There has been a lot of soccer played recently in various competitions, ranging from internationals friendlies to the African Cup of Nations to league matches to all manner of domestic cup competitions.
So, here's some quick hitting thoughts about all that's been happening.
--Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-1 over the weekend, lead by a scintillating performance from Nani and Wayne Rooney as bullish as ever.
Nani may never become the next Ronaldo, and really, the whole talk about "Ronaldo who?" is nonsense, but that was about as close to replicating a Ronaldo performance as you get. Rooney meanwhile scares the daylights out of me because if he keeps this up, I do not want to see a just recovered Oguchi or slow footed Carlos Bocanegra having to contain him. Maybe they can do it, but he's single handedly keeping Man U in the EPL title race.
--Speaking of which, have you tried to keep up with the EPL table lately? I recently looked at the table and was stunned to see Arsenal on top! With all the cup competitions, they top teams haven't been on equal games in some time, but after today's Chelsea-Hill City draw, the top five have all played 24 games. Suddenly Chelsea's big lead is just two over Man U, while Arsenal are four points further back. Arsenal are not a title-worthy team. In the key games of their season, the Blues and Red Devils tore them apart. One of the small pleasures in life is seeing Arsene Wenger slumped over in his seat with that look of a bewildered and disconcerted look on his face.
--Liverpool continues to hang around in fifth place, one point behind Tottenham and tied on points with Man City, who have two games in hand, and one point ahead of Aston Villa, who have a game in hand. Liverpool has had quite the ignominious season so far, and it wouldn't surprise to see them drop out of a European spot altogether if Gerrard and Torres aren't healthy. Rafa Benetiz has long worn out his effectiveness and needs to go...
--...but he shouldn't go to Juventus. Juve has also had a disappointing season. Their campaign was probably doomed from the start by expectations that were far too high. Realistically no one should have expected a title challenge. Yet they too might miss out on Champions League football next year, after being embarrassed on the final match of group play by Bayern at home. Ciro Ferrara is probably a really nice guy, and could be a decent manager in the future, but he doesn't have the experience or gumption to direct a team as demanding as Juventus. It will be interesting to see how the season plays out under Alberto Zaccheroni. I will say that if Rafa comes to Turin, it would something to see him matching wits against Jose Mourinho again.
--Landon Donovan has put in some excellent early displays for Everton. It's always great to see an American so successful abroad, and it bodes well for South Africa this summer. I hope Everton tries to buy him from LA once his loan spell runs out, but we'll see. The Galaxy will probably play hard ball and demand a huge transfer considering his worth to the team. LA without Donovan are suddenly a last place team again, Beckham and a young and improving defense regardless.
--Meanwhile, the Serie A and La Liga have had far less exciting titles race so far. In Italy it's not so much a race between equals as it is all other teams running a Special Olympics race to Inter Milan's Usain Bolt. Their lead is only eight points, but has seemed much more than that. Inter may not inspire much admiration, and it certainly wouldn't surprise to see them lose to Chelsea in the Champions League, but they sure can dominate the boring Serie A. In Spain, Barcelona are still five points up on Real Madrid. I haven't followed it that closely, other than the countless articles that have been written, and will become nothing short of a cottage industry come this summer, about how Messi has shone for club but not country. The real disappointment in Spain is that the third place team is eight points below second place Real Madrid. So much for being more balanced at the top of the table.
--Finally, Egypt won the African Cup of Nations again, despite not qualifying for the World Cup again. That's three African championships in a row while not qualifying for the World Cup since 1990. That's quite amazing. I think that puts them squarely on notice for being huge chokers (they did after all beat Algeria 2-0 during group play only to lose the playoff match four days later). Can you even think of an equivalent? Sucks for them, but I suppose I can only thank them for letting Algeria into the World Cup draw. Just 128 more days...