Barstool’s Weekend Soccer Preview – The “24th Annual SMARMY™ Awards Celebration & Gala” Edition

Sam’s Safe Space For Soccer Stoolies

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Hi haters,

Welp, boys and girls, 2017 has been… well, it’s certainly been something.

There were plenty of highlights. Chelsea deservedly lifted the EPL trophy in June and City all but taking it away in December. Barcelona appears to have La Liga on lockdown while Bayern and PSG look well on their way to repeats. Juventus won Serie A yet again last spring but has taken a half step back while Napoli and Inter have improved, meaning Italy is shaping up to be by far the most interesting domestic league to watch coming down the stretch this spring. And let’s not forget Ronnie winning the Champions League yet again (with an assist from Real Madrid), or Seattle and Toronto renewing acquaintances in the MLS Cup.

But for American soccer fans this year will invariably go down as the worst year in the history of forever for obvious reasons.

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In fact it is STILL too soon for me to discuss this ridiculousness without getting all butthurt about it so if you are dying for some silver linings then feel free to read this…

but for now I’m going to do what I do every time something bad happens and bury the hurt way down deep, pretend like it never happened, and move right along to something else… which in this case is an obnoxiously long blog – note: that is your official trigger warning for any libcuckflakes who hate words to mash that “back” button and go find a different blog to look at – that awards some midseason silverware, runs through an interim review of preseason predictions [so we can all have a good laugh at my dumb brain], and culminates with the usual healthy helpings of weekend previews and picks…

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24th* ANNUAL SMARMY AWARDS

Technically this is only the second annual SaMsARMY Awards Celebration & Gala, but let’s just keep that between you and me. As you will probably gather I am just winging it – and sticking mostly, but not exclusively to EPL, so apologies to the Napoli’s and Edinson Cavani’s on the continent – and feel free to suggest awards I missed or winners I got wrong in the comments.

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Team of the Midseason
Manchester City Football Club – SURPRISE! They is gud. Rully fookin gud. There is not much else to say really, especially about an offense unit that is so stacked with talent – Aguero/Jesus/Sterling/Silva/Sane/KDB – that guys like Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan (back from the dead)

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have trouble getting on the field. I still have some doubts about their defense, but even I have to admit that they – and Nicolas Otamendi in particular – have been damn good thus far. City’s ridiculous attacking prowess, which dominates possession and keeps opponents on the back foot, has had a lot to do with the team’s defensive record… but 12 goals conceded in 20 games, including a grand total of three in five games against the other five Big 6 clubs, is something you just can’t argue with. And, oh by the way, the team hasn’t lost in the league, only been held to a draw once and are balls deep in an 18-game winning streak. [Important note: the longer City keeps ripping through teams, the more comparisons will be drawn with Arsenal’s Invincibles. But one thing to keep in mind: that undefeated Arsenal side settled for 12 draws, winning a total of 26 games. Through 20 games this City team has 1 draw and 19 wins. Yikes.]

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Kinda impressive, I guess.

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Player of the Midseason
Harry Kane – This is tough, mostly because it’s hard not to go with a City player given their current form and consistent dominance. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, in particular, have been ridiculous… but in the end they just have too much talent around them, thus spreading defenses and making everybody on City’s job that much easier. Other guys like Eden Hazard have been (relatively) quiet beasts as well, but in the end I’m going with Kane because without him Tottenham would basically be a mid-table muddler. Same can’t be said about any of the other guys listed above.

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Coach of the Midseason
Sean Dyche – Apologies to Pep, who deserves credit for spending his billions wisely and massaging a locker room full of huge egos, but I’m more impressed with the Ginger Genius, who has Burnley – LITTLE ASS BURNLEY – pushing for a spot in Europe at the moment. And it’s not just that they are in 7th place, but how they are there with 33 points from 20 games having scored 18 goals and conceded 17. That may be the most incredible stat line for a club that I have ever seen. The Clarets will be hard pressed to stay as high as they are now with the likes of Lester and Everton starting to find their form, but Burnley is not doing it entirely with smoke and mirrors as this week’s draw at Old Trafford demonstrated.

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Lester’s N’Golo Kante Honorary Best New Signing Award
Mo Salah 2.0 – Easiest pick of the bunch. Whereas Mo Salah 1.0 had a conversion rate of roughly 3% and managed to miss every other tap-in opportunity, this new and improved model has been lights out from day one at Anfield.

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It will be interesting to see if he can keep this pace up in the spring, but credit where credit is due for now, the little Egyptian magician has been damn fun to watch thus far.

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Vincento Soldadssen Honorary Worst New Signing Award
Gylfi Sigurdsson – Another category with a lot of competition. Swans’ Renato Sanches, Everton’s Davy Klaassen, Chelsea’s Tiemoue Bakayoko and Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all come to mind. But for my money Siggy is the runaway winner given the ridiculously dramatic way his transfer played out and inevitable hype that came with it, especially when compared with how completely non-existent he was on the field for the first few months of the season.

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Simeone Zaza Honorary Worst Player Award
Moussa Sissoko – Apologies to Liverpool’s defense and Swansea’s entire atrocious midfield (looking at you Leroy Fer, Roque Mesa and especially Roque Mesa’s shitty faux-hipster pencil mustache)

Nope

Nope

but Sissoko has this puppy on lockdown. I have been ripping him so much this season that Spurs fans have started pointing out to me on twitter anytime he does something – and I mean anything – marginally okay, which only happens about once a game and usually involves an errant first touch that accidentally went to a teammate. Dude sucks.

And oh by the way if you think I am being unnecessarily harsh to Sissoko just keep in mind that his weekly salary is more than you make in a year – just FYI.

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Ric Flair Honorary “Old Man Strength” Award
Wayne Rooney – My oh my he was disappointing last year… but “new year (errr season), new you” as Roon-dog has netted 10 times so far and was legitimately the only thing sitting between Everton and the relegation zone before Big Sam took over. Good for you, old boy.

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John Terry Honorary “Worst Teammate” Award
Lexi Sanchez & Virgil Van Djik – Both are fantastic players. Both have given precisely zero fucks way too often in the past few months after (reportedly) missing out on big money moves to new clubs this summer. Both will probably return to their previous(ly impressive) form but it is still a bad look.

Tfw you realize you have to break up but aren’t sure when or how

Tfw you realize you have to break up but aren’t sure when or how

[Note: great performance on Thursday from Lexi against Palace only serves as a reminder of what he is capable of……….. when motivated.]

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Downy Ultra® Honorary “Softer Than Baby Shit” Award
Vincent Kompany’s thigh – Few saw it coming but the back-to-back-to-back returning award winner, Daniel Studge’s hamstring

Hey member me?

Hey member me?

was ruled ineligible by the judges this year due to a lack of playing time, thus the hardware goes to Kompany… congrats, big man!

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Daniel Studge Honorary “Hey Member Me?” Award
Diego Costa – Still technically a Chelsea player, believe it or not, but has been just chilling quietly somewhere (likely releasing his anger by kicking stray animals) after (I assume) talking shit about Antonio Conte’s mother and being excommunicated.

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David Moyes Honorary “Life Comes At Your Fast” Award
Ronald Koeman – One minute you are being talked about as the next manager of Barrrrrthelona, and the next you are begging for spare change on the corner next to Louis Van Gaal.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Stoke City - Old Trafford

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GFY of the Year Award
The Three USSF Stooges (unrelated to EPL but still richly deserved) – Sunil Gulati, Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, come on down! Blaming players like Tim Howard and Omar Gonzalez for the biggest pants-pooping in US soccer history might feel cathartic for a moment, but in the end those guys were out there doing their best and it’s not their fault they are old and not good at soccer, respectively. Each of the three head honchos played important roles in pushing the sport forward in this country, but there is no sugar-coating the fact that they ultimately failed at their jobs – and failed spectacularly – meaning it is time to clean house and start anew. Klinsmann and Arena have of course been fired and Gulati has (belatedly) indicated that he will not run for USSF president again, but that is the least he should do. It would have been better to resign immediately after the T&T debacle or at the very least state unequivocally that he would not be running again. But better late than never – I guess.

Thank you for your service. Now bye Felicia.

Thank you for your service. Now bye Felicia.

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Eden Hazard 2015-16 (slash @BarstoolSam’s Sex Moves) Honorary “What Is It You Would Say… You Do Here?” Most Disappointing XI

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GK – Joe Hart (West Ham)
D – Ashley Williams (Everton), Ragnar Klavan (Liverpool), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), David Luiz (Chelsea)
M – Dele Alli (Tottenham), Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle)
F – Romelu Lukaku (United), Daniel Studge (Liverpool)

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Uncle Chaps Honorary Most Handsome (and Best) XI
It would be tough to argue against simply putting City’s starting squad out there and calling it a day, but that’d be pretty boring so instead I am going with these guys (using a generic 4-4-2 formation):

GK – David De Gea (United)
D – Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nicolas Otamendi (City), James Turkowski (Burnley), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
M – Raheem Sterling (City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (City), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
F – Harry Kane (Tottenham), Mo Salah (Liverpool)

[Note: in response to some of the inevitable critics… yes, Paul Pogba was in the running but was ultimately on the outside looking in because he’s been injured for half the year… yes, leaving Philippe Coutinho and David Silva (and even Fernandinho or Nemanja Matic) out was tough but gotta crack some eggs to make an omelette… and yes, including Otamendi hurt me deep within my soul.]

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PRESEASON PREDICTIONS – INTERIM GRADES

Wow, this post is getting long. But whatever. It’s the Friday between Christmas and New Years, and we both know you ain’t got anything better to do but it’s still too early to ditch out of work. So sit back, relax, and help me help you pass the time by running through my preseason predictions to get an interim read on how dumb my brain is…

Player of the year
Prediction – Tottenham’s Dele Alli
Interim result – Not as bad as some of his detractors suggest but nevertheless it’s been a hugely disappointing season for Dele so far
Grade – F-

Comeback player of the year
Prediction – City’s Gabriel Jesus
Interim result – Coming off a broken foot and broken eye orbital, Jesus has had a good but not great season, in part because it is so damn difficult to see regular playing time given the ridiculous amount of in-form talent around him at City
Grade – B

Golden Boot
Prediction – United’s Romelu Lukaku edging out Harry Kane (while Jesus and Sergio Aguero each score a bunch but ultimately split the baby)
Interim result – Kane (18), Salah 2.0 (15), Sterling (13), Aguero (12), Morata/Lukaku/Rooney (10)
Grade – Incomplete (but not looking great)

Best young player
Prediction – Everton’s Jordan Pickford
Interim result – Pickford has been quite good despite getting ZERO help from his defense under Koeman… most people would probably go with City’s Leroy Sane instead, though this is in part because his team has done so much better
Grade – B

Most underrated signing
Prediction – Arsenal’s Sead Kolasinac
Interim result – Considering his price (free!) and his play (quite good), he’s definitely up there
Grade – A-

Biggest bust (new transfer)
Prediction – Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata
Interim result – Definitely not a bust so far with 10 goals in the league but remains to be seen whether he, as the only striker that Antonio Conte feels comfortable playing, can
Grade – D+

First manager sacked
Prediction – Southampton’s Mauricio Pellegrino (edging out Stoke’s Mark Hughes and Palace’s Frank de Boer)
Result – de Boer
Grade – C

FA Cup winner
Prediction – Chelsea
Result – TBD
Grade – Incomplete

Make-believe League Cup winner
Prediction – Tottenham
Result – TBD (but not Tottenham)
Grade – F (but I still stand by this pick because it would make a lot of sense for the club to eschew important trophies and instead win a trinket)

EPL title winner
Prediction – City
Result – City
Grade – A

So there we have it. Some good, some bad, and some still up in the air. Plenty more soccer to be played (18 league games plus domestic competitions and Champions League) so we’ll take another look in June. For now let’s get to the weekend ahead…

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ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

I’m gonna keep this a little shorter than normal because my fingers are tired but let’s start with the scores from the midweek:

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News, notes and observations:

United showed some heart in coming back from down two goals in the second half but the club’s defense, which has not been bad by any stretch, is showing signs of stress. Did Jozay instruct David De Gea to let a couple in against Burnley in order to force Ed Woodward to open the purse strings and let him buy a big-ticket defender? Just asking questions, here, folks. #staywoke

– Finally figured out how to predict how Watford and/or Lester are going to play: make a decision then go with the exact opposite.

Southampton has lost their identity. Wonder how that hap—ohhhhh right, because their roster has been raided repeatedly by Liverpool and Tottenham in recent years. Either way, and I hate to say this, but the Saints may need to think about focusing less about playing the beautiful, and take a more pragmatic – dare I say Big Sammian – approach to ensure their mid-table status.

West Ham got screwed on a last minute goal that was both offside and a handball… then again, hard to feel too hard done by when your defense had already given up two goals to Bournemouth.

– Even when City are bad they are good (enough).

– Good news for Everton: Big Sam fixed your defense. Bad news: doing so broke your offense.

– Good news for Liverpool: Virgil van Djik is on the way. Bad news: splurging $100 million on a defender makes Philippe Coutinho departure all the more likely.

