So, it’s been more than 24 hours since Luis Suarez handballed his way into Liverpool beating Mansfield Town in the FA Cup, and in addition to having yet another poster-boy (or, more precisely, poster play) for persuading FIFA that video review on goals would be advisable (given that they are important and don’t happen so often in a match to interfere with the flow of a game), it brings up a very interesting ethical question. Namely, what should you do when you score a goal that’s obviously bogus? Do you do what Suarez did, and celebrate it like it’s an actual goal, kissing your wrist as a tribute to your child like you always do, but this time, it’s like your telling your child it’s okay to cheat.
Manager Brendan Rodgers did a very hands-off non-apology version of an apology, saying, in essence, “It’s not your job to let the ref know you cheat”. Which, to a certain degree, is true.
But look at the video:
Here’s what I see — I see Suarez getting a cross that he doesn’t manage to chip in. Yet, when the ball comes back to him, his first instinct is to do what soccer players learn not to do from birth. He punches the ball down first — even though a slight rotation of his shoulder would allow him to chest the ball to his foot or perhaps, even, into the net.
The ref did give him the goal, and since we’ve learned nothing from the France-Ireland debacle of a few years’ back (except that Thierry Henry is more gracious than Suarez in apologizing for his handball goal — this delightful flashback includes Diego Maradona’s “I know how you feel” tweet, which is, on further examination, awesome), and don’t have video review of goals (which wouldn’t be difficult to impose, and would have resulted in a delightful, deserved Suarez booking, which is one of my favorite bookings of all), we have to live with it.
Still, though — the ease with which this alleged professional goal-scorer could have avoided it. And the celebration. And the added bummer of not having Mansfield dispatch Liverpool.
And, just when I was about to kind of like Suarez again, I’m so far back out.
So, of the first few EPL transfers in the January transfer window, Demba Ba going from Newcastle to Chelsea might be the most significant move of the whole month. Newcastle lets go of the player that’s kept them afloat and (barely) above the drop zone (with key playmakers Cabaye and Ben Arfa out with injuries), while Chelsea gets a sure-thing striker to take pressure off the enigmatic (at best, this year) Fernando Torres. It’s now conceivable to have Hazard, Ramires, Oscar and Mata in some combination serving up balls for Ba to finish with the aplomb that’s already got him as one of the Prem’s leading goal scorers. That makes Chelsea so much more frightening.
Newcastle improved slightly in the back with the long-awaited Debuchy, but is certainly worse overall.
Chelsea lost a player — giving up on Daniel Sturridge, who’s now off to Liverpool, but Sturridge-to-Ba is a definite upgrade, and the much-maligned Liverpool certainly has to do something more in the transfer window to keep Reds fans off the ledge. (Letting Joe Cole move to West Ham certainly doesn’t count.)
Questions: When do the other big teams jump into the mix? Where is Zaha headed? Is David Villa really leaving Barca for the EPL? Now that Huntelaar’s locked into Schalke and Falcao’s reportedly staying at Atletico Madrid, which notable strikers will make the leap to the EPL? (As, seemingly, the world’s three best goal scorers are firmly planted — assuming Falcao stays, knowing Messi stays, and assuming the C-Ron to Man City rumors are of the silly season — in La Liga.)
Arsenal tied Southampton 1-1 today, ending a four-game string of all wins, and putting the Gunners pretty firmly in fifth — still with a game to make up, but still definitely behind the top four. I saw things in the match that I always dread seeing: beautiful crosses in front of the goal that are then skied, an egregious defensive lapse letting in an early goal, Gervinho and Ramsey coming into a game, and more alarmingly, Gervinho and Ramsey coming into a game for Ox and Cazorla. No matter how winded or nicked, I don’t want to see those specific subs ever unless a stretcher’s involved.
So, the pain of being a Gunners fan, which is a 2012 New York Giants/Chicago Bears analogous level of pain, if you’re looking for an NFL-sized yardstick by which to judge the whole affair. But there’s hope! Right now! Specifically, it’s the January transfer window — the time of year in which teams can ostensibly load up on talent for their particular stretch runs.
And the rumors are fascinating. Radmael Falcao, the Colombian player with Atletico Madrid being regarded as the best striker in the world, could be Chelsea-bound, though it seems suspect that he’d leave the #2 La Liga team for the Petri dish/revolving coaches mess at Stamford Bridge. Wilfried Zaha, a young winger at Crystal Palace, has distinguished himself enough to be seen as the new young talent that will revive one of four different EPL teams, Arsenal included. Speaking of Arsenal, Theo Walcott might be playing his last games in London with a London team — Man City and Liverpool are both apparently cooing Theo’s way.
