All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘epl’

Wheat, Here; Chaff, There

Posted by hiphopmama on September 12, 2009

van persie man city
As much as I don’t want to say it, I feel like this may have been the week where the contenders separated themselves from the pretenders, or where the wheat finally separated itself from the chaff, if you will. It pains me, mostly because I’m an Arsenal fan but also because I’m desperate to see someone (ANYONE) other than ManU hoist that trophy, with as many changes in that top four oligarchy as possible – other than Arsenal’s place in it, of course.

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United
1-0 Defoe, 1′
1-1 Giggs, 25′
1-2 Anderson, 41′
1-3 Rooney, 78′

So Tottenham playing well was a good thing for me, because, despite their heated rivalry with Arsenal, it was another team putting pressure on the biggies and they had the chance today to knock off the reigning champs. They failed, and big time. They opened the game in brilliant fashion with a laser of a bicycle kick from Jermain Defoe inside of the first 50 seconds putting the North London side up 1-0. But then United did what they always do – slow and steady to the finish line. In the 25th minute, Ryan Giggs curled in a free kick to knot the scoreline, and Anderson blasted one past Cudicini just before halftime to give ManU the lead for good. Paul Scholes had a typical Paul Scholes day, sliding into two dangerous tackles and earning himself a red card in the 59th minute. Being reduced to ten men didn’t hamper United much, though, as Rooney tiptoed right down the lane to slot home Manchester’s third and final goal of the game.

And just like that, Tottenham’s supposed coming-out party was put on ice, if not abandoned altogether, and their 100% record went out the window as well in favor of a clear statement of intent from the defending league champions. Spurs just seemed short of answers today, scoring early but then never really finding anything else to punish ManU with. Perhaps the loss of Modric had a role to play in this, but whatever the case, it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of their stay at the top of the table.

Manchester City 4-1 Arsenal
1-0 Almunia (og), 20′
1-1 Van Persie, 62′
2-1 Bellamy, 74′
3-1 Adebayor, 80′
4-1 Wright-Phillips, 84′
4-2 Rosicky, 88′

I don’t even want to talk about this one. Maybe I’m officially a soccer nut if a loss like this can screw up my whole day, because that’s what it did. I watched the rest of the matches I recorded today after this, but only grudgingly and with the bitter hope that the other big teams would fail too. I’m not going to bother describing each goal, because it will just depress me further. The first was tragically comical in everything from the ball’s lofted trajectory off Micah Richards’ bulbous head to Almunia’s hapless expression as the ball ricocheted off his own melon and into the Arsenal goal. 1-0 City despite Arsenal looking the better side in the opening minutes. Things were pretty even for a while after that, until Arsenal started piling on the pressure in the second half, eventually resulting in a goal by Robin Van Persie to tie things up. For a good ten minutes after that, it seemed inevitable that we would get another and take the lead, but there was some kind of lapse in the aftermath of Adebayor’s very intentional kick to Van Persie’s face and Alex Song’s foul of revenge on his former teammate. City parlayed the resulting confusion into a lightning quick counterattack and a strike from Craig Bellamy to restore their lead. And then Adebayor scored (that’s all the description I’m going to give) before jetting to the other end of the field to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. Cunt. It might have been the fastest I’ve ever seen him run. If he had hustled like that last season, Arsenal might have competed better down the stretch. But no matter. He got his ticket (check?) out of London and over to the trendy new Manchester side, where it must be said he is playing quite well. He reminds me of my separated parents, only NOW doing all the things he should have been doing all along to salvage his former relationship. Do I sound bitter?

There was one silver lining in this match, and it was the return of Tomas Rosicky, including a sweet goal in his first game back. It came on some gorgeous link-up play between he and Fabregas, who lofted the ball to the little Mozart, who in turn needed just one touch to send it on its way. The whole Arsenal side looked better after he was introduced, so everyone just pray he can miraculously avoid anymore injuries for a while and we may have a winning combination on our hands.

Liverpool 4-0 Burnley
1-0 Benayoun, 27′
2-0 Kuyt, 41′
3-0 Benayoun, 61′
4-0 Benayoun, 82′

Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea
1-0 Faye, 32′
1-1 Drogba, 45′
1-2 Malouda, 90′

Two very different victories here, but with very familiar overtones. Liverpool absolutely ran rampant over Burnley, with Yossi Benayoun netting a hat trick and effectively setting up Dirk Kuyt for the fourth by blazing the shot that Brian Jensen parried into Kuyt’s path. Chelsea, on the other hand, needed another late-game winner to beat a bottom half side, but they, like Manchester United, proved that it doesn’t matter how you earn those points, as long as you get ’em. They secured all three today and kept their perfect start going, now having won five games in five tries. Only they and Manchester City can claim a 100% record going forward, with Chelsea having played one more game at this point.

