Champions League Redux: Cris and Motta Red Cards, Late Camp Nou Drama

28 April 2010

Cris’s tackle was a yellow card offense, and his clapping was an immediate second yellow card.
The fifty-ninth minute tackle by Cris on Van Bommel was a stupid one to make. The first rule of thumb people need to realize (see Andy Gray) is this: it does not matter if the tackler gets the ball first. If a player goes in with a high foot in a tackle or completely takes the player out, the referee is well within the laws of the game to produce a yellow card for unsporting behavior.

Yes, one can argue that Van Bommel enticed the challenge with how far he dribbled the ball up field. The only problem with that argument is that it’s 100 percent flawed. Cris knew full well what he wanted to do in that challenge, and that was to take the Bayern Munich player out of the play. Because he was so far out when he went into the tackle, there was no way of controlling himself. When you make contact with the player in the manner that Cris did, from the side with a high foot and studs showing, the referee should be showing a yellow card regardless if the boot makes contact with the player or not.

The second yellow card I applaud the referee showing. I can’t stand blatant dissent from referees and the laws of the game agree with that stance. Any time you openly clap something the referee does in his sightline, the referee does not have to give a warning about your behavior (again, see Andy Gray). He is going to flash a yellow card for dissent. In the funny world of football math, one yellow plus one yellow equals one red. Massimo Busacca handled this situation perfectly despite what some color commentators (this is a recording: Andy Gray) would say.

I hate having to do this, but Andy Gray needs to be seriously taken to task over his comments about this situation. His comments sounded like a man who hasn’t read the laws of the game in his entire life. Maybe people need to mail Fox Soccer Channel’s studios with a copy of the laws of the game to hand to the Sky Sports man during the World Cup. Referees don’t have to give players warnings about their conduct. Yes it’s nice to do when one is teetering on the edge, but it is not required. Any time you clap the referee in his sight, he is going to show a yellow card without warning. Instead, Andy Gray should have been openly taking Cris to task for costing his team the tie. They were finally starting to build some pressure on Bayern Munich before he stupidly got himself sent off.

While Sergi Busquets actions were appalling, Thiago Motta was going to be sent off.
Thiago Motta had one awful night at the Camp Nou that saw his day end inside half an hour. While the actions that saw him sent off were worthy of an Oscar, Thiago Motta was going to be sent off one way or another for his hand to the face of Sergi Busquets.

Let’s start with Motta’s tenth minute booking after fouling Daniel Alves. He was late, and got him from behind. While that was worthy of a yellow card alone, Frank De Bleeckere had already blown two foul calls on Motta. He was already treading on thin ice before the incident in question happened.

Then the twenty-seventh minute incident that people are talking about. Off a free kick, Motta put his hand up when going for a fifty-fifty ball. Busquets went down like he was shot. While it does not matter how small the contact was, the fact of the matter is contact was made.

Any time there is a hand making contact to the face of any player, it really is up to the referee’s as to what card is shown. The general rule is if the contact is on chin and under it’s a yellow card; above the chin and it’s red. From my vantage point, this was only a yellow card offense and the referee was wrong for showing a straight red. However, knowing Motta was on a yellow card already, this would have been his second bookable offense.

Yes, Busquets was pathetic in his actions immediately after the hand to the face, but Motta was even stupider for putting his hands to the back of the man’s neck after he was sent off. Hopefully, UEFA will justly punish Motta for his actions once he was sent off.

A close look at the decisions in the final 10 minutes at the Camp Nou
To me, there is no doubt about the goal: Muntari kept Pique onside. Granted, based on the camera angles provided on replay, it would have taken a geometry wizard to determine the line, but from my naked eye the goal was correctly given.

You didn’t think I wasn’t going to talk about the decision made by the referee at exactly 91:00 of the game, did you? To refresh your memory on the sequence, Pique tries to play the ball into the box. During the process, Walter Samuel played the ball and it deflected off Yaya Toure. The ball ended up right in the path of Bojan, who finished the ball into the back of the net. The referee blew for handball, and was one-hundred percent correct in calling for the free kick.

