Carling Cup Final Preview

February 27, 2009

Expect a Lot of This on Sunday

So on Sunday Manchester United and Tottenham will kick off from new Wembley (can I call it that? kind of like new Comiskey, even though it was built in the early 90s and is called US Cellular Field?) for the right to call themselves champions of the tournament named for the UK’s highest selling beer. That’s actually true by the way, or at least that’s what everyone always told me.

There shouldn’t be too much to talk about in this match assuming one thing: that Man United actually bring their top squad. It’s true that they just played on Tuesday in Milan, drawing Inter nil-nil in the Champions League. And it’s also true that there will be mid-week Premiership matches as well as matches again next weekend. So there is a very real possibility that United could opt out with their A team and play a bunch of youngsters. Granted, Spurs just played yesterday (at home) in the UEFA Cup and have the same domestic schedule as United.

But as Pratt and I discussed on the phone last weekend, if they’re already in the final, why not win it? United still have the farfetched chance to win four trophies this season, and that includes the Carling Cup. Why not bring out the big guns against a sorry Tottenham side and mop the floor with them for a well-earned trophy? That way, in case the FA Cup or Champions League go down the tubes, at least they’ll have two trophies.

Spurs on the other hand have absolutely no reason not to play their top side. They are the holders of the Carling Cup and if United fail to bring their top players, it’d be possible to pull off the rare back-to-back Carling Cup title. That could bring at least a little light to the darkness that has been this season for Tottenham. Plus it guarantees them at least a qualifying position in the UEFA Cup next year. There is no way Spurs can make it into Europe next year besides winning this tournament so it’d be well-worth trying. That and the fact that their domestic season has been such a disaster and they are now out of the UEFA Cup, there’s not a whole lot left to rest the regulars for.

My prediction is that United will come out blasting and take Spurs out 3-1 for the title.


Does the NFL Really Need LA?

February 27, 2009

This is Industry, CA

The City Council of Industry, California, a town about 15 miles east of Los Angeles unanimously approved a proposal to build an $800 million football stadium with the intention of luring an NFL team back to the Los Angeles market. I can’t argue with a place deciding they want to build a stadium, they’ve done it in Kansas City with the Sprint Center that houses neither an NHL or NBA team (but hopes to). But LA has always been a weird place when it comes to pro sports.

Most people in LA are from somewhere else so a fan base is tougher to come by for a pro team. Sure, the Lakers and Dodgers usually draw well, but it’s not like the Clippers do or the Rams did when they were in LA. The city is very fair-weather when it comes to pro sports and if the Lakers or Dodgers suddenly became terrible, their attendance would surely suffer.

There are other issues as well, like the history of the Rams and Raiders. Neither of those experiments ultimately worked out especially well. The Raiders won a Super Bowl while in LA but mostly the two teams weren’t very good. They played at the iconic LA Coliseum but the teams wanted luxury boxes and other means of revenue not available in a 75-year old stadium. So building a new stadium would make sense in that regard but would bringing an existing team create an instant fan base? I doubt it.

Another issue with the LA sports scene, especially in regards to the Lakers, is the visibility of celebrities. At basketball games you can sit courtside and have your face on the jumbotron all game long. Ordinary people can also have the thrill of seeing Jack Nicholson or any number of celebs while at Staples Center. That just isn’t going to work in football. You’re more likely to see a celeb in a luxury box on tv than you ever would be actually attending the game. There’s just not the same closeness to the action that draws celebrities.

But all those other points are ancillary in comparison to the major reason a team doesn’t need to move to LA: the NFL has done better than ever since the teams moved from LA in the mid-90s. The growth of the league has been incredible since the Rams moved in 1994 and despite the current economic issues, shows not signs of slowing down. Teams like Buffalo and Minnesota that are linked to possibly be interested in relocating to LA really can’t expect to do any better than they already are, nor can the league expect huge revenue gains from such a move. To start, the Vikings and especially Bills are beloved in their current cities. But even if they did venture out to LA, why would thousands of people pay exorbitant prices at a brand new stadium to see the Los Angeles Vikings or the Los Angeles Bills? West coast fans have absolutely no connection with midwest or northeast teams, unless they grew up in those areas.

It just doesn’t make any sense for the NFL to sacrifice a team for the sake of returning to the second largest media market in the country. I just don’t see revenue being equalled in LA as compared to the long-time fans of existing franchises. The only possible exception to this is Jacksonville, but even there fans exist in large numbers in an area where there are no other professional sports franchises drawing attention away.

