Tuesday, January 31, 2012


<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/9052216/Wolverhampton-Wanderers-0-Liverpool-3-match-report.html">Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Liverpool 3: match report (Brendan McLoughlin,  31 Jan 2012, The Telegraph)

The former Manchester City player was at the heart of everything the Reds created. Even when the Reds furiously protested for a penalty in vain when Emmanuel Frimpong nudged Charlie Adam inside the box it was Bellamy who had set up the chance.

Wolves sprung into action shortly before the break, though, as they offered a timely reminder of their capabilities.<br><br>

Michael Kightly and Steven Fletcher played a neat one-two before the winger unleashed a stinging low shot from the edge of the box which veered just past the post.<br><br>

The significance of the near miss became evident within seven minutes of the interval.<br><br>

Jose Enrique's exquisite volleyed pass from one box towards the other set Liverpool on the counter yet Christophe Berra, to his credit, managed to keep up with Bellamy in the pace race and clear for a throw-in.
Danger averted? Not by any means. Bellamy found Adam and his pinpoint delivery was converted by Carroll at the back post, the striker steering a shot low into the left corner.</blockquote>

Only the King and Carroll-haters will have been surprised to discover that when you give him help up front you get goals.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012


Kenny Dalglish can savour the week Liverpool's whole mood changed (Kevin McCarra, 1/28/12, guardian.co.uk)
When Liverpool's followers look back on the week's events they will not be so dull as to debate the details. The surge that is pounding through their minds even now is of the momentum that Kenny Dalglish's side established after the interval here. It was reminiscent of the displays inspired in other days by the beaten manager.

Sir Alex Ferguson is more often associated with the ravenous ambition and limitless endeavour that distinguished Dalglish's men in the second half. The aftermath now sees the United manager at far greater risk of a trophyless campaign. The tie was not distinguished, but the sheer impetus of Liverpool hinted that their old standing need not be out of reach permanently.

Some aspects of what was, in truth, an unkempt match can be mocked, but the victors will think only of their vindication. The extra energy with which they pummelled their opponents late in the match spoke of a team that realised its moment had come. Andy Carroll was the epitome of that.

Once again he did not score but he helped to settle the outcome by acting precisely as he is supposed to do, glancing the long ball from his goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, into the path of another forward, the substitute Dirk Kuyt, to hit the winner while Patrice Evra was stranded out of position.

If United's thoughts were drifting towards a replay by that time, most of the crowd would have been in a similar frame of mind. The hosts, however, borrowed from the Old Trafford repertoire by somehow insisting on victory. At such a moment we recognise the fallibility that the leading clubs hide from us most of the time.

It is a little disconcerting to recognise that Paul Scholes, a retiree until his sudden return to the field, was perhaps the most accomplished performer while his stamina held up. United got 75 minutes of the technique and sheer talent that bolsters a side. On this occasion, that did not suffice.

Liverpool were the inexhaustible force. Dalglish did everything in his power to sustain that intensity. The captain, Steven Gerrard, was even sacrificed after 72 minutes so that Craig Bellamy could bring more verve to bear. The latter, so important in sending the team to that Carling Cup final with his goal against City, would help in sustaining the momentum that proved too much for United.

...that when the manager was forced out of his defensive posture into an attacking one it radically altered the game. Playing an opponent with no striker who can create a shot and no central defenders who can stop one, it was unforgivable to play a lone striker yourself. All you had to do was account for Valencia and there was no chance of Man U scoring.

The King is simply overmatched by the modern game.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Carroll and De Gea backed after contrasting performances (Reuters, 1/28/12)
Andy Carroll finally shone and David de Gea had another nightmare in Liverpool's FA Cup fourth-round 2-1 win over Manchester United on Saturday with the former repaying his manager's faith and the latter being given the benefit of the doubt.

