Thursday, September 20, 2012


Replacing a legend is no easy task.  When that legend is Didier Drogba, who left the club on the highest of high notes, that task can be viewed as near impossible.  During yesterday’s clash between Chelsea and Juventus, Oscar declared himself up to the challenge.


After Oscar was awarded the #11 shirt vacated by Drogba, some Chelsea fans questioned whether he was worthy of living up to the expectations associated with it.  Oscar put on a fantastic display during the Olympic Games, with fantastic distribution and a lethal scoring touch.  The question remained whether he would be able to perform at the highest levels of European football.

Oscar’s first appearances as a Chelsea player came as a substitute. After being a capable replacement for Eden Hazard in Chelsea’s Premier League opener against Wigan, he was decidedly more involved in their second match against Reading.  Oscar entered the pitch in the 57th minute for his fellow countryman Ramires.  He was effective, but uninvolved in the final two goals of Chelsea’s 4-2 victory.  The questions Chelsea fans were asking went unanswered in the squad’s disappointing performance against Athletico Madrid in the European Super Cup. 

Those questions were answered last night when Roberto Di Matteo chose Oscar in his starting XI for his Champions League debut.  Oscar’s evening began with a powered shot from outside the area that deflected into the goal, earning his first goal for Chelsea.  Two minutes later Oscar’s genius revealed itself again.


After accepting a pass in the crowded space outside the penalty area, Oscar created space with a deft touch that evaded Andrea Pirlo.  Following that touch, Oscar thumped a curling shot that Gianluigi Buffon could not stop.  The wonder strike entered the top corner of the net sending Stamford Bridge into a roaring ovation.  The two strikes earned Oscar Man of the Match honors as well as the respect of the legendary Buffon who said “I won’t say it’s nice to concede a goal, but it’s nice to be a part of a goal like that, compliments for him.”


The evening did not end as spectacularly for the Brazilian as it had begun.  Chelsea squandered the 2-0 lead that he had earned them thanks to goals from Arturo Vidal and Fabio Quagliarella.  Oscar’s substitution was forced following a late stomping challenge from Leonardo Bonucci, which angered manager Roberto Di Matteo.  Following the match, Oscar commented that he would have been happier with a win. 


Oscar’s emergence is the latest in Chelsea’s development which has seen the squad become younger with a decidedly Brazilian influence.  Oscar is now the fourth Brazilian player bought in recent years, and since joining David Luiz, Lucas Piazon, and Ramires he has blended in well.  Oscar has been assisted by Lucas Piazon who has translated questions and responses for Oscar during interviews.  He appears to have good relationships with the lovable geezer David Luiz and fellow newcomer Eden Hazard. 

The Chelsea kit’s first star was earned by Drogba and the Old Guard, it is now up to this generation of talents to earn the next.  If Oscar and Hazard continue performing as they have, they could be able to add a second.

Posted on Thursday, September 20, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arsenal

Arsenal has had a difficult start to their campaign, with consecutive goalless draws against Sunderland and Stoke before two impressive victories over Liverpool and Southampton.  After looking toothless in attack for the first two matches, they exploded for 8 goals in the next two matches, which forces many to question which Arsenal side will show up for Champions League nights.  Under the guidance of Arsene Wenger, the club has recently decided to splash the cash on German striker Lukas Podolski and former Montpelier striker Olivier Giroud.  Their capture of Santi Cazorla also looks to be paying early dividends, which comes as a surprise to some who expected the club to suffer with the departure of captain Robin Van Persie.


The new additions up front an in midfield are welcome additions, but the back four still raises a few questions among Gunners fans.  Can the young Carl Jenkinson step up in the center of defense where others have spectacularly failed? Can Wenger's squad cope with Per Mertesacker's lack of speed? Will Vermaelen and Koscielny step up when called upon? These are the questions that Arsenal fans have been asking that will need to be answered if they hope to challenge for the Champions League title.  Arsenal should be good enough to advance out of this group, advancing through the knockout stages will be a story for a later date.

Montpellier

2011-12 saw Montpellier crowned as champions of Ligue 1 for the first time in their club's history.  This surprising result came in large part to Ligue 1 leading scorer Olivier Giroud.  Giroud has since left Montpellier for greener pastures in London, and his absence means the club will have to look elsewhere for leadership.  Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will provide that leadership from the central defender position where he will also wear the captain's armband.  After helping the club climb from Ligue 2 to the top of Ligue 1, Yanga-Mbiwa would love to see his club through to the knockout stages of this tournament.


Yanga-Mbiwa will be accompanied in defense by the experienced 35 year old Brazilian Hilton.  The club will look to replace Giroud's goals with some from John Utaka, newly arrived striker Anthony Mounier, and veteran striker Souleymane Camara.  The midfield is where the club could face difficulty against the skilled opposition from Arsenal and Schalke 04.  The midfield is led by Younes Belhanda, Marco Estrada, and Jamel Saihi, Anthony Marveaux with all of them featuring for multiple seasons with the La Paillade.  Qualification may be a little out of reach for their first Champions League campaign, but Montpellier will be eager to show the world what they can do.

Olympiakos

After winning their 2nd consecutive and 39th overall Greek League title in 2012, Olympiakos returns to the Champions League where they have the honors of being the away match that all teams and match announcers fear.  Vasilis Torosidis returns to captain the Reds from his fullback position and will be joined by his vice captain Avraam Papadopoulos, both will look to continue their string of good performances from the early season and summer's Euro 2012.  Their efforts will be joined by journeyman Northern Irish keeper Roy Caroll who secured his status as a club legend last year for a heroic penalty save with his first touch in his debut, followed by multiple saves with an injury during matches against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.


Argentinian Ariel Ibagaza and David Fuster will lead the midfield, while questions remain surrounding Ioannis Fetfatzidis.  Fetfatzidis' has not been given a chance to shine despite playing well in preseason and training matches, reminding many fans and pundits of a similar treatment received from the club by Schalke's Kyriakos Papodopoulos.  If he emerges as the talent some think he is, Olympiakos home matches could be much more difficult that opponents have bargained for.  Rafik Djebbour will feature up front for Olympiakos and he looks to improve on his already impressive goal totals for the club along with aging veteran striker Marko Pantelic.

Schalke 04

After being absent from the 2011-12 campaign, Schalke looks to return to the tournament led by a skilled youthful defense complimented by the ruthless goalscoring of Klaas Jan Huntelaar.  After a lackluster Euro 2012 campaign, Huntelaar has a lot to prove to detractors, and he has gotten underway with 2 goals in the Bundesliga campaign through the first two matches.  That youthful defense is led by captain Benedikt Howedes and Greek star Kyriakos Papadopoulos.  The duo are accompanied by the experienced Christoph Metzelder, who has lended his steady influence since re-signing for the club where he played his youth football.


The Miner's midfield improved greatly over the summer with the addition of Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay.  The Dutch midfielder will be accompanied by fellow newcomer Tranquillo Barnetta who joined the club this summer with the desire to play Champions League football.  American midfielder Jermaine Jones and Lucky Lewis Holtby round out the solid midfield for the German club.  Jefferson Farfan rounds out what looks like a solid starting eleven, lending his experience to the squad that is no stranger to this competition.  It may be a difficult task, but Schalke 04 could repeat their 2010 accomplishments and win this group should Arsenal slip up.

Predictions:

This group looks pretty straightforward with Arsenal and Schalke going through.  Olympiakos will look to take advantage with the added travel and hositle crowds, but lack the quality to upset Schalke and Arsenal.  Montpellier, without the services of Giroud, will find it very hard in this group.

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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FC Porto

At first glance, Porto appears to be a club in transition. Two seasons removed from the departure of Andre Villas-Boas and just several weeks removed from the transfer of superstars Axel Witzel and Hulk, Porto’s domestic campaign has begun splendidly, with them sitting at the top of the table along with rivals Benfica.  However, they have yet to play a match without the services of Hulk and it will be interesting to see if they will be able to cope without the big Brazilian.


Porto’s strength lies in their midfield.  Joao Moutinho leads the way along with James Rodriguez and Lucho Gonzalez.  This talented trio is able to boss Portugal’s Primeira Liga, but they will find themselves up against much stiffer competition in Group A.  Colombia’s Jackson Martinez seeks to fill the void created by Hulk’s departure, but the club will need another striker to step up in addition.  Whether that role will be taken up by Brazil’s Kleber or Portugal’s Silvestre Varela is yet to be seen.  Porto’s defense is slightly above average featuring Alex Sandro, Nicolas Otamendi, the other Maicon, and former Santos star Danilo.  They are anchored by longtime goaltender Helton, who provides a steady influence from within the area.  Overall, Porto has a strong side that should be enough to see them through to the knockout stages.

Dinamo Zagreb

The representatives from Croatia seek to play spoiler in this group that will likely be very difficult for them to advance from.  They are captained by their hero goalkeeper Ivan Kelava, who nearly kept a clean sheet against Real Madrid last season, but is better remembered by Zagreb fans for single handedly saving them from defeat last season against Malmo in the Playoff return leg.  The rest of the squad is a mixture of youth and potential along with a steady veteran influence.  25 year old vice-captain Sammir is one of those veteran influences, boasting over 150 CAPs and 45 goals for the club since 2007.


Stalwart Croatian defenser, Josip Simunic anchors the defense along with Luiz Ibanez.  Their midfield may frequently be overrun by superior opponents, but longtime midfielder Adrian Calello will look to avoid that along with Sammir and Bryan Carrasco.  Zagreb lacks depth at striker, but newcomer Duje Cop could surprise some opposing defenses.  Qualification for the knockout stages seems out of the realm of possibilities, but strange things happen every season.

FC Dynamo Kiev

Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev look to advance to the knockout stages through the difficult Group A, to do so they will have to rely on their experienced midfield of Tottenham outcast Niko Kranjcar, the talented young Andriy Yarmolenko, and Portuguese veteran Miguel Veloso.  Marco Ruben, Ideye Brown, and Artem Milevskiy are all skilled strikers, with Milevskiy possessing technical quality to go along with his considerable size which has made him a considerable nuisance for opposing defenses for over a decade with the club.


Taye Taiwo has joined the defense on a loan from AC Milan this season.  He will be joining Brazilian defender Betao during his upcoming 100th CAP for the club later this evening along with fellow Brazilians Danilo Silva and Leandro Almeida.  If the club is able to get a result from either of their matches against PSG, they will greatly improve their chances of advancing to the next round.

Paris Saint Germain

This summer transfer window featured numerous giant signing for the Qatari owned club.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva arrived in record setting deals from AC Milan, and were soon joined by Napoli striker Ezequiel Lavezzi just a few weeks later.  The trio was also joined by Dutch fullback Gregory Van der Weil and Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, with Brazilian phenomenon Lucas Moura joining the club in January.  After spending nearly €150 million in the summer transfer window, the new owners are surely eager to capitalize with Champions League success.


The early stages of the 2012-13 campaign have not gone as planned, with PSG suffering through three consecutive draws to begin the Ligue 1 season.  They have since been able to rebound with wins against Lille and Toulouse, but they will have to keep up their winning streak to meet expectation.  The new arrivals were added to an existing formidable squad featuring Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta, Kevin Gamiero, Alex, and Jeremy Menez just to mention a few.  Despite their slow start, the clubs immense quality will be on display for the world to see throughout this tournament. This team shouldn’t be having any trouble qualifying for the knockout stages, and once they do if the team gels properly they could have an outside shot at winning it.

Predictions:
Dynamo Kiev may put up a good fight for qualification, I see PSG and Porto advancing out of this group into the knockout stages.  

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Monday, September 10, 2012


Sunday morning, the sound of crackling bacon and the smell of coffee brewing accompany the tones of the NFL Today pregame show.  A smile glued to my face, I am incapable of any other expression and it isn’t because the bacon and eggs are almost ready.  This Sunday morning is a little more exciting than the others, that’s because it is the best day of the year.

As far as unofficial holidays go, the first Sunday of the NFL season is at the top of the list.  Better than Maddenoliday, MLB Opening Day, Festivus, Transfer Deadline Day, and certainly Black Friday, NFL Opening Day provides fans with almost 12 hours of constant excitement and entertainment.  Right from the opening kickoff fans can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of football, if you throw in the responsibilities of tracking your fantasy teams and pick-em selections, the opening day can get a little hectic after 9 months of waiting.

After a hearty breakfast, I settled into watch the afternoon’s slate of games, something that has been made infinitely more enjoyable over the past couple seasons thanks to array of tools consisting of, streams of every NFL game, ESPN Fantasy Tracker, Twitter, Facebook, and the Pro Football Radio Live app meaning you never have to miss a second of the games you want to catch.  To be honest, if you are near a computer with internet access, there is no longer an excuse not to see every minute of any game that you want to see. There is no greater time to be a football fan than right now. 


Yesterday we saw the Jets offense explode for 48 points after the starting unit failed to score a single touchdown during preseason.  Robert Griffin III stunned the Saints in the Super Dome, already showing some of the magic that the Redskins sought when they traded 3 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick in order to draft him.  Finally, the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to earn a win against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers after losing their final 10 games of last season.

Much to the chagrin of the city of Pittsburgh, Peyton Manning returned to the NFL barely missing a beat.  The Sunday night game nearly had the full attention of the city, with Darren Rovell estimating that 70% of all televisions in the city were tuned to the matchup in Denver.  The City of Champions has an unparalleled commitment to the Steelers, but their team was let down after giving up scores on three consecutive drives of 80 yards or more.  This uncharacteristically lax defense can be attributed to many factors including the Peyton Manning no-huddle offense, the absence of Ryan Clark and James Harrison, or possibly the altitude of Mile High.  The Steelers loss has the city feeling somber this morning, unsure if it is because of the Steelers loss or lack of sleep. 

Stuff Worth Seeing:

Trent Richardson was held in check for most of the game by the Eagles defense, but he did deliver this devastating truck stick to Kurt Coleman:

David Akers tied an NFL record long 63 yard field goal with this effort late in the first half against Green Bay:

Peyton Manning's 400th NFL TD Pass:


Depending on how your weekend went, you might be combing through the waiver wire looking for a few new additions going in to Week 2. To give you some help, I’ll throw out three players that should be available on your league’s waiver wire after Week 1.

Stephen Hill – WR – NYJ – Hill snagged two TD receptions on Sunday afternoon in his first NFL game against the Bills.  While he will probably not continue this blistering pace, Mark Sanchez needs a big possession receiver to replace the red zone production of Plaxico Burress from last season, so far Hill looks the be the man to fill that void. 

Alfred Morris – RB – WAS – The running back situation in Washington has been a giant question mark throughout preseason, but on opening day Morris stood out ahead of the rest of the pack. Going undrafted in most leagues, Morris should be available in most leagues.  If his 28 carries on opening day are any indication, Morris is certainly worth the waiver wire pickup as he looks to be the workhorse back in Washington.

Mark Sanchez – QB – NYJ – The oft maligned Jets quarterback had a field day against the Buffalo Bills defense. While you probably don’t want to make him your starter for his Week 2 matchup against the Steelers, he would make for a competent backup if you play the matchups the right way.  Going undrafted in most leagues, with his backup Tim Tebow drafting considerably higher, Sanchez is definitely an option in deep QB leagues. 

While these pickups are not sure starters every week, if you play the matchups correctly, they could be great value going forward into the heart of your regular season schedule.

It was a good weekend for Sweatpants Picks, going 4-0 so far, with only the Chargers -1 keeping me from a perfect week.  Should be some exciting Monday night football with Bengals vs. Ravens and Chargers vs. Raiders on the ticket for tonight.

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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