Party in Your Pants

September 19, 2007

Actually, the party is at Emirates Stadium tonight in North London when Arsenal and Sevilla get it on. For a full preview of this game from the Gunner’s perspective check out the superb A Cultured Left Foot. The comment section alone is thoughtful reading for Arsenal fans.

Throw out TTL’s (un)proven theory of 1st games in CL Group stages lacking offensive firepower. Hoping the goal-scoring carries over to tonight. But in order to look forward, we must first venture back to the past. Specifically, some TTL headlines from last night’s action.

Liverpool, were “very, very bad” in the words of their Manager Rafa Benitez. LP were lucky to draw 1-1 with Porto as the Portuguese Champs dominated the game everywhere but the scoreboard. LP conceded their 4th penalty kick of the year(!) in the 8th minute and Lucho Gonzalez converted from the spot. This was after Steve Finnan’s poor clearance almost gifted Porto a goal in the 2nd minute as only a fine stop from Pepe Reina prevented a goal. The Dutch porn-star Dirk Kuyt headed LP level after 17 minutes but that was the high point of LP’s evening. Jermaine Pennant picked up a needless 2nd yellow forcing LP to play a man down for the final 32 minutes and some staunch defending kept it tied. TTL was furious at Pennant for his ill-tempered game all night and forcing me to watch LP play with 10 men. The best one can hope for is a draw at that point. Could have just chanted “Defense, defense” for the rest of the game. Ruined a perfectly fine night of football and wouldn’t find seeing Pennant rotated out of the much ballyhooed rotation for his poor performance.

Shakhtar Donestk proved the Ukraine is strong in hammering hapless Celtic 2-0. Celtic has lost 13 CL away games on the trot and they certainly weren’t convincing last night. Realistically, Celtic is playing for 3rd in Group D as 3rd-place finishers are put into this season’s UEFA Cup. But Celtic will need a much improved performance as Donestk could easily scored 5. Every time TTL glanced at the game the Ukrainian side had Celtic under pressure.

Andriy Shevchenko rescued Chelsea from an embarrassing home loss to Rosenborg. The Blues drew 1-1 as Rosenborg put in a good performance and benefited from Chelsea twice hitting the post in the 2nd half. And things keep getting worse for Chelsea as it appears both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba will miss this Sunday’s tilt with Manchester United at Old Trafford. TTL suggests Jose Mourniho skip the omeletes all-together and go with scrambled eggs.

Spain won their duel with Germany as Real Madrid beat Werder Bremen 2-1 and Valencia won at Schalke 04 by the score of 1-0. Always think the Bundesliga teams are slightly overrated as its been awhile since a German club made a good run in the Champions League.

Here are tonight’s games. Already covered Arsenal-Sevilla today and yesterday, so TTL sincerely hopes it lives up to my high expectations. The other two games that TTL will be watching are Sporting Lisbon v Manchester United and Barcelona v Lyon.

It’s a homecoming in Lisbon for former Sporting stars Ronaldo and Nani along with Man U’s influential assistant coach Carlos Queiroz who managed Sporting from 1994-1996. There’s a good chance Wayne Rooney will play tonight after recovering from his metatarsal injury. (Ok, it’s officially spooky that as Rooney comes back from his injury England/Wigan striker Emilie Hesky broke his metatarsal). Rooney and Carlos Tevez have yet to play together, so it’ll be interesting to see when/how their partnership up-front meshes. They’re both fantastic players but TTL is wary of their ability to play with each other since their styles are quite similar. Both like to drop deep to pick-up the ball, run hard at defenders and are not great in the air. The situation could parallel the Lampard/Gerrard situation on the English national team as that team floundered because Gerrard and Lampard were unable to play well together despite both being good/great players. Just bears watching.

As for Barcelona v Lyon need to see if Lyon’s window to win the CL has passed. The 6-time defending Ligue 1 Champs were TTL’s trendy pick to win it last season before they exited with a whimper in the 1st knockout stage at the hands of Roma. They started slow in their domestic league this season but have regained their stride winning 4 in a row. And have traditionally played well on the road in the CL the past few years. On the other side is Barca, off to a slow start in La Liga as “los magnificos” are yet to find the goal with any consistency being held to goalless draws in 2 of 3 league games. A team built for offense is sputtering as manager Frank Rijkaard searches how to array his attacking talent of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and new 17 year-old sensation Bojan Krkic. This could be the game of the night if Arsenal-Sevilla fails to deliver.

Until tomorrow.

Champions League Kickoff

September 18, 2007

Welcome to the 2007 Champions League. Without further ado, here are tonight’s fixtures with all games starting at 2:45pm Central for those midwestern fans. This is game 1 of the 6-game Group stages with the Top 2 teams from each group advancing to the knockout round of 16. The Group stages rarely produce too many surprises, as a smaller club may win an odd game against the likes of a Barcelona or Chelsea but won’t advance in the end. The 6 games really favor the bigger clubs whose quality/quantity of rosters help them through the grind. Normally the 1st games aren’t known for exciting football as teams usually play not to lose. But let’s hope that is not case this season.

