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Transfer round-up

Rafael van der Vaart

In which I publish a list of notable transfers, in no particular order:

Rafael van der Vaart to Tottenham: For a measly £8 million, Spurs added an excellent player in Rafael van der Vaart. He’ll give the offense a bit of class and a lot of punch. I never understand why he didn’t feature prominently at Real Madrid, not do I understand why he doesn’t play more for the Dutch national team. And I don’t understand why Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t all over this move, especially at only £8 million. Their loss is Tottenham’s gain.

Robinho to AC Milan: For €18 million, AC Milan added a supremely talented striker and malcontent. He’s one of those guys who needs constant attention, which must be exhausting, to be honest. However, I think he’ll provide a good return on the money because he’s motivated and he’s wanted at Milan.

Asamoah Gyan to Sunderland: Ambitious Sunderland added World Cup hero Gyan in a bid to give the offense a boost. I, for one, think it will work out just swimmingly.

Javier Mascherano to Barcelona: A terrible move for both club and player. Mascherano doesn’t fit Barcelona’s system at all. This is a vanity signing, pure and simple. And it’s destined for failure.

Raul Meireles to Liverpool: A good move for Liverpool because Meireles is a gifted player (despite his comically bad tattoos). I think he’ll work out fine.

Mario Balotelli to Manchester City: And City add another player. And overpay for the privilege, too. Of course, that’s been the story of the last couple of years. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Ramires to Chelsea: A good move by Chelsea. And cheap-ish, too.

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Manager a-go-go

Roy Hodgson introduced as the new Liverpool manager

Now that some of the good teams are knocked out of the World Cup, expect a lot of movement in terms of managers in the next few weeks, for both club and country.

Javier Aguirre, Mexico. Aguirre resigned as Mexico manager, falling on his sword and taking responsibility for Mexico’s showing. To a degree, he’s right (it was a stupid decision to go with Oscar Pérez in goal and he had misplaced faith in the obviously overwhelmed Efraín Juárez). At the same time, he’s wrong because Mexico’s expectations were too high. The team that went to South Africa was a 2nd round team (perhaps a quarterfinal team if it played its socks off). That’s the first problem. The second problem was skill level. Mexico is very talented in midfield, especially with Giovanni dos Santos’s improvement over the last year. But the team has no strikers: Guillermo Franco isn’t that good and Carlos Vela isn’t developing (here’s hoping he makes a dos Santos-like breakthrough in the next year or so). When Cuauhtémoc Blano is still seriously considered for national team duty, the cupboard is bare. Mexico needs to develop young players and put its faith in them (Javier Hernández comes to mind), much like Germany has done.

Roy Hodgson, Liverpool. Hodgson left a decent Fulham team for a Liverpool squad in disarray. What he does get is a massive step up in reputation (no matter what I think about Liverpool, it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world). Hodgson is clearly a stop-gap and he might not even have been the first choice (Didier Deschamps reportedly turned Liverpool down). So, one of the biggest clubs in the world hires a middling manager with precious little success on his resume. Fascinating. I think this was a political choice and I hope Hodgson makes the best of it. But when the clear-out comes – and it will come sooner rather than later, what with the owner debt and lack of European competition – Hodgson will be the sacrificial lamb. He should’ve stayed at Fulham.

Bob Bradley, United States. Let’s make this clear: Bob Bradley should NOT be fired. Although starting Ricardo Clark was a massive error, Bradley’s system works for the United States, as it’s currently constructed. In short, he gets good results out of sometimes lacking talent (the distressing habit of allowing goals in the first 20 minutes notwithstanding). The bigger problem is that, like Mexico, the US has no go-to striker (if we’re being honest, the two best strikers are midfielders: Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey). Jozy Altidore has the potential to be very good but he needs to play like he did against Algeria all the time (he was virtually absent against Ghana). Some of that is the coach’s fault. But national team managers are put in a position where they only get to see their players for weeks at a time. It falls on the USSF, MLS, and players to get into situations to maximize their skill development.

Fabio Capello, England. Of course, the English tabloids are calling for his head. They are, if nothing else, predictable. England’s problem is similar to Mexico’s: it fancies itself a world soccer power when, in reality, it’s a middle-of-the-road player capable of extraordinary results once in a while. In fact, according to Soccernomics, England consistently punches above its weight and wins a lot of its matches, except when it counts. England’s problems are twofold: first, it’s a relatively small country, in terms of population (meaning there are fewer players to choose from) and it’s relatively insular in terms of coaching and skills development (the Everton academy is a bit of an exception). Don Fabio helps with both of those by exposing English players to Italian soccer philosophy. Second, the players it develops are all the same. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney. John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Jamie Carragher. Aside from skill level, they’re all basically the same player. And they can’t play together. I think Capello will learn from his mistakes and I think he has the stones to leave some of those players out next time (clearly Gerrard was England’s best player at the World Cup – he should be the captain).

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The Premiership at the quarter-ish pole

prem trophy

Premiership trophy

Being an analysis of the Premiership at the quarter-ish pole of the season. With 10 games down, who’s looking good and who’s looking bad? Well, read on, dear reader, for that and much more.

