EPL Daily 3.28: Hislop has a blog? and it’s all drama.

March is closing out and so does a crazy month of soccer, but all that’s really grabbed the headlines is drama. But before we get to the drama, take a look at former FC Dallas keeper Shaka Hislop’s new blog with the Guardian.

Hislop calls the Houston Dynamo the favorites for the upcoming 2008 MLS Season. I love it. He writes well, he analyzes well, and people will read him. He actually barely talks about the Dynamo, but focuses mainly on his former team Dallas and Beckham’s Boys.

Now on the neverending drama:

GILLETT and HICKS: George Gillett is still trying to figure out how to get rid of his Liverpool share without selling it off to his partner Hicks. The American’s rant paints Hicks as a crazy man who is impossible to work with. Could be. Plus, Gillett has already found another outlet in the Saputo Family and the Montreal Impact. Man, would that be awesome. Saint Louis and Montreal for the next two teams?

TIM CAHILL: I feel like this headline pops up once every 6 months and it really is a shame. Cahill is easily one of the best midfielders in the EPL when fit and to see him struggle mightily with injuries not only hurts Everton, Everton supporters, but the general spectatorship. The guy has all the tools to help lead Everton into the Big Four. To prepare for the future, David Moyes has already been forced into lining up replacements like Lyon’s Kim Kallstrom.

MASCHERANO: Javy Masch’s bitching and moaning got him a $200,000 fine of 2 weeks’ wages for his outburst last weekend against Manchester United. On top of that, he’s got to serve an initial one-match ban which could be increased once revisited by the FA. For many, this all seems unwarranted…but it just goes to show they weren’t kidding when they said they’d give out bookings like mad if you continually bitch to the ref.

ROY HODGSON: According to various sources, striker David Healy will not play the rest of the season for Fulham and be released from his contract at the start of the transfer window. He can hit for his country, but has done nothing for his club. Jari Litmanen is in the same boat as he has yet to don the Cottagers jersey. Apparently, Hodgson hit out at the Finnish legend saying, “he has not played one game in a Fulham shirt but he has played two matches for Finland”. I ask again, is Hodgson the right guy for the job in Fulhamerica?

DROGBA: Chelsea’s saving grace and brace scorer in last weekend’s win over Arsenal is yapping quite a bit. He has apparently told teammates he’s headed to Inter in the offseason. Add this to Ronaldinho’s possible move away from Barca and you got yourself a fun-filled summer coming up.

EPL Weekend Recap: the Reds burn themselves, Chelski tops Arsenal, and Darren Bent the super-sub

Saturday, March 22nd

Newcastle 2, Fulham 0

Roy Hodgson did arguably nothing to try for the win in this one. Basically, Jimmy Bullard had free reign in the midfield and his “amazing shot” was deemed as the way to score. Yet none of his long range efforts hit home. McBride and Johnson started up front, but no service was given to them – except the time where both of them missed a well-struck cross 10 yards from goal. Other than that, it was frustrating as hell to watch them try and post Eddie Johnson up on Taylor and then have EJ pass it back while the Magpie centrebacks pressured him. Occasionally, this would produce space on the wing – but Simon Davies picked a bad day to become invisible (especially after a great performance against Everton). Coupled with Sunderland’s win, Bolton’s tie – it’s not looking too good for the Americans. Newcastle didn’t look too dangerous either but when you have game changers like Michael Owen and Obi Martins – games like this are bound to go your way. Owen scored the second, while Mark Viduka – back after a small stint on the sidelines – struck early for Newcastle. 

Tottenham 2, Portsmouth 0

Two late goals from Darren Bent and Jamie O’Hara gave the Spurs . One could even say the Jermain Defoe decision really affected an otherwise even match-up. Utaka, Baros, and Kanu couldn’t make up for the absence of Jermain Defoe who has struck for 6 in 6 games since coming over to Pompey. His absence, however, was part of the loan deal originally agreed upon in order to get his transfer from White Hart Lane to Fratton Park done before the deadline. Berbatov and Robbie Keane gave Sol Campbell and his back four some problems, but couldn’t find the net. It wasn’t until Ramos inserted Darren Bent in the 70th minute (super-sub mode like Jermain Defoe no less) that the goal followed. Bent also had his hand in youngster Jamie O’Hara’s goal several minutes later.

Other scores:

Middlesbrough 1, Derby 0 – Eddie Lewis played all ninety, but Sanli Tuncay gave Boro the win.

Blackburn 3, Wigan 1 – Two red cards – Samba for B’burn and Palacios for Wigan – headlined a physical performance. When Santa Cruz is on brace form though, the Rovers are really hard to beat. Brad Friedel did his part on the defensive end yet again.

Sunderland 1, Aston Villa 0 – The big upset of the weekend. Thanks to Michael Chopra’s 83rd minute winner, the Black Cats received some much needed breathing room.

