Sunday, 30 July 2017

Emirates Cup 2017 Part 2: RB Leipzig 2 v SL Benfica 0 & Sevilla FC 2 & Arsenal 1

Go on then. Somebody from the rail regulating body explain to me, why there are only around half a dozen trains that stop at East Retford upon Idle all week, at times when anybody is likely to want to use them, yet on Sunday mornings there are two within five minutes of each other.
So here I go again, en route to that there London, where they make the telly n' that, enthused by what I saw yesterday, wearing waterproof attire and getting odd looks because I am involuntarily tapping my foot in time to that catchy Benfica chant that I can't get out of my head... not that I particularly want to, my anger management counsellor told me I should focus on the positive things that make me smile. Lord knows what the person sat next to this grinning and stamping big lump must've thought of me. 
The Kings Cross bound service ran like clockwork, literally, but I was in the capital and off down those escalators in plenty of time to wander around and do the football tourist bit, before I teamed up with my companions 'under the clock'.
People often, well sometimes anyway, ask me what my home town of Retford is like; well, it is so bijou compared to most other towns and cities, that it doesn't even have any escalators, so when I reach the southern end of the East Coast Main Line, I occasionally go up and down the ones at Kings Cross several times, just for the thrill of it.
Wow! Look at the attention to detail on some of these statues
As I took my Sunday stroll up towards the stadium, the first people I bumped into are John McClure and his grandson Ryan. I usually meet up with this 'smashing owd fella' at grounds that are slightly more modest than the Emirates Stadium, such as Dalbeattie Star, Threave Rovers, Maltby Main and Boroughbridge FC, but today we've opted for the prawn sandwiches and padded seat comforts instead. John is the admin for one of the friendliest Facebook pages that covers all aspects of football, at all levels and from all eras, it is well worth a visit.
In fact, skip the rest of this tournament overview and click HERE to add yourself to his growing list of followers.
I was feeling my age this weekend, because having dug out an old programme from the last time that I had watched a team from Leipzig play in London, just around the corner from the Emirates at Highbury, I was stunned that thirty nine years have passed (very quickly) since I watched Arsenal v Lokomotive Leipzig in a UEFA Cup First Round game.
I won't try to unravel the history and politics of football in Leipzig, because the subject matter is so lengthy and multi tentacled, given the complex history of the city itself, that it would be on a par with trying to keep up with whose bedded who in Hollyoaks this past month.
Sadly a lot of the Benfica fans who had created such a great spectacle yesterday weren't present today. But those who were in attendance were still partisan and vocal, but never intimidating. 
They exuded class, in extremes.
At the far end of the ground, in a corner of the Clock End, a block of Leipzig fans put on a choreographed display of arm movements, clapping, singing and err... bouncing up and down, as they made themselves heard as their team put in a more convincing attacking performance than they had against Sevilla.
I wonder what it must be like for RB Leipzig fans who don't wish topartake in all this of 'Birdie Song' stuff, but just want to watch the game and support Die Roten Bullen sans all the peripheral buggering about.
This particular Leipzig club were formed as recently as 2009 and began life in the fifth tier of German football, but having made rapid progress through the ranks, they finished as runners up last season, in their first ever season in the Bundesliga.
Will they be a serious threat to Bayern Munich's perpetual dominance next term? Given their rapid climb to such a prominent position within their domestic game (and now of course, a place in the Champions League too), you couldn't write them off.
And judging them on the evidence of today's performance, RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V, to give them their full title, have got a good thing going on at the Red Bull Arena.
Sunday 30th July 2017
Emirates Cup 2017
At Ashburton Grove/Emirates Stadium
2pm
RB Leipzig (1) 1
Marcel Halstenberg 19
Marvin Compper 53
Benfica (0) 0
 
