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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dutchmen on the Move: "The Adventures of Bayern and Robben" and Communism in Madrid

            This past Friday, Arjen Robben signed with Bayern Munich from Real Madrid for a fee around 25 million euro, and thus now begin The Adventures of Bayern and Robben.  Robben joins French international Franck Ribery behind the wheel of the Bayern Batmobile, and the two should form a deadly attacking combo, threatening opposition from either side of the pitch.  Like Ribery, Robben has established himself as one of the world’s elite wingers, after successful stints throughout Europe at PSV, Chelsea, and Real Madrid.  Upon his move to Germany, Robben should enjoy punishing crime in the infamously poor Bundesliga defense.

            Indeed, only days after the move, The Adventures of Bayern and Robben have begun.  In this season’s first episode, the Dutchman was brilliant.  As Bayern Munich took on Wolfsburg, Robben entered the game as a second-half substitute and in only a half-hour’s time, netted two goals, both of which were assisted by Ribery.  Largely to the credit of their new attacking duo, Bayern dismantled the defending Bundesliga champs 3-nil.

            Fortunately, for the German giants, Robben’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time.  The club find themselves in a bit of turmoil, coming off a very disappointing second place domestic finish last season and going winless in their first three games this year, while struggling with the transfer demands of their best player in Ribery.  Robben’s exceptional speed, vision, and distribution and finishing abilities will most definitely bolster Bayern’s attack.  The club also hopes that his partnership with Ribery will keep the Frenchman less dissatisfied this season.

            All in all, expect both Arjen Robben and Bayern Munich to bring out the best in each other.  It should be a big year for both parties.

            Elsewhere in the world of football, Robben’s national counterpart Wesley Sneijder also completed his own transfer across European borders this past week.  This Dutch winger was convinced into joining Inter Milan by Jose Mourinho after it appeared Real Madrid no longer wanted his services either.

            Sneijder looks to be a significant addition to his new club as well.  Mourinho had repeatedly stressed this summer that his team was largely lacking a playmaker.  Well, Wesley Sneijder happens to be quite a playmaker, and now that Inter have their final puzzle piece, they, like Bayern, look a much more potent side.  Unsurprisingly, in Sneijder’s first appearance with his new club, Inter coasted to a 4-0 victory over city rivals AC Milan.

            How funny that with these transfers, Real Madrid now look like the communists of European football: Stealing big names from big clubs and redistributing their outcasts to teams in need.  Robben and Sneijder both had great careers at Real Madrid and it seems mind-blowing to suggest that these two could not find their place in the Real squad.  But unless Francisco Franco has something to say about it, Madrid look poised to continue their offloading. 

            As for the Dutchmen, while having left Madrid for different countries, they now find themselves in very similar situations.  Both Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder arrive at their new clubs as the centerpieces of projects built for a season of improvement.  Thus, we can expect big things from these two this year, and thanks to communism, we can expect big things from their respective clubs as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: The Beckham Experiment

            Consider yourself a sports fan?  If so, The Beckham Experiment is a must-read.  With inside access to the Los Angeles Galaxy and interviews with Galaxy personnel, including Beckham himself, Sports Illustrated columnist Grant Wahl reveals the truth—scandals, secrets, and all—that now maims David Beckham’s famed tenure here in America.  Quite simply put, The Beckham Experiment is the most important piece of literature ever written concerning soccer, its struggle, its growth, and its mere presence, in the United States.  Here are my final thoughts on the book…

1.    1. Hollywood > Beckham: Naturally, you would think that the world’s biggest athlete and the world’s biggest sporting scene would mesh well together.  But in terms of on-field production, David Beckham + America = disaster experiment.  And why?  Pop icon status is nothing new for Beckham, but for the first time in his life, Goldenballs was immersed into Hollywood, unlike anything he had ever encountered in England or in Spain.  Ultimately, Beckham was in way over his head and his responsibilities as a celebrity were detrimental to his commitment to the Galaxy.

2.    2. In America, Business > Sport: Although admittedly said from a fan’s perspective, too often for inside parties, American sports become, above all else, a business.  And in the Beckham Experiment, this was its downfall.  Beckham’s people became so preoccupied with promotions, money-making, and status positioning in the Galaxy ranks that in the end, Beckham’s performance on the field received the least attention.  From a business perspective, the Beckham Experiment was an enormous success, but otherwise, not so much.

3.    3. Dear MLS, Stay “American”: Perhaps the biggest winner in The Beckham Experiment is the MLS itself, as the league has enjoyed huge increases in income and popularity since Beckham’s arrival.  Now, MLS has its issues—turf fields, which Beckham himself complained about, awful travel accommodations, a lack of funds—but it is growing and improving.  Beckham’s people, notably former Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit, approached MLS with their “European expertise” expecting the league to kiss their feet.  Two years later, MLS has learned better.  In order to succeed, the league must not succumb to all foreign ways, but retain a bit of Americana, and in doing so building an identity and establishing itself as bigger than the “Beckhams” it houses.

4.    4. Maturity is Landon Donovan: Donovan was another big winner in The Beckham Experiment.  The LA Galaxy forward went through a lot during the first two years of Beckham’s tumultuous MLS tenure: giving up the club captaincy at the request of Beckham’s advisors, performing in Beckham’s shadow despite being the league’s best player and receiving an inferior salary, etc.  Eventually, though, Donovan worked up the courage to call Beckham out as a bad teammate and he has now regained the armband for Los Angeles.  All in all, Landon Donovan has emerged from the Beckham Experiment as a more mature individual and a more professional athlete.

