FC Barcelona on ESPN + Weekend of Randoms

This weekend set up very well for me to watch a lot of excellent soccer and in an attempt to make up for my lack of recent blogging, I figured I would share some thoughts.

Most importantly; Tomorrow aka Monday 8/31 at 2:55 EST on ESPN here in the States, FC Barcelona begins their La Liga title defense against the Asturian side Sporting Gijon.

Gijon, whose narrow escape of relegation was considered a success, should not present much of a challenge. The onus, however, is on Barcelona to not overlook them and recover from their Friday, extra time 1-0 UEFA Supercup victory over Shaktar Donetsk. 2 quick trophies down....the fight for the next 4 is going to be a lot longer.

The defending champions will be with out Messi as he has received special exemption to join the Argentinian National team early in advance of their massive Sept 5th qualifier against Brazil. He will probably be replaced by Friday's supersub, Pedro.

Iniesta continues to recover from last season's muscle tear as well and will be out. The pressure on the big money man, Ibrahimovic, is growing as he looks to get on the chart with his new club after a relatively dissapointing (read: goalless) pre-season.

Anyway, if you aren't working 9-5 at a desk set an alarm...if you're in a cube, DVR that shit!

Also, Monday AM saw the return of my favorite English language La Liga columnist, Phil Ball.

US National Squad
Last Thursday BB and co released the 24 man roster for the upcoming WCQ; Saturday 9/5 vs El Salvador in Salt Lake City (8PM EST on ESPN Classic) and Wednesday 9/9 vs Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain (7PM EST on ESPN Classic).

I'll take a further look at the games and the implications as it all approaches.

U-20 coach, Thomas Rongen, has named the 21 players he will take to Egypt in late September for the U-20 World Cup. Apparently, continuing on this summer's theme, ESPN will broadcast all the games in some capacity so I will make an effort to give it some coverage here.

Man Utd/Arsenal
Arsenal continues to look impressive as Arsene Wenger's faith in this oft-criticized squad seems to be paying off. On the attacking front, Andrei Arshavin seems to be as dangerous as any attacker in the league right now and has a brilliant sense of the goal.

Alas, ManU pulled out a win in a way that only they can, while Wayne Rooney continued his goal a game pace this campaign. For attacking purposes, he must stay healthy for England going into next summer.

Abou Diaby's awful own goal will surely haunt him for many a night but this is a long season and an early season encounter at Old Trafford isn't the worst place to give away 3 goals. His overall performance was quite positive and he must put the gaffe behind him.

Even with out Fabregas out there, Wenger's men seem to be playing the type of football he wants and continue to be the most entertaining EPL team to watch.

In what will probably be Fabregas's last season at the Emirates, a title challenge would be a joy to watch. The return of Theo Walcott and, eventually, Samir Nasri will make their attacking options almost alarmingly broad and exciting. Also, it's only a matter of time before Jack Wilshire goes all Federico Macheda on us and instantly endears himself to the Gunner faithful.

After paying vague attention to the first half of the Derby della Madonnina (Inter v AC Milan) but not being at all surprised by the 4-0 final, I took off till this morning's Everton v Wigan matchup on FSC which was followed by my first chance to catch Juventus this season.

It was good to see Everton get some deserved points this season against a Wigan side that seemed more interested in fouls than anything else (defending, attacking, maintaining possession). I am in favor of defensive soccer but when it takes on the form of constant fouling is when it becomes anti-football. Wigan paid dearly when a well called penalty was won by Jo in the 93' and finished by Leighton Baines. Gotta shout out Timmy Howard as well, who came up with a massive kick save early in injury time to keep the game 1-1.

The final game of the weekend turned out to be the best one. Juve's highly anticipated summer signing, the Brazilian Diego, formerly of Werder Bremen, scored his first 2 goals of the season. Both were very well created by himself, finished superbly and showed first hand why the Torino squad wasted no time in signing him after last season. He provides the creativity, playmaking, and finishing that they were missing last season.

Felipe Melo also impressed in his defensive midfield role along with the central defensive pairing of a seemingly reinvigorated Fabio Cannavaro and a much improvied Giorgio Chiellini. No doubt they are both benefiting from Ciro Ferrara's installment at the helm last June.

Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta are playing with a lot of energy up front and are probably inspired by the lack of any sort of structure in the Italian National Team's forward situation and the subsequent opportunity to win a spot with the Azzuri for next summer's African trip.

Real Madrid Fire Sale
In an attempt to make some money before the transfer period closes, Real Madrid's sold multiple players at a loss late last week, both who impressed immediately.

Real sold Wesley Sneijder to Inter Milan late last week for 12 Million Euros less than they bought him for only 2 years prior. He was immediately given the no. 10 shirt and slotted into the starting lineup for this weekend's Derby. Seijder is what Mourinho was looking for this summer and should be what Inter needed to move beyond Italian dominance and make a European run. If he stays healthy, his creativity and strength in the attacking midfield role will be appreciated by the new strike force; Diego Milito and Eto'o.

Real also went and sold Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich late last week for 2 Million Euros less than they paid for him. The addition of Robben probably gives Bayern the most explosive attacking winger pair in all of Europe and it paid more immediate returns than Seijder, as the half-time substitute scored twice en route to a 3-0 victory. Both have had a history of injury issues but as their "understanding" contributed to both those goals, this signing is huge for a Bayern team who has had trouble finding their way lately.

A dissapointing Bundesliga finish last year and a Barcelona smoking could have resulted in more summer movement but they seem to have faith in their youth products (not always a bad thing). They started roughly this season as well and had trouble finding the net with Ribery not taking part till this weekend. I hope this convinces him to stay in Munich rather than join the Whites in Madrid, because this should make Munich as difficult to defend as anyone in Germany and possibly Europe (and extremely fun to watch...www.goltv.tv).

American - VIDEOS!!!

Can't forget...the Americans.

Jozy Altidore's first Hull City goal in the Carling Cup midweek clash against Southend United:

Charlie Davies draws the penalty which results in the only goal of Sochaux's 1-0 win against Monaco on Saturday:

If you want the full rundown, the "official USMNT blog" has a good one.

Cup of the World Video Special
Someone's excellent compilation of the top 50 WC goals of all time video as well...courtesy of Sacha Klejstan's Twitter page:

Interesting choice for number 1 but I guess this compilator values the team work of the Brazilians over the individual brilliance of Maradona.

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