What To Watch This Weekend (April 14-15)

April 13, 2012 — by Suman


Frankly none of Saturday’s games are all that compelling, but if you must:

FA Cup Semifinal, Liverpool vs Everton (7:30amET; FSC & Fox Deportes): A Merseyside derby at Wembley. Liverpool have been in rotten form, in the league at least, winning just 2 out of their past 10 league fixtures, sinking to 8th in the table. Meanwhile, Everton has been experiencing their typical late-season resurgence–three wins and a draw in their past 4 league matches have actually put them one point above their rivals in the standings. There has much been written about the 10-year anniversary of David Moyes’s tenure at Everton–during which he’s generally been praised for guiding Everton to respectable finishes in the league, but which is conspicuously free of trophies. This FA Cup seems like a chance to finally remedy that.

Bundesliga, Schalke 04 vs Borussia Dortmund (9:30amET; GolTV): The Ruhr derby–or, in the German, the Revierderbyis the biggest rivalry in Germany.  (Indeed, entire books have been written about it, it seems.) Dortmund are coming up a huge win over Bayern on Wednesday, which put them in the driver’s seat to win the Bundesliga. But Schalke, themselves 3rd in the table, will be looking to trip up their hated neighbors.  Schalke are led by the legendary Raul and the prolific Klaus-Jan Huntelaar up front. Their battle against Dortmund’s center-back pair of Mats Hummels and Serbian(-American, albeit briefly) Neven Subotic will be interesting. The latter had a very good game Wednesday, shutting down Bayern’s Mario Gomez.  At the other end, Dortmund’s attacking pair of Shinji Kagawa and Robert Lewandowski are equally dangerous.

Eredivisie, PSV vs AZ (12:45pmET; ESPN Deportes & PSV have had a very poor couple of months, dropping down to 5th in the table. But they’re still only 4 points behind 2nd place AZ Alkmaar, who are themselves 3 points behind 1st place Ajax. The player to watch on PSV is deep-lying playmaker Kevin Strootman, who’s been called “the future of the Oranje midfield“–and who has lately been linked with Manchester United.

La Liga, Levante vs Barcelona (4pmET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes & Barça are entering a challenging stretch, with the two Champions League semifinal ties against Chelsea next Wednesday and the following Tuesday–and El Clasico squeezed in between, next Saturday.  But for the latter match to be of consequence, Barcelona has to keep winning. They should beat Levante, but they’ve looked vulnerable on the road, and Levante has much to play for–the sit 5th in the table, two points behind Malaga and a spot in next season’s Champions League.

Sunday, April 15

FA Cup Semifinal, Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea (1pmET, FSC & Fox Deportes): Another derby in the other FA Cup semifinal. The two London clubs are battling not only on this front, but also in the league–for the coveted 4th spot. And Chelsea is also, somehow, still alive in the Champions League, with Barcelona visiting Stamford Bridge this Wednesday.

La Liga, Rayo Vallecano vs Atlético Madrid (3pmET, ESPN Deportes & Atlético lost yet another Madrid derby last Wednesday on their home ground, against their biggest rivals Real Madrid. This is another Madrid derby, albeit a lesser one against lesser opponents. Atlético travels out to the Vallecas barrio of Madrid, to play at the 15,500-capacity Campo de Futbol de Vallecas. It certainly sounds like a great place to watch a game. From the afore-linked-to Sid Lowe column about Real Madrid’s visit to Vallecas a couple months ago:

A huge painted tarpaulin, weeks in the making, was passed over the supporters in the end. Republican flags, red, yellow and purple, were everywhere. The red and black of the anarchists. Ché Guevara banners and others appealing for the legalisation of cannabis. Not that it needed legalising on this evidence. Countless flags, Rayo’s red thunderbolt scorched across them. Song too: the Marseillaise, the Internationale, Yankee Doodle. It went round: end to the sunny side and back; end to shaded side and back again, like a drill sergeant, or Freddie Mercury yodelling with his audience. Lots and lots of noise. No one sat, not once. Instead they squeezed in, clapping and bouncing and singing. Even the half-time entertainment was different: a beast of a man celebrated his prize by parading bare-chested across the pitch waving a Republican flag. Minutes before, Mourinho had walked off down the tunnel and held a thumbs up to the end. Now, those are fans.

Their player to watch is Michu–nee Miguel Pérez Cuesta, who has been a revelation in his first season in La Primera. He started his career with his hometown club of Real Oviedo, before moving to Celta Vigo in the Segunda Division.  He finally got to the big league via a free transfer to Rayo last summer.  Also from Sid Lowe’s column:

Michu twice appeared to have missed his chance to play in primera – first he turned down the chance to play for Sporting because he is an Oviedo fan, then he missed a penalty for Celta in the play-offs – but now that he is here, he has been arguably the season’s revelation. He has 11 goals. Rayo have 32, more than any of the nine teams below them – all of them richer.

That was in late February.  He’s since scored four more, to take his total to 15–even with Fernando Llorente for 6th in leading scorer list. Now he’s being talked about as a possible transfer target for some of the biggest clubs in Europe.