Premiership Predictions – Week 27

February 27, 2009


This week’s Premiership schedule comes just days after the latest Champions League and UEFA Cup ties and should feature some very tired clubs. Manchester United and Tottenham will play in the Carling Cup final on Sunday so they will both skip out on the weekend matches. There are no really serious match-ups this week so we’ll just get right to the picks. One other thing, Philip Oliver is resting on his laurels after last week’s destruction of my feeble picks, but will be back for next week’s mid-week Round 28 matches.

West Brom @ Everton – Everton
Fulham @ Arsenal – Draw
Wigan @ Chelsea – Chelsea
Liverpool @ Middlesbrough – Liverpool

Man City @ West Ham – West Ham
Blackburn @ Hull City – Draw
Newcastle @ Bolton – Bolton
Stoke City @ Aston Villa – Villa

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
Week 15 – 9 points
Week 16 – 18 points
Week 17 – 11 points
Week 18 – 14 points
Week 19 – 15 points
Week 20 – 23 points
Week 21 – 21 points
Week 22 – 20 points
Week 23 – 21 points
Week 24 – 14 points
Week 25 – 23 points
Week 26 – 11 points

AC Milan Out in the UEFA Cup

February 26, 2009


After Andrea Pirlo and Pato scored in the first half for Milan, Claudio Pizarro scored twice in ten minutes in the second half to earn a draw for Werder Bremen 2-2 at the San Siro. The two away goals send German club through to the round of sixteen on a 3-3 aggregate. Milan, who looked poised to move on convincingly after their first three halves, have to be stunned to be out of Europe before March. Bremen meanwhile have had quite a rough go of it in Germany so this victory should be seen as quite a lift.

A Craig Bellamy brace sends Manchester City through to the next round on a 2-1 home victory over København and a 4-3 aggregate. Martin Vingaard Hansen scored in the 90th minute for the Danes but it was not enough to equal Bellamy’s superb late efforts.

In Spain, Artem Kravets scored twice for Dynamo Kiev to earn a 2-2 draw with Valencia. As in the Milan-Bremen situation, the Ukrainian side’s two away goals gave Dynamo the victory despite the 3-3 aggregate score.

Hatem Ben Arfa’s 24th minute goal gave Olympique Marseille a 1-0 lead over FC Twente, pushing the aggregate to 1-1 and eventually forced a penalty shootout. The French port city’s 7-6 advantage in penalties sends them through to the round of sixteen, crushing the hopes of Dutch leaders Twente.

At the Luzhniki Stadion in Moscow, Yuri Zhirkov’s 61st minute goal pushed CSKA Moscow past Aston Villa on aggregate. Vagner Love tallied yet another goal for the Russian side, adding insult to Villa’s injury and sending the Birmingham club home on a 3-1 aggregate.

Finally, at White Hart Lane Giovani dos Santos gave Tottenham brief hope of a comeback against Shaktar Donetsk but Fernandinho’s 86th minute goal pushed the aggregate score to 3-1 in favor of the Ukrainians and left Spurs with just Sunday’s Carling Cup final as a chance to remain in Europe next year.

Here are the rest of the scores:

Zenit St. Petersburg 2 – Stuttgart 1 (Zenit 4-2 ag)
St. Etienne 2 – Olympiacos 1 (St. Etienne 5-2 ag)
Metalist Kharkiv 2 – Sampdoria 0 (Metalist 3-0 ag)
Hamburg 1 – NEC Nijmegen 0 (Hamburg 4-0 ag)
Paris Saint-Germain 3 – Wolfsburg 1 (PSG 5-1 ag)
Galatasaray 4 – Bordeaux 3 (Galatasaray 4-3 ag)
AaB Aalborg 3 – Deportivo La Coruña 1 (Aalborg 6-1 ag)
Braga 1 – Standard Liège 1 (Braga 4-1 ag)
Udinese 2 – Lech Poznań 1 (Udinese 4-3 ag)
Fiorentina 1 – Ajax 1 (Ajax 2-1 ag)

So, here are the Round of 16 matchups:

Werder Bremen v. St. Etienne
CSKA Moscow v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Udinese v. Zenit
PSG v. Braga
Dynamo Kiev v. Metalist Kharkiv
Man City v. Aalborg
Marseille v. Ajax
Hamburg v. Galatasaray

Bayern Advance

February 25, 2009


Franck Ribery and Luca Toni (above) both scored twice and Miroslav Klose added to his exceptional Champions League campaign as Bayern Munich destroyed and humiliated Sporting Lisbon 5-0 at the Jose Alvalde Stadium. The five away goals will certainly be more than enough to send the Bavarian club through to the final eight, barring a catastrophic disaster in Munich two weeks from now.

