Monday, July 25, 2011

Three Things I Like about the Preseason

There are many fans who couldn't give a toss about preseason friendlies. They say they are meaningless and boring. I disagree.

The three things I like most about the preseason are this 1) we get to see debuts 2) we get to see youth players from a team's academy mix it up with first-teamers and 3) we get the occasional anomaly.

I have watched a lot of preseason games this summer and was lucky to be in the stadium for three of them -- USA vs Spain (ok, technically this was not a preseason game, but a friendly -- I'm still counting it), N.E. Revolution vs. Manchester United and FC Barcelona vs Manchester United. In each game I have seen at least something interesting and remarkable.

New signings are always eager to please and it was no different for Ashley Young when he stepped onto the pitch vs. New England. I think United are glad to have him.

Barcelona brought a large number of their youth academy to the US, and a few have left an impression. Thiago, a regular for Barca B, looks the real deal, though as Sid Lowe argues, he has some developing to do. Fontas, brought into the first team along with Thiago fairly recently, looks a great replacement for Puyol.

Real Madrid have signed multiple players to try to cope with and overrun Barca in La Liga this year. Devastating for Barca's other rivals, Espanhol, Jose Maria Callejon could be even more of a pain in the neck for Barca with Madrid. If the Merengues call upon Spurs striker Adebayor again, they will probably have the deepest attacking bench I have ever seen.

As for anomalies, the one that stands out the most would be Mario Balotelli's attempted back heel from eight yards out vs. L.A. Galaxy. Outrageous and a bit disrespectful, even if it is only a friendly.

The upcoming season should be interesting.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

N.E. Revolution 1 - 4 Manchester United

Over 50,000 fans turned up on a Wednesday night in remote Gillette Stadium to watch Champions League finalists Manchester United play the local MLS squad, the New England Revolution. All were treated to a fascinating and competitive match. Man U started the game with a strong side that included Nemanja Vidic, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and new signing Ashley Young. Young was looking to impress -- he was certainly the most dynamic United player in the first half. Here is how I thought the rest of them did:

Anders Lindegaard: 5
Not much action for the newish Man U keeper. New England's deflected goal was not his fault.
Fabio: 7
Lively throughout. Worked well with Young on his wing.
Jonathan Evans: 6
Didn't have much to do all game with the Revs' toothless attack.
Rafael: 7.5
A bit more adventurous than his brother on the other wing. He had a few good turns and looked dangerous throughout.
Ashley Young: 8
Put in a few good crosses and was willing to take his man on in attack. Solid debut.
Anderson: 6
Created a few opportunities and held possession well.
Michael Carrick: 7
Provided solid protection for the back four whenever the Revs ventured into their territory, and was purposeful in attack.
Nani - 5.5
Didn't create much, but made no errors either.
Dimitar Berbatov - 4
Berba and Rooney were not in sync.
Wayne Rooney - 5
Along with Berba, looked like he'd prefer to still be on vacation.
Key Subs:
Park Ji-Sung - 8
Easily cut apart the Revs' subs in the second half. His 1-2 with Giggs at the end was brilliant.
Michael Owen - 7.5
Got a good goal, and put in a decent effort.
Frederico Macheda - 8
Back from loan and eager to please, his goals were very good.
Several European teams are doing mini-tours of the US throughout the summer. Manchester United played here, FC Barcelona will play in Washington DC, Real Madrid will play in Philadelphia, Juventus will play at Citi Field in New York. For those of us who are unable to make it to Europe to watch these players in action during the regular season, these mini-tours are great, even if each game is technically a friendly.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cesc Fabregas, the Copa America and the WWC

Mr. Wenger, Cesc Fabregas has done all he could do for you. It is time to let him go.

The scouts at Arsenal were astute in spotting Cesc's talent over eight years ago when they initially signed him. Since then, Cesc has been an integral part of the team, helping them to maintain consistent top four status. He has started 266 matches, scored 57 goals and enhanced Arsenal's reputation as a team that plays attractive football. He's put in a good shift for you.

I understand it is Arsenal's job as a business to get the best price for him, but the directors should strongly consider the work he's already done, and allow him to leave as soon as possible.

Copa America
Thank you for helping me get my football fix this summer, Copa America. Univision and Telefutura here in the US are broadcasting it, and the few games that I have caught have been incredible. Last night's match between Argentina and Columbia was excellent in it's competitiveness.

Both teams were highly motivated. rigorous in their challenges and sharp in their passing. I can't believe many of these players have just finished long seasons in Europe and still play at this level.

A Word about the Women's World Cup in Germany
My guess is that the US team is expected to do well, we usually do. From what I saw yesterday, in the 2-1 defeat to Sweden, we do not deserve to. The Swedes were much sharper and deserved the win. In the second half, the US attack was pathetic -- Route 1, long ball tactics to chase an equalizing goal. It was painful to watch. We couldn't control the ball at all, or put together 3 passes.