Posts Tagged ‘ Manchester City ’

Top Five Matches

I came across a post on reddit asking Which five matches changed your life?Loved the question and after thinking about it for a bit, here’s what I came up with:

1996       England v Germany Euro 96

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This game created the template for watching soccer while working. ESPN picked up the rights to this tournament and I fell in love with Croatia, saw Gazza’s wonder goal against Scotland, and the Czech Republic’s heartbreak in the Final against Germany. In the previous round, England played Germany in a rematch of the 1990 World Cup Semi. I was working as a summer intern at the FBI and snuck up to a conference room to watch the second half and penalties. England were so close but after 11 perfect spot kicks, Southgate’s miss condemned the Three Lions to defeat.

1999       Bayern Munich v Manchester United   Champions League Final

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As my love for the Red Devils continued to grow, the Treble season reached its dramatic conclusion in Barcelona. With no Keane or Scholes, United was up against it and when Basler scored in the opening minutes, I didn’t believe. Negative by nature I just waited for Bayern to seal the game and accept defeat. But when Sheringham poked home from close range I screamed with excitement. And when Solskjaer put the ball in the Germans net, I ran around the house in sheer joy.

2002       USA v Portugal   World Cup 2002 Group Stage

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In the days leading up to the game, I had a dream that the US crushed Portugal like 6-0 but I had missed it by sleeping in. Due to the time difference, the game kicked off at 4am ET. On the morning of the game, I drove frantically to a friend’s house who was hosting people. After the early US blitz I thought maybe I had had some sort of premonition but alas, Portugal fought back and made for a nervous last couple of minutes. That tournament was amazing and I got up at all hours to watch the matches.

2009       Real Madrid v FC Barcelona     La Liga

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In the late 90s and early 2000s I start following FC Barcelona and watched a dramatic 2006 Champions League Final against Arsenal. In the years following, that magic team was broken up and rebuilt and taken over by Pep Guardiola who drove the Blaugrana to an unprecedented, at the time, Treble. Real Madrid hunted Barca down in the league and set up a crucial meeting at the Bernabeu, and when Los Merengues scored first, a sick feeling came over me. And then magic happened with Henry and Messi tearing apart the hosts, each scoring twice, and also getting goals from Puyol and Piqué. It was breathtaking and set the stage for Iniesta’s moment of magic at Stamford Bridge and an amazing finish to the season.

2012       Manchester City v QPR     English Premier  League

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The dramatic end to the 1988-89 season was before my time, so when United came back from 0-1 against Spurs in the final league game of 1999 to clinch the title, I didn’t think it could get much better than that. I was wrong. A bunch of fellow fans gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings for Fox’s Survival Sunday, with all ten games on an array of channels. With fans from several different teams present, cheers and groans were constant depending on the action. Eventually we started calling out the TV numbers to keep track of the events. United secured victory at Sunderland and with City down 1-2 against QPR, another league title looked secure. But the fickle finger of fate intervened and Dzeko equalized, setting up Aguero’s moment of glory. Stunned I drank several shots as I watched the celebrations at Etihad. Gutted by the result, it was still one of the greatest soccer community events I have ever experienced.

Let me know what games impacted your soccer support in the comments below.

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Check out more posts on my trips, research and memories on the MatchDay Memories page.

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Quick Rant–Manchester Derby

Let me be clear: Ashley Young should be released immediately.  There is no tactical or physical or psychological argument you can make that will change my mind.  I lovingly call him the turnover machine.  I won’t go into the many examples because it pisses me off too much.He doesn’t score, doesn’t contribute to the attack and is only a marginal defender.  So why does he keep playing?  This not a knee jerk reaction to the Reds’ performance today.  These are the facts about player over the last 18 months.

As for game, Tony V struggled.  Arguably at fault for two of the goals as he didn’t track back, he needs to be called out.  I have much more time for him and felt today was a one off rather thn a trend.  The team as a whole struggled in possession, especially for the first half hour or so. And not because they were under a ton of pressure.  They simply weren’t sharp.   City punished them to make it 1-0.  United got back in  the game and then the killer second goal came at the stroke of halftime. What happened the first ten minutes of the second half is beyond me.  The announcers praised United’s activity in the second half.  Yeah because City had their legs up and were cruising.  Easy on the positive reinforcement.

Back to the training ground.  United put a tough stretch of league games behind them and hopefully can accumulate points over the next couple of weeks.  Me, Back to the bar and drink my problems away.

