There is a lot going on in the land of foot fairies so before we get to the weekend ahead – and what a weekend it is – as your sissy sport spirit guide it seems only right that I help keep you up to date on some of noteworthy storylines. This way I can save you the stress and effort of reading things while still providing you with the insight you need to impress all your friends and would-be sexual conquests with the depth and breadth of your soccer knowledge. Win-win all around, really. So here are some of the headlines and a brief rundown on what you actually need to know about them:
• FIFA is trying to decide between three formats for World Cups starting in (no sooner than) 2026. The options are sticking with 32-team format that is just fine and nobody has any problems with, or switching to either a 40-team or 48-team format. A decision will be made in January. Upshot: There are serious problems with both of the latter two options, not least of which being the quality of the competition will be seriously watered down, but because the people voting and the people paying the voters (sponsors) want to expand the field – and because FIFA does not give one single fuck about what the fans want – the field will almost certainly be expanded, likely to 40 teams. Yay.
• The NASL, the de facto second [best] division in US beneath MLS, collapsed in financial disarray. Upshot: sucks for fans, players, and reps of the teams affected but most of them will eventually get absorbed by the USL, which will likely now become the de facto second [best] division in the US. People may suggest that this will somehow accelerate the move towards promotion/relegation, but I doubt it. The same hurdles that were standing in the way a few weeks ago (not to mention a few years ago), are still there today.
• There is reportedly trouble in paradise with Lexi Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who are out of contract with Arsenal after next season, as UK papers quoted Arsene Wenger with saying the club can survive without them. Also, PSG is lining up an offer to buy Dele Alli this summer. Upshot: these are perfect examples of the type of bullshit the UK papers, desperate to move papers, try to turn into actual news all the time. It is a half-step up from stories about Hillary Clinton selling child sex slaves out of DC pizza parlors. If you read them and actually care, you need to be better.
• Starting in 2018, Champions League group stage games will change from having just one coordinated kickoff timeslot – 1:45pm CT (except for one-off games played in Mother Russia) – to having two at Noon CT and 2pm CT. Upshot: Great news for literally every single person in the entire world save for yours truly who, assuming the stars align and I’m still blogging, will have to get blogs done even earlier in the day. Muy bien para ti; no bueno para mi.
• Authorities investigating the child sex abuse in British soccer revealed that they are targeting 83 potential suspects that had dealings with almost 100 clubs. Upshot: this is going to get worse before it gets better.
Anyway, now you are up to date on everything in the soccer world. Hooray! Now let’s get to the good stuff…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Reminder of what happened last weekend:
News, notes, highlights, lowlights and observations:
– Liverpool got off to a HOT START in the post-Coutinho era. Coughed up 2-0 and 3-1 leads… and lost 3-4. Woof. Funny how quickly all those “We are winning the league GFY” hardos disappear after a game like that. (For the record, the return of Joel Matip – who I was too harsh on a few weeks ago but has played well this season – will help, but Klopp still has serious work ahead to ship this defense into top 4-contending shape… unless they buy Virgil van Dijk in January and solve the problems in one fell swoop. *shrug*
– Lost in the shuffle was an incredible performance by Bournemouth, especially considering GK Artur Boruc essentially handed Liverpool their first two goals on a silver platter.
– WHEN YOU SEE IT
Tony Pulis is so far outside of his comfort zone right now. Wouldn’t surprise me if he is working out a backroom deal to replace Alan Pardew at 14th place Palace as we speak.
– United. United, United, United. I swear I’m not even trying to troll you guys but there is just so much damn material. It’s almost as if some guys on the team are actively trying to lose games. Let’s start with this tackle by Marcos Rojo in the early moments against Everton that somehow went a bit under the radar (since the announcers basically ignored it)… I mean, what in the holy fuck was he thinking???
Never seen a more obvious red card in this day and age, yet somehow he got away with a yellow. Wonder if Jozay mentioned how fortunate that was in the postgame comments. (Spoiler: No.) Not to be one-upped on stupidity, next we have Marouane Fellaini. A walking, talking, tackling loss waiting to happen. United was cruising towards what looked like a 1-0 win until Side Show Boob stepped up and finally made an impact on the game.
– Everybody always talks about things they HATE since that’s more fun but here’s one thing I actually like: when players don’t celebrate scoring goals against their former club. Yeah, yeah, there are plenty of examples of guys who do, usually because they are angry with the way they left, but a lot of players hold their hands up and hang their head as if they have done something wrong… a bit ridiculous, yes, but I still appreciate it because it is a gesture directed exclusively at the fans who once cheered for them (and helped pay their exorbitant salary). Anyway, that’s precisely how I felt every time Spurs scored another one… and another one… and another one against BBBB’s United Swans of America last weekend.
– Sunderland, you dirty dogs… or (Black) Cats, whatever. Taking advantage of defenseless EPLeicester like that and pushing Swansea into the cellar. All I’m saying is you guys better start buying a helluva lot more t-shirts can your boy Dan is gonna have some SERIOUS spending to do in January if he wants to avoid owning a Championship squad.
– You guys hear about West Ham Football Club?
Murdered by Arsenal on Saturday.
Then double-extra-murdered in cold blood by the Sky Bet Championship’s official twitter account:
– Not sure whether Palace winning 3-0 or Southampton losing 0-3 is more inexplicable. I’m flummoxed, flabbergasted even.
– Funny enough, all that blabber up above was just the appetizer to the main course: City versus Chelsea. What a game. What a spectacle. 3-1 road wins against the preseason favorite don’t come around every day, so let’s give Conte’s Blues some credit. A win is a win and three points are three points. But it seems as though people have lost a little perspective – and I am not even referring to the unbelievable childish way in which City took the loss:
No, I am referring to things like the postgame article on ESPN saying “Will Chelsea ever lose again?” after a game in which they EASILY could have – perhaps even should have – lost. It is just a reminder of how thin the margin for error is between and more likely among the top clubs in the league, where one questionable non-call:
and one inexplicable miss:
could have resulted in a totally different result.
After 14 games this is how things look:
And the games coming up this weekend:
PICKS OF THE WEEK
I’ll spare you an in-depth strategic discussion on this one. The big question in this one is now which team is going to win. That was decided long ago. Instead, the important question that we all need to ask ourselves going into this game is what is going to be Jozay’s go-to excuse for losing?
Given the fact that Spurs’ go-to offensive strategy is to win penalty kicks, I think it’s a fair bet that the referee will be the big winner – aside from Tottenham, that is.
Spurs to win 3-1.
[Note: for those of you who actually want an explanation, United is thin at the back with Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling both out, and Eric Bailly just back from injury (and having been dinged up a bit on Thursday)… and the fact the Red Devils just played a Europa League game in Ukraine will leave them a bit sluggish to begin with.]
So here’s the deal: if Swansea lose this weekend at home to fellow relegation battler, not only do they deserve to go down but they probably will end up going down. This is the very definition of a six-pointer, albeit one in which no club ever wants to be involved. BBBB’s boys are about as healthy as ever and ought to be pretty motivated to defend their honor after the ass whooping from Spurs last weekend. What’s more, not only are the Black Cats just plain not very good (especially without our boy Lynden Gooch who is out with an ankle injury until March), but there is no better time to catch a bottom-dweller than right after an unexpected win… irrational confidence through the roof. Swansea to win 2-0.
• Can we talk for a moment about Everton’s [+140] offensive woes? 17 goals in 14 games is not just bad, it is awful. The fact they have managed to cling to 8th place is a Christmas miracle. Nothing like a little Watford [+200] defense to help break that slump though. Everton to win 3-2.
• Most people probably missed this but due to a scheduling mishap EPLeicester accidentally showed up to their midweek game in Porto, which means UCLeicester [+400] should be fresh and ready to go this weekend against City [-150]. Still likely won’t be enough to win but gimme a 1-1 draw.
• Awwwwww shit, ya’ll done done it. Ya done done let West Brom get hot. I warning you about that. West Brom was like a hibernating mother bear who just got awoken from her slumber AND realized her baby cubs are nowhere to be found. Translation: watch the hell out… just kidding. Chelsea to win 2-0. (Truth be told I think WBA have a better shot in this than most people will give them credit for, and would not be shocked by a draw on Sunday… I just can’t come to grips with the thought of Tony Pulis straying this far from 13th place though, and have to imagine he’s going to do whatever it takes to get back to his happy place sooner rather than later.)
• West Ham [+900], you dead bruh. Liverpool [-350] to win 4-1.
• Quick hitters (to increase the chances I end up getting one of these right): Arsenal over Stoke; Palace stays hot with win over (striker-less) Hull; and draws from Burnley/Bournemouth and Southampton/Boro
Can we just admit that this year’s playoffs have been pretty godamn awesome? Good, I’m glad we are all in agreement. Doesn’t get much better than the matchup of Toronto and Seattle either. Lots of stars on display and passionate fan bases in the stands. I’m torn on who to root for because on the one hand my colleague roommate is a big Sounders fan but on the other if Toronto wins there is a decent chance Michael Bradley goes abroad and – Insh’Allah – will perhaps finds the USMNT skills he apparently left in Italy back in 2014.
REST OF THE WORLD
Spain: Barrrrrthe and Real both play cupcakes this weekend so if you’re looking for a good game I’d take a look at 3rd place Sevilla visiting 9th place Celta on Sunday (9:15am on beIN Sports en Español).
Germany: It’s inevitably going a bit under the radar here in the US but how about wee RB Leipzig this season?!? Really warms the cockles to see a tiny little club like that pull itself up by its bootstraps and make some serious noise in the Bundesliga. (Or they represent everything that is wrong with modern day soccer, whichever). Anyway, as for this weekend, the game to watch is 6th place BVB and Da 19-year-old Deity Christian Pulisic versus 7th place Cologne on Saturday (8:30am on FS1).
Italy: 7th place Torino welcome leaders Juventus to town on Sunday (8am CT on beIN Sports).
So there you have it. We have reached the section of the schedule where EPL games are going to start coming at us fast and furiously, including yet another domestic slate on Tuesday and Wednesday. Get pumped.
As a parting gift, I had the epiphany this week that lost in all the jokes about getting fat, fighting with tranny prostitutes and stupid haircuts is the fact we have forgotten just how incredible he was in the pre-Ronny/Messi days… so watch, remember and enjoy (apologies in advance for the audio):