Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hull-O, everybody

Look at this:

It's incredible, isn't it? It's tough, because I'd like to stay away from the Arsenal stuff. That's Colin's bailiwick, and besides, I didn't even see the match Saturday. But this Arsenal 1 - Hull 2 thing has legs. Long, scrappy legs that pulled off the stunner of the season. Can't imagine it'll be topped.

And, obviously, in the interest of full disclosure, of the teams that can at least plausibly claim to be making a serious title run, Arsenal is a threat to Liverpool's hopes. It appears everyone might be chasing Chelsea, but still, after Everton 0 - Liverpool 2 in the 208th Merseyside derby, I'm continunig to hang on into October to a Liverpool side sitting second in the table only on goal differential.

Just lots and lots to think about now. The scrappers are scrapping significant points, and Spurs and Newcastle appear to be circling the drain in an historic race to see two of the bigger clubs get relegated. It's been a great start to the season.

Lastly, it was nice to meet up with Peter Wilt on Saturday and Bruce McGuire of du Nord for the early stages of the soccer bloggers' meet-up at Highbury to watch the matches. Fellas, sorry I ran out to golf on the last great summer-like day of 2008, especially after seeing the result of the Arsenal-Hull match. Wish I could have managed a way to stay and do both.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This blogger's gone to Austin

Greetings from balmy Austin, Texas where I feel like I've been schvitzing for the last four days. I tried all summer to get a tan in Milwaukee, to no avail. If I can't get one in 100 degree temperatures whilst sitting in the sun in a park with no shade whatsoever, then there's just no hope for my French-Canadian, Irish and Swedish skin.

I've missed the football, and all of its news until just this morning when I stumbled across a hotel computer lounge. Found computer. Must read about the football. Must reconnect.

Cheers to the lads at the The Highbury Pub in Milwaukee for the updates on the match yesterday. But shame on you for jerking me around with the wonky idea of a 2-1 win for Hull, and at the Emirates as well. That's just a silly idea, isn't it? Sorry, indeed, to have missed the "Blogger Convention of 2008" at the pub.

As it is, I'm on holiday in Texas for the Austin City Limits music festival. Three days, eight stages, some 150 bands. But that's beside the point. As unconnected as I was from any of the football news yesterday, I still had to represent and fly the flag. There were a surprising number of Gooners in the crowd who appreciated my shiny new Samir Nasri kit (get fit, will you, Sammy?). Cheers to them. Cheers to the others I happened across, like the lad proudly wearing his t-shirt for Aberdeen's '83 European Cup t-shirt. A right old Scot in the depths of Texas. I can only imagine how his skin was taking the heat.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fire up the Intertubes!

A quick heads-up for those in the Milwaukee area and those following Milwaukee's passionate soccer/football community from far-flung locales across the world. This morning, in roughly 5 hours, many passionate bloggers following the sport are descending upon the city's Highbury pub for a bacchanal of football enjoyment.

Click the link for more details. Thanks to Peter Wilt and his burgeoning women's professional team in Chicago for alerting me to the massing of the bloggers. We start at 6:45 a.m. CDT (12:45 p.m. GMT) for the Merseyside derby and then continue throughout the day. It's sure to be spectacular.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Friendly Derby

Yep, it's back.

The world hates Ronaldo – and I can prove it!

According to Google, "I Hate Ronaldo" was the No. 1 Manchester United-related search string in 2007.

Apparently not as many people shop at Target for their United shirts as I've heard.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Run-In: Getting way, way ahead of ourselves

Was looking up the fixture schedule for Liverpool to check on something for a friend, and I noticed this:

14 Mar, 2009 Manchester United
21 Mar, 2009 Aston Villa
04 Apr, 2009 Fulham
11 Apr, 2009 Blackburn Rovers
18 Apr, 2009 Arsenal
25 Apr, 2009 Hull City
02 May, 2009 Newcastle United
09 May, 2009 West Ham United
16 May, 2009 West Brom
24 May, 2009 Tottenham Hotspur

Now, the United match is away, and that will be a brutalizer for all involved. The Arsenal match is at Anfield, but anything against Arsenal, anywhere, is always tough. But look at the rest of that schedule. It's not listed here, but the Villa and Spurs matches are at Anfield. Newcastle, anywhere, doesn't look to be difficult. West Brom is away, but so what? West Ham is at Upton Park, so there might be a bobble there. Who knows? Again, this is really, really early, but that's not a bad slate for Liverpool's final 10 matches. In particular, look at those final five matches. I mean, c'mon ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wenger on Ramsey

Great words from Arsene Wenger on new signing Aaron Ramsey, and how young players fit into a top Premier League team. There's an awful lot to be proud of right now when it comes to the Gunners. (NOTE: this was written before kickoff of the Carling Cup game against Sheffield United)

Wenger has been impressed by the progress of the Welsh teenager.

