26 February 2006

Oh, America.

Well, Firefox just decided I didn't really want to talk about Liverpool-City or the Carling Cup final after all. So, instead I'll just go on with my real point, which is this.

I may be coming around on the US Men's National Team, all due to this ad. I don't know -- I have a bad reaction to relentless "you must support this team!" boosterism, which is what's really put me off the USMNT in the past. That, and the lack of a catchy nickname. I mean, how do you even pronounce USMNT? It's no "Indomitable Lions," that's for sure. Hell, it's not even "Azurri" or "Three Lions." Anyway. That ad somehow struck the right tone, and I may end up penciling them in as my third-favorite team this summer. (That's all I'm willing to grant right now -- England's still my team, and Spain's basically Liverpool, so I have to support them.)

Though, one thing. The ad says something like, "let England mock." Well, one, that's what the British press does. Y'all think you've got it rough, try being Argentina or Germany. Two, they specifically mock you because their B-team kicked your ass on your home field. So, you know. That kind of deserves some mockery. I mean, gloat about your FIFA ranking all you want, but head-to-head? You lose.

25 February 2006

Premiership notes, February 25

What the hell, Sven? You do realize that the only reason Rio's playing there for Man U is that they have no midfield to speak of, don't you? Steven Gerrard's played as a striker before, too -- clearly, let's start him up front! Gah. Just because a player can play well out of his preferred position doesn't prove anything. Ferdinand's clearly a defender, and I don't think the solution to our midfield issues is adding in another player to the mix. Especially when England can USE HIM IN HIS REAL POSITION. I mean, with Sol Campbell's continuing issues, who else are you going to partner John Terry with?

Well, OK, Jamie Carragher's the clear choice. But pretend you're Sven, and inexplicably hate Carra. Judging by this decision, you'd put Peter Crouch into the defense. It's not like we have a glut of good defenders and need to shoehorn Ferdinand into the squad. He has a position he prefers and is better in. I don't know why playing him in midfield is even on the table as an option. Just because Sir Alex does something doesn't make it a good idea -- would you have bought Eric Djemba-Djemba?

For the record, my preferred midfield is Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Ledley King, and Steven Gerrard out on the right flank. He's been playing there a lot for Liverpool, and that's almost become his preferred position. Since you can't drop Beckham without causing a national crisis, though, I'd settle for Cole, Lampard, Gerrard, and Beckham. You would just have to lock Lampard and Gerrard in a room together until they figured out how to allocate the attacking and holding roles. (And install a video camera in the room. I'd pay for that footage.)

Speaking of what the hell -- Arsenal. I'm actually pulling for them in the Champions League, so it's strange to see them return so quickly to their awful away form in the league. (Won just three? Really, boys?) This does give credence to the "Arsenal are the new Liverpool" theory, though. Arsenal will, however, have to do it without my assistance -- in the form of lucky socks and undaunted pessimism -- that got Liverpool through the Champions League campaign. Sorry.

21 February 2006

The Chaaaaaaaaaampions, Part Two

OK, first of all, I thought we'd show up for the Champions League. Instead, we rest Gerrard over a "dead leg," even though he was training yesterday. And then we play Morientes. The hell. The Arsenal game was on a big-screen TV at the law school -- there was a little cadre of us gathered in front of it watching the game. I had just said I was a Liverpool fan, and then that little ticker ran across with "Liverpool 0 - Benfica 1." I may or may not have sworn out loud. At least it's just one goal, and not away. I'm coping.

Anyway. Back to handicapping the Round of Sixteen.

Chelsea/Barcelona -- See, I'm really not sure about this one. Chelsea have the knack of playing like shit and still winning games, while Barca are infinitely more entertaining, but have been in the middle of a little hiccup recently. The buildup to this one's been as dramatic as ever, this time centering around the condition of Chelsea's pitch. I don't know if that'll have affected the mood going into the game. (If people were smart, they'd just ignore every word that comes out of Jose Mourinho's mouth, but that doesn't seem to be a popular option for some reason.) I don't really know how to call this one, so I'll go with my instinct. Thus, Chelsea play very badly and draw at home, but can't hold on away. Therefore Barcelona win it. (In an ideal world, it'd be 5-0 losses both legs, but we can't get what we want.)

Rangers/Villareal -- Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the luckiest teams in the tournament. Villarreal are only here because of Man U's total implosion in the group stage, and Rangers benefited from a fairly easy qualifying group on the way in. I don't really care about these; either way, a team that really shouldn't be here gets a free pass to the quarters. I think I'm going with Villarreal here, though I really have no basis for that judgment other than that their nickname is "The Yellow Submarine" and that amuses me.

Werder Bremen/Juventus -- This should really be a walk for Juve. They've got Serie A all but sewn up, and they were one of the first teams to qualify for the knockout rounds. Bremen have little, if any, experience in Europe, and that may start to tell here. I don't really care for Juve, but I don't really see them not winning this one, and handily. So, as you may have guess, I think Juventus are going to win this.

Ajax/Internazionale -- Right. This is one I'm not interested in at all, really. I've never been able to care much about Inter, and Ajax have a great history in this competition, but haven't lived up to that heritage recently. (As a Liverpool fan, I have carte blanche to point out when other teams are underachievers.) I feel strongly that every good cup competition needs one upset, and since Bayern winning that tie wouldn't be an upset, I'm randomly deciding that this is the upset. So, that means Ajax win. (You may also refer to this as the prediction most likely to make me look like an idiot.)

Finally, a really interesting article on homophobia, sports, and what really happens in the dressing rooms. I'm not sure that I agree with him, but he definitely raises some interesting issues.

20 February 2006

The Chaaaaaaaaaaaampions! (Part One)

Oh, y'all, I am so excited. The Champions League starts up again tomorrow! This is my favorite competition in the entire season. (I mean, the World Cup's awesome, but that's only once every four years. The Champions League is every year!) And, yes, before you say it, I liked it best even before Liverpool won it all last season. That just added to my love. So tomorrow kicks off the round of 16 -- there should be a less awkward name for that -- and because I want to make myself look like a fool, I'm going to predict the winners of these ties.

Bayern Munich/AC Milan -- Yeah, this is one of the ones I don't know much about. I've never followed the Bundesliga, and I only vaguely keep up with Serie A. Milan had a struggle in qualifying for the knockout round, and they've not been setting the world afire in their domestic league; yeah, they beat Juve, but they aren't consistent enough to challenge for the title seriously. At least they're ahead of Inter now. Still, though, I'm going with Munich, since their domestic form is better, and I think they're due.

Benfica/Liverpool -- OK, we lucked out with this one. Liverpool's really come a long way from where they were this time last season, without a lot of injury trouble and some good off-season buys. (Robbie Fowler -- what else do you need?) Benfica, on the other hand, are struggling in the league this season. However, as we learned last year, domestic form is no indicator of European form -- also, Liverpool are still in the FA Cup. We've already played more matches than a lot of teams will all season, what with the colossal waste that was the World Club Championship. Tiredness may be a factor, but I think we'll show up for the Champions League, since you know. Defending champions and all. Additionally, Benfica finished second in the weakest qualifying group. I'm saying Liverpool to take this one, but we'll be tested in the next round.

Real Madrid/Arsenal -- You could call this tie the Twilight of the Invincibles, really. Both of these teams have really been struggling this season; as it stands now, Arsenal would have to win it all to be back in the Champions League next year. Real were in a similar situation earlier on. Finishing second in the group didn't help their confidence, and neither did losing their manager. However, since then, they seem to be turning things around. Arsenal, on the other hand? They're coming off a loss to Liverpool, and still haven't figured out a good way to cope with losing Vieira. Despite that, I think they might be the dark horse this time. They have everything to play for, and nothing to lose -- it's all but certain that they have to stay in the Champions League in order to keep Henry around next year. They may lose the first game, but hopefully they'll get some people back from injury in time to pull this one out. (Also, I hate Real, ever since they totally screwed over Michael Owen.) For all these reasons, I'm saying Arsenal, on away goals.

PSV Eindhoven/Olympique Lyonnais -- Remember how I said I didn't know much about Milan/Munich? I know even less about this one. Except both these teams are consistently in the latter stages of this competition; they met in the quarterfinals last season, when PSV needed away goals to advance. After that, Milan needed away goals to beat them in the semis. Lyon's running rampant over Ligue 1, and even Gerard Houllier hasn't been able to halt their momentum. Similarly, PSV's five points clear of Feyenoord in their domestic league. So you could really call this one the battle of the secondary league-leaders. (I didn't say it was catchy.) I don't really prefer one team over the other, but Lyon's been my dark-horse pick to win it all since the first game, so I'm saying Lyon.

