Two preliminary finals. Two contrasting games. North Melbourne were never in the top four during the regular season and it showed on Friday night as they were completely outclassed by the Sydney Swans in Sydney. The Swans had winners all over the park. Their midfielders picked up possessions at will while up forward Buddy Franklin, Kurt Tippet and Adam Goodes reaped the rewards. It was hardly a proper test before a Grand Final but Sydney will rightly start as favourites next Saturday afternoon.
Their opponents will be Hawthorn. The Hawks withstood a first quarter power surge, as Port Adelaide bombarded the goal but failed to make their chances pay finishing the quarter with 3.9. Hawthorn looked the better side for the next two and a half quarters as they ground their way to a seemingly impregnable position, 28 points clear with ten minutes gone in the last quarter. But Port Adelaide have thrilled fans and neutrals all year with their daring and attack minded approach. They kicked the last four goals of the game and even had a shot, admittedly from the boundary, to win it. Hawthorn held on by 3 points, thanks in no small part to Luke Hodge’s courageous diving smother in the final minute. Luke Hodge’s big game reputation has never been in question and it would be no surprise to see him playing a decisive role against the Swans next week. A captain who truly does lead from the front!
The NRL finals series was ignited with two absolute classics. The Roosters jumped out to a 30-0 lead against the Cowboys and then saw their lead wiped out. They snuck home thanks to a late field goal for a one point win, but the Cowboys will be left ruing (another) controversial video refereeing decision that went the Roosters way in the dying minutes. It was hard to imagine that Saturday’s match could be any closer but Manly and the Bulldogs managed as they played out a 17-17 tie in regular time. Trent Hodkinson’s second field goal of the night was enough to get the Bulldogs over the line in golden point.
As a Manchester United fan writing about football and the EPL in particular is a little tough right now. While referee Mark Clattenburg may have had a shocking match the simple fact is that Manchester United shouldn’t lose 5-3 to Leicester City. And that’s not meant with any disrespect to Leicester, who hung in there when Manchester United’s expensively assembled squad was playing the type of football viewers love to watch and then prayed on their frailties at the back when the opportunities presented themselves. United were cruising at 3-1 when Clattenburg’s most controversial decision arrived as he failed to award Rafael a free-kick for a clear foul and then penalised him for a seemingly innocuous push on his Leicester opponent. The non-decision and then penalty changed the game but to hide behind that as the reason for defeat would be to avoid the problem. Calmness under pressure epitomised United teams of the past and has all but disappeared today. Replacing it carelessness, indecision, poor tactical awareness and a lack of composure have become common place. While it does not affect the whole team, and Angel Di Maria can win games on his own, it is not like only one or two players are guilty either, once fear took hold against Leicester it was there for all to see. Even the previously assured Daley Blind resorted to hoofing the ball clear when under nothing but perceived pressure.
In other upsets on the weekend Liverpool lost to West Ham. Liverpool set the Premier league alight last season but this season have been a completely different story. They are struggling to cope with set pieces at the back and lacking the fluidity and potency going forward. Brendan Rodgers has a tough task on his hands as he tries to bed in new players and balance Champions League commitments, all the while maintaining a domestic title challenge. A challenge that has been made harder by opposition teams learning to sit back and negate their counter attacking speed.
The moment Chelsea fans feared more than any other this season duly arrived on Sunday. With their side leading Manchester City away from home and seemingly headed for an 8 point lead at the top after only five games one of their most revered players, Frank Lampard, returned to haunt his old employee’s. It would have been an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. Not that Mangual Pelligirini wanted to be drawn into any comments post-match, he was instead focussing on comparing Chelsea to Stoke for their negative tactics and refusal to actually try and play football. It is not the first time a Jose Mourinho team has been accused of this and it won’t be the last, but at the end of the day Mourinho won’t care and Chelsea and their fans need only console themselves with a look at the table.
These were the most noteworthy results in England but it was a fascinating weekend across Europe. Real Madrid hammered eight past Deportivo, while Barcelona also won convincingly. Both Bayern Munich and PSG were expected to cruise to their domestic titles and while that may still happen neither has quite hit their stride yet and both were held to draws in games they would have expected to win. Juventus and Roma on the other hand continued their perfect starts to the season with a 1-0 win over AC Milan and a 2-0 home win over Cagliari respectively.
The 2014 cycling World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain, started with an upset as BMC took home their first team time trial gold medal. The team time trial was introduced to the world champs two years ago to give trade teams an opportunity to shine and it has become one of the most prestigious prizes in the sport, especially for the big budget teams. BMC had the best of the conditions, compared to their main rivals at least, but their margin of victory reflected their dominance. Orica GreenEdge had to settle for silver for the second year in a row, but were more than thirty seconds back. The six teams between second and seventh were separated by only a further thirty seconds. In his post-race interview Tejay Van Garderen, a rider who has finished in the top five at the Tour de France on two occasions, called it the highlight of his career. For Peter Velits, it was a third consecutive win after he was part of the successful Omega team in 2012 and 2013.