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.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Andres Iniesta Seduced By a Bear and David Villa's Head Product

"A little back-rub, some neck keesses, then I'll go in for the kil, er, I mean, the sex."

- Inside the mind of a Grizzly Bear as he seduces Andres Iniesta
Here's the ad, if you want to know how this relationship got started.

And here's an advertisement from David Villa. According to David, only use Giorgi, "if your game lasts 24 hours."

Jim was at the Emirates last night and witnessed an event as rare aurora borealis during the total eclipse of the sun - Arsenal beat Chelsea.

More from him as soon as he returns.

Until then.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Xavi is the Best Player in the World", Said the Bored Catalan

"Wait what?? Is Xavi even the 3rd best player on Barcelona FC?" responded the surly Uruguayan born American. The party seemed to freeze in time momentarily; I would take some convincing.

Little do they know I have Xavi as the 5th best player on Barcelona, behind Messi, Iniesta, Villa, and Pique, and probably in that order.

Before we begin
I am not suggesting that Xavi is a bad soccer player. Capiche? Mr. Hernandez is obviously talented, just not better than four of his teammates.

And I must demand that we agree on one premise before beginning, because if we can't agree that Messi is the best player on Barcelona, we're shouting from different planets.

The Messiah is the best player on Barcelona FC; it's not close. If it's an argument at all, it's born from extreme boredom or a blood-alcohol level of .24. It's fit for Around the Horn in June.

Since 2007, in all Barcelona FC competitions, Messi and Xavi have appeared in 137 and 156 games respectively. Messi has 124 goals and 48 assists; Xavi has 25 goals and 65 assists. That's 500% more goals for 25% less assists.
Standardizing the numbers for "games played" adds a little to Messi's resume, and adjusting for age is when things get absurd.
25-year-old-Messi had 45 goals and 10 assists (46 games played) and 25-year-old-Xavi had 3 goals and 0 assists (44 games played). Re-read that last sentence one more time.

But I don't need to use statistics; Messi passes the eye-test as well. I'm not talking about the flash (thanks Arabic announcer), I'm talking about impact. If Xavi is the one pulling the strings of the puppet - as my friend Carlos emphasized by putting his hand out as if he were holding a marionette - then Messi chokes you with the strings, robs you, and bangs your wife on the way out the door.

Neither of the two play defense (no, they don't, squash that thought), and although they play different roles for their teams, I'm still taking Messi. And I'm offended you even asked. I'll humor any argument, because I love talking soccer and I hate Argentinian players, but I need to know you're joking before we have the discussion, that's all.

In twenty-five years, hardly anyone that isn't pining for Catalan independence will remember the name Xavi Hernandez, but I can guarantee they'll know the name Lionel Messi.
Ugh, that hurt to write. Moving along, in summary:
Messi > Xavi. Agreed? Agreed. Now, let's begin.

"I'd rather have Xavi than Iniesta." I get that a fair amount here in Barcelona. Here is how the argument typically plays out:

I'd rather have Xavi than Iniesta.
- Why is that?
(Begins gesticulating with arms) Because Xavi is Barcelona FC. He controls the tempo of the game. He is... the system.
- Can you name me an important goal Xavi has scored?
Xavi doesn't really score goals.
- Iniesta doesn't "really" score goals either, but I can name you three. His goal to win the World Cup, of course, his goal to beat Chelsea in the Champions League, and he scored the winner against Chile, a game Spain needed to win so badly they subbed off Xavi in the 66th minute.

Sounds like you looked up that last one dude.
- Maybe I did, but if you can find me an "important" goal Xavi scored in less than 10 minutes, then maybe we can talk. But let's ignore goals for a moment. Can you remember an important assist Xavi had?
Not really.
- I agree, that's because assists aren't really remembered, unless you're Theo Walcott. But fine, give me a game of significance in which Xavi clearly wow'd. If we're putting Xavi in the company of Player-of-the-Year winners like Zidane, Figo, Ronaldinho, surely you can think of one game when Xavi blew the lid off the stadium and announced his presence.
(Struggles to think of one) But dude, he's still good.
- I agree, I'm not saying he's bad. I just don't think he's better than Iniesta. They play the same role. They are almost literally asked to do the same thing and their stats are not significantly different from one another; Iniesta has a few more goals, Xavi has a few more assists. But for some reason, I can remember the times when Iniesta has impacted a meaningful game, whether it be for Spain or FC, but I can't remember a single instance when that was Xavi.

But Xavi the other day completed 112 of his 115 passes!
- That's a phenomenally useless statistic. It's about as useful as all of Arsenal's possession when they lose as well. Stat's don't really have a place in soccer. Put me in a plaid blazer with leather elbow pads and give me a corn-cob pipe, but it's true, statistics do a mostly horrible job explaining soccer. This isn't baseball, or even the NFL where people talk of "skill positions" and don't realize they are mocking the game.
Jose Mourinho's Inter was very successful, and they never beat Barcelona in any stats. Well, just one, the final score. And I could go on and on about how Arsenal wins the stat-battle every week. Yet no team seems to befuddle the stat argument better than Arsenal.
"What a beautiful game. We won five-nil and completed 430 of our 442 passes! And we had 65% of the possession!"
That's great. But what about the time when Arsenal had 65% of the possession, completed 90% of their hundreds of passes, gave up 2 shots on goal and still lost 1-nil to Newcastle.
(Jim sighs).

Of course statistics tell some of the story. A neutral Barcelona observer wouldn't be surprised to see that the Blaugrana control a majority of the possession. Nor would it be a surprise that they touch the ball around more than their opponents. Completed passes, however, are mostly useless. For example:

In the game in which Messi destroyed Arsenal in the Champions League, he attempted half as many passes as Xavi and completed a lower percentage of them. He even "covered" less distance.

It's not just about goals. One should appreciate players like Xavi, and I do. Just give me Andres Iniesta, who over the past 3 years has proved his impact on the big stage over and over again, and I'll let you have the invisible puppet-master.

David Villa
Speaking of impact. Is there a better player that is more under-the-radar right now than David Villa? ¡Madre mia!

He scored the most goals in the Euro 2008 - two of which were game winners - and Spain won. He tied for the most goals in the World Cup 2010 - three of which were game winners - and Spain won.

He was "slumping" for Barcelona FC, yet somehow he has 11 goals and 7 assists in 20 appearances. This was only after never having scored less than 20 goals a season, for five consecutive seasons at Valencia.

The man is on fire, literally shooting flames from every orifice. If I can only have one player in a big game, Mara-Villa is on the short-list of names. Again, it's not just about goals, but it goes without saying how important they are in order to, you know, win games. So if you need at least 20 goals during a season, several of them winners and several of them against your biggest opponents, David Villa is your guy. If you need someone who will complete 90% of his passes, take Xavi.

Gerald Pique
Consider that Gerald Pique is one of the best central defenders in the world. Then consider that Pique is 23 years old. Instead of entering into the nebulous arguments of why defense is important, I'd rather point out that a great center-back is harder to find than a great striker.

McCallan Top Tier Center-Backs:
Pique, Puyol (sigh), Carvalho, Chiellini, Lucio, Vidic, John Terry, and let's assume 1 more I'm forgetting. Total = 8

Grey Goose Top Tier Strikers:
Villa, Cristiano Ronaldo, Forlan, Llorente, Eto'o, Ibrahimovic, Tevez, Van Persie (stop laughing), Rooney, Drogba, Torres (I'm not ready to drop him yet, in fact, this makes me sad), Thomas Muller. Total = 12

Well that wasn't very convincing. This would be alot easier if VP and Torres would stop sucking so much, but still, I think I might have a point.