Liverpool striker Carroll, who has struggled since a big move from Newcastle United a year ago, did not find the net but used his physical prowess in the area as Daniel Agger headed in the first and then set up Dirk Kuyt for the late winner.
...which forced Dalglish out of his ridiculously defensive posture and put a couple minnows up front to feed off of the big fish. Once they finally get Gerrard on the same field with a three man front they'll get the best out of the big man, but knocking out their rivals was worth a significant portion of his transfer fee by itself.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Donovan delivers as Moyes' gamble pays out for Everton (TIM RICH, 28 JANUARY 2012, Independent)
As an hors d'oeuvre to Merseyside's FA Cup weekend, this had the look of a grapefruit with a cherry plonked on top rather than seared scallops in a balsamic dressing. Liverpool against Manchester United this afternoon will be rather more of an occasion but this proved a fascinating contest that managed to keep Everton's season afloat.

On a night swept by the kind of cold, bitter rain his time with Los Angeles Galaxy would not have prepared him for, Landon Donovan swung the match with two superlative crosses that were met by headers equally as good.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Liverpool 2 Man City 2 (3-2 agg): Hells Bells! Welsh wizard fires Reds to Wembley (SPORTSMAIL, 2/25/12)
Liverpool ended a 16-year wait for a return to Wembley as they held off Manchester City to set up a Carling Cup final against Cardiff next month. Former City striker Craig Bellamy was the hero for the team he rejoined in August, scoring the decisive goal 16 minutes from time.

The Wales international played a pivotal role throughout and will now face another former club - and city of his birth - Cardiff, as the Reds seek to end a trophy drought dating back to 2006. Watching Liverpool owner John Henry will hope it is the start of a revival at the club he bought almost 18 months ago.
...for playing such a negative team, given that they just needed to grind out a draw. But the reality is that Carroll should still start in that event because he's the best header of the ball on defense as well as offense. He cleared it repeatedly in the first match. The manager is the problem, not his striker.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Soccer's Heavy Boredom: It's true. Mostly nothing happens. Why do we keep watching? (Brian Phillips, January 17, 2012, Grantland)
So why do soccer fans do this? Assuming we follow sports for something like entertainment, what do we get out of a game for which the potential for tedium is so high that some of its most famous inspirational quotes are simply about not being dull?

I keep thinking about this question lately, maybe because I've been finding myself drawn to more and more boring games. This past weekend, I sat through the slow cudgeling death of Liverpool-Stoke. The final score was 0-0, but the final emotional score was -5. During Swansea's deliriously fun 3-2 upset of Arsenal on Sunday, I kept switching over to Athletic Bilbao's mundane 3-0 win over Levante. Why am I doing this? I thought, as Fernando Amorebieta whuffed in a gloomy header and Levante pinned themselves into their own half. But I kept checking back.

There are two reasons, basically, why soccer lends itself to spectatorial boredom. One is that the game is mercilessly hard to play at a high level. (You know, what with the whole "maneuver a small ball via precisely coordinated spontaneous group movement with 10 other people on a huge field while 11 guys try to knock it away from you, and oh, by the way, you can't use your arms and hands" element.) The other is that the gameplay almost never stops — it's a near-continuous flow for 45-plus minutes at a stretch, with only very occasional resets. Combine those two factors and you have a game that's uniquely adapted for long periods of play where, say, the first team's winger goes airborne to bring down a goal kick, but he jumps a little too soon, so the ball kind of kachunks off one side of his face, then the second team's fullback gets control of it, and he sees his attacking midfielder lurking unmarked in the center of the pitch, so he kludges the ball 20 yards upfield, but by the time it gets there the first team's holding midfielder has already closed him down and gone in for a rough tackle, and while the first team's attacking midfielder is rolling around on the ground the second team's right back runs onto the loose ball, only he's being harassed by two defenders, so he tries to knock it ahead and slip through them, but one of them gets a foot to it, so the ball sproings up in the air … etc., etc., etc. Both teams have carefully worked-out tactical plans that influence everything they're trying to do. But the gameplay is so relentless that it can't help but go through these periodic bouts of semi-decomposition.

