Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Last night in Munich, Bayern Munchen defeated Manchester City 2-0 thanks to two goals from Mario Gomez; however the result was not the most memorable part of this match.  Carlos Tevez managed to steal the spotlight without ever taking the pitch Tuesday evening.  The Argentine striker appeared to refuse his manager when called upon to enter the game with a half hour to go.  Today, Tevez claims that it was a miscommunication, but the message Roberto Mancini sent after the match was clear enough saying that Carlos Tevez will never play again for Manchester City.

Carlos Tevez is a player who has always been regarded as supremely talented, yet consistently surrounded by controversy.  Controversy seems to hang over him like a personal black cloud, whether it is in regards to his third party ownership when entering the Premier League with West Ham, or his 2007 transfer saga to Manchester United.  His personal behavior in the past has been as tumultuous as his contract status, with tanturms with West Ham and his continued expression of displeasure with both Manchester clubs. 

Despite all of his petulance and various contract squabbles, he undeniably remains one of the most brilliant strikers in the world.  He has scored key goals in numerous campaigns including a goal that kept West Ham in the Premier League, five goals in Manchester United’s successful 2007-08 Champions League campaign, and even scored the first penalty in their Champions League final win over Chelsea.  Last season, he replaced Kolo Toure as captain of Manchester City when the defender was given a lengthy suspension, and lifted the club to their first ever Champions League qualification.

Tevez’ unhappiness seems to be overwhelming at times though, refusing to return to the pitch during half time of a match last season, only returning after manager Roberto Mancini begged for his return.  His relationship for Mancini has grown even more sour over the course of the summer.  Tevez requested a transfer this summer, after saying his family had grown unhappy with life in Manchester and that he “would not even return there on vacation.” Tevez journeyed to Argentina to play in the Copa America, but upon his return to Manchester City was severely overweight due to depressive bouts of binge eating.  Tevez was convinced to return to the club after Manchester City signed his Argentina teammate Sergio Aguero, but even that has not been enough to keep him content. 

His latest refusal to enter the pitch has taken Tevez’ continued transfer requests to another level, with both sides appearing eager to end their relationship.  Everybody from Robbie Savage to Graeme Souness is calling Tevez a disgrace to football.  His relationship with his clubs and managers is reminiscent of American football players Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.  His displays of skill, strength, and scoring leave nobody questioning his quality as a footballer, but his continued actions off the pitch have many questioning whether Tevez is done with football in the Premier League.

For me, Tevez has been one of my favorite players to watch for years now.  I am constantly drawn to players that are labeled as “divas”, players that want all the playing time and always want the ball, and no footballer currently fits that label more.  He left Manchester United in favor of Manchester City where he has been given ample playing time, a contract in excess of £200,000 per week, and even the captaincy.  There isn’t much more that Manchester City can give him, so maybe it is time that the clubs parted ways, but a league without Carlos Tevez is not one that I would like to see. Hopefully someday Carlos can find somewhere he belongs, like Chelsea.     

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by Lex

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Manchester City won a relatively boring 2-0 match against Everton this weekend. Mario Balotelli earned his first goal of the season, and the Citizens have drawn level with Manchester United at the top of the league.  Their squad is sure to be bolstered by the return of defender Kolo Toure, banned six months for a failed drug test.  As City find themselves in the battle to escape from their dangerous Champions League group, they will be thankful for the added depth.  So far they have managed to stay towards the bottom half of the injury table, only missing Nigel de Jong, who is still out with an ankle injury.  Their match today against Bayern Munich should be one worth watching. 

Arsenal managed to climb a few places in the Premier League table with a 3-0 win against Bolton this weekend, but as their fans sang “We are staying up” their injury problems increased.  Theo Walcott, Gervinho, and Laurent Koscielny have all been ruled out of their Champions League match this week against Olypiakos, but surely the Gunners have the quality to get by the Greek champions.  These injuries can be added to the list that includes Jack Wilshere, who is not expected to return until February after undergoing ankle surgery. It doesn’t look like it is going to get any easier for Arsenal.

Newcastle continued their improbable start by beating Blackburn 3-1 on Saturday, lead by a hat-trick from Demba Ba.  They will do well to continue this run of form with difficult matches coming up away to Wolves and home against Tottenham.  With talented strikers like Ba and Leon Best, along with solid performances from Cheik Tiote, and finally some competent management for Newcastle from Alan Pardew, the Magpies may just end up challenging for a Europa League spot towards the end of the season.

Liverpool got by Wolves with a 2-1 victory, but left a lot to be desired from their fans.  Despite their lackluster performance, their squad will surely be uplifted by the return of captain Steven Gerrard.  Gerrard, had appeared in last week’s Carling Cup match and saw a substitute appearance at Anfield over the weekend and will surely be ready to go for the upcoming Merseyside Derby this weekend against Everton.  They will however miss defender Daniel Agger who will be sidelined for four weeks with a fractured rib.

Manchester United find themselves at the top of two tables this week, the Premier League table and the injury table.  Wayne Rooney is now expected to miss several weeks after being omitted from Saturday’s squad due to a hamstring injury.  He will be joined in the stands by several others including fellow striker Javier Hernandez who has been unable to finish his two previous matches due to injury.  While Basel probably will not prove to be too difficult for United the road ahead may be rough without Wayne Rooney.

La Liga Update

Since there are only two teams that matter in Spain we’ll start with Real Madrid, who go into their midweek battle against Ajax fresh off a 6-2 drubbing of Rayo Vallecano.  Cristiano Ronaldo earned himself a hat-trick in the match, but the best goal has to go to Raphael Varane, who scored a ridiculous goal by flying backheel.  The six goal performance came after struggling to a scoreless draw midweek against Racing Santander. 

Barcelona recovered from their midweek struggles against Valencia to crush Athletico Madrid 5-0.  Led by a goal from David Villa and a hat-trick from Lionel Messi, they travel to Belarus this week to take on BATE Borisov.  So far this season Barcelona has been on an outrageous run of goal scoring with their current goal differential already at 18.  Currently Barcelona sit in second place, but based on their form I wouldn’t expect it to be long before they claim the top spot.

Plenty of Champions League matches today and tomorrow to keep us all entertained. Look for an update later in the week.  

Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Chelsea came into Saturday’s match looking to rebound after last week’s away loss to league leaders Manchester United, while Swansea were looking to increase their winning streak to two after earning their first Premier League win with a brilliant performance against West Brom.  The Welsh club has performed above expectations so far this season, with several spectacular performances coming from their goalkeeper Michel Vorm.  They would need another good performance from Vorm if they expected to get a result on Saturday.

For the first twenty-five minutes Chelsea enjoyed the majority of possession and had a few opportunities on goal.  The breakthrough came in the 29th minute when Fernando Torres chested down a lofted ball from Juan Mata, turned, and fired it into the far corner of the goal.  It was a nice effort and a strike reminiscent of the Spanish striker’s time in Liverpool.  This goal marked the second scored in two matches, bringing his total goals for Chelsea to three.  Their good run continued seven minutes later when Fernando Torres played Ashley Cole through, then began a run down the left side and found a streaking Ramires with a pass that was coolly finished by the Brazilian midfielder. 

This run of good form for Fernando Torres was not meant to last as three minutes after having his hand in creating the second goal; Torres went in for a two footed challenge against Mark Gower and was promptly shown a straight red card by referee Mike Dean.  Going into the half, Chelsea looked to be in command of the match, despite being a man down.

The second half continued like the first, with Chelsea comfortable in possession and having several opportunities.  One would not find the net until the 76th minute when Ramires found his way through again thanks to a perfectly weighted pass by Jose Bosingwa.  The Brazilian found the net again and the day was sure to be blue from that point on.  Swansea did manage a goal for their troubles, as Ashley Williams found himself unmarked on the far post off a set piece from Mark Gower. 

The day ended on a high note for the Blues as Didier Drogba returned in a substitute appearance after suffering a concussion and damaged eardrum a few weeks ago. He even earned himself a goal in this appearance, turning and firing into the corner of the net after receiving a pass from Florent Malouda.  The final score line Chelsea 4, Swansea 1.

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2011 by Lex

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Manchester United vs. Stoke City

The match began with the crowd making their presence felt through booming songs and cheers, but the match immediately began in favor of United.  Wayne Rooney was missing his first appearance of the season, but early in the match Javier Hernandez looked to make up for Rooney’s absence by finding himself in on goal just three minutes into the match.  Jonathan Woodgate came in from behind and appeared to lean on Chicharito before getting a foot to the ball, before it was smothered by Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic.  Despite Sir Alex Fergueson’s pleas for a penalty, none was given and the match continued, while Hernandez could not, and was substituted minutes later.

Both sides enjoyed half chances for the next twenty or so minutes before a breakthrough came, but nobody was surprised by the source.  In the 27th minute, Nani began his run through the Stoke defense beating a defender off the dribble before playing a one-two with Darren Fletcher left Nani to cut in and finish.  The goal was reminiscent of the one the Portuguese national scored a week ago, and it was the breakthrough that United needed if they were going to walk away from the Britannia with a result.  Stoke’s chances increased as the first half went on, with Rory Delap narrowly missing wide and an on target effort by Jonathan Walters pushed around the post by David De Gea.  The first half would end with United clinging to their 1-0 lead. 

Stoke City came out from half-time looking determined to get points from this match and it did not take long for them to get the goal they needed.  After a corner was conceded by United, Peter Crouch rose above the rest to get his head to a Matthew Etherington, and bury it in the back of the net.  It was his first goal since arriving at the Britannia on deadline day, and the Stoke fans were delighted with his contribution.  Just three minutes later, Crouch found himself in scoring position again when Rio Ferdinand misplayed a cross and it fell to Crouch.  The beanpole striker controlled it nicely before shooting, but the shot was deflected over the bar by De Gea. 

The opportunities continued from Stoke, with Marc Wilson crushing a free kick from outside the box right at De Gea, who deflected the ball clear again.  United were not without opportunities of their own, with an Ashley Young shot blocked by Begovic, but immediately after a Patrice Evra blast appeared to hit Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross in the hand, but once again United’s shouts for a penalty were denied.  Both team enjoyed late opportunities, but neither was able to score and while Manchester United remain undefeated, their 100% record came to an end.

Posted on Monday, September 26, 2011 by Lex

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Football is a democratizing game; it is played in every country by millions of people.  These people may not have freedom of speech, expression, or the right to vote, but they still play the game that they love.  Many people around the world are also not afforded the first world luxuries that we take for granted such as electricity and clean water.  sOccket is a new project that will try to bring some of those first world luxuries to young footballers around the world.

The concept of sOccket involves a football that can harness the kinetic energy from normal play and store it to power small electrical appliances like an LED light, water sterilization system, or a fan.  To do this, the ball captures the kinetic energy as the ball rolls by using a permanent magnet DC generator.  Current versions of the ball can yield 3 hours of power for and LED light for only 30 minutes of play.  sOccket can also help curb the use of fuel sources such as kerosene or gasoline generators, which both can be harmful to the environment and the user.  In resource poor areas of the globe this “undeflateable” soccer ball can bring the beautiful game, clean water, and electricity to children around the globe.

This project has been brought to the world through an organization named Uncharted Play.  Uncharted Play was founded by two Harvard undergraduate students Jessica O. Matthews and Julia C. Silverman.  They came up with the idea for sOccket while working on a group project, and it has since become the foundation and flagship movement for their zero-profit organization. 

So far the project has attracted the attention of Spanish national team members David Villa, Sergio Ramos, and Pepe Reina as well as their manager Vicente del Bosque.  They have joined Spanish recording artist Huecco in their endorsement of the project, and hopefully over time you will too.  Currently, special edition sOccket balls are being auctioned off on their website: where you can go to find more information on their invention and their vision.

It isn’t often that I can say this, but this project is entirely in line with my world view and will have my lasting support.  Empowering children while bringing them clean energy and the beautiful game, what’s not to love. 

Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, September 19, 2011

As the final whistle blew on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford, Manchester United had taken sole possession of first place.  In a marquee matchup between the first and third place teams, Manchester United thoroughly dominated Chelsea, who was made to pay for their wasteful finishing and sloppy defending.  In his first clash with Sir Alex Fergueson, Andre Villas-Boas walked away from the pitch disappointed in a team that could have made a statement as title challengers.

Manchester United played well early in the game, but were the beneficiaries of two close decisions from referee Phil Dowd and his linesmen.  The first came in the 8th minute when Chris Smalling broke in and headed home a goal from Ashley Young’s set piece, a fine goal despite Smalling appearing to be a half yard offside at the time of service.  The goal remained and Manchester United found themselves off to a dream start.  Their good fortunes continued as Fernando Torres found his way in on goal thanks to an errant pass by Anderson, but when it came to the finish he pushed the ball wide.  A few minutes later, Chelsea found themselves with another chance thanks to nice setup by Juan Mata and Fernando Torres slotted the ball across the goal to Ramires whose first time finish was stopped by an outstretched David De Gea.  In an attempt to recreate Wayne Rooney’s iconic bicycle kick goal, Fernando Torres could not find the mark.

The match’s next breakthrough happened in the 37th minute, when Jonny Evans’ long ball found Nani who appeared to be returning from offside position.  After taking control, Nani calmly dribbled through two Chelsea defenders before delivering a thundering strike past Petr Cech into the back of the net from just outside the box.  From that moment forward it looked to be United’s day, as Nani celebrated with somersaults.  Chelsea’s misfortunes continued, when just before halftime John Terry’s clearance bounced off of Nani, right to the feet of Wayne Rooney, who calmly finished to give Manchester United a 3-0 first half lead.

With all to do in the second half, Andre Villas-Boas brought on Nicolas Anelka at halftime for the largely ineffective Frank Lampard.  This substitution had an immediate impact on the game, when Anelka found Fernando Torres with a perfectly placed through ball that the Spaniard was able to chip home for his first goal of the season. 

A few minutes later, Juan Mata saw his effort push around the post by David De Gea, the ensuing run of play from the corner saw United break out in counter attack and after Nani’s deflected shot hit the bar, he was dragged down in the box by Jose Bosingwa and a penalty was awarded.  Wayne Rooney stepped up to take the penalty, but the execution was reminiscent of John Terry’s effort in Moscow during the Champions League final, and the score remained 3-1. 

Later, Torres weaved his way through United defenders to deliver a shot that was stopped by De Gea, the ball bounced back to Torres who struck a volley, but the ball sailed over the goal to looks of disappointment from manager and players alike.  Manchester United was never short of scoring chances Sunday afternoon and Wayne Rooney was on the receiving end of a cross from Ashley Young, his flicked finish hit the post and as Chicharito went for the finish, Ashley Cole met him with a lunging, tackle that earned him a yellow card.  Chicharito would have to go off as a result of the tackle which led to post-match complaints from Sir Alex Fergueson.

Chelsea was still fighting to get back in the game when Ramires found Fernando Torres with a beautiful through ball that left the Spaniard with only De Gea to beat.  After deftly rounding the keeper, Fernando Torres went for the finish, but ended up with one of the most shocking misses of the season as the ball ended up with the fans behind De Gea’s goal.  Torres fell to his knees clutching the turf after the miss, shocked that he had been unable to finish, while the jeers of Old Trafford’s faithful washed over the pitch. 

In the dying embers of the match, Wayne Rooney broke through the Chelsea defense with Dimitar Berbatov to his right.  After passing to a wide open Berbatov, with only the wide open goal ahead, last year’s top goalscorer’s weak finish was cleared off the line by Ashley Cole who had hustled back to prevent the goal.  

The match ended a few moments later, and United garnered sole possession of first place.  Manchester United’s early season could seemingly not get any better, winning their first five matches by a combined total of 17 goals.  Chelsea remain in third place, three points behind Manchester City (who drew against Fulham), and five points behind Manchester United.

Nani gets the background today for his wondergoal.

Posted on Monday, September 19, 2011 by Lex

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The opening round of Champions League group stage matches kicked off on Tuesday to sold out stadia and fans watching from all over the world.  There were plenty of goals to be scored and some surprising results to go along with the pageantry and fanfare that we have come to love from the Champions League.

Barcelona vs. AC Milan

It did not take any time for AC Milan to make their presence felt Tuesday night, as Alexandre Pato struck just 25 seconds after the opening whistle at the Camp Nou.  Pato managed to play himself through the Barcelona defense and clear in on goal with a perfectly timed and placed ball, then coolly finish past Victor Valdes.  It was only to be the beginning of a fantastic match between two sides seeking to stake their claims on the top spot of Group H. 

After conceding the initial goal, Barcelona settled into possession and began to do their work to dismantle the Milan defense.  Their efforts appeared to be working, forcing saves from Christian Abbiati from set pieces and open play alike.  In the 36th minute the magic came for Barcelona again from the feet of Lionel Messi who wove his way through Milan’s defenders before delivering a pass to Pedro who finished pasted the sliding Abbiati.

Their dominance continued into the second half, when in the 50th minute David Villa sent a masterfully placed free kick into the back of the net, that only Ray Hudson is capable of accurately describing.  Barcelona enjoyed 75% of the possession for the game and managed to outshoot their opponents by 16, but as the final whistle approached Milan was able to strike again.   From a Clarence Seedorf corner, Thiago Silva rose above Sergio Busquets and headed the equalizer past Valdes.  Despite being dominated in possession, AC Milan was able to secure a draw in their away match in Barcelona. 

Full match highlights are below, but also check out the video following the link.  The Youtube video shows Italian football personality and Milan supporter Tiziano Crudeli’s reactions to the match’s goals, and they are truly something that must be seen.  The man is an absolute character, whose enthusiasm and passion cannot be questioned. 

Chelsea vs. Bayer Leverkusen

Michael Ballack’s return to Stamford Bridge likely made the former German captain wish he was still there, as it saw Ballack’s Leverkusen fall to Chelsea after a hard fought game.  Both sides enjoyed chances throughout the first half with saves being forced and each side having a goal disallowed.  Fernando Torres looked lively and was a more creative player than Chelsea fans have grown used to seeing over the past 9 months.  Daniel Sturridge continued his good form from the weekend and nearly scored on several occasions.

The breakthrough would not come until after halftime when in the 67th minute, David Luiz began a marauding run up the left side.  After laying the ball off to Ashley Cole, he found himself space, where he was met with a return pass from Fernando Torres, which David Luiz fired into the back of the net.  Torres and Chelsea continued their dominant play for the final 20 minutes, and were able to create another goal thanks again to Torres.  Torres rounded Leverkusen defenders and found Juan Mata lurking near the penalty spot, who slotted it home.  The goal is Mata’s second in three appearances so far for the club.

Arsenal vs. Borussia Dortmund

Arsenal’s early season troubles continued on Tuesday during their away day to Dortmund.  They looked like they would be able to hold on to the 1-0 lead, but an Ivan Perisic wondergoal allowed Borussia Dortmund to walk away from the match with a point.  Mikel Arteta excelled in midfield for Arsenal, creating several scoring opportunities for his new club.  The game’s opening goal came in the 42rth minute when Theo Walcott played a through ball in for Robin Van Persie who put it past Roman Weidenfeller.

As the game went on, the Borussians enjoyed more possession and scoring opportunities.  Their scoring chances became increasingly frequent during the game’s closing minutes as Arsenal scrambled to defend the onslaught.  They were finally caught when a free kick was headed clear by Arsenal only to have it fall to the left foot of Ivan Perisic, who volleyed a screamer just inside the right post.  It was a goal and result that the home side deserved as they dominated possession and scoring chances.

Porto vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

The match played in Estadio do Dragao might be one that Shakhtar would soon like to forget as it not only saw their side fall after leading, but have two players receive red cards in the process.  Porto’s first opportunity came in the 10th minute after James Rodriguez was taken down in the box, and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  Hulk stepped up to take the penalty, but hit the left post and was left wanting.  Shakhtar would respond just two minutes later when Luiz Adriano took advantage of a fumbled ball by Porto 
keeper Helton and scored.

The game would be drawn level just under the half hour mark, when Hulk made amends for his penalty miss by crushing a left footed free kick from 35 yards into the net.  A few minutes later Hulk earned shouts for another penalty, but the cries went unanswered.  5 minutes before halftime Shakhtar defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy was sent off for a two footed lunge on Joao Moutinho.  Six minutes after halftime Porto would strike again when James Rodriguez dismantled the left side of the Shakhtar defense before laying a perfect ball onto Kleber for the finish.  Before the game would finish Shakhtar vice-captain Dmytro Chygrynskiy was sent off for his second bookable offense of the match.

Hulk’s screamer along with the others can be seen here:

The Other Matches:

Marseille traveled to Olympiakos and got a 1-0 victory for their troubles:

APOEL proved that they were no pushovers and came back from a goal down to win 2-1 against Zenit St. 

Viktoria Plzen and BATE Borisov played to a 1-1 draw:

Genk and Valencia played to a scoreless draw:

MLS Goal Worth Watching
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder David Chiumiento creates this spectacular goal out of almost nothing:

That’s all for today, I’ll recap today’s matches tomorrow. Tiziano Crudeli gets the background today, because he is epic. 

Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 by Lex

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

UEFA Champions League Group Stage matches kick off today. Besides being inundated with Heineken advertisements, terrible (American) television coverage, and the Champions League anthem inevitably being stuck in my head for days, the Champions league usually produces some of the most entertaining soccer in the world to make the inconveniences worth it.  This season the best teams from around Europe will do their best to stop Barcelona from defending their crown. Today, we’ll take a look at all the groups, the teams and players to watch, and matchups to look for.

Group A

Group A looks to be what most football fans would consider a “Group of Death,” it boasts four talented sides.  Manchester City is currently favored by bookmakers to advance from the group stage and challenge for Champions League victory, and they certainly seem to have the squad ready to do so.  Summer acquisitions of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri to add to the laundry list of superstars at City, clearly show the club’s intentions to claim a place in the final 16, but to do so they’ll have to go through German giants Bayern Munich, the Yellow Submarine Villarreal, and Napoli who may be the 4th seed in the group but are certainly no pushovers.

Bayern Munich will look to Franck Ribery to continue his early season good form and Arjen Robben to produce some of the magic he is capable of.  They will join German strikers Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller in their quest for European glory.  Villarreal qualified as the 4th place finishers in La Liga last season, but they are not a team to be taken lightly.  With captain Marcos Senna returning for his 10th season with the club he will lead the midfield and be joined by new arrival Jonathan de Guzman.  Dangerous Italian-American striker Giuseppe Rossi will be the focal point of the attack for the Yellow Submarine. 

Napoli, will be one of the teams to watch from this group.  With a talented strike force of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Goran Pandev, lethal midfielders Marek Hamsik and Gokhan Inler, as well as the steady leadership of Paolo Cannavaro. Napoli could send Manchester City or Bayern Munich home from the European competition early.  With the level of talent of all the sides involved in this group, any of them could move on, I’d expect Manchester City and Bayern Munich to move on from this group, but would not be shocked if Napoli manages to secure a spot in the Round of 16.

Group B

2010 Champions League winners Inter Milan look poised to win Group B, who will join them in the Roud of 16 is a question that remains to be answered.  Inter returns with most of the squad intact from their Champions League glory; however they will look to replace Samuel Eto’o with the arrival of strikers Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate.  The aging defense is still led by Javier Zanetti, Lucio, and Ivan Cordobo, but they still should be formidable enough and with the help of Wesley Sneijder and Dejan Stankovic the midfield is not lacking for talent either.

CSKA Moscow’s strength lies in their defense, captained by goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and led in defense by twin brothers Aleksei and Vasili Berezutski.  The Russian club who began the trend of Russian clubs splashing cash on foreign players with Brazilian striker Vagner Love, Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda, and Ivoirian midfielder Seydou Doumbia are joined by Russian midfielder Alan Dzagoev who contribute to the Russian Cup winners and Russian Premier League runners up.

Lille may find a hard time of it in this group, but should look to captain Rio Mavuba, superstar Eden Hazard, and defender David Rozehnal to steer their team to success.  Former Chelsea star Joe Cole has set off to Lille in search of regaining his form and Champions League football, he could be quite the impact player for Lille should he rekindle the magic that made him such a spectacular player a few seasons ago.

Turkish Super Lig runners-up Trabzonspor are truly the minnows in this group, but do so in style with new arrivals Marek Cech, Halil Altintop, and Didier Zokora.  Despite these new arrivals, they will still struggle to find points in this group.  My predictions would be that Inter Milan run away with this group, while CSKA Moscow finds themselves in second place and into the round of 16.

Group C

English Premier League champions and Champions League runners up Manchester United need no introduction for football fans.  With Wayne Rooney on a recent tear of goal scoring to go along with Ashley Young, Nani, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Nemanja Vidic, and Rio Ferdinand; Sir Alex Ferdinand should have no problems navigating the Red Devils to another group stage top spot. 

Portuguese Primeira Liga runners up Benfica will face the Red Devils and realistically compete for the group’s second place.  Led by Brazilian defender Luisao and Argentinian midfielder Pablo Aimar and with new arrivals Joan Capdevila and Ezequiel Garay, the strong Portuguese squad should find no trouble against Swiss champions FC Basel and Romanian champions FC Otelul Galati.  Basel is led by Switzerland’s top striker Alexander Frei, while Otelul boasts no players really worth knowing.

This group should be fairly straightforward with Manchester United winning the group easily, followed by Benfica into the knockout stages.

Group D

Real Madrid set out on another campaign for European glory.  Jose Mourinho’s Spanish Super Cup antics have set his team on fire and they are unbeaten in La Liga so far in this early season.  Led by world class players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, and Iker Casillas just to name a few, they should find no problems qualifying in what may be a challenging draw to other sides.

Olympique Lyonnais will likely be competing for the group’s second place with Dutch champions Ajax.  The third place Ligue 1 finishers will be led by the seemingly ageless Brazilian defender Cris is joined by talented midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, Lisandro Lopez, and dangerous striker Bafetimbi Gomis.  They will be joined by the man known as “The Rock of Gibraltar” John Mensah in their campaign to reach the knockout stages. 

Ajax will have to find their way through the group without goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenberg, whose transfer to Roma leaves the Dutch champions with Kenneth Vermeer to don the gloves.  He will be joined by captain Jan Vertonghen, Gregory van der Weil, and Theo Janssen.  Frank de Boer’s side will look to the emerging talents of van der Weil and newly capped Dutchman Siem de Jong to lead their club through the group stage.

Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb boast one of the most intimidating home grounds in European soccer, but the quality of their squad will likely let them down in the Champions League.  A player to watch from this team is Milan Badelj who recently made his debut with the Croatian national side after 54 youth appearances.  Another player to watch will be former Hertha BSC and Hoffenheim defender Josip Simunic who transferred to the club this summer. 

Look for Manchester United and Lyon to pass through to the knockout stages.

Group E

Chelsea has their eyes on Champions League victory once again.  As their golden generation of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba grows older, this may be their last chance together after falling to Manchester United in the 2008 final.  This latest edition of the squad has been bolstered in the summer transfer window with the addition of Juan Mata, Raul Meireles, and Romelu Lukaku and will look to El Nino Fernando Torres to regain the goalscoring form that made him worthy of the £50 million outlay.

Valencia look to have a good chance to move on in the competition.  Long time captain David Albelda will lead a talented squad that also boasts Roberto Soldado, Argentine playmaker Ever Banega, and Mehmet Topal.  Long time Brazilian league footballer Jonas made his debut for the club in January could make an impact for the club.

Michael Ballack would probably like to spoil his former squad Chelsea’s season, but will more likely be competing for the second spot in the group with Valencia.  The Bundesliga runners up have a solid midfield with Ballack, Tranquillo Barnetta, Renato Augusto, and Simon Rolfes to go along with their formidable striker Stefan Kieβling.  Don’t be surprised if they end up qualifying over Valencia.

The Belgian champions Genk are the minnows of the group, but look for some action from talented young Belgians like Anthony Vanden Borre and Kevin de Bruyne to make their presence felt in European football.  De Bruyne was actually targeted by Chelsea in the recent transfer window.

Group F

Despite their recent hardships, Arsenal should still be able to find their way to the top of Group F.  With new signings of Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, and Yossi Benayoun added to the squad of Arshavin, Van Persie, and Thomas Vermaelen they should be able to overcome the early season run of poor form, red cards, suspensions, and injuries. 

Looking to spoil Arsenal’s chances is Olympique de Marseille who finished second in Ligue 1 last season.  This Marseille squad has a good mix of young talent from Loic Remy, Andre Ayew, and Andre-Pierre Gignac to go along with veteran leadership from Lucho Gonzalez, Alou Diarra, and the sure handed Steve Mandanda.  Marseille look poised to take the second spot in the group and challenge for the Ligue 1 title this season.

After winning their 38th Greek league title, Olympiacos has another appearance in the final sixteen as their goal.  The addition of Jean Il Makoun to the squad already consisting of Olof Mellberg, Kevin Mirallas, and Vasilis Torosidis, may their goal may still be slightly out of reach, but they are working in the right direction.

Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund has plenty of young talent as the squad displayed last season, but may lack the overall quality to see themselves through to the later stages.  Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze, both in the Germany squad make up the bulk of that youth talent along with Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.  They are led by experienced veteran captain Sebastian Kehl and goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, who provide the youth with the experienced direction that led the team to victory last season. 

This is an interesting group and if Arsenal continues their poor form look at German champions Borussia Dortmund to claim their place in the knockout stages along with Marseille.

Group G

Unbeaten Portuguese champions Porto will have to do without their manager Andre Villas-Boas after his move to Chelsea and striker Radamel Falcao’s transfer to Athletico Madrid, but they still look to be good value to win Group G.  With striker Hulk leading the attack along with Joao Moutinho and Steven Defour in support, the Dragons probably have little to fear from the other teams in the group.  Stalwart keeper Helton in goal and Alvaro Periera’s marauding runs up the left side will make the Portuguese squad formidable to any side that they face.

Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk seem to have quite a bit of Brazilian flair in their squad.  New signing Alan Patrick joins seven other Brazilians including their vice-captain Fernandinho, Luiz Adriano, and Alex Teixiera.  Captain Darijo Srna is fresh off his UEFA Champions League Team of the Year performance and has his team steering towards the knockout stages again.  Hopefully for Srna and Donetsk they can manage to find their way and a friendlier draw than Barcelona.

Group G teams will have to travel huge distances to cover their away games, Zenit St. Petersburg are one of the away days that many sides fear.  With hard tackler Bruno Alves and Nicolas Lombaerts in defense along with Dominico Criscito and captain Aleksandr Anyukov playing left and right backs respectively, their defense looks dangerous.  Their attack is led by Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Igor Denisov in midfield.  They would do well to challenge Shakhtar for the second place in Group G.

Rounding out Group G is the Cypriot champions APOEL F.C.. They do own a player named Kaka, but he’s not the one you’ve heard of before.

Group H

Lionel Messi and Barcelona have been given a challenge in their group with AC Milan, but the defending La Liga and Champions League winners should still find their way to the top of the group.  Messi, David Villa, and Xavi are just a few of the many world class players on display at Barcelona.  Throughout the tournament, Pep Guardiola’s side will display their precision passing displays and video game score totals.  They have been made tournament favorites for a reason.

AC Milan has a relatively easy path to the knockout stages, aside from Barcelona.  With forward talent like Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining former Champions League winners Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, and Filippo Inzaghi, they have a nice mixture of youthful talent and verteran presence.  Gennaro Gatuso still gives the team everything he has and is one of the fiercest competitors in European football. 

Belorusian champions BATE Borisov and Czech champions FC Viktoria Plzen round out Group H, but neither of them should make any serious challenges for the top to places.

Posted on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 by Lex

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Monday, September 12, 2011

In a weekend filled with excitement around Europe two strikers from Manchester teams earned hat-tricks and keep their winning streaks alive.  The weekend also included the kickoff of Serie A and Barcelona falling behind Real Madrid in La Liga. 

Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic

Sergio Aguero again stole the show for Manchester City, completing a hat-trick that began in the 13th minute on a great run of play after Carlos Tevez dribbled down the left side before passing to David Silva who found Aguero for the finish. A few minutes later David Silva was pulled down in the box and the ref pointed to the penalty spot. Carlos Tevez stepped up to take the penalty, but his effort was weak and easily saved by Ali Al Habsi.  In the 63rd minute Samir Nasri played a perfect ball on to Aguero who scored his second of the day.  Just 6 minutes later Aguero struck again after a David Silva through ball found the Argentinian again.  After the match Aguero remarked that he could be City’s “Maradona”, a bold claim for a man just four matches into his City career, but with six goals to his name so far he looks capable of living up to such claims.  Aguero’s hat-trick can be seen here:

Manchester United vs. Bolton Wanderers

Manchester United came out firing against Bolton and their five goals on the day showed they were clearly the superior team.  Javier Hernandez began the scoring just five minutes into the action, getting onto the end of a Nani cross and flicking it into the goal.  Rooney scored in the 20th, 25th, and 68th minutes to earn his hat-trick.  Since having his hair plugs put in Wayne Rooney has been on an absolute goal scoring tear.  With eight goals so far in his four Premier League games, the English striker is showing the strength of Samson on the ball and confident finishing, obviously due to no longer being folically challenged. Chicharito added a second goal to his tally in the 58th minute, bringing the total to 5-0 in favor of five-star Manchester United.  All of the goals as well as Rooney’s no longer bald spot can be seen here:

Chelsea vs. Sunderland

Chelsea entered the Stadium of Light with their eyes on victory, and was able to see their expectations met in the debut match for new signing Raul Meireles.  Captain John Terry opened the scoring for the match with a strike from the left side of the six yard box 18 minutes into the first half just seconds after Juan Mata’s free kick hit the woodwork.  Daniel Sturridge scored a top drawer goal in the 50th minute after being played in by a beautiful ball from Raul Meireles that split the defense.  Sturridge continued in on goal and finished with a backheel that looked to be the only way past Simon Mingolet.  Nicolas Anelka had several prime opportunities but was turned away by Mingolet and defender Wes Brown.  Ji Dong-Won earned Sunderland a place on the score sheet with a 90th minute goal, but the day was already meant to be for the Blues.  Chelsea maintain their unbeaten record and are currently two points behind the Manchester sides in third place.

Stoke vs. Liverpool

In a matchup between two teams that significantly improved during the summer transfer window, it was Stoke that came out on top to pull themselves into the fourth Premier League spot.  A penalty conceded by Jamie Carragher in the 20th minute led to a 21st minute Jon Walters penalty that was easily converted.  The game continued on to be a tight affair with Stoke playing well defensively, until just after the hour mark when Liverpool were able to unleash 5 shots in twenty seconds, however none of them were able to find their mark.  The match would end 1-0 in favor of Stoke City, and leave many including Liverpool manager Kenny Daglish unhappy with the performance and refereeing.  Highlights can be seen here:

Around the EPL

Arsenal looked unimpressive in their 1-0 win over Swansea:

Aston Villa and Everton played to an entertaining 2-2 draw:

Tottenham rise off the bottom of the table to see off Wolves 2-0 thanks to Adebayor’s debut goal:

Fulham continues to struggle as they sink to the bottom spot with a 1-1 draw against Blackburn:

West Brom earn season’s first win over Norwich.

Today Q.P.R. take on Newcastle, which will see Joey Barton take on his former club.

Over the weekend Sunderland’s Asamoah Gyan completed a loan move to United Arab Emirates club Al Ain.  The move came after Gyan’s rumored moves around Europe fell through.

La Liga

La Liga had a full slate of games that saw Karim Benzema score two goals in a 4-2 Real Madrid win against Getafe:

Barcelona dropped points for the first time this season.  Two early goals were not enough to keep Real Sociedad from storming back to finish the game level at 2-2.

Serie A
Serie A kicked off play after their season opener had been delayed due to a players strike. 

Juventus hammered Parma 4-1 to take the league’s top spot:

Palermo shock Inter Milan 4-3 despite three goals from Diego Milito:

Napoli began their season with a 3-1 win over Cesena:

So far there have been no allegations of match fixing or bribery, but the season is still young.

UEFA Champions League kicks off Tuesday!

Neymar pulled off a Lambretta (rainbow) in his match this weekend against Cruziero:

Sergio Aguero gets the background for his three goal effort and for living up to his Maradona comparison.

Posted on Monday, September 12, 2011 by Lex

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Yesterday was a difficult day for me as a football fan.  The two international sides I support, Northern Ireland and the United States, both suffered defeat at the hands of opponents they were capable of beating.  While Northern Ireland’s defeat means hope of qualifying for Euro 2012 is almost lost, it is coming at what is likely the end of Nigel Worthington’s term as manager.  The United States’ 1-0 defeat against Belgium comes at a critical time early in Jurgen Klinsmann’s campaign, after a debut draw against Mexico; two consecutive defeats have left many asking questions.

For long stretches in the first half the United States lacked possession and scoring opportunities.  While Brek Shea may have been a bright spot for the Americans on the left flank, Clint Dempsey spent most of his time being closed down tightly by the Belgian defense.  Jozy Altidore was subbed at the half after receiving little support, despite holding the ball up well.  Robbie Rogers showed that he is probably not capable of featuring in the USMNT squad, after a poor first half performance where he lacked the quality to play against the superior Belgian midfield.

The furious attacking nature of the first half against Costa Rica yielded no goals for the Americans, while their conservative, gradual attempts at buildup against Belgium yielded the same result.  The quality gap between Costa Rica and Belgium is obvious, but the result of both matches was still 1-0 victories for the opposition.  Belgium’s dominant first half performance saw no goals, with Tim Howard making several nice saves before eventually conceding in the 55th minute on a shot from Nicolas Lombaerts that he should have stopped.  In the 86th minute Maurice Edu headed home a goal from a set piece, but the linesman had raised the flag for offside, marking another occasion when an Edu goal was ruled out. 

The changes made under Klinsmann are just beginning to take effect, but the fact remains that America is lacking quality players to compete against European sides struggling to qualify for Euro 2012.  Despite not featuring Landon Donovan, it is hard to imagine he alone would have made the difference against a Belgian midfield that dominated the United States for long periods of the game.  The squad has looked at times creative and attack minded and at other times disorganized and scrambling to defend. 

Klinsmann has recently come under fire from German player Phillip Lahm whose autobiography highlights the 2006 World Cup where Lahm claims that German players were left to sort out tactics on their own.  Klinsmann’s assistant manager Martin Vasquez is the same as when he managed Bayern Munich.  Klinsmann’s campaign with Bayern came to an abrupt end in April 2009 after they had been eliminated in the Champions League quarterfinals by Barcelona and their qualification through the Bundesliga came into question when the club fell to Schalke. 

American fans that were looking to Klinsmann to give their side a tactical advantage will be disappointed, but Klinsmann’s strengths lie in his ability to affect change across all of American soccer. Klinsmann has spoken at length about the necessity of bringing more quality player’s through the USA’s massive youth soccer programs as well as capping players eligible for America before other countries do.  With this two pronged approach Klinsmann hopes to improve America’s quality over the long term.

The short term is a different story, with the American squad lacking quality in defense, consistency in the midfield, and a dominant striker to lead the attack.  These shortcomings have been highlighted over the past three matches, by opponents of varying quality.  The draw against Mexico provided hope to American fans for the future, while the inability to score against Costa Rica yet thoroughly dominating provided us with frustration.  The result against Belgium is frustrating again, as it saw the USMNT dominated by a squad struggling to catch up to Turkey for the second spot in Group A.  While Klinsmann may be the correct long term solution to America’s problems, he must address the short term with a win against Honduras in a few weeks in order to be taken seriously.

Euro 2012 Qualifiers

Spain sealed their qualification with a 6-0 drubbing of Lichtenstein.  Alvaro Negredo began the scoring with a left footed screamer and Spain never looked back.  Full highlights here:

Holland is now on the brink of qualification after their 2-0 defeat over ten-man Finland. Highlights here:

Northern Ireland saw their qualifying hopes all but dashed as they were handily beaten during their away day to Estonia 4-1.

Scotland kept their narrow qualification hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Lithuania.

Italy played to their typical 1-0 bore win over Slovenia. 

England was able to take a 1-0 win away from their match against lowly Wales thanks to an awful miss by Robbie Earnshaw.

Ireland and Russia played to a tight 0-0 draw, which has inspired today’s background of Richard Dunne’s face being attended to by a physio. Dunne's "lionhearted" performance keep Ireland's qualifying hopes alive.

Goal of the Day
Goes to Evgeniy Zinovyev who scored this incredible overhead kick after a nifty juggling display:

*Correction: Robin van Persie scored 4 goals against San Marino, not 3, but do goals scored against San Marino still count?

Posted on Wednesday, September 07, 2011 by Lex

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

After a long weekend of travel, I finally find myself able to write about Friday’s qualifying matches.

In truth it has taken me this long to overcome Steven Davis’ horror backpass that led to Northern Ireland’s defeat against Serbia.  After being thoroughly dominated for the first half, Northern Ireland were showing signs of breaking through against the Serbs, but Davis’ misplayed ball back to keeper Lee Camp allowed Marko Pantelic to steal in and score the match’s only goal.  The loss sees Northern Ireland fall to 5th in Group C while Serbia has drawn level with Slovenia for the group’s second spot.  Two crucial matches against Estonia will determine Northern Ireland’s qualifying fate along with the job status of manager Nigel Worthington.  The match’s lone goal can be seen here: 

Equally disappointing was the United States Men’s National Team, new manager Jurgen Klinsmann is still searching for his first win.  Their night-time friendly against Costa Rica began with shouts from the crowd, as the USMNT impressed early.  They earned several quality opportunities in the game’s opening minutes; however they were unable to capitalize on these opportunities and as the game went on these opportunities grew increasingly scarce.  Jozy Altidore began his first game under new manager with flair and was vital in the team creating chances, but was unable to find the back of the net.  Rodney Wallace was able to capitalize on one of Costa Rica’s chances, netting the game’s only goal off a diving header after a nice parrying save by Tim Howard.  The Americans were largely wasteful in front of goal and were unable to find the back of the net for the remainder of the game and allowed Costa Rica to walk out of the Home Depot Center with a 1-0 victory. Wallace’s goal and full highlights can be seen here:  

Back in Euro 2012 qualifiers, Italy was victorious against the Faroe Islands, but only managed to score once.  Holland completed an absolute demolition job against San Marino, winning 11-0 behind a hat-trick from Robin Van Persie.  Mesut Ozil netted a hat-trick as Germany dismantled Austria 6-2. England now see themselves on the verge of qualification as they handily defeated Bulgaria behind two goals from Wayne Rooney and Tim Cahill’s first international goal.

Spain and Chile played a testy affair that saw the match end with a scuffle between the two teams.  The South American side jumped out to an early 2-0 lead behind goals from Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas, however it would not be enough as the Spanish giants roared back with goals from Andreas Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.  The closing minutes of the game grew testy as Chile saw Pablo Contreras sent off for a tackle from behind.  The game would see a winner as Alvaro Arbeloa went down in the box after receiving very little contact, but the penalty was awarded.  Fabregas stepped up to take the penalty which was saved but the ball bounced directly back to Fabregas who was able to coolly slot the ball home for the game’s winner. The match highlights can be seen here: The scuffle during the closing seconds can be seen here:

Scotland saw their Euro 2012 qualifying chances sunk as a result of poor refereeing in a match Saturday against the Czech Republic. Kenny Miller's opening goal was pegged back a few minutes later by Jaroslav Plasil.  Darren Fletcher looked to have the match won in the 83rd minute after putting home a cross from Kenny Miller, but Jan Rezak's dive in the penalty area earned his country a spot kick which Michal Kadlec converted.  The controversy continued as Scotland's shouts for a penalty went unheeded despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  

Ronaldinho also made a return appearance in the Brazil squad during their 1-0 victory over Ghana. 

Arsenal’s Injury Woes Continue:

Arsenal has two more injuries to add to the list of Arsene Wenger’s worries as Jack Wilshere will be out at least two to three months with a foot injury.  The Gunners will also be without centerback Thomas Vermaelen after heel surgery will sideline the Belgian defender for at least two months.

Tuesday’s Matches:

While there is a round of CONCACAF qualifiers taking place, the United States will face off against Belgium in an international friendly.  The match will serve as a great opportunity for America to show its worth against a team that is expected to qualify for Euro 2012.  Klinsmann will be eager to get his first win as well as manage his first match in which American superstar Clint Dempsey will play.  Dempsey missed Friday’s match, undergoing treatment for back spasms. 

Ireland will take on Russia after a boring 0-0 draw against Slovakia in Group B’s biggest match.  Group C has a slate of important games as Italy take on Slovenia, Northern Ireland take on Estonia, and Serbia take on the Faroe Islands.  Group D has France taking on Romania and Belarus taking on Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Group E will have the Netherlands playing Finland while England will take on lowly Wales in Group G.  Denmark and Norway will face off in Group H while Group I will have Scotland see Lithuania and Spain take on Lichtenstein. 

Tuesday’s Results

With matches taking place all over the globe on Tuesday, Argentina faced Nigeria in a friendly with their newly announced captain Lionel Messi.  Messi was able to recover from an early collision to feed Gonzalo Higuain who scored the first of two first half goals that gave Argentina an early 2-0 lead.  The captain also had his hand in the second goal after forcing a save from Aiyenugba, who parried into the path of Angel di Maria for the second.  The Super Eagles were able to peg one back from Chinedu Ogbuke just after halftime, but Uwa Echiejile’s own goal extended the Argentine’s lead to 3-1 twenty minutes into the second half.  The game would finish that way with Lionel Messi ending the day with two assists.  Highlights here:

Best goal of the weekend goes to Coleraine's Johnny Black who scored from within his own half:

Brave John Terry gets the background for leading England through the hostile Bulgarian crowd to victory. The demonic gaze is no more.  

Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2011 by Lex

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