*Aside - after doing this exercise I wonder if we're a few years away from an odd dearth of great central-backs. Puyol and Carvalho are past prime, so is Chiellini and perhaps John Terry. Maybe I just don't know enough young central defenders - they're late bloomers I suppose - but it seems like holding midfielders and oustanding fullbacks are in fashion. Or maybe it's getting harder and harder to find a great central defender with the current outrageously talented crop of attacking midfielders and strikers.

Irregardless, I comfortably put a 23-year-old central defender like Pique ahead of a 30-year-old Xavi. And even if you don't buy Pique over Xavi, that still means Mr. Hernandez is 4th best on his own team. Why oh why is he in the running for player of the year? Please explain that to me. No seriously, the comments are open.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pictures that shouldn't be lost in the grind

Notice how Forlan looks surprise. Come on Doug, this happens all the time! (Photo-find courtesy of ESA)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

El Clasico

I must have looked out of place. With nearly one hundred thousand people screaming and jumping around, there I was silent and relatively still. It was Xavi's goal in the 10th minute, and if you didn't know any better you would have thought I was catatonic.

The guy to my left, probably confused by my reaction, grabbed me and shook my shoulders as if to wake me up. I gave him a high-five so that he would stop bothering me and I continued to soak in the scene.

The truth is that it didn't work. I was as capable of absorbing the moment as a deer is capable of absorbing an F150.

There was so much uncertainty leading up to El Clasico that I wasn't prepared for a goal that quickly. My body was in the Camp Nou, but my brain was still on the metro, wondering if I would even get a ticket.

My journey to find a way inside the Camp Nou for El Clasico began two weeks ago. Well, technically it began within three hours of finding out I had been accepted to The University of Barcelona five months ago, but realistically it began two weeks ago. I talked with season ticket holders, friends, locals, friends of friends, and the response was always the same - a laugh, a shake of the head, and the obligatory "don't count it on it kid" speech.

In short, I blame them for my reaction. I blame the whole city in fact. The tension and anxiety for this game reached tangible levels three weeks ago. Did you know that the game was originally scheduled for Sunday? The same Sunday as the - depending on who you ask - local elections of Catalunia. Perhaps it was the surgeon general that realized you can't have 5 million people finding out the result for both El Clasico and the "Presidential" election on the same night.

I rent my apartment from a wonderful Catalan couple who would tell you that the election was "national" rather than "local". The husband is a life-long season ticket holder and a Barça aficionado, though that's an understatement. He told me once with a straight face that his All World Starting 11 would include Eric Abidal at right back. I hadn't signed the lease yet so I thought it would be impolite to storm out.

In the first week of November, I was at their house to pick up an extension cord and El Clasico came up. Ten seconds into the conversation the wife stormed into the room saying, "No no no! No more talk about football! I've had it up to here(!) with this damn football match!!" So, yes, the tension was building.

Fast forward three weeks and there I was, 100 dollars poorer with 98 thousand people singing the hymn; it's no wonder why I was so overwhelmed.

You can hear me singing in this one.

I think it's important to note that neither manager had an incentive to go out and win 2 or 3-nil. This game had zero-zero or 1-1 draw written all over it, and both managers would be delighted with one point each, considering the stakes. The managers before the game (I'm paraphrasing):

"If we win, tomorrow will be Tuesday. If we lose, tomorrow will also be Tuesday." - Jose Mourinho.

"Win or lose it will be 1 match of 38." - Pep Guardiola

So with a pleasant 1-1 draw looming over El Clasico, you can imagine my surprise when Iker Casillas blew this game wide open, fudging a routine cross from David Villa, and defrauding Madrid fans everywhere to allow a 2-nil lead within 20 minutes of the kickoff. Yikes.

I would be lying if I said Sara Carbonero didn't cross my mind:

"What happen honey? Why you ruin Mourinho's day?... Were you cold?"

Fine. Two-nil. Remember, we're still only 20 minutes into this game.

Both goals had a very real element of fortune about them, but all the same, this just got more interesting. Phrases that don't really make sense but are cool to say come up at times like these -- The next goal will be the most important one. (Yeah totally!!... ...wait what?)

After two-nil and before halftime, Madrid fans could claim there was a moment of controversy when Cristiano Ronaldo was brought down in the box by Victor Valdez. The reason it was not a penalty, not in Barcelona or in Madrid, was because the original burst by Cristi to get into position was a reaction play. Moments before the ball squirmed free, Cristiano was standing, or relatively still. Once he saw the opportunity present itself, only then did he fly in front of Valdez. The ref noticed this as well and I'm of the firm belief that if Cristiano, by chance, had been running or sprinting from the outset, as if trying to get on to a through-ball, it would have been called. But since it was a broken play, and the intent to beat Valdez to the position was fairly transparent, the referee didn't buy it. I'm not blaming Cristi at all, or the referee since I think it was the correct decision... if that makes any sense at all.

Cue halftime. Cue the sandwiches I mentioned before. I took a picture to not only prove the culture, but to also show you how in 50 degree weather these spoiled Mediterraneans dress like they're about to ski the Pyrenees.

The second half begins and throughout the intermission I'm secretly wishing this turns into a classic for the ages. I would be right, but not the way I imagined.

Nobody expected five-nil. Nobody. Not Pep, not Puyol, not even my landlord. They are lying if they did, or disingenuous at best. What happened was that David Villa had other intentions. The man feasts on big games. It's amazing that people rave about Messi, Xavi, even Iniesta, when on the front page of every newspaper should be David Villa. It was his cross that Pedro tapped in, and his cold-blooded, world class, enter-hyperbole-here finishes that put this game to bed. If Real Madrid were a beautiful 12-point buck, Xavi shot it in the leg while David Villa calmly walked over with a chainsaw and cut it to bits.

I barely heard a peep about Villa during Spain's World Cup run and nothing has changed during the aftermath of this blowout. I'll air my gripes at another time, because right now it's still 4-nil, there are 30 minutes left in El Clasico, and the match has yet to reach it's highest level of absurdity.

For a ten minute span starting at the hour mark, Barcelona FC decided to cash in on their bets of who could nutmeg the most Real Madrid players. No joke, Xavi had 2 megs, Iniesta had 2, Alves may have had 3 (the winner), Boooosie with 1, Messi with 1... you get the picture. Ticky-tack champagne soccer had begun, egged on by the crowd who were chanting:

Hey-o hey-o hey-o.
Esto es un chorreo.

Chorreo = blowout. Ouch.

That wasn't even my favorite song. To the tune of Guantanamera, the masses hilariously begged Jose Mourinho to, "come out of the dugout":

Sal del banquillo... Mourinho sal del banquillo... Saal del banquiiiiiiiiillooooo, Mourinho sal del banquiiillooo.

The banquillo (ban-key-yo) is the pyrex bubble Mourinho hid inside, with reason, for most of the game. In fact, talking about it afterward with a friend who watched at home, we agreed there was really only one time when Mourinho stood near the sideline. Anyway, they're a clever bunch, the fans, when winning 4-nil.

The greatest insult, and this was a doozey, came via Pep Guardiola when he substituted for Bojan Krkic. Make no mistake, Guardiola was insulting Los Merengues. I'll let my Read Madrid friend explain, (I'm paraphrasing):

"When Pep says, hey, you know what will be great (mock laugh), I'm gonna put in the retard - you know it's humiliating.
[And if he had scored that break-away?, I asked]
God I don't want to talk about this anymore. If Bojan had scored I would have died. That's the only thing I left with man, at least Bojan didn't score. We got spanked and it was terrible, but if that hack Bojan scores it would have been worse."

