Soccer Survival Sunday 2012

The Premier League, La Liga and Serie A seasons all come to an end on Sunday. Juventus will celebrate their 2011-12 Scudetto win, while either Manchester City or Manchester United will win the Premiership. Real Madrid have already been crowned La Liga champions. Championships are the only important spots up for grabs this Sunday though. Champions League and Europa League positions are also available in all three leagues. Teams at the bottom are fighting to avoid relegation as well. Here is the TV schedule for each league. I will also update with commentators as they become available.

Premier League
9:30am, Manchester City (1st, 86 points) vs. QPR (17th, 37 points) – TSN2
Ian Darke & Steve McManaman

9:30am, Sunderland (11th, 45 points) vs. Manchester United (2nd, 86 points) – SN
Jon Champion & Kevin Gallacher

9:55am, West Bromwich (10th, 47 points) vs. Arsenal (3rd, 67 points) – SN World
Gary Weaver & Trevor Francis

9:55am, Tottenham (4th, 66 points) vs. Fulham (9th, 52 points) – SN1
Tony Jones & Davie Provan

9:55am, Chelsea (6th, 61 points) vs. Blackburn (19th, 31 points) – SPEED*
Joe Speight & Dean Sturridge

5:00pm, Norwich City (13th, 44 points) vs. Aston Villa (16th, 38 points) – SN World
Jonathan Beck & Dean Ashton

9:00pm, Everton (7th, 53 points) vs. Newcastle (5th, 65 points) – SN World
Gary Taphouse & Garry Birtles

Midnight, Stoke City (14th, 40 points) vs. Bolton (18th, 35 points) – SN World
Daniel Mann & Tony Gale

For full highlights tune into Premier League review at 11:00pm ET on Sportsnet World. It will re-air the next day on the main Sportsnet Channels.

*NOTE: A blackout could occur for the game on Speed because Sportsnet/TSN hold exclusive Canadian rights.

Manchester City holds a goal difference edge on Manchester United, so all they need is to match what United does to win the title.

Arsenal and Spurs will clinch Champions League spots with wins; if they don’t win, Newcastle can catch either with a win. The lone remaining Europa League spot will go to the other of these teams.

Also, remember that if Chelsea win the Champions League, they will claim one of the four positions for next year. That would drop the 4th place finisher in the league to the Europa League. So 3rd is very important this season.

La Liga
2:00pm, Real Madrid (1st, 97 points) vs. Mallorca (6th, 52 points) – GolTV
Phil Schoen & Ray Hudson

8:00pm, Villarreal (16th, 41 points) vs. Atletico Madrid (5th, 54 points) – GolTV

For full highlights tune into La Liga 360 at 10:00pm ET following Villarreal vs. Atletico Madrid.

The live game is almost meaningless. Mallorca can only get a Champions League spot if Malaga lose and Atletico Madrid lose or draw. However, they will most likely need a win to hold onto a Europa League position with four teams within three points of them.

The second game is important for both teams. Villarreal are only safe by 1 point. So, a loss or draw combined with wins by Zaragoza and Real Vallecano would see them relegated. Atletico Madrid need a win and a loss or draw by Malaga to get the last Champions League spot.

Serie A
9:00am, Juventus (1st, 81 points) vs. Atalanta (11th, 46 points) – theScore
2:30pm, Catania (10th, 48 points) vs. Udinese (3rd, 61 points) – theScore
2:45pm, Lazio (4th, 59 points) vs. Internazionale (6th, 58 points) – Euroworld Sport

For full highlights tune into The Footy Show at 5pm ET following Catania vs. Udinese.

Juventis vs. Atalanta is a meaningless game for both; however, Juventus will have a trophy celebration at their new stadium following the match.

Udinese will clinch the last Champions League spot with a win. If they don’t win, the door is open for Lazio or Napoli to take that final spot. The other two, along with Inter, will play in the Europa League next season.

Although not on TV, Genoa would be relegated with a loss and a Lecce win.

Ligue 1
3:00pm, PSG (2nd, 73 points) vs. Rennes (5th, 57 points) – TV5

Last, but not least, is Ligue 1. PSG need a win and Montpellier loss to have a shot at the title (tiebreakers would come into play). PSG would at least have an equal goal differential if this happened.

Meanwhile, Rennes need points to hold off three teams for the last Europa League birth.

An End of an Era: TLN Dumps Serie A

Many Canadians, myself included, have watched Serie A on TLN for years. Aside from Premiership games on Sportsnet and some Champions League on TSN, it was the only league available to Canadians for many years. It seems the tradition of calcio on TLN has come to an end as Sunday afternoon Serie A matches will move exclusive to TLN’s sister channel Euroworld Sports beginning next week.

