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Real Madrid 3-0 Espanyol: Cristiano Ronaldo penalty sends Merengues on their way to victory

22 Sep

Cristiano Ronaldo set Real Madrid on their way with a first half penalty, before Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema added further strikes in a victory overEspanyol that somewhat flattered the home team.

Real Madrid have yet to find their top form and have been more steady than spectacular so far this season. They began the match in much the same vein, although the first opportunity fell to Espanyol and Jose Callejon who was played in by Joan Verdu, but his first time volley whistled wide of the far post.

It was a warning for the home team, and one they duly replied to when Angel Di Maria was played through on the right side of the penalty box by Mesut Oezil — but Carlos Kameni was equal to the Argentine’s shot, putting it out for a corner.

Madrid seemed more settled and were passing the ball quicker and with a sharpness not seen so far this season.

They then won a penalty when a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick struck the hand of Luis Garcia in the wall, the referee gave the spot kick much to the annoyance of the Espanyol players.

Ronaldo had to retake the penalty as he was judged to have feinted over the ball after his run-up was complete, but he held his nerve and made it 1-0 at the second attempt.

That settled Jose Mourinho’s team as they were keeping the ball well, but they were given a warning just before half time when Verdu was left unmarked on the penalty spot, but his low side footed shot went well wide.

Espanyol may have had the better chances but los Merengues certainly had more of the ball as the half-time whistle blew.


Target man | Ronaldo endured some hefty challenges

After the interval, the Periquitos looked more lively as the searched for an equaliser with the best opportunity falling to Verdu, whose shot from inside the area was well parried by Iker Casillas.

Things got worse for Madrid as Pepe was sent off for two bookable offences, but Espanyol’s numerical advantage did not last long as Ernesto Galan was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Ronaldo moments later, though it could be argued it was not a red card offence.

Madrid looked to put the match to bed and had some perfect opportunities to do so as Higuain and Sergio Ramos both squandered fabulous openings. But Higuain eventually hit the back of the net after latching onto a superb Ronaldo pass.

Karim Benzema then made it three with a late strike and Juan Forlin was sent off for his protestations after the goal which earned him a second yellow card.

The victory put Jose Mourinho’s men on top of La Liga for the time being as Valencia face off with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, while Espanyol remain in eighth place.

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Ronaldo just another player at Mourinho's Madrid

15 Sep

Mourinho famously accused Ronaldo of being a “diver” during the days when he was the outspoken Chelsea manager and the winger was a threat to his dreams as Manchester United’s star turn, yet their spats have been forgotten as the Portuguese comrades aim to bring the glory days back to Real Madrid.

Ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League opener against Martin Jol’s Ajax at the Bernabeu, Mourinho has done his best to take the heat off his £80 million superstar by insisting his newly remodelled Real Madrid team will only succeed if the collective unit work in tandem with their star figure, rather than relying on one man to inspire their glory.

“Too much focus was put onto Cristiano last season and, to his credit, the response he gave was magnificent, but the responsibility of my teams means we have a different attitude at this club now,” believes Mourinho, whose legendary ability to make his players feel as special as he believes himself to be is already coming to the fore in his latest posting.

“When you are looking to one player to win matches for you every week, he will suffer as much along with the team. If the opposition find a way to stop him or he has a bad day, this can be the end and it is no way for a top team to operate.

“My philosophy has always been that we are a group, not individuals trying to win for ourselves. The group effort is more powerful than one star and this mentality worked well with my Porto team, my Chelsea team, my Inter Milan team.

“Real Madrid has often been about the individuals, but I want to bring a different focus, which should help Cristiano. He is not the only match winner in this team and he won’t play in a position where all the expectation is on him. He needs freedom to express himself, not a strict position. He must have freedom to do what he does best.

“The new players we have signed must stand up and make sure they do not wait for their team-mates to make the difference. A squad can only be successful if every part of the machine works and this is the aim at Real Madrid this season.”

