For the second consecutive week, the match at the end of our most watchable countdown is a foregone conclusion. Last week, it was Arsenal's trip to Old Trafford. This week, Manchester United goes to Stamford Bridge to face the defending champions, a Chelsea team that did the double on United en route to a winning the league. Even though the Blues have slipped to fourth, Sunday's match still features the two most likely title contenders.
If you're a regular to SB Nation Soccer, you'll read much more on Sunday's match as the weekend rolls on, but for now, I'm still dwelling on the past; specifically, Sunday at White Hart Lane, where a revitalized John Terry had me considering the other stars who could see a similar revival. Are there other players we have written off too soon?
Lest I list every old player with at least one cap, I'm looking for players that hit four criteria:
- At one point, the player was an international-caliber talent, but
- Going back to last season, there's been a drop in his level of play, and
- Though we may suspect other factors, we can't entirely blame injury or age, but
- If they were to suddenly return to form, they'd be greeted with "That's the guy we know!"
Thus, our quintet:
Matthew Upson - Around the time Terry had his off-pitch troubles, with pundits pontificating on Upson's viability as an England replacement, Upson tanked. By the time South Africa came around, the West Ham center half had faded. Now he's on the outside of England's international picture, but with West Ham at the bottom of the Premier League, Upson a bigger worry: his first division future. If he can rediscover the form that made him one of the league's more consistent defensive presences, Upson could find himself back in Fabio Capello's team, keeping his club in the Premier League.
Kolo Touré - The former Gunner was one of Mark Hughes's prize signings last season, immediately being given the armband. Since, he's been stripped of the captaincy and has seen some mediocre defending masked by the emergence of Vincent Kompany. But has Touré ever been one of the league's best defenders? His strength has been as much in his leadership as his output (if we can separate the two). Perhaps being stripped of the armband has had a disproportionately large effect on Touré? Once Touré finally decides to adjust to life without the armband (or gets it back), we may see more consistent, confident contributions.
Joe Cole - Cole has become a running joke through no fault of his own. He is to EPL fashion what John Stockton was to the NBA's, but because of the English media's absurd fascination with Cole iconography, the Liverpool attacker is known for neither his shorts nor his play. Instead, he's known for not being England's creative savior, with those expectations possibly weighing on his play. Only 29-years-old, Cole has time to stop letting the papers define him and return to the form that saw him net eight goals in each of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
Robbie Keane - Quick: How old is Robbie Keane? He's only 30! He's less than seven months removed from a season which he scored 25 goals. Granted, the fact that he had to go to Scotland for six months says something about his career, but if you go further back, you see these goal totals for the last three seasons: 23, 12, 25. He may need to move in January to have a chance, and the only way he moves is if Harry Redknapp is given another striker, but there may yet be hope for Keane.
Steven Gerrard - Two years ago, this guy may have been the best player in the league. What the hell happened? Turmoil at Anfield, prideful managers, ill-defined roles in the set-up. It's almost good Gerrard's been hurt for the last month. Now he has a chance to return refreshed. Though some of his off-pitch exploits make Gerrard a complicated figure, I believe there's a part of each of us that wants each player to play well, particularly the special ones - those players who can remind us why this game is so special. Gerrard is that kind of player.
This weekend, all five could see time, with Gerrard possible (though a doubt) for tomorrow's match against Fulham. Here is how that match, as well as the league's nine other weekend fixtures, place on our weekly list of least-to-most watchable matches:
10. Blackburn Rovers versus West Ham United, Ewood Park (Blackburn), Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern - Sam Allardyce's former club versus his next one? Big Sam is rumored to be first in line to replace Avram Grant, should the Hammers boss be let go.
9. Birmingham City versus Newcastle United, St. Andrews' Stadium (Birmingham), Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern - The Magpies play too direct to make this worthwhile. Alex McLeish continues his assault on Blues' fans patience.
8. Liverpool versus Fulham, Anfield Park (Liverpool), Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Eastern - Reds matches have rarely been that entertaining. Against the draw machine that is Roy Hodgson's former club? No ambien required.
7. Manchester City versus Everton, City of Manchester Stadium (Manchester), Monday, 3:00 p.m Eastern - Its difficult to see Everton getting one past Joe Hart. Roberto Mancini's men will have to fight hard for their goal, but once they get a lead, they'll be able to sit on it.
6. Sunderland versus Bolton Wanderers, Stadium of Light (Sunderland), Saturday, 7:45 a.m. Eastern - Sunderland's played successive boring matches against West Ham and Fulham, but I put my faith in Owen Coyle. I put my faith in Steve Bruce, hoping he'll bring back the football he played at Stamford Bridge.
5. Wigan Athletic versus Aston Villa, DW Stadium (Wigan), Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern - This makes my top half of matches to watch? I'm a sucker for Roberto Martínez's unrelenting optimism. He's going to try to play real football, and no matter how much Gerard Houllier may attempt to do otherwise, Villa still has Ashley Young. They still have Stewart Downing, possibly Gabriel Agbonlahor, and they have Barry Bannan to get them the ball.
4. West Bromwich Albion versus Wolverhampton Wanderers, The Hawthorns (West Bromwich), 7:00 a.m. Eastern - The third Birmingham derby in two weeks, and this one's a biggy. West Brom had Aston Villa last week while Wolves had Brum, but those fixtures are relatively minor fare compared to this meeting, particularly where a win over their rivals could see Wolves out of the drop come Sunday night.
3. Arsenal versus Stoke City, Emirates Stadium (London), Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern - Ryan Shawcross. Now that that's out of the way, we can talk about the match-up. Stoke is all of a sudden scuffling, winless in three matches. In their three seasons in the Premier League, Stoke hasn't gotten a point at the Emirates, being outscored 8-2 in the process. The last time they won at Arsenal was 1981.
2. Blackpool versus Tottenham Hotspur, Bloomfield Road (Blackpool), Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Eastern - If Spurs are being criticized for lack of defending, what do we say about Blackpool? Only two clubs have allowed more goals, though the Tangerines have held three of their last four opponents to two goals or less. Alas, it may not matter, since the lack of under-pitch heating means this match could be canceled.
1. Chelsea versus Manchester United, Stamford Bridge (London), Sunday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern - These two teams have combined to win the last six league titles and are considered the prime candidates to take home this year's honors. Chelsea, however, has only won one of their last seven matches, dropping to fourth place, while Manchester United has yet to lose this season. Frank Lampard, however, is expected to start for the first time since the season's opening month. United hasn't won at the Bridge since 2002, but if they get three on Sunday, they'll be six points clear of their most serious challenger.
|10:00 a.m.||Arsenal||Stoke City||3-1, Arsenal|
|Birmingham City||Newcastle United||1-0, Newcastle|
|Blackburn Rovers||West Ham United||2-2|
|Wigan Athletic||Aston Villa||2-1, Wigan|
|12:30 p.m.||Liverpool||Fulham||2-1, Liverpool|
|Sunday||7:45 a.m.||West Bromwich Albion||Wolverhampton Wanderers||1-1|
|8:30 a.m.||Blackpool||Tottenham Hotspur||3-2, Spurs
|11:00 a.m.||Chelsea||Manchester United||1-1|
|Monday||3:00 p.m.||Manchester City||Everton||2-0, City|