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2011-12 Champions League group stage set

25 Aug

After a tediously boring draw earlier today, the Champions League groups are ready to go for another year of action. Group A ended up as the toughest draw with Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Manchester City and Napoli. Of course, Barcelona and Manchester United have one team in each of their groups that could pose a challenge.  The first group games are set for Sept. 13-14 and the complete schedule can be found here.

Oh and in case you were wondering, Lionel Messi won the first UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, which was announced after the draw to the surprise of approximately no one.

Group A
Bayern Munich (GER)
Villarreal (ESP)
Manchester City (ENG)
Napoli (ITA)

Group B
Inter (ITA)
CSKA Moskva (RUS)
Lille (FRA)
Trabsponzor (TUR)

Group C
Manchester United (ENG)
Benfica (POR)
Basel (SUI)
Otelui Galati (ROU)

Group D
Real Madrid (ESP)
Lyon (FRA)
Ajax (NED)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)

Group E
Chelsea (ENG)
Valencia (ESP)
Bayer Leverkusen (GER)
Genk (BEL)

Group F
Arsenal (ENG)
Marseille (FRA)
Olympiacos (GRE)
Borussia Dortmund (GER)

Group G
Porto (POR)
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS)
APOEL (CYP)

Group H
Barcelona (ESP)
AC Milan (ITA)
BATE (BLR)
Viktoria Plzen (CZE)

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Lots of promise for Liverpool

12 Aug

So now that the Premier League season is about to start, I’ll be doing a better job of blogging (I swear!).  I can’t stand writing about summer transfers because it’s all just a giant cluster and you never know what the hell is going on, thank you Cesc Fabregas. Anyways, it’s that glorious time of the year again when anything is possible and everyone can dream of beating Manchester United.

Oh, what a difference a year makes for Liverpool Football Club.  There’s new owners,  a new (well, in a sense) manager, a pretty much completely new midfield, and new optimism.

Kenny Dalglish reinvigorated the team after an awful start last year and that energy carries over to the new season.  Liverpool’s new owners (thank god) showed that they were willing to spend money both in January and over the summer.  January signings Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll made an immediate impact, specifically on the mentality of the fans.  Suarez in particular was a creative spark that Liverpool was missing.  The team wasted no time this summer signing every midfielder possible including Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, as well as defender Jose Enrique and goalie Alexander Doni.

Much has been made of all the options that Liverpool has in the midfield and who will play where. There’s a multitude of strong possibilities and in all honesty, it’s a good problem.  Depth is not a bad thing.  I, for one, am intrigued by what formation the team will play in the opener tomorrow to try to accommodate the best team possible.  With all the possibilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a few games to figure out the group with the best chemistry.  (And as a quick side note, the ridiculous amount of options made it incredibly difficult to figure out whether to pick an LFC midfielder on my fantasy team.  I didn’t, at least not until there’s some semblance of a regular starting lineup.)

At the forward spot, LFC will rely heavily on Suarez and Carroll.  Suarez is coming off an MVP performance for Uruguay in their Copa America title run.  While the duo did not get much chance to play together last season as Carroll was still recovering from injury, their chemistry will be key to success this season.

The defense was bolstered with the signing of Enrique from Newcastle, but the center back spot in particular is still a little on the thin side.  Martin Skrtel is hurt and Daniel Agger is probably going to get hurt tomorrow because that’s just how he rolls, which leaves old man Carra in the middle.  The team will likely make use of young players like Martin Kelly, John Flanagan and co. and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, although there might be some growing pains along the way.

After the way that Liverpool ended the season (minus the last two results), fans have every reason to be optimistic about this season.  The Reds are more than capable of putting together a strong season and making a run back into the top four.  I am so pumped.  Is it Saturday yet?

Last two semifinal spots up for grabs today

13 Apr

Both Tottenham and Inter Milan have their work cut out for them as they both look to overturn big deficits in second leg Champions League quarterfinal action.  Spurs sits in a four goal hole, courtesy of an early sending-off and a strong Real side.  Inter was shocked by a rampant Schalke side at the San Siro, 5-2.

