Archive for the ‘EPL’ Category

Man City versus Everton

Baines, running the show from the left.

TWEEEEET TWEEEET TWEET. Everton defend superbly, spearheaded by Tim Howard, who has his best game of the season, as the Toffees leave Manchester with a valuable 3 points. Will this jump start their season? Will City recover to continue to challenge for the title?

94:00 - Two yellows in about a minute for Kolo Toure, and he gets first shower for City.

92:00 – Howard with another good save as Tevez unleashes one. Corner kick comes to nothing though.

88:00 – Yaya Toure cracks a shot, that Howard gets his finger nails on that goes just wide. Howard duly screams at his defenders.

77:00 – WOW. Great keeping from Howard as Toure sends a great ball to Balotelli who does everything right by dinking it over the Everton keeper (who takes out Balotelli). Ball hits the post and comes back into play as both Howard and the Italian go for it. Ball comes to Tevez, but his shot is blocked by Howard. A lesser ref, might have given a penalty but this one let everyone play. Good for everyone.

74:00 – City and Tevez looking for the equalizer as they immediately attack. This should be a great 15 minutes of football.

73:00 – GOOOOAAAAL. An own goal from Jagielka of a Yaya Toure shot. Too much pinball finally goes City’s way. City 1 – Everton 2

72:00 – AHHHHH. MY EYES MY EYES. Camera pans onto the crowd and one mad man is standing there with a shirt off. its MINUS 6. He looks like a ghost.

70:00 – Barry latches on to a blocked shot by Silva and his volley is just over. Everton living on borrowed time here. Can they hold on for 20 minutes.

68:00 – City work it well, but Adam Johnson’s pass is how we say…”piss poor” and Everton easily clear. Zabaleta who is bandaged up is playing very well. A replay is shown the City should have had a penalty from a Neville handball.

66:00 – OHHHHH the useless possession stat, which shows that City have two thirds of the possession. Sadly for sky blues, they have zero to show for it.

64:00 - Game is disintegrating into poor football. Fouls, bad passes and wasted shots oh my.

60:00 – Anichebe who was about to be subbed, gets sent off for a second bookable offense. That was rough for the young Nigerian forward as the first one was harsh. Everton down to 10 men.

51:00 – “The Disease” (TSG’s new nickname for Kolarov) is teed up by Tevez and his howitzer fizzes inches wide. I like the Serbian player. He’s exciting.

47:00 – Howard makes a great save from a Kolarov thunderbolt. City starting off with a little more verve then the previous 45.

46:00 – TWEET TWEET. Everton start of the second half.

45:00 - Half is about to come to a close. First 2o minutes were all Everton and then City picked it up but Everton’s parking of the bus did the job. PEEEP. Halftime.

42:00 – Say what you will about Tevez, but he does work his tail off in every game he plays. He doesn’t dive and when you look up “tenacious” in the dictionary, you see a picture of the Argentine. I really don’t think it’s about the money. He just made a VERY VERY poor decision as far as agents go.

36:00 – City get a free kick in Kolarov territory. No that is not a plague infested area, but the sort of distance away from goal, that the City defender can whack them past a keeper. The kick is well taken and Howard gets an out-stretched hand and pushes it away for a corner.

34:00 - Felliani gets the first card of the game. Actually his hair gets the card for a rough, but fair tackle on Tevez. Should not have been a card.

32:00 – Human pin ball in the Everton box, as City players line up to take shots which keep being blocked by various parts of the Everton players body. Might have been an inadvertent hand ball in there, but ref correctly waves play on. City are dominating the game.

28:00 – Balotelli might be a handful to deal with, but my is he a skillful player, as he first time volleys a corner that goes just over the bar. Good skill. Everton need to keep on their toes.

27:00 - City string some nice passes around the Everton defense who have 10 players back and eventually win a corner. Howard goes ape as well he should as that was City like defending from the Toffees.

22:00 - City don’t seem to care that they are 2-0 down and that first place is on the line. The only player who is showing any heart is Tevez, who per usual is running around like a man possessed.

19:00 – CONTENT MY ASS. GOOOOAAAAL EVERTON. What a well worked goal. Anichebe centers the ball to Cahill who lays it off to Baines who places it beautifully past a hapless Joe Hart. City are moving at a slightly slower pace than mollases moving up hill. Everton 2- City 0

18:00 – Game has calmed down (not that it ever took off), but City seemed to have woken up ever so slightly and Everton are content with their 1-0 lead.

