Champions League Draw: Quarterfinals and Semifinals

I am sure you’ve already seen it but the quarterfinal draw looks like:

Manchester United v. AS Roma – can Roma avenge the 7-0 drubbing of last year? they did in the group stages

Barcelona v. Schalke 04 – as inconsistent as Barca has been as of late, I wouldn’t put a Schalke shocker out of order, Kevin Kuranyi likes clutch games

Chelsea v. Fenerbahce – another possible upset, but Chelsea will probably see the Turks off with no problem – Mateja Kezman might want to give his old club a lot of trouble though

Arsenal v. Liverpool – battle of the on-form strikers, Adebayor vs. Torres, I’d go with El Nino if I had to pick right now

Semifinal Draw

Manchester United/AS Roma vs. Barcelona/Schalke 04
Chelsea/Fenerbahce vs. Liverpool/Arsenal

Well, what do ya think? Will United breeze by Roma? Is Fenerbahce really an easy draw for Barcelona, especially with how they’ve been playing as of late? Who will come out on top in the Battle of Britain???

Gimme those predictions: Champions League Round of 16, Leg 2

Tuesday, March 4th

AC Milan vs. Arsenal
                (0-0)

The Gunners could go either way – too young, inexperienced to win at San Siro or young enough to not care or allow intimidation to get in the way of beating Milan at home. Wait…but is anyone telling Alexandre Pato to be nervous?
Prediction: 1-0, AC Milan

Barcelona vs. Celtic
                (3-2)

According to the girlfriend studying abroad in Barcelona, the town is OVERRUN by Celtic jersey-wearing fans, but none of that should affect the outcome of this game. Messi and company won’t mess up a good thing, especially when they need to refocus after a disastrous 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid this past weekend. Barca is angry and Celtic haven’t won a road match yet in this season’s competition. Doesn’t mean the Hoops won’t fight hard…
Prediction: 2-0 (5-2) Barcelona

Sevilla vs. Fenerbahce
              (2-3)

Sevilla has home advantage which means it’s a virtual guarantee that Luis Fabiano, Frederic Kanoute, Dani Alves will be at the top of their game. If by chance, Alex and Mateja Kezman can catch Drago and Alves sleeping and get an early one, Sevilla could fold under pressure. This is going to be another high scorer though.
Prediction: 3-1 (5-4) Sevilla.

Manchester United vs. Lyon
                     (1-1)

Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson really wants Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa for the $90 million Lyon is asking for? Or is this a mind game – Sir Alex trying to mess with the youngsters’ heads before a big game. It’s a little bit of both and if Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney work their usual magic, even first team goalkeeper and long term injury returnee Gregory Coupet will have a lot of work to do. Nemanja Vidic is supposed to return as well to shore up the defense, one that wasn’t tested much against Fulham. For Lyon though, all it takes is a Juninho set piece – home or away – to put things in the right place for OL.
Prediction: 2-1 (3-2) Manchester United.

EPL Daily 2.12: Gerrard speaks; Agogo on the move?; Friedel takes on Arsenal alone

JUNIOR AGOGO: It looks like Portsmouth are going to be the first EPL club to table a bid for Ghanaian African Nations Cup and former MLS player Junior Agogo. I understand he had a good tournament and has been playing decently for Nottingham Forest, but is he an EPL caliber striker – especially for the likes of Portsmouth? I don’t think so, maybe. John Utaka was there for Nigeria, but did he have any sort of an impact? Nope. You could say the same about Kanu. Anyways, the bid could be for as much as $5 million.

RAFAEL VAN DER VAART: It’s a race for the Hamburg midfielder’s signature and it starts now, long before the summer transfer window even opens. Valued at $30 million, there’s a good chance you could see Van der Vaart in a Chelsea or another Big Four uniform. Italy seems a more likely destination for the former Ajax star.

STEVEN GERRARD: Has urged Liverpool faithful to forget about the EPL title. The Reds, according to Gerrard, need to concentrate on fourth and not getting trumped by Everton or Manchester City. The biggest tidbit to come out of a mass interrogation on Liverpool’s prospects came from former Liverpool midfielder who said to SkySports,

‘I don’t think Liverpool can win it under Rafa Benitez. I think they are further away than they have ever been before. They have got no chance. For Rafa Benitez, the kudos is winning the Champions League. That’s his priority, everything is geared to that. Liverpool under Rafa can beat anyone on their day. But over the course of a league season they struggle.’

Tell us what you really think. The rotation policy seems to not be working though – 1 win in the past 7 EPL games, a raw talent-disgruntled midfielder sent off to Juventus (Sissoko), and several on-the-edge members of the squad (Babel, Crouch) isn’t going to win you a title.

ARSENAL 2, Blackburn 0

Arsenal moved five points clear of second place Manchester United. Philippe Senderos started the scoring in the 4th minute by nodding an Eduardo corner past a sprawling Brad Friedel. The American keeper – who just recently signed a contract extension until 2010 – was the only reason Blackburn kept in this game for so long. It wasn’t until the waning minutes that Emmanuel Adebayor (you had to figure that was coming sooner or later) struck for his 20th EPL goal of the season, 23rd overall. Standings now look like this.

Can anyone stop Adebayor? Fulham sputters…

1. Newcastle’s defense certainly couldn’t – they almost looked like they needed Oguchi Onyewu who played pretty poorly on loan with them about a year ago.

2. Not even his own teammates can stop him – and as you saw, Nicklas Bendtner tried.

What many people forget is that Adebayor was not a high-profile signing. Sure he helped Monaco reach the Champions League final in 2004, but it wasn’t scoring goals at the rate he is right now. The Gunners dispatched Kevin Keegan’s pet project Newcastle in yet another 3-0 romp. Adebayor started off the scoring – his 9th in his last 7 appearances and 19th overall. All that he’s done has prompted Cesc Fabregas to go all man-love on him with Arsene Wenger unleashing the praise as well. Mathieu Flamini and Cesc himself scored the other two goals.

In other action…

Sunderland 2, Birmingham 0

New signing Rade Prica made the difference for Roy Keane. Put in for a struggling Dwight Yorke, Prica pounced on a chance with 30 minutes to go, effectively putting a come-back out of the reaches of the Blues. Daryl Murphy started off the scoring, however, as the Black Cats move 3 points out of relegation. 20-year old Argentinian Mauro Zarate got his first minutes for the Blues, coming on for Cameron Jerome in the 66th minute.

Fulham 0, Bolton 0

The Cottagers had a prime chance to grab three much-needed points. Eddie Johnson was not eligible as paperwork is still being processed, but Clint Dempsey was there and Carlos Bocanegra came on late for new signing Leon Andreasen. It was even through the first half, but with about thirty minutes to go it became Bolton’s game. Fulham’s new defensive hires Andreasen and Brede Hangeland held their own though – helping to stave off a last second defensive lapse (which has been the Fulham trademark this season). Dempsey hasn’t hit the back of the net in over a month. Hopefully the added extra American influence can pick his game back up.

Middlesbrough 1, Wigan 0

An early goal from Jeremie Aliadiere (who doesn’t score much to begin with) proved to be the decider as Boro held off relegation battlers Wigan. I’m sure many were expecting a severely depleted back four with the loss of Jonathan Woodgate to Tottenham, but it held remarkably well (for now). That is certainly not saying that Wigan didn’t have their chances. Marlon King found himself free a couple times with Emile Heskey doing his best to resurrect his productive days. Ultimately, if Boro is going to keep surviving – Afonso Alves is needed up front with Tuncay and they need to make Stewart Downing happy (which isn’t going to happen, to Tottenham maybe?). I have lost interest in Wigan’s relegation fight; their demotion is foregone conclusion to me.

FA Cup Round 5 Draw: ManYoo gets the Gunners; Round 4 Review

FA CUP FIFTH ROUND DRAW (to be played Feb 16/17)

Bristol Rovers vs. Southampton
Cardiff vs. Wolverhampton
Sheffield United vs. Middlesbrough
Liverpool vs. Barnsley
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Preston North End vs. Portsmouth
Coventry vs. West Bromwich Albion
Chelsea vs. Huddersfield

Clearly the big match-up here is Manchester United drawing Arsenal in a battle that looks stacked in United’s favor. This is as long as Ronaldo is firing on all cylinders when Feb 16 and 17th rolls around. Regardless, if he underperforms – it isn’t bad to have Rooney and Tevez on the same squad.

ROUND 4 ROUND-UP

Saturday, January 26th

Arsenal 3, Newcastle 0

Kevin Keegan got an in-depth look at Newcastle’s play, only making his roster turnover increasingly imminent. Emmanuel Adebayor had his way with the piecemeal Newcastle defense, while his in-squad enemy Nicklas Bendtner sat on the bench waiting for his go. Adebayor’s 18th and 19th goals of the season didn’t come until late, speaking well for the umm…resilience? of a Newcastle squad that most likely will see a more youthful approach in the upcoming fixtures. Even Nicky Butt couldn’t get things right, putting one in his own net with time running out.