Everton 1, West Ham United 1 – Yakubu’s early goal was countered a late Dean Ashton goal that Timmy Howard could do nothing about. Jonathan Spector came on in the 82nd after returning from successfully leading the US U-23s to an Olympic berth.

Reading 2, Birmingham 1 – A huge step-up from an unlikely hero allowed the Royals to grab three against a relegation foe. Cameroonian Andre Bikey captained an effective back four and also scored the brace that gave Reading the win. Valued at $30 million, Mauro Zarate grabbed the consolation goal for the Blues, who looked pretty disorganized. Marcus Hahnemann did his duty, while Bobby Convey didn’t dress. Stephen Hunt kept his stock rising heading into the offseason with another inspired performance on the wings.

Bolton 0, Manchester City 0 – A point is a point right now for the Wanderers and even though Gary Megson said Nicolas Anelka’s absence won’t matter in this relegation battle, they could have used the now Chelsea man on Saturday. One good sign for Bolton was that they dictated the run of play, but their remaining fixtures put them in dark territory the rest of the way. 

Sunday, March 23rd

Manchester United 3, Liverpool 0

Liverpool was in it – they were getting crushed on shots attempted, etc, but they were still in it to say the least. That is until…Javier Maschareno bitched himself out of the game. The Argentinian decided to continue protest of a call past the boiling point of the head ref while he was already carrying a card to his name. None of his teammates decided to intervene and tell the man to shut his trap. Right before half time, Mascherano was sent off and United took control of the game. The Reds fought, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani both broke through with 10 minutes to go and the game was put out of reach. Wes Brown scored the first goal for United. Can anyone stop Ronaldo from scoring?

Chelsea 2, Arsenal 1

Didier the decider. Two late goals from the Ivorian trounced an earlier go-ahead goal by Arsenal’s fullback Bacary Sagna. Sagna headed home a Cesc Fabregas corner and his first goal ever for the Gunners to push ahead 10 minutes into the second half, but Drogba came through after surviving a frustrating first half. Partly thanks to Lampard and Joe Cole’s endeavors in the midfield, Drogba was given the firm opportunity to lift the spirits of Chelsea’s faithful past their growing disdain for Avram Grant’s tactics and style of play. The Blues have moved into second now, trailing Manchester United by 5 points – making that eventual derby a BIG one. 

EPL Daily 3.21: Ronaldo better than Best?, Defoe left home

BIG FIXTURES: Saturday – Tottenham vs. Portsmouth, Fulham vs. Newcastle (relegation clash), Reading vs. Birmingham (relegation clash), Sunday – Chelsea vs. Arsenal, Liverpool vs. Manchester United

DEFOE: Portsmouth’s Jermain Defoe was ruled ineligible to play in Saturday’s Pompey vs. Defoe’s former team Tottenham clash. The reason for this? In order to get the transfer done before the January transfer window closed – Pompey had to rush a loan deal through before they eventually followed it up with a permanent deal AFTER the window had closed. The rules stipulate that if a player is loaned, he cannot play against his former team unless put specifically in a clause within the contract (this is regardless of the fact it was eventually made permanent). Needless to say, Harry Redknapp is livid and even says that Tottenham was expecting Defoe to play. Kinda nitpicky for the English FA is you ask me, but then again – rules are rules.

TOTTENHAM: Speaking of the Hotspur, Juande Ramos is predicting a “spectacle” on Saturday in their match vs. Portsmouth this Saturday. If this Saturday’s match will be a spectacle, what the hell was Wednesday’s crazy 4-4 draw with Chelsea??? In that game, Robbie Keane grabbed the late equalizer, while 7 different people hit for goals. In no particular order they were Joe Cole (2), Drogba, Woodgate, Keane, Huddlestone, Berbatov, and Michael Essien.

DERBY: Despite fighting to keep from grabbing the worst record ever in EPL play, Derby County’s investors – American Andy Appleby – are still extremely happy with their investment. Good things are afloat for the soon-to-be-Championship team. The Rams need 6 more points in 8 games to beat Sunderland’s 15-point record set in 2005/2006. What Appleby really should be doing is forcing Paul Jewell to play out-of-form Benny Feilhaber.

CRISTIANO RONALDO: Tony Paskin over at the Daily Express UK asks if Ronaldo is in fact better than the late Georgie Best? Best held the 40-year old scoring record that Ronaldo just surpassed after scoring both goals in a 2-0 beating of relegation battlers Bolton. I’d be interested to hear your take – ESPECIALLY if you had the chance to watch Georgie Best play.

With that said – who is better – Best or Ronaldo?

EPL Daily 3.19: Figo says no to QPR, surprise?, Blues are raided

FIGO: Reports in England and Figo himself quashed the rumor of 35-year old Figo to Matt Pickens’ Queens Park Rangers. Yep, QPR. Either way, Figo has decided one thing for sure – that he’s definitely leaving.  