Mourinho admits he has been hugely impressed by Ronaldo’s work ethic in his first few weeks as Real Madrid boss, with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson among those he has turned to for advice on how to handle the 2008 World Player of the Year.

“Ferguson told me you cannot find a kid with a better attitude in training and working hard and this has been true as Cristiano has been fantastic since I came to Madrid,” he said. “The boy has had some problems with his ankle in the last couple of weeks, but his effort for the team when he came back without too much training was perfect.

“Overall, his physical conditioning is excellent, but there is so much time for Cristiano to become a better player. He is only 25 and the aim for me and my staff is to make sure he become the best player he can be during our time at this club.

“Cristiano should begin to reach his peak in the next few years. It’s exciting to believe he could improve from what he produced at United and with Real Madrid last season, but he knows it is possible. I have total belief in him.”

Mourinho and Ronaldo are already feeling some early season heat after the Bernabeu faithful reacted negatively to the side’s inspiring 1-0 La Liga win over Osasuna on Saturday night, with abuse from his own fans an unfamiliar obstacle for Mourinho to deal with after years of unbroken success in his extraordinary managerial career.

However, the new Real Madrid boss will know those jeers will be quickly turned around if he pieces together a side capable of ending almost a decade of failure in the Champions League, though the two-time winner of Europe’s elite competition is keen to play down suggestions that his Midas touch will be instantly successful in the Spanish capital.

“There is big pressure at this club as you cannot be like the manager at Arsenal and ask for five years to try and to win one trophy,” he said, failing to resist the temptation of offering another gentle jab at his old foe from his days in London, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.

Jose Mourinho is taking life in Madrid in his stride

GettyImages

Jose Mourinho is taking life in Madrid in his stride

“Can you imagine if I said to Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, please give me five years and I will try to win you one trophy? Or if I arrived at Real Madrid and asked for five years to win something? I don’t think the President or the supporters would accept this idea. The demand at this club is to win from the first season and to keep winning until the day you walk away or you are told to leave.

“The game against Osasuna was not the most exciting and the supporters are entitled to say they did not enjoy it. What everyone needs to understand is we are at the start of a new story, we have yet to concede a goal and we managed to beat Osasuna without giving them any chances. I understand that the supporters at this club like to see exciting football, but my job is to give winning football with excitement.

“The best teams understand what they are best at and use those strengths. My Inter Milan side was not so quick, so we had no option other than to identify our quality and play in a certain way. We needed to work as a unit, to play as a solid block and get the best out of the players in our team.

“This is not negative, this is just sensible. The great teams play with their best asset and by following this idea, Inter beat the champions of England, the champions of Spain and the champions of Germany to win the treble. You cannot have any more than that.”

If Mourinho ends Real Madrid’s long wait for their tenth Champions League crown at Wembley next May, the sceptics, boo-boys and fantasists casting doubts about him right now will all fall neatly in line behind this fascinating manager once again.

Cristiano Ronaldo: “We Are Going To Win This Year”

14 Sep

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo held a press conference today after his team’s training session, where he assured the club’s fans all over the world that they will celebrate silverware this season.

Ronaldo is quoted by Real Madrid’s official website as saying: “This club, as always, has the ambition to win the Champions League. I have a special feeling about this season. We can win, but we cannot put pressure on ourselves. We have all the necessary ingredients to win the competition, but we have to take one step at a time.”

“We are happy with our game on Saturday. Our goal was to win the match and take three points. We can play better and score more strikes. I’m sure we’ll do better, we’ll grow more confident and we’ll win. We are going to win this year. I have a feeling we will. I am abitious and I want to win. Mourinho is the best coach in the world and I’m sure we will win and create spectacle.”

“At times it isn’t possible to play well and be spectacular. It’s better for the fans to help us and motivate us to play well. Our supporters have fun when the team plays well and scores goals, but we can’t thrill them with brilliance all the time. It is on occasion convenient for fans to thrill players as well. All of us at the stadium want what’s best for Rreal Madrid and, together, we can make this a feared team at home.”

“I don’t think Barcelona are weaker this year because the season has just started. I was surprised by their defeat because I didn’t expect it, but you can’t value a situation when only two games have taken place.”

“I’m sure Mourinho didn’t just mean I alone had to be protected by referees. I’m sure he also meant other players, and not just those at Real Madrid. In general, people who create spectacle should be overprotected.”

“I’m sure I will soon score again. Don’t worry about it. We have to think exclusively about winning right now. This team is under construction; many of us had never played together before.”

Cristiano Ronaldo is an honest player! Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho does a U-turn after previously branding him a diver

6 Sep

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho seems to have backtracked two years after calling Cristiano Ronaldo a diver.

He now says the Real superstar is too honest for his own good – and claims that is due to Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

He's no diver! Ronaldo in action against Mallorca last weekendHe’s no diver! Ronaldo in action against Mallorca last weekend

Mourinho said: ‘Cristiano is a player who does not have the culture of the swimming pool, he has no culture of simulation, he is a British-trained player, Ferguson trained.

This is what I want you to do this season: Mourinho speaks with RonaldoThis is what I want you to do this season: Mourinho speaks with Ronaldo

‘In some cases, the simulators are given more protection, and those who are honest are often the losers. I’m not a hypocrite if I say that they (defenders) hit Cristiano very hard, and that the yellow cards do not arrive or are slow in coming.’

Back in 2008, Mourinho claimed Ronaldo was a diver, like his former Chelsea star Didier Drogba.

‘I am no longer Chelsea coach, and I do not have to defend them any more, but I think it is correct if I say Drogba is a diver.

‘Drogba, Ronaldo, Torres and van Persie are the divers. Who dives more? Who has won more penalties in recent years? But English football is the one that criticises the divers the most.

‘I hate diving, but I’m not happy if a player is kicked by somebody in the box and he tries to remain standing. It’s very, very rare a referee gives a decision if the player doesn’t go down so I tell players not to be naive, but to be fair.’

Cincy chemistry just one of NFL's mysteries

5 Sep

Terrell Owens (left) was wanted by Chad Ochocinco (right) and other Bengals.

Three weeks through the NFL preseason, we’ve answered several of the lingering questions from the summer. Will Brett Favre be the Vikings quarterback? Yes. Will the Panthers start Matt Moore over Jimmy Clausen? Yes. Will Tom Brady really sport a Justin Bieber haircut? Absolutely.

But there are still several questions that remain unanswered. Here are 10 Unsolved Mysteries Heading into the 2010 NFL Regular Season:

1. When will “Batman and Robin” have their first Boom! Pow! Bam! moment in Cincinnati?

It’s bound to happen at some point, right? Whether it’s in September, October or during the second half of the season, you have to assume there will be a play, a drive or a game in which T.O. and/or Chad Ochocinco is unhappy with the lack of attention, balls and/or media he is receiving in comparison with the other. This is a train wreck waiting to happen, right? Right?

Well, maybe not. Solomon Wilcots, the former Bengals defensive back turned broadcaster, who has spent time with the team this summer, had a different take on the situation.

“The Bengals fizzled down the stretch last year,” Wilcots said. “No one will deny that. But people forget the amount of adversity that this squad went through. Mike Zimmer’s wife, Chris Henry — these were major, major tragedies. And yet, through both of those events, that club stuck together and won the AFC North. This is a mature group of young players who’ve already been through a lot of real-life issues together. They’re not going to be easily sidetracked.”

Remember, Ochocinco was all for bringing in Terrell Owens. So was Carson Palmer. As the story goes, immediately after the now-released Antonio Bryant signed with Cincinnati five months ago, Palmer told Marvin Lewis to go out and get Owens, too. In Ochocinco, T.O. and rookies Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, there appear to be four reliable options on any given play for Palmer.

