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Skip Saturday and Wait For Sunday?

There are the two huge matches the whole world has been waiting for this weekend. At least the whole world following Premiership football. Both are being played on Sunday, though. Arsenal/ManU and Chelski/Liverpool kick off a day late making Saturday a relatively uninteresting day for neutrals.

There’s the sense that Arsenal have to get things going right now if they’re going to hope to contend at all this season. Manchester has been slapping the weak teams, but with their soft, and getting softer, midfield, they seemed to be ripe for a wake-up call. Now, Arsenal look to be without van Persie and Thierry Henry. It’s often argued that Henry hardly shows up for any big games anyway, but for a team that has struggled mightily for goals, it can’t do much for their psyche heading in. Who will score now? Probably no one. United could well get by in a 1-0 bore, which will send their fair weather fans into delirious ecstasy.

Liverpool, with Rafa’s inane rotations, can’t find any rhythm. Chelsea will be pounding the drum Sunday. The coaches will probably end up being the main talking point of this match. Jose says he won’t even shake the hand of the nonsense talking Benitez. Or is it vice versa? Either way, that little soap opera threatens to overshadow what could turn out to be an otherwise quiet match.

I’m afraid both matches look better on paper than they’re going to look on the television screen.

Randy Lerner has apparently told Martin O’Neill he can have something like 20 million quid to spend when the transfer window opens back up. Aston Villa could suddenly be pressing for a European spot. What a difference a year makes. Or rather, a decent chairman with deep pockets, and a great coach. Just goes to show, it could happen to anyone–keep the chin up. Unless you’re Leeds–sorry, no hope there.

Glorious Ipswich, riding a 3 game winning streak, will be tested by the other Birmingham team (the one called Birmingham) Saturday. A draw would be nice. Another win is just too much to hope for. Nevermind. Just keep putting it out there. Eventually, Town must catch the eye of some other rich Russian or Yank looking to squander billions to knock Abramovich back in his place. My mother always said there was someone for everyone. Shouldn’t Bill Gates be bored by now and in search of his Cinderalla? Her initials are ITFC, Bill. Forget about solving all the world’s problems and just give her the shoe.

The schedule makers must have tabbed this weekend to be the first really big showcase to get the season well and truly started. I’ll be very surprised if the matches actually live up to the billing. Think I’ll plan on catching as many of the Saturday matches as possible and just catch z’s through the borefests slotted for Sunday.

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.

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.

An Open Invitation to Disillusioned Seria A Fans

The Italian verdicts are in–pending the inevitable appeal. They may not have been the draconian slams that the offense may have deserved. After all, how dare the bastards ruin one of the few good things in the world for their own greedy little ends. If I were King, I’d have their heads. Actually, I’d have many many heads, so it’s probably just as well I stay in my current position.

None of the rumors I heard concerning the possible penalties the clubs faced were worse than what actually came down. So, I’m not hugely disappointed. I half suspected it would be much lighter. There was even talk at one point of granting all involved an amnesty. There is a massive amount of money at stake, and that’s what everything comes down to in the end. It would have been a remarkable result if the Italians gave the crime a fitting sentence. They ended up slapping a little harder than I expected them to anyway. Sorry Inter fans (I’m one)–disbanding AC was never going to happen.

But for all you out there too disgusted to support the crooked Serie A, I offer redemption. There exists a fine little team in the East of England, in the idyllic setting of Constable country, off the North Sea coast. They play beautiful football. Stressing defense and passing. Well, that is seemingly what they often look to be doing. Sometimes you have to squint to see it. Good, solid, blue collar, hard-working, non-cheating… Everything you could ask for in a football team. They are Ipswich Town.

There is no match fixing there. The results speak for themselves. They couldn’t even afford to pay Darren Bent, Marcus Bent, Richard Wright, Kieron Dyer, Matt Holland, Herman Hriedersson. The sad list is endless. No thought could ever be given to attempting to buy a single ref. They don’t even offer me a pint to say nice things about them. The games don’t always end happily, but they are always legit.

So now’s your chance to get on the wagon. Don’t leave it too late. Once we get a bit of Champions League silverware, and all that–you’ll just be accused of being a frontrunner then. Soon as I’m King.

Whatever you do, take my advice (and Elvis Costello’s). Don’t go to Chelsea.