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POWER RANKINGS

TOP 4
1. City

2. Chelsea
3. Tottenham
4. Liverpool
Honorable mention: United, Arsenal, Burnley

BOTTOM 3
20. Swansea
19. West Brom
18. Bournemouth
Dishonorable mention: Stoke, Newcastle

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After 20 games this is what we got:

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And here are the games on deck this weekend:

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PICKS OF THE WEEK

Liverpool (-300)
Lester (+800)
Draw (+475)

Lester’s counterpunching style could cause some problems for Liverpool, which will dominate possession but be wary throwing too many guys forward. In the end though the Foxes strike me as too vulnerable in the back to contain the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Salah 2.0. Liverpool to win 3-1.

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United [-300]
Southampton [+850]
Draw [+375]

Southampton came out against Tottenham and tried to press them… and got absolutely ripped to shreds. My guess is that Mauricio Pellegrino will push for a muuuuuch more conservative approach against United, which is itself in the midst of a dip in form that has resulted in a three-game winless streak. Conceding twice in the first half to Burnley seems to have awoken the club out of its slumber, and may carry over into this game. Southampton will make it tough but Dear Leader Jozay’s boys will find a way. United to win 1-0.

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Other picks:

• BOURNEMOUTH vs EVERTON: Important litmus test for Big Sam’s innovative offensive strategy of not scoring. If you can’t put a few away against Bournemouth, which just conceded three to the Hammies, it will officially be time to start worrying. The Cherries could be missing as many as three starters to injury but I still think Everton need to invest in a striker in January, and this game may serve to cement that fact. 1-1 draw.

• CHELSEA vs STOKE: The Potters have enjoyed a bit of a boost in form after Mark Hughes started begging them (or more likely threatening them with bodily harm) to play better… but those sorts of motivational tactics only work for so long. As we speak, Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard are very likely touching themselves thinking about Stoke’s porous defense. Chelsea to win 3-1.

• HUDDERSFIELD vs BURNLEY: Only an idiot would doubt the wee visitors at this point… but without Chris Wood (injured) up top and James Tarkowski (suspended) in the back, I’ve got some lingering doubts. Also, I’m an idiot. Huddersfield to win 2-1.

• NEWCASTLE vs BRIGHTON: I have a theory about teams coming off of close, hard-fought losses against far superior clubs, which is that defeats like that both boost your confidence and make you hungrier for a result in the next game. What’s this? Well wouldn’t you just know it but Toon is fresh off a 0-1 loss to Manchester City. Time to test the theory! Newcastle to win 2-1.

• WATFORD vs SWANSEA: You might recall that I recently cracked the code on predicting what Watford is going to do (ie, precisely what I don’t predict), which dictates that my belief that Watford will win this means that I should instead go with them lose. However, that rule gets tossed out the door when the game involves Swansea being coached by interim manager Leon Britton, who looks like a deer in headlights resigned to the fact he is about to get run over by a semi every time he is interviewed. Watford to win 3-1.

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• PALACE vs CITY: Call me crazy but I think Palace actually has a shot to at least nab a draw from this. Wilfried Zaha is in the form of his life and seems like the kind of guy who will be blissfully unaware that he should be afraid of Pepito’s Peoples. Do I really truly believe Palace will actually do it? Nah, not really, in part because their defense has a tendency to fall apart at times, and one misplaced pass or lapse in concentration and you will have just gotten scored on by City. So I like both teams to score (which should offer some nice odds given City’s defensive record), but am totally chickening out on going with a draw and instead saying it will be close but in the end City wins 2-1.

• WEST BROM vs ARSENAL: Lexi Sanchez played his best game of the season against Palace in the midweek. He was hustling, making dangerous runs, and just generally being a huge pain in the ass to defenders. Where has that been most of the season? Add to that the fact I swear I saw Mesut Ozil square up and defend someone 1-on-1 on Thursday and it almost makes me want to think that that atrocious first half against Liverpool might have been just the kick in the junk Arsenal needed. It will be a quick turnaround for the Gooners, which has been a problem for them in the past, but West Brom already confirmed that several starters (including striker Salomon Rondon) will be out injured, plus – just between you and me – the team is not very good and the decision to appoint Alan Pardew to replace Tony Pulis strikes me as batshit crazy. Arsenal to win 2-0.

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REST OF THE WORLD

Spain: too lazy to play this week

Germany: too lazy to play this MONTH

Italy: We got some good’uns on tap in Serie A – aka the only truly competitive big league left – this weekend, starting with 8th place Fiorentina hosting 11th place [and dead broke, probably] Milan (5:30am CT on beIN) as the appetizer followed by the main course of 5th place Lazio traveling to 2nd place Inter (11am CT on beIN). Do NOT miss that one.

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So there we have it. Have yourselves a safe and sound NYE, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do you crazy kids (like successfully convince a girl to go home with you), but don’t miss me too hard because the next round of games starts IMME