Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beginner's Guide to Soccer: Part 1

As recent events has allowed me to get introduced and interested in the world of soccer I have decided to start a beginners guide to soccer. The Informer has helped me get a better grasp on this sport which I believe is very under underappreciated in the United States and I believe more Americans need to take the time to understand and enjoy this sport.

    I was finally able to watch a game of soccer at Disney's Wide World of Sport during the Pro Soccer Classic and it was a very disappointing game in very disappointing weather. However I still enjoyed it thoroughly. Also with the introduction of FOX Soccer at our house I've been watching many games and have decided that my favorite teams are Inter and Liverpool. (often criticized by The Informer) ...anyhow I will continue to write posts as my knowledge of soccer increases and show the transformation into a true soccer fan.

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Time for change at Barcelona

It's time to stop the ticky tacky passing and possession play and adapt to the way that soccer is being played now by teams much younger and much quicker than them. Barcelona's two recent defeats to AC Milan and Real Madrid have left many to wonder what is happening right now to Barcelona? Why are they in a slump?

The brilliance of Barcelona is hard to question. How can you argue with a team that has won 15 titles in the past 5 years. Barcelona has always been a team that is about possession and build up play. They frustrate opponents by keeping the ball with quick, crisp passing and by letting their superb midfielders feed whoever they have up front attacking for them. It has been proven, however, you can counter Barcelona's style with the exact opposite of their style, by playing all defense. Chelsea showed this in last years Champions League semifinals when they played 9-10 men on defense and stymied the Barcelona attack. Recently, AC Milan deployed a similar tactic, but with more offense than Chelsea and produced a 2-0 win over Barcelona heading into Camp Nou.

So what is wrong with the Barcelona system as of late? They are miles clear in La Liga so nothing right? Wrong. The Spanish La Liga is a weak league in general, fielding 3 quality clubs and the rest mid table to bottom table clubs in any other division. So it is no surprise that Barcelona ran away with the league title in sights this season, who besides Real Madrid can stop them? No one in La Liga because no other team besides Real Madrid has the talent to match the Catalans. The real problem I see is the lack of a pure striker. Barcelona has not needed a pure striker for the most part, as Lionel Messi emerged onto the scene as (arguably) the greatest player in the game today. But Messi has his flaws that other player for Barca do not mask. He is relatively weak, able to be knocked off the ball by bigger opposition. He is short, though Barcelona rarely plays air crosses, he can't reach a cross in the air over defenders 6 feet tall. But this is obviously all nitpicking at a player who virtually mastered his craft.

What we have seen throughout the past 2 games is something else though, teams that field a reliable striker or another superstar can bother Barcelona greatly. AC Milan used Stephan El Shaarawy and his pace and skill up front to bother the slow, aging Barcelona central defenders, and Real Madrid utilized their own goal machine, Cristiano Ronaldo, to cause massive problems in the back. Teams will soon start to realize if you field a dominant striker up front and can plant enough men on defense to basically form a wall against Barcelona, you can beat them. 

Another huge problem is the "Messi or bust" system Barcelona seems to go into when they are in trouble. The Argentinian may be amazing, but he can't do it all alone. Countless times I have seen Barcelona struggle to score against quality defenses, and when they get frustrated everyone that gets the ball looks to Messi. Is this a terrible strategy? Of course not, more times than not Messi will find the back of the net, but against rapidly increasing big, skillful, fast defenders a smaller player like Messi may find it hard to run past these players, which is where a central striker would come in handy. 

So who should Barcelona look into this upcoming transfer window if they fail in the Champions League because of the lack of a striker? The big name that comes to mind is Mario Gomez. With Mario Mandzukic taking over attacking responsibility for Bayern and the rumored transfers of Falcao and Robert Lewandowski said to be in the works, Gomez will struggle to find playing time. Gomez would fit the Barca system in a way not usually seen by Barca fans. He is a striker that doesn't need the ball at his feet when the going gets tough, he wants it in the box, in the air preferably, so he can put the goals away. Would he be a perfect fit? No, but with Sanchez/Pedro/Iniesta/Xavi/Messi feeding him the ball, the big German would be an invaluable goal machine for the Catalans.

What do you think? Is it time for a change at Barcelona?

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

No respect for the Bundesliga

When you think of major soccer leagues in the world which come to mind? The English Premier League? La Liga? Serie A? All are valid responses to the biggest leagues in the world, but one that goes vastly unnoticed is Germany's Bundesliga.

For years the German first division has been growing rapidly, but most outside of soccer enthusiasts and German citizens have seen that. Many factors play into it, German soccer isn't as flair oriented so the media doesn't cover it as much and the league only fields 2 truly dominant clubs in Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. But if you look past the surface you will see a league with the qualities to rival the other top leagues in the world.

                 For the past few years Bayern and Dortmund have dominated German soccer, that is all set to change soon.

This season may not be a good indicator of how strong the league and teams are, with Bayern Munich dominating the league table and controlling a 17 point lead on second place Dortmund, but look past the top club and you see a packed table of teams who have European hopes. The clubs in spots 2 and 9 are only separated by 10 points, which isn't a huge margin if you think about the quality in the clubs. Teams such as Frankfurt, Freiburg, Mainz, Hamburg, Hannover, and Schalke are all chasing the second and third place teams Dortmund and Leverkusen.

