Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Off season managerial merry go round - let the games begin

The off season has started to creep on us with England, France, Holland, Italy and Germany having their seasons over - only Spain remains with 2 more fixtures and real dog fight at the top of the table left to sort out.

But with the off season transfers, Euro qualifiers and managerial moves will consume our time. So let us look at the later since this has started in earnest with the departure of Deschamps from Juventus and Houllier from Lyon.

Deschamps did an admirable job taking a legendary club like Juventus, mired in disgrace and ensured its stay in Serie B be short. Winning Serie B with ease, Juventus will find themselves back where they belong next season, without their former player and coach. I think that Deschamps was at odds with the administration and quite honestly I think that neither side wanted the former holding midfielder to be at the helm past this season. He was using them as much as they were using his talents. Deschamps was able to motivate a bunch of players used to being at the top of Serie A as well as challenging for European trophies every season. Even with the relegation and point deduction, the Old Lady held on to many talented players, players that were more talented than 98% of those in Serie B. But Deschamps was able to ensure the motivation and concentration was strong the entire season. Managing in Serie A was a different story all together.....and for that I think Juve looks to their old manager - Capello.....all signs indicate that his stint at Real Madrid are short lived, irregardless of if he wins the Spanish title. I think Capello will want to return to the club where he was disgraced by the match fixing controversy and show everyone he can win Italian titles again.

And Real Madrid are turning soft eyes to the Special Whiner - Mourinho....the Portugese whine of war has been in an open spat with his Russian bank roller who appears to want to insert Hiddink as manager of Chelsea to allow his "toys" such as Ballack and Sheva to actually see the pitch...whether or not they will do anything on the pitch still remains to be seen. Mourinho had 3 seasons with the Russian billions and an all star team but could not get the title the London club wanted - Champions League glory.

Finally, Deschamps seems destined for a club like Lyon. Lyon has won 6 straight titles but is also chasing confirmation in the form of European glory. Deschamps was able to lead a surprise Monaco team to the Champions League finals 4 years ago, might he be the one to take on the Lyon squad and see if he can duplicate and better that feat? I think Deschamps is one of the few managers that would take on that challenge. He knows French football about as well as anyone in the game, he is well respected as a former player (one who has World Cup, European Cup and Champions League winner's trophies to point to) and he has demonstrated an ability to manage in Europe with Monaco. Lyon may also go a large change this off season (Malouda - rumored to Liverpool, Abidal, Juniho, to name a few) However they still have the largest coffers in France and a solid base to build on.

So all the pieces fall into place - Capello from Real Madrid back to Juventus, Mourinho from Chelsea to Real Madrid, Hiddink from Russian national team to Chelsea, Deschamps from Juventus to Lyon, Houllier from Lyon to French National Team (that should be interesting due to his public spat with French national team manager Domenech!) . . . then again all this gets thrown out the window when Wenger and Henry decide to go to Real Madrid, Mourinho quits to take on the Manchester City job saying he wants a real challenge, plus he can rent a room from SAF, and Houllier and Deschamps take over as co-managers of the US National team after Bradley gets sacked because the US losses to Guatemala.

Let the games begin!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Beckham rumors rampant!

The rumor of Beckham being called back to the "Three Lions" is gaining some momentum. England has a friendly against Brazil and then a Euro Qualifier against Estonia. The CNNSI article suggests that Mclaren could recall the Spice Boy for a last hurray with the English national team before he moves to LA (did not realize that moving to the MLS meant you were banished from international duty). It would be especially significant for England's first game back at Wembley facing Brazil (really should be against Germany).

If this is the only reason why Mclaren would make this recall than he is really more idiotic than I gave him credit for. England is in the throws of a difficult qualifying campaign. They have struggled against sides they should beat and have dropped key points all over the place. If Mclaren calls up Beckham just to score some PR points then he should be sacked immediately.

If he calls him up to determine if he can reintegrate the squad and help England get to the Euros than good for him. England has so many issues with their midfield that this might be the move that stabilizes, temporarily, the team. Beckham would force either Lampard or Gerrard to the bench (I would vote for Lampard). But it would give England a little more structure, allow Beck to play one of the wings with Gerrard in the middle of the park. Look for Hargreaves to play defensive midfield. And look to Lennon on the right.

But of course knowing Mclaren he will call up Becks for a "tribe" against Brazil and then watch him ride off to the Galaxy, never to be seen again wearing the "three lions"

Les Bleus for Ukraine & Georgia - more surprises

Domenech released his list for France's two upcoming EC qualifiers against Ukraine and Georgia. As usual the philosophical manager made some interesting selections and some head scratching non-selections.

First the list:

Gardiens : Grégory Coupet (Lyon), Mickaël Landreau (Paris-SG), Sebastien Frey (Fiorentina)

Défenseurs : Eric Abidal (Lyon), François Clerc (Lyon), Julien Escudé (FC Séville), William Gallas (Arsenal), Bakary Sagna (Auxerre), Sébastien Squillaci (Lyon), Lilian Thuram (FC Barcelone)

Milieux : Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Lyon), Lassana Diarra (Chelsea), Claude Makelele (Chelsea), Florent Malouda (Lyon), Samir Nasri (Marseille), Franck Ribéry (Marseille), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon)

Attaquants : Nicolas Anelka (Bolton), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Jimmy Briand (Rennes), Djibril Cissé (Marseille), Sidney Govou (Lyon)

Some thoughts:

  • Glad to see the youngsters Nasri and Benzema. They played well enough in their lest friendly against Austria to warrant another look. Nasri, from all indications, has the potential to become the next #10 for Les Bleus. While I am far from anointing him as the replacement for Zidane and Platini, he has shown enough talent and sang froid to be viewed as a player that can pull the strings in the midfield. Benzema, is a young talent (19 years old) at striker. He has shown flashes of brilliance with Lyon and score on his first Senior call up with France. He is not at the same level as Henry and Trezeguet were when they played for France in 1998 as a pair of 20 year olds at the World Cup, but the experience will help him reach for that level.
  • Very interesting to see 2 more youngsters brought into the squad - Briand and Sagna. Briand has been playing very well for one of Frances' surprise domestic squad - Stade Rennaise. He is a top 20 goal scorer with 9 goals in league play, and had finished the season on a strong note. He brings pace to the front line. Sagna is an interesting call up. I would attribute this to a combination of need and good timing. Sagna was voted one of Ligue 1s best lateral defender by his peers for the season, a great accolade for the young Auxerrois. In addition, with the injuries to Sagnol and the apparent cold shoulder to Chimbonda (as well as the Tottenham player not having the best end of season) opened the door for the young defender. I think the fact the second game will be played at Auxerre played a role in calling him up for these series of games.
  • Gouvou, again interesting to see the Lyon player selected once again. He has played well this season for Lyon but not outstanding play. I have never been overly impressed by him but for some reason Domenech sees something I do not. I also think the brace he scored against Italy in Euro Qualifiers gives him a prolonged term with the senior squad. But why not look at a player such Peguy Luyindula? Both players made their way into the French squad around the same time, Peguy has dipped in form but this past season he has seen his talent and star re-emerge. He has been one of the only shining lights for PSG. And statistically done better than Gouvou - 3 goals vs 1 goal. 1 goal every 314 minutes vs 1 goal every 1790 minutes....
  • The non-retained players. Once again Trezeguet has been left of the senior squad. He has been scoring goals for the Old Lady but because he is in Serie B has not been considered by the French manager.....but why was he called upon for the Argentina match? I realize that Trezeguet has been cold for Les Bleus, but like all strikers they go through hot and cold spells and you need to keep feeding the player to get him back on track. His partnership with Anelka (granted against the Faroe Islands) appeared to be promising. With the selected strikers Domenech does not have a true poacher...or really any striker that can dominate in the air, two areas of Trezeguet's strength. I fear that his strike force is talented, it is young and thin on experience. And Cisse has not be lighting it up for the French in a while either! Another interesting exclusion is Mexes. He has been a regular starter for AS Roma this season and has shown why Thuram has stated that he is the next rock in the middle of the French defense. The one good thing about Domenech's rule of Serie B players is that we don't have to see Boumsong.....
  • Sebastien Frey - He has always been the forgotten keeper for France. But he has been plying his trade, and doing so very well, in Italy for many seasons. Where he English he would be a clear #1 on his national team. For now he has to accept his role behind Coupet and Landreau....but that is one position I am not too concerned about. With Landreau and Frey, France has solid keepers for the foreseeable future.
  • The injured - Saha, Henry, Vieira, and Sagnol. There is a lot of experience in those players that will not be available. Vieira will be missed in the middle of the pitch partnered with Makelele, Toulalan is good replacement from the talent level, but does not have the ability to bridge the defense and the offense as well as Vieira can do. Saha and Henry will be missed, but with Anelka's recent form there should not be too much drop off in talent but definitely in depth. The biggest loss is Sagnol. The right back position will need to be filled by Clerc or Sagna (Escude could fill in but not ideal). Both players are talented defenders but lack the experience and the offensive/crossing ability that Sagnol brings. Then again without Trezeguet to latch on to those crosses might not be as important......
I do like the fact Domenech is infusing some youth, and doing so for games that count not just for friendlies. I realize that all managers need to make decisions on who to leave at home and who to include. Taking Gouvou rather than Trezeguet is a mistake, but last time Gouvou lite up the Italians....however Trezeguet needs to build up his rhythm and relationship with strikers like Anelka. Even if he did not play, the ability for him to train with the rest of the squad would go a long way for the talented striker.

How I would line them up for Ukraine -

Clerc, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal
Makelele, Toulalan
Ribery, Malouda

I would throw Nasri into the big bath. Anelka does not necessarily need a #10 to feed him the ball, he can create on his own. Ribery and Malouda can control the channels and force the defenders to key on them while Nasri would be asked to distribute to 3 quick offensive players. With Toulalan and Makelele protecting him, I think Nasri would be free to leverage his offensive talents.

I will be curious to see what line up Domenech does give us. I am not sure Cisse and Anelka would make sense with Malouda and Ribery behind them, there would be too many runners and not enough passers, unless you allowed Ribery to slot more to the center of the pitch. That would leave one of the wings too exposed...

These next two games will be a good opportunity to see some of the youth for Les Bleus, I hope that we do not sacrifice results in order to see the youth running around the pitch.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

AC Milan avenges its loss to win Champions League

After watching the Italians hoist the World Cup I had to watch an Italian club hoist the champions league trophy...not really as bad to watch. Albeit a team that should not have been in the tournament to start with, have you heard me say that before?

On to the game -

The Good:
  • Honestly not much good, the game was a boring defensive and cautious contest between two teams that were too scared to take chances.
The Bad:
  • See above!
  • Liverpool - lined up 5 midfielders and one striker. They looked to clog the midfield and try to beat AC on the counter. That appeared to work during the first half, but it was clear that Zenden was close to useless and did not have the legs necessary to break down AC. Kuyt was the solo striker and as usual demonstrated that he is not the pro typical lone striker, he does not have he speed or dribbling ability to beat defenders one on one. With Liverpool stacking the midfield and not pushing up en masse - Kuyt was not getting the service necessary.
  • AC Milan - what a surprise, once they scored they had 5 defenders in the box. Kaka never really got going, Mascherano really locked him down always hounding him. The one moment of "brilliance" from Kaka was against Riise, but if you notice Kaka has about 2 seconds of freedom after the roll over before Mascherano is right on his heals once again. AC Milan played the usual Italian defensive and slow style of football.....
  • Benetiz -first a caveat, I cannot stand the Spaniard. I think he is an overrated manager and had Liverpool not had the miracle in Istanbul 2 years ago would have been sacked since then due to his complete lack of success domestically (and I don't mean winning the FA cup, I mean actually challenging for the Premiership title). But what was he doing yesterday? Liverpool is down 1-0 with 20 minutes left and he still had not inserted Crouch or Bellamy.....not sure what he was thinking....I think he managed the game with a lackadaisical manner not warranted for such a high level game.
The Ugly:
  • Inzaghi - yes he scored a brace but his goals were a bit ugly. The first one not sure why he gets credit (well I know why) but when you watch the goal it is pathetic. Pirlo takes a wicked free kick that Inzaghi dumbly runs into and deflects in to the back of the net. u-g-l-y. His second goal came from a great pass from Kaka, and a smart run from Inzaghi. The reason I call it ugly, and I will give credit to Ryan for mentioning this, was that his "shot" was painfully slow. So slow that I am surprised that not one of the 3 Liverpool defenders that got burned by the initial pass did not get back to protect the goal line. Any of the three could have and should have back tracked after they looked silly on the first pass. Had they done so I am sure they could have easily cleared the ball of the line. Instead they decided to pretend they were Italian defenders and spent their time raising their arms asking for an off sides call and being stuck in cement.
Overall this is not a classic when it comes to the Champions League finals. Neither team impressed me, and I cannot truly believe that AC Milan, a team that should not have been in the competition for CHEATING last season, is not European Champs....onto next season.....

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Champions League Finals...back to the future...sort of

Two years after the epic Liverpool come back after being down 3-0 at half time, the same two squads meet tomorrow for the Champions League finals. This match up gives me a little bit of a bitter taste...why?

First, this is the Champions League, for European teams that have won their domestic leagues (at least the spirit is....which has long been squashed), and when is the last time Liverpool won the Premiership title? Anyone? Bueller?

1990! That was the last millennium....Gerrard was 10 years old.....Arsene Wenger was still managing Monaco......the fact that Liverpool has been so horrid in their domestic league and yet might win another champions league disgusts me a bit.

The second - AC Milan should not even be in the tournament! They were caught red handed in the match fixing that tarnished Italy last summer...yet after some last minute begging, pleading, and crying they were allowed back in and now are in the finals.

But enough of my rantings. Here are some thoughts on the game:

Goalkeepers: Recently Dida has shown why Brazil is know for producing offensive and creative players, not keepers. He is very shaky, did not look too good against Manchester United. Pepe has been quietly playing well for Liverpool, especially if they go to a shoot out.
Advantage - Liverpool

Defenders: Both teams are a little long in the tooth - Riise, Hyypia for Liverpool - Maldini, Cafu, Nesta for AC Milan. But both are loaded with experience. The key is Carragher and how well he controls the Milan strikers.
Advantage - Push (maybe a slight edge to Liverpool)

Midfield: This is where, no surprise, the game will be decided. Gerrard will have to contend with Gattuso, Kaka will have to contend with Mascherano. Which ever offensive midfielder gets the upper hand will hold the key. If Sissoko gets the green light this will tip the balance to Liverpool, however Seedorf will be a handful for Liverpool to handle. Assuming Sissoko is not 100% and Zenden is the man for Liverpool...AC Milan has the advantage
Advantage - AC Milan (unless Sissoko plays and is close to 100% in which case, Push)

Strikers: AC Milan has Inzaghi and Gilardino to play up front, both are deadly finishers. Liverpool has Kuyt, Bellamy and Crouch.....I have always been clear on my feelings for Crouch....I think that Inzaghi and Gilardino will give Liverpool more problems than the merry band from Liverpool. With Kaka and Seedorf feeding the strike force balls, Liverpool will be put in trouble, much like what happened when Arsenal trounced Liverpool earlier in the season. As for Liverpool, I know Crouch scores....still not sure how, but against a veteran defense he will be forced to play out of position and asked to beat defenders one on one. Kuyt is good, but more of a plodding striker and Bellamy is just as likely to get a red card for smacking a defender with a golf club as he is to score a brace....
Advantage - AC Milan

Bench: Much depends on who is healthy for Liverpool. But currently I give the advantage to AC Milan...barely. Neither team has tremendous depth. Liverpool may be able to look to Kewell for 20 minutes, but he has been shelved for so long this season not sure what to expect. AC Milan can turn to the youngster Gourcuff.
Advantage - Push

Manager: Both have experience at this level of the competition. Benetiz somehow knows how to win tournaments more than leagues.
Advantage - Push

Prediction: I think that we might see a cautious match between the two. Liverpool will look to play the counter attacking style that does well in single game formats. The one player that could change the game is Kaka, I don't think Gerrard is that style of player, especially if Sissoko is not available. Mascherano will give Kaka some difficulty, and the Liverpool defense is veteran. Neither team has strikers that instill too much fear in my heart. Finally, I have little faith in Dida and think he will cost his team....having said that -

Liverpool 2 - AC Milan 1 . . .

Crouch with a brace, just to spite me
Gattuso scores for Milan

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The US National team gets their man...sort of

So with little fan fare, the US National Soccer team announces that "interim" coach Bob Bradley will have that tag removed and he will simply be the US National Team Coach. So what does this mean? Will the US National team vault into favorites for the 2010 world cup? Will this allow the US to at least win the Gold Cup?

Before the press gets all excited about this let us take a big swig from the reality water fountain.
  • First of all the US Soccer President, Gulati, went hard and heavy after the German exPat Jurgen Klinsmann after the former Monaco striker stepped down from the Germany National side. It was widely believed that Klinsmann could just name his price and the US federation would give him the keys to the castle. In a move that is not to surprising, Jurgen said thanks but no thanks.
  • Second, the expectations for the US National team was completely misaligned with the reality of the talent on the pitch. After a 1/4 final run in South Korea/Japan the US press set the expectations for the 2006 world cup so high as to guarantee failure...which is exactly what happened after 3 games in Germany.
  • Finally the mountain the US will have to climb remains so steep as to be too daunting for the majority of top notch coaches to even want to tackle. Any coach that takes over the reigns will have unachievable expectations. When Bora Milunitovic led the US team to the second round of the 1994 world cup, that was seen as a huge step forward. Arena took the team to levels otherwise unheard of - the 1/4 finals of the 2002 world cup (I know that in 1930 the US made it to the 1/2 finals and ended up finishing 3rd...however that was the first tournament where most European nations did not participate). The next manager is expected to do what? Win the World Cup? That is a burden few decorated managers want to tackle.
So Mr Bradley is the lucky person to take on these challenges. I think that he could be a good manager for the squad, he comes in without the fanfare a Klinsmann would have had. He knows the US player as well as the US system better than any manager Gulati could have poached from Europe. He is a no nonsense type manager...I think this is necessary with a team that rested a little to much on its undeserved laurels from the 2002 world cup...he will need his discipline to ensure that underachievers such as Landon Dungavan try to live up to their over hyped potential or sit on the pine. He knows the US system and players, which is where the core of the team will have to come if they are to find success. The US will need to turn to MLS type players for their core and leverage the ex Pats for the talent and skills to take them to the next level.

Will Bradley bring back the Rimet trophy from South Africa? I don't think so. But he will add some stability to a team that needs discipline and direction. The US team is a bit lost post world cup, Bradley can bring them the direction necessary to put that train back on the tracks. Too bad Gulati took so long to realize this....and might sack him if a more sexy manager makes himself available. Maybe he should offer Fort Knox to that would be funny.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Henry to Catalonian giant

Once again the rumor of Henry moving to Barca finds its way into the mainstream press. Barcelona appeared close to getting their man last year after they won the Champions League, only to see TH14 sign on with Arsenal and extend his contract.

However, after a disappointing season for both Henry and Barca, might his change of scenery make more sense now? I believe that Henry should go to Barca if Arsenal get Eto'o in return. Here are my reasons:

  • Style of play: Henry has been a primary reason for the success of Arsenal, however the team has changed and I think the style of the team is slightly different. Enough so to make Henry a little less lethal. When Arsenal were enjoying their success in the early 2000, they had players like Pires, Ljungberg, and Wiltord giving the field a lot of width. They were willing to play the right and left channels allowing Henry to roam free up front. Additionally, Vieira was sitting in the middle of the park providing the link from defense to offense. The team was clinical in its passing and movement of the ball. The team was mature and had the right players in the right places. The current version is still trying to find itself...with Cesc, Rosicky, Hleb they seem to like to carry the ball, and to attack the middle of the park. They are young and figuring out what style works best for them. This does not play well with an Henry that needs his freedom to be at his most dangerous.
  • Captaincy: The weight of expectations has been heavy for Henry. Since Wenger gave him the arm band of captain, it appears that Henry has been pushing too much. No one questions the professionalism or talent of Henry, but not everyone can be a team captain. Gilberto has been more than a vice captain, and he should be full time captain. But you cannot put that genie back into the bottle.
  • Eto'o: If Wenger can get the Cameroonian striker in return, I think it is a worth while move. I think both strikers might need a change of scenery to continue to develop. Eto'o would also fit, what I think is the new Arsenal better. He is deep lying striker which would open up the space that Rosicky, Cesc, Hleb, et al need to operate in. His finishing skills are second to none. Henry would do well in the Barca system, which is a much more free flowing creative system with Henry at the tip of the sword with Ronaldino on one wing, Guily on the other and Deco supporting the attack.
So with all this smoke, I think there is a much larger fire. Henry has had a great run with Arsenal, but it might be time for TH14 to seek new challenges. Wenger should jump at the chance to secure an Eto'o, turn his attention to signing a winger such as Ribery and put the final touches on the new generation of Gunners.