LOOKING GOOD

Obviously, Chelsea is looking pretty good right now. Check out their goal differential (+20) and the fact that they’re pretty much running on all cylinders. Sure, that’s a clichéd cop-out, but still. The fact is that Chelsea have looked good since their summer tour of the US and I don’t see a drop in form coming anytime soon. Perhaps it’s due to Carlo Ancelotti. Or Didier Drogba hitting the net more often than Adriano hits the clubs. Too soon?

Not to be too much of a homer, but I have to include Manchester United in this category, too. Other than the Anfield slip-up, Sir Alex has done a masterful job getting the boys ready to play. And Ryan Giggs has been nothing short of amazing; I don’t know how he does it, but the man keeps playing and playing and playing. I am truly impressed. The only downside is Rio Ferdinand’s inexplicable loss of form (well, maybe it is explicable: back injuries can be career-enders). I look for Sir Alex to go get a central defender or two in January.

Surprisingly, Spurs are doing well this season so far. I think that’s deceiving, though, because their goal differential is only +4. Perhaps a couple of reliable defenders and a keeper should be brought in because, Lord knows, they have enough firepower should they ever harness it. I’m still waiting for Giovani Dos Santos to show the form in the Premiership that he did for Mexico this summer; that’s the Gio I’ve been waiting for for what seems like ever.

LOOKING NOT SO GOOD

I know this puts me in the minority, but I’m not convinced that Arsenal have what it takes to compete. They have to beat back Manchester City’s challenge and catch Chelsea and United. I simply don’t think they have the personnel to do that.

Liverpool is cursed this season. Injured bodies are stacked like cordwood outside of Anfield and that’s not a good thing, especially when it’s the captain. Pool are a two-man team (those two men being Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard) unless Alberto Aquilani (and his stunning girlfriend) can make a difference. I do like some of their players but it’s my position that they need one or two more to truly compete. Actually, what they need is Xabi Alonso. Shame, really.

I’m hoping for the best when it comes to Sunderland and Stoke City but I’m reasonably certain that my hope is misplaced. Which is too bad. I’d love to see them cause some chaos.

And, finally, it’s too bad Aston Villa couldn’t maintain their form. Hardly unexpected but too bad nonetheless. And Hull City is well and truly forked, methinks. Phil Brown needs to go and Jozy Altidore needs to play, dammit!

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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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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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Saturday Night Links: Lazy Sunday edition

Yesterday, Javier Aguirre was banned for 3 matches for his stupidity against Panama. In my eyes, that’s not nearly enough. It should be 5 or even 10 matches because a coach’s contact with an opposing player is unforgivable, let alone a coach kicking at said player. There’s something to be said for maintaining one’s discipline.

Apparently “one-club man” John Terry has had a meeting with Roman Abramowich in which he said he wanted to talk to Manchester City. The transfer would be for about £50 million while Terry would sign a contract worth £250,000 per week and receive a signing bonus of £5 million. That’s a lot of green. F365 suggests that the transfer fee would go toward a bid for Milan’s Alexandre Pato while the hole at center back would be filled by Porto’s Bruno Alves.

Over at SI.com, The Limey analyzes why Rafa Benítez is having such a rough time in the transfer market. As usual, Benítez does not blame himself but instead everyone else. He says he just can’t compete with the large sums of money spent on transfers. He’s right, of course, but he’s also the guy who paid £18 million for Glen Johnson.

Grant Walh’s list of thrilling players is interesting.

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Tic-tacs tie Liverpool!

Of course, I didn’t see ITV (a British TV station) cut away from the Liverpool-Everton match for a Tic Tac commercial because I don’t live there. Apparently people rioted in the streets of Liverpool in anger or happiness or something.

So Tic Tac decided to apologize. And here it is:


This capital-A Awesome for two reasons:

1. The lead Tic Tac speaks in a hilarious falsetto.

2. Liverpool choked, and that makes me happy.

This made me laugh for 2 solid minutes. Enjoy your Sunday.

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UEFA CL: Let’s get it on!

I’ve been waiting to post this because I didn’t want to steal Keeper’s thunder. But I’ve been sitting on it too long. So here we go!

NB: All point totals are as of 20 December 2008 because I started this then.

Chelsea v. Juventus
This is an extremely interesting match-up. It seems to me that Chelski have yet to play their best soccer this season, despite their 37 points and second place standing so far in the Premiership. And, coming off last season’s European success, the team should be confident. Naturally, most commentary will focus on John Terry and Frank Lampard but I think the key player for them is striker Didier Drogba. From this point forward, Drogba needs to come up huge for Big Phil. It is my opinion that Chelski cannot succeed unless Drogba scores at least 4 goals in the elimination stages.

Juventus, like Chelski, are in second place in Serie A with 33 points. For me, Juve is playing rather well so far and need to come up with a good run of form to get through their English opponents. Juve succeed with a balanced attack led by Amauri, del Piero, and Iaquinta. The attack, though, depends on the stupid haired Pavel Nedved. He might look like an 80s reject, but he is a quality player.