11:00 – City attack and Yaya Toure chips a lovely ball over the Everton defense to David Silva, but his well struck shot is wide and takes out a beautiful looking camera. As a photographer, my heart breaks.

9:00 – Everton dominating the wings as Coleman and Baines are having their way with the City full backs. Meanwhile the rest of the City players need some coffee or Red Bull.

4:00 – GOOOOALLLL – EVERTON. Cahill easily heads it in after awful awful defending by City. Coleman cross’s it in and Cahill easily heads it in. It was the simplest of goals. Pathetic from City. Everton 1 – City 0

1:00 – It is cold enough to reconfigure the anatomy on a brass monkey out there and yet shorts and short sleeves for most of the players. The fancy ones though are wearing a snood (see Spurs players sporting the latest trend)!

TWEEET and City kick it off. Sky blue versus dark blue.

Tevez making up with officials. Best way to do it with the fans is to score some goals.

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Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kolo Touré, Kompany, Kolarov; Milner, Barry; Silva, Yaya Touré, Balotelli; Tevez.
Subs: Given, Richards, Wright-Phillips, Adam Johnson, Boateng, Vieira, Jo.

Everton: Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Coleman, Rodwell, Fellaini, Osman; Cahill; Anichebe.
Subs: Mucha, Hibbert, Bilyaletdinov, Saha, Beckford, Gueye, Yakubu.

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Line ups coming out soon

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Most of this weekend’s games in the EPL were postponed, but not this match up of the red headed step children of Manchester and Liverpool. Often in the shadows of their more illustrious neighbors, this is a big game for both teams. A win for the “richest” club in the world, puts them on top of the league. A win for the blue half of Merseyside puts them in mid table and could jump start a so far poor season.

Not to be outdone by their red counterparts, City, too have a petulant forward. After much hemming and hawing about wanting to go home, Tevez has now withdrawn his transfer request and has committed to the club. No discussions of money yet, so lets give the bulldogish Argentine the benefit of the doubt and assume it was all about respect and relationships with club officials.

Bay Area Represent: Sebastian Lletget

You could say the most promising American at West Ham these days doesn’t play fullback.

West Ham media speaks with midfielder Sebastien Lletget who first graced the pitch at Brisbane Park, just a short hop from San Francisco proper.

Lletget —who journeyed to Upton Park and planted roots at 13–will be in Peach City with the US U-20 crew next week.

ESPN UK’s Rebecca Lowe On All Things English

The lovely Rebecca Lowe with ESPN UK.

TSG had the honor once again of speaking with the absolutely wonderful and INCREDIBLY knowledgeable Rebecca Lowe. She had just finished doing her show for ESPN UK and we caught her while she was in a “football mind.”

We touched on some of the topics we discussed in our first interview and discussed the future of English football.

Here is an excerpt of what we talked about.

TSG: A rather large topic a couple of weeks ago was the whole Rooney saga. Do you think it was a carefully spun ploy or was it more of a desperate move by United and Ferguson to keep Rooney happy?

Rebecca Lowe: It’s so difficult to really know. I think, if you’re going to be skeptical and cynical and look at it with those eyes, you could say, similar to Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson, they made a pact which said, “Give me one year and then you can go.” I wonder if giving Rooney a whopping five-year contract might lead to them getting a huge sum for him next summer and allowing him to go then. I don’t think that’s beyond the realm of possibility at all.

The fans may not be as forgiving as Rooney hopes they will.

I think it was a very strange episode. I don’t think that Rooney was handled very well in terms of his PR. I don’t think the statements he put out were very wise. There are United fans who will not forgive as easily as Rooney is hoping they will. There are still rumors that there are players who haven’t forgiven him.

I’ve talked to Man United players and they have assured me (and I suppose they would) that what is done is done and it was all over the top and newspaper driven and everything is fine. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know. I know that a lot of fans are not happy and it will be very interesting to see when he comes back to play for United. Lets put it this way: I’m not sure he will see out his 5 year deal.

TSG: Do these very public contract negotiations and demands for money create a jealously among the players which effect their relationships?

RL: I obviously don’t know that for sure, but I think if you put yourself in that position, and if you’re in a normal office or in any normal job and that was going on, AND then you learnt that that person (who by the way was not playing very well) was being

O'Shea could be benefiting greatly from the Rooney saga.

rewarded with a whopping great contract, having just come out and said he doesn’t really fancy the club nor does he want to stay anymore, I don’t see how you can get over that so quickly. In a way, I think it has opened the doors for other players to ask for more money. Like John O’Shea who reportedly might be getting a new contract around 100,000 pounds a week. I think it’s going push a lot of players and their agents forward to push for more money from United. I don’t know, I’m not in that dressing room, but there are stories that come out and say that the players are not happy, BUT they have assured me that it is all forgotten. Time will tell what happens and maybe some day someone will write a book which will tell us the truth.

