Saturday, March 7, 2009

FA Cup/EPL Open Thread: Tangled Up in Blues

Spot the selfish, whiny one

Only three games today, and none worth that much coverage (sorry, Spartak fans). That game's a bit dire so far, with Spartak holding a 1-0 lead at half-time. Where is this Coventry team we saw play with gusto and style at Carrow Road last weekend? Oh, that's right, their best player, the left-back Dan Fox, isn't playing.

Meanwhile, Essien's on the bench, meaning he's about a week away from being that bulldog in defensive midfield again, much to the chagrin of any team still left to travel to Stamford Bridge.

We might well liveblog some La Liga later on in the form of the Madrid Derby, but for now, this is it. Gripe about Spurs, or offer your prayers for a home win at Craven Cottage.

Whatever you do, come cupset with us after the jump.

FA Cup Fixtures:
Coventry 0, Spartak London 1 (half-time)
Fulham v. Manchester United (12.30pm kick-off)

EPL's Sole Release:
Sunderland v. Tottenham (10am kick-off)

And a massive match for the Canaries, who travel to Blackpool today for a legitimate six-pointer. COME ON, NORWICH!

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Backpasses: Crabs

Social Network fever!

Clive Owen, famous actor and all-around badass, got tongue tied talking to Stevie G [Kickette]
All hell breaks loose at game in Argentina (go figure) [101 Great Goals]
Think Arsene was thinking of these tackles when he was speaking out? [Off The Post]

Columbus Crew >> Liverpool reserves [CSRN]
Blather speaks again. Again it is idiocy [BBC]
Becks is happy to be in Milan. Posh is happy to be n Hollywood [Mirror]

Want to see a lot of pics of CR7 scratching his crotch? Of course you do [ONTD]

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People who are where they shouldn't be.

In lieu of a catchier title, it's perhaps better to get straight into the meat of the matter, and that is the curious case of several players and managers who are currently plying their trades in places that don't suit them. That is to say, they're trapped in a bad remake of Groundhog Day, and should probably look to escape.

For one reason or another, this lot would be better served to move on to pastures new, because their current clubs clearly aren't a good fit. I mean, it worked for Robbie Keane, right? (The second time he moved this season, not the first)

There are a lot that come to mind, and in the spirit of some breezy Friday discussion, I give you this hasty list:

Ryan Babel:
Ahh, the precocious Dutch wunderkind (if I knew the Dutch word, I wouldn't have used the German), who has honestly been ruined by his time at Anfield under the goateed Spanish rotator.

Every time he touches the ball I grimace, fully aware of what'll happen next: he'll dribble it lazily 20 yards at full sprint before losing it to the first defender he comes across. It's his MO. It's his agonizing calling card, and one that has come to define him at Liverpool FC.

Oh, and that miss at Fratton Park. The lad's still young and has plenty of time to turn it around, but let's end the failing marriage before someone gets hurt, right? He should go back to Holland, tiptoe around the Maginot Lines that pass for defenses over there, and then hop over to Spain when he's good and ready. La Liga is where defenders go to die.

Jose Mourinho:
The cappucino-quaffing journalistas don't understand him, and while Inter is doing rather well under his tutelage, it's clear that he will always be a round Portuguese peg in a square, catenaccio hole. Plus, he's lacking that foil he needs, that one manager whom he can berate and poke fun at week after week, thus giving the media all the juicy headlines they can handle. It's obvious he needs to be back in England. Squabbling with Ranieri just isn't the same.

Roman Pavlyuchenko:
The epitome of a foreign player who dazzles in one international tournament, parlays that into a sweet deal to come to the EPL, and then fails miserably on all fronts. While he did have a happy knack of scoring freely in the Carling Cup, aka "The Cup That Ought Not to Be", he hasn't exactly set the league on fire, not to mention that dismal performance against Man United at Wembley.

Spurs have the problem of possessing four woefully inept strikers, who might come good if fused together into some Megatron/Peter Crouch hybrid, and yet, when the time comes to jettison some deadwood, let Pavs go first. After all, Daz Bent did manage 10+ goals in the EPL this season (we should ignore the fact that virtually all of them were before November).

Roman belongs back in the frigid tundras of the motherland, as it's a place where his frozen caveman attitude on the pitch will not be noticed as being out of the ordinary.

Jonas Gutierrez:
I don't watch Newcastle much, mainly because they're unwatchable, but the long-haired winger/midfielder/libero/whatever had a decent game against Man United on Wednesday, which leads me to believe he's a good player, and ergo, has no business being at Newcastle. If that makes sense.

The lad belongs somewhere glitzier and more attractive, two adjectives not often used to describe that city on Tyneside. Ship him to Portugal for a healthy fee.

Mark Hughes:
You're clearly not built to manage that money. Step aside... I hear Pompey is hiring.

Tim Cahill:
The man should be strapped to a rocketship and blasted into space, where the void shall tear him asunder. Hate.

It doesn't help that you forgot which club signed you in the summer, but surely 9 months is enough time for you to realize that the Blue side of Manchester is not the best showcase for a young Brazilian's skills. The money doesn't matter. Christ lad, find yourself a club that has more than three good players and you'll be set!

Any others I am missing?

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UF Quick Throw: Does This Mean We Can Wake You

It's over. Finally. We think.

But it's being reported all over the place (here, for example) that an agreement has finally been reached and the Beckham loan to Milan will extend to the end of the season, then he'll return to MLS. Yippee! It's win-win. He gets what he wants. And MLS fans will get one last chance to jeer him ruthlessly should they desire.

There is one interesting tidbit here: The value of not playing in MLS for half a season is $3M to Beckham. That's how much he's willing to pay of his own money to make this deal happen.

Think the cost of Becks' soccer academies just went up.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Super Frankie Catpard?

In an effort to consume your (and our) lives as much as possible, we're on Twitter now. Enjoy.

Good news on the Arsenal front. Theo and Eduardo in the squad for Burnley match [Sky Sports]
And Fabs is only two weeks away as well [Never Captain Nicky Butt]
Liverpool's next sponsor is Bank of America. Do we own them now too? [Telegraph]

Hollywood United put together a fundraiser for Aussie wildfire victims [The Offside Rules]
Former player Eyal Berkovic acts like an American soccer dad [Off The Post]
LA Galaxy will welcome back Landycakes on Tuesday [LA Times]
Norwich City, despite being threatened by relegation to League One, have sold 17,000 season tickets for next year [Norwich Evening News]

Frankie Lampard is super S-M-R-T. So says the Spartak doctor, at least [Eurosport]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: Super Frankie Catpard?"...


Kick is in less than 10.

I know, but I'll be back right at kick to get this, well, kicked off.

Looked for line-ups. Hadn't found them. But I'll get caught up promise. And if you want to follow along that would be dandy.

Oswaldo Sánchez (G), Juan Santiago Santiago (D), Jorge Estrada Manjarrez (D), Rafael Figueroa (D), Osmar Mares (D), Fernando Arce (M), Francisco Torres (M), Walter Jiménez (M), Daniel Ludueña (M), Vicente Vuoso (F), Christian Benítez (F)

Montreal: Matt Jordan (G), Leonardo Di Lorenzo (D), Nevio Pizzolitto, Cédric Joqueviel (D), Adam Braz (D), David Testo (M), Sandro Grande (M), Eduardo Sebrango (F), Joey Gjertsen (F), Roberto Brown (F), Rocco Placentino (F)

Three things:

A) I pulled those line-ups from soccernet so I have no idea how legit they are. Are the Impact really playing a 4-2-4? On the road? Doubt it.

B) The player to watch for the Impact is Eduardo Sebrango. He had both goals in the first leg.

C) Not-related: UF Favorite AZ Alkmaar lost in the Dutch Cup quarters today.

Moments from kick.Impact in white. Santos in Green. Glad you're playing along.

Kick And we're off...

Ha ha, and the Impact lost to the Dynamo in a friendly on their way down to Mexico. Too bad the Dynamo got housed on agg 4-1.

2nd minute: Sorry catching up. Barely had time to catch the game. But we're off and Santos is getting the ball out of their half. And now turn it over.

3rd minute: They are talking shit about Oswaldo Sanchez. Santos with a great cross to the right post, but it just goes over the head of the Santos player. The ball comes back in and is knocked out for a corner.

5th minute: Corner looked dangerous but it was cleared out with no shot on goal. Santos plays it deep and out for a goal kick.