Addition.  City looked great, full of composure and invention and ruthlessness.  This showing is why the rest of the league is terrified of this team.  If they ever all get it right, no team in the Premier League can touch them.

Old Futbol Buffet–Every Day is Like Sunday

Title of this post is not my favorite Morrissey song (much prefer Glamorous Glue) but does the trick for this post.

Saturday was blocked off with stuff to do.  Worked around the house, made an appearance at the gym, and went to the circus with the family.  Sunday was for watching footy as I watched three and a half matches (United/Liverpool, Arsenal/City, second half of Atleti/Zaragoza, and FCB/Malaga), all with goals and varying amounts of quality and drama.  Spent the morning at Buffalo Wild Wings with Mid-Michigan United and we had a great turnout.  Probably 20-25 at its peak, but with Arsenal down a man and two goals, the place cleared out pretty quick.  Then I headed over to the Claddagh for some La Liga action as Barcelona continued their amazing run finishing the first half of the season with 18 wins, 1 draw and 0 losses.

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Manchester United 2  Liverpool 1

A tense beginning to the match but eventually MUFC put some passes together with Evra finding RvP just outside the six yard box to fire home on 19 minutes.  From there Liverpool offered very little but the Red Devils could not find the second.  Young’s injury, the results of another heavy touch, will cause Sir Alex problems over the coming weeks but could open the door for Nani.

Tangent: Let me just say I was wrong.  When the signing of RvP was announced this summer, I was like that’s great but who’s going to give him the ball from the center of midfield and who is going to defend when the Dutchman eventually loses it?  Turns out Sir Alex has fashioned a team that simply outscores their opponent.  Maybe he will address the other areas this summer but for the time being it looks like United have one hand back on the Premier League trophy and will provide a stern test for Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Credit to Rodgers for the second half set up and substitutions.  Sturridge’s introduction provided a partner for Suarez and the new man created plenty of chances.  Borini’s entrance was questioned by me but that front three caused the United rearguard all sorts of problems.  Add to that more energy and drive from the visitors and the game grew as a contest.

Could argue that a draw would have been the fair result as the hosts lost the plot in the second stanza. Sturridge wasted a couple of decent chances and Suarez could never quite free himself to create the decisive moment. Thought Wisdom has a decent match defensively, but his one scoring opportunity went horribly wrong.  As for United, Kagawa didn’t make much impact on the left, while Welbeck worked hard but squandered several goal scoring opportunities.  Felt that Carrick was particularly poor, with several passes put teammates in tough positions and leading to turnovers.

Cannot let my game notes go by with mentioning the appearance of Darth Mou/Emperor Palpatine at the proceedings.  Looking extraordinarily evil in his hooded jacket, perhaps he really has gone to the dark side as he tries to build his legacy at Real Madrid.

Bit colder than Madrid, Jose? Mourinho seemed to be struggling to reacclimatise during the first half

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Arsenal 0  Manchester City 2

The second game of the game had to be painful for the each team’s fans.  The Gunners got a man sent off early, managed to raise their game to compensate and then completely fell asleep to give up the first goal, a blast from Milner.  From there it was damage control and very little of the slick passing and movement was evident.  Every ball predictable and wasted, and a second goal from Dzeko put the game to bed.

For City, they should have scored more in this match.  Too many chances went begging and felt the blue side lacked energy for most of the match.  Kompany’s sending off (harsh in my opinion) leveled the game in terms of numbers but Arsenal were second best.

Really not much to say about this match, other than the appearance of Balotelli, reprising Wesley Snipes’ role from Demolition Man.  This guy can’t help himself can he?

Mario Balotelli

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Articles

Last week the Ballon D’Or was handed out and Gabriele Marcotti examined some of the quirks of the voting for ESPN FC, noting that not all countries voted, there are various criteria for voters, and not all voters watch the same amount of footy.  He acknowledged that the award is not scientific but felt that the Argentinian “deserved to be saluted.”

Jonathan Wilson called the individual awards such as the Ballon D’Or “insidious” at SI.com and wants readers to remember that soccer is a team game.  He does not deny Messi’s greatness but states

It is part of Messi’s greatness that he so regularly chooses the action with the lowest tariff of difficulty to complete any given task. He is capable of the flashy and technically complex, but if something simple will suffice he does that. He can be jaw-droppingly brilliant but is essentially efficient. Paradoxically, it’s because he is so undemonstrative, such a team player, that he is such a great individual.

