Friday, February 29, 2008

Jose Mourinho Spurs Lyon; Destination Barcelona

So the headlines are everywhere today that Jose Mourinho turned down a coaching offer from perennial French champions Lyon. Pardon me while I yawn.

Bernard Lacombe, adviser to Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, told France Football magazine that Lyon hit up Mourinho immediately after his ouster/departure at Chelsea. Mourinho said no thanks. We say, no kidding.

What's the news here? How many clubs approached Mourinho without grandstanding it the way Lyon is today? A dozen? Shame on any capable club that did not approach Mourinho.

It's still a safe bet that Mourinho is destined for Barcelona, with AC Milan sitting in the wings as a secondary contender. It's there where he'll close out his club career before taking over the Portuguese national team in time for the 2010 World Cup or 2012 Euro.

Can he win a Champions League at Barca before the World Cup? Right now, that's the big piece of silverware missing from his mantle and the sour taste in his mouth from his Chelsea days after getting bounced twice in the semifinals.

BTW, France Football intimates Mourinho already has his Barca deal, essentially done under the table.

In the meantime, Great Red North speculates that Mourinho could ultimately end up at Anfield.
Global Futbol goes one better, not only putting Mourinho at Barca, but moving Frank Rijkaard to Chelsea, replacing Avram Grant.

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Portugal Hosts Several Football Derbies

Someone has to explain how schedules are conceived in some countries. Not long ago, we had Grand Slam Sunday in England when United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal played each other on the same day.

Granted it's on a lesser scale, but Sunday in Portugal, you have the same type of scenario.

Sporting hosts Benfica--which for my money is a top 3 derby in European football--while Porto and Boavista tangle in a city of Porto showdown and Guimaraes and Braga tangle in another traditional northern Portgual war.

Huh? What gives?

Sure the schedule is random; just like the Euro and World Cup draws (not everyone wink at once).

No wonder smaller countries like Portugal and Holland and mired in domestic mediocrity when so many matches of great interest are contested on the same day.

Clearly, the Sporting-Benfica game is the most intriguing. Sporting hosts and must win to keep its slimming hopes for a Champions League spot alive; the title has long slipped away with Sporting 17 points back. Benfica, meanwhile, is 12 back of Porto in second place, five ahead of Sporting, and four on top of third place Guimaraes. A Benfica win closes the gap on Porto should the Dragoes slip, and essentially locks up second place and a spot in the Champions League group stage.

Porto, meanwhile, are runaway leaders and a win over Boavista and the inevitable tie in Lisbon pretty much locks up another championship for the former Mourinho Men.

Lots of intrigue and a spotlight on Portugal for one day--too bad it's one day only. Someone explain this logic to me, please!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gerrard Pained by Liverpool's Premier League Failures

The captain speaks. Steven Gerrard says not even a win in the Champions League will ease the pain of Liverpool's failure in the Premier League. Gerrard concedes the Reds are playing for fourth, and essentially blames the drama surrounding the team.

Consider this calendar of events that has plagued Liverpool this season--remember how Liverpool was running away with the league in the first few weeks; how is this team 17 points back of Arsenal?

  • Rafa's falling out with American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett
  • Gillett and Hicks' relationship explodes
  • Gillett considering selling his share of the club to Dubai International Capital
  • Continued uncertainty over the construction of the team's new stadium
  • Massive debt incurred because of the new stadium proposal
  • Break-ins at the homes of Liverpool players while the team is on the road
  • Betting scandal surfaces around the team's Champions League qualifier win over Besiktas
Soccerlens has more on Liverpool in crisis.
SportsGranola picks up on Gerrard's frustrations
CaughtOffside chimes in too.

Must Read: Martin Samuel on Eduardo Tackle

I cannot recommend Martin Samuel's work this week in the Times of London any more highly. He's the best football writer I know of, but this week, he's outdone himself on the Eduardo tackle.

Wednesday's column is a keeper. Talk about perspective, the guy has it nailed on the tackle and subsequent drama over the severity of punishment that should be doled out, to the dignity--or lack thereof--demonstrated by the respective coaches, to the pragmatism demonstrated by Eduardo via one simple quote: "Shit happens."

