Thursday, April 30, 2009

I hate to gloat...

...but I'm pretty happy that although my prediction for the CL Semi-Final at Old Trafford was horribly wrong, the old tactical brain is still working.

In my last post, I suggested that
you may see a strange combination of United midfielders (Anderson + Fletcher, maybe)
to counter Arsenal's relatively new tactical approach. Well, it turned out to be the case. After the match, BBC chief football writer Phil McNulty had this to say:

Anderson and Darren Fletcher were outstanding in midfield. The recent heavy-legged look had gone from United as they played at the high-tempo that suits them best.

Perhaps Sir Alex reads TINONFTSB?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Champions League Semi-Final Previews

My apologies for the long's been a very busy time. I felt I should share some of my thoughts on the upcoming Champions League semi-finals.

After some of the great football from the last round, there is abundant optimism for the next stage. Being used to rubbish (or in Jorge Valdano's words, "shit on a stick") from any Liverpool-Chelsea encounter, we were instead treated to a 7-5 aggregate tie between the two. Bayern Munich, the great Teutonic hope, were victims to a 45min flurry of goals in Barcelona which the Catalan club's president Joan Laporta deemed to be the best in the club's history.

Tuesday, 28 April
Barcelona v Chelsea

This one will be a treat. We should consider ourselves privileged to see this 2009 Barcelona side under Pep Guardiola the same way contemporaries were privileged to see the great Brazil side of 1970. I fell in love with Barca under the Dutchman Louis van Gaal (who, incidentally, won the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar last week) and Pep Guardiola's side has made me renew my vows. Daniel Alves may be less adventurous as against Almeria and Valladolid, for example, so expect Iniesta and Xavi to be more decisive, trying to find space just in front of Chelsea's makeshift back four.

Guus Hiddink, both a gentleman and master tactician (van Gaal is only one of these) threatens to rain on the Barca parade. Master of upsetting the bookies, you have to imagine that Chelsea will find some way of getting through a weak Catalan central defence. Watch out for the central midfield battle - it's all about how Essien and Lampard gel, and how Barcelona position their midfield trio to contain them. Will they play Keita? Busquets? Either way, Hiddink has plenty of answers.

Barcelona have been rampant but chased by a Real Madrid side who have won 18 of their last 19 games (in rather ugly fashion, too), and all eyes are on the decisive Clasico derby this weekend. At least one of Pep's eyes too, one would imagine. "We haven't won anything yet", is the weekly line from Guardiola, but the problem lies in deciding what to win and how.

Prediction: I think a 1-1 draw is on the cards, and don't be surprised if Chelsea make it to the final.

Wednesday, 29 April
Manchester United v Arsenal

This one has 'classic' written all over it. Keane, Vieira, van Nistelrooy and Keown may be gone, but the hunger remains.

For a neutral, to see the sensational Andriy Arshavin cup-tied for this game is a major turn-off, but this game should be a very entertaining affair. Arsenal are unbeaten in the league for over half the season and there is an aura of solidity around the side. Still, consistency has been hard to acheive and a blip is always a distinct possibility. One would favour United in the midfield battle but Fabregas's new advanced role could be tactically problematic for United. Alexandre Song, lying deep in midfield, has been a revelation this season. Watch for a tense first half dominated by the battle in the middle of the park.

United's lineups this season have been rather erratic, so who knows whether Berbatov or Tevez will get the nod? Cristiano Ronaldo is hitting form and Ryan Giggs is fresh off a PFA award win. Sir Alex Ferguson will undoubtedly have an eye on the weekend derby with Manchester City, but watch for a full-strength side. Sorry Nani, no action for you. Fabregas will exploit the space between the back four and midfield, so you may see a strange combination of United midfielders (Anderson + Fletcher, maybe) deployed to counter this threat.

Prediction: I have this one down as a 2-1 win for Arsenal against the old enemy. The game at Old Trafford the following week is probably the most unpredictable game of the season. Another Chelsea-United final may be on the cards, but don't be surprised to see Arsenal knock the prospective English champions out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why does the CBC insist on sucking?

I'm sorry that this is the first post we've had up in over a month. Late March and April are busy here in Kingston, we've got papers and exams coming out the wazoo.

That said, this last annoyance by the CBC is too much for me to bear. I know I seem to have it out for the CBC, and jump on every dumb thing they do to make my argument more cogent... and that's mostly because I do.

Last year, the CBC did something called "Test the Nation: Sports". It was this wonderful little trivia thing where people printed off an answer sheet and watched the show and circled the correct answer on their answer sheet. Such fun! CBC win! Look at those smiling faces of Ron McLean and Wendy Mesley, they know they're doing a good thing!

For the past few weeks they've been advertising doing it again, and I was pretty excited. It was scheduled to be Sunday, April 11 at 7pm. So last night rolled around and a buddy of mine came over and we printed off the sheets again and plopped down in front of the TV.

It seemed a little suspicious that I remembered a lot of the celebrity guests from last year, but figured they just got the same people back, no big deal. Then I felt like I remembered some of the jokes at the start, but decided that I'd watched enough Hockey Night in Canada that I've come to predict Ron McLean's jokes. Then the questions started... and things started to feel a little fishy, like I'd done this before.

Then I looked at the bottom of the answer sheet, and it said "May 25th at 8pm!". Then the commercial break ended and, for 2 seconds, the words "Pre-Aired Programming" popped up on the screen. And my heart immediately sunk.

Don't tell me you couldn't come up with FIFTY more questions!!! Don't tell me you were so lazy you couldn't even be bothered to change the daggum date on the answer sheet! What is wrong with the CBC!? Why are they so set on losing all their sports viewers?

Other than Don Cherry and Ron McLean, Hockey Night in Canada took a nosedive this year. They're dropping all baseball coverage. They're dropping their CONCACAF Champion's League coverage, and knocking back (if not dropping altogether) figure skating, skiing, aquatics and world athletics.

I've put up the CBC's mandate multiple times, so I'm not going to do it again. Refer back to here if you want to read it again.

I understand the economic times are tough, and the CBC's been forced to cut back heavily. But it seems sports are shouldering most of the burden. While they spend the money to bring in Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and keep making that rubbish Little Mosque on the Prairie, we're losing the chance to see real Canadians compete in sports that, as Greg put so well over at Out of Left Field, "may not be sexy to beer companies or generate the same kind of knee-jerk lunacy that infects Canada like a sickness every four years during Winter Olympics hockey games".

The fact that the CBC couldn't even be bothered to come up with 50 more questions was pathetic, and really rubbed in the point that they couldn't care less about the sports-watching Canadian public.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the CBC isn't accountable for the programming decisions they make and, as such, can cut and pay for whatever they please. This while Canadians are forced to pay for it through their taxes. Make the CBC opt-outable, and I tell you what they'll figure it out really quickly.

As for right now, I'm still stewing about the lack of Test the Nation. Thanks CBC, you ruined my celebration of Jesus coming back.