Spanning The Weekend Soccer Globe: January 2013, Week 1

by Roma FC & coffee bean expert Eric Giardini

With a new year, we’ve decided to bring a new feature bring back an old one. While it’s easy to know which matches are going on in the Premier League each week, it can be difficult to know what other matches are going on around the continent (for now) and around the world. That’s where I step in – to be your guide and shed some light on these other matches.

Unfortunately, I’ve picked a slow week with many leagues either on winter break (Germany, France, Netherlands) or playing Cup matches. That being said, let’s start in England.

Liam Neeson, Cystal Palace Super Fan

Liam Neeson, Cystal Palace Super Fan

England

Who: Crystal Palace v Stoke City

What: FA Cup, Third Round

Where: Selhurst Park

When: January 5, 10:00am ET

Low Down: While there are a few other Championship sides hosting their EPL “betters” in Third Round FA Cup action, this one could very well be the one with the biggest chance of an upset. Will Stoke City get …. Taken? (Yeah, I know).

Crystal Palace has been the surprise team of the season as it enters this weekend in 3rd place in the Championship trailing only Cardiff City and Hull City. They’ve turned Selhurst Park into a fortress (cliché alert) by losing only once in 13 matches – with that loss coming on the first match day of the season on August 18. Since then they are unbeaten and have scored a league best 33 goals at home and 16 conceded. The Eagles rely heavily on striker Glenn Murray who has scored a ridiculous 22 goals in 22 matches, which, coincidentally also leads the league in scoring. The other player to watch out for is Wilfred Zaha. Zaha, who made his full England debut in November against Sweden, has been a heavily sought after player this transfer window with Manchester United and Arsenal fighting it out for his services.

Stoke come into the match sitting in the very Stoke-like position of 10th. Before their 3-0 defeat to Manchester City on New Year’s Day, the Potters were on a 10 match unbeaten streak ending back to November and they will be hoping to get back to those ways ahead of next weekend’s match against Chelsea. The big news out of Stoke-on-Trent is the new five-and-a-half-year contract with captain Ryan Shawcross – the biggest in club history. Manager Tony Pulis has also hinted that Michael Owen may see action this weekend as he looks to get the unhappy striker minutes while resting players for the aforementioned Chelsea match. With Stoke City still in the hunt for a European spot, however, improbable, I wouldn’t be surprised to see players rested for the second half of the league season.

How does a pedestrian La Liga player come in and just slam the EPL? Think about it.

How does a pedestrian La Liga player come in and just slam the EPL? Think about it.

Who: Swansea City v Arsenal

What: FA Cup, Third Round

Where: Liberty Stadium

When: January 6, 8:30am ET

Low Down: Back on December 1, Swansea City went to the Emirates and left with a 2-0 victory behind two very late Michu goals. Now Arsenal travel to Wales and hope to exact a bit of revenge in this FA Cup tie. In typical Arsenal fashion, they are left for dead by everyone only to turn things around and right the ship. Following that loss, Arsenal is unbeaten in the league and scoring goals for fun (5 against Reading, 7 against Newcastle). Everything up top is running through Theo Walcott who leads the club in both goals and assists and his recent hat-trick performance led to the Arsenal faithful to serenade both him and whoever in the Arsenal Front Office that was listening with chants of “Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up, Sign Him Uuuuup.” Please, Arsenal, listen to them. With the Gunners being currently in 6th place, and a seemingly insurmountable 18 points behind Manchester United, and a tricky Round of 16 affair with Bayern Munich in the Champions League, this FA Cup run appears to be Arsenal’s best chance at winning silverware since…it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten. Expect Arsene Wenger to put out a strong side for this one.

The Swans come into this match on the heels of a last gasp draw their last time out against Aston Villa at the Liberty Stadium. While their recent form as steady (4-4-2 in their last 10 league matches), Swansea City goes where Michu takes them. Michael Laudrup and company got what appears to be the steal of the summer with Michu who has earned his first call up for Spain’s February 6 friendly against Uruguay with his 13 league goals so far this season. Troubling; however, for Swansea City, appears to be their home record. Three wins out of 11 is what could be the downfall for The Swans both this weekend and in their surprise run for Europe. Also, a trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday for the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final against Chelsea is also on the horizon and may play a factor on Swansea’s squad selection.

Xavi passing chart from last weekend...

Xavi passing chart from last weekend…

Spain

Who: Barcelona v Espanyol

What: La Liga

Where: Camp Nou

When: January 6, 1:00pm ET

Low Down: Yes, I realize Espanyol sits in the relegation zone. And yes, Barcelona is easily on its way to another La Liga title to put in the Camp Nou trophy case. Finally, yes, I can read your mind in asking why you should care about this match. You can either look at this in one of two ways. First, it’s a matchup of the two Catalan clubs in Spain. Granted, this derby means a heck of a lot more to Espanyol than it does to Barcelona, it is still a chance for the “other” Barcelona-based club to show that they can play too. Besides, they need the points. Badly. A decent run of form since December, unbeaten including a draw away to Real Madrid, has seen Espanyol creep closer to safety but they are by no means safe. Interesting to CONCACAF followers, this little spike in form coincides with former Mexico boss Javier Aguirre taking over on November 28. Yes, the same Aguirre who kicked Panamanian player Ricardo Phillips in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2009. So who knows, maybe he does us all a favor and kicks Dani Alves. I’m kidding.

We all know Barcelona. We know who they have and what they can do. It will be interesting to see who lines up next to Leo Messi in attack for Barcelona. Both David Villa and Alexis Sanchez have both been rumored out (Villa to a host of teams, including Tottenham. Sanchez linked to a move back to Italy with Juventus). I don’t seen anything happening before Sunday but whoever is out there next to Messi at the opening kick may be more likely to stick around. Speaking of Messi, 91 goals in 2012 was great and all but this is 2013. Here’s his first chance to go for 92.

Italy

Let's give it up for a man involved in Roma's new stadium and a TSG reader ... and writer ... maybe? .. Congrats on the Roma deal Josh.

Let’s give it up for a man involved in Roma’s new stadium and a TSG reader … and writer … maybe? .. Congrats on the Roma deal Josh.

Who: Napoli v Roma

What: Serie A

Where: San Paolo

When: January 6, 2:45pm ET

Low Down: My penchant for Roma has not been a secret here at TSG. That being said, that is not why I specifically chose this match out of the others occurring in Italy. I chose it because this, the Derby del Sol, is the best of the bunch. Fresh off winter break, Napoli sit in 5th place and only two points ahead of Roma. If remove the two point deduction that the club received for punishment for match fixing (surprise!), Napoli would be in second. That’s how close the battle for Europe is in Serie A – four points separates 2nd (Lazio) from 6th (Roma). And with the top 5 qualifying for either the Champions League or Europa League, this match is huge for both clubs. After dropping back-to-back league matches for the first time all year to Inter and Bologna, and a third-in-a-row to Bologna again in the Coppa Italia, Napoli regained some of their momentum with a comfortable 2-0 away win over Siena before Christmas. As to be expected, the offensive firepower is coming from Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik who have combined for two-thirds of the club’s goals. The San Paolo is always a difficult place to play and this season has proven to be no different. Napoli have lost just once in nine matches and are only conceded a goal a game.

Roma is back from its vacation, I mean training stint, at Disney World in Orlando and come into this match hot. Winners of 5 of their last 6, the “Zemanlandia” swashbuckling, attacking style that fans and neutrals were promised over the summer is finally taking hold with Roma leading the league in goals scored with 42 (ok, technically 39 if you take away the 3-0 forfeited victory over Cagliari. 39 still puts them tied with Juventus for top spot). On the flip side, the club’s 29 goals conceded are tied for 4 most in the league. Again, that’s what you get. Not helping things out defensively is Roma’s star CB Marquinhos is out for this match after seeing red against Milan.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Marquinhos, he was signed over the summer on a loan deal from Corinthians with a clause that he would be purchased for 5m euros after 8 appearances of at least 45 minutes. Chelsea reportedly offered 28m euros. Marquinhos is 18 and before this season he had made a whopping six professional appearances. The kid is the real deal and it’s a shame he’s out because seeing him match up with Cavani would be fantastic. Enough about that. For all you USMNT fans, Michael Bradley has started nine straight matches for Roma going the full 90 in seven. He’s settled in nicely and the midfield of Bradley – De Rossi – Pjanic is Roma’s strongest, and it’s the one that I personally want to see.

So those are the four matches that I’ll be keeping an eye on this weekend. Did I overlook anything? As a reminder, next week marks the return of Ligue 1 and the resumption of Premier League matches

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by john mosby on 2013/01/04 at 8:52 AM

    one big match to catch might be the sunday season kickoff clash between defending champs, tijuana, and dmb’s puebla.

    Reply

  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/01/04 at 10:21 AM

    Palace should be at the top of the league, but for our own stupidity — in the last 8 games, we have drawn 5 from winning positions, and also threw away a lead at Cardiff City.

