First weekends are tough to predict. If this were a 38 part trilogy, this installment would be called A New Hope. Every team has a shot. Everybody is tied for first. Although, everybody is tied for last. Given a little luck in the opening match, the faith and hope of the underdogs are buoyed enough to carry them to a result in the first match. Then they dream of going to Europe, only to have reality crash down upon them the next weekend.
Once the luster of the new season is off, we can expect more predictable results. As it is, look for the new Derby County to make its mark in this weekend only to epically fail afterwards.
As always, here the weekend's scores ahead of schedule. Go ahead and lay some coin down on them. We'll let you know next week how we did.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
First weekends are tough to predict. If this were a 38 part trilogy, this installment would be called A New Hope. Every team has a shot. Everybody is tied for first. Although, everybody is tied for last. Given a little luck in the opening match, the faith and hope of the underdogs are buoyed enough to carry them to a result in the first match. Then they dream of going to Europe, only to have reality crash down upon them the next weekend.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Read more on "Friday Backpasses: 8 hours to go"...
Well, we did it. It took some scrambling, but we finished. Take a look at all of our EPL previews here.
Then, take a look at another site's previews of the Big Four [Hugging Harold Reynolds]
How the English view American EPL fans [The Beautiful Game]
It was just a rumor this morning, but apparently MLS has accepted Rangers' bid for Maurice Edu [Soccer by Ives]
Rafa picks him from where he left--bitching about ownership [Sports Illsutrated]
Zenit cut price for a cup-tied Arshavin [Soccernet]
Newspaper indignant that workers doing minimum-wage jobs at big clubs recieve minimum-wage for their services [Daily Star]
Chinese embarrassed by rough play of soccer team at Olympics [The Epoch Times]
SBI confirms what we reported earlier: Bruce Arena to coach Galaxy [SBI]
Posted by Jacob at 11:35 PM
"West Bromwich Albion Football Club (also known as West Brom, The Baggies, Albion, The Albion, The Throstles or WBA) are an English professional football club based in West Bromwich, West Midlands. The club was formed in 1878 by workers from Salter's Spring Works in West Bromwich, and have played their home games at The Hawthorns since 1900."
Oh, Wikipedia, you magical source of information. The only thing worth noting about WBA is that they open their return to the Premiership tomorrow morning (7:45AM EST) against my beloved Gunners.
Alright, there may be a little more.
West Brom's manager has been Tony Mowbray since 2006, and in that time he is 48-22-27 in leading the club back to the Premiership. Knowing that stiffer competition was ahead, chairman Jeremy Pearce let loose the purse-strings (relatively) for the summer transfer season and got rid of some dead weight.
Out are: Luke Steele (to Barnsley); Zoltan Gera (to Fulham; didn't he used to play for COBRA?); Martin Albrechtsen (to Derby); Curtis Davies (to Aston Villa); and Kevin Phillips (to Birmingham).
In are: Roman Bednar (Heart of Midlothian); Michal Danek (Viktoria Plzen); Kim Do-Heon (Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma); Luke Moore (Aston Villa); Gianni Zuiverloon (Heerenveen); Graham Dorrans (Livingston); Marek Cech (FC Porto); Scott Carson (Liverpool); Abdoulaye Meite (Bolton).
Basically, they got rid of a bunch of guys that no one has heard of, and picked up a bunch of guys that no one has heard of pluse Moore, Carson and Meite. To make things even more confusing, they sport a defender named Paul Robinson and a defender named Pele.
New transfers Moore (thigh injury) and Zuiverloon (Dutch Olympic squad) are not available to Mowbray for the next few weeks. In addition, starting midfielder Robert Koren is recovering from a knee injury, as is starting defender Neil Clement. For the foreseeable future, Meite will replace Clement and Kim will start for Koren. What this means is that West Brom will be forced to field a team that is barely starting to come together as they push to stay up.
Unfortunately for the Baggies, they start off their season with matches @Arsenal, home against Everton, @Bolton, home against West Ham United, home against Aston Villa, and @Middlesbrough. Thus, in all likelihood they are looking at a record of 1-5 starting off October with their 1 win coming at the Reebok. In the end, however, most people are convinced that Hull and Stoke are going back down, so all West Brom has to do is outlast one other team. Call it 16th place by the skin of their teeth, and a second straight season in the Premiership for 2009/2010.
Well kids, that wraps up our EPL team previews (barely finished in time!). Enjoy all the matches this weekend, and may your favorite club win. Unless you support WBA. Then you can fuck off.
Read more on "EPL Previews: West Bromwich Albion"...
With the departures of Keller, Bocanegra, and McBride, Craven Cottage will be decidedly less xenophobic this season.
On the upside, fewer Americans might also mean less of a struggle to avoid the drop.
Last season the Cottagers won four of their last five to keep their Premiership afloat. And even then it was just barely as they survived on goal difference alone. But Keller was the keeper during that run, and McBride also returned to the line-up shortly before then, giving the team an emotional (and scoring) lift. So the Americans had a strong hand in keeping Mohamed Al-Fayed's club in the top tier.
See, we don't hate all brown people.
Anyway, Roy Hodgson has made some decent off season moves. Andy Johnson isn't one of them.
Bringing Mark Schwartzer over from Boro and Fredrik Stoor in from Rosenborg should help shore up the defense. Remember, Fulham lost three of their first four by a score of 2-1. In all three of those instances they either held a lead at some point (Ha, ha, Lehmann) or were level at the 75th minute or later. They then drew their next four fixtures after holding late leads in two of them.
In other words, if they hadn't sucked late early, they wouldn't have been worrying so late. The upgrades in back should help them defend leads, assuming of course they get some.
