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?

UEFA Cup: Everton, Tottenham have the heroics but forget the fundamentals

Everton 2, Fiorentina 0  (Fiorentina wins 4-2 on penalties)

The curse of the 12-yard kick. Yakubu faked out Fiorentina’s keeper, but hit the post. Jagielka tried to sky it top left corner, but he missed down the middle instead. Despite Everton’s dominance at home in regulation time, you could sort of tell it was still Fiorentina’s game. Andy Johnson put the first one in, earning vocal support from the crowd for the rest of the game. Mikel Arteta provided the shock, however, ripping a shot from 30 yards out which caught the Italians off guard. This loss stings, but it doesn’t take away from the fact Everton have found consistency in play and a confidence that they belong in the top five. Timmy Howard was in net, but couldn’t get a jump on any of the penalties including Mario Santana’s which sent Fiorentina onto the quarterfinals. With 9 games left in the EPL, the Toffees can now concentrate on finding their way to higher ground – a place they might even deserve to be – the UCL.

Tottenham 1, PSV Eindhoven 0 (PSV wins 6-5 on penalties)

Who else but Dimitar Berbatov to score the equalizer away from home? It was Jermaine Jenas and Pascal Chimbonda, however, who couldn’t hit the crucial penalties that a young PSV seemed to ease through. Berbatov was kept quiet for 80 minutes until – as if not to be shown up by Arteta’s long range bomb – the Bulgarian unleashed a ferocious volley that blew by PSV’s keeper Gomes. The Hotspur were resilient, but one can certainly question Juande Ramos’ need to alter the formations and tactics on the fly – his insertion of Lee Young-Pyo for his first appearance in 2 months, Zokora at holding mid (which I liked actually), etc. They equalized away from home, however, and got the result they needed until the end. Ramos summed it up nicely to ESPN Soccernet…”You can’t train for penalty pressure”. Sounds like another post in the making…

Other Results:

Zenit St. Petersburg 2, Marseille 0 (Zenit win on away goals, 3-3) – it’s not that Marseille didn’t have their chances, but the away goal they let up in France came back to bite them in the ass; Djibril Cisse was kept quiet, while no one had an answer for Pavel Pogrebniak who struck for a brace and put the Russians through

Hamburg SV 3, Bayer Leverkusen 2 (Leverkusen wins on away goals, 3-3) – HSV had the attacking edge, but Leverkusen converted first. Rafael Van der Vaart led a potent attack, however, that mustered three in a decent effort that unfortunately need 4 goals to go through. Theofanis Gekas was again the decider in the issue scoring Leverkusen’s push through goal. Jose Paolo Guerrero and Trochowski also scored for HSV, while Sergei Barbarez found the first goal for Leverkusen.

Getafe 1, Benfica 0 (Getafe won 3-1 on aggregate) – Benfica sputtered to another loss this one coming several days after their now former boss Jose Antonio Camacho left his post (i.e. was sacked). There was no real urgency coming from the Portuguese and Getafe used that to extend their ‘cinderella run’ into the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. Apparently, Manchester United assistant Carlos Quieroz is in Benfica’s sights for the manager’s position – and that would be great news for Freddy Adu.

Anderlecht 2, Bayern Munich 1 (Bayern won 6-2 on aggregate) – Bayern lost the game but won the war and also gave some invaluable experience to some of their younger players in the process. Young Brazilian central defender Breno has a bright future in Munich and he got his first run-out in the UEFA Round of 16. Highly-touted prospect Toni Kroos also played the first half and left seemingly with a knock. Both 18 year olds were a bit outplayed by Anderlecht’s 20-year old Ukranian Aleksandr Yakovenko, but they didn’t need to shine – they just needed to win.

Action Continues…

Werder Bremen vs. Glasgow Rangers (Rangers hold 2-0 lead) – Rangers firmly hold the lead in this one and if they don’t blow up should find themselves in the quarterfinals.

Sporting Lisbon vs. Bolton (Tied 1-1) – Bolton’s Gary Megson has opted for a second-tier line-up in this one as he wants to rest Diouf, Nolan, Jaaskaleinen, McCann, O’Brien, Campo, and Ricardo Gardner for a relegation battle vs. Wigan this coming weekend. Staving off relegation over European glory? Bold, but smart. Still no Johann Smith for this one though.

England’s UEFA teams in trouble, Scots sit pretty

Fiorentina 2, Everton 0

Fiorentina kept Everton to 1 shot on goal…1 measly shot. The chaos started early for the Toffees as the Italians were relentless, attacking from the get-go. Tim Howard was the only thing keeping Everton in the game as Tim Cahill couldn’t get anything working past the midfield, Yakubu was border-line non-existent as well. David Moyes kept pressing onwards though, determined to leave Florence with an away goal. He inserted Arteta and Andy Johnson in an attempt to wake up the offense. No dice. Howard wasn’t beaten until the 70th minute when Zdravko Kuzmanovic rocketed a shot right outside the penalty box. Ricardo Montolivo – a wing midfielder heavily touted in the Serie A – got the second ten minutes later after a nice exchange left him open to bury a first-time volley past Howard. The American goalkeeper was probably man of the match as a rout looked possible from the beginning.

PSV Eindhoven 1, Tottenham 0

The Spurs had their chances, but ultimately it was young Jefferson Farfan’s day. The Peruvian youngster – although it seems like he’s been in PSV’s set-up for the longest time – hit the only goal of the game in the 34th minute. Tottenham has cooled down considerably since their Carling Cup victory a couple weeks ago, but with Woodgate and King returning in the back, you would expect a different score-line. In fact, the two veterans weren’t at fault for Farfan’s goal. Gilberto, who had a pretty terrible European-debut for Juande Ramos, toyed with the ball in the back and Farfan made him pay. He stripped the Brazilian and proceeded to give PSV the 1-0 advantage. Both Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov were firing, but nothing was finding the target and the result stuck. The Spurs now face a tough away leg in Eindhoven come next week – by then, they could be up to the challenge.

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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).

Juande Ramos vs. Avram Grant – Ramos and Tottenham take the League Cup!

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I had to lead with something a bit uplifting this Sunday in the wake of Eduardo’s career-threatening injury on Saturday. Tottenham’s 2-1 stunner over Chelsea in the final of the League Cup provided a small window to forget about not only Eduardo’s injury though…also I was able to forget that both Reading and Fulham moved closer to certain relegation with time running out, Heerenveen giving up a two goal lead after an ejection left them a man down for 70 minutes, and let’s not forget Houston’s terrible 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bare and Gamba Osaka. Yikes.

Back to the good stuff though. Juande Ramos has really turned this Hotspur team around. The Spurs have always threatened the Big Four in terms of reputation and the ability to draw young talent, but never have they been able to match the pace and consistency of the Big Four ON the pitch. Tottenham’s 2-1 extra time win today was just what they needed to maybe push them over the threshold.

It was an up and down day for the Hotspur as the match started well, but it was Chelsea who found the net first heading into the end of the half. Didier Drogba – trying to rekindle his pre-African Nations Cup form – hit a free kick that confused the hell out of Tottenham’s Paul Robinson. The Spurs and Ramos felt a bit hard done by that as they held strong the whole half with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate looking like a Vidic/Ferdinand pairing. The second half – both teams cooled down a bit, but Tottenham came alive late with Aaron Lennon patrolling the wings. His efforts paid off in the 70th minute when Wayne Bridge handled one of Lennon’s attempted crosses with his hands and Berbatov stepped up to coolly finish the penalty.

Regulation-time ended in a draw and changes were made, but the same suspects stood out. Woodgate quarterbacked an efficient defensive corps, while Lennon and Berbatov sparked the offense. The consistent play paid off for the Spurs when Woodgate found Jermaine Jenas’ free-kick with his head (well, it sort of found him) and beat Petr Cech in the 94th minute. They then snapped back to tactical form and denied Chelsea an equalizer for the last 26 minutes. Not even the long awaited return of John Terry and a healthier Frank Lampard could inspire the uninspired. Tottenham’s victory was their first League Cup since 1999.

EPL Window Shut – A Recap, Winners, Losers, Spenders…

Most EPL followers are sitting here bummed that there were no real high-profile moves in the January transfer window. No Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. No David Villa to Liverpool. Hell, Manchester United didn’t even make one single move. But why should they?

Somehow, $300 million were spent on new players by EPL clubs, breaking the previous January record set last year of $130 million. Most of the spending was done rather harmlessly. There was no $100 million spent by Chelsea (about $50 million) and ManYoo, Arsenal, and Liverpool kept themselves from overspending. Who are the big spenders, winners, and losers then?

TOP 5 TRANSFER WINNERS (January 2008)

1. TOTTENHAM – New boss, new money and a team that started the season dismally is now on its way up the ranks. Jonathan Woodgate was brought in from Middlesbrough for a believed $15 million, while right fullback Alan Hutton came from Rangers for $16 million. Young Chris Gunter arrived for $4 million early in January and has already made several appearances, while Gilberto (Hertha Berlin) was a truly ‘deadline’ deal. The long and short of it is that weaknesses were addressed. Gilberto, a strong Brazilian left back, will fill the gaps until Gareth Bale returns to health. Hutton could push Chimbonda into the middle or replace him all together. Both have the attacking prowess that suits Juande Ramos’ style of play too. Going out was a good amount of the dead weight that has only been hurting the wage bill as of late – Hossam Ghaly to Derby on loan, Paul Stalteri on loan to Fulham, the $25 million departure of Jermain Defoe to Portsmouth, underplayed winger Wayne Routledge to Aston Villa, and last but not least Anthony Gardner on loan to Everton. Spent – around $40 million.

2. CHELSEA – It’s too early to tell but the Blues seem to have gotten their man in Nicolas Anelka. $30 million was what it cost to pry him away from Reebok Stadium, but he has already shown – in 2 appearances – what kind of attention is drawn to him on field. If Anelka doesn’t work out, wait a year or two, and new $7 million striker Franco di Santo will gladly take his place. Highly coveted after the U-20 World Cup, this guy has a really promising future. On the defensive side, realizing their mistake with Tal Ben-Haim was the biggest reason Serbian Branoslav Ivanovic was brought in from Lokomotiv Moscow. Depth at defense is a big problem for Chelsea and Ivanovic (with the hope that the 23-year old will be Chelsea’s Nemanja Vidic) will help address that – more so with his versatility at right back, centreback, and in a defensive midfielder role. Spent – $48 million.

3. MANCHESTER CITY – Doing next to nothing was good for a City team that has become a bit erratic but generally has stuck to the course. A big coup for Sven’s men was the arrival of winger Nery Castillo from Shakhtar. Castillo gives them a viable winger option that will draw the pressure and attention away from Elano, whose form has dropped as he struggles to deal with the physical nature of the EPL. City then were in an inch away from grabbing Benjani from Portsmouth for about $24 million, but it fell through at the deadline. Instead, Felipe Caicedo – a 19-year old Ecuadorian from Basel in Switzerland – has come in to help replace the losses of wantaways Giorgios Samaras to Celtic and Rolando Bianchi on loan to Lazio. His prospects are huge as Juventus and AC Milan have both been tracking the youngster at Basel for the past several years. The price tag was a cool $10.5 million. Overall, two big upgrades for a rather tame price. Not bad on Eriksson’s part. Spent – around $15 million.

Biggest Busts

1. NEWCASTLE – Kevin Keegan promised high-profile, new faces. Magpie fans got Ben Tozer, Wesley Ngo Baheng, and Tomas Kadar. Heard of’em?

2. MIDDLESBROUGH – A great signing in Afonso Alves, but with it they might have brought themselves legal problems. Not to mention, WHY would you not address your biggest weakness…defense. Still Alves and Tuncay (as I’ve said before), can make something happen up front.

