Thursday, January 4, 2007
As we start the New Year, the leagues in Germany, France, Holland and others are shutting down for the winter. Meanwhile, in England, the Premier League clubs are going through the grueling holiday schedule.
Since this is the unofficial halfway stage of most leagues in Europe, YA would like to introduce the YA Midterm Report Card. Here, we have a look back at performances from the first half of the season and give predictions of what to look for in the second half.
We'll start off the first ever YA Midterm Report Card with the boys in...
DaMarcus Beasley (Manchester City)
Beasley has been sort of an enigma since going to Citeh on loan just before the transfer deadline. Here is a guy who was playing in the Champions League not that long ago with PSV Eindhoven, yet was on the outside looking in when Ronald Koeman took over as manager for Guus Hiddink.
After a mediocre World Cup, he is hoping to prove himself in a new league. Unfortunately, he has seen more of the trainer than the field so far this season.
Prediction: If Beasley cannot fight his way into the first team, he might as well start thinking about where he's going to play next season because Koeman is probably not going to welcome him back to PSV with open arms.
He has stated before he would like to sign a permanent contract with Man City, but he has got prove his worth over the second half of the season. Scoring the match winner against West Ham and a providing a strong assist on the winner against Everton is good start. He will get more chances if he keeps that up.
Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham)
It seems like Bocanegra, now more than ever, has become a vital player in the Fulham squad. In the latter half of last season, he was just making the subs bench and rumors were going around that he may leave Craven Cottage.
Now back in the first 11 and often playing in the role of defensive midfielder, he has definitely earned his place in the squad. In addition to providing expected muscle in the middle, Bocanegra has passed well and picked good spots to jump into attack.
Prediction: Bocanegra is a vital member of Fulham as he now can play in multiple positions. Expect to see him a lot more of him in the second half of the season and expect Fulham to remain above the relegation fray.
Bobby Convey (Reading)
The problem for Convey during Reading's first season in the EPL has been that nagging left knee. You know he would have loved to been in those matches against Chelsea and Manchester United over the holidays.
Reading hasn't done too badly without him. A 2-2 draw with reigning champions Chelsea shows again that they are not afraid of the big boys in the EPL. Convey definitely is an excellent player for Reading on the left side of midfield. Now, if he can only add scoring goals to his repertoire.
Prediction: If Convey can overcome the knee injury and get his fitness back, expect him to play a vital role as Reading try to lock down a spot in Europe for next season in vain.
Jay DeMerit (Watford)
It's been a tough time for Watford in their return to the EPL. They are bottom of the league, and with every match, it looks like they will be sure candidates for relegation. Even though sitting bottom of the league sucks, it seems that DeMerit is holding up well. He's even added something to his resume.
Manager Adrian Boothroyd has such a high regard for DeMerit that he has named him vice-captain to the squad. His leadership and play in the back are among the bright spots in a dire season. It seems that he has adjusted quite well to life in the EPL.
Prediction: There's little question Watford will be playing football in the Championship next season, but as long as they are in the EPL they are going to give it everything they have got. As for DeMerit, the well liked scrapper could easily find a new Prem club to avoid going down with the ship.
Brad Friedel (Blackburn)
When a squad is trying to play on two fronts, it is often hard to keep the same level of play in both - Blackburn is having that problem this season. While playing brilliantly in the UEFA Cup, they have been a bit spotty in the league.
Friedel has been solid as usual. His display in the 1-0 victory over Liverpool is evidence that he is still one of the top goalkeepers in England. Nevertheless, he needs more support from the back four. A 6-2 defeat at the hands of Arsenal shows that Friedel is being relied on too much and the defense must step up.
Prediction: Blackburn has already qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup, so for the next two months they can focus on regaining their footing in the EPL. Blackburn will have a strong run in the UEFA Cup, possibly reaching the semifinals. If they can continue their current good run in the league, they will contend for another European place. Friedel, as always, will be the man manager Mark Hughes depends on most.
Marcus Hahnemann (Reading)
The undisputed #1 at Reading has got to be feeling good about where his club is at the moment. In their first season at the top, they are within shouting distance of a European place.
