Heavy December schedule likely to take toll on some Premier League pretenders

Can Tevez save City during brutal December?; photo by Dull Hunk

It’s far too early to give the title to Chelsea, but their remarkably simple win over Arsenal on Sunday certainly puts them in the driver’s seat. But it’s a few notches down the table where the race for the last few Champions League places is getting very tight that could see the most turnover in the packed holiday fixture list. Just four points separates currently third-placed Tottenham from seventh Manchester City, and it seems likely that at least one Premier League pretender will be exposed by the time the calendar reaches 2010.

Five straight wins, including two over big rivals Man U and Arsenal, have opened up some space at the top of the table for Chelsea. The Blues lead Man U by five and it’s a further five points down to third place Spurs. Chelsea appear hard to beat at the moment (although they have fallen to Villa and Wigan), but champions aren’t crowned in November. Man U were seven points adrift of Liverpool at this time last year and still won the title by four. Chelsea are sure to go through a rough patch, the question is whether any of their pursuers will be in position to pounce. Continue reading


British Hypocricy and a defense of Henry

Not Satan.

I can sense the knives starting to come for me. How could I defend Henry? He obviously cheated Ireland out of the world cup. That he did. But the ongoing attacks on Henry have gone way way too far.

In essence, Henry is being attacked for not being the moral saint of football. In my eyes he is really being crucified for the larger sins of football. Henry blatantly violated the rules, but when it comes to football all players, especially strikers, are “cheats” if you define it as trying to gain an advantage by flaunting the rules. The magnanimous English press declare he should have been the premier sportsman and admitted to the ref that it was a hand ball. That would have been an amazing level of sportsmanship and would have been applauded, but Henry is no Ghandi – nor should we expect players to be so. (I bet in retrospect a player like Henry who has played in three World Cups and won one of them definitely had more to lose from his reputation than from France not making the World Cup). Players aren’t angels and a moralistic libertarian approach toward governing the game is ridiculous. Yet the English have used this incident to attack Henry, the French, and to boast about British sportsmanship. But really the English have almost no leg to stand on in their attacks of Henry.

First, imagine the shoe was on the other foot. England are in extra time of the second game of a two game playoff to go to the world cup and lets say Rooney were to have done what Henry did – instinctual control the ball with his hand. Would the Brits really have gone bananas calling Rooney a world class cheat. Continue reading

Spurs-Villa breakdown

This was a solid outing for Spurs, playing away in a tough environment against a very good club, they came away with a point and were unfortunate not to take all three. They showed themselves to be a top 4 caliber club against Villa.

Spurs started out a little disjointed in the first half and Villa put them under pressure. While Villa had corner after corner, one resulting in a scramble of a goal, Spurs had some very good chances as well. Spurs had trouble hanging on to the ball and while Wilson Palacios did his typical yeoman work in the center of the midfield he was very wasteful with the ball. Spurs in general weren’t connecting well with Crouch and Defoe. Villa did a very good job containing Aaron Lennon and Spurs did a poor job getting him the ball. It looked like this was going to end as a very frustrating day until unlikely hero Michael Dawson leveled on an amazing strike. Defensively, the back line was very solid for Spurs and the Dawson – Bassong pairing looked sturdy and youthful. Continue reading

Meat Pies and Orange Slices

USL is getting really messy. Brian at Inside Minnesota Soccer has a fantastic rundown on what is going on. The basic gist is that former USL sides are breaking away and seeking to create their own league. This has left the USL with just a few teams but they remain the league recognized and sanctioned by US soccer and FIFA. As Brian points out Sunil Gulati really needs to come in and help straighten this out. His silence is damning and is really harmful to the growth of the game in this country. A country as large as ours needs a solid and viable second division. Get off your ass Sunil.

MLS expansion news. Montreal looks set to be the 19th team and David Beckham appears serious about being part of the ownership group of the 20th team. Montreal was pretty obvious for sometime now. It creates an instant rivalry with Toronto and provides a solid and enthusiastic fan base. There will be a lot of speculation over the 20th team. If Beckham is involved one has to think it will be in a major city, probably either New York or Miami. Goff speculates that there is no ownership group in Miami. That’s true but in a few years and with Beckham I would think that would change. A team in Queens would be great but the league absolutely has to have a presence in the south.

MLS contract talks starting to heat up. The MLS players union tried to go all global on the ownership and got the involvement of the FIFPro – the international body that represents the players. But Sepp Blatter has laid the smackdown back saying FIFA won’t be involved. MLS does some shady things vis-à-vis the players, beyond simply not paying them all that well. Grant Wahl explains.

US exports soccer talent.
The Culture of Soccer makes a great point: we now export soccer players. Giuseppe Rossi, Vedad Ibisevic, Nevan Subotic, and Arturo Alvarez all developed their skills in the United States but chose to play elsewhere. We have come a long way from the David Regis era of the 90s. Just imagine if Rossi, Ibisevic or Subotic picked the Nats.
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EPL rewind

The EPL was back in action and it looks increasingly like a two team race for the title, while the other two top four positions looks like it could be a mad scramble.

What we learned – title down to two, but top four a real scrum. Man U and Chelsea created some separation from the pack this weekend. Both had solid wins and with the Arsenal loss and draws between Liverpool and Man City – there is growing separation. The loss of Van Persie left Arsenal looking toothless. They are now in danger of falling into what looks like a wide open scrum for the top four. Spurs with a monstrous win are now even with Arsenal on points (Arsenal has a game in hand). Pool and City are in sixth and seventh, with Villa in fourth. While your money might be on Arsenal and Pool to maintain those spots, it is certainly wide open right now.

Spurs send a message to top 4.
Who would have thought Spurs would outscore the Cowboys and the Redskins this weekend. A 9-1 demolition of Wigan sent a signal to the league that Spurs are a legitimate threat. Still without Luka Modric, Spurs got Aaron Lennon back after a being out a month injured. The difference was night and day. Despite Jermaine Defoe’s 4 goals, Lennon was the man of the match. Lennon played a role in most of the goals, putting in balls on a tee for the Spurs strikers.
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MLS Cup rewind

It was a rather unattractive chippy affair that was unfortunately interrupted by frequent injuries. In extra time both teams looked exhausted and stopped moving the ball around. All in all was not a great game to watch and seemed destined for a draw and those evil -yet dramatic- penalties. In the end the league was pulling for a Galaxy win, but ESPN got their dramatic choke highlight with the Donovan miss. Congrats to RSL for a great playoff run.

A few more thoughts:

At the end as the game got stretched Donovan should have been up top, instead of mired in the midfield. He is the only one with the pace and the skill for LA to get behind the backline and finish. Have to question Arena there.

As good as the Seattle crowd was, MLS cup finals should not be played on turf. The turf fields makes it harder to control the ball as it skips and bounces all over the place. At times it was clear that neither of these teams regularly play on the surface, as throw balls were badly weighted rolling comfortably beyond their targets.

RSL gave the absurdly slow LA backline fits, but Robbie Findley couldn’t really find the quality to make the backline play – except of course for his scrappy goal. RSL outplayed LA that last part of the game and looked more likely to score.

LA have two high quality attacking players in Donovan and Beckham, and Buddle showed some ability, but other than that the squad is pretty weak in attacking options. How is it that they haven’t scored on a Beckham corner? Ball after ball goes into the box but no one is there to get on the end.

Liverpool’s defense most at fault; But Lucas not good enough to keep Aquilani on the bench

Lucas Leiva is not the only problem, but he is not the answer

Liverpool struggled to their second consecutive 2-2 draw at Anfield against Machester City yesterday, not a disastrous result given their respective league positions. But that’s four dropped points at home for Manager Rafa Benitez’s men, who have little margin for error after so many early loses. Injuries have ravaged the squad, but the main culprit for these results is some pretty shoddy marking at the back. Even so, the play of Lucas Leiva in the midfield has left a lot to be desired, and after a very poor outing against City, there can be no excuse for him keeping Alberto Aquilani out of the starting XI. Continue reading

Cry for the Irish, But Blush for the Russians

While most of the attention from the European playoffs has been devoted to the Irish, the biggest shock of the playoffs – Slovenia’s win over Russia – has been largely overlooked. The Russians were playing some great football under Gus Hiddink. They had built off their fantastic European championship performance in 2008 and lost just twice, both against Germany in qualification. The Russians were the clear favorites to go through and perhaps to make some noise in the World Cup. But instead of being humble and cautious heading into the playoff the Russians were cocky.

Before the first playoff game against Slovenia the Russian team unveiled their new 2010 jerseys. While the phrase “world cup jersey” was probably not used in the unveiling, that was clearly the implication. To drive the point home further, this wasn’t simply a new jersey, but was a completely new rebranding of the Russian team. The new home jerseys were dark red and harked back to the imperial Russian might of the Soviet era. And in a reflection of the mix of politics and sport, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the trip to Slovenia to watch the game. The hubris of the Russians to change jerseys to ones reminiscent of the Soviet era, prior to a World Cup playoff against a country that was under the thumb of Soviet imperialism (okay Slovenia wasn’t a country then and Yugoslavia had a degree of independence) is remarkable. It also makes the defeat all the more embarrassing.
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Henry hands France a seed in incredibly tight rankings; Portugal miss out despite #5 ranking

More than just a win, Henry's handball gets France a seed

Yesterday, we speculated on whether a surge by Portugal in the FIFA world rankings would allow them to overtake France for the final all-important seed for the World Cup draw. What no one could have predicted was how movement among other likely seeds would tighten the race for the final few spots in Pot 1. There is great opportunity for mischief from FIFA if it wants to put its thumb on the scale, something it does often to benefit top teams and players. If it uses the same formula that decided the seeds for the 2006 World Cup, the four teams vying for the last three seeds will be separated by just one-third of a point each, Portugal will barely miss out and Thierry Henry’s handball that earned France a draw will be decisive in getting Les Blues one of the coveted seeds. Continue reading

World Cup draw preview: Seeds, pots, and draw scenarios

World Cup bracket; Photo by Phu Son

The 32 team field of the World Cup Finals is now all set and soccer fans around the globe begin to turn their attention to the draw on December 4 in Cape Town. A while back, we looked in depth at the procedure for the draw and the seeding process. With all the teams in place, we can now say with confidence that the U.S. team will not get a seed. But we still don’t know which pot the US will be in—something that could have a huge impact on whether the US will advance to the knock-out stage.

We’ll be doing a lot of posts in the run-up to the draw, but today I’ll focus the 32 team field, the 8 seeded teams, which confederations get grouped together in the other pots, and some draw scenarios and how it would affect the US team. Continue reading