Fun With Headlines 2: Roberto Mancini, Roberto Martinez, Ramires, Sir Alex Ferguson

27 August 2010

Welcome to what will become a Friday tradition here at The Third Half. Considering we have all made fun of the headlines coming from the UK Press, I figure it would be easy enough to save all the jabs I have at some of the titles written by the press until Friday, when I have my way with them. Some will be funny, but some may also fall flat. If you have any headline you would like form e to take a shot at, email me at thethirdhalf@thethirdhalf.net or send me a link to it on Twitter.

I'll start with this headline from Tuesday morning in The Telegraph: "Roberto Mancini sees Sheikh Mansour as Manchester City's good luck charm". Why don't you just admit it Mancini: the Sheikh's money is your good luck charm. I'm sure you'd be more than happy if he never showed up for a game as long as he keeps on opening up the wallet for your transfers.

I love this half truth headline from The Guardian, also on Tuesday: "Liverpool stuck in suspended animation without new investment". Kevin McCarra is right about one thing: Liverpool is stuck. Where he's wrong is that it is not suspended animation that Liverpool's stuck in. What Liverpool are stuck in would be quicksand. At this point, I'd rather RBS just go ahead and take over the club so Hicks and Gilette end up with nothing but losses.

This Sky Sports headline on Thursday may only be funny to me. However it should be funny to everyone else as well: "Martinez unhappy with Blues". Shouldn't he be more unhappy, bordering on seething anger, at his defense instead of at a club who wants a guy who hasn't done much for you in six months?

This headline just makes me laugh: from Sky Sports, "Wenger - Stamp out rugby". Just a friendly reminder to Arsene Wenger; we aren't at the damn ballet. If your players can't deal with a little physicality, then they need to join the local ballet troupe for Swan Lake.

Another Sky Sports gem involves Jon Obi Mikel: "Mikel ready to kick on". Shouldn't the really read "Mikel ready to kick at opponents legs again in hunt of that elusive red card"? Meanwhile, he may have some competition in Chelsea's new signing Ramires. According to the Telegraph, "Brazilian Ramires relishing idea of 'enforcer' role for Chelsea". It does, however, make me ask this one simple question: what's Portuguese for 'Obi wanna red card version 2.0'?

Here's another one about Wigan Athletic, this time from the Daily Mail: "The future ISN'T orange for Wigan as the dump unlucky strip after heavy defeats". Meanwhile, reports have it that the colors White, Black, Blue, and Yellow have issued decrees to Wigan Athletic to not be used as their kit colors until they can finally score a goal.

And finally, I'll end with this headline from The Independent: "Bebe left out due to fitness not ability, says angry Ferguson". I thought he had been left out because Sir Alex finally saw tape of Bebe on the pitch, and was calling Guimaraes to see if it wasn't too late to send him back.

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Premier League Preview: Bloomfield Road Opens, Will We See Another 6-0?

Under construction no more: Bloomfield Road. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Round three of the Barclays Premier League sees Blackpool host Fulham in their first home league fixture since being promoted. We also see Kevin MacDonald in what could be his last game in charge as interim manager of Aston Villa. The other strange anomaly that seems to be the question of the early season is will we see another 6-0 result? With four such results already through the first 2 weeks of the new season, it will be curious to see.

All time are Eastern and TV schedule is subject to change without notice.

Saturday 7:45 am (Live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com): Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal. Arsenal looked much better last week, while Blackburn did not impress. Arsenal will want to forget their last trip to Ewood Park (a 2-1 defeat last season), and I think they will do so in style. Prediction: Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 3.

Saturday 10:00 am
Blackpool v Fulham (Live on FoxSoccer.tv, On delay Sunday 9:00 am FSC): Blackpool has ridden one hell of a roller coaster in last thirteen days. They go from top of the world after beating Wigan, to now coming as close to hitting rock bottom as a team can get after losing in extra time to MK Dons in the League Cup. Fulham used the fight they had in earning a draw against Manchester United to pick up a resounding League Cup victory midweek.
This is the match I wish I could watch live. The party that will be going on by the sea will incredible to see. On the pitch, I don't think it will go well for the home side. With all the momentum from the opening week gone, not even the home crowd will probably be able to will their side to victory. Fulham will look to silence the crowd quickly, and while I think Zamora will do so, I don't think that the crowd is going to be quiet for this one. Even in defeat, Bloomfield Road will be a sight to see on Saturday. Prediction: Blackpool 1 Fulham 4.

Chelsea FC v Stoke City (Live on FoxSoccer.tv and FS+): Chelsea will not be winning 6-0 on Saturday. If they do, I'm convinced this competition is rigged. Stoke City have not looked great to start this season, but their fight last week tells me they will give a good account of themselves. At least it will be better than Chelsea's 7-0 victory last year at Stamford Bridge. Prediction: Chelsea 2 Stoke City 0.

Tottenham Hotspur v Wigan Athletic (Live on FSC): At least there will be plenty of goals in this one. The only problem is I think Wigan Athletic will make it four games in a row that they haven't scored in the Premier League. Tottenham will have their way in this one. Prediction: Tottenham 3 Wigan Athletic 0.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Newcastle United (Live on FoxSoccer.tv, on delay FS+ at 6:00 pm): Was last week a fluke for Newcastle United? I think it was. This could be the toughest game to figure out this week. Both have not shown any early season consistency, and I think that will continue here. Prediction: Wolves 1 Newcastle United 1.

Saturday 12:30 pm (Live on FSC): Manchester United v West Ham United. If there is any game this weekend that could produce a 6-0 result, this is it. West Ham are that bad and Manchester United have the perfect opposition to get out their frustration from last week's 2-2 draw. With this game being the late game on Saturday, we will probably all get an early start to our afternoon. Prediction: Manchester United 5 West Ham United 1.

Sunday 8:30 am (Live on FoxSoccer.tv and FS+): Bolton Wanderers v Birmingham City. Both sides have had identical starts to the season. With Bolton at home, I think they will exercise their opening weekend ghosts by finally finishing a chance at home. However, Birmingham City won't give up, and I think both sides will share the spoils. Prediction: Bolton Wanderers 1 Birmingham City 1.

Sunday 10:00 am
Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion (Live on FoxSoccer.tv, On delay FS+ at 7 pm): I don't expect West Brom to get many points on the road this season. With Liverpool having to make a long trip back from Turkey, they may have a chance here. Then again, I have a better chance of hitting the Powerball last Wednesday. Hint: I didn't. Prediction: Liverpool 1 West Bromwich Albion 0.

Sunderland v Manchester City (Live on FoxSoccer.tv, On delay FS+ at 5 pm): If Manchester City can produce just half the performance they put out against Liverpool on Monday, this will be a no contest. Sunderland still don't have a grip on what they want to do going forward. That will hurt them against a side that will absorb all their pressure and counter attack. I do expect Sunderland to try and make a game of it late. Prediction: Sunderland 1 Manchester City 2.

Sunday 11:00 am (Live on FSC): Aston Villa v Everton. I just don't get Aston Villa right now. They are in complete disarray. If I'm Kevin MacDonald, I don't want this job. Everton are still looking for something to jump start their league season. If there is any time to be playing Villa, now is that time. I do think Everton will take all three points to cap off an awful seven days in the life of Aston Villa. Prediction: Aston Villa 0 Everton 1.

How do you see these games going this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

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Bundesliga Preview: The Promoted Sides Go Home Looking for 2 in a Row

26 August 2010

St. Pauli players celebrate going 3-1 up away from home last Saturday (Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMApress.com)
Last week saw dream returns for both Kaiserslautern and St. Pauli as they recorded identical 3-1 victories away from home. Both go home in round two, playing tougher opposition than they did in week one. 

Please note all times are Eastern and TV coverage is subject to change without notice.

