Friday, August 16, 2013

2013/14 Premier League Preview

I'm late to the party on this one having spent the week chasing down a living, writing for other outlets that have *gasp!* deadlines, and trying desperately to divine what exactly is going to happen in the Premier League this season.

Direct deposit hit the bank on Tuesday.

Cottagers Confidential has its posts.

I have absolutely no idea.

Two out of three ain't bad?

To compound my inability to make sense of all the managerial ins and outs, player comings and goings, and run-of-the-mill transfer window intrigues, I recently finished reading a very good, very thorough book by Chris Anderson and David Sally called The Numbers Game. If you haven't read it, definitely pick it up. It's an engaging read and supports, argues, and distills further some of the arguments presented by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in Soccernomics. 

It's all regressions and standard deviations and valuations and various other permutations of that mythical language some call "math", but what hit me like a ton of bricks is Anderson and Sally's argument that soccer, even at the highest level, in any given match, is basically 50% chance. They cite something called the Poisson distribution and go on about Prussian horses, all of which is very interesting and informative, but did nothing to re-inflate me after learning that picking a winner in a top flight match is little more than a coin flip. How on earth can anyone pick a champion before any of the 38 matches in a team's season have been played? Before the summer transfer window has closed? Before the winter transfer window has even opened? Before Ryan Shawcross has caused a compound tib/fib fracture of your team's star striker? Before Luis Suarez has bitten someone else, someone who might be playing in another league as we speak because remember that thing I just wrote about the transfer windows and their closing and opening?!

Basically, anyone who predicts with confidence what will happen in the Premier League this season, and anyone who ridicules you for your predictions, is full of shit. That won't stop me from gloating though if I get it right. On to the predictions!

As I've said before, the Premier League is a contest to get into the top four spots and avoid the bottom three. Everything else is just window dressing. You can name your best friends and your worst enemies, but most people you know fall somewhere in between. If you're arguing, for example, whether West Ham will finish 14th or 15th, you're wasting your time. 50% chance is probably the difference between 17th and 5th.

My top four:

1. Chelsea - This is actually a pretty popular pick. Jose Mourinho, the Prodigal Son, has returned to Daddy Roman's loving fold more tempered, savvy, and insightful after years abroad and a little bit of humble pie served up courtesy of Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos. He's new - but not really - and he's inheriting an expensively assembled side of world class soccer players who seem a good mix of young and old.

"To win Premier League second first time of asking would be...fantastic."
My one concern, were I a Chelsea supporter, is who is chosen to lead the line. In the preseason, Mourinho often opted to use a 4-2-3-1 formation with a lone striker making runs to the corners while Victor Moses, Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata cut toward the center of the opposition's defense. The "1" in this system is currently a three way competition between Demba Ba, Fernando Torres, and Romelu Lukaku.

Not being sentimental, I think Mourinho would like to throw Lukaku in feet first, but Torres has cost previous managers their jobs and Abramovich may still be clinging to the illusion that he can squeeze some sort of value out of the ludicrous fee he paid for Torres in 2011.

I have to think Roman has learned his lesson and that Mourinho wouldn't be back unless an understanding had been reached between he and the Chelsea owner. With a dominant central striker; the plethora of attacking talent Chelsea has in midfield; strong holding midfielders; a steely back line; and the helmeted hero in goal, I think Chelsea could be poised to bring the trophy back to Stamford Bridge.

2. Manchester City - One of the other tenets of The Numbers Game is that he who spends wins. Sheikh Mansour has certainly spent and with the arrivals of Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho, and Jesus Navas, that trend is clearly continuing apace. I literally cannot fathom having the options Manuel Pellegrini has when writing names on the team sheet and that sort of depth of quality has to produce enough wins for second, doesn't it? Doesn't it?!

Pellegrini is much more low key than Roberto Mancini is and the deflection of attention off the sideline and onto the pitch may actually benefit Manchester City's menagerie of Goldfingers. I put City at second mostly because Pellegrini is new and has admitted he will need to adjust to the Premier League game. Also, I have a visceral reaction to so much expensively assembled talent. Also, also, Human Rights Watch just released a report suggesting that the Sheikh Mansour is using Manchester City's positive brand equity to draw attention away from the human rights abuses his government perpetrates in the United Arab Emirates. So there's that.

3. Manchester United - No one wants to be the guy who follows a legend. You want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend. David Moyes apparently did not get this memo and I can't see anything but a rough season ahead for the Red Devils' new manager.

With the caveat that there are 1 1/4 transfer windows still to go, United have only made one marquee signing in Wilfried Zaha and are, frankly, embarrassing themselves with their continued pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. Moyes appears desperate to sign a creative tux-wearer in midfield and to do so in the sort of flamboyant style that gets the collective Old Trafford heart all aflutter. But his continued failure to do so is raising alarm bells and distracting Moyes from the very real possibility that said creative tux-wearer is already in the side in the form of Shinji Kagawa. C'mon Moyes, act like you've been here before! A little confidence, imperturbability, and je ne sais quoi go a long way.

Additionally, there's the inconvenient fact that Wayne Rooney wants out in the worst way and would seemingly love to find himself in the jersey of one of United's worst rivals. I can't see this situation resolving itself until Rooney has been shown the door. In other words, don't expect much of him in a United jersey at all this campaign. How many of Robin Van Persie's goals came from Rooney directly? Or even indirectly by runs Rooney made to create space? Losing your talisman, even with an heir apparent banging 'em in like it's going out of style, is no small thing.

Anything less than the league trophy is a disappointment for United fans. This isn't the composed we're-taking-Van Persie-from-Arsenal-and-there's-nothing-you-can-do-about-it United of last year's vintage. This is the make-eyes-at-and-get-rejected-by-Fabregas-while-Rooney-throws-a-tantrum-and-Moyes-complains-about-the-fixture-list-because-that's-what-Ferguson-would-have-done-but-it-doesn't-come-off-as-ornery-just-pathetic-because-Moyes-Isn't-Ferguson United.

Jesus, I'm going to have to get used to using the space bar again.

4. Arsenal - I desperately want this to be the year Arsenal finishes outside the top four and everyone finally realizes - and by "everyone" I mean Arsenal supporters - that Arsene Wenger has run his course. However, with the ongoing sagas surrounding Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez and the fact that Arsenal may still pull off one of these huge money deals they finally seem willing to make, I can't quite see them disintegrating and crashing in a glorious puffy coated, referee blaming, pass for passing's sake blaze of glory, although it would be delicious fun to watch. I'd pop popcorn and invite friends over.