As an American sports fan used to players often being at the whims of (or, at least, depicted at teh whims of) owners and agents, it’s fascinating to see the relative autonomy under which soccer stars and starlets (to use that term) operate. Also, the narrow confines that dictate when teams can sign players makes for fascinating theater.
(I say this while looking at the Orange Bowl halftime show, in which Lou Holtz will be helping to break down an outclassed Northern Illinois floundering against a possibly bored Florida State in an Orange Bowl that might mean far less than an Orange Bowl perhaps ever has. Forgive my football cynicism in the wake of embracing soccer, but the end-of-season Bataan Death March of college football makes me temporarily forget that this year’s EPL title will likely be clinched a month before the season ends. Having 35 D1 college football bowls officially make me hate everything. No one should be subjected to the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. That’s worse than watching Stoke.)
Uh … on to the transfer window!
So, over on FourFiveTwo.com, the site where I’ve been doing most of my soccer writing, I’ve started a new feature called the Daydrinker’s Five which guesses the punditry happening from week to week on the EPL telecasts. Today’s is here, updating “Six Points Clear” to “Four Points Clear” (though I’m watching the final minutes of a very exciting match between United and Newcastle as we speak). Some past entries include nods to Santi Claus, Rejuvenated Torres, and the whole Di Matteo/Benitez drama. It’s a good indication of where were are on a delicious EPL season that’s promising to be every bit as entertaining as last year’s.
Not sure there’s going to be drama at the top of the table — as United has indeed hung on against Newcastle and took advantage of City’s poor showing against Sunderland. But City and Chelsea look like they might be in an epic battle for second, and the whole Arsenal/Spurs/Everton/West Brom log jam for fourth place is going to be ever-engaging. In coming posts, I’ll be ear to the ground on transfer rumors for the January window — I think whoever’s willing to spend and for whom is going to be critical in the next few months. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say not making a big buy is effectively conceding a Champions League berth for next year.
Speaking of Champions League, it feels like we’ll be without English teams come the Round of Eight. United drew Real Madrid, which is great for spectacle but not for United’s chances. Arsenal drew Bayern. I’m feeling a Real-Bayern final coming on this year, so clearly, this was not the optimal draw. (And the same as the rehearsal draw, curiously.) What, Malaga wasn’t available for either of the EPL teams?
Buckling up for an awesome 2013. Can’t wait.
I put video game playing in the same general category as ordering pizza delivery and yanking the alarm clock out of the wall rather than just slapping the snooze button a bunch of times — it’s telling the world, “Today, I give up. I’m not going to be a productive citizen.” It’s saying, instead of working, I’ll just be banging on the drums all day.
But I’d get FIFA 13, if only to play it in what I’m imagining is Supernerd GM Mode, make the moves that the Arsenal front office are too stingy to make, and take it into my own joystick-holding hands to move them to the top of the table. (Note: I know that joysticks no longer exist. It just felt like the funniest possible thing to say there.)
It turns out that FIFA 13′s in the prediction game for the big (flourish of trumpets) 2012 FA Cup rematch, in which Liverpool looked like they might grab a trophy … before not grabbing one after all in the end. Well, guess what? This minute-long clip on the Premier League site (soundtracked by the Chemical Brothers?) has Chelsea beating Liverpool 2-1, with Gerrard (?) getting the lone goal, and Torres scoring a skillful goal. To me, this feels more like 3-1, with Torres probably stumbling into a goal because that’s the kind of year it’s been, with the more deserving Hazard or Mata continuing their form, and Suarez doing what he’s been doing all year with the Reds — that is to say, being the lone bright spot (though the wrist-kissing celebration is really getting out of hand).
Other predictions are here, and, to my inner 12-year-old’s delight, the hashtag for the Arsenal-Fulham game this week is #ARSFUL.
So, Emirates Airlines sponsors three of my favorite club teams. UNICEF and Barcelona’s union was noble (and I’m sure the Qatar Foundation is very deserving as well). But this story from ESPN on Greek team Voukafelas takes the awesomeness of pink jerseys and adds the, um, awesomeness of (totally legal in Greece btw) brothels, to create a sponsorship that goes to a whole new level.
According to the article, brothel owner Soula Alevridou is seeing the jerseys she’s sponsoring facing league bans due to the possible effects on impressionable young fans, but is countering with the totally reasonable quote, “If we don’t help our scientists and athletes, where will we be?” she asked. “Greece has educated people, cultured people and good athletes. It’s better to help them than take our money to Switzerland.”
The article then goes into full-on comedy gold mode:
Alevridou watched in disappointment as her team lost its fourth straight game, 1-0, despite her promise to players of “a special time” at her businesses if they won.
“There’s a lot still missing. We have no midfield,” said Alevridou, a slightly built woman with a husky voice. “Many of our boys have jobs that keep them working at night. And if we have a game the following morning, they can’t have a real presence on the pitch. … They need more help.”
The jokes really do write themselves on this one, don’t they?
Over at FourFiveTwo, I’ve broken down some of the 2014 World Cup qualifying matches taking place this week, in my typical FourFiveTwo style, which means mockery (in this case, mostly of small European nations — I basically wonder out loud why San Marino is a country), links to things I find when I do random soccer research and come up with YouTube gems (like the Qatar-Uzbekistan train wreck play from the 2010 World Cup game, in which a player works around an inept goalie, has the opportunity to eat an entire Subway $5 footlong in front of the goal, and then shanks it off the post), and a proposal to create a Lichthuania super-team. Check it out.
So, Chelsea 2-Arsenal 1. Yes, that happened. The Short Fuse, my favorite new Arsenal reader, posted this breakdown of the game and the subsequent uh-oh we’re all feeling.
There’s also some great analysis on the Chelsea SB Nation blog of how Giroud nearly equalized in stoppage time, which I think, when reflecting back on the season (assuming that we’ll be in What Could Have Been mode), will be the moment when things went south. Being down 14-10 in the table would have been solid, given that Arsenal’s already drawn against Man City in the Ethiad — which I thought would be their toughest early-season game.
I’m certainly going to be talking about this on podcast with the Four Five Two gang soon. I expect some ribbing from the Spurs fans, who will be feeling high and mighty. Not a good week to be an Arsenal fan — though, unlike Spurs fans, we will have some Champions League action to follow.
A quick wrap up of what’s gone on this weekend in the EPL:
Arsenal 6-Southampton 1: Only two bummers for Arsenal fans — first goal of the year let in, and Giroud still hasn’t scored (and didn’t even get in the game until the last 20 minutes). But Arsenal’s back in the top four after four weeks, and Southampton is the only EPL team to date that’s lost all its games. Too early to relegate them now? Blackburn Rovers are at the top of the Championship League standings right now — anyone feel like bringing back the Blackburn chicken?
ManU 4, Wigan 0: Oh, the Latics. They let four in today — all in the second half, starting with the ginger magic of Paul Scholes and including a Chicharito goal. Roberto Martinez really deserves better talent, given his coaching acumen.
Liverpool 1-Sunderland 1: Luis Suarez brought Liverpool from the brink of relegation right in time — well, right in time for the Being: Liverpool documentary debut tomorrow night (9 pm ET, Fox Soccer Channel. BE THERE!) Now, with a few games still to play (and Reading still needing to make up the rainout game), the Reds have hoisted themselves up to 17th place.
QPR 0, Chelsea 0: No handshake and no scoring, but Hazard almost put one in during the dying throes of the game. Despite the tie to the ever-puzzling QPR (looks relegation-worthy, but hangs tough against top-tier teams), Chelsea still stays on top of the table.
Other games: Aston Villa beat Swansea (fading Swansea?), Fulham beat West Brom, Stoke managed to hang on and tie Man City, and the aforementioned West Ham-Norwich tie happened.
So, news out of Loftus Road is that despite official Premier League assurances that the QPR-Chelsea pre-game handshakes would go as planned, it’s been anything but. Despite an attempt by John Terry to make up for the whole alleged racism incident by reaching out to Anton Ferdinand, the handshake did not happen — and Ferdinand snubbed Ashley Cole for good measure.
At halftime, Cheslea’s leading QPR in yellow cards, 2-0, but the score’s tied. Southhampton’s put in three goals to Arsenal’s two — but two of those have been own goals, and even though Arsenal’s allowed its first goal of the season (just before halftime, ruining a 3 1/2 game streak), the Gunners are putting the butt-hurt on The Team Most Likely To Be Relegated. Berbatov’s slotted two for the Dempsey-and-Dembele-free Fulham side against West Brom, and Peter Crouch apparently used his hand to guide in Stoke’s first goal, and they’re tied with the Defending League Champions at the half. There’s just one final so far, and it’s boring: Norwich 0, West Ham 0.