Then today, Samuel offers a sample of email and letters he's received since the incident.

I will do neither any justice. Read them both for yourself.

Feb. 27: "Mike Dean’s action at odds with the tolerance of brutality"
Feb. 28: "Tackle that divided a nation"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Avram Grant’s Chelsea Ship Taking on Water

Has Avram Grant lost the reins at Chelsea? Sunday’s Carling Cup loss to Tottenham is the 10 percent of iceberg showing above the surface of a simmering ocean of discontent (how’s that for prose?)

There’s plenty of evidence swirling that Grant is over his head, that he cannot lead the most expensive team on the globe, and more importantly, that he cannot manage these men.

Where was Michael Ballack during the Carling Cup final? The German has been a flop for the most part at The Bridge, but of late, he’s been in good form. Yet, he play fewer than 15 minutes in a cup final? Why was Anelka playing wide? Why was Lampard playing at all?

Then the John Terry row: It’s no secret the captain and first-team coach Henk ten Cate had a blowout apparently over Terry’s insistence to train harder the day before the Carling Cup final. The two were in each other’s face and had to be pulled apart.

Ten Cate is trying to turn down the heat in today’s Times of London:

"We are both emotional guys, but we do respect each other fully. On Saturday the distance between me and him was nowhere less than five metres. So that we were with our heads against each other, as they wrote, is total nonsense. The discussion was about the sharpness of the training, as we have more often. That is part of top football. At Chelsea we have a group of 27 players and three goalkeepers. Half of them were allowed to go to the final so you understand that things went sharp. John found that we should train even more fanatically, I didn't agree on that with my eyes on the final. We had an argument about that. That is all."

101 Great Goals also reports Roman Abromovich isn’t pleasant to be around following Tottenham taking its first silverware in nearly a decade at his team’s expense.

Luvfooty has more on Grant’s impending doom.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hicks Says He's Committed to Liverpool, Not Selling to DIC

Well, it didn’t take Liverpool owner Tom Hicks long to rebuff claims that he’s closing in on a deal with Dubai International Capital to sell the club.

Hicks issued a statement that included the following:

“'The reality is that I am personally, professionally and financially committed to the club and its supporters and that I will continue to honor that commitment to the best of my ability now and in the future.”

The cynic in me says that quote means it’s a lock Liverpool is all but sold. The club’s debt is no secret, neither is its unrest with coach Rafa Benitez. If it weren’t for Liverpool’s Champions League success (two finals, one title in three seasons), there’d be precious little to cheer at Anfield.

Liverpool is carrying 105 million pounds of debt after some refinancing a year ago, most of that going toward a replacement for Anfield; another chunk for transfers.

Soccernet has more, including this tidbit: “[Hicks and Gillett] are shortly going to have to go back to the banks to ask for a further £300million in loans to finance the rest of the new stadium at Stanley Park.”

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Today’s tour around the football blogosphere has an MLS flavor with the start of America’s domestic championship around the corner. We also have an Eduardo update--or two.

Starting off, My Soccer Blog has the CONCACAF Champions Cup schedule. Two-time MLS champions Houston Dynamo are in the tournament, as is D.C. United. Houston opens in Guatemala against CSD Municipal while D.C. is in Jamaica against Harbour View. Both first-leg matches are March 12; second leg is March 18 and 19.

MLS Rumors has a few interesting tidbits: Oscar De La Hoya has some interest in buying the Houston Dynamo; Joao Pinto is not coming to MLS?; and a cool look at celebrities and their MLS teams.

Center Holds It is in a unique posting swap with The Colorado Rapids Offside where the two “objective” parties will be posting thoughts on each other’s teams on the others’ respective site. Center is a Columbus Crew buff.

Kartik at U.S. Soccerspot has an analysis post on whether the standard of MLS is really improving, or whether it’s league propaganda. He asks some interesting questions, especially around why MLS has fewer internationals from outside CONCACAF and why clubs fail internationally.

Gunnerblog, meanwhile, continues to look at the Eduardo tackle and injury. They have reports that Eduardo could be running within six months and make a full recovery in nine. Good news indeed. There are hundreds of comments on the injury and Martin Taylor’s tackle; most of which are healthy debate.

Finally, 101 Great Goals has a roundup of quotes, including a classy one from Eduardo. They also say the Dubai International Capital takeover of Liverpool will happen in March. Oliver Kay reports it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Arsenal's Eduardo Career in Doubt; What of Martin Taylor?

Eduardo's horrific injury ended his season--perhaps his career. It has also given Arsenal a rallying cry, if you're to believe Mathieu Flamini, who is invoking the spirit of George Gipp and wants to win one for Eduardo.

Flamini says he'll never forget what he saw on the field Saturday and he told the media that he may never get over the incident which left the Brazilian-born Croatian with a compound fracture of his leg.

"We wanted to win it before, but now we want to win it also for him. Eduardo is not going to be with us for a long time so, of course, we want to win it for him."

Now I'm 50-50 on whether to use such incidents as inspiration for winning or crutch for losing.
But right now with Arsenal sliding and United relentless in its pursuit of the treble (Premiership, FA Cup, Champions League), one could hardly blame the Gunners for pulling out all stops.
The other issue here is what happens to Martin Taylor. the Birmingham captain is being assailed from all fronts, some calling for lifetime bans, others for 12 months and worse cries from still others.

The tackle was shocking; the intent hardly malicious. Regardless, Taylor will likely be made an example of. Sadly, people are never proactive in such cases. Football officials had to wait for a tragedy before getting tough on vicious tackles and hard fouls.

From other blogs:
Here's a great take on the Taylor tackle.

Arsenal FC blog has more on the win it for Eduardo theme.

101 Great Goals argues that Eduardo's career is worth more than a three-game suspension for Taylor.

Talking for Arsenal has some well wishes for Eduardo.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chelsea Pursues Carling Cup; Passes on Ronaldinho

Sky Sports is reporting that Chelsea will not pursue Ronaldinho in the offseason. Chairman Bruce Buck says there was interest, but the Blues will look elsewhere for help.

Buck adds that signing Frank Lampard is a priority; negotiations are currently on hold.

Chelsea, meanwhile, pursues silverware this weekend when it tangles with Tottenham in the Carling Cup final. John Terry is a possibility in the Chelsea lineup.

Tottenham has not won a trophy in nine years.

has more on this.
Same goes for Spurstheoffside.
Don't forget Spurs Pies.

UEFA Cup Thriller: Benfica Rallies

I'm not a Benfica fan, but its come-from-behind tie yesterday against Nuremberg that clinched its round-of-32 tie was not only thrilling, but it kept in play the possibility of a Sporting-Benfica matchup down the road. I cannot find the complete UEFA Cup draw tree to see how they're matched up--if someone can help please do.
The Champions League has glorious matchups right now, but UEFA Cup has some grassroots appeal with a bevy of big names and potential dustups between country-mates that makes it impossible to ignore.
Here's the round-of-16 draw:
  • Anderlecht (Belgium) v Bayern Munich (Germany)
  • Rangers (Scotland) v Werder Bremen (Germany)
  • Bolton Wanderers (England) v Sporting (Portugal)
  • Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) v Hamburg SV (Germany)
  • Getafe (Spain) v Benfica (Portugal)
  • Fiorentina (Italy) v Everton (England)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (England) v PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
  • Olympique Marseille (France) v Zenit St Petersberg (Russia)
  • * First leg ties to be played March 6, second legs to be played March 12 and 13.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Liverpool Proposal: Co-Managers?

You know the old joke about having two girlfriends--one for Monday-Friday and one for the weekend? I can’t get past that feeling when it comes to Rafa Benitez and Liverpool. Perhaps the Reds need co-managers; one for the Premiership and Rafa for Europe.

The Times of London’s Oliver Kay writes a fascinating piece quoting Rafa in a shocking admission that he’s not built for the Premiership.

