Posts Tagged ‘ Red Rants ’

Old Futbol Buffet–Red Dawn

Manchester United 4  Newcastle United 3

Due to Winter Storm Euclid, I was able to watch Manchester United v Newcastle United in a highly entertaining match even though neither team played that well.  The confrontation produced seven goals and a dramatic ending.

From the not learning from previous mistakes department, Sir Alex started Giggs and Scholes.  I need to check the stats but that pairing usually results in dropped points, and for most of the match that looked to be the case again.  Carrick played well but struggled to control the game in the middle and Newcastle punished on of his giveaways as Ba’s shot went through Evans’ legs and de Gea teed it up for Perch to slam home.  United then responded but didn’t really threaten Krul’s net.

However a poorly defended free kick by Newcastle resulted in a United equalizer.  Newcastle maintained their composure and scored a controversial goal as a Simpson’s shot came in which Evans turned into his own goal trying do ward off Ba.  The goal was given, then not given, then given. Just before the interval Marveaux rattled the crossbar with a free kick which would have put Sir Alex’s men in deep trouble.

The second half was worse in technical terms with sloppy passing and movement preventing the Reds from putting the Magpies under pressure.  Evra’s equalizer was a little fortunate and Krul who had great performances last season against United should have done better.  Cisse punished United’s lax marking off a throw in as Obertan cruised down the left hand channel and squared for the striker who banged it home for the visitor’s third lead.

RvP squared the match again and Chicharito sealed the points after several missed opportunities.  United were fluid going forward but wasted far too many chances against Newcastle and Swansea.  The pessimistic part of me believes that the luck and the late goals will dry up, and if the Reds don’t tighten up defensively, another trophyless season awaits, as they will be exposed against better opposition both at home and abroad.

Manchester United 2  West Bromwich Albion 0

Sir Alex made several changes to the team, brining in Kagawa behind Welbeck, with Cleverley supporting Carrick.  Young’s hard cross was turned into the net by a WBA defender and from there United took control of the match without finding the second goal.  The Reds had several good chances on the half hour mark but desperate defending preventing another goal.  WBA enjoyed a brief spell just before halftime thanks to a series of set pieces.

There was a little more balance to start the second stanza but WBA still had a lot of men behind the ball.  The introduction of Lukaku changed the match in my opinion as his strength and energy upset the United rearguard.  My guess is that Clarke saved him for the second half to go against a tiring defense.  After all the possession, RvP finally put the game to bed with a lovely finish to seal the points.

Couple of player notes:

  • Welbeck was serviceable, with a decent workrate and interplay but he is still not top class.
  • Cleverly was iffy, providing energy but several turnovers and a lack of ideas around the 18.
  • Smalling keep things steady at the back, staying to his task but not providing the offensive oomph of Rafael.

Daniele of Red Rants watched a changed United team overcome a heavy pitch and determined opponent to secure three points and go into 2013 top of the table.  Kagawa’s return gives Sir Alex more options, especially with Rooney’s injury and Daniele feels that Valencia may need a rest.  But who would replace him?  Not the best game and much less drama than the Newcastle match, but the result is what matters.

Matthew Evans shared his thoughts on WBA’s performance for ESPN FC.  Despite several injuries, the Baggies regrouped in the second half and Matthew saw a better effort from debutant Thorne and some good play from Lukaku.

Midseason thoughts

United are seven points clear but the deficit is far from convincing.  The Red Devils have plenty going forward, especially with everyone fit but the attack can be stymied and will be shut down against organized and fit sides.  With the defense leaking goals, I can see narrow defeats in the spring that could cost them the title.  City continue to lurk and may lose the title only because their manager is substandard, but without a European distraction, there is every chance that the Citizens will close the gap.  Chelsea are an outside bet as Rafa has secured the defense.  If they can find the goals, they could mount a serious charge.

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Articles and Podcasts

Anto had Italian commentator Owen Neilson on the Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss the Serie A at the Winter Break.  I have not been following the league at all this season, so I took the opportunity to catch up.  Owen and Anto acknowledged that Juventus are champions.  The Old Lady has a significant lead at the break, and the chasing pack are not strong or consistent enough to catch the Bianconeri.  As for Anto’s beloved Milan, they broke down the problems at with the Rossoneri, including the Brazilian clear out and the possible burnout of Stephan El Shaarawy.  Fiorentina and Roma are doing great things this season, while Palermo is struggling at the bottom.

Another league that has gotten away from me is the Bundesliga.  Raphael Honingstein provided a year in review of the German league for SI.com, focusing on the rise of Borussia Dortmund, who won a league and cup double and progressed from the Group of Death in the Champions League.  He also praised Marco Reus as player of the year and SC Freiburg for a fantastic year of results.  Raphael concluded with a look at the German National Team and their “traumatic” defeat at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012.

Michael Cox (aka Zonal Marking) jotted down his 10 moments from 2012 for ESPN FC.  What a year.  Chelsea winning the Champions League (reading Michael’s comments I was reminded of Robben’s missed penalty in extra time—aargh!!); Spain’s wonderful performance in the Euro 2012 Final against Italy; CR7’s crushing goal at the Nou Camp that secured the league for Real Madrid; and Zambia winning the Africa Cup of Nations. I admit that I didn’t watch a single minute of the tournament, but I knew about the story.  The death of Zambian National Team actually made it in to SI way back in the 90’s, and I can still remember reading the article and trying to imagine the pain of losing an entire generation of players.  20 years later the promise was fulfilled and what a moment for the players and the country.

On the latest episode of The Big Question podcast, Aaron discussed the future of college soccer with Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer.  Both agreed that there is no one answer for how the college game fits into the puzzle of American Soccer.  I think Travis summed it up best, saying that “There are different paths for different players”.

I follow college soccer even less than MLS and went to my first college game in years last fall to support MichiganState and the Red Cedar Rowdies.  Didn’t see much in terms of next level talent, but there were two UConn players that I could see having a chance. The elite players in America need to be Europe. That has been my stance for several years.  To be the best, you need to play with the best.  Having said all that, the college game is another road to the professional game for the next tier or two of player.  The MLS has to draw from somewhere, but financial considerations and conference realignment may have something to say about the collegiate game in the near future.

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Old Futbol Buffet–Opportunity Missed

Swansea City 1  Manchester United 1

Sunday morning provided an entertaining match with the home fans in full voice.  Swansea played an excellent match, putting United under pressure, but one of the visitors’ few attacks resulted in a goal after set piece.  Evra headed in RvP’s corner but Britton maybe should have done better on the post.

From there United had a brief spell of pressure before Swansea took over.  Their play—composed, dynamic and incisive—eventually generated a goal as Evra switched off (and the defense in general) and de Guzman’s shot was saved by de Gea but Michu tapped home.  A second goal from the hosts seemed on the cards but never materialized, and United was able to get back into the match briefly before halftime. 

The second half saw United take control, and a trait of the Reds this season has been economy of finishing, but Sunday was just had a bad day at the office as they didn’t take advantage of several half chances in the opening 15 minutes with Rooney particularly wasteful.  In addition to poor finishing, a fine defensive performance from Vorm, the Swansea backline and a couple of crossbars prevented the Sir Alex’s team from taking all three points.

In terms of teams and players, Swansea were fun to watch.  Routledge and de Guzman did well and Michu gave a focal point to attack, especially the first half. The put in an a great effort, but disappointed that Michu moved to midfield and Luke Moore up top as Laudrup went for more 4-1-4-1 to conserve energy and blunt United coming forward.  United was led by Carrick, who stroked the ball nicely and was decent shield for the back line.  Young was marginally better, and Giggs did well when he come on.  Maybe his introduction sooner could have unlocked the Swans.  Hernandez was poor. Several loose passes and a misreading of RvP’s pass kept him from making a genuine impact.  A real issued for the visitors was the lack of service from right hand channel, with neither Young, Jones nor Valencia providing the killer ball.

Final comment:  there should have been more goals in the match but draw was fair result.

Daniele of Red Rants saw United concede points against a spirited Swansea team.  He identified several things I picked up during the game, namely Young’s current contribution to the team:

The former Villa man seems to have made the left flank spot his own over the last couple of weeks, and repaid Fergie’s trust with a lot of hard work and some very intelligent runs across the box, but he still seems to be lacking the cutting edge necessary to provide the final ball.

In the end, the Reds created the chances but not the second goal which would have secured the points

Doron and Nik commented on the match as well for Stretford-End, noting that while Vidic was a welcome return, he is clearly rusty.  They also praised another fine performance from Carrick and the brief appearance of Giggs before moving on to criticize Valencia’s recent efforts and Rooney’s shift in this match.  They felt United were a little unlucky to not win the match and now the focus is on Newcastle United on Wednesday.

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Podcasts and an Article

Last week on Off the Ball, there was a great two for one pod, looking back at EPL history, both recently and over the years.  Last Tuesday, Eoin and Ken replayed Martin Tyler’s broadcast to Aguero’s dramatic goal that sealed the title for Manchester City at the end of 2012 season.  Martin spoke about his preparation into the match and how broadcasters never know where the story will take them.  This was followed by Philippe Auclair’s appearance to talk about his upcoming Thierry Henry biography.  Auclair revealed some insights into the nature of the talented French forward, including the drive provided by his father.  If it’s even half as good as the Cantona book, it will be worth the read.

Finally Roger Bennett examined the current situation at Liverpool for ESPNFC.  Most people believe that Brendan Rogers is on shaky ground, with Reds in 12th heading into the weekend and failing to make Anfield a fortress.  He spoke with former legends Steve Nicol and Steve McManaman, who identified a lack of goals and a lack of criticism as some of the manager’s failing thus far.  The next chapter will be the January transfer and whether Rodgers gets money to spend, and if he does, how wisely he spends it.

Andy Mitten sat down with fan legend Pete Boyle at Bishop Blaize on a recent United We Stand podcast.  Boyle has a unique role in pregame festivities as he starts the songs and then leads the short march to Old Trafford.  Recently he was able to have a short chat with Eric Cantona and even got the former legend to stop by the pub for a couple of minutes.  Great insight into fan culture that is hard to get/comprehend here in the States.

Former NY Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing was on Beyond the Pitch pod to discuss the heyday of the NASL, his playing career and the NY Red Bulls.  My only knowledge of the player was from the Once in a Lifetime documentary so it was interesting to hear stories about Pele and Munich and playing in New York.  As for the current NY franchise, Shep preached a message of stability and suggested bringing in Bob Bradley to steady the ship.  Fascinating conversation and well worth the listen.

Old Futbol Buffet–The Reds Go Marching On

A busy week at work and at home, kept me from getting my usual reading and podcast listening done.  And due to my son’s floor hockey this tournament, my EPL viewing was KO’ed.  So not much on offer this week, but I was able to follow games on twitter and read as United overturned Sunderland; Liverpool dominate yet fall to Aston Vila; and QPR finally win a league match.

Daniele of Red Rants saw United win comfortably, and, with a little more composure in front of goal, the margin could have been more.  Cleverley’s goal was sick.  Amazing technique.  Daniele was struck by how the control of the game was conceded with the introductions of Scholes and Giggs.  Can’t be surprised.  With the game in hand, I imagine Sir Alex gave some of the lads a rest.  On another note, Young set up two of the goals today. Maybe he’s not worthless after all.

James Martin looked at the slow disappearance of Nani from Manchester United for the ESPN FC blog.  The Portuguese winger, according to reports, had one foot on a plane to Zenit in the summer before a U-turn in, and seems to be on his way out of Old Trafford either during the winter transfer window or next summer.  His relatively poor end product, especially recently, has seen Sir Alex turn to Valenica and Young, even though both of those players have issues (injuries and form).  Watching some of the goals embedded in the post, you are reminded of his stunning strikes from range, but those days seem long gone, with memories of unlucky fans in the upper decks getting struck with his wayward strikes, constant turnovers, and lack of crosses in the forefront.  Hopefully United get something for him and bring in a viable replacement.

Finally, looking through old posts at the Stretford End, I found Darren Richman’s account of his trip to the Manchester Derby.  Worried, confident, and anxious in the build up, his reaction in the second half was just like mine:

When City scored a minute later despite De Gea’s best efforts, I could only see it ending one way. ‘We’ll lose this now’ I cheerily informed my neighbours. When it went to 2-2, I wasn’t even upset, simply resigned to the worst. I started repeating ‘A draw’s still a good result’ in my head like a mantra. And out loud I think because I’m sure the bloke next to me said, ‘you’d have taken it beforehand.’

Make sure you read all the way end to get a surreal finish to his day.  Great stuff.

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In my elation last week after the dramatic Manchester Derby, I totally forgot to post this little tidbit:

Twitter was abuzz about the photos of AC Milan’s new physio.  Chelsea have upped the ante with Eva Carneiro.  Injuries to Chelsea players have been doubled in value with her introduction.  Back to AC Milan, at this point it seems as if it was a PR stunt with no more details disclosed, including her name.  But trust me, the SoccerNomad I Team is all over this.

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–Long Live the King

Eric Cantona signed 20 years ago for Manchester United.  I wasn’t even following football at the time, so my first real memory of him was the 1994 FA Cup Final against Chelsea, with my favorite recollection of the Frenchman being the 1996 FA Cup Final goal struck in the dying moments against Liverpool.  Watching the match on replay at my parents, I screamed in ecstasy as the ball found its way into the back of the net.  Props to Anton Alfy for putting a video of all 82 goals that Cantona scored for Manchester United.  Well worth 15 minutes of your time.  Viva Le Roi!!

Robert Meakin led the tribute to Cantona on last week’s Manchester United Redcast.  After breaking down the win over QPR, he looked at possible winger replacements as Nani will surely be off in January and Young has struggled to find form.  Cantona’s impact on the club was discussed before moving on Fergie and how long he has at the club and who could replace him?  (Pep and Mourinho were mentioned.)

Speaking of Fergie, Roger Bennett posted on ESPN FC regarding the recent Harvard Business School report on Sir Alex, noting that the secrets to his success are building a foundation, maintaining control, evolving with the times, and evaluating talent.  Would love to get a copy of that.

As for the current United team, a crazy first half saw seven goals in 34 minutes, as the Red Devils went into half time up 4-3.  That ended up being the final score in a game that was full of incident.  Due to supporting my kid’s school, I was working in a concession stand and missed the brouhaha.

Daniele at Red Rants watched another sloppy performance from the United rearguard, and only a strong and swift response from the team earned the Reds the three points.  As he pointed out in his post game notes:

Sure they score goals for fun and they’ve mastered the old club tradition of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – United have fallen behind 14 times in 22 games this season – but thinking that the “you score four, we score five” approach could possibly lead to a title, is at best naive and at worst downright deluded.

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MLS Cup Final

After watching a couple of La Liga games, I was able to see the second half of the MLS Cup.  The Galaxy took the game to the Dynamo, with Gonzalez equalizing and then LA taking the lead after Clark handled in the box.  Donovan converted and eventually the breakaways paid off as Hall tried to haul down Keane, who kept his feet but the referee pointed to the spot again.  The Irishman scored the spot kick this time to give the Galaxy a 3-1 win and second MLS Cup win in a row.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Ricardo Clark is awful.
  • Not sure if Lalas shaving his mustache at halftime is the grossest or awesomest thing ever.
  • Houston’s jerseys looked like they were claimed from a Goodwill sale.  I thought sublimation was left back in the 90’s.  SB Nation’s Dynamo page posted the particulars on the shirt.  (Rays and energy. Seriously?)
  • Mad props to Donovan for dedicating his goal to a Make A Wish family.  No way I would have even thought of that in the aftermath of a Cup victory.
  • The MLS ball reeked of bargain bin quality.
  • Tally is not a name.  It’s a hunting cry.

The panel on the SI Soccer Roundtable (11/29) discussed the chapter that is ending with Beckham’s farewell and the future of the league as a whole.  Really brought the last five years of the league into the focus.

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Articles and Podcasts

Bira Brasil was Beyond the Pitch in the aftermath of Mano Menezes being axed as Brazil boss.  Bira handicapped the challengers and thought that Tite and Ramalho would be chosen ahead of former coach and World Cup Winner Luiz Felipe Scolari.  In the end Big Phil was chosen.  Can he regroup the team ahead of a home World Cup?  Watch this space.

Tim Vickery was on the Off the Ball last Wednesday to discuss the dismissal as well, blaming politics for the departure of Menezes.  Brazil is at a crossroads, having to choose between reclaiming their heritage or continuing with the current over physical, counter attacking approach.  With the reappointment of Scolari the latter has been chosen, and his task will be build another “family” and lead the Seleção to glory on home soil.

News of an expanded 64 team Champions League hit the interwebs last week leading to the usual moaning and groaning from fans and media.  I think Iain Macintosh’s post on ESPN FC was spot on, identifying the old adage—follow the money.  The loss of the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup has brought the game to the point where undoing the last 20 years is impossible.  The fact that this year’s Champions League Group Stages have been interesting just masks the fact that usually they aren’t and that 16 groups of four teams will be super tedious.  If only the group winner progressed, there might be some value, but inevitably the current 16 team knockout will morph into the 32 team knockout, which will start earlier and earlier into each new year, packing the fixture list even more.  This is a horrible idea and will hopefully kill the golden goose, so that real reform can happen.  Doubt it.

Staying with Europe, Christoph recounted German football during the 1970’s on his blog, An Old International.  He recapped the bribery scandal early in the decade, which affected the image of the emerging league but also allowed the country to move forward.  This release led to unprecedented success for clubs and the national team.  Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach dominated the league, winning eight of the 10 domestic titles, and also conquered Europe with Die Roten winning three European Cups and BMG winning two UEFA Cups.  Plus the Nationalmannschaft won the 1972 European Championship and then claimed the 1974 World Cup before losing out to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship Final.  Great read and thanks to Peter Alegi for the link.

Finally, Matt Reece, a fellow member of Mid Michigan United shared this amazing freestyling video on my Facebook timeline.  After watching it, a couple of things struck me.  1. Mind blowing skills, but it does sort of come across as someone with too much free time.  2.  I only take my clothes off for the ladies and never in public.  3.  What the Michael Jackson song???  Anyway give it watch and see if you can even do one thing that guy did.

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–Gunners shoot Blanks

Manchester United 2  Arsenal 1

After a night of moderate drinking, making it to the bar for an 8:45am kickoff was a struggle.  Not as much of as struggle as watching the Gunners in red socks with the #PurpleReignPain jerseys, but anyways . . . Couldn’t have asked for a better start as Rafael’s early cross wasn’t dealt with by Vermaelen and RvP punished his former teammate three minutes in.  From there a drab match unfolded, with Arsenal holding onto the ball but doing nothing with it, while United were not very dangerous.

“The ball doesn’t lie” sums up the PK before halftime.  Cazorla went to cover his face, which resulted in the spot kick, dutifully missed by Wazza. A stat floated around the interwebs that RvP is the better option in that circumstance.  The second half saw more of the same with Podolski and Ramsey having almost no impact on the game.  I am struggling to remember any influential moments for the Gunners.

The nail in Arsenal’s coffin came from the head of Evra.  Short corner, cross from Rooney, the tallest player on the field jumped and missed, the captain did not, 2-0.  Wilshere’s second yellow was crap but not undeserved.  He had a decent game on his return, yet several rash challenges caught up with him.  Anderson came into the match for the Reds.  I read that he had a good match against Chelsea in midweek and he played a solid thirty minutes but boy is he fat.  Cazorla’s consolation goal was a fine piece of finishing but AFC left with no points again and with draws by CFC and MCFC, United went top of the table.  Still not hitting the heights but hard to argue with the results.

Dan at the Red Rants blog saw United win comfortably, using the same lineup as the one against Chelsea last Sunday.  He concluded that it was “the Gunners who were flattered by a score line that could have been much worse, had United not played with the handbrake on for most of the match.”  I’ve seen comments like this in the aftermath, which shows how far Arsenal have fallen.  Chelsea treated the Gunners in much the same way at the Emriates, letting them have the ball and then picking them apart.

The Arseblogger’s headline said it all—Worse than last year.  Last year a disjointed Arsenal has a bad day at the office; this year was the realization that they are no longer one of the big boys.  He asked that Vermaelen be dropped for a lack of form and lack of leadership.  He also saw a limp attack that never got going.  Finally, Andre Santos did not have a good game but the team the Brazilian is not the only one to blame.  At the end he wrapped up by saying that this was “another disheartening day, more proof that our squad is too light in key areas, and another day when the team looked sluggish and not ready for the fight.”

My brother shared a post with me from Boris Mellor at the Arsenal Times.  Echoing the Arseblogger, yes the score was better, but the result was the same and even more disappointing.  Over the last couple of weeks, the Gunners have lost to Norwich, lost to Schalke, beaten QPR (barely) and recovered from 4-0 against Reading to win 7-5.  Now they have lost to rivals (maybe) Manchester United.  Boris sees a troubling sense of underachievement at the club, ending his post with this statement:

Without a change of ethos, the insertion of a real backbone and leadership this club will continue to decline. A fish rots from the head, the tragedy is that many can’t smell the rot as it is hidden by the rose scented aroma of Champions League Qualification.

Finally Zonal Marking watched a “subdued” affair as United attacked down the right hand side, with Valencia and Rafael overwhelming Santos and pulling Vermaelen out of the middle.  With Giroud isolated, the Gunners did not generate much offense, even with the introduction of Walcott.  In the end, Fergie got everything pretty much spot on as Arsene slumped to another defeat.

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