Monthly Archives: February 2011

Match report: Aston Villa 4, Blackburn Rovers 1

by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Scorers: Aston Villa — Young (pen 49, 82), Hanley (OG, 62), Downing (64); Blackburn Rovers — Kalinic (81)

Aston Villa line-up and ratings: Friedel – 6, Clark — 7, Dunne — 7.5, Baker – NR (Delph — 7.5), Walker — 7, Pires — 9 (Petrov — 6), Reo-Coker — 7, Young – 8.5, Downing — 8, Albrighton – 7.5, Bent — 6 (Heskey — NR)

Blackburn Rovers line-up and ratings: Robinson — 7, Nelsen — 7, Hanley — 6.5, Olsson — 6.5, Salgado — 6.5, Andrews — 5 (Nzonzi — NR), Jones — 6.5, Grella  — 6 (Roberts — 5.5), Pederson — 5.5, Emerton — 6, Santa Cruz — 5 (Kalinic — 7.5)

Aston Villa finally had an encouraging game, extending their unbeaten streak to three matches with a relatively easy 4-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.

Ashley Young (pictured) scored twice for Villa, Grant Hanley scored an own goal, and

Hello, has anyone found my snood?

Stewart Downing added a second-half goal. Nikola Kalinic scored the lone goal for Blackburn late in the match.

I would say this was a tale of two halves, but that isn’t completely true. While Villa certainly dominated the second half, they were poor in the first half except a strong final five minutes where Paul Robinson had to make three saves, two from the impressive (More like impressively ancient. Oh!) Robert Pires. Then Darren Bent was clear on goal, but elected to switch the ball to his right foot with only Robinson to beat, enabling the defender to clear the ball away.

The second half was all Villa, though. At 49 minutes, Keith Andrews foolishly tried to dribble the ball away from Young in then penalty box, but Young stole the ball and Andrew fouled him. Young put away the penalty for his seventh goal of the season. Ten minutes later, the score was 2-0 after Grant Hanley put a low cross from Marc Albrighton into his own net. Then just two minutes later, Stewart Downing charged town the right and fired past Robinson into the far corner for a 3-0 lead to essentially put the game away.

Blackburn had some hope with a late goal from Nikola Kalinic, on for the ineffective Roque Santa Cruz, but Young scored his second after taking a cross from Downing and curling it past Robinson.

Not a great performance by Blackburn, who only managed five shots and never looked like scoring – even their one goal came off a fairly crazy deflection off Villa defender Richard Dunne. With the loss, Blackburn are now in some trouble. They are only four points clear of the relegation zone and still play Fulham, Arsenal and Everton away, and have home matches against Manchester United and Manchester City. Their hopes of escaping relegation will probably come when they visit West Ham on May 7. As for Villa, it was probably their best performance since beating West Ham in the season opener. Though they were poor in the second half, they seemed like a new team after Fabian Delph replaced the injured Nathan Baker at left back. The only player you could argue wasn’t at his best was Darren Bent, who spurned a couple relatively easy chances, but you have to figure he’ll score two or three in his next match. Villa are now five points clear of relegation, and with only away matches against Arsenal and Everton left that can be seen as difficult ones, they can now look at consolidating their position in midtable and possibly challenging for Europe, though let’s be honest: That’s not going to happen this year.

Stat of the day: Aston Villa completed 288 passes in the second half. By contrast, Blackburn completed 308 in the entire match.

Match Stats:

Aston Villa
Blackburn Rovers
60 % Possession 40 %
9 Shots on target 2
8 Shots off target 3
5 Blocked shots 0
10 Corners 2
5 Fouls 12
1 Offside 1
0 Yellow cards 2
0 Red cards 1

Jeremiah’s Weekend Picks: Feb. 26-28

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Pretty big weekend in store across Europe. After the relative excitement of the first half of the Champions League knockout round, we have an actual cup final – Arsenal v Birmingham City in the Carling Cup as well as big games in Germany, France, Italy and Holland. As usual, the two giants in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid, play nobodies that they should crush with ease. Yay for La Liga! All times Pacific.

Saturday

Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund. (German Bundesliga, 9:30 a.m.) This is actually a pretty exciting match. It features Borussia Dortmund, or as I have dubbed them, The Fighting Bananas, who are running away with the Bundesliga this year, against Bayern Munich, who are generally the most dominant team in Germany and the highest scoring. Bayern is coming off an impressive 1-0 win in the Champions League at defending champion Inter Milan and have won their last two Bundesliga matches in impressive fashion over Hoffenheim and Mainz. Dortmund have struggled a little bit lately, if you could say a team that has lost only once in its last 22 league matches is ever struggling. Regardless, they’ve only won two of their last five matches (three draws). They beat Bayern 2-0 in the other match between the two this year. Right now, Dortmund leads the league by 10 points, and Bayern is 13 points back. Players to watch for Bayern are striker Mario Gomez and wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, as usual. For Dortmund, Nuri Sahin is my favorite player who is not Japanese and injured. (That’s right, I mean you, Shinji Kagawa.)
My prediction: Cliche alert! Bayern will win the battle, but Dortmund will win the war. 3-2, Bayern

Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners. (Australian A-League playoffs, 2:01 a.m.) So I know no one is going to watch this match due to the time, but if you can’t sleep … you know. Anyway, since I wrote so much about the last match, I’ll keep this brief. Brisbane are breaking records all over the A-League this season (only one defeat in 30 matches, a +32 goal differential), and they have a 2-0 lead in the two-leg match and are playing at home. Players to watch for Brisbane are Costa Barbarouses and Jean Carlo Solorzano, who have 25 goals between them, and Thomas Broich, who has 14 assists.
Prediction: Brisbane advances easily, 3-1

Sunday

Arsenal v Birmingham City. (English Carling Cup final, 8 a.m.) This match offers Arsenal their first chance to grab some silverware in six years, and they should have a relatively easy time of it against Birmingham City, who although a fellow Premiership side, are not in the same class. Arsenal will cope without the services of captain Cesc Fabregas or winger Theo Walcott, but they’ll still have a plethora of good attacking players like Samir Nasri, Andrei Arshavin and Robin Van Persie to rely upon. Birmingham do have former Arsenal midfielder and Belarusian international Аляксандр Паўлавіч Глеб and David “I’m a poor man’s Beckham; Very, very poor” Bentley, in a not-really-that-interesting side plot. Failure to win this match would be a pretty big blow to Arsenal, though in fairness, they’re still in the Champions League, challenging for the Premiership and competing in the FA Cup, so it’s not THAT BAD, is it?
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0

Athletic Bilbao v Valencia. (Spanish La Liga, noon) I’m continuing my recent vow not to publicize matches involving Real Madrid and Barcelona since they win all the ones they play 4-0 and split 75 percent of the TV revenue from La Liga games, thus rendering any other Spanish clubs’ chances of winning the title at 0. So I’m picking this one. But it’s a pretty good one. Athletic Bilbao are a Basque club and one of the most decorated in La Liga history, though they haven’t won the league in almost 30 years. Valencia I think were the last non-Barcelona/Madrid team to win the league in Spain. Both teams are competing for spots in Europe, and Bilbao are notoriously difficult to beat at home, having only lost to Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and … Deportivo de la Coruna. Umm…ignore that last one there. Valencia are in third place and currently benefiting from Villareal’s poor run of form, as all of you know. Players to watch: for Athletic, Spanish international striker Fernando Llorente has 13 goals this season, and well, he plays for Spain. Valencia has a bunch of good young players (Aritz Aduriz – well, not young…, Juan Mata and Pablo). Lots of long hair and weird skinny hairbands here today, ladies.
Prediction: Athletic 2-1

Palermo v Udinese. (Italian Serie A, 6 a.m.) This match doesn’t have much bearing on Serie A title race, though both teams are still in the hunt for Europe. What it does have is two of the funnest, most attacking sides in Europe and two bright young stars (Palermo’s Javier Pastore and Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez) that you’ll hear mentioned again and again and again over the next couple years. Plus, neither team can defend, though Udinese are probably slightly better on that end…
Prediction: Palermo 4, Udinese 4

Lille v Lyon. (French Ligue 1, noon) This match gives current French frontrunners Lille the opportunity to end their recent poor run of form (two straight losses after not losing a match for four months) and knockout Lyon, who are generally probably considered the best French side, though they haven’t won the title in three years. A loss for Lille, meanwhile, would put Lyon back in the title race, and probably would knock Lille down to second or third place. Lille is led by Eden Hazard, a playmaker coveted by Arsenal and Manchester United and strikers Gervinho and Moussa Sow (27 goals between them). Lyon has quite a few good players, but Bafetimbi Gomes, who was once considered the heir apparent to Didier Drogba, though it’s never quite happened for him, will line up as the lone forward.
Prediction: Lille 2, Lyon 1

AZ Alkmaar v Twente Enschede, PSV Eindhoven v Ajax Amsterdam. (Dutch Eredivisie, 6:30 a.m.) The only thing bigger than a weekend with these two teams in Holland is when De Staat plays the Amsterdam Arena. Anyone? Anyone? The match features the Top 3 teams in the country and Alkmaar, who are currently sixth. Right now the Top 3 are only separated by five points, so if Ajax beat PSV and Alkmaar won, it would be down to a two-point lead. I don’t feel like listing all the team’s players, but Twente’s Theo Janssen is pretty good, so start with him in your search of Dutch superstars.
Predictions: Alkmaar 1, Twente 1; PSV 2, Ajax 2

Monday

AC Milan v Napoli. (Italian Serie A, 11:45 a.m.) Both AC Milan and Napoli were knocked out of Europe over the last two weeks. Oh wait, AC Milan gets knocked out in two weeks. My mistake. Anyhoo, This match features the top 2 teams in Italy. AC Milan have an excellent attacking trident up top, which I’ve already talked about in previous posts, so I won’t bother today. As for Napoli, they’re led by Edinson Cavani, who has 20 goals and probably has been the player of the season in the Serie A. Napoli will be missing Ezequiel Lavezzi, though, who doesn’t score goals, but doesn’t really need to with Cavani starting.
Prediction: AC Milan 1, Napoli 1

Concacaf Champions League Roundup: Feb. 22

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Columbus 0, Real Salt Lake 0. As great as it is to see two MLS teams battling it out in the knockout stages of the North America’s Champions League, this match was not a spectacular one for inducing new fans to the American game. Both teams are in the early stages of preseason preparation, and it showed. Real Salt Lake had Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran sent off, and Columbus had Emilio Renteria sent off. I would say the sendings-off took the wind out of the game’s sails, but considering that all three came in the second half, and the two teams combined for two shots on target, that probably wouldn’t be accurage.
In the return leg: Well, Real Salt Lake are the better of the two teams, and a draw away generally favors the team returning home in the second leg, but this is still a tie that can go either way – MLS teams tend to be less predictable when it comes to home/away matchups. Nonetheless, I’d have to go with RSL in this matchup, unless Columbus gets an early goal and then shuts down shop.

