Archive for March, 2010

The first two Champions League quarterfinals this afternoon kick off a blistering 3+ months of soccer across the globe. In short…

Real Madrid leads Spains’s La Liga based solely on goal differential.  They welcome Barcelona to the Bernabeu the weekend of April 10th for what should be the most entertaining domestic league match of the season.

4 time defending Serie A champions Inter Milan saw their lead dwindle to only 1 pt after Luca Toni grabbed a late winner for Roma at the stadio olimpico on Saturday.  AC Milan lurks 2 pts beyond Roma with only 7 matches left for each squad.

Chelsea seem to be dialed into the Premier League race after crashing out of Europe but still cannot seem to shake a Man Utd side leading the league by a single point.  The two sides face off at Old Trafford this Saturday morning at 7:45 AM here in the states (ESPN2).  Arsenal sits 3 pts back of Chelsea as well and have continued to find a way back into the mix after being counted out numerous times this season.

Even the recently Lyon dominated French Ligue 1 (despite last years Bordeaux victory) is incredibly tight at the top this year.  An astounding 6 clubs are within the 3 pts of each other although the Bordeaux must be given the advantage at this point as they are tied at the top but hold 2 games in hand.

All these battles will however have crowned their champions by the time the final two Champions League survivors meet on Saturday, May 22nd at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.  While Real Madrid spent preposterous amounts of money this past summer to ensure they were one of those teams, we all know that didn’t work as hoped.  With the final 8 kicking off in just under 1 hour, lets get into the meat of it (First team listed gets to play the second leg at home…

Bordeaux v Lyon – March 30/April 7

While the French were understandably enthused about being 1 of 2 leagues with 2 teams in the final 8 and were liking their chances of having both in semi finals on the strength of their round of 16 victories, they got drawn together which instead guarantees there will be a French team in the final 4 for the first time in, um, a long time.

Lyon’s victory over Real Madrid is more impressive than Bordeaux’s expected triumph over Olympiacos but Bordeaux does have the confidence that comes with their 1-0 victory in Lyon in mid-December.  Due to the lack of any US coverage of Ligue 1, I am not terribly familiar with either team.  Both have quality throughout the ranks though and a level of familiarity that should result in a very entertaining draw over the course of the two legs.

Manchester United v Bayern Munich – March 30/April 7

In a repeat of the classic 1999 Champions League Final (highlights here and well worth the 5+ min) these two European powerhouses should produce a bruising 180 minutes of soccer.  Manchester United has been in great CL form for over 2 years now and last year saw Bayern get absolutely outclassed by FC Barcelona at this stage.

Mario Gomez’s injury is probably going to make scoring goals more difficult for Bayern but with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben both healthy and playing well, this is a team that can cause issues for anyone going forward.  Robben on the right should produce an excellent battle with Patrice Evra but Bayern are going to be in trouble if Thomas Muller or Miroslav Klose cannot cause some trouble in the middle.

United comes in with a level of experience in this competition that is unrivaled except in the Camp Nou.  Alex Ferguson will be unafraid to play a defensive style and leave Wayne Rooney upfront all by his lonesome to create and finish chances.  Is there another striker in the world right now who could be counted on to supply all the offense needed at this stage in this competition? Definitely not and thats why United has to be favorites.

CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan – March 31/April 6

As Inter’s multi-year stranglehold on Serie A is slowly weakened they were rewarded with probably the easiest Quarter Final matchup.  They face a CSKA Moscow side which did go to Sevilla and get a win in order secure passage but that could be attributed more to a crumbling Sevilla side than a performance worthy of advancing; it was by all accounts a proper smash and grab job.

Mourinho brought hopes of European success to Inter and he is only now delivering.  They have the class and discipline to advance here and should do so with no problem.  The main obstacle is that the second leg will be played in Moscow and therefore it is very important for Milan to stay tight tomorrow night while also trying to grab at least 1 goal.

FC Barcelona v Arsenal – March 31/April 6

The other premier matchup of this Quarterfinal round pits the two clubs which are probably playing the most attractive soccer in the world right now.  FC Barcelona comes in with the experience but Arsene Wenger will surely have Arsenal believing that they can play with and beat Barcelona over the two legs.  This is so interesting b/c of the striking similarity between these two sides.

I counted Arsenal as ripe for an upset at the hands of Porto after the round of 16 draw as they were having trouble scoring and didn’t seem up for this competition.  After a first leg defeat however and with Nicklas Bendtner coming into form, they soundly smoked Porto and showed the level of class necessary to win this competition.

