Archive for the ‘EPL’ Category

Everton v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League

The Premier League

The Winner: Everton! Literally, and in the spirit of this little mini round up piece as well. Arsene was right: with glory in football basically having boiled down to qualifying for tournaments that pay big TV money, the race for fourth is a distant but important side show to the incredible three way dogfight up top.

As far as that goes, Everton are now a single point behind Arsenal who are still clinging to fourth, after defeating the North London side 3-0 in a game where Lukaku scored a fairly decent goal and Everton looked fairly comfortable throughout. If you want to boil down the game to a single moment (not possible but let’s pretend), this would be it:

That’s Seamus Coleman forcing Santi Cazorla to question his purpose in life.

As for the future fortunes of both sides, a certain graphic has been making the rounds supposedly hinting at future form. Everton though face the (slightly) tougher opposition in the weeks ahead, though I’m being charitable and including Man United in that group.

The Loser: Chris Hughton, sacked after Norwich lost 0-1 to West Brom. And here too is an unfortunate case of a manager falling victim to the high variability of shot and save percentages—Norwich City are 11th in the league in TSR but dead last in PDO. In short: Norwich aren’t as crap as a miserable squad replete with a dour faced Ricky van Wolfswinkel often appear to be.

Oh sure, there are probably other things Hughton could be doing better, but with the Canaries now five points off the drop, the idea that the now ex-U18 coach Neil Adams will offer a marked improvement between now and the end of the season doesn’t seem to be part of a deeply thought out long-term strategy. Football!

The Takeaway: With Liverpool still top of the table after a badly reffed but solid 1-2 win against West Ham this weekend, and with City with a pair of games in hand, all eyes will be on Anfield when the sides meet next Sunday (on rather poignantly the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough).

Also, that business about Chelsea not being good and needing strikers will get a waiver as they ran through Mark Hughes RED HOT STOKE three nil (you get “red hot” affixed to your team name if you win three times in a row). As for the relegation battle, it could be that the incompetence of the lower mid-tablers will be saved by the consistent awfulness of Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham (despite the latter’s 1-2 victory over a sorry Aston Villa).

La Liga

The Winner: Atletico Madrid. Without Diego Costa, who is now apparently being carved up like Solomon with a baby for a transferin’ by the money twins Chelsea and Monaco, Atleti could have stepped into the match against the 7th place Villarreal and slipped up ahead of Barca’s weekend fixture (they defeated Real Betis 3-1).

Instead they overcome a slight shot deficit to beat the Yellow Submarine 1-0 via Raul Garcia and remain top the league with the Champions League still very much in play. Do I write this every week?

The Loser: The Spanish national team. Things are looking ugly as the season progresses between the usual Barca/Madrid suspects, and now Iker Casillas has promised to “slap” Busquets next time they meet over his alleged head stamp on Pepe from the last El Clasico. It’s ridiculous.

The Takeaway: The Mexican standoff continues at the top of the table as the three contenders face fairly mundane competition next weekend after their midweek Champions League deciders. Elsewhere the battle for fourth continues to be interesting, with Sevilla winning 4-1 against Espanyol after having dropped all three points the week before.

Bundesliga

The Winner: Bayern. Despite all the empty headlines about the shock 1-0 defeat to Augsburg ending a 53 match unbeaten run, a game in which they outshot their opponents 16 to 11, they are still, somehow, champions. Moreover, Pep’s side have sowed the seeds of doubt after the first leg Champions League quarterfinal tie with Manchester United, only to further give their opponents false hope.

The Loser: Sami Hyypia. The Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool defender was sacked after a 2-1 defeat to Hamburg on the weekend. As quoted in the Guardian:

“After a lot of thought and because of the ongoing crisis we reached the conclusion that a change at this point could help us turn things around urgently,” the Leverkusen chief executive, Michael Schade, said.

Which is totally how this works. Football again!

The Takeaway: The battle for the final CL spot is intense, and perhaps even more up for grabs by Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Mainz. That, and the relegation battle, is all that is left to care about in this league, essentially.