Which brings me to a question I have for my own theory: if the true title contenders are separating themselves from the pack this week, what does this say about Man City? Because I don’t really consider them contenders for anything other than a Europa League, or at least I didn’t before the season started. I’m hoping I’ve just come up with a faulty explanation for the weekend’s turn of events, but I’m beginning to worry. They can’t be the real deal, can they?

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Not My Day…Kinda

Posted by hiphopmama on August 29, 2009

As good as the early weeks of the season have been to me, today was not my day. All the well-intentioned advice keeps telling me to fastidiously separate my subject matter, but fuck it – I watch multiple leagues, so I’m going to write about all of them at once. If you only keep up with one and are offended by my mixing, a thousand apologies. But this is how the day played out for me.

Act I

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
0-1 Arshavin, 40′
1-1 Rooney (pen), 59′
2-1 Diaby (0g), 64′

Inter 4-0 AC Milan
1-0 Thiago Motta, 29′
2-0 Milito (pen), 36′
3-0 Maicon, 45′
4-0 Stankovic, 67′

First off, fuck your bitch and the click you claim. Wait, that’s Tupac, but it could just as well have been my intro to Manchester United and their showdown with my Gunners, as much as I hate those Red Devil bastards and their gum-smacking manager. Things started out promisingly enough, with an AMAZING strike from Arshavin on 40 minutes putting Arsenal ahead. It really was unbelievable, a good 20+ yards out, and he lasered it into the upper corner of the net while a hapless Ben Foster barely got a hand to it. As sublime as that strike was, the second half went completely in the other direction very quickly. Arsenal had a chance right out the gate to go up two goals when Arshavin slipped past his defender on the left-hand side, sent in a low cross with some pace, and then watched in agony as Ben Foster stuck out a leg to keep out Robin Van Persie’s point blank effort. Not long after that, ManU turned the tables and finally made good on their pressure when Almunia dove in front of Rooney and the Shrek look-alike went down. I know, I know, it was a penalty. The keeper didn’t get so much as a fingernail on the ball, and he made more contact with Rooney than Boruc did with Eduardo. ManU weren’t foolish enough to send Michael Carrick to the spot a second time, and Rooney converted the penalty easily. From there, you sensed it was going to be a matter of holding on for Arsenal, and they just couldn’t do it. Giggs, who had set up the penalty with a nice pass, put a decent free kick into the box, and Diaby inexplicably headed it into his own goal to gift United the lead and the win. I’m still not sure what he was doing – he didn’t get enough on it to be trying to put it over the bar, so I can only assume he either, a) was stupidly trying to head it back to Almunia, or b) had absolutely no idea where he was on the pitch. The second of those seems more likely, but the reason doesn’t matter because the outcome was determined. Arsenal put in some last-ditch efforts to even the scoreline, and they came as close as they possibly could without actually scoring. At the dead end of stoppage time, Van Persie actually put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out for offside, disappointingly the correct call. There was at least a little comic relief at the end when Arsene Wenger got sent off and then got into an entertaining back-and-forth over how far was far enough away from the action. Not satisfied with his initial departure, the ref ordered him into the stands. From there, he was instructed to put some more distance between himself and his bench, so he walked out to the front of the stands amidst the screaming United fans and smiled and shrugged his shoulders, asking, “Where do you want me to go?” It would have been hilarious had the game scenario not been so painful at the moment.

I couldn’t bear to watch any of the postgame wrap-up or listen to any of the talking heads give their two cents, so I immediately muted it and went looking for something else on my DVR to watch. It’s early, I told myself, and I have plenty of football available to watch to lift my spirits. The Milan derby was today too, right? Against all logic, I still thought AC Milan could pull off a surprise result, and I was bolstered in this belief by the teams’ week one performances. Inter draws 1-1 with Bari, Milan joga’s bonito over Siena to the tune of 2-1, and Ronaldinho was sure to be resurgent again in the pairing with Pato. Right? RIGHT?? Wrong. This one was a drubbing. I’m not sure there’s any point in going through the goals. Suffice it to say that, after a brief flourish of possession and attack in the opening minutes, AC Milan absolutely folded and Inter administered an embarrassing 4-0 defeat. Gattuso was sent off in the 40th minute, which didn’t help matters, but that was only after Inter had scored twice, including one off a penalty Rino himself conceded. After that, two great strikes by Maicon and Stankovic put the game on ice, if it wasn’t already, and left me hanging my head.

I then tried to move on to Real Madrid’s opener, but FUCKING GOLTV screwed up their guide listings AGAIN, causing me to miss the opening 40 minutes of their game against Deportivo La Coruña. Strike three.

At this point, all my hopes rested with Chelsea, who became my number two team in England when I realized a few years ago Manchester United losing was more important than anything else and Chelsea were the only ones with a hope of catching them. They’ve had a great start to the season, and I didn’t foresee them letting me down against Burnley. But then laundry, and cooking, and sweeping, and mopping got in the way and prevented me from getting in a decent result during the sunlit hours of the day.