Wilson was also on Off the Ball last week making his case and I agree with him in that the results in leagues and cups are what matters.

In the wake of poor seasons from Sporting and AEK Athens in Portugal and Greece respectively, UEFA.com profiled big names that have been relegated in the past—Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan and Marseille.  I remember when Sampdoria went down just after challenging for the European Cup in 1992.  Recently Leeds United have fallen on hard times, going from domestic and continental challenger to plummeting down the divisions, currently playing in the Championship.

Returning to Marcotti, he suggested in the Wall Street Journal that a Jorge Mendes United team might be a future possibility, with the super agent representing Mourinho and a stable of top talent—CR7, Falcao, Pepe and di Maria.  Soccer works differently than most American sports, so Mendes’ influence is unusual and with Real Madrid, there is an alarming amount of power.

Random Wandering–Manchester City’s Growing Pains

So Manchester City, current Champions of England, are out Europe.  Not just the Champions League but the Europa League as well.  Instead of progressing this season, it could be argued that the Citizens have regressed, finishing last in the proverbial Group of Death, and my initial response as a Manchester United fan is to laugh at their misfortune.  Despite several seasons of massive spending, City still cannot contend in the world’s premier club competition.  And then it hit me.  At 3 in the morning.  Maybe I was being a little too harsh.  United didn’t hit the ground running after claiming their first top division title for 26 years.  So I did a little research and here’s what I found.  I will let the facts speak for themselves.

United’s reentry into Europe came in the reformulated European Cup renamed the Champions League.  Knockout ties whittled down the participants to eight teams, with the top four progressing to another knockout round.  United dispatched of Kispest Honvéd before meeting Galatasary in the last preliminary round.  A 3-3 draw at Old Trafford saw the English Champions travel to Istanbul where they were met by the famous Welcome to Hell sign.  The Turks ground out a 0-0 result and knocked out the Red Devils.  Not the greatest start for the storied club.

The following season saw them go straight into the Group Stage after another format change.  Some better results were not enough to overcome a 4-0 thrashing at the Nou Camp and United were out again.  The 1995/96 campaign was even worse.  Runners-up to Blackburn in the league they entered the UEFA Cup and promptly lost to Rotor Volgograd, despite Peter Schmeichel scoring.

From there, the Red Devils found their feet, making the Champions League semi-finals in 96/97 and 97/98 losing to Borussia Dortmund and Monaco respectively.  Of course 1999 was the season of seasons as United won the treble, for their first European Cup title since 1968.

Looking at City,  I am using the takeover of the Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited in September 2008 as my starting point.  Due to a Fair Play entry, the Citizens competed in the UEFA Cup, reaching the quarters before falling to Hamburg.  A decent result but I really don’t count their participation because it was the summer of 2009 when the ADUG started flexing their financial muscle.

No European competition for the 09/10 season but a fifth place finish in the league earned them a place in the new Europa League.  Winning their group, they eventually went out to Kyiv in the round of 16.  Better but not great.  After finishing third in 10/11, the blue side of Manchester finally got a taste of Champions League football.  A tough group saw them finish third and but they failed to make the most of their second chance in the Europa League, losing to Sporting in the Round of 16.  But progress.

After a dramatic last day of the 11/12 campaign, Manchester City entered the Champions League as actual Champions but were promptly drawn into the Group of Death, featuring three other league champions—Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.  A stunning fight back from the Los Merengues saw the Citizens start off a bad foot and things never got any better.  After drawing at home with Dortmund, City suffered a paralyzing blow by losing to Ajax.  They could only manage a draw in the return match against the Dutch at the Etihad, a dire draw with Real Madrid and then lost to Dortmund to finish bottom of the group on three points.

I would consider 2012/13 a step backward for City.  Not being in the Europa League is not a big deal; in fact, it enhances their chances of retaining the title or possibly going for a Domestic Double.  Their performances in a very tough group were disappointing.  Between questionable buys over the summer and Mancini’s curious tactics, I’m not sure if this team will rebound.  They have the squad, of that there is no doubt, and they don’t even have the foreigner rule to deal with, which hamstrung Sir Alex for years.

Richard Jolly proposed ten reasons why Manchester City crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition.  He cited a lack of quality signings, a tough draw, a dramatic conclusion to the opening match away to Real Madrid, injuries, and poor defensive marking before moving on to issues with Mancini.  Jolly questioned the Italian’s tactical tinkering, player selections and failure to find the team’s balance in Europe.  This is the manager’s job and Mancini simply isn’t up to it.

And that’s not me—pouty, bitter, self-righteous United fan—saying this.  James Restall broke down Mancini’s European record over the last decade for the Telegraph.  Starting at his time at Fiorentina in 2001/02 to Lazio to Inter to City, his best performance was a 2004 UEFA Cup Semi against eventual winner Porto.  At Inter he eventually found the formula for progressing out of the Group Stage but could not get past the Quarter-Finals despite having a pretty stacked squad and very little in terms of domestic competition.  (Mourinho stepped in and won everything after Mancini resigned/got fired.)

So now what?  Following the United trajectory, the 12/13 European campaign would be the low point (a la 95/96) as the team starts to find success, needing a little luck to finally get over the line.  This indeed may be case but it won’t happen with the Scarfed One.  With Mourinho having one foot out the door at Real Madrid, his installment could be what drives the Citizens towards Manchester United-like success on all fronts.  Trouble is, history tells us that Mou only stays at a job for three years.  The Portuguese manager could get City to the Promised Land, only to leave in some sort of media/management/player shit show.  But if he could deliver . . .

Old Futbol Buffet–Shin of Samir

This match was all about momentum.  Sir Alex set out United with a clear game plan, building on the success at StamfordBridge.  Defend, counter, score, repeat.  To be fair, Rooney’s first was a scuffed shot, but the second was the result of Nastasic being out to lunch as the Reds drove forward.  And just like the match against the Blues, even at 2-0 up the game was only heading one way.  Minutes away from halftime, I was praying for the whistle, and when Barry’s shot fizzed wide just before the interval, I thought United might be able to hold on.

In the second half, the game changed in an instant.  The Red Devils went from a virtually unassailable 3-0 lead to a white knuckle 2-1 advantage.  The pendulum had swung to the hosts and everything favored City.  They had the athletes, the speed and the momentum.  And United had Ashley Young and a lack of soccer IQ.

Now I don’t want to get off a rant here but . . .

What a woeful performance from Young.  Turnover after turnover after turnover; constantly going to ground; lack of defensive cover for Evra.  But the worst was that in the final minutes of the game, he switched flanks, latched on to a long ball and just had to not give it up.  What does he do?  Gives it up.  He must go at the end of the season.  United need to rebuild their flanks, as Valencia is the only consistent performer and he is perpetually injured.

Moving on . . .

United didn’t know how to close out the match.  Ahead for the first time in ages, not having to outwork, outfight, outscore their opponents, they lacked the composure to finish the game off.  The Reds couldn’t take advantage of City being stretched and were lucky to escape with the three points.

Look at City’s goals.  They got in behind the United defense as Evra fell asleep and then Tevez showed amazing poise to layoff for Yaya after a mad scramble.  On the corner, Young was watching Zabaleta as he smashed in a shot through Jones’ legs (through the legs was another theme of the match).

Side note: Mancini will get some gas for not starting Tevez but in this instance I support the Italian manager.  Aguero and Balotelli were causing problems and could have caused more had Balotelli decided to give more than maybe 50%.  City had a lot of possession but weren’t too dangerous, but what this pairing did was set up the substitution of Tevez, especially after Evans went out.  Mancini brought on the energetic Tevez and was close to turning the match around until the dramatic winner.  It could be asked would the result been different with Tevez from the off.  Maybe.  But if City were down 2-0 and Mancini had brought on Balotelli, then based on his performance, the Citizen would have not even got back into the game.

Did United deserve to win?  Conflicted.  Draw probably would have been the fair result, maybe even a City win.  Looking back at the season thus far: a gift at Liverpool, a steal at Chelsea, and a taut encounter at City with a fortunate deflection.  Is this the steel of champions or the luck of paper tiger?  In the season of the weird, we won’t know until May.

Doubt if I will read a fairer report of the game than Suffering Bruin’s post on Bitter and Blue.  He acknowledged that Young’s goal should have stood; he castigated the fan who threw the coin at Rio; he also acknowledged that if Tevez had started and Kompany was on the field , things might have gone differently; finally he wanted viewers to appreciate the fact that Tevez could have gone down when Evra was pressuring him, but did not.

Over at Red Rants, Daniele compared RvP’s impact to that of Cantona, as the Dutchman saved United (again) after a hard fought performance at the Eithad.  He correctly pointed out that Sir Alex played with more purpose (read: attack) than last spring’s away fixture, which saw United pack the midfield, slump to defeat and eventually concede the title.  Reading the report I was reminded that Young set up the first goal so have to give him so credit but still ready to drive him away from Manchester.

