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.


Football as Art: Gareth Bale Animated

March 23, 2011 — by Suman

This fantastic video was making the rounds of the footy interwebs last week–animator Richard Swarbrick (@RikkiLeaks) with an dreamlike impressionistic rendering of Gareth Bale’s Champions League performances vs Inter Milan:

This blew up especially after it was listed at #1 among “Our Favourite Things This Week” by Guardian Football–they specifically linked to the Run of Play’s post of it, titled “Bones Like Ghost” (“If there were a channel that showed live matches in this style, I might forget what living people looked like”).

For those of you that somehow haven’t seen the “IRL” version of Bale v Inter, see here. Though that video clip, like most of the hundreds of soccer highlight videos on YouTube, has a jarring soundtrack–which is a regrettable phenomenon that Run of Play addressed in an earlier post: “On Soundtracks“:

It’s a universal in football that the only people who take the time to find every single Dennis Bergkamp goal on film and then edit them together into an attractive looking YouTube-length clip listen to either emocore, pop schlock, or trance/house music.

Finally, whenever we revisit Bale v Inter, we’re reminded of Gazzetta dello Sport’s line–still the best of 2010 by our estimation.  Translated from the Italian by the Daily Mail: “‘He is devastating. How else can you describe him ? He doesn’t have one extra gear but three. This time he didn’t score but he assisted. He is a force of nature.”

"L'Inter crolla col Tottenham. Bale scatenato. Benitez: "Troppo veloci"


A Love Letter to (North) London

February 20, 2011 — by Tyler

(When it comes to the Champions League, I can’t help but root for any English team, unless that team is playing against Arsenal… How the Gunners beat Barcelona is not for me to decide, for I’m certainly not an analyst. My best answer is that Arsenal beat Barca the same way Arsenal can be beaten: Solid defending and goalkeeping, making chances count, waiting for a couple sloppy passes and scoring on the break.

As for the Spurs, I love to watch them. I’m an American Arsenal fan, so the Gunners/Spurs rivalry is a non-issue. Yeah, I get excited when they play each other, I get a bit worked up, but I watch my soccer on the t.v., not the telly. My villains are United and Chelsea, unless they’re playing in the Champions League, not against Arsenal!)

Dear North London:

Thank you for last week. Thank you for entertaining us in such dramatic fashion. Thank you for showing us the spirit of “The Underdog”.

Thank you for showing us that the EPL elite is comprised of much more than Reds and Blues. Thank you for showing us that English teams might rebound from last year and once again hold their own in Europe, against the most famous and well-established of teams.

Thank you for providing international ingredients, for Russia, Africa, France, Eastern Europe, and two vans from Holland. Thank you for a home-grown finishing dose (Lennon/Crouch), and for unfinished future droplets (Walcott/Wilshire).

Thank you for showing us that it just might be preferable to train and play under clouds and rain, rather than under models and breezy coasts.

Thank you for your fiery managers and coaches.

Thank you, beanpole and diminutive one, for your last minute heroics.

Thank you, North London, not from a supporter but from a fan.

Thank you, North London, for a rivalry I can’t truly understand.

Thank you for scoring on the break.

Good luck, North London…

Love, Tyler


Spurs win in Milan

February 15, 2011 — by John Lally

Gattuso needs his meds increased (or decreased)...

Some quick thoughts on Spurs’ triumph at the San Siro, just as soon as I try and stop an Italian from headbutting a 59 year old Scot…

First and foremost, that was a fantastic performance from pretty much everyone on the Spurs team.  Gomes made some crucial saves, the defence looked more solid than ever and the midfield linked up well with Crouch, creating numerous chances.  Special mention must go to Van der Vaart, who was able to only play for 60 minutes as he was coming back from a hamstring strain, but with better luck he could have two goals at least.  His invention and dynamism in the middle of the park galvanised the whole team and it showed how much we now rely on a player who was not even with us in the first few weeks of the season. Lennon and Pienaar on the wings worked really hard at both ends of the pitch, frustrating Milan who could not find any way through.  Crouch led the line fantastically and took his goal with great confidence, not to mention managing to keep up with Lennon who looked like Road Runner as he gave Yepes a serious case of twisted blood.  It was great to see Modric back also, his sure passing helping us quell any late comeback from Milan, who deserved nothing more than a defeat.

I have so many negative feelings about the Milan performance, the kindest of which is that they just were not very good.  The worst of it was their petulance and dirty play – typified by Flamini breaking Corluka’s foot, not being sent off and then complaining that Spurs were time-wasting as the Spurs medical staff were picking up all the pieces of bone that had come off the Croatian’s leg.  Gattuso took it to a whole new level though, fouling everyone in sight and then going head to head with Joe Jordan, our 59 year old Assistant Coach.  He continued to kick his way through the night, eventually picking up a yellow card which rules him out of the second leg, but even after the final whistle he was not done – sizing up to Jordan again and clearly head-butting him.  A lengthy ban from competition should be coming for him, though my preference would be to get him in a ring with the Scot, who, even at an advanced age, I’d back to come out on top.

The biggest compliment to Spurs superiority came at the very end of the game though.  Watching the corner from which Ibrahimovic thought he had scored, after a clear push on Michael Dawson, I noticed that Milan had sent their keeper up in a desperate attempt to get a draw…in the first leg of a two-legged tie. That said a lot about their confidence in being able to get a win at White Hart Lane on March 9th, that they would risk being caught on the break in a last ditch attempt at equalising.

One final note, in several of the match reports I have read about Spurs getting the “Crucial Away Goal”.  This is not actually the case – an away goal can only come into  effect if the home team also scores – there is no result at the Lane that could result in Spurs going through on away goals.  For years there has been a basic mis-understanding of what the “Away Goal Rule” means and the effect it can have.  The crucial part of the Spurs goal, was that it gave us a 1-0 lead going into the home game.

But what a result – Come On You Spurs!


The Olympic Stadium Decision–and Leyton Orient

February 11, 2011 — by John Lally

Today, the Olympic Park Legacy Committee selected West Ham United as the preferred bidder to become the new tenant of the Olympic Stadium, beating out competition from Tottenham Hotspur.  This decision will have a severe negative effect on an historic London club, formed in the early 1880s – not Spurs, but Leyton Orient.

The London skyline and 2012 Olympic Stadium (via

The Olympic Stadium is just a mile away from Brisbane Road, Leyton Orient’s stadium, and a tenant like West Ham will have a severe impact on their ability to attract new local fans.  Having been in existence since 1881, Orient have enjoyed just one season in the top flight in their history, back in 1962-3.  Despite this, they have a hardcore group of fans, attracting just over 4000 fans as an average attendance, and invest in the local community and in a youth program which gives opportunities to local kids.  West Ham, though they currently get around 30,000+ fans, will have 60,000 seats to try and fill for each home game (they don’t currently sell out Upton Park for some of the less high profile games).  To do this, they will be offering low price tickets to school children and families to encourage people to come along.  As a bigger club, with a more high profile name and more historical success, it is likely that new young local fans that otherwise might have been going to see Leyton Orient, will instead choose to go and see West Ham – more fame and a bigger stadium being obvious selling points.

The owners of West Ham are not doing this because they are fans of the club who want to see them succeed; Gold and Sullivan are in this purely for profit and know that having the Olympic Stadium plan will make the club have a higher resale value.  The legacy of the 2012 Olympics could now be that one of the oldest community clubs in London could be put out of business, while in the process, two speculators manage to flip a club for profit using the stadium as leverage.

