Monthly Archives: August 2010

Growing middle class on deadline day

Let’s be honest. Who really thought Sunderland, Stoke and Birmingham would be the clubs making the biggest splashes on the final day of the summer transfer window? Sure, England’s biggest teams had taken care of most of their business already. But it was still a surprise, as the final hours ticked away, to see a club-record 13 million pounds splashed out to bring Ghanian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan to Wearside from French club Rennes. Who knew the Black Cats even had that kind of cash? You’ve sure got to turn over a lot of couch cushions to come up with that kind of loose change.

Only slightly less surprising was the triple swoop made by Birmingham, who landed former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb on a season-long loan from Barcelona, defender Martin Jiranek on a one-year deal from Spartak Moscow and Chilean winger Jean Beausejour from Club America in the Mexican League.

The Potters, meanwhile, added four players to a team yet to record its first league points of the season, with Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen joining on a season-long loan from Monaco and former Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant coming over on loan from Spain’s Real Zaragoza until January.

The combined effect is a serious thickening of quality for some of the Prem’s mid-table teams. There aren’t many easy weeks in the EPL, even for those at the top, and those teams should all be strengthened by their deadline day dealings. The moves also make life harder for the unlucky few clubs left scraping to stay in the top flight.

Tottenham, as usual, left it late, leaving fans to play the ‘vaiting game’ over the status of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, whose cut-price, 8-million pound move from Real Madrid reportedly requires Premier League approval, given that Arry and co. didn’t even start  on things until two hours remained in the transfer window. Yids will be hoping the deal gets done, if only so that Sylvie van der Vaart, his lovely missus, can brighten up the scene down the Lane.

As they prepare for a debut season of Champions League football, with Inter Milan looming large in Group A, Spurs decided not to parcel anyone out of North London, holding on to Robbie Keane and Jermaine Jenas, and bolstered their goalkeeping corps by finalizing the long-awaited arrival of Croatian Stipe Pletikosa on a season-long loan from Spartak Moscow. Things didn’t pan out yet for Tottenham’s other trialist, South African defender Bongani Khumalo, but he may still join in January.

Elsewhere, Man. City said so long to Brazilian bust Robinho, who set sail for AC Milan, Everton’s Joseph Yobo was loaned out to Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Liverpool finalized the signing of Paul Konchesky from Fulham (so much for Uncle Woy’s pledge not to plunder the Londoners) while letting Emiliano Insua leave for Galatasaray.

So, no more moves until the New Year, and we now await the naming of 25-man rosters for the next four months on Wednesday. Could be some difficult decisions to make at some clubs. Stay tuned.

Ian Harrison

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Man. City in need of Sheikh-up

Yet another away game, yet another below performance for the Citizens. If Sunday’s defeat at Sunderland proved one thing, it’s that Manchester City still have a long way to go before they can pose a serious threat.

Though the argument that money doesn’t buy you success seems a fragile one, it does seem to be ringing true for the club that spent over $200 million this summer.  The more you watch City, the more you realize that it’s not the money that’s the problem; its the way it’s spent.

Yes, James Milner is very good. A pacey winger who’s delivery credentials was evident when he found Gareth Barry out of nowhere last week against Liverpool. But is he really worth just under $50 million? For half that money Arsenal invested in Samir Nasri, a proven playmaker who is about quantity, not quality. And what about Mario Ballotelli? Sorry, but this is a man who managed to alienate the people of Milan with his lacklustre performances and still ask for a pay increase. He could start a fight in an empty room.

It’s easy to criticize any team that has just lost, but it was the manner in which defeat came that showed the issues at hand. Even with Carlos Tevez’s shocking twelve yard miss, City never really looked like scoring, nor did they even look like mustering an attempt on goal.

Yaya Toure is another example of how poorly the money’s been spent. There is little doubt that teams add 50% to the price when City ask for an evaluation. Instead of the amount they spend each week on keeping him on the payroll, a cool $350,000, Man. City could surely have dangled the same sum in front of the best striker in the world and employed the services of Fernando Torres, especially given that cash-strapped Liverpool are hardly in a position to haggle.

Imagine it, Torres alongside Tevez. The proverbial lambs to the slaughter comes to mind.

But look at this from another angle as well. Every player linked with City this summer was also courted by someone else. If you can afford to buy a player so a rival can’t have them, why wouldn’t you?

