Saturday, January 3, 2009

Saturday's FA Cup Third Roundup

Being able to wake up on a Saturday morning and watch a match broadcast from Gloucestershire.... that's just a thing of beauty, really, and thankfully it was a compelling match between Derby and Forest Green to boot. Forest Green should be proud despite losing 4-3, with their three goals all top class. Yes, it was an entertaining day in the FA Cup Round Three, now that the big boys have started playing.

As Bigus noted below, Citeh's blushes continue, but they weren't alone. Chelsea let Southend equalize in the 90th minute to set up a dreaded replay. Peterborough also earned a draw against Prem bottomdwellers West Brom, Pompey went nil-nil against Bristol, and struggling Stoke City were knocked out of the cup by Hartlepool. Elsewhere, Sunderland beat Useless Bolton, Hull-Newcastle ended in a bore scoreless draw, and Fulham defeated Sheffield Wednesday.

Most important of all, Norwich earned a replay against Charlton, and Arsenal knocked off the green scum of Plymouth Argyle.

At the moment Liverpool are up 1-0 against Preston and look comfortable.

Tomorrow it's Gillingham versus Aston Villa and Southampton against Man U. Monday is Conference League North side Blyth Spartans against Blackburn Rovers. Will the dream continue?

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Bridge Signs. City Humbled.

Wayne Bridge on show at the City of Manchester Stadium before today's game with Forest.

Wayne Bridge was unveiled to the fans before Manchester City's shocking home defeat with Nottingham Forest today.

Bridge has signed for a fee of around 10 million pounds on a 4 and a half year deal from Chelsea. The signing is the first, of what is expected to be, numerous high profile acquisitions over the next month.

Man City lost to Forest 3-0 in an absolute shocker in Manchester today, as the Premier League's (and maybe the World's) richest side crashed out of the FA Cup to Nottingham Forest who currently sit 21st in the Coca Cola Championship. The three goals all came from Forest forwards. Nathan Tyson scored after 37 mins. Robert Earnshaw made it 2-0, 4 mins from half-time and youngster Joe Garner hit the third into Joe Harts bottom right corner on 74 mins. The loss will pile the pressure onto Mark Hughes who has his expensive City team just 2 points above the Premier League relegation zone. Today's game was the first for Forest's new manager Billy Davies and he saw his side win at Man City with just 31% of the possession.


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Caption Competition - FA Cup

Michael Nelson gets familiar with team mate Jamie McCunnie.

The FA Cup is well under way, but we have a shock already today! Hartlepool of league 1 have beaten Premier League side Stoke 2-0. To celebrate such a giant killing, here is a picture from the game. As you can see, Michael Nelson got a bit excited about the result! Leave your captions in the comments. I will pick a winner on Tuesday. As always, the gift of free speech is up for grabs in the form of a post on UF. Good Luck.



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Friday, January 2, 2009

Open Window. Jump!

And we are off. The great Manchester City spending spree is underway, after they agreed to a 12 million pound transfer with Spartak Laaandon for runner-up left back Wayne Bridge. But is Bridge worth that much? And how much will Manchester City be ripped off by, when all is said and done on Feb 2nd?

Manchester City are tying up the loose ends (physical, signatures, etc.) for Ashley Cole's stand in (for club and country) making Wayne Bridge the best paid full back in old blighty. Take that Cole, you money grabbing douche! The deal is apparently worth 12 million to Chelsea and a whopping 21 million to Bridge, who looks as if he will be getting 5.2 million smackers a year. He WILL have to play though...Sucks for him!

Meanwhile it looks as if Chelsea are skint. Not only does Scolari have no money to spend but players are being sold without his say so.

"It's better you ask Peter, because he knows everything that has happened. Wayne is here today, that's what I know." -Big Phil.

By Peter he means Peter Kenyon. Mouthpiece of bullshit and douche bag extraordinaire. But stop, forget Kenyon...What a turn up for the books this is. Chelsea have spent 650 million on transfer fees alone during the Roman Abrahmovic era, but now, is the cheque book is firmly closed? Has the oil dried up? Abrahmovic is certainly feeling the pinch of the current economic crisis. The Russian even cancelled his New Years Eve party in Aspen, Colorado. Good job eh?

So, Bridge is the first. Who's next? Kaka? Eto? Alex? Ribery? Adriano? Owen? Given? Bellamy? Villa? Defoe? Silva? As I write this, Santa Cruz is planning his escape to the penthouse by claiming that City are set to sign him.

If you believe the papers then City are going to hit 3 figures this January and take over Chelsea's title of the EPL's (suck it Barclays) frivolous 'big spenders'. But one thing is for sure. Everyone knows they have money and everyone knows they want to spend it. Bridge is no way worth 12 million and his elevated transfer fee will be the first of many. There is literally a heavy price that comes with all that cash. But as his pencil runs down the wanted list, I'm sure Mark Hughes won't mind one little bit.


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Christmas Colaship.

Q.P.R's Martin Rowlands and Watford's Ross Jenkins last Friday.

All I wanted from Santa this Christmas was 3 points. Just 3. Is that too much to ask from Forest at home and a trip to Selhurst Park? I must have been a naughty boy this year. Football is a miserable bloody game. Anyway, follow me for a look at the Christmas fixtures. Who kept off the Christmas pudding and who played like a bunch of them.

Lets start at the top of the table shall we? As we enter the January transfer window, Wolves are looking to strengthen. They have had to return promising England defender Michael Mancienne to Chelsea and have made an offer for Rangers forward Alan Gow, who has been on loan at Blackpool this term. Over the Christmas period, Wolves gained just 2 points with draws at home to Sheffield United and away to Blackpool. Still, Mick McCarthy's men are 7 clear at the top, have 58 points going into January and look good to run away with the league. They are showing no signs of a collapse, and have lost just once in their last 13 games. As long as they stick to their rhetoric and hang onto Ebanks-Blake and Michael Kightly in the next few weeks they should head to the Premiership in May.

Reading are sitting in second and have scored the second most goals in the league this term. Coppell's men have smacked in 32 at home, conceding only 8 and have scored just one goal less that Wolves this season. However they failed to capitalize on Wolves 2 points over Christmas and Reading were involved in two draws of their own. On Boxing day they tied 1-1 at home to Cardiff and were held to the same result last Sunday at Southampton. Coppell will be disappointed with these results seeing that maximum points would have had his team just 3 points behind pace setters Wolves. Steve Coppell was manager of the month for December and Reading haven't lost in their last 8 games.