Hahnemann has been solid this season. Outside a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Arsenal, he has not made many gaffes in goal. To top it all off, he is one of nicest guys in the EPL; Hahnemann hands his jersey to a fan after each match.
Prediction: Reading is only a few points out of place in Europe for next season. They are going to need all the points they can get to finish in the top six and hope that clubs above them will slip up. Hahnemann will be between the sticks, giving the Royals every chance of punching a European ticket.
Tim Howard (Everton)
Howard has been doing alright on loan, but still there are some negative signs that were seen when he was the #1 at Manchester United. The 3-2 defeat to Chelsea, when he allowed three long range goals, showed he still is a bit shaky with positioning. However, his performance has not brought any discussion of a keeper change from David Moyes.
Prediction: Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was quoted as saying that Howard has a chance to be brought back next season. With Edwin van der Sar signing a new contract and Ferguson bringing in Polish international Tomasz Kuszczak from West Bromwich Albion, it seems like Howard will need to have a superb second half of the season just to be considered for a second look at Old Trafford.
He may not need to work quite so hard to draw a transfer offer from Moyes; a within reach European berth could suffice.
Eddie Lewis (Leeds United)
It's tough times at Leeds United these days. After just missing promotion to the Premier League by losing to Watford in the spring, expectations were high that they would contend again this season.
Now they are in fight for Championship survival, second from bottom and looking very bleak. Lewis has been starting at left back for a couple months, and after a pronounced period of adjustment, it seems he has been much more involved recently.
Prediction: No doubt, manager Dennis Wise will be going into the transfer market during January in order to keep Leeds up in the Championship. As for Lewis, don't expect him to be playing in League One next season. Leeds have the talent to stay up, but Eddinho needs to do more to help lead the way.
Brian McBride (Fulham)
This could be McBride's best season yet in England. It's no surprise he is the top scorer for the club, as it seems like the rest of the strikers have left their shooting boots at home. He is always a positive influence on the squad and is definitely easy to manage, as Chris Coleman would say.
The only concern is how Coleman uses him in the second half of the season. Those 34-year old legs cannot possibly endure playing every match for the rest of the season, but knowing McBride, he probably would love to play every match.
Prediction: There has been talk that McBride could be headed back to MLS, but expect Fulham manager Chris Coleman to try to do everything to sign him to a new contract. Barring any work permit problems, the addition of Clint Dempsey to the squad may entice McBride to stay one more season at Craven Cottage.
Claudio Reyna (Manchester City)
It's been an up-and-down time for Claudio in Manchester, but then again, it's been up and down for the club as well. On a team stuttering out of the gate at the beginning of season, poor play saw Reyna become one of the Stuart Pearce's lineup casualties.
Prediction: Reyna is definitely part of Stuart Pearce's plans for the second half of the season. He has injured recently, but will be back later this month. It's a long season and Pearce is going to need everyone that is available. He and the rest of the Citizens squad can do enough to avoid a relegation fight.
Frank Simek (Sheffield Wednesday)
This was unexpected: just last season, the Owls had narrowly survived the drop to League One and expectations saw them in another fight this season. For a club that is still in dire financial problems, they are sitting pretty at ninth in the Championship.
Simek has been involved in every match this season, and the manager won't make a change unless something goes horribly wrong. The St. Louis native has become a reliable two-way right back and is enjoying his best season to date.
Prediction: The Owls have a chance to surprise some pundits as they tackle the final 19 matches on their schedule. It is still too early to say whether they can gain a promotion playoff place (they are only three points behind fifth place West Brom). You can expect Simek to play a vital role in Wednesday's pursuit for a place in the top six, but it may prove too much to ask of the team.
Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
Spector must have thought his troubles were behind him after completing a difficult loan season at Charlton where he struggled for playing time in a freefalling team before dislocating his shoulder which put him out of the World Cup.
The Illinoisian now finds himself amid an even bigger circus at West Ham, where the tremors from takeover bids and the bizarre arrival of two Argentine stars destabilized the club and precipitated Alan Pardew's acrimonious exit. A 6-0 drubbing by Reading, the threat of relegation and the comments of certain Hammers players in the press leaves Spector under a lot of pressure, it might seem.