What To Watch Today: Four Matches Across the Continent

April 11, 2012 — by Suman


A busy week across the continent, including five more matches in the English Premier League.  But none of those look particularly compelling to us, while there are four compelling and consequential matches elsewhere featuring teams at or near the top of their domestic tables–highlighted a huge match in Germany and a derby in Madrid.  Here they are in order of importance, according to our subjective estimation and interest–given that it’s this member of CF’s birthday today, I’ve humbly requested the good guys at Woodwork to tune of their TVs to GolTV so that we can watch the first two matches in the German-Spanish doubleheader.  Join us if you’re in the neighborhood:

Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern München (2pmET, GolTV): #1 vs #2 in the Bundesliga–the biggest match of the day, and the biggest match of the season in Germany. Bayern has closed the gap between them and Dortmund to 3 points over the past couple months, so that a win on the road in North Rhine-Westphalia, in the mammoth Westfalenstadion (capacity: 80, 720) would pull them even at the top of the table.

Dortmund won the title last year, and with their campaign to repeat, and their young and exciting squad–to be strengthened next year by the arrival of Marco Reus (“the latest star off Germany’s production line“), for whose signature they beat out Bayern–they are looking to challenge Bayern’s Germanic hegemony.  (See this feature on “Why the emergence of a rivalry between Bayern Munich & Borussia Dortmund is essential to the revival of German football“–something that even Bayern fan Boris Becker agrees with.)

In a previous “what to watch” feature, we noted that Dortmund has:

young and exciting players from across the globe on their squad: strikers Robert Lewandowski (Poland) and Lucas Barrios(Paraguay); Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa; Serbian(-American) Neven Subotić, who teams up with German Mats Hummels in central defense.  FC Bayern blogger & “Bundesliga wannabe expert” @RedRobbery kindly replied to our question about who to watch in this match, and directed us to also watch midfielders Sven Bender and Jakub “Kuba” Błaszczykowski. (The latter is captain of the Polish national team, and described by Polish great Zbigniew Boniek as a “litte Figo” when Dortmund signed him from Wisla Krakow in the summer of 2007).

Bayern’s squad should be better known to non-German watchers, given their prominence in the Champions League (where they’ll be facing Real Madrid in the semis–1st leg next week!), and the prominence of their star players on various national sides: star wingers Arjen Robben (Netherlands) and Franck Ribery (France), along with the core of the exciting German national team: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Mario Gómez, Jérôme Boateng, Holger Badstuber, Manuel Neuer. Two more players to watch in central midfield: Ukrainian Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (who will be leading the Euro2012 co-hosts this summer) and Brazilian Luiz Gustavo.

Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid (4pmET, GolTV): El derbi madrileño is always a bitter battle, and this time it’s a match that matters deeply for both teams. Real Madrid is still at the top of the table, where they’ve been all year–but their once-commanding lead over Barcelona has shrunk over the past month to a mere 4 points, following a three draws in their past five matches (1-1 to both Malaga and Villareal, and a scoreless draw Sunday to Valencia)–and now it’s down to a single point following Barcelona’s 4-0 win over (3rd Madrid team) Getafe. So the pressure is on Mourinho and his squad, especially with El Clasico coming up a week from Saturday at the Camp Nou.

Atlético are 7th in La Liga, 7 points behind 4th place Valencia (who’ve just relinquished their seeming stranglehold on 3rd to Malaga) and a Champions League spot.  A return to Europa is more likely–where they’ve had a successful run to the semifinals this year, and in fact play Valencia over the next two weeks (April 19 and 26).  If a goal against Real is going to come today, it’ll most likely be from prolific Colombian striker Falcao, who’s had a great first season in Spain with 20 goals, tied for 3rd best in the league. But 3 of the top 5 are from Real: Messi 39, Cristiano Ronaldo 37, Falcao 20, Higuain 20, Benzema 17.

(Photo above grabbed from, who got it from an excellent Historias del Derbi fotogaleria)

Juventus vs Lazio (2:45pm, Fox Soccer Plus, Juve is still undefeated in Serie A, and after Saturday’s results they’re back on top of the table.  Lazio continues to solidify their hold on 3rd place and hence a Champions League spot–at the expense of competing clubs with bigger names (Udinese, Napoli, Roma, Inter–who sit behind them in 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th).

We’ll be watching for peerless deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo–who Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox recently described as “the most important player of his generation.”

AZ vs Twente (1pmET, #2 vs #3 in the Eredivisie.


What To Watch Among All These International Friendlies Today

February 29, 2012 — by Suman


It’s yet another FIFA day of international friendlies today.  The ones involving European teams are getting more interesting, as we’re just a handful of months away from Euro2012 kicking off in Poland/Ukraine, and hence managers are starting to sort out their squads.

Given that, here are a handful of matches that might actually be worth watching (all times ET, with US TV/streaming info via WaPo’s SoccerInsider):

Switzerland vs. Argentina: 2:30pmET, GolTV

Italy vs. USA: 2:30pmET, ESPN2, Galavision,

Germany vs. France: 2:45pmET, (tape at 6 p.m. on ESPN Deportes)

England vs. Netherlands: 3pmET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Deportes

Spain vs. Venezuela 3:30pmET, ESPN Deportes,

Here are some reasons why these matches:

Switzerland vs. Argentina: We got interested in the Swiss squad last week–in particular that they’ve got a contingent of ethnic Albanian kids born in Kosovo around the time Yugoslavia was slipping into civil war.  We came across this from watching first Napoli–who have not only Swiss captain Gökhan İnler (born in Switzerland to Turkish immigrants) but also Blerim Džemaili (born in Macedonia to Albanian parents)–and then Basel (Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri) in the Champs League last week.

Plus it’s Argentina. Not only Messi, but also Mascherano (also Barcelona), Gago and Lamela (both Roma), Kun Aguero (Man City), and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid). Though apparently Angel di Maria (also Real Madrid), Javier Pastore (PSG), and Ever Banega (Valencia) are not in the squad this time–the latter because he broke his ankle last week in an “automobile mishap“–he forgot to set the handbrake on his car while filling up with gas.

England-Netherlands: Can’t way we’re all that interested in the England squad (as usual, the English press is hyperventilating about things like who caretaker manager Stuart Pearce has named captain). We’re more interested to see who Holland plays, as a guide to who Bert Marwijk will take to Poland/Ukraine this summer (where his side should be 3rd favorites, behind Germany and of course defending world and Euro champions Spain). In the midfield, will Marwijk stick with the experience and pragmatism of de Jong, van Bommel and Sneijder (although the latter has been struggling with Inter, to the extent that Mr Zonal Marking recently wrote a column for ESPN titled “What’s wrong with Wesley Sneijder?“).  Or will he give younger, more dynamic midfielders like Kevin Strootman, Georgino Wijnaldum (both PSV) and Urby Emanuelson (who’s impressed lately playing for Milan) a chance?  He has plenty of big-name experienced options up front: Dirk Kuyt, Klaus Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie.  From a column about the Oranje in today’s Guardian:

Van Marwijk’s successful route to Poland and Ukraine was founded on the firepower of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (12 in eight games), Van Persie (six in six), Dirk Kuyt (six in nine), Ibrahim Afellay (three in six) and Sneijder (three in eight).

It’s a real shame Affelay tore his ACL back in September, getting ready for his first full campaign with Barcelona (after joining them from PSV last January.)  The good news is that he recently resumed training, with the possibility that he may yet appear for Barcelona this spring, and hence receive consideration for the trip to Poland/Ukraine.

The more experienced strikers above are joined on this squad by three younger attacking guys that still play in Eredivisie: Luuk de JongOla John (both Twente), and Luciano Narsingh (Heereveen).

Italy-USA: Balotelli not chosen for Italy–in his place a 20yo kid named Fabio Borini, who’s currently playing for Roma (on loan from Parma?).  For the US, one headline we saw was that Klinsmann included yet another son of a US serviceman, who plays for Borussia Dortmund’s reserve squad.  See TheShinGuardian comprehensive match preview here.

Germany vs. France: Germany are co-favorites to emerge triumphant in Poland/Ukraine this summer.  In fact, some observers think that on recent form they’ve actually nudged ahead of Spain.  The lineup is stacked with young dynamic talent.  Of course there’s a large contingent of Bayern Munich players (Manuel Neuer, Jérôme BoatengThomas Müller, Toni Kroos), even though usual captain Phillip Lahm is apparently sitting this one out.  And there’s the two players that have moved to Madrid, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira.  In fact, those two and Miroslav Klose are the only three on today’s squad that play outside the Bundesliga.  We’re interested in seeing some of those young players, who play outside of Munich: up and coming star Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Marcel Schmelzer and Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund); André Schürrle and Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkeusen).  It’s a shame Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze is still out with a pelvic injury–hopefully we’ll see him in action this spring (as Dortmund looks to hold off Bayern to repeat as Bundesliga champions) and summer.

We threw in Spain-Venezuela only b/c we’re interested in seeing who Spain plays–beyond the usual suspects. Headlines in the English press last week were that Torres didn’t make the cut for this one (and hence looking unlikely for Euros this summer), but it’s interesting to see that it was not only Soldado that got picked up front, but also this kid Iker Munian (19yo) that plays for Athletic Bilbao. In fact, Athletic has as many players in the squad as Real Madrid (4 apiece)–and no Barcelona or Madrid players among the strikers chosen. The squad:

Victor Valdes (Barcelona), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid); Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Carles Puyol(Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia); Javi Martínez (Athletic Bilbao), Xavi (Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta(Barcelona), Cesc Fábregas (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid),Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Thiago Alcântara (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Jesús Navas(Sevilla); Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Roberto Soldado (Valencia)

Breakdown by club:
Barcelona: 8
Real Madrid: 4
Athletic Bilbao: 4
Valencia: 2
Sevilla: 2
Malaga: 1
Liverpool: 1
Chelsea: 1
Man City: 1

On the other side of the ball, note that Venezuela also features an Athletic Bilbao player (defender Fernando Amorebieta, who was born in Venezuela to Basque parents.  From A Football Report piece about Athletic Bilbao’s Basque-only policy:

Here’s the story with Amorebieta.  He was born in Venezuela in 1985.  His parents, however, were Basque, from a small town in Bizkaia called Iurreta.  They were in the Americas on business, and while in Venezuela, Fernando was born.  When he was two, the family moved back to Iurreta, and it would be another twenty years before Fernando returned to the country where he was born.  What makes Amorebieta able to play for Athletic is the fact that, despite being born in Venezuela, he comes from Basque parents and a Basque family, and he essentially grew up in the Basque Country.  Thus, Athletic had no issues with signing him in 1996 to play in the youth system despite not having been born in Spain.


What To Watch This Weekend (Feb 3-6)

February 3, 2012 — by Suman


A whole gaggle of interesting matches to watch this weekend.  We’ve chosen a handful each on Saturday and Sunday, including the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations, a couple each from the big leagues (Premier League, including Chelsea-ManUtd; Serie A, highlighted by AC Milan-Napoli; La Liga–the one we’re most interested in is Atletico Madrid-Valencia), plus a few wild cards (e.g., a Futsal Euro match Saturday night and East Bengal-Mohun Bagun, live from Kolkata). And there’s also the small matter of a Northeast (US) derby of sorts Sunday night in Indianapolis.

Check back in over the weekend for additional preview notes on these matches.  But since our first selection kicks off shortly…

(Note: As usual, all times are ET (=UTC-5) and the given USA TV info was obtained via  Consult for your local listings.)

Friday Feb 3

Germany, Nürnberg-Borussia Dortmund  (2:30pmET GolTV): Just for something to watch today, and for a Bundesliga match.  Plus Dortmund is one of the teams we like to watch–and they’re doing very well again this season in the league: joint top of Bundesliga with Bayern and Schalke.

These are Happy Times at Dortmund for Jürgen Klopp & Shinji Kagawa

Unfortunately their young rising superstar is out 4-6 weeks with a stress fracture of his pubic bone (ouch).  But they’ve got additional young and exciting players from across the globe on their squad: strikers Robert Lewandowski (Poland) and Lucas Barrios (Paraguay); Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa; Serbian(-American) Neven Subotić, who teams up with German Mats Hummels in central defense.  FC Bayern blogger & “Bundesliga wannabe expert” @RedRobbery kindly replied to our question about who to watch in this match, and directed us to also watch midfielders Sven Bender and Jakub “Kuba” Błaszczykowski. (The latter is captain of the Polish national team, and described by Polish great Zbigniew Boniek as a “litte Figo” when Dortmund signed him from Wisla Krakow in the summer of 2007).

On the other side of the ball, RedRobbery picked out young German center back Philipp Wollscheid, the experienced Belgian holding midfielder Timmy Simons, and young Czech striker Tomáš Pekhart as players to watch on the Nürnberg squad.

(Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the German national team is pretty much Bayern Munich, note that Bender, fellow midfielder Kevin Großkreutz, Hummels and of course Mario Götze have all made appearances for the German national team–as has Marco Reus, who will be coming over to Dortmund this summer after a breakout season at the other Borussia.)

Saturday Feb 4

India, East Bengal-Mohun Bagan, 3:30amET: The Great Kolkata Derby!  What FIFA called “India’s All-Consuming Rivalry.”

England, Arsenal-Blackburn 8 a.m. ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, Gunners achieved 1 point from their 4 January league fixtures–and that a scoreless draw against lowly Bolton.  This weekend they play even lower Blackburn.  But let’s not forget Arsenal lost at Blackburn back in September, and that Arsene has maybe lost the stadium.  Groundhog Day for Arsenal?

African Cup quarterfinal, Zambia-Sudan (11amET, Al Jazeera Sports USA – DISH Network 601): The first AfCON2012 quarterfinal match features two teams that weren’t widely expected to reach the knockout stage.

They're celebrating Sudan's quarterfinal spot in Khartoum--but what about in the south?

For some background, read Gary Al-Smith’s new blog post on Sudan: “To which half of the country will the Cup go if Sudan win?” and a BBC article about “South Sudan’s divided support for norther neighbours.”

Al-Smith’s blog post opens with the line: “A common stat you may have heard in the past few days: the last time Sudan won the African Cup was 42 years ago, 1970” and a story about Sudanese club Al Hilal playing Canon Yaounde in the Cameroon capital in a 1987 African Champions Cup semifinal, after which

a six-year old got his wish and shook hands with the legendary Sudanese forward Ali Gagarin. Gagarin was shocked when he met the little boy, not because he was not aware of his fame, but at the sheer awe in the boy’s eyes.

Gagarin, in a recent interview, recalls the incident: “I was told that a young man came to the stadium and asked for the jersey of Gagarin and said ‘I want the number 9 jersey of Gagarin.’ Do you know who is that young man today?”

The boy would later become Africa’s greatest footballer. The boy was Samuel Eto’o.

