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?

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Barnsley does it again! Beats Chelsea! Bye bye Avram…Man Utd gone as well.

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You know it was meant to be when a guy (Kyote Odejayi) who hasn’t scored in several months, heads home the lone goal by outleaping Carlo Cudicini in the 66th minute. Did anyone else enjoy Cudicini’s 360 degree flail after he realized Odejayi was going to beat him to the ball? Perfect ten.

Barnsley still had to withstand a haphazard Chelsea offense for the last 30 minutes, but it was easy to see that the Blues weren’t up to the challenge. They played like amateurs. Not one person stood out, unless you count disgusting tackles as standing out (Ricardo Carvalho in the last couple minutes).

Both giants were slaughtered today – Manchester United and Chelsea are gone. A ten-men United gone after losing to Portsmouth 1-0 earlier today. Sulley Muntari converted the penalty after Tomasz Kuszczak was sent off for a trip up in the penalty box. Portsmouth and Middlesbrough remain of the EPL clubs and it’s safe to say who the favorites are…

Barnsley (okay, Portsmouth, but still…). They played way above their standards today and Chelsea were forced to play down to them, their tactics, their pace. Brian Howard had another great game and is really making a name for himself. Was this an example of a team not being able to adjust from a smooth technical game to a scrappy heap of raw soccer? Can you really tell me that Joe Cole and Michael Essien really can’t adjust to that!!?

Anyways, that game made my day. Share your thoughts below.

EPL Daily 2.6.08: Friedel inks new deal, FC Dallas trialist, WCQ/International Friendlies

FRIEDEL: Brad Friedel – which many have overlooked – has the most appearances in Blackburn’s long and storied history. It’s just a shame he wasn’t there when Alan Shearer and the Rovers hoisted the EPL trophy in 1994-95. The 36 year old, internationally retired keeper has signed on until 2010 as Blackburn continues to improve year in and year out.

BENJANI: Even with the transfer window all locked up, one deal was finally brought to a conclusion. Manchester City cited concerns for a knee problem that Portsmouth’s leading scorer Benjani had on surgery to correct 18 long months ago. Their nit-picking – if you want to call it that – allowed Citeh to squeeze out an installment payment plan for the in-form striker. Manchester will pay $7.5 million up front with installments totalling another $7.5 million will follow at Benjani’s 25, 50, and 75 start mark.

SAM STOCKLEY: Although not EPL related and not even really that exciting. FC Dallas will be trialing Stockley – a former Colchester and now Wycombe fullback. At the ripe old age of 30, he has been forced out of the Wycombe line-up and is looking at his options. His contract doesn’t run out until late June of 2008.

INTERNATIONALS: Everton’s Tim Cahill scored the second goal in their first ever Asian World Cup qualifying win. A 3-0 blowout of Qatar. Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung and Fulham’s Seol Ki-Hyeon scored three of South Korea’s 4 goals in a 4-0 drubbing of Turkimenistan. Charlton’s Chinese striker Zheng Zhi scored the equalizer in a 1-1 tie with Iraq to start off their WCQ campaign and kept China from following to a 10-man Iraq side after midfielder Neshat Akram was sent off.

A crap load of international friendlies take place today, featuring all sorts of EPL players – the most notable being: France vs. Spain (17 year old Barca starlet Bojan Krkic was hoping to make his debut but might not due to injury), England vs. Switzerland (England will play its first match under Fabio Capello), USA vs. Mexico, Croatia vs. Netherlands (Holland will be operating with out Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt, and Robin Van Persie), Turkey vs. Sweden, Austria vs. Germany, Czech Republic vs. Poland, Italy vs. Portugal, Brazil vs. Ireland (the Irish hope for some luck without a manager on the sideline against the Brazilians, Alexandre Pato will NOT make his debut due to a sprained ankle), Jamaica vs. Costa Rica, and Honduras vs. Paraguay.

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 1.2.08: 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.

EPL Weekend 9.29-9.30: highest scoring match in EPL history; Gunners make it 8; Fulham stays strong

STANDINGS 

Saturday 

Manchester City 3, Newcastle 1

The Magpies had their decent form wrecked by a squad pegged for over-performing, but it seems that after this win many have to recalculate their sentiments towards Sven Goran-Eriksson and his Elano-led squad. The Brazilian was great again, putting on a clinic in forward-thinking passing and then driving home an 86th minute free kick to top it all off. Bulgarian Martin Petrov continued his rekindled scoring drive and former Standard Liege striker Emile Mpenza got in on the action. It was the Magpies’ that struck first, but Citeh then responded with three unanswered strikes. Is Eriksson still just lucky?

Portsmouth 7, Reading 4

Both teams were looking for offensive production and – damn – did they ever get it (in a Philadelphia Phillies sort of fashion; you know score 15 one game, 0 the next). Benjani hit for a hat-trick while a stacked midfield provided the rest – Kranjcar, Sean Davis, Muntari all scored. What happened this game? I couldn’t tell you considering I didn’t have the privilege of watching it, but it certainly hurts the reputation of a normally tough-to-beat, stingy Reading defense led by American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. Shane Long, Dave Kitson, Stephen Hunt, and Nicky Shorey all found the net for the Royals. The shot count was never ridiculous but the accuracy was brilliant and that’s why both teams now have themselves in the record book for highest scoring EPL game.

Manchester United 1, Birmingham 0

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first of the year in the 51st minute and helped the Red Devils extend their streak of consecutive clean sheets in the EPL to five. Edwin Van der Sar will be missing the Devils’ next match-up however after picking up some ankle trouble before half-time. Either way, Man Utd has shown they can overcome adversity and early shaky play to pull out a result and with Ronaldo back and firing on all cylinders, we should see a very different Manchester United in the weeks to come.

Other Results:

Liverpool 1, Wigan 0

Benayoun is the savior putting the Reds past the Latics in the 75th minute.

Chelsea 0, Fulham 0

The Blues dominated but Kasey Keller stayed strong and only had to deal with 4 on frame (18 overall). Clint Dempsey went the whole 90 again as Fulham got a huge away point. Further bad news for Avram Grants and Chelsea as captain John Terry is now out with a possible fractured cheekbone.

Blackburn 2, Sunderland 1

Brad Freidel took care of a stingy Sunderland squad with the scoring support coming from David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz in a two-minute double salvo. Grant Leadbitter scored the consolation goal with time running out.

Arsenal 1, West Ham United 0

The sliding Hammers keep on their path downward after Robin van Persie reintroduced himself to the goal in the 13th minute to ensure the Gunners’ 8th straight victory.

Derby County 1, Bolton 1

Derby grabbed a point to the tune of Kenny Miller’s strike as he continues to make his way into the Derby faithful’s hearts. The Scotsman watched as class Nicolas Anelka tied it up less than 15 minutes later. At least the Rams are grabbing some points.

Sunday

Everton 2, Middlesbrough 0

The Toffees welcomed Timmy Howard back to the line-up with a great on-field performance led by the also-returning from injury, dynamic and often forgotten about Mikel Arteta. He hides some games and then struts his stuff against the lower tier teams. Consistently, he’s good – don’t get me wrong, but he puts in world class performances at times and then disappears from the radar for a while. Joleon Lescott is another guy who probably doesn’t get the attention he well deserves. Not only did he score early, but he shut down Mido effectively. Between Arteta and Pienaar, that second goal was one of the best I’ve seen all weekend.