Of course, from a player’s perspective, you’d like to think no amount of money would be enough when it comes from a club that, at least right now, can’t even offer the promise of Champions League football. Sadly, it seems that’s not true for everyone.

It could be another slow year for Manchester City, and when owner Sheikh Mansour gets bored and wants to buy an island instead, they’re going to be left with a hefty wage bill of players who are good, but not good enough.

Sam Saunders

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Broken Promises for TFC

A week of frustration for TFC

It started out as promising as anyone on Toronto F.C. could’ve imagined.

Playing 4 games in 12 days is a tough task for any club, especially when your squad is battling injuries. But the win versus Cruz Azul has been the team’s only real positive since it began a string of games almost two weeks ago.

After taking it on the chin from New York, Toronto traveled to Panama on Tuesday to play Arabe Unido in the CONCACAF Champions League. Arabe is one of the weaker teams in TFC’s group, and the club was looking for an away win to give them six points and first place in their opening two games.

Poor field conditions forced the Panamanians to move from their usual stadium, and it looked like the change would help eliminate home field advantage: only 300 or so supporters were on hand to watch a brutal game from both sides.

Coach Preki has been saying that his club is serious about the Champions League but you wouldn’t be able to tell at the start of the game. Preki only slotted three regulars in the lineup, opting to give star players like Dwayne DeRosario and Mista the night off, and hoping the subs could grind out an away win.

Preki gets red card for time-wasting

That never happened. The only time TFC had any kind of spark was when DeRosario came on at the half… but by then it was too late. Arabe scored the only goal of the game early and held on for a 1-0 win, while Toronto seemed disinterested and finished the game with nine players when Nick Labrocca and Fuad Ibrahim picked up red cards.

With Toronto’s starters rested, it was back to MLS action and their quest to make the playoffs. It wouldn’t be easy as they hosted defending MLS cup champs Real Salt Lake at BMO field in Toronto. Real were also coming into this game off a Champions League battle with Cruz Azul in Mexico, losing a heartbreaker 5-4 in the final minute.

Toronto looked sharper in the opening half, with Canadian international Will Johnson starting on the bench for Salt Lake, along with teammate Robbie Findley. TFC couldn’t take advantage and went into the half tied at zero. Preki brought in Jacob Peterson and O’Brian White in the second half for some added offence, but they still couldn’t produce a goal as the team continues to struggle putting the ball in the back of the net. Real, on the other hand, has been a scoring machine this year without the benefit of a designated player… but they seemed a little unlucky, hitting four goal posts in the nil-nil draw.

In the four games Toronto has played, they have come away with three points in Champions League play and one point in MLS games. They get set to travel to Dallas next Saturday.

Len Grammenopoulos

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Only two miles separate them now

You might not know it from their lacklustre loss to Wigan today, but the recent form of Champions League debutants Tottenham Hotspur has got the attention of rival Gunners fans. Today, new blogger and Arsenal supporter Sam Saunders offers some praise for the local Lillywhites, who’ve just been drawn against their neighbourhood rivals in the Carling Cup.


Whisper it quietly around Holloway, but the boys from Tottenham are narrowing the gulf that has separated them and the old enemy down the road for so many years. Though Arsenal has qualified for the Champions League every year for 13 under the tenure of Arsene Wenger, Spurs will now rub shoulders with the very best along with their North London neighbours. And boy, does it hurt.

Tottenham’s meteoric rise under Harry Redknapp is one of storybook proportions. Lying perilously close to the trap door to the Championship when he arrived, ’Appy ’Arry transformed the club within a matter of weeks, starting with the now infamous 4-4 draw away at Arsenal in October, 2008. Casual defending and a refusal to run the ball to the corner cost the Reds dearly that night, and they threw away two goals in the dying moments to a Spurs team that could smell blood.

For any member of the Yid Army, those three minutes were the highlight of the year, though it was only the start. Surprisingly, given his track record at previous clubs, Redknapp adopted a free-flowing game evocative of the Hoddle years and now not only did Tottenham win, they won with style. Rejuvenated, the team carried its form on for the remainder of the season and avoided a near catastrophic plunge to the lower echelons. A year later they pipped big-spending ManchesterCity for fourth place after an industrious and hardy campaign, and the heads down Seven Sisters Road started turning.

Let no Arsenal fan bang on about the fact that its 60 years since White Hart Lane saw a victory parade. It’s been five long years since Arsenal claimed any one of the four trophies they compete for annually. That may seem a small time frame, but this is a team that went 49 games unbeaten only six years ago, and is the third richest club in world football. Five years at that level might as well be five decades.