The other quarterfinal scheduled for today features one of the co-favorites versus one of the co-hosts: Ivory Coast-Equatorial Guinea (2pmET, also Al Jazeera Sports USA).  For some pre-game reading on this one, see see Jonathan Wilson’s column in the Guardian: “Kily keen to upset the odds for Equatorial Guinea against Ivory Coast: The co-hosts’ right-back usually plays in the Spanish fourth division but on Saturday he will face the much-fancied Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals”

Spain, Athletic Bilbao-Espanyol (12pmET, ESPN Deportes, We have been trying to look beyond the big two in Spain.  This is an interesting match not only because it’s Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao, but because it’s an important match for the league standings.  Espanayol is in 5th place with 31 points, Athletic hot on their heels in 6th place with 29 points.  Here’s the top half of the table (columns: played, won, lost, draws, goals for, goals against, goal differential, points):

1 Real Madrid CF 20 17 1 2 70 19 51 52
2 FC Barcelona 20 13 6 1 59 12 47 45
3 Valencia CF 20 10 6 4 31 22 9 36
4 Levante UD 20 9 4 7 26 24 2 31
5 RCD Espanyol 20 9 4 7 22 21 1 31
6 Athletic Bilbao 20 7 8 5 30 25 5 29
7 Atlético de Madrid 20 8 5 7 31 27 4 29
8 Málaga CF 20 8 4 8 24 29 -5 28
9 Getafe CF 20 7 6 7 22 26 -4 27
10 CA Osasuna 20 6 9 5 22 32 -10 27


Futsal Euro, Ukraine-Spain (6pmET GolTV): The 2012 Futsal European championships are taking place in Croatia. Who knew? The group stage is ending this weekend, with the quarterfinals Monday and Tuesday, the semifinals Thursday, and the final next Saturday.


Sunday Feb 5

Italy, Roma-Inter Milan or AC Milan-Napoli (both 9amET, both on; Milan-Napoli also on Fox Soccer Plus): Two big-club clashes in Serie A. Roma, Inter and Napoli are all likely out of contention for the Scudetto, but are aiming for a spot in Europe. Milan is in 2nd, just a point behind still-undefeated Juventus–but they’ve been struggling lately, including a loss to Lazio mid-week.  The table:

1 Juventus 20 12 8 0 33 13 20 44
2 AC Milan 21 13 4 4 43 19 24 43
3 Udinese 21 12 5 4 31 17 14 41
4 Lazio 21 11 6 4 32 19 13 39
5 Inter Milan 21 11 3 7 34 25 9 36
6 Roma 20 9 4 7 31 25 6 31
7 SSC Napoli 21 7 9 5 36 24 12 30
8 Palermo 21 8 4 9 30 31 -1 28
9 Genoa 20 8 3 9 28 36 -8 27
10 Chievo Verona 21 7 6 8 18 26 -8 2


England, Chelsea-Manchester United (11amET, Fox main network): The big one this weekend in England. ManUtd are trying to keep pace with City at the top of the table, while Chelsea are seeking to hold on 4th (and that crucial Champions League spot).  See here for squad sheets, as well as John Ashdown’s quick match preview:

This is second against fourth in the Premier League, a clash between two sides who have carved up the last seven titles between them, but somehow it does not feel like it. United have won eight of their last 10 fixtures in the league but are grinding out results in their pursuit of Manchester City. Chelsea, meanwhile, stumble and stutter in their attempt to hold on to the final Champions League spot. Neutrals must hope that at least one of these big beasts can rediscover their mojo come Sunday tea-time.

Indeed, Chelsea have often seemed on the verge of crisis throughout the season–whether due to grumbling about new manager Andre Vilas-Boas’s tactics or squad selection, speculation about whether Fernando Torres will ever score again, or controversy about captain John Terry.  Here was our Chelsea observer The Cunning Linguist with some observations he offered up back on Boxing Day:

I think part of the problem with Torres is the obvious pace he’s lost but the other part is the way he’s being utilized and the infrequency. When at the kop he looked to be picking the ball up further up field from long balls and such but now he’s coming back further to build play given the tight band of barca’s that is being employed; obviously Chelsea’s personnel doesn’t warrant the barca style. The odd part is that drogba seems to be getting faster and a bit more creative as he gets older; hat’s off to the old boy. let’s see what drogba’s absence for the African cup in jan means; can’t believe Torres is done. Saw some decent stuff from him in the game; movement, control, etc. There was a great chest ball and shot that didn’t do much but it was a damn neat piece of skill.
Until avb figures out what the new Chelsea style is, it’ll be mourinho against good teams and experiments against lesser quality teams. For me the real story is mikel’s loss of favor; romeu’s the future. Lampard’s done; feel bad it has go go down this way but that’s that.

African Cup of Nations quarterfinals, Gabon-Mali 11amET and Ghana-Tunisia 2pmET: Take a look at The Hard Tackle’s match previews.  Looking ahead at the schedule, both semifinals will be Wednesday, with the final next Sunday in Libreville.

Spain, Atletico Madrid-Valencia (3:30pmET As we wrote last weekend, Atletico salvaged their season after turning to Diego Simeone in December.  They’re up to 7th in the table, and challenging for a spot in Europe is not out of the question.  Valencia is trying to solidify its hold on yet another #3 finish–but they’ve also got a big Copa del Rey clash coming up mid-week–the 2nd leg of their semifinal against Barcelona, following the 1-1 draw at the Mestalla last Wednesday.

USA (NFL), Super Bowl – NY Giants-New England Patriots (6:30pmET): See Political Footballs’ match preview here.


Monday Feb 6

England, Liverpool-Spurs 3 p.m. ESPN2,


What We Watched This Weekend: Borussia Bundesliga Shocker, Dempsey Hat-Trick, USMNT in Phoenix, Super Sunday in Spain & England

January 23, 2012 — by Suman


We’ve semi-regularly tried to post a Friday “What to Watch this Weekend” (WtWtW) viewing guide. Starting today, we’ll aim to bookend that with a companion “What We Watched this Weekend” (WWWtW) summary–pulled primarily from weekend email chatter among the CultFootball crew, maybe spiced up with some video highlights.

(If you’d like to contribute, hit us up with a message on Twitter or a comment/wall post on our Facebook page as you’re watching matches over the weekend–or just comment here on the site. Our comment sections have been mostly lying dormant since that initial burst of activity and enthusiasm following our launch for the 2010 World Cup–see the “most popular” list in the right side-bar–but we’re working on a resurrection.)

Using this weekend’s “WtWtW” posts as an outline (atypically, there were three this weekend, one each for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), here’s what we watched:

Friday, Jan 20

Germany,Borussia Moenchengladbach 3 – 1 Bayern Munich: This one was a bit of a random pick–just to have something on Friday, and since we’d been hearing lots about Marco “Rolls” Reus. But it turned out this was a great pick–a stunning upset by Moenchengladbach of the Bavarian giants. Back in the fall, some were saying the Bayern had wrapped up the Bundesliga title after their hot start. But with this victory, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke all have 37 points, and Moenchengladbach is remarkably just a point behind. From’s match report (headlined “Herrmann & Reus run rampant as hosts move second:
Young attacking duo accounted for all three goals as hosts repeated their first round success with a victory over the leaders”):

Amid a first-half chess match, Marco Reus scored into an empty net to put the hosts ahead on 14 minutes. Patrick Herrmann made it 2-0 shortly before half-time, and completed his brace on 71 minutes. Bastian Schweinsteiger, in his first competitive game since early November, pulled a goal back in the 76th minute, but it was too little, too late for the visitors.

Saturday, Jan 21

England, Norwich 0 – 0 Chelsea: We didn’t get to see any of this one, but our correspondent Edhino did:

Miserably snowed out of me own game, came home just in time to watch Torres give away the ball twice in a row and then frantically try to get it back like a kid whose lollipop got taken away. Sad really. Norwich were impressive in the concentration and discipline, with good signs of competency in control; in particular Pilkington who showed great skill (I was going to add ‘for his size’, but the awkward incongruence of big blokes with good control is more illusion than correlation) and speed, making huffing Cole look old and tired. Overall Chelsea looked tired and Kalou-like (i.e. Sumit speak for clueless) in attack. I haven’t watched a Chelsea game in a while and it was surprising to see them so toothless sans Drogba or even Shanghai-bound Anelka.

We’d also picked the Fulham-Newcastle match as one to watch, but had mostly focused on Newcastle in our preview. Imagine our surprise at seeing this scoreline–and as mildly patriotic Americans, pleasant surprise at seeing who did the scoring:

England, Fulham 5 – Newcastle 2: Newcastle took an early 1-0 lead but then collapsed in the second half–and American Clint Dempsey banged in three of Fulham’s handful. From the Washington Post’s SoccerInsider (who in general does a great job of covering Americans playing abroad):

For the second time this month, Clint Dempsey has recorded a hat trick for Fulham. And this time, during a 5-2 victory over Newcastle on Saturday, he became the first American ever to post a three-goal performance in an English Premier League match.

Two weeks ago, he accomplished the feat in an FA Cup game against third-tier Charlton.

Dempsey’s goals against Newcastle came in the 59th, 65th and 89th minutes, increasing his haul to nine in league play and 15 in all competitions. He is among the top 10 scoring leaders in the EPL this season. In his five-year career at Fulham, he has scored 52 goals overall.

PL Highlights: Fulham/Newcastle

Spain, Real Betis 1 – 1 Sevilla: We had this game–the Seville derby–on in the background as we lounged around on a snowy afternoon.  From what we saw, it was an exciting, open match.  One that Sevilla mostly dominated, but they found themselves down a goal for most of the match after conceding on a set play.  But they equalized on a late great header by one of the players we told you to watch–striker Álvaro Negredo.  Read this great match report on Fox Soccer by freelancer Andy Brasell: “Class prevails in renewed Seville derby.”

Int’l Friendly, USA-Venezuela: See our match report on the Germanic flavor of this largely positive performance by the Americans (and check back in mid-week, as the US boys travel down to Central America for another friendly in Panama City on Wednesday.)


