Thursday, August 27, 2009

Recommended Reading

Jim and I love The Guardian. We will unabashedly reference their excellent columnists often. Sometimes, one of them hits me with fantastic insight and truths - as opposed to retooled drivel and hyperbole. And when it happens, we need to share it and make sure people get a look at their good work.

Today's big winner, Marina Hyde. Give it a read.

She sums up, quite well, why I hate predictions. I couldn't care less what you think, random person, about how the league will shake out or who will score how many goals in the FC Twente match this weekend. I quite prefer, thank you kindly, to actually watch it blossom myself (even if it might be quite a bit like staring down the road in the hope that Godot fella will turn up). What's the fun of piping in with, "Well, I reckon 3-1 today, friends. Could be 2-1 though, couldn't it?" If you're reading closely you'll quite rightly call me out on that. "But Colin, didn't you just the other day say you predicted 6-nil for Arsenal's first match!?"

Yeah, I did. I also predicted the first goal would come from the team. It's a helluva lot more fun to slap down a 6-nil whopper than it is to say, "Hmmm, well, let's see here, we're on the road, pitch should be a little dry, that won't do at all, will it? No, Arsenal need that fast pitch don't they? And that Arteta, he's top, top quality, isn't he? What's that? He's out? Hmmm, well Lescott, he's been in form, hasn't he? What's that you say? Distracted, eh? Yeah, I reckon you're right, but then, for all their attacking talent, Arsenal are weak in the spine, aren't they? Not much experience there, is there? No, no, no. That new Dutch boy, well he's unproven too, isn't he? How's that? Belgian? Really! Well, who knew!? We all know how qualified Belgians are (eye roll). Ah, I suppose you're right, Marc was Beligan, wasn't he? Wait, no, I always thought he was Dutch. He's Dutch, isn't he? Tim Howard though, top keeper, he'll be a difference maker, maybe a clean sheet in store for the home side! Huh? He's got that Tourette's? Didn't know that. Well, I reckon it's gotta be 1-1 then, yeah? I mean Everton really are up for it, aren't they."

Your favorite team's Champions League group of death scenario is quite real, my friend

We've got the 2009-10 Champions League group stage draw less than a half hour away, and while poking around UEFA's Web site a minute ago, I stumble upon this very real – though, of course, statistically far-fetched possibility – for one of the eight top seeds:

1. Liverpool/Arsenal/Utd./Barca/Chelsea/Milan/Bayern/Sevilla
2. Real Madrid
3. Atlético
4. Wolfsburg

How's that grabbin' ya, ultra-confident fan of a No. 1 seed side?

Real Madrid in that pot of No. 2 seeds: You don't need me to say any more than that. Atlético in the post of No. 3s, with Kun Agüero and Diego Forlan might not have enough in defense to really scare the balls off anyone, but that attacking talent is certainly more dangerous to face than some of the others in that pot, like Olympiacos, Bordeaux and Besiktas. And lastly, for the top teams, those two matches with the No. 4 seed are supposed to be walk-throughs that only aid qualification for the next round. Well, Wolfsburg only won the Bundesliga last year.

OK, that's the end of this post, or as I call it, "The perfect example of the 21st-century short-attention Internet generation." I spent 10 minutes writing something that has a shelf life of exactly 20 minutes.

On with it then ...

UPDATE: Barry Glendenning informs me that apparently the group stage draw offers country protection, so Atlético could not be in my little fancy-pants "group of death" vision. But Chelsea and Liverpool got paired together only a couple, two, three years ago. Hmmm ... For argument's sake, throw Dynamo Kyiv in there as a replacement because no one really enjoys traveling all that way to play in some dodgy relic of a stadium.

UPDATE: 'Eh, screw it. My little scenario theory is shot right through. I couldn't even get a blog post up to last more than 10 minutes or have any usefulness. I'm leaving this up just so you can laugh at me. I'm cool like that sometimes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Here's the thing Part II

The Sun, fanning the flames as ever, brands Eduardo a diver.

Allow me to chime in with a point of semantics. Eduardo dived. He is not a diver. Branding him a diver implies a habitual occurrence, that he has dived before, is diving currently and will dive again - pending, ahem, rehabilitation from his habit, at which point he will become someone who has dived.

Yes, I recognize I'm drawing a line in the level of degree here and marking diving, until done habitually, as something that happens to someone ... like being possessed. You plagiarize, you are a plagiarist. You kill, you are a murder. You lie, you are a liar. You steal, you are a thief. Ten Commandment stuff (plagiarism should have been up there instead of 'coveting thy neighbor' #missedopportunities). Diving? No, not Ten Commandment stuff. Unless ... say it with me now ... it becomes habitual. Savvy?

