Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sigh

The wheels have come off. The tires exploded, the hubcaps spun off, sparks were flying everywhere. The bus is currently careening towards a precipice as most of the inhabitants sit quietly on board. William Gallas is sobbing mercilessly and Arsene Wenger thinks to himself for a moment, "I wish I had gone out with some more style." Cesc Fabregas smiles briefly and thinks about Spain and Bendtner is sure he'll be the first to die.

Some onlookers were struck by the shards of metal, ripping open their chests and stomach cavities. Medics rush to the scene only to be caught on fire and burned alive. The scene is gruesome. And then, all goes black, and there is this image:
That gray highlighted area.

Let there be no more doubt. I would rather finish 16th than finish 5th. I'd let Tottenham come into the Emirates and score 10 goals in stunning fashion so long as we didn't finish 5th. Jim and I spoke about getting relegated today, and we weren't exactly joking. We had a pretty good laugh when we considered getting relegated and winning the Champions League. It's all we've got left.

And then Walcott got hurt. And then Gallas imploded again. And then, out of nowhere, this buddy of mine who is a Chelsea fan guessed that it was Sagna who was the malcontent... and I didn't rule it out. Oh my goodness if it's Bacary Sagna, that quiet god-loving man, if he's a lockerroom cancer I'll just die. Kind of like how I die a little whenever Gael Clichy messes up. And that face he makes afterwards that screams horrified disbelief.

There's always the Carling Cup.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Peter Kenyon recounts the story of when Arsenal went Champions League or bust but ended up finishing 6th in the premiership.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mourinho, Essien douchbags

Something weird is happening in the English Premier League this season. There are 20 teams total in the league and 11 of them are within 3 points of relegation. Three points, 55% of the league. Number 12, 13 and 14 are only 4 (or 5) points out of relegation. The only real separation comes from the sixth place team, Hull, tied with Aston Villa, both of which are 8 points out of relegation. Keep in mind we're a quarter of the way through the season.

Ignoring Fulham, who has played one less game, the 10 other teams, a fluke goal or a bad call away from joining the likes of Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Swansea, include some fairly big names:

Sunderland
Blackburn
Tottenham
NewCastle
Manchester City (!!!)

And just so you know, two out the three promoted teams seem to be enjoying their deluxe apartment in the sky. Stoke and Hull, top table teams, got there by beating the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Man City and of course, others. Although, who hasn't beaten Arsenal lately (zing!).

Aside - Allow me to elaborate on Jim's pessimism (and Jake's subsequent optimism/sarcasm). For the record, I share Jim's sentiment, if not feel more strongly about Arsenal's demise in the EPL. The reason, as discussed by Jim and I after beating United, is because the Gunners still have games at United and home and homes with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester Citeh. That's 4 games away that pretty much must result in 3 points. Lets say we lose 2 of those games, win out the rest at home, and win out the remaining 19 games. That leaves Arsenal with 5 losses and allows for 4 more draws (in 23 games) to finish top of the table - ala Man Utd last year.

Hmmm, that doesn't exactly paint the bleakness of the picture per sae. Allow me to put it another way. Last year, the much dreaded NIT, Uefa Cup, or Ac Milan's bastard child of 2007 tournament of embarassing memories (it has several names), qualifed with 65 points. Projecting our current pace, leaves us at 73 points. Considering we still have 7 games against the rest of the big 4 and the Saudi's Super Sweet 16 (Citeh), it's possible. Finishing 5th would all but kill me. There is nothing worse than playing in the Uefa. I wouldn't watch any of those games, and I'd root for us to lose. Juventus' absense from the CL last year was weird, remiss at times, but never an obligatory slap in the face. It has to feel like child support payments after the girl lied about birth control. I can't even think about Arsenal beating FC Coppenhagen in the Uefa Cup finals without also then thinking about stumbling in on 2 girls 1 cup in my living room.

I think that last analogy just about sums up how I feel about Arsenal finishing 5th. I posed this question to Jim the other day - Would you take a guaranteed 5th place in the league for a finals birth in the Champions. I kinda wish I hadn't posed it because it very well could happen.

I know I'm being overly dramatic but don't confuse my Virginia Wolf impression to lack any positive outlooks. I think Arsenal will win the Champions League this year. And if no other english sides are faced past the sweet 16, it won't be close. Arsene Wenger built this team for Europe - it's become painstakingly clear. Our worst game, a draw against Fenerbahce, saw 14 goal scoring chances go wayward. I can watch that game and argue at the same time why Arsenal will win the CL this year... and not flinch.

Does anyone else realize how hard Bendtner is trying to resemble Senderos? This won't be the first time I write this - ship him the hell out of London. Do it now. Give him up for 50 pounds and a shot of Montezuma Blue. While we're at it, trade away Van Persie too. Every time he chokes another goal away with a 90mph shank job when a simple slot home will do just fine I mute the game, stare at a lightbulb and listen to Scarborough Fair. How did Arsene end up with the worst of all the Dutch attackers? Van Persie and Bendtner the hell out of here, Adebayor for Guiza, and Arshavin in the transfer window is all I ask. That's all it takes to be unstoppable. Well... maybe Gallas for Cannavaro but that's definitely it.
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The much overdo, Juventus coverage...


Juventus is surprisingly similar to Arsenal this year except less extreme in both successes and failures. I read earlier today that Del Piero is arguably the best striker in Europe right now and at least in the last 3 games I'd say there isn't much of an argument. If you haven't seen That Fire do his thing recently, allow me to describe it. Shooting for Alessandro reminds me of watching Kobe Bryant. Every goal has shocked me in one way or another but when you really think about it, he's done it before. Take Chievo Verona for example. That Fire has a free-kick 10 yards outside the box, on the equivalent of the left hash, and he buries it top left corner. The same top left corner he always buries it in. Without fail, Del Piero bends it over the wall, right into the corner. Yet even the greatest keeper in the world (since the greatest got hurt), Iker Cassillas was even surprised by it. I know it's coming, Ranieri knows its coming, it's not exactly a well kept secret. Whatever, I don't mind, like Kobe's fall away, it's a thing of beauty to watch and hell, it may just be unstoppable and unfair.

The reason for Juve's early struggles, unlike Arsenal, I can explain concisely. Amauri has been great, but relying on him has been the problem. Amauri reminds me of Allen Iverson (gosh, really, two NBA allusions?!?. I apologize.) He plays with a ton of intensity, gets his looks, but can't actually carry a team to be ultimately successful. Juve strikers, Iaquinta, Del Piero, whoever else, don't play well with him because he makes every run. It's not being selfish either. Amauri just makes every run, takes every open shot, goes for every header, and it makes his teammates a little more complacent and a little less energetic. It's the reason why Alessandro's resurgence is that much more important. Amauri can't be the leader on this team. He needs to be the guy to ice teams when we're only up 1-nil or bring us back to life when we're down 2-0.

Another worry about Juventus, besides the noticeable lack of star power, is Tiago. Ranieri is giving Tiago his chance to reach the high potential once thought of him. So far it's not really panning out. Tiago is soft and "fake" creative. What I mean is that Tiago makes the creative pass that cannot actually be executed. I'm sure Cesc would love to be able to split 2 defenders and chip the third in the middle of the pitch but it doesn't work. I know the comparison is tough, but Tiago hasn't proven he can make the simple play yet before he tries the complicated one.

I promised myself I wouldn't go the entire post without mentioning something positive about the win over United so here goes:

It was pleasing to see Rooney act like the thug he is and for Gary Neville to screw up yet again for United.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spurs Defeat Arsenal, 4-4

A truly unbelievable game. If you were a neutral viewer or a Tottenham supporter, that has to be the game of the season thus far. I, for one, seriously doubt we'll see a better match in the months that follow.

That being said, I'm not a neutral viewer, and I'm definitely not a Tottenham supporter. And what I saw today was not a brilliant display of attacking football (and suspect goalkeeping) by both clubs. It was not an exciting end-to-end battle, displaying fabulous passing and possession skills. It was not the miraculous resurgence of a club left for dead under the steady leadership of a good manager. The only thing I saw was the death of Arsenal's 2008-2009 season. And quite possibly, the beginning of the end of Arsenal's taken-for-granted status as one of the Big Four.