TTL’s game of the night is FC Porto v Liverpool. Porto, the defending Portuguese champs, welcome last-year’s runners-up to the Estadio do Dragao for an intriguing game. Porto is playing excellent football while opening the season with 4 consecutive wins in their domestic league. LP is also on good form, despite being held to 0-0 draw at Portsmouth on Saturday. Steven Gerrard will play tonight and it will be his 80th European game for the Reds. Look for an edgy, tactical game as Porto has only conceded 1 goal this season and LP usually plays a counterattacking style on the road in the Group stages. With Marseille and Turkish side Besitkas also in Group A, winning away from home will be a tough task. Don’t think LP will win tonight, but a draw will suffice for their purposes.

Defending champs AC Milan welcome another Portuguese side, Benifica (and America teenager Freddy Adu) to the San Siro in a rematch of the 1963 Final. Enough said about the Italian clubs the better. And while TTL is an extremely giving mood, let’s give props to Arsenal, top of the table in the Premier League for the 1st time since 2004. Henry who? Although soon could be referring to the Gunners as the Kalashinkovs.

Chelsea hosts Norwegian side Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge without the injured Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Wayne Bridge and Claudio Pizarro. Which lead to this typical baffling Jose Mourinho quote:

“The style of how we play is very important. But it is omelettes and eggs. No eggs – no omelettes! It depends on the quality of the eggs. ‘In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. ‘So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.”

TTL wholeheartedly concurs. After spending roughly 1 trillion assembling a roster the past 3 seasons Chelsea should be able to serve up a decent omelette.

Continuing with the food analogy, tonight’s games are some tasty appetizers before tomorrow’s encounter of Arsenal v FC Sevilla which is like steak stuffed with sushi. What a mouthwatering games as these 2 teams are simply fun to watch play. Arsenal is in full form at the moment as their short-passing game is shredding Premier League defenses. And Sevilla plays with a real spirit and commitment to attack as the 2-time defending UEFA Cup champs must win more games 3-1 than any team in recent memory. Put it on your sporting calendar.

Will be back tomorrow (no false promises) with a recap and preview of Wednesday’s action. C’mon Liverpool.

Live blogging England v Russia

September 12, 2007

Even worse than reading about fantasty teams (TTL’s NFL team won, ha) is reading how busy someone is. So no excuses about the lack of posts. Like the Cubs TTL is failing in the clutch. But will attempt to remedy the situation tonight with a live blog of England v Russia starting at 8:30 CET or 2:30 EST depending on your time frame. Until then.

England v Russia Live from Wembley.

Love the Match of the Day tune on BBC, one of those songs that hasn’t changed in 20 years. England starts an unchanged team from their 3-0 win over Israel on Saturday. That is:
Robinson (goal) Richards, Ferdinand, Terry (captain), A Cole in defense, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard, Barry, J Cole in midfield with old Liverpool and England teammates Hesky and Owens up-front.

Russia, managed by the excellent Guus Hiddink, is expected to play 11 men in defense and hope for a draw. The Russians have only conceded 1 goal in their 8 qualifying games.

Here is a quick peek at the Euro 2008 tables and they show this a MASSIVE game in Group E as Croatia and Russia have easier games ahead than England. Remember, the top 2 in each group advance to Euro 2008 next summer in Austria/Switzerland.

Russia is starting a team with all 11 players currently plying their trade in the Russian League. It includes a set of identical twins at right/left back. And it would take me until halftime to type out all their names.

TTL predicts a comfortable 2-0 win for England. Why? Because Lampard is injured so the midfield belongs to Gerrard. He is England’s best player and paired with Barry who’ll hang back a bit defensively, Gerrard is free to surge forward, something he does ever so well for club and country.

86,000 fans, including 5,000 Russians, greet the teams as they walk on the field for their respective National Anthems. Wembley is buzzing. God Save the Queen indeed as the English fans overpower the singer on the pitch.

TTL will also be flipping occasionally to check on France v Scotland from Paris, a big game between the top 2 teams in Group B. Also, fair play to USA rugby team (the Eagles) who lost 25-15 to Tonga today. USA is playing some competitive rugby.

3min
Early corner for the Russians as they power forward (surprisingly) and England struggles to clear their goal.

6min
Hesky already proving his worth as big target, heading a ball back down to Gerrard who had gotten forward. Hesky is reborn this season for Wigan and England. He last donned the national shirt at Euro 2004. Richards long throw troubles the Russian defense and corner to England. Barry plays in a great ball, its cleared out to him and then Barry sends in another good ball that Michael Owen cooly places in the right corner with his right foot. GOAL and the perfect start for England. 1-0.

9min
England fans taunt their Russian counterparts with a chorus of “You’re not Singing Anymore.” Gerrard plays through Hesky who misses due to a great save and Owen stumbles trying to pounce on the rebound. It’s like Liverpool circa 2000-2003.

13min
Jerkoff (sp) is providing some danger from Russia down the right flank and he sets up a decent chance for Russia which is buzzed into the side netting. Apparently, tiebreakers in the qualifying are determined by head to head match-up so this game and the one in Moscow are immense as Owen skips past a few defenders while England emulates Brazil and pass the ball with some aplomb all over the pitch.

16min
Another corner for England. And before all the pundits praise Manager Steve McClaren for these performances remember he was forced into this “makeshift” line-up by England’s injury woes. Nothing quite like the buzz of the crowd when Gerrard launches a shot from way out. He sliced it way right.

19-23min
Russian captain sneaks behind Terry and Ferdinand and only an unlucky bounce of the ball prevented him from having a one v one with the English keeper. The impressive Gareth Barry tracked back from midfield to break-up the attack. He and Gerrard are dominating the game. But just like that, Russia counterattacks and scores but the goal is disallowed by the non-blonde Swedish referee who ruled that the Russian player controlled the ball with his hand/arm first. Tough call need to wait for more replays. Still, a warning to England. Who, respond quickly, as Wright-Phillips heards over the bar after a great cross from J. Cole as they try and reenact their goal from Saturday.

24min
Robinson is forced into making a good save as the Russians look dangerous on the attack.

27min
As the England backs Richards and A. Cole bomb forward, Russia is finding some space down the flanks, especially down the left side. Hesky bails England out, by fighting off two defenders and holding the ball until more England players join him in attack. Unheralded skill, but a big striker who wins balls in the air and holds it up is a huge asset to a team.

30min
Barry wins a ball, plays it back to J. Cole who unleashes a good (deflected) shot that the keeper parries away. This a fun game, as these teams are both attacking with some verve. Hesky wins another ball in the air and heads it down to the rejuvenated Michael Owen who unleashes a right-footed laser into the top left corner for his 40th goal for the Three Lions. 2-0!

34min
England is rampant, like they are playing 12 on 9. The Russians aren’t closing down well (shocking for a Hiddink-coached side) and England seemed poised to score every few minutes. Best performance by an English side in a long time.

38min
France and Scotland are tied at 0-0. Let’s go Scotland!! Russia makes a change bringing on another forward and taking out a midfielder to change their alignment to a 4-4-2. “England are in harmony” according to John Motson, the Vin Scully of English soccer broadcasting.

41min
Continuing my love/hate relationship with England, TTL doesn’t want England to qualify but is estatic that Owen is finally playing well again after 2 disastrous injuries. The cold-blooded striker is the reason why TTL became a Liverpool fan.

45min
Russian freekick right at the half is cleared harmlessly away. Would really like England to rest Gerrard in the 2nd half as England should be able to maintain their 2-0 advantage in the 2nd-half. For the record, Owen scored in the 7th and 31st minute. Count TTL among the impressed by England’s superlative 1st-half.

Half-time replays show England got a big break as Russia’s goal should have counted. But when things are going your way you get calls like that.

Scotland and France are 0-0 at the half. The 3rd place team in that group, Italy are up 1-0 in the Ukraine at half. The dreams of N. Ireland look to be dashed as they lost 2-1 to Iceland despite David Healy’s 12th goal of the qualifying campaign. They also lost on the weekend to Latvia.

47min
Gerrard almost bulldozes through the Russian defense and the Russians promptly respond with a nice 1-2 down the the right flank and buzz a shot past the post. A minute later, a Russian cross just misses an outstretched leg. Two good chances for Russia as Gerrard drives forward and forces a good save from a left-footed shot.

50min
Zerkoff and the substitute Brusoff causing England some real problems in the back as this turns into a wide-open affair. The Russians don’t want to go quietly into the goodnight as they are now playing with 3 strikers. Yes! Why not go for some goals. Russians deserved to be rewarded for this risky strategy but they are leaving themselves vunerable to a counterattack and possible hat trick for Mr. Owen.

55min
The overrated A. Cole is having all sorts of problems at the back for England. Think Aresenal were right to deal him to Chelsea for William Gallas. England are all over the place at the back as the Russian pile on the pressure.

58min
Ribery denied by the excellent Scottish keeper Ben Gordon as it is still 0-0 in Paris. England seem content to absorb pressure and have lost control of the game. Haven’t had enough possession to stem the Russian hordes. J. Cole found Gerrard open at the penalty spot but the Liverpool skipper completely mishits it.

61min
England looked to have regained the upper hand but here come the Russians as they have a freekick from a dangerous spot that they promptly waste. Another change for Russia: Shrusonklsy for Shithalkcmeonk. Problem with playing 3 strikers is the difficulty in working the ball up to them, especially past the rock that is Gareth Barry. He’s having a fantastic game.

65min
Hesky continues to be a menace (too big to be a nuisance) by getting his head on every ball sent his way. The Russians are valiant, but it is a young side and they seem to be lacking that little bit of class needed to score goals. Think some changes might be in store for England as they look a bit tired. Good low cross from the Russians but suddenly they only have 1 man on the receiving end. Where did all the strikers go?

68min
England broadcast record as it takes 69minutes to mention Beckham. Announcers are wondering about who’ll be selected for the next round of qualifying game in October. Gonna be a headache for McClaren as these 11 have made a STRONG case for their inclusion. Great news, as McFadden puts Scotland ahead 1-0 in France. Oui! Italy is up 2-1 in the Ukraine.

71min
England have regained control of the game by keeping possession. Don’t think the Russians have it in them to come back now as the clock ticks.

75min
Owen almost send Wright-Phillips clean through but is thwarted by his own unsteady feet. Feel that England now more likely to score than Russia. As that sentence is typed, Russian forces Robinson into a good save from a wicked left foot shot. Oh, what a different game this would be if that goal wasn’t dissallowed. J. Cole involved in 2 straight controversial tackles and receives a yellow. Crowd is booing as Russia almost works a nice freekick into the box but England clears. Hesky comes off from Peter Crouch while Russia makes its 3rd and final change.

80min
Crouch immediately heads one down to Wright-Phillips whose fine right-foot volley is pushed aside for a corner. Scotland continues to lead with 10min to go. England corner as they push for a 3rd. Barry takes it with his left and the keeper punches away from Terry. Barry plays it back and Ferndinand channels his old striker skills by beating the keeper at his near post (poor keeping, he’s actually Russia’s 3rd choice) and England lead 3-0.

85min
All just a formality now, so switching over to Scotland game. Watching it on French TV featuring Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on color commentary. Scottish wearing some uncharaterisitic white uniforms with gold numbers. Awful, do they think they’re Italian. Looks to be all hands at defense as the French stream forward. Lots of Scottish banners hanging up as the Tartan Army loves to travel to support their side.

87min
In honor of the injured Thierry Henry, Scotland players dribble the ball to the corner flag to waste time and force French defenders to take it from them. TTL absolutely abhors this technique. Pass it around, it’s ridiculous to dribble around like that. Gordon makes an easy save as the French look dangerous despite the Scottish wall in front of them as the clock hits 90.

3 minutes of injury time as even the normally stoic Wenger is psyched for a French corner. Scottish counterattack as they clear their lines but then lose possession. Ribery is everywhere for the French as Scotland boots the ball all the way back to the French keeper. Scots break-up another attack but the French have a corner in the 92nd minute. Get a head on the ball drawing another corner which is cleared as the final whistle blows and the Scots have a monumental 1-0 win in Paris to go top of their group. Yes!!!!

Great scenes in Paris as the Scottish fans go wild in the stands. Solid night of football. England win 3-0 and more importantly the Scots prevail in Paris. Enjoy the games and thanks for reading. Back tomorrow with a recap of all the qualifying action.

What time is it?

September 6, 2007

Actually, time for my fantasy football draft but TTL is boldly not studying this year. After getting burned by drafting with a little bit of knowledge the past few seasons, going with the gut this year. That’s all you’ll hear about my NFL fantasy but maybe more on my Premier League Fantasy Team (c’mon Clint Dempsey) as the season goes on.

The 2007 Rugby World Cup begins Friday in France. Most pundits including TTL (a little bit of knowledge is dangerous) predict New Zealand to win it. The All-Blacks have only won 1 WC despite being the best rugby-playing nation in the galaxy. There is a huge gulf in talent between the top 8 sides and the rest of the world, so expect some ridiculous scores posted on teams like Namibia, Portugal and sadly the semi-pros from the USA. The big interest in the pool stage is who takes 2nd in Pool D, France or Ireland, although Argentina has a puncher’s chance of sneaking into 2nd. Anyway, the 2nd-place finisher faces NZ in the quarterfinals which is something that contenders Ireland and France want to avoid at all costs. Particularly the French, as this game takes place in Cardiff, Wales and not in France. And the tournament organizers, the IRB, whose dream final is NZ v France in Paris.

TTL enjoys international rugby and will spend some time at the pub watching games. And due to an unprecedented media blackout of the RWC watching live games might be the only way to go.

Also glad that England will relinquish the Web Ellis trophy they won in Australia in 2003. The defending champs are a shadow of the physical side that bullied and kicked its way to the title. Definitely have a like/loathe relationship with England international teams as TTL knows all the players and sorta wants England to do well but just so I can root against the English. They’re like a nation of passive-aggressive Philly fans but with much cooler singing.

As this post takes on a personal nature, might as well bemoan the fate of the Cubbies. Dropped into a tie for 1st in the Central with Milwaukee today after closer Ryan Dempster gave up 4 in the ninth to lose 7-4 to LA. Troubling developments all week as this team looks close to imploding a la 2004. Not playing very good baseball, particularly at the plate, as they continue to swing away with reckless abandon. Over the 4 game series the Cubs’ batters walked 18 times, stuck out 22 times, left 58 men on base and grounded into a mind-boggling 10 double plays. Not quite the winning formula. As a lifelong Cubs fan it is terrifically exciting when the Cubs play meaningful September baseball. Just wish they wouldn’t play so much like typical Cubs.

That’s it for today. Thanks for checking TTL.

Champions League Draw

August 31, 2007

Pressed for time (again) so this blog gonna be a bit linky. But should give one enough reading for the day.

Here are the CL Groups for this season. Little worried about Liverpool’s group as that is 3 tricky away games, especially in Turkey. Aresenal received the easiest group of the 4 Premier League teams.

England picked their roster for their massive Euro 2008 qualifying games next week. No David Beckham as the former England captain is out 6 weeks with a knee injury sustained in this week’s SuperLiga loss to Mexican side Pachuca. In that game, Landon Donovan missed a chance to win it during the penalty shoot-out. Gotta step up and make the winner.

Today is the last day of the summer transfer window. Don’t expect too much activity. Transfers can be made again this season during January.

Here is the weekend’s fixture list for the Premier League. TTL’s Game of the Week would be Blackburn v Manchester City in an otherwise mundane line-up of games.

Gotta run. Apologies. Enjoy the games and Go Cubs. Some team has to win the worst division in baseball.

CL Qualifying Round 3

August 28, 2007

The return legs of the CL qualifiers from 2 weeks ago are tonight and tomorrow. The pick of the litter tonight is Dinamo Bucharest (1) v Lazio (1) as the Romanian champs hope to use their away goal to go on and upset Lazio from Serie A. Remarkably, if Bucharest holds on tonight against Lazio and their bitter rivals Steaua Bucharest advance tomorrow night, then Romania will have 2 teams in the Group Stages. Don’t know much about Dinamo, but Steaua was in the CL last season, and has made good runs in the UEFA Cup the past 2 seasons as well (3rd place finishers in CL Group phase are entered into UEFA Cup draw).

Liverpool should finish the job against Frenchies Toulouse tonight at Anfield. LP will be without defender Jamie Carragher who broke a rib in their 2-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday. Steven Gerrard will not suit up due to his broken toe. Sincerely hope Rafa continues to rest the franchise this weekend against lightweights Derby. Free transfer Andriy Voronin continues to impress as he scored and set-up Momo Sissoko’s 1st LP goal. The power of the Ukrainian pony-tail is alive and well. TTL would link to the Sissoko goal but the Premier League is inexplicably suing YouTube for copyright infringement.

LP will pay tribute to Rhys Jones as they’ll play Everton’s theme song “Johnny Todd” at Anfield before the traditional “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” There is some deep soul-searching taking place in England at the moment as several violent acts involving young people have wracked the nation.

Also, the AEK Athens v Sevilla is postponed due to the death of 22 year-old Sevilla midfielder Antonio Puerta who collapsed during the game against Getafe on Saturday. Puerta came up through the club’s youth system and has been an integral part of Sevilla’s past 2 impressive seasons. He collapsed on the pitch, was able to walk off it but then suffered a massive heart attack in the dressing room. Simply tragic.

To be perfectly fair, looking into the above 2 items has dampened the enthusiasm for writing this post. Enjoy the games, as sometimes sports is the best remedy for life’s ills.

Weekend Previews

August 24, 2007

Hey all. Sorry for the slow posting week but quite busy with my own football team. But the soccer season waits for no man and not only is there a full slate of Premier League action but the Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga kick-off as well. Will do a small preview of the Serie A and La Liga later this week.

As for the Premier League let’s briefly look at the games. Gonna change it up with a 2 sentence preview of each.

Saturday Clashes

Sunderland v Liverpool Roy Keane’s Sunderland started the season well but beating LP is a tall order. Look for Rafa to play with perhaps 3 strikers (Crouch, Torres, Kuyt) up-front as LP look to score early to end any hope of a Sunderland upset.

Arsenal v Manchester City Will Arsene Wegner start error-prone Jens Lehmann in goal as Arsenal look to end top of the table Man City’s winning streak? Arsenal captain and central defender William Gallas is out until October with a groin injury but still can’t see Man City winning this one despite their recent good form.

Aston Villa v Fulham Villa, searching for their 1st win, host Fulham who’ll be without the services of their American captain and striker Brian McBride until Christmas because of a knee injury. Fulham look much improved from last season but the jury’s still out on Villa.

Bolton v Reading Winless, bottom-dwelling Bolton are desperate for some points as rumors abound about a very poor atmosphere at the club. Reading continue to impress and must like their chances at Bolton after playing Man United, Chelsea and Everton already.

Chelsea v Portsmouth Sevilla turned down Chelsea’s 24million offer for Daniel Alves while Chelsea has sold Dutch winger Arjen Robben to Real Madrid. Chelsea wins this easily as Jose Mourniho reaches milestone of managing 100 games in a row at home without a league defeat with Porto/Chelsea.

Derby v Birmingham Derby as added American midfielders Benny Feilhaber and Eddie Lewis in an effort to bolster their roster. Big game for both clubs as they are rivals in the relagation battle.

West Ham v Wigan Wigan continues to defy the odds, the pundits and the average fan who’d prefer this club from a rugby town get relegated. Hammers looked dreadful in opening lose to Man City but rebounded to beat Birmingham in a solid performance so who knows which team will show up?

Everton v Blackburn Two clubs with European ambitions meet at Goodison Park in game that sums up the hard-tacklin’, hard-charging, hard-nosed and hard-fought Premiership. Both teams are slowly shedding their reputations as hack artists and becoming more fluid, varied sides.

Sunday Clashes

Middlesbrough v Newcastle Don’t like this Boro’ team and my bet would be that they go down unless stalwart centerback Johnathan Woodgate returns soon from his knee injury. Newcastle is quickly reaching the level of consistency, especially defensively, under their new manager Big Sam Allardyce that it takes to compete in this league.

Manchester United v Tottenham A pair of early season dissapointments square-off at Old Trafford in a game that United must fancy as Tottenham have been horrible defensively this season. Tottenham playing under a cloud of uncertainty as every European manager was linked with the Tottenham job this week and now under-fire manager Martin Jol must coax a good performance out of his struggling team.

Enjoy the games.

Lookin’ Live at England-Germany

August 22, 2007

Well, not really live if you are reading this. But TTL will try his hand at live-blogging (who hasn’t) the England-Germany friendly starting at 2:30 ET. Hate friendlies, but thought it’d be fun to do. There are some Euro 2008 qualifying games tonight as well. TTL is keeping a close eye on Estonia v Andorra as these teams look for their first points of the campaign. See you in a bit.

England v Germany

The boys from Match of the Day are off to their usual strong start in the pre-game. Kickoff delayed by 5 minutes as Germans arrived late leading to a rash of German inefficiency jokes. Great montage of all the England-Germany clashes at Wembley throughout the years as England haven’t beaten Germany at Wembley since 1975.

We’re officially 1 year into the Steve McClaren era as England manager. Alan Hansen just called McClaren’s tactics in their lose to Croatia earlier this year “disatrous.” Ah, the English press/pundits really hold back their opinions.

England have quite the injury list but big thing about this friendly is that many of these players will feature in their vital qualifying games at Wembley against Israel (Sept. 8th) and Russia (Sept. 12th).

Conditions are bad with tons of rain and with liberal substitution policies in these friendlies expect a lot of shuffling of players. But then again, these two flat out don’t like each other so this could turn into a “real” game.

Not too much discussion of Becks (who is starting) besides Ian Wright suggesting Becks wouldn’t have gone to MLS if he thought he’d return to the national team.

Germany only has about 4 regulars starting as they have their own injury problems and they are wait out in front in Group D.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in attendance.

Captain England John Terry leads his side onto the field alongside his German counterpart Bernd Schnieder. (Apologies in advance for spelling errors).

Wembley, despite the rain, looks in fantastic shape. McClaren wants it to become a “fortress” for England as they have 4 Euro 2008 qualifying games there in the fall.

National anthems are awesome in international games as players and fans belt them out.

English side; Robinson (G) Richards, Terry, Ferdinand, Shorey (Def), Becks, Carrick, Lampard, J. Cole (Mid) Owen & Smith.
Take me way too long to type out the German team, as the only regulars are Lehmann (Goal), Kuryani (striker) Lahm and Schneider (Mid).

Kick-off and underway as Becks first free-kick is headed out of the box by a German defender.

3mins: England are pressing all over the field as the red-shirted(?) struggle to string more than 2 passes together. To be blunt, internationals are usually choppy games since these players don’t play very often together. But the pure passion of players/fans makes up for the uneven quality of play.

6min Commentators not happy with Carrick and Lampard standing alongside each other in midfield instead of staggered as England promptly give the ball away easily.

7min Joe Cole makes a run with the ball through the middle and a good tackle at top of box prevents him from shooting. He’s one of the few English players that consistently take people on with the ball.

9min GOAL for Fat Frank Lampard. Booed last time at Wembley, Lampard beats Lehmann on a good strike from right box (might taken slight defection of defender). Lampard’s first international goal in 9 games was set up beautifully by 19yr-old Micah Richards beating a defender then slipping Lampard a great pass. Nice football.

12min England look dangerous as the drums and singing reverberate throughout Wembley. Richards is on the sideline getting treatments as he took a knock setting up the goal.

15min In actual Euro 2008 qualifying, N. Ireland lead Lichtenstein 2-0 as Fulham’s David Healy (of course) scoring both. And Portugal held to a shock 1-1 drawn in Armenia.

17min Richards back on and draws a foul near the corner flag. Becks doesn’t deliver a good ball and Germany now in possession.

19min German look out of sorts and are also only playing 1 striker in Kuryani. Lehmann booed every time he touches ball by England/Arsenal fans.

20min Germany make first serious foray into English end as Shorey gives away a free kick. Ferdinand heads it out giving Germany a corner. Metzleder gots sum hops and sends header just wide of post. He simply outjumped the English defense. 6,000 German fans start chanting and are promptly whistled down.

23min Nice to see England playing with some energy as up to 8 of these players could start against Israel. Germany has picked up their tempo and suddenly we’ve got a game.

24min Lehmann surprises whole stadium by actually catching a deflected cross of another impressive Joe Cole run.

25min GOAL Germany 1-1. Oh, yeah. Metzlberger launches laser that Robinson parries down and Ferdinand clears but Schneider sends cross back in and catches Robinson cheating out. Robinson desperately swats ball from under cross-bar to Kuryani who gleefully taps into the net from 2 yards out.

28min Now Shorey gets forward and squares a nice ball across the box but unfortunately no England player was there. Kinda ball Gerrard deposits into the net for laughs. English defenders (Richards&Shorey) been great going forward.

31min Shorey gets fouled on left sideline and its Beckham time as big-boys Terry, Richards and Ferdinand move into position. Great ball by Beckham and Smith flicks on from near post but no England player touches it. Easily could have been 2-1.

33min Lampard denied by Lehmann but Lampard could have passed across to either Owen or Beckham for easy tap-in. Another missed opportunity followed by Cole getting booked (tough to do in a friendly) for a tackle from behind. Another Robinson gaffe as he comes off his line for free-kick and missed ball by a mile. Fortunately, Germany was offside. Robinson doing nothing to solidfy his status as England keeper.

36min Richards continues to trouble German defense drawing a foul and Becks put in dangerous free kick as German defense barely clears their lines.

39min Robinson now getting booed when he touches ball. Both keepers not exactly fan favorites. Smith quietly having good game upfront holding the ball up and moving well. Owen is invisible. GOAL. 2-1 for Germany. Pander, German debutante, scorches an absolute blast from outside the box with his left foot into top right corner. Nothing Robinson could do about it. England almost answer right away as Smith chips a great ball into the box that Owen heads but Lehmann makes a brilliant one-handed save. Becks just drove hard shot into wall as this game is sizzling.

43min As required by any England telecast they show players from the 1966 WC winning side. OK tonight since they beat Germany 4-2 in the Final at Wembley but every international game features some mention/footage of 1966.

45min Lampard makes great flick into Owen’s path. Lehmann comes off his line, bobbles the ball and Owen misses an empty net in a scramble. Halftime in an entertaining game.

Substitutions: Brown for Ferdinand and 37yr old David James returns to English goal replacing Robinson.

Bittersweet news as Estonia beat Andorra 2-1. The Estonians pick-up 3 points after scoring their first two goals of the qualifying campaign in the 8th game. Hard luck for the semi-pros of Andorra.

2nd half

47min Apparently James was always going to play 2nite and has nothing to do with Robinson’s blundering 1st half performance. English announcers ripping on fans of expensive seats for staying in their hospitality suites and finishing their drinks.

49min Hitzisperger very impressive in midfield for Germans. Good on the ball, nice shot and good range of passing. Beckham uncharateristically beats defender down the right and then uncharacteristically puts in a poor cross. Despite sleeping the whole flight from LA to London doubt Becks will finish this game.

52min Hilbert subs in to play right midfield for Germany. Another young player from Stuggart, the defending Bundesliga champions.

55min Gareth Barry from Aston Villa on for Carrick in central midfield. Incredibly, this is the 5th different England manager Barry has played under. Afraid the game will lose some of its surprising quality now as each manager making use of his 6 allowed subs. Right on cue, Dyer and Crouch are on up-front replacing Owen and Smith. Crouch is suspended for the Israel game but is available for Russia.

58min Joe Cole in his typical manner darts inside from the left and unleashes a shot just wide of the net. First real chance of the 2nd half for either team. Now Shorey plays another dangerous ball into the middle and Cole ‘s volley is blocked. Lehmann beats Dyer and Crouch to the loose ball. Shorey as looked good, certainly putting in better crosses than the overrated Ashley Cole from the left-back spot.

62min Game opening up a bit as England presses forward for a goal exposing themselves to the counterattack. Shorey gives it away and Kuryani almost picks out a streaking German with a nice cross. Bet its even money on either team to score at this point.

64min Kuryani gets between Richards and Brown and James rushing off the line. Fortunately for him, Kuryani’s chip goes well wide. No reason for James to come rushing out there. Adventerous keeping is the norm tonight. England almost answers through Dyer as Lehmann comes rushing off his line and fortunately gets a piece of the ball. Becks corner kick is cleared. But almost immediately England regains possession and Beckham squares a great ball across that the speedy Dyer pushes wide. Got to hit the target from there but that’s Dyer’s recurring problem. Great pace, nice skills but the frequently injured and hasn’t scored in 37 international appearances.

68min Looks like Shaun Wright-Phillips to come on for Becks. The commentator Mark Lawrenson admits if Gerrard is healthy they should bench Lampard and play Owen Hargreaves and Gerrard in the middle. The Lampard/Gerrard experiment hasn’t worked well as they are both similar players. Wright-Phillips on for Joe Cole?!? Promptly puts in great ball from left that Lampard stretches for and puts it over the bar. Rofflfs on for Germany.

73min That’s all 6 subs for England so Becks will finish game. He’s put in a good effort but think he’s limping. LA Galaxy brass must be pissed. Could be a fun war of words between MLS and English FA. Surprised Wright-Phillips not moved out to right, Beckham to middle and Barry to his natural left-side. Then again, Europeans tend to scoff at Becks in the middle where he’s playing for LA.

75min England corner as Wright-Phillips shot is deflected out. Good ball in and Terry’s header headed off-line by German defender. Meanwhile, Kuranyi putting on a clinic as lone striker, constantly moving, winnning balls and holding it while his teammates make runs. Schalke 04 playing quite well.

79min Lehmann saves from Wright-Phillips who’s looked very competent. Played sparingly for Chelsea last season but seems to be forcing Jose Mourniho to play him regularly. Now the German fans can be heard clearly throughout the stadium. England has a terrible overall record vs Germany and it bothers them to no end.

82min The proverbial shot of German legend Franz Beckenbauer in the stands. Game breaking down a little as England starting to play long balls up to the giant Crouch. Germany in the midst of back-to-back corners which England clears all the way back to Lehmann.

88min Kurayni continuing to make himself a nuisance. He’s man of the match for Germany and give Micah Richards the nod for England. Becks dissappeared for the last 20 minutes most likely due to fatigue.