With the points per goal rules coming into play, for either of these two sides to gatecrash the leaders board, they would have to win this game by a margin of six goals and hope Arsenal v Sevilla later in the afternoon finished as a goalless draw, or seven goals if it was one apiece later on, add one for each additional score draw total etc etc.
I would imagine that Ralph Hasenhuttl will have been happy with his teams win today and the way that they imposed themselves on the Portuguese giants.
The German side took the lead after nineteen minutes when Marcel Halstenberg put the finishing touches to a return pass after playing a neat one-two with Federico Palacios Martinez, who had just moments before fizzed an Exocet of a shot just wide of the upright.
It was seemingly left to the Benfica keeper Bruno Varela to keep his side in the game, as he made a great double save from Oliver Burke and shortly before the half time interval Armindo Bruma instigated an attack across the width of the pitch and Dominik Kaiser shot narrowly over.
Leipzig led by a solitary goal at the break, but they were playing well and deserved to be further in front.
HT: RB Leipzig 1 v SL Benfica 0
Eight minutes into the second half Marvin Compper rose to steer Kaiser's free-kick delivery in off the upright with a well placed header beyond the reach of Varela, to double Leipzig's lead.
To be fair to the Red Bulls, it had been coming.
Raul Jimenez was restricted to shooting from long distance by the well organised Leipzig back line, but his shot ended up in row twenty something of the crowd.
Benfica thought they had halved the deficit when Kostas Mitroglou nudged the ball into the net after Yvon Mvogo had made hard work of  Jonas' long-range effort, but the goal was disallowed and Mitroglou was limping heavily when he was substituted just after his goal attempt.
Ruben Dias went close to pulling a goal back, but headed against the post from Chris Willock's right wing cross. For the record, Willock is a former Arsenal youth team player, who switched to the Benfica academy set up after making two first team appearances for Arsene Wenger's side.
FT: RB Leipzig 2 v SL Benfica 0
Running total: Benfica will finish bottom of the group with just two points, that they gained by scoring twice against Arsenal yesterday.
Leipzig took five points from today's win, a point more than Sevilla already have.
Group leaders Arsenal will kick off against Sevilla sat on eight points.
Sunday 30th July 2017
Emirates Cup 2017
At Ashburton Grove/Emirates Stadium
4.20pm
Arsenal (0) 1
Alexandre Lacazette 65
Sevilla FC (0) 2
Joaquin Correa 49
Steven N'Zonzi 70
Arsenal went into the game, secure in the knowledge that they were guaranteed to win this pre-season tournament for the fifth time, if they avoided defeat by more than a one goal margin against Sevilla.
As a consequence they approached this game completely differently to the way they had yesterday's flowing and attacking shift against Benfica, and they sat back knowing that Sevilla would need to come at them, leaving gaps to exploit at the back.
And indeed, Sevilla did have to look for ways to break their hosts down, but those gaps weren't as apparent as Arsene Wenger's side might have anticipated.
It wasn't entirely a dull opening fourty five minutes, but it was a very nearly was.
HT: Arsenal 0 v Sevilla FC 0
It's been George Graham football porn thus far.
Sevilla hit the post straight from the restart and opened the scoring four minutes after the break when Joaquin Correa calmly placed the ball past Pter Cech after exchanging passes with Wissam Ben Yedder.
Still advantage Arsenal, but it was a fairly slim one now.
Alexandre Lacazette scored on his first home start for Arsenal (it was his second goal for the club in pre-season, having already opened his account approximately 10,566 miles away against Sydney FC two weeks ago), after some great work out on the right flank by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Half a dozen Sevilla fans magically appeared at half time
A small group of Sevilla fans had entered the ground just after their team had opened the scoring.
I think it would be fair to say that they were drunk, not aggressively so, but in a giddy, loud and OTT cheerful kind of way and had probably spent all of the first game and most of the second in the Drayton Park public house, which is just over the Clock End Bridge from the Emirates Stadium.
As often happens at London football events when the game has gone of the boil and a few of the players are giving off the vibe that they are merely going through the motions, the crowd amused themselves by indulging in a Mexican wave, that lasted eight whole laps of the ground before it fizzled out.
But Sevilla changed the complexion of the game when Steven N'Zonzi struck a peach of a dipping shot over Cech's head from just outside the Gunners area, which meant if the Spaniards scored one more goal they would win the group outright.
No team that has got the Arsenal defensive coach Steve Bould on their bench, would ever live to tell the tale if they ever threw caution to the wind, but the Gunners were definitely pushing on now looking for at least an equaliser, with the England trio of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Danny Welbeck combining with serious attacking intent as the clock ticked down.
Welbeck knocked a first time pass through the left channel that Oxlade-Chamberlain met with a crashing half volley, but he couldn't quite keep his shot down and it cleared the Sevilla bar.
El Grande de Andalucía were defending resolutely and in numbers as Arsenal applied the pressure through the power, pace and trickery of Oxlade Chamberlain and slippery skills of Walcott, who combined to good effect out on the right.
Aaron Ramsey hooked a twenty five yard screamer narrowly wide of the right hand post in the dying moments of the game and the game ended in victory to Sevilla, who finished the tournament as the only team who had won both of their games, but came second overall.
Sevilla and Arsenal both finished the tournament on nine points apiece, but the hosts had scored six goals in total and finished with a goal difference of plus three, whereas the runners up had scored three and ended up with a differential of plus two.
Them's the breaks and rules are rules.
Congratulations Arsenal. Commiserations and bloody hard luck Sevilla.
In my ever so humble opinion, the points for goals experiment was actually a very good idea, but I would have thought that number of games won, should be the first factor that is taken into account when it comes to splitting the difference between two joint group winners.
All in all, a decent weekend with an odd twist at the end... and if they're staging a similar tournament here next season, then I will be sat refreshing my browser the moment that the tickets go on sale.