FOX Soccer Exclusive
Benitez struggling early with Chelsea
Another incredible weekend of Premier League action is behind us in the books, but I want to start with our game right here in the States, and with what David Beckham and the LA Galaxy have accomplished.
Yesterday, we were all thrilled at the Home Depot Center here just outside of Los Angeles, and I think everyone has to agree it was a fitting sendoff for a great player and a great ambassador for the game over here.
In five and a half years, David has helped change not only the perception of MLS but the game of soccer as a whole in the USA so I was very pleased to see him leave with a 3-1 win and another MLS title. I know Dominic Kinnear and Houston Dynamo are very down, but they shouldn’t be – they offered great spectacle for the fans as well but in the end, this really felt storybook for David and the Galaxy.
In England, we saw very intriguing results this weekend and I think there are now real questions about the direction Chelsea are in. The club fired a very popular manager in Roberto Di Matteo and I know maybe the results weren’t coming in the way the owner would have liked but I am not sure that Rafa Benitez is going to succeed. The fans are against him, the team seems very shocked, and after West Ham took them apart in the second half of Saturday’s games, I’m not surprised that Rafa is wondering if he’ll finish out the season.
Chelsea now have some really critical tests ahead: they have to win and hope on Wednesday against Nordsjaelland in a game that’s on our air; and then they have to perform in a competition I’m not sure they even want to be in. I think fans have to now really pay close attention to the Club World Cup, which kicks off on FOX Soccer this Thursday, and see what happens. It’s not a good situation at all.
I know Manchester United fans won’t be entirely happy about their game against Reading, but for a neutral fan, what a match. That had everything – desire, passion and an amazing seven first half goals. That equaled a record in the Premier League which would have been broken if the refs had not, once again, got a call wrong on the line.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s long past time the officials got help. Robin van Persie had a good goal waved off, and it’s not fair to the club or the fans. Last year, goal-difference was a huge factor in the race and with the two Manchester sides so close, it could be again this season. The calls simply have to be correct, and it’s also not fair to the officials, who are trying their best. We will see technology in the Club World Cup this year, and I just hope it works well and then comes into our game sooner than later.
But give credit to Reading and Brian McDermott. He’s been under real pressure there, and I think his boys gave all you could ask at what is probably the toughest place to play in England. If they can show that fight through the remainder of the year, they will stay up.
We also have to address Arsenal’s game against Swansea. This is a team in real crisis, and at some point, Arsene Wenger is going to have to shoulder the blame. I know a lot of fans are very uneasy about the team’s direction, and I cannot blame them. Tenth is not where the Gunners should be right now, and I just hope they do make some buys in the window.
Quickly, I think both Liverpool and Tottenham showed that they are finally doing the right things to earn wins. They played teams you have to think they would beat, and did. Brendan Rodgers had called for his team to be less dependent on Luis Suarez and I think he wasn’t far off in calling his team sensational after the match. They dominated they game and I thought Steven Gerrard was exceptional on the night.
Obviously, it was a very emotional day for Clint Dempsey in his return to Fulham and it was good to see him show well and come away with an assist. I think he’s finally settling in at Tottenham, and it’s a good thing to see because he is a very good player and very important to the USA.
Finally, it was a tough match this Sunday for two of my old clubs: condolences to AFC Wimbledon but congratulations to MK Dons in the FA Cup. I know that was a hard match for the fans, but I agree with manager Neal Ardley that it was a good day for English football and a good celebration of how far AFC have come.