To that end Bobby Zamora is a serviceable striker who should give the Cottagers a little scoring boost. Also allowing Clint Dempsey to play a more comfortable midfield position should help the same. Hell, just having Jimmy Bullard healthy for a full season will be beneficial. Plus, even with the lower Yank quotient, Fulham maintains a soft spot in my heart simply for fielding a player who could be Bob Pollard's body double (and he plays like a guy with bulldog skin).
The Cottagers also benefit by the widening gulf between the Premiership in the Championship. Hull and Stoke are almost locks to finish 19th and 20th. That means that Fulham (and everyone else for that matter) just have to be better than one more team.
And in a league with Stupid Fucking Bolton, that shouldn't be too tough.
You can't talk about Sunderland without talking about Blighted English Shipping Towns, Sex Parties, and yes, Roy Keane. Whenever they think they are going to turn the corner, there is someone there to kick them in the knees. Just a few days ago, a Tory-friendly think-tank ravages the northern cities like Sunderland and urging people to give up and move. In a quote from the report, they state:
"Sunderland demonstrates just how hard it is to regenerate such a city. It is time to stop pretending there is a bright future for Sunderland and ask ourselves instead what we need to do to offer people in Sunderland better prospects."
They have a point: stop pretending there is a bright future for Sunderland and ask ourselves why don't they move it along?
We strive to be positive here, so I'll be positive about Sunderland - their biggest fan website is named after a wonder John Coltrane Song that always moves me in a positive way. We can only hope it moves the Sunderland fans positively.
Sunderland is a team that will live and die by its coach. But when the coach overshadows their best players, this is a sign that it will be a team dragged through the season performing up to their level of mediocrity. They lost 21 matches last year, only registering six draws. Yet, they managed to hang on and avoided relegation. Now they feel flush with success.
They picked up Steed Malbranque and El-Hadji Diouf in the transfer market. This will help them hold onto the ball as they seemed to suffer from that fact last year. They picked up three of the four players from Tottenham that Keane wanted.
Chopra is sitting out a suspension for three games, and Kenwyne Jones and his hobbling knee was recently worked on, and the club is hanging its hopes on the idea that he can start practicing in October, and not Christmas as first thought. Jones is a leader on the pitch, and held up the line. This will leave a void for Coach Roy to scramble to fill. Keiran Richardson has come over from Man. U. and, if he can stay healthy, he will have something to prove.
No One Wants To Play Here
Keane spent 40 Million Pounds in the transfer market last summer, and the news was the WaGs were not happy with the shopping up there. Meanwhile, they managed to save themselves from relegation. He's spending all of his time trying to put a good face on the town. They need someone in the midfield to replace Jonny Evans, who couldn't wait to split town. They still need a striker.
Sunderland's idea of tactical planning is 'surprising' Liverpool and jumping ahead early. This will be somewhat of a challenge, as they conceded the first goal in 24 matches last year. They started fast last year, before shooting their collective wad early, and dropping off the map. Maybe someone should tell Keane the season is much longer than 8 matches.
Many hope this will be the year that they end up getting relegated. I for one, don't see that happening. They will end up in the middle of the pack, muddling along. Which may be the best this once-busy blue collar town can hope for.
Ah Roberto Baggio...A great player, but remembered most for his blown penalty at the 1994 World Cup.
Now where is Carlos Valderama when You need him? When my kid throws up on the floor or when the windscreen on the Dickus family wagon needs a wash? General household work? I think he has missed out on a wonderful makerting opportunity. The 'Valderama!' "One swoosh in the loo, and your toilets like new!"
Ruud Gullit...The departing Galaxy manager used to look like this....
TK: This haircut is for the man that wants to mop up the opposition.
For anyone not from the southern hemmisphere... DAG means shite hanging from sheep's bum. (Tyson is from New Zealand..You know, Flight of the Conchords, the Haka, Rugby, racing and beer, I think that's it?-They are easily amused!).
Beckham has had more hair styles than the cast of Grease...This one was obviously inspired by DeNiro's character in Taxi Driver. Beckham is more 'tickle' than 'Bickle' however!
Ahh German tough guy Christian Ziege...Travis Bickle again..."Ar zu torking tu me"!
Now, He has just been fired by the L.A Galaxy and he reckons the M.L.S is as good as the Premier League (One good reason why he got fired!). Yep it's Alexi Lalas. The hairy U.S international used to rock the Jesus look.
Finally lets look at the mop at the top. The hair that inspired this piece. Newcastles Argie defender Fabriccio Coluccini. Wigs are sure to appear at St james park immediatley. Those Geordies are extremely un-imaginative and very predictable .
TK: This is the Michaelangelo's David look... comes with small package.
Thanks to Tyson for joining me wade through a mind blowing collection of the bristly, the brushy, the wooley, The fuzzy and of course the daggy!
Find Tyson at Cutler, here.
Bigus is taking a break next week. I haven't won anything, but I am off to Disney. You know you'll miss me!
-Bigus.Read more on "Hair Today!"...
Harry Redknapp is rightly celebrated in the south of England. After saving Portsmouth from relegation, he put the pieces together for an impressive campaign last year. Top half of the League. A spot in the UEFA Cup. And an FA Cup that, while perhaps tarnished by a fortunate run of matches (though they did take down United in the quarters), still stands as the first FA Cup won in 13 years by a club other than the Big Four of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
‘Arry. The Pompey faithful. Fratton Park . A squad built on steel, muscle, and experience. Playing in a crusty old ground that vibrates every weekend. Managed by a self-promoting but exceedingly personable character who may still be underrated. If there is a side that better personifies the battling nature that should define the middle of the Premiership table, I haven’t found them. Pompey give the Tottenhams’ of the world the shits one would normally get from bad lasagna.
After the jump, I’ll preview YOUR 2009-09 Portsmouth Blue Army…
Harry overpaid for Peter Crouch . 11m pounds. Really? For a guy who couldn’t really get a run at Liverpool and who specializes in terrorizing Macedonia? But the bean pole has underrated ball skills and, after all, just…scores…goals. He returns to Portsmouth to pair Wee Speed Demon Jermaine Defoe in certainly one of the most mouth-watering strike forces in the League. Pompey will score. And we’ll finally see what a full season brings out of Crouch.
David James. It’s almost hard to remember his moniker “Calamity.” Is he the best keeper in the Prem? His gaffes are more rare, and there are few better pure shot-blockers. I’d say fully 17 clubs in the league would take him in a heartbeat.
The Portsmouth back came together impressively last year. Former Hammer and Chelsea bust Glen Johnson has become perhaps England’s best right back. On the left, Herman Hreidarsson…ok, I don’t know a fucking thing about him. But the pairing of Sylvain Distin and slowing-but-proud Sol Campbell are about as stout as any center-half pair this side of United, Chelsea and Liverpool. And ‘Arry brought in Spurs’ reject Younes Kaboul to deputize the back. This is exactly the kind of move that works out for ‘Arry more often than not.
In the middle, former Chelsea and Arsenal man Lassana Diarra proved the big clubs wrong with a special season in a reserved role. And you may have seen Croatian Niko Kranjcar providing service to his mates in the Euro this summer (the link was from an, umm, prior match). The man can play.
In fact, Portsmouth’s one true weakness to this observer is on the wing. ‘Arry lost underrated Sulley Muntari to Mourinho’s Inter (of course, ‘Arry doubled his money on the sale). This will hurt. But where are the wings? You’ve got Peter Crouch’s head up there! Who’s going to ping them off that towering noggin? Width is Portsmouth’s one true question.
My Chelsea get Pompey this weekend. I’m not sweating the match too much, but it will be fun to open the season against this lot. If you’re looking for a club in the Premiership to follow, you could do much worse. Prediction? They’ll be, to my mind, right in the mix for 5th through 7th with Villa and Spurs (I’ve dropped City and Everton from this frame). Villa has to wonder about Gareth Barry’s attitude. Spurs have to knit a whole new squad. Harry is smiling like a Cheshire Cat. Call it 6th.
I’ll leave you with Pompey’s famous song. The Pompey Chimes. Sing it with me to the Westminster Chimes.
Play up Pompey, Pompey play up!
Read more on "EPL Preview: Portsmouth"...
Tomorrow marks the beginning of our 9 month footie wonderland known as the EPL season. Opening day is like Christmas morning for all involved. Everybody has dreams of grandeur, expecting every item on your Christmas wish-list to be crossed-off by Santa Claus. Unfortunately, as in life, the EPL season doesn't grant all wishes and the Grinch (Sir Alex, Arsene Wenger, Scolari, Rafa, O'neil, whomever you like) sometimes kicks your teeth in and ruins the day for you.
That said, today is Christmas Eve and my wish list (read predictions) is below. It is based in some actual analysis and much hopefulness. Feel free to add your Christmas Eve Wish List in the comments.
My far fetched dreams are at the top of the table, much of the rest is how I think it will play out, although I hope Bolton goes down and Fulham stays up. If pressed, I would say the top 3 will play out in this order Chelsea, Man U, Liverthird.
3. Manchester United
6. Aston Villa
8. Man City
11. West Ham
17. West Brom
20. Stoke City
Anyone clicking over from Deadspin on noticing that half The Closer post never made it up can find the rest of it (with a paragraph overlap to get you started) after the jump. I'll leave it up until things get fixed on Gawker servers.
Go back to Deadspin. Post is all better.
Read more on "EPL Previews: Manchester United"...
Well, I've put it off long enough. It's unlikely I can tell you anything new about the team that seemed to feature in almost every offseason story anyway. Just to recap: won the Champions League; won the EPL; fought with Cristiano Ronaldo over his future; kept blabbing to the press how they wanted Berbatov; lost Quieroz to Portugal job; Rooney got married, went to Africa where Rooney caught a virus, Rooney may not play, Rooney available for opening day; Ferguson played his mind games with anyone and everyone, sometimes successfully, sometimes not; Fergie makes bid for Thierry Henry. You can bet that even as the offseason closes, more drama will be found emanating from Old Trafford. It's just what they do.
Of course, it helps that they do it all so well. Since United won the FA Cup under Ferguson in 1990, they have been, undoubtedly, the force of the English game. 10 Premier League titles, five FA Cup triumphs, two league cups, eight Community Shields, two Champions League titles, one Cup Winner's Cup win, one Super Cup win, and one Intercontinental Cup title. Throw out the one-off titles (Community Shield, Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup), and, in 18 years, Manchester United have won 20 major trophies. No wonder so many people hate them.
I know I do. By rights, Manchester United should be my English team. Ferguson guided my favorite club, Aberdeen, to unprecedented heights while manager in the north. Manchester United has always been seen as a welcoming home for Scots playing in England. So why do I hate the team and that son-of-a-bitch manager so much? Because they have been so successful at the us-against-the-world, scorched-earth approach that Ferguson plies so very well.
It is what will propel them into the top spot again this year. It is what will take them to at least the semi-finals of the Champions League. It is what will make them a force in the FA Cup, provided they get out of the early, play-your-reserves, rounds. It is what will propel them to a home lashing of Arsenal in the league. What makes them unlikeable, to me at least, makes them winners.
