Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saturday Open Thread

It's World Cup qualifying time. I know, it seems like it's too soon. Anyway, pop in and out during the day to weigh in on today's matches.

Schedule highlights (all times EDT; may be wrong)
Andorra-England (2pm)
Cuba-USA (7.10pm)
Macedonia-Scotland (9am)
Wales-Azerbaijan (10am)
Georgia-Ireland (noon)
Austria-France (2.30pm)
Argentina-Paraguay (3pm)
Mexico-Jamaica (6pm)
New Caledonia-New Zealand (2 am) (for Precious Roy)

I hope I can find that Scotland match online myself.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Backpasses: Kevin Keegan Kwotes

Some of Kevin Keegan's finest quotes through the years [The Best Eleven]
The Offside has a new WAGs section. Hopefully it will fill out soon [The Offside]
Podolski wises up, realizes he had it better in Koln [Soccer 365]

Slaven Bilic does not relish rockin' nights out in West Ham [Soccernet]
Argentine club coach would rather pay fines then quit smoking on the sideline [SI]
Scotland to face mid-90s temps in Skopje. Built-in excuse assured [BBC]

And, finally:
Grant Wahl interviews some American lawbreakers in Cuba [Fan Nation]

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Barton out! (For six games)

Joey Barton will miss six matches as punishment for his training ground attack on former teammate Ousmane Dabo. He will be available for return on October 25, against Sunderland. Barton will have to be on his best behavior (HA!) afterward, as he faces another six game ban for future indiscretions.

After the jump, video highlights of some of Barton's best moments

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Cola anyone?

Here at U.F we hate to disappoint and want to give you readers the kind of material you crave. Drunken live blogs, interviews from behind the scenes and wags..lots of wags..But Bigus never thought that he would have a request to roll out a regular round up of the Coca Cola Championship! Does anyone care what happens in that league around these parts except me? Do they? Well Joe does..So Joe..This ones for you!

Disclosure: This Championship round up is brought to you by Norwich City Kool Aid.

Well 4 games have been played in the competitive Championship and the early runners and riders have set out their stall. Many teams have been adding to their squads over the last week or so as the transfer window slammed shut on Monday night and we will look at that a little later.

Wolves, Preston and Birmingham are off to a flyer. In the case of Birmingham it was expected. They have a squad of Premiership players and no less than 6 strikers that fill their Championship opponents with fear at their very mention. Kevin Phillips (top) has already bagged 3 goals and looks like he is in for a 25 goal haul once again. The fact that my beloved Norwich outplayed Birmingham last Saturday is extremely encouraging. We really should have taken our first 3 points of the season. The football was the best seen at Carrow Road in many years. The new defence has been excellent, Kennedy and Stefanovic (left) look comfortable together and the team of mostly new players appears to have gelled. Norwich also added the missing piece of the puzzle on Monday as Antoine Sibierski arrived from Wigan. We have been in desperate need of a target man to hold the ball and involve our midfield around the box. We haven't had a decent holding forward since Iwan Roberts. Although the football is nice, there are only so many times you can play a speedy forward in behind you opponent before they wise up to your one dimensional attack. Sibierski has the quality and credentials to be a big hit at this level and hopefully we can now start to create a few more clear cut chances and take them. City have looked an much improved side in all 4 of their opening games this season despite 1 defeat and 3 draws. Once we start taking the chances and the forwards gain confidence someone is in for a hiding!

Wolves have started brightly and have benefited from their own target man in the form of Iwelumo. The former Charlton striker has 3 goals already and has helped provide 3 for his team mate Michael Kightly. Wolves are the pre-Theo Epstein Red Sox..Always the bridesmaid. Every year their team looks a bit tasty but they finish outside of the playoffs or fail during them. I reckon this year will be no different and they will drop off the current form sooner rather than later.

Last years surprise package Bristol City have also started well, much to my surprise. Two wins and two draws has them sitting 4th. The impressive 3 nil victory at Coventry has put them on the radar and they should not be taken for granted.

At the other end Palace have had a stinker of a start to the season. Losing to Reading and failing to beat Burnley at home has left the Eagles on just two points.

As for the rest of the league? It's just too early to judge. Teams are settling in new players and finding their feet.

The transfer window shut on Monday, lets take a quick look at the late incoming Championship players who will make their debuts on Saturday week.
Bristol City picked up where they left off last season (right).

Notable Ins: The unattached Man City failure Emile Mpenza signed with Plymouth. They also took Paul Gallacher on loan from Blackburn. Alan Lee movd from Ip..Ip..them to Palace. That lot 'up the road' replaced Lee with John Stead on loan from Sheffield United. Alan Gow moved to Blackpool from Rangers. Burnley signed Steven Thompson from Cardiff. Steven Eliot went from Wolves to Preston and Jason Shackell moved from Norwich to Wolves.

As for my lot Norwich? They signed promising Middlesbrough full back Jonathon Grounds (why we need a third left back is beyond me!) and Antoine Sibierski (Get in Roeder)!

The current Championship table looks like this.

I will start a weekly round up of results the week commencing 15th after the next round of Colaship games.
Hows that Joe?


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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: Bigus thinks it's shite

Delia Smith, Norwich's celebrity chef-owner considering selling her club [Telegraph]
Everton tell us the obvious; they are not rich enough to compete in EPL [BBC]
Aberdeen striker likes to drive 50 over the speed limit at all times [BBC]
Referee recently suspended in Czech Republic for poor performance to helm Scotland-Macedonia World Cup qualifying match [Times Online]

And, finally:
Some insight on Mike Ashely's next choice for manager [Federation Soccer]

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Manchester? No..Wait... What?

Robinho may have signed as number '10' but he doesn't appear to know where...

During his first interview after a record breaking 32 million quid transfer from Real Madrid, the temperamental Brazilian looked back at the deadline day craziness that brought him to Man City and stated that it was "a great proposal" that led him to join "Chelsea!"

A Freudian slip?

So just why did Robinho join Manchester City instead of Chelsea? Could it be that City's new owners, the consortium known as Abu Dhabi United, offered him 160,000 pounds a week? Yep you read that right.

I'll repeat it for effect in a different currency... 300,000 US dollars a week. Hot diggity dog! That's a nice payday. In fact that makes him the TOP earner in the Premier League.

So was the mention of Chelsea just a slip or did he really want to join the Blues?

He says that he really did, but...because "it was the only club to have made a formal offer". Robinho's mother, Marina De-Souza, thinks that her son was genuinely confused as to his destination on Monday night...

"I don't think that Robinho even knew what was happening but if it's best for him, then so be it - I just hope he is happy in England."-

I guess money talks and Robinho walks. As for Chelsea, it appears that the Robinho shirt fiasco WAS a key issue in Real's determination to deal with City instead of them. Robinho himself noted its importance today as he arrived in Brazil to train ahead of this weekends World Cup qualifiers with Chile and Bolivia:
"Real did not like Chelsea shirts with my name on being sold before sorting out the negotiations."

Ironically Chelsea fans will get a glimpse at what they might be missing as Robinho is set to make his Premiership debut for Man City against Roman's Blues on Sept 13th.

During today's press call with Brazil, Robinho also addressed the criticism he has received from legend Pele over leaving Real Madrid, apparently, for "financial reasons". Robinho responded: "I think that only someone who suffered as I suffered in Real Madrid may have something to say on this."

If being used as a make-weight in a deal that would see you sent to Old Trafford (Robinho was offered as part of a deal to send Ronaldo to Madrid) to earn a fortune as a Manchester United player is suffering, then I would love to hear his definition of joy.

This is "suffering"... this too!

OK, so Man City fans have ordered their new shirts and Robinho has opened his NatWest account ..I'll sign off for today with a look at what the City of Manchester can expect to see from Robinho over the coming months...



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The Koog is dead...Long live the Koog..Well he is not dead...But he's gone..Finally!

Earlier this year Kelvin Koogan* breezed back into football after years of being forgotten and Geordies declared the second coming of the Messiah...He has breezed out just as fast.