Cruz Azul 2, Santos 0. As much as I enjoy Mexican football, and I do, a little, it would be nice to see their teams not win the Champions League every single year, so I’m all for a couple matches (this one and today’s Toluca-Monterrey match) that knock a couple of the teams out. Anyway, Cruz Azul got second-half goals from young Mexican international Javier Orosco and former Pachuca star Christian (Thanks for deserting us, jerk) Gimenez two grab a commanding lead in this tie.
In the return leg: Down two goals, Santos will have to attack, attack, attack. They have a decent forward line in former Birmingham City ‘star’ Christian Benitez, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Quintero. It should be interesting tactically, largely because Mexican league games are often so slow, and in this one, the impetus will be on an open, high-scoring game.

Champions League Roundup: Day 3

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

FC Copenhagen 0, Chelsea 2. What can you really say about this match? Jesper Gronkjaer (not sure about the spelling) made a terrible back pass that Nicolas Anelka seized on before scoring, then Anelka added another goal to put the game, and the tie in general, away.
In the return leg: For all intents and purposes (Yep, that’s how you say that), Chelsea has moved on to the quarterfinals. To advance, Copenhagen would have to win at Chelsea by at least two goals – and a 2-0 win would only put them into extra time. It’s just not going to happen. Expect Chelsea to play some backups in this game and to win again by a similar scoreline.

Olympique Lyonnais 1, Real Madrid 1. Considering that most people were expecting a fairly easy win for Lyon, they have to take heart in drawing what was a fairly even match – on a somewhat lucky goal late from Bafetimbi Gomis, but nonetheless, a 1-1 scoreline benefits Real the most, since the Champions League has the rule that whoever scores the most away goals wins if it’s tied. The first goal was scored by former Lyon striker Karim Benzema.
In the return leg: Lyon’s best hope for advancing lies in holding Madrid to 0 or 1 goal and then getting something late to send the match to extra time or grab the win. They’re not out of the tie by any means, but it will be difficult for them to hold off Madrid, and if Madrid scores early, it could turn into a rout.

World Club Rankings: Feb. 22

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Lots of action the past couple weeks in the club rankings. Arsenal surprised some by knocking off Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League, though the teams meet again in a couple weeks. Manchester United rallied from their first defeat of the season to beat rivals Manchester City and then edge by Crawley Town in the FA Cup. Napoli was the big mover in the rankings, as they and Bayer Leverkusen both jumped several spots to 12 and 13, respectively. New in the Top 10 is Shaktar Donetsk, who notched a big away win at Roma in the Champions League. Lastly, Chelsea dropped several spots as they continue to struggle despite the arrival of Fernando Torres. Estudiantes was the lone team to drop out, getting hammered 5-0 by Cruzeiro in the Copa Libertadores, though they won their first two matches in the Argentinian Primera.

1. Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 in La Liga on Sunday; lost to Arsenal 2-1 in Champions League on Wednesday. In 2010-11 season — 30-5-3, 109 goals scored, 22 goals against. Titles won: Supercopa de Espana. Still competing in: Champions League, Copa Del Rey. Up next: Saturday at Mallorca in La Liga
2. Manchester United beat Crawley Town 1-0 in FA Cup on Saturday. Overall, 26-11-2, 79 gs, 37 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: At Marseille on Wednesday in Champions League
3. Real Madrid beat Levante 2-0 in La Liga on Saturday; beat Espanyol 1-0 in La Liga on Feb. 13. Overall, 30-5-3, 90 gs, 25 ga. Still competing: Champions League, Copa del Rey. Up next: At Lyon in Champions League on Tuesday
4. FC Porto beat Sevilla 2-1 in Europa League on Thursday; beat Braga 2-0 in Portuguese Liga on Feb. 13. Overall, 31-3-1, 82 gs, 17 ga. Titles won: Portuguese Supercup. Still competing: Europa League, Taca de Portugal. Up next: Sevilla in Europa Leage on Wednesday
5. Arsenal drew 1-1 with Leyton Orient in FA Cup on Sunday; beat Barcelona 2-1 in Champions League on Wednesday; beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 in Premiership on Feb. 12. Overall, 27-7-8, 94 gs, 41 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, Carling Cup, FA Cup. Up next: Stoke in Premier League on Wednesday
6. Borussia Dortmund
beat St Pauli 2-0 in Bundesliga on Saturday; drew 1-1 with Kaiserslautern in Bundesliga on Feb. 12. Overall, 21-7-4, 67 gs, 20 ga. Up next: At Bayern Munich in Bundesliga on Saturday
7. Bayern Munich
beat Mainz 3-1 in the Bundesliga on Saturday; beat Hoffenheim 4-0 in Bundesliga on Feb. 12. Overall, 22-6-6, 83 gs, 37 ga. Titles won: German Supercup. Still competing: Champions League, DFB Pokal. Up next: At Inter Milan in Champions League on Wednesday
8. AC Milan
beat Chievo Verona 2-1 in Serie A on Sunday; lost to Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 in Champions League on Tuesday; beat Parma 4-0 in Serie A on Feb. 12 Overall, 21-9-6, 58 gs, 29 ga. Still competing: Champions League, Coppa Italia. Up next: Napoli in Serie A on Monday
9. Inter Milan
beat Cagliari 1-0 in Serie A on Saturday; beat Fiorentina 2-1 in Serie A on Wednesday; lost 1-0 to Juventus in Serie A on Feb. 12. Overall, 22-7-8, 68 gs, 44 ga. Titles won: Supercopa Italia, Club World Cup. Still competing in: Champions League, Coppa Italia. Up next: Bayern Munich in Champions League on Wednesday
10. Shaktar Donetsk
beat AS Roma 3-2 in Champions League on Wednesday. Overall, 23-0-2, 55 gs, 13 ga. Titles won: Ukrainian Super Cup. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: March 3 vs Sevastopol in Ukrainian Premier League
11. Manchester City beat Notts County 5-0 (6-1 aggregate) in FA Cup on Sunday; drew 0-0 with Aris Salonika in Europa League on Tuesday; lost to Manchester United 2-1 in Premiership on Feb. 12. Overall, 19-12-8, 67 gs, 37 ga. Still competing in: Europa League, FA Cup. Up next: Aris Salonika in Europa League on Thursday
12. Napoli beat Catania 1-0 in Serie A on Sunday; drew 0-0 with Villareal in Europa League on Thursday; beat AS Roma 2-0 in Serie A on Feb. 12. Overall, 20-10-6, 51 gs, 29 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: At Villareal in Europa League on Thursday
13. Bayer Leverkusen
beat Stuttgart 4-2 in Bundesliga on Sunday; beat FC Metalist 4-0 in Europa League on Thursday; beat Frankfurt 3-0 in Bundesliga on Feb. 12. Overall, 20-10-4, 78 gs, 37 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: FC Metalist in Europa League on Thursday
14. Valencia
drew 0-0 with Sporting Gijon in La Liga on Sunday; drew 1-1 with Schalke 04 in Champions League on Tuesday; beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 in La Liga on Feb. 12. Overall, 19-10-6, 63 gs, 35 ga. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: At Athletic Bilba in La Liga on Sunday
15. Villareal
drew 1-1 with Malaga in La Liga on Sunday; drew 0-0 with Napoli in Europa League on Thursday; lost 1-0 to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga on Feb. 13. Overall,  22-8-9, 67 gs, 39 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: Napoli in Europa League Thursday
16. Marseille
beat St. Etienne 2-1 in Ligue 1 on Saturday; beat Sochaux 2-1 in Ligue 1 on Feb. 12. Overall, 17-9-6, 48 gs, 23 ga. Titles won: Trophee du Champions. Still competing: Coupe de France, Champions League, Coupe de Ligue. Up next: Manchester United in the Champions League on Wednesday
17. Chelsea
lost to Everton 1-1 (4-3 penalties) in FA Cup; drew 0-0 with Fulham in Premier League on Feb. 14. Overall, 20-8-10, 74 gs, 35 ga. Still competing in: Champions League. Up next: At Copenhagen in Champions League on Tuesday
18. FC Copenhagen didn’t play. Overall, 19-5-3, 57 gs, 25 ga. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: Tuesday vs Chelsea in Champions League
19. Glasgow Celtic beat Glasgow Rangers 3-0 in Scottish Premier League on Sunday; beat Dundee United 3-1 in Scottish Premier League on Feb. 13. Overall, 26-5-4, 80 gs, 28 ga. Still competing: League Cup, Scottish Cup. Up next: At Motherwell in Scottish Premier League on Sunday
20. CSKA Moscow
beat PAOK Salonika in Europa League on Thursday. Overall, 18-6-1, 55 gs, 13 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: PAOK Salonika in Europa League on Thursday
21. Benfica beat Sporting Lisbon 2-0 in Portuguese Liga on Monday; beat Stuttgart 2-1 in Europa League on Thursday; beat Guimaraes 3-0 in Portuguese Liga on Feb. 13. Overall, 24-0-8, 67 gs, 30 ga. Still competing: Europa League, Taca de Portugal. Up next: At Stuttgart in Europa League on Thursday
22. Brisbane Roar
beat Central Coast Mariners 2-0 in A-League playoffs on Saturday; beat Gold Coast United 4-0 in A-League on Feb. 12. Overall, 17-11-1, 54 gs, 25 ga. Titles won: Australian A-League regular season. Up next: At Central Coast Mariners in A-League playoffs on Saturday
23. Zenit St. Petersburg lost to Young Boys 2-1 in the Europa League on Thursday. Overall, 16-5-4, 57 gs, 25 ga. Titles won: Russian League. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: Young Boys on Thursday in Europa League
24. Lille lost 1-0 to Montpelier in Ligue 1; drew 2-2 with PSV Eindhoven in Europa League on Thursday; beat Toulouse 2-0 in Ligue 1 on Feb. 13. Overall, 18-14-6, 64 gs, 35 ga. Still competing: Coupe de France, Europa League. Up next: At PSV Eindhoven in Europa League on Thursday
25. Udinese
drew 0-0 with Brescia in Serie A on Sunday; beat Cesena 3-0 in Serie A on Feb. 13. Overall, 14-6-8, 50 gs, 33 ga. Up next: At Palermo in Serie A on Sunday

Dropped out: Estudiantes La Plata (Argentina)

On the fringes: Olympique Lyonnaise (France), Liverpool (England), Trabzonspor (Turkey), Tottenham Hotspur (England), FC Twente (Holland), Pumas (Mexico), Flamengo (Brazil), Olympiakos (Greece), Rennes (France), Juventus (Italy)

Champions League First Knockout Round Preview: Feb. 21

by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

All games 11:45 a.m. Pacific

Tuesday

FC Copenhagen v Chelsea. Now pretty much any evaluation of this match would probably lead you to believe Chelsea will romp to an easy win. Though Copenhagen are undefeated in the Danish Superligaen (16 wins, three draws), they haven’t played a competitive match since Dec. 7 due to Denmark’s extremely long winter break. They finished second in their Champions League group behind Barcelona, managing a respectable 1-1 draw at home against the (mostly) Spaniards, but besides that, their most impressive win was probably a 2-0 win at Panathinaikos, who aren’t particularly great anyway. Their best player is probably Dame Ndoye (pictures), who has 13 goals in the league this year. As for Chelsea, the Blues have had a terrible season. After opening the season with a loss to Manchester United in the Community Shield, they then only lost once in 15 matches in all competitions, and were first in the Premiership with 26 points after 10 matches (8 wins, one draw, one loss). Then they traveled to Liverpool, lost 2-0, and since then have won 7 of their last 20 matches, including their 1-1 penalty kick defeat to Everton over the weekend. Since new signing Fernando Torres joined the team, they have scored one goal in three matches, failing to win all three.
Prediction: Copenhagen 2-1. It wouldn’t shock me if Chelsea won 4-0 either, but the way they’re playing, I can’t really predict a win for them in any match unless they’re playing at home against a really bad team. The away goal should be enough for them to win the round at home, though.

Lyon v Real Madrid. Last year Lyon knocked out Madrid thanks to a stunning strike from Jean Makoun, who now plays for Aston Villa. This year, it’s a different Madrid team, and they haven’t had much trouble playing anyone they face who isn’t Barcelona. Lyon are a decent side, but shouldn’t provide much competition. In another subplot for anyone who still insists on watching this, Karim Benzema will probably start for Real Madrid, and he used to play for Lyon. Yawn.
Prediction: Real Madrid wins 2-1 on two Cristiano “I can’t find my hair pins” Ronaldo (pictured) penalties

Wednesday

Inter Milan v Bayern Munich. This is another rematch of two teams that played last year – in this case, in the final. Inter have been fairly disappointing this year, though they’ve still won two titles (Italian Supercup, Club World Cup). Their form in the Serie A hasn’t been great, though, and they’ve only been marginally better in Champions League, though good enough to edge past the likes of Twente Enschede and Werder Bremen to move to the knockout round. They have a pretty dangerous strike force, with the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito (though he’s having a bad season and might be injured), Goran Pandev and new signing Gianpaolo Pazzini. As for Bayern, they’ve been left in the dust by Dortmund in the German league, but have generally played pretty well besides. As often noted in my weekend roundups, the team’s main threat comes from wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery (pictured – handsome, ain’t he?), though Mario Gomez is having a great season at forward, and Thomas Muller ain’t too bad either. This is one of the best matchups of this round, though most casual soccer fans will probably gravitate toward the Man United match, even though that won’t probably won’t be a good one.
Prediction: Inter just steals it thanks to it being in Milan. 2-1

Marseille v Manchester United. Though there is always the potential for an upset, this is a matchup I just can’t get excited about. Marseille aren’t a bad team, but they aren’t even the best team in the French league this year, and the French league isn’t great. If they played in England, they would probably be a mid-table side. With that in mind, it’s hard to see them getting much out of a matchup with United, who have only lost twice this season in all competitions. Standout players on Marseille are Lucho Gonzalez and Mathieu Valbuena in midfield and probably Andre-Pierre Gignac and Loic Remy at forward. They did manage to beat Chelsea in the Champions League, but everyone’s doing that these days. As for United, Wayne Rooney is their most famous player, but he’s having a terrible year, though he still might get the start ahead of Dimitar Berbatov, who has scored 20 goals in all competitions this season to Rooney’s six. Look to Nani (above) or Ryan Giggs to provide the inspiration in this match. Or better yet, watch Inter v Bayern, since it’ll be a much better game.
Prediction: Manchester United wins 1-0

