FOX Soccer Exclusive
Clubs aim to create table seperation
The international break has ended, and the Barclays Premier League returns to action this weekend. Set those alarms and brew some extra coffee – early morning weekend wake-ups are back!
The schedule makers did Stoke few favors to start off the season. As we enter week eight, they have already faced Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Now they head to Old Trafford where they've lost every league game since being promoted in 2008. Still, the Potters sit in twelfth place with some schedule "relief" on the horizon once they get past the Red Devils.
Second-placed Manchester United has to be loving the start by Robin van Persie (five league goals, seven in all competitions), but it's high time Wayne Rooney starts to celebrate some goals himself – ZERO in all competitions this season (yes, his assist rate has been massive but the Red Devils need him to be scoring them too).
The Gunners have a great chance to jump into the top five this weekend as they head to Carrow Road, where they are unbeaten since 1984. Arsenal, who hasn’t lost yet on the road this season, continues to slowly help folks forget that they are doing this without RvP.
Gervinho is finally scoring, Santi Cazorla has been a top 10 league player, and Olivier Giroud should come in flying off that huge late goal in Spain for France.
No club is getting less credit this season than overlooked and underrated West Brom.
Ben Foster has quietly recorded three clean sheets and The Hawthorns has witnessed four wins in four games. A jump from sixth to second place is possible by the conclusion of this weekend's action. Only one BIG problem: The reigning Premier League champions are in town.
City earned their first shutout of the season two weeks ago against Sunderland, and played arguably their most complete game. I’m looking forward to seeing what the forward rotation for Roberto Mancini's side will look like this time out, as it has fluctuated all season long.
There are two must-knows for this game: First, Chelsea, regardless of the outcome, will remain on top of the Premiere League for at least another week. Second, John Terry will sit this one out (as well as the following three domestic games) after deciding to NOT appeal the ban handed down by the FA for his racial abuse last season (please let this be the end of the saga...that goes for you as well Ashley Cole – stay off the Twitter machine).
Spurs have quietly crept up the standings to the fifth spot, but this will be a tricky week for Andre Villas-Boas. His side will host a big time opponent at White Hart Lane, and amidst that, he must figure out how to handle his goalkeeper situation. There is competition for a starting spot, and then there's drama. This falls into the drama category – and that's not good. Hugo Lloris looked impressive mid-week for France, but will that earn him a second straight league start over Brad Friedel?
Yes, it is only mid-October, but Reading is in full relegation battle mode as they sit winless in 18th place with a measly three points. But to be honest, they’re probably thinking that a point at Anfield is more than just a pipe dream at this point (the Reds have just two home wins in 13 league games this calendar year).
Injury concerns for Liverpool may increase Reading’s odds. Forward Fabio Borini is out for what will likely be three months with a broken foot, and now keeper Pepe Reina has a hamstring issue, suffered during his time with the Spanish national team. But that actually may be a blessing for the Reds. He has saved just 35% of the shots on target from inside his area this season – the worst rate among first-choice keepers.
And while I wasn’t on the subject…
I had the opportunity to take in Sporting Kansas City's much-ballyhooed Livestrong Park this week for the US men’s national team World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Unquestionably, LSP will host one of the States’ next five home qualifiers next year.
The big question is: Who joins them? It's been great debate material. Here's my stab: Columbus, Houston, Portland, and Seattle. It's high time the Pacific Northwest hosts, but if they get one , they better lay the sod down ASAP. One wild card city would not surprise me, and also totally make my day. Green Bay, WI., Lincoln, NE... Alaska, hello!
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.