On paper (thanks LB, for putting this phrase into my head today), this team is not much different from last year's edition. The most painful loss to the team will be selling Chris Eagles to Burnley. As you are wracking your brain trying to figure out when Eagles last scored in a competitive match, I'll just opine that his loss will not hurt the club that much.
The club didn't bring in anyone of note, either. Or, instead of "either", maybe I should say, "yet". United have been disrupting other teams by tracking various forwards, but have not made (I'm guessing) actual, serious bids on anyone. As long as Cristiano Ronaldo comes back healthy, it won't really matter.
Good ol' C.Ron. How boring this offseason would have been without him. First he blew it in the Euros, then had surgery, tried to leave United, compared himself to a slave, blew off Nereida Gallardo after one last paparazzi-filled vacation, and blew off the girl from The Hills while bedding countless other women in LA in between tanning. Then, he decided he would stay at United after all, if only for one more year (of his five year contract). It would be annoying if he wasn't so damn good at putting the ball in the net (which is annoying in its own way).
I guess all this blather has been to say that United's season this year will look a lot like United's season last year. Mid-80s on points, 70+ goals. Tevez and Rooney effectively, and ugly-ly, running things up top. Ronaldo dancing all over the place. Scholes to defensively lock down midfield. Rio policing the back line, and van der Sar making the occasional save when necessary. If they get lucky, they may even break their own record for fewest goals allowed in a season.
The season starts tomorrow, so this is your last chance to get in on the second UF fantasy footie group with Yahoo! Sign up here. There is an unofficial UF fantasy footie league through the EPL game...details can be found here.
The new group is called "Club and Country Disputes"
Group ID#: (14726)
You better hurry up, the season starts on Saturday.
Why do I loathe Stupid Fucking Bolton so much? Maybe it’s because they aren’t bad in the way that say Birmingham or Reading were last year, lacking in talent but scrappy and kind of endearing. No, Bolton are just plain crap, built around all of those leftover Sam Allardyce tactics, grinding out nil-nil draws, gaining against-the-run-of-play goals and hanging onto the English Premier League (suck it Barclays) by their fingernails. That lovely eleven-men-behind-the-ball, push the opposition around and punt it up the field in the hopes of a poached goal. In other words, utter and total crap!
If there were any justice in this world, Stupid Fucking Bolton would have been relegated last year, and they ought to be relegated this year. But unfortunately there’s a decent chance that -- yet again -- there will happen to be three teams that are even more incompetent. So, Stupid Fucking Bolton will likely be rewarded for their crap tactics, and will keep going on year after year, like the plague, or Survivor.
Join me after the jump for more spleen-emptying...
How else can you react to a team that last year sold it’s best player and only real scoring threat, even if he has a penchant for that stupid bird celebration, and then fielded a weakened squad in the UEFA Cup against Sporting Lisbon so they could instead concentrate on barely surviving the Premier League? In other words, a team that sacrificed the opportunity to earn a rare trophy for piddling league mediocrity? A team that fired that Fat Walrus and still stinks? A team that will be relying on new boy Johan Elmander, who will simultaneously have to adjust to the English game and thus has a good chance to be a bust? A team that unloaded El Hadji Diouf, who is loathsome but at least gave the team some sort of identity? Actually, unloading El Hadji Diouf was a positive move, but trust me, it’s still crap somehow. It just has to be.
Don’t believe me, just look at the hostility displayed in the comments on the Guardian’s preview page.
Next season will be the 70th season that Stupid Fucking Bolton will be in the English top flight without winning the title (going out a limb and predicting that it won’t happen next season). They haven’t won a major trophy since the FA Cup in 1958. (I know, I know... thanks Wikipedia!) And yet Stupid Fucking Bolton are supposed to be one of the Big Clubs in England, a team that managed to twice qualify for the UEFA Cup in the past few years. A team that has a nice new stadium, even if it is fairly tiny, and even worse is in Bolton, not exactly populous and not exactly posh.
So where was I? Ah yes.... Truly, if any team deserves the drop, it’s Stupid Fucking Bolton. Give me that truly scrappy team up from the Championship instead, a Wigan or even a Sunderland or Stoke, happy to be there and willing to go for it, you know, positively.
Just not Stupid Fucking Bolton. I don’t care about a well-organized defense. I want to see abysmal failure from the start of the season, Megson fired in December, locker room fights, catastrophic injuries, blown opportunities to win games down the stretch, pestilence, locusts, first born sons, the works! Just not another season of Stupid Fucking Bolton in the Premier League. Is that too much to ask?
Read more on "EPL Previews: Liverpool, aka "Limperpool FC""...
You didn't think some non-Scouse was going to write this, did you?
The Liverpool saga this summer has been like every other tidbit of drama I've endured at Anfield since Rafa and the Yanks began their fraught courtship. A protracted mess of he-said, she-said wrangling that always ends up public, and yet it seems like they fight about something new every week. First it was the need for transfer funds, then it was the Klinsmann debacle, then it was funds again, then it was Rafa's job security, then chairman Rick Parry's job security, and now, funds for Gareth Barry.
It is the definition of "soap opera" through and through: a diverse cast of characters constantly bickering and who never retain any knowledge from week-to-week, so much so that you think you're forever watching the same bloody episode.
Sadly, the product on the pitch is just as much a part of the same soap. Flashes of brilliance and melodrama punctuated by long periods of sitting around and waiting for something to happen. My beloved club are in grave danger of becoming the ultimate paper team: one that matches up well with their opponents in theory, yet routinely underwhelms on the pitch.