5. Alan Gordon is the Man: Although uninvolved in the tension amongst the Galaxy locker room and front office, The Beckham Experiment sheds light on one of Los Angeles’s lower-profile stars in Alan Gordon.  Gordon emerges in Grant Wahl’s book as the protagonist in an underdog story.  The occupant of an apartment shared with two fellow Galaxy roommates, Gordon earns a terribly low salary and coaches a girl’s youth soccer team on the side to make enough money to get by.  Hampered by drugs and alcohol in his past, Gordon, despite being slow of foot and a showcase of ordinary skills, has worked his best to not only remain contracted with the Galaxy, but to have also earned a pay raise last year.  Congrats to him.

Hooligan Guest Article: Arsenal Update by Willard Hancock

Despite serious grammatical errors and a raging bias, we have decided to privilege Willard Hancock with a guest post on behalf of his beloved Arsenal...

Three games played and Arsenal is looking pretty damn good. 10 goals in two league matches and an impressive slash lucky win against Celtic… I’m not complaining, but it is interesting to hear people continue to write us off. AND! For those of you who are shocked, let it be known I saw this coming 2 years ago. I’ll remind you that Arsenal is the only team that matters, all the other teams just show up to play us. It would indeed be very boring if we won every year.

Something interesting to point out… Only 1 striker (Eduardo) has scored for us thus far. This doesn’t bother me as long as the goals keep coming, but it scares me a bit that William Gallas is the leading scorer for the team. One from a header, another off the ass, and he managed to smother one in with his lower lip (despite what replays may tell you, it was his lip that scored). A little side note, I wonder which is more likely to happen, Gallas scores with his feet or Shevchenko scores…Ponder on that for a min.

This Wednesday we take on Celtic at the Emirates. They should wrap things up here, although I expect AW to twik the starting 11 a bit to keep every1 healthy in preparation for the United game. I think Fabregas will sit this one out with groin problems or what have you, nothing serious. Not too much to say about this one. We’re a shoe in.

Now for the reason I am writing this blog, Arsenal V. United 12:15ET on FSC. I’m looking forward to this one and predicting a 3-1 win to the Arsenal with goals from RvP, Arshavin, and William Gallas’ penis. I’m certain his penis will smack one in for us (no homo). With Ferdinand out and van der Sar turning 93 this year I am willing to bet AW’s squad take care of business at Old Trafford. As for United, some kid named Rattanak Seng (look him up on facebook he is real) thinks Park Ji-Sung will sneak 1 in for a consolation goal and then celebrate by showing 52,000 fans how to properly cook a cat, b/c I’ve always wanted to know. Of course if my predictions are wrong I will gladly tattoo a picture of Wayne Rooney across my back 

Well that’s that, I’m gonna go back to watching Royal Pains. I find the white guy with the curly hair amusing and the Indian girl is good looking. Decent show I guess. Good night, more later.

-Willard Hancock (Subtleaggro)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Arsenal: Truth or Fluke?

            Rewind a few weeks back- before opening weekend of the EPL, before European qualifying was underway, back to a time when all that hooligans had was a transfer window to bullshit about.  Do you remember how bad Arsenal was back then?

            Just weeks ago, with no games in hand and only a squad on paper, you might have thought Arsenal were going to be the next Newcastle United.  With an injury-prone team, a lack of depth, and a manager selling at will while too “stubborn” to buy, the verdict was in: Arsenal were to drop from England’s Big Four.

            This was just too attractive of an idea.  Fans are always looking for a rupture in the Big Four since it became a fixture in England’s top-flight.  And with Manchester City sporting a whole new look, the result of a recent spending spree, now was the time when England’s Big Four would be no more.  I admit, I, too, joined in on the fun.

            The Gunners, however, thought otherwise.  Two games into their campaign, Arsenal are the best team in England.  The North-London club put an absolute drubbing on Everton this past weekend, then three days later handily defeated Scottish powerhouse Celtic away in Champions League qualifying.  Furthermore, with everyone involved looking in top form, the Gunners displayed some beautiful football.

            Sounds like a great story, but don’t get too carried away, now.  Remember, this is only two games into the season.  And in England, it is a long, long season.

            The notion here, though, is that Arsene Wenger and his club have given themselves quite an opportunity.  Wenger has been adamant about building a club from the bottom up and winning with his own players, hence his loathe to spend this summer despite the requests of many Arsenal-faithful.  In modern day football, this is unheard of.  The first solution to a problem on the pitch these days is to buy a fix.  Wenger, however, is poised to do the unheard of.

            Should Arsenal’s run of form as of late be a sign of things to come, we are in for an historic season, one that may make Wenger look a genius.  The Frenchman has taken much criticism in recent years, time he has deemed as for rebuilding, for fourth place domestic finishes, lack of silverware, and lack of investment.  However, his club, now intricately bred like a band of brothers, are set to defy expectations.  For the current era of Gunners, the biggest challenge is getting over the hump of winning their first league title.  From then on, it is free sailing for Arsenal.  Could this be the beginning of a Gunner-reign over England?

            But hey, easy now.  Let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Don’t forget, we’re only two games into the campaign.  And in England, it’s a long, long season.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

EPL Week 1: Winners and Losers


Didier Drogba: The Ivorian has carried a question mark on his back over the past two years: Suffering a decline in form, struggling to cope with managerial inconsistency at Chelsea, and consistently being linked with moves away from the Bridge.  However, Drogba is keen to rebuild his image in West London, indicating so when he signed a contract extension with the Blues two weeks ago.  And to confirm his written commitment, Drogba led his club to a victory with two superb goals in a 2-1 defeat of Hull City.

Arsenal: The Gunners have been the subject of repeated criticism this summer and many have tipped them to fall out of England’s Big Four at the expense of Manchester City.  How to respond?  A 6-1 shellacking of a normally-competent Everton side would do.  After a summer of selling, Arsene Wenger is determined to build his club from within.  If this weekend was a precursor of things to come, the Frenchman looks as if he is doing quite a good job with the North London club.

Roberto Martinez: What a start for the new Wigan manager.  With only two years of managerial experience under his belt, Martinez takes his new club to Villa Park and dismantles one of England’s top clubs in Aston Villa.  This, not to mention that Martinez’s side played a quite attractive brand of football on Saturday, has Wigan off to the best start they could imagine this season.

Club Newbies: The 2009-10 Premier League opening weekend was highlighted by goals coming from club debutants all across the board.  Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Sebastian Bassong (Tottenham), Stephen Hunt (Reading), Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City), and Hugo Rodallega (Wigan) all scored while wearing their new colors for the first time.  Congratulations.



Everton: Consistently finishing in the top third of the table, Everton have a reputation as one of England’s strongest non-Big Four clubs, potentially even a challenger for a top four spot.  But giving up six goals in a loss to Arsenal on your own field is no way to compete for status in England.  David Moyes has some serious re-thinking to do after his club’s dismal performance on Saturday.

Liverpool: In recent years for Liverpool supporters, next year seems to always be the year.  This time around, it was Fernando Torres who declared the Reds were fit to win a Premier League title in 2009-10.  Torres also remarked that his club’s season opener at White Hart Line was a “must-win” if Liverpool were to really challenge for the English crown.  After falling to Tottenham 2-1 on Saturday, the Reds find their title race off to the start that Torres hadn’t exactly imagined.

Aston Villa: After giving the Big Four a run-for-their-money the past two years, Villa entered the season with similar expectations.  But with a 2-nil loss to Wigan on home grass, Martin O’Neill finds himself questioning where his club stands at the moment.  Clearly missing summer exports Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen, Villa need reinforcement down the middle, as well as better decision making from Ashley Young, who is now expected to be the star for his club.

Paul Hart: Only one game into the season, in post-game interviews, the Portsmouth manager had a look of utter defeat on his face.  His club, currently a mess after a summer of selling, are tipped by many to be relegated from the Premier League this year.  Even in a game that may well have deserved a draw, Portsmouth received no luck, losing 1-0 on a deflected goal at home to Fulham.  Unfortunately for Hart, despite his best efforts, this may just be the way things go all year for Pompey.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hooligan Guest Article: Real Madrid Season Preview by Deigo Pacheca

The FlorenTeam

Florentino Pérez is a man on a mission. The corruption and mismanagement of Real Madrid by his predecessor, Ramón Caderón, left the club in a sorry state. A lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful media-war/flirtation with Cristiano Ronaldo coupled with the loss of Robinho to newly rich Manchester City last summer left Madrid without depth. No striker was signed as then-coach Bernd Schuster had requested, and Rafael Van Der Vaart, although very talented, did not fit into Madrid’s style. The effects were felt quickly—sloppy play and lack of results in the league led to Schuster’s resignation early in December. His replacement, Juande Ramos, did a decent job of righting some wrongs, but the drubbing at the hands of Liverpool in the Champions League and the unspeakable result in El Superclásico made it clear: this Madrid was not going to have to focus on next season.

In one of his first press conferences after winning the Real Madrid presidency for the second time, Florentino Pérez stated, “We have to do the work of three off-seasons in one this year,” and he wasn’t kidding. The day he assumed the presidency he announced that Manuel Pellegrini would be given the key to the Casa Blanca, and a mere seven days later he announced the first of many signings this summer: Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite—Kaka’.

In signing the Brazilian, Pérez granted the wishes of millions of Madridistas. They had been promised Kaka’ in 2007 by Ramón Calderón, a promise that he, unsurprisingly, did not deliver on. Kaka’ brings the vision and creativity that Madrid has lacked since the departures of Fernando Redondo and, more recently, the great Zinedine Zidane.

Pérez was nowhere near done, and he wasted no time in completing the most expensive transfer professional football has ever seen. Three days and 94 million Euros (approximately $132.4M) later, Cristiano Ronaldo became the newest addition to what the Spanish media dubbed the “FlorenTeam.” Again, Pérez had delivered where Calderón failed.

Florentino closed out an eventful month with his first Spanish acquisition, Raúl Albiól. The signing of the promising center back strengthens and adds depth to a defense that was suspect at best last season, and fulfills one of Pérez’s campaign promises: bring the best Spanish talent to the capital.

To kickoff July, Pérez announced the capture of Europe’s most promising forward—Karim Benzema. Although courted by the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and defending European champions Barcelona, Benzema fulfilled his childhood dream by switching to the Bernabéu.

To finish off his summer spending spree, Pérez brought in a handful of Spaniards. Álvaro Arbeloa and Esteban Granero, both products of the Cantera, or youth system, were brought back for around  4M each from Liverpool and Getafe, respectively. The biggest name, however, was Xabi Alonso. The deep-lying playmaker returns to Spain after his finest season across the Channel with Liverpool and has been tipped to be the mastermind behind Madrid’s attacks this season.



            Pérez did well to not let go of any key players in rebuilding the squad. So far, the biggest name in the “Loss” column has to be Fabio Cannavaro, who returned to his former club, Juventus, when his contract expired at the end of last season. Julien Faubert returned to West Ham after an uneventful loan, while Javier Saviola and Javi García, two players who were not likely to get much playing time this season, were sold to Portuguese capital side Benfica. Cantera products Jordi Codina and Dani Parejo moved a few miles south to Getafe, the former on a free transfer and the latter in a  3M deal that includes the buy-back clause that Madrid always seems to slip into contracts involving the sale of Cantera products. Left back Gabriel Heinze returned to France, where he kicked off his European career, with Marseille. The unsettled Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was sold to AC Milan at a cut-price  15M.

            Club legend Michel Salgado’s Blanco years ended after a mutual agreement between club and player to cancel his contract. He leaves Madrid after ten years of dedicated service in the white shirt, and looks likely to join Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League on a two-year deal.

            Promising midfielder Rubén De La Red missed the majority of the 2008-2009 season after collapsing on the pitch during a Copa del Rey clash against Real Union in Irún, De La Red underwent numerous tests in an attempt to find a cure to his condition. Sadly, since the tests returned inconclusive and no guarantee can be made in regards to his safety, De La Red and the club have confirmed that he will not play this season. Tests will be run every two months to check on his condition, and he is likely to remain with the club in a Youth Coach role.

            Rafael Van Der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Miguel Torres, Álvaro Negredo, and Ezequiel Garay have all been tipped to leave the club before the beginning of the season. Arsenal are the latest club to have been linked to Van Der Vaart, as Pellegrini has confirmed that the Dutchman does not fit into his plans for next season. José Mourinho’s Internazionale seem to be on the verge of signing Sneijder for a reported  20M, however the Dutch maestro made a case for staying at the Bernabéu this season with a fine performance against Real Sociedad in the preseason which he capped with a spectacular trademark free-kick goal. Torres, Garay, and Negredo have all been linked to a Zaragoza side that is returning to the top flight, with the latter also receiving interest from Premiership side Hull City.


Pellegrini Under Pressure

            Huge spending comes with huge expectations, and no man feels the pressure more than manager Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean is expected to lead this talented (and very expensive) side to domestic and European titles—anything less will be considered failure. In preseason matches, Pellegrini seems to have found an effective formation that incorporates all of the newest signings in this attacking 4-2-3-1. Here is a possible starting lineup:


Sergio Ramos Raúl Albiól Pepe Drenthe

Lass Diarra

Xabi Alonso

Cristiano Ronaldo Kaka’ Granero/Raúl/Robben


            Lass Diarra is likely to be the only true defensive midfielder, while Xabi Alonso will probably be given more freedom to create and join in attacks, à la Fernando Redondo. Pellegrini wants his line of attacking midfielders behind the striker to be constantly in motion—that is, the players on the wings are expected to float into the middle and even switch sides when building an attack. This lack of true wingers means that the outside backs will be expected to provide width during an attack.

            Throughout preseason, however, Pellegrini has switched formations at halftime, bringing on Higuaín and Robben and opting for a more traditional 4-4-2:



Sergio Ramos Raúl Albiól Pepe Drenthe

Cristiano Ronaldo/Granero Lass Xabi Alonso/Granero/Kaka’ Robben

Higuaín Benzema/Raúl


Who to Watch

-       Manuel Pellegrini – As mentioned above, the Chilean is under huge pressure to bring home trophies. He also has the potentially troublesome duty of keeping the locker room in check and not letting egos divide the team. It will also be interesting to see how he manages veterans Raúl and Guti. Both are past their prime and the roster is rife with replacements for either, however keeping them happy in a part-time role at the club has proven to be an impossible task for managers thus far. Any minor slips this season and Pellegrini could find himself on the job market.

-       Cristiano Ronaldo – The Portuguese winger has claimed that he will prove his worth this season—can he live up to his enormous price tag? How will he transition from the fast and furious Premier League to the slower, more technical Liga BBVA?

-       Kaka’ – Another player who will have to prove his worth. Some say Madrid overpaid for his services, as they consider he is past his prime. Will he replicate his form from the 2006-2007 Champions League and lead Madrid to their 10th European Crown?

-       Karim Benzema – Although a proven goalscorer in Ligue 1, many doubt his ability to make it in one of the “Big Three” leagues. The French international will be expected to play a major offensive role this season, and it will be interesting to see just how patient the Bernabéu Faithful will be with him if he needs to develop.


Surprise of the Season: Esteban Granero

The former Canterano quietly turned into a stellar playmaker during his years in the Madrid suburb of Getafe, where he led the small club to a UEFA Cup semi-final. Pellegrini has called his number various times this preseason and he has impressed with his work rate, vision, and creativity in the midfield. Look for him to be the surprise contender for a starting spot in this star-studded lineup.


Dates to Remember

August 30 – Real Madrid-Deportivo, first League match.

September 15/16 – Champions League Matchday 1.

November 7/8, March 27/28 – Atlético-Real Madrid, El derby Madrileño.

November 28/29, April 10/11 – Barcelona-Real Madrid, El superclásico (required watching for any and all football fans).

May 16 – Málaga-Real Madrid, last League match.

May 22 – Champions League Final, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu .

Hooligan Guest Article: Bayern Munich Season Preview by Ben Forster

Review 08/09: A very disappointing year for the German side, having little to cheer about except for a return to the Champions League Group Stage next season.  Bayern has not found European success in nearly a decade, winning only Bundesliga and domestic championships since their “Double” in 2001.  This past season reflected this statistic, showing promise in winning Group F, dismantling Sporting in a UEFACL record 12-1 aggregate, only to lose to eventual winners Barcelona in the quarterfinals.  Their failures were seen in other places, losing the DFB-Pokal to Bayer Leverkusen in the quarters, and receiving a beating to eventual Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg 5-1.

