Chelsea’s December From Hell

26 December 2009

Since defeating Arsenal 3-0 on November 29th at the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea have achieved the following results:

Blackburn 3 Chelsea 3: Triple sub backfires as Chelsea are eliminated from the Carling Cup in kicks from the penalty mark.
Manchester City 2 Chelsea 1: Chelsea can’t keep possession beyond minute 15 and pay the price in one of Mark Hughes’s final games in charge.
Chelsea 2 APOEL Nicosia 2: Chelsea treat the second half like light training and APOEL find the equalizer.
Chelsea 3 Everton 3: Chelsea forget what playing defense is like and if not for Drogba and Anelka are humiliated badly.
Chelsea 2 Portsmouth 1: Portsmouth were on their way to a draw before Portsmouth give away a ridiculous penalty and Lampard converts.
West Ham United 1 Chelsea 1: Matthew Upson was clumsy, but Chelsea should have never been awarded an equalizing penalty.
Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 0: Birmingham City’s perfect tactical set up frustrates Chelsea and were screwed twice on offside calls…one should have been a penalty, the other should have been a goal.

Yes my friends, it’s Christmas time and per the Blues norm, Chelsea are struggling yet again. One win in their last seven matches in all competitions, with their last two goals coming from the penalty spot, does not instill confidence at all in the club currently top of the table staying there for too much longer. Yet despite their form, Manchester United have struggled themselves and have not severely threatened Chelsea’s place. In fact, it is Arsenal at the moment who threaten Chelsea’s place the most. That threat could very well be Aston Villa as well if they win tomorrow.

While it has been written here before by other authors about Chelsea’s struggles, this Chelsea fan has bit his lip for too long. Now it’s time for both guns to come out blazing. While it’s been said that I am way too critical and harsh about my own team’s performances, I would counter by saying if they want to be treated like one of the world’s biggest clubs, they have to take the harsh criticism with all the faint praise they receive. So where is it going wrong for Chelsea right now? Let’s take a look.

1) Chelsea Are Only Truly Two Deep in the Attack
If Didier Drogba or Nicolas Anelka aren’t scoring goals from open play, the only way goals are being scored is from Frank Lampard’s foot from the penalty spot. That’s just not winning football. This season in the Premier League, Anelka or Drogba have only come up empty in three games. Anelka has been injured for the last two games, and will miss Monday’s clash with Fulham.

Chelsea’s other forwards, Salomon Kalou, Daniel Sturridge, and Fabio Borini (Gael Kakuta and Florent Malouda are midfielders by trade despite their advanced roles in the midfield), have yet to score this season in the Premier League. Now with the African Cup of Nations coming up, Chelsea lose two of their forwards in Drogba and Kalou. This should be the time Daniel Sturridge is getting confidence, but has not had enough chances on goal to get that confidence. Furthermore, where the midfield early this season was getting into the attack…

2) Chelsea’s Midfield in the Month of December is Defending Way too Deep
The midfield is always a tricky place to play. When you move forward in the attack, how much time do you spend defending. Furthermore, with Ancelotti’s diamond, how often do you get wide? The answer is not very often.

Since Petr Cech has lost a bit of confidence, Carlo Ancelotti has moved the defensive line higher, while moving the defensive midfielder and two wings further back to help cover for those frailties. Even the selections by Ancelotti have indicated a more defensive midfield, playing Deco, Mikel, Essien and Belletti in the center of the park. Yes, Essien is known for long distance rockets, but his aim has been terribly off of late. As for Frank Lampard, he has trouble enough from the spot. His shooting from distance has been poor to pathetic being kind.

The midfield has got to find it’s way back into the attack. If it doesn’t in January, Chelsea could very well see them out of first place and out of the FA Cup by February.

3) Ancelotti’s Substitution Pattern Has Been Highly Suspect
Only three of Chelsea’s last twenty substitutions have been defense moves. Two of those three were to bring on Juliano Belletti for Ricardo Carvalho. As mentioned above, the move to bring on all three subs after halftime bit Chelsea in the backside as they ended the game on ten men simply for not having a substitution to use late. While it was obvious Ancelotti felt he could get the result inside of ninety minutes, the lack of foresight in the potential of extra time escaped him. Against City, not bringing on Joe Cole and saving Florent Malouda until late threw away the shot at a point or three. Against APOEL, Ancelotti failed to bring on a defensive minded player in the second half to ensure their 2-1 halftime score line. While Ancelotti could point out they were already through and the result didn’t matter, it’s still an inexcusable decision to not go out wanting to win every game possible.

Against Everton, the first fatal flaw was not bringing on a defender at halftime. The second fatal flaw was not even considering shoring up the back immediately after Drogba put Chelsea in front 3-2. Instead, it wasn’t until the 85th minute that any substitution was made in defense. When you have defensive minded players on the bench like Ferreira, Belletti, and even Zhirkov to a smaller degree, that is something that should have been done. Against West Ham (the first game without Anelka up front), Sturridge should have started instead of replacing Kalou at halftime. As I will continue to argue, Kalou is much better in Premier League play as a forward coming off the bench, not as a starter. In today’s game with Birmingham City, Joe Cole sitting on the bench for 79 minutes is just not wise. Furthermore, while Frank Lampard did not have even a below average game, Malouda should have been the one coming off.

It could be argued that the only game Ancelotti got his subs right was against Portsmouth; the only win Chelsea have had in the month of December.

Chelsea’s season for a lack of a better word has stalled. With the winter months settling in, and games fixing to start coming thick and fast, Carlo Ancelotti has to adjust and adapt his tactics. It certainly does not help him the African Cup of Nations is coming up, but that is not an excuse for Chelsea. If they want to consider themselves title contenders, this is the time to show your worth, not to say we’re playing good football on the Chelsea FC website. Right now the football coming from Chelsea is not good. It’s not even average.

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Ukraine 0 Greece 1: Grecian Formula Works Again

18 November 2009

Greece never play pretty football. It’s what they know best. It’s what it takes for them to get results. Today, Ukraine huffed and puffed but were undone by a wonderful Georgios Samaras pass to Dimitrios Salpigids just after the half hour as Greece got the away goal, then held on for a 1-0 win to advance to the World Cup.

Let’s be frank, the game was not a good advertisement for those who happened to watch on ESPN2. Greece were more than happy to sit back and counter while letting the Ukraine, mainly Andriy Shevchenko, fall flat on their face. While the Ukraine created plenty of shooting opportunities, nothing threatened the frame after halftime. Greece on the other hand, countered with ease and could have put the game away shortly before halftime and about 10 minutes from full time when Gekas, who had replaced Samaras after halftime got in on goal, but was too late in getting a shot off.

Greece kept their shape exceptionally well for the entire ninety minutes, at times having all 11 players behind the ball in defense. The Ukraine were more worried about their attack, and were undone by Samaras’s pass that caught their center backs flatfooted.

So after missing out on the 06 World Cup, the 2004 European Champions are South Africa bound. For the Ukraine, they will be kicking themselvfes for not being able to break down a Greece defense that was never in danger of giving up a goal over 180 minutes.

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The Bundesview Round 12: Could Van Gaal Be Out After the Weekend?

05 November 2009

Kicker is known in Germany as a sports magazine that is not afraid to pull punches. A bi-weekly publication, it's main focus is on all things Bundesliga. In their late week edition, Kicker pulled no punches about how Bayern Munich have played under Louis Van Gaal.

Under the headline (this is the English translation), Van Gaal: The Barvarian Crisis, it was noted that a loss for Bayern Munich against Schalke could spell the end of Louis Van Gaal's reign as the Bayern Munich manager. Now understand, no direct quotes from the higher ups in management have said anything of the sort. The only evidence the magazine could produce was the shocking revelation that Bayern Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge did not appear in the dressing room after the club's 2-0 loss Tuesday against Bordeaux. A lower blow came when the magazine openly questioned Van Gaal's training methods, comparing them to those at youth levels. "Van Gaal should question himself, if training low passing without opponents isn't too much youth training", the rough translation, is a damning verdict for a side that has severely punched under their weight.

It's just not Bayern's training either, the in game tactics have been all too familiar. While Kicker took a look at just the Bordeaux game as it's prime example, the same things could be said about the majority of Bayern Munich's games this season.

  • "Under pressure, his team isn't capable to do anything creative with the ball, both left and right defenders are playing too high up, further narrowing the field of play for their own offense. They are running into a brick wall and need tactical help by their coach." Munich's high line and narrow play has allowed teams to run roughshod on the counter attack.
  • "The one dimensional and aimless passing of the ball to the sides, to the back and so forth is a cry for help and tempo. Tempo that this team lacks significantly on offense. Add to that, horribly planless pounding of the ball high into the opponent's half, hoping for the best, and laughable crosses by Pranjic and Braafheid." Bayern Munich as a team has not shown any flow in their squad. The only exception was the forty-five minutes Ribbery and Robben were on the park agaisnt Wolfsburg. They look clueless in how they want to move forward. Frankly, that's all on the coaching of Louis Van Gaal.
  • "With his 'everyone is equal' approach, Van Gaal has managed to drain players like Gomez, Toni and Klose of confidence, who are, on a sidenote, three strikers who are way too similar in their style." Luca Toni getting close to be fully match fit will help that problem as it will give Van Gaal the abilityto have a main target forward as a player for the second striker. I think Gomez will end up being that second striker to Luca Toni, but Gomez's confidence has been shot. Klose has just never fit in at Bayern Munich.
With Schalke coming into the Allianz Arena on Saturday (9:30 am live on ESPN360), Bayern Munich are in a must win situation. Toni looks set to be in the starting eleven, Robben only fit enough for a spot on the bench. Schalke should have confidence in the fact they were able to come back from two goals down last weekend against Bayer Leverkusen to snatch a point late. Bayern Munich at home have only allowed three goals in five matches, Schalke have scored seven in five away. Last season, this same fixture saw Schalke beat Bayern. Farfan and Kevin Kuranyi have the ability to run the Munich defense ragged; but Schalke's back four will have to watch out for the lethal Luca Toni. I see a draw here, something I am sure Schalke will take. However, Bayern Munich fans (and management) will see that result as yet another black eye on their start to this season. It should be noted that Klose is slated to start with Gomez relegated to the bench.

