Everything Else

We’ve already covered the Premier League, but on your weekend mornings you may also run across random Italian soccer games. Serie A is on ESPN but mostly the network’s app, so I guess you Luddites out there may not see it. But if you do, here’s a crash course on what you’re watching. We’ll move north-to-south down the peninsula (no, that’s not a euphemism):

Juventus: The league’s best and most likely to win the season. Juve is the best team in Serie A and will probably win it. Again. They’ve won the championship (called the “Scudetto”) eight times in a row. They’re like the Patriots and Yankees rolled into one and yes you should hate them passionately.

But unfortunately they’re legitimately good. Convicted-tax-cheat-and-accused-rapist Ronaldo wins games at will when they need to be bailed out, but they also have scoring depth in Mario Mandzukic and Paolo Dybala, the latter of whom is still young and talented despite having had a tough previous season. Their backfield was aging and slow, so they took care of that by adding Matthijs de Ligt, one of the best defenders in the world. New coach Maurizio Sarri, who won the Europa League with Chelsea last year will likely play a 4-4-3, and the Scudetto is theirs to lose.

Torino: The Mets to Juve’s Yankees, or the White Sox to Juve’s Cubs, if you wanna be a dick about it. Torino is a mid-table team with one decent striker. And his nickname in Italian is “The Cock.” Not even making that up.

Internazionale: One of the best teams but continually falling short of expectations. Known as “Inter,” they’re making a credible run at Juve’s dominance. They have a new coach, Antonio Conte, who is one of the most successful Italian coaches of recent years, and they landed Romelu Lukaku, who should more than make up for their drama-filled albatross Mauro Icardi, who they’re still trying to unload. They’ll be competitive like they always are…and lose to Juve like they always do.

AC Milan: Been underperforming and will likely be better. Milan should be good this year—they seemed to have found their striker in Krzysztof Piatek, they added a bunch of midfielders to make up for the injury-depleted group last year, and they’re sitting out of Europa League (financial shenanigans), which means they’ll be rested and focused on getting back into a Champion’s League spot.

Atalanta: Last year’s Cinderella story, doomed to not repeat it. Atalanta squeaked into the fourth Champion’s League spot and yes you should root for them because come on, you’re not that dead inside. But truth be told, they have no depth and are likely to be mid-table this year.

Brescia: Recently promoted but surprisingly interesting. So Brescia just got promoted, which generally means they’re going to suck, but they just signed native son Mario Balotelli, one of the most infamous Italian players who’s legit a top-flight guy, although also a nutjob and on the downswing. This club also has the league’s version of Crash Davis, the leading scorer in the B league, Alfredo Donnarumma, who will be paired with Balotelli as the scoring attack. So it might be interesting at times, but with no defense they’ll still be kind of a trainwreck.

Hellas Verona: Don’t even worry about it. They were relegated, now are back, and will certainly be relegated again.

Udinese: Again, don’t worry about it.

Genoa: Attempting to suck less. This team brought in a bunch of new players after barely avoiding relegation. Lasse Schone helps their midfield, their backfield is also strong on paper, and they may have some competition amongst their strikers between Christian Kouamé, Andrea Pinamonti and some other dudes you’ve never heard of. Could be a sleeper pick?

Sampdoria: Perennial shit show. This team’s best player is nearly my age. And their new coach got his ass fired from Roma midway through the season last year for general awfulness. Expect to be underwhelmed.

Parma: Will be fortunate to not get relegated.

Sassuolo: Lots of turnover in the lineup, will probably steal a few untimely wins. Sassuolo is by no means a good team, but with the lineup going through the blender, they’ll probably make life difficult for a couple teams at inopportune times.

Bologna: High drama, will be a mid-table finish. This club was rescued mid-season by Sinisa Mihijlovic, who somehow lit a fire under their asses to get from the relegation zone to a solid 10th place. He was recently diagnosed with leukemia and intends to keep coaching, but obviously a terrible development.

