28 March 2006

Odds and ends

1. What did I say about Fabregas winning the midfield battle? I win at prediction. Maybe -- stranger things have happened on return legs than overturning a 2-0 deficit. Arsenal are looking more and more like this year's Liverpool, though. Sketchy domestic form, needing to perform in the Champions League to keep their best player around, in a "rebuilding year." The parallels are right there, and I'm sure everyone will be sick of them by mid-April. But for now, fun!

2. If only I had a spare $800 . . .

3. Everyone hates Chelsea, part 432. I don't know if I've seen public opinion turn against a team so quickly -- this time last year, everyone adored Mourinho. It's hard to talk smack about Chelsea without sounding bitter if you're a Liverpool fan, but it's getting easier and easier. All the money in the world can't buy class, or even interesting gameplay. (What's with all the handballs these days? It seems like there's one every game.)

4. I've heard some people recently arguing that Kevin Nolan should get an England callup. Now, I have nothing against Nolan. I can't; he's a good Scouser. However, he plays for Bolton. That alone means Sven won't call him up. Even if that weren't the case, England don't need another central midfielder. They're having enough problems these days figuring out how to get Gerrard and Lampard to work together. There's no way they need to add another guy into that mix. Especially not one that even his supporters admit isn't on the same level as the midfield pair we have now. If you want to take a backup midfielder, it should clearly be Scott Parker instead. He's the best thing about Newcastle these days, and he can actually, you know. Score goals.

5. I just got my tickets for US/Jamaica. I'm really excited about going to that, even if my newly-discovered Associative Property of Soccer means that the US is going to get killed by Italy this summer. It's really easy: Germany beat the US 4-1. Italy beat Germany 4-1. Therefore, Italy will beat the USA by a score of 8-2. Simple, elegant, and endlessly amusing.

24 March 2006

Wheaties, a short play, and handicapping the CL.

That's the only solution for what's going on with Liverpool these days. From barely scoring since the New Year, they've now won their last three games by a combined score of 15-2. I guess Wheaties aren't the only solution; Rafa might be threatening the strikers with sale to Spurs if they don't score more often. (As far as that sale, I fully support it. This drought they just got out of would never have happened if we had a reliable goalscorer in the first place. I would also support a sale of Morientes, but 1) they couldn't get as much for him, 2) it's better to dump a Houllier signing, 3) Rafa likes the Spaniards.) Anyway, even though it's not against the most quality opposition -- 3-1 to Newcastle, 7-0 to Birmingham -- I'll definitely take it. I just hope it holds out for a month or so, since we have, inevitably, been drawn against Chelsea in the FA cup semis. I've really gotten tired of the Chelsea/Liverpool games; I mean, I know they have to happen twice a season, but this will be the fifth time, when you add in the Champions League games. I could probably write out the buildup at this point.

JOSE: *insults Rafa, mentions "goal that never was," which is now eleven months old*
RAFA: *refuses to engage Jose, retreats to charmingly-accented platitudes*
JOSE: I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!
GAME: *is boring*
DRAMA: *ensues*

And really? I'm over it.

Okay, I promised Champions League commentary, and since the games start Tuesday (yay!), now's as good a time as any. I don't know how much stock y'all should take in my predictions, since I finished a sparkling 5-for-8 in the Round of 16. But that's never stopped me before -- exhibit A, my March Madness bracket -- so I don't know why it'd stop me now. Um. Anyway, here we go!

Benfica/Barcelona -- This draw makes me kinda happy that Liverpool completely sucked against Benfica, because we would've gotten slaughtered by Barcelona. Benfica's shown a bit of giant-killer spirit this year, but I don't think that it'll hold out against the runaway leaders of La Liga. I mean, I love Liverpool, but they're not really on the same level. I'm pretty sure Barca have been the favorites to win since August, so I'm gonna go with the tide and call this for Barcelona.

Arsenal/Juventus -- Oh, geez. This all comes down to whether Arsenal are this year's Liverpool or not. If they are, then they win this and go on to defeat the favorites in the most dramatic manner possible. If they're not, then Juve wins, and I cry a little bit. Arsenal have really been on a roll since beating Real last round, so they could probably pull off the upset here. However, Juve are even better than they were at this stage last season, and who knows what weird psychological effect Vieira's return will have. (On a purely personal level, I'd like to see Cesc Fabregas win that battle, just because I love the wee Spanish Muppet.) My rational side says Juve have this, but my heart's with Arsenal, and I think the momentum's for them right now, so what the hell. Arsenal.