Other Weekend Fixtures (Note: all times at Eastern, with TV in parenthesis).

Friday 2:30 pm: Bayer Leverkusen v Eintracht Frankfurt (Live on GolTV). Rene Adler will miss this game due to an inflamed cornea, meaning Fabian Giefer will be the starting keeper for Leverkusen on Friday. It's a good thing then that Sami Hyypia will be fit after dealing with an ankle injury that limited his time in training this week. This is a strange series in that Bayer Leverkusen has only won one of the last six meetings. I may fall flat on my face with this prediction, but I think Eintracht Frankfurt gives Bayer Leverkusen their first loss of the season. We should see at least one goal, as these two teams have never played in a goalless game against each other.

Saturday 9:30 AM
Hoffenheim v Wolfsburg (Live on GolTV): Two teams that love to score goals. However, Wolfsburg have had a harder time scoring away from home. Hoffenheim's defense has been a rock at home. Should still be a plenty entertaining affair. Ba will be missing for Hoffenheim, Grafite looks set to make a return to the starting eleven. Prediction, Hoffenheim win 3-2.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Stuttgart: Both will be coming into this game on highs after results last week. A win by Gladbach moves them comfortably mid-table while a win by Stuttgart will move them temporarily away from the relegation zone. It will still be an uphill climb for Stuttgart however. Gebhart will be missing due to yellow card accumulation and Cacau is out with a hamstring injury. Expect the pressure to only intensify for Babbel. Prediction: Gladback 2 Stuttgart 0.

Mainz v Nurnberg: Don't expect this one to be a competitive contest folks. Nurnberg have only scored two away from home. Mainz have scored eleven. Both teams are about as fully fit as they can get. Prediction: Mainz 3 Nurnberg 1.

Bochum v Freiburg: This will be a more interesting match than people will expect. Both teams are tied for second worst in the league with 23 goals allowed (only team worse: Hertha Berlin), so expect goals a plenty. Dabrowski and Ono will miss out for Bochum due to cards, Freiburg are fully fit. Do I expect a winner? No I do not. Prediction: a 2-2 draw.

Sunday 9:30 am: Hannover 96 v Hamburg. I am curious to see how Hamburg play here after Celtic played so well against them on Thursday. Their defense this season has been on the shaky side. Hannover haven't been all that bad at home, but their scoring problems are a major issue that needs addressing somehow. Form says Hamburg should win, but I just can't pull the trigger on them doing so. Prediction: a 1-1 draw.

Sunday 11:30 AM
Werder Bremen v Borussia Dortmund (Live on ESPN 360): Dortmund loves to set out the stall when away from home, and I don't think it is going to work here. Bremen have too much firepower up front. Even on two days rest, being at home will be the difference in this one. Prediction: Werder Bremen 3 Borussia Dortmund 1.

Hertha Berlin v Koln: OH MOMMY DO I HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT THESE TWO BOTTOM FEEDERS? Damn it I do. Hertha should feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves for scoring three goals against a Dutch side that threw three perfectly good points away. Koln quite frankly, can't score. Sadly, if you're watching this match, it'll be the perfect replacement for a sleeping pill. Prediction: Hertha Berlin 0 Koln 0.

Don't forget to check out The Third Half Twitter page this weekend as I do my 'as long as technology comes through' coverage of the games Saturday. If I can't, I'll keep updated on those games that are on TV.

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'Hunt'ing for Forwards Will Get England Nowhere

02 November 2009

He's twenty-three, has a German father and an English mother, and his double on the weekend against Nurnberg to steal a 2-2 draw for Werder Bremen has all of a sudden put this man on the radar of Fabio Capello.

Just one small problem, Aaron Hunt wants nothing to do with the English National Team.

Aaron Hunt, until this season, has been a troubled individual. A person who could never seem to stay on the straight and narrow: either with Werder Bremen or as a member of Germany's U21 national team. A kid with raw talent and the potential to blossom into one of Germany's better forwards for years to come had been halted by his own blatant stupidity. A race row while playing against England in a U21 European Championship (note: it was overturned and the case dropped), a kid who stupidly fought with Diego in training; but above all, a kid who couldn't adapt with the expectations of a man.

I am convinced this was Hunt's last chance to convince at Werder Bremen. With Diego out of the picture, Hunt would have to up his game. Not only has he done that, but he has thrived under pressure. In eleven matches this season, Hunt has scored five and set up another. Hunt has also stayed booking free. Only Claudio Pizarro has more goals for Bremen, but the partnership has been a thing of beauty to watch. Hunt's improved play should see him called into the German National Team, a place that would be nothing but deserved.

This sudden interest from Capello is a shock, but it was not at all shocking Hunt flat out rejected any possibility of playing for The Three Lions. If anything, this should be an insult to the players who have been called in at forward under Capello. Rooney, Defoe, Heskey, Crouch, and Carlton Cole should be insulted that Fabio thinks someone other than themselves would be needed up front.

This is also a move that screams desperation for Fabio Capello. With the World Cup about seven months away from starting; a move like this, even if it is nothing but paper fodder, will unsettle a striker core that hasn't exactly been the definition of harmony. And if you're Hunt, you can't blame him for not wanting to play for a side that doesn't have a prayer at winning the World Cup in 2010, 2014, or 2018 (as controversial as that maybe, England will not be winning the World Cup unless it's played in England in 2018). Sure, Hunt might not feature for Germany at all in South Africa. However, I'd argue that once the 2010 World Cup is over, he will be a feature for Germany in the next two World Cup cycles.

Aaron Hunt should play for Germany. He's grown up playing in the youth set up in Germany, he's been a feature as a youth at international tournaments, and based on this form will be called in by Joachum Low (or any other manager who would come in post 2010 World Cup) eventually. When he is, I'll be one very interested viewer.

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The Third Half Update

20 October 2009

This blog has been a long time coming from me.

First off, I deeply apologize to those who read this blog for not updating it as frequently as I should. I make no excuses, it's all on me.

I have to be frank when I say I'm not happy with myself. I'm not happy with the amount of content on this site, I'm not happy with the content on the podcast, and above all I'm not happy at myself for allowing such matters to get in such disarray.

I know some of the more frequent visitors to the site will think I'm being too hard on myself. I can reassure you that I'm not.

When I got into blogging just a few short years ago, two things I told myself was that I would be personal with my work and that I would strive to have the highest quality possible. I think the quality has only be okay, I do not think I've been personal with my writing. While the opinions have been mine, I don't think I've done a good job of expressing those opinions in a personal manner.

What I do know is I need to get back to my fundamentals. I feel guilty that I have let those who have followed my work from day one down. Everyone who reads this blog or listens to the podcast deserves the best I can give. Quite frankly I've let everyone down in that regard. I haven't given you my best and for that all I can say is sorry.

Expect that to change post haste. Sometimes looking at one's self in the mirror and realizing you have to do better is the only thing one can do to improve. I can accept that I haven't given my best. All I can do now is do exactly what I wanted to do from day one.

It's time to get back to being a personal guy with a no nonsense attitude on the leagues I follow and love. It's time to get back to the analysis on both the blog and podcast that was impassioned and purposed. Most importantly, it's time for me to go back to what I know. The same things that kept you around to begin with: here, on the podcast, an on twitter.

Again, I apologize for not doing so as frequently as it should have been done.

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Top of the Table Clash Highlights Bundesliga Weekend

15 October 2009

Coming off the international break, the Bundesliga has two massive clashes at the top of the table. The warm-up match occurs Saturday at 9:30 am Eastern when Werder Bremen hosts Hoffenheim in a 4 v 5 battle from the Weser-Stadion. The main event takes place at 12:30 pm when Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen play at the HSH Norbank Arena (live on GolTV).

Both Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen come into this clash unbeaten with six wins and two draws; Hamburg has yet to lose at home while Bayer have three wins and a draw away from the Bay Arena.

It will be interesting to see how Hamburg start up front. Before the international break, Mladen Petric suffered an ankle injury and won't be seen from until the new year. That, along with the cruciate ligament rupture Juan Paolo Guerrero suffered in September, sees Hamburg down two strikers who have combined for six of their team's goals this season. Will Bruno Labbadia go with only one up front, or will he stick with his 4-4-2 formation? If I had to guess, Marcus Berg will play up front alone, Labbadia going 4-5-1.

If anything for Hamburg, the midfield partnership of David Jarolim and Ze Roberto will have to come up big. Ze Roberto currently leads the team with four goals (tied with Guerrero, but he won't be heard from again more than likely until next season), and can get forward. Jarolim will need to hold the ball up in the midfield. The back hasn't exactly been steady, only seeing one clean sheet to start the season. However, they have only allowed two or more goals once. To have any realistic shot of winning on Saturday, knowing the situation up front, Hamburg will need a clean sheet.