Take a look at the league table for the Bundesliga so far this season:

Nothing special right? It isn't if you just look at it by numbers, but if you watch the teams play you will see a league full of stars that are ready to emerge but don't get the coverage they need to become known and hlep the league grow. The leading scorer in the Bundesliga isn't a member of Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, but in fact it is Stefan Kießling from Bayer Leverkusen. The top assist man? Szabolcs Huszti from Hannover 96. These players play for teams not as flashy and known as others, but are just as excited to watch.

I've heard many arguments for people not interested in the league, and that is lack of scoring and lack of competitiveness. But take a look at this weekends past scores and you can see that these stats are not true. If you want scoring and don't feel like watching Bayern Munich, look at the score of the Hannover and Hamburg game that ended 5-1 in Hannovers favor. If you want to see competitiveness but don't see it in the score, look at the stats of a game between 2 of the bottom tier teams in the Bundesliga this weekend, Augsburg and Hoffenheim. Between them there were 27 shots, 41 fouls, and 3 goals. One of which came at the brink of stoppage time.

Just reading about the non top teams in Bundesliga might not make you want to watch the league, but the top teams are trying to change that. The three Bundesliga teams that were in this years Champions League spots all made it out of their groups on top, with Dortmund topping the group of death that included Ajax, Manchester City, and Real Madrid. You cannot tell me that isn't impressive. Schalke are proving their worth as they hold an advantage over much hyped Galatasary that includes Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba. And Bayern Munich are on a tear this Champions League campaign so far, after having made 2 of the past 3 Champions League finals they seem set to make another CL finals run.

So I recommend you look into the league I call my personal favorite, not just because my favorite team plays in it but because it is ready to emerge as the next big, much talked about league. The league is no longer Bayern, Dortmund, and some other teams. The league is full of teams ready to challenge for European competition spots, with rosters filled with young, talented players.

The future is bright for the Bundesliga, it just needs to get the respect it deserves.

What do you think? Is the Bundesliga set to breakout into a major competition? Do you want to see more from the German league?

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Ronaldo to return to United this summer?

It has been highly speculated that Ronaldo would be leaving the Bernabeu this summer ever since he stated he was "sad" at Real Madrid. This prompted many to speculate high spending clubs like PSG and Manchester City could snatch up the Portuguese star.

After reading through some transfer rumors one caught my eye, Manchester United plan a 55 million pound bid to bring CR7 back to Old Trafford. People have speculated that departing Real Madrid boss, Jose Mourinho could take over at Old Trafford if Sir Alex Ferguson decided to leave the club on a high note after this season. But reports also link Mourinho to possibly a job at french giants PSG. But in the case of Ronaldo his preferred destination is Manchester United, where he became an international superstar.

                                                    Will the Special One replace Sir Alex at Manchester United?

There are some financial statistics that are also important, none of which I will outline here because they do not really pertain to the relevance.

                                                                         Is a reunion on the way?

I personally hope Manchester United can bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford. Everyone says that the English league is where the best players go to hone their skills, which I agree with for the most part. It will be interesting to see if Ronaldo can emulate his scoring prowess in a league that fields more than 3 quality teams. The only thing that would be sad about United capturing Ronaldo again would be no more duels between the two biggest names in the sport, Messi and Ronaldo. This season may be the last chance for the Portuguese star to best his old rival for a while, so if these reports are to be believed look for Ronaldo to try extra hard to oust Barcelona in their next 2 meetings.

What do you think? Will Ronaldo return to Manchester United? Will he stay at Real Madrid? Or will he end up somewhere else? 

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is it time for a change at Arsenal?

Arsene Wenger must be feeling a whole lot of pressure right about now. His Arsenal squad is one of the most difficult to understand sides in all of football. A team that can produce a great counter attack and build up play on offense with the defense that makes it all look in vain.

Arsenal have the excuse of losing captain Robin Van Persie in the summer to Manchester United, but can you blame the Dutchman for leaving a team that has not won a trophy in 8 years. How many times have people for the past 8 years said, "this could be the year!" and how many of them were right? None. Arsene Wenger for as great of a tactician he is when it comes to game planning and for as a great of a breeder of young talent, should be sacked.

Arsene Wenger has been a great coach for Arsenal, winning three league titles, 4 FA Cups, and the FA Community Shield 4 times. But the selling of key players over the past few years (Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie) has seen fans turn on Arsene as those players have gone on to achieve more and play significantly better. Nasri went on to win the Premier League with Manchester City last year, Cesc Fabregas won 3 trophies after transferring to Barcelona, and Robin Van Persie is set to be the leagues leading scoring with Manchester United while also being set to win the league. With all the money that Arsenal have acquired from their selling of top players, you would think they would have enough money to go out and buy adequate replacements for their essential pieces that left. But Arsenal and Wenger seem so frugal with their money, instead of spending preferring to breed from their youth academy and save money. Jack Wilshere is working out for them, as he is already heralded as one of the best at his position, but other than that Arsenal have no big names to show from their youth academy yet.

The buying of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla looked promising in the beginning, but now in fifth place fans are calling for the purchase of another striker. If Arsene is allowed another season to try for a trophy and doesn't buy a striker in the summer window and Arsenal struggles, look for a new face on the sidelines for the Gunners early. Arsene knows he is having his head called for, now is the time for him to respond.

Is Arsene's time up at Arsenal? If so, who should replace him?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Landon Donovan

There has been lots of talk about Landon Donovan as of late, for the past few weeks a close friend and I have been having an ongoing debate about Donovan, whether he is fully committed to the game anymore, if his break is stupid, etc.

Unlike a lot of the people I have talked to, I am pro-Landon on this situation. For as much as some want to say he should be out there with the USMNT helping them qualify for the 2014 World Cup, I must think he just isn't match ready. Is that a valid excuse for a player that is heralded as THE GUY for the national team? Maybe not, maybe he should have been ready to go and retired instead of taking a break, but what I feel is most important is that he is making the effort to be back. 

Arguably the greatest American to ever represent the United States, Donovan has carried the weight of being the USMNT savior for years now. Being one of the most reliable players for the United States, Donovan has racked up 49 goals for his country and has made 144 appearances. Is he the player he used to be? Of course not. Due to injury and age Donovan has lost a little bit, but what he has lost in physical ability he makes up for with his mental understanding of the game. 

The debate of if he should be out with the US now training and competing is a valid one. Do I wish he was available for the next game in the hex? Yes, because Donovan gives the US something they are short on right now, a scoring threat. With Donovan on the field you free up the man poised to take the #1 role from Donovan, Clint Dempsey. As it was evident against Honduras, Dempsey can't do it alone. As great of a player as he is, he needs another threat on the field. With Brek Shea being far from ready to return to national team action, and other attacking players on the USMNT roster being non factors for most of the game when playing, whenever Donovan makes his return will be a changing point for the USMNT. 

Although only 30, he is nearing the end of his top of the tree playing career. I had a discussion last night in which my friend pointed out Lampard is playing at top level at 35 and Ibrahimovic at 31. And that's valid, they are performing at top level. Ibrahimovic is vital to club and country, as he is arguably the best pure striker in the world. But when it comes to Lampard, for as great as he is, he is not a NEEDED piece for club or country. The emergence of Jack Wilshere and the fact Steven Gerrard is still performing at top level for England means Lampard isn't needed. At Chelsea Mata, Hazard, and Oscar all are capable of playing in his position and it has been proven that although he produces for Chelsea, he isn't needed. Donovan, however, is needed for the United States to succeed in international play right now. As is evident watching the current squad, they lack attacking threats, as I stated before. Donovan would provide if not just a scoring threat, a leadership type of presence on the field. With him on the field you calm down, knowing in clutch moments if you need a goal, you can count on number 10. Donovan proved in the 2010 World Cup he was a clutch player, scoring the goal to tie Slovenia at the end of the game and the only goal in the United States 1-0 defeat of Algeria that put them through the group stage. 

Did Donovan pick a terrible time to take a break? Yes. But should we be thankful he is coming back to help guide the United States to the World Cup? Yes. 

Leave a thought below. Is Landon Donovan the greatest United States player ever? Does the current USMNT need him?

Are Bayern the team to beat after dominating Arsenal?

Yesterday's marquee match-up in the Champions League saw two teams headed in completely different directions. Bayern met Arsenal at the Emirates stadium on Tuesday and thrashed the Gunners 3-1.

                                                 Bayern looked dominant in the first leg against Arsenal.

From the get-go it looked to be a long night for the London side, as the Bavarian's controlled the tempo of the game. It didn't take long for Bayern to rip the Arsenal defense to shreds, as Franck Ribery played a magnificent ball to Toni Kroos at the top of the penalty box, the German international then struck it on the half volley past Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny. That was only 7 minutes into the game. From then on Bayern continued to pound the Arsenal defense only for Thomas Müller to score of a muffed save by Szczesny. It didn't look all bad for Arsenal though, as they pulled one back after halftime through a Lukas Podolski header, but Bayern would soon regain control. Terrific build-up play saw Mario Mandzukic score a circus goal to end the night 3-1 and virtually knock out the London side.

Are Bayern the team to beat? Their sound dismantling of Arsenal in this first leg leave little questions as to how strong Bayern can be against teams outside of Germany. Sure, Arsenal aren't flying high right now, but the England is a country in which German sides don't usually do well, and Bayern handled this game like it was just another game and not a Champions League game. Looking comfortable in a hostile atmosphere, controlling the tempo, and not even being at full strength (defenders Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng did not play) Bayern seemed in their element the whole game. Manuel Neuer looked to be in control between the sticks for Bayern, Phillip Lahm and David Alaba did a great job of bombing down the wings and getting back on defense when needed, Kroos controlled the attacking play while Schweinsteiger and Martinez commanded the midfield.

                                                  Bayern look poised to make another Champions League run.

The recipe for success was evident last night for Bayern, and while they have their flaws they seem to be able to mask them fairly easily. So what team is able to beat Bayern right now over 2 legs? The only team I see is Barcelona. Should we read into a 3-1 romping of a 5th place EPL side too much? No, of course not, but if you look at their body of work, the Germans are more than formidable and a daunting opponent for any team to face. In recent years Bayern have become a team very much under the radar even though they are one of the top 5 clubs in the world. Having made 2 of the last 3 Champions League finals Bayern knows how to get there. Finishing the job has been another thing for them, but this team looks poised to roll into a third Champions League final in 4 years.

What are your thoughts? Are Bayern a tournament favorite? Who do you think can beat the Bavarians?

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Arsenal crash out of FA Cup

Arsenal's trophy drought seems to be set to continue as the Gunners crashed out of the FA cup with a 1-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers.

                                              Arsene Wenger and Arsenal look set for another trophyless season.

