25 April 2005

Euro Leagues Summary

Heading into the final month of the season, I thought I'd do a quick recap of the major European leagues and see where things stand and which title races are still up for grabs. Here goes...

There's little drama at the top of the Premier League table as Chelsea are champions-elect with a lead of 14 points with only 4 games remaining. The only question is when they will clinch the title. There are, however, places in Europe still up for grabs. Everton have yet to clinch the fourth and final Champions League place, though they have the inside track. Liverpool and Bolton look to be headed into the UEFA cup, though a few teams like Middlesbrough and Tottenham are still in the mix.

It's a two horse race in La Liga with Barcelona maintaining a six point lead over arch rivals Real Madrid with five games remaining. Real Madrid beat Barca a few weekends back to keep their title hopes alive, but Barcelona would still need to slip up badly in home stretch to give the meringues any hope. As their 0-4 away win this weekend at Malaga indicates, Barcelona have no intention of slipping up. Behind the two front runners, five teams are within four points of one another fighting it out for the other four places in next season's UEFA competitions: Sevilla, Español, Villareal, Valencia, and Real Bètis.


Olympique Lyonnais are virtually assured of a fourth consecutive Championnat with an 11 point lead with only four games remaining. Lille have been a bit of a surprise in second.

After a slow start to their Bundesliga campaign, Bayern Munich have been able to grind their way to a nine point lead with four games remaining. Despite Bayern's comfortable lead, there's been a fair amount of parity in the Bundesliga in recent years and that's proven the case this year as well with seven teams still in contention for European places next year.

PSV Eindhoven have already claimed the Dutch Eredivisie title. Their 14 point lead is unassailable with only four games remaining. One surprise is the fact that AZ Alkmaar have been able to upset the balance of the traditional "big three" in Holland. They currently stand in third and are set to square off against Sporting Lisbon is the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup.

It's an exciting battle of the titans for this year's scudetto with AC Milan and Juventus tied at the top of the calcio on 73 points with five games remaining. It's a two horse race with the third place team 14 points back. Juventus don't have the distraction of Champions League matches anymore, but I'm not sure that makes a difference. Both teams are tremendously talented and deserving, but, personally, I favor AC Milan.

24 April 2005

Premiership Relegation Update

Another weekend of fixtures has resulted in another series of flip-flops at the bottom end of the English Premier League table. Both Crystal Palace and Norwich were able to secure important wins and leapfrog ahead of West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, who were both soundly trounced.

Crystal Palace 1 - 0 Liverpool
Norwich 1 - 0 Charlton
Middlesbrough 4 - 0 West Brom
Portsmouth 4 - 1 Southampton

West Brom do have a game in hand, which comes this Tuesday at home to Blackburn. After that they face Arsenal and ManU in succession. If they're to save themselves, nothing less than full points will do on Tuesday. Norwich, with two wins and a draw in their last three matches are the hottest of the bottom four teams. If they can keep their positive momentum through their visit to Southampton next weekend, they just might have a shot, albeit a long one. I still hold to what I said several weeks ago. Three of these four teams will go down. I still believe Crystal Palace will be the ones to save themselves, but it will come down to the last weekend. Too bad MLS will never experience the drama of a relegation battle.

21 April 2005

UEFA Demands Domestics, Sort Of...

It still won't prevent Arsenal, Chelsea, or Real Madrid from fielding teams devoid of domestic players, but a recent ruling by UEFA does demand that minimum numbers of "home-grown" players be part of the 25 man rosters of all clubs taking part in European competitions. For the 2006/07 season, at least 4 players must be home-grown, two of which must come from a clubs own academy system. This number rises to 6 in 2007/08 and 8 in 2008/09.

19 April 2005

The National Netminder

Ever since Brad Friedel announced his retirement from the U.S. national team, I've been trying to influence Bruce Arena's choice of successor for the goalkeeper position. This is undoubtedly the deepest position for the U.S. so Arena is spoiled for choice. One of Bruce Arena's greatest and most distinguishing attributes is his egalitarian approach to handing out roster spots and no less than nine different players have donned the goalkeeper's jersey in the past few years: Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Adin Brown, Joe Cannon, Jonny Walker, Tony Meola, Nick Rimando, and Zach Thornton. So, who should Arena take to Germany 2006?

It's hard to argue against Kasey Keller deserving a shot at the World Cup. It was a toss-up between him and Friedel in Korea/Japan and when Keller lost out, he was forced to watch from the sidelines as Friedel's heroics, including two penalty saves, inspired the U.S. to their best ever performance on the international stage. But Keller's more than just a sentimental favorite. One of a goalkeeper's best attributes is experience and with 75 caps and 36 shutouts, this is Keller's biggest advantage over his rivals. As long as he stays healthy and sees regular first team action for his club, he'll be the starter for the national team.

Next in the pecking order, I'd place Tim Howard. After enduring a dip in form and the wrath of the British tabloids, he's finally starting regularly again for Manchester United. Even though he's still very much in the process of regaining his confidence, I think he's got the most physical ability of any of the U.S. keepers. The 2005/06 season will be crucial for Howard's career and his chances to displace Keller. Should he recapture the form of his first ten months with Manchester United, he'll be difficult to deny.

Marcus Hahnemann, on the other hand, brims with confidence. Formerly of MLS side Colorado Rapids, he has firmly established himself as a fixture and fan favorite at Reading, the English side currently in the thick of the battle for promotion to the Premiership. Hahnemann lacks experience at the international level with only 4 caps, but as the cornerstone of one of the stingiest defenses in English First Division over the past three years, it's high time he was given a chance.

The other long shot, I'd throw into the mix would be Adin Brown, now with Norwegian side Aalesund FK. It'll be a challenge for him to get enough exposure and consideration playing in second, or even third tier European league, to vie for a spot on the national team, but he certainly was impressive during his stint with the New England Revolution.

Finally, while I'd expect some of the domestic-based keepers get the odd call-up, I think Zach Thornton is the only other possibility for making the trip to Germany.

Preview: Chelsea-Arsenal

There are eight games in the Premiership tomorrow, but of course I only have eyes for one. Titleholders Arsenal are traveling to Stamford Bridge to take on the heirs apparent Chelsea.

Chelsea are all but anointed as the league champions for 04/05. They have an 11 point lead with 6 games remaining. Of course it's possible that they could be caught, but this would require an enormous meltdown of four (or more) losses, when they've only lost one league match all season. Unlikely. But Arsenal still have much to fight for: to keep hope alive; to maintain second place in the league; to salvage a bit of pride; and — more than anything — to defend their title like true champions.

Chelsea have put forward a strong case for themselves as the new class of the league. Their 25-6-1 record is certainly evidence enough, as is their miserly 12 goals conceded. Rare has been the chance to unlock their goal. Only two teams have scored more than a goal against them in the league: Bolton, and... Arsenal, in a 2-2 draw at Highbury. Meanwhile, the Gunners have been true to their namesake, pounding in a fantastic 73 goals so far. Going the other direction, things are just a bit less extreme. Chelsea started the season with a low strike rate, but have stepped things up. Likewise, Arsenal have had an unusually porous defense this year, but have done much better of late.

In short, these are two well-matched teams.

Arsenal have a couple of key injury worries for tomorrow. Freddie Ljungberg is out with a hip problem. More worrisome is the absence of Thierry Henry, who scored both goals against Chelsea in December. Chelsea are still missing Arjen Robben, but (contrary to my expectation) they've kept up their scoring pace in his absence.

This game doesn't have the history and bad blood that Arsenal-Man Utd does. Still, there is plenty of dislike between the teams, most notably the Chelsea-Cole connection that is still under investigation by the FA. Add that to two highly-motivated teams, mix them into a darby match, and we could have a heck of a game.

US viewiers will have the game live on Fox Soccer Channel. Take advantage, this could be fun.

17 April 2005

Premiership Relegation Update

Southampton 2 - 3 Aston Villa
Southampton were the big losers this weekend among the teams facing relegation from the English Premier League. After getting off to a dream start at home with two goals in the first fifteen minutes, they surrendered three goals to Villa in the second half and may have surrendered their Premiership status as well.

Crystal Palace 3 - 3 Norwich City
The match between the bottom two clubs could have proved decisive and it may yet depending on what happens in the remaining fixtures. Norwich came into the game having secured a historic victory over ManU last weekend. After going down a goal early, they managed to fight their way back to a 1-3 lead early in the second half. Ultimately they couldn't hold off the spirited Eagles from Crystal Palace and had to settle for a draw. Palace will be disappointed not to take full points, but if their comeback inspires them over the remaining matches, they might yet save their season. Norwich needs a miracle, I'm afraid.

Dream FA Cup Final

Start making your plans now for May 21 because this year's FA Cup Final is a dream match-up of two top teams- Arsenal and Manchester United. Arsenal won their semifinal yesterday, and today ManU easily got past a depleted and weary Newcastle side.

These teams have a history of tense and testy encounters, and the fact that this will be the only opportunity for either team to win a trophy this year only adds to the intensity and importance of the match. Should be an instant classic. Do not miss this match.

16 April 2005

FA Cup Semifinal: Arsenal 3-0 Blackburn

A poor game, but a fantastic win for the Gunners.

Frankly, Blackburn never looked to have much chance of scoring. Early in the first half, their defensive stance meant that Arsenal too didn't threaten much, and Brad Friedel once again performed brilliantly. But as the game wore on, Arsenal were able to mount more and more pressure, finally breaking through in the 42nd minute through Robert Pires. That opened the game up, and in the second half, Arsenal were able to dominate, holding the bulk of possession and finally getting two wonderful insurance goals from Robin Van Persie.

But oh, what a cynical affair from Blackburn. It's one thing to plan for a physical game. But from the outset it was clear that Rovers would go beyond physical and would try to either provoke or intimidate the Gunners. Challenges were made with studs showing and without regard for the ball. For example, early in the second half, Brad Emerton came sliding in for a ball that Jens Lehman had already claimed, leaving his studs up and catching Lehman on the thigh. Just a few minutes later, Robby Savage came flying in on Cesc Fabregas, putting his studs square on Cesc's exposed knee. Those are just two examples from a few minutes' space. Neither drew a card, and there were several other similar fouls that went unpunished, despite the four yellows that Blackburn took home.

Arsenal's class was quite a contrast to Blackburn's thuggery. In one memorable (but ultimately fruitless) segment, Arsenal strung together two straight minutes of posession, without allowing Blackburn a single touch on the ball. Beginning with a pass from Lehman, the Gunners put together 50 straight passes, giving everyone multiple touches (save Lehman) and knocking off 2:10 on the clock.

The class also showed on all three goals. The first was a fine affair from Kolo Toure of all people. Already forward for a free kick, he chased down a cross at the back post, pulled back inside his defender, then fired a wicked close-in cross that Pires hammered home. Pires looks like the luckiest player around -- always in the right place at the right time -- but it's clear that this is due to his read of the game. His goals look so easy because he's such a smart player. But Toure's move shows Arsenal's danger, with a center-half dancing on the ball in the opposition 6-yard box.

Van Persie's two goals were individual works of art. The first was simple individual brilliance. Taking a Viera pass under pressure, 15 yards outside the box, Van Persie first made a brilliant turn on Lucas Niell, followed by a nifty skip past the tackle from Andy Todd, quickly releasing himself on goal. He then efficiently buried the shot from just inside the box, leaving Friedel no chance.

His second goal was simpler but equally skillful. Taking the pass off Pires' wonderful run, Van Persie shot on the half-volley and again found the far-post netting. He turned to celebrate and was laid out by the shoulder and elbow of Andy Todd, ending up quite bloody and dazed. It's not at all clear whether Todd's blow was intentional. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but following Blackburn's unrelenting physical assault, it's hard to be forgiving. We shall see what the FA thinks upon review of the tape.

So: the end result is that we're in the final. We'll find out tomorrow which United team we'll face (Manchester or Newcastle). I think there's a valid question whether Arsenal's FA Cup success has historically come at the expense of their Champions League failures. But nonetheless it's their best chance at silverware this season, and Arsenal will give their all in the final game. We'll just have to see what game their opponents bring.

14 April 2005

Champions League: Semi-finals set

Four teams left: Chelsea, Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven, and AC Milan.

OK... technically, AC Milan are not yet through; that depends on a decision by the UEFA decision on the result of Tuesday's abandoned match. It is possible that UEFA could order the teams to play the last 17 minutes of the match, or even to play the entire thing again. But either outcome would be a reward to Inter, so it's difficult to see UEFA making that decision. More likely, they will award AC Milan the victory (probably by a score of 3-0, for what that's worth).

The two games yesterday were pretty darn good too. Liverpool played Juventus to a 0-0 draw in Turin, advancing to the semi-finals through their 2-1 victory at Anfield. This was the kind of game that shows that 0-0 draws are not all dour and boring. A single goal from Juventus would see them through, so Liverpool played a cagey game, defending in depth and picking their attacks carefully. All credit to the Reds, they played tremendously, and really earned their trip to the semi-finals.

The other game was even closer. PSV Eindhoven and Lyon finished regular time knotted at 1-1 (2-2 on aggregate) and didn't see any scoring in extra time... resulting in the dreaded penalty shoot-out. PSV came out victorious, winning 4-2 on penalties. The game was a tense, back-and-forth affair; two teams couldn't be more evenly matched. Lyon went ahead on a tenth-minute goal from ex-Gunner Sylvain Wiltord. PSV had several chances coming the other way, and finally equalised early in the second half on a shot from Alex. Both teams had chances in the remainder of the game, but no joy was found for either side. Ultimately penalties decided the match, with Eindhoven keeper Gomes guessing correctly and saving from Essien and Abidal.

Thus, the semi-finals are set. Chelsea and Liverpool face each other, starting at Stamford Bridge. It's unfortunate to see two English teams playing each other, but there's not much alternative at this stage. At the least, we're guaranteed one Premiership team in the finals. In three games, Liverpool haven't beaten Chelsea this year, but the games have been competitive. Both the league losses have been 1-0 affairs. The Carling cup final was a famously tight game, 1-1 at the end of regular time, and 3-2 to Chelsea through extra time. But Liverpool's form has peaked in recent weeks, while Chelsea, though still strong, have shown hints of weakness. This could be an exciting tie.

Assuming UEFA doesn't screw over AC Milan, they'll face PSV Eindhoven. AC will be the deserved favorite, based on their solid handling of a difficult Inter side. But AC are still fighting tooth and nail for the Serie A title, while PSV have all but wrapped up the Eredivisie. Last year we saw teams from smaller leagues -- Portugal and Greece -- win through to the finals over stronger teams from more competitive leagues. Can Eindhoven ride a simliar route through to the finals? Or will Milan demonstrate the dominance of Italian football? My head tells me that AC Milan will comfortably handle PSV, but my heart sees a gritty Eindhoven side making it a close thing.

13 April 2005

Champions League: Tuesday results

Wow. What a night.

The Bayern-Chelsea match lived up to expectations, though the 3-2 final score, 5-6 on aggregate, was perhaps a bit misleading. All signs pointed to a comfortable Chelsea aggregate victory, first when they scored in the 30th minute, giving themselves a 5-2 aggregate lead, then again when they scored in the 80th minute to make it a 6-3 aggregate lead. Bayern did their best to make up the difference, but their two late goals (one at the death) were never quite enough to pose a real threat. So Chelsea go through, and await the full results to see who they'll face in the semi-finals.

However, the Milan darby was a different sort of match. AC Milan were already in the driver's seat, and Shevchenko's 30th minute goal was probably the nail in the coffin. Yet the match was abandoned in the 72nd minute. When an Inter goal was disallowed for a foul, their thuggish fans (technically "visiting" fans, although San Siro is their home stadium too) began a rain of flares and water bottles onto the pitch. One of the flares struck Dida, the AC goalkeeper, on the shoulder. After one attempt at a restart, the match was abandoned.

It's not yet been determined what happens next. In the immediate future, either AC Milan will be declared the winner, or the last minutes will be replayed. But that's less important than the punishment that Inter will face. A hefty fine is almost a given, as well as being forced to play one or more games behind closed doors, in an empty stadium. The big question is whether Inter will be banned from the Champions League next year.

There are clearly two things going on here, and actions by the club and by UEFA need to address both. The club itself has to be punished. Clearly their fans are out of control, and the team ultimately has to bear the burden for that. UEFA will handle that side of things. But the bigger question is how Italy will deal with the thuggish elements of their fandom. This was clearly a premeditated event; the fans unfurled a banner that said "We Don't Care About The Match Anyway" even before the missles started to fly. The problems are systemic rather than isolated, and it seems they reach beyond the fans into the ways the clubs are organized. Will this change? Unlikely. Probably, all we'll see is a lot of official attention, some superficial changes, and a reoccurence of the problems down the road.

12 April 2005

Tuesday update

I know I'm well behind with a report on the Arsenal game, but there's a good reason for that. Fox Soccer Channel chose not to show the game until this Wednesday, so I'll have to watch it four days late. I'll offer thoughts after that. But until then, you can read the basic recap on Soccernet, or hear more specific thoughts on both Goodplaya and Arseblog.

In Champions League news, we have two interesting games today:

Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea: (First leg: Chelsea 4-2 Bayern) Chelsea were stellar last week, scoring four goals against a Bayern side that's usually quite a bit more stingy. However, Michael Ballack's controversial late penalty brought Bayern within two goals. A 2-0 win at home is certainly not likely, but it's doable; Bayern now find themselves in the spot that they put Arsenal just a month ago. Chasing two goals, they'll be forced to rely on their defense to blunt the potent Chelsea attack. I would expect a minimum of two goals in this game, and perhaps quite a few more. Should be interesting.

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan: (First leg: AC 2-0 Inter) Two of the giants of Italian football square off in the second leg of the darby tie. AC Milan have been the better of the two teams this year, going 2-0-1 over their three games, and currently sitting atop the Serie A table, 14 points ahead of third-place Internazionale. It's difficult to imagine Inter scoring 3 unanswered goals, but crazier things have happened. More likely would be a 0-0 final score that sees AC through.

Should be an interesting contrast between the games. Both games kick off at 2:30EDT. ESPN2 will show the Bayern-Chelsea match, while ESPN Deportes shows the Milan darby.

09 April 2005

Premiership Day in Review

The results that stand out from Saturday's matches primarily concern the bottom clubs and their battles to avoid relegation. Historically any team with less than 40 points is considered to be in danger of being demoted, so in the strictest sense any team beneath Manchester City are at risk. But with at least six games remaining to be played, I think Newcastle (38 pts.), Birmingham City (37 pts.), and, it pleases me to say, Blackburn (36 pts.) are definitely safe. Portsmouth (34 pts.) and Fulham (33 pts.) are probably safe as well unless they stumble badly in the last few weeks. That leaves four teams at the bottom, three of which will be relegated, and only one of which will be saved. Who will it be? My money's on Palace and fellow blogger, Aki Riihilahti

Blackburn 3 - 0 Southampton
This result represents a massive step towards safety for Blackburn and the end of a good recent run of form for Southampton. The Saints will need to regroup quickly. Southampton next face Aston Villa and Bolton, which will be difficult matches for them to gain points. Then, come a trio of games that will ultimately decide whether Southampton can stay up when they face Portsmouth, Norwich and Crystal Palace in succession.

Norwich 2 - 0 Manchester United
This is only Norwich's fourth win of the entire season, and while it is indeed impressive that they could dispatch the (once) mighty Manchester United, it's too little too late for the Canaries I'm afraid. The hole is too big. Still, the game next weekend with Crystal Palace will be huge for both teams. I can't wait to watch that one.

Let's see if West Bromwich Albion or Crystal Palace can pick up any points on the road tomorrow.

08 April 2005

Don Garber Interview on WSD

I managed to catch Nick Geber and Steven Cohen's interview with MLS commissioner Don Garber on their daily radio show, World Soccer Daily. To Nick and Steve's credit, they asked tough questions about the biggest complaints soccer fans have with MLS. And to Don's credit, his answers were thoughtful and direct, if not always in line with the purists' desires.

Some of the highlights:

MLS is experimenting with a single table format for its reserve team league and might, at some point, adopt it for MLS. The single table format is used by all the major European leagues. But Garber said MLS plans to preserve its post-season as American fans and media expect it.

Relegation is not a possibility for MLS "in our lifetime".

Garber also rattled off the shortlist of cities that are candidates for MLS expansion teams. Toronto is targeted for a team in 2007 as Garber mentioned they will possess two critical ingredients for a successful franchise city: motivated, local ownership and a soccer -specific stadium to be built for FIFA's World Youth Tournament. The other possibilities Garber mentioned were Houston, San Antonio, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Seattle. Personally, I would love to see the Seattle Sounders in MLS, but they've already been passed over once in favor of Salt Lake City.

Weekend Premiership Preview

What's on tap for this weekend's Prem games? Seven games left, and there are three races left: the race for second, the race to avoid the drop, and the race for Europe. So who's in play this weekend?

