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Monday, October 4, 2010

Che Gol: Pirlo

Ah yes, Andre Pirlo did again. The 31-year-old Milan midfielder, he of the wolf-mane and double swerve free kick action (here he is again starting it bending left before it tails right), floated a 40 yard attempt into the upper corner of Parma's net this weekend.

We'll just let the video do the talking:

Not bad considering he did not score once last season. It was so amazing it cause the ligaments in Ronaldinho's wrist to go numb. Goals from this range are usually blasted as hard as possible in the hopes of swerving in. Not so for Il Metronomi, who used his mastery control of the ball and the time-space continuum to guide it in.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Idiosyncracies of Ibra

After recently scoring two goals within three minutes in Wednesday's Champions League Match against Auxerre, it would seem all is well for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and AC Milan. However, recent evidence from the Milanello training groud suggests otherwise. In the unusual clip, Ibra is shown giving a vicious boot to the side/shoulder of Milan midfielder and Ambitious Effort favorite Rodney Strasser. The promising youngster was less than amused to say the least, leaving one to wonder why exactly Ibra lashed out in such a manner. While his motives remain unclear, one thing is for certain, Ibra is insane in the membrane.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Serie A Week 1 Review

After writing several previews, it's nice to be able to discuss results on the pitch rather than dealings in the transfer market. While some games were much more exciting than others, there was plenty of noteworthy action and surprising results to report on. I'll try to make it a habit to report on the games each week, focusing on matches featuring the big four of Juve, Roma, Inter and AC Milan, and any other especially interesting matches or goals.

To begin, we go to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome where AS Roma faced off against newly promoted Cessena. Myself and thousands of other Roma fans were no doubt expecting a goalfest to start the season, but it wasn't to be, despite the best efforts of captain Francesco Totti. Roma began the match playing their typical, flowing football, but it didn't produce any early goals, which allowed a determined Cessena defense to settle in. With Daniele De Rossi, Mirko Vucinic, and Simone Perotta notably off their games, Roma became very stagnant on offense, resulting in an extremely boring match that ended in a 0-0 draw.

Roma was not the only side that struggled in week 1, as Juventus fell on the road to Bari, who have only been in Serie A for one season. They nevertheless have managed to cobble together a decent squad, and have great fan support, as 45,00 packed the Stadio San Nicola for the match. While Juve had several high quality chances throughout the match, the winner game from Bari's Massimo Donati, who crushed a left footed strike from outside the box past the helpless Storari in goal just before the halftime interval.

By far the most entertaining and attacking match of the weekend occurred at the San Siro in Milan, where AC Milan took on newly promoted Leece. This game was much more typical of what one would expect when a recent Serie B team plays a perennial Scudetto contender. From the start, Milan was on their A game, particularly Pato and Ronaldinho, no doubt wanting to impress their new teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was in attendance alongside president Galliani and owner Berlusconi.
Once Pato opened the scoring, Milan looked world class, as even their missed chances left me stunned at their brilliant buildup. Ronaldinho looked incredibly active and fit, even racing back on numerous occasions to steal the ball back from unsuspecting Leece players. To top it all off, the announcing on espn3.com was hilarious, as they paired the usual announcer with some former Serie A player whose English was admittedly better than my Italian, but nowhere near good enough on TV. His analysis was never more than a sentence long, came in a thick accent, and hard to be heard to be truly appreciated (aka laughed at). For example, my favorite quote which was repeated after the goals; "Look that". But don't take my word for it, check out the highlight video below for those who like awkwardness or just like to make fun of wops (you know who you are). Unfortunately even the match highlights don't do Milan's performance justice, as the chances created by Milan were so numerous they seriously should have put in at least 8 goals. Nevertheless, Enjoy.



While I promised the review would focus on the matches and not transfer talk, today's deals came so fast and furious that they simply have to be discussed. Just when you thought Milan had made the biggest coup of the transfer window by buying Ibrahimovic, they scooped up Robinho at the last second from Manchester City from 18 million euros. For now, I'm just happy that another incredibly talented attacking player has joined the squad, meaning Milan now has a strike-force to rival any outside of Barcelona. While this surely means lots of exciting highlights, it still leaves Milan with an extremely unbalanced squad and the potential for lots of playing time issues amongst the four star attackers, but I'll wait and see how it plays out on the pitch before I start being negative. For now, I simply want to enjoy the fact that my favorite team replaced Marco Borrielo (Roma) and Klass Jan Huntelaar (Shalke) with Robinho and Ibrahimovic. With these new "champions in red and black, only two thoughts come to mind; Scudetto, and see me in Fifa 11. Anyways, back to the review.