Friday 2:30 pm (Live on GolTV): Kaiserslautern v Bayern Munich. From the joys of victory to having to host the Champions on your return home in the Bundesliga. Sure, Kaiserslautern's 3-1 win was a pleasure to watch last week, but it was against a Koln side that was down to 10 men for almost the entire match. Even then, it took them a while to even pick up the lead. Bayern Munich had to work for their 2-1 win against Wolfsburg, but picked up three points nonetheless.
I have a bad feeling about this one. While Kaiserslautern have a sound defense, I think Bayern Munich are a bridge too far for them. While the home fans will be up for this one, I don't think it will go the way the last time Kaiserslautern played Bayern Munich at home in the Bundesliga (a 1-1 draw). Prediction: Kaiserslautern 0 Bayern Munich 2.

Saturday 9:30 am
Eintracht Frankfurt v Hamburg: Eintracht were not impressive against Hannover, while Hamburg still have problems finishing their chances. Hamburg should have won by more than the 2-1 scoreline against Schalke last Saturday. I don't think this will be all that close. Prediction: Eintracht Frankfurt 0 Hamburg 3.

Nurnberg v Freiburg: Freiburg look just as bad as they did last season. Nurnberg at least showed some fight in their 1-1 draw in Gladbach. Nurnberg's fight, mixed with how bad Freiburg were last week, means I think there will be a result in one ugly affair. Prediction: Nurnberg 1 Freiburg 0.

Schalke 04 v Hannover 96 (Live on ESPN3.com): The last three Bundesliga meetings between these two have resulted in a home victory. With Schalke dominating this fixture in recent meetings, I think this is an easy one to call. Prediction: Schalke 3 Hannover 1.

Wolfsburg v Mainz: This will probably be a better barometer for Steve McClaren: while he made great tactical adjustments in the second half last week, there still wasn't enough there to pick up a point. Mainz was not great last season on the road. On talent, Wolfsburg should win this, but it won't be an easy three points to pick up. Prediction: Wolfsburg 2 Mainz 1.

Werder Bremen v Koln: These are two teams that need to rebound from awful opening week performances. The two have been tightly contested contests with not alot of scoring, and I expect that to continue here. Both defenses are bad, and I'll be very curious to see how both set up tactically. Prediction: Werder Bremen 1 Koln 0.

Saturday 12:30 pm (on delay Sunday 11:00 am on GolTV): St. Pauli v Hoffenheim. While both teams are very strong in the attack, I think St. Pauli has a better defense. Add the fact St. Pauli's playing at home, and this could make for a one sided affair. Prediction: St. Pauli 4 Hoffenheim 1.

Sunday 9:30 am: Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Monchengladbach. Borussia Monchengladbach knows how to pick up points against Bayer Leverkusen, with a lot of these matches ending in 1-1 draws. However, I think Bayer is going to use the momentum from last week to pick up another three points. Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 1 Borussia Monchengladbach 0.

Sunday 11:30 am (Live on ESPN3.com): Stuttgart v Borussia Dortmund. Both sides did not look good last week. I don't think either will look much better this week. You maybe best to skip this one. Prediction: Stuttgart 1 Borussia Dortmund 1.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming weekend in the Bundesliga? Let us know in the comments below.

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2010 UEFA Champions League Group Stage Draw

UEFA Champions League Trophy (Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMA Press)
After the usual to do on Thursday in Moncao, we now have a set UEFA Champions League draw for the upcoming group stages. Since everyone has probably seen the results, I'm going to present each group as the 1-4 was spit out by the UEFA computers for fixture purposes, along with my brief initial thoughts on each group.

Group A: Tottenham, FC Twente, Inter Milan, Werder Bremen. I would have loved to see how this group would have played out last year. With all four teams arguably at the peak of their performance, this would have been a fun group. Instead, Twente and Inter Milan have new managers, Werder Bremen have sold one of their key players, and Tottenham are still dealing with nagging injuries from playing in Switzerland. On first glance, I see Inter Milan winning the group with Werder Bremen finishing second.

Group B: Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Lyon, Schalke, Benfica. The trips to Benfica and Hapoel Tel-Aviv will not be fun trips for visiting sides. I don't think Hapoel has enough to finish in the top three places, so it's going to be quite a battle between the other three sides to see who advances to the knockout stages. At first glance, I think Lyon will finish first and Benfica will finish in second.

Group C: Valencia, Manchester United, Rangers, Bursaspor. I think this is the first true cut and dry group out there. I will admit that I don't think police in Manchester are looking forward to September 12th, as they still remember the last time Rangers fans came to town, but I doubt it ends up as bad as that UEFA Cup Final. I think it's safe to say Manchester United wins this group and Valencia comes in second.

Group D: Rubin Kazan, Barcelona, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen. Talk about an easy group for Barcelona. The battle for second will be somewhat interesting between Rubin and Panathinaikos. I don't think Copenhagen has a chance of even getting to the Europa League here. To me, Barcelona finishes top with Rubin Kazan just edging out Panathinaikos for second.

Group E: FC Basel, Bayern Munich, AS Roma, CFR Cluj. The trip to Cluj won't be a picnic, but this is a pretty cut and dry group. I think Bayern Munich win it with Roma coming in second.

Group F: Chelsea FC, Marseille, Spartak Moscow, MSK Zilina.  The two trips to Eastern Europe will not be fun for Chelsea or Marseille. I think Marseille are the wild card in this group, but I don't think it will matter much. I think Chelsea win this group with Marseille finishing second.

Group G: Auxerre, Real Madrid, Ajax, AC Milan. By far, this is the mythical group of death. AC Milan maybe down, but they are still a tough ask. Real Madrid has Jose... enough said. Ajax has plenty of good talent, but can they put it all together? I really feel for Auxerre: if they were in any other group, I'd rate them to advance. I think Real Madrid will finish top with Ajax finish second. Granted, I'm sure to change my mind about this group about a dozen times between now and the start of group play.

Group H: Partizan Belgrade, Arsenal, Sporting Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk. I don't think Arsenal are going to enjoy the three away trips they will have to make, and it should open up this group. Sporting Braga are better than most realize. I will admit to not knowing much of Shakhtar and Partizan outside of knowing they make things uncomfortable for the rest. Right now, I think Sporting Braga will win this group, with Arsenal coming in second.

What are your thoughts on this draw? Right now, who do you see advancing to the knockout stages? Let us know in the comments below.

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Champions League Mock Draw of Fun

25 August 2010

UEFA Champions League Trophy (Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMA Press)
Qualification is over for the next installment of the UEFA Champions League, and there were not many surprises. The one major surprise was Slovakian side MSK Zilina advancing past Sparta Prague. The only other surprise was the manner in which Sampdoria was knocked out by Werder Bremen.

With that said, the four pots are set for the Champions League draw that will take place on Thursday. If you want to watch the draw, it will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel at noon Eastern. To remind you what the four pots will look like, they are:

Champions League Draw Pots
Pot 1: Inter Milan, FC Barcelona, Mancehster United, Chelsea FC, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Lyon
Pot 2: Werder Bremen, Real Madrid, AS Roma, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, Valencia, Marseille, Panathinaikos
Pot 3: Tottenham Hotspur, Rangers, Ajax, Schalke 04, FC Basel, Sporting Braga, FC Copenhagen, Spartak Moscow
Pot 4: Hapoel Tel Aviv, FC Twente, Rubin Kazan, AJ Auxerre, CFR Cluj, Partizan Belgrade, MSK Zilina, Bursapor

Now I did this last year, so I figured I would continue the tradition. While some of these pots will have the odd overlapping team, I'm going to dish out my own mock draw.

The 'don't mention the war' draw: Bayern Munich, AS Roma, Tottenham Hotspur, Auxerre. I can't take full credit for this one. That belongs to my editor Jeff Hash.

The 'revenge of Jose Mourinho' draw: Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Sporting Braga, Rubin Kazan. With Jose's former club, a Portuguese side, and the Russian side that gave Inter Milan two tough games in last year's group stage, it's the perfect group for Jose Mourinho to completely steal the spotlight.

The 'Roman's close to home' draw: Chelsea FC, Shakhtar Donetsk, Spartak Moscow, CFR Cluj. Yes, even I can make fun of my own club. That would be Chelsea making three trips to Eastern Europe.

The 'been there and not won' draw: Arsenal, Roma, FC Copenhagen, Partizan Belgrade. Arsenal, Roma, and Partizan Belgrade have been to the Champions League or European Cup final and never won it. Switzerland and Denmark have never had a team play for the trophy. Pot three was the toughest one as no one in that group have had a team make the final and lose. To compromise, we picked one of the two teams where their nation has never won it.

The 'cupcake' draw: Lyon, Werder Bremen, FC Basel, Bursaspor. While the trip to Turkey will be no walk in the park, to me this draw would probably be considered the 'easiest' draw out there.

The group of death: FC Barcelona, Werder Bremen, Ajax, Hapoel Tel-Aviv. The trip to Israel will not be fun. As for the other five group games, while Barcelona would be favored to advance, it will be a race for second place.

If you could have your dream draws, what would they be? What do you think is the group of death? Let us know in the comments below.

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Premier League Thoughts: Torres Fitness, Mascherano Farce, Manchester City Impress The Boss

24 August 2010

Manchester City Owner Sheikh Mansour. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Monday night's clash at Eastlands can be summed up with such simplicity. Manchester City is nearly where they want to be. While it wasn't the most fluid of performances, they put together long enough spells of dominance to remind Liverpool and their fans that they have a long way to go to get back where they want to be.

Sheikh Mansour picked the perfect first game to attend. On a typical Summer's British night, he got to see the side his money assembled decimate Liverpool with relative ease. While it wasn't the perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, it was one that should instill plenty of fear. Even more so since Manchester City is still a team looking to vet players and perfect Mancini's system.

The three defensive midfield set up is still one that needs work. However, James Milner's impact was quickly felt for Manchester City: the interplay between Milner and Adam Johnson wrecked havoc on Liverpool's defense. It helped that Adam Johnson was running at a hamstrung Martin Skrtel, who stupidly got himself booked three minutes into the match. To be blunt, Skrtel should have seen an early bath in the sixty-seventh, after another challenge on Adam Johnson. By that point, it was already embarrassing enough.

The opener was an embarrassment on Skrtel's part. With Yaya Toure running interference, a simple pass back to Johnson brought Skrtel out of position. Johnson's pass then found Milner perfectly in the space Skrtel conceded: a simple centering pass to Gareth Barry followed, giving Manchester City a lead they weren't going to give up. The second Manchester City goal, meanwhile, was a sign of the impending surrender. Micah Richards was the only one to leap after a corner kick. With no one on Carlos Tevez, he was able to get just enough of the ball to put it past Pepe Reina. The white flag of surrender came in the fifty-seventh after Joe Hart's heroics following Gerrard's effort went off the post.

The one disappointment about Liverpool today was Fernando Torres. What's sadder is it wasn't his fault: the reality is he still isn't healthy. Hodgson is in a difficult position here, as sitting Torres until healthy is the sound idea. Kuyt and Ngog may not be the most ideal options up top, but the longer the charade is played of starting Torres, the longer it's going to take for him to get fully fit.

As for the entire Javier Mascherano situation, going and agreeing personal terms with Barcelona was just a bad idea. While all signs point to Liverpool accepting a deal, by tipping your hand, a deal will be much more difficult to be agreed upon. If I'm Liverpool, I hold Barcelona to ransom here. They've made it clear they want him; anything less than 20 million pounds would be considered a waste in my mind.

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Premier League Thoughts: Newcastle Rocking, Where Was Aston Villa, Cottage Woes For Manchester United

23 August 2010

Newcastle s Andy Carroll Celebrates Scoring His Side's Third Goal Against Aston Villa Sunday. Newcastle United Won 6-0. (Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMApress.com)
What a difference a week makes.

On Monday, Newcastle United looked lifeless and scared against Manchester United. On Saturday, Aston Villa tore West Ham United apart with crisp, concise passing that gave away the impression they would easily make the Europa League group stages and make this weekend's game a walk in the park. On Sunday, Newcastle looked like the team that was making regular trips into Europe, while Aston Villa looked a side that was so beaten down from the events of the past two weeks they mentally checked out.

The thing about Aston Villa's performance that was so stunning was how quickly the players collectively checked out of the game. The defensive players all checked out when John Carew decided a tryout for the Newcastle Falcons was a better idea than slotting home an obvious penalty. That was only after ten minutes, and Joey Barton made them pay three minutes later. The attacking players all checked out when Ashley Young was incorrectly flagged offside in the twenty-fourth. Kevin Nolan made them pay for that eight minutes later.

However, this was the Andy Carroll show. When I first saw him, I only saw him as an incredibly mediocre forward. Today was the day he paid Chris Hughton back for the belief he had in him. Yet, there was something about all three of his goals today that make me not want to get overly excited about him. As an attacker, you should be taking advantage of simple elementary mistakes a defense makes. Carroll made Ciaran Clark and Richard Dunne pay for their failure to clear a corner in the thirty-fourth. Carroll's second goal took perfect advantage of a defense that was out of position after failing to clear the ball out of the eighteen yard box. Carroll turned the statue Stewart Downing into a pillar of salt for his hat trick. What's even sadder is Friedel can only be blamed for one of the six goals.

Meanwhile, the weekend's most entertaining game happened at Craven Cottage, where Manchester United failed again in picking up three points. For the opening fifteen minutes, it did look like the jinx United had when playing there the previous two seasons was going to be easily lifted. Paul Scholes opening goal was the result of the perfect layoff, and the perfect reflection to how slow Fulham started.

Then chinks started to form in the Red Devil armor. While they lasted until halftime up a goal to nil, the way they were conceding the initiative showed their lead wasn't going to last for long. United's midfield was being easily played through, and the wider Fulham played, the easier they found it to break down Manchester United. With Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic out of position in the fifty-seventh, Simon Davies put all the power he had into a shot that sneaked in far post.

At this point, Peter Walton became a bigger influence in proceedings than he had any right to be. In the sixty-fourth, a penalty should have been awarded to Fulham when Vidic felt a blatant grab of Dembele's shirt was the best course of action with dealing with a ball into the penalty area. After Hangeland didn't try to clear a ball, but instead turned away and had the ball bounce off his leg into the net, Walton then awarded a penalty for something Damien Duff couldn't avoid. Sure the ball went off Duff's arm, but there was no way he could get his arm out of the way when Duff played the ball off his knee. It was only poetic justice Stockdale saved Nani's effort. At least Hangeland was able to make up for his own goal by getting by Vidic on his way to a free header as the regulation ninety wound down.

With the four teams involved in action Sunday, it's still difficult to judge them in full. With Wayne Rooney out of Manchester United's lineup, they were hamstrung. Fulham continue to show the fight that Mark Hughes's sides always show, but at some point they need to find a way to turn draws into wins. As for Newcastle United, if you show that much heart at home, you may be safe by proxy. Aston Villa right now need to figure out who they want to be their manager. Villa needs leadership at the top and it seems like they have already quit on the message Kevin MacDonald is trying to preach.

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Premier League Thoughts: Chelsea's Same Scoreline, Stoke City Could Use Technology

21 August 2010

Tottenham's Peter Crouch blocks a header on the line from Stoke's Jonathan Walters (C) (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
The second Saturday has come and gone in the Barclays Premier League, and there's plenty to discuss. Chelsea won again 6-0, this time on the road at Wigan's DW Stadium, and Stoke City get caught up in the goal line technology debate.

I'll start at the DW Stadium. Today, I did feel somewhat bad for Wigan Athletic. For the first half an hour, Chelsea were rightly on the back foot. Yet, Wigan couldn't produce anything on goal that would threaten Petr Cech. When Chelsea went in front soon after the half hour, it was only a matter of how many they would concede. That number was six.

I have to be honest, I couldn't tell if Wigan gave up in the second half. As wave after wave of Chelsea attack poured on goal, Wigan seemed helpless. I do think that once their only goal was called back for offside with half an hour left, they did give up. Chelsea were already three nil to the good, and added three more for the hell of it.

Roberto Martinez has no defense, and if he doesn't do anything about it before the transfer window closes, he deserves the sack. Wigan defense right now is not even Blue Square Premier worthy. Without even a modicum of defending, your attack is worthless. Right now, Wigan's defense is worse than worthless. Even if Roberto Martinez is given his walking papers, he'll have a job somewhere. That's about the only positive thing he's got going for him at the moment.

The other story happened at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke City, for all their dominance in the second half, could not find an equalizer against Tottenham, losing 2-1. However, that's not the story. The story comes in stoppage time when an apparent Stoke City equalizer barely crossed the line, but was not given. Not only that, but the shot by Jonathan Walters was handled off the line by Peter Crouch, who was behind the line when all this was taking place.

Now I'll be honest: when I first saw the effort, I couldn't tell. The referee couldn't tell, and the linesmen was in no position to do so. While this incident is sure to stoke the fires of the goal line technology debate, what I'd like to know is why the hand ball on Peter Crouch wasn't called? Sure, some will argue that Gomes was fouled in the build up, but I'm not totally convinced he was. The obvious call to be made in that situation wasn't made, and that's something that should be talked about.

Other Thoughts From This Saturday
  • I think it's safe to say we will be seeing Gareth Bale's second Tottenham goal in the debate for goal of the season. That said, I still think Wolves's free kick volley was better. Either way, it was beautiful.
  • Everton threw away two points today. However, that's the consequence you pay when you miss your chances, and give Wolves only one. Make no mistake, Wolves were poor today. However, I think Mick McCarthy will take 4 points out of his first two games played.
  • It was nice to see Blackpool fans at the Emirates still in good voice despite getting thumped 6-0. While Ian Evatt had to be sent off, I'm not convinced that was a penalty. It seemed half the replays validated the penalty decision, the other half did not. Either way, that penalty was just a blip in the radar. Arsenal were going to win 6-0 either way.
  • Alex McLeish has turned St. Andrews into the same fortress that Sam Allardyce has done with Ewood Park.
  • Who's got the worst defense in the Premier League: Wigan Athletic or West Ham United? Sure West Ham haven't given up as many goals as Wigan, but they are just as bad.
What were your thoughts on this day in the Premier League? Let us know in the comments below.

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Premier League Preview: Chelsea Go to Wigan, Manchester United Go to Fulham, Liverpool Travel to Manchester City

20 August 2010

Bobby Zamora (R) celebrates with Clint Dempsey after scoring Fulham's second goal last season against Manchester United. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
This upcoming weekend in the Barclay's Premier League sees Chelsea and Manchester United travel to places they both lost last season. It also has a very interesting Monday night clash when Manchester City hosts Liverpool. How do I see this weekend transpiring? Let's take a look.

Note all times are Eastern and TV is subject to change without notice.

Saturday 10:00 am
Arsenal v Blackpool (Live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com): After such a dream start to life in the top flight, Blackpool were temporarily brought back to earth when their chairman resigned midweek. It's now been reported by the Guardian that the reason he did was because his name appears in bankruptcy papers. Arsenal didn't have too many bright spots in their 1-1 draw against Liverpool on Sunday, and have spent this week in hunt of a new keeper and defender. While Arsenal did not look good in the opening round, I think they will bounce back here. I think the events in the board room have effected the way Ian Holloway wanted to prepare for this game. This will probably be the most attractive game to watch this weekend, and Arsenal will finally score goals not thrown in by the opposition keeper. Prediction: Arsenal 3 Blackpool 1.

Birmingham City v Blackburn Rovers (Live on Foxsoccer.tv, On Fox Soccer Plus 4:00 pm): These two will be looking to build on the positive starts to their season. Both will show plenty of fight, but I think this will be a game that gets bogged down in the midfield. Prediction: Birmingham City 1 Blackburn Rovers 1.


Everton v Wolverhampton Wanderers (Live on Fox Soccer Channel): Wolves were impressive in their win against Stoke City. On the other hand, Everton were abysmal in their 1-0 loss to Blackburn. They were so bad, David Moyes brought out the hair dryer. Wolves were not impressive on the road last season, and I think Everton will make up for their missed chances in the opener and rebound. Prediction: Everton 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1.

Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur (Live on Foxsoccer.tv and Fox Soccer Plus): I think Tottenham's start from hell will continue. With Jermain Defoe and Luka Modric out injured, their partnership up front is going to be an interesting selection. Stoke City have one of the loudest home field advantages in all of the Premier League. They looked abysmal against Wolves, but with Tottenham having one eye toward their Champions League return match, I think Stoke will get something out of this. Prediction: Stoke City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1.

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland (Live on Foxsoccer.tv, On Fox Soccer Plus Sunday 10:30 am): I wonder if West Brom have learned their defensive lessons? Meanwhile, Sunderland would do good just to end the match with eleven on the pitch. I think Scott Carson is in for another long day at the office. Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 0 Sunderland 2.

West Ham United v Bolton Wanderers (Live on Foxsoccer.tv, On Fox Soccer Channel, 2:30 pm): While neither side scored in their opening round game, Bolton at least looked capable of doing so. I think this is the match where Avram Grant realizes how severe a task he will have in keeping the Hammers in the Premier League. Prediction: West Ham United 0 Bolton Wanderers 3.

Saturday 12:30 pm: Wigan Athletic v Chelsea FC (Live on Fox Soccer Channel). In Wigan's last two Premier League games, they have allowed 12 goals. Chelsea, in their last two Premier League games, have scored 14. With Chelsea also looking to get revenge from last season's 3-1 defeat at the DW Stadium, this will be another ugly game. When Drogba looks incredibly average, and still scores a hat trick, Wigan should be scared. Prediction: Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea FC 5.

Sunday 8:30 am: Newcastle Untied v Aston Villa (Live on Fox Soccer Plus and Foxsoccer.tv): Newcastle United are already asking for patience: that is not a good sign. Aston Villa will be thanking their lucky stars that they have had such an easy schedule to start the Premier League season. Newcastle will give a better account of themselves this week, but still come out on the short end of the stick. I just don't know where they are going to score goals from. Prediction: Newcastle United 0 Aston Villa 2.

Sunday 11:00 am: Fulham v Manchester United (Live on Fox Soccer Channel): This is the bogey ground Manchester United would like to ace again. The one major difference in this one is that Roy Hodgson is not managing Fulham this time around. His set up was the main reason why Fulham were so successful against the Red Devils. I think Wayne Rooney will get a goal in what will be another comprehensive team effort. Prediction: Fulham 0 Manchester United 2.

Monday 3:00 pm: Manchester City v Liverpool (Live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com): This is a game featuring two sides where both have top four aspirations going into the season. However, both have faltered a bit to start the season, each enduring opening day draws and quasi-unimpressive 1-0 victories in the Europa League. The reality is both sides are still adapting to the changes this summer brought. I think with Liverpool looking forward to a Turkish trip midweek leaves them primed to be picked off by City's three defensive midfield set up. Prediction: Manchester City 1 Liverpool 0.

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Bundesliga Preview: Last Two Champions Meet, St. Pauli Returns to Bundesliga

19 August 2010

FC Bayern Munich team manager Louis van Gaal celebrates with Champions Bowl Last Season. (Credit Image: © Imago/ZUMApress.com)
I have to admit something. Tonight, not last Friday, is my Christmas Eve. I am so excited about the return of the Bundesliga. It's my little guilty pleasure.With plenty of interesting story lines, this could be an even more interesting campaign than we've seen over the past few years.

