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.

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EPL Daily 12.26: Happy Holidays! And some Dempsey, Beckham, Boxing Day, etc.

Thank you to all that come here every once in a while to read what we got to say. It’s Boxing Day and we’re in for a good day of soccer (going on as I share these headlines with you).

DUECE: Clint Dempsey struck for his 6th goal of the season in (the game is close to done) a rather lopsided loss to Tottenham. Dempsey is doing what they expected David Healy, Diomansy Kamara, and Shefki Kuqi to do – clean up the mess of offense Fulham has. Heading into the New Year, there is no doubt that the Cottagers are going to be fighting the relegation battle. Dempsey kept them up last year though…can he do it again, with some late help from a soon-to-be returning Brian McBride (they desperately need a target man)?

EPL SCORING: An update of EPL Leading Scorers – notice Dempsey at the bottom…

Cristiano Ronaldo (MU) 12
Emmaneul Adebayor (ARS) 10
Nicolas Anelka (BOL) 10
Robbie Keane (TOT) 10
Benjani (POR) 9
Yakubu (EVE) 9
Fernando Torres (LIV) 9
Marcus Bent (WIG) 7
Roque Santa Cruz (BLA) 7
Carlos Tevez (MU) 7
Steven Gerrard (LIV) 7
Gabriel Agbonlahor (WHU) 6
Cesc Fabregas (ARS) 6
Obafemi Martins (NEW) 6
Clint Dempsey (FUL) 6
Dave Kitson (RDG) 6

ARSENAL: With the January transfer window looming, look for there to be a flurry of activity. One team that will be holding out……or so it seems…….is Arsene Wenger’s young Arsenal squad. Even with the imminent absence of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue for the African Nations Cup – Wenger is pretty sure recalled Johann Djourou and Philippe Senderos can do the job.

LAWRIE SANCHEZ: Gone. Martin Jol was apparently to be considered for the Fulham opening – but that has gone to the crapper. Former Cottager John Collins – who recently left his post at the SPL’s Hibernian – will most likely grab the job.

DAVID BECKHAM: Expected to train with Arsenal starting as early as January in an attempt to get fit for the upcoming MLS season as well as his potential 100th appearance for the English national team. Arsene Wenger has assured that Beckham comes to train, NOT play for the Gunners.

FRANKIE SIMEK: Though not the EPL, the American Sheffield Wednesday right-back warrants a headline due to an unfortunate injury that could keep him out for up to 2 months. Simek – now on the USMNT radar – also was looked at by Everton and a couple other EPL clubs this past summer but with Sheffield Wednesday’s poor performances recently, an injury, and a new contract extension, it looks like Simek won’t get that look again for a while.

UCL Round of 16 DRAW: For those who missed it, the draw looks like this…

Liverpool vs. Inter Milan
Chelsea vs. Olympiakos
AS Roma vs. Real Madrid
Schalke 04 vs. Porto
Arsenal vs. AC Milan
Barcelona vs. Celtic
FC Sevilla vs. Fenerbahce
Manchester United vs. Lyon

Predictions as the match dates get closer. For those interested, the two legs will be held on February 19th-20th and March 4th-5th.

EPL Daily 12.14: All things Capello; Derby/Coventry takeover?, etc.

Coventry and Derby are the latest English clubs to be pegged for an imminent takeover – Derby’s has an American feel however (an “American sports company”) and is still in critical stages. Whereas, Coventry has gone the Ray Ranson-led SISU Capital route (Ranson was responsible for a bid to takeover Man City early last year). With the takeover, which is now just subject to a 90% approval from all Coventry City shareholders, the Championship club saves themselves from administrative and competitive penalties. Also, West Ham is gearing up for yet another injection of capital as baldy Icelandic chairman Eggert Magnusson has relinquished his 5% stake in the Hammers to his Icelandic chum ‘BG’ – Bjorgolfur Gudmondsson – who plans to put another $60 million or so into the club (not player purchases persay).

Now – with the final verdict subject to contract negotiations (6.25 mill pounds/yr) – ALL of the controversy arises around the inevitable appointment of Italian Fabio Capello to the English manager’s position. Paul Parker at Eurosport says this confirms that England is now a ‘second-rate football nation’. Reading’s main man Steve Coppell, M’bro’s Gareth Southgate, former Arsenal defender Tony Adams don’t agree with the decision as well. Former English midfielder and MK Dons boss Paul Ince is pissed too. Got me thinking, were they this pissed when Sven Goran Eriksson took over? SoccerLens put together a list of 10 reasons why Fabio Capello IS a good choice.

If the head coach is Italian, does it balance it out if the majority of the coaching staff is British? Both Alan Shearer and current English U-21 gaffer Stuart Pearce have been tagged as potential number twos. Shearer to England seems a bit improbable as the former Newcastle striker turned down a chance to be assistant when McLaren took over.

Amidst all that, Chelsea’s new boss Avram Grant has just signed on for 4 more years. Pretty well done considering the Mourinho mess.

Nery Castillo – Mexico’s pride and joy at this past summer’s Copa America  and long-time Mexican Guiseppe Rossi – is already sick of Shakhtar (Ukraine) and is being linked to a loan deal with Sven Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City

One hell of a Sunday this weekend – Manchester United vs. Liverpool and Chelsea vs. Arsenal in the EPL. Ajax vs. PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie. Valencia vs. Barcelona in La Liga. Juventus vs. Lazio in the Serie A. Who prevails??

EPL: Arsenal falls to M’Boro…ew but Liverpool follows suit

STANDINGS 

Saturday, December 8th

Portsmouth 3, Aston Villa 1

Pompey is starting to look like the squad I had originally predicted at the beginning of the year. Both Sulley Muntari and Niko Kranjcar have almost full adapted to EPL play and are now driving that midfield to productivity. It was Muntari’s day though scoring two in the 40th and 61st minute and putting the game out of the Villans reach.

Manchester United 4, Derby County 1

Poor Derby. A thorough out-classing – even though the Rams kept Man Yoo from scoring for a good half. Ryan Giggs opened the can of whoop-ass right before half-time. Derby thought they would walk in at half with only a 1-0 deficit – but Tevez pounced in injury time, making it 2-0. Tevez got his second in the 60th and could have added a third at the end, but Ronaldo was so incensed with his upending in the box that he felt his pain deserved a PK conversion. There was an upside to Derby’s down-trodden day – Giles Barnes – the young 18 year old was the only thing remotely threatening to Man U’s backline of Vidic and Ferdinand.

Chelsea 2, Sunderland 0

The Black Cats never really woke up. Despite the two goals, no real action to this game. Shevchenko – thanks to the Drogba injury – got his chance on net and put it in but still looked well-off from old AC Milan days. Joe Cole did look pretty good though. He’s like a Michael Owen – you get excited that he’s on the field, start to follow him – and then he’s out for two months with a torn quad or something. Regardless, he was industrious and crafty as ever.

Everton 3, Fulham 0

This is an example of having the playmaker and target man in perfect synergy. Tim Cahill/Mikel Arteta powered the machine that is Yakubu to a classy hat-trick. Clint Dempsey was ineffective and taken off early in the second half, but by then, it seemed nothing was sparking the Cottagers to action. Timmy Howard had little to do but captain the back with Joseph Yobo back in the mix. Bocanegra never got on.

Reading 3, Liverpool 1

Stephen Hunt’s penalty in the 17th minute really hurt the pride of the Reds. Either that, or the Reds just figured the scoreline would take care of itself as missed chances and defensive lapses led to Reading’s inflated offensive talent. Steven Gerrard equalized less than 10 minutes later, but the Reds never connected. In the second half, it was Kevin Doyle and James Harper who converted their chances (Harper being fed by the improving Bobby Convey) making it 3-1. In Rafa Benitez’s defense, the game was a little suspect in the refereeing end but the Liverpool had PLENTY of chances that came close, but never snuck across Marcus Hahnemann’s goalline.

Newcastle 2, Birmingham 1

A much-needed win for the Magpies. Obafemi Martins’ converted a 37th minute penalty to snuff out an opening minutes lead grabbed by Birmingham’s Cameron Jerome. The Nigerian – normally a shoe-in for last minute heroics – took the backseat to Senegal-international Habib Beye who took home the glory and his first Newcastle goal in the 90th minute. Newcastle deserved the win, no doubt, but this underperformance curse really needs to end – it’s getting old.  

Sunday, December 9th

Middlesbrough 2, Arsenal 1

It all started with a 4th minute Stewart Downing PK conversion after a clumsy Kolo Toure challenge in the box on former Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere. Arsenal looked borderline lost without their midfield general Cesc Fabregas – oft-intercepted passes, possessional mishaps, positional confusion – it wasn’t the Arsenal team we’re used to. Sanli Tuncay wrapped it up with a 74th minute strike. Tomas Rosicky pulled one back in the waning moments, but nothing could spring the Gunners into urgent offensive mode. 

Bolton 4, Wigan 1

Certainly could be one of those games where Bolton wasted all of their offensive power on one game instead of spreading it out evenly over several matches (look for Bolton to be shut out their next couple games). Or maybe it was just the fact that Wigan looks god-awful right now and a firm candidate for relegation this season. The Wanderers made a statement on finishing even though Wigan outshot them. After going one-up on a Paul Scharner own goal, Wigan equalized, only to see three unanswered Bolton goals break the game wide open. From Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies, and Nicolas Anelka respectively.

Tottenham 2, Manchester City 1

Like Fabregas with Arsenal, we’re starting to see who the driving force behind Sven’s Citeh is. Without Elano again and facing White Hart Lane, City fought valiantly but was overcome by Tottenham’s forgotten striker – Jermain Defoe. Defore scored in 83rd minute effectively snuffing out any worries that the Hotspur faithful had in their dispatching of Citeh. The Blues helped Tottenham’s cause though as Defoe’s game winner came right after Stephen Ireland’s sending off in the 82nd minute.

West Ham 1, Blackburn 0

Jonathan Spector played the last 15 minutes helping to secure a 1-0 win over Brad Friedel’s Blackburn. It was Dean Ashton who broke the seemingly endless deadlock. Friedel looked solid in goal yet again, with 6 saves but it was Benny McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz who made West Ham’s life hell pouring on shot after shot. Robert Green – with his performance between the posts – will most likely boost his chances at England’s #1 spot.

EPL Daily 11.12: Ronaldo, Betnley, and Becks in Minnesota.

Cristiano Ronaldo provided the goals, Ryan Giggs the creative spark as Manchester United beat a tough Blackburn squad, 2-0. Brad Friedel was great in goal, but the Devils poured it on – despite Anderson’s passing problems in the midfield (Paul Scholes was sorely missed and if they were playing Chelsea/Arsenal/Liverpool, that would have certainly been exposed). Nemanja Vidic was a beast in back yet again. Sir Alex Ferguson’s viewing of the match caused him to burst of gushy sentiments.

Beckham played and assisted Edson Buddle’s goal in a 1-1 friendly tie vs. the Minnesota Thunder. Game was played in front of a little over 20,000 and was the second of the Galaxy’s pre-season tour which will now cross the globe. Copa Minnesota was a success, Beckham was beaming (probably due to his recent call-up for a Euro decider with Croatia), but with the USMNT’s friendly coming up against South Africa, Landon Donovan might have to sit it out due to calf strain suffered during the game. Beckham will meet up with England later this week in Austria.

Could be Tottenham’s revival or the simple fact that they were playing Wigan…either way, it was a 4-0 drubbing for the Spurs – led by Jermaine Jenas’ brace. Wigan has hit rock-bottom with the firing of Chris Hutchings, while Juande Ramos could be the answer to Spur supporters prayers.

Luke Freeman – Gillingham striker – ever heard of him? Doubt it – the 15 year old debuted for the Championship squad in an FA matchup against Barnet. Freeman played the last 10 minutes in a tense 2-1 loss which sparked the Gills manager to a public tirade afterwards. Despite getting chewed out by his gaffer, I’m sure there was still a smile on his face after becoming the youngest ever to play in an FA match.

Isn’t it depressing that David Bentley can’t get his name spelled right by his own team’s staff??? Bentley’s shirt read ‘Betnley’ against Manchester United this past Saturday.

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EPL Daily Halloween ’07: EPL’s Best Imports; An American in Iran, Palacios, and Wonderkids

About to start a feature of the same name, I came upon The Sun’s version of the EPL’s Top 10 best imports. I would have to agree with most of them and would even put Mikel Arteta up higher on the list but if Arteta is on there – where is Timmy Cahill, who has arguably done the most for an Everton squad that performs well on a consistent basis (unlike say…a Bolton?). Also not included – and it’s clear they opted for the more offensive approach – was Serbian central defender Nemanja Vidic who has been rock-solid for Manchester United in his first year and half in the league. The Sun’s Number One? Cristiano Ronaldo – I don’t think many can complain about that. Any they missed?

Not EPL news persay – but it was in an English publication – Iranian soccer hopefuls don’t know how to react with the prospect of an American citizen Afshin Ghotbi taking over the reins of Persepolis (Tehran’s biggest team) looming over them. Ghotbi hasn’t returned to the country in over 30 years. He began his coaching career at UCLA, found his way onto the USMNT staff for the 1998 World Cup in France and has now acted as somewhat of a coaching mercenary over the past 10 years. Read about it here

Wilson Palacios – the former CD Olimpia midfielder and now Birmingham City man who gave D.C. United a lot of trouble in the early season CONCACAF Champions Cup – has recently found out that his 15-year old brother – Edwin Rene – has been kidnapped. No real news as of yet – Palacios is staying in the UK but apparently has clearance from Steve Bruce and the Birmingham organization to leave if ever he deems it fit to do so.

Yet another 16-year old phenom on the rise? John Bostock of Crystal Palace looks to follow the route of Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney, and Theo Walcott and become the next coveted English prospect. His story is interesting but no one can fathom the thoughts going through Scotskid James McCarthy’s head right now as Barcelona, Liverpool, Celtic, Deportivo, and Arsenal are ALL fighting for his signature. As it seems, he’s pretty content to develop at Hamilton Academical and move on when necessary – but you can bet if Barca comes a-knocking it won’t take too much cash to pry him away.

EPL Daily 10.22: Weekend Results; Hamann Smashed; and a new Yank Abroad

EPL Para-Roundup

Dirk Kuijt converted 2 PK’s to beat 9-man Everton (Howard got his hand to both PKs but couldn’t follow through). Rooney scored a brace to lead Man Utd over Aston Villa 4-1 but he had 3 other sitters (one a PK) missing his chance for a hat-trick (that’s still 5 goals in the last 6 games). Elano (best fantasy league pick-up ever) scored yet again for Manchester City in a 1-0 shutout of Birmingham. Portsmouth, Arsenal, and Chelsea earned respective 2-0 shutouts with Drogba back and firing (keep watching the Drogba bit as it looks to intensify in the coming weeks and look up the Alex free kick strike). Blackburn used the formidable duo of Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz to fend off two Kevin Doyle goals and beat Reading 4-2. Fulham and Derby fought to a 0-0 deadlock (Dempsey and Lewis played all 90, while Boca came off the bench due to questionable recent form), while West Ham and Craig Bellamy hurt the feelings of Roy Keane and Sunderland in a 3-1 thrashing. Arsenal sit on top by 2 points with a game in tow over the Red Devils.

Other news:

Though many probably overlooked this – Manchester City midfielder and former Liverpool star Dietmar Hamann went out – about a year ago, got soused, and crashed his $150,000 Porsche into a fence. Obviously intoxicated at the scene but swearing that he was not the one behind the wheel, Hamann refused to divulge info on who the driver actually was. In the most delayed case ever, Hamann had his license taken away for 6 months and fined a good chunk of change – a year later.

American goalkeeper Ian Joyce – who recently has spent trial time with Millwall and Conference side Grays Athletic – looks to pull a Jay Demerit and earn his way into Watford’s line-up after being picked up on Sunday by the surging Championship side. Born, raised, and educated in the NJ (a Seton Hall Pirate), Joyce played for the Watford Reserves recently. Watford currently sit at the top of the tables with a 6 point lead over Bristol City as they continue their effort for EPL ball again.