Before we get to the matches, I have an anecdote to relate for those who are interested in the progress of the game's popularity here in the US. Yesterday was a pretty amazing illustration for me. The obvious one was the buzz you could feel related to El Clasico. Far less obvious to anyone other than me were two encounters I had yesterday in the late afternoon and evening. In both cases (first at the gym and second walking out of a Chinese take-out place), I was out and about wearing an Arsenal sweatshirt. Two separate people asked me if I'd seen the match, knew the score, and were able to talk about the quality of RvP's goal.
Under any circumstances this would be impressive here in the States. If I were in downtown DC or Manhattan I'd have been suitably impressed. As it turns out, I was in neither of those places. In both cases, I was within 2 miles of my house here in the hinterlands of the Washington, DC metropolitan area (about 35 to 40 miles from downtown DC). While our area isn't entirely rural or bereft of cosmopolitan citizens, we are just as likely to run into horse farmers as world travelers.
When we moved here a year and a half ago I was thrilled to learn that my new next door neighbor was not only an active match official for club, high school, and collegiate matches but also an avid Arsenal and Ajax supporter. Now I can add random people willing to strike up a conversation based on my sweatshirt. For those here in the States it is additional evidence of what you already know which is that the game is getting more and more popular by the day. For those of you outside the US, you may or may not care but it is at least time to reassess your preconceived notions about the condition of the game here in our former soccer backwater.
- Swansea at Home - It has taken a little while for me to figure this all out but it appears pretty clear at this point that the Swans are really the old Fulham. They are excellent at home against all but the best opposition and they are pretty rotten on the road. Feel free to act accordingly toward selections of Vorm, Gower, Sinclair, and Graham for the rest of the season.
- The Martin O'Neill Era at Sunderland - It certainly didn't start off in a pretty way but there is definitely talent available to MON. Certainly more so than you'd find available at Bolton, Wigan, or Rovers. With MON being a far better manager than Bruce you can't imagine that Sunderland will go down. They may not climb all the way back to mid-table where we expected them to be but you have to expect that things are looking way up. I was particularly impressed with Sessegnon even though he didn't do much from a fantasy standpoint. He was definitely lively.
- Arsenal's Solidity - They seem to be playing out their recent script in reverse. In years past they would start off the season challenging for honors and playing solidly only to fall apart in February and March. This season, they seem to be growing into their solidity. This is the sort of match they would have drawn or lost late last season or early this season. The defense played well and the attack could well have put up 5 against a solid opponent. You could argue that the failure to score more is a negative but the fact that they got all three points when the shots weren't going their way is a big positive.
- Ditto Liverpool - In very much the same position as Arsenal and likewise their talisman made sure that they got the needed points.
- Norwich No-Names (at home) - Quick quiz, who has more points from their home matches, Norwich or Liverpool? Sorry, trick question. They both have the same number of points from home matches which should underscore the point that the Canaries are very much a solid side when playing at Carrow Road. Just something to think about as you evaluate match-ups for fantasy purposes.
- United's "Rebound" - With apologies to friend of the blog Chris Jones, it was Wolves at Old Trafford. The Red Devils certainly did what they're supposed to do but the notion that this represented proof of life seems like the typical over-reaction. Wolves still haven't closed down Rooney in the attacking zone. Next weekend will at least be on the road against a mid-table team. I'd prefer to wait until they have a real test before making any pronouncements but at Loftus Road will have to do.
- The Officiating at the Brittannia - Imagine how poor the officiating must be for a Gooner to be sticking up for Spurs. Two good goals disallowed (one for offside and the other was cleared with Shawcross' intentional elbow). One bogus sending off for two weak YCs (one awarded protesting a goal that should have been allowed and the other for a mild foul). More fuel for the "video replay" fire. The question is whether better teams than Stoke will be able to exploit Spurs apparent weakness against a four CB alignment at the back (which ironically was what Arsenal played this past weekend out of necessity).
- Newcastle's "Depth" - Every pundit on the planet said "we love what NUFC are doing but the fall will happen when they have to play their reserves." Guess what, this is one case where the pundits were right. The initial flaws were masked by a string of matches that would have been difficult under any circumstances (MAC, MAN, and CHE) but with a greatly diminished spine missing Coloccini, Taylor, and Tiote NUFC just can't do what led to their early success - play great defense and count on a goal or two (usually from Ba) to win it.
- Wolves Defending - Managing quiz: You're facing a far more talented but struggling team on their home ground do you a) pressure the hell out of them and make you beat them by rediscovering their quality? or b) stay off them and give them a ton of space to take shots, create chances, and (at least temporarily) rediscover their mojo? Come to think of it, when is "b" EVER a good answer? Whether by Mick's design or his players' inability to execute his actual design, that's what Wolves did and United capitalized early and often. Just not Premier League quality.
- West Brom's "Revival" - Remember when we were all encouraged by the second half charge of Peter Odemwingie, Chris Brunt and the rest of Woy's plucky Baggies last season? Remember the added optimism when they not only kept Odemwingie but added Shane Long who was effective early? We gave them a break when they lost their first two to United and Chelsea. We can't do the same after a home loss to Wigan. With Sunderland's prospects under MON on the rise the Baggies will be in an ugly relegation battle if they continue to perform like this.
- Rovers Set Piece Defense - Managerial Quiz #2: So, you're Steve Kean and you're clinging to a vital away point late in the match. You're facing a free kick in a dangerous spot which is going to be taken by someone who has shown in the past that he can score from such situations. Do you a) put your best and tallest defender in the wall to make the most direct path to losing - a free kick on goal - more difficult for your opponent? or do you b) have put your best and tallest defender on an opposing attacker to defend a ball that will never come because you've just invited the taker to shoot by putting your short, earth-bound, glory-hunter of a forward in the wall? All I know is that if you told me my life depended on Yakubu sacrificing himself for the team by taking a hard-driven ball to the head, I'd not hold out much hope for my life.
- 2010-2011 - 32 Starts, 3 goals, 2 assists, 14 SOTs, 19 CW (sorry, couldn't find SC stats for last season)
- 2011-2012 - 12 Starts, 1 goal, 2 assists, 10 SOTs, 12 CW, 14 SCs
- 2011/2012 - 14 Games, 5 Goals (3 from set pieces and the one winner), 2 assists, 11 SOTs, 39 SC, AND 27 tackles won. If you compare that last number to his fellow premium midfielders, you'll find that most of them have won something on the order of 10 to 15 tackles in the same number of starts.