Premier League Weekend Preview: Bolton, Aston Villa, Everton, Chelsea and More

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If you've read me in any form of media over the years, you'll know I have no extra love saved up for ESPN aside from my unofficial English uncle, Ian Darke -- the most earnest man in sports media.

No sense rehashing what makes ESPN insufferable, although it could be argued its a byproduct of the 24/7 news cycle. That doesn't absolve them from chummy relations with athletes, inane panels and argument shows or the continued employment of Dick Vitale.

ESPN, however, seems like a lesser evil to the way sports are spun and consumed in England where it's unabashedly tabloid 99 percent of the time.

It's always something. There's always some unsavory talking point coming into or out of a match. This year it seems the co-headliners of allegedly racist players and horrid officiating have gone hand-in-hand. It's a small mercy we haven't had to deal with any of this on the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

If you follow English soccer you almost can't avoid it.

During the week we saw the national team manager Fabio Capello resigned from his post because the FA decided John Terry -- facing an actual hearing in court for what he may or may not have said to Anton Ferdinand weeks ago -- was unfit to be the Three Lions captain anymore.

Saturday it will be impossible to avoid the tired Luis Suarez v. Patrice Evra scandal when Liverpool and Manchester United meet at Old Trafford.

Wait what's that music ....

Hey yo.

Figured now was as good a time as any to announce something that's been kicking around in my head for a couple weeks, but first a little backstory to attempt to put it in context.

Sometimes you realize exactly what you are. You can identify your strengths and weaknesses, for better or worse.

That said, I'm not the guy to write flowery 3,000 word opuses about how great Lionel Messi is. Frankly I don't have the syntax, sentence structure or ability to do that, as you all well know with my unending string of typos and malaprops.

At the same time I'm not as creative (or motivated) as I once was, either, to dream up imaginary conversations between soccer players. Nor am I cultured (or smart) enough to dissect the difference of a three-man midfield triangle vs. a 4-2-3-1. Somehow, too, I've maintained enough personal pride to refrain from regurgitating the latest AP story about "Man U," slapping up a video and calling that a post.

No, I'm basically good at one thing when it comes to writing about soccer -- being an a**hole.

Time to start embracing that side via a full-fledged heel turn. This begins later this month when I unveil what's sure will turn out just, too, sweet ....
"The Hater's Guide to Euro 2012." 

Let's face it, these unsavory tales from England are only the tip of the iceberg. As an American fan, is there anybody worth rooting for among the 16 teams in Poland in Ukraine? Or it is a bunch of pampered European "fancy men" running around in tight pants, flopping when given the opportunity.

If we can't embrace them, we sure as hell can make fun of them. Hell, they do it to themselves more than anything, brother.

In the coming weeks and months I'll be doing what I'm good at, making instantly forgettable jokes, knee jerk analysis and unfiltered potshots at the 16 countries comprising the Euro.

In the words of Jesse Pinkman (or Razor Ramon), "I'm the bad guy." 

Now play my damn music.



* Manchester United v. Liverpool -- (Live, ESPN2, 7:30 a.m.) --If you're United you can probably write off losing to Liverpool in the FA Cup two weeks ago. The diehard Mancs who make it their mission in life to hate Scousers and vice versa, probably won't be as forgiving. Reminds me, doubt Karl Pilkington cares too much about the Prem, though it's worth watching this clip to its completion either way for a nice payoff.

Joking aside, United really don't have much time for excuses any more if it hopes to chase down Manchester City. Coming back from 3-0 down to Chelsea was impressive -- but it was still two dropped points. You know, since this is a high-level game in England, the referee's whistle is almost as important as the two starting XIs, but United can't rely on getting goals from the penalty spot. It's about now where a fully fit Javier Hernandez would be a huge boost to the Red Devils, who's defense will always be an issue so long as Jonny Evans and the rapidly zombifying body of Rio Ferdinand remains in the mix.

Liverpool? When is it ever simple with Kenny Dalglish's men? What are the odds, 100-to-1 that Suarez gets through this match without doing something crazy? By that token, what are the odds Dirk Kuyt doesn't find a way to score in this one?

The college football rivalry between Georgie and Georgia Tech goes by the moniker, "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate" ... get rid of the clean part and you have this match. ... Manchester United 2, Liverpool 0

* Fulham v. Stoke City -- Panic isn't the right word for it, but I'd be worried if I was a Fulham fan. Clint Dempsey is hotter than a supernova, yet the team all season hasn't cracked the top half of the table. Martin Jol has brought in some new players (Bryan Ruiz, John Arne Riise, the immortal Orlanda Sa) yet the team is still reliant on old Roy Hodgson guard players. Another concern, Fulham has six league wins -- four when the team started a 4-4-2 lineup, three of which included Bobby Zamora. If an "established" team gets sucked into the relegation muck, it could be the Whites. That said, Stoke City despite its fine form in the FA Cup and Europa League has been painfully average in the Prem, with its 23 goals second worst to Wigan. ... Fulham 2, Stoke City 0

* Sunderland v. Arsenal -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) Clearly a litmus test, here, for Sunderland and its revival under Martin O'Neill, though a win over Manchester City last month probably already provided some validation. Stephane Sessagnon, perhaps Steve Bruce's farewell gift to the Black Cats, has been as good as anyone in the Premier League in 2012 with three goals in a roving attack role. It's the play, though of relative unknowns James McLean, Jack Colback and David Meyler -- each 22 years old -- that should be noted. Plus a healthy Phil Bardsley teamed with Seb Larsson give Sunderland a very solid right side of the field. As always, nearly impossible to gauge Arsenal. Robin van Persie is the given in the middle of an attacking trio, but we still never know which Theo Walcott turns up from week-to-week and while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is as exciting a player as we've seen for his stocky blend of pace and power, he's still too green to get a read on. All-and-all, very excited for this match. ... Sunderland 1, Arsenal 1

* Swansea City v. Norwich City -- Don't know what this says about me as a person, but when I wrote down this match it made my mind drift to Denise Richards and Neve Campbell making out in that movie "Wild Things." ... Swansea City 2, Norwich City 0

* Blackburn Rovers v. QPR -- This looks like a RELEGATION SIX POINTER (tm) where defense should be all but optional. Don't forget, Yakubu is back after a three-match ban for a red card. Makes the game a little more interesting. ... Blackburn 3, QPR 1

* Bolton v. Wigan Athletic -- No stretch here, if Bolton entertain any hopes of avoiding the drop -- which at this point the club deserves -- it has to take three points there. ... Bolton 1, Wigan 0

* Everton v. Chelsea -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) Troubling sign for Everton? It's February and Tim Howard and Tim Cahill have the same amount of goals. Here's an interesting stat for Everton, since the start of 2012 (actually all the way to Oct. 23) there haven't been more than three total goals scored in games involving the Toffees. Call it the Moyes margin for error. Chelsea are still going to miss Ramires' presence in the middle of the field. And on the plus side the team isn't as out-and-out detestable with Gary Cahill deputizing for Terry and Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge are fun to watch playing together. Interesting debate, too, via Bobby McMahon, who would you rather have: David Silva or Mata? ... Everton 1, Chelsea 1

* Tottenham v. Newcastle United -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 p.m.) All hail Arry Redknapp! As a semi/sorta Spurs fan, Redknapp for England would probably be a great thing. He's assembled a very nice squad, though kudos do go to Martin Jol and even Juande Ramos. If Tottenham replaced Redknapp with a slightly more progressive manager, imagine what could happen with all the talent at his disposal? And if said manager turned out to be Jose Mourinho my head may explode. If it was Rafa Benitez, well, I'd probably have to reconsider a lot of my core beliefs. That's something to worry about later.

Who'd have thought this would be a game with massive Champions League implications in August?

This one probably boils down to which set of center backs play better. Can Fab Coloccini and Michael Williamson cope with the speed of Spurs attacking players, meanwhile any chance Michael Dawson and Ledley King are imposing vs. Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse as they were vs. Liverpool on Monday? James Perch and Danny Guthrie, though, may not be a match for the Gentleman Scott Parker, Jake Livermore and Luka Modric. ... Spurs 3, Newcastle 1


* Wolves v. West Bromwich Albion -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) Rivalry match with, as always, the reek of desperation for both teams. Maybe its the mustard uniforms but Wolves are the least telegenic team in the Premier League. West Brom aren't much better. This is for the hardest of the hardcore. Preferably if you have tattoo of either club's initial on the inside of your lip. ... Wolves 2, West Brom 1

* Aston Villa v. Manchester City -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) Aston Villa fans may protest Alex McLeish before the match. Never understand what the point of these are, yet Villians should expect a little more than a decidedly medicore-to-underwhelming team. In Darren Bent you have a guy who could start for England at the Euros and a solid mix of young and old across the field, but the team is just so very blah. You could argue, even if all the top Villa players were in form, what's the peak here? Sixth place? Since Christmas Manchester City have been very ordinary and ripe for the plucking, but Villa don't seem to have the gusto to do so, maybe Richard Dunne two years ago had the fire in his belly to damage his former club, but now? I'll take Kun Aguero in that fight, if only for a split-second moment of brilliance. ... Aston Villa 1, Manchester City 2.

Last round: 5-5
Season: 113-130