What to Watch This Weekend, Part 1: FA Cup Final, Atlético Madrid vs Málaga, El derbi barceloní

May 5, 2012 — by Suman2


A few picks for today, Saturday May 5:

FA Cup Final: Liverpool vs Chelsea (12:15pmET, FSC & Fox Deportes): Two teams that have been underwhelming in the league but surprisingly successful in cup competitions.  Liverpool has already won the League Cup, while this is the 1st of two cup finals Chelsea will be competing for this month.

As outlined in this Telegraph column, these two clubs developed a heated rivalry over the past decade, playing in each other a remarkable 39 number times in the aughts:

One club was a product of its time, the other traversing a long road of redemption towards former glories.

Chelsea had Abramovich’s millions and the charismatic and calculating Jose Mourinho. Liverpool the tactical nous and organisational skills of Rafael Benitez that had been missing under the admittedly exciting stewardships of Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans.

Liverpool had capital-h History. Chelsea were rich upstarts. The pair were never likely to get along.

Their rivalry was ignited by ignited by Luis Garcia’s phantom goal at Anfield in 2005 [pictured above] which sealed qualification for the Champions League final. Jose Mourinho is still whingeing about it.

La Liga, Atlético Madrid vs Málaga (3pmET, Málaga sits in the crucial 4th place in the league, which would lead to Champions League qualification.  That is one of primary goals of the ambitious–although so far somewhat rockyQatari-funded Málaga project.  They’ve spent a fair amount of petro-euros on transfer fees over the past couple years–most prominently the €19m they spent last summer to lure Spanish international midfielder Santi Cazorla away from Villareal–“the crowning moment in Málaga’s transformation” Sid Lowe wrote at the time.  Other Málaga players who’ve caught our eye: Venezuelan striker Jose Rondón, attack-minded Portuguese fullback Eliseu, and two young attacking players in Argentine Diego Buonanotte and Spaniard Francisco Román Alarcón, aka Isco. The former is a 24-year-old who starred for River Plate as a teenager, before he barely survived in a horrific car crash 3 years ago–see FiveInMidfield’s account.  Isco, who just celebrated his 20th birthday a couple weeks ago, was born in Benalmádena, just outside Málaga, but came up through Valencia’s youth system.  He made just four La Liga appearances for Valencia last season before Málaga paid €6m last summer.

Atlético–who will be travelling to Bucharest this coming week to take on Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final on Wednesday–still have an outside chance of catching up with Málaga.  Los Colchoneros (“The Mattress Makers“) sit in 6th place, 5 points behind Málaga (with Levante in between in 5th place).  The player to watch on Atlético is without a doubt Colombian striker Falcao, who has ably replaced Kun Aguero. One of Atlético’s challenges this summer will be to keep richer clubs from luring him away after just a year in Madrid.  Falcao also starred for River Plate–he played for the Argentine giants from 2001-2009, including under current Atlético Madrid manager’s Diego Simeone‘s stint as manager there in 2008.

La Liga, Barcelona vs Espanyol (3pmET, The Derbi barceloní, and Pep Guardiola’s last match at the Camp Nou. Espanyol held Barcelona to a draw on their ground in January, after which Sid Lowe wrote:

Created as a conscious rejection of Barcelona – not, as is often assumed, of Barça’s Catalanism but of their foreignness, founded by Hans Gamper, who was Swiss, and full of British ex-pats – Espanyol’s identity has shifted over the past century. So, even, has their name. From the consciously Spanish club they became, rejecting the growing identification of Barcelona with Catalanism, to their recent reinvention, staking their own claim to being Catalan, there has been a constant: they don’t like Barça. Just as Barcelona’s narrative evokes their status as a kind of resistance to the state, so now does Espanyol’s – only this time the “state” is the Catalan one. Barcelona is more than a club; so too, as the banner at Cornellá pointedly put it on Sunday night, “is Catalunya”.

We took a look at Espanyol’s youthful talent in a previous what-to-watch feature, here.


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.

EnglandPreviewScheduleUnited States

What to Watch Today: Everton vs Fulham – Donovan vs Dempsey

January 27, 2012 — by Suman


There’s a whole slate of FA Cup 4th Round matches this weekend, kicked off by a match today that is especially interesting for viewers on this side of the pond. Everton hosts Fulham, which means it’s also a faceoff of the two best American players of this generation: Landon Donovan vs. Clint Demspey.

England FA Cup, Everton vs Fulham (3pmET, USA TV: Fox Soccer Channel)

Grant Wahl has a SI column up today previewing the matchup between “the two best American field players of their generation” which is worth reading in its entirety. Some excerpts:

Who’s done better with the national team? Donovan. Who’s had a better European club career? Dempsey. Who’s got more endorsements? Donovan. Who’s been better overall the past 18 months? Dempsey. Who’s done more to grow MLS? Donovan. Who’s got the better chance to be the U.S.’s first European superstar? Dempsey.

Donovan just rejoined Everton earlier this month on another short-term loan from MLS champions LA Galaxy.  He had a successful loan spell with the Merseyside club two years ago, for three months at the beginning of 2010.  Indeed, Everton wanted to extend the loan, but the LA Galaxy refused, and Everton manager David Moyes would have liked to have bought him–but Donovan’s valuation was too high (£10m) for the cash-strapped Everton.

On the other hand, Dempsey has been in the English Premier Leauge full-time for almost exactly five years. He joined Fulham on a $4million transfer from the New England Revolution during the January 2007 transfer window, and made his Fulham debut on January 20, 2007.  He’s since scored 42 goals in 169 appearances for Fulham–setting records for not only most goals by an American in England, but claiming the record for most Fulham goals in the Premier League era (since 1992).

More from Wahl’s SI piece:

Donovan has played well since joining Everton on a short-term loan, often leading the attack and making Toffees fans wish he would stay permanently. Dempsey, meanwhile, is in the best form of his life. Think about this: the only Premier League players with more goals in all competitions this season than Dempsey (15) are Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero — a trio worth a quarter of a billion dollars on the transfer market.

Even then, as recently as last spring, English columnist Georgina Turner wrote a column for SI headlined “Dempsey still underrated Despite star performances at Fulham“–and inevitably Donovan came up:

[Dempsey’s] quality seems forever caught in soccer’s peripheral vision. In part, he has suffered from the constant comparison to Landon Donovan; up against the U.S.’ wholesome, twinkle-eyed star, Dempsey’s brooding demeanor makes him an unlikely poster boy. Donovan’s injury-time goal against Algeria at last summer’s World Cup is seared on to the nation’s memory — even people who aren’t that interested in soccer could probably describe it to you. That it was Dempsey’s run and shot that created the opportunity, leaving the box open and the goalkeeper on the floor, is merely a footnote.

Some related posts from our own archives:

On Donovan: see this post from December 2010, about Donovan deciding to pass on a similar loan deal to Everton last season, and this video of that aforementioned most famous goal in US soccer history.

On Demspey: see this post from last October about him claiming the record for most goals scored in England by an American, and this post from August 2010 speculating about how Dempsey might or might not combine with Belgian youngster Moussa Dembélé.  Fulham has since added yet another cook that we like to watch into its attacking midfield kitchen–Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz.  We wrote this just over a month ago, for a pre-Christmas edition of “what to watch”:

two [Fulham] players to watch: Costa Rican attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz, who arrived from FC Twente over the summer, and seems like he’s only now adjusting and fitting in; and Belgian striker Moussa Dembélé, who also came over after success in the Eredivisie, with AZ Alkmaar, the previous summer.  We wrote at the time that perhaps Fulham might have to choose between playing him and American Clint Dempsey–but they combined rather well last year, and from what we saw in their draw versus Liverpool a couple weeks ago, Bryan Ruiz is starting to combine well with the two of them.


Arsenal Advances in the FA Cup

January 20, 2011 — by Suman

In case you missed it, watch the highlights of Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Leeds yesterday, in a FA Cup replay (following the 1-1 draw a couple weeks ago). All four goals are worth watching: the first goes from Chamakh to Arshavin to Nasri in 5′; then crackers by Sagna & Bradley Johnson which made the score 2-0 and then 2-1; and then finally late in the 2nd half, after Wenger was forced to bring on Fabregas and Robin van Persie, the latter scored with a header off a great cross by Bendtner (didn’t think we’d ever have occasion to write those last few words).

We’ve been having some discussions about Arsenal’s optimal starting lineup, sparked by this post by Coach Larry–in particular his inclusion of Jack Wilshere among his list of “Players who if they play too much kill their chances” (along with Denilson and Bendnter btw).

Now young Jack Wilshere has been among the most lauded players in the Premier League this season, and he has been in Wenger’s top XI all season, as one of the 2 holding midfielders alongside Alex Song in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1.

The “3-1” part of the starting XI has been under discussion as well: Nasri and Fabregas are given; Arshavin (on the other wing opposite Nasri) and Chamakh (up front) rounded out the starting XI for the first couple months of the season, but with Arshavin losing form, Walcott coming on strong, and van Persie coming back from injury, the ideal front four has been part of the discussion too.

Larry’s argument re Wilshere:

My contention is he represents a non-ideal Arsenal formation.  Song is a better tackler and reader of the game, Nasri, RVP, and Cesc all far superior in distribution and possession.  I’d prefer to play Chamakh up top as he adds an extra dimension in the air others not named Bendtner can offer.  Arsenal are so good at holding the ball, they just don’t need to have 2 ball winners in the center.  I do like how Wilshere and Song work together, especially in their flexibility to cover one another, but ultimately, they’d be better served with more pure attack so they can turn their dominance into more goals.  And, hey, you never know when Arshavin will return from his moon pod.

Leeds v Arsenal, 19 Jan 2010 (via

In sum: take Wilshere off and replace him with Chamakh as a striker up front, meaning Arsenal would be playing a 4-1-4-1 (RVP pulled back from his usual striker position into a 4-man midfield: van Persie and Fabregas in the center (which is attractive), and Nasri and either Walcott or Arshavin on the wings.  More explanation from Larry: “It has the beauty of adding an actual shooter/scorer to the very top of their formation [Chamakh], plus RVP should be able to find a couple of spaces underneath, so he can create some shooting lanes for himself, instead of having a defender right on his hip.  And for when he gets injured, Nasri is more than capable of sliding inside.”

For reference, Arsenal’s starting lineup for this FA Cup match v Leeds was as follows is shown to the right (courtesy of ZonalMarking–click thru on the image for their analysis of the match).  Wenger was forced to bring on van Persie and Fabregas for Chamakh and Arshavin in the 2nd half


Arsenal v Leeds 1972 – Centenary FA Cup Final

January 8, 2011 — by Suman

The two historied English clubs played earlier today, in a 3rd Round FA Cup matchup at the Emirates.  While today’s was an interesting match, their most famous FA Cup clash was on May 6, 1972 at Wembley–in the centenary FA Cup Final.  Leeds won 1-0 to win their 1st and only FA Cup.

Unlike today, when it would have been a major upset for Leeds to hang on for a victory against Arsenal, in 1972 they were perhaps the two strongest sides in English football.  Arsenal had pulled off the double the previous season, winning both the league and the FA Cup, with Leeds finishing 2nd in the 1970-71 First Division table–just a single point behind the Gunners.

It’s a game that’s well-documented online, by and for Leeds supporters; e.g., a Yorkshire Evening Post photo gallery which includes the front pages from the programmes of the match (left) and the May 8, 1972 special edition of the Evening Post (which includes pics of Leeds captain Billy Bremner receiving the Cup from Queen Elizabeth II and lifting the Cup above the squad):