Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Diaby out...again

The news this morning from Clairefontaine is that the Gooner, Diaby is out for France and Mavuba has been called into the squad. This is a shame since Diaby had all the chances in the world to start next to Diarra, since Toulalan is suspended and maybe for once Domenech would take a slight chance with his line up and not have 2 pure holding midfielders. Alas...unfortunately for Diaby he is starting to resemble Pat Vieira in another way - always injured.

Diaby appeared to have gotten over his latest injury bugs and playing very well for Arsenal, chipping in a goal in the recent Gooner win from a bursting run through the midfield beating at least 2 defenders and the keeper. I hope that this set back is temporary for both club and country.

As for Mavuba, he gets a deserved call up. The Lille captain has been quietly playing at the highest level in Ligue 1. After making a brief foray into Iberia, Mavuba is back where he feels more comfortable and is the main man in the engine room for Lille. It is a nice problem to have - depth at the holding midfielder spot. Ask the three lions if the would like that problem.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Oooof, Merci Ribery - France gets the essential done

That was a difficult match to watch, not to dissimilar from the last time the two nations faced off at Lithuania. Last match the game was unlocked late by Les Bleus with a fantastic long distance strike from Anelka.

This time it was the Kaiser - Ribery - that freed France and allowed them to return to Paris with out the incredible burden that would have fallen on their shoulders had they only take home 1 point. However, unlike the last time the two nations met in Kaunus, Les Bleus actually could have easily come home 3-0 or 4-0 winners. Let us dive into the game:

The Good:
  • 3 points, this is good, well just think how bad and UGLY it would have been had Les Bleus not secured the victory. With Serbia securing the full 3 points away to Roumania (Les Bleus barely scrapped together 1 point from the same visit), the pressure was on France's shoulders to get the full compliment of points otherwise they might have been, at best, looking at the 2nd spot in group 7. Now France get to return home for the match on Wednesday against Lithuania in Paris, and should expect to get the full compliment of 3 points again.
  • The 3 points would not have been secured had Ribery not "freed" Les Bleus from what could have been a disaster. The Kaiser demonstrated that he is becoming the catalyst and the leader of Les Bleus. The offense is clearly going to be built around the Bayern playmaker - http://tinyurl.com/d4tf7a. His understanding with Gourcuff is the key to the midfield and more importantly the offense. With Gourcuff still finding his sea legs, Henry on the back nine of his career, Anelka being an enigma and Benzema not finding any consistency in his game, the offense really hinges around the diminutive midfielder.

  • Speaking of Gourcuff, he needs to get a gold star as well for his game. Compared to his showing against Argentina (granted a heavyweight in footie), the young Girodins had a good match once again showing that his tandem with Ribery is the key to the France midfield. While I think he is still getting accustom to the heavy burden of being both France and Bordeaux's play maker, he is showing why he is so highly regarded in international footie. As Yoann begins to understand how to pace himself and ensure he can weather the strain placed on a player of his caliber he will only grow further in the role as #10 for Les Bleus.
  • The other player that deserves a good rating was Squillaci, the Sevilla central defender brought a lot of stability to the center of the French defense. Granted, France was not really tested, although there were some dangerous free kicks into the area. What I did see from Squillaci was a calmness on high balls that France has rarely had in the recent past. This does not mean that Mexes is not the future, but it would appear that there are some good options, slowly bubbling to the surface for France.
  • One player for Lithuania deserves kudos - Karcemarkas - the baltic keeper made some huge saves. Early on he came out and closed down Luyindula on what could have been the opening goal. He was strong through out the match. On the point blank attempt by Toulalan, while the shot was blocked by a defender, the Lithuania keeper had the goal covered. He was also decisive on the the one on one match up with Nasri. The Ribery goal was impossible to stop.
The Bad:

