Blog Archives

Three Things I Want For My Birthday

Great player, but man is his team dull

Great player, but man is his team dull

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

It’s Thursday, by the way. Send gifts.

1. Aston Villa beats Queens Park Rangers this weekend. I’ve sworn off watching Aston Villa matches for the rest of the season, but I can still cheer for them. A win in this match could potentially put Villa 6 points clear of the relegation zone with 8 matches to play. It would also be doubly successful in that QPR would be 7 points behind Villa and would need to win roughly half of their matches even to have a chance. They wouldn’t be safe from relegation, but it would require the bottom clubs to improve significantly the last couple months.

2. MLS teams to beat Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League this week. Unlike many American fans, I have no ill will toward Liga Mex fans – I remember cheering for Pachuca in the SuperLiga a few years back. But with that said, MLS teams winning in the Champions League – and as I type this, Seattle looks on the verge of knocking Tigres out, will not only improve MLS’s standing on the continent, but the world stage as well. Which means better players will come in. And Mexican teams will quit so obviously playing B teams when they play MLS sides in these types of matches. Win-win. And Pachuca isn’t competing, so no harm done.

3. A Champions League final that isn’t Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. There are plenty of fun, quality teams left in the Champions League – Bayern, Dortmund, PSG, Malaga (if they beat Porto, or Porto if they win), Galatasaray. Clearly Barcelona and Real Madrid are probably favorites for this along with, I don’t know, Bayern and PSG, but I’m bored to death by El Clasico. And Barca in general. Sure, great players, mostly great team, but other teams have long ago figured out how to play them – sure, it might not work most of the time, but their matches are guaranteed to have one team passing the ball endlessly through the midfield and along the backline. Probing, then passing back. It’s dull. Without a serviceable, direct attacking forward, Barca are horribly predictable, whether or not they have three of the best players of the world. And it does not make for good watching. I’d much rather take, say, Bayern-Dortmund or Gala-Bayern. Yes, please.

Champions League draw announced, and … and …

UEFA announced the Champions League draw today amid much fanfare and dancing champanzees, bearded women and such. Some of the matchups are interesting. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Group A
Bayern Munich
Villarreal
Manchester City
Napoli
OLS says: This will probably be referred to as the “Group of Death.” In theory, any of the four teams could advance. Despite the quality of the sides, you have to think that Manchester City and Napoli have to be happy to avoid teams like AC Milan, Real Madrid or Barcelona. Likely qualifiers: Manchester City, Bayern

Group B
Internazionale
CSKA Moscow
Lille
Trabzonspor
OLS says: Just as the last one is the Group of Death, this might be the easiest group. Or one of, anyway. Inter should stroll through, though they always seem to struggle in this phase. Likely qualifiers: Internazionale, CSKA

Group C
Manchester United
Benfica
Basel
Otelul
OLS says: United avoids some potential bogey teams (Milan, Shaktar, Dortmund, Villareal), but they were never going to not qualify, no matter who they face in this round. Don’t be surprised if Otelul loses all six games. Likely qualifiers: Manchester United, Benfica

Group D
Real Madrid
Lyon
Ajax
Dinamo Zagreb
OLS says: I bet Ajax and Lyon are mad at having to face Real Madrid seemingly every year in this competition. Could Dinamo Zagreb be a bit of a dark horse? Likely qualifiers: Real Madrid, Ajax

Group E
Chelsea
Valencia
Bayer Leverkusen
Genk
OLS says: Chelsea and Valencia seem to play in this competition every year too. This should actually be a competitive group, as Genk is decent and Leverkusen is arguably as good or better than Valencia. Likely qualifiers: Chelsea, Leverkusen

Group F
Arsenal
Marseilles
Olympiakos
Dortmund
OLS says: A fairly straightforward group, where, even with some of their personnel losses, you don’t expect Arsenal to have too much trouble with Marseille or Olympiakos. Dortmund could surprise. Likely qualifiers: Arsenal, Dortmund

Group G
Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk
Zenit St. Petersburg
APOEL
OLS says: OK, this is the easiest group. Porto and Shaktar are both good, but none of the teams would be considered the quality of the Barcelonas/Man Uniteds/Bayerns/Milans of the world. Likely qualifiers: Porto, Shaktar

Group H
Barcelona
Milan
BATE
Plzen
OLS says: This will be a fun group, and we’ll get to see how Milan come to terms with Barcelona’s attack. The other two teams aren’t very good, though BATE could surprise. More likely is that both Barca and Milan cruise through their other matches then draw in Milan and have Barca roll at home in the rematch. Likely qualifiers: Barca, Milan

Champions League recap: Day 7

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Bayern Munich 2, Inter Milan 3 (Inter win 3-3 on away goals): An amazing result for Inter, who become only the second team (after Ajax in, oh, ’96 or so) to win a

The mountain lion is like "Get me the hell out of here!"

Champions League knockout tie after losing at home in the first leg. Samuel Eto’o opened with a goal for Inter to make it 1-1 overall, then Bayern seemed to take control with goals from Mario Gomez (who is having a great season, despite Bayern’s overall suckiness) and Thomas Muller. Inter rallied, though, Wesley Sneijder pulling them within a goal in the 63rd minute before Goran Pandev won the tie with a late goal. The match also featured an amazing goal line clearance from Andrea Ranocchia. You can see it here. Bayern dominated big chunks of the game, and have to feel sorely disappointed in being dropped out, particularly at home. It’s the final nail in the coffin of what has been a disastrous season (by their standards). Inter are happy to move on, and they will be a tough match for whoever they get next.

Manchester United 2, Marseille 1 (Manchester United win 2-1 overall). Not an amazing performance from United, who continue to struggle with Chris Smalling and Wes Brown as their defensive partnership. You don’t generally expect to see United on the back foot in a home match against a team like Marseille, but the Frogs dominated big chunks of this match without scoring. United’s two goals came from Javier Hernandez, who has been starting ahead of Dimitar Berbatov and doing well lately. As in the Premier League, United haven’t looked their best in the Champions League this season, but until someone actually knocks them off, they’re in contention to win three titles this year.

Champions League roundup: Days 5, 6

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Barcelona 3, Arsenal 1. (Barcelona wins 4-3 aggregate) In the English press, much has been made of Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie being sent off, and it was a harsh call, in fairness, but it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that Arsenal would’ve gone through if it hadn’t happened. Let’s just think about it for a minute: They didn’t have any shots. Not one. Not one off target, not one on target. When’s the last time you saw that in a match? There was always a sense that Barcelona would get another goal – or more – and they probably would be disappointed they only scored three. For Arsenal, I think this has to be a bigger blow than the loss to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final. Arsenal impressed in the first leg, and had to be feeling somewhat confidentish going into this, but they were outclassed. It was like watching them play Leyton Orient, or a team of that quality. And considering Arsenal’s status among the big boys, that’s unforgivable.

Shaktar Donetsk 3, AS Roma 0. (Shaktar wins 6-2 aggregate) Shaktar are my dark horse for this year’s Champions League. I don’t think they’ll really win it, but if they avoid Barcelona in the next round, they have one important statistic in their favor that will always have them in a tie: They haven’t lost at home in the last 63 matches. 63 matches. Not making it up. Someone else could be making it up, but I’m not. They won the group with Arsenal, and they thoroughly controlled this tie against Roma, who were the favorites coming in, but surrendered meekly.

Schalke 3, Valencia 1. (Schalke wins 4-2 aggregate) You could certainly argue that Valencia was the better team in this match, but their finishing was terrible, and Schalke’s was not. Over the two legs Valencia was probably even the better team, but if you’re not clinical at this level in the Champions League, you’ll lose no matter who you play. Umm…Jefferson Farfan scored twice for Schalke. It’ll be interesting to see how they do in the next round. They’ve been terrible in the league this year, but have hardly broken a sweat in Champions League so far. For Valencia, as long as they qualify for the Champions League next year, they’ll be OK – they have a lot of good young players.

Tottenham Hotspur 0, AC Milan 0. (Spurs win 1-0 on aggregate) Boring, boring two-leg match between one team that is generally fun and attacking (Spurs) and one team that has lots of great forwards, even if they play at a snail’s pace (other team). I only watched the first leg, which was dull, and this one sounded equally dull. AC Milan controlled possession pretty much the whole match, but could never break down Spurs, and when’s the last time you heard someone say that?  I would say this offers Milan a chance to rebuild and add some youth and speed, but you know with Silvio Berlusconi in charge, they’ll just sign another big name attacking player, while leaving senior citizens like Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini in midfield. Maybe I should start a new blog series titled “What unsettled malcontent will Milan sign next to not score in the Champions League?” Ronaldinho? Oh, he already left. Ronaldo? Retired. Adriano? Is he even alive still? I’m going to guess that they’ll sign … Luis Fabiano. You heard it here first!

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.

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.