Serie A

The Winner: Unknown. I mean, Roma perhaps for staying in it with a 1-3 win over Cagliari (a Destro hattrick!), adding to their midweek spoils against Parma. Then Parma for knocking off Napoli to stay in the hunt for the Europa League. Fiorentina for stopping a short skid by beating Udi 2-1. But I can’t tell you until after the Juventus match against crappy Livorno tomorrow.

The Loser: Managers. Diego Lopez was sacked by Cagliari after the above defeat, and Catania fired Rolando Maran for the second time this season.

The Takeaway The sackings likely aren’t done yet…Walter Mazzari may be ready to go after Inter’s 2-2 draw with Bologna. Other than that, Roma will need a miracle to press Antonio Conte’s Juve as the season winds down.

Arsenal v Manchester City - Barclays Premier League

Liverpool’s crushing 4-0 victory over Spurs

Does it matter?: Yes, but probably more for Spurs and the future of Tim Sherwood than it does for Liverpool’s title aspirations, which are as strong as they’ve ever been in the second half of the season as Luis Suarez continues to finish with dangerous precision and the whole team runs about with purpose in the opposing third.

That may seem an odd thing to say on the day that Chelsea’s stutter against Crystal Palace, alongside Arsenal’s ball-slinging draw against Manchester City, allowed Brendan Rodger’s Liverpool to finish the weekend two points clear on top of the table (and for him to make bizarre claims of a 533 million strong worldwide fan base).

But this could all be forgotten two weeks from now, particularly if Manchester City win against the Reds on April 13th.

For Sherwood though it is further proof he is a tactical naif, a manager who offers no added value to the vacuum left following Andre Villas-Boas’ departure. The game also gave Spurs chairman Daniel Levy another incredible headache, as by now he’s realized not only is the expensive attacking midfield talent he paid hand over fist for in the summer failing to come together, but Tottenham have a back line featuring Younas Kaboul and Michael Dawson. Spurs are a mess.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s defeatist remarks after losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace

Do they matter?: No. Before you know why, here is what he said:

“I don’t think it’s the moment to speak about next season and the market but it’s clear to everybody that Chelsea next year wants to bring a striker. What’s the future for the other strikers? The ones who are staying are competing with the striker we are bringing [in]. And normally, at the end of the season, players that are not playing a lot or players who are not happy may prefer a change. That is also part of the market. We want to improve the team and the players and make some surgical movements in the transfer window.”

Though Mourinho will almost certainly press for sweeping changes in the striker department in the summer, this was already on the books for most of the season anyway with the aging, end-of-the-line Eto’o scoring the most goals of any Chelsea striker, tied on 11 with Oscar. In fact, one might read into Mourinho’s constant insistence his team are not title favourites as a way to further make the case in the off-season for even more squad upheaval, even in the eventuality Chelsea win the thing “by accident.”

This was always the case; a lame 1-0 loss provides a nice alibi.

Manchester United’s resounding 4-1 victory over Aston Villa

Does it matter?: No, but with the idiotic way most football clubs are run, chances are it’s possible someone at the board level regarded this last match as a “reprieve” for David Moyes, if they were seriously considering sacking him now that is.

One result however shouldn’t be a basis for any decision of that magnitude, for the reason any single result must be judged in light of the whole. And in this case the win came down to the inept Villa backline. First, they allowed Rooney the simplest of unmarked headers to equalize after Ashley Westwood’s incredible opening free kick. Then they continued with Leandro Bacuna upending Juan Mata to concede a penalty. And so on and so on and so on. A great and good victory for Man United at Old Trafford to plug up the leaks for a time. Villa love handing out gifts. But this is a mere upward spike in Moyes’ killer first and maybe last season in charge.

If you want a brilliant account of the Moyes’ sitch by the way, look no further than Ken Early’s brilliant story for Slate on the load put, perhaps unfairly, on Moyes’ shoulders.

Napoli defeats Serie A leaders Juventus 2-0

Does it matter?: Only in the faintest of ways, with potential to give Roma a smaller, slightly less insurmountable but still insurmountable hill to climb in overtaking Juventus.