NOT LORD STEVENS: Another club – this time Birmingham City – has been raided by police. Same tune, different measure – the police are searching for signs of corruption, transfer policy violations, Martin Taylor perhaps? All of this is supposedly NOT a part of the Lord Stevens inquiry which landed Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp a while back in connection with illegal payments to to agents. Instead, the force conducting the raid has said it’s a completely separate matter. Is that a good thing?

THE RETURN: In other Birmingham news, defender Martin Taylor and Eduardo’s least favorite person returned to action in a reserve match after serving a 3-match ban for breaking the Arsenal striker’s leg.

SHAY GIVEN: If there is one guy who has been through thick and thin with the frustration that is Newcastle United, it is goalkeeper Shay Given. Starting keeper for the Magpies since he was 20, Given has amassed over 330 caps Tyneside. But in a sure sign of how Newcastle’s season is going, Given has been sidelined for 6 weeks now after finding out he needs surgery to repair a nagging groin injury. Steve Harper has done well as back-up, but the Magpies still find themselves in the thick of the relegation battle. Looking back at the 1997 season when he won over the starting position, it was a former-MLS guy he beat – Shaka Hislop. Still only 31, Given is 5 years removed from having become Newcastle’s most-capped player – so you can imagine the lead he holds on the second-most capped Magpie. It’s a shame loyalty doesn’t buy victories.

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.

EPL Daily 1.23: EJ to England, Cousin to follow? but Fulham knocked out the FA Cup

EJ TO ENGLAND: Eddie Johnson has signed for Fulham to join an ailing strike force of Shefki Kuqi, David Healy, and Diomansy Kamara. Johnson joins as part of new coach Roy Hodgson’s turnover of the Cottagers as they sit in a dead heat for a relegation battle. Defensive reinforcements have already been brought in in the form of Norwegian Brede Hangeland and creative Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen. There are talks taking place with unsettled Glasgow Rangers’ striker Daniel Cousin as well. The deal is for 3 1/2 years.

BERBATOV: Dimitar Berbatov’s wrestling with Tottenham quieted down a bit after the Hotspur’s trouncing of a young Arsenal side in the Carling Cup semifinals.

BIANCHI: Rolando Bianchi – Manchester City’s . His time with City started strong and fizzled recently. Bianchi admitted he 1. hates England 2. hates English football and 3. wants back to Italy. Well to Italy he goes – on loan to Lazio.

MCFADDEN: The wantaway Everton striker has completed his move to Birmingham as the Blues became rather keen on him after his recent form. The Scotsman moved for $10 million. Birmingham has done well this transfer window – bringing in young Argentinian striker Mauro Zarate on loan and keen to bring in Guglielmo Stendardo in on loan from Lazio.

FA CUP ROUND 3 REPLAYS:

Bristol Rovers 0, Fulham 0 (Bristol R. wins 5-3 on penalties)

Roy Hodgson played a rested squad in their replay with Bristol Rovers. Dempsey and Bocanegra went all 120 minutes in a losing cause, one that many expected Hodgson to lay in to his players for. Instead, he defended them and placed the blame on himself, but the truth is, they’re still looking for a win in Hodgson’s reign. Jimmy Bullard played the bad man, missing the PK that allowed Bristol to move ahead.

Derby County 1, Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Derby wins on penalties 4-2)

A Kenny Miller saved the Rams from embarrassment putting their only shot on goal in the back of the net. The match went to overtime and Derby played like the underdog most of the way, throwing hard tackles left and right. Eddie Lewis came in for an ineffective Giles Barnes (rare) and wreaked havoc for a solid 80 minutes on the left side. Deadlocked through overtime, it came down to penalties and Derby didn’t disappoint. Sheffield Wednesday missed their first two, while Eddie Lewis and Kenny Miller converted theirs making it somewhat of a no-contest.

Barnet 0, Swindon 0 (Barnet wins 2-0 on penalties)

In the ugliest display of penalty taking I have seen in a long time, Barnet came out on top. Billy Paynter had probably the most up and down, roller coaster day of his career. First, he scored in the 42nd minute to put Swindon Town up 1-0. Ten minutes later, however, he was hiding in a corner after he put one in the back of his own net. Then to end on a definitive note, Paynter botched his PK attempt as all Swindon Town penalty takers went on to miss their respective attempts.

CARLING CUP SEMIFINALS:

Chelsea 1, Everton 0 (3-1 on aggregate)

Chelsea booked a place in the final as Joe Cole drove the proverbial nail in Everton’s coffin snuffing out in the process a spirited effort from the Toffees. Everton fought with tough tackling and relied on a couple players returning from injury to test the Chelsea defense. Andy Johnson was scrappy as usual, while Manuel Fernandes returned for what seems to be his 40th stint with the club. Either way, Chelsea is through to the final against Tottenham.

