We’re All Going on a European Tour

Today: UEFA Champions League and Premier League predictions for the upcoming weekend. Once the games are finished, I’ll add an honorable mention to Gunner and Toffee fans as both squads challenge Europe’s second tier of top clubs in the Europa League. Everton go to Italy to take on Atalanta while Arsenal host Köln at the Emirates.

But first — an interesting story that could turn into the development of the winter transfer window:

Jack Wilshere is an unfortunate player, one I feel deserves a mention today. Barry Glendenning, one of my favorite football writers, looks at what Crystal Palace will do in the post Frank De Boer, current Roy Hodgson era and discusses the possibility of bringing Jack Wilshire in over the Winter as he finds fewer and fewer minutes at Arsenal. Jack Wilshire plays some very beautiful football, he plays with power, pace, and finesse. At one point, he was the next big thing in English football and has since fallen on hard times, mainly due to his inability to stay healthy. When he plays, he is a dynamic, downhill, attacking midfielder who can play with the best of them. I hope he gets a chance wherever he plays to stay fit, healthy, and really make a go of it during the remainder of his career. Drinks up for JW.

UEFA GROUP STAGE 1: Tuesday

UEFA Champions League (UCL) always has some mouthwatering matchups. On Tuesday the Old Lady (Juventus) laced them up against Leo Messi’s Neymar-less-but-Dembele-full Barcelona, Roma hosted Atletico Madrid, and two Premier league teams saw their first UCL fixtures in over a year: Chelsea, and Manchester United.

United took on Swiss Super League champions from last year FC Basel in a game that had everything I hate. Paul Pogba went off early (he’s on my Fantasy PL team), and was replaced by my least favorite footballing biped, the towering Belgian cue tip, the worst British import since the Trump brand, and the only field player I’m convinced would lose a footrace with Joe Hart: Marouane Fellaini. As much as it pains me to mention the man, it feels like passing a kidney stone acknowledging that, in this game, he actually performed quite well; Fellaini even found the back of the net seven minutes after coming on. After that, goals by Romelu Lukaku and yet another debut goal by 19 year-old wonder-Brit Marcus Rashford saw United to a 3–0 home win.

**Fun fact: Marcus Rashford has now scored in every debut game he’s played but one, his debut in the storied FA Cup. It does mean, however, that he’s scored in every other major debut: Champions League, Premier League, Europa League, Senior National Team (England), England U21, and EFL (League) Cup. Absolutely Remarkable.**

Chelsea’s match was a contest until about the 30th minute when Davide Zappacosta made moves down the right side of the pitch, beat two defenders, and ripped a pearl of a shot near-post that beat the keeper and put Chelsea up 2–0, completely deflating the Azerbaijani Premier League side FK Qarabag. A first goal by the Spaniard Pedro, and subsequent scores by César Azpilicueta, Tiemoué Bakayoko, and Michy Batshuayi saw Chelsea take three points and go firmly atop their group in the Champions League.

Zappacosta has no chill

UEFA GROUP STAGE 1: Wednesday

Like a buffet of prime cut steaks, Group H of the UCL will be known this year as the ‘group of death.’ Each major tournament has at least one, the World Cup, UCL, Europa League, even in grandma’s bingo league, there’s always one. This particular group has Spanish and UCL Champions Real Madrid, Premier League Runners Up Tottenham Hotspurs (Spurs), and German Bundesliga third place finishers Dortmund (BVB). They share a group rounded out by Apoel Nicosia from the Greece Super League.

Given Spurs tendency unfortunate run of games at the holy ground at Wembley Stadium, it seemed like the perfect time for young 18 year-old Christian Pulisic and the Yellow Wall of BVB to march into London and take three points to go atop the group, but in typical Harry-Kane-after-August fashion, it didn’t quite pan out that way. In the 5th minute, Korean sensation Son Heung-min decided he likes European competition. After receiving a ball at the center line he carried it down the left side, into the 18-yard box, shook the nearest defender with a slick step-over, took a touch, and launched a near post peach past a stationary Roman Bürki to go up 1–0. Not long after that, BVB struck back with a pearl from first-time-Dortmund-goal-scorer Andriy Yarmolenko. It would not stay knotted for long and the German side would eventually travel home without a point. Harry Kane, in a fit pure post-August joy, put away goals on a marauding run in the 17th minute through two BVB defender tackles and past the same near post of Bürki, and a second going far post after being left totally unattended in the box, a full-team defensive breakdown. Spurs finished on top 3–1, but this game could’ve easily been 4–3 or 5–4.