Where heavy purchases have bolstered Spurs’ already talented squad, Arsene Wenger continues to hold faith in his youngsters, who show promise yet little energy after fifty games in a season. All very well and good in storybook land, but it’s becoming glaringly obvious that kids don’t win prizes. Signings such as Wilson Palacios, Luka Modric and even (gulp) Peter Crouch have added experience, quality and decisiveness to Tottenham. Ironically, it was a header by Crouch, butt of many a Gooner’s joke, that confirmed Tottenham’s entry to the Champions League with this week’s victory over Young Boys.

If Wenger continues to play the role of Scrooge, and Tottenham keep scoring at will on the counter attack, this could be the first year in many that Spurs are crowned Kings of North London.

Sam Saunders is from Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England. He now lives in Toronto, working as a bartender at Steam Whistle Brewery and has interned at TheFAN590. The Gunners may be in his blood, but he also has room for Southend United.

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Super Cup = Super Farce

Soccernet called today’s meeting of the Champions League, er, champions and the Europa League winners as the “creme de la creme” of European football.

Puh-leez.

The title is a farce. It made sense when the European Cup Winers played the Cup Winners’ Cup holder.  But now the latter has been abolished and melted into some bastard tournament that also features a rank mix of Champions League losers and domestic also-rans.

Case in point: Atletico Madrid took the inaugural EL title by winning a total of three proper European games. Three.

After qualifying for the Champions League group stages, they were demoted to Europa after failing to win a single game. They managed a win before needing away goals in the next two rounds to advance. They then made it to the final after beating Liverpool on aggregate, winning the first leg and then squeaking an extra-time goal in 2-1 loss.  An overtime defeat of Fulham in Hamburg made them unlikely champions of a Mickey Mouse tournament.

So Atletico entered today’s game as heavy underdogs… underlined by their ninth place finish in La Liga last season (which would not even have earned them their current berth in this season’s Europa League — a place guaranteed for the title holders) .  They should have crumbled at the feet of Italy’s treble winners.  Enter Rafa Benitez.

What other reason could there be for Atletico’s defeat of mighty Internazionale? The newly-installed Benitez started 10 of the 11 starters from last season’s CL final.  It was a squad heavy with superstars, laden with hardware from this season’s draw ceremony.  So what other excuse could there be for a dull first-half without a single shot on goal?

No Inter success for Rafa Benitez

Rafa’s past seems to bite him in the ass. It was two former Liverpool players — Djibril Cisse and Sebastian Leto — who got the better of Inter when they played Panathinaikos in Toronto last month.  Rafa has had to follow the footsteps of a bitter rival to the north of Italy when Mourniho took the helm of the Spaniard’s true’ love, Real Madrid. And tonight, it was the Spanish capital’s lesser light that got the better of Rafa’s supposed ready-made superpower. Atletico wouldn’t even allow him the consolation of a penalty, after Los Rojiblancos’s keeper made a brilliant save.

But to what end? Can Atletico now say they are the real champions of Europe? Unlikely.  It’s one more of UEFA’s byzantine methods to create more games for more gate and more TV revenue, while allowing some substandard team to put a piece of silverware in the trophy case.

If this is the creme de la creme, then UEFA should kill the cow… because they are just diluting the product.

Brent Lanthier

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Luck of the draw? Yids learn CL fate

Welcome to the Champions League, Tottenham. And just in case you weren’t sure who the best team in the tournament was, it became painfully evident as teammate after teammate from reigning title holders Inter Milan sauntered up to the stage during today’s draw in Monaco (a painfully long event but one surprisingly well photographed by audience members) to receive player of the tournament awards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, defender Maicon, midfielder Wesley Sneijder and striker Diego Milito (who also won player of the year) were each honoured with a small trophy and the opportunity to pick little balls out of a cup and reveal the teams within. And when all was said and done, Spurs found themselves in Group A alongside Inter’s star-studded cast. Will the Italian treble winners still be the same team with Rafa Benitez at the helm? We’ll find out when the Serie A gets rolling this weekend.