SPAL: Dull and will stay that way.

Fiorentina: In rebuilding mode. Fiorentina was awful last year but they have new management and a whole fresh lease on life. We’ll see.

Lazio: Hanging around the top of the league, but they’re fascists. Seriously, Lazio is the team for fascists in Italy. Even IN ITALY people are like oh yeah, they’re fascists. So you can’t root for them. Their fans do all sorts of anti-Semitic shit all the time—fuck this team.

Roma: Full on re-building. Roma was a reliable Champion’s League team and it sucks, but they’re going through a necessary rebuild. They have good young players in Nicolo Zaniolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Cengiz Under and a few more, although they lost their best defender to Napoli. Paolo Fonseca is untested in Serie A but had success with Shakhtar Donetsk, and his 4-2-3-1 may actually work quite well with their personnel if Edin Dzeko is in the striker position. It may be a long road back to the top but this could actually be a decent rebuild.

Napoli: Should FINALLY FUCKING BEAT JUVE WHY CAN THEY NOT DAMN IT ALL. Guess which one is my team? In all honesty, they underperformed last year and were still second in the league. Anything less than beating Juve for the Scudetto will be a disappointment, and it’d be nice if they could get past the fucking group stage of Champion’s League. Napoli strengthened their backfield with Roma’s Kostas Manolas who joins Kalidou Koulibaly, legit one of the best defenders in the world. They also hit the cheap-young-talented trifecta with midfielder Elif Elmas. And as of this writing, they were on the verge of signing Hirving Lozana from PSV, who will absolutely help their lack of scoring, since Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, love them as I do, are getting older and not faster. So it’s been a solid transfer season. Their coach, Carlo Ancelotti, won’t hesitate to move from a 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and can be trusted to make relatively decent decisions, except for playing Mario Rui, who should be fired into the sun and maybe can be now that we have Manolas.

Cagliari: Could be decent, and at least they’re woke. Their midfield should get some help with Radja Nainggolan from Inter, who now has something to prove since he was kinda dumped unceremoniously. They’ve got other randos who are alright but nothing special. However, last year when local farmers were protesting shitty prices, some of the players took part in the protests so at least they’re standing against corporate exploitation.

Lecce: Prediction—we hardly knew ye. Again, don’t’ worry about it.

Everything Else

Been meaning to get to this for a week, so not even sure if it’s relevant now. But hey, that’s never stopped me before! Hey, here’s another Zeppelin reference!

Last week, there was a ton of debate about replay in various sports, and whether it’s already gotten out of control or become something we can do without. There was the disallowed goal in the Man City-Tottenham semifinal that swung the result from one side to the other (one which I certainly didn’t find gratifying and hilarious at all!). There have been various reviews in the NHL Playoffs that have sent fans into orbit, be it goalie interference or an offside call or high-sticks and whatever else. While hardly the same stakes, last night’s Cubs game was an excellent argument for robot umps for the strike zone. We can agree that these kinds of debates aren’t new, just how hot the discussion is that week and how many incidents are bunched together.

By now, you know the argument from the anti-replay crowd. It takes too long, interrupts the rhythm, and they prefer the “human element.” But all of these are terribly flawed arguments, and let’s start with the last one first. What you’re saying with “human element,” is that you like mistakes. That’s it. You’re probably trying to show compassion for the arbiters of the game, and fair enough, but that’s what you’re saying. No person can get every call right, so we just have to understand that the people in charge are doing the best they can.

That’s fine and dandy when there isn’t a better way. But there is. When these rules were drawn up long ago for whatever sport or game is your favorite, they weren’t written as, “as close as you can get it.” Or “this is how this rule works, at least as often as it’s called that way but hey sometimes you’re going to miss one and that’s cool.” The rules were written with hard lines (except for maybe basketball?), and the only reason humans were charged with enforcing those rules and hard lines is that there wasn’t another option in 1884 or 1921 or even 1956. This was the best we can do.

You’ll get some who will tell you that Raheem Sterling’s chalked-off goal due to Sergio Aguero being fractionally offside isn’t “the spirit of the rule.” (They’re named Adam Hess). Or you’ll hear that in a bevy of other situations. Yeah? How do you know? How do you know the inventors of the game didn’t want everything black or white? If you could go back in time and offer them the technology that would enforce their rules pretty much perfectly, what do you think they would say? The rules are almost always cut and dried, and should be enforced as such.

It’s the last part, and the other parts of the argument against, where it gets murkier. Because at the moment, most sports are trying to blend technology and the human eye where technology can’t get to yet. But what we’re living through is the trial-and-error stage, the evolution of it. It was never going to be a turn-key, overnight success. These things have a process, and sometimes the process isn’t fun or it goes off the wrong way and we try something else.

Each sport has its own unique issues that make this harder. The main one to me is that the NFL introduced this borked challenge system, but because everyone wants to be the NFL, hockey soon followed suit and so did baseball. And that’s ridiculous. The NFL has been trying to get away from this slowly for a while, making every scoring play and turnover reviewable. Which has led to the imperfect solution of refs on the field calling pretty much everything a turnover or touchdown knowing they have the safety net of a review afterwards. You see this in hockey where I’m sure linesmen take razor thin decisions to the side of not calling it hoping a challenge will bail them out. Soccer linesmen have been instructed to do this in line with VAR.

Obviously, this leads to the problem of watching something and wondering, “Does this count?” The impulsiveness and suddenness of the emotions of sports gets clouded. And that is something to notice and be concerned about. But is it such a problem? Is this not something we could become accustomed to in time? And as the tech gets better and quicker, might this be something that’s solved at the time? Certainly offsides calls can be.

There are those who will tell you, in the case of the City-Spurs match, that we’ve lost the elation of the ball hitting the back of the net. Maybe, but try telling Spurs supporters they should go without the jubilation of having that goal against rightly chalked off. They’re not the same, but they’re not so different either.

Where technology and replay are struggling to forge acceptable levels is where the rules are not all that well defined. The NFL is going to try and it’s going to make this worse, because first it couldn’t decide what was a catch and now it’s going to try and define what’s pass interference and that’s a mess. And then maybe they’ll back off of it, and try something else that will work.

The length of time to get to these decisions is something we’ll all agree on. Until the tech is better, and we may never live to see it, no review should take more than 30 seconds. It’s either obvious or it’s not, and if it’s the latter let’s stick with the call and move on. We could speed that up by having a dedicated official in a replay booth, like soccer is doing with VAR, who simply radioes to the relevant head official on the field or ice. I don’t mind soccer having the main ref come take a look for himself, because it would dull his authority a bit if he’s getting overruled by a voice in the sky we can’t see. And for the most part, this process has been pretty quick.

There will always be calls that are just too hard to get instantly. A fumble in football. Until they define goalie interference clearly, we won’t have that either. Penalties in soccer. But we’re getting closer. It’s just unfortunate timing for us that we’re here for the kinks stage, the developmental one. In the long run though, it will almost certainly be better for everyone. As long as we accept going backwards would be worse.

Everything Else

Let’s keep it moving:

Leceister: The thing about Leceister is they could suffer three straight relegations and their fans are just never going to care. When you’ve pulled off the biggest miracle championship in sports history, you wouldn’t dare ask for more. Luckily, it won’t be that bad. They’ve hung on to Harry Maguire, but lost Riyad Mahrez so he can sit on the bench at City. There isn’t a lot of dash here, but Vardy always scored despite being an asshat. The players could chuck it on Cladue Puel, and then things could get dicey, but they seem destined for mid-table in a unmemorable way. Which is fine with everyone.

Liverpool: The bestest team ever.

Man City: When you roll over the most competitive league, all you can really do is add depth. So that’s what Mahrez is here to do. They have two guys for every position who would basically start most everywhere else. The only hope for anyone (i.e. Liverpool) is that their insatiable thirst for the Champions League causes them to lose sight of the league. It would take that and an injury crisis you’d have to think. Or everyone losing form at the same time. There’s a reason they won this by 17 points last season.

Man United: Now here’s some pointing and laughing. Jose Mourinho’s main trick, other than boring the life and soul out of everyone, is creating a siege mentality for his team. It’s them against the world, and it usually works…when you give him the most expensive squad in the world. Well, he’s got the latter, but he’s only succeeded in creating a seize mentality for himself. He hasn’t stopped bitching since last season ended, either about the board or his players. Paul Pogba has already had it with his bullshit, and that’s a fight Jose won’t win. He’s not the only player who’s probably aching for Mourinho to go. There’s certainly more than enough talent here to run with City and Liverpool, but not if they’re all miserable. If Jose gets sacked before Christmas, maybe someone can save it. Otherwise, they’re looking at third at best. And only because Spurs are too busy paying for a new stadium.

Newcastle: We say it every year. Newcastle should be Spurs or Arsenal. They have the most rabid support in the country. They have the stadium, and could probably sell out a 75,000 seat one if they wanted to. But you won’t find a bigger dickhead owner than Mike Ashley, who will tell you how much money he doesn’t have while stuffing his pockets. Rafa Benitez has bravely stuck on here for reasons only known to himself, even though Ashely won’t let him spend much more than for a pint after lunch. This squad needed a lot of help, Muto is a striker they needed, and Ki and Fernandes from Swansea help. But this could be so much more. Rafa will get the most he can out of them, it just won’t be what it should.

Southampton: Going down because Mark Hughes is a moron. Another coach who would fit in perfectly in the NHL.

Spurs:  Kind of amazing they’re the first team in PL history to not sign one player in the summer. It’s a really good squad, but it isn’t big enough to carry challenges at home and abroad. Their main rivals have improved or were better to begin with. How are they going to bridge the gap? Pochettino is good, but he’s not that good.

Watford: It’s Watford. They’ll start the first two months on fire, beat a couple of the big boys, play some attractive stuff, and then they’ll just fade out of vision right after Christmas, finishing like 14th in peace. And they’ll probably fire the manager, because it’s simply a reflex for them.

West Ham: Whereas Newcastle’s owner is actually an evil little shit, West Ham’s are just more on the incompetent side. But they may have gotten this summer right. Manuel Pelligrini got a lot of shit at City for not being Pep, just like he did at Madrid, but he’s a very good manager. There have been some keen signings to follow him to East London, and there’s actually hope even though all the fans hate the stadium. They’ll be an interesting watch for the right reasons instead of the b-circus they’ve been.

Wolves: They were almost as entertaining in the Championship as Fulham, and unlike Cardiff will at least entertain no matter what they do. They’ve brought in two Portugal internationals, and Ruben Neves is a fun toy. Keep an eye on.

 

Everything Else

You may be sitting there thinking, “Wait, how can it be time for more soccer? Didn’t the World Cup end like seven minutes ago?” And you’d be right! But the world of footy never stops (especially if you’re one of those weirdos who watches MLS), and this weekend sees the new Premier League season kick off! And anyone you know who watches soccer watches the EPL, so it’s the only one worth previewing (because only Madrid or Barcelona will win in Spain, Juventus in Italy, Munich in Germany, so it’s the only league with at least some drama. Or not, as you’ll see). Let’s rip through it!