6th minute: Impact with a dangerous cross from almost the end line. Sanchez bobbles it but smothers it to kill the threat. The Impact look patient and deliberate and totally non-plussed by the hostile environment... Thus far at least.

7th minute: Impact in the attacking third. Turn it over and a break. It's shut down by Jordan for Montreal.

8th minute: Corner for Santos. They take it short. And on a feed back to the right side, the ball is too heavily weighted and it goes out for a GK. Both teams having success getting deep on the wings so far.

10th minute: Testo taken down. No whistle. Teams exchanging balls. Monteal plays a long cross into the center of the box. Snachez comes sliding out to collect it.

11th minute: A nice professional foul by one of the Impact players when he was beaten on the right. Impact aren't just sitting back, which is nice. As it's allowing open play. This match got chippy late in Montreal, so there might be some carryover the longer this goes on with Montreal not conceding.

Hey Spectator, welcome.

13th minute: Sebrango gets in on the left with some space, but as he cuts it back, his touch is too heavy. It runs out past the 18 and Montreal is too unorganized to do anything after the break down.

14th minute: Ludueña totally beat his man. And with some space sent a cross back across the box. But his left foot puts too much on it and it goes over the only other (diminutive) Mexican in the box. Impact dodge one.

15th minute: Goal 1-0 Santos. Benítez given too much room on a free header. The ball comes in from 20-plus out. It's a great service and a clinical finish. So we've suddenly got a game. Bad defense by the Impact.

18th minute: Two more good chances from Santos. Benítez again off a deflection. He winds up but his shot is blocked. The rebound falls in the box, but is cleared for a corner. Corner is taken short.

19th minute: The keeper comes out to clear it and doesn't punch it very far. Santos lobs it back toward the open goal, but there's a whistle for a foul and the Impact get the free kick. Okay on reply Benítez didn't really have much room on that header for the goal. It was a massive failure (failuer?) by the defender to not get any part of his head on it.

20th minute: Another cross into the box and this time it's Vuoso with the header. It forces a diving save from Jordan. Montreal under a fair amount of pressure here.

22nd minute: Benitez to Ludueña who has all kinds of space. Montreal lucky to get a deflection. The speed of Santos on the wings is killing Montreal as the Mexicans are getting easy crosses into the box. Montreal needs a goal. Then they need to rethink their formation. They really are playing without much of a midfield.

24th minute: And now Vuoso... Wow. 1-1. Terrible job by Sanchez and the Santos defense.

So I was just saying that Vuoso had gotten behind the Impact defense again. But off the save by Jordan, the Impact get up to the attacking third but there is a horrible backpass from Santos that is picked up by Roberto Brown and he splits the last two defenders then beats Sanchez.

27th minute: The complexion of this two-legger has just changed as Santos Laguna now need 3 goals. So they'll have to start pushing and that means opportunites on the counter for the Impact. Just a shockingly bad backpass from Santos Laguna.

29th minute: Santos with no huge change in formation yet. Impact draw a foul in the midfield. Free kick.

30th minute: And they play it forward. No shell here from the Impact. Which is a little odd... Just saying.

31st minute: Benítez with a great chance from the left, but he cuts back from the left edge of the 18 and gives the defender time to recover and strip the ball on a nice clean tackle. Ooh, now Santos with the ball clean deep on the left again after a fortuitous deflection. The ball comes naked across the goal. Jordan is beat, but the ball is cleared. Luck for the Impact.

32nd minute: Motreal need some help on the right side of the defense. Santos is getting all kinds of pressure and space, they just can't make that next pass to get a good shot.

33rd minute: Oswaldo "Dirty" Sanchez is hurt? Didn't even see the injury, but he couldn't wait to get out of there. Didn't even act like he might be able to continue. Wuss.

35th minute: Eh... looks like Sanchez pulled up with a hammy. So it's legit.

36th minute: Another corner for Santos. This one cleared off the line for another corner. The ball is floated in and Jiménez nails it but right at Jordan. That was another good chance for Santos. Even needing three goals, there not out of this as Montreal's defense is shit.

38th minute: Now Benítez on the right gets some space, but it's knocked out.

39th minute: Goooooool.... Sebrango 2-1 Montreal! Okay, I'm not even sure how Montreal got the ball so deep after the turn over off Benítez for a throw in. But Sebrango took a feed right at the six. It was deflected and he settled it befor taking a turn to the right and burying it past the keeper.

41st minute: Brilliant is on for Montreal. I couldn't even see who went off. It wasn't even anyone in the starting XI I pilfered from soccernet. Accuracy and soccernet are not pals.

42nd minute: There were about 8 shots in 10 seconds for Santos right there. Really the ball kept getting deflected, popping up, and finding another player in green. But the defense holds. Montreal, for all of the living dangerously they've done have only conceded the one goal.

44th minute: Crowd wanted a hand ball against Monteal. Might have a legit complaint. Would have been a tough call. But eh... Don't think the defender extended the arm. I'm not kidding when I say this could be 6-0 for Santos Laguna. It's like they are playing 4 Bendtners up front.

45th minute: We're in stoppage time. Two minutes. Goal kick for the Impact.

45 +2 minute: Santos showing too much patience for a team down 4 and with 60 seconds left before half.

Half Montreal up 2-1 and 4-1 on aggregate with 2, count 'em 2, away goals.

Back in a few... talk amongst yourselves. Or in this case, Spectator, talk to yourself if you so feel.

Poor USL, FSC can't even given them their logo on the graphics. Instead putting up one for Racing. Which Racing I'm not even sure. Think it was Racing Club from Argentina.

Okay, the changes...

Montreal: Felix Brilliant (great name by the way) on for Steven Deroux.
Santos Laguna: Miguel Becerra (I think) on for Oswaldo Sanchez. I tried to check the gamecast on soccernet and they didn't even have the right players in the switch. They had two defenders, not the keepers.

Kick Second half underway...

It would take an Oiler's-esque collapse for the Impact to blow this. But... Santos Laguna had all kinds of possesion around the Montreal 18. They also got off plenty of balls that the Impact were lucky to deflect. So it could just as easily be 5-0 as 2-2 as it is 1-2.

47th minute: minute: Impact on a counter. There was an obvious foul, but the ref let them play the advantage. Jimenez just took a whack at Montreal's Brown. It was an easy yellow. Could have been red. Anyway, the ref let them play the advantage, but the problem was the only supporting player, Brown, was on the ground because he had been hacked.

49th minute: And more failure in the box by Santos. They had another cross from deep go right across the goal mouth but nobody could connect. Then a good look on the rebound was blocked on a late charge by Joqueviel for the Impact.

51st minute: Still lots of pressure for Laguna. And the Impact are their own enemies as the kind of refuse to clear it high and wide, instead pushing it back to center where invariably someone in green is there to try a shot or get it to the wings for a cross.

53rd minute: Becerra takes down Brown and that is a stone cold penalty. The back-up keeper doesn't get any of the ball. It was passed him when he took out the Impact player. And somewhat unjustly Santos come right back and score. 2-2.

Stupid blogger. My edits won't go up. And as I'm trying to describe the goal Santos hit the post and get a shot of the rebound off that is barely saved by Jordan.

56th minute: So, backing up. Benitez got in on the right and got off a shot that Jordan couldn't collect (and he should have). Vuoso was right there to tap in a rebound. Then off the ensuing kick, Santos come back down and on a beauty curling shot from the right (not sure who it was) the ball went off the far post. Santos still need to score 3 times, but it's not looking undoable.

Backing way up, the Impact should be sipping shakes right now though. Again, Becerra, the replacement keeper took down Brown in the box. A better ref calls that. On a penalty kick this match is over. Just saying...

59th minute: Montreal with better possesion and David Testo with some space that forces a diving save to his right from Becerra.

61st minute: Quintero with a cross. It's settled and on the turn, the shot is blocked. For being the taller team, Montreal doesn't contest much in the air. Strange.

62nd minute: God, is it my prejudice or are Mexican players just the poorest sports who take the cheapest shots? Ludueña with a yellow for kick an Impact player in the foot when he was on the ground.

63rd minute: Okay, I think FSC missed a sub altogether, but it looks like Quintero on for Mares (Santos) at half. Sorry, working with less than stellar information, not to mention my lack of familiarity with these teams.

65th minute: The Impact are leaving themselves way too exposed on the back. Another good cross from Benitez and the header goes down outside of the right post. Jordan was in trouble, but the header was off target. Anyway, Montreal need to think about reshuffling so as not to leave the back line as exposed. Still lots of time.

