Saturday’s Premier League Matches: My Observations


The opening day of the 2009/2010 Premier League season felt like a roller coaster ride especially for viewers in the United States — most of whom were more exhausted than usual on Saturday morning after getting little sleep from the night before after hearing about the eleventh hour decision by ESPN to acquire the TV rights to the Premier League’s early Saturday kickoff as well as Monday game for the upcoming season.

For TV viewers in the United States, the opening game of the 2009/2010 Premier League season on ESPN was a game-changer. The Premier League experience in America has made the giant leap from being a niche cult success to a mainstream entertainment destination. There’s still a long way to go, but ESPN joining the Premier League club will forever change the popularity of the league, and I believe the sport, in this country.

There’ll be plenty more opportunities to dissect and analyze ESPN’s coverage during the entire season, but here are my observations from a very satisfying first day of the new season:

ESPN’s Opening Coverage Of Premier League Season

Seeing the face of Adrian Healey as he opened up the first few seconds of ESPN’s pre-game show was a welcoming and reassuring image. And having him hand it over to Paul Mariner and Shaka Hislop for their analysis was a surprising delight (I didn’t think ESPN would have time to put together any studio coverage). Worryingly for Fox Soccer Channel, the first few minutes of ESPN’s pre-game analysis was far better than FSC’s — and ESPN literally had only hours to plan it. Instead of Fox’s typical line-up of one presenter and one announcer, ESPN had one presenter and two analysts — which allows for more banter and livelier conversation.

Perhaps we were spoiled because ESPN hadn’t had a chance to get advertisers at last minute notice, but I LOVED the fact that ESPN picked up the IMG (formerly known as TWI) feed straight from England and kept it going — with no commercial breaks — through to after the half-time whistle. There was no quick breaking in to the game after commercial just seconds before the kick-off started. The slow and gradual build-up to kick-off — from seeing the players in the tunnel and hearing the calming commentary of Bill Leslie — was perfect and added far more suspense and gravitas to the situation than the typical Fox Soccer Channel or Setanta Sports opening.

The first ten to 15 minutes of the ESPN coverage of the game was beautiful from the subtle ESPN2 logo in the bottom right corner, to the clean graphics PLP (Premier League Productions)/IMG added to the top left (the scoreline). When the ticker started at around the 15 minute mark, I was disappointed but it wasn’t as obtrusive as I thought it would be.

Sir Bobby Robson Tribute

Some of the many things that the English do well are moments of silence, which are so well honored that you can literally hear a pin drop in a stadium of 40,000 people, and moments of applause, which was the way that Sir Bobby Robson’s life was celebrated before the beginning of each Premier League match on this Saturday. I had tears in my eyes the morning I learned that Robson died, and I had tears in my eyes again when I watched the 60 seconds of applause before each game on Saturday.

I was also touched by the way that fans from around the country sang “One Bobby Robson, there’s only one Bobby Robson” in the different stadiums even though many of the clubs had no connection with the man. Of course, he managed their national team, but it just goes to show what a legend Robson is and was, and how we’ll never forget the man.

Chelsea 2-1 Hull City

The actual Chelsea against Hull City game was not the greatest, but by far not the worst opening game of previous Premier League seasons — although I did catch a few people yawning during the game, in the crowd as well as one of Chelsea’s staff members sitting behind Carlo Ancelotti.

Phil Brown’s side had a game-plan and stuck to it very well, and definitely made Chelsea work hard to break down the Tigers defense. Fittingly it was Hull City’s Stephen Hunt who scored the opening goal of the game, against the run of play. Carlo Ancelotti won’t be too pleased when watching the replay of the game to see how unmarked Hunt was in the penalty area. To me, Jose Bosingwa should have done better to close Hunt down and prevent him from scoring the goal.

Nice to see a long opening from ESPN. Instead of going to commercial and breaking in to the game right before it kicked off, ESPN began the broadcast immediately when the international feed was shown so we were able to see the teams lining up down the tunnel.
No ticker across the bottom. And not a lot of graphics on the screen. Instead, just a simple and unobtrusive ESPN2 logo in bottom right corner.Nice applause for Sir Bobby Robson. Fans singing “There’s only one Bobby Robson.” Fitting tribute. I definitely shed a tear.
Counted several yawns in this match – fans behind the goal, and personnel on chelsea bench behibd Ancelotti

After Didier Drogba tied up the game with his cleanly taken free-kick, I felt it was only a matter of time near the end of the game when Chelsea would score. We’ve seen the scenario played out time after time again. Chelsea needed a bit of luck in the end, but it was a deserving victory against a Hull City side who were far more impressive than I would have predicted, but who still have a long season ahead of them.

Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan Athletic

To me, this was clearly the best match of the day played by two teams who — especially in the first half — were both were very competitive in a see-saw match with plenty of pace and end-to-end action.

In my poll of who will be the most surprising team of the 2009/2010 Premier League season, I picked Wigan Athletic. Many of you may know I’m a Swansea City supporter, so I know Roberto Martinez’s track-record very well and have been mesmerized by his managerial talent as well as how his teams play and the incredible insight he has in the transfer window where he continually picks up incredible talent at unbelievably low transfer fees.

So in the game at Villa Park, I wasn’t surprised at all at how impressive Wigan Athletic came out. After watching this match, I’m convinced that Wigan Athletic are the real deal this season and will open many people’s eyes to how football should be played as well as how relative minnows in the Premier League will give the Big Four a run for their money. As an aside, next week’s game between Wigan and Manchester United is perfect timing for the Wigan non-believers. I don’t think Martinez’s side can win, but they won’t be a pushover and could give Ferguson’s team some nervy moments.

Back to the game at Villa Park, the first 20 minutes were some of the best football you’ll see this season. Aston Villa were confident and played with a bravado equal to that of Wigan, but after the long-range rifle-of-a-shot from Hugo Rodallega went in, the energy and confidence was sucked out of Aston Villa. Part of the problem for Villa was that Wigan refused to back down and were, at times, quite physical.

To me, Villa looked like a boxer who received a knock-down punch in the first round and tried to fight back, but the longer the fight went on, the more Villa cowered back and eventually lost complete confidence that they could turn things around.

The most surprising and alarming situation of the match for me was when Ashley Young ran into Henry Thomas, who had an excellent Premier League debut. After taking a few minutes to get back up, Young was still completely dazed and I couldn’t believe that Martin O’Neill didn’t take his pacey winger out of the match.

Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester City

I saw everything I needed to see about this match in the first five minutes. The pace from Manchester City from the midfield to the attack was blistering and a joy to watch. So it wasn’t surprising to see Emmanuel Adebayor score after Shaun Wright-Phillips tore up the right wing and placed a pass into the former Arsenal player’s path to make it one-nil after three minutes.

To be completely honest, the most impressive thing for me from this match was seeing a near sold-out Ewood Park. In a ground which is traditionally one of the worst attended in the league, 29,584 people witnessed the Manchester City fans practically take over the ground by packing the away end and filling the stadium with the sounds of Blue Moon and other City anthems.

On the pitch, the scoreline reflects a one-sided affair but what actually happened was quite different. Richard Dunne had to make a goal-line clearance early in the game and Blackburn had several chances to equalize in this game. What prevented Blackburn from scoring was the impressive saves by Shay Given and the poor chances taken by Blackburn (Jason Roberts, for example, had  a couple of golden chances in front of goal to score).

Other Games

Sorry Gunners fans but I’m still making my way through watching the other games and haven’t had a chance to witness Arsenal’s impressive beginning to the season.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable first day of football. Feel free to post your observations about the games or any of the TV coverage. Oh yes, and it was wonderful to watch the Chelsea versus Hull City game in HD!

25 thoughts on “Saturday’s Premier League Matches: My Observations”

  1. After the pleasure of ESPN HD yesterday I get stuck with pain in the ass that is Setanta-i for the Man Utd game today.

    Screw you Setanta! I want to be able to watch the game legally, I don’t want to have to watch via the quality is better half the time anyway). I’ve been dealing with this crap service for too long. A real company would get their shit together.

    I’m just glad the United game will be on ESPN next Saturday, and hopefully they’ll pick up the rights to Setanta’s games in 2010. Bunch of clowns.

  2. Here is a Sunday observation, Setanta-i is currently not working! I subscribe to it basically to see Man Utd the past three season, and it fails on me! Absolutely unacceptable.

    1. Worked fine past the 70th minute or so, and then nothing until now the 91st minute! Finally up and running now, but unacceptable.

  3. Just signed up with Setanta-i this season to catch Man Utd games, but didn’t work for me after the 20th min or so. I signed up even though I’d heard the complaints. Now I know what they were talking about.

  4. Gaffer dont waste your time on that other Premier League – get straight to the sixy football Arsenal provided :) I say this as we wont be pumping in 6 away from home too often :)

  5. Can Somebody tell me why they can’t just use the whole feed, including pregame and postgame from the UK instead of putting together a crap crew with Mariner who’s only on there because he lives over here, and HIslop who must be blackmailing someone for his job. Why can’t they use the UK pregame, halftime and postgame? Is it legal issues, does it cost more or are they just idiots to think we’d want to hear Hislop and see golf highlights over real analysts.

    1. To be fair….Mariner was a good choice, his analysis I felt was on the mark, the man has been there done that, and I got a great buzz out of seeing him rub his hands in glee when Healy announced that they were READY to send it over to Stamford Bridge for the fist game of the season…now THAT’S a man that loves his football and EXACTLY the kind of person I want in an ESPN studio

    2. @Kautzie – I didn’t think the pre-game was all that bad, considering it was hastily thrown together. That said, Sky Sports was showing the game in the UK, which means ESPN UK didn’t have the game. Therefore ESPN2 couldn’t get the ESPN UK feed. I imagine the Monday night games will be different, because I think ESPN UK have the Monday game rights.

  6. Nice piece Chris. With the Sunday results in at this point really a great weekend of opening action. The ESPN audience got a visual treat of a HD broadcast and a great game. Too bad for Hull, they deserved better then losing on a fluke score.

    ESPN should be thanked for getting the pre-game show together at the last minute. I enjoy Hislop and hope by the time the show takes it’s final form he is still on it. The high quality of the picture and sound gave the game a different feel. We were no longer cult followers but mainstream audience members.

    Back to the action, a good day for road teams, and no draws, a real treat for everyone. The Gunners margin of victory was a surprise but do not count out Everton, a lot going on there to make things unsettled and they started slow last year. After Sunday’s result do we have a Big 6 including Spurs. Is Fulham going to be a pleasant surprise this year or just lucky to get Pompey early. Are thing amiss at Villa? Should any of the upper table teams have any excuse for losing to a bottom 6 team. The talent at the top maybe more spread out but has the bottom group become worse. You can see Newcastle on ESPN 360 and they looked better then the newly promoted sides and a few of the hold overs.

    We’ll it’s only the first week and it’s great to have the action back.

    1. To some, this fluke goal, as you call it, is a moment of brilliance… That said, I think Hull’s goal was more of a fluke than anything Chelsea put up. Otherwise, I agree with what you have said in the rest of your comments.

      1. Bayern82, well then for the most part I thank you.

        As to some of the below comments, the announcers sounded different from the FSC product over the years and the picture was more real life. Did HD account for all of that, let us hope so since FSC promises to go HD soon. One of the reason all us Yanks had wanted ESPN to get into the mix was for the better picture and hopefully better bumper content, ie: pre/post game shows.

        We would hope in upcoming weeks we will see ESPN develop there own shows around the EPL telecast. It was the hope of the American fan that once ESPN got into the act we would get more from the studio shows then some bad sets that FSC gave us. It was a broadcast on FSC that could of been done 30 years ago. To that extent that is why many people just kept asking FSC to go with content from Sky since it was all the same corporate family. Sky was slick and up to date and FSC was drab and old. Many American’s hoped that we would see more from the pitch itself since we are used to live looks and interviews from the game on American sports tv. So, hopefully, ESPN will be working on it and please everyone lets give them some time.

