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, 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.