Sports

EPL Weekly Preview: Manchester United, Liverpool, Fulham and More

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"Greed is good." -- Gordon Gekko.

Sure it was the international break, but some big news (more of a talking point) came down this week when Liverpool Managing Director Ian Ayre made comments about blowing up the structure of how the Premier League's international television revenue is shared and distributed. His point, in short, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United deserve a bigger slice of that pie because of their massive worldwide fan bases. (Slightly interesting caveat: Manchester City is the richest club in the world and doesn't have a huge global fanbase, but probably doesn't need it or the international EPL television deal because it's so rich.)

From a purely logical standpoint, Ayre does have a point. How many times are you specifically, reading this in America or Saigon or Cape Town getting up at some ungodly hour to watch Wigan Athletic play Bolton? A couple weeks ago I casually joked in this space that how many people could Fox Soccer Plus reasonably expect to tune in for its live broadcast of West Brom vs. Norwich City? The probable answer made me think of that old line from Homer Simpson when his self-produced commercial for Mr. Plow aired on Springfield Public Access at 3:30 a.m. -- "Alcoholics, the unemployable, angry loners."

So from that purely, scientific vacuum bubble scenario, yeah Ayre is making a valid argument. Shouldn't the teams that produce the most eyeballs to the sets get a bigger portion of the pie?

Realistically, as Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has picked up the rally cry this week, tweaking the revenue sharing of foreign television rights would effectively neuter the Premier League as we know it. It's one thing for the League to be structured that five, maybe six teams can enter a given year harboring a realistic chance to win the League. It's something else entirely when the League itself would be effectively ruined, since everyone outside those seven or eight mega clubs would have enough financial clout to even field a roster. At that point, why even bother?

What's odd about Ayre's comments, aside from the timing, is that Liverpool is now owned by Americans, namely John Henry -- the owner of the Boston Red Sox. You'd think Henry would notice that slowly and surely baseball has dwindled in popularity in the States, while the NFL has become woven completely into the fabric of American life -- even if that means its (in part) a platform for mindless truck and Lite beer ads. The NFL, unlike Major League Baseball, has salary caps and massive revenue sharing through its billion dollar television contract, which is shared. This goes back to the 1960s when prescient owners of the "big" teams like the New York Giants realized they wouldn't have a league without small market clubs like the Green Bay Packers.

As I've written time and time again, the Dallas Cowboys need the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings. There aren't any other opponents. A rival professional football league isn't springing up any time soon, despite NFL commish Roger Goodell's Quixotic quest to bring NFL football to Europe.

Liverpool, however, only needs look over the English Channel for clubs on its par to play week-in, week-out. This is what scares the Whelans of the world, because a pan-European Super League would effectively destroy professional soccer in Europe as we know it. The television monies -- mostly from abroad -- would dry up since why watch Wigan/Stoke when you could watch Real Madrid/Chelsea? Maybe you make some ticket sales from locals looking for live entertainment, but the television contracts would be minimal, think what's happened in Scotland in the last decade with the SPL.

Another crazy x-factor in this equation, might actually stem from our own American shores. What would stop a cash-rich, forward-thinking billionaire from starting a rogue club for inclusion in this new mythical league? It would give everybody involved a huge toehold in America and it wouldn't be that much of a stretch geographically or financially. MLS would look like even smaller potatoes in the face of a pan-European league.

Anyways, before digging into a few quick pros and cons that this dreaded pan-Europa League would bring, it's worth looking at this Info graphic that I blatantly stole from some Tumblr. Sorry. Nothing personal. It's not like I'm making money here, so I'd say it falls under fair usage, right? This is the disparity in domestic television money redistribution, not the international rights which Ayre was talking about earlier this week, which is split evenly -- including the "parachute" payments to relegated clubs.


Also, one more hold up. How many clubs at this exact moment in 2011 can exactly be considered "global brands?" By my unscientific estimate the list is: Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, (maybe) Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, (maybe) Inter Milan, Juventus, (maybe) Bayern Munich and probably FC Porto and Benfica since nearly every Portuguese ex-pat feels a tie to one of those clubs. How would this league work logistically. That's something for another time. Let's get to those pros and cons.
 

Pros and Cons of a Mythical European League


PRO -- Manchester United v. Real Madrid, who wouldn't want to watch that every weekend?

CON -- Say goodbye to the Champions League as we now know it.

PRO -- In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, "Everybody gets laid!" err ... makes a lot of money.

CON -- As we saw in the spring with all the Clasicos in Spain, too much of a good thing almost can really be too much.

PRO -- Arsenal v. Bayern. Awesome. In German!

CON -- Aside from pure greed, why do the European heavyweights feel its their manifest destiny to destroy every domestic league?

PRO -- BARCELONA VS. REAL MADRID!!!!!!

CON -- The sport of soccer will invariably suffer. Sure television exposure increases, but wouldn't you think less people would actually play the sport if the domestic leagues are deemphasized?

Overall, this looming specter of a European League sounds great -- to the clubs who'd be involved. The directors can only see dollar, well, Euro signs in their eyeballs. On paper, it seems to be a good idea, though a little redundant with the Champions League. My thought is if this league were to launch it would come off like gangbusters, but eventually it would run out of steam because people would get tired of the lack of variety and closed nature of it.

At some point, you'd just hope out of the basic human decently principle, guys running the clubs would think about the greater good a little bit instead of their own pockets. There's enough money as the current system is structured to go around, isn't there? A pipe dream, surely in 2011.

