Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bye bye 4 titles

Some have been discussing Chelsea's ability to win four titles this season: The Premiership (defending champs), Carling Cup (defending champs), FA Cup and Champions League. I have read on the BBC Sports and Fox Sports how no one would stop Chelsea...well what happened today?

It is not as if Chelsea started their "B" team, well maybe they did, but their B team would do quite well in the premiership. They played many of their regulars, and brought in others during the course of the match. They played Cudacini rather than Cech, but still had Terry, Essien, Wright Phillips, Robben etc....not an experimental team! And they brought in Lampard, Drogba and Cole during the run of the game. Yet they were held by Charlton (can you name me the starting 11 for Charlton?) and ended up losing in PKs...which again shows why assertions by others that Chelsea could win 4 titles or that they are a shoe in for the Champions league finals are completely ridiculous.

Knock out competitions are always dangerous - Once we get to the knock out stage of the Champions League, anything can happen...score a goal on the away leg and then hunker down to protect that away goal, what Liverpool did to Chelsea last season....FA cup same thing, reason why there can be CocaCola league teams in the finals etc. And while Mourinho is a great manager he also has a massive ego and may at times allow himself to assume he can beat anyone by just showing up, the FA cup has shown that it will produce some monumental upsets: .

Competitions such as the league play is much more about survival, finding ways to scratch out points, depth and talent. It is a long season and in the end the team that has the most depth and talent will usually survive and finish first or close to first. The other teams destined to fight for the scraps. For this Chelsea is perfectly suited. They have depth at every position and an owner willing to spend whatever it takes to add to this depth.

But all that talent means nothing when one mistake, or one bad stretch of 10 minutes in a 90 minute game can spell defeat...which is why Chelsea is far from repeating what Man U did in 1999 which is the Treble...since we now know the quadrupule title run is out of the picture...unless you count the charity shield........

Vieira to Man U...the horror

According to some ugly rumors Patrick Vieira could leave Juventus for a return to the Premiership and play for the hated Manchester United....hated for those Arsenal fans:

Manchester United want to buy 22-year-old Lille and Cameroon midfielder Jean Makoun, while Patrick Vieira is reportedly unhappy at Juventus and could also be a target. (Daily Star)

Wouldn't that be ironic...Vieira replacing the player he has been rivaled with for so long, Keane. The two have no love lost, nor does Vieira with others at Manchester United (Scholes, Van Nistelrooy etc). While I would usually laugh this off, I do remember a few years ago he stated how he would never rule playing for Manchester United, maybe he was using it for leverage but again, where there is smoke....

With the rumblings that Barca will make an important run at Henry, this could be a hard spell for Arsenal, unless Wenger can work his magic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Arsenal penalty mess

Much has been written and commented on with regards to the "attempted" Pires to Henry penalty shot this past week. While I watched it and wondered what they were attempting, I think we need to remember that thankfully it did not come back to haunt Arsenal...but it could have.

With Henry healthy this team can start creeping back into contention...but remains far, very far from challenging Chelsea. Let us hope they can make it to the tranfer window...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Arsenal on the verge

Anyone who followed the Premiership this weekend will be a little disturbed with the trend, well anyone who is an Aresnal Fan: Arsenal lose to West Brom 2-1, and Chelsea win 5-1 vs Bolton.

First Arsenal, they have yet to figure out life after Pat. I am refering here to Patrick Vieira who is now wearing the black and white stripes of Juventus. I am still having some internal debate as to whether or not Wenger should have sold him, while I thought at the time that Arsenal could make a run: Wenger did nothing with the money from the sale to bolster his some would also point out: Now Arsenal are left with a shell of the team that so scared English football just a few years back. Without a player to replace Vieira as the engine, or at least as the holding midfielder to replace him, without Edu, and now with injuries running rampant in the ranks, Arsenal look very very middle of the road. They are not even as exciting as Middlesborough! I hope that this stirs Wenger at the transfer window, but by then it will be too late since I do not see Chelsea losing to anyone ....

Which brings me to my second point, Chelsea. They are starting to hit on all cylinders. Their slow start last year was much to do with their learning Morinho's system etc, but once they figured it out they were unstoppable and that has carried over into this season. They have an outrageous wealth of talent at every position and playes like Drogba playing like they are worth the millions spent on them. I think their best signig was Makelele, yes there is some french bias here, but he is the engine that runs that machine. He is everywhere, covering, restarting attacks, etc...allows for the rest of the team to do what they do best.