It's a tough pill to swallow, and every summer, when we bring in one or two big-name players, my excitement levels rises, the teamsheets look formidable, and then, as we witnessed on Wednesday, it doesn't rise to the occasion.
Looking at this year's squad brings the same salivation. Robbie Keane, although a little pricey at 19 million pounds, brings a verve and inventiveness that Torres will surely benefit from up front. Too often, the Spanish whiz was left to his own devices up front, and while he created and scored a lot of goals, having a good wingman can only be a good thing. Right?
Should the pair find their psychic connection, they'll score a lot of goals, and on paper, they're the best strike pairing in the country. (Lest I forget the exciting intangible that is David N'Gog, a young Frenchman who managed to rebuff the charm and smile of Mr. Wenger)
The midfield is unchanged, as the courtship of Aston Villa's prized midfielder has amounted to nothing but tension and bruised pride. Xabi Alonso was shopped everywhere from Wenger's treehouse to the exotic gates of Juventus, and nothing happened there. Mascherano's been enjoying himself at the Olympics (I hear the refs are a little off?), and Gerrard, besides building his new gymnasium, has struggled with a couple of groin strains. I am not concerned, although I might need words with his WAG should the nagging injury persist much longer.
Babel, Benayoun, Lucas and Damien Plessis serve as willing, largely-inexperienced understudies, although in this day and age, the concept of depth is so coveted that I'm glad to have the quality we do.
Contrast this with Arsenal, who essentially become a JV team beyond their best 15 players.
The biggest shifts have come at the back, with a whole slew of new, unknown faces and names: Andrea Dossena joins from Udinese, and if his first match is any evidence, I'm scared shitless to have him patrolling left-back in Aurelio's absense. Riise is gone, although Hyppia is still lingering should Carragher, Agger or Skrtel need a breather. Arbeloa, another concern at right-back, will share some time with Finnan and the free Swiss transfer Phillipp Degen, a guy I've barely seen in LFC Red yet.
Itandje has been mercifully shipped off, and Diego Cavalieri will provide Pepe with a rest every month or so.
On paper (fuck, there I go again), it's a servicable squad, one that's undergone a few major changes from last season, and one that should score goals. By pre-season standards, the results of these tinkerings and experiments were far from promising, and we're lucky to be level on aggregate with Standard Liege heading into the 2nd leg of the CL qualifying round. (The joke is that if we struggled with Standard Liege, imagine how badly we'd fare against Exceptional Liege, or Amazing Liege, or Premium Liege.)
Although it's not good to handicap the team just one match into the competitive fixture list, I see the same tired hang-dog limp that's plagued us in previous Augusts and that's put us out of the EPL title race by Christmas.
Of course, I drink the Kool Aid willingly, and there's still a dim flicker of hope that I'll wake up tomorrow and Gareth Barry will be a Red. His cup-tied status should lower the price a bit, and given the prevailing joke that Hicks and Gillett have to root under couch cushions these days to come up with transfer fees means that we might still have a chance.
I'm not amused at our desperate haggling over a million pounds and the relative worth of Steve Finnan, but hey, if this were a soap, we're just playing the part of the idiot uncle from out-of-town for a while.
I am thirsty for the season, and ravenous at the prospect of my wonderful paper team. We look good in print, but we also have a tendency to fold like a sheet of A4 on occasions when strength is needed most.
This all adds up to more of the same, in my eyes. I will go above and beyond in saying that I think we can push for third, but it'll take a miracle (and the sudden ability to beat the Wigans and Boltons instead of dropping points) to get us much beyond that.
Third place, and a deep CL run for the lads. I think we have a cup in us, so I'll plump for the FA Cup.
Reading back on that, I'm reminded as to why I love this game so much. All the negatives in the world can't stop me from reaching for the stars, or at least the stars that I think Liverpool are vaguely capable of.
In the end, with no EPL games complete yet, my predictions look wild, absurd, and ultimately, really good on paper.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Well, I thought someone was going to write this up today, but sometimes real life money-making jobs get in the way. Anyway, Steven Gerrard has royally pissed off his neighbors by building a huge gym in his backyard. There are pics here and here [Yahoo!]
In Europe, Villa won, and Citeh lost, as did Queen of the South [Eurosport]
USA Women take on Canada overnight. Even if the result is the same as the men's, I don't think we'll have the same on-site hand-wringing [NBC Olympics]
Other stuff on down
Landycakes wants to test the waters in Europe again. Must really enjoy the coming back afterwards [Goal.com]
Barca may want Berbs [The Press Association]
NBC is calling the Olympics from Studio 8H, home of SNL. Article includes some 'Celo bitching. "As a former player, . . ." [NY Times]
Just found out some super-secret wonderfulness (for us).
It's tomorrow now. That's right. Our own Precious Roy is the new Deadspin Closer on all things soccer. Except he uses "futbol".
Read more on "EPL Previews: Manchester City"...
We could spend all day discussing the off-pitch shenanigans of the club from Manchester. No, the other one - the one that 87.4% of the world doesn't hate. The one owned by the dictator, dammit! Yes, we all know about Thaksin and his crazy ways, and about the misadventures of Micah Richards.
On the pitch, however, Manchester City had a semi-respectable season, finishing in 9th place on 55 points, with a record of 15-10-13 and a goal differential of -8 (45 goals for, 53 goals against). They also managed to fire manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, who nonetheless took the team on an Asian tour in May, and hired Mark Hughes. What else has been going on at City of Manchester Stadium, as Citeh look to make a push for continued European competition in the coming season?
