None of today’s matches are necessarily must-see; but if you must watch some football, here’s what we recommend:
Saturday, Jan 21
England, Norwich-Chelsea (7:30amET ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com): Norwich (and Swansea) have attracted attention as newly-promoted sides that have fought their way into the top half the table. So this could be a tricky fixture for Chelsea–especially as Drogba has left for the African Cup of Nations. On the other hand, maybe this will finally be the match that Fernando Torres scores for the Blues? More successful Spaniards in the side have been the young Juan Mata (from Valencia) and the even younger Oriol Romeu (from Barcelona). The Guardian’s Dominic Fifield has an interview with Romeu in today’s paper: “Oriol Romeu likes ‘hard football’ and feels at home at Chelsea: The new boy at Stamford Bridge believes he is more of an English player than a typical product of Barcelona.” Excerpts:
Five months into his career in England, Chelsea’s boy from Barcelona already feels an integral part of the club’s evolution. The Spaniard should make his ninth Premier League start at Norwich tomorrow and will diligently set about his duties: pressing, shielding, setting the tempo from the base of a three-man midfield, offering protection aplenty. There will be no fuss and little extravagance. Merely industry. Most players prised from Camp Nou would have supporters drooling but Romeu’s game is about efficiency, not flamboyance. He is the closest thing Chelsea have had to a Claude Makelele since the Frenchman himself.
Barça accepted his departure grudgingly, insisting on having first refusal, at $10m (£8.3m) next summer and $15m in 2013, should Chelsea decide to sell. The potential exists for Chelsea to endure their very own Cesc Fábregas “Catalonia calling” saga – Romeu spent time at Espanyol’s academy before moving to La Masia – though not at those relatively meagre prices. The clause was a reflection of Romeu’s ability, even if he remained a raw talent. Luis Enrique, his Barcelona B coach, had praised his workaholic attitude rather than any slick passing ability. The local press christened a muscular player “the bulldozer”, yet, in the helter-skelter Premier League, his game has been more about anticipation and positioning than fearsome tackling. They clearly even boast a better class of bulldozer in Barcelona.
England, Fulham-Newcastle (10amET Fox Soccer Plus,foxsoccer.tv): Newcastle have intrigued us over the past couple months–the hot start, powered by lauded midfielder Yohan Cabaye at the fore of their “French revolution” and by their dynamic African duo of stalwart midfielder Cheick Tioté and sensational striker Demba Ba (soon to be joined up front by his fellow Senegalese striker Papiss Demba Cisse; how good does that £35m deadline day sale of a now-homesick Geordie look now?)
Spain, Real Betis-Sevilla (4pmET ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com): Extend your knowledge of La Liga beyond the big two. Sid Lowe had good things to say about Real Betis on last Monday’s Guardian Football Weekly pod, after they’d pressed Barcelona at Camp Nou and gone up 2-0..before ultimately losing 2-0. Sevilla is a team we’re partial to–players to watch include Spanish internationals Jesús Navas and Álvaro Negredo in attack, and that longtime Sevilla stalwart, Malian midfielder Frédéric Kanouté. From Sid Lowe’s March 2011 column about how Sevilla battled Barcelona to a draw–“a result of Frederic Kanouté’s brilliance“:
“Kanouté,” said Guardiola, “gave them the pausa they needed.” Kanouté, said Santi Giménez in AS, “is a spectacular, elegant, stupendous player who turned the game round.” It was classic Kanouté: smooth and skilful, never in a hurry. Intelligent and eloquent, strikingly mild for a sportsman, he’s the striker, playmaker and footballer many Sevilla supporters think is the best signing they have ever made (Alves permitting); the man who gave over €300,000 (£260,000) to prevent a local mosque from closing and played with masking tape over the 888.com on his Sevilla shirt because he did not want to advertise a bookmaker. The man who scored in the Uefa Cup final in 2006 when Sevilla won their first major trophy in almost 60 years, he also got the winning goal in the Copa del Rey final and scored in the Uefa Cup final, the following season.
Kanouté is 6ft 3in and weighs 13½ stone. The pity has been that there was not always that little bit more of him. In 2006-07, he missed six games and started a further two on the bench but still scored 21 goals. In the campaign in which Sevilla won the Copa del Rey and the Uefa Cup as well, by the end he was running on empty. Sevilla went into the final day with a chance of winning the title but knowing that they probably wouldn’t. It was a tragedy that they did not take the title: the last genuine challenge to the top two. What ultimately cost them were the eight 0-0 draws over the course of the season – six of which came in the last 18 matches and two of which Kanouté was absent for. In the others, he might as well have been.
Seeing Kanouté be brilliant but brittle is nothing new. But this is another step again. Kanouté is 33 now. It was no coincidence that he started on the bench; or that he has started fewer than half of Sevilla’s games this season. He may not be able to give much more. This felt like a last waltz from a truly great player. And that’s a huge challenge for the club. Like Alves, will they find him irreplaceable?
Friendly, USA-Venezuela (9pmET Galavision, ESPN3.com): We’re not sure who Klinsmann will be lining up for this one–just MSL-based players? And even then, no Donovan since he’s Merseyside for a couple months.