English Premier League Weekly Preview

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Now it's time for your requisite story about Sergio "Kun" Agüero and Manchester City, who around 4:48 Eastern Time on Monday was arguably the biggest thing to ever happen to England. Ever. Winston Churchill? Pfft. Did he ever score two goals against Swansea City?

Didn't think so.

In essence, Agüero's Premier League debut was so life-affirming people across Manchester -- nay, around the world -- where left spontaneously expressing their new found happiness by mimicking the "dancing", err, gyrations of late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. (RIP)


Let's, as usual, peel back the onion of hyperbole for a second. (And yes, it was an excuse to post that video.)

The first question/issue to pull away from the embers of Agüero-mania, is the Argentine striker good enough for City to move away from its reliance on his countryman Carlos Tevez, who might play for the team this season ... or not.

That might be a trick question in the first place, since slowly Roberto Mancini has been assembling a (bloated) roster of players to do just that. With Agüero, along with pricey additions Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, City have a fleet of strikers to rival any club in the world not named AC Milan. Still, it was going to take time for City to integrate these players, leaving Tevez to play the hero time and time again last season.

The telling stat on Tevez' influence on City last season? In games he played and didn't score, the club was a mere 4-6-6, compared to 17-2-3 in all other matches. (One of the wins was on the last day vs. Bolton; another he came on in the 86th minute; the other two were 1-0 victories over Blackpool and Wigan.)

If City is a realistic contender to dethrone Manchester United, Mancini was smart enough to realize relying on one player, a moody player who apparently wants no part of the greater Manchester area, he had to find a Plan B or C.

That's where Agüero probably comes in.

What interests me is the evolution of City under Mancini, granted this evolution is a lot easier when you have an open check book and can quickly sell off "flops" like Jerome Boateng or find a quick replacement for Alex Koralov.

When the Italian manager took over in the middle of the 2009-10 season from Mark Hughes, he played a mainly what you'd consider an "English" style -- 4-4-2 with Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor paired up top with one another and Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson outside. Their was some 4-2-3-1 sprinkled in, or 4-4-1-1 with Stephen Ireland (yeah, him) behind Tevez.

At the start of the 2010-11 year, after missing out narrowly on the Champions League, Mancini put his full imprint on the team, playing strictly in the 4-2-3-1 -- the formation de rigueur -- but still resembled the best team 1998 Serie A could buy with its overtly defensive feel. Things opened up more offensively when Yaya Toure settled into a more attacking role, but the defensive-minded Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry remained locked in the starting XI. The team seemed forged in the Chelsea model of size, strength and power, which was enough to win the FA Cup.

Now, only a game into the new season, how does City move forward?

Perhaps, the scary thought, is that by slowly adding players from La Liga -- Toure, David Silva, Agüero -- City is bringing with it some of the tactical skill that's made Spain the best soccer nation in the world, if only rubbing off through osmosis. Again, only one game, but Silva and Agüero found an instant chemistry with two players with natural first touch and all that jazz.

Agüero -- who played in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 at Athletico Madrid -- appears ready to slot into the Tevez role. If Dzeko provides that burly physical presence up front, City might fully be able to say it's moved beyond its reliance on the man they call Carlito.

A scary thought for the Premier League ... and in time maybe the rest of Europe.

Get off my lawn:

Real Madrid/Barcelona games have slowly morphed into the Chuck Norris Facts of soccer. Every single thing that happens in it is both a) the greatest thing to happen on a soccer field and b) an Internet meme. (Seriously, take a time out from reading and search "Mourinho" on Tumblr. You'll have LOLs for days.)

The skill and talent at these two teams is amazing and the games are great theater, to a degree.

The rivalry, for me at least, is a lot like North Carolina and Duke -- both consistent winners with rich history -- in college hoops in the fact it's hard to root for either team. Naturally, Ray Hudson of GolTV the Dick Vitale here.

Not to be too cranky, I fully understand why people love to quote the Geordie's orgasmic screams and esoteric comments (even if half are too ignorant to know who Sophia Loren is) during the action, but he is basically soccer's Vitale -- all schtick. It might be from the heart, but it tends to overshadow the game. Up until about 2000 Vitale was a lot of fun. You used to like hearing him call a game, now it's just sad as he tries to force in his "diaper dandy," "PTPer" and other pet names into a game. (At least Hudson has never endorsed frozen pizza, though.)

An announcer should enhance the action, not overshadow it.

Also, Xavi never did this in the Spanish Super Cup. It's obviously computer digitally edited. Barcelona are blameless, totally pure and represent every single good thing possible in sport. To watch Barcelona play is to enter a higher, purer realm of consciousness.

Remember, it's all Jose Mourinho's fault.


Round 2 Picks:

* Sunderland v. Newcastle United -- (Live, ESPN3 only, 7 a.m.) Always have to respect a rivalry that's so intense it has to be played early in the day for fear of fans drinking all day and then burning down the city center, with or without the presence of Joey Barton who will probably go to sleep listening to The Prodigy's "Firestarter" on a loop, yes, this needs to be embedded below:


There's more here than 90s dance-y music nostalgia, though. Newcastle didn't show much, but the Magpies kept a clean sheet against Arsenal. Long term the problem for Newcastle might run into is that in Demba Ba, Nile Ranger, Leon Best, Shola Ameobi and Peter Løvenkrands they have the least dynamic/creative forwards of the non-promoted teams. AND Gabriel Obertan! That's why they need to keep Barton around for the time being, or his next prison stay.

Sunderland? There's a lot to like in the fact a) the Black Cats didn't roll over down 1-0 at Anfield last weekend and b) Steve Bruce as a ton of different options for deploying his starting XI. Moving ahead, Sunderland need to find a forward (or two) that click with the creative options (Seb Larsson, Stephane Sessegnon, Kieran Richardson). Maybe it's Ji Dong-Won, who more of a physical presence than Asamoah Gyan. The Ghana forward is a talent, but his major skill -- speed -- doesn't mesh with the rest of the team. ... Sunderland 2, Newcastle United 0

* Arsenal v. Liverpool -- (Live, ESPN2, 7:45 a.m.) Is it wrong for me to simply want to see how this game plays out instead of labeling it a crisis time for either club? If anything I'm curious to see where Arsenal generates its offense from. One prediction, there won't be two penalties in the final 12 minutes of stoppage time. ... Arsenal 1, Liverpool 2 ... (This retroactive slobber-fest over Cesc Fabregas made me laugh, hard.)

* Swansea City v. Wigan Athletic -- There is no bigger fan of Ian Darke on the planet than me. He is the Lionel Messi to my Ray Hudson. However, Darke talking about how long and arduous it is to travel from Swansea, Wales to Manchester, England was a little silly from an American perspective. The distance, as with Wigan, is only around 200 miles. For comparison's sake that's about the same driving distance as the following: New York to Boston; Tuscaloosa, AL, to Atlanta; Portland, Ore. to Seattle; Ann Arbor, Mich. to Columbus, Ohio. So there you go. As for this game, if Swansea struggles to hang with Wigan, well, it doesn't bode too well. Expect a big bounce from the home crowd, at least for the Swans Premier League debut. ... Swansea City 3, Wigan 2

* Aston Villa v. Blackburn Rovers -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) Just what Aston Villa fans wanted: Alex McLeish & Emile Heskey -- A Love Story For the Ages. This is why people use the backhanded compliment term, "pragmatic" to describe the Scot. In the Blackburn camp, Raul is the latest aging superstar "name" to say no thanks to Ewood Park. I'm half-surprised Venky's wasn't able to lure Robbie Keane away from Tottenham. Guess, once again, Lancashire, England doesn't have the same allure as Los Angeles or New York for guys looking for a final paycheck. ... Aston Villa 2, Blackburn 0

* Everton v. QPR -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) Everton's chairman, is apparently beyond clueless. QPR now have a new owner. Something has to give at Goodison Park, right? Alternately, if you're an aficionado of neck tattoos (obviously you are), then this is your match with Jermaine Beckford vs. DJ Campbell. ... Everton 2, QPR 1

* Chelsea v. West Brom -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 p.m.) Petr Cech is out for the Blues. Will this be the first of many injuries for the aging side? At this time last year Chelsea was raping teams like West Brom 6-0 and we all thought the title was all but decided. Funny how that worked out, huh? ... Chelsea 2, West Brom 0


* Norwich City v. Stoke City -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) Love how Stoke wins a game in Europe against a nondescript team from Switzerland and the English press react like it's the Miracle at Fatima. Once again, the teams outside the top get no love. ... Norwich 1, Stoke 1

* Wolves v. Fulham -- (Live, FSC, 9 a.m.) It's games like these why my prediction record was utterly pathetic last season. Can you tell me, outside of home form, why one team is appreciatively better than the other? And don't cite Clint Dempsey scoring a brace vs. Dnipro in the Europa League qualifiers, either. That team, frankly, sounds made up. ... Wolves 1, Fulham 0

* Bolton v. Manchester City -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) Here's guessing that this game doesn't end 4-4 after each team put up four in their opener. If City are serious about winning the league, they have to take three points instead of one in games like this. They add up. ... Bolton 0, Manchester City 2


* Manchester United v. Tottenham -- (Live, ESPN2, 2:45 p.m.) Manchester United scored, what like seven unanswered vs. Seattle Sounders? Spurs mushed the SPL's Hearts 5-0 in a Europa League qualifier? So by transitive properties, the MLS and SPL are about the same, right? United are vulnerable without the Vidic/Ferdinand combo and really, how much longer is Rio going to play? That's why Sir Alex is so smart, snapping up Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, rebuilding on the fly ... again. The issue here is communication, how do the do young English defenders mesh with Spanish keeper David De Gea. No idea what to make up Spurs at this point. With or without Luka Modric they lose games at Old Trafford, a streak dating back to 1989. ... Manchester United 3, Tottenham 1

Last round: 5-4
Season: 5-4