It sounds harsh but any Barcelona supporter would agree. Half my section encouraged Bojan with, "run Bojan, run!!" sarcastically as if they were mocking Forest Gump. Send the boy out on loan, please; but I digress.

The culmination, besides Jeffren's completion of la manita (pictured here, holding up your mano to indicate exactly how many goals have been scored), was when Jorge Ramos decided he had had enough.

From the moment Messi took off it looked like a bunch of piranhas chasing after a minnow. I started cringing and just about everyone knew what was coming. What happened after the mass of Merengues converged and left Messi in a heap was a blur. A flash of red, Puyol hits the deck, mayhem, Ramos storms off, hits Xavi in the face, the crowd is incensed, thousands of whistles, more mayhem. It all converged into this:

Saludo al campeon!

Saludo al campeon!

(repeat 10x)

The final whistle sounds and the crowd celebrates as if the result were a surprise. The hymn immediately blasts from the speakers and it isn't for another 10 minutes when the majority of fans head for the exit.

The tunnels bottleneck with fans, factions of songs break out, smiles abound. Just another Monday night in Barcelona.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's That You Say?

We beat them by how many goals? Oh dear, that's quite a lot. Maybe we should have taken it easy on them... I hate it when Mourinho calls me late at night and breathes menacingly into the phone, and you can be sure he'll be at it again tonight. I know it's you, Jose.

Next up (I hope): a summary from our very own correspondent, present earlier this evening at the Camp Nou.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving (Except you, Arsenal)

I hope everyone is having a great holiday, despite Arsenal's best efforts to ruin it. The panic button shouldn't be pushed yet, but I understand if you're hunched over the button with your arm raised and glancing around with crazy eyes.

This Saturday against Aston Villa, the Gooners have the opportunity to start off the weekend in amazing fashion. And I'm not referring to the three points. Those will be nice of course, but I'm most referring to timing of it all.

It's a long weekend, it's the holidays, and Arsenal is the opening ceremony. An Arsenal win means the United-Blackburn match is exceedingly more enjoyable. You get to be that guy at the bar wearing Arsenal red, oooh-ing and aah-ing obnoxiously over every Blackburn miss. You can drink your beer with a conspicuous air of entitlement, talk loudly about how, "Wayne seems to have lost a step", and still leave happy after United win 2-nil. The day has just begun.

After an early lunch of leftover turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, the Serie A is there for dessert. AC Milan and their enigmatic all-stars face a tricky Sampdoria side to increase their lead atop the table. Then comes Juventus, or rather, the Milo Krasic show, on FSC. If you haven't tuned in to see Milo Krasic run circles around slow Serie A defenders, this is your chance. The Old Lady has a swagger about them lately, so lets hope they keep it up.

Before you drift off to sleep in the wonderful food comatose that can only occur this time of year, let Diego Forlan tuck you in. The World Cup's best player leads Atletico Madrid against Barcelona's younger brother, Espanyol. With rumors of a scoring drought, Doug E Fresh set the record straight against Osasuna, and ever since, he and Kun Aguero have been running trains on La Liga defenders.

On Sunday, Liverpool will beat Tottenham after Chelsea loses to Newcastle and the Rams, who are shockingly relevant this year, will pull out a nice road victory a mile in the air. You'll say goodbye to family, eat one more turkey sandwich for the road and wonder why you don't make 15 pound turkeys more often because the leftovers are so damn good. Unfortunately, it can't be replicated; it won't be same if it's not Nov 25th, but you knew that already.

None of these things will happen if Arsenal comes out and loses. So yeah, no pressure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Enter the Spin Zone

Here, drink this champagne, eat this hors d’oeuvre, and take a seat. I’m here to make things better.

Pay attention.

Let’s suppose that Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal are the three favorites to win the title this year. Each team has played 14 matches so far, 7 at home, and 7 away. Chelsea and Utd lead the Prem with 28 points, and Arsenal are not far behind with 26.

Of the fourteen games played so far, all three teams have 6 opponents in common. They are: Liverpool, Manchester Citeh, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham, and Wolves.

Whether home or away, Chelsea, United, and Arsenal have all faced the aforementioned teams. Here are the points earned for their shared opponents:

Chelsea - 9 points
Man Utd – 12 pts
Arsenal – 11 pts

This is important because not all wins and losses are the same at this stage of the season. When Arsenal go to the Eastlands and smash on Manchester Citeh, those three points have more inherent value than Chelsea’s home beat down of West Brom. At this point of the campaign, all three points are not created equal.

It’s less fun to analyze the season this way, but it’s the truth. Would any Gooner feel confident at Old Trafford for the final game of the season, top of the table by one point? Oh by the way, 2nd place Chelsea have West Ham at home… didn’t think so.

The key, as always, is expectations. Every manager knows this. Ian Holloway rested ten of his starters because Blackpool cannot be expected to get points away at Aston Villa, not when four days later West Ham comes to visit. Mick McCarthy did the same thing against United last year. Five days later his rested team beat Burnley. Ian earned a draw for his next game.

Granted, these are managers trying to avoid relegation, not win the Premier League, but what is a “good results” and what is a “bad result” still holds. Take a look at last year. Recall that Chelsea won the league with 86 points, Man United finished with 85 points, and Arsenal third, with 75.

Of the 38 fixtures every team plays, 14 of them are exceedingly tricky: home or away games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Man Citeh, Tottenham (12) and also away games at Aston Villa, and Everton (2). Twelve plus two makes for 14 critical fixtures in any team’s title chase*. Wondering how critical? – Just ask Arsenal.

Last year Arsenal earned just 14 points from the “tricky” fixtures while Chelsea and Man-U earned 24 and 22 respectively. Ouch.

Put this in a different way. For the 24 matches that a team such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Man-U are expected to win, they earned 61, 62, and 63 points respectively. No big difference. Not nearly the 14, 24 and 22 spread from the crucial fixtures. You earn your paycheck for the twenty-four regular matches; you get paid for the other fourteen.

So how is this season shaping up? Obviously I wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble if it didn’t mean good news for Arsenal… right? Right?

Each team has conveniently played 4 of their 12 tricky games so far this season:

Arsenal – 7 points
Chelsea – 4 pts
Man Utd – 6 pts

With such a limited sample size it’s tough to jump to any major conclusions. We’ll know more about Arsenal very soon; 3 of our next 5 games are Villa away, United away and Chelsea at home.

One detail, however, does stand out; Chelsea is in worse shape than the table shows. They’re trailing their peers on points against the same opponent as well as crucial fixtures. And even though they’re still top, a smart Chelsea fan would be worried that they haven’t met the expectations of a championship caliber team.

You know, a team that blows a 2 goal-lead, at home, to their biggest rival - that kind of championship team. Ugh, I think I’m gonna be sick again.

*It’s really 12 for a top team since they don't play themselves.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

There Is Vomit Everywhere

Last week, I used Ice Cube's line "drunk, but no throwing up" to characterize how Arsenal dealt with taking a two goal lead against Everton. Applying that to today's match against Spurs, I can only conclude that the Emirates Stadium is drenched with metaphorical vomit. Dripping with vile, alcohol-laden vomit. Swimming in a hastily-chewed half pound bean and cheese burrito from Del Taco and reeking of bile and acid. How on earth did this happen?

