Tuesday, August 30, 2005

End of Transfer market moves

The lates big names to move before the transfer window closes:

Michael Owen to Newcastle. This is an itregueing move, pairing Owens and Shearer. They will make a scarey strike combo. But this is still Newcastle. Too many holes to fill, too many question marks, too many questions for the guidance of the team. I still think this could get highjacked for Owens...reason -

Djibril Cisse rumored to move to Monaco. He is vehement about not wanting to leave Liverpool and if he does leave he wants to go to OM. If Liverpool does move Cisse, not sure why they want to move him, they will need to find someone to replace him upfront, bringing back Owens would be the natural move. The next 48 hours will tell what happens in this saga.

I do think that if Cisse goes to Monaco, it will make ASM a very scarey club in the Ligue 1....

Monday, August 29, 2005

David James off roster

It finally has happened, David James has been left off the England roster. I believe it has come not a minute too soon. I remember watching James playing for Liverpool against PSG in the 1997 European Cup Winners semi finals in Paris. He had come into the game hyped up as the next great england keeper, the one to make English fans forget Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton. 3 goals later, teammates on my club team were teasing me that I should call Liverpool for a try out. Anecdotes aside, James has never lived up to his hype. England has struggled since "safe hands" has retired to find a replacement in the goal. England, much to my distaste, has the talent to go far in next year's world cup, but they need to find someone that will stabilize the goal. Pushing James aside should allow England to find the steady keeper needed to complement the field talent England brings to bear.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Chelsea...too early to write off Arsenal?

Interesting comments from Mr Gallas: http://msn.foxsports.com/soccer/story/4801492 . Is it time to write off Arsenal? No. Will they have trouble this season? Yes. As I stated, I think that Arsenal will struggle especially with the youth movement: Flamini, Cesc, Senderoos, Van Persie et al. But I think Gallas is far from being spot on. Once Arsenal moves into its new grounds, it will generate a tremendous amount of revenue from the grounds. Plus the ability of ownership to spend should increase as it pays off the cost of the grounds. Granted it might never be able to compete with the Russian Oligarchs billions, but they are far from dead.

Maybe Putin will save Engish Football by locking up Abromovich....

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

International Friendlies

France comes back with a vengence: http://www.sport.fr/football/foo/Retour-gagnant-45828.shtm

With the old guard starting - Zidane, Thuram, and Makelele, it would appear that the French rediscovered some of their flair that made them such a world beating team. I was not able to watch the game but followed it on line. France beat the Ivory Coast Elephants 3-0, now before you start to down play the opponent, they have players of the stature of Drogba, Kalou and Toure all of whom play important roles for big european clubs, Chelsea, PSG and Arsenal respectively.

From what I followed, Zidane and Dhorasso created a solid tandem in the midfield distributing the ball well to the Henry and Wiltord. Even with Vieira on the beanch, the midfield was able to control the pace. Thuram and Boumsong is a solid middle back 2, granted Thuram left with injury. With Gallas and Sagnol on the wings the defense would appear to be solid, with Sangol being solid threat make offensive runs. And Coupet, while not spectacular, is solid and makes all the right plays in goal. This result bodes well for France prior to their next World Cup Qualifiers. They have the Farie Islands on Sept 3rd, that should prove a game where Domenech can continue to work on the system, allow the players to work together, and hopefully secure an early lead after which players can rest. Since a few days later they will embark on a crucial game in Ireland, a game they must win. While world cup qualifying remains far from secure, this result gives one hope.

