Not sure what I can write about this match that hasn’t already been written from a tactical point of view. Lineup predictions, formational preferences, and the impact of the two legendary managers have all been published, copied, pasted, reworded, recycled, occasionally refreshed and all together lost all meaning as the match looms nearer and nearer. I was trying to explain the significance of the occasion to my manager at work; trying and struggling mind you. She’s a lovely woman but she hasn’t the faintest idea of why I was so devastated to have been scheduled to work today. How do you explain love? How does one define excitement? How to articulate the sheer monumentality? To say this match will be more explosive that Team Yusuke v Team Toguro in the Dark Tournament is something of an understatement. More convoluted than House Stark v House Lannister? You bet it is.. but that is not quite explicative enough to do the match justice. Is it akin to two gladiators going at it in a bout to the death? Yeaa but nahh. Its Manchester United at home to Real Madrid circa 2013. I don’t think any sort of metaphor, simile, comparison, or explanation would suffice to accurately delineate the wash of emotions we’re all feeling today. It the Champions League. That says enough. Today I’m just going to sit back, watch, and enjoy this one. And stay sober because I still have work tonight -____-
Shout out to Ryan Giggs though! 1,000 matches and counting! Just hope he’s not starting…
While I was writing that Champions League piece news started filtering in through my timeline that Fox Soccer have picked up a new commentator. At first glance the name Gus Johnson didn’t register at all (neither did it on the second, third, or fourth glances btw) but it wasn’t until I saw him being compared to the illustrious Ray Hudson (who I hold in rather high regard) that I started to take note. A clip of Johnson calling a match between the San Jose Earthquakes and DC United caught my eye. And ears. I wasn’t impressed. I check the Fox Soccer timeline and see that they are REALLY excited about the arrival of Mr. Johnson and seem to want us to be excited as well. Puzzled, and sensing discontent from some of the folks I follow, I poked around a bit more and found THIS Sports Illustrated piece detailing how Gus Johnson began his career as a soccer pundit. Then came the fury.
To super-summarize that article, Fox Sports won the U.S. broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and wanted to be bold and unique and to most importantly, “brand it with something unique to Fox.” So the President of Fox Sports calls up Gus Johnson. Gus Johnson is a 45 year old professional broadcaster with a vast amount of commentary experience in a variety of sports. None of those sports, however, happens to be soccer as it were. That’s ok though because Fox are giving this guy a crash course in soccer that includes extended trips to Europe and personal mentoring sessions with some of the game’s most knowledgeable and respected figures, as well as a soft and steady introduction to the game of soccer.
The fury has since subsided but even now I still can’t decide where to begin to comment on this. No one likes a Negative Nigel though so instead of focusing on what I consider to be a shockingly disrespectful and excruciatingly inconsiderate move by the Fox Sports President Eric Shanks to hire someone with no prior knowledge/ties/passion/understanding/experience/links/relations to the beautiful game and give that person the soccer fans ultimate dream education, I will instead draw on the positives. Personally I’d prefer for an up and coming young soccer player/fan/writer/coach etc with aspirations of becoming the voice of American soccer to be handed the keys to the castle so to speak and have the opportunity literally handed to them on a silver platter but I can understand (even if I do not approve of) the move by Shanks to go with the top-down approach instead of the bottom-up. By taking someone who is already well known and generally well liked and respected, Fox generates more news than if they’d announced they’d just signed Dike Anyiwo to a log term commentary deal. Even the controversy of hiring a man from the despicable “sport” of baseball plays into Fox’s hands. Its still early doors in this experiment and I bear no ill-will towards Gud Johnson as an individual; I actually respect the depth and scope of the preparation he’s going through to prepare himself. I’ll withhold my final judgment of this whole affair until after this upcoming round of Champions League fixtures that he is scheduled to work. Part of me even wants him to succeed if it leads more Americans to watching and understanding soccer.
I just wonder though… If Fox Sports invested just 1/10 of what they’re putting into this Gus experiment into providing an opportunity for someone who actually knows the game to pursue the same goal, they’d recoup a lot of the animosity amongst us purists that this move has generated. How cool would it be if Fox Soccer continued with their recent “original programming” wave and put together a project similar to that Celtic player trial show but for aspiring writers, analysts, and commentators??
For the greater part of the last 47 days and some hours I’ve been waiting with baited breath for next week’s UEFA Champions League clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid. At the time of the draw it was farrr too early for me to start thinking slash talking about potential lineups, key battles, or even tactical formations. Its still too early but now with just over 7 days to go I’m feeling restless, anxious, impatient, and most of all EAGER.