Gimme mind and get the hell out of the way.

One FIFA 12 Quickee:

From the things that don't make sense department. Danny Simpson, you know him, household name. Newcastle United right back. Well ... his face is rendered in the game. Meanwhile neither Andy Carroll or Luis Suarez's mugs are. Shake my head.

Oh yeah, right, digital Javier Hernandez will suck your soul out and haunt your dreams:



Saturday:

* Liverpool v. Manchester United -- (Live, ESPN2, 7:45 a.m.) One thing, need to throw this joke/question out right now. I can wholly imagine Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll sitting around drinking beer, eating chicken and playing video games for Liverpool. Who's the third guy in the equation. [John Henry, at least he's not Tom Hicks. Also, love British writers trying to write about baseball.]

And, of course, LeBron James is over in Liverpool for this one -- probably to watch the team he partly owns play Manchester United, that or to try the English Chicken McNuggets (curry dipping sauce anyone?). There are simply too many jokes so go read @thefarmerjones twitter feed from yesterday or search the "LeBronBeatlesSongs" hashtag. If I'm a Liverpool fan, I'd be furious that my beloved club has now been in the hands of Americans for the past seven or eight years who don't understand a lick about the club's history. The LeBron thing would be very dispiriting, too. Eh, at least it's not like Chris Bosh owns a portion of the club, right?

As for this game itself, jokes aside, the biggest issue is which Liverpool we get? Is it the free-flowing creative team that we saw at the end of last season, or the club that makes a lot of chances but is ultimately wasteful in front of goal and exposed defensively? We basically know what Manchester United is, though the Red Devils last game before the International break was underwhelming vs. Norwich City. Nice, though, for Sir Alex Ferguson to coax an international retirement from Nemanja Vidic from Serbia.

Liverpool has played Manchester United tough over the last couple seasons, however, if I'm wagering a hunch, we haven't heard much from Chicharito this season. He seems due. ... Liverpool 1, Manchester United 2

* QPR v. Blackburn Rovers -- Guess if you're in England, you're in better shape to have a club located in London compared to a random town in the Northwest. QPR attracted some players, Shaun Wright-Philips, Joey Barton, etc. would should put the club in decent shape to avoid the drop. Blackburn got ... David Goodwillie? ... QPR 2, Blackburn 0

* Norwich City v. Swansea City -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) This should be a fun game to watch since both teams should play an open, attacking game, but outside of Wes Houlahan and Scott Sinclair, name a player on either team. This is the other side of the Premier League television rights argument. ... Norwich City 3, Swansea City 1

* Manchester City v. Aston Villa -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) Richard Dunne appears to be back to his 2009-10 form when he seemed fueled by his perceived dis by Manchester City. Not sure what explains Gabriel Agbonlahor having the best season of his life, so far. Must have read me calling him massively overrated because that's what professional soccer players do -- read obscure, fading relevance blogs, right? City? Let's see how all their players fare after returning from international duty. They could be vulnerable. That's the tried-and-true theory, right? Fly in the ointment here is that Alex McLeish remains old school in his thinking and will probably field eight defenders for this one, if he could. ... City 1, Villa 0

* Stoke City v. Fulham -- Fulham probably didn't need that international break, did it? After scoring six goals in its last game it had to wait two weeks to get anything going again. Curious to see how long the Martin Jol signings (Bryan Ruiz, Patjim Kasami, etc.) get integrated more-and-more. Stoke? All those glowing reviews a couple weeks ago? The Potters goal difference is still -4. Just saying. ... Stoke City 1, Fulham 1

* Wigan Athletic v. Bolton -- It's only October, but we can look back at this game in May because both these teams are going to be in the relegation mix all season. ... Wigan 2, Bolton 0

* Chelsea v. Everton -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 a.m.) Nine goals in their last two League games, Chelsea might be back to the marauding force we know them as. The Blues are only going to get better as the season progresses. Everton can be a thorn in a lot of sides, but not here. Not at Stamford Bridge. ... Chelsea 3, Everton 1

Sunday:

* West Brom v. Wolves -- Good derby here. Both teams need to find something here to kickstart their seasons. West Brom's been all downhill after Shane Long's opening day goal vs. Manchester United and Wolves have lost a lot of steam from a bright start. Lots of early desperation on the field and anger in the stands here. ... West Brom 1, Wolves 1

* Arsenal v. Sunderland -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) This seems a little too easy on paper for the Gunners right? The ship's been sailing just a little too smoothly, right? Everything would point to an Arsenal romp, but aren't the Gunners due for another question of faith? That said, Sunderland isn't the team to do it, as Steve Bruce can probably feel the axe blade touching the back of his neck. ... Arsenal 2, Sunderland 0

* Newcastle United v. Tottenham -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) Good yardstick game for both these teams. Newcastle can, against an improving Tottenham side, show its legitimately a team that can make some noise this season. Spurs can do the same, going on the road and breaking down a team that's been very resolute defensively. Lots of schizophrenia on both sides here, adding a little more spice to the offing. If Spurs walk away without Demba Ba stampeding over Ledley King, consider it a win. Emmanuel Adebayor is a doubt for Tottenham, which changes the equation immensely since he's spearheaded the club's uptick in form. ... Newcastle United 1, Spurs 1

Last week: 6-4
Season: 41-28