Arsenal actually find themselves in arguably the most stable situation of any of the big name sides and there's still the possibility that a game-changing, big money signing may darken the door at the Emirates. Regardless, I see Arsenal going apeshit for 4th once again. God love 'em.

On to the relegation frontrunners!

It seems absurd to list them 18th through 20th because they're all going to wind up in the same place. But so does your food, and I'm not one to mix my beef tenderloin, kale salad, malbec, and chocolate tartufo in a blender and chug it. Let's be civilized, for crying out loud.

18. Hull - I just don't see it happening. Even though Steve Bruce's side have recently signed poor man's Moussa Dembele, Tom Huddelstone and have added the likes of Danny Graham and Maynor Figueroa, I don't think it's going to be enough to keep the Tigers in the Premier League, regardless of whether or not the league eventually relents and allows them to call themselves "The Tigers". Relegated means relegated even if you pronounce it "Tigers". Steve Bruce to be sacked in a panic firing around about the same time Ian Holloway loses his job. And speaking of Ian Holloway...

19. Crystal Palace - Palace rode Wilfried Zaha all the way to the Premier League and they'll ride his absence all the way to the League Championship. In the meantime, Ian Holloway, ladies and gentlemen! Enjoy him while he lasts.

20. Stoke City - As an American, I feel I'm contractually obligated to like Stoke, but as a fan of the Beautiful Game, they make me want to gouge my eyes out Oedipus Rex style.

Mark Hughes: Like this, but instead of gold, imagine poo.
Speaking of mythology, let's talk about Midas's lesser known brother, Mark Hughes. Everything Midas touched turned to gold and he eventually became so miserable, alone, thirsty, and hungry that he begged Dionysus to take the golden touch away. Everything Mark Hughes touches turns into a steaming mound of excrement and he's eventually fired for turning something that was once at least functional into a steaming mound of excrement.

Some would say Stoke City already are that so maybe the Mark Hughes touch will work in reverse. All I've seen so far is a protracted flirtation with Mame Biram Diouf that ended in rejection. Yes, that Mame Biram Diouf.

Dark horse table climber:

Swansea City - Look out for Michael Laudrup's side this season. The Wales club is quietly enjoying an unparalleled succession of managers with essentially the same soccer philosophy and are becoming eponymous with passing, fluid, attractive soccer. Laudrup has enhanced his League Cup winning side with the signings of Jordi Amat, Alejandro Pozuelo, Jonjo Shelvey, and Wilfried Bony. If he can make it through the remaining transfer tomfoolery with Ashley Williams still in all white, Swansea could be in Europe next season.

Dark horse table plunger:  

Until about twenty four hours ago, I had Fulham in this unenviable position. With the signing of Darren Bent and more signings promised (please, please, please make this true). I can't see the Cottagers slipping into a relegation scrap. This leaves me flummoxed and admittedly without a clear answer. If I had to pick, I'd say Norwich because, you know...canaries, but I could also see Cardiff dipping into the bottom three to make it a perfect three for three yoyo act. Or at least a two and Mark Hughes. Could be a good name for a drink?

Breakout Performers:

Kevin Mirallas - The kid was on fire at the end of last season and showed no signs of slowing down in the friendlies leading up to this season. With Roberto Martinez at the helm at Everton, Mirallas could benefit from the sort slick passing and dynamic movement the Spaniard preaches.

Coutinho -  He was very bright last season but was often overshadowed by Luis Suarez's brilliance and Luis Suarez's insanity. He as the technical ability, pace, and creativity to make headlines on Merseyside if he doesn't get too wrapped up in a competition to make the KOP forget about Suarez.

Daniel Sturridge -  See above.

Jozy Altidore - Anyone who's watched the US play recently knows that the kid is playing like a house on fire. He'll be anxious to prove that his time with Hull was the fluke rather than his time with AZ Alkmaar.

There are certainly more, but if you name everyone it's sort of cheating, isn't it? Also, how many words is this now? If you've made it this far, thank you and go buy yourself a beer for which I will pay you back should our paths ever cross.

For now, good night to all and to all a good night! One more sleep until Premier League Day.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Live Blog: Yanks v Catrachos

Well, we're back at it again for the USMNT's World Cup qualifier v Honduras. I'm getting warmed up with a few Kalibers (it's a school night) and am trying to find some salve some balm some soothing remedy to take the edge off of having to listen to Alexi Lalas do his Devil's-advocate-moral-pedant-smug-I'm-that-much-more-clever-than-you-soccer-Confucius routine. Mercifully, these performances are separated by at least 45 minutes of relative calm, but I'm open to suggestions on what might do the trick. I'm hard on Alexi, but it's because I care.

To me, this photo says, "You know what, Ric Flair!"
Stay tuned! We'll (I'll) be back in about an hour. Come on you Yanks!

USMNT starting lineup: Howard, Johnson, Besler, Gonzalez, Evans, E. Johnson, Dempsey, Bradley, Jones, Zusi, Altidore.

DMB on the ban for accumulation of yellows. No Fab Johnson in the midfield. *Sniff*. I'm beginning to think our left back situation is a little like England's left winger curse. I mean seriously, what do we have to do to get a functional, steady left back? Beasley has been surprisingly good, but he's a stopgap. Fab Johnson always looks much better to me when he's allowed to run on the wings and play with the confidence that he knows there's someone there to put out fires behind him. If you're like 15 to 18 years old and you're somehow reading this and you carry a US passport and you have even an outside shot at being a professional caliber left back, MAKE THAT HAPPEN. In fact, stop reading this. Go outside and work on your fitness and your touch. If you have an older, bigger, faster brother, just try to win the ball off of him over and over again. Do it 1,000 times and then do it again. If this can take place in a misty forest or on a cloud shrouded mountain, all the better.  

Altidore could have a field day against the Honduras center backs. They're inexperienced and not quite the physical specimens Josmer is.

Honduras starting lineup: Valladares, Peralta, Colon, Montes, Izaguirre, Claros, Palacios, Martinez, Espinoza, Najar, Costly.

Side note: How the H do you make accents and tildes and umlauts and whatnot on Blogger whilst using a Mac?! Seriously, I need to know.

Over/under 60% chance the telecast catches Bengston dressed as Elvis in the nosebleeds at Rio Tinto? Also, Gonzalez and Besler cannot allow Costly to find space between them or it could prove...wait for it...costly. I'll be here all night.