TSG: I wonder if this sets a bad precedent for United because everyone is going to ask for more and at some point they are going to have to say no.

RL: Yes indeed. John O’ Shea is a versatility [utility] player, and appears to be on the verge of getting a four-year contract of  something like 100 or 120 a week which is surprising. That and the knowledge that Rooney is getting a quarter of million a week will give the other players and their agents a bargaining tool to use, and United cannot afford it, end of story.

They just can’t afford it which is why, if they have done the deal with Rooney in order to get a massive sum for him next summer, they might not have realized what it is going to do to the rest of the players in terms of coming forward. United just don’t have the money to give those sort of wages. They’re are not Man City.

Gareth Bale is the real deal and could possibly be one of the most exciting players to come into the EPL in the last 5 years.

TSG: Gareth Bale has been playing very well since last spring, but his recent performances against Inter Milan have propelled him into the realm of the best, and is garnering interest from the top clubs. Is he for real or is this just a flash in the pan?

RL: I think this is for real, no doubt this is for real. You just can’t do what he did against Inter Milan and not be for real. It’s not just what he did against Inter, but at the end of last season, I think they played Chelsea and won and he scored or set up a goal, but he was just magnificent and Harry Redknapp came out afterwards and said what more can you say about this kid. He has been so consistent and Inter Milan was him showing that he can play against the very best.

He had a bad run of injuries and I don’t think he had a great belief as a youngster, and didn’t keep on the right track at times in terms of his confidence because his injuries were so bad. He also had bad luck because when you start off playing 24 games without your team winning it effects you. Finally, they may have been up 5-nil or 4-nil  against Burnely or someone, and Redknapp said, right, it’s safe to put Bale on and we are going to win this game [and they did].

Psychology is a massive part of football and according to all reports and to Harry Redknapp himself, the losing streak was playing on his [Bale's] mind massively, and it is a great thing for the media to grab hold on to. I was using it, my colleagues were using it, as it was an interesting fact. Gareth Bale would listen to it and he didn’t need to listen to it, and that game freed him up. The things that set him apart. One is his engine. The guy runs about 20 miles a game and he never tires and in the 95th minute he’s running just as hard and as quick as he is in the first.

Not only does he have amazing stamina, but he is very quick. He was best friends with Theo Walcott growing up in Southampton and apparently Walcott is a little bit quicker but not that much. He’s quite speedy but it’s his finishing that sets him apart. It’s outstanding.

Andy Carrol should take note of Bale's career and keep himself out of the front pages for the wrong reasons.

Secondly, he is living his life off the field correctly. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go out clubbing and he doesn’t get himself on the front pages of newspapers. He’s a very down-to-earth guy and I’ve been lucky enough to interview him, and he’s incredibly polite and humble, and so far has kept himself on the straight and narrow. As we’ve seen from Andy Carroll at Newcastle at the moment, it doesn’t help when you’re on the front pages of the newspapers.

Gareth Bale has enough good people around him like Harry Redknapp and his parents which makes me think he’ll carry on like this and go on from strength to strength. I think he’s one of the most exciting players that has come out of the Premier League in the last five years.

TSG: When Spurs came out here for their pre-season tour, I went down to San Jose to check them out and it was finishing that stuck out the most to me. He started off as left back but now has a more prominent midfield role.

RL: Yeah. Up until the end of last season he was been playing at left back and they realized he was getting forward so much. He’s not a bad defender, but he is a much better attacker and Redknapp saw that he was being wasted back there, and that is why he’s playing in the left of midfield which absolutely works as he is dictating games. I think it helps that he is playing alongside players at Tottenham that maybe in the past few years haven’t had the quality that they have now. Rafael Van de Vaart who is of the same level. To be playing alongside someone with that sort of football brain is only going to breed more success, and the more good players Bale plays with, the better he will get himself.

TSG: Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu are all playing well for their respective clubs, whether it be in the EPL or SPL. They’re getting on the score sheet, setting up goals and in Holden’s case doing a good job of controlling the midfield. Is the English public surprised that the U.S. outfield players can have an impact on their clubs?