Act II

Chelsea 3-0 Burnley
1-0 Anelka, 45′
2-0 Ballack, 47′
3-0 Cole, 52′

Real Madrid 3-2 Deportivo La Coruña
1-0 Raul, 26′
1-1 Riki, 30′
2-1 Ronaldo (pen), 35′
2-2 Valeron, 46′
3-2 Lass Diarra, 60′

Finally, with the family returned home, the daughter and husband in bed, and a kitchenful of dishes to do, I flipped on the TV and cued up Chelsea. It took them the better part of the first half to really find their groove (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), but once they did, they didn’t disappoint. Right at the end of the first half, Drogba broke out down the right and fired low across the face of the goal, setting the table perfectly for Anelka to tap it home from inches out. The second half continued in the same vein, with Ballack scoring on a diving header off a Lampard cross two minutes out of the break. The third goal was the real peach, though, and came off still more lovely passing in the set-up. Ashley Cole, who played wonderfully all game, played a little one-two with Lampard around the left corner of the box. Lampard’s lofted ball found Cole impeccably, and the left back volleyed home a stinger into the top of the net to cap the scoring.

With at least one victory under my belt, I scavenged through all the mislabeled GolTV programming I had recorded to find the Real Madrid replay and sat down to watch my most anticipated match of the new season. Despite all my best intentions, the Blancos have my undying devotion, and even my detesting (to put it mildly) of Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t put the damper on my support. An unrequited love for Raul, Casillas, and Kaka helps in that regard, though, so I was more than ready to get the La Liga season underway.

The first goal showed all the promise of what this Real Madrid might achieve, combining the old guard with the new. Kaka delivered a gorgeous ball, nutmegging TWO defenders to find a streaking Benzema (who may or may not have been offside). The keeper appeared to get a fingertip to his strike to deflect it onto the post, and the rebound fell to Raul to poke it home. It wouldn’t have been so easy had the Depor defense not stopped playing looking for the offside flag, but no matter, Real had a 1-0 lead, and it was beautifully engineered by one of the summer’s big signings. Within five minutes, though, Deportivo equalized over some iffy defending off a set piece and header by Riki. Everything just looked a little loosey-goosey back there, which is to be expected, I suppose, with all the new players in there figuring out the system. After just five more minutes, Madrid reclaimed the lead when Aranzubia brought Raul down in the box and Ronaldo coolly converted the penalty. My hatred dissipated just a tad, momentarily at least, upon witnessing his celebration, which seemed entirely earnest in the emotion he showed at scoring his first official goal for the Merengues. Despite all his pomp and hair gel, he does seem to have a legitimate love for the club and appears to want nothing more than to succeed there, which is enough to make him palatable to me. Barely.

Deportivo wasted no time coming out of halftime, equalizing a second time on a nice strike by Juan Carlos Valeron from just outside the box. Once again, some lax defending left him in too much space and he snapped it past an onlooking Casillas after receiving a nice pass from Guardado. Last season’s stand-out Lassana Diarra finally settled matters in the 60th with a surprisingly crisp hit from the top of the box. He dribbled a bit, created some space for himself, and then fired it past Aranzubia for the third time. It came a bit out of nowhere, with all the millions of Euros standing around watching him, but it secured the three points nonetheless.

Epilogue

So in the end, I finished 2-2 on the day, although that last win was a little uncertain. Still, I’ll take it, especially after how horribly it all started for me, going from awful to horrendous in the Arsenal and AC Milan losses. A big thank you to Chelsea and Real Madrid for helping me finish the 24 on a good note. We’ll see how I fare on Sunday.

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Champions League Group Stage Draw

Posted by hiphopmama on August 27, 2009

Once you recover from the cleverness of the title of this post, continue on to find out the eight groups set up by today’s draw for the next phase of the UEFA Champions League, followed by my thoughts on them. Go on, treat yourself.

Group A
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Bordeaux
Maccabi Haifa

I can’t see Juventus having too many problems making their way through to the knock-out rounds in this group. No offense to either Bayern or Bordeaux, who will present tricky match-ups at the very least, but none of these teams has the same quality as Juve. Munich is the likely favorite to go through in the second spot, but look out for current Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux to challenge all parties.

Group B
Manchester United
CSKA Moscow
Besiktas
Wolfsburg

Sir Alex is sitting pretty after drawing this group, as Manchester United won’t face a single team from either Italy, Spain, or France, although they do have to contend with Bundesliga champs VFL Wolfsburg and Russian Premier League runners-up CSKA Moscow. Still, the Mancs should have little difficulty navigating this group, although I would love to see a shock results from the German upstart club.