Bongo FC also failed to recapture second spot over Christmas. They beat Ip..Ip..Ip them 1-0 at Portaloo Road but could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to the Swans. The week before they were beaten at home 3-1 by Reading and for me this result decided the second place in this league. Bongo has depth but Reading are on fire, in the goals and Coppell has the experience at this level to keep their run going. Alex McLeish is likely going to have to settle for the play-offs this year. I can see Bongo making the final, but I can also see them staying down.

Cardiff City bagged four points over Christmas to keep themselves in the playoff hunt but they will need to spend in January to stay there. Loanee Michael Chopra was recalled by Sunderland's new boss Ricky Sbragia and the former bluebirds man was scoring goals for his former team of late. 5 in his 8 games on loan. They have also lost Wayne Routledge as the Villa loanee decided to join Q.P.R today. Both will be sorely missed. McCormack is back from injury but I can't see Cardiff staying in the top 6. They just don't have enough, but who knows.

Bloody Burnley were bloody useless over Christmas. They lost to Doncaster and Barnsley, both games by a score of 2-1. Still, Burnley have been pretty solid of late, winning at Bristol City and beating Sheffield United. They let in too many goals on the road but I think Burnley will be a surprise inclusion in the play-offs. They have a good squad and have been pretty consistent. I am sure the board will look at the league position and back Owen Coyle to strengthen his squad this month. For a team like Burnley, it's now or never. Take advantage of the first half and have a good go at making the play-offs or try and ride the luck, avoiding injuries, spending very little. I think they will pony up for a couple of good signings and use the momentum they have built with their Carling Cup run to help them along.

Crystal Palace had a reasonable week over Christmas. They lost 1-0 last Sunday at Bristol City but beating Norwich 3-1 on Boxing day made sure they stayed 1 point from the top 6. They will need to improve a bit if they are to make the play-offs as all 3 of the Norwich goals were gifts that they won't be given when they play better teams. That said, I can see them in the play-offs this year. Warnock is nothing if he's not consistent and Palace are chugging along nicely.

The draw with the Wolves and a 3-1 win over lowly Charlton made it a nice Christmas for Sheffield United. They are looking improved of late and will also look to strengthen in January, possibly at Norwich City's expense as they look to poach our winger Lee Croft on the cheap. Croft's contract is up in May. Manager Kevin Blackwell has made it no secret that he is after a winger this January.

Q.P.R have drawn 3 of their last 4 games including their two over the Chrimbo period last week. Currently 3 points off a play-off spot they will be spending in January to improve. Today they have signed Villa reject Wayne Routledge, Garry Borrowdale from Coventry and made Heidar Helguson's loan deal from Bolton permanent. The spree won't stop there either. Expect Paulo Sousa to ring the changes and go for broke. The top six is within reach but I reckon they will fall short this year. They have a great squad but Sousa's inexperience at this level could be the key. Look for them to have a run at the Premiership next season.

Swansea have had a great season considering they came up from League 1 in the summer. Their last eight games has yielded just 8 points but they were unbeaten in that period. That's right, Swansea have drawn their last EIGHT games. 3 0-0's ( 2 over Christmas), 3 1-1's and a pair of 2-2's. Swansea are currently 11th just 6 points off the play-offs. They won't make up that ground but manager Roberto Martinez has them organized and tough to beat. A point at Bongo last Sunday proved that. A super first season in the Colaship so far for the Swans.

Swansea V Coventry on Boxing day.

At the bottom Nottingham Forest lost to Doncaster 4-2 on boxing day and relieved Colin Calderwood of his duties. Two days later they beat Norwich 3-2 at home and climbed out of the bottom 3. I said it earlier in the year and in the half-time report, Forest will survive. They have some decent players and now that they have Billy Davies as manager, they should climb the table a bit.

The honeymoon factor? Billy Davies is new Forest manager.

Talking of beating Norwich. We stink. It's a foul, rancid and putrid smell that wafts directly from the defence. We leaked 6 goals over Christmas, at Palace (3-1) and to Forest (3-2) and 5 of them were completely avoidable. We cannot defend set pieces and make-shift center back (and Fulham loanee) Elliot Omozusi keeps forgetting that he is not at his natural right-back position, leaving the space behind our midfield with more holes than a teabag. His current partner is not much better either. Gary Doherty has all of the pace of Ruben Studdard and the wrestling ability of The Rock. He needs to have his hands tied behind his back if he is going to start games. Decent in the air, Doherty fails at the simplest of tasks, like showing a striker out wide and not turning your back on a player when he is 8 yards from goal. However, He IS very good at pulling his opponent to the floor after getting beaten for pace. It's been shambolic at the back for Norwich since Kennedy (on and off) and Stefanovic both became injured and two new defenders will be a priority this month. However, Glenn Roeder loves Doherty and I can see him keeping his spot in the side. Norwich have played 7 different CB partnerships this season. Leroy Lita has returned to Reading. Norwich have made an offer to pay a 'loan fee' to keep Lita for the season but this is not an attractive proposition to Reading as they would not be allowed to recall him after 28 days, as they could if they loaned him to another team. I see where Reading are coming from, Lita scored 7 goals for Norwich and is on form. Should Reading get an injury they would want to bring him into the side to help their promotion push. Signing Lita permanently is not an option and that's Lita's call. He is a free-agent in the summer and wants to survey the landscape before signing another long term deal. Litas' departure leaves Norwich with an un-fit Carl Cort, Antoine Sibierski (who has been a bit of a flop while on loan from Wigan), and Arturo Lupoli as the only fit forwards. Lupoli is currently pissed at not being picked and he has told Roeder he wants away if he isn't going to play. Roeder has also ruled out a return for the 'loaned-out' Jamie Cureton (Barnsley), who Roeder appears to have no liking for. It's a bit of a mess really. I can see 4-5 signings in January. Norwich are currently 2 points above the drop zone but need to improve fast if they are to avoid the April relegation hell that they found themselves embroiled in last term. How long Roeder remains in charge is also up for debate. 'Roeder out' and 'You don't know what you're doing' chants were sung by many at home to Forest and once they start, its a matter of time.

