Friday, December 14, 2007

"Grand Slam Sunday"?--Yeah, right!

The nonstop hype machine that is the media has been relentlessly shoving this Sunday's games between Arsenal-Chelsea and Liverpool-Manchester United down our throats for a week now, if not longer, and although I understand that they're just doing their job and catchy labels like "Grand Slam Sunday" are what sell newspapers and magazines and whatever else, I'm sick of it.

Here's the actual reality: Whenever "Big Four" teams play against each other, there's all kinds of pomp and buildup but the games themselves usually fail to deliver. They are often incredibly dull, and more times than not end up in draws, or maybe one team pushes across a scrappy, ugly goal to get the victory. Players and managers are afraid to get beaten and allow one of their fellow title challengers to take all three points, so they don't take many risks. Instead of playing to win, they play it close to the vest and the matches are not aesthetically pleasing, to say the least.

It's usually the games you wouldn't have expected that turn out to be the most exciting, games that feature relatively mid-to-low table sides. The potential for gain and reward far outweighs what they could lose so you usually see a more aggressive, attacking, up-and-down game. Last year just six points separated 11th place Aston Villa from 7th place Bolton, and only two points divided 7th and 9th place Portsmouth. There's nothing wrong with 9th or 11th, but 7th means the UEFA Cup and there's an added financial bonus there as well as the prospect of European competition. Teams will often scratch and claw for that and when four or five teams are in the running for one or two spots like they were last year, that's when you see exciting games because those teams need results; they can't afford to share the points.

Listen, I'll be watching these games this Sunday just like I know the rest of you probably will. I also know that I'm not likely to see a beautiful display of soccer; the term "Joga Bonito" doesn't apply to games like these. I believe both the Arsenal-Chelsea game and Liverpool-United match will end up 1-1. Honestly, I can't even watch Chelsea when they're playing weaker opponents like Derby or Sunderland, so I really am not expecting too much from the Blues-Gunners affair. Liverpool are coming off a big win over Marseille on Tuesday, they have momentum and confidence on their side, and they're at home. Manchester United are the better team overall though and when you add all those factors together, you get a draw.

There are some gems in the rough that I'm looking forward to on Saturday. Believe it or not, I think the Derby-Middlesbrough game is huge and both teams could desperately use the three points because they're each a candidate for relegation, Derby obviously more so. A draw won't do either of them much good and their talent level is relatively equal, so look for that game to be pretty free-flowing. You would have to believe the Portsmouth-Tottenham game will be a goalfest, maybe 3-2 or 4-3. West Ham is starting to get healthy again and they host Everton for the second time this week (Everton won 2-1 at Upton Park in their Carling Cup quarterfinal tie); I think that will be an exciting game as well.

Tune into those two games on Sunday, sure, but if you want to see 90 minutes' worth of action and fast pace, check out those Saturday games I mentioned as well. Don't believe the "Grand Slam Sunday" hype. "Stupor Sunday" will probably be a more fitting description.

No comments: