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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Alas, poor Reading, and other soliloquies

'Twas a shame that Reading succumbed to one of their own crossbars today at the Madejski. TDH could hardly have imagined a better fightback after the sucker punch to end all sucker punches - three goals before six minutes had elapsed. Perhaps Lita could have come on a few minutes earlier, but it was important to insert him when his speed would create the greatest possible contrast with the slowing of the Manure defense. Still, those six minutes: they showed not only how weak Reading's defense was early, not only the precision of the Manure finishing, but most of all the ability of Sir's boys to take advantage of a ripe opportunity.

TDH has some grudging respect for Sir these days. Not too long ago, he found himself with a group of rather high-strung pretty boys. Now, he seems to have dimmed their dreams of individual stardom and turned them into a workaday bunch of serious grafters - a testament, perhaps, to the man who reinvented the hairdryer. TDH would be hard-pressed to bet against them for the title, though the FA Cup may be a different matter if they keep playing the second string.


Don't ask TDH about the Wigan match. Don't ask TDH, either, about "El Loco" Palermo's wondergoal against Independiente at the weekend. TDH's pibes haven't been the same since they sold Orteman to Boca. Now, there's no one to hold things down behing Rolfi. Pusineri doesn't have the garra to intimidate midfielders the way Orteman did. (Would you have messed with this guy?) TDH thinks it's bad luck, too, for having to play the whole season in Racing's stadium. Ugh.


TDH is a little bit concerned about the UEFA Cup draw, too. AZ Alkmaar is in excellent form these days, and they've become a genuine force to be reckoned with in the past couple of years. Now we'll find out what we're really made of.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The best league in the world

Yes, TDH has had a chance to compare a bit in the past few weeks, having resubmerged in the football-centric world that is Buenos Aires and Argentine television. And without a doubt, the original is still the best when it comes to association football.

In no other league are so many mid-table teams worth watching. Bolton, Spurs, Fulham, Reading and even our dear Magpies bring plenty of excitement to the pitch. TDH found the recent FA Cup and Premiership ties particularly tasty - full of action, speed, strength and even the occasional miraculous finish. Three of Spurs' four goals today were better than anything TDH had seen in Spain or Italy lately. And the scoreline still flattered them.

Despite, or perhaps because of, The Special One's apparent quest to prove that the galactico system works just as poorly in London as in Madrid, there's a genuine title race on. And the excitement and quality continue well down the table. Almost anyone - well, except Watford - can win on a given day.

Watching other leagues, TDH always gets the feeling that most of the players strolling leisurely around the pitch would either be 1) squashed or 2) outrun by their counterparts in the Premiership. It takes a very talented fellow indeed - a Berbatov, an Essien - to make the jump.

TDH tuned in to see El Kun on show at Sevilla today, and it was clear that a bit of robust defending could often disrupt his willy-nilly runs. Having gorged on Aaron Lennon earlier in the day, TDH was left wondering: if you could pick either of the two today, whom would it be? It'd be a tough one for TDH, but Lennon's combination of quickness and power - even without Aguero's creativity and extra years of youth - would probably win the day. What do you all say?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The football gods were smiling

TDH barely has any fingernails left... from the last few seasons, so there wasn't much to chew away as we hung on for dear life at St. James's Park on Saturday. My, it was a treat enough that the match was actually being shown in Argentina - usually only the matches of the top three make it onto the small screen - but then the result! You could see how chuffed Roeder was, and TDH felt much the same way. But where Roeder said it was grit and Babayaro that brought us through, TDH is willing to give the football gods their due.

Harper had a screamer, of course, and Taylor made up for his difficulty adjusting to the rightback role by earning the penalty. Oba has remarkable strength for a guy his height, and remarkable composure for a guy his age. We're lucky to have him. All of Obadiah Milner looked pretty good, in fact. Onyewu was imposing but not quite as quick as TDH hoped. Perhaps he's still getting adjusted. And if you want to know why Liverpool haven't contended for the title in recent years, just look at how many chances they squandered.

Hopefully this momentum will carry us through a nice midweek fixture in Belgium, and perhaps, eventually, into another European spot. For TDH, the main question is, when will this bust-boom cycle stop? Not that TDH minds the ride, of course....

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Oooh, the power of American soccer!

Yes, TDH will move quickly past the Brian McBride-aided defeat of our lads down at Craven Cottage, which saw a handful of Yanks on the pitch, and straight onto El Clasico de Norteamerica, also known as US v Mexico.

What? Wasn't TDH watching France v Argentina yesterday? Of course. And alas, the US match didn't make it onto the telecasts here (unlike England v Spain). But TDH swells with pride when images of Jimmy Conrad blasting a header and Landon Donovan juking past El Pajaro Sanchez appear. Rafa Marquez didn't take the defeat too well, apparently, but who cares? The 64,000 crowd in Phoenix was almost entirely pro-Mexico, so there were no excuses for the Tricolores.

There were no excuses for Steve McLaren, either. England still isn't clicking, and one has to wonder why. Is it just that the players lack sufficient technique? All that running doesn't make a whit of difference if you have a lousy first touch. We know they're capable of playing well, but it's simply too difficult for them to string passes together. And Crouch, Crouch! Why, why, must England have a towering striker who can't head the ball and insists on turning every chance into a bicycle kick, his flailing limbs doing a credible impression of a Dutch windmill?

That Argentina match was pretty great viewing in the first half. Coco's boys played some pretty neat football, and the defending was as solid as it gets, with Ayala and Heinze going for every ball and Zanetti providing the out. In fact, the Inter contingent was in full flow, with Burdisso, Cambiasso and Crespo pushing forward. The second half wasn't as much fun, despite Domenech laying out five of his seven strikers - Anelka, Henry, Govou, Cisse and Ribery - all at once! Add in Saha, and it's a lineup anyone would salivate over... yet somehow impotent.


Meanwhile, the repatriation of Argie stars continues with Riquelme, Riquelme, RIQUELME, R I Q U E L M E! being brought back to La Bombonera on loan. Maybe Mauricio Macri is just trying to boost his chances of moving up from President of CA Boca Juniors to President of Argentina. Or maybe he saw Veron win the Apertura for Estudiantes and decided he needed some seasoned talent for himself. Either way, Roman is far too young to stay in South America longer than a few months. Hopefully he'll make his way back to Europe afterwards, but you can bet TDH will go to see him while he's here!


Alas, Mara, your Rossoneri will have to play in silence for a while. Of course, TDH doubts that the players will mind too much. Won't they be doing just what all of us used to do at weekends in the park? It might even be more fun than usual. TDH thinks they should dispense with those silly uniforms and play light and dark shirts instead....

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Single digits!

Obadiah Milner strikes again! Sounds like we hung on by our teeth this time, but it was well worth the ride... we made it all the way up to 9th on the table, even if Spurs have a game in hand. Are things finally starting to come together?

Well, we have a pretty darn good XI on our books now, if they can just get healthy. In fact, we have more than we need in some positions. If TDH could choose, they'd look like this:

F - Owen, Martins; M - Duff, Parker, Dyer, Milner; D - Edgar, Onyewu, Taylor, Ramage; G - Given

I think Dyer's earned a starting spot, and it's clear he can play in the hole. Milner is also impossible to drop at this point. TDH never thought Emre would belong outside the starting XI, and the fact that Zog and Nobby can be left out shows how much quality we actually have. Would that the same were true in defense, but at least things are improving a bit.


In other action, TDH had the choice of watching Goons v Spurs, Manure v Watford, or Roma v AC Milan this afternoon. And the choice was surprisingly easy. The first leg of the North London derby was tons of fun to watch, even if it was the Carling Cup with a bunch of kids. Heck, those kids run a lot! So TDH tuned in again, and the game, though not quite of top quality, was plenty entertaining. In the end, Jaws's failure to put on Lennon probably made the difference. So what if Kiki Ron and El Roon scored again and Totti missed another penalty?


So, Masche has finally escaped from the hell he found in East London. I'm not exactly sure why FIFA made an exception for him, except for the old chestnut that their rules have no import if they get in the way of making money. And that's true even if no palms were greased to make the transfer happen. Tevez will continue to suffer, though...