Monthly Archives: December 2010

What’s wrong in West London

Although the Premier League table may say otherwise, there are no two clubs in the division playing worse football than Fulham and Chelsea.

Chelsea ended October as league leaders and were six points clear of their closest challengers. In that impressive first third of the season, Chelsea won eight, drew once and lost once, scoring 27 goals and conceding 3. Since the start of November, they’ve won just one of eight, drawing three times and losing four more, only managing 5 goals and conceding 12.

Fulham have not suffered the fate of two seasons. Theirs has been a rather monotonous, succession of mediocrity. In 18 games, the Cottagers have won just twice. Both wins came against fellow relegation-battlers Wigan and Wolverhampton. In that span of time, Fulham have averaged less than a goal a game.

So what’s in the Evian in West London?

For Chelsea, it’s a club undertaking massive personnel changes while attempting to defend a league title. The losses of Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco, and Juliano Belletti were only softened by the purchases of Yossi Benayoun and Ramiers, and the addition of academy players Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, and Jreffrey Bruma.

Benayoun only featured in three matches before a torn Achilles ruled him out until the end of March, and Ramiers has looked astonishingly poor since his £18 million switch from Benfica.

Meanwhile the youth movement has had mixed results. Kakuta has shown glimpses of what scouts saw in the French prodigy, but he’s looked immature and out of place more often than not, while Bruma has only been used in defensive emergencies and his performances did little to inspire confidence.

McEachran has been the bright spot of the lot, but at 17, he can’t be relied upon to pick up all of the slack of players like Cole and Ballack. van Aanholt has also looked like a player ready to step into the side. Unfortunately for Chelsea, widely-heralded as the best left back in the world, Ashley Cole already occupies that position.

What Chelsea need is new faces. Players with the ability to change the game. It’s been nearly three years since Chelsea did anything close. Their addition of Nicolas Anelka in January 2008 was not seen unanimously as a game changer.

It’s nearly a certainty manager Carlo Ancelotti will add a central defender in January. The question is, how big of a gamble do they take? Gary Cahill of Bolton could step in and deputize respectfully for Alex, but at 25 and with only one cap for England, he may not be to Chelsea’s standard. Especially not at £15 million. Benfica’s David Luiz is the player with the most upside, but at £30 million and unfamiliar with the English game, it’s a pretty high-risk move. Roma’s Philippe Mexes offers a more tested option, and with only one year remaining on his contract, could prove to be the economical choice.

Past the defending, nothing is out of the question for Chelsea. They are in desperate need of creativity and goals. Some will argue the return of Frank Lampard is all the creativity and goal-scoring Chelsea need. Perhaps, but that won’t change the form of Anelka, Kakuta, Salomon Kalou, or Florent Malouda. Since Malouda has cooled off (zero goals, one assist in his past nine games), Chelsea have lacked any and all flair and trickery to complement the power of Didier Drogba. If they’re serious about retaining the Premier League title, Chelsea need to add a true game changer to flank Drogba.

For Fulham, the solution is pretty obvious, but the questions are rather confusing. The injuries to Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele have decimated Fulham’s attacking options. Recently-fit Andy Johnson and habitual Fulham reserve Eddie Johnson simply have not been able to stand in for Zamora and Dembele. The over-reliance on midfielders Zoltan Gera and Clint Dempsey has been glaringly obvious, scoring two goals or more on just on occasion since Zamora’s injury.

A proven striker is what Fulham need more than anything. However a central midfielder would be close behind. Danny Murphy looks to have lost a step from last season (which is saying a lot as he was nearly 33 a year ago) and Dickson Etuhu has been a near disaster this season. If there is any consolation for Fulham, it’s that its defense has been only worrying compared to the midfield and front line’s calamitous reputations. The return of Philippe Senderos from injury in February should allow more flexibility at the back to allow Aaron Hughes to cover for John Pantsil, Carlos Salcido, Stephen Kelly, or Chris Baird (whichever is playing most suspect at that time).

The solution at both clubs is the same (past spending money). Give the managers time.

Ancelotti is a proven winner, he picked up two Champions League trophies with Milan, one of which was at the beginning of their penny pinching days. If Chelsea is serious about building a perennial championship contending team (you know, like they had when Mourinho was in charge), they need to give Ancelotti time to build a squad in his image. Ancelotti should be given until this time next season.

Hughes should also be given time over at Fulham. However, the circumstances are more dire, meaning Hughes won’t have the luxury of another year of patience. Hughes will likely be given another week. If Hughes fails to produce three points from the next three matches (away to Stoke, away to Tottenham, and home to West Brom), he will likely be sent packing. What’s in Fulham’s best interest is to support whoever manages the club in January and allow him to improve an aging and mediocre squad with funds appropriate for this league (that would be more than £10 million, Mr. Al-Fayed).

The biggest difference between the two: If Chelsea fail to improve, they’ll have a furious Russian owner with questionable character. If Fulham fail to improve, they’ll be relegated. For both these West London clubs, it’s do or die.

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The 10 best albums of 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, I’ve collected the 10 best albums of the year. A lot of people have told me this was a pretty weak year musically, but I have to disagree. I’ve compiled 10 albums that all have at least 30 listens through on my iTunes and who knows how many more on my iPod. Beyond this list, there were great releases from Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, The Dead Weather, Brandon Flowers, Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Hot Chip, and The Roots. Not a shabby list, I must say.

With that, here are the 10 best albums of 2010.

10. Yeasayer Odd Blood

Yeasayer’s follow-up to their debut All Hours Cymbals resulted in multiple singles amongst indie circles in the first half of 2010. Perhaps the most eclectic album of the list, Odd Blood continues on the run of pop-synth success but leads off the album by exploring the darker side of electronica with “The Children.” An up and down listen, but enjoyable the whole way through.

Key track: “Ambling Alp”

9. Jeremy Messersmith The Reluctant Graveyard

Another sophomore release makes it to number nine on the chart, with Jeremy Messersmith’s follow-up to The Silver City. Messersmith stormed the Twin Cities music scene in 2008 with his Elliott Smith-like vocals, but The Reluctant Graveyard signals a departure from the desperate sound of Smith. Hints of The Beach Boys can be heard in the first single, “Violet,” while “Lazy Bones” and “Dillinger Eyes” give us a glimpse of what Messersmith is capable of in a pop sound. But his bread and butter remains in haunting melodies like “John The Determinist.”

Key track: “A Girl, A Boy, And A Graveyard”

8. Phantogram Eyelid Movies

Phantogram’s debut album is possibly the most fun album to listen to on the chart. Radio friendly “When I’m Small” gives us a taste of what this New York-based band is all about and “As Far As I Can See” keeps your head nodding perhaps better than any other track on the album. Phantogram closes out with “10,000 Claps,” an experimental track that has the ability to calm even the most coffee-fueled stresser.

Key track: “Mouthful Of Diamonds”

7. Sleigh Bells Treats

Sleigh Bells are probably the most hyped debut act of 2010, and Treats didn’t disappoint. Listening at proper volume, or at a live show, Sleigh Bells should cause your ears to bleed. But the king and queen of noise pop will leave you at least smiling while bloodied. “Tell ‘Em” is a statement of intent to kick off the album, and it never slows down.”Kids” and “Infinity Guitars” further illustrate how intense and fun this band really is. Easily the best combination of volume and ingenuity of 2010.

Key track: “Crown On The Ground”

6. Dessa A Badly Broken Code

The first full-length release from the Doomtree star and former slam poet was a smash hit amongst indie hip hop circles in the US. The best lyricist on the chart, Dessa catches your attention with her poetry seamlessly intertwined with beats that are hard not to nod your head to no matter how stoic you want to look. The lyrics are most beautiful in “Children’s Work” and the beats are most infectious in “Dutch.”

Key Track: “The Chaconne”

5. Gorillaz Plastic Beach

The most adventurous album yet from Gorillaz, Damon Albarn has enlisted the likes of Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, and a handful of other hugely famous artists to guest on tracks from start to finish. Plastic Beach’s first single, “Stylo,” is probably the most catchy Gorillaz single since… well, their last album, but great nonetheless. Snoop’s cameo on “Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach” gives you the impression that this is still a Gorillaz album based in hip hoppy goodness. While “White Flag” features the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music and pushes the boundaries of what is possible for this band. Think Albarn’s take on George Harrison’s obsession with Indian instruments.

Key track: “Rhinestone Eyes”

4. Gayngs Relayted

Quite likely the most interesting release of 2010, think smooth jazz/easy listening goes electronic. Add a beat here and there and you get Gayngs. You can find yourself hypnotized by the vocals in “No Sweat” and “Crystal Rope” and just as easily bewildered and enthused by the accompanying synth sounds. In Relayted, Gayngs has released the baby making music for 2010.

