So we’ve got a bit of a good news/bad news situation on our hands here. The bad news is – despite what you may think (if, say, you read the title of this blog a little too quickly and/or unthinkingly) – this year’s “Championship Sunday” is not shaping up to be one of the most boring in modern history… no, it is shaping up to be THE most boring one in modern history. City already lifted the trophy, three of the top four are done and dusted, Europa spots are parceled out, and 2.95 clubs (out of the requisite three) have already been officially relegated.
It didn’t have to be this way. The top four and relegation battles could still be very up for grabs. Alas, Chelsea found a way to not beat mighty Huddersfield at home on Wednesday, which killed several birds with one stone: it all but relegated Swansea, locked Spurs into a Champions League spot, and made the Blues’ path to a top four finish extremely dicey at best. And to think, I had a seemingly endless supply of self-loathing jokes about Tottenham finding a way to boggle it. Really bottles the mind.
So that’s the bad news.
Now for some good news: while the EPL has failed to deliver the climactic goods coming down the stretch, the great thing about soccer is that there is so damn much going on that it ain’t that hard to scramble around and find some other stuff to feed your hunger for drama. Namely there is (1) the Championship playoff that get started this weekend with four clubs fighting it out for one ticket back to the Big Dance and (2) a dogfight has broken out in Germany where 3rd place BVBabyjesus and 4th place Hoffenheim could each have punched their ticket to Champions League last week but instead both shat the bed, and now they have to play one another in the last game of the season while Leverkusen and RB Leipzig are still within striking distance.
There are also some entertaining – albeit not terribly important – matchups in Italy and Spain, plus a full slate of MLS games, which ought to be sufficient to keep us entertained while we await the more important stuff:
But first things first, let’s put a nice little bow on the 2017-18 domestic season…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Scores from over the course of the last week:
News, notes, observations, highlights and lowlights:
– Doesn’t get any more appropriate than United bookending last week with two games in which it scored precisely zero goals yet, as ugly and borderline shambolic as the performances looked, the Red Devils ended up still getting the job done – in this point securing the one point that ensures that they will finish in second ahead of Spurs. Congrats?
– Speaking of Tottenham, the team is d-u-n dun. Losing to the aforementioned Red Devils in the FA Cup semifinal apparently sucked them dry of any will to fight on. If the season lasted another week or two they absolutely would fall out of the top four. Harry Kane is maybe – maybe – 75% healthy, which is going to be a big problem for England. There is a conspiracy theory going round that Mauricio Pochettino has continued to play the England striker game after game despite him clearly lagging and hardly bringing anything to the table offensively simply out of revenge for the still simmering hatred all Argentinians still feel about the Falklands War. I’m not buying it, but I’m also not necessarily selling it.
– Liverpool have been garbage in the league coming down the street. Worse than Tottenham even. Fortunately they actually have a pretty good reason for it. Spurs have no such excuse.
– Wanna know a quick way to get yourself relegated? Don’t score goals… and I don’t mean like United here and there, I mean don’t score any goals – ever. That is basically what Swansea did coming down the stretch, and wouldn’t you know: they (almost) gone.
– Southampton didn’t do too many things right this season but they did show some spine and grind out a couple huge results to save their bacon just in the nick time. Need to retool BIG TIME this summer, starting by dropping the dead weight.
– Helluva fight by Dead Brom but just wasn’t to be. Too bad too since – just like Swansea with Cardiff – their archrival Wolverhampton is on its way back to the Premier League next season, which otherwise would have made for some fun dærbies.
– Chelsea managed to hold Mo Salah in check (and beat Liverpool 1-0) but then couldn’t find a way to shut down something called Laurent Depoitre (and settled for a 1-1 draw against Huddersfield). Sad!
– On the flipside, good for Huddersfield. They were quietly shitting their pants coming down to the final couple weeks staring at fixtures against City, Chelsea and Arsenal to finish the season. But after draws against the first two the third game is now elementary as they already have enough points to stick around.
Honorable mention: Chelsea, Arsenal, Burnley
Dishonorable mention: Southampton, West Ham
Table as it stands now and will very likely stand from now until mid-August unless some seeeeeeeeeeeeriously funky stuff happens on Sunday:
And this weekend’s schedule:
Note: quick s/o to NBC for going to the trouble to show all 10 games lives on Championship Sunday, which in years past and in years to come will provide us with some incredible drama (though it was not to be this year), but more importantly for the A+++ job they have done once again in covering the EPL all season. Yes, some people were a little pissed about the NBC Gold package thing, but that is just the way the industry is going these days and it is easy to forget how good we have it these days versus the bad old days of having to find sketchy Russian streams just to watch your club play. So a couple more snaps to NBC for doing the damn thing, and doing it well.
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
Let’s run through these even quicker than normal because, lezzzbe honest, 90% of the clubs have checked out on the season and 75% of the games don’t matter.
Could Liverpool find a way NOT to win this? Mehhhhhhhhh, no. Their first mission is obviously to avoid injury but I would take a team with Salah/Firmino/Mane playing at 85% speed over most teams in the league. Brighton is, after all, probably still going to be hungover from celebrating staying up. Liverpoo to win 2-0.
A win for Liverpool would mean that this game doesn’t matter, though Chelsea will have no way of knowing that going in as everybody kicks off in parallel. Nevertheless, the Blues will likely come in assuming that Liverpool will make the game academic and half their focus is on United in the FA Cup final next weekend anyway. Add to that the fact that Newcastle is one of the few teams that seems to still be trying this season – The “Rafa Effect”? – and I could see Chelsea pissing this one away (especially if word filters through that Liverpool has scored an early goal). Gimme a 1-1 draw.
Other picks (to increase the odds I eventually get one right):
• SWANS vs STOKE and SOUTHAMPTON vs CITY: the only other games that matter are this one and City visiting Southampton, and the one way they could end up changing anything is if (a) Swans win and Southampton loses AND (b) the final scores are lopsided enough that Swans make up a nine-goal deficit. Yeahhhhhhh, good luck with that. I do think Swans will get the right results but considering how anemic their offense has been, and the fact Southampton is going bunker their little balls off all game, it seems beyond belief that nine goals will be scored period – let alone all in favor of the Swans. I’ll say Swans to win 3-1 and City to win 2-0.
Reminder: rest of the games matter little so if you wanna get silly and take a longshot (or two) have at it…
• BURNLEY vs BOURNEMOUTH: Woof, things went downhill with a quickness for Burnley at the end of the season. Can they scrounge up a little want-to and finish an incredible season out in style? I say no. Once you shut it down its hard to get the engine going again. Bournemouth to win 2-1.
• PALACE vs WEST BROM: Strange to say but they have been two of the better teams lately, and the game may even turn out to be one of the more entertaining on this weekend’s slate. I’ll say 2-2 draw.
• HUDDERSFIELD vs ARSENAL: Some teams will have celebration hangovers, but not Huddersfield, which is still going to be legally drunk on Sunday. Only a dummy would pick Arsenal to score a goal, let alone win a game, on the road these days…
but thankfully I am a dummy extraordinaire. Arsenal to win 3-1.
• UNITED vs WATFORD: The Red Devils poor play has become a punchline at this point, and for good reason as their offense constantly looks like a bunch of guys who were thrown together at the last minute and are just now playing their first competitive match together. Zero flow, zero cohesiveness, zero understanding about what their teammates around them are doing. It really is strange because they have a ton of talent. Said another way, Jozay is doing less with more on the attacking side of the ball. On the other end of the field the situation is reversed, as Dear Leader is somehow doing more with less based on a defensive unit that is not incredibly talented (DDG aside obviously) but has conceded multiple goals in the league one time – the 3-2 win over City – since January. Watford is unpredictably enough, and their style is awkward enough that they could perhaps steal a goal at some point… but not likely. Defense doesn’t always win championships (apparently) but it does lock in second places. United to win 1-0.
• TOTTENHAM vs LESTER: One team with nothing left in the tank against another that had appeared to call it a season in March (at least until they had their way with Arsenal on Wednesday anyway). If there was a way for Spurs to finish fourth and still miss out on the Champions League at this juncture, I would have suggested you put your life savings on that outcome. Alas, there is not. Spurs are locked in. And if there is one thing I know about this club it is that they usually come up big when it doesn’t matter at all. Spurs to win 4-1.
• WEST HAM vs EVERTON: Could there possibly be a more fitting way to finish the EPL season then David “Disappointment” Moyes facing off against Big Boring Sam???
I’m definitely leaning hard towards an Everton win, if only because it would make it that much more awkward when the club tells Big Sam to hit the road this summer, but I really feel as though my hands are tied on the official prediction: 0-0 draw – for old time’s sake.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
I wrote an entire blog on Thursday about Wayne Rooney’s possible (dare I say likely) move to DC United this summer. So go read that if you are interested. [Link HERE.]
As for the current status of the league itself, we are starting some separation of the wheat from the chaff…
…and I think it is fair to peg certain teams as legitimate contenders – eg, ATL Utd, NYCFC, SKC – and possible contenders – Orlando (sneaky 6-game win streak!), Cbus, NYRB, LAFC – but it is far, far too early to even begin to say this or that team is dead in the water (despite some people no doubt wanting to do just that for, say, San Jose and DC United). The MLS season is long and grueling, but it is also forgiving as hell, so anybody able to put together even a mini-run can suddenly move from the bottom of the table into playoff contention just like that. Which is good news for the likes of Toronto and Seattle, which were playing for the MLS Cup (again) a few months ago yet now both sit second-to-last in their respective divisions. Life comes at you fast… but the reverse can just as easily be true.
As for this week, got some good games on tap:
Including a helluva tripleheader on Sunday starting with the craft beer snobs versus marijuana-addled hipsters (wait, which is which?) followed by two top-of-the-table tilts. Sounds like a nice little post-Sabbath celebration to me.
REST OF WORLD
CHAMPIONSHIP – Congrats to Wolves and Cardiff for already punching their ticket to the Premier League next season. That leaves four clubs fighting it out for the last remaining promotion slot. This will probably get posted too late to be of much use but Fulhamerica visit Derby on Friday and then Aston Villa welcome Middlesbrough on Saturday (11:15am CT on ESPN+). Well worth your time if you’ve invested in the app.
SPAIN– Seville derby… funny story: one time I went to Sevilla and attended one of these. That’s it. That’s the whole story. A lot of other stuff happened involving some crazy ass fans and Boteon-ing, etc, but this is a family show. Anyway, Real Betis face Sevilla on Saturday (11:30am CT on beIN).
ITALY– Juventus visit Roma on Sunday (1:45pm CT on beIN) in what could have been BY FAR the biggest game of the weekend………. but then Napoli went and took a watery dump the past couple of weeks, essentially handing the Scudetto to the Old Lady. Sad! Should still be a good game. Watch it.
GERMANY– As mentioned up top, there is still plenty to play for in the Bundesliga so be sure to tune in for Hoffenheim hosting BVBabyjesus on Saturday (8:30am on FOX) to see which team locks in Champions League… or potentially both – or neither! – depending on how they and Leverkusen and RB Leipzig end up doing. Drama! Yay!
So that’s it. That’s the (EPL) season. Talk about ending with a whimper. Ah well, that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. Hopefully these blogs have helped – in some small way – you better enjoy, appreciate and/or understand just what the hell is going on in the soccer universe this season. I know keeping up with everything can be a daunting prospect even for people who follow things pretty closely, let alone for more casual fans. Either way, it has been a fun time serving as your sissy sport spirit guide. Unfortunately (for the haters), I’m not going anywhere and will still be pinching off some blogs for the Championship playoffs as well as FA Cup and Champions League finals… and– fingers crossed – we might even have some extra special content in the works for the World Cup (if the Powers That Be sign off). So stay tuned for that (hopefully), and have yourselves a safe and fun weekend, and don’t miss me too hard because I’ll be back to bother you again before you know it.
Take care, fam.