Sam’s Safe Space for Soccer Stoolies
All eyes this weekend will understandably be on Sunday’s back-to-back championship extravaganza with games that will determine the champions of MLS immediately following a 1-versus-2 potential decider in the Premier League. If that doesn’t get the juices going you should probably get checked for Low T.
Also got some sneaky good games on Saturday, notably a sneaky heater in England and of course a high-powered dærby in Germany.
The weather sucks, I know, but that makes it all the easier to settle in on your couch from tomorrow morning through Sunday night and enjoy the bountiful #sports bonanza available for our eyes to feast upon. To help get you ready here is a quick run-through on what to watch for and where (not) to put your moneys this weekend…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Results from last weekend:
Honorable mention: Arsenal, Bournemouth, Sheffield Utd, Palace
Dishonorable mention: Burnley, Everton
The table as things stand:
And this weekend’s schedule:
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
These are the games that make waking up at the buttcrack of dawn to watch Burnley/Brighton worth it. Two teams at or near the peak of their powers going toe to toe. Both have great defenses. Both are stacked up top. Could it end up being a snoozer? Meh, maaaaaaybe, but probably not because neither team is really programmed that way.
Step one of trying to handicap a sporting event is to be perfectly honest with yourself and identify where your biases lay. For this game, I think that deep in my cold black uncaring heart I would prefer for City to win this weekend in order to tighten up the title race. How that plays into my prediction, if at all, is anyone’s guess. Just putting all my cards on the table.
There are some injuries that are worth noting, mostly on the City side. They will be without Ederson in net along with David Silva and Rodri in midfield. This game could go a lot of ways but at Anfield with Liverpool coming in well-rested after sitting a bunch of guys against Genk in Champions League… smells like a close win for the home side. I’d pay good money for it to be a 3-2 thriller but will be a little more conservative and go with a 2-1 Liverpool win.
*UPSET OF THE WEEK*
Lester are for real. This team is good and fun to watch to boot. Arsenal are an absolute mess, especially away from home where they haven’t won since (roughly) Wenger was shuffled off to the old folks home. Their captain got booed off the field, then demoted, and may not play for the team ever again. Seems like a recipe for an ass whooping if we’re being honest. I got Arsenal winning 3-2 because sometimes soccer – like life – just doesn’t make sense. [Note: I know Lester has one of the better defensive records in the league at the moment but I’m still not totally sold on them and think that Aubameyang/Lacazette/Pepe could do some real damage… which, combined with Arsenal’s substandard defense means that I’m hammering the OVER in this one, which should be a TON of fun to watch for neutrals.]
Some more predictions (to increase the possibility that I eventually get one right – maybe):
• Chelsea 1-1 Palace – Chelsea are coming off a ridiculous midweek game and now face a rough and tumble Palace team that are gonna make them work for everything. Another goal for The Babyjesus? Probably. Late equalizer from Zaha? Sure, why not.
• Burnley 0-2 WEST HAM – Burnley’s defense has been atrocious lately and the return of Manuel Lanzini and Jack Wheelchair should give the Hammies’ midfield some much needed oomph.
• NEWCASTLE 1-0 Bournemouth – The Cherries are fresh off an impressive (and legitimate) win over United but, in a strange turnabout for a club typically associated with all gas no brakes, Bournemouth has been all brakes very little gas all season and 1-0 games are the only kind of games that Newcastle seems likely to win this season. Nothing like a loss to a struggling bottom-half club to bring you back to earth a bit.
• Southampton 1-3 EVERTON – I can smell the stink of desperation emanating from this game all the way from Chicago. Both teams have been sucking up the joint, which has in turn put both managers on the hot seat. At least Ralph Hasenhuttl has the excuse that the Saints didn’t spend a ton in the summer transfer window (yet again). Marco Silva cannot say the same, which is why his ass is more firmly in the jackpot. Hasenhuttl would probably survive a loss this weekend. I’m not so sure that goes for Silva. Everton’s anemic offense is the biggest of many problems. Luckily for them Southampton’s defense has essentially been slumpbuster for everybody not named Man City this season.
