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Soccer on the side
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 02 - 2014


Red-hot La Liga
On Salah's debut, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho go top of the league as they swept away Newcastle, thanks to the unbelievable Eden Hazard who scored a hat-trick to lead his team to a 3-0 win over the struggling Newcastle. Salah came on in the 78th minute in place of Willian, who will probably be Salah's main rival for a place in the starting eleven. Meanwhile, the place of the other Brazilian Oscar seems to be pretty assured in the side, as well as their talisman, Eden Hazard, who has quickly becoming one of the best players in the world.
Salah had a very positive cameo as he showed glimpses of his undoubted potential with some dazzling runs and a couple of attempts on goal. In fact, Salah should have really scored as he went one-on-one with Newcastle's goalkeeper, Tim Krul, only to the latter saving his weak shot after a somewhat bad first touch from the Egyptian star. Apart from his miss, Salah seemed really confident and his speed caused many problems to the opponents' backline.
Chelsea's fans and Jose Mourinho can consider Salah their lucky charm as they went top on his debut after beating Manchester City at the fortress Ettihad Stadium in the game that saw Salah included in the match squad for the first time. It is worth mentioning that Chelsea had started the week in third place behind Arsenal and Man City respectively, but both teams stumbled to gift Chelsea the top spot.
First, an astounding performance from the superb Liverpool saw them thrashing league leaders Arsenal by five goals to one as they went 4-0 in the first 20 minutes. The Reds only lost five points at home all season so far, but Arsenal is the best defence in the league in terms of goals conceded and number of clean sheets in addition to being the last team in the league to prevent Liverpool from scoring back in their first leg at Emirates, which ended in a 2-0 win for the home side. However, hopes of another clean sheet against the free-scoring Suarez and Sturridge were shattered only 50 seconds into the game as Skrtel put the home side ahead, only to add another goal in typical fashion before Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge added another two goals to all but end the game after only 20 minutes. A goal from each side in the second half meant the game ended in a formidable 5-1 win for Liverpool.
At the Carrow Road (Norwich's stadium), Man City were unable to find the back of the net for the second time in a row for the first time this season as Norwich played a brilliant game and could have snatched all three points towards the end but failed to do so as the game ended in a 0-0 draw. This meant Chelsea went top with 56 points, City second with 55 points and Arsenal third with 54 points in what is expected to be one of the most fierce finishes in the history of the English Premier League.
Off to Spain, the race for the title is even fiercer up to this moment as game week 23 ended with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid all level on points at the top of the table with the Catalans first on goal difference. Atletico Madrid, who entered the week top of the table, suffered a 2-0 loss at the hands of Almeria away from home, their first defeat in the league since the 19th of October when they lost to Espanyol by a single goal. Moreover, these two defeats are the only defeats they suffered this season, in much the same way as Barcelona and Real Madrid, with all three teams losing two, drawing three and winning 18 so far in the league. The refreshing news about La Liga this season is that, for the first time in many seasons, we see a team competing for the title other than Barcelona and Real Madrid, one with a real chance of clinching the title thanks to a group of extremely talented players and a magnificent young coach in the form of Diego Simeone. Will Diego Costa, David Villa and team surprise football fans worldwide and stun their neighbours, Real Madrid and Lionel Messi's Barcelona, to win the league or will Ronaldo and Messi have another say? Only time will answer this question, but meanwhile, we have a very exciting La Liga this season.
In Germany, Bayern Munich continue to prove to every single football fan inside and outside of Germany that they are a class above everyone else as they continue to win week in week out in all competitions with just one defeat to their name this season so far when they lost to Manchester City in their final game of the group stages of the Champions League after already booking a place in round 16. With 18 league wins and just 2 draws in 20 games to this point in the Bundesliga, Pepe Guardiola's side has all but added another league title to their name.
“We have a strong belief that we will end the league without a single defeat this season,” were the words of star man Franck Ribery two weeks ago as they came from one goal down against Hertha Berlin to win 2-1 in the last ten minutes. “The players never get complacent and they really do want to go all the way till the last game of the season without tasting defeat, which showed in their performance when they fought like wounded animals searching for an equaliser then a winner till the last second of the game when Thiago (Alcantara) scored that winner goal,” Guardiola said after the game.
Bayern Munich conceded just 9 goals in the 20 games of the league thus far, which shows they are nearly impossible to break at the back and that it is as hard to score against them as to prevent them from scoring. Leverkusen are second with 13 points behind Bayern and their coach, Sami Hyypia, confessed that he is focusing on clinching the second spot from Dortmund. The title is already in Munich now and will probably stay there for years to come after Bayern managed to sign the best striker in the country, Lewandowski, from Dortmund starting from next season, which makes them even more complete according to the former Liverpool legend.
Finally in Italy, Juventus is doing a Bayern Munich but in a slightly slower rate as they continue to collect maximum points every week as they try to make up for the disappointment of getting eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League at the hands of Drogba's Galatasaray. With 19 wins in 23 games, Juve are just repeating what they did last season when they swept away team after another to win the league so comfortably at the end. Furthermore, this season, the title holders are playing even more attractive football thanks to the signing of the incredible Carlos Tevez, the extraordinary midfield duo of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba and the unbelievable progress of Llorente, who is one of the revelations of Serie A this season.
As happy as we are to see a team like Juventus coming back stronger than ever from Serie B after the Calciopoli (the Italian football scandal that relegated Juventus in Serie B),there's disappointment in seeing teams like Inter and AC Milan being slaughtered week in week out and falling backwards in the race for Champions League football next season. Rafa Benitez and Rudi Garcia are doing great jobs with Napoli and Roma respectively, but even thought it seems too early for them to compete for the title this season, they are fully poised to have a say in the next.


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