January is nearly upon us! Or at least it feels that way if you spend any time reading the words of the soothsayers who try to predict what will happen when European football’s transfer window reopens on January 1, 2013. Speculation is particularly rife in England, and it mainly centers on two clubs: Chelsea and Liverpool. Both teams find themselves low on firepower, and as a result, they’ve been linked with every available forward in European club football. Two players in particular have been singled out as possible signings in the new year: Athletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao, and Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Huntelaar, who is supposedly packing his bags in preparation for a move to Liverpool, has scored 32 goals in 42 league games for Schalke FC since the start of last season. Falcao, who is rumored to soon join Juan Mata and Eden Hazard at Chelsea, scored 34 goals in 43 league games for Athletico Madrid over the same period. And yet these two players, with almost identical league goal-scoring records, are valued rather differently. Chelsea will be required to trigger Falcao’s minimum-fee release clause — which stands at a cool $70 million — to get their man, whereas Liverpool can expect to pay no more than $10 million to sign Huntelaar, who is available at a knock-down price thanks to the imminent expiry of his contract with Schalke.
This past weekend, Spain played Italy in one of the marquee matchups of the Euro 2012 Group Stages. The match was held in Gdansk, Poland. It ended in a draw, 1-1, and Spain has subsequently started complaining, albeit informally, about the state of the Arena Gdansk pitch.
Here is a photo of Fernando Torres holding the 2012 Champions League trophy and the 2012 FA Cup. Since 2008, Torres has won the European Championship (in '08), the World Cup (in '10) and these two trophies. Saturday, in Munich, he was on the field when Chelsea completed one of the most improbable Champions League runs — coming from 3-1 down against Napoli and defeating a heavily favored Barcelona in the semifinals — since Liverpool came from behind against A.C. Milan in 2005. He looks happy. So why does this 28-year-old with a full trophy cabinet sound so damn sad?
1. Claude Giroux: All Claude Everything
I am obligated by William Penn blood oath to award any Philly athlete the top spot in Rankonia, but Sarah Larimer really makes a compelling case for the Flyers forward: "Katie Baker is right. It is pretty much impossible to dislike Claude Giroux. Apologies to that Monet bro, but Giroux is now my favorite dude named Claude. Let's all start a Claude Giroux Fan Club. We can get T-shirts that say 'Are you taking this faceoff here?'
"'Before they even dropped the puck, he came over and he told me watch the first shift,' Danny Briere said after the Flyers' 5-1 win. 'When he did, I didn't know what to say to him. He's been our leader all year and once again he took another step in that direction today. It was simply amazing, plain and simple. He was possessed.'
Here's your guide to all of this weekend's best soccer action from around the globe.
Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund Where: Allianz Arena When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. EST What's At Stake: The Bundesliga? Sort of! First-place Bayern welcome defending champions (and current second-place club) Dortmund. Last time Borussia went to Bayern, they won, 3-1, and pretty much wrapped up the league. Bayern will be looking for revenge and a little breathing room. Who To Watch For: Bayern will likely welcome back the oft-injured and plenty-brilliant Arjen Robben. For Dortmund, watch Mario Goetze. Most of the top clubs in Europe sure have been.
Lazio vs. Napoli When: Saturday, 2:45 p.m. EST Where: San Paolo What's At Stake: Serie A's burgeoning rep as an offensively explosive league. Long a theatre for defensive football and hypochondria, Italy has a little bit of swagger this year, due in no small part to the electric football played by these two sides. Who To Watch: Edinson Cavani. Seriously. You would be well within your rights to watch nothing else but Edinson Cavani.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
When: Sunday, 11 a.m., EST
Where: Stamford Bridge
What's At Stake: Not to be hysterical (though that's fun) but, basically, for both the Blues and the Reds, this is pretty much the season. Despite Chelsea sitting fourth and Liverpool sitting sixth, both of these clubs need an adrenaline shot. Liverpool desperately wants to return to the Champions League and needs a top four finish to do so. While Chelsea need to keep pace with the two Manchester sides if it has even the faintest hope of competing for the title. Who To Watch: It's hard to know who will be under more pressure: Chelsea striker Fernando Torres playing against his old club? Or Liverpool standout Luis Suarez who will play, despite being charged by the FA for making racist comments toward Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
Houston Dynamo vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
When: Sunday, 9 p.m. EST
Where: Home Depot Center
What's At Stake: The MLS Cup. The L.A. Galaxy have already won the Supporters Shield for the best regular season record, but without this final bit of silverware this season will feel like a disappointment. Who To Watch: David Beckham. The 36-year-old midfielder has had an up-and-down career stateside, but is looking to tie a ribbon on what might have been his finest MLS season, in what could be his final game in a Galaxy uniform. It's a shame that star Houston midfielder Brad Davis will miss the season-closer, but there will be plenty of talent on display, with Galaxy forwards Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan testing the Houston defense led by Geoff Cameron.
One of the great things about the UEFA Champions League is how it acts as a kind of alternative reality for players and teams. It's almost like the island from Lost; a place where you can reinvent yourself and change your fortune, parallel to the league season you may want to forget.