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. Given that he is a Premier League expert, we could think of no one better to tell us what to watch this weekend. Dana?
I am done making any sort of predictions this season. My goodness. The English Premier League almost prides itself on predictability. For years and years there were the Big Four of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal that finished in 1-4 in some order or another (except for Liverpool finishing tops -- that has never happened). Many years the race for the title would be over before the final week, and most of the excitement came from the relegation battles at the bottom of the table.
But there have been signs of change over the recent years. Liverpool failed to qualify for Champions League in 2010-11 and haven’t been back since. Manchester City got an influx of cash, and the success and glory that typically comes along with it. Tottenham, long the kid brother to Arsenal in North London, became a serious top four threat as well. The traditional Big Four faded away and it became the Big...5? Big 4.5? Things were no longer black and white, Big Four and Other 16. We were seeing more shades of gray and parity in this league than ever before.
But through six matches, we are no longer seeing hints of parity; we are seeing full blown chaos. And it is awesome. It is like as a kid, when you’d smash something you made out of Legos, and rebuild it a completely different way.
Arsenal, long thought to be dead in the water and a Europa League candidate, are now tops of the league, and riding an impressive winning streak that saw them dispatch Napoli in Champions League this week in a group nobody gave them a chance to get out of.
Manchester United, in their first season without Sir Alex Ferguson popping his gum on the sideline find themselves sitting firmly in 12th place, just three points above the drop zone. The chances of a 21st league title are almost laughable, and it is October 4.
Chelsea, everyone’s title darlings in August, sit in fifth place tied on points with...Southampton. Oh. Manchester City followed up last their dominant 4-1 win over rival Manchester United by blowing a 2-1 lead to Aston Villa and are now in seventh tied with…Hull City. Liverpool and Tottenham have shown they are here for more action than just flirting with a top four finish, by having 13 points through six matches and being in second and third. Everton are unbeaten and in fourth.
The league that naysayers long bellyached was too predictable has become as unpredictable as picking Powerball numbers.
So, ya know what, what the heck? I will make a prediction for the end of the season. I predict that Liverpool and Southampton will finish top of the table tied on points and goal differential, and will play in the first-ever Premier League tiebreaker match for the title. It will be played on the moon. And David Beckham will referee the match. Wearing a jetpack. In his undies.
The way things have gone thus far, that doesn’t seem all that inconceivable, does it? Especially the undies part.
Onto the three best matches you can see on TV this weekend without having to get out a computer, iPad or a passport:
No. 3: Manchester City vs Everton at Etihad Stadium
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: This fixture ended as a 1-1 draw last December. Tevez (from the spot) and Fellani each scored. What a difference a year makes.
For the second straight week the spiciest match of the weekend is also the first and earliest. Oh, well. Like former Minnesota North Stars player and current Eden Hall Academy hockey coach Ted Orion once said, “You gotta get up early if you want to hunt goose eggs.”
A week ago at this time, I worried out loud in this blog if it were possible that City were gearing up for an unbeaten run and beginning to separate themselves from the pack. Since then, they blew that aforementioned lead to Aston Villa. Then, in a mid-week Champions League match against Bayern Munich, they embarrassed themselves in a 3-1 loss. I am guessing the fans stood out by the players lot and threw carrots and called them donkey as they drove by.
There is no shame in losing to Bayern. They won the trophy with the big ears for a reason last year. But there is shame in falling behind 3-0 at home before scoring a garbage goal, and trailing in completed passes 463-219. Woof. Pack a lunch. Not exactly how you show you’re serious about advancing from the CL group stage for the first time in club history.
Now they face an Everton club who remain unbeaten, and are riding a three match winning streak after drawing the first three to open the campaign. A lot of this has been because of the Belgium beast Romelu Lukaku, who has three goals in four matches after being loaned out from Chelsea for the season.
Now, as a Chelsea fan, you have to sign an oath in blood never to question any decision Jose Mourinho makes about anything, from which striker he sends out on loan to whether or not he puts his socks on before or after he puts his pants on. But, man. Lukaku sure would look good in a different shade of blue right now. Lukaku has three goals. Chelsea strikers have zero goals combined. Now, with Fernando Torres out for a month (right after it appeared somebody lit a fire under him), Lukaku could get 10 before a Chelsea striker gets one.
This will be by far the biggest test of the season for Roberto Martinez’s unbeaten Everton side. A win would further solidify their current top four status and be a big sign that they are for real. The pressure is also on the men who call the Etihad home. The Manchester natives are getting restless, and a much-needed three points could calm some nerves. Should be a good one. Set your alarm.
