Thursday, August 19, 2010

EPL Fun Bag - Week 3

Opening Weekend of the English Premiership is in the books, and we are out of the gates in brilliant High Definition.

I really don't want to get carried away, but with the addition of HD and the new 1-hour replay of the games on Fox Soccer (also in HD), I have caught myself watching a ton more than usual. Now surely, the start of the college and NFL seasons will severely consume most of my free time, but I am pretty fired up about what we have cooking in England.

Highlights of the Weekend according to me:

- The thrilling season opener between Tottenham and Man City at White Hart Lane will demonstrate to some newcomers to the EPL that winning on the road is very difficult. If you are like me, you have a favorite team, and then you love to look for upset possibilities. Well, first know that defeats are bad, but so are dropped points. "Dropped points" is what decides the title every year, and it isn't defeats as much as it is bad draws, too. To tie a match means you get only 1 point instead of 3, so if Chelsea and Man United and Arsenal want to win the title, they surely realize that pulling 1 point here and 1 point there will not cut it. They know that they need 3 points most weekends. So, is Manchester City up for this? Despite the absolute advantage in wages, they did not look the better team on Saturday. The goaltender, Joe Hart, kept them in the match, but Spurs was all over them in the 1st half. Is Man City too conservative because of their manager, Mancini? Many think so. But, that was an absolute wonderful 0-0 draw (yes, you will see wonderful 0-0 draws if you watch the match).

- Blackpool won its first match at the top level in 40 years by beating Wigan 4-0 on the road!?!?!

- Chelsea proved that they can name their score in most matches at Stamford Bridge. They are loaded and amazing. Drogba is still the most imposing striker in the league, and he scored 3 in barely 70 minutes. I do enjoy watching Chelsea play for a number of reasons, but one thing that is fun to look for is how much Frank Lampard appears to hate Drogba. The video below shows most of what I saw on Saturday, but when there is a free kick, both players want it. Drogba takes it without Lampard's consent, and Frankie stands there and pouts. So much so that when the ball hits the net, Lampard looks angry and never considers celebrating or congratulating. This is not a Chelsea issue, necessarily, but rather on the big clubs in Europe, there are all sorts of personalities put together like in the NBA that might not fit. But, unlike the NBA, here, they also speak different languages and come from different corners of the planet, and play on teams where they know the coach is disposable. it is just the way it is - the players are not always happy for eachother or pulling in the same direction. Lampard doesn't even look like he enjoys 6-0 wins sometimes. Life on a big club.

- And then on Sunday, new-look-but-still-poor Liverpool hosted Arsenal in a "Big 4" clash that was way too early in the campaign. In fact, the promo on Fox Soccer channel right before the match advertised "Fabregas and Arsenal take on Torres and Liverpool from Anfield!" Well, they got Anfield right. Torres, Fabregas, and Robin Van Persie were all left out of the starting 11 for each side citing World Cup Recovery (it is a long season for these boys). Anyway, Arsenal looked to be the better side, Liverpool somehow scored with a man down (Ngog shuts me up) and then just when it looked like the Reds might start a season properly, Arsenal pulls a draw with a late goal that put a knife in the heart. Honestly, I think it was a pretty tough play for Reina, but it is one he must make or the result gets away.

Anyway, a great match on Sunday ended in a 1-1 draw where both teams likely thought they deserved 3 points. Have you ever seen Fanzone? It is where one of the networks in England gets a fan from either side to call the game and you can actually watch their broadcast (I think) on one of the alternate audio channels. Then, they show the highlights here:

THe USA needs to steal this idea. Yankees and Red Sox fans sitting next to eachother in October would be money.

This Week's TV Schedule - ALL TIMES EASTERN! - Games in Bold indicate my "best matches of the weekend for you to check out"

Saturday, August 21:
10am: Everton v Wolves, Fox Soccer Channel
10am: Stoke v Spurs, Fox Soccer Plus and
10am: Arsenal v Blackpool, ESPN2
10am: West Ham v Bolton,
10am: West Brom v Sunderland,
10am: Birmingham v Blackburn,
12:15pm: Wigan Athletic v Chelsea, Fox Soccer Channel

Sunday, August 22:
8:30am: Newcastle United v Aston Villa, Fox Soccer Plus and
11am: Fulham v Manchester United, Fox Soccer Channel

Monday, August 23:
3pm: Manchester City v Liverpool, ESPN2

Yes, I bolded 3 games - including Blackpool vs Arsenal. You truly must read up on Blackpool to understand how awesome this story is. This is why the promotion/relegation system is superior to anything we do over here.

OK, and now on to your email:

hey bob. Any idea why dempsey only played 17 minutes? Michael

The Clint Dempsey situation is one of many that we should not get too concerned about this early in the season. Especially in a World Cup season, you should never read anything into playing time in the first few weeks of a season. Dempsey played 15 minutes + against Bolton in their opening match which was a scoreless draw.

The reasons not to get too caught up in it are many; 1) He has a new manager, Mark Hughes. Hughes will basically look at this roster and make the best 11 emerge on their merit. The old Manager at Fulham, Roy Hodgson is up at Liverpool now, and despite the fact that he loved Dempsey, it won't matter this year at Fulham.

2) The transfer window is open for a few more weeks, so rosters won't be settled until Labor Day or so. Guys are coming and going and it is too early to get worked up about it all. and 3) we don't know the full level of his health - I believe he is fine, but they are not always open about everything. He was really physically beat up at the World Cup, so there is a chance he isn't ready for 90 after a tough summer.

Hey bob, I am going to London in early nov with my wife & we are hoping to catch a soccer game while we are there. I saw that fulham is playing @ home while we are there but I have no idea how to get tickets? Can you let me know the best way to get tickets to a game? I appreciate any help on this.

Thanks man


Sure, Grant. Fulham at home for Aston Villa? I think your chances are pretty good. I might start by contacting Fulham (google it) and work with the ticket office. It is possible that you might be able to get in at face value. The bigger the game, the bigger the whip to get in. Here is what I wrote in 2007 On this topic ...

Last October, I surely thought that getting tickets was not going to be a problem, since I now know several soccer “VIPs” from various places. During my last journey, those VIPs were able to gain us admission to the matches we wanted to see, but this time I had chosen what amounts to one of the biggest matches of the soccer year. My connections could not get me in. I was going to have to pay about $700-$800 each to get these tickets from ticket brokers. Wow. People always ask me what these tickets cost and of course it depends on the game. If you are going to go over there, may I suggest you do not select the biggest games. Pick your favorite team playing a team of lesser appeal. Unless you don’t mind $700 a ticket. Usually, $100-$200 can get you into most games, but just don’t pick the big 4 clubs (Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea) against eachother. If you do, prepare to get hammered.

Anyway, long story short, through an incredible coincidence, Tom Hicks bought Liverpool a month ago, and although I don’t believe he is fond of my work, someone who he employs hooked me up, and I was able to get into this match for face value - $67 a piece. That person knows who he is, and I know owe him a ton. The other game we attended was Blackburn at Bolton, and for this game, you could get tickets at the gate without any problem as it was not nearly sold out.

And then this email. last week from the Ticket's Craig Miller!

Saw your tweet about soccer in HD. I’ve been wondering that myself—will FSC and GOL games be in HD once the regular season starts? I don’t like watching it in normal def.

I’m 2/3rds through Fever Pitch. I got sidetracked this weekend when the English version of Laurent Fignon’s autobiography arrived in the mail, so I’ve been reading both. Will have FP back to you shortly.

So, in the EPL, there are no playoffs? Best record wins the league, that simple? Is that ever a buzz-kill at the end of the year? Has it always been that way? I notice Hornby in the book talks about going to Cup Final games a lot—I realize that they play for many cups each year, but it seems that he’s mentioned going to the league championship (before it was the EPL, I guess?) a few times—did they used to have a playoff?


Gol went HD on Directv a few days ago. I actually watched the Bundesliga match on Saturday (Schalke vs. Bayern Munich) in HD. I never watch German soccer, but in HD, it felt right.

Fox Soccer and Fox Soccer Plus are said to be flipping the switch on Aug 11. I hope and assume you have HD.

Fever Pitch is wonderful. It teaches us all that we are not alone if we obsess about sports.

Playoffs? Not for the Premiership. I know it seems crazy, but without playoffs, everything matters so much! It is wonderful and different. You must experience it.

Hornby references Championship Playoff, but I feel if I explain what he means, it will only confuse you.

But, there is no end of season buzz kill. The promotion/relegation battle is intoxicating. Sometimes, the championship is decided. But, since 3 teams at the bottom of the league will be kicked out, the battle is fierce.

Imagine, instead of NBA teams jockeying for position in the lottery, what if Minnesota, Memphis, the Clippers, the Warriors, and the Raptors were competing to STAY IN THE NBA!!!! Because 3 are leaving, to be replaced by the top 3 teams in the D league or somesuch.

This is from a blog entry from 2006:

Every season, there are as many as 5 different trophies your team can win (although you could not win all 5 during the same year). For instance, my club, Liverpool has not won the Premiership since 1990. But, in 2005, they won the European Cup, and in 2006 they won the FA Cup. So, while not winning the league, they have added to their hardware and have celebrated as champions. Here are the 5 competitions each season:

#1 – Premiership Title
This goes to the team who demonstrates the dominance in the ultimate marathon, a trip through the entire 10 month marathon. It takes 38 games (all 19 opponents, home and away) and is considered as good a test to determine the team with the best quality as any. Chelsea has won the Premiership title the last 2 years, Arsenal before them, and the Manchester United owner the decade of the 1990’s more than the Cowboys did.

#2 – FA Cup
The oldest football tournament in the world, this trophy is won by advancing through an amazing field much like the NCAA tournament. Except that there is open admission. Last season, that meant 687 teams make the tournament. Imagine the NCAA basketball tournament, except that any city league team may enter the tournament, too. The big teams don’t join the tournament for 2 rounds, thus generally bouncing the ridiculous entries first, but every team that wants in can be in. This is a knockout tournament but without brackets. Instead, after each round, there is a new random draw. It sets up amazing drama and the players seem to act like this is the Super Bowl.

#3 – European Cup (The UEFA Champions League)
This is possibly the biggest championship of them all, but because it is so rare, it is almost the impossible dream for most clubs and they don’t even consider it. The best teams of each of the European Leagues play in a full fledged 32-team tournament every year. Last year, Barcelona beat Arsenal in the Final, the year before Liverpool beat AC Milan. It is an amazing tournament matching the best teams from Spain, Italy, Germany, England, Holland, France and beyond against each other in clashes that are almost all played at night in mid-week.

#4 – League Cup or Carling Cup
This is very similar to the NIT. It is inferior to the FA Cup, and there are years when some teams don’t even try to put their best effort out in games of this tournament. They will almost lose on purpose so that they can preserve their team for the competitions they deem more important. Unlike the FA Cup, it is limited to only the 96 teams that make up the English Football Association (All 5 divisions). The Championship is played in Early March, and often thought of as a consolation prize for a big team, or a huge victory for a little guy. The only problem with my NCAA/NIT comparison is that you can be in both tournaments at the same time.

#5 – UEFA Cup
This is the NIT of the Champions League. In England, the top 4 teams go to the Champions League, and I believe the next 4 teams go to the 32-team UEFA Cup. Playing in Europe is very presitgous to all clubs, and for many teams in Group 2 or 3, just playing in the UEFA Cup is thought of as a pretty huge deal. Of course, if Manchester United is in this tournament, they are pretty embarrassed. But, it does happen, and it is better than nothing.

