Sports

Apr 192016
 
Even Shay Given looked surprised to see Dele Alli’s shot hit the post

One touch to bring the ball under control. Another to take it away from the defender. One more to push it around the keeper – delay, delay, delay to perfection.

Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli was doing everything right as he coasted past Stoke keeper Shay Given – just the post to beat. Ah.

Former Leicester midfielder and BBC Radio 5 live pundit Robbie Savage declared Alli’s miscued effort in Spurs’ 4-0 win on Monday as one of the “greatest misses in Premier League history”.

Alli saw the funny side of his miss, using Tottenham’s Snapchat account to post this self-mocking picture of himself

As it happens, 20-year-old Alli has the world at his feet – and more often than not he’ll stick that world into the net, as he showed with the two goals he did score at the Britannia Stadium.

So, just to make this rarest of English talents feel a bit better about himself, here are some other magnificent Premier League misses.

Ronny Rosenthal – Aston Villa 4-2 Liverpool, 19 September 1992

There was a bobble, right Ronny?

The daddy. The benchmark. The gold standard.

Without Ronny Rosenthal, there would be no yardstick with which to measure all of the other howlers that football gifts us. It’s almost as if open-goal gaffes never existed until this beauty came along.

They did, apparently.

Chasing a long punt upfield, the Liverpool striker rounds Aston Villa keeper Nigel Spink and, from almost right on top of the penalty spot, pokes the ball against the crossbar. It’s possibly the sound of leather against metal that makes this all the more satisfying.

It’s a credit to the quality of this miss that Israeli Ronny is better remembered for this act of squandering than he is for an FA Cup fifth-round replay hat-trick for Tottenham in a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down to win 6-2 against Southampton.

Fernando Torres – Man Utd 3-1 Chelsea, 18 September 2011

If a picture could sum up Fernando’s Chelsea career…

Former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres wanted the world to eat him up after this shank in a 3-1 loss at Manchester United.

The Spaniard, having already scored, looks in fine fettle as he executes a textbook step-over to go past the approaching David de Gea. From six yards out, he connects quite cleanly with his shot and, had the goal been three feet to the left, it would be a corker of a finish.

Fortunately for Torres, he is offered immediate support and condolences by a sympathetic throng of United fans in the Stretford End.

What they said on Match of the Day:

Jonathan Pearce: “Torres! Oh my goodness me. He did everything right. It looks like the old Torres – oh not it’s not. The miss of the season with the goal gaping and ghastly in front of his disbelieving eyes.”

Lee Dixon: “No disrespect to Ronny, but Fernando is a better player. So to miss that with an open goal – it’ll now be called a Nando, not a Rosenthal.”

That didn’t quite take off, did it Lee?

Edin Dzeko – Man City 1-0 Stoke, 22 February 2014

Edin Dzeko made a better connection when he booted the post in anger after this miss

It’s not up to the standard of his miss for Roma earlier this season, when Edin Dzeko elegantly stroked the ball across a gaping net.

But this is an underrated miss from the former Manchester City striker, simply because he makes such a poor connection on the ball, it never has the chance to either roll past or strike the post.

City winger Jesus Navas rolls across the tastiest of tasty balls to the Bosnian, who is four yards out (at best) and connects with his right foot, before swiftly turning into a defender and blocking it with his standing left foot. Top multitasking.

What they said on Match of the Day:

Jonathan Pearce: “What a miss. He’s kicked the post in anger. If he made the same impact on the ball as he did on the post, it would have been 2-0.”

Nwankwo Kanu – West Brom 1-2 Middlesbrough, 14 November 2004

Nwankwo Kanu defied the laws of physics to send the ball over the bar from less than a yard out

The headline, somewhere, surely, must have been ‘Kanu believe it?!’ If it wasn’t, then that could well be as gargantuan a missed opportunity as Nwankwo’s back-post horror show.

If the Nigerian were any further up the pitch when he connects with this ball, he would have been under the crossbar.

The old cliche ‘it was harder to miss than score’ is flat out inappropriate here. West Brom boss Bryan Robson, in his first game as Baggies chief, almost got it right at the time when he said it was “almost impossible” to miss.

From 0.7 yards out, it was IMPOSSIBLE to miss. But Kanu defied the laws of physics to scoop it over.