The final game of the weekend saw Inter travel to Bologna, in a rare Monday match in Serie A. Considering the struggles of Roma and Juve, perhaps it wasn't as big a surprise that Inter also struggled mightily, as they could only muster a 0-0 draw. Most of the match was a yawner similar to the Roma game, but it picked up near the end, as Inter poured on the pressure, most notably with an Eto'o volley that went off the keepers head and off the post. Either way, it seems that new manager Rafa Benitez has his work cut out for him to replicate the treble winning ways of his predecessor, Jose Mourinho.

Thus, with week one completed, the headline grabbers are undoubtedly AC Milan. Not only do they lead the table thanks to their 4-nil thrashing of Leece, but they have pulled off the biggest transfers of the summer, buying both Ibrahimovic and Robinho for less than market value thanks to player unrest and some good timing. While it would have been nice to see Milan improve the defense instead of the attack, I'm going to enjoy the exciting transfers for the time being rather than worry about how Allegri will possibly manage the huge egos that now occupy the Milan locker room. The league doesn't play again for two weeks due to an International break, but I'll leave you with some upcoming fixtures and plans to review each weeks' matches. Ciao.

Saturday 9/11 Udinese at Inter
Saturday 9/11 Milan at Cessena
Saturday 9/11 Roma at Cagliari
Sunday 9/12 Juventus at Napoli

Saturday, August 28, 2010

AC Milan Preview 2010/11




After finishing a disappointing third in Serie A last season, Milan players and tifosi look optimistically toward a new season, unfortunately, I'm here to tell you that there is little reason for optimism....

This was the opening sentence of the preview I was working on this week, and then the mini-miracle happened: Zlatan Ibrahimovic officially became an AC Milan player. Suddenly the off-season went from being lame and sad to awesome and exciting. Ibrahimovic is without a doubt one of the top five strikers in the world, and just one year ago was considered the world's best. However he simply did not fit into Barcelona's style and was not needed once the team bought David Vila to replace him. Thus, by some odd combination of a Milan-Barca friendly, the persistence of Adriano Galliani, the insanity of Ibra's agent, and the willingness of Berlusconi to open his checkbook, Ibrahimovic will join AC Milan this season. And in case you had forgotten how good he is, check out this video.



Now off to the preview.

While the acquisition of Ibrahimovic makes the team much more formidable, they will not be a threat to win the Champions League, unlike the memorable teams of recent seasons that featured Shevchenko, Maldini and Kaka among others. Why you ask? For one, Ibrahimovic might not be of much help, as he has not been able to carry any squad to Champions league glory, and particularly struggled while playing for Inter, for whom he could seemingly never score in the biggest games. But the larger issue is that the Milan squad is still an extremely old and brittle one, especially when one stops and recollects on those Champions league squads I mentioned. The memories aren't quite so good once you realize that many of those who starred along Sheva and Kaka are still starting for Milan and are now on the wrong side of 30, Pirlo, Gattuso, Ambrosini, Seedorf, and Nesta. When most of those names make up a staring midfield in 2010, the problem with today's Milan is obvious; the team is simply too old. Experience can only get a squad so far, in this case, not much further than last seasons exit against Manchester United. Not only are the players old, but they inevitably tend to break down, most notably Pirlo and Nesta, who is currently injured (broken hand), and will likely be out for a slew of games this season, which hopefully will never lead to Massimo Oddo playing center back ever again. (Apologies to all who had found a way to forget that had ever happened)

On the subject of Oddo and the defense, the ancient Giuseppe Favalli has finally been put out to pasture, which means I will never again have to wonder if he was simply going to keel over and have a heart attack or stroke while chasing down Samuel Eto'o. Still, while Oddo and Jankulovski are the reserve outside backs, Milan can still be suspect to terrible defensive displays like the one that happened against Man U last season.
For a squad that is as old and constantly injured as Milan, the summer transfer window had been terribly frustrating up until very recently. T
he only significant signing had been of Greece international defender Sokratis, who can be used as either an outside of a center back, yet would likely not start if everybody was somehow fit at the same time. Thankfully, things spiced up last Tuesday, Milan officially signed Ghana international and World Cup star (sorry America) Kevin Prince-Boateng, henceforth referred to here as KPB. The deal was an unusual one, as KPB had signed with Genoa from cash-strapped Portsmouth, but apparently cheeky Genoa never had any intention of playing him. Because they were able to sign him for so cheap, they opted to loan him to Milan, with an option to buy at season's end, at a tidy profit for Genoa of course. All this nonsense begs the question of why Milan simply didn't buy KPB from Portsmouth in the first place, but the transfer market is a crazy place that I seem to be forever trying to comprehend. But If Milan got hoodwinked by Genoa in the deal, why is it good news? Well if you watched Ghana play in the World Cup, which you obviously did if your reading this blog, then you already know why the signing is exciting news in Milan.