Prediction: Juve 4, Chelski 3

Villarreal v. Panathinaikos
This is a matchup of two somewhat disappointing teams. Villarreal lie in 4th place in La Liga with 29 points while Panathinaikos are in third place with 26 points. I think this will be a very even match, with Villarreal having a slight advantage because of their attacking prowess. The key is, of course, Giuseppe Rossi. The Italian international is on a quest to be a permanent call-up to the national team and a good showing in Europe will help that cause. Jozy Altidor is also intriguing. Panathinaikos will be overmatched despite the presence of Hélder Postiga and his potential and attacking mid Giorgios Karagounis, who leads the team in goals. I think Villarreal will see the Greeks off, though.

Prediction: Villarreal 3, Panathinaikos 1

Sporting Lisbon v. Bayern Munich
Bayern must be considered a favorite in the competition. In my opinion, they got a favorable draw with Sporting and should advance somewhat easily. The key player is the gigantic Luca Toni, who has 9 goals so far. Frank Ribéry and Bastian Schweinsteiger provide creativity on the wings while a solid defensive line is led by Lúcio and Willy Sagnol. Not even the much-discussed (and lusted after) João Moutinho will be able to save Sporting.

Prediction: Bayern 5, Sporting 1

Atlético Madrid v. FC Porto
This match-up must be all about 2 Argentines. FC Porto are led by Lucho González, a very skilled player, while Atlético’s attack must revolve around the much-heralded Sergio Agüero. I don’t think Atlético is playing him enough or showing enough confidence in Agüero. Porto has enough to see off the Spaniards unless Agüero plays out of his mind. Plus, it is my opinion that any team with a player named Hulk has to be favored.

Prediction: Porto 2, Atlético 1

Lyon v. Barcelona
For my money, this is the most intriguing match-up. It pits a traditional power against a contemporary power, and that’s always good. It lends a David v. Goliath feel to the proceedings. Red-hot Barcelona must be considered the favorite. They are dominating La Liga with 38 points so far. Lionel Messi is emerging into a true number 10 and will be a contender for World Player of the Year in 2009 and beyond. Barcelona have the chance to rise to the top of Erope again with their current squad.

But don’t dismiss Lyon, the French Ligue 1 leaders with 35 points. Karim Benzema, who has been lusted after for a year, has built on his success of the last year in lighting it up for 9 goals so far. Benzema is a quality striker but Puyol will shut him down. Lyon will not go down without a fight and I’m predicting 2 hard-fought, wildly entertaining legs.

Prediction: Barcelona 4, Lyon 3

Real Madrid v. Liverpool
Holy crap! Everyone’s favorite chokers are in first place in the Premiership. I must admit that my pre-season prediction for Liverpool is looking a mite silly right now. Hopefully they’ll remember that they’re Liverpool and start choking away the lead. But that’s neither here nor there. In theory, Real Madrid has the players to see off Pool’s challenge. In practice, only one player consistently comes up big: Iker Casillas. As I’ve stated before, Casillas is one of 2 keepers on the planet who can win games on his own (Buffon is the other). But can he stop the efficient and in-form Pool?

I don’t know. Little Stevie Gerrard is the engine that drives the team. Pitbull Javier Mascherano is also crucial to Pool’s hopes for success while Pepe Reina must match Casillas save for save. The key, then, is Fernando Torres. The Spanish striker must come through with goals against his national teammate for Pool to win. And I think he will.

Prediction: Liverpool 3, Real Madrid 1

Arsenal v. AS Roma
Who really knows what’s up with Roma and who knows if Arsenal’s team of infants will come through, especially without their leader, Cesc Fàbregas. Before his injury, I had Fàbregas down as the key player and someone who absolutely had to play well for the Arse to win. Theo Walcott has been developing rapidly lately and would have been an excellent sidekick for the Spaniard. Now, instead of a strong showing, he needs an amazing showing for Arsenal to win.

Thus, I think that Roma will go through. Doni, who may or may not collapse like a house of cards at any moment, will be a key player. The spiritual leader, though, remains Totti, who, in my opinion, wills Roma through.

Prediction: Roma 2, Arsenal 0

Internazionale v. Manchester United
This is the second best match-up even though it will get all hype in the press. Inter, one of the top teams in Europe and Italy, are in first place in Serie A with 39 points. United, the perennial power, has 32 points and is sitting in third place. Inter manager José Mourinho will be matching wits with his old nemesis, Sir Alex Ferguson. Both managers know what the other will do, which means closely fought, low-scoring games.

The scoring burden falls disproportionately on two players. For Inter, it’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is currently the only player scoring for Mourinho. For United, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo, he of the 40+ goals. The difference is that Ibrahimovic is more of a finisher while Ronaldo can pass off to Rooney and know that the Angry One is able to find the back of the net. The games will be heart pounding for both sets of fans as two evenly-matched teams get it on. And, while United tends to play conservatively in Europe, I think Fergie will find a way to score one more goal.

Prediction: Manchester United 3, Inter 2

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