Gunners Open Door for Liverpool

November 30, 2008

arsenalArsenal did not allow Chelsea to score an offensive goal and Robin Van Persie scored twice in three minutes (59th and 62nd minutes) to send the Gunners to an impressive away victory at Stamford Bridge. An own-goal by Arsenal’s Johan Djourou in the 30th minute pushed the Blues ahead but Van Persie would not be denied in the second half. The Gunners push back ahead of Aston Villa for fourth position while Chelsea remain on 33 points and tied with Liverpool who play tomorrow at Anfield Road against West Ham United.

In the first Manchester Derby at the City of Manchester Stadium, Man United survived Cristiano Ronaldo’s second yellow in the 68th minute to defeat Man City 1-0. Wayne Rooney scored for United in the 42nd minute, the match’s lone goal. United stay solidly in third position on 28 points (and a match down) while City fade further into seventeenth.

At White Hart Lane, Steven Pienaar (the Egyptian, according to lore) edged Everton past suddenly slumping Tottenham, 1-0. Pienaar’s goal in the 51st minute was enough to break the Toffees out of the log-jam on 19 points and remain in seventh place. Spurs are stuck on 15 points though their differential keeps them out of the relegation zone, at least for now.

Finally, out at Fratton Park, five goals were scored in the final forty minutes, two by Blackburn and three by the home side, Portsmouth. Sean Davis’ 79th minute tally broke the tie, adding to Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe’s earlier efforts. Blackburn need any points they can get but failed again to earn enough (or any) to get out of their solid position in the relegation zone. Pompey meanwhile keep pace with Everton, at least on points, and sit in eighth position.

As previously mentioned, Liverpool will host West Ham United tomorrow with a chance to retake sole possession of the top billing in the Premier League.


Wandering No More

November 29, 2008

elmander

With four goals in 38 minutes, Bolton swamped Sunderland 4-1 at the Stadium of Light. After Djibril Cisse scored for the Black Cats in the 11th minute, Wanderers scored four straight to end the match. Matthew Taylor scored on 17 minutes and Gary Cahill scored on 21. Johan Elmander then added a brace on 39 and 55 minutes to complete the blowout and send Bolton soaring up the table into seventh position. Sunderland, meanwhile, fall into the relegation zone, at least for today.

Aston Villa failed to make gains on the leadership of the Premier League in drawing nil-nil with Fulham at Villa Park. American keeper Brad Friedel set a Premiership mark with his 167th consecutive start for Villa and did record a clean sheet. Villa were able to tie Man United on points (though two matches ahead) but did not take over third position because of goal differential. Fulham moved into the top spot of a five-way tie for eighth place.

Middlesbrough and Newcastle also played to a nil-nil draw at the Riverside. ‘Boro take over the fifth place spot in the five-way tie on 19 points but because of goal differential, they sit twelfth. The shared point takes Newcastle out of the relegation zone for now, on differential.

Henri Camara and Emmerson Boyce each scored in the final half-hour to earn a home victory for Wigan over West Bromich Albion, 2-1. Albion had the 1-0 lead after Ishmael Miller’s 47th minute goal but the last place club could not hold the away lead and eventually fell. Wigan are also in the 19 point tie and are now ninth on the table. West Brom remain on 11 points and in the absolute bottom position in England.

Finally, Ricardo Fuller’s penalty on 73 minutes brought Stoke City to a home draw with visiting Hull City, 1-1. Marlon King’s goal just before half-time had Hull in the lead but Stoke earned the draw at the Britannia Stadium with the late penalty. Hull City catch Arsenal on points but trail in differential and remain in sixth position. Stoke’s point pushes them into thirteenth position on 18 points.

Four matches tomorrow including Arsenal @ Chelsea and the first Manchester Derby.


Big Day for Bordeaux

November 26, 2008

bordeaux

In one of the worst-dressed Champions League ties in recent memory (see above) Bordeaux hammered in a late equalizer to draw Chelsea 1-1 at the Parc Lescure. Diarra’s 83rd minute strike nullified Nicolas Anelka’s 60th minute score and brought Group A into utter confusion.