This is straight from the article:

“In Europe you can approach a game tactically in a different way,” the Liverpool manager said when asked to explain the contradiction between their domestic and Champions League form. “In England, it is a different style of football and more difficult for the manager to influence what goes on. It is not as simple to influence the game with tactics in England the way it is elsewhere in Europe.”

OK, my cynical side says Rafa is trying to talk his way out of Anfield, forcing the hand of his American owners. Who would tolerate such an admission?

The other side of me says Rafa is arrogant and living off his two Champions League final appearances--one win--the Premiership be damned. It’s doubtful Liverpool supporters are OK with this. The Reds haven’t won the title in England since 1989-90 and there’s no convincing me that situation is acceptable.

I’ve been back and forth of Rafa’s future, and today, I’m sure he’s out the second Liverpool is excused from the Champions League. Of course, watch him win the thing again and muck up the gears for another year.

UEFA Cup Preview: Bayern Munich Hosts Aberdeen

All eyes are on Munich today where Bayern hosts Aberdeen in the second leg of their round-of-32 UEFA Cup tie.

Aberdeen nearly pulled off a massive upset, giving up a late goal at home for a 2-2 draw I the first leg. At home today, Bayern are huge favorites to win the cup making a slipup at home today a monumental flub. Bayern will also be without Frank Ribery.

I’ve written before about intriguing I find this year’s UEFA Cup because of the big names left in it; some are teetering on elimination.

Atletico Madrid and Villareal are in trouble today. The two Spanish sides lost 1-0 in the first leg to Bolton and Zenit St. Petersburg respectively. Madrid’s Luis Garcia promised fans to treat this match like a “final.”

Sporting and Benfica are in good shape to move on to the Sweet 16. Sporting beat Basel 2-0 at home last week and should be able to finish the Swiss side today. Benfica travels to Nuremburg with a 1-0 advantage in tow, while Sporting Braga’s exit is all but assured against Werder Bremen after blowing two penalties in a 3-0 loss.

After today, the UEFA Cup could be overflowing with German, Portuguese and English teams.

Today's Matches:
  • Hamburg SV v FC Zürich
  • Bayer Leverkusen v Galatasaray
  • Spartak Moscow v Marseille
  • Panathinaikos v Rangers
  • Bayern Munich v Aberdeen
  • Getafe v AEK Athens
  • Atlético Madrid v Bolton
  • Villarreal v Zenit St Petersburg
  • Bordeaux v Anderlecht
  • Helsingborg v PSV Eindhoven
  • Tottenham v Slavia Prague
  • Fiorentina v Rosenborg
  • FC Basle v Sporting Lisbon
  • Everton v SK Brann
  • Nurnberg v Benfica
  • Braga v Werder Bremen

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Champions League final scores

Arsenal 0, AC Milan 0
Fenerbache 3, Sevilla 2
Barcelona 3, Celtic 2
Lyon 1, Manchester United 1

Looks like Milan, Sevilla, Barca and United are in prime position headed to their respective second legs.

Check out Footie DB for details.

Live Blogging: Champions League--Arsenal-AC Milan

Random thoughts while watching Arsenal-AC Milan.

Starting at the second half:

  • Reality called me away for much of the second half, but getting back in the 85th minute, doesn't look like I missed much...
  • Bendtner has a chance to win it for the Gunners but skies a shot. Fascinates me how difficult it is to get a shot on goal. Most players prefer power to calm and accuracy while sacrificing power on their shot. Don't understand it.
  • Corner - last chance for Arsenal? Walcott ultimately gets a shot on goal; something Bendtner, who had a better chance to score, couldn't do.
  • Adebayor! header off the crossbar, wow, a fraction of an inch and a fraction of a second separate Arsenal from being favorites in getting through to the quarterfinals, to being in bad shape headed for Milan in two weeks.
  • This is going to be a great result for Milan. Wonder if tanking the FA Cup match against United was worth it now for Wenger?

Live Blogging: Champions League--Arsenal-AC Milan

Random thoughts while watching Arsenal-AC Milan.

