The first match is the must-see match this week: the North London derby. It includes the team most hungry for a trophy against the best player in the world right now, Gareth Bale. Yes, I said it. Week in, week out, he’s matching Messi and Cristiano for that spot!
And a word about ESPN’s production values for their Saturday game of the week. They are getting better and better. Not only do we get Ian Darke and co-commentator on location, but we get pregame on-the-pitch interviews with both managers, Disney up-close-and-personal stories with American players or others of great interest, and extraordinary sound and picture quality. My only two quibbles with ESPN right now are: (1) keep Ekoku off the airwaves, and (2) I pray for the 7:45 am matches, because then the annoying other match goal updates are irrelevant! As a friend said to me last week, when ESPN has a 10 am match (or when they had the Manchester derby), you have to record and watch that match last, lest it spoils all of the other games!
We’ve now settled down to the standard television pattern for the 10 matches, with live Man Utd and Chelsea matches at 10, the tea-time 12:30 match live on FSC, and the other 3 matches shown Saturday afternoon on tape (nothing delayed til Sunday this week). On Sunday morning, we get the FS+ match at 8:30, and then Mark Hughes hosts his old side on FSC at 11. The pretty entertaining Sunderland v Everton “Monday Night Football” match is again shut out from ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, with only internet access on espn3.com.
****: 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, November 20 (all times EST)
**** Arsenal v Tottenham, 7:45 am, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com
Spurs were totally destroyed in this fixture last year, 3-nil, but came back to win the return fixture 2-1 on Broadway Danny Rose’s famous goal. This is a scintillating fixture given their respective league standings, and some great matchups on the pitch as well. Spurs’ woeful record away against the “Big 4″ continues, now up to 68 matches without a victory at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man Utd. One of the can’t miss matches of the season!
** Birmingham v Chelsea, 10 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
A goalless draw last year, and Birmingham will probably put 10 men behind the ball. It’s been a while since Chelsea won a game in the league.
** Man Utd v Wigan, 10 am, FSC/FD
The race has tightened up at the top. This should be an easy win for the Red Devils. It was 5-nil last year. Some chance we might see a Rooney appearance as he has returned from Dubai and Oregon.
** West Brom v Stoke, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 4 pm (delayed) FS+
Tony Pulis must be the greatest half-time talk manager ever. Stoke have scored 87% of their goals in the second half this year. Now what can he do about the first half?
*** Bolton v Newcastle, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 5 pm (delayed) FSC
It’s tight in the middle of the league, so these sides could go either way, but both have played pretty attractive football so far. I hope to see more moves from Johan Elmander like last week’s amazing goal! Here’s a bar trivia question that will be very easy for you to win: which EPL player has made the most tackles this season (74)? The American Stuart Holden!
* Blackpool v Wolverhampton, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 6 pm (delayed) FS+
Wolves keep beating Blackpool at Bloomfield Road, winning 5 and drawing 4 in their last 9 visits! But they’ve never met in the Premier League.
** Liverpool v West Ham, 12:30 pm, FSC/FD
This will probably be the Torres show. First hat trick of the season for him? The Hammers simply cannot win at Anfield — they haven’t won in 38 visits, last winning in front of the Kop in 1963, before I was born!
Sunday, November 21
** Blackburn v Aston Villa, 8:30 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
Blackburn beat Villa twice last season, but Villa looked strong against United on Saturday. With so many midfielders injured for Villa, though, Robert Pires is talking about going straight into the starting lineup Sunday.
*** Fulham v Man City, 11 am, FSC/FD
Hughes will want to win this one. Shay Given probably is back in goal for City. Neither team has played their best recently.
Monday, November 22
*** Sunderland v Everton, 3 pm, espn3.com only
The Black Cats are on fire, keeping clean sheets, and getting Gyan and his chicken dance untracked. Bent may be back as well. Everton remain the yo-yo team. Perhaps they can re-sign Landon Donovan on loan to kick-start their season, like he did last year.