What's the general sentiment on the US short sleeved Henley shirts with the stars pocket? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Better than the '94 World Cup kit? I think I could get much more onboard with them if they were paired with these -

Whoa! Twellsy looks decidedly scruffy and weathered. Sort of a Marlboro Man/J Crew model/Mad Men mash up. Don't like the polka dot pocket square with the plaid shirt though. It's just a little too much for me. Other than that, looking dapper, Taylor. Looking dapper.

Just noticed Old Glory is essentially the same thing as Twellsy's pocket square/plaid shirt faux pas. Crap. Is our flag busy?! Do we have a busy flag?!

Here we go! Teams walking out on the field and...holy shit! Manuel Noriega is the center official!

Espinoza must be thinking, "Crap, these jerseys look just like Wigan's."

Well, we're off.

2' Free kick for USMNT. Zusito take. Deuce still hasn't hooked him up with Tottenham's hair guy. I'm beginning to think Zusi WANTS to look like an Omaha soccer mom. His choice, I suppose.

4' Deuce with an insect in his eye? An insect? Y'all, Honduras brought insects. Insects!

5' Honduras is already looking more capable than Panama did. I can't help but wonder how much the absence of Blas Perez defanged them. Perhaps the goalfest v a German C team and the comfortable win over a Panama side lacking a pointy end to its stick have been given too much weight.

8' Of course I say that and then we narrowly miss two decent chances at the other end.

9' That was well done by Bradley, but I don't want to see him have to dribble five guys in the middle of the field very often.

10' You knew that was coming! JJ with the yellow. Looks a little off the pace, but just as ill-tempered as always.

13' Panama's midfield < Honduras's midfield.

I'll be honest, this is an alarming start. Some rash challenges flying in. Bradley had a studs up effort right before Fab wrote his name in the book with what I thought was a lesser offense. Everyone's got a case of the Joneses.

17' Outstanding combination play through the midfield ending in a good Altidore chance. Seeing eye pass from Bradley and a good one touch ball outside to Fab. Shades of Altidore's Panama goal...minus the end result of course.

18' DEUCE! I would have put my house on him getting his head on that and putting it in the net. I would have lost my house. Full disclosure: I do not own a house.

Does Jozy have a touch of Kanye about him? In the face, I mean? Yeezus.

25' There's a sniper in the stands.

Match has hit a bit of a disjointed spell. Both sides have sort of weathered one another's storm and now things have settled into a series of sixty yard passes to no one.

28' Jozy did great work to try to win that back and I love it, but that probably should have been a yellow. Honduras is loving this script right now.

31' Well, they're booing Costly, but it looks like he's legitimately pulled his calf. This is going to be...wait for it...costly for Honduras. I know, I know. You're in stitches.

32' And here's the change. Rojas on for Costly. Is there a way to take back the "Stop being a pussy"chant?

33' JJ with a strong run forward up the right channel and he wins a foul on the edge of the Honduras penalty area. Deuce with the strike but he pings it off a Honduran forehead.

36' The range of passing here is impressive and EJ did well to stay onside and get behind the Honduran defense. However, that seems to be plans A through Z right now and we're playing Honduras at home. Like I said before, the wins over Germany and Panama were awesome, but they may have been more curb appeal and less dry basement. That's a home buying analogy.

40' Jozy's effort is there, but it's being channeled for evil instead of good right now. He's fighting an inner battle between AZ Jozy and USMNT Jozy.

A US goal just before half time would be huge.

41' A short corner? Really? And no service? They know Colon is 5'7 right? Right?

45' Just after Deuce and Jozy narrowly miss combining, Gonzalez blacks out and has his one requisite calamitous moment. Howard bails him out and then eats a chunk of his ass. In fairness to Gonzo, it was a bad giveaway to begin with, but his failure to close is inexcusable.

Well, there's half time. I feel like the Yanks were maybe a little too keen on themselves following the Panama dismantling. Honduras is doing a very good job closing down the passing lanes and hammering whichever US player is in possession nearly as soon as he crosses midfield and certainly when he receives the ball with his back to goal. US has been unlucky on a number of occasions to not connect with the final ball or spring the offside trap with a long ball over the top.

Having said that, Honduras is more than a little bit in this match and should be up 1-0 courtesy of some slack defending.

Takeaways: Gonzo does his best work unopposed. I need my Johnsons in the midfield. Everyone has a case of the Joneses. Twellsy's pocket square and shirt combo still hasn't grown on me.

If I had a red phone to Jurgen (I don't) I leave the side on the field unchanged. I get Cameron and Kljestan moving though and think about bringing Davis on for EJ.

I hate to say this, but I just had a premonition. US red card.

45' Why in Sam Hill did Evans play that ball all the way back? Free in the right channel and had an opportunity to get it in the box.

48' There's that same too long long ball.

49' Good ball in from Zusi, but Gonzo couldn't steer it home. Ian Darke just informed me that Gonzo was a college striker. My world makes so, so, so, so much more sense. Besler is still my horse. He's a little horse. Not quite a miniature pony, but a little guy. Like one of those horses the Comanches rode. Fast, strong, but not much to look at. Yeah, that's it. Besler is a Comanche horse.

I feel like the fans in Utah are the same fans from Seattle, but that they've been up this whole time and now reek of cigarettes, light beer, and NoDoz.

If you're Wilson Palacios and you're a hatchet man and you can't get into the Stoke City side...well, I don't know.

56' Great ball in from Zusi off the set piece and Evans should have buried that. Hit it right at the keeper. Also, did anyone notice Twellsy make zero sense there? Said, "That ball needs to go right back where it came from, the back of the net." It came from the back of the net? Polk dot pocket square and plaid shirt? Those concussions were legit.

And on cue, there's a shot of Davis and Cameron warming up.

59' Goal disallowed for offside on Altidore, but that was bright move.

Dempsey's touch is just on a different level than any other US player. Looks effortless.

61' That was a horribly ill-advised pass from JJ. Could have been a goal for Honduras. Bring on Cameron.

63' Holy shit! Hand of God there! Or at least John the Baptist. This match has that feel about it. And by "that feel" I, of course mean the "it's-just-not-our-day" feel.

Ooh! I figured it out. Graham Zusi is a young Mel Kiper Jr. Hang on, I'll Google a pic...

Add a headband and subtract 20 year. Zusi.

69' Match is starting to get stretched a bit.

70' Remember what I said about "that feel"? Dempsey and then Bradley should have scored.

