Friday, August 29, 2008

Week 3: Colin's picks, missing the Arsenal.

Lots of activity as we ramp up for the end of the transfer window and getting some football in before an international break. I'm moving house over the weekend and will miss the Arsenal for the first time in a while. Go on, though, lad, get us some points.

Bolton 1 - West Brom 2
Everton 2 - Pompey 0
Hull 0 - Wigan 1
Middlesboro 2 - Stoke 2
West Ham 0 - Blackburn 2
Arsenal 2 - Newcastle 1
Chelsea 3 - Tottenham 0
Sunderland 2 - Manchester City 0
Aston Villa 3 - Liverpool 1

Week 3: Will The Wolf Survive? (Jim's picks)

No time for niceties this week. Let's get into it, as I need to get ready to party with Los Lobos:

Bolton 2 – West Brom 1
Everton 1 – Portsmouth 1
Hull 1 – Wigan 0
Middlesbrough 3 – Stoke 1
West Ham 1 – Blackburn 2
Arsenal 2 – Newcastle 2
Chelsea 4 – Tottenham 0
Sunderlan 1 – Manchester City 1
Aston Villa 2 – Liverpool 1

No time for explanations, other than to say, sadly, I don't Liverpool can ride their luck on this poor form any longer. Hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Match Game

Champions League draw is out. The groups, and then some thoughts:

A: CHELSEA, Roma, Bordeaux, Cluj.
B: Internazionale, Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos, Anorthosis.
C: Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk.
D: LIVERPOOL, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille, Atletico Madrid.
E (for Easiest): MANCHESTER UNITED, Villarreal, CELTIC, Aalborg.
F: Lyon, Bayern Munich, Steaua Bucharest, Fiorentina.
G: ARSENAL, Porto, Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kiev.
H: Real Madrid, Juventus, Zenit St Petersburg, Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electrical Equipment.

Clearly, I stole that from the Guardian's MBM of the draw, but it holds up. Christ, could United have handpicked an easier draw? Maybe they would have taken PSV instead of Villarreal. But Aalborg? Google would have to stop and ask for directions on the way to that place. Ridiculous.

First off, obviously, Liverpool ... their European campaign this season needs some kind of clever nickname about a reunion tour. PSV and Marseille are recent Liverpool victims, and, of course, the ultimate get-back-together: Atletíco. Those will be a blast. Basically, Liverpool's group stage is a reminiscence of the Rafa Benitez era in Europe.

The other one that really excites me is Real Madrid/Juve/Zenit/BATE. The Old Lady is back in Europe, and you know they'll be ready for it. But neither Juve nor Real Madrid want to go to Russia. Zenit could cause a lot of trouble, even though it looks like Pavlyuchenko is headed to Spurs. Then, all three of those get to kick the crap out of Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electrical Equipment.

Chelsea, Bordeaux, Roma and Cluj. Whatever. Same thing for Inter's group. Boring.

I'll leave the Arsenal for Colin.

Hitting a stride

Arsenal were 4-nil winners over FC Twente yesterday at the Emirates in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier. Goal highlights here. (From 101 Great Goals, thanks, as ever, to Arseblog for the link)

I've always staunchly believed that a team should play itself into form in the pre-season against lesser opposition. Especially a team like Arsenal who rely so heavily on their approach to football to get their results. It's safe to say they didn't really take that approach this summer, save some very early matches, with the Emirates Cup and the Amsterdam tournament. They played - well at that - against some top competition including the likes of Real Madrid, Ajax, Juventus and Sevilla. But they never played in a way that let them find top gear to get rolling into the season.

Yesterday's match allowed them to play into their stride a little better. Hopefully they'll be able to move forward now with the fantastic goals they picked up yesterday. Interesting that Gallas went on a run and ended up scoring on a rebound.  Theo's goal was fantastic from several perspectives; the pass into space to spring him, his pace to get into that space, the curl to his shot, and predominantly the fact that he took the shot instead of passing it on to the open man. Time is on his side, but he's starting to show himself. This won't be the first time that someone has said that it's a big year for him.

Newcastle on Saturday. Should be interesting given how much King Kev has had them running thus far.

Living on borrowed time

How long can Liverpool keep this up? Not very, and if they don't watch it (i.e. get Mascherano in on Sunday at Villa to help calm the waters), there could be a shocking spanking in their near future.

They play United at Anfield in 17 days, and if for nothing else than peace of mind, Rafa should figure out a way to, you know, actually score against them. It hasn't happened in the league since Benitez took over. If it doesn't happen Sept. 13, especially if Gerrard rushes back from this "minor" groin surgery and plays in that match, the self-doubt will creep back into their minds.