Like Forest, Doncaster Rovers are showing some signs of life and bagged 6 vital points last Friday and Sunday with wins over Forest and Burnley. Can they survive? Or did Burnley just over do it with the Christmas booze?

Southampton have failed to win in their last 6 and took just 1 point from their festive fixtures. A point from Reading no less (1-1). Southampton seem to be Reading's bogey team as the Saints have taken 4 points from the second placed team this season. Southampton lost on boxing day to Plymouth and are currently 23rd.

The Colaship is taking a break this weekend for the third round of the FA Cup.


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Bad Ideas in Football Culture - World Cup Host Qatar

We've seen our share of wacky locations to hold the World Cup, and many also-rans. This one is no different, according to our friends at Reuters, Qatar is considering a Wolrd Cup bid. What will this do for the secondary economy that follows such large events? Is this something that can be taken seriously from a country that has given us a failed round of international trade talks? Qatar is claiming they have the physical infrastructure to host the cup, and what they don't have they can easily build I'm sure of it.

We have the stadiums and we have experience hosting top sports events. We don't want to rush into anything, we need to find out what the full requirements are, but we are interested.

Of course, the mid-east has cash - or had more cash before the fall in oil prices. They are desperate to show themselves in a different, pro-western light. But for every business opening in Dubai, there is a random cultural scandal.

The World Cup isn't just a juggernaut of moments of great football surrounded by days of poor passing, there is a large economic engine that surrounds it. From the open travel angle of the supporters, you also have the secondary economies of "entertainment". Food, Lodging, Alcohol, and for some not named Ronaldo, time spent between consenting adults is illegal. If any of you have been to a city during Super Bowl week can attest to the quality of "talent" that is brought into town. I'm betting the World Cup is not much different.

Qatar is one of these up and coming Muslim worlds, ala Dubai. They want to slide western, but they still hold the strict Muslim culture. They still like to randomly lock up folks - especially foreigners - for what we consider minor offense (public intoxication anyone?).

We're not here to bash other cultures - what people choose to do in their own country is their own choice, and I'm not one to generally mess in other people's affairs. But the World Cup has a larger agenda and a bigger picture to deal with. They need to find a country/countries that has the physical infrastructure - stadiums, lodging, transportation, security - for the teams, and their staff and fans. They also need to make sure the economic engine of the fans who travel, who bring the money to the host country to spend, will be able to spend it freely and easily.

I think South Africa has FIFA worried about a country making it happen and being successful, as they should well be. The host country process has undergone some changes in how they are being chosen, which is wise. However, when considering a host country, I can only hope that FIFA takes the extra-curricular activities of their fans and players into account. I'd hate to watch America lose in Group Stages, walk out into the street drunk and get thrown into some third world prison.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Who Says Losers Can't Be Winners?

Want to be manager of a football club? One that gets 20,000 spectators a week to their south Laaaaaandon home? A team that just a few years ago was in the Premier league? Easy, all you have to do is fail to win one single game in 8 as caretaker manager and the gig is yours.

Yesterday morning Charlton gave caretaker manager and former Alan Pardew assistant Phil Parkinson the managers job. How did Parkinson earn the job at a club the size of Charlton? He failed to win a single game of his eight as caretaker. His record included 5 defeats and 3 draws. Wow. There's hope for Paul Ince yet.

So why did Charlton appoint 41 year old Phil Parkinson when his temporary tenure has helped Charlton maintain their position as the strongest team in the league. The club are holding up 23 others while rooted to the bottom, 5 points from safety.

It's simple. Charlton are skint. They don't have a dime, let alone a dollar and in Parkinson they have a guy who has been promoted from league 1 before. That's right, Charlton have already come to terms with relegation to the third tier and they are preparing to get back up. Charlton were forced to sell many players in the summer, their best in fact, and this season has been one big struggle. Parkinson was successful at Colchester, gaining automatic promotion to the Championship but a short spell at Hull was a failure, and Parkinson was replaced with Phil Brown after just six months.

I have to say, it's a bit of shame to see a club the size of Charlton just roll over and die, but they cannot afford a new manager, or any new players. Parkinson was right there, he was cheap and he wanted the job. If they had chosen a new man and the much hyped honeymoon factor didn't kick in, then they would have to back a manager at a level of football that man may not have experience at. Besides, Parkinson knows the squad and understands his non-existent budget. A new man would surely want to sell players and bring in new ones.

It's not all doom and gloom, Parkinson IS proven at league 1 level and the Addick's will try to copy Leicesters blue-print for an immediate bounce back. Leicester are currently top of the League 1 table and looking good to return to the Colaship after just one season. Lets hope Charlton can do the same, they have enough time to prepare, after all we are only 1/2 way through THIS season. But can't they survive Bigus? It's only five points to safety right?

Survival would take a miracle. They have won just 4 games this season and will not be able to spend in the window. With the exception of maybe Southampton, all of the other teams within reach have a budget for January signings and will look to strengthen and improve their teams for the second half of the season.

Charlton have tough games coming up against fellow strugglers Forest (who have just appointed a new manager in Billy Davies) in a true 6 pointer, a trip to Sheffield and a visit from Crystal Palace who are looking to make the play-offs this year. Then it's 2 away games including a trip to high-fliers Burnley.

Should Charlton slip to 8 points adrift from safety they can kiss goodbye to their Colaship status. The table never lies.


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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Steven Gerrard, What's In Your iPod?

Well with the news that Stevie G's love of music and desperate need to hear what he wanted to hear landed a DJ in the hospital and Stevie in the pokie, we thought we'd take a looksie (looksee?) into the music that makes Captain Fantastic so, well, Fantastic.

So, after the jump find the pregame playlist from Gerrard's iPod complete with his own comments*.

Feel free to add any suggestions or correct us on the obvious things we overlooked. Oh, and Happy New Year to you, our loyal (and even occasional) readership. May this playlist inspire you not to incite a small riot that lands you in jail.

Phil Collins: "Another Day in Paradise" He's talking about homelessness. So he not only kind of rocks out, he's socially conscious. "Think twice." That's deep and stuff.

Coldplay: "Speed of Sound" You know how I know that I'm gay?

Barry Manilow: "Mandy" She came and she gave. She sounds swell, just like Alex. Except she seems to spend a lot, which isn't really giving.

Rick Astley: "Never Going to Give You Up" Does anyone not love this song? Look how many YouTube hits it has.

Helen Reddy: "I Am Woman" It's just so anthemic. It almost makes me wish I were even more of a girl.

Mike and the Mechanics: "All I Need is A Miracle" I had this song in my head at halftime in Instanbul, and we won. It's like I caused it by humming the song. Plus it's that guy who was in Genesis with Phil Collins, so it's almost as good as if it were Phil himself.

Dave Matthews Band: "Crash" Just like I do in the box to win penalties.

The Beatles: "With A Little Help From My Friends" Always liked this one from the hometown lads. Now it has even more meaning.

Spice Girls: "Wannbe" Alex made me put this on to show solidarity with the other WAGs but I'm thinking that maybe she really means is that she wants me to get with Posh (that's what the lyrics say, right?). But I'm not so sure as she called Posh "chunky" last week.

Sonic Youth: "Teen Age Riot" Just kidding. I have no idea who these people are. A teammate told me to put this on my list so I wouldn't seem like such a giant wuss with shitty taste in music.

*And by "comments" we mean "absolute fabrications."

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Hednesford Town are a small club playing in the seventh tier of English football. Hednesford itself is located slightly north east of Birmingham. Just so you don't go mispronouncing it when you tell you friends about this amazing shirt later, Ignore the D and prononuce it as "Hens-ford". Alright, let's move on.

HTFC's heyday came at the end of the 1990s, at least in league. In the 1995-96 season, the team finished third in the old Conference. But since this was in the days before promotion playoffs, they had no shot to make League status. This week's shirt is the change shirt from that very year. One can only wonder how much better a shirt would have come out if they had made the jump, because this one is pretty awesome as it is.

Normally, the club wears boring, staid black and white. It matches their boring, staid black and white badge. I guess they use the away shirts to inject a little color and fun into their look. I like the yellow. It's not the neon look of recent Arsenal efforts, or even Barcelona's yellow-green efforts. This is bright and eye-catching without being a pain to the viewer. In color choice, I give it the ü75 seal of approval.

What I don't go for is all the extra bits in the middle. The sponsor is fine, if a bit highly placed, but that wide navy belt held together by the biggest Hednesford Town belt buckle anyone has ever seen must go. You have a badge already on the shirt. You don't need another reminder of which club you are playing for positioned seven inches away. It's a wonder that Errea didn't also sublimate the team name into the shirt itself.

Of course, Errea could not do so because (as you may be able to see if you click the picture) Errea sublimated its own logo on the shirt. Stay classy 1995. Did every single mid-90s shirt do this? I am glad that era is over.

One other thing about that gut buckle. Was it entirely necessary to use the premade Eurosport Juventus knockoff as the print? I guess the club did not want to spend the time coming up with their own look, and just decided to let the English equivalent of Eurosport's design staff do the work for them. Really, they should have tried a little harder if they were going to go that route.

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EPL January Tranfser Window Oddsmaker

January 1st means only one thing around here: the start of the January transfer window! It’s like Christmas, Hanukkah and your birthday all wrapped up in one!

Looking ahead to the end of January, the British press's rumor pages will have managed to link every single player with a move to every single team. But the press isn't really to blame. They’re just catering to fans who are desperate for any sign that their team will be improved for the second half of the season.

In our own amateurish way, after the jump is a little run down of what yours truly thinks might actually happen in the English Premier League (suck it, Barclay’s!). Please don’t accuse me of pretending to have any special insight. I'm just making stuff up like the professional journos do.

Blackburn’s Roque Santa Cruz to Manchester City

Santa Cruz is unhappy, hasn’t been scoring goals this season, and the Big Fat Walrus could use some added cash to help Blackburn avoid relegation. Man City has There Will Be Blood-style oil-laden billions of cash to spend, even if Mark Hughes is warning that they actually won't be spending money like the proverbial drunken sailors (nice try convincing anyone one of that). As the BBC noted, Citeh have now set their sights slightly lower than Kaka, Torres and Buffon. Santa Cruz seems about right, especially with Jo stuttering badly. This one might seem fait accompli, but the gods of the transfer market are fickle, so we are going no higher than 75%.

Everton’s Mikel Arteta to Arsenal

A mighty cheer went up from the Gooner masses when the always-reliable Guardian reported that Arsenal are interested in signing Arteta. As the Arseblog explains far better than I could, Arteta fits the bill for what Arsenal need most desperately at the moment: an experienced midfielder with a great workrate who can stabilize the team while Fabregas is recuperating and can also play beside him down the road. That said, the question is whether Everton would sell, which really means whether Arteta will demand the move. The upside is an increased wage and Champion’s League play, and yes he can play this season (Rules 17.17 and 17.18). Moyes should be able to cover up for Arteta’s absence with some spackle and a couple 2-million-pound replacements, and could then use the extra cash on a badly needed striker. However, Arteta might choose loyalty to Everton above all else, and might figure that with Everton he’ll at least get UEFA Cup competition and the continued loving adoration of the supporters. This one gets a very non-committal 50%.

Emile Heskey Leaving Wigan

Poor Wigan, who in American terms are the quintessential small market team. They have a fantastic track record of bringing in talent, even if that talent is often in the form of much-traveled castoffs. And they have absolutely no ability to keep the players who develop into solid contributors. In many ways, it’s a tribute to Wigan’s management that they’ve remained viable in the Premiership for as long as they have when their stadium routinely draws no more than 18,000 attendees and most players available on the transfer market have no interest in joining the Latics. So now you have 50-year-old Emile Heskey, who has occasionally played himself back into international contention, who much like the Costello to a team's Abbott can be paired up to do a lot of the physical work up front, and who is out of a contract this summer and sure to leave for nothing. So, the chances of his departure in January are 100%. As for where, I'd reckon 30% to Aston Villa, who are in need of strengthening if they're serious about contending for Champion's League, 35% to Liverpool, who are in need of strengthening if they're serious about winning the Premiership, and 20% Spurs, especially if they don't land Defoe (see below). And yeah, I've left myself 15% for Heskey going somewhere else. It's called "hedging!"

Pompey's Jermaine Defoe returning to Spurs

This one has been talked about so much, it has to happen, right? Right?? Well, maybe. Defoe would return to Spurs after a pretty disappointing spell with Portsmouth, and would return to 'Arry's tutelage, who arguably did a decent job of getting Defoe to play up to his potential. The biggest hindrance appears to be Pompey's insistence on a large cash windfall, which according to the Independent would include wiping out the 7 million quid still owed plus a wheelbarrow full of cash. So, I rate this one at 35%. It just seems too cute and too perfect, and hence one of those deals that are destined to fall through.

West Ham Fire Sale

West Ham is royally fuxxored (I know, but we're trying to keep it clean around here). Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has lost quadrillions thanks to the collapse of Iceland's economy, and they and they still have l'affair de Tevez floating around. And so, West Ham appear to be a selling club, despite Gianfranco Zola's best efforts to the contrary. The question is just how many first team players will find the exit door... Bellamy, Parker, Upson, Behrami and Green have all tipped. I'd say there is a 40% chance of at least three starters leaving, and 66% of at least two starters leaving. Any more than that and West Ham risk losing whatever modicum of respectability and stability they might have, as well as losing Zola. I wouldn't be surprised if Bellamy ends up staying through the end of the season, with Upson and Parker the likeliest pair to leave.

And I'm surely leaving out lots more, such as Keano going back to Spurs... so please have your say in the ol' comments

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Tuesday Backpasses: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (will be better)

Well, I was right about it being light today. Thanks for your consideration.

Just for LB. Becks may haunt him for another five years [Soccernet]
Peru NT tries the whole surround-the-ref thing for a full minute. Doesn't work. Also, the best PK ever [World Cup Blog]
Drogba is a benched douche [BBC]
Ricardo Fuller, he of the captain slap red card, will not be transferred [BBC]

Gossip Girl star geeks out at meeting Becks. Unable to get a word out. I wonder if the picture will surprise you as much as it did me [Celebutopia]

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

EPL Liveblog: Hull v. Aston Villa (aborted at HT)

So... one team's let in 9 goals in 2 games, and the other just snuck a point against Arsenal. Who's your money on this afternoon?

Phil Brown's on-field dress-down of his rather inept team can have one of two effects. Either they'll keep performing badly, or they'll get one of those life-affirming, heroic wins against all odds.

Starting Lineups:
Hull: (4-4-1-1) Myhill, McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Ricketts, Mendy, Garcia, Ashbee, Halmosi, Barmby, Cousin.
Subs: Duke, Doyle, Fagan, Geovanni, Hughes, King, Giannakopoulos.

Aston Villa: (4-3-3) Friedel, Reo-Coker, Knight, Davies, Luke Young, Milner, Sidwell, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner, Osbourne.

I am hoping for some goals, and against that Tigers backline, it's to be expected. No way does Sam Ricketts shut down Ashley Young for 90 minutes.

5 mins: Not a whole lot to report early on. The battle for midfield supremacy is only just beginning.

Defiant against the laws of nature, 138-year-old Nicky Barmby gets the ball out of Friedel's grip as they challenge for a high ball, and promptly bundles it into the net under pressure from Bald Brad and Mr. Reo-Coker. The ref gives a free-kick to Villa, which on replay is rather unfair. Should have been 1-0. Barmby is unimpressed.

10 mins: The pundits frequently gush about Villa, and rightly so, for their three-pronged attack that's (gasp) HOME-GROWN! Ashley gets a yard of space on the wing and turns McShane inside out before whipping in a weak cross that gets knocked out for a corner. It amounts to nothing. Still, you have to fancy them coming forward. It's the stuff of nightmares for a backline as sieve-like as Hull's.

14 mins: So far, the match is crying out for a hero, someone to kick things into life. It's not going to come from long balls to Agbonlahor that ends up safely in Boaz Myhill's hands, however.

David Pleat's voice is music to the ears, however. Hull have only won 1 of their last 10?!?! 20 points from their first 9 games, and only 7 points from their next 10. News to me, as they're still in the top 10. It's a wonderful league where you can fail that much and still look at an outside shot for a UEFA Cup berth.

16 mins: Hull start to find their feet, with Bernard Mendy causing all sorts of troubles down the right flank. His skidded cross misses everything as it flies across goal, with Peter Halmosi just unable to get a toe on it. I dare say this game is coming to life!

20 mins: Villa play the equivalent of forcing a square peg into a round hole, as their tactic of choice involves the long ball. Look, you have three incredibly fast, kinda-fragile players up-front who love the ball at their feet. This lofted pass rubbish isn't going to work.

Shit, and just like that, the feed has gone. Bear with me, folks, as I place a call to this shady website.

35 mins: Back up-and-running thanks to u75, and it appears I haven't missed much. Mendy was called offside rather unfairly, forcing some action from Friedel, and that's about that. Uninspiring stuff at the moment.

As I type that, Ian Ashbee puts a neat ball into the box forcing Curtis Davies to head over for a corner. Barmby wastes it.

David Pleat insists on filling every space with inanity, and I almost wish one of these teams (or both!) would do something to perhaps silence him. Barmby wins another corner on the left via Nigel Reo-Coker's leg. Barmby takes a rather illegal penalty, not putting any part of the ball in the corner triangle thingy before taking it. He's done it twice now, and Eagle-Eye Pleat has spotted it and opined at length about how long he'll get away with this practice.

And yes, the fact that I'm writing a lot about illegal corner-taking practices does indicate that the action's been rather crap thus far. It's enough to make me punch a part-time DJ.

40 mins: Pleat suggests that the away team "need some kind of strain" to get going. I wonder if such a strain could be equal to the strain David Pleat puts on the English language.

Sam Ricketts sputters in a weak cross, Villa clear zzzz... uh-oh, trouble for Hull! Steve Bennett is in the mix, giving Zayatte a talking-to as he bundles Gabby down once the striker turned him. Zayatte's already in the book, and he narrowly avoids seeing the 2nd yellow.

That's been the biggest event of note thus far. Gaz Baz squanders the free kick and Hull clear.

42 mins: Rather unwatchable stuff thus far, as Villa stick to their gameplan of hoofing it to space and hoping that Agbonlahor can out-sprint everyone to the ball. Yet another Hull corner, and yet another corner wasted. They keep the pressure on around the area, but McShane puts the cross over Friedel's bar, much to the chagrin of anyone watching this drivel.

45 mins: We will endure a minute of added time, and we will ponder the futility of both sides thus far in what's possibly been the worst half of football I can remember this season. I feel like I should at least write something on this liveblog, but there's nothing noteworthy in the game whatosever.

