Alex Bean decided to get into soccer last year and chose Chelsea for no good reason at all. Luke De Smet had chosen Arsenal a few years prior for slightly better reason. Their eternal enmity now engaged, the pair will now write a soccer column for us. How nice. Let’s hope there’s no tie-flipping.
Alex: When last we spoke Manchester City had run out to a dominating early lead in the Premier League and looked set to just run away with the title. No challenger seemed to beckon and the Citizens were playing so well that it might not have even mattered. Since then, well…things have changed. Luke, I believe you have a story for me about the new league leaders?
Luke: Old Nan used to tell me stories, Alex. Stories of a time long forgotten when English football was ruled by a cruel giant they called Manchester United. Russian billionaires and invincible Gunners provided the odd challenge here and there, but for the most part Ser Alex of Old Trafford ruled mercilessly over these lands. I never quite believed those stories, and scarcely thought we could ever see such days again. But here we are: seven weeks in and the red side of Manchester tops the table once more. Led by their insane Dutch manager and teenager Anthony Martial, who in the past three weeks has made everyone forget that he cost way, way too much money, United have gone from winning ugly to just plain winning. Can it last? Can even imperious West Ham challenge them? Is winter indeed coming?
Alex: I contend that it must be black magic. Man United had looked so pedestrian the past few years and then Louis van Gaal came up with some crazy chant about himself and they started acting like the Red Devils of yore.
I don’t know what to make of this. If someone yelled that at me in the street or park I’d run away. Is that how it’s working? Does he just have tiny Juan Mata and that child Martial muttering “Louis van Gaal’s Red Army” under their breath all match? If so…I get it. But that’s only part of the story. The Red Army would not be atop the table if its former owners had not ceded their position with startling speed. Whither hath gone the magic that so recently held sway in the Etihad?
Luke: Van Gaal’s black magic may indeed be a thing– he did drop trou and dangle his balls at his Bayern squad, for reasons none of his players were ever quite able to explain, but they won championships. If the chant works, the chant works, who are we to judge? As for City, it was maybe inevitable that their back line would experience some sort of regression to the mean after opening the year with five clean sheets, but last year’s defensive frailties do indeed seem to be back and more glaring than ever. Granted two years ago Man City started the year trading periods of pure brilliance with bizarrely feebles losses, and still went on to win the title. With no one else looking particularly dominant, they can survive a brief dip in form. That Martial kid may have a bright future, but for the time being Sergio Agüero is a class above and one of the very finest strikers on the planet; the smart money’s still on City. Plus as a ginger of Belgian descent, I have to point out that Kevin De Bruyne looks like a hell of a footballer, however much Jose Mourinho may disagree. The big takeaway is that this could be a title race for the ages. A loss this weekend could send United back to fourth. The Palaces and the Leicesters do not look particularly outclassed by their “big club” opposition. And maybe Mike Dean will referee enough games to put Chelsea back into contention?
Alex: What exactly was Mourinho’s beef with De Bruyne? Before I joined the sport and could never make sense of it. Granted, very few of Mourinho’s decisions look particularly great right now. Their attack seems to rely on dumb luck and ugly behavior to be effective and Mo’s response to Bransilav Ivanovic getting disemboweled on a weekly basis has been to make him captain. Putting Azpilicueta at Right Back and the youngster Baba Rahman on at Left seems so obvious that I’m sure everyone in Stamford Bridge has yelled for it by now. I know Mo is loyal to the players who are loyal to him, or something, but…this is some Brady Hoke-level decision making.
Hey, I just realized that both of us are happy to shit on Brady Hoke. Unity is possible!
Anyway, the mere mention of Chelsea probably has you bursting an artery. The derby match two weekends ago was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever woken up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning to behold. As a lukewarm Chelsea supporter, I feel like I can’t have a clear conscience without pointing out that Diego Costa’s behavior in that match was next-level asshattery and his 3-game ban was well-earned. Like his manager, the guy is only passable if he’s on your team and you can embrace being an unbearable ass. I know for a certainty that if he was the striker on another major English team he would be the player I loathed the most. But his ability to goad Gabriel into a red card isn’t the only thing that’s been happening with Arsenal. Update us on their very…Arsenal-y month?
Luke: Sigh…I could have been so much more entertainingly indignant right now had we had this discussion before that Olympiacos match. Even in league play Arsenal have been up and down, but I do take some solace in seeing them reverse the script from prior seasons: no longer are we the flat-track bullies vacuuming up points from lesser teams only to bottle the big games, this year we dropped silly points in an undisciplined outlier of a game against bottom half Chelsea playing ugly football, only to respond with a classy win against undefeated Leicester!
But yeah, I was a lot happier with that Chelsea dig back when I thought of it, before we went and Arsenaled it all up in Europe. It seems like the competitive title race may be the only advantage the Premier League still holds over its rivals. Performances in Europe have been bleak, to say the least, with Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s recent implosions making it difficult to defend England’s four spots in the Champions League. But hey, your Blues can still make it through– evil never dies quite so easily. And so can Arsenal! There’s still hope, they just have to beat Bayern is all. Probably twice. That’s not hard, right? It’s not like Robert Lewandowski has scored 10 goals in the last week or anything. I mean, that would just be silly!
Of course it’s hard to shed any tears for England’s multi-billion dollar clubs when you see the plight of poor Bournemouth. There would be no better story than the small town Cherries avoiding relegation this year, but with Callum Wilson joining Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel on the injury list for the season, it’ll be a hell of an uphill battle. Maybe my Oilers drafting Connor McDavid used up all my sports karma for the year, but if the English teams keep making me this sad I’ll have to turn to the MLS for comfort. I hear Didier Drogba is doing some impressive things in Montreal!
Alex: I just want to note that Lewandowski’s goal-scoring explosion in the past week has been nothing compared to a certain American striker for Real Madrid named Alex Bean in FIFA 14. He’s been on fire.
Okay, with that useless bragging about nothing out of the way, I gotta agree about those smaller sides being the ones to really root for this year. A title race that really takes off and goes would be something, especially if a team like Tottenham that has never won the Premier League stays in it. But when I tune in to see the unadulterated delight of the Bournemouth fans spilling out of a stadium that would be too small for Texas football, it’s just magical. They’re not playing particularly great football, but who cares? That’s what the Michigan Wolverines are for this Fall (coming for ya, Sparty). Even when it’s something like the Tyne-Wear Derby, with two sleeping giants slugging it out to stay in the League. That’s a thing to wake up to over a strong cup of coffee.
Luke: Michigan, Chelsea and now Real Madrid? Alex Bean, you are truly the worst. (I’m taking Accrington Stanley all the way to the Champions League!)
Alex: I would protest and say that they offered him the best transfer away from a Bayern Munish side that wasn’t offering enough playing time. But discretion is the better part of valor and all that.
Until next time, good sir.