For most of the game Arsenal controlled the ball and tempo, but their finishing was not on point at all. An Arsenal squad that did not field all it's starters, yet was a much better side then Blackburn, should have finished the game off early in the first half. Instead the game ended in disappointment even after dominating. The Gunners shot the ball 26 times, 12 of which were on target. They won 16 corner kicks and held the ball for 54% of the game.

Yet it was Blackburn that found the back of the net by a Colin Kazim-Richards goal in the 72nd minute.

                                                               Blackburn celebrate their goal against Arsenal.

Arsenal were simply not good enough against a squad they should have easily beat, and should be weary going into Tuesday's Champions League matchup against high flying Bayern Munich. Even for an Arsenal team that wasn't at full strength they did not look dominant. Arsene Wenger must be cautious as to how he approaches this upcoming Champions League game as the Germans have the capability to put 3 to 4 away goals against them if Arsenal can not finish their chances.

What do you think the Gunners need to change? Are Bayern going to run all over them this week? Leave your thoughts and comments below.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic

Yesterday I had the chance to go and watch a few of the games that were being played at the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. This even showcases MLS teams as well as local Florida pro teams.

This year MLS teams Sporting Kansas City, DC United, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, and Impact Montreal were paired with Florida teams Orlando City and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Yesterday's game I saw was Sporting Kansas City v DC United. The game started slow, with both teams having starters out on the field I was expecting a more exciting first half of soccer. What I got was a disappointing exhibition of cautious play. There seemed to be no urgency from the teams with their established players out on the field. It wasn't until the second half when the teams brought on players that were on a trial run and nonestablished players that the game took off. The flow of the game, the creativity, and the fact it started raining made the game much more exciting to watch. I found myself actually getting involved with the game, moaning at misses, getting excited about chances being created, complaining about fouls and calls. For the small turnout because of the weather (hopefully that is why there was a small turnout) it was a great fan atmosphere.

The result of the match was 2-0 to SKC, but that wasn't the real reason I enjoyed yesterdays event. The fact I got to see a competitive match of soccer live for the first time in months.

The event overall was lacking in total support, it seemed a bit thrown together, even for an event that has been going for a few years now. No clear signs directed you to the field, field announcer would randomly just stop announcing for a good while and would only talk when subs came in. As I said, I did enjoy the event for what it was, not so much a pro soccer event, but an event that was trying to get more people in America interested in soccer. And that is something this country really needs, more support for the MLS and other pro soccer leagues.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Weekend Recap

This weekend almost solidified the Champions for 3 of the worlds premier leagues.

                                                Barcelona went 12 points clear in La Liga with an easy win.

Barcelona went 12 points clear at the top of La Liga with a 6-1 thrashing of Getafe at Camp Nou. Atletico Madrid took a hit to their second place bid with a 2-1 loss at Rayo Vallecano, while Real Madrid pushed their way to 4 points within Atletico with an easy 4-1 win over Sevilla. There is no question that Barcelona have La Liga wrapped up and that the two Madrid teams will finish 2 and 3, it is just a matter of which Madrid team comes in second.

                                          David Alaba bagged a brace as Bayern Munich tore apart Schalke.

In Germany, Bayern won convincingly over slumping Schalke 4-0 to go 15 points up on second place Borussia Dortmund. Goals from David Alaba (2), Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Mario Gomez carried Bayern. Dortmund lost ground with a 4-1 loss to Hamburg. An early goal by Robert Lewandowski ended up only being a consolation as Hamburg dismantled the reigning champions.

                                           Gareth Barry scores a terrible own goal as City fall to Southampton.

Manchester United were all but gifted the title this weekend by cross town rivals Manchester City. The Red Devils 2-0 win over Everton following a 3-1 defeat of Manchester City by Southampton almost guaranteed a 20th title for United. It was all going wrong early for City, as they went down 2-0 early in the game. Edin Dzeko pulled one back for City, but a terrible Gareth Barry own goal sealed City's fate on Saturday. Meanwhile, Chelsea continued their push for second as they romped Wigan 4-1 at the Bridge. Tottenham kept their bid for 4th place alive with a brace by Gareth Bale, while Arsenal kept right on their heels with a 1-0 win at Sunderland.

                                                      Balotelli scores again for AC Milan to earn a draw.

Juventes pulled a little farther away of second place Napoli in Italy this weekend with a 2-0 win over Fiorentina. Mario Balotelli scored again to earn new club AC Milan a 1-1 draw at Cagliari. Balotelli now has 3 goals in 2 games for the Rossoneri. Inter stay 2 points above their city rivals following a 3-1 win over Chievo Verona. The top 2 teams in Serie A seem set with Juventes and Napoli set to battle it out for first over the next couple games.

                                                             PSG go 6 points clear at the top of Ligue 1.

Paris Saint-Germain pulled 6 points ahead of Lyon in Ligue 1 following a 3-1 win over Bastia. Goals from Menez, Ibrahimovic, and Lavezzi earned PSG all three points. Elsewhere in France, Lyon fell 3-1 to Lille putting a dent in their title hopes. Marseille salvaged a point against Evian Thonon Gaillard to pull within 2 points of Lille for second.

What did you think of this weekends games? Do you think La Liga, the Bundesliga, and the EPL are won already?

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Real Madrid v Manchester United

Could you have asked for a more exciting matchup this early in the group stage of the Champions League? Real Madrid and Manchester United are set the square off this week, and on the field will be a plethora of the games biggest stars. The amount of story lines involved in this matchup are endless.

                                                        Cristiano Ronaldo returns to face former club Manchester United.

What will Ronaldo do in his return to Old Trafford? The man some say is the best in the world returns to face his former employers this week. Will United's slippery defense be able to stop CR7? Ronaldo tuned up for this weeks game by putting in a man of the match performance against Sevilla, bagging a hat trick. United will have a tough time against one of the best players on the planet this week, I expect at least a goal from CR7.

                                                                           Can Real Madrid stop Robin Van Persie?

On the other side of the field, can Real Madrid stop Robin Van Persie? Heck can ANYONE stop RVP right now? The Flying Dutchman is on course to eclipse his goal tally from last season and is the main reason the Red Devils are in prime position to win the EPL. Madrid have faced world class strikers before, having to face Lionel Messi multiple times a season, but RVP's game has evolved beyond last season. His attack positioning and spectacular playmaking and shot making ability will be tough for Real Madrid to handle.

And lastly, is this a try out for Jose Mourinho? With all the speculation that The Special One may be canned by Madrid at the end of the year, a likely landing spot for him is at Old Trafford. Having been at United's game against Everton this weekend, it seems a job at Man U may be on Mourinho's mind.

What do you think is the most interesting story line of this matchup? Leave a comment below!

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Top 5 Young Players

The future of soccer is bright with these 5 players leading the way for a new era of players.

5. Mario Götze

Mario Götze emerged onto the scene during the 2010-2011 Bundesliga season, having become an integral part of his club, Borussia Dortmund, upending reigning champions Bayern Munich to capture the league title. Götze, age 20, is heralded as an up-and-coming player, possessing world class speed, decision making, and technical ability. Already becoming a staple in his clubs side, Götze is on pace to break into a starting spot with the German national team. Already notching 30 caps for his country, Götze is a hot commodity and is sure to be courted by the major European clubs soon. Götze's future is bright, and as long as he can stay healthy the sky is the limit for the young German.

4. Jack Wilshere

Jack Wilshere is one of the most promising young players on the planet. Possessing mental and physical toughness, great vision, great speed, and having a commanding presence in the center of the field Wilshere is an all around midfielder. Wilshere suffered a setback in 2011, suffering a stress fracture in his ankle during a friendly. Having made his return this season to Arsenal, Wilshere has cemented his spot in the starting 11, proving to be invaluable for his club, Arsenal. Having picked up 3 goals and 5 caps this campaign on 85 appearances, Wilshere is proving his worth. Wilshere also has made his way into the England squad, having a breakout performance recently against Brazil.

3. Stephan El Shaarawy/Gareth Bale

Stephan El Shaarawy made headlines early in his career starting his first game at the age of 16 for Serie A side Genoa. It was evident then that El Shaarawy would be a future star. In 2011 he signed for AC Milan and just recently has becoming a vital part of their attack. El Shaarawy is a complete attacker, able to play on the wing or up front he is skilled with both feet. He makes life difficult for defenses with his speed and excellent ball control, matched with his nose for goals he is deadly. Having featured only 3 times for his country, Italy, El Shaarawy is sure to become more of a frequent player in the Italian squad.

Gareth Bale tends to fly under a lot of peoples radars when it comes to young players. Being anchored to a team that doesn't play Champions League soccer is probably a main reason, but Bale is one of the most exciting players in the world today. Already establishing himself in Tottenham's starting squad, Bale is the undisputed leader of the team. With world class speed, ball control, and goal scoring capability it is no surprise Bale has been courted by major clubs, having been linked with a move to Real Madrid in the upcoming summer.

2. Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard is no stranger to top young players lists. On some lists he is the best in the world at the moment in terms of young players. Hazard is a world class player, with speed, vision, agility, ball control, and goal scoring capabilities it is no wonder that Chelsea broke the bank to bring in the young Belgian. Having featured 24 times for Chelsea, Hazard has scored 9 goals and tallied 16 assists. The reason he doesn't make the top of this list is his production when it comes to his national team. Hazard has featured 34 times for his country, but has only produced 3 goals. It is exciting to see what becomes of him in the future, as his future looks bright especially if he can keep his production up like he has this season with Chelsea.

1. Neymar

Heralded as the next Lionel Messi, Neymar tops this list of the best young players in the world. It is not hard to see why Neymar has been linked to almost every major club in Europe when you see him play. Possessing the abilities you would expect out of every great striker, speed, technical ability, playmaking, goal scoring, etc. Neymar is the most sought after player in the world at the moment. Linked with moves to Barcelona and Real Madrid, Neymar has yet to decide his future when he inevitably leaves Brazil. Having made 102 appearances for club, Santos, he has scored 54 goals. For Brazil he has been equally impressive, in 28 appearances he has scored 17 goals. Neymar's potential is limitless, especially if he goes to the right team that has proven leaders and a manager that teaches him the European game.

What are your thoughts? Disagree with me? Leave a comment below and rank your top 5!

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

International Friendlies in review.

What an exciting week it was for international soccer! We saw some instant classics played and the emergence of new stars.

Netherlands v Italy

                                                         Jeremain Lens celebrates his goal versus Italy.