Arsene's quotes in the article are more pragmatic (some may say delusional, I'll stick with pragmatic). He doesn't deal in absolutes and understands that there are complexities to all matters.

Whatever ... I'm going to bed. And as I do so I'll be thinking about this ... and Saturday.

Here's the thing

It was never a penalty.

I'm not getting into the whole, "well, he earned it, didn't he?" argument either. I felt bad, and more than a little embarrassed when Eduardo went down. I'll admit, while I had those feelings and I recognized that the keeper, Boruc (who kinda scares me), definitely did well to keep his arms away, I thought that his thigh is what actually clipped Eduardo's foot and brought the penalty. That's when the embarrassment sat in. It seemed Eduardo made a meal of what I thought was actually a penalty.

Now, I recorded the match and watched it about six hours after the scheduled kickoff. Thinking in advance that I might want to see some comments from Sky Sports News, I recorded that as well. I just saw, in those highlights, yet another reply. It wasn't a penalty. And I say that with what is a less than begrudging admittance that I feel bad about Eduardo resorting to such tactics ... especially given how much I strive for and embrace the 'purity' of the game (as Jim so rightly noted in the Match Pricks Twitter feed earlier today).

Still ... What goes around comes around, you create your own fortune, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's football, isn't it? We've been on the bad end of that, we will be again and rest assured we'll be on the fortunate end of it again as well. At Match Pricks, we have a word to deal with this: Jintao-denfreude. You reap evil, you sew evil. It'll all come around. Doesn't make it right, but it'll all come around

What are we left with? An angry pope? I think I can live with that.

Meh ... pass the Bushmills.

No place, no glory, no clue

The scenes from the West Ham v. Millwall Carling Cup match last night, with yobs running rampart, squaring off against riot police, confronting other so-called supporters (their peers, mind) with arms raised like some kind of jungle animal threat, stabbing and lord know what else are sad. It also makes me wonder ...

It makes me wonder if I'll continue to hear songs about burning Scousers and other assorted opposing teams from people who share in the same lucky community of a football pub where everyone is there for the same reason. It makes me wonder if I'll continue to see arms raised in direct and confrontational threat, like planting a flag in someone's face. It makes me wonder if I'll be told to "eff off" on a routine basis, or see divisive lines being drawn instead of a recognition of respect. It's got no place in the game and it's got no place in a community where people are all there for the same thing. Sure, it's tribal as all hell. But stripe the false machismo and respect those who celebrate it with you. There's fun, celebration, singing, community and yeah, there are tribes and pockets. But there's also a mighty big difference between that and this ...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chess: Give 'em rules, watch 'em take over the board

Editor's note: This is being transcribed from notes taken at a bar four hours ago. It may or may not make sense. So early in the year, it's tough to latch onto content that is steeped in reality (i.e. "What a game," "What a goal," "Did he really say that?") as opposed to the realm of my crippled emotions (i.e. "We're good enough," "It's early," "Oh, god, are we good enough?"). There will be a follow-up. Think architecture. After all, the pieces on a chess board have to protect something, don't they? For a structure to soar, it needs subtle innovation, doesn't it?

I enjoy my football. Especially (and here's the most obvious thing I've said this decade) when it's going as well as it is now for the Arsenal. In that light I also (as regular readers will recognize in my fragile psyche) find my football, especially when it's going this well, to be fully and deeply layered in abject torture. It's terrifying. The better it gets, the worse it gets. At this point, early as it is, I'm flat out terrified. Arsenal have looked like a big top, merry-go-round, tilt-o-whirl and ferris wheel all rolled into one. Winners of their first three and 12 goals to boot. I should be thrilled, shouldn't I? If only. Elation comes with goals, in that split-second. It's a euphoria that eases the tension. For now, until the next time that moment comes, I'm afraid of my shadow. I'm afraid Eduardo will fall down the stairs, that Gallas will lose his mind and end up jumping off the Tower Bridge, that Bendtner will trip on his shoelaces and somehow break his foot, that Cesc will tear a massive cut in his neck with that damned side zipper jacket he wears, or that Arsene Wenger will move to Lhasa to be worshipped by people who care not for the saddled expectations and restrictions of a system that trades in the cash of today and the promised cash of tomorrow (it seems he'd feel disgraced even saying such a word, even offering the slightest hint that he is aware of its grip on the reality he finds himself in.)

As such, I haven't been able to bring myself to utter aloud a perspective or analysis. Yeah, I know, some good that'll do for a blogger, eh? Don't worry, I'm sure it'll go wrong soon, right? Wrong. For months I've been saying it, "we'll be fine, we're strong enough." Aren't we? Hell yeah! Shit, I need some pure pleasure out of this life I subject myself to, don't I? There's loads of pleasure alright. Each goal has been more pure fun than the last. Doesn't mean it gets any easier though. What ends up happening is that you look back with a gleeful and confident smile, and look ahead with a fearful and tepid patience. It's 'hold your horses' time, folks. In spite of that, I'll pass a measured glimpse into what I've seen so far, and what it's made me think about. As noted above, there's a follow-up on the agenda.

