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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Great Round...

Of Champions League action has been set. Take a look at the draw here. And here's the bracket which is now in place. Some initial thoughts from the TLOCA headquarters:

Jim on Liverpool vs. Arsenal:

Liverpool and Arsenal must be cursing their luck right now. First off, this draw means that they'll have to play each other THREE TIMES IN A ROW in the beginning of April. Secondly, it means that the road to the trophy (if you're a betting man) after this tie will run through Chelsea and Manchester United. Not really a cupcake schedule. It's bad for Liverpool because Arsenal have definitely had their number over the past few years. It's bad for Arsenal because Torres is on fire and Liverpool turn their game up a notch when they're in Europe. But it's good for us, the viewers, because it should make for two pretty entertaining matches.

Juan's sloppy seconds on Liverpool vs. Arsenal:

The arrogant side of me loves this draw because of its volatility. Liverpool loses it's mythical mystique in the Champions League because the competition is in house and knows them well. It reminds me of how the outside world thinks of Will Smith. Getting jiggy with it right? I Am Legend was a great movie right!... Well he's a Scientologist and everyone in house knows he's fu^$ing crazy.

The cautious, March Sadness side of me (RIP Maryland) is afraid that my new hatred baby born last Wednesday will grow up all too fast if Pool manages to beat Arsenal and the gushing continues. I wanted Liverpool to make like Terry Shiavo last round but if it turns into a Barbaro saga I suppose that will do as well.
With this draw however I do feel that Arsenal is essentially choosing between advancing in the Champions League and keeping pace in the Premiership. I'd love to think Wenger can have it all but I'd also love to think Pujols isn't going to have surgery 22 games into the season.

Jim says about Romechester:

Roma should be getting really amped to play Manchester United. After last year's 7-1 humiliation at Old Trafford, they'll be looking to avenge themselves. They played United pretty tough in the group stages, but lost a close 1-0 contest and eeked out a draw at home. They'll have to step it up, and hope that United gets cocky now that their three English rivals are on the other side of the bracket.

Juan adds about Mana:

I believe that either of these two teams can advance. I think if Roma advances it would be considered an upset to some degree but here at TLOCA that shouldn't be the case. In fact, I think the winner of Arsenal-Liverpool will be the only English side that advances. This English flood into the quarters reminds me of the NCAA Tourny too much. One conference will have a great first and 2nd round, then just about all of them will lose out once conversations about the dominance of the ACC or PAC10 start gelling. The strength of the EPL however is a debate for another time. Onward -

Jimbo Jones on the clean-up:

Barcelona and Chelsea should be penciling themselves into the semifinals. Of course, after what we've seen in the FA Cup, you can't ever count out a team. And Schalke and Fenerbahce certainly know how to scrape together a victory. If things go to penalties, we already know they're capable.

Juan shows you the door:

I'm going to respectfully disagree with my colleague here about Chelsea (this ensures at least one of us will be right, holler!). Olympiacos went all cautious-catherine against Chelsea and they paid the price. If the first round indicates anything it's that Fenerbahce is willing to run with anyone. I like the Turks with the upset spesh.

Let's see here, how much can I continue to hate on Schalke? Let's put it this way - if Barca hadn't lost Messi, which is very very significant, I'd be scouring the internet for a picture of a man in a Barca jersey ramming a homeless woman wearing a Schalke jersey in an alleyway.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Weekend Preview

In Italy and Spain, things seem to have settled back into the status quo, but the Premier League is set for a photo finish. Let's take a look at the key matchups for all three.


Almeria (8th) vs. Barcelona (2nd).
Barca, Barca, Barca. Sigh. I personally think they've blown it at this stage, but there's still plenty of football left to be played. After closing the gap to two points with Real Madrid, they promptly lost to Villareal (no shame there, but you'd hope for at least a draw at home) and are now chasing from eight points back. The safe money says that if they want any shot whatsoever, they'll need a convincing win against Almeria because Madrid has a cupcake game against Coruna. That won't be the easiest of tasks, however. Aside from the injury to NM1 (New Maradona #1) and some dissent in the ranks, they'll be facing a decent Almeria side that has made shockingly good progress since being promoted last season and which plays well at home. Of course, that has been tempered as of late as they've failed to win since February 17th.

The verdict: Almeria don't score very many goals, but they don't concede many, either. And especially not at home, where they're allowing something close to a goal every two games. Not bad for a team that was playing in the Segunda Division last season. However, I think Barca will put their poor performance against the Yellow Submarine behind them and someone (probably Eto'o) will find the net. Almeria 0 - 1 Barcelona.


Roma (2nd) vs. AC Milan (5th).
Easy pick for best game of the week. Here we have two teams going in opposite directions: Roma fresh off their dismantling of Real Madrid in the Champions League, and Milan still bruised from the one they received at the hands of Arsenal. Over the weekend, however, Milan bounced back with a 3-1 smackdown of Empoli as Kaka and Ambrosini contributed two late goals. Roma continued their good form by cruising to victory at Napoli. Both teams have everything to play for here; Roma can really apply the pressure if a very vulnerable looking Inter slip up, and Milan are desperate to reach that fourth Champions League spot.