Of course, Spurs will be without Peter Crouch, the red card recipient from the first leg, however, they will be boosted by the return of Aaron Lennon.  Real should be fielding a full-strength squad.  It will take quite the herculean effort from Spurs to overturn this one.

Schalke will have to play some tough defense to hold Inter at bay.  Of course, the tactic of sit back and never attack generally fails miserably, so hopefully Schalke will be out to put this one away early with some goals of their own.

TV Schedule
Tottenham vs. Real Madrid – 2:30 p.m. ET/Fox Soccer (Live)
Schalke vs. Inter – 2:30 p.m. ET/Fox Soccer Plus (Live)

Champions League semifinal spots on the line

12 Apr

Manchester United defeated Chelsea, 1-0, in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie at Stamford Bridge.  Going into today’s second leg at Old Trafford, it is by far the closest contest as only one goal separates the sides (the number is at least three in all the other quarterfinals).  Once again, Fernando Torres will start for Chelsea and Didier Drogba will be on the bench.  I would be so pissed at the owners if I was Carlo Ancelotti.  The only reason Torres is playing is because he cost so damn much.  Drogba gives Chelsea a much better chance to claim a comeback win.  It should be a tight game, but I think United will head to the semifinals as they will hold Chelsea scoreless.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Barcelona should have no problem maintaining its four-goal advantage over Shakhtar after a 5-1 win in the first leg.  The Spanish side is expected to rest some of their starters.  On the other side of the field, Shakhtar will be missing all foru of their defensive starters due to injury or suspension.

TV Schedule
Manchester United vs. Chelsea – 2:30 p.m. ET/Fox Soccer (Live)
Shakhtar vs. Barcelona – 5 p.m. ET/Fox Soccer (Delayed)

FA takes Rooney issue too far

4 Apr

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a Wayne Rooney fan.  Yeah, he’s clearly an excellent player, but a) he plays for United and b) come on, he plays for United.  Anyways, after notching his third goal of the day in a comeback win over West Ham, he decided it would be a good idea to shout the F word twice into a TV camera that was in his face as he was celebrating. Immature and unneccessary? Sure, but worthy of a ban from the FA?  I don’t think so.  He was officially charged with “use of offensive, insulting and/or abusive language” and faces a two match ban (Premier League game vs. Fulham and FA Cup semifinal vs. Manchester City). 

The FA rules state the following:

 “A participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”

Right.  So with that in mind, think about the scenario for a second.  The only reason Rooney is getting in trouble is because he swore live on television.  If the game against West Ham hadn’t been on TV, would he have gotten in trouble?  Doubtful because the fans attending the game either a) wouldn’t hear it or b) don’t care.  But heaven forbid the TV rights are affected in any negative way.  And how is it that he gets in trouble for this, but not for elbowing a player in the head?  Pretty sure that qualifies as violent conduct.  Additionally, I’m sure players curse on the field pretty regularly.  Are you going to start handing out cards for every f-bomb or curse word that gets dropped out there?  That just seems absurd, especially given the kind of chants that come from the fans on a regular basis.  Plus, let’s be honest, people curse on a regular basis, kids hear bad words, whether it’s from their parents or classmates.  Rooney isn’t the first person to do it, he just happened to do it publicly.

Rooney apologized for cursing after the game.  That should have been the end of it.  He knew he made a mistake, acknowledged it, and apologized.  Let’s move on.  Aren’t there bigger issues out there the FA should deal with?  Like figuring out how to booby trap Sepp Blatter’s room on his visit to England?  Kidding! (Kind of.) 

Time for friendlies

9 Feb

It’s that wonderful time again…that’s right, it’s time for meaningless international friendlies. Woo. The U.S. was supposed to play Egypt in Cairo today, but the game was cancelled last week amongst the political turmoil happening over there.  While it would have been a good match for the U.S., it was clearly the correct decision to cancel.  There’s more important things to worry about than football sometimes (shocking as that may be). 

One of the day’s best matchups should be Lionel Messi’s Argentina vs. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.  The duo shares top spot on the La Liga leaderboard with 24 goals each.  Will either of them play enough to really make an impact?  We shall have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, Frankie Lampard will captain England against Denmark as both Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard are missing out with injuries (don’t worry LFC fans, Stevie G will be back for the weekend’s game).