But — and here's the obvious answer to the "Why are we doing this?" question — those same two qualities, difficulty and fluidity, also mean that soccer is uniquely adapted to produce moments of awesome visual beauty. Variables converge. Players discover solutions to problems it would be impossible to summarize without math. The ball sproings up in the air … and comes down in just such a way that Dennis Bergkamp can pull off a reverse-pirouette flick that spins the ball around the defender and back into his own path … or Thierry Henry can three-touch a 40-yard pass in the air before lining it up and scoring a weak-foot roundhouse … or Zlatan Ibrahimovic can stutter-fake his way through an entire defense. In sports, pure chaos is boring. Soccer gives players more chaos to contend with than any other major sport. So there's something uniquely thrilling about the moments when they manage to impose their own order on it.
...but, it is mainly an awful set of rules that make the game so much more boring than the one it most resembles, hockey. The main interruptions to the fluidity of the game come from offsides calls, fouls in the box, and defenders putting the ball out of play. The three are easily dealt with. Establish a set offsides line, pretty high up the field, and once the ball is over the line every subsequent player is onsides. Establish a crease around the goal, into which offensive players may not intrude, which would not just get rid of the scrums in the goal mouth but force players to shoot the ball more. And allow a free kick, rather than a throw-in, on balls played out of bounds--a kick from the spot where the ball was played. The response to a bad game should be change, not acceptance.


Sing when you’re winning and especially when you’re not (Hunter Davies, 16 January 2012, New Statesman)
I was watching West Ham against Birmingham City and thinking, oh I do hope one if not both of them comes up next season, not because of the quality of their play, which is adequate, but the quality of the singing. West Ham fans sing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", while Birmingham belt out "Keep Right on to the End of the Road" - each song about 100 years old. Amazing really, for this tradition to have lasted.

“Bubbles", first heard in a Broadway show in 1918, became popular in the UK in the 1920s. It got taken up by West Ham when a new young West Ham player came on the pitch with a mass of curly blond hair who looked like the boy in Millais's portrait Bubbles.

“Keep Right on" was written and sung by Harry Lauder after the death of his son in the First World War. Not sure why Birmingham took it up - did they have Scottish players or connections? - but the sentiment does suit football supporting.

The best-known crowd song is Liverpool's "You'll Never Walk Alone", which dates from 1945 and was then sung by Gerry and the Pacemakers in the 1960s. Now it's sung by many other clubs across Europe.

Where else today do you hear such communal singing ?

Monday, January 16, 2012


Change of tack from Liverpool and Stoke leads to disjointed stalemate: Liverpool adapted to Stoke by changing their shape, then Stoke counter-adapted. The result was they both looked out of sorts ()
With their 3-4-2-1, Liverpool again dominated possession, and restricted Stoke to one corner. Again, Delap was on the bench, so throw-ins were not a problem until his late substitute appearance, and height in defensive situations was not a huge issue. Unlike last year, though, Liverpool did not dominate in the air – they won only 36% of aerial challenges.

Dalglish clearly did not want to play into Stoke's hands by playing Andy Carroll, a centre-forward dependent on his aerial threat. Carroll has not started home or away in the league against Stoke this season (although he did start in the Carling Cup) and Dirk Kuyt was instead chosen as the lone forward, as in the 2-0 win a year ago.

Kuyt has rarely been prolific in a Liverpool shirt, but his current goalscoring form is particularly bad – he has not scored all season, a fact that seems to have slipped under the radar because of the focus on Carroll. Regardless, Kuyt is capable of doing a good job upfront by holding the ball up, dropping deep and moving to the flanks, but he needs midfield runners to make this a worthwhile approach. Last year he had Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles behind him in the 3-4-2-1 formation – the latter opened the scoring with a rebound from the former's shot. Both were powerful, energetic figures who enjoyed playing in the centre of the pitch and driving at the opposition defence.

With Meireles no longer at the club and Gerrard playing deeper, Liverpool had Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson behind Kuyt on Saturday. They offered little support, with a situation after 11 minutes summing up their plight – Kuyt found himself on the ball near the byline, twice looked up for assistance, only to find that there was no one else inside the box.
...but even for him, not playing your best header of the ball against Stoke is idiotic. And Kuyt's problem was the one Carroll faces every game, which is why the criticism is unfair. He needs support in the box so he has guys to head it to.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


After Thierry Henry's fairytale goal one statue might not be enough (Oliver Holt, 09/01/12, Daily Mirror)
Thierry Henry ran down the touchline towards Arsene Wenger. Both men chased ghosts.