68th minute: More from Santos Laguna. Ludueña with service into the box and Jordan is way late to get to it. He punches it and it goes out for a corner. That corner comes blazing right across the cross bar. It's punched out for another corner.

69th minute: Brown held, and he puts his arms up like "Yo, what gives ref?" No whistle. Quintero to Benitez and it results in another corner. It's kept in and go.... Oh, it was in the back of the net but it was offside. Almost for Santos.

72nd minute: Montreal with some possession in the Santos half. Haven't seen much of that this half.

73rd minute: Quintero was a great sub as he's been a menace. Santos with a ball in behind the defense. And it's cleared at the last minute. Santos with their 142nd corner of the match. Ball comes to the top of the box. Right footed shot from Vuoso goes wide.

74th minute: And here we go. Goal Santos 3-2. Vuoso with an easy tap after Jimenez gets almost to the end line with room. He sends it back. Vuoso is there unmarked. Monreal is still having issues in back and is getting beat (and badly) on the right side.

Aam Braz on Brown off for Monteal. So that's finally a 5th defender for the Impact. Yellow picked up by Joqueviel for the Impact.

77th minute: Another yellow here for the Impact. Testo grabbed a jersey after he was dispossessed. Montreal might find the best defense is a good offense as they have done almost nothing in the Santos half of the field this half.

80th minute: Ack, Arce took a dive and got Santos a free kick. Ball goes into the wall.

81st minute: Montreal doesn't clear long well either. And now they concede another corner. Ugh. This is when you can tell this is a USL side. And Pizzolitto bails out Jordan. The keeper was out of position and the ball was floating in when the defender headed it safely over the bar.

82nd minute: Benitez causing more problems and earns a corner. Then on the corner Benitez gets to it on the far post and just misses on the back post. Really, the Impact have about 5 inches per man and they are getting killed in the air.

85th minute: God Montreal, just kick it as far as you can every once in a while. Just to give your backline a breather.

87th minute: Santos get a free kick at the edge of the box. They take it quickly. The ball takes a few bounces and is fed wide to Benitez, but the ball runs out of bounds.

88th minute: Throw in for the Impact. They get it down field to Becerra and Santos is back on the attack.

89th minute: Wow.. I think Vuoso just hit his own player in the back instead of hitting the open goal. Jordan was about 5 yards on the ground away from everything. Then inexplicably the ref gives a corner to Santos. Probably out of habit.

90th minute: Four minutes of stoppage. Not sure where 4 minutes comes from but Santos still needs two goals. They are pushing and get another corner.

90th +1: Okay and the ref atones for the missed call on the corner a couple of corners back by giving the Impact a GK they don't deserve but badly need as they are dragging on the back line.

GOL! Holy Cow 4-2. 4-4 on aggregate.

OMG Another goal 5-2 Santos. They lead 5-4 on aggregate.

I can't even get a description out and they score again.

Quintero again. Two goals in about 90 seconds. I cannot even believe what has just happened. Was he offside? No matter, this is unreal.

And there is the whistle. Santos Laguna 5-4 on aggregate. I cannot believe what I just saw.

Wow, just wow. Santos get 2 stoppage time goals from Quintero. I swear he was offside on the second, but there was no good replay angle. The Montreal defense was caught dead and flatfooted anyway.

Two things: A) Where did 4 minutes come from and B) Back to the PK on the keeper that should have been given.

But credit to Santos, they kept charging and kept getting shots and corners and chances. They are through.

That was a crazy last couple of minutes. I couldn't even get a description of the 4th goal out when Santos put the 5th one in. Wow. Poor Montreal. They were gassed though. They had nothing in the legs and Santos made them pay.

Thanks for playing along guys.

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Ronaldo Popped in the Eye [Updated]

No, it's not a continuation of the post below. Sorry to get your hopes up.

This is about the tranny-hooker loving Fat Ronaldo. He made his return to the pitch last night, playing for Corinthians in its 2 - 0 Brazlian Cup win over Itumbiara (También).

For those of you counting the months, that makes 13 since his knee injury at Milan knocked him so far out of the game he had to return back home.

Such a mediagasm surrounded his return that, after the match, there was an access-seeking melee of "around two dozen reporters" where an errant microphone hit him in the eye.

Pictures (and, man, did we look but were unable to find any) showed his eye badly bruised and swollen.

This is all just a distraction from the real story: Ronaldo ran around for about 22 minutes without collapsing from either A) his own weight or B) (related) his own lack of fitness.

Eurosport described the appearance thusly: "Wearing his favourite number nine shirt, Ronaldo had only a few touches of the ball in an unspectacular debut. It was his first game for a Brazilian club since leaving Cruzeiro in 1994."

We poke fun around here, mostly because we're not smart enough to get away with sincerity and not sound like 14-year-old girls. But we're kind of happy for Ronaldo as many people suspected he was done after the last (his third or fourth) serious knee injury.

The fact that he's not done also makes us happy as it means more jokes about his size and his indeterminate sexual preference.

[Update: Our commenters rule. But, yes, this is the same pic as listed in the comments below.]

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CR7, UR Nt my BFF

So apparently there was some halftime fun in the tunnel of the United v. Newcastle match yesterday.

Towards the end of the half, Steven Taylor went in high with his arm on a challenge and made contact with Miss Priss' face.

Ronaldo, ever the tough player, shook it off and proceeded to play on, totally unfazed by any contact. Oh wait, no. He did the exact opposite, instead choosing to become intimate with the ground for an overly extended period.

Taylor did get a yellow for his efforts, but that wasn't the end of it as it's being reported that it spilled over to the walk up the tunnel where something happened.

What? That depends on the source.

According to The Sun: Ronny said "Your style of football is shit." Taylor responded with "Well you are ugly."

The Daily Express says that the exchage took place between Taylor and Wayne Rooney with the latter telling the former: "You've always been a shit footballer." Taylor responded, "I might be a shit player but at least I’m not ugly like you."

They then exchanged "Am not"-"Are too" 37 times. That ended when Taylor said, "You're ugly, infinity."

Either report could be legit when you consider that, yes, Rooney is trollish, but Cristiano Ronaldo is ugly on the inside.

The FA could investigate, and they will likely find that Cristiano Ronaldo is an utter twit.

Read more on "CR7, UR Nt my BFF"...

Who Set This on 'Head Games'?

So I used to play poker with this guy named Dennis Wu. Indulge me, here.

I remember one hand where there was like a pair of kings on the flop. Dennis made a bet and I called, then he told me that he had a full house. He out and out announced it to the entire table.

So I'm not thinking about the hand anymore, I'm thinking is "Dennis telling the truth or lying?"

He continues to fleece me on the turn and the river. Sure enough he had a pocket king and had paired the other card, so he indeed flopped a full house. I got A) cleaned out and B) humiliated.

So I know exactly how Mallorca's Martí feels.

The home side was down 2-0 on aggregate entering yesterday's Copa del Rey semi as Mallorca hosted FC Barcelona.

Mallorca had already pulled back one goal when they were awarded a penalty kick in the 56th minute. This is not only huge in the Copa as it would have leveled the match on aggregate, but this could really destroy an already fragile Barcelona and maybe send them into a spin they don't recover from this season. Oh, did I mention that Mallorca was also up a man as Martin Caceres had just been sent off?

Mallorca had Barca on the ropes. They were going to pull even and have 30 minutes with a man advantage.

Then Jose Pinto, Barca's back-up keeper, got into Martí's head.

The fun begins at about 3:20 in the clip below.

Pinto gets Marti's attention. He points to himself then points to his left. He clearly tells him "Hey, I'm going that way."

Martí even nods (although it's not entirely clear if he's responding to Pinto or to the ref signaling him that it's okay to take the kick). If you know the final, you know what happens (and you can probably guess anyway) but it doesn't make it any less awesome to watch.

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Quick Throw: Ashley Cole in the clink

Spartak left-back Ashley Cole was arrested last night for being drunk and disorderly after a charity event in South Kensington. No comment yet from the club, and young Cashley was too busy napping off the champagne headache to give a quote. Selfish bastard.

[Guardian Sport]

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: Really? No one?

