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Champions League matches

I was eagerly looking forward to the Champions League matches this week. Even more than usual. Champions League is the best competition in the football world–that includes the World Cup and Ipswich/Norwich derbies.

Other than maybe the Celtic match this week, though, it was a pretty bland affair.

Liverpool continue to limp around completely unimpressively. Despite all the high hopes at the beginning of the year, if they don’t beat ManU this weekend they can start planning for next year–or start concentrating on the FA Cup, maybe. Their problems rest solely at the soles of Rafa Benitez. They have the the talent, but they remain a disjointed mess. Not as easy as Mourinho makes it all look, eh Rafa?

Speaking of the ever-whinging Jose, they are back to doing just enough to get by. The Barcelona match should have been interesting on a number of fronts, but turned out to be a routine 1-0 to the Chelski. Hilario, back-up to every back-up keeper on the squad, did well enough for his clean sheet. Barca looked like they were content to sleep through this group stage match and were already thinking about Real Madrid this weekend.

That ends the distractions for a couple weeks. No more Internationals. No Champions League. It’s time for the early questions to be answered in the domestic leagues. Will Aston Villa ever lose? Will Roeder or Pardew be the first sacked? Will Inter not choke this gift of a season away? Do Real finally have things together, or will the hot streak only last until the boredom sets in again?

Mostly Baffled, But There Are Some Answers

I’m big enough to admit it. I have no idea what the hell is going on. Does Rafa Benitez have any idea what he’s doing at Liverpool? By almost everyone’s estimate, he came into the season with the second best team in the Premiership. They’ve struggled for their form to say the least so far. Everton just dusted them in the derby at the weekend 3-0. I can understand perfectly well that he may have been less than thrilled with some of the perfomances.

Tonight in the Champions League he sat most of the usual suspects and PSV Eindhoven held them to a 0-0 draw. They used to accuse sweet Claudio Ranieri of being too much of a ‘tinker’ when he was at Chelsea, but Benitez is taking it well beyond even that. Liverpool is much stronger this year, but still not Chelsea-like–being able to field an entire second team with enough talent to beat just about anyone. Liverpool has to field the likes of Gerrard, Alonso, Hyppia, and Crouch to have much of a chance against a quality team. He sat them all.

Maybe he had a point to prove, but it seems like lately every time a manager decides to drive home a point it costs them a big game. There must be better way.

No such slip-ups for Chelsea. They took care of Werder Bremen fairly easily, 2-0. That was the one team in the group good enough to surprise Chelski, especially this early, if they looked past them, but Mourinho had them awake and ready to play. Looks like they’ll get through along with Barcelona. Their chances look much better than they did when the draw first came out. It was wonderful to delude myself into thinking they could get knocked out in the group stage. It’s not going to happen, but I still don’t think they’ll win the thing either.

I also can’t begin to figure out Tottenham. I’ve kept up my end and have been avoiding watching them live. No matter. They still look shaky. Actually, they look fine, they just can’t seem to be able to score. Not playing Defoe is obviously not wise. He wants out, but play him while you have him. Of course, he only wants to leave because Jol, for some reason only he must know, doesn’t use him much.

Ipswich has always been beyond me. I’ve decided to just ride the wave and not get too bothered about where they’re going. They looked awful to start the season, but have managed to win three on the trot now. They are a mid-table team, through and through. They’ll be streaky all season, I’m afraid. Just when I start getting my hopes up that they may be good enough to contend, they’ll drop several points to teams they should easily beat. I blame Magilton for some of that, but the reality is they’re just a very average Chamionship side.

One manager that can easily be blamed for his team’s up and down performance is Gareth Southgate at Middlesborough. They look absolutely great one week, and absolute rubbish the next. Southgate is a great guy and I hope he eventually succeeds, but you can’t tell me ‘Boro wouldn’t be better off with practically anybody else at the helm. He should be learning the ropes somewhere in the lower leagues. Well, he may have ‘Boro down there where he belongs soon enough anyway.

One other thing that has become glaringly obvious is how great Martin O’Neill really is. He won’t be out-coached by anyone, and Aston Villa already look like a completely different team. Randy Lerner should be very pleased with his English football team, unlike the American one.

Is the US ever going to name a national coach? One should have been hired as soon as Arena left. I don’t think they’re cannily waiting to land the one they want. I’m convinced they have no idea what they’re doing at all. I think they want an American, but none strike me as being capable of taking the team beyond where Arena had them. They had a quick chance to do something dramatic and make a difference right after the World Cup. That moment looks to be gone.

Champions League Kicks Off

The Champions League gets things kicked off today. So the wait is coming to an end finally. These early qualifying matches aren’t anything very interesting and are very unlikely to produce any surprises. They’re never meant to. At least we can finally begin to watch matches that count for something again.

Arsenal faces Dinamo Zagreb today. Liverpool will get Maccabi Haifa tomorrow–this leg is in England, so there’s no danger of Hezbolla disrupting things yet. Both England sides should take comfortable leads into the second legs. That goes for AC Milan as well. The undisputed powerhouses of the disreputable Serie A shouldn’t need to break a sweat against Crvena Zvezda on Wednesday. They may even be able to give Chelsea reject, Hernan Crespo, a decent run-out.

Unless you have access to Setanta Sports Channel, though, you’ll have to follow the results on the internet. Satanta is usually only available on the Dish Network or in pubs. They also have snapped up many of the Premier League games for this season along with the Champions League, The Championship, and various other leagues and tournaments. They are the channel you need if you want to follow football live.

Unfortunately, Setanta remains a little difficult to get. No major cable outlets offer them. I’ve heard there is something called IPTV which is supposed to let you get it without a dish for about $14/month. I’ve been trying to look into that in time for the season, but there’s not a lot of information on it yet. The Fox Soccer Channel is slipping under this stiff competition, so an early (and lengthy) trip to the pub will practically be a necessity for most Americans wanting to follow European football.

I should mention Ipswich will also be going for loss number 2 against Wolves today. The good guys look even worse than I feared–even through cringing eyes.

The Community Shield match between Chelsea and Liverpool will give us a taste of the Premiership a week early on Sunday. A match that will be carried by the Soccer Channel. Liverpool is picked by many to be the main competition for Chelski this year. I may be alone in this, but I think Chelsea will get nipped at the post for the title this year–and that’s not just wishful thinking.