On a day that saw Liverpool, Chelsea, and United methodically grind out victories, Arsenal were in prime position to join them. They sat 4-2 up at home with 88 minutes played. Sure, they'd made things hard on themselves, but it was hard to begrudge Spurs their stunning opener (apparently, the rule this season is that all teams are allowed one absurd goal against Arsenal), and Almunia had been playing so well in recent games that his gaffe to allow Bent's goal was more excusable than usual. The Gunners had worked hard and responded well to every Spurs test, and were certainly deserved winners. Then, starting with a horrible Clichy mistake (much like last year), it all fell apart. There's plenty to analyze, but I'll spare myself; what I'm getting at is that this team lacks the discipline, mental strength, and frankly, the right personnel on defense to bring home a league title this season.

I might be the most optimistic supporter you'll ever meet. I love watching Arsenal, I love Wenger, I'm consistently full of hope. Pathetically, I secretly refused to give up even after the loss to United last season, praying that some bizarre turn of events would make victory possible. But the results speak for themselves, and the league is a fairy tale this season. The best outcome for this year is the Carling or FA Cup, a deep run in the Champions League (assuming European teams keep trying to beat us at our game), and holding onto Cesc Fabregas over the transfer window. Those are our objectives. Alright, deep breath now. Let's do it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Five Things to Ponder



Before tomorrow's North London Derby...

1) Liverpool. I'm impressed, I have to say. I said at some point last season that Liverpool's weaknesses were a lack of good wide play and a general overdependence on Gerrard and Torres. Well, those two have both struggled with injuries, and Liverpool has rolled. Albert Riera has been a fantastic addition, giving them width on the left, and the much-maligned Dirk Kuyt is playing incredibly hard and very well (and often doing it on the wing as well, which I admit I didn't think was possible). However, let's look closely at what's going on here: a long unbeaten run to start the season, lots of thrilling come from behind victories against teams that had no business taking the lead in the first place, a hard fought and impressive 1-0 win over Chelsea... minus the impressive victory against United, this looks an awful lot like Arsenal's start to the season last year. Just saying.

2) Maradona. TLOCA would like to extend a warm welcome back to professional football and general relevance to one of the true all-time greats of world football. Juan, just for the sake of your homies in sky blue, let's hope Maradona manages Argentina the way he's been managing his personal fitness for the last few years. Also, is it a conflict of interest if the coach's daughter is dating one of his star strikers? Based on simple genetics, the child of this union is going to be no more than 5'7" and probably the greatest attacking threat soccer has ever known.

3) Ronaldo (the original one). Simply for this quote and headline. Good luck, buddy.

4) 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp. Tottenham have burnt through yet another decent coach and are now ready to ruin the heretofore proud career of another. I (and many others) knew this would happen. And a columnist at the Times has now documented the phenomenon in a serious publication. Arsenal fans should be worried, however, as Spurs are now on their longest win streak of the season and brimming with confidence.

5) Joey Barton. Apparently, he scored a penalty today. Whatever. I'm making a new rule - from here on out, we at TLOCA will not mention anything Joey Barton does on a football field. I don't care how outrageous or amazing it is. It'll be like it never happened. Which is how it would be if he were in jail, where he belongs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arsene Wenger pwns Luis Aragones

Arsenal 5 Fenerbahce 2, does not tell the whole story. The summary, even the highlights, still miss an intricate facet to this scoreline. The prerequisites are revealed in the form of two questions:

Did you watch Spain during Euro 2008? And have you watched (just about) any of Arsenal's last 10 games in the premiership? If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you should have put your mortgage on the over* in this game. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, the Premiership has learned how to beat Arsene Wenger football. The way you do it is to pack it in your own defensive half and score on set-pieces or wondergoals (see Hull, Fulham, Sunderland, and almost Everton). This strategy is actually quite worrisome to me (and Jim) because Arsenal is already out of the EPL, and quite honestly, it wouldn't suprise me if we missed 3rd place this year. It would infuriate me, but it wouldn't surprise me - you just cant lose or draw this many times as Arsenal have in this young year. The proven Anti-Arsene strategy is most worrisome though, because it is Wenger that must adjust, not his opponents. Bolton has been trying this pack-it-in-and-hope strategy with talentless hacks for a few years now, but now more and more managers are willing to vitiate the beautiful game. It sounds harsh, but it's more or less the only counter.

And Arsene counts on this. He relies on a manager's pride and the watchability of a match for his game to work at its best. Have you noticed that after a loss, Arsene tends to comment that the game was boring or not a pleasing style of soccer? Or perhaps the fans don't want to see 10 in the box? Wenger feeds that stigma because his whole genius depends on it, and the beautiful game does too.

Enter Luis Aragones. Fresh off the Euro-Cup, Spain finally had the talent, and equally as important, the finishers, to play their style of football and get away with it. One could argue that Spain has often had the most talented team in big tournaments. Nobody needs to argue that they've underperformed. 28 days of unbelievable summer soccer later, Spain had finally gotten the monkey off it's back.

Glance at the title of this post again and you know where this is going. I haven't written it yet, but Spain under Luis Aragones and Arsenal under Arsene Wenger utilize eerily similar philosophies of soccer. Here's why Arsene won.

Not surprisingly, the strengths and weaknesses of any game-plan are best known by its inventor. Well, any good inventor. Some fans of the NFL thought that last year, Belichick and his Patriots were running up the score. That's not entirely true. He just knew what he had on defense, and knew that outscoring opponents, or at least an opponents strategy when playing from behind, was one that he can handle**. I've begun with an example that is too subtle but it happens alot. Tony LaRussa knows that his bullpen sucks, so he has his starters throw tons of strikes to elongate their starts. Obviously that caught up with our starters around 60 games in and then the bullpen, which I'm sure someone in management knew stunk, did the rest. These are completely separate stories all together but still, good managers know what they've got, and know what they haven't got.

The same goes for Wenger and his style of football. If you were to watch the game again now knowing the outcome, you might find that Fenerbahce and Arsenal were doing pretty much the exact same things on offense; possession, triangle passes, 2 touch maximums, slicing through-balls, and 2 touch finishes. The difference, and this was some difference (5 to 2 to be exact), was that Wenger had Alumunia off his line aggressively. That is an understatement. In fact, just watch the first 10 minutes, before Almunia really gets comfortable with it, and it almost burns him. Twice. David Guiza enjoyed the spoils of just as many (or more) threatening through balls as Adebayor/Walcott/El Diablo Diaby***. One keeper received instructions to come off his line aggresively and at all occasion, the other, had not. One keeper allowed 5 goals, the other 2. Yes, Arsenal has more talent than Fenerbahce, but if this were a Fantasy Football Finisher league I'd offer Ade/Diaby for Guiza in a heartbeat****. I would probably then have to follow that offer with an apologetic email to Guiza's owner and the commissioner that indeed I was taking the league seriously.

For all intents and purposes, the same soccer style and philosophy met on Tuesday in Istanbul. Wenger proved he's the better coach.



*It was 2.5 at open and closed at 3
** Their defense clearly sucks this year, but don't forget that
*** The Spanish announcers on 360 loved calling him el diablo, diaby. He had a good game too, so it was enjoyable.
**** Or a keeper league, roto league, regular league, real life, father figures. NOT wingmen at a bar though.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The stupidest, yet most important point in the last 6 years for Uruguay. And uh... other stuff

Oh how I hate Bolivia. I've learned alot about myself in the past 3 days. The first and most alarming lesson I've learned is that I hate a whole lot of countries in South America. This has partly to do with the fact that I'm a fairly hateful person, but also to do with the fact that Uruguay has been wronged by several countries.

My hatred for Bolivia is obvious and agreeable. Any country that has ever played in outer space will tell you that it's a truly insane version of home field advantage when your players can't breathe. I'm no scientist for the National Institute of Health or anything, but the necessary oxygen-carrying red blood cells to perform any sort of exercise at upwards of 9,000 feet require several days to grow. This process, oddly enough, has a term - climatizing. I agree that Bolivian fans have the right to watch their team in their home country, but Uruguay finished playing Argentina on Saturday night, and then played at Bolivia 70 hours later. And unless FIFA is gonna agree to the Lance Amstrong clause and give all opponents on short rest erythropoietin to accelerate the proliferation of red blood cells, we have a problem.

So if you're a bit intrigued as to why I'm so thrilled with one, stupid, lousy point (in the past 3 games mind you), now you know.

Then there's Argentina. Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Riquelme, Mascherano... Four of those five players might be the most aggravating, johnny hussle, love-them-until-they-play-against-you players I can think of. Rooney comes to mind - though I don't love him. Hmmm, Anderson with his sagging mouth may be another... I can't really think of that many worse than those four so I'll let our reader come up with some other players that may be applicable.

Anyway, Argentina played all four annoying super-lemmings along with the coolest, smoothest, does his heart rate ever beat over 90, legend in Juan Roman Riquelme. Do not forget that much like David Beckham, Riquelme was cast aside and driven to the retirement home against his will. He luckily put his ego aside and romped through the Argentina Primera kind of like how the Joker romped through Gotham. That is to say, bitter and with style. He was asked back and he's been stunning for them. I didn't notice the game he had against us (seriously I didn't), but he's been great. Long story short, Argentina is Duke to Uruguay's Maryland. I probably should have just opened with that. F$^# Duke.

Continuing with the ACC analogy makes Brasil, UNC. I kinda like where this is going because alot of people argue that Argentina-Brasil is a bigger rivalry. However, if you ask an Argentinian if they'd rather beat Uruguay or beat Brasil, a surprising number of them would choose their smaller, significantly less HIV infected neighbors. So yeah, Brasil is alot like UNC for Maryland. You generally hate them, enjoy their talent, but wouldn't think twice about running one over with your car, chopping up the body and feeding the casserole to Brasilian tranny's... if you know what I mean.

Let's see, Bolivia, Argentina, Brasil... who else... ah yes, Venezuela and Colombia - the punch-lines of every corruption and drug induced communist sodomy joke in South America. Ever since el Pibe retired, Colombia has been a disgrace. And Venezuela has never been good. If Paraguay weren't unanimously deemed the most homosexual country on the continent (South Americans are very homophobic. There's like, 20 words for gay, none of them happy) then they'd be alright. If you're keeping count, Uruguay is "cool" with Ecuador (lovable indians) and Peru (Machu Pichu is aight).

I think it's safe to say that world cup qualifying doesn't bring out the best in me. I'm all messed up really. After Carlos Bueno made it 2-1 on a Randy Moss-esque header, I signed online just to send my 17 year-old cousin the spanish equilavent subject of, "LET'S F&^ING DO THIS MOTHER F&^ER" I didn't send something tasteful like, "Si se puede!!" but rather an expletative laden tirade with no analysis, just emotion. Carlos Bueno does that to me. The last time he scored I signed online and nearly bought an $85 dollar replica of his jersey. I forget why I didn't... I should probably buy that.

Anyway, I have off til March, and that's probably good for me. But just know that the tension is building - and not in a good way.

*And in case you're interested, my cousin, who has since responded to my inappropriate email, says that she also thinks its a decent result "in that ridiculous altitude."
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On a more positive note, France drew against Romania. I don't know how much longer France has to struggle for Domenech to be fired, but at this point I'm playing with house money with Treze out. As far as I'm concerned, France can burn down like Chicago in 1871 and I won't flinch.

Across town, England beat Kazakhstan 5 to 1. The tension in Wembley for the first 30 minutes of that game was highly comical. The only thing more humorous is the carnival and fireworks scheduled after a less than inspiring victory over a hapless Potassium squad. I watched every minute of the match and the game only opened up after England caught some breaks. Don't get me wrong, there was never any doubt, except maybe after Kazak scored to bring it 2-1 and just missed a header to bring it level 5 minutes later, but hey, a win is a win. I suppose I'm just a little tired of hearing about fans boo'ing terrible plays. We get it soccernet, you need real writers.

Last but not least, the Concacaf. Well... yeah probably least. Anyhoo, the United States proved that Damarcus Beasley can really use some confidence against a highschool squad. Good for you Damarcus. It was nice to see Iguch get in on the "train" action as well as Altidore scor, er, not miss a sure goal.

The real news is that Jamaica beat Mexico (I watched both games at a mexican restaurant, love that Carlos Vela). Jamaica scored a Hull-wondergoal, but Mexico should have probably scored 10. I don't know what the standings are, or if this even matters for Mexico, but whatever, that's an upset. The reason this concerns me, the Concacaf, I know, is because the 5th place Conmebol team plays the 3rd place (or 4th) Concacaf team to qualify. If it's Mexico that'd REALLY piss me off and would turn me into a serial killer. The ball is in your half Uruguay.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Same Old Arsenal

The Champions League is back and this time around there were fewer surprises.

Group E

Manchester United 3, Aab 0

So before, when I said that ManU was gonna get relegated, I was wrong. Turns out Cristiano is the heartbeat that moves around all the stale blood at United. It's not such an obvious impact all the time. I mean, when he does this, that's fairly blunt, but when he doesn't appear on the scoresheet, he always makes me think. It's just the feeling you get when an important player is missing.
Stats don't always tell the full story - i.e. when Sagna went down last year there was this abrupt sense of vunerability about Arsenal's back line. And not just because it was a back-up defender - it was suddenly you had never heard of those guys and it showed. Fast forward to the start of this season when United came out flat and lacked menance. Coincidentely, they turned both those things around instantly when Ronaldo came onto the pitch (to cheers - never any doubt) in that first CL tie.
If he's on the pitch, United is United, when he's not, there any other name-drop team.

One more thing and I'm off the Manchester Wagon. Berbatov scored two goals and didn't celebrate either. The first one, granted, was a rec-league gift and the second one was kind of a snoozer as well but hey Dimitar, since when are you bigger than the game? Go ahead and celebrate next time or everyone is gonna think you dont care. I've already put you on mercenary watch.


Villareal 1, Celtic 0

A win is a win. Villa has 4 points and essentially puts Celtic on the ropes for their tie against United. Me likes because Celtic has been known make for interesting games against ManU. I'll be watching.

Oh, and Senna apparently scored a beauty free-kick but I can't find the highlights and for some inexplicable reason, at half-time, Espn only shows goals for 1 of the 7 other ongoing games. Thanks Espn coverage.


Arsenal 4, Porto 0

Here's the thing. Arsenal always plays like this. When chances become goals, Arsenal is "turning on the style," but when they don't, Arsenal's pass first, shoot never strategy fails again. Sorry, but they play pretty much the same at all times. True, the Gunners seemed to have more energy today but it's hard to claim otherwise when the embarrass the Portuguese champs. Don't get me wrong, I loved the game. We looked great, and there is again no doubt that when everything clicks, Arsenal football is the most beautiful kind. Still, it's just getting hard to stomach performances like this followed by losses to the likes of Hull City (who by the way is a legit squad - they look comfortable staying around the premiership for awhile)

Anyway, all I really wanted to note is that Adebayor's dancing scares me. In a good way, but wow, it leaves me speechless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Moment Of Silence

I wanted to rave. I got online with the sole purpose of gushing about Arsenal. Then my fears after learning the starting lineup on Sunday came to fruition.

David Trezeguet will miss the remainder of 2008 and is expected to to return in January.

It's true that Amauri has looked good. It's true that Iaquinta and Del Piero can step in. But nobody can lift up my spirits like David Trezegol.

Until January. Only then will I smile like you.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Tottenham Hotspur: The Anti-Arsenal















As an Arsenal supporter, the temptation to laugh at yet another hapless Spurs team has been almost impossible to suppress. But the point of this post is not really ridicule - it's to demonstrate the difference between a well-run club and one that's managed poorly. Spurs aren't the anti-Arsenal simply because the supporters of the two teams hate one another; it's because their style of management and personnel selection runs directly contrary to that of the Gunners. Not to mention the fact that those that join and leave each club seem to experience opposite effects.