TLN came on the air in 1984 (which is before my time) and with it came flagship programming in Serie A. TLN continued as the exclusive broadcaster of Serie A in Canada up until 2010, when theScore took over rights. However, theScore sold TLN one game per week as part of the new deal. For most of the past two seasons this game, Sunday at 2:45pm ET, has aired on both TLN and Euroworld Sports. For some reason, this practice will stop midseason next week as TLN will air movies on Sunday afternoon instead.

The network that helped bring the world’s game to Canada is now abandoning it in an attempt to force cable and satellite providers to pick up their digital all-sports channel. Currently only Rogers in Ontario carried Euroworld Sport, and chances are nobody else is adding it before the end of the season.

This is just the latest move of this sort by TLN. They also removed most Europa League games from the network this season, airing no group stage matches and only a couple Manchester United and Manchester City knockout stage games. After both were knocked out, coverage returned to Euroworld Sport, leaving many Canadians in the dark for the quarterfinals.

I guess that is my problem with this move. It comes with only a month remaining in the Serie A season. Canadians have counted on TLN showing the Sunday evening Serie A match for years, dating back to when they were the exclusive broadcaster. Now, with the season at its critical point, most Canadians will have no access with little chance any service provider will add Euroworld Sports this quickly.

Euroworld Sports’ exclusive coverage includes Juventus vs. Roma (two of the most popular Italian teams in Canada) on April 22, a key Champions League position battle between Udinese and Lazio on April 29. More importantly than either of those is the Milan Derby on May 6. This is the type of game that attracts soccer fans who don’t normally follow Serie A. It is a way for the league to gain attention. Yet in Canada, even most diehards won’t have the chance to see it.

In the past I always cheered for TLN to pick up soccer rights. They were the little guy who really cared about the game. Not so anymore. They have made it hard-to-impossible to watch the Europa League, and now Sunday Serie A games, outside of Ontario. I get the need to promote the new channel, but based on the fact no other providers offer it, the profitability just isn’t there.

El Classico or TFC… GolTV has a tough decision to make. On April 21 El Classico, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, conflicts with a Toronto FC game. El Classico begins at 2pm ET, while Toronto’s game at home to Chicago begins at 3:30pm ET. GolTV has a few options. One would be to get TFC to move their game 30 minutes later. Another would be to join it in progress or try to sub-lease it to Sportsnet.

Hockey Night commentators… Canucks fans will get their wish as Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson and Scott Oake will cover their series against the Kings in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Bob Cole, Garry Galley and Glenn Healy will cover the Senators vs. Rangers series, with Cassie Campbell reporting. I’m sure Red Wings fans are thrilled to hear Mark Lee for a second straight playoffs, as he works with Kevin Weekes on their series against the Predators. Rounding out CBC’s team are Dean Brown, Greg Millen and Andi Petrillo working the Bruins vs. Capitals series (more on that later).

Friedman in studio… I think this is where CBC has messed with a good thing. Elliotte Friedman is the best rinkside reporter in hockey. I understand using him in studio during the regular season, especially because of The Hotstove. However during the playoffs, Friedman is best reporting on a series. I would have moved Andi Petrillo to the iDesk, Cassie Campbell to the Bruins series and Elliotte to the Senators series.

Bruins vs. Caps on CBC… Two games from this series will get relegated to CHEX and CBCSports.ca because they conflict with the Senators series. This will obviously anger the many Bruins fans here in Atlantic Canada, but it’s not like CBC could just decide to not show the Sens here. Those with satellite will get to watch the games on CHEX, while others will have to resort to the choppy streaming of CBCSports.ca. Not ideal to say the least.

TSN playoff commentators… Gord Miller has confirmed on Twitter that he and Ray Ferraro will work all of Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia (it’s not clear whether this includes the games on NBC in the US), some of Florida vs. New Jersey, Phoenix vs. Chicago (games in Chicago) and St. Louis vs. San Jose (games in St. Louis). Chris Cuthbert and Mike Johnson will be based on the west coast, moving Phoenix vs. Chicago and St. Louis vs. San Jose. I will post a daily NHL playoff schedule that will include TSN’s game-by-game commentators.

Max Patrick Interview

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Serie A commentator Max Patrick. Max works Serie A games on the international feed which is heard every weekend on The Score, TLN and Fox Sports World here in Canada, as well as on FSC and FS+ in the United States. You may have recently heard him call Internazionale-Napoli yesterday on The Score.

Max was born in Sheffield, England in 1975. As you will learn, he strangely didn’t like Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United, but in fact enjoyed watching Aberdeen play. He is also a musician who plays drums and guitar (among other instruments) and has toured around the world.

Canadian Sports Fan: When you were young, did you grow up wanting to be a professional footballer or commentator, or did you not expect to go into the sports business at all?

