In American college football they call it Rivalry Week. Well, we don’t get all of the traditional rivals this weekend, but we sure do get many. My stars are flying out like Christmas gifts. The 4 Birmingham/West Midlands teams square off on Saturday and Sunday, Bolton face neighboring Blackburn, there’s an extremely juicy London derby in the final Sunday match as Spurs host Chelsea, and the game-of-the-week has long-time rivals Wenger & Sir Alex meeting for the first of what might be a few times this year, with the winner going top! Sit back, relax, get the DVR warmed up, and enjoy the matches!! Also, please note that 4 of the 5 10 am Eastern time matches can be seen live this week, on ESPN2, Fox Soccer Chanel, Fox Soccer Plus, and Fox Deportes. FD is showing Everton v Wigan in lieu of Villa/West Brom, and the international English commentators should be available on the secondary audio program.
****: 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, December 11 (all times EST)
*** West Ham v Man City, 10 am, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com
There are many candidates for best player in the league this year, but it’s hard to argue that Carlos Tevez has been the most valuable. City have lost 3 of the 4 matches he has missed, and he misses this trip ‘home’ to Upton Park via suspension for petulantly kicking the ball away last week when he was whistled for a late and meaningless free kick. Tevez had vowed he would not score the goal last season to relegate West Ham; ultimately this Gameweek 38 fixture last year became meaningless for both sides after West Ham escaped and City lost their midweek match to Spurs for Champions’ League. Avram’s side’s one-week resurgence took a step backward after another goalless loss away from home to Sunderland and the Hammers remain firmly rock bottom and adrift. City need a win to keep the race tight at the top.
*** Aston Villa v West Brom, 10 am, FSC
This is a pretty big West Midlands rivalry as Villa is the closest side to Albion. Houllier may get Heskey back; West Brom is solidly mid-table and want to get points now to secure their position in the league and avoid getting hauled into a late relegation scrap.
* Everton v Wigan, 10 am, FD & foxsoccer.tv & 5 pm (delayed) FSC
Wigan look to be in big trouble. They lost twice last year to Everton.
** Fulham v Sunderland, 10 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
Similarly, Fulham need to start getting some points from these home matches.
** Stoke v Blackpool, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 6 pm (delayed) FS+
Stoke’s team is well set up for the winter cold; will Holloway’s attacking system continue to work as we get into the muck and frozen grounds of the English winter?
*** Newcastle v Liverpool, 12:30 pm, FSC/FD
6 managers in 3 years for the Magpies, and this latest move appears to be the stupidest, with Hughton getting a lot more from this motley collection of players than I certainly expected. Pardew got West Ham promoted and to within minutes of winning the FA Cup against Liverpool, but went downhill as he was unable to do much from there, nor with Charlton. Liverpool seem to be coming around to Hodgson’s system, and are steadily climbing the table. Don’t count out Roy’s side yet.
Sunday, December 12
** Wolverhampton v Birmingham, 8:30 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
Birmingham won both these derbies last year, and Mick really needs to nick some points here.
*** Bolton v Blackburn, 8:30 am, foxsoccer.tv & 10:30am (delayed) FS+
Fat Sam’s boys walloped his old side twice last season, winning the two matches by a combined 5-nil. I think Bolton is far better this year!
**** Tottenham v Chelsea, 11 am, FSC/FD
Spurs won this fixture last year (gorgeous goal from Bale, Terry was sent off, and Defoe even converted a penalty!) and we all know Chelsea are struggling right now. Unfortunately, we won’t see Van der Vaart, but Lampard may return, and there’s a chance Dawson will return to the lineup for Harry. The supporters will be up for this one, as will I!
Monday, December 13
**** Man Utd v Arsenal, 3 pm, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com
It doesn’t get any better than this. Monday night football. The winner is top of the table! Ferguson & Wenger do not like each other. There may have been no better scene last year than Wenger sent to the stands at Old Trafford by Mike Dean, and then standing up there having no idea where to go sit! Diaby’s own goal gave the Red Devils the 2-1 come-from-behind win. Nasri was absolutely stunning last weekend.