No excuses for PSG
Two games, two draws for coach Carlo Ancelotti and Paris St. Germain, this summer's record spenders. Sunday night it was a 0-0 draw at Ajaccio against a prickly but committed opponent that showed no signs of being intimidated. PSG loyalists might point out the numerous missed chances and some refereeing decisions that could have gone the other way.
Less fair is to use the absences of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva as some kind of excuse. PSG's annual budget is some $345 million bigger than Ajaccio's. Ibrahimovic alone earns more than the entire Ajaccio team. Sunday night was a sterile performance that Ancelotti will want to forget quickly.
Or, rather, he may want to remember what he could have done differently. Against a team that pressed high and denied possession, a deep-lying playmaker such as Marco Verratti might have allowed PSG to see more of the ball. And, while Ibrahimovic was out, Ancelotti still had two genuine center forwards on the bench in Guillaume Hoarau and Kevin Gameiro. Either one, from the start, would have given PSG a genuine advanced point of reference compared to the trio of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Nene and Jeremy Menez, three skillful guys who are more winger/second striker types than front men.
And, this is a long-standing pet peeve of mine, Javier Pastore ideally should be farther up the pitch. He's good enough that he can play everywhere, but he's most effective as the guy making the final pass than the guy building from deep.
That said, one of Ancelotti's strengths is his adaptability and his knack for learning from setbacks. Right now, he has a huge squad that he needs to somehow turn into a unit. The job has only just begun. Think of Ajaccio as a learning opportunity.
Mark your calendar: Daniele De Rossi has called a news conference for Tuesday afternoon in which he will reveal his future. It's not quite LeBron James' "Decision" -- the Roma midfielder hasn't turned it into a TV event -- but whichever way you slice it, it could be a pivotal moment.
Manchester City's interest in De Rossi has been well documented. He would add depth to the midfield (Nigel de Jong's contract is running out, and he doesn't seem to figure into Roberto Mancini's long-term plans) and, possibly, to central defense if City opt for a back three. (De Rossi did well there against Spain in the Euros.)
Roma has said it would take a "monstrous" offer for it to consider a sale. What's monstrous? Given that he's 29, Roma-born, bred and buttered, probably something in the $35 million to $40 million range. Plus, new boss Zdenek Zeman reportedly doesn't see him as indispensable to his tactical vision, unlike some of his predecessors.
But here's the twist. De Rossi earns nearly $7.4 million a season after tax. For him to leave Roma, the club he's been at all his life (and where his dad is a youth team coach), he would need a sizable bump in pay, some say to as much as $11 million after tax. That's $22 million gross in the Premier League, which would make him one of the highest-paid players in England. In other words, it would be an extremely pricey deal for City and one with obvious knock-on consequences. If, say, Sergio Aguero has the kind of season he had last year, you can just imagine him knocking on Mancini's door and wanting a raise of his own, and it would be hard for the club to tell him he's not worth as much as De Rossi.
I have no idea what De Rossi will say Tuesday. (Zeman says "he'll stay," but money talks.) I would imagine, however, that the only way this deal happens is if Roma and De Rossi sell it as their making the ultimate sacrifice for the love of the club. And, equally, if City frees up some cash by finding homes for some of the excess baggage in the playing squad.
Tottenham lost at Newcastle on Saturday, and while there were highs and lows in Spurs' performance, you can at least see what Andre Villas-Boas is trying to do. In fact, in some ways, this Tottenham team has more of an identity at this stage of the season than Villas-Boas' Chelsea side had at this point last year.
With that in mind, if Villas-Boas is going to keep a high line and press way up the pitch, something Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe were especially effective in doing, does it really make sense to keep chasing Emmanuel Adebayor?
The Togolese striker scored plenty on loan from City last year and offers size and strength. Spurs obviously needs another forward (or two). But he's not exactly the dynamic, hard-running front man you need if you're going to press. Perhaps Spurs would be best served by looking elsewhere in its striker search. And then maybe, if it needs size, find a cheaper version of Adebayor, who's happy to come off the bench on spot duty when needed.
Given that Real Madrid won 32 of 38 Liga games last season, you may be tempted to panic after the opening day home draw against Valencia. Don't.
On a hot night at the Bernabeu, Mauricio Pellegrino sent out a well-organized side that executed instructions perfectly but still needed a stellar performance from Diego Alves (a keeper who is hit-or-miss but when on fire borders on the unbeatable) to come away with a draw.
Psychologically, given the hegemony of Real Madrid and Barcelona (which dispatched Real Sociedad, 5-1, without breaking a sweat), some will point that Real is already in the hole. Statistically, it is. But I get a sense that despite the economic difficulties in La Liga this season, there won't be as big a gap between the big two and the rest of the league -- last season it was a whopping 30 points -- during this campaign.
Michael Owen is still without a club, though he's reportedly in talks with Everton, the team he supported as a boy. He'll turn 33 in December, and his decline from one of the world's top strikers to one who scored five league goals in the past three seasons has been stunning.
Injuries played their part, of course, but they probably don't tell the whole story. I just hope that, before he retires, we get a glimpse of the old Owen, who was actually the young Owen: the wonder boy bursting on to the scene, scoring against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup and celebrating by rubbing his hands. That's the Owen I'll remember, anyway.
We're living in a time of austerity for both Milan clubs, which are coming to grips with oceans of red ink and Financial Fair Play rules. With deep cuts in both teams' budgets, necessity becomes the mother of invention. Hence the proposed swap between Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, with Milan kicking in a few million because Cassano is older and earns more money.
On paper, although it's a bit depressing to see these clubs take each other's cast-offs, it's the kind of deal that would help both sides. Milan needs another center-forward as an alternative to Alexandre Pato, not least because the Brazilian's injury record is terrifying. Plus, Pazzini could play alongside Pato in certain circumstances. He's 28, and he scored 23 goals in all competitions just two years ago.
Cassano would bring what he brings: creativity in short bursts. At 30 and coming off a season in which he had heart surgery, you can only expect so much. But he'd add a bit of creativity to a side that, Wesley Sneijder and Philippe Coutinho apart, doesn't have much. And he'd at least ensure Inter got a little something back for Pazzini.