    Obviously a Cup run is nice, but it was in last year’s (League) Cup that Zaha made a fool out of Da Silva, and really caused the PL teams to take notice. From an US angle, if Zaha starts in his favoured left side, might make for an interesting match up with Cameron (assuming he starts at RB.)

    Offensively, another player to look out for is Bolasie.

    Pulis has taken the Cup seriously in the last few seasons, but if he does rotate too much, Stoke City might leave SE25 empty handed.

    Welcome to the Deep South!

    Reply

    • Posted by EFG on 2013/01/04 at 10:33 AM

      How has Palace gone from 17th last year to title contenders?

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/01/04 at 10:51 AM

        To be 100% honest, I did not expect this much progress this season. But our First XI is just as good as anybody’s – we just have a very small squad. And it must be said, we have been very fortunate with injuries and suspensions this year. But I think last season’s position was more to do with that muppet Burley, more than anything else, rather than Freedman. Freedman steadied the ship and focused on some really basic fundamentals. Was sorry to see him go – he will be a top class manager.

        Zaha has also been a lot consistent, and basically unplayable at times. And if we can isolate the defender so there’s a one-on-one, he’s simply going past them. Not sure I like our trajectory under Holloway, but I suppose I should give the man a chance.

        With the exception of Bellamy, Zaha really is the best player in the league.

        Reply

      • Posted by john mosby on 2013/01/05 at 11:59 AM

        the 2nd division in england is a little bit of a crap shoot. birmingham were a top team in the league last season, now they sit in 20th place this season. however, 20th place in the championsip, is currently only 11 points off of a playoff spot, so anything can happen.

        zaha went off with an injury today and crystal palace would probably be lucky to stay in a playoff position without him.

        Reply

  3. Posted by john mosby on 2013/01/05 at 9:07 AM

    deuce is loose!!!!!

    Reply

  4. Posted by john mosby on 2013/01/05 at 8:20 PM

    sorry, i could not find the petition page, but i had to comment. whats wrong with the petition? one thing is that the petition asks that us soccer withdraw support for blatter because of prejudicial and racial actions and sentiments. im confused, blatter has brought the world cup to mother africa, and the anti racism campaign is on his watch, so it seems like this petition is a little misguided. not to mention, blatter is also sending the world cup to such venues as qatar, or however you spell it. but whatever.

    second thing, the responses by alot of the people that have signed this thing, they dont jive with me. for example, someone suggests that blatters behavior is retarding the growth of soccer in our country. in the words of a famous howard stern character, everyone remeber daniel carver. “wake up white people”

    Reply

  5. Posted by KickinNames... on 2013/01/06 at 8:56 PM

    Mikey looking OK with Roma but the players around him seem to be dropping their heads a bit. He plays a handful of “loose” balls a game and Totti in particular was making eyes and his unmistakable body language towards him.
    Had two decent headed chances (one diving-wide/one forced save) and generally worked best when he’s out of the center of pitch and working out wide left with Balsaretti and Totti.
    Looks like can belong but some holes are showing in his game and you can see his teammates don’t always trust him with the ball in the center of pitch, Interesting to watch his development. I’d be interested to hear what the Roma fans think of him as they seem to notice the more than occasional errant pass and let him hear about it.

    Reply

    • Posted by crow on 2013/01/06 at 11:09 PM

      I haven’t seen Bradley in action once this year- I wish Roma would be on ESPN3 more often.

      The goal.com article (for what thats worth) cited he had a poor game.

      Reply

    • Posted by EFG on 2013/01/07 at 9:37 PM

      It wasn’t Bradley’s best match. The stats say he had an 88% pass completion rate but his missed passes led to Napoli attacks, and if memory serves, one of Napoli’s goals. His motor is there but there’s just something missing in the final third – either a stray pass or a bad attempt on goal.

      Reply

  6. Posted by crow on 2013/01/06 at 11:11 PM

    I’m pulling for a Crystal Palace promotion and QPR demotion for George Cross.

    Hopefully, Holden is finally back with Bolton within the next month. Its crazy how few points separate 6th from 17th in the championship. Anything can happen.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2013/01/07 at 2:09 PM

      Thanks mate. The amount of glory seeking American fans who sneer at me and ask “are they even in the Premier League?” while wearing their Chelsea top…

      Ordinarily, I would want to consolidate, and wait a season or two because we’d get relegated straight away with our current squad. But, we are skint. So going up for one season would make a huge difference financially. Remember, it was only a couple of seasons ago that we almost liquidated.

      Reply

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