Welcome back, Nuclear Warheads for another face-melting edition of the most popular Premier League preview blog on the Star Tribune website.
My apologies for the lack of post last week. I appreciate the all the cards and singing telegrams.
This weekend's slate is kind of a slow-burn until the big match on Sunday. What a day Sunday will be, by the way. Manchester City vs Arsenal + NFC/AFC Championship games. Beautiful.
It's also kind of an odd schedule this weekend. No early match so there is no need to set your alarm for 6:45. That means a lot of matches bunched together at 9:00 am. Chelsea and Liverpool are only on NBC Sports Extra so this is your advance notice to get to a bar or try to track down your NBC login information.
Alright, onto the matches!
No. 1: QPR vs Manchester United at Loftus Road
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The last time these two teams met was February of 2013. It was a simpler time. Before selfie sticks and before that one chick embarrassed herself on the Oscar nominations ceremony by calling the guy Dick Poop. Anyway, United won 2-0. Ryan Giggs scored a goal and it probably caused all United stand up and yell "GIGGGGGSSYYYY!!! LEGEND!!! DERP!!!!"
Remember David Moyes? The guy who replaced Sir Alex Ferguson last season and drove United into the ground, causing them to miss out on Champions League? Remember how fans hung banners at Old Trafford demanding he be fired?
Well, they have the exact same point total today than they did at this point last season! Party on, Luis van Gaal!
This year may feel differently for United, mainly because they sit in 4th right now (were 7th at this point last year) because none of the other fringe top-4 teams have bothered to string some results together. Their spot in the table may sound nice but it is a total misnomer. They are closer to Stoke City in 11th (11 points) than they are league-leaders Chelsea (12 points).
So lets all cool on the "UNITED ARE BACK!" discussion that even I contributed to a few weeks back*.
*I wish I could say I was trying to reverse jinx them, but that would be a lie. And I never lie. Only exceptions are my goal total during my U-12 soccer season and that I was Macaulay Culkin's stunt-double in Home Alone 2. Both lies always impress chicks.
United are winless in the league since Boxing Day, a stretch that includes a home loss to Southampton last week. They have a soft schedule through February where they will need to make some hay.
They start with the newly-promoted QPR that has proven to be the abject failure we all knew they would be. They even lost to Burnley last week. Anytime you let Burnley get over on you it might be time to start preparing for life back in the Championship.
Highly unlikely United find a way to mess this one up. Not expecting a lot of entertainment out of this one. It is on TV by default, because you can't put Liverpool/Chelsea on TV every week and because Spurs v Burnley sounds about as exciting as deleting the backlog of voicemails on your cell phone.
No. 2: Newcastle vs Southampton at St James' Park
When: Saturday at 11:30am on Big Boy NBC
Last year: 1-1 draw for these two a year ago up at Newcastle. Sounds riveting. If you have a copy of that game on VHS I bet you could make a fortune on eBay.
Whoooooaaaaa babies! Did I mention the matches on Saturday were a bit stale?
It is hilarious that this match is on the Big Boy NBC. I get that scheduling stuff on a major television network is tougher than I like to assume it is, and they don't sit around and try to cater to my personal tastes. That being said, you spend all this money on the rights to the league and you roll out Newcastle/Sunderland as one of the matches you put on over-the-air TV?
Obviously I am exaggerating a bit; this one will be a fun match. The 'ARE SOUTHAMPTON FOR REAL TOUR!?!' tour continues with its next stop at St James Park*. With wins against United and Arsenal and a draw with Chelsea, it might be time to transition to the SOUTHAMPTON ARE FOR REAL TOUR!!!
*Quick thought. You know how Newcastle are always in need of cash? Why not sell the naming rights to their grounds to Universal for the next 6 months and name the place St JURASSIC Park leading up to the release of Jurassic World in June? Genius. I better get a cut of the cash when they strike the deal.
Every year there are the teams that that have a hot run early (typically thanks to a friendly fixture list) and everyone jumps out with hot takes about whether they are or are not for real. They never are. But the Southampton situation seems different. The table usually settles around early December with any and all non-big club hopefuls having their top-4 dreams dashed before the calendar flips.
Everyone looked at the Chelsea/Arsenal/United stretch as the point where they would return to their post as a 6-10 side but the Saints made it through with 7 of a possible 9 points. After being that surprise team that faded in December a year ago, Ronald Koeman's men appear to be here to stay.
They will be up against it a bit Saturday. St JURASSIC Park is always a tough place to play. Just ask league-leaders Chelsea. However, their last time out at home they drew Burnley 3-3. In their two matches since, they lost to Leicester City in the FA Cup and allowed to Chelsea to get revenge at Stamford Bridge.
A draw makes sense here but I want this run for Southampton to continue and them to finish with a Champions League spot. There aren't enough genuine surprises in the way the Premier League table shakes out each year and this would definitely qualify. Also, it just means one less spot for United/Arsenal/Spurs/Liverpool. That is neat!
No. 3: Manchester City vs Arsenal at Etihad Stadium
When: Sunday at 10:00am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Oh, man remember this one? Finished with a 6-3 baseball score last December. This match knocked Arsenal out of first place for the first time since August. They would reclaim the top spot before falling out of first for good in February after losing to Liverpool 5-1. Then in March a 6-0 loss to Chelsea would drop them all the way to 4th. Hey Arsenal fans — do you like movies starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones? Because you got BLOWN AWAY a lot last season! Boom. Nailed it.
Ah, here we go. The premier (no pun intended) match of the weekend and a perfect appetizer before we eat ALL the wings and drink ALL the beers during NFL Championship Sunday.
City sit second in the league and could find themselves top of the table with a win and help from Swansea. Arsenal sit fifth and could find themselves in the top four with a win and help from QPR.
These two met back in September at the Emirates in what the English like to call an absolute cracker. It finished 2-2 after Arsenal fell behind, took the lead, and gave up a late equalizer.
City dropped points last week at Everton, but that shouldn't take away on the incredible run they are on. They haven't lost in the league since a 2-1 defeat to West Ham back in October. October was like last year. They closed the 8-point gap that Chelsea jumped out to pretty quickly, but now sit two points behind the leaders because of that aforementioned draw against the Toffees.
Arsenal have been no slouches lately, either. Other than their loss at Southampton on New Year's Day, the most embarrassing mishap for them lately was Arsene Wenger having trouble zipping his sleeping bag of a jacket.
This match kinda previews itself. It is a doozie. We all know it, They all know it. And the next chapter in what has started to become a bit of a bitter rivalry. The oddsmakers like a 1-1 draw as the most likely result but I have a hunch* this one will have a winner.
*Remember: hunches and feelings are always better than any and all advanced statistics and actual analysis.
Also, if any Aresnal fans have read this far after I SCORCHED them with that Jeff Bridges/Tommy Lee Jones joke, I would like to give my honest thanks and invite you out for oysters and PBRs. Thanks for being good sports.
Alrighty, that'll do it for this week. Enjoy the weekend of matches. Remember to tip your waiters, waitresses and bartenders at your favorite soccer bar. They don't necessarily enjoy getting up that early to serve us surly soccer fans. Let them know you appreciate it.
Until next time, may your oranges always be sliced and your bottle of magic spray always be full.