» European Soccer

Quick Look at the Premier League

After a dismal stretch after the World Cup, the Premier League finally kicks-off Saturday. Time for football to move back into its rightful place in the list of priorities. While I’m thinking of lists, it seems to be a good time to think about some hopes and expectations for the upcoming season.

Chelski will struggle to gel despite the roster of superstars and they’ll get pipped for the title, shocking the world, and sending Abramovich scurrying back to the bank for even more fodder to stuff an already overstuffed squad. They’ll be distracted running for the one bit of silverware they’re lacking, the Champions League. They won’t be having that either, and joy and happiness will reign throughout the land.

So, somebody has to win the title out of the rest of the usual suspects. It can really only be one club. Liverpool are coming together as a team and strengthened the side even further in the off season. They’re strong everywhere except for up front. They’ve just added Dirk Kuyt, but I can see him being a bust in England. Crouch remains more of a freak show than a big-time striker. All that said, I still think they’ll somehow find the net often enough to give the most storied team in England its first Premiership title.

Tottenham can sneak into the third spot, but the pack of 5 or 6 teams should be fairly tight in spots 3 through 8. I love Martin Jol. Of the quality teams near the top of the table, Spurs were one of the very few teams that actually improved their lot over the summer. They generally find ways to shoot themselves in the foot, but I think Tony Soprono, I mean Jol, will have them gunning at the others for a change.

Arsenal are bleeding quality players at the moment. Fortunately for them they can afford to bleed some. Other than managing to hold on to Thierry Henry, nothing positive has happened for the Gunners. The new stadium won’t be a help, at least not in the standings. They’ll be near the top all year, but won’t ever pose a serious threat.

I really don’t think Manchester United are going to be in as much trouble as many seem to fear. It’s just that for one of the first times in eons, they aren’t real threats for the title. A lot depends on their start. If they start poorly, it could be a disasterous year. The Glazers could be run out of town. Sir Alex could finally be sacked. Ronaldo and Roonaldo could kill each other. Well, Christiano will just pretend to be dying. It could all end in tears for the most famous club in the world. But probably not. They’ll be okay, but even that’s unacceptable in Manchester.

For the stragglers at the other end of the table, Watford is headed right back down. They haven’t a prayer. Wigan will find it much tougher going this year. Fulham have problems and Coleman could be the next coach looking for work. Randy Lerner has rescued an abyssmal Aston Villa and he and Martin O’Neill will keep them up somehow. ‘Arry Redknapp will find a way to keep Portsmouth going. Despite now having the most colorful manager in the league, Sheffield United will probably be back playing Ipswich next year. Reading shocked with the ease with which they won the Coca Cola Championship last year–it won’t be so easy now. They’ll stick for another year, though.

The rest will be mired in so-called mid-table obscurity. Good enough to draw against one another, beat the minnows, and get thrashed by the big clubs. I look for Newcastle to plummet. Charlton to struggle at the end as usual, and not start much better. Sam Allerdyce will want out of Bolton very soon. Going the other way, Psycho will have Manchester City continuing to improve.

I’m looking forward to a great year. Even if Chelsea does the expected and wins the title by September, the rest of the league seems to be tightening up. It’s still the best league going, and I can’t wait for it to start.

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.

Even the Rumor Mill is Boring

It has been a very quiet and uneventful off-season. Not even the rumors have been very interesting lately.

Tottenham look to spend some of the buckets of money Man Utd. gifted them for Carrick on Boro’s Stuart Downing and Wigan’s Pascal Chimbonda. They look to be a team headed in the right direction, finally. I’ll still try not to watch many matches until they get their footing. Apparently, my television being tuned to their matches disrupts the delicate cosmic energy and throws the team into disarray.

Other than maybe Liverpool, none of the other big guns in the Prem seem to be improving much. Most are treading water. ‘Arry will have Portsmouth playing better again, especially if he lands Sol Campbell. The two happened to be spotted in a north London pub together.

Villa, without a big influx of cash from a possible take-over, have to be one of the relegation favorites. The ship is sinking–only the rats are still aboard. Despite their amazing good showing last year, Wigan will probably be right down their with them this time around. I think they’re pretty much neck and neck with all the just promoted teams. They remain a nice story, though. I, for one, will be rooting for their survival

I expected Fulham to struggle last year–more than they did. I’m thinking the same way again. If they start off slowly, I think Chris Coleman could be the first sacked manager. There are more than a couple big names floating about, and Mo Fayed should start thinking about someone to try to take them to the next level.

So bring on the season already before we all die of the boredom. Ipswich and the rest of the Championship begin this weekend. They’ve signed exactly nobody this off-season. Their struggle to stay up begins against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Mid-table obscurity is about as much as can be hoped for this year.

UEFA did do a little tweaking to their rules that might improve things. Slightly harsher penalties on any racism incidents, but even better–a two match ban now for anyone whistled for diving. What is Christiano to do? His Plan A was continuous step-overs until everyone hypnotically fell asleep–didn’t work. Plan B was flopping–now that’s being taken away. Hopefully, Plan C is actually attempting to play the game he’s supposed to be pretty good at.