No. 2: Sunderland vs Manchester United at Stadium of Light
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United won this fixture a year ago after somebody named Titus Brabmble scored an own goal in the 27th minute. I don’t recall watching this match. Or I may have just blocked it out of my memory like the time I may or may not have bought Swimfan on DVD and watched it. Whatever. Don’t judge. That girl was pretty cute. Let me know if you want to borrow it. Sorry, regular definition only, no Blu-Ray.
This is almost the worst possible fixture for David Moyes right now. United are in trouble right now. Losing to City away is one thing. But to follow it up by allowing a team to come into the vaunted Theater of Dreams and win for the first time since 1978 is another. Add in a blown lead in a midweek Champions League match at Shakhtar, and you have a club that is finding absolutely no joy.
Now, you have the dreaded ‘everything to lose, nothing to gain match’ against the bottom feeders of the table. Sunderland have yet to win, don’t have a manager and couldn’t look more lost. If United win, and I am sure they will, everyone will pat them on the head and give them an insincere congrats for beating a team that is already getting ready to sew Championship patches on their jersey for next season. If they struggle, tie, or god forbid lose, things are going to get ugly.
I’d be lying, and so would every other non-United supporter, if I said I wasn’t enjoying this. They will surely turn it around. They have too much talent and too much legacy not too, but for now, this is outstanding. My favorite part is when they show the table on TV and they do it in two chunks 1-10 and 11-20. “Oh, hey, where is United?” “Just wait bro, you’ll see where they are after the commentators are done talking about the top 10 teams and the graphics guy flips it to see the bottom half.” Couldn’t have happened to a more condescending fanbase.
Sir Alex Ferguson also came out this week in an interview this week and said he has zero interest in returning and attempting to rescue this team. I don’t blame him. The guy has done all there is to do and now he is gonna go enjoy retirement. He even said he wants to check out The Masters. Respect. It was also Classic Fergie that he tried to knife Chelsea one more time by unearthing the story that Roman tried to lure him away from United when he first bought the club. Somebody still salty about that match at Old Trafford last May, Fergie old boy?
This Sunderland club is about as hapless as the Little Giants in the first half-hour of the movie, and guess what? Junior and Rick Moranis are not walking through that door. It bums out every US Soccer fan to see this happened. We started the season watching each match hoping Jozy Altidore would score. That made way to just hoping he would play. Now I just hope he doesn’t get hurt ahead of next week’s World Cup Qualifiers at home against Jamaica and at Panama to wrap up the Hex.
No. 1: West Brom vs Arsenal at The Hawthorns
When: Sunday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: 2-1 to the Gunners last year thanks to a Rosicky brace.
The only way I could have pictured myself getting this excited about a West Brom/Arsenal match is if I knew I would be watching it over a plate of wings with Landon Donovan, Anna Kendrick, and Bruce Springsteen.
But, here we are. Both teams are playing with confidence right now, Arsenal with their five match win streak and West Brom enjoying their historic win at Old Trafford.
OK. Here is the part where I rattle off a bunch of compliments for Arsenal and then toss in a giant BUT, cool?
The signing of Mesut Ozil is not only the signing of the season but also a massive bargain. What a great bit of business by the Frenchmen and the rest of the gang over at the Emirates. Their start to the season is without a doubt the biggest storyline happening in English football. Anybody who called for Arsene Wenger to be fired should be forced to apologize and beg for forgiveness at the feet of his giant puffy coat.
Let’s pump the brakes just a bit here. They have 5 wins, 1 loss and zero draws so far in the league. The lone loss came in the curtain jerker home against Aston Villa. They beat Spurs and Stoke at home and beat Fulham, Sunderland and Swansea away. Some nice results in there, especially when coupled with their perfect start to Champions League.
However, things are about to get dicey schedule-wise for Arsenal. After the WBA match, they are at Norwich and at Crystal Palace on consecutive Saturdays. From there, their next three PL matches are home vs Chelsea, at Liverpool and home vs Manchester United. Toss in home-and-away CL matches vs Borussia Dortmund, and at Napoli - and don’t forget a December that has home vs Everton, home vs Manchester City, and a trip to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea.
I am not by any means saying they are going to come crashing back to earth and we will all point and laugh at them. I am just pointing out that the next two months will show exactly what kind of team Arsenal are. They have yet to face much of any adversity and are, understandably, enjoying their run with some brilliant football that has been amazing to watch.
So we shall see. They could very easily handle this next stretch the way they opened this season and be just fine. They could very easily have injuries stack up, see a slip in form and their early season confidence shatter. This is why we watch.
Quick programming note. International break next week, so there will be no Premier League. I will be in Kansas City for the US/Jamaica game. Hit me up if you’re heading down as well. It is going to be a blast. I am giddy with excitement.
So until next time, may all your headers be diving and all your goals be golden.
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