Starting at the 30-minute mark:

  • Celtic and Barca have traded goals; same goes for Fenerbache and Sevilla--ESPN won't show scores on its crawl.
  • Fabregas is a stud; Eduardo is a black hole. Another great cross to Eduardo that he cannot handle, nor finish.
  • Kaladze and Nesta are busy with Adebayor, but is anyone getting the sense Milan gets a counterattack goal some time soon? Arsenal hasn't had glaring chances, but it has had the run of play and cannot finish.
  • Milan has given up 1 goal in six games; it is unbeaten in those six games.
  • Hleb makes a brilliant turn in the box at 44; deserved a better finish.
  • Overall, this one's been a dud. Arsenal started well, but the game's had more dead spots than the basketball floor at the old Boston Garden. Give Milan a halftime grade of D (its defense keeps it from getting an F); let's give Arsenal a C+

Live Blogging: Champions League--Arsenal-AC Milan

Starting at the 8-minute mark:

  • Duh observation of the day; Adebayor is just a handful, a physically intimidating guy who is just about always in the right spot for challenge the goal.
  • Arsenal is turning this into a 55-meter match. Milan has had one venture into the Arsenal end (got a corner out of it) but otherwise, doesn't look interested in pressing the issue
  • Maldini is being attacked, but withstanding. Eboue had no chance of beating the legend on one play at the goal line; he did win the corner.
  • Eduardo should have done better with a nice cross through the box
  • Kaka gets a touch, mark that at 14 minutes
  • My father has a name for the style Milan is playing: anti-jogo
  • Hmmm, Nesta shoves Adebayor off the ball and gets away with it; borderline. Yet, is the bigger picture here one of frustration/desperation on the Milan back line? It's only 18 minutes in.
  • What a pity this is a round-of-16 matchup and one of these clubs is going to be gone. This is a final quality pairing, despite Milan's struggles in Serie A.
  • Eduardo, Eboue and Gallas, um, I'll toss these cards in any hand of poker.
  • With one sub gone for Arsenal (Toure), how much does this change Wenger's strategy in the second half?

Live Blogging: Champions League--Arsenal-AC Milan

Random thoughts and observations about today's Arsenal - A.C. Milan match.

  • Why do they play the Champions League anthem prior to the match? How pretentious of UEFA!
  • Is it arrogant of a coach like Wenger to essentially tank a massive FA Cup match like Arsenal did last weekend losing 4-0 to Man. U., clearly to concentrate on today's match and the Premiership. Why would supporters excuse such flaunting of their emotions and support? Or do you prefer it as a fan?
  • Clearly, this is a superior Arsenal Starting Eleven on the pitch than the one Wenger put out there against United.
  • Interesting that Arsenal is attacking Maldini's side of the field. Have the mighty fallen so far?
  • Toure takes a shot off the thigh and is carried off? Didn't see him twist anything prior.
  • What a throw by Lehman to Adebayor, even better recovery by Oddo.

Champions League TV Listings

For U.S. viewers, ESPN is probably your best bet today, though you have to endure Tommy Onion Bags and Derek "Garthia" Rae

ESPN2 has AC Milan-Arsenal live at 2:45 p.m. ET
Deportes has Celtic-Barcelona live at 2:45 p.m. ET
and Lyon United at 4:45 p.m. ET on delay
ESPN Classic has the Celtic-Barca replay at 4:45 p.m. ET

Another Euro Export Headed for MLS

If you can read Portuguese, A Bola, the national sports daily newspaper, reports that former Portuguese national and Benfica and Sporting star Joao Pinto, 36, may be headed to MLS. The paper says Toronto FC is likely where he’ll land, considering Toronto’s large Portuguese community.

If you recall, Joao Pinto’s national team career ended at the 2002 World Cup when he took a punch at Argentine referee Ángel Sánchez. Portugal was on its way out of the tournament, losing to hosts South Korea. Joao Pinto was suspended six months and his national team career was done.

