A four-star game is back, and I suppose Manchester United v Liverpool will always be a four-star match, no matter what troubles one team or the other are having. I know the debate will start anew regarding why this match is on Fox Soccer Plus, or how well the FoxSoccer.tv web site can handle the increased traffic. But live, via DVR or on demand, this is still must-see TV. The pattern of 6 live matches and 4 delayed (with one delayed from Saturday to Sunday) continues.

**** 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, 18 September 2010 (all times EDT)

** Stoke v West Ham, 7:45 am, ESPN2 & espn3.com
An early-season “6-pointer” in the prime ESPN spot? That was a huge come-from-behind win for Tony Pulis’ gang upon his halftime arrival against Villa last week. There’s virtually nothing positive to say about the Hammers’ early start. Avram Grant hands over the reins of the league’s worst team for 1 match due to Yom Kippur. Stoke won both fixtures last season. At least they’re each trying to play attractive soccer, which along with the ESPN2 hi-def picture just nicks a second star.

*** Everton v Newcastle, 9:55 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv
Everton’s amazing last-minute draw against Man Utd (I knew I should have given that match the 4th star!) didn’t improve their league standing, but it will give David Moyes’ team belief. Now they have to start winning their home games.

** Tottenham v Wolverhampton, 10:00 am, FSC
Wolves won both of these fixtures last year, each by a 1-nil score. Spurs played an extraordinary half of soccer away from home Tuesday night in their first Champions League match, but were let down by poor defending by Assou-Ekotto & Corluka in conceding the two goals.

* Blackburn v Fulham, 10:00 am, foxsoccer.tv & 5 pm (delayed) FSC
** Aston Villa v Bolton, 10:00 am, foxsoccer.tv & 6 pm (delayed) FS+

* West Brom v Birmingham, 10:00 am, foxsoccer.tv & Sunday 12:30 pm (delayed) FS+
I took all kinds of flak from 2nd city die-hards last year for giving only 2 stars to the last 2nd city derby (Villa v Birmingham). I watched that match last April and I admitted I was wrong. Tackles were flying in from everywhere, the fans were at top decibel and the players were as intense as I’ve ever seen for what I called “a meaningless match” (or words to that effect). So I probably risk significant ire for giving this derby match a low rating. But there are dozens of London derbies that aren’t like Villa v Brum or West Brom v Wolves. So, again, 2nd city die-hards, or those who love any derby, have at it. For neutrals, enjoy the Sunderland v Arsenal match.

*** Sunderland v Arsenal, 12:30 pm, FSC
Sunderland won this fixture 1-nil last season, and Gyan got off to a nice start last week, even if they couldn’t hold the lead.

Sunday, 19 September 2010
**** Man Utd v Liverpool, 8:30 am, FS+ & foxsoccer.tv

United’s dropped points mean they need to win the big fixtures, including the Chelsea matches, to stay in the title hunt. Nothing about Liverpool has looked good this year. Joe Cole should be back for his first of these showdowns. Can Torres fend off his critics and start scoring in this critical fixture? Vidic has always had trouble marking him, with Torres scoring at Old Trafford and Anfield last season. All is not perfect at United either, as evidenced by the two late goals at Everton and the inability to score against Rangers.

*** Wigan v Man City, 10 am, foxsoccer.tv & 3 pm (delayed) FSE
It’s Wigan as much as Man City that makes this a surprisingly compelling fixture, as Wigan have Jekyll & Hyde offered nail-biting late equalizers and a huge win at White Hart Lane along with disastrous defending in conceding 10 to Chelsea & Blackpool. Which will we see Sunday? Meanwhile, City have only 5 points from 4, heading into the Europe match in Austria Thursday night. They certainly have not quite gelled as a team and we remain far away from considering them title contenders in anything other than pounds spent. If you haven’t watched a match on FSE yet, they show the international feed 99% of the time, but mix in special close-ups of featured Latino players. So Tevez & Alcaraz could be featured for the Latino audience.

** Chelsea v Blackpool, 11 am, FSC
Notwithstanding Blackpool’s strong start (think Burnley last year), they should not put up much of a fight against the league champions.