Today's draw between top four hopefuls Manchester City and Aston Villa signals an end to the most recent round of European League fixtures and a shift to the crucial final matches of World Cup Qualifying. The draw keeps Villa fourth, tied with Tottenham on points for third and one point ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal. Villa stays seventh, a further two points below 'Pool and Arsenal, while also tied on points with somewhat surprising Sunderland. The top seven were pretty much expected, with the only other team with honest lofty ambitions, Everton, sitting 10th after a slow start. As they continue to get healthy they could continue to move up the table, but I'd be surprised if the current top seven aren't the same come May, if not necessarily the same order. The season may end up a two-horse race between Chelsea and Man U for the title, but the season is shaping up nicely with the annual Big Four monopoly under serious threat this season. It's also very early in the relegation battle, with the bottom seven teams separated by four points. However, Portsmouth can be penciled in for the Championship next year. Done.
Maybe I (or someone else here) will go into detail about an early season review/outlook for the EPL, but it's still early and while some trends are shaping up, there's plenty other more pressing matters to attend to. (One last thing before moving on from European leagues, I can't forget to note Sevilla's nice 2-1 victory over Real Madrid, and though I can't provide any analysis of that match, I have noticed some slight hysteria at how the team performed absent one Mr. Cristiano Ronaldo).
The international date is upon us, with the USA taking on Honduras, who has a perfect record at home in San Pedro Sula, then Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in the Nation's Capital. To bzimzim's delight, as well as many others, it looks like usual starter Clint Dempsey is out for the match after suffering a shoulder injury. This could be a blessing in disguise considering Dempsey's recent form, and the fact that he defends as well as a lampost. Dempsey does not have the workrate needed on the road against a fairly loaded (by CONCACAF standards) Honduras squad, and both Jose Francisco Torres and Benny Feilhaber have shown the ability to possess the ball well. The other easy option is starting Stuart Holden in his place, which provides more energy than Torres or Feilhaber. I don't have an opinion on that yet. Yet.
I'm sure I'll be back later with more previewing the big US games.
There are a bunch of do or die games coming up elsewhere for WCQ. Portugal takes on Hungary, and anyone who is a fan of the game has to be rooting for Portugal to win and for Denmark to either tie or beat Sweden so that Portugal can get into a playoff spot. Who doesn't want Ronaldo at the World Cup? No doubt Ronaldo will be shaking off his ankle injury for this match. In another match of Earth-shattering significance, Armenia will look to build on its upset of Belgium by getting something from already qualified Spain in the great city of Yerevan. France take on minnows Faroe Islands, hoping they can catch first place Serbia, who take on Romania. The question really isn't whether France will win, but how will they look in doing so? They seemingly have a lot of young talent, but Domenech seems to have lost the team. My man Yoann Gourcuff is out due to injury, but Ribery and Benzema alone should beat Faroe Islands with an amateur side. Of course France still only won their first meeting 1-0 away in front of 2,000 people. Not exactly confidence inspiring. In South America, Argentina faces bottom side Peru, while hoping Uruguay can hold Ecuador and allow the Albicelestes to jump Ecuador into the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot. HalaMadrid's Chile is within reach of qualifying, taking on Colombia. Whoever finishes fifth will play the fourth place CONCACAF team, which could be any of the top four teams, including the USA even though they currently sit first. Mexico and Costa Rica host El Salvador and Trinidad respectively, so they have easier matches on paper than the US.
While not related to the international fixtures, still an international issue is the debate amongst the European leagues on how to curtail the outrageous spending by a few teams to the detriment of others. Well MLS commissioner Don Garber will be giving a speech to his European comrades on the benefits of applying the US sports model of a salary cap, revenue sharing, and the players unions and collective bargaining agreements to help level the playing field. Certainly he won't be slipping in slides of how the US model allows the Pittsburgh Pirates to compete with the New York Yankees. One of the interesting facts in support of his claim is that since its inception in 1996, MLS has featured seven different champions (DC United, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston, Columbus, and Kansas City - note I was actually shocked to learn that KC had actually won a championship!) whereas in the same time frame the EPL has seen only three (Man U, Arsenal, and Chelsea). Not noted in that piece is that in that time frame, La Liga has seen four winners (Barca, Real Madrid, Valencia, and Deportivo de La Coruña), the Serie A has had five champions (Juve, Inter, Milan, AS Roma, and Lazio), while the Bundesliga has had six champions (Bayern Munich, Kaiserslautern, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart, and VfL Wolfsburg). So by reasoning of most number of champions means most balanced league, the tally looks like this: Premier League < La Liga < Serie A < Bundesliga < MLS. I've now proved that MLS is the greatest league in the world. It's science.
Meanwhile, the U20 World Cup unglamorously continues with the round of 16. In today's matches, Korea crushed Paraguay 3-0 and Italy beat Spain 3-1 thanks to two goals from Mattia Mustacchio. His cousin Frederico Fumanchu was unavailable for comment.
Coincidentally enough, all the English speaking sides crashed out of the tournament rather pitifully: England, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Cameroon (English is an official language with French), and the United States. It seems I've stumbled upon a second scientific truth today. Turns out the reason teams like the USA and England can't win the World Cup is because the English language is not proper enough, nay beautiful enough, for the beautiful game. What's that you say, Germany has how many World Cups? Hmm... Actually, two English speaking sides did advance: South Africa and Nigeria. Of course both sides have multiple official languages, of which English is just one, but still.
This US team was particularly pathetic. I've already bemoaned Thomas Rongen once before, and I'll do it again. His tactical choice of a 4-3-3 against Germany and Korea backfired spectacularly. And his team selections were just bizarre. One of the best players for the US was Bryan Arguez, who was only added to the tournament roster as a late injury replacement. Clearly Rongen has an eye for talent. I realize the US at least qualified and other teams like Mexico and Argentina did not, but let's just hope the USA is not relying on any of these players in the 2014 World Cup qualifying the way the current squad relies on players from the previous u20 team.