Thursday, December 20, 2007

Incredible freestyle football dribbler

Not that I have watched 1000's of these guys, but this one is by far the best freestyle I have ever seen. His name is Tsatsulow, and he calls himself a "street soccer freestyler". Check out these amazing skills here:


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A two horse race already?

While the points may not yet tell the tale, the trend going into the middle of the season is for Arsenal and Manchester United to pull away in a two horse race. Chelsea and Liverpool are talented, but the top two looks to have more horsepower and edge to pull away.

If you notice, Avram Grant has lost twice to the top 4. That 2% that Mourinho added has cost them, while they have beaten teams they should have beaten, they have lost to Arsenal, a team they have not lost to for over 2 years. Losing John Terry, that happened last year as well, remember?

Liverpool have the same syndrome. A draw was at least demanded at home for their onset of players, but another loss to the top 4 sucks the air out of their confidence. Its not Benitez can’d do it. They beat Chelsea solidly early in the season, before Mourinho left. They have what it takes, but the rotation policy doesn’t explain their inconsistency. Winning the Champions League didn’t send them to the next level. They are a player or two away, and Fernando Torres is truly El Nino.

Chelsea is out of it as far as I am concerned. Liverpool, with the potential of a group of very fit players at the end of the season could make a strong run if they hit a stretch of form. I know what Benitez is trying to do, and I respect his confidence that at the end of the season he will be there with so many combinations tested that he may play his best 11 for a stretch of 10 games and win them all.

Arsenal and Manchester United are not going to pull away from eachother. The gap between them is so close. It looks like William Gallas, scoring the winner at the weekend really looks like the team’s new Patrick Viera and a side with so much pace and incredible passing is hard to beat not to mention attractive to watch. With Crisitano Ronaldo the owner of the team and a great defense who can bet against United? There is so much stability there, and is the team that can cope with injuries better than any other team in the Premiership.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Karim Benzema (w/ video)

Karim Benzema is brimming with confidence and French outfit Lyon will soon be brimming with offers as the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United are all looking to bring in the young star who been an absolute revelation in France. Oh, so are Inter Milan and AC Milan.

How good is he? At 19 he not only leads the French League in scoring but is also keeping Brazilian striker Fred on the bench. Fred, you know, a Brazilian international. When you hear the words “Brazilian international striker” you will assume a starting place but not in this case. This 19 year old is now a French international and before long will be keeping Thierry Henry on the bench.

How good is he? Ask the Manchester United scouts who watched him single handedly floor Rangers on the way to helping Lyon on the way to the next round of the Champions League.

For Arsene Wenger, this could be the solution to replacing Thierry Henry. Robin van Persie is always injured, and to challenge for a Premiership title you need fit players. Benzima is highly regarded by Wenger, but with all the interest, the price might have climbed too high to make him a Gunner. Lasanna Diarra was mentioned as a player in a swap deal.

Alex Ferguson is certainly keen to bring Benzima to Old Trafford, but Lyon's price has done nothing but go up. The intention was a swap deal which would send Louis Saha and Mikael Silvestre the other way to Stade Gerland. It appears that Lyon want around £6m pounds in addition. It won’t stop United, Benzima has all the makings of a superstar striker. Fred now on the bench, will Wayne Rooney be next??

Must take a moment here to praise the immense job the backroom at Lyon is doing feeding the club with new and exciting talent. Its like a revolving door over there, and nothing but class seems to take over from the great players that leave. 3 or 4 times now I have said “that’s it, they have sold one player too many and will now pay” but no. A new starlet steps right into to fill the boots. Wow, its all you can say. Lyon are, in my opinion 4th in the list of top academies in the world behind Ajax Amsterdam, Sporting Lisbon, and Arsenal. Impressive stuff.

Here he is in action, not alot of tricks and the like, but you have to admire how clinical his finishing is:


And the destruction of Rangers:

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arsenal prevail in war of attrition against Chelsea

It was a great match. Poised, competitive, at times hard nosed and at times flowing. Arsenal were too much for Chelsea though as William Gallas sealed the three points just before the half and it remained there despite lots of attacking football to end 1-0.

Arsenal, in truth, deserved the result. They created more chances and defended better. They have Manuel Almunia to thank for some good saves and an all around faultless display. You can’t say the same for Peter Cech, as it was his error that led to the goal as he came for the ball during a corner and missed it completely to gift Gallas the chance. Gallas rose well above Tal Ben Haim, on as a substitute for the injured John Terry, and nodded the ball into the unprotected goal.

Chelsea threatened after the half, especially in the last 20 minutes as Arsenal appeared to tire. They had a flurry of close calls but could never squeeze that extra bit of quality out of themselves to salvage a point. Arsenal need to do a bit of fitness work though, they looked wooden-legged in the last 10 minutes but had 4 amazing chances on the break as Chelsea were entirely pushed forward looking for that equalizer.

It was a hard fought game, testy at times. Ashley Cole was booed throughout and was regularly whacked by the Arsenal players. Gael Clichy was excellent in defense, quick, he cancelled out Shaun Wright Phillip’s attempts to play down the wing. Centrally, Gallas and Toure were excellent.

For Chelsea, they seem quite capable of winning the easy ones, but this makes it 2 losses in a row against the Premiership’s big guns since the departure of Jose Mourinho.

The Blues lost to Manchester United in Avram Grant’s first game in charge, now to Arsenal. It’s much as I suspected: Chelsea have lost that extra 2% that Mourinho added, and at this level, that extra 2% is the difference between losing 0-1 and winning 2-0.

Arsene Wenger had never beaten Jose Mourinho in 2 seasons, now the new guard has lost in their first attempt. In time, you might see this trend continue and it will be Avram Grant’s undoing. All along I have considered him lucky to have such a professional team, luck only gets you so far.

As for Arsenal, yet another determined display. Coming on the heels of dropping 5 points last week, this is as welcome a result as Arsene Wenger will ever see. With their nose still ahead in the Premiership chase he will need to see a few more to make it happen this year.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

City, City, City!

Sven-Goran Eriksson continues to do a brilliant job at Manchester City with a perfect home record to show for it. With a 4-2 win over a determined Bolton side today, they move into fourth place in the Premier League.

It was by no means a runaway 4-2, City scored the first goal but broke down in the first half to let in 2 to fall behind. Bolton were playing well, it looked unlikely anything could be salvaged.

It was the ninth win at home for City, a very, very impressive record going into the toughest stretch of the season. City are on 33 points and with Liverpool taking on Manchester United they could see the weekend out in a place to qualify for the Champions League.

The more I watch City, the more they begin to resemble Arsenal. Sven is pushing possession football on the squad in training and it shows. After the break they made some tactical changes and took the game back over.

There were chances for both sides. Anelka hit the post, and Kevin Nolan was stopped by a brilliant save. But Bolton are still wandering, especially at the back, when at times they were Keystone Cops.

City went ahead early through a Rolando Bianchi redierct but El-Hadji Diuof made it level on 31 minutes. Kevin Nolan scored from a Ricardo Gardner cross just before the half.

City evened the scoring in the 48th minute as a Dietmar Hamann shot was deflected into the goal and shortly after Darius Vassell put City ahead for good, a fourth was added as substitute Kelvin Etuhu, who I thought was impressive, scored his first Premier League goal in injury time.

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Rafa re-opens transfer money debate at Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has given an interview to Spanish paper AS in which he discussed the amount of funding that has been spent on players at the club and complained that the Reds are not even at the same level of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal but are expected to be title contenders.

From the owners perspective, the team has spent alot, from Benitez’s perspective, their spending is not even in line with the top 3. Manchester United have spent some 70m pounds this season, only a fraction of what Liverpool have spent.


“There's a misunderstanding when people speak of the money Liverpool have spent. Between what we have spent and recovered, we're at a similar level to those at the top but not the biggest sides ... we have spent 40 something million and recovered 26 million.”

He’s actually correct. Liverpool have really spent very little when you compare the players which have left the club and those that have joined. I’ve always agreed with Benitez on the transfer row. The American owners don’t yet understand the intricacies of the European transfer market and Benitez does.

Benitez again:

"Many people say we have to win the title because of the money we have spent but other teams such as United, Chelsea, Newcastle United or Aston Villa have also spent a lot of money. Arsenal have been spending a lot on young players for years and now are reaping the rewards. "

Last year Jose Mourinho complained that he had defensive problems and needed a central defender. Now Benitez has the same problem. I will fault Rafa for not considering injuries at the beginning of the season and signing someone, but this is the moment to correct it.

"We have a central defensive problem because it was not possible to close a deal for Gabriel Heinze and then Daniel Agger was injured. That is forcing us to play with Sami Hyypia, who is 34, and Jamie Carragher for two games a week and with the intensity here, it is not easy to support this. Our idea is to bring a balance to the team in that position."

Agreed. The owners must face reality and not just focus on the new ground.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Arsenal dip could prove very costly

Arsenal entered the week 6 points clear of Manchester United with a game in hand. But a draw away at Newcastle and a loss over the weekend to Middlesbrough has seen the Gunners slip and widdle a lead going into the all important December schedule to just a single point.

It was their moment to consolidate their points and considering Arsenal must face Chelsea next, and it could quickly become the stretch of the season in which Arsenal lost the title race.

It might not be fair to look at his small stretch and extrapolate the end of a title race, but every lead is squandered somewhere, and this could easily become that moment. Arsenal’s 15-game unbeaten run has now ended and it shouldn't’t have happened to a relegation threatened Middlesbrough.

Last year Chelsea had a bad run when Peter Cech and John Terry were injured and could never recover from it. That didn’t happen in April.

Arsenal's team bus becoming lost on its way to the Riverside Stadium is certainly symbolic of the 5 points that were dropped. Credit to Newcastle: scrappy and determined in their draw, and Boro, who defended resolutely and took their chances. Both teams had managers under pressure for a result and it couldn’t have come from a better place for them.

Arsenal are really missing Cesc Fabregas. He’s scored goals all season from central midfield and has been responsible for some critical passes. Robin van Persie is desperately needed, but annoyingly he always seems to be injured. Newcomer Eduardo Da Silva is still waiting for his first Premiership goal. On Sunday he was substituted at half time, a sign of Arsene Wenger’s growing impatience.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Youth skipper close to Premiership move

Tottenham Hotspur are fighting with Liverpool over the transfer for 19 year old Sporting Lisbon midfielder Adrien Silva.

Silva, who plays in central midfield has been held from the starting lineup in Lisbon because of fellow youth stars Miguel Veloso and Moutinho, is getting attention from all over England. He's very skilled and a natural leader. Spanish side Sevilla is also looking to bid for the 3m pound rated player.

Silva sees the move to the Premiership as a dream, is well aware of scouts watching him and welcomes the transfer. He's noted for his ability to play box to box and work ethic.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jose Bosingwa

Jose Bosingwa has been one of the most impressive full backs in Europe this season. Playing on the right for FC Porto and the Portuguese national side, he's improved steadily until you can now safely call him world class. Over the summer he was almost an Aston Villa player, but was also tipped to join Middlesbrough and Tottenham. Price became a stumbling block, but regret may be setting in as Bosingwa continues to impress.

Bosingwa was born in the Congo but emigrated to Portugal as a child. As a youth he joined Boavista FC, Porto's local rivals until Jose Mourinho, then the Porto manager, swooped him up for his squad.

Bosingwa quickly established himself as a club favorite as his quickness and pace saw his easily control wingers and offer support down the wing. He is extremely fit and has a few tricks in his bag. He did an excellent job for Portugal through their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign with excellent crossing and poise in defense.

At 25, he is entering his prime for his position and continues to attract interest. Aston Villa really wanted to sign him but the price seemed to hover around 9m pounds, too much for O'Niell's budget. A potential move in the January for any club in the transfer window looks unlikely as he is Cup tied and, frankly, his stock has gone up. While he may not have the muscle that the Premiership seems to demand these days, he's very smart and uses his quickness very effectively in defense. Definitely one of the finest defenders in Europe at the moment.

Note: I was interviewed for the second time today by New Zealand's BSports Radio in Auckland. It was a lot of fun, email me if you want to listen to the interview.

Also: You can now subscribe to Football Commentator by Email


Was a Liverpool game fixed?

Yesterday I reported on a 96 page dossier handed over to Europol for investigation for match-fixing. Could the Liverpool record breaking Champions League win over Besiktas have been fixed? It has reportedly been on the list of suspected matches within the dossier, one of a total of 26 matched mentioned, 15 being closely scrutinized.

An article in Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung reveals an influx of bets on the winning margin just before the kick-off at Anfield. There is no suggestion that the Premier League team was involved, the implication being that Besiktas players threw the match.

Liverpool have not admitted any contact by UEFA regarding the match but this adds to a long list of suspicious bets placed in Europe.

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Chelsea on the verge of 16 year old starlet

Chelsea are busy negotiating to sign 16-year-old Malmo FF striker Marko Mitrovic who has been dubbed 'the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic'. The young Swede has been capped at the youth level and has been courted by Blackburn, Arsenal, Inter Milan, and Dutch outfits Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, but it appears Chelsea are leading the chase.

With the imminent departure of Didier Drogba, Chelsea need to strengthen this area of the club, and while this may be a signing for the future, its a certain sign of intent.

Malmo's sporting director Hasse Borg has admitted that they are in talks with Stamford Bridge. Malmo is also the club that fostered Zlatan Ibrahimovic. On trial over the summer, he has already played two games for the Chelsea juniors.

Note: I was interviewed for the second time today by New Zealand's BSports Radio in Auckland. It was a lot of fun, email me if you want to listen to the interview.

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Is Mourinho trying to force the hand of big club?

When I read that Jose Mourinho was interested in the England manager's job, I was surprised, very surprised. I started to wonder what has caused the change of heart. Why would he take a job in which he wouldn't play in a tournament for 3 years? The former Chelsea manager has recently been linked with the Tottenham and Liverpool job, but he can't work in England until next year. Could he be trying to force the hand of Barcelona?

My feeling here is that he wants to pressure Barcelona to sign him. If Barca were aware that he might be unavailable, its reasonable to think they might move faster to replace Frank Rijkaard and swoop for Mourinho.

This would be the only explanation I can muster, Mourinho is not the type of manager to wait 3 years to achieve something and could be using the FA as a lever towards a move to Spain.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Match-fixing scandal looms

UEFA has begun a full scale match-fixing investigation after Interpol turned over a 96 page dossier with information on Champions League, InterToto and UEFA Cup matches which are thought to be part of a betting scandal. 15 games are being examined. As of yet, no Premiership sides have been implicated.

German magazine Der Spiegel published details of three fixtures in the UEFA report.

Many millions of pounds were won on 3 different matches: an InterToto Cup game between Estonia's FC TVMK Tallinn and Finnish club FC Honka Espoo, 1m pounds were won by Asian bookmakers on the first leg of the UEFA Cup qualifier in July as Estonian side FC Narva Trans lost to Swedish club Helsingborgs 6-0. Suspicion arose after betters continued to pile on huge bets on a Helsingborgs win by a +3 goal margin even as the game was still 0-0 on 25 minutes.

Another UEFA Cup qualifier between Serbian side FK Bezanija and KSB Besa Kavaje of Albania was so loaded with suspicion that it caused Asian betting markets to collapse.

The fact that such huge sums were won on such small fixtures indicates a very large scale problem and one that could see massive repercussions in Europe.