Tottenham 5, Arsenal 1 (6-2 on aggregate)

Odd game – but Tottenham pulled apart a shaky Arsenal defense consisting of no one particularly guilty of inconsistent play. The backs were captained by Bakary Sagna and William Gallas, while young goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski got the start in goal. Other surprising names included Justin Hoyte, Denilson, Armand Traore. These youngsters aren’t exactly scared of the spotlight, but no one could cope – not even Gallas and Sagna – with the quality of Jermaine Jenas, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Keane, Berbatov, and a nasty shot from Frenchmen Steed Malbranque. Wenger put on the studs too late – with Adebayor, Eduardo coming in later in the game (Adebayor eventually bagged the lone Gunner goal) and Cesc Fabregas in right after Wenger got a whiff of trouble – the 20 minute mark. Tottenham got the result they deserved in this instance, as last week in the first leg – they came out with a 1-1 draw after firmly holding the upper hand. On top of that, as seen above, a Carling Cup final might be what the Spurs need to keep Dimitar Berbatov around. Best Arsenal moment of the night was probably the friendly fire – Bendtner vs. Adebayor (it’s off in the distance, watch for it). Investigation to follow.

EPL Daily 1.9: Yanks transfer news hits the other side of the pond…

BRAD GUZAN: Brad Guzan’s transfer speculaton hit SkySports for the first time adding credibility from both sides of the pond to his potential suitors. Celtic is the most recently named party interested in the shotstopper, while we have all heard the rumors involving Arsenal. Some other suitors include Liverpool, Auxerre, and Greek champions Olympiakos. In terms of playing time, Guzan’s best bet would be at Auxerre where 26-year old Olivier Sorin mans the net. They have Lyon-product Remy Riou as back-up, but neither have impressed much as Auxerre has sputtered to 15th place. Liverpool and Arsenal would be a grooming back-up role, as would Celtic. The difference with the Hoops, however, is that Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc has recently signed a new deal with a reported “get-out” clause in which if a suitor comes along and gives the right price (number set in the contract), Boruc would move on. Guzan could go in, learn under the wing of Boruc, and wait for his exit someday soon. Olympiakos could be an ideal place as well as age is what will wipe out the two top goalkeepers there now – Antonios Nikopolidis (36) and Tomislav Butina (33). The real question is: if Guzan leaves, what happens at Chivas?

TWELLMAN: Though Preston North End isn’t the EPL, a Twellman bid is something every American fan wants to hear about. PNE would be a fantastic place for Twellman to restart his European career, but the bid was already rebuffed according to Mike Burns. SkySports caught wind of it and placed the transfer fee at $1.5 million.

JOHNSON: Soccer365 has gotten us all confused now. What is different at Derby County (other than a record MLS transfer fee) now that Eddie Johnson would even consider a move to Derby? All things considered, a lot has happened since this article (1/4/2008) was published. Manager Paul Jewell brought in Argentinian striker Emmanuel Villa for $4 million making it unlikely for EJ’s destination to be Derby. There are others interested out there though……..

MOMO SISSOKO: Ever since Javier Mascherano came to Anfield, the big defensive midfielder from Mali hasn’t had the best of times. Raw talent left unused, however, never goes unnoticed as many of the top European clubs watched Momo has he grew not unhappy, but underappreciated, with the Reds. The problem with Liverpool is Mascherano is a question mark in his own right with his contract status pending, so expect Benitez to beg for Sissoko to stick around a little bit longer. Unhappy though? Enter Juventus…

CARLING CUP: Chelsea 2, Everton 1

Everton went down 1-0 early to a Shaun Wright-Phillips 26th minute finish, but all hopes were revived when Jon Obi Mikel unleashed a ridiculous studs-up tackle on Phil Neville which had him sent to the showers. Chelsea was left to survive 40 minutes a man down. Kind of funny isn’t it? – Chelsea fights to keep Mikel around for at least one more game heading into the African Nations Cup and the Nigerian gets himself sent off, offering no help at all. The Blues paid for it as Yakubu fired home a shot, upper-90 after a scrum in the penalty box with about 15 minutes to go. Then it happened…a goofy cross in injury time left Shaun Wright-Phillips unevenly matched in an aerial battle against the big Joleon Lescott. SWP jumped in full-force forcing Lescott in cringe, close his eyes, and head the ball into his own net. A 1-0 win will do it back at Goodison Park, but Everton will be without their rock in the back, Joseph Yobo. Chelsea will be hurting as well, but in terms of depth, one can never bet against the Blues.

Today’s Carling Cup Semifinal – Arsenal v. Tottenham (expect a young Arsenal squad to take the pitch against the Spurs)