Kompany, Kaka & RVP Headline the Top 6 Storylines of World Football Weekend
Robin van Persie’s 21st goal of the season ensured Manchester United would come out of the weekend with their seven-point lead atop the Premier League table intact. Referee Mike Dean was at the centre of things as Manchester City eased to a 2-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates. Jonathan Walters scored two own goals and missed a penalty as Stoke City fell 4-0 to Chelsea.
England’s Premier League served up a smorgasbord of storylines on the weekend’s world football buffet, but there was no shortage of narratives to sample from other competitions as well.
In Italy, Lazio, Napoli and Inter Milan crept up on Serie A-leaders Juventus, who only managed a draw at Parma. In Spain, Real Madrid was held to a scoreless draw at last-place Osasuna while Barcelona and Atletico Madrid kept chugging right along. In South America, both Argentina and Brazil failed to win either of their first two matches at that continent’s ongoing U-20 championship.
The football world is a big exciting place, and no matter which games you watched and leagues you followed there was no doubt a handful of talking points that will keep you engaged well into the week. Following are six of mine, and they begin, where else, with the Premier League.
6. Poor Jon Walters and His Chelsea Nightmare at the Britannia
Had it happened at the other end of the pitch, Jonathan Walters would have been mighty proud of his first-half injury-time header. Struck with power and accuracy after he outjumped his opponent, it left the goalkeeper with no chance as it bulged the back of the net.
Unfortunately for Walters, that goalkeeper was Stoke’s own Asmir Begovic, and with the referee about to signal the end of the opening period the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Incredibly, the 29-year-old repeated the feat shortly after the hour mark when he beat Frank Lampard to Juan Mata’s cross and once again headed the ball into his own goal. And as if his afternoon couldn’t have got any worse, Walters missed a 90th-minute penalty after being upended by John Terry in the Chelsea box.
The 4-0 loss left Stoke 10th in the table while Chelsea leapfrogged Tottenham into the third spot.
5. Sneijder Dithers as Galatasaray and Liverpool Come in for Him
Galatasaray became the first club to express an interest in signing Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder during the January transfer window when they made a €10 million offer for him last Tuesday. Inter accepted the Turkish club’s bid, and on Thursday Sneijder was given a 24-hour ultimatum to sign off on the move. On Friday the deadline was extended a further two days.
Sneijder, who has made only six appearances in all competitions for the Nerazzurri this season, would have already put pen to paper if he felt Galatasaray was his only option, but the fact that he continues to delay the transaction would seem to indicate he hopes another club will come in for him before too long.
Liverpool are thought to be that club.
According to the Mirror, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is keen to bring the 28-year-old to Anfield—a feeling that may have only gotten stronger following Joe Allen’s subpar showing at Old Trafford on Sunday. Wage demands are likely to be an issue, but Rodgers’ desire to improve his squad in January, coupled with Sneijder’s aspiration for Premier League football, could combine to pave the way for a deal.
In any event, the Sneijder saga promises to be one of the hot stories of the month, no matter where he ends up.
4. Brazil and Argentina Remain Winless at the South American Youth Championship
This is one of the more fascinating tournaments on the international calendar, and just as Lionel Messi and Neymar used it to make their first big splashes with their national teams, scouts and fans are hoping another superstar will emerge from the 2013 installment.
That said, they’re doubtful to find the next South American starlet on either Brazil or Argentina. The pre-tournament co-favourites have embarrassed themselves so far this month and have so far combined to take just one point from four matches.
Brazil, who were expected to have one of the more explosive midfields at the competition, drew Ecuador 1-1 in their first match on Thursday and fell 3-2 to Uruguay in a heartbreaker on Saturday. Chelsea-bound right-back Wallace has been abysmal and will miss Wednesday’s match against Venezuela through suspension, and Flamengo’s Adryan and Santos’ Felipe Anderson haven’t been much better.
Argentina, meanwhile, were unable to break down nine-man Chile in their opening match on January 9 and on Friday fell 2-1 to a Paraguay side that wasn’t expected to do much at this competition. Porto’s Juan Manuel Iturbe has been a massive disappointment, and River Plate’s Manuel Lanzini was benched to start his side’s second match.
3. Kaka Ejected as Listless Real Madrid Drop 2 Points at Last-Place Osasuna
Real Madrid finished with 10 men for the third match in succession and failed to score for the third time this season as their 0-0 draw away to Osasuna on Saturday gifted Barcelona the chance to open an 18-point lead on their existential rivals.
Given Cristiano Ronaldo’s one-match ban for yellow card accumulation Madrid was always going to have a bit more difficulty in the attacking third, but no one could have predicted the degree to which they’d struggle in front of goal. Osasuna goalkeeper Andrés Fernández was called on only once over the 90 minutes—and that came in the dying moments when Karim Benzema’s weak effort forced only a routine save.
Madrid’s troubles were compounded in the 76th minute when Kaka, already on a booking, was shown a second yellow card when a quickly taken Osasuna free kick hit him before he had time to react. It was an unfortunate incident, but so much about Real Madrid has been unfortunate of late.
Kaka’s ejection follows on the heels of red cards shown to goalkeeper Antonio Adan and defender Sergio Ramos, who was also handed a five-match ban for insulting the referee.
2. Van Persie and Manchester United Hold out for a Win Against Archrivals Liverpool
Talk about a game of two halves. United absolutely bossed the opening period and were ahead after 19 minutes when Van Persie found himself on the end of a move that included Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Patrice Evra in the buildup. After outfoxing his marker in front of goal, the Dutch international had only to turn Evra’s hard cross into the far corner with the slightest swing of his left foot.
Liverpool were fortunate to be only down a goal going into the break, but after manager Brendan Rodgers introduced Daniel Sturridge for Lucas Leiva for the start of the second half they looked a team reborn.
Suddenly Luis Suarez had room to maneuver in front of the United defense, and after David De Gea left a rebound sitting in the goalmouth following Steven Gerrard’s blast from distance, Sturridge had an easy finish and his first Premier League goal for the Reds.
From there Liverpool enjoyed the majority of the ball, although they couldn’t create the opening they needed to cancel out the Patrice Evra-Nemanja Vidic tag-team header that proved the winner at Old Trafford.
1. Koscielny and Kompany Ejected as Manchester City Win Away at Arsenal
Manchester City came into this match knowing they had to win in order to trim Manchester United’s lead atop the table to seven points, and after Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny was shown a straight red card in the ninth minute their assignment became considerably more straightforward.
There was little to argue about Koscielny’s ejection. Referee Mike Dean was quite right to give the 27-year-old his marching orders after wrestling Edin Dzeko to the ground, although the hosts were given a temporary let-off when the Bosnia-Herzegovina striker’s spot-kick was saved by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Kompany was rather more unlucky. The Manchester City captain paused before lunging in on Jack Wilshere, but with only one leg outstretched and his boot turned toward ground—never mind the fact that he connected with the ball before bringing down his opponent—he was rightfully aggrieved when Dean displayed red.
Nevertheless, by then City had taken a 2-0 lead (thanks to James Milner and Dzeko, who made amends for his missed penalty) and would go on to comfortably claim the three points.