Friday, August 19, 2011

Good Day!

Good Day!

Loads today as Sid Lowe and Eduardo Alvarez preview the La Liga season which will not begin as scheduled due to a strike by the players, big night in Europe for Clint Dempsey as Deuce bags a deuce in Fulham's win, not as good for Bocanegra and Rangers, Phil Ball provides his take on the Barca/Real Madrid rivalry, Friday MLS Forecast looks at Chicago Fire's new draw record, in England Arsenal host Liverpool and Sunderland host Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear Derby, The Joy of Six is False Dawns, Jon Carter Rewinds to 1989, Robbie Keane touches down in Los Angeles, Friday's rumors, Grant Wahl's Mailbag and much more!!


Strike brings pain to Spain over players' demand for emergency fund

It should have been a Super Sunday. The season was due to kick off with Spain's other clásico between two of only three clubs to have spent their entire histories in the first division. At 6pm, it was Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao, the latter under the new management of the fascinating Marcelo Bielsa. Then, at 8pm, there was a chance to see La Liga's latest force, Qatari-owned Málaga, with nine new signings and the league's third biggest budget, take on Barcelona at home. And finally, at 10pm, Real Betis were to make their top-flight return – against city rivals Sevilla in the most passionate derby in the country.

It should have been special but La Liga will not start this weekend. The players' union, the AFE, is in dispute with the league, the LFP, and has declared a strike.

David Lacey: Cesc Fábregas is the best midfielder the Premier League has seen

When Cesc Fábregas left Arsenal for Barcelona this week the Premier League lost the finest midfielder ever to play in English football: discuss. Which is roughly what a group of football writers were doing at a pre-season dinner when the subject of outstanding midfield players was raised.

The consensus was that in the 19 seasons since the First Division clubs broke away to form the Premier League the two best midfielders have been another Arsenal player, Patrick Vieira, and Manchester United's Paul Scholes, both of whom have just retired. Fábregas was almost up there with them but he is 24 and now that he is back at the Camp Nou something even better may be yet to come.

England: Premier League Weekend Previews & Predictions

Arsenal host Liverpool on the second weekend of the new Premier League season, while Sunderland and Newcastle meet in the Wear-Tyne derby. Chelsea welcome West Brom to Stamford Bridge, Blackburn travel to Aston Villa, Everton begin their campaign against QPR, and new-boys Swansea host their first match when Wigan visit Wales. On Sunday, Manchester City make the short trip to Bolton, Norwich take on Stoke, and Wolves and Fulham meet at Molineux.


Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Preview
Chelsea vs. West Brom: Preview

Premier League Spotlight

Paul Merson's Predictions

Lawro's Predictions

Germany: Bundesliga Weekend Preview

The 2009 Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg can return to the top of the table when they face Borussia Monchengladbach.

Defending champions Borussia Dortmund will look to bounce straight back from their defeat to Hoffenheim last weekend, while Bayern Munich will try to build on their first league win of the season against Wolfsburg last weekend when they host struggling Hamburg.

Stuttgart will look to maintain their unbeaten start to the season at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, while the league's newcomers, Augsburg, go in search of their first win in the top flight after back-to-back draws when they welcome Hoffenheim to the Augsburg Arena.


The Joy of Six: Early-Season Mirages

Scott Murray selects half-a-dozen early false dawns, including Manchester United in 1977-78 and Liverpool in 1994-95.

First XI: Tyne-Wear Derbies

Sunderland take on Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light on Saturday for what has long been one of the most fiercely contested derbies in the game.

Here, ESPNsoccernet puts together a selection of some of the most memorable Tyne-Wear derbies.

Jon Carter: Rewind to 1989

Long before the days of Glazer rule at Old Trafford and the mysterious Red Knights, another in the United realm had attempted to take control of the club in 1989. English businessman Michael Knighton had a £20 million offer accepted and, on August 18, appeared on the pitch in full kit ahead of the 1989-90 season opener to revel in the moment of his career. However, it did not end as he would have liked.

The Mill +

Friday's Rumours


Martin Rogers: Keane greeted with enthusiasm upon L.A. arrival

Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane touched down in Tinseltown on Thursday after completing a transfer from English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur to the Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy. Keane, the team’s most significant signing since David Beckham, will make his debut Saturday after vowing to give MLS’ most visible franchise the elusive championship it craves.

Keane, his nation’s all-time leading international scorer, will earn around $4 million per season with the Galaxy.

Spain: La Liga Season Previews

Sid Lowe:

Strike threats, two superpowers getting even stronger, plus a team-by-team guide for the new season. It's all here.

Eduardo Alvarez:

Was your thirst for Spanish football, controversy and embarrassment satiated by the recent Supercopa, dear reader? No? Are you really still thirsty? Frustrated with the strike? Don't worry, ESPNsoccernet has what you need. Please follow me in a psychic-like exercise to predict the final standings of this season's Liga tournament, before the next 'super-clasico' (aka Judgement Day) arrives.

Friday MLS Forecast

The Forecast examines Chicago's record-setting tendency to draw matches and surveys the weekend fixture list.

Grant Wahl's Mailbag

The 'Bag (soccer version) is back, and we'll start this week with a question from @WillEhrenfeld:

"Will Robbie Keane be an effective scorer for L.A.? And does his addition make the Galaxy clear favorites going forward?"

Phil Ball in Spain

Barcelona lifted the Supercopa trophy at precisely one o'clock on Thursday morning, with a stadium full of dancing Catalans, quite a few tourists (it's August, Spanish holidays) and a conspicuous absence of Real Madrid players, down in the dressing-rooms cooling off (physically and figuratively) and probably wondering just how they can ever get the better of their current nemesis.

UEFA Europa League: Thursday Wrap

Tottenham thumped Hearts 5-0 in the first leg of their Europa League play-off tie at Tynecastle. Bundesliga side Schalke were stunned by HJK Helsinki, slumping to a 2-0 loss in Finland. Teemu Pukki was the hero for the home side with two goals to his name. Fulham eased to a 3-0 win over Juande Ramos' Dnipro. Aaron Hughes broke the deadlock before a brace from Clint Dempsey capped a fine night for Martin Jol's men. Affluent French side PSG romped to a 4-0 hammering of Differdange courtesy of strikes from Kevin Gameiro, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, Ceara and Jeremy Menez. Rangers looked on course for a promising result at Maribor when Juanma put them in front. But Maribor fought back to win 2-1 as Agim Ibraimi and Etien Velikonja bagged.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Mill +

Thursday's Rumours


Why Man Utd Asian float could backfire on Glazers

With gross debts of £515m and annual interest payments of £45m it looks like a no-brainer for Manchester United's owners, the ultra-secretive Glazer family, to try to raise a large sum of money with a partial flotation in Asia.

Initial estimates suggest the Americans could bring in anywhere between £400m and £600m for selling off 25 to 30 per cent of the club's parent company.

That would value the club at around £1.7bn and not only potentially help reduce the bond the Glazers took out in January 2010 but pay down any other private debts the Glazers have.

Despite announcing the controversial and hugely expensive PIK loans which helped them acquire the club back in 2005 had been paid off last November, the suspicion in the City and among United fans groups is that the loan was simply transferred from one group of hedge funds to another single hedge fund.

Spanish Super Cup: Reports & Fallout

Barcelona 3 - 2 Real Madrid

Sid Lowe at Camp Nou

Spain in uproar over pitch violence

Mourinho once again the biggest winner because we're all talking about him

Piqué: Mourinho 'destroying Spanish football'

José Mourinho describes Barcelona as 'a small team' in post-match rant

Carlos Bocanegra Signs For Rangers

New Rangers signing Carlos Bocanegra says he just couldn’t turn down the chance to join Ally McCoist’s American revolution. The defender, signed from St Etienne, joins international team-mates Mauric Edu and Alejandro Bedoya at the Scottish champions and is likely to feature against Maribor in tonight’s Europa League play-off first leg.

The Californian-born man flew straight to Slovenia after penning a three-year deal.

England: Chelsea Updates

Chelsea complete Lukaku signing

Cech out for four weeks

Sizable ransom demanded for Mikel's father

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

UEFA Champions League Playoffs: Wednesday's Preview

Both Bayern Munich and Villarreal will look to seal entry into the qualifying stages of the UEFA Champions League by beating Zurich and Odense respectively. Villarreal face a tricky trip to Odense while Wisla Krakow host Cypriot champions APOEL Nicosia, Maccabi Haifa host Genk and Malmo go to Dinamo Zagreb.


