Sam’s Safe Space for Soccer Stoolies
What a weekend! What a dang weekend! The sun is shining, birds are chirping, the weather is beautiful (for probably the last time all year)… and we got an INCREDIBLE slate of games throughout all the big leagues in Europe plus the final matchday of the regular season in MLS on Sunday. Just a fantastic conflagration of events to help distract us from the two weeks of damn near nothingness that comes directly after it – albeit with some USMNT games to look forward to this time at least – and several months of hell… here in the upper Midwest at least.
Why worry now about what can be put off til later is what I always say though, so let’s concentrate on the matter at hand: a glorious weekend of jogo bonito. Sit back, relax and help me help you get your mind right…
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Scores from last weekend:
Honorable mention: Tottenham, Wolves, Arsenal, James-less Everton, Southampton
20. West Brom
Dishonorable mention: Sheffield Utd, Brighton, Other United
WATCHABILITY INDEX (meaning highest on the must-watch TV scale… not always for complimentary reasons)
1. Liverpool (scoring for fun but defense an issue… albeit not vs Atalanta
2. United (suffering from acute schizoid-affective disorder)
3. Lester (lots of fun but questions about sustainability)
Note: shoutout to Southampton who has not gotten the love they deserve for a great start to the season having been overshadowed by the struggles of some “big clubs” and by attention being paid to other momentary Cinderellas du jour (Villa, Leeds, Hammies)… but one more win for the Saints this week and it would be hard to keep them off this list… unfortunately the long-term loss of Danny Ings may be a spirit-killer (but the win over Newcastle shows they are still going to be tough to contend with)
Table as things stand:
OKAY SOUTHAMPTON, I SEE YOU! Wolves and United coming up immediately after the break should be an interesting heat check. In the meantime though smoke em while you got em, Saints!
And the schedule for the weekend ahead (notice the PACKED slate on Sunday):
PICKS OF THE WEEKEND
You might think this game, which has been the league's “glamor matchup” for the last couple seasons, may have lost a little of its luster given that both teams have struggled a bit this season – especially with City currently chilling in 10th place in the table. However, despite all the various ups and downs that many clubs have experienced so far this season, the odds for how things will shake out in May have not changed much. To wit, here is what the quant nerds at FiveThirtyEight (who looked like dummies for a minute on Tuesday before late vote tallies seem to have validated their [political] models) are currently forecasting:
Tottenham is the biggest jumper relative to the start of the season, which is no surprise considering all the big buys they have made since, but the more relevant takeaway – for this game anyway – is that City (52% chance) and Liverpool (27%) are still the two heavy favorites to win the league. Is that too high for City? Definitely. For Liverpool? Meh, maybe. Seems about right though. Either way, the point is that the two clubs are still the class of the league.
As for the game this weekend, two big things to keep in mind going in are that Aguero is out for City while Matip is likely available to start next to Gomez at CB for Liverpool. Given the two teams’ recent form, most notably Liverpool’s unrepentant curb stomping of a very good Atalanta team on Wednesday, you would quite simply not be doing your fiduciary duty to yourself and future generations (if you find someone to have sex with) if you don’t at least think about tossing some shekels on Liverpool. I am shocked and aghast at how big the odds are for them. Huge value all day no question.
Fun fact though: if you throw out City’s inexplicable capitulation against Lester (a 2-5 loss), which was while Laporte was injured and before Dias was acquired, Pep’s peoples have yet to concede more than one goal in a game this season. Could Liverpool break through? Absolutely. But I gotta go with what the crystal ball says, which is…
Prediction: City to win 2-1
Those damn Foxes have been sneaky good and have shrugged off a ridiculously long list of injuries, including several to key guys (eg, Soyuncu, Evans, Pereira and Ndidi). Part of that has been thanks to the emergence of guys like Wesley Fofana, who has helped shore up the defense, and Harvey Barnes, who has given Jamie Vardy at least a little help on the scoring front. People have been sleeping on Lester. I was one of those people. I am not sleeping on them anymore. But I am picking them to lose this game. Wolves have the right combination of skill and guile to find a way to win what should be a low-scoring game, in part because only one of the two teams played on Spursday.
Prediction: Wolves to win 2-0
I mean, what the sht is this?
People have been calling for OGS’s head since about 15 minutes before he was named caretaker manager back in late 2018. Kinda like herpes, the calls have never gone away ever since but they have flared up and died down depending on the results, so needless to say United’s crotch is on fire at the moment after the listless loss to Arsenal and egg-laying midweek performance in Turkey. One of the big criticisms, which is lobbed at a lot of managers but seems especially accurate in this case, is that OGS does not seem to have any consistent philosophy for how he wants to play. It feels different almost every game. In the end results dictate narratives. If you are winning consistently then a manager’s strategic flexibility is called being a “genius” (see: Brendan Rodgers lately). If, on the other hand, you are not winning then the coach is called a clueless dunce. Harsh but true.
And yet – annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd yet – every time United seem to be backed up against the wall with OGS’s job really truly (maybe) on the line… they come up with a big win (usually at PSG) that buys him a stay of execution. I don’t think the club is at that level of defcon desperation quite yet considering how decent their position is in Champions League but yet another loss and another flare-up is inevitable.
Which leads me to this:
I try to be an unbiased arbitrator when it comes to making picks in these blogs. Anyone reading for a while knows I have often picked against Tottenham. I’ve even picked them to lose to Arsenal for heaven’s sake. There are Spurs fans on the twitters who hate me because that means I must not be a “real fan” in their opinion. Whatever. It is what it is. I just want to put all my cards on the table so that you know what my heart is saying while my head is writing this blog.
And my head is saying that this weekend United are going to have one of those games where they don’t suck, in part because Everton – who I have been very high on all season – sound like they are going to be without James Rodriguez again. I have said on numerous occasions that Everton just slap different this season. Well here’s the thing about that: they have proven the last couple games that they don’t actually slap different without James. They have looked like the same old upper middle class Everton of old if they don’t have him pulling the strings in midfield.
The latest update is that James is “doubtful” for Saturday’s game. I’m not really sure how to take that but fact is he has not exactly been a workhorse who battles through injuries, and I think it’s fair to assume that even if he plays he isn’t going to be at 100%. So as much as I like some of the other additions they have made (eg, Doucoure and Allan), I’m going with a much-needed bounce back performance from the Red Devils.
Prediction: United to win 3-1
Some more predictions… to increase the possibility that I eventually get one right, maybe (note: gonna start highlighting my BEST BETS – meaning the ones I legitimately like as opposed to just picking because it's kinda my make pretend job – in BOLD):
• Palace 2-3 LEEDS
• CHELSEA 2-0 Sheffield Utd
• WEST HAM 2-1 Fulham
• West Brom 1-4 TOTTENHAM
• Arsenal 1-2 VILLA
REST OF WORLD
MLS – DECISION DAY on Sunday with all playoff spots already spoken for except for the last two in the East where there is a clusterfuck of teams – Montreal (23), Chicago (23), Atlanta (22), Miami (21) and DC (21) – all still in the mix sitting on anywhere from 21 to 23 points.
GERMANY – Der Klassiker time! Nothing more need be said. Bayern and Dortmund (not for the first time) look like the two best teams in the Bundesliga and are tied on 15 points atop the table. Saturday at 11:30am CT. Don’t miss it.
SPAIN – Getafe vs Villarreal (7am CT) followed by Sociedad vs Granada (9:15am CT) on Sunday are some solid soccer nerd games to watch
ITALY – Also on Sunday, Lazio vs Juventus at the buttcrack of dawn (5:30am CT) and then, fresh off their mollywhopping from Liverpool, Atalanta vs Inter (8am CT).
So there we have it. International break starts Monday. Sucks. At least we finally have some USMNT action to look forward to. If you don’t pop a little chub looking at this roster then quite frankly you haven’t been paying attention. Pray for Wales. Pray for Panama.
Thanks for reading you beauties!