abril 03, 2010

This week's English Premier League action

I watched everything but the first 15 minutes of the Manchester United versus Chelsea game. There's little doubt that Chelsea was the better side today. Even so, there's also no doubt that Drogba was offside on the 2nd goal that put them up 2-0 and ended up being the difference maker in a 2-1 win that may decide who wins the Premiership. I thought Chelsea goalie Petr Cech looked very shaky on crosses. It was no surprise that Man U ended up scoring on what was arguably a Cech misplay.

And even though Chelsea won, I thought Chelsea's defense looked extremely unorganized at times. Although I'm happy Man U lost and is now behind, Chelsea's defense is unimpressive. They have the advantage going forward, and they are already out of the Champions League so they can focus on the league...with the exception of the FA Cup Final next weekend. Of their 5 games left, 3 are at home (Bolton, Wigan, Stoke) and they shouldn't drop points. The two away games are Tottenham and Liverpool, both of whom will be very motivated to try and crack that 4th Champions League spot.

As for Man U, midfield possession just wasn't impressive. When Park has more offensive spark than Berbatov, you know you have problems. Rooney has really become indispensable for them, and with Rooney I think they'd have found a victory. They have Blackburn, Man City and Sunderland away, while Tottenham and Stoke at home. Obviously the Manchester derby at Man City is going to be a huge game. Carlos Tevez has been scoring goals and would love to score another couple against Ferguson.

I saw most of the Arsenal v Wolverhampton tie. Arsenal won it in the final minute on a Bendtner header. They definitely deserved the win, and it was necessary to keep them in contention. While they have Barcelona away on Tuesday, after that they have Tottenham, Wigan, and Blackburn away, with Man City and Fulham at home. They have to beat Tottenham next weekend to stay alive as title contenders, I think.

Tottenham and Man City's performance may not only determine who goes to Champions League, it may determine who is crowned champion. It would be pretty sweet for Carlos Tevez to deny Ferguson a title.

Leo Messi has room to improve

That's scary, I know. But it's true. Leo Messi could probably double his goal scoring this year if he would increase his conversion rate.

Leo Messi plays football a bit like it's futsal. Futsal is much less about striking the ball past the goalie than flicking it by the goalie. The goal is so small that the goalie always has a chance.

For such a prolific goalscorer, Leo Messi is rather profligate in front of the goal. He creates so many great chances that he can afford to cavalierly let more go to waste than others.

Today's goal against Atletico Bilbao was a great example. He'd already had some excellent chances that he hadn't converted. Pedro got the ball on the right in space. Messi saw the run and cut in front of his defender so sharply that the defender fell down. The ball arrived to Messi at the six yard box in the middle of the goal, with no one within a few yards of him. He one touch deflected it on goal, right at the keeper. It happened to nutmeg the goalie before striking his back leg on the way into the net. I don't think that's what Messi was aiming for.

It's crazy, I know, but I think if Messi works on his finishing he could be scoring tons more goals.

abril 01, 2010

4 good games today

There were four good Europa League games today.

Fulham 2-1 over visiting Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg
Benfica 2-1 over visiting Liverpool. Everton's rivals were on the receiving end of some poor reffing, and my loyalties would tend more towards Everton than Liverpool.
Valencia 2-2 against visiting Atletico Madrid
Hamburg 2-1 against visiting Standard Liege

I started off watching Liverpool, switched to Valencia Atletico, and then watched 60 minutes of mighty Fulham's win. Roy Hodgson has done a great job with that club.

Europa League games today

Benfica vs Liverpool
Fulham vs Wolfsburg
Hamburg vs Standard Liege
Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid

I wasn't too sure how this new incarnation of the UEFA Cup would turn out, but this is a pretty solid matchup on all sides. Standard Liege, though it has lost some good players recently including Belgium's Marouane Fellaini and US' Oguchi Onyewu, is still a quality side that should give Hamburg a decent run.

Fulham is in form and got a decent draw against Wolfsburg. A well balanced tie, I assume.

Benfica vs. Liverpool is obviously a good matchup. Given Liverpool's status it will probably be the televised match around the world.

But Valencia v Atletico is pretty similarly fascinating, and features some strikers we'll see in South Africa this summer.

All in all, can't wait to go watch some football.

