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, February 23, 2008


Generally, I think Juan and I do a pretty good job of not being too biased when it comes to posting about different clubs. It's true that we have a vested interest in a select few, but we have respect for a lot of different teams and players, and I think we try to analyze things objectively.

As a biased Arsenal supporter, I just have to weigh in and say that today's game was the worst I've ever seen. No other match in recent years, whether it was losing the Champions League to Barca or the League Cup to Chelsea has left me so feeling so down. Though Arsenal will remain at least three points ahead, this was an important game to win, and losing at the last second in such awful fashion will really leave some emotional scars on the team while emboldening United and Chelsea.

It wasn't the result that really hurt, though. Far from it. It was the horrendous injury to Eduardo that may have prematurely ended a talented young man's career. I hope to God that isn't the case, but based on what I saw during the match and in pictures that have been circulating since, Taylor's tackle has to be looked upon as one of the worst the game has even seen. The look on the other players' faces said it all, and I think Cesc's agonized expression is now burned into my mind.

I'm not going to break down how Arsenal managed to blow chances and squander victory because it's fairly self-explanatory and there are others who will certainly be examining the result closely. I'm also not going to spend any more time whining about how other teams often resort to kicking Arsenal around the park in an attempt to slow them down and hamper their passing, making an incident like this, while horrible, feel somewhat inevitable. I'll just hope and pray that Eduardo recovers and that we'll be able to see more of this someday.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Preview

Now that we've gotten past all that boring Champions League stuff, it's back to the daily grind. Let's see what's on tap in the Big Three leagues.


Real Madrid (1st) vs. Getafe (13th). None of the matchups this week are particularly intriguing, but this one has to be the most interesting in terms of the title. Madrid have fallen 2-1 in two consecutive matches, revealing a vulnerability that hadn't been seen for awhile. Though the most recent one came against an explosive Roma team in the Champions League, they lost to lowly Real Betis over the weekend. Now what once appeared to be an insurmountable lead has fallen back to five points, and Barcelona are looking very dangerous at the moment. Now that they're back home, Madrid need to bounce back in a big way and demonstrate that the title is still firmly in their grasp. Getafe, meanwhile, need a win to separate themselves from the crowd of mediocre/bad teams sitting on 28 or 29 points, which is only a heartbeat away from relegation. Yet it's clear that they're capable of much better than their league record, as they've now advanced to the final 16 of the UEFA Cup with a resounding win over AEK Athens and are in the semis of the Copa del Rey. They're also the last team that took a point from the Bernabeu and have a history of giving Los Blancos trouble.

The verdict: Getafe may be performing well in their cup competitions and love to play spoiler against Los Merengues, but Madrid's league dominance at home is just too much to overcome. This year they're 11-0-0 at the Bernabeu. That's a pretty amazing statistic. I see Getafe making it interesting, and Madrid remembering who they are a la Simba in the Lion King. 100% Home Record 2 - 1 Pesky Visitors.


Roma (2nd) vs. Fiorentina (4th).
This is a premiere matchup that I can't wait to see. Roma are coming off a great comeback win against the Spanish giants in the CL, and though the league is now probably firmly in the hands of Inter, the battle for second place and CL spots is on. Fiorentina are figuring prominently in that battle, currently sitting in fourth and keeping out giants AC Milan, much like Everton and Liverpool. Adrian Mutu has been huge for La Viola in the absence of Luca Toni (currently enjoying himself in the Bundesliga), and scored a massive winner for them last weekend. Make no mistake, they're a very good team.

The verdict: But Roma are better, and they'll be playing at home. Totti seemed to find his feet in their Champions League match, and that's not a good sign for Fiorentina. Neither team will want to open themselves up to attack very much, and that'll make for a tense, tight match. Expect Roma to win the midfield battle and the match. Biggest City in Italy 1 - 0 Hippest City in Italy.


Newcastle United (13th) vs. Manchester United (2nd).
Ah, the Kevin Keegan era. Since the Geordie Messiah took the reins at his old club (again), they've got a record of 0-2-3 in all competitions and have scored TWO GOALS in that period. That is horrendous, and particularly so for a club that had such (absurdly) high expectations and a storied history. To be fair, they had to play Arsenal away twice and got thrashed 3-0 on both occasions. Nevertheless, it's pretty bad. Now, Keegan has to play against the team he most despised as both a player and manager: the Red Devils. Since falling to City, United have been on a good run of form, smashing Arsenal out of the FA Cup and grinding out a gritty draw and away goal against a good Lyon side. It also doesn't hurt that the last time they saw Newcastle, they scored SIX GOALS in the second half in a terrifying display.

The verdict: Poor Kevin Keegan. It almost makes you wonder if Newcastle will have three managers this season. Newcastle couldn't find the net if they had a google maps printout, Man U are capable of running rampant on any occasion, and when it comes to managers, Keegan famously broke down under the pressure of Alex Ferguson's mind games during the 1995-1996 season. You can't like his chances in this one, even with the Toon Army* behind him at Tyneside. Mighty Mouse 0 - 2 The Hairdryer.

*I'd just like to quickly say something about Newcastle fans. They're delusional when it comes to their team and always have unreasonable expectations. At the same time, they care far too much about flash and flare, especially in their strikers, when they should care more about results. Yet, they're the most loyal, passionate fans I've ever come across. At Nevada's, I've watched them as their team has lost horrendously on several occasions. Instead of doing what I (and most fans) usually do, which is groan, mope, and eventually leave, they stand and sing "we'll support you evermore." Which they will. Mad respect for the Toon Army.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oh I'm Sure

...that I will never be making predictions again. Before my predictions embark on the walk of shame and eventually exit, I feel obliged to mention something often overlooked. Going four-and-oh is mathematically just as difficult as going 4-0.
Note - I was going to call going, "4-0" going, "Jake" but the Corruption and Scandals Committee has yet to rule on the quadfecta.
Anyway, missing all four games in comical fashion pays just as well as the opposite. The only catch is that you need to know I'm a complete dope and to bet against me. I actually have a name for this occurrence - the anti-muse. It was forced by my friend Eebs who controls Cleveland's sporting world with his online bets. It's too soon to declare me a Champions League Anti-muse but lets just say that if I had had the opportunity to post day-2 predictions, rumors would be flying.

Define comical - After day-1 I realized (like Jim) that I had predicted too many goals for a first leg matches and thought I would be really clever to predict less goals the second time around. Hmmm - rumors are flying.

Enough about me though - I have some important news

Drum roll please...

I know what was wrong with Barcelona! Took me long enough right... Well the answer is quite simple, and he's pictured, stunning features and all. Use your imagination for a moment and take a trip with me. You're watching the game between Team A and Team B. Imagine Team A has the typical build-up in the offensive half. Team A is poking and prodding so to speak with midfield passes to the si, occasionally looking for the striker through-ball. Meanwhile Team B is fully settling back on defense and trying to maintain shape as the non-threatening passes go from sideline to sideline. Well eventually Team A tries the through-ball or cross and it never really threatened, defenders A handle it quite easily. So now A is on the run-out. They want to get out of their defensive half. Here is what you've seen before. At this moment, Team B invariably has a long pass up to just above half, to a striker checking back for the ball (kind of pictured, it's the best I could do). He's stationary and he has a defender always on his back. So from here a few things happen:

1) Several times the defender will come crashing into the back of the forward and the foul will be called.

2) Less clumsy defenders hold the forward and don't allow a turn. Team B's forward usually has to one-time the ball back to a winger, who then usually one-time's a long ball over the top to the other striker breaking. It doesn't really work that well. If it results in a chance on goal 1 out of 50 times the play is considered a success.

3) The forward kind of loses the ball from a half-hearted turn and the defenders pass it back to the sweeper and reload for the next build-up.