Arsenal got a little tipsy when Nasri broke the deadlock. Even the boss was fist-pumping and smiling in a manner that he usually saves for goal number seven. Who could blame him, though? Arsenal were good value for their lead, dominating proceedings in the midfield, and pressing Spurs high up the pitch. Chamakh made it two, and suddenly, we were on top of the world (let alone the league table). Beating Spurs at home, business as usual. After all, they hadn't taken three points on Arsenal's home field since 1993. We had the three points draped over us, she kept touching our arm and laughing at all our jokes. Fantastic.

But we couldn't let things plateau. We just kept drinking. And drinking. And suddenly, Denilson was staggering around the field, forgetting to track back and help out his defense during a Spurs break. 2-1. And then during a free kick, Fabregas and Chamakh raised their arms like frat boys clamoring for another round of shots, desperately trying to get the bartender's attention. And they succeeded, as Cesc's blatant resulting handball gave Phil Dowd absolutely no choice but to throw us out of the bar. 2-2. And then, utterly demoralized and disoriented, Arsenal watched, powerless and thick-tongued, as Younes Kaboul spit game at the three points and convinced her to come home to White Hart Lane. 2-3. As Kaboul sealed the deal, Arsenal vomited copiously onto the pavement and collapsed in a stricken, moaning, weeping heap of misery.

William Gallas is laughing at us. Harry Redknapp is laughing at us. Jermaine Jenas is laughing at us. I can only hope that we were blackout when this went down because it might be the only way that we'll be able to rebound from it. Would that Arsene's Sleeping Bag Coat were a Time Sleeping Bag Coat. We could go back in time and salvage this. As it is, we need to get out a mop, some Pine Sol, a healthy helping of humility, and promise ourselves (at least until next week) to never drink again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In the Words of Ice Cube...

"It was a good day." In fact, it was a great football weekend. Let's recap...

I got my grub on, but didn't pig out; finally got a call from a girl I wanna dig out...

Aston Villa 2 - 2 Manchester United. In a way, a United loss would have been pigging out - I don't think I'm alone in having the feeling that if they lost this one, they would bounce back with a five spot against Wigan next weekend. Instead, they get to maintain a false sense of security in their unbeaten run, and can ignore that they've been leapfrogged in the table, drawn two in a row, are relying on the likes of Park and Vidic to get them out of jail, and should have never even beaten Wolves last week. Ring ring. Hello, who's there? Oh, hey Aston Villa... are you telling me you're going to start playing like the side that routinely competes for fifth or sixth and gives the top teams trouble? So good to hear from you...

Looking in my mirror, not a jacker in sight - and everything is alright...

Manchester City 0 - 0 Birmingham City. As an Arsenal fan, please allow me to redirect something towards Citeh, something that every Arsenal hater has been telling me ad infinitum (and not without good reason) for the past few years: "these are the games you have to win to be a contender." Chelsea, Arsenal, and United are looking in their rear view mirrors, and they're increasingly unafraid of what they see.

Saw the police, and they rolled right past me...

Juventus 1 - Roma 1. This is not so much a positive as it is an aversion of disaster (for both teams). All in all, a very entertaining match, and either side could have won (and either side could have had players booked or even sent off, especially near the end when it got chippy). But as it is, two good teams made sure they didn't lose big while going for the win, and two fine strikers added to their tally. Nobody got arrested, and the title remains a viable goal.

Woke her up around one, she didn't hesitate to call Ice Cube the top gun...

Barcelona 3 - 1 Villareal. I don't hesitate to call Leo Messi the top gun, and neither should you. Two goals from him (he's so good, that I expect him to score his first the way he does now... he's officially patented the double give and go, and we're all spoiled for it), and the Blaugrana got to sit top for about 24 hours.

Today was like one of those fly dreams...

Chelsea 0 - 3 Sunderland. The kind of fly dream where Sunderland drop three goals. On Chelsea. At Stamford Bridge. Three well-deserved goals, might I add. It was the kind of fly dream in which Ashley Cole passes it directly to the other team to set up an icing-on-the-cake goal. Well played, Steve Bruce. Well played Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan. And extremely well played Nedum Onuoha, doing his best Messi imitation for the opener. Mmm, positively dreamy.

Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp, and it read: "Ice Cube's a pimp."

Hercules 2 - 1 Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid 3 - 0 Osasuna. The Goodyear Blimp being La Liga (make of that what you will), and the shining lights being two TLOCA favorites, David Trezeguet (captured in the act of reasoning with the ball and convincing it that the goal is its proper home) and Diego Forlan, who got back on target for their respective sides. That's just a nice bonus, and a reminder that class is permanent. When Trez and Forlan go to sleep at night, they see their names on that blimp.

Drunk as hell, but no throwing up...

Everton 1 - 2 Arsenal. Arsenal continue to grind out tough wins on the road while surrendering easy ones at home. We scored two classy goals (Bacary!?!), and got a little too comfortable. But despite getting drunk and reeling a bit at the end, Lukasz Fabianski provided the voice of reason and prevented us from pulling the trigger and losing two points. We may have a bit of a hangover tomorrow, but thank goodness we didn't boot all over Goodison Park. Although we wouldn't have been the first to do it.

I got to say, it was a good day.

Amen. (And Jose Mourinho and AC Milan agree.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fresh Juicy Mangoes

Dan Quayle would be proud of this fellow. For the neutral observer, it was a fantastic weekend of football. As an Arsenal supporter, it wasn't so great; I'll just quickly say a few words about that stinker against Newcastle and it's this: no excuses. We put out almost as strong a squad as we could; no Vermaelen or fit RVP, but whatever, this is almost as good as it gets. Cesc, Nasri, Wilshere, Walcott, Chamakh, Song. We should be scoring. And at home, we must be winning with that lineup. MUST. OK, rant over. Now, a few thoughts:

(1) Fernando Torres took two enormous bites of the mango this weekend. And with cool, slightly sticky mango juice spilling down his handsome chin, he lit a fire under Liverpool. For the first half, they looked like the squad their teamsheet has always threatened to be - killing themselves for every ball in midfield, working hard, defending as a unit, smothering Chelsea, and letting El Nino do his thing up front. That was so much fun to watch. It certainly made the poop sandwich (with a side of Andy Carroll and Joey Barton) I had just swallowed a half hour before that much easier to digest. In the second half, Chelsea had an Arsenal kind of day, lots of possession, lots of dallying, and then, when they finally got the ball into dangerous positions, they wasted their chances or were thwarted by excellent goalkeeping. I felt their pain.

(2) Roma won what might be the most intense, ill-tempered derby in football right now against league-leaders Lazio. (Frankly, I'd be too terrified to attend one of these matches.) You know Francesco Totti is nearing the end when I'm slightly relieved to see him not on the teamsheet. Also, I'm sorry to say it, but Muslera really should do better with Boriello's miserable excuse for a penalty. Good thing they had Vucinic take the second one. Who, by the way, has the angriest, most bizarre, goal celebrations around right now. He's the best.

(3) This brings me to my next point: the Serie A is bonkers. With all the focus on the EPL and La Liga, it's easy to forget that an Italian club won the CL last year. If I'm a club in the Champions League, I want no part of Inter, Roma, or Milan this year. All three clubs, while flawed, are completely unpredictable, and I could easily see one of them going to the final this year. Don't look now, but they're all on track to make the knockouts...

(4) La Liga wants no part of the (relative) parity taking hold of the EPL, Serie A, or Bundesliga (actual parity, there). But that's OK, because Mourinho vs. Barca is good fun. Juan predicted that the title returns to Madrid this year, and frankly, it's hard to argue with him. In fact, I think I'll go one better: Mourinho wins the treble with Madrid, and then leaves within the next two years to replace Fergie at Man United. It's happening.

(5) Speaking of which... Ji-Sung Park? Surely United cannot keep this up. If they somehow stay competitive for the title, then Fergie has definitely refinanced the third mortgage on his soul.

Until next time, gents.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fernando Llorente Saves Awkwardly Unlikable Spain

Iker Casillas’ girlfriend was the trigger. Oh you remember her. She reports for channel 5 and I’m not trying to hate, but she needed to retire after that moment.

No, there she was in Scotland, with those impossibly green eyes, reporting that Vincente Del Bosque was cold sitting in the stands. I suppose it’s a fair observation; Del Forest and his entire staff were violently shivering. This Spanish squad was so unlikable all of a sudden.

Perhaps it was the work rate of the Scots, Mr. Miller especially. Or maybe it was the counter-attacks sprung by beautiful long passes, as opposed to lucky hoove-ings. Those blue uniforms sure were pleasant in HD as well. Now, normally rooting for any team with Darren Fletcher on it would give me an ulcer so let me be clear, I was not rooting for Scotland. I simply found myself annoyed with Spain.

Spain used to be plucky and cursed - the blueprint for beautiful soccer. Tonight they were uninspiring. Sergio Busquets looked so bored that at one point I watched him jog in circles for 45 seconds straight. Santi Cazorla is not very good at soccer. And I still don’t understand how Capdevilla starts for this team every single game. I swear, every time some team scores on Spain, I can’t find him in the picture, though he’s not at fault either. Iniesta showed some effort I guess, and so did Villa, though neither of them seemed particularly fired up about anything. The team looked complacent.

I can’t blame them for being complacent, not when every beer commercial “salutes the winners of the World Cup!” and the announcers gush over a simple give-and-go from the world champs. And what’s with those World Cup patches on the Barcelona uniforms? I think the issue is that before, since they had no success, you couldn’t accuse them of going through the motions. Though that seemed exactly like what they did in Scotland tonight.

The first half saw a few typical half chances by Spain, generated by X.Alonso and Iniesta. But it was the Scots on the counter that gave the match some energy. On Scotlands most clear chance of the first half – a 2 on 2 break set off by a stunning, arcing pass to Miller – the announcers cried, “This is what we feared, what with 10 of them behind half.” I bet the booth didn’t realize the Scots could put a nice fade on that long-ball like that though. Well, Pique at least didn’t.

On the aforementioned break, Miller ends up doffing the pass and grabs his face in horror as the ball deflects out of bounds. A few minutes later, a very harsh handball awards Spain a penalty just before half. The keeper gets his hand on it, but Villa still scores. He passes (or ties) Raul for the all-time Spanish scorer record but you wouldn’t know from his expression because he barely celebrates it.

So here we are; a harsh penalty, Iker Casillas’ girlfriend, and a boring Spanish squad looking like they just need to show up these days to get a W. Surely Scotland wouldn’t let them get away with this, right?

The second half begins and the Spaniards look like they have a bit more pep in their strides. David Silva, who so far is on track for fraud status, redeems himself with a few menacing shots. Before you know it, Iniesta collects a fortuitous deflection inside the box and coolly slots it home, 2-nil to the best World Cup winners on earth. We haven’t reached the hour mark yet and the bartender, who asked me, “Who are we playing tonight?… Scotland… are you sure? Really? Scotland?… well, 3-nil at a minimum am I right hahahaha” is looking so fucking hahahaha right.

Oh wait! Scotland responds! The energizer bunny, Miller, finds his teammate with a lovely cross. Ramos doesn’t track back; you signed up for that though; and Pique doesn’t look over his shoulder. By the time Pique turns and sees the flying header, his facial expression is that of finding your own unflushed poop in the toilet bowl. 2 to 1, the home team is back in it. No matter who you root for, it’s nice to see the home crowd leave with something; those poor white faces were freezing!

Oh my goodness, Pique with an own-goal! You can’t even blame him either, that cross was going in the back of the net one way or another. I glance at the bartender and pretend to be upset. He looks genuinely concerned. Just like that is 2-2!

Well, you know how this story ends. The alarmingly handsome Fernando Llorente comes on for the awful Santi Cazorla, and everyone in the world knows he’s going to score. Llorente wins every header from a goal-kick that has ever come his way. He gets himself in position better than a center-fielder does a pop-fly. His footwork is amazing, period, not just for someone his size. Most importantly, he still has that hunger. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the guy who was substituted on in front of Cesc Fabregas consistently during the World Cup. He plays for Athletico Bilbao… for now. And it’s Mr. Llorente who reads a cross perfectly, and volleys it past the keeper. He has yet to break a sweat and it’s his third goal for Spain in two games.

Ho-hum, another victory for Spain; I wonder what the headlines will read.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Musings on Spanish Football and Bojan Krkic

There is no player right now in Spanish football in a bigger slump than Bojan Krkic. Bojan’s slump reached its trough tonight, somewhere in Croatia, for the U-21 Spanish squad. Let me begin by clarifying that Bojan is a Spanish national; he does not play for some eastern European country like his last name might indicate. I was quite surprised to find this out, but I digress. Do you remember last year when Nicklaus Bendtner missed twelve gilt-edged scoring chances in one Champions League match at the Emirates, and when he was finally substituted the crowd gave him a standing ovation? That happened tonight for Bojan. After an hour of heavy touches, stray passes and shots that might endanger a spectator unprepared to ever see a match-ball flying at them, Bojan reached his low. The play is a deft give-and-go near the 8-yard box, Mata shot low and to the corner only to have it blocked by Bojan on the goal line. The ball hit off his heel, deflected off the goalie, and somehow it came back to his feet as he fell down. He poked it in from his back, an ugly goal at best, but was whistled for offsides. If he weren’t in such horrible form, he might have had a laugh about it. Three minutes later he walked off the field, pulling at his hair and staring blankly at the ground. One of his teammates ran 30 yards to hug him and whisper something in his ear before he was substituted.

This all started a few weeks ago in the stands at the Camp Nou. Barcelona was on a romp in the second half of a Champions League tie against Panathinaikos and Pep signaled to Bojan to get loose. Some of the crowd in my section noticed him warming up and started a chant, “Queremos la marica! Queremos la marica!” That means, “We want the gay kid! Put in the gay kid!” This surprised me because it’s unusual for any citizen to criticize Barcelona FC. A video could surface that showed Leonel Messi setting fire to kittens and the Catalunian papers would claim the kittens were spreading the plague, so naturally, Messi had done the right thing. Pep Guardiola has a book, people buy this book; again, I was a bit surprised that Bojan was heckled by the home crowd. But why were they on edge?

This has many roots, one even stems back to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his struggles last year, but the main cause for tension was the Hercules – Barcelona game. Barcelona opened their home campaign against wet-behind-the-ears Hercules, and lost 2-nil. They lost one La Liga game all of last year. And this was a flattering 2-nil loss; Hercules having missed a sitter and Trezeguet hit the bar. For reasons I don’t understand yet, it is a special kind of insult to bring up losses to a team that has spent time in the 2nd division. The old, surly, drunk men at the bar that accused me of being a Merengue (“Eres Merengue!” they would say in their scratchy voices, decaying from emphysema) had memorized all the ties or losses that Real Madrid suffered to newly promoted teams in the past few years. They listed them off as if reading some secret document at a court hearing. All of this is to show that the Hercules loss was not just an unexpected thorn in their side, but rather a permanent scar that is no longer spoken about. And it was that game that reopened the small nagging wound Barcelona FC fans have chosen to ignore the past two seasons; they don’t have enough finishers.

Keita has not panned out, Ibrahimovic was practically a bust, not to mention trouble in the locker room, and Bojan has not developed as fast as some would like. Yes, they have David Villa, with his dreamy dark eyes and neat haircut, and yes, they have Leo Messi, with his witchcraft and sorcery. But when Villa got a red-card, and Messi nearly had his ankle snapped in two, guess what happened? The next game domestic game, Barcelona dropped points, again. The game before that, in Russia, they drew zero-zero. The papers the next day read, “Ruin Kazan”. Awkwardly, the passes that Xavi and Iniesta complete per game by the fifties, produced no end product. Four points gone and Barcelona isn’t even seven games through La Liga. Let me repeat; they lost one game last year and won the league by three points. One!

Obviously, that game Bojan missed a sitter (he was subbed off at half!) and Keita was/is/may always be abject. Even Dani Alves might be in a mini-slump as he too has missed open nets. Pedro, another untouchable, who has been bailed out with a groin injury, causes some grumbles here and there. And just as an aside, since this is a delight to report but has nothing to do with their finishing woes, Javier Mascherano fits into that team like Ron Jeremy does in a porno. It’s a smart crowd here in Barcelona, and I think they are starting to realize.

Now that Cristiano Ronaldo appears to be out of his funk, and Real Madrid survived it and leads them in the table, Pep’s 5 o’clock shadow grows in a little grayer. There is a feeling around city that Barcelona may not be the treble winning team they once were. When you’ve spoiled your fans as much as Barcelona has, there are surely going to be some moans with any sign of decline. But this is different. The domestic league means more here in Spain than the Champions League – or at least a lot more than it does in England. I hear all the time EPL players and their dream of winning the Champs League, but not here, at least not yet.

The key is that Real Madrid has emerged from their dark ages with their German midfielders and their Portuguese manager. This is to the horror of Barcelona fans. They won’t admit it, but Real Madrid actually scares them this year, unlike previous few years. And they should. I think Real Madrid wins La Liga this season. Just don’t tell anyone I said that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oh Dear

Well, well, well. What can you say about Liverpool that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan?

I have to say that of the so-called Big Four (RIP), Liverpool was always the one that I didn't really hate. Not that I really liked them or anything (in fact, after a certain 2008 Champions League match, I could barely stand to think about the club). It's just that I always reserved my greatest animosity for United, Chelsea, and Spurs. Maybe it's because most of my Arsenal-Liverpool related memories involve Henry, Pires, and, more recently, Arshavin doing unspeakable things to them. Regardless, I respected Liverpool's history and a lot of their players. I respect their supporters. It didn't hurt that the team were often fun to watch, especially when they came back to beat Milan in the CL Final (the greatest match in European club soccer history - no, I won't back down from that) and for the two seasons where Gerrard and Torres had a telepathic understanding with one another that was simply mesmerizing. I even kind of liked Rafa and was willing to defend him from his numerous detractors (but which even I am unwilling to do now).

I know that it was just a Carling Cup match that they lost today. I know that teams like Chelsea and Man City also went crashing out (hilarious). I know that good Premier League teams have often been beaten by lower-ranked opposition in these one-off tournaments. So why this post? Because this loss to Northhamptumberwhatever is emblematic of Liverpool's performance as a whole. They are a shell of their former selves. And from the look of things, with their current financial woes, it may be a long, hard road back to glory.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Arsene Knows (And So Do I)

That when Cesc isn't on the pitch, Nasri needs to be taking Arsenal's penalties. Go on, show 'em how it's done, Samir:

First one.

And then again (perfect).

Also, the Arsenal fans were in extremely fine voice today. Even I will admit that the support (especially at home) can be a bit weak at times. But today, they outsang Spurs almost the entire match. I couldn't quite make all of them out, but from what I heard, here are the top three Arsenal chants of the night:

(1) "Shall we make a DVD?" (In reference to this.)

(2) "Oh when the Spurs go marching out." (Fantastic appropriation.)

(3) "Are you Tottenham in disguise?" (Standard, but never fails to make me laugh out loud.)

My other thoughts, in no particular order:

- Wilshere and Gibbs are the future, and the future is probably coming a lot sooner than we think. I'm OK with that.

- After Spurs smashed Arsenal 5-1 in the 2008 Carling Cup and finally broke the ten-year spell of Gunners league dominance in April, is this a statement of intent that normal service will be resumed? Whatever.

- The first penalty was a bit soft, but when you get on the wrong side of your man the way Bassong did with Nasri, you're tempting fate. And for the second one, the referee had absolutely no choice. Chamakh didn't exactly try to stay on his feet, but he was obviously impeded. Awful defending, but also very clever passes by Arshavin to put Nasri and Chamakh in position to win those penalties.

- Robbie Keane's goal was definitely offside. And I can't stand him. But Fabianski should have done better - he just couldn't resist the urge to add more fuel to the "Fabianski is terrible please God sell him every time he plays he screws something up" bonfire. It's a raging bonfire. Sometimes I think he's doing it on purpose just to see how poorly someone can play and yet still suit up for Arsenal. Someone check and see if he's placed any bets on how long he stays in the team.

But I digress. A great result. And fair play to the kid below, if I were a Spurs supporter I'd be weeping, too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

So, What Have We Learned?

Harsh, hateful words from the fictional Sr. Guardiola, the use of which I in no way condone. In every other way, hilariously spot-on. And now, the week in review:

1) Tomas Rosicky should never, ever come near an Arsenal penalty again. Why Chamakh, whose primary purpose in life is the scoring of goals, or Nasri, who has ice water pumping through his gangster, Marseilles-ghetto veins, didn't take that spot kick against Sunderland I'll never know. Arsene was similarly nonplussed.

2) Sam Allardyce may be on some dangerous, hard drugs. The man is seriously delusional.

3) Manchester United are, in fact, somewhat fragile at the back. The discipline and steel of past years is missing. Evans and O'Shea are, quite frankly, not very good at the moment. Or as the English say: "crap."

4) However, Dimitar Berbatov is settling in quite nicely, thank you very much. Cruising along, smooth as a big body Lexus, he put in another finishing master class. Haters gon' hate, and Berba don't care. Get that money, Berba. Buy yourself another Argentina replica jersey. Maybe go for Spain this time, actually.

5) Barthalona and Real Mourinho are both capable of ugly, gutsy wins. But as Juan mentioned with regard to Barca last week, when you put out those lineups, you expect to win at any cost, by any means. See above cartoon.

6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic is probably a sociopath. Maybe he's so humorless and borderline autistic because he's constantly being scrutinized and criticized despite being one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe. (See above cartoon.) Something I like to call Anelka Syndrome. But it's much more likely that he's just a huge jerk regardless of what the press says about him. At any rate, he's still really good at scoring goals, especially when his feet are firmly planted on Italian soil.

7) Having Florent Malouda as the captain of your fantasy EPL team has been a very good idea. Not to pat myself on the back or anything. But seriously, we won't learn anything new about Chelsea until next weekend's trip to the City of Manchester Stadium. I'm hoping (as always) for a Wayne Bridge winner that deflects off John Terry's groin.