Simply put, KPB is exactly what Milan need, as he is everything their current midfield is not; young, fast, athletic and creative. While he has a bit of a bad locker room reputation, the veteran presence in the San Siro locker room should be able to keep his ego in check, hopefully allowing him to flourish as he did for Ghana, by being a physical, creative presence who is equally capable of controlling the midfield or scoring off a powerful run as he did against the America (dammit, sorry again). If the loan and potential buy of KPB works out like I think it will, Milan will be a much more exciting team to watch this season, and for years to come.

Similar to KPB, the Ibrahimovic deal will be a godsend for Milan. The deal calls for him to be loaned from Barcelona, with an option for Milan to buy him for just 24 million euros at the end of the season. This is a paltry sum to pay, as Barca paid 60 mill for him PLUS Eto'o just one year ago! Bad for Barca, lucky for Milan. Say what you will about Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi, but the man is clutch, especially considering that he will be paying Ibra's significant wages for the next 5 seasons after a previous unwillingness to spend any money in the transfer market due to a poor global economy. Ibrahimovic should fit nicely into Milan's lineup, replacing Marco Borrielo in the starting 11, meaning when everyone is healthy he will play up top next to Alexandre Pato with Ronaldinho underneath, easily forming the most formidable attacking trio in Serie A. If this 4-3-1-2 formation sounds different than the 4-3-3 of last year, there's a reason for it.

The likely change in formation comes from the new coach, Massimiliano Allegri, who replaces Leonardo after only one season at the helm. Allegri most recently was the coach for Cagliari, where he led a squad with little talent to some very respectable finishes. However, Allegri was shockingly let go by the squad after last season, after which he was quickly scooped up by Milan, who were looking for a more experienced Italian manager after parting with the inexperienced Leonardo. It is impossible to tell how Allegri will handle the step up to a huge club such as Milan, but early indications are that it will be a smooth transition.

With the major signings now complete, the question is how much can only three new pieces help a team that limped to a third place league finish last season? The answer, quite a bit, as Ibrahimovic in particular seems to have quite a talent for single-handedly winning Serie A matches. Consider this little fact; the team that Ibrahimovic plays for has won its league title every season since 2005. He has won with Juventus, Inter, and then Barcelona. Say what you want about the mercurial striker, but his teams win, and its often because his talents help his team to snatch three points in those random February games when nobody is paying any attention. Until recently I had no hope for Milan this season, but with my anticipation level now through the roof, I'll attempt to make a logical and reasonable prediction. My vote; Milan finishes second to Inter this season, as they will drop too many points early in the season trying to fit in Ibrahimovic and adjusting to the new style of Allegri. By now you know the drill, time for a highlight video. It will come as no surprise then that it's all about Ibra. Enjoy.


AS Roma 2010/11 Preview




Roma Roma Roma. Three words says it all. What a city, what a team. As you can tell I'm a bit of a fan. But with that in mind, I'll try to keep my preview as objective as possible.
Coming off a spectacular season in which they were neck and neck with Inter for the Scudetto thorough the last game, Roma enter the new campaign with heightened expectations. Led by the usual Gladiators Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, the Giallorossi are hoping that this will finally be the year they break through and claim the top prize. Being a supporter of Roma myself, I hope they are right, but I just don't see it happening, especially when one considers the tremendous run they had last season, and the lack of big transfer moves this summer.
The majority of Roma's team has been intact for the past couple seasons, which has no doubt aided in their notably impressive team chemistry. Yet as always, there have been some comings and goings in la citta eterna. Lets take a look.
Departures:
Marco Motta-Juventus: The young and talented right back has a very promising future, making his departure a puzzling one. Apparently Roma are satisfied with the efforts of Marco Cassetti at the position, thus making Motta surplus to requirement. However, it should have been clear that Cassetti is not a long-term solution, and that he was often the team's weakest link last season.