Of course, it’s a better draw for Spurs than they would have faced in Group G, whose teams have won a combined 20 Champions League crowns and finished runner-up nine times. At least, with Germany’s Werder Bremen and Holland’s FC Twente rounding out Group A, the last three teams are fairly evenly balanced, meaning second place and passage to the knockout round should be up for grabs. Despite their lofty UEFA coefficient, I’d rather face Bremen (third in the Bundesliga last year) from Pot 2 than any of Real Madrid, Roma, Valencia, Marseille, Panathinaikos or Benfica. Twente, who won their first Eredivisie title last season but saw Schteve leave for Germany over the summer, were one of the highest ranked teams in Pot 4. It’s also a kind geographical draw for Spurs, with no lengthy excursions to Kazan, Donetsk or Tel Aviv required.

Whoever the opponent, health of key players is a big issue for Spurs with the first matchday just over two weeks away. I’ll be happy as long as Welsh winger Gareth Bale, who set up all four goals in Wednesday’s famous 4-0 win over Young Boys, is healthy and ready to run. He’s been become  simply brilliant since Arry told him to stop messing with his barnet.

Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, all Pot 1 teams, are undoubtedly feeling pretty comfortable about their team’s chances of progression to the round of 16, with all three London clubs dreaming of a berth at the Wem-ber-lee final. In Manchester, the police force is already bracing for trouble when Rangers visit, based on their experience from the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, while the tie gives Sir Alex gets a chance to face his former team.

What’s also shocking is the number of big names  who’ll be watching from the wings this Champions League season, including Liverpool, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos, Villareal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

In today’s Europa League playoffs, a reeling Aston Villa met their match in Rapid Vienna for the second successive year, with a Stiliyan Petrov penalty miss proving fatal, while Celtic’s European misery continued with a 4-0 defeat at Utrecht. Liverpool and Manchester City, however, both booked passage to the group stages, with the Reds reversing an early 1-0 deficit at Trabzonspor and Citeh easing to a 2-0 win over Timisoara.

On this side of the Atlantic, current MLS champions Real Salt Lake watched a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-4 defeat at Mexico City’s Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night, meaning all four teams in Group A, including Toronto FC, have a win and a loss through two matches. As for TFC, they were busy today announcing Doneil Henry as the first academy player to sign a pro contract.

Ian Harrison

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Fergie’s Fantasy: So You Got That Promotion…

Newcastle's Steven Taylor will likely play every week

In your regular life outside of fantasy football, you probably find those who have been recently promoted rather annoying and smug.   But in the fantasy world, you need to make friends with them and bring them on to your side.

On paper, the three newly-promoted squads may look like the Premier League equivalent of the kids who always got picked last on the playground pitch. But in reality, even if the teams are getting beat up on a weekly basis in real life, Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion, and Blackpool all have players that are affordable — that will play every week — and that will even chip in points on occasion.

You want the grinders that will earn points on the cheap so you can afford the big stars. What you are looking for is someone who will give you the performances we saw last year from Wolves defender Jody Craddock — Birmingham’s Lee Bowyer — or Joe Hart, who shone in goal for Birmingham while on loan from Manchester City.

Anybody can pick Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney.  But it takes skill and guts to pick up and start the right players from the newly promoted
squads. Here are some players worth considering…

Goalkeepers:
This is a risky proposition…  but it should be noted that after only two weeks, all three keepers from the promoted sides have one clean sheet. Sure, two of the three also let in six goals in their other game (eep!)…  but let’s focus on the clean sheets.

Newcastle’s Steven Harper is a quality premier league goalie and with his team likely poised to avoid relegation, he is the pick of this group.

Scott Carson: Man of Constant Sorrow? Or Points?

That said, I also like West Brom’s Scott Carson.  He has Premier League experience, comes at a very low price, and is guaranteed to face a lot of shots. He may not get many clean sheets, but in most games, he will get you a bonus point for making three saves.  And he’s already played his road game against Chelsea so you don’t have to worry about that fixture.

I would avoid Blackpool’s Matthew Gilks.  I just don’t trust that Blackpool are going to have the kind of success their drubbing of Wigan in Week One would suggest.

Defenders:
Again, assuming Newcastle have a strong season, you can count on Fabricio
Coloccini being a constant presence along their back four.  You can’t miss him, he’s the one with the huge mane of curly hair.

Jonas Olsson had a pair of goals and lots of playing time during West Brom’s last season in the Premier League two years ago.