Middlesboro vs Arsenal: Both these teams are involved in races, with Arsenal dead even on points with Man Utd for second, and Boro fighting hard for a place in Europe. Right now they're in 7th, with 45 points, but only 5 points out of 5th and 6 points out of 4th -- so European competition is still possible. This could be quite a difficult game for the Gunners. The complementary match, back in August, was a real barn-burner: Arsenal won 5-3, but not before going down 3-1 early in the second half. Has the potential to be the game of the week.

Norwich vs Man Utd: Another pair of teams involved in very different races. Man Utd have every intent of taking second from the Gunners, and three points from this match. But, as I said on Sunday, Norwich are fighting hard to stay up, despite being 8 points from safety. They'll take the game to the Devils, which may leave them with a scoreline similar to last week's 4-1 defeat.

Blackburn vs. Southampton: With 27 points, Southampton is on the very edge of the drop zone, while Blackburn (on 33 points) are only one step back. So this game will do a lot in determining the relegated teams. A win for Rovers comes close to guaranteeing their survival. Last weekend's inspirational performance against Man U should do much to boost their spirits, and I'm sure they'll come out looking to take maximum points.

Everton vs. Crystal Palace: Life doesn't get easier for the Eagles, as they face yet another team with everything to play for. Everton are desperately struggling to hold on to the final Champions League position, with Liverpool charging from behind, so they'll be desperate for the points. However, Palace are only 3 points from safety, and they'll be fighting too. If Everton give them a chance, they'll jump on it. I would expect cagey play from Everton, with Palace desperately trying to crack them open.

Other games of note:

The Fox Soccer Channel lineup for this weekend:

Saturday 12:00PM EDT: Norwich vs. Manchester Utd
Saturday 3:00PM EDT: Man City vs. Liverpool
Sunday 1:00PM EDT: Aston Villa vs. West Brom

07 April 2005

DC United 1 - 1 Pumas

I managed to catch the first half of the CONCACAF Champions Cup match between the reigning champions from the US and Mexican domestic leagues, which pleased me for two main reasons:

1. I got to glimpse the new soccer configuration of RFK stadium now that it has been renovated to accomodate the newly arrived Nationals baseball team. I have to confess that I've never been much of a baseball fan, and after absorbing the awkwardness of the new soccer surface, I'm even less of one.

2. The game, at least the first half, was very entertaining. In the first leg of the previous round DC United defeated Harbour View FC from Jamaica in a drab encounter played in arctic conditions. The match against UNAM Pumas, in contrast, was much more flowing, dynamic and enjoyable. Credit the Mexicans, who came out attacking despite their current poor run of domestic form. United got an early goal set up by an inch-perfect cross by Jaime Moreno. UNAM then dominated the rest of the first half but missed a trio of good scoring chances. Pumas did finally manage to tie the score when awarded a generous penalty in the second half, with Jaime Moreno again the instigator. So, DC have to get a result in the return leg in Mexico City on April 13 to progress- not an easy task. Still, it's wonderful to see the US clubs competing on equal footing with the other big clubs from CONCACAF.

One question I'm left with, however, is the selection process that CONCACAF employs to determine the participants for this competition. I would assume that the league and cup champions from each CONCACAF member nation would have the opportunity to participate, but that seems not to be the case. Why is there only a single team from Costa Rica and none from Guatemala, Nicaragua or any of the other Central American countries? Is participation from "lesser" leagues simply at the whim of CONCACAF? Anyone know how this works?


Looking for your daily dose of Arsenal news and commentary? Then you definitely need to read this:
Ahead of the weekend's game against Boro the only bit of team news I have right now concerns Marc Viduka who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering gigantism of the head and being large enough to alter the course of comets in space.
Arseblog is one of the first things I read in the morning. Should be yours too.

06 April 2005

Olympique Lyonnais

Prompted by Cisko's previous post on the Champions' League match-up between Lyon and PSV, I was motivated to do two things. The first was to verify the complete names of both teams-- Olympique Lyonnais and Philips Sport Vereniging, which translates to Philips Sports Club. Yes, that Philips.

The second was to spend some time commenting on Lyon. This is a club that's headed to their fourth consecutive Championnat, a remarkable enough feat made more so when you consider the amount of player turnover they've endured during that period. Here's a list of the most notable names that have left Lyon in the past 5 years:

PlayerDeparture YearPositionDeparture Team
Sonny Anderson2003ForwardVillareal
Marc-Vivien Foe2002MidfielderManchester City (on loan)
Edmilson2004DefenderFC Barcelona
Frederic Kanouté2000ForwardTottenham
Steed Malbranque2001MidfielderFulham
Steve Marlet2001ForwardFulham
Vikash Dhorasoo2004MidfielderAC Milan
Giovanni Elber2004ForwardBorrussia Monchengladbach

Obviously, Lyon has been a popular way station for players whose careers are on the rise. Current hot properties plying their trade at Lyon are dynamic midfielder Michael Essien and impressive Brazilian defender Cris. I'd expect some big European clubs to make serious offers for these players during the summer transfer window. The transfer traffic is two-way however, and the year especially Lyon have benefited greatly by resurrecting the careers of two Premiership cast-offs, Junihno and Sylvain Wiltord. The front office and coaching staff at Lyon have certainly done a masterful job of selecting and integrating players, we'll see if they can manage it once again next season.

05 April 2005

Liverpool 2 - 1 Juventus: Champions' League Result

If you haven't followed Liverpool's trials and tribulations this season, you've missed out on one of the most gritty and inspiring campaigns of recent years. The Reds have confronted a litany of obstacles to overcome this season including a new coach, several new players, and, most seriously, a lengthy list of long-term injuries. In spite of it all, they've fought their way back to within a single point of the final Champions' League slot in the Premiership. They took mighty Chelsea to extra time before capitulating in the final of the Carling Cup. And they've been one of the surprises of the current Champions' League, making it to the knockout stages and getting past Bayer Leverkusen. For a club that has suffered much this season, it's fitting then that Liverpool should face none other than Juventus on the anniversary of the Heysel Stadium Disaster.

In true Liverpool fashion, Liverpool rose to the occasion and, thanks to two first class first half goals, managed to delight the home fans and come away with an historic win. And while I delight for the Reds, I have to favor Juventus to go through. They simply have more depth and talent, and are a much more cohesive side than Liverpool. I fear that the obstacle of holding onto their slim advantage over Juventus at the Stadio Delle Alpi in two weeks will prove too much for even this gritty Liverpool side.

Champions League preview: Lyon vs. PSV Eindhoven

...also known as "the other Tuesday game." But with so much attention on the Liverpool-Juventus game, I thought it worth looking into this matchup.

How did these teams get to the quarterfinals? Lyon clearly have been dominant this year. They blew through the group stage, winning Group D with a 4-1-1 record. They then destroyed Werder Bremen in the octofinals, winning 0-3 at Bremen before destroying the desperate Germans 7-2 in Lyon. PSV have been less impressive. They were second in Group E with a 3-1-2 record. In the round of 16 they defeated an off-form Monaco, winning 1-0 at home and 0-2 away.

Lyon and PSV Eindhoven are similar teams in many ways. Both have recently dominated their domestic leagues. Currently they're both first; Lyon leads Lille by 13 points and PSV leads AZ Alkmaar by 10. Both teams lead their leagues in goals scored and goals against. Lyon has 43 for and 17 against in 31 matches, so they're winning games by an average score of 1.4 - 0.5. That's good, but PSV is stunning: they have an amazing 72 for and 13 against in 27 matches. That's an average score of 2.7 - 0.5. Simply amazing. However it probably speaks more to the quality of opposition in the Eredivisie than anything.

So both teams are comfortable at home, but will be looking to establish their European credentials with this tie. Based on their previous CL performance, Monaco have to be considered the favorites. But PSV are certainly capable, and I'll be pulling for Damarcus Beasley to represent the quality of the American players abroad. Should be an interesting match.

03 April 2005

Arsenal 4-1 Norwich

I see that in Landry's recap below, he's graciously left it to me to recap the Arsenal victory over Norwich. And so... I shall.

Obviously it was a comfortable day for the Gunners, and rewarding to as the match saw them into second place in the league thanks to Brad Freidel and the wastefulness of the Man U attack. 4-1 could have easily been more, though with four goals it's hard to be picky.

All credit to Norwich as they came out of the gate looking for goals and trying to score. But they were just outclassed, and Arsenal dominated posession for most of the game. Norwich have not looked ready for the Prem this season; they have the willingness but not, unfortunately, the skills. Still, they were able to keep it interesting through the first half, and the 2-1 score, while certainly lucky for them on the merits, was a testament to their belief and hard work.