45 mins + 1: Oh look, another overhit cross. Friedel makes a dog's dinner of this one again, going up for it and then fumbling it right in front of goal. Steve Bennett gives a free-kick as Bald Brad was actually touched by the Hull player this time, but really, we'd be better served watching paint dry.

Half Time: Hull 0, Aston Villa 0

Aaannnd, the feed is gone. I'm quitting on this one. So bad, so awful. Sorry folks, it's unwatchable anyway, so maybe it's a sign from some higher power that I'm not supposed to watch this game.

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UF Quick Throw: Gerrard Charged

The details (few) can be found here. Really, if I were a Liverpool fan, my concern wouldn't be the legal punishment awaiting Gerrard, but the fact that he has really bad taste in music. Bonus points to whomever can guess what song Stevie G. was trying to get played.

My guess: "I Can Feel Him Cumming In My Hair Tonight."

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Backpasses: no loud noises tomorrow

I'm guessing tomorrow's posting will be light, or restricted to those who did not find their way to NYC for the holiday interim. Come by tomorrow to see who assaulted a DJ (my money is on LB).

Southern Football League Premier Division player sent off after 3 seconds [SI]
10 amazing red cards. No mention of the red card and reaction that brought this equals fail []
Jay DeMerit's top XI he has played against in England. Safe, no surprises [NYT Goal Blog]

Ronaldo: I'm too fat. Rest of world nods in agreement [Soccernet]
Abramovich feeling the financial pinch [Luxist]

And, finally:
Player flattens manager in A-League. Seems it's a repeat of an earlier altercation between the two teams [101 Great Goals]

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Football Is No Place For A Promise, But A Pair Of Balls

He came, he lost, he quit. Paul Jewell has resigned as manager of Derby County, leaving them just 5 points above the drop zone in the Coca Cola Championship. But did he jump too soon?

Jewell took over at County last season and failed to win a single Premier League game. Derby were relegated with the worst ever record for a top flight side but Jewell vowed to bring the rams back up at the first attempt. We all know that such a promise was a ridiculous offering. The Colaship is an extremely hard league to survive, let alone get out of, as Norwich, Palace, Southampton, Watford and Derby have all found out.

Jewell was backed heavily by County's American owners in the summer and he spent a fair bit of money on players such as Nathan Ellington, Kris Commons, Martin Albrechtsen, Paul Green, and Rob Hulse.

But his new men have failed spectacularly this term and the home defeat to Ip..Ip..Ip..Them last Sunday was the final straw. Derby have won just 7 games this season and have lost 11. Derby have won just 2 of their last 10.

For me he has quit too early and left County in the lurch. He spent the money, he made the promises and with a 5 point buffer from the bottom and 12 to the play-offs, quitting was definitely premature. His actions could send Derby into free-fall. Not to mention that Jewell had led them to the semi-final of the Carling cup against Manchester United and now leaves them manager-less to face the Premiership giants in next weeks first leg. If Derby had been closer to the drop or in the relegation zone then the move would be understandable, but they weren't in that mire just yet and he has shown he hasn't the stomach for a fight. Which is strange given the heroics he performed at Bradford City. He gained a reputation as a fighter during his first managerial role with the Bantams and has been living off that reputation ever since.

"He came to see me after the game and said that he felt it just wasn't working out and didn't want to club to suffer as a result." - Derby Chairman Adam Pearson.

Leaving Derby in the lurch after just one year will certainly have put doubt in the minds of any future suitors for Jewell's services and I should imagine that any Championship or Premier League club will steer well clear. I hope he likes his wife, as I can see him spending plenty of time at home. Oh dear, apparently he doesn't.

Derby head to Forest Green in the third round of the FA Cup next Saturday before hosting Manchester United in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final on Wednesday the 7th of January.


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Great Moments in Leadership

Breathe easy all you Barcode fans!

You may have just been taken to the woodshed by the mighty Reds (be sure to thank Shay Given for keeping the score in single digits), but every cloud has a silver lining; Mike Ashley has decided to save the club. Again.

That is, at least until the global economic climate warms back up, allowing him to follow the rats off his sinking ship.

After failing to unload the lemon of a club he'd hoped to rescue from its perpetual waking nightmare, the fat fanboy has reversed course from September's "You want me out" statement, untucked his tail from behind his pasty legs and is now ready to steady Newcastle United (and by 'steady', I mean 'ensure many more seasons of a barren silverware cabinet').

In comparison to his Fall treatise, Ashley's latest message to the fans is merely a Post-It note. But, that doesn't make it any less important reading. Although economical with his words (and likely, NUFC's January transfer budget), the billionaire says it all, both with what he's written and what he hasn't written.

Allow me to help you read between the lines. Firstly, let's take a look at Ashley's unedited statement:

I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United.

I know just how important that is to you.

I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the Club forward together. Even when I haven't been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there's a good result.

When I took the decision to put the Club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important.

Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal.

And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner, this Club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge.
And now, what he actually means:
I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United. But not as happy as I would be if I'd gotten back the quarter of a billionaire I've sunk into this steaming pile. But at least we all know where this club is headed -- nowhere.

I know just how important that is to you. Trust me, I know. I've heard every word you lot have had to say. I go home and cry in my fanboy shirt after every match. Even the thoughts of Alan Smith's bleached locks or the memories of King Kev's delightful perm doesn't smooth the sting.

I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the Club forward (or forward-ish) together. Hell, sideways is good enough. 2010, though, will likely be the year I get myself out from under this fucking disaster as the world's economy should be back on two feet. Even when I haven't been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there's a good result. You do understand, though, I mean 'kicking and heading' in the metaphorical sense. Otherwise, I'd give myself a massive coronary. As for Joe, I figure his appointment as manager will save me a few quid, as what top-notch player in his right mind (with high wage demands) is going to sign with him?

When I took the decision to put the Club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important; Everything else was just filler.

Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal. But mostly, they had to show me the money. Those best interests mostly involve me getting all my money back. It's ridiculous that I couldn't even get those oil-rich Middle Eastern types to take this junk off my hands. But, at this point, being a 'worthy custodian' isn't exactly a tall order. Forget silverware, all you have to do is save the club from The Drop.

And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner (another 18 months, tops), this Club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. Unfortunately, for you, that means more of the same, both on and off the pitch. Michael Owen? Good as gone. It wouldn't be very 'responsible' of us to hold onto a Sicknote who's lost about 4 steps. Not that he even wants to stick around. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge. For now. Notice I said 'stood by' and not 'honored'. Because at some point in the near future, I'm going to get tired off all that standing (again) and have to go sit down.

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Red Card Sparks Chainsaw Rampage

Sunday League football. A bit of banter, bit of a laugh, colorful words, all in the name of fun eh? That's until the guy sent off for foul and abusive language returns to the pitch wielding a chainsaw and tries to cut off your hands!

Anthony Lloyd was dismissed for swearing, but instead of heading home to lament his use of the English language, he decided that the best way to deal with the situation was to return to the pitch with a running chainsaw, and to attempt to chop off the hands of a rival player while screaming "I'm a crank".

Last week, a court in England heard that Mr Lloyd, who has a history of drug abuse and who was on a conditional discharge for possession of a knife, had been drinking before the attack in Horley, Surrey. And I thought only George Best and Paul McGrath played pissed.

Guildford Crown Court heard the details from Prosecutor Laura Plant...

"They heard an engine start and saw the defendant coming out of the bushes
revving a chainsaw. The victim's friend ran off, leaving him cornered by the
defendant. He tried to chop his hands off while Mr Westwood was defending
himself. He then walked off."

The victim, Mr Westwood, suffered a cut to the chest while hiding in a bush. I don't know about you, but if someone waving a chainsaw was coming at me shouting "I'm a crank" I'd do one in the opposite direction, not try to hide in the nearest shrubbery!

So what was the punishment for trying to amputate another guys hands with a chainsaw without a doctors license or a leatherface mask? A 12 month suspended sentence. Yup, that's right. Mr Lloyd is free.

So the moral of the story is be careful out there next Sunday and try not to piss off your opponent, because he may have access to a dangerous gardening implement.


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Sunil Gulati Must Go

Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go.

While some may say I'm blaming the wrong person for Neven Subotic's (and Vedad Ibisevic, and Giuseppi Rossi, and Edgar Castillo, and others) decision to play for a national team other than the US, responsibility for the failure to locate, recruit and keep players for the USMNT. It is his organization, his appointments, his hires and his vision.

The buck stops with Sunil.

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UF Update: Non-League Team Expelled From The Cup

Update alert! Update alert!

Last week I told you about the epic 4 game FA Cup tie between non-league Droylsden and Chesterfield. AND the possible consequences for victorious Droylsden for not keeping an eye on the paper work. Well the FA have expelled the non leaguers.

Four games. Bad weather, floodlight failure and unsportsmanlike behaviour. Eventually this FA Cup second round tie was settled. A trip to Ip..Ip..Ip..Them, beckoned for the winner. But Droylsden fielded a ineligible player. 4th game hero, Sean Newton had picked up a 5th yellow card in the previous replay of the epic tie and was ineligible to play. Chesterfield spotted the error after the game and alerted the FA. The outcome? Droylsden's dream is over. They have been expelled from the competition.

Is it fair? Well the precedent was set in 2006 when the same error led to Bury beinng booted also.

"It is ludicrous as we have beaten Chesterfield fair and square on the field. It is not as if we have brought a ringer in at the last minute. Sean Newton is one of our players. It was a genuine mistake by our secretary. Fine us by all means but don't kick us out."
- Droylsden manager (and Chairman) Dave Pace.

Of course Chesterfield see it differently: "The outcome is no real surprise as the rules clearly set out what it likely to happen if a club plays an ineligible player." - Chesterfield manager Lee Richardson.

Droylsden gaffer Dave Pace ponders the location of the nearest bridge.

But Dave Pace claims that his team was certain that Newtons ban should be served in a league game and not in the cup tie...

"If there was any doubt from our point of view that he should not have played against Chesterfield then he would not have" he added he would "go to the nearest bridge" and throw himself off if Droylsden were thrown out of the Cup.

Suicide alert! Droylsden can appeal the decision, and have until tomorrow to do so.


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UF Quick Throw: Gerrard arrested for assault


Liverpool captain/talisman/Chief of Helping Old Ladies Across the Road Steven Gerrard is being investigated regarding an assault late last night at a nightclub. He's never done anything like this before, but I suppose it's never too late to start. 6 other men were arrested shortly after, and one man remains in hospital with facial injuries "not thought to be life-threatening."

I will now begin my "Free Gerrard and Prove His Innocence" dance until this matter is resolved.

[BBC News]

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Ricardo Fuller Took The Boxing Day Holiday To Heart

Yesterday, Stoke City succumbed to West Ham 2-1, but to add insult to injury, Stoke's Ricardo Fuller earned a red card after he slapped his own captain, Andy Griffin. Even though it was Boxing Day on Friday, it does not appear Fuller will get a reprieve. He faces an automatic suspension of 3 games and a team fine of £20,000.

Andy Griffin took it all in stride and displayed his leadership skills as he pointed Fuller in the direction of the lockerroom on the away trip to Upton Park.

Update: new video!

After the jump, some classic footage of other teammates fighting, namely Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer, who both earned their squad a red card [Ed. Note: and backup video in case this one gets yanked again]. Also, check out this Daily Mirror Top 10 of Teammates Fighting.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ligue 1 Weekend Review: Mid-Season Reflections

Because I know that all of you follow my Ligue 1 ramblings quite judiciously (stop laughing), I decided that I would take a look back at my season preview to get some sense of where I stand. Was I way off in my predictions? Spot on? Fair to middling? Ligue 1 doesn't start back up for another 2 weeks, so this is all you'll get until then.

I tapped some individuals to be difference-makers among those who had been transfers this season. Let's grade those choices, shall we?

(1) Cedric Faure (Le Havre AC) - umm, moving on (I mean, 1 goal in 10 matches?)