What they said on Match of the Day:

Jonathan Pearce: “Kanu. Onsiiiiide. How did that stay out? The West Brom captain is a yard from goal – what a miss.”

Cristiano Ronaldo – Sheffield Utd 1-2 Man Utd, 18 November 2006

How can a man with 539 career goals miss from here?

We’ll finish on this one just to make us all feel a bit better about ourselves.

One of the best players of a generation, 539 career goals and more than £90m in transfer fees. Yet Ronnie, when he really puts his mind to it, can still do a passable impression of a middle-aged, podgy, hungover bloke called Keith on a park in Smethwick.

After some vintage trickery from Wayne Rooney and a precise square ball from Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo can select from roll, poke, prod or pass for the finishing touch – instead he chooses balloon. Great fun.

What they said on Match of the Day:

It seems a lot of these stinkers are played out against the backdrop of Jonathan Pearce’s commentary. Coincidence? We’ll let you decide.

Jonathan Pearce: “Giggs picks out Ronaldo. How did he miss from there? That is the miss of the season. All he had to do was nudge it. He’ll see that in his nightmares. for years to come. Sorry Cristiano, it was awful.”

  • Is there a worse miss than those on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Agbonlahor suspended by Aston Villa

 Posted by at 6:54 PM
Apr 192016
 
Gabriel Agbonlahor has made three appearances for England

Aston Villa have suspended striker Gabriel Agbonlahor and begun an investigation after he was allegedly pictured with laughing gas canisters.

According to reports, the 29-year-old was pictured partying in London on the same night Villa were relegated.

Agbonlahor was already on the sidelines after being told he was not fit enough.

He was suspended by Villa earlier this month after he was pictured appearing to hold a shisha pipe while in Dubai, but the club took no further action.

Villa were relegated from the Premier League after losing 1-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday.

They are bottom of the table after collecting only 16 points from 34 games.

The West Midlands outfit are also without a manager following the sacking of Frenchman Remi Garde and have been hit by two key resignations.

Former Football Association chairman David Bernstein and Lord King, a former Governor of the Bank of England, both quit the board on Monday.

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Apr 192016
 

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Spurs can win Premier League title – Harry Kane

Harry Kane has warned Leicester City that Tottenham are “on their tails” after moving to within five points of the Premier League leaders.

Spurs increased the pressure on the Foxes by thrashing Stoke City 4-0 at the Britannia Stadium on Monday.

“We are not going anywhere,” said 22-year-old striker Kane, who took his Premier League goal tally to 24 with a brace.

“If we keep playing like that, there are not many teams who will beat us.”

The England player added that, with four games left for the top two sides, Spurs still believe they can win the title.

“We think we can do it, otherwise there’s not much point being involved,” he said. “Leicester are still in the driving seat being five points ahead but there are four games left and we’ve reduced the gap. That’s all we could have done.”

A dejected Alli reflects on his miss

Dele Alli also scored twice in the victory over Stoke as Tottenham cut the gap to Leicester, who drew 2-2 with West Ham on Sunday.

He also hit the post when he had the goal at his mercy, evoking memories of Ronny Rosenthal’s extraordinary miss against Aston Villa in 1992.

Listen: Radio 5 live commentary of Alli’s miss

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino echoed Kane’s sentiments about the title race, insisting his players “really believe” they can overhaul the Foxes.

“This is our dream, to win the title,” he said. “Always we try. You must never give up. You can feel every day this season from the beginning was special.”

Tottenham have won 10 of their past 13 Premier League games to keep pace with Leicester and play on Monday night again in each of the next two weeks.

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Stoke City 0-4 Tottenham Hotspur: We showed we believe – Mauricio Pochettino

“The most important thing is that the performance we showed was perfect,” said Pochettino. “It was a big signal that we are there waiting and fighting.”

Stoke boss Mark Hughes praised a “very impressive” Tottenham, describing them as stronger, faster and more powerful than his team.

“Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition,” he added. “They are quick and sharp and have got that edge that chasing major trophies gives you.

“You wouldn’t bet against them catching Leicester.”

The run-in

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What is going wrong at Barcelona?

