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February 15, 2010

FA Cup Thrillers, Vintage Ronaldo and a Barça Defeat

Let’s face it, when the draw for the FA Cup Fifth Round was made most of us were distinctly underwhelmed. Although it might be fun watching the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool getting knocked out in the early stages, it does cut down on the number of really interesting games when the competition hots up.

However, completely against the odds, there were a couple of completely authentic ‘old-fashioned’ cup ties this weekend. Full of end to end football, controversy and dramatic goals, the FA Cup proved it still has plenty of life left in it; it was just a pity that the attendances at some of the grounds continued to disappoint.

It’s true that holders and favourites Chelsea coasted to a 4 – 1 victory against 2008 finalists Cardiff City (Drogba, Ballack, Sturridge and Kalou) and Fulham equally comfortably despatched the cup’s lowest ranking team Notts County 4 – 0 (Simon Davies, Zamora, Duff and Okaka) but the remaining games were all competitive, to say the least.

Even the 4 – 1 scoreline for Portsmouth in their away derby at Division One side Southampton doesn’t come near to reflecting the closeness of a thrilling encounter. The home side bombarded Pompey in the first half when England goalkeeper David James almost single-handedly kept his team in the game. Even after substitute Owusu-Abeyie had given the visitors the lead early in the second half, the outstanding Southampton striker Ricky Lambert – surely bound for higher levels – equalised with a header. Once Dindane had restored their lead, however, Portsmouth, still not financially secure but definitely showing plenty of fighting spirit, imposed their authority and further goals from Balhadj and the tireless Jamie O’Hara sealed what could be a precious place in the quarter finals.

The game at Selhust Park between another club in financial difficulties, Crystal Palace, and Carling Cup finalists Aston Villa was another which kept spectators enthralled until the very last minute. Palace led twice through Johnny Ertl and Darren Ambrose (a stunning long range free kick) but were pegged back by headers from James Collins and Stiliyan Petrov. That Petrov’s late leveller came from an incorrectly awarded corner for Villa made the match even more dramatic!

Played in front of what appeared to be a half empty stadium, the Bolton and Tottenham tie embodied that old cliché of a ‘game of two halves’. Bolton were excellent throughout the first half with Kevin Davies, the game’s best player, finishing off a fine 16 pass move for their goal. After the break, though, Spurs dominated and, although Jermain Defoe equalised, another Spurs’ penalty miss, this time from Tom Huddlestone, meant the teams must meet again.

Birmingham had to wait until the final minutes to overcome near neighbours Derby County. Derby took an early lead through McEveley but Dann and Liam Ridgewell, following up after Kevin Phillips had hit the post, took the Premier team through.

The all Championship tie between Reading and West Bromwich Albion ended 2 – 2, with each side having a man sent off, whilst the final match, at Eastlands, between Manchester City and Stoke, was probably the only disappointing tie of the round. Shaun Wright Phillips scored a comedy opener for Mancini’s team and Ricardo Fuller, in fine form at the moment, headed an equaliser from a Delap long throw, but this really was a mundane encounter.

The number of replays means that there is only one clear cut 6th Round tie at the moment, Portsmouth against Birmingham. The other matches will involve Chelsea against either Manchester City or Stoke; Fulham v Bolton or Spurs; and Reading or WBA against Crystal Palace or Aston Villa.

La Liga

The news in Spain was dominated by Barcelona’s first league defeat of the season at Atlético Madrid. With only Puyol available from the first choice defence and Keita limping off early on, this was always going to be tough for Barcelona against a team buoyant after reaching the Copa del Rey final this week. A fabulous run and pass from Reyes enabled Diego Forlán to give the home side the lead, which Simao then doubled with a fine curling free kick. Although Ibrahimovic neatly volleyed home his first goal of 2010 just before half time, the leaders were unable to really exert much pressure in the second half and, with so many current injury problems, Barcelona look to be facing significant difficulties in the next few weeks.

As a consequence of Atlético’s success, Real Madrid’s victory at Xerez closed the gap at the top to just 2 points. After a goalless first half in which the best chances had fallen to the home side’s Momo, Real took control after the interval. Arbeloa opened the scoring and then Káka created two goals for Cristiano Ronaldo. The first was a clever cross for a bullet-like header and for the second the Brazilian showed great strength and composure before a square pass enabled the Ronaldo to hammer the ball home. Cristiano watchers were treated to all of his attributes throughout the match – thrilling runs, fine headers, audacious trickery, long range shooting as well as the full range of pouting, diving and ‘why is the whole world against me’ gestures!

Mata scored a late equaliser for Valencia away at Sporting, who had led since the 5th minute, and Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano scored the only goal against Osasuna to move them back into fourth place. Capdevila and Nilmar were Villarreal’s match winners against Athletic. Espanyol dented Deportivo’s European hopes by beating them 2 – 0 and Málaga had an important 3 – 0 success at Racing. The games between Valladolid and Zaragoza and Getafe and Almería ended all square at 1- 1 and 2 – 2 respectively and Mallorca have the chance of reclaiming fourth place at Tenerife on Monday evening.

After Round 22 of La Liga, then, Barcelona lead the way with 55 points followed by Real Madrid (53), Valencia (43), Sevilla (39), Mallorca (37) and Deportivo (35). It now really does look as if the battle for the title could become compulsive viewing. Real Madrid’s outstanding home record is going to be threatened by some potentially difficult fixtures in the next couple of months but, if they can continue in their current form, it might just be possible for them to regain the title.

Posted by admin @ 12:10 pm
Category: Premier League


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