Right now Juve are 11 points ahead but Roma has a game in hand, which they will play this Wednesday in a huge game against Parma. Napoli already walked into the Juve match with a sizable lead on Fiorentina for the final Champions League spot, which is now probably impossible for the latter to overcome. So as nice as the victory—Callejon and Dries Martens both scored—was for Benitez and team moral, and despite it being Juventus’ first loss in Serie A since Fiorentina beat them 4-2 in October, it doesn’t change much in what is hardening into a semi-predictable table.

Unless this is the beginning of the end of an historic Juve collapse! (It isn’t).

Other things that matter/don’t matter

-Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Man City? Possibly matters for Wenger’s future, maybe, though I doubt it. I’m sure it does matter but not more than any other result for either teams this season.
-Atletico’s 1-2 win over Athletic Bilbao? Matters. Bilbao are no slouches and Atletico’s streak continues.
-Anything in MLS? Doesn’t matter, for now. Three more games and it will start to.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates a goal against Real Madrid during La Liga's second 'Clasico' soccer match of the season in Madrid

Last night, many fans of the World’s Most Popular Football League tuned in, as they often do, to watch El Clasico on TV. The reason should be obvious: Real Madrid vs Barcelona features two of the best teams in the world with the best players in the world facing each other in a match that will play a hand in deciding the eventual league champions. This is about as straightforward as it gets in football terms. Viewers weren’t disappointed, either; the game finished 3-4 for Barcelona and was packed with lots of pretty attacking football from people paid a lot of money.

What I’m guessing probably didn’t happen much at all last night is English-speaking football fans chiding other English speaking football fans for watching a Spanish league match, perhaps saying something like: “You already have everything you could ever want in the Premier League. Why do you need to go off and watch their lot?”

The Daily Mail nevertheless took the rare instance of a foreign league attracting native UK eyes to reassert the Premier League’s dominance in the entertainment stakes, as if a single El Clasico is going to suddenly make a convert out of a regular Mail reader.

But it raises an interesting point: why do we persist with the idea that foreign domestic leagues are in competition with each other for a limited set of eyeballs?

Though I’m only armed with anecdotal evidence, I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that following football isn’t what it used to be. It once involved traveling to grounds, listening over the radio, reading match reports in the newspaper and perhaps waiting for that rare weekend when your team ended up on Match of the Day. This pretty much limited you to one club in a single league. Today however football is a giant, radiating glob, with every league selling viewing rights as part of an increasingly vicious bidding war on TV, and Vined and GIF’d and YouTube’d and Blogged up the wazoo on the Internet. You watch what’s on.

People have their personal preferences of course (“I love the attacking verve of the Eee Pee El”), but in practice they’re meaningless. Even bitter MLS fans follow the European leagues, if only to track American expats on their way to stardom or irrelevance across the pond. Regular viewers of the Premier League will keep tabs on the Bundesliga and will switch back and forth depending on how bored they are with Stoke vs Cardiff. “Switching leagues” is a simple as changing the channel. Everyone follows everything. You can’t really be a Premier League fan without knowing the basics of what’s happening in Germany, because the Champions League is just around the corner.

What galls most though about the repeated, chest thumping assertions of the Premier League’s international dominance since its inception in 1992 is that it likely came in large part from its being based in an English speaking country with English speaking media. No doubt the entertaining dominance of Man United and Arsenal surely helped, but built-in English commentary and English reporting provided less of an obstacle to the curious overseas fan.

But it doesn’t really matter now in the age of digital media, with Italy’s Gazetta Dello Sport and Spain’s Marca putting out English editions and more and more league highlights going up on Youtube. A rising tide lifts all boats: the enormous success of the Premier League’s global expansion has carried with it intense interest in the other leagues as well, most notably the polyglot Champions League, which itself is an advertisement for the weekend matches. Even the EPL’s advantage in the TV rights game could shrink as competition for even remotely popular leagues intensifies among cable TV providers scrambling for the remaining live sports properties. There’s no real “competition.” Fewer and fewer fans are going to watch Premier League mid table dross while Dortmund v Bayern is on.