8) Roma were clearly demoralized by how last season ended, and they look stuck in preseason mode. That squad is more than capable of winning the league this year. Frankly, it's confusing. And the pressure may be getting to the tinkerman.

9) It's official: there's something seriously wrong with Fernando Torres. I know I'm about three months too late with that obvious announcement, but I was willing to overlook his subpar World Cup display due to his injury struggles (and the general overhype that accompanies every star into a new tournament after performing fantastically at their last tournament - in this case, Euro 2008). But he really does not look like himself. (I believe) he won the penalty and the free kick that gave Liverpool a way back into the Northwest Derby, but anyone who watched that entire match knows that something is up.

10) Everybody should move to Barcelona (see Juan's excellent dispatch from the Camp Nou below). Beautiful football, beautiful women, and delicious sandwiches (mostly likely prepared by beautiful women and then enjoyed whilst watching beautiful football). Sigh. Get the couch bed ready, good sir.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Night In Barcelona

The Camp Nou is on the west side of the city and surrounded by three or four metro stations within walking distance. I got off at Les Corts and after each stop along the way, the number of Barcelona jerseys in the car increased more and more. I was wearing Arsenal Red, though just the colors, not the jersey. I emerge from the metro on Travessera de les Corts, a busy street lined with bars and Barca supporters spilling out of the entrances. Everyone is holding a cold beer, Estrella presumably, and I'm beginning to worry about scalping a ticket since so far nobody has yelled out, entradas!

The stadium from the outside is not special at all. It's mostly gray cement and covered with broad stairs that lead to narrow passageways. The sidewalk lights are draped with Barcelona colors and paraphernalia. Pep Guardiola, so far, is the most common face on billboards and bus stops. I am about 50 yards from the ticket counter when I see the first stadium volunteer. He's wearing an official Champions League orange mesh vest and I can no longer suppress a gigantic smile. Grinning, surely like fool, I am immediately approached by a scalper.

It's a short, tan, worn out looking fellow with a hardly comprehensible smokers voice. "100 euros, pero te lo doy por la mitad," he says, grabbing my shoulder. "No lo tengo," I reply, ready to brush him off. "40", he counters. I smile - that was easy. No lo tengo. 35! "No tengo efectivo," I say - and it's true, I only have 20 euros cash. "Dimé," he says. That means say a number. "Tengo veinte." He throws up his hands - imposible, he mutters, and walks away.

By the time I make it to the counter, 5 other individuals, each with an increasing number of facial defects and each more and more tan approaches. They're a touchy bunch, constantly grabbing you like they would a rescued prisoner. I make it to the window, a small 2ft by 2ft square with a younger, volunteer-looking-fellow sitting with a keyboard in his lap. "Lo mas barato que puedas," I say, asking for the cheapest thing he's got. 42 is his reply. I almost throw my credit card at him. Meanwhile, at the window next to me, a man is debating rather loudly with a scalper while also talking to a ticket agent. It's quite a scene and nobody leaves happy. I get my ticket, a glossy silver paper with silver threads offset from the center. It's in the Champions League font - they spared no detail - and I ascend toward the stadium, almost jogging.

More Champions League vests, I nod hello to them all. I emerge from the tunnel and wow. The grass is glowing green, the pitch is perfect. It sounds silly, but it looks exactly like it does on TV. What you don't see on TV is the sun setting behind the hills outside of the stadium. A few minutes later Panathinaikos comes out to warm up. Booooo! says the half-full stands. It would only fill to about 70% capacity - 68 thousand said the regular-tron.

Barca FC comes out to cheers, of course, and Carlos Puyol looks just a silly as I imagined. The starting line-up is: Victor Valdez, Abidal, Pique, Puyol, Dani Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, and David Villa. Um, yeah. Looks like Barca want the win. They'd get it.

Messi and Alves warm up together, closest to the sideline. They like to be seen. Triangle passing, some cutting-drills, some stretching and they're done. The only thing of note is that they didn't do any 3-vs-1's. I thought that was required by all teams at every level. It must be a sign of weakness because the Greeks get smashed. Cue the official Barcelona song. In order to re-create the effect, find 60-thousand volunteers to do the "clapclapclap" and then Barca!, Barca! BaaaaarrrrrrrCA! Just mumble the rest. Next cue the best soccer song ever. Yes, they play it over the loud speakers and yes, they shake the tarp. I pinch myself.

Barcelona comes out of the gate on fire. They instantly dominate possession and the first crowd OHHHHH, comes at the 2 minute mark. It's easy to say now, but it immediately looks like this is going to be a rout. I'm perfectly fine with that. So is Panathinaikos by the look of it. They settle in defensively and quite literally by the 1oth minute it has a feel of a 1-nil lead that the away team is trying to hold. Everyone knows that isn't going to happen.

Or is it. Uh-oh in the 20th minute. By my estimate it was the 4th pass connected by the Greeks. A long-ball by the goalie reaches Gibril Cisse, who flicks deftly onto Govou. Mr. Govou outruns Abidal, who looks caught in slow-motion. The side of the net ruffles, Valdez looks at Abidal confused and the crowd mutters for a moment. I begin to swear - I'm trying to fit in - but just like that, less than 5 seconds after the goal, the stadium erupts in the loudest song to this point. Puyol gesticulates at David Villa, Pedro and Messi. Xavi is still working on his 5-o'clock-shadow look, without fail. The game resumes exactly where it left off, Barcelona with 78% possession to Pana's 22%. Three minutes later Barcelona scores, and the first standing ovation is unleashed. Messi lulls his defender asleep and Xavi (I believe) gives him a bouncing through-ball that Leo handles quite well. 1-1.

At this point it is worth mentioning that if you have a hot girlfriend you are apparently required by Catalan ordinance to take her to the Camp Nou. This is where couples go to be seen. A tight fitting Barca jersey, skinny jeans and some nice sandals is the dress code. The girls pay attention to the game too. Not that I was staring at one sitting one row down and 9 seats over, but she seemed to understand what was happening. In the seats and in Barcelona in general, couples are very affectionate. They pet each other constantly and girls often gaze for longer than 30 seconds into their partner's eyes. If you yelled at them to get a room, they would probably appreciate the suggestion. There is no attractive girl at the game by herself, only fatter ones.

Villa scores the 2nd from a Busquets, aka, Boooo-see header. It's well taken but horrible marking is most responsible from the corner set. Right before half, this happens. After the first give-and-go I begin to laugh sarcastically because everyone sees what Messi is trying to pull off. Um. What? He actually puts it home after a double give-and-go? Now we get the loudest cheer and many members of the crowd are gesticulating "NO MAS, NO MAS", like a hurt fighter. Jack Buck, I don't believe what I just saw. I'm cheering a little too much for an Argentian and I start to feel embarrassed.

Half-time. Everyone pulls out their sandwiches wrapped in foil. It's thin french bread with soprata/ham/salami, cheese and peppers. It looks delicious. Say dude, where'd you get that? "My wife made it at home, (his 3 friends with their mouths full nod in agreement), but you can get a hotdog outside." I pass. Not after seeing them eat those sandwiches. The women do not eat in public.

