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The Bulgarian Question

Berbatov tightens his grip on the Golden Boot

It is damn near irresponsible to count out Manchester United this season, as they once again showed in their comeback away to Blackpool. But it is within the realm of reality to question whether their Number 9, Dimitar Berbatov, will maintain his torrid pace.

After the first half of Tuesday’s match, it looked the Seasiders might record a famous win against Sir Alex et al.  But the Unconvincing Invincibles served up something special in the second 45 minutes, and the cherry on top of that Mancunian sundae was Berbatov.

The striker scored the first and third goals against Blackpool, awakening the Red Giant and giving Man U just their third away win this season.  The goals make it 19 in 20 games for the Bulgarian.  It was the fifth time that he scored more than once this season, and it followed his third hat-trick performance just three days before against Birmingham. 

What is so impressive about Berba is how he does it. For the most part, he embodies the classic Centre Forward, waiting at the end of a series of passes to put the ball in the net… and he rarely makes a mistake.  Most of his goals are one-touch beauties, efficiently simple without great movement, but lovely to watch all the same.

Of course, he is also able to put on a show… especially when he knows he is in control.  Look back at his second goal of five against Blackburn.  Berbatov practically wills the ball in and then walks away, as he if knew it was going in all along. 

His third in that game is even more impressive.  He starts with the ball back at his own box, passes it to Patrice Evra, who then gives it back to a rushing Berba at the half. After kicking far and right to Nani, the No. 9 casually trots up the middle and into Blackburn’s box, madly signally for Nani to give him the ball.  The right winger agrees and Berbatov easily slots it in. 

But those goals pale against his performance against Liverpool at Old Trafford.  Never mind the enormity of the occasion. Never mind that he became the first United player in 64 years to score a hat trick against the hated Merseysiders.  His technique, his finishing were flawless.

His second against Liverpool might have been Goal of the Season

Case in point: the second goal.  Berbatov is in the outer box and takes an Evra pass from the right corner.  Sidling up to a wall of Liverpool players, the Bulgarian takes the ball on his knee, turns his back and scissor kicks the ball into the back of the net.  Jaw-dropping stuff that just might win Goal of the Season.

But there are things he is not.  He is not Wayne Rooney, United’s wayward son, who has yet to find the form he had before his injury last March.  And he is not fellow countryman — and fellow CSKA Sofia grad — Hristo Stoichkov.  The elder was a burly, volatile man who played well off the wing… not unlike Rooney.

He is not someone who seems to enjoy life away from Manchester: fifteen of his 19 goals this season have come at Old Trafford… and eight of those were against Blackburn and Birmingham.  His life doesn’t get any more pleasant on the continent.  Berbatov has appeared in five of United’s six Champions League games this season, without scoring a single point.

It is easy for observers to put qualifiers on his success, and it’s easy to question his enthusiasm, interpreting his calm demeanour as a lack of heart.  As a Liverpool fan, I am obligated to loathe him.  But every time the ball comes to Berba, I always secretly question my loyalty and think, “Oh this one might be bit special…”

Brent Lanthier

This is a great Youtube video of all 19 goals this season:

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Painful day for Europe’s giants

Less than two months after the World Cup final in Johannesburg — and with their club seasons in their infancy — Europe’s finest met up again for the first qualifying games for Euro 2012.  But it seems many national sides have just picked up from where they left off in June/July.

Witness England’s 4-0 demolition of lowly Bulgaria.  Even though the Three Lions impressed in front of a packed Wembley… storm clouds will continue to linger over the head of Don Fabio Capello.  The British press have been incredibly derisory towards the Italian, unwilling to forgive him for England’s performance in South Africa. Despite success against Hungary in last month’s friendly — and despite Wayne Rooney’s impressive partnership today with hat-trick scorer Jermain Defoe — it will never be good enough for several sections of St. George’s Army.

On the positive side, outstanding shot-stopping for both England and Man City — including a life rope to salvage an almost-own-goal by Glen Johnson — means 23-year-old Joe Hart may stay in net for a entire generation.  But there continues to be fitness problems… including Defoe limping off with a knock to his ankle. As well, a horrible knee injury to Michael Dawson adds to Capello’s centre-back crisis… and the rubbish play of the aformentioned Johnson means more of the same defensive headaches.  It will be interesting to see whether the stingy Swiss will allow England to run roughshod in Basel.

Those injuries mean the club vs. country debate will also continue.  The loss of Spurs starters Dawson and Defoe will likely have ‘Arry Redknapp sputtering, since he’s not allowed to wheel and deal buy replacement players after the trade deadline.  Yikes!

Les Trois Stooges

It was more humiliation for France as they lost 1-0 at home to lowly Belarus.  Midfielder Florent Malouda chided the French fans for booing… because apparently, it is the fans’ fault that Les Bleus are 1) awful, and 2) spoiled millionaires who have to be goaded into singing their own national anthem.

The World Cup hangover continues for the Italians as well.  They had to come from behind to scrape past Estonia 2-1. And the Portuguese had to battle in a tit-for-tat scrap with Cyprus. A Seleccao had to settle for a 4-4 draw after the Cypriots scored in the 89th minute.

In the “Hyperbole is the Best Thing Ever!” category: World Cup champions Spain posted a massive victory over Liechtenstein, 4-0.  That’s about as impressive as me remembering to unzip before going to the loo…

In the “Why Won’t He Just P!ss Off?” category: Former Liverpool gaffer Gerrard Houllier is interviewing for the Aston Villa job.  Expect whiny washed-up French players to descend en masse on Birmingham.

More Euro news on Tuesday. Happy Labour Day weekend!

Brent Lanthier

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