Saturday, March 17, 2012

Three Up, Three Down: Ides of March

Three Up

1) Arsenal F.C. - Sure Arsenal will not win a trophy for the seventh consecutive year, but the Gunners are on a high.  Arsenal have won their last 4 games in the Premier League via the comeback, the first time in the twenty year history of the league. Their last loss came nearly a month ago, and they have seen Spurs' lead in the race for the last automatic Champions League position shrink from 10 to just 1. Arsenal's next three matches (away to Everton, at home to Villa, and away to QPR) are winnable. If the Gunners can win 7 on the trot, they would enter what could be a pivotal match with Manchester City on April 8 with the kind of confidence that will erase two earlier defeats at the hands of the Sky Blues.

 2)  Chelsea F.C. - The Blues have played themselves out of Three Down and into Three Up. Since sacking André Villas-Boas, Chelsea has done nothing but win. A 2-nil win over Birmingham in the FA Cup and a 1-nil win at Stamford Bridge over Stoke set the Blues up for a dramatic comeback against Napoli.  The West London side came into their Round of 16, second leg match down 3-1, but were able to overturn that deficit.  The old guard of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry led the Blues as they charged to a 4-1 extra-time victory.  Despite the victory, Chelsea are a volatile team.  While they have shown more life under Roberto Di Matteo, the team has been a bit like Jekyll and Hyde this season.  Which personality will prevail?

3)  Real MadridLos Merengues do nothing but win. With just 1 loss this season to a team not named Barcelona (high-flying Valencian side Levante beat Madrid 1-nil back in September), Madrid have built up a seemingly insurmountable 10 point lead at the top of the La Liga table. In Europe, Madrid's form has been equally impressive.  A 4-1 drubbing of CSKA Moscow ensured their progression in the Champions League, and the draw fell in their favor with APOEL as their quarterfinal opponents.  All signs point to a potential Clásico match against Barça in the Champions League final.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Three Up, Three Down: First Take

Welcome to the first post in what will be a weekly series highlighting those teams/players/ideas whose fortunes are on the rise or fall based on events during the week.

Three Up

1) APOEL F.C. - Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and the 2011-2012 Champions League has one, APOEL F.C.  The first Cypriot side to make it to the group stage of the Champions League (their first visit was in 2009-10), APOEL continue to be trailblazers for the Cypriot First Division. Marching its way through qualifying, APOEL knocked out 3 league champions along the way (Skënderbeu Korçë from Albania, Slovak champ Slovan Bratislava, and Wisła Kraków out of Poland).  Once in the group stages, APOEL took care of three more league champions (FC Porto from Portugal, Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg, and Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk). The plucky Cypriots haven't looked back, defeating Olympique Lyonnais 4-3 on penalties.  APOEL will likely face a much tougher draw in the quarterfinals, but don't count them out.

 2) Arsenal F.C. - This might look a bit like a homer call, as I make no attempt to hide my love of the north London side, but Arsenal have been trending upward for the last several weeks.  Following two embarrassing defeats (4-0 away to AC Milan and 2-0 against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light) in the span of a week, the Gunners seem to have found the form and luck they had been missing for much of the early part of the season.  A 5-2 drubbing of rivals Spurs was followed by a last gasp winner against Liverpool at Anfield and a comprehensive 3-nil victory over Milan in the return leg of their Champions League round of 16 match.  In the last two weeks, the Gunners have closed the gap on Spurs for 3rd in the Premier League table to 4 points from 10.  Beyond matches on the pitch, it was announced that Arsenal will sign German international forward, Lukas Podolski, in the offseason.  Not bad for a side that looked like it might miss out on Champions League football for the first time in 15 seasons.

3)  F.C. Barcelona/Lionel Messi - It might seem odd to put the defending European champions and three-time defending Ballon d'Ors winner on this list, but did you see the highlights of their 7-1 dismantling of Bayer Leverkusen?  Messi scored a Champions League record 5 goals in the match. While Barça sit 10 points adrift of Real Madrid in La Liga, they look every bit the favorites to repeat as winners of the Champions League.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Goal Line Technology Long Overdue

Exciting news out of England as the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body responsible for the laws of the game of soccer, announced that two goal-line technology systems will move forward with testing.  The two systems, Hawkeye (already used in tennis and cricket) and GoalRef, will undergo further testing with the goal of introducing the technology no later than the 2014 World Cup.

The topic of goal-line technology has been a hot one in the soccer world in recent years, though the IFAB has seemed reluctant to move on the issue.  It wasn't until the 2010 World Cup that the need for goal-line technology jumped to the fore, with this missed call: