Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Premier League Report and First XI...First Half

So it is nearly halfway through the season in England, with the exception of this coming weekend and some games to be made up due to weather. There have been many surprises to this point, both positive surprises but also many disappointments. For those of you who don't know (which is probably nobody who reads this on a regular basis), I am a big time United fan. So obviously, I am loving that. However, that isn't really that big of a surprise being that they have been there before. Three surprise stories so far in the Premiership are:

1.) Owen Coyle, Stuart Holden and the re-emergence of Bolton Wanderers - After Bolton's run in the 2007-2008 UEFA Cup, in which they earned a famous result away to Bayern, got the first ever European win at Red Star Belgrade (for any team), and defeated Atletico Madrid in the round of 32, they fell down and became a team that seemed to be struggling for survival year after year. Owen Coyle took over the team in January and revived the team from a near-bottom position last year to finish 14th and looking forward to this season. Bolton had one of the best transfer summers of any team in the Premier League, picking up American Stuart Holden, Martin Petrov and Rodrigo Moreno, which replenished their midfield options. They have picked up results against Manchester United, Everton and Aston Villa, while getting big victories against Newcastle and Tottenham. They currently sit 7th in the table, 1 point back of 5th, and have the 5th most goals scored and 5th highest goal differential. They were predicted by most people to finish in the bottom half of the table and while there is a lot left to be played for in England, Bolton looks to lock up another trip back in a European competition for the first time since that memorable run in 2008.

2.) Tottenham's Impressive Debut in the Champions League - With last year's strong finish to fourth, they qualified for their first ever UEFA Champions League. After they made it through a tough tie to qualify for the group stages, the draw put them against Defending European Champions, Inter Milan, as well as Dutch Champions FC Twente and a strong German outfit, Werder Bremen. Spurs were picked by most experts to go 2nd or 3rd in the group. However, with the help of Gareth Bale and new signing Rafael van der Vaart, Tottenham were able to get home wins against each team in their group, as well as 2 away results. The one game they didn't get a result from was away to Inter, in which they were down 4-0 after 30 minutes and came all the way back to 4-3 after a second half, Gareth Bale hat trick. They finished top of their group and were "rewarded" with a knockout stage tie with another Italian giant, AC Milan. Regardless of how they do against Milan, Tottenham can be proud of their performance thus far in their first ever Champions League.

3.) The Disappointment of West Ham - By no means were the Hammers supposed to be near top half finishers this season, but the start of the 2010-2011 season has been a complete embarrassment for the East London side. They are bottom of the table with only 13 points through 18 games. They have conceded the most goals, and have the worst goal differential of any team in the Premiership. Only one team has ever recovered from being bottom at Christmas, to survival at the end of the season (West Brom's Great Escape - 2005). It doesn't get any better, with talks of Avram Grant near the sack at the club. Although they were able to get a great 4-0 win against Manchester United, that did come in the Carling Cup and unfortunately does not help their league position at all. It is going to be a tough fight from now until May for West Ham.

Although I have not seen every game so far, however I have seen a lot, I feel I can pick a First XI team that represents the majority of performances this season. My team is as follows:

GK: Tim Howard (Everton)
DEF: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)
DEF: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
DEF: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
DEF: Gareth Bale (Tottenham)
MF: Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
MF: Stuart Holden (Bolton)
MF: Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham)
FWD: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)
FWD: Andy Carroll (Newcastle)
FWD: Danny Welbeck (Sunderland)

Subs: Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Rafael da Silva (Manchester United), Johan Elmander (Bolton), Florent Malouda (Chelsea)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

United Go Top, Sox Big Signings and Jimmer Goes Off...Again

Monday night marked the first Manchester United vs Arsenal matchup of the year, this one taking place at Old Trafford. There has always been a fierce rivalry between these teams, but over the last few years this rivalry has died down a bit. Yes, Arsenal has beaten United on a couple occasions, but they have not won a trophy in over five years and the battles that used to exist between Keane and Vieira have escaped the game a bit. Looking back at this rivalry over the years, I have to point out a few of my favorite games. I wasn't a fan of United until a couple months after this game (but I have watched the full replay on numerous occasions since then) but the 1999 FA Cup Semi-Final Replay comes to mind first. We all know about "that goal" by Giggs in extra time that sent United on their way to the first ever Treble in English Football. Another game that comes to mind is the 6-1 drubbing of Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2001. Dwight Yorke's first half hat trick sent United on their way to a great win. However, of all the great matches against the Arsenal, the match at Highbury in 2005 was absolutely unbeatable. Before the game even started, Vieira and Keane were getting at each other in the tunnel. The rest is just pure greatness. Check out the highlights of that game here:

United 4 Arsenal 2

A certain player, Cristiano Ronaldo, made a big impact and put his name on the international stage with 2 goals to lead United to victory. John O'Shea's reaction after scoring the last goal was absolute class. In recent years, the Champions League Semi-Final Second Leg victory at the Emirates was amazing as well, except when the referee sent off Fletcher for nearly a clean tackle. However, the 3-1 win was enough to send us to the European Cup Final.

Back to Monday's game, where United looked to go top of the table with a win, and Arsenal tried to keep top spot with a draw or a win. This game had a feel that was similar to some of the great games of the past; high intensity, tackles flying in, and great energy from the crowd. United got a first half goal from Ji-Sung Park, who tends to have a knack for finding the net in the big games. The second half was pretty dull, as United plugged up Arsenal's midfield and didn't let them have anything going forward. The back line of Evra, Rio, Vidic and Rafael shut down any attack from the Arsenal. United were awarded a penalty kick after a hand ball in the box by Gael Clichy. Rooney stepped up to take the kick but absolutely made a mess of it and took it well over the goal. It was a little upsetting to see Rooney miss that kick as he usually drills it low and hard into one of the corners, but in the end it didn't hurt United as they finished with a fairly comfortable 1-0 win. With the win, United go top of the table by 2 points ahead of Arsenal and City, and 3 points ahead of Cheslea, also still with a game in hand. I am very pleased to this point how United are performing in all competitions, with exception to the one game at West Ham in the Carling Cup. To have missed their best player for 2 months, and to be top of the table with a game in hand, it is very nice. With another big match this weekend at Chelsea, United could distance themselves even further from the rest of the league.

Switching sports, some other big news is coming from the Northeast, and specifically in Boston. The Red Sox have made their presence known in the off season with the signings on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The signing of Crawford from the Rays did not surprise me, as the Sox had made it known that they were looking for an outfield bat. On the other hand, the money they have given Crawford did surprise me a bit. I don't believe that he is worth $140 million, but maybe if we had not offered him that, he would have gone to the Angels. I don't like the stuff people are saying about the Sox and comparing them to the Yankees, now that we have spent some real money on a guy. Everything about, "If you want to beat them, you have got to become them" is not true. We spent money on 2 guys, not nearly an entire squad. If we are to continue doing this over a few years, then maybe we can be considered on the same level as the Yanks, but for now, financially they are still miles ahead of everyone else. I do like the intentions of Theo Epstein, in that we do need some big names to become a legitimate contender for the World Series. Before the Sox signed Gonzalez, I had only heard the name, but didn't know anything past that. However, once I looked at his stats, especially playing in a pitcher's park in San Diego, this may be a bigger signing than Crawford. He is a 5-time All-Star, was 4th in the NL MVP voting last year, hit over .300 had over 30 home runs and had over 100 RBIs. In addition to his hitting, he is a great first basemen and this allows the Sox to put Youk back at third, where he is much better than he was at first (not to take anything away from his great defensive skills at first). There are still a few holes in the squad, namely a middle reliever and maybe a catcher, but with DP, Youk, and Ellsbury returning from injury, and these new signings, I really am looking forward to April when the season starts.

Lastly, there must be some mention made of Jimmer. Before this last week of games against Vermont and Arizona, Jimmer had been pretty solid to start the year. He was averaging about 20 points a game, which is a little lower than most would think, but his minutes were down because of the lesser opponents that the Cougars had faced. He has been recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the best players in the country and was even rewarded (or cursed?) by making the cover of an issue a few weeks back. He was voted the third best player in the country by fellow players and coaches. Wednesday's game against Vermont was his homecoming as it was played in Glenn Falls, NY, his hometown. This was well deserved for Jimmer after the years of hard work put into the program in Provo and he stood up tall for this occasion. He finished with 26 points and led the Cougars to a blowout victory. It was a great sight to see as he got a standing ovation from the New York crowd. On Saturday, the Cougars played in another neutral arena at Energy Solutions Arena vs the Arizona Wildcats. For those who don't remember, Jimmer dropped 49 on Arizona in Tuscon last year. There was a lot of anticipation for this game to see if he could even come close to that again. Arizona was 9-1 coming into this game and looked to pose a threat to BYU's undefeated season, to this point. However, from the start it seemed that BYU was going to runaway with this game. Jimmer was hot, and with some help from players like Jackson Emery, Noah Hartsock, and Charles Abouo, BYU extended their second half lead to over 20 points. Jimmer was consistent throughout and finished with 33 points. That total may have been higher had he not been pulled out with about 6 minutes to go. To watch this kid play is just pure joy. all the players on the court know that he is going to get the ball, and so most teams have double and triple teamed him any time he touches it. However, his range, his quickness and his ability make it nearly impossible for any team to stop him, especially if he is hot. BYU is 10-0 so far this season and ranked 16/18 in the polls. It will be fun to watch Jimmer and the rest of the Cougars this season. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Don't Give Up, Don't Ever Give Up"

So its is Jimmy V week on ESPN and I had to make mention of this. For those of you who don't know much about Jimmy Valvano, I will give you a little clip about him from his wiki page (I know, that's kind of lazy, but deal with it).

"While the head coach at North Carolina State University, he won the 1983 NCAA Basketball Tournament against high odds. Valvano is not only remembered for running up and down the court after winning the 1983 NCAA championship, seemingly in disbelief and looking for someone to hug, but also for his inspirational 1993 ESPY Awards speech, given just eight weeks before he died of cancer."

Here is the video of Valvano after winning the 1983 title with NC State, (watch the ending for his reaction):

1983 National Championship

Later in life, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and was given 8 weeks to live. He fought through the battle of life and lasted nearly a year before losing the battle. In 1993, Valvano was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. His acceptance speech will be quoted and remembered by all those involved with sports, for years to come. There are so many great parts to just highlight a few, so here is the video of the entire speech:

Jimmy V 1993 ESPY's Speech

Watch the whole thing, it is absolutely amazing the emotion he exhibits throughout the speech.

There is no way to explain this, but I hope this makes an impact on some of you, as it does every time I listen to it. What a great man, a legend that will live on forever.