I am so happy that Tottenham were not the preferred bidder for two reasons.  Firstly, we are not from East London, our roots, history and place is in the N17 region of North London.  To franchise ourselves in the way that MK Dons did when they moved away from Wimbledon, would be tearing apart our history and telling the fans that the desire for more (money, success, profile) was more important than the neighbourhood and community that has supported them for over 125 years.  It hasn’t escaped me that it’s not through choice Spurs are not moving.  I sincerely hope this was gamesmanship on the part of Daniel Levy to try and encourage the local council to improve transport links to White Hart Lane; I’m just not convinced at this point it was.  Secondly, I’m relieved that we will not be doing to Leyton Orient what was done to Tottenham back in 1913, when Woolwich Arsenal uprooted from South London to the Islington area of North London – previously a Tottenham stronghold.  This set in place a fierce rivalry between the two clubs, as we believe they had encroached on our territory – something fans remind them of to this day with their suggestion they should go back to the other side of the river (Okay, we sing “F$@& off back to South London”).  If we had made this move, my support would have gone to any local team that the supporters created, in the style of AFC Wimbledon.  I do not know any Spurs fan that was in favour of this move, all of us would accept less success in exchange for not moving. Bigger is not always better, and greed definitely is not good.

I went to one Leyton Orient game, they were the closest team to where I used to live in east London, and I saw them take on Chester, my Dad’s local team when he was growing up.  I sat in the away fans on a cold Tuesday December night back in 2005 and experienced the quintessential football experience, a scrappy 1-0 win for the away team in a low quality game, but completely enjoyable because of the banter between the two sets of fans and a fantastic coffee and meat pie at half time.  My favourite moment from the whole night was a chant inspired by a new residential building that had been recently finished and allowed residents a clear view of the stadium, and vice versa – “We can see you washing up”.  Since then, Chester have gone out of business due to years of financial mismanagement and are being forced to start again from the lowest rung of non-league football, I just hope that Leyton Orient do not follow suit  because of another team’s greed.


Looking at the Premier League Title Race

December 3, 2010 — by Larry1

Who Will Win the Race in England?

The Premier League has nearly reached its halfway point, and the title race has narrowed to five, as there is no reason to supsect any team from Bolton on down to make a serious run to the summit.

The current leaders Manchester United stand two points clear and have yet to lose, but have not impressed, relying on late comebacks from both ahead and behind to draw too many matches.  They have good depth and teamwork under the rule of Sir Alex, but individually there is little magic to be had.  Then again, maybe Berbatov has found some, but the laconic Bulgarian is not known for his consistency.  They benefit from little World Cup fatigue as only Park and Chicharito had substantial roles in South Africa.  They have survived, despite the only occasional presence of Rooney, mostly due to the stability along their back line, especially in the middle.  Van Der Sar has been solid in goal, yet he has no depth behind him.  If Rooney, Chicharito, and Rafael can find a consistent high level, they can even improve, though they must consider investing in Carlton Cole to hedge. 

Players I would pay to see: Rooney, Nani, Berbatov.

Players who must play well for them to win: Ferdinand and Vidic, Nani, Berbatov, Evra, Rooney. 

Players who if they play too much kill their chances: Any GK not named Van Der Sar, O’Shea, Evans.

Chelsea were seemingly running away from the pack until their recent stretch which even saw them struggle in the Champions League with MSK Zilina at Stamford Bridge.  32 shots at Birmingham produced only nine on target and zero goals.  Obviously, missing both Lampard and Essien at times has hurt them significantly, as they no longer can just plug in other near-world-class players like Ballack or Deco.  They have shown themselves too susceptible through the middle, as Terry and Alex also have struggled with injuries.  Cech has returned to a decent form, but they are another top club with nobody behind their number one.

Players I would pay to see: Drogba, Malouda, Essien.

Players who must play well for them to win: Drogba, Malouda, Essien, Terry and Alex, Lampard.

Players who if they play too much kill their chances: Any GK not named Cech, any player with a squad number higher than 40, Ramires, Ferreira, Kalou.

Arsenal have only one player remaining from “The Invincibles”, and the six years have shown a consistent problem converting chances into goals.  When combined with their penchant to become unsteady late in matches, their challenge consistently suffers from dropped points in winnable matches.  Of course, the additions of regular time for Song and now Chamakh has somewhat increased their ability to deal with the physicality of the daily grind.  Naturally, they possess a great depth of some interchangeable parts, and the players all believe in what they are doing under Wenger.  Oh, but their woeful goalkeeping must improve.