Finally Zonal Marking saw United sit back and counter and the Reds executed the approach to full effect.  Likening the game to the Chelsea match a couple of weeks ago, Rooney would drop into the midfield so that the center mids wouldn’t be overloaded.  Once winning the ball, the Red Devils were very direct, which caused the two goals.  Tevez’s introduction changed the game as the center backs chased Tevez and Aguero around with Carrick and Cleverly being passed around, letting the Citizens run at United, never a good thing.  In the end, poor set piece defending created by the substitutions created a frantic ending, with United securing the points.

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Following the Manchester Derby, Mid Michigan United held a FIFA 13 Tournament, a combination of fun, one year birthday of the group, and a fundraiser for Ele’s Place.  I had never played the game on the Xbox or the Playstation so didn’t rate my chances.  Playing as Manchester United, I held my own against my opponent, who used Valencia.  My lack of offense and defensive organization was eventually punished as I lost 1-0 to eventual champion Cody, a 20 year old college student at MSU.  He won the tournament in the final against a seven year old.  Yes seven.  All of the 30 somethings fell to the wayside and the younger generations triumphed, but a great time for a great cause.

Finally, after watching the Barcelona match, I played an indoor game.  Down 5-2 at half, we roared back to win 8-6.  I chipped in with a goal but that was about it.  I am really surprised that my off season workout of drinking beer and watching soccer is not paying dividends.  Ugh.  Time to get back at it.

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Articles and Pods

Due to a #FF from Scott the Red, I found this post at Man Utd Tactics about the changing personnel and formations from the first Premier League winning side until now.  Sir Alex won his first title using a 4-4-2 with wingers and high/low forwards.  From there he moved to a narrow 4-2-3-1 culminating in the 2002/03 Premier League winning side.  Since then he has moved oscillated between the 4-4-2 and 4-3-2-1 win depending on Rooney’s position (and fitness and mindset) and the central midfield pairings available.  This season Sir Alex has even tried a 4-3-3, which makes sense since he has so many attacking players.  Of course this only works with Welbeck and Hernandez in advanced positions.  They simply cannot play on the wings due to a lack of technical ability and defensive cover.  Seems as if the gaffer is adding this formation to his repertoire for games in which United are favored.  Long term, he needs to find a center midfield general and shore up the center of the defense.  As the author states:

The history of United’s changing tactical approach since Keane left the club can be summed up as an attempt to overcome the loss of Roy Keane with an interlude where the tactical approach was completely changed to exploit the brilliance of Ronaldo.

Future success will be determined by strengthened the middle.  If this continues to go unaddressed, no number of world class strikers will be able to save the Red Devils.

Last week marked one year since the death of Brazilian star Socrates.  Fellow MMMSL Over 30 competitor tweeted out his post from last year in remembrance.  To be honest, my only knowledge of the player is from occasional references from Tim Vickery on World Football Phone In, but Peter’s post and video from YouTube were a nice introduction to the player.

A week after the trial balloon of a 64 team Champions League was floated, Gabriele Marcotti laid out a revision of the current system.  Basically the two best first place teams would move on right to the quarterfinals, while he proposed a play-in system for the four best third place teams against four worst second placed teams.  My first instinct is no.  Seems very NFL-ish to me.  European soccer is foreign to Americans because of its straightforward nature.  Normal numbers (16, 8, 4, 2), home and away, move on.  (Away goals is a little confusing.)  Plus why should third placed teams have any second chances?  They already drop into the Europa League. (I’m assuming Gabriele’s plan would eliminate that option).  Anyway, keep it as it is.  Yes there are dead rubbers on Matchday 6, but that there was also the drama of Celtic and Chelsea.

Chris Bevan profiled American Oguchi Onyewu for the BBC.  Currently on loan from Sporting, he has landed on a Malaga team defying expectations after a summer of confusion and uncertainty.  Winners of their Champions League Group and currently fifth in La Liga, Los Boquerones have generated excitement both home and abroad.  Gooch has made six appearances for Malaga thus far.  At 30, there is some question whether he is part of Klinsmann’s plans for World Cup Qualification.  His strong, physical presence will be needed, but is fully healthy?  That’s my question.