The first half felt long. I was happy about that, I was afraid it was going to fly by. The second half starts about 30 seconds after Barcelona took the field. They waste no time. Messi at the penalty spot for a hattrick. He misses. I give a small, unnoticed fist pump; that makes up for all my cheering before. It's still Messi... Messi... Meeeeessi. Two moments worth noting in the second half. Pedro gets a through ball, has a great angle on the keeper, and I'm not kidding, he looks to pass! He fumbles the ball a bit, tries to pull it back out (the goal mouth still gaping) and eventually turns it over. Xavi scolds him. Why didn't you shoot man! Are you crazy!, he probably said in perfect Catalan. Messi hits the post from no angle, twice - off the inside of one, off the inside of the other - and Pedro finishes to a hint of sarcastic clapping. This game is officially over, though it has been over for an hour. On the death, Dani Alves heads home a scoop pass from Leo, who has looked semi-desperate for his hat-trick after missing that PK. The crowd heads for the tunnels, factions of songs break out, smiles abound. Just another Tuesday night in Barcelona.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Liverpool vs. Arsenal Game Summary

A 1-1 draw at Anfield started Arsenal's 2010 campaign off with a bang. This bang being mostly inaudible, a mild sedative and quite forgettable.


Pepe Reina - Y con el veinte!... Con un autogol fenomenalllll! Yo, Pepe Reina!!. Nice job assclown. Before his fantastic OG, though not even close to the best Liverpool OG, he saved a few menacing shots. The match is not judged on your first 88 minutes. Sorry.

Skrtel/Carragher - The oldish and sneaky combo provided an excellent foundation and even avoided silly fouls. With Samir Nasri taking free-kicks, they could have fouled wherever they wanted without a care in the world so I guess it's nice they didn't prowl around hoofing left and right. Only once fresh legs came on for Arsenal did their tiredness show.

Glen Johnson - I think Liverpool's strategy from the onset was most evident with Johnson's play. He rarely got forward, instead choosing to forgo his typical overlapping runs. His only mark on the game was a menacing shot that drew a corner - otherwise a quiet affair. A red card will do that to a defense.

Masherano - A quintessential performance from the grumpy Argentine: a few good tackles, a few fouls and a scrappy assist. His five-o-clock shadow, unruly hair and his sweat which smelled of cheap whiskey led me to believe he might not have the best game. I was wrong.

Steven Gerrard - Captain Fantastic spent a good deal on defense. He tracked back well and broke up a few Arsenal possessions. I don't remember his presence offensively at all, again, a red card will do that.

Fernando Torres - He didn't start, but was a substitute. There was one moment where I was convinced he had undressed Koscielny and was going to score but the Frenchman recovered nicely. Fernando made no impact otherwise. In my opinion he's still a few games away.


Almunia - He had no major gaffes, which is a blessing in itself. That is unless you count being beaten at your near post from a shot, albeit a well placed one, from a tight angle as a gaffe. Lets settle on minor gaffe. Kill me now if he's our 1st choice keeper for the whole season.

Vermaelen - Suddenly Thomas is the wily veteran tasked with anchoring a top-4 defense. He wasn't necessarily conservative as a few times I noticed his deep runs. He never got the ball when he streaked forward though and only contributed offensively with a hard, but not well placed, free kick. Technically it was he who was beaten by David Ngog, as he was a half-step too slow after our turnover.

Jack Wilshire - Speaking of turnover, it was Jack's slightly off-footed fan-job on a pass that made its way straight to Masherano's foot. He turned the ball over alot and while I was rooting for him vigorously at the beginning of the game, soon it became evident he was trying to survive like Michael Cera at the grown-ups party in Superbad. He maybe gets by with Cesc as his midfield partner but certainly not with Nasri. To me it looked like his nerves showed and he seemed to be over-thinking.

Abou Diaby -
El Diablo had some nice tricks but little substance. See current definition of Arsenal attack.

Andrei Arshavin - The Russian made no impact whatsoever, which is odd with this in mind. (Just look at that looks like he was shot out of a cannon. We fu*&ing tied that game by the way). Rumor has it that Andrei was tired all week and not fully fit. I believe it.

Chamakh - I'm glad he scored the winner because that play is exactly the type of commitment I saw out of him at Bordeaux. There was no flip this time around but he proved that at Arsenal he will still risk the bumps and bruises that are required to poach a valuable goal.

Final Summary

Arsenal looked exhausted for reasons I cannot explain. Perhaps the World Cup is to blame but the action on Saturday does not back this up. Both teams came out cautiously and after Joe Cole's red card - which was nice to see even if it was harsh because after all, red cards are supposed to deter potentially dangerous tackles, not be the result of acl's snapping in half - Liverpool were more than content to hang on to a 1-nil lead. The most worrisome aspect of Arsenal's uninspiring performance is that Rosicky, off the bench, seemed to be the spark. With Nasri and Wilshire erm-um-hmmm'ing around the pitch, the presence of Fabregas was sorely missed. I have yet to hear an argument to explain his World Cup hangover, him and I having played similar minutes. The prevailing theme after this game is that a point at Anfield is always a good result. I question that that because Liverpool scraped to finish 7th three months ago. Last year they dropped 15 points at home, the same as Birmingham.

Blackpool at home should be no problem at all. Repeat, no problem at all. But they did put 4 on Wigan and they have a gigantic oaf for a striker that I can see ramming the ball in with his thighs. A three goal victory with no ankles broken (except Alumnia and Fabianski) is all Arsenal needs to ease the nerves.

Until then.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

7 Hours of Soccer Later

And we're just getting started.

At around 10:15 today I yawned, took another swig of Guinness, and felt for the void. It was gone. Soccer was back. Tottenham and Manchester City played what might be the most exciting nil-nil draw I can remember. In summary, Joe Hart made Robert Green and David James look like drunken hobos. Next up was Everton vs. Blackburn. After ten minutes of boring play, and worse, sharp pink Everton jerseys burning my retinas, it was time to change the channel. When Ted and I arrived at the Aston Villa game it was 1-nil to Villa and already they were on their 9th corner. The play flowed nicely, Villa's checkered-trim jerseys pleased the eyes, and the defense was abject. A professional finish from James Milner turned Villa park into a swimming pool and the commentators cued up nostalgic, "Is this the last goal for James Milner in a Villa jersey? :( " questions.

This is no time for a rant, but James Milner leaving Villa for Saudi oil money is wrong in every sporting way. He is a hero at Villa and a key contributor for a competitive squad. The only foreseeable upgrade for him is wages, and the cost is likely to be all sporting aspects that kids dream about when they say they want to be a professional footballer. These kids have obviously never been paid. But this story is as close as you can get to formulating an equation for the price of greatness, as it were. For an extra 20% on his salary, Milner is no longer adored, no longer a hero, no longer "the guy", and who knows if he'll still start next year. I'm sure Adebayor thought he'd be a regular too. That's probably a bad comparison though, because he was never adored. (We've got Arshavin...something something Adebayor)

Anyway. Milner is surely off to join the other 45 over-paid mercenaries at Manchester Citeh. Only 25 of which, are relevant. Grill up a sausage, pick up some toasted ravioli and a dollop of the best German garlic-mustard I have ever had was the lunch menu during the Chelsea - blank fixture.

The commentators, as if watching a horse be put down, introduced the West-Brom lineup. "Well this is unlucky for West Brom -- the fixture computer drawing them against Chelsea." Ha! As if the title holders were going to open against anything other than a punching bag. Six-nil was my call - I have a witness - and it made me no money because I put nothing on it. In fact, after Chelsea's inexcusable second goal, the product of a gaping wall, it was nap time. "And its FOUR for Chelsea... ... Five-nil to the champions... ... Well taken for SIX".

It wasn't the greatest nap, though I did wake up refreshed. The Bolton-Fulham replay came on; we already knew the outcome and immediately turned it off.

"We just conquered seven hours of soccer and it feels great," Ted said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

I can't wait. We're just getting started.