Internazionale/Villarreal -- Ew, ew, ew. As the most casual Milan fan ever, I don't like Inter. However, I can't help but feeling like they've got more of a right to be in the quarters than Villarreal. (I don't really know what that means, but the league tables bear me out. Inter's contending for second, but Villareal are seventh.) I don't see Villarreal being strong enough to hold out over both legs. I don't like it, but I'm going with Inter.

Milan/Lyon -- See, this is the bad side of Inter/Villarreal, since a team I like gets knocked out in this tie. Lyon's still kicking ass all over the French league, and while I admit that's not the most difficult task, it's still pretty impressive. Milan are still contending for second place in Serie A, but they haven't been convincing for a while now. This is exactly what I said about them before they beat up on Bayern in the last round, though, so they seem to take joy in proving me wrong. Lyon beat PSV by a pretty lopsided score, too, however. And like I said all along, Lyon's gonna win it all. So I'm predicting Lyon.

Finally, in schadenfreude of the week: Bruce Arena admits playing Germany was a mistake. Too bad you couldn't have called that before they slaughtered you 4-1. Fifth in the world?

17 March 2006


Oh, that's where my team went. They were just . . . hiding? Napping? I don't know, but I'm glad they've decided to come back. I'd like to see this momentum stick around till the end of the season, too; I mean, not every game can be 5-1, but most of the toughest games are done -- they've played Arsenal, Chelsea, and Man U already, so I think the biggest test remaining is probably Bolton (and in terms of grudge matches, Everton). Now it really just comes down to waiting for Man U to slip up so we can maybe snatch second. I'm glad to see Fowler finally get his first goal; he's been unlucky with a couple of those offside calls. Pressure's on for Cisse, now, though, since he's the only striker who didn't score on Wednesday. I mean, I think he's gone in May anyway, but he's still floating around the periphery of the French national side. And in purely selfish terms, I want him to score a lot, so he'll get more money when they sell him to bring in Michael Owen. Not enough that we have to keep him around, but you know. Enough that we can get back some of the 14 million Houllier paid for him. (14 million? And we couldn't buy Owen last summer why?)

In other good Liverpool news, Rafa Benitez is sticking around. I was vaguely worried that he'd be leaving in the summer, since they're out of the CL. But, as my con law prof said, "smart rats leave the ship," they don't hop on while it's sinking. Rafa's a smart rat, and Real's still pretty much a sinking ship. I'm kind of realizing that he'll probably go there eventually, but I'm glad it won't be for awhile. The turnaround that's already happened at Liverpool since his arrival is amazing, and I really want them to be serious title contenders next season. We'll have to buy well, be lucky, and put a voodoo curse on John Terry to do it, but it's a lot more likely with Rafa staying then if he left.

And it's about damn time, FIFA. Maybe now clubs will start policing their fans a bit more -- you'd think they would've wanted to long before this, since being notorious racists isn't really the best PR. (Exhibit A: Lazio.) I don't know how willing the national FAs are going to be to effect this, since they're the ones refusing to impose bigger fines as is. At least it's a step, though, and a pretty big one. I guess once Rio Ferdinand calls you out, you've reached rock bottom. I mean, who wants to get faced by a guy who shows up to training on his day off and "forgets" drug tests? Certainly not Sepp Blatter. And for once, good for him. (Yes, I know FIFA and UEFA are completely different. However, the problem is the same, and FIFA's action pre-empts UEFA.)

Finally, hi to Du Nord! Thanks for the link! His Michael Ballack Watch feature is hilarious. Everyone should go read.

I suppose I should pay some attention to the Champions League, huh? Well, Ajax duly made me look foolish, like I thought they would. Which leaves some pretty interesting ties in the quarterfinals, that I'm not going to talk about here. This post is long enough already. (That's called a cliffhanger.)

13 March 2006

Worst week ever.

If anyone was wondering, I did survive Liverpool's crashing out of the Champions League. I wasn't happy about it, but I made it through. And actually, I'm doing pretty well on my predictions: five-for-seven so far. I was just wrong about Liverpool and Milan. (And honestly, I'll probably be wrong about Inter. I've accepted that.) I'm throwing my support to Lyon (dark horses) and Arsenal (last English team).

As far as the Arsenal game, they deserved the win. I wish it hadn't come from another of Steven's mishit backpasses, but they played better than Liverpool. Xabi didn't deserve that red, though; everyone was falling over on the pitch, and he just had bad luck in colliding with Flamini in the process. Also, shut up, Senderos. Okay, that's Liverpool's Week in Review. Knocked out of the CL, lose to Arsenal. Next week, someone runs over the mascot.

So, onto positive notes. First, everyone hates Jose Mourinho now. Second, Liverpool lasted in the Champions League longer than 1) Everton, 2) Manchester United, and 3) Chelsea. Third, we are still in the FA Cup. It's not quite as shiny as the Champions League, but you know. Still shinier than the Carling Cup. Dude, after this last week? I have to find positives wherever I can.

05 March 2006

Denial/link/first game ever!

Again, I am not talking about Liverpool/Charlton. Mostly because I haven't seen the game, but also because as Deadspin put it, "the Reds couldn’t score with a homeless hooker if they had a pocketful of cash." It's true, and it upsets me, since we have to get two on Wednesday if we want to avoid going out ignominiously in the Champions League round of 16. (That will be known after Tuesday as "pulling a Chelsea." Just to keep y'all up on the new slang.) So I'm just not thinking about it, because my basketball team lost, and this has been a bad enough sports weekend for me.

In other news, say hello to Goalscoring Robot, a new blog and a friend of mine. She's an Arsenal fan, but I like her anyway. And she's slowly realizing how much Chelsea suck, which is a lot of fun to watch.

Finally, I am going to my first real match! I'm going to watch the USMNT beat up on poor little Jamaica. I'm going to try really really hard to not openly mock them while I'm there -- I feel this will be easier to do without Dave O'Brien babbling over the action about the keeper's "shutouts" and telling me about Dempsey's burgeoning rap career. Because, really. Shut up.

01 March 2006

I love international breaks.

A great international day for me, since all three of my teams pulled out wins. The Spain and England ones weren't as solid as I'd like, but hey. Meaningless friendlies, a good break from the Premiership, and the World Cup exactly 100 days away.

England 2 - Uruguay 1. I hereby take back everything I've said about Joe Cole. (His website, though, does give me pause.) And there's Peter Crouch's first international goal! I was skeptical about him early on, but he's come back to form recently. I think he's definitely earned a spot at the World Cup. (Discussion question of the night: what does Sven have against Jamie Carragher?) I only listened to this game, and didn't see it live, but it sounded like a pretty good game overall, though I'm a bit concerned that playing at Anfield made England similarly unable to convert easy chances. I was impressed by Carrick, though not as much by Bent.

Best moment of the game: compare the numbers on Crouch's shirt here and here. And these are the people we're trusting to find the new England manager?

Spain 3 - Ivory Coast 2. OK, Spain is my secondary team, and I'm happy they won, but this is really an excuse to talk about how much I love Xabi Alonso. The Liverpool-City game, he had a copiously bleeding head wound, got 10 stitches for it, and then tried to come back on. The ref was all, "Dude, you're still bleeding, no." He got back in for about five or ten minutes, but had blurry vision, and did I mention TEN STITCHES? It was awesome. And then he and Garcia give this interview today, and I love them both even more.

USA 1 - Poland 0. I won't lie, I kinda wanted this one to go the other way. My brief love affair with the USMNT may be over. Those PANTS on McBride. Jesus. I do have to respect both those teams for playing through a snowstorm. By the time that game ended, the field was completely white. It was beautiful, but must've sucked for them. However, I had to watch the second half on mute, because the commentators are godawful. Three notes:

1. Every time you say "well-defensed," an English major cries. That English major is me.
2. Keepers are not "in the nets." Nor do they have "shutouts." They keep clean sheets, and they are between the posts. I know you just came over from some other sport, but honestly.
3. Find a better way of saying there haven't been any goals yet than "nothing-nothing." I understand nil-nil sounds silly when you're an American, but still. I could accept zero-zero.