Supercopa Part One: Some Play Hard; Others Hardly Need to Play

It was the first match of the season.

Madrid vs. Barcelona at the Santiago Barnabéu for the first leg of the Supercopa. Prior to the match, Mourinho showed how serious he and his team will be this season, and Guardiola prepared his early excuses in case his team got crushed in this match. Apparently, according to the Barcelona manager, it’s only preseason for his team, not Madrid. He knew what was coming in this match, so I guess he’s not stupid.

Thirty five minutes into the match, and Barcelona was being dominated by Madrid – it wasn’t even a contest. At this point, they hadn’t even made it to the Madrid box, and Madrid was winning 1-0. Then Villa gets the ball near the box, and the supposed “number one keeper in the world” is badly beaten. 1-1.

Near the halftime whistle, a handball in the Barcelona box. To no surprise, there is no call. And a couple of plays later, Leo Messi grabs Pepe (who falls over) and scores easily. Again, no call – again, no surprises here. Time and time again, the referees in Spain (and in Europe) fail to see anything that Barcelona ever does wrong. Those two calls were just “more of the same”. With eight minutes to go, Victor Valdez trips Ronaldo in the box and again, no call! It is almost comical, considering the fact that anytime someone so much as breathes on a Barcelona player, the whistle is heard. Barcelona went to the Madrid box twice, and scored on both occasions.

Dani Alves. For the love of God and the game, please, referees, do something about this asshat. It is shameful to see the Brazilian’s antics, every single game. The man cannot be touched – it’s as though he has been shot. It makes me sick to my stomach to watch, and if I were a Barcelona fan (thank the heavens that will never happen), I would be ashamed to see that sort of barbarity on my team. Messi is made of glass, so he too cannot be touched – ever. It’s fine to protect the world’s best players, but it’s funny how that treatment doesn’t extend to Ronaldo on the other side. If Messi ever played in a REAL league (there’s only one – England), he wouldn’t last three matches. Ronaldo survived five, six, seven challenges every match that would put the Argentine on the shelf for a month or two. How do you measure “the world’s best”? To me, it is not just skill; it is strength, drive, heart, dedication, resilience.

Moving on, Madrid ties the game at 2-2, through an effort from Alonso. A massively unfair result for the work put in by the Madrid side, and a travesty for the sheer lack of effort on the Barcelona side. When you are playing with 14 or 15, against 11, as usually is the case with these champions, then it is no surprise to see them get these types of results, even when they themselves are outclassed, as was the case today.

The season in Spain begins on a sour note, yet again. Madrid will have to overcome the ridiculous protection of their rivals by the men in black all season. I for one, think they’ll overcome the injustice, and play the game. And they’ll be victorious at the end. And it will taste twice as good knowing they didn’t get any outside help, unlike the chosen ones.

Part two of the Supercopa is on Wednesday, and I suspect it will be more of the same.

And so it begins…

Famous Football Quote of the Day:

“At times, they don’t like you to kick them, and they feel you’re not allowed to kick them.”
– Alan Shearer, former England striker 

Related Video:  Victor Valdez “Speaks” English

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Manchester, England: How Does One Measure a Football Club in This Town?

The 2011/2012 season is only days away, and the most talked-about city in football this season will be… Manchester.  United and City have spent money in the summer transfer window -– not big-ridiculous-Abramovich-Chelsea-money, or even City-in-past-years-money no, not that kind.  They have spent it wisely.  Let’s break it down.

United:  The Red Devils have brought in David “Van” de Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young for approximately 18 to 19 million pounds each.  De Gea comes in to replace Edwin Van der Sar, a man for whom a case could be made has been a top-three-goalkeeper-in-the-world the last half decade.  An impossible task for a 20 year old, one would think, but you’d be forgetting that special driving force we know as “SAF”, a man who can turn youngsters into the world’s best players in nothing short of record time.  If de Gea can cope with the ridiculous pressure the English media will place on him (and those who have followed him in Madrid are certain he can), he can be even better than his predecessor.  Sure, he let in two goals against City on Sunday, and as expected, the media crucified him, brought his skill into question, and everything in between.  But that was 90 minutes of football.  United have bought a player for 20 years, not 90 minutes. 

Phil Jones impressed me at Blackburn, and continues to do so at United.  He outclassed his seniors, Vidic and Ferdinand, in the Community Shield, and seeing him in person at Red Bull Arena only amplified my optimism:  this kid is the real deal!  He is young, strong, talented, and man is he deceptively fast!  Future England national team anchor?  I think it’s inevitable.

Ashley Young, at 26, feels to me more like “insurance” than “the future”.  With talks of Nani potentially leaving the club (I don’t think Ferguson will allow this to happen), Giggs nearing retirement, and Park strolling into his 30’s, Young is a solid winger who can fill the gaps as needed for the next five years or so.  With a healthy Nani and Valencia, I don’t think Young is going to see as much playing time as everyone expects, though one never knows with Ferguson; the man loves to rotate players, and that’s another reason United are so strong every year.

On a quick side note, here’s an interesting comparison of United’s main lineup from 3 years ago, compared to the one that wrapped up the Community Shield on Sunday (see table, right):  

You can place this team on the EPL podium until at least 2022.  Easy money.

Conclusion:  Sir Alex Ferguson has quietly “out-Wengered” the gunners’ boss by buying solid, outrageously talented young players with limitless potential.  This side of Manchester measures a football club with a carefully-assembled formula of youth, talent, agility and potential mixed in with experience.  In the last 20 years, there has never been a time that I recall a break in this formula; young players like Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand, Keane and others grew into the world’s most respected footballers, and they served as the perfect mentors for the next line of young players, like Ronaldo and Rooney, and now, the other newcomers.

City:  Over at Eastlands, Mancini chose quality over quantity, or so it appears.  Granted, City have picked up several players (like Savic from Partizan, and Clichy from Arsenal), it is clear they focused on one – “El Kun” – Sergio Aguero.  For a mere 45 million.  Chump change.  Aguero is basically the exact opposite of Balotelli:  he is not a prima-donna, and he works hard for every single ball, anywhere on the pitch.  He doesn’t give up on a challenge, and when he finally gets the ball, he is really really tough to dispossess.  He has a low center of gravity, and marvelous feet.  The ball may not stick to him as well as it did his father-in-law (some may remember this other Argentine… a man by the name of Diego Armando Maradona?), but it will be enough to drive Premier League defenders insane.  I can’t imagine what wonders we’ll witness between El Kun and the most underrated star in the league – David Silva.  You can count on intricate one-touch passing and deceptive give-and-go’s, not to mention superb diagonals to the Argentine from the Spaniard.  I, for one, cannot wait to see it.  I believe Aguero may have more of an impact for City this season than Chicharito did for United last season.

Moving past the acquisition, one can’t talk about Manchester City without talking about their size!  These boys are massive.  Now… United are no slouches either, but seeing the two teams face off in Sunday’s “friendly” really emphasized just how big the City lineup is.  The numbers don’t really do it justice, because most of these guys are solid.  Regardless, here are some numbers anyway:  Hart is 6’ 5”.  Touré and Džeko are 6’ 4”.  Kompany is 6’ 3”.  Lescott, Kolarov and Balotelli are 6’ 2”.  And then there is Micah Richards – he is 5’ 11” and built out of the same reinforced steel with which they make airplane black boxes.  See picture, right.

Conclusion:  Mancini has put City’s hopes on a solid world-class up-and-coming striker.  Add to this team’s size the sheer talent of Silva and Aguero, the shot-stopping ability of Hart, and the possibility that Carlitos Tevez and Balotelli might actually stay in Manchester this year, and you can’t help but think that these guys will shut teams down with furious tenacity.  They did it last season, but the difference now is that they actually have a striker that will make a difference at the other end – this math difference might just mean “title”.  If at least one of the two problem children grow up this year, we’re in for some serious Manchester domination.  On this side of town, they measure a football club with a ruler.  And the measurement-takers are the same guys that used to train Ivan Drago.

This season’s EPL trophy will remain in the City of Manchester – the question that remains is, will youth prevail over size?  The answer will determine which side of Manchester will be celebrating come May.

And so it begins…

Famous Football Quote of the Day:

“If you understand football, you make substitutions during the game.  If you don’t, you make comments after it.”
– Hristo Stoichkov, former Bulgarian winger

Oh Gunners… the Future Looks Different This Year…

Arsenal fans needn’t worry about another season of climbing to the top of the Premier League, only to find themselves short of oxygen near the summit — I guarantee you today, folks, the same will not happen this season.

With less than a week to go until the beginning of this year’s league, the big question remains unanswered: will Cesc Fabregas leave Arsenal and join his prior club, Barcelona?  Okay, yes, there are other questions as well, such as Nasri’s destination, and whether or not the gunners will sign new players besides Jenkinsen and Gervinho.  Regardless, at this point in the (pre) season, it looks as though Arsenal will not be a contender for the title.

“Why”, do you ask?  Here are my reasons:

One – Cesc Fabregas.  It is more likely than not that he will leave prior to 31 August, and if he doesn’t, how much effort are we going to see from the Spaniard?  Lord knows he won’t be motivated – he’s made it more than clear that his intention is to join his compadres at Barcelona.  Am I the only one who’s seen this story before? (i.e. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and uh… Cesc Fabregas last year)  Furthermore, his fitness level is a big unknown — Arsenal without a healthy Fabregas are slightly better than a mid-table side — on a good day.

Two – Summer transfer window.  Ignoring the whole Fabregas debacle, we’re left with Samir Nasri’s likely departure, and the somewhat-expected lack of summer signings.  The 24-year-old French midfielder is probably to feature for one of the Manchester clubs in the next few weeks, though Chelsea and Inter have also expressed interest.  Gervinho showed promise in the preseason, and the match against Benfica showed a player who is already Arsenal-ready;  his style of play complements that of his teammates – he is lightning-fast, deceptive, and has a good touch on the ball – but he is not enough, especially if Cesc and Samir leave the club.

Three – The competition.  The Manchester boys have spent good, smart money this off-season: City have picked up Kun Aguero — arguably one of the hottest strikers in the game at the moment — to add to their impressive lineup, and United chose to invest in the future, with the signings of de Gea, Ashley Young and Phil Jones.  Pay attention, Mr. Wenger: this is how you build a squad – you add young talent to an experienced base squad of… previous young talent.  I don’t think Chelsea and Spurs will pose a challenge for the title this year, but they sure might cost the gunners some points.

Four – The calendar.  August will make or break Arsenal.  On the 13th, they open the season at Newcastle – you think that 4-4 result last season is still on the minds of Wenger’s boys?  Three days later, on the 16th, they face off against Udinese for the Champions League qualifier.  The Italians are probably weaker than last season after losing Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona, but they will still be a side to be reckoned with this early in the season.  A mere four days after that, on the 20th, they take on a motivated Liverpool side, who ended the season on a high.  On the 24th, they travel to Italy for the 2nd leg of the CL qualifier, and it all comes to a head on the 28th at Old Trafford, versus the defending Champions Manchester United.  I think you can expect a couple of bad results this month, and at least one of Wenger’s goals for the season might be compromised before September comes along.

Five – Arsene Wenger.  I am predicting it now, folks: the Frenchman will not spend Christmas in London – and I am not referring to his vacation plans.  The fans are tired of the same lame excuses, and I think it’s only a matter of time and a few bad results (see Four, above) until the executives feel the same way.  I mean, honestly folks… how many times in August are we gonna hear the following?

– “This team is young, and I feel it will deliver.”

– “We showed good character, but we were unlucky today.”

– “We showed good togetherness and spirit.”

– “The pitch was bad.”

– “The referee was bad.”

– “We were not sharp enough.”

Come Christmas, Arsenal will not be in the top four, and will probably not feature there all season.  So, as I said earlier, there will be no huge letdown at the end, because these gunners simply won’t make it very high to begin with.

And so it begins…

Famous Football Quote of the Day:

“At one point in the match, we felt like we were at the edge of a cliff.  But we managed to do the right thing and stepped forward.”
– João Pinto, former F.C. Porto defender

Related Video: Benfica vs. Arsenal – Eusébio Cup Highlights

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It’s All Fun and Games: MLS All-Stars vs. Manchester United

Your Upper 90 Studios staff had the privilege of attending the football match between the MLS All-Stars and Manchester United this past July 27, 2011, at Red Bull Arena in NJ!

We got 4th-row seats in section 107 behind the MLS All-Star bench, and we had a great time on a night with great atmosphere!

United brought all its stars, though Chicharito was not fit to play (I believe he had been struck in the head in training earlier in the week and there were concerns about his well-being at the time).  On the MLS All Stars side, all but one very important omission:  Landon Donovan, the face of US Soccer.  A bit disappointing, but the game went on to provide us with some great entertainment.

A couple of take-aways from this match:

  • The Red Bull fans are loud!  They provided us with some great entertainment – we were delightfully surprised!
  • Growing up in Lisbon, Portugal, we were regulars at Benfica home games.  Watching Manchester United in person just highlighted for us how impressive these modern players are – everything was magnified in person (vs what you see on television)!  Berbatov is tall, and strong;  Rooney is the hardest-working forward in the business; Phil Jones is deceptively fast!  David Beckham was in another class as compared to some of the other MLS All-Stars;  Henry, however, was disappointing.

Without further ado, here are some of the pics we took.  Just click the image below for the slideshow!  Enjoy!

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