The 2011-12 English Premier League season was totally worth the price of admission. If you're American, that price is waking up earlier than you'd prefer on the weekends to watch a sporting event on TV. And there is no better reason to pay that price this Sunday than the fact that American TV history is being made as all 10 games will be available live at the same time on a number of channels. But if you need a few more reasons, there are plenty.
From the drama of titles and relegation to the story lines and moments that make each game more compelling, here are a few reasons to tune in.
The Title Is On The Line
-- Manchester City (1st, 86 pts) vs QPR (17th, 37 pts), on ESPN2/ESPN3 (all games at 10 a.m. ET)
-- Sunderland (11th, 45 pts) vs Manchester United (2nd, 86 pts), on FX
Manchester City and Manchester United are dead even at 86 points, with City holding the goal differential tie breaker.
City hasn't won an English league title since 1968. United is coming off a season in which the Red Devils won their 19th, setting the all-time record. Finally, little brother is in poised position to upset the apple cart. All City needs to do is swat away 17th place Queens Park Rangers. Of course, QPR won't go without a fight, as a loss likely signs, seals and delivers their relegation. City has everything on its side. The finest team money can buy, an immense amount of momentum, and an ax to grind with their crosstown rivals. QPR has, well, Joey Barton, who said he's ready to punish City. Too bad inflicted wounds don't win matches.
Meanwhile, United has essentially resigned to its fate. The 2-0 win over Swansea City last weekend was uninspired and tame. The talk with the fans afterward only reinforced the acknowledgment that the title was lost. Which is why it will be even more insufferable for non-United fans if City trips up and United wins the title after sandbagging.
Besides, for neutral parties (if there is such a thing in soccer), the greater celebration to witness will be a City victory in their home stadium. Nobody wants to watch United celebrate in Sunderland (as scenic and inspiring as it surely is). Not even United fans.
Saluting The Americans Abroad
Fulham will be without Clint Dempsey, who's had the greatest single season of any American on the pitch in England. His 17 goals in Premier League play puts him at 4th in the league behind Arsenal's Robin Van Persie (30), United's Wayne Rooney (26) and City's Sergio Aguero (22). Pretty impressive company. But he'll sit out the finale with a thigh injury. So if you're looking for an American in action on Sunday...
The Chase For A Champions League Spot
-- Everton (7th, 53 pts) vs Newcastle United (5th, 65 pts), on FoxSoccer.com
-- Tottenham (4th, 66 pts) vs Fulham (9th, 52 pts), on Fox Soccer
-- West Bromwich Albion (10th, 47 pts) vs Arsenal (3rd, 67 pts), on FSN
...watch Tim Howard do his damnedest to stop Newcastle, this year's Cinderella, from having a shot at a Champions League berth. The Magpies have been a revelation this season, with manager Alan Pardew doing more with less than just about anyone in the league. But Everton are aiming to secure a finish above crosstown rivals Liverpool, which would be only their second in the Premier League. And that absolutely matters, even though the Toffees have lost all three matches to Liverpool by a combined 7-1 this year. What Newcastle is playing for is much bigger, both for its reputation and its finances, and with Papiss Cisse leading the way with 13 goals in 12 appearances since his transfer, the squad should have an edge.
But Newcastle won't be alone in the chase for Champions League tickets. While the Manchester clubs are guaranteed spots with their 1st and 2nd place finishes, it gets hairy from there. Normally, the EPL gets four total qualifiers for the top four finishers. That means Arsenal (67 pts), Tottenham (66) and Newcastle (65) are all in the mix. All three play teams below them on the table. But the reality is that if Chelsea wins the Champions League final against Bayern Munich later this month, the Blues will get the fourth qualification spot for the EPL, which means the only team that's safe is the third place squad after this weekend. Tottenham is trying to qualify for its second straight Champions League, hoping to improve on a performance that sent them straight into the second tier Europa Cup this year. Arsenal is trying to qualify for its 15th straight Champions League. So that's three more games with huge implications. Five so far. Not bad, eh? It gets better.
Will Bolton Or QPR Get The Boot?
-- Stoke City (14th, 44 pts) vs Bolton (18th, 35 pts), on FSC Plus
Oh, Bolton. How Stuart Holden is missed. Generally speaking, if karma exists, it should be on Bolton's side. Fabrice Muamba collapsed and nearly died on the pitch earlier this season, but now lives on and is an inspiration. Some unlucky breaks have precipitated this downfall, and the opponent, Stoke City, is far more conquerable than Manchester City is for QPR. Bolton has been in the Premier League for 11 straight campaigns, so the drop would be quite a blow. Not to mention the guaranteed $64.5 million in TV rights that come with staying in the EPL.
The struggle for survival is always one built on desperation and last chances. It's less calculated that the struggle for greatness, which is what makes it even more heartbreaking when the chaos in the 18-yard box turns on the team on the chopping block. If this is close in the final moments, watch out, someone could have their Carlos Tevez moment, scoring the goal that saves a season.
Dejected Wolverhampton And Blackburn Fans
-- Wigan (15th, 40 pts) vs Wolves (20th, 25 pts), on Fox Soccer 2Go
-- Chelsea (6th, 61 pts) vs Blackburn (19th, 31 pts), on Speed
Take no outward pleasure in the tragedy that befalls others, but admit that the most sinister, dark corner in all of us likes to watch a little suffering. Enter this lot of fans, who will be aggravated, forlorn, and just plain sad. Fans will wear bags over their heads, walk out early, or just not plain show up. People will cry. Young people will curse their affiliation with the club, one they were undoubtedly born into. Old men will earnestly wonder if this was the last top flight season they'll watch before they go gently into that good night. It will tug at your heart strings. It will remind you that the reality of the relegation drop stings. Seriously. It's not just a lost game. It's not just a lost season. It's two lost seasons, with the hope that the second will be good enough to get back up to the Premier League.
No more bright lights, no more miracle shots at the giants. Just an arduous march through the second-tier Championship to get another shot to get stomped on by those same Premier League giants. Quite simply, those final minutes will be rough to watch. But you should. You've got to take the sour with the sweet.
You Enjoy Being A Contrarian
-- Swansea City (12th, 44 pts) vs Liverpool (8th, 52 pts), on Fuel TV
-- Norwich City (13th, 44 pts) vs Aston Villa (16th, 38 pts), Fox Soccer 2Go
Generally speaking, these games have the least significance of those being played. Sure, Liverpool would rather win and have a chance to finish higher than Everton, but that's the greatest moral victory any of these teams could achieve with a win on the final day. So with so little on the line, and playing styles being the only motivating factor, perhaps you're just the kind of person that's not interested in watching what everyone else is watching. Then, you would watch this. Or local access cable. Your call.
You Never Know When A Brilliant Goal Is Coming
Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa's goal is ranked too low on that list. Not enough love for the footwork, people. Dribbling through traffic like that deserves more credit, even if the guy's name sounds like some sort of Star Wars creature.
You Never Know When A Chicken Is Coming
There you have it. Plenty of action, a measly two-hour commitment to kick off the day, and the possibility of random livestock interruptions. What more do you need?
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