We’re not arrogant enough to assume you won’t watch other sports, and if last night’s interaction on social media was any indication, you all watched last night’s Super Bowl. According to our sources, the game drew a television audience of 8.4 billion viewers, a minor miracle considering the planet only has about 7.3 billion people. We discussed that disparity amongst ourselves and decided it was proof of extraterrestrial life on Earth. Confirmed: we are not alone.
So for all our new, presumably physically imposing friends out there, allow us to show you another sport that’s quite popular amongst Earthlings. It may not be as violent as football, but it sometimes goes by the same name. And if you’re looking for a quick way to get caught up, we do this every week, knowing people get distracted by things like Super Bowls.
Here’s are 10 Things you missed this soccer weekend:
Manchester City got Mourinho’d
On Saturday, Stamford Bridge welcomed a club legend back to his old stomping grouns, greeting the return of Frank Lampard with an almost trademark José Mourinho performance. By the time the club’s all-time leading scorer came off the bench for Manchester City, the game was destined for a draw, with Chelsea eventually sacrificing an attacker for a defender in the 1-1 draw. The Blues were at home, and they had a margin for error — a five-point lead at the top of the English Premier League — yet Mourinho’s pragmatism won out.
“When Loïc Rémy and Sergio Agüero scored within four minutes of each other … we had reason to believe today’s showdown could be more than a José Mourinho special. We should have been more modest. When it comes to contriving outcomes, Mourinho is far more powerful than we are … Even as Chelsea scored the day’s first goal, history said the Blues would be content with a draw.”
Considering where Chelsea sits, the decision’s justifiable. Saturday was the last time the Blues would face their main title rivals this season – Manchester City’s best chance to make up ground. But instead of taking advantage of a Chelsea side playing without its leading scorer (Diego Costa) and assist man (Cesc Fàbregas), the Citizens were held. Mourinho and Chelsea are still five clear at the top.
Daniel Sturridge is back
It wasn’t only that Liverpool’s biggest scoring threat returned, ending a five-month layoff. He also scored 12 minutes after coming on, and for fans desperate to see signs of last year’s team in the current squad, the Reds looked a little like their former selves. Once Daniel Sturridge came on in the second half, the spark was back.
After Southampton’s loss to Swansea, Liverpool’s only four points back of fourth. From Saturday:
“Along a number of vectors, Liverpool’s performed not only below expectations but below pessimism … Add in Sturridge’s absence, and there’s been a small, nearly perfect storm about the 2014-15 season, one that will probably clear up. (Simon) Mignolet will likely be better, the defense will improve, (Steven) Gerrard’s going to be phased out, and (Mario) Balotelli will either get better or stop taking up minutes.
“Perhaps more important — even more important than the 2-0 win that allowed Liverpool to pass West Ham in the standings — was Sturridge’s return. Whereas so many have speculated the loss of pace at the top of the formation has been one of Liverpool’s major undoings, the prospect of a healthy Sturridge capitalizing on Coutinho and Sterling’s play is reason for hope.”
Mesut Özil sighting
Just as Liverpool got a return that transcended its result, so did Arsenal. Routing Aston Villa 5-0 on Sunday, Gooners finally saw a glimpse of the Mesut Özil that arrived last season from Real Madrid, not the player whose been doing a poor impersonation of a world-class playmaker for so long. Creating the first goal and scoring the second, Özil had his best game since September – the last time Arsenal played Aston Villa.
“So maybe this is just Paul Lambert not knowing how to prepare for Mesut Özil. Or maybe this was a talented player given a launching pad to get back into a groove. Regardless, the premise that Mesut Özil is crap is slightly more suspect now than it was four hours ago. Arsenal’s biggest star may still be capable of playing like one.”
Here are the highlights, but if you’re a U.S. men’s national team fan, you won’t want see the whole video. Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan made things a little too easy for Arsenal, particularly on the fourth goal. Hit the stop button after Özil’s goal.
Real Madrid is better without Cristiano Ronaldo
At least, it’s better if you’re a terrible analyst. But sometimes, it’s fun to be a terrible analyst, and after El Real’s 4-1 win over on Saturday over Real Sociedad, Spain’s leaders had outscored their opponents by four over their last 98 minutes – 98 minutes played without Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Sample size is for weaklings who don’t recognize the truth, the type of people who would rather stay indoors and play chess than learn life’s hard lessons on the playground. Sure, we could look at other times Real Madrid’s played without Ronaldo, consider the strength of opposition, or actually talk to some nerd that can figure out when a sample has enough power to have any relevance. We could also actually talk to somebody who’s, like, a soccer expert, or something, but that all sounds dumb.”
Real Madrid remains one point up in La Liga with a game in hand on second place Barcelona.
Defense finally bends for Barcelona
Nine goals. In 20 league games, that’s all Barcelona had conceded this season, with only Real Madrid having pierced the Catalan titans for multiple goals. The next-best defense in the league, Madrid’s, had conceded nearly twice as often (17). Contrary to some assumptions, Barcelona’s goal prevention is quite good.
That’s the context for what Villarreal did on Sunday. For a brief moment in the second half, it appeared as if the Yellow Submarine might get take something out of Camp Nou. When Luciano Vietto put the visitors up 2-1 shortly after halftime, Villarreal had briefly solved Claudio Bravo.
