About ten minutes before the start of the first game of the 2013-2014 Premier League season, NBC played a commercial that summed up the way they were advertising English Football to American audiences.
"Forget Downton Abbey," the commercial announced, "The real English drama is coming August 17th."
There is truth that the English Premier League (and the rest of European Football for that matter) is just one long soap opera. And the same could be said about A-Rod's back page shenanigans, or the NFL -- though HBOs NFL coverage tends to paint it more as Epic Theater than as a soap opera.
I love the drama and I love the tension in any given match (which is why I stopped watching Barcelona play as this weekend's result supported), though for me it comes down to the play on the field much more than it does the baroque posturing of over-priced Managers and their starlets.
However, there's something brilliant about the ad campaign that NBC Sports has launched if only in recognizing two things:
- There is great theater in the Premier League, and
- The American audience that watches PBS Masterpiece theater is remarkably similar to the audience that will watch a sport being played across an ocean.
Which is all to say that, as I think NBC Sports has largely got it right, I will be devoting one day a week to doing what countless other people do across the internet after a new episode of EVERY SINGLE TV DRAMA airs.
So here, in all it's glory, is the 3 Things From This Weekend That Will Make You Sound Like You Kind Of, Sort Of, Follow European Football. I should probably work on that title.
- Oh man, I gotta say it's the keepers that really made a difference! -- First off calling them "keepers" and not "goalies" will right away ingratiate you with any serious follower of the sport. In hockey they're called "goalies" in Soccer they're "goal keepers," or "keepers" for short. Here's a helpful mnemonic device: "Goalies" sounds like "Holy" as in "Holy cow, I'd never watch Hockey."
With that said, let's talk turkey: It's easy to notice that Van Persie, Benteke, and Welbeck each scored twice for their teams. And there were certainly some wonderful goals scored. But it was the goals that were blocked that were tremendous.
Liverpool's Simon Mignolet faced off against Stoke's Asmir Begovic and both gave INCREDIBLE performances. But it was Mignolet who kept Stoke off the scoreboard and did the almost impossible: he saved a penalty.
According to The Science of Soccer Online 85% of all on-target shots taken from the penalty spot are succesful. Keepers only block 15% of the shots, and yet this weekend there were TWO count 'em TWO blocked penalties. Of course, Benteke followed up that one with a neat little header for a goal.
Which leads me to....
- Oh my god, Christian Benteke!!! -- There were many big names on the transfer block this summer, and Aston Villa's Benteke was one of the first to be talked about as going on to a bigger club. On my favorite football forum, however, the talk was "he's not ready, he hasn't been proven, he had one big season, etc." Well Benteke went and re-upped his contract with Villa and then scored two against Arsenal.
The story for most, following that game, will be about how Arsenal STILL hasn't spent any money on new players and is probably falling from glory. Which may or may not be true, but for me the story is about the Belgian striker shutting his critics up.
- The Belgians are coming, The Belgians are coming! -- Every week WhoScored.com puts together their best 11 players of the weekend. Three of them are Belgian. Mignolet, Benteke, and Jan Vertonghen -- the Tottenham defender who was a beast against Crystal Palace despite a bad ankle. The Belgian side is tremendous. They are the team to watch this world cup...
Ranked just one spot behind Brazil, the Belgians make up some of the most exciting players in the Premier League right now. And come 2014, when you're trying to figure out who else to root for following the USMNT's exit against Burkina Faso, look no further than Belgium. They'll be a fun, creative, and powerful antidote to the crisp passing of Spain and the explosive power of Brazil.
BONUS: Of course Tottenham beat Crystal Palace. The new signings looked strong, and the team looked good, despite Palace's energetic side keeping the score to only 0-1.
UPDATE: of course I would be remiss not to mention that Hugo Lloris was absolutely immense in Goal against Palace. Lloris' play as essentially a sweeper is allowing Spurs' defense to push further and further up the pitch creating more chances and providing cover. He's pretty amazing to watch, and yet another reason that this weekend was all about the keepers.
So that's that. Tell me what I missed in the comments!