NBA Conference Finals Breakdown

•May 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been awaiting their opponent after easily competing their second consecutive sweep of the playoffs taking down the Atlanta Hawks 4-0. That opponent will come in the form of the Orlando Magic, who promptly ousted the reigning NBA Champion Boston Celtics in Game 7 at The Boston Garden.

Cleveland Will Win If – They come up with a strategy to stop Dwight Howard in the post. Ben Wallace is going to have to bring back his defensive play from his championship days in Detroit, when he frustrated Shaquille O’Neal. If Wallace can contain Howard on the glass and prevent his easy buckets Cleveland is sure to take this series. Moe Williams has a nice match up with Rafer Alston, as he should definitely be able to take advantage of this on the offensive end. Lebron James is going to have to continue his high level of play, which we all expect him to do, but this series will be his chance to develop the lacking clutch game to his repertoire, thanks to Orlando’s struggles to finish close games late.

Orlando Will Win If - They bring their game from Game 7 in Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals. Dwight Howard is going to present the biggest mismatch of the series. He has to completely dominate in the post and on the glass on both ends of the court. Howard will also have to improve his scoring output. Dwight must also stay out of foul trouble while also providing an effective last line of defense on Lebron’s drives. The Magic have to continue to penetrate and find Howard for the easy baskets. Hedo Turkoglu has to continue to be the playmaker and finisher throughout the series. Rashard Lewis has to needs to play up to his paycheck and take advantage of his skill set and versatility. Mistakes and bad shots need to be kept at a minimum from Rafer Alston. The bench will also play a tremendous role in this series. Pietrus is the best option to shadow Lebron and his clutch shooting from 3-point range will be necessary. Anthony Johnson and Courtney Lee will also play big defensive roles off the bench as Johnson can defend Moe Williams much better then Alston and Lee will be constantly working hard to shadow his assignment while also picking up his involvement in the offense.

Prediction – This series will in no way resemble either of the first two series the Cleveland Cavaliers have  been involved in so far this playoffs. Orlando is the team that matches up best with the Cavs in the Eastern Conference and I expect an extremely competitive series. LeBron James will obviously get his, but expect him to get somewhat frustrated and limited by the length and athleticism of Pietrus and Turkoglu. The Dwight Howard mismatch is going to be too much for Lebron to overcome. I’m sure David Stern will be disappointed, but look for the Magic to fight past Lebron and the Cavs despite some controversial calls that are sure to go Lebron’s way late in games.

Orlando in 7

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

The LA Lakers seesaw performance continued throughout the Western Conference semifinals, but they managed to survive a tight series against the banged up Houston Rockets with a rather comfortable Game 7 victory. The Lakers reward, a match up with the hungry highflying Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have contentedly eliminated both the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks in five games apiece, and now set their sights on the Lakers.

Los Angeles Will Win If – They play to their talent and keep their effort going at a more consistent pace. Kobe Bryant will need to dominate on the offensive end of the ball. Laker big men will need to take advantage of their size advantage inside. Pau Gasol will be counted on to produce at a high level throughout the series. Trevor Ariza will need to provide some sort of containment on Carmelo Anthony and will have to continue to be a big producer on offense. Lamar Odom is going to have to step his game up and produce up to his skill set. The Lakers bench will also play a key role in this series, as Luke Walton will be a pivotal versatile producer. Farmar will have to continue his solid playoff production and the dangerous Sasha Vujacic has to get back to his sharp shooting ways.

Denver Will Win If – The Lakers slip up or try to snooze through the series. Denver is an explosive team that is full of weapons. Melo is the team’s best offensive force and he will have to continue to dominate and score at will. Billups’ leadership will be at full force and his ability to post up Fisher should work to his advantage. Kenyon Martin and Nene need to keep the movement at a constant pace, as their speed and explosiveness are what can get the best of the Lakers bigs. Off the bench JR Smith will need to be making the majority of the long distance shots he’s guaranteed to fire up. The “Birdman” will be a key energy guy off the bench. He will need to have a presence on defense and a key rebounder on both ends of the court. Kleiza will need to be the x factor for Denver, especially in Los Angeles, as his game on offense can be a huge addition to the Nuggets.

Prediction – Don’t be surprised to see this series go the distance with the combination of the Lakers inconsistency and the Nuggets firepower. Expect a back and forth series that will come down to another Game 7 at The Staples Center. Denver will get their wins thanks to their energy and hard work on both sides of the court. Look for Kobe to have a high scoring series as Denver lacks a “Kobe container”, and for Gasol to get the Denver big men in foul trouble when the series is on the line. Game 7 will go down to the wire unlike in the LA-Houston series and Kobe will prove why he is considered the best closer in the NBA having just enough to out clutch Carmelo Anthony.

Los Angeles in 7

Pete’s Podium 5-13-09

•May 14, 2009 • 1 Comment

The Boston Celtics continued to completely take advantage of the Orlando Magic’s inability to close games last night, as they were able to battle back from a 14-point deficit in the 4th quarter and defeat the Magic in a crucial Game 5, 92-88. Many are going to blame this loss on the lack of passes given to Howard in the post, but Dwight has made it a bad habit, disappearing late in games throughout the playoffs. Who is to say he would have even produced if given the ball, as Kendrick Perkins has done a nice job to stonewall Dwight’s post game. But it has become sad watching the magic play hot potato late in the game. It seems that only Hedo Turkoglu has the guts and mental strength to fill this void for Orlando, but defenses have caught onto this and have done a nice job denying him any space. Orlando needs to fix this problem immediately if it plans to evolve and advance, but is this really a fixable problem at this point in the season?

