Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Arsene We Trust?

Arsene Wenger’s 16-year reign as Arsenal manager is at an all-time low and the steady decline of a previous powerhouse of English football has now reached crisis point.

Tough times for Wenger
In the space of four days Arsenal have been dumped out of the FA Cup by a mediocre Sunderland side and emphatically thrashed by AC Milan to all but end their hopes of progression in the Champions League. Sitting 17 point adrift of league leaders Manchester City they have little to play for and facing a seventh straight season without a trophy, some supporters are now suggesting Wenger’s time is up.

The Gazzetta dello Sport described Arsenal’s 4-0 thrashing by AC Milan in the San Siro, their heaviest ever European defeat,  as “Una delusione totale” which requires little translation. Ex-captain Patrick Viera was quick to defend his old boss, stating on Twitter, “There was a lack of leadership, you cannot blame only Arsene, the players must take some responsibility.”

Embarrassed in Milan
Not many expected Arsenal to win in a tough away fixture to a side that currently tops Serie A, but this was not just a loss. Wenger admitted, “The result is a disaster, although the season is not finished… We need to show something completely different on Saturday.”

There were many differences in the game on Saturday, the most noticeable being the quality of Arsenal’s opposition, but the outcome was the same. Granted they were unlucky at times, but in what former midfielder Emmanuel Petit classified as the worst season of Arsene Wenger’s career, he pinpointed their problems. “They’re playing like they don’t know what’s going on… Mentally they’re very weak.”

Arsenal hit rock bottom
Wenger claimed, “We had a lot of possession, didn’t create a lot…” His methods have been criticised in the past for promoting style over substance and Highbury hero Dennis Bergkamp was quick to acknowledge that “Sometimes you need more of a winning mentality than a passing mentality… I’m not sure if Arsenal have enough of that.”

Arsene Wenger, labelled a “miracle worker” by former vice-chairman David Dein, won the double with Arsenal in 1998 and 2002. He became the only manager ever to achieve an unbeaten season in the Premier League in 2004 and reached the Champions League Final in 2006.

Duo are so badly missed
This success was built around experienced players and big characters, who gave Arsenal a ruthless sense of drive and determination. Think Seaman, Adams, Keown, Viera, Petit, Henry and Bergkamp among others. Now compare this to a current Arsenal outfit, which, aside of Robin Van Persie, struggles to boast a single outright leader.

Wenger has become widely known for his failure to bring in big name signings and his inability to hold on to his top talents. This season Arsenal lost the services of two of their outstanding players in Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri who moved onwards and upwards to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively.

Speculation continues to surround the future of Van Persie, who is still yet to sign a new contract and if Arsenal fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League, they would surely be waving goodbye to the man who has single-handedly dragged them up to fourth in the league table.

Arsenal's only hope
Having signed five players in a frantic final 48 hours of the last transfer window, none of any notoriety, Arsenal fans have been left once again to wonder why Wenger, a Master of Economics, refuses to spend the money that chief executive Ivan Gazidis announces is available for transfers.

Petit stresses, “They have to spend money to get the big names.” But with the possibility of no Champions League football next year and the lack of willingness to offer lucrative contract deals such as in the case of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, Arsenal may be facing a dilemma of not being able to attract top class footballers.

To add insult to injury, Arsenal’s apparent decline appears to be coinciding in perfect unison with the rise and rise of bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham flying high
Third in the league, still in the FA Cup and playing the most attractive football in England, Harry Redknapp’s men are taking great delight in the shift of footballing fortune in North East London. 

In contrast to Arsenal, Spurs have been able to retain their best players in Gareth Bale and Luka Modric and bring in proven talent such as Rafael Van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor. One of Europe’s hottest prospects Eden Hazard also recently expressed his desire to ply his trade at White Hart Lane.

Arsenal have won only five of their last ten Premier League matches and scoring only twice, they have conceded six goals in their last two competitive outings. With the next three fixtures lining them up against Tottenham, Liverpool and AC Milan, the outlook is bleak.

A team void of any confidence, have a manager in Wenger who openly admits, “It’s very difficult to say where it leaves us and what we will do.”

The glory days are a distant memory
Whilst many have lost faith in the man who brought such success to the club in his early years, there is no hiding behind the facts. Arsenal have finished in the top four of the Premier League in every single season since Wenger arrived in 1996. They have also been involved in the Champions League 14 years in a row under Wenger, despite having only 12 European ventures in total previous to his tenure.

Petit believes “Arsene is still the solution” and many fans maintain faith in a man who has done so much good for Arsenal Football Club, but it is impossible to ignore the doubt in the voices of Wenger’s followers as cries of “IN ARSENE WE TRUST” are replaced by murmours of “In Arsene we trust?”

Written by Dom Wallace

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

British Boxing on the Ropes

Dereck Chisora and David Haye are at the centre of a scandal that has jeopardised the future of British heavyweight boxing.

Chisora and Haye square up
Chisora clashed with Haye at the post-fight press conference following his bout with WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko.

Former WBA heavyweight champion, Haye, appeared to have turned up uninvited to address Klitschko’s manager Bernd Boente who previously attempted to have Haye ejected from his ringside seat during the fight.

Haye claims Boente agreed the terms of a fight with Vitali Klitschko in December, but has since expressed his desire to re-negotiate financial terms.

In a bizarre turn of events, Chisora then entered a war of words before going to confront Haye in the auditorium, where the brawl ensued.

Chisora slaps Klitschko during weigh-in
While Klitschko looked on with pleasure, the two British fighters totally embarrassed themselves, proving that adding to a lack of talent, neither is fit to be champion.

Chisora and Haye will now await the outcome of police investigations which could see the pair charged with malicious injury and making a threat and grievous bodily harm, offences that potentially carry five and ten year sentences respectively.

This was not the first time Chisora has been in the limelight over issues surrounding his fight with Klitschko.

At the weigh-in, Chisora slapped the defending champion in an unprovoked attack. The challenger then spat water into the face of brother Wladimir Klitschko in the ring before the bout began and continued his verbal assault after the fight, refusing to accept defeat gracefully.

Chisora spits in the face of Wladimir Klitschko
The combined effect of such behaviour has left many disgusted with Chisora and Haye’s actions, questioning how British boxing can move forward from these tasteless incidents that have brought the sport into disrepute.

There is no doubt these men acted without the maturity or respect that grown men are obliged to display in public and one could never condone their actions.

However, this act of raw passion, something that has been non-existent in the modern generation of heavyweight boxing, gave fans a taste of what the sweet science was once all about.

In a sport that has been as good as dead for a decade, a controversy such as this could be just what the heavyweight division needs to reignite the flame that has barely flickered for so long.

Booth on the receiving end
In the 1990’s alone we were blessed with so many memorable, natural heavyweight champions in Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe and Oliver McCall.

During this era, heavyweight boxing consisted of two brutal beasts donning a pair of leather mitts and going toe-to-toe until only one was left standing.

In 2002, a brawl involving Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis erupted at a press conference inside New York’s Hudson Theater during a promotional event for Lewis’ penultimate championship fight.

At this conference, Tyson attacked Lewis with a ferocity that makes Chisora and Haye’s scuffle appear like a lovers tiff. In Germany, Haye’s trainer Adam Booth came off worst, picking up a cut to the head.

Tyson and Lewis brawl
In the New York melee, Tyson bit a chunk out of Lewis’ leg before unleashing a foul-mouthed, homophobic, racist monologue, threatening to rape and kill a particular member of the press. The WBC president Jose Sulaiman was even knocked unconscious after hitting his head on a table and was treated for concussion at hospital.

Sulaiman exclaimed “It would be discriminatory to single out Mike Tyson because many other boxers have behaved similarly at other press conferences.”

Tyson went unpunished because this was considered part and parcel of the boxing industry. These are the actions that wow spectators and so much of boxing’s popularity is owed to what happens outside the ring.

This has been true ever since the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, used verbal assaults to intimidate his opponents.

The greatest trash-talker
He suggested, “Frazier is so ugly that he should donate his face to the US Bureau of Wild Life.” Ali also promised “I’ll beat him so bad he’ll need a shoehorn to put his hat on,” when quizzed on his proposed bout with Floyd Patterson.

As with many sports in the modern age, boxing is primarily a business and all businesses rely on effective marketing for success. Boxing has had little in the way of unique selling points over the last ten years and this may just be the unexpected breakthrough disillusioned consumers had hoped for.

Dereck Chisora and David Haye offer little in the way of reasons to support their actions inside or outside of the ring and will have done their already controversial public personas no favours.

However, their sacrifice of personal popularity, intentional or not, appears to have created a newfound buzz in the boxing industry, providing a global interest, not previously generated by events inside the ring.

Klitschko shows why he is champion
Not many would admit to a soft spot for convicted rapist and drug user Mike Tyson, but an even smaller percentage could argue against his legendary status in the world of boxing and the unbridled entertainment value he brought to the sport.

Men who attempt to brutally disfigure others for pleasure cannot possibly be considered as potential role models.

We must refrain from viewing them in such light and hope their barbaric acts serve merely to spark life into a sport, which is well and truly on the ropes.

Written by Dom Wallace

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lin Breaks Records and Racial Stereotypes

The NBA is currently in a state of shock after a series of devastating performances from the new rising star of basketball, New York Knicks point guard, Jeremy Lin.

Lin at Harvard
The 23-year-old, American-born Taiwanese superstar has beaten all the odds to defy his critics and smash NBA records, scoring 136 points in his first five career starts – a record that eclipses previous heroes of the sport including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson.

Just two weeks ago, Lin was considered a third-choice point guard in danger of being cut for the third time this season, yet in an unlikely turnaround, he now has the fastest selling NBA jersey and crowds of people chanting his name in adoration.

Lin failed to receive any Division I collegiate scholarship offers out of high school and went undrafted in the NBA draft, being cut by two teams, but his obvious abundance of talent has left many fans questioning his recent emergence, wondering what has held back such an explosive performer until now.

The man of the moment
Listening to Lin followers in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, it becomes clear that racial stereotyping has much to answer for in the delay of Lin’s rise to becoming an NBA great.

Basketball is dominated by African American and Caucasian professionals, but Lin is finally managing to do what many Asian’s before him have failed to.

Lin himself referred to racial issues in a recent interview, admitting, “I feel like Asians in general don’t get the respect that we may deserve whether it comes to sports, basketball or whatever it might be… Maybe I can help break this stereotype.”

Passionate performer
This issue of race has been a long-running dilemma for Lin who chose to attend Harvard in a hope to get noticed. Over four years the man who received zero scholarship offers after high school, scored a staggering 1,483 points, 487 rebounds, 406 assists and 225 steals.

This still failed to gain interest from NBA scouts and going undrafted in 2010, Lin signed for the Golden State Warriors, but he was offered minimal playing time and only managed an average of 2.6 points per game, being released in December.

Shortly after, he was signed up by Houston Rockets, but was again released before the season commenced.

Winning the fans love
Having been unemployed for almost a month, New York Knicks gave Lin a lifeline, agreeing a non-guaranteed contract and having been a whisker away from being cut for a third time, the opportunity to prove his worth arrived on February 4th.

Lin took his chance in emphatic style, producing a stunning 25-point performance against the New Jersey Nets, but he was only getting started.

Houston Rockets Daryl Morey regretfully claimed that he “Did not know he was this good.”

Kobe learns a lesson
Surely his excellent high school and Harvard records were an indication of his talents. He clearly should have received a scholarship and a draft in the NBA, with opportunity to play last season.

