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 Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. Every week, he tells us what to watch in the Premier League, because he is an expert and knows these things. Dana?
Welcome back to another life-changing edition of Nuclear Wessel. I really do appreciate you reading this. Mind if I ask a favor? This guy I know named David is going to need some steady work soon. Can you keep an eye out? He used to manage this really big soccer club in England but ever since his team walked off the field with their tails between their legs after their neighboring rival beat them 4-1, he might need work soon. So, ya know, just keep him in mind.
Another wild weekend in the books. Liverpool went from first to fifth, Chelsea went from sixth to fourth, Manchester United went from fifth to eighth and Arsenal are tops followed by Spurs and Manchester City.
No. 3: Tottenham vs Chelsea at White Hart Lane
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea won at Three Point Lane a year ago 4-2 after falling behind 2-1. The banished-to-the-bench Juan Mata had two goals and an assist in the October match.
The early match of the weekend is also the best match of the weekend, in my opinion. I have a love/hate relationship with the early weekend lid-lifter. In college they were great because we’d just stay up until the match kicked off because, ya know, that was both logical and responsible. Tougher to pull off these days. But I still always wake up. You should, too. DVRing matches is for Communists who hunt bald eagles for sport. You aren’t a commie who hunts bald eagles for sport, are you? Didn’t think so.
Plenty of history between these two sides, especially the recent years. The biggest sore spot for Spurs fans coming from 2011-12 when they finished fourth in the table to qualify for Champions League with Chelsea finishing fifth on the outside looking in. That was when Frank Lampard stood in front of the Chelsea locker and said:
Lampard: “Well then I guess there is just one thing left to do.”
Dider Drogba: “What’s that?”
Lampard: “Win the whole (expletive) thing.”
OK. That probably didn’t happen in the Chelsea locker room. That exchange actually took place between catcher Jake Taylor and 3rd basemen Roger Dorn in the popular 1989 baseball comedy Major League where a ragtag group of ball players have to come together in the face of adversity. And boy oh boy, what a motley crew these Cleveland Indians were! They had this one guy named Rick who last played in the California penal league! Oh boy, as you can imagine, this guy was pretttttty rough around the edges! What? OK. Sorry. I'll stop.
Anyway, Chelsea did end up winning Champions League, thus qualifying for next year’s competition and breaking the hearts of Spurs fans everywhere. We all know I support Chelsea, but I can’t even imagine the simultaneous punch to the stomach and kick the groin that must have been. Sorry, guys.
A lot has changed since then and Tottenham find themselves in second place on 12 points (they trail Arsenal in goal differential) with Chelsea not far behind with 10 points. Spurs can put some early distance between themselves and their London rivals and Chelsea can play leapfrog with a victory.
The Gareth Bale-less revamped Spurs side have been defending like gangbusters but have had trouble scoring (although Chelsea haven’t exactly been ripping holes in the net either), which is to be expected from a team with this many new pieces. The defense always clicks before the offense. They have scored just three goals from the run of play and needed every last second of stoppage time to beat Cardiff City last week.
But credit to them, snatching three points from the jaw of one point is what separate the top teams from the rest of the table -- and it is something Spurs have struggled with the past few years when their Champions League hopes came up just short.
All the drama on the field plus the added drama between AVB and TSO makes this one a must-watch. Set your alarm and leave the bar earlier than you normally would. It will be worth it. Or, if you’re younger than me, just make it an all-nighter.
If you’re looking for a place other than your couch to watch this one, check out Brits or The Local in Minneapolis. They have both confirmed they’ll be open. Brits is more of a Chelsea bar and Local is more of a Spurs bar. I propose we all march down Nicollet at halftime and settle this thing like men -- WITH A WEST SIDE STORY INSPIRED DANCE-OFF!!!!!
No. 2: Aston Villa vs Manchester City at Villa Park
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City took the full three a year ago at Villa Park after Carlos Tevez (never forget) yoinked a goal right before the half.
I was afraid of this. We were all so excited about the possibility about a wide open top of the table that we hushed the voice in the back of our heads telling us that City could very easily run away with the table.