Key track: “Gaudy Side Of Town”

3. Atmosphere To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy

As one of the leading acts in indie hop hop, Atmosphere is no stranger to being high up charts. But To All My Friends is easily the greatest release from the Minneapolis-based act. The piano and guitar pieces of “The Major Leagues” and the aggressive and humorous lyrics of “Commodities” make it hard not to nod your head with a wry smile. And that really applies to the entire album, although the wry smile may turn genuine.

Key track: “Scalp”

2. The National High Violet

The latest release from The National is the best haunting electric guitar album in quite some time. Like Interpol or Bright Eyes, but better. Matt Berninger’s voice will seduce you in “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and from there, you’re at the mercy of High Violet. “Afraid Of Everyone” is perhaps the most catchy track on the album in a haunting way, but still isn’t the best. High Violet is where you can find the best track of 2010, “Conversation 16.”

Key track: “Conversation 16”

1. Arcade Fire The Suburbs

The undisputed album of the year, The Suburbs has everything you could want from an album. A track to rock out to in “Month Of May,” a track to get you ready to rock out in “Ready To Start,” and everything you’d expect from Arcade Fire in tracks like “City With No Children” to successful experiments in “Sprawl II.” It’s hard to tell you what’s good in this album. There is really something for everyone in here, no matter your tastes.

Key track: “We Used To Wait”

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World Cup host selections 2018 and 2022

FIFA announced Thursday that Russia will host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup.

The announcements weren’t complete shots in the dark, as both Russia and Qatar were amongst the favorites going in to the voting. However, both nations had serious question marks looming over their bids. Allegations of corruption within England and Spain regarding the Russian bid have made the rounds for weeks now. And Qatar will need to build many stadiums and training centers in the next 12 years.

Perhaps more shocking than the selections of Russia and Qatar, has been just how poorly favorites England and the US faired. England, the bookies’ favorites coming in, received only two votes and were knocked out of the first round. The bid from the Netherlands and Belgium received four and they were at 50/1 winners compared to England on less than even money.

The US was outvoted in the early rounds by Japan and Korea, hosts merely eight years ago. Eventually the US bid made the final round of voting, but was beaten by 6 votes of 22 available.

Clearly, there was some overconfidence within the England and US camps, but why? The FA is confident, bordering on arrogant, regarding everything. So this isn’t a major surprise. But surely it would have only taken a decent bid to win with the infrastructure already in place and such passion for the game.

And the US, really, why the overconfidence? I’ve never really understood why US Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati remains in charge. He’s failed to attract a top-level manager for the national team and it’s stagnated in the past World Cup cycle and failed to attract a World Cup. Time for a change.

What’s really sad in all of it has been the reaction of soccer media in the US. One of the most respected bloggers on the subject in the US, Ives Galarcep, said the following on Twitter after the announcement:

“I apologize in advance 4 my language since I keep it clean on here usually, but 2 quote Kanye West, this is ‘Fucking Ridiculous’#SoAppalled,” “Whether it’s Jose Mourinho, Jason Kreis or Caleb Porter, whoever coaches USA in 2022 better put up a five spot on Qatar in group play.” and “I would have said more than a five-spot but considering it’ll be two thousand degrees, may be tough to score more than five on Qatar.”

What’s worse, was the response of US star Landon Donovan on Twitter, “I have an idea..we play Qatar in a friendly(they can even host it), and the winner gets to host the 2022 WC..wait, do they even have a team?”

Sure, as a fan of the US National Team and current England resident, I was bummed to hear the news. And sure, I blasted FIFA over their decisions amid corruption (you can read those bits on twitter, @austinlindberg). But it’s time to grow up, guys. Everyone knows there’s at least a hint of corruption within FIFA, but that’s the way it is. No sense in blasting Russia and Qatar over it.

Because when it comes down to it, Russia and Qatar will put the necessary effort into making their World Cups a success. No one wants to be remembered as the host nation of an awful World Cup. And in the case of Qatar, the spectacle of the whole thing will be a lot of fun to watch.

So settle down. Even if the US was hosting in 2022, it wouldn’t make much difference. Their home matches against the world’s best are usually better-supported by away fans, anyway.

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