XI: The Weekend of August 24th

photo credit: Calciomercato24 via photopin cc

photo credit: Calciomercato24 via photopin cc

-The slow start continues for Manchester United, as Louis van Gaal’s side managed only a  draw at Sunderland. Robin van Persie returned to action for the first time since the World Cup, but it was Juan Mata who scored the Red Devils’ lone goal. The good news for United is that they’re expected to sign Angel di Maria. The bad news is that he isn’t a defender, might not have a place in van Gaal’s system, and costs about as much as Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas combined.

-The most impressive performance of the weekend came from Tottenham, who demolished QPR—and former manager Harry Redknapp—4-0 on Sunday. QPR’s 3-man back line was constantly under assault in the first half, and Spurs broke through three times before the break. The third might have been the most impressive; Erik Lamela dragged the defense out of position, before hitting Nacer Chadli with a beautiful ball to culminate a 48-pass move.

-Arsenal never showed up to Goodison Park. Until, suddenly, they did. Everton diced them in the first half, and while their second goal was offside, the 2-0 halftime scoreline was more than fair to the Gunners. But the Toffees took their foot off the gas in the second half, and though Arsenal didn’t look like they had it in them, an 83rd minute goal from Aaron Ramsey gave them new life. Olivier Giroud completed the comeback with a header in the 90th minute.

-The Premier League weekend finishes later today with a rematch of last year’s title chase. Manchester City defeated Liverpool at the Etihad last Boxing Day, and that result provided the margin at season’s end. It’s too early to say whether this year’s fixture will have the same significance, but it will serve as an early-season measuring stick for each club. Former City striker Mario Balotelli will be in attendance, but unable to play just yet for Liverpool.

-The Spanish season began this past weekend. Atletico Madrid, the defending champs, claimed the Supercopa over their crosstown rivals Real on Friday, and on Saturday La Liga kicked off. Barcelona won their opening match with ease, but the highlight of the weekend might have come from Eibar. They played their first ever match in the Spanish top flight on Sunday, after a summer in which they needed to raise capital from supporters in order to meet La Liga’s regulations. Eibar celebrated their first ever match in La Liga with a 1-0 win.

-Likewise, the Bundesliga got underway. Bayern opened their campaign with a 2-1 win against Wolfsburg, but things could have been different if not for a disastrous miss. Dortmund lost, at home, to Bayer Leverkusen, after allowing the quickest goal in Bundesliga history. Karim Bellarabi scored within nine seconds of the opening kick.

photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost via photopin cc

photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost via photopin cc

-Jermaine Jones will be playing in Foxboro before long. It was announced yesterday that, after a long process, the USMNT midfielder will join the New England Revolution. It has been a while since Revs fans have had news to celebrate, and while Jones is not a Beckham-level star, I’d expect a slight bump in attendance as they make a push for the playoffs. Over the weekend, the Revs won 1-0 against Chivas, but managed to anger supporters anyway when a few were ejected due to profane chants.  Consider Jones something of an olive branch, a signing that will quiet complaints about the stadium situation for a few weeks.

-Because this is Major League Soccer, though, there is controversy. The Jones signing was announced during halftime of the nationally-broadcast Timbers-Sounders match, and Alexi Lalas mentioned how it was determined that he would go to the Revs over the Chicago Fire: a blind draw. Team names were put in an envelope, someone stuck their hand in, and voila. This is probably not a good way for a league seeking legitimacy to make major decisions, but it’s just the latest in a long line of curious processes and rules. I imagine, though I do not know, that transparency and consistency will come up during the impending CBA discussions. Players, like fans, deserve to know how the league makes personnel decisions.

-Jekyll and Hyde FC play in Harrison, New Jersey. After a week off, the New York Red Bulls had a home match against the Montreal Impact, who hold the worst record in MLS. They went into halftime down 1-0. But in the second half, Thierry Henry seemed to drag his teammates to victory, scoring two goals and adding an assist. By the end, Bradley Wright-Phillips had broken the club record for goals in a season with two in a 4-2 victory. Despite the three points, New York only held steady against the clubs around them—New England, Philadelphia, and Columbus all won as well.

-Atop the Eastern Conference, power seemed to switch hands on Saturday night. DC United went to Sporting Park and left with a scalp. They dismantled Sporting Kansas City with three goals in the first half, and the defending champs were unable to muster a response. It’s the worst loss for SKC against MLS opposition since June 2012. For DC, the win puts them atop the conference in late August, which must have seemed a pipe dream when they finished last year with 16 points.

-Reports of a Sounders swoon might have been premature. In five games between two meetings with the Portland Timbers, Seattle went just 1-3-1, losing what had once been a 10-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race. They righted the ship on Sunday with a commanding 4-1 victory in Portland. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins looked like the strike partnership that was so stellar earlier in the season. Dempsey had a goal and an assist, while Martins scored twice. It’s a setback for Portland, who had an opportunity to leapfrog Vancouver for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference



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