Monday, April 11, 2011

Race to the Top, Race to the Bottom

By Bagga Wilks

In the long and torturous soccer season, the race is not necessarily for the swift but for those who can endure it to the end.

La Liga
In the Spanish La Liga there is Barcelona and Real Madrid and the rest. This Saturday, April 16, 2011, the two Spanish League giants will clash. In addition, there is the strong possibility that both will play each other twice in the Champion League semi-final.

This Saturday, we will not only see two of the great soccer teams in the world but on display will be two of the great players in the game, Messi of Barcelona and Ronaldo of Real Madrid.

Barcelona has a comfortable lead over Real Madrid in La Liga. To narrow the 8 point gap, Real Madrid will have to win on Saturday and hope that Barca stumbles down the stretch. Valencia is in third place with 60 points and Villareal is in fourth with 54 points, a large separation between the men and the boys. At present, Almeria, Malaga and Hercules are poised for relegation.

Serie A
Coming down the homestretch, the Serie A race is among 3 teams. A.C. Milan, who defeated Fiorentina last Sunday with 68 points, the tenacious Napoli with 65 points and the unpredictable Internazionale with 63 points.

A.C. Milan has gotten better as the season progressed but even though they play a disciplined brand of soccer, the team has more than their fair share of indisciplined players. Cassana, two weeks ago after coming in late in a game, scored a goal, took off his shirt, received a yellow card and almost in the next sequence committed a silly foul and was the recipient of a red card.

Ibrahimovic in the Fiorentina game with A.C. Milan leading, playing with a yellow card, with just a few minutes to go, acted rashly and was sent off the pitch. In the early stages of the game, Pato was involved in a shoving match and could have been severely penalized. And of course, Gattuso’s volatility is legendary.

What has made the difference in A.C. Milan’s climb to the top of the tables is Seedorf’s return to form and Pato’s deftness as one of the better strikers in Serie A.

Even though Arsenal has a game in hand, Manchester United has a safe lead of 7 points. Arsenal’s inconsistency has cost them to be bereft of any silverware for the season while the juggernautish Manchester United keeps rolling over lesser and formidable opponents.

Chelsea and Manchester City are vying for third place with 58 and 56 points, respectively. Tottenham has sputtered recently and unless they can shore up their defense will not qualify for the Champion UEFA League next season. They need to recover from the drubbing they took from Real Madrid and Peter Crouch’s foolhardy tackles in the early stages of the match made playing with 10 men an impossible comeback task.

In the EPL, the race to the bottom is equally exciting as the race to the top. Wigan plays attractive football and like most of the weaker teams, has difficulty scoring goals and gives up an excessive number of goals. The Wolves are like a “yo-yo”. They play hard but breakdown so easily in the back. They have already given up 56 goals and have only managed to score 36. West Ham is third from the bottom, does a somewhat better job in scoring goals when compared to Wigan and Wolves but again the back-line is exceedingly porous.

Villa, with their victory last week over Newcastle, should be out of the danger zone of relegation. But from Blackburn Rovers, the team in fifteenth place with 35 points, the remaining teams, Birmingham, Blackpool, West Ham, Wolves and Wigan are separated by the narrowest of margins. Their fate will be decided when they face off against each other. Unlike the race to the top, the race to the bottom will not be decided until the final whistle is blown on the final day of the season.

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