            By the way there aren’t many players that you can name that have the skill set to be respected as one of the league’s top talents that have the ability to completely disappear and under perform when it matters most. And one from last night’s game is Rashard Lewis. This guy seems to take advantage of his size and athleticism all game, but as soon as the crunch time comes along he manages to become slow and an atrocious shooter. Lets not forget this guy basically makes Kobe Bryant money, and I hate to pick one guy out and let him have it, but Rashard deserves the criticism.

            Dwight Howard definitely took it a step too far in his post game press conference though, as he decided to call out his coach Stan Van Gundy after a tough loss. After failing to stand out once more when the times get tough in the big games, the frustration obviously finally got to the Magic big man. Hopefully he can redeem himself in Game 6 and take it out on his opponents and not his head coach. If not this is going to be the start of a long career of losing for this over hyped big man.

 

            The LA Lakers came out and answered the critics as many thought they would by completely smashing the Houston Rockets 118-78. The Lakers were in complete control by the final minutes of the first quarter and bounced back as well as any team could have following a disappointing showing. Looks as if the Lakers are sure to continue their success in Houston for Game 6 and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

 

            The All NBA Teams were announced today with the First Team consisting of NBA superstars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, and Dirk Nowitzki.

            The Second Team consisted of Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, and Yao Ming.

            The Third Team: Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, and Shaquille O’Neal.

            All worthy selections, but my only gripe is that Shaq has no business being on this third team. He made it just because of his identity, as clear appropriate replacements would have been Danny Granger or Kevin Durant.

 

 

            Jason Taylor agreed to terms with the Miami Dolphins, signing a one year 1.1 million dollar contract. This is a solid move by the Dolphins as they welcome back a true Dolphin who can help improve the Miami pass rush. Not only that but they did it on their own terms. Taylor will participate in all off-season activities and signed for a bargain of a price. Though Taylor barely produced last season, he is looking forward to having a healthy, happy season where he can not only play for the team of his heart, but can be with his family for the majority of the season.

Pete’s Podium 5-12-09

•May 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Los Angeles Lakers have their critics after an extremely poor performance on Sunday when the Yaoless and Tracy McGradyless Houston Rockets put them in their places with a 99-87 game four win to knot the series up at two. There is a split decision in the nation on this one, with most of the public saying it’s just the Lakers being the Lakers, taking their normal off game in the series and they will be fine. But the other portion of the public thinks its more of an ultimate judge of their character and toughness, and that it will eventually lead to their undoing.

If any team remaining in the playoffs could afford a loss and performance like this, it’s the LA Lakers. They are the best overall squad in the playoffs and have the ultimate edge in the coaching and intangible categories. The Lakers will take it to the Rockets at the Staples Center in Game 5 and close it out in Houston to advance to the Western Conference Finals. But all do respect to the Rockets for gutting this series out and proving what hard work and a team mentality can do for an NBA side missing its two best players. Shane Battier just might be the most underrated player in the NBA and Aaron Brooks has proven he can handle the starting point guard position with his electricity and offensive explosiveness.

 

 

The Cleveland Cavaliers continued their impressive run by completing their second consecutive sweep with a 4-0 series win over Atlanta. The Cavs have won all eight of their games by double digits and have still yet to yield over 85 points. They have cruised into the Eastern Conference Finals and have their confidence at a season high. It is going to be tough for either Boston or Orlando to challenge this deep, rolling, rested Cavs team that will be prepared and motivated to reach the Finals. But with all that being said lets also take into account the two teams they have played so far in this playoffs. Detroit was clearly not the Pistons of old, and Atlanta is an awful road team that was battling numerous injuries that clearly affected their teams play. But will the Celtics without Kevin Garnett be able to really threaten Cleveland? Or will the Magic be able to put a scare in the Cavs with no closer in the big moments of the big games? These questions are still left to be unanswered.

 

The Nuggets- Mavs series has taken a bit of a crazy turn, as after jumping to a rather comfortable 2-0 lead in Denver the Nuggets won Game 3 in rather controversial fashion. So much that the NBA found it necessary to issue an immediate apology for a supposed botched call in Game 3. After all the awful calls and series deciding decisions the NBA and its refs have fouled up over the years, they decide to submit an immediate apology for a call that seemed to be correct in my opinion, crazy how that works. Wright clearly wasn’t physical enough in his foul attempt on Carmelo Anthony. He should have wrapped him up or at least made some body contact. On top of that he threw his hands in the air to indicate that he hadn’t fouled Melo. To add on to the blame Coach Carlisle should definitely have alerted the referee on the immediate foul attempt plans. Instead Melo shook off the weak reach in that got contact with the ball and banged the game winning three pointer. Dirk did manage to land the Mavs a Game 4 win to prevent the sweep with a gutsy 44-point showing. Game 5 is on Wednesday night.

 

The Mark Cuban-Kmart fiasco is something we all wish could be put to a complete halt. Mark Cuban is obviously at fault for saying anything unkind toward Kenyon Martin’s mom, especially because he was completely unprovoked by her. Cuban clearly was extremely frustrated but as the Dallas Mavericks’ owner he is expected to act like a professional and this is completely unacceptable. But lets also not get to carried away as all he really said was something to the effect of, “your son is a punk/thug.” Dumb and uncalled for, but nothing worth severe consequences. Cuban apologized to Martin and his mother in his blog and presented an offer to help make up for his mistake, but Kmart obviously still felt it necessary to throw some harsh words Cuban’s way after a Game 4 ejection. Unfortunately Martin didn’t take the high road on this one, but this should also signify the end of this verbal tussle, as both men said what they felt needed to be said.