Roma pounded CFR Cluj in Romania behind a Matteo Brighi double that sandwiched a Francesco Totti goal in a 3-1 victory. The three points send Roma to the top of Group A and leaves Chelsea just a point ahead of Bordeaux for the second advancing position.

Similarly, Group B is now a mess as Josu Sarriegi’s 69th minute goal sent Panathinaikos to a stunning 1-0 victory in Milan against Inter. The Greek side are now second behind Inter and just a point ahead of their Cypriot counterparts from Larnaca.

Miguel Hugo Almeida’s 87th minute equalizer stole three points from Anorthosis Famagusta and kept the Cypriots a point behind second position in Group B. Bremen are likely done at this point but each of the remaining three clubs have all but an equal shot at winning the group.

Rodrigues Jadson’s hat trick contributed to a 5-0 drubbing of Basel by Shakhtar Donetsk. The Turks can still catch Sporting Lisbon for second place in the group, though the chances are slim. But an increase of five in goal differential certainly does not hurt.

Five different players scored for Barcelona, including Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi, in a 5-2 rout of Sporting in Lisbon. The Catalan club win Group C with this victory and are now guaranteed advancement to the knock out rounds. Sporting are still likely to advance but must win or draw to make it certain in a fortnight.

Finally, Maxi Rodríguez and Simao each scored to give Atlético Madrid a 2-1 victory over PSV Eindhoven to guarantee its spot in the next rounds. With a slim goal differential advantage against Liverpool, Atlético retain top billing in Group D.

At Anfield Road, Steven Gerrard’s 23rd minute goal was enough for Liverpool to defeat Marseille and stay tied on points with Atlético. The Reds are guaranteed a spot in the knock out rounds but their exact placement remains to be seen as the goal differential distance is just one between the top two teams.


Premiership Predictions – Week 15

November 26, 2008

EPL

Since I will be traveling south to Florida for Thanksgiving this evening, I figured I’d might as well post my Premiership Predictions for this weekend. I’ll make posts Saturday evening and Sunday keeping up with the matches but probably won’t have much internet access between now and then. That and about 2/3 of my time down there is either going to be eating or playing golf.

As for this week’s matches, there is the first Manchester Derby on Sunday at the City of Manchester Stadium and Arsenal will face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Portsmouth, Everton and Middlesbrough can all make inroads if they can defeat lesser opponents while Aston Villa have a home match that could really push them up the table.

Saturday:

Fulham @ Aston Villa – Villa
Newcastle @ Middlesbrough – Draw
Bolton @ Sunderland – Sunderland
West Brom @ Wigan – West Brom
Hull City @ Stoke City – Stoke

Sunday:

Man United @ Man City – Man City
Everton @ Tottenham – Tottenham
Blackburn @ Portsmouth – Pompey
Arsenal @ Chelsea – Chelsea

Monday:

West Ham @ Liverpool – Liverpool

Results thus far:

Week 1 – 19 points
Week 2 – 16 points
Week 3 – 12 points
Week 4 – 13 points
Week 5 – 13 points
Week 6 – 27 points
Week 7 – 14 points
Week 8 – 22 points
Week 9 – 18 points
Week 10 – 19 points
Week 11 – 11 points
Week 12 – 10 points
Week 13 – 16 points
Week 14 – 13 points


NFL Picks – Week 13

November 26, 2008

nflI will not fall victim to my own idiocy again this week, especially with three games on Thursday for Thanksgiving. Here are my Week 13 picks, before the week begins:

Thursday:
Tennessee @ Detroit – Titans
Seattle @ Dallas – Cowboys
Arizona @ Philadelphia – Eagles

Sunday:
Miami @ St. Louis – Dolphins
New York @ Washington – Giants
New Orleans @ Tampa – Buccaneers
Carolina @ Green Bay – Packers
San Francisco @ Buffalo – Bills
Baltimore @ Cincinnati – Ravens
Indianapolis @ Cleveland – Colts
Atlanta @ San Diego – Chargers
Denver @ New York – Jets
Kansas City @ Oakland – Raiders
Pittsburgh @ New England – Patriots
Chicago @ Minnesota – Vikings