Arsenal: So the first two years I’ve done this, I’ve written the same thing about the Gunners because it’s what always happened. Either everyone would get hurt in August, they’d slog around for the half the season, close furiously to finish nowhere good and then everyone would be excited about the next season. Or they’d start out hot, everyone would get hurt in February, and they’d fall apart like a frozen terminator. Well now they’ve let Arsene Wenger toddle off to wherever people like him go (I assume the most boring town in France), hired Unai Emery who’s famous for guiding PSG to some of the biggest full-body dry heaves in the Champions League in history with the world’s most expensive roster. But hey, he won a couple of NITs with Sevilla so you never know? Arsenal have a tantalizing front line with Lacazette and Aubameyang, and Mesut Ozil is probably going to have a big “FUCK ALL Y’ALL” season after whatever that World Cup was for Germany and for him. But they still don’t have much of a midfield behind him, or defense. It seems like 5th is their limit. Oh, and they’ve just been taken over by shithead-with-a-mustache (redundant) Stan Kroenke, so their future might look a lot like a port-a-john on Day 3 of a festival.

Bournemouth: This is at least the third straight year we’re all wondering how Eddie Howe is still managing at this club. Everton should have thrown everything at him, and maybe he’ll take the poisoned chalice that is Newcastle when Rafa Benitez resists murdering owner Mike Ashley and just leaves. Bournemouth will play more attractive football than any of the bottom 10 clubs have a right to, and they might finish 10th. That’s about as good as they can hope. And maybe Howe decides this is as far as he can take them.

Brighton: A miracle they survived, despite not being able to throw a grape into the ocean as far as attack went. They’ve bought an Iranian international, Allreza Jahanbakhsh, to help with that and I definitely didn’t have to check how to spell that five times. He scored 21 goals in Holland last year. You’ll recall Jozy Altidore did that once too, and he doesn’t know how his legs work. They’ll fight hard, be tough to beat, and be in a relegation battle by Thanksgiving.

Burnley: There is always a club that flies too close to the sun. That has every chance of being Burnley. They’ll add European football to this squad, which isn’t very deep. And while Sean Dyche does a great Sam Allardyce impression in that no one is quicker to point out his record despite what his squad costs versus his opponent’s, his teams play boring-ass football that only lasts for so long and will get found out on the European stage. It’ll also tire out and distract his players, so it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they find themselves in a relegation battle that Dyche probably long ago thought he’d never see again.

Cardiff: Their manager Neil Warnock would fit right in in the NHL. He’s an old, drunk blowhard who has not time for new ideas unless they flatter him. His teams are built on graft and effort and are torture to watch or follow. But he gets clubs up from the Championship, and then watches them become overmatched in the Premier League because his only tactic is “GO GET ‘EM, BOYS!” Well, that and blaming refs and foreign managers. Also their owner is one of the bigger raging assholes in the league, which is saying something, and changed their colors from blue to red even though they’re known as “The Bluebirds.” Remember that one guy from Bloodsport who tried to bribe everyone and loved Van Damme and always wore the nice suit? He grew up and became this guy.

Chelsea: You’d think a team with one of the richest people in the world as owner would figure out a way to hire a new manager a little sooner than three weeks before a new season, but you’d be wrong! Chelsea haggled with Napoli over Maurizio Sarri for so long that’s how it worked, because Napoli know how much money they have. So they’ve only been able to buy Jorginho to pair with Kante in the middle, instead of Danny Drinkwater which was high comedy for all of us out here in the fields. And a new keeper because Courtois has finally fucked off to Madrid, and this one’s even more expensive than the one Liverpool got. They’re still going to watch Alvaro Morata’s kleenex-like confidence disappear by October and there won’t be anyone around to score except for the 10 dumbass goals Olivier Giroud manages every year (they’re always in the last five minutes and they’re always off his shoulder). Eden Hazard will be checking out the real estate listings in Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris all season, and if anyone in defense gets hurt they’ll have to play David Luiz in a back four (remember how that worked out in Belo Horizonte in ’14) or the feet-less Gary Cahill. And Willian doesn’t want to be here anymore either. Seems like they’ll be drinking buddies for Arsenal.

Crystal Palace: They have one player in Wilfried Zaha, and their manager is three days older than water and not much more clued in than said water. They haven’t bought anyone, so unless Zaha goes “God mode” again, they could be in for a fight. Their best midfielder in Yohan Cabaye thought it was better to play in the UAE. That’s always a good sign.

Everton: This is where I’m supposed to point and laugh. They hired the manager, Marco Silva, they wanted to hire last year but then they had to settle for Sam Allardyce, a time for the club that will be looked upon as fondly as a roadside prostate exam. Richarlison will suck as soon as it gets cold again, and Lucas Digne is fine. But yesterday they added two from Barcelona and might have gotten Kurt Zouma on loan. Still, they don’t have a striker worth a shit anywhere and they’ll have to false-nine their way into goals. They’re destined to finish 7th or 8th from here until the end of the world.

Fulham: Probably your new favorite team. They got promoted playing probably the most exciting style in the Championship, led by left back/left winger/I’ll-go-where-the-fuck-I-please Ryan Sessegnon, who has a chance to be the next big thing. They’ve added Seri and Schurrle, which sounds like a hell of a law firm, and Mitrovic is simply the most bonkers striker out there, liable to score, get sent off, or just stand still and scream for 90 minutes equally. Whatever they do, you’ll enjoy it.

Huddersfield: Did you know David Wagner and Jurgen Klopp are buddies? If you didn’t the broadcasters will be happy to tell you eight times. They miracled their ass to safety last season, haven’t added anyone, and are going to try and grunt and fart their way to it again. Probably not going to happen.

Part 2 this afternoon…

 

Everything Else

We’re bored, it’s August, and Cieslak and I finally have meaning in our lives again with the return of the EPL. So for those of you who are like minded and spend your weekend mornings blisteringly hungover and screaming at various men in shorts that you call “muppets” when you should be in bed, this is for you! Our team-by-team breakdown:

Arsenal: Once again, Arsene Wenger brings back essentially the same team except this time he added a shiny new French striker. I could have written that sentence in 1999, or 2006, or 2010, or 2014. They’ll be really good if they can get Alexis Sanchez to stay, which they should because he can really only go to PSG or Munich. And Munich aren’t going to pony up anytime soon, and I doubt he wants to go wax Neymar’s eyebrows for the rest of his useful career. But you know the drill here. Either they’ll start out on fire, everyone will get hurt in February, and they’ll wheeze to the end. Or everyone will get hurt in September, they’ll wheeze through the middle of the season, and then close with a flourish and probably win the FA Cup again just to provide excitement for next year so we can do this all over again. Either way, they’ll be bitching about Ozil’s effort when it gets cold. At least they can’t give up 17 goals to Munich in the Champions League again.

Likely Finish: Solidly Top Four, but nowhere near title-challenging.

Everything Else

Steve Gerrard Gerrard! He’ll pass the ball 40 yards! He’s big and he’s fucking hard!  STEVE GERRARD GERRARD!

Yeah, I could have put a picture of a player from a club that has any glimmer of hope of winning the Premier League this season. Or even finishing in the top four. But I didn’t, because I can. And because Steven Gerrard is all that is man (except when he really wants to hear Phil Collins at the nightclub). So there.

And yeah, I don’t have to be writing a soccer post today. But it’s my blog and I’m gonna. Because while some revel in preseason NFL in anticipation of the big kickoff in three weeks, while others just sit around and watch the wheel in the sky keep on turnin’ until October 1st, tomorrow is a big day for a minority of us with the start of the English Premier League.

Everything Else

Before we go through all the stuff you probably don’t want to watch anyway, I feel like I should warn you that at some point today it’s likely you’re going to get bad news about the CBA negotiations. The leaks are increasing, more reports of no progress, and it’s starting to feel like this was all part of the show instead of actual work. For a second there it felt like everyone became interested in saving a season with integrity — after all, 70-75 games really would not have been much of a loss and in fact may even be better than the slog that 82 can feel like. Now it just feels like they’ll do just enough just in time just toss out something, regardless if it is a true farce of a season or not. It’s games, it’s a schedule, and that’s all they care. Whether you do or not, I leave to you.

Anyway, how to fill the time if you are either uninterested or unable to fill the time with constructive activities.