Back to Mascherano. Yes, he's not an attacking player, but he covers so many of his teammates' asses out there. He's everywhere – at all times – in Liverpool's half, and it's struck me since the first leg in Liege that they've missed him. Mascherano handles so many of the little things here and there, he frees up the other forward players to really go for it. They will miss Gerrard, of course, but he might return for United. Essentially, if the groin heals properly, they'll just have to figure out a way to take care of business in one game without Gerrard – against Villa. But this winning it "at the death" approach will kill them. They've done it three in a row now, and Villa is a step above their opponents to this point. Either Liverpool plays as though they "get it" come Sunday, or there could be a stunning slap to their hopes going into the international break.

Also, how about the shift this guy puts in?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Walking the tightrope

Ho-lee shit ... Wow. Watched the first hour online, then had to leave for work. Caught the end only on the Guardian minute-by-minute. Christ ... more later.

Anyone visiting, feel free to rip, console, share or otherwise spill out your thoughts here in the comments. I need a drink ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"I've got a bad feeling about this"

Arsenal lost 1-nil to Fulham on Saturday. Fulham. Arsenal beat newly promoted West Brom 1-nil in the season opener. West Brom. Arsenal beat FC Twente 2-nil in a Champions League qualifier on August 13. FC Twente.

Arsenal sold or let go Flamini, Hleb, Hoyte, Diarra, Gilberto, Senderos, Traore and Lehmann.

Arsenal brought in Nasri, Bischoff, Silvestre, Ramsey, and (welcomed back) Vela and Djourou.

Arsenal are missing Eduardo and Rosicky to long-term injury.

Arsenal have arguably two of the best left/right backs in the league in Clichy and Sagna. In central defence, however, is a pairing in Toure and Gallas who, while quality, have been out of sync the majority of their time together.

In the middle of the park, Arsenal feature one of the very best at his position in the world, in spite of his age, in Fabregas. He is paired with Diaby, a man with unlimited potential who also holds a frequent buyer's card for the training room. With Diaby out, Fabregas is paired with Denilson, a deft passer with vision, but an extreme lack of experience, mettle, strength or stability. Plugged in during Fabregas' brief spell on the sidelines is Eboue. A man reviled by most in the world who enjoy football for a myriad of reasons which would take entirely too long to list here.

On the wings, Arsenal feature Nasri and Walcott. One was flies like the wind, but is also slight enough to be carried by the lighest of its breezes, while the other features a balance, skill, drive and upbringing that compares him to The All-Time Great.

In the front, Diaby's tour-guide to the training room, Robin van Persie. As skilled a striker of the ball as there is on the team, he's also the man who put about five free kicks directly into the Fulham wall on Saturday. There's Adebayor and Bendtner too. Both huge, powerful, rangy and capable of buckets of goals. Both eager to show they belong. Both press enough to draw their shots high, wide and all-too-often away from the mark. Vela, too, waits his turn with bags of pace, trickery and a nose for goal. But he posseses no credibility, no qualifications. Yet.

And so, Arsenal were losers on Saturday to a Fulham team that featured Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard, a pair that made Denilson look as if he'd seen a ghost and had to drop everything to run in the opposite direction. They featured veteren Mark Schwarzer who plucked cross after cross after cross out of the air. And Fulham poured forward to steal a goal and three points from a corner kick that saw Clichy - so quick to fly up the left flank - rooted to the near post, and Gallas - so desperate to prove himself a leader - lose his man yet again.

So yeah, I've got a bad feeling about this.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Holy wow, man ...

OK, I've just about caught my breath after that Gerrard goal. Good lord, Liverpool can't keep that up. Gotta start playing better.

Life is interrupting the football obsession a bit early this week, and there's not much time to get much into it. Liege on Wednesday – gotta get it figured out for that one.

More soon ...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Colin's week 2 picks: What are they serving at Villa?

Marty O' Neill is going insane.

I like what he's doing with Aston Villa, it's nice to see. Really. In fact, Villa gave Arsenal one of the best halves of football all of last season. But clearly he fancies himself an alchemist if he wants to turn Ashley Young in 30 million pounds, or Gareth Barry in 20 million. Hell, he does bear quite the resemblance to another rather dastardly sorcerer.

Week two is upon us and this week it means it's Derby Day for some of us at The Highbury Pub. We welcome our clutch (I've decided today to use that as the word for a group of Fulham supporters, get used to it) of Fulham supporters. And we'll welcome them with open arms, if not an entirely hospitable approach on the pitch. The Ful-O-Meter (Fulham points needed for safety from relegation) will stay firmly rooted at 0 after tomorrow.