Catchart traded Devil Red for Tangerine

And if you want to take a chance on a real cheap player, there is the rock bottom price for Craig Cathcart of Blackpool.  I do think Blackpool will concede the most goals in the league this year, but Cathcart spent years training with Manchester United.  Though he played very little with the Red Devils, he has played every minute of this young season with Blackpool.

Midfielders:
I have sung his praises in previous columns — and it has yet to pay off — but Chris Brunt of West Brom is a pleasure to watch.  He signalled his intentions last weekend with a long range strike that was only kept from the highlight reel by the woodwork.  He’s the most expensive player you can buy from West Brom — but still very cheap when compared to quality midfielders on other teams.

Barton: Solid tash, solid points earner

With two goals last week, Kevin Nolan is off to a strong start for Newcastle. The Magpies boast a solid midfield that also includes Joey Barton and Jonas Gutierrez.  Barton scored a highlight reel goal last weekend, and there’s every reason to think we could see more of the same from him.  Jonas is more of a grinder but does get a ton of playing time.

Strikers:
I don’t really trust any of West Brom’s strikers to score a lot of fantasy points and I still don’t know what to make of Blackpool’s Marlon Harewood.  He’s puzzling.  He’s kicked around on a few different teams in the Premier and Championship leagues over the past few seasons, but his two goals in Week One showed he could prove himself as a player who belongs in the top flight.  At this point he is still a bit of a risk… but at least he’s a cheap one.

The cream of this crop is Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll.  I feel a bit stupid on this one, because I gave strong consideration to putting him on my team based on his strong numbers in the Championship last season. But I didn’t do it, fearing what I’ve seen from other strikers who have flopped in the Premier League after good Championship seasons (Sylvan Ebanks-Blake for example).  Nothing like a hat trick to boost your confidence though, and with his performance last week I think Carroll will continue to have a fine campaign.

And not to gloat but…

I selected five players for you to consider last week and four had huge weeks. Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Gareth Bale, and Joe Hart all
put up big numbers.  Only Marlon Harewood was a bust.

This week with Chelsea at home to Stoke City, you still can’t go wrong with Malouda or Drogba.  Fulham’s David Stockdale may be a fine bargain — he is on the road in net against Blackpool. The only risk with him is whether Mark Schwarzer returns to his starting role, but rumours persist that he will be transferred to Arsenal.

Speaking of the Gooners, Theo Walcott is looking good after his hat trick last week.  His price is rising and now may be the time to pick him up while it’s still reasonable.

Scott Ferguson

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Dr. Z breaks down the Serie A

The Doctor is back. Fearless prognosticator Hadi ‘Dr. Z’ Zogheib, who broke down every group at World Cup 2010 this summer, returns to forecast the new Serie A season in Italy. With the start of the Calcio just a few days away, here’s a look at some notable transfers and what to expect in the coming campaign.


INTER MILAN

In – Mancini ( AC Milan),  Nicolas Burdisso (loan return, Roma),  David Suazo (loan return,  Genoa),

Out – Mario Balotelli ( Man. City),  McDonald Mariga (Parma),  Luis Jiminez (Parma)

No major changes to last season’s treble winners and, after last season, why change?  The loss of Balotelli is more a loss of potential, but this squad will once again rely on guile and experience in attempting a repeat of last season’s success.  The big question is how the players respond to new manager Rafa Benitez after Jose Mourinho’s defection to Real Madrid.  Nonetheless, the Nerazzurri will once again be the team to beat.

ROMA

In – Fabio Simplicio (Palermo), Guillermo Burdisso (Rosario Central)

Out – Nicolas Burdisso (Inter, loan return)

Cash-strapped Roma have so far failed in their attempts to re-sign Argentine international Nicolas Burdisso (although there is still time), so little brother Guillermo will have to do for now.  Fabio Simplicio was a wonderful coup, given his talent and recent success at Palermo.  The club that pushed Inter all the way to the end last season will hope Francesco Totti and co. can utilize their wonderful team chemistry to have another successful season in the capital.

JUVENTUS

In – Simone Pepe (Udinese, loan),  Marco Storari ( AC Milan),  Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Niccolò Giannetti (Siena, loan), Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow), Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool, loan)

Out – Sebastian Giovinco (Parma), Tiago (Atletico Madrid,  loan), Christian Poulsen (Liverpool), S. Almiron (Bari)

Big changes in Turin as Juve hope to bounce back from a dismal 2009/10 campaign which saw them finish seventh. Storari will carry the load in goal until Gigi Buffon is fit again, while Italian international Pepe will provide the width and speed that were lacking last season. Can Milos Krasic be the next Pavel Nedved? Juve fans certainly hope so.