But the former Man United prodigy has stayed unflustered throughout the storm, slotting in comfortably at right back to beat off the challenge of Ghana international John Paintsil. Spector has shown a growing confidence this season, especially against the big boys, neutralizing Cristiano Ronaldo memorably in December.
Prediction: Despite the chaos around him and the incoming bustle of the January transfer window, expect this mature 20 year-old to come out of a testing season with credit.
Gregg Berhalter (1860 Munich)
Berhalter arrived in Munich this summer and was promptly rewarded for his calming presence in the 1860 defense with the captain's armband. The Lions have had a few ups and downs this season, but are only four points away from the promotion zone in the tightly packed second Bundesliga.
Prediction: 1860 is following a similar path as Cottbus last season: Berhalter is captain and is putting in one solid performance after another while his teammates aren't the most impressive in the league, but are slowly and surely coming together as a team.
Josh Wolff will need some time to acclimate himself to his new surroundings, but will add depth to a team without enough options up front. Unlike last season when Cottbus earned promotion on the last weekend, 1860 will come up short behind the likes of Karlsruhe, Duisburg, Kaiserslautern and Rostock.
Conor Casey (FSV Mainz)
Casey has only seen 27 minutes of action this season in his efforts to return from a knee injury and is currently in search of a new team, having been given the go-ahead by Mainz.
Prediction: The Colorado product will latch on with a 2.Bundesliga team show some of the promise he exhibited for Hannover and Karlsruhe.
Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96)
Cherundolo had a rough first few games of the season as Hannover languished in the relegation zone before coach Peter Neururer was replaced by Dieter Hecking. Hecking promptly hinted that Cherundolo may lose his starting spot, and was moved from vice captain to third in command.
The threat of bench time ultimately proved to be motivation for the Portland University product and his play, along with his teammate's, dramatically improved as the days got shorter.
Prediction: Hannover should continue to improve under Hecking and will finish higher than their 12th position from last season. Cherundolo will continue to roam the right side of the field and could find himself wearing the arm band for the Red, White & Blue.
Benny Feilhaber (Hamburg SV)
Feilhaber started out the season playing for the young Rothosen, but a series of injuries to the Hamburg midfield saw the young Californian gain his first Bundesliga action against Schalke on October 14th.
Since his debut, he has seen seven starts in nine appearances, including three in the Champions League. Feilhaber showed promise and poise in all of the games he appeared in, but was nonetheless prone to game-changing mistakes in his trial by fire and will need to work on his concentration in tight situations.
Prediction: Hamburg has too much talent to be relegated and will continue as the only team to have never been dumped out of the Bundesliga since its inception in 1963. Feilhaber will continue to dress with the big boys, but should see his playing time reduced with the return of Nigel de Jong, Guy Demel and Raphael Wicky from injuries.
Josh Grenier (TuS Koblenz)
Grenier continued his march through the German divisions, arriving in the 2.Bundesliga three seasons after making his debut in the fourth division Oberliga. Despite playing with a cast to protect a surgically repaired hand, the former ice hockey aspirant was the only Koblenz player to play every minute in the team's first 17 games and is a big part of the club's being above the drop zone at the halfway point.
Prediction: Koblenz have made six signings in January and will have what it takes to be around for next year's 2.Bundesliga season. Grenier picked up some more competition with the arrival of Slovenian international Matej Mavric from Norwegian Molde FK, but it will tough to remove him from the starting lineup.
Kasey Keller (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Having been one of the Bundesliga's top goalkeepers the last two seasons, Kasey has slipped somewhat this season. His 'Gladbach teammates haven't done much to make his job easier, with the storied club looking to be on its way down a division.
Prediction: The Foals continue their slide into the 2.Bundesliga and coach Jupp Heynckes, who continues to live from off having won the Champions League with Real Madrid nine years ago, will not make it through the rest of the season.
Keller, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, will have European suitors - but a move to MLS could be in the offing.
Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen)
The son of the new US National Team coach is a strange case; Bradley is in a class of his own, if only because Gertjan Verbeek is his tutor. The Heerenveen boss has his star pupil on a specific learning ladder, in order to have a ready made replacement when old-timer Paul Bosvelt hangs his boots.
