early defeats could damage confidence and bring about a season of relative mediocrity.

Key man: Despite suffering a career-worst season in 2011, Nick Riewoldt should still be regarded as one of the game’s best forwards. Winner of a club record 5 best & fairest awards, he’s courageous, inspirational and an amazing athlete. His kicking may occasionally let him down, but he should still have a few good years left in him.

One to watch: Tom Simpkin should get the first crack at being the Saints next full back after the departure of the much-maligned Zac Dawson. He played two decent games last season, is mobile, competitive, and has good skills. However at only 191 cm he'll likely struggle if left one out against some of the bigger forwards.

This season will be a success if… the Saints young guns start to make a real contribution. Too much still relies on their older players, whose contribution can be expected to slowly diminish as they approach 30. The Saints need to be looking forward as much as concentrating on the present.

Essendon Bombers

Why here: Essendon have been talking themselves up over the pre-season, but for my money still lack the real class at the top-end to reach the finals for the 3rd time in 4 years. They have a difficult run home, so could see themselves in and amongst the 8 all season long before falling away in the last 6 rounds.

Key man: Jobe Watson should be more ably supported by the bigger Essendon bodies this year, but much of their play will still resolve around him winning the contested ball in the middle. His kicking skills have increased considerably over the past few seasons and he’s now also capable of popping up with a few crucial goals.

One to watch: Jake Melksham established himself as a regular last season, playing all 23 of Essendon’s game. Entering his 3rdseason, the classy onballer can become the Bombers next genuine superstar midfielder

This season will be a success if… the Bombers get off to a good start. If they can get past a competitive Kangaroos side in round 1, winnable games in rounds 2 & 3 emerge and they can gather the momentum needed to take them to the finals

Sydney Swans

Why here: It feels dangerous to put the Swans so low after they’ve reached the finals 13 times in 16 seasons, but I think that the Swans may stagnate this year whilst over teams challenge and overtake them. They’re a well-coached team with few weaknesses who will be difficult to beat, but have an extremely tough run home which could trip them up at the final hurdle.
Key man: Despite being on the wrong side of 30 Adam Goodes is still one of the most dangerous players in the AFL, capable of single-handedly winning any game. The dual Brownlow medallist won his third best and fairest last season and will still be looked towards by his teammates when the Swans need a lift.

One to watch: Trent Dennis-Lane hasn’t yet cemented himself in the Swans starting 22, but this year could be the year he truly breaks through. With an impressive record of 22 goals from his first 11 games, he’s a natural goalscorer who should flourish when given a run in the starting line-up.

This season will be a success if… the Swans lesser lights take the next step and provide the club with a more even contribution. There’s a sizable gap between Sydney’s top players and their bottom players. If that can be closed a run deep into September isn’t out of the question.

Adelaide Crows

Why here: New coach Brenton Sanderson has been a breath of fresh air at the Crows, with their uninspiring footy of the past 2 seasons seemingly behind them after an undefeated pre-season. I still don’t feel that the Crows have the personal to challenge the top team, but they’ve got good momentum behind them which can take them to the brink of a finals spot.

Key player: 2012 could be the season when Patrick Dangerfield fully realises his potential. The explosive midfielder has previously been brilliant in patches, whilst never consistently dominating. He has the pace and ability to break open matches and with some more consistency will become one of the best players in the competition.

One to watch: It’s hard not to love Rory Sloane when you watch the way he goes about his footy on the oval. The hard-nut midfielder is a fan favourite who always gives his all, and should delight the crowds in Adelaide for many years to come.

This season will be a success if… the Crows can take their momentum from the pre-season through for as long as possible. Traditionally clubs who win the pre-season cup have had a successful year, so the Crows could do significantly better than many expect.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

AFL season prediction: 15th-13th

Before today’s post I’d just like to say a small piece about sport and tragedy. The collapse of Fabrice Muamba on the field for Bolton during Saturday’s FA Cup match and the passing away of the AFL great Jim Stynes this morning remind us that life can be all too fleeting.

I sincerely hope that Fabrice makes a full recover from his cardiac arrest and manages to lead a long & rewarding life. Whilst Jim Stynes died far too young, he left a profound influence on the game he loved and on many people in his adopted homeland & beyond. Both men’s amazing stories show us how sport can enrich the life of not just its participants, but also of the wider community.
Now on with today’s AFL post, with my predicted ladder continuing from 15th to 13th:

Port Adelaide Power

Why here: Port only narrowly escaped the wooden spoon last season after winning on the final day of the regular season. They’ve had an impressive pre-season, but still lack the quality & depth most other teams in the competition possess and will struggle to get the goals needed to win enough games, particularly outside of Adelaide.

Key man: During the off-season, key onballer Travis Boak reaffirmed his commitment to the Power by stating that he had fallen in love with the club and had no desire to leave. Boak led the Power last year in disposals, clearances and inside 50s, and the future captain will once again be looked upon to provide the ball to Port’s forwards.

One to watch: John Butcher burst onto the scene late last year scoring 11 goals in 4 games, including 6 from 6 disposals against the Western Bulldogs. He’ll be expected to play the majority of games for the Power this season, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he can keep up his impressive goals to games ratio up over a full season.

This season will be a success if… Port Adelaide manage to keep in touch with the 8 for the majority of the season. They’re still probably a couple of seasons away from pushing for a finals spot, so anything more than 8 wins would be a good result.

Brisbane Lions

Why here: Michael Voss may still be much-loved in Brisbane, but he has done little so far to convince me that he possesses the tactical nous to take the Lions to the next level. Brisbane possess a lot of talent and the ability to worry most teams on their day, but lack the fight to really push for a finals spot.

Key Man: Jonathan Brown will again miss the start of the season due to injury, so I’ll pick Matthew Leuenberger as my key man for Brisbane. The young ruck had a career-best season in 2011 and is at the age where rucks really start to come into their own. With the ability to dominate the hit outs and make a contribution around the ground he can become a genuine star.

One to watch: Jared Polec only managed 3 games in an injury-interrupted debut season for the Lions, but should see much more game time this year. The sublimely skilled midfielder will add some much needed class to Brisbane’s midfield.

This season will be a success if… the Lions can manage to win the majority of their close games. Last year in games decided by 3 or less goals they went 2-7. A reversal of that stat would provide a significant boost up the ladder.

Melbourne Demons

Why here: The Demons should be looking to make a push for the finals after several years in the wilderness, however I’m far from convinced about their ability to consistently perform each week. They’ve gathered an impressive off-field staff, but I think their playing squad lacks a little experience and is still a couple of years away from making the top 8.

Key man: James Frawley has emerged over the past few seasons as one of the best back men in the competition. Following in the footsteps of his illustrious uncle, he’s able to successfully negate the impact of the game’s premier forwards whilst staying within his limitations.

One to watch: High-flying Jeremy Howe is making a mark for himself as one of the most spectacular players in the AFL. The young forward played 13 games and kicked 18 goals in his debut season and should make even more of an impression this time round.

This season will be a success if… Mark Neeld and his coaching team manage to add a bit of competitive fire to the Demons. They have a tough start to the season, so how they perform early on could be crucial.

Monday, 19 March 2012

AFL season prediction: 18th-16th

In the lead up to the start of the AFL season next Saturday I'm going to post a 6-part AFL season preview, detailing my predicted ladder from the bottom upwards, and finishing with the individual awards. 

Here's the first part; the teams from 18th to 16th:

Greater Western Sydney Giants

Why here: Taking a different strategy to the Gold Coast, GWS decided to recruit a mixture of young guns who could be at the club for the next 10 years, and experienced players who had been discarded from their old clubs. Whilst this may serve them well in the long term it’s going to be a baptism of fire for the AFL’s newest team, with the main question being whether they’ll win a single game rather than how many they’ll win.

Star player: Phil Davis has a big task on his hands as he leads the Giants defence in trying to stem the wave of opposition attacks. He had an impressive pre-season and as one of the club’s inaugural captains will be looked upon to provide some on-field leadership for this fledging club.

One to watch: Stephen Coniglio was long touted as a high draft pick before being selected at #2 in the 2011 draft, and will see a lot of action in the middle of the park for GWS this season. Blessed with good skills, excellent physical attributes and the ability to snare a few goals, he will provide sparkle on the oval for many years.

This season will be a success if… the GWS Giants manage to get 1 or more wins on the board and maintain the enthusiasm of their new fans in what will be a testing debut.

Gold Coast Suns

Why here: Despite only taking grabbing the wooden spoon from Port Adelaide on the final day of last season, the Gold Coast Suns struggled all year finishing with a woeful percentage of 56.27. Whilst we can expect improvement from a team with many players entering their second AFL season, I’m unconvinced that they have the game plan to win many games and if they can’t pull off the close victories they achieved last season another year in the bottom 2 spots beckons.

Star Player: Gary Ablett remains the game’s best midfielder, easily capable of racking up 30+ quality touches and a couple of goals per game. He can burst out of a pack with the ball, produce a dummy to sidestep an opponent & kick the miracle goal all within a matter of seconds. The former Cats player will go down as a future Legend of the game.

One to watch: The Suns forward line is still their main weakness, with the club lacking a focal point up forward. Tom Lynch managed to kick 15 goals in 13 games last season, and if the 199 cm forward can improve on that record next season whilst playing all 22 games they may have found their CHF for the next decade.

This season will be a success if… the Suns manage to limit the heavy losses to only a few games and remain competitive throughout the whole season. Anything more than 5 wins would be a great return.

Western Bulldogs

Why here: Despite having a number of promising young players I think the Bulldogs slide from last season will continue this year. They have a tough opening 3 fixtures and if they drop all 3 may struggle to get their season back on track. With a new manager the pressure for a high finish is off, and I feel that the club will be looking to rebuild for another few years before hoping to climb the ladder again.

Star Player: Over the past couple of seasons Ryan Griffen has transformed from a flashy but inconsistent player to one of the competition’s most damaging midfielders. Ranked #1 in the competition for inside 50s per game last season, the classy Bulldog will be the first player opposition coaches look to shut down.

One to watch: Luke Dahlhaus burst onto the scene late last year after starting the 2011 season on the Bulldog’s rookie list. The livewire forward has an electric burst of pace and a keen goal sense, as well as being capable of providing excellent defensive pressure inside the forward 50. Over the next couple of years he can become one of the competition’s most effective small forwards

This season will be a success if… the Bulldogs young guns cement their spots in their best 22 and transform the team. If everything goes right the Bulldogs are still capable of reaching the finals, but I think they’d be better suited to look for the future rather than sneaking into 7th or 8th.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

UEFA CL Review: Arsenal 3 AC Milan 0 (3-4 agg)

A game of two halves

As well as being a tie of two vastly different legs, this was also a match of two vastly different halves. Arsenal were dominant in the first half, and with the momentum behind them and being 3-0 up at the break would’ve been confident of going on to complete a historic comeback. However, in the second half a vastly different Milan team emerged and they managed to control the game in the middle, appearing the more likely team to grab the next goal and kill off the match. In the end a final flurry from Arsenal never came and Milan managed to hold out and progress to the quarter finals

Mistakes will eventually hurt Milan

Milan managed to escape this tie, but if they’ve got ambitions to go further in this year’s Champions League they’ll need to cut out some of the mishaps they experienced today. After the opening goal Milan had wrestled back some sort of control until a woeful clearance by Thiago Silva went straight to Rosicky, who neatly slotted the ball into the corner of the net. Similarly, Mexes carelessly giving the ball away in midfield led to Arsenal’s best chance in the second half, before Abbiati saved his blushes with a fine double save. Finally, the astonishing miss by Antonio Nocerino in the 77th minute simply must be put away at this, or indeed at any, level. Against better opposition Milan will be found wanting unless they manage to eliminate these elementary errors from their game.

Statistics don’t always tell the full story

Milan had the bulk of the possession (54% vs 46%) and more shots on target (13 vs 8) in the game than Arsenal*, but the Gunners were good value for their 3-0 victory. What the statistics don’t show was the nervousness of the Milan team when Arsenal had the ball, and the fact that Arsenal were happy to concede possession on occasion in the hope of hitting Milan fast on the counter. What they do show though is that the perceived threat from Arsenal, particularly in the second half, really was more perceived than real, with Milan never facing the barrage from Arsenal that could’ve finished them off.

The positives for Arsenal

Despite being knocked out of the Champions League Arsenal will take plenty from this result. In the past 10 days they’ve managed to display some of the spirit which Wenger so often talks about in 3 memorable displays. Arsenal are in pole position to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and the momentum they’ve now gathered should be enough to see them through to the end of the season. Whether that’s enough to keep Robin van Persie at the Emirates remains to be seen, but they’ve given themselves every possible chance of doing so and hopes must be high for their silverware drought to finally end next year.

*statistics taken from the BBC Sport website

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Permier League preview: Spurs vs Man United

Can United keep up with the pace?

Man City’s relentless home form continued yesterday, with them making it 14 wins out of 14 wins at Eastlands and opening up the gap on their cross town rivals to 5 points. Sir Alex Ferguson has stated that he’ll be happy to be within striking distance (2 points) for the Manchester derby at the end of the season, however to make that happen they’ll need to match City’s results. Whilst City arguably have a tougher run-in after this game, if United don’t manage to win today they’d be relying on other teams to do them a favour, which is never a comfortable position to be in. As such United will be certainly looking for the 3 points today, and I expect them to go on the attack as they look to get the goals they’ll need.

Will Spurs end another hoodoo?

In recent years Spurs have managed to end long winless streaks against both Chelsea & Arsenal, however they’ve struggled to break the hold Man Utd have held over them, having failed to beat them in their past 21 league encounters (and only picking up 5 draws in that streak). However this is arguably the best team Spurs have had in this period, and at White Hart Lane they’ll be confident of taking the 3 points today. They’ve overwhelmed the majority of teams they’ve faced at home this season, winning 10 of their 13 home games and conceding only 10 goals in the process (the joint 2nd least in the league). Whilst this is undoubtedly one of the toughest tests they’ll face, it’s not a vintage United team and if they play to their potential they have the quality to take the spoils.

Key Men: Manchester United

Wayne Rooney returns from illness after missing the past 2 games and will likely be the key man if United are to win today. For an experienced player he is still a bit inconsistent in big games and is almost as likely to be the worst player on the pitch as the best. However, when on song he’s unstoppable, and he’ll be keen to remind the football world just how good he can be.

Paul Scholes has been instrumental in keeping United in the title race and Ferguson will once again be relying on his ginger maestro to keep things ticking over in the midfield. Whilst no longer possessing the box-to-box running ability of his former years, he still has the experience & knowledge to make sure he’s usually in the right place at the right time. If he has a good game today United will feel confident of getting a positive result.

Key Men: Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale has arguably had a better season this year than last, when he claimed the PFA player of the year. He’s a serious threat on goal, scoring 9 goals in the Premier League this season, and if given time and space to run with the ball will scare any defender. His participation in this game is still under doubt, but if he makes it onto the pitch he’ll certainly be one to keep an eye on.

Luka Modric will be fielding an extra responsibility in this game with Scott Parker missing through suspension. The defensive side of his game is often overlooked, but he hasn't been afraid to put his foot in where necessary during his time in England. Much of Tottenham's play goes through him, and when he's on form he's capable of making his whole team play better.


Despite the history of this fixture, or perhaps because of it, I fancy a Spurs victory tonight. I’m still not convinced about this current United team and feel that if Spurs attack them from the off they’ll be able to grab an early goal and make Rooney’s return a frustrating one. 

Spurs 2 Manchester United 1  

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Premier League preview: Liverpool vs Arsenal

Can Arsenal press on?

Arsenal’s 5-2 victory over local rivals Tottenham was one of their finest in recent memory. At 2-0 down after 35 minutes their season could have capitulated, but in an extraordinary 28 minute period they managed to hit the net 5 times on the way to an emphatic win. The win capped off a fine month in the Premier League in which they managed to win three games and draw one, however a couple of poor cup performances in the same period mean there is still a sense of fragility about Wenger’s team.

Next up is arguably the toughest match left in their run home, so a win will put them in prime position to claim Champions League qualification for the 15th season in succession. Wenger has been typically bullish in the pre-match talk & I’d normally expect his team to press strongly for the 3 points, however there have been rumours that Van Persie won’t be lining up for this match. If that is the case then Arsenal may well take a more defensive approach into this game.

Liverpool: A new era, or a false dawn?

It’s hard to believe that at the start of the 2009/2010 season Liverpool were many pundits pick for the title. Since then things have been pretty grim on Merseyside, but their first piece of silverware since 2005 has once again raised the expectations of one of Europe’s most successful club teams.

Liverpool remain unbeaten at home this season, however their totals of 20 points and 14 goals from 12 home games aren’t enough for a team with their ambitions. Kenny Dalglish will see this game as an opportunity for Liverpool to put a marker down not only for the rest of the season, but also for next year. Also if Liverpool are to keep their slim Champions League hopes alive then a win is an absolute must.

My prediction

Although football is primarily a team game, Van Persie has pulled Arsenal through single handedly on numerous occasions this season. I expect that Wenger will see this game as more important than Tuesday’s Champions League game against AC Milan, so will risk his talisman even if he’s not 100% fit, and if he gets onto the pitch today I think Arsenal will be able to grab a point in an exciting encounter. 

Liverpool 2 Arsenal 2