This said, Lin is still young and the delay in his arrival on the NBA scene has only served to make his impact even more explosive.

Lin is no longer concerned with the past and is using his on-court ability to do his talking. The new star of the game has led the Knicks to a 6-0 record in their last six games, with an average of 27 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds.

On February 10th Lin scored a sensational 38 points against NBA giant Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, before scoring the winning three-point basket against the Toronto Raptors on February 14th to solidify his popularity across the globe.

Media madness
With his refreshing, if not old-fashioned pass and shoot style, Lin is reminding basketball fans of the importance of the fundamental principles of the game. He is also giving hope to all young basketball stars worldwide.

In just two weeks Lin has set records, won games and sold jerseys. But, much more than this, he has provided hope.

Jeremy Lin has transformed the outlook, not only for Asian Americans in the NBA, but for racial stereotyping on a global scale. A truly remarkable story, dubbed ‘Lin-sane’ by American media has left us all believing a little more in ourselves.

Jiayou Jeremy.

Written by Dom Wallace

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Suarez Steals Headlines for Wrong Reasons

A Wayne Rooney brace ensured a vital victory for Manchester United over bitter rivals Liverpool, but it was Luis Suarez who continued to steal the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The origin of the feud
One of the Premier League’s great historic fixtures usually presents two of England’s powerhouses in a wonderful advertisement for top-flight football.

This was not one of those occasions.
Marked as the match to put tensions aside following Suarez’s lengthy ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra at Anfield in October, it was the handshake that never was which set the tone for an ill-tempered contest.
Tensions threatened to escalate out of control before a ball was even kicked, when the Uruguayan refused the Frenchman’s hand, causing Ferdinand to follow suit, denying that of Suarez’s.
The vital three points for United came courtesy of a Wayne Rooney double in a four-minute frenzy directly following the interval, when Suarez had sparked scenes of unhappiness in the tunnel after kicking the ball into the crowd.

The villain of the drama snatched a consolation but United were victorious in an ill-tempered meeting, climaxing in uncomfortable scenes, as Evra’s over-exuberant celebrations in retaliation sparked angry responses, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of football fans nationwide.

The non-handshake
Obvious animosity was illustrated just eighteen seconds in, when Suarez in possession was viewed as a red rag to a bull for Evra and Ferdinand, who converged on the Liverpool striker with great venom. In their eagerness to go head-to-head with the forward, Evra sent Ferdinand into a somersault, landing on his head, causing play to be halted for several minutes.

Liverpool came closest to scoring ten minutes in when Glen Johnson, picked out by Suarez, found himself in acres of space down United’s left flank, cutting inside and stroking a left-foot shot agonisingly wide of David De Gea’s far post.
Three minutes later and Suarez was involved again, as Jonny Evans’ boot came in close contact with his face. In defence of Evans, the Liverpool man ducked into the challenge and to credit Suarez, he failed to make a big issue of a potentially controversial incident.

Paul Scholes, Danny Welbeck and Rooney were involved in a wonderful one-touch passage, allowing Ryan Giggs to roll back the years, whipping in a precise cross from the left wing, met by the unchallenged veteran Scholes, who somehow failed to convert from six yards out.
Rooney hits form
Pepe Reina’s reflex save prevented United from taking advantage in a game that failed to inspire in the way that so many previous encounters had done and with ten men behind the ball, Liverpool’s defence was proving difficult to penetrate.

As referee Phil Dowd signalled for half-time and with little between the teams, Suarez livened things up by aggressively lashing the ball into the crowd by the dugout. Clearly unhappy with such actions, United players reacted and a tussle ensued in the tunnel as the players trotted off to store their handbags in the lockers provided.
It was United who benefited from all the off-pitch antics and a fired up Merseyside man provided two killer blows to all but seal the three points, putting United top of the league.

Ninety seconds after the restart, the former Evertonian, Rooney, was in the right place at the right time as a Giggs corner, flicked on by Jordan Henderson, found him unmarked five yards out, slamming a volley past the helpless Reina.

