Lets get Nuclear!
Before we get to the weekend preview, I want to give a shout to the Vikings for putting on a cool event for soccer fans last Sunday at Brits in Minneapolis. The Vikings treated everyone to free beer, breakfast buffet, t-shirts and pint glasses. Thanks, Zygi! This was part of their continued interest in getting an MLS franchise to play in the new Vikings stadium. I have been very open on social media that I prefer the other group lands a team, but I have to give the Vikings credit for putting on a fun event. VP Lester Bagley even came — although I didn't see him move more than a few feet from the door. Don't be shy, Lester! Us soccer folk are good people!
Alright, it’s a lopsided slate of matches this weekend with all of the meat worth sinking your teeth into coming on Sunday. Great triple-header, though. And definitely worth getting up early for.
Onto the matches!
No. 1: Liverpool vs Manchester City at Anfield
When: Sunday at 6:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: This was the match where Liverpool fans believed they won their first Premier League trophy. They beat City 3-2 after blowing a 2-0 goal lead but finding a winner from Philippe Coutinho in the 78th minute. They controlled their own destiny with four matches to go but lost to Chelsea, blew a 3-goal lead at Palace and finished two points behind City. One of the biggest crotch-shots in recent sports history.
Set those alarm clocks! Earrrrrly start for this one. If 6:00am freaks you out, sleep in a bit later. I talked to Shane the manager over at Brits and he says they are showing the match on tape-delay at 7:30 with doors opening at 7:15. As always, the Liverpool fans will be out in force at Brits.
Everyone, including Wessel de Nuclear, wrote Liverpool off months ago. Thought it would be a one-and-done for them returning to Champions League and not another sustained run of top-four finishes their supporters were dreaming of. Now they haven't lost in their last 10 league matches and sit two points out of third place.
They'll welcome a City team with renewed confidence in their bid for the title after picking up two points on Chelsea by embarrassing Newcastle 5-0 last Saturday. A win over Liverpool would cut their deficit to two points against Chelsea and put all the pressure on the Blues to win the game-in-hand they'll have due to the League Cup final on Sunday.
This one has the stench of a draw lingering all over it but a win for either side is important enough that hopefully we see that back-and-forth frantic action we all love and crave.
No. 2: Arsenal vs Everton at Emirates Stadium
When: Sunday at 8:05AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These two played to a 1-1 draw last December at Emirates Stadium with both goals coming after the 80th minute. You might not believe this (just kidding, you should absolutely believe this), Arsenal blew the 1-0 lead.
Arsenal sit alone in the race for the third place trophy with 48 points. They might have just cinched the thing up already had it not been for losses to other top-four contenders Southampton and Tottenham in the last month.
Everton continue to embarrass the idiots like myself who made them their sneaky pick to finish in a Champions League spot. Tim Howard continues to look like the kid that gets thrown in to play goalie that doesn't want to in a U-12 match instead of the Captain America he was last summer vs Belgium. The man is entitled to a rough season but it just makes me sad to watch whenever they are on TV.
Arsenal suffered a horrible 3-1 loss to Monaco at home in the first leg of the Round of 16 in Champions League. They have now been outscored 12-2 in their last four Round of 16 first leg matches. Oof. It appears to be another one-and-done for Arsenal in the knockout round.
They will be the favorites to take three points against Everton, but it is fair to wonder what kind of effect the Monaco match will have the rest of the way. Arsene Wenger has always done a great (and underappreciated) job keeping Arsenal in the top four. They haven't finished better than third since 2005 but they have always kept their head above Champions League water- sometimes by margins as small as the zipper on Wenger's sleeping bag jacket. But maybe this — one of the most competitive races in recent memory — is when they finally slip up. Then the Gunner fans that called for Wenger's head during the years of top-four finishes and Champions League will really have something to whine about.
No. 1: Chelsea vs Tottenham at Wembley Stadium in the League Cup Final
When: Sunday at 10:00AM on beIN Sports
Last time: Chelsea and Spurs last met in a Cup Final in 2008. Spurs hoisted the trophy after Spurs went up 2-1 late in added time and Chelsea couldn't equalize. The last time they met in an FA Cup semi-final? 2012 when Chelsea won 5-1. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing, really. I just wanted to type it.
The League Cup is an odd thing. Of the four trophies an English side can win each year, it is by far the least significant. Top Premier League teams field mostly youth sides in the early going to get bench players some run. Nobody — fans, players, managers — really sheds a tear if they get knocked out. But if your team keeps winning, you get to a point where everyone just sorta says We came this far, might as well win the thing.
This year's final is spicier than usual and actually appeals to neutrals for the first time in a while. Does anyone remember when Swansea City beat Bradford 5-0 a few years back? Does anyone even remember who played in the final last year? I’ll be honest, I had to look it up. City beat Sunderland 3-1. Woo!
The Chelsea/Spurs London rivalry is certainly not as big as it's Spurs/Arsenal counterpart but it is still juicy. It had been very one-sided for years before Spurs poured some gasoline on the fire to renew things with a 5-3 win on New Year's Day — their first win over Chelsea since 2010.
A trophy, 100,000 pounds (no idea how to do the cool pound sign on a keyboard) and a spot in Europa League are all on the line. But none of that really matters to either side all that much.
What's really on the line here is pride and the thrill of defeating your rival at Wembley. Spurs catch a break with Nemanja Matic being suspended for pushing a man who tried to end his career last Saturday against Burnley. Matic is a key cog to this Chelsea squad and, somehow, underrated by folks who point to Chelsea's big knockers when talking about the team's success. But the Blues have quality replacements so don't go inscribing Tottenham on the cup yet. Also, it's a final. You never really know with these things.
Alright, everyone. Talk more next week. Only 11 matches to go. Keep your socks taped and your oranges sliced.