Champions League Roundup: Day 2

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Arsenal 2, Barcelona 1. Most of the coverage of this match has talked about it being a shock result. I don’t really think so. I mean, Arsenal are a good team, and they were playing at home. They should win. They should win even if they lose the tie overall. After a strong 10 minutes or so from Arsenal, Barcelona dominated the first half, taking the lead through David Villa. Lionel Messi also nearly scored, shooting wide after being released on goal, and Messi had another goal ruled out for being offsides. There was a point in the first half where it looked like Barcelona might settle the tie in the first half, but Arsenal held, and eventually came back to win late, thanks to Robin Van Persie (who otherwise had a fairly poor game) and substitute Andre Arshavin. Overall, it’s a good result. Though Barcelona got an away goal, the im
In the return leg: Milan has to do something different. Though they’ll likely have Andrea Pirlo in midfield for the second match, the three-man midfield with three attackers who don’t track back and absolutely no width will probably end in a similar result to this game. The only saving grace for them is the generally porous backline, but if they don’t revert to a five-man midfield or a 4-4-2 with two wingers playing, I just can’t see them manufacturing enough goals to overturn the deficit. For Spurs, they have the luxury of sitting back in the second match and counter-attacking, something that Milan’s aging legs struggle against anyway. They will also probably have Gareth Bale back for the second match, and unlike Steven Pienaar, who has the tendency to drift inside, Bale generally keeps the ball on the left wing, which will make the Spurs counterattacking all the more dangerous.
 

Valencia 1, Schalke 04 1. I didn’t watch this game, but an early Valencia goal was balanced out by, predictably, a strike from Raul, who I think might be the all-time Champions League leading scorer, though don’t quote me on that. Valencia dominated possession, but Schalke had a chance to win it when Chinese international Hao Junmin was released on goal late in the match only to have his shot blocked by Vicente Guaita. Regardless, it’s a good result for Schalke.
In the return leg: Obviously, Valencia has to attack, which is good for them, since they have a wealth of options. I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see another 1-1 match with the tie decided on penalty kicks, mostly just because Schalke has shown a propensity for not always winning the games it should. Anyway, it should be fun to watch.

Champions League Roundup: Day 1

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

AC Milan 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1. In the group stage of the Champions League, Spurs progressed despite playing a wide-open style of football that translated into a lot of goals for them — and the opposition. In the runup to their match with AC Milan, manager Harry Redknapp said they would continue to play attacking football, but he appeared to pull the wool over the eyes of the press and Milan manager Massimo Allegri. Spurs played a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Sandro and Wilson Palacios playing as defensive midfielders, Peter Crouch the loan forward, and Rafael Van Der Vaart playing behind him in the hole. The result was, against a Milan team without Antonio Cassano, who was cup tied, Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, no spring chicken, didn’t have any space against the two defensive midfielders to create much of anything. That left Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic isolated up front, and neither Mathieu Flamini or Gennaro Gattuso offer anything in attack, so Milan rarely had the ball in the first half and didn’t do much with it when they did. In the second half, Alexander Pato replaced Seedorf, but Milan retained the same shape, and Spurs grabbed the win thanks to a Peter Crouch tap-in off a nice break from Aaron Lennon.
In the return leg: Milan has to do something different. Though they’ll likely have Andrea Pirlo in midfield for the second match, the three-man midfield with three attackers who don’t track back and absolutely no width will probably end in a similar result to this game. The only saving grace for them is the generally porous backline, but if they don’t revert to a five-man midfield or a 4-4-2 with two wingers playing, I just can’t see them manufacturing enough goals to overturn the deficit. For Spurs, they have the luxury of sitting back in the second match and counter-attacking, something that Milan’s aging legs struggle against anyway. They will also probably have Gareth Bale back for the second match, and unlike Steven Pienaar, who has the tendency to drift inside, Bale generally keeps the ball on the left wing, which will make the Spurs counterattacking all the more dangerous.

Valencia 1, Schalke 04 1. I didn’t watch this game, but an early Valencia goal was balanced out by, predictably, a strike from Raul, who I think might be the all-time Champions League leading scorer, though don’t quote me on that. Valencia dominated possession, but Schalke had a chance to win it when Chinese international Hao Junmin was released on goal late in the match only to have his shot blocked by Vicente Guaita. Regardless, it’s a good result for Schalke.
In the return leg: Obviously, Valencia has to attack, which is good for them, since they have a wealth of options. I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see another 1-1 match with the tie decided on penalty kicks.

Champions League first knockout round preview: Feb. 15

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

All matches at 11:45 a.m., Pacific time

That’s right, we’re finally to a stage of the Champions League where it matters if teams win or lose. They are doing the competition this year in a weird staggered format as opposed to the all the matches over the course of two days, then again two weeks later way that I remember them doing it. Anyway, lots of good matches to watch. Here are the ones coming this week:

