Before we dig into our leftover stuffing and cranberry sauce this Monday morning, a moment of digital silence for Gary Speed, who apparently hung himself Sunday ending his life at 42.
Simply a sad development and almost unfathomable that an active manager of a national team would do this while he was employed.
Without glossing over too much, I'll always remember Speed for being "old" when I first seriously started watching the Premier League when he was part of Sam Allardyce's unfancied "International House of Footballers" at Bolton early last decade. Yet he kept plying his trade and plugging away, giving an honest effort into his 40s at Sheffield United.
Reading the reactions from England from his former teammates and colleagues makes the situation all the more depressing. You can sense the grief and despair -- across the entire world of British soccer -- which makes it all the more dispiriting.
Rest in peace.
Can't make it up:
Hate to shift gears from the sad Speed story to something as inconsequential as this, but hear me out. As you may or may not my "day job" is an actual paid writing gig for my local newspaper. A lot of my work this time of the year entails covering high school soccer. (Don't laugh.)
Anyways, it was the state championships this weekend, which brought actual broadcast media to some of the games. Whether it was for a local public television or webcast, I can't rightly say, but the two guys announcing the doubleheader I covered were a microcosm of soccer broadcasting in America.
The play-by-play guy was a stat-churning, by-the-numbers guy who would raise his voice like 17 octaves whenever a little action developed, while the color guy was a stodgy Brit found of saying stuff like, "fair play to him."
It was, in many ways, surreal, least of all because the two never took a breath for the entire 80 minutes of the game.
More than anything, it helps explain why Americans, on average, still fail the grasp the finer points and strategies of the game.
Fit to be Tied:
Sort of an eventfully uneventful weekend in the Premier League, from a results standpoint. (Again, my "day" job meant I missed most of Saturday's action.) Manchester City couldn't add more distance between second place Manchester United, with both teams drawing their respective matches. Arsenal's hot streak ended with a 1-1 draw to Fulham. Chelsea's "crisis" was halted momentarily thanks to an easy 3-0 win over Wolves. The big winner of the weekend was Tottenham, which overturned an early 1-0 deficit to beat West Brom 3-1 on the road and move into third place with a game in hand.
So here's my quick impressions from what I did see and read about.
1. Misfiring United -- Far be it from me to tell you to pay for SiriusXM radio, but the service almost pays for itself in the rare instances I get to listen to a Premier League game, especially the in-house Manchester United broadcast which features more "we's" than a Nintendo factory.
First, let's all have a laugh at United dropping points on a dubious penalty awarded to Newcastle United via a Rio Ferdinand "challenge" on Hatem Ben Arfa. Guess Sir Alex will have to throw a shoe at Karma next time he sees her.
That shouldn't hide the fact United haven't been able to score more than one goal in a match -- again. Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney, Nani? The Red Devils need some inspiration from their big offensive creators sooner rather than later.
Full marks to Newcastle United, too.
2. Joe Hart is Great -- Not the best week for Roberto Mancini with City losing to Napoli in the Champions League, then drawing Liverpool -- having to watch Mario Balotelli sent off, again.(*)
Interesting stat with City. Since October in 11 matches, the club has kept only two clean sheets.
We used to mock Mancini for his defensive commitment, with a Nigel de Jong/Yaya Toure/Gareth Barry midfield. Now it seems James Milner has taken one of those places. Is that the only reason for the less stout defense? Has Jolean Lescott been exposed again? Is Vincent Kompany slipping, if only ever so slightly? Are City less inclined to play as sharp since their offense is so stacked? (Did Samir Nasri touch the ball Sunday? the formation-less attacking trio of Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguero didn't quite work out, did it?)
Whichever way you slice it, City can survive its sudden lax defense because Joe Hart is simply a great keeper. The England No. 1 put on a show late vs. Liverpool and its a rare keeper that's fun to watch. Okay, that's not entirely true. A guy like Gomes is fun to watch. Hart is just excellent.
Liverpool? Different week, same story. About the only players in Red you can expect a consistent effort from match-to-match are Lucas and Pepe Reina. Everything else is a scatter shot mixed bag.
(*) As I eluded to on Twitter, let's hope that Balotelli follows the path of Dennis Rodman and either a) dips his toes into professional wrestling or b) releases a couple lousy action comedies. One or the other is bound to happen.
3. Arry and the Henderson -- Spurs are definitely the "it" team in the Premier League at the moment. That points to a bigger picture on why winning in soccer -- so long as there isn't playoffs -- is that it's a massive grind.
It's hard to be the "it" team over the course of 10 months.
As well as Spurs have played the last month, their ultimate fate won't be determined by it. You just have to keep grinding and grinding because nobody comes out and hands you the three points. You can't just say, I'm going to play well for these three weeks and we can win something. It keeps going and going and going. It's truly relentless.
Tottenham has the right mix at the moment, but if Emmanuel Adebayor picks up a minor injury it could derail the momentum. He's the once piece the club really can't replace.
If you want a concrete reason to be bullish on Spurs? They're scoring goals. A lot of goals.
Tottenham has scored multiple goals in 10 of their 12 matches. The only two they didn't were season-opening losses to Manchester City and Manchester United in August.
Beyond that? It's coming from multiple sources. Adebayor has 7, Rafael van der Vaart 6, Jermain Defore 5 and Gareth Bale 4.
Around the League:
Benoit Assou-Ekotto's afro might be the best thing ever. Try to argue otherwise. ... Chelsea fans, is it Juan Mata, Daniel Sturridge and now Oriol Romeu and pray for rain? ... Robin van Persie didn't score this weekend for Arsenal against Fulham. He didn't get hurt either, if that's a silver lining. ... Sunderland gagged away a 1-0 lead at home to lose 2-1 to Wigan. That's atrocious Steve Bruce. Might be time to go because all the money you've spent hasn't amounted to anything but struggles and wildly inconsistent play. ... Everton continue to ride the elevator up-and-down the table, now sitting ninth after a solid 2-0 win over Bolton. ... Not sure how Aston Villa is up to eighth, but it is. Can't imagine too many people on the pitch for Villa's game against Swansea in Wales had their heads in the game following the news about Speed's death.
Fantasy Team O' the Week:
Hank Cole's "Who Are Ya" takes top honors with 76 points this week thanks mainly to Mata, Adebayor and Seb Larsson.
One Other Thing:
Not sure what was more irritating the last couple days, reading about Black Friday, the people participating in Black Friday or the people making snarky comments about Black Friday?
At this point in my life, hate to sound like the most smug asshole on the planet, but I'm over Christmas. The commercials, the sales, the songs, the decorations, the phoney cheer, what have you. Enough. Baahhhhhhh Humbug.
Without sounding like a total Scrooge, here's my simple solution to make everyone's life much easier -- granted this probably doesn't work if you have young children.
Instead of driving yourself crazy at malls -- just maneuvering around the parking lots irritate me -- or wasting money on junk, or gift cards or clothes people are only going to end up returning ... why not buy (or make) the people you care about a heartfelt gift? Find something they'll truly appreciate.
Or you can just go to Jared, whatever floats your boat.