SAMPDORIA

In – Luciano Zauri (Lazio, loan),  Nicola Pozzi (Empoli), Simone Zaza (Atalanta),  Daniele Dessina (Cagliari, loan return), Paolo Sammarco (Udinese, loan return)

Out –  Luca Castellazi (Inter), Daiele Padelli (Bari, loan), Robero Soriano (Empoli, loan)

Last season’s surprise outfit will have a tougher time finishing high in the table this season as it they’ll have to battle on multiple fronts (Serie A and Europa League). Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano formed one of Serie A’s most lethal strike forces last year and they will have to reproduce their form if they have any hope of another top four finish. Once again, home results should carry Sampdoria to the top half of the table.

AC MILAN

In – Kevin Prince Boateng (Genoa, loan),  Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Genoa), Mario Alberto Yepes (Chievo), Marco Amelia (Genoa, loan)

Out – Marco Storari (Juventus),  Marcus Paixao Diniz (Parma, loan), Mancini (Inter, loan return)

Lots of big names leaving, but so far none are coming the other way. Dzeko and Ibrahimovic remain transfer targets, but unless they land a big name or two in the coming week, look for another so-so season for the Rosseneri.

NAPOLI

In – Cristiano Lucarelli (Parma), Edinson Cavani (Palermo, loan), M. Bogliacino (Chievo, loan)

Out – German Denis (Udinese), Matteo Contini (Zaragoza), Luca Cigarini (Sevilla, loan), Jesús Alberto Dátolo (Espanyol, loan)

The southerners will be stronger as a result of their off-season moves, especially the additions of Lucarelli and Cavani. Poor finishing cost this team a Champions League berth last season, so the greater scoring punch of these new additions could see them make a significant move up the table.

PALERMO

In – Ezequiel Muñoz (Boca Juniors), Francesco Benussi (Lecce), Massimo Maccarone (Siena), Mauricio Pinilla (Grosseto),

Out – Simon Kjaer (Wolfsburg), Mark Bresciano (Lazio), Roberto Guana (Chievo), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Fabio Simplicio (Roma)

Palermo will have a tough time repeating last season’s fifth place finish, especially with the loss of defender Kjaer, midfielders Simplicio and Bresciano, and striker Cavani.  These pieces are simply too tough to replace, and the men in pink will suffer as a result.

Dr. Z’s Serie A Predictions:

1 – Roma

2 – Inter

3 – Napoli

4 – AC Milan

5 – Juventus

6 – Sampdoria

7 – Palermo

Hadi Zogheib

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Kicking and Screaming

If you want blood, you got it.

There was certainly no shortage of blood-letting again in the Premier League this weekend, as some teams scored at will:

– Chelsea has run rampant over the dregs of the division, following their 6-0 drubbing of West Brom with the same scoreline against sorry Wigan, who lost 4-0 to Blackpool in Week 1.

– Blackpool came crashing down to earth when they had their arses handed to them by Arsenal, 6-0.

– After doing a number on West Ham in the first week, a James Milner-less Villa was sent to the showers by new boys Newcastle… again, 6-0.

– Once-mighty Liverpool (well, not lately, I admit) were sent crawling back to Merseyside after losing to New Chelsea, er, Manchester City, 3-0.

For Liverpool and Aston Villa, success has been fleeting of late. The parallels are too hard to ignore. Both are massive clubs that are now in the hands of American owners, unwilling — or unable — to spend Big Four money (and make no mistake, yesterday’s loss is a clear sign that Liverpool are no longer a top-four club). Both have had their managers leave in the off-season, unhappy with the economic restraints on their team. And both have had to deal with wantaway players whose contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Milner suits up for City

I can’t help thinking that Villa’s humiliation is the end result of Milner’s long, drawn-out transfer saga with Premier League poachers Man City. The Blue Side of Manchester have been kit disturbers since Sheikh money started to roll in. Martin O’Neill was furious last year after Citeh-slickers started to whisper in the ears of Gareth Barry, tempting him away from the Midlands.

Or just ask Everton’s David Moyes. Joleon Lescott made it clear that his one-off fluke season was good enough to earn him a spot at a “bigger club.” Contract? Schmontract. Away he goes, and it took until after Christmas for the Toffees to get over the loss and settle into a new groove.

But it’s one thing to bitch and moan about where you work, it’s another not to show up at all. Yesterday, perpetual cry-baby Javier Mascherano decided he would not play for Liverpool, in light of the club’s refusal to accept an offer from Barcelona.

How ironic is it that one of the players offered up for the Argentine is Alexander Hleb. You’ll recall the Belarusian went to the Nou Camp two years ago, after pouting his way out of Arsenal. He failed to find a spot and is now transfer bait. Clap. Clap. Clap.

The Reds won’t be bullied into the deal. Good for them.  But this trend of leaving teams when things aren’t going your way is disturbing. Barcelona and Real have been the biggest offenders lately, trying to tempt players to switch shirts: think Mascherano and Fabregas this year, as well as Ronaldo and Alonso in seasons past. But Manchester United have also been known to upset the football cart, as did Chelsea when Russian mob oil money started to flow in.

The Bosman rule was created so that players could have a say in where they went… either by leaving on a free, or by nixing a deal to another team if they didn’t like it.

But stomping your feet and refusing to play when you’ve signed on the dotted line is bad for your teammates, it’s bad for the fans and it’s bad for the game. It isn’t just bad business…

It’s a bloody disgrace.

Brent Lanthier

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Cruz-ing TFC gored by Red Bulls

Toronto finally stumbles at home

Toronto F.C. started a grueling schedule on Tuesday — three games in seven days — with a CONCACAF Champions League game versus five-time winnners, Cruz Azul.  The Mexicans arrived in Toronto after a 4-1 win over league rivals, Pachuca. Cruz Azul made six changes to their squad for the Champions League game, including starting national team member Gerardo Torrado on the bench.

TFC celebrate Mista goal vs. Cruz Azul

But La Maquina Celeste didn’t seem divinely inspired as Toronto forced the play from the start. The Mexicans found themselves down 1-0 in the fourth minute of play, after TFC midfielder Martin Saric took advantage of some poor clearing to head home his first of the year.  Perhaps Cruz Azul looked out of sync because of the shock of finding out BMO field had natural grass (they had practiced on artificial turf in Mexico to prepare for the match).  Toronto ended the half with newly-signed designated player Mista scoring his first from just outside the 18-yard box to complete TFC’s best half of soccer this year.

In the second half, Torrado came in, and clearly had an impact, controlling the midfield and creating chances as soon as he stepped on the pitch.  His play resulted in a goal — but too little too late.  The win gave  TFC three points in the group stage, which is rounded out by Panamanian side Arabe Unido and MLS champion Real Salt Lake.

Three days later, Toronto welcomed the New York Red Bulls in a battle for second place in the Eastern Division.  New York came into the game five points ahead of the Reds after a 1-0 win at home two weeks ago.  They were looking to extend their lead by bringing a star studded team to BMO, including designated players Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Juan Pablo Angel.

Red Bulls' stars all over TFC

Surprisingly Toronto took it the stars — who seemed to be on a stroll — but couldn’t convert on three great chances from close. Nick LaBrocca hit the crossbar and Dwayne DeRosario’s shot from inside the 18-yard box was stopped by defender Tim Ream.  But on the Red Bulls’ next possession, Marquez found himself unmarked from about 25 yards out. He half-volleyed a bullet with the outside of his right foot into the top right corner, leaving TFC keeper Stefan Frei with no chance.

Toronto defenders did a pretty nice job defending against French international Henry, allowing him only one chance that he put over the bar. After the game, Henry said he wasn’t match-fit because of a nagging hamstring injury.  But he did say he liked BMO’s atmosphere — where he was loudly booed every time he touched the ball.

After an own goal by Joseph Nane made it 2-0 for the Red Bulls, Toronto came out of the second half with purpose. Their aggressiveness paid off as DeRosario scored from in close to cut the lead in half.

A straight red to TFC’s Nana Attakora for a hand ball in the box resulted in an Angel penalty that essentially sealed Toronto’s fate.  Adding insult to injury, former Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson made it 4-1 after Frei couldn’t control a cross. Robinson was let go earlier this year after failing to see eye-to-eye with coach Preki.  Afterwards, the classy Robinson said he didn’t celebrate the goal because he had too much respect for the fans and organization after spending three years here.

Toronto will now continue its Champions League run on Tuesday night in Panama before returning home next Saturday to host Real Salt Lake in MLS play.

Len Grammenopoulos

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