Monday, December 11, 2006

Another E.P.L. Thriller -- If you don't watch the English Premier League on Fox Soccer Channel, perhaps you need to examine why not. It's hard to imagine a more entertaining game, in any sport, than today's tilt between Chelsea and Arsenal. The fans at Stamford Bridge were desperately rooting on the Chelsea Blues in this North London Derby, with Manchester United holding a nine-point lead in the E.P.L. standings. The Gunners have been a little disappointing this year -- at least inconsistent, and Chelsea is a little surprised to be trailing Man Utd., at this point in the season. Without Thierry Henry and several other key players, Arsenal would have seemed to be severely undermanned, and Chelsea's coach, Jose Mourinho had never lost a home game as the Blues' coach.

Still, these are two of the deepest teams in the world, and they are expected to put on quite a show when they tangle. Tonight's affair was no disappointment. Chelsea's Frank Lampard hit the post in the first half, on a shot that had Arsenal's keeper, Jens Lehmann, completely flatfooted. Emotions ran high all game, but the first real release did not come until Arsenal scored in the 78th minute to take the 1-0 lead.

Trailing so unexpectedly, Chelsea put on a furious assault. Ghanaian Michael Essien struck a truly awesome shot, a one-touch blast from long-range, that curved around the defense and back in to ricochet off the post and in for the tying goal. In extra time, Essien took a pass right in front of the goal, and again one-touched the ball, beating Lehmann, but shooting just a tad high, as the ball hit the crossbar. Seconds before the final whistle, Lampard again hit the post, after stealing the ball from Lehmann's reach, and dribbling past the sprawling keeper.

It may be true that some ties are be like 'kissing your sister,' but some ties are truly exhilarating efforts. This was one such special game. A wonderful advertisement for the beautiful game.

One observation I might make -- what is the deal with Shaun Wright-Phillips? I've hardly ever seen him play very well. He has some speed, to be sure, but I can't understand what he's doing with Chelsea. He came on as a late substitution (in the final 30 minutes), but he was in the game long enough to really stink the house out. One horrible touch after another, he kept giving the ball way. These were mistakes that in the parlance of tennis would be "unforced errors." His play really stood out in a seriously negative way, in a game that otherwise was rich with individual brilliance.

All-in-all, a brilliantly exciting game. I can only dream of the day when M.L.S. play might even begin to approach such skill, pace and excitement. In the meantime, while I hope for such heady days, I'd like to but together an ownership group for a future M.L.S. team in New York City. If you're interested and you've got beau coup bucks to invest, please get in touch.....

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