Luca Toni-Genoa: I will miss the goofy hand to ear celebrations of the Italian oaf, but not miss his affect on the teams play. While he did score some very important goals late in the season, he also managed to miss a smorgasbord of chances while disrupting the flow of Roma's excellent passing. With Toni in the squad, the giallorossi somehow thought they were suddenly supposed to change tactics and dump long balls into an out of shape Toni, despite the fact that slick passing to the feet of Mirko Vucinic and Jeremy Menez was usually more than enough to dismantle any weak Serie A defense. Needless to say, I'm glad his loan deal ended and he was not re-signed.

Arrivals:
Nicolas Burdisso-Inter: Just signed today, Burdisso is a huge coup for Roma. The Argentine international defender was perhaps the biggest reason for Roma's success last season, as his versatility in defense was crucial to a back line that regularly has either Juan or Mexes missing with injuries. The player was desperate to move back to Rome once his loan deal ended, and he was finally signed at a good value with a four year deal and a 8 million euro transfer fee.

Adriano-Flamengo: The troubled yet talented striker returns to Italy, where he found great success with Inter several seasons ago, yet subsequently failed to ever reproduce on the same level. Problems with alcohol, weight, and Brazilian drug lords (seriously) have plagued him throughout his career, so needless to say I'm not optimistic about the move. His troubles continued recently when a recent practice saw coach Claudio Ranieri screaming at him to get moving and stop being so lackadaisical in his approach. There is a small chance he finds a way to put his troubles behind him and become a great striker again, but I just can't see how this would ever happen, other than the uber-intense De Rossi locking him in a room and threatening to cut his balls off with a machete if he doesn't shape up.

As you can see, Roma has done much less in the market than other squads so as Juventus. This will likely leave them at a disadvantage for the upcoming season, as Roma seem content with themselves while every other major squad have improved, at least on paper. Perhaps the continuity in Roma's team can lead them to glory at the Stadio Olimpico this year, but it's more likely that Roma will see a dip in the standings, as I'm predicting a fourth place finish for the Romans. The only way for this to be avoided is for Totti to stay healthy for an entire season, and Adriano to not be so lazy, but there's probably a better chance that De Rossi actually will kill Adriano. On that random note, I'll once again leave you with a great video featuring El Capitano; the master of the flowing hair, the free kick, the volley, and most importantly, the chip: Francesco Totti.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inter Milan 2010/11 Preview


Some things change while others stay the same. Although excessively simple, this statement sums up the upcoming season for Inter Milan. While the squad is virtually unchanged from the team that won the treble last season, there is one glaring difference, no Jose Mourinho. The "Special One" has moved on to coach the Galacticos of Real Madrid, in an apparent bid to win the Champions League with top teams from each European nation. Good luck in Ireland Jose.
Replacing him is the familiar and often hated Rafa Benitez, who has coached Liverpool since I started watching European football, which admittedly hasn't been that long, but an impressive spell for a manager of a top (Ahem) flight club.
For those who have been hittin the peace pipe a little too hard of late, I'll refresh your memories by kindly reminding you that Inter won the Scudetto, Coppa Italia, and Champions League last season, mostly behind the efforts of incredible signings such as Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder, and Lucio. How Inter ever managed to buy three of Europe's top players while spending at least a hundred million less than Real Madrid I'll never understand, but as much as I hate them, they deserved to win everything that they did last season. The remaining question then, is can they replicate the success of last season, with their only significant signing being Brazilian starlet Coutinho, who won't even start. My answer; yes but I'll go on a limb and say there won't be another treble.
Say what you will about Rafa Benitez, but the man has had an incredible amount of success in the Champions League. And with the roster that Inter has, it would be incredibly foolish to not consider them one of the favorites again this season. In addition, Inter has had a stranglehold on the Scudetto of late, as they have won it since 2005 when they were awarded the title as a result of them being unscathed (for now) in the Calciopoli scandal. With all this evidence swirling around, it's hard to see why they won't repeat in Serie A and in Europe, but a new coach and added pressure makes me think that Inter simply won't be able to repeat on two fronts, and at some point will have to chose which competition to put an added emphasis on.
Other than the return of defender Nicolas Burdisso from loan with Roma, the main move of the summer for Inter was the sale of volatile striker Mario Balotelli to Manchester City. The move made sense on many levels, especially considering that Super Mario no longer wanted to play there, and that they got good value for him. While Balotelli may become one of Europe's premiere strikers in 5 years, it simply wasn't going to happen in an Inter shirt.
With Balotelli shipped off to England, there's simply not any drama or interesting subplots with Inter, other than they're coming off one the greatest seasons in club history. Because Inter will return the best defense in Europe, they are my pick to win the Scudetto once again. In addition, they should be very successful once again in the Champions League. I know I'm not the only one who wants to see a rematch with Barcelona, or the inevitable battle vs. Real Madrid and Mourinho. Thus, with the thought of tasty Champions League clashes fresh on the mind, I'll leave you with highlights from last seasons treble winning campaign. Damn I hate Inter.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Juventus 2010/11 Preview