In summary its a difficult situation that almost never results in a "great" break-out. The forward can't turn, he also has midfielders from Team A crashing back on him as they retreat on defense and they are usually near the sideline. And even some times a third defender, knowing he has the passing lane down the sideline and willing to retreat anyway, will also be running at the forward. Here is where El Gaucho comes in.

Somewhere around 10 times I witnessed the outlet pass to Ronaldinho checking back. With a defender on his back and often times 2 other midfielders around him, he shed them all and found his midfielder (either Deco or Iniesta) with space and sometimes behind the cheating midfielders who thought they had Ninho's passing lanes cut off. He rarely had to pass it back into the defensive zone and almost always found a player running free or at least with time.

(Am I making any sense?)

This was a luxury Barcelona utilized extremely well. El Gaucho's progression allowed for overlapping runs on the opposite side (Puyol usually) as well as Thierry Henry to run with one less defender. It was Ronaldinho's phenomenal turn and pass that eventually resulted in Messi's first goal and I believe his control of the outlet that led to Henry's freedom to silence the crowd.

Ninho looked confused when he was to be subbed for Eto'o and he should have been - he was critical to Barca's build-up all game. I'll briefly take this segway to pose the question of why there has to be an "oddman" out. I realize none of the W-4 (world four) play any defense whatsoever but Gaucho can certainly play midfield with Henry, Eto'o and Messi up top or Messi can play wing mid as well. It clearly doesn't matter yet and it's truly horrifying to see Eto'o come in fresh with 30 to play but still.

In summary, Barcelona looked the scariest of all 16, 12 of which I saw play in entirety. 2 weeks can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Oh well... loads of goals where I predicted few, few goals where I predicted many, and as usual, wrong on all counts. Alright, let's make this quick...

Arsenal should have won that game. Adebayor should have scored at (literally) the last minute. But at least they didn't concede an away goal. Now a draw at the San Siro takes them through. I still think they'll do it.

Fabregas was definitely man of the match. He was a thoroughly dominating presence in the midfield, pulling all the strings and punting perfectly weighted balls into the box for the strikeforce. If only he could have passed them to himself, because nobody had their finishing boots on. It was nice to see him back in form after a string of lackluster outings, and to see him do it against a midfield comprised of Pirlo, Kaka, Seedorf, and Gattuso. Also deserving of praise was Senderos, who came on for an injured Kolo Toure early in the game. He's shaken his old reputation (at least for the moment), and was completely solid at the back. I think he'll continue to raise some questions as to a possible starting role.

Milan's defense was the epitome of good organization. I lost count of the number of times they had to deal with corners or looping passes and made it look easy. Paolo Maldini says he'll retire at the end of this season now that he's 39 years old. Maybe he shouldn't; he was Milan's best player and didn't put a foot wrong all day.

And the others...

Celtic almost had it for a second. I guess we all learned what happens when you defend sloppily against a front three of Messi, Henry, and Eto'o. Nothing good. Also, how about that vintage Titi Henry? To those saying he was done: Shhh.

United were unlucky not to score first, but in the end, were lucky to get the draw. Now Lyon have to score and at least draw at Old Trafford. Hardly an easy proposition. I must say, though, that Benzema certainly lived up to the hype with that opener. Pretty.

I guess all of Milan and Arsenal's goals went to Fenerbahce and Sevilla. Fear the Turks!

Well, that's it for now. None of these results has completely settled things, but as of now, you have to like Liverpool, Barca, and United to go through. Everything else is too close to call.

Day Two

Yesterday's matches saw two bores, one solid game, and one fantastic finish. Today, I think we'll see some all-around better play. And personally, these are the matches I've eagerly anticipated.

Celtic vs. Barcelona. That other team that sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" plays today, and you can bet the atmosphere at Parkhead will be out of this world. Barca and Celtic currently find themselves in identical positions in their respective leagues (second), but nobody will argue that the SPL is even in the same solar system as La Liga. That being said, this is not a vintage Barcelona team. Though they're back in the title hunt thanks to Madrid's recent slip, the squad hasn't looked like the world beaters everyone predicted before the start of the season. What's more, Celtic have a history of success in this competition and a reputation in recent years for playing the best clubs down to the wire. They've been on a fantastic run of league form (last three victories: 5-1, 5-1, 3-0) and are at home. I think Barca is ripe for the taking. Bhoys 2 - 1 Cules.