Dude totally misplays the handball [Dirty Tackle]
Behind the scenes of US-Mexico. Nine minutes well spent [The Offside Rules]
Russel Brand and Noel Gallagher are teaming up for a footie radio show [TwentyFourBit]
Another damn fine goal from Israel [Never Captain Nicky Butt]

Ladies, this is how you meet your footballer man [Sports Crackle Pop]
Norwich player has to try to convince anyone and everyone that he did not head the ball [Off the Post]
Dean Windass would rather be on the bench at Hull, thank you [The Sun]
Raise your hand if you knew Karlsruhe and Stuttgart were not fond of each other [The Beautiful Game]

While they may have scored four today, Tottenham have no players willing to take a penno [The Spoiler]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: Really? No one?"...

EPL Liveblog: Newcastle United v. Manchester United

Meet the soon-to-be busiest man on the pitch.

Heaven help us all.

Starting Lineups:
Newcastle (in the 4-4-2): Harper, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Bassong, Jose Enrique, Lovenkrands, Ryan Taylor, Geremi, Gutierrez, Martins, Smith.
Subs: Krul, Cacapa, Butt, Ameobi, Edgar, LuaLua, Carroll.

Man Utd (in the 4-4-2 also): Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick, Park, Berbatov, Rooney.
Subs: Foster, Anderson, Giggs, Scholes, Evans, Tevez, Eckersley.

This already doesn't look good. Coloccini apparently got some advice from his dad, who coached Tevez when he was a lad, but that won't help as the Devil begins the match on the bench. Fergie has selected a strong team, bringing back several first-teamers who missed the festivities on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Newcastle have managed to select 11 players from their squad who will face a massive test of their self-esteem, and they've included Alan Smith, a former Man United player who is unique in that he wasn't very good.

Honestly, is there any hope whatsoever?

They're ready to go, and so am I. This will be awful.

The pitch looks absolutely shocking, coated in rain and gloam that might only temporarily slow down the visitors.

Within seconds of the kick-off, the Magpies give the ball away and Rooney is clean through on goal, except for the minor issue of being marginally offside. Yep, 25 seconds in, and almost a goal for United.

2 mins: Newcastle are fearless! Two quick attacks and some decent passing on the soaked grass, culminating in Obafemi Martins shooting well wide of van der Sar's goal.

3 mins: Rooney's offside again as Vidic looks to set him free over the top, but it bears noting that Newcastle are rather simple to unlock. Just lob it over the top and expect to beat the trap. It's a matter of time, as the home side appear to be defending from the half-way line.

5 mins: Sloppy would be an understatement. Not many passes from either side are ending up where they're supposed to.

An early corner for the Magpies, and Ryan Taylor will try to cause a shock in the box...

... he puts it to the far post, where Steven Taylor heads back across goal, but it's easily cleared. More posession thus far for Newcastle, but I suspect the charade will not last.

8 mins: Ronaldo has a rather simple time of getting into the Newcastle area, dribbling his way through and firing off a shot, but it's deflected wide.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL for the home side! I just vomited up my central nervous system. I repeat, THE CASTLE HAS BEEN BREACHED.

I guess we can end van der Sar's goalless streak now. Stunner from Newcastle, and it came from a wonderful move. The Magpies cleared the corner with ease and counter-attacked down the left with Gutierrez, who found Martins. When it came back to Gutierrez, he took a rather speculative shot from the edge of the box, but Edwin gaffed on the save and it bobbled up neatly for Peter Lovenkrands, who tapped in to an empty net with the defense frozen. Hilarity, schadenfreude, call it what you will. Newcastle are in front! Newcastle United 1, Manchester United 0

12 mins: Nice shot from Rooney from some 20-odd yards as the defense fails to properly clear a cross from the right. Still, United are threatening, and if the Magpies try and defend for the next 78 minutes, they will be routed. Please don't stop attacking, lads. PLEASE.

Another gorgeous counter-attack by Newcastle, who are playing with the fearlessness of a drunk tourist at San Fermin. Martins releases Lovenkrands as United are slow to get back on defense, and when Oba gets the ball back, he glides past Vidic and fires just wide of the post. Should have been 2-0, if he'd shot across goal. As such, United breathe a sigh of relief, and Fergie jumps to his feet on the touchline, presumably to reorgnanize. He hasn't had to work this hard for a while.

16 mins: This is what United want. Alan Smith scythes down Ronaldo at the edge of the box, and the home fans are rather subdued as CR-7 waits to take the free kick...

... Ronaldo hits the wall. Newcastle break AGAIN, this time with Gutierrez, and Rooney decides to foul him to slow things down.''

18 mins: It's all NUFC at the moment as my feed crashes and burns. They're not afraid, it seems, and they can't afford to be considering where they are in the relegation mire.

Free kick for Newcastle on the edge of United's box. Ryan Taylor loops it safely over the bar, but make no mistake: the normally cool, casual United are looking rather shell-shocked at the moment. As a Liverpool fan, I'll note that we stuffed this lot 5-1 before Christmas.

20 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and you knew this was coming. O'Shea and Park play a lovely 1-2 on the right wing, opening things up, and Wayne Rooney gets it just inside the area, takes a touch, and fires it right through Harper's hands. A lovely goal from a team I hate more than any other in the history of anything.

Expect a return to normalcy shortly. Newcastle United 1, Manchester United 1

22 mins: Both sides aren't showing much interest in defending at the moment, which is making this easier. Gutierrez is having his way with John O'Shea (as most players do), cutting in from the left and running into three defenders, winning a corner for his efforts.

Ryan Taylor puts it right in the six-yard box, but no-one can control it and United break the other way. Bassong is the last man and cuts off Rooney's pass to Carrick at the top of the box, then NUFC break back the other way, but no-one can get on the end of Jose Enrique's dangerous cross and United have a goal kick and a breather.

End-to-end stuff at the moment. Plenty more goals in this one.

26 mins: The M.O. to beat United is simple enough in theory, though the practice is quite different: don't play scared. As Blackburn showed a fortnight ago, if you show the nerve to take the game to Fergie's lads, they're not as daunting an opponent. Already, Newcastle have had four or five quality openings, and we're barely midway through the first half.

It remains to be seen whether they can keep it up for the full 90, but already, NUFC are settling in and enjoying some decent possession, with MUFC playing the part of the headless chickens.

Hey look, Robbie Keane scored for Spurs! He'd be a wonderful addition at Anfield, some day... oh, how a lad can dream.

Watching the replays of Newcastle's goal still puts a smile on my face. For a guy who was 89 minutes short of owning the European scoreless streak record, it was an awful error. Lest I mention that he's averaged just 3 saves a game during this streak? Yeah, on that NUFC goal, it's safe to say that his backline deserve the bulk of the credit for that clean sheets run.

30 mins: Another lovely attack from Newcastle, but Ryan Taylor's final ball across goal misses everyone and goes agonizingly wide of van der Sar's post.

And I've lost my feed. Bollocks. Give me a minute or two...

... found another! Get in. Just in time to see Ronaldo shoot a mile wide and appeal for a corner that shouldn't have been. Man, these guys get every call their way, don't they?

36 mins: Ronaldo pops up on the right wing and tries to find Fletcher in the middle. He does, but Fletcher's shot is weak and Harper smothers it easily.

It's all United at the moment. Tons of possession around the NUFC area, and plenty of last-ditch tackles to keep them out.

Corner for United. Carrick to take...

... and so close to goal #2. The Magpies decide to let the ball bounce across the 6-yard box, and Vidic dives in but puts his header over the bar. Not very good defending.

Wigan 0, West Ham 1 (Cole 34")
Man City 1 (Elano 24" pen), Aston Villa 0
Stoke 1 (Beattie 14"), Bolton 0
Spurs 2 (Keane 9", Pavlyuchenko 14"), Middlesbrough 0
Blackburn 0, Everton 0
Fulham 0, Hull 0

41 mins: The pace has slowed considerably, with United having plenty of time/space to knock the ball around without much menace. The first meaningful move for Newcastle in a while culminated in a Ryan Taylor free kick that he wastes.

Carlton Cole has managed to get himself sent off for his second bookable offense within 10 minutes, during which time he also put the Hammers ahead. That's some good productivity right there.

44 mins: A nice move for United down the left as Ronaldo frees Evra round the back. He squares it for Park, whose shot is blocked before it can trouble Harper. The Magpies are falling into the trap of playing 9 behind the ball and letting Man U bring the game to them. That approach rarely works, but thankfully half-time is just around the corner.

Rooney gets caught offside for at least the 5th time in the first half, and we're seconds away from the whistle.