Right, on to the show.

Liverpool v. Boro: 2-0
Newcastle v. Bolton: 1-0
Stoke v. Villa: 0-3
Tots n' Ham v. Sunderland: 1-1
West Brom v. Everton: 2-1
Blackburn v. Hull: 3-1
Fulham v. Arsenal: 0-3
Wigan v. Chelski: 0-2
Man City v. West Ham: 0-1
Pompey v. Man United: 2-1

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Week 2: Early season Blues (Jim's picks)

Even if Chelsea wore pink and purple polka dots (which I heard is their 3rd kit for 09-10), the title of this post would remain the same as there was a mean funk to the midweek debate. Really, international friendlies: Is there anything more pointless?

Compound that with the resumption of boardroom melodrama at Anfield and me having to see Samir Nasri's pixie-ish visage every three steps I make on the Intertubes, and it's been a long week waiting for Saturday to come.

The most impressive Week 1 display was, of course, Chelsea. The least impressive in victory was Liverpool, sadly to say. The most gawdawful to watch was Spurs. OK, let's get on with it:

Blackburn 3 – Hull City 1: Hull strikes me as scrappy, so they'll score. They had extra grit on display against Fulham, but the Week 1 euphoria has passed. Santa Cruz and Co. will introduce them to a familiar feeling that will be around this season.

Liverpool 2 – Middlesbrough 0: Torres is good for at least one more, but I think Liverpool will struggle to keep working out the kinks. It's still enough for the Anfield opener.

Newcastle 2 – Bolton 1: Keegan has to be ecstatic with the Old Trafford draw. Gut says Newcastle gets a bright start in these first few weeks.

Stoke City 0 – Aston Villa 3: Gareth Barry will lead Villa to another good performance before Liverpool comes to Villa Park next week. That'll really be something.

Tottenham 1 – Sunderland 1: I'm picking a draw only because Spurs must gain something from opening the White Hart Lane schedule. I actually think they'll lose, but I can't pick that.

West Brom 0 – Everton 1: When the Toffees are in disarray, Moyes rallies the players. They have enough here.

Fulham 1 – Arsenal 3: Silvestre! I mean ... Silvestre! Wow! Anyway, lord love Peter Wilt. I know we all do, but it's Arsenal, man. Too much, too soon for the Cottagers.

Wigan 0 – Chelsea 3: Blues have something to prove early on. Plus, Big Phil is kind of a cagey bastard that I think really relishes some comfortable results here with the spotlight on him.

Manchester City 3 – West Ham 3: City is in shambles, so I see them conceding way more than should ever be acceptable. Should be another good day for Ashton.

Portsmouth 1 – Manchester United 1: This is more heart than head, but I feel bad for Pompey's start: away to Chelsea and then home to United. C'mon! That's unfair, but I'd like to think Crouchy gets on the sheet and early, premature "Doom for United" talk continues after this one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"We're all wired into a survival trip now."

Every last one of us. At least we’ve got that in common. The curtain (last curtain reference of the season!) was torn back and we’ve all been revealed – for better or worse – as desperate hoarders of those precious points.

After watching the full slate of football over the English Premier League’s opening weekend we’re all fully aware that the race is well and truly on. Newcastle looked industrious in nicking a point from an admittedly undermanned United at Old Trafford. It’s always fun being the lone man singing for dropped points in a pub titling heavily in favor of Manchester United. Newcastle ran their little hearts out and Shay Given gave a performance in goal that makes you want to rush back to watch him play yet again.

On Saturday, watching Boro brush aside an awful Spurs team was pure joy. And right along with that was the row of frowns on the Spurs fans who shuffled out after their match ended in disappointment, yet again. The true joy of the weekend came as Arsenal picked up their three points in a 1-nil win over newly promoted West Brom. Tony Mowbray promised us football and the Baggies delivered. At times, in truth, they bossed the game (although Eboue in central midfielder did better than expected, which isn’t saying an awful lot). If not for a Johan Djourou clearance off of the line, the final would have been quite different. (Quick note as well: nothing better than standing on a city street outside a football pub in your shiny new Arsenal shirt waiting for kickoff and having a guy pull up on his bike yelling, “Up The Albion!”)

It’s tough to assess the Arsenal side after this first game, with key parts either missing or not yet in place (buy someone, Arsene!), but a few thoughts can be offered in brief.

-Looked like Adebayor was trying a little too hard. True, he needs to win over the fans again after the ugliness of the summer, but the man is just a freak of nature with his athletic talents.