Despite the bold predictions of a first place finish by a certain Ambitious Effort contributor that may or may not have been myself, Juventus had an extremely disappointing season last year, finishing in seventh place with a miserable 55 points. With their poor performance, they find themselves in the Europa instead of the Champions League, and have few experts predicting them to be much of a threat to the scudetto this season. While I agree with the assumption that they won't win it all, I believe that the Bianconeri will be much improved this season, as I think they have made the best off-season moves in the Transfer window. Before discussing the new arrivals for Juve, I'll cover the departures.

Fabio Cannavaro-Al-Ahli
: The legendary center back is now way past his prime, leading to his departure to the Middle East for continued riches. While Juve fans no doubt appreciate all that he has done for the squad over the years, no one is mad he is leaving this time, unlike when he ditched the team in '06 after the scandal which saw the team relegated to Serie B.

Sebastian Giovinco-Parma:
This is the one move that left me shaking my head. I am one of the atomic ant's biggest fans, and it was always frustrating to see him riding the pine when he always seemed to bring much needed enthusiasm, skill and speed to Juve's attack. But management was clearly disappointed with his development, selling him to Parma, where he should be able to flourish with the lessened competition for places in the starting 11.

Cristian Poulsen-Liverpool: The midfielder had a sisspaoint and forgetbale spell in Turin, and does not merit further discussion.

Arrivals: Luigi Del Neri-Sampdoria: With their disappointing finish last season, Juve where in the market fora news manager, and they found a winner in Del Neri, who led Sampdoria to a top four finish last season. If he can continue his success at a big club like Juventus, their fans may not have to wait long for a return to the glory days of the mid 2000's

Simone Pepe-Udinese: The Italian international winger was loaned to Juve with an option to buy. In my mind, they could have simply put Giovinco into the wing position that Pepe will surely occupy, but if they play a 4-4-2 as favored by Del Neri, Pepe is capable of tracking back consistently to help the defense.

Marco Storari-AC Milan:
With Gianluigi Buffon injured to start the season, Storari will be the man between the posts. This was a great buy, as he made spectacular saves for Milan in every game I saw him play. Having a legit backup is important for Juve, as Buffon seems to miss more and more matches with each passing year.

Marco Motta-Roma:
Another great buy sees Juve acquire the best young Italian right back. Roma was apparently satisfied with Marco Cassetti at the posistion, allowing Motta to move to Turin, where he will no doubt help to shore up a position that has been weak for Juve recently.

Leonardo Bonucci-Bari: Yet again Juve strike gold as they get the best upcoming defender in Italy. Bonucci helped Bari have one of the leagues best defenses last season, and at 23 he should be able to partner Giorgio Chiellini in defense for another decade, a depressing thought for any Serie A attacker.

Milos Krasic-CSKA Moscow:
This recent buy did not come cheap, with Juve spending 15 million Euros on the winger, albeit in installments over the years. I was not impressed with the Serb during the World Cup, but then again his whole team was disappointing, so perhaps I'll withhold judgment until I see how he is used and adjusts to a new league.

Alberto Aquilani-Liverpool: It's official folks, Aquilani's short stint in England has already ended in failure as he was loaned to Juve today with an option to buy at the end of the season for 15 million euros.
Considering that Liverpool bought him for 20 only a year ago as the man to replace Xabi Alonso, the loan move shows both how bad of a move Liverpool made and how poor and perpetually injured Aquilani was. Admittedly, I am a huge Aquilani fan as he was always around for some thunderbolt strikes when I watched AS Roma matches at the Olimpico two years ago. Seriously watch this video. He's the most under-appreciated striker of a football in the world. However, he will only be a success with Liverpool if he can stay healthy for a consistent amount of time, something that he has always had trouble doing. Either way, Juve just got an extremely talented midfielder, for the price of on the house this season. Don't be surprised when it's midseason and everybody is talking about the resurgence of the Old Lady of Italian Calcio. It'll have been because of all the work their front office has put in this summer.


With so many new arrivals in Torino, it will be interesting to see how the chemistry of the team is affected. On second thought, the team chemistry was terrible last year, so there is nowhere for the team to go but up. The new signings were all smart buys, but I thought the same thing last year about Deigo and Felipe Melo, and we all know how that worked out. All things considered, I'm predicting a third place finish for Juve, as I don't think a strikeforce of Amauri, David Trezeguet and the ancient magician Alessandro Del Piero will be good or healthy enough for them to win the Scudetto.

And to end with, here is the best Juventus video I could find with only one minute of research. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Throwback Thursday-Ronaldo


Throwback Thursday was an early favorite of mine from this blog, and recent events have inspired me to bring it back. While normally this spot is reserved for retired stars, this weeks throwback is Ronaldo; no not the Portuguese prima donna who is constantly bangin Hollywood skanks, but the original, Brazilian version, who is legendary not only for his un-paralleled talents on the pitch during the 90's and early 2000's as he is for his near obese and transvestite bangin ways of late. While most of us have been fortunate to see him in action for teams such as Inter Milan, Real Madrid and of course the Brazilian National team, his skills and stats are far greater than you realize. Thus, I'll leave you with some of his remarkable statistics, and then a video that shows a player simply too good to be true, ...except it is, and its the same 33 year old man that you see above with the beer belly of a 50 year old redneck from the Dirty South.
1994-95 30 goals in 33 appearances with PSV Eindhoven
1995-96: 12 goals in 13 appearances with PSV
1996-97: 34 goals in 37 appearances with Barcelona
1997-98: 25 goals in 32 appearances with Inter Milan
1998-99: 14 goals in 19 appearances with Inter Milan
1999-01: Missed nearly all of both seasons with the first of several devastating knee injuries
2001-02: 7 goals in 10 appearances with Inter Milan
2002-03: 23 goals in 31 appearances with Real Madrid
2003-04: 24 goals in 32 appearances with Real Madrid
2004-05: 21 goals in 34 appearances with Real Madrid
2005-Present: Scoring slowly declines as he gets repeatedly injured and steadily gains weight
Brazil National Team: 62 goals in 97 appereances
World Cups: Holds the all-time record with 15 goals in three World Cups, spanning from 1998-2006


Despite the ridiculous consistency of his goal scoring throughout Europe and International competition, the following video is evidence that goalscoring was not even his greatest skill.




Friday, August 13, 2010

The Return of the Premier League




Well, in true Ambitious Effort form we've decided to post an article at the last minute when we had about 10 weeks to prepare. The being said, it shall be noted that the following will have been written before the league starts and, lets be honest, will be totally irrelevant by January.
But on to it all, in alphabetical order:

Arsenal
Wenger has brought in two French Liguers, Marouane Chamakh (Bordeaux) and Laurent Koscielny (Lorient). Fab4Life has described Chamakh as a "more skillful Bendtner" where Koscielny is a relative unknown. However, the Gunners most importantly kept captain Cesc Fabregas chained to his bed so that he could not escape to Barcelona. There is also the return of Robin Van Persie who had 7 goals in 11 league appearances before ankle ligament damage ruled him out most of the season. However, Arsenal is starting with injuries to Bendtner, Song, and Diaby and undoubtedly will experience many more throughout the season as they always do. Even if they secure Mark Schwazer in goal they are very error prone in the net. While they do play admirable football, I see Arsenal slipping this season, especially with the growing strength of the other Top 4 contenders. Verdict: 5th

Aston Villa
Man oh Man do the Villans have some problems to deal with. This week manager Martin O'Neil walked out of the club, probably because of a lack of funds for transfers. Owner Randy Lerner claimed him of being too pompous for the club, and Villa players texted each other pictures of champagne bottles. Drama aside, Villa are going to struggle compared to their last three sixth place finishes. No one has come in and James Milner is most likely going to Man City. There are many theories as to who will take over, and no one knows what will happen if that man is Bob Bradley. Verdict: 10th

Birmingham City
Villa's midland rivals had a great maiden voyage last season and would be happy for a repeat performance. They recruited the towering but unimpressive Serbian Nikola Zigic from Valencia to add a different dimension to their attack, but quality has dropped off between the sticks as loanee Joe Hart has been replaced by Man United reject Ben Foster. Birmingham will no longer be underestimated, but their defense no longer has a young savior behind them. Verdict: Somewhere between 9th and 13th

Blackburn Rovers
Nothing profound here. Them of the two tone jerseys will spend most of the game clogging the midfield and getting 16 men behind the ball. Their midfielders will spend most of the time on offense watching their defenders booting the ball up front and chasing behind it just waiting for something lucky. Big Sam Allardyce will accomplish his status quo of mid to low table survival. Verdict: 11th to 14th

Blackpool
You gotta admire these guys. They qualified through the Championship playoff from 6th place, their fans are ecstatic, and their stadium only seats 12 thousand plus change. This EPL adventure will generate much needed revenue to renovate Bloomfield Road and we may see them again in a few years. And surely manager Ian Holloway will provide some gems in media interviews. Verdict: Relegated in 20th place

Bolton Wanderers
God how I used to loathe Bolton. Now that Owen Coyle is in charge and they can actually pass the ball, they aren't nearly as despicable. Fans at the Reebok Stadium must be confused to not watch the ball sailing forward aimlessly all the time. Martin Petrov is a good free pick up and will certainly not disappoint if he stays fit. Bolton should get through the season safely without too many surprises. Verdict: 11th to 14th

Chelsea
The Blues have only gotten stronger. They lost Deco, Carvalho, Ballack, Joe Cole, and Belliti, but replaced them with Yossi Banyoun (Liverpool), Ramires (Benfica), and the return of Michael Essien. Keeping it short, I don't see anyone outrunning Chelsea all the way into May. They have an advantage in that if lower teams try to kill their passing and muscle them around (like against an Arsenal or whatnot), the Pensioners will fight fire with fire, albeit theirs bigger, more skillful, and much much much more expensive. Verdict: Champions

Everton
The Merseysiders are all about achieving much while spending little. They've gambled in bringing in Jermaine Beckford from Leeds (a third tier side), but Joao Silva is a proven talent and would bring creativity into the attack and is a good partner for Saha. David Moyes's biggest accomplishment in the transfer window was keeping his most prized assets (i.e. Rodwell, Fellaini, Arteta). Everton have the quality to beat any of the big guys, but can't consistently beat the little ones to move up the table. Verdict: 7th but close to everyone

Fulham
Out with Roy Hodgson, in with Mark Hughes. Fulham has brought no one in but this time around wont be jetting around Europe, exhausting themselves. Craven Cottage will most likely be another tough ground to get points away but the Cottagers away form will make or break them. Lets just hope for some more amazing Clint Dempsey goals. Verdict: 9th

Liverpool
A bad season, loads of debt, the fat Spanish Waiter leaving, and speculation over Gerrard and Torres leaving had me thinking Liverpool could be the new Newcastle. Alas, Roy Hogdson came in and coaxed his stars into staying in addition to adding Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen, and Milan Jovanovic and bringing back Fabio Aurelio (and three of those four were for FREE!). Roy Hodgson knows how to get the best out of his players and Joe Cole has looked a rejuvenated man in preseason and Europe qualifiers. However, Liverpool is entirely independent on Steven "Couldn't make an 8 yard pass last year" Gerrard and Fernando "The only thing I do better than score is get injured" Torres and have no real goal scorers outside the two. Joe Cole will pitch in a few and Dirk Kuyt will run 10 miles every game at full sprint and score when you least suspect it, but you can't make a Top 4 run if your back up striker is a guy named David N'Gog. Verdict: 6th, probably thanks to some winter blues

Manchester City
These guys. Look at who they've bought: Boateng, the other Toure, Silva, Kolarov, Balotelli. Its like my FIFA manager shopping list. Milner is likely on the way and who knows who else. Someone must tell Gary Cook and Roberto Mancini that only 11 players are allowed on the field. They also can only name a 25 man roster, meaning many are on the way out in a fire sale, notably Bellamy, Santa Cruz, Caicedo, and Ireland. If Man City can get things to click early, they will be a force. Too bad you cant just throw a team together. Mancini knows he faces the axe if results don't come, but I think the Citizens might finally get it together. I can see them in a post New Years rampage (with that carries them up the table higher than ever. Verdict: 2nd

Manchester United
On the red half of Manchester, Sir Alex Ferguson seemingly has them in a sort of rebuild period with many talented youngster coming through. Scholes, Neville, and Giggs only have so much left in their legs. Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez looks a good signing and kills me that he is Mexican and I cannot hate him. He may lift a small load from Rooney's shoulders on offense. United face one of their harder seasons as of recent but will pull the results they need to stay near the top as always. Verdict: 3rd

Newcastle United
The Magpies are back. Newcastle was promoted as Colaship Champions on first try with ease and I'm glad to see them back in the Prem. They picked up Sol Campbell and Dan Gosling for free and have a fairly strong squad to start. Campbell will shore up the defense and proved his worth with Arsenal last term despite his age, while Gosling will inject youth and energy into the midfield. This season may start the spell of some good years ahead for Newcastle, as long as bad boy Joey Barton shaves his mustache. Seriously, that thing is gross. Verdict: 11-14th

Stoke City
The Potters brought in Kenwyne Jones to help them score from more throw-ins. James Beattie left so manager Tony Pulis wouldn't beat him up in the showers again. Verdict: 15th-17th

Sunderland
The Black Cats brought in a good defender, John Mensah, and a blooper machine, Titus Bramble. Just saying the name aloud make me thinking of a man getting nutmegged and falling down. Danny Welbeck is a good loan signing from Man Utd. Who knows which Sunderland will show up for each game. I'm sure Steve Bruce wonders the same thing before going to bed. Verdict: 13th-16th

Tottenham Hotspur
After cracking the Top 4 last season, Spurs have not added any reinforcements (young Brasilian Sandro was secured in Spring but wont arrive till after the Copa Libertadores in a week), though 'Arry Redknapp will surely be wheeling and dealing before the close of the transfer window. Nice striker Loic Remy is one of the names floating around. The feeling around White Hart Lane is one of optimism and confidence, and Spurs may just put together another fine season. Gareth Bale and Tom Huddlestone have matured and improved greatly; a healthy Modric and Lennon will cause trouble for any defense. At home they were a real force but they must improve away form. It also hurt to lose twice to Wolves, and dropped more points at home with a loss to Stoke and a draw with Hull. Another season under Redknapp will hopefully make games like those just ghosts of Hotspur past. Verdict: 4th

West Bromwich Albion
The last of the newcomers, West Brom play good, passing football and I hope they stay true to it in the Prem. A lack of funding and squad depth has me seeing them scrapping in a relegation battle but they might be able to come out alive. Verdict: 17th and relegated or maybe 16th. Could come down to goal differential.

West Ham
I'm one of few people to expect big things from the Hammers. Avram Grant is very knowledgeable of the English game and has kept Carlton Cole, Scott Parker, Matthew Upson and Robert Green out of the hands of others. The new chairmen have brought Thomas Hitzlsperger, Freddy Piquionne, Pablo Barrera and Tal Ben-Haim (to name a few) to Upton Park. Energy is high in east London, plus West Ham have some sick away kits. Verdict: 8th

Wigan
Easily the most inconsistent team: they beat Chelsea 3-1 in September but lost to them 0-8 in May. They lost 1-9 to Spurs in November but came back from 0-2 against Arsenal and scored three in the last 15 minutes in April. Roberto Martinez needs his team to get something going but it is going to be tough. Verdict: 17th, possible relegation.

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Somehow Mick McCarthy kept his boys up last season but I don't think it will continue. They strengthened the midfield with Stephen Hunt (Hull) and Steven Fletcher (Burnley) but results like winning two over Spurs are going to be hard to come by. Verdict: 19th, relegated.

So there you have it. As we embark on another journey full of amazing goals, controversial calls, predictions gone wrong, heart break, and joy, only one the remains constant: God I love football.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

England robbed again.

Not hours ago in the internationally friendly between England and Hungary, the Three Lions were again robbed by a goal line decision. In this case, the ball clearly did not cross the line before Michael Dawson slid to clear it and Hungary was awarded a goal. Look at the picture below; the blue circle represents the ball's most advanced position.This is a disgrace!! An outrage!! The integrity of the game is disappearing as we know it! Of course it was just a friendly and England went on to win 2-1 thanks to amazing goals by captain Steven Gerrard, one a trademark rocket and the other requiring a bit of dancing.
However, one thing is for sure regarding goal-line technology: it is only a matter of time (hours) before the English press clamors onto the band-wagon and demands it like zombies demanding brains.
There were, of course, other things to be taken from this ill-scheduled friendly. For one, the Wembley pitch held up well aka it wasn't performing like an ice-skating rink. Good news considering it is to host the Champions League final this season.
It was good to see youngsters getting some chances. Joe Hart has seemingly locked down the No. 1 shirt as he deserves. Adam Johnson showed off his cannon of a left foot and was unlucky not get a goal. Kieran Gibbs and Ashley Young performed a young speedy duo down the left flank that cause all sorts of problems.
Assistant coach Stuart Pierce was decked out in what can only be described as a school girl outfit from an erotic film. (In this photo you can barely see his short-short with long white socks combo.)
And, most importantly, it reminds us that the Prem is only three days from opening. More on that later.