  7. Was wondering if some people would find something to whine about in regards to ESPN coverage. They did. Must suck to live life like this. Always seeing the negative side.

    It was awesome to watch EPL in beautiful HD. Yes, ESPNNEWS golf updates at halftime were slightly annoying, but who really cares? That’s the time I used to get some breakfast.

    The only thing that sucked was not seeing Jozy make his debut due to work permit issues. Nothing else really to whine about. Yes, the game was in HD and yes, ESPN used the English feed with the British announcers. What else do you want? Knit pickers suck.

    1. I completely agree.

      You were watching the first Premier League game broadcast in HD in the U.S., and you’re whining about the ticker coming up during the game!? Seriously, what is wrong with you!?

      I don’t care if ESPN sells pop-up ads like Fox Soccer Channel does, as long as they have an incentive to get sole ownership of the U.S. rights for the Premier League away from Fox Soccer Channel starting next season. That is the only thing that will get ESPN’s full weight behind the growth of the sport in this country.

      I don’t care if they sublicense some games back to Fox Soccer Channel afterwords, or they decide to keep them all like Fox Soccer Channel is doing with the UEFA Champions League this season (at least it seems that way from the play-off round of qualifying coming up this midweek), just as long as they are the ones who can show the most high profile games.

      1. Grant – Setanta and DirectTV have some of the Champions League games licensed from Fox. The others are on FSC, FSN, and FS en espanol.

  8. FYI Gaffer:

    Setanta gave up the sublicense rights to the two EPL time slots (Saturday 1245 London or 1st pick of Saturday 1500 London, Monday 2000 London) in both the US and the Caribbean.

    ESPN (Int’l) did the deal with FSI for to get Chelsea-Hull on ESPN Caribbean about 24 hours before ESPN (domestic) was able to do the deal to get the match on ESPN2 US.

  9. Can someone answer just one question for me regarding announcers?

    I watched the Chelsea v. Hull City game live on ESPN2 and was shocked to hear what sounded like different announcers doing commentary when I saw highlights later on Sky Sports News. Are there multiple crews doing the game live in the U.K.? Is there a “Premier League” crew for the archives and distribution internationally that is seperate from the “Sky/ESPN” crew that does the game for the U.K. audiences?

    I noticed the same thing for the Everton v. Arsenal game, which was on ESPN in the U.K., but on Fox Soccer Channel in the U.S.

    1. Grant – I think (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that most, if not all, of the games we get in the U.S. are straight from the TWI (I think) feed. This is the straight international feed with the same commentators for everyone. In the UK, Sky and ESPN have their own production, commentators, graphics, etc. That is why they seem different. For example: Chelsea v. Hull yesterday was a SKY game, so they had their own commentators doing the game. In the U.S. on ESPN, we got the international feed, which has different commentators.

  10. This is a totally random comment but I noticed people talking about TV networks etc above so I thought I would just put it out there. I work in the television industry in AUstralia and am looking to move over to England. Would anyone know of the production company that does the football? Obviously FOX and ESPN are the ones who televise but usually (in Australia anyway) all the work is out-sourced! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. IMG Sports Media provides the resources to the FAPL to produce all 380 EPL matches for International video distribution (outside the UK and Ireland).

      CSI Sports produces the English FA Cup, the English National Teams, and the English Football League for International video distribution.

      In the UK itself, BSkyB has an in-house production team that produces content for the Sky Sports channels. ESPN UK also hires BSkyB to produce live events.

  11. Ya know, when I was able to follow and support Reading almost every match for two years, people always raved about how Nicky Shorey was a “class above” the rest of Reading, and I never understood it. He always seemed to play like crap, and was in fact one of Reading’s worst starters. I see he hasn’t changed for Villa.

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