-Good to see Djourou back from loan and contributing as he did. We need him to make an impact this year. Hopefully he’s up for it.

-Theo was fairly absent.

-A gold star for new boy Samir Nasri. Anyone listening to me in the last year will know how happy I am with this signing. His goal, quite possibly the fastest debut goal in Arsenal history – the Arsenal Web site is doing some research on that - is what supporters in Marseille hoped from him. Clichy and Nasri should recapture the thrust that Arsenal enjoyed with Cole (spit!) and Pires. And it’ll definitely be welcome.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Kind of fun, in a totally irrational and dumb sort of way. Sort of like that first Premiership table, when QPR and Oldham were stuck in there:

1 Chelsea 1 1 0 0 4 0 4 3
2 Aston Villa 1 1 0 0 4 2 2 3
3 Bolton 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 3
4 Blackburn 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 3
5 Hull 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 3
6 Middlesbrough 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 3
7 West Ham 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 3
8 Arsenal 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 3
9 Liverpool 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 3
10 Man. Utd. 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 1

Come on down; you'll love it

So, if you're a regular "early loyalist" to Match Pricks, you're almost certainly aware of this place. It's kind of like "home base" for our weekly shenanigans. I like to think of it as an oasis in the American Midwest for any foreign travelers. Some people are over here, they can't understand why everybody in town talks so slowly, and then they hear there's a place called "Highbury" that shows matches and serves alcohol at 6:30 a.m. Well, why wouldn't you go there, if for no other reason than to get maybe even a slight taste of home?

My Match Pricks partner-in-crime here will have to chime in with the names of two new friends we made this Saturday. Coupla Irish guys, in town on business. Said hi to them during the Community Shield and then they came back for Liverpool away to Sunderland. Not an overly massive crowd in the place Saturday, so got talking to these fellas a little more. Mostly, it was joint grieving with the one sporting a Liverpool shirt about how poor the team looked. Well, Torres took care of that and oh did the drinks flow. Friendships were cemented and conversational lines were crossed – severely – but all in good fun.

Now, for the giant glowing neon "Welcome!" sign of friendship down at the bar. Liverpool started at 11:30 a.m. local time. Match ended a couple hours later, and I strolled out of there shortly before 4 p.m. My new Irish friends stayed behind, drinking with Colin and a few girls. I went home, slept for four hours, got up, went out to a movie with a friend, came back to the bar at about 11 p.m., and started talking with the bartender who had been there when I left ...

... The Irish guys were about 8-10 miles away with some girls that had been in the bar during the afternoon. Our new friends went out partying with these young women all day and night. Welcome to Milwaukee, friends. Come on down, and we'll buy you a drunk ... uh, drink. You'll love it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Taking the points: Week 1 impressions

An afternoon of mostly agony ended up with all that mattered, the full 3 points. Several chinks were evident in the armor, but the best striker in the world smooths out those bumps. This was not the Liverpool I had waited three months to see, and, worryingly, the near-disaster I listened to on Wednesday against Liege repeated itself for 80 minutes against Sunderland.

For now, Robbie Keane must be given some patience to work out his partnership with Torres, but other than a clever flick to himself that he shot wide left, there was little here to enjoy from him. Plessis, too, did nothing to justify his inclusion ahead of Alonso. That's been chronicled elsewhere, so I'll let it go.

Xabi, though, with his Liverpool future so close to ending during the last few weeks has responded at a level worthy of the supporters who've chanted his name lately. The near-miss from shooting inside his own half would have been the highlight of a scoreless draw – which is how things looked certain to finish – if it weren't for Torres. I just don't see how Rafa can sell him. There is weakness along the left, as there has been for some time, but I don't see any way signing Gareth Barry resolves those problems. Babel is in China, Benayoun is a poor, full-time option along the left (though I maintain he has merit as a sub), and it shouldn't cost the team the services of Alonso to try and fix those issues.

Soon, Babel, Mascherano and Lucas will be back. Keane should figure out the best way to partner Torres, and even on the days like Saturday when the team is not at its best, El Niño is always around to make something from nothing and save the day.