Note all times are Eastern and TV coverage is subject to change.

Friday 2:30 pm (Live on ESPN3.com): Bayern Munich v Wolfsburg. Welcome to the Bundesliga Steve McClaren. The former England manager moved from FC Twente this summer, and is hoping his next stop brings him the same success he had in Holland. The first thing he did was shore up his defense with Arne Friedrich and Simon Kjaer. McClaren also added a little variety to his attack by adding Mario Mandzukic and bringing in Nassim Ben Khalifa, an eighteen year old with some upside.
One thing has been made apparent by Louis van Gaal over the course of preseason training: he has learned how to set his team up without Arjen Robben. Bayern Munich also made the decision not to bring anyone in of note. This is a team that will again contend for the treble. I also think Bayern Munich comes out and reminds everyone why they are firm favorites for the title this year. Prediction: Bayern Munich 3 Wolfsburg 1.

Saturday 9:30 am
Borussia Monchengladbach v Nurnberg: Of all the teams that stayed in the Bundesliga last season, Borussia Monchengladbach gave up the second most goals (60). Nurnberg, on the other hand, scored the fewest goals in the Bundesliga last term (32). I don't expect much out of this one. Gladbach can find goals, I just have no faith Nurnberg has figured out the formula to also find them. Prediction: Borussia Monchengladbach 2 Nurnberg 0.

Koln v Kaiserslautern: Kaiserslautern returns to the Bundesliga after spending the last four seasons in the Second Bundesliga. They were also promoted allowing less than a goal a game: that will come in handy this season. Koln, looking to shore up a defense that cost them plenty of points late in matches last season, brought in Andrezinho and Konstantinos Giannoulis to stop that bleeding. I'm calling for a shock here. I think Kaiserslautern will survive this season, and they pick up three points here. Prediction: Koln 0 Kaiserslautern 1.

Hannover 96 v Eintracht Frankfurt: Hannover can be forgiven for last season. After tragedy early on, they survived by the skin of their teeth. Eintracht Frankfurt faded badly last season, and haven't done anything to give me the impression that this year will be much different. I think if there's a winner, it will be to the home side. However, I think both will be more than happy to settle for an opening weekend point. Prediction: Hannover 1 Eintracht Frankfurt 1.

Freiburg v St. Pauli: I have to be honest, I did not think I'd see the day when St. Pauli would play again in the Bundesliga. When they relegated in 2002, they were such a mess, they were quickly relegated and spent four seasons in Germany's Regionalliga Nord (Germany's third division at that time). However, after scoring 72 goals last season, they have returned. Freiburg only assured their safety late last season.
The one thing that should concern any St. Pauli fan is the lack of draws they had last season (4 all season, none on the road). They will have to find a way to get draws on the road this year. This match will be their first lesson, as I think St. Pauli will get a point in their return to the Bundesliga. Prediction: Freiburg 1 St. Pauli 1.

TSG Hoffenheim v Werder Bremen (Live on ESPN3.com): Werder Bremen will start life without Mesut Ozil against one of the Bundesliga's better teams at the start of the season. I don't think Bremen's transition will take too long, having picked up Marko Arnautovic in the summer from Twente. With Bremen coming off a positive result in the Champions League qualifier, I think it's also safe to say they shouldn't skip a beat here either. Prediction: Hoffenheim 1 Werder Bremen 3.

Saturday 12:30 pm (Live on GolTV): Hamburg v Schalke 04. Draws hurt Hamburg last season, as they saw their hopes of playing in Europe this season dashed. While Schalke finished second last time around, Felix Magath has threatened to quit as manager of the club because of the fan's criticism of his management. Needless to say, this maybe a must watch. I think Magath will see this as the perfect opportunity to shut a few people up, and his squad will do so in style. Prediction: Hamburg 0 Schalke 2.

Sunday 9:30 am: Mainz v Stuttgart. Mainz last season produced great results at home, and will be looking to do so this season as well. Stuttgart just missed out on Europe this term by finding ways to turn wins into draws, and draws into losses away from home last season. I'm worried that Mainz will be relegated this season. However, I think that both teams will share the spoils in a dull affair to start the season. Prediction: Mainz 0 Stuttgart 0.

Sunday 11:30 am (Live on GolTV): Borussia Dortmund v Bayer Laverkusen. After being undefeated in the Bundesliga for so long last season, Bayer Leverkusen eventually lost, and then forgot how to win. Borussia Dortmund were a surprise entrant into the Europa League this year, turning a string of strong home results into European football. Bayer Leverkusen has welcomed Michael Ballack back to the club, and have also strengthened their defense by bringing in Domagoj Vida. Bayer Leverkusen will contend for the title again this season, while I still wonder what European football will do to Dortmund early on in the league. If Bayern Leverkusen want the title, they have to win more than four games away from the Bay Arena. I think that will start here. Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 0 Bayer Leverkusen 1.

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Fun with Headlines: Anelka, Joe Cole, Newcastle United, and More

Newcastle United's Joey Barton (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
It's Wednesday, and while I'm still trying to catch up on the Champions League games, I'll take this opportunity to flip through the headlines that came through my feed reader today. That's right, as the title suggests, I'm going to have some fun with the UK press.

I'll start with the Guardian headline of "Anelka laughs off ban from FFF 'clowns'". Of course he's laughing. He's only retired internationally. I imagine this is the reaction Zidane had when FIFA still gave him a three match ban.

While I had my pick of the litter about this next headline, I went with the Telegraph's "Joe Cole guilty of speeding at more than 100 mph". While it doesn't surprise me that Cole was found guilty, what was his biggest offense this week: being found guilty of speeding, or being sent off in record fashion on debut for Liverpool?

I almost feel guilty about this one, but this "Ireland desperate to resurrect career" headline from the Independent just proves how screwed up Manchester City is at times. The guy deserved better than this. In the end, I think the joke will end up being on Manchester City if Ireland proves them wrong. I have faith that Ireland will do so.

The Daily Mail may take the cake with this gem: "Eggert Magnusson's shock Sheffield Wednesday bid". I don't think Sheffield Wednesday fans want the same egg on their face that West Ham United are still trying to wipe from their collective faces. The only problem is I don't think it will come completely off until they are relegated and come back up in better financial shape than they are in now.

The headline isn't comical in its own right, but one of the details in this Guardian headline is. The detail in the headline "West Ham get Olympic Stadium backing" is that West Ham want to keep the Olympic Stadium at sixty thousand seats. So not only will they play in front of a half empty stadium on a weekly basis, but will have the running track around the pitch as well. I don't think many will be singing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" in unison.

The Sun claim that "Chivas regret Hernandez deal". How many times have we seen this before, and how many times will we see it before the season is over? Either way, it's still worth a chuckle to know that had Chivas held out better than their result in the Copa Libertadores on Wednesday (hint, Chivas lost 3-2, 5-3 on agg), they could have at least tripled what he was worth.
Here's a word that is not in Newcastle United's vocabulary: patience. Yet, as the Telegraph noted Wednesday, "Kevin Nolan urges Newcastle United fans for Premier League patience". What's funny is it only took 2 days after their opening round defeat to see this pop up. I had Friday before round 2 in the pool.

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Harry's Artificial Tottenham Excuse

18 August 2010

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Boy what a difference twenty-four hours makes in Harry Redknapp's world.

In Monday's Champions League press conference: "But let's be honest, we should beat them, shouldn't we? I'm sure we're ready to play and the Astroturf shouldn't be a problem because technically, we've got players like [Luka] Modric. You can see him and all these people playing on Astroturf. You could see Modric playing on anything, couldn't you?"
After Tuesday's 3-2 defeat at the hands of Young Boys of Bern:  "We didn't like it yesterday and tonight the players were pulling faces and suggesting that they didn't like the look of it." "I don't agree with Astroturf and I don't think Astroturf should be used in a competition like this."

