Soccer

English Premier League Review: Chelsea, Manchester United

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It's hard to convey to you how out-and-out giddy I was when I saw the Premier League schedule for this week and there wasn't a 7:45 a.m. match. Not that, on the East Coast at least, it's all that early or difficult to get up and lay on the couch and watch a soccer match.

That said, I tend to work most Friday nights (yay!) and it's hard to get to bet before 3 a.m. sometimes, my brain just won't allow it. The quick turnaround eventually catches up on me. But that's my problem.

In short, the 10 a.m. kickoff is ideal.

Granted, on Sunday, for the early 8:30 a.m. kickoff for Newcastle United/Aston Villa I made the executive decision, in the wake of an all-afternoon into night Fantasy Football draft on Saturday, that St. James Park would have to wait. Never in my wildest Samurai Andy Carroll fever dreams would I think that match would end 6-0. The Magpies stunning display of muscles and mustaches was more unexpected than the child actress playing Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) emerging as a go-to part of season four of "Mad Men."

Arsenal vs. Blackpool at the Emirates on Saturday?

Slightly more predictable.

Sure Blackpool beat Wigan 4-0 in it's Premier League debut a week earlier, and yeah, Arsenal didn't look like the footballing version of "Shrimp & White Wine" at Anfield, but unless this was the first soccer match you've ever seen in your life, the eventual 6-0(*) scoreline wasn't unexpected.

(*) Three 6-0 scorelines in one weekend? 35 overall goals in nine matches? Soccer is boring everybody! ... Oh, and not one of those 35 goals was on my fantasy team. Mehthinks I deserve some kind of an award for that level of out-and-out awfulness. Classic over-thinking, since my initial squad had Gareth Barry, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll in it. As always, I'm a moron.

Did we actually learn anything about Arsenal against Blackpool? Don't answer that, because it's a question that couldn't be answered. Once Theo Walcott brought the deadlock inside of 15 minutes, a match like that is over. Blackpool simply aren't constructed to cope with the speed and precision passing of Arsenal.

The only way a match like that ever piques the interest is if a) Blackpool/heavy underdog scores early against the run of play; b) Arsenal/favorite miss a ton of chances or c) the goalie stands on his proverbial head.

If there are any major takeaways from the Arsenal standpoint it's that Tomas Rosicky and his Czech-y milkbones is a talented player when he actually makes it onto the field. Walcott? We'll get to him later on.

Oddly enough, judging by the U.S.-based Twitter chatter during the match, even as crept up toward 4-0 and 5-0, folks kept watching. Not all that unreasonable. Arsenal have a lot of fans in the States, plus the goals were flowing faster than anyone in Major League Baseball trying to disassociate themselves from Roger Clemens.

Yet, at the same time, on a slightly fuzzier channel higher up on the dial, Everton were taking on Wolves in a highly combative match at Goodison Park punctuated by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov fluffing chance after chance. Everton and Wolves, granted, aren't marquee teams and since most viewers in American don't yet have Fox Soccer Channel in High-Definition, the choice to stick with Arsenal's orange-colored bloodbath was entirely justifiable.

To me, though lacking in the glitz and glamor, this was a balanced game, with Wolves snatching a nice goal on a counter triggered by a hard tackle from Algerian midfielder Adlene Guedioura tapped in by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake after Tim Cahill had fought for a headed goal from close range off a Mikel Arteta deflected free kick.

On the other hand, later in the day, when Wigan hosted Chelsea and there wasn't another Premier League Match readily available, why would you stick around for the entire 6-0 result? Flip over to the Bundesliga game on GolTV? I think they're recycling the tapes from Borat's original UK telecasts its so grainy. If you lived in the right place I assume you could've checked out Red Bulls/Toronto FC, too.

Even the most devout Chelsea fans probably had a tough time sticking around for 90 minutes in a game that actually started competitively and ended like almost all recent Chelsea league matches, in a romp. Look at the Blues next three: vs. Stoke; at West Ham; vs. Blackpool. Those might end a combined 15-1, without any exaggeration. At least Chelsea plays at Manchester City and home to Arsenal on back-to-back weeks starting Sept. 25.

Goals are fun, but games this lopsided get boring pretty fast. There's just no drama to hold your attention.

Carlo Ancelotti even dropped the "Playstation" line to describe the Blues. Early into the Chelsea game vs. Wigan, once Flourent Malouda scored the first, it was time for me to fire up the ol' XBox.

It was easy to tell which way this one was going.

Topics this week:

* About that Spurs/Stoke match.
* About that Fulham/Manchester United match.
* Bradley-Villa, the rumor that won't die.
* Around the League.

Compelling Stuff at Britannia:

Just as we concluded on Sunday morning during Fulham's fun 2-2 draw with Manchester United that Ian Darke needs to call every important soccer game for the next few season, let's try to mount a campaign for Gus Johnson to sit behind the mic for every Tottenham match.

Engrossing match, Spurs 2-1 win at Stoke was.

Apparently there were technical issues with Foxsoccer.tv on Saturday morning barring folks from signing in. Luckily I was able to log into this match and stuck with the whole way. (Great picture quality, too.)

For one, it's hard not to have a full one man-boner for Gareth Bale. His style of play just oozes talent and excitement. Really, the there is something about the marauding left-footed player, isn't it?

What's enjoyable about Bale, is watching a kid who was nearly a laughingstock, who carried around that awful tag of never featuring in a Spurs win for about his seemingly first three years at the club.

Now Bale is putting it together and emerging as a Premier League Best XI lock.

Sure he got lucky in his first goal, pulling a Chicharito and scoring off his face. The second? Top drawer. Top class? Top Chef? Umm. Wait. However you want to describe it, awesome stuff. A standing left-footed scissoring, one-touch volley? Most players wouldn't even attempt it, nor could physically pull it off. Credit, too, Aaron Lennon for teeing it up in a play that was certainly drawn up on the training ground.

Of note, Spurs played a 4-5-1 the whole way, with Jermaine "Rhymes With"(*) Jenas playing functionally alongside Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios, along with Peter Crouch isolate up top. Usual Spurs whipping boy Younes Kaboul was even a rock at the back. Not sure he and William Gallas can co-exist in the same team, but still, the petulant Frenchman is a necessity buy for Harry Redknapp.

(*) Sorry for the Berman. Been taking a lot of "Canadian Aspirin" lately.

What actually made this match fun is that Stoke is a pretty good team, or at least a team that's on the same page and has had it's important players (Shawcross, Whelan, Faye, Etherington, Delap) together in the same roles for a while. World-beaters they are not, but Tony Pulis has assembled a representative squad which is solid, if not spectacular at home.

Soccer is at its best when two teams push each other. It's the ebbs and flows.

Stoke fought back when Ricardo Fuller caught Gomes out of position.

They probably should have equalized late when a ball hit Peter Crouch on the goal line, possibly going over. Logic would dictate, eventually, soccer comes around to some kind of replay on goals. Then again, we all saw the England/Germany World Cup match.

Have to love what Pulis was quoted as saying, "How long would it take (to use video technology)? A minute? But we are just Stoke City. I'm just Tony Pulis, I can't change it"

Quick thought on Spurs vs. Young Boys Wednesday. It's a cliche, but for Spurs its about manning up and getting a result by hook or by crook. No excuses. If you can't beat Young Boys 1-0 or 2-1 at home, you don't deserve to play in the Champions League proper.

Burning Down the Cottage:

Is there a better way to wake up on a Sunday morning than with the dulcet tones of Ian Darke?

Coffee, brilliant? The toast is burnt, but Cardillo eats it anyway. Would you believe it?

Oops got a little carried away for a moment.The return of Darke's esoteric stories mid-match (Breda Hangeland riding the train to practice and talking with fans? ... "Good for him.")

Not that Fulham's 2-2 fight-back vs. Manchester United Sunday needed any artificial hype. It stood on its own legs, with frantic final 15 minutes punctuated by Hangeland's own-goal and eventual redemption on the other end, all set up by Nani's missed penalty.(*)

(*) Owen, Scholes, Giggs and Berbatov on the field and you go to Nani for the spot? Interesting.

Lot to dissect here. From the United standpoint, the team is composed on the ball, quality in the midfield and all, but without a rampaging Wayne Rooney they simply don't scare you on every possession inside the opposing half. Guys like Dimitar Berbatov create goals, sure, but they aren't instantly lethal. Perhaps Chicharito evolves into that type of player, but in his first EPL start, the young Mexican was mostly anonymous.

At least United still have Paul Favre, err, Scholes, who just keeps doing his midfield thing. Scholes will end his career with more medals and trophies than most British families have combined cavity-free teeth(*), but he'll always have the pang of regret for quitting England too early. Think his midfield composure might have suited Fabio Capello's team better than James Milner?

(*) I kid.

Up front, United are good enough to compete, or at least try, to hang with Chelsea.

In the back? Jonny Evans looks like another savvy Sir Alex Ferguson move one minute, totally lost the next. And it was the continued encounters with Fernando Torres, but Nemanja Vidic doesn't seem quite as fearsome any more. Judging by Rio Ferdinand's health, United's defense will remain patchwork all year.

As for Fulham? Nice fighting spirit, even if "Uncle Roy" shipped up to Anfield.

Professional pride isn't a "sexy" attribute, but it counts for something every weekend. Fulham have that spirit, something you'd think a guy like Mark Hughes would continue to cultivate.

Plus, young David Stockdale doesn't look afraid as a keeper, and as I said last year, Bobby Zamora is a late bloomer, otherwise he'd never be playing for a club like Fulham. What that means, before I get blasted, is that he's a really borderline great player, who took time to develop, so Fulham was lucky to take a flier on him in 2008 before he'd figured out his true potential.

Oh, his middle name is Lester, too.

What About Bob, Again?

So ... Bob Bradley is at least admitting he might be interested in Aston Villa. This is nearly on par with getting the CIA to spill any intelligence on the Kennedy Assassination or Area 51.

Judging by the 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Newcastle Sunday (again one I didn't watch live) he might have more of a chance, since the bloom is quickly off the Kevin MacDonald rose.

Would Bradley be suited for England club team management? Would he relate to young English talents like Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young? Would his methods have players prepared mentally and physically week-in, week-out? Would he be able to figure out the transfer market, now that Manchester City has cornered the market on defensive midfielders? Would he make a late offer to Tigres to take You-Know-Who on loan to play left back?

Bradley would, in today's parlance, probably be who we think he is. Emile Heskey would certainly find his way into the starting lineup more often than not, wouldn't he?

It still would be tough for Bradley, without any experience or knowledge banks in England, to parachute in mid-season and take over the team and expect anything until next year at the earliest. Bradley could probably build a decent, competitive squad, but Villa would still be caught in the same problem it was under Martin O'Neill, trying to break past Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and maybe Everton in the League.

This is a pleasant development, if anything else, as their were growing whisphers that Sunil Gulati would extend his contract past December. Again, nothing against Bradley but another four, long boring years under Bradley would be the USSF spinning its wheels, like a sitcom, say "The Office" running out of idea and trotting out the same recycled gags and plot-beats.

To my knowledge, the Elder has never been seen on a beet farm, though.

Around the League:

Chelsea are your only team to go 2-for-2 in wins. ... Stoke, West Ham and Wigan are 0-for-2. ... Might be panic time at West Ham, with Matt Upson knocking in an own-goal and then getting knocked out in Saturday's loss to Bolton. ... If Oguchi Onyewu isn't going to get playing time at Milan, West Ham would be a spot where he might be able to get ample playing time. ... Stuart Holden looks a natural in the Premier League. ... Four penalties were saved or missed this weekend. ... Adios, or should we say, auf wiedersehen to Joey Barton's mustache. It was funny, well, until he might have celebrated Sunday in a mock Hitler salute. What's the next stage beyond "Loose Canon" in the crazy person flow cart? ... Keep an eye out for Craig Gardner on Birmingham City. He'll be around the League for a long time. ... Andy Carroll is a beast. I'll keep repeating that since it's about the only thing, through two weeks, I seemed to accurately predict. The play he made on to complete his hat trick, a 40-yard diagonal pass, then running to the goal box to slot it home, dominant. ... When was the last time Brad Friedel conceded six goals? ... On the flip side of Carroll, I kind of poo-poo'd Peter Odemwingie and he scores in his West Brom debut.

Shame he never played NCAA Soccer Player of the Week:

Theo Walcott, 21, Arsenal. Maybe in the last four years you've heard of him. Other than Rooney, John Terry and that Beckham fellow has any English player generated as many column inches in England?

Nice hat trick Sunday vs. Blackpool in a more direct role in front of goal.

Now, as an observer from afar on the Prem, should I overreact?

Beats me?

All we know is that he's a speedy guy who's downright lethal when he's cutting at an angle toward goal.

Wonder if he were born in the U.S. which sport other than soccer he'd be farmed out to. You'd think on the soccer field he'd have trouble finding adequate competition in the States, since he'd probably run by every other kid, forget to develop ball or shooting skills, pump in five or six goals a game and take home a bunch of trophies and ribbons.

My thought, he'd be a speedy, jitterbug-type point guard like Earl Boykins.

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Paul McCabe's McCabes Pride racked up 99 points, with an absolutely huge weekend with Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Didier Droba, and Gareth Bale putting up double-digits numbers.

Mea Culpa

Friday night a reader Vince pointed out the continual grammar/syntax mistakes and overall destruction of the English language this here blog exhibits at times. For that, I truly apologize to every person who takes a second away from their day to read what's posted here. Admittedly, I'm not very good at proofreading, my own stuff especially. Sometimes my eyes feel like they're about to melt out of my skull by looking across into the screen of my laptop, though that's no excuse for the sloppiness, though it might be fun to play the informal game of "Find the Typo."

Back in college, somebody working at the school newspaper with me complimented me, I think, that I write how people talk. Or maybe specifically how I talk. Sometimes my brain just works faster than my fingers and I'll screw up a word or two and when I re-read it, my mind glances over it.

Bear with me. Thanks for your patience.

One Other Thing:

A couple friends and I have been playing the "FIFA" World Cup game a ton lately. Here's the wrinkle, we all play on the same team and go online and take on a single person. It's harder than it sounds, especially when everyone still playing the game picks Spain, who are in fact, playing like "Playstations." Thank you, Arsene.

This isn't to say folks need to pick Antigua or Bhutan, but a little creativity, please. You're not winning, the computer 1s and 0s are doing all the work.

On Deck:

Today it's Manchester CDM's vs. Liverpool on ESPN2.

Tuesday and Wednesday Champions League second-leg qualifiers.

Nothing outstanding next weekend in the Prem. Saturday's best might be Wolves hosting Newcastle United. Four Sunday games, with Sunderland v. Manchester City and Aston Villa v. Everton probably leading the way.

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