With Zusi finding so much joy down the left, it seems unlikely Davis will come on now to replace Johnson. I like Davis, but Zusi is having a field day over there and Davis's right foot is just for standing on. Like, literally. He has a handicapped placard in his car because he will literally fall over if he stands on one foot. Scout's honor.

73' ALTIDORE! And it came from Johnson getting forward. Please, please, please, please, please always let my Fab Johnson play on the left wing.

75' Well, what do I know. I'm surprised Zusi is coming off because he's been our fire starter going forward in the second half. I completely understand Cameron for Jones though. Boniek Garcia is on for Honduras as well. Still remember watching the original Boniek play on old VHS cassettes. Cat could ball.

78' Jozy almost had two. Great cut back and then a decent strike forces the keeper into a save.

80' There's my, little horse. But like a badass little horse. Don't forget.

Cameron has to be giving Klinsman something to think about. He looks very sharp in midfield and his range of passing, at least in the last two matches, doesn't seem to be too lacking in relation to Jones. I think his versatility is working against him.

83' Cameron started that move with great, calm play under pressure and then a good pass out to Davis who won the corner.

84' Besler. Comanche horse.

87' Castillo on for EJ. Edgar looks like a little kid from a cereal commercial to me. I just can't take the tattoos seriously. I used to use my mom's makeup when I was a kid to paint gruesome black eyes on my face in order to look like I'd been doing some cool, tough, guy shit. In retrospect, people probably either thought I was a future drag queen or, if I'd done an exceptionally good makeup job that day, that my parents were routinely beating the hell out of me. Anyway, what am I trying to say? Oh yeah, Edgar Castillo's tattoos just don't look right. He's like a kid playing dress-up. Or black eye up. Whatever.

93' Cameron again with good play pushing forward.

This should do it.

95' Look at Jozy getting back there and putting in a tackle! Kid could be on the cusp of something HUGE, both for the national team and in his club career.

Well, that was an escape. The first half was poor and I don't think there's any other way to paint that. Team seemed disjointed and half awake. Credit where credit is due, however. The side fought back in the second half and willed its way to a goal and those are the sorts of games that make good teams good teams.

Just listening to the Jozy interview at the end of the match. Hint of a Dutch lisp there? Or have I just never noticed how pronounced Josmer's speech particularities are?

Takeaways: This team can win ugly with lots of miles in its legs. Besler is a Comanche horse and I love him (minus the giveaway). Lil Edgar Castillo is adorable and not at all believable with his tattoos. Zusi has to be the Man of the Match. Minus his God awful hairstyle, he was a terror on the left flank in the second half and it seemed like all the dangerous US moves came through him. I have to believe the Davis substitution was decided upon before the goal and I can't blame Klinsy for wanting to get some fresh legs in there, but Zusi was seemingly at the apex of his purple patch. That's a pretty weak criticism though.

It would be easier to go after the effort, tactics, and general disjointed appearance of the team in the first half, but with all the recent matches, players out with yellow card accumulation, and Jones coming back from a spell on the sideline with a concussion, it would really be just bitching for bitching's sake and no one likes that.

If anything, tonight's match showed how important Fabian Johnson is to the team as a left sided midfielder. When he was able to get forward, it wasn't as noticeable, but without Johnson on the left providing width and a consistent threat with his service, the team looked narrow and far too reliant on Michael Bradley picking out a run from Dempsey, Altidore, or EJ to spring the offside trap. I have to wonder if Altidore's comments after the match, something along the lines of "[Johnson's] been doing that all year for his club in Germany," were intended as kind of an extra nudge to make sure he gets penciled into that spot as a regular. And yes, I know he was playing at left back, but what he provides defensively in no way warrants what you give up going forward if you start him at left back. The "you" being Klinsy. I see no reason why Lil Edgar couldn't have started there and allowed Johnson more freedom to go forward from the first whistle. Especially since the match was a home one and the side was riding a comfortable high, in no small part due to Fab Johnson's contributions on the flank.

I'm splitting hairs now. Three points. Boom!

Thanks for reading and commenting. Come on you Yanks!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Live Blog: A Man, A Plan, A Canal...Let's Get 3 Points


I'm here and I'm just a wee bit lubricated from Flat 12 Bierworks's delicious Cucumber Kolsch as served up in honor of Juergen Sommer's appointment as Head Coach and Director of Soccer Operations for Indy Eleven, the NASL's newest franchise.

It was a lovely event and wholly unencumbered by foul weather or long lines, but now down to the macro business of the US Men's National team and its quest for World Cup qualification.

Malaria. Light Beer. Probably high waisted bikinis too. 
Tonight: Panama.

I think of only a few things when I think of Panama.

1: The canal - Along with said canal, I think of malaria, the French, and Teddy Roosevelt. Read a book.

2: Manuel Noriega - Listen, there were all sorts of ins and outs with that invasion. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but hegemony is a word that hits pretty close to home to our neighbors to the south. As Porfirio Diaz said, "So far from God, so close to the United States." Also, Noriega had some wicked pock marks, did he not?

3: Van Halen - I know for a certain set of American rock aficionados this is near blasphemy to say, but I can't stand Van Halen. I think of yellow Jeep Wranglers, mullets, and light beer when I think of Van Halen. None of those things is good. Also, any song (and I'm referring to Panama here) that begins with the lyrics "Uh! Oh Yeah! Ah-huh!" ranks highly in the pantheon of shit as far as I'm concerned.

So there you go. Malaria, acne, and light beer.

Come on you Yanks!  

More to come at kickoff...

ESPN is predicting a 68.9% chance of a US win. Thank God for that?

Here we go!

The dulcet tones of Ian Darke are ringing again in my ears and we're getting our first glimpse of the "ridiculously awful" pitch in Seattle.

"Eddie Johnson will have to be effective." Thanks, Taylor Twellman. That's sports journalism at it's finest.

3' Geoff Cameron is looking sharp and like he's going to get a JJ caliber yellow at some point. Love it.

3' FABIAN! Doh!

5' Enriquez (he's Panama's 21) is wearing gloves. Gloves. Guantes. Are you shitting me?

7' Great run forward by DMB and well found by Besler. DMB haters, please tell me who is our better left back option?


9' Great move from the US going forward. Decent ball in from DMB, but he couldn't find Deuce's head. Nice to see the interchange going forward and the quick passes to transition from flank to flank.

Monica Gonzalez is making the turf situation sound like a matter of national security right now.

