With this being the last picks before Christmas, I wanted to give the readers a big present this Sunday. Then Liverpool decided to put a lump of coal of a game in my stocking and it sapped all my will. So you can blame Adam Bogdan and the Reds defense for this edition lacking a certain holiday spirit. But even without my beloved Kloppites' wake-up call from hell, I wanted to address something today. Many of you readers, and I am thankful for the lot of ya, are getting very hung up on the club map featured at the top of all my picks articles. You tell me about the neglected countries and teams that have been relegated and yada yada yada. First, I didn't make the map. It was an image I found online that I thought was pretty cool and represented the dispersal of different clubs from Europe's top five leagues. Second, just because a country didn't make said map doesn't mean I will neglect them in the picks. The Swiss Super League, Russian Premier League, and Scottish Premiership are all not featured on the map, but have made their way into my picks over the past few months. I hope to add even more by season's end. So now that that's out of the way, and Liverpool are driving me to the hard stuff at 10 AM, let's head to another part of England for a hopeful palate cleanser.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Swansea City FC vs West Ham United FC (11:00 AM ET/NBC Sports)
Liverpool's recent form makes me feel really horrible, but I can't imagine what Swansea City fans have been going through this season. One year removed from a record point haul and Garry Monk finishing on the medal stand for Manager of the Year, Swansea is a shell of their former selves. Monk is out and the Swans sit in the relegation zone three points clear of safety. They started off well fighting for a draw at Chelsea and beating Manchester United in the first month. Andre Ayew won the Player of the Month for August. It has been a nightmare ever since. Just two wins since the United game is a bad omen for a team that showed such promise. West Ham started off with great promise as well, but it was a huge injury that started their less precipitous downturn. Dimitri Payet, a frontrunner for Player of the Year at the time, went down with an ankle injury and the Hammers haven't been the same. They still sit in eighth place, but Payet made them top four contenders similarly to how Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have invigorated Leicester City. Both teams are down on their luck, so that is why I am going with the home team in a gritty battle here. Swansea has two of their three victories at the Liberty Stadium and seem to have a pulse when playing in front of the home fans. It won't be a classic, but you'll get a hard fought game between two desperate sides and a nice goal to mask all the ferociousness.
PREDICTION: Swansea City 1 West Ham 0
Borussia Monchengladbach vs SV Darmstadt 98 (11:30 AM ET/Fox Sports 2)
I'll be the first one to admit when I'm wrong, and boy did I get my last Borussia Monchengladbach pick horribly wrong. Bayer Leverkusen, and Javier Hernandez especially, massacred the Borussians at the BayArena. I search for redemption today as I go with another Gladbach pick against promoted side SV Darmstadt. Darmstadt have been a relatively anonymous side this year in the Bundesliga. They haven't been beaten by any ridiculous margin, yet they haven't really claimed any notable scalps either. They are three points above the relegation playoffs at the moment and will at least stay as much with all the teams behind them already having played. They don't score a lot of goals, but when they do it comes from the duo of Marcel Heller and Aytac Sulu. They have 9 of the 15 goals the visitors have scored this year. They may add to their tally today as Gladbach's defense has been leaky of late, letting up 5 to Leverkusen and 4 to Werder Bremen in the DFB Pokal. However, I believe Gladbach will be pissed off and their offense will show up today and win an OK Corral special with the visitors in a very high tempo contest.
PREDICTION: Borussia Monchengladbach 3 SV Darmstadt 2
ITALIAN SERIE A
SS Lazio vs FC Internazionale Milano (2:45 PM ET/beIN Sports)
The pressure continues to mount on Inter Milan at the top of Serie A. Juventus continues to surge up the table and Fiorentina has shown that they are here to stay in the battle for Italian supremacy. Both Juve and Fiorentina have won this morning making Inter's game with Lazio today that much more important. Inter have now began to shut me up with my criticisms of their plodding play by scoring 7 goals in their last two games against Udinese in the league and versus Cagliari in the Coppa Italia. Mauro Icardi has taken the responsibility of being both a goal producer and distributor for Inter and the Argentinian's brilliance has raised the level of all their attacking options. They should have another boatload of chances today against a banged up Lazio. Lazio sits mid-table after being a staple in the European places for the past several campaigns. Their defense has been their primary Achilles' heel especially away from home. They've let in 17 goals to just 4 scored away from home and will bring that record into a venomous San Siro this afternoon. The cynic in me says that Inter reverts back to their old ways in this one as Lazio can still counter with the best of them. But since I am trying to get out of my Liverpool-induced Grinch mood, I am going to veer into the positive lane and say that the leaders hold court and do it with some panache.
PREDICTION: Inter Milan 3 Lazio 0
PORTUGUESE PRIMEIRA LIGA
FC Porto vs Academica de Coimbra (3:30 PM ET/Univision Deportes)
We round out the day in Portugal with some Primeira Liga action in the mid-afternoon. When your fantasy football championship dreams are dashed, find a nice cantina that has Univision and bask in the fun that is FC Porto football. Along with the other three titans of Portuguese football, Porto they buy and churn out amazing talent on the cheap and then sell it on for astronomical figures. The next big thing to come from the 27x Portuguese champions should be on full display today against relegation bound Academica de Coimbra. 18 year old midfielder Ruben Neves has big clubs across Europe already clamoring for his signature. He was the youngest ever captain of a Porto Champions League team when he wore the armband for their October 20th game against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool have all reportedly inquired about his price and availability ahead of the January transfer window. Development and sales are all well and good, but Porto will be just as concerned with going top in this game. With Sporting playing before them, they'll know fully if they can or can't. They are going to win big in either case.
PREDICTION: FC Porto 4 Academica 0
Enjoy today's supplemental football of the European variety to your huge American football Sunday. Fantasy football playoffs and real life playoff implications are on the line, but just know that Europe's finest are here to bring you back up when you are feeling down. As a Colts fan, I know I am going to need it. So join me in cracking a morning brew and let's immerse ourselves in all things football!