Spain: Barca prepares for energized Madrid in Supercup

Barcelona knows it will have to cope with a frustrated but energized Real Madrid team if it hopes to win its first Spanish Supercup against its fiercest rival in Wednesday’s return leg of the series.

Madrid dominated Sunday’s 2-2 draw and created the best scoring opportunities but the team was eventually undone by the individual talent of the Spanish champions, notably David Villa and Lionel Messi who scored Barcelona’s goals in the first leg.

The Mill +

Wednesday's Rumours


Barton-Gervinho debacle proves FA needs to invoke strong arm of the law

The events at Newcastle on the Premier League's opening day show the game is becoming impossible to police.

Facebook to stream first FA Cup clash

Non-league sides Ascot United and Wembley FC will kick off this season's FA Cup on Friday night, with the game being streamed to a potential audience of 700 million people on Facebook. Budweiser said that the match, which kicks off at 1945 BST on Friday, will only be available to those of legal drinking age and users must have 'liked' the Budweiser page to gain access.

UEFA Champions League Playoffs: Tuesday's Review, Reports & Analyses

Arsenal secured a narrow 1-0 advantage against Udinese in Tuesday night's Champions League play-off first leg at the Emirates Stadium. Lyon boast a healthier advantage after downing Rubin Kazan 3-1 in their tie, although the French side needed to fight back from an early deficit. Czech champions Viktoria Plzen are in an even better position after recording a 3-1 away win over a FC Copenhagen side who last term became the first Danish side to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League before losing to Chelsea in the last 16. FC Twente and Benfica shared a 2-2 draw in their first-leg tie.


Arsenal 1 - 0 Udinese
Phil McNulty at the Emirates Stadium
Richard Williams at the Emirates Stadium
Five Things We Learned

Keane defies critics with LA move

As Robbie Keane fulfilled the latest of his never ending list of 'dream moves' by joining LA Galaxy, his army of Irish cynics unleashed a predictably vitriolic tirade in the direction of their nation's all-time record goal scorer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Richard Williams: Lionel Messi mesmerises in Madrid but football is the star

Real Madrid and Barcelona show that football can still aspire to be something more than a tawdry money-grabbing spectacle.

UEFA Champions League Playoffs: Tuesday's Previews

Arsene Wenger has urged Arsenal to shrug off the loss of Cesc Fabregas and pull together to see off Udinese in their Champions League play-off on Tuesday night. Lyon host Rubin Kazan with the hosts again without key central defender Cris. The Brazilian missed Les Gones' second Ligue 1 game of the season at the weekend, a 1-1 draw at home to Ajaccio, with a thigh problem and he will not have recovered in time to face the Russians at the Stade Gerland. Tuesday night's other ties see FC Twente host Benfica, Bate Borisov meet Sturm Graz and Viktoria Plzen go to FC Copenhagen.

Arsenal vs. Udinese
Preview I
Preview II
Can Udinese rejoin Europe's elite at fragile Arsenal's expense?
Guidolin follows Arsenal model
Key Battles

Raphael Honigstein in Germany

A disconnect between grand ideas on the bench and on-pitch realities is a big problem in a league that wants instant evolution.

Ståle Solbakken already under pressure as defeat leaves Köln bottom.

Americans Abroad: Maurice Edu scores and gets a red card in a match, Timothy Chandler creates a goal takes a look at what some of the best Americans playing abroad were able to do over the past week.

Sid Lowe in Spain

Pep Guardiola was telling the truth all those years ago when he told the midfielder he would one day wear Barcelona's No4 shirt.

Barcelona's prodigal son, Cesc Fábregas, returns home at last.

Tim Vickery in South America

One of my favourite pieces of football writing is by the splendid Argentine coach Angel Cappa, a romantic of the old school, reflecting on his good fortune at being in Spain to watch Brazil’s midfield in the 1982 World Cup.

“The ball arrived in this zone [midfield],” he wrote, “and would then disappear to reappear in the form of a rabbit and also a dove and then was hidden again from anguished opponents who would look for it in the most unlikely places without being able to find it….

"The crowd, myself included, looked at the watch with the intention of making time stand still because we all wanted the game to last for ever.”

Since then, though, no one has really been able to write about Brazil in quite the same terms. Not through any lack of quality - in the last 30 years the production line of great attacking full backs and magnificent strikers has been working overtime.

The Mill +

Tuesday's Rumours


The Question: How long can Spain's football dynasty last?

