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Soccer Bits and Ends.

September 9, 2011 by

England

First, the Power Poll.  Record format is (Win-Loss-Tie).  See comments below

1. Manchester United (3-0-0)
2. Manchester City (3-0-0)
3. Chelsea (2-0-1)
4. Liverpool (2-0-1)
5. Arsenal (0-2-1)
6. Tottenham (0-2-0)
7. Stoke City (1-0-2)
8. Bolton Wanderers (1-2-0)
9. Sunderland (0-1-2)
10. Aston Villa (1-0-2)
11. Newcastle United (2-0-1)
12. Wolverhampton Wanderers (2-0-1)
13. Fulham (0-2-1)
14. Everton (1-1-0)
15. West Bromwich Albion (0-0-3)
16. Queens Park Rangers (1-2-0)
17. Wigan Athletic (1-0-2)
18. Norwich City (0-1-2)
19. Swansea City (0-1-2)
20. Blackburn Rovers (0-0-3)

* Why does the power poll have so little correlation to actual position on the table? Simple.  A lot of teams have had schedules which are either biased towards extremely easy, or excruciatingly hard. Compare Tottenham, currently at the bottom of the table, who had the good fortune to play both Manchester teams as their opening matches to Wigan, with their impressive one win and two draws – but these three games were all against freshly promoted sides.  So there’s not a whole lot we can learn from the standings right now.  There are a few exceptions however…

* It’s clear that the two Manchester sides are the class of the league.  Before the international break took effect, City dismantled Tottenham 5-1 with the greatest of ease, only to be upstaged by United who destroyed Arsenal 8-2.  These are historically excellent teams being beaten like third division fodder.  If no one is able to keep these two in check, there’s a real danger that the EPL will become what it’s fans have forever been teasing La Liga for – a two team league.

* Stoke City’s results might not look impressive yet, but they are a hyperdefensive teams, so draws are always a danger.  But they went about their transfer business smartly, picking up Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch from Tottenham, and I believe this will help them finish in the top 10.  Crouch, the immobile 6’7 striker who’s not skilled with the ball and mostly lives on being a danger in the air due to his height and physicality has finally achieved his manifest  destiny of playing for Stoke City – a team who’s not skilled with the ball and mostly lives on being a danger in the air due to their height and physicality.

* Don’t know what to make of Newcastle – they had good results, but the team is still an internal mess.  The next few weeks should show that they’re made of.  I remain skeptical.  So do Newcastle United fans.  Of course, for them it might just be a force of habit.  I am not sure when was the last time they were optimistic about their team.

* I simply had to lower Fulham and Everton.  Yes, they’re teams that are traditionally comfortably mid-table, but both simply. cannot. score.  They have 2 goals combined in a total of 5 games played.  Both brought EPL-untested reinforcements they will rely on for goals.  Everton is also a financial mess and just sold their best midfielder to Arsenal without getting adequate replacement.

* Is Arsene Wenger panicking a little?  Following his team’s 8-2 dismantling at the hands of Manchester United, the Arsenal manager finally signed some experienced players.  Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun (on a loan) all arrived on the closing day of the transfer period.  A lot of Arsenal fans have talked themselves into this team and convinced themselves that the season is back on track.  I’m not convinced.  Mertesacker is tall and skillful, but extremely slow – which will not work well with Arsenal’s high defensive line. Arteta, at his peak could be a competent replacement for Cesc Fabregas, but he’s been off his top form for about 18 months now, and is extremely injury prone – which is a problem on a team like Arsenal which seemingly gets hit with a plague of injuries every year.  Benayoun is injury prone as well.

* While Arsenal may have lost on the pitch, they at least won in the courtroom in Spain.  A hat shop in Saville can no longer call itself Arsenale.  The club apparently convinced the judge that there’s a risk of confusion between them and the hat shop.  I don’t understand how there can be any confusion. The hat shop is clearly well-run and has a plan for success.  For shame, Arsenal. (Arsenal force Spanish woman to change name of her hat shop)

* And finally, here’s a scary thought for all of us – not only is Manchester United rolling through the league so far, they are doing it with the second-youngest squad in the league.  Wow.

Spain

* La Liga season finally started and Real Madrid made its mark by dismantling Real Zaragoza 6-0, in what was called one of the most fluid displays from the team since the arrival of Jose Mourinho.  Unlike their 5-0 loss to Barcelona last year, which was only fluid in the sense that Madrid players collectively pissed down their legs.

* Not to be outdone, the next day Barcelona beat Villareal 5-0.  There’s a couple of interesting points here.  First of all, unlike Zaragoza, Villareal is a good team.  They’re in the Champions League this year.  Secondly, Barcelona’s manager, Pep Guardiola, keeps finding new ways to prevent himself for getting bored.  Faced with a big defensive crisis, due to injuries to starting centerbacks Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique, and suspension of starting right back Dani Alves, Guardiola fielded a team with just one defender.  That’s right.  Barcelona played in the hithero unseen 1-6-3 formation, following the principle if you can’t give the other team a sniff of the ball, you don’t need to play defense.  It clearly worked.  What should scare everyone though, is how seamlessly Barcelona’s new signings integrated into the team.  Both Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez have played extremely well – particularly Fabregas who is playing like he never left. In three official games, he chipped in 2 goals and 1 assist.  Sanchez also scored against Villareal.  But the player of the game was probably Thiago Alcantara, the homegrown 20 year old midfielder, who scored the team’s first goal, following a great run, and added two assists.  The way Barcelona is playing right now is incredible.  Do yourself a favor if you want to fall in love with soccer – watch an FC Barcelona game (disclaimer: I’m a Barcelona supporter).  Meanwhile, he’s the highlight clip from the Villareal game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNbYd5JMN5Q&feature=related

US National Team

* Jurgen Klismann continued trying to figure out what he has with two friendlies, against Costa Rica and Belgium.  Unfortunately, United States lost both 0-1.  Against Costa Rica, they looked great early and had a fantastic attacking move which left Landon Donovan with a great chance to score, which he unfortunately missed.  As the game wore on, Costa Rica got themselves back into the game and eventually scored on a defensive lapse.

* The loss against Belgium on the other hand, is not something to be upset over.  Belgium is about to undergo a golden age of soccer – their team is loaded with good, young talent.  To lose to them by one goal, in Brussels is respectable.

* Even though the results of the game are mostly meaningless, as Klinsmann is still experimenting with his starting 11, some lessons can be learned.  I’m concerned about Klinsmann starting Robbie Rogers against Costa Rica and Belgium.  Yes, he did score the equalizer against Mexico (which Brek Shea gave him on a platter), but he was nigh useless otherwise.  I hope Klinsmann isn’t going to be overly loyal to mediocre players because they turned in a good performance once.

* We got to see Tim Chandler, the German-American right back, in his first start for USMNT.  The guy was menace playing right back, making good runs forward, while playing good defense.  Opposite him, at left back, Edgar Castillo continued being terrible.  I firmly believe Chandler’s long term future is at right back, but since Steve Cherundolo is still going strong there, playing him at left back, as Klinsmann did against Belgium might be a good idea.  He was not as effective there, but miles ahead of Castillo.

* Looking at Chandler, I can’t help but thinking that the way to improve the quality of players available to USMNT is to continue sending American servicemen to Germany to have children with German women.  I’m only kidding.  Kind of.  Not really.  Bundesliga has 4 or 5 (at least) legitimate prospects who hold an American passport by virtue of one of their parents being US Military personnel stationed in Germany.  Once again, I salute the American Military.

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