One more reason to like General Petraeus

He was on the West Point soccer team.

marzo 31, 2010

Arsenal vs Barcelona, leg 1

Thoughts on Arsenal vs Barcelona, first leg in Emirates Stadium in London.

It was an excellent game of attacking football, as predicted. At one point, Barca had 70% possession, but Arsenal turned that around towards the end.

With 2 away goals, Barcelona is obviously in very good position to advance going into the second leg at home. However, given that they were up 2-0 and at that point should've been a near-lock to advance...but you know that neither of these teams will ever abandon their desire to attack.

1. Almuria. He had an excellent first half, and I was thinking, "wow, Almunia is really answering his critics for Arsene Wenger." But the first goal to start the second half was arguably his fault entirely. It's not a howler, but do you think Victor Valdes or any other topflight keeper concedes a goal there?

2. Wenger. It's trendy to say that his weakness is refusal to care too much about goalkeeping. I can't say I disagree; I think there are some excellent keepers he could buy relatively cheaply (Americans, even!). BUT, his introduction of Walcott into the game changed the match. He won the battle of tactics with Guardiola. The substition of Thierry Henry for Zlatan Ibrahimovic was similarly silly. Henry was sluggish and ineffective. Whatever Guardiola was going for, it didn't work.

Walcott brings a ton of value as a supersub because he can just outrun people, especially when tired. To be honest, I think Wenger planned it out that way, taking off Sagna with 25 minutes left to play. Taking off Arshavin was unusual, but also a substitution that changed the game. Until then, Barca was dominating. Afterwards, much less.

3. The penalty kick. My favorite team in Spain is Barcelona and my favorite team in England is Arsenal. So I'm relatively unbiased when I say this: I don't agree with a penalty kick. And even if so, with a red card? No.

Puyol was in position, and was running for the ball too. He didn't stick out his hip or anything, and while Fabregas was winding up, he took position. In my opinion that is just good defending. That said, it is the referee's judgment call, and I don't think it was a horrible call. It was certainly within realm of debate, though I think probably 80-85% of neutral people would say it wasn't a foul.

I understand that the red card was also given, but I simply disagree with that strongly. Technical assertions of the rules in that spot are a grave error. It was certainly not a tackle-from-behind on a breakway, done intentionally to stop a goal.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He had two goals, but he could have had 6. His finish on the first goal was nice, although it was an ill-considered challenge by Almunia. Frankly, he could have had about 3 in the first 10 minutes. Ibrahimovic's second goal was ok, he was one on one, so it's hard to fault Almunia. On the other hand, Almunia stuck himself in no man's land when Ibrahimovic cut down his angle. And Ibra has a tendency to try to roof shots near post in situations like that. Good football teams should have people who prepare them for tendencies. I don't really like how Ibrahimovic played it. He was one on one but cut down his angle (a huge no-no for goalscorers) and then wound up. Basically, he decided to gamble by blasting away. In that situation, with time, the best play is generally to just slot the ball where the goalie is not. And if they go down, then go around them.

5. Xavi is a great through-ball player.

So, in the next match, Fabregas (and someone else I think) won't be playing for Arsenal. That hurts, as Fabregas is their creative spark plug. However, Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique will be out for Barcelona. Losing both central defenders is pretty key for a club that has been very thin on defenders this year. In truth, the only reason Madrid is in the title race is that Barca lost/tied some games this year when they were playing third-choice defenders.

That will certainly add a risk factor that will make it possible for Arsenal to get an early goal. Even so, Barcelona showed itself today to be the superior team, and even if Arsenal should get an early goal, it's doubtful that they would change their style and attempt to win ugly by defending.

Barcelona and Arsenal in the Nou Camp will be a spectacle.

Louis Van Gaal's proposed football rule changes

Bayern manager Louis Van Gaal would:

1. Position the lineman differently, on the corner flag so they can see when the ball is kicked without moving their heads.
2. Alternately, 2 referees on the field and one watching electronically.
3. Throw-ins should become kick-ins.
4. Instead of 90 running minutes, it would be 70 minutes of ball-in-play.
5. Mandated artificial turf so that all surfaces are consistent.
6. Instead of penalty-kick shootouts, take one man off the pitch every 5 minutes until it is 6 v 6.
7. Goal-line technology to see whether the ball crossed.

I applaud his thinking. There's the problem however, that if adopted you are essentially creating rules for the elite matches that don't match the rules for second division matches and all amateur matchecs.

