Good news: Soccer! We’ve got soccer to help us sail through the midweek doldrums!
Bad news: I am not going to lie to you, loyal reader, this is not going to be the most exhilarating slate of games you have ever seen. In fact I would go so far as to say it is about as bad as it gets in terms of “high profile” matchups. But don’t let that get to you because some soccer >>>>>>> no soccer, especially when your only alternative is Lumberg’s TPS Reports.
So let’s get to it.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Scores from the past weekend:
News, notes, observations, highlights & lowlights:
– Jozay’s United did what Jozay’s United does against Big Six clubs and parked the bus, and to be fair they did so rather successfully and may have snuck out with a point or possibly even three… but then Romelu Lukaku – silent for 80% of the season – stepped up and made his presence felt in a big, bad way (literally) by handing City not one but two goals on a golden platter, the second of which being particularly embarrassing as his attempt to clear a set piece free kick hit a teammate in the back and went straight to Nicolas Otamendi standing unmarked in front of United’s goal. Derp derp.
Things somehow got even worse when the big burly Belgian had only the keeper to beat to draw level in the waning moments but *gasp* wasted it by shooting directly at Ederson’s face. (Also, if you know someone complaining about the Ander Herrera non-penalty call you have my permission to punch them in the dick… that was a dive, plain and simple.)
So at the end of the day United took an L, Jozay took an L, and anybody hoping for an EPL title race took an L. Unfortunate.
– Speaking of taking an L, that’s essentially what Liverpool did by settling for a draw with Everton after DOMMMMMMMMINATING the entire game. Not even sure if the Toffees had a shot, let alone a shot on goal, in open play. The extremely weak (but defensible) penalty call on Dejan The Dummy, who naively gave the ref the option of whistling it by putting two hands on Calvert-Lewin’s back, understandably attracted a lot of attention in the immediate aftermath of the game
as did Klopp’s mini-postgame hissy fit… but what should get more attention is the Kloppster’s decision to start with Coutinho and Firmino on the bench in a game that he should have known was going to be hard fought and, more importantly, would inevitably make him look like a maroon if the unthinkable happened and Everton got a result. Herr Klopp made his bed, now he has to lie in it – which he no doubt understands, albeit belatedly, and is why the normally cool, calm and collected German acted like a 12-year-old in the postgame interview. Sucks to suck.
– As for Everton, was it a game to write home about? Abbbbbbbsolutely not, but yet another example of Big Sam doing Big Sam things by sprinkling his magic fairy dust on a new club’s porous defense and tightening things up just enough to get some much-needed points.
– In fact, the weekend was almost a best-case scenario for City as Chelsea also took an L while Arsenal and Liverpool settled for draws, meaning Tottenham were alone among Big Sixers in just keeping pace with the league leaders, who have won 14 straight and earned 46 points from 16 games… and – nbd but kbd – is off to the best start in EPL history. Gonna take something miraculous (or more likely a rash of injuries) to keep things close.
– On the flipside (of the table), all three of the clubs in the relegation zone played relatively well and came away with points… including 1-0 wins for West Ham (over Chelsea) and Swansea (over West Brom), and a 2-2 draw for Crystal Palace (with Bournemouth) in which they could and should have scored six or seven goals.
– Yet, while picking up a point is basically cause for a ticker tape parade for Palace this season, the draw probably felt a lot like a loss after they were awarded a penalty with no time on the clock that should have turned one point into three… but instead of their designated penalty taker (Luka Milivojevic – who had already buried one) taking it, Christian Benteke grabbed the ball and proceeded to poop his pants. Milivojevic is at fault for letting him. Manager Woy Hodgson is at fault for not screaming at Benteke to let Milivojevic take it. And Benteke is at fault for being both selfish and a shitty penalty taker. Fun times at Sulhurst Park – HOO-WA!
– Burnley you wily little bastards, you! The wee buggers have still scored less than ONE goal a game yet have picked up almost TWO points per game. Efficiency (and perhaps some good fortune) like you read about. Kudos to them though.
Honorable mention: Liverpool, Burnley, Pogba-less United
19. West Brom
Dishonorable mention: Newcastle, Brighton, Jurgen Klopp
Table as it stands now:
And the schedule for today and tomorrow:
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
West Ham [+400]
So, um, member when I said this isn’t going to be the sexiest slate of games we’ll get to feast our eyes upon all season? Yeah, I meant that. Not a marquee matchup in sight so I’m giving top billing to a London Dærby involving a slightly resurgent West Ham and relatively weak but not historically so Arsenal.
Hammies are fresh off an unexpected win at home over Chelsea in a game where they got an early goal and bunkered for the rest of the 90 minutes. Not pretty but it worked, which is all that matters for the relegation-threatened club at the moment.
Arsenal drew 1-1 with Southampton in a game where they looked – surprisingly, given how good they looked against United the weekend before – like the second best team from start to finish. Hard to wrap your head around this Arsenal team at the moment. It may have been a hangover from playing in on Spursday in Europa, which would be bad news because the EPL fixture list over the holidays is as grueling as it gets, so if they are tired now they could be in danger of dropping a whole lotta points in a very short period over the next couple of weeks.
One big problem for Arsenal is at the back where Per Mertesacker (aka “Newborn Baby Giraffe on Ice”) has been awful and Shkordan Mustafi is likely still out injured, meaning Wanger may be forced to play a makeshift defense with Rob Holding flanked by the rapidly aging Laurent Koscielny and Cinchilla Monreal. Can’t help thinking the combo of Antonio/Lanzini/Arnautovic will find a way to put away a goal or two on that clunky backline.
Alas, not sure it’ll be enough though considering West Ham’s embarrassing defensive record (if we assume the shutout against Chelsea was one of those once-a-quarter anomalies). Could be a lot closer than the bookies apparently think, but still think the Goon squad finds a way to pull it out and keep The Danglies™ in hiding for another few days (at least). Arsenal to win 3-2.
Alvaro Morata will reportedly be rested meaning Michy Batshuayi could get another chance to show that he doesn’t suck quite as bad as Antonio Conte thinks… or Conte may go with Eden Hazard up top instead. Either way, Chelsea could find it tough sledding trying to break down Huddersfield’s defense, which has proven particularly sturdy at home. Vacillating quite a bit on this one but in the end think Hazard + Pedro + Willian = the type of quickness that is likely going to give the Terriers’ backline fits. Chelsea to win 2-1.
• Stoke is still walking bow-legged from the pounding they just took “at” Tottenham, and there is really no reason to think they ought to fare much better at quiet assassins Burnley… except for the fact that manager Mark Hughes can be a scary little muh-fucker when he wants to be, and I feel like things have now officially gotten bad enough that he may have started threatening bodily harm if the Potters’ defense doesn’t improve. Not sure it’s sustainable in the longer term but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they (including newly healthful Geoff Cameron) just might show up this week. I’ll say 1-1 draw.
• Watford has been all over the map this season, getting spanked 6-0 by City, outplaying Chelsea but finding a way to lose 4-2, pounding Newcastle, losing 0-1 to Burnley, etc. The last one was marred by a red card that changed the game a bit, but can’t help thinking Palace’s mildly resurgent offense could cause problems for a team like Watford that knows only one way to play: full speed ahead. Very pleasing to watch, but not necessarily for fans of the Hornets wanting them to accumulate maximum points. Palace to win 3-2.
• Some people may disagree with me but I have a hard time believing that City is as good as their record. Their offense is, no doubt, but guys like Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaqim Mangala and Fabian Delph at the back? For a “historically” good team?!? Nah fam, not buying that. Reeling them in down the stretch may be a… well, stretch… but they are going to lose some games here and there, which could make things borderline interesting this spring. Probably not fully interesting, but at least borderline interesting. Hard to imagine the losing starting on Wednesday though. Swansea’s defensive record is not terrible but they just don’t have the firepower to keep City at bay even a little bit. City to win 2-0.
• Did Southampton just turn a corner? The impressive performance against Arsenal suggests that things may finally be coming together a bit, likely a result of players finally getting healthy and starting to buy into Mauricio Pellegrino’s deep-defending and counter-attacking style… which, you might notice, sounds a lot like what Lester tend to do. Can’t imagine this game being much fun for a neutral, but think the home side is clicking (and the Foxes used up all their luck for the month against Newcastle). Southampton to win 2-1.
• Several things I know you know I know we both know about this game: (1) Newcastle will score first and (2) Everton will eventually come back to draw level [meaning “both teams to score” is free money for those of you scoring at home]. That doesn’t mean the game will finish like that… buttttttttttt it probably will. I’ll go with 2-2 draw.
• I would DIE laughing if Liverpool comes out with a “tactical” (ie, less than first-choice) XI on Wednesday against West Brom – no chance of that though. Whether Klopp really learned his lesson or not against Everton doesn’t matter. He is politically astute enough to know that he’s starting to walk on thin ice with the fanbase (note: the seat under just about any other manager with his record would be hot like fire longgggg ago… something to be said for being a jovial German, I suppose). Sam’s Stone Cold Lock of the Week™: Liverpool to win 4-1.
• NOBODY SPILLS MILK ON MOURINHO! United to win 2-0.
• Bad news for Tottenham as Toby Alderweireld’s injury absence is now expected to last into February. Given his underrated importance to a defense that is not nearly as ruthlessly efficient without him, this could be a problem… especially if Davinson Sanchez is out suspended and especially against better teams. Both of these elements will be in place when Spurs face City on Saturday
but, alas, Brighton has not only been in poor form but the “boast” the type of good-in-the-Championship-striker in Glenn Murray that Poch’s side has traditionally treated like lil itches. Tottenham to win 3-0.
MLS – PLAYOFFS
Grats to Toronto FC. Not the greatest of games to watch for neutrals, but miles better than last year’s inglorious final. There was a little controversy about whether Jozy Altidore was offside on the first goal
but the truth is that the Italian, Spanish and American-led Canadians were clearly the better side for the entire 90 so in the end probably better this result than another 30 minutes of scoreless extra time and a penalty shootout. There is some irony, of course, in Michael Bradley (who was the game’s MVP) and Jozy Altidore leading a “foreign” team to victory just months after being in charge of the highest profile soccer failure in our country’s history. And yes, as a selfish human being, part of me was disgusted watching them celebrate wildly right in my face like that…
but at a certain point we, the collective USMNT fanbase, are – “Listen! Listen! Listen to what I’m bout to say! Listen!” – going to have to get over our butthurtedness and realize that (with the exception of Omar Gonzalez) the guys were all trying their best out there against T&T and throughout qualifying but just didn’t get it done for a myriad of reasons. So I forced myself to be at least a little happy for Bradley and Altidore, and invite you to do so as well.
[Please note that I’m NOT saying I’m over it just yet. Far from it, in fact, as I don’t think that day will come until the quarterfinals of next summer’s World Cup arrives and we can safely assume the US would have been eliminated from the competition. Then and only then will the hate in my heart truly start to dissipate. ]
Incidentally, on a related note, damn fine season for Toronto – perhaps one of the best in league history according to people who have followed the league closer and longer than myself. HOWEVA, anybody claiming that they won some sort of “treble” should be chemically castrated. The “Canadian Championship” involves a grand total of five teams – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in MLS plus Ottawa [USL] and Edmonton [NASL] – and required Toronto to win just TWO games, so calling it a “trophy” is an embarrassment to trophies everywhere. Even the Carabao Cup would laugh in the face of the Canadian Championship, which is really saying something.
Be better, people. I know you can.
REST OF WORLD
Not a whole lot going on outside of EPL except for in Germany where they also have a full slate. Lots of games will be on FS1 or FS2 but I’ll highlight Tuesday’s BVBabyjesus game at Mainz (on FS1 at 1:30pm CT) in part because watching train wrecks are fun and Dortmund are falling apart at the seams… in fact, the club just fired manager Peter Bosz just months after hiring him and brought in ex-Cologne boss Peter Stoger, which feels a lot like a stopgap measure until they can get the guy they reeeeeeally want this summer…
So there we have it. Another full (and more exhilarating) slate of games coming up this weekend. Get pumped.
PS: please keep Marcos Rojo in your T’s and P’s.