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Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

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Sports Update

Posted by hiphopmama on December 27, 2008

Number 21 is tackling Jesus!!

Number 21 is tackling Jesus!!

With the NBA season picking up steam, this has essentially become a Lakers blog. Which is cool, but I had initially intended to use it as a forum to talk about all the sports I watched, and I’ve definitely fallen off in that respect. With that in mind, I’d like to recap all the sporting action I’ve been watching, with an eye toward what current results are likely to mean in the near future. Without further ado…

Premier League

Apparently no one wants to win the title this year, because every time one of the top teams slips up and presents an opening, the rest follow suit with disappointing performances to keep pace with the leaders. Arsenal are goners (not Gooners) at this point, but the remaining Big Three seem to win, lose, or draw together, as if they signed a mutual pact before the season stating that no one would run away with the title before the new year. Liverpool and Chelsea, in particular, have had their fates linked, with each team drawing games and losing points at the same time, and then both turning it around for a big win the following week. Friday’s games saw this happen again, as the top two squads gave dominating performances and secured three points apiece to stay logjammed at the top of the table (Liverpool currently sits one point ahead of Chelsea). It’s hard to figure Man Utd out at this point, since they’ve played two fewer games for the moment, but they’re certainly within striking distance, as are Aston Villa, the surprise upstarts of the season. They staged a miraculous comeback on Boxing Day – perhaps not so miraculous considering Arsenal’s form this year – surging from 2-0 down to tie the game with a stoppage time goal from Zat Knight. The draw kept Arsenal out of the top four for another week, three points adrift of Villa for the final Champions League spot. I had expected much more to be decided by the Christmas slate of games, but it appears we’ll be exactly where we started come January. How the teams approach the transfer market will thus likely have a big effect on the ultimate outcome.

La Liga

Pep Guardiola is right to point out that there’s a long way to go, but it’s increasingly looking like a foregone conclusion that Barça will win the title this year. Real Madrid is all but out of the race, currently sitting in fifth place and twelve points adrift of the leaders. No team has been as ravaged by injuries as Los Merengues, so an infusion of new blood will be necessary if they plan to make a late run to defend their title, or even to reclaim a top four spot. They’ve already locked up Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarra, but another defender and someone to play on the right wing would be a big help to Juande Ramos as he tries to extend his stay with the team. Valencia has stayed near the top longer than expected, especially considering the injury to David Silva, and Sevilla are the closest to Barcelona in second place. Mind you, they’re still ten points back of the Blaugrana, but they’re in a better spot than anyone else to overtake them. If they can hang onto their players, that is. 

Serie A

Inter continue their league dominance, entering the new year six points ahead of Juventus, their nearest competitors, with AC Milan nine points off the pace. While it pains me to say so, Jose Mourinho has done well with his boys, not allowing malaise to set in for extended periods and fielding good squads suited to the task at hand. Juventus have been picking up steam, though, and are poised to make life tough for Inter down the stretch. While I want to believe that AC Milan are still in it, I doubt they’ll be serious contenders come season’s end. Their aging squad has added another elder statesman in David Beckham, and the return of players like Pirlo and Ambrosini has helped prop the team up recently. Still, Kaka and Ronaldinho have yet to prove they can play effectively together and neither has been exactly scintillating so far. The middle third of the table is remarkably tight as well, with Napoli, Genoa, Lazio, and Catania all within striking distance of a top four spot. If Juve (and hoepfully Milan and Fiorentina) can give Inter a run for their money, it should be an entertaining sprint to the finish line. Anyone but Inter!

NFL

And now to the good stuff. The NFL is in its home stretch, with one more round of games to determine the lucky teams who will make the playoffs. While the Giants and Titans are essentially marking time until their second round match-ups, there are a number of battles yet to be played out. The Eagles still have a shot at a playoff spot if they can beat the Cowboys and get a little help from teams like the Bucs, Vikings, and/or Bears. The Dolphins have their fate in their own hands and can clinch the AFC East with a win this week, regardless of what the Patriots do. New England, on the other hand, has to win and then hope for a Miami loss (or tie). Come on, Dolphins. The best game of the week will be between the Chargers and Broncos for sole possession of the AFC West title, although I’ll have a hard time watching because I dislike both quarterbacks so much. Both seem like your prototypical QB jock brought up to believe their shit don’t stink. I hope they both crash and burn, but that the Chargers still win. This has the potential to be one of the more interesting playoffs in a while, with a surprising array of strong teams all with a chance to do some real damage. Just think about it. When was the last time the Colts were a five seed? The Vikings in the three spot? And the Dolphins in the playoffs at all?? Despite their stellar records, none of the top teams looks really unbeatable, so every game should be a slugfest with the potential of an upset. As long as the Patriots don’t make it, I really can’t lose this year.

