Getting two disappointments out of the way first, NBC LiveExtra didn’t offer the replay of Swans-Southampton. And the Swans were knocked down a few rungs with their 0-1 loss. What’s in the sails of that team from the south coast of England that was thought to be dead in the water from raids on its best players? I could root for that underdog.
So after taking my wife out to dinner after Mass last night I watched some of the replays last night that were offered. The second half of Stoke-QPR was a largely unimpressive half of football, but it did have a thrilling finish. (I watched the first half before going to the parish yesterday.) Aston Villa was holding its own against Arsenal for a good spell. Then I blinked and they were 0-3 down. And the last half of the match was on cruise control, both sides. Yawn. From minute 55, I forwarded ahead five, then another five, and then ten, and it all looked the same.
The Leicester City match against Man U was amazing. After Mass this morning, I caught it on replay. The more storied squad seemed to toy with the newly-promoted side: three brilliant goals from its fine players. I actually fell asleep for a spell before United went up 3-1 and I had to dial back to watch the goal I missed.
But then something very unusual happened. I don’t think United had another serious try at goal in the last third of the game. And the Foxes just dismantled the imploding red shirts. Two LC players, James Vardy and David Nugent, kept up a stirring work rate. Man U just got outplayed when the game was on the line. It might have been worse than 5-3, if not for a knucklehead moment or two in the United penalty area. For a guy who cheers the underdogs, it was a pleasing result.
Leicester clearly seems the best of the promoted sides with this result, plus home draws against Everton and Arsenal. And in the whole league, only one team has conceded fewer goals than Burnley. And except for giving up three in fifteen minutes against Chelsea, they’ve conceded only one in 400-plus minutes since. But that side seems punchless. Given what I’ve seen so far, I think QPR is going down.
For the young miss’s favorite sides, Man U look like they can score a hundred goals this season. But they might concede eighty. And I hope Everton’s keeper Tim Howard, my daughter’s favorite male player, is just having a personal slump. Everton has to be better than Man U, but they aren’t showing it. They are on pace to let in 99 goals.
I have no idea how to rate the top of the league. All of the teams I would expect to see in next year’s UEFA Champions seem to have lapses that must drive their followers crazy. But my guess for the top finishes would be: Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool in that order. I will go out on a limb and suggest that of last year’s five through seven, at least one will finish 8th or lower.
Despite the occasional silly match, I’m enjoying my second season of English football even more than the first. I think the only thing that could improve on the Premier League would be if the season were as unpredictable as the knockout tournament of NCAA men’s basketball, and the teams on balanced terms. Imagine twenty excellent football teams who would need to be at the top of their game every week for three-quarters of a year. But that’s what the FA Cup is for, I guess.