When they met, Henry wrapped his manager in a bear-hug and for a moment they leapt back to the days when they both were kings.

They took the crowd with them, back to the days when they were Invincibles, back to the days when Manchester United were in their thrall.

Back to the days before the drought and the doubt, back to the time when they fought for the title, not for a place in the top four. Back to a time before Manchester City had money.

What a moment it was. What a moment to be an Arsenal fan. A moment captured in time that was so much more than just the celebration of a winner in an otherwise ordinary FA Cup third round tie against Leeds United.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Paul Scholes's return to Manchester United highlights that club's cupboard of emerging talent is bare (Mark Ogden, 08 Jan 2012, Telegraph)
The fact that Ferguson has welcomed Scholes back - bizarrely, he is the first central midfielder to sign for United since Anderson arrived in 2007 - highlights the growing concerns about the future at Old Trafford.

Where are the emerging youngsters? If Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison are the future, then how long will they have to wait to prove it?

And although the Glazer family have insisted to Ferguson that money is there for new players, is it really as substantial as we are led to believe?

Would it have hurt the finances so much to have met Wesley Sneijder or Samir Nasri's wage demands last summer?
,br> If the answer to that one is yes, then the preferable option for Manchester United is to coax a former great out of retirement and apply a sticking plaster to a gaping wound.
No central defenders, no central midfielders, and no forward who can create his own shot makes for a pretty useless youth movement.


Newcastle's Cheik Tioté leaves Wayne Rooney frustrated and forlorn: The Ivorian is the sort of midfield enforcer Manchester United need, especially with their key player under strain (Louise Taylor, 4 January 2012, Guardian)
For different reasons Rooney and Ferguson, too, have not always been on the same wavelength in recent times. While their frosty moments have tended to centre on non-tactical matters, the team's growing dependence on Rooney has created its own separate strains.

The player, so often asked to serve as a quasi Paul Scholes while still scoring most of United's goals this season, found himself operating very much as a striker here. He was deployed as part of a fluid front three also featuring Dimitar Berbatov and Nani and was liberated from deep-lying obligations to camouflage Ferguson's midfield deficiencies.

In theory this should have allowed him to indulge in some improvisation but Rooney ended the first half simply looking hot and bothered.

If his new hair transplant's resistance to the evening's capricious wind suggested that investment in such an expensive weave may have been worthwhile after all, his increasingly vocal complaints and irritable body language indicated that his recall was definitely not as advertised in the brochure.

Quite a bit before Demba Ba gave Newcastle a fully deserved lead later extended by Yohan Cabaye and Phil Jones's own-goal three reasons for Rooney's mood loomed large. On the odd occasions he did drop deeper in search of possession he was repeatedly interrupted by Cheik Tioté.

Tioté is very much the type of Roy Keane midfield enforcer Ferguson could desperately do with and there was little the outstanding the – along with Ba the key performer in an excellent home display – outstanding Ivorian enjoyed more than dispossessing United's leading scorer. And when Rooney moved nearer Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle's captain delighted in leaving him similarly frustrated.


>Dartmouth product Mkosana shines on first day of MLS Combine (FRANCO PANIZO, 1/07/12, Soccer by Ives)
That a Dartmouth player is at the MLS Combine is an accomplishment in itself. That a Dartmouth player shone on the first day of the event, which is notorious for being rough for most participants, is even more impressive.

Both those scenarios are where forward Luckymore "Lucky" Mkosana has found himself after a strong second-half performance in the first game of the 2012 MLS Combine on a chilly Friday evening in South Florida.

Coming off the bench at halftime, Mkosana helped lift adiPower (red) to a 3-2 win over Prime (green) by scoring a goal and then setting up the game-winner near the end of the 80-minute match.

"It felt really well to come out the second half and win it," said the 24-year-old Mkosana, who was named Ivy League Player of the Year in 2011. "I think we started really good. First half, the guys set the pace for the guys coming in the second half, so we just continued to where we left off and I feel like we kept working hard until the end and that's why we won."