"I am very, very happy with him and I believe he will be a tremendous player for Arsenal,'' said Wenger. "He has already improved some areas where you want to improve when you are seventeen-and-a-half years old.

"Aaron is a serious boy, he knows what he wants, is highly committed and for me he has all that is needed to become a good player - not only a good player, but a great player for the club.

"You want to take a little bit of time, this is Arsenal, we are top of the Premier League and you want to give the players the needed development when they come in under such a pressure to perform. He can do that.''

Monday, September 22, 2008

A few start of the week thoughts ...

-Newcastle + Nigerian Consortium willing to buy from owner Mike Ashley x Protesting Geordies = Something that just doesn't sound like it's going to end well

-It's shocking how young the team could be that Arsene Wenger sends out against Sheffield United on Tuesday in the Carling Cup. What's even more shocking is that, potentially, they could look very good.

-After some of the results that Arsenal have put up with over the last couple of years (a few Champions League ventures come to mind), I feel a bit of the ol' discomfort for Liverpool's result against Stoke on Saturday. And I'll note that I wish no ill will toward the Kop. Naught but respect for them.

-Just within the last second I've heard that ol' Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink fancies himself a manager and would like to give it a go. Upon retiring he's said, "Every beautiful thing must come to an end." What a statement. I'm going start using that, often. Really often. Like, really, really often. Honestly, I love that guy. He's always cracked me up. From the matches I've seen him play over the years, as great of a goalscorer as he was (129 Premier League goals), he was also about as selfish in his behavior and nose for goal as I've ever seen.

-Hey, waddya know, Zico won't be replacing Kevin Keegan at Newcastle. Ok, then, there's that. Thanks for the update. What about me? Do I have a shot? I can't defend worth a like so I'd slot in quite well.

-I have a strong distaste for World Cup mascots.

-Hull have signed Stelios. (note how I avoided spelling his last name there?) Of course they have. Just in time for him to line up against Arsenal at the weekend. Super.

-I reckon I'll save my thoughts on Manchester United and Chelsea playing to a laugher of a draw for tomorrow. Vacation beckons for the rest of the week so that can sit as a nice send off for the end of September. 

-A simple thought to close ... Which is greater: the sum of Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole's IQs, or Hasselbaink's league goal total?

Not as Stoke(d) as I once was

Ouch, babe.

20 corners
27 shots
11 shots on target
1 offside
0 goals

Unbelievable. At about the hour mark, I was deeply regretting my decision Friday night to respond to Carl's question about who Liverpool was playing Saturday by unleashing what I foolishly deemed the "Stoke fist pump." It's basically a straightforward, left-handed fist pump. The person executing the "Stoke fist pump" embellishes it with a wry smile, as if to say, "Here comes three more points, kiddo."


Christ was it awful. Immediate post-match reaction actually kind of felt, in many ways, worse than if they had lost to United the previous Saturday. Just an awful, awful feeling.

The one offside among those stats above, of course, was the decision that took away Gerrard's second-minute goal from a free kick. I didn't see it. No one else really saw it. But it was called, and it held up.

Double ouch, babe.

Credit to Stoke, I guess, for executing their plan. Don't try to score, kick or head the ball into touch or out for a corner at every opportunity, then just put 10 guys behind the ball and hope for a point. At first, I thought it was comical as a sign of how poor Stoke was that with no one even close to them they were knocking the ball out at every opportunity. It was all part of the plan – and it worked.

Triple ouch, babe.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Getting Brighter

The lights are shining early in the year for the Arsenal. 

Two away wins in the last two weeks at grounds that have traditionally given Arsenal quite a bit of difficulty. Away to Blackburn 4-nil, and away to Bolton 3-1. Those results, coupled with draws from the others in the so-called big four, have propelled Arsenal to the top of the table early on and I'm loving it. This season, much like the last, left us with nerves and skepticism at the start, but there's always been an over-riding optimism and a "we'll be alright" mentality. Most of that stems from the overall quality of the team and the utter superiority of two players in particular, Fabregas and Adebayor. The skepticism comes from a lack of depth, a lack of experience and the incredible reliance on youth.

But early on this season, Arsenal are looking better each week. 

The win over Bolton was a terrific result and featured a considerable amount of that famous Arsenal football with style and grace. A main problem, though, continued to be shown as Bolton grabbed the opener. Set pieces and the seeming inability to deal with an attacking header in the box. The central defensive pairing of William Gallas and Kolo Toure hasn't worked well for sometime now and again that looked to be the case on this one. Kolo was out-leaped, and Gallas was late to cover. You have to wonder where cover is going to come from for that position. Djourou has looked capable and improved. Not sure if he's the answer though. I'd love to see someone in the mold of Skrtel at Liverpool come in in January.

