1. Alex Ferguson, still a total schmuck. You have to have watched the first 35 minutes of the Roma-ManUnited game last night to realize how foolish Sir Alex's complaints about Paul Scholes's sending off are. Scholes was hacking at the ankles of Roma's players from the word "go" in the match. When he was finally booked about 25 minutes in, he had already committed several fouls and his first yellow was an awful, two-footed challenge. Mere minutes later, he body-checked Francesco Totti on the break, giving the referee no choice but to send him off. Scholes almost seemed as if he wanted to be red carded last night. Either that or he was hopelessly overmatched by an opponent that passes the ball so well and his only response was to kick the mess out of the crimson and orange players as they ghosted by.
1a. Maybe this is the Barca fan in me speaking, but why is it that every Champions League tie involving an English side inevitably entails a player from the English side getting sent off for totally legitimate reasons, followed by "controversy" as his manager complains in the media about how Drogba/Del Horno/Lehmann should have stayed on the pitch after lunging at the keeper while on a yellow/jumping into Leo Messi feet-first with the ball already gone/bringing down a striker as the last man?
2. This is definitely the Barca fan in me talking: Roma are a terrific side to watch. They have a reasonable amount of talent, although I'm not a huge Totti fan, but what makes them so fun to watch is a system that allows the players to exceed the sum of their parts. Full marks to Luciano Spalletti, who, in addition to having a great name and standard Italian hand gestures after every miss by his team, is really on to something in terms of his approach to the game. Roma don't play with a true striker, but they have five midfielders who are constantly moving back and forth between attacking positions and midfield spots. They use one another brilliantly. United were flummoxed by this movement and teamwork and their attacks seemed to solely consist of runs from Cristiano Ronaldo. The game reminded me a little of the Fiesta Bowl: a great system that maximizes its talent against a great individual. (OK, that analogy would work better if Adrian Peterson would have had a 250-yard game, but you get the point.)
Anyway, I'm regretting not having watched Roma more this year. Serie A games have generally been disappointing because of the lack of drama in the league, the lower number of top-notch teams as a result of the Calciopoly scandal, and the meager crowds (probably a function of the desire of sane people not to have firecrackers thrown in their faces). That said, I should have made an exception for Roma. Last night, with a packed Stadio Olimpico rocking from the opening whistle and Manchester United providing the opposition, Roma were highly entertaining. I really hope they off United in the second leg.
3. Another reason to love European football: "Indiscriminate Beatings." I'm of two minds on this story. On the one hand, it cannot be a coincidence that fans of Premiership teams seem to find this trouble everywhere they go on the continent. United's fans were the "victims" of abusive policing in their last Champions League away match at Lille, so they have something of a streak going here. (Lord help them if they ever play a big match against the LA Galaxy.) On the other hand, the Italian police do have a reputation for excessively aggressive policing and they did pay much more attention to the charging United fans instead of the charging Roma fans, so maybe United have something of a point.
You! The fat, bald, pasty guy! You look like a troublemaker!
I'm still bitter about the treatment I received from a police officer on my one trip to the Stadio Olimpico in 1997 for a Lazio-Verona match. My friend Ken and I were dumb enough to take our backpacks with us to the game and an officer proceeded to comb through our possessions with a fine-toothed comb on the way in, confiscating, among other things, my tiny pebble from Dachau, the cap of my water bottle, and the black plastic cylinder containing my camera film. Fortunately, the officer was also incompetent, as he missed the camera itself or else I wouldn't have gone in. Ken whimpered for the first 45 minutes because he hates soccer and the officer had confiscated his Dad's Swiss Army knife, but his attitude turned around watching the skinhead in front of us make out with his girlfriend after each Lazio goal (and there were four that afternoon). The most perverse element of the zealous security that we experienced is that the police had no problem with ten-year olds throwing smoke bombs indiscriminately.
Much safer than a plastic water bottle cap.
4. If I need to illustrate why I like the Spanish Primera over the English Premiership, I can always use the two goals from the Valencia-Chelsea game. Valencia scored from a cracking David Silva drive from about 28 meters out on the left wing. Chelsea scored from a hit-and-hope long ball that evaded the Valencia defense after it bounced in the box and was nodded in by Didier Drogba. I've made this complaint before, but for all of Chelsea's spending, their efforts to score when pressed seem to consist of nothing more than hopeful, route one balls to their tallest players. Niall Quinn would be so proud. This strategy worked against Valencia because...
5. Santiago Canizares is a shell of his former self. When Valencia was going to two straight Champions League finals, Canizares was untouchable. Last night, he was waving at every long ball sent his way. His form would give me optimism if I were a Chelsea fan.
6. Does Miguel Angulo have the largest nose in sports?
7. I hesitate to criticize ESPN now that they are showing two games on each match day such that I can watch all four quarterfinal matches if I can carve out the time, but would it kill them to not show the scores from the other games going on on the Bottom Line? And while I'm into media criticism, is it me or were Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth openly rooting for Manchester United last night?