The success and technical expertise of Spain's youth sides suggest the country will rule football for the next decade at least.

Steve Davis on MLS

Know your Major League Soccer --

Five things we learned from Week 22:

Uli Hesse in Germany

Somehow I doubt he thinks about this day very often, but I once played football against Nuri Sahin - and won. It's not like we were playing in opposing teams in some scribes- versus-soccer-stars charity extravaganza. No, it was a proper one-on-one: just him and me and a ball and one of those "Torwand" contraptions. (A target wall with two holes.)

Monday Night Football: Reports & Analyses

Manchester City
4 - 0
Swansea City

Richard Jolly at the Etihad Stadium

Five reasons for Swansea fans to be cheerful

Monday, August 15, 2011

Robbie Keane joins LA Galaxy

Tottenham striker Robbie Keane has made a reported £3.5 million move to Los Angeles Galaxy on a two-year deal worth about $9.75 million.

Monday Night Football: Manchester City vs. Swansea City

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini is anticipating a tough evening when his side host newly-promoted Swansea.

Spanish Super Cup: Barcelona and Real Madrid share four goals

Real Madrid and Barcelona shared four goals in a thrilling 2-2 draw in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

Having hogged the headlines for a number of bad-tempered clashes last season, the two played out a game refreshingly void of late challenges and mass-brawls. Another surprise saw Real adopt the role of the cultivated passing side out of the two, opening the scoring through Mesut Ozil and then levelling through Xabi Alonso.

Monday MLS Breakdown

The Crew invited scrutiny with its radical offseason overhaul, but it has produced results with its cohesive and diligent defensive shape.


Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel's father abducted in Nigeria

Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel played in yesterday's goalless draw at Stoke despite knowing his father had been abducted back in his Nigeria homeland.

Dominic Raynor: Off The Ball

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories. This week, Balotelli-plagued Roberto Mancini says he needs to see a psychologist, Mexico's Omar Arellano poos his pants during a game, Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac is packed off to fat camp and Turkish side Sivasspor FC daub themselves in the blood of a slaughtered sheep.

The Trawler: Bates Hits Back

Welcome to The Trawler, your weekly submersion through the teeming waters of life in the Championship, League One and League Two. You might be surprised what you find down there.

The Mill +

Monday's Rumours


England: Premier League Weekend Review, Reports and Analyses

There was disappointment for some of the Premier League's big guns as the season got underway, while holders Manchester United were made to scrap for three points. Reigning champions United managed to bag a maximum haul with a 2-1 win at West Brom but only after a Shane Long equaliser gave them a scare. Elsewhere, Arsenal and Chelsea dropped two points at Newcastle and Stoke respectively, with both encounters ending in goalless draws. And QPR endured a tough introduction to the top-flight, suffering a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Bolton.


Liverpool 1 - 1 Sunderland
Andy Hunter at Anfield

Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal
Louise Taylor at St. James' Park

West Brom 1 - 2 Manchester United
Stuart James at The Hawthorns

Stoke City 0 - 0 Chelsea
Richard Jolly at the Britannia Stadium
Kevin McCarra at the Britannia Stadium

Five Things We Learned
Five Things We Learned II

Team of the Week
Team of the Week II

Cesc Fábregas signs Barcelona contract to finalise Arsenal departure

Cesc Fábregas has signed a five-year contract with Barcelona, finally sealing his departure from Arsenal, the Spanish club has announced. The midfielder, who has had a €200m (over £175m) buy-out clause inserted in his contract, arrived at Camp Nou on Monday morning after undergoing a medical and is now set to be presented to local media. Barcelona posted a comment on their official Twitter feed which read: "Cesc has signed his contract which ties him to Barcelona until 2016. The buy-out clause is 200 million euros."

After penning his contract with the Catalan club Fábregas, wearing the No4 shirt, was presented to the fans at Camp Nou.

Breaking the bank for Cesc

The Fifth Official

Given the lavish three-month build up and incessant hype I expected myself to be near-catatonic by this point on Sunday night, gently frothing at the mouth due to the frantic, awe-inspiring quality offered up by the league that isn't shy in declaring itself the best in the world. Yet the best league in the known universe - better even than The Human League or The League of Gentlemen - served up a whopping 13 goals, three 0-0 draws and two red cards. In fact, all it did do was reinforce a raft of long-held stereotypes: