Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Messi scores in 500th game, Moyes speaks his mind on van Gaal

La Liga returned to action yesterday to go along with one match in England. In the news, failed Manchester United manager David Moyes also spewed his opinion about the Louis van Gaal situation and there were a few MLS related moves yesterday.

Yesterday's Scores
Premier League
Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool
(Benteke 46')

Full match recap.

La Liga
Real Madrid 3-1 Real Sociedad
(Ronaldo PK 42', 67', Vazquez 87')-(Bruma 49')

Levante 0-1 Malaga
(Duda 78')

Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Atlético Madrid
(Correa 88', Griezmann 90')

Sevilla 2-0 Espanyol
(Immobile 16', Banega 41')

Eibar 2-0 Sporting Gijon
(Keko 55', Baston 62')

Getafe 0-0 Deportivo

Barcelona 4-0 Betis
(Westermann OG 30', Messi 33', Suarez 46', 83')

Celta Vigo 0-1 Athletic Bilbao
(Garcia 71')

Las Palmas 2-1 Grenada
(Tana 32', Araujo 50')-(Penaranda 56')

Not much changed here at the top of the table. Barcelona are still on top with a game in hand over Atletico Madrid and Real are still playing catchup from all the points they dropped against winnable opponents over the past couple of months. Most importantly, Lionel Messi scored in his 500th career match with Barca, adding something to what was already a special day. Outside of the title contenders, Celta Vigo holds the fourth Champions League spot for now. Villarreal has a match today against midtable Valencia that they should be able to win, allowing them to jump back into fourth position.

Headlines
Former Manchester United manager David Moyes had some words about the future of current boss Louis van Gaal. Moyes thinks the Red Devils should stick with him. He claims that life after Sir Alex Ferguson would always have been difficult and that van Gaal is still working on rebuilding the club. By that logic, Moyes should probably still be in charge, but he has a point. Ferguson was a genius doing genius things with the biggest club in England. Replicating his success is an impossible task for just about anyone. Should van Gaal be given more time to complete his vision? Probably. But that isn't how things work at Manchester United.

Arsene Wenger, who is always criticized for his transfer moves (or lack thereof), is claiming that he will be a busy man come January. Injuries have left a few holes in Arsenal's game this season, most notable at defensive midfield, so he does have some things that need to be addressed if they want to make their title dreams a reality.

Radamel Falcao has had a rough time in his year and a half on loan with Manchester United and, now, Chelsea. The Colombian came to the Red Devils from Monaco and was less than impressive. Monaco shipped him off to Chelsea for this year and he has barely been on the pitch thanks to injury. His recurring thigh problems will now keep him out until at least mid January, possibly even longer.

Swiss authorities have turned over bank account information to the American investigators that are digging into the FIFA scandal. The records have to do with bank accounts that were potentially used to execute the bribes that kicked off the investigation in the first place.

The Brighton loan of Liam Ridgewell has been made official. The Portland Timbers have sent their captain back to his homeland for a little more than a month to get ready for their upcoming title defense. Ridgewell will play for Seagulls from January 2 to February 13.

After learning that LA Galaxy are looking to bring in Ashley Cole yesterday, today we learn that another old soldier could be joining the aging ranks in Hollywood. Former Chicago Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz is set to join the club. The 32 year old has played 11 seasons in the league with New England, Colorado, and Chicago.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Midweek Premier League Madness: Liverpool blanks Sunderland to climb table

Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool
Liverpool's struggles away from Anfield carried on in the first half. They looked lifeless against the worst defense in the Premier League, although they did come close a couple of times. Robert Firmino fired a rocket off the post and Jordan Henderson had one cleared off the line just before the halftime whistle. The Black Cats, while only having one shot on target, had an opportunity of their own as well. Fabio Borini didn't miss by much when a curling shot came in towards Simon Mignolet's goal. Sunderland got some bad news when Jack Rodwell was forced off the pitch with an uncomfortable looking injury near the half hour mark.

Christian Benteke put Liverpool's attacking misfortune to bed all of 22 seconds of the second half kickoff. The striker collected a through pass and easily slipped past Vito Mannone. After that goal, the Reds got extremely passive against a Sunderland side that was probably incapable of scoring against them anyway. They had a couple chances as the clock ticked towards the end. Benteke was one on one with Mannone about a minute into stoppage time and plunged his effort straight into the Italian keeper.

Belief was all that Sunderland could ride on in the final minutes. Saying they even had any chance would be a slight exaggeration. They had no attacking power against the far superior Liverpool side, who now have back to back 1-0 wins. A corner at the death of the match for the home team was their final salvo, and it was dealt with with ease from the Liverpool defense.

This win allows Liverpool to put some pressure on the top four heading into 2016. They are at 30 points, which puts them behind Manchester United in sixth place only on goal difference. Sunderland are still stuck in relegation land, a place they have narrowly avoided over the past couple years. They have 12 points from the first half of the season, which has them in 19th and seven points back from safety. It certainly looks like they year that the Black Cats finally succumb to their relegation fate.


Hooligan's Wake Up: Drogba likely leaving Montreal, Cole to LA

The transfer window is right around the corner, but if you have come here for rumors, you have come to the wrong place. Transfer rumors that you read about in the English tabloids, and other faux news sources in Europe, have been known to prove untrue almost every time. I'll tell you about deals that look to be close to completion and final agreements, but nothing that looks fishy or completely unrealistic, like this whole Messi to Manchester City nonsense that keeps floating around.

Anyways, on to yesterday's lone match and a plethora of soccer news items.

Yesterday's Score
Premier League
Leicester City 0-0 Manchester City

Headlines
It's no secret that Michel Platini isn't happy with his ban from all football related activities. He wasted no time defying that ban when he attended an awards ceremony in Dubai this past Sunday.  He could face further discipline from FIFA as a result.

Manchester City have not been the same team without their leader, Vincent Kompany, on the pitch. Word has come out that the Belgian international could miss up to another month due to his lingering calf issue. Surely this will continue to impact Manchester City's title pursuit as several more matches without their top defender is likely to allow a few more goals to find their way in against them.

I like to avoid transfer rumors as the only think that rivals the gossipy nature of transfer reporters is a group of high school girls, so unless it's a done deal, you won't read it here. However, the transfer window begins this week and we are already seeing some agreements in principle. For instance, it looks like Everton are selling Steven Naismith to Norwich for the modest sum of £8 million. The emergence of Gerard Deulofeu has made the Scot expendable.

Sad news for Montreal Impact fans as it looks like seeing Didier Drogba at the Stade Saputo is becoming increasingly unlikely. Drogba appears to be more interested in joining Chelsea in a coaching capacity rather than returning to America to play. The once world class Ivory Coast international took MLS by storm, scoring 11 times in as many games.

LA Galaxy have been making headlines by selling players off to Mexico lately, so it makes sense that we are starting to hear about  the men they might bring into the club. Their prime target is 35 year old Ashley Cole, who would join Steven Gerrard as former Premier League stars at the club. He also joins Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos as old international superstars joining LA for a smooth transition into retirement.

Finally, Vancouver Whitecaps have brought in a much less known player with international experience. They have signed Japanese international Masato Kudo on a free transfer. The striker scored 92 goals in 260 matches in the J-League to go along with four caps with Japan. He hopes to bring some scoring to a club that struggled to grab many goals down the stretch last year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Midweek Premier League Madness: Leicester City gut out scoreless draw with Manchester City

Leicester City 0-0 Manchester City
Leicester entered the biggest match of their season needing a win in order to go back to the top of the table at the halfway point of the season. They gave it their all, but couldn't muster a goal to their name while defending a true onslaught of Manchester City's strong attacking forwards. Their defense, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmichael, were plenty up to the task and they earned their first scoreless draw of the season.

The Foxes knew they would be forced to win this one on the counter and perhaps through a set piece, but they only were able to try that strategy on rare occasions as City controlled the ball and peppered the home goal with 21 shots. They did snag 11 of their own, but nothing that truly tested Joe Hart, although Jamie Vardy, who had battled the flu all week, came close to one at the end of the first half.

Manchester City's best chance came when Sergio Aguero was brought down in the box by Gokhan Inler in the 63rd minute. Aguero's tumble may have been a bit exaggerated, though and the referee refused to indulge the Argentinian's slight theatrics with a penalty.

The draw puts Leicester level with Arsenal for first place, but the Gunners remain on top thanks to their superior goal difference. Manchester City go back above Tottenham for third place and are three points back of the leaders.

The Foxes may not have come out on top, but they did prove that they can at least handle a high end side like Manchester City. They showed some fight in gutting out this result to hang on their mantles along with an away draw at Manchester United and home win against Chelsea. They have some things to work on. Squad depth could be an issue, as we saw with their battered side dropping points with the congested schedule this week. They are also screwed if Vardy and/or Mahrez go down and have to miss some significant time. But, based on their first half performance, I would say that Leicester are here to stay.

Hooligan's Wake Up: van Gaal won't resign, Barca cut new reserve signing

Yesterday's Scores
Premier League
Crystal Palace 0-0 Swansea

Everton 3-4 Stoke City
(Lukaku 21', 64', Joselu 80', Arnautovic PK 90+1'))-(Shaqiri 16', 45', Deulofeu 71')

Norwich City 2-0 Aston Villa
(Howson 24', Mbokani 87')

Watford 1-2 Tottenham
(Ighalo 41')-(Lamela 16', Son 89')

West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Newcastle United
(Fletcher 78')

Arsenal 2-0 AFC Bournemouth
(Gabriel 27', Ozil 63')

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea

West Ham 0-0 Southampton
(Antonio 69', Carroll 79')-(Tadic 13')

Headlines
After saying that he could simply quit Manchester United, Louis van Gaal is saying he will not resign his post after yesterday's scoreless draw against Chelsea. It was rumored that he would be fired had yesterday's match resulted in a defeat.

Real Madrid made one final appeal to remain in the Copa del Rey competition and that appeal has been denied. The club was booted from the tournament after having used a suspended player for the first half of their match against Cadiz. They could continue the process of trying to get back in, but that would involve suing the Spanish Football Federation in a civil court, which would probably take way too long and not be worth the effort.

With their transfer ban finally about the be lifted, Barcelona are looking to shore up their reserve squad with some fresh signings. They made a big deal about three new players coming on to their B team, and then promptly cut one of them hours later. Sergi Guardiola had his contract revoked after it was discovered that he made some anti-Barcelona, pro-Real Madrid, and anti-Catalan tweets... more than two years ago. Call me crazy and naive, but if this player was really worth something, wouldn't a couple of tweets from a couple years ago be irrelevant? I could launch myself on a rant concerning people's over-sensitivity to social media, but I'll spare you.


Monday, December 28, 2015

It Happened in England: Wild win for Stoke, Arsenal go top

Everton 3-4 Stoke City
Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri bagged his first Premier League goal at the end of a supurb passing play in the 16th minute to put Stoke in front. It didn't take long for Romelu Lukaku to find Everton's equalizer. In the 22nd minute the Belgian took a feed from James McCarthy for the easy slip past Jack Butland. However the Swiss star struck again just before the halftime whistle. A splendid run to collect a long ball allowed Shaqiri to score on the half volley to give Stoke a halftime lead. Everton's star was able to retort with his second in the 64th minute. Tom Cleverly fed the long ball into Lukaku's chest and one touch later it was in the back of the net. Not long after the equalizer, the erratic Gerard Deulofeu scored the go ahead goal in the 71st minute after a great pass from Ross Barkley. The lead would last until the 80th minute when this mad match took another turn. Juselu smashed home the Stoke equalizer after Tim Howard failed to reach the cross aimed in his direction. The drama came to a head when Stoke were awarded a penalty at the death of the 90 minutes. Jone Stones brought down Marko Arnautovic in the penalty area and the Stoke forward buried the kick himself to give his club a thrilling win at Goodison Park.

Norwich City 2-0 Aston Villa
Norwich struck first in this battle near the bottom of the table. That first goal came in the 24th minute from Jonathan Howson who was unmarked when a deflection came right to him for the easy shot and goal. A quick transition off a goal kick and some weak defending from Aston Villa allowed Dieumerci Mbokani to head home the insurance goal and give Norwich the three points against the bottom team in the table.

Watford 1-2 Tottenham
A turnover in the middle of the pitch led to a simple break away from Erik Lamela to score with ease against some passive Watford defending. The Hornets got back on level terms in the 41st minute. Odion Ighalo, who is approaching Jamie Vardy levels of heat, snuck through the back line to find the tying goal. Their good fortune took a bit of a downturn just after the hour mark when Nathan Ake was shown straight red for a high and reckless challenge on Lamela. It took a while, but ten man Watford did concede the Spurs' winner. South Korean international Son Heung-Min backheeled home a low cross in the 89th minute. This came less than a minute after the Hornets had a potential go ahead goal cleared off the line. Spurs are in third place with the Leicester-Man City result pending.

West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Newcastle United
After a boat load of close calls, mad scrambles, and off the line clearances, West Brom finally found the interior of the goal in the 79th minute. Darren Fletcher's head was the provider after a soft cross was lobbed in his direction. That was all West Brom would need to hold off their Geordie visitors.

Crystal Palace 0-0 Swansea
Crystal Palace continues to struggle with this whole scoring goals thing as they can't find the net against Swansea. Thankfully for them, they were able to keep the Swans out of the goal as well to earn their second straight scoreless draw.

Arsenal 2-0 AFC Bournemouth
Bournemouth actually looked a little threatening in the opening minutes. They controlled the ball and got a couple of half chances in the opening 20 minutes. It wasn't until the Cherries started to concede corner after corner after corner that Arsenal came to life. The Gunners had seven overall in the first half and grabbed their goal out of one of them. Gabriel scored his first goal with Arsenal by getting wide open in the penalty area and connecting his head to Mesut Ozil's inswinger for an easy goal in the 27th minute. Pretty much each of the other six corners produced at least a half chance. The best of the ones that didn't go in was an initial header by Gabriel that clattered off the post and right into the forehead of an oncoming Per Mertesacker, but the tall German didn't have time to react and redirect the ball inside the post.

The second half featured more Bournemouth on the ball, but also another Arsenal goal. The Gunners lead was doubled when Ozil was the final piece of a nice passing play through the middle in the 63rd minute. Arsenal were unlucky not to have scored a couple more times on the counter attack. Theo Walcott missed a golden chance when he tapped the ball wide off a rebounded shot, although h was offside anyway. Bournemouth, despite their superior second half possession,never tested Petr Cech all that much and ended up falling 2-0.

It's a couple days late as far as the Gunners are concerned, but they are now in first place, at least until Leicester City's huge match with Manchester City on Wednesday.

Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea
Louis van Gaal's managerial life was on the line as sad Chelsea came in to town to face sad Manchester United. Although neither side connected in the first half, it was the Red Devils hitting aa pair posts and forcing Thibaut Courtois to stay sharp in the net. John Terry had a decent effort parried away by David de Gea that served as the only true Chance for the visitors in the first half. The second half looked a lot like the first, only with fewer chances. it is sort of appropriate that this would end as a scoreless draw. These two disappointing clubs failing to score against each other is sort of a microcosm of both clubs' seasons. The fact that each side only had five shots on target completes the analogy. United remain in sixth place without the full compliment of points. Chelsea are in 14th, still only three points ahead of relegation.

West Ham 2-1 Southampton
A well orchestrated counter attack allowed Dusan Tadic to poke home the opening goal in the 13th minute. West Ham's suspect defending was accompanied by a total lack of firepower up front. Morgan Schneiderlin did not have to make a single save in the first half for Southampton. The Hammers would storm to life in the second half, though. A 69th minute equalizer from Michail Antonio and a 79th minute winner from Andy Carroll allowed West Ham to flip the script and come out with three points at home. 

Hooligan's Wake Up: Pirlo staying at NYC, Hanover name new boss

No matches and a fairly slow newsday yesterday will make today's large slate of Premier League games all the more fun, especially the "Save van Gaal Derby" between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Headlines
The Louis van Gaal saga is taking an interesting twist. Reports have surfaced the the Manchester United boss will be sacked should his side fall to Chelsea this afternoon. That match was already going to be the saddest ever game between the two storied clubs, but now it had a bit more intrigue.

It's easy to forget that Jack Wilshire still plays for Arsenal. WIth the exception of the Boxing Day debacle agaisnt Southampton, Arsenal have had a pretty strong season so far without the talented midielder. Arsene Wenger is now hoping for a February return for his oft injured star, but in all reality, he doesn't know when he will be back on the pitch.

Sad news out of El Salvador as the leader in international caps for the nation, Alfredo Pacheco, was shot dead at a gas station in the capital city of San Salvador. Pacheco had 86 caps for El Salvador, but was one of 22 players banned for life by FIFA for match fixing. He was 33 years old.

Andrea Pirlo was considering a loan move to Europe over the winter, but has now ruled out that possibility. The New York City FC was hoping to return to Europe for a period of time in order to boost his chances of beings elected for the Italian squad in Euro 2016, but feels he can make the team with his play in MLS.

Bundesliga relegation candidates Hanover have named Thomas Schaaf as their new manager. Schaaf had previously led Werder Bremen for 14 years, winning the Bundesliga in 2004.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Boxing Day unkind to table toppers

While otehr leagues throughout Europe were spending their holidays at home, the Premier League was out in full force. A full slate of ten matches was on tap for us in jolly ol' England.

Yesterday's Scores
Premier League
Stoke City 2-0 Manchester United
(Krkic 19', Arnautovic 26')

AFC Bournemouth 0-0 Crystal Palace

Aston Villa 1-1 West Ham
(Ayew PK 62')-(Cresswell 45+2')

Chelsea 2-2 Watford
(Costa 32', 65')-(Deeney PK 42', Oghalo 56')

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City
(Benteke 63')

Manchester City 4-1 Sunderland
(Sterling 12', Toure 17', Bony 22' de Bruyne 54')-(Borini 59')

Swansea 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
(Sung-Yeung 9')

Tottenham 3-0 Norwich City
(Kane PK 26', 42', Carroll 80')

Newcastle 0-1 Everton
(Cleverly 90+3')

Southampton 4-0 Arsenal
(Martina 19', Long 55' 90+2', Fonte 69')

Full Premier League Recap

Headlines
After his club's latest failure at Stoke, Louis van Gaal suggests to reporters that he may resign as Manchester United's manager. The former boss of the Dutch national team said that the club doesn't have to fire him, he could simply quit on his own. Earlier in the week, captain Wayne Rooney expressed his support for his manager.

The Timbers have made plenty of roster moves so far, and now defender and captain Liam Ridgewell is being targeted by Championship side Brighton on loan. He was loaned to Wigan Athletic last offseason, so a short stint in England is certainly not out of the question.

LA Galaxy are contiuing their fire sale as they have sent Juninho packing for Tijuana in Mexico. Juninho becomes the second Galaxy player to be sold to a Mexican outfit as Omar Gonzalez left for Pachuca last week. These sales are possibly leading to another big buy in Los Angeles.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

It Happened in England: United fall to Stoke, Arsenal humbled at Southampton

Stoke City 2-0 Manchester United
WIth all the controversy surrounding Louis Van Gaal and his job status, you would think that he would want a strong performance against Stoke to quiet the rumors of his imminent demise. Instead, first half goals from Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic within seven minutes of each other send the home team into the break with a two goal lead. The second half was not much better from United, Although they didn't concede again, they only had a couple of chances that goalkeeper Jack Butland stopped without extreme difficulty. Van Gaal was supposedly given two weeks to turn his side around. Today, they looked unmotivated and flat. Much like Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, Manchester United have the talent, just not the manager to get the best out of it.

Having now been without a win in seven matches, United are in a real rut and and have lost four straight in all competitions for the first time since 1961. You would have to think that Louis van Gaal has one foot out the door after today as I feel this club are at a new low that not even the David Moyes season saw. United are out of the top four, and are even on points with Watford down in sixth place.

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City
Both sides had a tricky challenge today as Leicester still have their fair share of doubters heading into a road game against a large, but struggling, club like Liverpool. The Reds only had to welcome the league leaders, however unproven they may be, to Anfield. Liverpool was on the attack for much of the proceedings. They didn't threaten to score much until Christian Benteke struck gold from the top of the penalty area in the 63rd minute. The Foxes were forced to attempt their comeback without their two biggest weapons. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez both were subbed off with minor injuries late in the second half. It is a real wonder how Liverpool didn't score more. They had a three on one break just after the 80 minute mark that they botched up. They also had a four man rush on an empty net that resulted in miserable failure.

It was the first time all season that Leicester had been kept off the score sheet. Thanks to the Southampton beat down of Arsenal, the Foxes are still at the top of the pile. They remain two points clear of the Gunners, but Manchester City has closed the gap to three points down in third, though.

Chelsea 2-2 Watford
The Guus Hiddink era began in earnest today as this one against Watford was his first on the Chelsea bench. Diego Costa gave Chelsea the lead in the 32nd minute by banging home a Willian corner. They held the lead until the 41st minute. That's when Nemanja Matic was punished for a handball in the box and awarded a penalty to Troy Deeney, who scored the attempt with ease. Odion Ighalo used the momentum from the late first half goal to score in his fifth straight game in the 56th. minute. The Blues were down but not out after they fell behind. Costa nailed his second of the match at the end of a splendid passing play in the 67th minute to tie the score one again. That would be it as Chelsea once again drop points against newly promoted opponents. 

Again, it's only a single game, but could this be proof that Jose Mourinho was not the problem in Chelsea? Last week the side actually looked quite good, but it was against Sunderland. Today, they almost lost to Watford, who isn't all that much better. Only time will tell if canning Mourinho was the right call. Part of me wishes that Mourinho would have at least made it through the January transfer window before getting sacked. It would have given him a chance to cut that bad apples that are ruining Chelsea before truly testing his managerial skill in the second half.

Manchester City 4-1 Sunderland
After Chelsea had their way with Sunderland a week ago, you would expect a Manchester City side looking to get back on track at home would have little issue with the relegation candidates. A powerful ten minute stretch saw Raheem Sterling score in the 13th minute and Yaya Toure double the lead six minutes later. Wilfried Bony added the third in the 22nd. The City domination continued in the second half. Kevin de Bruyne made their lead four goals in the 54th minute. Just as the clock hit 58 minutes, Sunderland got one back in their futile comeback effort. Fabio Borini was the man putting them on the scoreboard. This was a much needed win for City after last week's failure at Arsenal. They're still in third, however.

AFC Bournemouth 0-0 Crystal Palace
NEither side was able to recover from their Christmas Day hangovers in time to score any goals here. Bournemouth had more chances, but still nothing overly threatening to Palace. The point for Palace has them quietly challenging for a spot in Europe. After today, they sit in the fifth place Europa League position with 30 points and are only two back of Spurs for the Champions League.

Tottenham 3-0 Norwich City
Harry Kane scored from the spot ti give Tottenham at 27th minute lead as they chased a Champions League spot. He earned his brace in the 42nd. In the 80th minute, a rare goal scorer, Thomas Carroll, sealed the three points for the home team. Spurs have taken advantage of the Manchester United downfall and have jumped into the top four, two points clear of Crystal Palace.

Swansea City 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Boxing Day got off to a great start for Swansea. In the ninth minute, Boaz Myhill failed to control a shot and Ki Sung-Yueng came flying in to tap home the loose ball for the Swans. That's all they would need to keep lifeless WBA out of the goal to war the victory. The win keeps the disappointing Swans out of the drop zone by a single point.

Aston Villa 1-1 West Ham
Aaron Cresswell gave the Hammers the lead in the final minute of the first half, but Villa would be able to claw back into the match. Jordan Ayew scored a penalty in the 62nd minute to level for the last place Villains. The draw continues West Ham's return to Earth after their hot start. They are in ninth after today.

Newcastle 0-1 Everton
On a rainy evening in the north, there were plenty of almosts and close calls, but few actual goals between these two bottom half dwellers. It was clear that Everton were resting up for the rest of the busy holiday season in England, as at no point were their skilled attacking quartet of Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku, and Mirallas all on the pitch at the same time. Everton was the better side, save for the tail end of the second half when it was Newcastle able to get a little more forward, but there was still nothing in the cards for either side. It looked like a 0-0 draw was in the cards until the final touch of the match three minuites into stoppage time. Deulofeu took a corner that was cleared to Tom Cleverly, who was able to float a header over Rob Elliot for the winner. Everton moves into ninth place with the win while Newcastle stay in the drop zone in 18th place. 

Southampton 4-0 Arsenal
Arsenal knew that a win would put them atop the table after the Leicester City loss, but this one did not go as planned for them. After controlling possession for the opening, in the 19th minute Cuco Martina blasted one home for Southampton against the run of play. Martina may have been offside for the goal, but it was awfully close and I am willing to give the linesman the benefit of the doubt. After the first half, it was evident that Arsenal would have to go back to the drawing board to redesign their attack. They held nearly 60% of the ball, but were outshot and overall struggled to unlock the Saints' defense.

The second half didn't start off well for Arsenal, they were lucky to have not conceded in the 50th minute when Virgil Van Dijk headed home a free kick, but he was called for offside as he clattered into Petr Cech in the Arsenal goal. After a minute or so on the ground, the Gunners' keeper was well enough to remain in the game Not that it helped at all. Southampton did score for real in the 55th minute on a counter attack finished by Shane Long. They were then free to hold numbers back and defend the all out attack that Arsenal was sure to bring. Not that defensive posture prevented them from getting forward. The third goal came from Jose Fonte in the 69th minute to put first place out of Arsenal's reach for sure. Shane Long's second and Saints' fourth came a couple minutes into stoppage time to make the 4-0 final scoreline.

Arsenal misses their shot to go top, somewhere they have been for all of two days this season. To make things worse, third place Manchester City is only a point back of them. Southampton remains mired in midtable mediocrity with the win. They are still in 12th after the Boxing Day bonanza.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Blatter says he's done, Gonzalez to Mexico

No matches to speak of from yesterday, so let's jump straight to the news.

Headlines
Sepp Blatter, at age 79, will probably not be able to make a comeback after his eight year ban is finished. He may be coming to grips with that reality, saying his work in football is finished. He also says he has lost faith in FIFA after being brought down by the very committee he created to root out (or give the appearance of rooting out) people just like him.

LA Galaxy have made a pretty high profile move. They have sent US National Team defender Omar Gonzalez to Liga MX's Pachoua for an undisclosed fee. Gonzalez had been with the Galaxy since he was drafted in 2009 and was given a designated player contract in 2013. He was bought out of the designated player role so LA could sign Giovani dos Santos.

Jose Mourinho has been linked with Manchester United since he was sacked at Chelsea. Although rumors were spreading that he had a deal in place with the Red Devils, it turns out they are not true. That doesn't mean he won't end up there. He seems to want the job, and United seem to want him as well. So it is probably just a matter of time.

It's becoming difficult to tell who the real front runner is in the chase for Pep Guardiola's services. Popular opinion had been that Manchester City would land the managerial giant, but Chelsea are also trying to convince him to come to London.

Spain's manager Vicente del Bosque will be retiring after Euro 2016. The now legendary boss led Spain the 2012 European title and the 2010 World Cup. Overall, he ushered in a golden age of Spanish football and will be remembered for making the Spanish national team one of the most feared in the world.

Liverpool's Martin Skrtel will miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury suffered on Sunday against Watford. That is better than the original estimate of three months. This weakens an already struggling Liverpool team that has dropped to ninth place in the Premier League.

MLS has unveiled its opening slate of matches for the 2016 season. All 20 clubs will open the season on Sunday, March 6. The season kicks off with the Red Bulls hosting Toronto FC.We get an MLS Cup rematch right off the bat as Columbus visits Portland, and a battle of Canadian playoff sides with Vancouver and Montreal. Here's the full slate:

1:30 pm ET – NY Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC  – TSN
2 pm ET – Orlando vs. Real Salt Lake
2 pm ET – Chicago vs. NYCFC
3 pm ET – FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia
3 pm ET – Houston vs. New England
3 pm ET – San Jose vs. Colorado
4:30 pm ET – Portland vs. Columbus – ESPN / ESPN Deportes
5:30 pm ET – Vancouver vs. Montreal – TSN and RDS
7 pm ET – Seattle vs. Sporting KC – FS1 / FOX Deportes

10 pm ET – LA Galaxy vs. D.C. United - UniMas

The league also released each side's home opener. The rest of the schedule will come out on January 7.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Guardiola's mind made up, Mourinho to Manchester United?

There was only one major match on Monday, but it was a thriller as Arsenal held off Manchester City to pull within two points of the top and four ahead of the Citizens. FIFA made plenty of news with the announcement of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini receiving eight year bans, both are looking to appeal. Also, there's a new wave of old guys looking to head to MLS to collect an easy paycheck and get easy playing time.

Yesterday's Score
Premier League
Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City
(Walcott 33', Giroud 45+1')-(Toure 82')

Full match recap.

Headlines
There are two massive news sagas making their way through the soccer world. One is the continuing speculation on where Pep Guardiola is headed after his season with Bayern Munich concludes. Manchester City are the frontrunners for his signature and Manuel Pellegrini has accepted that his job status is in doubt. There are a number of reports saying that Guardiola has already decided where he will go next season.

Next up is the Jose Mourinho drama. It appears that Manchester United are interested in bringing the Portuguese maniac on board to replace Louis Van Gaal. I said this the other day, but somebody please, please, make sure this happens. The soccer world, and specifically the Premier League, is a more fun place with Jose Mourinho in it.

Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini getting banned for eight years is the other major story. Both men continue to proclaim their innocence and will appeal the decision with the Court for Arbitration in Sport.

David Beckham is still trying to bring MLS to Miami, and now he wants to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic there too. By the time the non-existent Miami club is could to begin playing in MLS, Zlatan will be pushing 40 years old, perfect for joining the likes of Kaka, David Villa, Frank Lampard, and others as the old men playing out their careers in the USA.

Elsewhere in old men looking to come stateside, Uruguayan international Diego Forlan is also interested. He is apparently awaiting an MLS offer.

Seasoned Mexican captain Rafa Marquez is taking his career full circle. The long time Mexican national team defender is returning to his boyhood club Atlas in Liga MX. He departs Hellas Verona in Serie A, where he had spent the last year and a half.



Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Night Football: Arsenal survive late push from City, put the heat on Leicester

Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City
Unless you're one of the few who really believe that Leicester City have what it takes to maintain their title run for the second half of the season, these two clubs are in the best positions to compete for the top spot when all is said and done. Tonight's winner would be able to take the inside track in the race. Both sides are facing injuries, but City is getting healthier than Arsenal as they returned Sergio Aguero to the lineup for the first time in a while. The Gunners, meanwhile, were without their killer threat Alexis Sanchez.

The first half was defined by both sides bottling each other up in the midfield and some physical play. Just after the half hour mark, the action truly opened up. First, Kevin de Bruyne barely sent a shot wide of the far post at the tail end of a two on one break. Moments later,  in the 33rd minute, Theo Walcott blasted home a stunner from the edge of the penalty area to make it one-nil to the Arsenal. As the crowd continued to spur the Gunners on, Arsenal kept pressing forward. In first half stoppage time, Manchester City turned the ball over at the half way line and allowed Olivier Giroud to continue his hot streak and double Arsenal's lead with a well placed shot past the far post in first half stoppage time.

One would figure that with a 2-0 lead, Arsenal would come out with a more defensive posture. That ended up being far from the case today. The Gunners, while digging in on defense a little early on, actually became more threatening on the attack as the half wore on. Just before the hour mark, a nice passing play between Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil almost resulted in the third goal.

Things never really looked good for Manchester City. Their chances took a slight hit when Sergio Aguero was forced to depart after taking an awkward elbow to the side of the head on an aerial challenge. Any chances they had were either non-threatening and easily snuffed out by the Gunners or foiled by their own inadequacy. Even when Arsenal's defense was caught out of position a poor decision or weak shot would make sure it didn't have any impact.

That changed in the 82nd minute when Yaya Toure took a shot from the corner of the penalty area that left Petr Cech and the rest of the Arsenal defenders helpless as they watched it float into the top corner of the net. The remaining eight minutes plus stoppage time were controlled by Manchester City. They controlled the ball, but couldn't unlock the difficult Arsenal defending that saw all ten outfield players jamming the penalty area.

The Gunners enter Christmas in second place in the Premier League. They are two points back of Leicester City first and four clear of Manchester City in third. To make it better for Arsenal fans, they are seven points clear inside the top four. 

The main knock on the Gunners heading into the season was their lack of improvement anywhere except goalkeeper. There is little doubt that the arrival of Petr Cech between the sticks has helped Arsenal stay alive in a couple games, but most thought that no new outfield players would spell doom for them. Instead of adding new weapons, it looks like their current ones are just developing quite well. Mesut Ozil, after spending most of his first two seasons with Arsenal in the infirmary, has stormed the gates with 15 assists, more than any top flight player in Europe. Olivier Giroud has found his goal scoring form. Normally injured Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey are both staying healthy. Their midfield has played so well that it's hard to remember that Jack Wilshere hasn't played a competitive fixture for them this season. Then there is the emergence of Joel Campbell, who has stepped in for the injured Alexis Sanchez and shown us the form that made him a star for Costa Rica during the last World Cup.

Arsenal are a real threat, but they are still in second place behind Leicester, who don't seem like going down without a fight. For what it's worth, the Gunners whacked the Foxes at the King Power Stadium 5-2 back in September. Arsenal are the only top five side that Leicester have not earned at least a point against. They are yet to play Manchester City, but the two meet on December 29. Speaking of Manchester City, despite looking uninspired for about 81 minutes tonight, are also still a strong candidate to lift the trophy in May. The title race looks to be between these three, if you have honest belief that Leicester are the real deal. If not, it now looks like its Arsenal's trophy to lose.

Hooligan's Wake Up: Real Madrid hang ten, Blatter, Platini get eight years

Real Madrid must have been sick of hearing their manager criticized as they decided to rip off ten goals against Rayo Vallecano. Liverpool continue their string of disappointing defeats and the title race heats up in Italy. Finally, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini will soon hear their fate in their bribery charges.
Yesterday's Scores
Premier League
Liverpool 0-3 Watford
(Ake 3', Ighalo 15', 85')

Swansea City 0-0 West Ham


Bundesliga
Hertha Berlin 2-0 Mainz
(Darida 34', Kalou 54')

Borussia Monchengladbach 3-2 SV Darmstadt 98
(Stindl 44', Nordtveit 51', Wendt 86')-(Heller 28', Wagner 67')

How about ten man Borussia Monchengladbach? They hung three goals after Grant Xhaka was sent off in the 38th minute to snag three points and jump into the top four. In the other match, Hertha Berlin gains firmer footing in third place heading into the winter break. The Bundesliga is off for the next month as they take the cold German winter off and come back at the end of January to play out the second half of their string.

La Liga
Real Madrid 10-2 Rayo Vallecano
(Danilo 3', Bale 25', 41', 61', 70', Ronaldo 30', 53', Benzema 48', 79', 90')-(Amaya 10', Jozabed 12')

Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Levante
(San Jose 55', Williams 82')

Granada 0-2 Celta Vigo
Orellana 21', Aspas 44')

Real Sociedad 0-2 Villarreal
(Suarez 27', 88')

Málaga 1-0 Atletico Madrid
(Charles 86')

A shocking loss for Atletico Madrid forces them to miss a the chance to move ahead of Barcelona, who was away in Japan winning the Club World Cup. Real's dominating performance, while quite impressive, would have been more so if it didn't come against relegation bound and Vallecano, who was also down to nine players ion the first half. Still, I'm sure it's nice for them to see Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and Ronaldo going ham on anyone at this stage.

Serie A
Carpi 2-3 Juventus
(Borriello 15', Bonucci 90+2')-(Mandzukic 18', 41', Pogba 50')

AS Roma 2-0 Genoa
(Florenzi 42', Umar 89')

Atalanta 1-2 Napoli
(Gomez 54')-(Hamsik 52', Higuain 62', 85')

Fiorentina 2-0 Chievo Verona
(Kalinic 20', Ilicic 32')

Hellas Verona 1-1 Sassuolo
(Floccari 34')-(Toni 39')

Frosinone 2-4 AC Milan
(Ciofani 19', Dionisi 83')-(Abate 51', Bacca 55', Alex 77', Bonaventura 90')

Sampdoria 2-0 Palermo
(Soriano 53', Ivan 76')

Torino 0-1 Udinese
(Perica 41')

Inter Milan 1-2 Lazio
(Icardi 61')-(Candreva 5', 87')

Despite the home loss against mid-table Lazio, Inter are still on top of Italk by a single point. They will need to be careful to hold off Juventus, though. The Old Lady has now won seven straight and are up to fourth place (and climbing) after holding on against a late charge from bottom feeders Carpi.Not to mention Napoli and Fiorentina both won to but pressure on them as well. The Italian title race is shaping up to be quite the exciting one, so stay tuned.

Ligue 1
St. Etienne 1-0 Angers
(Corgnet 61')

GFC Ajaccio 2-1 Lyon
(Larbi 32', 67')-(Grenier 72')

Bordeaux 1-1 Olympique Marseille
(Khazri 57')-(Romao 55')

Angers is trying to hold onto France's third and final Champions LEague spot, so a loss to St. Etienne kind of hurts. Meanwhile Les Verts will take the boost as it gets them only two points out of the top three.

Headlines
It doesn't look like Michel Platini's boycott of the FIFA Ethics Committee is doing him any good. He and Sepp Blatter will be banned from the game for eight years. While there was apparently not enough evidence to support a lifetime ban related to the two million Swiss Franc payment made from Blatter to Platini, there is enough to get them gone for long enough to render their futures with the sport irrelevant. Both are expected to appeal the decision.

As mentioned earlier, Barcelona won the Club World Cup in Japan thanks to a 3-0 win over Argentina's River Plate. Lionel Messi scored the first and Luis Suarez had the next two as they demolished that South American Champions. It was Barca's fifth trophy of 2015 and they are the eighth European winner in 11 years.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Premier League: Watford drills Liverpool, West Ham and Swansea drag out a draw

Watford 3-0 Liverpool
It was a disaster of a start for Liverpool. On a third minute corner, their backup keeper Adam Bogdan rose to collect the attempt, but fumbled it in the six yard box where Watford's Nathan Ake was waiting to boot it home. Things went from bad to worse in the 15th minute. Odion Ighalo tucked a shot inside the far post on a small counter attackto double Watford's lead. Liverpool was then forced into all out attack mode. Unfortunately for them, they gave up more chances on the counter attack than they created for themselves. Watford found a third goal with Troy Deeney picking out Ighalo for his second of the match in the 85th minute.

The Hornets are still in seventh after the win, but they are only a point back of the top four. Manchester United, Tottenham, and Crystal Palace all sit with 29 points for that fourth place finish. Liverpool is still stuck in ninth with a disappointing 24 points.

Swansea City 0-0 West Ham
Swansea was the better team in this goalless draw. They managed to launch 20 shots towards Adrian in the West Ham goal, but only forced him to make two saves. West Ham was equally woeful in their sparse attempts on goal as well. Swansea's only beef will be a 63rd minute attempt by Sung-Yueng Ki that appeared to be stopped only by the hand of defender James Collins in the penalty area. Swansea was furious when the referee only pointed to the corner flag instead of the penalty spot.

Hooligan's Wake Up: Guardiola officially leaving Bayern Munich

Pep Guardiola has gone public with his long rumored departure from Bayern Munich. He will leave the club after this season, possibly for amove to England. On the field, plenty of penalties dominated the Premier League, Guardiola's Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain both extended their big leads at the top, and some pressure for Champions League spots in Spain and Italy were the highlights.

Yesterday's Scores
Premier League
Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland
(Ivanovic 5', Pedro 13', Oscar PK 50')-(Borini 53')

Everton 2-3 Leicester City
(Lukaku 32', Mirallas 89')-(Mahrez PK 27', Mahrez PK 65', Okazaki 69')

Manchester United 1-2 Norwich City
(Martial 66')-(Jerome 38', Tettey 54')

Southampton 0-2 Tottenham
(Kane 40', Alli 43')

Stoke City 1-2 Crystal Palace
(Wickham PK 45+2', Chung-Yong 89')-(Krkic PK 76')

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 AFC Bournemouth
(McAuley 79')-(Smith 52', Daniels PK 87')

Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
(Coloccini 38')-(Ayew 61')

Bundesliga
Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Werder Bremen
(Meier 31', Aigner 48')-(Pizarro 29')

FC Koln 2-1 Borussia Dortmund
(Zoller 82', Modeste 90')-(Sokratis 18')

FC Ingolstadt 04 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen
(Chicharito 73')

Hamburg SV 0-1 FC Augsburg
(Moravek 76')

Hanover 96 0-1 Bayern Munich
(Muller PK 40')

VfB Stuttgart 3-1 VfL Wolfsburg
(Didavi 22' 47', Kostic 31', )-(Arnold 14')

The Dortmund slip up allows Bayern Munich to extend their German lead to eight points. Dortmund was, and sort of still is, the only team capable of competing with Pep Guardiola's squad. A squad that faces some questions as they now know they will be under new leadership next year. The only thing left for them to win is the Champions League, so with the league comfortably under control, that should be their real focus. Meanwhile, Chicharito continues his stellar form with another road goal against Ingolstadt.

La Liga
Valencia 2-2 Getafe
(Alcaer 15', Mina 35')-(Sarabia 10', Lafita 22')

Espanyol 1-0 Las Palmas
(Caicedo 67')

Real Betis 0-0 Sevilla

Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 Eibar
(Lucas 41', Arribas 73')

Deportive takes a small step towards Spain's top four. They are two points back of fourth place  Celta Vigo, who is yet to play this weekend. Barcelona has the weekend off from domestic action while they play in the mostly meaningless Club World Cup in Japan.

Serie A
Bologna 2-3 Empoli
(Brienza 36', Destro 45')-(Pucciarelli 24', Maccarone 42', 48')

A double from Massimo Maccarone lifts Empoli into sixth position and within striking distance of the Champions Leaue. They are five points back of a top three spot, which is currently held by Napoli. Trouble is, Juventus and Roma, two far superior sides, stand in their way.

Ligue 1
Caen 0-3 Paris St. Germain
(di Maria 16', 50', Ibrahimovic 36')

Bastia 2-0 Stade de Reims
(Ayite 21', Romain 79')

Guingamp 0-2 Stade Rennes
(Dembele 63',  Sio 77')

Lorient 0-0 Nantes

Toulouse 1-1 Lille
(Ben Yedder 11')-(Boufal 87')

Troyes 0-0 AS Monaco

Paris St. Germain has opened up a 17 point lead atop Ligue 1 and really has no competition for the title. Their real season is the Champions League, and their domestic matches should be seen as no more than tune ups for that which really matters. Monaco is the leader in the clubhouse for the other two Champions League spots, although their bland away draw against bottom feeders Troyes leaves a lot to be desired.

Headlines
Looks like Pep Guardiola is officially on his way out of Bayern Munich. Reports have surfaced that he will quit his post at Germany's three time defending champions to pursue other opportunities. It also appears that they have secured Carlo Ancelotti to replace him. Ancelotti has agreed to a three year contract to take over the team in the summer when Guardiola departs.

Jermaine Jones says he would like to return to New England Revolution for next season, but he doesn't want a substantial pay cut. Jones claims his latest offer from the Revs is for less than 20% of what they paid him last year. I can't say I blame him. If someone wants to cut my salary by 80% or more, I'd be interested in finding a new place to work as well.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

It Happened in England: Chelsea wins Hiddink debut, Manchester United embarassed again

Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland
Welcome to the second Guus Huddink Era at Chelsea. The Blues certainly came out on fire in their first game without Jose Mourinho at the helm. Not five minutes had passed before Branislav Ivanovic headed home a corner to put the Blues in front. Pedro headed home another corner in the 13th to put Chelsa up a pair. An obvious penalty and yellow card against Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon just after the second half started led to Oscar nailing Chelsea's third goal in the 50th minute. Sunderland was able to answer right away, however. Fabio Borini was gifted an easy rebound off a free kick in the 53rd minute to cut into the Chelsea lead.

Chelsea only had the three goals, but they really could have had plenty more. I don't know if it was just the firing of Jose Mourinho, or if it was because they were hosting Sunderland, but they looked like a different team than we have seen all season long. They showed more hustle and more desire than we are used to. They had pace, flair, and finishing ability like we haven't seen in the first half of the year. This was Sunderland though, and many teams look like the best in the world against them, so let's withhold judgement until they play a team with some actual credentials.

Everton 2-3 Leicester City
Leicester was trying to solidify their spot atop the league with a good showing at Everton, and Riyad Mahrez got them off to the right start. He converted from the spot in the 27th minute to give the first place club the lead. Romelu Lukaku had the perfect answer for Everton, though. Five minutes after going behind, he blasted home rebound to tie the score. The score stayed level until yet another penalty was awarded to the Foxes in the 65th. Mahrez nailed that one as well to get them back in the lead. Leicester then got some secondary scoring to pull away. Shinji Okazaki scored in the 65th to secure the points. Kevin Mirallas pulled one back in the 89th, but it was to no avail. The Foxes are five points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table, at least until Monday night's showdown with Manchester City.

Manchester United 1-2 Norwich City
It was a big day for a United legend as Wayne Rooney returned to the lineup to make his 500th appearance with Manchester United. Instead of honoring Rooney's legacy with a business like win over newly promoted Norwich, they decided to make their case for being the new laughingstock of the league. In the 38th minute, Jerome weaved his way down most of the pitch and through a bunch of pylons in Manchester United kits to score the first goal for Norwich. More absentee defending from United led to Alexander Tettey scoring a second a tht 54 minute mark. Anthony Martial began the salvage operation in the 66th minute by booting home a corner after some fancy footwork through Norwich's defense.

Manchester United are in a deep rut right now. In the last few weeks they have been eliminated from the Champions League and lost to a pair of newly promoted teams that were not expected to make any noise. Louis van Gaal is certainly feeling his manager's seat getting warmer each and every day. He is on track to be the next high profile manager to be fired in the Premier League. All that means is the Pep Guardiola could get himself paid very handsomely by any number of English teams looking for a new boss in the spring.

As for the here and now, United are out of the top four and down to fifth.

Southampton 0-2 Tottenham
Harry Kane got the Spurs party started in the 40th minute with a determined run down the center of the pitch.WIth a hop, skip, jump, and run, the Tottenham local put his side in front with a simple shot tucked inside the post. Dele Alli was in the right place at the right time three minutes later to double the lead. That was all Spurs would need to handle Southampton on the road. Spurs jumps into the top four thanks to the United loss.

Stoke City 1-2 Crystal Palace
A couple penalties were almost the deciding factor in this one. First it was Conner WIckham for Palace at the tail end of the first half. Then it was Bojan Krkic in the 76th. But Lee Chung-Yong scored a late stunner from distance to win it for Palace in the 89th minute.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 AFC Bournemouth
Although West Brom was down to ten men after James McLean was shown straight red in the 34th minute, Bournemouth's quest for a third straight win had to wait until the second half for a breakthrough. Adam Smith tucked a low shot against his momentum in the 52nd minute. Gareth McAuley's 79th minute equalizer through a wrench in that plan, however. That was until Charlie Daniels rescued the victory with an 87th minute penalty. There was a little bit of argy bargy just before the final whistle that ended in a Salomon Rondon headbutt, earning him a red card and a slightly early shower.

Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
A torrential downpour was kind enough to grace us with its presence throughout this one. A 38th minute corner had to navigate a deluge of standing water on the pitch to meet the foot of Fabricio Coloccini for the first goal of the game. Halftime came and the pitch was drained a bit before the players returned to the monsoon. Aston Villa managed to get an impressive aqueous equalizer from Jordan Ayew in the 61st minute. He cut inside from near the end line before unleashing a blast that left Robert Eliot helpless in goal. Newcastle is a point above the drop while Villa still sits in last place.

Hooligan's Wake Up: More Mourinho rumors, Guardiola knows what's next

We are back to big time European league action after the domestic cups occupied our week. But, more importantly, there is no shortage of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola rumors floating around. Finally, it was a busy day in MLS transactions, including a lot of movement north of the border.

Yesterday's Scores
Bundesliga
Schalke 04 1-0 TSG Hoffenheim
(Choupo-Moting 28')

Here are two clubs at opposite ends of the spectrum. Schalke possibly enters the winter break with a Champions League spot depending on what happens in the rest of the weekend. Hoffenheim, on the other end, could be in last place if Stuttgart wins later today.

Ligue 1
Nice 1-0 Montpelier
(Boscagli 31')

Nice gets three points to put a little bit of pressure on the current holders of France's European places. With the rest of the weekend left, they are a point back of Caen for the fourth place trip to the Europa League and only two back of Monaco and Angers for second a third, which heads to the Champions League.

Headlines
Jose Mourinho, who was just fired yesterday, wasted no time in speculating about his next job. He is not planning on any time off after the Chelsea debacle and supposedly wants to take over the Manchester United job, assuming Louis van Gaal gets booted out at the end of the season. Somebody, please, please make this happen. Manchester United have had their fair share of managerial issues since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, but I would love for their next one to be in the form of Jose Mourinho. The Premier League is a better place, or at least a more interesting one, with Jose in it, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, there are some pundits who have him heading back to Real Madrid, who is reportedly not interested. In short, nobody has any clue what Mourinho is going to do next. Which is pretty normal.

As for Chelsea's immediate future, Guus Hiddink has been confirmed as the club's manager for the rest of the season.

Pep Guardiola supposedly knows his future, but isn't revealing it yet. Many reports have him leaving Germany in the spring, but that hasn't been confirmed at all. Several high profile English clubs (*cough* Chelsea and Man U.) could very well be looking for a new manager and Guardiola could be a prime target for them. Carlo Ancelotti could end up replacing him at Bayern Munich.

Toronto FC had a busy day. First, they sent their second round 2016 draft pick to Vancouver in exchange for Iranian international defender Steven Beitashour. Then, they acquired Canadian international Will Johnson from the Timbers in exchange for a conditional 2017 draft pick and targeted allocation money.

The Columbus Crew have also signed former Orlando City full back Corey Ashe to a free agent deal. Ashe had spent more than eight seasons with Houston Dynamo before being dealt to Orlando this past summer.

New York Red Bulls homegrown defender Matt Miazga is apparently attracting interest from across the pond. Goal.com is reporting that Leicester city and Chelsea are apparently taking a look at the young American international. He has a Polish passport, so he would not be subject to the somewhat complicated work permit rules that have kept some Americans out of England before.

Nobody needs a soccer specific stadium more than DC United, and their managing partner Jason Levien spilled some of the details about the facility they plan to open in 2018. They hope build a 18,000-23,000 seat stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Washington DC, close to the US Capitol Building and are hoping to settle on a design in the next two months.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Mourinho sacked, Bayern extend some stars

Jose Mourinho is out as Chelsea manager. Can't say there was a bigger storty from yesterday, but it certainly wasn't the only thing that happened.

Yesterday's Scores
Spanish Copa del Rey
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Reus Deportiu (3-1 aggregate)
(Partey 53')

Celta Vigo 1-0 Almeria (4-1 aggregate)
(Wass 41')

Villarreal 2-0 Huesca (4-3 aggregate)
(Trigueros 28', Soldado 78')

Granada 1-0 Leganes (2-2 aggregate, Granada wins on away goals)
(El Arabi 68')

The Copa del Rey round of 16 is completed with the addition of Atletico Madrid, Celta Vigo, and Granada. Here is the draw for the round of 16 with the two legs of each match being played on January 6 and 13.:

Barcelona vs. Espanyol
Valencia vs. Granada
Mirandes vs. Deportivo
Cadiz vs. Celta Vigo
Real Betis vs. Sevilla
Athletic Bilbao vs Villarreal
Eibar vs. Las Palmas
Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid

Coppa Italia
Lazio 2-1 Udinese
(Matri 70', Cataldi 79')-(Kone 67')

Sampdoria 0-2 AC Milan
(Niang 50', Bacca 90+3')

Coppa Italia finishes its quarterfinal field with Lazio's come from behind victory during a hectic 13 minutes in the second half and AC Milan's controlling of Sampdoria.

Headlines
Obviously the big news was the canning of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. Head here for my reaction. It appears that Guus Hiddink is set to take over in the interim.

While we wait for the Pep Guardiola decision to be announced, Bayern Munich have extended the contracts of Thomas Muller, Javi Martinez, and Jerome Boateng until 2021. Xabi Alonso has had his extended through 2017. 

The match schedule and seeded teams have been determined for COPA America 2016. The USA will be the top seed s the host and will play the opening match in Santa Clara, California. Their other two matches will be in Chicago and Philadelphia. Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico will be the other three seeded teams.

San Antonio has been on a quest to land an MLS franchise and they completed an important step in that mission. The city of San Antonio has purchased Toyota Stadium from San Antonio Scorpions ownership in order to help provide the funds for MLS expansion. The money for the $21 millions transaction comesa from Spurs Sports and Entertainment, the city, and Bexar County.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mourinho out at Chelsea, what's next?

Jose Mourinho is, at long last, no longer the manager at Chelsea. After losing nine out of 16 matches and leading his side to being a whole one point out of the relegation zone, Chelsea's outspoken owner, Roman Abramovich, has kicked the Portuguese manager to the curb. All this about seven months after leading his club to the top of the Premier League.

This is both shocking and not so shocking. Everyone and their mother knew that Mourinho was being scapegoated for Chelsea's failures. Yet with defeat after defeat piling up, he was still around. More than a few wondered if he would still be around at season's end, myself included. But that turned out not to be the case. Chelsea came to their senses and got rid of him, like the probably should have done a while ago, after any one of the awful losses that have plagued their season.

They could have chosen after  a 3-1 home loss to sorry Liverpool  on Halloween. Or a 1-0 loss at Stoke a week later. That would have given the new man in charge an entire international break to settle in. Then there was the December 4 home loss to newly promoted Bournemouth, which doesn't need to be explained. It was awful. Instead, they chose a 2-1 defeat at table topping (albeit surprisingly so) Leicester City.

So, what's next for Chelsea? Pep Guardiola is probably going to leave Bayern Munich. Although he has been more heavily linked with a move to Manchester City, I wouldn't exactly count Chelsea out. They would have to get by with an interim manager for the second half of the season and the Champions League, but that's a small price to pay in order to land the most highly regarded manager in the world. He is just the type of guy who can bring Chelsea back to what they were last year without a great deal of effort. Plus, after having won La Liga and the Champions League with Barcelona and the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, the Premier League is pretty much the only thing left for him to conquer. Why not take a ripe squad like Chelsea to the summit?

More realistically, former Dutch national team manager Guus Hiddink, who is reportedly being brought on as the interim manager, Juande Ramos, and Brendan Rodgers have been labeled as the favorites to replace Mourinho.

Hiddink, currently unemployed, most recently served as the manager for the Netherlands after the departure of Louis van Gaal. He has many stops throughout his career, including an interim post at Chelsea in 2009 before they brought on Carlo Ancelotti. Juande Ramos managed Spurs for a short time back in 2007-08. In general, he never sticks around anywhere for very long. He spent six months at Real Madrid, a month and a half at CSKA Moscow, and, most recently, four years at Ukrainian outfit Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. Finally, we are all familiar with Brendan Rodgers for his less than stunning tenure at Liverpool. His one good season was 2013-14 when, thanks to Luis Suarez, he let the Reds to second place in the Premier League. He was canned from Liverpool earlier this season.

None of these men are capably of salvaging the train wreck that is Chelsea's season. And I doubt any of them are truly able to replicate what Mourinho did during the positive portion of his reign. I can't help but think that it would be best for Chelsea to keep Hiddink as a caretaker manager and then push hardcore for Guardiola at the end of the season.

As for what's next for Jose, I'm sure some club will be insane enough to pick him up. Mourinho may have the reputation of being a madman, but he does know how to get teams to win before throwing the entire squad under the bus after a couple of losses. The thing I will miss most about him not being at Chelsea will be his post game pressers. Those were must see TV, especially after Chelsea losses., just to find out who he will blame and how. He was probably the most entertaining coach in all of sports, not just soccer. As much damage as he has done to Chelsea this season, I still feel like the Premier League is a worse place without him.

Hooligan's Wake Up: China spoils Wambach send off, Platini boycotts ethics committee

Plenty of stories filled our Wednesday, including Abby Wambach's final game with the US Women's National Team and some comments she made before the match. Also, more cup ties from throughout Europe, Michel Platini boycotting the FIFA Ethics Committee, and another MLS free agency signing.

Yesterday's Scores
Women's International Friendly
United States 0-1 China
(Wang Shuang 58')

This match was pretty much an Abby Wambach testimonial and I believe the USWNT got a little caught up in the pomp and circumstance. It was obvious from the very get go that their game plan was to pump as many balls into the box as they could with Wambach as the target and it resulted in a lot of forced passes and missed opportunities. Once she was ceremonially subbed off on the 72nd minute, the attack opened up a little bit (much like it did for the World Cup semifinal against Germany when she was benched), but China's bus was long parked. China's goal was a fluke deflection off a USA defender that caught Hope Solo off guard, and that was enough for the visitors to have the USWNT their first home loss in 11 years.

But the result was never what mattered. What mattered was a celebration of one of, if not the greatest woman to ever play soccer. Abby Wambach has more international goals than any human, she has the fifth most caps in USA history, and pretty much brought women's soccer into the forefront single handedly. Her goal against Brazil at the death of the match set up the penalty shootout that led the USA to the 2011 World Cup final and endeared her to an entire generation of American soccer fans. Although out was clear that her time was up during the championship run off this past summer, she was still a key part of the team that won it all and made this victory tour possible.

So farewell, Abby. You've brought us moments we will never forget on the pitch, and have been an inspiration to girls with athletic dreams everywhere. Now, I look forward to watching you continue that effort in whatever awaits you.

German DfB Pokal
Nurnberg 0-2 Hertha Berlin
(Darida 32', Brooks 65')

VfB Stuttgart 3-2 TSV Eintracht Braunschweig
(Niedermeier  21', Werner 99', Sunjic 118')-(Baffo 6', Ademi 110')

FC Augsburg 0-2 Borussia Dortmund
(Aubameyang 61', Mkhitaryan 66')

TSV 1860 Munich 0-2 Vfl Bochum
(Heberer 39', Hoogland 44')

The German Cup quarterfinalists are topped off by Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund, and Bochum.

Spanish Copa del Rey
Athletic Bilbao 6-0 Real Balompedica Linense (8-0 aggregate)
(de Marcos 9', Eraso 49', Etxeitia 56', Sola 62', Garcia 67', Rico 89')

Eibar 4-0 Ponferradina (4-3 aggregate)
(Borja 45+2', Enrich 62', Verdi 73', Arruabarrena PK 85')

Getafe 3-1 Rayo Vallecano (3-3 aggregate)
(Leon 8', Vergini 23', Vasquez 31')-(Bangoura 52')

Málaga 0-1 Mirandes (1-3 aggregate)
(Junior 73')

Valencia 2-0 Barakaldo (5-1 aggregate)
(Mine 8', Negredo 31')

Real Sociedad 1-1 Las Palmas (2-3 aggregate)
(Canales 46')-(Jose 37')

Athletic Bilbao, Eibar, Rayo Vallecano, Mirandés, Valencia, and Las Palmas move on to the round of 16.

Coppa Italia
AS Roma 0-0 Spezia (2-4 on penalties)

Fiorentina 0-1 Carpi
(De Gaudio 76')

Napoli 3-0 Hellas Verona
(El Kaddouri 4', Mertens 12', Callejon 75')

Juventus 2-0 Torino
(Zaza 28', 51', Dybala 73', Pogba 82')

Roma, Carpi, Napoli, and Juve move on to the quarters.

Headlines
Ahead of her final match with the US Women's National Team, Abby Wambach caused quite a stir by saying she would fire Jurgen Klinsmann if she were in charge of US Soccer. She cited his lack of attention to youth programs as her main reason, as well as his reliance on foreign born players who are eligible to play for the USA through one of their parents.

Pep Guardiola, who is out of contract at Bayern Munich at the end of this season, will supposedly shed some light on his future next week. This comes at a curious time as Bayern Munich are still in the thick of the Bundesliga title race as well as in the Champions League round of 16. The speculation is that he will leave the German giants, perhaps in favor of a move to the Premier League.

Former Colorado Rapids defender Drew Moor has become the second MLS player to sign a free agent contract. The former Rapids' captain signed a deal with Toronto FC, hopefully shoring up a defense that suffered when compared to their talented attack.

Mexican businessman Gabriel Brenner has purchased a controlling stake in Houston Dynamo. He takes over majority control of the club, and BBVA Compass Stadium, as well as the NWSL's Houston Dash. Houston had been owned by Phil Anschutz, who also owns LA Galaxy. Thus the era of the same person or group owning multiple teams in MLS has officially come to an end.

The Chelsea board of directors are in the process of determining the future of Jose Mourinho. The met for upwards of nine hours on Tuesday and more yesterday. The board will hold a vote, but the final decision will still come to majority owner Roman Abramovich.

The COPA America final is set for New Jersey's MetLife Stadium next summer on June 26. The Rose Bowl has usually served as the home for major international matches, but that is changing this time around.

Michel Platini, who was supposed to appear on front of FIFA's ethics committee, has decided to boycott the hearing. He believes that the panel set to hear his appeal will be biased and that the case has already been prejudged, despite the ethics committee saying otherwise.  The case will still be judged, fairly (at least as fair as FIFA can get), with or without the UEFA president there, but it's still pretty bad form not to show up to your own defense hearing.

Real Madrid and their intra-city rivals Atletico Madrid are both being probed for violating transfer regulations. While no specific charges were listed, sources say that they are similar to those that caused Barcelona to receive a one year ban on registering new players. The Madrid clubs could face similar sanctions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Cup matches, USA friendlies, and Sepp Blatter on the defensive

A bunch of cup ties kept us occupied on Tuesday. Also, another MLS trade and plenty of FIFA scandal updates. Here's all you need to know about yesterday in the world of soccer:

Yesterday's Scores
Spanish Copa Del Rey
Sporting Gijon 3-3 Real Betis (3-5 on aggregate)
(Espinoza 14', Halilovic 47', PK 72')-(von Wolfswinkel 18' 83', Cejudy 88')

Deportivo La Coruna 1-1 Llagostera (3-2 on aggregate)
(Dominguez 69')-(Lopez PK 79')

Espanyol 2-1 Levante (3-2 on aggregate)
(Burgui 15', Caicedo 52')-(Verza 8')

Sevilla 2-0 Logrones CF (5-0 on aggregate)
(Immobile 15', Reyes 40')

There was supposed to be a fifth match yesterday, but Real Madrid was forced to forfeit their match with Cadiz thanks to using a banned player in the first leg. As a result, Cadiz joins Real Betis, La Coruna, Espanyol, and Sevilla in the round of 16 with more matches coming over the next two days.

German DfB Pokal
Borussia Monchengladbach 3-4 Werder Bremen
(Stindl 32', Hrgota 73', 90')-(Sternberg 51', Vestergaard 58', Pizarro 75', Ujah 78')

SpVgg Unterhaching 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
(Bauer 27')-(Chicharito 31', Kiebling 55', Bellarabi 83')

Bayern Munich 1-0 SV Darmstadt 98
(Xabi Alonso 40')

FC Erzgebirge Aue 0-2 Heidenheimer SB
(Feik 48', Schnatterer 54')

Bremen, Leverkusen (thanks in part to yet another goal from Chicharito), Bayern Munich, and Heidenheimer all advance to the DfB Pokal quarterfinals.

Coppa Italia
Genoa 1-2 Alessandria
(Pavoletti 90')-(Marras 46', Bocalon 114')

Inter Milan 3-0 Cagliari
(Palacio 24', Brozovic 71', Perisic 81')

Alessandria and Inter advance to the quarterfinals of Italy's top cup competition.

Headlines
The US Men's National team has confirmed a couple of its early 2016 friendlies. They will take on Iceland January 31 and Canada on February 5, both at Stub Hub Center in Carson, California. The squads for both game are expected to be heavy on MLS players, since they take place outside of the normal international window.

LA Galaxy have acquired former FC Dallas and Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy in exchange for a couple of 2017 draft picks. Kennedy had spent seven seasons with the now dead Chivas USA before joining Dallas this past season. He was relegated to the bench thanks to the emergence of Jesse Gonzalez, and is thus expendable.

The Colorado Rapids have sent allocation money to Seattle in exchange for Marco Pappa. The 28 year old midfielder joined Seattle before the 2014 season and scored nine times in rave green.

Former Costa Rican Football Federation President Eduardo Li, who was arrested as part of the first batch of FIFA arrests back in May, has agreed to be extradited to the United States. He has spent the last six months in jail during an appeal process to prevent his extradition. Two other officials have plead not guilty in the corruption charges against them. Those two would be former Honduras president Rafeal Callejas and former FIFA vice president Juan Angel Napout, who was arrested just a couple weeks ago.

Think you've got what it takes to coach a high end national team in Africa? Well, Cameroon are looking for a replacement for the departed Volker Finke, and they have taken to Twitter to find the right man or the job.

In the Premier League's ongoing soap opera, Jose Mourinho's job status at Chelsea remains unchanged. With every loss comes a fresh round of talk about when Mourinho will get the axe, but it seems as if Chelsea are atill reluctant to part with the controversial manager.

Sepp Blatter stands to go in front of FIFA's ethics committee Thursday regarding his bribery charges to UEFA president Michel Platini. He is "bewildered" about the charges and has written a letter to all 209 FIFA member states pleading his innocence. Yeah, good luck with that buddy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hooligan's Wake Up: Chelsea lose again, US Player of the Year nominees announced

Yesterday's Scores
Premier League
Leicester City 2-1 Chelsea
(Vardy 34', Mahrez 48')-(Remy 77')

Serie A
Lazio 1-1 Sampdoria
(Matri 78')-(Zukanovic 90+3')

Headlines
Justin Mapp had become the first MLS player to sign a true free agent contract. The former Montreal Impact winger signed a deal with Sporting Kansas City yesterday. Mapp fits in well with Sporting's 4-3-3 formation ave spooks enjoy a successful stay in Kansas City. There are 25 other free agents in MLS still looking for work.

US Soccer released its five nominees for US player of the year. Those under consideration for the award are Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Fabian Johnson, Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, Aston Villa keeper Brad Guzan, and Sutherland defender Deandre Yedlin. For what it's worth, I feel Fabian Johnson deserves the award more than Dempsey or Bradley, who's play had noticeably dropped off since returning to MLS. Guzan and Yedlin are both strong choices, but I'm not sure either have a better resume team Johnson, who has a couple Champions League goals.

Over in Spain, Espanyol have canned their manager Sergio Gonzalez. Espanyol are in 12th in La Liga right now, but have only one victory in their last seven matches. They have not named a permanent replacement, but have hired Constantin Galca to coach the squad until the end of the season. 

The Champions League draw was yesterday morning, here is my reaction to some of the thrilling fixtures that await us, including Arsenal vs. Barcelona.

The lesser European competition also had its round of 32 draw yesterday. Manchester United, who crashed out of the Champions League early, are matched with Danish side Midtjylland. Tottenham will take on Fiorentina while Liverpool fave Augsburg. The first legs will be held on February 15, 16, and 17, with the second legs being on February 25. Here is the full draw:

Valencia v Rapid Vienna
Fiorentina v Tottenham

Borussia Dortmund v Porto
Fenerbahce v Lokomotiv Moscow
Anderlecht v Olympiakos
Midtjylland v Manchester United

Augsburg v Liverpool
Sparta Prague v Krasnodar
Galatasaray v Lazio
Sion v Braga
Shakhtar Donetsk v Schalke 04
Marseille v Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla v Molde
Sporting Lisbon v Bayer Leverkusen
Villarreal v Napoli
Saint-Etienne v Basel