Sports

EPL Weekend Preview: Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and More

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Remember back in August when my miserable, bitter writings listed my enthusiasm for the new 2011-12 Premier League season somewhere in the two of out 10 range? Naturally, three weeks of fixtures into the season and I'm really into the new year. Don't rightly know why, either.

Figures the international break needed to drop in the same week of the transfer deadline, too.

Considering my brain is ravaged by fast food toxins, swilly domestic beer and, above all, ADD as I write this I barely know what the heck a "Mikel Arteta" is. That's some sort of thing, right?

This weekend if you live in America reading this its worth trying to get a gauge on how much buzz the Premier League and all over European soccer generates with NCAA Football in full swing and the NFL kicking of Week 1 of it's 2011-12 season. Sure there are probably soccer "purists" out there you don't care a lick about any other sport, be they North American or not. I tend to think there's a wide swath of general sports fans who care just as much about Liverpool as they do LSU or the Green Bay Packers. (Always wondered, as a big-time lover of Major League Baseball, am I still hip or cool enough to be allowed to like soccer?)

So file that in the back of your mind. The first three rounds of the Premier League it was basically the only game in town on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Now, let's see how much traction it has vs. the gridiron. FOX broadcasting certainly thinks it has enough since it's planning to broadcast Manchester United/Chelsea on tape delay across its networks next weekend.

Saturday:

* Stoke City v. Liverpool -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) As the old saying goes, never trust a guy with two first names. By that logic alone Tony Pulis should've avoided a deadline-day deal for Cameron Jerome, he of three Premier League goals for Birmingham City last year. Eh? Maybe Peter Crouch will be a little better, or not. Rather remarkably the lanky, robot-dancing man hasn't scored in double-digit League goals since the 2008-09 season with Portsmouth and only three times in a career that began in 1999. If Stoke is serious about being a threat for sixth, seventh place it would show it by notching a win against a hot Liverpool team at home. Part of me feels for Andy Carroll, since the poor guy can't stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Then again, drunk, carousing England Internationals might be about the 99.9 percentile of people I'm least-sympathetic for on the planet. ... Stoke City 1, Liverpool 1

* Arsenal v. Swansea City -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) All right Arsene, here's as soft a landing as you're going to get for your new-look team. In three games Swansea is yet to score -- yet has two points compared to your one. As I wrote on the deadline, the moves for Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun weren't bad for this season and might be enough for the Gunners to stay in the Top Four and the Champions League, but long term seem rudderless and downgrades from the players who've left the Emirates. Granted he was a loafing, lazy, loutish type player, but who is going to replace Nic Bentdner's ability to poach late goals? The Gunners may be able to slice and dice teams on the counter through Gervinho or Theo Walcott, but against a packed in defense, who's bungling in the final ball into the net? The long-term injuries to Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere don't help either, but haven't we heard this story before? ... Arsenal 2, Swansea City 0 (Not going to be last year's West Brom shock result repeating itself.)

* Sunderland v. Chelsea -- (Live, ESPN2, 10 a.m.) By the end of the year both these sides probably won't resemble the starting XIs on the field at the Stadium of Light. Steve Bruce might have a top-half team hidden somewhere into his mass summer transfers. Getting Bendtner on loan at the last second might have been his best, seriously. For Chelsea, the curious question is how long Roman Abramovich allows Andre Villas-Boas to build the Blues without his Russian meddling. By all account Fernando Torres isn't the guy to fit into the system. Pretty soon El Nino might need to buy No. 7 off Ramires to fit in with another famous blond flop at Stamford Bridge. ... Sunderland 1, Chelsea 2

* Everton v. Aston Villa -- Chin up Evertonians, you've added the top scorer from last year's Argentine league ... a dude nobody outside of La Plata has probably ever heard of -- Denis Stracqualursi. And Everton also has a win in the bank, something eight over League teams can't say. Doom and gloom at Goodison? Pfffft. Good news for Aston Villa, too. Richard Dunne was immense for the Republic of Ireland despite opening up a gash on his head in a collision with Zuri Zhirkov. Funny story from that match, Dunne returned to the field with a new shirt, but it didn't have a number on it, so a trainer from the Ireland team scribbled in on there with pen. Villa fans might not like Alex McLeish, but the team has started off unbeaten, allowing only one goal. ... Everton 1, Aston Villa 1

* Manchester City v. Wigan Athletic -- Everywhere you look there's a story about Garry Cook resigns from the City board for some leaked email. This is the kind of story, outside of England, it's hard to get wrapped up in. Doesn't interest me in the least bit. Can't fake it. The more pertinent thing to watch with City is how Roberto Mancini juggles the lineup with the club's Champions League debut vs. Napoli in the midweek. Granted City has about 25 really good players and depth at all positions aside from keeper. ... Manchester City 3, Wigan 0

* Wolves v. Tottenham -- When was the last time Tottenham played a "good" game? The Champions League? How long can Spurs live off that mirage? If anything, Scott Parker should bring a baseline of consistency into the midfield and perhaps a dash of leadership, whatever that intangible is worth. Harry Redknapp never found a loan-home for Gio dos Santos, so why not try the Mexican playmaker on the right. He can't be much more wasteful than Aaron Lennon at this juncture. If anyone can predict whether or not Emmanuel Adebayor will produce regularly is a lot smarter than myself. Wolves? Wolves are just Wolves. Solid, unspectacular and will keep plugging away. Wonder if the international break cools them off? ... Wolves 2, Spurs 0

* Bolton v. Manchester United -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 p.m.) On the plus side for U.S. fans, Stuart Holden is nearing his Bolton return. He won't play in this game, so Jonny Evans can't break his leg again. Bolton are hopeful that Owen Coyle can weave his magic with the latest on-loan acquisitions: Gael Kakuta and Dedryck Boyata. If Boyata can play central defense he's probably already better than Zat Knight. Knight figures to start Saturday, so expect Manchester United to feast on him. Also, Jussi Jääskeläinen used to be one of my favorite players in the Prem and was a integral part of Bolton when Sam Allardyce was in charge. The Finn is now 36 and appears close to the end of the line. ... Bolton 1, Manchester United 3

Sunday

* Norwich City v. West Bromwich Albion -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) Lets not kid ourselves, viewership of this match across America barely touches four-figures. ... Norwich City 1, West Brom 1

* Fulham v. Blackburn Rovers -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) Give credit to Martin Jol for at least trying to make Fulham a little younger than the core of the team Roy Hodgson built three years ago. If not younger, refresh it with some new players like Bryan Ruiz and Pajtim Kassami. (Both huge Michael Jackson fans.) If any of these players can score a goal, it would certainly help things. Blackburn, you did it! You got Scott Dann, who is basically the English Kaka, right? ... Fulham 1, Blackburn 0

Monday

* QPR v. Newcastle United -- (Live, ESPN3, 3 p.m.) Joey Barton, something, something something. ... QPR 1, Newcastle United 1

Last round: 6-4
Season: 18-11