Welcome to the show.
You’re either here by accident or you’re here to see me navigate the rocky seas of reality-based romance as a new divorcee searching for companionship.
For those unaware, I’ve finally pulled the plug on my relationship with Leeds United, and after almost a decade, woke up Saturday morning for the first time a free man, a new man, a lonely man.
A new season in England with no rooting interest all of a sudden, it was equal parts liberating and equal parts disorienting as England’s version of the beautiful game kicked off on American shores to the, for me, somewhat ironic tune of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
I would pay large sums of money I don’t actually have to see Bill Belichick shirtless singing that in the crowd.
For the first time that I can recall in my lifetime (a paltry 25 years) an American network, NBC, has truly gone all-in (Fox has flirted with the idea many times), allowing us all unprecedented access to the Premiership without the fear or concern of imminent attack on our hard drives from whatever virus was attached to that afternoon’s pirate Internet stream used to stay connected with the weekly events across the pond.
First and foremost, I want this to be an enjoyable read for everyone, whether you’ve been following Manchester United since before the days of Georgie Best or you just Googled “Bachelor” and accidentally mosey-ed over to my corner of the Internet looking to see if Courtney Robertson has stage 4 pancreatic cancer yet. I was hoping to use some sort of poetic theme throughout this piece to make it more readable for non-soccer fans without sounding like a total hack. I’ve given up on that idea. I’ll do my best to inject humor and make use of a litany of literary devices to make the game more understandable and interesting to those not fully engrossed in the Premiership and its jargon-y ways, but at the end of the day I must stick to the meat and potatoes of recapping soccer in, well, soccer terms. That means I’ll only bore you with the dating details of picking a new club to root for when I feel it merits discussion and in a separate piece on Friday.
Without further ado, Week 1:
It is, for me and most of the European pundits, a three-horse race this year to win the English Premier League title.
Manchester United, often considered the New York Yankees of England’s game (and rightfully so with the most league titles of any other club in that country), looking to defend last season’s title with a new manager for the first time in over a quarter century.
Chelsea, one of the original “new money” upstarts, had very little history outside of the late 1990s and the first years of the new millennium before transferring their success and financial fortunes to controversial Russian oil tycoon, Roman Abramovich (the closest European parallel to Jerry Jones). Within three years of his purchase of the club in June 2003 they won back-to-back league titles with all-world man manager and tactician Jose Mourinho, the self-proclaimed “Special One”. The “Special One” left in 2007 after a falling out with Abramovich, and his exit too saw the end of Chelsea’s domestic success. A revolving door of managers in that time period has, for the time being, come to the end with Special One 2.0 returning to the helm, this year claiming he’ll quit the post if he doesn’t win Chelsea the title. With arguably the deepest team in the league, he may be poised to deliver.
Manchester City has been considered Chelsea 2.0 for the last three or four years. Pumped full of money by an Arab sheikh in 2008, they have probably the greatest assembly of talent in the league, albeit with little consideration for team chemistry. Title winners two years ago in the most spectacular of fashions, their bid to repeat ran out of steam late, punctuated by a shocking upset in England’s most prestigious tournament: A separate competition called The FA Cup. (YES, that’s Gus Johnson. You’re welcome.)
We’ll start with Saturday’s first glimpse of a title contender when relegation candidates Hull City visited Chelsea. Chelsea has one of the youngest teams in the league, but their stock-piling of talent also means they have one of the deepest. Until the team sheet was released an hour or so before kickoff we weren’t sure who Mourinho would choose, since Chelsea plays again Wednesday against Aston Villa. Likely to field a completely different starting lineup (with the exception of goalkeeper) we were treated to this fine goal by veteran stud muffin Frank Lampard.
Manchester United took on Swansea in NBC’s primetime match of the day Saturday morning. For the casual fan just looking for action it was the perfect match, boasting five goals. Swansea is arguably my favorite team in the Premiership and is one of the favorites for my pursuit of a new club. They play a beautiful style of soccer, keeping the ball moving in constant motion with lots of short intricate passing. They’ll take shots and score goals, but they’re defensive ineptitude, highlighted by the cancer that is Chico Flores, leads to too many goals and they most likely will have no shot at a league title. Expect them to upset some people and make a few runs in tournament play though. Swansea’s inability to defend was ruthlessly exposed and they were punished on their home field by Manchester United, 4-1.
We didn’t get an opportunity to see Manchester City until Monday, but boy did they show up. It didn’t help that Newcastle was reduced to 10 men, but with Manchester City’s first goal coming after only seven minutes, I don’t think it would’ve realistically mattered had Newcastle started 12 players as opposed to the standard 11. Manchester City (casually referred to as City) top the table by virtue of week 1’s largest winning margin, edging their cross town rivals Manchester United’s aforementioned 4-1 victory, with their own 4-0 dismantling of Newcastle United.
Others receiving votes
Other marquee games this weekend featured perennially challengers Arsenal trip up at home against Aston Villa, giving away two penalty kicks. If you’re unfamiliar with Arsenal they were one of the first teams to introduce the idea of playing “beautiful soccer” with their cosmopolitan teams of the mid-to-late ’90s. Their 2003 team, dubbed “The Invincibles,” is the only team in modern league history to go unbeaten throughout all 38 matches in one season. While they were anything but invincible this weekend, falling 3-1, they are coached by one of the most intriguing managers in the game, Arsene Wenger. Here is an interesting look at some of the truly miraculous economic feats the club has pulled off over the last decade. Arsenal also provided the plot for one of the better sports movies you’ve never heard of. A perfect mid-week watch should you need to Netflix this evening.
The final match we’ll look at is the opening one, with Liverpool hosting Stoke City. If you read my piece last week or have been following the English game since the mid-2000s you’re aware Liverpool has provided some of the most entertaining moments of the last 10 years with comeback victories in 2005’s European Championship and 2006’s FA Cup Final.
Take some time to watch both of these videos.
At the top of the page I referenced the majesty of Anfield that NBC was able to capture preceding the match, and the ground didn’t let us down this providing the most tense of encounters all weekend. Daniel Sturridge ultimately gave Liverpool the 1-0 victory, but it was the play of Simon Mignolet in goal for the Reds that was the real storyline.
Other matches saw Everton (whose team we’ll examine a little closer later this week) draw Norwich 2-2; Tottenham, the team many Americans followed closely all of last season AND the team that played a part in the biggest soccer headlines of the summer on our shores, dispatched of Crystal Palace 1-0; Southampton defeated West Brom 1-0; Fulham nipped Sunderland 1-0; and West Ham suffocated Cardiff 2-0.
Our rose of the week goes to Stoke City. Their supporters will no doubt be somewhat disappointed by the missed penalty that could’ve drawn them a point from their encounter at Liverpool, but the blow might be slightly softened by the free, YES FREE, away travel they offer their fans this year. Stoke also have not raised ticket prices since 2008. Maybe my allegiance is for sale.
Mosey on back to my little duplex of the Internet Friday at Fansided for a more-focused breakdown on my pursuit of an individual club and a brief preview of this weekend’s action.