Super Sunday, Jan 22

Super Sunday lived up to the hyperbole–not only in England, but in Spain as well:

England, Manchester City 3 – 2 Spurs: What a game!  Match of the season? So much drama. City goin up 2-0 (Nasri 56′, off a superb thru ball from Silva, after Nasri had got inside of Kyle Walker; then Lescott 59′, off a Nasri corner flicked on by Dzeko that caught the Spurs defense standing still on the back post), then Spurs responding resoundingly (Defoe 60′ after a Savic blunder, though great finish by Defoe; and Bale 65′–goal of the weekend? after Lennon came inside-out..or rather outside-in).  And then, of course, Super Mario–on for Dzeko at 66′, probably should have been sent off a few minutes later (but how does one infer intent from a video replay?), and then won the game with a well-deserved and coolly taken penalty in extra time–and that after Defoe had been but a few centimeters from earning Spurs a few more points than they did:

England, Arsenal 1 – 2 Manchester United: See Rob Kirby’s latest rant, which despite its title is not primarily about Pier Morgan.  And watch these BBC MotD highlights before they’re taken down:

Spain, Real Madrid 4 – 1 Athletic Bilbao: Read Sid Lowe’s epic column about palace intrigue in Mourinho’s court–and something about the match as well, which Athletic led 1-0 before ultimately losing 4-1:

Spain, Malaga 1 – 4 Barcelona: More from Sid Lowe’s column: “Messi: bloody hell. He’d only scored once away all season – now he has scored four times thanks to an astonishingly good hat-trick away at Málaga. AS gave him four stars (well, aces) out of three, while Roberto Palomar in Marca finally saw sense and said: ‘there are no longer any words, except swear words.'”


What to Watch This Weekend: Moenchengladbach-Munich Today

January 20, 2012 — by Suman


After a month’s hiatus (due primarily to an extended internet-free trip to India–see below), we’re back with a TV guide to the weekend.  As usual, we provide US TV listings with ET kickoffs, since that’s where we reside. For our non-US readers, we’ve included a link to for each match.

Check back in over the course of the weekend, as we’ll post our Saturday and Sunday selections.  But since our first selection kicks off in less than an hour, we’re posting now:

Friday, Jan 20

Germany, Borussia Moenchengladbach-Bayern Munich (2:30pmET GolTV): A good matchup in the Bundesliga’s Friday Night Lights offering.  They’re just returning to action this weekend in Germany, after the longest holiday break in Europe.  In fact, Bayern Munich took a little training trip to Asia earlier this month–some training and a friendly match in Doha, followed by a friendly in India–and they happened to land in Delhi while we were there.  We’ll write that up in a separate post.  For now, we’ll note that Munich is back to full strength–Bastian Schweinsteiger returned to the lineup in their friendly against the Indian national team, with Heynckes playing his top XI against the Indians (with the sole exception of Ribery, who came on in the 2nd half): Neuer, Boateng, Badstuber, Lahm, Kroos, Robben, Tymoshchuk, Schweinsteiger, Rafinha, Gomez, Muller.

On the other side, the only Moenchengladbach player we’ve heard of is Marco “Rolls” Reus–read this column by Guardian Bundesliga correspondent Raphael Honigstein: ‘Rolls Reus’ is the latest star off Germany’s production line. He’s definitely a player to watch. Since the fall all Bundesliga-watchers were well-aware it would be difficult to for Moenchengladbach to hang on to him.  Wrote Honigstein back in October: “Reus, or ‘Rolls Reus’ as Bild has started calling him, was being genuinely targeted in the spring by Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Manchester United.”  And in doing our pregame research for this match, we just learned he will move to the other Borussia this summer, after having spurned Bayern.

Actually we also just came across mention of another Moenchengladbach player to watch: Brazilian defender Dante, who was just praised by Bayern’s Heynckes.  Uh oh..


Arsenal Squeak Past Swansea; Tough Germans Await

September 13, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

Arsenal travel to Borussia Dortmund to kick off the Champions League group stage tonight. Facing the German champions after a challenging start to the season and a crucial if somewhat underwhelming 1-0 win at the Emirates against Swansea City on Saturday is a tough task, but that’s the scenario. Of principle importance, the team quadrupled its points total in the league. No use wishing what else might have been.

It's always good to have your own giant German. And a pocket Russian.

The positives:

On Saturday, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta made their first starts at the Emirates and put in solid performances for players who have had close to zero playing time with their teammates. Yossi Benayoun came on as a sub for his first performance in an Arsenal shirt as well. All put in solid shifts and with Ju-Young Park and Andre Santos warming up on the sidelines at various points, the new boys were in full effect.

(Meaningless to the team, but tremendously meaningful to me, it was my first visit to the Emirates, as well. The third row seat, right next to the Arsenal bench, pretty much ruled. More on which later.)

For the goal, Arshavin pounced on a freak goalkeeper error and slotted in a great goal from a tough angle. People will point to Vorm’s mistake, but the mercurial Russian came through before half-time with a great strike, one which proved to be the match winner. Arshavin has always had the talent, and on Saturday he came through when Arsenal needed him. It’s a good a time as any for a return to form, Andrey….

Meanwhile, Arteta showed poise under tough circumstances in his capacity as playmaker. Obviously Swansea does not have the reputation of a big name team, but they put up a fight with not inconsiderable pace. Keep in mind that Arteta was anticipating runs and weighting passes to players he can’t have trained with more than two or three times, as all the forwards had been on international duty since his deadline day signing. Mertesacker’s 6-foot 6 presence seemed massive, Koscielny played well and Szczęsny took total control of his area, with a few clinch saves. He truly seems like the man to keep the first ‘keeper place for years to come. He has all the self-confidence of pseudo-Gunner Bendtner but with the performances to back up the braggadocio. Chamakh came on and played well for the first time since nearly 10 months ago, and Coquelin also acquitted himself well.

