Bubble boys


On painful losses, handsome Brazilians, and the three teams vying for that last Champions League slot

By Kevin Alexander | Image via Swansea City FC
[B]ecause I want to spend as little time as possible discussing the match between the Team Frank Lampard Left and the Team Frank Lampard Currently Plays For, this week I’m going to focus on the hopes and fever dreams of three teams mostly likely to vie for that final Champions League slot: Southampton, Liverpool, and Arsenal. Sorry Spurs.

Love is (Not) A Losing Game

Up to this point, I’ve avoided spending too much time talking about my team, partially because I’m assuming Howler doesn’t want this to devolve into a Dusan Tadic fanzine, and partially because the Saints have been on such a magical run that I feared any sort of prolonged discussion would enact the jinx clause in the contract every mid-sized EPL team fan must sign. But, of course, after their consecutive victories against Arsenal, Man United, and Nouveau Chateau, visions of Champions League danced in my head. And then — much like that creepy movie with Natalie Portman — those dreams were ruined by black Swans.

Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey unleashed a shot that made everyone in St. Mary’s Stadium sad and nostalgic for the time a couple of seconds earlier when they weren’t losing.

This was not a game Southampton should have lost. They dominated play from the start. They–well, mostly James Ward-Prowse–had multiple chances to score. Their goalie is basically one of those Wilding giants from Game Of Thrones. And yet, in the 83rd minute, Swansea’s mercurial Jonjo Shelvey somehow managed to turn his leg into a ballista, unleashing a shot that made everyone in St. Mary’s Stadium sad and nostalgic for the time a couple of seconds earlier when they weren’t losing.

With a not-particularly deep squad like Southampton’s, you can’t undo these unexpected losses. There’s so little margin for error when a club of their size tries to stay at the big boy’s table. It now feels as if my team’s magical season is just one more bad loss away from turning into a Sam Smith song.

More Sturridge Overhead: The Chosen One Returns

Much of this season has felt like a storm for The Reds, but there now appears to be a golden sky at the end, and his name is Daniel Sturridge. The striker, who had missed 33 matches with various injuries, came on with about 20 min to go against West Ham, scored the clincher 12 minutes later, and then — to prove he was truly back — did his weird 70s-style goal dance. Of course, he’ll be vital for Liverpool going forward. His reappearance could even motivate Mario Balotelli to do something with his time other than purchasing pit bulls from rescue centres, and maybe occasionally play some soccer.

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Aside from the returning Sturridge, the person everyone should be talking about is Philippe Coutinho. His vision, his ability on the ball, his speed, his hair. He’s easily playing some of the best soccer in the EPL. You need to stop whatever you’re doing and watch the pass he made to Raheem Sterling a few minutes into the second half. It is a one-touch, through-ball chip with enough backspin to keep the ball up for Sterling to slot home. It’s beautiful, like watching an opera, or a particularly artful episode of One Tree Hill. Oh, and he played the ball through to Sturridge for his goal as well. Another reason Reds fans should walk on with hope in their hearts: Liverpool just signed him through 2020.

Arsenal: Annoyingly Good At Sports When They Want To Be

The Gunners with a battery of goals! That’s not only a great headline and an accurate depiction of what happened on Sunday, but also an indictment of Villa, who played like they half-expected someone from the league office to tell them that the match was just a particularly elaborate special episode of Punk’d.

Since losing to Southampton on New Year’s Day, Arsenal has been on NBA Jam-style fire, and even Governor Chris Christie showing up at the Emirates Stadium awkwardly wearing an Arsenal scarf couldn’t prevent them from firing off five goals, including one helped along by Mesut Ozil doing some sort of California Games hackeysack style over-his-shoulder flick, and a straight at Guzan PK from Cazorla, which the Guardian summed up as “less-than-outstanding.”

Perhaps the strangest and most scary thing about Arsenal, at this point, is that their defense looks like it doesn’t play for Arsenal. Coquelin continues to shine in a destroyer role sitting in front of the back four. Mertesacker, Bellerin, Monreal, and even somehow Koscielny have been airtight as of late. Things are going so well that Kieran Gibbs can’t even get a game and the signing of Brazilian centerback Gabriel Paulista is more about future depth than anything else.

Other Items Of Note:

  • His free kicks are so damn good, Spurs Christian Eriksen should do a Danish remake of Clear and Present Danger as the really cool sniper. Harry Kane can play Harrison Ford. DeAndre Yedlin can play Moira Wolfson, Assistant to the Director of the FBI.
  • When an Irishman scored a hat trick for Stoke, I kept trying to figure out how to make an obscure joke about them attempting to sign Tony Cascarino, but it never panned out. And still hasn’t, obviously.
  • Jermaine Defoe opened his account with Sunderland by scoring the only type of goal he ever scores: a six yard tap-in.
  • Liverpool still hasn’t signed Bent.
  • I guess Man City and Chelsea played, or something?

Howler Magazine

Check back here every Tuesday for more EPL breakdowns and discussions of obsolete Irish strikers. Or just follow Kevin on Twitter @KAlexander03 and he’ll personally introduce you to Tony Cascarino.