Tensions continue to flare
Less than four minutes later a tenacious Antonio Valencia forced Jay Spearing to give up possession in a compromising position, allowing United’s in-form winger to release a well-weighted pass to Rooney, who calmly slid the ball past the oncoming Reina from twelve yards.
When Scholes dummied Valencia’s pass on the edge of the box, even Rooney was taken by surprise, squandering the opportunity to secure a twelve-minute hat-trick.

Liverpool managed to regain some composure, with a clumsy tackle from behind on Suarez earning Carrick a yellow card and Charlie Adam a chance to deliver a dangerous ball into the United box.

That he did and a ricochet off Ferdinand fell to that man Suarez who toe-poked past a helpless De Gea from three yards out, giving the visitors a glimmer of hope and setting up a nervy ending to a match the home team had dominated.

Anti-racism T-shirts
In a flashback to his save from a Gary Cahill drive in the dying minutes at Stamford Bridge, De Gea once again showed tremendous athleticism to tip over a last-gasp strike from Johnson, giving the champions an important victory to send them top of the league, if only for a day.

The final whistle sparked passionate celebrations from United fans and players alike, but none as fervent as that of Evra, whose wild prancing towards the Stretford End seemed to conveniently coincide with Suarez’s exit from the field, angering Liverpool players and causing security to intervene.

It was not the most diplomatic of actions from Evra who had kept his cool so admirably for ninety minutes, although he will argue his right to celebrate with his own fans and given the backdrop to this game and the events prior to kick-off, this was clearly a victory of huge personal significance to the Frenchman.
Suarez, banned for racial abuse and obscene gesturing, appeared to want to take on the world, serving to further disgrace himself, undermining the management and bringing the ethics of one of England’s greatest football clubs into question.

Cameron vows to act
Liverpool had stated publicly that Suarez would shake Evra’s hand before the game in an attempt to draw a line under the ongoing tensions caused by Liverpool’s refusal to publicly condemn their striker, despite having been found guilty on both charges.

It was not until news reached American owners John Henry and Tom Werner on Sunday of further misdemeanours, that Kenny Dalglish and Suarez were forced to make an apology, which many felt came four months too late.

With the addition of the racial abuse allegations against ex-England captain John Terry, Prime Minister David Cameron has become involved in a shameful situation by demanding a conference with football’s authorities.

The good old days
John Terry lost his English captaincy, but has received no punishment by Chelsea and despite being innocent until being proven guilty, most other industries would suspend such employees, pending the outcome of the criminal trial.

Carlos Tevez was initially dealt with accordingly by Manchester City for refusing to carry out the duties of the job for which he is employed to undertake. Yet, as the league leaders push to claim their first Premier League title, it appears Roberto Mancini is suddenly happy to have Tevez at his disposal once again.

Suarez, Terry and Tevez are all world-class players that their managers would not want to lose, but it is fair to suggest that until the clubs themselves take a harder stance, player power will continue to dictate the severity of actions taken or not taken against them for such abominable behaviour.

The football world will hope the end to a scandalous period in English football history is nigh and that we shall soon be able to witness these great historic fixtures without the surrounding controversy, which is polluting the essence of ‘the beautiful game’.

Written by Dom Wallace

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Giants Still Too Big for Patriots

The Giants vs The Patriots
The New York Giants held their nerve in a tense Super Bowl contest to defeat the New England Patriots 21-17, owing to a dramatic last-gasp touchdown in Indianapolis.

Eli Manning, who upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII four years ago, displayed his nerves of steel in the heat of battle, once again claiming the Most Valuable Player accolade.

Manning triggered Ahmad Bradshaw’s six-yard run and with 57 seconds still on the clock, Tom Brady failed in his response, falling desperately short.

Mario Manningham played a crucial role for the Giants, producing a magical catch on the first play of their final drive. Receiving Manning’s missile, thrown from his own 12-yard line, Manningham displayed glorious athleticism, almost defying gravity to produce a catch that will go down in Super Bowl history.

Having dragged his Giants back from losing situations six times this season prior to the Super Bowl, Manning once again inspired his troops in the moments when it mattered.

Despite taking an early 9-0 lead, the Giants fell under a long period of Patriot pressure, lead by Tom Brady.

Manningham in action
However, eight plays down-the-line, Bradshaw claimed a touchdown in the most bizarre of circumstances. He was allowed to cross the line unchallenged by the Patriot defence in order to allow Brady one last chance of success.
The running back who totalled 72 rushing yards from 17 attempts was unable to prevent himself from crossing the line as momentum carried him over. 

Had Bradshaw fallen short of the end zone, Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes would have been presented with a field goal opportunity to win the game as the clock ran down.

Tom Brady was gifted one last chance and having dispatched 16 passes in a row, a Super Bowl record, his final attempt on the last play saw his Hail Mary pass batted to safety by a much relieved Giants defence.

Brady had reason to feel cheated, as the man who was playing his fifth Super Bowl completed 27 of 41 passes, covering 276 yards, claiming two touchdowns. 

It was a recovery of fine fashion, having conceded a safety with his first possession during the birth of the contest.

His shaky start presented Victor Cruz with the chance to snag Manning’s neatly presented 2-yard pass and send the Giants on their way to victory.

New England responded through kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who sailed the ball through the uprights from 29 yards after a well worked drive was halted by the Giants defence.

A disappointed Brady
Following Danny Woodhead’s catch in the end zone, there was no preventing Brady’s 14-play drive, masterminding a magnificent 96-yard march from the Patriots, equalling the Super Bowl record for longest drive.

The third quarter saw the Patriots assert domination, with another structured drive culminating in Brady’s short pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez, who shrugged off a last-ditch Deon Grant to take a commanding 17-9 lead.

The New England defence, notorious for conceding yards but not points, soaked up the backlash with some colossal hits, but failed to prevent a 38-yard Tynes field goal, adding three to the Giants’ total.

When the Patriots failed to recover a fumble by Giants’ wide receiver Hakeem Nick, Tynes successfully completed another field goal from 33-yards, closing the gap to two points at 17-15, leaving all to play for.

Known for his dependability, the pressure of the occasion seemed to grip Brady at the start of the fourth quarter, when, having dodged two tackles, his long pass was intercepted by Chase Blackburn.

Bradshaw’s fumble almost handed possession back to the Patriots immediately, but a Chris Snee recovery had Indianapolis wandering whether the luck was with the Giants.
Manning celebrates
In the knowledge that the Giants had exhausted two of their three timeouts, the Patriots played to run down the clock.

Manning had other ideas.

The quarterback, slated for placing himself in the same class as Brady earlier this season, defied his critics, orchestrating another dream climax for the Giants, crowning them Super Bowl XLVI winners.

Completing 30 of his 40 throws for 296 yards, Manning was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player for the second time, a feat only bettered by Joe Montana, but paid tribute to the New England team spirit.

“We had a great, tough bunch of guys who never quit and had faith in each other. I’m proud of these guys sticking together.”

A fantastic finale to the playoffs highlighted once again, that no team is too big for the Giants.

Written by Dom Wallace

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Comeback Kings Fight to Keep Crown

Manchester United staged a stunning fightback in an enthralling encounter at Stamford Bridge, leaving Chelsea bewildered, staunchly reminding critics to doubt them at their own peril.

Alex Ferguson has vehemently denied that his current squad lacks the class of previous sides, although their faltering progress in cup competitions this term is evidence against such claims.
Perfect execution from Mata

Yet when United produce a display such as they did in the second half against Chelsea, correcting a three goal deficit, it serves as a firm implication that they will not relinquish their crown with ease.

