Dec 212013

What are your TV traditions during the Holidays? Is it the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Burl Ives? The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? The inevitable James Bond marathon that runs on some obscure cable channel? How about soccer?

Some leagues shut down during holidays (or longer). The UEFA Champions League Group Stage is over, and the knockout rounds don’t begin until mid-February. The German Bundesliga will take a month-long break after this weekend. Spain, Italy, and France all will have next weekend off. But in England, the holidays are holy days… for soccer. Not only do the English not take the holidays off, they actually increase the tempo.

Here’s the list of what’s available this week, with notes below.

  1. This is undoubtedly the most exciting, wide-open Premier League in many years. The dominant team of the last 20 years, Manchester United, is having a disastrous (for them) season thus far. Arsenal and Liverpool look like putting in real challenges for the title for the first time in 5 years or more. As of the beginning of play on Saturday Arsenal was in the lead with 35 points, Liverpool second with 33, Chelsea in third with 33, Manchester City fourth with 32, and Everton fifth with 31. This is the tightest race I can remember. You can view the full, live table here. Not only are all of the matches involving these teams critical, but this may be Manchester United’s last chance to salvage their season. There are some tasty top-of-the table clashes, such as Arsenal hosting Chelsea on Monday and Manchester City hosting Liverpool on Thursday. (Note the Wednesday matches are replays from earlier in the season.) There may be other games airing throughout the holidays on NBCSN, check your listings.
  2. The FIFA Club World Cup is an interesting tournament. I love it, but many don’t respect it. It is FIFA’s attempt to make a tournament for club teams like the World Cup is for national teams, or to expand the Champions Leagues to a world-wide tournament. The problem has been when to hold the tournament at a time when all teams can participate, so currently the tournament is small, with an odd format. The tournament is held in a host country (used to be Japan but is now moving around; this year and next it is Morocco). The tournament starts with the host country’s champion (in this case Raja Casablanca) playing the best Oceanic team (almost always from New Zealand). The winner of that game (Raja) advances to the quarterfinals, where they are joined by champions of CONCACAF (Mexico’s Monterrey), AFC (Asia-China’s Guangzhou Evergrande), and CAF (Africa-Egypts Al-Ahly). The winners (Raja and Guangzhou) advanced to the semifinals, where the European and South American champions joined (Bayern Munich from Germany and Atlético Mineiro from Brazil). It may seem unfair that the Europeans and South Americans get a bye to the semi-finals, but this was the only way to get them to participate at all. Because those two regions are much stronger (and maybe because they enter so late in the tournament), every previous tournament save one has seen a final contested by Europeans v South Americans. But this year the hosts have done extremely well, embarrassing the South American champions in the semis and now get to face Bayern in the final—the first time the host has ever made it. Bayern are great, but the environment will be very partisan and this should be a fun game to watch.
  3. Unfortunately FS2 is showing these games, which means they are standard definition, but FS1 will show the final in HD on Sunday at 11am.
  4. The Milan derby!
  5. Looking for a goal-filled Christmas day? BeIN Sports will be showing episodes of “90 in 30” (their show which compresses a full game into 30 minutes—22 if you don’t count commercials) from the season which features lots of goals—a minumum of 5 goals in these games, and up to 12! It will air Christmas Day starting at 5am and lasting until midnight. This will average a goal every five minutes!

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