Methadone Report: From the Mexican Primera to the EPL

I tasted a little off-season methadone over the weekend and, in spite of pulling the equivalent of walking in at the middle of a movie, enjoyed it well enough.  It wasn’t all sunshine, however, as I’ll explain below, but it’s going to work…I just know it.  And while I’m watching ’em, I may as well comment on ’em…at least a little and as the spirit moves me.

Moving on…

Toluca 1-1 UNAM Pumas

I got a kick out of this one, even if I didn’t know while I was watching it that it was the second leg.  And, having watched it, I can empathize a little better with Mexican fans as the losses to the U.S. national team pile up.  UNAM played prettier and had the better of play and possession, but Toluca stayed in it by 1) knocking them around and 2) playing a wickedly efficient counter-attack.  If I’m reading ESPN’s overall results thingy right that didn’t help Toluca: looks like UNAM will go to the semis…which I hope to catch (where and when I can).

Fulham 2-2 Blackburn Rovers

This game had a wonderful, “feels like old times” fvibe for this former EPL fan.  Apart from finally seeing Clint Dempsey playing in a Fulham jersey, I discovered that Danny Murphy, a sentimental favorite of mine, now plays with him; Simon Davies, of Tottenham back when I was watching, showed up as well and I like him all right.  In fact, I’m thinking it will be fun to see where a lot of the players I once knew so well ended up.  Then there was the game…

The first half was friggin’ awful: a tomb-like atmosphere, sloppy, whack-a-mole play with an all-guts-no-brains style, etc.  The state of things left me stewing at the memory of every pitying lecture I’ve ever endured from Brits about crappy American soccer and the absence of atmosphere at MLS grounds (and these have been horrifyingly condescending at times; then again, they don’t hold a candle to the several “educational” chats from Anglophiles trying to enlighten me as to what “real football” looks like).  That first half was as bad as anything I’ve seen on the field and off in MLS over the past five years.  Fortunately, the second half turned around all right – even as I doubled time between the game and Iron Chef America – both in terms of play and atmosphere.  It wasn’t the greatest game ever played, but it was fast and frenetic like the EPL can be and, therefore, pretty fun in the end.  Oh, and Dempsey looked pretty decent, if a little familiarly lazy (I still like Deuce’s style)…shame I can’t say the same thing about Murphy, who was largely anonymous and useless when he wasn’t.

Arsenal 2-0 Wigan Athletic

This one crystallized everything I dislike about the EPL.  The gap between these teams is large enough that they don’t even occupy the same reality.  Y’know, it’s like what’s the fucking point?  (Yeah, yeah, the big guys have to win these games to win the league, blah, blah, blah; I say cut the Prem to 10 teams and stop stealing fans’ money.)  Even if Wigan held them off for over 80, Arsenal had them by the short ones regardless.  Just completely lacking in suspense and, to be blunt about it, double-plus unfun.

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EPL: Sven and Big Sam start with 3; Man Utd falters

Another slew of games this Tuesday and Wednesday as the Premiership starts with a bang. This past weekend’s slate however was chock full of entertaining matches – most of which I didn’t get to see. Some things that did stick out however:

 Derby 2, Portsmouth 2: Not many expected this I am sure but freshly promoted teams generally fight like hell for the first several games then sputter when it comes to the long-haul of the Premiership season. The Rams took the lead in this one thanks to a Matthew Oakley strike. Pompey fought back to take the lead 2-1 and it looked as of Derby was down and out. Former Blackburn Rover Andy Todd made it 2-2 in the waning moments to secure a point. If they can tie Portsmouth with a squad  that boss Billy Davies is vocally unhappy with – what can they do once strengthened? (is it too early to regret my decision of predicting a 5th place finish for Portsmouth?)

Sunderland 1, Tottenham 0: Spurs faithful have got to be incensed with this one, but looking back on it – why did I ever bet against Roy Keane in his Premiership managerial debut; Chopra doubters were treated to a nice serving of ‘I told you so’ as the former Newcastle dud provided the only goal in the 90th minute

Chelsea 3, Birmingham 2: the Blues struck first early with Mikael Forssell staking a claim for a starting spot but new Chelsea acquisition made his argument by striking less than 2 minutes later; the rest of the game was back and forth as fellow new Chelsea signing Florent Malouda also put his name on the scoresheet; Johan Djourou – plucked from Arsenal’s talent pool – worked all 90 minutes for Birmingham in the back; Michael Essien provided the game winner in the 50th minute and extended Chelsea’s home unbeaten streak; Drogba quelled Chelsea supporter fears with a solid 30 minute run-out

Arsenal 2, Fulham 1: David Healy pounced on a particularly embarassing screw up by Jens Lehmann; search it on YouTube – not quite Paul Robinson-ish but still borderline pathetic; the Gunners fought back for him though as two late goals – a PK from Van Persie and Aleksander Hleb – put Arsenal clear; McBride started up front and Bocanegra in the back, both played all 90 minutes while Clint Dempsey came on for new signing Hamuer Bouazza in the beginning of the second half and worked a serviceable half; Gunner fans have got to be excited about the play of Bakary Sagna and Emmanuel Eboue down the right wing

Reading 0, Manchester United 0: another giant held with unfortunate consequences for Alex Ferguson and all Red Devil fans; Wayne Rooney broke his foot and will be out 2 months at least; they do have Carlos Tevez to look forward to but Rooney looked primed to have a phenomenal year and his absence will make things a bit harder for that Red Devil offense to produce consistently; Reading played the last 20 minutes a man down after Dave Kitson’s ejection and proved pesky (though never threatening); Nicky Shorey was the best man on the field for the Royals and Giggsy for the Red Devils

Other results:

Liverpool 2, Aston Villa 1 – The Reds’ new signings start slow but Gerrard’s goal of the week give them the win

Manchester City 2, West Ham 0 – Spector plays all 90 minutes but can’t stop Sven’s new signings – Geovanni and Bianchi from finding  the net, while their newly crafted back line preserves the shutout and 3 away points

Newcastle 3, Bolton 1 – Sam Allardyce beats his former team as the Magpie offense is driven by the brace of Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins

Blackburn 2, Middlesbrough 1 – Brad Friedel worked well in a goal as usual while the young Derbyshire and new signing Roque Santa Cruz provide the goal scoring power to beat the Boro

Everton 2, Wigan Athletic 1 – Tim Howard held his own in net for the Toffees as they fought their way to a win at home thanks to a Leon Osman and young’un Victor Anichebe strike

Loss of Baines a Crushing Blow to the Latics’ Survival Chances?

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 Leighton Baines – the longtime cornerstone of Wigan’s back four – has moved onto to the greener pastures of . The close call of last year’s relegation battle seemed to have spark the young fullback’s ambition to stay in the Premiership. The money helped too, as Wigan will receive $10 million for his services and Baines’ weekly salary improves as well. Baines, however, was a full-out Wigan product and – as many Latics supporters are hoping – the money received for selling him better go to good use.

“I’ve had six fantastic years here and it was a really tough decision to leave that behind because this is the club who have given me the opportunity to make it in the game” (from Wigan’s website)

Everton has gained a massive talent on the wings, to add to the likes of Phil Neville and Nuno Valente. The Toffees, however, could be far from done their spending as both Australian Tim Cahill (month or two) and English youngster James Vaughan (til November) are out for significant periods of time. The addition of Baines should allow Neville to venture into the midfield with Arteta pushing into the middle.