RL: No. Less and less surprise as the years go by to be honest. We can’t deny that the World Cup was a disaster for England against America. I think leading into that World Cup a lot of the general public in this country probably saw the USA as a country that doesn’t really play football, so that will probably be an easy victory. But it didn’t work out that way and I think that made quite a few people sit up and take note. Obviously you got the fans of the clubs where the likes of Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden are who know them.

Donovan loved by fans, players and media in the UK.

Dempsey has been a regular for a long time and is doing even better now (after coming off some injury problems) and really coming into form by scoring a couple of goals last weekend. Certainly within the game people say that American players can be as good as anyone else, but with the fans it is now beginning to get there.

It really doesn’t help that American goalkeepers have been so prominent because I think that was the general perception: that Americans just have good goalkeepers. But now, especially with Landon Donovan, when he was at Everton it pushed that whole situation forward because he made a serious impact on the Premier league; he was really good and then of course came the World Cup.

He probably is recognized much more in Liverpool than he is in LA, and I think it’s a shame he cannot make it a permanent deal because he was great for the Premier league. Not only was he so good and he proved a lot of people wrong, because they thought since he came from the Galaxy he wasn’t going to be very good in the Premier League, but he was and he did it brilliantly. As you know, media and sports personalities in America are so excellent in front of  camera and so at ease because they have to do it so much and his interviews were such a joy to watch. It’s a great shame he hasn’t been able to come over here. I think on whole people are starting to notice and respect the U.S. outfield players.

TSG: People here were very happy with how the USMNT played and were clearly disappointed when they exited the World Cup. They fell in love with the heart and passion with which their team played. We kept expecting the same verve and bite from the English squad, but they were lacking. Was there a general malaise in the camp? Did the players not buy into Fabio Capello’s plan? We never got a full explanation describing why England did so poorly.

RL: It was a very, very bizarre summer for English football fans. No one could understand then and no one really understands what happened, even now. No player has yet offered an explanation of what happened. I think it was a combination of the little things that weren’t quite well thought out. Their base was tucked away up in Rustenberg and the players were bored. Rightly or wrongly, as a footballer in South Africa having everything at your fingertips, whether or not you should be bored is irrelevant, because they were and that led to less energy. I’m not sure if Capello saw eye to eye with the players every day. As an international manager  you get your squad for a couple of days every other month and from what I’ve heard, his manner and his way didn’t sit well with them for more than two or three days.

Capello should have done more than just shout.

Another reason is that in this country the pressure is so great. I spoke to Ashley Cole about this a few weeks ago and I said to him, “What was it?” And he didn’t really know why, but he did say that he thinks that the England players fear the shirt. They actually feel the pressure. At their clubs there is pressure, but it is a different kind of pressure.

England fans and media are so desperate to win the World Cup. We are so desperate for some footballing success and the press builds them up and builds them up a year before a major competition, and everyone is so desperate for them to win and that just yanks up the pressure. The media are quite tough in this country, and there are a lot of forthright, firm views and the players read it. They definitely read it and the fear of failure almost overwhelms them. Wayne Rooney is a separate case. I don’t think Wayne Rooney cares about pressure. I don’t think it gets to him. I think he knew what was going to come out of the papers not long after World Cup and his life was going to take a very, very sharp turn to essentially a mess really, and he was going to have to deal with that and that definitely weighed on his mind.

TSG: There doesn’t seem to be a general healthy support for the English National Team from the press as they tend to nit pick at everything about the team, whereas in other countries the press is a lot more “calm.” Does that make sense?

RL: Absolutely. There is no middle ground in this country when it comes to football. It’s a matter of extremes. You are either brilliant or you are off it, but that’s just the way this country is and that is the way football is unfortunately.

TSG: The USMNT’s success comes from their strong team ethic and game, but they don’t possess any world-class players. On a club level, the English team possess players who do play at the highest level, who win the EPL, Champions League, etc., but they all have strong foreign players around them. Are English players being “found out” a little bit in that at club level they are brilliant, but does it have to do with their surroundings rather than their skill?

RL: It’s interesting. When England came back from the World Cup I started thinking, “the Premier league is not the best league in the world is it,” because the players are making little impact at the World Cup, yet they win the Champions League and Premier league. It’s an interesting point. I don’t think that they are being found out, but I don’t think they’re as good as we think they are and I don’t think the level of English football is as good as we think it is.

Do Drogba, Torres and other foreign players make their English teammates better than they really are?

Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea are not filled with English players, whereas a lot of foreign clubs are like Barcelona being a case in point. They have a core which does very well for Spain.