Just something to remember whenever that dumb pub debate comes up again. “The Premier League is just so much more entertaining than the Bundesliga.” Depends on the match, depends on the team, depends on the player, depends on the writer, depends on the Vine, the Youtube highlights, the storyline, the replica shirt, your personal mood. It depends.

Sunderland's Borini celebrates after scoring a goal against Manchester City during their English League Cup final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London

Two years ago, not long after winning his first cap for Italy, Fabio Borini sat down for an interview with Sportweek magazine. Still a few days shy of his 21st birthday, the forward already seemed well on his way to great things. Since joining Roma from Parma the previous summer, he had established himself as a fixture of Luis Enrique’s starting XI and now had also captured the attention of national team manager Cesare Prandelli.

And yet there was nothing presumptuous about this softly-spoken kid, who chewed nervously on the laces that hung from the neck of his hoodie. Asked by his interviewer when he might feel as though he had truly arrived as a top-level footballer, Borini replied: “When I win something, playing the role of a protagonist [for my team]. And I will not want to stop after that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Arsenal's Campbell reacts after Stoke City's Fuller scored his second goal during their FA Cup soccer match in Stoke-on-Trent

Your skin colour is not good.

The job you want is unattainable because your skin is the wrong colour. Your partner’s family despises you because of the way you look. Children are told to cross the road, less they come into contact with ‘you,’ someone who is considered abnormal.

I have some experience with the above and I can tell you it’s awful.

It feels awful when a slur is directed your way. Being called a ‘Paki’ when my family was actually from India hurt. Clarifying the difference felt even worse. Why am I justifying myself to a bigot?

That’s why I have time for Sol Campbell’s argument. In his autobiography, Campbell believes his race kept him from becoming England’s captain.

Read the rest of this entry »

News: Snowstorm in New England

We don’t really have a context for transfer fees and what they cost in the real world. This isn’t going to help, but I did it anyway.

1. Juan Mata to Man United – £37.1m ($61 million USD)

The same amount ten of the largest technology companies in the US spent lobbying Washington in 2013

Manchester United's new signing Mata holds a club shirt with club manager David Moyes during a photocall at the club's Carrington training complex in Manchester

From the Verge:

The increase in lobbying spend comes as the United States’ largest technology companies increase their political efforts. Among the group, Facebook has been particularly active. In April last year, Mark Zuckerberg launched FWD.us with other Silicon Valley executives to push for immigration reform. In November, the Facebook CEO took his political advocacy to ABC’s This Week, discussing NSA surveillance and directly criticizing the government’s Healthcare.gov. Addressing the rise in lobbying spend, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson said “policymaking in Washington is all about how much money you can throw around.”

2. Kurt Zouma to Chelsea – £12.5m ($20.5 million USD)

The amount Chicago has budgeted this year for snow removal

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Source: the Chicago Sun-Times.

3. Shane Long to Hull City – £7.4m ($12.1 million USD)

The amount the Naples Winter Wine festival raised for Florida Children in January 2014

Crystal Palace v Hull City - Barclays Premier League

From Wine Spectator magazine:

2014 marked another successful charity event for the Naples Winter Wine Festival, whose Jan. 25 live auction raised $12.1 million—a 53 percent increase in live sales over 2013 and the highest sales total since 2008. Net proceeds topped out at $13.5 million.

“As always, we have a great formula: great wines, great weather and a great cause,” said the event’s cochair, Anne Welsh McNulty. “We had a particular energy and excitement.”

4. Konstantinos Mitroglou to Fulham – £12.4m ($20.4 million USD)

Amount Paul Jacobs, outgoing CEO of Qualcomm, made in 2013

Olympiakos' Piraeus Mitroglou reacts during his team's Champions League soccer match against Paris St-Germain at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris

From Bloomberg:

Jacobs, who is moving to the role of executive chairman when he steps down, received a salary of $1.2 million, plus bonuses, and a stock award of $15 million, according to a company filing yesterday. Jacobs’s total compensation was about 1 percent less than the $20.7 million he made in 2012. Sales more than tripled and profit doubled under Jacobs, who has been CEO since 2005.

