Archive for the ‘Football (soccer)’ Category

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.

Showdown Sunday

August 18, 2007

Week 2 and already there are 2 big games this Sunday in the Premier League. All the fixtures are listed here. And here are TTL’s storylines for this week.

Manchester City v Manchester United (Sunday 8:30ET). Crisis at Man U? No Wayne Rooney (injured) or Cristiano Ronaldo (suspended) for the Red Devils as they take on bitter rivals City. Even if Man U win they’ll still trail City in the table after City won their opening 2 games. Sven-Goran Eriksson has transformed City this season and the fans will singing his name from the terraces if the former England manager leads City to a win over Man U tomorrow. Gonna be a dogfight and keep an eye out for Man City’s Brazilian midfielder Elano, he’s the real deal. Feel like City will take the lead but Man U will nip them 2-1 in the end.

Liverpool v Chelsea. Oh yeah!! Chelsea comes to Anfield where they’ve had success in the League and a horrible time in the Champions League. Mourinho’s men gritted out 2 league victories already and will play well tomorrow despite their injury problems. Massive game for Liverpool as their supporters are clamoring for a Premier League title this season. And LP is laying it all on the line as Steven Gerrard will play with a hairline fracture in his toe (metatarsal alert) and then take some time off. Bout time LP beats Chelsea in the league and bet they do 1-0. YNWA! And for a full preview of this clash check out the rabid Liverpool blog of Being Sven.

TTL’s darlings from Tottenham are desperate for a home win against Derby. The Hammers have dropped their first 2 games and need to right the ship. As Steven Gerrard said earlier this week “you can’t win the title in August but you can lose it.” Must win game for Tottenham.

Wigan hosts Sunderland in an interesting game. As a general rule, if a team achieves 40 points on the season they’ll avoid relegation. Both these teams are in danger of being sent down so any points they can pick up are huge, even in August. Early on though, these bottom tier teams of Derby, Birmingham, Wigan and Sunderland among others are playing some good football. They fielded teams with strikers and are trying to score goals, even against the big clubs. The past few seasons the smaller clubs tended to play very defensively resulting in some quite boring games. Hopefully this attacking trend continues as its great to watch teams play to win rather than sit all 11 men behind the ball in a defensive wall.

In other news England announced their roster for the Aug. 22nd friendly against Germany. More importantly, this group of players will form the squad for home Euro 2008 qualifying games against Israel on Sept. 8 and Russia on the 12th. Becks is in, a whole host of injured are not. Adding to list of missing players is LP’s defender Jamie Carragher who announced his retirement from the national team this week. Carra is a world-class defender but has received scant playing time under manager Steve McClaren. Good news for Liverpool as Carra will be resting while international games are played.

Back tomorrow with a round-up of all Saturday’s action. Still working on the copyright piece but its evolved into an anti-ESPN diatribe of its own accord. Still needs some tweaking. Enjoy the games.

Becks v Lando

August 16, 2007

Greetings all. The curse of the metatarsal strikes England again as this time Steven Gerrard (the horror!!) has a hairline fracture in his toe. Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez says Stevie G will play against Chelsea on Sunday and then rest for a couple of weeks. Means he’ll miss England’s friendly against Germany and a few games for his club. Add Gerrard to the list of Wayne Rooney (twice), Gary Neville, Michael Owen and David Beckham who’ve broken their metatarsal in the past 3ish years.

It could be the English national team curse or TTL’s curse. Playing Premier League fantasy football for the first time this season and The Third Leaf team is decimated by injury. Kinda feel like Jose Mourinho or Steve McClaren with all these injuries. All the high-priced guys on TTL’s team have succumbed to injury; Michael Essien (knee; Chelsea), Dimitar Berbatov (groin; Tottenham) and now Gerrard. Maybe TTL can influence the title chase by adding a few players from Chelsea and Manchester United to this cursed squad.

But in this endless circle of sports just as one star goes on the injured list another comes back. And David Beckham returned with a vengeance last night. Wearing the captain’s armband for the LA Galaxy, Becks scored in his trademark manner:

The man certainly has a sense of style. Cool moment and really like how wild his teammates went. Becks is a good competitor and despite all the off-the-pitch notoriety Becks gets his teammates have always enjoyed playing with him. Becks also assisted on Landon Donovan’s goal and got booked as the Galaxy beat DC United 2-0 in the SuperLiga semifinals. Not a bad 63 minutes worth of work for Becks. His ankle is still tender (but his metatarsals are fine, don’t worry) and TTL hopes Becks can play this weekend. He enjoys the big stage and LA are in New York on Saturday night (7:30 Estrn) to take on the Red Bulls. Look for nauseating full coverage of Beckham in the Big Apple on all 12 ESPN networks.

One thing that did strike TTL as strange about the Galaxy game was Becks with the captain’s armband. This a huge deal in European leagues as the captain is the unequivocal leader of the team. It is a big honor to be named captain of your club team and especially of your national team. This is what Landon Donovan said about it:

“I’m not stupid,” Donovan said. “[Beckham has] been a captain for England, one of the better teams in the world. For me, it’s not as important to wear the armband. I’m going to play the same way and act the same way towards guys whether I have that or not. I think it made him immediately part of the team in a real sense, not just on the field. I think guys looked at him differently, and he could say things to guys differently. I told him that if he was ready for it, I thought it was appropriate that he wear it and that I thought it would help us right now.”

TTL runs hot/cold on Mr. Donovan. Lando Dono could potentially be the best American player of his generation but he has not reached his ceiling. And don’t think he ever will playing in the MLS. He’s too comfortable there and shows no inclination of trying overseas again after his disastrous spell with German club Bayer Leverkusen in 2004. He conceded the “unimportant” captaincy to Becks and seems very eager to fade into the background and let Beckham become the face of the MLS. Lando Dono loves to be Robin so maybe he’ll flourish with Batman Becks absorbing all the spotlight. But the USMNT needs more leadership, more killer instinct, more nastiness and more competitive fire from Lando if the team is ever to make the jump to the next level.

There was a moment in last year’s WC game against Italy that typifies Lando. It was in the 2nd half of the 1-1 game when the USA was down a man and clearly struggling. There was a palpable sense of a forthcoming Italian goal in the stadium. USA cleared the ball out and Lando got it just inside his half. He hesitated, looking to pass but all his teammates were back defending. With no one open, Lando took it down the right side, beat 2 Italian defenders and forced a corner kick. Great run, great skill and he got a standing ovation from the USA fans. Remember thinking this is what Landon CAN do. But he only went at the Italian defense because he had no choice. His first instinct was to play the ball off to one of his teammates. He was basically forced into using his considerable skills, into putting the team on his back for a minute. Lando CAN do it but the real question is does he WANT to do it?

There is no way Landon Donovan steps up and scores a goal like David Beckham did last night. While Becks embraces the Moment, Lando shies away. Sincerely wish that Beckham’s competitive fire rubs off on Lando.

Back tomorrow with a post about sports news/highlights, ESPN and copyright. Interested, check back. Thanks for reading.

(Quote came from this fine article by Andrea Canales).

It’s Back

August 14, 2007

The footie is in full swing already with 3rd Round qualifying action for the Champions League on Tuesday/Wednesday night. For a complete look at the fixtures and the basic rules of the Champions League head here. Pressed for time today, so gonna roll with some quick TTL storylines for these games.

Turkish champs Fenerbahce hope to put a disapointing start behind them by holding serve at home against Belgian champs Anderlecht. Been living in Brussels for almost 6 years and still feel no love for Anderlecht. But be nice if Anderlecht qualifies though because they’ll host 3 games in the group stage. TTL could possibly snag a ticket to see a game. So c’mon Anderlecht.

Rangers host Serbia Champs Crvena Zvezda who’ve already fired their manager 1 game into the season. Hopefully the home crowds behave themselves during these 2 games as Rangers fans are on notice for sectarian chants and Zvezda for racist chants. Ugly side of the beautiful game.

Ranger’s eternal rival Celtic are in Moscow tonight against Spartak Moskva. Celtic is a TTL favorite and their manager Gordon Strachan is one of the game’s great characters. A reporter once asked Starchan “for a quick word” following a game. Strachan replied “velocity” and kept walking.

Last season’s runners-up Liverpool travel to France to take on Toulouse. French club is mighty fired up to be in European competition. Last time Toulouse was in 20 years ago when they famously knocked out Italian club Napoli featuring Diego Maradona. Should be fun as its an afternoon start as well (4:30pm France).

Aresenal has a tricky encounter with Czech champs Sparta Prague. The Gunners should survive but expect Sparta to push them to the limit.

Quick notes: Wayne Rooney is sidelined 2 months with a broken foot. Man U should survive but injury really dents England’s chances for Euro 2008.
Sevilla full-back Daniel Alves is NOT playing in his game against AEK Athens FC as the rumors of potential move to Chelsea continue to swirl.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the games.

Continental Drift

August 13, 2007

England isn’t the only country that kicked off this past weekend as the ever resourceful Scots are in week 3 already and the German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 debuted.

Bayern Munich retooled over the summer signing a plethora of new players including the delightful French international winger Franck Ribery (costliest transfer in Bundesliga history at a cool 25 million Euros), Italian striker Luca Toni and German striker Miroslav Klose. All 3 played well in Bayern’s 3-0 thumping over newly promoted Hansa Rostock. TTL is not a big fan of soccer stats (unlike ESPN) as teams can dominate in every statistical category and still lose 1-0 (see Arsenal last season). But Bayern did outshoot Rostock 25-0. Braterrific! Know that it is August but Bayern is a good favorite to win a Treble this season. Should roll to the Bundesliga title, win the German Cup (although were shockingly taken to penalties by a Third Division side in the 1st round) and are a good bet in the UEFA Cup. The humiliation of their 4th place finish last season and missing out on the Champions League is a big motivation for the German giants.

Not much to say about the Scottish Premier League except that either Glasgow Rangers or Glasgow Celtic will win it. Huge (sarcasm alert) surprise there as they’ve won a mere 93 SPL titles between them. Passionate stuff when there is an Old Firm derby (Catholic Celtic v Protestant Rangers) but bland when they beat up on the likes of Motherwell and Falkirk. Celtic made nice run in the Champions League last season, losing in extra-time at AC Milan in the knockout stages thanks to a Kaka moment. Search for AC Milan v Celtic on youtube. TTL refuses to directly link to anything that casts AC Milan in a favorable light.

Normally not a Rangers fan but USMNT’s DaMarcus Beasley is playing for them. Always cheer on the boys that are playing in Europe. Also Benny Feilhaber has moved from Hamburg in the Bundesliga to Derby County in the English Premier League. Like this kid’s game and hope the move to Derby works out as he should see a lot of playing time. For news on all the Americans playing outside of the MLS click on the informative “yanks abroad” link on the side.

French La Ligue
Toulouse beat 6-time defending champs Lyon 1-0 on Saturday. Don’t think Lyon will run away with the title this season but are still the team to beat. What a fabulous week for Toulouse. Beating Lyon and on Wednesday night Liverpool comes to town for the 1st leg of their Champions League qualifying encounter. Toulouse hasn’t played a European game (UEFA, CL) in 20 years so the fans are a bit excited.

The Spanish La Liga kicks off on August 26th. Real Madrid just signed diminutively good Dutch winger Wesley Sneijder from Ajax for 27 million euros. With this signing looks as if Real’s flirtation with Chelsea’s Arjen Robben is over. Chelsea is rumored to have put in a bid of around 30 million for Daniel Alves of Sevilla. The Brazilian full-back is an awesome player, probably the best attacking full-back in the world.

While the transfer season is open until August 31 there is a rush to compete deals right now with European competitions starting. Players are not allowed to play for 2 different teams in the same Cup competition. So if Alves plays for Sevilla this week in their CL qualifying game and is eventually sold to Chelsea he can’t play for Chelsea in the CL at all this season. Could be a flurry of activity in the next 2 days.

That’s it for today. Back tomorrow with a preview of the Champions League qualifiers on Tuesday/Wednesday.

Premier Thoughts

August 12, 2007

The 1st weekend of the Premier League was eventful. Defending champs Man U were held to a surprising 0-0 draw by 10 man Reading. But worse than the draw was that Wayne Rooney suffered a hairline fracture in his left food during the 1st half. Shrek will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks. Bad news for Man U but worse news for England’s 2008 Euro qualifying campaign. The Three Lions play two must-win games against Israel on September 8th and Russia on September 12th that Rooney will miss. Somebody please talk manager Steve McClaren off the ledge.

Arsenal left it late but finally topped Fulham 2-1. Beers are on goalkeeper Jens Lehmann as Arsenal were behind 1-0 after 50 seconds thanks to his major gaffe.

Chelsea beat pesky Birmingham 3-2 at Stamford Bridge setting an English record with their 64th unbeaten league match at home. More impressively, their manager the Special One Jose Mourinho, has gone 99 home league matches without a loss with Porto and Chelsea.

Liverpool looked very impressive in stretches with Steven Gerrard finally playing in his natural central midfield role but couldn’t get the crucial 2nd goal at Aston Villa. The 2nd goal is always vital as it effectively ends the contest but LP was unable to take advantage of some golden chances. When Villa equalized in the 86th minute it looked like another poor start to the season for LP until a moment of brilliance from the incomparable Gerrard gave LP the 2-1 win. Huge Gerrard fan but did think the foul that resulted in the free kick was a bit weak. Can see it at the end of the clip.

For all the results and a glimpse at the table click here.

Overall, a good start to the season. The newly promoted sides (Derby, Birmingham and Sunderland) all played well. Every point is important for these clubs, especially in the beginning of the season, as typically the smaller clubs wear down as the season progresses. They don’t have the budgets to afford huge squads like the Big Four. So injuries really hurt the smaller clubs. Rooney’s injury is huge blow for Man U but it is not going to cripple their title chances considering that the rampaging bull know as Carlos Tevez will replace Rooney. The Man Us of the world simply reload when players go down while smaller clubs have huge talent drop-offs when their top players are out. Such is the disparity of life in the Premier League.

Tomorow will look at some of the highlights from the other leagues as soccer season is truly up and running. Even have some tasty Champions League qualfiying games this week(Tuesday/Wednesday) with LP and Arsenal in action. So check back in with The Third Leaf when you need a break from the working world.

Kick-off Saturday

August 11, 2007

Love opening day in any sport and today is no different. The English Premier League opens with newly promoted Sunderland hosting expectant Tottenham at the Stadium of Light. The other games of note today (home team always listed 1st):
Bolton v Newcastle Big Sam Allardyce in his 1st game in charge of Newcastle returns to Bolton, a club he successfully managed for the past 8 seasons. Should be emotional.

Aston Villa v Liverpool LP is the only 1 of the Big Four playing today and need to get off to a good start after stumbling out of the blocks in the past 3 seasons.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Man U all play tomorrow. Here’s the schedule.

TTL is enjoying a nice summer and has not posted very much lately. So there are a few issues that need to be discussed.

This Beckham Character
Obviously there’s been a ton of media interest, hype, hyperbole, attention, overexposure surrounding Beckham’s move from Real Madrid to the LA Galaxy. TTL thinks of the Beckham move rather like Oprah’s Book Club. Certainly don’t agree with all of Miss Oprah’s choices but the fact is she gets people to read which is fantastic. Similarly, can’t stomach the endless hype of Beckham to America, but it gets people talking about soccer and the MLS which is fantastic. Genius move by the MLS to bring Becks to LA and it is already paying off with 46,000 at RFK in DC on a rainy Thursday night to see his MLS debut and another 40,000 expected on August 12 in New England. Hopefully, the media doesn’t kill the golden goose although ESPN is trying with its inane coverage of Becks.

The most interesting part of the Becks saga will play out in the next few weeks. Becks is coming off an ankle injury and has hardly played in the past 6 weeks. But England is decimated by injuries and Becks should get a call-up to the National Team for the August 22nd friendly(exhibition) against Germany. However, LA plays at home vs Chivas USA on August 23rd on ESPN2. What’s an international superstar to do? TTL thinks the ever media-friendly Becks will play in both games and the press will make a huge deal of it. Becks knows how to milk the media.

Outside the media angle, England needs Beckham to play well for them. England hosts Israel on September 8th and Russia on September 12th in two massive Euro 2008 qualifying games. Aaron Lennon, who replaced Becks on the National Team at right midfielder, is injured so it seems as if Manager Steve McLaren will give Becks a start in least 1 of those games. England need two victories as they lie 4th in Group E. The Becks/England/American soccer savior saga should continue for awhile.

Freddy Adu to Benfica
Great move. Adu played very well in the Under-20 World Cup where the US reached the quarterfinals beating Brazil along the way. Benfica, a Portuguese power, paid 2 million for Adu and it appears as if he’ll play quite a bit. The Portuguese Superliga is a good league and Benfica is in the Champions League which is pretty heady competition for the 18-year old Adu. Wish Freddy all the best.

That’s it for today. Time to head out to watch some opening day action. C’mon Liverpool.

Premiership Pal O’ Predictions

August 10, 2007

Welcome to the 1st annual Premiership Pal o’ Predictions (PPoP). Actually, its going by the moniker the Premier League this year, but by whatever one refers to the league, it kicks off tomorrow. Not doing a full preview of each team, but for some excellent team-by-team looks check out the cheeky Thatsonpoint or the more business-like soccernet.

Here is TTL’s PPoP for the 2007-2008 season.

Manchester United by a mile. The defending champs are stacked like a C-rate porn star. Their attacking players are downright scary, as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez could each score 20 goals (benchmark for scoring, like a 1,000yd rusher). Plus, they have cagey vets Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, and proven strikers Luis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the bench. High-priced transfer Owen Hargreaves should excel in the defensive midfield role, allowing the formidable attacking force ahead of him to flourish.

