Whew, a lot of USMNT and associated coverage this week. Now to global affairs.
What a difference a week can make.
After chatting up both West Ham and Chelsea in last week’s weekend EPL previews, both teams looked the worse for wear falling by scores of 3-1. Fulham didn’t get a victory or even a draw against Arsenal anad while we thought Hull were facing some serious Liverpool firepower last Saturday, I don’t think we thought 6-1 was in the offing.
And, of course, the biggest news for this column last week. There was a Gooch sighting. Perhaps more incredulous was that Onyewu was the 3rd substitute as Milan languished at 1-0 in a Champion’s League affair that most had penciled in already. Milan needed a goal, not more defense. Perhaps they were resigned to defeat?
Let’s go spanning the globe starting with the EPL:
• It’s Tottenham. It’s Bolton. And it’s ESPN getting arguably a better game to kick off the weekend. This game is more intriguing then it might appear at first blush. The home side Bolton are essentially the Dallas Mavericks of the EPL. They’ll be competent each year, always provide a good showing, yet you know they will never challenge for top spots.
I’m really intrigued by Tottenham (Simmons? Simmons?) and here’s why. Last year, tons of hype was lavished on Hotspur making the top four, however they let the Dimitar Berbatov (more later on him) transfer saga consume their preseason causing a ruckus and then came out completely disorganized for the season with a coach who tried to adapt the Spanish game to the English game with all the wrong motor parts. The London club dropped below the relegation zone; they were both a punchline and a tragedy.
In comes Harry Rednapp from Portsmouth, undersells his players (his statement that Tottenham needed much more talent to compete), gets them playing and they finish the season strong. Well Rednapp and Tottenham are right in the thick of last year’s expectations this season, sitting in 4th right now and to me they are showing the signs of a team that is on its way to serious top four contention status.
While Man City is the popular pick to excise one of the quadrumvirate (yes, that is a real word) of Chelsea, Man U, ‘Pool and Arsenal, Tottenham is going through the growing pains of improving team play.
After key playmaker Luka Modric went down a few games ago, Tottenham struggled for the last two games and finally righted themselves against Burnley at home with four Keane shots. A mature team wouldn’t have needed two games to fix themselves.
Now this week, in the key plot line for me, Tottenham is missing more: central defender Ledley King and top scorer Jermaine “I found the gym” Defoe, with Modric still shelved. If Tottenham can come away with a win or draw on the road, it speaks volumes–to me–for the progression of their team. A two goal loss? Well then I see a longer timeline to serious QUADRUMVIRATE contention.
• Later in the day Manchester United face Sunderland, who finally found the fountain of scoring last Sunday against Wolverhampton. While the storyline of the week might be Michael Owen’s injury departure against Wolfsburg in Champion’s action, Man U fans should be excited to see the scorn of Tottenham Berbatov finally starting to making a little hay. A goal last week and a fairly productive Champion’s League game (not to mention a little more evident passion in his demeanor on the field) should hopefully be enough for the maligned striker to begin asserting himself on a more regular basis. Don’t think the Bulgarian doesn’t know time is of the essence.
Plus, you have to love manager Alex Ferguson’s mental coercing of star Wayne Rooney. In much the same way that Sir Alex rode Ronaldo to stardom by continually challenging the forward, he’s doing so with Rooney calling for his star striker to provide more effort and results on the way to being mentioned with the top global footballers. By challenging him Ferguson is both anointing Rooney and making sure his team knows who the offensive focus is.
Not that Ferguson has a choice mind you, beyond Rooney you have the 35-year-old media darling Ryan Giggs as the next most consistent offensive threat.
While Man U might be in first, there is no way they can get through a full season at the top of the league with the elder Giggs as their main copilot on offense. You have to believe that Man U will make a play for another offensive threat in the January transfer window, with the continuing saga of Frank Ribery (who was particularly nasty in Bayern’s Juventus draw in Champ’s action this week) sure to be re-ignited.
Seriously Man U fans, doesn’t all this vintage Giggs press kind of scare you? You went from Ronaldo and designs on Ribery or even DavidVilla over the summer to Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen? This is the biggest propaganda job since Mourinho was ordered to pump up Schevchenko for a starting striker role at Stamford Bridge.