That's right Ladies and Gentlemen, Kevin Keegan is no longer at the helm of Newcastle United. Crisis talks this week have ended with The Koogster resigning. Keegan was having issues with the Newcastle board, the main problem appears to be that he was not in charge of the transfer comings and goings. It is said that Keegan was furious that James Milner was sold to Villa last week and that the move was not his doing. Of course, he rushed to say it was and painted a rosy picture of a content Koog in full control.

Keegan has been having talks with the board since Tuesday. Newcastle stated that they had NOT fired the Koogster and wanted him to stay in charge but this afternoon King Kev conceded that he could find no common ground with owner Mike Ashley and his board...

"I've been working desperately hard to find a way forward with the directors, but sadly that has not proved possible...It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want." - Kevin Keegan.

What is concerning here is this new found affinity some owners have with the actual acquisitions of players via a third party, a 'sporting director' if you will. Levy at Spurs has Commoli, Chelsea had Grant before he took the hot seat at Stamford Bridge and just yesterday West Ham boss Alan Curbishley quit for having his players sold behind his back. Newcastle adopted the 'sporting director' in the form of Dennis Wise. The former midfield terrier was installed behind the scenes shortly after the Koogster was appointed manager for the second time. This move was a mighty kick in the nuts to Keegan but he smiled and told the world he was looking forward to having his players picked for him..I mean he was looking forward to working with Wise.

Having a 'sporting director' is a very continental trend that just won't work in British football. Earlier this week I wrote of a similar situation at Rangers where Walter Smith discovered his striker had been sold while watching the TV. Jol did not like it at Spurs either...Bye Martin. Jose did not like it at Chelsea..Bye Bye Roman and now Keegan has been victim to the 'sporting director' curse up in the north east. This system is popular at Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Espanyol and a host of foreign clubs but English football is very hands on and traditional. The manager is the top dog. The one who commands respect. He buys the players and he sells them. He disciplines and he above anyone else picks the team on a Saturday.

Keegan was re-installed after new owner Mike Ashley fired Sam Allardyce after a run of terrible results. Koog was immediately hailed as the savior of the 'toon' and welcomed back with open arms. But this summers lack of spending and the influence of Wise and Ashley in the transfer market has taken its toll on the 57 year old. Recently he seemed to be disillusioned with some of the decisions that have been above his pay-scale. Winger James Milner was sold to Villa and players were signed (as recent as Monday ) seemingly without Koogans approval. The Koogster also received flack for sticking with jailed bad boy Joey Barton.

Koogan will be sorely missed in football. I will personally miss those super post match interviews where he looks bemused in the face of defeat before declaring that Newcastle are better than that and will bounce back and show the world how good they are. Of course we all know that never happens Koogans elevated optimism was one only he believed in. I will fondly remember Koogans penchant for a silly quote...

"In some ways cramp is worse than having a broken leg"...
"They are the second best team in the world and there is no higher praise than that"...
"He's using his strength and that's his strength, his strength"...
"Maine road was a great football stadium, but as time moved on it stayed where it is"...
"The Germans only have one player under 22 and he is 23"...
"There will be no siesta's in Madrid tonight"...
"The tide is very much in our court now".. and who could forget "England have the best fans in the world and Scotland's are second to none!"

Before the second coming Keegan seemed happy outside of football even stating that he did not watch any games ... but the temptation to return to Newcastle was too great. After this failed spell however I honestly believe that this is the last time you will see Kelvin Koogan wearing a tracksuit alongside a professional football pitch. So take a good long look, remember the crazy quotes and wave goodbye...King Kev has left the building.


*U.F newbies note: Around these parts we referred to Keegan as Kelvin Koogan...Who knows why!

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UF makes it to 1000 -- UPDATED WITH MORE

Bloody hell, we made it. We have more posts than God. UF turns 1000 with this one, and it's been a lot of fun. Still a long way to go, but we've clearly found some good, fertile ground on which to settle and spew venom about the beautiful game. I couldn't be happier, well, I could be if perhaps Beckham was dropped from the England set-up.

But I digress, this isn't about him, or any of the ridiculous stories we've covered since December (man, some real history, I know). It's about the birth and progression of a decent little community where we can indulge our soccer fanaticism. Without you all, we'd be nothing. Thanks for your support, readership, comments and quips, and keep 'em coming.

So join us after the jump for some wonderful, self-congratulatory back-patting, courtesy of the UF staff.

Bigus Dickus:
There comes a time in a football bloggers life when irrelevent stats and midly important milestones become overwhelming. This is the moment you realize that you are no longer cool but just another less-sanitized but coherent (maybe) version of Tommy Smythe.

That doesn't apply to UF'ers... of course I was talking about all of those other football blogs, the boring, safe, sucky ones that make you cringe at their willing acceptance to squeeze out 500 words of utter shite about the importance of the womens game or Landon Donovan's value to U. S soccer (none at all in case you were wondering).

All at UF should be proud of reaching 1000 posts of intelligent and clever musings, drunken live blog extravaganzas, incredible interviews and exclusive features about players mullets. Here's to another 1000 posts of superior orbicular observations.
The NY Kid:
As a small boy playing footy on the pitches of NY, I often dreamt of becoming a World Cup participant. As a somewhat larger lad playing footy in high school in NY (against a lad who would eventually play in Serie B), I often dreamt of...well, dating older women. As an aging man playing footy on the pitch in Michigan, I often dreamt of...well, dating younger women.

Beginning UF with these geniuses here (and allowing a few other stragglers to jump onboard) has allowed me to achieve...well, none of those goals, actually. But I did manage to interview an Olympic athlete and several notable footy writers, including some ESPN personalities. No, wait, that wasn't me that conducted those interviews - I'm still holding out for Titi. What exactly do I do around here?

Congratulations are warranted for all of my fellow UFers - the first 1000 posts have been filled with wit, charm, vitriol, and anti-Landycakes musings. All of that has succeeded in making this little endeavour the perfect place to call home. Stay tuned for the next 1000 posts, and beyond - it will be well worth it.
Soc-cer? No, we call it "football."
Precious Roy:
I never thought I'd see the day where I was part of a blog that made it to the 1000 post mark. That's because for the bulk of my life I had fucking clue what a blog was. Actually for the bulk of my life blogs didn't even exist. Anyway, now that it's happened, it really is as underwhelming as you can imagine. Maybe even less so, or more so. I'm not sure.

But we're glad your jobs are so miserably tedious that you use us as a diversion. If you promise not to give up the tedium and pursue a more rewarding career path, well promise to keep posting. Maybe we'll even try to do it just a little better.
Moonshine Mike:
It seems like only yesterday when a drunken scouser was chatting me up, and my first impression was that he was attempting to latch onto my whiskey collection. But the idea was long overdue, and obvious when it was mentioned. It works because there is a collection of brains with different ideas, opinions, directions. We entertain ourselves as well as our readers, and for one that's been the lagniappe for me.

In the following nine months, I've banged brains with some engaging minds with a common passion for a wonderful game. My hope is we end the day learning something new, even if it's Robinho forgets who he signed for, or that the editor has a problem with long bus rides.
There comes a time in a man's life where he is forced to leave the comforts of home and strike out for himself in the world. To grow up into a mature, upstanding member of society. 1,000 posts into this blog, and I'm sure some of you readers are concerned that we are too mainstream (actual interviews with actual ESPN writers!), too stale (really? another post on Liverpool?), or just faking it (did you even watch the game you are talking about?).

Well I want you all to rest assured that our juvenile humor isn't going anywhere. Together, we can march forward into a glorious future of soccer coach sex scandals, WAG sex scandals, and gaffer sex scandals.
The Fan's Attic:
1,000 blog posts? Man...that's a lot of billable hours.
The Likely Lad:
Well whoop-de-damn-do! A thousand blog posts in 9 1/2 months. The Tudor wives were more fertile than this place. Deadspin had 1,000 posts last Wednesday-- even if 963 of them were about beer bongs and Matt Leinart.

