Two must-win (and one must-not-lose) matches for English, but it is Atletico Madrid hosting Juventus that gets Daniel Storey dribbling most. That and Eboue coming home...
He's worked for Chelsea in their academy - and learned a lot from Brendan Rodgers - but a failed visa scuppered a US move and now he's Rwanda U-17s coach...
The race is on for your TV dollar. While the BBC is in the happy position of getting money from a government system that can put you in prison if you own a TV and don't pay for the privilege (411 people last year, according to The Independent), rival broadcasters Sky and BT have to rely on the beastly business of making a product and selling it without being able to bang up refuseniks.
So as the new season begins, those two are duking it out for your football TV cash.
Via a widespread advert campaign across all platforms, we learn that BT will give you free access to all their live football if you take their broadband. They're already reminding us that from 2015 this will include Champions League football too. After this year, ITV are kicked firmly into touch on that score, and one wonders how or if they can get back in the game. "Champions League football on ITV? Not for me, Clive. *Sob*. Literally not for me."
So it is a long-term game being played here. BT are serious competitors for Sky and when it comes to the current adverts, they're really stirring up our football juices for the new season. In a series of ads featuring '"unbelievable" games from last season such as Liverpool's 5-1 drubbing of Arsenal and Chelsea's 6-0 annihilation of, er, also Arsenal, they've built some cinematic minute-long pieces designed to make you forget all the heinous dross that passes for top-rank football in England. Last season's bottom 12 were, to our minds, the worst 12 in the history of the league.
In between sensational bits of skill, there's Rio on a sofa and Jose giving good face and also Daniel Sturridge, who we can't help feel is somewhat over-promoted in this vaunted company. But hey, he does a 'dance' that children like so...aw...nice.
These ads are running all over your TV, but also on the radio, currently being on heavy rotation on Planet Rock, featuring a hoarse Michael Owen stirred out of his usual drone coma by Liverpool being 4-0 up after 19 minutes in the game against the Gunners. "I've been in this game a long time...," says Mickey, to which we say, have you though, really? You're hardly any age at all and you virtually packed up aged 25.
The thing is, it works and works really well. It does make you want the season to start. Even the quick cutaways of David Moyes looking frightened as Manchester United concede another goal make you pine for the daily soap opera of the league. These are classy, well-realised trailers made with élan and no little art and show just how committed BT are to this gig. They're throwing money at it and it shows.
Sky effectively invented the fancy football ad, so how are they responding to the young Turks? Well, they have reached deep into their pocket and pulled out a big fat ace: Saint David of Beckham. In what we think is a rather sweet nod to the fact that, y'now, he looks a lot better than how he talks, David stays mute and suave as he introduces a jokey advert that makes the self-confident statement: we don't need to gild the lily with breathless demonstrations of our bells and whistles, we are already the big cheese, the incumbent, the champ.
The other message is that they have a European football channel coming on-stream. You can get this Sky Sports 5 for free if you're a Sky Sports customer. You can also get two years' worth of free Sky Broadband too. Nice.
A European football channel sounds like an absolutely delicious idea to us. Pulling together all the strands of European football in one easy-to-access location makes sense. Sky Sports 5 is where you'll find European qualifiers, UEFA Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey as well as other European football programming including Revista De La Liga and Champions League Weekly. They've also got the rights to show the Eredivisie, which us arousing us more than it possibly should.
But you will notice that it doesn't have German, French and Italian football, which is all on BT Sport. So for the Euro enthusiast, both channels are now essential purchases.
We've also seen an advert on social media for Sky's football. It is a full-length portrait shot of Jamie, Carra, Nev and Souey. This is their dream team and let's be honest, 75% of it is clearly the top TV football talent out there, so they're right to advertise it thus. We think it's interesting that Souness has been elevated to the top table with the three younger men - perhaps due to some of the love he has got online, maybe?
So BT has got a new gloss and style but Sky remains the market leader with the best analysis. The battle lines are being drawn and while it's a drag to have to spend so much money on it all, the breadth of choice and the contrast of styles is at last giving us comprehensive coverage. It also feels like TV executives have now finally grasped that we like to dine off more than one football menu.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football.
Or Alan's illustrated sports books here.
@ perdesthai, so in your opinion the very existence of capitalism (and the inevitability that we will buy stuff that might have been advertised on TV at some point in our lives) is reason enough to have the BBC funded by law, even if you receive a broadcast signal but don't use their services or watch their content? Ok then. It's as though you think the likes of Sky etc actually have it easy compared the (publicly funded, by law) BBC. Why do people do this? Sentimentalise British institutions like this? As I said before I actually love some of their content and sure, they're an intrinsic part of 20th-21st century culture in the UK. But they are basically guaranteed cash like a government department is, which I think contributes to an "we're untouchable because we're so important" attitude within their staff (I deal with them frequently in my job). What you haven't explained, by the way, is why you think it's fine for the BBC to protected in such a way.- tk421