September 17, 2013

Does Champions League hurt the EPL?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

You can tell that it’s Champions League week in Europe.

How can you tell? It’s easy: All of England’s top sides didn’t trot out their Best XI – and they all looked subpar in doing so.

Chelsea fielded a side featuring out-of-favour stars Juan Mata and David Luiz while usual starters Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and Oscar were on the bench. Manchester United started Fabio and Anderson while taking off Robin Van Persie and Ashley Young before time. Young, as I’m sure you’ve heard isn’t in manager David Moyes’ good graces either after a blatant dive on Saturday.

Cross-town rivals Manchester City had perhaps the most-changed lineup, leaving Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, Fernandinho and Joleon Lescott on the bench. The Sky Blues even started defensive midfielder Javi Garcia as a centre back again.

The lone exception was Arsenal, as the Gunners trotted out their top lineup available and showed off brand-new record-signing Mesut Ozil, but more on him later.

The results: Chelsea lost to Everton in the first leg of their battle for the Men In Blazers Cup, United struggled against promoted Crystal Palace and City slogged its way to a draw at Stoke. Arsenal, quite frankly, got lucky hosting Sunderland, but again, more on that later.

I hope that resting their top players works out for these sides, because it sure didn’t make our Saturday morning any more entertaining.

What made this even worse was that we were coming out of an international break as well. So while a side like Everton or Stoke didn’t have hardly any absences, a team like Chelsea would have seen its players flying across the globe for a pair of contests. Maybe gunning for a draw in Stoke ahead of Champions League was Manuel Pellegrini’s goal all along.

So, maybe Champions League football isn’t the best thing for some teams.


You usually expect the home side to get the benefit of doubt from the ref, but that was the exact opposite of what happened in Northeastern England on Saturday.

Down 2-1 to visiting Arsenal, the Black Cats’ American striker Jozy Altidore bullied his way past defender Bacary Sagna – while being fouled – before slotting home a shot that just barely crossed the goal line before being cleared – which Hawkeye confirmed. The problem? Instead of playing advantage, as he should have, referee Martin Atkinson whistled the play dead for a free kick.

The free kick was poorly taken and the Gunners would hold control of the game, scoring another goal to secure the three points.

It’s tough to understand what Atkinson was thinking; it was quite clear that Altidore was still on the ball and the advantage was very much in his favour.

But, in all honesty, it’s this type of luck that often dooms teams headed towards the relegation battle. Whether or not Sunderland would have held Arsenal from that point remains to be seen, but we should have at least gotten to see it. We figure that Sunderland is headed for a battle at the bottom of the table and this result will be one that will be looked back on with plenty of regret.


Ozil looked like the just the type of player that Arsenal needs to contend for not just a Champions League spot, but the title: A world-class player. The club has sorely lacked one since selling van Persie … Aaron Ramsey’s full volley strike off Carl Jenkinson’s cross will be a goal of the year candidate. And that lad sure can play … What was Laurent Koscielny thinking on that tackle that resulted in a penalty? It’s the kind of mistake that he’s all-too-prone to make also … Was that Wayne Rooney doing a LeBron James impression? With that head band deal and his hair plugs failing, he certainly had the look … I’ve been a fan of Christian Erikson for a while now and he is poised to be the next great Spurs player. Need evidence? Just watch the highlights from Saturday’s match … West Brom finally scored its first goal of the season. It only took until injury time of its fourth game to do so. You have to be worried for the Baggies this season … Interesting to see United fans campaigning to see more of Shinji Kagawa than new boy Fellaini. For some reason Kagawa isn’t getting any run under Moyes despite showing some great skill at times last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sold sooner rather than later … It’s nice to see Newcastle win on the road, but also look decent in doing so. Aston Villa isn’t a top team, but it should be a mid-table one that plays well at home.


Before the season started I had my doubts that van Persie was worth the steep $14 price tag. Now, it seems that he could be worth even more, scoring every week and all … Thanks to the international break and the coming Champions League games, there were more than a fair share of guys who were varying degrees of doubtful on the weekend. Hope you switched out the right guys.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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