No surprise though, considering the makeup of UF's 73-strong stable of staff bloggers; a bunch of thieving Scousers who spend their nights pawing through the trash for lean cuisine left-overs; a couple-dozen Scummers who spend more time fighting over which of David Hirshey's nuts to suckle at than what to write about (hint: "we" don't shoot enough, "we" need cesc, "we're" so broke, yet so brilliant, etc.); the English Dracula, daydreaming of his castle gimp; some Italian dude who writes once a month about math and other stuff that confuses our dumbass readers; and The Likely Lad -- the idiot Tottenham fan, getting mollywhopped by a windmill every weekend.

Thank the Hebrew God for Joep Smeets. Unprofessional, indeed.
Late to the party, as usual.

It had been a long time since I had stopped going through the comments on Deadspin. They just weren't good anymore. Everyone was trying to one-up each other with jokes, instead of providing depth for the story. I have no idea why I wandered into this one. Perhaps it was the high of Arsenal beating Chelsea that day. Anyway, I perused the comments, and there was an idiot who put his email address in there announcing that he had a pyramid scheme that I might have interest in as a soccer fan. I replied to him with a nothing message, something like, "I'm not ready to buy just yet, but give me information anyway", and I got sucked in.

That's where it started for me. Lots of posts about bad uniforms, Gretna and the general idiocy of football's life off the pitch later, and here we are. 1000 posts deep. Good on all of us I say. Now let's get back to the dick jokes.
I'm the new guy. Ever since joining this here shindig, I've been trying to keep my head down and not anger the scousers and gooners who run this damned joint. Likely helps me with this. Bigus keeps it real and makes sure that we have the latest on all things Canary. Lingering got us started.

While I don't know if 1000 posts is a lot or not, I do know that it's crazy that folks out there actually read our rantings. And I do know that Lingering is a great chap and good mate and we all owe this whole party to him. Cheers, ya scurrilous thieving drunken scouse layabout! As to the rest of ya, can we all agree that City is ruining football with all their money? Scandalous!

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Gone Baby Gone

When I began to write this on Tuesday morning, just hours after Dimitar Berbatov was unshackled and unveiled as the newest slave on Colonel Ferguson's Old Trafford Plantation, the plan was to slice up the sulky Bulgarian and feed his limbs to the woodchipper. I was insane, combing the Yellow Pages for a Zoroastrian (preferably named "Vilma") to ritualistically shave my testicles.

But with time and the first few chapters of "The Joke" now having stewed around my head a bit, the gauntlet has been retrieved. The daggers, sheathed. I'm still going to have to buy a new Spurs shirt. Please, Dimi, $70 payable to The Likely Lad. The rage though, has passed. Berbatov was never staying at White Hart Lane. To have sold him at such an inflated rate-- and to bring in Young Campbell too-- is victory, however Pyhrric, for the club and its fans.

As first noted by PavlyuBent (nee BerbaKeane, nee BerbaBent), the credit in the outcome of this miserable, prolonged drama, goes largely to Those Batshit Arabs (TBA) who purchased Manchester City. Daniel Levy had no choice but to sell Berbatov by the transfer deadline and everyone knew it. By Monday morning, as Colonel Ferguson rose from his alcoholic stupor, there was no chance a club bidding against itself was going to pay Spurs' asking price. But in came TBA, always there to bail us silly Jews out of our silly Jewish messes, and their Citeh caper. Fourty-eight hours later Berbatov is, for no less than 30.75m, property of the second largest club in Manchester.

I'm a Spurs supporter. My heart is full and my life is one piece. There is joy (little "j") and pain and they can co-exist. But there are no tears. Not for this guy. Losing players is a part of this sport more so than any other. Football, as much as I love it, is still new to me. That, along with so many years of rooting for shitty-but-rich New York teams (Mets, Jets, Rangers), has made the process-- and the process is as bad if not worse than the fact-- of losing such a talented player that much more galling.

Berbatov signed from Leverkusen in the summer of 2006 with average expectations. But he was magic from the start. For six brilliant months it was flick-ons, dummies, step-overs and goals. Loads of goals, even if the highlight reel shows a lot of Middlesbrough and Slavia Prague.

The crack-up, the kind "you don't feel until it's too late to do anything about," came in the Spring of '07. Just one season at the Lane (and as noted, just six months before the chatter began) and it was clear that this was not a long term arrangement. In that regard, Monday's move was an anti-climax. This deal was done more than a year ago.

Football is fleeting, and especially so for the footballers. Berbatov is 27 years old. Health-permitting he has three or four more years to pad his fag fund. Staying at Tottenham, he would never have entered the Nou Camp as anything better than a paying customer. Ambition is not Dimitar Berbatov's sin.

It was his behavior, on-field and off, in concert with the agent Dantchev-- whom I imagine to look like Borat's producer-- that makes Berbatov such a disdainful character. Barry Bonds never played for the Mets, so I don't know how a Giants fan rationalized rooting for him. But it couldn't have come from a much different place than allowed me to pull on a Berbatov shirt every weekend. His sulky gait, the rolling of the eyes, the pleading arms-- it wore on for so long that now, a couple days after his departure, the only emotion is relief.

The team may hurt for goals this season, but come success or failure, there'll be nothing owed, no moral promissory note on my fandom. The Spurs players now at Tottenham are there because they believe in the manager, their system, and better-than-average Premier League wages. No illusions here about how fragile that peace may be, but for today at least, I can like my football team again.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wednesday Backpasses: Thank you Joe Public

Alan Curbishley screws my gentleman's pre-season bet that Koogs would be the first EPL manager to go [BBC]
Hey Dallas, no women's soccer team for you [USA Today]
Mafia may have been behind Napoli's rioting. I had no idea Jay Mohr was so disliked [Soccernet]

Cuba-USA will be an interesting game this weekend [Soccernet]
Not a good day to be Stewart Downing's former agent [BBC]

And, finally:
10,000:1 odds on Barack Obama getting the newly vacant West Ham post. Channel your inner Kevin Malone on this one [Comcast]

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Eh what the heck: US Open Cup FINAL liveblog

Yep, I'm shamefully late to the party, but let's do this thing anyways, shall we? I have my choppy, pirated internet feed and lousy laptop speakers. Nothing can go wrong!

DC United: Crayton / Martinez, McTavish, Namoff, Burch / Quaranta, Vide, Simms, Guerrero / Moreno, Emilio

Charleston: Hudock / Akwari, Nylen, Reda, Alonso / Williams, Armstrong, Fuller, Alvanja, Wilson / Patterson

Note: I have barely any idea who any of these people are. This should be good.

I've also already missed two goals. This couldn't be going any better.

20 mins: Alvanja just hits the post for CB after a neat counter. Ball slipped down the left flank, he finds himself all alone from a tight angle, and his cross-goal shot whizzes past Crayton from a narrow angle and hits the far post. DC look a little shaky... the MLS sides can't afford any more embarrassments after the CONCACAF debacles of a couple of nights ago.

24 mins: DC let CB pass the ball around neatly in their third of the pitch, and Alvanja cuts inside looking for a shot, but it's blocked.

26 mins: A lot more possession for Charleston, as least as long as I've been watching. Can someone tell me if DC United is putting out a reasonably full-strength XI for this one? I recognize their strikers, but precious little else.

28 mins: Still, plenty of time on the ball for Charleston. Both sides are scrapping for control of the midfield, and DC's long balls forward down the flanks are pretty easy defending. I didn't realize Emilio's already been subbed out, and DC are looking for width. The midfield is rather crowded.

This Alvanja guy looks good. When will he end up playing for Moenchengladbach?

32 mins: Nervy times for DC as Patterson gets free down the left wing. He gets in behind the defender but there's no-one in the box for him to cross to, and his ball in ends up going to no-one in particular.

The timing on this is good. The game will wrap-up in enough time for me to prepare dinner and drinks before the Sarah Palin speech. You know that's gonna be fun.

Nylan gets a yellow for Charleston for a rather innocuous push-off on a goal kick. Nylan puts in a shove, gets a yellow card. One wonders just how muddy John Terry's disciplinary record would be if his aerial shoving received equally-harsh judgment. First yellow of the game, and Charleston push forward again.

35 mins: Martinez gets robbed in possession on the right side, and the only possible retort from Martinez is to scythe down Patterson as he begins a counter-attack. Another lad in the book as Martinez takes the yellow card for his sins. Nice free-kick for Charleston in a dangerous position; 30-odd yards out, just to the left of goal... Alonso to take...

... and nothing. He whips it in but not very menacing as it never dipped back down. Goal kick to DC.

37 mins: Shit, route 1 (well, Route 1b) almost pays off for DC. Moreno finds himself onside after a neat ball forward, and he gets a nice one-on-one with Hudock. Instead of putting it square, he takes the low shot himself and Hudock makes a neat, sharp save low to his left. No-one snares the rebound, and the Battery breathe easy.

39 mins: Sign from the Barra Brava: Thank you, Joe Public. Seriously. Thank you for exposing the rather wafer-thin line between quality and misery that is the MLS. (sorry, a bit harsh perhaps).

So I'm informed that this is close to a full-strength DC United side? They look quite awful so far, and now they burn another substitute as Fred comes on to replace Joe Vide. The commentator notes that Vide wasn't entirely fit before the match, so it makes their decision to start him look even more brilliant. 40 minutes in, two subs already. They'd better hope this doesn't go to ET else they might need oxygen.

42 mins: Moreno finds Burch wide on the left, but his cross back to the edge of the box finds no black shirts. Charleston break sharply with Alonso, and Quaranta brings him down cynically from behind to slow their roll.

Rather uninspired football from DC thus far. I want to see another Joe Public-esque result from this one. Alvanja and Alonso are doing well to dictate the midfield, and all DC seem to do is foul.

45 mins: Ah nuts, DC come close. Great run by Fred gets clear of the center-halves, but his scuffed shot flies wide of the right post. A flash of inspiration in an otherwise muted performance.

Fred gets free on the left but his cross is awful. He'd do well for Liverpool with drifting, aimless centers like that.

Quaranta gets a free, wide-open header around the penalty spot after a good ball in from Guerrero on the left, but he puts it well wide. The ref's seen enough, and so have I. Aside from the early shock of DC's 5th minute goal, Charleston look rather comfy.

They call it the Dewars Trophy? I could do with one of those right now, although I'd fill it with Bushmills because I have absolutely no class.

The most alarming trend on FSC and Setanta is their commercials. If they're not shilling space and time for Wallbangers, it's male enhancement remedies. Is the demographic really that tragic? Surely not.

Oh wait, hair replacement too, and a mildly racist ad for worldwide phone rates.

Sigh, I hate Max Bretos.

Enough greasy close-ups of this sad pair. Let's see Charleston get it done in the 2nd half already. I do like FSC's snappy graphics when showing 1st half statistics.

Perhaps the Revolution could use a ShamWow right about now... someone should send one to the northeast and hope it helps clean up that mess. Seriously, lame jokes aside... last night was fucking abysmal.

And now zit cream ads! Damn... I do not like this portrait of the average American soccer fan that FSC's advertising placement dept is painting.

And the ball is kicked out of bounces immediately from the kick-off. Brilliant stuff. Simms is going into the book for DC as he poleaxes Alonso in the aerial challenge. A nice snappy start for both sides. Looked rather innocuous to me... 50/50 ball, Alonso leaps for it and Simms comes in shoulder-first but wins the ball. This referee is touchy with his notebook... Alonso gets the magic spray and does the "walk slowly off the pitch with the trainer and then immediately come back on" routine.

Damn you, illegal feed! You keep getting choppy!

50 mins: DC content to knock it around their back four.

GTFO... a nice bit of Route 1 there from DC! Long pass from Simms, who shoots it through. Quaranta dummies it and Fred keeps running, somehow remaining onside (you expect him to get the timing wrong). Hudock cuts the angle down but Fred slots it home near-post. DC United 2, Charleston 1

53 mins: Quaranta takes a free-kick squarely to the groin. Hilarious! DC getting a lot more confidence from the goal, and Fred is just rampaging on the right wing. Will anyone stop him? More importantly, will the right-back on the other side stop playing him onside?

55 mins: Charleston push forward, but Patterson is offside as the cross comes in. Promising from the Battery. I just pray this game doesn't just grind into a sketchy, defensive halt from DC united. Do they practice catenaccio in Maryland?

Sorry, I keep spelling it Alvanja when it's Alavanja. Yep, that's the most exciting thing going on right now, especially while I'm waiting for my illicit feed to buffer.

DC do look a lot better so far. They're testing Charleston's rather inept offside trap and thanks to Fred, you get the impression any Colaship-esque long ball could become goal #3.

Be back in a minute. I'm sure I won't miss much. Insightful comment alert: Fred is fast!

59 mins: Alonso gets a good sharp shot from the top of the box but Crayton smothers it comfortably. Where's this equalizer coming from?

62 mins: This Charleston offside trap is awful! Another DC lad in the book, this time it's goalscorer Fred. I didn't see what he did because my feed froze and had to buffer. I'm assuming it was a lazy tackle trying to slow a Battery counter-attack. Am I right?

Bretos opines that Charleston are playing a 3-3-4. I counter-opine by saying that I think Bretos is an idiot.

64 mins: Burch hoofs a neat through-ball aimed for Williams high into the stands. All this desperate attacking from the Battery is giving DC space up top, and Dichenko (sp?) gets a bit of space at the edge of the box. Of course, he dawdles on the ball too long and the attack is over.

I like this midfield tandem of Alonso and Alavanja. They're showing more skill than the rest of 'em out there.

66 mins: Now it's DC United's turn to look slow and lumbering at the back. Burch muscles Patterson off a quick pass right through the middle and Crayton comes out to collect.

Please, someone put a meaningful attack together.

68 mins: Quaranta gets the ball in tons of space at the top of the box and blasts it high over the bar. He'd do well at Stoke with potshots like that.

70 mins: Crikey. Martinez gets the ball in acres of space inside the box, with a clear shot on goal, but inexplicably, he tries to pass it in and his pass gets lofted away easily. A criminal waste, that.

The entire Charleston bench is warming up. The players on the pitch are cooling down. It's a criminal imbalance of player/performance temperature.

Charleston struggle to get the ball forward as their 3-3-4 formation is not working! Long ball forward amounts to nothing. 18 minutes left, and Battery make their first change: Williams off, Spicer on. This should change things immensely [I have no idea if I'm correct on this].

73 mins: Lots of walking now from both teams. DC are slowly tightening their grip on the match, creating far more chances, but they're not exactly being emphatic in killing the tie. With Alonso and Alavanja, I still fancy an equalizer.

75 mins: Charleston break down the right as Nylan feeds Spicer for his first touch, and he wins a corner. COME ON BATTERY. Their 6th corner to DC's 1. Lots of pushing in the the box and the ref tries to restore order.

Whipped in low and easily cleared. DC break with Moreno one-on-one with the last defender, but he doesn't have the pace to burn past and take the shot. Still, DC threaten.

78 mins: Oh, Charleston my Charleston. To equalize, you need to advance beyond the half-way line! This is bread-and-butter sleepwalking by DC, looking to grind the last 10 minutes into a brainless dirge. They're passing it around neatly but without menace, and I could opt for an Arsenal comparison there, but I shall politely refrain.

Long, aimless ball forward is gathered comfortably by Crayton. This kind of Colaship effort will not an equalizer make.

Substitute time for DC! Wake me! Dyachenko off, Marcelo Gallardo on. Charleston pull off Fuller... I didn't see who replaced him. I don't think it really matters.

81 mins A half-cross, half-shot from the left finds Hudock's hands easily. Oh, Aaron King replaced Fuller. And the final sub for Charleston... David Kenga on, Stephen Armstrong off. Will they slot seamlessly into the 3-3-4? Are they playing 2-2-6 now? I have no clue. DC are stroking it around calmly as the clock ticks down.

84 mins: Lots of ping-pong from both teams. Charleston look in vain to get it forward and control it, but their passing is sloppy. Then, they chase DC around for a few minutes until they inevitably cough up possession back to their underdog opponents.

I just lost my feed again. Curse the heavens! I blame Max Bretos.

86 mins: Ah crap, nice move by the Battery. Alonso's mazy run gives Spicer some room on the right, and his cross finds Alonso on the edge of the 6-yard box but his header flashes over the bar. More of that, please.

