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.

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Nuclear Wessel: What to watch in the Premier League this weekend

Posted by: Jon Marthaler under Europe, Soccer Updated: October 25, 2013 - 1:26 PM

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 over the upcoming weekend. Dana?


We’re back!

My apologies for there not being a post last week, but I sincerely appreciate all your concern for my well-being. I felt like Ferris Bueller when he didn’t show up to school. The calls, the flowers, the telegrams were all amazing. I especially loved the Flash Mob that showed up outside my place dancing and singing ‘Let’s Get Nuc-lear’ to the tune of Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Let’s Get Physical.’

Alright, time for a quick peek at where our merry bands of European-based soccer clubs stand. Arsenal are tops. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham are lurking in that order. Manchester United are tied on points with Hull City and Newcastle. Fulham picked up three points Monday to get away from the drop zone. And Sunderland fans might want to to print out glossy 8x10s of that 1-1 tie against Southampton back in August because that might be the last Premier League point they get in quite a while.

On to the matches. Some intriguing matches leading up to the big one Sunday at 11am. As always, these are, in my opinion, the three best televised matches of the weekend in the order in which they air. Remember, every match can be seen via the NBC Sports Extra Time App -- including Saturday’s Aston Villa v Everton match, a battle of the two best American goalies Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. Well, they are goalies, so they aren’t really battling each other. I am willing to go out on a limb and predict neither will register a shot against the other.

No. 3:  Crystal Palace vs Arsenal at the historic Selhurst Park
When: Saturday at 6:45am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: You have to go back to 2004 to find the last time these two met in the top flight league at Selhurst. It was a 1-1 draw with Thierry Henry (!!!) scoring for the Gunners.

The dream start and fine form for the Gunners took a brief shot below the shorts Tuesday in a 2-1 Champions League loss to Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates. It puts the Premier League-leaders level on points in the CL group stage with Dortmund and Napoli with three matches to play. A win would have put them in the drivers in what is one of the more difficult groups of the tournament.

But no time to fret, they are back in the cozy confines of the Premier League where they have been the big surprise story of the season so far. They are unbeaten in their last seven, a stretch that includes six wins and only one draw. Palace on the other hand have lost their last five matches and appear to be headed right back down to the Championship come May.

In typical Arsene Wenger fashion, it will likely be a match where some younger guys get some looks as this match is basically loser proof. More importantly, it will give them a chance to rest some legs before an upcoming stretch of the schedule that would make any Arsenal fan go lock themself in their room, put on the Invincibles DVD and rock back and forth reassuring themselves it will be OK.

After Palace, they play home to Liverpool, at Borussia Dortmund midweek in Champions League, away to Manchester United, home to Southampton, home to Marseille in Champions League before finally getting a bit of a reprieve to close the month at Cardiff City. That is a nut-buster of a November that no Gunner fan should be thankful for.

December won’t get much easier, either. In one seven day stretch they have Everton at home on a Sunday, travel to Napoli for a Wednesday match that could very easily determine if they advance to the knockout round of Champions League before heading to Manchester City for a Saturday match. Woof.

But that is the beauty of European football. There are no soft schedules or hiding out in a weak division. If you are a big club that wants to compete for the big trophies, you will always have stretches like this. Time to find out just what Arsenal are made of.

No. 2:  Manchester United vs Stoke CIty at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United won this fixture last year 4-2 thanks to a hat trick by Wayne Rooney (if you count his own goal, two goals otherwise), one by Robin van Persie and another by Danny Welbeck.

Stoke City sit in 16th place in the Premier League on 8 points. A win on Saturday at Old Trafford would put them even on points with reigning champions Manchester United.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy typing that sentence. Know what? I might even type it again. Stoke CIty sit in 16th place in the Premier League on 8 points. A win on Saturday at Old Trafford would put them level on points with reigning champions Manchester United!

This clearly isn’t likely to happen as Stoke have been even more dreadful than United this year, but it is a rather jaw dropping way of framing how poorly the first two-and-a-half months have gone for United. They will be seeking just their second league win of the season at Old Trafford, where they have only secured 5 of a possible 12 points thus far. Thankfully for them this is an especially ratty Stoke side that hasn’t won in their last five and has never won a match at United in five tries.