The 5-foot-9, 169-pound attacker stood out for more than what he did on the stat sheet, too. Mkosana had another hard shot from outside the 18 go just above the crossbar, played well with his back towards goal and linked up with teammates well.

A good first impression might be key to getting drafted for a player who spent his four collegiate years playing for an Ivy League team. Mkosana, who was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, joined Dartmouth after playing just one year of high school soccer at Kimball Union in 2007, his first year in the United States.

At Dartmouth, Mkosana was named to the All-Ivy League First Team each of his four years there. He had a breakout freshman season in 2008, scoring 11 goals in 18 games. His sophomore and junior years were not as strong statistically (he scored eight goals in 2009 and five in 2010), but he finished his time with Dartmouth by scoring 10 goals in 17 games in 2011.

Those numbers may have made him Dartmouth's all-time career leader in goals, but he is still a fairly unknown product, especially compared to some of the other players who he is competing with at the combine.

That does not faze him, though.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Manchester City 3-0 Liverpool: Liverpool dominate possession but City score all the goals (Zonal Marking, January 3, 2012)
Liverpool completed twice as many passes, but City were more creative and ruthless in the final third.

Roberto Mancini was without Mario Balotelli, who often features against big sides, so went with Edin Dzeko upfront with Sergio Aguero behind.

Kenny Dalglish didn’t use either Craig Bellamy or Steven Gerrard despite good performances against Newcastle, whilst Luis Suarez was banned. Andy Carroll started upfront alone, with Dirk Kuyt out on the right.

A combination of little creativity plus mistakes at the back meant Liverpool couldn’t turn their dominance of the ball into a positive result.
...but then someone has to drive through the middle and some crosses have to find the strikers (and not single striker either). Mick McCarthy can play his B side against a Manchester club in order to save the other guys for relegation battles. Kenny needs to try and win some games instead of playing for draws.


The Question: why are Liverpool struggling to score at home?: Liverpool's scoring record at Anfield has been poor but those who blame bad luck and Andy Carroll may be missing the point (Jonathan Wilson, 1/03/12, The Guardian)
Liverpool this season score a goal with every 11 shots they have at home. Last season they scored every 5.81 shots. In 2009-10 they scored every 6.59 shots and in 2008-09 every 8.24 (at least since statistics began to be recorded, a basic rule of thumb has remained that every nine shots will yield one goal). Away from home this season, the figure is even worse, a goal coming every 11.51 shots. It would be easy to blame that on Carroll's profligacy, but he's not the only one at fault. In terms of shooting accuracy, there's not a great deal to chose between Liverpool's four strikers. Craig Bellamy has got five of 11 shots on target, Carroll 14 of 34, Dirk Kuyt seven of 17 and Luis Suárez 28 of 69. The big difference is in chance conversion – how many of those shots go in. Bellamy has scored 36.4% of his chances (from an admittedly small sample size), Suárez 7.2%, Carroll 5.9% and Kuyt none.

Is there a reason for the comparative lack of effectiveness beyond simple profligacy or lack of confidence? Are, in other words, Liverpool creating chances that are difficult to take? The signings of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam were apparently motivated by the fact that all three were among the top eight chance-creators in the Premier League last season (Blackpool, Aston Villa and Sunderland were eighth, 13th and 17th in the scoring charts last season; it may be that the sort of chance Adam, Downing and Henderson create is not the most efficient sort of chance, precise as Henderson's ball to Steven Gerrard for the third goal on Friday was).

At home this season, Liverpool have played 481.8 passes per game, completing 80.34% of them. It's been suggested that they've become more direct, which would logically be reflected in fewer passes and a lower pass completion rate, but in 2009-10 at home they were averaging 492 passes per game at 80.05% completion, and in 2008-09 514.2 at 81.65%. In so far as passing stats reveal style, little seems to have changed since Rafael Benítez's time. There is a danger that pass-completion stats can give a misleading impression if a side passes the ball among its back four before launching long balls, but pass completion in the opponent's half has barely changed either: 73.10% this season, 72.61% in 2009-10 and 73.82% in 2008-09.

Last season under Dalglish at home, though, Liverpool played only 445 passes per game, with a success rate of 78.55%, and 70.81% in the opponent's half. Those figures, taken with the stats on crossing, do seem to reveal a trend. In 2008-09 Liverpool averaged 33.16 crosses per home game. In 2009-10, 30.58. This season, the figure is 33.7. Last season under Dalglish, though, Liverpool hit just 23.33 crosses per game. Cross completion this season has been markedly better this season: 24.03% at home as opposed to 15.38 under Dalglish last season and 20.27% and 19.63% in the last two seasons under Benítez.

So Liverpool were almost twice as efficient in front of goal last season when they played fewer crosses and were more direct. That may change if Carroll's efforts stopped hitting the woodwork or the outstretched fingertips of assorted goalkeepers, but Liverpool seem to have run into the theory postulated by Herbert Chapman in the 1920s. Rapid forward passes, he said, were "more deadly, if less spectacular" than the "senseless policy of running along the lines and centring just in front of the goalmouth, where the odds are nine to one on the defenders".
...requires that you also have a threat down the middle? The top of your midfield diamond needs to be a scorer.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Reds see off Toon (ESPN Soccernet)
Gerrard replaced Adam just before the hour and the captain's first involvement was to whip in a near-post cross which almost picked out Carroll.

When the England midfielder did find the unmarked striker in five yards of space in the penalty area the £35million signing's first touch let him down badly.

Carroll played a decoy role in Liverpool's second goal but the decisive move came from Danny Simpson. [...]

Not to be outdone Gerrard popped up with a trademark third goal in the 77th minute when he ran from deep to collect Henderson's through-ball and side-foot an angled shot past Krul from the left of the penalty area.

It capped an improved second-half performance and helped ease some of the frustration which had been building up at Anfield.
Liverpool fans couldn't help but be curious as the club stockpiled midfielders--and practically nothing else--all Summer. Even curioser was the similarity of the players added. Charlie Adam, Stuart Downing or Jordan Henderson would have made nice additions, but if you play them all at the same time they don't make much sense. They all want to be on the ball and, despite Downing's reputation as a crosser and Adam's from the set piece, haven't provided much service to the forwards. The season-long injury to Gerrard and the later loss of Lucas compounded the problem, taking two very different players out of the midfield and making it all the easier to default to playing the new signings. The problem, of course, is that not only did those three have trouble converting in the offensive end, but it forced Kuyt and Maxi off the field, two serious offensive threats.

But it was only a matter of minutes after the return of Gerrard that you saw how a midfield can work with its forwards, why the club spent on Carroll and why the captain is one of the greats of the game. Every time he touched the ball, Gerrard looked for his big striker. Carroll immediately started getting shots on goal and, while he still lacks the sort of strike partner who will clean up the balls he heads down, that opened room for everyone else, which Gerrard promptly took advantage of for his goal.

A healthy Gerrard and a suspended Suarez offer a golden opportunity to jump-start the Liverpool offense. Put Carroll and Kuyt up front with Gerrard playing just behind them. Rotate Maxi, Downing and Henderson in the middle of the field, with Adam or Spearing filling the Lucas role in front of Agger and Skrtel. Personally, I'd sell Glen Johnson while he's healthy and looking decent, but if you play him on the right and Enrique on the left you have two very dangerous offensive defenders. The rest is just a matter of being confident enough to always be trying to score, instead of hanging on for draws and being satisfied not to lose.


At 16, Diego Fagundez still building pro career: He‘s trying to adjust to life as a professional soccer player with the Revolution (Frank Dell’Apa, 12/06/11, Boston GLOBE)
Figuring out where he belongs is not getting any easier for Diego Fagundez.

Like other 16-year-olds, Fagundez returned to classes last week. But in many ways, Fagundez is not the same teenager who enrolled as a freshman at Leominster High School last year.

Since signing a contract with the Revolution Nov. 15, 2010. Fagundez has displayed the talent that could lead to a productive professional career. That contract also enabled Fagundez to acquire a P1 work visa, which allows athletes (and entertainers) to work in the United States temporarily. Having the contract and the visa also allowed Fagundez to visit his birthplace, Uruguay, for the first time since he was 4 years old. He could return home without the worry of getting back into the United States. [...]