Speaking of UEFA, word came down that the association plans to hold the 2020 European Championships all over Europe.  Debates regarding the format both make compelling cases: a single or joint venture incorporates visiting fans and the hosts while the new arrangement will allow countries in general and selected cities in particular a chance to participate in this great competition.  I’m open minded at this point.  Strike that.  I don’t really care because with the expansion to 24 teams from 16, it doesn’t really matter at this point.  This is a money grab as most things are.  So UEFA, do what you’re going to do.

Finally, A recent podcast I’ve found is The Big Questions, hosted by Aaron Stollar.  Part of the North American Soccer Network, Aaron looks at issues beyond who won, who lost and news of the day.  On Episode 10, he had Alexi Lalas and Leander Schaerlaeckens on to speculate about what the game of soccer will look like in 50 years.  They examined the fight between international football and club soccer; the speed of the game; the future of US soccer and the possibility of robots.

Exploring the next 20,30, 50 years of American soccer, a possible North American league was discussed.  Hate this.  Travel is the biggest consideration.  Could you imagine Seattle away to Mexico City (2800+ miles)?  The panel also touched on the changing demographics in this country and how that will affect the USMNT.  Finally, time was spent on the structure of MLS, with promotion and relegation not really a possibility due to the financial investment of the owners. Great insights and opinions.  Definitely worth the listen.

Old Futbol Buffet–No Tip for the Spanish Waiter

Manchester United 3  QPR 1

I missed the Manchester United game against QPR on Saturday morning.  I wasn’t too chuffed as I figured United would cruise against the worst team in the league this season. I checked the score at halftime, which was 0-0, and got a little worried, but when I saw the full time score of 3-1, I assumed that the Red Devils had shown their quality and picked up the three points.  Looks like I was wrong.

Dan asked the question—Will the real Manchester United please show up?—for Red Rants, as United put in an awful first half and a dynamic ten minutes during the second half to win the match against QPR.  Fletcher’s return and goal were a welcome sight but the Red Devils continue to slog through the season.  Maybe they are saving everything for yet another push in the second half of the season.

Scott saw a mixed performance by United and gave his reactions on the Republik of Mancunia, with Anderson helping to turn the tide when he came on in the second half and the back five playing pretty well.  He wonders about Ashley Young’s future as his current contributions are lacking.  He also commented on using Chicharito as an impact sub, which I totally agree with, and both Scott and Dan from Red Rants wonder why the hell is Sir Alex playing Welbeck on the wing?

One final note.  I said last year after the City game (you know the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the noisy neighbors) that Evans would never play for United again.  I admit I got that one wrong.  This season has helped keep the backline together as he and Rio play week in and week out while injuries in the defense mount.

John Gidman was on a recent United We Stand pod to reflect on his playing career, including his time at Manchester United from 1981-1986.  Great interview by Andy Mitten discussing the drinking culture, which is a time long gone in the history of English football, replaced with strength training, personalized menus and world class training and facilities.

I also listened to Andy’s audio diary from the Galatasaray game.  Great on the ground commentary, with quick interviews with fans and former players.  He also gave a brief history on United’s trips to Turkey, including his deportation in 1993.  The atmosphere at the match sounded overwhelming, but it seemed as if the away supporters had a great time.  Definitely give it a listen.

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Chelsea 0  Manchester City 0

This match fell on a holiday weekend so the Mid Michigan United group didn’t plan anything, but after our wonderful (read: drunken and obnoxious) outing on Wednesday for the Champions League game between Manchester City and Real Madrid, we decided to get together for this game.

What a waste.  If I wanted to throw away another two hours, I would have watched Avengers again like I did Saturday night.  For all of the talent on display, this was a game about bravery, or lack thereof.  Clearly neither manager wanted to lose this match and give up any more ground to each other or Manchester United.  Rafa wanted to get off to a positive start by getting at least a point on the board and he accomplished that.  Maybe the fans will eventually get onside but Robbie is still on the brain.  Many fans were holding small Rafa Out signs and other banners praised RdM.  Unfortunately for the audience, neither team was particularly sharp in front of goal, with Torres spurning a couple of good chances and City creating from wide positions but always heading at Peter Cech.

Since the game was not that enthralling, everyone turned to their phones to check other scores, catch up on the witty banter on twitter, and do anything to keep from gouging out their eyeballs.  One of the topics that came up was the revelation about Kolo Toure’s alleged affair.  Not only was he cheating on the mother of his children, before and after their marriage, he didn’t even use his real name, instead assuming the character of Francois, the African used car salesman.  The details in the Mirror story are hilarious and incredible fodder for ESPN’s next dramatic series—Playmakers EPL Edition.

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David Beckham

Grant Wahl put David Beckham’s impact on MLS in perspective, as the former England international will likely move on from the league after the MLS Cup Final.  His arrival led to immediate and high profile headlines but his first couple of seasons had a stop/start rhythm, plus the occasional fan in the stands interaction.  The last couple of years I have read that he has been a model professional for the league and could end up with back to back Cup titles.  (Note, if you haven’t read Wahl’s book The Beckham Experiment, pick up a copy.)

Here were my original thoughts about Beckham coming to America:

David Beckham is coming to America. Still amazed at how his talks with Real Madrid broke down in 72 hours. Why is he coming here?  John Brewin from Soccernet explains.

So how is this for Becks?  He has something that will defy age—ball striking ability. No one in the US has ever seen anything like this. Sure Joe Midfielder might score a great free kick or switch the point of attack, but can he do it consistently and with pinpoint accuracy? I doubt it. Becks can. It’s amazing. Yes, Becks is “slow”, but that can be compensated for. When I watch MLS, you can easily counteract the speed of the 19-23 kids by using a footballing brain. Possess, see the field, pick your moments.  Not run at 100 mph and hack everything in your path.  Becks can do all of that.  LA needs a team of solid defenders, a combative defensive mid to carry the water for Becks, and two hard working outside mids.  Forwards? Can you stand in front of the goal and let the ball bounce off of you? Yes. Then you can play. Becks is then free a la Zidane to just do whatever. Think Valderrama with TampaBay. Not the fastest guy ever yet he was effective because he was technically gifted and footballing smart.

What does this mean for US soccer. It’s a decent pick up. He will put fannies in the seats, temporarily, until the novelty wears off. That’s fine. Is Becks going to anchor the future of US soccer? I hope not. No one player can do that. This is the first salvo fired by the MLS. Yes, you—30 something decent European based player—can play here in the US. $250M is a ridiculous number to start at. When the next fading European superstar asks where’s my money, I’m not sure what the answer is going to be. If the MLS continues in this fashion, they will go the way of the NASL. So we’ll pay you an outrageous amount of money if you can play and sell tickets. The second part is key. We’ll give you money if you can make money. If you can’t, you’ll have to wait until you’re past 35 or not get the major cheese. Simple equation. You dig? The MLS has to continue this strategy, I just don’t know where they’re going to the money.

Despite my mancrush on the former England captain, I never went to watch him play.  Outside of his first appearance against Chelsea in the summer of 2007 and the occasional snippet here or there, I didn’t even watch him play.  His arrival didn’t change my MLS viewing habits.  Robbie Keane didn’t. Rafa Marquez didn’t.  Thierry Henry didn’t.  What would change my viewing schedule?  More time in my life.  Short of that, better quality on the field.

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Podcast

Daniel Taylor was on the Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss both Manchester teams as they battle for the Premier League title.  Mancini’s future was examined as the Italian manager struggles to live up to high expectations, especially in Europe.  Daniel and Anto also touched on the England National Team as qualification for World Cup 2014 heats up.

Old Futbol Buffet–Super Sunday

I spent the last nice fall day of 2012 sitting on a barstool.  Forget fresh air. Back to back EPL games followed by the Big 10 Championship game, fueled by beer and wings.  Wouldn’t have it any other way.  None of the games were high on quality, but the fellowship was top notch, full of banter and awkwardness.

The morning started with Manchester City hosting Tottenham Hotspur.   I should have stayed in bed.  Same storyline—City’s opponents score early, City eventually wake up, Lamppost for the win.  (I called it as soon as he came on.)  I still don’t know if City are playing with three or four at the back but whatever the system, they look disjointed.  (Zonal Marking saw a back four morph into a back three with the introduction of Maicon.)  I rarely see fluidity in their play yet props for overwhelming an opponent and securing three points.  As for Spurs, imagine if they had a little more soccer IQ.  They are a glorified high school team, full of athletes and effort, but have almost nothing in terms of gamesmanship, like how to close out a match or turn things around when plan A isn’t working.  Lennon needs to go.  His lack of a finished product is holding this team back.  If you can’t cross, can’t score and only sometimes come back defensively, then you’re just another Nani.  As people noted several times throughout the game, I didn’t even know Dempsey was out there.  It was his turn to wear the invisibility cloak and, with two out and out wingers, he rarely saw the ball.  On the positive side, Adebayor was a real presence up top and nearly got Zabaleta sent off.  (Spooky at Dear Mr Levy gave a comprehensive breakdown of the past, present and future of the club.  Well worth the read.)

