Saturday, 22 January 2011

Real Madrid and Barcelona continue march towards final showdown

The Copa del Rey quarter finals came to a close Thursday night as Atletico Madrid exited the competition after a 1-0 defeat at home to their city rivals Real. Cristiano Ronaldo’s first half goal secured a 4-1 aggregate win for Real Madrid and set up a semi final clash with holders Sevilla. Gregorio Manzano’s team went through following a very impressive 3-0 win over Villarreal at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán on Tuesday night. Villarreal have been superb this season and after being 3-1 up after 55 minutes in the first leg, it looked like The Yellow Submarine would reach their first ever semi final. However, Sevilla scored five goals without reply to end up 6-3 winners on aggregate. In the second leg Sevilla showed up some disappointing defensive frailties of Villarreal, scoring from two corners in 3 minutes at the start of the second half. Sevilla are a very good cup side and should put up a fight against Jose Mourinho’s side in the semi finals.

The other semi final will be between table toppers Barcelona and Almeria, who are currently bottom of La Liga. Quite a mismatch on paper, and most probably in reality also. Barcelona have ended up on the easier side of the draw, and now face the team which they defeated 8-0 away from home back in November in the league. Almeria won both legs in their 4-2 aggregate win over Deportivo La Coruña and will be delighted to reach a semi final for the first time in their short history. Barcelona will be massive favourites in this tie, but Almeria will take heart after Real Betis managed to record a 3-1 win over the Spanish champions in the second leg of their quarter final. The tie may have been effectively over after Barcelona won the first leg 5-0 at the Camp Nou, but Betis’ win remains highly impressive and ended Barcelona’s record breaking 28-game unbeaten run.

Since the draw for the round of 16 and all subsequent rounds was made in November, all attention has been focused on the fact that Barcelona and Real Madrid were kept apart on separate sides of the draw. Barcelona and Real Madrid have not faced off in the final of this competition for 21 years, since Barcelona defeated their great rivals 2-0 in 1990. El Clásico has only occured twice more since then in the Cup, with a semi final in 92-93 and a last 16 match in 96-97. So surprisingly, in a country where two teams have dominated so much for so long, a Barcelona v Real Madrid final would actually be quite a rarity.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Future of the League Cup

The League Cup in England has been in decline for quite some years now. Many teams choose to field youth and reserve players, while others seem happy to exit at the earliest opportunity in order to concentrate on the league. Attendances have been down and fans interest in the competition is dwindling. This season, with the aim of ending Arsenal’s trophy dry spell, Arsene Wenger has decided that he fancies winning the League Cup. Simply by fielding a few more first team players, Arsenal have made the semi finals fairly comfortably, and are now clear favourites to lift the trophy. The ease in which they have done this puts into question the validity of the competition as a whole. The League Cup cannot continue as a play thing for the top teams.

Already today in the third round of the FA Cup, we have seen a superb cup tie between Arsenal and Leeds United which ended 1-1. The stadium was full and the excitement levels were top notch. The magic of the FA Cup is very much alive and maybe the League Cup is now surplus to requirements. We now have access to more football on television than ever before. With the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and other top class European football, the League Cup sadly fades into obscurity.

Maybe it is time to get rid of the competition entirely? This would ease fixture congestion and remove the problem completely. However, lower league teams would then have less to aim for in a season. Perhaps teams that play in Europe could be excluded, or maybe all the teams in the Premier League? I believe that something needs to happen to the League Cup, it lacks drama and excitement simply because it is not taken seriously any more by lots of teams. Left as it is, the League Cup will wither and die, maybe we should kill it off sooner than that.