What we have thus far: EPL in late-2010

There were rumors of Zola taking over Wilkins' vacant post, but it was decided that Chelsea supporters would enjoy that a little too much.

The new year is two days away, and the English Premier League season is as out of control as I’ve ever seen it at this point before. As I sit in my room listening to American Football’s self-titled for the 100,000th time, I’m trying to make sense of it all, as I sink into a deep depression.

Chelsea. The apple of my eye. Pride of London. Champions. They’re now in 5th place, and a loss to Bolton away from 6th place [the game will be played later today]. They’ve become the story of the season, again, for the wrong reasons. The past couple of months have been hard as a Chelsea supporter. Injuries, tactical miscalculations, and defensive mistakes have left Chelsea with little hope of repeating as champions of England. At this point, I’m more worried about the future of the club internally. With Arnesen leaving, Wilkins gone, and the possibility of Ancelotti being removed as manager increasing daily, the future of the club’s youth development, ability to acquire proper talent, and long-term success are in peril. I might be looking too far into the future, and sounding the alarm too quickly, but this is how it begins. Before you know it, you wake up in a Russian whorehouse, looking for Shevchenko’s phone number to see if he wants to get the old band together. Times might not get that desperate, but it can happen.

Carlo on the sideline has looked more a distressed door-to-door salesman than a Dolce & Gabbana-clad, world-class manager. Instead of continuing as the team that won their first five league matches by an aggregate score of 100 to -13, Chelsea have had the worst run of form in the last 8 games than any other team in the league and the worst run from the club in a decade. The biggest sin committed by Chelsea is not having wrapped up the title race by the end of November and therefore creating no need to play the rest of the season. Awful.

The team that just embarrassed Chelsea, Arsenal, look like they finally believe in themselves. Less importantly, it seems like those outside of the Arsenal camp are beginning to believe in the young Arsenal squad Wenger has put together. There are no more excuses. This Arsenal team can win the title. Despite having dropped points to much lesser, more physical squads, over the course of the season, the Gunners definitely have what it takes to win it this season.

Their only obstacle is Sir Alex Ferguson. If Manchester United win the title, it’s another example of why Ferguson could be considered the greatest manager in the modern era. Injuries, out of form players, sex scandals, contract negotiations, threats, and Darren Fletcher, have all threatened to tear apart United’s title hopes. SAF has steered the ship, and with two games in hand, they are poised to make that late-season push to secure the championship. They haven’t lost a game for the love of God.

On the other side of Manchester, City have put themselves in second place, and Mancini looks like he might actually be getting something out of a squad overflowing with quality but lacking chemistry. Balotelli is definitely proving his worth with his goal total thus far. Hopefully, his temper won’t get the best of him. Tevez is staying, and Dzeko is on his way from Wolfsburg. Manchester City have great players all over the pitch, and it’s just a matter of time before it all starts clicking. Manchester City will round out the new big four soon enough.

Back in London, Tottenham have inserted themselves into the top four once again. Tottenham’s success might be another story of managerial success. Redknapp has wheeled and dealt himself a wonderful squad from back to front. Unsurprisingly, Van der Vaart is playing like we all thought he was capable of playing. I didn’t think it would work out because, well, it’s fucking Spurs. Again, I was wrong. Bale is having a great Champions League campaign. His form in the Premiership, although relatively not as wonderful as on the continent, has provided extra bite to the Tottenham attack on the left side which compliments Lennon’s work on the right very well. Also, shout out to Alan Hutton who I think does wonderful work at right back, but doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

I think one of the most compelling, and most likely to blow up all crazy-like, stories of the season is the descent of Everton, Villa, Fulham, and the ascension of squads like Bolton and Sunderland. Moyes, Houllier, and Hughes are all trying to pick up the pieces, as Owen Coyle and Steve Bruce have their teams picking up points and places on the table instead.

Personally, Bolton have been the biggest surprise this season, outside of Chelsea’s fall from grace. Elmander is finally playing well. Stuart Holden is making a case for his inclusion into the starting center midfield on the American national team. Petrov and Davies are having the seasons of their lives. Gary Cahill’s management of the backline is exquisite. It’s tough to tell when or if it’ll all go wrong, but I certainly hope it doesn’t. There might be a little nationalist pride involved, but I want Holden to succeed.

Sunderland’s success has to be attributed to their wonderful frontline, specifically Asamoah Gyan. Sunderland might be in danger of relegation if it weren’t for the goals produced by their forwards. In the back, they are stout, but goals get you points. There is much to be desired in the midfield, and eventually, I think this will catch up to them. It’s likely they won’t be playing European football next year, but with results like the win at Stamford Bridge, I could be very wrong. Coupled with Fulham, Everton, and Villa’s inconsistencies, they could find themselves in Belgrade or Kiev soon.

Finally, the three promoted sides are all outside of the relegation zone at this point of the season. West Brom is playing great under the direction of Roberto Di Matteo. At home they are playing great, attacking football. They beat Arsenal earlier this season. Blackpool have been doing the same under the charismatic Ian Holloway and are in the top ten. The Tangerines are probably my favorite team in the Premiership right now, and it has nothing to do with their home and third away kits. They play like they have nothing to lose, and they don’t. Everyone wrote them off as one-and-dones, but that won’t be the case this season. Mr. Holloway has the players believing and playing with confidence. Newcastle have been the most wildly inconsistent team with both huge victories and losses to their name. Nolan and Carroll are playing great, and even Ameobi has netted a few this season (wut?!). Although the back line is questionable, Newcastle will definitely be staying up this season.

Anyway, this hastily written rant has dragged on too much. I can’t wait for the second half of the season. I know Chelsea will bounce back, and I’m also certain that it won’t be enough for a top two finish. There’s still that glimmer of hope, but it might as well have died in the Emirates on Monday. I’ll try to keep you all up with my thoughts on the league as the season progresses. That might be one resolution I might be able to keep.

-dago

Mi Copa del Mundo

To those who didn't know Dani Jarque, Andrés introduced him to 750 million people.

With one swing of his favored right leg, Andrés Iniesta ended World Cup 2010.  Andrés is no stranger to late-game heroics for his club, FC Barcelona.  He and Xavi Hernandez are the engine room for the nuclear powered destroyers of club and country.  Their creativity in the midfield has been unsurpassed by any tandem the past two or three years.  Spain deserve their World Cup.  They are the most creative.  They are the most skilled.  Most importantly to me, and as an example to all other footballing nations, they showed the most conviction.  They stuck to their game plan.  No matter how “anti-football” squads became, they stuck to their guns.  Although they were placed under great scrutiny for their insistence on passing the ball into the net by Europeans and their own countrymen, they are the ones holding the trophy now.  They have the star above their emblem.  They have elevated Spain to the top of the world like Ferdinando and Isabella, like Picasso.  These artists’ work wasn’t disjointed and chaotic.  They won beautifully, gracefully and with confidence.  Something we haven’t seen at a World Cup since Italia ’90.

Alright, now. Since Americans love lists (I should know because I do too), here’s some of my favorite moments/developments from this wonderful World Cup.

