Monday, December 31, 2007

Transfer window set to open...who will move

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/teams/t/tottenham_hotspur/7165540.stm

I have been lax with my ramblings, mainly due to the holiday season...granted that is no excuse when the banger and mash eaters are living the football orgy that is the holiday span in England. But the above article started me thinking about who will be on the move this January.

The rumors around Berbatov started swirling last summer, with Manchester United being the primary landing place. According to what his agent has been saying about the Bulgar wanting to play for a "big club" that means he can either stay in London either go north to Arsenal or south to Chelsea or really head north to Manchester United. Otherwise he would have to leave the friendly confines of the UK. I think that if he heads to ManU, I cannot see him getting a lot of run he will find himself behind Tevez and Rooney, and quite possibly Saha . So Berbatov will part of the second striker rotation but will not be at the same level of the pecking order as he is in Tottenham. However, when a player makes such public statements about wanting to move on and when there have been soft eyes made between the player and ManU you can assume that the move will happen.

I think if Berbatov moves it will make Anelka the next target for either Chelsea or Arsenal. I believe "The Sulk" will end up in London, but with the Blues. Why? With Drogba hurt, Sheva being Sheva and Pizarro atrocious there is a dire need for a striker at Stamford bridge. Also with the African Nation's Cup Chelsea will lose more than other clubs (other than Portsmouth), such as Kalou. In addition, money is no issue for the Siberian Blues. Will Anelka be joined at Chelsea by Ronaldino...I say yes. It is clear that the latest Brazilian fat boy has worn out his welcome at Barca and with the team built around Messi the buck tooth Brazilian is on his way out. Not sure where he will play at Stamford Bridge....but why not add another high priced overrated player?

Speaking of Arsenal, I think that Lehmann is gone, no surprise there and most likely will head back to Germany. Wenger does need to make some moves this transfer season, I really believe, as I have been saying ad nauseam that I do not see Arsenal's strikers as world beaters...of course granted Adebayour is proving me very wrong with his goal tally so far. However the main problem is - Van Persie, while massively talented, is too injury prone, Eduardo appears to be breaking out of his shell but can he keep it up? Arsenal may also need to find another keeper, assuming Lamehands is gone, because can Almunia keep this up?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Big weekend in the Premier...once again Liverpool falls short

This was the "big weekend" at least big sunday in the Prem where all of the big four were facing one another - Liverpool v Manchester United, Arsenal v Chelsea. In the end the two favorites showed why they remain favorites - Arsenal and ManU both getting 1-0 victories.

I was not able to see the ManU game but did see highlights and it would appear both sides had plenty of opportunities, of course Van Der Saar seemed at times to be playing like a drunken sailor on shore leave - staggering around the PK box looking for something he could not find without $50. But the owners of Liverpool cannot be happy seeing this prior to meeting with Benetiz who has finally somewhat shut his pie hole about needing more funds after breaking the bank in August. With a manager such as Mourinho on the side line, will Hicks and Gillett stand by much longer with the Spaniard? And could Benetiz be looking to shoot his way out of Liverpool hoping to land one of the big two jobs in Spain next season? Time will tell.

As for the Arsenal game, that I was able to watch. The game was everything that Arsenal - Chelsea games have become in recent history. A tight affair with neither side giving nor asking for quarter. It was also clear that the Arsenal players had it in for Cashley Cole, understandably so, I think he is a punk as well. Neither side dominated play nor the opportunities. So here are some observations:

  • Chelsea is not the same without a healthy Drogba. Sheva tried his best to imitate the Ivorian up front but clearly no longer has the pace nor guile needed to be a lone striker. The times he was dangerous was latching on to broken plays and putting quick strikes onto the goal. Otherwise he never really put the Arsenal defenders at risk. With the rumors of Drogba leaving next summer, Chelsea must find another striker...otherwise they will struggle with what they have.
  • The Chelsea midfield seems disjointed without Essein. Lampard, Cole, Makelele and SWP did okay individually but there did not seem to be a good rhythm or system to the Chelsea midfield. Lampard appeared to have to drop deeper to pick up the ball than he was comfortable with. Cole was everywhere but many times would find himself trying to take on too many defenders alone with no outlet. Then again, it is not surprising that without a player of Essein's caliber your team suffers.....
  • Arsenal still looks thin up front, Adebayour had some nice moments but I was never truly under the impression he would give the Chelsea back line too much trouble. He was more dangerous at the end of the match when he took advantage of the Chelsea need to throw bodies up front to get the equalizer, but otherwise I did not see a striker that put the fear of god in any defender.
  • Almunia played well ... well enough to keep Lehman on the bench. The Spaniard made some quality saves through out the match, in particular at the end when Sheva uncorked a violent free kick forcing a firm save from Almunia. While I am still not convinced he is the long term answer he at least is not making any shocking mistakes that Lehmann has been known to make.
  • There is clearly no love lost between Cashley Cole and the Arsenal lads. Seeing the challenges put on Cole and the anger in the faces of most of the Arsenal players when they came close to him it is clear that his shooting his way out of north london and then subsequent trash talking has left a bad mark on his former teammates. None more clear than the vicious challenge by Cesc at the end of the game, the scissor tackle from behind has but one intent...cause damage and pain. Clearly Cole was aware and told Cesc about it in his reaction. Then again, what should Cole expect from his former team?
  • Flamini was wise not to leave Arsenal. I think the Frenchman has demonstrated his worth this season, he is clearly the #1 foot soldier in that midfield. He tirelessly tackles and does all the dirty work necessary to allow Hleb, Rosicky and Cesc to express themselves to the fullest. His current form actually makes his appearance for France in next years Euros a real possibility...who would have thought that 8 months ago
This weekend did not determine who will win the trophy, but I think it went a long way to determine who will have a real shot....and Liverpool is not one of those teams. With the loss the Reds fell out of the top 4, Benetiz's hot seat just got hotter. Maybe if he stuck with a somewhat normal line up his team would build momentum over a long championship season....or maybe not. Manchester United is still favorite, mainly because they will host Arsenal and Liverpool in those rematches. I also think ManU has too much depth. Arsenal lost valuable points when they drew with Newcastle and lost at Middlesbrough, those 4 points will come back to haunt them...of course Wenger could go out and make a big splash in the January transfer window (Benzema? Nasri? Anelka?).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Capello is the FA's man....

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/internationals/7137847.stm

No surprise, at least once Mourinho took himself out of the running, that the English FA picked Fabio Capello to take over the reigns of the England National Football team. It was clear this marriage was in the works since the Italian was openly lobbying for the role, while the FA's first choice - The Special One - was playing coy, really using the heat to position himself for a potential big club this summer.

The FA has at least hired a manager with a good track record, albeit one that has limited knowledge of the England game and players. However Capello has managed some of the world's largest clubs - AC Milan, Real Madrid (twice), Roma and Juventus - and has won titles at each of his stops. He has a reputation of imposing his style and will to a team and is not afraid to challenge star players - see his benching of Beckham at Real Madrid...granted Becks found his way back into the side and was integral to their winning the title. I think this is where his character will be tested. I would argue that the England national team has the most egos of any national team, primarily due to their playing in the Premiership and having a sense of entitlement - see players such as Terry, Cashly Cole, Rooney, Lampard, et al. An example of this, and something Manu Petit called out in the English media, Cashley Cole and Terry did not play in the crucial England v Croatia game, a game that was for the survival of England for the Euros...yet three days later they are fit for a Chelsea game....makes you wonder if wearing the three lions means anything to some of these lads....oh and Terry is the England captain, way to lead from the front John. Capello will have to determine how he moves on, who he calls from the youth ranks, who he builds England around, and what system he will employ...as well as how he will communicate all this to his players since his English is not so good.

Here are the main issues I think Capello will have to address to find any modicum of success:

  • Who do you build around? It is clear that the experiment of having both Lampard and Gerrard in your midfield does not work. Gerrard being forced to play holding midfield does not make sense, and neither player seems to know what to do next to the other, they are too similar. Does Capello stick with one of these stars or look else where? Maybe a David Bentley who is starting to come into his own this season. Or does Capello look to build up front, but around whom? Rooney is too often injured and to much of a hot head to build around, I fear that we might have seen the best of Rooney at the 2004 Euros in Portugal. Michael Owen....is he still an active player? I feel like he has become too fragile and also living a bit off his magical 1998 wonder goal against Argentina. So who to build on up front - Crouch...please. Heskey....granted had a few good games in emergency call up for England, but no. Walcott, maybe but I am still not convinced he can bring the goods. Okay what about defensively? This is where Capello may look to put his stamp on the team, he is an Italian master at defensive football. First Capello must determine if and where he can find a reliable defensive midfielder to protect the back four....Hargreaves....well maybe if he were ever healthy. Otherwise he needs to find someone to hold that role. But I think that Capello will find a way to develop Micah Richards, either start slotting him in the middle of the defense...or maybe as that holding/defensive midfielder. And in goal...well that is a mess....not sure what to do there, the fact that David James remains an option is all you need to know.
  • What about Becks? The former England Manager seemed to have a strange love/hate relationship with the golden boy of England. Even flying half way around the world to watch Becks play in scrimmages....maybe McLaren was more interested in leveraging the pound and doing some shopping in the US. It will be interested to see if Capello still sees value in Becks. During their time together at Real it was clear the Italian was reluctant to play Becks. Since Beckham's game has become very one dimensional - hit crosses with his right foot...and that is about it - do you need to play him at his right midfield spot? There maybe the outcry to get Becks to his 100th cap, but will Capello want to waste what few friendlies he has to have a "coronation" of Beckham?
  • The future of English Football - I am not one that thinks the English national team is a victim of their domestic league's success (the Italian league was the first to be overrun by foreigners yet the Azzurri have made and won major tournament finals). However I do think England is behind other nations in youth development from a national level. The fact that resources were diverted from building the national development center at Burton to complete the White Elephant that is Wembley (why do you need such a structure when you already have two world class stadiums in London - Emirates and Stanford Bridge and have other venues through out england??? oh and you are going to be building a huge Olympic stadium as well...smart). Capello and England will need to determine how to get the necessary resources and staff at a youth development center, otherwise England will fall behind other nations such as France who have made Clairefontaine the center of excellence for finding, grooming, developing and creating tomorrow's national footballer.
Capello is getting into a difficult position. England have not won, let alone made a major tournament final since 1966....1966!!!! However he has been in high pressure positions before, and maybe his lack of English will make him immune to the slings and arrows of the English press. Not qualifying for the Euros may give him the impetus needed to clear house and put in place the system he wants. He is not one to shy away from squashing egos or sticking with what he thinks is right....two traits that will be heavily tested. If he can pass this test he might have some success, it is not as if the cupboard is bare. At the very least he should prove to be a better dresser than his predecessor.....

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Euro 2008 draw - France in the group of Death!

The European Cup draw is out and France did not get any favors granted...drawing the "group of death" with Italy, Holland and Romania! France gets to face Italy once again in competitive setting after having lost to them in the penalty shoot out in the World Cup and then twice during the Euro qualifiers. The Euro is always harder than the World Cup, and France has drawn the hardest of the lot! Here are the groups and my rants about each....I will save the France group for last:

Group A:
Switzerland
Czech Republic
Portugal
Turkey

On the surface a group that favors the Czechs and the Portuguese going through. But I think that Turkey might sneak in. I cannot see the Swiss putting up too much resistance even thought they will be playing at home. They will open with the Czechs in Basel, they may have a chance to catch the Czechs off guard, lets face it, the Czechs have not always had the best run at major tournaments even with buckets of talent, but that may be the best chance for a win. The key will be match day 2 when the two group heavy weights - the Czechs and Portugal face off, while the Swiss play the Turks (remember the home - away barrage match for the last world cup that ended with the Turks trying to WWE the Swiss in Istanbul?). I can envisage the Czechs and Portuguese drawing and the winner of the Czech v Turkey game being the second team through with Portugal.

Through to next round - Portugal and Czech Republic

Group B:
Austria
Croatia
Germany
Poland

This would be a no brainer - Germany and Croatia through....and it is.....Germany will have to open with rival Poland, but should not have a problem with the Eastern European nation. Croatia, the "Brazil of Europe," will show that their qualifiers were no fluke. Austria is the weakest nation, not just in the group but in the entire tournament. I would not be surprised if they did not register a single point in 4 games. I think Croatia will win their battle with Germany during their head to head in day 2 with, Germany defeating Austria on the last day to secure their place in the 1/4 finals.

Through to next round - Croatia and Germany

Group D:
Greece
Sweden
Spain
Russia

Yes I am out of order with the France group last, so here is Group D. This is an intriguing group, you have perennial underachievers Spain and Sweden, you have the defending champ Greece who overachieved last Euro and surprise team Russia, who was fortunate to get in after England's slip ups. Spain and Sweden faced off in qualifier with Spain dominating the last meeting. Spain has the most talent of any team in this Euro, but they also have the albatross of being underachievers. Could this be their year? Spain will start off against Russia and should find themselves with the full 3 points. Greece and Sweden face off in game 1, I think the Greeks are for real and Sweden disappoint too often. Game day 2 will find Sweden against Spain, something tells me that Spain will find a way to win as will Greece in their match up again Russia, all this making the final day moot.

Through to next round - Spain and Greece

Group C:

Holland
Italy
Romania
France

Ahhh, Les bleus got no gifts today....I guess that is their just desserts for playing like garbage this Euro and past World Cup qualifiers. So we have our "group of death" with the defending World Cup Champs, World Cup Finalists and perennial footballing power find themselves, and the 4th team bested said Holland during their qualifiers! The only thing that France have in their favor is they open with the weakest team - Romania. France must open with the full 3 points if they have any hope. France 2 - Romania 0

Meanwhile Italy and Holland will face off day one. Holland has been having some serious issues scoring goals, dating back to the Germany World Cup, they have oodles of talent but for some reason cannot find the back to the net. Starting off with Italy will not solve these ills. Italy is playing well and should find a 1-0 victory at the end of this match up. Day 2 finds France facing Oranje while Italy take on Romania. France should be able to do just enough to find a point against Holland, I think both teams will be cautious in their approach, with Holland looking for the full 3 point more than Les Bleus, but France and Holland draw 1-1. Italy stymies Mutu and the Romanians finds themselves with a 2-0 victory. The final day will find Italy already through and France only needing a point...meaning a boring 0-0 draw between the two neighbors. Romania and Holland will battle for pride with Holland needing a victory to at least have a chance: Holland 2 - Romania 2.

Through to next round - Italy and France


The 1/4 finals would be the following:

Portugal v Germany - Portugal through too much talent in Ronaldo for Germany
Czech v Croatia - Croatia, they appear to be the best "team" in the tournament
Italy v Greece - Battle of defending Euro and WC champs, the WC champs emerge
France v Spain - Rematch of WC 1/4 finals, I think same result, France through

1/2 finals:

Portugal v Croatia - Both teams are "Brazilian" but the one run by a Brazilian is better, Portugal
Italy v France - Oh brother another one of these...France is aching for revenge, Italy to prove the shoot was no fluke....France find a way.

Finals:

France v Portugal....Portugal have too much attacking talent for an old France defense. Portugal wins, Domenech manages two finals and looses both....

The kick off us a long time away, much can change in that time including my opinion! But it should be a great tournament.
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