Maybe this all works out, after all. Stranger things have happened.

2. How much will the Vikings offense miss Sidney Rice?

In ‘09, Rice looked far more like the dominant receiver he was in college at South Carolina than the underwhelming, lost kid backing up Bobby Wade during his first two years in Minnesota. Capped off by a monstrous three- touchdown performance against the Cowboys in the playoffs, Rice had established himself as a legitimate figure in any discussion of top 10 NFL wide-outs held this past summer. Now, he’s out until at least midseason.

But he’s not the only significant loss for the offense in Minnesota this season. Chester Taylor, Favre’s reliable third-down back and security blanket, is in Chicago with the Bears. He has been replaced by two unproven youngsters in second-year man Albert Young and rookie Toby Gerhart.

Gerhart, a Heisman Trophy finalist and much ballyhooed second-round selection in April, has been, at best, less than impressive this preseason. Meanwhie, 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin has been battling a lingering case of migraines that has kept him on the sidelines and in and out of the lineup since late last season. Did a trade for Greg Camarillo or an over-the-hill Javon Walker address all or any of these major setbacks?

Darrell Bevell, your work is certainly cut out for you.

3. Does Jake Delhomme have any good football left in that 35-year-old tank of his?

There are certain moments in time that you’ll always remember exactly where you were when they happened.

The birth of your first child.

Your best friend’s wedding.

Jake Delhomme’s implosion in the 2008 playoffs.

That dud of a game was so bad that it carries a heinous stench over Delhomme’s otherwise rather splendid NFL career. Delhomme threw for a career-worst five interceptions, lost a fumble and got his butt kicked all over Carolina’s home field during that 33-13 loss to the Cardinals. A Saturday night in January with most of the East Coast snowed in, a revved-up national audience and two of the league’s highest-scoring offenses and Delhomme was…well, awful.

The following offseason, the Panthers surprisingly signed Delhomme to a five-year extension worth $42.5 million, with a $20 million guarantee, putting him under contract through 2014. Yet, after his worst season as a pro and a season-ending injury in December, the club finally cut bait with Delhomme, releasing the best quarterback the franchise has ever known in March.

Most pundits and talking heads figured he was done. Fortunately for Delhomme, Mike Holmgren is not a pundit or a talking head. The Browns signed Delhomme to a two-year deal, and the early returns have been fantastic.

Through three preseason games, the 12-year veteran has completed 38 of 48 passes with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. More importantly, he has been a positive force in the locker room, the huddle and on the sideline.

“I think Jake’s done a good job,” coach Eric Mangini told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week. “He runs the offense well, and he’s engaged the whole game. He’s working on the sideline whether he’s in or out, to try to either help the guys that are in or try to figure out answers. A lot of the answers he knows, and the ones he doesn’t know, he’s going to get.”

A lot of folks have already written off Delhomme. For a guy who found his way from Louisiana-Lafayette to NFL Europe to the Super Bowl, something tells me he’s not done just yet. Don’t be shocked if he’s the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

4. Are Ed Reed and Bob Sanders going to be Ed Reed and Bob Sanders this season?

Reed and Sanders, recognized around the league as two of the best all-around safeties in the game, have had their fair share of injury issues over the past two seasons.

Reed, who said he was “50-50” while considering retirement this offseason, is set to miss significant time at the start of the season recovering from recent hip surgery. Reed played hurt during Baltimore’s two playoff games last season, further complicating his injury. He’s on the physically unable to perform list and has been spending a large portion of his time away from the team, seeing a rehab doctor in Atlanta. His status for the start of the regular season is still unknown. Baltimore’s secondary is the team’s one major question mark heading into the season even with Reed in the lineup. Without him? The results could be disastrous.