Key Transfers: Croatian midfielder Danijel Pranjic from Heerenveen for a fee of €7m; Dutch defender Edson Braafheid from Twente for a fee of €2m; Forward Mario Gomez from Stuttgart for a fee of €30m; Midfielder Alexander Baumjohann from Borussia Monchengladbach; Russian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk from Zenit St. Petersburg for a fee of €14m; Croatian forward Ivica Olic from Hamburger.


Preview 09/10: Bayern find themselves in an unusual position; they are no longer the crème-de-la-crème of German football, their management is in transition, and their perhaps most promising talent in Franck Ribery is shopping several clubs, including the transfer juggernaughts Real Madrid. Their captain, Mark van Bommel, now requires toe surgery and will miss at least four domestic fixtures before returning to the pitch.  However, Bayern hope under their new management to sign Jose Bosingwa in attempts to strengthen a defense that allowed the fifth fewest goal total in the league.  Also, with Real replacing quality players with the best players that their money can buy, Rafael van der Vaart may be shopping clubs in the proximity of his former club Hamburg.  Prediction?  If van Bommel can come back healthy within a few months, Ribery has an attitude that his future is in Munich, Beckenbauer and the rest of the management can actually sign quality players, and Luca Toni plays to the form that was good enough to be top scorer on Bayern last season, then the club should be looking at a Bundesliga title.  It is an uphill climb to get back to European champions; a climb that will hinge on Bayern’s ability to maintain its talent, instead of shop it away to hungrier, richer clubs.  Don’t let Ribery fall through the cracks, reinforce the midfield that has left gaps due to injuries, and hire pray that Louis van Gaal can mold a fractured team into his “dream club.”

Hooligan Guest Article: Chelsea Season Preview by Jonny O

            After a season salvaged by winning the FA cup, the start of the new season could not come sooner for Chelsea. It’s another year for the Blues to try and erase their European demons, and reestablish their dominance in the league. With the other three members of the “Big Four” losing key members of their squad now is the time for Chelsea to capture the league trophy once more.

                   In the off season Chelsea did not lose any key members to their squad, and even added an exciting left back known as the “Russian Ronaldinho.” Yuri Zhirkov gives Chelsea more depth at the left back position and another option on the left side of midfield. Zhirkov’s ability to get forward will give Chelsea width on the left side as they move from a 4-3-3 to the diamond midfield.   Zhirkov’s brilliance can be seen in this goal where he dribbles through the entire Hamburg defense and buries his shot into the back of the net. Another important acquisition for Chelsea was the starlet from City Daniel Sturridge. The 19 year old gives the Chelsea frontline some youth along with Di Santo (20 years old), and Scott Sinclair (20 years old).

                  Before I discuss the Chelsea formation, a quick mention of some Chelsea youngsters on loan this season is in order. For the first time in awhile, Chelsea have some exciting young players who are on loan to Premier League sides and other first division sides around the world. The first of these youngsters is Franco Di Santo. Di Santo is a 20 year old tall Argentinean striker who is on loan to Blackburn this season. Di Santo is a tall striker who is good in the air and has good instincts around the net. Look for Di Santo to partner McCarthy or Jason Roberts for Blackburn and cause a headache for other Premier league sides. The second youngster on loan is Scott Sinclair. Sinclair is an U-21 England International who has amazing pace and creativity on the wing. Sinclair is on loan to Wigan where he will get the chance to give creativity to a generally boring Wigan side. The third youngster on loan in the Premier league this season is another England U-21 international Michael Mancienne. Mancienne is a center back who has come up through the Chelsea youth system and made a few appearances for the first team last season. The 21 year old is on loan to the recently promoted side Wolverhampton, where he will start as a center back for the club. All three of these youngsters getting regular first team action in the Premier League is crucial to their development and great for Chelsea in the upcoming years. An honorable mention needs to be made for another youngster Mirsoslav Stoch who is on loan to FC Twente. Look for Stoch to make an immediate impact for Twente.

                  The Chelsea formation is always an issue of great debate because of Chelsea’s depth. The new Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti prefers a 4-4-2 or sometimes a 4-4-1-1formation where the midfield plays in a diamond. The main problem with the diamond midfield is that most of the attack is down the center of the pitch. The lack of width in this formation causes problems on the attack and on defense. Because of this, any team who uses this formation must have two fullbacks who can provide width for the team. Chelsea have the two great fullbacks who can get forward in Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole. In order for Chelsea to be successful this season these two players along with Yuri Zhirkov need to have big seasons. With that being said here is the probable formation for Chelsea on opening day.




                       Bosingwa          Terry          Carvalho          Cole


                                            Essien                         Malouda


Drogba       Anelka

            This formation does not include Joe Cole or Yuri Zhirkov because they are both injured to start the season. Joe Cole is an interesting player for Chelsea in this formation. The lack of wingers in the formation leaves Joe Cole out of his best position on the pitch. However, Cole can play on the right side of the diamond or even partner Drogba up top. Personally I would enjoy seeing Cole partnering Drogba which allows Essien and Mikel to be on the pitch.

            With the formation set, there are three Chelsea players who need to bounce back from a season below their high standards:

1.                 1. Petr Cech- Cech was once considered to be the best keeper in the world but has recently fallen far from his bet form. Ever since the last European Championship Cech has made stupid mistakes which has cost his team games. Cech needs to be the rock he once was in net for a Chelsea defense to return to its glory days where a clean sheet was the norm.