Most people expected United to struggle under David Moyes but I think we all expected it to be in the Champions League, not the league. The top flight Europe competition is a beast with sides you’ve never seen in stadiums you’ve never played in. It would have been almost excusable for Moyes to have a rough go of it in his first year.  But United sit top of Group A through three matches and are well on their way to qualification for the knockout stages.

Nobody expected it’d be fixtures like home vs West Brom that would be causing United the most stress. Moyes routinely did more in England with less talent and less money in 11 years at Everton than he has thus far with one of the biggest clubs in the world.

However, they are almost assured to pick up the full three on Saturday morning. A midweek win over Real Sociedad combined with the likely return of Robin van Persie from a toe injury should all but ensure they’ll have a laugh.

All of this early season turmoil will turn around for United and Moyes. They’ll be in the top four mix by season’s end and United fans will look back to the opening months of the Moyes-era and it will all seem funny. But for now, it is funny for the rest of us. So lets retype that last sentence one more time just for good measure, because we all know their fans have never shied away from having a laugh at the rest of us -- no matter who you support.

Stoke CIty sit in 16th place in the Premier League on 8 points. A win on Saturday at Old Trafford would put them level on points with reigning champions Manchester United!

No. 1:  Chelsea vs Manchester City at Stamford Bridge
When: Sunday at 11:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: An utterly dull scoreless draw last November at the Bridge.

The two teams pegged by most, myself included, to duel all season for the trophy meet for the first time this season. It is the first meeting of two true Premier League heavyweights since United seem content to spend all day sparring with the pups rather than run with the wolves come night.

A winner from this match will have landed the first blow and have a leg up on the race for the podium.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. “But...but...but Dana! Arsenal are top of the league!” “Yeah! Yeah! And my Liverpool club are in third place ahead of City!”

Yes, yes, I know. And to be honest? I think it’s great. This cats and dogs living together, Rocky and Ivan Drago starting a joint small business, unpredictable start to the season has been nothing short of amazing. But if you take an objective look at things, and yes, I know, me saying Chelsea and objective in the same sentence is ridiculous, but these are the two teams best equipped to withstand the nine month grind.

Both sides are in fine form after struggling to get their boots on to start the season -- which is to be expected with such high profile managerial changes*. this has been a real one sided affair over the past few years. Chelsea haven’t beaten City in the past five matches against the Citizens, dropping four and drawing one.

*Speaking of managers, how cool is Jose Mourinho? Gets booted from the match and goes and sits in the stands next to some random chummer. What a legend. I can understand if you support a rival team and he gets on your nerves, but you have to respect the guy. Makes everything more interesting. Hell, even my girlfriend has a crush on him.

City, having just picked up their first road win of the season, will be up against it Sunday at Stamford Bridge, where Jose Mourinho has never lost in 64 career matches. City was also dealt a huge blow early Friday when Vincent Kompany was ruled out of the match Sunday. Meanwhile, Chelsea fans are smiling over the news that left back Ashley Cole will is fit to play.

After struggling to score early in the season, Chelsea have scored 14 goals in the their last four games with Samuel Eto’o finally grabbing his first against Cardiff City last weekend. Fernando Torres has also seemed to find some confidence in Europe lately, scoring two goals against Schalke before unselfishly giving up a chance at a hat trick by making a run that allowed Eden Hazard to score. This scoring confidence combined with the reassurance that Kompany won’t be anywhere near the field is immense for the Blues.

For City, all eyes will be on Yaya Toure, the physical Ivorian who has the ability to terrorize Chelsea’s undersized midfield. Chelsea has a skilled midfield but nobody can come close to matching the physicality of Toure who will likely impose his will.

Despite being at home and having some injury news work in their favor, Chelsea are still likely to play conservatively, especially with Toure wrecking havoc in the midfield. Logic points to either a one goal Chelsea win or a draw.

Alright folks, enjoy the matches this weekend. Chelsea fans will be at Morrisey’s in Uptown if you feel like coming by. We are a friendly bunch.

Until next time, may your passes be one-touch and your position never be offside.

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