Max Patrick: I’m still young, in my heart at least :) I remember being fascinated by the different teams first. The locations, the different kits and the different players. My friends at school in England were Man Utd, Liverpool, Sheffield Wednesday but I never really stuck with one team growing up. I used to collect the panini stickers and loved swopping them with my mates. I found that I had a real knack for remembering names/teams/facts about players from all the divisions in England and Scotland. At one point I remember being mad keen on Aberdeen. They had a certain Alex Ferguson in charge!  I was keen on them after following them on the T.V. in their massive cup winners cup win over Real Madrid. My Mum wrote to the club and I remember getting some photos and autographs through the post.

I’d have liked to have played in that team. But, looking back, all of those hours spent enjoying football ‘stuff’ was ideal preparation for the work that I do now. I never entertained the idea of becoming a commentator…it’s more like when the offer came it was a completely natural thing to do.

CSF: How does someone from Sheffield, England end up in Milan covering Serie A games for an audience around the world?

MP: I was drawn to Italy. Irresistably. It’s hard to explain. I first came to Italy in 1997 with the England team. I was playing in the band down in Rome. It was the night of ‘The Great Escape’ with the Sheffield Wednesday band, of which I’d joined as a drummer (I actually play the drums to a professional level!) It was a remarkable experience. Other things happened in life and eventually I emigrated to Milan. After a couple of years of playing football, talking about football, performing music and so on, a friend of mine suggested I contact a guy called Richard Whittle about a football project. From that meeting, the football project has gone from strength to strength.

CSF: I understand that Serie A commentators are actually in the broadcast booth at the stadium as opposed to calling the game off monitor from a studio. I’ve noticed this works well because sometimes you or another commentator will notice an injury or card while the video feed is showing a replay. Other than this, what are other advantages to actually being at the stadium?

MP: We can do either; either from the stadium or from a studio. For me there is no comparison as the stadium provides a greater amount of colour in which to see and hear. When you’re at the stadium the whole thing; the journey in, the position that you commentate from, the noise etc all add to the occasion and the feeling and this is what I try to convey.

CSF: On the flip side, have you ever called games off monitor and what challenges does this present?

MP: Yes I’ve done this and the challenges are things like the line-ups. When you’re at the game you get a list of the I-XI and you can start to organsise yourself. When you’re in a studio, you don’t get that, so you have to use your ‘nous’ and prepare accordingly.

CSF: I’ve noticed that the Serie A uses co-commentators for some of the biggest games now. For example you and Paul Visca worked Inter-Napoli together on Thursday evening. What adjustments do you have to make when you go from calling a game by yourself to calling a game with someone else?

MP: Paul and I began at the same time 7 years ago. When we began we didn’t know to what extent the thing would take off. We both spent time ‘learning the ropes’. We kept coming into the studio for about 4 months to practice on past games. We’d see each other; knowing that maybe there was only work for one of us. We’d take CD’s home and listen to them to improve so, I guess, we sort of grew into the job together. Working with Paul is great; it’s like going to the game with your buddy y’know? When we do a duo ‘gig’ (that’s my music heritage!) we take it in turns to be commentator or analyst. For the game that you mentioned (Inter-Napoli) I was the commentator last night, but for the next game we do I’ll be the match analyst.

CSF: What is your favourite Italian stadium to call a game from? I have always thought that the stadiums of both teams who played Thursday evening (the San Siro in Milan and San Paolo in Naples) come across as two of the best atmospheres on TV.

MP: The San Siro. It always strikes me as a stadium of World importance everytime I walk to it. I also remember times when I’d go to watch Inter or Milan as a fan.

CSF: I’ve been dying to ask this question of someone more familiar with Serie A than myself. I notice that stadiums appear more empty than they are on TV because fans tend to sit in the upper levels instead of close to the pitch. Do you know why this is?

MP: Generally the ticket prices close to the pitch are vastly more expensive than the higher tiers. You could pay 130 euro for a first ring ticket compared with 15 euro for a third ring ticket.

CSF: With the Serie A season at the halfway point, what team has surprised you most so far? What team do you think has had the most disappointing season so far? Also, who do you think is the favourite to win the league?

MP: AC Milan must be favourites to win the league now. They are the Winter Champions, they have Ibra (who is a title talisman) and they have a strong squad. Fiorentina have been a massive disappointment this season and the surprise team for me would be Napoli. Despite last nights defeat, Cavani has been a revelation.

CSF: Internazionale recently competed in the Club World Cup. Some see this as a pointless tournament with a couple good teams, and a bunch of others that couldn’t even play in the second league in most European countries. Do you think this is a worthwhile competition or does it just interrupt the European champs season too much?

MP: In these times of wealth, it’s an inevitable luxury. I think it worked better though when it was simply your Champions League Winners versus their South American equivalent. Ok, the African team beat the Brazilian team this time, but the extra games do cause a disruption.