Fagundez got a look at both his past and possible future last month during a trip to South America that also highlighted another potential identity crisis — Fagundez is eligible to perform for Uruguay’s national team, but not for the United States.

“I got to see some of my family for the first time in 12 years,’’ Fagundez said. “I also went to see soccer games and soccer is different there. Over there it’s physical, the same as here. But it’s a different style of play. Here it is more direct. Over there, there is a lot of kicking each other and stuff. I saw Uruguay and Chile play and that was one of the best experiences I’ve had, [Luis] Suarez scored four goals in that game.’’

Fagundez has emerged as a candidate for Uruguay’s Under 20 team — anyone named for a former Uruguay national teamer (Diego Dorta, a close friend of Fagundez’s father) would consider that prospect. And Fagundez might not have a choice, since he was born in Montevideo and is not a US citizen.

“They were trying to talk to me about training with the team,’’ Fagundez said of the Uruguayan contacts. “But since I left, I’ll see if they talk with the [Revolution] coaches and see if they want to call me.

“I want to play for a country, not just for a club team. I want to play for a national team and that’s been a dream for a while. I want to play for the US if I get the chance. It’s a matter of who’s going to come first.’’

Uruguay won the Copa America this year and reached the semifinals of the World Cup last year. The national team is a major player on the international scene and its team members are earning big money in Europe. Being called in to the Celeste program can be a ticket to riches.

Meanwhile, Fagundez is making $53,000 annually, according to the MLS Players Union, and trying to establish a role on a team likely to be revamped under new coach Jay Heaps.


Mutiny! Chelsea stars defy under-fire AVB as they treat Anelka to leaving do (SPORTSMAIL, 2nd January 2012)
Chelsea players furious at Nicolas Anelka being banned from the club Christmas party - as revealed by Sportsmail - organised their own celebrations for the departing French striker on Friday in defiance of Andre Villas-Boas.

Anelka, who has moved to big-spending Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua after handing in a transfer request, was overlooked for the silver service lunch at the club's Cobham training ground.

To make up for the snub, which was described by a friend of the striker as 'an insult', the rest of the Chelsea players entertained Anelka at London's renowned Chinese restaurant, China Tang. at the Dorchester Hotel.

The blatant disregard for Villas-Boas' stance is the clearest sign yet that the young Portuguese manager is struggling to keep on top of his star names.
If his team won't play for him, he's a goner.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Knoxville-born Adam Henley helps Blackburn beat Manchester United (KnoxNews, December 31, 2011)
Helping Blackburn defensively was rising star Adam Henley, a 17-year-old defender who according to Yahoo! Sports.com was born in Knoxville. [...]

Henley, who according to the team's website signed a 2½-year professional contract with Blackburn on Friday, was making his third Premier League start. He made his Premier League debut as a second-half substitute in November.

"Adam has shown great ability and maturity to emerge as a key member of the senior squad, particularly in recent weeks," Blackburn manager Steve Kean said Friday. "We are delighted that he has signed professional terms with us and believe he can go on to have a very bright future."

A regular youth international with Wales, Henley was part of the Rovers squad for the summer Asia Trophy in Hong Kong.
Why isn't he playing for the USMNT?


McCarthy: Frimpong can help fire Wolves away from relegation trouble (SPORTSMAIL, 1st January 2012)
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy believes new loan signing Emmanuel Frimpong will prove a very valuable addition to his squad. The energetic midfielder completed his move from Arsenal on a deal until the end of the season and could make his debut in Monday's Barclays Premier League clash with Chelsea at Molineux.
He's never more than a moment from a red card, but just the kind of bloody-minded warrior that Arsenal so conspicuously lacks. Heck, Liverpool could use him to cover for Lucas's injury.