At Stamford Bridge Chelsea regained their home form in a solid 1-0 victory over Juventus. Didier Drogba scored in the 12th minute to send the Blues to an important home victory. Perhaps most important was the fact that the Blues kept Juve from scoring an away goal. Now Chelsea will can do well in Turin in a fortnight if they can simply score a goal away from home.

Yossi Benayoun stole a Liverpool victory at the Bernabéu with his 82nd minute header. The away goal and clean sheet were a fantastic result for the Reds as Real have been playing extremely well of late domestically. Now Liverpool will take that away goal and one-goal lead back to England in a shocking result.

Finally, at El Madrigal Giuseppe Rossi’s penalty in the 67th minute saved a draw against upstart Panathinaikos. Giorgos Karagounis opened the scoring for the Greek side in the 59th minute. The away goal will do Panathinaikos well in returning home in two weeks time.

The Rest of the First Legs

February 25, 2009


After three draws and a surprising Arsenal victory yesterday we’ve got four more Champions League ties today.

Juventus @ Chelsea
Both clubs are very near the top of their respective domestic leagues yet are probably out of it in terms of catching the leaders. Chelsea have barely scored in this competition so far, to the point where John Terry is their leading scorer with just two goals. Juve have been led by the old man himself, Alessandro Del Piero. Usually Chelsea are unbeatable at Stamford Bridge but have lost several times there this season. Still, the advantage lies with the Blues and their stingy defense.

Prediction – Chelsea 1 – Juventus 1

Liverpool @ Real Madrid
The great unknown at the time of writing is whether or not Steven Gerrard will be fit for the match at the Bernabéu. Gerrard did not play against Man City on the weekend for the Reds and would be sorely missed in this tie. He is their leading scorer in the Champions League with five goals and is obviously the team leader. Real on the other hand have been fantastic of late in La Liga. Even with Gerrard, Liverpool face quite a test against the surging Whites. Juande Ramos has pushed Real to a strong record including a 6-1 thrashing of Real Betis over the weekend. And the rich only get richer as Real add Rafael van der Vaart to their lineup.

Prediction – Real 3 – Liverpool 2

Panathinaikos @ Villareal
The Greeks had a very nice run through the group stages back in the fall, winning Group B over Inter Milan. While I can’t claim to know much about Panathinaikos apart from the support of a buddy from high school, I do have a good feeling about them in this tournament. Villareal are in fourth place in La Liga but are quite distant behind the front-runners. The Spaniards are in no way dominant at El Madrigal where today’s match will be played.

Prediction – Panathinaikos 2 – Villareal 1

Bayern Munich @ Sporting Lisbon
The Bavarian club won Group F on a tiebreaker with Lyon but they sit just fourth in the Bundesliga. Of course that must be tempered with the fact that they are just four points behind the leaders at this point. Miroslav Klose has been quite good in the Champions League thus far and will again be counted on for scoring. But a weak performance in this round could possibly see Jürgen Klinsmann off as the Bayern boss. Sporting for their part are running third in the SuperLiga in Portugal. They have not been a particularly high scoring club in the Champions League and were routed by Barcelona in both of their group play matches.

Prediction – Bayern 1 – Sporting 1

We also have Philip Oliver’s thoughts on this, the second day of first leg matches:

Chelsea 2 – 0 Juventus
Real Madrid 1 – 1 Liverpool
Villarreal 2 – 0 Panathinaikos
Sporting 2 – 1 Bayern Munich

Fulham Eke Through in FA Cup

February 24, 2009

zamoraFulham needed two goals in the final thirteen minutes to escape their 5th round replay with Swansea at Craven Cottage. Clint Dempsey (77th) and Bobby Zamora (81st) (both pictured) did the trick for the Cottagers, earning them a home game with Manchester United in the quarterfinal round. Jason Scotland, the first match’s hero for the Welsh side, opened the scoring in the 47th minute. But the Championship side’s dreams were dashed when Zamora headed in the winner just nine minutes from time.

The other 5th round replay today saw Coventry City advance to the quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers at the Ricoh Arena. Leon Best’s 59th minute goal was all Coventry needed to earn a home showing against Chelsea in the next round.

Additional 5th round replays will take place tomorrow and Thursday between West Ham and Middlesbrough on the one hand and Hull City and Sheffield United on the other.