Monthly Archives: October 2009

What’s going on at Toronto FC?

Dwayne de Rosario: one of Mo Johnston's better signings

Dwayne de Rosario: one of Mo Johnston's better signings

I’m not going to claim to be as plugged in as some other bloggers or mainstream media members but it is reasonably clear that Toronto FC is in trouble. Refreshingly, it’s not financial trouble (the behemoth that is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment takes care of that). Instead, it’s far more basic: lack of on-pitch success.

The big news today is that Chris Cummins was let go after going 8-9-7 in 24 matches this past season, the worst of which was a 5-0 loss to the craptastic Red Bulls. The bigger news, if less obvious, is that Mo Johnston, the “architect” of this team, remains.

It is clear that Johnston’s reign has been marked by changes in philosophy and an absurd number of trades, the worst of which brought the incredibly bad Nick Garcia to Toronto. To be fair, he has made good moves, such as bringing in Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman. He has also drafted Stefan Frei and Sam Cronin, two very promising young players. So while he has made his share of bad moves – who hasn’t? – the problem is that he’s made too many of them. He never lets a team get settled. He hasn’t hired a coach that knows the league and its players and can implement his philosophy. It’s really too bad he didn’t hire Paul Mariner, who would have been an excellent head coach for TFC. As an aside, if the incredibly stupid Red Bulls don’t keep Richie Williams, he should be on the short list for TFC.

To me, there is one reason why TFC can’t be successful on the pitch. A solid keeper – Frei – with a good midfield and reasonably decent strikers gets constantly betrayed by the lack of skill on the back line. The defenders couldn’t handle the Puerto Rico Islanders in the CONCACAF Champion’s League much less a side with good strikers, like the LA Galaxy or the Seattle Sounders. It’s patently obvious that Johnston’s priority should be re-building the entire back line this off-season. A soccer team is at its best when it has a quality keeper and quality defenders. Johnston has one; now he needs the other.

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Premiership Matchday 10: Manchester United 0-2 Liverpool

Let’s get one thing straight: there is no way Manchester United deserved to win the game. Hell, they probably didn’t even deserve to tie it.

What happened today at Anfield was a magnificent display by Liverpool, especially by midfielders Javier Mascherano and Lucas. In short, they controlled just about everything. Add to that the stunning quickness with which the rest of the squad got on the United players – everyone was closed down almost immediately, a truly impressive feat because it lasted all 96 minutes – and you have a recipe for a win. It was only a matter of time.

A lot of times you’ll see sports analysts say that a team lost a game rather than the other team won; it’s a common trope used to slyly say that the winning team was outplayed by the losing team. Surely that happens. Not today. From the opening kickoff, Liverpool looked energetic. Their energy translated into chances, especially in the first half (United played better in the second half, but still not good enough, obviously). All of their energy was rewarded when Fernando Torres put away an impressive goal in the 64th minute. It’s worth noting that he beat Rio Ferdinand and that if he hadn’t scored, a penalty had to be called. It was the first of two times that Ferdinand was embarrassed.

I hate to say this but it appears true: Rio Ferdinand cannot keep up with quick strikers anymore. Sir Alex has to remedy that by going out and getting another center back to partner with Nemanja Vidić (who, it should be noted, was red carded for the THIRD STRAIGHT TIME AGAINST LIVERPOOL!) in January. It has to be done, for the present and for the future (that latter appears to be coming sooner than expected). Neither Peanut Head nor John O’Shea is the answer. Done, too, is Paul Scholes. Unlike ageless wonder Ryan Giggs, he couldn’t keep up with the quicker wings and seemed lost at times. It says here that Ferdinand and Scholes should only play in Europe and against lesser Premiership competition because they’ll be slower games.

The win puts Liverpool 4 points behind United, who currently sit second. Again, I must re-iterate like I did after the Burnley game: don’t panic. Take the 3 points back on the return leg at Old Trafford and things will be fine. Chelsea’s win puts them at the top of the table; that’s okay. United seem to function a bit better when they’re the “underdogs” (they’re never really underdogs, of course, but teams like to say they are; it’s the disrespect card).

Highlights and a picture when I find them.

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Interesting numbers

Shamelessly stolen from this very entertaining F365 article by the always brilliant Sarah Winterburn:

Arsenal

The Gunners are scoring an incredible average of 3.37 goals per Premier League game this season.

If games ended after 45 minutes, Arsenal would be top of the table with 19 points.

All Arsenal’s points have been won against bottom-half opposition. They have lost both games – against Manchesters United and City – against top-half clubs.

Cesc Fabregas has been credited with a massive nine assists in seven games.

Aston Villa

Just three of their 12 goals this season have been scored from open play.

Villa have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season.

James Collins’ last Premier League goal came in April 2006 for West Ham…against Chelsea.

Birmingham City

Lee Bowyer’s 38th-minute goal was the first Birmingham have scored before the 70th minute this season.

Bowyer is the only player to score more than one goal for the Blues this season.

The 3-1 defeat to Arsenal was their first of the season by more than a single goal.

Birmingham have got the same points after nine games (7) as Stoke at the same stage last season.

Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn have lost only one of their last eight Premier League games at Ewood Park – on the opening day of the season against Manchester City.

With four goals, David Dunn has already scored more times this season than in any campaign since 2002/03.

Rovers have come from behind to win twice this season – against Villa and now Burnley.

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton have exactly the same record after eight games (W2, D2, L4) as last season.

The Trotters have not kept a clean sheet this season.

Didier Drogba is the only striker to be credited with more assists than Kevin Davies.

Bolton have not beaten a team currently in the top half of the Premier League table since January.

Burnley

Burnley and Blackburn are the only two teams in the 92-strong league without a single point away from home.

Only Hull have conceded more goals than the Clarets this season.

Chelsea

Chelsea have not lost two consecutive away games in the Premier League since September 2007.

Didier Drogba has been directly involved in 13 of 19 Chelsea goals this season.

They have not failed to score in any Premier League game since April 22 v Everton.

Six of the eight goals they have conceded this season have come from set-pieces.

Everton

The draw against Wolves was the first time they have failed to beat them at Goodison Park in seven attempts.

The Toffees have conceded only six goals in their last seven games after that opening-day drubbing by Arsenal.

Everton have three points more than at the same juncture last season.

Fulham

Bobby Zamora’s opener against Hull was their first first-half goal since his strike on the opening day of the season against Portsmouth.

Zamora has either scored or assisted four of Fulham’s eight goals.

The Cottagers are two points better off than at the same stage last season.

Fulham have had the same back four (Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky) for all but 20 minutes this season.

Hull City

Hull have won three games in the whole of 2009.

They managed no shots on target in 90 minutes against Fulham.

The Tigers’ last away win was at Craven Cottage in March.

Liverpool

The last time Liverpool failed to score in consecutive Premier League games was September 2007.

Jamie Carragher is the only outfield player to play every minute for Liverpool in the league this season.

Liverpool were credited with 69% of the possession against Sunderland.

Manchester City

For all their attacking talents, City have actually scored fewer goals in their first eight games that at this stage last season.

City have drawn both games (v Villa and Wigan) they were losing at half-time.

They have yet to win at Wigan in the Premier League.

Manchester United

Despite their supposedly poor form, United have four more points from nine games (22) than they had amassed at the same stage last season

They have not lost a single point from a winning position this season.

They have benefited from three own goals at Old Trafford this campaign.

Portsmouth

No striker has scored for Portsmouth in the Premier League since April 18.

Six of Pompey’s eight defeats this season have been by a single-goal margin.

Nine of the 15 goals conceded by Pompey this season have come from set-pieces.

Stoke City

Stoke were credited with just 38% of possession at home to West Ham and had the worst pass completion rate in the division at 63%.

No midfielder has scored for Stoke this season.

Sunderland

Victory over Liverpool marked Sunderland’s first victory over Big Four opposition in seven years.

Darren Bent has scored the first goal in six of Sunderland’s nine games.

Sunderland are joint bottom of the disciplinary table with Tottenham. Captain Lorik Cana has picked up four of their 18 bookings.

Tottenham Hotspur

Ledley King became Spurs’ 11th league scorer at Portsmouth.

Four of Tottenham’s nine games have ended in a 2-1 win for Spurs.

Jermaine Jenas has been booked four times in five games since his return from injury.

West Ham

Carlton Cole has committed more fouls than any other player in the Premier League this season.

West Ham have not started a season this badly since they were last relegated in 2002-03.

The Hammers enjoyed 65% of the possession against Fulham last week and then 62% against Stoke.

Wigan

No Wigan game has featured more than one first-half goal this season.

The Latics have garnered two more points under Roberto Martinez than at the same stage under Stsve Bruce last season.

Wigan’s record against top-half opposition is the fifth best in the Premier League.

Wolves

No Wolves game has featured more than one first-half goal this season.

Middlesbrough and West Brom both had more points than this Wolves side at the same stage last season.

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Mission to Moscow successful

Antonio Valencia's winner v. CSKA Moscow (AP)

Antonio Valencia's winner v. CSKA Moscow (AP)

I can’t say it was the prettiest game I’ve ever seen but Manchester United’s defeat of CSKA Moscow in Moscow was effective. In the end, Antonio Valencia slotted the winner home, getting United 3 vital points and dealing CSKA’s hopes of advancing to the round of 16 a mortal blow. All of the details can be found here.

It wasn’t particularly beautiful, though it was patient. The midfield play was ragged as possession was lost more frequently than anyone would like. Up top, Dimitar Berbatov was extremely annoyed (perhaps his nerves were frayed because he hasn’t gotten any sleep since his wife had a baby a few days ago, hehe). He yelled at more than one player and failed to cash in his relatively few chances. Over the past year and a bit, people have commented that he’s too laconic; while he rarely displays emotion, he’s usually in the right place. Though, to be honest, he has missed an anecdotally high number of chances. But such is the life of a striker.

Back to the game. United were very patient, building up play slowly. It wasn’t beautiful but it was effective. The end results were a series of good chances, culminating in Valencia’s goal. Sir Alex will be pleased.

What does this mean, in the larger sense? Well, United continue their good run of form in all competitions. That bodes well for Sunday’s clash with Liverpool. It also moves United to 3-0 in the Champion’s League, meaning qualification for the round of 16 should be relatively easy. The team should be confident since they put in a good performance with a lot of first-choice players missing; depth is important and it was one of the questions facing Sir Alex at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was a good win.

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Champion’s League shockers

César Delgago celebrates his goal against Liverpool

César Delgago celebrates his goal against Liverpool

So Barcelona lost to FK Rubin Kazan today? Seriously? Well, in all honesty, it happens (Pep Guardiola agrees with me) and it’s not the end of the world. Look at Manchester United’s loss earlier this season to Burnley. Sometimes, you have an off-day.

The far bigger story is Liverpool tumbling to its 4th straight defeat as they lost to Lyon today. And that was with LFC needing a win, or at least something positive ahead of the massive clash with Manchester United this Sunday. But it was not to be, because of my Football Manager nemesis, César Delgado. For some reason, whenever I have Delgado, he whines his way out of the team and whenever I play against him, he scores. Cyber-Delgado must have some sort of vendetta against me. But I digress.

I can’t imagine the pressure on Rafa Benítez right now. There was pressure before – due to perceived inactivity in the summer, among other things – but now, sitting 8th in the Premiership? The villagers will be calling for someone’s head sooner rather than later. I’m guessing that it’s squad depth that’s the problem. Pool appear to be a two-man team right now (and one of those men was hurt today, 25 minutes into the game) and that’s not getting fixed anytime soon, even if Alberto Aquilani comes back soon.

Even though United have plenty of injury problems, I think Sir Alex is relishing his chances on Sunday.

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Manchester United v. CSKA Moscow preview

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson

When I look at the teams on paper, CSKA Moscow appears overmatched. Aside from silly numbers like 50 (Anton Grigoriev) and 46 (Aleksandr Stolyarenko), CSKA simply doesn’t have the names to compete with United.

But that doesn’t mean that CSKA isn’t good. Clearly they’re good enough to qualify for the Champion’s League though, this season, their form is a little off in that they’re currently 4th in the Russian league, with 43 points. In the Champion’s League, they’ve lost to Wolfsburg (no shame in that) and beaten Besiktas (a good victory, in my opinion). So they’ve been up and down this year.

Which brings us to tomorrow. CSKA have two advantages: 1, they’ll be at home and 2, United have never beaten a Russian team in Russia. With those in mind, I think CSKA needs to come out flying and try to pot an early goal. It’s essential that Alan Dzagoev, the star midfielder with 7 goals so far this season, have a good game. Tomas Necid and Milos Krasic are also dangerous. Igor Akinfeev, a favorite of Football Managers everywhere, will get a chance to impress on soccer’s second biggest stage. Lastly, CSKA need to use United’s injuries to their advantage.

So what of United? In short, they need to play defensively but be willing to counter-attack. With all the injuries, the strength will be in the midfield and if they can control that area, things bode well. As mentioned, they have to control Dzagoev and the return of Nemanja Vidić should help with that. I’m not sure what the rest of the backline will look like, though.

I’m pretty much retired from predictions but I think the injuries and CSKA’s home advantage means a draw.

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Mission to Moscow

Wayne Rooney is injured. How annoying. (Tom Purslow)

Wayne Rooney is injured. How annoying. (Tom Purslow)

So Manchester United are traveling to Moscow to play CSKA Moscow in a Champion’s League tie this Wednesday and word is that several thousand starters will be unavailable. The mission’s status is yellow at this point.

Wayne Rooney, Park-Ji Sung, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher (will he ever get to play in Moscow? Seriously), and, perhaps most importantly, Ryan Giggs, all missed the the flight today with various injuries.

So what does that mean? It means that Sir Alex will likely take a defensive, counter-attacking approach in order to minimize the damage. Though Dimitar Berbatov and Nemanja Vidić made trip (and I expect them to play), they’re both recovering from injuries. And Vidić has to cover for Rio Ferdinand while he remembers how to play defense. Not good.

This is not to say that United are doomed. Perhaps the injuries are Fortuna’s wheel turning since the Red Devils have had so much luck in the Premiership. I really don’t know. I do think that Sir Alex will inspire a fine performance.

I’ll have more in the preview tomorrow, though.

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