The Blues made relatively few changes of note during the summer transfer season. The biggest signing was Mark Hughes' first, when he poached João Alves de Assis Silva (please, call him Jô) from CSKA Moscow for an undisclosed amount. City also picked up little-used Tal Ben Haim from Chelsea. Jihai Sun is off to Sheffield United, Andreas Isaksson to PSV Eindhoven, Geovanni to Hull City (hello, November 16th!), and Georgios Samaras to Celtic, while Paul Dickov and Emile Mpenza were unceremoniously released.
Jô, who scored 44 goals in 77 games for CSKA, immediately becomes the biggest threat up top, running along-side Daniel Sturridge and Felipe Caicdeo (since Darius Vassell and Benjani Mwaruwari are both injured). Ben Haim will look to break into the starting defense next to captain Richard Dunne, the afore-mentioned Micah Richards, and Vedran Corluka. The midfield is fairly straightforward, with Gelson Fernandes, Michael Johnson, Elano Blumer, and Martin Petrov expected to get the majority of the starts. Joe Hart is Hughes' favored goalkeeper, although he will be pushed by the initially-impressive Kasper Schmeichel.
So where do the Blues go from here? Well, they suffered their first-ever European home defeat in today's UEFA Cup match against Danish minnow Midtjylland, losing 1-0 on a goal in the 15th minute. Their preseason matches did not go much better, with ties against Stockport County (2-2) and Celtic (1-1), although they managed to beat an AC Milan side with Gattuso, Zambrotta, Seedorf, and Flamini all in the line-up (1-0 this past Saturday).
Manchester City start out their season with matches @Aston Villa, home against West Ham United, @Sunderland, home against Chelsea, home against Portsmouth, and @Wigan. They could possibly be 3-3 (with losses @Aston Villa, home against Chelsea, and home against Portsmouth), but they are equally likely to be 2-4 (also dropping the home match against West Ham United). Although the back-line of Dunne, Richards, Ben Haim and Corluka looks good on paper, 3/4 of that same defense gave up 53 goals last season, putting them squarely in the middle of the table (Tottenham, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Bolton, Fulham, Reading, Birmingham, and Derby gave up more goals).
If they start 2-4, with 3 home losses and a large number of goals getting past Joe Hart, look for a little panic from Hughes. Missing the firepower of Vassell and Benjani, there will be a lot of pressure on Jô to score goals quickly and often. I don't think it's getting to happen, and getting off to a slow start is destined to sit Manchester City mid-table yet again. Call it 10th place, on 51 points.
Read more on "EPL Previews: Middlesbrough"...
Lovely. When it came to calling the season previews of teams here in UF, I was late to the party. Let's just say, then, that I got a couple of teams that I don't really care for, including one that I know very little about. That little-known--to me--squad would be Middlesbrough. Where do I begin? What is the heart of the squad? Is this a squad that pushes for Europe, or do they survive by the skin of their teeth?
Oh. I guess that answers the question.
Never one to not look a gift horse in the mouth, I'll use the manager as a jumping off point.
Gareth Southgate has no love for redemptive dentistry. He has been in charge of 'Boro since the summer of 2006, when Steve McClaren left to take over the England National team. To date, Middlesbrough have taken 88 points in 76 league matches under Southgate. Not stellar numbers, but enough to see them comfortably out of relegation both seasons.
So, then what about the team? 'Boro made a splash last January signing Alfonso Alves from Heerenveen for $16 million. Problem was, Alves was not healthy. Alves made only nine appearances for the club last season, finding the net six times. If he gets and stays healthy this term, he may be able to erase the idea that some of us here hold that players who score well in the Dutch league can only score in the Dutch league. Which reminds me, I should go pick him up for our fantasy league, just in case.
This offseason, Southgate made a couple of early swoops for new talent. By the first week of July, Southgate had brought in Didier Digard, a midfielder from PSG, and Marvin Emnes, a forward from Sparta Rotterdam. At the time, Southgate declared the Middlesbrough were in the market for even more talent. Too bad for 'Boro fans that this statement was not exactly truthful.
In truth, 'Boro started selling off talent immediately after. Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was the first to leave the team this offseasion, making the switch to Fulham. Hull City signed last season's EPL leader in cards, George Boateng, shortly after. Luke Young went to Aston Villa. Finally, midfield mainstay Lee Cattermole was shuffled off to Wigan.
All three held starting positions at Middlesbrough, and all three probably will at their new clubs. The one that hurts the most to lose is Schwarzer. No one has been brought in to replace the keeper, which means that the starting job will fall to one of two candidates. Brad Jones has 15 top flight starts under his belt in the last five years, and a smattering of other appearances on loan. Ross Turnbull has even less experience, appearing just five times in league for Middlesbrough. However, Turnbull has the closest thing to a full season's experience as a starter, having appeared 29 times for Crewe Alexandra while on loan in '05-'06. If these two start to leak goals at the back, no amount of scoring up top, unless it is really off the charts, will help the club on their push to Europe.
To be fair, if there is a strength to this squad, it is up top. Middlesbrough could conceivably play three up top given their talent. In addition to Alfonso Alves, this team has both the Egyptian Mido, and the Turk Tuncay as legitimate starters at forward. That is, if they stay healthy. Mido had what the club calls "a serious pubic bone injury" last season and capped the year off with hernia surgery. 'Boro fans better hope he's better to start the season, since Mido takes winters off anyway. Sometime scorer Jeremie Aliadiere is also on the bench for 'Boro.