  • French finishing - again Les Bleus did the essential and the Lithuania keeper made some huge stops. However, France needed to be more efficient on their chances. Luyindula could have put up Les Bleus up early, but hurried his attempt at goal. The same occurred when Nasri came on the pitch and had a clear 1 on 1 with the keeper and buried the ball into the on rushing Baltic keeper. Gourcuff also had a great chance in the first half where he took a cross off the bounce and watched his shot settle harmlessly into the keeper's arms.
  • Hard for me to call him bad, but I have to put Henry as bad. Not for his play, but I think that putting him up front alone is not really his best position these days. Henry has found himself comfortable on left side of the offense, similar to his role at Barcelona. So why does Domenech stick him alone at the point? Not sure...maybe the astrologist told him to do so. Granted, with the injuries to Anelka, Gignac, and Briand, Domenech might not have had the options to play with Henry on the wing. Obviously it appears that Benzema has fallen out of favor with Domenech and is not trusted to play the entire 90 minutes. Then again I am not sure that Benzema is at his best when he does not have a strike partner to shoulder him up front.
The Ugly:
  • Speaking of which, Benzema...it is getting a little ugly with the one time rising French star. Granted he is going through a difficult time for both club and country, all players go through this. But the lack of confidence in the young Lyon player is not good. Additionally, Benzema has not really taken the opportunities when they have been given to him. He was suppose to carry Les Bleus during the Euros, but failed to show up...well the entire team forgot to show up. He has struggled with Lyon this season, at least has not lived up to the lofty goals imposed on him. I think that Benzema can navigate these times of difficulty, hopefully Domenech continues to leverage him, his talent and potential are too immense to be kept down for much longer.
  • Domenech and his creativity or lack thereof. Granted, I cannot write about a France game without somehow bashing the manager. So what is ugly about this version of Domenech? First, I am not sure why Les Bleus had to play two traditional holding midfielders. Maybe if Domenech had had some creativity and played a Diaby or a Nasri next to Toulalan or Diarra, France would not have had to wait so long in the game to score a goal. Based on the fact Lithuania did not ever really threaten the French goal, except via set pieces, would another offensive player been the key to the match? I think yes. Especially one such as Diaby, who is more defensive that a Nasri and more offensive than either Toulalan or Diarra. Second, I think that Luyindula was good on the right side of the pitch, but what was ugly was the fact Henry was played alone at the top of the attack, a role he has not played in a while. What this did was left Peguy alone on the right, making most of the play go down the left side. Making Luyindula, too often, a man on an island. The right side was too often ignored. Maybe Domenech could have leveraged Nasri on that side allowing he and Ribery to change sides during the match, keeping the game more balanced. Finally, once again I need to question Domenech's substitutions. Toulalan had a huge game, but picked up a yellow card early. After the French went up 1-0, maybe Domenech should have thought about swapping out Toulalan for ADiarra or Diaby. Why? The Lyon midfielder was still running around the pitch making hard tackles, at times borderline tackles that could have warranted another yellow card, not something you need when defending a 1 goal lead.
  • The pitch. I realize the Baltics are just emerging from the winter, but the pitch was AWEFUL. It looked worse than a pitch a weekend pub league would play on. Clearly France was not able to play some of their quick passing, combination play that a team with the likes of Ribery, Gourcuff, Henry et al. would enjoy on a pitch worthy of international play. Granted this played to the Lithuania's advantage, so maybe they had no desire to keep a high quality pitch!
Overall Les Bleus played well enough to earn the 3 full points. With some better finishing, the game would have been secured well before the Ribery goal. I still have little faith in Domenech and his strategy, creativity and ability to infuse confidence in his team. The next game, again against Lithuania, in Paris will be another big test for Les Bleus. France must take the full 3 points again, the away lose to Austria and draw against Romania mean all these game are vital if France have any hope of going to South Africa.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Domenech once again surprises everyone

We are moments away from a huge World Cup qualifier for Les Bleus against Lithuania...and once again the "genius" that is Domenech springs one on us. Here is the starting line up -

Mandanda - Sagna, Squillaci, Gallas, Evra - Toulalan, L. Diarra - Luyindula, Gourcuff, Ribéry - Henry.

Um...ok. The Squillaci - Gallas combo is not a huge surprise since all week it appeared that Mexes was once again relegated to the bench even though the Roma player had two decent outings with Les Bleus. What is really a head scratcher is Luyindula on the left. Um, uh okay. Now I like the PSG player and I think he has some of the skills to unblock the wing for Les Bleus...however I do not think that he should be ahead of Henry or Nasri on the flank. This move reminds me too much of a Gouvou move for Domenech, maybe Peguy is his new Binky. Maybe some astrology has told Domenech to make this move and Luyindula will entertain us with a brace...one can dream.