(2) Anthony Le Tallec (Le Mans UC 72) - Le Tallec has looked dangerous at times, although the majority of his presence on the pitch has been in the capacity of being juuuuuuuuuuust out of position; his 1 goal in 18 matches trails the pace of Gervinho (5 goals in 17 matches) by far

(3) Hugo Lloris (Olympique Lyonnais) - the young GK has come up huge time and time again for Lyon, giving up only 12 goals this season

(4) Jean Makoun (Olympique Lyonnais) - the Cameroonian has just 2 goals in 19 matches; although he has been in the starting line-up 15 times, the weight of the offense has been on Karim Benzema, with Juninho and Fred providing additional pressure

(5) Milan Baros (Olympique Lyonnais) - Baros had actually been on loan to Pompey, and was supposed to rejoin Lyon for this season, but instead he was shipped off to Galatasaray where he leads the Turkcell Süper Lig with 14 goals

(6) Hatem ben Arfa (Olympique de Marseille) - the French international has easily made the switch from Lyon and looks comfortable at all times on the pitch; his 6 goals is actually tied for first on his own club with Bakari Kone and Mamadou Niang, but it is ben Arfa's presence that has allowed for the more equitable goal-scoring

(7) Sammy Traore (Paris Saint-Germain) - the aging defender has played in 12 matches and picked up 1 yellow card; his presence on the pitch has been largely uninspiring although he has at least managed to avoid making any huge noticeable gaffes

(8) Claude Makelele (Paris Saint-Germain) - the Chelsea reject has more cards (6) than goals/assists (umm, 0 - as in, zero) in 16 matches, and has made almost no difference for PSG this season; the ancient French international will likely only get 1 more season in the capital

(9) Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennais FC) - the former Fulhamerica star has anchored the backline for Rennes, starting every match and leading them to 3rd in Ligue 1 while conceding only 13 goals

How about my predictions for individual clubs?

"Bordeaux may struggle to make the same sort of push they did last year..."

Oops. Les Girondins currently sit 2nd in Ligue 1 and looked poised for an easy Top 4 finish after significant draws against Lyon, Marseille, and Rennes. Just so Joe doesn't feel like a front-runner, remember that the last time Bordeaux were truly good (other than last season) was the 1998/1999 season, so they aren't exactly ManUre here.

"However [Marseille's] defense are untested, and Mandanda has looked shaky..."

Considering some of the goals that Mandanda has let in, this was spot-on. While Marseille are at 5th in Ligue 1, this is mostly in spite of, not due to, the French Calamity James and his defense.

"...look out for Saint-Etienne seeking to regain their old-school form with the play of new-school striker Bafetimbi Gomis."

Saint-Etienne are fighting relegation in 17th place in Ligue 1, and Gomis has a grand total of 4 goals.

"look out for Monaco looking to give Freddy Adu some run..."

Freddy has logged an astounding 97 minutes as a late substitute in 9 matches - hey, I said some run.

"look out for Rennes building off their 4-4 tie with L'OM..."

I was spot-on here as well. Rennes have stunned Ligue 1 with a streak of 18 unbeaten, and are sitting pretty at 3rd in Ligue 1.

"look out for Paris Saint-Germain...playing off new imports Makelele and Giuly..."

Not so much for Makelele, who has been largely ineffective, but Giuly has provided a soothing presence up top for PSG, chipping in with 3 goals and 1 assist.

"The relegation battle looks to consist of Le Havre, Le Mans, Grenoble, Lille, and Caen."

I was spot-on about Le Havre, but that's about all that I can say for myself here. Le Mans, Grenoble, and Caen are clustered at 11-13 and sit 8 points above the drop-zone, while Lille are 6th and only 6 points behind Ligue 1 leaders Lyon. It seems pretty clear at this point that relegation will befall Le Havre (20th, with 12 points on a 3-3-13 record), Sochaux (19th, with 14 points on a 1-11-7 record; 1 win!), and Valenciennes (18th, with 15 points on a 3-6-10 record). If Valenciennes begins to perform somewhat better, Saint-Etienne (19 points) and Nantes (20 points) are poised to take their place in the gutter.

So who have been the brightest stars and biggest disappointments in Ligue 1 so far?

While Karim Benzema was expected to be near the top of the goal-scorers' table, the Ligue 1-leading 12 goals of Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse FC) and the presence of Lille strike tandem of Michel Bastos (9 goals) and Ludovic Obraniak (7 goals) are quite the surprise. Guillaume Hoarau (PSG) and Fernando Cavenaghi (Bordeaux) are exciting young talents, and the latter has been linked to a January transfer to Spurs or Celtic.

As for disappointments, there are 2 that stand out. Makelele, despite his advanced age of 35, was expected to provide a significant contribution to PSG, both on the pitch and in the locker-room. Instead, he picked up 5 yellow cards in his first 7 matches and demonstrated how to sit on the bench and sulk, which he most likely learned from Anelka. The second is Bafetimbi Gomis who, after being given some run in French international matches, was expected to keep Saint-Etienne near the top of Ligue 1. Instead, he has looked listless on the pitch and appears poised to finish near the bottom of the table with his club.

Alright kids, that's all from Ligue 1 for now. In 2 weeks we'll find out whether Lyon can hold on to 1st place as they are pushed by Bordeaux, Rennes, PSG, and Marseille.

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EPL Open Thread: Let's Get This Started Early

Should anyone besides insomniacs and security guards be awake this early? If you're as mad about the beautiful game as I am, then your alarm clock was set ages ago. 16 teams take the field today, and Newcastle/Liverpool will get us started.

The pressure's on Rafa to keep winning... will a depleted Newcastle team oblige? Chelsea play at Fulham in a couple of hours, and they're no longer pushovers, while Arsenal hosts a Portsmouth team that's more inconsistent than they are. Sparky could use another emphatic win today to keep his grip on the job at Eastlands too.

Maybe a liveblog later, but I'm too nervous and hung over to give the treatment to my Reds.

Come wake up with us after the jump.

Today's Fixtures:
Newcastle v. Liverpool (7am kick-off)

9am kick-offs:
Arsenal v. Portsmouth
Bolton v. Wigan
Everton v. Sunderland
Fulham v. Chelsea
West Brom v. Tottenham
West Ham v. Stoke City

Blackburn v. Manchester City (11.15am kick-off)

Newcastle: Given, Edgar, Taylor, Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Gutierrez, Guthrie, Butt, N'Zogbia, Duff, Owen.
Subs: Harper, Xisco, Geremi, Ameobi, Kadar, LuaLua, Carroll.

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Benayoun, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Babel, Gerrard, Kuyt.
Subs: Cavalieri, Keane, Riera, Alonso, Ngog, El Zhar, Skrtel.

Owen against his former club, tons of changes at the back for the Magpies. Meanwhile, Lucas and Mascherano will play alongside each other, Keane gets a rest after scoring 3 in his last 2, and Riera will also be used off the bench. Oh, and Babel gets a start! Hallelujah! There is a god!

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