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.

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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???

EPL Weekend: Everton Reclaims 4th, Former Goalscorer Forssell returns, Lampard Ejected

Saturday, March 1st

Birmingham 4, Tottenham 1

Not many were expecting this result and it’s pretty certain that not a soul would have expected Mikael Forssell to hit for a hat-trick against the Hotspur no less. Sure enough, that’s what happened. The true ‘nail in the coffin’ came with Sebastian Larsson’s swerving free-kick beating Paul Robinson to his right and putting Birmingham two clear right after half-time. The Blues had Tottenham’s number this season, taking both match-ups, and this is the worst loss Juande Ramos has suffered since his takeover. It’s pretty safe to say that Pascal Chimbonda and Younes Kaboul will never be deployed centrally on defense again. Think of Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu’s worst days together with the Nats and multiply it exponentially. Ramos could barely watch…Birmingham will breathe a sigh of relief though as this puts them a little higher up in the fight for top-flight survival.

Reading 1, Middlesbrough 0

A big win for Reading, against a lesser quality side Birmingham’s opponent Tottenham, but three points nonetheless. James Harper has a knack for scoring those injury time goals then going dormant for a good 10 games, but he made his presence known against M’Boro. The Royals didn’t get many chances, but Shorey and Ingimarsson kept Middlesbrough rather quiet. Bobby Convey didn’t dress.

Manchester United 3, Fulham 0

Brian McBride couldn’t revive his magic versus United as the Cottagers were trampled on from the beginning. Eddie Johnson and McBride coupled up front as Fulham managed several decent attacks, but United got much-needed rest for their stars as their return leg vs. Lyon fast approaches and some contributions from unlikelies. Owen Hargreaves hit his first in a United shirt on a well-taken set piece, while Park Ji-Sung actually tucked away a header to make it 2-0 before half-time. Then with 20 minutes to go, Sir Alex Ferguson put in Ronaldo, Rooney, and Anderson and their entrances quickly pinned Fulham down. A Simon Davies own goal ensured the victory for Manchester and dug a deeper hole for the struggling Cottagers.

Chelsea 4, West Ham United 0

Another outclassing, but this one with a different theme. Lampard converted a penalty early on only to be shown a red after retaliating on a tackle made by Luis Boa Morte. Controversy ensued but by then Chelsea was up 3-0 thanks to Michael Ballack and Joe Cole. An hour without Lampard made Chelsea a much more disciplined squad, taking the chances when they had to. A counter-attack led to Ashley Cole’s first goal of the season (and in a long time) which he converted from a seemingly impossibly acute angle. Needless to say, that was West Ham’s luck. Jon Spector dressed but didn’t play for the Hammers.

Blackburn 1, Newcastle 0

Newcastle’s losses have become less embarassing at least, but regardless, their slide continues. Actually the only real embarassment in this match-up was missed chances. Obafemi Martins is his 30 minutes couldn’t find the target, nor could Michael Owen (who later apologized publicly to his teammates for his inaccuracies). One person who did find the net was young Rover striker Matt Derbyshire and he did it in dramatic fashion, 90th minute to push Newcastle farther down the table. Roque Santa Cruz tested Newcastle’s defense all day, but it was David Bentley who put Derbyshire through for the injury-time clincher. Brad Friedel played all 90 and once again led the Rovers to another shutout.

Other Results:

Manchester City 0, Wigan 0 – Sven-Goran Eriksson was understandably angry after this one as Citeh looks nothing like the first half of the season, Wigan held strong though

Derby 0, Sunderland 0 – Another angry manager in Roy Keane, but at least Paul Jewell should feel an ounce of happiness after this. Poor guy. Eddie Lewis went the whole 90, Benny Feilhaber dressed for the first time in a long time, but overall it was the worst played game all weekend.

Sunday, March 2nd

Liverpool 3, Bolton 1

The Reds were fortunate to be given a 12th minute gift of an own goal. Jussi Jaskaleinen – a keeper not used to odd mistakes like this – seemed to be tracking a Gerrard shot wide but instead corralled it into his own net. The play seemed to demoralize the Wanderers defense as Jussi was busy the rest of the game, playing rather well. Liverpool’s offense was too strong however. Though rumored to be restless at Anfield, Ryan Babel put together a fantastic game scoring the go-ahead goal and terrorizing the wings. Fabio Aurelio added the third with 15 minutes to go with a Jon Arne Riise-like strike. New signing Tamir Cohen pulled back a consolation goal for the relegation strugglers as their job was made worse by yet another home loss. Martin Skrtel is really starting to settle down in the back for Liverpool, but it’s going to take a while before anyone can compare him to Liverpool’s Nemanja Vidic.