  • Siphiwe Tshabalala‘s goal against Mexico was probably touted as goal of the tournament before another goal was even scored in the World Cup.  You could feel the power, fervor, and determination of Africa in that shot.  The accuracy was perfect.  When that ball sailed into the top-right corner, I thought to myself, “Fuck, this might be Africa’s tournament to lose.” How wrong I was.
  • By the fourth minute of the United States match against England, I had my head in my hands.  The ball was in the back of the net and Tim Howard had only Ricardo Clark to blame.  NO! Not again.  Not here.  Please.  What did we do to deserve this.  What lessons did we forget to learn from 2006?  Was England just toying with the world when they had put up stinkers against Mexico and Japan in friendlies before the tournament.  Maybe we were never meant to be here.  We have no right.  Then Clint Dempsey and Robert Green shared a moment that will have a special place in Anglo-American relations for a very long time.  Both our diplomats from London clubs, no not Chelsea and Arsenal, West Ham and Fulham, joined to give the United States the 1-1 victory. A victory in the strict moral and ethical sense. The English, arrogant and bloated, determined to waltz through the group could only muster a pitiful 5 points.  Only goal differential separated the small footballing nation of the United States with the inventors of the “game”.  I hope England can fix themselves before Euro 2012.  It’s always hard watching a girl who peaked in high school still trying to convince the world she’s the belle of the ball.
  • I have been the biggest Spain hater for several years now.  I was never convinced of their ability to win big matches or scrape out victories.  In their first match, Spain was on the wrong end of a 1-0 decision against Switzerland.  Fernandes’s goal, resulting from a mad, scattered dash on the counter attack ended with a bloody Pique on the ground and the ball in the back of the net.  I was certain that was the end of Spain’s World Cup.  Again, I was wrong.
  • Watching Italy lose to Slovakia and by the end of tournament-play being in last place behind New Zealand, a country known for sheep, rocky beaches, Lord of the Rings, and being named after a mildly retarded, flightless bird.
  • I fell asleep during the 7-0 Portugal v. People’s Republic of Korea match.
  • By the end of group play I was convinced this was a South American summer.  The only team to have LOST a game from North, Central, and South America all tournament was Honduras. The semis might have turned into a mini-Copa America. I’ll have to wait until next summer.
  • Not necessarily a moment but a development, the lack of African nations that made it out of group play was astounding.  Perhaps, the world was expecting too much.  The continent is in shambles after all.  Ghana was the only one to get out.  They handled the United States’s attack and countered with greater efficiency that the Americans.  The Africans were more determined that the United States.  If only determination could swat down arms that prevent a squad from being the first African nation to reach the semis in a World Cup.
  • I had the Dutch winning the World Cup in my two brackets.  One I made before the tournament.  The other one I made after group play.  As the first nation to qualify for the cup, I believed that the Netherlands were finally over themselves.  They had decided that playing harshly, with strength and power, not grace, would win them this World Cup.  They were doing it well too.  Van Bommel and De Jong bossed around teams’ midfielders all tournament.  Against Brazil, they threw caution to the wind and pushed and shoved their way to a 2 -1 victory.  They had slain the stumbling dragon Brazil.  They had beaten the favorites.  I assumed the rest of the tournament had become a formality.  The recent history of the tournament had taught me that the rough ones, the hard-nosed brawlers were to win this World Cup.  The Dutch, I felt, were this year’s Italy.  They were the Brazil of ’94.  They had the quality up top but the tenacity and hard-workers in the back.  It was theirs to lose.  They did.
  • Officiating…
  • Anelka telling that “bitch” Domenech to “fuck off”, and the French FA, not Domenech, sending Anelka back home.  Perhaps the French were more upset by Anelka’s preference of the Anglo-Saxon “fuck” and “bitch” than Domenech was at Anelka’s disrespect? The fallout from this episode was something so beautiful it could really only have been French actors in this tragedy.
  • German Youth… in black shirts. Oh, the jokes that were made.

There are so many other moments that I can’t think at this moment that I would love to write about.  This was a great World Cup, no matter how many people are still convinced that it was “plagued” by low scores.

Soccer fans, and those new to the sport. 1-0, 0-0, and 1-1 results are not always boring.  Goals do not make a match.  Tension and release.  That’s what makes good football. Like a masterfully crafted concerto there is nothing like conflict and resolution, even in its smallest and sometimes incalculable measurements.  It was just frustrating to hear people complain about the lack of quality football, when the opera was playing right before their eyes and ears.

Alright, now real football begins. Chelsea Chelsea!

-dago