Monday, September 26, 2005

Maximum Soccer prognostic...

I was watching Fox Soccer the other day and I was struck by a prediction I heard on the Maximum Soccer segment to the tune that clearly Chelsea would be in the Champions League final and the debate was who would be the other team...I find that assertion ridiculous. We have played one game in the Champions league group stages, not sure we can determine who will be in the finals. Did anyone really expect Liverpool in the finals last season? Or Monaco and Porto two years ago? Come on Mr Maximum are better than that...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Arsenal a poor 0-0 draw

A lackluster performance from the Gunners this weekend, drawing 0-0 with West Ham. Watching the game it was clear that this Arsenal team remains one without a direction...yet. Losing Vieira and Edu in the off season , not adding an impact player in the off season (Robinho nor Baptista) and having Henry injured, has lend itself to Arsenal starting the season middle of the table and 11 points behind league leaders Chelsea. While this season remains in the early stages, I am not sure that I can imagine Arsenal figuring out its flaws -

  • Lack of scoring punch - without Henry Arsenal seems to have no real scoring threat. I think that even with Henry they have trouble scoring since Henry scores many goals when he beats players one on one or from long range shots. Even with Henry they lack a "vulture" goal scorer, someone like Van Nisterlrooy, Trezeguet, or even Crespo. In addition, there remains a lingering fear that Henry will look to find greener pasteurs in Espana next season.
  • Midfield stability - the lose of Vieira and Edu (granted Edu missed most of last season) has created a gapping hold in the midfield. The youngsters Cesc and Flamini, while talented, have not yet developed the experience to control the midfield and therefore control games. Pires has disappeared at times. Ljunberg remains a strong contributer but cannot control the midfield alone.
  • Difference maker - the past few seasons, Wenger has been able to bring a player that immediately makes a difference, going to back to his robbery of Nicholas Anelka from PSG. He immediately shook up the Premiership, scoring over 30 goals. Wenger subsequently stole Campbell from cross town rival Tottenham to shore up his defense, he was able to grab players lost in teams like Vieira (who was lost at AC Milan), Thierry Henry (also lost playing as a winger with Juventus) He also signed players like Pires and Wiltord who made immediate impacts. As well as grabbing players such as Toure and playing "out of position." Unfortunately for the past two seasons Wenger has not been able to capture magic in a bottle. While he has found some young talent, players who could become the potential foundation of the Arsenal to come, he has not found that player that will spark this version of Aresnal.
There is still plenty of time in the season, but with Chelsea's lead, and with their money, I think Arsenal (and the others will be hard pressed to make up the deficit. They have too many holes and not enought time or moeny this season to solve them....

Thursday, September 22, 2005

PSG back in second place

PSG wins 2-1 against last years second place team, Lille. A brace from Pauleta. Not surprised that he is doing well considereing PSG addressed one of their weaknesses from last season...midfield play. With Dhorrasso, Kalou and a healthy Rothen (well okay not healthy right now), Pauleta is getting much better service. Pauleta remains deadly in the penalty box. PSG remains my dark horse. With out European football to distract them, PSG will be motivated to knock Lyon off their perch

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Deschamps departs

Didier Deschamps, the most winning French Footballer, resigned from his post as Manager of AS Monaco, after a poor start to the season. Losing to Rennes did not help his cause. I think this is indicitive of the problems with modern day football. Teams are ready to sack managers at the first sign of trouble. Forget the success that Monaco has had in previous seasons, or the fact that the season is only 7 games thing that Arsene Wenger said as to why Ligue 1 has had trouble sustaining itself was due to managers not being able to have stability. Deschamps was considered for the national team postion, and now he is out of work. I am not sure that 7 games into the season he has lost all his abilities to manage.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Champions league surprises

A game stands out from the first round of the champions league, if you say the Sparta - Ajax 1-1 game then I think you were watching the wrong match...what I am talking about is the thrashing that Los Galaticos took at the hands of Olympique Lyonniase. For those ofyou that missed the game, Real Madrid went into Lyon and limped out 3-0, a score that could have been much more severe (missed penalty by Juniho).

Does this surprise me, no. Real Madrid has not been the same since they allowed Makelele leave and watched Hiero move on. Rather than go out and bring in top notch talent at holding midfield and back line, Real decided it needed to get Owen, Robinho, and Bapista to "complement" the already existing offensive talents of Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Figo, Beckham et al. All this has done is created a back log in the offensive end for Real. They have not addressed the absolute lack of defensive leadership. The 3-0 loss to Lyon demonstrates this, with all three goals coming within 15 minutes, without a defensive leader a team gets back on its heals and can be open to taking a goals against run. Real has not won a title in a while, I fear the drought will continue for much longer until Real can address its defensive problems.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

World Cup Qualifiers

I have been remiss to not discuss what transpired this past week with World Cup Qualifiers, two games to focus on, England - North Ireland, France - Ireland.

First, the shock of the England loss. For those of you that not aware, England lost a shocker to North Ireland 1-0. Discussing this with a fellow futball fan, RM, we agreed that this was a loss at many levels. How can Sven run a 4-5-1, with Rooney alone up front and Beckham sitting behind 4 midfielders...when did Sven think this alignment would work? Let us see, first Beckham has never been mistakened for Vieira, Makelele, Keane or Mathius or Deschamps of old. Beckham is an attacking midfielder, not a holding player, one that provides the catalyst for the counter and plays rock solid defense. Beckham does best on the wings when he can unleash his pin point deadly crosses and on set pieces. Second, why is Rooney left up front alone. He succeeded during the last Euro when he was partnered with Owen up front, allowing Rooney to do a little more free styling and using his pace to trouble defenses. Much of his success at Manchester United is being partnered with Van Nistelrooy. Now England face a tough up hill battle, needing to defeat Austria and Poland to qualify. As well as facing Austria without Rooney....with Poland assured of heading through at least as the second place team that game might be "easier" if Poland take their foot off the accelerator. Both Austria and England will be desperate for a win, but with England having been thrashed at Denmark and then losing to North Ireland, their confidence will be in question. I will be interested to see what Sven does to get his "country" into Germany 2006...or how he will position himself for a new post...

France - Ireland. France went into Lansdowne Road and came out victorious. Something that bodes well, especially considering they have not had a long track record of great success in Ireland, especially during the glory years of Platini. It is clear that adding Zidane, Thuram and Makelele has given the French the stability and leadership it needed heading into the WCQs. But much work remains, with Zidane a question mark for the next 3 weeks the game in Switzerland will be paramount. France needs at least a draw knowing they get Cyprus on the last day of qualifying while the Swiss have to face a desperate Irish team. I think that not having Zidane will make the task more difficult, but if the game in Paris is any indication, the French should be able to compete with or without Mr Zidane. But least we forget WCQ for WC 1994 in the US, France entered the last week with games against Israel and Bulgaria both in Paris only needing one draw out of the two. Both games ended in heartbreaking losses for France, both occuring late in the game. Those games basically ended the careers of Cantona and Ginola...but it did launch the golden generation of French Futball - zidane, djorkaef, deschamps, etc. This qualification will be important since France has not qualified for the WC since 1982...that is right 1982!!! 1998 they hosted, 2002 they were defending champion...

Other thoughts: Poland's quasi qualification is great for Polish Football, they have always had solid teams, finishing an impressive 3rd in 1982, good for them; Greece might sneak back into the picture and the battle with Turkey is good for both nations; Germany still has some serious problems, Klinsmann needs to settle on a system and players, constantly lossing to inferior teams will not instill confidence a year before hosting the tournament

With so many groups in play, the final week of Qualification should prove very entertaining.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Should we crown brazil a year before the competition starts?

Reading this article from the BBC we should just stop the rest of the World Cup Qualifiers and crown Brazil with a 6th title. First of all, the victory this weekend for Brazil was against Chile, not exactly a futball powerhouse, and a team in transition since their solid team in WC 1998. But let us look into the Brazilian team:

They have an outrageous wealth of attacking players: Kaka, Adriano, Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Robinho, etc. They actually have a solid keeper in Dida. But do they have the necessary players on the back four? Do they have the midfield "engine" players, midfielders that do the dirty work to get the ball to the forwards? Looking back to the loss to Argentina during the WCQ as well as the defeat to Mexico, one can see weaknesses in the Brazilian team. Granted Brazil came back with vengence, trouncing Argentina in the Confed Cup finals. But in both games, Brazil's back line was put under pressure, especially in the air. Once the team was down or when they started questioning their ability to hold the back it makes their strike force diminish in quality. Brazil knows what they are doing when playing in the South American WCQ, it is very different when they are playing in the WC. With teams such as Argentina, England, Holland, Germany as well as some of the African nations, this will not be a coronation for Brazil. While it is WAY too early to have any predictions for the WC (especially since we have no clue who will round out the teams) it is also too early to give Brazil the added star for their jerseys.

Other notes: Watching the Romania - Czech Rep game it is clear that this WCQ group is one of the tightest. While it would appear that Holland and the Czech Rep should go through, Romania might sneak in. They are right there at the top, granted with more games played. But the Czechs, one of the best teams in the world, have not qualified since WC USA. They still have a huge game against Holland, the decisive match might be against Finland who is no push over; England once again finds a way to get a victory when needed, with Poland giving them a real run for their money they find a way to get a 1-0 victory vs Wales; Scotland gets a draw with Italy a little too late; Congratulations to Ukraine who qualify for their first world cup, I think this will be good for futball having Chevencko showcased on the greatest stage; Speaking of Group 2 it appears that there will be a dog fight between Turkey and Greece for the second place finish; France's win vs Faroe Islands puts that group where it should be with all the favorites tied at top. With three more games for France - at Ireland, at Switzerland and home vs Cypres, France holds their own destiny. With the return of Zidane, Makelele and Thuram the French have looked more organized and more structured, but they missed too many opportunities agains Faroe to make me feel too comfortable - Vieira's break away miss, Cisse's volley from inside the box, Henry's numerous misses...they need to convert these opportunities against Ireland if they want to leave Lansdowne road with a victory.