A Jonny Evans own goal put the home side ahead, with a scintillating strike from Juan Mata and a deflected David Luiz header sailing Chelsea into a three goal lead and the Stamford Bridge faithful into a frenzy.

But the game was not finished and neither were Manchester United.

Clumsy defending from the home team and a touch of good fortune allowed Wayne Rooney to convert two penalties, with a dramatic header from Javier Hernandez sparking scenes of jubilation for the visitors.

Chelsea could have snatched a winner, but David de Gea defied his critics with two stunning saves in the dying minutes, from a wonderfully executed Mata free-kick and a powerful drive by debutant Gary Cahill.

An enticing spectacle for the neutral and a wonderful advert for Premier League football, the contest was summarised by Alex Ferguson, as a game that “epitomises English football”.

Welbeck earns soft penalty
The outcome saw the champions fall two points adrift of neighbours Manchester City in the title race, but given the context of the game, United will view this as one point gained in a match showcasing their famous never-say-die attitude.

For Chelsea, it was a missed opportunity to solidify their position in the top four as they remain just a solitary point ahead of fifth place Newcastle.

Chelsea had never failed to win a game in which they had led by three goals, but a defence void of injured captain John Terry and suspended full-back Ashley Cole, always looked delicate.

A cagey atmosphere saw Rio Ferdinand booed with every touch of the ball and Alex Ferguson as animated as ever, following Cahill’s last ditch tackle on Danny Welbeck.

Rooney nets from the spot
First contact was outside the box but the former Bolton man found himself extremely fortunate to escape unpunished by the clumsy challenge, admitting he was “slightly fortunate to get away with that one”.

Despite United’s apparent dominance it was Chelsea who took the lead, when Daniel Sturridge skilfully outwitted Patrice Evra, seeing his cut-back deflected into the United net via the torso of Evans..

What promised to be a tight clash in the second half was anything but that for the opening thirteen minutes.

With only twenty-four seconds on the clock, Patrice Evra was caught wondering wildly out of position, not for the first time this season, allowing Torres to gather the ball unchallenged on Chelsea’s right flank. The Spaniard looked up once, sending a missile directly onto the boot of his fellow countryman at United’s back post, where Mata slammed home to double their lead.

Four minutes later, Mata turned provider, delivering a fizzling free-kick, met by a rising David Luiz, whose header deflected off Ferdinand into the top corner, wrong-footing the helpless De Gea.

Hernandez heads home
Evra’s desire is unquestionable, however, having contributed in part to all three Chelsea goals, Ferguson will surely have stern words with his skipper prior to facing Liverpool on Saturday.

With United dazed and confused, Chelsea fans began their celebrations, only to be halted by a penalty awarded to the visitors when Sturridge carelessly clattered into Evra just before the hour.

With mixed fortunes from the spot this season, Rooney made no mistake this time, thrashing the ball into the top corner à la Shearer. He returned to the centre circle instantly, illustrating his belief that there was more to come.

He was right.

De Gea denies Mata
A hungry Welbeck battled with Branislav Ivanovic in the area, leading to the award of United’s second spot-kick, though the replay suggested minimal contact and Andr√© Villas-Boas labelled the decision “absurd”.

Rooney kept his cool once again, despatching the ball to Cech’s left as he leapt in the opposite direction.

Chelsea players, aggrieved at the soft nature of referee Howard Webb’s penalty decision, appeared to self-destruct. Villas-Boas replaced a disgruntled Sturridge with Oriol Romeu, a negative substitution further handing momentum to United.

Ex-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho declared his frustration on numerous occasions with regard to lesser teams “parking the team bus” in front of goal to prevent superior opposition from scoring. Ironically, this was the modern Chelsea’s tactic and it failed.

Paul Scholes enjoyed a cameo role, exhibiting a flawless array of passes, but it was his only senior teammate Ryan Giggs that provided the pinpoint cross for Hernandez to nod United onto equal terms.