So that’s that. My sports viewing in a nutshell. Does anyone really give a shit? Nope, just me, but I’ll always take the chance to prove my extensive knowledge and remind people that I know more about sports than they do AND I’m a girl. How about that X chromosome?

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Schuster Gets “Vote of Confidence” – Only In Soccer

Posted by hiphopmama on November 17, 2008

After another disappointing loss, their third in four games, the Real Madrid coach was rumored to be on the hot seat for not getting the desired results from his all-star squad (read here about his stay of execution). The loss to Valladolid was indeed painful, in a different way than those losses to a resurgent Juve team, as Real once again looked hapless at the back and frankly uninterested in doing anything about it. It was a listless effort against a spunky team that, no matter how spurred on by their home fans, Real should have beat.

Still, when I heard about Schuster facing possible dismissal if his team lost that game all I could think was, “Only in soccer.” (Or football, or top flight European football – take your pick.) There is lots of talk about the “coaching carousel” in certain U.S. sports, particularly basketball, but it doesn’t even come close to approaching the kind of musical chairs that goes on in the big European leagues. Real Madrid is a case in point. Fabio Capello is brought in for ’06-’07, and he leads the team to a title. It was a grind, and it came down to the last week, but the team got it done. It wasn’t enough, though, and he was fired ostensibly for not playing the kind of football the Real Madrid faithful were used to seeing, adopting a more defensive style that was less flashy than the (notably title-less) Galacticos teams. So next up is Bernd Schuster, who brings back the razzle-dazzle (thanks, Ray Hudson) and leads the team to its second title in two years. So now, early on in the year and after the team’s first league loss, he is potentially on his way out, because these clubs operate on the Janet Jackson principle: what have you done for me lately?

I’ve always been a proponent of giving coaches time to prove their worth, especially if they come in with proven track records to back them. I’m admittedly a noob when it comes to European football, but my experience with the NBA tells me that you have to be patient. It takes time to come in, get a feel for the team culture, assemble the players you want on the roster, institute a new system (if necessary), and change the established mentality, all before you can expect to start winning. It doesn’t always take this long, but when it doesn’t, you can be assured that the system and players were already mostly in place before the new coach swept to power. Larry Brown ended up leading the Pistons to their first title in 14 years, but he did so with a team that Rick Carlisle assembled and brought back from the abyss and into contention. The addition of Rasheed Wallace in Brown’s first year was the thing that probably put them over the top and helped them beat my beloved Lakers. Similarly, when Flip Saunders came in and instituted a more open, offensive style – which was what management wanted from Carlisle all along, in addition to a more personable attitude – he led essentially the same group to the NBA Finals only to see them lose a tight battle to the Spurs. Jon Gruden propelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a championship in 2002 on the back of Tony Dungy’s grunt work bringing that group together and instituting their renowned defense. Rotating new coaches in and out of already solid teams – as all of these big clubs are – is bound to be a 50-50 endeavor, yielding results as often as “disappointments,” however psychos like Ramon Calderon define those terms.

Thinking about these various coaches leads me to the conclusion that European football coaches are simultaneously more and less valued than coaches in the big sports in the U.S. Coaches in Europe are often superstars to the same extent as their players are, and their every move is scrutinized by the press and rival teams. Phil Jackson is only half jokingly self-dubbed the “Zen Master,” but it doesn’t approach the level of devotion that trails “The Special One” who currently resides in Milan. Despite this, even these larger than life coaches are rather easily disposed of and often for reasons that are entirely foreign to a stateside fan like myself. The Pistons ditched Carlisle partially for his surly demeanor as well as for a difference in opinion over team strategy, but it’s rare for feuds between coaches and team managers to be nearly as direct or as public as they are in Europe. Mourinho chafed under Abramovich’s insistence on Shevchenko’s position with Chelsea and was fired after taking the club to two consecutive league titles, while Capello was unceremoniously disposed of by Madrid for winning the title with less style than the Madridistas demanded. It’s hard for me to imagine an NBA or NFL coach sacked immediately after leading a team to a championship, no matter what justifiable reasons team management or owners might have. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it makes more sense to me that, if you’ve just come off a good performance, you might not want to shake things up. Then again, when you have the ability to just buy and buy and buy more talent, you have no incentive to work on building from what you already have, as happens in U.S. sports with at least a pretense of a salary cap. Instead, you can just ditch whatever doesn’t instantly work and move on to the next quick fix. Unfortunately, it seems like you might get just that – a QUICK fix that doesn’t serve your long-term interests.

But what the hell do I know? I’m just a dumb Yank.

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