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Football Writers and Books: Simon Kuper and Gabrielle Marcotti or Barcelona and Chelsea

Writers, like teams, have their own style and flair. Barcelona plays with creativity, triangles, and movement. Chelsea on the other hand is strong at the back and emphasizes a more direct, counter-attacking approach. Different styles but excellent teams. Simon Kuper is the Barcelona of writers and Gabrielle Marcotti is Chelsea.

Simon Kuper writes for the Financial Times. Kuper's book, Soccer Against the Enemy was my first foray into serious soccer books. His articles in the financial times are as good as his books. Like Barcelona, you are almost entranced by his creativity. Where does he come up with his material and how does he make it look so easy to write? He recently wrote about Barcelona's youth academy that gives you a small glimpse into their world. He also wrote a very interesting article on club managers where he informs us that in reality, they're overrated.

Simon Kuper's next book is called Soccernomics and it promises to be another excellent read. The subtitle is, Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport. I'll post a review when I finish it. Simon Kuper's style reminds me of that Barcelona magic. He has a creative, free-flowing style that pulls you in as he drives home his points with excellent analysis and insight.

Now onto Gabrielle Marcotti. Marcotti is an Italian journalist who writes for The Times of London. Perhaps the more apt comparison is to Juventus, but they are second tier right now so Chelsea is the stronger comparison. He comes across as a bit of a jerk at times, ready to cut you down with brutal efficiency, but you can't deny the quality of his writing and it makes him more interesting. He is certain that he is always right. He isn't but I enjoy his work anyway. Marcotti recently wrote a book on England's manager Fabio Capello and I'm not sure how to get a hold of it.

My main sources for football information are The Guardian's football section and The Game from The Times of London. Both also have excellent podcasts. The Guardian's is especially good because they cover the entire world in 30 minutes (except they rarely ever touch on the MLS, which means Kent would be a big fan of the podcast. It also features the wit of James Richardson who hosts). ESPN also has a podcast but it really drags. Of course my favorite is the one from Fastbreakfutbol, or will be if we ever start it up again.

So there it is. Simon Kuper and Gabrielle Marcotti, the Barcelona and Chelsea of the football writing world.

Who are your favorites? Where do you get your information? Any other book recommendations?

UPDATE: I was looking at the Guardian's site today and found a great little feature called "Chalkboards" that could help Brig with his next in depth Liverpool analysis. Maybe he'll only need three hours this time. Scroll to the bottom of the page here.

David Beats and Humiliates Goliath in Alcorcon: Alcorcon 4 - 0 Real Madrid

Alcorcon beat Real Madrid on Tuesday in their Copa del Rey match. Most people are probably unfamiliar with Alcorcon. It's a small suburb about 15 miles outside of Madrid. Even if you visited Madrid you probably never went to, or heard of Alcorcon. If you ever had the pleasure of living in the Madrid area for say, a couple of years, Alcorcon is the type of place where you hoped you never had to live. There's nothing wrong with the city per se, but there isn't much "right" with the city either. Some cities in Spain are ripe with history. There is rich spanish culture and history that mixes and blends perfectly with modern spain or society. Alcala de Henares is a good example of this. Alcorcon isn't. Both suburbs, only one is more like a Pasadena (Alcala) type suburb and the other one is more akin to the City of Commerce or Hawaiian Gardens. (Proof of this: One of the first 5 photos that comes up in a Google Images search of Alcorcon is a picture of a bunch of teenagers being arrested. Another photo is of just a bunch of teenagers. If you know Spain, you know that if a city is known for having spanish teenagers, the city probably doesn't have much to offer society.) Basically, there is no reason to stop in Alcorcon unless you are just stopping at a gas station to go to the bathroom; or apparently if you want to see their their third-division soccer team with a payroll of just over $1 million, beat up on Real Madrid, a team with a payroll of $420 million, give or take $10 million.

You can see from the video that this wasn't exactly a highly publicized match. It looks like some high school student was asked to film the game and all he had was the video camera on his phone. I also love the "stadium". It's just bleachers lining the field. They'll probably be taken down after the game since the field probably doubles as a parking lot during the day. I'm sure some of the fans paid while most just hopped the fence to get in.

But honestly, how does this happen? I understand that both Kaka and C. Ronaldo didn't play in the game. I understand that it wasn't the normal starting 11, but there is no excuse for this. Not when you have spent over $400 million to compile all of your players. Not when you insist on neglecting your development program because you are compiling all of "the greatest players in the world." The first goal scored by Alcorcon against Real Madrid was by Borja Gomez, former Real youth player.