CSF: Sampdoria recently agreed to loan Federico Macheda from the team I support, Manchester United. Of course I’m excited to get to see him play more. Do you see him being able to replace Antonio Cassano for the remainder of the season?

MP: No, I don’t think he can replace the Cassano of last year because Cassano last season was a major player who helped to guide Samp to 4th spot. Cassano last season was a sublime player at his peak and Macheda is only 19 years old and still learning. He’s in Italy for 6 months and he’s very much looking at returning to United having learned a lot in order to force himself into Alex Ferguson’s best 11. Macheda will, no doubt, provide a lot of energy and desire for Sampdoria but I don’t see him becoming the ‘new Cassano’. I’ll see him in action on Sunday!

CSF: What game will you be calling on Sunday? Will you be working by yourself or with a co-commentator?

MP: Ah! I’m on my lonesome for two games on Sunday. They are (drumroll)
Italian Time
12:30 Sampdoria Vs AS Roma (6:30am ET on Fox Sports World here)
and
15:00 Lazio Vs Lecce (tape delayed at 11:00am ET on The Score here)

I would like to thank Max for his time, it is greatly appreciated. If you are a Serie A fan, then you should follow Max on Twitter. He is a great commentator and will take the time to interact with those who listen to him and have any comments or questions.

Interviews with various people who work in the sports media business are something that I want to make a regular feature in 2011. If you have any ideas of who you would like to see a Canadian Sports Fan blog interview with in 2011, then just let me know and I’ll try to work something out.

EPL & Serie A Midseason Reviews

Now that were are finished the busy Christmas period of Barclay’s Premier League fixtures and with an FA Cup break coming up on the weekend, I figured that today would be a good day to re-visit my preseason predictions. First you can see my EPL season preview here. Based on this, Chelsea and Liverpool have been among the many disappointing teams. Aston Villa have easily been the most disappointing, they are sitting in a relegation spot after Christmas play. Bolton and Newcastle have been among the surprises as they have finished the end of the Christmas break in the top half.

My prediction of Manchester United winning the league is looking good so far, they have yet to lose. Just like I predicted, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham are competing for the other three Champions League positions. Looking ahead, I think that only Arsenal and maybe Manchester City will be able to compete with Manchester United for the Premier League title. Chelsea have played their way out of contention over the last month, with it coming to a head yesterday with a loss to Wolves.

Speaking of Wolves, I had them, West Bromwich and Blackpool going back down to the Football League Championship. At the midway point, only Blackpool have done enough to convince me that they will survive to fight another season in the top flight of English football. They are sitting in 13th on 25 point even though they have had multiple home games postponed due to a frozen pitch. Many of those will be made up this month, which will give Blackpool a chance to climb back into the top half.

At the midway point my new predictions for European spots and relegation are

Champions League
1. Manchester United
2. Arsenal
3. Manchester City
4. Chelsea

Europa League
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Sunderland
7. Newcastle United

Relegated to FL Championship
18. Wolverhampton Wanderers
19. West Ham United
20. Wigan Athletic

Promotion to Premier League
1. Queen’s Park Rangers
2. Cardiff City
3. Leeds United

Serie A

Moving on to the Serie A now. My preseason Serie A predictions couldn’t be more wrong. I had one Milan team winning the league and one missing out on the Champions League, only problem is that I had them backwards. I had Inter winning the Scudetto again, with Milan finishing 5th and heading to the Europa League.

Starting at the top of the table, Lazio and Napoli have been surprises. I had both missing out on Europe, but at coming out of the Christmas break they are both sitting in Champions League positions. I think that Roma is the team to watch in the 2nd half of the season. Their second half form was well documented last season and they almost won the League because of it despite their horrible first half. I don’t see them winning this year either, but they look prime to get back into a Champions League spot.

Moving further down, it looks like Palermo should be able to wrap up a Europa League birth. Internazionale should be able to get the other one, but they will be challenged by a group of nine teams sitting within four points of them that is led by Sampdoria. Inter has more talent than any of the teams chasing them, so that should help them. I don’t see them getting into a Champions League spot regardless of what they do over the next 4 and a half months though.

Looking at the bottom of the table, Bari look certain to be relegated with just 2 wins from 17 games. Cesana, Brescia and Lecce will fight it out to stay alive as it looks like only one of them will be playing in the Serie A next season.

My predictions for European spots and relagation at the midway point of the Serie A season are

Champions League
1. Milan
2. Juventus
3. Napoli
4. Roma

Europa League
5. Lazio
6. Internazionale
7. Palermo

Relegated to Serie B
18. Brescia
19. Lecce
20. Bari

Promoted to Serie A
1. Novara
2. Siena
3. Atalanta