Other games of note: Holland and Germany draw 2-2, from all indications Robbens was unstoppable, but a good sign that Germany fought back to draw; Denmark 4 - England 1, when will erickson look for another option in goal? James is terrible, and needs to go. England will not go far in the World Cup if they don't straighten out that problem, for a team with so much talent they seem to constantly underachieve; Italy 2 - Ireland 1, Good win for the azurri in Ireland, I think the Irish need to be a little wary prior to receiving france in Sept, they lost a lead to Isreal and now sounds as if were outclassed by Italy (albeit not on the score sheet); Switzerland 2 -Norway1, the swiss are emerging as a force to reckon with in the WCQ (never thought I would say that) the game between France and Switzerland would appear to determine who goes to Germany in 2006.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Essien off to London

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/teams/c/chelsea/4151748.stm

So it is official...Essien will join the south london Blues. As the article points out, he will have to compete with Makelele and Lampard for regular time in the midfield. While Essien is dubed by many as one of the best midfielders in Europe, Chelsea did not really need to add him to their impressive midfield. They should have spend the record transfer fee for a world class stiker - Shevchenko being the main target.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Essien off to Chelsea

http://www.eurosport.com/home/pages/v4/l0/s22/e10028/sport_lng0_spo22_evt10028_sto753955.shtml

So it would appear that Essien is finally off to Chelsea. This move, while not a surprise, only gives Chelsea another jewel to added to its roster. This will make them a real threat for the treble: FA Cup, Premier Title and Champions League Title. However, I think that Chelsea still need to get a top notch striker to complement Drogba inorder to achieve the ultimate prizes of the treble. The addition of Essien will only make the Chelsea midfield that much more formidable, but the midfield was not the problem spot for Chelsea...

I still see Chelsea as prohibitive favorites for the Premiership title. But adding Essien does not mean the rest of the English teams and European powers will roll over...

On a side note, I am a little disturbed that players can still shoot their ways out of Dodge. Essien basically told Lyon that he was not playing for them this season or ever and only wanted to go to Chelsea. I realize this is not only an occurance in European football (see Randy Johnson in baseball, Terrell Owens in football, etc) but it will be hard for clubs to retain their talent when they can be held up for ransom by players.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Premiership kick off

This weekends marks the beginning of the English Premiership. Once again we will witness some wonderful futball and wait with bated breath for Madame Alex to have a blow up, Chelsea to dominate, Arenal's kids, Liverpools underachievements, and some team to surprise.

Predictions:

  1. Chelsea: hard to pick against this bunch that played so well end of last season. They have done nothing to take away from their favorite's status. If they, as I do believe they will, add Essien from Lyon they will add to an already formidable midfield. Their one problem last season was having a legitimate front line striker. Drogba played poorly last season (by his standards). If the community shield game is any indicatiuon he is ready to come into this season with a vengence. But I am still not convinced he can navigate the rigorous of a full Premiership season as the lone stiker for Chelsea. Gudjonson is a nice player but no one mistakened him for Van Basten. Robbens is a wing player, albeit a top notch player, but not a first rate striker. Otherwise Chelsea is strong in midfield with Lampard, Cole, Makelele, Duff etc. Their defense also solid, and goalkeeping top notch. If Drogba can find the form he showed at Marseille Chelsea will run away with this, if he does not it will be more difficult but I cannot see any other team beating them for the title.
  2. Liverpool: Yes you read that correctly, I am picking the Reds for second place. I think they are loaded with talent - Garcia, Alonso, Cisse, Gerrard, Riise, Hypia, etc. Last season they suffered too many injuries to sustain any type of run during the season. This year they will contend especially with the confidence they gained from their Champions League Run of last season.
  3. Manchester United: This pains me to pick ahead of Arsenal, but the talent of this team is too much each week for most teams. They are still a little shaky in defense, with an older Keane at midfield. And Silvestre suffering from confidence issues they will give up soft goals. However with Van Der Saar in net they should not suffer GK problems that has marred them last season. Their real strength will be up front, with Van Nistelrooy, Rooney, Saha, Smith, Scholes, Giggs, etc they will overwhelm most teams in the Premiership. But they will not have the total talent to overtake the leaders.
  4. Arsenal: Yes this is painful to pick the Gunners so low. But I think they are too young this season. They will still be a top team with players like Berkham, Henry, Cesc, Van Persie, Pires, Ljunberg, etc. But losing players like Viera and Edu will be large midfield holes that are hard to fill. Gilberto is back and health so he will prove a stabilizing force, but with no Vieira there is not link between midfielders and attackers. Arsenal is in great position for down the road, they have tremendously talented youth: Cesc, Flamini, Senderoos, Bentley etc. But they are too young to play consistently game to game. They will win some spectacular games. But I fear trips to Liverpool, Manchester United etc will intimidate the young players...situations where having Vieira were crucial.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

International duty part 2

I forgot to mention the return of Figo to the Portugese national team, yet another star player whose national team strip was too important to walk away from for too long...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

International duty

With the returns of Zidane and Makelele to the French national team (with the potential addition of Thurman) following a few months after Keane returned to the Irish national team, this is good for international football.

As club teams become bigger and bigger, paying larger salaries, it is a pleasure to see players who regard representing their nations, for no compensation, as important and a privelege. I still believe club team schedules need to be cut back and there needs to be a true off season. National teams remain an important if not the most important part of international Football. It is refreshing to hear players like Zidane state that the shirt of their nation is the most important uniform they have worn....should england brush off Scholes' jersey as well?

Zidane, back with "les bleus"

http://www.lequipe.fr/Football/EDF_Zidane_retour.html

http://www.sport.fr/football/foo/Retour-de-Zidane-les-reactions-45617.shtm

According to reports on his own web site and on other sites, argueably the greatest player to wear the kit of "les bleus" has decided to restart his international career. Unbelievable news for the FFF. An infusion of talent and experience that is what the French needed as they embark on the rest of their qualifying matches. In addition to Zidane, it would appear that Makelele and potential Thuram will throw their hats back into the international arena.

While these three players are on the wrong side of 30, I believe their come backs will be a positive for the French. Domenech can line up the following 4 - 3- 1- 2

Barthez or Coupet in the nets

Sagnol - Boumsong - Thuram - Gallas back line

Vieira - Makelele - Guily midfield

Zidane - behing the forwards

Henry - Trezeguet up front

With Cisse, Pedretti, Givet, Squillaci, Rothen on the bench.

Does this gaurantee a spot in World Cup Germany? No, but it gives Les Bleus a much need infusion of talent it needs to find itself. The problem with the French team was not a lack of talent, but I believe it did not have the proper "bridge" between the golden teams that won the Euro and World Cups and the new generation, led by players such as Cisse, Henry, Trezeguet and Vieira. Adding Makelele gives Vieira the workman like midfielder that frees him up to be more offensive. Zidane will help bridge the midfield and the offense. A possible Thuram addition should stabilize the back line. One of the major problems I noticed watching the French in qualifiers was the disconnect between defense and forwards. Defenders were to warry of moving up and shutting down passing lanes, the midfield had solid holding players and players on the wings but had yet to discover a true "10" to control the middle of the pitch. Zidane coming back into that role should stabilize that situation.

While these players do not have an extensive time left in their legs, they have enough to be useful and extemely beneficial for France. I remember when a past his prime - Roger Mila came back for a Cameroon team during the World Cup 1990 in Italy. His presence and talent brought the Lions to the brink of the WC semi finals, losing a heartbreaker to England. I think the youth on the team will benefit greatly from these players. Rothen, Meriem, Kapo, Dhorasso etc will be able to grow and develop as the pressure of being the midfield general is removed from their shoulders.

Givet, Mexes, Squillaci will benefit from the possible return of Thuram, not needing to be the "patron" on the back line. While Makelele takes some of the dirty work duties away from Vieira allowing him to demonstrate his talents.

Now this move has some inherent dangerous as well. If the French team do not click and fail to qualify many will critise these returns. Some will even say it sets the French back. Others may heap undue expectations to these players, we must remember that these are not the mid- 2o something players that took French Football to the pinnacle of world football.

Expect these players to infuse experience, talent and sang froid this team needs to get to the next level. Qualifying remains a daunting task but seems much more attainable with these players in the fold.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ligue 1. Off and Running

I cannot believe that Ligue 1 has started already and that the Premiership and other European domestic leagues are just a week or so away from starting the festivities, whatever happened to an "off season"

So what does the beantown frog think of the new French domestic season?
Will PSG actually achieve something other then utter embarassement?
Can Lyon win a FIFTH ligue title?