 

Big Baby made the right decision to issue an apology for his accidental contact with a young boy after hitting his buzzer beating shot to win Game 4 on Sunday. Many may have thought the apology was unnecessary after the boy’s father sent an angry email, but Davis showed that he is a sincere man who can acknowledge an innocent fans well-being no matter what his father might have said. Way to go Glen Davis.

 

Roger Clemens decided to get himself back in the news as he felt it necessary to appear on ESPN to continue to praise his innocence and deny basically the majority of all things written about his PED usage in a newly released book. Sad to say it but the more I see of this alleged “Drug Cheat” the more sickened I am about him and all the baseball I have watched in my entire life. He is just another Rafael Palmeiro pointing his finger at us and pushing us his lies till he thinks he can force us to believe them, but I’m not hypnotized by his ignorance and I hope none of you guys are either.

 

The Penguins-Capitals series is headed for a big Game 7 after a crucial overtime victory for the Caps kept their season alive. This is the dream scenario for the NHL as a league, but too bad this exciting Game 7 will be televised on Versus. Hey Ill still be watching, but the rest of the sports nation needs to be spectating also, and with no ESPN or NBC to put this on the proper stage they most likely wont be.

The match up is sure to please as Ovechkin and Crosby have lived up to the hype and have both provided the fans with plenty to be in awe of. These superstars have led their teams and have been a constant threat to score every time they touch the puck. This rivalry has finally begun to get to an extremely tense level and will be sure to continue in the many years to come. I look for the Caps to take Game 7 at home behind the strength and skill of number 8. He will finally get some help from some of his underachieving teammates (Green), and Varlamov will continue to look sharp between the pipes. Many may say Pittsburgh have completely outplayed Washington in the last three games, but I still see them as rather fortunate after watching their two rather lucky overtime deflection goals that both came off Capital defensemen.

MLB’s Downfall Continues

•May 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As if Major League Baseball needed another hit to the integrity and question marks facing the league in regards to its ties with performance enhancing drugs. Well they surely got one and it came in the form of a 500-foot home run, as Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for his violation of MLB’s drug policy.

 

            Yet another superstar guilty of tarnishing the game and cheating his way to the top of the Major League ranks, Manny Ramirez was counted on, like many still are to be the “completely natural talent”, that dominants the sport. But this thought has been tossed out the window just like Major League Baseball’s honor and legitimacy.

 

            Manny’s bogus excuse, trying to pin the blame on a prescription from a doctor for medical reasons was quickly rebuffed when the drug HCG was revealed to be what sparked the red flags in Ramirez’s documents. HCG is a female fertility drug that helps restart the body’s testosterone, which is commonly used after a steroid cycle. Basically all the proof needed here, as Manny was caught red handed.

 

            Bottom Line is Major League Baseball is in a laughable position of power right now. They are barely in control of their own league and they turn their heads to almost every severe performance enhancing offense until they feel the time is right to release such information. The Players Union has way too much power and MLB seems content to leave it that way as long as they money keeps coming there way.

 

            It’s commonly stated by MLB officials and some former players that at least 70% of the players in the sport are on Human Growth Hormone, which just so happens to not be tested in MLB’s tough drug policy. Yes, there might not be a perfect test out there to detect HGH, but there is way to try to detect this drug with proper blood testing. This of course is not allowed according to the Unions policy, but it has come to a time where the Union’s agreement needs to be shredded and the league as a whole needs to be halted in order to get “America’s Pastime” back on the right path.

 

            What’s even sadder about the league is that the most credible individual attached to MLB is someone who has been blackballed from it, and that’s Jose Canseco. All his opinions and statements have ended up being basic truths we have yet to be informed of. What’s that say about major League Baseball? A rat, who was a big part to the start of this huge performance enhancing issue in the sport is now, the biggest hope for all of us baseball fans who understand, respect and appreciate the morals, ethics, and history of the game.

 

            And for all the so called fans out there who can honestly keep a straight face in saying that the MLB has a policy in place that is as stringent as it should be and is doing all they can to put an immediate stop to this enormous issue is blinded by the league’s corruption and control of the media. Amazing how allegedly 70% of the league is on PEDs, but only two players worthy of naming have been suspended in the past year.

 

            It is beyond belief in my eyes how people could really stand and applaud when Alex Rodriguez was able to launch the first pitch he saw for a home run after the whole steroid controversy he had gone through over the past off season. And doesn’t seem just a bit fishy how the Manny suspension came just before Aroid was able to make his season debut? You may think I’m reaching there, but don’t underestimate the sneakiness of Major League Baseball. Don’t forget they have a list of over 100 steroid offenders that they still don’t feel necessary for the public to know about.

 

            So until MLB makes a drastic change and stand against this era of cheaters I have officially boycotted the sport. Yes I have said this before, but my recent purchase of Phillies-Dodgers tickets, in which I planned to sit front row behind Manny Ramirez himself, has been scratched from my schedule. I got rid of those tickets as soon as I got the line crossing news. And this time I have promised myself not to let my passion for sports drag me back into this corrupt league until the league is legitimately back on the right track. Only if every fan out there was as livid as me because then maybe MLB and the Players Union’s hand could be forced, but that doesn’t look likely to ever happen.