The other ties I'll predict tomorrow, since this entry's long enough already. Man, I'm so happy this competition's back. If only I could watch it live -- stupid job interview/Property class.

18 February 2006

Glory, glory, Man . . . who?

THAT is what I'm talking about, boys.

I mean, I'd prefer another goal or two, but right now I am not picky. We're in the quarterfinals! And it's . . . well, not sad, because better Liverpool than Man U. But I don't have anything really against Man U. (except Gary Neville. What a douche.) This has just not been a good season for them -- incredibly early exit from the Champions League, some shocking Premiership performances, and now this? I mean, considering they don't really have a midfield and they're still likely to finish in the top three, it's not too awful. Their golden generation's just aged up now, and a lot of the younger players haven't fully stepped up. I think it'll come with time, and maybe a new manager.

Even so, these things remain true:

1. I would trade any of our strikers for one like Ruud van Nistelrooy. Not him, because I think he's a diver, but I'd kill to have that kind of consistency up front.

2. I'm still cheering for Wigan in the Carling Cup final. I don't think they'll get it, because Man U will really want something shiny to show for this season. Wigan, by contrast, are kinda in that "just happy to be here" mood. (But then, I thought Liverpool were out of it when Xabi got injured, so what do I know?) I'll predict Man U to win it, but I'd kinda be happy to be proved wrong.

15 February 2006

My answer? Steven Gerrard or John Terry.

OK, I may have discovered the secret to Liverpool winning. I slept through the Wigan match (forgot to check, and it was the early one), and I was stuck in a makeup Property class, with no laptop allowed, during the Arsenal match. Since they won both of those, I have to conclude that I can no longer follow the GameCast if I want my team to win. (In the alternative, we could get our strikers firing again, and I could follow my boys live. But for now, we'll go with not following the game as the key. This has the benefit of not making me get up for a 7:30 game on Saturday.)

Speaking of that game, I'm not going to jinx us. Man U's form has been a lot better than ours has recently, and they also have the advantage of being out of the Champions League and not having to play in the World Club Championship or make up those games in hand. (Also, Footie Girl would like to point out that Man U's strikers can actually score.) However, we'll really want to win this, since it's the only chance of domestic silverware we've got. Also, we're bitter about the last-second undeserved loss in the Premiership. Or maybe that's just me who's bitter. Damn Rio.

Speaking of bitter? I present Pepe Reina. And I really can't blame him -- it's only natural to want your former team to do well, especially playing a hated team like Chelsea. (I hesitate to call them our rivals, because historically? As if.) Reina has more reason for bitterness than the rest of Liverpool, since Robben's ridiculous dive cost him three games. I can't go as far as hoping that Liverpool draw Barcelona in the next round, though -- either Reina knows something I don't about Barca's dip in form recently, or he thinks we actually have strikers. Either way, my draw preference is definitely the winner of Rangers/Villarreal. Luckiest teams in the world.

Discussion question: which Premiership footballer would you most like to switch bodies with for a day, and why?

11 February 2006

International notes.

I'm ignoring Liverpool after that defeat to Charlton. Losing to Man U and Chelsea, I can understand. Losing to Charlton comes under the category of moral failing, and as such, I am mad at the entire team. Especially our alleged strikers.

I should really stop laughing every time these ads for the World Cup say "the US national team is a strong contender." Yeah, a strong contender to go three-and-out, maybe.

I've been watching History of Soccer over the past couple of months (what can I say? I'm a slow Netflixer.) Tonight, I watched disc 3, which was about the South American game. Now, Brazil is my longest-running soccer hatred, so I refuse to warm up to them in the slighest. They're practically guaranteed to win in Germany, which would really go against my preferential option for underachievers (Spain, England, Liverpool). And, ok. I fully admit Kaka is insanely talented and pretty, and Ronaldinho's just ridiculous. But as a whole? I hate Brazil, and will cheer for anyone who's playing against them.

