Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Germany Ascendant; Bayern and Dortmund Romp

What an incredible two days of the Champions League! Both German sides have stunned their Spanish opposition with huge home results. I argue that playing the home game last is far more favorable against hearty opposition but Bayern and Dortmund proved that playing the home game first can be just as favorable.

Bayern Munich travel to Barcelona with a 4-0 scoreline and the knowledge that they completely dominated their opposition. Messi, the wizard of inspiration against PSG, was out of spells and tricks against Bayern. He painted a figure of an injured player that didn't have answers to Barcelona's questions. Bayern Munich capitalized on the weaknesses of Barcelona; they retained the ball well and dispossessed Barcelona in midfield while pressuring their weak defense with great attacking movement and utilizing their chances at set-plays. Barcelona defends well because they don't have to against the majority of their opposition, but once they are put on the back foot their defensive weaknesses are glaring. The scoreline is a bit harsh due to two glaring facts: Gomez was offside for the 2nd and Jordi Alba was fouled right before Robben scored the 3rd. However, Bayern dominated the game and were the only team to truly threaten the opposition's goal. Barcelona again are left asking questions due to a tactical flaw; possession does not win games, goals do. They continue to lack any form of a Plan B when it comes to scoring goals and Bayern Munich exposed this with aplomb.
Robert Lewandowski, you just raised your price tag to over 40m pounds easily. Borussia Dortmund, the Cinderella team of the tournament this year, pulled off another huge result for Germany. Dortmund bossed much of the first half but let in an equalizer before halftime to put this tie into question. I do not know what Jurgen Klopp said to his boys but they dominated the second half and came away with a 4-1 win in Dortmund and in front of the Yellow Wall numbering at approximately 25,000 fans. This game came on the tail-end of heart-breaking news for Dortmund fans; Mario Gotze's buy-out clause was paid by Bayern Munich and he would play for them next season. This could have demoralized the team to the point of tragic results but Jurgen Klopp rallied his troops to put on an awe-inspiring display in Dortmund. Mario Gotze and Marco Reus played brilliantly in Dortmund's attacking band with Gotze leading passes in the attacking third and Reus with successful take-ons.
Jurgen Klopp brilliantly had his men press at midfield to dispossess Madrid quickly and completely disrupt any rhythm in their attacking transitions. Madrid were largely unable to attack or counterattack at pace. Once in possession, Dortmund's approach in the final third utilized the space on the wings and attacked Madrid's fullbacks; Madrid tried to attack through a highly congested midfield zone as evidenced below.
Honorable Mention must go to both of the German sides' double pivot midfielders. Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sven Bender, and Ilkay Gundogan shielded their defenses superbly and transitioned play quickly and efficiently. They really are the engine rooms for their respective teams.

Monday, April 22, 2013

United's Twentieth Wrapped Up At Old Trafford

The writing was on the wall for the past few months but today it became official; Manchester United have won their twentieth English League title. It widens their gap with rivals Liverpool a little more (Liverpool sit at 18) and sees Robin Van Persie win his first ever major trophy since the FA Cup in his inaugural season with Arsenal. I'm sure Piers Morgan's head exploded when he saw RVP lift the Premier League trophy today.

A tip of the hat must go to them for securing another title before the month of May and having seen off every competitor with ease. If Manchester United win their remaining games, they will sit on a mighty 96 points and overtake Chelsea's previous record of 95 in the 2004/05 season.

Take a bow, Manchester United, you earned it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tributes In Boston


It so happened that the first game in Boston after the Boston Marathon explosions took place tonight as the Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres. This was a night honoring those most affected by this horrible tragedy and symbolized a city that needed something to unify everyone and show that life can go on. Superb work by Rene Rancourt, the Bruins anthem singer, to allow the Boston crowd to let their voices be heard as they sang the anthem.


This chant came immediately after the first goal that the Bruins scored.


The Sabres came back to win 3-2 in a shootout, but rarely do we see both teams raise their sticks in salute to the fans, but this was great it was the case last night. Doc Emrick had the perfect tone at the end of this call.

We are Boston Strong.

(all videos courtesy of

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Tragedy

(Thanks for Ken Fang of Fang's Bites for creating this sign for all of us to use.)

I'm not from Boston (discussing sports with me will make that a dead giveaway), but I have understood that the first Monday in April is a huge day. Patriots' Day allows for a celebration of Massachusetts' important place in the American Revolution. It gives us morning baseball as the Red Sox annually play at 11AM and it gives us the Boston Marathon. As much as I enjoy the New York City Marathon because it gives a wonderful look at the city through all five boroughs, I do accept the fact that the Boston Marathon is more intertwined into the city of Boston's fabric than the marathon here is to New York's.

Obviously, we have all heard about the awful bombings that occurred at the finish line at today's marathon. Once I heard about the attack, all I could think about is that warm September morning twelve years ago when I was a high school student and heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. Yes, this attack wasn't on the same scale as 9/11, but it makes it no less tragic. The fact that many people in the city was flocked to Copley Square to witness the end of the marathon (a place that gets plenty of people walking through on a normal day) has us lucky that the attack didn't strike more people, yet anyone in Boston (and frankly, around the country) will never forget this happened.

Being that this occurred during a sporting event, I felt in particular a need to address this on my blog. The past twelve months have been brutal for those who test the limits of their body by running marathons. Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the NYC Marathon and lost the chance for tens of thousands of people to feel the cheers of the city for their dedication to fitness and to charity. Today's Boston Marathon was supposed to give those who sacrifice to compete against oneself a chance to have a stress-free run, so to speak. Also noteworthy; the 26th mile was dedicated to the victims of the Newtown shooting, showing once again how both New York and Boston have been out in front of that tragedy; to support and honor those from Sandy Hook Elementary.

Unfortunately, that couldn't be the case as these attacks were put on the finish line. Thus, many had the chance to run the full race. When they finally complete it and achieve a goal that had been set months and years in advanced, their joy gets taken away in one fell swoop. Now it's time for New York City to honor the Boston Marathoners (along with those who were cheering on the runners) who were killed or injured from this act. My friend who will be running in the NYC Marathon this fall told me he has more motivation to run; a man so motivated since he was particularly devastated that he couldn't run last year and perhaps might be good enough that he could run Boston if he chose to do so.

Sunday, it was settled that the Knicks and the Celtics were set to due battle in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. It was a time for typical New York-Boston allegiances to show it's head as the rivalry between the two cities was to continue. Right now, we would all love it if Knicks and Celtics fans could engage in trash talk for the next two weeks. We all hate that this can't happen.

I wish I could write something that does it justice on the impact of this attack on Boston, but as an outsider, I can't. Besides, Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe seemed to hit just about everything on his reaction to the horrible day, among many others who live and/or work in the city. However, I knew I needed to write something, because this feeling of heartbreak and suffering is something I'm very familiar with and writing for me is the only way I can truly release some of that feeling.

Now that I'm done writing, I will go back to praying for Boston. Praying that they bounce back like NYC did twelve years ago.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Messi-inspired Barca triumph; Bayern oust Juve

Messi fulfilled one of those cliched sports moments; he came off the bench, playing hurt, and inspired his team to victory (on aggregate). He injured his hamstring in Paris and was named to the bench. Both sides started conservatively, feeling the other team out. It wasn't until the second half when the tie really heated up. PSG came out with a desire for a goal; they did not park the bus by any means. They looked to dispossess Barca, not an easy task, and attack them at pace. Zlatan turned into a creator for Pastore for the following.

Barcelona had to score after that goal but PSG still searched for a second; a bold tactic for Ancelotti to employ but his side looked very threatening. Barca pressed on as Messi came on even barely half-fit for the game. Barca's passing had them in behind the defense shortly after but Messi uncharacteristically couldn't sort out his feet and a clear chance was wasted. He, however, helped push forward again and Pedro was able to place a perfect lay-off from David Villa into the back of the net.

PSG didn't have much for chances after this (Pastore had wasted one previous to Pedro's equalizer) but Iniesta put on a bit of a show near the end of regular time.

History was made by Xavi; he completed 96 of his 96 passes. Read it and weep. Amazing.
Sadly, the Bayern-Juve tie wasn't nearly as interesting. Juve looked up for it in the early stages with Neuer having to punch away a fierce free kick from Pirlo. It was quiet until after the break when Bayern looked to put the tie to bed; Mandzukic headed in a rebound from a weak Buffon punch (how many times has he done that this season?) and his replacement added a 90th minute consolation.

