(As last week, each Thursday we’ll try to give you our insights on the English Premier League primarily and other global leagues with analogies and dialogue favoring Americans Abroad.)
Wow, we’re at week 3 already in the EPL. This is the week that you discover if data points from the first two week are part of a growing trend or if they are put out to pasture as isolated instances.
Let’s get right to it.
ESPN’s Saturday Game of the Week: Chelsea vs. Burnley
Chelsea is coming off a convincing away win against Fullham at Craven Cottage after clubbings of Hull and Sunderland to start the term. Nice segway here in that Burnley have proven to be 2009 version of 2008 Hull City Tigers who took the EPL by storm and we’re sitting in the top half of the Premiership through December of last year. Burnley can boast wins over two of last year’s top five teams in “Premiership champ” (they should just make that their official nickname now) Manchester United and Everton. Admittedly Everton was in disarray, but nonetheless impressive wins for the recently promoted squad.
I think Chelsea will keep the duo of Anelka and Drogba up top so they can continue forming their partnership, it’s possible you may see Kalou given a start though and also see munchkin Deco as well.
Here’s how I would watch this game. Tune in for the first 15 minutes and get a read on the game. If it’s back-and-forth, grab your oatmeal. If Chelsea looks dominant, check back in at the 30 minute mark of the 2nd half. If Chelsea are not on top by more than 1-0, you’ll know Burnley are for real and the next 15 minutes or so will merit a look-see.
The first heavyweight fight of the season: Manchester United vs. Arsenal (on FSC, 9:30 PST I believe)
Now, this is the game you want watch. Arsenal visiting Old Trafford. Arsene Wenger’s squad has been lights out to start the season, raking both Everton and Portsmouth over the coals the past two weeks. However, they are facing a renewed Red Devil squad after their 2nd half massacring of Wigan last week. If not for that 2nd half, I think you would have had a completely different storyline coming into this week of Man U’s season on the ropes or endless discussion on Ronaldo’s absence. (Alas, Rooney was near the equal of Ronaldo from a focal point perspective).
Some things to look for here:
– I am severely disappointed that Cesc Fabregas is unlikely to play. With Arsenal’s move to a 4-3-3 this year and more central pitch play, I wanted to see how Man U countered that. My biggest issue with Man U isn’t the loss of Ronaldo–I think Nani and, after bearing withness last week, Valencia are able to keep offensive pressure on the exterior–it’s Man United’s decrepit interior midfield which last week featured the yeoman Darren Fletcher and the aging Paul Scholes. Oh, add to the storyline reserve mids Michael Carrick, he of the transfer rumors and Anderson, he of the departure rumors for sulking over playing time. Time will tell on Man U’s interior midfield.
What I wanted to see was how Cesc’s combinations with Arshavin, Van Persie, and even Eduardo (already this year’s dive of the year) fared and how Man U countered that–alas without Cesc that storyline will not be the same. For those not familiar with Cesc, you can take a look at what the USMNT is missing in the central middle line by watching the Spaniard in action. Fabregas’s economy of motion and simple touches create the spaces and chances for the strikers up top–his feel for the game is unparalleled. Or….or you may be more impressed with this–somewhat hysterical–promotional video of Cesc’s abilities.
– You’re now looking at the backup rearguard for Man United who will be tested by Van Persie, Arshavin, et all. Van Der Saar, out. Ferdinand, out. Rafael Da Silva, out. Johnny Evans, says he’s out, I think he’ll play. I think you’ll see (or I really hope you see) John O’Shea in place of Gary Neville coming off last week. But if Evans is out, O’Shea probably goes to the middle.
– I think the midfields will be the key to this game. Arsenal’s defense is always suspect and Man U’s is injured–the extent that the midfield is controlled by one or other side in the match up, I think that team comes out on top. Going to hand it to Man U as they are at home, coming off a confident half and Arsenal have not been tested yet this year.
Is this the week that Tim Howard and Everton (oh, it’s been painful) register their first W?
I think so, but I’m not confident. You are going to continue to see Everton’s weak central defense tested–this time by Charles N’Zogbia and Hugo Rodallega who had some impressive first half runs against Man U. Keep an eye on Columbian national Rodallega who’s having a fantastic start to the season. Note: Everton just picked up Sylvain Distin from Villa, if manager David Moyes I’m running him out there on Sunday no matter what.
Another question: Is Fellaini (another player I enjoy watching) going to get a goal or yellow card first this season. The often “who me?” expert and talented striker doesn’t have a positive or negative scorecard tally yet. I find that somewhat incredulous, however not as incredulous as the entire Everton team not having a yellow yet– that’s absurd.
Update: Everton etched out a 1-1 tie in Europa League play on Thursday after defender Tony Hibbert took a red just 7 minutes in. That warmed up Howard for this weekend who saw 21 marbles come his way, 10 of them on goal. He’ll be game ready for Salt Lake for sure.
Another chapter will be added to the debate (here and elsewhere) on Jonathan Spector’s USMNT position and starter status.
After giving up a bad luck goal around the corner to T&T’s Kenwyne Jones, Spector and West Ham take on Blackburn this weekend. Spector will be picking his defensive assignment from the poison of Chelsea loaner Franco Di Santo (who will probably play more in the middle) or Jason Roberts or Benedict McCarthy (think speed and more speed) outside. Let’s see what the score sheet says on Sunday.
And lest we forget: Jozy! Jozy! Jozy! Will Altidore get his first EPL goal? And will it come against an American keeper?
Good questions, JZA is sure to be in the line-up as the Tigers play away against the Wanderers. USMNT World Cup 2010 hopeful Marcus Hahnemann came off the bench and kept a clean sheet in Wolverhampton’s Carling Cup tie, but odds are that first teamer Welshman Wayne Hennessey plays between the posts. Shoot it low Jozy! Hennessey stands 6’5”!
Here’s hoping those that Hahnemann gets in because you know Bob Bradley will be an interested viewer.
Oh and by the way JZA, your Twitter posts speak volumes about your demeanor and absolutely crack us up at the same time. Here’s the latest:
JozyAltidore17 The boys looked good in training today…about to grab some sushi with my boy ghilas.
Super positive and apparently Ghilas is his boy already — awesome.
Hull City-Wolverhampton won’t be the only game where one American can profit at the expense of another. On Sunday, Fullham play Aston Villa where Clint Dempsey will be looking to continue the strong start to his campaign as will Brad Friedel who played out of his mind in net against Liverpool on Monday. In the unlikely chance that Friedel needs a break, American Brad Guzan will be between the sticks.
Boy do we feel for US striker Eddie Johnson. Fullham was in Russia Thursday for their Europa league game and started the elder Erik Nevland at striker in this B-level match. Worse, when Nevland came out Frenchman Diomansy Kamara deputized, not Johnson. Tough, that makes EJ effectively fifth on the depth chart right now.
Oguchi Onyewu will be screwed into the bench as Inter and AC faceoff Saturday in the Milan derby. Should be a good one to watch though as Inter’s squad has looked vulnerable in the early going. Maybe a phillipshead and a late game cameo for Gooch? That would be nice.
And finally, once we conclude our Benny Feilhaber campaign and he’s in the starting line-up for USMNT, we’re going to campaign for Jay DeMerit overseas–sure he’s more veteran than rookie now, but you’re telling me with the interior weaknesses at Everton, West Ham, Villa and others that he doesn’t get a look. We want to see DeMerit continue his career success story at a higher league level.