• In other news, Saturday will also see the following snoozers of Hull-Wigan, Burnley-Birmingham, and Wolverhamption-Portsmouth. I’ll be on Jozy watch for those games and that’s about it. Well, I guess, I’ll be wanting to see if Portsmouth players even take the field as apparently they are all missing their last paycheck.
• Thankfully, the EPL plays both days and Sunday’s got arguably more interesting match-ups, leading with Chelsea at home against Liverpool.
Go back two weeks ago and you’d have prognosticators discussing how Liverpool might be able to eek out a draw. However, with a thrashing of Hull City by the Reds and Chelsea’s malaise against Wigan and the side’s-name-I-can-remember on Wednesday, now you have the makings of a more formidable match-up–especially with Hilario as oppose to Cech covering the net for Chelsea.
Here’s some questions for this one?
How will Didier Drogba,who got stood up to by Titus Bramble of all people last Saturday, react with Garragher and company draped all over him. Time for Drogba to step up against better competition.
On the reverse side, you’ll have multi-talented Fernando Torres terrorizing the Blues defense. If I’m Torres, I’m figure-eighting around the middle of the pitch and taking my shots against Ricardo “I detest contact” Carvalho and John “I hope no one seems how far my agility has fallen” Terry. Dare I say that Chelsea’s central defense, exploited last week, should be a concern? Reputation only takes you so far.
This match might see the battle of which attacking wing fullback can be more involved further up the pitch: Ashley Cole for Chelsea and Glen Johnson for Liverpool who will square off on the same flank–check out that match-up. Both players have been sensational in the early going, indeed Liverpool needed the “Cole” dynamic when they signed Johnson earlier this year and are reaping the benefits. This will probably come down to the activity of the middies in front of these guys providing pressure and tracking back, so who do you favor Lucas for the Reds or Malouda for the Blues? After two years under his belt in the EPL, I go with Malouda.
• In watching Arsenal battle the Cottagers last week, I couldn’t help but think of the vaunted midfield of the Emirates Unbeatables (Gilberto and Vieira) when looking at Arsenal’s Song and Diaby in the middle. The new pairing are extremely talented, but also extremely inconsistent. As their management of possession went last week, so went the Arsenal attack.
Wenger and Arsenal have pretty much everything else working as they take on Blackburn. The longest tenured manager has Rosicky and Walcott back to combine with Nasri and Arshavin in rotating the outside forward and mid roles. He’s got Cesc healthy and back to man the middle with Van Persie coming on up top. Dare we say that next season, if Wenger can hold on to Fabregas and starting rotating in some fresh wingfulls then Arsenal could be ready for another run at invincibility just as Jack Wilshire is being talked about like a young Wayne Rooney? You heard it here.
As for the Sunday game, look for Arsenal to handle Blackburn. About the only thing to watch is whether Andrey Arshavin plays like he went clubbing the night before or runs hard on some home-cooked kielbasa and perogies and a good knight’s sleep.
• My side Everton take on Stoke on Sunday and I’m still not “feeling” this Everton win streak.
A 1-0 mark against “Pottymouth” last Sunday was not confidence inspiring. Everton, in my opinion, will need more time to figure for the defense to work in harmony, but Everton are missing from the quarterback in the middle of the pitch. I just don’t see it on the roster. They got strikers, forwards (the best is yet to come from Fellaini) and team-first players like Cahill and Neville (currently injured) in the midfield, but they need their Cesc or Lampard to dictate play. I just don’t see that guy on the roster right now. Maybe Fellaini can track back and provide possession, but I don’t think that should be his role.
Everton should knock down Stoke, but hopefully they’ll define their offensive flow a little more.
• It’s the Spectors vs. the Dempseys on Sunday as well. After my applause of West Ham last week, they better take it to Dempsey, Johnson and company on Sunday. If it doesn’t happen, might be a long season for the Hammers.
Outside the EPL
USMNT call-up Kenny Cooper Kenny Cooper and TSV 1860 Munich challenge near the top of the table St. Pauli. What a good way to make another statement if Coope can tally on the scoresheet in an away game against a top squad.