Another week of Champions League is officially in the books. Thanks be to the soccer gods for the bountiful feast they saw fit to provide us with.
Two more rounds of home and homes (QFs and SFs) still to come, and that doesn’t send a jolt of blood to your nether region then you must not have a nether region.
Speaking of Champions League though, the walking talking phallus currently in charge of FIFA is back on his bullshit this month
and when not trying to fudge up the 2022 World Cup by implementing a last minute change of format (because money)
he is also trying to stir up interest in an expanded “Club World Cup” that – if it actually worked out – would do irreparable harm to the Champions League (for many reasons that I won’t get into right now) all because of Mr. Dickhead’s insatiable desire to line FIFA’s money-lined pockets with more money.
Fuck that guy.
Okay, in truth it’s probably best to [try to] keep an open mind about whatever changes these ninnies are attempting to implement… but – for good reason – it is hard to give FIFA the benefit of the doubt about anything at this point.
Enough about all that nonsense for now though. We got some important games coming up this weekend so let’s take a quick run-through so we know what to watch for and where to bet the 401(k). Onward ho to the previewing and predictioning…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Results from last weekend:
Honorable mention: Tottenham, Chelsea, Newcastle
Dishonorable mention: Bournemouth, Brighton
Table as things stand:
[Note: Danglies not so dangly!]
And this weekend’s truncated schedule (due to overlapping FA Cup quarterfinal games):
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
For as much fun as we have all enjoyed having at Chelsea expense lately, don’t look now but they are still very much in the mix for a top four slot only three points off 4th place Arsenal with a game in hand. Not so bad for a club that was supposedly falling apart at the seams when Kepa told Sarri to go heck himself when the coach tried to sub him off in the Make-Belieague Cup final a couple weeks ago. In fact, the Blues could jump into a Champions League slot this weekend if they win by five or more against Everton. Improbable? Probably. Impossible? Nah.
That said, right about now is precisely when the toll of playing in continental competitions may start to take a toll on some teams, and Chelsea seem like a prime candidate for that sort of thing. Sarri sat a number of starters for their midweek visit to Eastern Europe, including Eden Hazard, Jorginho and Pedro. However, gotta remember that even those guys still had to go through the toil and trouble of traveling to and from The Ukraine.
The only thing consistent about Everton this season is their remarkable inconsistency, but they have the talent to compete for a Europa League slot and I keep waiting for them to show it. Perhaps this weekend against a slightly slower Chelsea squad they finally look the part. It is a best case scenario for the Toffees, but Gonzalo Higuain is in doubt with an illness and Olivier Giroud used up his annual quota of goals on Spursday, so let’s go for the gusto: Everton to win 2-1.
Fulham have given us no reason to think they can play with pretty much anyone this season, let alone one of the two title contenders, but Liverpool are not only coming off a hugely emotional and tiring midweek game in Munich but they will also be missing Jordan Henderson and (likely) Naby Kieta in the middle. This pick makes no sense both on paper and because I’ve said all along I have the Reds winning the title this season… but Omar Gonzalez may be playing for the USMNT later this month so suffice to say soccer just doesn’t make sense sometimes. Plus new manager Scotty Parker has had a full week of practice to inspire the lads, which is nice. Fulham to pull off a famous 1-1 draw – and potentially pull within just 12 points of safety!
More picks (so I eventually get one right – maybe):
• BOURNEMOUTH vs NEWCASTLE – The surprise hot team” of the first half of the season welcome the (even bigger) surprise “hot team” of the second half… or at least the last couple months. Toon had basically come out gunning for 0-0 draws on the road and 1-0 wins at home all season but the addition of Miggy from Atlanta Utd has seemingly given them a new sense of confidence. Recent losses of Sean Longstaff and Jamaal Lascelles (injury) and Fabian Schar (red card) may take a toll though, and the Cherries’ front line of Fraser, Brooks, King and Wilson are bigly underrated, and only a matter of time ‘til they rediscover at least little of that fall 2018 form. Bournemouth to win 2-0.
• BURNLEY vs LESTER – Burnley have been “better” lately, meaning good enough to pull themselves just outside of the relegation zone, but they need to find (an estimated) 10 points from the last eight games to ensure safety based on the traditional 40-point threshold. Lester is arguably still in the fight for Europa… but not really. Gotta go with the more motivated team in this one, especially given how crap Lester have been lately.
“But what about the Brendan Rodgers bounce?”
Ha, what about it?
Burnley to win 1-0.
• WEST HAM vs HUDDERSFIELD – I said Huddersfield was eventually going to sneak up and bite somebody on the ass a few weeks ago when they faced Wolves. Little did I know that opponent was actually going to be Wolves (who I definitely had picked to win). The Terriers then went on to lose to a slumping Brighton and a slumping Bournemouth. Not exactly confidence-instilling performances. West Ham to win 3-1.
Eight teams left from the 736 that entered the competition. They include six big swinging dicks and two Championship sides. Sadly, all the real Cinderella’s are dead and gone so that leaves Millwall and Big Cat’s beloved Swans as the plucky underdogs (relatively speaking).
Shaping up to be a tight, low-scoring game and probably the most evenly matched of the four fixtures. There is some talk that Wilfy Zaha picked up a mild calf strain in practice. If that either hampers old boy or leads manager Roy Hodgson sit him (unlikely even though the Eagles are only five points out of 18th) could be big. Palace has been a little more consistent lately but Watford’s ceiling is higher. Bit of a toss-up, this one, so I’m deferring to the home side. Watford to win 2-1.
Billions of oil money versus thousands of Barstool money.
Could they do it? Could Swansea pull this off?? No, probably not. City is too big, too fast, too deep, too good. They just curb stomped Schalke in Champions League for goodness sake. No chance the get tripped up in their bid for “the quadruple” by a Championship team owner by Daniel Katz.
Lezzzzbe serious. City will no doubt get upwards of 20 legit looks at net – and that assumes the Swans forgot to cut the grass for a couple weeks and accidentally scheduled a concert this week to chew up the field. Now what if – and bear with me on this, but what if – they pack 10 guys behind the ball and somehow City skies every shot to the moon… there are no replays in the FA Cup quarters this year so maybe they hold them scoreless for 90 minutes. I know, I know. No chance. But putting money on City feels a little like punching a baby. So I’m doing it anyway. Gimme a 0-0 draw with Swans doing the inmpossible and moving on after penalties.
Tfw you have immediate buyer’s remorse
Most interesting matchup of the four quarterfinals. Wolves are giant killers. United are threatening to regain their “giant” status now that Ole Gunnar and his motivational cat poster coaching style has re-galvanized the team’s spirit.
This will sounds weird given how much of United’s season has gone, but if this game is even a little bit entertaining for those watching at home that is great news for the Red Devils. Wolves greatest ability – other than skirting all sorts of financial fair play and agent/third-party ownership rules – is how adept they are at strangling every last drop of life out of games.
Wolves have proven to be my biggest bugaboo team this season. Anytime I doubt them they are great. Anything I think they have a game in the bag they lose to Huddersfield. So the good news for Wolves fans is I’m doubting them again, with my thinking being that United looked better than the 0-2 result against Arsenal would suggest, and Martial and Rashford (not saddled with Lukaku) are gonna be a problem for Wolves’ not terribly fleet-of-foot backline. United to win 2-1.
Fuck you I’m [going] Millwall to win 3-2.
LAP AROUND THE WORLD
GERMANY – Bayern and Dortmund are both playing mid-table muddlers so might be worth checking out Weston McKennie’s coach-less Schalke to see if they can start to dig themselves out of the 14th place hole they find themselves in when they welcome 3rd place RB Leipzig on Saturday (9:30am CT).
ITALY – Juventus are mathematically (almost) champions once again so no need to worry about them anymore (outside of Champions League) and anyway this weekend is the MILAN DÆRBY with 3rd place Milan (51 pts) hosting 4th place Inter (50 pts) with 5th place Roma just three points. The battle for top four will hopefully pick up some of the slack for the officially deader than dead Scudetto race.
SPAIN – Getafe has a four-point lead in its quest for fourth place and a tough game on the road at 7th place Valencia on Saturday (12:30pm CT).
MEXICO – SÚPER CLÁSICO TIME! I don’t get into LigaMX too much for a number of reasons but every time I watch a game I’m reminded of how borderline psycho (aka fun) the league is, and the latest edition of the league’s biggest rivalry – Non-Bankrupt Chivas vs América – is coming up on Saturday (8pm CT) so if you ain’t busy you would be well advised to check that out.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
MLS was in great position to make some serious waves in the Concacaf Champions League (for once) but really shit the bed in the quarterfinals this week, needing some late magic from Sporting KC just to get one of the four teams through to the semifinals. Sucks but not terribly surprising.
As for the state of the league itself, last weekend’s results were a little funky but not quite as much so as week 1.
My own personal Power Rankings for top and bottom three would be something like this:
22. Atlanta (more out of disappointment rather than because they suck)
24. San Jose
As for the games on deck this weekend:
And finally a few games that stand out from the crowd for various reasons:
– Fire have been the better team in two games and have zero wins to show for it, and now come up against one of the more impressive teams in the league in Seattle.
– Columbus vs Dallas is a battle of undefeateds
– If I predicted that RBNY will put up double digits, would you even be surprised?
– Home opener in Cincy so you know Nippert is gonna be rocking, though they have a tough opponent in Portland on the dance card.
– Atlanta need a win BAD and at home verus Philly is a nice recipe for success, though on the flipside if they lose this one the heat of Frank De Bore’s seat may start removing layers of skin
– Highest profile matchup of weekend is LAFC visiting NYCFC, with the home team coming off two successive draws. New York has been solid defensively but that will be tested by the better but Zlatan-less LA team.
Bad news, fam. Next week is another international break. Sucks, I know. Might as well make the best of it and concentrate on the USMNT beating some Ecuadorian and Chilean ass.