Players I would pay to see: Song, Fabregas, Van Persie, Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky, Sagna.

Players who must play well for them to win: Fabregas, Song, Van Persie, Chamakh, Sagna.

Players who if they play too much kill their chances: Bendtner, Wilshere, Denilson.

Ah the riches of the Middle East have been showered upon Manchester City, yet instant success has not arrived upon a horse-drawn sleigh.  World class players all over the pitch and in the stands watching have done little to implement a plan to harness this advantage.  At times, they appear forlorn to have to play, especially at some of the lower-ranked outposts around the country.  They must solve their owners versus manager versus players versus fan expectations dilemma.  Mancini should start by breaking up his DeJong, Yaya Toure, and Barry central midfield, and move decisively toward pairing somebody with Tevez up front.  They can, at least, be assured of the best goalkeeping in this group, with an established backup to Hart.

Players I would pay to see: Tevez, Silva, A Johnson, Balotelli, Yaya.

Players who must play well for them to win: Tevez, Kompany, Silva, A Johnson, Tevez.

Players who if they play too much kill their chances: Yaya&Barry&DeJong, Vieira.

Tottenham live on the edge each match and sit fifth in this race, yet from owner to substitute, they possess the most belief in themselves.  Only their supporters continue to doubt, as they have been conditioned to do.  Clearly, they remain unafraid of the big matches, but they must increase their readiness against the “lesser” teams.  Having earlier dismissed Bolton, Tottenham actually possess a lower goals differential, as leaving every victory to late will bite them before long.  Solving their center and right of their backline would contribute mightily, as would finding a regular defensive midfielder.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move to a 4-5-1 to provide their width without having to force Hutton and Assou-Ekotto.  Gomes has come around to being perfectly adequate, and might become good if he sheds his habit of making the worst possible mistake at the worst possible time.  At least they have good depth behind him.  Ouch, not only is Van der Vaart out for a month, its for the most possible matches in a month as well.

Players I would pay to see: Van der Vaart, Bale, Modric, Assou-Ekotto.

Players who must play well for them to win: Van der Vaart, Bale, Modric, Defoe, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone or Palacios.

Players who if they play too much kill their chances: Crouch, Jenas, Bentley, the crappy version of Lennon.

Now some of these players deemed useless may prove needed if the spate of freezing weather continues.  The snowy, uncertain pitches will bring out the necessity of direct targeting from open play, which will highlight the necessity of an aerial presence.  Lots to play for, and, if the pressures don’t overwhelm them, many great matches to see.


Top of the Table: Is Anyone Actually Going to Win the Premier League?

November 22, 2010 — by Suman3

The X-Factor coming back to fitness for the second half of the season

[Editor’s note: Here’s the inaugural edition of something we’d like to make a semi-regular feature: a look at the top of the table.  Here we look (once again) at the Premier League table, but we plan to check in on other tables around the world over the course of the season.]

Someone eventually has to win the Premier League title–but from recent results, it’s hard to figure out who.  Here’s the top of the table as of today–it’s virtually certain to be one of these teams that ends up on top at the end:

1 Chelsea 14 9 1 4 28 9 19 28
2 Manchester United 14 7 7 0 28 15 13 28
3 Arsenal 14 8 2 4 28 15 13 26
4 Manchester City 14 7 4 3 19 11 8 25
5 Bolton Wanderers 14 5 7 2 26 20 6 22
6 Tottenham Hotspur 14 6 4 4 21 19 2 22

But alas none of the top contenders have been especially impressive:

Chelsea lost again over the weekend, this time to lowly Birmingham–their third loss in four weeks, following losses at Liverpool and at home to Sunderland.  And the latest loss came days after unceremoniously dumping their assistant manager; whether or not it contributed to the latest loss, it has precipitated close to a full-blown crisis at Stamford Bridge, with manager Carlos Ancelotti saying “I am not in control at Chelsea.”

Man City had been the team in crisis-mode over the past month, with their home fans booing a scoreless draws against Man U and Birmingham–until they broke out of their doldrums this past weekend in a big way, with a 4-1 thrashing of Fulham.  Following which, Fulham’s manager (and Man City’s former manager–and Man U legend), the “super classy” Mark Hughes, said Man City are still in the hunt: “On their performance today certainly they’re contenders.  They were excellent. If they have belief and there’s some forward thinking, and maybe they’re a bit more attack-minded as they were today on more occasions, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. They’ve got as good a chance as anybody.”

Arsenal had been cautiously mentioned by commentators and supporters over the past few weeks–that this could be year they finally reclaim the title.  But that was before the 2nd half of Saturday’s North London Derby.

Man U?  Somewhat surprisingly, still undefeated–but hardly dominating, with a record of 7 wins and 7 draws.  And let’s not forget they had been the team in crisis not too long ago; in fact, young Mr. Rooney returned to the pitch this past weekend.

Rounding out the top of the table, tied with 22 points apiece, are the victors of that North London derby, Spurs–whose manager thinks they’ve got a shot at the crown; and Bolton (not sure who thinks they have a legitimate shot at the title).  But who knows, the way things are going…

In fact, the situation can be best summarized by Uncle Harry’s comments referenced above:

This is the best chance anyone is going to get, this season. The league has never been more open. Sunderland go to Chelsea last weekend and win 3-0, Manchester United were losing by two goals at Aston Villa until late on.  It’s wide open for somebody who can put a run together. It’s there for someone to have a real go at it. Why be fearful and say ‘we can’t win it’. Why can’t we win it?


Spurs Triumphant at the Emirates

November 20, 2010 — by John Lally3

Someone is getting his drink on tonight

Maybe this is how it has to happen.  Maybe you have to plumb the depths before you can scale the mountain.  Maybe this was our game-changing moment, just as the Red Sox coming back from 3 games down against their biggest rivals in 2004 changed everything.

All I know was that at half time, I was ready to throw in the towel – two nil down, bloody typical Tottenham.  We hadn’t played particularly badly, just individual mistakes had cost us.  Assou-Ekotto not following through all the way to the ball going out of play allowed Nasri to open the scoring.  Then a break away from Arsenal resulted in their second, when a still winded Alan Hutton (who’d been taken out by Clichy when Spurs were pushing forward) failed to close his man down and Chamakh was given an easy chance to double the home team’s lead.  Allowing Arsenal to take a 2-0 lead was one thing, that the second came from Chamakh, a man who looked like he had no confidence with the ball at his feet and appeared to be wearing a full on Snuggie under his shirt, left me completely despondent.

But then, everything changed.  It all started with Defoe coming on at half time.  Spurs have really missed his pace and direct style of play while he’s been out injured, and his presence gave them a whole new outlet for attacks.  The first goal was a result of that directness, the short Defoe winning a headed flick on to guide the path to the brilliant Van der Vaart, who deftly set up Bale who finished nicely.  The equaliser came after a free kick on the edge of the box was handled by Fabregas in the wall who, despite his claims to the contrary, had raised his arm well above his head to block the shot, giving away a penalty which Van der Vaart converted.  After that, it looked like Spurs might throw it away again as they sat back too far allowing Arsenal to attack.  All through this game, Fabregas was given far too much time and space in the middle of the pitch, and time and again it looked like he would punish Spurs.  Gomes did well to turn a shot from him around the post, and then Tottenham again got away with leaving players unmarked as Koscielny headed over from 5 yards out.  Inevitably, it was Van der Vaart who again set up the winner, his free kick perfectly measured to Kaboul, who headed into the far corner.

And that was it, Spurs finally won at Arsenal, and away at one of the “Big 4” of Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal.  17 years and 68 league games away from the Lane against those opponents without a win, numbers I’d heard far too many times in recent days, all banished with a come-from-behind win.  Hopefully, this will push us on to better league form and we can get back into the Champions’ League place.  Maybe next time we go to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Old Trafford or the Emirates, we’ll have more confidence and look to attack from the outset.  But whatever happens after this, I’ll enjoy today. I’ll enjoy the win over our arch nemesis.

Is that the Pacific Ocean I can see…?