Alonso then tumbles Gallardo down in his own half as DC dilly-dally in possession.

Kenga and King have tons of energy to run, but they're not exactly getting good service. DC break with Fred down the right, and he's clearly in no hurry to bring it forward. Alonso nicks possession in midfield but his long ball (yawn) amounts to nothing.

88 mins: Wilson is all too casual moving forward with the ball and Fred steals with ease. Little time left for Charleston, and their continual long ball strategy is rather ineffectual. My feed is buffering again, and it surely looks like DC's taking home the whisky.

90 mins: Alonso is working so hard to get the ball in midfield, but then he gives it away so easily. Sad, this. Charleston had the run of the first half but they're just not clinical enough in the final third. Spicer brings it forward on the right, but Alavanja gives it away in the middle and now they're on their heels again.

3 minutes of stoppage time. They're gonna need some Liverpool-esque luck here. They are retaining possession around the box but can't make the final pass.

DC with another sub: Cordeiro on for Moreno. This final 90 seconds will be choked down now, surely.

90 mins + 2:30: You're kidding me. Offside on that? Where? A jumble of a mess in the middle of the box gives Reda a chance, and the ball ends up in the net... however, the linesman gives it offside. An absolute pants call.

And the ref's done. He's earned his paycheck, and DC United take home a trophy they don't deserve. With their full-strength XI, one has to compare them to Spurs. They obviously had their entire season set on securing the Dewars Trophy. Bully to them, and bully to all of us for sitting through it.

FINAL SCORE: DC United 2 (Emilio 5", Fred 50"), Charleston Battery 1 (Fuller 10")

Fred played well and definitely changed the dynamic of the match. Still, I'm unfulfilled. Perhaps the wonderful, shimmering rhetoric of Sarah "Super Gov" Palin will help me salvage some semblance of entertainment from this evening.

Thanks for reading along. Beer is calling. I suggest you all load up and do the same.

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Brothas, Arabs, and Mancunians... Can't We All Just Get Along?

Well, while the soccer world is still trying to unpack the short and long term impact of Abu Dhabi United Group's purchase of Man City, we might have lost sight of the other side of the coin.

The Emirates wealth is almost entirely based on oil. For every $1 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil, the Emirates makes an additional $500 million per day. Don't ask me to source that as I'm going from memory of something I came across last night and can't find again. So, even if it's not numerically accurate the casual chain remains: the price of oil goes up -> Man City buys another world class player.

And who is footing the bill? This is the other side of the coin I alluded to above.

It ain't P. Diddy. Not no more it ain't. The rap mogul has given up flying his private jet, which he had been relying on for his coast-to-coast jaunts as he bootstarps his fledgling acting career, because of the rising costs of jet fuel. The trips are costing the rapper "like $200,000, $250,00 round trip."

Can you believe this, I'm actually flying commercial! Gas prices are too motherfuckin' high. I want to give a shout-out to all my Saudi Arabian brothers and sisters and all my brothers and sisters from all the countries that have oil. If y'all could please send me some oil for my jet, I would truly appreciate it.

Damn straight. but you'd think someone smart enough to amass about $400 million in personal wealth might be smart enough to figure out that the wiser move might be to give up acting.

The quote was originally pulled from a youtube vid but is making the rounds in MSM print (my youtubing skills are currently at a 'tard' level, so if someone else can dig them up...). Apropos nothing, I feel I should add that when I first typed the html for the above, I originally spelled out "blackquote" instead of "blockquote." P. Diddy is black. And Black as Man City is now loaded.

Anyway, Citeh might start flashing ridiculous cash, but you ain't playin' Diddy for no sucka.

Yeah, I can't even type ethnic. Sorry.

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Special thanks to kopper for sending some ideas over. This is one of them. Blame him.

VFL Bochum is a mid-level Bundesliga squad. Sometimes, when you are the Bolton of your country, you have to try some things out. For Bolton, it is wearing a top that looks like a training bra combo. For Bochum, it's a rainbow.

I'll just go ahead and get the "not that there's anything wrong with that" moment out of the way. This shirt should have had a different sponsor. No, not NAMBLA. PFLAG. And they should have made the (already an upside down triangle, more or less) badge pink. Then, if they moved the badge to the sleeve, I could sing Weezer songs to myself. Hey, you know, Loaded used to do a page called "Gay or German". With this shirt, you can't tell.

Digression over.

What the hell were these Germans thinking? It's not like this came from the dank, dark '80s. This was from last year. Who was the mad genius that said to the board:

Hey. I know. We'll copy those awesome Kansas City Wiz jerseys from America. The only problem is I don't know whether to copy this one

or this one

Unless. . . yes, that's it. We'll copy both!

And so it was done. The rainbow ended up on both the sleeves and body, but only on half of the shirt, because they didn't want it to be gaudy.

I do hold out a little hope for this shirt. I suspect it may not be official. As close as I can make out, I see no manufacturer logo on it. This may just fall under the umbrella of crazy Italian knock offs that show up at every street vendor, at least in Venice. Otherwise, this may be the worst jersey that saw field time last season, and that includes the long-sleeved version of Spurs 125th anniversary shirt.

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US Open Cup Final preview

This is what people call a good problem. The two teams I support in the US, DC United and Charleston Battery, meet tonight in the US Open Cup final. I should be conflicted, but I'm not. I want the Battery to win. Just call it the American love of the underdog.

Charleston ply their trade in the second division of US soccer. Since there is no hope of promotion for them, ever, this is quite possibly the highest profile game they will ever play. Even bigger than winning the old A-League championship on home soil in 2003 (suck it, Minnesota Thunder). Their chances of pulling it off tonight? A little less than slim, but definitely better than none.

Charleston boast the joint-second top scorer in the tournament so far in Darren Spicer. Spicer's four goals are one behind Frenchie Sebastian Le Toux's tallies for the soon-to-be-repurposed Seattle Sounders. A brace tonight, and the Battery being able to hold either Marc Burch or Luciano Emilio to less than five goals, and Spicer takes the virtual golden boot. I wouldn't count on that happening though, because Spicer's scoring seems to be a cup anomaly. In 23 league matches this season, Spicer has but one goal.

The truth of the matter is that DC United are likely to put all of their eggs in this one-game basket. Their MLS season is not going that well, they blew in the Superliga, and are likely to be embarrassed in the CONCACAF Champions League as well. At least they will do better than the New England Revolution. Really, a 6-1 aggregate loss to Joe Public of T&T? Yuck.

The point stands that DC has worked to get to this point of the competition, routinely putting out top squads, while other MLS teams treated their fans to teams that looked more like reserve members of their youth squads. DC want the trophy, which would be their 12th major trophy in 12 years. There is little reason to think that they will not. All that Charleston has going for them is two wins against MLS competition already, spiced with a semifinal win against a team that looks a lot like that new MLS team in Seattle next year. That's nothing, right?

While I would be very happy to see a repeat of 1999's 4-3 Open Cup win by Charleston, this will probably turn out more like the 4-0 reversal the following season. It is on TV, for those of you with Fox Soccer Channel, at 7:30 EDT tonight. I'm sure there are other ways to see it online as well (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).

Battery website preview
United website preview

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday Backpasses: Who can keep up?

Kevin Keegan may or may not still be manager of Newcastle at this hour. Doesn't bother me either way.

An answer to last night's rhetorical Backpass title question [Off the Post]
Speaking of Chelsea, their star players are not very patriotic [Sky Sports]
Becks has a sex-boosting necklace. A sexlace? [Female First]
One of our favorite (non) felons gets off on a technicality [The Independent]

Roonaldo losing his hair as fast as he's losing his place [Daily Mail]
Mourinho continues to hold grudge against Crespo [Eurosport]
Huh. LA Galaxy make a lot of money off of Becks. With bonus super-tough (for Californians) trivia question [LA Times]

And, finally:
Manchester City's new owners are going to spend their money dammit. Rumored to be placing $270 million bid on Ronaldo in January. Best CM/FM owner ever [Guardian]

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Of Ye Go My Son?