14' Holy shit! Panama has two of the same coach. Body doubles? That's sneaky. Panama just climbed my list of nations to get out of CONCACAF qualifying. I mean, that's next level. Some managers give out false injury reports. Panama has a body double for its coach. Respect.

Cameron is continuing his streak of playing in every position other than his publicly acknowledged "best position". Right back and attacking midfielder for Stoke. Right back and defensive midfielder for the Nats. From a player's perspective, that's actually a pretty sweet deal. Built-in excuse?

Also, Geoff Cameron looks EXACTLY like Michael Richards in Problem Child. Hang on, I'll Google a pic.


25' Quintero is doing his best to test Evans who's used to having some help behind him on the flank. I still think Cherundolo is our best option at right back, but Evans could find a home for himself there if he gets the one-on-one defensive skills to go with his abilities pushing forward. Kudos to Besler covering there and Johnson tracking back to do decidedly un-EJ work.

Lot of talk right now about Gonzalez and his abilities at center back. I remain unsold on his abilities outside of MLS. However, I'm going on record with my thirteen readers that Besler is going to be the next US player to establish himself as a legitimate American international talent.

30' Thank God that dive didn't work. Evans is getting attacked and needs help. Also, Taylor Twellman just made sense. Those concussions didn't get to him after all. And speaking of, did anyone else see Alexi Lalas today saying that he wouldn't mind heading of the ball being outlawed in soccer in order to protect players from brain damage? Ah, Alexi. Sweet, sweet Alexi.

33' FABIAN! Hit it with your purse next time, Sally!

34' Jozy just went beast mode there. That was most definitely AZ Jozy and not at all USMNT Jozy. Great work. Clear penalty.

36' That was the best US counter-attacking goal I've seen since Lando's goal in the Confed Cup v Brazil.

Bradley drives at the heart of the Panama defense, draws defenders, plays wide to Fabian, and then a perfect ball across to Jozy. Again, that's AZ Jozy and not USMNT Jozy.

1-0, Good Guys.

39' When it's your day, it's your day. I thought that was a bad choice by Cameron going to ground in the box, but he won the tackle and then EJ drew the foul against Panama. Did I mention how much Geoff Cameron looks like Michael Richards in Problem Child? How about how much EJ looks like Roy Hibbert if someone stuck a bicycle pump in him, stretched him Medieval rack style, fed him twinkies, and soaked him like a sponge? Hang on, I'll Google a pic...

Amiright? Huh?

46' Offside and the Panama goal is disallowed. Thank God. Which brings me to a soccer pet peeve. No, not Alexi Lalas. It's when people say "Offsides" instead of "Offside." There's only one side you can be off. Unless you're some kind of soccer double agent and you manage to be playing for both teams at the same time and are also huge enough that you can straddle the entire field, Megatron style, you cannot be offsides. 

Rant over. 

Half time.


What's the grammar rule here?

I just noticed how stupendous Bob Ley's hair is. Rewind the DVR, I'll wait. I mean, look at that coif. If there was a product called "Silver Fox Helmet," that would be it. Good on you, Bob Ley.

Second half! Here we go!

Thoughts on Dempsey as a captain? Have to say, I think the no nonsense, get on with it, Deuce face attitude is a needed foil to Kilnsy's relentless, decidedly un-German optimism.

Cameron is settling in nicely. Covering a lot of ground and not nearly as many wayward passes as he hit in the first half.

52' And now Twellsy is agreeing with me. I take back my concussion comments.

53' Geoff Cameron is my motor. EJ is my high octane gasoline.

2-0, USMNT

The 2-0 scoreline is important, but the fact that AZ Jozy and pre-Fulham EJ have apparently rejoined the USMNT is even bigger news. If we can get those two guys full of confidence and playing off of one another's strengths, we should qualify comfortably.

57' The "You're not going to Brazil" chant is probably a little classless, but hey, isn't that what home field advantage is all about?

US is moving the ball crisply and confidently. Love the pace and the quick ball movement. I'm *this close* to sending Klinsy a Hallmark card. Or at least a nice tweet.

62' I don't want to tempt fate, but Cameron seems to be playing exactly like JJ but without the guaranteed yellow/red/dark red card. I like JJ's tattoos better, but Cameron is showing some potential there with his 3/4 sleeve.

66' Altidore then Dempsey with great chances. All starts with Cameron though. He's having a beast of a game. Please, someone rescue him from Stoke City and the looming pall of Mark Hughes and his cursed specter. Hughes strikes me as the kind of guy who would wear a hat with a buckle, Jamestown Puritan style. Probably would burn witches at the stake. Also saw Goody Proctor in the woods with the Devil.

69' Sanchez with the dive and the yellow card. Are we in bizarro world? Over/under 70% chance that's a penalty anywhere south of Dallas?

70' Seattle > Any other US soccer city

75' Heart just skipped a beat as I saw that ball go back to Howard. Images of Paul Robinson and his England career going down the drain at the hands of a bumpy pitch and an inside the posts back pass.

76' Match has taken a little bit of turn for the somnolent. US up by 2 and not too terribly concerned with getting another goal. Panama seems completely incapable of doing anything but sending in early crosses and hoping to win something off Besler and Gonzo. Isn't happening. Testament to Beasley and Evans that they aren't allowing runs behind them to be productive.

78' Dempsey with the most un-Texan finish of all time. Shoot it, electrocute it, grill it, and smother it in ranch dressing next time.


Beasley is unlucky there. Someone must have bet Deuce he couldn't complete five back heel passes in one match. Jozy with a a great ball after the knock down. Right on to DMB's feet. Props to Ft. Wayne's own for even making that run. Still haven't heard the suggestion of a better option at left back.

Don't want to give up a late goal here. That floated ball to the back post has produced a couple of half chances.

87' Brad "Half Hobbit, Half Stewie From Family Guy" Davis comes on for Fabian Johnson, or as I like to call him, Fab Johnson. Someone needs to talk to him about a post soccer career as a sex toy pitch man.

Any arguments against Geoff Cameron as Man of the Match?

90' Besler again with great covering and a competent tackle in the box, then wins the foul. That's my horse.

91' Stu is in and his hair is looking like it's in mid season form. Good body, a hint of a highlight or two, off the ears and neck. Respect, Stu.

Great save by Howard and there's Gonzo's one blackout moment. He's always good for one. He's like the USMNT's Philippe Senderos, but with worse hair, which is saying something because Senderos is bald and looks like a James Bond villain. If Klinsy is looking for Holden to provide value to the side, he needs to sit him down with Gonzo and get him to spit some hair knowledge.

Full time!



Take aways: The USMNT cruised in that match. Jozy, Deuce, Fab, and EJ looked very much on the same page going forward and that took a lot of pressure off the defense. Easier to look confident when you're not constantly trying to put out fires after you've been caught in transition.

Also, Bradley and Cameron were stellar in this match. I don't know what that means moving forward for Jones, my gut is probably not much, but I'm pretty sure the "What's Geoff Cameron's Best Position" debate just acquired a new dynamic.

I tend to think that Jones is still needed in that holding position, especially against more capable competition. Not taking anything away from Cameron, but Jones strikes me as a faster, more capable of the dark arts sort of player.

In conclusion: Michael Richards, Besler is my horse, EJ is my high octane gasoline, and DMB FTW.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Live Blog: USMNT v Belgium

I've never done this before, but apparently, in the world of push-button publishing, no prior experience is hardly an obstacle that proves to be insurmountable. Let's do this.

Glad to see the back of you. Photo: David Maxwell/EPA

Looks like the US will start thusly:

Howard, Cameron, Gonzalez, Goodson, Beasley, Zusi, Jones, Kljestan, Davis, Dempsey, Altidore.

Looks a decently strong lineup. If you'd told me two years ago Beasley would be getting his 100th cap tonight as the USMNT's most viable option at left back, I would have slapped you, made you wash your mouth out with soap and warm water, and then led you in a rousing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." But what do I know?  

Belgium's lineup:

Mignolet (Doesn't he look like a 1930s Irish Gangster? Needles Mignolet?), Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Fellaini, Defour, Dembele, Mirallas, De Buryne, Lukaku.

Am I the only one who sees Mirallas and Lukaku in this lineup then skips back to reread our center backs and lets out an audible, lower register "Fuuuuuuuuuuck,"?

Also, how would you punctuate that previous sentence? Period, quotation mark, question mark? Comma, quotation mark, question mark? Quotation mark, question mark? Seriously. I need your guidance.

Enduring Sports Center on ESPN before the kickoff. They're reliving Wayne Gretzky's '93 LA Kings game 7 conference finals game. Two things: Make "Little Wayne's" head bleed. And Holy Melrose Mullet.

God Bless Ian Darke's dulcet tones.

Teams are lined up and about to walk out onto the field. I think Mignolet has been vacuum packed into his jersey. Looks like The Flash. The 1930s Irish gangster version of The Flash.

Looks a decent crowd, but the football stadium rather dwarfs the faithful. Cleveland: Soccer hotbed.

They got #2 from "Austin Powers" to sing the national anthem!!!!!!

[Moment of silence for Oklahoma]

2' Those giveaways clearing out of the back are going to be soaked up by Fellaini.

3' Well done. Zusi. Tracked back well. Altidore needs a goal to get off the schnide, but that shot was poorly considered. Caught the US in transition and sprang the Belgium attack.

5' USA Jozy just showed up in place of AZ Jozy. Trips over a ball he brought down in the box. Meanwhile, in Holland...alternate universe AZ Jozy is celebrating his 1,000th goal...

...followed immediately by Cameron and Gonzalez doing their best underwater soccer impression. Slooooooow.

1-0 Waffles.

11' Cameron ran out of ideas there and apparently decided just to give it back to Belgium. Seems reasonable.

12' Ditto Klejstan.

"Will Fellaini follow Moyes to United?" Yes, Sir Ian. He will. Next question?

16' Great spell of possession for the US there, and then Altidore rocked the cute little Eredivisie touch and the move is over.

I will say this, at least Jozy is getting involved. I've seen too many USMNT matches in which he was anonymous. He's getting into good positions, he just needs to calm down and play within himself a bit more.

23' GOAL!

Great ball back across the goal from Deuce off the corner kick. Waffles got caught napping on the back post after the initial ball cleared them. Maybe that woke up Cameron?


Zusi needs a new haircut. It's less "international soccer player" and more "Omaha soccer mom at LA Fitness." He's got resources. I mean, Dempsey plays at maybe the best hair side in club soccer. Surely he can do Zusi a solid and get him a good hair guy. Am I wrong here?

Ian Darke seriously just said "beautiful" and "Lake Eerie" in the same sentence. He's a professional, folks.

If I'm Belgium and I'm trying to get firmly back on top of this match, I start pressing a little higher, especially when Gonzalez, Cameron, or Goodson are on the ball. They look ponderous and unsure of where their outlets are. Belgium isn't pressing at all and Gonzalez especially is taking so long moving the ball that they're still closing him down.

36' Vermaelen is off and Potonglioliognioloio is on.

I want to see Davis on the ball more. Facially, he's like Stewie from Family Guy and Merry from Lord of The Rings had a kid, but he looks bright and sharp on the ball.

41' Oh, thank God. Dembele is coming off. Oh, fuck Benteke is coming on.

Hazard, Benteke, Witsel, Lukaku, Mirallas, Fellaini. These guys have a chance to be so good they finally put the kibosh on that whole Flemish v French thing.

First half takeaways: Our back four, minus DMB, are too Stoke like. Belgium hasn't put it past third gear yet and Cameron, Gonzalez, and Goodson just look too ponderous, ungainly, and lacking in recovery speed. If they were all superior technical players with flawless positional sense, this wouldn't be that big of a deal, but there were at least three occasions in the first 45 minutes that had one, two, or all three of those guys in a really unflattering Monkey in the Middle situation.

When Winston Churchill described Russia as a "...riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," he could just have easily been talking about Jozy Altidore in a USA jersey. I'm flummoxed. Can we get Gyasi Zardes in the mix already?

I'm off to grab a Kaliber out of the fridge. You heard me. Kaliber. It's a school night.

Ok, here we go with the second half!

Bring on the subs and let's watch this thing devolve into a disjointed kick in the park.

Worst thing for Jozy? Coming off at half time. What could make it even worse? EJ bagging a screamer.

50' Guzan claimed that fairly easily, but Gonzalez still let Lukaku walk right past him. How do you lose Lukaku? He's like The Predator minus that badass cloaking thingy.

53' DMB played that like a boss. Looked a terrible mismatch and Beasley stayed with him with every turn and won the ball back. Credit where credit is due.

56' Gonzalez and Goodson have been...poor. Twellman calls it growing pains, but that's a mistake in the international game as well as the club game as well as the pub game.

2-1 Waffles.