Tuesday

AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur. AC Milan have struggled a bit since winning the Champions League for the seventh time in 2007. They are pretty loaded in attack, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a loathsome character, but fantastic striker; Robinho, a spoiled, unreliable person, but great winger; and Antonio Cassano, who would rob his grandma for $20, but is a fine footballer. Not to mention Alexander Pato, who would be a star for most teams, but doesn’t get mentioned much on Milan, since he apparently shows up at work, does his job and leaves. Besides those players, the rest of the team is fairly old but have been around the block a bit, which is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. Brazilian defender Thiago Silva is a good solid defender. Tottenham are the new boys on the Champions League block, benefitting from Liverpool’s struggles last year to finish in the Top 4, then advancing out of the group stage with some impressive offensive performances helping obscure their terrible defense. Gareth Bale tore Inter Milan apart in the group stages, which apparently made him the best player in the world all of a sudden. Not quite, but he is a good player. Unfortunately, it looks likely he’ll miss the first match, at least. Rafael Van Der Vaart has been quite impressive in midfield for Tottenham. Aside from those two, it is a squad composed of decent, if not overly impressive players. The team’s struggles with injury could spell doom against a team like Milan, particularly with players like Ibrahimovic and Cassano to prey on them.
Prediction: I have trouble picking Milan out and out to win this tie, but they really, really should. Spurs have struggled lately, and Milan are a much more solid defensive unit than Inter Milan was in the group stages. It will be interesting to see if Milan fly out of the gates against Spurs, something several teams have done this year. AC Milan 3, Tottenham Hotspur 1

Valencia v Schalke 04. I’m actually semi-excited about this tie, though probably not enough to watch it over Milan-Spurs. It features two fairly decent teams with good attacking players that absolutely no one fancies to actually win the tournament. In Valencia’s case, they’ve overcome the loss of David Villa (To Barcelona) and David Silva (To Manchester City) last year thanks in a large part to an endlessly productive youth system and clever transfer moves. They don’t have any huge stars, but have a number of good young Spanish players who can hurt you in different ways. We’ll say you should watch Juan Mata, almost certain to be gobbled up by Madrid or Barcelona in the next couple years. Ugh. As for Schalke, they feature a fairly star-studded attack, with aging Spanish star Raul and Dutch forward Klaas Jan-Huntelaar both having chipped in double figures in goals this season. Schalke have had a relatively miserable Bundesliga campaign, though they are noticeably better in the Champions League.
Prediction: Hard to pick these two teams apart, so I’ll go with 1-1 and see what happens in the second leg.

Wednesday

Arsenal v Barcelona. Last year, Barcelona outclassed Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League, but only managed a draw, then Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, scored four goals at the Nou Camp, and Barcelona moved on. Will it happen this year? Well, I don’t know. It could. I don’t think these matches are ever as easy as that. Barcelona have won often, and easily this season, though they are capable of the occasional slip-up (as evidenced by their 1-1 draw to Sporting Gijon over the weekend). Arsenal is the team often most-compared to Barcelona in England, though they don’t have the talent across the starting 11 Barcelona does. I think this tie will come down to whether Arsenal try to beat Barcelona at their own game – something pretty much every team has tried and failed at in recent years, and something Arsenal attempted with catastrophic results last time around – or whether they just try to kick and punch and frustrate Barcelona, then get the odd goal and move on. Arsenal will look to Cesc Fabregas for inspiration, and Robin Van Persie has been very good recently after returning to full fitness. Their defense is suspect, though, and goaltending has always been a concern. Barcelona has Messi, who has 40 goals in 33 matches this season. He is partnered with David Villa, who only has, what, 15 goals this year? And Pedro, who has added another 12 or so. Not a bad forward line, eh? And of course in midfield, their play is dictated by Xavi and Iniesta, generally considered the two best midfielders in the world. So really, I don’t even need to talk about their defense, which is probably their weak point, though it doesn’t matter, because they score four goals in every match.
Prediction: Arsenal weathers the storm, but will it be enough for the return leg in the Nou Camp? Arsenal 2, Barcelona 2

AS Roma v Shaktar Donetsk. This is another tie like Valencia/Schalke that people point to as two weak teams that will get crushed by whoever they play next. Well, that might be true, but these often make for good, high-scoring matches. In this case, Roma are struggling recently, having suffered three straight defeats in Serie A. They take on Shaktar, who have been fairly dominant all season long, except for a heavy defeat in the group stage at Arsenal, but had a super-long layoff for the winter. Roma are led by Mirko Vucinic and Marco Boriello, who have combined for 17 goals in Serie A this year. Boriello also has four goals in the Champions League. Roma limped through the group stages, only advancing with a win in the final match. As for Shaktar, former Arsenal striker Eduardo – he of the horrifying leg break a couple years ago against Birmingham City – is probably their most well-known player outside of the Ukraine. They do have some other handy players, like Luiz Adriano and Jadson. You have to worry about their match sharpness, though.
Prediction: This is another one that I have trouble predicting. Since Roma is at home, I’ll say 2-1, Roma.

Jeremiah’s Weekend Round-up: Feb. 15

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Friday

Estudiantes La Plata 2 Newell’s Old Boys 1. (Argentinian Primera; Jeremiah’s prediction: Estudiantes wins 2-0) The defending champs opened the new season with a win, with Gaston Fernandez and Gabriel Mercado scoring in the first 23 minutes. Newell’s replied through Juan Cobelli in the 89th minute. Not sure what else to add about this, really. I need to watch more Argentinian football.
Also in the Argentinian Primera: Boca Juniors were hammered 4-1 at home by Godoy Cruz of all teams. Wow, what a way to start out. River Plate drew 0-0 at Tigre, which all things considered with the way they’ve played the last few years, can’t really be called a bad result.

Saturday

Manchester United 2 Manchester City 1. (Premier League; Jeremiah’s prediction: United wins 3-1) The big talking point of this game was the bicycle kick goal for the win by Wayne Rooney, but he’s still having a terrible season. It was a nice goal, though. It has to be a disappointing result for City, who were hoping to jump back into the title race with the win, but were disappointing throughout.
Also in the Premier League: Arsenal kept pace with United thanks to two goals from Robin Van Persie in a 2-0 win over Wolves. Wigan rallied through a Steven Gohouri goal to draw at Liverpool. West Brom were impressive in jumping out to a 3-0 lead over West Ham in front of new manager Roy Hodgson, then wilted in giving up three second half goals for a 3-3 draw. Niko Kranjcar scored a nice volley to give Tottenham Hotspur a 2-1 win over Sunderland. Chelsea could only draw at Fulham, and have Peter Cech to thank for saving Clint Dempsey’s late penalty.

Bayern Munich 4 TSG Hoffenheim 0. (Bundesliga; Jeremiah’s prediction: Bayern 4, Hoffenheim 3) This match was disappointed, though Bayern’s two danger men as I pointed out – Ribery and Robben, were the difference, with Robben scoring twice and Ribery dictating play. Mario Gomez continued his excellent season for Bayern, scoring the opener. With the win, Bayern pulls within 13 points of Dortmund, who I’ll tell you about in a bit.
Also in the Bundesliga: Dortmund drew 1-1 at Kaiserslautern. Germany midfielder Sven Bender scored late to give Dortmund a 1-0 lead, then Jan Moravek scored in injury time to give Kaiserslautern the draw. Disappointing for Dortmund, but they’re still 10 points ahead of Leverkusen, and could potentially draw their final 12 matches and still win the title. As for Leverkusen, they continued to play well, beating Frankfurt 3-0 in Frankfurt. No one else is in the title race in Germany.

AS Roma 0 Napoli 2. (Serie A, Jeremiah’s prediction: Roma 2, Napoli 2) Yep, my first incorrect prediction, at least resultwise. A watershed moment for Napoli, who have struggled against the big boys this year, but are only three points behind AC Milan in first, with a home match against struggling Catania sandwiched between their Europa Cup matches against Villareal. AC Milan, meanwhile, travels to Chievo, which could be a bit of a banana skin. Edinson Cavani scored twice for Napoli, giving him 20 goals on the season. He good, girl.
Also in the Serie A, Saturday: Milan hammered Parma 4-0 to stay ahead of Napoli, Antonio Cassano scoring his 100th Serie A goal. Most of the action in Italy was on Sunday.

Sunday

Espanyol 0 Real Madrid 1. (La Liga; Jeremiah’s prediction: Madrid wins 4-1) It’s possible you might see a marked decrease in coverage of La Liga on my end. Not because there aren’t great players in the league – clearly they are. But this match sums up why La Liga is boring. Real Madrid had Iker Casillas, generally acknowledged as one of the Top 3 goalkeepers in the world and the starter for World Champion Spain, sent off in the opening three minutes of the match. Yet they probably should have won by more than one goal. Bo-ring. Until the Spanish football federation finds a way to force Barcelona and Real Madrid into some sort of profit-sharing with the other Spanish teams, interest in the league is going to continue to dwindle.
Also in La Liga: In a shock, Barcelona drew 1-1 at Sporting Gijon, which means Real Madrid are only five points behind and get to play another match against Barcelona. None of the other matches matter in Spain, so I’m not wasting the time talking about them.

Juventus 1 Internazionale 0. (Serie A, Jeremiah’s prediction: Inter wins 2-1) Juve have been pretty terrible this season, but they moved back into the Top 6 with a win over Inter, who have lost two out of the last four matches in the Serie A. Alessandro Matri scored his third in three matches for Juve. The draw doesn’t totally eliminate Inter from the title race, but eight points back with 13 to play is a pretty tough lead to make up.
Also in the Serie A, Sunday: Lazio stayed in the Champions League spots with a 2-0 win at Brescia. Palermo threw away a 2-1 lead to lose at home to Fiorentina. Udinese continued their recent surge with a 3-0 win at Cesena. They’ve now won six and drawn two in their last eight matches.

Lille 2 Toulouse 0. (Ligue 1, noon) Big win for Lille, who dominated Toulouse to a much greater extent than the scoreline indicates. Gervinho and Tulio De Melo scored, and Lille outshot Toulouse 14-3 in the match. The win puts Lilled five points ahead of Rennes and six ahead of defending champ Marseille with 15 to play.
Also in Ligue 1: Rennes stayed abreast of Lille with a 2-0 win over Nice. Marseille scored twice late through Andre-Pierre Gignac to beat Sochaux, and Lyon crushed St. Etienne 4-1 on the road, though they’re still seven points back.

Other matches of note: In Mexico, Toluca and Pumas stayed undefeated, Toluca particularly impressing with a 5-0 win at Queretaro. Monterrey showed a little bit of last fall’s title winning spirit with a 4-1 win at Jaguares. In Brazil, Flamengo stayed undefeated with a 1-0 win over Resende, even though Ronaldinho didn’t score. Umm…what else? Trabzonspor is pulling away in Turkey, and PSV Eindhoven and Twente Einschede both extended their lead in Holland, with both Ajax and FC Groningen only managing draws in their matches.

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