According to the BBC, Rangers manager Walter Smith and his Ibrox assistant Ally McCoist found out that they had lost 'old firm' goal hero Daniel Cousin's to Hull while watching TV last night!

Yesterday Smith told Sky Sports that he had no plans to offload Cousin's stating...

"He's not going anywhere as far as I know, I haven't had any enquiries for any of our players and if he plays the way he played against Celtic then we will obviously be delighted."

Well higher up the Rangers hierarchy they had other ideas. Cousin's moved to Hull for a rumored 3.5 million last night (the fee was undisclosed by Rangers) and he could make his debut for the Tigers away to Newcastle on the 13th.

At most clubs the manager is the one who makes decisions on the comings and goings of players. Smith should be concerned about his future, as a manager who does not control the team will not be managing for long!

After all this is not the Baseball world of 'general managers', this is association football where the gaffer is the gaffer and the ball stops at his feet...Most of the time.


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Hot Rumor: Keegan axed/quit

Honestly, is anyone surprised? The guy will quit over anything, it seems.

Soccernet, Georger's favorite place to get entirely accurate information on anything football related, is reporting that Keegan is definitely gone from Newcastle. Though, at this point, they are updating this same article about every 10 minutes or so, so who know how it will read by the time you click.

My theory? He was up in arms over Ashley illegally drinking a beer at the Emirates this weekend.
Such law-flaunting has never set well with Koogs.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Monday Backpasses: What to do with your new Robinho Chelsea shirt?

Drogba has two.

Robinho goes where the money is--Manchester City [The Canadian Press]
Man City's new owners were busy bees today, at least at floating rumors []
Those new owners don't care much for DIC, and vice versa [Guardian blogs]

Boruc is predictable [Sporting Life]
Purely a personal link: Aberdeen sign Sone Aluko, who impressed on loan last season, from Birmingham City [AFC]

And, finally:
Heurelho Gomes signed for Tottenham back in June. Website puts it up today as breaking news. The comments are pure gold [This is Croydon Today]

image courtesy The Spoiler

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Gabriel Agbonlahor: The Shawn Kemp of the EPL

Gabriel Agbonlahor is not likely to move anywhere in the last few hours of the transfer deadline today, but that doesn't mean that he can't create headlines on such a day. Agbonlahor, who sensationally scored an eight-minute hat trick on the first day of the season this year, apparently has scored a hat trick off of the pitch as well. Though, upon review, two were disallowed(forgive me).

Word has filtered through the always reliable yellow-journalism-fueled British press that Agbonlahor knocked up three women in a short amount of time. Two had abortions, and one came up with the jackpot of giving birth to Gabriel Agbonlahor Jr.

Quick scoring is nothing new to Agbonlahor, according to one of the women who did not give birth to Gabby's love child. Sophie Smith started dating Agbonlahor when he was still in school and in Villa's youth squad. Her description of his love making:

(H)e was pretty average in bed and very selfish as a lover, a real ‘wham bam, thank-you ma’am’ bloke who only knew one position and fell asleep immediately afterwards.

What's wrong with that?

The article has more ins and outs about how the girls found out about each other, who paid for what, as well as steamy Page 3 photos of one of the girls involved. Go look just to see the British press at its finest.

Keith, you may set us straight in the comments.

link fixed, no more Aluko here

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Hey Big Spenders....


Man City appear to have been taken over by a Middle Eastern company called Abu Dhabi United!

The ink is barely dry and City have launched an audacious bid to snatch sulky Bulgarian bench bum Dimitar Berbatov from under the nose of rivals Manchester United. A 30 million quid bid has been made.

How can we all keep up with the roller coaster that is Manchester City these days.
Former Thai President Trashcan Sinatra has managed to negotiate the new position of 'honoree President' at the second club in Manchester. Will this allow him to hunker down at the City of Manchester stadium and avoid jail time in his homeland? Questions, questions, questions!!

Like...Why did Manchester City sell Corluka to Spurs at the crack of dawn this morning if they just hit the jackpot with a budget that makes Chelsea look like paupers!

One thing is for sure it's an exciting time for the blue half of the City. The new owners have declared that City WILL be participating in the Champions League next season. Really? Next year? Well there IS seven and a half hours left to spend, spend, spend before the transfer window slams shut of City's nouveau riche fingers!
Tick, tick, tick...


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Deadline Day Do'ings

Its here.....Transfer deadline day...The madness has begun...Berbatov to Man City?

Remember Hamilton Ricard? Could he and Daniel Cousins join Hull? Jermaine Pennant to Stoke? Carlton Cole to Sunderland? Heskey to Newcastle? Paulo Ferrera to West Ham? Will Real Madrid hot-head Ramon Calderon get over his anger at Chelsea and flog Robinho? As rumors circulate on the comings and goings lets see if anyone of YOU lot have any good rumors on today's do'ings...

Take it away readers...


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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ligue 1 Weekend Review

Matchday 4 saw plenty of scoring in Ligue 1, with only one match ending in a nil-nil tie. Although most of the results were somewhat predictable when looking at the big-name clubs, there were some minor surprises. Join me after the jump as we start with the Caen-PSG tilt and work our way through the weekend.

Saturday, August 30:

Caen 0-1 Paris Saint-Germain - Guillaume (now there's a good french name!) Hoarau scored in the 5th minute of the match as PSG spent the majority of both halves bossing Caen all over the pitch. The assist came from Jerome Rothen, who also forced Caen GK Plante into a beautiful save 10 minutes later. Hoarou should have scored his second goal after some fine play from Sessegnon to Giuly, whose cross to Hoarou resulted in nothing despite the latter sitting only five yards out. Caen forced Landreau into only 2 saves during the entire game. As a bonus for PSG, Claude Makelele picked up his 3rd yellow card in his 3rd straight match in the 75th minute.

Grenoble 1-0 Monaco - Another early goal in this match, as Daniel Moreira scored in the 19th minute to continue Grenoble's early-season success. After seeing forward Jeremy Menez depart to Roma, Monaco looked completely listless in this match, although they almost equalized with little time remaining, forcing Grenoble GK Wimbee to make 2 successive saves. Freddy Adu was brought on at the 82nd minute for Monaco, but didn't have enough time to make any significant impact.

Lorient 0-2 Auxerre - Auxerre got goals in the middle of both halves to secure their first victory in 3 games and make significant process up the Ligue 1 table. However, Lorient looked to be the more dangerous team, putting shots over the bar early in the match and twice hitting the crossbar. In the end, goals from Jelen (34th minute) and Pedretti (73rd minute) were more than enough to gain the 3 points. The match also got quite chippy in the second half, with 5 yellow cards handed out (2 to Lorient, 3 to Auxerre).

Nancy 2-1 Le Havre - A first-half goal by Cedric Faure (22nd minute) gave Le Havre an early lead, which they protected for the majority of the match. However, Nancy dominated the possession and took almost twice as many shots on goal. 2 of those late shots resulted in goals from Brison (71st minute) and Luiz (87th minute) to give Nancy the win.

Nantes 1-4 Le Mans - Nantes manager Michel der Zakarian left the club Tuesday after just 1 point and a -6 goal differential from their first 3 matches, leaving interim manager Christian Lariepe to deal with the streaking Le Mans. Guirane N'Daw gave the beleaugered substitute boss something to cheer about when he put Nantes in front in the 21st minute. The joy was short-lived, as Thorstein Helstad equalized just 2 minutes later. Le Mans went ahead in first-hald injury time when Maiga struck, and the rout was on as Le Mans dominated the second half. 2 more goals came in the form of Coutadeur (84th minute) and Gervinho (90th minute, on a beautiful feed from Le Tallec). In order to continue our preferred theme of goal-scorers receiving cards, Nantes hero N'Daw was booked in the 80th minute.

Nice 2-0 Valenciennes - Despite their opponents played with only 10 men for over an hour, Nice was not able to put the match away until the second half. Valenciennes defender Siaka Tiene was shown a straight red card for a deliberate handball in the box, but they escaped (briefly) as Loic Remy missed the resulting penalty kick, sending it over the crossbar. Valenciennes looked to be the more dangerous side for the remainder of the half, getting off several shots on goal. The second half, however, was a different story as Nice got an early goal from Bamogo in the 52nd minute. Remy locked up the 3 points and made up for his PK miss by slotting home a shot in the 86th minute. This match also featured 5 yellow cards, with 3 to Nice and 2 to Valenciennes.

Marseille 2-1 Sochaux - L'OM got some outstanding play from GK Mandanda and survived an incorrectly-awarded goal to remain at the top of the Ligue 1 table for another week. Marseille dominated the possession and got goals on either side of half-time with a Karim Ziani strike in the 39th minute and a Bakari Kone goal in the 61st minute. Mevlut Erding put the ball in the net for Sochaux in the 73rd minute, and the goal was allowed to stand despite the fact that he was clearly offsides. Sochaux continued to pressure Marseille, forcing Mandanda into brilliant saves in the 84th and 89th minutes, as well as in stoppage time.

Sunday, August 31st:

Toulouse 0-0 Rennes - Despite the nil-nil result, this match was quite exciting for both sides. The stars of the match were clearly GKs Cedric Carrasso (Toulouse) and Nicolas Douchez (Rennes). Although only called upon to make 4 (Carrasso) and 3 (Douchez) saves, those made were of the highest quality. Both sides had quality chances developed through some excellent midfield play, but both went begging, leaving them on 5 points from their first 4 matches.

Lilles 2-1 Bordeaux - Laurent Blanc's Bordeaux side began the match well, with Fernando Cavenaghi striking an incredible ball under the crossbar. However, despite dominanting the time of possession, Bordeaux had fewer shots on goal and fewer spot kicks than Lilles, who eventually capitalized. Only 4 minutes after going down 1-0, Lilles equalized when Bastos struck off the post. The remainder of the match saw good opportunities from both sides, but it was Lilles who struck again in the 75th minute when Obraniak bulged the back of the net with a shot from some distance. The match was also quite chippy, with 3 yellow cards awarded to each club, with one of those given to goal-scorer Obraniak.

Lyon 1-0 St. Etienne - Lyon set the pace early in the match by winning a corner in the 1st minute, and kept up the pressure for the remainder of the first half, as Makoun, Govou and Juninho peppered the goal of St. Etienne GK Viviani. Towards the end of the first half, Karim Benzema began to step up his play and take control on the pitch. This continued into the second half, with Benzema finally breaking through in the 56th minute with a brilliant strike from just outside the box. Over the remaining minutes Lyon continued the attack through Ederson and Toulalan, while Bafetimbi Gomis attempted to get St. Etienne on track, but the match ended 1-0.

So, at the end of Matchday 4, the top of the table looks like this: (1) Olympique de Marseille / Olympique Lyonnais, both at 10 points on a 3-1-0 record and a +6 goal differential; (3) Le Mans, at 9 points on a 3-0-1 record and a +5 goal differential; and (4) Nice, at 9 points on a 3-0-1 record and a +3 goal differential.

Sochaux and Nantes, on 1 point each from 4 matches, look to be in trouble.

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LFC v. Aston Villa

Aye, it's been a while, hasn't it?

Well, after the dismal Chelsea/Spurs match this morning (thank you Spurs for ruining the dreams of bettors nationwide), we find ourselves in the grudge match today. Villa vs. Liverpool. Barry vs. Alonso. O'Neill vs. Benitez. It's gonna be explosive (well, maybe... we thought that about this morning, didn't we?)

So, bit of a liveblog after the jump. I just woke up and I drank my body weight in wine last night, so it might take a while to get going.

Editorial view (from me): COME ON YOU REDS Well, grey today, but that doesn't matter

Aston Villa
01 Friedel
02 Luke Young
05 Laursen
15 Davies
21 Shorey
20 Reo-Coker
19 Petrov
06 Barry
07 Ashley Young
10 Carew
11 Agbonlahor

25 Reina (turned 26 today... I'm older than him... scary)
17 Arbeloa
23 Carragher
37 Skrtel
02 Dossena
18 Kuyt
14 Alonso
20 Mascherano
21 Lucas
07 Keane
Liverpool's Number Nine

6 mins: Cagey start by both sides. The noise is deafening, or is it like that Indianapolis Colts noise? Can't tell yet. Good midfield play by Villa, early corner that came to nothing. Arbeloa on Ashley Young is a potentially frightening match-up.

8 mins: Mascherano reminds us why we've missed him with a clumsy foul on Petrov. Ball swings across to the far post and no-one reaches it, although Curtis Davies was all alone back there.

10 mins: Both sides still trying to assert authority. It's easier going for Villa at the moment, but they're also looking to play the same long ball rubbish that LFC lapse into most of the time. Good turn and burst of pace by Torres, who slips through two defenders and goes wide down the left. His cross is blocked by Reo-Coker for an LFC corner. Alonso takes, it finds the middle of the box but Laursen knocks it clear.

14 mins: Villa break down the middle with Agbonlahor, but the link-up to Carew goes awry and LFC get it away.

15 mins: Keane is definitely drifting wide in the early going, and LFC's passing is rather sloppy. Thought: could it be the fucking kits? They're grey... not difficult to mess that up in the peripheral vision, is it?

Better possession for Liverpool, although the final ball in from the right is easily dealt with. Reo-Coker brings it up, and Villa set up for another attack.

17 mins: Good move from Villa. Long pass to Carew, and he feeds Gabby at the edge of the box. Reina comes out to snuff out the danger. Forgot to mention Skrtel's yellow in the 13th minute for a very clumsy challenge on the half-way line... it's always good to have a central defender playing on a yellow for 75 minutes when you're playing away from home in a difficult fixture against a good side with lots of pace. Yeah, definitely smart from the Slovakian.

Who's the top and who's the bottom?

20 mins: The commentators harp on Keane's misuse thus far, as he's playing out to the left and should be right up with Torres. I can't argue with that. Lucas gets LFC's first shot on goal; shame it was a volley from the edge of the box that ended up in Row ZZ.

22 mins: LFC try breaking down the left, but the pass on was too long and Barry does well to cut it off, keep it in play, and knock it back downfield. At this point, I'd give my right arm for some controlled Liverpool possession.

25 mins: Finally, some good possession (I'll send my arm to Anfield tomorrow), although they never threaten the Villa area and it's hoofed clear. It was nice to see them passing it from right to left though. Reminds me of the glory days... *tear*

26 mins: Oh shit. Torres pulls up a bit sharply chasing a stray pass forward, and Torres comes off. Dammit, dammit, dammit. Rafa now has to change thing significantly, something I'm not entirely sure he's capable of. So who's coming on? El-Zhar, Benayoun, N'gog? PLEASE NOT YOSSI. Last thing we need is another winger who can't play wing.

27 mins: Thank the lord, it's N'gog. Looked lethal in preseason, and he could use some time up-front. Pace! It's what Villa have! This might not be so bad!

28 mins: No, it's not. It's Ryan Babel! Different kind of pace! Still good!

30 mins: LFC playing without a striker as the sub still hasn't come on. Barry plays a good pass into Carew, who leans on Carragher so much that he falls over. Poor Jamie. :( Ref gives a free-kick to the defender, although the amount of shirt-tugging going on could have swung it the other way.

Luke Young crunches Dossena out of play on the left as LFC start attacking. It IS Ngog who comes on, and he slots right up-top. Benitez needs to stop being a wuss and let Keane be a striker.

32 mins: Meanwhile, Man City are up 3-0 at the Stadium of Light thanks to 2 second-half goals from Chelsea cast-off SWP. Roy Keane is about to explode.

33 mins: Reo-Coker enjoys a long run from box-to-box down the right-hand side, taking Dossena and Mascherano on a nice Sunday sprint. Eventually Masch gets back to scythe him down, but the run brings the Villa crowd to their feet. Corner for Villa, although easily cleared.

I'm taking a break to eat a delicious omelette.

40 mins: I almost spill my omelette as a Dossena cross is whipped in from the left, half-cleared by Shorey only to fall to Kuyt on the edge of the box, whose shot bursts the side-netting. Not a bad chance, although Friedel was over to cover the near post. LFC are finally finding some useful possession.