Will we see this next season??

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Interesting article - Chelsea the Yankees of the Premiership

Interesting story on ESPN -

Thanks to Brett for sending this to me. The two that scream out the most are Sheva and Ballack...both came to Chelsea as high priced prizes that Abramovich had gone out and paid a hefty sum to bring them to London. There was a well publicized debate between the manager and owner over the need for the Ukrainian sniper to come to Chelsea, obviously the Russian owner won that battle. When Ballack was targeted there was a lot of questions as to where he would play and why Chelsea needed him....both of which were answered: on the bench and no need. We were fed a line that Ballack would be used as a striker, giving Lampard even more options...huh?? When has Ballack ever played as a striker?? When Mourinho was force feeding Ballack into the line up it was clear that the team had no rhythm, no cohesion.

Sheva has been nothing but a disappointment. Carlos Bocanegra has 1 more goal than Shev??? That is terrible for a player, who is suppose to be one of the 5 best strikers in the world. Chelsea would have been better served in keeping Crespo. We were also force fed the line that without Sheve, Drogba would not have found the success he had....bulls***..... Watching Chelsea this season it was clear that Drogba was still getting the defensive attention of a #1 striker, and still succeeding because of it. Sheva was so invisible on the pitch I find it hard to believe that opposing managers had him high on their lists of "who we cannot let beat us."

We cannot over look Boulahrouz, the "cannibal" was suppose to be the Gallas replacement. How did that turn out for Chelsea? The misplaced #9 routinely found himself living up to his reputation and name, by dishing out horrendous fouls and egregious mistakes. Granted Gallas did not have a great season, mainly due to injury, but Chelsea would have been better served placating Gallas and tempering their pursuit of Cashley Cole.

Chelsea is becoming the Yankees, they throw money around and like the Yankees can, on the short term, gloss over horrendous spending sprees (SWP anyone?). However, much like the Yankees I think this strategy will catch up to them. No one discusses it, but Chelsea LOST over 50m pounds this to assume that would sink 90% of the teams in the Premiership. Having no fiscal discipline allows managers to throw away any thoughts being selective and on nurturing talent rather than simply "buying" it, irregardless of how it fits with the overall product. Much like fantasy teams, as individuals each player might be a good producer, but thrown together on a team....

Now granted, winning the Carling Cup, reaching the semifinals of the Champions League, the finals of the FA cup and finishing second in the Premiership would be viewed as success for all but 4 teams in England. But this is Chelsea, the expensive toy of an overzealous Russian oligarch. But if the Abramovich wants to find the ultimate success on the pitch, he needs to stop meddling in the player acquisition and allow his manager (not necessarily Mourinho) shop for the groceries. Imagine if Abramovich gave that kitty to a manger such as Wenger and stepped away and allowed his manager to make all the decisions?

It will be an interesting off season....I think if Mourinho leaves and Abramovich gets a "yes man" manager, Chelsea will acquire more high priced stars, but will be further away from silverware.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Manchester United crowned

Ahh the irony, the Red Devils are crowned Premier Champion after rival Chelsea drew against Arsenal. After both teams lost to AC Milan and Liverpool in the Champions league, a little air has been let out of the end of the season for Chelsea - Manchester United. We will see the FA cup finals between the two clubs, but will not get the trifecta: FA Cup, Champions League and Premiership Final game.

I am glad to see that, I could not stomach hearing any talk of trembles or quadruples.

The question becomes, will Mourinho leave Chelsea now that they have failed once again in the Champions League. I think with all the talk it is close to certain that he will depart the London club. Potentially heading to Real Madrid, who surprisingly are making a serious run at the Spanish title. Chelsea might then turn to Hiddink who is rotting away managing the Russian national team.

The off season, once again should prove to be very interesting.