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Archive for the ‘EPL’ Category

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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First time in a while but as I am sure many people have been searching for updates on the Clint Dempsey Injury, I thought I could help with this gem from the Fulham FC website.

In brief…

“Following the results of a scan, early indications are positive in that no operation is required. At this stage it is thought that the injury will not prevent him from featuring for Fulham, prior to the end of the season.”

This varies slightly from the report on the USSoccer.com MNT blog.

In brief…

Dempsey suffered moderate damage to a ligament in his right knee during Fulham’s 2-0 loss on Jan. 17 at Blackburn.  The club expects Dempsey to be back in action prior to the end of the season.

“The news about Clint’s injury is positive, especially given the fact that he will not require surgery,” said U.S. head coach Bob Bradley.  “We are confident that Clint will be ready to be an important part of our team during the World Cup.”

With the other injuries to some of the key members of the squad (Onyewu/Davies),  Dempsey’s absence would have hurt even more.  He has the experience of the 2006 debacle and is versatile enough to be Davies replacement up front.

I will try to be back with a full post later this week on this weekend’s friendly v Honduras.

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Wednesday’s friendly between the US and Denmark so far down the list of important soccer happenings from this last week that I feel a little stupid even mentioning it. However, we love the USMNT here so I will provide a few notes.

Besides the goal which was gifted to Jeff Cunningham, there were almost 0 positives to take from this. The goal was nicely finished and while Cunningham did seem to be the most likely to score, too often he was muscled off the ball and seems too undersized to participate at that level. I think he would be useful in CONCACAF qualifying but the defensive quality is just too high at the World Cup level for him to be effective.

His partner, Jozy Altidore, seems to be out of form lately and hopefully Phil Brown keeps his faith in him at Hull and he can discover some form and more importantly some ball control over the next few months. Form can change in a flash but touch must be developed.

Spector looked lost in the back and so did Hejduk.

Seems that Castillo was brought on in a left midfield role, a pretty crowded position for the US so not sure that’s his best fit but at least he’s now an “American” for good.

Feilhaber and Bradley both looked good. Benny seems to overthink it sometimes and his teammates aren’t always on the same page but he’s always thinking positively and creatively.

And now moving on…

Henry

Everyone probably has some idea of Wednesday’s major news item; Thierry Henry’s blatant handball led directly to the winning goal in the France/Ireland playoff for one of the final UEFA WC spots.

The reaction has been massive and wide-ranging. Absurd suggestions like boycotting all of the companies who Henry endorses or asking him to compensate the FAI for the income they have lost by not qualifying seemed to be the first response. Since then, there has been time for those with a little more credibility to react and personally I think that is where we should look. A quick digest of my favorites…

The famously inflamatory Italian coach of the Irish national team, Giovanni Trappatoni, takes a very well adjust view of it.

Jack Bell of the NYTimes thinks it lends credibility to the 5 referee system currently being tested in the Europa League.

Ireland cited a previous example of FIFA granting a replay of a match between Bahrain and Uzbekistan for much less than a blatant handball.

FIFA issued a brief statement yesterday AM refusing the request and it seems that France’s disagreement with the request was the reason.

An Irish contributor to EPLTalk.com, and Arsenal fan, gives his well rounded view.

A breakdown of Arsene Wenger’s response to the whole thing, also from EPLTalk.com.

The former Ireland star, Roy Keane, believes it was karma for the FAI to be denied a replay. More humorous and personal than anything though.

Personally, I think things like this are part of the game. Is it a bit of a negative on Henry’s resume, sure, but he will be remembered for much more than this. The situation seems to unfold slowly now b/c all the replays are in slow motion but the games move so fast that its hard to believe that it was anything more than the quickest of reactions. He is obviously not proud of it and would prefer to have gone through in a more honorable way but les bleus will be there next summer and Ireland will not.

Having only 3 referees out there make the chance that they will miss something fairly likely. It is hard to blame the referee as the request for them to catch everything, especially at the speed of today’s game, is extremely heavy. Look at the NFL where there are the same amount of players on a similar sized field but 7 total referees. Video replay is very difficult in a sport that prides itself on flow and while it might be the best solution, I think the 5 referee system of the UEFA league has to be the next step. A referee behind the touch line would provide more points of view on play in the box (where most of the controversy occurs) and therefore provide a more accurate decision.

If FIFA is not going to force a replay then they would ensure 5 referees at all games next summer in South Africa or there is the chance that much bigger games will be tainted.

