What To Watch This Weekend (Feb 25-26): Milan-Juve, North London Derby

February 25, 2012 — by Suman3


Saturday Feb 25

Italy, AC Milan vs. Juventus, 2:30pmET (FSC,  Could be the match that decides the Scudetto.  These two are the top of the Serie A table, separated by just a point (although Juve has a game in hand). Can La Vecchia Signora go into San Siro and beat the defending champions? A prominent subplot: this is aging midfielder Andrea Pirlo‘s return to Milan, to play against the club where he spent a decade as the premier deep-lying playmaker in Serie A (and perhaps in the world).

Spain, Espanyol vs. Levante 4pmET (ESPN Deportes, Yet another match pivotal in the bunched-up race for 4th place in La Liga.  Espanyol is tied for 4th with Athletic Bilbao (33 points), while Levante (and Atletico Madrid) are just a point behind them. We wrote last weekend about Espanyol’s youthful talent.


Sunday Feb 26

England, Arsenal vs. Spurs 8:30amET (FSC): The North London Derby–and for the first time in many years, Spurs are widely acknowledged to have the superior squad, and are favored to win on Arsenal’s home ground.  But Spurs supporter PoliticalFootballs isn’t buying it. An excerpt from his match preview:

I am not so optimistic about Tottenham’s chances, neither for this weekend or the following week’s match against United.  For too long, Spurs have looked good and then collapsed – it seems inevitable that it will happen again this year.  With their 10 point advantage over Arsenal, they have a great opportunity to finish above them for the first time since the 1994/5 season, having never done so since Arsene Wenger became the Gunners’ manager.  Tottenham have also not done the double (beat them home and away) over their neighbours since 1992/3 – and even then, the match at Highbury was against a makeshift team, as the home side were looking ahead to the FA Cup final the following week.

Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven vs. Feyenoord 8:30amET (ESPN Deportes, #1 in the Eredivisie table vs #5, separated by only 4 points (with AZ Alkmaar, Heerenveen and Twente in between, and Ajax in 6th a point behind Feyenoord).  Also a chance to see some young Dutch internationals that are still playing in the home country: from PSV defender Erik Pieters and midfielders Georginio Wijnaldum and Kevin Strootman are in the Dutch squad that will be playing England on Wednesday, as is Feyenoord central defender Ron Vlaar.  The one to watch is deep-lying midfielder Strootman, who has been called the future of the Dutch midfield.

Germany, Bayern Munich vs. Schalke 9:30amET ( #3 hosts #4 in the Bundesliga table.  Bayern is in somewhat of a crisis, after slipping behind both Borussias in the table, and then losing at Basel in the Champions League last Wednesday.  They’ll need to win at home to avoid falling further into crisis–and to avoid falling further behind the Borussias.

Spain, Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid 10amET (, tape at 5 p.m. on ESPN Deportes): A Madrid derby of sorts–Rayo Vallecano is located in the Vallecas neighborhood of Madrid, where they play at the 15,500-capacity Campo de Futbol de Vallecas. Rayo Vallecano just got back to the first division this season, after spending most of the past decade in Segunda Division and Segunda Division B. But they’re currently just two points off that all-important 4th place, and Sid Lowe cited them as a team that’s worth watching in a recent column:

Look at La Liga now and few teams are exciting; few look genuinely good; fewer still have achieved any sort of consistency. Rayo Vallecano are one (five wins in seven and great to watch), Athletic Bilbao another (they lost three of their first four but just three in 19 since), improving Atlético Madrid perhaps a third. A case can be made for Espanyol. And then?

England Carling Cup, Liverpool vs. Cardiff City 11amET (FSC): Liverpool’s first time back at Wembley since the 1996 FA Cup final (a match that’s remembered more for the Spice Boys’ pre-match white Armani suits than for the match itself).