The midfield is mostly anonymous, with Stewart Downing and Julio Arca the only ones bearing any real name recognition. The defense is decent, and should be helped by the soon-to-arrive Justin Hoyte, provided the two sides agree to terms over the next couple of days.
All in all, Middlebrough could be a fun team to watch. Southgate is no tactical genius, and could just be trying to outscore his opponents. Which would be rare. There is no reason to believe this team will be any better that their 13th place finish last season, and could, in fact be worse.
Frustrating a Scot has never been the hardest of things to do. David Moyes? He looks as if he would throw a wobbly at the drop of a hat so it's no surprise that Mr Moyes is throwing his toys around over the breakdown of the proposed loan move for CSKA Moscow's Brazilian forward Vagner Love.
Love was supposed to move to Everton, initially on a loan, with the fee of 2.5 million mentioned. It appears that Love's agents have misled Everton and CSKA have not agreed to the move. Maybe the alarms should have been ringing earlier as it seems like a bit of a bargain to nab a Brazilian international who is only 24 for a 2.5 mil loan fee. That for a player who has found the net 46 times in 93 appearances. Love has also played 21 times for his country bagging 4 goals.
Everton are desperate for a striker after letting Olympic diving champion Andrew Johnson leave for Fulham and with one week left until they start their attack on fourth place, it appears that putting all their eggs in Love's basket was a tad naive!
Being shafted by agents is common place in football these days. Mr ten-percents make their money by stirring the pot, telling lies, leaking get-out clauses to rival teams and doing just about anything they can think of to manufacture a move for their client.
Everton will now likely turn their attention to Alan Smith in order to make him their first signing this off-season.
Staying with Love, apparently he is not shy about sharing his 'Love' with anyone who has the stomach for it. A leaked video featuring Love and Brazilian porn star Pamela Butt has appeared on the web. Love doesn't seem bothered about it...
Love:Four goals in 21 games for Brazil.
'Hey, I'm known for being amorous, let's be honest: this reputation isn't one that unsettles me - Vagner Love.
Butt Love: Sorry!....Vagner and Pam pose for a picture.
I bet that's one video that Moyes avoided when doing his summer signing homework.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: We'll always have 1930"...
Charleston Battery to meet DC United on the US Open Cup final, otherwise known as my dream matchup [American Soccer News]
Kasey Keller to Sounders, promises to try not to die on the pitch [Seattle P-I]
Soccer coach sexually abuses 12 year old. Sadly, not a repeat [Potomac Soccer Wire]
Blackburn open a prayer room at Ewood Park [This is Lancashire]
Mourinho says Arsenal too young to win league. Says nothing of the fact they are also too thin, etc. [Daily Mail]
Come back tomorrow to see why Stevie G's neighbors are pissed at him.
Sometimes, when coming up with shirts for this weekly post, I need a little help. Thankfully, my blog mates are here to get my back. Bigus gets the credit for ferreting out this shirt, presumably from when he wrote up this post on Forfar Athletic's disciplinary issues from last season. It's a beaut, and it's got pinwheels, like some other shirts we have covered before.
Not as bad, I don't think, as the Northern Ireland shirts linked to above, but still pretty ugly. In fact, it doesn't even remind me of pinwheels as much as it reminds me of the design on those oversized truck toolboxes people have down here in the South. Regerdless, it's not a good look for a shirt.
There's really not too much to say about the shirt otherwise. It's a poor design, and the patches on the sleeves don't help at all. In an effort to lengthen the post a little, and to give you something to look at, I present the following. For a mere $3 million or so, you can buy a modern castle on the outskirts of Forfar. If someone felt like donating that to my family and I, we would not say no. Possibly a nice Christmas gift. Just saying.
Last Sunday's Charity Shield between Portsmouth and Manchester United saw the start of a new FA initiative in England called "Respect the Ref!" The initiative is designed to help all those busybody, math teacher types that like to exert their authority on the field behind the pub on a Sunday morning. OK, maybe I need to read about the FA's new program myself!
Apparently out-of-shape hoofers in Huddersfield, hammer-toed Henry wannabes and Rochdale's population of rotund Ronaldos are not being very nice to the officials!
According to the FA, showing a yellow card should not warrant a punch in the face or a mouthful from some gobby chav who thinks he is the next Fernando Torres. Bigus used to aim for the realistic, imagining he was Peter Thorne, what?.. He scores goals! Lot's of em actually, just in League 2!
If you click here I will transport you to the wonderful world of 'respect' (or stay here and I'll tell you about it! Stay, it's more interesting!), where you can discover the following directives...
- Referee recruitment and retention: By tackling abuse towards match officials, we hope to reduce the stream of referees understandably leaving the game.
- Participation within youth football: Abuse and pressure from the sidelines needs to stop if we are to ensure young children enjoy, stay and progress in the game.
- Coaching and player development: An encouraging and player-centred approach is vital if we are to improve coaching standards - particularly for the key 5-11 age-group. It's simple: better coaches produce better players.
- Safeguarding children: Everyone in football has a duty of care towards children - ensuring they are able to play football in a safe, enjoyable environment free of abuse, bullying and discrimination.
Pretty good stuff, but (there is always one!) the FA have brought these directives to the professional game and that's where it's a bit of a joke.
On Sunday the game was stopped by referee Peter Walton and he summoned the captains of each side over for a chin wag. Part of the new initiative. What a waste of time.
Do we really need these stoppages in the game? I understand that Sunday morning Silva is watching and taking his lead from the professionals on the pitch but stopping the game every five minutes because you are called a 'prat' or asked to 'open your eyes' is just nuts.