That 4-1 de-pantsing of Manchester City last Sunday was the convincing win of the season for any side. It also made Chelsea fans immediately stop thumping their chests about that 0-0 draw at Old Trafford a few weeks ago. Yes, Robin van Persie was sitting on the bench, but it wouldn’t have made much a difference. City were clearly the more prepared team, the more confident team and the downright better team. United looked afraid and were quick to give up on the match -- not exactly a characteristic of United teams we came to know under Sir Alex Ferguson.
One of the big things that City have going for them is how they’ll seemingly fly under the radar and the microscope this season. Gone is the drama that came with Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini. They seem to have found stability under Manuel Pellegrini and will avoid the drama that seems to follow their London-based neighbors and, suddenly, their Manchester counterpart.
They sit on 10 points and are in third with a PL-best goal differential of eight (12 for, 8 against). They have rebounded nicely after a 3-2 loss to Cardiff City (let's be honest, City took them lightly) and could be a team that could continue to run off a string of points while avoiding all the back page tabloid drama.
Should be an easy three points Saturday at Villa Park before the big test next Wednesday home against Bayern Munich in Champions League.
I am reading way too far into one big home win against a United side missing their biggest playmaker. There is a lot of season left. 99 points for each team are still up for grabs.. But right now they seem to be in the best position of anybody to run away with the league, and the team best built to handle the long grind that comes with a nine month season.
No. 1: Sunderland vs Liverpool at Stadium of Light
When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These teams drew 1-1 at Stadium of Light (such a cool name, sounds like a castle in Zelda). Steven Fletcher scored early before Luis Suarez (who will be known for the rest of time in this column as Hannibal Lecter) equalized in the 77th.
Top of the table a week ago. Seemingly in great position gain some momentum towards a top four finish. Then they dump one at home to Stoke and lose to United 1-0 in the Capital One League Cup Formerly Known as the Carling Cup Brought to you by the Fine People At Odoreaters and Jukt Micronics.
To make matters worse, it was a strong Liverpool side that Brendan Rodgers tossed out there against United. Meanwhile, credit to David Moyes for throwing a bunch of reserves on the field for the match and not panicking after being publicly shamed by City. A team like United doesn’t, nor should they, care about the Capital One League Cup Formerly Known as the Carling Cup Brought to you by the Fine People At Odoreaters and Jukt Micronics. For Liverpool, however, the Europa League spot that comes with winning it could have been a big deal if they end up on the outside looking in of qualification spots.
But enough about Liverpool and their continued era of ineptitude. We’re here to talk about Sunderland and their, well, century of ineptitude.
Sunderland became the first team to fire their manager in a PL season for the third time in ten seasons after they dusted Paolo di Canio. Englishman Kevin Ball is just the caretaker while owner American owner Ellis Short continues to search for a replacement.
Any other year Sunderland sacking their manager would be about as important to me as a MLB mascot race. But this year is different because American Jozy Altidore is a Black Cat and this change could have huge ramifications on how much of the field he sees the rest of the season. The World Cup is within losing-sleep distance and the Great American Striking Hope needs all the minutes he can get against great competition.
There are big names out there to be had. Former Chelsea man Roberto Di Matteo (!), Roberto Mancini, Steve McClaren etc. Whoever it is, every United States Men's Soccer fans are holding their breath that it will be somebody who not only favors Jozy but wants to play a style that fits his game.
Jozy was on the bench last Saturday in favor of Steven Fletcher and Fabio Borini, but Fletcher separated his shoulder so Jozy figures to be back in the lineup against Liverpool. What if the new manager only plays one striker? Three guys vying for one spot? Oh lord. I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
We know Jozy is the type of striker that rides the highs high and the lows low. He has yet to score despite getting absolutely hosed against Arsenal. The longer this drought runs the more we begin to worry he slips back into the form that saw him go over a year without scoring for the Yanks.
The Black Cats don’t exactly have an easy schedule coming up to make this turmoil any easier. Three of their next six PL matches have them drawn against Liverpool (Saturday), Manchester United (Oct. 5) and Manchester City (Nov. 10).
So fingers crossed he starts, scores and contributes to Liverpool’s increasingly lost season.
That’s it for this week. As always, may your free kicks always be direct and your midfielders always be box-to-box.
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