One thing that did bother me was Mancini’s slump pout in the first half.   Really?  You are going to be a big baby when you have a ridiculous amount of talent at your disposal and you can’t figure out how to win?  What do the pre-Mourhino Inter and the current City have in common?  Struggled to win the league despite a vastly superior team and were underwhelming in Europe.  And the same manager.

Another side note.  The commentators mentioned that Huddlestone was growing out his hair for a charity, in effect not cutting it until he scores.  So. . . you’re a rare scoring (eight goals in 210 career club appearances) central midfield player who has a hard time getting a consistent run of games (less than a dozen appearances for the club in the last two seasons).  Nice gesture, but you might want to rethink the terms of your contribution.

Next up was Chelsea against Liverpool.  If I had written the storyline before the game, you would not have believed me.  Blue Racist scores.  Red Racist takes out Blue Racist.  Red Racist equalizes.  The Reds came out in a 3-5-2 with Carragher anchoring the middle.  I’m pretty sure he was supposed to be put out to pasture a while ago.  As someone tweeted at halftime, LFC had 63% of the possession and were not even in the match.  (Chris at Famous CFC bemoaned the missed chances that should have killed off the game.)  Maybe a little more even in the second half as Liverpool outworked Chelsea and confused them by lacking any coherent shape.  (Ed at the Liverpool Offside blog saw Rogers tweak his first half lineup to generate a little more offensive punch.)  Johnson and Enrique were all over the place, with Sterling moving side to side.  And Suso just found the ball and promptly turned it back over.  The Blues in the last week have drawn with Swansea, eked out a win against Shaktar and shared points with Liverpool.  Is another November tailspin upon us?

Finally, Michigan State and Michigan battled for the BIG 10 Men’s Soccer Championship.  The conditions in Evanston were comical, with 35 mph winds causing any ball moving left to right on the TV screen to hang in the air and any free kick needing a place holder to keep it from rolling.  MSU used the wind to their advantage in the first half, pinning back the Wolverines and getting a screamer from Adam Montague.  The tide predictably turned in the second half, but the Wolverines weren’t too dangerous.  As time ticked down, UM threw more and more forward and were lucky to not be caught on the break.  Eventually a throw in was flicked on twice and T.J. Roehn scored on a lovely touch past MSU goalkeeper Zach Bennett.  At the end of regulation I had to go, so I missed Sean Doherty’s blast in minutes in to OT that won the tournament title (all goals here) for the Spartans and qualified them for the NCAA Tournament.  Congrats to Damon, Kylie and the squad.

Not a day high on sexy futbol but through the roof in the terms good natured chitchat, zingers and interesting talking points.  Besides the post election break down, time was given to racism in sports, upcoming hot yoga classes, how long Brad Friedel will actually play, the baldness trend in US goalkeeping, Cedrick’s Hope Solo interview, and how to wear a scarf like Roberto Mancini.  But nothing could top I’shawna’s declaration that she would happily be a baby mama for a professional athlete.  Direct quote: I got bills to pay.  So Raheem Sterling, if Liverpool comes to the US next summer for their pre-season tour . . .  (Note:  I’shawna wants it be clear that she will be the baby mama for Micah Richards.  This needed to be clarified.)

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Articles

I mentioned Nani earlier, and Mark Payne commented on his long term future at Manchester United for ESPN FC.  Diminishing returns and stalled contract talks could see the Portuguese winger at a new club in January or next summer, with Juventus a possibility.  I have never really liked him, constantly claiming that he is another CR7 . . . without the goals.  Doesn’t play defense, dives, takes ridiculous shots and turns the ball over a lot.  I am personally willing to drive him to the airport and hope that day comes soon.

Speaking of the Red Devils, Scott the Red saw United come back for the eighth time this season.  Smalling and Young had disappointing first halves, but Chicharito saved the day and De Gea made his presence felt.  Now if they could just stop leaking goals.

Received a little US soccer history over the weekend.  Found the article Homeless at 100 from David Wangerin for Howler Magazine via the Original Winger, which gave a quick overview of the associations that existed shortly before the American Amateur Football Association established itself in 1913.  The title of the article comes from the fact that the US Soccer Hall of Fame exhibits and materials are being stored at a warehouse for the time being, a sad commentary on the sport’s history in this country.  Hopefully one day it will find a permanent home so that everything—great players, accomplishments, keepsakes and the Association’s dirty laundry—can have a home.