After this week there will be a new notch at the top of the Anticipation Scale. Yes, above even No. 10: Awaiting the new series of The Kardashians. If the needle gets anywhere near No. 11: April 2012 Manchester Derby again, bystanders will have to be doused with cold water for their own safety.
A rather relaxed approach to this unique All-Star format had worked fine for Major League Soccer -- until mighty Manchester United put a 5-2 beatdown on the backpedaling MLS squad a year ago. Now the league seems to be throwing a little more determination into its All-Star act. Hans Backe, the New York Red Bulls coach overseeing this year's team, seems to have something up his Swedish sleeve. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. First, here is a 10-point primer for the July 27 All-Star contest at Red Bull Arena, where Manchester United once again provides the opposition.
Forced to sum up Manchester United's season in one word, you'd probably go for something like: "relentless." There is little left to divert them from a record 19th Premier League title, but the cups are a different matter. West Ham and Manchester City have already put paid to the club's domestic ambitions and now Schalke stand in the way of a European final. United has yet to beat a German team over two legs in the Champions League.
"Typical Germans," Sir Alex Ferguson sneered after Manchester United's away-goals quarterfinal exit against Bayern Munich (4-4 on aggregate) in the Champions League 12 months ago. The Scot was referring to the perceived gamesmanship of Ivica Olic, Franck Ribéry, Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who all made sure referee Nicola Rizzoli was well aware that United defender Rafael had already been on a yellow card before his dismissal.
The Premier League table at Christmas is generally regarded as a kind of crystal ball, channelling the end of the season to reveal the likely winners and losers. Since 2005-06, the festive leaders have gone on to lift the trophy four times out of six, while only one bottom-placed club has escaped relegation with a new-year flourish in the Premier League era. If you want to delve even further -- all the way back to 1888-89, in fact -- you'll find that 41 percent of champions have led at Christmas, while 71 percent of last-place stragglers were already dawdling behind the pack by the time Rudolph skidded to a halt on your rooftop. Sorry, Hammers.
HOUSTON -- Just in case anyone forgot that gathering up a bunch of talented players and hoping they figure it out on the fly is a dicey gambit, Manchester United reminded everyone during Wednesday's MLS All-Star contest.
Credit crunch and slow economy be damned, the soccer world is still spinning from the record-busting $131 million fee Real Madrid is on the verge of pumping into Manchester United's coffers for FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo. That's on top of the $92 million the mysteriously loaded Spaniards already paid for last year's World Player of the Year, Kaká. But there's far more to come in the transfer market. This week, we run through the English Premier League looking at possible transfer targets, and who might be heading for the exit door.
There's only one Carlos Tévez. With a move away from Old Trafford now almost a formality, several clubs continue to fight for the striker's much sought-after signature, making it one of the most long-running transfer sagas in recent history. The biggest loser is Manchester United, which hesitated in offering the Argentine star a permanent deal because his $37.5 million buyout fee seemed excessive.
Everton goes into Saturday's FA Cup final as underdogs riding on a high. After claiming the scalps of two "Big Four" teams -- Manchester United and Liverpool -- en route to the final, it clinched fifth place in the Premier League for the second year running.
ROME -- The Eternal City was the most appropriate of backdrops for what we witnessed on Wednesday. It was supposed to be a case of the true believers: Barcelona and its quasi-fundamentalist, possession-oriented credo thrown to the lions of Manchester United's top-to-bottom combination of strength, athleticism and quality. It was dogmatism versus pragmatism.
It's safe to say Wednesday's Champions League final is the most anticipated title match since UEFA created the platinum edition of Europe's top tournament. From Rome to Rochester to Rangoon, everyone with even a modicum of soccer in his blood is planning on watching the game live, regardless if that requires skipping an important sales call at work or losing a few hours of sleep.
Three English teams clinched the semifinals of the European Champions League this week, representing the Premier League's finest hour since ... well, since last season, when three English teams achieved the same feat. As they did the season before that. Indeed, only a much-fancied Barcelona side can prevent a second all-England final. With Team Limey all cock-a-hoop with jingoistic cockiness, we look back at those quarterfinal second legs, starting with the thriller at Stamford Bridge.
Ordinarily, Manchester United making a trip to Craven Cottage isn't much of a story. Fulham hasn't beaten United at home in league play since 1964. But an unusually high amount of attention is focused on this weekend's encounter.
To our knowledge, Roman Abramovich has never sung Oops!... I Did It Again at karaoke while wearing a Britney Spears wig. But it would be apt, since the Chelsea owner hastily and mistakenly sacked a manager for the third time in 17 months.
The headline English Premier League game this weekend sees second-place Chelsea visiting Old Trafford to face third-place Manchester United on Sunday. Usually a close affair, their first EPL meeting of the season was a 1-1 draw, as was their nail-biting Champions League final matchup last May.
Perhaps it was always going to take the meltdown of the financial markets to get the folks who run the game to take an interest in things like ownership and debt. Whatever the case may be, it's better late than never.
Team Limey, along with everyone else over in Blightly, has been riding the rare wave of British sporting success that the Olympics have brought. We were brought crashing back to reality watching the drab 2-2 draw between England and the Czech Republic, and contemplated turning your favorite net-based soccer column into a fortnightly update on the happenings of the U.K. cycling, swimming and rowing scenes.
The Champions League final: dramatic, riveting, emotional. So many interwoven tales -- of heroism and euphoria, of loss and heartache. One hundred and twenty minutes of pulsating soccer followed by a heart-in-mouth penalty shootout to decide it all.
Five things we learned while watching Manchester United's win on penalty kicks over Chelsea (after a 1-1 tie) in Wednesday's Champions League final from our lair in Baltimore, aka Moscow-on-the-Patapsco:
First Blood to Manchester United, as goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs made them the John Rambo to Chelsea's bumbling small town sheriff in last Sunday's EPL finale. At the moment it's anyone's guess who'll play the muscle-bound Vietnam veteran, and who'll be the hapless Vietnamese soldiers in next week's sequel.
As Manchester United prepare to face Chelsea in the first all-English Champions League final in Moscow on May 21, it might appear that everything is fine and dandy with the club's owners, the Glazer family.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United: They're now in a two-horse race to be both English and European champions. With only two games left in the Premier League season, they're tied on points and, once that's resolved, they'll contest the small matter of the European Cup final on May 21 in Moscow.
Manchester United is running rampant. Last Saturday, the Red Devils demolished eighth-place Aston Villa 4-0 at Old Trafford and remain five points clear of Chelsea in the English Premier League race. The standard of United's soccer was so sublime, the score line actually flattered the losers.
It's been nearly two weeks since English soccer was rocked by a set of extraordinary results in the FA Cup quarterfinals. But the scenes were so unusual, so unexpected and so refreshing that even now, they still warrant reflection and discussion.