Oddly, though, the documentary made me like Argentina, which is a weird feeling for an England fan. I think maybe I've been conflating Argentina with Maradona too much -- I loathe Maradona. Always have. I don't care what sort of gloss you try to put on it: he cheated, and he lied about it for nearly 20 years. Also, there's the whole thing where he failed a drug test and was ejected from the 1994 World Cup. Hate him, always will, can't argue me out of it. Argentina, though, sort of grew on me over the course of the DVD. I mean, they've got a good history, and they're not Brazil, which is a point in their favor. So, World Cup resolution: try to warm up to Argentina. I can't like only European teams. All bets are off if they meet England in the knockout stages, though.

(And now I have US/Japan on in the background, and damn. Japan defends corners even worse than Liverpool -- maybe try marking players? OK, now they scored. Go Japan!)

05 February 2006

Yes, I am the boss of Liverpool.

Well, the run of good form couldn't last forever, I guess. 1-1 against Birmingham, who scored through a Xabi Alonso own-goal. Today, we followed that up with 2-0 at Chelsea, and Reina getting sent off. I don't know why we're looking so unconvincing all of a sudden, but these two games have really pointed out major areas we need to work on. In order:

1. ATTACK. You could see this as early as the World Club Championship against Sao Paulo, where we had all the chances and a ton of corners, and just couldn't convert any of them. We've consistently had more shots and more shots on target, even against Chelsea, but none of that matters unless you can finish them off. We don't have a consistent scorer: Cisse has pace, but has been a dreadful finisher recently; Crouch is in one of his dry spells again; Morientes still doesn't look comfortable in the Premiership; and Fowler's not as close to match-fit as we'd like and has lost whatever pace he once possessed. This has been a problem for us all season, and even back last year. At this point, I would trade any two of our strikers for one consistent goalscorer. (This is why I wanted us to buy Michael Owen back in August, but alas.) When your leading scorer is a midfielder, you've clearly got problems. This leads nicely into my next point, which is:

2. Steven Gerrard cannot do everything. God love him, he'll try to do everything, but it's just not possible. You can't say anything against his heart or commitment to the club, which is great to see after the will-he-won't-he drama of last season, and midfield is clearly the club's strongest area right now, but still. We need a bit more depth and versatility -- when Steven's not playing, we just look off-balance. Garcia's got some of the attacking flair, but his defense is not there, while Sissoko and Alonso aren't as strong going forward. Kewell's edging back to his old form but not there yet, either. I just fear so much what would happen to our season were Gerrard to pick up a long-term injury. He's almost to twenty goals for the season, and the heart of the team in a lot of ways. It's easy to depend on him, since he's been so incredible this season, but you just have to look at Arsenal this season to see what happens to one-man teams when that man isn't playing.

3. Defense of set pieces. This was shown most clearly in the Chelsea game today -- they are KNOWN for their skill at corners, especially John Terry. So what do we do? Leave him open to give Gallas the assist and their first goal. Great idea! I would say our crap defending of these recently has been because we're trying to train new defenders, but neither of them played today. I've never been completely sold on zonal marking anyway, and if the team still doesn't have it down at this point, maybe it's time to try something new. Set pieces should be the easiest things to defend from, since teams tend to do the same things over and over again. We've got to stop giving up these cheap goals, since our defense is generally strong otherwise.

Also, I feel I should say something about Reina today. I love him, and I disapprove of unnecessary violence on the pitch. I also disapprove of getting red cards that can rule you out of crucial games (hi, Arsenal!). However, I think you could make a case that Robben needs his ass kicked a little bit. Smug bastard. I mean, today I hate everyone who has ever played for Chelsea or cheered for them in any way, but him in particular. (Also, he's a total whiner, a diver, and a drama queen. Rafa said it better than I could.)

Um, yay Steelers? If you graphed levels of interest in the Super Bowl from one to ten, I would be at about a negative six.

01 February 2006


For the record? Michael Owen agrees with me that Group C is the 2006 Group of Death. (That's Argentina, Holland, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Ivory Coast.)

Why does this matter? Shut up, American press. That's why. I'd take playing Italy over playing Argentina any day of the week. Doesn't mean I think the US have a chance in hell of getting out of their group, though. They play in the easiest international conference and occasionally thrash European Under-16 sides. They still aren't as good as they think they are.