At the beginning of this season, I was convinced that Tottenham had a legitimate shot at cracking the Top Four at the expense of Liverpool or Arsenal. I, like my esteemed colleague, was sure that Arsenal had missed its opportunity to strengthen the squad. Meanwhile, Spurs had made some major moves starting mid-season of the previous campaign. They brought in Juande Ramos, a fine manager with a record of success and a reputation for getting the best out of both his stars and his less-skilled players. Jonathan Woodgate, Luka Modric, Gio dos Santos, David Bentley, and Roman Pavyluchenko have followed. Though all have had some questions asked during their careers, these are (or ought to be) world class players. The same goes for some of the Spurs mainstays: Jenas (whom I despise), is nonetheless a fine player; Gareth Bale shows a lot of promise; and Ledley King, if he could ever stay healthy, would be one of England's top central defenders alongside Ferdinand and Terry.

Meanwhile, Arsenal in the past few years have bought almost no one of note aside from Samir Nasri, and even he was a bit of a gamble. The season before, they signed Eduardo and Bacary Sagna. Nobody really knew what to expect. Wenger began starting players who had formerly served as backups for global stars (Clichy for Ashley Cole; Adebayor for Henry) and told them to pick up where they left off. Lo and behold, it seemed to work. Why? We'll get to it in a moment.

Even before this, Wenger was bringing in unknown players like Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb, and Matthieu Flamini. All of these players became stars at Arsenal. Those who have left have continually run into "the Arsenal curse" and have rapidly lost fitness or generally failed to achieve the same level of personal or club success. I recognize it's far too early to say with Hleb and Flamini, but both their clubs are off to nightmare starts.

Tottenham's curse is precisely the opposite. When good players and managers come to Tottenham, they become bad. And when they leave again, they often rediscover their form. Defoe and Mido, two Spurs striking castoffs, are off to great starts with Portsmouth and Middlesbrough, respectively. Martin Jol has Hamburg off to a league-leading start in the Bundesliga (that won't last, but a Top 3 finish isn't out of the question). Again, why?

The answer lies in how each club approaches building a team. For Tottenham, each year without success brings an outcry from management and the fans to blow up the whole team and start again. And so Spurs sell off players that still have great potential and buy a new load of quality players. These players arrive over the summer and are expected to learn a brand new system and to play with brand new players immediately. Every year, Tottenham sputters out of the starting gate and picks up steam as the season goes on and players grow accustomed to each other. Hell, last year they even managed to string together enough positive results in the middle of the season to win something (the Carling Cup, but still). But in terms of the league and qualifying for the CL, it's always too little, too late. The board and the fans are unhappy again. Solid players are sold at a loss. The hot new stars on the scene are brought in. Failure begets failure.

At Arsenal, Wenger has been given freedom by the board to take the opposite approach. Change is gradual. A good illustration of this comes from his first season in charge. Wenger took over a back line of Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, and Keown. All of these players were 30+ and were used to a style of play far different from what is now associated with Arsenal. Yet Wenger retained them. And when he bought new players, it was usually one immediate impact player and then five or six for the future. He extended the careers of the veterans and maintained a true sense of team by gradually integrating the newcomers. He was the first to start using the Carling Cup as an opportunity to play youngsters alongside and against first team regulars. Though the pace of this adaptation has necessarily sped up in recent years, the principle remains the same.

Tottenham would do well to emulate this example. Ramos is a fine manager. With time, I believe he can identify the players that will constitute a "heart and soul" base of the squad and add to it. But this means no board hysteria when Tottenham rally to finish 6th this season. No calls for a shake-up, no pressing of the panic button. Listening to the fans is often a good thing, but when the voices of frustrated supporters are given too much consideration (e.g. Tottenham, Newcastle, West Ham), you end up with the inmates running the asylum. And the bottom line remains that you can't buy a league title. (Unless you're Chelsea, and then you get two for your money. But that's a whole other story.)

[Note: I originally drafted this a couple days ago. Since then, Wenger and Ferguson have come out and discussed this issue. Love the picture in that article. And Ramos himself came out and begged for patience. Though I personally don't mind seeing Tottenham embarrass themselves every year, I think Spurs fans would do well to listen.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 1, Leg 1, this is the diary of the Champions League

It has been rumored that the Champions League this year is robust with talented and legit teams.

The rumors are true:

Group A
Chelsea 4, Bordeaux 0

Bordeaux may have been the most uninspired team of the first round. I didn't expect much of them going into the Fortress but there was a moment in the game when Bords missed a sitter down 2-nil and I got to thinking how nice it would have been for them to leave England with an away goal. The game never really materialized for them and Chelsea looked like they were having fun. Lampard barely celebrated his wide open header and Joe Cole smiled annoyingly after his flick-on goal from no angle off a corner. Gosh, writing that makes me irritated. Anyway, then Eaux collapsed and the two kings of garbage time smashes, namely, Florent Malouda and Le Suck, scored easily just in case there was a 2nd leg to played. Turns out there isn't. Way to go Bordeaux.


Roma 1, CFR Cluj-Napoca
2

Highlights will self-destruct soon.
I'm going to try and go the remainder of the group stages without a horrendously cheesy joke about CFR Cluj-Napoca's choice of squad name. Honestly I hope to last this paragraph. Anyway, CFR absolutely diagnosed* Roma. Rome hasn't been sacked like this since 1527. I kinda with CFR was a French team because that historical reference would be a little more savvy. Regardless, Juan Culio crushed any lingering thoughts that Roma might escape from their early season slump with two brilliant strikes. Roma has looked so awful the last 3 games it's beginning to pass "slump" stages and enter into "diarrhea" mode - currently what the Cardinals are in just in case you were wondering. CFR should have won this game 3-1 and maybe even 4-1. It wasn't close.

Napoca better not blow this - something difficult to do at home - but I've seen Totti steal games more guarded than this.

*diagnosed - the new term I'm trying to get to stick. As in, I went to the cancer clinic and got straight diagnosed, it was terrible.

Group B

Panathinaikos 0, Inter Mourinho 2

When Ibrahimovic is on, he's on. If you haven't seen the highlight yet, look up Inter's first goal. Something possesses Zlatan and he dogs a play for 40 meters until finally he wins possession and gifts Mancini a relatively easy goal. Other than that, the Greeks couldn't seem to crack Inter's armor in a somewhat sloppy game that saw the likes of Adriano seal a win. I'm intrigued with Adriano by the way. He was apparently torching dudes during his rehab/comeback stint over in Sao Paulo and I wonder if he can keep it up. Mourinho, who I've started to really dislike since he dissed Arsenal, is just the type of coach that may inspire Adriano to play for a better contract.


Werder 0, Anorthosis 0

Booooooooooooooooo.


Group C

FC Basel 1, Shaktar Donetsk 2

Saint Jakob park still hasn't recovered from England's chirades as FC Basel fell at home. I don't know much about these teams but I must say its worth the highlights because the goals in this game were absolutely phenomenal.


Barcelona 3, Sporting Lisbon 1

I still don't think Barca has recovered from whatever it is that ails them. For me, the only reason that is disappointing is because a player like Messi should never have to deal with a struggling team. If somehow Barcelona doesn't qualify for The League next year by shatting La Liga, the soccer soul in me will die a little. Kinda like how it dies a little whenever he tears his hamstring, or how Kaka will not be splitting dudes as they collide. Sigh.


Group D

PSV Eindhoven 0, Athletic Madrid 3

Sergio Kun Aguero. Wow. He played powerful, fulfilling futbol today. His hair is flowing and so are his short strides. Madrid looked good in their Unis and looked like they belonged in the Champions League. This is a team I want matching up with everyone. I look forward to more of their matches.


Marseille 1, Steven Gerrard 2

Must see highlights... that will self-destruct of course.
(Shaking head) (roll eyes) (deep breath) Alright, Stevey G is really good. He made nothing into something absolutely brilliant and the announcers are right - only Steven Gerrard. Marseille gets my award for "friskiest team so far" and that makes Group D all that much more interesting. I'm predicting the Madrid-Marseille tie to be something like Fenerbahce-Anyone last year. Anyhoo, this match was easily the game of The League so far and it pains me to say it but Liverpool looks scary. I always thought Babel was good and it appears he's seeing more playing time which is bad news for everyone else. So long as Torres is healthy and Captain Fantastic is too then I believe Pool is worrisome.

On a side-note: I'm beginning to understand why Gerrard and Lampard were the twin saviours for the English squad going into 2006 (more like the twin towers... zing!!). I still don't think it's justified and here's why. Stevey G and Lampard are so over-exposed in the EPL that if they experience a normal amount of success, which is what I think they've experienced (Torres being the most amount of success and hmmm, lets go with Shevchenko as being the least), then due to their over exposure, fans are going to think they are sweet. But as it turns out, they play like, 50 games a year and yes, they do absolutely shine in some of them. But the World Cup is a 3 game set, and if you're fortunate, more than that, and it turns out Gerrard and Lampard were slumping - sorry.

Ah but I digress. Enjoy tomorrow - I know I will.

It's Our 100th Post!















And the Champions League is back! As if anyone needed reminding.

Chelsea and Inter should romp to victory. Nobody knows what to expect from Roma. And Barcelona-Sporting, PSV-Atletico, and Marseilles-Liverpool should be good matches. Stay tuned for more...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Looney Toons

Read this story from the BBC.

Before I get into the story I first wanted to comment on the writing and general professionalism over at ESPNsoccernet. I've been noticing for quite some time now that the pictures Soccernet puts up on its front page to break a story are often times ridiculous. A few weeks ago when Tevez signed his big deal for United, they posted a picture of him celebrating after a goal looking absolutely crazy. You're going to have to trust me when I say that it was much, much less flattering than this one. Now I understand he's not the most photogenic footballer on the planet, but this is not the first time they've posted a purposely unflattering picture. Since I'm lazy and didn't take screen shots all the times I noticed an exceptionally ridiculous photo, I can only mention that you look out for it in the future.

I have also started to note more and more that the writing at soccernet is horribly underwhelming. Much like Wayne Rooney, I can't remember the last time a story has impressed me. The irony is ripe within this criticism as of course you, our reader, begins to think, "well I can't remember the last time you impressed me either!" Seriously though, when's the last time you read something like, "As I examine the stars, I see Leo rising, Scorpio waning, Jupiter in the seventh house, and just a whole bunch of complete and utter nonsense which tells me that Raymond Domenech isn't fit to coach in my old Olivette soccer league," on Espn? Your answer is very likely to be, never.

Similarly, I don't understand any of the humor they insert when I detect traces of it in their stories. And don't tell me that I don't understand English humor - I've always maintained that the UK version of the Office is better than our version of it. It's just that when they try to be funny, they're not, very reminiscent of Carlos Mencia. And hopefully I'm not in the minority here because it's something I've noticed since Jimbo and I started this blog. (I knew Mencia wasn't funny the first time I heard him).

I think this story typifies what I'm trying to say - and for the record, I found this story after I decided to write this. The picture is funny for a second, but then when you realize you wasted your time reading the story, the joke is suddenly on you.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. Jim touched on this subject in a previous post but clearly poop has hit the fan. Or rather, poop has hit the fans (get it!)...

Delirious fans aggravate the hell out of me. It's one of the many reasons I hate Boston sports, hated on Liverpool fans last year, and have current beef with Castlers. What's beef you may ask? Beef is when you have a billionaire owner willing to shake things up, and the fans want more. Beef is when Mike Ashley learned the hard lesson not to mix business and pleasure - cough, Arthur Blank, John Edwards, cough. But in this modern business tragedy, there was actually a catharsis, rather than Chapter 11.

Mike Ashley put the team up for sale and fired right back at the delirious unknowing fans of sodom and gamorrah. (I'm thoroughly convinced of this analogy by the way, make it work and its funny... mostly the sodomy part).

So what Juan? You ranted for several long paragraphs, distracting me from my ever important work, and for what?
Well I wanted you to remember that this type of thing does not happen. A, "phyuck you guys" of this magnitude has never happened. This type of thing is something a fantasy football commissioner would do, not a billionaire owner. The fans thought they knew better. They couldn't understand why NewCastle wasn't part of the big four. They wanted King Kev, who might very well be a good coach on the field, but a terrible manager off of it. They pretended to know what happens behind closed doors and Mike Ashley finally had enough and let this small, beautiful emotion do the talking - vindication.

Oh NewCastle nation, you know not what you do. And hey, I might be wrong, I might be way over the top here - English soccer is a relatively new thing to me. But maybe that's what lets me see clearly. And something I've learned is that nobody is guaranteed relevance. Ask Leeds United, ask major league baseball in the mid 90s, ask Jeremy Roenick.

So go yee Castle fans, mobilise and fix all your problems. Revitalize Michael Owen to late 1990s form. Rehabilitate that disrespectful thug Joey Barton with all your cheers and praise. See if Mike Ashley cares.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Matthieu Flamini: "I've Made a Huge Mistake."

No, he didn't actually say that. But the thought must have at least crossed his mind (in French, of course), as Milan fell to Genoa in their second straight defeat. And it's not as though he'll get a chance to take his mind off their woeful league start with a Champions League tie in midweek.

The more you think about it, the more the Flamster's new club looks like what I like to call a reputation team. It's a club that supporters fear because of its big names, but that players all secretly know are beatable. The New York Yankees, since 2004, have descended into a reputation team. Sir Alex tried to imply that Chelsea were one (they're not). Barcelona are in real danger of having that label applied to them.

Essentially, Milan has compiled an All-Star team... from 2003. Ambrosini has no business starting anymore. Something is still wrong with Pirlo. Inzaghi shot his wad in the 2007 Champions League final. Maldini is perhaps the greatest defender of all time, but he's 40 years old (and was responsible for the penalty today with a very reckless challenge). Seedorf is also a legend, and has won pretty much everything a footballer can win, but his last two seasons have been really unproductive. The airlines somehow lost Shevchenko's talent and goalscoring boots on his flight from Milan to London; I doubt he'll find them again in Italy. Kaka and Ronaldinho together should be able to unlock the vault to Fort Knox, but today, they were completely ineffective in unlocking a mediocre Genoa defense. If Arsenal had a chance to take any of their players, I'd say thanks, but no thanks to just about everyone except Kaka, Flamini, and Pato. For serious.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's Early, But...

I like the way this season is shaping up. Things are weird. Things are exciting. There have been a lot of upsets, and a lot of goals. Will the situation settle down, and will the same clubs that seem to always dominate their respective leagues rise to the surface? Yeah, probably. But for the moment, let's enjoy:

1. Liverpool over Man U. Not a huge upset, but an upset nonetheless (which I correctly predicted, might I add). I believe this was the first time Liverpool had defeated United in the league in like seven years. With no Gerrard and Torres from the start, I thought they were doomed. I was sure of this after two minutes when Berbatov made the most of his dangerous reputation to draw defenders over and square the ball for Tevez. But a little luck, and a nice goal from Babel saw them through. I know that both United and Chelsea got off to stuttering starts last year, but the former look really vulnerable without Ronaldo. And now that Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool are off and running, one gets the feeling that it will be harder to play catch-up.

2. Robinho. A lot of new players have a "welcome to the premier league" moment when they get schooled by Torres or Christiano or are blocked off the ball in a fashion that would call for a card in Italy or Spain but instead gets a shrug from the ref. Today, the Premier League got a "welcome to Robinho" moment when he struck a perfect free kick (he got some help; Nicolas "team player" Anelka ducked, of course) to put Citeh ahead. Too bad that was the only moment, though, as one saw shades of early C. Ronaldo - lots of style, little substance. There's plenty of time for that to change. (Also, didn't get that result right at all. Chelsea are truly a resilient team. If betting were legal - apologies to Bill Simmons - I'd put a fat wager on the Blues this year. But that's just me.)

3. Hull City (4th) and Fulham (6th). If Hull maintain this pace, they'll be booking a spot in the Champions League come May. Too bad the Championship is still more likely. As for Fulham, someone needs to tell them this is September, not April. They don't need to be playing like they're frantically trying to avoid relegation yet.

4. Whatever the hell is the matter with Roma. Actually, that's easy: injuries to Totti, Vucinic, Mexes, Juan and Simone Perrotta, but we can't let it go at that. Daniele de Rossi (I guess now he belongs on that list, but he didn't at the start of today's match) and Alberto Aquilani should be bossing the midfield, especially against teams like Palermo and Napoli. It's not really happening. Oh wait, did I say injuries were the reason? I meant to say "the curse of Julio Baptista." (Who, for the record, still looks just like Baby Sinclair from the TV Show "Dinosaurs." Just take my word for it.) Anyway, somehow Madrid overcame the curse last year, but it took everything they had. Roma may not be so lucky.

5. Ditto for Barcelona. Here, the answer isn't so clear cut. Thierry was looking lackluster, so he got dropped from this week's squad altogether. While I'll always love TH14, Barca does have some young talent that needs blooding in Pedrito and Sergi Busquets. But is this the right time for that? And if that means starting Messi, Iniesta, Bojan, and Yaya Toure on the bench? I know Pep said he wanted to make changes, but that seems a little extreme. One goal and one point against some very soft opposition is what they have to show for it. Oh, and Hleb is apparently injured now. Somehow that doesn't surprise me.

At any rate, I'm hoping things continue at this pace. Parity, baby! It's the best.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spotlight on England

For a big match. And before that, an enormous one.

All eyes in the soccer world will look this weekend to that funny little island off the coast of France where people eat their fish and chips in the rain and occasionally spill tea on their knickers. So what have we got?

New Chelsea (3rd) vs. Chelsea (1st). This is a huge game, and don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. Robinho makes his debut against the team that openly pursued him for four months. Chelsea won't have the luxury of calling on Essien (something they'll have to get used to). And after all that dismissive talk about how Citeh aren't really a big club, how fired up do you think the supporters at the City of Manchester Stadium will be? Don't get me wrong: beating the Blues won't make them a big club. But it just might be the first step on the road to greatness. And it will send a huge message to the league. Alternatively, a convincing Chelsea victory will have to solidify their status as early favorites for the title.













Liverpool (2nd) vs. Manchester United (9th).
This is one of the five biggest rivalries in football, and one of the largest in sports. Torres and Gerrard should be fit. Berbatov has traded in his lily white for devilish red. In terms of sheer ability, we may see the two best strikers in the league facing off against each other. But as usual, that probably won't be the story. It will be all about Reina and van der Sar, Carragher and Ferdinand, Mascherano and Scholes. It will be about possession, about mistakes, and it will be ugly. There will be blood. There may not be goals. And the Kop will be very, very loud.

I'm going out on a limb and predicting wins for both home teams. Chelsea have slowed after their firecracker start and Citeh must be chomping at the bit to get out on the field and show what they can do. And in the North England showdown, I happen to think United are ripe for the plucking. It's asking a lot of a Liverpool side that look even more lackluster to start the season than usual, but when El Nino is in the equation, things don't seem so impossible. And hey, it's Anfield right? Right?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We Need to Talk...

About a lot of things. Starting today, I'm recommitting myself completely to this blog. Let's work backwards, so on today's agenda:

1. England. I know a girl (who shares the majority of her first name with that of Arsenal's Fabregas) with dual English and American citizenship. Her uncle happens to be the English teacher and translator for a certain Fabio Capello. And the next time I talk to her, I'm going to ask her to tell "Uncle Pete" that he's done a hell of a job. Whatever Capello is telling the England team seems to be getting through loud and clear.

Going to Croatia, almost every sportswriter and blogger in England was hoping for a defensive approach. Which makes sense, given England's recent history against the Croats and the hostility of the environment. Instead, Capello put out a lineup with Heskey and Rooney up front and Joe Cole and Theo on the wings. Amazing decision.

Of course, this took guts. But thus far, Capello has been rewarded for his attacking mindset, primarily by the two wingers. Walcott in particular has been absolute dynamite in his last two starts. When was the last time England scored a goal like this? The answer, I believe, may be never.

2. France. Jesus Christ. What do you think Domenech has to do to get sacked? Burn down the Louvre? Knock over the Arc de Triomphe with a bulldozer? Shoot Sarkozy in the face with a shotgun? They just lost 3-1 TO AUSTRIA. And today they had to be rescued by Thierry and le Sulk after falling behind to Serbia. Somebody please fire this man.

3. Essien. Apparently, he's done for the majority of the season. Too bad Chelsea don't have any depth in midfield. But in all seriousness, that's a big blow; if you asked me to name the player currently in England I would most want on my team, his name would be near the top, if not number one.

4. Manchester City. Apparently, life is now imitating art, as the English Premier League becomes Football Manager 2009. Part of me hates that this has happened, but the other part of me is secretly enjoying it for a few reasons. First, I like to see Chelsea uncomfortable. And they clearly are after being outbid for Robinho. Second, I like to see United uncomfortable. And when your crosstown rival pulls a stunt like this, you should be worried. Third, I wouldn't mind seeing a shake-up of the Big Four. I can hear it now: "But Jim, aren't you an Arsenal supporter? Your club will be the first to go!" Maybe so, but I happen to think that because Wenger has never relied heavily on the high-stakes pissing contest that is the transfer window, this won't make much difference. And finally, wouldn't it be kind of fun to see Cesc Fabregas lay a perfect through ball for Cristiano Ronaldo, who beats two defenders and then gives it a cheeky backheel flick for an onrushing Fernando Torres? I know, I know. But still.

5. King Kev. It seems like only yesterday Juan and I were laughing hysterically and screaming "long may he reign" every time the camera cut to a justifiably irritated Keegan on the sidelines of the Arsenal-Newcastle game. And though we were mocking him then, I have to say that I respect the man as a a manager and that things must be really bad inside the Toon boardroom for him to up and resign like that. Owner Mike Ashley seems like a cool dude in some ways (for one thing, he sits with the fans and routinely does things like this), but methinks he's made a big mistake in alienating the King.

6. The Serie A. Juan's analogy was dead right. I'm still waiting for my phone call from this chick. The only thing I took away from the opening weekend is the fact that Alberto Gilardino looks to be playing with a major chip on his shoulder. Which makes Fiorentina a very unpleasant opponent for the other Italian teams and a potential sleeper for success in the Champions League.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Seasons Greeting

I have so much to get into I mustn't delay:


The English Premier Shepherd's Pie
(In order of standings)

Chelsea - I found the perfect video to surmise Chelsea's start of the season. Watch me. Alright, so Bullet Tooth Tony is Chelsea, Cousin Avi is Manchester United, and of course the Three Stooges are Arsenal. Boris is a hard one - I think the easy selection is Liverpool but I also think Tottenham and Manchester City (in the future after the new owners, more on this later) are in the running.

Liverpool - It must be nice having Fernando Torres. It's kinda like having Albert Pujols - most of the surrounding players suck, but you know you're never out of a one run game if you give him something to hit.

Manchester City - I'm gonna throw out some names: Fabregas, Torres, Kaka, Cristiano, Buffon, Essien, Gerrard. Man City have placed bids on all of these players. I believe the word was, "audacious" bids. Apparently Abu Dhabi really, really wants to be part of the Big Four. Or at the very least, create a 35 year dynasty.

Pictured is a hotel Abu Dhabi plans to build, seriously

Arsenal - Well I was completely sure their season was over until Chelsea drew against Totts. Nasri looks like the real deal and I think Carlos Vela is gonna be last year's Walcott for me. What I mean is that I'll complain about him getting not enough playing time, and then when he does he won't really "wow," until one time on the biggest stage at the most needed time he'll come through with a play that I've never before witnessed or thought possible. Something like that.

Middlesbrough
- They beat Tottenham, which was a pretty bad loss at the time. But then they deserved a draw (if not win) against Liverpool and handled Stoke who had just beaten Aston V. Obviously they'll fall off but hey, they probably won't get relegated!

Aston Villa - I'm still waiting on this team. I said they'd be good last year, I think they'll be good this year, but something isn't right? They crush ManCity, lose to Stoke and then draw Liverpool? They have Tottenham next (which makes for the 50th time I've mentioned them???) and then WestBrom, Sunderland before taking on Chelsea. I guess I'll keep waiting.

Bolton - I know ManU has only played 2 games but still, they're 3 games in and ahead of...

Manchester United - Why is it that I keep reading stories about Rooney and how he needs to change this or that about his game like he's a seasoned vet when he's not even 24 years old. I realize this is his 12th year or something but maybe he's just not that great. I can't remember the last time he's impressed me. He ruined their World Cup chances with his red card (while delirious England fans blamed it on Cristiano) and his style of play is flawed with him being 5 feet tall. I take Aguero or Tevez any day of the week and don't even flinch.


The Spaghetti A

Here are the top 7. Seven. teams after the opening weekend. In order:
Lazio
Torino
Udinese
Bologna
Chievo Verona
Catania Calcio

Pop Quiz - is this the Seria A or Serie B? ... yeah.

So this really hot girl you've seen around in class for awhile agrees to go on a date with you. You're really pumped because it has a lot of potential but then you get stood up. However, before you go to sleep she calls you and tells you a funny story about how her car broke down. You both laugh and she apologizes. She doesn't know her plans for next week but would love to give it another go. That's what the start of the Serie A felt like.


La Paella

Here's a few headlines from after the first week of play:

Real Madrid loses first game, still wins league

Messi shines, Barca misses Ninho and back of net

David Villa puts down payment on house in England

Almeria assures fans standings not a typo

Friday, August 29, 2008

Scholes for the England National Team!

The volleyball team, that is. Those who watched today's glorified friendly known as the UEFA Super Cup bore witness to the most outrageous handball I've personally ever seen. But let me say this: the placement was perfect and the sheer audacity of the attempt has earned Scholesy some added respect in my book. Well done, Paul! (I really wish I could find the English commentary for this as the announcers were completely disgusted: "there's nothing funny about that at all... what on earth was he thinking about?!") On an added note, Juve and Madrid should be feeling slightly more uncomfortable as a bright Zenit side tore apart the Ronaldo-less European Champions. I'm sure Juan and/or I will have more to say about the CL draw a little later.

Tomorrow, the mayhem starts for real as the Serie A and La Liga return and grace us with their presence. With just a cursory glance at the fixtures, I think it's safe to say that Fiorentina-Juve has the potential to be a real firecracker. Liverpool and Arsenal also face tough tests. Can't wait.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The $50,000,000.00 Goal












Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool legend. What more can you say? I'm constantly hating on him for his lack of pace, failure to demonstrate any skill on the ball, and utter inability to play a wide position, but yesterday, the Diggler did what he's made a career doing: he inexplicably showed up at the right place at the right time and scored an incredibly crucial goal. (For Standard Liege, who were superior on both nights of the tie, the blow must have been, as the announcers put it, "absolutely sickening." Also of note: right before he scored, I was busy explaining to my brother why Kuyt is the weak link in an otherwise menacing Liverpool attack.)

How crucial was this goal for the club and its supporters? One might as well ask how crucial water is to fish. Or the Emancipation Proclamation to black people in the United States. Or the Gateway Arch to St. Louis retaining any lasting impression on the minds of people not from St. Louis. But I digress. Let me put it this way: that goal just earned Liverpool 25 million pounds, saved Rafa's job (at least until next weekend), and perhaps prevented the club from entering a downward spiral which ends outside the Big Four. Oh, and as the ninth goal for Kuyt in 15 European outings, it has pretty much solidified him as a Kop cult hero. Which actually might be the most amazing part.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tottenham Signs Euro 2008 Stars, Arsenal Signs Cheque At Le Gavroche


38 games x 3 available points = 114 points

Last year, 87 points won the Premiership. 114 - 87 = 27 points to spare.

Arsenal has 6 games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd. Realistically (perhaps optimistically), Arsenal splits these matches and drops another 9 points. We've dropped 3 already to (shoots self in head) Fulham, so thats 12 points total. That leaves 34 games, and 15 more points to spare.

The big four averaged 10 draws last year - 13 Liverpool, 11 Arsenal, 10 Chelsea, 6 Man Utd.
The big four averaged 3.75 losses last year - 4 Liverpool, 3 Arsenal, 3 Chelsea, 5 Man Utd.

(Rubs eyes) Wait a second? We lost three times last year and finished third. FU$%!

Where was I... Ah yes. So assuming we scrounge 9 points from 6 games with the members of the Big Four, that leaves us 34 games and 15 drop-able points. Here are the options (give or take a point):

5 losses, 0 draws
4 losses, 2 draws
3 losses, 3 draws
2 losses, 5 draws
1 loss, 6 draws
0 losses, 8 draws

That's 34 games, and Arsenal needs to win at the most 29 of them, at the least 26.

We had one "bad" loss last year - Middlesbrough. The other two were Chelsea and Man Utd.

So if you wanted to know how much the Fulham loss hurts, now you know.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

(Live) From the Castle of King Kev!

I write to you live on a beautiful Sunday morning from the Arhancet Acres where Manchester United is hosting NewCastle. There have been so many "pleasant surprises" so far in the first 30 minutes that it deserves its own section.

Pleasant Surprises

11' - I'm eleven minutes late for the start and it's still nil-nil. That's kind of pleasant yes, but what really the surprise is that my parents, do not ask me how, switched from the FSC/Goltv/FSN sports package to the FSE/Goltv/TYC package. The acronym for FSE reveals itself readily once I discover that the programming title is "Futbol Ingles." Ah yes, Fox Sports Espanol and as usual, Spanish announcers can do no wrong. FSE, in so far as premiership matches, plays exactly the same schedule as FSC so I suppose the real question is, Why didn't I think of this?

13' - Paul Scholes is referred to as "El Colorado." I was going to elaborate but I think it should be obvious enough as to why that pleases me.

14' - Rooney's name is said with rolling R's (making it fairly cool and less thugish) and Nicky Butt is said - Knee-key Boot. It's been three minutes and I'm sold. I'm really beginning to regret missing the Liverpool-Sundyland game yesterday with these commentators.


22' - Ummmm? The Magpies just scored. This causes me to scream, "LONG LIVE KING KEV!!" My mother yells at me for startling her. One-nil in my dreams. Still pinching self.

24' - Hahahaha. I laugh because Jim and I spent a long time yesterday morning talking about how watching Arsenal is like watching a successful surgery. I'm on a hunch so I look up how Chelsea performed this morning and I'm immediately greeted with a primordial scream by Scolari. I close the screen and assume things um, went well. One to one, Man Utd.

Halftime - I spend the next twenty minutes moping - thinking about Arsenal reminds me that I still need to mow the lawn. My mood turns to elation because at halftime, a Subway commercial in Spanish translates hilariously into: "Philadelphia's only good contribution to humanity is the Philly cheese steak sandwich." I can't wait to use that later in a casual social setting. Man I hate Philadelphia.

<--- This is first image that comes up when I searched for "Magpie." I'm not making this up, the caption underneath it is, "Magpies are not very likable birds." Do a google image search and see for yourself.

Oh I almost forgot - After Darren Fletcher tied the game up, the camera crew cuts to Cristiano in the stands. He's wearing a backwards hat with the brim touching his neck (kinda like this but even more pronounced) and he's clapping exactly the same way I do when Arsenal wins a throw-in. Before the camera cuts away from him he stops, looks down and checks his cellphone. Oh Cristiano, I really do love you.

50' - Shot of the stands shows a small congregation of black and white striped jerseys jumping up and down and singing like crazy. Sigh. I try to think of another team in sports who's fans are as delusional as NewCastlers and the parents of a special olympian comes to mind. I'm probably going to hell.

61' - I'm furious. Martins misses a point-blank header. EFF!

72' - Vidic bounces a header off the crossbar and now he's hurt. Carrick left the pitch earlier limping as well. Check that - Vidic was just cramping from having jumped so high.

77' - Frazier Campbell, this fast young dude, absolutely brutalizes a defender with a sliding tackle from behind and gets a yellow card. Rooney is incredulous - it's the first yellow of the game.

82' - Camera cuts back to the congregation of NewCastle fans and they're quiet and pensive. Hmmm, little bit of the nerves there N'Castle?? Getting a leeeeee tle bit nervous are we?