 

            So I hope everyone enjoys the front row seats to the end of baseball because it is only a matter of time till the sport loses all of its credibility even with the oblivious American public. If only there was another sport to watch in the summer, I could basically guarantee to prevent any of my attention towards baseball.

Chelsea vs. Barcelona Leg 2 Recap

•May 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

Stamford Bridge was the site for the much-anticipated second leg of the semi final between Chelsea and Barcelona. The first leg ended in a scoreless draw, which set up any away goal scored by the Spanish side to be extremely vital. Chelsea was forced to go into this leg with victory on their minds, as a draw would have had to be a scoreless one in order to force extra time.

Chelsea lined up a strong lineup in front of their London faithful, but Barcelona had no such luck. Barca had to make up for the absence of missing centrebacks Marquez (injury) and Puyol (suspension), sending Toure in the back away from his dominant defensive midfielder position. In the front the absence of injured striker Thierry Henry also caused a shake up to the Barca lineup forcing Iniesta to play more in the Henry role while Keita and Busquets filled in, in the midfield.

 

            Once underway at Stamford Bridge, Barcelona was quick to grasp control of possession as usual. But they weren’t the first side to leave their mark, as in the 9th minute Michael Essien scored on a breathtaking volley from 25 yards out. Ashley Cole did well to shake a defender and play Lampard, whose play on the ball was blocked by a Barcelona defender, but Essien was there to unleash a left footed volley that left Valdes no chance, glancing it off the bar and in. A strike for the ages by Essien and one that is sure to top goal of the week countdowns worldwide. No blame could be dealt on any Barca player on this one, as it was just a pure moment of brilliance from Essien.

 

            The Chelsea defence continued to look organized throughout the first 20 minutes of play and in my opinion even sharper then in the first leg. In the 23rd minute, Lampard was able to gather a giveaway in the midfield and quickly send Drogba in past the last defender, but a rushing out Victor Valdes was just able to clear the threat with a thrusted leg. A minute later Chelsea put some more scares into their opponents when Malouda was brought down just on the edge of the box giving Drogba a dangerous free kick attempt from a tight angle. Malouda outworked Alves on the wing and despite his landing in the area the ref made the correct decision in awarding the kick just outside the area where the initial contact was. Drogba smashed his effort on net where Valdes was in position to knee it wide. Valdes could be labeled as fortunate on that save, as he seemed to not even see the buzzing shot coming. Seconds later Drogba was chipped behind the defense yet again by Lampard. This time he was just too slow to gather possession and a minor tug and some contact sent him down in the area in appeal for a penalty that was rightfully not given. Abidal definitely was pressing his luck though, as Drogba has won penalties on such occurrences before. The match began to open up around this time. Daniel Alves committed yet another foolish foul and received a costly booking, as if Barca were to advance he would be suspended for the final and had become a threat to be sent off for the rest of the match with his wild style of play.

 

            A bloody lip from Frank Lampard was all that was needed to slow up a the fast pace of a match that had developed between the 20th and 30th minute, Keita was lucky not to be booked for an unintentional flailing elbow.

 

            There were many times at the end of the half where all 11 Chelsea players could fit in the picture on their defensive end of the pitch. The Blues went into the half with the 1-0 lead and their heads held high after a strong 1st half performance. Barcelona was going to need a moment of brilliance, or a costly mistake from a well organized Chelsea defence if they were to score in the 2nd half.

 

            The second half got underway when Chelsea almost doubled their lead in the 52nd minute. Anelka effectively penetrated the Barca defense drawing Drogba’s defender before slipping a ball to Drogba himself. Drogba with time and space just inside the box patiently shot faked a desperate sliding defender effectively; only to be robbed on his left side footed effort by a sliding out Victor Valdes. Drogba looked smooth but this was a finish we all expect of him, but that being said two thumbs up for Valdes on that huge save.

 

            But in the 66th minute a horrific turn of events ensued for Barca as a bouncing ball broke through the defense and Anelka went down in what was apparently was initiated forced contact from the last defender in Abidal. The referee interpreted Abidal to be the last defender in denying his opponent a clear goal-scoring attempt and issued the back a red card. This was a tough decision as it can easily be debated that this wasn’t a clear goal scoring opportunity. This made the challenge even steeper for Barca, as they were now a man down. Amidst all of this chaos Drogba was forced off the pitch limping and needed to be substituted off in the 72nd minute.

 

            Alex was booked in the 77th minute and would have consequently missed the final for Chelsea after a sloppy challenge on Messi. Minutes later Anelka sparked the crowd as he burst into the area going down in a heap after minor contact from Toure. Another penalty plead and once again it was rightfully denied. But just after that Malouda headed a ball towards Anelka in the front, where the Frenchman was just able to touch it by Pique, only for the defender to quite clearly strike the ball with his hand out of the striker’s path in the area. Penalty claims arose again and this time rightfully so, as this was a clear penalty. One can only think it wasn’t given just to make up for the earlier botched red card decision.

 

            Into stoppage time it went, with the Blues leading 1-0, little did we know that utter chaos was about to occur. Backs against the wall, Barcelona couldn’t put one shot on target for all 90 minutes of play until the 93rd minute when Iniesta struck the suspenseful outside of the boot tailing hit, that beat a stretched Cech and gave Barca the away goal that the Spanish side was waiting for all night. Essien has to take the blame for this one, as his lazy botched clearance allowed Messi to gather and lay off for Iniesta and his strike for the ages. Iniesta ripped off his jersey in celebration and most thought that was all there was to it at Stamford Bridge, but the excitement and controversy continued. The 96th minute was Chelsea’s last gasp and effort as Michael Ballack smashed a volley that struck Eto’s upper arm as it was blindly stretched out in the penalty box. Ballack was incensed by the referee waiving play on, and I am going to have to agree with Ballack in this one. It’s questionable, but after the last clear penalty claim was denied this one had to be called in my opinion. Ballack got face to face with the referee and chased him down the pitch in rage.