I am also a bit disappointed that Domenech does not try something a bit different, put a more offensive midfielder on the shoulder of Diarra, such as Diaby. This would give more offensive punch and with the tall Diaby allow France to better defend on the one area I fear against Lithuania - set pieces.

Part of me hopes that France loses and Domenech gets the ax....again one can dream

Monday, March 23, 2009

MLS expansion

Ok the MLS is rarely a topic for my discussion...other than making fun of Landycakes or the idiotic comments coming from Alexi Lalas' pie hole. However I was reading a piece about the Vancouver would get a new MLS team, which is really the A-League team making the jump to the MLS. Now certain A - League teams like the Whitecaps and Rhinos have a decent following made me think about what the MLS would look like if they adopted a relegation style system. Also, based on the A-League teams success in open cup competitions no reason to believe they could not compete in the MLS. What would this bring? First it would put the MLS into a similar format as almost every other major footie league in the world. Second, I think it would add a level of interest deeper into the season. While I would also like to get rid of the playoff system (that should be a cup competition) and place emphasis on winning the championship as they do in other leagues, I realize that might be pushing it too far for the American fan. However, relegation battles would give teams at the bottom of the ladder and their fans some games of interest at the end of season. And make all games relevant. Let us say DC United is battling for a play off spot and has a late season game against the Galaxy who are already out of the playoffs, today the Galaxy are just playing out the string. With relegation, the Galaxy would be battling for position and maintenance just as hard as DC United would be battling for a play off spot.

Come on MLS do the right thing and make this more of a true footie league other than a bastardized NHL/NFL/MLB/NBA format.

Hourau gets his call up

Latest from Domenech, he has decided to call up the tall PSG striker Hourau to join Les Bleus for the next round of World Cup qualifiers. With Anelka declaring forfiet, one of the top strikers in Ligue 1 gets his chance. Question becomes, if and how will he be used during the two game series. As I have stated in prior postings, I am not sure if he fits into the grand scheme of Les Bleus. Can Hourau be the lone striker on top of the 4-2-3-1 formation? To me Hourau resembles more the style that is Trezeguet or Gomis, a big striker who acts as a "pivot," the ball going through the player acting as a distribution point for wingers and other players filling the channels. That is not how Domenech views his strikers. Domenech appears to want strikers such as Briand, Henry, Benzema, Anelka, etc that can operate alone up front, also drift deeper to pick up the ball and can take on defenders. Just not sure Hourau has these skills in his tool kit.

A deserved call up, but not sure a true fit in this team.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Does SAF have something over the UEFA? Champions League draw

Sigh, so the draw for the next round of Champions League games is out -

Villarreal v Arsenal
Man Utd v FC Porto
Liverpool v Chelsea
Barcelona v Bayern Munich

Um, no offense to Porto, but how in g*d's name does ManU always seem to avoid the big fish? Arsenal have a decent chance of going through. ManU...um whatever...will go through. The Liverpool v Chelsea match is the most intriguing tie. I think in Hiddink, Benitez might have found his tactical match. Chelsea I think look good. Barca and Bayern, this could be a 5-2 and 4-3 tie, both teams can score neither team is 100% convincing defensively, especially if Abidal is out for Barca, but Klose is out for Bayern....so I think Barca get through on a 8-6 aggregate score!

Damn Manchester United....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New contract for Benitez, the Prem breaths a sigh of relief

So my favorite Spaniard gets his much wanted contract extension to manage Liverpool. I guess we do not have to worry about The Red challenging for the Premiership anytime soon. I would like to make the over under 8 months before you hear from Rafa about the fact he has no money to spend in the transfer window. Amazing what 15 crazy minutes in Istanbul will do for one's career.

No Vieira for Lithuania

Domenech announced his list of players for the upcoming double confrontation versus the Baltic nation of Lithuania, who is also sitting atop of the group with 5 points on top of Les Bleus. So first the list -

Cédric Carrasso (Toulouse)
Hugo Lloris (Lyon)
Steve Mandanda (Marseille)

Gaël Clichy (Arsenal)
Rod Fanni (Rennes)
Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
William Gallas (Arsenal)
Philippe Mexès (AS Rome)
Adil Rami (Lille)
Bakary Sagna (Arsenal)
Sébastien Squillaci (FC Séville)

Alou Diarra (Bordeaux)
Abou Diaby (Arsenal)
Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid)
Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux)
Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich)
Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon)

Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea)
Karim Benzema (Lyon)
Jimmy Briand (Rennes)
André-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse)
Thierry Henry (Barcelone)

Nothing shocking, Gignac and Rami a bit of a surprise but when you peel the onion back not that much of a surprise. So lets dive in:

The Good:
  • As I mentioned, Gignac was a bit of a surprise. However he fully deserves the call up. He is the leading scorer of Ligue 1 (17 goals) and allows Domenech some options offensively. He is strong in the air and can play out wide, and could operate as the lone striker up front if need be. Additionally he has been on quite a roll as of late, scoring a bundle of goals in recent matches, more than can be said for . Of course I am not sure if the Toulouse man will even see the pitch for either match, but it will be good to have him at Clairefontaine. I just hope he has more of a chance than did other strikers who were given a "cup of coffee" such as Savidan (granted Gignac is 7 years younger than Savidan so has more time ahead of him to cement his spot with Les Bleus).
  • The other "surprise" is Rami from Lille. Well not entirely a surprise, I have been calling for him to be part of the squad well ahead of donkeys like Boumsong, and Rami had been called for an A game for Les Bleus. Thankfully the Lyon central defender is injuried otherwise I am sure Domenech would have found a way to include him in his list. The Lille central defender has already been approached by Lemerre to play for Morocco, his parent's native land, but turned down the offer hoping to earn a full cap with France. It would appear he might achieve that goal by next month. Rami might have a decent chance to see the pitch based on the injuries that plague the central defenders for Les Bleus.
  • Another Gunner is back in the mix, Diaby, is playing very well for the Goooners and deserved to be in the mix. The issue for Diaby is where does he play for Les Bleus? While everyone likes to compare him to Vieira, their games are very different. Pat is more of a tackler, defender, hard man at the midfield, while Abou is more offensive and potentially more of a wing player. Not sure if he has the discipline or game to be one of the two that sits in front of the back 4. However, based on his play, and to some degree on his potential it is good to see him in the mix. The nice element as well, Diaby gives Domenech a natural left footed player.
The Bad:
  • While I do not have too much critique with regards to the list, I think that not having Landreau in the mix is bad. I recognize that Carrasso has had a solid season with Toulouse, but the PSG keeper is having, arguably a top 2 performance in France. He is clearly one of the main reasons PSG is contending for the title and not for maintenance in Ligue 1. What I think is bad is more, once again, Domenech's completely asinine way to manage his keepers. I am not saying that Mandanda or Lloris are not deserving of battling for the #1 strip...but neither has translated their club success into success with Les Bleus. That should at least mean that Landreau should and needs to be considered for the roster. Don't get me started on Frey...who is the clear #1 for France.
  • Hourau, it is not bad that he was not selected but bad that we constantly hear a drum beat about the tall PSG striker needing to be included on the list. First I am not saying that Hourau's recent form for PSG does not give him legs to stand on with regards to being called up, he, like Landreau are some of the main reasons PSG is contending. However, his game does not match with how Domenech has decided to run his squad. Hourau is tall striker that is a "pivot" a player where the offense will pivot on leveraging his height to play high crosses and through balls. He can also shield defenders so can receive passes and distribute off to players filling the channels. This style is, however, very static, not what Domenech has apparently wanted for Les Bleus. To me Hourau is a taller version (potentially) of Trezeguet, granted Trez can pick up the ball much deeper. If Trez has no role with Les Bleus, not sure Hourau will either. Maybe he can be a joker, come into a game late and change the dynamic, very similar to what Trezeguet brought to France early in his career. But let us please stop with the constant drum beat that Hourau is the answer for the French attack.
The Ugly:
  • Again nothing that is ugly, other than the fact injuries are hurting Les Bleus. Speaking of injuries, the fact that Pat Vieira is not on the list is not ugly, he does not deserve to be on the list based on his recent action for Inter. What is ugly is that we might never see Pat done the #4 shirt for Les Bleus.
Overall this is a good list, there are not too many players I would have switched for another. Based on Domenech's prior statements I would expect we see the following line up -

Sagna - Mexes - Gallas - Evra
Toulalan - Diarra
Ribery - Gourcuff - Henry
Anelka (or Benzema)

I think Henry is playing very well for Barca and has found his place on the left, Ribery is the best player in the Bundesliga, what worries me is Gourcuff. No doubt he is the key to much of the French offense but I fear he is hitting a wall. I hope that Domenech would consider slotting Nasri on a wing and sliding Ribery into the middle. Up front I am not sure either Anelka or Benzema are lighting up the scoreboard right now, but both should be more than adequete against Lithuania. LDiarra is a no brainer as holding midfielder. I might actually look to play Diaby there, knowing that he might be more offensively minded than Toulalan, and more importantly brings more size to the line up. That will be crucial. Why? France struggles on set pieces and the one way I see the Balts drawing or even defeating Les Bleus in one of these matches is via the set piece. Finally I think the back line is fairly straight forward. Maybe Sagna sits in favor of Fanni and maybe Clichy and Evra split the matches. Mexes and Gallas should be the central defense short of an injury to either one. Mandanda is the best keeper in France right now, hopefully he carries it over to Les Bleus.

Just based on this list, France has the fire power and talent to expect the full 6 points from these upcoming matches. Unfortunately this is Les Bleus of the Domenech era so who knows which team will show up. Lithuania have nothing to lose and have played very well. I think both matches will be much more difficult than anyone would otherwise think....let us hope Les Bleus don't get ambushed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PSG's lost opportunity...sigh

Ok I have finally recovered...sort of....from a difficult sport watching weekend. France got trounced by England in the six nations tourney, the Bruins got mauled by the Penguins, and of course PSG lost to hated rival Marseilles. Well at least Arsenal won and Manchester United lost, then again that might too little too late...ok so lets try to revisit the PSG game.

The Good:
  • Both teams looked to carry the game to the other, both teams allowed their offenses to attack. Guily and Hourau looked good as the up front tandem for PSG with Luyindula and Rothen roaming the flanks. The defense looked fairly solid, until they lost Camara to a red card. Marseilles' Zenden looked a completely different player and Brandao looked dangerous up front, the first goal being a great piece of work between both players.
  • The fans appeared fairly restrained. This derby match usual leads to numerous arrests, violence, and overall fan mayhem. This match seemed to be much more tame, which is good for the security in Paris.
  • The keepers, both Landreau and Mandanda are at the top of their games and both played well. Granted Landreau gave up 3 goals, but none were his fault they were all superbly taken chances by OM. Mandanda looked solid and showed more confidence in taking on the balls lobbed into the penalty area. What pains me, is that based on this showing, and more importantly his season so far, it is clear that Landreau should still be in the mix for France's #1 slot, too bad Domenech is a bit clueless when it comes to managing his keepers.
The Bad:
  • Giving up 3 goals...ugh....how can that be anything but bad!!!
  • Missed opportunity for PSG, with Lyon losing at home to Auxerre, Paris had a great opportunity to at least draw even with the leaders in France. With a win, PSG would have been 2 points clear of Lyon and leader of Ligue 1. What a lost opportunity. First of all, there was no need for additional motivation for PSG in this game, anytime PSG plays OM there is no need for either team to be motivated to play hard. But what really kills me is that PSG had a fantastic chance to take the lead of the title chase...this from a team that was battling relegation last season. Granted Marseilles was also highly motivated, with a win they would draw even with PSG in second place, and 1 point behind Lyon. Additionally they would want to avenge the 4-2 loss at the velodrome.
The Ugly:
  • Missing Sessegnon, it was clear that the one element that Paris missed was their talented #10. Sessegnon has become the intrigal part of PSG, controlling the center of the park being supported by Makelele, Chantome and Clement with the above mentioned on the flanks. Without the Benin international, PSG was not able to control the middle of the pitch as well as the pace of the game well enough to slow down the Marseilles counters. For PSG to have a real chance to win the Ligue 1 title, Sessegnon will need to stay out of suspension trouble and stay on the pitch. The next few weeks will be crucial, leading up to the April 25th match at Gerland against Lyon. Sessegnon will be vital in allowing the PSG offense to continue to click.
This was not a devastating lose for PSG. They remain 1 point behind Lyon and still have a match against the leader. The upcoming stretch will be crucial - Toulouse, Nice, Lille, Le Havre and then Lyon. Other than Le Havre, all these teams are in the top half of the table. Marseilles and Lyon have an easier stretch but their final part of the season is brutal, including a head to head between OM and OL. If PSG can be in first place by the last month of the season, they stand a good chance to some how winning the title. Not bad for a team that seemed destined for Ligue 2 last season.

Some low lights of the game....from a PSG's fans perspective -

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Future of Footie Part II

Ok so I did more thinking about some rule changes that would help footie, again nothing radical but some simple changes that will allow the game to be less dominated by the defenses and allow the offensive creativeness of players to shine.

  • Allow teams to have more than 3 substitutes per match, maybe there should be 4 or 5 substitutes per game. Originally teams were not allowed to replace players, then they were allowed one substitute (but only due to injury) and eventually the rule we have today where teams are allowed 3 substitutes in official games. However, I would argue with the packed calendars - league, league cups, FA cups, internationals, and national team - teams need more ability to turn over some of their squad during matches. Teams would be able to bring in more fresh legs during a match ensuring that players a)don't save themselves so they can run for 90 minutes b)the last 20 minutes can see just as much action as any other 20 minutes. Players are asked to play too many games, not sure you can cut that number down due to the associated number - money. So if you cannot play fewer games, allow more players to play!
  • Take a lesson from rugby - only the captain or a designated player can speak with the referee. Why would this help the game? While this might not directly lead to more goals what I think it will do is allow the refs (again based on my post from last week I think you need at least two full referees on the pitch) to make calls without the fear of being berated by teams. I think there is no doubt that some referees get intimidated by the fact the entire team might descend on them if they make the "wrong" call. In addition, the rule would speed up the game, rather than having 5 players chase the ref around to berate him the call can be made and enforced. If players other than the captains speak to the ref, you can penalize the team as they do in rugby - accord another 10 yards. Granted field position is not as crucial as it is in rugby, but the difference between a free kick 35 yards out or 25 yards out is huge.
  • Make every free kick direct, coupled with moving the wall back another 5 or 10 yards, the free kick will become much more dangerous again. In addition, if every kick is a direct kick, teams might be more cautious at hacking down players anywhere on the park. Make the free kick a real scoring opportunity, while the wall moved back and all kicks being direct will not give you 8-6 games, will allow teams more scoring opportunities. Some may argue that too many goals are scored off set pieces already and not enough from open play, but is that a result from teams being more willing to concede free kicks? While more goals are scored off set pieces, the percentage of set pieces that render goals might have gone down over time. Therefore, make the set piece more dangerous, force teams to defend properly rather than resort to fouling tactics.
Again these are not radical changes, but I think taken together you will see improvements in the beautiful game. In the end what is needed is to free up offensive players from what has become the defensive shackles managers have leaned on. Make fouls more costly, allow teams to stay fresher during the game, and allow the rules of the game be better enforced.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Champions league - normal service resumes

Sigh, so of the last eight teams in the Champions League, 4 are from the Prem. Now I love the Prem as much as any footie fan (Arsenal is my second team...after PSG), but I must admit I am starting wonder if the competition needs some revamping, why? It seems we see the same teams every season make the knock out stage, and the fact there might be 4 teams from the same league in the semi finals is not good for the game. One might argue, well those teams are good enough then they deserve to go as far as their talent takes them. However, I would argue that those teams are the best because the playing field is not level for everyone. Now no one would cry poor in Spain or Italy, or even Germany, but it is clear that the Premiership teams have a little bit more cash than their counterparts. I realize that we will never go back to the days when a Steau Bucharest or a Red Star Belgrade or maybe even an Ajax will contend for the Champions League, however I do believe that the European Championship needs some revamping. I need to ponder that for a while. Do you think the Champions League is a good competition?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quick Champions League Predictions

Yes the next leg of Champions League footie is upon us, so some quick predictions:

  • Bayern Munich v Sporting (agg 5-0) - Um not sure anyone has come back from a 5 goal deficit...so the easy prediction. Bayern through to the next round.
  • Juventus v Chelsea (agg 0-1) - This is a tasty tie, heading back to Italy with the Old Lady needing to come out and find a way to over come that goal down. The intrigue for me is how Trezegol will have an impact on the game. However I think that Chelsea is starting to click, and Drogba is becoming the beast he once was. It is also clear that having Hiddink in the bench has some how calmed the egos on the Blues. Chelsea goes through after a 1-1 draw.
  • Liverpool v Real Madrid (agg 1-0) - Oh now this is an interesting match up, my good friend Benitez is already whining about being "picked" on by the press, that he has a good track record in the Champions League...just disregard the futility in England. Liverpool has the huge away goal and are going to force Real to come to Anfield. Face the following.

    If one thing Benitez has shown is an uncanny ability to manage for one game matches. I think he got exactly what he wanted from his trip to Madrid and will now build his line up to sit deep and absorb the Real attacks and look to counter via Torres (assuming El Nino passes his match day fitness test). I just do not see the Real player that will be able to solve the Reds. Liverpool head on with a boring 0-0 draw.
  • Panathinaikos v Villarreal (agg 1-1) - The Greek side has a good chance, heading back home with a precious away goal. Their manager Ten Cate is well experienced in European football so knows how to manage his squad and with veterans like Gilberto I can see the Greek side coming out of this tie. Granted Villareal cannot be underestimated, with Rossi, Senna and Pires they have the necessary veterans to overturn the tie in a hostile environment. However, I think Panathinaikos is this years Fenebache - the Greek side goes through with a 2-1 victory (3-2 agg).
It does pain me to predict Liverpool goes through...oh well.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Future of Footie

I was reading an article in World Soccer about the future of footie and how things will need to change to continue to improve the game. The usual complaints were aired - defenses are emphasized, teams do not score any more, coaches are too cautious, ugly football is abound, referees do not penalize players for fouls, and overall the game has taken on a bad turn. Of course the usual solutions are discussed - larger goals, no off sides, points deduced for fouls, sin bins, smaller penalty areas, and so forth. Those of us who have been fans of footie have heard these ideas thrown around for years now, and while some are not completely outlandish, I think that there is a much simpler solution - call the game the way it is suppose to be, and in order to do so put another set of eyes on the pitch.

I do not accept the argument that World Soccer put forth about the game being called as it is suppose to be, that teams and players will complain and then the refs will swallow their whistles again. NFL fans recall when the league said they would call pass interference and hand checking on wide receivers tighter, there was some low level moaning but in the end teams adapted and the game improved. Why is this not possible in footie? Would managers, teams, players and fans not want to see players like Messi ,Kaka, Ribery or Ronaldo have more freedom to demonstrate their skills rather than constantly watching them get hacked down? I have a feeling that team owners and managers, who spend a tremendous amount of money on players such as Eto'o, Messi, Kaka, Ronaldo, and the Rooneys of footie would want these assets to be able to perform at the highest level. So here are some simple steps to take:

  • Add an extra referee to the pitch. I realize there are two assistants that manage the lines, but they are really watching off sides and are stuck to one side of the pitch. Footie is one of the few sports that only employs one referee. I cannot even count how many officials there are in Football - referee, back judge, umpire....etc. Hockey, technically, used only one referee, but have since gone to 2 (and if you include the linesmen you really have 4 officials on the ice). Rugby might be the only other sport that has one official on the pitch, however I would argue that the game, while very fast, does not change field position as rapidly as it does in footie. AND in rugby they will use modern technology aka video, when it comes to scoring decisions! Many times in footie, the plane of the game will change so rapidly that the referee could not possibly position themselves properly, therefore missing some of the action. A two referee system could alleviate much of this issue. You would always have one official behind the ball as well as one in front of the play. Could you even go to a three official system??? One official that is the head official and follows the play from the center of the pitch, the other two officials responsible for their halves.
  • With the additional referees, ensure that the laws of the game are enforced! Referees have understood how to crack down on tackles from behind (granted they can still do a better job of this) so why can refs not take a mandate from the powers to be to crack down on hard fouls, elbows, and the clutching and grabbing. With the additional eyes on the pitch these fouls would be easier to see and to police. This would be ever more important during corner kicks where the hand checking and wrestling that takes place in the penalty area is close to professional wrestling standards.
  • Extend the free kick wall distance. I have heard some call for the wall to be phased out entirely, not sure how that would work. Would defenders be able to stand between the ball and the goal? Or would just need to mark the opponent, or could they just walk around on the goal line? So rather than abolish the wall, why not push it back to 15 yards. I think this would make going for goal much more appealing than when the wall is only 10 yards out. Or maybe the wall could be placed half way to the goal line.
  • A final change...use technology that is available. How hard is that??? If tennis can have a machine that can tell whether or not a ball is in our out on a serve, how can you not have a technology that tells the referee is a ball has crossed the goal line? While the situation does not happen every match, it happens enough. Hey FIFA already has used video...rumor is the referee did not see the infamous Zidane headbutt during the World Cup finals and the 4th referee seeing a video feed informed the referee of what had occurred. At least we would avoid embarrassing non calls like this one...