45 mins + 1: Uh oh. A bit scrappy from United at the back, and Ronaldo goes down hard after meeting the business end of Steven Taylor's arm/elbow. Didn't look so bad at first, but he's in the book nonetheless. Ronaldo is still rolling around on the floor, presumably looking for his contact lens.

HALF TIME: Newcastle United 1, Manchester United 1
Not before Rio gets himself booked after the whistle as he argues with the ref about what just happened. In trying to get Taylor sent off, he's picked up a yellow card. A stupid, stupid move.

Take your break, ladies and gents. I pity van der Sar, who's about to get an almighty bollocking for his error early on.

Spurs are now up 3-0 at home to 'Boro, which makes me ask two questions:
1. How on earth did LFC fuck that one up?
2. Where was this scoring on Sunday in that Cup Final?

Here they come, lurching out of the tunnel. Fergie is still bickering a bit about that Taylor/Ronaldo donnybrook on the stroke of half-time, but it's water under the bridge now. Here's hoping that Rio's pointless yellow card gains some significance in the second half.

45 minutes to hope for a miracle. United's winning has to end sometime, right? Somewhere, Guus and Rafa begin a fresh round of prayer.

47 mins: Lively from United early on, as Evra almost gets free in the box after good work on the left from Ronaldo, but it's not to be. Then, Martins dribbles past Ferdinand AND Carrick, only to deliver an awful cross-field pass intended for Lovenkrands. It goes out for a goal kick.

Vidic is down after a rather nasty aerial tussle with Obafemi Martins. His cheekbone looks all kinds of fucked up, but instead of getting medical treatment, he decides to go after Oba for the elbow he just took to the face. They're both fine. Quit bitching, ladies.

50 mins: The fun continues, as Rio gives up a silly free-kick when he nudges Lovenkrands off the ball in the corner. Didn't look like much, but karma reacts when Ryan Taylor crosses the ball right over the top of goal.

52 mins: Very nice work by van der Sar, if a little dangerous. Gutierrez plays a delightful ball through the middle to Lovenkrands. Vidic gets a touch on it, but it falls nicely for the Danish(?) striker. Luckily for MUFC, Edwin reacts quickly to take the ball away, before running with it a bit and hoofing it clear.

55 mins: Safety first from Newcastle, as Harper palms Evra's cross out for a corner under minimal pressure. Carrick delivers a weak corner, so what difference did it make? Meanwhile, Vidic goes off for a minute as his cheek has swelled up and looks awful. Bit of blood, too.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and dear oh dear, what a mess. An innocuous cross into the area is met by Steven Taylor. He tries to chest it back to Harper, but slips and chests it right into Park's path. Ji-Sung knocks it past Harper and it's going wide, but Dimitar Berbatov is at the far post to tap it in. Shocking gaffe, and the visitors have a lead that is utterly undeserved. The commentator on the feed I'm watching (Fox Sports in Spanish?) then celebrates by singing Berbatov's name to the tune of La Marseillaise. Figure that one out, if you dare. Newcastle United 1, Manchester United 2

It's now a mountain for Newcastle to climb, and they have a reasonable shout for a penalty within minutes. Martins gets between Vidic and Evra and goes down while trying to turn and shoot. Replays show he just slipped, and Fergie can apply that smug smile to his ruddy visage once more. His team are winning when they shouldn't be, and all signs point to a rather dull final 30 minutes as the visitors play 8 behind the ball.

This game could use a sub or two. Shola Ameobi is available, though I'm not sure what good that would do.

63 mins: This suddenly became a lot less fun, as United nearly make it 3. Ronaldo does his twinkle-toes in the box and backheels to Park who is primed to shoot, but a lovely challenge by Bassong snuffs out the danger. Vidic gets his head on Carrick's corner, but it's over the bar. Replay shows Harper got a finger on it, but no corner was given. Does anyone really care?

Yeah, this game's over.

68 mins: MUFC appeal for a penalty as Coloccini brings Park down as they challenge for a header, but nothing's given. Already the visitors are beginning to play 4-foot passes up and down their backline as NUFC appear to have just one striker who's willing to chase possession.

74 mins: zzzzzzz, and my feed's gone down again. Bear with me. Moments ago, van der Sar does well to collect Ryan Taylor's high, looping cross with 2 NUFC strikers underneath him, but the dangers gone, and we can look forward to 15 more minutes of Rio and Nemanja passing it amongst themselves. God, I hate this fucking team.

Sub for Newcastle, as the game enters the slow death rattle that most Man U games do when they're winning with time to kill... Ryan Taylor, he of the awful corners/free kicks, comes off, and Andrew Carroll comes on. I have no idea who that is, or what he does, or what he's good at. Regardless, he's got 13+ minutes to conjure up an equalizer, or to help with that cause.

Sorry about that, I lost my feed and went to the loo. Of course it didn't matter, did it? You know what happened. Fergie's crew snoozed through the past 10 minutes without incident.

FULL TIME: Newcastle United 1, Manchester United 2
There it is. If there was any lingering doubt, mark it down: the title race is over.

Man City 2, Aston Villa 0
Stoke 2, Bolton 0
Wigan 0, West Ham 1
Fulham 0, Hull 0 (almost finished)
Spurs 4, Middlesbrough 0 (almost finished)
Blackburn 0, Everton 0 (almost finished)

Read more on "EPL Liveblog: Newcastle United v. Manchester United"...

Liveblog forthcoming

To celebrate our safe return from England, a spot of liveblogging for the afternoon awaits, in which I pray for a miracle at St. James's Park, admonish Geovanni for being a petulant douche (and similarly, for Phil Brown in thinking he's bigger than Jesus), and lovingly document with words things that are happening in an EPL game.

It's better than the real thing.

Read more on "Liveblog forthcoming"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Today's shirt does not fall into the usual realm of this feature. There is no bad design. There is no awful pattern. There is no sublimated print, though the shirt is from the '90s. No, today's shirt is what happens when you use trendy coloration and then a decade passes.

The season from which this shirt comes, 1995-96, is one year before Elton John rebought his interest in Watford after 10 years away. Could the sight of these colors have enticed him back? Or was it that, after seeing this away shirt, he knew his beloved club were heading in the wrong direction? I'll leave you to ruminate on that, for I certainly do not have the answers.

To me, this looks like a discarded Vancouver Grizzlies warmup top. A team which, not coincidentally, started up in 1995. I don't know who deigned that purple and teal not only looked good together, but were the it colors of the time, but it showed up in force at Watford. Ugly, ugly stuff.

And what about that sponsorship? I remember 1995 fairly well. I had a car (Ford Escort, if you must know) with a factory sound system. From time to time I would peruse some catalogues looking for ways to update said system. Blaupunkt were, to my friends and acquaintances at least, the gold standard at the time. For a princely sum, one could update their car's sound system with a new stereo and subwoofers to really blast that Miami Bass that was so popular at the time. It wouldn't have made Soundgarden sound much better, though, so I stayed away.

Are you looking to replay 1995? If so, then this is the eBay auction for you. For a mere 10 pounds (plus postage) you can be the proud owner of this unique shirt. As a special bonus, it's actually (probably) wearable by an adult. Unlike most old shirt auctions on eBay, this is not a Youth Large or some such, this is in fact a Adult Extra Large. Though, given size inflation and the UK to US sizing conversion, it's probably about equivalent to a modern US Medium.

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

Yes, Please.

Hugh Hefner, the octogenarian purveyor of smut, is king of an empire whose foundation is being eroded by the internet. Rulers, however, usually don't go down without a fight and Hef is trying to land few more scantily clad blows. The Playboy founder is trying to entice Cheryl Cole (and other comely British celebs) show her wares in the pages of his lad mag.

I'm sure this would go over well in the lockerroom.

Read more on "Yes, Please."...

What is this selling?

This was supposed to go in Backpasses last night, but I lost track of it. Anyway, it's a not-very-authentic-at-all video of Claude Makelele and Guillaume Hoarau playing foosball and getting beaten badly. The twist comes at the end.

It seems obvious to me that this is an attempt at making a video go viral. Unfortunately, I have no idea why. Is Nike trying to push a line of black and white tracksuits? Is that bar the French version of Dave & Buster's? I need an answer please.

Read more on "What is this selling?"...


I saw this t-shirt in the great Adam Sandler flick, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, and now I want it. I've managed to locate it for sale in a couple places, but it's super expensive. If anybody can find it for cheaper that would be greatly appreciated.