Group C
AC Milan
Real Madrid
Marseille
Zurich

Humdinger of a match-up in this one, as Kaka makes his first return to the San Siro since moving to Real Madrid. Marseille are a very high-quality third team as well, so this one should be interesting till the end. It’s a tough group to predict in some ways, because we have little indication as to how the retooled teams of AC Milan and Real Madrid will perform this season. Milan’s opening day win over Siena was convincing enough, and Real Madrid’s preseason form was fairly encouraging, but real competitive play is another story altogether so we’ll have to see. Group C will definitely have some of the best storylines, though, no matter the outcome.

Group D
Chelsea
Porto
Atletico Madrid
APOEL Nicosia

This is one of just two groups that has three teams I could legitimately see getting through. You have to feel Chelsea are a lock, but both Porto and Atletico have equal claim on that second spot in my mind, at least for now. If Atletico’s strikers maintain the level of form they had last year, and if their back line can achieve some semblance of solidity, they should sneak through. But Porto are always tough at home and will be looking to secure their own place.

Group E
Liverpool
Lyon
Fiorentina
Debrecen

This is the other group with a three-way traffic jam at the top. Once again, the English team is the clear favorite, but Lyon and Fiorentina will really duke it out as well. Lyon will be playing to prove something after being knocked off the top spot in Ligue 1 by Bordeaux after seven straight years at number one, and finally breaking through in European play would help in that regard. I still expect the Viola to top them, though, and bolster the Italian presence in the quarterfinals.

Group F
Barcelona
Inter Milan
Rubin Kazan
Dynamo Kyiv

In case you needed any more Spain-Italy drama, you’ll get to see Eto’o and Ibrahimovic face each other after swapping teams as Barcelona and Inter face off in this easiest of groups to pick. Inter are the favorites to defend their Serie A crown, and Barça are favorites to win just about everything else, so unless they somehow cancel each other out, both will be waiting for the next draw for the knock-out stage.

Group G
Sevilla
Stuttgart
Rangers
Unirea Urziceni

This is the bland kind of grouping that convinces me that UEFA isn’t fixing these things, at least not at this early stage in the tournament. The lack of star power doesn’t mean a lack in quality, though, as Sevilla have a very solid team and Stuttgart have some big name players as well. Granted, most of them are cast-offs from bigger teams (Jens Lehman, Alexander Hleb), but the Germans will still have something to say about the outcome of this one. I’m happy to see Sevilla with a relatively clear path to the quarters here. They deserve it after all their workmanlike effort in La Liga, and more people need to see Jesus Navas. Wow.

Group H
Arsenal
AZ Alkmaar
Olympiacos
Standard Liege

As an Arsenal fan, I am more than pleased with the draw they got. As with ManU, they won’t have any competition from the biggest leagues (in Arsenal’s case, no Spain, Italy, France, or Germany). AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege are the champs of their respective leagues, and Athens is always a tough place to play against Olympiacos, but with no Real Madrid, Inter, Juve, etc., you’ve got to think they got off easier. Hopefully they can lock up their spot relatively early and not have to bank on getting a result in Athens in that final game.

So that’s that. Barcelona-Inter and Real Madrid-AC Milan are the headliners of this group stage, which should mean some good head-to-head match-ups but with each team still making it through to the quarterfinals. I never completely understood how they set up the qualifying rounds, but it has indeed opened the way for some teams we wouldn’t normally see, a number of whom have a real shot to make it out of the group stage. Aside from pulling for Arsenal, I’m hoping for a good showing from the Spanish sides, because it’s about time La Liga started making a stronger showing outside of just the big two. Sevilla look poised to move on, and Atletico will like their chances as well, so we shall see. I don’t know how I’m going to wait till September 15th-16th to get this thing rolling.

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Boo Hoo

Posted by hiphopmama on August 24, 2009

lpool-villa
Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa
0-1 Lucas (og), 34′
0-2 Davies, 45′
1-2 Torres, 72′
1-3 Young (pen), 75′

I don’t have time to write much, but I had to get a word in on this one. This makes two heartily satisfying failures for disliked opponents in the opening weeks of the season. Not much can compete with Manchester United’s stumble against Burnley, but at least they were on the road. Liverpool, on the other hand, were playing at home, where they didn’t lose a single game last season, and they couldn’t get the job done. In their defense, they were playing a staunch Aston Villa side that was typically well prepared by coach Martin O’Neill, and they were rather unlucky not to have gone ahead inside of ten minutes. All that aside, though, the game was theirs to take by the neck in the early going and they failed to do so, allowing O’Neill’s men to sneak in and steal it away from them.

Both teams had been under fire after disappointing starts to the season, and I think many expected Liverpool to fully bounce back in this one after romping all over Stoke City last week. And they had their chances to grab the lead right away, but a surprising lack of composure in the box left them goalless after three quick attempts. They still looked threatening for a long while after that, until an Ashley Young cross ricocheted off Lucas Leiva and past Reina into the back of the Liverpool net. Then, with the allotted minute of extra time already expired, Villa scored on a corner (which was disputed as well in its awarding as well) courtesy of Curtis Davies’ skyward scalp. Benitez was furious that time hadn’t already been called, but them’s the breaks and Liverpool defended it poorly.

