Friday, September 30, 2011


The Patriots meet the Raiders this Sunday in Oakland, both teams entering the matchup at two-and-one. The game looks poised to be a shootout: the Patriots’ flying pass attack will look to outshine Oakland’s own NFL-leading running game. Here are five things to watch in this Week Four showdown:

32nd TO NONE
After three games, the Patriots defense is ranked dead last—32nd out of 32. They’ve allowed close to 470 yards per game, and now face what is probably the most potent running attack in the NFL. Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden leads all NFL rushers with 393 yards. The Raiders passing game is more suspect, led by quarterback Jason Campbell, but more attention to run stopping and the return of Oakland downfield threat Jacoby Ford could spell another long night for the Patriots secondary.

Tom Brady returns to the field tonight after throwing four interceptions last Sunday—a career high for the Patriots quarterback. The good news: the Raiders allowed Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to throw for 369 yards in Oakland last week, which is the most that Sanchez has thrown in his young career. Despite the picks, Brady set NFL records last week for most yardage in a three-game stretch, and he’s on pace to shatter both the touchdown and yardage records for a season.

Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour will be a familiar face to fans back in Foxborough. He won three Super Bowl rings with the team, and was a huge part of the now defunct Patriots front line that opposition offenses feared. After a shocking and still somewhat murky trade to Oakland in 2009, Seymour will be looking to make a big impact against his old squad.

The verdict on off-season acquisition Chad Ochocinco is still out. He’s been largely ineffective in the first three weeks of the season, with only five receptions for 87 yards. To that point, what New England fans will remember most from his inaugural three matches is his inexplicable drop of a pin-point Brady bomb last week against Buffalo. The criticisms (that he isn’t focused, isn’t working hard enough, doesn’t know the playbook) are still written in wet cement, but this game is the quarter-mark of the regular season. Ochocinco must step up or move aside.

The Patriots are a pass-first offense, but as anyone who has seen a Chicago Bears game this season can attest, a varied attack is essential in the NFL. Last week’s leading rusher for New England was rookie Stevan Ridley, who ran for 44 yards on seven carries. The yardage total may not be breathtaking, but a yards-per-carry average just shy of six-point-three is worth noting. Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien says that they’re looking to slowly get him more involved, and if the Pats go up big, look for Ridley’s quickness through the holes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chelsea Player Grades: v. Valencia

Chelsea traveled to Spain to take on Juan Mata's former club, Valencia, in the second match of their 2011 Champions League campaign. The Blues played well enough to take three points, but they were robbed by an 88' penalty, after substitute Solomon Kalou handled in the box. Lampard silenced his recent critics by finishing beautifully in the 56th minute.

Well positioned, good shot-stopping, and great reactions in the few times that he was needed. An effective performance from the goalkeeper. Can't be faulted for the penalty.

Beautiful cross for a Torres header early in the second half. He wasn't as convincing as he usually is going forward, but pretty solid defensive play and a few good crosses.

Zero offensive impact, poor positioning and rash tackles in defense. Repeatedly dove in on attackers in the box. This type of risky defending is what keeps Luiz out of the team most games.

An unremarkable game from the Chelsea captain, who occasionally looked too slow against the fleet-footed Valencia attackers.

Defended reasonably well. No major contributions in attack, but regularly took up dangerous positions on the flank which allowed other Chelsea attackers some space.

Wasted passes and lost the ball a number of times. He was played in clean on goal, and shot straight into the arms of the goalkeeper.

Distributed efficiently and economically. Never gave the ball away cheaply and filled in well on the occasions that the center backs were out of position.

Looked slow and static for most of the match, but finished with poise and precision when Malouda picked him out for the goal. Against a team like this, his playing style is not advantageous.

As you would expect, Mata was fired up for this match, and put himself about the pitch with tenacity. He was always available for his teammates and moved the ball with urgency.

The center forward moved well, looking sharp and strong. He just lacked a finish, but the shots he took when played in were high quality.

It's hard to fault him after such a beautiful ball for Lampard's goal, but for the rest of the match, he was slow and disinterested.

The fluency of play jumped up immediately once he was brought on for the inferior Ramires.

No impact whatsoever.

His only action was the handball with three minutes to play that cost Chelsea the win. It's a mystery why he gets minutes at all anymore.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

For Brady and the Patriots, Bills Are A Broken Record

With six minutes remaining in the second quarter, the New England Patriots were cruising toward another victory, set to start the season with three consecutive victories. It appeared to be the same old story for the Buffalo Bills, a team that hadn’t beaten New England in eight years and fifteen head-to-head matchups. Then it all went wrong.

Rian Lindell hit a 28-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Buffalo Bills a 34-31 victory over the New England Patriots. The Bills outscored the Pats two-to-one in the last three quarters of the game, including a 17-point unanswered run.

Brady threw for four interceptions in Buffalo, a career-worst, and the most in a single game for Brady since a 2006 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Brady threw four picks against the Bills once before—in 2003, the last time the Bills beat New England.

Brady finished 30 for 45 for 386 yards and four touchdowns, along with the aforementioned picks. Before Buffalo’s 17-point streak, the main talking point of the game was Brady’s pursuit of a third straight 400-yard passing game, something that has never been done before in the NFL. Instead, this game will be remembered for a different statistic: that Brady threw as many picks in the game as he did in the entirety of last season.

The Bills executed a similar rally in the week before, coming back from 21-3 down against Oakland to win, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick said afterwards that they had anticipated a battle.

“We obviously didn’t play well enough to win, so we’re disappointed in that,” Belichick said. “[But] I don’t think anybody thought it was going to be easy.”

Brady made no excuse for his own wasteful play, ruing missed chances in the post-game press conference.

“We had our opportunities,” Brady said. “We didn’t really take advantage like I wish we would have. Too many turnovers, too many penalties,

The penalties mostly came from the other side of the ball, including a costly pass interference call on Sergio Brown in the end zone during the fourth quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick was forced out of the pocket and threw a hopefully pass up to a well-covered David Nelson, which was picked off by Josh Barrett in the end zone. But the flags came flying, and the play was overturned because Brown clearly grabbed Nelson in the end zone as the pass came in.

The result was a first and goal on the one-yard line, which the Bills converted for a touchdown on the very next play—a one-yard run up the gut from Fred Jackson. Jackson had a solid day, rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown and adding another 87 yards receiving. His quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, threw for 369 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Both interceptions came from Kyle Arrington in the first quarter. The Pats defense looked uncharacteristically sound in the early stages, with Arrington’s interceptions ending the Bills’ first two drives, and punts on the next two.

After Fitzpatrick settled down, though, it was a different story. The secondary was shredded throughout the last three quarters of the game—four different Bills receivers racked up more than 80 yards.

Devin McCourty continued to struggle, covering Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for most of the game. Johnson finished with 94 yards and a touchdown. The pass rush was utterly nonexistent, with very little pressure on Fitzpatrick throughout and no sacks recorded. Interestingly, the Bills also registered zero sacks, which is a reflection on the positive start the Patriots offensive line has had. Dan Connolly filled in well for the injured Dan Koppen, while on the other side of the ball, new Patriots defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth sat out with a back injury.

Despite the interceptions, Tom Brady and the New England offense continued to break NFL and franchise records. Brady has now thrown for the most passing yards in the first three games of a season in NFL history, and the record for most passing yards in any three-game stretch with 1327 yards, surpassing Drew Brees’ 1257 three-game performance in 2006.

Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski also broke records. Welker broke his personal record for receptions in a game (16) while also breaking the franchise record for receiving yards (217), previously held by Terry Glenn. Tight end Gronkowski excelled while Aaron Hernandez was out injured, finishing with his career-high yards receiving (109) and two touchdowns.

All the offensive records will mean nothing to Belichick, though, who only cares about one record—the Patriots now stand at two-and-one.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reports Of His Decline Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

A new coach brings fresh ideas, reinvigorated players, and, apparently, either decline or progress. While Andre Villas-Boas has only been in charge of Chelsea for one month of league play, major judgments are already being made on his impact on Chelsea Football Club’s immediate and long-term future.

As is expected at a big club with big money, Villas-Boas spent some right away, acting on the cries for a playmaker—Juan Mata—and a competent deep-lying midfielder—Raul Meireles. He even showed a stomach for risk that many of his predecessors didn’t, splashing out for young (really young) talent in teenagers Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu.

Let’s look at those four signings: all except Lukaku are midfielders by trade. All are “creative”, to use the ill-defined and played out expression that essentially means they move the ball with pace and are capable of improvisation on the ball. What’s more: all are under 28, and all but Meireles are under 23.

Looking at those patterns, the English press took two and two and added them up to get five: young, quick midfielders means the end for Frank Lampard, the backbone of Chelsea’s attack for the last decade.

Here are the facts. Frank Lampard is aging, and at 33, it is safe to assume his best days in the blue shirt are behind him. He does not possess the ball skills or pace of Mata or even Meireles. And—although it’s trickier to say with certainty—he hasn’t really gelled with Torres at all, a major problem when you sign a striker for 50 million pounds.

What is unfair and plainly untrue is that any of these things are recent developments, brought on by his age or by Villas-Boas’s vision. Lampard has never had any pace or creativity. He earns his place on the field through hard work and the best footballing brain in the league, bar none. It is this attribute that will allow Lampard to fit into any team for as long as his legs will allow, which is probably at least two more years.

Maybe he won’t play for England regularly, but because of Capello’s circumstances and the three-ring circus that is the Three Lions’ teamsheet, you can’t extrapolate that to Chelsea. Villas-Boas is a very clever guy, and he’ll know how to get the best out of Lampard. There’s no reason to believe he can’t play as a deep-lying playmaker, a la Xavi or Andrea Pirlo. But even that doesn’t need to happen, because the firestorm of criticism and hype about his decline has seemingly come out of nowhere, and it is certainly without empirical evidence.

Here’s a stat to keep in mind: since 2003, Frank Lampard has scored 10 goals from midfield in the Premier League alone in every season. No other midfielder has done that. How about this: Lampard did it last year, despite a season of injury problems, and despite playing only 24 games in the league, his lowest appearance total since signing for Chelsea. His decline will have to wait .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PATRIOTS REPORT CARD: vs. San Diego, Week 2

QB: A. Brady continued his terrific start to the season with another 400+ yard passing game and three touchdowns. He made good use of all the options he had and made no real mistakes.

RB: B-. An efficient if unremarkable game for Green-Ellis and Woodhead. The highlight came on Green-Ellis’s 16-yard touchdown scamper to put the Patriots up two scores. Only 94 yards from the rushing game, but they were important yards.

WR: A-. Last week, the tight ends were the story, and while they were heavily involved again, Deion Branch stole the show against San Diego. Branch caught eight passes for 129 yards. Gronkowski and Hernandez had great games, too, totaling 11 catches and two touchdowns. Even Ochocinco had two grabs!

OL: B+. Not quite perfect, but a strong game, providing Brady with plenty of time in the pocket and only allowing two sacks against a decent pass rush.

DL: C-. It would be a ‘D’ if it wasn’t for Wilfork’s impressive tip and catch interception. Look at that boy rumble! Still, the pass rush was non-existent, with only two sacks on a quarterback who was taking his sweet time in the pocket—and one of the sacks was from a linebacker. Ryan Mathews also shredded the interior running game on a few plays.

LB: A-. Ninkovich and Mayo both looked very sharp. Mayo had eight tackles, including the crucial one on Mike Tolbert to complete the goal line stand. Ninkovich had a big sack and three tackles of his own.

DB: D. McCourty played superbly in Miami, but he was atrocious against Vincent Jackson. The big Chargers wide receiver had 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns while McCourty covered him. The defensive backs did manage to shut down Antonio Gates, but Malcolm Floyd also looked bright before he came off injured.

STs: A. Gostkowski went two-for-two and looked sharp, and Mesko punted well when called on, before having to come off with an injury.

Coaching: A.
Belichick adjusted the offensive game plan effectively against a fired up San Diego side. The defense still has a bit of a Jekyl-and-Hyde look to it, but so far, they’ve come up big when it counts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Torres and CFC Get the Blues

On Sunday afternoon, Chelsea met Manchester United at Old Trafford for a fixture that has had a profound impact on the title in recent years. In the last two years, the team that won this match has been hoisting the trophy at the end of May.

For some reason, Chelsea has been already written off by most pundits, with the two Manchester clubs instead favored to win it all. They are certainly the obvious choices, 12 points out of 12 for each of them entering Sunday. But if we stretch our memories just a tiny bit, we can trace back to last season, where Chelsea won their first five, scoring 21 goals, before coming to a screeching halt and eventually ceding the title to United.

After winning 3-1 yesterday, United now stand in an identical position; 15 out of 15, 21 goals scored. Although I won't be so bold as to write United off, nor will I suggest they will experience a dip in form as stark as Chelsea's last season, here's why I believe the Blues will still win the title:

  • It was just one game. Sure, this game can be viewed as a six-pointer for the top spots, but even so, it's far too early for this game to be viewed as a title decider. The reality is that United must slow down at some point, and they will drop points in what is always a gruelingly long season.
  • United were not the better team. I'm not saying they didn't deserve all three points, but in a surprisingly eventful game, United had less meaningful possession, created less chances, and were frequently exposed defensively. The incisive midfield play was lacking, too, but they were saved by clinical finishing--in relative terms-- and a brilliant individual performance from Nani.
  • Chelsea are improving every game. The Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint. Chelsea started with a 0-0 draw at Stoke, before increasingly impressive and fluent wins in every match since. The signings of Mata and Meireles, alongside the emergence of Danny Sturridge, has brought pace and urgency to the attack. Sure, their defense was weak at Old Trafford, but I think they were just gutted after going down 2-0.
  • and finally... Torres. Yes, he had the worst miss I have ever seen on Sunday. Put that aside. How about the move he put on De Gea to go 'round the keeper? How about the gem he scored right as the second half started, coolly chipping into the far corner. He looked fast, confident, and sharp, that one miss aside. And if Chelsea can get him flowing again, they will quickly become the team to beat in the Prem.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Defense Make Chargers Pay For Mistakes

For the second time in a week, the Patriots defense lined up on their own 1-yard line for a pivotal fourth down. The Chargers trailed 10-7, and a score here would be a major momentum shift in a back and forth offensive shootout.

Instead, when Chargers running back Mike Tolbert took the handoff and cut right to the outside, he was stopped short by Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. The Patriots offense took over, marching down the field for a 99-yard touchdown drive.

Tom Brady and the offense had another historic evening, as Brady went 31 for 40 for 423 yards and 3 touchdowns. The New England quarterback had his third career 400-yard game, finishing with 35, 473 career passing yard—ahead of Jim Kelly for 17th place all-time. The Pats offense also set a franchise record with 23 passing first downs as New England triumphed 35-21, starting the season 2-0.

Highlighting the defensive heroics on the goal line may be misleading, though—the Patriots defense was far from spectacular against San Diego. The Patriots conceded a dismal 10 out of 12 third down conversions, as the Chargers exposed a defense that was last in the league in the statistic last season.

The defensive line was typically mediocre, with Rivers sacked only twice and the Chargers running backs stopped for losses on another two plays. The defense did manage two interceptions in the game, including an impressive solo effort from defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. Wilfork backed off the line as Rivers dropped to pass, reading the quarterback’s eyes and tipping the attempt into the air before snagging it and rumbling for a 28-yard return.

The secondary looked porous otherwise, allowing 378 yards to Rivers and his receivers. Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson gave Devin McCourty fits all evening, outrunning and outmuscling the defender on his way to a 10 catch, 172-yard game with two touchdowns.

Where the Patriots defense excelled, incidentally, was when the Chargers were inside or near to the red zone. The Patriots forced three San Diego turnovers within the 35-yard line, including another Philip Rivers interception, this one by Sergio Brown.

If the defense was full of question marks before the evening, there may be even more now—at least seven Patriots needed medical attention during the game, five of which were defensive players. Safety Patrick Chung left the game temporarily and was replaced by James Ihedigbo, who also went down injured. Cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington also took knocks, and so did defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The new Patriot lineman finished the game without a tackle or any meaningful involvement.

Another new face did have an impact, though. After a week in which he was heavily criticized, Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco had a decent showing, catching two passes for 45 yards. While that’s only one more reception than last game, he looked sharp, and was greeted with a raucous ovation after his first catch, a third down play on which he was interfered.

The Patriots weren’t forced to punt in the first half and scored on each of their first four drives, entering the half up 20-7. The killer instinct on offense was visible again, particularly after Wilfork’s second quarter interception. Brady got the ball with nine seconds left and no timeouts, starting on the 47-yard line. The Chargers dropped off deep, playing conservatively, and Brady promptly fired a pass to Deion Branch for 11 yards before the receiver ducked out of bounds. Time elapsed: two seconds. So Brady did it again, finding Branch for another seven yards. He ducked out of bounds at the 29-yard line, and Stephen Gostkowski knocked in a 47-yard field goal as time ran out in the half.

Branch had a big day, leading all Patriots receivers with eight receptions for 129 yards. The tight end corps continued to see tons of actions, with Hernandez and Gronkowski combining for 11 catches, 148 yards and 3 touchdowns. Other than aforementioned Welker and Ochocinco, running backs Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead both caught passes.

The rushing game was efficient if not memorable. Green-Ellis took 17 carries for 70 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter. Rookie Stevan Ridley also saw some actions, taking two carries for nine yards.

The Patriots are also hoping to get new acquisition Mark Anderson more involved, and on the final Chargers drive of the game, he burst through the line, knocking a fumble loose from Rivers, which Kevin Love recovered.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Awe-struck Ocho in Hot Water

Chad Ochocinco told the media that he had changed. When he scored a touchdown in the preseason and didn't celebrate, he explained it simply: "I work for Bill Belichick now." The veteran WR suggested that his fervent social media use would subside, and his off the field issues were behind him.

Well, after the Patriots' dominant performance in Monday's season opener down in Miami, Ochocinco couldn't help himself. He tweeted:"Just waking up after a late arrival, I've never seen a machine operate like that n person, to see video game numbers put up n person was WOW."

Nothing malicious, if a bit unnecessary. Patriots' legend Tedy Bruschi has a different take, though, tearing into Ochocinco after his subpar individual performance was followed by the Twitter relapse. Here's Bruschi's rant.

Now, I fully understand what Tedy Bruschi means to the Patriots. I understand that he was a pivotal cog in the team that went to five Super Bowls and won three. With all that said-- sit down, Bruschi.

There's a lot of merit to a current player taking a new teammate aside in the locker room and setting things straight. Teams need those types of leaders, and the Pats have always had them and relied on them. Bruschi was one of them. He was. He isn't anymore. No one in New England wants Ochocinco to return to his "child, please" days, but there's no harm in a little tweet about Brady's impressive performance.

And besides, Bruschi's comments about Ocho not knowing the playbook are uncalled for and inaccurate. It was his first game in one of the most complex, ever-changing offenses in the league. It will take time to fit in.

Leave Ochocinco's leash to Belichick and Brady. They're the ones who are there, after all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Teammates, Same Old Brady

Tom Brady doesn’t like to lose. Luckily for the New England quarterback, the Patriots don’t lose very often these days, thanks in large part to his contributions. But Brady has lost six times to the Miami Dolphins—more than any other team in the league—including five times on the road. On Monday night, Brady and his teammates proved that history only means so much, winning 38 to 24 on Monday night, as Brady set both franchise and Monday Night Football passing records.

Brady threw for a staggering 517 yards against the Dolphins, the most for an NFL quarterback since 1996. He also threw for four touchdowns, including a 99-yard pass to Wes Welker. His performance was only slightly marred by a 3rd quarter interception by Jared Odrick on a tipped pass, Brady’s first regular season interception in 358 pass attempts.

The Dolphins started with a bang, gaining 60 yards on the first four plays from scrimmage, including a 25-yard pass from Chad Henne to Brandon Marshall on the first play of the drive. The new-look Patriots defense looked shaky, allowing big run and pass gains, eventually watching Henne power a 10-yard QB draw into the endzone for the first score.

The Pats defense settled down after that drive, though, forcing punts on the Dolphins’ next four possessions. When Brady got the ball in his hands, he looked as sharp as ever, completing his first nine passes. He showed his trademark deep ball throw on a 45-yard bullet to wideout Matthew Slater before linking up with Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown.

The New England offense was fearsome if not flawless, totaling 622 yards from scrimmage but only finishing 4 of 6 red zone opportunities. The missed opportunities were not a problem, with that yardage total going for the most in Patriots’ history as well as the most allowed by Miami.

The Patriots are known to spread the ball around on offense, and despite question marks over offensive weapons like Slater and off-season acquisition Chad Ochocinco, Brady linked up with seven different receivers in the first half alone. Ochocinco was a non-factor, though, catching a single pass for 14 yards.

Chad Henne handled the Monday Night Football limelight well, passing for an impressive 419 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception came on the last play of the game. He read the field well, rushing seven times for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Reggie Bush, recently signed by the Dolphins from New Orleans, had a solid first game, rushing for 38 yards on 11 attempts and adding another 56 yards and a touchdown receiving. Brandon Marshall was the standout for the Miami offense, catching seven passes for 139 yards, and Dolphins fans will be sweating after he limped off the field in the last minute of the game.

New England’s pass rush was a major topic of conversation in the offseason, and after a summer of tinkering, the rush looked slightly improved, sacking Henne three times. New acquisition Albert Haynesworth saw limited action, recording two tackles playing mostly alongside Vince Wilfork in 4-3 packages. Shaun Ellis, the former New York Jet once known as “the Patriot Killer”, had one tackle. Mark Anderson, the former Bears defensive lineman, also had a sack in the 4th quarter.

It was the familiar faces for New England who carried most of the weight on defense, with cornerback Devin McCourty recording 10 tackles and linebacker Pat Chung adding another 9 tackles and a sack. The Pats defense even held Miami on a goal line stand in the 4th quarter. The Dolphins were trailing 31-17, and a touchdown would have put them in a one-score game, but an incomplete pass on 4th and one from the one-yard-line turned the ball over on downs. On the very next play, Brady linked up with Welker from one end zone to the other, 99 yards from scrimmage.

The Patriots held the Dolphins to only two 3rd down conversions of a possible 14, a big improvement in a soft spot from last year. The Pats’ offense was eight for 13, by contrast.

Miami committed eight penalties resulting in 60 yards, slightly more than New England’s seven for 50. Stephen Gostkowski looked shaky, missing wide, wide right on a 48-yard attempt in the second quarter. He made a 20-yard field goal in the 4th.

The Patriots will take on the 1-0 San Diego Chargers next Sunday back in Foxboro. The Dolphins will face the Texans at home on the same day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Replacing Paul Scholes

At the end of last season, Paul Scholes quietly announced his retirement from club football. At the age of 36, his decision wasn't shocking, but unceremonious the manner of his announcement may have been--if you didn't know Scholes.

Paul Scholes was a model professional on and off the field. Instead of getting caught up in the glitz of being an international superstar like so many of his teammates, he once described his ideal day as "training in the morning, pick my children up from school, play with them a bit, have tea, put them to bed and watch a little TV."

But the "Ginger Prince" doesn't earn column inches with his docile demeanor. He is commonly regarded as the best midfielder of a generation, a tag that has been given to him by Xavi, Thierry Henry, Zidane-- guys who know how to pick a pass.

When he finally hung up his boots, the typically frenzied English press was frothing about the Scholes-shaped hole in Manchester United's midfield. Wesley Sneijder, the Inter Milan #10 was the pundit's favorite. Well, the transfer window came and went, and Sneijder still wears blue and black. What went wrong?

Nothing. There were plenty of playmakers changing teams--Nasri to Man City, Arteta to Everton, Raul Meireles to Chelsea--and Sneijder publicly clamored for the move. But Sir Alex Ferguson hinted from the very beginning that it wouldn't happen, and for good reason.

United haven't played with a traditional #10 in years--matter of fact, rarely under Ferguson. Even when Scholes was in his prime, he didn't play in the #10 position, namely, tucked in centrally behind the two strikers.

This was by design, not necessity: Ferguson loves strikers who can play the game like Wayne Rooney, dropping into the midfield, and allowing wingers to get forward. He did this with Cantona. He did it with Tevez. And frankly, he molded Wayne Rooney into his dream striker.

Because these players were dropping deeper, into the space between the opposition's back four and midfield, there was no need for a #10, and frankly, no room for one. As such, Scholes reverted to a more traditional central midfield position with new responsibilities. He sits in along a flat four, playing off Rooney and allowing both the wingers and the fullbacks to get forward. In short, to properly use the oft-misplaced cliche; he is the quarterback.

Now, back to replacing him: where Arsene Wenger famously harvests young players for specific positions based on laughably rigid physical criteria, Ferguson creates his own. It usually works: see Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra, Nicky Butt. Occasionally, it doesn't: Michael Carrick, John O'Shea, Wes Brown. What Fergie does best is adapting his squads to what he has available. This season, their strength is on the wings, so box-to-box midfielder Anderson is in the lineup so that Ashley Young and Nani can linger near the final third.

The long-winded point is this: trust Ferguson. Scholes was an incredible, once-in-a-generation player. He can't be replaced. But the good news for United is that he doesn't need to be.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Patriots Newsflash

The Patriots continue to tweak their roster ahead of Monday night's season opener. New England announced the release of D-lineman Gerard Warren this morning. Monique Walker of the Boston Globe has more here.

Coach Belichick also brought in Dan Gronkowski, tight end and older brother of current Patriot Rob Gronkowski. Check it out at the Rap Sheet.

The Pats also cut another defensive staple this morning, as Darius Butler was let go. Butler, the former second-rounder, was disappointing last season for the Pats but has been immediately claimed by the Carolina Panthers. Phil Perry and Jimmy Toscano have the story at CSNNE.

It's not all cuts and losses for the defense, though: A.J. Edds was signed this morning from the Miami Dolphins. Edds led the Dolphins in tackles this preseason and will face his former team on Monday Night. Here's Mike Reiss.

Finally, Coach Belichick has dismissed fears over his safety corps, saying that what he has assembled is "the best group for the team." Check out this story at WEEI's This Just In, by DJ Bean.