The nice thing about this international date is that it is only a midweek thing, which means we will be back to the fun of league matches this weekend – none of this two weeks without real games crap.

Carra returns as Liverpool does the double over Chelsea

7 Feb

Liverpool’s clash with Chelsea would’ve been a big game regardless, but the transfer of Fernando Torres from Merseyside to London made it that much more intense. Here’s my thoughts and observations on the game and the excellent 1-0 result for the Reds.

  • After the astounding amount of goals and ridiculous games on Saturday, it would have been hard for Sunday’s game to match the craziness.  The super-hyped match was not particularly exciting, especially in the first half.
  • Fact: Fernando Torres looks bad in blue. Although I must admit, it wasn’t as disturbing as I thought it would be to see him line up for the opposition.  Weird, yes, but disturbing, no.  His craptastic day was nice to watch though.
  • Welcome back, Jamie Carragher, we missed you.  Carra might not be the youngest guy out there, but his leadership and smart tackling made the difference yesterday.  His tackle on Torres’ shot was beyond clutch as he helped the Reds earn their fourth straight clean sheet.  Having Carra back in the lineup will make a difference as Liverpool continues to build momentum.
  • Kenny Dalglish’s 3-5-2 stymied Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti.  Chelsea’s forwards (Torres, Drogba, Anelka) could not do anything to penerate Liverpool’s back three of Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger.  Liverpool was also able to dominate in the midfield, thanks to the strong midfield diamond of Lucas, Maxi, Gerrard and Meireles. Lucas is quickly becoming a vital part of Liverpool’s success.  He’s starting to play with more confidence and makes fewer bad mistakes than he did even a season ago.
  • Maxi Rodriguez did not have the best of games for Liverpool.  He came close to making Torres an instant hero for Chelsea after gifting the striker a poorly placed pass only 90 seconds into the match.  Thankfully, Torres fired well over.  Rodriguez also missed a sitter late in the first half after a cross found him unmarked at the back post.  I already had my hands raised in celebration…but then he somehow managed to hit the crossbar from two yards out.
  • Thankfully, Raul Meireles ensured that Maxi’s miss did not cost Liverpool with his fourth goal in five games.  Meireles has come to life for the Reds as of late.  Meireles played more like an attacking mid yesterday, forming an integral part of the diamond that kept the Chelsea midfield in check.  He was all over the place, tracking back to make tackles and sprinting forward to provide an option at goal.  On his goal, you can see that he started his run from about 30 yards out and comes streaking towards the far post unmarked.
  • Chelsea was actually more effective going forward after Torres came off the field.  The change allowed Anelka to push up further and created more space.  Ancelotti has a difficult task ahead in trying to integrate Torres into the game plan.  The removal of the totally ineffective Spaniard was greeted with raucous cheers (and jeers) from the Liverpool fans and the Reds scored four minutes later.
  • Luis Suarez did not see the field for Liverpool, despite scoring a goal in his debut Wednesday.  To be honest, the Reds were clicking without him and once they scored, there was no need to bring on another striker.  It’s a good move by Dalglish though as Suarez is still adjusting to the team and how they play and Dalglish saw no reason to upset the balance.  I’ll bet that Suarez will see the field against Wigan at the weekend.
  • I loved Daniel Agger’s elbow to Torres’ face.  Cheap? Of course.  Did it deserve a card? Probably. Worth it? Definitely.
  • With the win, Liverpool moves up to sixth place, only six points out of fourth.  (Chelsea and Tottenham both have 44 points, but Chelsea is fourth on goal difference.)  There are still 12 games left in the season and the resurgence under Kenny Dalglish has fans (including myself) thinking that Champions League might not be such a pipe dream after all.
  • The arrival of Kenny Dalglish has clearly reenergized and revived a floundering, passionless side. Liverpool is playing with fight and passion and playing possession football. What a concept.  I loved what Dalglish said after the win, “It’s four games now and we’ve played different systems and got no goals against. That’s not down to any system – it’s down to them and their great pride and work and fantastic respect for this football club.”

YNWA.