The verdict: Roma are a very, very good home team. They've only lost once, and that was early in the season when they had to play 10 men against a rampant Inter side (the result was a 4-1 statement game for the champs). Since then, they've been near-perfect at the Stadio Olimpico. However, Milan have been distinctly stronger on the road this year, getting a result 11 of 14 times. Add to that fact that this is their only remaining competition, and you have to believe that their motivation will be greater. But despite this, I think they're too tired and out of sorts at the moment. It took two moments of brilliance to get a win in their last game, and meanwhile, Totti, Taddei, Mancini and Vucinic have all been in sparkling form. There are some good goals in this one, I reckon. Roma 3 - 1 AC Milan.


Arsenal (1st) vs. Middlesbrough (12th).
I was considering spotlighting Villa vs. Pompey, but since the title race is so close, it just made sense to profile this one. This is a dangerous weekend for Arsenal. They're up by two points, but one can expect that to become a one point deficit as soon as United are done thrashing Derby County. Meanwhile, Chelsea are favorites to gain ground at Sunderland. The Gunners have had three straight draws against opponents they should have beaten. Now, they're up against the only team to defeat them in the league this year. Of course, Boro are having troubles of their own. This month, they've lost to Reading, squandered a great chance to win the FA Cup now that the giants are gone by collapsing against Cardiff, and snatched a draw from the jaws of victory by surrendering a (pretty harsh) penalty to Villa.

The verdict: Van Persie returns. All season long, Gunners fans have been able to turn away criticism and stem despair by pointing to the missing Dutchman (and Rosicky too, but that's another story). That won't be the case anymore, as he is apparently fit and ready for action. If he's the savior everyone has been clamoring for, now would be the chance to prove it. Boro are in a run of bad form and the game is at Fortress Emirates. Expect to hear the old song. Arsenal 1 - 0 Boro.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Seven Days...

Is often all it takes to turn the football world upside down.

Let's talk about what's happened since last Wednesday:

1. Roma dump Real Madrid out of the CL. What a solid two-leg performance the Italians gave. There was nothing fluky about this cupset, as Roma played a perfect game plan both home and away. Yes, Madrid started brightly in the second leg and wasted some chances, but they didn't even deserve the goal they got (Raul was about a mile offside). It also should have come as no surprise; los Blancos have lost at this stage the past four years. If you're looking forward to pretty football, you have to be hoping that Roma get drawn with either Man U or Arsenal in the quarterfinals. There'd be some wonderful attacking skills on display.

2. The Schalke shocker. I honestly didn't think that they would go to Portugal and advance, but if this competition has taught us anything, it's that common sense and (especially) league form should be thrown out of the window. Porto have been dominant at home and in the Portuguese League, but they had to score a wondergoal to even force OT and penalties. Schalke are a very well-organized side, and it was harsh of me to call them the worst team in the competition. Now Ben might get his wish; if Schalke and Fenerbahce are drawn together and there's even the slightest on-the-pitch controversy, we could get that European conflict.

3. Liverpool start playing like the best team in Europe. Gerrard has been superb, but the skipper has been playing second fiddle to Fernando Torres, who is in danger of setting fire to anything he touches. A few weeks ago, Adebayor was being hailed as the "dream striker," but I think you'd have to give that superlative to el nino at the moment. He's been phenomenal, leading them to big wins in the league and over Inter in the CL. Though they won't be winning the EPL anytime soon, you have to be encouraged by their form and like their chances in Europe. AND they're currently in talks to escape their hated American owners. Must be good to be a 'Pool fan these days.

4. The Premier League becomes Man U's to lose. Arsenal have bookended wonderful performances in Europe with lackluster draws against Aston Villa and Wigan. To be fair, the former stemmed from an own goal and the second was played on a pitch that looked like a Korean minefield, but there should never be excuses for title-challenging teams. Now, United can take the lead with a victory, and Arsenal have failed to stock up points before the real looming challenges of their season (Chelsea, Liverpool, United). But nothing is certain, as evidenced when...

5. The aforementioned Man U and Chelsea go crashing out of the FA Cup. It's really good for football. Not necessarily for my interest and certainly not for quality of play, but good for football. Barnsley's run has been the stuff of dreams and the other squads are fully deserving of their places. Also, it's always great when Alex Ferguson is so frustrated by a game's result that he utters the unthinkable: "I have to agree with Arsene Wenger."

6. The dream slowly ends for Barcelona. Question: How do you replace Lionel Messi? Answer: You can't. But having Henry and Eto'o doesn't hurt. Question: How should you respond when Real Madrid reveals itself as vulnerable and lets you sneak up on them in the La Liga standings? Answer: Well, I can tell you what you shouldn't do, and that's lose to Villareal at home while Madrid win. Sorry boys, better set your sights on the Champions League. (Also, there's trouble brewing in that locker room... Titi back to England? I just got goosebumps.)

7. The Premier League reveals itself as the best football league in the world. Four of eight quarterfinalists. Victories over the reigning Greek, French, Italian, and European champions to advance. Says it all, really. Now get ready for the Liverpool-Man U, Chelsea-Arsenal draw on Friday.