I’ve just finished watching the Monaco-Juventus match on Bee Tee. A fine win for the Old Lady, putting a rare right to my prediction that if there was one team Monaco would struggle to breach then it’s the giants of Turin. I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian football, and after once taking charge of Juve back in Football Manager 2007 when they had been stripped of their Serie A status, I quite like the team also. Chiellini – what a God of a defender, now so revered that he can take Falcao out and earn nothing worse than a yellow card. And then there’s Buffon, claiming all the likability that the last great Italian goalkeeper, Walter Zenga, lacked, to such an extent that you’d like them to do just it for him and his endlessly smiling little face. I wonder if AK watches Juventus in action and thinks there’s nothing he could do to toughen them up defensively. They’re the finished article, aren’t they, improving each year and in doing so belying the general decline of football in Italy. Dani Alves is so consummate a player, both defensively and in attack (he created both of Higuain’s goals), I’m starting to think there’s nothing he couldn’t have an answer to… Such as, how do fucking slugs keep getting into my kitchen? I mean obviously there’s an aperture of some sort, but Dani Alves would find it, and he’d even discover what they think is in it for them, beyond a quick death because I can’t abide the sinewy little so and so’s.
Not a lot to report from the Riverside, apart from the revelation that Boro are being charged by the FA for their reaction to Kevin Friend’s penalty decision in favour of Manchester City. Let’s break this one down. Middlesbrough, rated as hopeless in recent weeks, find themselves a goal up and holding at arm’s length the deadliest attack in English football. They do it for 66 minutes through a combination of stout defending, great teamwork and for once keeping the opposition honest by mounting some serious attacking moves. On the line is nothing less than the slim prospect that Boro can win this one, close the gap on Hull to four points and retain a fighting chance of attaining safety. This is the last realistic chance. And then City’s nippy greyhound of a winger, having wafted into our area, loses the ball and leans into Boro’s nearest encroaching player. He goes down, an easy dive, or generously a fall as he’s lost his balance. But instead, it’s a penalty, a bizarre decision, the sort of decision in fact that would have most fans wonder if Mark Halsey was indeed right when he claimed officials are leaned upon to favour the bigger teams. In other words, you fight and fight and fight, show your mettle, and it doesn’t really matter because even the referee is against your attempt to stay up. Little wonder the players lost it a little, and even less of a surprise that their reaction was uncommented upon by pundits, who for some reason focused on the penalty shout.
What’s the lesson? I think it’s twofold. One, don’t even breathe on the opposition forward from that illustrious outfit because if he falls over then you’re likely to be booked and concede a penalty. Two, spend millions on your squad and become a big club, and then you too will be shown favour when your flaccid top four challenge is showing signs of sputtering out against that honest little fish that’s striving to stay in the same pond as you. It’s that simple. Who doesn’t love football at moments like these?