Jose Mourinho is figuring it out, showing his tactical flexibility and his willingness to admit mistakes with his squad selection. Chelsea’s side now looks more pragmatic yet able to play on the break. With a remarkable amount of depth and versatility, Mourinho has the luxury of rotating his side and allowing players to pop up in different areas of the pitch. It is already working well and Chelsea look like a real title contender.
Newcastle United is the Premier League’s least predictable side. Performances vary from game to game, and what we have repeatedly seen is that when the chips are down, Alan Pardew’s side always seems to rally. It is also worth noting when Yohan Cabaye is fit and in the mood; Newcastle’s record over the past three seasons resembles more a European contender than a relegation fighter. He is the key.
West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce’s false nine, using quick ball movement, caught Spurs by surprise. Ravel Morrison was particularly effective in the 4-6-0 formation that saw the Hammers control the tempo of the match long before they broke through and scored. Tottenham‘s failure to cope at White Hart Lane with this tactical surprise was particularly shocking given how astute André Villas-Boas normally is.
Adnan Januzaj is the newest sensation to come through Manchester United. Obviously the historical track record of United is excellent in developing youth products. However since the quick rise and quick fall of Federico Macheda, foreign-born Manchester United youth products are viewed differently. The key for Januzaj will be to use his opportunities wisely, develop a strong fitness routine and show the type of consistency Macheda lacked.
Liverpool’s play going forward has been mouthwatering since the return of Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge continues to be outstanding and the addition of Victor Moses on loan from a very generous Chelsea has further enhanced the Reds attack.
AS Roma is quite possibly the best team in a top European league right now. Yet they are not in Europe and sold off a few key players this summer. Rudi Garcia is a good manager – we knew that from his league/cup double at Lille a few years back. This season he was reunited with Gervinho who hasn’t played well since leaving Garcia and Lille, and the former Arsenal man has been outstanding. The French manager has gotten performances out of just about everyone in the squad to this point and Francesco Totti has been absolutely outstanding, even at 37.
Burnley and QPR occupy the top two spots in the Championship table. The Clarets lost Charlie Austin to the Rs (the second consecutive year they lost their top striker) yet continue to excel. Sam Vokes has already doubled his goal scoring total from last season. As for QPR, Austin is winning game after game for them with second half goals. It is a long haul in the Championship but already QPR is looking much stronger than Wigan and Reading among the newly relegated teams. Quite honestly, I expected the opposite, thinking QPR’s largely Premier League oriented squad would struggle in the Championship but the addition of Austin, an experienced hand in this division, has really helped.
My former employer, the North American Soccer League has a problem that I had hoped would not surface. New league rules split the season in half and allowed the New York Cosmos to compete in only the second half of the season. The Soccer Bowl held next month in Atlanta will feature the first half winner, Atlanta Silverbacks, versus the second half winner, which is looking more and more likely to be the Cosmos. New York opened a seven point lead with just four fixtures remaining after a 1-0 victory in Minnesota on Saturday. You could argue the Cosmos had less of a shot to make the Soccer Bowl than the other six teams with only one shot. But for others who follow the league, like myself, it seems very unfair that a team that only played half the season could be crowned champions.
The NASL has talked openly about challenging MLS, most recently in a BBC World Service feature that aired this week. One place where the leagues have commonalities is that the formats of both of the top divisions in the United States/Canada seem to be constantly changing. The MLS has tweaked its playoff qualification and scheduling format each of the past seven seasons, often times without rhyme or reason. NASL has shifted from a traditional playoff format to a split season, to allowing a team to not compete in the first half that may potentially win the season, to an absolutely absurd ten game Spring Season next year, followed by a more logical twenty game Fall Season. What is an issue is that both seasons are weighed equally in the NASL’s formula for determining who competes in the one-game winner-take-all Soccer Bowl.
Speaking of the NASL, an issue has arisen regarding its relationships with supporter groups. Here in southeast Florida, we experienced a walkout of a second-division derby match (between the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies) in minute 15 over a serious issue related to the league and supporters groups that has made news. But I want to address another subject. During the course of the previous two weeks, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers supporters groups — one of which I am a current member of and another which I am former member of — had a major falling out and began tailgating in separate areas of the parking lot. I did not realize how antagonistic and how silly this was until actually attending the match Saturday night as people who have been friends for years were on opposite sides of the Lockhart Stadium parking lot. I went back and forth between the tailgate parties multiple times. It becomes more and more difficult to focus on the game at hand when politics enters supporters groups and it undermines enjoyment of pre-game and the match. I certainly hope we can work out something in Fort Lauderdale between the two groups in the near future. The games themselves are no fun if you have to worry about who you are offending at any given time in the tailgate or supporters section.
DC United are the US Open Cup champions again! So the tally now stands at 13 major trophies for DC United since 1996 and zero for their rivals the New York Red Bulls. That however could change as the Red Bulls under former player Mike Petke are finally meeting the club’s potential and are in good shape to potentially win the Supporter’s Shield as the club currently have the most points in the MLS regular season.