Soccer hasn’t really taken a break this entire summer. After the World Cup, there was Major League Soccer firing back up. Then came the international friendlies that invaded American stadiums. Now, it’s time for European club soccer to start.
Up first, the English Premier League — arguably one of the best professional leagues in the world and easily the most accessible in America. (Yes, it’s even more accessible than our own league, MLS.)
NBC Sports broadcasts each and every EPL game (yes, all of them) on its network of stations — NBC, NBC Sports Network, Extra Time (part of your cable package) and Live Extra (on the internet). It’s almost impossible to watch them all.*
*Which is why I highly advise checking out NBC Sports’ excellent Match of the Day program. It runs every Saturday and Sunday evening, condensing every single match that day down to extended highlights with top-notch analysis. It’s the only sports talk program I watch religiously.
Here are five of the best EPL matches this weekend to get you started.
Manchester United vs. Swansea City (Saturday, 6:45 a.m., NBCSN)
Last year was a down year for United, with one of the world’s most popular clubs finishing an astonishing 7th in the league. Under brash new manager Louis Van Gaal, the Red Devils went undefeated this preseason. Their efforts to reclaim their place amongst England’s elite starts with a visit from Welsh club Swansea — a mid table team that spent most of last season in a state of flux.
Really going out on a limb with that one, huh?
Leicester City vs. Everton (Saturday, 9 a.m., NBCSN)
If you became a soccer fan during this World Cup, you might find Everton the most recognizable team with ESPN analyst Roberto Martinez as the manager and American legend Tim Howard in goal. The Toffees are a fairly technical and highly enjoyable team to watch too. Leicester was promoted to the Premiership this year after winning the second division last year. (Since I did the hard research: They are called The Foxes.)
Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 11:30 a.m., NBC)
The Gunners have spent a little money this year in an attempt to make a push for the elusive EPL title, mostly notably Chilean attacker Alexis Sanchez. They are also one of the more popular teams in Kansas City — judging solely by the number of tweets I see on an average EPL morning. Last year, Crystal Palace finished clear of danger in 11th place in their first season back in the Premiership. This year, the manager who helped keep them afloat, Tony Pulis, has stepped away from the team just days before the season starts. This could go sideways quickly.
Liverpool vs. Southampton (Sunday, 7:30 a.m., NBCSN)
Poor Southampton. After a season spent entertaining the heck out of soccer hipsters, the team was raided this off-season by bigger and more well-funded rivals. They lost their coach, three key defenders, key midfielder and leading striker. One of the teams who did the raiding? Liverpool, who swooped in for Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren. Awkward. As for Liverpool, they are one of the favorites for the title after finishing second last season. An issue could be the lack of Luis Suarez as the controversial goal scorer left on a big-money transfer to Barcelona. It won’t be an issue right off the bat.
Newcastle United vs. Manchester City (Sunday, 10 a.m., NBCSN)
Manchester City, the defending EPL champs, return a stacked and somehow even deeper roster this season. While they will face a stiffer challenge from Chelsea and Manchester United than last year, expect City to be an absolute force this year. After suffering a drubbing at the hands of Arsenal in the Community Shield last weekend, City should be itching to get off to a really fast start. First up, though, will be a trip to a revamped Newcastle United team.
But the EPL isn’t the only game in town this weekend. There are two very high-profile MLS games this weekend too.
Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., NBCSN)Sporting KC vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., KMCI-38)
Those are four of the best teams in Major League Soccer right now — RSL and Seattle could get a nice little bump following Arsenal-Palace too.
Should be a brilliant weekend of soccer.