Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Comparing the Squads; Big 4 and Man City

In response to my esteemed colleague Sam Beans claim that United and City were going to be fighting it out for third and fourth respectively, leaving Liverpool conspicuously out of the picture, I wanted to remind everybody that at this moment, we have more points in our first five (9) than United had last year in their first five (8). I am not worried.

For sort of a fun way to kill time until Entourage (10:30 ET, HBO) I have decided to do a spot by spot comparison of the best XI of the big four, and since Sam thinks they will be in it, City as well. The post ended up a bit longer than originally anticipated, Entourage is done and dusted as is another few days. The formation will be 4-4-2. The teams will be listed in my order of predicted finish this year. Without further (Freddy) adu:


Liverpool: Pepe Reina; stalwart at the back for Liverpool since 2006. Pepe has sure hands, great positioning and excellent reflexes. Bar none, best distribution in the league, he had just as many assists as did Lucas Leiva last year. By no means he immune to a howler or two, but always seems to make the save when needed. Amazing penalty record, have Pool ever been beaten at Spot kicks since he took over? Young for a keeper and has never been injured. For me he is in the top tier of keeping, and a class above anybody else in the EPL with the exception of Van Der Sar. Rank: 1

Chelsea: Petr Cech; Cech was perhaps the best keeper in the league, maybe even in the world, a short two years ago. Much has changed since then. It is generally agreed that Cech was not undone by age or ailment, or even injury, the problem for him as is the problem so often for keepers is his mentality has gone. Chelsea was such a formidable force under Mourinho, and Cech epitomized the defensive stability Mourinho preached. His head injury in 2006 destroyed his psyche however, and he now looks timid challenging for balls in the air, his reflexes are much worse than they were, and he is prone to the odd howler. Rank: 5

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Almunia is a solid keeper, nothing too special, just solid. He has sure hands, good positioning, solid reflexes. His distribution is good, nothing spectacular. You can't really say anything bad against him, and for a keeper that is a good thing. Unfortunately (well, fortunately I guess for pool fans) he will not yet fall into the world-class keeper category, something both Reina and Van Der Sar achieve. To be fair he has had a more fragile defense in front of him in seasons past, but this year Arsenal have been looking very good defensively, so it might be better to judge him after this season is over. Rank: 4

Manchester United: Edwin Van Der Sar (/Ben Foster): Van der Sar, fresh off the keeper of the year for UEFA award is by all accounts a fantastic keeper. Great hand and reflexes, he never shies away from a challenge in the air, and his distribution has been good enough in seasons past. He is getting older however, and recent injuries have seen Ben Foster take up the reigns. Foster had a very inconsistent game Saturday, failing to stop Arshavin effort, yet keeping his team in the game with a save such like I have not seen since Dudek stopped Sheva twice in extra time (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEVg8QPCZ6w&feature=related). However inconsistent has summed him up for me thus far, and United will need Van Der Sar between the sticks if they want to win anything. Rank: 2

Manchester City: Shay Given; City have the luxury of replacing a fine keeper in Joe Hart with an even finer keeper in Shay Given. Given has been one of the most underrated keepers in the league for years now, and is finally getting the plaudits he deserves. Rank 3

For me, Reina and Van der Sar are two of the top keepers in the world, tough to separate them, but Van Der Sar's injury gives Reina the edge. Given edges out Almunia and Cech for me, Cech was going to be fourth, until I saw the goal he gave up at the weekend, where in the world was he going to try and claim a cross at the 18 yard line, unbelievable.

Right Back

Liverpool: Glen Johnson; Johnson thus far has been a revelation this season at Anfield, scoring two goals. He adds another dimension to Liverpool’s attack, and him and Kuyt overlapping down the right flank is gorgeous to watch. Remains a bit suspect defensively, but bar none the best right back in the league. Rank:1

Arsenal: Bakary Sanga; Sanga has been a consistent right back for Le'Arse since joining them. He loves to get forward and is solid defensively. Perhaps lacks the goal threat of a Johnson, but he suits Arsenals style of play very well. Rank: 3

Chelsea: Jose Bosingwa; only RB in the league who on his day can give Johnson a run for his title of best in the league. Loves to get forward (noticing a pattern?) and is very solid defensively. Whips cross in all day and forces his counterpart on the left wing to defend time and time again. For me, doesn’t offer Chelsea exactly what Johnson has offered Liverpool with his skill on the ball and decision making, but an excellent right back no doubt. Rank:2