43 mins: AHHHHH close. Good play from LFC, which surprises the shit out of me. Alonso to Keane on the right, and Keane's neat flick-on gives N'gog a chance at the top of the box, one-on-one with Laursen, and his swerving left-footed shot just whizzes over the bar. Excellent chance. Perhaps Keane will finally get to play up-front, as things like this immediately happen when he does.

45 mins: Goddamn it. A flowing move forward by Villa is snuffed out, and then on the counter, Mascherano's pass to Kuyt on the right is too far ahead of him and the attack breaks down.

They really need to ditch these fucking kits. There's no way that they're picking each other out with accuracy in grey kits. You can't see that colour well in your peripheral vision. No freaking way.

Skrtel with a clumsy foul (watch it, moron, you're already on a yellow), and the free-kick from Young is whipped in dangerously from the left. Reina does well to come out and collect.

HALF-TIME Back to the cooling remnants of my omelettes. 0-0.

The absence of Torres and Gerrard, easily our biggest threats, should push the rest of 'em to succeed. Keane and N'gog have a chance to stamp themselves in the LFC XI, and their link-up right before half-time was gorgeous. It's weird, as I think that no FT and SG should liberate the side a bit. It's all about what Benitez decides to do tactically, where he's rather inept.

Meanwhile, in the home dressing room, MON must be fairly happy. They've played well, and they do look threatening. Just one real chance to speak of though.

47 mins: Keane is playing up-front. FINALLY. LFC win an early corner, swung in by Alonso. Kuyt's header back across goal is blocked and cleared, although Friedel didn't look too comfortable dealing with the delivery.

LFC opening up the game a bit more now, passing it around nicely. Dossena whips a sharp, low cross in from the left that N'gog just missed getting a flick on. All LFC very early on in the second half.

50 mins: Villa corner whipped in from the right, and Carew's header flashes over the bar.

51 mins: LFC are getting chances now! The game is opening up. Keane gets it at the top of the box after some nice build-up play, he turns and feeds Alonso whose low shot is deflected out for a corner. Alonso's corner is cleared to Dossena on the left, and his cross floats right across the edge of the 6-yard box. N'gog is waiting for it, and Friedel has to tip it over the bar under pressure.

LFC are starting to get more control on the wings and are actually putting crosses in, something they couldn't figure out against Liege, 'Boro or Sunderland. Simple game, really.

57 mins: Villa are getting more chances too, and the game is finally opening up. Another Villa corner, Reina comes to get this one and punches it clear.

60 mins: Milner is warming up as MON is looking for a bit more pace. I think Reo-Coker's endless sprints down the right have worn him down.

Kuyt with an ugly challenge, befitting of his facial features, and the free-kick finds Davies at the back post but he can't control his header under pressure from the visually-unappealing Dutchman.

Villa are bossing the tempo now, with plenty of possession around the LFC box. Any subs forthcoming from either side? Lucas looks rather useless on the left-wing, but then again, he's not a winger. Rafa keeps forgetting that we don't have any.

Milner is ready to come on, and for Luke Young? MON showing some moxie here... 3-5-2? No clue.

65 mins: Of course not! Reo-C moves to left-back. Both sides are neutralizing each other, more or less. LFC win another corner thanks to Masch's move down the right. Alonso readies to take it...

... and nothing. Cleared easily. Dossena gets a little mouthy on the ref after the throw-in is given to Villa, and throwing the ball away doesn't help his cause. Yellow Card for Dossena, although he's looked a lot more assured at left-back than he has so far for LFC this season. David Pleat notes that it's part of the new Respect initiative, and that's why he got booked. Thanks John Terry... through your constant, unwavering whinging, we have a new set of conduct codes to abide by.

67 mins: Subs galore warming up for Benitez. Aurelio gets a talking-to from Rafa, which shows that I must be wrong about Dossena. As soon as I give him some dap, Benitez readies to replace him. Babel is also warming up, and there was a Yossi sighting. I'm thinking aside from the obvious left-back swap, surely Babel for Lucas would be the last LFC sub today. If Yossi comes on, I might scream.

70 mins: Well, that's a surprise. Kuyt off, Aurelio on. Immediately Villa attack, and shouts for a handball on Skrtel at the edge of the box are waved off. The ball breaks to Petrov some 30 yards out, and his well-struck shot flashes just wide of the right-hand post. No real danger on Reina's goal. I'm still figuring out where Aurelio and Dossena are playing. Is Dossena playing left-wing now, with Lucas moving to the right? Halp plz.

73 mins: Ah crap, best chance of the game for either side. Villa get caught square and Keane beats the offside trap. Clean through on goal, the ball bounces too high for him to control effectively, and Reo-Coker gets back to bundle him down and stop Robbie from shooting on goal. Shouts for a penalty, or at least a foul, are well-founded; initially, it looked like Nigel made a good recovery to end the play, although as Pleat points out, it looks more ominous with every replay. Reo-Coker got absolutely none of the ball as he stuck his leg right across Keane's path. Should have been something there. Lucky lucky.

77 mins: Dossena's looking better as an attacking full-back now. He can put in a good cross, which is more than can be said for Lucas, Pennant, Benayoun, Kuyt, and, most of the time, Babel (that Liege game withstanding). Corner for LFC amounts to nowt. You can sense that both sides are winding down a bit, happy to get a point from a tough fixture. LFC have been pressing a lot in the last 5 minutes.

I'm hearing that Benayoun will come on for Keane? You've got to be fucking kidding me.

79 mins:: As LFC push forward more, Villa are resorting to the long balls down the flanks to try and get something from Young's pace. Dangerous move is snuffed out, and Mascherano breaks forward. The ball comes to N'gog and his shot is blocked wide.

Substitutes time! Gardner on for Nicky Shorey, and my worst fears confirmed: Yossi on for Robbie Keane. Fucking awful move. Guess we can cross out the notion that we're going to attack at all in the last 10 minutes.

81 mins: It would be cruel for either side to lose at this point, although of course I hope we can steal yet another one. LFC's attack breaks down as N'gog can't find anyone on the cutback, and Villa's counter amounts to nothing as well.

I think Yossi is playing up front? He's pressuring the play. Dossena's doing well with the crossing thing. LFC look more threatening, although Milner has a good, sharp shot from the edge of the box that Reina covers comfortably.

85 mins: A rare moment of trickery from Ashley Young (at least in this game) wins a Villa free-kick around half-way on the right. It loops high and deep into the box and Laursen has a free header on it. It goes agonizingly wide of the post, and MON agonizes. Good chance for AV. The game is wide-open now as LFC definitely press more than I'd expect them to away from home at Aston Villa in the last 5 mins.

88 mins: I am now in classic "shitting myself" mode as the game draws closer to the end. Both sides are unafraid to move forward, and I'm nervous as hell that we're going to concede. Milner's blocked cross from the left goes right across the edge of the box, scaring the life out of me. LFC clear, but then Aurelio harangues Young's run, giving Villa a free-kick on the edge of the box. Barry take it and it does find a Villa head, but Carragher clears comfortably from the line. More scrambling from LFC as Villa force late with a long throw, but they eventually clear.

90 mins: Young crosses from the left this time on a Villa counter, but it's headed clear. N'gog gets a break but his pass forward goes to no-one but Friedel. Bad move and Villa press AGAIN. My heart is racing... Villa press but Dossena clears and Reo-Coker ends up sweeping it all the way back to Friedel, much to the chagrin of the Villa home crowd. His long pass forward leads to a foul on Skrtel, and Reina takes the breather to pass it around and clear the lines.

We collectively exhale as there's scarcely 30 seconds left of added time. COME ON YOU REDS, please don't concede now.

90 mins + 2: Villa break down the right with Agbonlahor racing to collect the pass-on, but Mascherano slides to knock it out of play, and the ref blows for full-time as soon as the ball is thrown in.

FULL TIME: Aston Villa 0, Liverpool 0.

I'll happily take that considering no Gerrard and no Torres for an hour, and being away from home at a tough Villa side. Carew's first-half shot was the best chance of the match, when Reina had to kick it away with his trailing leg, but a point's a point. I can finally breathe again!

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