Saturday, December 23, 2006

Higuain goes to Real

The young franco - argentin star finds his way to Real Madrid. Question becomes, how will he find any playing time. With Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Ronaldino, Reyes and Raul ahead of him the time will be hard fought is theory...maybe Real will loan him out to PSG. PSG is desperate for some buzz and the addition of the teenage sensation might just revive the team from the French Capital, in addition this would give Domenech a chance to see him compete closer to home as well as get him acclimated to French and other French players (maybe getting him closer to selecting the Tri-colors as his national side). Real would ensure that PSG bloods Higuain to the European game, he might even get some UEFA cup experience. Then Real could look to move Ronaldo in the summer transfer market and bring back Higuain......just a thought

Friday, December 15, 2006

Champions League Draw

We now know who will match up in the Champions League, as well as the UEFA cup....

Here is the Champions League Draw:

FC Porto (Portugal) vs. Chelsea (England)
Celtic (Scotland) vs. AC Milan (Italy)
PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) vs. Arsenal (England)
Lille (France) vs. Manchester United (England)
AS Roma (Italy) vs. Lyon (France)
FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. Liverpool (England)
Real Madrid (Spain) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany)
Inter Milan (Italy) vs. Valencia (Spain)

We get our Porto - Chelsea match up. I will be very interested in seeing what reception Mourinho will get coming home. I think the Portugese team will find extra motivation to defeat their prior manager. A couple of thoughts:

  • Manchester United fans should not be salivating at playing the minnows - Lille. Last year in the Champions League these two clubs were matched up in the group stages, the aggragate score was 1-0 in favor of the northern french team. Unlike the victory Lille enjoyed over a second squad Milan this year, these matches last season were in the middle of the group stages when clubs were fighting for their knock out lives. I cannot envisage Lille upsetting Manchester United but it will be much more difficult than pundits would think.
  • Lyon has a good draw, Roma is a quality team but they at least avoided Barca. Lyon should emerge victorious but it will be a tough test.
  • Arsenal received a decent draw, although PSV is never a push over. If Henry comes back, the Gunners should find themselves in the second round.
  • Barca - surprise but this is the match up of the first round of knock out. A match up of the last two European Champions. Both teams have had their struggles, Barca during the group stages and Liverpool in domestic run. This match up, I believe, will see two cautious teams, someone will emerge with a 1-0 aggragate win.
Some early predictions:
Porto upsets Chelesea: 2-1 aggragate
Milan beats Celtic: 4-2
Arsenal beats PSV: 1-1 on away goal
Manchester United beats Lille: 2-1
Lyon beats Roma: 5-2
Barca beats Liverpool: 1-0
Bayern beats Real: 2-0
Valencia beats Inter: 4-3

Monday, December 11, 2006

Arsenal Gunners vs Chelsea Whiners

What a match yesterday...amazing how a 1-1 draw can be a fascinating and exciting match, but that is what we had after a memorable Arsenal v Chelsea, London Derby.

Chelsea was unlucky not to win, having hit the wood work 3 times. But Arsenal should some true grit playing with a young team, missing some crucial players - Gallas, Toure, Rosicky and Henry. We had diving, hard tackles, whining from the Chelsea team, riveting goals, and near scores.

