Author Archives: gpwheeler

Breakfast: The Rafa Benitez rant we’ve been waiting for!

Over the past several seasons at Chelsea, the club has seen its fair share of high profile managerial scrutiny. Between the likes of the menacing “Jabba the Hut” stature of Avram Grant, and the underachievement of current Spurs manager, Andre Villas-Boas, the Blues are no stranger to weariness at the helm.

However, what happened yesterday seems to have raised the club’s normal standard for crazy.

Following a 2-0 FA Cup victory against former EPL side Middlesbrough, current manager Rafa Benitez sat in front of the media in what was supposed to be your typical game analysis and agenda for the near future. Instead, to the media’s delight, the Spaniard decided to go OFF on his club’s supporters AND his billionaire boss, Roman Abramovich (full tirade below).

Well, that’s one way to rally the troops. Just call out your fan base and announce you’re giving up at season’s end. Brilliant strategy, Rafa. I’m sure you haven’t given any more ammunition to your side’s supporters. They will definitely stop making banners and singing songs about your ultimate demise and departure from Stamford Bridge.

Regardless, I guess some sympathy may be warranted in this situation. The poor guy has to show up to matches, no matter home or away, and listen to songs about him being sacked and wanting Di Matteo back in charge.

However, this is nothing new for the London squad. Since his purchase of the club in the 03/04 season, Abramovich has been the most trigger-happy owner in England’s top flight hiring and firing 6 different managers in only 9 seasons.

As always, two sides of rumors have begun swirling following the press conference. On one end it has been noted that Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, will sack Benitez earlier than expected after his comments. Other speculations assume it is back to business and that Rafa will hold onto his managerial responsibilities until the end of the season.

This bumpy road for the Spanish manager just will not flatten out.

Check back for further updates on this story. @TheOrangeWedge has you covered.

Dinner: Barcelona in free fall?

For the first time since the end of the 08/09 season, Barcelona has lost 2 straight games.

After dropping the first leg of the Champions League knockout stage to AC Milan, the Catalan squad were booted from the Copa Del Rey by league rivals, Real Madrid.

Early chances saw a Messi opportunity flash in front of the Madrid goal and further development of slight chances here and there, but its looking more and more like their precision tight passing can only do so much for them. While the game’s possession was clearly in favor of Barcelona, this statistic won’t cut it anymore for the Spanish side. Lacking a certain attacking mindset, the players and coaching staff seem to be content passing the ball around the 18-yard box and hoping to occasionally thread the needle towards net.

We’ve seen this act before. Barca’s similar effort against Milan last week showed similar results. Not to say that either Milan or Madrid “parked the bus” on either occasion; an understanding of the Barcelona blueprint for success has simply been examined and countered.

Missing signs are currently being hung up all over Barcelona for their former golden child, Lionel Messi (it could happen). Silenced in these past 2 matches, Messi has had little opportunity to create those 1 on 1 chances he tends to prefer. Without being able to run at defenders, he is limited to possessing the ball far from net and giving it up to others. Not ideal, but Barca have succeeded on this tactic before. But even those quick give and go’s that we as football fans have all come to enjoy watching have been minimized thanks to several stellar defensive performances. Hard to think Messi will be missing in action for much longer, but at this rate I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Here’s the credit you’re waiting for, not to worry.

Real Madrid’s counter-attack was unstoppable (take notes, Fergie). Any chance they had, Di Maria and Ronaldo could be seen sprinting up the wings with the help of a perfectly placed ball on behalf of either Ozil or Alonso. Quite the opposite from the Barcelona mentality. It was this sort of counter-attack and pace that sealed the W for Madrid.

Add the highlights of Ronaldo’s clinical finishing, Di Maria’s crossing-up of Puyol and Varane’s towering header and it would seem there’s a new sheriff in Spain.

(click image to see Di Maria shatter Puyol’s ankles)

Too bad they’re 16 points behind 1st in La Liga. Regardless, Real Madrid seemed to have found their form at just the right time. They will meet EPL leaders, Manchester United, in the 2nd leg of the Champions League knockout stage next Tuesday, March 5th.

As for Barcelona, things have certainly looked better. The once kings of Europe have never looked smaller and need to regroup quick if they are to reestablish their reign as the world’s most feared club.

Somewhere in Germany, Pep Guardiola is having a light chuckle to himself as he sips from a gold-plated, sangria-filled chalice.

Dinner: Gareth Bale is ON FIRE

Image

(Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Take note, soccer universe. Gareth Bale is currently the best footballer on the planet.

Taking the pitch today at Boelyn Ground to face the West Ham Hammers, Bale didn’t care much about the homage towards club legend, Bobby Moore. Instead, he decided to put on one of the better performances of this year’s English Premier League campaign.

After a lousy turnover just outside of the West Ham 18-yard box, Gareth Bale capitalized with a clinical left-footed finish to put the Spurs up 1-0 in the 13th minute of play. The remainder of the game proved to be one of topsy turvey fashion as both sides went into the latter parts of the match all-squared at 2-2.

One single firework ensued.

Bale’s laser from 25 yards out put his Spurs ahead in the 89th minute and was the ultimate deciding factor as Tottenham snagged a crucial away victory, 3-2. The win also secured an a 3rd place spot in the EPL for the Spurs as they leapfrogged Chelsea, who lost to Manchester City yesterday.

A massive result, indeed. But what’s more impressive is the Welshman’s current form in both the EPL and Europa League, respectively. With 2 goals against Newcastle on February 9th, 2 goals against French-side, Lyon, on Valentine’s Day (both stunning free kicks) and 2 more crackers in today’s match, Bale is having one of the better month’s in recent memory.

This season, a tally of now 21 goals in all competition has shown supporters and naysayers alike the widened skill-set he has. We’ve always known about his speed and ability to distribute from a wide position. However, not since the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo as a member of Manchester United has the world seen such pure shot power from both active plays and free kicks.

What’s even scarier? He’s showing no signs of slowing down.

At just 23 years of age, Bale has proven he’s got more tricks up his sleeve than once recognized. At this rate, he could end-up making a serious push for the EPL’s coveted “Golden Boot” award for the most goals scored by season’s end.

The summer transfer window of 2013 will certainly be an interesting one as all eyes will be on Tottenham Hotspur. Will they be able to reach deep enough into their pockets to keep this high-flying scoring machine? If he stays in this kind of form and good health, it will be an interesting development to follow.

I’d assume he may be complaining of some irritable back issues as of late, after carrying his team now for well over a month.

Lunch: Sports at the Oscars ’13 (Silver Linings Playbook spoiler alert)

Photo: Silver Linings Playbook Facebook

Photo: Silver Linings Playbook Facebook

Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love and home to some of Hollywood’s most recognized cinematic sports figures: Rocky, Vince Papale, Pat Solitano…wait who?

That’s right Philly, there’s a new mentally unstable sheriff in town.

A hint of sports and a whiff of hilarity can be found at this year’s Oscars through the screenplay and flawless character development of David O. Russell’s, “Silver Linings Playbook”. We’ve seen sports films wow us at the Oscars before, but this movie just feels different. “Silver Linings Playbook” may be one of the more balanced films I have seen since “The Social Network”. Nominated in such categories as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, this well-rounded film displays the insanity of the diehard sports fan amidst a tumultuous NFL season. In this case, that sports fan is Pat Senior, played by Robert DeNiro (nominated for best supporting actor).

He rubs up on his lucky handkerchief, shifts things around the living room, and has Chris Tucker hold the TV remotes for good measure. I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t slightly remind me of myself during a Sunday NFC east showdown. DeNiro’s character embodies the passion found within fan bases across the country. Sure, he’s a bookie and has extreme OCD, but his love for the Philadelphia Eagles, football, and his family is something the majority of us diehards can surely relate to.

DeNiro’s son in the film, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper – nominated for best actor), is returning home from a mental institution. While he still loves his Eagles, it’s apparent he no longer shares the commitment and/or mental capacity to enjoy a game with his father. Regardless, that doesn’t stop him from showing up to a dinner party wearing his favorite DeSean Jackson jersey – a power move at its finest. This sort of team passion seemingly follows the cast everywhere. At home, at the tailgate, even at therapy.

While I might be criticized in dubbing this a “sports film”, it offered a unique variety of athletic endorsement between the Solitano’s Eagles obsession and Tiffany’s (Jennifer Lawrence – nominated for best actress) dance competition.

After roping Bradley Cooper’s character into participating in the contest, we as the audience find ourselves jumping back and forth between the crammed, bustling environment of the Solitano football-infused living room and the quiet, open space of Tiffany’s dance studio. It becomes refreshing to see Pat remove himself from the potentially toxic atmosphere he finds at home. The appreciation behind Pat and Tiffany’s work is finally realized as you applaud their crazed performance at the dance competition.

A juggling act of two completely opposite ends of the athletic spectrum;  “Silver Linings Playbook” has my vote in every category it is nominated for. Check out to see how the film holds up against its competition tonight on ABC at 7pm EST/4pm PAC.

Dinner: GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE – Y U N0 ADVERTISE?!

Since about mid-December 2012, the “Scorecenter” app on my Smartphone has gone out of its way to let me know that on Saturday, February 23rd the New York Yankees will be playing a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves. This is some fine and dandy stuff. By simply highlighting the fact that I’m a fan of several teams through the app itself, it then proceeds to keep track of their current and upcoming schedules. Technology, you beautiful, majestic, 4G songbird.

Time passes. Seasons begin and end. Before I know it, it’s February 22nd and I’m seeing promos for the upcoming NASCAR series at Daytona, which we could all do without. Confusion and those heavy sweats begin to settle in nice and deep-like. Seemingly every year, the start of Major League Baseball’s “Grapefruit League” sneaks up and bites me right in the feels. Why is this the case? I get my daily servings of ESPN and its varied choices of programming. I watch a balanced diet of sporting events across all major networks. How does something as fun as this league go unnoticed under the watchful eye of an avid sports fan like myself? Come October, the MLB has no problem running those horrendous playoff promotions with “Written in the Stars” blasting on repeat. You’re better than this, Major League Baseball. At least hook the fans up with some Prince to get ‘em out of their seats. There’s no such thing as too much “Raspberry Beret”.

The Grapefruit League is a fun, family-friendly season that needs more exposure. Not only does it offer that beaming Florida weather that folks up here in the Northeast couldn’t be more jealous of, but it acts as a technical first-look at moves made during the offseason. Josh Hamilton is now an Angel, Jose Reyes a Blue Jay, and Nick Swisher an Indian (not to be taken literally). People want to see this sort of action and the MLB needs to do a better job at promoting this goldmine that they’ve been sitting on. Weeks prior to the start of even preseason training, give the Grapefruit League half of the airtime ESPN dedicates to the “This is Sportscenter: Swedish Chef” commercial and attendance will spike.

Broadcast advertising aside, there are other ways to reach this audience aside from a 10-15 second spot on the YES Network. Get creative MLB! People simply need to know of this great opportunity to vacate the desolate, freezing other parts of the US while being able to enjoy such a classic American pastime.

I’M YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC. I WANT TO FEEL MY PALE SKIN BURNING IN THOSE BLEACHERS UNDER THE FLORIDA SUN. I WANT TO SEE MARIANO RIVERA TAKE THE MOUND AGAIN. ICE-COLD LEMONADE WOULDN’T HURT.

How could the MLB market the Grapefruit League more effectively? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below or tell us what you think via Twitter at @TheOrangeWedge.

Dinner: Premier League Predictions: Race to the Top…or Bottom.

Looking for absolute futbol bliss? You’re living it. Thus far, the month of February has jam-packed an array of highly contested fixtures between the UEFA Champions League, the Europa League, and the English Premier League. Not to mention, the foreplay of those midweek FA Cup matches. It’s always fun to see a couple of Davids (here’s lookin’ at you, Oldham Athletic) put up a fight or even snag an upset against the Goliaths of the EPL. But alas, we have reached our comfort-zone of weekend matchups. Here are a couple contests to keep on your radar:

Manchester United vs. Queens Park Rangers
Loftus Road Stadium
Saturday, 2/23/13 @ 10am EST

Manchester United

After a comfortable FA Cup victory against Reading this Monday, the Red Devils look to continue their recent form, as they travel to White City to face the league’s bottom-feeding Queen’s Park Rangers. Although this may have the look of a seasonal spanking, don’t be surprised to get a good game out of this one. Wayne Rooney has been said to miss the game all thanks to a sinus issue. Yes, you read correctly. Do the training facilities at Old Trafford lack your normal standard for nasal cleansing? Someone please find Mr. Rooney a tissue or twelve. Looking at season’s past, this is your typical United game where they could easily lay a fat egg. Everything’s going swimmingly. Massive away result against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Cruising through the EPL. What could go wrong?

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney

Queens Park Rangers

In QPR’s case, when you are begging for 20 points…it’s never a good sign. But that’s what Harry Redknapp’s team needs more than anything at this stage. This squad seemed to be getting on a more consistent track earlier in the month. With slightly convincing performances (both 0-0 draws) against Manchester City and Norwich, the defense seemed to be intact. That was until the next week’s 1-4 thrashing against the next “Hansel” of the EPL, Swansea. So hot right now. A home win against United has the potential to boost morale and lift them out of this laughable group of relegation-dwellers. Key word there is “potential”. But something has to change for the Hoops or they are looking at another nail-biting fight to stay in England’s top flight, at best.

Predicition: Manchester United 3, Queens Park Rangers 1

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal
Emirates Stadium
Saturday, 2/23/13 @ 10am EST

Aston Villa

The club that was once a staple among the middle-tier contenders of the Premiership is suffering through its poorest form in recent years. Struggling to stay out of the relegation zone, Villa could use a writhing Bob Knight speech to rally these troops. Without the consistency of a once brilliant Darren Bent, Aston Villa currently lacks the composure in front of the net to capitalize on the chances they have had. Every soccer meme distributor online will tell you that bringing Heskey back to their lineup will save Villa’s sorry soul, but I’m pretty sure on-field rape between male players would be seen as a straight red. After a straight-up DEPRESSING FA Cup loss to Green Street Hooligan adversary, Millwall, Aston Villa needs that shock victory we’ve seen around the league as of late. Now visiting a deflated Arsenal squad, we’ll see how this lackluster group of wankers can keep up with the attacking quick midfield play of Carzola and Wilshere.

Arsenal

The Gunners have seen better days. Roughly around the late 90’s. After being recently outclassed at home by the German power, Bayern Munich, the men of Arsenal once again find themselves questioning whether they’ll ever have the grit to make a run for ANY sort of title. Heck, they’ll take a Carling Cup at this point. Outside of the Champions League, this squad hasn’t shown any sort of true consistency league-wise either. It always seems to be one step forward, then two steps back with this crew. Now sitting one spot out of Champions League contention, Arsenal has a simple job ahead of them: beat Aston Villa at home. It’s a job that they are certainly capable of, given the talent that their roster boasts. But if for some reason the word “draw” is even being muttered after game day, you can bet on skipper Arsene Wenger receiving even more scrutiny than he already is. Like, a lot of it. Sky Sports is relentless.

Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

Prediction: Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 2

Chelsea vs. Manchester City
Etihad Stadium
Sunday, 2/24/13 @ 8:30am EST

Chelsea

Following a close call at the Bridge against Czech frontrunners, Sparta Prague, Chelsea can breathe a sigh of relief. If not for Eden Hazard’s injury time rocket, the Blues would be one somber bunch heading into a tough weekend matchup against Manchester City. Manager Rafa Benitez has been able to scrounge up a couple decent results as of late for his club after being under close surveillance following a poor start to his campaign as manager at Chelsea. Juan Mata has been nothing short of spectacular for his side. Leading his team in assists (9) and second only to Frank Lampard in goals (10), the Spanish international maintains a heavy influence everywhere on the pitch. He has been able to dictate the mobility and pace of Chelsea’s attacking forefront and wingers on a consistent basis. If the Blues are looking to maintain this stranglehold on the 3rd spot for Champions League contention, they need to keep Mata as that centerpiece. As for their means of attack, this debacle remains to be seen. We’ll see if Torres can be more aerodynamic without his Miley Cyrus hair and hopefully Demba Ba can see through his Rip Hamilton mask.

Demba Ba

Chelsea’s Demba Ba

Manchester City

After smashing 4 goals past Leeds in the FA Cup, City are doing their best to forget that woeful performance against Southampton. Although the loss may have all but cost them a chance at a second consecutive EPL title, this squad has seen this script before. As much as I do enjoy a hearty belly chuckle at Mancini’s confidence, being 12 points out of a tie with top dogs United, he’s predicted a collapse before. To bank on something like that happening again, while unlikely, will rely more heavily on their performance through the remainder of the season. Even a poor United performance has shown results of a 1-0 or 2-1 in their favor thanks to a little addition to the squad named RVP. Moreover, City has the necessary firepower to engage their rivals in a race to the top. This race continues tomorrow on their home turf.

Prediction: Chelsea 2, Manchester City 3