My#2020 #NewYear #Resolutions

Chelsea fans have to be up and at ’em early.

The first day of 2020 brings us a full day of Premier League, thank goodness. Here’s the schedule and if for some unfathomable reason, TheBlackPitch.com is your main source of soccer insights AND you’re a Chelsea fan, I hope you have some other reminder to wake up early for the first match, because we’re only hours away at this point, and you’re likely still out in the streets, whooping it up and drinking yourself into the abyss that was 2019.

PSA: Don’t drink and drive. If you’re gonna drink, don’t drive and if you’re gonna drive, don’t drink.

All times shown are Eastern

Of course, tomorrow (or today, depending on when you’re actually reading this) will be a good day to have NBC Sports Gold Premier League Pass. The Watford v. Wolves match should be interesting, as should the West Ham v. Bournemouth. It’ll be West Ham’s first match at home with newly-reappointed manager David Moyes. Typically, you’d expect a bit of a rebound bounce from a club bringing in a new manager, so we’ll see what the actual turnaround might look like for The Hammers. Of course, the standard NBCSN lineup will provide plenty of fun for the day, as I anticipate you, like me, won’t be leaving the couch.

2020 New Year’s Resolutions

The bigger thing I’ve been thinking about is resolutions for the new year, as it relates to my indulgence in soccer/football/the beautiful game. Here are my Top 5 Resolutions for 2020.

Make a better effort to consistently catch the NWSL and Women’s FA club matches. As much as I’ve caught matches here and there, both leagues haven’t been in my regular rotation as much as they should be. Part of this was tracking down a better way to watch, which I think I might have a solution for, but some of this really comes down to putting together a viewing calendar to make sure I’m not tuning in last minute, all of the time. I do this for Premier League, Bundesliga and MLS, so I simply need to add these leagues to the rotation.

See at least four of the Des Moines’ Menace’s home matches this season. I like the Menace. I have a ton of fun watching the lads, especially in recent seasons. Part of being a supporter of local soccer is getting out to the soccer you have in your community. Sometimes, and this is me being totally transparent, but our local club can be a bit of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me, and remember, soccer is my favorite sport. Part of this is the ease of watching the bigger clubs with the better viewing options. While it allows me to be a soccer fan and digest a lot of matches, it also allows me to be a lazy fan. I have to be out supporting the community in which I live if I hope that we ever have a real chance at fostering a club in a larger league in the Des Moines area.

Regularly watch USL Championship and USL One matches on ESPN+. While these aren’t new additions to ESPN+ (I believe), I simply need to add them to the rotation. In recent months, my attention has turned to interests in the more localized/regional soccer options. These are all great clubs and I don’t mean this in any type of disrespect, but it’s simply easier to be a fan of the biggest clubs in the world. Soccer has to be, first and foremost, local for it to grow and flourish. So, while our Menace will be playing at the League Two level and I’ll have to see it in person, I can help the audience grow by watching the matches on ESPN+.

Watch at least half as many Sheffield Wednesday matches as I watch Chelsea FC matches. One of these days, the Owls will be in the Premier League. Then, my heart will be tugged into two parts. But, until that day, I need to do a better job keeping up with SW.

Finish hanging my new Chelsea FC and Sporting KC flags in my home office. Typical me. Received two brand-new, beautiful flags to hang in the home office, but both are sitting, folded neatly on my desk. There’s got to be a break in the action on New Year’s Day, right?

What a #BoxingDay

You really have to give it to Jurgen Klopp. He knew what it was saying when he told the world that he’d turn “doubters” into “believers.” Today, just one match shy of the halfway mark in the season, they lead the table by 13 points, with a crushing performance against the second place team, Leicester City (Liverpool 4:0 Leicester City). Today’s match, as in nearly every match since the season began was beautiful, with Liverpool playing with the confidence of champions the world hasn’t seen since the early 90’s Chicago Bulls. This team is truly special (and this is from a Chelsea fan) and it is clear proof that Klopp is a genius.

Yeah, Wolves take on Man City tomorrow, but I think we all know what will happen there.

Tottenham scored a brilliant second goal against Brighton (reminder thanks to my brother-in-law, Keith, who wasn’t in a Theraflu-induced morning nap like this guy was). Bournemouth/Arsenal was a dumpster fire that ended in a draw. Somehow, Watford punched above it’s class to result in a draw with Sheffield United. In the fight for the bottom of the table, Aston Villa outpaced Norwich, which leaves the Canaries at the bottom of the pile. Crystal Palace squeaks one out on West Ham (Happiness for pals Molly and Sarah who I believe got to watch the match live from a box). Everton beats Burnley, Man United sticks it to Newcastle and Liverpool brings the hammer of God down on the Foxes.

