After a terrific summer of World Cup matches, vuvuzela-free Premier League soccer is back! And I will be back too, with your weekly guide to Premier League matches. I intend this weekly column for two different audiences: First, for the person who needs no assistance figuring out which games to watch, they just want to know when and where. Hopefully we’ve assembled the places the US EPL supporter can watch, on the tube or on-line. Second, for those who would like a bit of editing, I’ll try to recommend the must-see matches and why. That might mean introducing you to a great second city derby or reminding you of a rematch of a game that had special import from last year or earlier this year. My ratings system is intended for neutrals; of course, every match is a 4-star must see for someone!
I’ve removed the HD designations this year, as I’m told all matches will be recorded by Sky UK in HD, but, alas, not every carrier has made HD channels available. In NYC, where I watch on Time Warner Cable, we do have HD versions of ESPN2 & Fox Soccer Plus (FS+), but we are told we have to wait til September for an HD version of the main Fox Soccer Channel (FSC). We will typically again get a Saturday 7:45 am (eastern time) match on ESPN2 (and a 10 am ESPN2 match for weeks without an early kickoff), simultaneous 10 am matches on FSC & FS+, and a live 12:30 match on FSC. The 8:30 am Sunday kickoff (no game this week) will again be on FS+ with the 11am on FSC. I think there are only 5 Monday night matches currently scheduled, and they will all be on ESPN2. Then other matches will be shown delayed around 2 pm on FSC & FS+, with one match embargoed all the way til Sunday morning. Fox has been advertising these delayed matches as “debuts.”
Enjoy the matches! Here is my first Premier League viewing guide for the 2010-11 season:
My ratings system:
**** Must-see. Cancel all other activities. Do not even DVR as even in America you might hear the score!
*** Strong match; worth watching live; DVR a must if you can’t see live
** Flip through quickly to see the goals, red cards, injuries, and perhaps watch the last 5 minutes + injury time if close
* Only if you’re a die-hard
Matches shown in chronological order:
Saturday, August 14 (all times EDT)
**** Tottenham v Man City 7:45 am, ESPN2 & espn3.com
In the reverse fixture that came on last season’s penultimate week, Spurs traveled north and won the 4th-place and final Champions League spot on Peter Crouch’s late goal. No team has more fun-to-watch wingers than Spurs, in Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, and City’s extraordinary roster of stars (Tevez, Adebayor, new signing Kolarov at left back, Toure, Boateng, and on and on) may make them compelling television all season. Plus a very tough first-team keeper choice for Roberto Mancini: Ireland’s #1 (Given) vs. England’s new #1 (Hart).
*** Aston Villa v West Ham United, 10 am, FSC
Villa’s fortunes have changed markedly with this week’s resignation of Martin O’Neill. Caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald still has some terrific players to work with. And the likes of Agbonlahor and Ashley Young should be reaching their prime. James Milner is still there (for now) and will be tough for West Ham to handle. Meanwhile, the Hammers were simply awful last year, and stayed up only because Hull City, Pompey & Burnley were worse. (Full disclosure: I’m a 20-year West Ham supporter and suffered mightily last year.) West Ham should be better in midfield this year, with Pablo Barrera and Thomas Hitzlsperger joining Parker, Behrami, Dyer, and Collison, and with Avram Grant realizing that Julien Faubert is a winger, not a right back. Goals were at a premium, though, with Carlton Cole struggling with injuries, and Diamanti played in the wrong positions. It will certainly be, ahem, interesting, to see Robert Green’s reception in away matches, and his defense has not improved enough to keep clean sheets.
*** Blackburn v Everton, 9:55 am, FS+ and foxsoccer.tv (also 8 pm delayed FS+)
This one would have been two-stars, but I’ve upgraded it to 3 for Everton’s new away kit alone! If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look on Saturday as it gives a whole new look to the Premier League. Not many changes for David Moyes, whose squad got off to a terrible start last year, but were as hot as any team in the league last spring, beating Chelsea, and both Manchester squads. The Landon Donovan effect? Can Jermaine Beckford keep scoring in the EPL as he did for Leeds? A healthy Arteta would give Everton a strong chance for Europe again. Thy should score plenty of goals, even away from Liverpool. Blackburn will have a tougher time scoring again this year, but a Sam Allardyce team will have plenty of strength and guts and power.
* Wolves v Stoke City, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv; 2 pm (delayed), FS+
* Bolton v Fulham, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv; 2:30 pm (delayed), FSC
* Sunderland v Birmingham City, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv; Sunday 10:30 am (delayed), FS+
* Wigan v Blackpool, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv; no television coverage
Fox only had room for 7 of 8 matches, and with the bookies giving Blackpool an 80% chance of being relegated, they appear to have made the right choice. (Wigan are tipped 3rd for relegation.) For the die-hard, available on-line at foxsoccer.tv.
*** Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion, 12:30 pm, FSC
Great to see the Baggies back up so quickly, and they will probably again play attractive, positive soccer. Di Matteo may have a rude return to Stamford Bridge, though, and if Chelsea pick up where they left off in May, they may be pumping in 7-8 goals Saturday afternoon. (Granted, Chelsea have not looked good pre-season.) Chelsea will have far bigger matches than this one, so we’ll reserve more words for the Champions in later weeks. But they start with about as easy a schedule as one could possibly imagine, and Ancelotti will want 15 points from their first 5 (WBA, @Wigan, Stoke, @West Ham, and Blackpool) before their September 25 showdown at Eastlands.
Sunday, August 15
**** Liverpool v Arsenal, 11 am, FSC
What a terrific Sunday tea-time starter for the season, as these two perennial contenders try to retain/regain their Champions League positions and even contest for the title. Fabregas is still Arsenal’s captain but Arsenal has some questions from the back, notably at keeper, where they continue to look for a Champions League caliber #1, and there are question marks about who replaces Gallas. Will Chamakh get time up front immediately? Can Walcott cement a regular spot in the starting eleven? For Liverpool, the bigger changes are in management, with Rafa finally replaced by Hodgson. The near straight-up Joe-for-Yossi switch is their biggest player change, with healthy and productive Torres & Gerrard the key to their season. Aquilani may be set to show the most improvement under new management and it’s hard to imagine Liverpool having the type of bad luck they had last year (e.g., beach balls creating goals).
Monday, August 16
*** Man United v Newcastle, 3 pm, ESPN2 & espn3.com
A tough opening match for the Toon. It will be interesting to see what opening day lineup Sir Alex throws out, with so many options. We don’t get very many Monday games this year, but this should be a fun one.