Saturday, January 27, 2007

In Praise of the EPL Review Show, Part One

Hello readers. You'll note that this weekend's column comes to you too late for you to size up Saturday's Fox Soccer Channel games. Fear not, dear hearts; this weekend is reserved for some particularly unsexy FA Cup Fourth Round matches. So unless you're a big fan of Spurs of Blackburn, which you aren't, and desired to see them easily dispatch lower-league competition, today's respective thumpings were eminently missable.

Another reason we're a day late is I've started a job this week, an actual job at an actual workplace that requires my actual continued resence. Jarring to the old schedule, that.

But the main reason why the actual day of release for this column is immaterial is that this week we won't be talking about this week; we'll be talking about last week, or rather, about the highlights of last week as they were so deftly delivered on FSC's "EPL Review Show."

I've recommended the show before in this blog, but always in an offhanded manner, and it's such a perfect highlights program that it deserves to be called to your collective attention more explicitly.

The format is simple but exceedinly effective. Each of the weekend's games is shown in miniature. You see every single goal of the weekend, every bit of argy bargy, every note-worthy incident. You generally then hear each manager give his post-match comments; sometimes their commentary is cliche-ridden and lame, occasionally they throw some salt around but at the very least the accents are consistently fascinating.

The game clips themselves are what makes it great, of course. They don't come at you in the rapid-fire manner we have come to expect from American shows. They come in extended form; you don't just see the goal, you see the passes that led up to it. You don't just see the red card, you see the incident from ten minutes earlier that started the slow burn in the first place. You don't hear a studio host offering wise-cracks and catchphrases, you hear the original breathless British commentary coming from the guy who is actually at the game. It exposes all of the bloated excess of SportsCenter, making you wish that all highlights were delivered this way.

(For the record, I wonder if the trend towards this style of highlights is already underway; with the way that games are being replayed abbreviated-style on the NFL Network, or the long-play summaries you can get on iTunes, it is possible that we have reached the saturation point on SportsCenter-style rat-a-tat. I'm alowing myself some hope that we are reverting to letting the games speak for themselves.)

This is not FSC's idea, of course; first of all the show is a production of the Premier League and is sent around the world. Secondly, British television has been doing it this way for decades; a show called "Match of the Day" has been as big a Saturday night television institution there as "Saturday Night Live" has here.

It should be noted that "MotD" distinguishes itself from the "EPL Review Show" with a commentary panel of experts, including the magnificent Scottish curmudgeon Alan Hansen; but while that panel is generally excellent I must say I don't miss it.

Last week's show was a particularly good one. It started off strong, with the highlights of the Liverpool-Chelsea and Arsneal-Man U matches. As I said here last week, if Liverpool and Arsenal were to each win, the title race would get a lot more interesting. Sure enough, they did. And how.

Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0 with two goals in the first twenty minutes, including a stunner from Jermaine Pennant. Chelsea are officially reeling, by the way, but we'll get to them in a second.

The Arsenal match topped that one for drama. Still down 1-0 in the 83rd minute, the Gunners came back to win with two great goals. First an 83rd minute goal by Robin van Persie, which you can enjoy in English or through the Arabic Andres Cantor.

Then Arsenal did what Man U usually do; they scored in the next-to-last minute of stoppage time to win. The goal by Thierry Henry is notable for two things: the first being that Henry rarely scores from headers, the second that the exquisite cross came from a 22 year-old Englishman named Justin Hoyte. An Englishman on Arsenal can be as hard to find as a Turk on the Kansas City Royals. So good for him for taking his chance.

(But really. You gotta hear the Arabic version.)

That's a pretty great chunk of highlights. On SportsCenter, both games awould have been taken care of in three minutes total. On the EPL Review Show, it took a quarter of an hour. They don't just show you images; they tell you each game, as though it were a story.

Alas, I have to run to that there job I was talking about. We'll finish this later, as there's more to come, including fighting coaches and a fleeting moment of audacity by Clint Dempsey in his Premeriship debut. Until then, let's preview tomorrow's game.

Chelsea-Nottingham Forest, FA Cup Fourth Round, 9am ET

The real game of the day would be Arsenal vs. Bolton, who knocked the Guners out at this stage last year. But FSC gives us this. Eh.

Chelsea are riven by controversy and locker room strife at the moment. Their big signing from last summer was the Ukrainain striker Andriy Schevchenko. He is a living legend, one of the most lethal forwards of his generation. Until he came to London. Where he has thoroughly sucked. The scuttlebutt is that Chelsea's Russian owner is friends with Schevchenko and wants coach Jose Mourinho to coddle him. Mourinho has been making veiled threats in the papers that he will leave if he is not allowed to do things his way and two players have come out this week saying that this schism is one of the reasons Chelsea are struggling of late. (A more salient reason is their injury problems at centre-back, but I still love the gossip, me.)

Still, they'll make a punching bag of Forest. If the game were in Nottingham, there might have been an upset. This sounds like one of those games were the smaller team starts strong, fights hard, holds on for a long time and then tragically caves in at the end. This one'll be for Chelsea fans only.

Watchability: Two stars (out of 4)
Yank Watch: None, though Chelsea are rumored to be in talks to get Onguchi Onyewu.

-Brendan Hunt


Dave said...

gee whiz. can't wait til part 2.

Dave said...

gimme more football on this blog please. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate soccer talk. I enjoyed the explaination and significance of Beckham coming to L.A.
But my team is in the superbowl and I want to hear analysis and commentary from you guys.

Phil said...

Quite, you.