Other Week 1 impressions:

• Arsenal is in mid-season form, fully committed to passing the ball into the net. The Nasri goal was well played, but they should have won by much more, even without Fabregas.
• Spurs and Middlesbrough was difficult to watch. Tottenham were awful, and enduring that while waiting for the Liverpool match was difficult.
• Caught the last half hour of Man U v. Newcastle. Other than Ferdinand, nothing in the end from United looked worthy of them taking more than they did. Kevin Keegan, I'm sure, was thrilled that final free kick was taken by Rooney because Ronaldo was out hurt.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Week 1 ... Hmmm, let's give this a go, yeah? (Colin's picks)

Let's sharpen the ol' pencil, take a look at the ledger and put some picks out there, shall we? I feel like I'm already subconsciously regulating my sleeping patterns in anticipation of a 6:15 a.m. arrival at the football pub. May as well shove some picks in my pocket in advance of the celebration that is opening  day (hey, if we didn't spring for the mud wrestlers, the least we can do is make some picks, yeah?).

Arsenal v. West Brom: 3-0
Bolton v. Stoke City: 1-1
Everton v. Blackburn: 1-2
Hull City v. Fulham: 2-1 (sorry Peter Wilt, tough to open at a newly promoted side, especially one with Dean Windass)
Middlesbrough v. Tottenham: 1-3
West Ham v. Wigan: 0-1
Sunderland v. Liverpool: 0-1
Chelsea v. Portsmouth: 2-0
Aston Villa v. Manchester City: 2-0
Manchester United v. Newcastle: 2-0

Consider the throat cleared. The limbering up exercises have begun. Sometime around midday, we'll get the voice warmed up to welcome everyone back down to our little corner of the world, The Highbury football pub.

Week 1: Step right up (Jim's picks)

Play along in the comments to try and prove you're better than me. What? You think you're better than me?!

For added fun, play along according the rules listed here, here or you can also follow the rules laid out at this site.

OK, let's go. As always, for the American audience, remember the home side is listed first:

Arsenal v. West Brom: Arsenal 4-1
Bolton v. Stoke City: 0-0
Everton v. Blackburn: 1-1
Hull City v. Fulham: 1-1
Middlesbrough v. Tottenham: 2-3
West Ham v. Wigan: 2-2
Sunderland v. Liverpool: 1-2
Chelsea v. Portsmouth: 3-0
Aston Villa v. Manchester City: 2-0
Manchester United v. Newcastle: 2-0

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let's just, uh ... let's just move on

With no broadcast here in the States, I endured Wednesday's CL qualifer against Standard Liege via the e-season ticket and the Guardian minute-by-minute report. By all indications, Liverpool's lucky not to be facing at least a 2-0 deficit heading into the second leg. Harrumph ... not good.

However, in a couple more days, there's a chance to settle things down a bit. They get to go see this guy:

Best part? He's not playing for Sunderland, just going to manage this one.

Weekly picks on deck ...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Again, winning is agonizing ... innit?

As has been detailed in this space, a win isn't technically a win until it's in a cup final, is it? Otherwise, it's just a stay of the agony that plagues a football supporter. 

And to be quite honest, at the moment, in spite of a reportedly nice looking (I couldn't watch the match as I was chained to the desk and a series of meetings) and hard-fought match, I'm in utter agony. Arsenal started new boy Aaron Ramsey, a summer signing from Cardiff City, in case you've been living under a rock. They also started Denilson, who at 20 years old has made a whopping 23 appearances. 

So why, with a nil-2 win am I in agony? Because they started Aaron Ramsey and Denilson. If the Arsenal would have needed any kind of a switch, they're lining up a 16 year old. (!) Arsene needs to buy, and he needs to do it soon.

What's more, the central defense is just as thin at this point. So, while I've a head filled with hubris at the prospects for the coming year, I'm also in full recognition that the utter spine the Gunners are putting on display is both precocious and balanced on a precipitous edge. 

The approach I'm looking at for much of the season is that of a stay of execution. So, hold off, for now, executioner. Until, at the very least, after West Brom and the season opener.

Picks for the weekend forthcoming.

It's finally over; Alonso stays ... YES!!!

Xabi starts in the CL qualifier in Belgium against Standard Liege. He is now cup-tied, and any transfer valuation Rafa might have had on him has just plummeted. Clear he will be a Red for 08-09. I couldn't be more relieved.

This one's ... for Carl!

A few words on Standard Liege, in advance of this afternoon's Champions League qualifer in Belgium against Liverpool. The team's English-language site is being revised and cannot be accessed. The club offers Belgian, Dutch and French versions of their site, but my knowledge of those languages is non-existent – outside of the fact that they exist, of course. I've been forced to go to that unflappable bastion of truth – Wikipedia – to learn a bit more about the Reds' opponents today.

• Oddly enough, the club's nickname is "Les Rouches." Translation: The Reds. What a ka-winky-dink!
• Founded in 1900, so the Liverpool Reds (Merseyside Reds if you're a Pro Evolution player) got 'em beat on the nickname by eight years.
• The club's greatest European success is runners-up to Barcelona in the 1982 Cup Winners' Cup.
• American center back Oguchi Onyewu plays for Standard Liege.

That's about it. Not much else jumping out at me from that Wikipedia page, which is disappointing. The only juicy background story was some kind of pathetic match-fixing scandal preceding the '82 Cup Winners' Cup final against Barça where the club asked league opponents to go easy on them so as to avoid injuries before the big match. A big fine ensued, Standard Liege had to sell their best players to pay it and ... well, some kind of bad stuff followed that. Whatever.

C'mon Liverpool! Rafa, get Xabi in there and forget this crap about selling him for Gareth Barry. I know you're still thinking about it. Don't lie to me!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

'I did it for charity!'

This is a day late, but Aug. 11, 1979 was the kind of thing from years past that gets us all misty-eyed here at Match Pricks.

Season almost upon us ...

As a public service

Ah, those wonderful folks at Sky Sports. What can't they do?

If you haven't caught it, they've put together a series of desktop wallpapers for teams in advance of the upcoming season.


It's already over?

Let's revisit some recent popular preseason conceptions.

2006-07: Liverpool, at last, is best prepared to challenge the defending champions, Chelsea, for the title. (Liverpool finished on 68 points, 15 behind second-place Chelsea and 21 behind the winners, Man U)

2007-08: Arsenal, while promising, are far too young and have a thin squad. They're in the running to drop from the top four. (Arsenal tops the table much of the year before a once-every-decade injury takes out Eduordo. They still finish third, four points behind the winners, Man U – again ... bleeecchh)

The conventional wisdom is always a great indicator – of what will almost certainly not happen. You might remember the frenzied certainty with which most English writers predicted Man U and Chelsea would contest the treble against each other over the course of roughly two weeks in May 2007. As the season played out, a fixture had to be rescheduled and there was to be three meetings between the clubs – if everything fell right – with everything on the line. Well, they played a drab FA Cup final that Chelsea won (without Time Warner giving me a refund on the PPV cost, much to my dismay). But Man U had the title locked up by the time of the league meeting and the Champions League final was played between ... Milan and Liverpool.

This year's conventional wisdom, as Colin pointed out, is that Man U and Chelsea are so hopelessly beyond the reach of any other club that there's basically an 18-team Premier League and then a two-team Super-Duper Premier League contested between the pocketbooks of Roman Abramovich and the Glazer family. Since the Russian is more super-rich than anyone else, United gets points among the pundits for having Fergie.


What looks like clear Chelsea dominance under a smart, tested manager could be knocked wobbly by the 30-year-old Lampard faltering and a simple twisted knee or three among Drogba, Essien, Terry or Carvalho. Nothing is certain. Ronaldo already has some injury problems that will keep him out. Berbatov could sign with United and then get into a little too much of this:

Who saw that coming this summer?

Before those determined to usher in the complete and total destruction of any semblance of competition in the Premier League ruin all our fun, just hold out. The matches are almost here. Sure, Wigan isn't going to finish in the top four, but nobody should hand Fergie/Big Phil the trophy right now. After all, the check hasn't cleared yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Like a grown man in a football pub

Somebody press the start button! Somewhere backstage, a hobbled old man is pulling a pair of oft-used gloves out of a trunk, slipping them on and beginning a bit of the ol’ limbering up. He’ll shuffle over, reach up and grab a hold of those tattered reigns that keep the big red curtain drawn and he’ll hoist. He’ll hoist for Stoke, he'll hoist for King Kev, he’ll hoist for Hull and Dean Windass, he’ll hoist for Martin O’ Neil’s pocketbook – so shockingly opened for a central defender from Rangers today, he’ll hoist for every Scouser trying to figure out how Rafa’s gonna line ‘em up this time, and he’ll hoist for an assortment of hopes, dreams and aspirations from North London to the South coast, to the Northeast. And not least of all, he’ll get that damn curtain up for those of us clutching to our stools and checking the days off of every calendar we pass until our team takes shape on the field for the first time.

On Sunday, August 10, a few of us gathered to watch that curtain pull away from the stage as Portsmouth and Manchester United took the first kick on the 2008-2009 season in the Community Shield.

It was a fairly bland affair to be honest. Most-telling from our little corner of the world, Manchester United really made a showing for themselves with their famous global reach on this beautiful morning.