In probably the most boring of the big match-ups this weekend, the Netherlands took on Italy in what looked to be a promising game. However, this was not the case as the game ended in a 1-1 tie. The Oranje took the lead in the 33rd minute through a Jeremain Lens goal. After that, the action subsided for a little while as neither team could really break the others defense down. It wasn't until the 91st minute when there would be another score, this time by the Italians. Marco Verratti equalized for Italy who were on the brink of a loss.

Sweden vs Argentina

                    Two of the worlds top strikers failed to score Wednesday as Argentina beat Sweden.

In the highest scoring top match-up of the week, Sweden and Argentina faced off at Nya Ullevi Stadium. Within the first 30 minutes the score was already 3-1 to Argentina, with Mikael Lustig netting an own goal, Jonas Olsson equalizing for Sweden, and Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain extending Argentinas lead by 2. The second half was much less entertaining, only producing 1 goal, but the game itself was highly entertaining.

France v Germany

                                        Germany's Sami Khedira celebrates his game winner against France.

In my personal favorite match of the day, the Germans traveled to Paris to take on France. For a very exciting game that was full of great attacking play from the start, it was relatively low scoring. Both teams had great opportunities in the first half but it was France who capitalized through a Valbuena goal at the end of the first half. Both teams came out strong again after the half, with Germany scoring an equalizer through Thomas Muller early in the second half. With both teams level again the game was wide open, until Mesut Ozil threaded a ball to Real Madrid teammate Sami Khedira that left Hugo Lloris with no chance to stop the game winner.

England v Brazil

                                      England's Jack Wilshere put in a Man of the Match performance against Brazil.

In the most anticipated game of the day, England hosted Brazil at Wembley Stadium. From the get-go the teams looked even, with Brazil's attack looking just a bit more menacing than England's. The deciding factor of the match was the excellent midfield play of the Three Lions. Jack Wilshere and Steven Gerrard combined for a deadly central midfield combo, with Gerrard playing more of a holding role while Wilshere was free to run forward and distribute the ball menacingly. Early in the first half though, it was Brazil with the first real chance of the game having won a penalty. Legendary Brazilian international, Ronaldinho, stepped up to the spot, but his attempt was saved by England keeper Joe Hart and the rebound shot also saved. It was not long until England took control. With Wilshere pulling the strings, he found Theo Walcott bombing in from the right wing. Walcott's shot was saved by Julio Cesar, but the rebound fell to Wayne Rooney who had an open net to smash the ball into. Coming out of the half England looked in control, until a Chris Smalling error deep in his own half gave Brazil the equalizer through a Fred goal. It wasn't long, however, until England put the game away. A rebounded ball fell to substitute Frank Lampard who curled his shot off the post and into the net to put the game away for England 2-1.

What was your favorite match of the week? How did your favorite team do? How did your favorite player do? Leave comments below.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Liverpool match involved in fixing scandal.

A Champions League match between Liverpool and Hungarian side, Debrecen, is under investigation for match fixing.

Dirk Kuyt scores the lone goal vs Debrecen for Liverpool. The match shown here is under investigation for match fixing.

Liverpool is not under investigation at the time, just the match. It is suspected that Debrecen took a bribe from a Croatian-led crime group to throw the match 3-0. The match did end up in only a 1-0 defeat for the Hungarians, however.

This match is the only one highlighted, so far, of the 680 matches that Europol, the European Union's police organization, is investigating.

More info on this is sure to come, but for now let me know your thoughts!

Do you think Liverpool's win is tainted by this if the allegations are true? Do you think Liverpool could have been involved? Leave comments below.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Exciting International Friendlies This Week.

This week, club soccer takes a break to make way for international friendlies. Don't fret though, because there are some surprisingly exciting fixtures this week!

Spain v Uruguay

A game between Spain and Uruguay is never a dull one. With such stars as Iniesta, Pique, Suarez, Ramos, Fabregas, David Villa, David Silva, Diego Forlan, and Edison Cavani you can expect lots of quality soccer to be played. Fans of crisp passing and excellent build up play will want to keep an eye on this one.

Netherlands v Italy (Watch on espn3)

A battle of soccer powerhouses, Netherlands and Italy square off for a sure to be exciting friendly. Watch for Robin Van Persie up front to bother the Italians. On the other side of the pitch look for exciting striker duo, and new teammates, Mario Balotelli and Stephen El Shaarawy to provide much needed creativity and speed.

France v Germany (Watch on espn3)

Another battle of soccer powerhouses, France and Germany square off at the Stade de France. Two of the most promising and exciting sides in international soccer, watch for Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, and new Chelsea star Moussa Sissoko to attempt to torment the German defense. On the other side, be on the lookout for Bayern stars Thomas Müller, Mario Gomez, and Toni Kroos to attempt to link up early and often for Die Mannschaft.

England v Brazil (Watch on Fox Soccer)

Probably the most anticipated match of the week, England and Brazil face off at Wembley. England and Brazil both field star studded squads for this one. Watch for England's Wayne Rooney to linger in the penalty box while Theo Walcott uses his speed on the wings. Keep an eye on Brazilian sensation, Neymar, to use his superb skills on the ball to get by defenders. Also watch for Ronaldinho as he makes his return to the Brazilian squad.

Other notable games: Sweden v Argentina, Ireland v Poland, Greece v Switzerland, Portugal v Ecuador

Match fixing on the biggest stages?

Europol, the European Union police organization, uncovered more than 380 cases of match fixing that included games in the World Cup, European Championship, and Champions League. The evidence linked the crimes to a Singapore based crime group.