 

            The final whistle blew and just like that, at the death, Barcelona advanced on to the final to face Manchester United. After showing no signs of getting a shot on target throughout the entire match, Barcelona star Iniesta came through when it mattered most to devastate Chelsea and their supporters at Stamford Bridge.

 

            Chelsea might have played the better match, but their failure to capitalize on their scoring opportunities, and lack of luck with the referee doomed them in the end.

 

I must say what at halftime looked to be a greatly officiated match from the man in the middle, turned into what can be labeled a disaster by the final whistle. All the correct calls and perfect decisions in all moments of controversy in the first half were handled perfectly, just for the exact opposite to occur in the second half. I feel for the referee as you hope that these deciding decisions are kept at a minimum but he got a boatload thrown at him in this match, and as these tournaments run deeper, the calls become more and more magnified due to their importance and impact on who goes on to lift the trophy.

 

So when tallying up the refs controversial decisions you are left with…

1)      Barcelona receiving an incorrect red card (Abidal) and having to play a man down from the 66th minute.

2)      A missed penalty for Chelsea when Pique clearly handed the ball in the area denying Anelka a direct scoring chance. This evens up for the red card offense.

3)      And another missed penalty for Chelsea on the Ballack 96th minute volley off Eto’s arm.

This clearly points to Chelsea getting the short end of the stick in this one. You have to feel for the Blues in the referee’s decisions, but they obviously have themselves to blame too.

 

So the dream final is in place for Roma on the 27th of May, Manchester United vs. Barcelona. What many consider the two best clubs in the world this season, will face-off for the right to be called Champions of European club futbol. It is sure to be a classic.

 

 

           

 

           

 

 

Player Ratings

 

Chelsea

 

Cech-     5.0     Not challenged at all throughout the match. One shot on goal and one conceded goal.

 

Cole-    6.5      Played key role in Chelsea’s organized back line in this match. Played his part in the setup to Essien’s goal. Contributed well in the containing of Messi.

 

Terry-    7.5      Strong showing from the captain. Was firm in his tackles and organized the central defense to his best ability. One of his best showings in Europe in recent times.

 

Alex-    6.5    Solid aerial presence throughout the match in the back for the Blues.

 

Bosingwa-    7.0    Intervened many Barcelona possessions and was a constant threat to dispossess any attacker sent his way.

 

Essien-    6.0     An absolutely phenomenal volley for the opening goal, but as great as that goal was, his botched clearance that led to Iniesta’s strike could seen to be just as awful. Tough fall from the heavens to the doghouse for the Ghanaian midfielder.

 

Ballack-    7.0    Strong in the defensive midfield throughout the match. Was constantly helping the back four to disrupt the Barcelona possession once it approached the area. Should have won a penalty in the 96th minute.

 

Lampard-    7.5    Opportunities sprung from the English playmakers foot all match. He sent Drogba through for two golden opportunities and was involved in Essien’s first strike. Not to mention the handful of times he won possession back for his side by retreating to the defensive end.

 

Malouda-    6.0     Nice showing by the Frenchman. Fit his role, but did nothing to stand out or make a difference in this important match.

 

Anelka-   5.5    Was basically nonexistent until he sprayed Drogba through and was forced to fill in for Drogba once he was subbed off. Did solid job from that point on.

 

Drogba-   6.5    Was a threat as usual throughout his stay on the pitch, but didn’t get the breakthrough strike that he’s been known to produce. Was strong in the air and who knows what would have been if he wasn’t subbed off because of a knock.

 

 

Substitutes-

 

Belletti- 

 

 

Barcelona

 

Valdes-    7.0       The Barcelona keeper came up big in denying Drogba multiple times to keep this match within one strike of the ball.

 

Abidal-    5.5     Decent match for the left back. Didn’t apply much attacking presence but was unjustly expulsed from the match when Anelka went down mid 2nd half.

 

Toure-   8.0    YaYa once again performed on a World Class level. Was constantly intervening Chelsea attacks and opportunities. Bullish in the back and managed to use his physicality in an efficient way to shut down numerous dangerous chances from Drogba and Anelka.

 

Pique-   6.0    Hard working performance from the centreback. Was always involved in play and helped the push for the equalizer late. Lucky not to be punished for his hand ball in the box.

 

Daniel Alves-    5.0     Constantly going full speed and sending in multiple balls from start to finish, but none of them were effective. Wasted almost any possession he had, despite the fact that he was relentlessly fighting. Way too sloppy and wild in his defensive game, Malouda got the best of him again.

 

Busquets-   5.5     Played his role well. Linked up to his playmakers and won possession in the midfield all while keeping everything simple.

 

Keita-   4.5      Out of place on the pitch. Couldn’t perform or compete on this high level competitive match. Clearly the worst of what Barcelona had to offer.

 

Xavi Hernandez-   6.0   Not the match we expected from the captain, but he respectably distributed simple balls and contributed a lot to the possession and field position for his side.

 

Iniesta-   8.0    Was constantly the most effective attacker for his side, and his stunning clutch goal at the death boosted his rating on thrill alone. He, Toure, and Valdes are clearly the reasons that Barca is in the final.

 

Messi-   6.0   Not much from the Argentine, but still was constantly involved and showing his great dribbling ability and ball control. The clutter in the back clearly devastates his 1-2 passing style in the attacking end.

 

Eto’o-   4.5     Absolute no show from the striker in this one. Bout all there is to say.

 

 

Substitutes-

 

Krkic-

 

Gudjohnsen-

 

Sylvinho-

 

 

Man of the Match-     Iniesta, Barcelona

Arsenal vs. Manchester United Leg 2 Recap

•May 5, 2009 • 2 Comments

After a 1-0 loss in Old Trafford, Arsenal was happy to be back home in London for the second leg of this Champions League semifinal against England’s best side in Manchester United.

The Gunners were able to slot Robin Van Persie back into the starting eleven to help solidify a much better attacking presence upfront, which was needed after a dismal performance in the first leg. But thanks to Arsenal’s keeper Manuel Almunia the Gunners were still right in contention going into the second leg as he was responsible for a handful of saves that could have buried Arsenal’s dreams of Roma.

 

            Sir Alex Ferguson decided to field a much more passive lineup by keeping Berbatov and Tevez on the bench to start the match in favor of the scrappy Ji-Sung Park. Sir Alex must have had in mind that the Gunners were sure to play a completely different match style on their home pitch and this lineup would do a better job neutralizing their attack and scoring via the counterattack. Arsenal had to beware, as a lone goal from United would require three from the Gunners to advance, no easy task to say the least.

 

            The action got under away in London with the crowd full of excitement and anticipation. The energy from the crowd gave Arsenal the bulk of the possession early on, until the 8th minute when United took advantage of a major slipup in the back from the Arsenal youngster Kieran Gibbs. Anderson slotted Ronaldo through in the area, where he preceded to slide a threat less ball across the box only for Gibbs to slip onto his backside missing an easy clearance. Park gathered the ball and easily chipped over Almunia for the opening strike. This was a devastating and costly error that will haunt Gibbs and clearly snowballed Arsenal’s conflict just minutes later.

 

 In the 11th minute United basically applied the dagger to the Gunners final dreams as Ronaldo buzzed a spot kick from 30 yards out by the diving outstretched keeper. Almunia looked slow to react and read the balls trajectory, but this strike was yet another to add to Ronaldo’s highlight reel. This left Arsenal with the impossible mission of trying to score four unanswered goals from this point on in the match.

 

And in the 18th minute it almost got worse as Arsenal had been forced into attack and the Manchester United counterattack was working in full force as Rooney almost bent in an effort from just around the corner of the box forcing a tipping save from Almunia.

 

The rest of the first half consisted of no major chances or happenings besides the fact of frustrations continuing to boil from Arsenal. Whenever Arsenal was able to get in front of their oppositions net it was congested with United defenders and the space could not be found to create any real opportunities.

 

United went into the locker room with all the comfort in the world and could go on to worry about what substitutes to use to prevent any suspensions from the final.

 

The second half of the century was needed for Arsenal to have any hope for a Roma destination, but in the 52nd minute the half almost began in the opposite terms when Ronaldo easily rounded Djourou and blistered a left footed stinger to the near post where Almunia was able to show off some quick reflexes as he pawed it wide.

 

The 61st minute counterattack from Manchester United put an end to any slim hopes that Arsenal had for a historic comeback when Ronaldo sparked the counter with a clever back heal to Park, who proceeded to spring Rooney free on the opposite wing, who then calmly slid a perfect ball into the path of a racing Ronaldo who made no mistake in side footing a precise shot over Almunia and into the back of the net giving Manchester United a 3-0 lead.

 

The third strike was all the insurance Sir Alex needed as he felt free to use all three of his substitutions following Ronaldo’s second strike, taking off the two red devils on yellow card watch in Evra and Rooney.

 

The 75th minute presented United with an unexpected turn of events. A bouncing ball sent Fabregas in behind the Manchester United defense racing shoulder to shoulder with a physical Darren Fletcher who desperately gave a last ditch lunge barely getting a nick onto the ball while having his hand on the attackers shoulder giving a slight tug sending Fabregas down in the box. The referee quickly awarded Arsenal a penalty while also red carding Fletcher. The penalty was a necessary decision, but I must say the red card was harsh despite the fact that it comes with the territory of the decision. This obviously will prevent Darren Fletcher from participating in the final and is a devastating blow for United especially due to the comfortable lead that was in place. Robin Van Persie made no mistake in drilling home a perfect penalty in the upper right corner and setting the score line at 3-1 United.

 

Sir Alex was surely devastated by the decision and clearly frustrated that such an event had happened at this point of what was sure to be seen as a perfect United showing. Fletcher looked sickened as he paced off the pitch saddened to know that this was the end of his Champions League season.

 

Manchester United’s Champions League season will continue though as they are on to the Final after eliminating Arsenal with a 3-1 victory. The Red Devils did well to outplay Arsenal and take advantage of the opportunities that they were given. Yes, the Gibbs’ mistake was vital and Almunia should have done better on the free kick, but Arsenal barely showed life and the will to battle back was non-existent. It could have all been different if Arsenal prevented this early mistake, as they had the control early on, but that’s not how the action went.

 

Manchester United’s dominance in the midfield proved to be the x factor and the ability to counterattack the shaky Arsenal back line proved vital. Carrick and Fletcher did the dirty work and Ronaldo provided the flare in this comfortable 3-1 victory for United.

 

Arsenal’s attack was non-existent. Their big four of attackers were barely involved in play and could hardly produce a half chance throughout the match.

 

The better more deserving side is on to the Final, but congratulations to Arsenal for making a run to the semi finals with a side that many doubted could accomplish this much.

 

 

 

Player Ratings

 

 

Arsenal

 

Almunia-   5.0        Didn’t bring his golden gloves from the first leg. Was not at fault for the first goal, but I cant help but to expect better on the Ronaldo free kick goal.

 

Gibbs-      3.0      An atrocious early mistake in his own box that directly lead to not only a goal but basically the elimination of the Gunners. A deflating slip up that will shame the youngster for sometime. Subbed out at the half.

 

Djourou-   4.5    Wasn’t up to pace with his competition. Too easily beaten when faced with one on one confrontations.

 

Toure-     5.5    Solid match in the back breaking up a few dangerous balls. 

 

Sagna-   5.5   Lively in the back and brought a punch up the wing sending in numerous balls.

 

Song-   5.0    Was outplayed and overmatched in the midfield again. Showed some signs of survival in the early going, but eventually was overwhelmed.

 

Nasri-   6.0   Was the lone Gunner that looked to have the hunger to win and leave his imprint on the match. Forced Arsenal into the attack dribbling through the midfield and spreading the ball to his teammates. Faded in the 2nd half.

 

Fabregas-   4.5    Failed to live up to expectations once again, but could be thanked by tomorrow’s semi final winner for the suspension of Darren Fletcher.

 

Van Persie-    5.0      Clearly wasn’t in form, as he in no way was involved in the match until it was out of hand. Nice one touch ball to slip Fabregas in and did well to smash home a perfect penalty though to break up the shutout.

 

Walcott-   4.0    Once again couldn’t use his speed to breakthrough the United defence. Evra had him shackled up for basically the entirety his stay on the pitch.

 

Adebayor-    4.0     Another non-existent attacker from Arsenal.  Couldn’t create any threats and looked lifeless on the pitch.

 

 

Substitutes-

 

Eboue-   5.5

 

Bendtner-   5.0

 

Vela-

 

 

Manchester United 

 

Van der Sar-    5.5     Hardly threatened by his opponents, beaten on the penalty.

 

Evra-   7.0     Did extremely well to cancel out the speedy Walcott. Was subbed out to secure no suspension for the Final.

 

Vidic-   6.5     Solid composed performance from the centerback. Was never at ease and never shows signs of nerves when clearing balls from his defensive area.

 

Ferdinand-   7.0    Completely locked down Adebayor. Was always the winner of every ball sent his way in the air. Sharp physical performance.

 

O’Shea-   5.5    Played his role in defence, but was hardly ever challenged or seen throughout the match.

 

Anderson-   6.0     Worked hard and did all the simple things throughout his time on the pitch.

 

Carrick-   7.0    Sharp performance in the midfield. Dominated Song throughout and was sharp in his link up passes.

 

Fletcher-    6.5    Did well and worked hard his entire time on the pitch, but was red carded after a dangerous desperate challenge in the area as the last defender.

 

Park-   7.0     Was on the spot to capitalize on Gibbs’ horrific error. Did well to keep his composure to chip Almunia for the goal. Gave maximum effort as usual and linked up well with his fellow attackers.

 

Ronaldo-   8.0     His ball across the area led to the Gibbs mistake and the first goal. And another stinging free kick found the back of the net to beat Almunia and all but eliminate the Gunners early in the first half. Started the counterattack with a splendid back heal and finished it with an accurate finish. 2 goals and numerous scares forcing a handful of saves out of Almunia. Clearly the Man of the Match.

 

Rooney-   6.0     Was average all match until his great run and perfect ball to Ronaldo in the counterattack to secure Manchester’s route to the final. Was subbed twenty minutes into the second half to secure his place in the Final.

 

 

Substitutes-

 

Giggs-   5.5

 

Rafael-   5.0

 

Berbatov-   6.0

 

 

Man of the Match-  Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United

Manchester United vs. Arsenal Leg 1 Recap

•April 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Old Trafford was buzzing prior to kickoff as the Red Devils were set to host Premier League counterparts Arsenal. After a scoreless draw in yesterday’s semifinal spectators were hungry for action and a match full of goals. Manchester United entered the match with a record 23 match unbeaten streak in the Champions League competition. The Gunners entered with their heads high too as they have a 20 match unbeaten streak going for themselves in the Premier League.

 

Once underway the game speed was immediately at full pace. The second minute was when United put their first threat on the Arsenal defense as Darren Fletcher sent a cross in from the right wing and Rooney out jumped Sagna to get a lobbing header on target that Almunia was happy to just pat wide. Seconds later an Adebayor giveaway and a Gibbs slip lead to another scare as Ronaldo blazed a ball through the goalmouth untouched.

 

            In the 17th minute Carlos Tevez did a tremendous job to set O’Shea free on the wing and run onto the right wing defender’s cross only to be robbed by the Arsenal keeper Almunia not once but twice. Arsenal wasn’t as lucky on the ensuing corner kick when Manchester United broke trough on the score sheet courtesy of John O’Shea. Michael Carrick did a nifty job to control the corner on the far side of the area and send a cross back across the box where it was deflected by an Arsenal defender right to O’Shea, who made no mistake about smashing in it into the net off of Almunia’s hand.

 

            Arsenal had the first moment in the 27th minute when Walcott was able to use his speed to dribble to space and play Adebayor who laid back for Fabregas to give it a go, but his shot was easily gathered by Van der Sar.

 

            Almunia made yet another terrific save in the 29th minute when the pesky Argentine Carlos Tevez once again played a effective ball this time directly to Ronaldo’s head only for Almunia to make a special sliding save. Ronaldo seconds later sent another sharp shot towards Almunia, but the keeper was once again up to the task.

 

            The Red Devils dominated the first half. Arsenal struggled to play their attractive style of football, as they could barely keep possession of the ball and an excellent half for keeper Almunia only shielded their lack of organization in the back.

 

            Cristiano Ronaldo awakened the slow second half of play in the 69th minute when he was giving a few yards of space and lashed a buzzing shot off the crossbar from about 25 yards out. Almunia had no chance, but the bar saved his biscuits.

 

            Arsenal did a better job at keeping possession at times in the second half but nothing really arose from it. Manchester United still seemed to be the only team to really constantly be a threat to score on their opponent.

 

            In the 86th minute substitute Nicolas Bendtner was able to flick his head onto a dangerous free kick missing the target even though the keeper Van der Sar had left his net in a charging attempt to punch away the ball. This was the last of the opportunities on the night as Manchester United took the first leg 1-0 at Old Trafford.

 

            Manchester United clearly was the controlling force in this match. They dominated the midfield and their flowing attack constantly had the Arsenal defense under pressure. A great match from Almunia was all that kept this match from being a three or four nil victory.

 

            The second leg in London will command a lot more from Arsenal if they want to survive in the UEFA Champions League. They are going to need Van Persie’s fitness as the attack was obviously weak without his presence.

 

           

 

Player Ratings

 

Manchester United

 

Van der Sar-   5.5   Got a quiet clean sheet, despite almost being punished on a late free kick when he came up empty when charging off his line.

 

Evra-    6.5   Played a key role in neutralizing the speedy Walcott. Was sharp in the back and barely made a mistake.

 

Vidic-   6.5   Solid and composed in the central defense. Cleared numerous cross attempts with ease and looked sharp at all times. Teamed well with Rio to stop Adebayor.

 

Ferdinand-   6.5     Solid match in the back, teamed well with Vidic to stop Adebayor.. Was barely challenged by the Arsenal attack and had to be subbed out late in the match after being bulldozed by his keeper Van der Sar.

 

O’Shea-   7.0   The lone goal scorer has an excellent 5 minute run in the first half where he sent Tevez in for an excellent scoring chance that set up the corner kick that he scored on. Was barely challenged on defense and hardly mentioned in the second half.

 

Carrick-   6.5     Supplied nice balls from the middle and held fort in the defensive midfield with ease. Constantly in better position then his opponents.

 

Fletcher-   7.5     Was at the top of his game during the first half of play when he was constantly involved freeing teammates up all around the pitch with excellent distributions of the ball.

 

Anderson-   6.5    Was key in winning 50-50 balls in the middle of the pitch. Was disruptive for the Arsenal midfield and did a nice job pushing the ball into space and linking up with the Manchester attack.

 

Ronaldo-   6.5    Not the best of his matches but came close to scoring with a header in the first half and a remarkable buzzing shot off the bar in the second half, reminiscent of last rounds strike.

 

Rooney-   6.5    The scrappy aggressive Englishman served many balls into the area and was constantly a presence in the United attack.

 

Tevez-   8.0    The Argentine showed what he can do when giving the start. He was a complete nuisance to the Arsenal defense and a constant threat to set a teammate free for a chance on goal. Constantly running at defenders and pressuring the defense. Was subbed out mid way through the second half.

 

Substitutes-

 

Giggs-  5.5   Beat the last line of defense to score, but was fairly ruled to be just offside.

 

Berbatov-  6.0   Not as energetic and visibly productive as Tevez, but did a nice job holding up the attack and displaying his strength skill and composure when on the ball.

 

Evans-

 

Arsenal

 

Almunia-   8.0    The keeper was by far the best player for his Arsenal side. He is the lone reason there is a anticipation to watch the second leg because without his tremendous saves on Ronaldo, Tevez, and Rooney this tie would be over already.

 

Gibbs-     5.0    Nervous on the ball, but did a respectable job keeping Ronaldo relatively quiet even though he was nothing close to spectacular.

 

Sivestre- 5.0   Sloppy ineffective matches from the central defender. His deflection led to the lone goal of the match.

 

Toure-   5.5   Average match for the defender, nowhere near the performance his brother put on display a night earlier.

 

Sagna-   6.0     Was the best Arsenal had in the back on the night, but that is far from a complement.

 

 

Billong-    4.5     Was absolutely dominated in the center of the pitch. Was unproductive the entire match and did nothing to support the Arsenal defense.

 

Diaby-   5.0      Was also dominated in the midfield. Needs to step his game up to a totally different intensity in order to compete in the second leg.

 

Walcott-   6.0     Only really had a handful of possessions and though he may have had United fans holding their breathe with his speed on the ball he was barely a threat at all in this match

 

Nasri-   5.0     Was barely a part of the match at all. Had no production and really disappointed the Gunners.

 

Fabregas-   5.5    The playmaker did nothing to help Adebayor in the front. Had nowhere close to the match that Gunner fans expected from him.

 

Adebayor-   5.0     The striker from Togo couldn’t leave his imprint on this match. Was barely involved and left isolated for much of the match up front.

 

Substitutes-

 

Bendtner- 5.0

 

Eduardo-

 

Man of the Match-    Carlos Tevez, Manchester United

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.