The issue here is the advantage the hand gave the ball. Even when it plays ball to hand, it is considered intentional anytime the ball ends up in an advantageous position for the attack. If you notice, the referee didn’t blow the whistle until Bojan played the ball. Had Inter cleared the ball, nothing would have been called.

Yes, the decision is as ticky-tacky as a decision gets, but it’s the correct decision nonetheless. It maybe tough for Barcelona to go out in this manner, but it’s really their own fault. They only threatened Cesar three times over the ninety minutes, once resulting in a goal. The other two times were from distance that Cesar was able to judge and make saves on. Had Barcelona played with more urgency and tried to come up with another angle of attack when up a man, they aren’t relying on the referee getting a decision wrong late to advance to the Champions League final.

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The Race for Third Place in the UEFA Country Ranking

27 April 2010

With Bayern Munich’s 3-0 victory Tuesday at the Stade Gerland, the race for third place in the UEFA County Ranking standings, currently being battled out between Italy and Germany, picked up plenty of steam. It could also be the day the entire race swung in Germany’s favor. While this will mean nothing for the 2010-2011 UEFA competitions, it means everything starting with the 2011-2012 European club competitions.

For those wondering why this is a big deal, third place in these rankings guarantees 3 Champions League places with the opportunity for a fourth to qualify in the final non-champions qualification round. At worse, fourth place in those leagues will be playing in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.  Finishing fourth in these standings means only first and second go into the Champions League, with third place fighting it out in the final non-champions qualifier for the Champions League. The difference between third and fourth is having a seventh team playing European football.

After today’s Bayern Munich victory, Germany leapfrogged Italy for the third ranking spot. It also means even if Inter Milan beat Barcelona on Wednesday (which would temporarily put Italy back into third place), Hamburg on Thursday could guarantee Germany finishing in third place by winning against Fulham.

This is about the easiest way to simplified all the scenarios.
* If Inter Milan loses Wednesday and goes out of the Champions League, Germany will lock third place.
* If Inter Milan loses Wednesday and advances to the Champions League final, the only chance Italy has of finishing in the third spot is by seeing Hamburg lose outright to Fulham on Thursday. Then, Inter Milan has to beat Bayern Munich in the final for Italy to clinch third place. A 120 minute draw or Bayern Munich winning sees Germany clinch the third spot.
* If Hamburg matches or does better than an Inter Milan draw, and Hamburg advance either through away goals or penalty kicks, or Hamburg wins, Germany locks third place regardless of the results in the respective finals.
* If both Inter Milan and Hamburg draw and Hamburg does not advance, then the winner of the Inter Milan/Bayern Munich game would clinch third place for their respective country. If after 120 minutes, the Inter Milan/Bayern Munich game ends in a draw, Germany locks third place.
* If Inter Milan draws and Hamburg loses outright, Inter Milan has to beat Bayern Munich outright in the Champions League final for Italy to keep their third spot. If it’s a 120 minute draw, then Italy will keep the third spot.
* If Inter Milan wins or Hamburg draws: If Hamburg advances, Germany locks third place. If Hamburg does not advance, then the winner of the Inter Milan/Bayern Munich game would clinch third place for their respective country. If after 120 minutes the Inter Milan/Bayern Munich game ends in a draw, Germany locks third place.
* If Inter Milan beats Barcelona and Hamburg loses outright to Fulham on Thursday, Italy can keep the third spot by either drawing or beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. If Bayern Munich wins, then Germany will take the third spot.

Again, let me remind you that this is not for next season, but for the 2011-2012 European Club season.  This is mostly to ensure that all clubs know going into the upcoming season what places will qualify you for what competition. As long as Germany doesn’t tank in next year’s European competitions, or Italy dominates both the Champions League and Europa League, it could be at least three years before Italy can overtake for the third UEFA Country Ranking spot.

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Premier League Redux: Jozy’s Red, Relegation Race Over, Kalou’s Two Footed Goal

26 April 2010

Jozy Altidore Deserved to be Sent off in Hull City’s Match against Sunderland
Having seen the few places I actually do check out in the blog world (and trust me, it’s very few), one thing has completely baffled me: the amount of people who seriously think that Jozy Altidore did not make contact with Alan Hutton. The only logical explaination I can come up with are these people are either blind, or are so crazed in their passion for the US National Team that they will defend anything a potential key player does during any game they are involved in.

The incident in question only occurred seconds before the first half ended. Yes, Alan Hutton was a bit generous in shoving Altidore to the ground, and he was even more gracious in throwing the ball right at his head, but that is no reason for any player to snap. I will give Lee Probert full credit here. Once Hutton threw the ball at Altidore’s face he immeditately blew the whistle. Altidore’s reaction, ending with one nice headbutt to Hutton, was simply stupid, selfish, and shows the immaturity of a player who at this point will never fulfill the most basic of expectations he had before leaving MLS.

Let’s look at both red cards: Altidore’s red was as obvious as one can get. Anytime you instigate head to head contact with another player, it’s a straight red card. Alan Hutton’s is a bit stranger, but still justified within the laws of the game. Throwing the ball at the head of a player, regardless of the force used, is a straight red card offense. Most referees midjudge this and only show yellow, but Probert correctly sent him off.

Between Jozy’s performance this season at Hull City (which hasn’t been exactly great), his tardiness which caused him to miss at least one match, his fitness issues from inside Hull City’s management, and now this red card, even with a spectacular World Cup performance, he will be considered at best a project player at either a bottom feeder club or in a second tier league. That’s just the price you pay for being stupid on a relegation-bound team.

The Relegation Race is Over Before the Final Day of the Season
In my time following this sport we all love, this has to be the first time that I can remember the relegation battle in England has been decided before the final day of the season. Yes, technically Hull City can overcome West Ham United if Hull wins out, West Ham loses out, and overturn a twenty-three goal differential; but the chances of that happening are non existent. With Portsmouth’s administration, Burnley’s inability to get any points away from home (not to mention their downward home form), and, according to George Boateng, Phil Brown’s losing of the dressing room, the relegation battle is over.

At least the top of the table is a little interesting. The title race is still up for grabs, even if it’s only a two team race. We have 4 teams with a chance at fourth place, and a fifth having a chance at finishing inside the Europa League places. Can Aston Villa sneak into fourth? Can Liverpool do the impossible after being out of the Champions League places for most of the season? What does the loss of Shay Given do to Manchester City’s chances of finishing in a Champions League spot? Oh, and can Everton somehow get into the Europa League places by season’s end? Thank god there are still plenty of storylines at the top, where they should be, to keep us interested in the end of the Barclays Premier League season.

Salomon Kalou Should Have Seen Red For His Sliding Two Footed Tackle
Let’s face it, Chelsea’s 7-0 thrashing of Stoke City would not have been so bad if Thomas Sorensen had been between the sticks for the entire ninety minutes. However, had Steve Bennett followed the letter of the law, Salomon Kalou’s second goal would not have stood. Instead, Kalou would have been sent off for a professional foul, and Chelsea would have had to spend close to an hour with ten men.

Sure, all the Chelsea fans are getting their poisoned pens out ready, to disassociate themselves with this Chelsea fan, but I have to call them like I see it. Now It was unfortunate that Sorensen dislocated his elbow, but had Kalou not gone in sliding two footed with studs up, the Stoke City keeper wouldn’t have been injured. The fact remains, however, Kalou did go in illegally and the keeper was injured. Had Bennett been properly doing his job as a referee, the red card would have been shown.

Once the contact was made, the incident became a red card offense. The fact red wasn’t shown is embarrassing. Yes, you can claim that Sorensen should have kept hold of Frank Lampard’s initial shot and should have been quicker picking up the loose ball. However, had Sorensen collected the garbage, knowing Kalou was going studs in, that would have been a red card, and the scoreline would not have been 7-0. It could also be said that Chelsea would not be in first place right now if Steve Bennett was properly doing his job.

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Champions League Redux: Refereeing Decisions, Alves, Robben

21 April 2010

1) Both Samuel Eto’o and Sergio Busquets deserved to be booked for their dissent towards the referee.
While I can understand the players frustration about the calls that were made in these instances, that is no excuse for showing any blatant form of protest. Yes, Eto’o, while it looked like it was a 50-50 ball, you were coming in from behind trying to take your man completely out of the play. In Busquets case, he was the man who was fouled and didn’t even bother taking the extra second to look and see which way the foul was going. In the heat of a Champions League semi-final, one thing all players have to have is the ability to let the little things go. If you show your frustration by kicking (or in Busquets case, punching) the ball away, the referee is going to have no sympathy when he shows the yellow card. My only wish is that we saw this more often so that players got the memo on it quicker.

2) Inter Milan’s third goal was never a doubt: it was onside.
Having seen the debate on just about every website I frequent with regards to the goal that put Inter Milan 3-1 up against Barcelona, I paid extra attention to it. Having looked at the sequence that started with Eto’o cross in to Sneijder, everything was perfectly fine. The header from Sneijder to Milito, though, is where the debate has every right to begin. It wasn’t until the third replay was shown where it became clear if there was any debate to be had. In my mind, that answer is no.

When you look at that particular replay closely, Gerald Pique was the last defender. When the ball leaves Sneijder’s head towards Milito, he is level with the last defender. That’s all that is required to be onside and for the goal to be legit. What Pique and Alves should be asking themselves is why they didn’t do a better job defending the play, instead of asking about an offside flag that should have never went up to begin with. Fair play to the linesman for getting that call spot on.

3) Daniel Alves should not have been booked for diving. It should have been a penalty.
The only call the Barcelona faithful have any right to be upset about was the decision against Alves in the eighty-third minute. When Wesley Sneijder went in from behind on Alves and made contact, the referee should have pointed to the spot.

From the angle the referee was looking at, he was not in the best position to make the call. At that point, the linesman should have waved for the foul. The contact made was clear and decisive. The tackle was late, and should have been a yellow card for unsporting behavior. At that critical point in the match, with Barcelona piling on the pressure, the referees should have got the decision right. Now with Alves missing the next match because of a refereeing error, it’s something that will be hard for the current Champions League holders to take.

4) Both Franck Ribery and Jeremy Toulalan deserved to be sent off.
Ribery’s red card was as obvious as a red card can get. His intentional stomp onto Lisandro Lopez was reckless, was with an intent to injure, and was high. At any level of football, that is an automatic red card. At the highest level of football, the red card will be shown as fast as it was in this match, if not quicker.

Jeremy Toulalan’s first yellow card was just stupid. With the man advantage, you have to trust your defense to pick up Robben in that instance. To cause that impediment and end up in the book is just inexcusable. If the first yellow was a bad one to give, the second one was just stupid. Yes, Schweinsteiger and Toulalan were going for the same ball in the same manner, but when you don’t get the ball, you better not get the player. In that instance, he did, and the referee had no choice within the law but to send him off.

Games like Wednesday’s first leg between Bayern Munich and Lyon are what make me continue to preach on the virtues of ‘letter of the law’. In major competitions, you’re expected to abide by it. Not doing so should lead to severe consequences. When we get to the World Cup, expect more of this type of officiating. This is suppose to be the standard, not the exception.

5) While Arjen Robben’s strike resulted in a brilliant goal, he should not be getting credit for it.
Arjen Robben just can’t help himself these days. After scoring the two goals that advanced Bayern Munich to this stage in the competition, his effort Wednesday should not have been a surprise.

After beating Delgado and seeing that no one from Lyon was going to pressure him from 35 yards, he struck. The ball looked to be a comfortable one for Hugo Lloris, but fate intervened…or in this instance, the head of Thomas Muller. The contact made with Muller’s head took just enough of a deflection to prevent the save and put the ball into the back of the net.

On the whole, it was just poor defending from Lyon. However, Arjen Robben should not be getting credit for that goal. If he was wise, he would give his goal bonus to the real man who was responsible for scoring at the Allianz Arena.

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Premier League Redux: Manager Semi-Admissions, Arteta's Finger, Liverpool's 'Cash Cow'

19 April 2010

1) While I appreciate the comments from Arsene Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti with regards to their teams, if you aren’t going to go all the way with those comments, don’t bother with them at all.
Two men who have no problem with deflecting blame away from their team and individual players are the managers of Arsenal and Chelsea. After this weekend’s matches, they let themselves go a little bit in actually having some choice words about things involving the clubs they manage. Wenger took a shot at the Gunners lack of focus and concentration: Ancelotti actually had agreed with the premise that John Terry lost control.
However, instead of saying what they really thought on the matter, both managers reserved full judgment. What got to me about Wenger’s comment is he only passed it off as something that just happened during the Wigan game. The thing that had my head scratching about Ancelotti’s comments on Terry is this hasn’t been the first time John Terry has lost control all season.

Arsenal have been plagued with major lapses all season long. From keeper blunders that make the sins David James have committed look small, to the innocence of youth mixed with a stubborn manager who is more set in his ways than most retired men, Arsenal have done an exceptional job teasing fans across the world that they had a chance at winning the title. However, at every single opportunity when it was within their grasp, Arseanl have slipped on their own success and have now fallen out of title contention. Why Wenger couldn’t just say that their lack of focus in critical times this season has cost them the title is crazy to me. Why Wenger can’t admit that he’s got changes to make to this squad this summer is just baffling to me.

As for Carlo Ancelotti, why is it difficult for him to admit that John Terry hasn’t exactly been himself this season? His back is starting to give out again, he’s been even more moodier with officials when things don’t go his way, and do we have to mention his off the pitch issues again? Ancelotti needs to be the one who stands up and says that he expects his captain to show a little more dignity and respect on the pitch. He shouldn’t be trying to give Terry any more excuses to justify his actions.

If managers are not going to give their complete and honest opinion about their team, and only give the very odd ‘half truth’ about the clubs they manage, why bother opening your mouth at all? At least when they hide behind their no comments or dodging questions, you tip your hand more than by just passing off something as a temporary thing.

2) Mikel Arteta’s apology comes to late for one too take it seriously.
The one glaring highlight of an entertaining 3-2 Everton victory over Blackburn Rovers isn’t the crazy final twenty minutes that saw multiple twists. Instead, it was one incident in the first half that saw Mikel Arteta over react to a foul by Morten Gamst Pedersen by poking the Blackburn player three times, the final poke going into Pedersen’s eye.

What’s even more embarrassing is the fact Andre Marriner didn’t even bother sending the Everton player off. Despite the numerous attempts Arteta needed to even get his finger into the eye, he was only given a yellow card. What’s even sadder to me is it took Arteta until Monday to apologize for his actions.

The fact the apology wasn’t issued immediately after the match, or at worst during Match of the Day in the UK, makes me wonder if he’s only trying to save face with his manager and nothing else. Considering a player cannot have any further action taken if they have been booked for an incident, that’s the only thing I can come up with. I simply can’t take apologies from people who are only trying to save face in regards to incidents. Sometimes knowing right from wrong and taking action in the proper time frame needs to take precedent over doing it at all. Waiting all weekend to do so is just something that shouldn’t have happened.

3) While Liverpool got three points on Monday, it seems that Tom Hicks thinks the club is nothing more than a cash grab.
The biggest story heading into the weekend ended up not being the Manchester Derby, but the fact that Liverpool are now on the market. What could be more surprising is that Tom Hicks honestly believes that the club can be sold for 800 million pounds.

I personally have to believe that Tom Hicks was sipping from the sauce if he seriously thinks that is going to happen. Let’s just look at a couple of things here: One, the club is still saddled with alot of debt that needs to be paid off. Secondly, if it wasn’t for the fact Hicks and Gilette got a six month extension from RBS on their loan payment only if the club was put for sale, Liverpool could have very well been in trouble at the end of next month. Thirdly, the economy globally right now isn’t looking like it is going to be on the upswing anytime soon. That begs the question; who’s going to have not only 800 million to buy the club, but then have the money to pay off the debt?

At this point, Hicks better lower his expectation quickly. With the knowledge Liverpool aren’t going to make the Champions League next season, my best guess is Liverpool will at most be sold for 550 million pounds. If the club is sold for 800 million, it will be, to me, one of the most shocking things in football.

Nominee Two for ‘Most Obvious Headline Everyone Knew’
This one comes from the Daily Mail and it makes me wonder if the writer had a look at what I wrote last week. The headline: “ROB DRAPER: Barcelona’s promise not to sign Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is worthless“. Thanks for telling the whole world something we knew when we saw the promises last week!