The Merseysiders took a while to warm up in the second half, but when they did, they brought the pressure on full tilt and finally (and inevitably) scored on a volley by Torres into the top of the net. With their domination of the ball in the Villa half of the pitch, it seemed only a matter of time before they tied the game up. But Villa held firm, stepping in at all the right moments to knock balls away and alleviate the pressure, and the pushed Liverpool on the counterattack when they could. Only three minutes after Torres got them back in the game, Gerrard made a silly challenge on Nigel Reo-Coker, who probably wouldn’t have gotten to the ball anyway, and set up the penalty that sealed the game. Ashley Young calmly put it past Reina, and Liverpool visibly deflated. That was the most surprising part – watching the feisty Liverpool team seemingly concede defeat with so much time left on the clock and a recent history of miraculous comebacks to draw on. It was like they didn’t have the confidence to keep going or the belief to push for the difference-making goal. It doesn’t all come down to this, but I still think Xabi Alonso is going to be too big of a miss for them this season and will prevent them from achieving the same heights they did last year, when they still finished second. They may still make it to the silver medal spot, but it will be on many fewer points and to much greater disappointment from fans who expected this year to be an improvement on the last. My thoughts? Oh well. =)

p.s. Props to Brad Friedel for an excellent game between the pipes. He continues to amaze.

p.p.s. And also to ESPN for the good broadcast. It was the first I’ve gotten to watch of their Premier League coverage, and I was pleasantly surprised.

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Two Games, Ten Goals, Six Points

Posted by hiphopmama on August 23, 2009

arsenal-portsmouth

Arsenal 4-1 Portsmouth
1-0 Diaby, 18′
2-0 Diaby, 21′
2-1 Kaboul, 37′
3-1 Gallas, 51′
4-1 Ramsey, 68′

That’s a pretty good return on the first two matches of the season, no? Arsene shuffled the line-up a bit, but the result was essentially the same. Sagna and Clichy were replaced by Eboue and Gibbs at left and right back, respectively, and Abou Diaby started in place of Alex Song in the midfield. Eduardo also joined the front line instead of Nicklas Bendtner, who did see a few minutes as a sub. The formation wasn’t as clear a 4-3-3 as it was in the previous games, seeming to slip into more of the 4-4-2 we’re used to seeing, but the movement always looked good and everything was fluid so it doesn’t really matter.

Diaby played somewhat of a rangy role, popping up here and there and making himself very dangerous for the Portsmouth defense. He scored back-to-back goals in the span of a few minutes to put Arsenal 2-0 up, the first on a beautiful move by Eduardo to get past his defender before playing the square ball back to Diaby. Fabregas and Eboue provided the set-up for his second coming down the right flank instead of the left this time. Kaboul’s header pulled Portsmouth within a goal, and Pompey made it a rather nervy affair for a while, raising old questions about Arsenal’s back line. Luckily, Gallas showed up for another goal off a fortuitous bounce to restore the two-goal advantage. An Arshavin free kick pinballed its way around the box before banging off Gallas not once, but twice, and heading for the back of the net. Second-half substitute Aaron Ramsey got in on the action as well, getting in behind the Portsmouth defense and poking one past David James for the Gunners’ fourth.

This was a slightly more unsettling match than the scoreline indicates, at least in parts. After Portsmouth got their goal, Arsenal looked like they might crack and allow Pompey to even the match. Fortunately, they played just tight enough to keep out another goal and then allowed their lovely possession football to salt away the match. I was a tad concerned when Fabregas didn’t start the second half, presumably because of a lingering hamstring issue and also perhaps in preparation for the midweek game against Celtic. It was nothing to worry about in this game, because Ramsey filled in nicely, not only with the goal but also in creative link-up play through the midfield. He’s nowhere near the level of his captain, but at 18 he has plenty of time to work up to that high standard. And what can you say about Gallas? Three goals in three games for the center back? ‘Tis better to be lucky than good, I suppose, although Gallas has looked both this season: good at the back, and lucky in front of goal. I’ll take the combination any day.

One of the more refreshing aspects of this win was the continued high quality of play with the different line-up. There weren’t any wholesale changes, but with four new players in the starting 11 I wondered whether or not the free-flowing chemistry would be the same. It was, and the goals came just as easily. I still have some concerns about the occasional shakiness of the defense, but as long as they can keep the goals pouring in, the possession game should help in that respect. Arshavin is right, though, that squad depth will be important if Arsenal want to contend for the title. Because as amazing as they’ve looked so far – easily as good or better than any other team in the Prem – their continued success comes with a big “if” pertaining to their ability to remain healthy. The season is long and arduous, so it’s not really a question of “if” as “when” the injuries will come. How the team deals with them will determine its fate, and at the moment there isn’t exactly a wealth of riches on the bench, especially backing up the defensive portion of the pitch. But with just a week left till the transfer window closes and the team rolling, I don’t foresee any new additions to the squad. So fingers crossed all around that this group can stay healthy and continue to get the job done.