Manchester United: United have played three different right backs this season in Gary Neville, John O'Shea, and Fabio. Amongst them, Neville has the most experience, Fabio the most potential, but O'Shea the most reliable at the moment. This group gives United a solid, if unspectacular right back every game, although it is certainly one of United's weakest positions. Anyways I would pick any of the three of Richards. Rank:4

Manchester City: Micah Richards; England’s darling from only a year or two ago, Richards' fortunes have taken a turn for the worse in recent times. He has all the psychical attributes it remains to be seen how he can turn that psychical prowess into something tangible for City. Rank: 5

Can't beat Johnson in my eyes, obviously not the best defender and it remains to be seen how he will perform in a big game for Pool, but he is better going forward than Bosingwa and better defensively as well. Sanga is a solid right back, but doesn't offer the creativity of a Johnson or Bosingwa, although he doesn’t really have to in the potent Arsenal offense.

Center Defense

Liverpool: Jamie Carragher/Daniel Agger; Carragher has been a stalwart for Liverpool over the past decade or so, and has really come into his own under Rafa. However, his star appears to be fading, although his tenacity and desire to win will see him remain a first choice at CB for Pool at least for the coming season. He forms a great partnership with Dan Agger, who is one of the best center backs in the league could he stay healthy. Should Agger not stay healthy, Martin "The Terminator" Skrtel is a backup who would walk, punch, bite, and headbutt his way into most top sides. Rank: 3

Arsenal: William Gallas/ Thomas Vermaelen; former Chelsea man has struck up a great partnership with new boy Vermalen. Gallas loves to get forward and is starting to get on in age, something that might cost Arsenal a few goals here and there but is a reliable defender who is comfortable on the ball. Vermaelen thus far looks to be a great buy from Wenger. Strong in the air, comfortable on the back he has formed a great partnership with Gallas already. Rank: 2

Chelsea: John Terry/Ricardo Carvalho; England captain is a very able defender and a threat some set pieces. Has the experience and talent to still be considered a world class talent and is one of the most consistent backs in the league. Carvalho for me is another underrated center back, odd considering he plays for Chelsea. Fantastic defender described by Fernando Torres as the best defender in the EPL. Rank: 4

Manchester United: Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic; Strong in the air, great positioning, great experience, great speed, he has everything going for him and is a fantastic center back. For me, his only drawback is bearing a striking resemblance to Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars. Vidic is an excellent defender as well, and would have had the PFA award locked up had Torres not come a-callin and made him look foolish in a 4-1 win at the Theater of Dreams. Still, this partnership alone should keep United within a shot of the Title. Rank: 1

Manchester City: Joleen Lescot/ Kolo Toure; Lescott is unproven at the highest level, but then again so are City. Impressed for Everton in years past should form a workable partnership with Kolo at the middle of the City defense. Toure has impressed for Arsenal but his partnership with Gallas wasn't all too frightening and it will remain to see how he teams up with Lescott. Rank: 5

For me the top four are very tough to separate in the centre of the defense. United edge it at the time being frankly because Chelsea and Liverpool have been plagued by injuries in this position. Arsenals get the two spot because of the impressive start to Vermalens Arsenal career and his burgeoning partnership with Gallas. Pool have greater depth at CB (Skrtle>Ivanovic) so get the three spot while City's unproven partnership round it out.

Left Back

Liverpool: Fabio Aurelio; Came into his own last year. Consistent defender, very comfortable on the ball, good going forward, and can hit a great set piece. He is the perfect left back for Liverpool, if not too flashy for a Brazilian, and Insua is an able deputy as we have seen. We also have Andrei Dossena here to come on when we are 3-0 up and want to score a fourth. Rank: 4

Arsenal: Gael Clichy; Clichy has struggled to find form thus far this year, he is adventurous as ever, but somewhat lacking in the final product. Has proven an able defender in years past and performed well against United at the weekend. I just picked him up on the cheap in fantasy so me and Arsenal alike will want him to find his attacking form, and soon. Gibbs, an Englishman, is young and proven to be another able deputy. Rank: 3

Chelsea: Cashley Cole; Very consistent left back, pacy, loves to get forward, but is getting on in years. If he remains injury free he is a very good, if not World Class, option for Chelsea at left back. Rank: 2

Manchester United: Patrice Evra; For me, Evra is the best left back in the league. Great defender, loves to get forward, great cross and comfortable on the ball and faster than every winger in the league. World Class. Rank: 1

Manchester City: Wayne bridge; the former Chelsea man is the City left back at the moment. Nothing special, stuck behind Cole at Chelsea. Able albeit unspectacular left back. Rank: 5

Evra takes the top spot, could be the best in the World, 2,3, and 4 are very close with Cole piping it for me due to form and consistency. Arsenals depth put them over Liverpool, although Clichy has been shocking thus far. Aruelio is coming back from injury and I just couldn't put Insua above Clichy, even if he has been better so far this year. City round it out (notice a trend?).