Count him, ONE Manchester United supporter turned up for the match … and that in the 84th minute after several phone calls held him accountable. Sure the match means nothing, but hey, it’s the curtain raiser! Time to get excited folks. The wave that'll hit us on Saturday for the season opener will crash hard, but we've hard our pre-season, we've scoured the transfer market all summer and we had that massive festival of the Euros to tide us over.

Some start early. Wednesday rings in the round of Champions League qualifiers that sees Arsenal face Steve McClaren's FC Twente and Liverpool keep their fingers crossed for the fitness and ensuing inclusion of Steven Gerrard against Standard Liege, both matches on the road.

An interesting side note that will play itself out over the next two plus weeks until the transfer window is slammed shut ... Arsenal desperately need a central midfielder. Whatever Arsene says to the contrary about his preparation, there's no way this team can challenge on all fronts with only Cesc Fabregas as an established option in the middle of the pitch (at only 21!). One of the true problems last year was Arsene's inability to give him time as the winter wore on. Arsene has hinted that he'd be interested in Liverpool target Gareth Barry, and he's hinted that he'd be interested in current Liverpool player Xabi Alonso. We've already discussed that, but Xabi has had, by all accounts, a terrific summer training schedule. As the dominoes, then, are set, if Gerrard is fit and keeps Xabi out of the lineup, Rafa avoids cup-tying the Basque, which could very well open up a sale to Arsenal, and the funds for Rafa to finally exchange commitment rings with Barry.

The clock is definitely ticking. If you weren't excited already ... it's high time you joined us.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Calling Rodney Dangerfield

Did you catch this?

Everyone has one: a mate who spends ages in front of the mirror before heading out on Friday evening, dousing himself in deodorant and preening like a wannabe Casanova despite the fact that it's obvious to all that he's not going to pull. He'll return home later that night, alone as always, and, ahem, get a grip of himself. His whole sorry routine is an unwitting tribute to Liverpool in the Premier League.

But this time it will be different! It really will!

Well, it might be.

This clipping comes from the Guardian's preview of a certain team. Any guesses as to who they're talking about here? It's the opening paragraph for team they're picking to reach 3rd in the Premier League this year. Interesting, since this has the Guardian slotting them in ahead of Arsenal.

It's Liverpool.

Really? Sure we can assume the Gunners will be weak defensively, but that's a fairly brazen pick, I'd reckon, to put this Liverpool side ahead of Arsenal. And sure Liverpool haven't won the league since, well, no sense in reminding them ... I'm not into rubbing it in (all that often at least ... I generally believe in a level of Karma when it comes to trash talk), but still, they do make a good showing of themselves and I hardly believe they've dropped to the level of mockery suggested in this intro to the Guardian's preview of their forthcoming campaign. That said, I do love paper's writing.

Some have talked of the "Big Four" turning quickly into the "Big Two." With the spending power that rests with Manchester United and Chelsea, there's a point there. But I do think that it's awfully quick to write off both Liverpool and Arsenal as also rans.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A debt of gratitude: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Community Shield

With the news that referee Mark Clattenburg has been dropped from overseeing this weekend's Community Shield after it was revealed his electrician's firm has racked up roughly £60,000 in debt, I figured it's time to jump into the silliness of yet another season. Bring on the Community Shield.

It's Pompey and Man U this weekend. That can only mean one thing. Welcome back, son:

Who doesn't love this guy? He's such a nice guy. Here's a few things you might not have realized about Crouchy:

1. Has never uttered a curse word in his life.
2. Had a chance to boff a champagne-boozy Coleen McLaughlin at Germany 2006. Didn't, out of courtesy for a teammate.
3. Owns a cat.
4. Reads three times a week to the blind (once every other week during the season, out of respect for manager's desire to keep up training).
5. Is just sick to death about what's going on in Darfur.
6. Really, truly is even nicer in person than you could ever imagine.

Despite Crouchy's fine scoring record in European matches, I've come around to realizing it just wasn't going to work trying to partner him with Torres. Unlike some other recent problems I have with Rafa's decisions this summer, I've made peace with Peter Crouch moving on. But even in a symbolic exhibition – the traditional season curtain-raiser, if you will – it's still an opportunity to hope United fall on their face. C'mon Crouchy, do us proud.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ahead of the curve, as usual

I find the term "I told you so" to be distasteful, so instead here's a link that makes me feel a lot better. Rafa with the money quote:

"(Alonso) is showing that he is a good professional but then we already knew this and I am very pleased with his commitment on the pitch."

The added emphasis is mine, but it needs to be pointed out.