Of course, as I write this, I’m reading about Fabregas’ hamstring injury possibly keeping him out for the next three weeks, effectively ruling him out for the Manchester United match next weekend. I’m not even going to comment. Just get well, Cesc.

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Random Week 1 Predictions

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

In a very limited number of matches, there have already been quite a few surprises and the question now becomes whether or not particular teams are as good/bad as they looked in their earliest outings. These are my gut feelings as to which teams are pretenders and contenders at this most preliminary of stages.

  • Manchester United are finally going to fall off their championship pace, but not by as much as many think (or as I would like). I know they’ve looked pretty mediocre in their first two matches, but they are a historically slow-starting team and Sir Alex is a strong enough coach that I’m sure they will eventually settle in and start rolling off games. If nothing else, Rooney will at some point hit a groove and score something like 30 goals in 4 matches to earn them a few points. Will it be enough to keep them at the top of the table? No, but they’ll do better than they should based purely on quality of management.
  • Manchester City will both exceed and fall short of people’s expectations. Now a lot of this depends on whose expectations we’re talking about, but the point is true nonetheless. They will exceed expectations because haters and hypocritically bitter opponents (see Chelsea fans’ “money isn’t everything” banter) are already writing them off as impostors masquerading as the real deal and are predicting middling returns on their investments. While I believe their weaknesses at the back will eventually be their undoing – and while I would love to see them flounder in general – I find it hard to believe that the assembled group of superstars won’t at least mildly improve their fortunes over last year, when they finished 10th. That said, I don’t see them making any drastic jumps in the table, and they will probably be lucky to qualify for a European spot at all. Having splashed out close to £100 million in the summer transfer market, mere qualification will inevitably not satisfy the owners and some supporters, who will have their own ideas about how the money might have been better spent. If a top four spot is in their future, it’s a long-term plan at this point.
  • Last season’s upstarts will be under pressure even if they produce similar results. I expect both Martin O’Neill and David Moyes to be on the hot seat at some point this year, mostly because they got their teams to perform so admirably last year. Everton and Aston Villa secured their positions as the best non-Big Four teams in 2008-’09, but this will be more of a curse than a gift in ’09-’10 as both will be expected to improve upon last year’s performances despite the improbability of this task. Fair? No, not particularly, but I see it on the horizon nonetheless.
  • Tottenham will be all up in the mix. No one doubts that Harry Redknapp produced magic when he took over for Spurs last season, but I fully expect him to continue the upward movement at the club and get the most out of a typically underperforming yet talented squad. Bringing both Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe back into the fold will bolster the team, as will the addition (again) of Peter Crouch. They’re currently sitting at the top of the Premiership table, and while that certainly won’t lost, don’t be surprised to see them hovering around the danger zone till late in the season.
  • Arsenal will surprise people with the consistency of their challenge. Yes they’re still young and still a bit iffy at the back, but they are no joke and this year Wenger’s faith in his youngsters will finally start to pay off. In just two games, we’ve already seen improvement from players like Denilson and Song, neither of whom was dubbed as having much potential to rejuvenate the squad last season. Now, with another season under their belts and that much more savvy to draw on – not  to mention with a healthy Fabregas and Arshavin for the full season – they will take their game to the next level. Look for them to be challenging for the title till the bitter end.
  • Chelsea are indeed that good and will likely win it all this year. They finished not far off the pace last season, and that was after a horrendous run under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Now, with a squad almost entirely carried over from last year’s, further time to gel, and (hopefully) some consistency in coaching, they are poised to reclaim the title and bring it back to London. Liverpool only just missed a chance to win the Premiership last season and would have been the obvious choice to hoist it this year had they not last their midfield maestro Xabi Alonso. Without him pulling the strings in the center of the park and making things go, I just don’t see them mounting the same kind of challenge. Chelsea, on the other hand, have essentially the same team they had last season with the potentially key addition of Yuri Zhirkov to bolster an already strong left side that includes Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, and Joe Cole. Couple that with arguably the strongest central defensive pairing in the league in John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, as well as a playmaker with metronomic consistency in Frank Lampard and you have the recipe for a Premiership champion. I’m an Arsenal fan at heart, but I believe they’re a year and a defender away from true contention, so a Chelsea title would be the next best thing. Say it with me now: Anybody But United.