Right Midfield.

Liverpool: Dirk kuyt; Works his socks off, you won't find a harder worker in the league. His tireless running opens up acres of space for everybody, including the marauding Johnson. Chips in with goals, and seemingly always scores the important ones. Partnership with Johnson has been great thus far. 1

Arsenal: Walcott/Bendtner; For some reason, every Arsenal game I watch has Bentner marauding up and down the left wing generally looking like he doesn't have a clue what he is supposed to do out wide. Arsenal are not short of options out wide, and the return of Rosisky should see Bendtner regulated to the backup of Edguardo (who backs up Van Persie; READ; BENDTNER SHOULD NOT PLAY) Walcott, when healthy should start here, but you need him healthy first. 2

Chelsea: Ballack/Essian/kalou; For the life of me I cannot figure out who Chelsea play here. Whoever is on the teamsheet generally drifts into the middle throughout the game. Essian is the best of this bunch, but I feel his talents are wasted out wide. Ballack as well is not a right winger, kalou for me fits the mold the most, but I doubt he would even make the bench at Arsenal, and is not a natural winger. 4

Manchester United: Valencia/Park; Valencia has been straight awful thus far, having some pretty big uggs to fill, but you cannot help but wonder if he will fit the bill. United look very weak down the right this year. Park is a good player, to me a less strong and proficient kuyt. I couldn't see him making it into any other of these teams however. 5

Manchester City: Wright Phillips; Has thus far been very proficient for City, making good direct runs and delivering some good balls in. Couldn't cut it at Chelsea forever, and we still have yet to see him perform consistently at the highest level, promising start thought. 3

Looking at this, I can't see beyond kuyt for the top spot, he has been the most consistant, and although Arsenals wingers would pip him normally, they have been injured, and bendter has been out right. United and City and Chelsea are clearly the bottom three, and it is tough to choose between them at the moment.

Center Midfield:

Liverpool: Mascherano/Lucas/Aquilani; Last years strength has turned into this years question mark as Alonso left and Mascherano has struggled to find form so far. We are yet to see Aquilani play, and it is a little sad that our best player in the middle has been Lucas. Aquilani could very will be the savior of this season, as much of our title challenge will come down to how well he fits in and plays and stays injury free.
rank: 5
Arsenal: Denilson/Fabregas; Fabregas' quality aside, Denilson has looked good so far in the season. I would put him on par to Lucas thus far this year. Fabregas is obviously one of the best in the league and Arsenals title challenge might come down to if or if not he can stay injury free from here on out. Song has deputized ably, but Arsenal missed Cesc, who wouldn't? Rank: 3

Chelsea: Mikel/Lampard/Essian/Ballack/Deco; Chelsea have by far the most depth, as four of those five would walk into almost any other team here. Lampard is quality, but needs a holding player behind him as he makes so many runs forward. Common sense says Essian is the perfect fit here, but every Chelsea coach including Ancilotti seems to persist with Mikel. Ballack needs to be in the team, he is clearly would class on his day but it has been a struggle to fit him in. For me the deepest. Rank:1

Manchester United: Carrick, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs, Anderson; the latter two are getting on in years but prove good options to have and indeed push for starting spots. Fletcher and Carrick are not going to strike the fear of God into opposing sides but are both solid players. They do what they need to do in the United team, that is, keep the ball and break up play. Anderson has been out of favor recently, but is a reliable midfielder when called upon, even if he hasn’t lived up to his ridicules price tag just yet. Rank 4

Manchester City: Ireland, Barry; These two are very good tough players well used to the English game. Barry will hold giving Ireland license to get forward as he did so well last year. Barry provides a calming presence in the center and will keep possession, still unproven at the highest level. Ireland will need to have a similar season to last year if City really want that 4th Champions league spot. However, I really like this partnership, and although depth could be a problem, City's first two Center midfielders can match almost anybody else’s' in the league.
Rank: 2

Chelsea’s depth edges out everybody else here, and City's symmetry beats out the rest for me. Ireland and Barry would get into every team below them. Fabregas drags Arsenal above United and Pool and United's depth and experience edges Liverpool’s question marks at this position.

Left Winger:

Liverpool: Riera, Benayoun, Babel; Long decried as a weak spot for Liverpool, Left wing is turning out to be out deepest position this year. Riera is a very good wide player, keeps the ball and keeps width, something Liverpool need when playing the big sides. Yossi is great between the lines and appears to be edging out Riera for first XI honors on the back of some great performances. Babel has amazing potential, but that is all it is right now and needs to turn it into something tangible. Rank 3

Arsenal: Arshavin; The winger has been a revelation since joining Arsenal. The playmaker is perfect for this Arsenal side, quick, a great passer, and a great finisher. A consistent season could see him best left winger in the league and perhaps the title for Arsenal. Rank: 1

Chelsea: Malouda; after an indifferent start to his Chelsea career Malouda has turned it on as of late, he has been consistent, and kept the width of a generally very narrow Chelsea team. Time will tell if he can stay this good, but on the back of a late winner at the weekend, it seems like he can. rank: 2

Manchester United: Nani; Nani does everything in his power to emulate Cristiano Ronaldo, from the fancy stepover to generally being as greasy as possible. Is still an unfinished product however his displays have improved this year. Really does remind one of a young Ronaldo, although without the physical prowess Ronaldo has. Rank: 5

Manchester City: Robinho; Although he now faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines, and appears to want out of the charming smog filled city that is Manchester, on his game he is one of the best in the world. Him being injured will likely see Tevez or Bellamy forced out wide, and both those two should be able to do the job, just not as good as Robinho could. Rank: 4

Arshavin pips everyone else for me, with Malouda a far second in front of the Liverpool men. Pools depth put them in front of the Manchester teams, and City beats United because of Tevez and Robinho's undoubted quality. Nani might deserve to be higher, but anybody who count Ronaldo as a role model will always finish last in my books.


Liverpool: Gerrard/Torres; Obviously the best partnership in the league, two of the worlds top five players in one strike force has yielded amazing results for both Gerrard and Torres. Look for both to score over 20 goals (with Torres breaking 30 if he can find form). Question mark for Pool is obviously depth, if one of these two is injured for any lengthy period of time, the title will be beyond their reach.

Arsenal: Edguaro/ Van Persie; Now I know they don't play like this, but in my desire to not even mention Diaby on this list to punish him for the worst own goal I have ever seen, and due Arsenals XI constantly changing positions during the match, I have simplified matters and put their best two strikes on paper next to each other up front. Diving aside, Edguaro reminds me of a young, Inzagi who also has the ability to create his own goals and not just finish off chances that people give him. To be honest, reminds me a bit of Fowler, always in the right place at the right time and can score goals when nothing is on. His dive was well overblown, but he should probably not do that again. Van Persie is quality, as good between the lines as he is with his back to goal. In fact, he might be the best in the world with his back to goal, does anybody have a quicker turn and shot than him. Rank: 1

Chelsea: Anelka/Drogba; This odd partnership has yielded great results thus far, but one does wonder how long Anelka will stay in the first XI before old age, or an Abromovic decree catches up with him. Drogba looks back to his best this year and this partnership will not miss many chances. Rank:2

Manchester United: Rooney/Berbatov; Rooney is clearly one of the very best in the league, and the world. Will revel in being the center of this potent team and I expect him to top the scoring charts this year. Can do it all, play between the lines, on the shoulder, and pops up at left back every once in a while. His tenacious play is contrasted by Dimitar's languid style. I don't know who runs more during an average game, him or Ben Foster. Only player I can remember who runs more during a goal celebration than the rest of the time he is on his field. England’s Michael Owen is a traitor and has lost all of his pace, the only reason he was ever good. rank: 3

Manchester City: Adebyore/Tevez/Bellamy; For me, when robinho is fit Ade and Tevez should start every game together, they seem the perfect partnership. Ade on Arsenal seemed to need 10 chances to score, but thus far appears to be taking his chances for City. Bellamy is pacy and will look to stretch the opposition D, but does not have the class of most other strikers in this group. Tevez is proven quality, and it is a matter of where he is player. Rank: 4

For me, the proven class of Gerrard and Torres cannot be looked beyond, despite any doubts that might be seen if you do, in fact, look beyond them to see Ngog on the bench. Chelsea take second for me because the partnership consists of two very equal players who are bound to get loads of chances. United is next, with question marks when you get beyond Rooney. City takes fourth due to their depth (didn’t even mention Santa Cruz) and proven quality of Tevez (although we are yet to see him start at forward). Arsenal round it out, frankly because Wenger confuses me with his lineup. I always love watching Arsenal before the match, when the commentators put up their lineup on the TV and say "Well this is where everybody will be playing tonight for Arsenal" because nobody in the world knows how they will line up until 10 minutes in. But then 10 minutes later they switch. For Christ’s sake Gallas plays most of his time as a strikes. It must be a nightmare for defenses to be fair, but I am using this list as a notice to Wenger, change your ways and let me figure out how you will line up, or your strikers will be ranked last in next years edition. The ball is in your court Arsene.

For the overall teams.


Cannot look beyond United to top the defensive bill, followed by Chelsea and Liverpool. Arsenal take fourth for me due to a perhaps unreliable keeper and a lack of depth. City, though they might match the big four further up the field, fall far short in the defensive side of the game.



Chelsea top the bill in this category, followed closely by Arsenal. Arsenal have the better widemen but Chelsea are better through the middle, and their widemen are no slouches. City follow Arsenal, followed by Liverpool who have question marks all over the center and United come in last due to their lack of experience on the wings.



Still cant beat Gerrard and Torres, Pool scored the most goals in the league last year and look for them to do it again. Arsenal take second due to their depth and quality all over the front of the field, though none of their strikers (with the exception of maybe Fabregas if you consider him a forward) can be mentioned alongside Gerrard or Torres. Chelsea take third for me, lethal strikers combined with a goal crazy midfield would see them higher on other lists. City take fourth but it remains to be seen how they all fit together. United come in last , beyond Rooney, they lack any proven attackers.


Now to take the teams and add up where they finished in each of the three categories. Lower numbers are better obviously.


Crapshoot for the top three, United and City to follow. Watch this space.


Read more!

Champions League Preview

With the Champions League beginning today I thought it would be a good idea to handicap the groups.

Should Go Through: Juventus and Bayern Munchen
Clearly the top two teams in the group and two of the larger clubs in Europe. While neither team has a cake walk to the second round, both should progress without too much difficulty. These teams have too much skill, talent and experience not too advance. Look for the matches against Bordeaux to shed more light on who will finish on top of the group.

Could Challenge: Bordeaux
Last year’s French champions boast a strong squad and have opened up this season well. However, they do not have the talent or experience to compete with the two large clubs in the group. However, if they can get results in Turin and Munich then they might be able to challenge for a spot in the knockout rounds. They must take all six points from Maccabi Haifa to have any chance of progressing.

Just Happy To Be Here: Maccabi
Maccabi is the first Israeli team to compete in the Champions League and they really don’t have much of a chance of progressing. However, that’s what we said about the Cypriot representatives last year and didn’t they prove us all wrong. Maccabi’s one hope is that they can use their location to take all nine points at home. The trip to Maccabi is not a short or easy one and the climate there is certainly not one most of the players will be used to. However, look for Maccabi to be pulling up the rear in this group.


Should Finish On Top: Manchester United
Clearly the most talented and experienced club in the group, Man Utd. should progress despite some difficult trips to Turkey and Moscow. Get worried, though, if Man Utd. have trouble from their away fixtures.

Second Best: Wolfsburg
The reigning German Champions boast a strong squad that should see them progress. However, like Man Utd., the difficulty arises with trips to Moscow and Turkey. If Wolfsburg begins to falter on the road then they could face a difficult road to qualifying for the knockout round.

The Wildcards: Besiktas and CSKA Moscow
Both teams have the talent to pose a significant threat to the top two clubs in this group. Each must be successful on their home turf if they are to progress. If one of these teams can steal some points at Old Trafford or at Wolfsburg then it’d be well on their way towards challenging for a spot in the next round.


Plan For The Knockout Stages: Real Madrid
Even before their summer spending spree, Real Madrid would easily qualify from this group. Add to their ranks Kaka and company and these six group matches should be just a formality. One of the biggest clubs in the world, Real will easily qualify from this group without any really tricky fixtures to deal with.

Fighting For Second: AC Milan and Olympique Marseille
It’s odd to see a club with the Champions League pedigree of AC Milan in this category but they have been in terrible form this season. After failing to even qualify for the tournament last year, Milan have begun this season with 0-4 drubbing by rivals Inter and a tie at lowly Livorno. Unlike Milan, Marseille did participate in last year’s Champions League. While they did not achieve the same success that they did in the 2007-2008 group stage, when they almost beat out Liverpool for the second spot in the knockout round, their experience should serve them well going into this year. If Milan continues its awful form then look for Marseille to benefit and advance to the knockout stages.