Away from home, Bayer Leverkusen have scored eleven goals. The partnership of Stefan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok have accounted for half the teams goal output. In fact, the entire spine of Bayer Leverkusen has been pretty resolute with Arturo Vidal and Simon Rolfes in the midfield along with Friedrich and Sami Hyypia at center back. Rene Adler has only allowed five goals this season because of the support he's had in the center of the park.

If there is a weakness for Bayer Leverkusen, it's at left back. Eight games into the season, three players have played at least two games in that position. Michal Kadlec, the man who started the season at left back, hasn't played since match day four. It's got to the point Gonzalo Castro has played the last two games at left back, when he's a natural right back. I expect Castro to play again at right back, with Kadlec going back to the left side.

When it's all said and done, I predict Bayer Leverkusen will continue to lead the Bundesliga. Bayer are pretty settled right now; while I think Ze Roberto will try too hard, attempting to put Hamburg on his shoulders. Expect this to be a tight tense affair, with my prediction being a Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 win.

Other Games This Weekend

Saturday 9:30 AM
Eintracht Frankfurt v Hannover 96: Frankfurt have yet to win at home this season. I don't think that changes here. Prediction: Draw
Koln v Mainz: Mainz have allowed thirteen goals in eight games while Koln have only scored five. If there was any game that Koln could get goals, this is it. Prediction: Koln sneaks a late winner.
Nurnberg v Hertha Berlin: MOMMY DO I HAVE TO! 17 v 18 in the Bundesliga, enough said. Nurnberg can't buy a goal right now, Hertha can't stop giving them up. Prediction: a draw that does nothing for either team.
Freiburg v Bayern Munich (Live on GolTV): How badly do Bayern Munich need Luca Toni up front? Even with Robben and Ribery on the wings, it still isn't clicking on all cylinders. Freiburg though are not playing well at home. The same could be said for Bayern Munich on the road. Prediction: Bayern Munich win this with a late second half goal.
Stuttgart v Schalke (Live on ESPN360): Schalke haven't lost on the road, I don't expect that change here. Prediction: Schalke in a blowout.
Werder Bremen v Hoffenheim: It's an injustice this game is not being shown on TV here in the states. Both sides play technically sound attacking football. The defense is pretty good also. Prediction: a high scoring draw that we won't get to see.

Sunday 9:30 AM
Wolfsburg v Borussia Monchengladbach (Live on ESPN360): Wolfsburg can score, but have given up their fair share of goals. Gladbach have given up their fair share of goals, but haven't done a good job scoring. Prediction: Wolfsburg wins; Michael Bradley plays, but doesn't have a good showing.

Sunday 11:30 AM
Borussia Dortmund v Bochum: Bochum have point blank been dire on the road. While Dortmund haven't scored many at home, I don't think they will have much trouble. Prediction: Borussia Dortmund wins by two.

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US Gets Late Draw to Put Honduras in World Cup

The hours between 8 pm and 10 pm may have been some of the most exciting we've seen in CONCACAF in a long time. When it was all said and done, 95th minute magic by a side already in the World Cup put the side they defeated on Saturday in.

I will be honest from the outset and say that I did not see all ninety minutes of the United States's clash with Costa Rica. What I saw from the first twenty-five minutes sickened me. Conor Casey found his national team form we all came to hate and despise, Jozy Altidore was walking the tightrope of being sent off; and oh yea, after missing at least 2 golden scoring opportunities, Costa Rica in the span of 3 minutes went 2-0 up. The first goal was simply worthless defending from Gooch, the second coming down to poor defending off a throw in. That said, Ruiz's second goal from the edge of the penalty area was a thunderbolt very few keepers in the world would have saved. I was so disgusted I didn't even bother turning on ESPN360, but turning on Mun2 instead to watch Trinidad and Tobago against Mexico. At the time that game was goalless.

What I wasn't expecting to see was T&T looking the stronger team. Mexico looked like it has already checked out of qualifying, already knowing they were heading to South Africa. What I wasn't expecting was T&T to take the lead. In truth, the referee had no choice but to give T&T the penalty when Torrado used his hand to play the ball. Kerry Baptiste though, placed his penalty perfect past the diving Ochoa.

The second half was pure drama. From Mexico getting their first equalizer, to Baptiste putting T&T back in the lead, the action was just beginning. Then Carlos Pavon put Honduras ahead in El Salvador and gave them hope. However, at that time, it looked grim as Costa Rica was still two goals to the good. At about the same time (with me deciding to throw on ESPN360 to see end the end of the game), Mexico equalized and Michael Bradley pulled one back for the United States. I'm not fond of Michael Bradley right now. He is not playing well at Gladbach right now, but it was his goal that gave the United States hope of an unlikely equalizer.

Then tragedy for the United States. Already using three subs, Gooch tears his Patella Tendon. It was about this moment Costa Rica, I felt, thought they had qualification already secured and let up their play. The United States on the other hand, kept huffing and puffing for an equalizer that would see them top the hex. If it couldn't get any worse for Costa Rica, their manager and assistant manager were sent off for protesting too much on a foul late. That gave us five minutes of second half stoppage time and the unlikeliest of hero's in Jonathan Bornstein. It was a perfect corner; how 11 men could leave a side down to ten unmarked is beyond me. But Bornstein finished the header perfectly to cap off qualifying on top, and well as putting Honduras into the World Cup.

If there is any story that is not getting the play it deserves tonight, it's that Honduras is going to the World Cup. After their heartbreaking loss to the United States last Saturday night, I did not expect them to go to El Salvador and win. Carlos Pavon with one header went from zero to hero. After all the political turmoil, after being so close for so long, Honduras deserves this opportunity.

For the United States, they willed themselves to this late draw while Costa Rica imploded. When it's all said and done, Costa Rica more than likely played their way out of the World Cup.

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Charlie Davies: A Lesson in Personal Responsibility

13 October 2009

I'm going to admit right off the bat this blog won't be for everyone. This by far was one of the most difficult blog posts I've ever written in the three plus years I've been blogging. Much of this piece comes from the life experience I've had in my twenty-five and a half years on this earth. I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on this one, and I'm well aware of that.

When I read the news this afternoon at about 5 pm goofing off at the office, my stomach knotted. When I see any news story involving a car accident with a fatality, I momentarily think about the family of the deceased... and then I went 'why am I reading this on ESPN'.

Never in a million years did I expect to see the name Charlies Davies in the news story.

Charlie Davies, a passenger in a SUV, was involved in a single car crash. Ashley Roberta, the other passenger died, the condition of the driver as far as I've read is still unknown. What we know of Charlie Davies injuries are pretty severe. A fractured right Tibia, right Fibula and left elbow, a lacerated bladder, and facial fractures are what we know about. Davies will be in the hospital at least another week, and he can expect more surgery than the five to six hours he had today. At best, rest/recovery/rehab will be about six months, but it could take as long as twelve. With just that on the table, who cares if he ever plays professionally again at a high level. While it's very likely he will, I'm thankful he's just alive.

Charlie Davies came into quick prominence during this summer's Confederations Cup, scoring the critical first goal against Egypt and setting up a goal in the final. It helped earn him a move to Sochaux, who are now down an attacking option as well.

The more I've read on this story, the more I reflect back on my life. When I was 23, the toughest decision I ever had to make was if it was time to put my dad in a nursing home. At the same time though, this angers me. Charlie Davies was a man who was on the verge I feel of having it all with this US National Team. One moment in the middle of the night changed all that, and Davies is hurt in an accident, knowing that someone else in the vehicle was dead. His career secondary to rehab and getting over the potential emotional scars of that night.

Above all, and this is where I expect to come into the most criticism, I have to question what was he thinking. At first I was angry at the US National Team staff for not setting a curfew. When I saw that Davies had missed curfew, I had to shake my head. I will be the first to admit I've never been a professional athlete, but I've never in my life missed a curfew. I also know the risks of staying out too late. If there was one thing my dad taught me, it was staying out too late always leads to something bad. When you're a professional athlete, I just feel you have to go 'okay for the sake of being at my best I need to cut out at a reasonable hour...I'll have time to party later'. When a professional athlete knows what time curfew is, honor it. Hell if anything, if you have a work deadline, beat it.

If anything, let's all look back on this accident and in the future be more careful in some of the decisions we make. They don't just effect us, but many more around us.

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Avram Grant Makes Smart Move To Portsmouth

07 October 2009

Avram Grant's going back to a place he should be comfortable at, while getting his old job back in the process. It's not the manager's position at Chelsea, but the Director of Football role at Portsmouth.

With Abdullah Al Faraj now in control of the Fratton Park outfit, the focus has quickly shifted to make sure the backroom staff is in place to guarantee Premier League survival. When it comes to a football mind that can come into a backroom and help fulfill the vision of Paul Hart, Avram Grant is that man.

Looking at Grant's accomplishments, he was largely responsible for assembling a squad that went undefeated in 2006 World Cup Qualification. Yes, they missed out on the playoffs due to goal difference, but the talent of Israel's squad had no right being that competitive in a group that included France, Switzerland and Ireland. In his previous run at Portsmouth, Avram Grant got along well with Harry Redknapp and helped shaped the squad that eventually won the FA Cup. At Chelsea, he was thrown to the wolves when Jose Mourinho was sacked. What's even worse about the way he was treated at Chelsea was it was not his fault Chelsea lost the Champions League final.

I'm convinced that Avram Grant has picked this job as a way to vindicate everything that happened at Chelsea. Despite what some Telegraph hack wants to believe (paging Henry Winter), Paul Hart can't do this by himself. He needs help. He needs someone who can take his vision and translate it into players who will not only work hard for him in the second half of the season to stay in the Premier League, but will also in case they do get relegated. Grant is not there to work against Hart, but to use the money that will be on offer in January wisely. That is something Grant will do.

If anything, this relieves some of the pressure on Paul Hart. Those who were at Portsmouth when Grant was there before remember him fondly. Hart will be able to focus more on the training and giving Grant the profile of player he wants. It won't be Avram Grant just biding his time to take over the Portsmouth managerial role.

Besides, my gut feeling is Avram Grant doesn't want to manage in the Premier League anytime soon.

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The Fall of Farve from Hertha Berlin

28 September 2009

Last season, Lucien Farve guided Hertha Berlin to fourth in the Bundesliga and into the Europa League. Monday, Farve was shown the door at after losing six on the trot, seeing Hertha Berlin at the foot of the Bundesliga table.

Credit should be given to Lucien Farve; he was able to guide Hertha from consecutive tenth place finishes into a position where they could have won last season's Bundesliga title, settling for fourth place. But there are plenty of reasons Hertha Berlin are looking for a new manager right now.

* Farve's inability to get along with top names. When Farve was unable to get along with Marko Pantelic and Josip Simunic, or any real top talent for that matter, it spelled trouble in the summer. Pantelic went to Ajax, while Simunic went to Hoffenheim. He had to have total control of everything in training and in the dressing room. It was his way or the highway...it proved in the end Farve was the one seeing the Autobahn.

* No true leadership in the dressing room. The players on this club are so diverse, there is no true sense of leadership in the dressing room. When captain Arne Friedrich is saying "I can't be the leader of the team in which half the people don't understand a word of my language, and I don't understand them either", there are massive problems within the players at the club. The captain should never say that. Yes, it's a more international club game than ever before. Yes, there should be some common ground in language in the dressing room. However, right now it's apparent the players at Hertha Berlin are more in it for themselves than for the club. That's just a recipe for disaster...and relegation. At least learn enough of the native tongue to get around.

* Ownership without money. When you sell Simunic for six million pounds and spend less than 1.25 million on your biggest signing in Adrian Ramos, you've got problems. Simply put, Hertha Berlin is a club that doesn't have loads of money at their disposal. For a club in the capital of Germany, that's frightening. Look at Rome (though AS Roma is struggling right now), London (two Champions League clubs, one more in the Europa League), Paris (PSG is a steady League Un side), Moscow (of late has come on with one club in Europe on a yearly basis), and Madrid (Real Madrid...say no more); all capital cities with European football pedigree. The board of Hertha have too many questions to ask with regards to how much money they have to invest in the club. For a club who have played in the Bundesliga for over a decade, and been in Europe now twice, money issues should not be a problem.

* The inability to sign Andriy Voronin from Liverpool. He was their heart and soul up front and his goals have been sorely missed. Again, that goes to the lack of money available. What's scarier is that Liverpool only asked five million. They couldn't afford the transfer fee and his wages, what does that tell you?

* Last season was more about luck than talent. Last season, Hertha Berlin rode their luck more often than not to get results, and they rode that luck well. Hertha lost nine games and still finished fourth. Hamburg in fifth lost eleven, Borussia Dortmund finished six and had fourteen draws. Hoffenheim finished seven and had ten draws alongside their nine losses. Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich each had seven losses last season and Stuttgart had eight of their own. That's how tight it was at the top, and how even the top of the Bundesliga was. Take away the key pieces that saw them finish fourth with the luck they had, you have the situation Hertha Berlin are in now.

What's sadder for Farve is that he was playing his strongest eleven when Hertha played Hoffenheim on Sunday. What's even more frightening is they have to travel away Thursday in the Europa League to face Sporting Lisbon. If that wasn't bad enough, Hamburg comes to the Olympiastadion on Sunday. Expect the fans to demand answers, and to be just a little more hostile than normal. The team cannot hide behind Farve anymore, and you can't expect the U23 coach to walk into this mess and be a miracle worker.

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Paul Duffen Unwise to Call Hull City Fans Pathetic

24 September 2009

When the club you are chairman of have only won two of their last twenty-eight premier league games, there are certain things you don't say in public.

Calling your fans pathetic in a radio interview for wanting Phil Brown to do a better job or be gone is one of them.

I can understand Paul Duffen's frustration. It hasn't exactly been a 'great' 2009 despite staying up. As with the stuff mentioned above, they are currently sitting 19th in the table and face a daunting away trip to Anfield this weekend. He's frustrated the fans aren't happy with the product on the pitch, and I'm sure there is some worry about being in the relegation zone all season. What Duffen should be aware of is that fans at this point should be questioning where the club is going. At this moment in time, it does look bleak. Yes, this is their second season in the Premier League, but what Duffen and his backroom staff should realize is the fans WANT to stay in the Premier League. They don't want cause for serious concern, and all of their performances in 2009 have been cause for such concern.

When you are in an authority position, the last thing you want to do is something that makes a group of people question your ability to handle pressure. It seems that Hull City's backroom could write a book on how not to handle pressure. Let's start last Boxing Day when Phil Brown decided to give his squad a tongue lashing in front of away supporters at Manchester City. I'll forever be convinced that was the moment everything went downhill at Hull City last season. This season, four points and six games, looking like it will be four in seven after the weekend. The last thing Paul Duffen needs to be telling the fans who pay their hard earned pounds to frequent the KC Stadium that they are pathetic for wanting better. If that means Phil Brown has to go, then so be it.

What makes this seemingly show of support for Phil Brown more ironic is the Guardian report tonight that said that Phil Brown only has six weeks to save his job. It can't be one or the other. With the message Duffen put in the public today, that report makes no sense whatsoever. It's one message or the other. Is Phil Brown safe, or is Phil Brown's job in jeopardy? Having two messages in the press is not what is needed at this moment in time.

The only thing pathetic here is Paul Duffen belittling his fan base. It's something they won't soon forget.

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Hertha Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg Knocked Out of the German Cup

23 September 2009

God bless domestic cup competitions.

The second round of the DFB Pokal (German Cup) has come to a conclusion and it produced plenty of shock results. The upsets started on Tuesday night as fourth tiered Eintracht Trier beat Arminia Bielefeld of the Bundesliga 2 4-2 in extra time. Bielefeld took a 2-0 lead, but saw Senesie pull Trier level by the seventy-sixth minute. In extra time, Bielefeld fell apart and Risser put the Regionalliga West side in front before Senesie put away all doubts from the penalty spot. MSV Duisburg went away to Borussia Monchengladbach and won in second half injury time 1-0. Michael Bradley played for all ninety minutes in the loss for Gladbach, picking up a yellow card in the process.

However, the big shocks of the round happened on Wednesday afternoon. 1860 Munich have been in financial trouble for many years, with the German Cup the only way to keep their name somewhat relevant. Kenny Cooper signed for the club in the summer transfer window, and has taken the club by storm and today's matchup against Hertha Berlin was no different. Already ahead 1-0, Kenny Cooper put 1860 ahead 2-0 five minutes into the second half. At that point, it looked like 1860 Munich were going to blow the favorites from the Bundesliga out of the water. When Cooper was subbed out in the sixty-eighth minute, Hertha Berlin tore 1860 apart getting two goals inside three minutes to level the score. In stoppage time, Hertha was unable to find the game winner and paid the price in the shootout. Hertha missed their first two attempts; 1860 hit all four of their spot kicks to advance 4-1 in the shootout.

The other major shock of the round happened at Bundesliga 3 side Osnabruck as they hosted Hamburg. After a dull first half, Hansen put the minnows ahead. Fifteen minutes later, Siegert looked set to put the 16,100 at the Osnatel Arena in pure rapture making it 2-0. Hamburg, to their credit, didn't give up. Starting with Petric, Hamburg pulled one back thirteen minutes from time. Hamburg pulled level in the second minute of added time, sending the game into extra time. In extra time, Hamburg started positively and were awarded with the goal in the 100th minute. In what wasn't even the final twist in the tale, Grieneisen put Osnabruck level just four minutes from time on a goal of the round contender. In the shoot out, the home side Osnabruck hit all four of their penalties. Hamburg however, saw Tesche and Petric miss on awful penalty attempts to see Hamburg knocked out.

Bayer Leverkusen were knocked out away to Kaiserslautern in a match they were never truly in. Koln knocked out title holders Wolfsburg 3-2. Alemannia Aachen nearly capped off a remarkable comeback tonight. Down 5-1 away to Eintracht Frankfurt, Aachen pulled three goals back to make it 5-4. However, they conceded a penalty to lose 6-4.

Other sides remaining in the German Cup are Hoffenheim, Bayern Munich, SpVgg Greuther Furth, Bourssia Dortmund, Schalke, TSV Koblenz, Augsburg, Werder Bremen, and Stuttgart.

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The Third Half 8: Martin Tyler

The Third Half is honored to have Martin Tyler of Sky Sports, TWI/IMG Media, and SBS fame. On the podcast we discuss the start of the Barclay's Premier League season, how Tottenham have impressed him, the start of this season of the promoted sides, and much more.