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Better All The Time

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

jensen save

Burnley 1-0 Manchester United
1-0 Blake, 19′

This one was sweet. I’ve been waiting upward of three years for someone other than Manchester United to hoist the Premier League trophy, and it seems this may finally be my year. He would never admit it, but Sir Alex appears to have thrown in the towel on the season already, accepting the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez with little more than a whimper of protest and little done to remedy the squad depletion it caused. Michael Owen? Okay, that’s cute and all, but no one, least of all Sir Alex, expects him to fill the boots of CR7 or Tevez. And with the team’s cadre of veterans racking up another year on those old bodies, you have to wonder how players like Giggs, Scholes, and Neville will hold up over a long, grueling season without a player like Ronaldo to lean on during dry spells.

All these weaknesses and more were on display in their match against Premier League newcomers Burnley, whose hometown population apparently would fit inside of Old Trafford in its entirety, according to the game announcers. That is a nice bit of perspective for the upset they pulled off, as is the fact that they hadn’t won a game in top-flight football in 33 years. Robbie Blake’s lovely volley gave Burnley the only lead they would need inside of 20 minutes, but goalkeeper Brian Jensen had just as crucial a role to play in the victory. His stop on Michael Carrick’s penalty just before halftime buoyed the team and gave them the will to hold on by their fingernails to the slim margin and keep ManU off the scoresheet. He made a few more key saves, and his defense scurried around just enough to put United off their rhythm, so that even the substitution of Berbatov and Valencia did nothing to change the outcome.

While it’s not quite as satisfying watching ManU (potentially) fall off their perch with such a weakened squad, you won’t hear any complaints – or sympathy – from me. If either of my London teams can step in to fill the void, I will be doubly happy, but even if the title goes elsewhere I will still be grateful to Florentino Perez and Kia Joorabchian for helping break up the dynastic unit and let in some sunshine at the top.

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Happy Birthday To Me

Posted by hiphopmama on August 15, 2009

arsenal-evertonEverton 1-6 Arsenal
0-1 Denilson, 26′
0-2 Vermaelen, 37′
0-3 Gallas, 41′
0-4 Fabregas, 48′
0-5 Fabregas, 70′
0-6 Eduardo, 89′
1-6 Saha, 90′

So yeah, it’s not really my birthday, not even close, actually. But it’s as good as, with the Premier League starting back up today and finally bringing to an end the mortifying period when European soccer, basketball, and American football are all in their off-seasons. Aside from the occasional MLS broadcast, only baseball is still in action, which is a non-entity in my book anyway, even with the Dodgers leading their division. Praise be unto the lord almighty that they don’t much believe in the concept of “rest” for their footballers in Europe, because their abbreviated off-season has mercifully sprung me from the depths of sporting boredom.

The new season was perfectly inaugurated by my Gunners, who put a hurting on Everton in their season opener. Aside perhaps from Liverpool-Tottenham, Arsenal easily had the toughest fixture of the Big Four sides in their trip to Goodison Park. Plenty had been made of the “losses” of Adebayor and Toure, as well as the limited acquisitions the team made in the transfer market, plus all the usual guff about the team’s (excessive) youth and lack of killer instinct. Yet while Chelsea needed all of extra time to pull out a victory against Hull City, Arsenal made quick and easy work of David Moyes’ side, netting three goals per half, including a brace from captain Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard helped set up the first goal as well, laying it off nicely for Denilson to send one wailing goalward from just outside the box. Newcomer Thomas Vermaelen headed home the second off a Robin Van Persie free kick, and Gallas scored on another header shortly thereafter. Fabregas got his first on a classic Arsenal counterattack to start the second half, tucking it under Everton keeper Tim Howard, then knocked in his second on a quick strike from distance. Eduardo put the capper on it in the dying minutes, slotting home the rebound off a shot Arshavin never should have been allowed to get off. Saha did eventually get Everton their consolation goal in extra time, but it did little to dampen the euphoria of the 6-1 thrashing.

It was all done in typical Arsenal fashion, too, making it that much sweeter to watch this group of youngsters pull off what Wenger always believed they could. The question now will be whether or not they can replicate this kind of performance, but for now I’m not going to let pragmatism cloud this victory. I was a bit surprised to see them come out in the formation they did. The 4-3-3 itself wasn’t really a shock, but Bendtner playing out wide with Arshavin in the center of the front line was not what I expected to see. Wenger clearly knows more than me, though, if you didn’t already know that, because Bendtner played beautifully on the wing and Arshavin gliding around in the middle. The Dane used his size to control the ball well and used his skill to set up his teammates in and around the box. It was his good work on the flank that helped pave the way for Denilson’s opening goal. So while unexpected, his performance out wide was excellent, and Arshavin can obviously play anywhere on the field he likes. With Eduardo still working his way back to full fitness and Rosicky’s potential return on the horizon (I can dream, right?), Arsenal’s prospects for the season are exciting if they can hold their mettle in the middle of the park. Let’s all pray Alexandre Song keeps eating his Wheaties and the center-backs stay fit, so we can ignore the team’s thinness at those spots and revel in the creative potential of the squad. Today, at least, we look like we can win it all.

