The Premier League returns to our loving arms after a long, dark, cold International Break.
I write with fingers a-tingle. The International Break is over. The Premier League is back in our loving arms. Scream it from the rooftops because a weekend without the Premier League is like being a Miami Dolphins fan, but even darker. Yes, we had the U.S. Men in action as I discuss below in item No. 5. But their games were a little like Lizzo’s line, “Why men great 'til they gotta be great? Don't text me, tell it straight to my face,” writ large before our eyes.
The weekend clash I cannot wait to watch is Manchester United vs. Leicester City[Saturday 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold], a psychologically fraught match-up between one of the Premier League’s last undefeated teams and a listing behemoth in a Waystar Royco-esque fight to preserve power. The Brodge’s Leicester City have been one of the season’s true delights on the eyes. Young, lean, hungry, and - thanks to Jamie Vardy - feral. The vicious speed of their James Maddison-inspired counter-attack is vaguely reminiscent of great Ronaldo-Rooney-Scholes-propelled United teams of yore. From a United POV, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be desperate to avoid compounding a dire loss to Palace and toothless draw against 10-man Southampton. Defeat here might make him as suddenly redundant as the phrase “Hot Girl Summer.” Watch our video preview of the matchup HERE.
2. In other games, Footballing Idealists Norwich City meet Footballing Reality, Manchester City[Saturday 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC] in a ‘no money-big dreams battles with tons of money-big nightmare’ clash. Remember this: Where there is Pukki, there is hope.
The rest of this weekend’s schedule, along with viewing information, is HERE.
3. While it is great news to have the Premier League back, here’s the bad news: The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW is also back. Not just once, but TWICE! Our Third Annual British Embassy Premier League Curtain Raiser debuts Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. It features Washington royalty Wayne Rooney and USWNT World Cup Winner Rose Lavelle as guests. (PS. Congratulations to Great Friend of The Pod, Sir Kim Darroch, the former UK ambassador to the U.S., who has just been made a Lord.)
Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN the MiB Show returns on NBCSN featuring remarkable NFL star Josh Norman, a man who adores the Premier League and carries a soccer ball around with him everywhere. After these back-to-back shows you will be spared until Sept. 30 when huge Chelsea fan/Cleveland Cavaliers dunkmaster Larry Nance Jr. stops by the Panic Room.
3b. My NBCSN series “Promoted” also returns this weekend with back-to-back episodes Sunday, beginning right after the MiB Show at 3 p.m. ET. The first episode is a fantastic look at Norwich City’s bold attempt to defy the Premier League truism that money is the determinant of success. It includes interviews with Teemu Pukki, wonderful owner Delia Smith, brain trust/Sporting Director Stuart Webber, and Manager Daniel Farke. Then at 3:30 p.m. ET, we revel in Sheffield United’s supremely local approach to Premier League revitalization, starring two childhood Blades fans turned club legends: Manager Chris Wilder and self-professed “Fat Lad,” goal machine Billy Sharp. If any of your friends are new to the Premier League, please encourage them to watch these. They will fall in love.
4. We are entering the crucible of the NWSL season and Crap is going off. After confidently leading the pack all campaign, the mighty Portland Thorns stumbled bigly in Wednesday night’s midweek clash with the North Carolina Courage, suffering a brutal 6 - 0 beatdown. This biblical smiting vaults the Courage into first place with just four weeks left in the season. Snapping at both teams' heels: Empress Sam Kerr's tenacious Chicago Red Stars, who have savored back-to-back wins to steady their campaign after three consecutive losses had left them looking veritably Chicago Fire-y. The game of the weekend will be their match against Carli Lloyd’s Sky Blue this Saturday. Although Chicago can go second with a win, Sky Blue stunned them last month. That game, like the rest of the weekend’s schedule, will be on Yahoo Sports.
5. The USMNT played twice this International Break. A 3-0 beatdown by Mexico (who suddenly feel less like a rival and more a regional power leagues ahead of us) and a 1-1 tie against barely-trying Uruguay. It is emotionally difficult to watch the USMNT at this moment of transition, and not just because the players are struggling to adapt to a brave type of football that is possible at club level, but very difficult to master in the minuscule amount of time international squads have to train together. The loss of interest and apathy from American football fans is palpable. It feels like on the Men’s side we have become a country of club football fans as opposed to national team supporters. Everything seems so much smaller, from in-stadium to social media, almost like our national team have been relegated and fans have gone elsewhere to express their support. Out of sight, out of mind. The USMNT right now are essentially Fulham.
6. This week, Producer JW and I travelled down to Washington, D.C. to record Episode Three of The Wayne Rooney Podcast in which Wayne and I discussed a myriad of topics: whether Harry Kane will break his England scoring record, what it feels like to receive a red card, and whether being on the front cover of EA Sports FIFA (as he has a record six times) is like winning the “People’s Ballon D’Or.” We have loved every second of making these shows. EPISODE THREE IS HERE (like, comment, subscribe, review, enjoy).
7. I just shot a ton of content for HBO with Asif Kapadia, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker behind “Senna” and “Amy.” His new film, “Diego Maradona,” comes out Oct. 1 and it is outstanding. THE TRAILER IS HERE. Asif is a master storyteller and I loved him, despite the fact he is a lifelong Liverpool fan.
8. This week saw me traveling from NYC to DC the morning of Sept. 11, an anniversary which feels so dark amidst the chaos of our reality. I was incredibly struck by the words of one of the victims, Brian Sweeney, who left this voicemail to his wife Julie from United Airlines Flight 175.
"Hey Jules, this is Brian. I'm on an airplane that has been hijacked...if things don't go well, and they're not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. I'll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye, babe, hope I will call you.”
His words remind me of the lines from Larkin’s poem, the "Mower": "We should be careful of each other, we should be kind, while there is still time." My wish is that we all start living life with this approach. Let’s all take nothing for granted.
8. A couple of things I have savored this week:
Television: I have stealth fallen in love with “Derry Girls” on Netflix. It straddles genres between teen sitcom and harrowing time capsule of an era of darkness. Without giving anything away, the climax to season one, which fuses sectarian violence, a hilarious step-aerobics scene and the music of The Cranberries, had me laughing and crying at the same time.
A Book: If you came of age listening to Echo and the Bunnymen, Talking Heads, and Sonic Youth, Mick Houghton’s “Fried and Justified” is a must-read. Houghton was the PR guy who worked with all these bands and more. It is dizzying and gonzo to take in, and worth it just for his Jesus and Mary Chain stories.
A Song: Watching Canada’s starlet Bianca Andreescu overcome nerves and Serena in the U.S. Open last weekend reminded me of these lines o’wonder from the Tragically Hip’s magical Bobcaygeon: “It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations, Reveal themselves, one star at a time.” Canadian GFOPs, you live in a fantastic country. Speaking of music, HERE IS A PLAYLIST of songs I listened to as we toured the country this Summer.
PS - Thanks to all the GFOPs who responded to JW’s magical article on pickup football with stories of their own informal football adventures. It warms our cockles to see so many of you communing while playing the game we all love. We’ve put a collection of just a few of the pictures and videos we received HERE. Please keep them coming, GFOPs. COURAGE.