It's been said before on this site and it's so evident that it's just a broken record at this point, but Real has no defense. No defense. It is incomprehensible that Marcelo continues to play. He is a Roberto Carlos reincarnate. He slides way too much. He always wants to attack. He never covers his man. He gets beat all the time. He's just a roaming defender that is never in position that can't guard anyone. Sergio Ramos is the same way. He wants so desperately to score or have an assist that he is never in position. I don't even know if those guys played in the Alcorcon game but it doesn't matter. No matter who the opponent is, there are players constantly roaming free inside the box. Look how open the Alcorcon player is on the third goal. It's remarkable. Especially since that happens in every game. Every game! Champions League, La Liga, or Kings Cup. Doesn't matter the opponent. If you want to hang out in Real Madrid's box unguarded, Madrid's defense is more than happy to comply with your request.

Real has lots of issues. Not even sure where to begin or if there is any quick fix. But I think a big problem with Real Madrid this year is that they have no leader. Raul is no longer their leader. He might be their captain and inspirational leader, but he's too old and not dominate enough to be their leader on the field. C. Ronaldo isn't a leader. I think he's a competitor and wants to win, but he's too concerned about personal glory to lead a team. Maybe he is their leader, they have been struggling with him out of the lineup.

I think everyone, including myself, was waiting for Kaka or Xabi Alonso to assume the leader role. I thought one of the two of them would step up and direct the team. Kaka has been extremely timid and looks like he is feeling the weight of expectation because of his huge contract and signing. He's not playing poorly, but he's not stepping up and directing the team either. Xabi was brought in as "the final piece". The man that would direct everyone and be the midfielder that could mesh all superb talent that was on the field. Has anyone seen Xabi? It usually takes about 20-25 minutes into each game before you realize he's even on the field. Maybe leadership isn't the problem. But something is terribly wrong. A team with that payroll has no excuse for playing so pitifully.

I would say it's a shame that Real spends all this money and has all this talent and can't put it together. And it is a shame since they could really be one of the greatest teams of all time if they figured things out. But at the same time, maybe it's not a shame. Maybe it's a good thing they are struggling. Not that other teams could construct a team like Real if they wanted to, but perhaps it's good that Real's "business model" fails. Maybe it's the only way for the ownership to realize that they need to work on team chemistry if they expect to ever have any championship success. That's unlikely though as I'm sure the ownership is already out placing a bid to buy another forward since that, for some flawed reason believed by the owners, always solves the problem.

Anyone else know how to fix Real Madrid's problems? Anyone care? Maybe everyone is just happy the overspending giants are struggling.

David beats Goliath in Alcorcon:

A Deeper Look at What It Takes to Beat the [Red] Devil

Let me start off with a couple disclaimers: (1) I'm a shameless Liverpool fan, but will try not to be completely biased in this post after a terrific victory for the Reds this weekend; (2) I spent WAY too much time compiling the statistics used in this post, so pardon the data dump. Now for the main course:

I wanted to take a closer look at the Liverpool-ManU game this weekend, partly because--like Kent--I've been a little bemused by the Reds up-and-down play this season and wanted to get behind it; and partly because I've always felt that you could get a lot of quality analysis out of a deeper statistical look into the game of football than the cursory shots, goals, assists, cards tallied by most media around. So I watched the game touch-by-touch and kept track of every bit of play by Liverpool to see how the team played the game. I tallied the usual goals, assists, etc., but also touches (good and bad), attempted and successful passes, pressured passes, dribbles, completed dribbles, turnovers, blocks, interceptions, whether a player was outpaced, and a host of other minutiae. Some of my stats are necessarily a little objective (like whether a touch was poor or superb, for example). And I admit there could be some small errors here and there in the tallies, but it's more or less accurate. Here's some of my conclusions:

The biggest revelation from the statistics is how Liverpool's holding midfielders dominated the game. Lucas Leiva led the team in touches with 44, and completed an astonishing 38 of 42 passes. His first unsuccessful pass came at 11:24 in the first half, after 10 successful ones, and incredibly he didn't miss another pass until the 81:09 mark, and that was a tight through-ball that almost placed Kuyt in a clear scoring opportunity. For a player who's caught a lot of (perhaps unfair) criticism, he showed up today.

Mascherano did as well (as he usually does), with 39 touches and having completed 31 of 34 passes, to go along with 4 tackles, 15 interceptions and a block. Mascherano didn't miss a pass until the 13:55 mark, after he had made 14 successful ones. My only criticism of Mascherano's game is that he tends to gun for goal from outside when the better play would probably be for one of his forwards. He missed at least one solid chance for Torres this week.

Carragher--another Red who's taken some heat this season for what some thought to be a decline in form--also had a very good game. He led the team by far in defensive stoppages with 5 tackles, 21 interceptions, and 3 blocks (one of which likely saved a goal). He was truly beaten only once--when Owen snuck in behind him and forced a professional foul that, I admit, looked like the only way to stop a direct goal-scoring opportunity. (There's a good argument it should have drawn a red). Overall, Carragher didn't show the lack of pace that has drawn criticism earlier this season. But one weakness did surface: Carragher loves the long ball, and it usually doesn't work for him. He had 12 turnovers in the game to lead the team in that dubious statistic, and 11 came from long-ball attempts that went nowhere fast. Take those away, and Liverpool retains possession better and Carragher only passes awry once.

Yossi Benayoun was the other unsung hero of the game. His assist to Torres on the first goal was world-class quality in a pressure situation. He trailed only Lucas in total touches, led the team in dribbles, played several superb balls through, and even dropped way back for several key defensive stoppages during the final quarter of the game. While he had several turnovers (7--second only to Carragher), most stemmed from his quality efforts to create openings in attack, not poor play.

There's a lot more that might be said about what the data shows, but I'll cut it short there for now, with the final observation that there's no statistic to describe the quality of Torres' goal. For all SAF's complaints about the referee work on Sunday, Ferdinand's desperate and unavailing effort to stop El Nino was the closest thing to a penalty in the game, and didn't even draw a whistle.

But for all the quality that surfaced in Sunday's game, in the end, the only statistic that really matters is the point tally on the league table. By that all-important count, ManU is still on top and Liverpool still have a ways to go...

Fernando Torres - "Get off of Me"

So I don't mean to constantly post about Liverpool, but it's hard when the enigma that is Liverpool continues. Just when they appear to be dead in the water, they come back and take a 2-0 win over Manchester United, without Steven Gerrard. Not sure what to make of the team exactly, but Fernando Torres' first goal was a beauty. The pass from Benayoun that split the two defenders to set up the goal was picture perfect. Midfielders earn their paychecks with passes like that. Torres received the pass, took a touch and nailed a rocket into the top of the net. An amazing goal. Not sure if it qualifies as a "golazo" but it was a great goal and did arguably save Liverpool's season.

The best part about the goal in my opinion was Torres' strength on the ball. Rio Ferdinand was running side by side with Torres and Torres just completely out-muscled Ferdinand and got his shot off. A classic "get off of me" moment. You could tell Ferdinand was trying desperately to get him off the ball, but to no avail. For a game that is plagued with having a reputation of players being weak and flopping all the time, its always nice to see a forward shake a defender instead of falling and hoping for the penalty. Not that Torres has never flopped, I'm sure he has, but as demonstrated in the Euro 2008 final and against Ferdinand, he is capable of dropping defenders. Every other forward not named Drogba is capable of shaking defenders instead of flopping. Not sure if I should say "flopping." Every time someone falls, it's not a flop. But I'm sure some forwards could stay stronger on the ball and I wish they would do it more because it embarrasses the defender and creates a great "get off of me" goal. Just look at Ferdinand's response after the goal. All he can do is just walk away with his head down. He knows he got abused.

Musings on the Origin of Golazos

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And the phrase is no truer than as applied to the beautiful game. For example, search for "greatest football goals" (on, by the way--you won't get anything about soccer until page 143 in the U.S. Yahoo! page) and you'll find list upon list of the best goals ever, and every one will be different. So what distinguishes your everyday goal from a true "golazo"? And what makes a given "golazo" one of the greatest goals of all time?

Is it the technical skill exhibited by the player, as in these goals by Bergkamp (this one, by the way, is accompanied by maybe my favorite piece of goal-scoring commentary ever, even though I hardly understand a word of it), Ibrahimovic, or George Best?

Is it the player's athletics or acrobatics that make a stunning goal, as in these by Van der Vaart, Ibra again, or this by Rivaldo (which, by the way, put Barca into the Champions League that year).

Does it depend on the stage on which the game is played, the momentousness of the occasion, as in these byMaradona (1986 World Cup) or Van Basten (1988 Euro Final)?

Is it the quality of the play leading up to the goal, as in this tremendous build-up and score by Argentina in Germany 2006, or this by Brazil in the 1970 World Cup?

Or is it just the stunning manner in which the goal is scored--the "Wow Factor", as in these from Roberto Carlos, Bergkamp again, Mancini, or the incomparable Ronaldinho?

This last from Ronaldinho, for example, is peerless from a purely technical standpoint, and is unequivocally a stunner, but it meant very little in terms of the outcome of the game--nor was the game itself incredibly significant in the grand scheme of things. So maybe it doesn't belong in the same category as, say, Maradona's 1986 World Cup end-to-end vs. England.

On the other hand, while Maradona's goal was undeniably momentous, and played out on the biggest stage there is in soccer, I can't refrain from opining--and I know this is borderline blasphemy--that in terms of technical skill and the "Wow Factor," it's great and all, but I have to say it's just not in the same league as some of the others set out above. At a minimum, it has it's equals, like this from Ryan Giggs (getting ManU into the 1999 FA Cup Final in extra time), or this from George Weah.

Obviously, if you can score a goal that has bits of all the criteria set forth above, you have a real contender for the greatest of all time, which is why the goal from . . . well, actually, which do you think is best? And have I missed a criterion that defines a true "golazo" for you?

Nobody's Perfect: Barcelona 1 - 2 FK Rubin Kazan

Barcelona lost at home in the Champions League yesterday to FK Rubin Kazan. Who? Exactly. FK Rubin Kazan. Sounds like the name of a magician, not a professional soccer team. Apparently though, that is them on the left and they are a Russian powerhouse that should be feared. I don't know about feared. They were first promoted to the Soviet Top League in 2003 and won it last year and thus qualified for the Champions League. Not bad for their first appearance.

I don't want to take anything away from their win. They did go into the Camp Nou and beat Barcelona on their own turf. Few teams within the past couple of years can boast that accomplishment. However, Barcelona did control the ball for 76% of the game. Barcelona also had 24 total shots, compared to Rubin Kazan's 3 total shots. None of that nerdy stat stuff really matters though. After 90 minutes, all that matters is the scoreboard and not how many total shots a team had. Rubin Kazan only needed 3 shots to score 2 goals-that first goal is a beauty. What a rocket. So who cares how many shot Barcelona had if they can only get 1 goal out of it. Rubin won, they deserve their due. They have proven that Barcelona isn't invincible. With that said, every team has their off games. They will meet again and I'm sure Barcelona will exact their revenge.

It is interesting with Barcelona though. Maybe I am just giving them too much praise and credit. They tied Valencia last Sunday in their La Liga game, and then they come out three days later and lay an egg against a cheap Russian magician. Yet I don't think too many people are questioning the team or worried about the team. Perhaps that is because despite the draw and loss, they are still playing Barcelona futbol. They control the game and wear teams down. They are still confident in their game plan and players. They just haven't been able to capitalize on their chances. Still though, they lead you to believe that everything is still under control, which I believe it is. Unlike this next team.


All is not well in Anfield. When is it time to panic? Has that time already passed? Four total losses already in the EPL. Four straight losses if you combine their last two EPL and Champions League games. That will likely become five straight losses on Sunday when they host Manchester United. It's not as though their losses are "bad". Tottenham is clearly one of the stronger teams in the EPL this year. Sunderland is also a tough opponent. An away loss to Chelsea is almost expected. But you have to win some of those games if you expect to finish at the top of the table.

Perhaps I jinxed them a couple weeks ago when I said Fernando Torres was bringing sexy back and that Liverpool was on the rise. Torres left sexy in the closet with R. Kelly and Liverpool is sinking fast. I know it's still relatively early in the season, but teams just can't afford to get too far behind and expect to make a comeback. In the first three Champions League games, Liverpool has two losses. They have a huge hurdle to overcome in order to just make it into the knock-out stages. Same thing in the EPL. They already have 4 losses. Most of the top of the table clubs finish with 2-3 losses, 6 maximum. Anything more than 6 and you can almost guarantee you will be on the outside looking in.

It's not over yet for Liverpool but something has to change. Transfers? New coach? New lineup? New defense. Whatever it is, they need to figure it out soon. Before they know it, they will be fighting just for a spot in the Europe League. A spot they don't even maintain at the moment.

Transfer Talk

Even though it's still a few months until the transfer window closes, the rumors are already starting to fly. Various sites are reporting that there is discussion of Robinho leaving Manchester City for Barcelona. Other sites are reporting that it's just a rumor and that there are no talks underway. Regardless, Robinho needs to quit crying and sucking his thumb and play some soccer. When he left Real Madrid I blamed Real as I thought management had yet again given up on good, young talent to pursue and overpay another big name star. I still don't doubt that could have been the case with Robinho, but now I am beginning to wonder if it was more Robinho crying his way out of Madrid rather than management mistreating another player. He left Real Madrid to "build" Manchester City and bring City to the world stage. City wasn't able to accomplish the lofty goals in Robinho's first season, and now any success will be due to the acquisitions of Adebayor, Tevez, Barry and all of the other players City has recently purchased.

Robinho has talent, but he has yet to really prove himself. He showed flashes of brilliance at Real Madrid but left before he could really establish himself as a dominant striker. Who knows if the Barcelona deal would happen. Robinho says it would "be a pleasure to play there." As though anyone wouldn't want to play with Barcelona right now. As good as Robinho may be, it won't be easy to crack the starting 11 at Barcelona. If he doesn't make an impact there, I wonder where he will cry himself to next.

AC Milan has also confirmed that David Beckham is coming back in January just in time for fashion week. He will also reportedly play soccer during the winter as well. I thought it was a logical move last year and I think it is logical this year as well. He's a good looking man and he should be on the runway. Plus, he can still get playing time with one of the top clubs in one of the premier European leagues. The competition and quality is just better than the MLS. Plus, if he is really trying to get a spot on England's World Cup team, he needs to be playing at a higher level and showing that he can compete with the best in the world. Something he can't do in Houston, San Jose or Kansas City. I understand he has completely destroyed ties with the MLS, but if you looked that good in Armani jeans, you would do the same thing too.

Finally, it's not really transfer news yet, but Valencia is in a dire financial situation and may have to sell off David Villa and David Silva. David Villa wearing his shoes on the wrong feet is still a better striker than Robinho. No team should be making a move for any forward until they find out if they can get David Villa. He will probably go to a Chelsea, or Real Madrid, or Barcelona and "the rich will just get richer." It would be awesome if he went to Liverpool or Sevilla and turned those teams into legit contenders. Where ever he goes, the team will be instantly improved.

Africa Dark Horse

Now that we have the South American Teams sorted out.
Who is your "African" team for next years World Cup? With the Vuvuzelas (as seen above) blasting, I have a feeling there will be some great African team upsets. The last games aren't until 11/14/09. So it's hard to see which final 3 teams will join the 3 already locked in.

I'll list your choices:
South Africa.......(Host)
Ivory Coast........(Qualified)
Cameroon (10 pts) or Gabon (9 pts)
Tunisia (11 pts) or Nigeria (9 pts)
Algeria (13 pts) or Egypt (10 pts)

Can't decide?

Maybe just choose your favorite Nickname.
Cameroon.............Indomitable Lions - my pick
Ivory Coast..........The Elephants
Ghana...................Black Stars
South Africa........Bafana Bafana
Tunisia.................Eagles of Carthage
Nigeria.................Super Eagles
Algeria.................Desert Foxes
Egypt...................The Pharaohs

One thing next years World Cup is sure to produce. Some crazy fans that really get behind their teams.

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

Argentina, rich with soccer history, stands in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa next year if they do not win today against their heated rivals, Uruguay. Why, might you ask, is this a big deal? Well, you must understand that Argentina always qualifies for the world cup... and qualifies early. In fact, the last time Argentina did not qualify for the World Cup was way back in 1970. Since that time, Argentina has been a powerhouse on the world stage, consistently producing some of the world's most talented players.

Think about it... if you have played a soccer video game in the last 25 years, you have always chosen either Brazil or Argentina as your team and given the computer Japan or Canada. (That's also because the computer is so cheap and never lets you score but then scores some ridiculous goal in the final minutes to win the game... but I digress)

There are many theories as to why Argentina has been suffering in the W column of World Cup Qualifying, but I would like to present my own theory. You see, Argentines (or Argentinians) do three things well:

1) Soccer

2) Asados
and 3) Mullets

If anyone has caught any of Argentina's games lately, you would notice a sharp decline in the amount of players sporting the highly successful Argentine Mullet. The mullet represents everything that was right in the 80s for Argentines--Maradona had won them a World Cup Title with his "Hand of God", mixed tapes were at their all-time high, and mullets kept neck backs warm through harsh winters. It does not take a genius to figure out that the blame for Argentina's lackluster performances can be squarely placed upon the team's lack of solidarity with regard to the mullet. As anyone knows... it takes 11 guys with mullets to win a World Cup--6 or 7 mullets does not a World Cup contender team make. That being said, I must compliment Maradona on his team leadership skills and enduring courage. After all, that man has been bravely leading the way by example for well over 25 years. Fat or skinny, drug addict or Cuban exile, Diego has always kept his business up front while maintaining a healthy party in the back.

So let those curls come down Argentina... but only in the back. Cut those bangs short. Your team needs you. Your country needs you.

By the way... the South American qualifying group will be extremely exciting to watch today. A lot of different things can happen. Keep an eye on the score boards. Here is the run down:

Most Lethal Weapons

Congrats to Cesc Fabregas, and Lionel Messi. They are the current MLW's.

What is this you ask? I am often asked who the current best player in the world is right now. Multiple factors must be considered. How do you rank a player? By his goals? His assists? His armband? So, I put together a little list of great players. Based on current stats, past performances, likability, and personal opinion, here are the finalists:

Player..... .........Assists ...........Goals......... Aggregate................ Team
Cesc Fabregas .........8 .........................4........................ 12 ........................Arsenal
Didier Drogba...........5......................... 6........................ 11 ........................Chelsea
Fernando Torres.... 1.......................... 8........................ 9.......................... Liverpool
Darren Bent .............1......................... 7........................ 8 ...........................Sunderland
Robbie Keane ..........2 .........................5.......................... 7........................ Tottenham
Steven Gerrard...... 4.......................... 3......................... 7......................... Liverpool
Robin Van Persie.... 4.......................... 3........................ 7.......................... Arsenal
Wayne Rooney........ 0......................... 6......................... 6......................... United
Ryan Giggs................5......................... 1.......................... 6........................ United
Craig Bellamy ...........4......................... 2......................... 6........................ City
Emmanuel Adebayor 1....................... 4.......................... 5........................ City
Frank Lampard ........4 ........................1........................... 5....................... Chelsea