5. Mohamed Salah to Chelsea – £11m (18.1 million USD)

Amount the house that Michael Jackson died in sold for in 2012

FC Basel's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring against Chelsea's during their Champions League Group E soccer match at St. Jakob-Park in Basel

Source: WSJ.

6. Nemanja Matic to Chelsea – £21m ($34.5 million USD)

Amount the family of reclusive art collector Huguette M. Clark won after they sued her estate after she cut them out of her $300 million fortune

Chelsea v Stoke City - FA Cup Fourth Round

From NBC:

After Clark died in 2011 at age 104, nineteen relatives challenged her last will and testament, which had cut them out of her $300 million copper fortune. The relatives claimed that she was mentally ill and had been defrauded by her nurse, attorney and accountant. No one was charged with any crime after an investigation by the district attorney’s office, but enough questions were raised that the case was settled in September 2013 just after jury selection began. The relatives, who last saw her in 1957 and most of whom never met Clark, will receive $34.5 million. Lawsuits continue as the relatives hope to receive more money from Clark’s hospital and doctor. The proceeds from the scheduled sales at Christie’s will go back into the estate for distribution under that settlement.

Queens Park Rangers' new manager Mark Hughes poses for photos after a press conference at the club's Loftus Road stadium in west London

This Tweet was making the rounds among several football journalists today:

It outlines Newcastle’s new media strategy, which involves charging journalists for “exclusive” interviews with players. This is the latest in a long line of moves from both the Premier League and its member clubs to restrict or charge for access under the guise of protecting its product. For better or worse, many in English football regard media coverage as a proprietary issue.

To someone in North America, particularly the US, this might seem bizarre. Perhaps it’s the combination of a constitutional guarantee of press freedoms and centrally-run professional leagues with long-standing traditions of press access, but the idea of charging news outlets to speak with players appears not only strange, but repugnant.

Intuitively, it makes perfect sense to let reporters into the club to do their job. All newspapers have sports sections, sports is news, sports reporters are at least expected to follow the same ethical guidelines in reporting as their A section counterparts (insert Daily Mail joke here)—why not grant them the access in the name of press freedom?

Yet it’s still difficult to see, on first glance, a legal basis for football clubs in England—most of which are privately owned and operated—to grant press access wherever possible. Private companies aren’t obliged to hold press conferences for example, or answer journalist questions. Freedom of the press in practice means allowing journalists to openly report the news without interference (unless the reporting is defamatory), and holding public institutions like courts, governments, and publicly-funded companies open and accountable to the press. It doesn’t mean forcing private persons or companies to hold press conferences.

Many sports journalists know this, but they argue that it’s in the clubs’ best interests to let the media promote their product to the public. It’s not certain however the Premier League agrees, and in some ways both the PL and clubs view accredited journalists and photographers as just another content provider alongside blogs, betting sites, and aggregators.

Moreover, both clubs and the league know that football helps sells papers, and so they see access as a quid pro quo thing—we’ll let you come into the club and talk to players and the manager if you respect our content agreements with third-party content providers (hence the Premier League’s restrictions on live blogging and publishing match and player data for accredited reporters, thanks to Tom Dart for the link). They also see no problem in picking and choosing which reporters they will let in the building, and have geared rules on media access to primarily benefit rights holders, ie broadcasters.

Meanwhile, managers like Arsene Wenger have been openly critical of his club’s responsibility to speak with the same broadcast media who indirectly pay his clubs millions of pounds in rights fees. The idea that they would extend this apparent privilege to newspapers is laughable.

None of this is, in my opinion, a good thing. Despite the fact they’re often privately owned, football clubs are very much a public, community-based institution. Perhaps one of the more compelling arguments for supporters owning football clubs is the attendant responsibility to be publicly accountable to the media, rather than trying to hoover up every possible pound from the press.