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Geez

Posted by hiphopmama on June 11, 2009

So it’s (semi-) official. Cristiano Ronaldo is the next in line for the galactico parade currently making its way to the Bernabeu. Both team’s official websites have confirmed that Real Madrid have offered an “unconditional” €93.9M bid for CRon. This comes on the heels of the team’s announcement of Kaka as its latest signee from AC Milan, all of which means that Real have splashed out €163M on TWO PLAYERS over the last week. Geesh. As a fan of Los Blancos, it’s titillating to watch the superstars pour in, but as a pragmatist I have to ask what they’re thinking. I understand they technically play different positions, but with just one of those guys they have a world class playmaker at their disposal and I can’t help but think they’d be better off investing that kind of cash on multiple role players to fill all the gaps in the squad. Like, you know, at all those defensive positions they need to shore up. Cannavaro is gone, Marcelo has been revealed as a project at right back, and the left back position is still wide open. With €93.9M they could have easily slotted a few high quality players into those spots.  Everyone saw what happened when they focused too heavily on offense at the expense of the dirty work defenders (count the trophies after Makelele left), so let’s hope the next galactico era ends differently.

Furthermore, it’s also being reported that the close of the David Villa deal is fast approaching as well, as Chelsea have gotten the rebuff from the Spanish international who has no desire to leave La Liga. Chalk another one up…

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Em’s Bits and Bites

Posted by hiphopmama on April 22, 2009

Too lazy to write a real post (or form a full sentence, apparently), so I’m going with bullet points. Feel free to appreciate my intellect at an appropriately discounted rate.

  • Surprise, surprise: Derrick Rose was named Rookie of the Year for the 2008/09 season. Not that anyone didn’t see this coming, but the official word is always nice. He was a shoe-in, to be honest, mostly because of the composure he showed at the toughest position in basketball – point guard. OJ Mayo had a great year as a pure scorer at the two-guard spot, but that doesn’t come close to measuring up to the load Rose had to shoulder in running his team’s offense and managing the flow of the game. Plus he just looks so cool out there doing what he does. He’s got the less pompous version of Phil Jackson’s expressionless face. Through the good, bad, and ugly, Rose is unfazed, at least outwardly, which must give the team that follows his lead an assured sense of confidence in tight situations. Case in point games one and two of the Boston series. To quote my loquacious husband on that one: Die Celtics die.
  • In another far from shocking decision, the Mavs’ Jason Terry was named Sixth Man of the Year. As usual with this award, it was handed out to a player who could just as easily be classified as a starter, but Cro-Magnon Man (AKA Mark Cuban) isn’t complaining. Terry is a great firebrand off the bench – when he actually starts the game there – and had a good season, averaging 19.6 points. Another almost-starter who could have been in consideration is the Lakers’ own Lamar Odom, but he started more than the eleven games Terry did due to Bynum’s injury. 
  • Lil Wayne is picking the Lakers to win it all this year. On his blog for ESPN, he also divulged that he’ll be rooting for the purple and gold in their quest for the title, and that “‘Bron Bron” has already been informed of his allegiances. Aww, how nice. ‘Bron Bron must appreciate his honesty. 
  • WTF is wrong with everyone but Manchester United in the Premier League? Does no one else really want to challenge for this thing? Fair enough, Liverpool and Chelsea were taking on class opposition in Arsenal and Everton, but all either could manage was a draw. Chelsea are much guiltier of letting one go in their 0-0 draw at home against Everton, where they really should have found a way to break the deadlock and stay on the pace. Liverpool at least gave a valiant effort against an inspired Arsenal side in a thrilling 4-4 draw at Anfield, but with Manyoo’s win against Portsmouth, United are now three points clear with that dreaded game in hand. They will need to fumble it away in order for Liverpool to catch them now. Boo.
  • Why didn’t GolTV show the Barcelona-Sevilla match today?? I had reminders everywhere to make sure I set it up to record, but the damn thing wasn’t even on. I need a Setanta channel for La Liga and Serie A. Can someone make this happen for me? Pretty please? I don’t waste enough time watching sports yet.
  • There is some great hip hop coming out right now. Aceyalone’s “The Lonely Ones,” The Grouch & Eligh’s “Say G&E!”, Cunninlynguists’ “Strange Journey Volume One,” Mr. Lif’s “I Heard It Today”… If you take it back a little further, you get Brother Ali’s “The Truth Is Here,” k’naan’s “Troubadour,” Drake’s “So Far Gone”… And we’re still waiting on new Busta Rhymes, Freeway, and (gulp) Eminem. I’m not expecting anything from that last one, but one or two good songs would be appreciated. Thank god we’re out of the first quarter of the year, when almost all hip hop life ceases. I can’t live without new music. Fuck MIMS – music is MY savior.

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