Good news: if you are reading this you have officially survived another international break. Gooder news: no more international breaks for many moons. Goodest news: the next time we concern ourselves with the USMNT there is a 94% chance we will have hired a real, actual, full-time coach… so it’s all downhill from here.
Been a while since we last feasted our eyeballs on good soccer, and there’s no better way to get back in the swing of things than a little preview/prediction action. But before we get to the good stuff I’m contractually obligated to run through some housekeeping items….
1) Sam’s Army Episode 29 is hot on the streets so if you would prefer to consume your weekend preview in audible form then SMASH the subscribe button (and don’t be afraid to rate/review while you’re at it):
2) Merch is here and no better time to buy Buy BUY! than right now thanks to the Black Friday 20% off sale going on (and yes, the hope is to sell enough to get the green light for a lot more – including club-specific – stuff to come soon):
Aight, that’s all I got. Thanks for bearing with me. Now without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Scores from a couple weeks ago when last a ball was kicked in anger:
Rapid fire news, notes, highlights, lowlights and observations:
– You guys are never going to believe this but City is just plain a lot better than United. I know, b-a-n-a-n-a-s.
– Most exciting game (or at least finish) of the weekend was – just as everybody predicted – Brighton picking up a last second win over Cardiff on a play that included a Mo Bamba (close enough) bicycle kick.
– Newcastle, so hot right now, Newcastle.
– Southampton did a lot of postgame butthurting after settling for a draw against Watford but the truth is it was a fair result. The Saints were rightly peeved about a good goal being ruled off by a terrible offside call….. but so quickly they forgot that Watford should have had an obvious penalty that was ignored by the refs.
– Not for the first time Chelsea dropped points EXCLUSIVELY because they don’t have any legitimate strikers. Sad!
– Stop me if you have heard this before but Tottenham played like poo yet somehow walked away with three points. That is the polar opposite of what Spurs fans have become accustomed to, and I’ll be honest it is making me extremely uncomfortable.
– Arsenal have not lost since (roughly) Arsene Wenger got sent packing and yet they lost ground to their North London neighbors. Hate to see it. (It should be said though, that was a solid road performance by n00bies Wolves.)
1. City [Editor’s note: initially had #1 and #2 flipped due to transcribing error]
Honorable mention: Arsenal, United
Dishonorable mention: Palace, Southampton, Burnley
Table as it stands now:
And this weekend’s schedule:
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
Form-wise, Chelsea have looked a lot better than Tottenham lately, and add to that the fact that Spurs are going to have trouble fielding a full XI with Dembele, Trippier, Rose and Sanchez all likely out… and Jan Vertonghen (back to training again) in doubt. On the other hand, after taking a very non-mathematical look at who played how much for England, Belgium, France, Spain, Brazil, etc. during the international break, Chelsea may come in a little more tuckered out.
Big time toss-up but I’m going with Spurs – and before the haters accuse me of bias let’s keep in mind that I have picked against my beloveds on multiple occasions in recent weeks. The team finally has something resembling their full complement of attacking players back, which could (potentially anyway) pin Chelsea’s most dangerous striker Marcos Alonso back a bit. Might live to regret this but sometimes you just gotta trust your gut. Tottenham to win 2-1.
Time and again Liverpool has skated by on the road this season, taking a page out of Spurs’ playbook by underperforming but pulling out wins. The Reds (along with City and Chelsea) remain undefeated in the league at the moment, but it is only a matter of time until they get tripped up by a Red Star Belgrade-like performance and I’m going out on a limb and saying it is this weekend. Why? Well, 1) they had a lot more guys out on international duty; 2) Watford have shown a capacity for playing down or up to their competition, suggesting that on their day they could potentially hang with a team like Liverpool; and, as presaged above, 3) Liverpool haven’t been great on the road and Vicarage Road is an especially tough place to go play. Nobody with a brain would predict anyone will get a clean sheet against Liverpool but thankfully that has never stopped me. Watford to win 1-0.
Additional picks (to increase the odds I eventually get one right) going in order from most to least interesting:
• BOURNEMOUTH vs ARSENAL – Aubameyang and Lacazette left international duty complaining about injuries, but rumor has it they are doing just fine. If they are not that changes things dramatically. As it is this should be a great game for neutrals as both teams like to come out and play and neither team has a lockdown defense (though both have improved lately and, credit to Arsenal, they have been a helluva lot better lately – albeit against somewhat lesser competition). Bournemouth are coming off back to back losses so a bounce-back performance could be in the cards… as I said on podcast, I’m really torn and leaning towards 2-2 draw… but the presumed healthfulness of Aubameyang and Lacazette is swaying me. Arsenal to win 2-1.
