Wow, just wow (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
OK, part of this post will be about the big headline that will see Paul Lambert apparently moving from Norwich City to Aston Villa and the rest will be about the USA vs. Brazil match that I attended last night here in the DC area. Beyond the jump I'll discuss the impacts on Villa and Norwich as well as observations on players from the US and Brazilian teams on display last night.
Lambert to Villa
This looks like a great move to me. Lambert appears to be capable of finding bargain players who can do the job in the Premier League which will be key given what we know of Villa's finances from the Martin O'Neill era. He also seems to be less tied to a specific system than Brendan Rodgers which should make the transition to a new team less traumatic. Of particular interest will be his ability to get the best out of promising young players like Albrighton. You have to think he has it in him to be at least the player Pilkington was for Norwich this past season.
Honestly though, Lambert's greatest positive in this role is that he's NOT Alex McLeish. Not being Big Eck should give him a great deal of credibility with the supporters and will certainly give Villa the potential to play a decent brand of football that has neutrals interested in watching their matches again.
Lambert Leaving Norwich
We will find out in 2012-13 if Lambert's best skill as a manager was identifying bargains from the lower divisions or taking players of modest talents and getting more from the team than the sum of the parts. Anyone who is pulling for the Canaries to remain in the Premier League has to hope it is the former and not the latter. If Lambert's skill is uncovering undervalued players and Norwich can keep the team he took to 12th reasonably intact going into next season then the transition to a new manager should be relatively smooth. If Lambert's skill is really making a crew of lesser players into more than the sum of their parts then they could be in for an ugly drop if a new manager isn't similarly skilled in getting the most from a modest roster with neither the finances or reputation to attract significantly better players over the summer.
For fantasy purposes, figuring out the answer to this question will be extremely interesting. It is very possible that Norwich's players will be significantly less valuable next season and Norwich showing up on the schedule could be much more favorable for their opponents.
We Have A Hulk
I'm sure Chelsea supporters everywhere will be repeating this much-hyped line from The Avengers in the lead-up to the 2012-13 season. Having my first chance to see Hulk in person last night, I can't say I was terribly impressed. Against a US side that didn't look very strong, the most interesting thing about Hulk was his name. Figuring that we would be in a position to be evaluating him for fantasy purposes, I tried to pay special attention to him but it was difficult as he rarely had the ball and when he did, he didn't do anything even close to remarkable with it. Granted a bunch of caveats apply here (it was just one match, it was a friendly, he just completed a long season, the US clogged the midfield with three holding-type players, I'm sure the Brazilians don't get too psyched up to beat the US in a meaningless match, Brazil's left was SO strong that there was no reason to focus on the right where Hulk was stationed, etc.). That said, there were definitely Brazilian players who DID make an impression, he just wasn't one of them. Just a word of caution before we all start getting ourselves too excited for the coming of the Hulk to Stamford Bridge next season.
It isn't often that you see a left back completely dominate a match but that's what we had last night. Whether it was snuffing Landon Donovan out as he tried to attack, marauding up the sideline, combining with the also impressive Neymar, scoring a goal, getting at least one assist, or mixing it up physically to the tune of a Yellow Card Marcelo was without question the star performer last night. We can all think of strong left back performances in recent years (Gareth Bale vs. Milan, etc.) but it is usually shorts bursts of exceptional skill that you associate with wingers. My impression of Marcelo last night was that he was really playing a #10 type of role from left back. He was controlling the tempo of the game and creating opportunities consistently from that spot rather than just breaking forward for the occasional cross or shot. It was really very impressive. That he was also a little combative separated him from the standard-issue wing player that would prefer trickery to contact.
The other star of the night for Brazil was Neymar. He is undoubtedly an incredibly talented player and was more than the US team could handle playing predominantly on the left side but with obvious license to roam. The only downside is that you just got the impression that he is much more likely to turn into a Robinho/Cristiano Ronaldo-like douchy superstar rather than the more Messi-like understated type. Don't get me wrong, both players are incredibly talented but, at least for me, it is far easier to root for Messi than CRon because Messi doesn't carry himself like an entitled jack@ss on the field. Personality aside, if you do get a chance to pick up Neymar in fantasy, he'll be a great get. In addition to likely getting a fair number of goals and assists from open play he takes a mean set piece that will likely lead to lots of phantom points.
Bright Spots for the US
I can't say I expected a ton from the US against a fairly strong Brazilian team but there were a few bright spots. Michael Bradley looked fairly strong despite the US being over-matched in midfield. Clint Dempsey and Terrance Boyd looked strong as substitutes. You expect it from Dempsey who seems to still be on the rise but Boyd just looked like one of those guys who a) the ball finds and b) knows what to do with it when that happens. I'll give credit to Hercules Gomez as well but at his age my sense is that he is what he's going to be which is nice but he's not going to change the US's ability to compete internationally. The other extremely bright spot was Fabian Johnson who played well at left back (see Hulk doing little) which has been an enormous problem for the US since, well, always as far as I can remember. If Boyd and Johnson can continue to grow into their roles then the US should have two more important contributors for Brazil 2014 at spots they've historically been poor/thin at.