February 22, 2013
Several games to note, but there’s really one game that will be of focus this weekend at the Tavern: The League Cup final at Wembley stadium on Sunday featuring Ki Sung-Yeung‘s Swansea City and English League Two side Bradford City. The winner of the game not only gets some shiny silverware, but more importantly, automatic qualification to the Europa League next season. That Bradford is there at the Finals at all is the narrative that is catching much of the media’s attention – how a team that far down in a 4th tier division of professional football in England could upset not one, but three Premier League sides to get to Wembley. Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa have fallen to this scrappy (or extremely lucky) team; oddly enough -Bradford themselves are not even in the top 10 of their own division.
Staying with Bradford for a moment longer, the Guardian talked to Bradford boss Phil Parkinson, who blurted out his strategic approach to Swansea. In a nutshell, physically rough up the Swans, and take full advantage of set pieces. Anything else? They seem to have a karmic edge, given the Dalia Lama‘s partiality for the underdog club. The Independent, among other media organizations, reported that the Dalai Lama wrote a letter of encouragement and support and sent it to the club’s headquarters recently. Now before you accuse the 14th Dalai Lama of being a fairweather fan, his Holiness had actually been a supporter since last June. That support developed when he visited Yorkshire last summer and was made an honorary president of the ‘Friends of Bradford City.’ An excerpt from the letter: “If His Holiness’ blessing has helped in any way towards your wonderful efforts, I hope that blessing will continue to bring you good fortune.” Now strictly from a statistical point of view, his Holiness’ support hasn’t exactly translated to success in League Two, but has given them a string of unbelievable results in the League Cup tournament. From a romantic/spiritual point of view: advantage Bradford.
The narrative that’s been lost in the spotlight on Bradford is Swansea City and their remarkable 10 year journey – one that began from the verge of being wiped out of the Football League in 2003. Since then, they’ve clawed their way back up, and after an electrifying semifinal win over Chelsea, are now at the brink of a historic first major tournament trophy. What’s more, in an age of distant oligarch billionaire Premiership owners, Swansea shown an antithetical approach, one that utilizes smart buys of value players, employs coaches who brandishes intelligent passing football, and with 20% of the holdings owned by the supporters – this seems like the best candidate to win ‘The People’s Club’ of the year.
So, is it possible for Bradford to play giant killer one last time? Short answer: yes, but unlikely. Outside of karmic Dalai Lama mojo power, what do Bradford actually have going for them on the pitch against Swansea? For one, as hinted by Parkinson, they actually are decent on set piece attacks – and defending against set pieces are one of Swansea’s kryptonite points of weakness. The Swans have allowed the most number of set piece goals in the Premier League season thus far. Another defensive hole for the moment: Chico Flores is out injured. Michael Ladrup has some difficult choices to replace the center back. If hypothetically Bradford can snatch a Finals victory away from Swansea, it would be a catastrophic inconsolable loss. To lose in that fashion, to a 4th tier team in a high profile match at Wembley – it would be an epic defeat – one that could suck the life out of the team for a long, long time.
Nevertheless, Bradford, who is 71 positions down beneath Swansea, will have a very difficult time against Swansea’s Spanish style of offense. The Swans have demonstrated creativity in creating space, taking control of the field, and executing Barcelona-esque possession dominance to make their opponent’s half of the pitch their own playground. If the Jack Army can establish their game relatively early in the match, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see a high scoring affair. Another thing going for the Swans? Ladrup’s side sacrificed a game at Liverpool last weekend to rest up the A Team. Michu, Williams, Ki, and company are ready to make history. Ki Sung-Yeung, who has been close to scoring for Swansea in virtually every other game, has been unlucky up until now not to have netted one for his side. That might change for the Korean midfielder on Sunday. But regardless of whether he scores or not, his playmaking abilities will prove instrumental in Swansea being able to probe and exploit weaknesses in Bradford’s defense. Actual football on-pitch performance: advantage Swansea.
Weekend Listings (all times are in US Eastern Standard Time, TV broadcasts are for the US, internet streaming should be available worldwide).
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 23
German Bundesliga, Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim, 9:30 am. Koo Ja-Cheol and Ji Dong-Won along with their Augsburg teammates have an excellent opportunity in front of them to leapfrog over Hoffenheim and escape the relegation zone.
German Bundesliga, Hannover 96 vs. Hamburg, 9:30 am. Son Heung-Min has been beasting it up for his northern German side. Can he score his 10th goal of the season (or dare I say his first hat trick)? At 6th place in the table, Hamburg is within striking distance of a Champions League qualifying spot.
English Premier League, QPR vs. Manchester United 10 a.m. Fox Soccer, Fox Deportes. Park Ji-Sung hasn’t been featured lately for Harry Rednapp’s troubled QPR side, but seeing as they’ve lost dismally without the Korean midfielder, Rednapp may have to adjust his selection for Saturday. This could be the first time Park will play against his former club, Manchester United (the first match up, Park was out with a knee injury). While Park’s fortunes have declined a bit, the Red Devils have an unshakable lead at the top of the Premiership this season. Now for another interesting tidbit: We believe that Fabio, who is on a season-long loan at QPR, contractually cannot face his parent club on Saturday. If the left back is out of the lineup for Saturday, could that leave room for Yun Suk-Young to debut for QPR?
English Championship League, Bolton vs. Hull City, 10 am. If Lee Chung-Yong‘s side prevails with a win over a surging Hull City, they will have done a favor for themselves and for Cardiff City. More on that in a moment.
SUNDAY February 24
Swiss Super League, FC Basel vs. Grasshoppers, 10 am. Park Joo-Ho put in a 90 minute shift in Thursday’s Europa League 1-1 draw with Dnipro. With an aggregate score of 3-1, FC Basel advances to the Europa Round of 16 –to face Zenit St Petersburg.
English Championship League, Wolverhampton vs. Cardiff City, 10 am. Kim Bo-Kyung‘s side seemed invincible, clear at the top by over 10 points not too long ago. Cardiff is still on top, but with a loss last Tuesday, 2nd place Hull is only a mere 5 points behind.
English League Cup FINAL, Bradford City vs. Swansea City 11 a.m. beIN Sport, beIN Sport Espanyol. Ki Sung-Yeung won the Korean FA Cup with FC Seoul, the Scottish Cup with Celtic, and has a chance to add one more impressive trophy win to his CV.
Spanish La Liga, Celta Vigo vs. Grenada, 11 am. Park Chu-Young and Celta Vigo must now climb their way out of the relegation zone. New coach Abel Resino took over and joined the team in training officially on Wednesday.
German Bundesliga, Greuther Furth vs. Bayern Leverkusen, 11:30 am. The young 18 year old Park Jung-Bin may get to see minutes in the 2nd half.
MONDAY February 25
Portuguese Liga, Maritimo vs Academica de Coimbra, 3 pm. Suk Hyun-Jun (we believe) is suspended from a 2nd yellow card suspension in last weekend’s match for Maritimo.
Looking ahead to next week: K-Talk blog has reminded me that Asian Champions League matches kicks off for all 4 qualifying K-League Classic teams. Peering over at their site (and prepare to wake up early if you live on the US East coast):
Tuesday February 26
Seoul vs Jiangsu Sainty 7:30pm KST / 5:30 am EST
Muang Thong United vs Jeonbuk 9:00pm KST / 7:00 am EST
Wednesday 27th February
Pohang Steelers vs Beijing Guoan 7:30pm KST / 5:30 am EST
Finally, the K-League Classic regular season begins in earnest next Saturday March 2nd. While ESPN FC has the J-League and A-League schedules up and running on their fixtures calendar, they still completely ignore K-League Classic fixtures – they simply don’t list them, as if they didn’t exist. Take a look for yourselves, here’s a link to March 2nd fixtures; they list the Australian A League (considered even by Australian measures to be less than par to the K-League), the kickoff of the Japanese J-League season and…no K-League. As if players like Ki Sung-Yeung, among other notable Korean internationals just came from nowhere. And they aren’t the only ones, other western media outlets like Sky Sports will continually update the tables of various leagues, including the J-League and A-League, but will snub the K-League. Time to gear up for some activism Tavern brothers and sisters…can I get an AMEN? What kind of activism you ask? Stay tuned…
UPDATE: Yoon Bit-Garam may not have gotten the transfer to Portugese side Braga, but the midfielder is getting a transfer nevertheless: word is out about a move from Seongnam Ilwa to Jeju United just as the K-League transfer window is starting to wind down.