Don’t Worry About ManU

About everywhere you look these days you run across a Manchester United fan with his hair on fire worrying himself to death about the state of the biggest team in sport. It doesn’t help that on this side of the pond, being an English football fan is almost synonymous with being a ManU supporter. I’m not, but I never hated them, either. I never understood the old ‘you either love them or hate them’ adage. My feelings for them are on the lower end of indifference. Maybe my take on their state of things is a bit more balanced than the ‘sky is falling’ wail of the supporters or the gleeful gloating of the detractors.

Initially, it seems the Mancunians that were burning Malcolm Glazer in effigy a year ago might have been on the money. He doesn’t seem willing to readily part with much of his own. The free-wheeling days of buying any player Sir Alex takes a fancy to, look to be over. They’ve been much more notable for the player that they shipped out than any they have bought this year.

They dumped Ruud van Nistlerooy on Real Madrid. The Spanish side, already loaded with more egos than talent, apparently had room for one more. He’s a perfect fit there. It could be argued that Manchester didn’t get a fair return on him, but he had to go and the world knew it. I’m no fan of Ruud. He rarely creates anything (other than tears for Christiano, of course). He gets his 20 odd goals a year off rebounds and mistakes. You could say that he has a knack for getting into position to get those kinds of goals. I could say that he’s just a lucky git. Regardless, I wouldn’t want him on my team. The Dutch didn’t even want him on theirs.

United supporters seemed shocked that some highly priced replacement wasn’t immediately bought up in his place, though. In truth, Ferguson very much wanted the 22 year old, Fernando Torres at Atletico Madrid, but he couldn’t lure him. That they couldn’t just snatch up a player they eyed at will might be a surprise–the power in the football world has shifted. But, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a very slight shift.

They are already blessed with some kid that is rumored to be able to play a bit. Wayne Rooney remains at Old Trafford, afterall. Louis Saha can play beside him. He’s no slouch, he ‘s just been waiting for an opportunity since joining the team from Fulham–where he was the huge fish in the small pond. He’ll settle in this year. Solskjaer is also coming off of a two-year absence with knee injuries. He probably won’t ever be the old Ole anymore, but he should be fine as the third option off the bench. They also have taken a flyer on the young Guiseppe Rossi. If he comes around, the strike force is suddenly as formidible as ever.

For some unknown reason, they also have the flopping showboat, Christiano Ronaldo. His feelings should be in a much better state now that Ruud isn’t there being rude to him. Some people remain high on him. I can’t stand him. I’m told Ferguson will make a proper footballer out of him yet. If so, this is the year for it.

The major signing for them this off-season has been getting Michael Carrick from Tottenham. That is a significant improvement to the team right there. The midfield could use some more help, and the defense isn’t as iron-clad as possible, but there isn’t much wrong with Manchester United. If you take Chelsea out of the picture, they look about as strong and dominant as usual in the Premier League.

They don’t have to buy every player on the planet. Chelsea is doing that (and if they get Ashley Cole from Arsenal it would take an act of God to stop them this year). Madrid did it before them. Manchester has more competition in that department now, but that doesn’t mean they are doomed. Smarter, more prudent buys might not be what their supporters are used to, but it will probably pay off just fine in the long run. Overpaying for the likes of Ballack, Shevchenko, Drogba, Kezmann, Ronaldo, Beckham, Owen, van Nistlerooy–is not smart and will eventually kill those teams, I don’t care how much money they throw around.

That said, The Red Devils will still be chasing Chelski all year. Somewhere in the second tier with an improved Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham. But, don’t worry, they’ll never be in the second tier for long. And that group of teams are already closer to the Chelsea bastards than it looks on paper. If United can swing something to get Owen Hargreaves from Bayern, they’ll already be sitting in tier 1-b.

Italians Let off the Hook

It would be monumentally sad if it wasn’t so expected. The Italian justice system, or what passes for it, has eased the penalties in the match fixing scandal to a light tap on the wrist. This is just the sort of thing that makes Italy a bit of a joke in the rest of the civilized world.

The original penalties were hardly the sharp retribution the offense deserved, but it was more than I expected from the notoriously dodgy Italian judges. On appeal, the verdicts are much more lenient. Juve still has to go down to Serie B, but without the harsh point reduction that would have probably kept them there for another year. Lazio and Fiorentina get to stay up, AC get to play in the cups.

On top of it all, the clubs have vowed to keep appealing to get even this wrist tap reduced. There is no reason for any of the teams to not carry-on just as they had been. No incentive for Juve not to buy the Serie B championship and the next 50 Serie A’s after that. Might someone not begin to get suspicious? Who cares. Obviously, not Italy.

I won’t be watching Italian football. There’s no point for me to do so. There are legitimate leagues around the world more deserving of the attention. Ipswich is about to play Lazio in a friendly. They should withdraw the invitation.

You could easily imagine the outrage and resulting fall-out had this match fixing occurred in England. Even their generally laughable FA would have hammered the teams involved. There wouldn’t even be a doubt. The US, being the US, would probably blast the individuals involved rather than the teams, but you’d think even here, the Yankees would be severely spanked. That’s what keeps them from even thinking of pulling a scam like this.

Enjoy the World Cup. Italy. You deserved it. You also deserve the scorn and ridicule the rest of the football world should now heap upon you. Your club football has lost whatever credibilty it had. Why should any decent player in the world want to ply their trade in that cesspool? And, above all, why should any fan care? Ciao, Italia.