Manchester City followed suit of their cross-town-counterparts breaking down Dutch side Feyenoord Rotterdam as goals by John Stones (2), Sergio Agüero, and Brazilian pouty-face model Gabriel Jesus saw City past a Feyenoord team that is young and promising, but maybe not quite ready to be this year’s AS Monaco.

Liverpool’s presence in the UCL brings the total count of Premier League teams in the tournament to five. They have been blessed with one of the easiest groups on paper in this year’s tournament having to contend with a scrappy Spanish side in Sevilla, but having Russian squad Spartak Moscow and Slovenian PrvaLiga side NK Maribor may prove to be an easy march towards the knockout stage in early 2018.

On this day, Liverpool and Premier League suspended Sadio Mané took on said scrappy Spanish side at Anfield. Sevilla began the festivities in the 5th minute when Liverpool defensive scrub and should be equipment manager, Dejan Lovren whiffs a ball rolled to his foot, only to have it squeak past him and find Wissam Ben Yedder, AKA ‘Benyebut’ (means ‘goal’ in French) who found his nickname sake giving Sevilla an early but fragile 1–0 advantage. Remarkably poor defense and a possible missed foul allowed Liverpool to snatch two back in the 21st and 35th minute to lead 2–1. Surely a penalty in the 42nd minute would seal the win at home for Liverpool but Brazilian dental enthusiast Roberto Fermino put the shot knocked off the woodwork and wide to keep it 2–1 going into halftime.

In what was otherwise a lackluster 2nd half, Sevilla’s manager was sent to the stands for twice catching the ball and throwing it in the opposite direction of Liverpool defender Joe Gomez. In the 72nd minute Joaquín Correa caught a pass in the box perfectly and scored the goal that saw both teams come away with one point. Free tackling and aforementioned Joe Gomez was sent off in the 94th minute for too many aggressive challenges, reserving him a seat next to Jürgen Klopp for their next UCL fixture.

PREDICTIONS: Match Week 5

Friday 9/15

Bournemouth v Brighton 3pmEST

Brighton finally found their legs last week with a 3–1 win but meet this week with a Bournemouth team looking to get off the donut truck and grab their first crooked number of the season. Bournemouth have had a rough start to the league season, but Brighton don’t have the defensive experience to stop the Cherry’s veteran attack. My prediction: 2–1 Bournemouth

Saturday 9/16

Crystal Palace v Southampton 7:30amEST

It’s been a rough year for Palace so far, I feel for NBCSN Premier League morning host Rebecca Lowe, noted Palace supporter. Unfortunately, I don’t think new manager Roy Hodgson will be able to pull the squad together in time to match Southampton’s tactics. I also see a goal in Italian stallion Manolo Gabbiadini’s future... My prediction: 3–1 Southampton

Huddersfield v Leicester 10amEST

The Mighty Terriers of Huddersfield have been a welcome storyline thus far, taking points from three of their first four games. But Leicester City has been playing like the team that won the Premier League in 2016 under manager Craig Shakespeare. Shakespeare will likely use last week’s West Ham fixture as the basis for his tactics going into this fixture and it’ll work. My prediction: 3–1 Leicester

Liverpool v Burnley 10amEST

Burnley have been quite good this year, they’re also uncharacteristically high in the table this far into the season (we’re not really that far, but still). Liverpool will be coming off a disappointing draw in the Champions League and will be without Senegalese superstar Sadio Mané, but will squeak by a Burnley team looking to secure mid-table reliability. My prediction: 3–2 Liverpool

Watford v Manchester City 10amEST

Speaking of uncharacteristically high in the table, Watford are FOURTH! But this game…this is a tough one. Hard to know who City will play given their European commitment mid week, hard to know how they’ll play after only two days of rest/training, and hard to know if Pep is ready to deal with Marco Silva’s tactics. Watford is a low-key dangerous team that will give City a run for their lunch money. My prediction: 2–2 Draw

Newcastle v Stoke 10amEST

In a game that nobody should watch, Newcastle brings their shiny new three points home from Wales and prepare to take on a disappointed Stoke team that wanted their own three from Manchester United at the bet365 Stadium last week. Jamaal Lascelles won’t have as easy a time in either box given the size of the Potters’ centerbacks (I mean, just look at Kurt Zouma — seriously, that’s a 12 pack…). My prediction: 1–0 Stoke

West Brom v West Ham 10amEST

This could be the most interesting but forgotten game of the week. Tony Pulis’ masterful defense up against Slavan Bilic’s new look, pacey attack. Prepare to see free form darting from now-not-so-newly acquired Chicharito and freight train-esque runs by Michael Antonio. The Hammers will knock West Brom to the back foot early, but won’t be able to pull three points from this one. My prediction: 1–1 Draw

Spurs v Swansea 12:30pmEST

My heart already hurts thinking about this game. Spurs looked so good dismantling and defending Dortmund mid-week. While they also only have two days of rest/training before this match, they’ll have a fully rested Dele Alli (suspended for UCL competition), Kieren Trippier, and the man not to sleep on in this match, Harry Winks. My beloved Swansea will have a full week of training with young Portuguese prodigy Renato Sanchez and returning Swansea legend Wilfred Bony, but that won’t be enough to match Mauricio Pochettino’s men. My prediction: 4–1 Spurs

Sunday 9/17

Chelsea v Arsenal 8:30amEST

A classic London Derby. These teams hate each other equally but are playing on two completely different levels. Last year, Arsenal took three points from this fixture, but this time, a Diego Costa-less, but Alvaro Morata-full Chelsea will continue their torrid goal-scoring pace and ease their way past Arsenal thanks in large part to having PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kanté in their midfield. Arsenal doesn’t have a single player that can hang with him in the middle of the pitch, though Arséne Wenger will try... My prediction: 4–1 Chelsea

Manchester United v Everton 11amEST

I feel bad for Everton. After spending so much money bringing in some real quality to the side (Pickford, Klaassen, Keane, Rooney, Sandro, and of course stealing MY Sigurðsson) they just can’t seem to put the ball in the back of the net. Rooney goes back to Old Trafford for the first time since departing, and while the crowd will welcome him back, the players will remind those watching why they are the King in the North. My Prediction: 4–0 United

UPDATE UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE

Everton: I feel like I just wrote this in the previous paragraph, but let me reiterate how amazing and infuriating it must be for Toffee fans to see such a cash splash only to watch those shiny new players flounder match after match. Everton was completely outclassed and kept scoreless by a pacey, fluid, and patient Atalanta (ITA) side. Goals came all in the first half, all deserved, and all because no Everton defensive player appeared to actually desire a clearance. The back line played with zero urgency or intent and the scoreline reflected that, 3–0. You’d think it could only go up from there until you realize they play Manchester United at Old Trafford next…

Arsenal: Boy did they look poor in the first half, and what a fantastic strike by Köln striker Jhon Córdoba catching Arsenal keeper David Ospina with his pants down after a hilariously poor clearance. Arsenal lacked, similar to Everton, a desire to go forward and challenge Köln’s back line. Olivier Giroud found the ball with his head a few times, but could not manufacture a goal. But in the 2nd half, Arséne Wenger brought out his shiny new German toy and within four minutes of coming on the pitch, Sead Kolasinac stuffed home a volley to knot things up at one. From there, Arsenal found their legs and started running at Köln forcing corners and free kicks. Finally in the 67th minute, the soon-to-be-not-so-fast-Alexis Sanchez took on four defenders and curled a seed into the right side upper 90º to put the Gunners up for good. An 81st minute rebound goal from former cornrow enthusiest Héctor Bellerín sealed the win for Arséne Wenger’s side.

Finally, Jack Wilshire got onto the pitch and ran well, pressured the back line as any #10 should; he looked natural with the ball at his feet, made some nice passes and a few through-balls in the 20+ minutes he was allotted. Good for the kid (he’s 26 though…), happy to see him back out there.