The bright side of Gerrard's leg injury

Despite my less-than-adoring earlier comments about Steven Gerrard, I do have a soft spot for the big lug. I mean, c'mon, it's Geh-RAAAHD! Anyway, he hurt a leg in a meaningless tuneup Liverpool won 4-1 against Valerenga and it's not looking good for him to play in the away leg of the Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege.

This news has some positive elements to spin:

1. Sweet Jeebus, they can't Alonso now! The best benefit, I'd argue, of Gerrard's injury. For the next 7-10 days, Gerrard is sidelined with an injury, and Mascherano and Lucas are in China for the meaningless Olympics tournament where only certain young guys play. The central midfield options for Standard Liege in an away leg of a crucial, everything-depends-on-this qualifer are: Alonso and Damien Plessis. Whoa, that's a short list. Scary, but they should be able to figure this out for the next week or so with those two.

2. Alonso can't go to Arenal just yet. Delaying even the possibility of selling Alonso to fund the Gareth Barry move is awesome in my mind. If they want Barry, they should not sell Alonso to Arsenal to make it happen. Improve a top rival while weakening your own depth. Doesn't sound like a recipe for success. With Stevie hurt, this thing is on the backburner for now – hopefully until well after Sept. 1.

So Gerrard's hurt, but things could be worse. Trust in Xabi. He should stay, and they need him next week.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hold on a second ... Indeed.

The news that Arsenal could formally launch a bid for Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso started floating around a short while ago. It seemed that were Liverpool to pick up Gareth Barry (the law is on the books, by the way, that anytime this transfer is mentioned, the writer needs to call for its merciful end as the most protracted transfer saga of the summer), Xabi Alonso would be surplus to requirements at Anfield.

So the logic, as it stands, sell Xabi to fund the Barry purchase. Arsenal need a midfielder, Arsenal love a good passer, Xabi is a good passer, Arsenal should buy Xabi and plop him right in next to Fabregas to create a forward-thinking midfield unlike many others in the world.

Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Theo Walcott.

Ahem. Consider my throat cleared (dog).

So why the tone of hesitation? I've just one question ... Can he tackle? Ok, more than one question ... Will he track back? Will he cover Cesc's voyages upfield? When Theo lets his speed out (as he did so notably against Liverpool toward the end of last season), will he slot over to hold the empty space?

Or maybe I should ask how his noted upfield vision would work with a team that uses transition so powerfully, and began to almost artfully insert the long ball as a tactic with Adebayor playing a fine line against the oppositions offside trap.

The deal's not been done yet. Arsene, it seems, is trying to get Rafa to lower his price. Can't blame him, 18 million pounds is a hefty price - and would set a new bar for Arsenal. Rafa has seemed to play a fairly good game of hardball in his time in England though. Will it come down to how much he wants Barry to finally join his squad?

And if Arsene makes the move ... will he be able to find defense cover? A holding midfielder that he can count on? Does Diaby, a player we've long thought would be in the mold of Patrick Vieira, have enough to not only make an impact, but do so consistently and with fitness from week to week?

This is the delicious part of the transfer market, not just plucking players, but opening so many more questions about how a simple move like adding a world class talent to a midfield can utterly change the dynamic of a team.

Jim: 'I don't like this'; Colin: 'Well, hold on a second ...'

Normally, I wouldn't presume to speak for Colin on all matters Arsenal, but the news that Xabi Alonso is headed for the Emirates once Wenger and Rafa can agree on a fair price strikes me as something he's going to welcome.

This Gareth Barry mess has driven everyone mad, but I had warmed to the idea of keeping Alonso at Anfield, if only to give Rafa several options should his "master plan" for this season – whatever that is – not unfold according to his vision. However, if Alonso must go, I'm a little worried that such an effective player with such creative passing talent from midfield will end up at Arsenal. The point, Rafa, is to make your own side better than your competitors in the league. I believe Alonso would be terrific at Arsenal, and if the cost of signing Barry – already too high at £18 million – also meant Xabi was shipped to play alongside Fabregas ... well, Gareth Barry better be damn good for Liverpool.

But Colin, you're the Arsenal supporter. What you say on this?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fake transfer market more interesting than real transfer market

My work e-mail account has an aggressive spam filter that rounds up all that junk and then sends me a summary of the flagged messages once a day showing the sender's address and the subject line for each message. The subject lines can be amusing and are worth checking out for a laugh or two. Usually it's "Man eats dog alive" or "Tornado destroys New York City." Both of those were real messages spammers tried sending me, by the way.

Anyway, here's one from today:

AC Milan buys Drogba and Adebayor

Interesting enough to almost make me want to open the message and hear the spammer's pitch for amazingly cheap wang-growing pills.