Suffice to say this was not a banner week in the foot fairy universe, which featured the collapse of the NASL (the US’s quasi “second division” soccer league below MLS), some serious new accusations of tax fraud by some of the world’s topplayers (eg, Ronny, Falcao and perhaps even Mesut Ozil), reports of widespread child molestation in the English youth system (with Chelsea apparently leading the league in yet another category – granted, the true extent of the situation is only just beginning to be uncovered) and topped off with one of the more devastating plane crashes in the history of sports.
Speaking of this latter situation, as one has come to expect from the dummies, idiots and maroons that dominate twitter dot com, there were a lot of impressively insensitive tweets about the Chapecoense tragedy. Most were based on some derivation of the incomprehensibly stale trope about soccer players being floppers… which makes sense since you never see that sort of ridiculousness in basketball…
Or especially hockey…
For some reason though it was a handful of missives from one of America’s favorite Pro/Rel wingnuts – for the n00bs these are the small legion of twitter warriors whose lives are so devoid of serious problems that their singular reason for waking up each morning is to “fight” for MLS to implement a “promotion/relegation” structure. The thing is that I am quite sure Batty Uncle Ted means well. Pro/Rel would, after all, inarguably be a great thing for American soccer fans. But these tweets were….. well, they were quintessential Tedward.
Dumb jokes are one thing, but using the deaths of an entire soccer team (never mind team officials, media people, crew members, and so on) to push an ulterior agenda is just award-winningly stupid.
Anyway, enough about that ish, let’s move along to the weekend ahead…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Reminder of what happened last weekend:
News, notes, observations and highlights:
– There is no sugarcoating Coutinho’s injury for Liverpool fans. The Reds are far from a one-man team but the wee Brazilian has been in the best form of his life and his absence should allow opposing defenses more flexibility to sag off a bit making things harder on the likes of Fermino, Henderson, Lallana, Origi and – assuming he sees the field at some point – Hammy Studge.
– Spurs took their first (league) L on the season. Perhaps popping that cherry will mean the team stops playing scared to lose, which has led to six draws – SIX DRAWS IN 13 GAMES! – so far. Not good. There is light at the end of the tunnel though as Toby Alderweireld is on the verge of returning, which will do wonders for a defense that has become increasingly dependent upon Hugo Lloris’ brilliance. In fact, his absence has arguably been more disruptive than was that of The Babyjesus Kane.
– Speaking of Spurs, despite falling short against Chelsea, did they just offer a bit of a blueprint for beating the league leaders? Stay tuned… [foreshadowing!]
– Nobody has gone from looking like a messiah to moron quicker than Ronald Koeman at Everton. The club has completely lost the plot lately, which makes little sense given the amount of talent that have, though if there is a silvery lining it is that they’ve still managed to hang on to 7th place in the table despite the recent woes.
– I feel sorry for those of you who weren’t able to watch the Swansea vs Palace game last weekend. Was it good offense or embarrassing defense? Who cares! It was awesome. Lead changes left and right, goals galore and late drama, all leading up to Big Bad Bald Bob’s first win for the United Swansea of America. Now that’s how to get your weekend started off on the right foot.
– Remember when Alan Pardew became a hero thanks to a bright start at Newcastle but soon wore out his welcome and became persona non grata? Time is a flat circle.
– EPLeicester is just trolling us at this point.
– Southampton’s scouting and youth system is the gift that keeps on giving. Big clubs have been swooping in and eating their lunch year in and year out, and yet the Saints just keep on keeping on. Somebody is going to (rightly) buy Virgil van Dijk next summer for $1 billion (and keep an eye on recent debutante Jack Sims) but anybody doubting the club’s ability to bounce right back to the lower end of the upper half of the league table is bound to look like an idiot. I don’t normally talk about the League Cup since it’s a garbage competition, but the Saints win at Arsenal on Wednesday was an impressive performance and a likely harbinger of good things to come.
– Speaking of the League Cup:
After 13 games this is how things look:
And the games coming up this weekend:
PICKS OF THE WEEK
This is one of those games where the media will inevitably talk it up as a “clash of styles” when in reality this isn’t necessarily true. The narrative will of course be that Pep schools his players to attack, attack, attack while Conte is all about defend, defend, defend. The stats don’t necessarily support this assertion though:
In truth, I don’t blame you if the value on offer with Chelsea is too much to pass up, but I have a hunch that Tottenham’s aggressive play in the first half, which put the Blues back on their heels for 99% of the first half (until an unstoppable blast directly to my dick from Pedro turned the tide) is a template that Pep will try to build off of on Saturday – with one big difference that may prove telling: City’s wingers like Raheem Sturridge and Nolito are far more dangerous than what Spurs’ can trot out at the moment, which should cause serious problems for Chelsea’s three-back setup. Having said all that, it’s worth noting that the Blues have conceded a grand total of ONE goal in their last SEVEN league games, which is to say that predicting an offensive outburst from an opponent right here right now is probably a damn good way to look stupid.
City to win 3-1.
West Ham/Arsenal is in the mix for Game of the Week – Honorable Mention but I’m more interested in this puppy given United’s “inconsistency” (to put it nicely) and Everton’s recent crappiness (to put it mildly).
Both teams have been disappointing on offense this year but, despite some bad breakdowns here and there, have slightly better defensive records than you might think (both having conceded 15 goals). Jozay Mounrinho appears to have finally come to his senses and may be starting Henrikh Mkhitaryan this weekend but – as a neutral observer – I’ve been a bit disappointed that has hasn’t found a way to get Marcus Rashford more minutes, either alongside (or perhaps even instead of) The Zlatan.
It is hard to be impressed with either club right now, and in fact I went back and forth on so many times on this game that there really can only be one option: an uninspired 1-1 draw.
• My biggest concern when Tottenham [-300] hosts Swansea [+850] on Saturday is that the Spurs may fuck around and hang double digits on BBBB’s USA, which will make it that much more difficult for American coaches abroad. Spurs to win 4-1.
• DON’T YOU DARE LET WEST BROM [+110] GET HOT! The Baggies got a little crazy recently and notched two wins in a row, including a 4-0 demolition of wee Burnley, before stumbling a bit and settling for a 1-1 draw with Hull last time out. The problem is that Tony Pulis is soccer’s answer to Jeff Fisher, meaning that anytime they stray too far away from the friendly confines of 13th place there are unseen universal forces that step in to remediate the situation. The club sits in 9th place at the moment, and don’t look now but a win this weekend could theoretically see West Brom jump into 6th place. Lemme say that again: a win and West Brom could be 6th in the EPL. Let’s be serious. That ain’t happening. Watford [+260] to win 2-1.
• West Ham [+370] is what happens when an otherwise solid team has absolutely no striking talent, and is basically forced to hold things together using chewing gum and toothpicks until they can buy someone in January. As for Arsenal [-140], their most talented chinchilla, Santi Cazorla, had ankle surgery this week and could be out for several months, which won’t receive the same sort of pub as Coutinho’s extended absence but could be a sneaky huge problem. Time for Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey to step up. Arsenal to win 2-0.
• Don’t let that ugly 2-0 win over Poor People (aka Leeds) United fool you, Liverpool [-150] could be a little vulnerable for a few weeks as it adjusts to life without their biggest playmaker. Bournemouth, on the other hand, has vacillated between “kinda meh” and “really meh” this season. This game smells a lot like a double dose of meh. Gimme a 2-2 draw.
• Relative to what my admittedly dumb brain was expecting coming into this season, Hull [+400] has been better and Middlesbrough [-130] has been worse. Still a lot of games to play for each team to revert to my expected mean though, and why not start this weekend. Middlesbrough to win 1-0.
REST OF THE WORLD
Spain: Not much going on in La Liga this weekend… I mean, other than the game featuring the world’s two best teams on Saturday morning. That’s right, El Clasico #1 on the season will see Barrrrrrrrrthelona welcome Real Madrid to the Camp Nou (9:15am on beIN Sports). There’s not much else to say about the game itself other than if you ain’t planning on watching then you can go fuck yourself. But an interesting subplot that broke on Friday is that the on-field feud battle between Messi and Ronny seems to have bled into the rest of their lives, where Messi got arrested for shielding €5 million so Ronny went and one-upped him, and is now being accused – granted, by anonymous sources – of shielding €150 million from tax collectors.
Germany: Revierderby time with Christian Pulisic’s Dortmund hosting Fabian Johnson’s Monchenpenisgladbach on Saturday (8:30am on FS1).
Italy: Derby della Capitale time with Lazio welcoming Roma across town on Sunday (8am CT on beIN Sports).
So there you have it. Good weekend of soccer action ahead, followed next week by a lil mo’: