November 29, 2012
Where has the midfield gone?

There has been plenty to point at with regard to Newcastle United’s current form.  The goals have dried up on the front end and they are shipping in on the back end.  You don’t have to attend manager training to know that’s a bad combination.  I personally believe the midfield is where this team has been lacking all year.  Service (including our wingbacks) has been poor to the forwards and there has not been the same level of protection for the back line.  You can sacrifice one for the other, but when you do neither, you’re second from bottom of the form table (hat tip @toonarmynyc for the link).   

To me, this was the backbone of our team last year and what much of our success this year is dependent on.  I don’t think anyone would look at the back line or striking crew and think they were world class units.  However, I do think many would say we have a “proper” midfield.

Injuries aside, when is the last time we bossed a game?  The first time I noticed was in the Manchester United game.  ManUtd were reeling at the time with their midfield and defense in shambles.  Tactically, we set up like chickens and were undone by set pieces early which changed the game but that was an opportunity to make a statement.  And on and on it’s gone since.  

I don’t like to call out individual players because there are many factors contributing to their output but I feel I must briefly here.  Aside from a few moments of brilliance, Cabaye has been fairly anonymous.  Tiote has maintained his knack for picking up yellows and completely lost it for picking up the ball.  He is a total shell of himself from last year.  Jonas, who has long been a workhorse both protecting the back line and running at opponents has been largely ineffective for some time now in my opinion.  The lone shining star has been Ben Arfa.  I felt he really tried to put the team on his back vs West Ham and his attitude was right.  I don’t know how effective his style is for this team right now though.  

The entire year has been stop/start and the midfield is the epitome of it.  Hopefully something can be a big enough jolt to change the momentum or this may quickly become a long and lost season.            

June 28, 2012
Previews and Predictions- Euro 2012 Semis

Germany vs Italy- National Stadium- Warsaw, Poland 2:45p EDT

This is really difficult for me to call.  Germany is so, so talented and so German.  What I mean by that is they are so disciplined.  The work ethic is great and everyone seems to know their role.  They are so methodical it is almost robotic.  As I wrote last week, Germany never were frustrated against the Greeks, even as chances and chances went begging.  Well, everyone remained calm except Jogi Low who went mental every time a shot was missed. (This was after Lahm’s goal, and another  funny clip of him messing with a ball boy.)

The most fascinating thing about this match will be Ozil v Pirlo.  Neither one is necessarily good defensively or relishes “getting stuck in!”  A lot of people have predicted this to be an open match due to this, but historically these teams are so well disciplined and strong defensively (esp the Italians, although they’ve played more open this tournament) I have trouble seeing that.  Also. the teams have been quiet about whether they will directly marking each other, however, with Ozil playing further forward and Pirlo playing traditionally deeper, they will definitely be in each others space.  I feel if there ever was a use for iso-cams (which to date I can’t think of a good one) this would be it.

Prediction- Germany 3 - Italy 1 The more talented side wins out and everyone gets their “dream final” match up.       

June 27, 2012
Previews and Predictions- Euro 2012 Semis

Portugal vs Spain- Donbass Arena- Ukraine 2:45p EDT

So the 2 narratives are as follows: 1. Spain is boring to watch and 2. Can the team of one Cristiano Ronaldo defeat the team of Spain?
As for #1, this is actually a sentiment I am beginning to agree with.  I do not, however, think it’s Spain’s fault.  Teams set up to play the same defensive, bus parking football against them and never threaten them.  You can take away country badges and colors and Spain has played essentially the same team for the past 2-3 years (other than the powerhouse that is US Soccer, of course).  If you think you’re bored watching them, how do you think they feel playing?  I hope to see Portugal really give them a go.  How great would it be to see the Portuguese tearing up and down the wings?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Spain actually need to move the ball up the field vs passing around the opponents penalty box?  Seeing La Roja work it’s amorphous triangles and diamonds around the pitch is truly the beautiful game.  I don’t think anyone would call this game boring if these 2 things happen.


I just think #2 is a silly notion.  Yes, I know everyone talks about how Maradona lifted Argentina to the World Cup title in ‘86 but I don’t see how that can happen today.*  I believe that soccer more than almost any other sport is a team game.  As good as Pirlo was against England, Italy still could have lost that game.  Pirlo can’t score for his teammates (as in literally, he can’t shoot for Balotelli, etc).  If Italy loses that game I don’t think anyone is saying, “Well Pirlo couldn’t will his team to win.”  That seems to be the narrative with Darth Ronaldo though.  I think as a whole people have come around on him not performing on the international stage, but the headline is still, “Can Ronaldo drag Portugal to a win?”  Really it should be, “Does this Portugal team have enough gumption to rip the trophy out of Spain’s hands?”


