What to Watch This Weekend – Interlull Edition, Pt 1 (Friday March 25)

March 24, 2011 — by Suman2

The Interlull is upon us.  Just when the domestic and Champions leagues are hurtling towards their conclusions, getting us all hot and bothered…they take a break so the best players can fly all over the world to risk injury playing for their respective national teams in largely meaningless international games.  (Full disclosure: we picked up the “Interlull” terminology from the indispensable Arseblog.)

That said, some of these games aren’t completely meaningless–included on this weekend’s are a handful of Euro 2012 and African Cup qualifiers featuring some nations/players we like to watch. And some of the meaningless international friendlies shouldn’t be completely uninteresting–particularly USA hosting Argentina at the (New) Meadowlands (Saturday), Brazil playing Scotland at the Emirates (Sunday), and Ghana playing England at Wembley (Tuesday).

But you’ll have to come back for our previews of the latter matches.  There are so many fixtures (over 100) spread out over so many days (Friday thru Tuesday) that we’ve been forced to split up this weekend’s viewing guide into a multi-installment day-by-day affair.   As in the past, we’ve relied upon WaPo’s Soccer Insider for a complete listing of matches, times, and US television options.  Here our choices for…

Friday, March 25

Hungary-Netherlands in Budapest (3:30pmET,; 7pm on ESPND): A Euro 2012 qualifier between the two teams at the top of the Group E standings.

For the Dutch, no Arjen Robben nor Huntelaar due to injuries.  But still plenty of talent to watch in midfield, on the wings, and up front: Schneijder, van der Vaart, van Persie, Kuyt, Elia, Affelay.  Plus watch for up-and-coming right wingback Gregory van der Wiel. Barcelona was said to be keeping an eye on him in case they were unable to resign Dani Alves.  Now that Alves has turned his back on a potential big money transfer to Man City and signed on for a few more seasons in Catalonia, Man City has apparently shifted their focus to van der Wiel.

We’re really not sure who to watch for on the current Hungarian squad–but after watching this match we should know for the return fixture in Amsterdam on Tuesday (see below).


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


Carpenter’s Crush: (More) Samir Nasri

December 8, 2010 — by Tyler

Someday you too could earn a $15M bonus from oil barons

“Little Zidane”, “New Zizou”, “The next Zidane”

Samir Nasri’s nicknames, preposterous and premature, were heaped upon him not just because he possesses raw talent and vision, but because he shares a basic story with Zidane: Algerian parents emigrate to Marseille, build “street cred” while playing ball.

Let’s be clear, there is only one Zidane, and Nasri needs to demonstrate much more than an ill-timed headbutt to enjoy more substantial comparisons. But anything’s possible, right? After all, he’s only 23…

His 2 goals vs. Fulham this weekend were absolutely ridiculous. The second and game-winner will surely stand as one of this season’s best.

Goal 1: “cool, calm, and collected…”

Goal 2: “That is why people pay money to watch football.”

I’m reminded of a goal he scored in a Champions League match against Porto last year, as if he was dribbing amongst cardboard cutouts. I quite enjoy the fact that the play-by-play is in Arabic…

(Cautiously detatching myself from Cesc, one game at a time… Love is a fickle thing!)

Top of the table, Gunners, if only for a week!


Weekend Standouts: Samir Nasri & S.S. Lazio

December 6, 2010 — by Sean1

An exciting weekend as always around world football, and more action to come with Champions League matches tomorrow and Weds. For now, let’s take a quick look at the fantastic goals of Samir Nasri vs Fulham. “The overbite”, as we call him in the Cult Football offices, has hit top form this season, and his composure on the ball and willingness to shoot is sorely needed, especially with Arshavin going missing in the attack of late. Enjoy!

How about dem aquile?

From Italy, Rafa Benitez continues to lose, this time to Lazio. The result puts Lazio in second place and sends Inter dangerously close to losing any invitation to european tournaments next year. Lazio are actually a very entertaining side to watch, and absolutely dominated Inter on the way to a 3-1 victory. Particularly outstanding were the Brazilian midfielder Hernanes and his point man in attack Mauro Zárate. Hernanes has a deft touch and an eye for just the right pass, while Zárate has an excellent sense of space, is a strong runner and classy finisher.  We will be paying attention…


How Arsenal Built Their Way to Goal – A Chalkboard Comparison

October 26, 2010 — by Sean

A red card 5 minutes into the game would obviously have repercussions sooner or later. Looking at the buildup to Arsenal’s first goal (Nasri, 20′), it appears to have been the former. Arsenal made nearly 20 more passes than City over the 10 minutes leading up to the goal, and you can see from the Guardian chalkboards below that they were running the midfield from front to back. Isolated groups of Man City players were trying to maintain the ball while waiting for players to support, but having one less man leaves too may holes to fill and Arsenal plugged them full of attacking movement.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Video highlights of the match below–the first of which is Boyata’s early foul of Chamakh and subsequent red card, and the second of which is Nasri’s goal–a great finish off a quick give&go with Andrei Arshavin (as indicated by the white circles in the top chalkboard above):
PL Highlights: Man City/Arsenal


Weekend wrapup: The big dogs of Europe disappoint

September 28, 2010 — by Suman2

Un buen delantero...y un buen hijo tambien!

It was an interesting weekend in Europe, filled with unexpected results–the big dogs all across the continent came up short. Chelsea, Arsenal, Inter Milan, and Bayern Munich all suffered ignominious defeats, while Manchester United and Real Madrid could only manage disappointing draws. The only power that didn’t disappoint their supporters was Barcelona, which won convincingly. (Question: Are there other European club sides that rank with these six?)

In England, previously perfect Chelsea lost to Manchester City 1-0, the lone goal coming off a tremendous individual effort by Man City’s dogged and talented Argentine captain, Carlos Tevez. (Keep scrolling down for video of Tevez’s goal, among others.)

But the two sides chasing Chelsea in the standings failed to capitalize: Man U had to come from behind twice to salvage a 2-2 draw against Bolton. That was far better than Arsenal, who were shockingly down 3-0 against unheralded West Brom late in the 2nd half. Two late strikes by the young Frenchman Samir Nasri (a replay of one of which is included below) made the score a more respectable-looking 3-2, but Arsenal came off their home pitch with many more questions than points.

Meanwhile, on the Continent, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, last season’s Champions League finalists, and the clear favorites to win their respective domestic leagues, both lost as well. Bayern lost 2-1 to minnows Mainz, while Inter went down 1-0 to AS Roma–a club with a rich history, but this year’s edition had struggled at the start of this season.

But last year’s Champions League finalists and their respective pursuits of finishing atop Serie A or the Bundes Liga are secondary compared to the annual epic struggle between Barcelona and Real Madrid for the La Liga title.  The drama d’Espana is especially intense this year, as Real Madrid have of course brought in The Special One, whose tasks are to win the Champions League and La Liga–any less will be considered a failure by the demanding Madridistas–and by Mourinho himself.  But Mourinho’s Madrid failed to bring the flair, being held to a very surprising scoreless draw against Levante.  Meanwhile, Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1, slipping ahead of Real Madrid in the table, though still second to surprising Valencia.

For more on these matches, check the links below–and the videos.