Despite rampant allegations of United playing well below the peak of their powers, the men from Manchester find themselves 9 points clear at the top of the table over those noisy ones from across the way and with a squad that is nigh on full strength. Ashley Young has been the only long term injury of late and Phil Jones has just been ruled out with shingles of all things but otherwise the United squad is looking strong. Last time out Manchester United had to rely on a late strike from a resurgent Rooney who looks to be neck deep in a rather rich vein of form at just the right time of the season. Nani and Kagawa are both back from long injuries and give us options going forward that we sorely lacked during the first half of the season when Robin van Persie put his new team on his back and carried them to the top of the table with a string of class performances. Although he hasn’t scored in the last 3 matches van Persie’s ability is there to be seen and I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s taken his foot off the pedal a bit in a bid to save his strength for the match against Madrid.
Personally I’m quite confident of our ability to go to the Bernabeau and knick a goal or three. Madrid’s league form has been nothing short of atrocious but we all know they gave up on retaining the La Liga crown some time ago. They’ve been waiting for this round of the Champions League as well and will be champing at the bit to get that 10th European title under their belt. Aside from the usual media fueled and inflated rumors of death doom and destruction going on in the Madrid dressing room, Real do have a few real problems. Golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling with ankle and groin injuries but looks set to play for Portugal in this terribly timed round of international matches and St Iker is out with that well documented broken hand. Questions remain at LB where Marcelo has yet to regain form following a lengthy spell out with a broken metatarsal and Fabio Coentrao has been less than convincing when on the pitch. Sami Khedira has been one of Madrid’s better performers this season but was substituted at half time in Madrid’s last match against Grenada along with Karim Benzema who is yet another Madrid star who twinkles in time to some beat that none of the rest of his teammates can seem to find with any regularity. Xabi Alonso is a vital cog in the Madrid midfield but he’s been struggling with neck and back pains since taking a rather nasty fall a few weeks back. Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric have also flitted in and out of the team for the bulk of the season and Kaka is still lingering around after his move to Milan collapsed. Needless to say, Jose Mourinho has his work cut out for him in terms of picking his XI to host Manchester United.
Choosing the United starting XI is has proved to be an exercise in futility in recent years. Sir Alex always throws a surprise in the mix but for me personally I’d start De Gea in goal. Rafael at RB. Vidic (if fit) and Evans together at CB. Evra LB. Carrick and Anderson in midfield with Nani and Kagawa/Rooney wide with RvP at the tip and Rooney/Kagawa supporting him.
Rafael Vidic Evans Evra
Nani Rooney Kagawa
Like I mentioned earlier its too soon to really be thinking about Madrid with a tricky home match against Everton this weekend to come first but I couldn’t help it. The dinner table isn’t quite set and the main course hasn’t started cooking yet, but Mom is back from the store and the groceries are most definitely out of the car.
Oh yes! Seems like it was years ago when I was pounding my fist into my thigh in futile frustration as Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League. Fast forward a week to the draw for the Round of 16. Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan v Arsenal, Chelsea v Napoli, Marseille v Inter, Basel v Bayern Munich, Zenit v Benfica, CSKA Moscow v Real Madrid, and Apoel v Lyon are the ties that we have to look forward to in the next two weeks. The two games today are Bayer Leverkusen vs Barcelona and Lyon vs Apoel Nicosia. The match that the vast majority of the footballing world will have our eye on is undoubtedly the Barca game. The reigning champions of Europe have been in rather woeful La Liga form, falling to an all time (in my memory) high of 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid. This past weekend they lost 2-3 away at 8th placed Osasuna despite having their customary 68% possession and taking more shots on target than Osasuna had shots at all. Xavi, Iniesta, and Cesc all started on the bench presumably to rest them for today’s match. Leverkusen haven’t been faring too well in das Bundesliga either. They started the most recent round in 6th place and were felled 1-0 by a Dortmund team in fine fetter. Despite a rather even possession game, Leverkusen somehow only mustered up 3 shots, 1 on target. Talisman Michael Ballack has been in atrocious form this season, earning public criticism from both club owner and manager. He won’t be playing today though so all eyes will be on the newly capped German internationals Andre Schurrle and Stefan Kiesling to work some magic. The two of them, along with Eren Derdiyok have been bearing the brunt of Leverkusen’s goal scoring burden in a season where goals have been harder to come by than the Easter Bunny. Realistically while Leverkusen are potent in attack with their direct style, high intensity, and fast pace football, their midfield lack the quality (like the rest of the world) to compete with Barcelona. Expect them to hassle and harry and hope to hit on the break. expect goalkeeper Bernd Leno to earn his pay today when Messi and his merry men come looking to smash and grab an away victory. Barcelona aren’t winning La Liga but you can be sure they’ll be gunning to be the first team to win the UEFA Champions League in back to back seasons.