So, Boxing Day leaves us with this view of the table.

If Man City beat the Wolves, they’ll put Leicester City out of the second position, but a draw will keep ’em even.

Happy #BoxingDay

Just a reminder of what is on, in the event that you’ve somehow just tuned in to what is important in life. Premier League is going full tilt all day with some great match-ups on NBCSN and the NBC Sports Gold Premier League Season Pass.

All Times are Eastern

If you’re wondering why we watch soccer on Boxing Day and not actual boxing, read up on the holiday here. Also, if you have to ask why you would need a reason to watch soccer, you’re clearly in the wrong place.

Hope You Asked #Santa for @Starbucks to Prep for All This #BoxingDay #Soccer

Thursday, December 26 will be no day to sleep on. The Premier League will be in fine form with enough matches to get you through whatever Xmas-hangover you may be experiencing.

All Times Eastern

Me? I’ll be starting the day really early with Tottenham and hanging around for the Chelsea match. Then, of course, I’ll double-dip on a ManUnited and a Leicester v Liverpool cracker. I’m not sure how quickly NBC Gold’s Premier League Season Pass will have the OnDemand content up, but I’ll definitely be coming back for the Crystal Palace v West Ham match.

@ChelseaFC brought beauty back to the game

The lads got it done

Today was the kind of day that you wait weeks for, and it wasn’t just because the Blues came out victorious with a win at Tottenham. The match was a pure 90+ minutes of incredible play, showing Chelsea in rare recent for.

Match Formations

Frank Lampard set the boys in with a new formation, one that worked very well to their comfort zone. Both of the goals were scored by Willian, first at the 12 minute mark and then again right before the whistle blew for half-time. There wouldn’t be another goal in the match, but Chelsea held off Tottenham thoroughly throughout the remainder. Tottenham simply couldn’t get it together.

Though Chelsea had only a little more than half of the possession, check out how dominate and effective the Blues’ play was. More shots, more shots on target, better pass accuracy. Tottenham is a fairly technically proficient team. They simply weren’t creating opportunities today.

Now for the Ugly Bits

Sixty minutes into the match, Rudiger fouls Son, who then kicks his foot up (cleats up) into Rudiger’s chest and Rudiger goes down. It looks blatant. Son gets the red card after a bit of theater from the Spur and gets sent off. Shortly thereafter, you could hear the Spurs crowd taunting monkey noises at Rudiger.

The referee halts the match momentarily to handle the report from Rudiger that he’s being verbally taunted and Spurs supporters in the stands are making monkey gestures at him. As all of this is happening, someone throws a drink out onto the pitch at Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Kepa. There are three different PA announcements about refraining from racist behavior in the stands. Three. You can’t make this up.

And this is the sour to a great match-up. Going in, you had all the drama of the story line between Spurs’ Mourinho and Chelsea’s Lampard, the master and the student. You have a young Chelsea team that are steadying their pace as they hold onto the top tier of the table, while Tottenham is working to right the ship as they’ve come out of a dark period under their former manager. Lampard brings in a very effective formation and things start clicking immediately.

Then you have the idiot Spurs supporters who caused all the ruckus in the stands near the end of the match and swayed all the attention from a perfectly good Chelsea thumping to a storyline of racist actions by supporters.

There should be cameras everywhere in the stadium. As Tottenham review the incident, they should be able to figure out who was behind this ugly distraction. And, to be completely transparent, an ugly distraction is the watered down version. I can’t imagine that whoever is behind the incident are REAL supporters. And, if they are, it says a lot about the state of our beautiful game. A lifetime ban from English football would be a starter. Getting a good thwacking from some visiting St. Pauli’s guests would be one better.

People from all different walks of life and places the world over come together to make soccer the greatest sport ever played. If, as a supporter, you have to rely on vile, racist/homophobic taunts and insults to defend your club’s short-comings, cash in your chips and get out of the game. I hope the Premier League, and every league for that matter, make a very strong stand that individuals who display these ugly tendencies have no welcome in our stadiums. They’re not real soccer fans. They’re not true club supporters.

Sometimes You Just Gotta #Pass

Something that has really surprised me this season is how many short passes Chelsea is doing in the backfield. Take Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge against Bournemouth. Chelsea completed 487 successful passes of 590 pass attempts. That seems like a lot, right? Well, yeah, when you consider that Bournemouth (the match winner) only made 192 successful passes of 293 overall. This is what the Chelsea nonsense looked like.

Note: None of this passing resulted in a goal

You’ve got to ask yourself, “Well, where is all this passing going?”

To the left, to the right, to the left, to the right

The top two most frequent pass combinations were Rudiger to Zouma and Zouma to Rudiger. Now, I get it…you might not be a massive Chelsea supporter and you may not know exactly who these two Blues stars are, but let me break it down for you. Rudiger and Zouma are both in the back line. That means that a whole lot of passing was going back and forth and not moving forward.

Remember, you’ve got to move the ball forward to actually score

Now, another way to look at this is that 28% of passes moved backward and 24% moved squarely. That means that less than HALF of all passes were moving forward. Also, only 4% of passes were long passes. The rest of this nonsense was short, safe passes and a lot of them were kicking the ball around in their back third of the pitch.

Here’s an idea to put points on the board. MOVE THE BALL FORWARD, LADS! Good grief.

#Chelsea’s Front Line

With the winter transfer window just upon us, I thought it might be a good time to review some stats on the front line to see who’s doing what. The following are stats from Transfer Markt on Premier League appearances. There has clearly been some scoring in the Champions League group run, but those stats are held out for a review of general league play.

Tammy Abraham

Christian Pulisic

Michy Batshuayi

Willian

Callum Hudson-Odoi

Pedro

Olivier Giroud

Transfer Window

Here’s hoping Chelsea can pick up a little more defense in the back line and maybe some additional play-makers in the mid-field. Pedro and Giroud have been two of my favorite players for some time, but neither are making things happen on the pitch in the Premier League and Chelsea simply needs to defend its spot in the Champions League moving into the next season. Giroud, for as brilliant as he was on the France National Team in 2018, simply hasn’t been played in the current season’s rotations. That lack of play time is starting to rust his play. Pedro’s been out as well, and for someone who was so critical to the Chelsea composition over the past few years, I’m not sure he has a fit any longer. Currently, Pedro is valued at just shy of $20m and Giroud is just over $10m. Both could be options to move on, if needed to free up reserves to bring in some additional defensive players. Chelsea also needs a little more action from the front line to rest Pulisic a little more. With Hudson-Odio valued just shy of $40m, he could be moved to open up reserves for another front line play-maker. Especially considering Mount has a higher level of scoring, even from the mid-field.

The Honest #Truth about #Tottenham

McKayla only acts unimpressed

Here’s the thing, at the core, Tottenham Hotspurs are an incredible team. For all the joking around and dogging on the early season blunders, Tottenham have all the assets to give any team in the Premier League (and the Champions League) a real run for their money. And under Jose Mourinho, they’re going to become a colossal force to be reckoned with again.

Past 5 Premier League Matches (as of 12/3)

Before October 27, there was a draw against Watford, a loss to Brighton, a loss to Bayern, a draw with Colchester (Football League Cup Third Round), a loss to Leicester City, a draw with Olympiacos, etc., etc., etc.

The main criticisms of this season’s team has been:

  • Inconsistency in match-ups: Up until Mourinho stepped in, they win, they lose, they draw. Part of this is due to the inconsistency of the composition of the team on field. Mourinho will iron that out. Prior to Mourinho, there had been 94 games where Pochettino ran an unchanged team, which appeared to ruin morale among the team.
  • The mid-field still needs sorting. Dele Alli and Eriksen still play too deep in the field to really improve their chances at the box.
  • Their injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has had a delay in return to play and that has impacted their core defense.
  • They’ll need to take the domestic cups more seriously. You can’t just focus on wins in the Champions League.
  • Winning with clean sheets will be a good indicator of the quality of the team. If they can start clearing matches 2-0 or 3-0, it will be a good sign that this is all turning around.

I think that based on what we’ve seen across just a handful of matches, the Spurs are on their way.

The club is starting to get back to its original form. Tottenham holds 5th place, tied with the Wolves, and is six points off Chelsea. It’s reasonable that Tottenham could be a Top 3 team by the end of the season.

Up Next – #Chelsea vs #AstonVilla

On Wednesday, Chelsea faces Aston Villa at home and I’m expecting to see a bit of a change-up in the roster for this match.

The UK’s Sports Mole published the following potential line-up and I think this makes a lot of sense, considering Chelsea’s performance against West Ham United this past weekend.

From Sports Mole

Four of the frequently played are likely out for this match (Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Achilles), Antonio Rudiger (groin), Ross Barkley (ankle), Tammy Abraham (hip)), so it would make sense to go with the options above. Giroud is a player who is highly specialized in a few tactical options (and incredible in those specific set-ups), but with Abraham still likely to be out, it would make more sense to put Batshuayi up front. Also, seating Pedro, James and Kovacic only makes sense considering their performace against The Hammers.

Although Aston Villa drew their last match against Manchester United and won over Newcastle, the club did lose their previous three matches.

End of November Recap for the #PremierLeague #ChampionshipLeague #WSL and #SerieA

Goodness, where to start. First and foremost, I finally picked up an Apple TV and installed NBC Sports Gold – Premier League Pass and ESPN+, so I’m literally swimming in leagues and matches, which is fantastic. If you’re thinking about streaming options for league play, the Apple TV makes it super easy. I’m already getting my fill of many of the Premier League matches on NBC Sports and NBC, Bundesliga on Fox channels, but my sweet spot in football match-ups is in the Championship League, so I finally have a better way to keep up with the league. Still watching #WSL on the FAPlayer, which is fine, but I’m hoping they have a better streaming option that I can connect via the Apple TV in future seasons, and I’m anticipating the return of MLS and NWSL (I picked up the Yahoo Sports app).

In the meantime, back to this past week’s match-ups.

Premier League

Past weekend in the Premier League
  • Surprises: ManCity drawing away against Newcastle, Arsenal drawing away against Norwich City and ManUnited drawing at home against Aston Villa.
  • Liverpool took out Brighton by a goal (thought this would be a bigger spread)
  • West Ham got the best of Chelsea (see the previous post)
  • And the Premier League sort of resets with sacked managers, soon-to-be sacked managers and clubs in flux.
As of Week 14

Liverpool still leads the run 8-points clear of Leicester City (#2). Chelsea is clear 6-points of Tottenham. Norwich City, Watford and Southampton carry on their woes at the bottom of the table. Hopefully, West Ham is showing a turnaround and maybe Pellegrini keeps his role as manager. Arsenal and ManUnited seemingly have plateau’d their performances, but are still on rather shaky ground. Everton appears to be in dire straits at #17.

I mentioned earlier some clubhouse shake-ups with managers in the Premier League. This feels like it’s happening more quickly than it has in recent seasons and honestly, I hope this is a trend that doesn’t continue. At the beginning of September, Watford sacked Javi Garcia who had spent 594 days with the club. They then bring in Quique Flores, who was sacked today at 85 days. (Goodness.) Mauricio Pochettino had more than 2,000 days with the club before being sacked in favor of bringing in Jose Mourinho. Arsenal dismissed Unai Emergy who had 555 days with the club. His former assistant manager and club legend, Freddie Ljungberg is running as the interim manager. Flores was the 24th casualty in the English leagues in the 2019/2020 season. Sheesh.

English Women’s FA League

West Ham’s club was on a roll, gaining the three-points against Manchester United earlier in the day. Chelsea destroyed Birmingham City with six goals and a clean sheet.

Chelsea still has their week 8 match to play and potentially score another 3-points to put them back at the top of the table.

As of Week 8

Championship League

Sheffield Wednesday visited Charlton Athletic and stole the match with three-points. It was still 1-1 after the half, but Sheffield Wednesday turned up the heat and knocked in two more shots. Brentford’s home match against Luton Town should have had mercy rules, as L-Town walked away with a thorough thrashing 7-0. Leeds United beat Middlesbrough (not a huge surprise against the very bottom of the table) and hold the top of the table with five wins in their last five appearances.

As of Week 19

Serie A

Inter took out SPAL at home and has the top of the Serie A table. Juventus missed a prime opportunity to take the top spot with a draw against Sassuolo. Fiorentina took a tough defeat against Lecce and Franck Ribery and had to have assistance walking off after suffering a serious ankle ligament injury, one that may keep him off the pitch for the remainder of the season. Atalanta, Torino, Roma, Milan, Lazio and Bologna also carried away 3-points over the weekend.

As of Week 14

Premier League will have a lot of mid-week action to tune in for.