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The Lunatic Files: Barca’s Promise, Drogba the Volleyball Players, The Fight for Europe Pompey Style

14 April 2010

This edition of the Lunatic Files returns with some more fun at the recent headlines from the English papers, and my first nominee for ‘Headline the entire world already knew about already’. I know that category name needs a little work, but it will come in time. If you have one you’d like to give me, just leave it in the comments below. If I like it, I’ll figure out something out of my own pocket for a prize.

The battle for Cesc Fabregas seems to either have died, if you’re to believe Arsenal, or it’s fixing to intensify in a major way, if you’re to believe Lionel Messi. The situation has always been a precarious one considering Fabregas spent a good portion of his youth days in Barcelona’s youth camp, and it’s pretty clear right now Peter Hill-Wood and Messi haven’t been reading from the same script.

There is a fundamental problem I always have when I read any story that involves teams that have ‘promises’ or ‘assurances’ given to another over any particular player. My problem: it’s nothing but a bunch of lies and it always turns into a giant game of chicken. While at this exact moment in time they promise not to make a move on Cesc, that doesn’t mean in the not so distant future they will and make Arsenal’s summer an even more interesting one. Between the final straw looking to have finally broken in the Arsenal takeover battle, Cesc Fabregas, and fans wanting someone other than who they have as keepers at the moment, it would appear the last thing the board room needs to be taking is any promise from another club at face value.

I have to hand it to Owen Coyle. After Bolton’s 1-0 defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday, he had no problem telling anyone within ear shot (and there were plenty that were) what he thought of not only the officiating, but of what sports Didier Drogba could make a serious go at. Not only did Coyle compliment Drogba as a class football player, he made the claim that Drogba could very well play ‘world class volleyball‘. While the comment may have been in the heat of the moment, having seen the handball in question, Coyle may not be too far off the mark.

While the Chelsea fan in me is relieved that we’re not talking about a Didier Drogba flop, I can’t lie when I say having seen the incident on my DVR numerous times, I agree 100 percent with Coyle that Drogba does have what it takes to be a top volleyball player. Hell, considering John Terry’s handball, it makes me wonder if Chelsea doesn’t already have a volleyball team in and of itself. We could have Didier Drogba as our main bumper and John Terry as a main setter, the only question I have is who is the guy at the net who spikes. Right now I have Essien and Mikel considering their history for thunder strikes. On the other end, other than Cech at the net blocking, I’d have Michael Ballack and Deco there as well.

With the exception of a magical FA Cup Final run, Portsmouth’s season has been nothing but one hell after another. In a season with more plot twists than any network soap opera, an unplanned battle is on it’s way. That battle: having not even bothered to apply for the licenses required to play in Europe next season.

Well, with seventh place at the moment qualifying an English club for the Europa League, David Moyes has some strong words about Portsmouth’s eleventh hour appeal to the English FA about getting those licenses. To sum it up as kindly as one can, he’s not happy about it. Moyes’s argument is a simple one: why should they be allowed to play when they didn’t even try to apply? Roberto Martinez agrees, adding that the mismanagement of clubs should be just cause of that punishment. The Portsmouth administrator disagrees, and is saying that the agreements required that would allow the club to apply will be in place for them to play in Europe next season.

I have to say I agree with Moyes on this one. One fact that completely baffles my mind still is the fact that Portsmouth didn’t even bother to apply for these licenses in the first place. Yes, I agree that by the time the original March 1st deadline passed, it still looked very unlikely they would even make it this far. However, it still shouldn’t have stopped them from even applying in the first place. That way, had they made it this far, an appeal would have had the opportunity to be shown in more of a sympathetic light.

Before I go, this will be a semi-regular end to this blog post. My ‘Headline the World Already Knew About’.
I’ll compile these as the year goes on and, at the end, come up with my top five to vote on at the end of the year. My first one comes from The Telegraph: “Manchester United owners unmoved by Red Knights campaign“. WELL YOU DON’T SAY MARK OGDEN? The frank reality of all this is a simple one; until Old Trafford is less than 50 percent full on a regular basis and less than half those tickets were never sold, the Glaziers are going to be hanging around unless something in the neighborhood of five billion pounds are come up with to sell the club.

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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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