If Fabregas is healthy and they can use some of their speed on the counter attack, they could cause issues for Barcelona.  However it remains to be seen if they can keep their composure while not maintaining possession for long stretches as they are used to.  Barcelona should be able to win the possession game and Arsenal cannot let this unnerve them, they must take their chances when they come and remain tight in the back.

The concern for Arsenal has to be their lack of results against top quality opponents throughout this season, they must hope not to concede at home and play an opportunistic style which they are not familiar with.  Barcelona has drawn an intriguing opponent here but they should be able to give the Gunners a first hand lesson in beautiful football.

Some various US updates from around the world coming later this week….thanks for reading…

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In the wake the American’s latest friendly encounter and with less than 100 days to kick off in South Africa I figured this was a good time to pick up blogging again.

Wednesday’s friendly against The Netherlands showed just how vulnerable the US can be against top quality opposition.  The 2-1 final score line doesn’t do justice to the dominance the dutch showed throughout the contest.  Defending, the red/white/blue’s strongest suit that night, was the only reason things didn’t turn out worse, and a late goal on a set piece (would you expect anything else) led to a short flurry that almost improbably tied the game.

In attack the US was a stark contrast to the fluidity, creativity, and overall purpose of the Dutch;  whichever Dutchman had the ball seemed to know what their options were and where they were going with the ball.  Compared to the incredibly uncoordinate attack efforts of the American’s, it was a beauty to watch.  They always seem to know where they are going next and having us guessing, while we never seem to know where we are going with the ball until its way too late; exhibit A – Rafael van der Vaart’s backheel in the box compared with Damarcus Beasley’s attempt at going 1 v 1 outside the box only to run directly into the defender.

The US continues to have issues holding possession and controlling the ball.  Their passing is somewhat suspect but the inability to control the ball soundly is a much more concerning topic as it makes it virtually impossible to hold possession.  With an inability to maintain any possession in the opponents half, they are at the mercy of supremely talented teams like this one.

Occasionally, and usually through great counter attacking soccer, they are able to pull off an upset like last summer v Spain.  However, most of the time they look like an overcoached unit, overthinking every movement.

Some highlights…

Stuart Holden looked great, he seems calm/collected with the ball at his feet and his weaknesses are exposed against high quality opposition like some of the other younger team members (Borenstein, Rogers).

It is  a shame he was a victim of that harsh tackle but he should be back sometime in mid-April.  Rumor has it that Bolton has already extended his deal as well, keeping  him in the Premier League next season.

Jozy Altidore looked very good as well and it is clear that his time with Hull City is beginning to pay off.  He did very well to create that chance for himself late in the game and get off a shot on net.  His form is integral to the US come June.

I am not even going in depth w/the negatives because there were too many.  Jonathan Borenstein is just out of his depth at that level and becomes a liability; Heath Pearce should have gotten more of a look at LB.

Jose Torres cannot play the CM role in the 4/4/2 the US prefers.  The optimal partnership in my opinion is Bradley Jr and an in form Maurice Edu; this would allow Bradley to get forward more and he has shown a knack for the goal.  Torres is an interesting option out wide but probably in a reserve role for this team.

Overall, the US has the parts necessary to make a run but they need to be as healthy as possible and stop overthinking.

Andrea Canales from Goal.com has a great piece here on the style of he US game and what Bob Bradley could learn from a certain mid-table side in the EPL.

Other Random Notes…

According to his Twitter feed, Charlie Davies rehab is going well and he is only about 2 weeks from returning to training on the field.

Despite his failure to show up on Wednesday, Everton would like to hold onto Landon Donovan past the beginning of the MLS season.  I would say its a long shot as Donovan is the star of the MLS but its at least encouraging that he has succeeded there to warrant coming back.  Apparently there is even a facebook group dedicated to keeping him there.

ESPN has released their lead broadcasters for this summer’s World Cup.  It is an all British team and as the NYTimes mentions, a very impressive on at that.  JP Dellacamera is relegated to an ESPN radio role and John Harkes (thankfully) is notably absent.  However, despite the article saying that he has been banished to “oblivion,” ESPN will likely put another voice alongside each lead and this is where we could see Harkes name come up again.  Personally, I hope not.

I think this is a great move; their knowledge of the game is unrivaled, pronunciation rarely butchered, and their sense of the rhythm of the game much more accurate.  American sports often require the announcer to fill a lot of dead time and results in American sports casters being a lot more long winded which isn’t really the optimal style for soccer.  FSC recognized this and has stuck with the British broadcasters for both EPL and their Champions League games.  Kudos to ESPN for following this mold.

That is all for now, please continue to check back as activity here will be much more prevalent over the course of the next 96 days.

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