3. LIVERPOOL – Got a decent centerback in Slovakian Martin Skrtel (who debuted with an own goal), but they lost Momo Sissoko to Juventus and failed to sign Javier Mascherano permanently. All the while Ryan Babel has come out and said he’s not cut out for EPL style play. Recent form doesn’t help either. Hopefully, they can rebound but it looks like it’s a three way horse race for the title and Liverpool are once again left behind. Now the fans are hoping to oust Hicks and Gillett by pooling their money together and buying the club!

MOST ACTIVE

1. DERBY – Brought in no less than 7 players, none of which have helped the cause so far. Key arrivals – Hossam Ghaly from Tottenham, Emmanuel Villa from Tecos, Alan Stubbs from Everton, Mile Sterjovski from Gencerbiligi, Danny Mills from Man City, etc.

2. FULHAM – See a pattern? Cellar dwellars = most active, Fulham opted for 7 new players as well. Key arrivals – Eddie Johnson from the Kansas City Wizards, Brede Hangeland from Copenhagen, Leon Andreason from Werder Bremen, Toni Kallio from Young Boys, Jari Litmanen, Erik Nevland from Groningen, and Canadian Paul Stalteri on loan from Tottenham.

3. WIGAN ATHLETIC – I can’t see Wigan staying up, but there doing their damnedest to try. Three CONCACAF stars in Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios (remember him from CD Olimpia vs. DC United?) and Marlon King have arrived. One on loan, one finally permanently, the other costing $10 million. Seasoned left back Erik Edman came in from Rennes and Norwegian Erik Hagen from Zenit St. Petersburg come in to shore up the defense. Lastly, young Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia arrives from Villareal and is a great grab by the Latics.

Shock Deadline Moves: Benjani, Guzan’s Work Permit status

Benjani to Manchester City (very close at least)! Portsmouth’s best forward move has made Harry Redknapp’s life a living hell now, unless he’s got transfers lined up today. Benjani’s exit, Utaka and Kanu at the ANC, and Dave Nugent out with an injury leaves Portsmouth rather thin at the forward line. Milan Baros has arrived and Jermain Defoe is apparently VERY close to a $26 million move from Tottenham.

Alan Hutton finally completed his move to Tottenham, giving the Spurs a viable right back option and possibly spelling Pascal Chimbonda’s end at White Hart Lane. He can definitely move to the center, but if there’s one person it spells the end for…it’s Canadian Paul Stalteri. Walter Smith is going to like the $16 million that came from this transfer…wonder what he’ll do with it.
Apparently, Brad Guzan’s move to Aston Villa is on the verge of collapsing. The initial reuqest for a work permit has been denied – a subsequent appeal will tell the tale.
Afonso Alves has secured a work permit to play for Middlesbrough. Deal should be completed very soon. With Alves and Tuncay up front, Boro’s front line finally rivals their past pairing of Mark Viduka and Yakubu. Inter starlet Goran Slavkovski might be on his way to Boro which further improves their striker situation. Now what about that defense?

Fulham have signed not one, but THREE strikers in January. Finnish legend Jari Litmanen just arrived and at the age of 36, the former Liverpool, Ajax, Barcelona striker will vie for a starting role with Eddie Johnson and FC Groningen’s Erik Nevland. Does this mean Dempsey will move back to his true position?

Manucho, the Angolan and Manchester United striker who has been making waves at the ANC, is set to move on loan to Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos. He looks to have a very bright future at Old Trafford but will have to wait his turn.

Last but not least, David Beckham – no not transfer news – has to wait for his chance at an 100th cap as Fabio Capello is afraid that celebrity friendlies don’t constitute being “fit”. Hasn’t Capello learned his lesson about leaving Beckham on the sidelines??? No worries as Capello’s roster picks have some people thinking he’s completely insane. Emile Heskey, Curtis Davies (7 total EPL appearances this year, maybe 8), and Michael Owen (who has looked like shit recently), Peter Crouch in. Who deserved the call-up?