Italy, Napoli vs. Inter Milan 2:30pmET FSC, Another chance to watch perhaps the most exciting and dynamic attack in Europe–Napoli’s front line of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik, supported by Inler and Gargano in the center of the midfield, Zuniga and Maggio on the wings.  (Note that Maggio is the only Italian among those, and note the strong South American contingent: Cavani and Gargano are Uruguayan, while Lavezzi is Argentine.)

Spain, Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona 3:30pmET (GolTV): Might Barca drop yet more points at the Estadio Vicente Calderón?  Atletico certainly has more to play for, as they’ve climbed back into contention for that last Champions League spot, while Barcelona has practically given up any chance of catching Real Madrid for the La Liga title–due to struggles on the road–and has consequently shifted their focus and energies on the Champions League campaign.  We looked at Atletico’s squad–and their recently installed manager, former Atletico player (and Argentine international) Diego Simeone–in this post a month ago.


AC Milan Needs to Beat the Top Teams, Stat

February 3, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


The Tevez-Pato “will he? won’t he” questions ricocheted every which way this January as the musical chairs transfers song played at AC Milan, but at the end everyone retook their own chairs. Boring. Perhaps they were dating Berlusconi’s daughter, or were on £200,000 a week slave wages that no one else could match, but whatever the reason, that anti-climax will be followed up by a busy February and early March. The Rossoneri take on first-place Juventus twice in the Coppa Italia and once in the league, Napoli and Udinese in the league, not to mention the two Champions League legs against Arsenal.

It all starts with the home match/grudge match against Napoli this Sunday at 2:30 ET (Fox Soccer).

To put the upcoming matches in perspective, Milan has not beaten any team in the top five in a league match this season, including the painful loss to Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in January. Furthermore, Napoli beat Milan 3-1 in their only other matchup this season. If Milan continues to find itself unable to beat the top teams, this upcoming run could prove very difficult and very damaging.

However, aside from the Tevez-Pato dud of inaction, Milan did bring in five reinforcements over the window to deal with the second half of the season, including striker Maxi Lopez from Catania and out-of-favor midfielder Sulley Muntari from Inter. Coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Lazio that could have seen them take pole position, they have everything to play for—and conversely, everything to lose.

Napoli has stuttered to a string of draws and a defeat to Genoa of late, but Cavani fired them to a 2-0 victory over Inter in the Coppa Italia last week and they could come roaring back this Sunday.

Feb 5, 9:00 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Napoli
Feb 8, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Juventus
Feb 11, 12:00 ET  Udinese  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 15, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Arsenal
Feb 19, 9:00 ET  Cesena  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 21, 2:45 ET  Juventus  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 25, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Juventus
Mar 3, 12:00 ET  Palermo  vs.  AC Milan
Mar 6, 2:45 ET  Arsenal  vs.  AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 15 goals in the Serie A this season. But should he get injured or need a breather during the fast-and-furious fixtures ahead, Lopez may be called into action. Alexandre Pato suffered a thigh strain last month that may see him missing out on the next 4 matches, including the home leg against Arsenal. Lopez was not top-choice at Catania, so while there is cover, it’s not of the same quality. The decision between Lopez and Tevez was never one of equals, rather of finances.

New loan signing Muntari continues his international engagements with the Ghana national team in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and may not be back in time for the Champions League fixture against Arsenal in the San Siro, either. Muntari was brought on to help bolster a depleted midfield that has lost Mathieu Flamini, Gennaro Gattuso, Alexander Merkel and Alberto Aquilani to injury. Kevin Prince-Boateng also has spent quality time on the injury table of late.

Obviously, with talented players such as Thiago Silva, Robinho, van Bommel, Seedorf, Ambrosini and Zambrotta all hale and hearty, the team is not in crisis, but performances this month could very well determine their fates in all remaining competitions: the league, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.

It should be getting quite interesting quite soon.


What To Watch Today: Man Utd-Spurs & Barcelona-Napoli

August 22, 2011 — by Suman

We’ll be back soon with an account of what we watched this past weekend, but first there are two matches later today that are worthy of your attention:

Monday, August 22

Gamper Trophy (friendly), Barcelona-Napoli (2:30pmET,

This is an annual pre-season friendly hosted by Barcelona each August, named after Joan (nee Hans) Gamper–a Swiss player and businessman, and founding member of FC Zurich.  He moved to Barcelona in 1898, where he founded, played for, and then served as club president of FC Barcelona (cf. Chapter 4 of Jimmy Burns’ definitive history of the club, Barça: A People’s Passion).

Aurilio De Laurentiis' Napoli goes into the Lion's Den to face Barcelona today

For this trophy, Barcelona invites a club from outside Spain to play at the Camp Nou; the past few years have seen top clubs like AC Milan, Man City, Boca Junions, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, and Juventus travel to Barcelona.  Today it’s another Serie A club, one that has emerged as a challenger to the Milanese hegemony in Italy.

Napoli finished 3rd in Serie last season, behind the two Milan team, so we’ll be seeing them in the Champions League this fall. Their breakout star last year was 24-year-old Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani–he scored a club-record 26 goals in Serie A last season, his first with Napoli after they’d signed him away from Palermo.  Napoli showed they’re serious about challenging in Serie A–and perhaps even in the Champions League–by extending Cavani’s contract until 2016.

Not only that, they added to their squad over the summer by signing Swiss-Turkish midfielder Gökhan Inler away from Udinese (who, by contrast with Napoli, sold off their star players following their strong finish in Serie A last season).

Inler’s unveiling in Naples was quite literally that–or more accurately, an unmasking.  See the photo, or better yet the video: “Presentazione Gokhan Inler con la maschera da leone e la grande risposta di De Laurentiis” (yes, that’s the film producer  Aurelio De Laurentiis, who refounded the club after it had gone into bankruptcy into 2004).

And of course on the other side of the ball it’s only the best club side of our era.  Given that it’s just a friendly, we’ll be watching for some of the second-stringers to get more playing time: new/recent arrivals Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez and Ibrahim Affelay, as well as La Masia graduate Thiago Alcântara. Consider that those four (Thiago and Cesc in the midfield, in the spots where Xavi and Iniesta usually run things; Sanchez and Affeley on the wings), plus current starters Messi and Busquets, form a front six (in Barça 4-3-3) for the next decade–Cesc and Affelay are the senior members of that lineup at 24 and 25, respectively.

EPL, Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur (3pmET, ESPN2/ A more consequential match than the one above.  It’s Tottenham’s season opener, after their Week One fixture was postponed in the wake of the London riots–and they have the tough draw of going into Old Trafford to face defending title-holders ManU.  Here are Coach Larry’s thoughts on the match:

Considering we know (assume?) that Spurs will make significant changes to their team before the window closes, how they lineup should prove interesting.  United’s squad appears settled, and now they have the youth (back from loan spells) they lacked last term.  ManU should lock down the midfield area to protect their central defense, but Rafael van der Vaart could prove a challenge.  Tottenham’s back line represents their most consistent group and their matchup against United’s attack probably will offset.

Our resident Spurs fan John Lally is optimistic: “I really fancy spurs to put in a performance today.  Ashley Young is their biggest threat but hopefully we start [Croatian] Kranjčar again in the middle. I’ll say 2-2”

Also optimistic is the Guardian’s Barney Ronay, who writes that the Spurs may “wing” their way to victory, thus ending to their long drought at Old Trafford (their last win there was in December 1989!)–that is to say, that the matchups to watch will be on the wings, where Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will be running at Man U depleted defense.


Edu Strike Puts Rangers Through

February 25, 2011 — by Sean

Lots of games happening in the Europa League tonight, but it was a sliding extra time goal from US midfielder and Rangers clutch-man Maurice Edu that has sent the boys from Glasgow through to the next round on away goals.

US defender Oguchialu Onyewu was in action with Twente as well. Big guy has been getting starts and playing pretty well. Highlights of the match after the bump, along with highlights of the Villarreal – Napoli game, the pick of the litter last night.

Sporting Lisbon 2 – 2 Rangers