Also, I'm not sure who the silhouette is supposed to be of, George Best? Franz Beckenbauer (did he ever have a moustache?)? \

Read more on "Want."...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesday Backpasses: Zuszczak attack

One of many postings featuring "MLS sources" saying who the expansion clubs will be. Considering the last I saw (yesterday) said Miami and Montreal, take it with a grain of salt [The 24th Minute]
Did no one check a calendar? Wembley double-booked for CL final and League Two playoffs in 2011 [Mirror]
Man U fan recreated Wembley for CC final. Couldn't he at least wait for a FA Cup final? [EPL Talk]

Ex-Galatasaray and Leverkusen manager was shaken down for sexy photos from his stolen cell phone [Dirty Tackle]
More shirty typos [Guardian]
South Africa to institute voluntary lie detector tests for referees [Independent Online]
French ref, dropped by Ligue 1 for incompetence, to officiate Netherlands-Scotland [ScotZine]

Which EPL club has the brightest future with its youth? [Daily Mail]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: Zuszczak attack"...

Quick Throw: Adios Miami

Breaking news on the MLS expansion front. MLS, FC Barcelona and Marcelo Claure have "jointly agreed" that Miami is no longer a candidate for an expansion club. Jointly agreed is like telling people you and your girlfriend mutually agreed to break-up. In other words, it's a lie because she broke up with you. Miami joins Atlanta and Montreal in withdrawing their bids, leaving St. Louis, Vancouver, Portland, and Ottawa to fight it out for the two spots.

Portland's task force is set to recommend today a proposal to the city council that would call for the Paulson bid to chip in an additional $20M, plus a personal guarantee on the bonds for stadium improvements. I imagine the expansion fee might also be in play now with demand slowly drying up.

Read more on "Quick Throw: Adios Miami"...

That's a lot of pain for such a club

Ah Tottenham. We like to make fun of you on these pages. Every once in a while The Likely Lad will show up and try to defend you, but that often just makes it worse. Still, we don't get as mean as we could, because at some point beating a dead horse is not as fun as it used to be.

Today is not one of those days.

Consider yourself duly warned that what we are about to link to is as vile and disgusting as it gets.

From the, well, oddballs at ONTD comes a bevy of images all showing the same thing: shirtless Spurs getting tattoos. You know you are in trouble when the first image of the post is of a pasty and pliable Robbie Keane.

See? Not pretty.

Anyway, there are plenty more on there including one groups shot that shows just how short Aaron Lennon is in real life. Go look. And when you're done with that, I have another treat for you.

That one bloke in every picture seems to be the proprietor of New Wave Tattoos. Betcha didn't know that he has a Myspace page. I didn't either until I clicked the link at the bottom of the post.

Some of the winners from that page.

So, why is Homer Spurson wearing a pink shirt?

You should probably eat a sammich, Craig Bellamy

Male trampstamp, complete with bloody runoff

A Yid? Really?

I don't know what to say

Read more on "That's a lot of pain for such a club"...

UF POWER POLL - March 3, 2009

Looks like our animation here is something of a poison chalice... at least Barca is still in The Ten

After a 21-moon hiatus, the UF Power Poll returns today with some big changes and one glaring, red-faced constant. The worst we can say about Manchester United? They have conceded A GOAL (but not with van der Saar playing) and they did fail to do off with Spurs in 120 minutes (they waited to KICK ARSE in the shoot-out.) If they've suffered at all, it's by NOT notching that "precious away goal" at the San Siro. But we all knew this would be a tricky fixture. In theory, Jose and Co. have a decent chance at this. In theory. In practice, as much as soooome of us (self-included) can't stand it, Man U will probably win 2-0 at Old Trafford.

And what of Barca? Pep had sailed a near perfect course until the middle of February, but can he right the ship now? It's easy to dominate in the fall and winter, less so to recover as spring arrives. And then, before we get down to it, there's a certain well-known club from central Spain. They are called Real Madrid and they are led by one of the foremost managers in world football: Juande F#$%ckin' Ramos.

Dios Mio.

Here's the list-- with your Facebook votes lumped in!

1) Manchester United - 1.2 (last poll: 2nd place, 1.67 avg)

The Carling Cup winners tighten their death-grip on the top spot mostly thanks to Barca's freefall. It really wasn't a great two weeks by SAF's outsize standards. Like we mentioned, they should be expected to come through home to Inter, but would you be shocked if Mourinho snuck in there and managed a 1-1 (thus, sending the Mancs out on away goals)?? If Zlatan wants to stick it to his legion of English detractors, I believe this may be the time.

2) Real Madrid - 2.8 (4th, 4.00)

Probably the form club in European league play right now... maybe the best team on the continent if not for that Liverpool disaster. (It was an unlucky draw for Real, as Liverpool is probably the best team in Spain. Lingering should start a petition to move Los Rojos to La Liga. Surely they'd win a title there before the Premier League.) Still, the winning streak in the league is impressive, as is the way they're doing it. Ramos plays a style that might not win Europe, but is sure to make him a favorite at the Bernabeu. How man 6-0s did Don Capello manage during his title run?

3) Inter Milan - 2.9 (3rd, 3.67)

Draws with Torino and Roma in Italy have got to be frustrating, but would anyone like to bet on Juventus to overtake them? Think not. Another (real) Scudetto is in the offing and now it's all about the Champions League. Denying Man U that road goal was huuuuuge, obviously, and one can only imagine what Mourinho is cooking up for the trip north. His office is probably looking like the scene from A Beautiful Mind with Russel Crowe going apesh*t with the maps and magazine covers. Here's my hint, don't let Ronaldo alone with your left back.

4) Barcelona - 3.4 (1st, 1.33)

We're a fickle group over here-- the Facebook crew was more steady, placing these guys Second-- dropping the two-time leaders all the way down to the fourth slot. As we mentioned in the intro, Barcelona are in their first bad streak since Pep took over, so it remains to be seen if the mister can deal with a spot of failure. If they escape this Lyon mess, we'll still be rooting for that Barca - Man U final.

5) Juventus - 7.1 (unranked)

Juventus head up our Best of the Rest list. The latest challenger to Inter's reign of dominance in Serie A, they've had some...uhh... good luck (sound familiar?), but have also been fairly consistent in not losing. Though they did just that against Chelsea last week...

Wait, what are these guys doing so high up? I think we've been compromised. Someone here's on the take.

6) Hertha Berlin - 7.2 (unranked)

Oh, those wild and wacky Germans. Once again, this is the most competitive of the "big leagues" in Europe. Hertha are the newest leaders, overtaking UF men-crush Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich, Hamburg, etc... Led on the scoring sheet by Anfield Legend Andriy Voronin (7), with another win Hertha will exceed their point total from any of the past three seasons. Again, their inclusion is indicative of how sheisty the situation is after the Big Four.

7) Chelsea - 7.4 (unranked)

Sprechen die "Big Four," have Chelsea double-Dutched themselves back into League and European contention? Their season has gone from a Dutch Oven to a Bong and Blintz, Scmoke and a Pancake, in just a few weeks. Whether it's Guus, The New Manager Effect, or Drogba (the latter being the true path back to old glories), Chelsea have been solid of late, in that same unimpressive but dependable way to which we'd all grown so painfully accustomed. The real drama at Stamford Bridge has to be over Hiddink's future. Some rumblings about that he'd stay and offer up the Russkies to buddy Dick Advocaat. In the end, it's all up to Roman, of course. He may be out a bit of money, but the trigger-men are still on salary, so what the Boss says still goes.

8) Olympique Lyonnais - 8.0 (unranked)

How happy are Lyon supporters to know that Fred is finally out of town? (If you're there, Lyon fans, pray tell.) He was a significant part of their incredible run, but really, it's enough. Back to the football-- they were shockingly good against an admittedly struggling Barca side. Still, Barca is Barca and with Benzema in the attack, anything is possible. Including a long sought-after trip to the CL quarterfinals.

Yea, and they're going win in France, again-again-again-again-again-again-again. (The only way they don't is by knocking off Barcelona and losing focus on the league. Something I doubt would upset our Lyon fan. Où êtes-vous?)

