Friday, December 16, 2005

Premiership Picks

Being without a computer for a while missed out on a few things the last couple of weeks. Busy times lay ahead with Boxing Day fixtures and all.

But now is as good a time as any to look at some of the interesting things going on in the world of soccer, now that for most leagues the season is about halfway through.

1) Keane to Celtic. He takes a paycut to do it, and I think it's a great move for all parties. Obviously I don't think Celtic's in much danger of not winning the SPL this year, but Keane on the team next year maight let the Bhoys advance in the Champions' League.

2) Who is the best team in the world? Barcelona surely has an argument. Chelsea as well. Juventus is playing very well, only failing to take full points once. But I'm going to revert to my college football thought processes and take a different tact. How's about Olympique Lyonnais? Only five teams in Europe are currently unbeaten domestically. Wycombe Wanderers in England's League 2, Gretna in Scotland's second division, Mantova in Italy's Serie B, Fenerbahce in Turkey, and Lyon. Lyon also did not suffer a loss in the group stage of the Champions' League, though they were paired with Real Madrid and had tricky road games at Rosenborg and Olympiakos. Sylvain Wiltord is one reason why France is still a threat at 2006 Germany. It'd be hard not to consider Lyon one of the world's best teams. Now they face PSV in the first round of the knockout stages of the Champions' League with revenge on their minds. This is a solid and dangerous team, capable of scoring quickly and frequently.

3) How about some American love for Reading? They're currently atop the Championship tables, four points clear of second place, and a whopping 17 points clear of third (and automatic promotion to the Premiership). They're tied with Sheffield United for the most goals scored and lead the entire league in goals allowed (only Chelsea and Liverpool have conceded fewer goals - and that's in 7 and 8 fewer games, respectively). And who has been minding the nets in Reading for every game this year? None other than Marcus Hahnemann, backup to Kasey Keller on the US MNT. Plus the midfield has featured Bobby Convey in all 23 games as well. The American influence has definitely been felt at Reading, so here's some recognition to them.

4) Champions' League Draw: Bit of a shame that two out of Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Chelsea and Barcelona won't advance, but that's the draw. Rangers/Villareal seems like a clash of less-than-titans, but watch the winner advance to the final. Liverpool looks to have fared the best out of the English clubs, but Benfica just knocked out Man U, so you never know. Chelsea/Barce is clearly the most interesting pairing, but PSV/Lyon and Arsenal/Real should be good too. Juventus/Werder Bremen is probably the biggest mismatch of this round.

5) UEFA Cup Draw: Now that this is in the knockout stages, I'll start following and picking the games. The English teams didn't get great first round matchups, with Middlesbrough facing Stuttgart and Bolton against Marseille. Early predictions on teams to advance a long way: Hamburg, Roma, Schalke, Monaco and Shakhtar. I'd also choose AZ Alkmaar and Real Betis, but they're against each other in probably the best matchup of the first round. Also, as in just about every year, watch out for some Eastern European teams to pull some big wins early on (possibly in bad weather), especially the Bucharest teams, Levski, Slavia, Shakhtar, Zenit and Lokomotiv.

Now back to the Premiership picks:

Last time around: 6/10 right result, 1 right scoreline
Season: 67/133 right result, 18 right scorelines

This weekend (and note how United vs. United, City vs. City, Athletic vs. Athletic: Braggin' Rights!):
Aston Villa v. Manchester United: 0-1. I have a feeling Man U will play well the second half, what with all the fixtures in the Champions' League the other big clubs have to worry about.
Portsmouth v. West Bromwich Albion: 1-1. I wouldn't watch this if the players were all replaced by models and the match were played naked. Well, actually, I would... but only then.
West Ham United v. Newcastle United: 1-2. Don't have a good read on this one at all.
Everton v. Bolton Wanderers: 1-0. Everton have shown marked improvement of late.
Wigan Athletic v. Charlton Athletic: 1-0. Charlton have shown marked decrease in ability of late.
Fulham v. Blackburn Rovers: 2-1. I'm not liking these picks this week at all. Guessing a bit more than normal.
Manchester City v. Birmingham City: 2-0. Strongest feeling of the day.
Arsenal v. Chelsea: 2-2. I think Chelsea are significantly better right now, but I think Arsenal will show pride at home.
Middlesbrough v. Tottenham Hotspur: 1-2. Another match I'm not sure about.

This is the worst I've felt about picks this year, so take that as you will.