Lille vs. PSG
OK, I didn't see this one live but as someone who doesn't tend to watch the French league it was the first admission of the Summer that the Premier League is indeed over and something has to fill the hours. My reason for watching was mostly to check out Eden Hazard who has been widely speculated to be coming to a top tier league near you very soon. He has also occasionally been called "the next Messi".
I was pretty skeptical about the "next Messi" stuff but I tried to keep an open mind as I watched him. My first observation is that he is very good and there was at least a little of that sense of anticipation Messi generates in the arena when he touched the ball. That said, my assumption is that defenses in Spain are better than in France and Hazard didn't torture PSG nearly as much as Messi tortured an excellent ManYoo defense only days later.
If I had to make a comparison, I'd say that he was a bit of a mash-up between Nasri (positioning without the ball and willingness and ability to go directly at defenders to force the action) and Modric (similar stature, movement with the ball in midfield, and passing ability). Given the successes that both players had in the Premier League this past season, this is not faint praise. He looked like he was ready to move up a level so I think the big clubs would be justified in paying a bunch for him. Certainly if Nasri or Cesc leave Arsenal this Summer, I'd be pretty happy with him as a replacement.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: I also got to watch the funky-haired Gervinho who has been rumored to be heading just about everywhere in the Premier League in early transfer rumblings. Hard to get a sense from one viewing of whether he is the real deal or just another player who dominates a mid tier league with superior athleticism. I could picture a pre-Liverpool Djribil Cisse doing all of the things I saw Gervinho do against PSG and that didn't work out particularly well in the Prem. He could also come in and play as well as Odemwingie did for WBA last season. Definitely a "wait and see" situation for me based on limited information.
Ajax vs. DC United
We'll start with the fact that this match happened just after Ajax completed its (title-winning) season and my guess is that they looked at it very much as an excuse to be in the US rather than a competitive situation. Even DC United didn't treat it too seriously given mid-season injuries and the fact that they have a season going on where they're trying to re-establish themselves as an upper-half MLS team. That said, it was an opportunity to see a few potential future Premier League defenders in van der Wiel, Vertonghen, and Alderweireld.
The bad news is that none of them started the match and even if they had, I'm not sure if DC United's second string attack would have represented the type of test that would have told me much more than just seeing them moving around out there did about their athleticism, etc. Here are quick thoughts on each:
- van der Wiel - looks ready to be a better-than-average right back in the Premier League. He certainly didn't dazzle going forward like a Bale or even a Kolarov but certainly seemed on par with a Sagna type. If he were on a team that got a bunch of clean sheets, he'd definitely be a keeper.
- Vertonghen - looked like a younger and slightly bigger Vermaelen (6'2"+ vs. Verm at 6" even). Both are left footed and solid but hardly in the Samba/Hangeland mold of physically imposing defenders. The thing that he does share with all three guys mentioned is an ability to get forward and score more than his share of goals from the back. While I'd love for Arsenal to pick him up he might be too much duplication - I'd think that Spurs and Liverpool would both do well to take an interest this summer or January.
- Alderweireld - like Vertonghen, he looked incredibly solid in swatting away United's second team attacks. No great surprise since Ajax had just won a better league than MLS but still worth noting that he passed the eye test. He's a little shorter (6") than Vertonghen but also seems likely to be available for less money if Ajax are willing to sell. Seems like a solid option for someone like NUFC who are probably looking to solidify their central defense.
My first reaction after the match was "I spent the better part of a day driving from the DC area to Boston and this is all the effort that the US was willing to give?" My second reaction was "I'm really glad I got to witness Spain play in person, seeing them pass in tight quarters in person is really amazing." My third reaction was "Clint Dempsey really has a case to move to a better team, he didn't look out of place on the field with Spain's all-stars despite the rest of his team being well out of their depth."
Honestly, until that point, I hadn't REALLY seriously considered the possibility of Dempsey making the move from mid-table to top end of the table in the Premier League but I'm now starting to think harder about it and here's why:
- He's a pressure player - When the stakes go up (Fulham relegation battle, Europa Cup, Confederations Cup, World Cup) his performances improve and at a big club, you're presumably always looking for someone who fits that profile.
- He is positionally flexible - Regardless of where Fulham or the USMNT play him in the formation - withdrawn striker, "in the hole", or out wide he generally finds a way to contribute.
- He's passionate - Go figure but supporters seem to love this sort of thing.
- He probably won't be THAT expensive - American talent continues to be undervalued in the marketplace and anyone who has read Moneyball or other similar economic analyses of how to make it big in sports management will tell you that the path to greater enlightenment is to find areas in the market that are undervalued and buy them up before everyone else catches up.
Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, and Citeh are all fairly well-stocked with central midfielders so Arsenal, as a Nasri replacement, would be my second choice higher up the table. That said, I don't think there's a chance in hell that it happens. I don't think American players are technical enough for Wenger to be willing to buy them. Furthermore, Dempsey doesn't fit the Wenger mold of short, low-center of gravity attacking midfielders. For me, that's a good thing - we call it a change of pace - but he hasn't shown much proclivity to change things up.
That's about all from my soccer travels so far this summer. Next up (presumably later this week), what I learned after going back and doing some analysis on the fantasy season that has just ended. I can tell you it surprised the hell out of me - hopefully, it will help all of us as we get ready for next season.