Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The World Game 101 Part 2

The second part in our Euro football 2007-08 season preview.

Business Mirror's resident football expert sizes up the Euro leagues. His passion for Liverpool football, he says, will not get in the way of making an objective prediction as to who will win the Premiere League.

5. Will Rafa Benitez survive this season?
Second place in the Champions League might have saved a lackluster season at Anfield, but the wheels are quickly turning for Rafa Benitez. The 2005 victory at Istanbul has now been consigned to the Reds’ distant memory now that AC Milan exorcised their ghosts by gaining revenge in Athens. So where do they go this season?

“Of course we want to win the Champions League, the Premiere League, the FA Cup, and the Carling Cup. That goes without saying,” he says without batting an eyelash. “I am happy now with my squad. We have two players for every position; that will make things easier for me as we play on four fronts.”

Benitez is determined to make an impact in all four competitions rather than having to virtually choose two because of the size and quality of previous squads. He has challenged his four strikers – newly acquired Fernando Torres (99 goals in six seasons with Atletico Madrid), Andriy Voronin (32 goals in three years with Bayer Leverkusen), Peter Crouch, and Dirk Kuyt (12 goals) to score 60 goals between them. “I want goals,” underscores the gaffer who spent L40 million in the summer to bring his team up to championship contender level with Manchester United and Chelsea. And having Torres in the line-up gives the Reds the finishing touch they so sorely needed in close matches the last season.

Standing in the way of Liverpool’s first English league title (the last time they won was right before the English Premiere League was put up in the early 1992) is defending champion Manchester United. The Red Devils are brimming with off-season acquisitions like striker Carlos Tevez (in a controversial move from West Ham) and Owen Hargreaves brought in from Bayern Munich gives the team so much flexibility from midfield (and you know that Sir Alex Ferguson was thinking of their European campaign as well). There’s also Brazilian Anderson out of FC Porto who is being groomed to take over Ronaldinho’s spot on the national team and winger Nani from Sporting CP in the Portuguese League. Tevez’ acquisition couldn’t have come at a better time since striker Wayne Rooney suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot in the Red Devils’ opening game 0-0 draw against Reading. But nevertheless, Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo up front are frightening enough.

Liverpool has been given a massive dose of cash by Tom Hicks and George Gillet, the team’s American owners. It has also been an 18-year wait for the Merseyside team. If they can’t win any title this year, look for Benitez to maybe transfer to Madrid.

6. Is Lyon still capable of winning a seventh straight Ligue 1 title?
For the first time in seven years, no one is asking who’s going to finish second in the French league? The question should therefore be, can Marseille knockdown Lyon from its lofty perch?

After a draining campaign that saw manager Gerard Houllier resign at the end of the season, the chinks in Olympique Lyonnaise’s armor are even more evident. They won last season’s league title only on the strength of their pre-winter showing where they amassed 50 points that buffered their second half slide. But that’s not the least of their problems for the infighting that plagued the team has supposedly been squelched. Their losses in European competition over the last several years have started to take its toil not just on the team but French football’s psyche. All the French sides (including Marseille and Toulouse) have been sent home packing while hardly impressing anyone. Florent Malouda has moved to Chelsea in the English Premiere League that not only pays better but also fares better in UEFA competition. Eric Abidal has likewise taken the high road to Barca.

And that’s a burden new manager Alain Perrin will have to bear and address. He added Matthieu Bodmer, Kader Keita, and Nadir Belhadh to plug the holes of Lyon’s losses. But OL’s biggest addition may be World Cup winner and Inter Milan defensive stud Fabio Grosso.

Unfortunately for Lyon, the gap has been closing in with Marseille. Manager Albert Emon not only brought in coaching stability but also quality players to challenge for the Ligue 1 title. There are midfielders Karim Ziani from Sochaux and Benoit Cheyrou from Auxerre, defender Gael Givet from Monaco to shore up the backline, and Samir Nasri to add some scoring punch. Monaco, Bordeaux, and Paris Saint-Germain though not maybe as strong as the top two teams will give the champs a run for their money.

7. Will the partnership of Thaksin Shinawatra and Sven-Goran Eriksson make Manchester a two-city team?
Of course Manchester has two teams, but when you say “Manchester,” then its United.

Say what you will about Eriksson’s tenure as England manager, but he does know how to turn a team around. He has won 14 major trophies and only flopped with one club, Fiorentina, where he spent two ill-fated years.

Man City finally has an owner with the resources to compete with the big boys and the manager who has that winner’s pedigree having more awards than the club has ever had. And Eriksson has wasted no time in whipping his new troops into shape and a 2-0 win over West Ham in the opening match of the season that did much to calm nerves at Eastlands. And the cherry on the cake for City? Two of Sven's summer recruits – Deiberson Geovanni and Rolando Bianchi -- were on the score sheet.

Expect the Richard Dunne, Joey Barton, and Nedum Onuoha to step up and for the side to finish better than its 14th place finish last season.

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