Number 3: Making throw-ins kick-ins is interesting, but radically changes the game. Instead of kicking the ball out of bounds for a throw in, defenses will now have a much stronger incentive to keep the ball in play. That means that long-balls will be played more, which will spread out the field. That may actually increase scoring, not sure. But it would be a different game. Funny how such a small change would have such a large effect.

Number 2: I think having referees watch electronically is crucial, especially in the World Cup (maybe in Champions League too). The last World Cup had some hideous hideous reffing, especially that Russian guy's Hindenberg-like performance in Holland v. Portugal.

Number 4: Eh. I don't mind this, and it wouldn't be as bad as basketball's end of game problems. Still, it doesn't seem necessary, though it would take remove some of the arbitrariness of the game from being dependent on the referee.

Number 5: This just isn't going to happen. I know it is frustrating when you are the better team to get your skill edge removed because the playing surface is poor, but this seems like an over-reaction.

Number 6: I think this is a good idea, although it would change the game a little bit, in that endurance would now be more prized in tournaments where this might be used. Still, it would do away with penalty kicks, which is a change any real football fan should be happy with.

Number 7: Goal line technology is too expensive. Outside of the World Cup, where it might make sense (though I'd rather just use video replay), it isn't worth it.

Champions League games today

Some huge games today. Arsenal v Barcelona in a rematch of the Champions League final from 4 years ago -- but this time with Thierry Henry featuring for Barcelona and not his beloved Arsenal -- and also the two clubs who play the most stylish football in the world at the moment. They both play posession football.

Watching Leo Messi will be interesting, as he is one of the Barca players who is more careless with the ball. He is definitely not afraid to take risks, which is generally fine for a striker. But

Inter v. CSKA Moscow will also be a pretty good game. Diego Milito and Samuel Eto'o are both fairly in form, yet Moscow looks dangerous.

marzo 30, 2010

Jose Mourinho is not happy, but where will he go?

At pretty much every opportunity, he talks about wanting to leave Italian football. Just the other day he said explicitly, "I am not happy in Italian football." So where will he land?

You sorta have to assume that he won't stay in Italy, and won't go to Germany. So that leaves England and Spain. Assume he will only go to one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, which I think is fair, as he's shown he has an ego.

In Spain, that leaves Real Madrid and Barcelona. Yes, there are some other clubs, but they are dwarfed by the big 2. Barcelona's job will be held by Pep Guardiola until he doesn't want it. But they are super committed to attacking, and Mourinho is a little more tactical. Madrid's job could be open, as they crashed out of the Champions League already. If they don't win

In England, Chelsea, Manchester United, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal are probably the clubs Mourinho would deem as worthy of him. Man U won't be open until Sir Alex Ferguson decides to retire, and put me in the camp that doesn't seem him retiring soon. Arsenal won't kick Wenger out, as they play the 2nd most stylish football in the world. Chelsea seems unlikely since Abramovich fired him a few years ago, although Mourinho said nice things after he brilliantly defeated them a few weeks ago in the Champions League. I think Chelsea is a very outside chance.

So I think it comes down to Liverpool, Man City, and Real Madrid. I think that if Madrid manages to win La Liga, Pellegrini will be retained. I can't guarantee it, but I think so. Liverpool and Man City are fighting for the 4th spot in the English Premier League, though Tottenham could take it as well, as they have some very quality players -- Wilson Palacios, Defoe, Peter Crouch.

Rafael Beniten is under pressure at Liverpool. Somehow, and perhaps I am crazy, I still think Liverpool is not crazy enough to fire him. Liverpool may be the biggest club in the world historically, so I think they aren't too happy right now. Even so, they've been unlucky with injuries, Benitez has been a little limited in the transfer budget, so I think Liverpool will hold on to him. Of course, if Liverpool does fire him, I think Madrid might furtively interview Benitez even if Real wins La Liga.

As for Man City, after buying Carloz Tevez, Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, etc, if they don't get into the Champions League, one has to think that they might fire Roberto Mancini.

To be completely honest, I think there's a very good chance we see Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, Liverpool or Manchester City within the next 2 years.

marzo 29, 2010

There are alot of wannabe traders out there that worship the ground Steve Cohen walks on. There's not that much out there about him, so his junkies will definitely pore over this: http://nymag.com/news/features/65126/