My prediction, Chelsea run away with the premiership. Win the Carling Cup, lose the FA Cup and crash out of the Champions League, too much football to be played and teams much harder to defeat than Bolton. Morinho leaves Chelsea after the World Cup to coach Portugal since he will have nothing left to prove in the domestic club game, having won both European Cups with Porto and English glory with Chelsea.

Friday, October 14, 2005

England's new found "confidence"

I must take the stories from the English press with a grain of salt. Much like some of the sports writing in big US markets where stories swing on a wild pendulum depending on the latest result, English press is not averse from short term memory issues. A few weeks ago the English were in turmoil, they had just suffered a terrible 1-0 loss at North Ireland and their world cup aspirations were on the rocks. This remained the mood after they barely beat a tough Austria team 1-0...but all of a sudden after defeating Poland, at the end of the match, they are being touted as "strong favorites" for next year's world cup:

While I have stated that I felt England had the talent to do well in next year's world cup, I am not sure that their victory vs Poland should unleash irrational exhuberance over this team. There remain many holes -

Rooney, while he has the promise and talent to become a special player, he has not shown the discipline to control his temper. Teams will foul him, taunt him, and get under his skin knowing that the hot tempered youngster is just as likely get himself a red card as he is a goal. Something that both club and international teams have demonstrated works against him.

Midfield, while England has talented players - Lampard, Gerrard and Cole they don't really know what to do with Beckham....some argue they should drop him, leave him on the left,etc. Sven himself seems not to have a clue, playing him as a holding midfielder is slightly south of stupid.

Defense, what to do in the middle, go with an aging Campbell or trust in Ferdinand to pair with Terry...both have their own problems.

Goalkeeping...well as long as Calamity James is not in the net England is better off....

Let us not get too excited for England and their chances in next year's world cup, just look back a few months, they lose to North Ireland and get shelacked in Denmark 4-1....granted there remains 6 months until the World Cup but this is not where a team needs to be today to be annointed world beater in Berlin next summer.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

WCQ recap

So after 2 years of world cup qualifying we finally have some clarity in Europe. Many teams that were in trouble a few months ago - France, Spain, Czech Republic, England etc have more clarity as to where they will be next summer.

France wins its group. On paper this should have been much easier than it turned out to be. France started off the campaign poorly, drawing at home against Israel, Ireland and Switerland. The return of Zidane, Makelele and Thurman sparked France to a big win vs Ireland at Landsdowne road. France still needed to win on the last day agains Cyprus 4-0 to guarantee top spot in the group. Watching the game yesterday, I was wary that we were playing Cyprus, but at the same time happy to see a motivated French team knowing what it needed to do and actually going out there and executing. Please note that I am well aware of the level of competition the French were playing, but this is still a team that almost held Ireland to a draw a few days prior, so take the commentary in stride:

Zidane was his usual maestro, while he has lost a step (a few times he got blocked by defenders when a few years ago they would not be able to touch him), he remains the director of the team. Gouvou actually surprised me with his play on the right wing. He was constantly threatening Cyprus with his runs and crosses, he did miss a golden opportunity to score in the sceond half but overall a solid game. Cisse, he had countless chances to blow the game wide open, the most egregious being a solo break away in the first half when rather than trying to dribble around the keeper he took a poorly placed shot from inside the penalty box. His speed and presence threw panic to the back line, but his lack of finishing touch is troubling. I believe this is related to his lack of playing time with Liverpool, meaning I hope he gets somewhere where he plays regular first team football. Sagnol, he showed me again that he is a great right back option. He defends well and more importantly is extremely dangerous when making runs on the right wing. I cannot think of another right back that is so deadly with his crosses from all ranges of the pitch. Coupet, I think he deserves the number 1 jersey for the French. Barthez remains a great keeper but his "decision" making has become more questionable...Coupet is solid, making all the saves needed and providing the defense and midfield confidence that he will back stop the team.

I think this team has a chance to do well in germany, but they will need to really use the next 6 months to figure out the roster, system and overall strategy to go far in Germany. This remains a daunting task for Domenech, overall I think this "struggle" to qualify will be better for the French than if they went through undefeated.

More thoughts later on the rest of the WC qualifiers

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

France starts 3 strikers!

Looking at the line up for the France-Cyprus, match it would appear that Domenech will look to throw caution to the wind and look to score the goals needed for direct qualification. With Wiltord, Gouvou and Cisse up front, France is playing for goals and many of them. Now I would much rather have seen a line up of Henry - Trezeguet - Cisse up front, but wit the first two injured this would not be possible. I actually think this line up will be good for France. With Zidane distributing the ball, Gouvou and Wiltord threatening the two wings and Cisse up front causing chaos for Cyprus, France will hopefully win the game. The one part that will be of concern is the midfield - with only Vieira as holding player (Makelele being suspended) France will be suspect to the counter attack, something they have not been able to handle recently.

However I do think that the offensive minded line up will force Cyprus into an even greater defensive posture. Prediction - France 4 Cyprus 0.

Turning my eyes to Landsdowne road and Ireland vs Switzerland. This game, between two second tier football powers, looks very tantelizing. Switerland has been a thorn in Ireland's side in many a qualifying rounds. Ireland has been a little disappointing this WCQ, they cannot seem to hold a lead, and without Keane and Duff they will struggle in this match. They barely made it out of Cyprus with a 1-0 win, needing a penalty save to secure the win. Switzerland looked very motivated and conhesive in the draw against France (granted not having to deal with Cisse for the full 90 minutes, see my past postings). So what does this mean? I think that Ireland find a way to win 2-1...playing at home wih the home town fans urging them on.

France eek out a group victory
Ireland plays the barrage games....

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Final week of WCQ

The final game of World Cup qualifying will be upon us in a few days. After yesterday's games it is clear that much is to be decided.

Of course I need to start with Les Bleus who had a crucial match in Switzerland. If they win they qualify, a tie or loss means all is to be played for on the final day against Cyprus. Without Henry and Trezeguet the French looked as if they would be short of offensive options. However they still had the dangerous what does Domenech do, but he puts Cisse on the bench to start the game! He lines un Wiltord up front alone with Dhorraso, Malouda and Zidane supporting....not sure why inspired domench to think that Wiltord could handle the offensive burden alone. I think that Wiltord has always played better in support of a true striker - at Arsenal he did well with Henry in front, with Bordeaux he had Pauleta and now with Lyon he has a wealth of natural strikers in front. Wiltord needs to be allowed to roam while a stiker pulls the defense away from his lanes. Alone up front he runs into the defensive wall...From all reports it appears that France struggled to get any movement since the Swiss defense had no real fear of Wiltord breaking them down. Something that did not happen once Cisse entered the game. Granted France got the point and still control their destiny, but once again I believe that Domenech has lost an opportunity to make the qualification easier. I hope that he starts with a line up including Cisse in Weds final match, needing to score 4 more goals than Cyprus in order to guarantee a qualification.

Other matches: England backs in without playing much inspired football; the Czechs must be dissappointed losing 0-2 to Holland and putting their qualifications in jeopardy; Ireland and the Swiss play a high level match this weds at Landsdowne road, the Irish need a victory to finish second in the group, while the Swiss will also seek a victory to qualify directly, a draw giving them the second place finish (assuming France can at least beat Cyprus which is no gaurantee).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cisse on the move

The fact that Cisse is unhappy at Liverpool is starting to bubble to the surface, after the rumored move to Marseille this transfer season it should come as no surprise that he is looking to move, especially being played comletely out of position. He would be a great addition to Arsenal...might even convince Henry to sign for the long term

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Henry heading to Espana

We keep hearing the rumors that Henry is being woo'd to join the Catalan club of Barcelona. I have been reading this rumor for at least a year, and usually when their is "smoke" there is fire. If Arsene demonstrated anything last summer was his willingness to part with a supposed cornerstone of his team when he allowed Vieira to be sold off to Juventus. Does this mean that the most exciting and dangerous player Arsenal has had is destine to leave? I think a lot depends on what Arsene does in the midseason transfer season as well as how Arsenal do in competitions this year. Arsenal is 2-0 in Champions league, but still far from being favorites to hoist the trophy in Paris in May. They are clawing for the table scrapes in the Premiership which appears to be a Chelsea romp. Henry has won a world cup and european cup with France, he has tasted some success in the European cups with Monaco and Arsenal, he as won titles in england, but Arsenal has not looked good in European cups since they lost to Galatassary in the 2000 UEFA cup finals.

With Arsenal being in transition, I think the temptation of nice weather, competitive league football and chances for European club glory will be too tempting for Henry. He will be too tempted to play along side with Ronaldino, Eto, Guily, et al...Wenger will be called upon to rebuild this Arsenal team, but with the money he can generate from selling Henry as well as the sale of Vieira as well as the new stadium should make the task easier than it will be for Everton....