Sanders, on the other hand, saw his first action in 10 months during Indianapolis’ second preseason game two weeks ago in Toronto. A bit rusty, he was still a force in the secondary. On Thursday night in Green Bay, however, he looked fantastic. The 2007 Defensive Player of the Year appears to be back, having played 45 snaps in that contest and was in on just about every play. Paired with rising star Antoine Bethea, Sanders is part of the top safety duo in the NFL.

5. Will the Saints suffer a Super Bowl “hangover”?

Though I don’t exactly envision Drew Brees walking into next week’s season opener with a baby strapped to his stomach and a scruffy beard, there’s obviously a concern about any defending Super Bowl champion.

The Steelers, the 2008 Super Bowl champions, failed to quality for the playoffs in 2009. The Saints had a well-documented offseason-long Super Bowl celebration that included multiple parades, talk show appearances on both coasts, books by Brees and coach Sean Payton, promotional media tours around said books by Brees and Payton, trips to Los Angeles for the ESPYs, EA Sports Madden cover obligations and everything in between.

Was this Saints squad satisfied with just one title? Or is it ready to defend the Lombardi Trophy and start that rare quest for another one? History says a repeat is unlikely. But it’s tough to question the toughness and preparation of Brees, Payton and Gregg Williams. The Saints have looked refreshed and determined in the preseason. Then again, the preseason is an entirely different story than a late December contest with a playoff berth on the line.

6. What can the Redskins expect out of Albert Haynesworth?

When Haynesworth is in the lineup and on the field, he’s still the most dominant defensive tackle in the game. Whether it’s forcing opponents into false starts or attacking the quarterback, the oft-criticized Haynesworth is undeniably one of the league’s top talents. Despite a media maelstrom and an absolute circus spanning from the start of the offseason through a locker room rant following Washington’s second preseason game, Haynesworth had a solid week of practice and an impressive outing in Friday night’s all-important third preseason contest against the Jets. Playing both defensive end and defensive tackle in Jim Haslett’s 3-4, Haynesworth was a force.

In second-year man Brian Orakpo, linebacker London Fletcher and a 100 percent Albert Haynesworth, the ’Skins feature arguably three of the top 10 overall defensive talents in the NFC.

If they get “Good Albert,” Washington could end up surprising some folks in the crowded NFC East this season. If the Redskins get “Bad Albert,” well, who knows?

7. How will the movement of the umpire from the middle of the field to behind the line of scrimmage affect the game?

During the offseason, the competition committee voted to move the umpire from near the linebackers to behind the deepest running back behind the line of scrimmage. The change is intended to improve safety for the league’s officials.

But you may have noticed an increasingly frustrated Peyton Manning in Thursday night’s preseason bout with the Packers. Manning was twice called for illegal snaps because the umpire had not gotten into position before the ball was snapped. Colts president Bill Polian acknowledged the Colts were “pushing” it to see how things might work under regular-season conditions, but it was clear the pace of any up-tempo, no-huddle attack will change in 2010. Teams are now at the mercy of the umpire’s foot speed.

Aside from a herky-jerky pace to any no-huddle attack, how else will this slight change impact the game? I reached out to former NFL head of officials and new FOX Sports personality Mike Pereira for his thoughts. Pereira said: “Don’t be surprised to see the umpires call more holding penalties once they get accustomed to their new position. They will now have a better view.”

Warren Sapp, a man who knows a thing or two about the line of scrimmage, said: “Receivers won’t be able to use the umpire in the middle of the field to their advantage. There’ll be less picks being set. I’ve seen Derrick Brooks scream at umpires for them being in his path and getting in the way.” Sapp then laughed and said: “And quarterbacks won’t mistakenly throw balls to them, either.”

8. Can this Martz/Cutler marriage experiment end up being an utter disaster?
Rick Telander’s Chicago Sun-Times column headline Sunday was “Cutler-Martz Combination Looking Like a Bust So Far.” That tells you all you need to know about the Bears offense this preseason.

