Wednesday, February 27, 2008

As the World Turns

It’s been an odd season for veteran Paul Dickov. You may not be aware, but he’s currently on his third club of the season.

Unlike Fulham’s Collins John who went from club to club that are about the same echelon (Fulham, Leicester City, Watford); Dickov has gone from Manchester City (a large club) to Crystal Palace (a medium club), to Blackpool (a minnow).

And he’s played for each club, although an 88th minute substitute for City in a Carling Cup match in August is somewhat be suspect.

It’s also interesting to note that Dickov has done something with the Seasiders that he couldn’t do with the Citizens or Eagles: score.

His goal over the weekend against promotion-hopefuls Charlton was his fifth in just four starts since moving to Lancashire. This mark ties him with leading scorers Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Ben Burgess, and Wesley Hoolahan – all of whom have played significantly more than him.

In fact he’s played an integral role in Blackpool’s recent ascent to the mid-table, as they’ve acquired eight points in the five games he’s been on the team. And with the exception of a 2-1 loss at Ipswich, the Seasiders have acquired at least a point when he’s scored.

So the question remains: has the Scottish old hand found himself a home and make the loan permanent, or will he go to an even smaller club like Brentford and set a League Two scoring record?

I guess anything is possible at this rate.

HatterDon's Thinking Cap

In the great movie, Twelve O’clock High, General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) is the new commander of a dysfunctional bomber group stationed in England during World War II. More than just bombing the crap out of Germany, Savage’s group is under a magnifying glass as the key element in proving that high-altitude precision daylight bombing is the best way to rain a little terror out of the skies. The countervailing theory, espoused by Bomber Harris of the RAF, was that night-time low-level bombing was more effective. But that’s neither here nor there. My point in using this movie as the prologue to this editorial is one speech given in it by Peck.

Savage is concerned that his fliers are spending too much time thinking of themselves and not enough thinking of “the mission.” He tells them, “We're in a war, a shooting war. We've got to fight. And some of us have got to die. Now I'm not telling you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. I’m telling you to stop worrying about it...and yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea it won't be so tough”

And, in a barely logically connected way, that’s where we all are right now. Those of us who love Fulham and follow the lads, and enjoy the idea of English Premier League football at Craven Cottage, have to recognize that, given the inability of our side to take one point at Middlesboro and the loss today of three points at home to West Ham, we’re done and dusted. We’re Texas Toast. We’re circling the bowl at warp speed. We’ve joined the football choir celestial. We are about to be an ex-parrot of a Premiership club. We need to consider ourselves already dead. Once we accept that idea, it won’t be so tough for us to be getting on with our lives and planning for next season.

Wanna read on? The rest is continued here
[From HatterDon, Fulham USA’s Senior Game Analyst and Writer]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Round of 32 - Second Leg Preview

Although most eyes will be fixed on the Aberdeen-Bayern Munich match, there are still fifteen other matches to salivate over.

Okay, more like ten that should be actual contests. Here’s how I see them breaking down:

(Home team listed first)

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Galatasaray
Galatasaray won a moral victory in the first leg by drawing 0-0, but Leverkusen have yet to lose at home during this competition. And there’s no way the Conqueror of Europe (that’s Galatasaray’s actual nickname!) will change that.

Hamburg vs., Zürich
Scoring 3 away goals? Congrats Hamburg, your ticket is punched. And I’m rooting for ya.

Spartak Moscow vs. Marseille
See above. Except for the rooting part.

Panathinaikos vs. Rangers
Common wisdom says Rangers should win this, but expect Panathinaikos to advance. With the exception of a 2-1 loss at Atlético, the Green’s have been unstoppable. And how ironic would it be for the Rangers to lose to another green club.

Bayern Munich vs. Aberdeen
Bayern have the edge in this tie as they scored two goals while at the Don’s turf. Aberdeen needs to grind out a 1-0 victory, or they’re going home without an invitation to the next round. It’s that simple.

AEK Athens vs. Getafe
AEK barely qualified for this stage – and drew the last match at the death – whereas Getafe won their difficult group. Getafe will take their away-goal advantage and romp the Enosis (Union). (On a side note, do some research about AEK – their formation is truly incredible)

Sporting Lisbon vs. Basel
I’m not going to act like I know anything about either club, so lets move on…

Atlético Madrid vs. Bolton
I don’t understand Bolton, I really don’t. Gary Megson is a mediocre manager, but the club is still winning games in the UEFA Cup and grinding out points in the BPL. Atlético: please ROMP the Trotters’ so they’ll go into a tailspin and help Fulham out of the relegation zone. It’s all I ask.

Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Villarreal
Zenit was the only ‘cold weather’ club to win in the last round, but Villarreal have an amazing home European record. Expect the Yellow Submarine to advance.

Anderlecht vs. Bordeaux
City’s Emile Mpzena’s brother Mbo (what a name!) won this come-from-behind victory at the death for Gooch’s club. But Bordeaux left with one away-goal, so expect a boring 1-0 win by the French side.

Helsingborg vs. PSV Eindhoven
PSV won 2-0 at home so unless the Swedish side can muster up a rout, PSV advances.

Fiorentina vs. Rosenborg
A Serie A club at home? I’m sure the results are posted on the Internet somewhere…

Nuremberg vs. Benfica
Anytime a club wins 1-0 at home, the return leg is usually a doozy. Expect the same with this. (Although I really hope Adu appears for more than five minutes in this one).

Already Advanced: Everton, Tottenham, Werder Bremen

Friday, February 15, 2008

UEFA Cup recap

Its back!

In case you weren’t paying attention, which I doubt you were, the UEFA Cup returned this past Thursday for the knockout stages. Personally, I LOVE this competition. Unlike the Champions League, it doesn’t have any pretension at being a "champion competition", – honestly, two clubs from Ukraine?!? – but accepts its role as a minor-league tournament.

That said the matchups are always unique and unpredictable. Unlike the CL where you know who’s going to win an Arsenal-Slavia Prague match, a Bolton-Bayern tie is (somehow) a total crapshoot. And how often does a Grecian club defeat an English one? (sorry Rovers fans)

Like most two-legged knockout competitions, the initial home team usually has some advantage. And after the first leg, that truism held up. The home teams went 8-4-4, but Aberdeen’s 2-2 draw with Bayern is essentially a loss. Its also worth noting how poorly the “cold-weather" teams (i.e. those in Scandinavia and Russia) did, as their seasons haven’t even started yet.

Below are the results with video via Footytube and elsewhere:

(Home team in Caps)

ZENIT ST. PETERSBURG 1 – 0 Villareal

GALATASARAY 0 – 0 Bayer Leverkusen

AEK ATHENS 1 – 1 Getafe

Everton 2 – 0 BRANN

WERDER BREMEN 3 – 0 Sporting Braga

MARSEILLE 3 – 0 Spartak Moscow

ANDERLECHT 2 – 1 Bordeaux

PSV EINDHOVEN 2 – 0 Helsingborg

RANGERS 0 – 0 Panathinaikos


ABERDEEN 2 – 2 Bayern Munich

Hamburg 3 – 1 ZÜRICH

Fiorentina 1 – 0 ROSENBORG

Tottenham 2 – 1 SLAVIA PRAGUE

BOLTON 1 – 0 Atlético Madrid

BENFICA 1 – 0 Nuremberg

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Great FIFA Swindle part 2

After this continuing Daniel Cousin debacle, I may have to turn this into a FIFA and UEFA watchdog blog.

Well today the powers that be decided to delay, again. This akin to Beckham and the Galaxy waiting, and waiting, and waiting before allowing him to "recover" and actually play.

Over a week ago Gus Roux stated that Cousin had played more than 20 minutes for Lens. That other game was an Intertoto Match, which does violate FIFA rules. But I was unaware people even counted it, as its the pre-season and not taken very seriously.

Heck, even the Rangers gaffer wants this saga over with as he agreed to sell him on JANUARY 22nd, and were first contacted on the 21st. For those keeping count, that was 3.5 weeks ago. Now, it'll be just under a month.

This is truly getting ridiculous. I don't recall Mascherano or 'Pool ever having to go through such hoops.

No, Cousin isn't the answer to Fulham's problem. But this amounts to when White kids here in the states are caught with cocaine and just get probation, whereas minorities get the book thrown at them.

Simply pathetic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bristol Who?

I’m not sure if anyone has in the (actual) press has written about them, but in case you were unaware Bristol City is currently in place for Automatic Promotion into the Premier League.

One point from the top and one from the playoffs, the Robins didn’t just arrive at this pinnacle– they’ve been yo-yoing in and out of 2nd and 3rd place since September.

Several months ago before my computer died I was going to write a column comparing the parity in the CCC to the NFL. Well, Bristol City is the case in point. Not to slight their fellow CCC clubs, but c'mon -- its Bristol City! Colchester performing well last year was one thing, but this this wholly something else. How West Brom can have a +26 GD and only be 4th blows my mind, more so than them losing to Derby in the Play-offs Final.

The Robins were promoted from League One last May, and didn’t lose a league match until October. In fact, had it not been for a horrid November where the team lost three straight matches with by a margin of 0-9, they would arguably be in the top spot of the Championship.

But City are still in the hunt, thanks in large part to their excellent home form – just two losses – and their ability to grind out away fixtures. Had it not been for the 6-0 thumping away to Ipswich in November, their GD would be much different.

Speaking of which, the Robins amazingly have 1 as their GD. Yes, a second place team with just one more goal scored than conceded. The only other side within ten spots below them is 12th-place Wolverhampton, who have –4.

So how did a team such as Bristol City get so high up in the standings? One-goal victories: which they have 12 of. Darren Byfield leads the team with 8 goals, followed by Marvin Elliott with 5, Bradley Orr with 4, and four other players with 3 goals a piece. In fact, fourteen players on the squad have at least a goal. I’m too lazy to do the math and compare that with another team, but that’s still a really good spread.

So after years of languishing in League One anonymity, Bristol City look prepared to make it to the top flight after just one season in throngs of the CCC. And with fans like these, the Premiership welcomes the minnows.

Even if they prove to be worse than Derby.

Funny Footy

Here are some websites that cause me to laugh every time I visit. Some new, some old, its all funny.

Fantasy Rafa - Its harder than you think.

Brazilian Name - Can't say I'm impressed with my nickname. "Gellaldo" sounds more like that Italian ice cream than a rad Brazilian footy plater. 

Ray Hudson - I'm sure everyone knows of this, but that man is a god amongst us mere mortals.

Sports Guy Column Generator - Fan of the Bill Simmons? Me too. But this little application made him a parody of himself, and changed the way he wrote.

If you know of any others, feel free to add.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Déjà Vu

Is it me, or is Reading of this season eerily similar to Wigan of last?

Think about it: highly respectable English managers manage both. They’re small market teams that, if were in Major League Baseball, we would classify their economic dealings as “Moneyball.” Both made it to the top flight for the first time in their respected promotion seasons. And each performed remarkably well in their first season there with Wigan going to the Carling Cup Final, and Reading a point away from a UEFA Cup spot.

A little over a month ago Reading was not out of the relegation hunt, but in safety. Now, they’re 17th and a meager point above the drop. The Royals haven’t won since December 22nd, when they defeated Sunderland – who are woeful away – at the Madejski.

Since then they’ve only scored six goals in seven games, and added nine goals to their current –22 differential. They continue to be poor away from home, as the low point was conceding six goals to Tottenham (and lets not forget Pompey’s 7 goal fiesta back in September).

They still have to travel to Anfield, Emirates, and Goodison. Additionally they also play visitors to fellow relegation candidates Wigan, Middlesbrough, and Derby. Of the thirteen remaining games, only six are at home.

Compare this to Wigan, who went through two long winless spells last season: December 6th—February 3rd; March 3rd—May 15th. The (exciting) last day victory at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United was the only measure that ensured their survival.

Another similarity is the future of both managers. Paul Jewell resigned immediately after Wigan barely survived, which I believe played a huge part in the Latics’ spirited performance. Steve Coppell is rumored to be leaving Reading after this season.

Although the main difference between the two is Reading’s core remaining the same from last year, whereas Wigan was dismantled after their debut season.

But that should not take away from the fact that Reading is in trouble of being relegated. Because there is about seven – thanks to Fulham’s timely victory – clubs in the pack, it is a crapshoot to predict who will survive and who will go under. Reading has a good chance to go down, but also have a decent shot at staying up.

But if Reading find themselves needing a victory at Derby on the season finale to survive, it’ll be déjà vu all over again. And I know I won’t be too surprised.