There you go. Now, to really make your head spin, all of these competitions are going on at the same time. It is not uncommon to play your Premiership game on Saturday, a Champions League game on Tuesday, The FA Cup on Saturday, and another Prem game on Monday. This is where you need lots of depth on your club, because no player can sustain a schedule like that.


Of course, since that email exchange with Junior, HD is up in full force on Directv. Life is so right now.


Cnote said...

Great entry Bob! Thanks for spreading the gospel. We Americans have been missing out on some much sports gold!

Josh said...

Sports Sturm,
Nice comments re: going to a game in jolly ole Eng-a-land.
I've been traveling over to London for a few years now. While I enjoy going to a premiership game, a chance to see a Championship level game (one level below the premiership) is well worth the trip.
Some say this is the most competitive division in all of sports. The payoff for being promoted is HUGE! 90 million quid!
You get the familiar chanting, insults, chance of holliganism (you have to show your supporter ticket to get in local pubs before the game.) Very passionate fans. Dare I say more so than the premiership (due to the corporate element)

In and around London are 4 teams - Crystal Palance, Watford, Millwall, and Queens Park Rangers, my favorite. (wiki Millwall sometime.)

The best part - tickets are easy to get and are only about 25 GBP.

Come on you R's!!!

Phil K. said...

First, forget FanZone for MLB. Give me Cowboys Fan v. Eagles Fan or something of that ilk. Mass hysteria, I tell you.

Second, my favorite part of that FanZone vid was at 4:15pm, with the red card of Arsenal's Koscielny. The Liverpudlian says: "yeah...well, I'm not gonna celebrate that one 'cause..."

Gooner: "yeah, well, I am, 'cause he's an idiot."


Jonerz said...

Thank you Bob for providing me with an American perspective on association football. I'm a big fan, I watch a lot of premiership games, a lot of La Liga games and some German games. I've tried watching MLS but it seems half-assed in terms of spectator support (or just plain phony sometimes). Trying to choose a Premiership team to support this year, I thought after opening weekend I'd choose a team, but I'm stuck. Liverpool (big Joe Cole fan), Man City (Hart is my keeper in my Wolves Fifa '07 dynasty), Wolves (my family is from Birmingham and are all big Wolves fans... kind of like being from Liverpool and loving Everton. But, too painful sometimes), or Tottenham? Then of course I have soft spots for Fulham ('cause of Dempsey) and Arsenal (family friends are big fans)... so, any recommendations? I can't decide? Flip a coin?

Jon M said...

Jonerz - The first question you should answer is how much time do you have/want to dedicate to watching and following your team. Arsenal, Tottenham, Man City and Liverpool are all in European competitions this year so they will be playing 2-3 matches per week starting around October. Wolves and Fulham won't so they will only be playing about 1 match per week.

My suggestion is, if you can stand it, stay away from the big clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U, Man City, Liverpool). I say that because if you can handle some mid-table mediocrity for a while, a team like Spurs or Wolves could continue to improve, and you can cheer on their rise to the top.

If you can stand mid-level football with the occasional relegation scare, then stick with Wolves, especially since you have the family connection. If you want European football and an immediate outside shot for English trophies, go with Spurs.

Clay said...

Jonerz, choose Arsenal. You won't regret it.

Great write up, Bob! The high drama is addictive and the crowds are amazing. I looked up the Blackpool fans and they can rock that small stadium...Cowboys fans can't touch 'em.

(And Joe Cole is a punk...dangerous tackle there)

Xanthippas said...

Bob, this is great info. Like I said before I'm a huge soccer fan, but have never been big in the EPL, and I've about beat my head against the wall trying to figure out the various championships and cups that they play for, usually because I can't figure out what the tournament is really "about." You explain the significance of each, which I really appreciate. Thanks, and keep it up!

Jonerz said...


Thanks for the detailed reply. I think I'll root for Wolves but maintain my hot spots for the Gooners and Spurs. Therefore I'll follow Wolves closely but only look out for Gooners and Spurs games on TV. I'm quite excited for the year.