Friday, August 29, 2008

United fall to Zenit

Zenit St. Petersburg owned Manchester United today in the Uefa Super Cup. The Russian side outclassed United, interchanging throughout midfield and attacking collectively and individually with real class. Carlos Tevez was the only bright spot for a dire United side that lacked width and flair.

United appear planning to rely on Ronaldo for another season, without cover for the player who single-handedly determined over a dozen contests for the team last term. United lack a left-sided winger, as Nani has not matured enough to finally (and mercifully) relieve Ryan Giggs. Giggs himself is injured and cannot meet the demand of the increasing quality found in the top teir of European football. Regardless of which side Ronaldo returns to play, United will have a void opposite him.

With players like Djibril Cisse and Shaun Wright-Phillips making transfer headlines, United are dormant thus far in the transfer market with only two days remaining. Chelsea are on the verge of signing Robinho, and United will need more than Berbatov to contend with the level of football in the premier league.

Berbatov himself would provide the presence and style in attack that United have lacked since selling Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid two years ago. The Bulgarian would immediately become the most complementary partner to any of United's current three strikers, Tevez, Rooney, or Campbell. Without Ronaldo constantly counter-attacking and penetrating, United now rely on crosses from the wings and full-backs after belabored build-up, unsuited to a partnership between any of the 3 current strikers. Berbatov has great aeriel ability, with an intricate footwork style similar to french legend Zinedine Zidane.

Rooney could see his role change to central midfielder in a creative ploy to replace the aging Scholes, the former tending to play deep and spray passes much like his elder countrymen. It would be an imaginative tactical shift which could see Rooney supporting Berbatov and Tevez.

However, if Ferguson continues employing Rooney as a striker, Campbell might feel begrudged at being denied the opportunity he may be deserving of to better compete at the position. Rooney simply does not look the part yet this year as he did throughout most of last season.

Even with Berbatov, United will be relying heavily on heroics from Ronaldo to repeat his form from last season. Scoring 42 goals is unlikely, but it is not against his track record to be an improved player this year as he has in each new year at United.

Last year, without Ronaldo, United were tenuous and often unconvincing. Expect more of the same until he returns. The effect he had on the team, despite all the praise he has received, is still underestimated. It will get better if Berbatov arrives, but each year our competition is improving and the squad must be full in order to contend, without voids in attack, on the wing, or on the bench.

The substitutions of O'shea and Park in the final today does not inspire belief in the strength and depth of a squad that will be hard-pressed to defend on two fronts this season.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weekend Notes 8/24/08

The first footballing week is over in England for this 2008/2009 campaign. The top flight should prove very interesting, as it has proven over the last decade in becoming the paragon for success, profit, and entertainment. There are already several interesting subplots developing.

Roy Keane made a real shrewd buy in Djibril Cisse. Before Cisse joined Liverpool in 2004 he had completely dominated in Ligue 1 and, at only 20, seemed like one of the best young players in the world. Of course, he broke his leg horrifically and had various other injuries since, but was relatively healthy last year playing for Marseille and could have very high reward. There is definite upside. Cisse, if healthy, will get 15+ goals in the English top flight, even for Sunderland. Coupled with the other shrewd buys Keane has made this year (Malbranque, Ferdinand) I like Sunderland to finish mid-table this season, for sure... if Cisse avoids injury.

Spurs are floundering a bit. They clearly need to offload Berbatov, moving Modric forward to partner Bent, with Huddlestone slotting in the midfield alongside Jenas. This time last year Spurs had too many strikers, but what a difference a year makes? Regardless, if Bent produces, and Bale, Woodgate and King stay healthy then Tottenham's quality should persevere and they should find themselves contending for Europe next spring, and likely failing.

United play later today against Portsmouth in their second match of the season, and I think we'd be lucky to win it, with our current depleted squad.

The muse aren't always kind, and I am not always interesting! Bear with!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

2008 English Premier League Preview.. etc

The year is new, and despite not entirely having i dei inspiring me to write lately, I gotta preview the new season briefly to prove how brilliant I was in hindsight. The timing couldn't be better for the start of the new European campaigns as my fantasy baseball season is almost over. I will transfer my latently homo affection from Braun to Scholes as United mix it up in an English Premier League campaign which should be highly contested.

Manchester United
United have perhaps stagnated during the off-season, hampered both by the very real distraction of Ronaldo's world wishes and the afterglow of such a successful season.

The club has been passive in transfer dealings, sadly selling the potent Chris Eagles, but retaining Frazier Campbell from another year of loan duty. Campbell will need him to announce himself on the top flight as United seem short of striking force. An injury to Rooney or Tevez would slot Saha in, or worse, Giggs in as supporting striker.

Hopefully Berbatov completes his signing; he is a player pursued over the last year from club and fan/blogger alike. His ball-skill and aerial acumen means he can work all manner of through-balls onto the knifing runs of Rooney or Tevez. Although the Bulgarian is not a top-class finisher, his ball-skills are of that ilk, and he has extensive European experience while being in his physical prime (aged 27).

This is a very big year for Rooney. Mutterings throughout the seedy football back-channels that I frequent question his real quality--if his endorsements and entitled stature are justified by his performance and his true ability. Rooney played better, albeit more naively, when he was with Everton. Now he is comfortable in his routine and no longer challenges himself to improve. He has become a striker who doesn't use his left-foot, doesn't attack players head-on and can't cut left across his body, getting most his goals from niggling into the right position rather than earning the tallies through great skill and class. He finds less shots from outside as he cannot create space for himself anymore. He tries to compensate by chasing defenders up and down their back-line, but it is mostly a futile attempt to mask his inadequacy at his primary duty. You have to be better if you are going to be on the Nike commercials, the cover of FIFA Soccer, and the overall poster boy of English footy. He might realize it, having stated the importance this year has on his reputation and career, although the verbiage is similar to what every other player says this time of year, in anticipation of personal and club success for the new season, naturally.

Scholes: Paul Scholes has looked good in pre-season. He has two years left at the top level before he goes probably goes Oldham, the small club he passionately supports. Look for him to score 8+ goals this year, and be sure to savior every one.

Chelsea are likely the greatest threat to usurp United at the top of the EPL. Whether midfield transfer Deco or new boss Scolari has a greater effect will be determined, with either able to stake an earnest claim already merely on reputation.

Similar to most Barcelona players, Deco spent last year disgruntled, but over the last 4 years has shown himself to be top class in the center of the park. I liken him to Riquelme in his prime, although Deco has his own style outright. He can niftily turn past people, shoot from distance, though his real forte is an immense passing range and great attacking intelligence.

Scolari will not be outclassed or intimidated by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, I wouldn't be surprised if Chelsea take the title with Scolari winning the psychological battle.

Lampard should have gone to Inter Milan and avoided the conflict, and possible disappointment, of battling Deco and Ballack (and Essien) for center midfield. More British players should play abroad, and the number 8 man had a chance to re-unite with his everyones favorite manager in Mourinho but decided not to challenge himself or his sterotype and to stay away at Chelsea, instead growing fat with bags of pounds.

Ballack: After a disappointing first season at Chelsea but an individually successful World Cup, Michel Ballack should have a much better year for the blues. If Lampard goes down with injury at any time expect a partnership of Ballack and Deco to really blossom.

Arsenal and Liverpool

I think both are teams still on a second teir. This teir is lower than the other teir. Rafael Benitez will never win the Barclays English Premier League, his mind is too small, his Spanish vision too parochial. Arsenal will finish third, buoyed by Nasri and the return of Rosicky, whose unfortunate injury last year delayed him from announcing his "rosickness" to the world. Tomas Rosicky will replace Hlebs effect and add much to it if he can avoid woe in 2008. Also look for Bentdner to have a good year!

The Rest
Elsewhere in the top flight, it will be interesting to see how Sunderland manage, and are managed. Also, I think Stoke and Hull are going right back down, their uniforms are shabby like a first division club. David Bentley is a good buy for Tottenham, and they have a few interesting creative midfielders, but their defense will not hold them, again, and they'll finish sixth or so, again, similar to several other years in the past decade.

For me?

After a quiet summer, I am moving into the heart of the city to study radio and television. I expect to contribute weekly to my blog, if only i dei allow.