Liverpool 5, Havant and Waterlooville 2

Minnows Havant and W. fulfilled a dream by going twice up on sharks Liverpool. Not too bad. Liverpool eventually calmed down, however, as Yossi Benayoun made up for blowing a close range chance early to come back with a hat-trick (his second of the year). Slovakian signee Martin Skrtel got his second start and didn’t look up to Vidic-class, but he’s yet to settle. Young Brazilian Lucas Leiva got his first goal for the Reds, while Peter Crouch ended the madness scoring the fifth and final goal.

Chelsea 2, Wigan 1

Nicolas Anelka put a masterful finishing touch on his first Chelsea goal, pulling a ball out of the sky and volleying it past a sprawling Chris Kirkland. He then set-up Shaun Wright-Phillips for the second Chelsea goal that eventually proved to be the game-winner. It really is good to see this guy at a top club again as it has been one hell of rollercoaster career for him. Antoine Sibierski made it interesting with a swerving shot with about 5 minutes to go, but Chelski withstood the challenge.  

Middlesbrough 2, Mansfield 0

Dong-Gook Lee kept Mansfield at bay with an early 17th-minute goal. The underdogs really looked poised to be the under-performing squad who was without their playmaker Sanli Tuncay.

Wolves 4, Watford 1

Jay DeMerit’s Watford couldn’t get back on track as they were picked apart by a merciless Wolves squad led by the two goals of young Irish striker Andy Keogh. DeMerit went the full 90 as the Hornets bowed out of FA Cup competition.

Portsmouth 2, Plymouth 1

New signing Lassana Diarra showed his worth right away, putting Pompey up in the 34th minute and equalizing after an early 5th minute Chris Clark goal for Plymouth. Niko Kranjcar provided the gamewinner. Pompey was missing the work ethic of Diop and Muntari badly as Plymouth looked the fitter squad at times.

Preston North End 4, Derby 1

Talk about beating someone while they’re down. Preston did just that, regardless of the announcement that Derby has been taken over by American investors. Maybe these investors will demand Benny Feilhaber plays. Karl Hawley led the charge for PNE, while Robert Earnshaw grabbed the consolation goal for the Rams (his first in a billion years). It’s early but the new signings aren’t helping…

Coventry 2, Millwall 1

Millwall missed Zak Whitbread and Maltese ManYoo killer Michael Mifsud (say that five times fast) worked his magic again. This time at Millwall’s expense. Mifsud provided the winner early in the second half. It was his 16th of the season.

West Bromwich Albion 3, Peterborough 0

Goals from Roman Bednar, Robert Koren, and Kevin Phillips secured an easy win over P-boro.  The Eastern Europeans are working out well for W.B.A. as Bednar is Czech and Koren is Slovenian.

Southampton 2, Bury 0

So’ton destroyed Bury. No real contest and many didn’t expect otherwise. Goals from rising star Andrew Surman and Grzegorz Rasiak did Bury in and ensured Southampton’s faithful that they could survive without coach George Burley, who just took over the Scotland position.

Huddersfield 1, Oldham 0

Luke Beckett secured a 5th round tie for Huddersfield, despite getting beat around by a rather efficient Oldham set-up. But it was Beckett’s finishing that provided the win.

Bristol Rovers 1, Barnet 0

Bristol took their seat as lowest seed to advance despite beating Fulham in the third round. The Rovers are in the fifth round for the first time in 9 years thanks to Richard Lambert’s goal in the 49th minute. The real help came from Barnet’s Jason Puncheon who missed a penalty kick just 5 minutes before.  

Sunday, January 27th 

Sheffield United 2, Manchester City 1

Young Jamaican Luton Shelton took advantage of Michael Ball’s mishap (in his defense, those blue and white balloons really get in the way) to fire United in front of City. Neither Elano nor Petrov could  jumpstart City’s offense against the Blades. They had to wait until prospect Daniel Sturridge came on in the 46th for an equalizer to be scored. Yet another defensive mishap, however, and a favorable deflection, led to Jon Stead’s finish and the 2-1 win for the Blades. Sucky day for City as many believed they had a shot at it all…Sheffield United will take on yet another EPL squad in the next round – Middlesbrough – but there’s a good chance Boro could be without their rock in the back, Jonathan Woodgate.

