What We Learned: Matchweek One

Greetings, Reds fans! I am pleased to be taking you through this season’s first weekly edition of “What We Learned.” My name is Dan Skinner, aka Soccerhaus, a proud member of the Chicago OLSC, living in the Western ‘burbs, and happily blogging about the Beautiful Game for the first time since my short-lived and quickly-forgotten blog, The Soccer Haus, was abandoned in 2011. (Ed:  Welcome back, Dan!)

Regardless of the sport, trying to glean meaningful lessons from one week of play is like trying to analyze experimental data after a single trial. Remember last season when Man U thumped Chelsea 4-0 in the opener for both sides? Folks suddenly thought the Red Devils were title contenders, and Frank Lampard was headed for a potential sacking before Boxing Day. Neither turned out to be true.

So, with that in mind, here are some observations from Matchweek One across the Premier League.

Empty Chairs and Empty Tables

The image of empty stands across the league has become familiar but remains no less sad. Aside from our own supporters, I felt especially bad for Fulham, where the denizens of Craven Cottage could have loudly welcomed the side’s return to the top flight to start the new campaign. Then again, maybe they were happy to miss a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Arsenal, which looks poised to continue the momentum they built at the end of last season.

Without supporters, visiting sides should find road trips less threatening, opening the door for more upsets by away teams. This also dampens the hopes of lower table squads hoping to leverage a raucous home crowd to stun one of the big boys. Imagine if Brighton had pulled level in the 54th minute with Chelsea (as they did on Monday) in front of an enthused audience at the AmEx. The 1-1 scoreline lasted all of two minutes before Chelsea went back in front, winning 3-1. But spirited home fans sniffing an upset do not always make the difference. See: Brighton’s inability to protect a 1-0 lead in the final home match of 2019.

No one can know for sure how much the lack of supporters impacts matches, and managers will naturally deny this as a factor, but home/road trends will be interesting to watch throughout the season until fans hopefully return.

Feeling Blue

Everton’s 1-0 win at Tottenham hardly qualifies as a surprise. We have grown accustomed to seeing Spurs drop winnable league games since the back half of the 2018-19 campaign. New signing James Rodriguez made a sharp debut for Carlo Ancelotti, who remains widely overlooked as one of the League’s top bosses. With upcoming fixtures against West Brom, Crystal Palace, and Brighton, before their first derby with the champs, the third-best team on Merseyside is well positioned for a strong start.

Pretty as a Peacock?

Premier League fans do not agree on much, but NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, is unloved by everyone from top national writers to Sam’s Army to this guy. Rebecca Lowe is excited, but she is contractually obligated to say nice things. Some of the complaints are quite valid; others less so.

Liverpool’s next two matches are on Peacock, and many Reds supporters are struggling to make plans to watch. Full disclosure: I have Xfinity, and Peacock Plus is automatically part of my package, so I am far less aggravated than a lot of you. Regardless if you have Xfinity, Peacock is a better option than paying for the old NBC Sports Gold package, which Peacock essentially replaces at the same price point.

The frequently-heard gripe that “Big Six” matches should not be on Peacock fails to recognize the business logic behind the move. NBC Sports is trying to sell Peacock, and the service is far more attractive when Liverpool-Chelsea is offered versus a heavy dose of West Ham-Burnley type fixtures. Maybe you will complain, but NBC does not care as long as you give them your $5.99 a month… and you are more likely to do that if Peacock has must-see matches.

I have been following the Premier League stateside since 1995, so I am old enough to appreciate how great American access to the league is now, compared to the days when I was buying World Soccer magazine at Borders to get my fix. Yes, there will be glitches and features you do not like, and maybe the picture freezes (which could be your ISP’s fault, not Peacock’s), but we have got a lot bigger things to worry about in 2020, so let’s give this colorful new bird a chance and revisit the topic after Matchweek Three.

I hope everyone has a great week! Thanks for taking the time to read my first post in nine years. It is truly an honor. YNWA!