Hoping To Get A Little Lucky: Zurich
The smallest club in the group and the one with the least pedigree, Zurich, is hoping to benefit from the failures of Milan and Marseille. The trip to Zurich won’t be a difficult one for the other clubs so Zurich must rely on finding its top form and hoping the other teams in the group beat up on each other.


The Best: Chelsea
Chelsea is definitely the best club in this group. While this group is no cake walk, Chelsea certainly should be able to get results against Porto, Atletico and Cypriot minnows, APOEL. The real question marks arise when Chelsea goes to battle in the first round of the knockout stages without their African contingent.

Battling For Number Two: FC Porto and Atletico Madrid
Each team has an extremely talented and exciting striker, Sergio Aguero for Atletico and Hulk for Porto. Both teams have major question marks in the back. Whichever team can defend better should accompany Chelsea into the knockout stages.

Hoping To Catch lightning In A Bottle: APOEL
Once again we have a Cypriot team in the Champions League group stages. APOEL will look to try to catch the magic that Anorthosis used to nearly qualify for the knockout stages. Nonetheless, don’t bet the rent on this happening as APOEL stand practically no chance of qualifying for the next round.


The Contenders: Liverpool, Olympique Lyon, Fiorentina
There really is no front runner for this group with each of these three teams boasting a strong squad while at the same time having some question marks. Lyon has started off the season well, tied atop the French League with Bordeaux. Despite losing Karim Benzema in the summer the club has smartly used the money to strengthen itself in multiple areas and Lisandro Lopez appears set to make up for the loss of Benzema. I’d be surprised if Lyon doesn’t find their way into the knockout stages. Liverpool always have the “European night” at Anfield that every commentator insists on reminding us of but domestic form has left a lot to be desired. Will Liverpool’s midfield and centerbacks be strong enough to progress to the knockout stages remains to be seen. Fiorentina look to fight Liverpool for the second spot in the knockout stages. While the weakest of these three squads, Fiorentina still have enough talent to challenge for the knockout stage. Look for results at Hungarian club, Debrecen, to indicate which of these three are going to advance to the knockout stages.

Keep Dreaming: Debrecen
A nice club. A nice story. Absolutely no chance. However, they will play an important role in who advances from group C by playing spoiler at their home in Hungary. Still, they just can’t compete with the other three from this group.


Too Talented Not To Progress: Barcelona and Inter
Last year’s Champions league winners and the reigning Serie A champions posses just too much talent not to progress. While the competition is not weak and the trips to Ukraine and Russia will not be easy, it is hard to imagine neither team progressing. The only real drama will be who wins each matchup of the two.

Unlucky: Rubin and Dynamo Kyiv
Both teams are talented and are difficult trips for any European squad. In another group one of these teams might progress. Unfortunately for both of them, they were paired with two of the top clubs in the world. It’s hard to see them progressing. They have to hope either Barcelona or Inter collapse if they’re to have any chance of progressing.


Could Go Any Way: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart
This group is really up for grabs. Sevilla is certainly the most talented, Stuttgart is strong and Rangers do very well at home. Look for Sevilla and Stuttgart to progress but don’t be surprises if Rangers sneak into the next round.

Surprise Team: Unirea Urziceni
The Romanians have the best chance to advance to the knockout stages of any of the small clubs. There are no real front runners to the group and this group could really go anyway. If the Romanians can get some good results from the first few contests look for them to really challenge for a place in the knockout stages.


Top Dog: Arsenal
There is no way Arsenal doesn’t qualify for the next round. The only thing standing in the way from them topping the group could be Arsene Wenger’s penchant for playing the youngsters after the team has secured qualification. Arsenal is far and away more talented than any of the other teams in this group.

Up For Grabs: AZ, Olympiacos, Standard
The second spot in this group could go any way. All three clubs are domestic champions and could go through. Standard appear to be the weakest of the three clubs but certainly still stand a chance to qualify. AZ and Olympiacos both have strong clubs and should remain in contention through all six games. If one of these teams can take points from Arsenal it would put itself in the driver’s seat for the second qualification spot.

