Friday, August 22, 2008

Games To Watch This Weekend

With a relatively lazy Friday as far as soccer news is concerned, I thought I'd put out a quick primer for the weekend's most interesting matchups. This is something I'll be doing sporadically throughout the year, though more so for domestic and continental cup competitions (when English teams are involved) rather than the Premierhip.

Tottenham vs. Sunderland -- Neither team got a result in their respective opening games last week, but Sunderland looked more impressive in their 1-0 loss against Liverpool than Tottenham did in their 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough. The Black Cats were even with Rafa's boys all game long until a thunderbolt from Fernando Torres won it. Spurs needed an own goal in second half stoppage time just to account for the final scoreline. Boro played them off the park in that match.

The so-called "Tottenham trio" — Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio, and Steed Malbranque — will be returning to White Hart Lane for the first time since moving to Sunderland this summer. You can bet Chimbonda and Malbranque will be motivated to play well against the team that gave up on them. The three players each spent a couple seasons at Tottenham, though Tainio probably had the most success. He’ll miss this game with a muscle strain.

Tottenham made it clear through their summer signings that they're pushing for a place in the Champions League. Performances like the one they turned in last week aren't going get to it done, obviously. Sunderland, on the other hand, wants to stabilize their position in England's top flight and then push their way up the table. This is the perfect opponent for them -- one who struggles to defend. Sunderland won't score many goals without star striker Kenwyne Jones, but if they can find a way to steal one or two tomorrow, this is a game from which they can pick up points.

Manchester City vs. West Ham -- City opens their home schedule coming off a 4-2 shellacking at the hands of Aston Villa last week. That loss isn't the main concern at the Eastlands right now, though, as news broke tonight that owner Thaksin Shinawatra, one of the most corrupt men in all of soccer, is preparing to resign from his position or, at the very least, sell some of his stake in the club. Instability is the name of the game right now in that area of Manchester.

His team doesn't have much up front, which is a huge concern for manager Mark Hughes. Daniel Sturridge played very well off the bench at Villa, but he's not ready to be a full-time starter. Valeri Bojonov is injured once again, as are Benjani and Darius Vassell. Chedwyn Evans and Sturridge are all City has for the time being, at least until record signing Jô comes back from his Olympic duty for Brazil.

West Ham picked up three points in a solid 2-1 win over Wigan at Upton Park. Dean Ashton scored both goals and would've earned himself another look-in to the England national team, but the striker came off with a cramp in his lower leg and was not selected by Fabio Capello. He should be ready to play tomorrow against a defense that was torn to shreds by Villa's firepower.

If City loses on Sunday, make sure you turn up the volume when the final whistle is blown. Nothing like the clear sound of "boos" to get you going early in the morning, I always say.

Portsmouth vs. Manchester United -- Make no mistake: this is not the same Manchester United team that won the Premiership a year ago. Cristiano Ronaldo's absence affects United as much as the loss of any one player from any team in the world. Without him, Sir Alex Ferguson's team is vulnerable and struggles to score goals, which we saw in their 1-1 draw against Newcastle last week. No disrespect to Newcastle, but United beat them 6-0 at home last year when Ronaldo played (he had a hat trick), and Newcastle hasn't improved their roster that much since then.

For their part, Portsmouth looked nothing like they did last season in their 4-0 spanking at Stamford Bridge last Sunday. Chelsea dominated the game -- Pompey had a hard time advancing past midfield for stretches of the 90 minutes.

United and Pompey have developed a very nice little rivalry over the past few seasons, one that saw Sulley Muntari and Ronaldo get sent off in a two-minute span in the corresponding fixture last year, a game that ended 1-1. United won the second league game between the two 2-0, but Pompey returned the favor by knocking the Red Devils out of the FA Cup, a competition eventually won by the South Coasters. Just two weeks ago, United triumphed over 'Arry Redknapp's side in PK's in the season-opening Community Shield.

There's nothing like a Monday night game at Fratton Park. The crowd will be buzzing for an upset, one which wouldn't be too surprising from this writer's point of view.

Should be a good weekend in the Premiership.