I think in this country we have to decide: do we want a successful National Team or do we want a great Premier League? If we want a successful National Team then we have to limit the amount of foreigners in the league. It is preventing a bigger pool of players coming through and we’ve got to concentrate on the National Team if that is what we want.

No one is going to make that decision because the Premier League and the FA that decides the National Team are two totally different organizations and there is no one above them to make that decision, and the Premier League has a lot more money and therefore have a lot more power.

TSG: There seems to be a decent crop of future England players coming up: Jack Wilshire, Adam Johnson, Andy Carrol, Agbonlahor, Young, etc. Do you there is a new generation coming up that can measure up?

RL: Not really. I’m quite pessimistic about that. I don’t think they’re that good. Jack Wilshire is excellent and I think Adam Johnson is very good, but how could we possibly know how good they are when we thought that Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Ashley Cole were world beaters? And as you rightly say,  they can play at the top level of football, but they can’t bring it at the World Cup and I don’t know if we can say that the young players coming through will be any better, and I don’t really have a great deal of confidence.

TSG: Well, there were so many teams at the World Cup that might not have possessed superstars, but they could play their positions and play together as a system. Is that a direction that England need to take?

RL: Yes, definitely. We need to be a team. That was exactly what we are, a collection of 11 individuals as opposed to a team, and that is what Capello failed to create. I think the buck stops with him a fair amount, because he should have to shoulder the blame in the manner of which he went about things, like putting on Emile Heskey when you need two goals. [I rolled my eyes and I suspect Rebecca did the same when she said this.]

TSG: I think Fabio Capello should take the majority of the blame, because even though thought the players were better than they were, they were certainly not bad players and it is Capello’s job to find a way for them to play together.

RL: I think he needs to shoulder a lot of the blame and is quite fortunate to be in the same job. I think over the next year or so the call for Harry Redknapp to be the next England manager will grow and grow because the press love him in this country and partly because he’s been so successful at Spurs.

Is 'Arry the next England manager?

He definitely built a team, a real team ethic at Tottenham. The problem with that is that he’s quite outspoken, and I don’t know if the FA will go for it. Redknapp is someone who can create a team and take off that expectation that is being pushed on the English national team. Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott need the freedom to go out there and make their mistakes and play without fear, whereas now the moment they put on an England shirt and they make a mistake they get booed.

TSG: Early in your career you were a reporter for the Women’s World Cup. Do you still pay attention to that?

RL: It’s difficult as I’m not nearly as caught up with it as I was at the time, and naturally you have other things that fill your day, but I keep an eye on it because of the World Cup. What happened with America? Did they get through?

TSG: They’re playing Costa Rica this evening and if they win they will be in a playoff with Italy, I believe. They should easily win against Costa Rica though.

RL: Yeah, they should. There is the World Cup next summer and if America do get there they will be one of the favorites along with China and Germany and England who are there as well which is great. I certainly keep an eye on it, but it’s very difficult to be abreast of all the divisions in the international and domestic games is quite difficult.

TSG: You’ve worked for the BBC, Setenta and now ESPN. How is it working for them? Is their a different attitude being a U.S.-based company?

RL: Not really. On the show tonight there is nothing American about the show or innately different from anything I’ve done in my entire career. You are aware though, always of being part this huge group which brings about quite a lot of excitement, quite a lot of confidence to the company.

ESPN's World Cup coverage was excellent.

I think it has an excellent reputation in England already, partly because a lot of people go to America and see ESPN over there, and partly because they’ve done a good job over the past year and a half of covering the Premier League.

It’s different from the BBC because the BBC is a lot more…I must pick my words carefully here [TSG chuckles]…It’s a lot more traditional and it’s funded by the taxpayers, so they have to make sure they are appealing to a wide range of people, whereas ESPN being an international company can target certain groups and can go for it and have a very forward thinking attitude, break new ground and take some risks.

It’s quite like Setenta in that way as they can be innovative, but working for ESPN you definitely know that you’re working for a worldwide company from everything from getting e-mails in Spanish and God knows what they are saying.

TSG: During the World Cup people in the States loved the production and commentary and all in all thought ESPN did a great job of presenting the tournament.

RL: Yes. ESPN were very clever about the World Cup because they didn’t quite know enough about it, but they identified where the opportunity was and got the right people on board and that’s the right way to go about it.

TSG: Back to the EPL. It’s a bit of topsy turvy season with traditional sides like Liverpool and United struggling a bit and the promoted sides doing so well. Is this just early doors or will everything come back to normal come May?

RL: Yeah. I think it will return pretty much back to normal come May. I do think it’s one of the most interesting Premier League seasons so far and I really cannot pick a winner. I went for Chelsea in the beginning of the season and I was happy with my choice in the first few weeks, but a team loses one game and then you start thinking “Oh, maybe they might not win the league.”

I think the Premier League is a better product now than it has ever been because it is so unpredictable. With the newly promoted sides I can see any of those, well maybe not Blackpool, but certainly West Brom and Newcastle, finishing in the top half and that is really unheard of as a whole.

Will the Special One be back in the EPL next year?

Most often promoted sides would go back down again and the fact that these sides haven’t, I don’t really know the reason why, but there is carefully a closing of the gap between the top and the bottom teams and it makes for much better division. I mean no one wants predictability. I don’t think United will win it. I think Chelsea will win it,  but I’m not convinced in saying that.

TSG: Do you want to talk about Crystal Palace at all? [Rebecca Lowe is a Palace supporter and at the time of speaking were last in the Championship.]

RL: [sternly] Let us definitely skip over that one.

TSG: You’re the one in “the know.” Any rumors that you can tell us?

RL: Oh God! I’m rubbish at finding things like that out cause I’m not a tabloid journalist and they know everything! Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Mourinho over next summer to take over Man City. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

TSG: Well I would love it if the Special One came back to the Premiership as he was so much fun. Thank you so much for taking the time and hopefully we will get to talk again soon.

RL: Take care and have a good day.

Thrown Together: EPL 1st Third Team

I know better than to jot down a post like this late night after the electrolytes have been sucked out of me by surfing some disgusting Pacifica Pacific Ocean water, had no sleep the night before, called Allan Hutton “sensational” (thanks for the correction Ryan), and added a few Boddington’s to the smorgasbord.

However, I also made an erroneous claim–thankfully corrected by the educated masses–that Marc Albrington might merit consideration for the “1st third” EPL Best XI. Excellent campaign for the youngster, however not there yet.

Here are some more observations and my  off-the-cuff “1st Third Team.”

Operative word? Off-the-cuff.

The best...thus far...

Best player: Florent Malouda

The skinny: Go ahead, dispute that. Gareth Bale has been world class….in Champion’s League. He’s a shade below Malouda thus far.

Most Valuable Player: Carlos Tevez

The skinny: On a team full of superstars, as Tevez goes so go the Citizens. Rather amazing given the bundle of talent on that squad.

Biggest disappoinment: Joe Cole

The skinny: Flat out, not doing much….like the team he’s on.

First apologies go to a certain cigarette-smoking and euro-club scene-going pudgy off-form winger named  Andrei Arshavin.

Joleon Lescott, Patrice Evra (who we called out as a disappointment last year), Lee Cattermole and Carlton Cole also lined up to receive this “award.”

Most critical team addition: Michael Essien

The skinny: A Chelsea team that has seen Frank Lampard fade and dealt Ricardo Carvalho hasn’t missed a beat, nay they’ve skipped forward with Michael Essien back in the mix. Yes, I know he’s not really an “addition.”

Rafael Van Der Vaart falls a hair short here.

Biggest surprise:  Peter Odemwingie

The skinny: The closest race here. In this bucket go Javier Hernandez for United, Marc Albrington for Villa and Bolton’s Johan Elmander (who was thought to be transfer bait just a few short months ago). Odemwingie has been transformative for West Brom who play Manchester City Sunday.

Getting the most out of his team...

Best coaching: Owen Coyle

The skinny: On display Saturday, under the watchful eye of the former Wanderer vet, the Bolton crew know their roles and will only get better as the campaign moves into 2011. Coyle’s combination of Stu Holden and Fabrice Muamba in the midfield–their ability to cover ground, tackle assuredly and help with linking has allowed the manager to be aggressive with his wingers opening the offensive end of the pitch.

Best 1st Third: (4-3-3)

G: Tim Howard (Everton)

Who (Few) would have thought the best centerback from Belgium in the Prem played for City instead of Arsenal..

LB: Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

CB: Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

CB: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

RB: Sotirios Kyrgiakos (Liverpool)

LM: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)

CM: Michael Essien (Chelsea)

RM:  Chris Brunt (West Brom)

LW: Florent Malouda (Chelsea)

STR: Carlos Tevez (Manchester City–though he often play more as a CAM)

RW: Nani (Manchester United)

Just missed: Rafael Van Der Vaart, Clint Dempsey, among others…

Last word: Just finding some promotion for West Brom’s very steady Chris Brunt who actually usually plays inside.

Bolton 4 – Spurs 2: Coyle’s Crew Energetic

After a marvelous performance in the Champion’s League this week, the Spurs came crashing back to earth as the Bolton Wanderers successfully defended the Reebok with an emphatic performance.

Holden, strong defensively, needs to finish passes offensively...

After getting loose early on the left flank in the 1st half, Gareth Bale came back down to earth as well undone by a Spurs backline that was porous to downright negligent. Indeed, after 19 mentions of his name by the broadcasters on ESPN in the first 11 minutes, Bale’s name was mentioned just over 50 more times through the end of the broadcast.

In fairness to Bale, Robbie Findley could have netted at least one of the four sumptuous ground crosses he placed at the feet of Peter Crouch.

Bolton went up early as Kevin Davies was found with a clipped ball inside the centerbacks; replays showed the forward might have been offside, nevertheless he buried his chance in the right lower corner pocket.

After the half, Wanderers made it 2-nil as Gretar Rafn Steinsson was loose inside the box (sensing a theme) and rolled it strong inside the left post.

Next up was Davies with another on a penalty as William Gallas–having a horrific day without Tom Huddlestone in front of him for most of the day and without Rafael Van Der Vaart collapsing the opponent’s defense–turned a simple clearance play into a nightmare.

He turned the ball back inside and nudged a pass forward to no one. Niko Knajcar stepped through, fed Lee Chung-Yong was brought down in the box. Davies penalty was the definition of clinical as it slammed the side netting–that is the side netting right inside the left post.

The Spurs didn’t go quietly. An irate Harry Rednapp, likely upset at himself for his poor preparation and poor line-up selection, finally subbed in Tom Huddlestone–who later should have earned a red card for deliberate kick–after an earlier Roman Pavlyuchenko insertion.

With a renewed vigor, more to not be embarrassed rather than win it appeared, the Spurs began to attack.

Alan Hutton, the offensive (correction) Scottish rightback, stepped past a defender, stepped over and curled a gorgeous shot inside the left post to pull one back for Tottenham. Ian Darke called it perfectly offering that “if a Brazilian made that play we’d be prostrating in front of him.”

Next up against the run of play it was Pavlyuchenko who collected some trash off a free kick and blasted Spurs back to 2-0 with a wonderful short-range volley at the 87′ minute.

The Wanderers wouldn’t create any doubt though as Kevin Davies secured a long service and backheaded a ball to a streaking Martin Petrov who drove a sharp toe-poke home for the final score: 4-2.

The game feature an impressive display on former Dynamo man Stu Holden who Owen Coyle labeled earlier in the day as “a player you can build a team around.” (Paging Coach Sweats…Coach Sweats please come back to the reality zone…)

In case you missed it, Stu’s “mum” was watching back in the States. The announcers made sure to tell us that fact more than five times.

Holden played excellent position defense, started and finished tackles though his distribution was lacking, seemingly sometimes hitting a pass with too much finesse rather than finishing those as well.

Gareth Bale: Maicon’s A Nice Guy, More…

Supplanted?

Here’s to the Telegraph, first to market with the coveted and first “post-Maicon” Gareth Bale interview.

You can read it all here.

Some highlights:

On Maicon: “He’s a nice guy. Every time he kicked me, he said sorry,”

On his awareness of his dazzling Champ’s League performance this week: “I don’t know the full extent of what people are talking about. I’ve had my mum ring me up and say stuff but I’ve not taken too much attention.”

On levelheadedness: “I’m a normal person. I’ve still got my friends from school and they were at the game last night.”

 

Weekend Channel Hopping…Go!

The weekend goes…like this:

EPL

Cahill: Still fighting the good fight at Goodison...

• Toffees Hope To Kick The Spurs Out of Town.

One little Merseyside radio spot, and it’s all “Landon, Landon, Landon going to Goodison, Goodison, Goodison.”

Not so fast. If you haven’t seen it, check out our notes here.

Everton finally found the netting last week at the Derby, but affix an asterisk in that it was still the work of aging Tim Cahill and recently-re-signed Mikel Arteta that provided nearly 95% of the offense.

Some good movement did occur above them through Yakubu, or the Nigerian Altidore, who did the Jozy thing by going on a few missed a few chances despite making a few stellar runs.

Beyond Yakubu up top, summer import Jermaine Beckford needs to redeem himself fast. The Leeds alumnus has lost the Goodison faithful already and he’s nearly close to losing the coach.

For Tottenham Hotspur, a rough go of it in Champion’s League action at the San Siro still saw the pride of Wales Gareth Bale gather a hat trick.

Spurs clearly missed the play-making of cup-tied suspended Rafael Van Der Vaart, but it’s nice to know the late transfer season acquisition is making an impact.

The Spurs midfield is looking in fine form now that Bale’s been making hay from the left mid spot. Van Der Vaart slots out right and forward and Modric carries the ball while big Tom Huddlestone bangs around the middle making his presence felt and trailing behind looking to snap a cracker.

Everton is stout at home and loops two together here to begin a streak.

• Fulham leave the Cottage and hope to bag a point at West Bromwich.

Who would have thought West Brom vs. Fulham would have been one of the marque match-ups in the EPL at this stage?

While Fulham continue to try to find their footing without Bobby Zamora, West Brom have been the Arsenal Jr. of the Premiership, owning possession and creating changes against all clubs big and small.

Last week, a Van Der Saar gap helped them earn a point at Old Trafford, but West Brom….West Brom! is the surprise of the season thus far.

• Lord Birmingham drops the drawbridge at St. Andrews for the Tangerine seasiders from Blackpool

…or you may say Blackpool is….the surprise squad that is.

Interesting game, this.

Birmingham has been nails at home and Blackpool is the strongest team on the road in the Barclays.

This game is going to come down to one thing…how it’s called. If Birmingham are allowed to impose their physical-nasty style on Blackpool and limit the Tangerines’ free flowing game, it should be a stroll in the park. If the zebras go whistle-happy, Blackpool’s got their shot.

Play Holden on your fantasy team this weekend...I think...

• Derby Time: Wigan vs. Bolton

First, its derby” not “darby”…I don’t know how anyone even makes that mistake…..

Yikes, rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday in Manchester.

That means sloshball at DW Stadium, notoriously the worst pitch in Great Britain not named Wembley.

Puddles favors over-the-top ball which again favors Wigan…only they don’t play all that well at home.

Here’s a prediction: Bank on an assist or, yes, the first premiership goal from Stu Holden after Honduran Hednry Thomas or “Virgin Nigel De Jong” fells him 30 yards out.

Team Aston Villameria takes to the Stadium of Light and prepares to go Kim Jong Il on Sunderland.

Albrighton: Watch this kid...I smell a call-up...

Who is Marc Albrighton and why am I not paying attention?! Why didn’t the TSG faithful alert me to this kid?!

Under Gerard Houllier, the Villa Park inhabitants have to love the offense flow and Albrighton is a big part of that with three starts under Houllier.

Expect better things from Villa.

Oh, and American Eric Lichaj might get some run in this one as outside back Luke Young is shelved for a pay period.

For Sunderland, yeah, Darren Bent scores, Lee Cattermole gets a yellow card and it’s another lost opportunity. Actually, not really. Incredulously, the Black Cats haven’t beat the Villians at home since George Bush’s first term. Yes, really.

• The Manchester City Rooneys-In-Waiting roll out a different carpet for the Cannons from Emirates

(Preview via Shaun)
There are many games in the EPL this weekend, but the biggest (other than Liverpool versus Blackburn…who would have ever thought) is at the City of Manchester Stadium, which host the Gunners. Second versus third, things got a little ugly last year, when Emanuel Adebayor scored and ran the entire length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans (he also stamped on Robin Van Persie face earlier in the match).

Arsenal fans acted pretty poorly knocking over a steward in the process. A year removed and everything should be calm….should be. Adebayor hasn’t been all that impressive in the EPL (he scored a hat trick this week in Europe) and David Silva scored a fantastic goal after replacing him against Blackpool. Look for the Spaniard to get the nod and partner with Tevez this Sunday.

Arsenal are fresh from a 5-1 route of Shakhtar Donetsk and will look to bring the same lineup against The Blues. Hopefully Chamkah can continue his rich vein of form and find the back of net up north.

We here at TSG predict a high scoring draw. Hopefully a 3-3 one. That said the major difference in the teams is their keeping with Joe Hart excellent in goal and Fabianski…not quite so.

———-

SPL:

• The Maurice Edu Classic: The Old Firm Game.

As we tweeted on Thursday: Beyond Donovan and Dempsey–who both have the “attack” gene–if you had to have one American to convert a clutch goal with a game on the line, aren’t you betting on Maurice Edu?

Edu notched the game winner the last time these squads met in February. He should have had the game winner against Slovenia for the national team and just this past Wednesday, had he not tried to play a little defense and even his plus-minus, he would have had another big-game winner.

Maurice Edu, you’re third string US central midfielder. Man the Yanks are stacked.

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