….and we’re back on track with our weekend preview pieces. Unfortunately, our Gooch Watch has been suspended indefinitely….and actually now longer than we thought, putting his World Cup campaign in jeopardy.
While TSG has conceded that we have some depth here (Marshall, Goodson, even Parkhurst and Spector in a pinch though not Califf please), losing Gooch is like losing the 3rd guy in a pitching rotation that eats up innings. You know he’ll be mostly solid with an off day here and there, but you’ve got that place in the rotation covered and you can worry about other things.
A speedy recovery to Onyewu who was the defense in our Cup trip-clinching game in Honduras.
Before we start, a quick interjection here. After my brother criticized my photo selection last week saying, “This is soccer, not NASA, old man,” I’ve decided to feature the most wonderous (or cheesy if you prefer) “soccer globe” picture in this column each week. Feel free to send me suggestions and I’ll post them on Mark’s Facebook wall.
English Premier League
We start of course in the EPL, where the very top of the table is starting to look a lot like last season. Liverpool challenged to compete early on, Chelsea hitting a speed bump on their flying start and Manchester United starting to round into form just a little earlier than last year.
• In terms of Chelsea, where last year opponents started solved their offensive scheme of throwing Bosingwa and Cole up the pitch and shut the Blues down, this year teams are learning that if you focus on shutting down the strike tandem, their offense is stymied. And this is where Carlo Ancelotti has proven himself more than the equal of Phil Scholari. To create some more offense up the pitch last Saturday, Ancelotti deployed Deco immediately behind Anelka-Drogba to solid results–look for more of that this week and a big victory as Chelsea host Blackburn Saturday at Stamford Bridge.
Oh and a footnote on Scolari. Seems the Brazilian manager is set to get canned again this year. Something tells me it’s the players from Brazil, not the coaches who make the magic beautiful game happen.
• Lest we forget, it’s Villa again on the S-Pen. ESPN after a barn burner last week between Chelsea and Villa have the Villians on the early schedule again. Only this time it’s against lowly Wolverhampton. No need to get to bed early for that one.
We predict a Brad Friedel start and a Friedel shut down. To put Friedel’s dominance in perspective, the elder US statesman has helped lead Martin O’Neill’s club to their best EPL start ever and the best defensive start of this year’s EPL campaign with just seven goals conceded. That’s all the more amazing considering the Villians have already faced Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
C’mon Brad at least consider coming out of retirement for a Natties player-coach role? We’ll give you a voodoo Kasey Keller doll.
• Looking for a start for Jozy? Well you may actually get your wish Saturday as Hull, fresh off their Fulham loss, invite Portsmouth to
their cage. Hull couldn’t get anything done against Fulham’s tight defense on Monday, but JZA did have some chances later in the game. Enough to earn a start? We’d actually say yes.
If not, JZA will be doing most of his play and goal celebrations online.
• As we’ve been saying in a few columns, you’re going to want to watch Stoke City a few times before November 18th. Stoke keeper Thomas Sorenson is, in our opinion, one of the best and also likely to be starting for Denmark when the USMNT takes the pitch in November. This week Stoke battles top four squad Tottenham who even without the red-carded Jermaine Defoe, (I mean, if England isn’t seriously considering Defoe in their starting squad, they should) pack quite an offensive punch in Keane, Crouch and Lennon.
Let’s go out on a limb and predict the following offensive line for Tottenham against Sorenson: 13 shots, 7 on goal, 1 (max 2) score(s) and 3 phenomenal saves from Sorenson.
• If it has to rain this weekend, well then pick Sunday, because that day hosts your two “premiere” English games: Manchester City vs. Fulham and the big one: Liverpool hosting Manchester United.
• We’ll start with the undercard, the Citizens vs. the Dempseys, also the Small Bar sleeper match.
»Manchester City have put themselves in quite a position this year to make that hyperbolic run at the top-4. With 2 victories, 2 draws and only one defeat (at the last minute (of afterward) against Manchester United), Man City is really doing the hard work to challenge for a Champion’s Cup berth. That’s quite a bit of consistency for a team that was assembled over the summer.
» Despite a horrible travel record, Fulham aren’t fretting. Fresh off a near historic win over Roma in the Europa Cup, Texan Brede Hangeland was certain in his commentary that “no one, no team gives him sleepless nights” as the Cottagers travel to offensive juggernaut City. Will that bulletin board fodder charge up the Citizens or will Hangeland back up his words?
In fact, look at that specific match-up to be the fulcrum of the game. How do Fulham’s back four of Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky and Pantsil deal with the continual onslaught and forechecking of Tevez, Adebayor and Bellamy. Focus on that.