Monday:
Jacksonville @ Houston – Jaguars

Results thus far:
Week 1 – 12
Week 2 – 7
Week 3 – 10
Week 4 – 6
Week 5 – 8
Week 6 – 9
Week 7 – 10
Week 8 – 6
Week 9 – 11
Week 10 – 8
Week 11 – 8
Week 12 – 10


The Procrastinator – Pre-Thanksgiving Edition

November 26, 2008

extra

We’ve got another edition of The Procrastinator newsletter available today. We hope you’ll find it interesting and engaging and please feel free to give any comments or ideas. Coming soon we’ll have a major breakdown of the BCS v. playoff scenarios as well as other political, social, travel and satirical articles.

You can find the .pdf here: The Procrastinator Newsletter – 11/26

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Cheers


Stephen Curry Held Scoreless?

November 26, 2008

curryUsing a triangle-and-two defense, Loyola College thought they might be able to beat Davidson last night by double teaming Stephen Curry on every single possession. Instead, Curry just dribbled into a corner, brought his two defenders with him and then passed out allowing for a 4-on-3 offense every time down the floor. The result was a 30-point Davidson victory despite literally zero points for Curry.

The Loyola coach all but admitted he really didn’t care about losing the game, saying that he thought history would remember his team as the one that shut out the nation’s most prolific scorer. But there’s a real question under the dopey plan by the coach of a pretty low-tiered team: is a constant double team a defensive plan that could work against Davidson?

It seems Loyola’s biggest issue was that its other three players were absolutely no match for Davidson’s remaining four. But there are going to be teams who play the Wildcats whose other three will be at least as good as the Davidson four. While the Southern Conference is unlikely to produce such a team, clearly the game at Duke on January 7 will fit that description and it’s possible that the game against NC State on December 6 could too. The non-conference schedule for Davidson is considerably softer this year than last so the Wildcats will probably end up with only a handful of losses (assuming Curry doesn’t get hurt). But once the NCAA tournament comes around, can they really expect Curry to be as singularly electrifying as last season? When opposing teams have nothing to lose in the tournament, wouldn’t it make sense to at least try an outrageous defense to slow Curry down?

I really don’t know if Davidson can repeat the kind of run they put together last season but Stephen Curry is no longer a secret. Every team in the SoCon is likely to throw something strange at him for at least part of the game, if not all like Loyola tried. It may not work but since he’s playing point guard this year and not off-guard, he’ll be responsible for a lot more of the offense. Even a marginally successful plan against Curry could result in several minutes of disastrous offense for Davidson, something that could be just enough for an above-average team to steal a win.


Champions League Match Day Five (b)

November 26, 2008

cl

The top half of the Champions League groups go at it in the fifth round today with two groups still completely up in the air. In Group A, all four clubs still have a reasonable chance not only to advance to the knock out rounds but to win the group. Chelsea will have to stave off a solid Bordeaux side in France in order to maintain top billing while Roma will travel to Romania to keep ahead of CFR Cluj. In Group B, Inter would do well to win at home against Panathinaikos but if the reverse happens, the group will have a completely different picture. On Cyprus, Anorthosis Famagusta can strengthen its advancement bid if they can hold off Werder Bremen. Groups C and D are more or less settled with Barcelona and Sporting leading C and Atlético and Liverpool leading D. Here are today’s matches:

Group A:
Chelsea @ Bordeaux
Roma @ CFR Cluj

Group B:
Panathinaikos @ Inter Milan
Werder Bremen @ Anorthosis Famagusta

Group C:
Basel @ Shakhtar Donetsk
Barcelona @ Sporting Lisbon

Group D:
PSV Eindhoven @ Atlético Madrid
Marseille @ Liverpool


Moving Day

November 25, 2008

klose

Groups E-H were all finalized with the match day five affairs this afternoon. While the exact finish of each group has not yet been determined, the top two finishers in each are set. Entering the knock out stages will be the following:

Group E:
Manchester United and Villareal

Group F:
Bayern Munich and Olympique Lyonnais

Group G:
Arsenal and Porto

Group H:
Juventus and Real Madrid

Now the matches, Villareal survived a Capdevila red card in the 82nd minute and held Man United nil-nil at El Madrigal. The shared points keep each club ahead of the maximum for Aalborg in Group E and thus into the knock out round.

Speaking of Aalborg, the Danish side eked out a 2-1 home victory when Gary Caldwell knocked in an own-goal to deprive Celtic of a well-earned away draw. A win or a draw in their final match guarantees Aalborg a spot in the UEFA Cup and would sent yet another Scottish side home early in European competition.

A Miroslav Klose brace sandwiched a Luca Toni goal in a frenetic fourteen minute stretch in the second half as Bayern ran away from Steaua at the Allianz Arena. Bayern will travel to Lyon in a fortnight to determine the victor of Group F.

Lyon used Jean Makoun and Karim Benzema goals to create a 2-0 lead against Fiorentina and then weathered the Alberto Gilardino goal just before half to escape Italy with a 2-1 victory and a chance at top billing in Group F. A win or draw against Steaua in Romania will send Fiorentina to the UEFA Cup.

In Group G, Nicklas Bendtner’s 87th minute goal sent Arsenal through to the next round and ended Dynamo Kiev’s speculative chances at advancing. The late goal at the Emirates Stadium keeps the Gunners alone atop the group but facing an away match to Porto to determine the group winner.

Porto used a Lisandro brace to ward off Fenerbahçe in Istanbul, 2-1. The loss completely eliminates the Turkish side will giving the Portuguese club a fair shot at taking Group G for themselves in hosting Arsenal in two weeks’ time.

Finally, Group H saw Raúl’s sixth minute goal give Real Madrid all it needed in Belarus to both win the match and to guarantee advancement. BATE can still earn a spot in the UEFA Cup but will have to defeat Juventus in Turin, an unlikely scenario.

Juventus traveled up to St. Petersburg and shared points in a nil-nil draw with Zenit, ending the Russian side’s chances at advancing. A win or a draw for the Russian side guarantees a return trip to UEFA Cup for the defending champions. Juve, meanwhile, host BATE and can wrap up top billing in Group H with a victory.


The Table – Week 14

November 25, 2008

Everton wasted a chance to catch Hull City for sixth position in the Premiership in losing 1-0 to Wigan at the JJB Stadium. Henri Camara’s 51st minute goal gave the home side a rare victory and pulled Wigan out of the relegation zone and into fifteenth place. Their points also nudged Newcastle back into the zone joining Blackburn and sorry West Brom.

1. Chelsea 33
2. Liverpool 33

3. Manchester United 25
4. Aston Villa 24

5. Arsenal 23
6. Hull City 22
7. Everton 19
8. Portsmouth 19
9. Fulham 18
10. Middlesbrough 18
11. Manchester City 17
12. Bolton 17
13. West Ham 17
14. Stoke City 17
15. Wigan 16
16. Tottenham 15
17. Sunderland 15
18. Newcastle 14
19. Blackburn 13
20. West Brom 11

Champions League
Champions League Qualifying
UEFA Cup
Relegation


Champions League Match Day Five

November 25, 2008

CL

After a spell off, the Champions League returns with match day five today and tomorrow. Many of the groups have already been decided or at least are likely to end as they currently stand, but there are several matches that can shake up the tables. In particular, Dynamo Kiev travel to London to face struggling Arsenal. If Dynamo can earn a victory, they can catapult into contention in Group G. Elsewhere, Zenit could greatly improve its chances with a home victory over Juventus, though Real will likely have no trouble with BATE in Group H. Groups E and F are mostly done though Fiorentina could make up some ground if they can win at home against Lyon.

Group E:
Man United @ Villareal
Celtic @ Aalborg

Group F:
Steaua @ Bayern
Lyon @ Fiorentina

Group G:
Porto @ Fenerbahce
Dynamo Kiev @ Arsenal

Group H:
Juventus @ Zenit
Real Madrid @ BATE Borisov


This is Far From Over

November 24, 2008

ouSome talking heads are claiming that Oklahoma’s ass-whipping of Texas Tech on Saturday night is enough to eventually push them into the second position in the BCS. But in the words of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Now wait just a minute.”

In the next two weeks, three games are going to determine who ends up playing where. The first is the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater. While OU has not lost to OSU since 2002, each of the games in Stillwater in recent years have been exceedingly tough games. In 2006, OU edged the Cowboys 27-21 and in 2004 Oklahoma eked out a 38-35 victory. The 2002 game was won by OSU 38-28. Obviously most of those teams are completely gone and won’t affect this coming weekend’s match-up but it is interesting to see how OU struggles to win in Stillwater. This year’s Cowboys are much better than any of those previous three teams and should challenge the Sooners to their limits.

If Oklahoma wins that game, it will likely reach the Big 12 Championship. The tie-breaker between Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma, all of whom have beaten each other and would tie atop the Big 12 South (assuming OU wins in Stillwater) is BCS ranking. With a win over another highly ranked team, OU would likely jump ahead of Texas in the BCS standings and go on to the Big 12 title game.

If however, Oklahoma State were to pull the upset, Texas Tech would reach the title game because there would just be a two-way tie at the top and they would have the head-to-head advantage over Texas.

The second game that will determine the national championship game is that Big 12 title game. Whoever reaches that game from the South will face North champion Missouri, certainly no pushover. It is entirely conceivable that Mizzou could beat either Texas Tech or Oklahoma. Regardless of who makes it from the South, a win over Missouri would make a huge difference in the BCS standings.

The third game that matters is of course the SEC title game. Provided Alabama wins the Iron Bowl and Florida can stave off Florida State, a very difficult game in Tallahassee no less, The SEC title game should provide a forum for debate about national title implications as well. If Alabama beats Florida, they obviously reach the title game. But if Florida were to win (and not lose to FSU first) the whole scenario gets interesting. Would Florida jump ahead of the Big 12 winner? If Missouri and Florida win their conference title games, is there any chance that the Big 12 team that did not make the title game could play for the BCS title? Would Southern Cal make a move up the standings, despite not playing any more games?

My prediction is as follows: Oklahoma will be Oklahoma State in Stillwater and reach the Big 12 title game. In that game they will defeat Missouri. Florida will beat Florida State, but just barely, and then beat Alabama soundly in the SEC title game. With ‘Bama’s loss, Oklahoma will move up to no. 1 in the BCS while Florida will bypass Texas and reach no. 2.

That will leave the BCS bowls as follows (and it is assuming that Oregon State beats Oregon in the Civil War):
Rose Bowl – Penn State (Big 12 winner) v. Oregon State (PAC 10 winner)
Orange Bowl – ACC winner (don’t even get me started) v. Cincinnati (Big East winner)
Sugar Bowl – Alabama (at-large) v. Texas (at-large)
Fiesta Bowl – Southern Cal (at-large) v. Utah (at-large)
BCS Title Game – Florida (SEC winner) v. Oklahoma (Big 12 winner)


Spurs Defeat Blackburn

November 23, 2008

romanRoman Pavlyuchenko’s 9th minute goal was enough for Spurs to defeat Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane today. Blackburn were hampered by Martin Olsson’s second yellow card in the 39th minute, reducing them to ten men. With the home victory, Spurs climb out of the relegation zone and find themselves in their highest position of the season, fifteenth. Rovers remain in the relegation zone, just two points clear of rock bottom.

And at the Stadium of Light, Valon Behrami’s 20th minute strike sent West Ham United to victory against Sunderland. The Hammers are in thirteenth position but just two points shy of seventh. The Black Cats continue their recent slide finishing the day behind Tottenham, in sixteenth place.

Everton play at Wigan tomorrow to close out the fourteenth round.


Zeroes Across the Top

November 22, 2008

cityEach of the top five teams on the Premier League table failed to score a goal today and Arsenal was pushed deeper into trouble by Man City. That’s where we’ll start:

As predicted, Man City were dominant at the City of Manchester Stadium, routing Arsenal 3-0. Stephen Ireland scored just before half and Robinho doubled the score in the 56th minute. Daniel Sturridge’s penalty in the 90th minute put the Gunners out of their misery, knocking them from fourth position to fifth. City, meanwhile pushed up into eleventh place.

Now to the leaders. Chelsea were unable to score in a nil-nil home draw to lowly Newcastle. But the Blues were able to remain atop the table on differential as Liverpool also drew. Toon move into fifteenth position for the time being.

Speaking of Liverpool, they also were unable to score at home though their opponent was marginally better. Fulham held them scoreless in a nil-nil draw at Anfield Road, keeping the Reds on pace in points with Chelsea but does not make up any ground in differential. The point keeps Fulham in the top half, placing ninth.

With a nil-nil draw at Villa Park, Aston Villa take back over fourth position while pushing Arsenal back to fifth. Villa certainly hoped for more out of a home match but United did well to earn a point against a hot club. For United’s part, they fail to make up ground on the leaders but retain third place on 25 points.

Elsewhere, Bolton jumped out on Middlesbrough early and held on to win 3-1 at the Riverside. Gretar Rafn Steinsson and Matthew Taylor scored within two minutes on eight and ten minutes to give Wanderers an early 2-0 lead. Emanuel Pogatetz brought one back for the home side in the 77th minute but Johan Elmander responded immediately for Bolton in the 78th to produce the final tally. With victories in recent weeks, Bolton now sit in twelfth place while ‘Boro lost out on a chance to pass Fulham, Pompey and Everton at home and find themselves in tenth.

Out at Fratton Park, Portsmouth looked to have earned a home victory over Hull City but an 87th minute own-goal kept Hull alive and ultimately forced shared points. Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson sandwiched a Michael Turner goal for the 2-1 lead but Noe Pamarot’s own-goal kept the match a draw in the end, 2-2. Pompey could have caught Hull on 21 points with a win but the shared points keep Portsmouth in eighth place while holding Hull City alone in sixth.

Finally, Mamady Sidibe’s 84th minute strike kept Stoke City from an embarrassing home draw to West Bromich Albion, giving the home side a 1-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke inch up to thirteenth position while West Brom remain on eleven points and dead last in the Premiership.


Georgia Tech is Going to be Really Good Again Soon

November 21, 2008

gtThis has been kind of an up-and-down season for Georgia Tech football. The team is obviously good but there have been a handful of stumbles along the way. Nothing surprising considering they have a new coach who has installed a total throwback offense despite the existing personnel. Instead of breaking in his system over time, Paul Johnson just dove right in and has actually had some really nice results.

Perhaps the best result was last night’s destruction of Miami, 41-23 in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets rushed for 472 yards. Let me repeat that, Georgia Tech RUSHED for 472 yards. That is a video game number where you’re trying to get your running back to win the MVP. But with Johnson’s triple-option offense, the ball carrier is changed on almost every play and the yards just start adding up.

What’s most amazing about this kind of an offensive explosion is that Johnson has not recruited a single player on the current roster. These kids are just adapting to a system they’ve probably never played in before and probably their dads never even played in. The scary thing about the future is that once Johnson is able to recruit the kind of players that actually fit into his system, Georgia Tech is going to be really good again. Just look at Johnson’s track record: multiple national titles at Georgia Southern in I-AA using the same offense and then great success at Navy, where you really can’t recruit at all, with the triple-option.

Not since Joe Hamilton was running around has Georgia Tech been really good on a national level and really not since 1990, when they shared the national title with Colorado, has Tech really been top-notch great. We’ll see what happens over the next few years but with an offense that is impossible to stop, things are looking up in Atlanta.