The quarterfinals are now finished and the semifinal draw awaits. The Champions League should deliver another tantalizing round of fixtures! I'm hoping for Barca-Dortmund and Bayern-Real with a dream final of Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dortmund Stuns Malaga Late; Madrid Holds Off Gala

Borussia Dortmund, sie sind wunderbar. Their comeback was one for the ages and a stunning example of why the Champions League is the greatest club tournament in the world. Before their legendary comeback, BVB had given up a sloppy goal to Malaga (poor defending) but then they finally decided to play the way some of us have fallen in love with over the past three seasons. This is pure beauty.

Dortmund kept searching for another goal but they didn't seem to have any conviction; Malaga kept probing and seemed to be the more likely of the two to score. Subotic didn't have his best game; Malaga also capitalized on a linesman error to go 2-1 up. Eliseu is clearly offside at the time of the pass but the goal stood. Dortmund now had to score twice to go through due to the away goal rule.

Marco Reus had been severely under-performing in both legs but he was in the right place at the right time to put home the equalizer. It was a goal of sheer will and now Dortmund could feel victory on their fingertips. They had four more minutes to score the winner to put them through to the semifinals but they only needed one.

That was a comeback and fight to the finish for the ages. Dortmund have been waiting to show themselves on the European stage but have faltered as Manchester City have done the past few seasons. Their next tie will be very interesting but, for now, they celebrate and deservedly so after that game.

There was another game on today that shouldn't have had many talking points but Galatasaray showed a fighting spirit and gave Real Madrid a little scare. Ronaldo scored again within ten minutes and it seemed business as usual. Gala scored three amazing goals to put themselves 3-1 and needing two goals to advance. What seemed an impossibility now seemed a little improbable. Eboue scored a screamer, Sneijder with a cheeky first touch and slick finish, and Drogba scored an amazing back-heel goal. Unfortunately for Gala, they didn't have enough time and pushing so far forward left them open at the back and Ronaldo made them pay in extra time.

We can only hope that tomorrow's games are only half as entertaining as today's games. Hats off to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid for advancing to the Champions League semifinals.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Aguero's Late Stunner Leads City to Victory

Sergio Aguero. The man has been an afterthought for the majority of this season due to a variety of niggling injuries but today his quality shone through as he fired Manchester City ahead of their rivals, Manchester United, in the Manchester derby. City will claim it as a victory to uphold their honor as reigning Premier League champions; Manchester United will say it is a minor annoyance on their way to the title this year. Fergie, after all, is not known to allow his players to blow a twelve point lead in the table during this time of year.

Regardless of United's inevitable 20th league title, Manchester City dominated this game. United could have cemented their title today but City wanted it more. Mancini's men fought with pride and they prevailed. City dominated possession and looked the more threatening side throughout the contest. United had a few breaks that looked dangerous but they, by and large, looked like an away team playing for a draw (they were playing at Old Trafford). Yaya Toure did give away a free kick in a very dangerous area; Phil Jones' header bounced off of Kompany and into the City net to equalize for United. 

Manchester City would regain the lead but not until the 78th minute through Sergio Aguero, having been brought on for Samir Nasri, in a goal that was reminiscent of the one that won them the Premier League last year. City will enjoy the victory of this particular battle; United will enjoy the parade after they win the war in May.

Editor's note: Previous version of this blog post didn't include the video.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Stroll For Real Madrid; Dortmund Wasteful Against Malaga

My predictions would have been correct if it weren't for Dortmund's dreadful finishing; on the other hand, Real Madrid took their chances and easily have their tie in the bag.

If you have failed to see Borussia Dortmund play this or last season, you are really missing out. Jurgen Klopp has assembled a young, energetic, and skillful side that play very attractive, attacking soccer. Marco Reus and Mario Gotze are two of the brightest attacking talents the whole world over - Franz Beckenbauer asserted as much - and Dortmund also have two of the best centerbacks in the world in Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. The latter two are the oldest at a grand age of 24. There were plenty of moments of brilliance shown by Dortmund but they really should have capitalized on moments such as this. Malaga played sloppily in midfield and gifted BVB the ball many times. The Spanish defense were held afloat by the sheer lack of finishing by the Germans (e.g. this). Malaga had a few chances of their own but Borussia's slick passing and movements should have seen them take an advantage back to Germany with them. 0-0 is still a good scoreline for BVB but Malaga had their moments; they are not push-overs but Jurgen Klopp has to make sure this performance in front of goal is not repeated at the Westfalenstadion.

As Messi scored again on Tuesday, Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday. Ronaldo will get all the headlines as is to be expected but his early goal came from a great ball in from Mesut Ozil followed by a great chip. Poor defending led to the Benzema goal but I'll take a Michael Essien assist any day. Real Madrid cruised much of the game with Mesut Ozil really putting on a show. Xabi Alonso's ball over the top to Di Maria should have made it three but his shot was poor and straight at the goalkeeper. Alonso again played a great ball in, from a free kick this time, that found Higuain unmarked in the box and he buried his free header. Jose Mourinho takes a three goal lead to Turkey; he is resting easily tonight.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bayern comfortably beat Juve; Late Valdes Blunder Saves PSG

The quarterfinals of the Champions League began today and I couldn't be happier even if Chelsea isn't in the competition anymore. Today brought us two tantalizing fixtures in the form of Bayern Munich versus Juventus and PSG pitted against Barcelona. Bayern and PSG were the home teams in each fixture.

Bayern won easily at home - they were coming off a 9-2 victory at the weekend - but both goals raised eyebrows due questionable goalkeeping. Gianluigi Buffon has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the last ten years, he was in goal for Italy's World Cup win in the penalty shootout against France, but it seemed that he could and should have done more to prevent the two Bayern goals. Gigi does get a pass on the first goal as Alaba seemed to have bent the laws of physics to score this goal. Muller added a second due to Buffon impotently batting away a shot into the path of Mandzukic who passed the ball across the goal to Muller and he slotted it into a gaping net. While Bayern did win, they paid a heavy price. Toni Kroos likely tore his groin muscle and had to be replaced after 16 minutes; this means he will be out for the rest of the season. He plays in the spearhead of Bayern's attacking trident meaning he dictates almost every attack. Bayern was also lucky to have Franck Ribery for the second leg as he should have easily seen a straight red card for his calf rake on Vidal. This loss won't affect their domestic league form but it will certainly be interesting to see how Muller slots into that spot in the Champions League.

PSG played hosts to Barcelona; the former in the midst of a revolution to be able to truly give the latter a run for their money. PSG are the new big spenders in European soccer as they were purchased by a Qatari group with assets in excess of $60 billion dollars. Messi opened the scoring, not surprisingly, but the story of that goal was the pass from Dani Alves. PSG did well on the counterattack and defended superbly in the rest of the first half. Lionel Messi, known to be very durable, was subbed off at halftime due to a hamstring issue. His injury will have to be watched closely as that could be the deciding factor in this tie. Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally decided to show up and pull one back for the home team...even if he was miles offside at the time of Thiago Silva's thunderous header. See for yourself here. Barca earned a penalty and Xavi stepped up to do the honors and coolly slotted the ball home. Victor Valdes, how you gave up that goal in stoppage time is beyond me. Barca still have the advantage headed to the Nou Camp due to away goals but 2-2 is worlds better than 2-1 for PSG. They have a mountain to climb but with Matuidi's 94th minute goal it is a very reachable destination. It should be a cracking match in Catalonia.

Tomorrow sees Malaga facing Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid versus Galatasaray. BVB and Madrid should win either game rather easily. It is, however, the Champions League and stranger things have happened.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 MLB Preview

As SportsCenter said last night, this is the 75th anniversary of the first recording of the iconic Abbott and Costello skit "Who's On First". That it happens to coincide with the start of the 2013 baseball season makes it even better. Here are my picks for this season.

NL East

Washington 97-65
Atlanta* 93-69
Philadelphia 82-80
NY Mets 75-87
Florida 66-96

NL Central

Cincinnati 95-67
St. Louis* 91-71
Milwaukee 83-79
Pittsburgh 77-85
Chicago Cubs 65-97

NL West

LA Dodgers 92-70
San Francisco 89-73
Arizona 77-85
San Diego 72-90
Colorado 61-101

AL East

Toronto 91-71
NY Yankees* 89-73
Tampa Bay 86-76
Baltimore 79-83
Boston 73-89

AL Central

Detroit 94-68
Cleveland 84-78
Kansas City 83-79
Minnesota 71-91
Chicago 68-94

AL West

LA Angels 92-70
Oakland* 88-74
Texas 84-78
Seattle 68-94
Houston 58-104 (despite the win last night)

(* denotes Wild Card)

ALCS: Detroit over Toronto
NLCS: Washington over Cincinnati
WS: Washington over Detroit

AL MVP: Robinson Cano
NL MVP: Joey Votto
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
NL Cy Young: Matt Cain
AL ROY: Jurickson Profar
NL ROY: Trevor Rosenthal