No matter this time though. Arsenal put together some brilliantly fun football to nab two in quick succession and a third later to seal it. I haven't had that much fun watching a match in a while. There were so many positives to take away. Niko Bendtner was brilliant at times. He moved very well and, I thought, linked tremendously with Adebayor at times. It's important to see Cesc coming into form after his post-Euro 2008 repose. More staggering than anything else though is the continued improvement of Eboue. He's now put together several good performances in a row and even finally scored his first Premier League goal for Arsenal. He looks completely different all of a sudden and is beginning to become the key I thought he'd be two years ago when moving from defense to the wing. I never thought he'd have taken so many steps back in his progress as a player but at the moment he's turning in man of the match performances.

The team is coming together and looking better each time out. I'm definitely getting more excited than nervous to see what they do next. 

Carling Cup against Sheffield United (again) coming up on Tuesday. Always fun to follow that one and see what the (even younger) youngsters can pull off. No pressure, lads, just play as Arsene teaches and you'll be fine. Might get kicked a bit later on though.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

They hacked my e-mail ... and I love it!

At the urging of Colin, here's an e-mail from me to him earlier today, posted here verbatim and without edits or explanations:

"Here's how we beat Jintao: Get stuck in, put in a shift, keep up the lung-bursting runs and never say die until you take the full points and there's a pitch invasion where we celebrate with our supporters.

"In your face, Jintao!

"Dogg, I am still flying over the United match. Still flying high – way high up there. Last night, looking for the photos and YouTube videos for the blog post, man, it was like reliving it. Other than Istanbul, the Luis Garcia "ghost goal" to beat Chelsea in the CL semifinal in '05 and, maybe, the Gerrard goal to equalize against West Ham in the FA Cup, I don't think I've enjoyed a Liverpool match more. I mean, this is really incredible. To face off against United, without Gerrard or Torres (yeah, the didn't have Ronaldo; whatever), and come away from that with actual belief and hope ... words fail me.

"Sweet baby Jesus am I happy about this past week's developments."

Anfield explodes

Click this now for a seat next to the Kop as 3 points were taken from United.

I am Stoke(d) for the weekend!

This could go anywhere and everywhere ... or it could go nowhere at all. I'm just now regaining my head after Saturday. Let's revisit some of that.

First up, the match winner:

Babel cost a lot of money. I'm not going to bother to look up the exact price because, shit man, Liverpool beat Man U on Saturday and I'm gonig to marinate in that goodness for a good long while. I think Babel was something like £11.5 million. Consider that good value on the money for beating United. (Yeah, that sounds a little nutty, but screw it, I'm going with it.)

OK, there's Babel, our own Dutch, Bible-thumping, Merseyside version of "I Belong to Jesus" Kaka. On we go to the type of mistake that usually tortures Liverpool:

Among the finest moments of Saturday was when the Liverpool crowd turned toward the United fans following the own goal and sang: "We've got Wesley, we've got Wesley, we've got Wesley Brown! We've got Wesley, we've got Wesley, we've got Wesley Brown!!!" For once, the words of that song could strike my ears and I'd actually laugh and enjoy it.

I mean good lord, there's a boatload of memorable moments. It got really intense, and I came as unhinged as I can remember. But I guess after Saturday, there's no point pretending anymore, United fans. For two years now, any trip to the bar during a United match has been more of an endurance test than anything else. "Viva Ronaldo," I mean, you guys know every single person who doesn't buy their football shirts at Target looks at you when you sing that and wants to shove a stack of bar napkins down your throat, right? I mean, you understand we want to do that, right?

As I learned in the post-Istanbul "Bullies of the Bar" era, when you're sitting on top of the world after winning the league or a European Cup, getting a little too cocky about it is only going to earn you a long line of enemies. People will be gunning for you, brother. Hard.

Saturday that gun was fired. Point blank. Hard.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where's that saddle again?

I need to get back in it. How are the Match Pricks readers in Uganda and Malaysia, much less Leeds, going to feel if I abandon them so early. Chin up, though. We're back.

After nearly two weeks without the Internet, and more than one without club football, we are indeed, back.

And quite happy at that.

A 4-nil win in the heretofore tough to win at Ewood Park will put a grin on your face. The fluid football the Arsenal have displayed is even better. And hey, let's go ahead and take it one step further and sprinkle in some fantastically mature performances from Theo Walcott for club and country. And for the record, to say the lad is showing some kinks yet is ridiculous. Sure, he's 19 years old. Sure, we should show some patience. But let's be honest with ourselves. He's looked the part, and we all know how incredibly level-headed he is. In fact, I'm quite sure that he's giving Peter Crouch a run for his money in the ol' "Have you heard what a nice guy he is," table.

I've ratcheted up the happiness factor and now I'm going to turn the throttle up to Well-Now-I-Can't-Even-Believe-This ... Emmanuel Eboue has actually looked good in the last two matches.


Granted he had a reckless dive to win a penalty, but that's to be expected by now. He's moved well, he's moved the ball extremely well and he's even had a pop or two at the goal. Even the slightest contribution from Eboue at the moment is considerably more than I think any of us Gooners would have expected.

To close, a moment to pause in respect of the incredible cross that Denilson belted to Adebayor for Arsenal's second goal on Saturday.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Gerrard and Torres sufficiently man up for United

Colin comes through with the news that Gerrard and Torres deemed fit for United tomorrow. In his honor, I'm linking to the Agence France-Presse story about this bit of good news.

C'mon Liverpool!

The Red Menace, Or: In Your Face, Jintao Ferguson!

OK, I'm over the nervousness of earlier in the week after I came to the realization that whether Liverpool has Steven Gerrard or Steven Wright out there tomorrow, United has come to town and the only choice is get strong up in those bastards' faces and go down swinging.

I could fill up a few more lines with aggressive anti-United ranting – and I still just might – but I think everybody gets the idea. We're less than 24 hours away from it now, I hate United, Liverpool has a lot to prove ... Yeah, straightforward stuff.

I'll just say this: You gotta watch out for that Jintao. Slippery prick thinks he has the upper hand, what with the empire stretching far and wide, untold riches and all that. Time for Liverpool to reach back and grab some of the old magic. Show these Johnny-come-latelys a thing or two.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is it OK to be scared?

Yeah, I know, Match Pricks takes an entire week off, and then I bring it back for Liverpool v. United at Anfield with a wimpy post title and loads of nervousness.

I can't help it. No Gerrard or Torres (most likely), the team has looked like absolute shit and now Man U comes to Anfield on Saturday for the annual "Let's see if Liverpool has improved at all" match.

This sucks, man. As Colin has pointed out, there's very little actual joy to be had during some of these "experiences." It's just trying to survive. I am so bitterly sick of the United crowd down at the bar, their tired, repetitive songs that produce pounding in the head and slowly rising, hateful bile in the belly.

Liverpool has not scored in the league against United since Benitez took over.

That deserves its own paragraph because it's so stunning. Now, on Saturday, Liverpool looks to break that mark without Gerrard or Torres (most likely). I mean, if you're me, why would you go into the match with boundless optimism? Honestly, I'd take a score draw. It's sick, isn't it? My best-possible scenario is to see them draw 1-1. Just score a goal and take a point.

Oof. I'm going to be a mess Saturday morning. You've been warned.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

City thumps its (community) chest

As if the Robinho signing wasn't enough, there's this little bit of insanity from City's new, Emirates-based overlords.

"What? Robinho? That's just the start son!" Check out the list: Ronaldo, Fabregas, Torres, David Villa, Henry, Old Ronaldo.

That's right, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Fahim of the Abu Dhabi United Group spits at Real Madrid's awesomely hilarious Ronaldo pursuit from this summer. City's taking both Ronaldos! Maybe Al-Fahim has trouble differentiating between them, so to be safe, he's going to buy the 1990s Ronaldo and the 2Ks Ronaldo.

The best part, though, is the £135 million for (New) Ronaldo. Why not just promise to bid "a jillion" pounds for him? I like how the good doctor here makes it a ludicrous number, but yet one that isn't "a jillion," so there's just a tiny hint of plausibility to it. "Nice try, Calderón. Now get out of my way, you Madrid trash, and watch how a really obscene rich guy bids for Ronaldo."

Again, this is all just so much flapping of the gums, but just having the audacity to come out and say these things is a real kick. Sphincters are tightening in boardrooms across England and the continent. Since money grows from the ground like grass where Al-Fahim is from, who's to say they wouldn't just get stupid and say, "Hey, Liverpool, here's £60 million. Now give us Torres." The idiots Hicks and Gillett would likely take it. When you're collecting players like trading cards, what's to stop a phone call to Barça offering £20 million for Henry? Of course they'd take it.

It's almost like a guy wearing two diamond-studded watches when he goes out, then going with bottle service so he pour that vodka on some hot girl's chest. It's dumb, but he really wants you to know that he can afford to be that dumb.

'Eh, whatever ... City fans, soak it up. You'll live high on the hog here for a couple years, and you'll likely have a few laughs along the way. Just think: Both Ronaldos!