“Of course, Marcelino’s team didn’t actually win. Oh, no, no, no. Don’t be ridiculous. If it had, we could have mentioned it before. Unfortunately for it, Barcelona still had Neymar, as well as Lionel Messi. The duo bookended an early second half goal from Rafinha, giving Luis Enrique’s side had its 16th win in 21 games.”
Twenty-one games, 50 points, a +46 goal difference … and Barcelona isn’t even leading its league. And it’s only three points up on Atlético. For the second year in a row, Spain’s giving up the best race among the top leagues in Europe.
Bayern torn apart
If Barcelona has been difficult to score on, Bayern Munich has been practically impenetrable, conceding only four times through the first half of the Bundesliga season. With an 11-point lead on second place Wolfsburg, the defending champions appeared to have its league won, something that made us openly wonder how Pep Guardiola could prepare his team for Champions League without a semblance of domestic challenge.
And then Bayern lost 4-1 at Wolfsburg.
The Wolves got stellar performances from Kevin De Bruyne, Bas Dost and 20-year-old Max Arnold, but credit should also go to head coach Dieter Hecking, who engineered Bayern’s worst chowing since Real Madrid blew threw it in last year’s Champions League. By the 55th minute, when Bayern finally broke through, Wolfsburg was already up 3-0, denting the notion Bayern’s so far beyond the rest of the Bundesliga.
Then you look at the standings. Even after that loss, FCB’s still eight points up on Wolfsburg, and while its three-goal win was impressive, the body of Wolves’ work says Friday’s result was an outlier. It’s enough to open our eyes, perhaps plant some doubt, but Germany is still Bayern’s, even if the defending champions still appear to be on vacation.
Don’t mess with the Zlatan
Three wins in a row have Ligue 1’s defending champions within reach of league-leading Lyon, whose Sunday draw at Monaco shrunk its lead to two points. Yet that mini-revival, one that comes after a three-game winless run in league, was an afterthought on Friday night after one “low-budget” reporter decided to challenge Zlatan Ibrahimovic:
After collecting 26 assists over his first three Ligue 1 seasons in Paris, Ibrahimovic has one this year. His key passes are down almost 50 percent from last season (1.1, down from 2.1). Amid rumors Ibra and Edinson Cavani aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, the reporter had plenty of reason to question Ibra’s play, though he did so at his own peril.
PS, PSG defeated Rennes, 1-0.
Icardi, angry supporters, and the sorry state of Inter Milan
It’s been 21 years since Internazionale finished in Serie A’s bottom half, but after this weekend’s 3-1 loss at Sassuolo, Roberto Mancini’s return has hit new lows. After finishing fifth last year under Walter Mazzarri, Inter is now in 12th place, with the atmosphere around the team becoming slightly poisonous:
That’s the team’s leading scorer, Argentine Mauro Icardi, being rebuked by traveling fans after trying to offer them his jersey. Fans threw it back, Icardi erupted, and Inter became as inept off the field as it has been on. Even gift giving has become a debacle.
Cup of Nations comes alive
Africa’s continental championship is down to four teams, but along to slotting DR Congo, hosts Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and Cote’d Ivoire into the semifinals, the tournament came alive. For the first time in 27 years, Cup of Nations had an elimination game (that mattered; sorry, third place games) with six goals. That those goals came in the last 40 minutes of DR Congo’s 4-2 win over Congo only enhanced the contrast between the quarterfinals and a dull group stage:
“For all the entertainment Africa’s Cup of Nations offers around the games, the actual action can be quite dull – perhaps the result of squads with too little time together meeting high coaching turnover, something that can result in conservative (“I’m not quite sure what to do with these guys yet, so let’s at least be solid”) tactics. Through group stage of this year’s event, only four teams were averaging more than a goal per game, with 13 of the stage’s 24 games ending in draws.”
The weekend’s other quarterfinals followed suit. After four games and 16 goals, Cup of Nations has moved beyond stodgy group play with the promise of an entertaining knockout round. The semifinals begin on Wednesday.
Flamengo fans went ultra, Ahmed Elmohamady summoned the hand of god and Ayoze Pérez got nailed with a burger, yet of all the lameness that happened over the last two days, two politicians may have been the lamest.
No, liking Arsenal isn’t inherently lame, but for a potential Bandwagoner in Chief, New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s link to the the club, on the back of his Dallas Cowboys act, …
“If there was a sports fan in this country who just happened to like the Cowboys, Yankees and Lakers, they’d have no credibility. While Christie seems to shun some front-runner rules by preferring the Mets to the Yankees, affiliating himself with Arsenal is too coincidental. Undoubtedly, Christie supports Club América, too.”
Then there’s the soccer world’s chief politician, Sepp Blatter, who resorted to some pre-May election pandering, suddenly taking an interest in human rights:
“Perhaps all this is just posturing ahead of May’s presidential elections, when Blatter will seek a fifth term in office. Still, it also appears to be a somewhat genuine sign of contrition, with England’s Independent reporting Blatter admitted FIFA “learned some valuable lessons from the controversy” surrounding the 2018 and 2022 votes.
“I will tell you, that human rights and other rights will be part of the basic conditions to organise the competition,” Blatter said, speaking at the just completed Asian Cup. “That will be new for the next World Cup – the World Cup 2026.”
If it’s pandering and he follows through, that’s fine, though there’s only so much influence Blatter can have over 209 people’s votes. It’s just too bad he didn’t adopt this tactic before World Cups ended up in Qatar and Russia.