2.                  2. John Terry- Before I get into this, I have to say that John Terry is my favorite player in the history of football and I worship him as if he is the second coming. With that being said he has not been the player he once was the past two seasons. In the Mourinho era Terry was the rock of the Chelsea defense, leading the defense and keeping the back four organized. In these last two years, the Chelsea defense has been a bit suspect. Terry has made mistakes that he would have never dreamed of making in the past. Hopefully this will be the season where Terry gets back on track and becomes one of the world’s best center backs again.

3.                3. Didier Drogba- Drogba was plagued by injuries last season but when he was on the pitch he looked uninterested and unmotivated. Drogba did not get along with Scolari and his performances on the pitch showed his dislike for the manager. When he is motivated and on his game, Drogba is one of the best strikers in the world. Look for Drogba to be back to his old goal scoring form this season after the signing of a new 3 year deal with Chelsea

            As a Chelsea fan, it would be wrong not to give an honorable mention to two of the team’s most consistent performers. Look for these two dominating forces in the midfield to drive the Chelsea midfield forward and cause problems for whoever they play.

            This is one of the most important seasons for Chelsea in recent years. With the other teams in England getting weaker, this is the time for Chelsea to strike and become champions of England once more.  This will be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory and I can’t wait for the action to start. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hooligan Guest Article: Manchester United Season Preview by Kurt Retenauer

            Summers off for European clubs are always an interesting one; sometimes exciting, sometimes nerve wracking, and sometimes heart breaking for the supporters. Certainly Real Madrid has a reason to smile, with the acquisition of Ronaldo and Kaka, among others. They’re on a one way train to the best team in Europe, on paper and in my opinion, in ability. Manchester City could be making a run for the top (as much as it pains me to say it) with Mark Hughes in the throne, and of course the acquisitions of Robinho, Tevez, and Toure, among others. But, what about Manchester United? 

            It seemed as if a divide had surfaced over the Red Devils during the latter part of last season, as well as their fans. With Cristiano Ronaldo expressing interest in leaving the club, he found himself in a position that no player wants to be in while on a team. It’s reported that disagreements and arguments were bountiful in the locker room and behind closed doors between Ronaldo and his teammates. His performance in his final days at Manchester caused many to question his passion for playing for the club, especially after the rumor spread of his desired transfer. While it’s arguable as to how hard he played in the late season, Manchester fans were surely not easy on him. Many, but surely not all, began to call him soft; and upon his transfer to Real Madrid, many found themselves thinking, “Good riddance.”

            But, whether Manchester was glad/sad to see him go, it was finished. Ronaldo, among others, were gone, and Sir Alex was left with the task of rebuilding one of Europe’s finest clubs. And, certainly, players were signed. Michael Owen, a striker, formerly of Newcastle United, was signed to Manchester United to play along side Wayne Rooney as Manchester United’s offensive attack. Michael Owen’s presence and ability was surely felt in the Asia Tour, scoring two goals in his first two games as a Red Devil.

            As Ronaldo is now missing in Manchester’s midfield, signee’s Zoran Tosic and Antonio Valencia seek to fill the gaps. Alongside Giggs, Scholes, Park, and Carrick, among others, Tosic and Valencia hope to fill the gaps of Manchester’s midfield. Another contender would be striker/winger Gabriel Obertan, a signee from Bordeaux, formerly on loan to Lorient for 15 appearances. As Manchester United seeks to fill its gaps, they may need a versatile player. This is where players like Obertan come in, as Obertan could be an essential player to Manchester United this upcoming season.

            But one thing that chief executive David Gill wanted to stress this year was a dependence on the young players of the Red Devils. "We’re not in the market for paying a lot of money for players who are 27, 28 or 29. We don’t think it’s good value," said David Gill in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. David Gill has high hopes for Federico Macheda, the 18 soon to be 19 year-old striker, as well as the native forward Danny Welbeck. Certainly these young players will be of essence to the club, as the fresh, quick legs of the two players will become a key element to Manchested United’s attack.

            Whether it be the “new face” of Manchester United, or just a reform/rebuilding year, seasoned Manchester players such as Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, and keeper Edwin Van der Sar will be in the driver’s seat this season, showing the “young guns” the way. The mix of both seasoned veterans and young, fresh legs should give Manchester United the boost to be competitive and gunning for the top spot this year. Regardless of any personal feelings of Cristiano Ronaldo, his contributions to Manchester United were undeniably fantastic, and will certainly be missed. However, with the current squad, it’s surely going to be an exciting, and hopefully successful year for the Red Devils. Who knows, maybe they’ll find themselves back in the Champions League Final? Only this time, Ronaldo won’t be playing alongside his former Red Devils. But just maybe, he’ll find himself squaring off against them. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hooligan Guest Article: Liverpool Season Preview by Kevin Musc

           With the start of the Premier League campaign right around the corner, Liverpool should have high expectations to win their first League title since 1990. They finished second only to Manchester United last season, while achieving a club record of 86 points. They will be looking to improve even more this season by breaking their dry spell and winning their 19th League Championship.

  Liverpool have done some good business in this summer’s transfer market by bringing in the best English right back, Glen Johnson, while also adding Alberto Aquilani to bolster their midfield. The only down side was the departure of Xabi Alonso, who was Liverpool’s best player last campaign. With such an important player of their team gone, and with Aquilani not being fit for another 4-8 weeks, Lucas Leiva will have the chance to step up and prove himself.
  Liverpool’s defensive depth has also taken a hit this summer with the departures of Sami Hyypia and Alvaro Arbeloa, along with the possibility of Andrea Dossena moving back to Italy. On top of that, most of Liverpool’s remaining defenders are struggling with their fitness, as Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, and Fabio Aurelio have all picked up injuries during preseason. Expect a move for another defensive replacement before the transfer window closes.