Manchester United 3, Tottenham 1

ManYoo didn’t disappoint in setting their fifth round tie with the Gunners. In fact, they showed they were clear favorites dispatching a ‘hot’ Spur club. It wasn’t all glitz and glamour for the Red Devils, especially when Robbie Keane is on the pitch. Keane fired the first goal home in the 24th minute and Carlos Tevez’s equalizer was more luck than craftsmanship. The real turning point wasn’t until the 69th minute when Michael Dawson was sent off for a blatant hand ball in the box, setting up Cristiano Ronaldo for his 24th goal of the year. His 25th came with time running out after an individual effort from 20 yards out trickled through Radek Cerny’s wickets.

Cardiff 2, Hereford 1

No surprises here, although Cardiff were obliged to make things tougher for themselves letting Hereford dictate the course of play. City’s finishing was with them, however, as Hereford couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn until it was too late. Cardiff had already tucked away two before Theo Robinson’s consolation goal in the 77th minute. 

EPL Daily 1.25: Shearer says ‘no-go’; Liverpool refinancing; Chelsea signing, etc.

ALAN SHEARER: The former Newcastle and Blackburn striker was widely seen as Kevin Keegan’s best candidate for top assistant coach at Tyneside. A meeting between the two end up with Shearer stating he would not like to be considered for the assistant coach positon. Apparently, a future meeting will determine if Alan Shearer could have a role within the new Newcastle regime.

LIVERPOOL: American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have firmly solidified their intentions at Liverpool amidst heavy scrutiny as well as a recent failed takeover bid from Dubai. A $700 million re-financing should ensure for all Liverpool supporters that a new stadium at Stanley Park will get done on time and in perfect order. In the same breath, both Hicks and Gillett have expressed that they are behind Rafa Benitez, even despite media reports otherwise.

MARLON KING: The Jamaican striker was angry to see a transfer to Fulham fail due to fee negotiations, but Wigan has come in to rescue King and offer him Premiership football. The fee was undisclosed but expected to be in the range of $ 6-8 million. Watford was quick to try and bring a replacement, securing 22-year old Dutch misfit Collins John from Fulham on a season’s-end loan.

FRANCO DI SANTO: One of the stars of the U-2o World Cup in Canada for champions Argentina, Di Santo has been snapped up by Chelsea, who continue to nurture their young stars rather effectively. Look at Jon Obi Mikel, Solomon Kalou, and Scott Sinclair – all have continued to progress and provide decent appearances for the Blues. Di Santo should be no different. Chelsea came out on top of the battle for Di Santo’s signature which has been wrestled for over the past 6 months. At 19 years old, nothing crazy is expected of the 6’4″ Audax Italiano (CHI) forward, but with comparisons to Diego Maradona abundant (but which Argentinan youth star isn’t compared with Diego), many Blues fans aren’t looking for him to wait in the reserves for long.

THEO WALCOTT: Signed at 16 and now only 18, some Arsenal supporters are already calling Walcott a dud. I’d give him until at least 22 before you decide that, especially considering you paid around $15 million for the kid. Regardless, there was speculation that Wenger might loan him out to see if he gain some much-needed experience (how’s a cap for England for experience?). Wenger has declared those claims untrue. The rumors put him going to Stoke City (the Championship squad whose owner recently secured a USL-Division 1 expansion squad in Austin, Texas – the Aztex).

EPL Daily 1.2.08: SAF Lashes Out; Eddie Johnson where?; Rumors; and a New Year’s Run-Down

I’ll have a quick breakdown of readers’ allegiances and what not coming up either later today or tomorrow…for now, however, let the January transfer window commence as the EPL starts to heat up. I will post every significant transaction along with analysis as they arise. EPL match capsules below…

SAF: Sir Alex Ferguson lashed out at Manchester United’s supporters for Glazer-bashing and the fact that Old Trafford sounded like a ‘funeral’ during Man Utd’s 1-0 win over Birmingham yesterday. Carlos Tevez provided something to cheer about, but the atmosphere didn’t last for long. Maybe we should ask for competitive parity in the EPL before we require that supporter’s groups actually get excited to play a Birmingham City! Ferguson also slammed supporters on the topic of Glazer-bashing.

EDDIE JOHNSON: The Times Online UK has listed the suitors for Kansas City Wizards forward Eddie Johnson while the Daily Mirror has thrown one into the mix at well. A combined list includes Fulham, Manchester City, Reading, Derby County again, Middlesbrough, and Benfica. Johnson’s addition to Fulham would give the Cottagers an American army consisting of Keller, Bocanegra, Dempsey, and McBride. It seems Fulham will only make the move if their attempt to sign Liverpool’s wantaway Harry Kewell.