Sure, I could just stop this piece now and we could all share in a good laugh, but I just can't do it. What's sad is: instead of Harry praising his side's fight to come from 3-0 down and completely out of this tie, to having a very good chance at home, he has to spew forth his ready made bag of excuses. What's even sadder is, every one of us should have seen this coming from a mile away. The hubris spewed from the English press, and the Tottenham manager forgot one simple thing...they weren't playing a joke.

The line up in and of itself was shocking. To blame the surface for producing the starting eleven he did was pathetic. The only one who should have not been in the starting eleven, and only because it's the status quo with his bad knees, is Ledley King. This wasn't some random Premier League game against a side you were going to pick three points up in, this is a shot at making your club quite a bit of coin. To simply leave four of your normal starters out to protect them for things to come is just head scratching.

Instead, your starting lineup produced three major defensive errors in the opening half an hour of play, forcing Harry to play one of his 'protected few' in Tom Huddlestone for the better part of an hour. Both goals were fortunate, as Bassong's opener found the one inch of space between the man on the post and goal post itself to sneak through. While the second goal was a brilliant strike from Pavlyuchenko, he had done nothing the prior eighty-two minutes he was on the park except try to get himself nominated for a Razzy. Frankly, had Jermain Defoe not injured himself, he would have been the striker replaced as Tottenham looked for an equalizer.

While Tottenham still have a decent chance of advancing to the knockout stage, it's not as cut and dry as many people think. Young Boys have already traveled to a more hostile ground than White Hart Lane and picked up a result. That's all they have to do next Wednesday.

Instead of talking about how poised this tie is heading into the second leg, we're talking about the excuses Harry Redknapp made in defeat. Unfortunately, that's probably just the way he wanted it.

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The Great Manchester City Dilemma Over Craig Bellamy

17 August 2010

Manchester City's Craig Bellamy looks dejected. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
If there is one man in the Barclays Premier League that doesn't know how to get attention for himself, it's Craig Bellamy. From throwing a chair at Newcastle coach John Carver, attacking John Arne Risse with a golf club (then costing book makers plenty of money not long afterward), to giving his honest opinion about his situation at Manchester City when reports started to surface he may not be in the twenty-five man roster for the club, the man just knows how to keep attention focused on himself.

That brings us to the ongoing situation at Manchester City, and what the best course of action would be for both player and club. Let's be honest, Craig Bellamy had one of his better years in the Premier League last season with Manchester City. That's the biggest shame to all of this: based on merit last season, Bellamy deserves to at least be included in the 25 man roster.

Instead, Manchester City started splashing the cash again for names the Citizens felt were more worthy of the shirt. That caused Craig Bellamy to do what he always does when he feels backed into a corner: try and talk his way out of it. After giving a refreshing interview while on national team duty, everything hit the fan. First came the reports of Manchester City fining him two weeks wages, something that was denied by, of all people, Robbie Savage on Five Live this evening. Next came his not so surprising exclusion from Manchester City's opening day roster against Tottenham. Reports then came that Manchester City had banned him from training, and that he would be training at Cardiff City for the time being. That's been squashed tonight and Manchester City have said he will return to training at the club Tuesday.

While that's all well and good, it still doesn't diminish the glaring fact it would take a minor miracle for Bellamy to be included in the main roster come the end of the transfer window. That certainly doesn't help Manchester City if they wanted to sell him, as this ongoing battle has probably cut his potential transfer fee by at least fifty percent, if not more. While a loan deal isn't exactly out of the realm of possibility, there aren't many takers that will be willing to pay a portion of his high weekly wages. Furthermore, Manchester City have pretty much blocked the idea of either loaning or selling him to a potential rival club. That leaves few potential suitors.

When it's all said and done, I think there's only one logical place for Craig Bellamy: that is another reunion with Mark Hughes, this time at Fulham. Bellamy has found his way to where Mark Hughes has managed the last two times, and he has been the only manager that Bellamy hasn't done anything overtly stupid for. With the events of late, I think the transfer fee will have dropped to a range Fulham could afford. That only leaves the wage bill. While this is only a guess, I have a feeling Manchester City will pay Bellamy plenty of cash to get him off their books. We're seeing this problem right now with Stephen Ireland, and it's causing James Milner's move to the club to be delayed, almost to the point the deal could be canceled. I just think that Manchester City will at least pay Craig Bellamy the money to get him away from Eastland, and allow Roberto Mancini to move on without someone who may cause further incident at the club.

EDIT: Per reports on the BBC Sport website, Craig Bellamy is Cardiff City bound on a season long loan. What do you make of these developments? Let us know in the comments below.

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Reina Shows He's Played In England Too Long, Newcastle Remind Us They Were Promoted

Liverpool's Jose Reina looks dejected after scoring an own goal and the first for Arsenal. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Now that I have had a chance to catch up on the matches from England on Sunday and Monday, here are my thoughts as the games transpired.

1) If Arsenal could ever learn to pass it out wide, instead of trying to break down the center of the park, they would be much better off. What's even worse in my mind is that they have the talent to incorporate plenty more wide play into their attack, yet they rarely seem capable of doing it. Liverpool were more than happy to allow them to come towards the middle of the park and snuff out their passes as they inched closer to the top of the eighteen. The irony to all of this is that Arsenal's only goal came from a wide cross. That leads to...

2) Pepe Reina may have made the biggest goal keeping gaffe in the first week of the season. Sure, Scott Carson had a couple of bad ones against Chelsea on Saturday, but his wall did him no favors. The Liverpool keeper, however, picked the worst possible moment to screw up. Even worse, he not only had the ball in his hands, he then delivered a bad beach volleyball bump into the back of the net. If anything, Robert Green may no longer be the butt of many fans jokes. If Pepe Reina could find someone else in Spain to form a pairing, they may have a shot at a medal in the Rio Olympics.

3) Before people ask why I didn't broach this subject, Joe Cole deserved to be sent off. I don't care what your name is, you cannot lunge from 3-5 yards away and then go for the scissors tackle for added effect. Have Liverpool fans forgotten Peter Crouch's tackle in the Carling Cup semi-finals against Chelsea that got him sent off? The tackles were pretty much the same in nature.

4) Wayne Rooney is pressing in the worst possible way right now, and it's not helping him at all in finding the back of the net. However, Manchester United's next three opponents maybe his best chance to break his games without a goal streak. It starts where United have had trouble of late, and ends where Wayne Rooney became etched into our minds.

5) Make no mistake about it, I'm glad Newcastle United are back in the Premier League. Yet, if there is one thing that people may have forgotten about in basking in the glory of their return, it's the fact this is pretty much the same team that went down. What's worse is this team is two years older and the only new faces are either new to the Premier League, or experiencing the top flight for the very first time.
It showed when their only good chance came from an unmarked six yard header in the tenth minute that went roughly twelve yards wide. Two of the three Manchester United goals came from cheap giveaways inside their own defensive third. Jonas Gutierrez may as well have been a Jonas Brother on Monday. While Steve Harper was left on an island for all three goals, he didn't exactly do anything to try and save them. Hell, when Berbatov has his best game in Manchester United red, it says all you need to know about how weak these Magpies are.

6) To not mention Ryan Giggs scoring in every year of the Premier League would be a crime. Well done sir. This was the year I thought he wouldn't get one. All I can say to that is how naive am I?

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Premier League Thoughts: It's Ollie's World, We Just Live in It, FSI's Online Failure

14 August 2010

Blackpool fans at the DW Stadium (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Well who saw the events that transpired at the DW Stadium happening this afternoon happening before the traditional kickoffs in the Premier League?

Throughout a frustrating Saturday for me (more on that later), the only thing that has brought a smile to my face was hearing about the events that were transpiring in Ian Holloway's first game in charge of a Premier League club. As you saw on Thursday, I didn't give Blackpool a snowballs chance in hell of picking up three points. Ollie, I would just like to take this opportunity right now to personally apologize to you in public.

I do feel, in a way, for Roberto Martinez. During ESPN's World Cup coverage, he was the most reasoned analyst on the network. However, his stubbornness to only play at one speed is either going to cost him his job, or see the club relegated. While his football was always beautiful at Swansea City, there was a reason his side was never promoted: they simply lost too many games shipping goals.

All credit has to be given to the way Ian Holloway set up the squad. While his new signings weren't at the club for long, they blended in well with the talent the club had. They could have easily scored four more, and had one called back incorrectly for offside. Even settling back in the second half, they still found one more goal. While the future is uncertain about their chances of staying up this year, at least the Tangerines can say they had one hell of a return to top flight football.

However, this days boils down to one thing for me: the failure of their 'new and improved foxsoccer.tv'. After hyping this relaunch, the product fall flat on their face. However, as The Third Half editor Jeff Hash told me, 'don't ever doubt the ability of FSI to shoot itself in the foot'. With this relaunch, however, they did just that and more.

To start out with, any log in details from the previous season were null and void, meaning you had to re-register. Considering they were moving platforms from Rayv to Perform, I could slightly understand that. However, that's where the fun began. With the payment method only coming from a Netbanx transaction, I could not pay for the service. With Perform based out of London, and Netbanx based out of Cambridge, my Visa card was denied. That's because my bank does not allow for international transactions. Yes, you could say this one is all on me, and I could see that to a small degree. Yet consider this: FSI is creating this service for customers in the United States. The fact that they use a company that some people cannot use, regardless of how high or low the percentage of people that would be, just reeks of complete and utter bull.

I had an interesting back and forth with two people on Twitter today about this. The first being Jamie Trecker, the man responsible for the fsctv Twitter account today. He seemed very understanding of my situation, and at least did offer me solutions to help. Granted, none of those solutions helped. The other was Christopher Harris of EPL Talk. He completely forgot that last year, people paying for Fox Soccer TV Online were able to pay by Paypal. That was something that wasn't lost on other people I directly talked to about this issue.

The simplest solution, at least from my vantage point, would be to quickly offer Paypal as a payment method. Even if we had to pay an extra dollar or two as a convenience fee, I'd be the sucker who would pay it in an instant to at least get all the games from this season's Premier League.

Other Thoughts On This Saturday
  • Roberto Mancini picked the right keeper in Joe Hart to start against Tottentham. He simply put up a brick wall in the goal, making at least four incredible saves. While I wonder about how Manchester City will integrate everyone into the attack, this was a good point for them considering they don't get many against Spurs. Now Tottenham have to worry about Champions League midweek, wondering how they will score on the green concrete of the Wankdorf. That's old fashion turf they get to play on there.
  • One moment of stupidity cost Sunderland. That said, Birmingham City showed the fight we got accustomed to seeing them have last season. Steve Bruce has to get the Black Cats discipline record in order and in a hurry.
  • Having seen good friend to the site Kartik Krishnaiyer's tweet about West Ham and Millwall in a derby next season in the Championship, I couldn't help but laugh. He's 100 percent right. I bet Avram Grant couldn't even believe how awful his Hammers looked today. I hope they have more fight than this. Fair play to Aston Villa, after this week of turmoil, for showing the pride they did in a fully functional performance.
  • Chelsea proved that the preseason meant nothing to them. West Brom simply looked abysmal. For Chelsea, this was nothing more than an extra preseason game. At least in this one, they got three points for it.
What were your thoughts on this opening Saturday of the Premier League? Did you have any issues with the new Fox Soccer Online product? Let us know by using the comments below.

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Premier League Preview: City/Spurs Open Season, Blackpool Back in Big Time, Arsenal go to Liverpool

12 August 2010

Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. (Credit Image: © Action Images/ZUMApress.com)
Well, after a summer that has not felt like a summer at all thanks to the World Cup being played, the Barclays Premier League kicks off again on Saturday at 7:45 am on ESPN2. While we haven't seen the glut of transfers we're use to seeing, there are plenty of interesting story lines to follow on this opening weekend. What are they, and how do I see the opening weekend shaping up? It's time for me to cut the chit-chat and get on with the show.

Please note that all times noted are Eastern Time. TV/Online coverage is subject to change without notice.

Saturday 7:30 am 
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City (Live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com): It will have been 101 days since these two teams played at Eastlands to decide fourth place in the Barclays Premier League. It ended in disappointment for City, and joy for Tottenham. The game was so tense, even if it wasn't entertaining, the decision makers at bSkyB chose the reverse fixture to open up the new season.
Manchester City will be hoping new arrivals David Silva, Yaya Toure, and Jerome Boateng will quickly adapt to the Premier League. On the other hand, Tottenham look to keep up the momentum that did see them finish fourth last season. This fixture has not been a kind one to Manchester City in the 'Premier League era'. In that time span, Tottenham have given Manchester City the most losses (19).
With Manchester City in a bit of transition, along with some internal strife Craig Bellamy caused this week, the edge in my mind goes to the home team. With Champions League football midweek, I expect Tottenham to come out firing and signal their intent early. Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2 Manchester City 1.

Saturday 10:00 am
Wigan Athletic v Blackpool (Live on Foxsoccer.tv): I may catch some hell for picking this game to do an extended preview on, but I do not care. When Wigan and Blackpool kickoff on Saturday, it will be Blackpool's first game in the top flight of English Football since May 1st, 1971 (that's 39 years 3 months and 13 days ago). The last time these two played in a competitive league fixture (non cup), it was as League 1 equals back on February 8th, 2003 (at Wigan in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw).
But honestly, that's not why I care about this match. To me, this match is all about Ian Holloway's first game in charge of a team in the top flight. That's right, Ollie's in the Premier League and I'm so happy about it. The man with a million quotes, who knows how to push all the right buttons, and has overcome personal adversity to finally arrive in the promised land. His tactics at time can make the most prudent of fan scratch their head, but he always has a justification for everything.
Both teams have some questions to me heading into the start of the season. On Blackpool's side, will Ian's new signings this week be ready for this opening fixture? On Wigan's side, will Roberto Martinez sacrifice a little in attack to defend? Make no mistake, I think ole Ollie's going to attack in the same manner we saw in the Championship Playoff Final. You can call me mental later, but I think this could be the most open game of the weekend. I don't think we'll see an upset, but it won't be for a lack of trying. Prediction: Wigan Athletic 3 Blackpool 1.

Aston Villa v West Ham United (Live on Fox Soccer Channel): Aston Villa are without a permanent manager, West Ham United have Avram Grant as their manager. If there is anything Avram Grant is good at doing, it's motivating his players to get results. With the events of this week, I think Villa come out shell shocked, and get beaten. Prediction: Aston Villa 0 West Ham United 1.

Blackburn Rovers v Everton (Live on Fox Soccer Plus and Foxsoccer.tv): Sam Allardyce turned Ewood Park into a fortress last season. Everton had one hell of a second half run last term. With Everton's core still in tact, and Blackburn in a little bit of flux with regards to investment, we might see a minor chink in the fortress. Prediction: Blackburn Rovers 0 Everton 2.

Bolton Wanderers v Fulham (On Delay Fox Soccer Channel 2:30 pm, Live on Foxsoccer.tv): Owen Coyle looks to keep Bolton in the Premier League another season, while Fulham could very well end up with a season in flux. Mark Hughes did well the last time he was in a job of this nature at Blackburn, but could he have been exposed during his time at Manchester City? Fulham severely over achieved last season, and I think this could be the start of a long season for Cottagers. I think, though, it ends with a share of the spoils. Prediction: Bolton Wanderers 1 Fulham 1.

Sunderland v Birmingham City (Fox Soccer Plus Sunday 10:30 am, Live on Foxsoccer.tv): I think the biggest question in this one is can Ben Foster have the same type of performance Joe Hart did in helping Birmingham City stay safely in the Premier League. The next question in my mind is if Birmingham City suffers from that ill fate known as second season syndrome. I think Sunderland have made the right moves to make a small push this season, and it starts now. Prediction: Sunderland 2 Birmingham City 0.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Stoke City (Fox Soccer Plus at 2:30 pm, Live on Foxsoccer.tv): Wolves got results at just the right time to stay up this year, while Stoke City seemed more than happy to get draws on the road last season. This game has draw written all over it. Prediction: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Stoke City 1.

Saturday 12:30 pm
Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion (Live on Fox Soccer Channel): This is a serious trap game for Chelsea. Their preseason has been abysmal, while West Brom will be looking to cause the shock of the weekend. I am beyond shocked the spread bet on this game is Chelsea -2. I expect Chelsea to press thinking that their attack will simply be enough, but this isn't the West Brom we're all use to seeing. Their defense will hold out, I just don't think they will for 90 minutes. Prediction: Chelsea 1 West Bromwich Albion 0.

Sunday 11:00 am
Liverpool v Arsenal (Live on Fox Soccer Channel): To most people, this is the game of the weekend. It also is the game that possibly has the most question marks behind it. How will Roy Hodgeson set this Liverpool squad up? How will Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard work together in the midfield? Is Francisco Torres going to stay healthy the entire season and find the goal scoring form we have seen in the past?
On the other side, if you're Arsene Wenger, how concerned are you at how weak your central defense has looked this preseason? Is the goal keeper position the place that is causing you to become a spokesman for Pepto Bismol? How concerned are you about Cesc Fabregas still thinking Barcelona dreams and can you get him completely motivated to the Arsenal cause?
The Anfield faithful have high expectations for this season, and I wonder if they are thinking too big. I think it's going to take a season for Roy to get Liverpool where he wants them to be. On the other hand, Arsenal look like they will need to win plenty of games this season in shootouts. Everything said, this game just screams draw. Prediction: Liverpool 1 Arsenal 1.

Monday 3 pm
Manchester United v Newcastle United (Live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com): Newcastle returns to the top flight by going to the place they opened their last campaign and drew 1-1. While it will be great to see the Magpies back, I don't think they will replicate the result they had 2 seasons ago. Manchester United just looked too good in the preseason, loss to the Kansas City Wizards aside. Prediction: Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 0.

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What to Expect From The Third Half This Season

11 August 2010

Well it's that time of year where we all get giddy like kids on Christmas Eve, expecting great things on Christmas morning. With some European leagues starting last Saturday, the Barclays Premier League season starting this Saturday, and other leagues starting at the end of August, we all have plenty of football action to keep us occupied over the next nine months. It's an exciting time for me personally, as this will be the first full season I will be blogging here at The Third Half.

While there is a chance you may see my writing elsewhere (if I do write elsewhere, this will be the first place you'll hear about it), I am looking forward to the challenge of being in one place for an entire season. But what should you expect from me this season? Here's are the things that I can think of just off the top of my head.

1) Along with my no nonsense opinion of the Premier League, expect more coverage from me on the Bundesliga. I have fallen in love with the Bundesliga over the last 2 years, and feel the league deserves more coverage than it gets. While I probably won't cover it on par with the Premier League, expect me to up the coverage on the league.

2) I will be adding the Dutch Eredivise to the leagues I cover this year. Yes, I'm well aware that the words Dutch and Football going together right now may as well be cursing. However, after making a tiny profit last year betting the league, and watching the odd game on ESPN3, I started to feel like this is a league that deserves a little bit of coverage. While at first I'll probably only be writing about the league every couple of weeks, expect something on a league that doesn't get much at all.

3) A different feature when it comes to my weekend previews. I'll admit this is something that has always caused me the greatest concern every year I've blogged. My biggest problem when it comes to the previews is one of my greatest faults; going into something thinking everything has to be full bore. Instead of doing that this year with every game in the Premier League and Bundesliga, expect me to pick out the two or three biggest games of each weekend and give them the attention they deserve. As for the rest of the games, I'll still write on them, but nothing more than seventy-five words. My goal is to keep each of those league preview posts under twelve hundred words.

As for those matches that I write longer previews on, expect me to pick at least one of those games to write full reports on that will be up immediately here on The Third Half. As for at least the Bundesliga and Premier League, my reduxes will be returning in full after each match round.

4) While I won't be doing any live blogs here, expect me to continue to mix up the twitter commentary on the weekend's action. If you aren't following me on Twitter, just go to the top of the page, click the twitter link, and follow me. Or, if you don't want to go back up to the top of the page, just go here.

Here's to an excellent upcoming season all across Europe!

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ESPN, Fox Sports International Need to Get Act Together

02 August 2010

As I type this, we are five days from the start of the English Championship Season (sponsored by nPower), and twelve days from the start of the Barclays Premier League season. However what we don't know as of yet are how these games will be split between ESPN, and the networks of Fox Sports International (Fox Soccer Channel, and Fox Soccer Plus).

The Championship games are probably easy enough, as there is nothing on ESPN3 in the interim, and all games that are to be broadcast in the opening weekend are on Fox Soccer TV Online. However, we still have no idea how Premier League games will be split up between ESPN and the channels of FSI. While last season's last second deal was understandable due to Setanta bailing last minute on payment for rights, the fact ESPN and FSI have had plenty of time to iron out a deal, and have not done so is simply pathetic.

What is more baffling to me is ESPN's move of putting the opening game of the season between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City premature of a deal being made and removing it when people started questioning it. In a matter of six months, we've gone from ESPN definitely getting 83 games, to 'well we're still negotiating'. At this point, deals should have already been made, contracts signed, and both entities promoting the hell out of what games they would be showing on opening weekend.

Now what do I think are the bones of contention? While I have nothing official, I have my own theories. From ESPN wanting to include all games they broadcast on ESPN3 (along with other media platforms), to FSI seeing the ratings of the World Cup on the Disney networks and jacking up the price they wanted for games, to ESPN wanting another lucrative time slot other than the time slots they had last season; something has gone amiss between the two parties. Now, with 12 days left, we're all still in the dark.

Further more, unless you are on a platform that carries Fox Soccer Plus (and if you are, congrats), you are still waiting for the price structure that Fox Soccer TV Online will be providing for this season. At this moment, all we know right now is that $4.95 will get you a one day pass. While this one day pass is up allegedly to clean up some of the programming from last season, I find that excuse extremely weak. If you need to close the site for maintenance, pick two or three days when no programming would be live and get it all done and over with.

With that said, we still don't know what their monthly or season prices will be. That's leaving it way too late for people to make up their minds. I can promise you one thing: if the status quo remains on the opening day of the Premier League season, I don't see too many people forking over $4.95 to see the games on offer on the product. To be even franker, I don't think many people will be paying $14.95 a month for the online service. They maybe willing to pay 99 dollars for the season, but at this point, it's not even an option to consider. The longer they wait, the more likely people are going to be willing to keep the money in their own pockets and make technology their personal best friend.

Time's running out on both Fox Sports International and ESPN to get these deals done and games promoted for opening weekend. The longer they wait, the lower the ratings will be. The longer FSI waits to provide potentially paying customers sound prices for their online product, the less likely people will be willing to pay their rates. The deals should have already been done, and should be now.

Instead, all we know is one thing: Fox Sports International has the rights to games. What games they will show, what networks will be airing games, and what prices we'll have to pay for either Fox Soccer Plus (if new platforms are made available), or for Fox Soccer TV Online are about as good as anyone's guess.

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About This Blog

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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