They aren’t interchangeable, but it’s important to set boundaries early; in the UK, the round ball is always football, the game across the pond is American Football. In America the round ball is soccer, and the other one football. There is no such thing as soccer in the UK, got it? No? We tried…
Big weeks for all (three?!) sports this weekend/coming week; the Premier League football returned from the international break, the MLS will continue the play-offs after a mid-playoff break for international football post-world cup knock out and the NFL postseason picture continues to build including an international game in Mexico. With it all happening, we thought worthwhile offering some brief thoughts on each.
English Premier League
After a 13-day break from Premier League action, where English fans witnessed a grand total of Zero goals in two drab friendlies (v Germany and Brazil at Wembley), it was good to see some goals this weekend and some world-class performances. 7 of the Englishmen that pulled out of Gareth Southgate’s international squad during the break returned for the club, three of them for Tottenham Hotspur in their North-London derby against Arsenal (Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks). Two well taken goals were enough to sink Spurs in the Saturday lunchtime kick off with want-away-striker Alexis Sanchez getting on the scoresheet just before half-time. The result sees Arsenal close the gap to just one point from Spurs, as The Gunners stay 6th on 22 points with Spurs in 4th.
The meat in the North-London sandwich is Liverpool; level on points with Arsenal but a better goal-difference by one (+7) thanks to a 3-0 rout of Southampton. Mohamed Salah continued his terrific start to his Reds career bagging a brace whilst Phillippe Coutinho reminded the La Liga giants Barcelona why they pursued him so much in the Summer, scoring in the second half.
Both Manchester clubs won comfortably to stay 1st and 2nd respectively in the table; Manchester City moved to 34 points winning 2-0 away at Leicester City (wonder boy Gabriel Jesus and superstar Kevin de Bruyne scoring). Manchester United (26 points) came from behind to beat Newcastle United 4-1 thanks to some string-pulling from returning Paul Pogba (Chris Smalling, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku also scoring).
At the other end of the table, Crystal Palace (20th, 5 points) were the only side in the relegation zone to pick up a point (2-2 draw at home to struggling Everton); Swansea City (19th, 8 points) lost 2-0 away to Burnley and West Ham (18th, 9 points) lost by the same score away to Watford.
With the result round-up out the way, there’s a couple interesting talking points I want to comment on – one at the top of the league and one down the bottom.
The relegation manager merry-go-round is in full-swing. Saturday’s 4-0 home defeat to Chelsea was the final straw for West Brom as they sacked Tony Pullis after the game with the club left languishing in 17th, just one point above the relegation zone. The sacking of Pullis only adds to the managerial soap opera the Premier League has going on – Everton are still without a manager after sacking Ronald Koeman nearly a month ago, and West Ham got off to the worst possible start under new boss David Moyes after ousting Slaven Bilic before the international break. What is it about Premier League clubs and their managers?
It appears once you get a gig in the Prem, you’ve got a job for life – though almost certainly not at the same team. The Everton manager search has been exhausting; disgraced former-England boss Sam Allardyce has made a name for himself keeping teams up in the division, and he ruled himself out. When the talk was that Everton needed a ‘big name’, people thought recently sacked Bayern Munich boss Carlo Ancelotti could find himself back in a job quickly. Sean Dyche is working wonders in Lancashire at Burnley, and though he hasn’t said yes or no about a move to a ‘bigger’ club, he’s still in Lancashire picking up results having seemingly had no conversation with The Toffees. The hotly-tipped candidate is Watford boss Marco Silva, the man relegated with Hull City last year, has apparently had any move north blocked by The Hornets board. The recurring theme with all these candidates is they have all managed in the Premier League before, and bar Ancelotti, they’ve all spent most of their recent times in the Prem in the bottom half fighting relegation – is it not worth exploring a different avenue? Surely West Ham, an ‘ambitious London club’ could have looked for a better replacement than Moyes – the man who embarrassed himself at Sunderland, couldn’t do much better in Spain with Real Sociedad and couldn’t live up to expectation at Man U despite having the kitty of a small country to spend on players.
Now it’s hard to find a manager that hasn’t spent some of his career in the bottom half of the Premier League or lower at some point, and bar the big 6 or so teams they’ll likely be there again soon – but surely that doesn’t mean that teams need to keep employing the same few managers, swapping them between them? Now of course this isn’t quite the case, but it’s always the same names linked with every new job that becomes available. Don’t be surprised to see Big Sam at a short price for the Albion job.
The man whose job has maybe just got a short-extension is Paul Clement at Swansea – with Chris Coleman leaving Wales for Sunderland, the Welsh club may feel as if they’ve just missed out on an ideal candidate and not pull the trigger just yet. Another man working with a gun to his head already is Roy Hodgson, his Palace team are struggling still so it’s not long until the board stick or twist on him to see if they can get out the hole. If either side do pull the trigger, surely there’s an argument for someone with new ideas to come into the Premier League – maybe Chris Wilder at high-flying Sheffield United or Nuno Santo and Championship-leading Wolves. It’s meant to be the best league in the world, let’s not let it go stale with has-been-before managers.
My second EPL talking point is at the other end of the league, and if anyone can actually stop Pep Guardiola’s men in blue – the short answer is no, but that doesn’t do them justice.
It’s a no I think. They’re so threatening going forward, and having solidified their defence (scored 40, conceded 7 in 12 games), they’re taking Liverpool’s philosophy of ‘we’ll score more than you’ to a whole different level, and then some. Only their cross-city rivals can be any threat, and even then I only see them threatening post-Christmas once City progress further than them in the Champions League and have to juggle their squad more. With Pogba back and looking a threat, United have more about them going forward, but they still look like good teams – top 6 – will find ways to score early against them, and I don’t see them finding it as easy to come back against that standard of opposition as they did against Newcastle.
Give City the title, paint Manchester blue once again and let’s get on with seeing if any of the English sides can compete deep into the Champions League this year.
With the first legs of the Conference cup semi-finals taking place this week, Columbus host Toronto FC – without their two star-strikers – on Tuesday and Seattle Sounders travel to Houston Dynamo later in the evening, will we see a repeat of last year’s final or will Houston complete a great sporting year for the city in a year that the city has shown strength in the face of adversity?
We’ll look to cover the progress of the play-offs on our TWITTER page through the week, as well as our blog soon.
The toughest thing about being an American sports fan living in England is time difference, especially on a Sunday with work the next day (maybe one day I’ll work a job where I get Monday’s off, or am paid to stay up to watch the Sunday Night Football). Because of this, a lot of what I see of NFL is highlight reels catching up on stories the following day, or the couple of live games that I can stay awake for to watch on SKY SPORTS. Each week I’m going to offer a brief East Atlantic Look on three games.
I caught two games on before hitting the hay this week; LA Rams @ Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots @ Oakland Raiders (played in front of 76,000 in Mexico City). My third game of choice this week is Kansas City Chiefs @ New York Giants.
The Rams will enter Thanksgiving week 7-3 having collapsed in the final quarter, shipping 17 points to the Vikings who improve to 8-2 (game finished 24-7). The young Rams squad looked fragile in the final quarter, as good as the Vikings looked, and with a tough final three fixtures against the Saints, Seahawks and Eagles, the road to the NFC West just got a little bumpier. Still fancied to make the play-offs, it is hoped that the Rams learn from the weekend and sticking out a game more than it hurts them. The Rams are the league-leading offense so I think they’ll be okay – for me they need to win 1 of the last 3 (2 to be certain) and if that 1 win is against the Seahawks I think they’ll be division champions.
The second game Sky showed was the Mexico City hit-out. Unfortunately, the coverage missed the controversial anthems where Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch took a knee for the American anthem – all we saw was a Tom Brady masterclass and the Pats race to a 30-0 after three-quarters before finishing 33-8. Without knowing the whole politics behind it, I’ll decline the opportunity to comment on the knee-taking at this moment and instead focus on the football played. I alluded to what moving fixtures abroad means for American sports in Post #2, and no doubts nearly 80,000 people in the Mexican capital were pleased they did. It was almost an exhibition match, maybe the Patriots (over their early slump to record their 6th win in a row, improving to 8-2) were just that good, or maybe the Raiders (now 4-6) were that poor – but Brady completing 30 passes for over 330 yards and setting up a 62-yard field goal for Stephen Gostkowski was globetrotter-esq all the same. No doubt the ball travelled further at altitude, for both arm and foot, but the game was played at a good pace for the Pats who managed conditions too well – testament to their altitude training at the US Air Force base before travelling to Mexico. With the Pats all but qualified from the AFC East, thanks to the Buffalo Bills losing their third in a row, keeping the greatest arm in the game fit is key – especially with the packed schedule coming up. The raiders won’t reach the play-offs; they’re too far back from Kansas for me.
Linked to the final game I want to look over; though still comfortable atop the AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs lost their second in a row, and fourth in five (6-4), on the road at struggling New York Giants (now 2-8). An overtime mistake meant a 12-9 loss. The Chiefs will still reach the play-offs, but they need to sort the glaring issues soon. They can’t make excuses for their Sunday performance; just last weekend the Giants lost to the lowly 49ers by two scores and with Eli Manning doing not much more than pro-longing his career with a bad defensive and offensive line in front of him, the Giants are a bad team. The worst thing about the loss for the Chiefs is that they were coming off a bye week – they were meant to be well-rested and well-drilled; they certainly didn’t look the later. It’s a worry that the Chiefs could only match the 9 points of the Giants in regular-time considering how poor the NY defence is/has been this year. The Chiefs started the year well, and they’re cashing that in against the rest of the division whom started horribly. The losses have been excused – the ‘expected’ defeat to Pittsburgh Steelers, a Thursday night loss on the road to Raiders or the loss to Dallas Cowboys who had Ezekiel Elliott play before accepting his ban (he’ll come back on Christmas Eve) but a loss at the Giants can’t be – The Chiefs head into a now near must-win next week with the Bills.
How much humble pie will the Buffalo Bills be eating this week after benching QB Tyrod Taylor for debutant starter Nathan Peterman? 14 first-half passes, 6 completed and 5 picked off meant that Taylor was back in the game for the second half. Who gets the start next week?
Who can stop the Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) in the Superbowl run in? The comprehending win over Dallas Cowboys on Sunday could be the point where focus switches from focussing on a division title (NFC East), to a championship. With QB Carson Wentz pulling strings, plays like the one to start the third quarter, an eight-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead, sum up the offense this team can put together, albeit against a weakened Cowboys side.
Hold tight, James Dawne.