            Looking at Liverpool’s potential starting eleven, it has to be seen as one of best line-ups an English team has to offer. Rafa Benitez is keen on the 4-2-3-1 formation, so expect a lineup (when fully fit) looking something like this:

Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio
Aquilani, Mascherano
Kuyt,  Gerrard, Riera/Babel

  For Liverpool to have success this season, key players expecting to break out will need to perform. The three potential break-out players for Liverpool are:

  Ryan Babel- Came off an unimpressive season last campaign and has been working very hard in preseason to establish a consideration for the starting role on the left flank. His speed is his dominate attribute, but lacks a certain creativity to burn past defenders. In the past, he has been subject to selfish play, so the ability to recognize when to pass the ball or whether to dribble will certainly determine how successful his season will be.

  Lucas Leiva- With the absence of Xabi Alonso and Aquilani being injured for the start of the season, this could very well prove Lucas’s last chance to impress Rafa Benitez. He has probably been Liverpool’s best player during preseason, and he looks very ready to grasp the chance to play in the starting lineup. He will need improving on his defensive capabilities, as he gives away many free kicks in dangerous positions. Although he will never be Xabi Alonso, he could certainly provide Liverpool with a dominate force in the midfield.

  Emiliano Insua- The young Argentine left back has already been staking a claim to be in the starting 11, and with Fabio Aurelio being injured for the start of the season, he may have a chance to permanently cement his position within Liverpool’s lineup. His appearances last season gave Liverpool fans a taste of what was in store for their future. He must be considered one of the best young left backs in football, and certainly will be given ample playing time with the lack of depth in Liverpool’s defense.

  All in all, it should be a very exciting season for Liverpool. Although the loss of Xabi Alonso is a step backwards in their quest for the Premier League, Liverpool should feel confident about the forthcoming season. If they do not achieve their goals, it will be down to the lack of depth in the squad, as Chelsea and Manchester United do look to have better options off the bench. However, if Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard can remain healthy, Liverpool could be in for an even better season than last year.

English Premier League: Predictions for 2009-10

            The English Premier League is set to begin the 2009-10 campaign on Saturday August 15, and goodness, we are in for an exciting season.  England’s Big Four have clearly been de-strengthened, with Manchester United losing Christiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, Liverpool losing Xabi Alonso, and with Arsenal clearing house.  All this while the rest of the league seems to have improved makes for what should be a very tight table this season.  Manchester City are obviously the biggest threat to disrupt the Big Four’s consistency, while all of Everton, Tottenham, Sunderland, Fulham, and Aston Villa look fit to challenge for fifth and sixth place finishes.  As for who gets relegated, that should be quite a battle as well.  Here’s my take on the final table come May 9, 2010 when the season concludes…


1. Chelsea

2. Manchester United

3. Liverpool

4. Manchester City

5. Arsenal

6. Everton

7. Tottenham

8. Aston Villa

9. Fulham

10. Sunderland

 11. Wigan

12. West Ham

13. Blackburn

14. Stoke City

15. Bigmingham City

16. Hull City

17. Bolton

18. Wolverhampton

19. Portsmouth

20. Burnley

Predicting the 2009-10 Top XI (4-4-2): Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Nani (Manchester United), Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal), Steven Ireland (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Yuri Zhirkov (Chelsea), Brede Hangeland (Fulham), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), Tim Howard (Everton)

Golden Boot: Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

Player of the Year: Andrei Arshavin

Manager of the Year: Steve Bruce (Sunderland)

            There you have it.  Between Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool, it’s a toss-up for the title.  Though I hate to say it, my gut tells me Chelsea.  They are the only Big Four club not to lose quality personnel and even Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted they should be his biggest challengers.  I feel like the pre-season Community Shield match last week was a precursor of good things to come for Chelsea, and struggles at times this season for United. 

            I do, however, remain skeptical about Chelsea’s managerial status, always an inconsistency at the Bridge.  Carlo Ancelloti is a class manager with an impressive resume, but do not forget this is his first year ever in England as player or coach.  In this right, I would not be surprised if Chelsea’s European campaign is more successful than their domestic showing.

            As for the Manchester City vs. Arsenal race that has been hyped up for this year, I am making a bold prediction, tipping City for a fourth-place finish.  Arsenal still do have the better squad, alas one of injury-prone players.  Inconsistency could very well be an issue for the Gunners, and their challengers for the final Champions League spot, who are not done spending yet, field a scary-good squad.

            My table predictions are otherwise pretty uninventive, honestly.  Look for Tottenham to end their spell of underperforming in recent years; Harry Redknapp is bringing the club in a positive direction.  Also, Wigan and Sunderland are my sleeper picks to exceed expectations as this year’s surprise clubs.  Aside from that, enjoy the season.  It will be quite a thrill to follow. 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Final Thoughts: USA 1 Mexico 2

            On Wednesday, the United States lost 2-1 to Mexico at Estadio Azteca, making them 0-23-1 on Mexican soil.  Many had thought this was the time for the Americans to reverse their trends south of the border, but ultimately, the result was no different from past circumstances.  Up early thanks to an eighth minute Charlie Davies brace, the United States were not able to hold on, giving up goals on either side of halftime to once again leave Mexico City in defeat.

            Although getting off to a promising start, the Americans put forth a lackluster performance, clearly struggling with the high altitude of the Azteca.  They were dominated in terms of possession and managed four shots, only one of which was on goal.  Their offense lacked creativity, if any presence at all, and behind the ball, the American squad was maimed with gaping holes, allowing the Mexicans too much time to work in the midfield.  For individual critiques, see the below post, but overall, the performance by the United States was poor.

            The American display on the field, however, was not the most disappointing aspect of the match.  Terrible refereeing, classless Mexicans, and an abnormally high altitude tainted the latest chapter of this storied rivalry, and as a result, the United States leave Mexico feeling quite hard-done-by.  It is a shame in both football and in any sport should outside influence on the game be greater than that of the competitors, as happened Wednesday evening.

            First and foremost, referee Roberto Moreno was a disgrace.  The Panamanian had no control of the game and as Tim Howard put it, “It makes [the game] a lot harder when the most intimidated person in the stadium is the referee.” 

            Moreno was clearly influenced by the banter of 100,000-plus El Tri supporters.  He not only unjustly cautioned American players multiple times, but failed to reprimand Mexican individuals for even harsher fouls.  Carlos Bocanegra picked up an undeserved yellow for an all-ball tackle in the first half, and while Benny Feilhaber was carded for protecting an under-attack Charlie Davies, Neri Castillo received no punishment for twice striking an American player and later on, time wasting.  Even worse, Moreno at times awarded Mexico free kicks for fouls they had committed against the US.  This is absolutely unacceptable from a referee.

            While Moreno’s mistakes are almost unforgiveable, it is clearly evident that behavior in the Azteca stands is not just influential, but threatening, too.  Only in Mexico would spectators’ boos drown out the American national anthem.  And only in Mexico would fans be as vulgar as to throw vomit-filled beer cups at a player on the field.  (Landon Donovan was pelted with various items as he awaited to take a second half corner kick.)  Ultimately, the Mexican fans are absolutely classless.

            And while the deafening screams of El Tri supporters were able to withstand the extreme altitude of Estadio Azteca, the United States lungs were not.  American players looked abnormally unfit and lackadaisical throughout the entire match.  By competing in the sweltering afternoon heat of Mexico City at 7,400 feet above sea level, conditions new to the United States and familiar to the Mexicans, El Tri experience, as former national team coach Bruce Arena put it, “One of the most lopsided home-field advantages in the world.”

            Overall, every aspect of the Azteca match was disgusting: poor play, poor gamesmanship, poor refereeing, etc.  In the end, the Mexicans come out on top and are obviously quite happy with the win.  Realistically, however, the result is deceiving, for El Tri will rarely have the comfort of the Azteca on the international stage.  Now, Bob Bradley admitted the final tally to be a “fair score,” but certainly feels bitter, and rightly so, because in typical fashion, the Mexicans have stolen another result.

Player Ratings: USA 1 Mexico 2

Tim Howard: 8… Another solid performance in goal for Howard.  Unfortunately could not get a hand on Mexico’s winner in the 82nd minute.

Oguchi Onyewu: 7… Easily the best of the back four Wednesday afternoon, Onyewu would not be beat in the air and came out with the ball in almost all his 50-50 situations.

Jay Demerit: 4… Demerit was far less spectacular than his partner in the back.  The FA walk-on found himself consistently behind the play, making too many late, rash challenges on the ball.

Steve Cherundolo: 6.5… Cherundolo’s defensive job wasn’t great, but he provided an offensive spark coming out of the back.

Carlos Bocanegra: 5… Quite the opposite of his compatriot on the right, Bocanegra was slow and provided nothing coming out of the back.

Ricardo Clark: 4.5… Nearly invisible all evening, Clark’s usual presence in the defensive midfield was sorely missed, as the Mexican’s found far too much space and time to work in the American half.

Michael Bradley: 5… Like Clark, was nearly ineffective in the middle.  Bradley offered no distribution and once Feilhaber and Holden came on was eventually moved to a more defensive role, where he was equally absent from the play.

Clint Dempsey: 4… Dempsey’s inconsistency is becoming an issue with the national team.  Ultimately, he did nothing in the playmaking role he was meant to fill.

Landon Donovan: 6… Early on, showed signs of his fantastic form of late, most noticeably on his assist to Charlie Davies for the United States’ first goal.  However, as the match went on, Donovan became lost amongst the pitch, the trend for American personnel this certain Wednesday.... Recent reports indicate that Donovan was playing with swine flu.

Charlie Davies: 7… The lone offensive standout for the United States.  In trademark style, Davies harassed the Mexican defense with his pace and relentless work ethic.  He became only the fourth American to score on Mexican soil in the eighth minute and was only inches away from a second goal when his potential late-game equalizer was deemed offsides.

Brian Ching: 4 Gave Bob Bradley’s 4-4-2 more of a 4-4-1-1 look with the idea of holding the ball as a second striker, but ultimately could neither keep possession nor distribute.

Benny Feilhaber: 5… Found no space to work in the midfield after coming on as a second half substitute.  His only significant contribution to the game was his lunge on Mexican shithead Neri Castillo in the 74th minute, which ultimately drew a yellow card.

Stuart Holden: 6.5… The Gold Cup star was easily Bob Bradley’s most effective substitute.  He provided a playmaking spark none of the first team regulars could and his brilliant, long, curling service from the right flank late in the second half almost connected with a diving Charlie Davies for a second half goal.

Jozy Altidore: 5... Thrust into the game for a cramping Charlie Davies with about a quarter of an hour to go, Altidore really couldn't get a touch on the ball.  He was physical with the Mexican defense, though, a presence that could have been used earlier on in the evening.