Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Manchester United Have New Inspiration

The Premier League is underway and the two main title protagonists have recorded emphatics wins coupled with extremely impressive performances. Chelsea’s 6-0 victory over West Brom was somewhat of a surprise given their lacklustre pre-season form and disappointing Community Shield display, but Didier Drogba has now declared Chelsea aren’t even ready for the season yet, an ominous warning to the rest of the Premier League.

Title rivals Manchester United though have already captured some silverware and in both competitive matches so far this season have produced two displays of hunger, fight and desire to win. This hunger was typified by Antonio Valencia and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, both pressed high up the pitch against Newcastle winning the ball in the final third with both opportunities leading to goals for their side.

The team though is being led by evergreen Paul Scholes and a rejuvenated Dimitar Berbatov.

Scholes has undoubtedly been the catalyst for the victories over Chelsea and Newcastle; he exudes calm and patience before picking that killer pass. He controlled the Community Shield from start to finish finding acres of space in the centre of the pitch, Essien, Mikel and Lampard couldn’t get near him. Sir Alex Ferguson labelled him ‘special’ after the 3-0 victory over Newcastle in the Premier League and few would argue as at 35 years of age, he can still mix it with the best of them.

His age though will inevitably work against him in the long run; he can no longer be expected to play two games a week at the highest level. Despite starting the season brightly, it would be safe to say Sir Alex will be managing his game time to the minute making sure he is fit when it matters.

United’s other star performer has been Berbatov, the Bulgarian enigma. The moody, lethargic and sometime disinterested £30 million man has seemingly sprung to life scoring a delightful chip against Chelsea and a well taken chance against Newcastle. It has not only been his new found liking for goals, his general play has gone up a level, on the face of it he seems happy and enjoying his football but journalist Andy Mitten followed United on their pre-season tour and noted the Bulgarian’s off pitch attitude is still lacking.

Given this he controlled the final third of the pitch in both matches, dropping deep to collect the ball, moving wide to occupy the full-backs and drag the central defenders from their comfort zone, all this then sewn together by his undoubted touch and vision. His partnership with new signing Chicharito looks promising in addition to his link up play with the improved Nani.

Can this form be sustained? Possibly, as on the pitch Berbatov is playing with a smile on his face, the burden he was saddled – the huge transfer fee – seems to have been lifted somewhat. The belief and desire emanating from Old Trafford is clear to see and on early season form only it would be hard to see the title not making its way back to Manchester.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Pre Season Friendly: Espanyol vs Sampdoria

Espanyol won the 36th edition of the Ciutat de Barcelona after defeating Sampdoria on 6-5 penalties. The home side were perhaps the better of the two teams and had a number opportunities to win the match but after ninety minutes it ended 0-0 and the game went to penalties where Francesc Casilla was able to get behind Massimo Volta’s penalty ensuring Ernesto Galán gave the victory to Espanyol.

Sampdoria traveled with a strong squad and Domenico Di Carlo started all three of this big guns, Antonio Cassano Giampaolo Pazzini and captain Angelo Palombo. With everyone back from World Cup duty there was also room in the starting line up for Swiss pair Reto Ziegler and Marco Padalino.

Espanyol though did not include new signings Jesus Datolo or Felipe Mattioni in the squad, though Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, on loan from Bologna led the line for the home side, supported by José Callejón and Luis Garcia. They also started with Javi Chica, Victor Ruiz and Juan Forlin at the back.

Both teams shrugged off defensive duties for the evening as the crowd were treated to some excellent attacking play, Espanyol had a good chance to score after an excellent combination between Luis García, Oslvado and Verdú, which finished with a shot by midfielder. Sampdoria though were not rattled and replied with a shot from Poli which Cristian Álvarez gathered at the second attempt. Verdú and Oslvado both had chances to score, but Curci was very alert in the Sampdoria goal.

The match though did threaten to turn ugly as a number of yellow cards were dished out by the referee, more than should be shown in a friendly. But at the match wore on Sampdoria were having more an more opportunities on goal with two shots of Padalino and Pazzini, though they were always looking for a bit of magic from Antonio Cassano, but on this occasion he could not provide for his team.

The final whistle went and it was 0-0 so the match wore down to the lottery of the penalty shootout. 24-year-old defender Ernesto Galan slotted home the kick that led the Periquitos to a 6-5 win on penalties.

Though the game was 0-0 it was fair to say that having no goals was a travesty as both teams created a number of golden opportunities though it could be argued Espanyol had the better of these chances. Both teams will take great confidence from the game though Sampdoria will have to raise their defensive game especially if they are to make an impact in the Champions League.

Espanyol (4-3-3): Cristina Darío Alvarez (78 Casilla), Francisco Javier Torres Chica (46 Galan), Villà Rosselló Didac (46 Alvarez), Torre Victor Ruiz, José María Bueno Callejon (46 Alvaro), Fernandez Luis Garcia (73 Lopez), Joan Fernandez Verdu (61 Pau), Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (60 Rui Fonte), Juan Daniel Forlin, Ferran Cominas Telechea Coro (76 Ivan), Jordi Maas Amat (46 Moises)

Sampdoria (4-4-2): Gianluca Curci (59 Fiorillo), Marius Stankevicius (46 Cacciatore), Reto Ziegler (60 Volta), Angelo Palombo (60 Tissone), Daniele Gastaldello, Stefano Lucchini (76 Rossini), Daniele Mannini (70 Semioli), Antonio Cassano (76 Marilungo), Andrea Poli (46 Dessena), Giampoalo Pazzini (70 Pozzi), Marco Padalino (60 Koman)


Espanyol – Galan, Alvarez

Sampdoria – Gastaldello, Lucchini, Mannini, Dessena, Pozzi