Sam’s Safe Space for Soccer Stoolies
Not gonna lie. Turkey hangover is in full effect. But we got a full slate of soccer action coming up this weekend, dang it, so the ‘previewing & prognosticating’ show must go on…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Results from last weekend:
Honorable mention: Wolves, Sheffield United, Other United
Dishonorable mention: Norwich, West Ham
The table as things stand:
And this weekend’s schedule:
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
Sheffield Utd [+320]
Just as everyone predicted before the season began this weekend’s marquee matchup involves 6th place Sheffield Utd visiting 5th place Wolves with a chance to put a little breathing room between them and 7th place Burnley.
The truth is that the gap between those teams and 14th place Newcastle is essentially one win/loss, which means a couple bad results and we could just as easily be talking about Wolves and/or Sheffield Utd suddenly being in league with the Southampton’s, Everton’s, West Ham’s and other dregs of Premier League society. But for now this is a top of the table tilt and by golly we are going to treat it as such.
So what should we look for? Two things to keep in mind: (1) Wolves played on Spursday night in Portugal and (2) the Premier League’s strange “holiday” schedule is kicking off a little early this year with three matchdays taking place over the next week. So while Wolves are clearly a little stronger on paper, the Blades are more rested [somehow carrying zero injuries at the moment] and have found a way to draw pretty much every single road game they have played this season. Gimme a 1-1 draw.
(VERY IMPORTANT) PILLOW FIGHT OF THE WEEK
HUGE six-pointer between clubs that came into the season with mid-table aspirations but have been fighting to get out of the relegation zone since day one. It is shaping up to be an age-old battle between Highly Moveable Object and Extremely Stoppable Force, which is to say that the 19th place Saints have the worst defensive record in the league (31 goals conceded in 13 games) while 20th place Watford have scored a whopping eight goals in 13 games. Holy moly those are some ugly stats, though to their credit both teams have looked a little – and only a little – better lately.
Southampton’s problem has been under-performance. There’s not much you can do about that other than hope they get better (or fire your coach). By contrast, Watford’s big problem has been injuries. They have had more people on IR than available to play for much of the season. It remains an open question whether guys like Troy Deeney and Roberto Pereyra will be good to go this weekend. Deeney would be an especially big boost given the Hornets’ lack of scoring punch but – despite suggestions he might be ready last week (he wasn’t) – he is again listed as questionable. If he starts I’m going with Watford to win 2-1… but that is starting to look increasingly unlikely so I’ll say 1-1 draw (a result that’d be a disaster for both teams).
Some more predictions (to increase the possibility that I eventually get one right – maybe):
• Newcastle 1-2 CITY – do I love City here? Nope, nope I do not. They have been good but nowhere near great in recent weeks. Newcastle, on the other hand, have been all over the place, sometimes giving Big Six clubs (not that that means much so far this season) all they can handle and other times rolling over and letting Norwich pet their belly.
• Burnley 1-2 PALACE – UPSET OF THE WEEK: I have definitely been guilty of not showing the Clarets anywhere near as much love as they deserve this season, as the Ginger Genius – free from the distractions of Europa – has got his wee buggers back to being insanely frustrating to play against… shades of the form that saw them come out of nowhere to finish 7th in 2017-18. But why start now, amirite? People are saying that Palace have been “in poor form” lately… um, okay, but their last five games have been against Liverpool, Chelsea, Lester, Arsenal and City. Most anyone in the world is gonna have a bad time against that crew. So Burnley, while pretty damn good, is gonna feel like a breath of fresh air for the Eagles this weekend.
• CHELSEA 1-0 Dead(ish) Ham – stop me if you have heard this before but… the Hammies have too good a squad to be playing this bad. I feel like I have been saying that for the better part of a decade now, and yet it still remains true. Must be something in the water in East London. All the drama of the northern neighbors, but fewer wins. I haven’t declared them officially dead yet if only because – after going down 3-0 against Spurs last week – they showed a little fight and made it a game with a couple late goals. In some respects Chelsea is the polar opposite. They came into the season with everybody cringing at their squad thinking they were going to have a reeeeeal rough time. But the kids have stepped up in a big way, none more so than The Babyjesus and Tammy Abraham. The good news for Ham fans is that Abraham is injured. This could be huge considering how consistently inconsistent West Ham’s backline has been. Michy Batshuayi and/or Olivier Giroud are nice but not on Abraham’s level… so this is by no means a lock, and in fact a flyer on West Ham at +900 wouldn’t be the dumbest bet you make all weekend, but until the visitors show a little more it is tough to go with them on the road in this one. Close but no cigar for the Ham Sammies.
• LIVERPOOL 2-0 Brighton – Mark my words: Liverpool is going to get tripped up sometime soon. They have been doing jussssssssssst enough to skate by for far too long, and the busy holiday schedule (almost time for the annual bellyaching from Klopp, Pep & Co. to begin) is going to be especially tough on teams that have been playing midweek games all season. Add to that the injury that will keep Fabinho – a bit of an unsung hero in the middle of the field for the Reds – out until 2020 and it is only a matter of time til somebody (not named Napoli) to pop out of the long grass and give Liverpool an unexpected dick kick. Will it be this week? Meh. Brighton have looked like a quintessential middle-of-the-road team this season, beating the teams they should beat (including Spurs at the peak of their late fall emotional breakdown) and losing to teams they shouldn’t beat.
• TOTTENHAM 3-2 Bournemouth – FUNNEST GAME OF THE WEEK: Some dorks are going to say funnest isn’t a word. Shut up dorks. Spurs defense just plain sucks. Maybe Mourinho can fix it, but I have serious doubts. Impossible to build a bus out of the full backs on this roster at the moment. On the plus side guys like Dele Alli look totally rejuvenated under Dear Leader, so while Spurs are likely going to have to try and outscore opponents – it may actually work. Bournemouth loves them some running and gunning as well so BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE is my Free Money Lock of the Week™.
• Norwich 1-3 ARSENAL – Dead Cat / New Manager bounce incoming!
Unai had a good run but alas his watch is now ended… actually his run was a terrific disappointment from start to finish but it sure as shit is ended, and for most Arsenal fans it meant Christmas came early. Rumors trickling out about players openly mocking their coach suggest he had totally lost the dressing room, meaning that just about anybody will be an improvement. Freddie Ljungberg – a great player but unknown quantity as a coach – probably has until Christmas to show the bosses that he is the man for the job, so it will be interesting to see whether there is an immediate (dare I say Tottenham-like!) course correction under a new bossman. A game against Norwich is not a bad way to kick things off (unless they lose in which case it’ll be perfectly awful). The Canaries clapped Everton’s cheeks last week but let’s be honest who hasn’t clapped Everton’s cheeks this season? (Note: Tottenham… the correct answer to that question is Tottenham.)
• Lester 1-2 EVERTON – As mentioned above Everton are terrible. Just plain terrible. The Toffees are where high hopes go to die a miserable death. Marco Silva still being employed is a joke. So they have zero chance heading to Lester, right? Those Sneaky Foxes have been absolutely killing it, so the obvious play is Lester. There really is no defensible reason to pick the Toffees……. except it is so nonsensical that it just feels right. Everton winning a game they have no business winning and in doing so saving Silva’s job for a few minutes while giving their fans a reason to believe would be SO Everton. There is nothing more dangerous than a kernel of faith, after all. Fun fact: here is Everton’s schedule for the next few weeks… yikes.
• UNITED 2-1 Villa – United lost to something called Astana on Spursday. Not a great look. Then again it’s silly to judge them too harshly since they had already qualified for the knockouts so OGS went with an extremely inexperienced XI. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Villa, whose coach Dean Smith just got a well-deserved 4-year extension, but they haven’t been all that good on the road… and damit I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking that James, Rashford and Martial – if they stay healthy – could be a real problem if they get just a smidge more/better service.
LAP AROUND THE WORLD
GERMANY – Bayern/Bayer is always a fun matchup (11:30am CT on Saturday) but Hertha and their **hot new up-and-coming manager** welcoming Dortmund earlier that morning (8:30am CT) is my official pick of the litter.
ITALY – Not a lot to choose from in Serie A this weekend so let’s go with 9th place Verona hosting 5th place Roma on Sunday (1:45pm CT).
SPAIN – Big, big, bigggggggg game in La Liga on Sunday (2pm CT) when leaders Barcelona visit 4th place Atletico with three points separating the clubs (with Real Madrid and Sevilla sitting between them in the table).
So there we have it. Quick turnaround with a full slate of midweek games coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday (and yet another the following weekend). Stay safe, kids!