Gerrard's emotion, an Anfield epic, Martino's mess, more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesGerrard couldn't hide his emotions in Sunday's win over Man City at Anfield. It was a powerful moment for all who watched.

Sometimes, the mask falls.

Professionalism, leadership, the distance that comes from being both a 1-percenter and a celebrity, the machismo that 30-something young men affect ... all of it slips away. And you're left naked.

Steven Gerrard rarely betrays emotion in public, possibly for the reasons cited above. Which is why his tears at the final whistle Sunday were so touching.

The 25th anniversary of Hillsborough is Tuesday. And make no mistake about it, while the deaths of the 96 touch (or should touch) everyone who calls themselves a member of the human race, they don't do so equally. Continue Reading...

Martinez impresses, Bayern's priorities and Bale's brilliance

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Romelu LukakuOther / ESPN FCRomelu Lukaku's heat map shows he was a thorn in Arsenal's left side.

That’s six straight Premier League wins for Everton following Sunday’s 3-0 thrashing of Arsenal. Roberto Martinez’s crew is now a point behind the Gunners with a game in hand.

Fourth place -- at the expense of Arsenal -- and a spot in the Champions League is a distinct possibility, though the run-in is tougher for Everton. The Toffees face both Manchester clubs plus relegation-threatened Sunderland.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have a run of three games against Hull, Newcastle and West Ham, exactly the type of opponents you want to face at this stage of the campaign, teams with nothing to play for that are contentedly in midtable and, perhaps, plotting their summer holiday plans. Continue Reading...

A classic Clasico, Marriner's mistake, Milan's malaise and more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Sergio Ramos red card Real Madrid vs Barcelona GettyImagesSergio Ramos' red card was the turning point, but that does not excuse his postmatch reaction.

There’s something incredibly satisfying when a mega sporting event lives up to the hype. Watch enough of this sport and you quickly become aware of how desperate the game is to sell itself as entertainment, which is fine, except we all know there are times when we watch a humdrum game, only for the folks doing the selling hammering home just how wonderful it is.

Sunday night’s Clasico, won 4-3 by Barcelona was, by any metric, about as good a spectacle that two great teams can offer. Continue Reading...

Rodgers' flexibility, Messi's 'record,' Bayern post-Hoeness, more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

John Powell/Getty ImagesLiverpool still has flaws in defense, but Brendan Rodgers has done brilliantly in finding new ways to shield his side's weaknesses.

Given the trends and the state of the two clubs, it probably wasn't so surprising that Liverpool should take all three points at Old Trafford. What is remarkable -- apart from the 3-0 score and the fact that there could easily have been five penalties for the visitors -- is how the various criticisms of Brendan Rodgers' team have somehow fallen by the wayside.

Remember how Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger were clearly subpar and walking, talking liabilities?

Remember how Lucas Leiva's injury was a harbinger of doom, because it meant Steven Gerrard's aging legs would now need to patrol the area in front of the back four? Continue Reading...

Man City's rot, Barca's slump, Bayern's record push, more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesThough Demichelis is a worthy scapegoat for Man City's latest disappointment, much of the blame belongs on Pellegrini and Begiristain.

Give all the credit in the world to Wigan Athletic, Emmerson Boyce, Uwe Rosler, Dave Whelan and whomever else you like. They defeated Manchester City 2-1 Sunday in the FA Cup quarterfinals, making history twice in two years against the Blues, the richest team in the English game, the kind of lore that will be passed on through generations.

But, equally, if you're Man City owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed, you might want to take a moment to reflect. Yes, it's critical to rest players -- especially after an international break, which sent players trekking off to the ends of the earth. Continue Reading...

Superb Madrid derby, Yaya leads City, hope for Milan, more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesReal fought for their point vs. Atletico, one that might be crucial in La Liga.

Now this is what you call a derby. After years of playing second banana to the blue bloods from the Bernabeu, Atletico Madrid took to the pitch with the kind of determination that their manager, Diego Simeone, oozed from every pore in his playing days. (Yeah, I know it’s a cliche, but if there's one relationship that epitomizes this, it's the one between "El Cholo" and his crew.)

We got 94 minutes of entertainment and drama: Real Madrid taking the lead because Karim Benzema got his timing right; Atletico responding with red and white fury, pushing the visitors back, back, back. Continue Reading...

Martino's mistake, Chelsea's reward and Bundesliga imbalance

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

AP Photo/Alvaro BarrientosDespite Lionel Messi's 14th La Liga goal of the season, Barca slumped in San Sebastian.

I appreciate that in the modern game you have to rotate your team to keep everyone fresh. I get it. But it’s tough to fathom what “Tata” Martino was thinking ahead of Barcelona's trip to Real Sociedad, which ended in a 3-1 defeat.

This was a place where the Blaugrana hadn’t won in their previous five visits. It was a game against a team pushing for a Champions’ League slot, not Hospitalet at the Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey.

And yet Dani Alves, Xavi, Javier Mascherano, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez were all on the bench -- being rested, presumably. Continue Reading...

Rooney's new deal, Conte vs. Capello, Webb's bad day and more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty ImagesAntonio Conte is in his third season as Juventus manager.

Numerous outlets are reporting that Wayne Rooney’s camp and Manchester United have all but agreed to terms on a contract extension that would tie him to Old Trafford through 2019.

An announcement is expected later this week, and though the numbers thrown around vary somewhat, most suggest it’s a deal worth around $21.5 million a season with bonuses that could take it as high as $26 million.

There is a sense of inevitability about this. Despite the stories peddled by Rooney’s people about a possible Old Trafford exit, there was no massive queue of clubs lining up to sign him, certainly not at the numbers United were expecting. Continue Reading...

Real's big club struggles, Utd stumble again, Barca problems, more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

David Ramos/Getty ImagesCristiano Ronaldo should have known better. So, too, should Real.

It's a testament to the fact that we're so used to seeing Spain's top clubs steamrolling the rest of the league that Real Madrid's 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao is seen as two points dropped. In the grand scheme of things, it probably is: Barcelona fell at home 24 hours earlier. This was the chance to pull level, three points behind Atletico Madrid, who had knocked off Real Sociedad earlier on Sunday.

But as Carlo Ancelotti's crew discovered, Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames are actually a tough proposition. Continue Reading...

Smart United, Barca move on, Dortmund's injury bug, more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty ImagesWayne Rooney's sudden return to prominence in the United fold is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson's handling of the striker.

As part of the new regime at Manchester United -- or maybe just to differentiate themselves from Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill -- David Moyes and Ed Woodward have been extremely forthcoming and open with the media. It's generally a clever thing to do and, obviously, from a journalist's perspective, it's fantastic.

And so two things have come to light in the wake of the Juan Mata transfer. The first is that, according to a number of newspaper reports, United did not meet Chelsea face to face during the negotiations. Continue Reading...

Man Utd's mistakes, Real momentum and Liverpool's progress

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesMan United's overly defensive approach was punished in full by Chelsea.

David Moyes said the difference between Manchester United and Chelsea on Sunday was defending on set pieces: United's was poor, Chelsea's was good.

It was actually a bit more than that, though there are some positives for United to take from their 3-1 loss. The first half wasn't too bad; United kept their defensive shape, had a decent penalty shout when Danny Welbeck went down, forced a tremendous save from Petr Cech and most definitely didn't deserve to go in two goals down at the break. Continue Reading...

Ronaldo's win, Atleti-Barca, Tiote's 'goal,' Allegri's exit and more

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesGerard Pique was exemplary in helping Barca keep Atletico Madrid at bay.

It wasn’t hard to predict that Cristiano Ronaldo was likely to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

Even if you did not think he was number one in terms of FIFA’s criteria -- “on-field performance and behavior on and off the pitch” -- even marginal knowledge of Ballon d’Or voters and their habits -- one journalist per FIFA member nation, plus the captain and coach of the national team -- would tell you that he was going to win. And, at least in my opinion, deservedly so. Continue Reading...