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.
After a brief two-month hiatus, European club soccer came roaring back to life on August 1st. Alex and Luke have let the first few weeks play out before sitting down to write, so this first column will run rapid-fire through their thoughts, complaints, and observations about the season’s first month.
Chelsea start their Premier League title defense by giving up on playing defense, surrendering 7 in the 1st 3 matches
Alex: This has been a deeply upsetting surprise. When I climbed about the H.M.S. Chelsea a year ago it was because I was fleeing the disaster that had become Michigan football. Now Chelsea is giving up the ghost and becoming incompetent overnight as well? I feel like my only recourse is to switch allegiance to Arsenal to carry the curse onto them. The most visible culprits have been the central defenders, Gary Cahill and John Terry. Cahill has already been removed as a starter and Terry got benched and then red-carded in consecutive weeks. That’s a very far cry from playing every minute of the League season a year ago. The best hope I have right now is for a karma thing, where Michigan rises as Chelsea sinks.
Luke: I think the thin midfield is hurting them as much as anything– as in year one of Jose’s return when he lacked a credible striker, all cogs need to be functioning for the machine to work. Time to buy Pogba!
Alex: Also, it was fun to joshingly cheer for an asshole manager when they won easily. Jose Mourinho is transparently a callous and vain garbage person, but a fan can love that. He was our special jerkwad, and as long as the wins rolled in there was fun to be had. I mean, my first week paying attention was the fight with Wenger! I miss those days. Now I just feel like a bad person to support Chelsea while Mourinho publicly and needlessly attacks his own medical staff for doing their jobs. Not a great look.
Luke: This sort of seems to be the pattern with Jose– he certainly never leaves due to a lack of result, folks just get sick of him after three years are so. His first year back even I wanted to like him, as the master-trolling heel of the Premier League. But at this point he’s just too dreary to be funny. Though to be fair his inexplicable beef with Rafa Benítez’s wife is pretty solid.
Manchester City start the season by being terrifying
Alex: I am loathe to bring this up, because it will make Travis yell “UP MAN CITY!” in my ear, but…holy smokes. They’ve looked unstoppable in these first few weeks. Last spring they collapsed pretty badly and failed to mount a serious title challenge after drawing even with Chelsea on January 1st. Some R&R has apparently done them wonders, though. Well, I suppose the addition of Raheem Sterling for a crazy amount of money has helped as well, but a lot of their mastery is being driven by the older hands of Silva, Toure, Kompany, and Agüero. I see them making a big racket in England and the continent this year.
Luke: And now they’ve seemingly added De Bruyne for $90 million, which would be insane for any team that has to keep a budget, but nonetheless further cements City as huge title favorites. And what’s money to them, anyway. It seems like the dream of financial fair play managed to last…one season.
Fine, so Chelsea is bad and Man City are good. What about the little squads in the Premier League. Also, has Alex banned Luke from mentioned the Gunners?
Alex: I’m rooting for both Crystal Palace or Leicester City to keep their early start going and land in the top ten. They’ve both been on a roll since the new year, since both faced relegation when 2014 ended and have gobbled up tons of points ever since. Both sit in the top 5 after 3 weeks, which obviously cannot last. But I don’t think they will fall too far. Palace could even stretch and grab a Europa League spot, leaving the Hammers (I’d guess) as the only London team to miss out on Europe these days.
Luke: I think a lot of Americans are put off by the rigid class system of European football. Here we want sports to be egalitarian, with salary caps forcing parity and draft picks going to the worst teams. Europe is having none of that: the same few teams win every year and if you finish bottom three they kick you the hell out of the league. But once you dig in there’s great drama to be had up and down the table. Look at Bournemouth, who play in front of 11,000 fans in a small town and in 2009 finished 21st in England’s fourth division. This year they’ll be fighting for Premier League survival and if they finish fourth from last you can bet their fans will be partying harder than City’s celebrating the title. Palace have risen from obscurity and are one of the most exciting teams in the league under Pardew, even pulling off one of the most surprising transfers of the year in signing Yohan Cabaye. Swansea won’t win you a title, but they represent Wales with a really fun collection of international talent, highlighted so far this year by Bafétimbi Gomis and his prowling cat goal celebration. It’s impossible not to love Southampton and their inexhaustible youth academy; just over a year ago they were coming off a great season only to have Liverpool purchase approximately 37 of their starting players, Tottenham poach their manager, and then the club bizarrely hire the fired head coach of the Edmonton Oilers (who play hockey, poorly) as the new Chairman. They then had an even better year.
And yeah, we can’t forget about plucky Arsenal, who represent all that is good and pure and will not let mere details like being one of the richest and most widely supported clubs in the world,that’s owned by Stan Kroenke and a Russian oligarch even richer than Roman Abramovich stop them from being the lovable underdog that will inevitably finish fourth. (But ahead of Tottenham, which is all that really matters.)
Twitter tells me there’s a thing called the Transfer Window? Explain or I’ll go back to NFL preseason games.
Alex: I’m unclear as to why the bolded narrator would be so cruel to itself. No one deserves to watch preseason NFL games. To their question though, soccer clubs buy and sell players instead of trading them like we see in American leagues. The headline-grabber right now is that the reigning player of the year in Germany, Kevin DeBruyne, seems set to move over to Man City in exchange for the opening weekend grosses of Inside Out. We mentioned that before, I know, but it bears repeating because it’s hard to fathom how one team could have so much money and so many world-class players. I’d guess one of the three other big English clubs (Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United) will pull a rabbit out of their hat in response to Man City stocking up, though.
Luke: DeBruyne’s sale not only turns City into prohibitive favorites, but also makes the Bundesliga even less competitive. I imagine Chelsea have one more big signing in store, and probably United too, though the latter may be less inclined to panic-buy a striker after Rooney’s hat trick in Europe. (Against Brugge sure, but this is silly season so we take what we get.) Arsenal and United both want strikers, but what else is new. Questions about whether Giroud is good enough, or Rooney is still good enough are silly really because they’re both clearly very good at playing soccer, yet when people talk about who should be leading the line for the top team of the Premier League, the assumption is that it should basically be one of the very best number 9s in the world. Those players increasingly don’t seem available for purchase by anyone outside of the very top three or four superclubs. City have one, and if they can keep his hamstrings more or less strung together in the right way, so do Chelsea. But how do Arsenal and United get one, and how much would he cost? Benzema’s staying put in Madrid, but maybe if Arsenal refinance the Emirates we’ll be able to afford someone like, I dunno…Gonzalo Higuaín? Just please God don’t let us panic-buy Charlie Austin.
Finally, the UEFA Champions League announced this Fall’s group pairings. The gods demand reactions!
Alex: First, I’ll just leave a Wikipedia link here for those baffled by any or all of the words in the prompt. Second, these groups seem…weird? I know UEFA uses seeding and impartiality is supposed to rule the day, but the results still seem unbalanced. I’d still expect Manchester City to win through and go to the knockout stages, of course, but they got grouped with last year’s runner-up and the Europe League champs. That is a rough grab and whomever gets knocked out will have some legit gripes. Meanwhile, Group H’s is made up of teams I’d be hard-pressed to remember exist. I don’t think I understand UEFA yet.
Luke: Yet amid the chaos Arsenal will still finish their group second behind some Germans. Don’t act like the consistency isn’t impressive.
No Ajax this year though, proving that the curse of my fandom is real. I had decided over the summer to burnish my hipster cred by getting into the Eredivisie and cheering for the Amsterdam giants who win championships fielding teams with an average age of somewhere around 12, and who gifted the world the madness of both Luis Suárez and Louis van Gaal. They then promptly lost their Champions League qualifier. Sorry, Ajax fans.