Villains

Do we all love the villain almost more that we love the hero?  In soccer, I think this is almost certainly true.  Fans love to hate their rivals just as much as they love their team.  Not only do they dislike other teams, but the villain on and off the field is a huge part of the narrative.  Every year, there seems to be someone who no matter what they do, they are the bad guy.  Some of them actually do bad things, and some just bend the rules of the game to favor them.  The key to these villains is that their fans will defend them to the end.  Ask a Chelsea or Manchester United fan about Luis Suarez.  You will get a very different picture compared to what a Liverpool fan will say.  Last year Luis Suarez was the villain of the EPL.  He did not help his image in the World Cup, as he bite Chellini.  Most big teams have their player that is a villain to every other team that plays them.  Sergi Busquets for Barcelona, Pepe for Real Madrid.  Chelsea have now found their new villain.

Diego Costa is one very hardworking and tough player.  He gives his all for the team and is willing to do whatever it takes to win.  Even if that means bending the rules of the game.  In the Capitol One Cup semi-final against Liverpool, Costa played a big role in the major talking points of the game when he “stamped” Emre Can.  Mourinho on Costa: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘stamp’…I think there is a campaign on TV by certain pundit saying ‘Diega Costa crimes”.  I am not sure what Mourinho is talking about, but there was a clear stamp by Costa and maybe even a second one. Is he the new Suarez in the media? Probably. The English love their villains and need one. They lost their perfect victim in the summer but have found a new one now. You can judge for yourself with the vine on Twitter.  Costa was judged to have stamped on Can and has received a 3 match ban for his troubles.  Villains are important for the game and are a big part of the game.

Cup Action

The hosts are in the final! A 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates sends Australia to the Asian Cup final on Saturday. They will face South Korea, who beat Iraq 2-0. It should be a good final, as Australia looks to win their first Asian Cup in their second final appearance. South Korea look to add their 3rd title of their 6 appearances in the final.  South Korea beat Australia in the group stage 1-0.

The quarter finals are set for the African Cup of Nations. Congo will face Congo DR, and Ivory Coast will face Algeria on one half of the bracket. On the other held we have Tunisia against the hosts Equatorial Guinea, and Ghana against Mali/Guinea. Mali and Guinea ended up level in all categories and was decided by picking a name out of a hat essentially.

In the Capitol One Cup, Chelsea advanced to the final following a 1-0 victory after extra time against Liverpool. Ivanovic headed in the winner in the 94th minute. The game was a good contest and played extremely tight. Tottenham took care of business in the other semi-final to set up an all London final in Wembley.

In the Copa del Rey, madness ensued when Atleti and Barca met. Torres opened the scoring in the first minute. Then there was a Messi to Suarez to Neymar goal. Atleti took another lead 2-1 before an own goal by Miranda. Barcelona took the lead in the 41st minute as Neymar scored his second. Gabi got a red card in the tunnel at half time, and the second half just saw a bunch of cards including a red for Mario Suarez. The game ended with 9 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and a Barcelona 3-2 victory.  Villarreal won 1-0 to set up a semifinal against Barcelona.  Athletic Club advanced following a 1-0 win over Malaga.  Espanyol advanced on the strength of their 3-1 first leg victory, even though they lost 1-0 on the road.

Weekend Preview

In the EPL this weekend, the title showdown takes place Saturday afternoon here in the states, when Chelsea host Manchester City.  This will be a big game for both teams, as the top of the table is separated by only 5 points.  This will be a huge match.  Chelsea could be missing quite a few pieces, as Costa is suspended and Fabregas could miss with an injury.  Either way, this game will either make the title race a lot closer, or give Chelsea a comfortable lead at the top.  Manchester United will look to avenge their loss at the King Power stadium as they host Leicester.  Arsenal will look to jump into the top 4 when they host Aston Villa.  The last game of the weekend sees Southampton, the hottest team in the country, hosting Swansea City as the Saints look to stay in the top 3.

Guess who’s back…Bayern Munich returns to play following their long winter break.  The Bundesliga returns this weekend and Wolfsburg is Bayern’s first opponent.  They are also Bayern’s closest rival.  They currently sit 9 points behind Munich.  They will face off today.  Bayer Leverkusen sit in 3rd place and are 6 points behind Wolfsburg.  They host Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.  Dortmund currently sit in the bottom 3 and will need to string together a bunch of wins if they are to turn around their season.

In Serie A, Roma hosts Empoli as they look to get 3 points this weekend.  Roma needs to start getting wins to try to close the gap on Juventus.  Juve travel to Udinese on Sunday.  Juve now sit 7 points ahead of Roma and will hope to extend that lead should Roma slip upon Saturday.  The more interesting race in Italy is for the third and final Champions League spot.  Naploi currently sit in third with 36 points, but Lazio and Sampdoria are just 2 points back.  Fiorentina is 5 points back, but they are on the verge of selling their best player so they might not really be in the race.  All of these 3 teams are on the road this week as Napoli plays Chievo, Lazio plays Cesena, and Sampdoria plays Torino.

In France, PSG can jump within 1 point of first place tonight.  They host Rennes.  On Saturday, Marseille can move within 1 point of first place when they host Evian Thonon Gaillard.  Then on Sunday, Lyon will look to get a big 3 points when they host Monaco.  These three teams will have a race to get as many points as possible for the next 16 games.

In Spain, David Moyes looks to take his second big scalp this weekend when his Real Sociedad travel to Real Madrid.  Real Madrid will be without their star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, for the next 2 games.  They will look to maintain their one point lead on Barcelona.  Atletico de Madrid look to cut into the lead as they travel to Eibar.  On Sunday, Barcelona will be hoping they can extend their winning streak to 8 games when they host Villarreal.  This will be a preview of the Copa Del Rey Semi-final.

 EPL Pick ‘Em

The score is now Buzz 153 to Me at 146.

This weeks picks:

Me – Hull 3-2, Burnley 1-1, Stoke 2-1, United 2-1,  Palace 2-1, Pool 2-1, Spurs 1-1, City 2-1, Arsenal 3-0, Saints 2-0

Buzz – Hull 3-2, Burnley 1-1, Stoke 2-1, United 2-1, Palace 2-1, Pool 2-1, Spurs 1-1, City 2-1, Arsenal 3-0, Saints 2-0

FA Cup Magic!!!

FA Cup magic is in the air!  What a weekend for the underdogs.  Coming into the weekend, we thought the result of the weekend would be Cambridge getting a 0-0 draw at home against United.  However, this was just the appetizer to what would be an amazing weekend of upsets and shocking results.  Saturday started with Swansea City traveling up to Blackburn Rovers.  Rovers came up with a 3-1 victory to start the run of defeats for Premier League teams.  The next shocking result was Middlesbrough 2 Manchester City 0.  The home team had just arrived from Dubai and struggled to find their form.  They fell behind 1-0 in the 53rd minute and then gave up a 93rd minute goal to clinch their exit from the cup.  That was not the end of the upsets as Leicester City went to White Hart Lane and beat Spurs 2-1.  Crystal Palace won 3-2 at Southampton.  Bolton went to Liverpool and Fulham went to Sunderland and both got a replay. All of these were great results for the lower league sides, but none of them would compare to what took place in Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea took an early 2-0 win and the game looked to be over and done with.  How many would Chelsea score was the question?  Their opposition was Bradford City AFC.  They play in the third tier of English football.  Bradford seemed to get a tiny life line when they scored in the 41st minute.  At halftime the score was 2-1 Chelsea, and it didn’t really look like it would turn into the shock of the century.  Then in the 75th minute, Morais scored a massive goal giving Bradford a 2-2 draw.  A replay would be an amazing result for Bradford.  However, they were not done there.  Bradford would go on to score 2 more goals and win 4-2.  Only 4 teams have scored 4 goals against a team coached by Mourinho.  Coming into 2015, that number was 2 teams (Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund).  Tottenham started the year with 5 goals against Chelsea and then Bradford scored 4 on Saturday.    Bradford’s starting lineup was worth 7,500 pounds, where as Chelsea’s cost 101 million pounds.  This is probably the biggest upset of my lifetime.  This was one of the best weekends in terms of giant killing I have ever seen.  Currently, there are only 10 teams left in the draw for the 5th round.  4th place Manchester United are the highest ranked team left, but they must still win their replay with Cambridge United to advance.  Sunderland, Liverpool, and Stoke all still need to win to qualify for the 5th round.  Is the FA Cup magic back?

In Ligue 1, Lyon continued to win as they beat Metz 2-0.  They have now won 7 matches in a row in the league.  PSG also came away as big winners as they beat St. Etienne, thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal.  This sends them level on points with Marseille and 4 points behind Lyon.  Bottom club Caen got a massive result on the road to win 4-1 at Rennes.  Those 3 points sent them from 20th to 18th and puts them 1 point away from safety.

Juventus is now officially pulling away from Roma.  The gap is now 7 points following Juventus’ 2-0 win over Chievo and Roma drawing 1-1 at Fiorentina.  If you get a chance, watch Paul Pogba’s goal and his moves.  He is quickly becoming one of the best midfielders in the world.  Lazio got a big win over Milan to send them into 3rd place.  Napoli plays today and can jump back into third place with a victory.  Sampdoria drew 1-1 and are level with Lazio on points.

In Spain, Real Madrid needed a late penalty to beat Cordoba 2-1.  Ronaldo lost his mind during the game and punched and kicked out at a player.  He saw a red for this and may miss the next 3 matches for Real Madrid.  Barcelona scored 6 goals against Elche.  The second best goal of the weekend was Neymar’s second.  It was a magical pass from Messi and then a brilliant volley from Neymar into the top corner.  Atletico Madrid also won this past weekend to keep pace with the other two.  Valencia came up with a big victory at home beating Sevilla 3-1.  This sends them into the top 4 and the last Champions League spot.

Check out @SoccerfAtPond for vines of the Pogba and Neymar goals.

Midweek Preview

This week we see the second legs of the Copa del Rey and the League Cup Semi-finals.  The best match in the Copa del Rey will be Barcelona at Atleti on Wednesday.  Barcelona take a 1-0 lead to the Calderon.  On Thursday, Sevilla will look to overcome a 3-1 defeat at home against Espanyol.  Villarreal take a 1-0 lead to Getafe and it all to play for in Bilbao when Malaga and Athletic Club face off.  On Tuesday, Chelsea will host Liverpool with a spot in the final on the line.  The two teams drew 1-1 at Anfield.  How will Chelsea respond to what happened at the weekend?  On Wednesday, Sheffield United will host Tottenham and look to overcome their 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane.

Cup of Nations Update!

The African Cup of Nations has been going on for a week now in Equatorial Guinea.   So far 14 matches have been played and no one player has scored more than 1 goal. All of the groups have played 2 games except for Group D, who will play their second round tomorrow.

In Group A, Congo has the early lead with 4 points. They drew the opening match with the hosts 1-1 and then beat Gabon 1-0. Gabon beat Burkina Faso in their first match. Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea drew the other match 0-0.

In Group B, Tunisia has the lead with 4 points. They drew their first match against Cape Verde and then beat Zambia. Cape Verde is in second place with 2 points after drawing both of their games. They are tied with DR Congo who also has drawn both of their games.

In Group C, Senegal pulled a big upset beating Ghana in the opening match 2-1. They then went on to draw with South Africa, but still sit atop the table with 4 points. Algeria beat South Africa in their first game. In the matchup of the group, Ghana needed a 90th minute goal from Asamoah Gyan to beat Ghana 1-0.

In Group D, the Ivory Coast drew 1-1 with Guinea, while Cameroon and Mali drew 1-1. They will play their second matches tomorrow. Ivory Coast will play Mali and Cameroon will play Guinea.

The Asian Cup has been going on in Australia for the whole month of January. This week saw the quarterfinals take place. South Korea, Iraq, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates all advanced. If you get a chance, check out the twitter feed to see the missed penalty from Honda for Japan in their 5-4 penalty shootout loss. The semifinals take place next week.

Midweek Review

Liverpool and Chelsea faced off in the Capital One Cup semifinals at Anfield. Chelsea jumped out to an early lead following an Eden Hazard penalty kick. This was Chelsea’s only shot on target all night. They set up the bus but were not able to keep Liverpool out, as Raheem Sterling scored the game-tying goal. In the other semifinal matchup, Tottenham beat Sheffield United 1-0. The second legs will be played next week with a fantastic match set to take place in the Bridge.

In the Coppa Italia, Roma, Fiorentina, and Napoli all won. Inter Milan come up with a big victory against a hot Sampdoria team. These results have set up some great quarterfinal games. Milan will host Lazio next week and Juventus will travel to Parma. Roma will host Fiorentina while Napoli host Inter.

In the Copa del Rey, two giants squared off. Atleti traveled to Barcelona, hoping to get some revenge for the defeat they had just suffered at the hands of Barcelona. However, they were not successful as Messi put in the rebound off his missed penalty. This was the only goal of the match. Barcelona will take a 1-0 lead to the Calderon next week. Villarreal also came away as 1-0 victors over Getafe. Malaga and Athletic played to a 0-0 draw and Espanyol beat Sevilla 3-1 at home. It will be interesting to see who can advance following these results.

Weekend Preview

Marseille missed an opportunity to jump to the top of the French table when they squared off with Nice today. Nice won 2-1, leaving Marseille one point behind Lyon with Lyon still to play this weekend. Lyon will host Metz, as they will look to extend their lead now at the top. PSG will also look to take advantage in a huge match on Sunday as they travel to 4th place St. Etienne. A win for PSG will send them into second place, where as a St. Etienne win will send them to third place. This will be a huge weekend in deciding the top 3 in the French table.

In Italy, there are two big races going on. The race for first place is between Roma and Juventus. Juve seem to be putting distance between themselves and Roma lately and will look to continue this when they host Chievo. Roma will travel to Fiorentina this weekend looking to keep pace with Juventus. The other big race is for the third and final Champions League place. This seems to be a three horse race to the finish between Napoli, Sampdoria, and Lazio. Fiorentina is close, they but will need a big result this weekend to really get in the race. Lazio host Milan this weekend in what should be a big matchup.

In Spain this weekend, the big two travel south. Real Madrid heads to Cordoba and Barcelona travel to Elche. Both teams will look to pick up 3 points on their travels. Atletico Madrid will try to rebound following their loss against Barcelona in the Copa when they host 10th place Rayo Vallecano. The best matchup of the weekend though will take place in La Mestalla, where Sevilla travel to Valencia. These teams are battling for fourth place. They are separated by one point, and this game will go a long way in deciding who makes it into the Champions League next season.

In England, the EPL takes the weekend off because it is time for the FA Cup to resume. This is a chance for some lower league sides to face off against some of the bigger sides. The Fourth Round takes place this weekend. In fact already today, Manchester United faced off against Cambridge United. Cambridge United is in the fourth tier of English football, and their starting lineup cost the club nothing. United cost around 235 million pounds. In a bit of FA Cup magic, Cambridge United were able to hold Manchester United scoreless and earn a replay in Old Trafford. Will we see a bit more of FA Cup magic? Let’s hope so!!

British Transfer Fees!

How high will the price of top English players get? The prices seem to be highly inflated and no end seems in sight. Every transfer window the prices go up and up for English prospects. It is not even for the top players, but it seems to be any player born in England or the British Isles. It made the headlines with Andy Carroll when he transferred from Newcastle to Liverpool for €41 million. This was he biggest price ever paid for an English player. Even after flopping at Liverpool, he still cost West Ham €17.5million. He would score 7 goals in 24 appearances on loan at West Ham and only scored 6 goals in 44 appearances for Liverpool. He is not the only inflated price though. Shaun Wright Phillips transferred from Manchester City to Chelsea for a whopping €31.5 million in 2005. He only lasted at Chelsea for 2 years before returning to City for a much smaller price (€11.25 million). While there are many flops, there are also some that have not been disastrous but still make you question the money spent. Joleon Lescott (€27.5 Million), James Milner (€22 Million), Stewart Downing (€22.8 Million), Jordan Henderson (€18 Million), Darren Bent (€24.75Million & €21.5 Million), and Glen Johnson (€20.5 Million) all had large transfer fees mainly because they are English. Even looking at the summer transfer window, we saw Luke Shaw move for €37 million and Adam Lallana move for €31 million. In the Luke Shaw scenario, he moved to Manchester United for €37 million while Alberto Moreno moved from Sevilla to Liverpool for €18 million. Moreno is 22 years old and has won the Europa League and played in the Champions League. Luke Shaw is 19 years old and has only played for Southampton and never in Europe. Moreno is currently valued at €15 million where as Luke Shaw is valued at €22 million. Last season before his transfer, Luke Shaw was valued at €13 million before his big money move. Moreno was valued at €15 million before his move to Liverpool. Are the English players worth the extra €20 million? It seems to be continuing as James McCarthy is rumored to transfer to Everton for €32 million, but his value on TransferMarkt.com (the source for all of these numbers) is €13 million. How much inflation will there be? Can it continue to rise? We will have to see but it just makes you wonder.

Weekend Review

Roma continue to slide back as they drew 1-1 this past weekend at Palermo. The draw, coupled with Juventus winning 4-0 on Sunday, puts Roma now 5 points behind the leaders. This is the biggest the lead has been in a while. Juventus might be putting some distance between them, and Roma and will look to keep widening the gap. Napoli came away from Rome with a huge 1-0 win over Lazio. Napoli got the winner in the 18th minute. This sends them into the all important 3rd and final Champions League spot. This should be a good race to watch over the next couple months as Lazio, Napoli, and Sampdoria fight for the final spot.

In France, the top two both won this weekend. Lyon stayed atop the table with a 2-0 win at Lens. Marseille won 2-1 at Guingamp. St. Etienne couldn’t keep pace as they drew 0-0 at Rennes. PSG beat Evian 4-2. Their victory sent PSG into 3rd place in the league. They now sit 4 points behind the leaders Lyon and 3 behind Marseille. St. Etienne are 1 point behind PSG. Will PSG be able to hold off St. Etienne for the 3rd and final Champions League spot? Will PSG mount a comeback to win their third title in 3 years? Will Marseille win their 10th? Will Lyon win their 8th?

In Spain, all of the big teams stayed right where they are as they all came away with clean sheet victories. Real Madrid won at Getafe 3-0 behind 2 goals from Ronaldo. Barcelona won 4-0 behind 3 goals from Messi. Atletico Madrid won 2-0 behind a great team effort. Sevilla continued their climb up the table with a 2-0 win over Malaga. The race for fourth place in Spain seems to be heating up as Sevilla and Valencia are separated by just 1 point. Sevilla is also closing the gap on the top 3 as they sit just 2 points behind Atleti. Can Real win their game in hand? Is Barcelona still in crisis? Can Sevilla catch Atletico? Who will come in 4th? Who will win the league?

In England, Chelsea extended their lead in a 5 star, and 5 goal, performances as they beat Swansea 5-0. United need a formation change and a big Belgian to beat QPR 2-0 as Fellaini came on and scored the opener in the 58th minute. James Wilson added the second 4 minutes into stoppage time. Arsenal made the biggest statement of the weekend with their 2-0 victory over Manchester City. This helped given Chelsea a 5 point lead at the top and kept Arsenal 1 point behind United for 4th. Is this Chelsea’s title to lose? Can City right the ship? Can Southampton stay in the top 4? Can United stay in the top 4? Will Arsene Wenger last the year?

Midweek Preview

This week we have some cup action in Italy, England and Spain. The Coppa Italia resumes this week with their Round of 16. Half the field is set, but 4 more games remain. Roma will host Empoli on Tuesday. Fiorentina v Atalanta and Inter v Sampdoria are on Wednesday. Lastly, Napoli v Udinese is on Thursday. Four of these teams will join Milan, Lazio, Juventus, and Parma in the Quarterfinals. The League Cup Semi-finals first legs take place this week. The first one is Liverpool hosting Chelsea while Tottenham host Sheffield United. This will be a big game for Liverpool and Spurs. Spurs will look to secure a place in the final and Liverpool will hope to have a lead to hold onto at the Bridge in a week’s time. In Spain, the Quarter finals of the Copa del Rey will take place. The first legs of these two legged ties will happen on Wednesday and Thursday. The marquee matchup will be Barcelona hosting Atletico Madrid this week. Getafe travel to Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao to Malaga, and Sevilla to Espanyol. It will be interesting to see which four make it out with only one of the top 3 to be left after this round.

African Cup of Nations

African Cup of Nations

The African Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend in Equatorial Guinea.  This competition takes place every two years.   This tournament started in 1957 and is the most prestigious football tournament in the continent.   In 2013, the tournament switched to odd years so that there would not be a clash with the world cup.  The tournament starts on January 17th and the final will be on February 8th.  Egypt has been this tournament’s most successful country, with 7 wins.  Ghana and Cameroon have each won the trophy 4 times.  In the last version of this competition, Nigeria beat Burkina Faso in South Africa to win their 3rd title.    Following the qualification campaigns, 16 teams were drawn into 4 groups.

One of the better parts of watching African nations play is that they all have great nicknames.  Group A has the host nation Equatorial Guinea or the National Thunder.  They are led by an Argentinean coach named Esteban Becker.  They are currently ranked 118 in the world.  The host nation are favored 33/1 to win the tournament.  Burkina Faso, Gabon, and Congo all join the hosts in Group A.  Burkina Faso’s nickname is the Stallions and they are ranked 64th in the world.  They are led by the Belgium coach Paul Put and are 14/1 to win the tournament.  They were the last tournament’s runners up.  The Panthers of Gabon are ranked 62nd in the world with 20/1 odds to win.  They might have the most recognizable player in the group in Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund.  The last team in the group is the Red Devils of Congo.  They have the biggest odds in the group to win the tournament at 40/1.  They won the tournament in 1972 and come into this tournament as the highest ranked team in the group at 61.

In Group B we see the 2012 winners Zambia, Tunisia, Cape Verde, and DR Congo.  Zambia’s nickname is the Bullets.  They will look to get back to the top of African football and improve their 50th ranking in the world.  They bring 33/1 odds to win the tournament.  Tunisia won the tournament in 2004 and are known as the Eagles of Carthage.  They are ranked 22nd in the world and are 9/1 to win it all.  Cape Verde have never reached the semi finals of the tournament.  The Blue Sharks are 25/1 odds to win the tournament and are ranked 40th in the world.  The Democratic Repeublic of Congo have won the competition twice in 1968 and 1974.  The Leopards are ranked 57th in the world.  They will look to win their third tournament with 25/1 odds to win it all.

Ghana and Algeria headline group C.  South Africa and Senegal join them.  The Black Stars of Ghana come into the tournament ranked 37th in the world and are 8/1 favorites to win it all.  Asamoah Gyan leads a team of big names including Christian Atsu, Wakaso Mubarak, Jordan Ayew, Andre Ayew, and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.  Algeria are the highest ranked team in the tournament at 18th.  They are led by captain Madjiid Bougherra and have some big name players on their roster like Nabil Bentaleb, Riyad Mahrez, Sofiane Feghouli, Djamel Mesbah, and Foued Kadir.  They are favorites to win the tournament at 4/1. Algeria have two nicknames.  They go by either the Greens or the Desert Warriors.  The 2010 World Cup hosts are also in the group.  South Africa is the lowest ranked team in the group at 52nd and has the biggest odds at 20/1.  Bafana Bafana won the competition in 1996.  The last team in Group C is the Lions of Teranga, or Senegal.  Senegal has some big names on their roster.  Papiss Cisse, Mame Biram Diouf, and Cheikhou Kouyate all are involved for the 35th ranked team in the world.  Senegal are 16/1 odds to win the tournament.

Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon, Guinea make up Group D.  The Elephants are 4/1 favorites to win as they look to lift their second Cup of Nations trophy.  The Ivory Coast won their first in 1992 after an epic 11-10 penalty shoot out.  The 28th ranked team is led by the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, along with Cheick Tiote, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Max Gradel and Lacina Traore to name but a few.  The Eagles of Mali will try to win their first ever tournament.  They are currently ranked 49th in the world and feature Seydou Keita, Modibo Maiga, Bakary Sako, and Yacouba Sylla.  The Eagles are 25/1 to win.  Cameroon have won the tournament 4 times.  The Indomitable Lions lifted the trophy in 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2002.  The 42nd ranked team enter the tournament at 9/1 odds to win this year.  They feature Stephane Mbia, Nicolas N’Koulu, and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.  The real question for Cameroon is can they deal without Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song.  The final team in the group is Guinea.  The National Elephants, as they are known, come in ranked 39th in the world.  They reached the final in 1976, but have not won the competition.  They will look to win their first behind Kamil Zayatte and Ibrahima Traore at 40/1.

The Cup of Nations is always a tournament that is full of surprises and very difficult to predict, but I will give it a try.  From Group A, I think Burkina Faso will win the group as they look to make it back to the final, and Congo will advance as runners up.  Tunisia should easily win group B with the DR Congo coming in second.  Group C is probably the toughest to predict, but I think that Algeria will win the group and the Black Stars will come in second.  In Group D, I think Cameroon could struggle so I see Ivory Coast winning the group with Guinea coming in as runners up.  Then I see Burkina Faso knocking off DR Congo and the Ivory Coast tripping up against Ghana.  Ghana will then go on and end Burkina Faso’s hopes of a title.  Algeria should easily take care of Guinea and then Congo after Congo upsets Tunisia.  This would set up a great final between Algeria and Ghana.  Algeria are the most talented team in tournament and should come away as champions for the second time in their history.

Copa Del Rey Review

The holders are out! Real Madrid’s defense of their Copa Del Rey title ended 50 seconds into the game yesterday when Fernando Torres scored his first goal back at Atletico Madrid. That goal put Atleti up 3-0 and gave them a crucial away goal. The game would end up 2-2 with Torres adding a second and knocking out the defending champions. This victory sent Atletico Madrid into the quarter finals. The journey doesn’t get easier for Atleti, as they now face Barcelona. Barcelona cruised past Elche as they massively rotated their squad. The other quarter final match ups are Malaga and Athletico Bilbao, Espanyol vs Sevilla, and Villarreal and Getafe.

Weekend Preview

Juventus will look to extend their lead at top of Serie A as they host Verona. On Saturday, Roma can temporarily cut the lead that Juventus has when they travel to Palermo. A win for Roma would put them level on points with Juventus before they play on Sunday.  The biggest match in Italy takes place in Rome again this weekend as Lazio host Napoli. These two teams are separated by one point and currently sit in 3rd and 4th place. In Italy, only 3 teams qualify for the Champions League so this game will go a long way in deciding who gets the last spot.

New leaders Lyon will look to stay atop on Saturday when they travel to Lens. Lyon will hope Lacazette continues his hot streak and can keep scoring. The next 3 teams all play on Sunday. PSG host Evian, St. Etienne travel to Rennes, and Marseille host Guingamp. These three teams will hope some of the others slip up as the top 4 are only separated by 4 points.

Real Madrid will look to right the ship after crashing out of the Copa del Rey with a victory in Getafe. Barcelona will look to jump Real Madrid if they slip up as they travel all the way across the country and play Deportivo La Coruna. Atletico Madrid will attempt to keep pace as they host Granada.

In the premier league this weekend, Chelsea will aspire to extend their lead at the top as they travel to the South of Wales.  Swansea will try to get another good result at home having already beaten Arsenal at home.  Chelsea will look to extend their lead at the top to 5 points going into Sunday.  City play in the big matchup of the weekend when they host Arsenal on Sunday.  The first game was 2-2 in the Emirates last September.  The bottom of the English table is almost as exciting as the top.  The bottom 12 teams are all currently one defeat away from finding themselves inside the bottom 3.  QPR will look to get out of the bottom 3 as they host Manchester United.  United will try to jump back into the top 3.  Third place Southampton travel to the North East and play Newcastle as they look to maintain their Champions League position.

EPL Pick ‘Em

The current score is Buzz 144 to Me at 135.

Here are my picks for the week: Spurs 2-1, Leicester 1-0, Crystal Palace 2-1, Chelsea 1-1, Pool 2-1, United 2-1, Saints 2-1, Hammers 2-1, City 2-1, Everton 1-1

Buzz’s Picks: Spurs 2-1, Pool 2-1, Stoke 1-1, Palace 1-0, Chelsea 2-0, United 3-1, Saints 3-1, W. Ham 2-0, City 2-1, Everton 2-1

Which Title Race will be better?

Weekend Review

In France, we have a new team in top.  Lyon took advantage of Montpellier beating Marseille to jump into the top spot.  On Friday, Montpellier jumped out to a 2 goal lead and then held on to win 2-1.  Then on Saturday, PSG and St. Etienne had a chance to gain some points on the leaders.  St. Etienne took care of business, winning 2-1 over Reims.  PSG took a 2-0 lead through Lucas Moura and Rabiot.  Then Bastia equalized the score just on the stroke of half time.  In the second half, Palmieri scored 2 goals to give Bastia a 4-2 win, despite having only 35% possession of the ball.  Then Sunday arrived and Lyon had a chance to take the top spot.  They didn’t have to wait long before Lacazette scored the opener 14 minutes in and then scored again 13 minutes later.  Fekir added a goal in the second half to give Lyon a 3-0 win over Toulouse.  Lyon now sit on the top of the table on 42 points.  Marseille sit second with 41 points. S t. Etienne are in third, one point above PSG who has 38 points.  This is turning into a good title race and will be interesting to see if someone can finally keep PSG from winning the league.

In Italy, the lead at the top was extended by 2 points.  Juventus defeated Napoli 3-1, while Roma needed a great comeback to draw 2-2 with Lazio. Roma fell behind 2-0 early in the first half, then Francesco Totti happened.  The 38 year old captain of Roma scored twice in the second half to earn the team a point.  After his second goal, he took a selfie on the field.  Sampdoria got back into the race for Champions League as they beat Empoli 1-0.  They now sit 1 point behind Lazio and are level with Napoli in 4th place.

Is Barcelona still in crisis? Well all 3 of the big three scored against Atletico Madrid en route to a 3-1 victory over the Madrid side.  Barcelona now sit 1 point behind Real Madrid.  After the game, Messi then went on the radio and said that all of the things being said are lies and that he is happy at Barcelona.  Now it is time for the team to keep playing well and let this title race be one for the ages.    Real Madrid cruised past Espanyol 3-0 with James, Bale, and Nacho scoring.  Real Madrid still have a game in hand on Barcelona.  Sevilla came up with a big win on Sunday 2-0 over Almeria that sent them into 4th place.  Sevilla versus Real Madrid is the match that has yet to be played.  If Sevilla can come up with all 3 points; it would propel them into the top 3.  This game will be made up on February 4th.  It will go a long way in deciding who is in the top 4, and who wins the league.

Chelsea got revenge on Newcastle for their only loss of the season.  They won 2-0 at home on Saturday.  At the same time, Everton scored 4 mintues after Fernandinho gave City a 1-0 lead.  City was not able to find the back of the net again that game and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.  This means that Chelsea are now 2 points clear at the top.  On Sunday, Southampton traveled to Manchester United and came up with a huge 1-0 victory.  This sent them above United and into 3rd place.  Is a Champions League spot really possible for them now?  Arsenal closed the gap on the top 4 with a huge 3-0 win over Stoke.  They now sit just 1 point behind Manchester United.  The race for 3rd and 4th should be really good down the stretch.

EPL Pick ‘Em

This week was a big one.  With Buzz leading 138-128, I needed to make up some ground on the game.  I did make up some points, but not that much.  We both said that West Brom would win 1-0, but I got one point back because I said that Southampton would win but missed the scoreline.  The score is now 144-135.  I will need to cut more into the scoreline if I hope to win, but it is at least a start.

I will be posting a Ballon d’Or recap in the next couple days.

Transfer Window is Open!!!!!

With the start of the New Year came the opening of the January transfer window.  This is the shorter version of what occurs in the summer and is always a very interesting time.  During the summer and in January are the only times that clubs can buy and sell players.  This is the perfect time for a team to either move players in to strengthen their squad, or cut some dead weight.  It leads to high drama that is not on the pitch and adds a whole new narrative to the season.  Teams can either enter turmoil during this window or think they have answered all of their problems.  This is a period of time that agents and newspapers love.  They will start spinning rumors and try to create transfers for players.  It is truly one of the reasons that I love this game.  This is a whole new narrative to add to the already drama filled season.  Who will land the player that will change the season?  Who will make the shocking move that really shifts the landscape?  Will a team take a gamble to get back into the race for Champions League or the title race?  Over the next couple weeks we will see.  However the action will really turn up on the last day of the month since that is when it really gets interesting, and all the drama really plays out.

This year it seems to be Barcelona’s turn.  The club lost to Real Sociedad at the weekend and now everything is tail spinning out of control.  Messi is not happy.  Suarez is unsettled.  There is a huge divide in the locker room.  At least that is what the newspapers would have you believe.  I am not saying that this is not based in some truth, but the one thing I have learned is that the sporting newspapers in Europe are almost as bad, if not worse, than the tabloids here.  They will take any story and run with it if it gets them the big headline.  I do believe that Messi is not happy.  He does not like to sit out.  Would you? I feel that he and Enrique had a bit of an argument, but to suggest that he will transfer away is an interesting conclusion.  First off, Barcelona would not sell him for anything less than his release clause, which is 200 million Euros.  With the new financial fair play rules, that rules out just about every team in the world, especially PSG and Manchester City since they have already been punished for breaking them.  It would also cause a team to sell multiple players or sign big sponsorships.  Having looked at the numbers, I think there are only two teams who could realistically sign Messi within the rules of financial fair play without selling 3 or 4 players… Real Madrid and Manchester United.  They both have money to spend and huge profits, so they could make the transfer happen.  Chelsea are not making enough profits now to make the transfer happen and not break the rules of financial fair play.  This is not due to the staggering 200 million they would spend on the fee, but on the wages they would no doubt have to pay him.  Rumor is that Messi makes 300,000 Euros a week.  That is more than any player at Chelsea currently and would get them into trouble.  It will be interesting to see what happens, but I think it only leads to one thing… a bigger contract for Messi and more play time for him.  The big 3 at Barca played during midweek with great success.

Midweek Review

How happy are Real Madrid that Barcelona seems to be in a mess right now?  Besides the fact that they are Real’s biggest rivals, it is also hiding the fact that Real Madrid have not won a game in 2015.  While I imagine that will change this weekend when they host Espanyol, but they lost against Valencia and then again this week against Atletico Madrid.  Atletico Madrid really seem to have Real’s number under Simeone.   Will their defense of the Copa del Rey be over in 1 week’s time?  I am not sure, but a 2-0 loss on the road will be hard to overcome.  Real Madrid will need to summon the spirit of Junaito to help them with this comeback.  Barcelona cruised to a 5-0 victory over Elche with Suarez, Messi, and Neymar all scoring within 10 minutes of each other.  It looks to be an even more interesting week next week when Atletico travel to Real for the final leg of the round.

Weekend Preview

The Serie A title race got a little more interesting this week when Juve drew 1-1 with Inter and Roma won 1-0 at Udinese.  The lead is now 1 point for Juventus.  This weekend is going to be an epic show down in Italy.  The top four teams all play each other this weekend with the marquee matchup as the Roman Derbi, Roma will host Lazio.  In this battle of 2nd versus 3rd, there is way more than just 3 points on the line.  The other big match is Napoli hosting Juventus.  Will we have a new winner?  A new team in the 3rd spot?  It should be a cracking weekend in Italy.

Ligue 1 returns this weekend.  The leaders, Marseille, play today as they travel to Montpellier.  PSG will travel to Bastia as they look to close the gap on Marseille.  Lyon, who currently sit in 2nd place, host Toulouse .  As the second half of the season starts, this has really become a nice title race.  The top 4 teams are only separated by 5 points.  It should be interesting to see who can come out on top, and if PSG can defend their title.

The Germans are still on winter break and will not return until January 30th.

This weekend in La Liga could be a big one.  Real Madrid host Espanyol in their bid for their first win of the New Year, but the big match is on Sunday when Barcelona host Atletico Madrid.  Atleti are coming of a huge win against Real Madrid and will look to jump over Barcelona as they make their push towards repeating as champions.

The English Premier League is now in a tie at the top with both Chelsea and Manchester City on 46 points.  They both play on Saturday when City look to take top spot at Everton and Chelsea look to hold on as they host Newcastle.  Manchester United will look to get back to winning ways as they host fourth place Southampton.  Southampton will look to jump United with a victory at Old Trafford.

EPL Pick Em

The current score is Buzz 138 – Me 128.  Can I close the gap this week?

Me – Pool 2-1, City 2-0, Leicester 1-1, Burnley 2-2, Chelsea 2-1, West Ham 2-1, West Brom 1-0, Spurs 2-1, Arsenal 1-0, Saints 2-1

Buzz – Pool 2-1, City 3-1, Chelsea 3-1, Villa 1-1, West Brom 1-0, QPR 2-2, West Ham 2-1, Spurs 2-1, Gunners 2-1, United 3-1

Gerrard the Legend

Steven Gerrard is a living legend in my opinion.  Now I will start by saying that in 2005, I watch the now infamous Liverpool versus AC Milan match in Instanbul.  I started to follow Liverpool a little from that date on.  My fandom of the club really started in 2007 when my favorite player at the time, a young striker from Madrid, joined the team.  I was looking for a club to follow in England and between the Gerrard lead comeback and Fernando Torres joining the team, it was set.  Liverpool would now be my second team and my team in England.  While traveling through Tanzania with my family last week, I received some very sad news…Steven Gerrard was leaving Liverpool.  This is the club that he signed with as young boy.  Gerrard has been with Liverpool for as long as I have been alive.  He signed with their Youth Academy in 1987 at the age of 9.  He worked his way up from there to being not only the club captain in 2003, but also captain of his country.  Gerrard has been the face of Liverpool in the EPL.  He has been their best player and a huge reason as to why they won the Champions League in 2005.  Gerrard has won just about everything in his career at Liverpool.  The one prize that he did miss out was the big one, the League Title.  Fans of other teams will always remind him and Liverpool fans of his slip and how that cost Liverpool the title.  That is not his legacy however, and it should not be.  He should be remembered for being one of the best midfielders of a generation and a player that personally I can say I am glad I got the chance to watch in person.  Rumors are that he will be joining the LA Galaxy after this season.  I can say that I will be in attendance the first time he plays in Chicago.  I am genuinely excited to see him play, but wish it was for Liverpool, the club that Gerrard bleeds for.

Weekend Review

Spain returned to action after the holiday and the big winner was Atletico Madrid.  Real Madrid saw their 22 game win streak snapped by Valencia losing 2-1.  Barcelona played a very weak side against Real Sociedad and payed the price losing 1-0 due to a Jordi Alba own goal.  Real Sociedad might be the most interesting team in the world.   They have won four games all year and all at home.  The team they have beaten…Real Madrid (4-2), Atletico Madrid (2-1), Elche (3-0), and Barcelona (1-0).  Can Moyes turn this team around?  As it stands now, Real Madrid have maintained the top spot with 39 points on 16 played.  Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are now tied on 38 points having played 17 games.  Valencia sit in 4th with 34 points and Sevilla are in 5th on 33 points but have a game in hand on Valencia.

I am not going to review the what seems like 5 weeks of English Soccer that I missed, but the table has got a little more interesting since I last posted.  Chelsea and City sit tied on points and goal difference at 46 with +25.  United are in third with 37 points.  Southampton are maintaining their top 4 spot on 36 points.  Then the next three London teams are all separated by 2 points.  Tottenham on 34, Arsenal on 33 and West Ham on 32.  The race for fourth place should be very interesting.

The FA Cup resumed this weekend with no major teams missing out on the next round.  Leicester did upset Newcastle.  QPR was probably the biggest upset with their loss to Sheffield United.  Southampton also drew 1-1 with Ipswich Town and will now have a replay in Ipswich.  Liverpool beat Wimbledon today as Burnley drew Tottenham.

Midweek Preview

This week we see the return of Serie A and the Copa del Rey.

In Serie A, Juventus will look to extend their 3 point lead at the top on Tuesday when they host Inter Milan.  Roma will look to keep pace when they travel to Udinese.  Lazio and Sampdoria have a big show down today, both teams level on 27 points with Lazio in 3rd place and Sampdoria in 5th.  Napoli will look to take advantage of this game and beat Cesena on the road to jump into the top 3.

The Copa del Rey continues with a huge matchup this week.  The first leg of the Madrid Derby will be played on Wednesday.  In what has to be the best matchup of the round.  It will be great to watch these two teams clash against each other.  The prize for the winner might not be any easier, as Barcelona versus Elche is the other matchup in that part of the bracket.

EPL Pick ‘Em

Lot of results took place over the break.  Going into the break it was Buzz 108, Me 102.

During Matchday 17, Buzz nailed the West Ham and Swansea wins as well as the Liverpool-Arsenal draw in route to a 13-7 victory.

During Matchday 18, I was correct on the Liverpool and Tottenham victories while Buzz got the United and Arsenal scorelines correct.  This week we tied 11-11.

During Matchday 19, we both really struggled.  I only got the Arsenal score correct.  I won this week 5-2.

The last round was Matchday 20.  During this round of games, neither of us got a correct scoreline as Buzz won 4-3.

Buzz won the break 30 to 26.  This brings the score to 138 to 128.