Defensively, Man U are a bit thin as central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic need to stay healthy. Goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar looks shaky in his possible retirement season and backup Ben Foster is out until winter with a knee injury. But the Red Devils should score enough goals to overcome any defensive lapses and could really beatdown on some of the lesser teams (Derby County, Wigan, Birmingham).

TTL is not a Man U fan, but they do play a lethal, attacking brand of football that is a nice change from Chelsea’s grinding title seasons. The real question for Man U will be in the Champions League this season as Sir Alex attempts to win another another Treble ala 1999.

TTL’s favorite Liverpool slides into 2nd this season but their 17-year league title drought continues. American owners George Gillet Jr and Tom Hicks allowed manager Rafa Beneitez to spend 43million this summer to stregthen the squad. Ukrainian strkier Andriy Vronin, winger Ryan Babel and coveted Spanish striker Fernando Torres were the marquee signings. Torres comes with huge expecations and was given the historical #9 jersey. If he can provide the goals that LP sorely needs, then LP will shine as Steven Gerrard, Xavi Alonso and Javier Mascherano anchor an outstanding midfield ahead of a stingy defense. But LP need to get off to a quick start, as their title aspirations effectively ended in September the past 3 season under Rafa due to poor play, especially on the road. In such a competitive league teams cannot afford any slumps.

3rd Place
Tottenham finally breaks up the Big 4. Only Everton has snuck into the top 4 recently (2005), but Martin Jol has the Spurs poised to pounce. Signing inspirational striker Dimitar Berbatov and acquiring young Welsh defender Gareth Bale to shore up a suspect defense were huge summer moves. Tottenham will score goals no matter who (Robbie Keane, Jermaine DeFoe or Darren Bent) partners Berbatov up-front but they’ll need to stop conceding. A healthy Ledley King at central defense will certainly help along with newboy Younes Kaboul. Defense (and, to be fair, huge budgets) are what separates the Big 4 from the rest, so if Tottenham is to crash the party they simply have to play better defensively. TTL bets they will.

4th Place
Chelsea nudges out Arsenal for 4th place and the crucial Champions League spot that goes with it. Chelsea already has a lengthy injury list (Ballack, Drogba, Robben, Terry, Makelele etc.) and will miss Michael Essien, Drogba, John Mikel and Salomon Kalou for up to 6 weeks in January because of the African Nations Cup. This is too much for even “The Special One” Jose Mourniho to overcome. Alas, this should be Mourinho’s last season at Chelsea as gazillionaire owner Roman Abramovich bears no love for his flamboyant manager and should sack him at the end of the season. Chelsea will fight hard, but ultimately all those nailbiting 1-0 and 2-1 wins they’ve pounded out the past few seasons will become ties this season. And ties end title hopes in this league.

As for the rest, here goes:
5th: Arsenal too much upheaval in the boardroom and Henry leaving for Barca hurts
6th: Everton sparky club will be a thorn in everyone’s side
7th: Aston Villa Martin O’Neill is a top manager and guides Villa into a UEFA Cup spot
8th: Newcastle Rabid, loyal fans are finally repaid as Big Sam Allardyce manages Magpies to a respectable finish
9th: Blackburn Gritty club just misses out on last UEFA place but American Brad Friedel continues to shine in goal
10th: West Ham After last season’s dramatic escape from relegation, the Hammers find comfort in 10th
11th: Portsmouth Why not? Not much to say about this club
12th: Bolton Don’t think manager Little Sam Lee can keep Bolton up in Top 8
13th: Man City City will compete but fans can’t be stopped from giving manager Sven hell
14th: Reading Last season’s darlings continue to play exciting football and avoid 2nd year relegation woes
15th: Sunderland Stay-up and play a very fiesty, competitve stlye ala their manager
16th: Fulham Half N. Irish/American team just avoids the drop
17th: Middlesbrough Eke, no real feelings about this club. Possible could finish much higher
18th: Birmingham Didn’t spend enough to stay up
19th: Wigan After 2 seasons in the Premiership Wigan heads down
20th: Derby County Playoff winners simply lack the talent at this level

Other Storylines
The return of Newcastle (and England) striker Michael Owen from injury. Former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson takes over the reins at Manchester City. Man U legend Roy Keane returns to Old Trafford as the manager of newly-promoted Sunderland. Keano didn’t exactly leave Man U on the best of terms. Craven Cottage USA (Fulham) becomes team N. Ireland as manager Lawrie Sanchez brings 7 of his countrymen to his team. Still, Americans Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey should start. Think that Dempsey could be in for a big year. And it should be another big year in Premiership. Let the games begin.