Player................. Assists ..........Goals ...........Aggregate ...........Team
Lionel Messi ..................3 .......................5 ..........................8 ..........................Barca
Zlatan Imbrahimovic... 2....................... 5.......................... 7........................... Barca
David Villa .....................0 .......................6.......................... 6 ..........................Valencia
Cristiano Ronaldo......... 0....................... 5 ..........................5 ..........................Real Madrid
Guti ................................3 ........................2 ..........................5........................... Real Madrid
Negredo .........................3........................ 2 ..........................5........................... Sevilla
Kaka ................................2 .......................2.......................... 4 ...........................Real Madrid
Xavi .................................4........................ 0 ...........................4 ..........................Barca
Ever Banega ....................4 .......................0.......................... 4 ............................Valencia
Juca ..................................2........................ 2 ...........................4............................ Deportivo

Fabio Cannavaro fails drug test

ESPN has reported that Italian sweeper Fabio Cannavaro failed a drug test. They didn't say what type of drug it was. Given that Cannavaro sort of looks like a mix between Vin Diesel and Eminem, has lots of tattoos and his preferred hair style is a shaved, you would think that he would have been busted for crystal meth or cocaine. But it appears its just another random 'cream' substance.

I don't really want to dive too much into the steroid discussion with this post. One reason is because it's a little depressing to think that it has infiltrated the beautiful game. One wouldn't think that steroids would be used much by soccer players because as demonstrated from Pele to Messi, it's not a game that is always dominated by the biggest or strongest player. But that doesn't mean that some players might not use substances to recover from injuries faster; or to be as strong and fast and be able to compete with the young players - as would probably be the case with Cannavaro.

But the main reason I don't care to focus on the steroids is because the excuses are always much more entertaining than the story that the person failed the drug test.

Lets start with Cannavaro. Here is the reason provided by Juventus as to the possible reason for the failed test:

''With regards to the news of the launch of an investigation by the Procura Antidoping involving player Fabio Cannavaro, the medical division of Juventus state that they acted within the sanitary prescriptions and the deontological rules, intervening in an urgent manner - last August - following the worsening of the clinical condition following the sting by an insect.

''On that occasion a medical remedy which was indispensable in order to prevent eventual complications, even lethal ones, was used. The player and the medical staff of Juventus will be at the disposal of the Procura to clarify this issue as soon as possible, as well as eventual documentation.''

That's right. When in doubt, go with the bee sting excuse. Not that Cannavaro could come up with any believable excuse since the article says that there is video of him being injected with performance-enhancing drugs in 2005. Video evidence is pretty damning. Hard to talk your way out of that one. But with no video evidence like this one, the best you can come up with was that it was the bug bite cream? Really?

Here are other notable excuses from other sports:

Shane Warne: Cricket. Excuse: Borrowed a pill from his mom to reduce puffiness in his face.
Blaming your mom? Come on. At least blame your girlfriend younger brother or something. Not your mom.

Richard Gasqut: Pro Tennis Player. Excuse: He tested positive for cocaine because he kissed a french woman that may have taken the drug.
"Kissing" must have been used loosely here. When he says kiss he must mean that she licked the inside of his vein, not his mouth.

Ben Johnson: Sprinter. Excuse: His herbal drink was spiked the night before the race.
Come on. Do we really believe he drank his herbs?

Austrian ski team. They were accused and found guilty after blood transfusion materials in their hotel room. Excuse: The equipment was used for ultraviolet radiation treatment of athlete's blood to treat and prevent colds and flu.
Radiation treatment to prevent colds and flu? Radiation? Did they also have cancer? Sounds like rather strong preventative medicine for your common cold.

There are of course plenty more, but they are all the same. Fabio Cannavaro's bee sting cream excuse is creative, but hardly believable. I would be disappointed except that for some reason it doesn't appear that anyone has been able to come up with much better.

Serious Trouble for Madrid: Sevilla 2 - Real Madrid 1

On Sunday, Sevilla not only handed Real Madrid their first loss but also completely embarrased Real Madrid and their defense. Sevilla beat Real at their own game. They didn't play for possession, they just came out firing in an all out attack. I didn't think C. Ronaldo meant so much to Real, but they had no spark and were never really a threat on offense. More importantly though, Sevilla completely exposed the terrible back line that call themselves Real Madrid's defense. Talk about unorganized. Marcelo is a joke, as will be shown in the video. Pepe can't organize anyone, and Sergio Ramos is too interested in scoring goals. They are not in sync, and no offense should feel intimidated having to go up against Real's defense.

In a previous post, we discussed the Power Rankings and the fact that they had ranked Real #1 and Barcelona #2. We argued that Barcelona is still deserving of the top spot and also that there was no way Real Madrid's defense was good enough to control the top spot. There were a lot of statistics mentioned, but the premise was basically that Barcelona controls the ball practically the entire game and they hold their opponents hardly any shots and chances on goal. Real has a weak defense that allows too many shots on goal. This was demonstrated again on Sunday:

Barcelona vs. Almeria:

Barcelona - 17 shots, 7 were on goal. Almeria - 0 shots, 0 on goal. Barcelona controlled the ball for 73% of the game.

Real vs. Sevilla:

Real Madrid - 17 shots, 3 on goal. Sevilla - 24 shots, 10 on goal. Real controlled the ball for 58% of the game.

Ok, of course Sevilla is a tougher opponent than Almeria, but 0 total shots! That is complete domination. Almeria isn't the best team in La Liga, but they are far from the worst. If this was the first time Barcelona had held a team to 0 shots on goal, then it might be more of a statement about how poor Almeria is. But this is the third opponent with 0 shots on goal (Almeria being the first with 0 total shots), so its more of a statement that Barcelona is just that good.

Meanwhile, Real has serious issues. Below are the highlights from the game. Iker Casillas was other worldly. His performance deserves a post of its own. His saves at the 3:05 and 3:23 mark are just phenomenal. Simply amazing. Sadly for Real's defense, he makes incredible saves like that in almost every game. Mainly because Real's defense just stands around and lets opponents roam free in the box. The way in which Marcelo stands around on the first goal (2:09) is a perfect representation of Real's defense right now. Sevilla had so many open men and chances, it was just absurd.

The issue isn't so much that Real Madrid isn't deserving of the #1 spot in the Power Rankings. Those are just arbitrary rankings that don't really mean anything. The issue is that it's the same song and story for Real: Spend lots of money on offense yet forget about your defense. That equates to losing to Barcelona in La Liga and another early round exit in the Champions League.

Brief addendum to the post. In the comments for the previous post about the rankings, Brad thinks that the rankings should be:

1. Barcelona
2. Chelsea
3. Real Madrid
4. Man U
5. Man City

Personally, I wouldn't put Real Madrid before Man U or maybe even City. I would struggle putting Real anywhere before where ever Liverpool would fall in the rankings. Liverpool may have lost to Chelsea, but I think they fared a whole lot better than how Madrid would have done against Chelsea. Chelsea can shut down Madrid's offense and their high powered offense could put up 4-5 goals against Real Madrid's terrible defense. I think upcoming matches for Liverpool against Man U and Man City will be interesting. I'm still not impressed with Man U and I think City is still figuring things out. Arsenal is also quietly doing well. I think the only thing for sure is that Barcelona is 1 and Chelsea is 2. After that, its a crapshoot in my opinion.

Soccer's Greatest Sound

When the ball hits the back of the net, the sound is like no other. With soccer, you can see a play developing but the outcome is uncertain until it's in. Something about the uncertainty of the play and deveopment of a goal that makes the sound of the fans so much more ecstatic.

There are really two different sounds for a goal. When I started following the Champion's League a few years ago I realized that the crowd in Europe sounds different from the crowd in England upon seeing their team score a goal.

On the continent they scream "Gol!"

In England, it's a massive "Yeah!"

That's my favorite sound.

The Sounds of Soccer

What is the sound of soccer?

It's a great sound and there are reasons for it.

But first, let's talk about professional sports. When was the last time you attended a sporting event where the fans did not have to be prodded to MAKE SOME NOISE or GET LOUD? When was the last time you remember the fans starting a cheer all on their own without the help of cheerleaders or the public announcer? We went to an Angels game last week and no one in that stadium could be bothered to do much to support the team. When there was a runner in scoring position with one out, a banner rolled across the screen prompting us to 'MAKE SOME NOISE.' We bleated like sheep until the banner stopped, at which point, everyone in the stadium stopped as well. There was a silly race between odd looking toys between innings. A kid tried to run to third base from left field in less than a minute. At the end of the night there was a great fireworks show with a music mashup consisting of classical American folk songs and Latin Pop Beats (seriously). I thought we were going for the baseball game but it kind of got lost in the mix of the entertainment.

With football, soccer as we call it, this doesn't happen as much for a few reasons. First and foremost, there are no timeouts and no commercial breaks so there isn't time for such silliness (until halftime anyway). Granted they cram a lot of nonsense into the pregame, but once the action starts, the sound is organic. It comes from the fans.

Second, there is a real passion that isn't as prevalent with professional sports in the US. We go to be entertained as often as we go to support our team. With soccer, there is a feeling that it matters more so there is more passion, more energy, and better sounds.

So what does football sound like? It's sounds like ecstasy and tragedy.

Stunned silence at Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal fans singing "If you hate Tottenham stand up."

I love this sound. Liverpool fans singing "You'll Never Walk Alone."

At Real Madrid, they know the game and appreciate a great performance. This is a cool sound of soccer. The Bernabeu applauding their rival.

This sound is repeated all over the world. I don't know Greek but I can appreciate the strong voice of these fans. Olympiakos fans singing.

Those are just a few of the sounds of soccer. Obviously, there is something missing and I'm going to give my favorite sound its own post.

No Need to Dethrone the King

The other day released their world soccer Power Rankings. I know that these rankings don't really mean anything as they are just one person's opinion. If anything they just start conversation and maybe even stir up some controversy, which it has done for me. According to their latest rankings, Real Madrid claims the No. 1 spot, with Barcelona, Man U and Chelsea following as 2, 3 and 4 respectively. Chelsea did have a bad loss to Wigan, but I still wouldn't put Man U before them. Man U also had a bad early loss and doesn't look as strong as Chelsea. But at least there is a justifiable reason for dropping Chelsea below Man U.

The biggest issue I have with this poll is the dethroning of Barcelona. Johan Freedman, the man at SI making the rankings, doesn't really give a reason for dropping Barcelona, just mentions that Madrid has been rather dominant by outscoring its opponents 24-2. No one can argue that Madrid's offense hasn't been impressive thus far, the 24-2 goal differential and the fact that they are undefeated is pretty impressive, but they have hardly been tested. Besides their Champions League opponents, the only notable team in La Liga that Real has played was Deportivo de la Coruna (currently 5th in the standings) and they are responsible for the 2 goals that Real has given up this season.

A quick look at some stats should prove that Barcelona has been just as impressive as Real and hasn't done anything to deserve the demotion:

Combining the 5 La Liga games and the 2 Champions League games thus far this year, Barcelona has taken 114 shots, 50 of which were actually on goal. Which means 43% of all of their shots are actually on target. Real has taken 144 shots, 57 of which were on goal. 39% of their shots are on target.

Another statistic is time of possession and opponents' shots on goal. Barcelona in their league games, on average has possessed the ball for 69.6% of the game. Including two games where they possessed the ball for 78 and 79% of the entire game. Talk about frustrating for an opponent. Additionally, their opponents have taken 49 total shots, 14 of which have been on goal. In the Champions League, against arguably better opponents, Inter Milan and Dynamo Kiev, Barcelona has possessed the ball on average for 70.5% of the game. Inter and Kiev took 18 combined shots, with only 3 on goal, all by Inter. Dynamo didn't have one shot on goal.

Conversely, for Real Madrid in La Liga, they have possessed the ball on average for 54.8% of the game. Their opponents have taken 62 shots, with 20 actually on goal. In the Champions League, they have a time of possession of 59.5% with their opponents, Zurich and Marseille combining for 22 total shots with 11 on goal.

I understand that was a lot of numbers and stats. I also realize that some of them don't mean too much. Real and Barca have different styles of play. Real is constantly in an all out attack on goal. Possession isn't nearly as important to them, whereas Barca plays to possess the ball all game and tries to create the perfect opportunity on goal. Clearly because its more important to their style of play, Barcelona would have a higher time of possession. Real of course has more total shots since they play to just attack all game.

But I do think the numbers are telling in that they demonstrate that Barcelona has showed zero signs of slowing down. They haven't done anything to show that they aren't nearly as good or dominant as they were last year. They hold some opponents to zero shots! They possess the ball all game long and frustrate the heck out of teams. This was most notably demonstrated last season on the biggest stage when they played Man U in the Champions League finals. Have you ever seen a more frustrated team than Man U that night? Barca has incredible playmakers and still have the best midfield in the world.

Real is much improved from last year. Their offense is scary good. But anyone that has watched any of Real's games knows that they still have huge holes in their defense and that they give up a lot of shots. Anyone that saw the recent Marseille game knows that in typical Real Madrid fashion, if Iker 'the true galactico' Casillas wasn't in goal, the game would have been at least 3-2 (probably should have been 2-2 since the Penalty was debatable at best). It will be interesting this weekend when Real takes on third placed Sevilla without injured C. Ronaldo. Granted, the team still has Kaka, Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and Raul in the lineup, so they have no reason not to win. But Sevilla should give them a test and will show if they are a dominant power like Barcelona.

The first clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona takes place on Nov. 29 in Barcelona. If Real can go into the Camp Nou and take down Barcelona, then they have a legitimate claim to the throne. Until then, just because they have a crown on their logo, doesn't mean they get to wear it. It still belongs to Barcelona.

Podcast 3

Another poor quality podcast for listening pleasure. Again, try not too laugh too much. Our technology will improve.

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