Some Thoughts:
  • Arsenal did not look intimidated, and played their style of football. They passed the ball around well and showed some toughness in their tackles early on in the match. Arsenal showed that they were not afraid to battle the Chelsea superstars on a physical level. But they seem to run out of steam in the second half.
  • Senderos.....oh he is aweful. He looks like the next coming of Pascal Cygan. Drogba is completely in his head, completely has his number. Senderos looked terrible from the get go, always shaky, never confident against the Giant from the Ivory Coast. Senderos was fortunate not get a penalty in the second half when he pulled down Drogba inside the 5 yard box. Senderos has not improved since he was first brought to Arsenal....he is still slow, he does not position himself well, and is clumsy in challenges. Maybe getting Abidal is not for cover on the left side but for cover in the middle of the defense.
  • Clichy, Fabergas, Eboue, and Flamini - the youth looked good in this heated derby. Fabergas was doing a great job distributing and running the attack and transition for Arsenal. He showed some good flair yapping with the little traitor Cole in the first half. Clichy played well at left back, needs to be stronger on tackles late in the match, but had some great attacking runs. The same can be said for Eboue, he was a rock, unlike Senderos, showed that he was not intimidated by any of the Chelsea strikers. He too made some blazing runs on the wings. Flamini is showing that he is a good cover in the midfield. He had some good spurts and was not afraid to mix it up in the midfield. His goal was a pure Arsenalesc build up and strike.
  • The Chelsea Whiners...I wish that Makelele would leave the club, that way my building hatred for them could truly blossom. They have taken on an arrogance and whining attitude that is so grating that I am actually rooting for Manchester United this season. Here are the biggest whiners:
    • Drogba - he has become a world class striker, taking the success he had in France and finally showing it in England. I think it took him a season to really feel comfortable with the english game. But he is the biggest baby. Diouf is accused of being a diver and cheat, but I think Drogba is far worse. Any contact and he crumbles, surprising for someone of his build.
    • Carvahlo - every time I watch him I wonder, how is he an international? He is terrible, not as bad as Senderos, but not far. He gets constantly beat to the spot, has horrible positioning, and constantly lunges when beat. He is the worst when it comes to clumsy tackles, yet when he is touched starts crying and complaining. If Mourinho did not have an infatuation with his fellow countryman he would be on the bench or back in Portugal.
    • Terry - Since he has assumed both the captaincy of Chelsea and England he has become a prima dona, whiny, baby. Every time he comes up for a corner and someone puts a hand on him he acts with such contempt and anger that you would think he was Paris Hilton addressing some papa ratzi. I am sure when he is defending corner kicks he never grabs or pulls players...every time he is talking to the refs he acts as if Chelsea is entitled to get whatever calls they want. John, stop your antics and whining and be a true captain.
    • Lampard - Another whiner, he too feels entitled, heaven forbid a defender or goalkeeper plays he tough and gives him a little physical play. He and Terry are acting like the prima donas they aspire to be.
    • Shevchenko - I just feel bad for him, he is pushing to hard....maybe he should head back to AC Milan. He has no place starting....Robbens or SWP should be starting, give Chelsea some real pace on the wings.
    • Cole - Ashley was all worked up, he should shut his trap and stop trying to be the next Shakespeare with his books. I was glad to see Fabergas stand up to him, I think the return match will be harder for Mr Tweedy with the Arsenal fans showing their "feelings" for their returning son.

I think this game was a push for Chelsea, Arsenal needed the win. Chelsea should and can defeat Newcastle midweek, that would leave Chelsea 4 points behind Manchester United. It will make the rest of the season very interesting...but I think I will root for Manchester United and well as any team Chelsea meets in the Champions League.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A 24 team Euro....maybe we just eliminate qualifying

I just saw this story on the BBC web site:

I must say I have my doubts about the reasoning behind this. Let us look at the last tournament when we had 16 nations. If we take all the nations that lost in the playoff we would add: Scotland, Slovenia, Wales, Norway and Turkey, we would still have to take THREE more nations. Doing a quick scan of the best of the rest we could envisage having had to take 3 teams from the following: Iceland, Poland, Belgium, Serbia or Ireland. So for the sake of this rant, we say that Poland, Ireland and Belgium would have also qualified.

Why would we even need to have a qualifying tournament??? If the European Nations tournment expands to 24 teams, we might as well say - the "top" 15 nations in Europe: Italy, France, England, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia, automatically get in, the rest fight for the remaining 9 spots....I am being completely ridiculous but the point is every good to decent football nation will have an almost 80% chance of guaranteeing a spot in the finals.

With 24 teams why even put the players and teams under the physical strain of qualifying. The existing system already guarantees that the football powers are guaranteed a spot. It a rarity that we do not see a Holland or England miss out on the tournament, such as we saw when the actual tournament had the best of best from Europe, such as in 1984 when England, Holland, Italy, and the USSR did not make the final stages. Or that 4 years later, two of the semi final teams (one of which was defending champ) France and Portugal did not make it out of qualifiers.

The tournament, with 16 nations, still is small enough to make it an exciting tournament, one where groups are guaranteed to have football power houses: such as Group D in 2004 Germany, Latvia, Czech Rep and Holland....or Group A in 2000 England, Germany, Portugal and Roumania.....or Group D of the same year Denmark, France, Holland, Czech Rep.

With 16 nations it made the games exciting from the outset, and it kept the qualifications facsinating. All one has to do is look at the interest the qualifiers are having for the next Euro. If the tournament gets expand to 24 teams I fear that the 2 years of qualifying that leads up to the tournament will be a bore for the large national powers and even the second tier powers, it might be interesting to see if a smaller nation such as Cyprus, Albania or Georgia can qualify but will that make the final product any better, when these smaller nations will most likely get shown an early exit when the tournament starts?

I thought the tournament was great when it was only 8 teams, that made the qualifiers that much more interesting and nerve wraking...the tournament itself was great since there were no "weak" teams. Alas the might Euro has spoken, advertising and TV revenue drives the day which means having a larger tournament is good....but we don't need 24 teams...especially since the World Cup only grants Europe 14 spots.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Champions League final round set

So we have the final teams in the Champions League:

Group Winners:
Manchester United

Group Runner Ups:
Real Madrid

Due to the long list of rules stating how teams can match up for the knock out stage, here are matches up I would love to see:

Chelsea - Porto :Mourinho's old team vs new team, wonder how the "special one" will be received back in Portugal
Bayern - PSV :always fun to have a Germany-Holland match up, cannot wait to see the bright orange army helmets in the stands.
Liverpool - Inter :same match up as the Champions League finals from Istanbul, well at least from a city point of view(Liverpool vs Milan)....Inter rather than AC Milan
Valencia - Lille : Can Lille keep the Cinderella run alive against Spains lesser known footballing power.
Lyon - Roma: Match up out of necessity or else the rest of my list cannot work.....
Manchester United - Real Madrid: Clash of two of the world's best known clubs
Arsenal - Barca: Rematch of last years finals
Milan - Celtic: Rematch of the 1966-7 finals....well again with regards to the same city. In that finals Celtic beat Internazionale of Milan 2-1.

Okay enough of a pie in the sky idea. Here are the teams I see as favorites:

Manchester United: Pains me to ever say that the Red Devils are favorites. But they showed that they have the fire power and team to win the big games. The Saha - Rooney tandem up front with Ronaldo and Giggs supporting seems to be a winning combo. They demonstrated against Benefica that they could come back after being down to win a must win game.

Chelsea: How can you not include a team that has international caliber players sitting on the their bench? I think that Morinho's men will find a way to choke away the championship, but they cruised through what was thought be to be the hardest qualifying group. Drogba is unstoppable, Essein and Makelele create a formidable holding midfield. Their weak link is the keeper, with Cech out and Cudacini questionable this might prove their down fall.

Bayern: While the Bavarian club is struggling in their domestic league, they have the right mix for Europe. They can play defense with Sagnol, Van Buyten and Lahm. Their goalkeeping, while long in the tooth is solid with Kahn. The midfield and attack have the talent to carry them deep - Makaay, Podoloski up front, van Bommel, Schweinsteiger in the midfield.

Lyon: The French Champions are once again poised to make a run...they have talent through out the entire squad. Additionally they have made 1/4 final runs the past two seasons, question is can they take the next step. This could be the year, especially when Fred returns.

Inter Milan: They collected a number of players after Juventus got slapped for their match fixing...adding Vieira and Ibrahimovic, in addition to WC hero Grosso, bolstered an already strong squad. And Crespo is clicking in the domestic league, he should be able to carry this success over to Europe.

Of course no one will know what or who would be favorite until we see the actually match ups for the knock out rounds. If I was to predict the finals, I will say Chelsea vs Lyon....Lyon wins on a last minute goal by Tiago after Essien loses a 50 - 50 ball at can always dream.

On another topic, many cries about the dominance of the "big three" leagues - Serie A, Premiership and La Ligua, 11 of the final 18 teams are from these leagues. There are cries to do something to give clubs from other leagues the chance to get into the final 18. I think the argument to limit leagues to sending only 3 clubs has some merit, if we look historically the Champions League winner (or the old Cup of Champions) comes from these very leagues. 31 of the total 51 winners have come from Spain, Italy or England. Real Madrid alone has 9 titles.

The main issue is these domestic leagues contain some of the European football powers - Real Madrid, Barcalona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Milan, and Juventus. These are the clubs that have the history, the system and ability to attract the talent and money needed to compete at the highest level. "Smaller" clubs such as Porto or Dortmund will sneak in and win a Champions title every so often. But unless we completely overhaul the football system, payment structure and player movement the top clubs in the Big Three leagues will always challenge for the title. As much as we would like to see the CSKA Moscow, Galatassary, or Hertha Berlins of the world getting into the knock out stages and get to the semi finals, I doubt we will see such a revolution in European Football until we have a massive change.

Until then the complaining that the Champions League is an exclusive club for the "Big Three Leagues" will remain the status quo.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Klose - a Wenger purchase?

Werder Breme has made it know that their star striker, Klose, was potentially available. Could Wenger take a look at the German striker? He could be a good partner up front to Henry. Klose is a pocher similar to Trezeguet and Crespo, maybe a good partner for Henry up front. He could fit in well with a striker rotation.....

New "Ideas" from Blatter

Just noticed this story of FIFA president looking to have club football play through out the summer: hmmmmm...once again I scratch my head about the thinking behind this. What would he offer during the World Cup and European Cup seasons?

I think this idea is ridiculous and here is why:

  • The World Cup and European Cup seasons would be complete chaos. For those seasons (remember Sep that is basically every other season) would have to stop for at least 6 weeks more likely 8 weeks. That would allow the national teams to recover their players, train, play the tournaments and then have some recovery time. This would completely throw the club schedules into chaos, wear on all players (what would you do with the other players who are not on national teams?), and make the season ripe for disaster.
  • Play footie in the summer....hmmmmm....weren't there complaints of the sweltering heat during this past world cup? European clubs would suffer in the sweltering heat that can at times descend on Europe in the summer months.
I think if Sep and his "genius" wants to limit the stress on players, then force all leagues to take a mandatory 1 - 2 week break during the winter, maybe after Xmas until the new year. Cut back on ridiculous "cup" games, who really cares about the Carling Cup or the Ligue Cup (well maybe Middlesboro in the case of the former). These minor cups give clubs nothing more than an opportunity to play their bench and youth, while a good exercise not worth the strain it places on the greater club. I would also argue to cut down the Champions League and UEFA Cups, here I agree with the Platini proposal - limit the Champions League to 3 teams per nation (does the 4th place team really deserve to compete to become the "Champions of Europe?" I would argue that you really should only have the top 2 teams...but with all the money that horse is well gone from the barn).

Cut down on the number of nations for qualifying in Europe (something Blatter did endorse to his credit). Have a prequalifying tournament as they do for the club teams, that way Macedonia, Faroe Islands, etc need to pre qualify. This could cut down the number of groups, teams and games. While all nations should be invited to qualify, there needs to be tiers of qualification. Andorra or Luxembourg could still get to the Euro or World Cup, but make it so they are truly deserving to play with the large footballing nations. UEFA could even do a ranking of all the nations, those that fall below a certain level play in a prequalifying round tournament, but gives nations the ability, based on good results, to stay in the top pool or drop if their results do not allow them to maintain a high level.

This will cut back on the stain we are putting on players, not playing over the summer. I think Blatter is, once again, throwing "stuff" on the wall to see what sticks. Remember that floated the idea of having the World Cup every two years......Sep if you really want to do something good for the game think with your head and make the hard decisions, I am here if you want to chat.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Adu, the next "great" american?

So Adu finished his two week trial with Man U, and appears to be coming home without a contract. Is that really a surprise? Manchester United also took on the Swede Henrik Larsson on loan to shore up their offensive front line, same position the prodigy Adu plays.....interesting.

Here comes my rant, you have been warned.

Freddy Adu, while some day may become a great player, is an OVER HYPED product of MLS, corporate sponsors and the media. Those of us who live in the land of the MLS have been told for the past few years that this young sensation, from Ghanaian origins, would be the next Pele. He was given a million dollar shoe deal from Nike, he was paraded in front of us when he signed with DC United.

The idea of Arena bringing him to the World Cup in Germany was toyed with, he might be the "joker" to get the US over the hump into the semi finals or further.

The main issue with Freddie is that he is a solid player, but not the savior that we have been told he is. The story is nice, grew up in Ghana where his mother won a lottery to come to the United States, a true immigrant success story. But when it comes to the world of international football to me he is just another good teenager, one that has much to prove.

Let us look at some other 17 - 18 year olds getting press: Gonzalo Higuain and Theo Walcott. The first is a year older, but Theo is only three months older. Higuain plays for River Plate. Theo for Arsenal....Freddy for DC United.....Higuain and Theo both came up through the youth systems of the Argentinian and English leagues, much harder competition than can be found in the MLS.

Both these players are deemed part of the next generation of great players, and both have been blooded in some of the most difficult competitive environments in the footballing world. Freddy Adu has been playing in the MLS. He has a grand total of 11 goals in three years. How many goals would Theo score in the MLS or how about a 17 year old Rooney?

Freddy, if he is such a superstar, should dominate the MLS. He is not even the best player in the league. He should at least be the best player on his team....which I do not believe he is.

The best move for Adu would be to head to Europe, and not for Manchester United (who does not seem interested) but for a continental league: France or Holland. Go to a club in Holland that has experience with national players from areas outside of South America, Europe and Africa - PSV does a great job cultivating talent from North America and Asia. These teams play in good domestic leagues, but nothing as brutal as the Premier League and gets European play...all good for development. They are also well versed in developing and selling these players to the big teams in Europe. Maybe then Freddy can develop to whatever level his potential will allow him to achieve.

Had Freddy been from any of the international world football powers none of us would have ever heard of him, but because he put on the stars and stripes, a nation desperate for a star to pull their footie fortunes places an unfair amount of expectations on his slim shoulders. Hopefully he lives up to half the hype surrounding him....don't forget that Pele at 17 won his first World Cup. Adu at 17 has not even won a MLS cup.....