I just figured it out. Cameron, Gonzalez, and Goodson are in a competition to see who can most quickly go from goat to hero.

64' Boyd on for Davis. Meanwhile, Lukaku is settling into the game now and unleashes a bullet at Guzan. I would continue my Predator analogy, but I don't know what that little three pronged laser thing is called. Also, Fellaini just did what Fellaini does. Fro --> Ball --> Goal.

3-1 Waffles.

69' Besler on for Goodson. Evans on for Zusi.

71' That was too easy. Like way, way, way too easy. I can accept getting beaten by a side like Belgium if it's done with skill, but the old criticism of Klinsy's teams, that they look tactically deficient, is certainly going to be bandied about after this match.

4-1 Waffles.

I'm beginning to think the Kaliber may be a little too soft for me.

Beasley, minus getting walked past for the fourth, has looked good tonight. That's not the Kaliber talking. Or maybe it is the Kaliber talking. Kaliber is NA and I meant that as a stone cold sober observation. Yup, that's the Kaliber talking.

79' Beasley did BRILLIANTLY there. His little tip toe down the line deserved a better ball from EJ. Penalty is a harsh decision.

80' Deuce gets one back from the spot. score looks a little less ugly, but it's still discouraging to see nothing created from the run of play.


81' Holden is on! Bigger news, Holden's hair looks to be in decent form as well.

82' Johnson keeps getting into great positions but can't get the right ball in. Donovan *cough* Donovan *cough, cough*.

85' That looked a clear penalty. Whether Besler got the ball or not, he put himself in jail there with a terrible angle to the first ball.

90' It was only a matter of time before Jones got his name in the book. Probably looked up and saw the clock and panicked.

Well, that happened. 4-2 final score, but I think the score line flatters the US, if I'm honest. I don't think the sky is falling, but this seems to be a pattern under Klinsmann. Really all I can muster at this point is a slew of adjectives thrown on to the page like a bunch of spaghetti on the wall. Here goes: disjointed, tentative, lacking a focal point in attack (ok, that was a descriptive phrase...we'll call that a meatball to the adjective spaghetti), clumsy, faceless. Did I say disjointed?

Other US teams have been less talented, but they've played with a strong, shared identity and they've been better for it. The side under Klinsmann continues to look like a collection of 11 players who are all reading from a different book of music.

Final takeaway: If Belgium doesn't qualify for the World Cup in Brazil, there is no justice in this world. If you're not from Belgium (Flemish or French end), this should be your second favorite team. Also, waffles are delicious.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Reddest Devil: Thoughts On SAF's Retirement

If you're a regular reader of the blog, and you're wondering, "Where on God's green earth has this guy been?", I offer my sincerest apologies and also suggest you check out Soccer Newsday and Cottagers Confidential for some of my thoughts on Indianapolis's new NASL team and Fulham Football Club respectively. I'm juggling three balls here (no jokes!) and am realizing that for a writer, even a modicum of recognition comes with a whole slew of deadlines, restrictions, and editors who do not believe in the Oxford comma. Heathens.

On to the good stuff...

Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United earlier this week after nearly three decades at the helm of arguably the world's most iconic club. I had to slow clap the man from across the Atlantic as the timing of his announcement managed to make a pivotal London derby between Chelsea and Tottenham look positively inconsequential and transformed a decidedly pedestrian title winning campaign into the construction of a glorious, gilded arched gateway with "exit"inscribed in some legendary as-yet-uncreated font above it. In short, SAF dropped the mic and marched backstage to gulp red wine from the myriad trophies he probably sets his table with.

Another massive wine goblet. Legendary. 
That may sound like hyperbole, but that's what we're dealing with here. Ferguson has been a legend in his own time; a force of nature for whom conventional wisdom, mores, and rules of engagement do not apply. Other managers have seen the entire arc of their career play out as a blip on Ferguson's geologic timeline and have often rightly asked themselves, "Well, how does he get away with it?" We don't know.

In the wake of SAF's announcement, breathless paeans to the man written by even more breathless writers sprung up like hatching east coast cicadas and attempted to encapsulate The Man's greatness; to pinpoint his final ranking in the pantheon of all time greats. We may look back on this week and remember it as the precise moment when the "Living Obituary" genre of writing was created.

His time in charge. His trophies won. The staggering volume of legends who played for him. His gum chewing and wine drinking. His (in)famous timekeeping. His thinly veiled disdain for the media, transfer fees, and players who crossed him. All of these Fergieisms have been cited in recent days, and rightly so, but they're only pieces of the Ferguson Myth and don't cut to the heart of the matter. It's like describing Wedge, Grimlock, Heavy Loader, and Hightower and failing to convey that, although they're all awesome individually, together they're so much more badass as Landfill. That's a Gestalt Transformer reference. Feel free to Google it. I'll wait.

What sets Ferguson apart is that through the force of all those Fergieisms - all of that excellence, prickliness, temper, toil, and constancy - he was Manchester United incarnate. The Reddest Devil. He was the architect of all those trophy campaigns and the blesser of every transfer in and out, the redeemer of the Busby Babes. He was both the arrogance and excellence of every Manchester United vintage since 1986 and the judge, jury, and executioner of every erstwhile star who forgot it.

The problem for David Moyes is that he still is, if not in practice then certainly in truth. No one wants to be the man who follows a legend. Better to be the man who follows the man who follows the legend. In this case, the legend and the club are synonymous and it may take an actual obituary to separate the two again.

Well played, Sir. Well played.          

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The USMNT: Double, Double Toil and Trouble

Let's set the record straight on something before we even get started. Brian Straus's article on the United States Men's National Team, which appeared earlier this week on the Sporting News website, was a well written, relevant, timely, and pertinent piece of journalism. The only way I can be convinced otherwise is if someone steps forward with evidence that Straus fabricated all of those anonymous quotes and has a secret voodoo shrine above his fireplace dedicated to the professional ruination of Jurgen Klinsmann. To all the rabid fans out there calling for blood, the team isn't going to win or lose based on an article written by a responsible journalist. The story was there. He reported it.

It's the intervening days since the article was published - the actions of the players and Klinsmann himself - and the looming dates with Costa Rica and Mexico that are the real stories now. So what do we have?

Well, unless, as I said before, Straus pulled all of those anonymous quotes from thin air, the USMNT has a legitimate chemistry issue. Klinsmann, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, and Herculez Gomez have all stepped forward in the last 48 hours and engaged in the time honored tradition of athletes everywhere by saying the right things to the media about team spirit, mutual support, and focusing on the task at hand, ostensibly the match against Costa Rica.