Martin O'Neill rejigs Sunderland's backline to stifle Manchester City: The Sunderland manager's choice of full-backs proved a masterstroke as his side squeezed out an unlikely win (David Pleat, 1/01/12, guardian.co.uk)
The Sunderland manager, Martin O'Neill, offers instructions to his side during their win over Manchester City. Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images Martin O'Neill has deservedly earned a reputation of utilising his resources to maximum effect at every club he has visited on his managerial journey from Shepshed to Sunderland. This dramatic result will stand out as one of his finest moments. Selecting Craig Gardner and Jack Colback as his emergency full-backs proved a masterstroke.

Deprived of resources through injury and illness he arranged his men into unlikely areas and, with big hearts and fantastic covering, they denied their technically superior opponents.
One would expect Sunderland to look in dire need of a striker, but City?


Blackburn Rovers' Grant Hanley spoils the party for Manchester United (Paul Wilson, Saturday 31 December 2011, The Guardian)
Suddenly it did not seem such a good idea to rest Wayne Rooney, try Rafael da Silva in midfield and use Michael Carrick as a centre-half, even if the last decision was forced on Ferguson by circumstance. United were not forceful enough in midfield to chase the game with their usual vigour and neither did they have options on the bench to counter Blackburn's organised defending and willingness to get men behind the ball. Ferguson seemed reluctant to try Paul Pogba, despite repeatedly saying he is almost ready. There were shots from Nani, Phil Jones and Javier Hernández before the interval, but nothing demanding heroics from Bunn until Nani brought a diving save on the stroke of half-time.

Ferguson opted to send Anderson on for the second half, in place of the disappointingly ineffective Hernández, with Rafael and Antonio Valencia reverting to their more customary positions on the right flank and Danny Welbeck pushed up front.

United improved almost immediately, though before Berbatov put them on the scoresheet with a header from Rafael's volleyed cross, Yakubu exposed the frailty at the heart of the home defence by bursting past Carrick and Jones to put Blackburn briefly two ahead.

Berbatov cut that deficit within a minute to set up an absorbing final half-hour, but with more players back in their normal positions United were making inroads for the first time and Berbatov had a second just after an hour, sweeping a shot past Bunn after Valencia had cut back from the right-hand byline for the striker's sixth goal in three games.

Valencia enjoyed himself so much in the second half it rather mocked Ferguson's decision to start him at right-back, but he could not keep his shot down when he had a chance to put United ahead 15 minutes from time.

The script was beginning to follow a familiar plotline, but just when it appeared United would press on to score a winner Blackburn raised the stakes again. An enterprising run from Adam Henley won a corner off Jones, and from Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross David de Gea somehow allowed himself to be twice beaten in the air by Grant Hanley. The centre-half's first header went straight up in the air and, with De Gea flailing, his second was unchallenged and found the back of the net.

The reality is that Manchester United has been weak at the back for several years, but so few teams--outside their big rivals and Champions League opponents--attack them that it was disguised. And the experience of a Rio Ferdinand and a Van De Sart could disguise a lot of holes. But now they are left with no one who should be a starting center back on a big squad, a goaltender who is to frail and naive to play in the League and no outstanding holding midfielder to put in front of them.

At the other end of the spectrum they have one of the great strikers in the world, but are trying him in midfield, leaving three guys who are adept at poking balls in but couldn't create a goal if their lives depended on it. When you look at the squad you can understand the desperation that has driven Sir Alex to move his only creative player, Wayne Rooney, into a more influential position, and see if he can be a Gerrard or Lampard. No player of that ability should be squandered as a mere goal poacher up front. But Rooney has tended to drift ever deeper, into almost a holding position, making him even less of a factor offensively. At least if you played Smalling and Jones in the midfield it would force Rooney forward again. And neither of them shows much interest in actually defending, but they could at least make it hard to drive through the middle to get to whatever central defenders you're forced into starting.

Ashley Young and Valencia don't deserve to bear the brunt of how poorly the team is conceived, but there isn't much point to having them play good crosses in to players physically unsuited to play them in the air. At least when Ji-Sun Park is playing he'll track back on defense. And, who knows, it might be worth trying Jones as a forward, since he can get a head to the ball. You might have a Crouch or Carroll on your hands.

At any rate, if the bottom half of the League takes a page from Blackburn and starts attacking this team instead of just defending against them, things could get ugly quickly.