As the sun tickles the panes on NBCSN’s war room Saturday morning and you wipe the sleep from your eyes, emptying a bottle of vodka into your orange juice cup, all the while wondering why the fuck you’re up this early for something not named College Game Day, you’ll be ushering in week 2 of the beautiful game’s siege on these shores.
Excited? I am.
It was an interesting first week of match-ups and the second (which technically started with Wednesday seeing Chelsea scoot by Aston Villa) will hopefully prove even more entertaining.
Like with our own native football there’s still so much uncertainty this early in the season. How much do we read into the results of the last weekend of games? Is Arsenal destined for mediocrity this year? Do Roberto Martinez’ teams ever play defense?
The answer as always is: We have to wait and see.
Chelsea at Manchester United, Monday 3 p.m. ET
They say good things come to those who wait and what appears to be the weekend’s best fixture doesn’t take place until Monday. This match will go one of two ways: It will be one of the most exciting of the year or it will be a rough and tumble, ugly draw.
Either way, set your DVR. Despite having arguably the youngest, deepest roster in the league, this third game in eight days for Chelsea with a fourth looming against defending European Champions Bayern Munich only four days following, would not all surprise me to exhibit Mourinho packing things in and looking to gain a solitary away point at one of the toughest grounds to win at in England.
Manchester United should, conversely, press for a home win with the striking power of Robin Van Persie, Danny Welbeck, and even Wayne Rooney probably leading to a skewing of the attacking statistics in this one. Let’s hope United get on the board early and this one turns into a real heavyweight match.
Swansea City at Tottenham, Sunday 11 a.m. ET
Despite the headlining tilt Monday, this match will most likely be the match of the weekend. Two attacking-minded teams going head to head should lead to a goal glut Sunday morning. Swansea has been by far and away my favorite team to watch over the last two seasons. Their Spanish style of play featuring many short, quick, triangle passes and elaborate technical movements is my preferred style of viewing.
It’s exciting and creates an ebb and flow that is hard to match. Swansea’s inability to provide any defensive consistency was exposed last weekend when they hosted Manchester United. Although Tottenham have new boy Roberto Soldado, who bagged himself a goal last week on his debut, they do not have near the same attacking power of United. My man crush, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, whose tie selection is just impeccable each week, prefers to play a forward style he calls the “vertical” game.
If you’re a casual fan looking to gain exposure to some of the less marquee teams in the league, this is the match you need to circle with a big red sharpie.
Liverpool at Aston Villa, Saturday 12:30 p.m. ET
Another match featuring two up-and-down teams. Kolo Toure in his usual “I was held back two years in grade school so now I’m playing defensive lineman against children 8 inches smaller than me”-style dominated Stoke all afternoon last weekend. We were allowed to take in the painting exhibition of Philippe Coutinho’s articulate and imaginative passing, and greased lightning Daniel Sturridge provided the scoring highlight of the day with his opening goal of the season.
Liverpool had 25 shots against Stoke last weekend. That is an incredible number. 17 of those were inside the penalty area (the big white box for those of you still trying to pick up the game). That just doesn’t happen. 1 goal. That’s it. If Liverpool are able to put on another offensive performance of that quality, the goals will follow.
Stoke keeper Begovic was simply out of his mind last weekend, and that’s all you can say about that. Don’t look past Aston Villa to make some noise either though. While Liverpool obtained a shutout last weekend, it was against a team that has never been known for its goal-scoring ability. Stoke only scored more than two goals in two league games last season, in back-to-back matches at the end of December. Aston Villa has proven already this season with 4 goals in two matches that it can score goals. The speed of Gabriel Agbonlahor coupled with the punishing efficiency of Christian Benteke mean the Liverpool back line will be much more on its toes Saturday than it was against Stoke.
One errant risk of a pass from Phillipe Coutinho could set off the likes of Agbonlahor or Benteke heading off in the opposite direction in mind to the Reds. We’ll see goals, the question is how many.
RUN FOR THE ROSES:
I’ve tried to downplay my search for a new football club and focus on footballing matters at hand, but since I’ve given you the business above we’ll take a gander at the clubs I feel have the best shot at competing for my affections.
Chelsea- I’m not really sure how I began following this team. When I first began watching the English game seriously in the mid-2000s I hated this team. They had the most expensive roster in soccer with Roman Abramovich riding into town on a bevy of Russian oil geysers, and I completely resented that. Jose Mourinho’s cockiness bugged me. But then I realized after Mourinho’s departure in 2007 that although the team won games with Ambramovich’s money, they also won games in spite of his money. His eccentric commitment to wanting a great cosmetic product, a team worth watching, had him cycling through managers like used tampons.
The 2012 Champions League success was a true joy to watch. Down 3-1 to Napoli, Chelsea stormed back in the second half of that game and played cardiac kids all the way to the title with interim manager Roberto Di Matteo. Di Matteo was named full time manager at the end of the season, then mysteriously let go shortly after the 2013 season began. Even still, the accumulation of so much young, exciting talent make this team a true joy to watch. That coupled with Jose Mourinho’s style on and off the field and their sweet, classic unis (yes, I just went there) have me a bit smitten.
Everton- A true working-man’s club. A team that has never had top notch resources, but has punched well above its weight for over a decade. How much of that was due to the special talents of David Moyes, who moved to Manchester United this summer, I don’t know? In turn, Everton replaced him with my favorite manager in the game, Roberto Martinez. This team also features American goalkeeper Tim Howard, one of the best in the world, and is the preferred winter destination of American poster boy Landon Donovan when he vacations in England during the MLS offseason. The most alluring part of following Everton though is their fanbase. A founding member of the game in England, the club has spent the most seasons in the top echelon of English football than any other club.
There’s also the old man from this. God, I’m easily swayed.
Liverpool- The cross town rival of Everton and one of the most successful clubs of all time not only in England, but also in all of Europe. Liverpool held the record for most league titles from 1976 until 2009 when Manchester United finally usurped them. They are the most decorated of the English clubs when it comes to winning tournaments in Europe.
Stoke City- I gave them my rose of the week Tuesday because right now you’ll be more hard-pressed to find a top flight club that takes care of its fans as well as Stoke does. Ticket prices have not risen since 2008 and they provide free transportation to their fans for away matches. That is class. Not known for a particularly entertaining brand of soccer their matches tend to be lackluster defensive struggles, but when a club takes care of its own this well, who cares? Stoke also boasts an American among its ranks in defender Geoff Cameron.
Sunderland- America’s brightest rising star, Jozy Altidore, arrived over the summer. They are a plucky team from the northeast of England that go by the nickname of the “Black Cats”. They will not challenge for a league title, but they’ll have their moments throughout the year and will be an interesting team to watch with Jozy in their ranks.
Swansea- I have not hidden my lust for the Swans in the few pieces you’ve already had an opportunity to read. I first got a look at this team in 2007 when they met my Leeds in League One and snatched an epic 3-2 victory from the Whites. They would eventually gain promotion to the Premier League for the 2011 season, but it was this piece last year that really turned my head. The sort of organization the club has in addition to the attractive style of soccer they play seems to me to be a perfect marriage, especially when you consider my past issues with poor club management.
I’ll be keeping my eye on all of these teams throughout the season and I’ll be systematically eliminating one or two here and there on my way to deciding where my affections will eventually lie.