We then talk about his second love, coaching. Currently an assistant manager at Kingstonian Football Club, we discuss the club's promotion into the Ryman Premier League, how their promotion compares to promotion of the Championship sides into the Premier League. The conversation then closes with their start of this season's FA Cup.

You can download the podcast from here. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed via iTunes. If you ever want to get in touch with me, you can leave a comment here or email me at thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.org.

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Martin Tyler Interview Questions

18 September 2009

I will have the pleasure of interviewing Martin Tyler for the next episode of The Third Half podcast. After discussion of his coaching role at Kingstonian FC and the early qualifying rounds of the FA Cup, we'll have a little time to talk about the start of the Premier League/Champions League.

If you have any questions, either leave a response here, reply on my twitter account, or email me at thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.org. Questions need to be sent by 5 am Eastern (10 am in the UK).

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The Third half 7: US Soccer and World Cup Qualifying Recap

10 September 2009

On this week's edition of The Third Half, Johnathan Starling is joined by Fox Sports very own Jamie Trecker and Own Goal Network's, MLS Talk, and EPL Talk's Kartik Krishnaiyer as we break down the two most recent US World Cup Qualifiers. We also break down the USSF and qualifying across the rest of the world.

If you want to get in contact with me with regards to the show, you can email me at thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.org.

Don't forget to also subscribe to the show on iTunes. Or if you want, you can download the show from here.


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Bjorn Helge Riise Makes Wrong First Impression At Fulham

08 September 2009

Just because you're the younger brother of John Arne Riise, doesn't give you the right to speak like you are on your brother's level in the footballing world.

However, if you're Bjorn Helge Riise, you give off the pompous impression that you're better than the entire Fulham roster. Adding to the insult, Riise took a shot at the man who will keep him out of the Fulham starting eleven: Damien Duff.

Obviously, Fulham are taking the high road here. They want a full transcript before they pass judgment. However, Riise's comments are plain for the world to see. Saying things like "I don't think they've done all that good. But they have a good reputation and come from bigger clubs than me," and "I came from little Lillestrom in Norway, but players like Damien Duff have a name and status after playing for clubs like Newcastle and Chelsea and is ahead of me," not to mention ""But he is not that much faster than I am, and I have a better technique, a better touch and deliver better passes than he does," just makes you look like a first class jackass.

Look Riise, you are still an unknown. Hell, you were only worth two million pounds coming from a relatively decent club in Norway. Damien Duff; well he cost four. Duff is a proven Premier League player; Riise, you're just riding the coat tails of your older brother's fame. You may have had a good technique, touches and passes in Norway, but you won't get the time you had in Norway to pull things off. Duff; he knows the score in the Premier League, and even at his age will still take you and your 'talent' to school.

The other fatal mistake you made Riise is trying to pull this off while having Roy Hodgson as your manager. He is about as old school as they come. Riise, if you think your better, you prove it on the training ground. You DON'T prove it in the press. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Riise is fined two weeks worth of wages and left to sit in the reserves until the first of the year. Even then, Riise may have run out of chances. If that's the case, the only way he plays is if there are a glut of injuries to the Fulham midfield.

Riise, let your football do all the talking for you, because the words that just came out of your mouth were nothing more than garbage.

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It Is Time to Rewrite the Rules On Diving

01 September 2009

When I heard that Arsenal's Eduardo got a two game ban by UEFA for diving against Celtic last week, I mentally went 'yea sounds about right'. When I read that Arsenal were appealing the two game ban, I instantly became enraged.

Once the rage died, I started thinking. FIFA's logic in all matters is that rules can't be changed because they can't be applied down the entire pyramid. While I understand that for some things, I call absolute bs on the matter of diving and on video evidence being used post match. When it comes to diving/simulation, it's time for FIFA to come to it's senses and rewrite the rules.

With the rules as they are written now in regards to diving, if you're caught in match, it's only a yellow card. Each country's FA and each Confederation have their own rules with how potential cheaters are dealt with after the fact. UEFA, on an inconsistent basis, has banned players two matches for simulation post match. I honestly couldn't tell you how others Confederations deal with diving once a match is over, and that's another problem that is solved here.

FIFA instantly needs to change the laws on diving to read like this: if you are caught diving in game, it's a straight red card and a subsequent two match ban. If the referee misses a dive and they think something needs to be looked at post match, it's written in the referee's report and then they look at the video tape to give their opinion to the FA/Confederation. The report and tape are both then looked at and if there is an agreement simulation happened, the player is then banned for three matches.

Now the question I know everyone is going to hammer me on: how do we deal with video evidence as you go lower in the football pyramid? The answer to that question is a simple one: the lowering cost of technology today. Pricing a digital camcorder, you can get one for around 350 dollars. All you need are four cameras looking at the action in four different spots following the action at all times. Put one behind both goals, one in one half on a touchline, and the other on the opposite touchline in the other half. Those basic camera angles, if being used correctly, should catch every act of simulation possible. If teams want to use six cameras (placing two on each touchline), then so be it. That's only 1400-2100 dollars to catch every dive possible. If a club can't afford to come up with at least 1400 bucks, I seriously question if they deserve to be in business.

If football really is serious in stopping simulation, this is the only course of action I see that will stop it in it's tracks. The lowering price of technology today is a big help. If you have any better ideas how to stop diving, I would love to hear them! Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Matchday 4 Review: Rooney's Penalty, Eboue's Dive, Sean Davis's Sendng Off, Manchester City Continue to Roll

30 August 2009

Manchester United v Arsenal: This game is not about the penalty. I have to admit laughing at all the stupidity on the net this weekend about “Rooney’s dive”. It was never a dive. Yes, Rooney was never going to get a shot on goal. Yes, Rooney was never going to get to the second touch. Yes Rooney looked like he was going down. The fact remains that Manuel Almunia came out and took Rooney completely out of any play. That is a letter of the law penalty.
Instead this was about three things; the first being the ridiculous own goal by Diaby. That header was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen in a game of football. It should also be a lesson to every other defender that it would never be wise to try said header. Secondly, THE ACTUAL DIVE by Emmanuel Eboue. Do people actually forget that? Oh yea, they do. Finally, this is about the farcical way Mike Dean handled the end of this match. He would have been best to blow for full time, taken an earful from Wenger, and then pressed charges. Instead, Keith Hackett is the one having to apologize to Wenger.

Tottenham Hotspur v Birmingham City: One would have to wonder if Birmingham City would have won had Cristian Benitez been on the park sooner. They were even with Tottenham all game long. After the fast start Tottenham had to the season, they have been a bit found out. In the last two games, Spurs have needed too many chances to score. Peter Crouch should have converted on one of his first three golden chances before finishing the fourth. Make no bones about it; Tottenham stole two points here when they should have in fact, one. City have got find a way to start Cristian Benitez over ninety minutes, not fifteen to twenty a match.

Bolton Wanderers v Liverpool: I’m still trying to figure out why Sean Davis was sent off. Letter of the law, his challenge in the second half was only a foul, not a booking. It wasn’t even persistent infringement. Bolton up until the sending off were deservedly in the lead. Once Davis was sent off, it was only a matter of time before Liverpool won it. Leave it to Steven Gerrard to get the game winner. This performance for Liverpool is only a band aid on a gushing wound of problems as they should win 11 v 10. The defense is still weak and the midfield is barely together. I feel bad for Megson. I understand why he was political in his post match response, but fact is they were robbed of at least one point.

Everton v Wigan Athletic: After the first half, I was just ready to deem this game a nil dray where both sides couldn’t the broad side of any body of water. The second half proved me wrong. Wigan may have gone ahead against the run of play, but they had their chances to put this game away. It took a wonderful set piece to see Everton equalize, and a bad tackle by Emmerson Boyce to concede the game winner from the spot. When you have your chances, you have to finish them. It ‘maybe unfair’ on Wigan that they got no points out of this game, but Everton took their chances and look to be back on track.

Chelsea v Burnley: Oh what would have been for Burnley had Patterson finished his chance early in the first half. After that it was all Chelsea. The Blues had plenty of possession, plenty of well timed passes, and perfectly executed goals. When Michael Ballack and Ashely Cole are scoring on the day, something’s gone right. Burnley will be happy with the six points from their previous three matches and grateful the score here wasn’t worse. As strange as this may sound, Brian Jensen was the man of this match despite giving up three goals.

Portsmouth v Manchester City: If Manchester City could sort out its defense, which is still allowing too many dangerous chances, they would be title contenders. Had Howard Webb called just one of the three penalties that should have been called late, that’s not a potential talking point. Portsmouth only looked slightly better under the new ownership today. I am curious to see what moves can be made between now and the end of the transfer window.

Stoke City v Sunderland: Sunderland’s set piece defense has to get better. It’s the biggest weakness on their team. Dave Kitson should never have that much space to finish, even if the corner kick leading to the goal was partially cleared. They also need a third and fourth option to score. One can’t rely on Kenwyne Jones and Darren Bent all by themselves. Stoke City again do what they do best at home; work from strength to strength while picking apart the weaknesses of their opposition. They also look like a side that is going to be in the Premier League for some time to come.

Aston Villa v Fulham: Villa started and ended this three game in six day stretch with six points in the league. Fulham won midweek, but then made it twenty-seven years without a win at Villa Park. When Eddie Johnson is your only tactical change in a game, you’ve given up the ghost. Yes, the trip to Russia was no fun, but Fulham could have shown a little more life. Clint Dempsey was the only one who looked to be trying. Agbonlahor’s goal in the second half was a thing of beauty.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Hull City: Hull starts the first half quick, Wolves start the second half quick. Wolves controlled much of the second half, with Jozy Altidore rendered useless in his role off the bench. Hull will also consider themselves lucky they got a point in this game; Wolves had two golden chances in the second half they should have finished on.

Blackburn Rovers v West Ham United: Ninety minutes played, yet both sides had only two legit chances on goal. Money should be refunded for having to watch that drivel. I had expected West Ham to bounce back better. Scott Parker is lucky the man in the middle didn’t see his trip on David Dunn in the box as that was a stone wall penalty. Blackburn better find someone who can score; because right now, no one can.

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Housekeeping Notes: Champions League Discussion on Mad About Futbol, Steven Cohen Interview

29 August 2009

EDIT: Steven Cohen has asked that we postpone the interview at least one week. We will still release a podcast tomorrow night talking Bundesliga, thoughts on the weekend's Premier League action, and a few other tidbits.

It has been a busy three days for me here at The Third Half.

After the Champions League Draw, I had the absolute pleasure to be on Mad About Futbol to discuss it. You can listen to our Champions League discussion here. We also talked about the events at Upton Park amongst other free flowing topics. You can listen to that segment here.

I also will be speaking with Steven Cohen of the soon to launch World Football Daily. We will be talking about the closure of World Soccer Daily, why start up again so soon, and what they hope to make World Football Daily. If time allows, we'll talk the start of the Premier League. If you have ANY reasonable questions, you have until 7pm Eastern Sunday night to either post them here, or send them to thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.org.

My goal will be to release this week's edition of The Third Half late Sunday night. I'm also trying to get a hold of 'the most honest German in all of Germany' Jens to discuss the past weekend of the Bundesliga. Depending on how long I speak with Steven Cohen, I may combine the two. If I go long with Cohen, I'll be posting the Bundesliga segment on Tuesday evening.

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UEFA Champions League Draw: What Could We See

26 August 2009

With the conclusion of the UEFA Champions League Playoff-Round, all of our attention turns to the draw that will be taking place tomorrow in Monaco at 18:00 CET (12:00 noon Eastern/9:00 Pacific). The draw will be broadcast on both Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports.

Here is how the four pots will look based on UEFA Coefficient
Pot 1: FC Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan, Arsenal, Sevilla and Bayern Munich.
Pot 2: Olympique Lyon, Internazionale (Inter Milan), Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow, FC Porto, AZ Alkmaar, Juventus and Glasgow Rangers (Rangers)
Pot 3: Olympiakos Piraeus (Olympiakos), Olympique Marseille (Marseille), Dinamo Kiev, VfB Stuttgart, Fiorentina, Atletico Madrid, Girondins Bordeaux (Bordeaux) and Besiktas.
Pot 4: VfL Wolfsburg, Standard Liege, Maccabi Haifa, FC Zurich, Rubin Kazan, Unirea Urziceni, APOEL Nicosia and DVSC Debrecen.

Looking at each pot, there are obvious wild cards in each.
In pot one, Bayern Munich has started this season looking very poor (poorer than Liverpool) but always do well in the group stages in the Champions League. However, with the system Louis Van Gaal has installed at the German giants, it's not gone down well. If they start out poorly in the first three group games (along with continued bad league form), we could see a shock sacking. Yes, it is doubtful, but it has to be in the discussion.
Ironically enough, pot two has two obvious wild cards in it. Instead of choosing Rangers, I'm picking CSKA Moscow. Right now they are level on points for the final Champions League spot in Russia, and that I feel will put them under alot of pressure. They also don't play all that well away from Russian soil. I have a feeling here CSKA will be more focused on league play than in the Champions League.
This is the tightest pot three I can ever recall. To me, the wild card is Atletico Madrid. Call it just a gut feeling. If you're looking for any other reasons, I just simply cannot provide them.
Pot four has two interesting choices as well. I am going with APOEL Nicosia. Considering the run Anorthosis Famagusta had last season (still being in contention on match day six), I think they will be stronger than most expect. Their football was attractive in the qualifying rounds at home. Away from Cyprus, they have the mentality of playing damage control and it has worked getting them to the group stages.

With all of that said, let's take a look at a few scenarios.
The Ultimate Group of Death: Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bordeaux and Wolfsburg. Any group of death will have to have at least Real Madrid and Wolfsburg in it. Wolfsburg has been playing good football of late (the 4-2 loss to Hamburg aside) and will be looking to prove themselves further in the Champions League. Bordeaux are the class of France right now and the Champions League will be a good test to see how far they have come. Liverpool is an interesting choice. Based on their early start, one would think they should be in a group of death talk. However, they always step it up on European nights. Real Madrid; well they only purchased all the big names in Europe they could find.
Tricky For The Top: Sevilla, Rangers, Dinamo Kiev, Debrecen. I don't think Sevilla or Rangers would want to take a trip into Eastern Europe, let alone two trips.
Just Enough Names To Keep Interested: AC Milan, Lyon, Olympiakos, Standard Liege. All four teams have been around the block a time or two, but despite Lyon's start to the season, I don't see them getting out of the group stages. Standard Liege are just classic group stage fodder.
Quick, Call Our Travel Agent: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Maccabi Haifa. If anything, all four teams could rack up enough frequent flyer miles to make the third trip less painful on the wallet.
Life in the Big City: Arsenal, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, FC Zurich. It's a pity this trip would be for business, not pleasure.

Yes those five mythical group scenarios above are just that, myth. We won't know what the group stages will have in store for us until tomorrow. But I'm going to leave it to you. What do you think is the group of death? What groups would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Third Half 6: The American Sports Fan and Bundesliga Recap

25 August 2009

The weekly show is back and I am happy that it is. On this edition of The Third Half: I speak with my best friend Jason Freeman on the American sports fan and giving the sport a legitimate chance. The conversation then turns to the Bundesliga with Terry Duffelen from Some People are on the Pitch and The Onion Bag. Topics covered are the shocking start to Bayern Munich's season, how competitive the league is at the top, and thoughts on the German teams in European play so far.

You can always get in contact with the show at thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.org. You can also schedule to download the podcast from iTunes here. You may also directly download from here.

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The Third Half 5: Ode to World Soccer Daily

22 August 2009

This show is a tribute to World Soccer Daily. Myself, along with Kartik Krishnaiyer, Matthew Semisch, and Kevin Walker just talk about what World Soccer Daily meant to the North American audience, will we see another national daily radio show, and other assorted topics as we vented our frustrations about the show going off the air.

If you want to contact me regarding this podcast, you may do so at thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.org.

You may directly download the show from here, or subscribe to iTunes to get the latest shows.

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Is Wenger Off His Rocker With Super League Comment?

18 August 2009

Instead of waxing poetically about how Arsenal were going to go into Parkhead and getting a result in their upcoming Champions League qualifier against Celtic, Arsene Wenger went down the path I wish talk would stop about...an European Super League.

While saying he's not one hundred percent sure about the proposition, Wenger feels that the amount of money coming in now from the Champions League will not even placate the biggest of clubs due their need to spend. I can't argue with Wenger there; just look at the Real Madrid project. Manchester City are trying to do the same thing in hopes of getting into the Champions League: and we all know what happened when Leeds United attempted the feat.

What Wenger's vision of a 'super league' could be I think is bogus. There is no way on earth these teams would potentially play both in their domestic league on the weekend and in this 'league' midweek. If a super league is to form, I doubt they will ever play in their domestic league again. Why play in two competitions risking injury, even if you have two totally different squads to play with. These teams will only want to play the thirty-eight games against the best. I don't even think the TV executives would want to sign on a super league contract if it meant having a devalued competition with all the teams still playing their domestic competition. Logic just says if they are going to play in two competitions, you may as well keep the competition format in place that is now being used.

When it's all said and done, the European super clubs had their best chance at forming this mythical super league. The only problem is, they allowed themselves in the G14 to disband. As much as I dislike Platini, he was absolutely brilliant in getting them to disband last year. Wenger may continue to think it, but it only goes to show how much he continues to live in the past.

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West Ham United: Is The Price Right?

Just when I thought West Ham United maybe stabilizing, it comes out of the blue that James Collins is set to be sold to Stoke City for around five million pounds. It also appears that the selling of Collins brought about a hell of alot of contention. While the rumors that Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke thinking about quitting were quickly quashed, it seems they are now resigned to the fact Collins will be leaving the club.

It almost screams of 'they doth protest too much' with Zola now in the press saying 'We are looking to buy not sell players'. Matthew Upson has admitted he would be willing to move if it meant easing the financial uncertainties around the Upton Park outfit. While no official offer has been made for Upson, it does make a person wonder.

West Ham United have a squad of thirty players with an average age just under twenty-four and a half years. For a club in West Ham's position (uncertain financial situation, the bankruptcy of the previous ownership group not finalized meaning West Ham United could still end up a part of it), the squad is ripe for the picking. Selling players for maximum profit should be their MO. Upson at thirty is valued as highly as he will ever get. James Collins at five million is about two times the amount I value him at (I rate Collins at around three million). If teams are willing to put up the money, West Ham United would be fools not to take it.

In the end, a few more players could realistically be sold. I could see Upson leaving, but he is a critical piece to the Hammers back line. Lucas Neill's unwillingness to drop certain demands could possibly see him sold before this window is out as well. I do also feel, however, that bench warmer Eidur Gudjohnsen could end up at West Ham before the transfer window is over.

When it's all said and done, I do think the price is right for teams to potentially pick off West Ham United players. The future is just too uncertain. The media, while seemingly getting the main story here incorrect, could end up correct by proxy. All it would have to take is selling more players before the transfer deadline than buying.

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Weekend Realities: Roberto Martinez, Big Four Slow Start, Promoted Sides Not Welcome

17 August 2009

So the opening weekend of the Premier League has come and gone. For the most part it was pretty much by the book, with two 'upsets' and one massive outlier scoreline in Everton's 6-1 whipping by Arsenal. There is still plenty to talk about however.

Roberto Martinez Gets Wigan Athletic Off on the Right Foot
If you read my preview on Wigan Athletic, I was curious to see how Roberto Martinez would adjust the tactics he used at Swansea City to his new position at Wigan Athletic. Well based on first game judgment, that answer was pretty damn well.

Fact of the matter is this: Wigan Athletic took Aston Villa behind the woodshed and dominated the entire match. They dominated the stat sheet, and made Aston Villa look like relegation fodder. Wigan were metered in their attack and soaked up pressure immensely. Chris Kirkland was only tested once in the ninety minutes.

Both goals were pretty impressive in their own right. Hugo Rodallega's volley was goal of the weekend (sorry Didier Drogba), and an impressive individual effort. Charles N'Zogbia perfectly laid the ball off to Jason Koumas on the second; Koumas took full advantage of the tight angle.

It was not the start Villa needed. However, when key pieces leave during the summer, it will take a while to get the balance of the squad back.

Besides Arsenal: the Big Four Start Slowly
This was a not a good weekend for three of the four 'big' clubs. Yes three of them won, but they were less than impressive in doing so. We'll talk about Manchester United in the next segment.

Chelsea opened the season and quite frankly better be thanking their lucky stars the game didn't end 1-1. Sure, Chelsea 'dominated' the game from minute one, but there are massive flaws right now to the system Ancelotti wants to use. In effect, there is no width to it. The game winner was nothing more than a fluke cross ala Frank Lampard in the Champions League against Barcelona. If you want another shocker, I expect Chelsea to not get three points in their trip to Sunderland on Tuesday night.

Liverpool on the day were just shocking against Tottenham. Had Robbie Keane decided he was going to actually try and score, Liverpool would have been done and dusted by halftime. Yes they were denied a stone wall penalty late, but that doesn't deny how bad they were. It was evident how much they missed Alonso as the midfield looked lost all day. Mascherano was not his usual self. Credit has to be given to Tottenham; they deserved it.

Arsenal were just brilliant, taking advantage of an Everton side that is still torn about Joleon Lescott and made the typical Everton slow start slower than usual. Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas were not only solid at the back, but in the attack as well. While it's difficult to judge the rest of the season based on this performance, the positive signs are there. Everton just need to tell Joleon Lescott if he wants to leave, he can in January when Jagielka is fully fit.

Promoted Sides Get Bigger Than Expected Wake Up Call
Stoke City simply toyed with Burnley in the second half after schooling them in the first. Sure Burnley had a few opportunities on goal in the second half, but they were never in the match. Owen Coyle is right about the margin for error being razor thin in the Premier League, but the football on the park showed they have way too much to improve on.

Wolverhampton Wanderers just have no strikers who can do it in the Premier League. West Ham, however, were just wasteful in front of goal. Robert Green was very good in goal, but was never truly tested (meaning he didn't have to move much when 'threatening shots' were coming his way). If Wolves can find one striker of any quality, they will be just fine.

Birmingham City were the only promoted side who impressed me all weekend. Yes Manchester United was banged up, and saw Nani and Evans leave due to injuries, but they are lucky Birmingham City didn't have Christian Benitez on the park for ninety minutes. This game had the same feel to Chelsea/Hull City without the Hull opener. Ben Foster had to come through big late to prevent it from being a draw. Based on this opening weekend, I may have been wrong about which promoted side would be going right back down.

Other Thoughts
* Portsmouth looked worse than even I expected them to be against Fulham. If Fulham had wanted to (and abandoned their typical game style), they could have named their scoreline.

* Manchester City were shaky at the back, but got the job done getting three points where they should have. Mark Hughes though needs to work on the back four.

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Premier League Preview Number 1: Chelsea

14 August 2009

Chelsea

Biggest Ins: Yuri Zhirkov on the left side of midfield should give Chelsea a steady, reliable option. Ross Turnbull will make a competent backup to Petr Cech. Daniel Sturridge could play the super-sub role off the bench when Chelsea needs a late goal, but I see him as a fringe forward.

Biggest Outs: Absolutely no one. Everyone who left were on the extreme outside fringe. Scott Sinclair, Franco Di Santo, and Michael Mancienne went off on loan to gain game experience.

Easiest Month: August. Chelsea could easily have the best stretch of four games coming out of the gate. After hosting Hull City, Chelsea have a tricky tie at Sunderland. A trip to Fulham awaits before hosting Burnley at the end of the month. 10-12 points are possible.

Toughest Month: November. After hosting Manchester United and Wolves, Chelsea travel to Arsenal. At best, this is a five point month. At worse, this is a three point month.

Five Questions About Chelsea This Season
1) Will Carlo Ancelotti adapt his midfield diamond if it does not work early in the season? During preseason, it was effective on narrow pitches; even narrower that most Premier League clubs have. During the Community Shield, that diamond was exposed. If Ancelotti is a one trick pony, expect him to be the next Scolari.
2) Can Joe Cole come back at full fitness to secure the right side of the midfield? If he can, Chelsea have no concerns.
3) Can Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba work together up front? Guus Hiddink showed it could work. I think Ancelotti will get it to work as well. I also think a little friendly competition between the two to see who can score the most goals could get interesting.
4) Who starts alongside John Terry at center back? If Ricardo Carvalho is healthy, I think it has to be him. Alex is a very strong option, but I rate Carvalho higher.
5) Will the age of the starting core and their nagging injuries be a hindrance come the end of the season? John Terry’s back is failing him, while Carvalho seems to lately always be on the injury table. Joe Cole is coming off a knee injury, and I always question how a player will be coming back from one of them. Michael Ballack is just old while both Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka are north of thirty.

My Ultimate Reality: Full disclosure, I am a Chelsea supporter. I just feel that Chelsea haven’t lost any key pieces while Manchester United lost Ronaldo and Liverpool lost Alonso. I do worry about the age of Chelsea’s core, along with yet another new manager. However, these players know how to play with each other. Zhirkov I think will end up a flop at Chelsea and Malouda will be starting on the left in no time. Chelsea’s schedule balance is also very favorable because other than November, there are no other major high/low points. It will be nip and tuck all season long, but in the end I think Chelsea will win the title with two games to spare.

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Premier League Preview Number 2: Manchester United

Manchester United

Biggest Ins: If Michael Owen can stay healthy, he will be the biggest signing of all the Premier League this summer. Luis Antonio Valencia looks to be the man brought in to replace Cristiano Ronaldo on the right. Gabriel Obertan should provider cover up front.

Biggest Outs: It’s all about Cristiano Ronaldo. As much as I hate his antics on the pitch, he is the second best player in the world (I still think Messi is number one).

Easiest Month: The four game stretch between the last game of December and before the last game of the January. In that four game stretch, they host Wigan before a trip to Birmingham City. This period ends with home ties against Burnley and Hull City.

Toughest Month: The four game stretch between the middle of October and the middle of November. In that time period, Manchester United travel to Liverpool and Chelsea. Between those games, United host Blackburn and Everton. It’s possible to only have four points in that run. It’s also possible United could get seven.

Five Questions About Manchester United This Season
1) How does Manchester United replace Cristiano Ronaldo? The simple answer is Ferguson can’t. I think they went the right route by getting someone that doesn’t play anywhere near the same style as Ronaldo with Valencia.
2) Will Michael Owen stay healthy? As I mentioned above: if Owen is healthy for the entire season, he is the pick-up of the summer. With Owen, does he start, or is he someone that comes off the bench in the final half hour when a goal is needed? I could see him start about fifteen games, coming off the bench in about twenty. That is if he is healthy.
3) How does Edwin Van der Sar’s injury affect Manchester United early in the season? Thomas Kuszczak and Ben Foster were shaky in their five appearances last season. While they got off to a slow start last season and ended fine, I don’t think they can afford to do so this season.
4) Who starts on the left side of midfield? Nine different players started on the left side last season. I feel that this is the season where Nani takes that position and makes it his.
5) Can Berbatov and Rooney form the partnership up front needed to make up the goals Ronaldo scored? I think Berbatov has been found out in the Premier League. If Berbatov doesn’t get off to a strong start, I could see Owen replacing him on a game in game out basis.

My Ultimate Reality: While it was coming from a mile away, I still think this could be a year of minor adjustments at Manchester United. With a major center piece gone, Manchester United almost have to form a new identity. I know it’s a cop out: but because of the fact Ronaldo is gone, I think that’s why they don’t win the title. I see a few more draws in United’s future, a couple of key losses, and a second place finish.

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Premier League Preview Number 3: Liverpool

Liverpool

Biggest Ins
: Glen Johnson comes in to replace Alvaro Arbeloa. Alberto Aquilani comes in to replace the departure of Xabi Alonso.

Biggest Outs
: Arbeloa and Alonso are the big losses, but Rafa Benitez has brought in adequate replacement. Sami Hyypia and Jermaine Pennant were fringe starters and have gone elsewhere.

Easiest Month: September. After hosting Burnley, Liverpool travel to Upton Park. The month ends with Liverpool hosting Hull City. Baring major injuries, this is a nine point month.

Toughest Month
: February. After hosting Everton, Liverpool then travel to Arsenal. A trip to Manchester City awaits before the month closes out against Blackburn Rovers. It’s a tricky month due to three consistent teams to start. It’s possible they only get four points out of the month. It’s also possible Liverpool get seven.

Five Questions About Liverpool This Season
1) Can Liverpool get wins where last season they would have gotten draws? Five nil-nil results were to the likes of Villa, Fulham, West Ham and Stoke City (twice). Their four one-one draws: Arsenal (granted away), Everton, Wigan and Manchester City. These were all draws at the most inopportune times and that has to change this season if they want even a sniff at the title.
2) How long does it take for Alberto Aquilani to adjust to his new surroundings? When it became apparent that Alonso was Real Madrid bound, Aquilani became Rafa’s target. If he seamlessly transitions into the squad, that erases plenty of worry.
3) Could Glen Johnson end up Robbie Keaned? Johnson, when he was at Chelsea, always seemed to be at the low end of the right back totem pole; while at Portsmouth he flourished. If he doesn’t adjust rapidly to life at the big club, how fast is he written off? For the record, I think he will be just fine now that he has the in game experience.
4) Can Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both stay on the park together this season? There was a vast difference in how Liverpool played with either one, or both, out of the starting eleven. If both play together for at least thirty games, I feel they have an outside shot at the title.
5) Who partners Jamie Carragher at center back? Skrtel and Agger shared the responsibility last season. I expect Martin Skrtel will be the every game starter alongside Carragher.

My Ultimate Reality: Until Xabi Alonso left for Real Madrid, I seriously thought Liverpool could win the title. With Alonso gone, I think we could see the same old same out of Rafa. After a period while Aquilani adjusts to the Premier League, I see Liverpool going in a tear. Once the new year hits, I expect Liverpool to trip over themselves. Along with Manchester United and Chelsea, I expect this to be a tight title race. However, just like last season, draw’s will be this teams Achilles heel. After a tough fight, I think Liverpool will end the season in third.

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Premier League Preview Number 4: Arsenal

Arsenal

Biggest Ins: Thomas Vermaelen has been the only signing for Arsenal this summer. He should nicely fit the role Kolo Toure had before departing for Manchester City.

Biggest Outs: Obviously the two biggest losses are those to Manchester City in Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. Toure started the most games at center back last season while Adebayor, pouting or not, was still a major scoring threat. Toure has been replaced; Adebayor however has not.

Easiest Month: March. After hosting Burnley, Arsenal travel to Hull City. West Ham United visits the Emirates before Arsenal end the month at Birmingham City. This should be a ten to twelve point month. I expect a clean sweep.

Toughest Month: February. The month starts with a trip to Stamford Bridge before Arsenal host Liverpool. The month ends with Sunderland and a trip to Stoke City, where Arsenal lost 2-1 last season. I expect this to be a three to five point month.

Five Questions About Arsenal This Season
1) Will Arsene Wenger bring anyone else in before the August transfer window closes? Wenger keeps saying he is happy with what he has, and I can’t fault him for that. However, I am surprised that he isn’t thinking of at least one more signing before the summer is out.
2) Could this be the season Carlos Vela breaks out at Arsenal? This summer, Vela has shined for the Mexican national team. With Adebayor leaving, he could possibly be in the mix to start up front. If not, I expect to see him in some sort of super sub role.
3) Can Walcott secure the right midfield role on an every game basis? Last season he played fifteen games on the right, the most for anyone at the position. If Walcott can settle in for 25-30 games, it should set Arsenal’s midfield in stone.
4) Can Almunia or Fabianski keep goals out of the net? I know that sounds like a stupid question, but of the top four teams, they allowed thirty-seven. The only teams outside the top four to allow less were Everton (they allowed thirty-seven as well) and Fulham (who only allowed 34). Almunia and Fabianski seemed to, at the most unwanted times, leak goals that should have been saved.
5) Can Arsenal win more way from home? Last season they had seven draws away from the Emirates. If they can turn a few more of those into wins, they might have a chance to keep up with the title race.

My Ultimate Reality: I expect to be slated for picking Arsenal fourth, but I honestly feel of the ‘top four’ they are the most likely to slip out. They have a tricky Champions League qualifier against Celtic (I do expect them to get through…but it won’t be easy) and if they are not in a good position coming out of that, I could see one or two more sold. I think Wenger is starting to wear down in the Premier League, something that not winning the title will eventually do. With two good teams pushing them all season, I expect them to stay in fourth if only because Wenger has proven he knows how to stay inside the top four.

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Premier League Preview Number 5: Everton

13 August 2009

Everton

Biggest Ins: No one of major note has come in for Everton this summer…that is unless you are a fan of the PDL. Cody Arnoux and Anton Peterlin come in with David Moyes giving them a one year look to see if they work. If what happened last season happens again this season, we will see one of them in action.

Biggest Outs: Nuno Valente, Lars Jacobsen and Andy van der Meyde were surplus requirements and were moved on.

Easiest Month: March. After hell month (see below), Everton get Hull City at home before a trip to Birmingham City. Bolton come to Goodison Park before Everton ends at Wolves. This is a potential ten point month.

Toughest Month: February. Any time you have to play three of the ‘top four’, you are in for a month of hell. After starting across the way at Anfield, Everton host Chelsea and Manchester United. The month ends away at Tottenham. At best, this is a four point month, but three is looking likely.

Five Questions About Everton This Season
1) Can David Moyes keep a striker healthy this season? It almost became a running joke last season that whenever someone up front would get healthy, someone else would go down. Everton have three good strikers should they stay healthy.
2) Will Tim Cahill continue to be Mr. Clutch? Whenever Everton needed something big to happen, it always seems to be Tim Cahill at the center of it all.
3) Can David Moyes keep Joleon Lescott? With Lescott handing in a formal transfer request, it just got much more difficult. However if Lescott does leave, Everton have a major problem at center back. Other than that, It’s Phil Jagielka and Joseph Yobo. It’s a position that depth is needed at pronto considering Jagielka won’t be around for at least the first third of the season.
4) Where does Mikel Arteta end up playing? Last season he was plugged wherever he was needed. He missed the end of the season with a knee injury, so it will be interesting to also see how he plays coming off that injury.
5) Who starts at right back? With Tony Hibbert being injury prone last season, can he stay fit? If he cannot, can Phil Neville adequately fill the role?

My Ultimate Reality: I love David Moyes as a manager. Should Everton stay healthy for the whole season, I expect this team to be the one that pushes the top four all season long. It will be difficult with the Europa Leauge being in the mix, but Moyes knows these players well. If Lescott goes, I expect that money to be spent on the back. When the dust settles in May, I think that February will end their push for the top four. I do, though, expect them to pip Manchester City for fifth spot.

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Premier League Preview Number 6: Manchester City

Manchester City

Biggest Ins: Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor add goal scoring power up front. Roque Santa Cruz thrived under Hughes at Blackburn, and will look to do the same at City. Gareth Barry comes in to the central midfield while Kolo Toure should provide a good partner to Richard Dunne.

Biggest Outs: Elano is off to Turkey, but not after dispensing plenty of attitude while at the club. I think Hughes made a mistake letting Sturridge go. Darius Vassell, Michael Ball and Ched Evans ended up surplus requirements.

Easiest Month: August. Before their Europa League trip, City opens at Ewood Park. After the UEFA Cup they host Wolves before going to Portsmouth. Considering the squad, this should be a nine point month.

Toughest Month: February. After an away trip to Hull, City host Bolton. The month ends with a visit from Liverpool before a trip to Stamford Bridge. They should get at least six points here, but four seems realistic.

Five Questions About Manchester City This Season
1) How short of a leash does Mark Hughes have? With the talent assembled, the ownership group will be thinking top four or bust. If Hughes starts off slowly, or has a run that see City falling out of the top six, I could see him sacked. If Hughes is in the job at the end of February, I’ll be surprised.
2) What does the starting midfield look like? If Hughes uses a four man midfield, I expect it to look like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Vincent Kompany, Gareth Barry and Stephen Ireland. If Hughes uses five, I expect Robinho to be the fifth. With this team midfield heavy, it will be interesting to see how Hughes placates.
3) Which Adebayor will we see? Will it be the pouting Adebayor we saw towards the end of last season or will he be out to prove every doubter of his wrong? I expect Adebayor to play like a man possessed this season.
4) With Kolo Toure coming into the fold, does the back four sort itself out? I expect the back four to look like this: Micah Richards, Richard Dunne, Kolo Toure, Wayne Bridge. However, I do expect Javier Garrido to give Bridge a run for his money at right back. It will make Shay Given’s job so much easier to have a set back four.
5) How big of a loss could Joe Hart be? Yes I know he went to Birmingham City on loan; but if Shay Given goes down to injury, can Kasper Schmeichel or Stuart Taylor pick up the slack?

My Ultimate Reality: Of all the teams in the Premier League, I thought about this prediction the longest. I still think Manchester City are a year away from ending up in the top four. I just don’t feel Mark Hughes is the man to take this club to the next level. They have all the talent in the world, but until Manchester City has a manager who has dealt with big egos before, I can’t pull the trigger on them in the top four. I expect them to be close until the final couple of months of this season. But in the end, City will end up in the Europa League next season.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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