For this week’s Euroscore Round Up we are off to Milan to see how champions Inter got on against Cagliari. It has been a week where the pressure at the top of the Premiership has grabbed the headlines. Plenty of goings on within the beautiful and not so beautiful game.
Is it me or are things getting earlier every year? Adverts for Christmas start as soon as Summer finishes, Easter as soon as Christmas is over, and summer holidays likewise.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has continued that trend with his television rant aimed at Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Normally the mind game season doesn’t start until the Premiership run-in but here we were on January 9th with full psychological warfare being declared.
In fact that is a date you might want to keep in mind because it could well be the day that the top of the table starts to get even more interesting. Benitez went on television to verbalise in his best English what many of us football fans have mumbled under our breath for years.
His main points, or ‘facts’ as he called them, were built around his perception of how United’s staff allegedly intimidate referees, and how the fixture list always seems to favour the Old Trafford team. Within minutes of his outburst ex-Premiership referee, now retired, Graham Poll spoke out in support of his comments.
Sure enough the fixture list does give United home advantage against the other top sides during the season’s run-in.
Sir Alex’s response was to label Benitez’s outburst as ‘ridiculous’ and that he ‘is disturbed by something’. Clearly the mind game season is upon us. Famous past rants of course have seen Kevin Keegan, then manager of Newcastle United, lay into Ferguson in 1996 on radio before his side imploded and handed the title to, United. The simmering rivalry between Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex is also well documented.
So Christmas gets earlier and now ranting managers have joined the trend. It should make Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford in March even more interesting.
Unfortunately for Benitez, just as he was firing a verbal broadside, his table topping team misfired horribly away at Stoke City. The game ended in a dull 0-0 draw.
Meanwhile Sir Alex’s team responded with a thumping and significant 3-0 home win over Chelsea. Perhaps United’s players are just more used to mind games than those of Liverpool.
Elsewhere Arsenal finally broke down Bolton Wanderers with a late goal from Bendtner to win 1-0. Aston Villa won the Midland derby against rivals West Bromwich Albion 2-1. Wigan Athletic beat Spurs 1-0, a result that had Harry Redknapp publicly criticising his expensive Tottenham team.
Everton beat Hull City, who are now in a painful run of defeats after their bright start, 2-0. It was a bad tempered affair that saw seven bookings. Newcastle United drew 2-2 at home with West Ham United who had ex-Newcastle star Craig Bellamy among the scorers.
Liverpool stay top on 46, Chelsea 2nd on 42, United 3rd on 41 but with two games in hand.
At the bottom WBA and Blackburn Rovers are both on 18 and Spurs drop back into trouble on 20, one point behind Stoke City, and Middlesbrough.
The big game of the weekend took place on the west coast as title chasing Bordeaux took on the vastly improved Paris Saint Germain. They went into the game knowing that seven on the trot champions Lyon’s poor form had continued with a 1-1 home draw against Lorient.
Bordeaux looked highly impressive and goals from Diawara, Cavenaghi, a brilliant piece of individual skill from the on loan Gourcuff, and Menegazzo saw them cruise to an easy 4-0 win.
Meanwhile Olympique Marseille won 2-0 at frozen Auxerre. Toulouse, who are also enjoying a far better season than last, won 1-0 at relegation threatened Le Havre.
AS Monaco lost again this time at home to Nantes 1-2 in front of a very small ‘crowd’. Rennes beat Grenoble 1-0, and Sochaux gained three vital points at home to St. Etienne winning 1-0.
Lyon remain top on 39, Bordeaux are now just a point behind, Rennes are 3rd on 37, Marseille 4th on 35, followed closely by Toulouse and PSG. All in all there are three teams well positioned to finally challenge Lyon’s recent dominance.
AEK Athens keep up the pressure on table topping Olympiakos by beating PAOK Salonika by one goal to nil. The leaders beat FC Xanthi at home 2-1.
Benfica stay top as they beat Braga 1-0. The vital goal came from David Luiz. Sporting Lisbon also won all three points beating Maritimo at home 2-0. Porto however could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to 13th place Trofense.
It’s tight at the top with Lisbon rivals, Benfica and Sporting both on 29, Porto on 28, with Leixoes slipping to 4th on 26.
I’m not sure what was happening in Spain this weekend. In the following three games an incredible 28 yellow cards were shown, and one player was sent off !
Atletico Madrid lost 2-3 at home to Athletic Bilbao, the bookings total for that one being 11 with Madrid’s Maniche also seeing red.
Espanyol drew 2-2 in their home for now, the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, with Almeria. That game saw eight yellows. Real Madrid won 3-0 at Mallorca in a game with nine cards. Arjen Robben continued his scintillating form of late by scoring after just three minutes.
Leaders Barcelona came from behind late in the match to win 3-2 at Osasuna courtesy of late goals from Xavi and Messi.
The big talking point this weekend was in the game between AS Roma and AC Milan played in Rome. 33-year-old England star David Beckham made his first competitive appearance for Milan since joining them on loan.
He hadn’t expected to play but had impressed the Milan staff so much with his commitment in training that he made the starting XI. He lasted 89 minutes making an impressive debut before being replaced. Two goals from Roma’s Vucinic and Milan’s emerging star Pato, shared the points in a 2-2 draw.
Elsewhere Juventus scraped a 1-0 win at home to Siena with an Alessandro Del Piero goal. Genoa beat Torino, who are rapidly sliding into trouble, 3-0. SS Lazio won 3-2 at Reggina, and Palermo beat visiting Atalanta from Bergamo 3-2. Fiorentina surprisingly lost 1-2 at home to Lecce.
Our featured match took us to the San Siro in Milan to see Internazionale take on Cagliari. The visitors were just below mid-table having only recorded one previous away win, and two draws. Champions Inter, now managed by ex-Porto and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, were in their near customary top spot on 42 points.
It didn’t take long for Inter to threaten the visitors goal when on four minutes Inter’s Swedish international striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up Maxwell, who shot over. Shortly after Ibrahimovic tried himself with a long range effort which flew just over the bar. However an injury to Sulley Muntari disrupted Inter’s flow and left Mourinho looking concerned from the touchline.
After 12 minutes the front pairing of Julio Cruz and Ibrahimovic combined again with the latter shooting straight at the Cagliari keeper. Ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid star Luis Figo was causing problems for Cagliari’s defence constantly swapping wings and setting up chance after chance for Inter. A further injury this time to defender Walter Samuel’s head resulted in him reappearing heavily bandaged.
On 25 minutes Cruz found himself clear only to shoot wide of the left hand post. Replays showed that all three Inter attackers were offside in the move but nothing was given. A minute later Figo was fouled on the edge of the box and when his free kick found the bandaged Samuel the defender could only slide wide.
Two long range efforts, the first from Muntari and then another from long serving Inter captain Javier Zanetti both went close but at half time the teams trudged in at 0-0.
The second half started with Inter again in control but still unable to get the all important breakthrough. After 56 minutes Maxwell’s cross was headed over by Ibrahimovic, and Cruz also wasted a chance in front of goal following some clever play by Portuguese star Figo.
The first goal came in the 65th minute but went against the run of play and was scored by Cagliari. Striker Acquafresca successfully rode the Inter offside trap and fired home into the right hand corner of Julio Cesar’s goal. The replay showed that defender Samuel was slow in coming out and effectively played the striker onside for the goal.
Jose Mourinho responded with a double substitution sending on ex-Chelsea star Hernan Crespo along with Mancini in place of Samuel and the tiring Figo.
Ibrahimovic had two further opportunities to level the score firing wide and then over the bar shortly after. On 76 minutes Crespo made his presence felt with a run down the left wing before cutting inside to set up Ibrahimovic who made no mistake hitting home for 1-1.
Cagliari shored up their midfield by taking striker Acquafresca off with ten minutes left and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. It was a disappointing result for the Nerazzurri who must be regretting a whole series of missed chances.
Inter stay top on 43, Juventus are second on 39, AC Milan have risen to 3rd on 34, and Napoli 4th on 33. Cagliari are now in 13th spot.
Please watch out for next week’s Euroscore round up. There will also be the latest in our Past Legend series as we remember French star Raymond Kopa and next week the first in our Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers, series arrives.
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