A look back at the weekend's Premier League action.
Chris Ryan: Tensions flared this week, folks, and I'm not talking about the time you mistakenly brought up Obamacare in front of your sister-in-law. Belts got a little tighter, and I'm not talking about your belt after you ate that third piece of pecan pie. No, I'm talking about England, where Thanksgiving is called "Thursday," and belt-tightening and tensions flaring are just what happens at this time of year, as the games come fast, the injuries pile up, and tempers get short.
A look back at the action in the Barclays Premier League.
Chris Ryan: Arsenal benefited from a truly based Artur Boruc goalkeeping error and beat your annoying soccer fan friend's favorite team, Southampton, 2-0. The Gunners had the kind of luck opposing teams typically have had against them in seasons past. While Boruc's Cruyff-esque Almunia-esque moment was the highlight …
A look back at the weekend's Premier League action.
Chris Ryan: There's Robin Van Persie, celebrating his goal with the best player on the field on Sunday. I don't know if a scrappy 1-0 win over Arsenal — one that will be more remembered for its nasty head injuries than anything else — can serve as a bluperint for future success for David Moyes. After the match, I don't even know if he needs a blueprint at all. He might just want to take out an index card, write "Rooney" on it, and pin it to a corkboard. Team talk done. See you later.
Now well into his third season at Chelsea, some are still waiting for the time when Fernando Torres goes back to being the player he was at Liverpool. And with three goals and an assist over two games last week, including a stunning late poached goal to beat Manchester City, Chelsea fans are hoping that time is now. But that misses the point. The focus shouldn’t be on whether Torres can revert to form, but rather on the player into which he is evolving. Because that player happens to be the ideal striker for Jose Mourinho's system. In order to understand how he fits in the current squad, it’s important to look at what Torres was, what he is now, and how Mourinho is using him.
In case you were busy regretting your attempt to introduce that exchange student living in your home to the joyful simplicity of America's pastime, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A weird weekend in the World Series left the Cardinals and Red Sox knotted at two games apiece, after Saturday's game ended on an obstruction call that handed St. Louis a 5-4 victory, and Sunday's game closed with a Koji Uehara pickoff in Boston's 4-2 win. "What a weekend!" declared MLB rules aficionado Peter Greggsman. "The only way it could have been better is if one of these stadiums had been a dome, so we could get some catwalk interference in there." Greggsman's demeanor then darkened, before he added, "The real tragedy though is that the World Series can't end on an infield fly call. No game can." Greggsman then pounded his fist on his Hardball Times Baseball Annual and cried to the heavens, "Oh founders of baseball, you've cursed us with the possibility of perfection, yet made it as impossible to witness as a local game without digital cable! Damn you apocryphal Abner Doubleday! Damn you straight to the fictional hell you belong in!"
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson amassed 329 receiving yards, the second-most in NFL history behind former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson, as Detroit came from behind late to stun the Dallas Cowboys 31-30. Meanwhile, back at his New Jersey home, Anderson cracked a bottle of champagne as the game ended. Not because his record was preserved; that would be incredibly tacky. Who would do that? No, he popped a bottle of champagne because it pairs well with the panko-crusted halibut he whipped up for his wife as a special Sunday treat.
In case you were busy throwing your old iPad in the garbage like the trash that it is, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The University of Miami avoided major additional sanctions related to the Nevin Shapiro scandal, as the NCAA only revoked a small number of scholarships, deeming the school's self-imposed two-year bowl ban to be sufficient punishment. "Are you serious?" said former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel when asked for comment. "Nothing? Weren't they having crazy sex parties? My boys just got a handful of free tattoos and we faced worse. Well, I want to be very careful with what I say here. Because I know NCAA procedure is complicated, and we were not in the right when I was let go. But fuuuuuuuuuuuudge that." Only Tressel didn't say "fudge." He said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word. Later, when asked by NCAA president Mark Emmert where he learned that word, Tressel refused to admit that it was from former NCAA president Myles Brand, instead blaming former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who is now himself under investigation by the NCAA.
A look back at the weekend's Premier League action.
Goal of the Year
Chris Ryan: This was a hymn to football. I tried to do that little hop step that Jack Wilshere does in the very beginning of this goal in my living room and I broke a vase. It's OK, I have hundreds of vases. Anyway, on Saturday, when this happened, our own Mike Goodman said this:
Ryan O'Hanlon: Brad Guzan has more assists than any American in the English Premier League. Brad Guzan has more assists than Gareth Bale. Brad Guzan is the American Messi.
That Manchester City was undone this past weekend by a long punt from a prematurely bald goalkeeper seems weirdly fitting. It was a fluke! Or, at least, it wasn’t a real play: The ball bypassed City’s entire team, everything they spent all that money on. The other two goals were similarly not real, too. Villa’s first equalizer came from a blown offside call, and the second came from a once-in-a-lifetime brick of a free kick off the foot of a guy who’d never scored a goal outside the Netherlands. How do you lose a game in which you could’ve scored five goals in the first half? Just like that.
A look at this past weekend's Premier League action.
The Tortoise and the Hare
Mike L. Goodman: Ahh, the Manchester derby, where championships are won and lost, seasons decided, the fates of coaches and managers alike resting on the razor’s edge. Or not. A 38-game season is deceptively long, and how a team fares against the majority of the league is much more important than how it does against its chief rival. Last year, for example, both Manchester City and Chelsea took more points off of teams in the top five (Arsenal, Chelsea, City, United, Spurs) than United did, and United walked away with the league. Spurs performed much better against elite teams than Arsenal, but Arsenal nipped them at the wire for the fourth spot. There are, in fact, 78 points available against the bottom 13 teams in the league (with Liverpool and Everton currently not quite Champions League contenders but still better than hoi polloi below them on the table). That number of points, coincidentally, would have gotten a team second place last season. United took 69 of those points last year. That’s why they won the title so easily.
In case you were busy wishing you could just be a linebacker, and not the go-to name when someone gets tricked on the Internet, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Chris Davis's 12th-inning single gave the Orioles a 5-3 win over Boston, leaving the Red Sox's magic number for clinching the AL East at three. "Yeah it is. Oh, three, is a magic number," Red Sox manager John Farrell sang after the game before leading his team in a Schoolhouse Rock sing-along that both raised team morale and clarified for second baseman Dustin Pedroia exactly how a bill becomes a law.
Desmond Jennings's walk-off single was the final blow in the Tampa Bay Rays' back-and-forth extra-inning 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers. "Even if we have a lot of kids and other team's rejects, we have a great team spirit that I think is going to bring us into the postseason," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was dressed as Oscar the Grouch in a strange bit of morale-draining one-upmanship. "Because we here in Tampa love trash. We love it because it's trash."
Chris Ryan: If I were playing with Mesut Ozil, I'd be worried. The new Arsenal midfielder, who joined the Gunners from Real Madrid for a club-record £44 million transfer fee, made his debut on Saturday against Sunderland, despite being a little under the weather. Ozil played like Ozil, which is to say you wouldn't notice him out there for about six or seven minutes and then ...
Soccer is a world of haves and have-nots. The richest teams in the world, by and large, are also the most successful. For the Real Madrids, Manchester Citys, and Chelseas, the summer transfer window has become a time for almost ritualistic restocking of talent, whether the team needs it or not. For the rest of the world, talented players are living on borrowed time. There are only so many years before the big boys with deep pockets come calling.
Champions League football is perhaps the clearest demarcation between haves and have-nots in the world of European soccer. The most idealistic among us might say it’s because players want the opportunity to test themselves in the best club competition in the world. From a slightly more cynical perspective, it’s worth noting that Champions League football comes with a significant financial reward for the clubs that qualify, generally allowing them to pay higher salaries. Either way, life for a team with a superstar and without Champions League football (and sometimes, as Arsenal fans well know, even with it) frequently takes on the feel of Damocles at the dinner table. It’s only a matter of time.
You know the cheap thrills that come with looking at box office returns on a Monday to see if a movie was a blockbuster or a flop? You don't feel particularly proud of it, of course — after all, what does art have to do with money … wait, why are you laughing? — but you do it just the same. Now imagine those box office reports reflected movies that had been shot, edited, and marketed the day before they were to hit theaters. That would be funny. And that's European football's transfer deadline days. Incredibly rich football clubs making enormous decisions at the very last minute, buying and selling football players.
The reason so many people write so beautifully about soccer is that sometimes it’s only in the writing that a game as dull as yesterday’s Manchester United–Chelsea match, which ended in a 0-0 draw, can live up to its potential. The sad fact of the matter is that the 90 minutes that United and Chelsea spent on the field were the least interesting part of the histrionics surrounding the game.
Even from a tactical standpoint, the biggest surprises happened before kickoff. David Moyes’s inclusion of Wayne Rooney in the starting lineup added further drama to the will-he-or-won’t-he saga that has surrounded both clubs. On the other side of the ball Jose Mourinho opted for Andre Schurrle as a striker, the third one Mourinho has selected in three games (none of whom, somehow, has been Romelu Lukaku), and decreed Juan Mata fit enough only for the substitutes' bench after his midweek start. All of which created plenty of intrigue, which then went to waste as both settled into an extremely conservative tactical stalemate.
In case you were busy trying to stay awake during an all-day meeting on autograph compensation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The St Louis Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds, 8-6, to regain the lead in the hyper-competitive NL Central. Allen Craig continues to be the clutchest player in baseball hold on guys it appears that my spell-checker does not believe that "clutchest" is a real word. I have two squiggly red underlines staring me in the face right now. Let me look up "clutchest" in the dictionary, and BOOM! Cardinal red. Take that, Clippy.