Analyzing the Champions League draw

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

The Champions League and Europa League draws took place on Dec. 17. Who is playing, and how will they fare in February? Let’s have a look:

AC Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur. (Feb. 15, March 9) Milan look a better side than they did in last year’s competition,  where they were hammered by Manchester United in the round of 16. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in fine form, and the addition of Antonio Cassano might harm the team’s chemistry, but will certainly not hurt their attacking strength. Plus, how worried about chemistry can you be when Ibrahimovich, Ronaldinho and Robinho are already on your team? They occasionally look imbalanced, and it will be up to manager Massimiliano Allegri to make all the parts work on the field, but he has done a good job of that so far. As for Spurs, they will go with their usual plan, throwing Gareth Bale, Luca Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart at Milan and see what happens.
Prediction: AC Milan. Spurs could threaten, particularly if they keep the away tie close, but their porous defense will have trouble with all Milan’s attackers.

Valencia vs. Schalke 04. (Feb. 15, March 9) Some have labeled this the boringest tie of the round, but I find it hard to believe that this is a duller matchup than Chelsea-Copenhagen, but whatever, we’ll talk about that one in a minute. Schalke are starting to play a little better in the Bundesliga, and have been good in Champions League so far. The team is experienced, and Raul and Klaas Jan Huntelaar are as good an attacking combo as any in the Champions League. Valencia are young, but have some outstanding attacking players as well. Not the flashiest of the ties, but certainly one of the less-lopsided ones, which is saying something.
Prediction: Schalke. They might get relegated this year, few excel in the Champions League like Raul.

Arsenal v Barcelona. (Feb. 16, March 8 ) Oh Arsenal, will you ever catch a break. I enjoy watching the Gunners play, but just when you think they’re finally going to push on to the next level, they lay an egg against Manchester United and then draw the current best team in the world in the Champions League. The team with the best player in the world, who scored four goals against them last time they played. Yeah, that team. All they can really hope for is that Barcelona – who have scored 41 goals in their last 10 La Liga matches – either have an injury crisis or return to Earth before March.
Prediction: Barcelona. It’s true that they aren’t invincible, but the fact of the matter is, they do what Arsenal does, but better.

AS Roma vs. Shaktar Donetsk. (Feb. 16, March 8 ) Roma are a Champions League regular, but their form has been unconvincing so far this season under Claudio Rainieri. In Shaktar, they play a team full of Brazilians that topped a group with Arsenal in it during the last stage. The one thing that will be on the side of the Romans is the fact that Shaktar will be in the midst of a long winter break when the two teams clash, so they might be a bit rusty.
Prediction: AS Roma. I was all set on picking Shaktar, but I think they are going to struggle after nearly four months off from regular competitive play.

FC Copenhagen vs. Chelsea. (Feb. 22, March 16) This tie bores me for the simple reason that, unless Chelsea is STILL slumping by the time this match rolls around, I just don’t see any reason they don’t crush Copenhagen at home, in which case it won’t matter whether Copenhagen is able to pull out a win in the cold at home. In theory, by this point, Frank Lampard will be back on the field too for Chelsea after a first four months of “Oh he’s ready, no he’s not” from the Pensioners. (Yeah, that’s what they call them in England, apparently).
Prediction: Chelsea. I’d love to see Copenhagen hold them off at Stamford Bridge and get the win, but it’s just not likely to happen.

Lyon vs. Real Madrid. (Feb. 22, March 16) It’s true that Lyon knocked out Real Madrid last year in the Champions League, but this Real Madrid team looks significantly more difficult to beat this year, no matter what Barcelona did to them. Lyon has also been struggling in Ligue 1 – and to a lesser extent, Champions League – play. It also helps that Real Madrid is coached now by Jose Mourinho, who is one of the more astute managers in this situation, as he’s so fond of reminding everyone.
Prediction: Real Madrid. Sorry Lyon, you’ll make it to the next round some day. Maybe.

Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich. (Feb. 23, March 17) This is a rematch of the two competitors in last year’s final, and it should be one of the better ones of the round. Inter have been struggling, and it’s debatable whether Rafa Benitez will still be in charge come February, but if he is, his teams generally tend to do well in knockout competitions. As for Bayern, they are showing signs of life after a rough start, whether they’re 17 points behind in the Bundesliga or not. It helps that they will likely have Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben playing by this point.
Prediction: Bayern. Now it’s their turn. To at least beat Inter Milan, anyway.

Marseille vs. Manchester United. (Feb. 23, March 17) Am I the only person who is bored by the English teams in the Champions League? It’s great that all four teams advanced, but it happens most years, and Spurs were the only English team that actually played exciting football in the Champions League so far. Manchester United play a tie that they should win fairly easily. Marseille are decent, but it would take a relatively poor performance from United for them to have hope of advancing.
Prediction: Manchester United. Yawn.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers

%d bloggers like this: