Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Mailbag

With the Premier League season almost over, everybody always seems to be so worried about the top dogs. But what i wanna know is, who do you see getting regulated and who do you think will be advanced for next season? That fight sometimes seems to have so much more drama to it. - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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You're telling me. Wigan Athletic has been playing out of their minds lately throwing the whole race into chaos after back-to-back wins over Manchester United and Arsenal. Anyhow, there are basically six teams at risk of being relegated (the bottom three teams in the English Premier League get sent down a division at the end of each season):
I'd say at this point that it's a forgone conclusion that Wolverhampton will be headed down, so that's one. Blackburn finishes their slate with Norwich City, Spurs, Wigan and Chelsea, so it's tough to see them making a huge push forward, so I'm going to say they're two. I feel like Aston Villa and Wigan - following Wigan's stunning upset at Arsenal today - are probably in the clear, so it comes down to QPR and Bolton. QPR has an absolutely brutal schedule the rest of the way: Spurs, Chelsea, Stoke City and Manchester City. Bolton, in addition to having two more games than QPR does, has a much more reasonable schedule with Swansea City, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Spurs, West Bromwich Albion, and Stoke City. So with the schedules being what they are, I think QPR is going to come up short. So those are my three.

As for who is going to replace them? I think you're looking at Reading and Southampton for sure, and I'm going to say it's between West Ham and Birmingham to win the promotion playoff.

Newcastle has been on fire here lately. Can they keep their run up and going and make a charge to finish in the top 4 and maybe qualify for Champions League ball? And if they do, are they deep enough to compete? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Here are the standings as of right now:

As you can see it's basically a three-team race for the fourth spot at this point between Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle with five matches to play. Chelsea is at a bit of a disadvantage because in addition to worrying about their Premier League Schedule (which includes matches with Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle), they're also still alive in the FA Cup and have the semifinals of the Champions League against Barcelona to worry about.

Spurs appeared to have a Champions League spot locked up a few weeks ago, but following a 5-0 win over Newcastle on February 11th, they've won just 1 of 8 matches. They certainly have a favorable schedule the rest of the way as they take on Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa (4 of the bottom 6 teams in the league) and Fulham, but they need to start winning games.

That leaves Newcastle. As you pointed out, they're in form winning their last 5 matches, conceding just 1 goal during that stretch, but Newcastle's schedule is arguably the toughest of the three teams still in contention. They host Stoke City, travel to suddenly red hot Wigan, then go to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea, then host Manchester City, and then finish on the road at Everton.

Needless to say it's going to be an exciting finish. Should Newcastle qualify for Champions League play, expect them to make some moves to bolster their roster. Especially if Demba Ba jumps ship. Since the Champions League is never a guarantee for these guys the way it might be for a team like Manchester United, expect them to really go all in.

Fulham are knocking on the door to be competing in Europa League next year. Clint Dempsey says he's not making up his mind about where he wants to play next year until the season is over. Is Fulham's finishing position gonna make a difference in his decision? And if he does test the transfer market, where do you see him going? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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The general consensus is that regardless of where Fulham ends up this year, Clint Dempsey will be headed to greener pastures. And can you really blame him? His stock will never be higher, and he has aspirations of playing in the Champions League and I can guarantee you there will be a market for him. Dempsey's keeping his mouth shut until the season is over, but there are already teams identified as having an interest. Some of the more plausible destinations:

Schalke 04 - With Dutch striker and leading scorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar and potentially Raul likely gone next season, the German club will need to replace goals. Currently in 3rd place in the Bundesliga, Schalke almost surely will qualify for the Champions League next year and a player like Dempsey could be a solid signing for them.

Paris St. Germain - PSG has money and more importantly, they're looking at a spot in next season's Champions League as they currently sit in second place in France's Ligue 1. PSG has been aggressively pursuing just about everyone under the sun, and they have the potential to put together quite a squad and a player with Dempsey's skill set would seem to be a good fit.

Newcastle/Spurs - Don’t rule out an English club with cash like Tottenham or Newcastle going all in and overpaying for him. Depending on how the race for 4th shakes out, both could be intriguing options. They certainly make more sense than Manchester United or Arsenal, both of which have also been linked to the American striker.

Best tattoo in the NBA? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

It's hard to narrow it down to just one, so I'll give you three to choose from.

DeShawn Stevenson - New Jersey Nets - Abe Lincoln - "I was going to get Martin Luther King and I told Gilbert Arenas. You should never tell nobody your idea. That summer, he came back and got it. So I didn't know who to get. I got Abraham Lincoln because he freed the slaves. I just had Abraham Lincoln and, from a distance, everybody kept saying, 'Who is that?' So I put the five-dollar bill so everybody would stop asking me."
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Brad Miller - Minnesota Timberwolves - Scrappy Doo - Because nothing is more intimidating on a 7-foot tall white guy than Scrappy Doo...
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Marquis Daniels - Boston Celtics - State of Florida - If he tattooed in some highways he could save a ton of money on maps.
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Honorable Mentions:

Greg Ostertag - Retired - Fred Flintstone - Another giant white guy rocking a totally intimidating cartoon character.
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Stephon Marbury - Chinese League - Starbury Logo - Deadspin's Take on the tattoo when he got it back in '08: "It's probably as subtle as you can get for a head tattoo and it clearly shows that for all of his questionable, unhinged behavior of the past year, Marbury is still a very savvy businessman. It's completely logical. One person asks, 'Hey, what's that funny symbol on your head?' and then you just nail them with the cheap sneakers pitch. Ka-ching!"
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Marquis Daniels - Boston Celtics - Guy Shooting Himself in the Head - The best part is that it says 'Only the Strong Survive'... Because you know, that makes sense.
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Who the heck is Colt Knost? - The Dude, Chesapeake, VA
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Colt Knost surprised a lot of people this week at the RBC Heritage Classic when he actually had a two shot lead heading into the weekend and finished 8 under par and in 3rd place for the tournament. Hardly a household name, the 26 year old from SMU earned more for his 3rd place finish this weekend than he did in all of 2011. This was Knost's second 3rd place finish on the tour this year and he currently ranks 54th in the FedEx Cup standings. I don't know that he's on the verge of making a leap to the next level though. While he's shown glimpses of being a very good golfer - like this weekend - he's only finished under par three times in the nine tournaments he's played in this year.

When did Mike Stanton become Giancarlo Stanton and why? - James B., Virginia Beach, VA
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The Florida Marlins aren't the only thing in South Beach that had its name changed this offseason. Power-hitting outfielder Mike Stanton announced this spring that he'd like to go by his given name, Giancarlo for the 2012 season. The Marlins slugger's full name is Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton, but his mother calls him Cruz, his father calls him Mike and teammates call him Bigfoot. Stanton became Mike because his junior high school teachers could not properly pronounce Giancarlo. "No one could pronounce it right," he said. "Everyone thought it was two words. Gene-carlo, Juan-carlo, Gionne-carlo. You have seven periods in school, so seven times a day: 'No, that's not the name.'" So he switched to Mike. And now he's switching back. His teammates don't seem to mind, although they do have some suggestions. "I told him he needs to have longer hair," catcher John Buck said. "When I think of Giancarlo, I think of someone with long, flowing hair, like Fabio. But if he keeps hitting homers, I'll call him whatever he wants me to call him."

So I watched Eric Lichaj defend against one of the best wingers in the Premier League in Antonio Valencia and did a pretty solid job. Is he the answer at left back for the USMNT? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Lichaj is certainly a player to keep an eye on moving forward. He played capably for the U.S. during last summer's Gold Cup, and we probably would have seen more of him during the Klinsmann era had he not been sidelined with a hip injury. In his absence, no one has really emerged and seized the position - Fabian Johnson has arguably come the closest - so I'd be surprised if he doesn't find himself getting an invite to camp. As to whether or not he's the answer? He's only made 4 starts since returning from injury, and while he hasn't played badly, he's been a part of a defense that has allowed 10 goals in those 4 games. So I don't think he's quite there yet, but the potential certainly is. My bet would be you'll see either him, Johnson, or Timmy Chandler (assuming he doesn't unseat Steve Cherundolo at right back) at left back when World Cup Qualifying kicks off.

Special thanks as always to everyone who wrote in this week. And remember, as the great G$ Meyer says Reading is for Winners, especially when you read Smitty's Mailbag.

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