FOX Soccer Exclusive
Chelsea aim to get on track vs. QPR
After a week off due to international games, the Barclay’s Premier League is back in business this weekend...so set those alarm clocks, fire up the coffee pot, and make your excuses now so you can take in these top tier matches.
Chelsea's flying start was somewhat subdued by their UEFA Super Cup thrashing courtesy of Atletico Madrid. Clearly the Blues were in Monaco for other reasons that day. Expect an immediate return to 'business as usual' against a QPR team that owns the worst goal differential in the Premier League (-7).
There always seems to be some theatre between these two. Lately, it’s been the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand saga. It will be interesting to see what — if anything — happens should they end up on the field at the same time. Terry, along with Ashley Cole, missed England's last two World Cup qualifiers, and they are aiming to be match fit for Saturday. But at the end of the day, all the drama aside, Chelsea will return to what they’ve shown the first three games. They'll go to 4-0 and continue to sit on top of the league.
There are some significant injury concerns for Manchester United. Robin van Persie, who has been THE offense for the Red Devils, was taken out of the Netherlands' World Cup qualifier on Tuesday with a thigh injury. Then you have Shinji Kagawa missing Japan’s qualifying win over Iraq with a back injury. And don’t forget Wayne Rooney, still sidelined after that nasty gash he suffered against Fulham. Sir Alex Ferguson’s lineup could have some major changes.
And Wigan is no pushover — especially against the Red Devils. Go back to late last season, when Wigan took down the BPL giants 1-0 at home. Not only was that a major factor in keeping Wigan up, but in many eyes it was the blow which triggered United’s failure to win the league crown.
Not only could the Red Devils be missing their greatest offensive weapons, (understatement alert in 3..2..1) they have serious defensive issues. United has allowed opponents more shots on target against them than any team in the Premier League this season. Their defensive struggles and communication concerns have been apparent from the opening week, and they need to find a way to shore that up as they continue to solider on without Rooney. (Bonus concern: who starts in the nets for them this weekend??)
It’s bad enough for Reds supporters to see Liverpool in the relegation zone, sitting in 18th spot, with one measly point and a minus five goal differential.
But it gets worse.
Look at what the Reds have produced in 2012. Just 19 points in 21 league games this calendar year. It doesn’t matter who is in charge, who is on the field, or what jersey sponsor they have — they have been flat-out struggling. The big talk among the FOX Soccer guys is about the lack of offense for Liverpool. They have the worst conversion rate in the league, and they have hit the target with just a quarter of their shots. Luis Suarez can only shoulder so much of the scoring responsibility — it’s time for Steven Gerrard and the rest of the midfield to start picking up the offensive slack.
The time off should do them some good, giving manager Brendan Rodgers more time to get acclimated and vice versa. I expect a much stronger Liverpool side on the road, at Sunderland — the Reds are way overdue for a win.
Great news this week for Manchester City in that Sergio Aguero is back in training. He seems to be closer to returning from his knee injury than most of us expected. But, for me, the story for City has been Yaya Toure — the midfielder has had back-to-back games with goals. Even more impactful? His passing game. Toure is averaging 99 passes per game (read that line again, for full impact), top of the Premier League.
Then you look at the opposition this week, Stoke City. The Potters don’t have a single player who’s made 99 passes TOTAL this season. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned recently, it is that Stoke are a tough opponent to match up against — and they’ve become even tougher with the acquisitions of Americans Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu. We hope to see Edu get his first playing time with Stoke this weekend against a City team that right now is second only to Chelsea in the Premier League.
I spoke with Clint Dempsey this week and he’s thrilled about the opportunity to represent Spurs, but he’s not sure if he’s going to be able to do it this weekend. Between international duty and the travel, along with changes in his work permit situation, he didn’t think that he would be able to train with the team until Friday at the earliest.
While it’s unclear if he’ll make an appearance for Tottenham on Sunday, Clint going the full 90 twice in the last week for the US National Team bodes well for Spurs. Frankly, they could use him — heck, they could use me, with the way they have started this season. Spurs sit in 14th place with just two points from two draws — very uninspiring play to boot, particularly closing out games. Every time we think Andre Villas-Boas has the noose tightened around him this season, he goes out and makes another solid acquisition that seems to buy him a bit more time.
But a bad result against lowly Reading and the noise is going to be Who concert-esque loud, calling for his head.
And while we weren’t on the subject…
I was fortunate enough to be handed a top-secret, for my eyes only, copy of the first edition of "Being: Liverpool." Everything about it is class; the music, the look, the story, the access. Whether you’re a Liverpool fan or not, I urge you to take time this Sunday before or after your local NFL on FOX broadcast (depending on your time zone), to seek it out and watch it. It is well worth your time.
Not only is the first episode stellar, but the impressions I’ve been given are as much as you’re going to like the premier, the next five are going to be even stronger. You can catch "Being: Liverpool" every Sunday at 9pm ET and PT on FOX Soccer.
You can always ask me a question via my Twitter account @RobStoneonFOX using the hash tag #askStone. Each week I’ll pick a few and we’ll give you a shout-out right here. Enjoy the game this week and I’ll see you right here on FOX Soccer this weekend!
A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter @RobStoneONFOX.