I realize none of these are radical, and there could be more that can be done to allow the offense more freedom. However I do not think radical changes such as larger goals, smaller penalty boxes, no offsides, counting fouls like in basketball....Footie is a flowing, fast paced, beautiful game. While the game would be better if there were more scoring, and when I mean more scoring I do not mean 6-4 games, but more 3 0r 4 goal games rather than 0-0 draws. If the governing powers would mandate that the games be officiated properly, with additional referee resources and leveraging some modern technology I believe the game will improve and return to the glory days when the offense was on level to the defensive efforts. While some teams will find another way to swing the momentum to the defense, the ability to properly referee the game will prohibit teams to resort to constant thug like tactics to slow down a superior offensive team. This will only improve the game.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Manchester City - Messi?

The season is not over yet and we are already hearing some crazy rumors from Manchester United's neighbor - Lionel Messi for 100m pounds. Um. Ah. Oh. Okay. Well I guess when you cannot get Kaka that money starts burning a hole in your pocket so might as well spend it somewhere else. The other rumor is that City will go after Wenger or Mourinho...um again. Where will the insanity stop?

Based on the recent Four Four Two survey of the most wealthy football related folks attests to, Manchester City are owned by the most wealth of all the footballing barons. So no surprise that this is the type of ridiculous banter being batted around in Manchester. What we should all fear, and what might happen with other teams such as Chelsea, is that City goes on a drunken sailor type spending spree, runs a business that is not self sustainable and in few years the owners tire of their play thing and dump the club. Footie seems to be more threatened by this type of behavior than other major sports leagues. I fear that footie could also suffer because of such cavalier handling of the business side of footie.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Rafa underwhelms once again

Ahhh leave it to Liverpool and more specifically Benitiz once again showing their true colors and drop a 3 points at relegation battling Middlesbrough. This comes one week after a draw against Manchester City. So over two weeks, the title "contenders" dropped 5 points against teams they should have secured the full 6 points if they were really going to contend for the Premiership title. What a surprise. Since Rafa came to Liverpool he has added and dropped players, constantly whined about needing more money and control of the team, and overall been underwhelming when it comes to challenging for the Premiership title. When Liverpool appeared to challenge for the league title and appeared to have finally solved the Manchester United - Arsenal - Chelsea puzzle, they just went back to showing their true colors. No surprise either, that earlier in the week at Real Madrid the Reds were able to head back with a 1-0 lead in their Champions league tie. This is typical Benitez, great manager for the short term no ability for long term challenges.

Here is what Liverpool should do, fire Rafa bring in some manager that understands how to work the transfer market and manage for a championship. A manager that does not buy Keane only to resell him back to his former club when your top striker goes down. Hmmm, maybe when Torres went down you would think it was a good opportunity to leverage Keane allow him to be your #1 striker. Oh wait Rafa wants him on the wing, oh no he is a deep striker, nope he is on the bench.....that is just one example of questionable transfer decisions by Benitez. Get rid of Cisse and decide that Kuyt is a Premiership striker. Sign Babel, but let him sit on the bench. The list goes on. Yes getting Torres was a solid move, but that is the exception with Benitez. I would argue that were it not for 15 crazy minutes in Athens, Rafa would have been elsewhere a long time ago. So, fire Benitez and bring him as a consultant for knock out competitions.

While I have little respect for Benitez as Liverpool manager, I think he would be a solid national team manager. Rafa is perfect for knock out stage competitions and short group stage events. Seriously, I think he would be a good replacement for Domenech. He would know how to manage Les Bleus, understand how to set up his team for each competitor and manage with knock out games in mind. And he could not be any worse when it comes to interpersonal skills!