De Gea went someway to recovering his heavily tarnished reputation with two highly acrobatic displays, reiterating his shot-stopping skills and while question marks still remain over his aerial ability, he earned some welcome respite from his critics.
Villas-Boas left frustrated

An explosive second half culminated in stalemate, but owing to the manner of the result, Chelsea’s players trudged off the pitch in disappointment having sacrificed such a handsome lead.

As the current champions continue to be lambasted by some section of the media who will talk of two points dropped, their rivals will have viewed their spirited performance as a sign of danger that their best is yet to come.

Wayne Rooney spearheaded United’s assault, epitomising his manager’s tenacious character and even showed shades of Ferguson in his post-match interview, stating,  “We fought well and that point could win us the league… all the City players sitting there at home won't have enjoyed watching us recover, the way we fought back and the spirit of the team.”

As the march towards 'squeaky-bum time' gathers pace, City maintain the upper hand, but Rooney issued a kind reminder that United, inadequate as they may be, "will be there right to the end".

Written by Dom Wallace

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Terry Told to Take a Break

Moment of controversy
The English Football Association has confirmed that Chelsea’s John Terry has been stripped of his English captaincy until further notice.

The controversial London-born hardman is currently facing allegations of racial abuse, dating back to October in an incident at Loftus Road, involving Anton Ferdinand.

The 31-year-old centre-back has pleaded not guilty to charges that have forced the FA to remove him from his duties and not for the first time.

Terry was disciplined in similar fashion two years ago, following allegations of an affair with former teammate Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend, but was surprisingly reinstated just thirteen months later.

Capello backed Terry
With the current case adjourned until July 9th, the FA released a statement informing the media that, “it is in the interests of all parties that John has the responsibilities of captaincy removed at this time.”
The FA based the decision on the, “high profile nature of the England captaincy, on and off the pitch”, teamed with the demands of the role prior to and during Euro 2012.

Sports minister Hugh Robertson echoed these sentiments, admitting, “It would have been impossible for John Terry to have continued as captain with this charge over his head.”

Terry in trouble
Fabio Capello has publicly stated his view that Terry is innocent until proven guilty and that he should remain available for selection as England captain.

However, the manager was not involved in the board meeting, which unanimously voted for Terry to be stood down, though the FA were keen to reiterate that, “This decision in no way infers any suggestion of guilt in relation to the charge made against John Terry.”

It is understood that Capello respects the authority of the board and will retain the power to select the successor.

FA Chairman David Bernstein is insistent on a zero-tolerance policy on racism and was encouraged by senior members of the committee to take definitive action over the sensitive nature of this case.

Terry maintains the backing of Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas who insists, “John is a person of good mental strength and great personal convictions.”

Owing to a knee injury, Boas is unable to select his captain for tomorrow’s clash with bitter rivals Manchester United, a contest that would have seen him go head-to-head with Anton Ferdinand’s brother, Rio.

Ferdinand says no

Primed by some sections of the media as an obvious candidate to take over as England skipper, Ferdinand has openly refused to take on the role, stating, “I just want to concentrate on playing for Manchester United.”

Ferdinand was controversially removed as captain when Terry was initially reinstated, adding to possible tensions, but amidst all the hype,  Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has advised his player to “rise above” the media frenzy.
Ferguson even suggested that if Terry were to face United, Ferdinand “has got nothing to be ashamed of if he does decide to shake John Terry’s hand.”

Whilst journalists across England jump for joy as yet another scandal in the football world unfolds publicly, genuine fans of the national team will be nothing short of seriously concerned, with Euro 2012 looming.

After a woeful performance at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, high expectations will fall on England’s shoulders, who are still to add to their solitary success in major tournaments, dating back forty-six years.
England fail at World Cup '10

An apparent division within the camp lead to failed performances in South Africa and England fans must be feeling apprehensive that similar excuses may be reused if the national side once again fails to deliver.

As with England’s repetitive disappointment, there appears to be an unpleasant familiarity to the latest chapter of the John Terry saga.

Written by Dom Wallace