• TOTTENHAM 2-1 Sheffield Utd – If it weren’t for Lester’s brilliance, the Blades would no doubt be the more pleasant surprise so far this season. It is not just the results that Sheffield Utd have been getting under manager Chris Wilder but it is the way they have been doing it (ie, by actually playing some attractive soccer and not simply bunkering and hoping to nick an odd goal on the counter… the usual modus operandi for a club in Sheffield’s position). Unfortunately for the wee buggers, Pochettino may have FINALLY come to his senses and benched Christian Eriksen’s ol unmotivated ass in favour of a midfield led by Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele… which has been a night and day change. [Caveat: If Poch has a brainfart and goes back to Winks/Sissoko/Eriksen this pick is automatically replaced by some sort of ugly 1-1 draw.]
• WOLVES 2-0 Villa – Tough break last weekend for the Villans who played Liverpool tough (though they got some “fortunate calls” from the VAR overlords), but even tougher break to be catching Wolves now that they seem to be finding their groove and not earlier in the season when they were fully out of sorts. The hosts’ midweek Europa League game is the only thing making me think twice about calling this game a LOCK.
• UNITED 2-1 Brighton – Unlike some clubs that have not been playing well due to turmoil in and around the team (eg, Spurs and Arsenal), I think at this point it’s fair to say that the reason United isn’t playing well is because they simply are not that good. Maguire and Wan-Bissaka have gone a long way towards fixing what had been a terrible defense, so that’s pretty spiffy, but selling their only real #9 without replacing him (Lukaku) and not doing nearly enough to fix a broken midfield is biting them squarely in the turdcutter this season. For example, the Red Devils are likely going to start some combination of James (good), Pereira (meh), Lingard (painfully inconsistent) and/or Fred (haha) in the middle this weekend, especially after McTominay limped off in Europa. Most of those guys are nowhere near good enough to have sniffed XI’s of the past. Long story short: they just aren’t very good right now, plain and simple. Silver-lining: the situation will improve because the club has more money than god and eventually some of their spending will come good, but for the time being they are in the midst of what is likely to be a rough stretch. Brighton will be a test. The team is solid at the back but with a little more freedom to go forward than a lot of the clubs in its lower-middle-class peer group. I’m going with United but can’t say I love it. In fact kinda hate it. But with Martial returning and Greenwood stepping up United may finally start looking more dangerous than a butter knife for the first time this season.
Not the final matchup that many people expected coming into the playoffs, and yet it should not be all that surprising considering this is the third time these two teams will be facing off in MLS Cup in the last four years. The more you think about that fact the crazier it is given the crazy amount of parity that the league is known for.
Both clubs eased their way through difficult semifinals matchups in which neither team was dominant, something that was especially true of Toronto, which had roughly two half-chances all game against Atlanta and yet somehow managed to translate them into a 2-1 win.
Mike Magee told me the week that Toronto signed Omar Gonzalez (our guest on the podcast this week) that the team – in 7th place and struggling at the time – was going to win MLS Cup. I laughed in his face. So perhaps this is my pride talking but I think that Seattle is a little bit better team and playing at home so I gotta give them the edge.
Either way should be a good game, if only because I specifically asked Omar to either score or concede a goal early on to ensure that we don’t get stuck with another debacle like MLS Cup 2016 – aka the worst, most lifeless soccer game every played.
LAP AROUND THE WORLD
GERMANY – DER KLASSIKER! 5th place Bayern host 3rd place Dortmund on Saturday (11:30am CT) in what is usually a 1-vs-2 matchup… and is expected to eventually play out that way but credit to the likes of Gladbach, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig for holding their own near the top of the table. Either way this week’s dærby should be a really good one.
SPAIN – Sevilla Dærby as Sevilla “visit” crosstown rival Real Betis on Sunday.
ITALY: Milan’s continued suckiness has been a sight to behold. Serie A is better when they are in the mix but it has been a while – a longggggggg while – since that has been the case. Looking like more of the same this season given their recent form (4 wins in 11 games) but they have a chance to at least post a signature win this weekend… as they visit Juventus on Sunday (1:45pm CT). Yeah good luck with that one.
So there we have it. Big weekend. Hate to be the bearer of bad news but we are staring down the barrel of another international break starting Monday. The upshot is that it is put up or shut up time for Greggggggggg and the boys against Canada next Friday. Some people may be rooting for us to lose so he gets canned. Don’t be that guy/girl though. Positive vibes only. Stay safe out there, fam.