Every Super Bowl weekend for the last six or seven years, my friends (your stereotypical red-blooded, soccer-hating Americans) and I have gathered in the Biggest Little City in the World for a few days of drinking, partying, gambling, carousing, rabble-rousing, and shunning of all responsibilities like the model adult citizens that we are. Needless to say, we have many, let's call them "interesting" stories from these trips, most of which are not fit for polite company or even this blog.
One slightly less interesting, yet more fitting story, is one from last year, wherein after a long and fun Saturday night of targeted liver-destroying, our crew retired to the rooms for the
night dawn. In what felt like the very next second, my alarm blared and somehow cut through the haze long enough for me to turn on FOX, who were showing a live football ("soccer!") match for the first time (and possibly last time) ever on Super Bowl Sunday.
All was quiet in the suites still, my buddy Rich snoring away on the other side of the room, the rest of the hotel making far less noise in comparison. That is, until Fernando Torres conjured up the best cross ever of his life (on which he's still trading, if the periodic calls for him to be a winger are any indication) and Juan Mata made all the angels sing with that sweet, miraculous, spectacular left-footed volley. In an instant, the haze was gone, shouted away by whatever otherworldly noises were coming out of my mouth. I may or may not have been running - arms flailing - around the room as well.
Having so spectacularly failed at my promise to keep it down and to respect the hangover, my neighbors were unimpressed, Rich chief among them. Yet having been so rudely snapped out his calm and dark stasis, he watched the rest of that crazy match, in the process almost actually becoming a fan. He has at least become not soccer-ignorant, aware enough to celebrate Champions League victories and to commiserate about extreme sackings.
Another Juan Mata miracle!
That story probably plays much better if you actually had been there. Speaking of playing better...Super Bowl weekends have not been kind to Chelsea even in the best of times - and these times are certainly not the best of times. Last year's 3-3 draw was preceded by a loss (0-1) to Liverpool the year prior. 2010's 2-0 win versus Arsenal was a welcome respite, but that was preceded by another loss to Liverpool in 2009 (0-2) and a 1-1 draw at Portsmouth in 2008. Not exactly a promising set of results, is it?
Newcastle: Alan "Bonaparte" Pardew is set to conquer the English with his fresh French Foreign Legion. It's lucky for us then that Chelsea have plenty of Russian kryptonite.
While the battle has yet to commence, both sides have plenty of casualties on the sidelines already. Nouveau Chateau battering ram Cheik Tiote is away in Africa, and their mastermind general Hatem Ben Arfa has taken an arrow in his hamstring. Other small regiments out of commission include Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor, Sylvain Marveaux, Haris Vuckic, and Dan Gosling. Since most of those guys aren't French, they probably wouldn't have featured anyway.
Vive la Résistance!
Chelsea: January's now in the books, in all of its three-wins-in-nine-, three-draws-on-the-trot-, two-goal-comebacks-by-relegation-fodder-levels of flaming turd-glory. Good riddance. And don't come back again!
Some good news for the Blues: Petr Cech & Juan Mata look fit enough to start. Without those two, we may as well just stay at home. This will also be the last match of Eden Hazard's suspension, and there's a good chance that John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will be back soon, too.
Needless to say, Chelsea need the three points. With Wigan coming up next at Stamford Bridge, followed by a string of cup matches, the emphasis and concentration needs to stay firmly locked on achieving a Top 3 finish. And while Les Oiseaux have certainly had their struggles this season as well, their sudden reinforcements make them a bit of a wildcard. Not that it matters much since Chelsea seem more than capable of playing up or down to the exact level of the competition that they're facing.
Viva la Rafalución!
Date/Time: Saturday, February 2nd, 15:00 GMT; 10 A.M. EST; 8:30 P.M. IST
Venue: St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
TV Information: none (UK), Fox Soccer (USA), ESPN (India)