Prediction- Portugal 1 - Spain 0 I’ll pick an upset.  Spain just does not scare me if I’m Portugal.  As well as Fabregas has filled in, I think they lack a killer touch from a true striker.  Any goal they score has to be so perfect and precise.  They certainly can make that magic happen, but it only has to run dry for 90 mins.  Maybe they get 2-3 chances that work but get squandered.  Maybe Portugal plays on the front foot enough where Spain can’t try to work their passes the entire game, resulting in only 10 through balls instead of 25. Pressure then builds and Spain hasn’t been under pressure (from an opponent) in some time.
Okay, now tell me I’m crazy.   

*Has there been any revisionist history to Maradona’s greatness in that tournament? Has it been romaticized? I’m too young to know, but know a pivotal goal came from his hand.  That doesn’t strike me as dominant, more like desperate and scrapping for anything to win.    

June 22, 2012
Previews and Predictions- Euro 2012

Germany vs Greece- PGE Arena- Poland 2:45p EDT

The Greeks have had another admirable tournament. After a tumultuous opening game against Poland, they fought off poor refereeing decisions to qualify for the knockouts. Can they shock everyone again like 2004?

No, Germany is too good. Specifically, too disciplined. This is probably the worst team Greece could have drawn. Germany should have enough creativity to break down a stodgy Greek defense. If they can’t, they have the quality to beat teams multiple ways. If Ozil can’t break through the middle, Muller and Podolski can send crosses into Gomez all day. By the 12th chance he should convert 1. Most importantly, they are too poised to lose their heads in frustration. I could definitely see the likes of France or Italy getting out of their game and coming unglued. On the contrary, I could see Spain stubbornly trying to play their way, steadfast in the belief of their system, until the final whistle- sink or swim.

Without their veteran striker and leader Karagounis, it’s hard to see Greece nicking a goal and holding on to win 1-0.

Prediction- Germany 1 - Greece 0

A steady Germany makes the breakthrough and calmly plays out the match stonefaced and unnerved. Could see 2-0 if they get one while Greece is desperately trying to tie it, but they’ll do it all the while stonefaced and unnerved.

June 21, 2012
Previews and Predictions- Euro 2012 Quarters

Portugal vs Czech Republic- National Stadium- Warsaw, Poland 2:45p EDT

Is this the tournament where Portugal finally break through?  

Leaning towards no but they have a great chance to make it to the semis. The Czech Republic have done really well thus far and this game isn’t as easy as some have made it out to be.  Without Rosicky it will be very difficult however for the Czechs to pull the upset.  He’s done everything possible to play, including flying home for treatment on his achillies.  Have to appreciate that desire.  It’s being reported that he won’t start but may come on in a last ditch effort.

Meanwhile, Portugal seem to have found their form with a steady center back pairing of Pepe and Alves (despite the Denmark match) as well as Nani and Ronaldo  (and Coentrao) flying down the wings.  I should actually say Nani flying down and Ronaldo doing whatever he damn well pleases.  I don’t want to say Rondaldo has been undisciplined because he has license to roam as he pleases but his roaming has left vulnerabilites defensively.  I don’t think the Czech Republic have enough to exploit it though.

Prediction- Portugal 3 - Czech Republic 1    

June 21, 2012
Euro 2012- Power Ranking Style

Figured there hasn’t been enough coverage of the Euros so thought I’d help to fill that void.  Re-seeding the tournament in a power ranking style based on the group stage.

1) Spain- Defending champs of 2 international tournaments, have to be #1 until someone knocks them out.

2) Germany- Popular favorite.  Have looked very strong in the toughest group. 

3) Italy- Really think 3-6 is so close.  Italy seems to be struggling with their best formation but they are always a tough out and are dangerous upfront with Cassano, Balotelli and Di Natale.

4) Portugal- Look to have found their form and formation.  Been impressive and came out of the toughest group in Group B as opposed to England and France who came out of Group D.  That’s what gave them the edge in the ranking. 

5) England- Something about them. Think their defense has been a bit overrated but they have momentum, confidence and good feelings surrounding them.  That hasn’t been said about The Three Lions in a long time.  This team is pesky.

6) France- So talented but I don’t think their attack scares anyone.  Can be too one dimensional going forward at times. 

7) Czech Republic- Have been great entertainment and a good story thus far. 

8) Greece- Always doubted, without Karagounis it doesn’t look good.

Previews and Predictions to follow today… 

May 18, 2012
Great to see a team be able to laugh at themsemselves.  It’s a long season and I’m sure they need to keep it light for their own sanity. 
stephaniemaria:


@RADickey43: Hopefully hockey theme will yield better results than western wear. Onward to Toronto.

This is fabulous. I’ll even forgive Torres for wearing the Devils jersey ;) D.Wright in the Goldberg jersey takes the cake though.

Great to see a team be able to laugh at themsemselves.  It’s a long season and I’m sure they need to keep it light for their own sanity. 

stephaniemaria:

@RADickey43: Hopefully hockey theme will yield better results than western wear. Onward to Toronto.

This is fabulous. I’ll even forgive Torres for wearing the Devils jersey ;) D.Wright in the Goldberg jersey takes the cake though.

(Source: batgirled)

May 9, 2012
Devils are on to the Eastern Conference Finals!!!

The New Jersey Devils completed the “Gentleman’s Sweep” (via @KatieBakes from Grantland)  of the Philadelphia Flyers to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2003. 

The Gentleman’s Sweep

1) Devils were successful because they never got into the Flyers game.  There were no extracurricular activities and nothing after the whistle.  It didn’t matter what the Flyers said about their momma, the Devils just replied by frustrating the Flyers on the ice.


2) Speaking of the Flyers game, there wasn’t much left to do except hit the Devils and try to beat them physically.  It became clear the series was gone and hit the Devils they did.  Zac Rinaldo laid a major cheap shot on Zubris.  I get that Rinaldo was brought in to do one thing only, and that was to hit the Devils and bring some energy, but this is a potential career-ender.  The puck wasn’t in the same zipcode and he went low right into the knee.  He was lucky to just get 2 mins.  I know it’s not to the head, but can we say there was no intent to injure?  Frustrations continued. 

3) Speaking of frustrations, it looked as if the Flyers somehow did a body switch with the Penguins after they defeated them a la Freaky Friday. (Please tell me you didn’t watch that.)  All series the Flyers lost their cool, took bad penalties and got themselves suspended.  No matter what they did they couldn’t get the Devils off their game.

4) Speaking of the Devils game, although not as ruthless as in past games, the forecheck was present all night and led to chances (Elias hitting the post from Parise comes to mind).  I think playing at home in front of the fans was more pressure for the Flyers.  Whenever there was forecheck pressure, or a giveaway, there was an audible groan from the crowd.  Tension grew on the ice and in the crowd as each minute ticked by and futility carried on.

5) Speaking of pressure, the Devils David Clarkson got another scrappy goal (I guess just like roughly 27 of his 30 during the regular season) off a big mistake by Bryzgolov.  Bryzee as I like to call him will no doubt be the scapegoat but that’s unfair.  He was under constant pressure this series.  The only thing close in this series was the scorelines and that’s thanks to him.  Plus, Timonen hung him out to dry.  If my goalie isn’t confident with the puck, I’m not passing back to him.

6) I don’t have a “speaking of” for this, but in my opinion Kovy has earned his horns this playoff series.  More on that in the coming days.

We’ll see who the Devils get next.  I don’t know if I can emotionally handle another Atlantic Division series but if we must, Let’s go Devils!

May 3, 2012
shiteseats:

#Cis9e

shiteseats:

#Cis9e

May 3, 2012

shiteseats:

THAT Goal. #Cis9e

Absolutely unbelievable.  13 goals in 12 games.  The man is possessed.  

April 27, 2012
After the End

runofplay:

Cue the End-of-an-Era music: Pep Guardiola has resigned. But from this vantage point what seems clear is that Pep’s departure, and all the accompanying verbiage — about the intensity of his personality, his perfectionism, the hardware his team has won over the past four years, the success of the Barcelona Way, Pep as the embodiment of the més que un club ethos, and on and on — are part of a vast mopping-up operation. The story really ended almost exactly a year ago, when El Clásico descended into melodrama and handbags. Barça hasn’t been the same since, and neither has Pep.

I wrote at the time that “if I were Emperor of Soccer, I’d not allow these clubs to play each other for a couple of years.” But really, the damage had already been done. Too many overwrought encounters in too short a time had left Barcelona, Real Madrid, the Spanish soccer culture, and, hell, the whole soccer world emotionally exhausted. What had been the most exciting clash of styles in forever became instead an exercise in discovering new forms of pettiness: diving, stomping, pre- and post-match posturing, even a combination cheek-tweak and
eye-gouge
.

Read More

Well put.  That’s all I have to add. 

April 26, 2012
Why I Love Sports (Soccer Edition)

2 singular moments, a mere 58 seconds of real time ended the Champions League Campaign for both Spanish sides.  