Everton 3, Portsmouth 1

Someone should discipline Yakubu more often. David Moyes spouted praise for the Nigerian striker after he struck for yet another two goals in an organized victory over European competition hopefuls Portsmouth. Pompey fielded an odd line-up with Muntari and Kranjcar moving equally on the wings as well as in the middle, but Everton stuck on the course. Yakubu hit for an early goal in the 1st minute only to see Jermain Defoe continue his scoring run with new club Portsmouth and equalize before halftime. Tim Cahill came to the rescue with a high-flying header, wide open, but extremely acrobatic to break the deadlock. Yakubu added the insurance goal with about 10 minutes to go, giving him 18 for the season. With the win, Moyes got the added bonus of rest for an injury-hampered Mikel Arteta who they will certainly need for their final push. Even with the 3 points, Moyes is relatively certain it is Liverpool that will pull out the 4th place finish. What words can I even say about how Tim Howard is playing right now…

EPL Daily 2.27: Real Salt Lake finds themselves a doctor, don’t mess with the Spurs and Ledley King, Thaksin facing the music

KENNY DEUCHAR: Not many of you have probably heard of the 6’3″ Scotsman (and it took me a while to remember the name), but he could be Real Salt Lake’s younger version of Toronto FC’s Danny Dichio without the fiery rep. Deuchar is most well known for being the key man in Gretna’s rise from the depths to mediocrity. The “Good Doctor” was responsible for an unparalleled feat in Scottish football history – 41 goals in 41 games, 6 hat-tricks in a season, and he lived up to his stats by treating RSL GM Garth Lagerwey to a two-goal performance in a losing cause against Glasgow Rangers. Gretna hasn’t been able to pay their striker due to financial troubles and that led to Deuchar’s disenchantment with the club but loan spells with Northampton Town and St. Johnstone proved only marginally fulfilling. With RSL he’ll get his pay day (gasp!). Deuchar adds a target man, power and depth to a pacy, skillful set of forwards – Robbie Findley,  Fabian Espindola, and Yura Movsisyan. Oh, and the ‘Good Doctor’ bit? One of the perks of his signing with Real Salt Lake was that he would be able to practice (yep, he’s a practising physician) in a nearby medical clinic.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: The ex-Thai Prime Minister and Manchester City owner is set to return to Thailand tomorrow to face the corruption charges still outstanding. Shinawatra has been in some sort of a mid-life crisis – leaving the country for almost a year and a half, buying one of the most storied English football clubs, playing with it, and now realizing these corruption charges aren’t just going to go away.

Other tidbits:

George Gillett and Tom Hicks are reportedly close to selling Liverpool (almost a year after when they first bought the club) to the Dubai International Capital group. Both Gillett and Hicks continue to deny any intention to sell.

Sniffing the Touchline has all the photos of Tottenham’s post-Carling Cup Victory bash. Always knew Ledley King was a belligerent and crazy S.O.B. The best of it all is the fact that Juande Ramos gave his approval, allowing the guys to unwind after watching their team transform this year from disastrous to beyond passable.

David Beckham admits he isn’t ready to play for Fabio Capello’s national squad and is willing to wait. In better news, however, Fox Soccer Channel is rumored to have bought the English language broadcast rights to the LA Galaxy’s Asian Tour (3 games in South Korea, Hong Kong, and China).

The giants are now awake…, Liverpool over Inter 2-0 in CL Home Leg

Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt hit for two late goals – Gerrard’s individual effort being the most spectacular of the two – to surprise the crap out of Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

This also wasn’t an example of finishing what little chances the Reds had – Liverpool dominated Inter – 19 shots to 4, finally breaking through Inter’s 10-man ‘catenaccio’. Yep, 10-men – the Reds got some help from Marco Materazzi when he was sent off for a second yellow card offense in the 30th minute for tugging on El Nino’s jersey. Inter then had to play a whole hour a man dow, at Anfield, after one of the worst losses in Liverpool history (might not be THAT bad).

This will be a huge morale boost for Liverpool and it was led by none other than captain Steven Gerrard (would you expect otherwise?). Rafa also put in timely subs (Crouch, Pennant – assisted Kuijt’s goal) and allowed the fullbacks, Fabio Aurelio and Steve Finnan, the proper room to serve the dangerous ball in. The wings, as a whole, were wide open once Materazzi was out of the picture. Lucas Leiva put in a promising 60 minutes for a young midfielder still learning about European soccer.

It was Liverpool’s 100th European victory at Anfield and – rightly enough – it was Gerrard’s 50th goal at home.

Other scores:

Schalke 04 1, FC Porto 0Schalke uses Kevin Kuranyi’s early goal to head away to Porto a goal up
Olympiakos 0, Chelsea 0Chelsea holds off the Greek champions at home and is ready for a Stamford return
AS Roma 2, Real Madrid 1David Pizarro and Mancini overcome a decent looking Real Madrid side to secure the home win

FA Cup: Barnsley shocks Liverpool, 2-1

Between captain Brian Howard and debut goalkeeper Luke Steele, I don’t know who had the better performance.

Actually I do, Howard might have provided the near post drive that sunk Liverpool in the 93rd minute but it was Steele who kept the Reds – somehow – from hitting the back of the net. Crouch had numerous opportunities, Kewell hit the crossbar, the action on Barnsley’s defensive end NEVER stopped coming. All it took was one mounted attack, a little footwork, and agility (although where the hell were the Liverpool defenders) and a crack to the near post – which Charles Itandje – who looked lost – neglected to cover.

Either way, Barnsley is through after Liverpool squandered a 1-0 lead. I’ll put up the highlights once I can find them…the question is, what now happens with Rafa Benitez? Is patience wearing thin – because that was a lot of booing I heard at the end of that game.

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.