Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sam Ricketts back.  And he is playing left back.  Thank goodness.  Even if he is not match fit.  Even if he is not match sharp.  Even if he is still on crutches.  All of that could be true, and he would still be better than Paul Robinson.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bolton Wanderers v Relegation (and Aston Villa)

If you look at the past several seasons in the top flight, there is always a club that is "too good to go down."  Newcastle held that title at one point, and West Ham has held it three or four times.  Leeds and Southampton in 2004 and 2005 were too good to go down.  Millwall and Birmingham played in Europe the seasons after they went down.  It kills me to say it, but this season's Bolton team has that feeling.

Big names are underperforming; Gary Cahill, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kevin Davies, Martin Petrov, Tuncay, Paul Robinson

Injuries have exposed a lack of depth and creativity; Stuart Holden, Lee Chung-yong, Tyrone Mears, Sam Ricketts, Marcos Alonso, Ricardo Gardner

Bad luck seems to play a part in a lot of results; Red cards, shots off the post, flukey deflected goals for the opposition.

UEFA Champions League

Let's review.  Manchester City needed to beat Bayern Munich to have any chance of advancing out of Group A.  They did, but it didn't matter.  Napoli won, so they will join Bayern in the knockout stages.  Both will be threats in the next round, although the Germans are probably joint favorites to win the tournament.  City will be disappointed, but it may be better for the club in the long run.  They can now focus on domestic matters, and I believe they will win the league.  They also have a very good chance to win the Europa League.  It is not the European trophy they wanted, but it could give them substantial momentum going into next season's Champion's League.

CSKA Moscow ended up joining Internazionale in the next round.  Neither looks likely to go very far.  Inter are old and slow, CSKA are short on talent.  All evidence of Group B will be disposed off very shortly.

I thought Group C would make a splash, and it did.  Manchester United join their neighbors in the Europa League, Benfica and FC Basel go through.  Neither have a chance of winning the trophy, but both are frisky enough that other clubs will want to avoid them.  Rosters that are old and slow will have particular problems with these two.  The aforementioned Inter Milan will desperately want to avoid FC Basel.

Ajax lost and Lyon won by a combined 9 goals.  Group D was left in chaos.  Real Madrid are co-favorites to lift the trophy in May, Lyon looked dead a few days ago.   But now the French club have a few months to regroup and maybe even add some talent to the squad.  I predict Arsenal will draw Lyon in the next round.

Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen go through in Group E.  There were some twists and turns, but this was what most expected way back in August.

Same with Arsenal and Marseille.  A few surprises in Group F, but ultimately what we all knew was inevitable.

Group G give us Apoel Nicosia and Zenit St. Petersburg.  Both are both nice stories, but the fairy take should end after the round of 16.

Group H was the most predictable of all.  Barcelona are favorites to defend their title, and AC Milan have finally gotten younger after many years of futility with an aging squad.  The Italians are probably not a threat to Barcelona and Real Madrid, but they may be in a year or two.

Tomorrow's draw will give us a good idea of who might be a surprise entrant to the last eight, and who might have their European adventure ended prematurely.