Some US notes…

The mens national team has fallen in the FIFA world rankings. These rankings are pretty irrelevant but it should be noted that Mexico has risen and is now considered, fairly I think, on par with the US.

There is still a chance to get tickets associated with the US Team for the World Cup in South Africa next summer. You have to join some sort of supporters club as part of some effort for US Soccer to raise money but to have another chance at team specific tickets is huge if you plan on going next summer. Definitely worth it.

Randoms

Wrote this on Saturday morning while watching Liverpool/Man City on ESPN2. Getting these games in HD is awesome.

Liverpool definitely has some problems in the back and is now gotta be focusing on just squeezing into that 4th spot and not losing the extra income that comes with Champions League qualification.

I was impressed by David N’Gog though. Filling Fernando Torres shoes is virtually impossible but he seems to be playing more relaxed now and some excellent solo play in the box directly resulted in their quick equilizer.

Alas, a chance to move into 4th was lost and they continue to battle with Man City, Tottenham, and Aston Villa for that final CL spot.

Costa Rica lost their bid to become CONCACAF’s 4th team in South Africa losing 2-1 on aggregate to Uruguay. They gave up a valuable away goal in a 1-0 loss to Uruguay but could only muster a 1-1 tie on their trip to Uruguay, not enough to move on. When combined with Jonathan Borenstein’s last gasp equalizer in DC last month, it was a crushing way to miss the tournament for the Ticos.

That’s all for now, I will probably chime in with some thoughts on El Classico next weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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This weekend set up very well for me to watch a lot of excellent soccer and in an attempt to make up for my lack of recent blogging, I figured I would share some thoughts.

BARCA
Most importantly; Tomorrow aka Monday 8/31 at 2:55 EST on ESPN here in the States, FC Barcelona begins their La Liga title defense against the Asturian side Sporting Gijon.

Gijon, whose narrow escape of relegation was considered a success, should not present much of a challenge. The onus, however, is on Barcelona to not overlook them and recover from their Friday, extra time 1-0 UEFA Supercup victory over Shaktar Donetsk. 2 quick trophies down….the fight for the next 4 is going to be a lot longer.

The defending champions will be with out Messi as he has received special exemption to join the Argentinian National team early in advance of their massive Sept 5th qualifier against Brazil. He will probably be replaced by Friday’s supersub, Pedro.

Iniesta continues to recover from last season’s muscle tear as well and will be out. The pressure on the big money man, Ibrahimovic, is growing as he looks to get on the chart with his new club after a relatively dissapointing (read: goalless) pre-season.

Anyway, if you aren’t working 9-5 at a desk set an alarm…if you’re in a cube, DVR that shit!

Also, Monday AM saw the return of my favorite English language La Liga columnist, Phil Ball.
US National Squad
Last Thursday BB and co released the 24 man roster for the upcoming WCQ; Saturday 9/5 vs El Salvador in Salt Lake City (8PM EST on ESPN Classic) and Wednesday 9/9 vs Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain (7PM EST on ESPN Classic).

I’ll take a further look at the games and the implications as it all approaches.

U-20 coach, Thomas Rongen, has named the 21 players he will take to Egypt in late September for the U-20 World Cup. Apparently, continuing on this summer’s theme, ESPN will broadcast all the games in some capacity so I will make an effort to give it some coverage here.

Man Utd/Arsenal
Arsenal continues to look impressive as Arsene Wenger’s faith in this oft-criticized squad seems to be paying off. On the attacking front, Andrei Arshavin seems to be as dangerous as any attacker in the league right now and has a brilliant sense of the goal.

Alas, ManU pulled out a win in a way that only they can, while Wayne Rooney continued his goal a game pace this campaign. For attacking purposes, he must stay healthy for England going into next summer.

Abou Diaby’s awful own goal will surely haunt him for many a night but this is a long season and an early season encounter at Old Trafford isn’t the worst place to give away 3 goals. His overall performance was quite positive and he must put the gaffe behind him.

Even with out Fabregas out there, Wenger’s men seem to be playing the type of football he wants and continue to be the most entertaining EPL team to watch.

In what will probably be Fabregas’s last season at the Emirates, a title challenge would be a joy to watch. The return of Theo Walcott and, eventually, Samir Nasri will make their attacking options almost alarmingly broad and exciting. Also, it’s only a matter of time before Jack Wilshire goes all Federico Macheda on us and instantly endears himself to the Gunner faithful.

After paying vague attention to the first half of the Derby della Madonnina (Inter v AC Milan) but not being at all surprised by the 4-0 final, I took off till this morning’s Everton v Wigan matchup on FSC which was followed by my first chance to catch Juventus this season.

It was good to see Everton get some deserved points this season against a Wigan side that seemed more interested in fouls than anything else (defending, attacking, maintaining possession). I am in favor of defensive soccer but when it takes on the form of constant fouling is when it becomes anti-football. Wigan paid dearly when a well called penalty was won by Jo in the 93′ and finished by Leighton Baines. Gotta shout out Timmy Howard as well, who came up with a massive kick save early in injury time to keep the game 1-1.

Juve/Roma
The final game of the weekend turned out to be the best one. Juve’s highly anticipated summer signing, the Brazilian Diego, formerly of Werder Bremen, scored his first 2 goals of the season. Both were very well created by himself, finished superbly and showed first hand why the Torino squad wasted no time in signing him after last season. He provides the creativity, playmaking, and finishing that they were missing last season.

Felipe Melo also impressed in his defensive midfield role along with the central defensive pairing of a seemingly reinvigorated Fabio Cannavaro and a much improvied Giorgio Chiellini. No doubt they are both benefiting from Ciro Ferrara’s installment at the helm last June.

Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta are playing with a lot of energy up front and are probably inspired by the lack of any sort of structure in the Italian National Team’s forward situation and the subsequent opportunity to win a spot with the Azzuri for next summer’s African trip.

Real Madrid Fire Sale
In an attempt to make some money before the transfer period closes, Real Madrid’s sold multiple players at a loss late last week, both who impressed immediately.

Real sold Wesley Sneijder to Inter Milan late last week for 12 Million Euros less than they bought him for only 2 years prior. He was immediately given the no. 10 shirt and slotted into the starting lineup for this weekend’s Derby. Seijder is what Mourinho was looking for this summer and should be what Inter needed to move beyond Italian dominance and make a European run. If he stays healthy, his creativity and strength in the attacking midfield role will be appreciated by the new strike force; Diego Milito and Eto’o.

Real also went and sold Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich late last week for 2 Million Euros less than they paid for him. The addition of Robben probably gives Bayern the most explosive attacking winger pair in all of Europe and it paid more immediate returns than Seijder, as the half-time substitute scored twice en route to a 3-0 victory. Both have had a history of injury issues but as their “understanding” contributed to both those goals, this signing is huge for a Bayern team who has had trouble finding their way lately.

A dissapointing Bundesliga finish last year and a Barcelona smoking could have resulted in more summer movement but they seem to have faith in their youth products (not always a bad thing). They started roughly this season as well and had trouble finding the net with Ribery not taking part till this weekend. I hope this convinces him to stay in Munich rather than join the Whites in Madrid, because this should make Munich as difficult to defend as anyone in Germany and possibly Europe (and extremely fun to watch…www.goltv.tv).
American – VIDEOS!!!

Can’t forget…the Americans.

Jozy Altidore’s first Hull City goal in the Carling Cup midweek clash against Southend United:

Charlie Davies draws the penalty which results in the only goal of Sochaux’s 1-0 win against Monaco on Saturday:

If you want the full rundown, the “official USMNT blog” has a good one.

Cup of the World Video Special
Someone’s excellent compilation of the top 50 WC goals of all time video as well…courtesy of Sacha Klejstan’s Twitter page:

Interesting choice for number 1 but I guess this compilator values the team work of the Brazilians over the individual brilliance of Maradona.

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For the few of you out there who read this on any sort of a regular basis…I apologize but the kind of work they pay me for has been taking priority. A few noteworthy soccer events involving American’s happened this weekend and I had to share.

First and foremost…congrats to Jozy Altidore on making his EPL debut for Hull City and, impressively, contributing directly to the winner. Here’s the video w/his debut at 3:15:
It’s a great, creative thought/ball from Jozy to set up the winning goal, a side of his game which is there but which Jozy can only benefit from improving further; the thought is only half the battle, the skill to execute is just as vital and more impressive.
Check out 4:50 for a near miss from Altidore as well and 5:55 for another great chance.
A great debut, all the credit in the world to Jozy and most importantly congratulations.
Looking forward to the Aston Villa v Liverpool game this afternoon on ESPN2 in the states, 3PM EST. Liverpool has had two very different showings so far while Villa lost to an impressive Wigan side to start this season after an impressive 08/09 campaign. Anfield will be a tough place for them to get points but they have the offensive firepower to find the net once or twice. Word is that Yossi Benayoun is relishing his starting role and the energy he brings for 90′ is unrivaled, ‘Pool is at their best with him on the field.

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