STEVEN PIENAAR: The South African winger for Everton is a rising stock in the EPL and his club loyalty confirms that. Pienaar has asked for special leniency to delay his African Nations Cup call-up in order to play in the Carling Cup semifinal against Chelsea on January 8th. The first match of the  African Nations Cup is January 23rd, but South African national team players are expected to report January 5th in order to prepare. He should find out either today or tomorrow.

TRANSFER RUMORS: David Villa to Chelsea, David Bentley to Chelsea or Atletico Madrid, Emmanuel Villa from UAG Tecos to Derby County, Dean Ashton to a number of clubs, but it was Liverpool midfielder throwing out the ultimatum – saying Liverpool either signs him soon or he’s out and it wouldn’t be very hard for him to find a home. I bet Mohamed Sissoko would like that…

New Year’s Day Matches

Chelsea 2, Fulham 1

A Hodgson-led Fulham side looked much more engaged and ready to play, but the Cottagers – thanks to a botched PK call on Michael Ballack – still took the loss. Danny Murphy put away Fulham’s PK chance in the 10th minute, but it was Salomon Kalou who has become a fixture in Chelsea’s first team who powered home a close-range header to start a 10-minute double salvo that pushed Fulham deeper into the relegation zone. Both Americans – Dempsey and Bocanegra – played all 90-minutes, while Brian McBride is apparently on the hot trail to return by the end of the month.

Arsenal 2, West Ham United 0

First twenty minutes and the game was already put away as the rising duo of Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva each grabbed a goal to ensure Arsenal’s first place position. Both goals were equally ‘magical’ – to quote Ray Hudson. Adebayor’s was put away at the most acute angle possible and Eduardo’s was a half volley with a feint of sorts that threw Robert Green off his mark. Carlton Cole made Manuel Almunia’s life on the pitch a miserable and deceivingly tough one, but the Spanish goalkeeper prevailed. The win over Man Utd put a noticeable fatigue on West Ham’s midfield but it was the early goal that took the wind out of their sails.

Manchester United 1, Birmingham 0

United kept pace with the Gunners and the scoreline looks tighter than it probably should have been. The Devils wasted several chances – especially a three-yard miss from Cristiano Ronaldo that could put away the game. Carlos Tevez scored the game’s only goal early on though and Carlos Quieroz kept them attacking, but nothing would go in. Sir Alex Ferguson’s discontent was somewhat visible as he sat in the crowd serving the second of his two-game sideline suspension. Park Ji-Sung – though regaining match fitness – showed glimpses of his old self, while Michael Carrick had his worst day in a while – bad first touch, terrible vision, etc. Overall, it was clear the West Ham loss took a bit out of the Devils. Tevez paid for his goal as it looks like the forward will miss the FA-Cup match against Aston Villa coming up with severe brusing in the ankle.

Portsmouth 2, Reading 0

This game marked a great day for Marcus Hahnemann – despite the loss and two goals conceded. The American keeper triggered a clause in his deal that guaranteed him a new deal if he played in 20 EPL games on the season. Mission accomplished and Hahnemann stays a Royal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that Pompey unravelled the Royals led by Sol Campbell. Reading didn’t do much for themselves though as three minutes in Ibrahima Sonko was sent off after levelling Benjani in the box. Niko Kranjcar missed the attempt, however. John Utaka added the clincher in the 66th minute as Reading fought against a potent offense that never once let up. For those of you worried about Bobby Convey leaving in the 7th minute, it was merely a tactical decision made by Coppell in reaction to Sonko’s ejection.

Everton 2, Middlesbrough 0

Finishing and a man known as Tim Howard set the tone for Everton’s 2-0 shutout of Middlesbrough. Howard made some remarkable saves allowing Everton’s offense the time to finally put one home. It took until the 67th minute but Andrew Johnson found net and opened the door for James McFadden to add another 5 minutes later. Other than that, the rainy day made it a scrappy affair but Everton corrected their form and seem ready to resume their challenge for Europe.

Aston Villa 2, Tottenham 1

A pair of defenders were the difference on both sides of the field as Villa shut down Berbatov and company. Heading into January, Juande Ramos’ biggest concern his holding onto the Bulgarian striker with Darren Bent most likely on his way out too. Olaf Mellberg powered home a header early on only for it to be snuffed out by Jermain Defoe’s late strike in the 79th minute. Martin Laursen – another central defender – albeit one with 5 goals! – put one home in the 82nd minute off yet another set piece. Michael Dawson was made to look like a lost little puppy by the defenders who scraped and clawed their way to freedom in the penalty box. At least, in post-game interviews, it was reiterated that Berbatov will, in fact, stay at White Hart Lane.