9) AZ Alkmaar - 8.1 (unranked)

These dutch bastards just. will. not. lose. After dropping the first two, AZ have gone unbeaten for the better part of six months. And they're doing it with clean sheets and a bit of style. We also thank them for dispatching of any "Look, Steve McCLaren is about to lead Twente to the Dutch title" stories. That would've been bad for everyone... English fans and the people who care about them... the proud history of Dutch Football (David Winner would've crawled into a kiln)... so on...

10) Liverpool - 11.7 (5th, 5.78)

Not much to say here that hasn't already been said. Back to their old tricks. Had a little flirt with the Premier League, then remembered they are not, in fact, an English football team. Hey, I'd love for Spurs to have their problems... but not that manager. Rafa has a fantastic record, no debate, but they will never win the Premier League with him. See: article from yesterday's Guardianas proof.

Per Autoglass: stammering in mock shock-- "This is remarkable. Umm, an injured striker? Who could plan for such a scenario? Why, one might have to keep an extra proven striker around just in case..."

Dropped - Aston Villa, TSG Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, AS Roma

In the mix - FC Porto, PSG, Celtic

Not in the mix- Arsenal (no votes)

Read more on "UF POWER POLL - March 3, 2009"...

Much Adu About Nothing: Whither Freddy?

This was supposed to be a "passing the torch" moment. Um, not so much.

We here at UF have discussed the career of Freddy Adu at length, debating the merits of staying at Monaco v. moving to an even smaller European club/league v. coming home to MLS. I've even continually kept tabs on the youngster in my Ligue 1 Reviews, hoping against hope that I would have something to interesting to report about Freddy's activities on the pitch. The question remains: What is going on with this kid?

The topic has come up over at Soccer By Ives on several occasions, and now our friend Greg Lalas has chimed in on the subject.

The most recent reports regarding Freddy's playing time with Monaco have been expressing disappointment at the departure of AS Monaco president Jerome de Bontin who only arrived last April. The reason for his departure has been stated as being that the new majority investor in AS Monaco expressed a difference of opinion with de Bontin regarding his authority over club affairs. One example of his prior exercises of authority is his insistence on signing Freddy on loan from Benfica, and he appears to have been Adu's sole champion at the club.

With that in mind, let's examine Adu's career:

Playing with the U-20 and U-23 USA squads, he has a total of 20 goals in 38 matches which is an excellent strikerate. However, playing on the full senior squad (i.e. the USMNT), he only has 1 goal in 12 matches which represents a significant dip in production. Of course, on the USMNT Freddy faces much more serious competition for playing time and even when on the pitch he is not the first choice to receive the ball on scoring opprotunities. Yet, when playing in MLS for DC United, against demonstrably inferior competition to that which he now faces in Europe, he only had 11 goals in 87 matches, which is a similar rate to that on the USMNT. In short, against teenagers Freddy scores approximately 1 goal every 2 matches, against domestic (US) competition he scores approximately 1 goal every 8 matches, and against international competition he scores 1 goal every 12 matches (so far, at least). See a pattern emerging there?

Just maybe, Freddy Adu was a bit overhyped and he had not lived up to expectations before he even set foot in Europe. So what has happened at Monaco? Have a look:

Ligue 1 matches:
26: Number of matches for which Freddy was eligible to be selected
17: Number of matches for which Freddy was selected
0: Number of matches for which Freddy was in the starting XI
9: Number of matches for which Freddy was used as a substitute

In those 9 matches, Adu has played a total of 97 minutes (with his longest match appearance at 21 minutes against Rennes in a 2-1 loss), scored 0 goals, had 0 assists, and picked up 1 yellow card (which came 1 minute after his substitution against Bordeaux). He has come on as a substitute in the 87th minute, 82nd minute (twice), 79th minute (twice), 69th minute, 90th (!) minute, 80th minute, and 75th minute.

More importantly for Lalas' assertion that Freddy should "tough it out" where he noted that "Ricardo continues regularly to include Adu in the match day roster, an obvious encouragement to the youngster", in the past 7 Ligue 1 matches Adu has only been selected once and he never got off the bench in that match.

Now, to be fair to Freddy, his best performance of the season was the match where he got the most time on the pitch, playing 21 minutes against Carlos Bocanegra and a very good Stade Rennais side. But in the other matches, even when he has 10 minutes on the pitch he has looked completely lost. Certainly some of this is a function of being thrust into a match so late, but he trains with his teammates every day and so there should be a modicum of understanding between them that simply does not appear to be there.

Sadly, Freddy reminds me more and more of Landon Donovan's early days in Europe (although Landon's latest stint isn't blowing any doors off either). He looks lost, hurt, confused, and a bit homesick. In contrast to Lalas' assertion that Freddy coming home would damage both himself and US soccer, I think that the youngster still has much to learn about being a team player, and he is better suited doing that on an MLS club with 1 or 2 other "important" players rather than in Europe where he will be dismissed too easily, as most American outfield players tend to be. Perhaps after 2-3 more years of seasoning playing alongside a mix of aging international players and current USMNT players, Adu will develop the mentality he needs to be successful in Europe. I don't think that anyone doubts that the skill is there - his recent performances against Argentina and Juventus have demonstrated that. Maybe Freddy Adu just needs to grow up, or risk being the latest wunderkind to not live up to his billing.

Read more on "Much Adu About Nothing: Whither Freddy?"...

Americans Abroad: Strengthening Our Reputation for Producing Awesome Goalies Crappy Tourists

Hunter Gilstrap has gone AWOL in South Africa.

Yeah, we had the same reaction: Who the hell is Hunter Gilstrap and why is he playing in South Africa?

He's a former College of Charleston goalkeeper and he doesn't seem to be playing in the PSL anymore.

After conceding five goals and then showing fans the proverbial middle finger, Maritzburg United goalie Hunter Gilstrap failed to attend a disciplinary hearing and has also apparently vanished from the Kwa-Zulu Natal town... "His cell phone is off, he has not been at training since Monday and he failed to show up for the disciplinary hearing," said team manager Quinton Jettoo.
The five-goal one-finger incident occurred two Saturdays ago against Golden Arrows. Gilstrap was supposed to attend a hearing the following Wednesday, but he didn't make it.

And there is suspicion that he tanked the game on purpose. Gilstrap was dropped from the team's number one in favor of Tashrique Goldman earlier in the season, so when Gilstrap was called in late to start in the provincial derby, club boss Farouk Kadodia suspects Gilstrap might have allowed in some howlers to avenge his demotion.

Oh, and get kicked off the team on purpose so he could come home.

"It was a comedy of errors - cheap, cheap goals. It was like sabotage," said Kadodia. "Perhaps the goalkeeper was trying to provoke us into cancelling his contract, so he could leave for home, all because Goldman took his place."
Gilstrap was on a one-season contract that could only be terminated by mutual consent.

Maritzburg is just two points from the bottom of the league, so it's in a relegation battle. On top of that, they just lost their striker (and this name is A) Awesome B) Now ironically more awesome) Lucky Maselesele as he was banned for two years after being caught with cocaine.

Officially, Gilstrap was supposed to appear on two charges: 1) for giving a poor performance, and 2) for bringing the club into disrepute by showing a finger to the fans. The latter was probably a solid case. The former, not so much.

It might be irrelevant if Gilstrap never turns back up in South Africa as speculation is that he's already returned home to Cleveland.

Read more on "Americans Abroad: Strengthening Our Reputation for Producing Awesome Goalies Crappy Tourists"...

UF Quick Throw: Some Beckham Deal Close to Being Dzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz [Updated]

MLS seems content to get nothing and like it. Well, they'll get Becks, but for a shorter time and then he'll probably walk.

Milan claims it is currently negotiating an extension of the loan, through June 30. At that point he'll rejoin the Galaxy. Then at the end of the MLS season, Becks will walk for free, as he has the option to opt out of his contract in November. Then he'll rejoin Milan in January when the transfer window opens up.

The Galaxy however are maintaining that Beckham will be back shilling for Herbalife come March 9.

(Oh, and Spectator wants to point out that he called this correctly when nobody else did... Does that mean I have to go dig up the post where we all guessed what would happen?)

[Update after the jump]

Update: As TFA points out below, it is indeed a buy-out clause (although it doesn't seem that there is a figure attached to it in the article). Also, the LA Times is reporting his return date to the Galaxy as July 15. Finally, talk about buying the lead; check out the second-to-last paragraph where it says Becks' next match with Milan is tomorrow in Doha, Qatar. How much more are these friendlies and testimonials worth with Becks in the line-up? Beckham gives Milan even more star power.

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Some Beckham Deal Close to Being Dzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz [Updated]"...

