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, April 16, 2010

At least there's the Serie A...

So let's see.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse for Arsenal this season, they (1) lost their best defender for the remainder of the season and (2) lost to a team that hadn't won a league game against them for over a decade. Oh yeah, and it was Spurs. I really don't want to talk about it.

Chelsea also ground out a 1-0 win in a game they could have easily lost 2-1 if the referee hadn't decided that playing the ball with your hand in the area was acceptable. So barring the most miraculous/bizarre turn of events, they're cruising for the Double. Liverpool, the only member of the "Big Four" that I didn't really loathe is up for sale and essentially out of the CL, to be replaced by either Spurs (shudder) or Man City, which is quickly becoming almost as unlikable (and scary) as its neighbor. So the forces of evil triumph again.

In Spain, Barca hold a three point advantage which is quickly looking insurmountable. And anyway, it's just Madrid in the mix. Everyone else is like a million points behind.

So again, I feel stupid for asking Juan why I should care about the Serie A at the beginning of the season. Indeed, it's got my full attention now. There are three teams with legitimate shots at the title. Juve are fighting for their CL lives, and a lot more manfully than their current "Big Four" English counterpart in Liverpool. I hope they get there - the CL doesn't feel right without Alex del Piero curling in delightful free kicks and generally wreaking more havoc than you ever thought a 35 year old 5'8" Italian could cause on a football pitch. Forza Juve. Forza Roma. Let's make this a season to remember.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekly Round-Up

Unbelievable week of football. Maybe the most entertaining I've ever seen, and that says a lot, considering my bias and the fact that Arsenal only played once and got smashed. Let's take a look at what went down, in order of what I most want to talk about:

1) Roma went top of the league in the Serie A. Which is kind of amazing, especially when one considers the way they started the season; at the end of November, they had lost five of their ten league matches and accumulated a measly eleven points. They were in relegation territory. They haven't lost any of their 23 matches since then. They've defeated Inter, Juve, and Fiorentina. And yet it's been a sneaky climb to the top. Until this moment, I've seen very little in the soccer media world that has mentioned them. Roma aren't really a flashy club, and media coverage has reflected that: they don't have the superstar names of Milan, the self-promotion of Signore Mourinho, or the morbidly fascinating self-destruction of Juve. But I've always considered Roma my Serie A club of choice, although I admittedly don't follow that league as closely as a certain co-author of this blog. Nevertheless, it would be nice to see them win something. I've always rated Vucinic very highly, Totti is a living legend, Luca Toni (an excellent loan signing) deserves a Scudetto for his years of excellent service to the game and to Juan's love of flowing Italian hair, and despite having John Arne Riise and Julio Baptista draped around its neck, the club has somehow found a way to succeed (kidding, mostly, but hey, any opportunity to reference this). Juan (not ours, the Brazilian CB) and Burdisso have stopped leaking goals, which bodes well for both the Brazilian and Argentinian national squads. Even Mexes has looked decent in his limited appearances.

A lot of the credit has to go to Claudio Ranieri, perhaps the most underappreciated manager in world football. This is the man who built Chelsea into a serious force, only to have a certain "Special One" swoop in and take them to the next level. This is the man who led Juve to third place after the club spent a year in the Serie B (anyone who thinks they were finishing higher than that after a year of second division competition is nuts) and then second the next year. Since he's been fired, look how well things have worked out (OK, a little better in the last couple weeks, but still dicey). At any rate, if Roma somehow pull this off, it'll be one of the greatest turnarounds in football history, and Ranieri will get the league title his career so richly deserves. Last year, I only half-jokingly asked Juan why anyone should care about the Italian league. This is why.

2) Messi curb-stomped a depleted Arsenal and in so doing, seriously entered the discussion for GOAT (as if he weren't already there before). Pretty well-tread turf, this, so I'll just move on, but before I do: Xavi. My lord. More on this man later.

3) Man United had an awful week, especially by their standards of recent years. Dumped out of the CL (after coming out like a house on fire), possibly losing Rooney for a few more games, and then drawing against lowly Blackburn yesterday. The game against Bayern was delightful if you were a neutral (or perhaps holding a grudge of some kind, don't know why you would), but totally heartbreaking and demoralizing for United supporters. They wasted Nani's greatest performance in a United shirt (at times I thought Fergie brought back Cristiano and dressed him up like Michael Jackson) and Rooney's fragile ankle for a punch straight to the gut courtesy of one Arjen Robben. And what a punch, might I add. That strike, especially along with Robben's rapidly receding hairline, gave me deja vu.

I just have a few more things to add (cue Cartman voice): Oh nooo, your squad played well and yet was eliminated? You've suffered unfortunate injuries to key players? Awww. Your strikers somehow can't find the net, despite a wealth of chances? Oh bummerrrr. People are scoring wondergoals against you? You're losing or drawing key games at the worst possible time? Welcome to my world, welcome to my hell, Manchester United supporters.

4) Xavi orchestrated an excellent Barca performance to defeat Madrid in El Clasico for the fourth time running. This means Pep has won every meeting between the clubs since he took over. Messi got the opener and Pedro finished the second very well, but for me, Xavi was the standout player on the pitch. A lot of people talk about Messi as the second coming of Maradona, but Xavi is the second coming of... well, actually, it's hard to say. Zidane? He certainly can control a midfield like Zizou. Platini? His passes are inch-perfect like the original French maestro. But he doesn't score as much as either one. And he's 5'7" (same as Iniesta, and something I frequently forget). Hmm... Guardiola? Nah, Pep was more defensive-minded. And Xavi's better. Ah, forget it, comparisons like this are stupid. I'll just say that in twenty years, we'll be talking about current players and trying to figure out which one is the second coming of Xavi. And that's about the highest praise possible.

5) Maybe Villa midfielder James Milner John Terry-ed John Terry and slept with Mrs. Terry while she was taking some time away from the "Dad of the Year." That's the only explanation I can imagine for this absolutely horrendous challenge by the Chelsea captain in the FA Cup semifinal. Also, look at Terry inititally pretend like he's the one injured and then protest the yellow card (when instead he should have been showered with about ten reds - also, how awesome would it be if instead of just showing the red card, the referee grabbed a handful and literally threw them onto the player like confetti for particularly egregious behavior?). Keep it classy, JT.

6) Let's all laugh at Spurs and send a high-class Thai hooker to Avram Grant for overseeing Pompey's shock FA Cup semifinal victory. Relegated after Saturday's result, they somehow played their way into a second day out at Wembley a few hours ago. Well played, gentlemen. Well played, indeed.