Fun little evening of people knocking one another’s blocks off has come to a close and the Super Bowl isn’t for damn near two days so what the hell is there to do in the meantime? Why, how about indulging in another couple days of EPL action, plus another installment of USMNT and some other games worth taking note of from elsewhere. If that doesn’t sound like a damn good way to pass the time until we root our balls off for one of the greatest owner’s in the history of sports then I just don’t know what to tell you:
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Honorable mention: Tottenham
18. West Ham
Dishonorable mention: Palace, Fulham
Table as it stands now:
And this weekend’s schedule:
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
City pooped out an absolute egg against Newcastle on Tuesday. No way to explain that game other than Rafa Benitez is sometimes a wizard capable of magically making points appear out of thin air. Pep & Co. lucked out though because despite the terrible result they only dropped one point to Liverpool – aka, the only other club in the title race – which could muster only a draw against Lester.
Here’s the thing though: Liverpool may slip up a couple times between now and May… but barring a Tottenham-like rash of injuries it ain’t gonna happen too often. That means if City, already six points back, drop another deuce on the field this weekend it may be time to transition to life support (not quite but pushing that narrative helps build drama so bear with me).
That makes this weekend’s game against the sometimes-resurgent Arsenal a critical test of whether City has the testicles to stick around and give Liverpool a run for their money this spring. It is rare to say that a game between clubs this big boils down to one thing but at the end of the day I think the Gunners’ make-shift defense – even before injury concerns to Maitland-Niles (knee), Koscielny (face) and Mustafi (brain) are accounted for – are probably going to get eaten alive by the likes of Silva, Sterling, Sane and Aguero. City to win 3-1.
Note: Arsenal signing Denis Suarez (on loan with an option to buy) is an interesting move. I am automatically nervous anytime Barcelona lets someone go like that… but there is no doubt he brings plenty of skill to the table. In fact in many ways he is the prototypical Arsenal central munchkin — excuse me, midfielder – who could help them get back to the Barcelona-light, ball possession-heavy style they were once known for. But while he brings some quality, the reason I can’t say love it the move is because of the skill and injury crisis the Gunners are facing on defense. They really should have done something to address that, especially once everybody’s favorite neighborhood hashish dealer went down for the season.
Claude Puel must have severe gingivitis or something because the guy has been run out of job’s for seemingly little reason in the past and – for whatever reason – it seems like Lester is itching to pull the trigger on sending him packing once again… this despite recent wins over City and Chelsea, and a draw at Anfield over champions-elect Liverpool on Wednesday. The club’s (or perhaps Puel’s) big problem is that just like they have played up to much of the competition, they also have a knack for playing down (or even below) teams like Southampton, Cardiff and Newport County.
There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging in those and other recent games, though, which would suggest the Foxes play well against a team in United that has been playing some of its best soccer of the season. Every fiber and sinew of my being is pushing to say draw…. but I can’t help thinking that is my unconscious bias trying to hoodwink and bamboozle my brain. The Red Devils haven’t been quite as good under Solskjaer as their record would suggest, nor were they very good against Burnley in the midweek.
However, with Anthony Martial back healthy and in the XI they will probably have enough quality to overcome the need to once again start Phil Jones. United to win 2-1.
Additional picks (so I eventually get one right maybe):
• TOTTENHAM vs NEWCASTLE – Spurs’ recent come from behind wins over Fulham and Watford were season-altering results. Had they lost one or both – which they easily could have – the club could be on 48 points, floundering one point ahead of Arsenal/Chelsea and three ahead of United, and Daniel Levy may have been forced to alter his “vision” and spend some money. Instead the club pulled out wins, guys like Michy Batshuayi were allowed to go elsewhere, and here we are. Will it prove to be a good decision not to sign anybody? I think ultimately it will, but as a fan it is certainly frustrating in the interim. Spurs are going to drop points, probably quite a few, over the next month… but despite Newcastle’s impressive showing against City, I think one win over a Big Six in a week is all Rafa’s black magic can muster. Spurs to win 1-0.
• BRIGHTON vs WATFORD – The Hornets will feel a little hard done by in losing to Tottenham in the midweek but the truth is they really didn’t play well enough to win the game even after taking an early lead. Similar story for Brighton, which got played off the field after taking an early lead at Fulham. Watford is the better team but the Seagulls are always a dogged opponent at home. 1-1 draw.
• BURNLEY vs SOUTHAMPTON – Saints could be missing all sorts of first choice players (Lemina, Bertrand and Hojbjerg), which is a lot of talent on the sidelines against a Clarets side that seems – at long last – to have remembered how to successful ugly things up and get results. 2-1 win for Burnley.
• CHELSEA vs HUDDERSFIELD – The Blues got their asses handed to them by Bournemouth on Wednesday. Sarri has been catching a lot of grief for seeming to throw his players under the bus but honestly it is hard to blame him. They have a ton of talent but just looked like they didn’t really care that game. Part of that comes back on the manager (and especially on some of his personnel moves… like his love to Jorginho and apparent hatred for Hudson-Odoi) but at some point the players themselves need to step up. No better opponents to start “finding yourself” against than Huddersfield and their 13-goals-scored-this-season. Chelsea to win 3-0 – including [*UPSET ALERT*] a goal for Hungry Hungry Higuain
• PALACE vs FULHAM – No Zaha no party after the one-man-show picked up a late red card against Southampton. The fact is that Zaha has been remarkably unproductive this season… but there is no denying that even when he’s not scoring he is pulling vast amounts of opponents’ attention away from teammates. Fulham finally has some momentum after roaring back against Brighton. Fulham to win 2-1. (Sidenote: late loan deals for Liverpool’s Markovic and Hoffenheim’s Nordtveit were nice additions for the Cottagers though a little surprising they didn’t do more to shore up what was a historically bad backline.)
• EVERTON vs WOLVES – There is not a ton separating #s 7 through 12 (Wolves, Everton, Watford, Bournemouth, Lester and West Hem) so this game has bigggggggg time Europa ramifications. Everton have been bad for months but still have found a way to scrounge together enough points – despite a preponderance of inexplicably dumb plays and unlucky bounces (the last season double doink against Liverpool will go down in infamy) – to hang near the front of that pack. Wolves reminded everybody that if you don’t bring you’re A-game they will pummel you against a distracted West Ham on Tuesday. Putting faith in Everton to bring their A-game is a recipe for disappointment but sometimes you just gotta say fuck it and live a little, cuz. Everton to win 2-0.
• CARDIFF vs BOURNEMOUTH – Which version of the Cherries shows up this weekend? The one that spanked the bejesus out of Chelsea or the one that prior to that had picked up four points since Christmas? The former finds a way to draw with a not-very-good Cardiff side while the latter wins going away. Hard to say but I gotta admit they looked so damn impressive against the Blues that I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt (though no chance they hold two clean sheets in a row so I’d at least consider hammering that over). Bournemouth to win 3-1.
WEST HAM vs LIVERPOOL – Each club is coming off one of their most disappointing performances of the season. West Ham looked awful against Wolves. Part of that is Wolves being good but a lot of it was Hammies played like a wat fart (can’t help thinking the situation with Arnautovic leaving-but-then-whoops-just-kidding-really-not played a part in that). Liverpool laid one of only a few eggs this entire season against Lester. I got zero faith that the Hammies are ready to bounce back, and the fact is even if they do they might not have enough to stick with a B- performance from Liverpool. I will say that IF – and it’s a big if – but IF the visitors do drop points in this one and City win to close the game to four or (gasp) even three points….. hooooooooooo doggie, a lot of people are going to have some fun on the twitter machine making Reds’ fans mighty nervous. But, nah. Liverpool to win 2-1.
LAP AROUND THE WORLD
ITALY – Roma just got their asses handed to them by Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia so will be out to save a little face in a pre-Super Bowl appetizer on Sunday (1:30pm CT) when they welcome Milan in a game with big time top four implications.
GERMANY – BVBabyjesus are “clinging” to a six point lead over Bayern at the moment but face a tough test heading to Eintracht on Saturday (8:30am CT).
SPAIN – Stop what you are doing and watch the goal that Barcelona scored against Sevilla this week.
My god, that is prettier than any picture that has ever been painted. It’s too bad they don’t have a lot of competition for the La Liga title this season but maybe – jussssst maybe Atletico (five points back) – can put some heat on. Speaking of which, Barça have a tricky road game at Valenthia on Saturday (11:30am CT) that would be well worth watching.
FRANCE – PSG has been tea-bagging Ligue 1 once again this season but they should at least face some competition this weekend as the Neymar-less champions-to-be visit Lyon on Sunday (2pm CT).
Fresh off our dominance of a relatively poor Panamanian squad, the USMNT faces a little sterner test on Saturday against Costa Rica. There were some nice performances last Sunday – notably Nick Lima at RB as well as Dorde Mihailovic and (fan favorite) Michael Bradley in MF – but it is hard to get too excited given the level of opposition. Nevertheless, it is an important win optically if nothing else… aside from USSF dropping the ball BIG TIME by playing the game in a 60,000-seat football stadium while attracting only a couple thousand fans with their RIDICULOUS-ly expensive ticket prices – but that is another story for another time.
I’ll be back with a quick preview blog on the game roughly an hour before kickoff once the starting XI has been revealed so keep your head on a swivel for that.
So there we have it. Reminder: LETS GO RAMS!