Behold The Power of Democracy!

Voting rules. Ahh... see what I did there?

Anyway, this was mentioned in Backpasses (see post below) but The Offside is asking for your input. They want to know which is the most exciting league in Europe.

We're mostly EPL over here, with a smattering of France and the Scots but we're actively trying to consume more Italy and Spain (Mmmmm... Spain).

And frankly we all should. Why? Because Spain has been awesome this season. Easily the two most exciting matches I've seen this season were the 3-3 Valencia v. Villarreal tilt, and this past weekend's 4-3 win by Atlético over a suddenly shaken Barcelona side.

On top of that, having less emotional attachment seems to make watching, uhm... what's the word? Enjoyable. That's it. Watching Spanish football is kind of fun. They score even (fucking Arsenal).

We're not big believers in the "scoring = excitement" premise, but the EPL does lag behind Spain by about a half goal per match.

More interesting, the EPL is barely ahead of Italy, which gets abused for its supposed boring and defensive football. That link above takes some going through, but if you scroll down you'll see the current scoring hierarchy goes: Germany > Spain > England > Italy > France.

Our cursory theory on the low EPL output is threefold: A) The relegation battle is so tight with so many teams, they they are playing to not concede anything to anyone. A 0-0 draw is a fantastic result for a bottom-table team. B) Arsenal alone is responsible for this low average scoring. C) There is no need to explain, this season's average is pretty much in line with the scoring averages for the last 3-4 EPL seasons.

Anyway, go vote (*cough* Spain *cough*), it's your duty as a Netizen. And if you don't, the terrorists win.

Read more on "Behold The Power of Democracy!"...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Backpasses: Dude, she's One

Do not mess with El Hadji Diouf. It's not in your kid's best interest [Off the Post]
The Offside has a question for you. Sorry NY Kid, everyone knows Ligue 1 is teh suxxors [The Offside]
Dirty Tackle may have been a month or so behind on Eva Roob, but they posted this fine video, so all is forgiven [Dirty Tackle]
UF favorite Cassano (I'm cutting him down to one name) scores a controversial goal versus Milan [101GG]

Blackburn need to vet their kitmen better [Off The Post]
South African club tries to bribe its way out of relegation. Since only the two refs came forward, though, there will be no investigation [The Witness]
The reason Voronin is doing so well at Hertha? His wife and ex-wife are getting along. BTW--Wife=Tracy Flick; Ex-Wife=The Nanny [Bild] (use Google Translate)
Rafa blame Liverpool's loss on not having Torres. Maybe keeping a second striker would have been a good idea [Guardian]

Theo Walcott's GF to be in Harry Potter movie. With useful pic of how she would best be used in said movie [The Spoiler]

Read more on "Monday Backpasses: Dude, she's One"...

Quick Throw: Thanks for the Mammaries.

It appears that the blog traffic driving Chantelle Houghton has spurned her romance with noted ladies-man Jermain Defoe. No word yet if Chantelle's endowments have helped his foot rehab.

Read more on "Quick Throw: Thanks for the Mammaries."...

Now It Just Needs a Huge Breasted Sorceress Riding A Winged Tiger

Manchster United defender Rio Ferdinand, who must be just the classiest guy ever, is getting married.

That's not that interesting because he's been with his wife-to-be for seven years and they already have two kids together.

Okay, the kind of cool part is that the kids are named Lorenz and Tate, and going by the filmogrpahy and the length of his relationship with his bride, we can only guess Rio was deeply affected by either Dead Presidents or Why Do Fools Fall in Love. I guess it depends on how gangsta Rio fancies himself to be.

And judging by this next bit, we're going with "not very."

Sorry to bury the lead so far down but at his wedding ceremony, Ferdinand is going to have the rings delivered by an owl carrying a velvet pouch.

Is Rebecca aware that her hubby-to-be gets his romantic inspirations from things he sees painted in airbrush art on the sides of vans? Really, being a footballer must totally rule. You can want the dumbest shit in the world and nobody is going to call you on it.

Anyway, from the Daily Record: "A barn owl called Ollie is being trained to swoop down the aisle carrying the rings in a velvet pouch. The best man will wear a falconer's glove for the bird to perch on."

Says Mike Roberts, the head falconer at the wedding venue "It's never gone wrong yet but one never knows."

Please God if someone could release a small barn mouse or shrew at the exact moment that the falcon is supposed to deliver the rings the world would be forever in your debt.

It's worth noting that for gangsta street cred, Rio did invite 50 Cent (isn't he investing in a movie with him? Or was that EBJT? I can't keep the personal lives of English defenders straight) and Mickey Rourke to the wedding.

Read more on "Now It Just Needs a Huge Breasted Sorceress Riding A Winged Tiger"...

Footballing Nightmares

News Of The World has it out for Gordon Ramsay. They were the ones to first report on Ramsay's affair(s), now they have dug a little deeper into the past. Apparently not content to take a philanderer at his word, they started digging into his footballing past. And guess what--they found some inconsistencies.

Wait. That's not the right term. They found bald-faced lies, and a lot of them.

This is the famous picture that Ramsay built his fib around. As News Of The World deftly points out, it's not of the level that Ramsay says it is. It's not of a first-team appearance for the Huns. In fact, it's from a testimonial against a Junior side.

But at least he got his name on the team sheet, right? No. This is the team line up from the day, helpfully spotlighted by the London newspaper.

"Trialist". No more, no less.

Ramsay's lies about his career with Rangers don't end there. Going back through interviews given over the last 15 years, since Ramsay started to push the idea that he was with Rangers before an injury ended his career, Ramsay had stated that he had played at least three first-team matches for Rangers. Unfortunately for him, such claims are verifiable. Ramsay never played in any of the matches he mentioned and, even worse for Rangers fans, he got the results incorrect, often making the team out worse than they were.

Curiously, Ramsay's lies about his career go back even further than these. He claims that he was spotted by a Rangers scout while playing for Oxford United in a FA Youth Cup match against Arsenal when he was 16. The problem with this is that Oxford United and Arsenal have never met in that competition. Oops.

The article linked above has even more wonderful lies debunked within, and includes the nickname given to Ramsay while at talking to fellow cooks about his time at Rangers: Billy Bullshit. Ramsay has always had a knack for stretching the truth, as well as self-promotion, it would seem. But, and I stand by this, all of these lies don't make Kitchen Nightmares any less entertaining. That show is awesome.

Read more on "Footballing Nightmares"...

Barca Is Super, Thanks for Asking

Well F.C. Barca might be in a bit of a slide on the pitch as the race for La Liga tightens, but a certain group of supporters thinks that the Blaugrana still look fabulous.

The first gay and lesbian football supporters' group to be officially accepted by a Spanish club has pinned its shield to the wall of Barcelona's stadium and vowed to fight prejudice in one of the world's most homophobic sports.
To celebrate, the fans then pinned each other. Hey-O!

Anyway, Barcelona has gay supporters. They're official. And they're pissed.

Continues the Guardian: "When England's football players took on Spain in Seville a fortnight ago, journalists were watching home fans so hard for racist abuse that they failed to notice how Beckham was subjected to a barrage of homophobic insults. 'They spent more than a minute chanting "Beckham maricón" ("Beckham faggot"), said the peña's spokesman, Josep Ribes. 'We lodged a complaint about that.'"

Ooh, I bet that complaint was strongly worded, but on just the loveliest stationery you've ever seen.

Anyway, if you check the video above, Ribes is right. You can clearly hear the chant, and it's far more musical that any of us would have thought.

We're pretty tolerant around these parts. If two guys want to do each other up the pooper, God love them for it. We're also a little surprised because we'd think that mere homophobia is a step in the right direction from abject racism. It's almost as if Spain is maturing before our ears.

Also, why the hell are Barca supporters, even gay ones, upset about this? A) You're Spanish. Becks is English. That's your opponent, you're supposed to hurl insults at him. B) You're a Barca fan. Becks played for Real Madrid, your rival, you're supposed to hurl insults at him. Finally, "Beckham, tus zapatos son feos" doesn't have the same catchy simplicity as "Beckham maricón."

Spain already has some of the most progressive same-sex marriage laws in Europe (or the world or that matter), not that that makes up for a stadium-wide chant, but on balance, they gays in Spain are probably already ahead in the game. Oh, and Becks is kind of gay. So there's that too.

Read more on "Barca Is Super, Thanks for Asking"...