Back to the wall. Klinsmann's theories need to become results.
 Reading between the lines a bit, and given that none of the aforementioned players suggested that there was no substance to the quotes in the Straus article, one can assume that the chemistry issues are being addressed in the locker room. Unfortunately, the likes of Dempsey, Bradley, and Gomez will have to handle this issue themselves as elder statesmen and universally respected leaders Bocanegra and Howard are not in Denver through injury and form respectively.

Which leads to another strange and troubling chapter in this rapidly developing saga. What's the deal with Carlos Bocanegra? He was given an entirely unexpected spot on the bench for the loss to Honduras in a match that was crying out for senior leadership and experience in the defensive third. This week he was stripped of his captaincy and dropped from the squad altogether. To his credit, Bocanegra has been his usual classy, well-spoken, and mature self when addressing these issues to the media, but one has to wonder what is going on behind the scenes.

Bocanegra is no spring chicken and Klinsmann is right to be vetting viable alternatives in the US defense, but there has to be a middle ground between ignoring the problem and Klinsmann's chosen hell-bent-for-leather path of throwing the spring lambs to the wolves. Klinsmann has suggested that Bocanegra's lack of form with his club is the reason for his recent exclusion from the squad, but time and again Klinsmann has strayed from this guiding principle by either including an out-of-form player or excluding a player on a hot streak.

This sort of inconsistent decision making and incongruity between speech and action is exactly the sort of behavior for which Straus's article criticizes Klinsmann and it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that he and Bocanegra had some sort of disagreement regarding the direction of the team. That's purely conjecture and I could be totally off base, but the treatment of Bocanegra seems to have everyone doing that little sideways, ear pricked head tilt Golden Retrievers do when they hear an unfamiliar sound.

Thrown into all of this is the embryonic backfiring of the Germans-as-Americans experiment begun under Bob Bradley and taken to Weapon X proportions by Klinsmann. Again, everyone is saying the right things. Klinsmann has said, "I believe Americans are Americans no matter if they grow up in Japan, South Africa, or Buenos Aires." While this is a politically correct thing to say, true for the American diaspora, and generally a good thing, what the USMNT is dealing with right now is in no way general. It's very, very, very specific and it involves importing players who may be American in paperwork only to be lynchpins on a national team that has seen its greatest successes come through the emotional unity of being an American underdog.

Yes, the USMNT has fielded players in the past - Thomas Dooley, David Regis, Ernie Stewart - who essentially became American by donning the national team jersey, but those players came into the squad as individuals and were quickly assimilated into the team ethos. By contrast, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, Terrance Boyd, and to a lesser extent Jermain Jones, have all come into the USMNT at the same time. It's tough to see how they could not not form a clique, if not out of perceived superiority then certainly out of common experience and a language barrier.

And now Klinsmann has named Clint Dempsey captain for the next two qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. This is another Golden Retriever decision for me. It's not that I don't think Dempsey is deserving of this sort of honor, but that, given his form and recent injury issues at Tottenham (again with the club form thing) and Michael Bradley's emergence as a vocal, world class midfield motor, I would have thought Bradley would be a shoe in. Dempsey is more of a get on with it, silent, chip-on-the-shoulder type and perhaps Klinsmann is hoping this will rub off on the rest of the team, but I can't help but think those anonymous sources of Straus might be throwing their hands up at this decision as further proof that Klinsmann is a master tinkerer with very little end product.

So now it's do or die time. At the bare minimum, the USMNT has to get at least a point from these next two matches. Realistically, they have to get three. I don't see the current state of the side remaining unclear after the Costa Rica and Mexico matches. The Straus article and the panicked attention it has brought to the team will result in either a backs-to-the-wall, us-against-them stand that sees the USMNT through these next two fixtures and well on the way to a galvanizing qualification campaign, or the Yanks will implode in a spectacular show of underachievement and caustic finger pointing clouded in a haze of ambiguous and impotent Klinsmann platitudes.

When will we know?

When the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost and won.      

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The North London Derby Prediction

Arsene Wenger earlier this week stated that Arsenal make no special preparations to face superlative players. Arsenal suddenly make so much more sense to me.

In Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, the argument is made that innovative advantages do not live in perpetuity. In other words, if I show up to our office or worksite or lab or *ahem* soccer league with an innovative and effective way of doing the same old thing, I will enjoy a substantial advantage over my opponents for as long as it takes my opponents to either counter my innovation with an innovation of their own or to simply start doing the same thing that I once did so uniquely, and even potentially improve upon my methods.

The case study they use to illustrate said point? Arsene Wenger.

Kuper and Syzmanski are able to pinpoint the exact moment Wenger was no longer "The Professor" and simply became "Wenger." That exact moment? 2006.

This is an image from the near tomorrow
Look, I appreciate Wenger and his very French very stubborn insistence that his methods are not flawed. I appreciate his ability to find young talent and polish it into professional class. I find the brand of football Arsenal plays to be mostly pleasing to the eye (I can do this because I'm not an Arsenal fan and I'll never want to kill myself when they can't play Any. Other. Way. even when they need a goal in the 93rd minute). I can even endure Wenger's constant diffusion of responsibility for his team's inability to do anything other than qualify for the Champions League and get knocked out of domestic cup competitions. I find his peanut butter mouth accent charming, his ridiculous coat ridiculous,  and I kind of dig the fact that he was boning down with an Algerian female rapper half his age...allegedly.

What I enjoy most though, is his tragic inability to innovate again, the caricature of himself he has become, and the manner in which Arsenal fans have adopted their manager's delusional optimism, an optimism that blames everyone and everything else for their side's failure. I don't mean that as schadenfreude. I don't enjoy Arsenal's failure out of spite, but I do enjoy the morality play the Gunners have become. It's like Aesop's Fables or Animal Farm or Oedipus Rex or This Is Spinal Tap all come to life. Arsenal are a cautionary tale warning against the hubris a novel idea can cultivate.
Gareth Bale is not someone like Ricky Lambert who just happens to be his side's best player. Gareth Bale is in the purplest or purple patches. He's wearing a Barney suit, stomping grapes, and listening to Gogol Bordello's Start Wearing Purple on repeat.

Wenger hasn't planned for him? He's either lying or doing the most Arsene Wenger thing Arsene Wenger has ever done. I'm going with latter.

Prediction: Gareth Bale - 3. Arsenal - 1.