90min 3 minutes of stoppage time as Germany playing keep away now.

It’s over with England having one last decent chance that Shorey crossed straight to the keeper after putting a nifty move on the defender. The Germans win 2-1. They were quite steady after the initial 20 minutes while England was all over playing well in spurts, poor in spurts and medicore overall. England did create enough chances but with no Wayne Rooney up-front England didn’t finish. It’s just a friendly after all. Both teams have Euro 2008 qualifiers on September 8th.

Well that’s it for tonight. Hope you enjoyed it.

Commiserations and all to…

August 20, 2007

Liverpool who were offered an apology by referee Rob Styles in regards to his botched penalty decision that gifted Chelsea a goal. Styles will not officiate in next weekend’s matches due to his mistake. He’ll be joined in his punishment by assistant referee (linesman) Ian Gosling who failed to give Fulham an equalizing goal late in their 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough. It is the assistant referee’s decision to judge whether or not a ball crosses the goal-line and Gosling clearly blew the call on David Healey’s shot. Even with the acknowledgement of the bad calls neither game result will change. At the end of the day, Chelsea still drew with LP and Boro beat Fulham.

Interesting sidebar to the Fulham decision in that the Premier League indicated they are testing the Hawkeye Technology, used in tennis and cricket, to assist with goal-line decisions. Instant replay in soccer? Part of the appeal of soccer is the constant action, apart from Italians being stretchered off, and don’t think the average fan will be supportive of many stoppages in play. However, if the system works like the innovators claim and the referee is notified within 5 seconds of an incident, then it could becoming to a stadium near you. Then famous incidents like this one would truly be a thing of the past.

Outside the Premier League, there were some spicy results at the weekend. Lorient handed 6-time defending champs Lyon another defeat as Marama Vahirua scored both in Lorient’s 2-1 home win. Over in Scotland Rangers continued their perfect start with a 7-2 pulverizing of Falkirk. Beware the Gers! Hopscotch back over to Germany where Bayern Munich smashed Werder Bremen 4-0 as pricey newboys Luca Toni and Franck Ribery each netted a goal. Bremen are no slouches so it appears as if the boys from Munich are prepared to make sauerkraut with the Bundesliga this year. Popping into Portugal and find out that Freddy Adu’s Benefica has already sacked their manager a scant 2 games into the season. And finally, the Spanish La Liga starts this weekend with a little derby action between defending champs Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid. Deliciouso!

Bit of a short flyaround today as TTL started his American football season today. Oh, and not one to pay much attention to preseason football but would enjoy seeing the Bears stomp the Colts. Just saying.

FU CHELSEA!!!

August 19, 2007

Straight to the action. Liverpool drew 1-1 with Chelsea at Anfield courtesy of a ridiculous 2nd half penalty call by referee Rob Styles. New Chelski signing Florent Malouda drew the penalty by literally paying no attention to the ball and jumping onto the back of Steve Finnan. Referee was in perfect position and flat out fucked up the call (apologies for the swearing, but TTL is major league TO’d). Fat Frank Lampard converted canceling out newboy Fernando Torres brilliant 16th minute goal for LP. It was a typical LP-Chelsea affair, as both teams controlled the play in spurts but overall LP was the better side. But that means nothing if you don’t get the result.

Manchester City defeated Manchester United 1-0 in their derby. TTL did predict Man City would take a 1-0 lead only to lose in the end and its shocking Man U didn’t win. The Red Devils dominated play in every aspect but Geovanni’s excellent 31st minute goal stood up. TTL MAN of the Day award to Man City defender Micah Richards a one-man fortress in defense. Carlos Tevez, the Argentian torro, missed a fantastic chance to equalize late so Man U currently sits 16th in the table while Man City occupies first.

In the day’s other game, Arsenal tied 1-1 with Blackburn. These team’s styles don’t mix and its always a choppy game. There were plenty of cards today and several shoving incidents as Arsenal, the proponents of the beautiful game, were tackled to death by a feisty Rovers squad. Robert Van Persie put Arsenal ahead in the 1st half only to see Blackburn level late courtesy of another Jens Lehmann gaffe. The Arsenal goalkeeper whiffed on a simple catch and watched in disbelief as David Dunn’s speculative effort floated out of Lehmann’s grasp into the net. In all fairness to Lehmann, this game had tie written all over it and it seemed like only matter of time before Blackburn tied it.

For all of the results click it. TTL’s quick hitters for the rest of the games:

Good news for Tottenham as Derby came calling and Tottenham rolled them 4-0.
The pressure is building on Bolton manager “Little” Sammy Lee as his side loses their 3rd straight 3-1 at Portsmouth.
Brian McBride scored to put Fulham ahead 1-0 on Middlesbrough. Then things went really wrong for Craven Cottage USA as McBride dislocated his knee on his goal, Carlos Bocanegra slipped to allow Boro a 2nd goal and substitute Clint Dempsey blew an open net as well. Boro beat Fulham 2-1 as the calls for replay technology grow when the referees disallowed a clear goal for Fulham late in the game. All in all, a rough day for Fulham.

The Premier League is in full swing. TTL is in mid-season anger and Wigan is in 3rd place. Get on it!