A good performance - such as his 90-minute star turn in a big win over arch rivals Groningen - doesn't necessarily earn another start and mistakes don't necessarily earn rebuke. Regardless of his quality on a given evening, Bradley always gets a private review session with Verbeek. The team is sailing along reasonably well, and there is no great need to alter the plan.
Bradley has three assists in 13 league matches, and has shown increased ability to spark the attack with a through pass and fire dangerously from distance. His defense needs work, but all the requisite hustle is there.
Prediction: Bradley should continue to work valuable minutes as the Frisians attempt a return to Europe after a disappointing UEFA Cup group showing. Heerenveen may well snag a Champions League playoff spot with a top five finish, but they will end up back in the UEFA Cup.
Lee Nguyen (PSV Eindhoven)
Nguyen has spent the season with Young PSV, starting most games when fit at either the #10 or on right wing. He had a good run of early displays as the playmaker, and has since shown the ability to cause trouble on the break as a wide man. His finishing also seems to be improving, but he will have to find more ways to cope with his size disadvantage.
Prediction: Despite a lack of first team appearances, it says here Nguyen merits a decent grade. He's doing his job, and the opportunity simply is not there under new coach Ronald Koeman. Frankly, he merited at least a call during a recent PSV injury crisis... then banged up his own shoulder.
Look for him to go out on loan after teammate Ismail Aissati is snapped up on the same terms. ADO Den Haag, NAC Breda and Willem II will probably lose the race for Aissati and have needs that match Lee's talents.
Grade: B -
Danny Califf (Aalborg BK)
Aalborg BK got off to a fantastic start to the season, taking an early lead in the league. Califf and young midfielder-turned-defender Kasper Risgård made a fearsome duo, allowing only six goals in the first ten games.
Since then, the team has had trouble scoring and problems on set pieces in front of their own goal. This has led to a drop in league position, leaving the team in fourth over the winter.
In spite of the team's poor form, Califf has continued to perform well, and he remains in an exclusive club of only 18 players in the league to have played all 1,620 minutes of the season to date.
Prediction: The team is looking for a target man to put next to Swedish forward Rade Prica. If a reliable goal scorer can be found, the team should be able to improve on their current position. Califf's position as a starter, meanwhile, is in no danger.
Heath Pearce (FC Nordsjælland)
FC Nordsjælland also came off to a flying start with a 5-0 win over newcomers Randers in the season opener. Along with champions FC Copenhagen, the Wild Tigers have been the best home team in the league, with only one defeat and six goals allowed in nine games.
Away results, however, have not been quite as positive, and the club spends the winter break in fifth place.
Pearce is also among the 18 players to have played every minute of the season so far, and has his share of the credit for the team's impressive home record. His raiding flank style has resulted in Danish soccer site Bold.dk naming him SAS Liga Defender of the Year.
Prediction: Pearce has never made a secret of the fact that his ambitions reach farther than Danish soccer, and with only six months left of his contract, the club needs to cash in. He is unlikely to be found in the FC Nordsjælland roster when the season starts up again in March - despite interest from Copenhagen, expect to find him in Germany or one of the Low Countries.
Robbie Russell (Viborg FF)
The early parts of Viborg's season spelled relegation struggle. With only one point in the first six games, the team looked to be in trouble. Since then, they have fought their way out of the relegation zone and spend the winter break in ninth place, looking up the table with confidence rather than down with fear.
Russell joined the club as a defender from Norwegian team Rosenborg and played the full 90 in the first eight games, in which the team allowed 18 goals. He has since had to accept a role as a second half substitute, mostly in midfield - where he has played with some success.
Prediction: Viborg start 2007 with a new coach, and it is difficult to say what he has in mind for Russell. The team could well improve on their current position and finish the season in seventh or eighth.
Joe Zewe (Viborg FF)
The former Nittany Lion has only made four appearances, with limited success. Then again, it's tough to gain rhythm in 150 minutes. Zewe says he is learning a lot, yet getting so few chances to apply his lessons in competition. The early season swoon didn't help, as coaches look to the vets when things are going poorly.
Prediction: Things change fast when an injury crisis strikes, but don't expect too see much of Zewe in the Greens shirt. He could end up finding a new club one level down.
[note]Yanks Abroad's Kenya Brown, Harris King, Greg Seltzer and Poul-Henrik Worm compiled this feature[/note]