So let us jump right in. While I would love to be able to disect each team, I have a wife and job and therefore not the limiteless time needed to do so, so I will just look at who I think are favorites and dark horses this season.

Favorites:

Lyon: How can you vote against them? Even if they lose Essien to Chelsea, which I think is inevitable, they are still stacked. Pedretti will be more than an adequete replacement. Diarra remains. The midfield will remain formidble. The addition of Carew gives them a big up front striker, that will give play makers like Wiltord room to roam. Their "small" 2-1 victory against Le Mans aside, this team is loaded for bear.

Monaco: Two seasons ago they were almost crown European Champions. While they have lost Rothen and Guily, Prso to name a few from that squad, this team remains one to watch. I think the addition of Kapo, Meriem (both players hungry to impress prior to the WC) and potentially of Saha (latest rumor out of Man U) will make this team very dangerous. With Deschamps at the helm they will give Lyon a real run for their money, now if only some fans would come to the stadium....

Lille: What can you say about this team that came out of no where last season to finish in second. I think such a run would be hard for this small market team. While you would be hard pressed to find any big names on the roster (as my lack of name dropping would make apparent) this team is stocked with players developed in house, much like the Auxerre and Nantes models of the 80s and 90s.

Marseilles: When it comes to French football, OM always comes into the picture, good or bad. But this team has underachieved the past few seasons. They have the talent, but for some reason do not have the mental edge to get to the next level. With players like Barthez, Lamouchi. and Luyindula they should achieve more. But if this past weekends 0-2 loss to Bordeaux at Stade Veledrome would indicate, they still have a long way to go. Their defense is shakey and they appear not to have a cohesive midfield, both of which will make their strike force hard pressed to score.

PSG: Ah yes, the beantown frog's hometown team....speaking of underachievers....but I think this year PSG will be much better. They should have a healthy Rothen, and have added playmaker Dhorasso to the mix. This should mean many more chances for serial scorer Pauleta up front. Their defense has had a season under their belt after the turmoil of losing Heinze and Dehu. The addition of Kalu from Auxerre will also revitalize the midfield.

St Eteinne: Just like OM, one cannot mention French Football without StEtienne. No one will mistaken this team for the glory teams of the 70s that had Platini and Rochteau carving up defenses, with players like Janvion in defense. But this team did some serious damage second half of last seaon. Beginning of the year they looked destined for relegation, only to fight their way back into the top 10 and then by seasons end into a place in the intertoto...they too are young and are a team to watch.

Bordeaux: Again one of those legendary french teams, but like St Eteinne this is not the 1980s team with Tigana, Giresse, Battiston, Lacombe etc. But they have added some talent with European Club Champion Smicer and Cheyrou to the fold. They are always a dangerous team, and with the addition of Ricardo as trainer I think they can have a good season.

So these are some of the teams I think will be there in the end. My predictions for the the season:

  1. PSG - had to go with my home town team. I think that Lyon is strong this season but that PSGs midfield will carry them to a Ligue 1 title, remember that two seasons ago they finished a strong second place.
  2. Lyon - a Fifth straight title would be incredible, they have the horses but will fall short, lots of football in this team's legs, and I think that they will be more focused on going further in Europe, something they have the talent to do.
  3. Monaco - Deschamps is a solid coach and the addition of players like Kapo and Meriem will make this a dangerous team.
  4. St Eteinne - My surprise team. Seeing how they finished last season and the young talent I think they are poised to make a run at a top 5 finish.
  5. Lille - Last year was no fluke but they will fall back a little.
  6. Bordeaux - Struggled last season but should have some stability with Smicer in the midfield, but not enough talent to crack the top 5, still in transition.
  7. Marseilles - While I would like to predict them lower (again there is my PSG bias), this team has too much talent on paper to be bad. But they will struggle to find an identity this season and that will cost them.

This should be another memorable season in Ligue 1, I think it will be interesting to see if Lyon can go deeper in European football and if PSG can live up to my hype!
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