The pacing of what we've been watching so far in this high-speed 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3?) is pinhead stuff. It's an evolution of what we've watched with a simultaneous smirk and groan for three years. The slightest and simplest of touches to move the ball at top speed past defenders diving in at each angle. Tap, touch, push and sprint into the opposite direction. Fill the emptied space and start the triangular and interchangeable progression again. The opposition, in particular against Celtic in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier, has been spun on its heels, rolling backwards down hill, filling the space their teammates have just awkwardly fallen out of. In the end, it's like a living model of DNA you'd see in high school biology, captured in its spiraling motion as players try to cover for each other.

I was asked at the onset of the first game of the season, one which I'll quite retroactively note I called for a 6-nil win (or at least a statement through a ton of goals), "who will score the first goal." I replied, "the team." Sure, I was being a pretentious ass (hey, if the shoe fits ...) but I meant it.

The team now closely resembles a fully refined assembly of working parts. Finally.

They have just about found themselves liberated by the rules and expectations now set before them. This project of Arsene Wenger's has shed its training wheels (and do please note it doesn't mean there won't be wobbles along the way, it's a concept used to illustrate a point). Hleb, Flamini, Gilberto, Adebayor, Toure, even Henry as he bridges the gap for Arsene to today's team - they are gone, leaving the current team to grow into their potential and into their assigned roles without restraint.

I said up above that it's early. I mean, it's really, really, really (like, 36 more "reallys") early. While it may feel like we're picking up the same narrative, the one we hit 'pause' on back in May, this is not the same team as last season. Not the same 'Young Guns' that the newspapers talk about. Not by a long shot.

There are new rules. New roles. New expectations. For everyone in the team. And it all adds up to allow full expression, and a shattering of the opposition while they do it. The creative mind, placed in a situation ripe for flourishing creativity ... it does often call for refinement first, doesn't it?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Liverpool v. Aston Villa: Live-ish here at Match Pricks

While I continue to struggle with the question, "What is a live blog in the age of Twitter?" we're going to try something a little different here at Match Pricks for Villa's visit to Anfield.

Kickoff is in a minute, and I'm going to post in the comments here some thoughts, but not really a blow-by-blow description like the well-visited Match Pricks Live Blogs from last season's Champions League. Just mixing it up and seeing what might work.

First up is my appreciation to get Jon Champion as the lead commentator for this effort here in the States. My second favorite in that role, behind Martin Tyler, naturally.

OK, off to the comments ...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Glen Johnson looked great today for Liverpool – and they won 4-0!

Liverpool half of Match Pricks here. We're watching the match on a PC laptop routed through a Vizio. It's a terrible feed, but enough is there to see some of the same problems from Sunday (Gerrard too deep), but luckily it's Stoke and there's Torres and Glen Johnson is quality.

I've become fascinated with our new Twitter tool over there on the right, so loom there or on our Match Pricks feed for 2nd half thoughts/jokes/random screaming.

Gotta believe this one is pretty much finished, though.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Welcooooommmme Baaaaaack!!!

YES!!! Today is the perfect reminder why summer is the looooooongest season of the year. It's so nice to have these matches back – even if we have to sit through the three straight months of "I'm telling ya, Barcelona is going to sign Fabregas – and this time, they really, really mean it. For serious."

Happy Season Starts Today Day, everybody.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Deep breath

I have some over-riding impulses to levy some terrible words in the direction of a few miscreants in advance of the coming campaign. There are several who need a firm word. A talking to. A reminder.

Mmmm. (recall: that's not the "mmmm" of something delicious so much as it is the "mmm" of acceptance.)

I'll just leave it with this as I lay down for a nap before the league well and truly gets underway and all of the expectations are spilled out on the table ...

Up the Arsenal! Come on the football!

Stay tuned for the Alarm.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The jumbled mess of summer

That's what I've been reduced to. From mid-May straight through to this day when we stand at my favorite spot, the much discussed precipice of the unknown that we're about to hurtle ourselves into, I've been reduced to a jumbled mess. Had I hair enough to tussle (short as it is), it would be tussled. Were I able to capture coherent and fluid thought, you'd have heard it - or at least read it. Every thought, pursuit or action through this torturous period stands as a gate that has crashed down in front of me before the date hits. Before, with trembling anticipation, I finally get to set the alarm.

Each task is an interruption. A mirage. A senseless motion that offers no fulfillment. Read the news. Search the rumors. Scour the exhibition reports. Debate strategy, formation, attack, defense, scheduling. Debate quality, expectations, chances, truth. Fool yourself. Breed confidence. Admit hubris. Remember that day, that goal, the pass, the cross, the save. Remember the comeback, the dropped points, the substitution, the clean sheet. Remember the result. Forget the result. Worry. Hope. Convince yourself.

Readers read. Writers write. Painters paint. Performers perform. The imaginative create, search, share, express, exhibit, desire ...

Fans of the football do all of it. At the same time. For 90 minutes at a pop.

When it's taken away? That's what others embrace as summer, isn't it? Supposedly it's something to take advantage of, summer. Especially in our corner of the world when we've nary a whiff of warmth or a reflection of sun for seven months of the year.
Summer, to this distracted mind, mutated into a series of notes. Texted to my email from a traffic jam. Voice memos recorded on my phone.
Sticky notes that cover my desk, my dinner table, my bookshelves, my dashboard. Napkins pulled out of the laundry. "Suffocated," reads one. "Ricky Hatton. There's a KO. There's a sound beating. We got both," reads another. Some unintelligible, "The shin burned and ravaged ..." others leaving a clear trail, "Evra's comments, Ronaldo's face."

Too many, far too many, growing from that ultimate annoyance. A team with a style - style beyond mere football, style as an essence of life, style you can't help but be attracted to. A team you hope never meets your girlfriend - sure as you are in your insecurity that they'll just take her, that they'll win. "Painfully sick of Barca representing everyone's dream move." "LAPORTA! Damn LaPorta!" "We won't sell him, he's an Arsenal player." "It was an interview trap!" "What is he supposed to say?" "He's from there, he'll go back ... fine!" "No way are we selling him!" "Yet..." "We only just signed him!" "Is Benzema good enough? He may not be good enough." "Is Arshavin the Premier League's best? Who else? Gerrard, Torres ... who else?"

It's what I've been reduced to. Violently trying to shake the muck out of head so I can focus and get past the obsessive search for proof that I'm right. So I can enjoy it. So I can start again. It's nature, it's life, it's art. And it's starting again.

Mmm, that's right. That old man, the wiley old obstructionist finally got off his ass, rubbed his calloused hands together and ripped that curtain back on Sunday for the Charity Shield.

He's letting us, against all of his spitful will, get on with it, isn't he? So yeah ... that look in my eyes? Purpose. That bounce in my step? Anticipation. That grin that just flashed across my face? Confidence.

Arsenal kickoff against Everton on Saturday. Get some batteries for your alarm.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

So, FSC, got a question for you. Programming guide this week, including the on-screen DirecTV one right now, claims L'pool v. Atletico friendly is being aired on delay starting at noon CDT. It's 12:17 CDT right now. You're showing Hull v. United from May 24. It's August 2009. What's the deal?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Welcome Alberto Aquilani (and others)!

The Liverpool half of Match Pricks here would like to wholeheartedly embrace new playmaking midfielder Alberto Aquilani at Anfield. Don't worry, you're only replacing Xabi Alonso, The Director. Or as I called him, my favorite Liverpool player by a mile.

In all serisousness, though, I'm going to give you some time to settle in before I make any judgments about how good you are. Good luck, buddy. We need and want you to play well.

Also, Match Pricks wishes a courteous hello to Michela Quattrociocche, Aquilani's squeeze:

I guess they handle driver's license photos a bit differently in Italy.

(UPDATE: I might have welcomed Aquilani and his girlfriend too soon. The scuttlebutt in Liverpool is that there's a problem with his medical. Well, we'll see, I guess. Not sure what happens if he fails the medical. Silva? Probably their best bet. Updates coming, although I'm sure if something's wrong, it'll be all over the Web shortly.)

I might have rushed to judgment

Fully aware that Putin's devious ways leave me susceptible to the harsh bite of the Russian bear, I still have to applaud the man for this naked – literally(!) – appeal to Match Pricks and many of the ideals we represent.

Shirtless, free, caring for animals. I mean, I love the zoo. Who doesn't love the zoo?! Only cretins and malcontents don't love the zoo. And a lot of zoos have horses. And here's Putin – shirtless and free, without a care – tending to a horse.

It's a tricky business with these Putin photos. He seems to be reaching out, extending an open hand to Match Pricks, and saying, "Match Pricks, I am not unlike you. I, too, embrace and cherish the warm touch of freedom. Let us welcome the new season together, arm in arm, like brothers awaiting the return of our beloved papa!"

For now, I await rather than reject Putin's efforts. Bring me photos similar to these, only with Jintao joining you in your freedom pursuits, and we can discuss things further, Putin.