 Posted by at 7:37 AM
Apr 192016
 
Barcelona were nine points clear at the top of La Liga at the start of April, a gap that has now been wiped out

On 16 March, goals from Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi eased Barcelona to a 3-1 Champions League victory over Arsenal, completing a straightforward 5-1 aggregate win and sending the holders into the last eight.

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, a former Camp Nou striker, was moved to tweet: “The football that Barca play is utterly joyous. The best team to watch in the history of the beautiful game.”

His gushing sentiments were widely shared. The win over Arsenal was Barca’s 38th consecutive game without defeat, they held a seemingly unassailable lead over Atletico and Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and had advanced to a Copa del Rey final meeting with Sevilla.

As the season entered its final straight, a back-to-back league, cup and European treble was looking distinctly likely.

Fast forward one month, and the picture has changed – dramatically. Since the start of April, the Catalan giants have been knocked out of the Champions League, lost three straight league games for the first time in 13 years and seen their nine-point advantage in La Liga whittled down to nothing.

Suddenly “the best team to watch in the history of the beautiful game” cannot seem to win a match and have been plunged into a dramatic crisis which could see their season finish without a trophy. What on earth is going on?

Just a case of bad luck?

Luis Enrique won the treble in his first season as Barcelona manager

According to manager Luis Enrique, his team’s downturn is a simple case of bad luck.

That, at least, was his explanation for their latest setback, Sunday’s 2-1 home defeat by Valencia, when he claimed he was happy with the performance and that “we only lacked the necessary fortune to win the game”.

The local media agreed, with newspaper Mundo Deportivo’s front page on Monday featuring a headline which lamented: “1-2. How unfair!”

It is true that Barca created plenty of chances to claim three points: Suarez headed over from close range, Gerard Pique dragged a golden chance wide and visiting keeper Diego Alves made excellent saves from Messi (twice), Ivan Rakitic and Neymar. In addition, Valencia’s opener was a freak own goal as Rakitic deflected a cross into the net.

Similarly, Barca’s other recent defeats have contained moments of ill fortune.

In the home defeat by Real Madrid that started the rot, for example, Barca flew out of the blocks and should have taken the lead when Suarez inexplicably mis-kicked in front of an open goal. Bad finishing rather than bad luck, true, but the outcome may have been very different if he had scored.

And in stoppage time at the end of their decisive Champions League defeat by Atletico Madrid, Barca were denied a penalty when home captain Gabi blocked Andres Iniesta’s goalbound shot with his arm clearly inside the area, only for referee Nicola Rizzoli to judge wrongly that the offence had taken place outside the box.

So things have gone against them – but they have benefited from the rub of the green too. Gareth Bale had a goal disallowed harshly in the Clasico defeat, while Iniesta was lucky to avoid a red card for a deliberate handball at Atletico.

Bad luck, then, is not the only answer to Barca’s malaise. So what is?

‘MSN’ mis-firing

Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal against Valencia but his partnership with Neymar and Luis Suarez has not been as profitable in recent matches as it had been earlier this season

The key to Barca’s success over the past 18 months has been their sensational strike force of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, known by the acronym ‘MSN’, who combined for a record 122 goals last season and have reached treble figures again this time around.

Just as MSN’s success was central to their team’s long unbeaten run, the current slump is explained largely by a sudden and sharp downturn in the front three’s effectiveness.

During five games in March, they scored 13 goals between them, with Messi grabbing seven, Suarez two and Neymar four. But they have only netted three between them in their past five outings – one from Messi, two from Suarez and none from Neymar.

It is not just about the lack of goals. The front three, who have worked so well together over the past 18 months, appear to have lost the near-telepathy which made them almost impossible to stop.

During the Champions League quarter-final second leg defeat against Atletico, for instance, Messi did not complete a single pass to Suarez over the entire 90 minutes and made only one to Neymar; in the previous round’s home win over Arsenal, by contrast, Messi completed three passes to Suarez and no fewer than 13 to Neymar.

Something has gone very wrong with the collective dynamic between these three spectacular players. The great mystery is what.

Running out of steam?

Barcelona could lose their place at the top of La Liga on Wednesday

Fatigue is the explanation offered most commonly for Barca’s struggles as they head into the final stages of a demanding season, which started earlier than other clubs because of their involvement in the Spanish and Uefa Super Cups.

With December’s Fifa Club World Cup in Japan adding to the workload, Sunday’s defeat by Valencia was their 56th match of the season. In Europe’s big five leagues, only Athletic Bilbao have played more games. By comparison, Champions League semi-finalists Manchester City have played 52, and Bayern Munich 45.

It is perhaps not coincidental that the Clasico defeat by Real Madrid, which began Barca’s slump, followed an international break that had seen six of their starting XI – including the three superstar forwards – embark upon transatlantic flights to and from South America.

They certainly looked jaded during that defeat against Real and in the second leg of the Champions League exit to Atletico, but there were no visible signs of tiredness during Sunday’s loss to Valencia, when they kept on running hard until the last seconds.

And it is certainly not advisable to try telling manager Enrique that his team are tired. In his news conference after Sunday’s match, journalist Victor Malo asked whether the physical aspect was an element in his team’s problems.

The Barca boss replied by asking the journalist for his surname, knowing full well that the answer was ‘Malo’, the Spanish word for ‘bad’. “Correct,” sniffed Enrique. “Next question.”

Same tactics, different outcome

Lionel Messi has scored 450 goals in his Barcelona career

Enrique certainly has not caused his team’s collapse with any tactical tinkering, because they have played in exactly the same manner and with the same personnel during their four recent defeats as they did during their six-month unbeaten run.

If one slight change can be identified, it is that Messi is occupying a more central position, allowing opposing defences to focus their attentions in the middle rather than forcing them to stretch across the full width of the pitch, as they have to do when Messi is positioned on the right wing.

But that is only a minor variation and does not explain why the front three have stopped combining so well or so regularly – which is, ultimately, the greatest dilemma for Enrique to solve. If he can get MSN firing again, the team will start scoring and winning again.

One major criticism aimed at Enrique is the lack of squad depth, which leaves the manager without viable options in reserve.

During Sunday’s game against Valencia, for example, Enrique did not make any substitutions at all, clearly not believing that anybody on the bench could have made a positive impact.

Although his hand was weakened by the absence of injured attacking midfielder Rafinha and the out-of-form Arda Turan through suspension, it has left Enrique open to the accusation that his team is too one-dimensional.

The Madrid media has latched onto that line of thinking, with Marca accusing Enrique of being a ‘ghost’ on the touchline for his failure to make substitutions or tactical changes against Valencia. The paper also suggested that his team’s collapse makes him resemble former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz during his ill-fated stint in charge of Real Madrid in 2003-04.

Of course, the easy retort is that Enrique doesn’t have a ‘Plan B’ because when his ‘Plan A’ of MSN is functioning, nothing else is needed. But with the trio’s loss of form, Barca do not appear to have any other way of winning.

Fixtures favour Barca

There is no time for Enrique and his players to sit around feeling sorry for themselves, because the first of their five remaining La Liga games takes place on Wednesday with a journey to Deportivo La Coruna.

The fixture list would appear to favour Barca, with all their upcoming opponents currently in the bottom half of the table.

Atletico, meanwhile, face a testing trip to fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday and will have to do without the services of their suspended captain Gabi.

Real Madrid also face a tricky midweek fixture with the visit of Villarreal, who are pushing hard to secure fourth place and have a Europa League semi-final with Liverpool to look forward to.

In their current form, Barca will find it anything but easy to win their game against Deportivo, who have been La Liga’s draw specialists this season. No fewer than 17 of their 33 games ending in a stalemate – including a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in December.

Worrying about their title rivals will do little good. Barca’s season will be decided by whether they can return to their pre-April form. If they do, they should win all five games and be crowned champions.

At the moment, however, that is a very big ‘if’.

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Apr 192016
 
Jose Mourinho won the title seven months before his second spell at Chelsea came to an end

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas says Jose Mourinho failed at Stamford Bridge this season because he put “too much trust” in his squad.

Mourinho, 53, was sacked in December, with the club one point above the relegation zone, seven months after he led them to the Premier League title.

Fabregas, 28, says the players “let him down” after being given extra holiday as reward for winning the league.

“I have huge respect for him,” the Spain international told Sky Sports.

“The biggest problem was he trusted us too much, gave us more holiday because we were champions and we let him down.

“That was the main reason he had to go – and for that myself and the team feel bad for it.”

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