• WEST HAM vs CITY – Is it even worth talking about City at this point? Their margin for error right now is impossibly large. If, for example, De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva are hurt, and Mahrez and Sterling have horrible games – no problem! They can still get bailed out by Aguero or David Silva or Sane. Just too many damn weapons. West Ham is prone to pulling out a hugely unexpected result here and there, but it’s usually against Tottenham, and they will be without plenty of guys (eg, Lanzini, Snodgrass, Reid, et al.). Marko Arnautovic has the potential to score against anybody but can only carry you so far on a consistent basis. City to win 2-0.
• FULHAM vs SOUTHAMPTON – The Cottagers finally pulled the trigger on finding a new coach and brought in Claudio Ranieri, who everybody will of course remember from his magical season helping propel Lester to the title in 2015-16. Let’s be honest though, fixing Fulham’s shite-tastic defense would be his biggest miracle job yet. That said, Southampton’s offense is anything but mighty (and will be missing Mario Lemina), plus you gotta expect at least a little bit of a “new coach boost” after bringing in a guy with Ranieri’s gravitas. Fulham to win 2-1.
• UNITED vs PALACE – There are some important question marks for United, and that is in addition to the fragile emotional state that comes with playing for Jozay Mourinho these days. However, most of their big difference makers – notably Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial – sound like they will likely be out there on Saturday. Never underestimate the power of a Wilfy Zaha scorned, and you can bet that old boy is gonna be PUMPED to get some vengeance on the club that he feels wronged him. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t score at least one against United’s makeshift, amateur hour defense… but a) I’m not sure Zaha is 100% healthy yet and 2) I don’t think he and his anger will be enough regardless. United to win 2-1.
• EVERTON vs CARDIFF – Random side note: Callum Paterson played right back for Scotland over the international break so of course he will probably be back playing striker for Cardiff on Saturday. So that’s cool. Anyway, the bottom line is that the Bluebirds have been bunk af on the road, while the Toffees have been hot lately and are sitting relatively pretty from a fitness standpoint. Everton to win 3-1.
• WOLVERHAMPTON vs HUDDERSFIELD – Huddersfield have improved on defense in recent games in part it seems thanks to a shift to a three-back system. Unfortunately they are likely going to be missing two key defenders in Zanka and Lowe. Wolves will probably finish with about 85% possession, and while they have struggled mightily to translate ball control into actual chances, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt this time. Wolves to win 1-0.
• BRIGHTON vs LESTER – Brighton is tough at home and the Foxes have been extremely lethargic on offense recently. It is anybody’s guess what kind of impact – short- and long-term – the tragic death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is going to have, and whether the team has refocused yet, but they looked all sorts of distracted last time out.
Low-scoring sister-kissing seems about right… let’s say 1-1 draw.
• BURNLEY vs NEWCASTLE – UH OH, you do not want to let Toon get hot! Two wins in two games and the (Black-and-)Whitewalkers from the North suddenly don’t look nearly so pitiful. That plus the Potter’s leaky defense seems like a recipe for another Newcastle win……. but let’s be serious, right when you think Newcastle has turned a corner is precisely when they remind you they have definitely not turned said corner. Gimme a 1-1 draw.
LAP AROUND THE WORLD
Spain – Atletico hosting Barcelona on Saturday (1:45pm CT) should be a helluva game. A win for the hosts would go a long way towards burnishing their credentials as a legitimate title contender this season.
Germany – 1st place Dortmund visiting 9th place Mainz heads up a rather tame slate in the Bundesliga this weekend..
Italy – 4th place Lazio hosting 5th place Milan on Sunday (11am CT) is definitely where it is at in Serie A this weekend.
Copa Libertadores – Boca Juniors head to River Plate even at 2-2 after the first leg. This game is going to be incredible. Just do yourself a favor and watch the hell out of a stream of it on Saturday (2pm CT).
Practice. We talkin’ bout practice.
MLS – The leagues “wild and wacky” playoff schedule is in full effect this week as teams jump right back into things with the conference finals (aka semifinals), and both matchups should be a lot of fun. If you don’t watch “because MLS is boring” you have a big ass dump in your pants.
Also, a quick plug, if you are interested in hearing from some of the players who will be prominently involved then be sure to check out recent Sam’s Army interviews with Atlanta’s Julian Gressel:
and RBNY’s Kemar Lawrence:
So there we have it, boys and girls. May your leftovers be delicious, beers be cold, drunken uncles be creepy, and bets be fruitful. Check y’all again next week!