Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
Dana Wessel produces the Cane & Company morning show on 96.3 K-TWIN. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11 and airs Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am.
Welcome back to another edition of Nuclear Wessel. We were recently a unanimous pick for fastest rising and most popular English Premier League weekly blog post hosted on StarTribune.com! Thanks for reading!
We had our first shock result of the season last Sunday when Cardiff City stunned the 2011-12 league champions Manchester City, in Cardiff's first match back in the top flight in over 50 years. What a story. The joy on the faces of those Cardiff supporters was infectious, and an early reminder of what makes this league so great. It will be a trying year for them -- as it is for every newly-promoted side -- and results like last Saturday will by no means be common, but I think everyone is rooting for them to stay up.
Before we get to three matches to look forward to this weekend, I want to talk about something I get asked about a lot: picking a European soccer team to root for.
I set off to write one of those team-by-team breakdowns that you see everywhere, but realized almost immediately that it wouldn’t work. Like just about everybody else who writes those articles, I am extremely biased, and it wouldn’t have done anybody any good -- except for those of us who love making fun of Arsenal.
So rather than waste everybody’s time with that, I will just give the advice I always give people: don’t choose a team, let a team choose you. Like how that hat in Harry Potter told each Hogwarts kid who they had to marry or something. I dunno. I didn’t really understand that movie.
Watch a lot of matches, and don’t rush it. Don’t limit yourself to the EPL, either. Maybe you like the beauty of La Liga, or the run of German dominance we are seeing in the Bundesliga. You don’t want to immediately throw your hat behind a squad only to wind up hating their stadium, fans, and owners in three months. Do some research, and don’t let your friends sway you. You’ll eventually be inspired by it and it will just feel right.
But most importantly, don’t let some soccer snob talk you out of who you end up supporting. If you end up liking Manchester United, don’t let some Spurs fan berate for you for being a front-runner. If you decide you love West Ham and want to get a Hammers logo tattooed on your chest, don’t let some Chelsea fan tell you you’re wasting your time. It is your fandom, go about it on your terms.
You shouldn’t let anybody question your sudden interest in a team, either. Everyone had to start somewhere -- with every sport. Most picked Liverpool or United because they were good when they were kids. Some people studied abroad and liked Newcastle beer. Some of us even had a crush a girl named Chelsea in middle school and I... I mean, they decided the Blues were for them. (Seriously, that is how it happened. I wouldn’t change a thing. I am still friends with her -- hey Chels! Thank your parents for not naming you Manchester for me!) Remember, it is all just as arbitrary as rooting for the Vikings because your dad did when you were a kid.
Lastly, don’t listen to the meatheads that say you can’t be a fan of the EPL because you aren’t from England. I have never gotten that geographic argument. As if you can’t possibly be emotionally invested in a team if you weren’t born there. Who decided this? What is the cutoff? Two states away? If you were born at the 50-yard line of a stadium does that make you the BIGGEST FAN EVER? Ridiculous.
Onto the matches for this week. Chelsea are momentarily top of the table while they play Bayern Munich in the European Super Cup on Friday. I'll spare you from talking about that match, but check it out Friday if you knock off work early. Jose vs Pep. Munich no doubt looking for some consolation revenge for March 19, 2012. Should be a lot of fun. 1:45 on Fox Sports 2 (apparently that is a thing).
As far as the league goes, Tottenham and Liverpool look to take remain perfect and take the top spot from Chelsea in a weekend with some spicy matches. Here's your guide to the matches to watch:
No. 3: Crystal Palace vs Sunderland at Selhurst Park
When: Saturday at 11:30am on NBC -- yes the NBC.
Last year: Crystal Palace is back in the top flight for the first time since the inaugural year in 1992.
Remember a week ago how amazed I was that NBC flipped around their TV schedule to make sure to show Jozy Alitdore and Sunderland on NBC Sports Network? Well, now they are showing the US international’s match on the big boy, over-the-air NBC.
This is a great opportunity for those of you who may not have cable or the sports package to check out the Great US Goal Scoring Hope in action. He got his first goal for Sunderland in a midweek CitiBank Odor Eaters Juked Micronics Cup brought to you by Playtone Records (better known as the Carling Cup, or League Cup, but now it has more sponsors than a UFC fighter). But careers aren’t made and starts aren’t given for guys who only find the back of the net in the Carling Cup. Jozy will presumably make the starting eleven, and will want to get his first league goal before he starts getting frustrated and his manager starts losing faith. And what better time to get that first goal than Saturday?
Newly promoted Palace have zero points through two matches and have conceded five goals. Jozy is tight with his agent (who is very active on Twitter) so he no doubt knows this match is on national television stateside. Score Saturday and he flies back to the States with a big grin on his face to rejoin the United States Men’s National Team for World Cup Qualifiers, at Costa Rica and home vs Mexico. He’ll be looking to extend his five-match scoring streak, help the US extend their best-in-the-world win streak, and officially qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Could be a pretty neat couple weeks here for young Josmer.
No. 2: Liverpool vs Manchester United at Anfield
When: Sunday at 7:30am on NBC Sport Network
Last year: United beat Liverpool 2-1 after falling behind by a goal. Robin van Persie got the winner on a penalty late. Controversy. Always controversy with these two.
This is one of the biggest rivalries in the Premier League, and arguably in all of sports. It is especially spicy this year, despite being early, because it looks like Liverpool might be turning a bit of a corner after being mired in mid-table without a sniff of European football the last few years. Steven Gerrard says this is the best Liverpool team in years, and there's no better time to prove it than this: a chance to beat the league champions and your biggest rival at home to make it a perfect 9 of 9 points and go top of the table. Giddy up. Stakes are definitely high at Anfield. Expect this one to have that big match-feel that United/Chelsea lacked on Monday. It is early in the morning, but who cares? Brit's Pub will be packed.
You’d think manager David Moyes needs to redeem himself a bit in the eyes of United fans after Monday’s draw with Chelsea. He played very conservatively against a Chelsea side clearly playing for a draw -- they didn’t even start a striker! -- at Old Trafford. Those kinds of tactics worked well at Everton when he had less talent, but don’t cut it at one of the biggest clubs in the world. There were three points there for taking had he decided to push for them in the second half, but he played it safe. Also, credit to Chelsea’s defense, especially John Terry, for earning a point.
Speaking of United/Chelsea, all credit goes to Wayne Rooney for his performance last Monday. He was clearly caught in an awkward position playing for his current team while playing against a team he might have ended up playing with by week’s end. But Rooney was the best player on the field at times and had an unmatched work ethic. Hats off to him -- or hats on, those hair plugs still weird me out.
Liverpool could be off to the races if they can get a result Sunday. Their next five matches are at Swansea, home to Southampton, at Sunderland, home to Crystal Palace and at Newcastle. Obviously the schedule always evens out in the end, but a run of points to gain confidence while not worrying about a European competition (not a jab, just the truth) and the lads from Merseyside might be a much bigger top four threat than we originally thought.
Or RvP could have a hat trick in the first 30 minutes and send Liverpool into a downward spiral. Who knows? That’s why we watch.
No. 1: Arsenal vs Tottenham at Emirates Stadium
When: Sunday at 10am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Arsenal won a wild one at the Emirates 5-2 after falling behind 1-0 from an Emmanuel Adebyor goal.
What a four hours this will be on Sunday morning. Incredible back-to-back matches that I am very excited to take in as a (somewhat) neutral party. Before anybody emails me, this match and United/Liverpool are listed this way for no reason whatsoever. Both will be amazing and both have the potential to be a classic.
It has been a great week on the field for Arsenal, but unfortunately the same can’t be said about off the field. They went to the Craven Cottage and got three points against Fulham and successfully qualified for Champions League group stage by dismissing Fenerbahce over two legs. But then when the balls were opened for the CL group stage draw, Arsenal fans probably felt like they got kicked in them. They got paired with last year’s runner up Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille. Oof. Pack a lunch. But let's call a spade a spade that even Arsenal fans can admit: they have no chance winning Champions League. Maybe a swift death so they can focus on finishing top four and perhaps lifting the much more manageable FA Cup would be the best thing for them.
Arsenal also finally made a signing, but it probably caused fans of the Gunners to either roll their eyes or think that they somehow got beamed back to 2004. Mathieu Flamini returns to Arsenal after five years at Milan. A retread who has made 24 appearances total the last two seasons isn’t exactly going to put them over the top.
Arsenal now play their second London derby in a week with Spurs coming to the Emirates. Spurs have yet to drop points through two matches, but have also yet to score a goal in the run of play, and still seem to be figuring things out a bit in the early going.
For Spurs, I really don’t understand, nor do I really want to, how this Gareth Bale thing hasn’t gone official yet. Hopefully the summer-long whizzing contest between Real and Spurs will come to an end so we can all get on with it.
This match is huge for the supporters of the two clubs but also fascinating for the rest of us (same could obviously be said about Liverpool/United). The race between these two will be one of the more intriguing storylines to follow all year long, just as it has been the past few seasons. Set an alert on your phone for Saturday night to close your bar tab early and get some rest. Brit's Pub has confirmed they’ll be open early for the 7:30am kickoff for Liverpool/United. Should be a great morning.
No Premier League next week with the international break upon us. Not sure if there will be a post here next Friday or not. If there is, it likely won’t be PL-related and just be an all-caps OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG WERE ABOUT TO QUALIFY FOR THE WORLD CUP I LOVE LANDON DONVAON WOOOOOOOO MEXICO SUCKS U-S-A U-S-A!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Editor's note: We would publish that.)
That’s it for this week. May your free kicks always be direct and your megs always be in nut form.
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