Both teams are in form, so at this point, no prediction for me. Last time I predicted a Fulham win they barely sniffed the goal at home against Arsenal.
» Fulham, who were absent fellow Texan Clint Dempsey against Roma, should see the Deuce return for this one. The USMNTer is on record previously stating that he and Fulham are fully focused on the EPL campaign not the Europa Cup. (Note, I wish I could find the quote, I know it happened. Trust me.)
• In the title bout and Small Bar feature match, the Reds takes on the Red Devils and and a whole host of storylines here.
» Foremostly, the Reds will be without injured skipper Steven Gerrard, who seems to always pick up knocks in the beginning of the campaign so he’s fresh towards the end. Only this year, the ‘Pools are a little lower in the table than they’d like to be. The Devils are likely without Wayne Rooney, who have come of age as the focal point role of Fergie’s attack. While both players will be missed, and despite the headlines to the contrary especially on the Reds side, both teams have the depth to still stand toe-to-toe with each other.
» Watch Fernando Torres. Torres, who got swallowed up a few weeks ago by the Chelsea defense, is going to hear from a few folks (including
yours truly) if he doesn’t factor in the middle in this one against Vidic and company. In fairness, the Spaniard is coming back from an injury. That being said, it’s games like this where superstars step up.
» For our part, I’d like to see Torres bookended by the underrated Dirk Kuyt on one side and David Ngog on the other to open up the middle. While many would probably favor the more talented but uneven play from Ryan Babel, I just don’t trust the Dutch forward to be game for the task when introduced early on. Ngog may not be the right answer, but there is your depth question for Liverpool.
»The difference makers in this one beyond Vidic-Torres match-up? I’d like to see Benayoun and Riera on the wings in the second line with Benayoun slashing inside and Riera taking it up the wings. On Man U’s side, I think in Rooney’s absence, you really need to see Berbatov start earning his payday and also let’s go with Patrice Evra at leftback. Can Evra contain Glen Johnson who should be fit and providing fits of overlapping up the wing and can he, in turn, counterattack effectively against GJ’s runs and make Liverpool pay.
Disclaimer — I’m not sure Riera starts for the Reds.
» Oh, and there is also the little matter of prodigal son Michael Owen’s return in the hated AIG jersey. Might we see a replication of the Man City winner from the oft-injured striker?
Sadly, my first Rosseneri preview comes after Gooch is out of the 18. Any coincidence on Wednesday that Milan knocked in three and won away at Real Madrid with Felipe Inzaghi off the pitch? I don’t think so. With Inzaghi on the pitch, the opposite team is usually forced to lay back just a little bit for Inzaghi’s tempt-the-offsides-official runs. In his absense, Milan can counter more strategically rather than Pippo just running down balls against big defenders–I think that’s how you saw Pato sneak in for his 88th min goal. Seedorf playing well didn’t hurt either.
Milan take on mid-table Chievo Verona on Sunday — let’s see if they continue their dominant play and put together a run of victories.
As we talked about some weeks back, this is the year that Pato joins the talk of world’s best footballers, apologies, soccer players.
I don’t usually do too much commentary on the MLS, but I must admit hearing the fans here on their MLS teams has gotten me into it in
advance of their playoffs. I won’t do any game breakdowns, because I don’t feel I’m well versed yet, but I’m going to be watching the LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes game. I’ve actually seen the Galaxy play the Quakes a number of times up here in the Bay Area and they always play them tough at home.
Sadly I will be watching to see for these three reasons:
To see what David “Dennis Rodman” Beckham does next. Is this guy with his beards and aggressive yellow cards not just crying out for attention?
To see if my 2007 campaign to get Edson Buddle a look at the national team level has completely fallen by the wayside. Cue the laughter and insults coming my way.
And finally to spend a little bit more time looking at Omar Gonzalez, or at least enough to give up my sorrows over Brede Hangeland. Plus, we need someone who we can nickname “Gonzo” on the USMNT.
A community note: Andrew Laing from the Bay Area will be in attendance at the San Jose-LA game. Why is this important? Laing emailed us to let us know…well we’ll let him tell you:
“I’m trying to start up a San Francisco/Bay Area chapter of the American Outlaws, and was wondering if you could slip it into your site somewhere (in a post, comment, what not) since I’ve noticed that there are quite a few readers from the area. If you can, tell them to email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info, I’m just collecting names right now and only started today but we’re up to almost 20, and I’d like to submit our application for chapter-dom by the end of next week.”
You got it Andrew. Enjoy the game.
Other random notes
› Can we get a new name for the CONCACAF Champion’s League. There is only one Champion’s League, right?
More notes to follow….