8 games of prelude in this penultimate gameweek of the first go-round, and then the BIG ONE. Clear your Sunday morning schedules because Chelsea-United is one you need to watch live! From the 4 live 10 am matches, Fox picked Arsenal for the Channel, and Newcastle for Plus, while the Blackburn & Wigan matches are appropriately delayed to the afternoon. For Sunday morning, Fox chose to delay the Black County derby on Plus to follow immediately the Spurs visit to Bloomfield Road, so the derby will compete with the big match. Man City is now officially big enough for ESPN2 to carry their Monday night match! Will we see Tevez?
****: 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 18 (all times EST)
*** Sunderland v Bolton, 7:45 am, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com
Darke and team off to the Stadium of Light! And no big 4 squad visiting. But Bolton and the Black Cats deserve this spotlight match based on play this year. Sunderland absolutely destroyed them at home last year, though; 4-nil, but, again, Bolton is playing far better, and what a sequence culminating in the American Stuart Holden’s winner last week in Fat Sam’s last action for Rovers. Bolton could put pressure on…Chelsea, of all teams!
*** Arsenal v Stoke, 10 am, FSC/FD
The inability to score Monday night has made this a must-win for the Gunners, and puts them in a position of rooting for their cross-town rivals on Sunday.
** Birmingham v Newcastle, 10 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
Dream start for Pardew. The fixtures get tougher quickly. This should be an interesting test.
* Blackburn v West Ham, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 2 pm (delayed) FS+
Allardyce quickly jumped ahead of Hughton as odds-on favorite to replace Grant. It’s pretty amazing that Avram has lasted this long, with the Hammers having won 2 from 17. Hammers’ fans will get an early look at the ugliness of an Allardyce squad. West Ham have managed just 3 points away from Upton Park this season. Neither team scored a single goal in their two fixtures last year. As I wrote once before, do I have to give a star?
* Wigan v Aston Villa, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 5 pm (delayed) FSC
The visiting team won both fixtures last year.
*** Liverpool v Fulham, 12:30 pm, FSC & 5 pm (delayed) FD
Hodgson welcomes back his old club in the featured match. Importantly, Gerrard is expected to return.
Sunday, December 19
** West Brom v Wolverhampton, 7 am, foxsoccer.tv & 10:30 am (delayed) FS+
Another big West Midlands derby, which will boost it for some to 3-stars. Odemwingie will not return for the Baggies. Mick needs some points wherever he can get them.
*** Blackpool v Tottenham, 8:30 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
Could be the most entertaining match of the weekend. Since ’58, Spurs have lost only once to Blackpool while winning 16 times and drawing 7, but the Tangerines have been in every match save the visits to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge.
**** Chelsea v Man Utd, 11 am, FSC/FD
Sir Alex rolls out Park Ji-Sung for all the big European matches. He did it again for the Arsenal match Monday night, and was rewarded again. I’d expect to see him in the lineup at the Bridge. Winning both these fixtures last year was what gave the Blues the title and they may need to do it again this year. It was a very physical match last year, with Terry heading in the winner. Hopefully we’ll see 90 minutes of Drogba and Rooney, with both back in top form! And after Sir Alex left the pitch screaming at Martin Atkinson last November for awarding the foul on Fletcher that resulted in the goal, the EPL has assigned….Martin Atkinson again!
Monday, December 20
*** Man City v Everton, 3pm, ESPN2/ESPND & espn3.com
City is as dysfunctional as ever and yet must-see TV. This should be a terrific Monday night match. I hope Tevez plays. The Toffees have actually won on their last two visits to the Eastlands.