I'm gonna type this now before it actually happens, but watching this game and hoping for Man U not to go ahead 2-1 feels alot like watching the horizon and hoping the sun doesn't rise. I could be wrong though.

85' - All eleven N'Castlers are in their own half. Begin the lock down sequence.

87' - Kevin Keegan can't stop scratching his head and fidgeting.

88' - Now I'm nervous.

89' - Rooney gets a yellow card for swearing at the ref. The wheels are coming off.

THREE MINUTES! What in the world! Nothing happened, there were no injuries. This is crazy.

92' - Martins stalls on a throw-in. Good job. Another throw-in. N'Castle seems to have forgotten how to do such a thing. I love it.

20 seconds.

MOTHER FUCKER. Foul right outside the top of the box. Oh my god if Man U scores I'm going to slam my laptop to the ground.

I'm outta here, you'll know if they score or not.

Alright I'm back. Rooney doesn't even put it on goal... terrible.

Cue PennyTalk commercial. I swear this actually happened. Priceless.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"It was never about the fans" - Arsene Wenger

Welcome to the Premier league West Brom. Everyone talks on Samsung, drinks Carlsberg, flies Emirates, and invests with AIG. It's really tough up here Brom. The Big Four win every game, get every call, and tag all the women first. Don't forget to say thank you if you get sloppy fifths. Most of all, don't forget that teams run up the score. Well, every team except for Arsenal.

One-nil to Arsenal left fans at soccer bars biting their fingernails and closing their tabs in the 80th minute. At the game, some fans were spotted heckling head coach Arsene Wenger as he left the pitch. Rumors are flying that coach Wenger scoffed and muttered something offensive under his breath.

A reporter brought up the alleged incident during the post game interview and Arsene was quoted as saying, "It was never about the fans. You'll never walk alone...or, that (gestures wildly) boy Ronaldo, that's all rubbish. I'm in the business of winning games, not having a good time," said Wenger. "If you want to go throw back a few pints at your local pub and sing and dance like an idiot then Arsenal is not for you. If , however, you like winning and thinking about life, future scheduling conflicts, or any other frustrating experiences in the every day grind, then I'm your man." Wenger concluded the interview with what he deemed a clever riddle.

"What does a triangle, a tripod, and Arsenal all have in common? (Immediately) They all have three points. Good-day gentlemen."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

And We're Back...

Forgive us for not spending more time monitoring what some of my fellow football fans have dubbed "the silly season," but the sheer number (and lunacy) of transfer rumors made the job rather unappealing. But not to worry, because things count again, and TLoCA is back to record its opinions, musings, and analysis for everlasting internet posterity.

Today, thanks to ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD, one can watch Arsenal take on Steve McUmbrella's FC Twente side while monitoring Liverpool in their CL qualifier against Standard Liege. The latter ought to be a real cakewalk, especially now that 'Pool have one of the most dangerous strike partnerships in the world. Robbie Keane may not be the flashiest or most skilled forward, but as he demonstrated with Berbatov, he has a wonderful instinct for position and a good knack for knowing where the main man is at all times. Without disparaging Dirk Kuyt or Peter Crouch too much, I'll just say that it's a big upgrade and leave it at that. It'll be interesting to see what he can accomplish with el Nino. Oh, and it helps to have a healthy Stevie G as well. Can't forget about Captain Fantastic (I know how much Juan loves him).

As for the Gunners, it's clear that they should advance. But with no Cesc, Toure, Rosicky, Senderos, Diaby, or Nasri, it won't be quite as easy. Seeing Denilson and Aaron Ramsey (!) partnered up in central midfield doesn't exactly inspire the greatest confidence, but it will certainly be exciting to watch. The Arsenal attack (Ade, RVP) really should carve up this Dutch side, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a makeshift backline (Johan Djourou, you are the weakest link) leak a goal or two away from home.

So....

The Belgian Champions (AHAHAHA) 0 - 3 Hope Springs Eternal

Steve McFailure 1 - 2 Teenagers FC

Since we're back, it only makes sense to start this up again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another Brilliant Ad

From Nike, of course. To fully appreciate it, you need to know every Liverpudlian's favorite song at the moment (sing along here) and the history behind it. Genius.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

NOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooo!


This is a screen shot of my laptop this morning. What you can't see is that in the reflection my jaw is dropped and I'm holding a gun up to my head.

Worst. Day. Ever.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Euro2008 - The Best Soccer Tournament Ever?

It's not even over yet! Clearly something is up.

Let me begin this post by qualifying a few of my upcoming statements. I'm only 23 years old and even worse, my memory is pretty bad. Thus, for me, time in the futbol world begins in 1994 when the US hosted the World Cup. Also, anything short of Champions League, Euro, and the World Cup cannot really qualify as the magnitude of any other tournaments simply cannot compare. CL should probably be dropped from the considerations but I did some research on the CL history so I'm throwing it in there.


Through 26 games, there have been 65 goals - that's 2.5 a game. I've done this before, but that's about as high scoring as any other sport. 16 of these goals have come in the last 10 minutes of play. 14 of these 16 have been dramatic. My definition of, "dramatic" is a goal (in the last 10 minutes) that makes you sit up - I often watch while lounging - and watch the end intently or any that make you call your friends. (I know you're interested - the 2 that didn't make the cut are Cesc's late goal against Russia and Holland's third against Italy)

14 dramatic goals in 26 games! That makes 1 out of every 2 games absolutely worth the watch. And if you're Turkish (and still alive) you know that sometimes you are given more than one dramatic goal per game.

Here is my list of matches in the Euro2008 tourny so far that I would define as, "absolutely worth 2 hours."

  • Netherlands 3, Italy 0 - On paper and on the highlights it deceives as a blow-out, but as I've written before, if you watched this game it wasn't over until the 80th minute when Holland went up by three. At 2 nil I was still perfectly ready to say Italy comes back to tie or win.
  • Spain 4, Russia 1 - Whether you're a "grizzled" sports fan or my offense-loving mother, Spain-Russia covers all bases. The scoring was bountiful and Russia did not play a bad game. I don't know if I documented it, but I'm not surprised Russia advanced.
  • Sweden 2, Greece 0 - The first half wasn't "great" per se, but Zlatan arrived at the business-casual party wearing a cream suit, turquoise gator shoes, and two girls with fake tits on each arm. The Greeks really came out of their shell too.
  • Portugal 3, Czech 1 - I think it was around 20 minutes before Cristiano's goal that Jim and I conversed about how Ronaldo needs to put his "stamp" on a game in this tourny. Hmmm.
  • Switzerland 1, Turkey 2 - If you're keeping track, 4 consecutive matches in 2 days have made this list... it was quite a Tuesday/Wednesday.
  • Croatia 2, Germany 1 - I believe it was Adrian Healey who described this match as when Croatia put Germany to the sword. I like him.
  • Netherlands 4, France 1 - "Well it's a dutch oven... and the French are toast." Again, Adrian Healey. Pending debate, this is the game of the group-stages right now, possibly tournament.
  • Spain 2, Sweden 1 - Spain was actually looking like they might lose this game for awhile. I can actually vividly imagine my conversation with Jim about how Spain would not make it out of the group stages, choke, always does this, etc etc. That was of course, until David Villa quieted me down in the 90th minute.
  • Turkey 3, Czech Republic 2 - You're beginning to realize right now, as you read this, that you are craving a turkey sandwich. Make it a double.
  • France 0, Italy 2 - This felt alot like watching two gorgeous porn stars have sex until one of them dies... so much talent, such bad management... and fu$% Domenech, July 3rd can't come soon enough.
  • Portugal 2, Germany 3 - damnt. Dear Ricardo, learn how to play goalie, sincerely, Juan (and the entire nation of Portugal).
  • Turkey 1, Croatia 1 (pen 3-1) - Turkey needs to seriously stop doing this. Half their fan base must be dead or at least hospitalized by now. If this were Uruguay, I would definitely be dead.
I cited 12 games out of the 26 (33%) and had you avoided obvious snoozers (3rd round games where teams were playing scrubs) this percentage goes up. I've watched just about every WC game and CL game in the past three cycles and I don't think either hits the 1/3 mark for schedule altering matches.

Again, the tourney isn't even over yet...