"This is a sad day for European football," Rob Wainwright, head of Europol, said. The probe uncovered over 8 million euros ($10.9 million) in profits from betting and 2 million euros ($2.7 million) in bribes to various players and officials.

More info on this is sure to come soon.

Soccer Weekend in Review

What a weekend it was in the soccer world, with exciting matches, debuts, and drama.

Friday saw the first day since the transfer window closed and it solidified the teams, with the exclusion of contract releases, for the rest of the season. The window saw Mario Balotelli return home to Italy, Lewis Holtby join Spurs a bit sooner than expected, Arsenal fail to bring in a striker, Loic Remy join AND score for QPR, and David Beckham take his talents to Paris. Friday also saw the first of the matches since the closing of the window, with PSG easily handling Toulouse and Zlatan Ibrahimovic taking his goal tally to 20 in the league.

                                           PSG reveal their newest addition, midfielder David Beckham.

Saturday was the first full day of matches, and it came with a few surprises. The weekend saw the teams you'd expect to win do just that, win. Bayern Munich cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over Mainz in the Bundesliga, with Arsenal and Manchester United leaving both their games late to each take 3 points over Stoke City and Fulham, respectively. Then came the surprises, Newcastle shocked Chelsea late at St. James Park on a 90th minute goal by French international Moussa Sissoko. Chelsea fell 16 points behind the Red Devils and 7 points behind second place Manchester City. In maybe the biggest surprise of the weekend Real Madrid fell to Granada on an own goal by Cristiano Ronaldo. It was CR7's first own goal of his career, and it couldn't have come at a worse time for Los Blancos as it saw them fall 16 points behind Barcelona in the league table.

                   Newcastle midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, celebrates after scoring against Chelsea on Saturday.

Sunday was a day filled with one of the most, if not the most, anticipated matches of the weekend. Manchester City took on Liverpool at the Etihad and it lived up to all it's hype. Newly re-energized Liverpool took the fight right to City, but conceded the first goal on a superb finish by Edin Dzeko. Moments later Daniel Sturridge brought it back to level on an absolutely stunning strike from outside the box that left keeper Joe Hart with no chance at a save. The game looked even, until Steven Gerrard hit a strike that reminded you that with all the talk of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Stevie G is still the man. Hitting an absolute cracker on a half volley from 30 yards out, a dipping shot left Joe Hart with no chance. But minutes later Sergio Aguero hit back on the other side of the pitch, capitalizing on a HUGE mistake from Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina as he came too far out of the box, Aguero finished from an impossible angle to end the scoring and bring the two teams level. City fall 9 points adrift from cross town rivals United.

                     Liverpool Captain, Steven Gerrard, celebrates his fantastic goal against Manchester City.

Messi came to the rescue for Barcelona against Valencia in a game that should not have been as difficult as it was for the Catalans. Valencia took the lead on an Ever Banega goal, but conceded a penalty to Barcelona just minutes later which gave Messi the opportunity to equalize. Sharing the spoils in this match does not hurt Barca one bit, as they are so far ahead in La Liga.

                                                         Messi brings Barcelona level against Valencia.

In maybe the biggest news and debut of the week, Mario Balotelli made his return to Milan, this time as a member of the Rossoneri. Balotelli's impact on the attack for AC Milan was evident from the get-go as he scored a brace in his debut. He helped give Milan the lead 25 minutes in with a spectacular finish. After a lay off cross from Stephan El Shaarawy, Balotelli struck it on the half volley and left Udinese's keeper with no chance as Balotelli's close range shot was unstoppable. Udinese pulled a goal back through Giampiero Pinzi, but it was evident AC Milan had more goals left in them. In the 90th minute it was once again Balotelli and El Shaarawy combining for a goal, but in a different way. Balotelli played a through ball to El Shaarawy who was brought down in the box by Udinese defender Thomas Heurtaux. Stepping up to the spot was none other than Balotelli who slotted the penalty away with ease at the brink of stoppage time to grab the Rossoneri all 3 points. Balotelli's amazing performance and the way he and El Shaarawy linked up easily in their first match together should serve as warning to the rest of the Serie A teams, this is a completely different team than just a week ago.

                             Stephen El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli lead AC Milan to victory over Udinese.

And that's all the major news from the weekend. What were your favorite parts? Leave a comment below or send me an email and let me know what you thought.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Balotelli Sparkles in Debut

                             New superstar signing Mario Balotelli scored a double for AC Milan in his debut.

Mario Balotelli put on an amazing performance in his return to Serie A, scoring a brace for his new side to lead them past Udinese. Balotelli looked happy and comfortable being back at the San Siro, and that showed in his play.

Linking up effortlessly with Stephan El Shaarawy, Balotelli's first goal was a sensational half volley off of a semi-deflected El Shaarawy cross. It was evident from that point that this new striker combo would be deadly. Udinese did equalize through a goal by Gianpiero Pinzi, but it was evident Milan were the better team.

With only moments left in the game, Balotelli played a through ball to El Shaarawy who was brought down in the box by Udinese defender Thomas Heurtaux. Stepping up to the spot was (who else?) Mario Balotelli. The former Manchester City striker put away the game winner with ease from the spot and secured the Rossoneri 3 points.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What's wrong with QPR?

                        Harry Redknapp has seen his team slump to a league low 17 points so far in the season.

Harry Redknapp's QPR side has been dreadful so far in the premier league season. Having brought in almost a completely different squad, it looked like a promising season for QPR, but it has been far from what people expected.

Huge signings Julio Cesar, Ji-Sung Park, Jose Bosingwa, Esteban Granero, Stephane Mbia, Samba Diakite, Junior Hoilett, Loic Remy, Tal Ben Haim, and Christopher Samba can't seem to help QPR thrive in the BPL. So what is wrong at Loftus Road? Is it Harry Redknapp? A lack of team chemistry? It seems to me that the QPR players aren't playing with enough urgency.

What I mean by that is when you watch top clubs like Manchester United or Manchester City they always look be on the attack early and often. Searching for that first goal to open the game up, to play the game the way that they want it played. Even some of the non top tier clubs have developed that strategy such as Everton and Swansea. When playing in the top league in the world you need to play with urgency. You need to go out and play like you have something to prove right from the start.

QPR can spend as much as they want bringing player after player into Loftus Road, but if they do not find a way to step up their play no amount of money will save them from relegation.

Ba injured in Chelsea loss.

Demba Ba was forced to come off just 42 minutes in during Chelsea's 3-2 loss to Newcastle. Having been kicked in the face by Fabricio Coloccini, Ba tried to play on but looked dazed and out of it. It was later revealed the challenge had broken Ba's nose.

                                      Fabricio Coloccini breaks Demba Ba's nose with a questionable challenge.

Adding insult to injury the loss leaves Chelsea 13 points behind league leaders Manchester United, and potentially 16 points behind depending on the outcome of the Red Devil's game against Fulham. Things look grim for Rafa Benitez's side, with no definite word on when Ba will be back. Chelsea will have to rely on inconsistent striker Fernando Torres to produce the goals from the forward spot. The only bright spot from this is that Frank Lampard is looking to be super inform at the moment, and Juan Mata continues his stellar play. Despite the spectacular play of the midfield, however, Chelsea will need Torres to produce if Ba can't come back quickly, otherwise they may see themselves slip even further behind in the table and potentially out of the top 4.

Spurs add more creativity to midfield.

Tottenham may have missed out on Leandro Damiao, but they did succeed in expediting Lewis Holtby's transfer from Schalke. In Holtby, Tottenham receive a young, talented, creative midfielder. Having become an integral part of the German Under 21 team, Holtby was courted by Tottenham and was set to arrive on a free transfer in the summer. With the season ending injury to central midfielder Sandro, Tottenham decided to pay Schalke their asking price to get the young German international to White Hart Lane.

                             Holtby signed a four and a half year contract with Spurs in the January transfer window.

Holtby doesn't have the most flashy career stats from his time at Schalke (13 goals in 78 appearances), but his vision and technical ability on the ball make him a force in the middle of the pitch. In Holtby Villas-Boas gets  exactly the type of player he needs to pair Gareth Bale with to build a Champions League contending side with, a young, talented playmaker.

Will Tottenham find a silver lining in Holtby after the failure to bring in Damiao?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Can the league leaders in the major competitions keep up their good form?

Since the winter break has come around I have wondered if the major leagues points leaders can keep up their form and stay atop their leagues. Here's my take on how they have done so far and what they must do to keep their form.

Ligue 1 (France): Paris Saint-Germain

Sitting atop the table in France is new soccer powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain. With the additions of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Gregory van der Wiel, PSG have solidified themselves as a force to come for at least this season and next. Starting off slow in the league they hit stride with superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic netting 19 goals in the league so far. With the recent arrival of Lucas Moura from Sao Paulo and the surprising signing of iconic midfielder David Beckham, PSG seem set to keep their spot atop Ligue 1. As long as Ibra can keep scoring and getting just a little support there is no reason that PSG should slip out of number 1.

Bundesliga (Germany): Bayern Munich

Sitting atop the table in Germany is powerhouse Bayern Munich. Off to one of the best starts in team history with 48 points and having only 1 loss in the league Bayern look set to stroll to their 22nd league title. The additions of Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Dante, Javi Martinez, and Claudio Pizarro have seen Bayern have an even deeper squad, something that plagued them last season. With the recent fitness revival of Mario Gomez and the spectacular play of Mandzukic, the strike force is even more deadly.

La Liga (Spain): FC Barcelona 

The leaders in Spain are (surprise, surprise) FC Barcelona. Sitting high atop the table, Barcelona are on pace to have one of their best seasons ever. With 58 points they are 15 points clear of arch-rivals Real Madrid and look unstoppable in the league. With Messi recently netting his 200th Barcelona goal and breaking the record for goals scored in a calendar year in 2012, Barcelona look to be in complete control in La Liga. Only a complete meltdown could kill their season, and we all know that won't happen.

Barclays Premier League (England): Manchester United

The Red Devils sit atop the Barclays Premier League, 7 points clear of cross town rivals Manchester City. Manchester United seem to be rolling, but a lack of defensive discipline could kill their title hopes. Having conceded their biggest amount of goals at this point in the season, and with goalkeeper David de Gea looking dreadful at times, Manchester United have relied on the strike force of Chicharito, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, and superstar signing Robin van Persie. Leading the league in goals, RVP seems to have picked up where he left off last season, on pace to score another 30 goals this season. United need to sharpen up their defense if they hope to survive comfortably in the second half of the season, but need not worry too much as long as van Persie and Rooney can keep scoring at the rate they are now.