Prior to that, he, along with Mario Jardel, has led Sporting to a pair of national titles and he was close to top form. He was also pivotal in a legendary derby win for Benfica, scoring three times in a 6-3 win over Sporting in the early 90s. Three times he was named Portuguese football of the year: 1992-93-94.

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Today’s tour around the football blogosphere focuses primarily on Day 1 of the round of 16 Champions League matches; the final will be played at Lucschniki Stadium, right, in Moscow.

101 Great Goals does an excellent job of recapping what the English papers are saying about Liverpool’s remarkable win over Inter Milan yesterday and more on the mystery of Rafa Benitez’s success in Europe and domestic flailing. Hold the life raft!

Oliver Kay at the Times of London theorizes that despite Liverpool’s win last night, Rafa may have to repeat the miracle of 2005 to keep the Reds’ American owners from letting him go

Footballing World says Liverpool and its fans were “sharp, focused, committed, energetic, and probing.” All fine and good; someone has to answer why they can’t manage that kind of commitment in the Premiership.

Soccer by Ives put together a running commentary on yesterday’s Roma-Real Madrid match, as well as Liverpool-Inter.

View from the Terrace provides a quick recap of all four games yesterday, leading off with Schalke’s win over Porto.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Charmed Life of Liverpool and Rafa Benitez

So what are we to make of Liverpool's decisive 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan? To be honest, who knows.

Does it mean the Reds are built only for Europe, that Rafa Benitez's rotation system works only for the Champions League and not for the Premiership? Does it mean Liverpool had a great day? Inter had a bad day? Or does it mean that this club has a horseshoe wedged deeply in its backside?

Either way, this is a stunning results given the recent run of form from both sides.

Footie DB has more on the game.

Same goes for OhYouBeauty.

Champions League: Roma vs. Real Madrid Starting Eleven

32Alexander Doni (G)
2Christian Panucci (D)
5Philippe Mexes (D)
77Marco Cassetti (D)
4Juan (D)
14Ludovic Giuly (M)
20Simone Perrotta (M)
7David Pizarro (M)
16Daniele De Rossi (M)
30Alessandro Mancini (M)
10Francesco Totti (F)
Real Madrid
1Iker Casillas (G)
16Gabriel Heinze (D)
5Fabio Cannavaro (D)
4Garcia Sergio Ramos (D)
22Miguel Torres Gómez (D)
11Arjen Robben (M)
6Mahamadou Diarra (M)
14Jose Maria Guti (M)
8Fernando Gago (M)
17Ruud van Nistelrooy (F)
7Gonzalez Raul (F)

Champions League: Inter vs. Liverpool Starting Eleven

25Jose Reina (G)
23Jamie Carragher (D)
4Sami Hyypia (D)
3Steve Finnan (D)
12Fabio Aurelio (D)
8Steven Gerrard (M)
19Ryan Babel (M)
20Javier Mascherano (M)
21Lucas (M)
9Fernando Torres (F)
18Dirk Kuyt (F)
Inter Milan
12Julio César (G)
23Marco Materazzi (D)
26Cristian Chivu (D)
2Ivan Ramiro Cordoba (D)
13Maicon (D)
6Maxwell (D)
4Javier Zanetti (M)
5Dejan Stankovic (M)
19Esteban Cambiasso (M)
8Zlatan Ibrahimovic (F)
9Julio Cruz (F)

FA Cup Draw: Analysis and Insight on the Quarterfinal-round Draw

The FA Cup quarterfinal-round draw was held yesterday and noteworthy was the home game Barnsley gets against Chelsea (just rewards for the giant killers) and Manchester United hosting Portsmouth, which got in by the skin of its teeth. Here's the complete draw:

Sheffield United or Middlesbrough v Cardiff City
Manchester United v Portsmouth
Bristol Rovers v West Brom
Barnsley v Chelsea

Some takes on the draw:

Jonny Saunders laments the possibility of a repeat of last year's final.
Talking Reds complains about Manchester United drawing a Premiership team for the 10th straight time.
points out that a Football League team will make the semis
Fourfourtwo gives us Sir Alex's take on the draw

Champions League Predictions: Going Against the Grain

I don't like making predictions; they prejudice the way I watch matches. But for some reason today, I just can't resist chiming in on the round of 16 Champions League matches.