It was however disappointing to see Norwich's goal. To be fair, it was a great strike by Darren Huckerby. But he had all kinds of space to take it, thanks to Robert Pires' lackluster challenge. And Lehman didn't help his cause either, leaving his line to argue with the ref before realizing that the ball was still in play. I'm not sure that he would've been able to stop Huckerby's fine shot anyway, but as it was he gave himself no chance.

However, the Arsenal attack was a beautiful machine, holding loads of posession and making it tell time and again. What can you say about Thierry Henry? His combination of touch, pace, and shot strength are simply unmatched. The hat trick was well deserved and he could have had more goals besides. Freddie had a nice gimmie goal too, rewarding an excellent cross from Lauren.

Individual comments:
So that's it for this week. Arsenal travel to Middlesboro next week. Norwich are home to Manchester United. Take some points from the Devils for us!

02 April 2005

Premiership Day in Review

Cisko did a good job in his last post of highlighting the matches to keep an eye on this weekend. I've spent the day putting together a bunch of IKEA furniture for my son's new "big boy" room. He's very excited about his new bed, as would I be if I were him.

I did manage to watch Southampton v. Chelsea during E's naptime, and I have to say, there appears to be no stopping the big blue machine in their inexorable march to the Premiership title. On a day when Chelsea's thoughts were obviously on the their mid-week meeting with Bayern Munich in the Champions' League and Southampton are struggling for their very survival in the Premiership, Chelsea nevertheless swept aside the Saints in St. Mary's without hardly batting an eye. Chelsea's third goal was a thing of beauty as seven players touched the ball, none more than twice, in the build-up for Gudjohnsen to slot home his second of the match. The only question left in Chelsea's historic season is to see just how far they'll go in the Champions' League.

The other results that jump out at me from today's matches are these:

Manchester United 0 - 0 Blackburn
Blackburn continue to scratch and claw their way to another season in the Prem. They're not safe yet, but they're very close.

Crystal Palace 0 - 1 Middlesbrough
Palace drop crucial points at home against an inconsistent Middlesbrough. The scrappy London side still have a lot of work to do to avoid the drop. And with the difficult run-in that faces them, they need every single point possible.

Newcastle 0 - 3 Aston Villa
I'm not sure what to say about the implosion that occurred at St. James' Park today. For two teammates to come to blows in a game is sure sign of dressing room tension. For all the disappointment of Newcastle's season, they're still alive in the FA Cup, though the certain bans for Bowyer and Dyer will only hinder their cause. I can't see Dyer at Newcastle next season. He's been a source of friction for some time now and his actions today will surely see him cast out just as was Craig Bellamy.

01 April 2005

Premiership Preview

Well, internationals are done for now, and it's back to the leagues. What catches the eye for this weekend's games?

Arsenal, always first in my heart, are home to Norwich. Of course it's a disappointing year for the Gunners, yet they're still in third, and chasing Manchester United (two points ahead) for second. Norwich are running out of time; they're dead last, seven points from safety. With eight games left, there's not many points left on the table, and it's difficult to see how they take any tomorrow. Gilberto Silva is due to return for Arsenal, after missing six months due to a broken vertebrea. I think that time has taught the Gunners (and their fans) how much Gilberto contributes to the team. Anything less than a comfortable win will be a disappointment.

The Gunner's target, Manchester United, are home to Blackburn tomorrow. Rovers have been uneven all year, but their defense has solidified under the guidance of Mark Hughes. However, their goalscoring hasn't kept pace, and it's difficult to imagine ManU will go without a goal at home. Tough to see how Blackburn take any points from this one.

Chelsea are of course the class of the league at the moment, and only an historic collapse would see them yield the Premiership this year. They're away to Southampton tomorrow, who have been on a nice little run of their own, with no losses since 2 Feb. I thought Chelsea might begin to drop points when Arjen Robben went down, but Joe Cole in particular has stepped up and the attack has continued. Southampton are a tough team, and they will give Chelsea a fight. If Chelsea are caught looking ahead to their Wednesday Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, Southampton just might nick a point or three.

Other games of note:The Fox Soccer Channel schedule for the weekend:

Saturday 6:30AM: Charlton - Man City
Saturday 11:00AM: Southampton - Chelsea
Saturday 3:00PM: Arsenal - Norwich
Sunday 1:00PM: Fulham - Portsmouth

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?