As to the negatives, the second half was nervy and the crowd was jumpier than a virgin at a rodeo. (Sadly, I think I just stole that line from a long-ago episode of the Golden Girls. In fact, I know I did.) Like it or not, the Arsenal knows better than almost anyone how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. One never felt the game was locked up, and were it not for Szczęsny’s fantastic save 6 minutes from full time, it could easily have been a draw. Swansea doesn’t have the big name players, but they counterattacked with the quickness on several occasions. With a lesser man than Scszney in goal, they could very well have left the Emirates with a point. I, for one, am incredibly relieved they did not.

Van Persie had a less than stellar game. I had bet £10 on him to score first and £10 to score anytime in the match–it seemed like easy money, like taking candy from a baby–but such was not to be the case. He comported himself like a leader, though. With Walcott also having an off match, he looked isolated and squandered a few chances, but knowing his quality, knowing that he and Arteta will continue to form an understanding and knowing that Gervinho will soon (as in tonight) return in all his forward-bombing speediness augurs well. Frimpong looked tough–he’s a bruiser–but he too often gave away the ball carelessly, erasing all the hard work. The Ghanaian Mr. T will continue to improve, though.

Will Arsenal win tonight, or manage to take a point? Tough to call, as Dortmund are no chumps. A point, to my mind, would be more than acceptable, as Dortmund will very likely earn one of the top two spots and advance to the knockout rounds. Clubs encircled 19-year-old attacking midfielder Mario Götze like a pack of hyenas over the transfer window, but Dortmund was loathe to lose one of the top prospects in world football. The team has some dangerous players. Remember, these are the German champions, with one of the most solid home records and defenses around, having conceded only 8 goals last season. Not to belabor painful recent memories, but Arsenal conceded 8 in one game just over 2 weeks ago. This bears no further repeating, as it’s fully in the mind of the players and supporters. Time to replace it with fresh memories of winning ways.

Interesting factoid, a certain Tomáš Rosický (out with injury) scored two for Dortmund against Arsenal in the home 2-1 match in 2002 when they last met, surely a deciding factor on Wenger’s choice to snap him up in 2006.

Now is about looking forward. Now is about rebuilding and rediscovering the culture of winning and scrapping it out every single game, whether against mammoths or minnows. Ultimately, the Swansea match was about three points, and the points were secured. Arsenal no longer languish at the bottom of the league table. Should it have been 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 4-0, 7-0? Sure would have been nice (since I had £1 bets on the first five of those scorelines), but 3 points, even if a bit ugly, is all you can ask, especially in light August’s craptacular start.

If you want a sure win every time, with goals aplenty, support Barcelona (or one of the Manchesters). I am happy that Fabregas has returned to his wily ways and electric displays, but I support the Arsenal, so that is not a choice. And I despise all three of those teams, despite some of the incredible players on the payrolls. Of the 4 teams, only one is actually more than a club. (Hint: not the one that calls itself such as it nickles and dimes clubs into submission, yapping on and on about Barcelona DNA, perceived player grief and avenging the “kidnapping” of one of La Masia’s finest. Then, when they finally get their way, making the player himself pay part of his way, they brag about the great deal they got on said player, say Francesc Fabregas Soler, and how, no doubt about it, he was totally worth the asking price. More, even. They knowingly took money out of Cesc’s pocket. Keep it classy, Barcelona!)

Arsenal need to qualify for the knockout stages on merit. Putting in a solid performance against Dortmund would be a huge step towards that goal and a huge step towards cementing the team as a fully operational Death Star (I mean, “team”), new players fully integrated and folded into the mix. Gervinho and Song will be back. Arteta will make his first Champions League performance since his youth years at PSG and Rangers, and I imagine the 29-year old will work his ass off. It’s always good to have your own German giant when facing off against a team of such, so Mertesacker will provide a huge amount of presence and experience, and perhaps Santos or Park will make their Arsenal debuts. Seeing Mertesacker from close-up was sobering. He is a truly massive player. I have much faith he will become an equally enormous component to set pieces, both in defense and in headers in at the other end of the pitch.

Wenger misses out (nonsense UEFA ban), as do Wilshere, Rosický, Diaby, Ramsey and Vermaelen, but Arsenal have the firepower and the growing defensive solidity to compete. They just need the confidence, the mental focus and just maybe a pinch of luck. At the end of the day, the best team will win. Hopefully, the win over Swansea was the beginning of the much-vaunted turnaround, the “real” beginning to the season. But one game does not a season make. And even a victory against Dortmund will not put all the demons to rest, with a tough away fixture at Blackburn this weekend. As they say, though, you can only play the team in front of you, and though that team is no slouch, neither is Arsenal. Come on you Gunners. May tonight see the Arsenal rise to the occasion and Arteta taste the first of many future Champions League victories with his new team.

Expected starting XI:


Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs

Arteta Song Benayoun

Walcott van Persie Gervinho

(Young guns Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Francis Coquelin, Ryo Myaichi and Carl Jenkinson did not travel to Germany this time around, but all the experienced new signings made the 18-man squad.)