Schalke 1, Porto 1
Inter 2, Liverpool 1
Roma 0, Real Madrid 1
Olympiacos 1, Chelsea 1


Arsenal 3, AC Milan 1
Celtic 1, Barcelona 0
Fenerbache 1, Sevilla 1
Lyon 0, Manchester United 2

TV schedule

For those of you in the U.S.:

ESPN2 has the Liverpool-Inter match at 2:45 p.m. ET;
ESPN Deportes has Roma-Real live at 2:45, followed by Lyon-United at 4:45 on tape delay.
ESPN Dos has Schalke-Porto at 10 p.m. ET.

Rafa's Last Stand?

Bad karma haunts Rafa Benitez--has to. Teetering on unemployment already, not only has he basically coached Liverpool out of contention in the Premier League, and suffered this weekend's humiliating FA Cup ouster (Barnsley?!?!), but today he gets runaway Serie A leaders Inter Milan in the Champions League.

Don't buy a lottery ticket today Rafa, it's a loser for sure.

Ironically, these teams haven't clashed in Europe since 1965, and it was a classic. 101 Great Goals has an excellent recap of their European Champions Cup semifinal tie, featuring one of the great Liverpool collapses (or Inter comebacks, pick your poison) of all time. More bad karma?

We don't need to recap Liverpool's charmed European life of the past few years, and Rafa has proved himself a better coach in these two-game series' than over the long haul of a 38-game Premiership season.

OhYouBeauty previews today's match. This excerpt sums it up:

"It goes without saying that this has become the most important game of the season so far, with rumors flying that Benitez’s job is now (again?) linked to Champions League progress. I’ve no desire to rehash that debate again, but I still believe it's an unfair ask.

But it shows the disappointment that this season’s been. The squad may be better from top to bottom, but results haven’t been. An exit from Europe would mean that the fight for fourth is the only thing left this season. That’s unimaginable."

Check out the whole post, which includes a pretty good guess at Liverpool's Starting Eleven for today's match against Inter.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Adu Being Nurtured at Benfica

Freddy Adu seems surprised that European clubs know how nurture young players and forbid their future stars from setting themselves up for failure as Adu did with his mega-deal from Nike and MLS.

Culturally, U.S. coaches just aren’t mature enough to develop young players with true football skill. Adu’s career, in fact, may have been retarded by his time with D.C. United and Real Salt Lake before Benfica came a calling.

Adu, however, hasn’t done himself any favors. He never played particularly well in MLS--a boy against men for much of his time in the league--and seemed to save his best for the U.S. junior national teams. It was his performance in the under-20 World Cup that caught Benfica’s eye.

With the Lisbon club, Adu has contributed goals in some key spots, despite not yet earning a regular spot. Ultimately, Adu may never be the super-stud U.S. Soccer built him up to be. And that’s not fair to him. But he has done enough to pull on the jersey of one of the most storied clubs in football history, and that’s not bad for a kid.

No to Game 39: Blatter Threatens 2018 England Cup Bid

FIFA big man Sepp Blatter weighs in on the Premiership’s Game 39 proposal and he’s not exactly aboard, going so far as to say that it would not happen as long as he is FIFA president. “If you are the most prosperous league in the world and if you accept that everyone in football has a responsibility to maintain it not only as a business, but as a game,” he said. “'Then, all of a sudden you come out with a project which only has business and money behind it.”

While it looks like the No to Game 39 lobby will ultimately win out, it’s a bit unseemly of Sir Sepp to hold England’s 2018 World Cup big over the league’s head. Talk about blackmail.