Lyon vs. Manchester United. United made a HUGE statement with their 4-0 dismantling of Arsenal over the weekend. Though both sides were missing some key players, it was a far cry from a reserves game, and United made it clear that even five points adrift, they're still the champs and the team to beat. Of course, which United will show up today? The one that was put to the sword (twice!) by Man City? Or the one that scored six goals in a half against Newcastle and just smacked down their biggest title rivals? That's the big question because based on sheer talent and depth, this should be the best team in Europe. Lyon are no slouches, though. They're holding on to the top spot in Ligue 1, are captained by free kick wizard Juninho, have Italian stud Fabio Grosso in their back line, and possess two of the most explosive young talents in Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa.* With those two marauding the front lines, United will have to be really careful not to get hit on the break. I foresee a high scoring affair, but can anyone really see the Red Devils losing this game? OL 2 - 3 MUFC.

*How much you want to bet that these two will be wearing AIG on their chests next year? Especially if they put in a good performance tonight.

Arsenal vs. AC Milan. Ah, yes. What a matchup. So many ways to spin this, and it always sounds good: Youth vs. Experience. Form vs. Class. Fabregas vs. Kaka. New Gattuso (Flamini) vs. Actual Gattuso. Attack vs. Attack. The expectations are certainly high to see some joga bonito from these two sides, but will it meet them? Honestly, probably not. But that doesn't mean this won't be a good game, and it'll certainly be the most important one of the year for both sides. Arsenal need to rebound the way they did the last time a major rival (Tottenham) smashed them out of a cup competition (Carling). Right now, it's just this and the league, and one way or another, they have to finish with silverware to call this year a success. Meanwhile, Milan need to show they haven't lost the plot, begin their title defense well, and keep their challenge for fourth in the Serie A looking legitimate. Now that Milan have found their home form, if Arsenal want any chance to take this, they have to win or at the very least prevent Milan from scoring. Anything less than a 0-0 draw will spell elimination. Anything more than a 1-0 win should give them the breathing room they need to go to the San Siro and advance. At the Fortress Emirates, I believe this is possible. Gunners 2 - 0 Rossoneri.

Fenerbahce vs. Sevilla. Oh, who am I kidding. Nobody cares. Well, I guess that's a bit harsh - Sevilla are a very good team, and they seem to be finding their form after a stuttering first half to their league season. They lost and then won against Arsenal in convincing fashion in the group stages, and ended up on top when Wenger stopped playing first-teamers. Let's also not forget their recent run of success in European competition: two UEFA Cups and a Super Cup in the last two years. They also added a Copa del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup last year. Basically, this team is incredible when it comes to knockout competitions. Fenerbahce, meanwhile, are the reigning champions of Turkey, and finished second in their group amidst some serious competition in Inter, PSV, and CSKA Moscow. They did manage to beat Inter at home, but were thrashed in the away game. My head knows they're not a bad side, it really does. I just can't take them seriously. That's why I think a Sevilla dedicated to offensive tactics will take a precious away goal back to Spain with them, where they'll finish the job. The Yellow Canaries 1 - 1 The Cup Specialists.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Quick Thoughts

Giant Killers! I'd never write off the current Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese champions, but these are some fantastic results for Roma, 'Pool, and Schalke, respectively. Here are some initial reactions to this CL matchday (heavily skewed towards Roma vs. Madrid and Liverpool vs. Inter).

The AS Roma vs. Real Madrid game, as I predicted, was the standout tie of the round. Back and forth stuff, lots of drama, and the most goals of the four. What I didn't predict was the result, though. In hindsight, Roma did have home field, which counts for a lot. Totti may have not been on the scoresheet, but he dominated the play and his pass to Mancini for the winner was sheer quality. Have to give kudos to Juan and Mexes, though; barring Raul's hockey-flick goal, they frustrated the Madrid attack all game. Ruud looked irritated enough to sucker punch someone every time the camera was on him. Los Blancos were quite unlucky when that last ditch attack ended with a resounding shot off the post (still not sure who it was), but Roma were the better side all day. That doesn't mean I don't think Madrid will still take this one, though. The Bernabeu is no joke. (Also, can we talk about how fat David Pizarro is? People like to joke about Ronaldo and Lampard, but this man is actually fat. Watching him make runs into the box is like watching me throw a six-pound bowling ball as hard as I can.)

I'll just start by saying that Torres took a dive. Plain and simple. But you really can't say that Materazzi didn't have it coming after all his years of cunning and dirty play. Though it was completely unwarranted, there was a sense of karmic justice in his second yellow. Initially, though, it didn't seem to help Liverpool much as they enjoyed more possession but found Inter well-organized at the back. The whole game was a complete snorefest until the last five minutes. Watching Rafa Benitez clip his toenails would have been more interesting. Of course, then Kuyt made up for his crap performance with a brilliant goal, and Gerrard finished things in style by scoring one of his trademark impossible goals from distance. This one wasn't as thunderous as some, but it was one of the most ridiculously accurate shots I've ever seen. What have I (re)learned? Never bet against Liverpool in the Champions League. Oh, and NEVER bet on Inter in the CL. Ever.

And the other two...

Chelsea are so incredibly boring, especially on the road. They might as well park the team bus in front of their goal, though, because then opponents might have a better chance scoring. Talk about well-organized defending. I think Ben's prediction is going to turn out exactly right.

As for the Schalke shocker, I'm really not sure what to say except that everyone, including myself, was wrong. Hey, these things happen. Now, I'll wish them the best of luck trying to defend that lead in Porto.

It's about that time

Open me in a new window and listen to anticipation in it's pure audible form.



FC Porto at Schalke 04

A part of me doesn't want to keep mentioning that Quaresma is the best unknown player in the world for obvious reasons. I want to be so right about him that I'm willing to forfeit any "see I told you so" rights just for my own personal satisfaction. I just know that when he blows up I'm going to expend so much energy explaining to people that I knew it all along. But that's neither here nor there.

Porto has alot to represent here: Quare is on the big stage yet again, Portuguese Liga always has something to prove, and Schalke needs to be shamed out of the CL. Last year at about this time Q was playing with a lot of flair - too much in fact to be taken seriously. Similar complaints,, however (extra pause before and after however), were said of a certain Christ Ronaldo. Am I saying he's the next C. Ronaldo? I don't even know what that means - next question.

Porto 2, Shalke 0

Inter Milan at Liverpool

Thanks a lot Capello?? As if Pool needs any more pressure to win. I watched the Barnsley repeat last night and I can't wait to write about it.
Meanwhile, amidst the plethora of Liverpool, "This is why, that is why," stories it appears that El Nino got it right. Thanks Fernando. If 1 out of 10 Liverpool fans stop taking crazy pills because of this you will have done well. Why can't Pool fans be more like Cardinals fans and enjoy their five year get-out-of-heartbreak-free voucher while it lasts.

My prediction is Milan 3, Liverpool 1. I really do want Inter to get that monkey off it's back* and smother LiverSchiavo once and for all. It's time to Liverpool.

Real Madrid at Roma

Roma showed up at the party looking for that cutie they've been waiting to finally ask out and there she is doing body shots off of Real Madrid. After watching Juve's back line look good against their first team, Roma might be in for a Ruud awakening (Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week) (Cuts wrists).

Totti played uninspired against Juve and the whole team looked aloof. Totti needs to grow his hair out again and everything will be ok.

Real 1, Roma 0

Chelsea at Olympiacos

Chelsea hasn't had their big letdown yet this season... I'm not confident it will happen here, but I will say I thought so (with no proof) if Cos comes away with the upset. I am assuming Avram knows what he's doing resting Lampard and especially John Terry. Chelsea has been so blah this year it's hard to pass judgment. They struggled some, bounced back some, OK. I wish I had more to say but this is my wait and see game - mainly because I haven't seen much of Chelsea this year.

Chelsea 1, Olympiacos 1

In summary, Andy Williams was right - it's the most wonderful time of the year.

Enjoy the games.

*That is one of the top ten commercials of all time

The League of Champions...

Is back in action! Let's do our requisite rundown of today's matchups.

Schalke 04 vs. FC Porto. Schalke are having a mediocre season in the Bundesliga where they sit fifth, and are easily the worst team in this knockout round. They barely managed second in the group stages with a then-struggling Chelsea, lowly Rosenborg and rapidly tanking "what is wrong with this team?" Valencia. They got through with the fewest points of any team. Porto, in direct contrast, finished first in a fairly difficult group that saw them matched against Liverpool, Marseilles, and Besiktas. They're cruising the Portuguese league, and with the perpetually underrated Pedro Emanuel at the back, Lucho dominating midfield, and the brilliant Quaresma leading their attack from the wing, you have to expect this first leg to go Porto's way, even on the road. Last German Standing 1 - 3 Portuguese Dragons.

Liverpool vs. Internazionale. Wow, Liverpool. Barnsley? Really? Fifth in the League, and now eliminated from the FA Cup in style by a Championship team, this would seem to be a club in crisis. Never you mind, though, because whenever this competition rolls around, England's most successful club in Europe seems to rise to the occasion. The Champions League has also been Rafa's bread and butter, but if he doesn't accomplish the unenviable task of knocking off Inter, he's as good as gone. Inter, meanwhile, continue to go about their business of solidifying a third straight Serie A title with jarring efficiency. However, success in Europe has largely eluded these Italian giants, and not since the 1960's have they seen a fruitful campaign in this competition. In short, they're massive chokers. (See last year's fall and brawl against Valencia or their shameful beatdowns at the hands of AC Milan in 2005 or Arsenal in 2003.) They'll also have to deal with a Liverpool squad rejoined by a healthy Gerrard, Torres, Reina, and Mascherano (so, really, their four best players). But having one of the scariest rosters in Europe and the leading scorer in the competition (Zlatan) should help them this time, right? Well, my only advice is that you not have money riding on this game. This is the best I can do: Hicks and Gillette 1 - 1 Reggie Miller.

AS Roma vs. Real Madrid. Yum yum. This is a truly juicy tie. Roma were unfortunate to be grouped with a rampant Manchester United, but came out with eleven points. For Real, eleven is all it took to win their group, though. Life just isn't fair. Madrid have been cruising La Liga, but have had difficulty navigating their domestic cup competitions. Roma are sitting in second, but tenuously, after losing to Juventus. Thus far, Madrid has had a more dominant look about them, but that being said, it should be noted that the Serie A has been much more competitive than La Liga this season. Roma will also be looking to salvage their reputation after their 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United last year. It'll be interesting to see how Roma's stellar CB's Mexes and Juan deal with the cagey veterans of Madrid in attack. Los Merengues still have the edge, though. WIND 1 - 2 BWIN.

Olympiacos vs. Chelsea. Everyone is writing off Olympiacos in this tie, and not without good reason. In recent history, Chelsea have been extremely strong in this competition, only to fall victim to penalties or bad luck right before reaching the finals. Their current form, while mind-numbingly dull, also adds to their favored status. Olympiacos will have to be strong at the back, as Avram Grant is expected to announce an ambitious 4-3-3 alignment featuring either Drogba or Anelka flanked by Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips. The Greek champions can look to strong performances against Werder Bremen and Lazio along with their fine league form (only one loss) for inspiration, but Chelsea haven't lost a game in a long time and I would expect nothing short of victory today. Greek David 0 - 1 Boring Goliath.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we'll see the mouthwatering matchup of the week: Fenerbahce vs. Sevilla! Jay kay.