Barcelona and Real Madrid were both in pole position in each of their respective Champions League semifinal second legs.  Momentum was with the sides.  The wind was at their backs.  Both teams were “flying,” as they say, when 1 moment of a lack in concentration, and one rash move led to their demise.  

Barcelona- In the 46th minute of the first half, it took just 4 seconds for the ball to leave Lampard’s foot and cross the goal line from Ramires’ chip, giving Chelsea the vital away goal that would see them through to the final.  Chelsea were down 2-1 on aggregate, and down to 10 men at this time.   

Real Madrid- Heading west to Madrid on Wednesday, another solitary moment would sink Real’s chances at “La Decima” (their 10th Champions League trophy, they currently have won the most titles in all of Europe with 9 since the competition began in 1955.)

In the 26th minute, Pepe inexplicably wrapped up Gomez in the area to award Bayern a penalty, and the vital away goal that would help them advance to a home final date with Chelsea.  54 seconds from the time of the foul to Robben converting the spot kick, Real Madrid were eliminated.

There is little doubt the events on Saturday hindered both clubs.  There was also clearly plenty of time and drama left in each game, however, the fact remains without these 2 events, without a mere minute in time, we would be heading towards a Clasico to end all Clasicos.  I also don’t think there is any denying that Personally, I feel it’s refreshing to see a unique match up for the final and being a Newcastle supporter; can anyone help with the German translation of “Come on you Bayern!”

April 23, 2012
Occupy The Top 4

This is the first time I’m going to allow myself to believe.  As superstitious as I am I hope there is really no such thing as a jinx.  I really believe Newcastle United can qualify for the Champions League.  

If Newcastle can take 6pts from their final 4 games (Wigan-A, Chelsea-A, City-H, Everton-A) I think they will have a real shot at qualifying.  This would also mean that they would have won 8 of their last 10 matches, or, that they were unbeaten in their final 10.  The fact that they could perform this feat and barely squeak in or still miss out all together reinforces how truly difficult it is to finish in the top 4.  The 6 points will get them through if both Chelsea and Spurs are unable to make an emphatic finish.  

Spurs final 4 matches- Rovers-H, Bolton-A, Villa-A, Fulham-H.  Not exactly murderers row.  If the Magpies are able to get the 6pts, Spurs would need 9 from these matches.

Chelsea final 4 (league) matches- QPR-H, Newcastle-H, Liverpool-A, Rovers-H.  They have to also play Barca at the Nou Camp on Tuesday (4/24) and Liverpool at Wembly on 5/5.  Newcastle are catching them on Wednesday 5/2, three days after QPR and 2 days before the FA Cup Final.  Great opportunity there.

I will emotionally hedge that even if they don’t qualify for champions league, it has still been an incredible year.  I can unequivocally say that is the truth.

For now, #occupythetop4 . Howay the Lads!  

     

April 10, 2012
Mets Fan Problems

It’s hard to be a Met fan.  After a 4-0 start, it’s still hard to be a Met fan.  The reasons, however, may surprise you. 

Sure, the ownership is a disaster.  Owing hundreds of millions of dollars and slashing payroll is not a fun spot to be in.  Even when they were throwing money at the team with assumed good intentions, the back office rumors were laughable.  With a decreased payroll comes players that no one has ever heard of.  When you have players no one has heard of, expectations are low.  When expectations are low, assumptions are that the team will stink.  The cycle goes on and on.  

As bad as that all sounds, losing is something that this fan base is pretty familiar with.  This same fan base, my peers, are the ones bringing me down.

There is so much pessimistic, petulant whining and complaining about this team.  I feel it has reached a tipping point.  If a fan can’t be happy with 4-0 and a dramatic walk off home win, then I don’t want to hear from you.  I don’t care that you don’t think Tejada should hit lead off, or that Pelfrey isn’t any good.  I don’t want to hear that you’re still going to boo Jason Bay.  What ever happened to, “Ya Gotta Believe”? 

Maybe it’s just the people I interact with.  Maybe it’s my Twitter feed and only people who call talk radio.  I’d be interested to hear what others think. (Disclaimer- I am not referring to fans who are clever, witty and/or sarcastic.  It’s an understandable defense mechanism at times.) 

Relax and enjoy the moment people. 

April 9, 2012
stephaniemaria:

3-0!!
sportsnetny:

Citi Field by Michael G. Baron on Flickr.


Beautiful shot. 

stephaniemaria:

3-0!!

sportsnetny:

Citi Field by Michael G. Baron on Flickr.

Beautiful shot.