Read more!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Liverpool/Burnley Recap

FT: Liverpool 4 Burnley 0

The above scoreline will be a wonderful sight to all Liverpool fans. Yossi scored three times and Dirk had one as Liverpool cruise to a comfortable victory. Benayoun was terrific throughout, as were Dirk, Riera, Gerrard and Lucas. Liverpool took some time getting into the game, but after about 20 minutes, completely controlled the game and never really looked in danger. For me, Yossi's first goal stands out as a great individual goal, as he megged a defender before slotting home far post. His second was a great team goal, Torres to Gerrard, who burst into the box as he is prone to do, and delivered a great square ball back across goal for Yossi to calmly tap in. Liverpool played with a creativity that was noticeably absent in their first few games. Perhaps, as last year the international breaks seemed to always break up our momentum, this first break seemed to come at a good time for us to regain our form.

Unfortunately, the seemingly unanswerable question as to where Gerrard is most effective will be reopened as he excelled in a central midfield role besides Lucas. For me, there can be no question that he is most effective in the Liverpool team just behind Torres, but in certain games Rafa might choose to deploy him a bit deeper, especially in the games where we might struggle to break an opposing side down, against small clubs who come only to defend. To their credit, Burnley appeared to come to Anfield and try to attack, albeit unsuccessfully. However, against these teams, Gerrard can be deployed in center midfield, as we don't need to be as defensive considering we will control most of the game and we don't really need Mascherano in the starting XI. However, when Aquilani is fully fit it appears this question will be redundent, Gerrard will be resorted to his second striker role, perhaps interchanging with the Aqualani at times. For me, Lucas has done a very good job in the middle, but perhaps is not a player who we want in the center of midfield week in week out, not yet at least. Aqualani will provide us with more options and will give either Lucas, Mascherano, and even Gerrard a rest at times.

The only worrying factor to take away from today's game was Torres' performance. I watched him midweek with Spain and he just didn't look up for it, he missed three sitters. Today he looked lethargic at times and he will be disappointed to not be amongst the goals, even if he never really had a chance to put away. He was still involved with two goals today though, providing the pass for Gerrard to burst into the box and square for Benayoun. He also played to pass to Benayoun on Dirk's goal. He clearly has not hit top form just yet, and he still looked dangerous which is encouraging, but I cannot remember a time for Liverpool where he has looked so average . Anyway, roll on the champions league for Liverpool now that our title challenge will be deemed to be back on track.

Read more!

International Break Finally Over

International breaks are like the plot of a Steven Segal movie, they’re necessary and provide a little something but you really just want to hurry through it and get to the action. Players can get injured and most of the time they’re just pointless friendlies. However, this international break did provide more intrigue than most. With World Cup qualifying reaching its final fixtures there are some intriguing story lines.

`With each match Argentina looks less and less like it’s going to qualify for South Africa. Maradona has guided La Seleccion to fifth place in South America with only the top four getting automatic berths to the World Cup. With one away match and one home match remaining it looks like Argentina is going to have to play the fourth place CONCACAF team for the right to go to South Africa. While it appears less and less likely that this would pit them against Mexico, they would still have to face Costa Rica and Honduras, teams that should not be taken lightly, especially considering Argentina’s form.
The 96 million Euro man also appears set to miss the World Cup. Even with Portugal’s defeat of Hungary yesterday, it appears unlikely that they are going to make it to South Africa. I’m sure not going to miss the diving pretty boy next summer.
The US took important steps towards qualification this past week. By taking all six points from cellar dwellers El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago the US just needs 3 points against Honduras to secure qualification to South Africa. While the US didn’t really impress in either match they got the job done and took the points which is really what is most important.

Read more!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thoughts on the USA vs Trinidad Lineup.

Finally the day is here, USA vs Trinidad. Big game for the USA, they need to win to help them finish in the top three so they won't have to play a play in match vs maybe Argentina. Here is the lineup;






Big suprises here is Clark partnering Bradley Jr. and Bornstein at left back. Bornstein is the best option there, considering Demerit didnt travel forcing Boca to play into the middle. Hopefully Bornstein can have a good game against inferior oposition, but fans know he is not the answer at left back. Newly eligble Castillo has occupied the USA fans dreams since he was cleared to play for US. Clark partnering Bradley is also questionable. Benny Feilhaber has been playing great lately and it is tough to leave him out. Maybe he should have rested Mike and partnered Benny and Clark, but Mike has been one of our most consistant players over the past year despite suffering a slight dip in form at the moment. Expect to see Benny come on in the second half and maybe Dempsey move up top. Up top its great to see Davies shake off his injury and partner Altidore. All fans know this is the partnership for the future, and I for one am happy to not see Ching on the field. Look for pector and Bornstein to get forward a lot, and for Dempsey and Landon to have free roles cutting inside. Jozy and Davies will run behind the defense with Jozy sometimes acting as the target man. The midfield will be fairly defensive, however Bradley will look to get forward and into the box where he is very dangerous. Without further adu (pun intended) the match is about to start. Come on the USA!!!!

Read more!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chelsea's spending spree cut short

250 million pounds.
Taste it.
Swish it around in your mouth for a moment.

Now spit it out because that’s roughly the amount of money that Chelsea F.C, has spent on buying players since 2004. Now, the team that has become synonymous with major spending, at least before Real Madrid’s summer spending spree, is banned from buying anybody for the next two transfer windows. In an incredible ruling, FIFA has banned Chelsea from registering any new players for a year for the manner in which they acquired Gael Kakuta from Lens.

This decision will have massive ramifications for this season’s Premier league and Champions League. Chelsea were unusually quiet in this summer’s transfer opening, making only one major signing in Yuri Zhirkov. Now it looks like this lack of action will cost Chelsea both a shot at a premier league title and Champions league title.

Since we are heading into 2010, there is the idiotically scheduled African Cup of Nations taking place this winter. What genius decided that a continent’s title should be competed for in the middle of every major European season? Despite this absurdity, It continues every other two years. But I digress. For Chelsea, the African Cup of Nations will serve to end all of their title hopes.

Chelsea boasts the most talented group of Africans on any European club squad. With Michael Essien and Didier Drogba, they trot out two of the most talented African players if not the two most talented. Chelsea’s midfield will also John Obi MIkel while the attack will lose Salomon Kalou. The loss of these four players for most of the month of February will signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Lets look at Chelsea’s attack and midfield without these players.

Attack: Without Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou Chelsea only have one natural striker , Nicolas Anelka. This leaves Chelsea with few goal scoring options and would likely force Chelsea to play a three man front with Anelka between two wingers. These two wingers would likely be some combination of Zhirkov or Malouda on the left with the soon returning Joe Cole on the right. This would give Chelsea lots of creativity but leave them with very few goals.

Midfield: The midfield will also become a problem without Mikel and Essien. Essien is the stalwart of the Chelsea midfield with his strong tackling and passing skills allowing Lampard and Ballack to push forward. This leaves Chelsea with central midfield options of Frank Lampard, Deco and Michael Ballack. Where Chelsea has played with a three man midfield for many years, they would not be able to do this because of the necessity for a three man front. The first choice duo would almost certainly be Lampard and Ballack with Ballack playing in a more holding role and Lampard pushing forward as he likes to do. Lampard is usually good for some goals in a forward midfield role but with the added defensive responsibilities he will have it is likely that his goal scoring record would drop. Ballack is also not suited to playing a holding midfield role. There is no doubt in my mind that a player of his caliber can do it, but the position does not come naturally to him like it does to Essien. The ageing Deco would come off the bench to provide some attacking flair for the central midfield, but he has certainly fallen off from what he once was. Three central midfielrders is all that Chelsea will have for the month of February.

Looking at Chelsea’s fixture schedule we see the compounding of their troubles. With a visit from Arsenal, a visit to Everton and a home match against Manchester City, February presents a difficult fixture schedule. They also have a match at Wolverhampton, but I would imagine any form of a Chelsea team should be able to take the points at Wolverhampton. February is also the first knockout round for the Champions League. Chelsea will be unable to compete with the top sides in Europe and, barring a lucky draw, would most likely crash out of the Champions League. Without their full side and without being able to add reinforcements, I have trouble seeing Chelsea gaining more than four points from their February Premier League schedule. This will be a heavy setback in their chase for the title.

And this is assuming nobody gets injured. Add in the injuries that accompany ever Premier league campaign and Chelsea is really in trouble.

So now the title contenders change. Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City appear to be the front runners for the title with Liverpool and Chelsea trailing those top three. If Chelsea were to fail to finish in the top four it would not be absurd t say that some of their big name players will want to leave to play champions league football. Without the cash from competing in the Champions league and the loss of big name players, Chelsea could be in trouble in the next few years.

Oh, and Man Utd. are under investigation for the same thing.

Read more!

Saturday, August 29, 2009


This fall Sam Bean will be traveling to Europe to go to pubs, party, have Eurotrip like experiences, and, most of all, attend as many football matches as possible. As part of this trip I will post regularly about the games I attend and anything else that might be interesting. My first game will probably be September 26, Fulham vs. Arsenal. So check back here for live game reports and just plain entertainment.
Read more!