File this one as a case study in how power corrupts.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Some Valentine's Day footballing love to the soccer blogosphere this morning. Here's a bunch of news and notes...
  • MLS Rumors is out in full force with a bevy of rumors about the next wave of international stars headed for fame and fortune in the U.S. How about Ronaldo? Harry Kewell? Craig Bellamy? Many more…
  • My Soccer Blog quotes an MLS source that Philadelphia will be MLS’ 16th franchise. St. Louis, meanwhile, like its beloved Cardinals, will have to wait ‘til next year.
  • As Chelsea welcomes its players back from the African Cup of Nations, it’s still without John Terry. No captain? No problem says FootballingWorld. Check out their pick for the man to wear the armband.
  • Kartik at American Soccer Spot reminisces about the U.S. lone victory over Brazil, 10 years ago last Sunday. It’s a good read and there’s some interesting insight, in particular about Kasey Keller.
  • Finally, Stateside Footy praises US Soccer’s scheduled friendly against England scheduled for May 28 at Wembley. He reports talks are under way for another match against a top five team in June: Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Spain and Germany are the current top five.

Sunil Gulati's Disservice to Soccer in the U.S.

Someone has to explain Sunil Gulati’s thinking here: U.S. Soccer’s reigning president says he wouldn’t sanction a 39th round of Premiership matches in the U.S., but would relent if FIFA insisted. OK, chances are it won’t happen because the plan is already being flogged everywhere else, England included.

But why would Gulati dismiss it out of hand? Is it not his responsibility, above all, to promote the game here in the U.S., more so than the king of any other football federation in the world? The world doesn’t need the U.S. to embrace football, but Gulati sure as hell needs the U.S. to embrace football.

Bringing a round of English matches to the U.S. would be a coup, a tremendous opportunity to expose fans to something that’s really out of the reach of most. International football has more than been embraced in the U.S. National team matches are consistently sold out and well received; matches are telecast nationally. I attended a Brazil-Mexico friendly this year in Foxboro, Mass., along with 68,000 rabid fans. If you put a quality product on the field, fans will go; they will pay; and they will celebrate the game.

Is it an overall positive for the game? If anything, it’s a neutral to negative--English fans aren’t exactly anxious to dole out their game to the Yanks for one round a year. And I’m sure the players aren’t thrilled about the prospects of 5-10-hour flights to play in the States.

But looking at this strictly from an American point of view, Gulati is doing a disservices to fans and needs to be questioned.

UEFA Cup: Europe’s ‘B’ Championship Resumes

Finally, Europe resumes international play today with some tantalizing UEFA Cup draws. Probably the biggest shocker of the day is Rangers’ nil-nil home draw against Panathinaikos. Rangers figures to be in for some heavy labor in Athens in the second leg.

Otherwise, this suddenly stacked tournament held to form.

Intriguing Sporting shut out Basle, 2-0, at home while Bremen blanked Braga, 3-0. Tim Wiese saved two penalties for the Germans. Anderlect, PSV, Marseille and Everton were among the other winners.

Tomorrow, Benfica hosts Nuremberg, Rosenborg hosts Fiorentina, Aberdeen entertains Bayern Munich and Hamburg visits FC Zurich.

This tournament generally doesn’t get the splash the Champions League gets, nor does it usually deserve it. For American readers, UEFA Cup definitely plays NIT to the Champions League’s NCAA Tournament.

But the stellar names still in the running for Europe’s second biggest club title are intriguing. Common sense says Bayern Munich wins this in a cakewalk, but it won’t be easy. Many of these clubs still in UEFA Cup contention are floundering on the domestic front and may decide to focus on winning the UEFA Cup. That means Bayern will have a tough road against the Aberdeen’s, Sportings, PSVs and Fiorentinas of the tournament--not to mention the presence of fellow domestic foes Bremen, Leverkusen and Hamburg.

Billionaire Opens Wallet for Trapattoni

OK, so we’ve have fans pool their resources to buy a club, now Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien is poneying up some dough to bring Giovanni Trapattoni run the national team. O’Brien is a cellphone entrepreneur (he founded ESAT Telecom) and says he’ll pay for half of the costs of the new Irish managerial staff. Trapattoni is looking for 1.4 million pounds a year for four years; something tells me O’Brien can swing it.

Trapattoni, reportedly, will accept the job tomorrow.