A bit of banter with the ref is impossible to avoid unless, of course, the FA want to remove the passion from the game entirely. So the captains come over, the ref (Walton pictured right) asks them to talk to their players about their 'attitude' and then the captains do this and then we play football again. Jeesh, It's going to drive you nuts this season. You wait and see!
If the FA wants it's ref's to be treated with respect then maybe they should do likewise and make them professional, allowing them to spend the week getting better at their weekend jobs instead of delivering my mail or arresting Asbo yobs in the town center or running failed companies.
Referees hold the hopes and dreams of football supporters everywhere and constantly make dreadful decisions that ruin long days out up and down the country, not to mention stealing valuable points away! The FA needs to recognize this and make Mr Walton and co turn fully professional; then, just maybe, the decisions on the pitch will improve and Mr Clattenberg, Mr Rennie and Mr Poll will no longer be subject to questioning on the existence of their fathers or directed to the nearest optician every week by players and supporters.
Respect? Pah..Earn it!
Read more on "Respect? Leave it out Ref!"...
Read more on "EPL Previews. To Hull and Back?"...
4/11. That's what the bookies are offering on Hull to be relegated from their first year EVER in top-flight football. Not looking good for the Tigers, is it?
As you can see from the picture, the KC is ready to rock. The newish stadium will be hosting top flight football and Hull's arrival in the Premier League will be announced with a bell!
Can they do it? Survive a year in the best league in the world? Well, Reading did it. Ip...Ip...Ip...Them, they did it. Fulham did it. It's getting harder but not impossible. If any of the three promoted teams have a chance at surviving the coming season, I reckon it's Hull. Now let me tell you why.
The KC... looks Premiership-ready to me!
Hull play football [Ed. Note: hang on, stick with him from here]. They put the ball on the ground and play football. This is the first tick in the "staying up" box. They will try to be competitive.
Stoke will do the opposite. They will try and muscle teams and play long ball, frustrating their opponents and keeping the ball as far away from their talented opponents feet as possible as they urge the ref to blow the whistle. But when Stoke inevitably concede, they will have nothing going forward at all to worry Premiership defenders. Sidibe and Cresswell? Ouch.
Another tick in the box for Hull is the home crowd. Hull could sell out the KC twice this year and the joint will be noisy. Why they didn't show up last year is baffling but there you are, Hull is a rugby town and apparently they only take note of the footy when the big dance comes to town.
Hull is also a trek for many teams and their fans, and any visitors will be greeted by a cauldron of noise. 25,000 fans eager to be the 12th man in their first ever season in the top flight. Home advantage will count for a lot with Hull... obviously not when Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal or United roll into town, but the Tigers will fancy their chances of nabbing some points with the rest.
While Stoke and West Brom have carefully thought about their attempts to stay up and the implications of going down, weighing up the budget and cautiously scouring the wage bill, Hull said f--- it! They got to work early and manager Phil Brown attacked the transfer market like a wild, crazy, early morning, get it first, go for it... beast.
Boateng has plenty of Premiership experience! Hull will need it!
Brown camped outside the shop overnight and was the first to dive into the bargain bin. In came genuine Premiership midfielders Geovanni and Boetang. Geovanni was a bench player for Man City but Hull will be happy with what he will bring and they are not chasing a place in Europe but just a 'place' come May!
They also signed defenders Bernard Mendy from PSG and Anthony Gardner from Spurs. Defence is Hull's strong point; they were already good in this area and conceded just 45 goals from 46 games last year, good for third-best in the Championship! They have strengthened at the back and wont be a push over, however, this is the only area of the pitch that has any depth.
Geovanni: Will he get playing time at Hull that he didn't at Man City?
Hungarian winger Peter Halmosi arrived from Plymouth and striker Craig Fagan was rescued from Derby. Hull are still short in attack but they are still shopping. The latest pair to join the party could be Marlon King and Chelsea bench dweller Claudio Pizarro, who will need to take a drop in wages as he is currently on 3 million a year at Chelsea! (f------ ridiculous!).
If Hull sign these two players they will have enough tools to have a really good go at staying up. Fagan, Folan and Garcia will not trouble many defenses, but realistically Hull ARE going to get a couple of competent strikers. They have not spent much but they would have busted the wage structure with the new signings, for sure.
The quality of Brown's signings so far would suggest Brown knows what he is doing, and he has his eyes on doing enough to keep the Tigers up. I would also expect at least 3 to 4 more players to arrive over the next couple of weeks.
The newbies will join a squad of Championship players, but Reading were no different when they were promoted (Shorey, Kitson and Hunt come to mind) [Ed. Note: Shorey is Villa's problem now, ha]. Some of these Championship players will settle in, step up and look like they belong in the Premier League. Sam Ricketts will certainly be one of these players.
In Boaz Myhill they have an excellent young keeper. Myhill was born in California but chose to play for Wales (His mother is Welsh!). He will need to be at his best if Hull are to avoid the drop. He is one to watch. By the end of this season he will be well-known to most Premiership viewers.
It's going to be tough for Hull and they are going to need to keep Boateng and Geovanni healthy (as they do not have Premiership quality in depth) if they are to survive, but Hull play nice football and by the time they kick off at home to Fulham next week they should have a new attack in place. They are also going to require a massive effort from their inexperienced squad but the first year will be a honeymoon period and Brown should get the drive needed to pick up enough points.
They may not have a long-term Premiership future but the passion and effort to prove themselves in their first year against some of the best teams in the country will spur them on. Bigus is a hopeless romantic when it comes to stories like that of Hull City and I have been wrong before! But I see Hull getting stuck in and upsetting the form book this season. They will surprise a few teams at the KC, pick up some points on the road and beat the drop.