Saturday night’s performance against the Cardinals was arguably Jay Cutler’s worst outing in a Bears uniform. Hell, it was possibly the worst performance of his entire career. He looked lost, indecisive and frustrated. As my FOXSports.com colleague Adam Caplan tweeted Sunday: “If you’re a believer in body language, Cutler’s isn’t very good.”

Through three preseason games, the golden-armed fifth-year quarterback’s passer rating is a paltry 62.3. He has thrown two interceptions and been sacked 10 times. “Greatest Show on Turf?” Eh, not quite.

You’ve heard the statistic a million times. When Cutler has a passer rating higher than 100 as a starter, he is 15-0. But when you’re throwing behind receivers (as Cutler has been doing throughout the preseason) and throwing ill-advised interceptions (as Cutler has done his whole career), getting to that 100-plus rating is nearly impossible.

There are high expectations in Chicago for the Bears offense this season. If the preseason is any indication of how the regular season will turn out, there will be a lot of disappointed Bears fans in 2010.

9. What will football on Sundays be like without Dick Enberg behind the mike?

When 75-year-old broadcasting legend Dick Enberg announced last spring he’d be joining the San Diego Padres broadcast team for the 2010 season, he was forced to give up his gig as CBS Sports’ No. 3 NFL play-by-play man. I, for one, will certainly miss hearing his voice on Sundays.

Ian Eagle, a guy who deserves about two dozen sports Emmys for his energetic work during past season’s anemic 12-70 New Jersey Nets campaign, will replace Enberg and join Dan Fouts in the booth this season.

The Padres are likely headed to the playoffs, and Enberg has been an absolute joy to listen to throughout the 2010 baseball season.

Eagle, great in his own right, may just need to give the fans a Week 1 “Oh My!”

10. Will there be any football to watch next year at this time?

At this point, it’s hard to definitely say yes.

How’s that for a slap in the face?

In short, savor the 2010 football season. With talk of stadium money, labor deals and men in suits arguing over millions and millions of dollars, actual football may be put on the back burner next fall. So, enjoy it while you have it.

Because as Joni Mitchell once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

Real Madrid Coach Jose Mourinho Insists Cristiano Ronaldo Doesn't Dive

5 Sep

 

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has insisted that star forward Cristiano Ronaldo is not a diver and also identified Group G opponents Milan as serious contenders for the UEFA Champions League this term.

Speaking at a UEFA coaches forum in Nyon, Switzerland, the self-proclaimed Special One suggested that honest players get less protection from match officials than those who simulate. Mourinho also credited Ronaldo’s honesty to his time at Manchester United under the tutelage of Alex Ferguson.

“Cristiano is a player who does not have the culture of the swimming pool, he has no culture of simulation, he is a British-trained player, Ferguson trained,” he insisted, as quoted by AS.

“In some cases, the simulators are given more protection, and those who are honest are often the losers. I’m not a hypocrite if I say that they [defenders] hit Cristiano very hard, and that the yellow cards do not arrive or are slow in coming.”

On the Rossoneri, Mourinho declared that with the new arrivals the Serie A outfit have one of the best attacking lineups in world football, worthy of adding to their six European Cups.

“An attack with [Alexandre] Pato, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Ronaldinho is one of the strongest attacks in the world and they are candidates, certain candidates, to win the competition,” he noted.

Carlo Ancelotti Does Not Rule Out Training Real Madrid In The Future

4 Sep

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti refuses to rule out coaching Real Madrid in the not too distant future, according to recent statements he gave The News of the World.

According to the English newspaper, Ancelotti said: “I will not rule out anything for the future.”

“It is true that I have spoken more than once with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez to discuss the possibility of me coaching Real Madrid.”

While taking into account that current Portuguese tactician Jose Mourinho intends to remain at the white capital for a minimum of four seasons, his Italian counterpart might just take over after the Special One’s work with Los Blancos is all done.