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. He explains it all, when it comes to the Premier League. Dana?
And we’re back! Welcome to the eleventh edition of Nuclear Wessel. This week’s edition promises to be the most nuclear-est edition yet!
I’ve actually started to submit this column in print form, with a $20 bill paper-clipped to it, in hopes that Marth might go through the archives and scrub my predictions involving Arsenal in the first few weeks. Yikes. I definitely alluded to the possibility of them not qualifying for the Europa League. Now they sit in first place, and could lose 142-0 this week (Marth - check to see if that’d be a record) and they would still be in first place next week. But that’s why I write about soccer here, rather than bet on games in a Vegas penthouse while being served buffalo wings by Anna Kendrick in a full Chelsea kit.
(It's kinda concerning that "Chelsea kit" was my go-to outfit for her to be wearing, right? I should probably go back and change that... Oh well. What’s done is done. Wheel of Fortune is almost on, and Marth has requested I submit these to him on Thursday evening rather than on Friday morning. Unbelievable right? What a demanding editor. I guess I could always just watch Wheel on DVR later, and go and polish that sentence - naw, somebody might tweet me a Wheel spoiler, and that would just leave a sour taste in my mouth heading into Friday. You never want that.)
A rather average slate of matches this weekend culminates with an absolute doozy between a Manchester United team desperate for a big result, and an Arsenal team desperate to prove to everyone they are for real.
Let’s get to it. We start with Chelsea, but I promise I kept it brief this time.
No. 3: Chelsea vs West Brom
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea bagged the full three points in a very nondescript 1-0 match, with Demba Ba snapping a seven-match scoreless streak by netting one in the 28th minute.
Woof. That Chelsea/Newcastle match sure was something, huh?
Now let’s never speak of it again.
(Editor's note: For those who didn't remember, Chelsea lost 2-0 at Newcastle last week. Wait, does this count as speaking of it again? Sorry, Dana.)
I was happy to see Jose Mourinho absolutely destroy the club after the match, because everyone except for John Terry deserved it. But the boys in blue responded like you knew they would, in a 3-0 home Champions League win against Schalke.
Samuel Eto’o scored two goals mid-week, and could be asked to start again Saturday against West Brom after Fernando Torres picked up a knock and appears set to lose the race to be fit by Saturday. Speaking of being fit, it doesn’t appear Nicolas Anelka will be ready to play against his former club. If Eto’o gets the day off, it would be Demba Ba up top; Ba put the cherry on top of the sundae on Wednesday, with a goal of his own.
It is so refreshing for Chelsea fans to see forwards scoring goals. It’s also great to see the Captain playing so well. I was planning on writing a lot about him here, but I don’t want to lose the non-Chelsea audience so quickly, so I'll just wrap up this up. West Brom have just one win in their last five road matches, and Chelsea have never lost at home under The Special One. All signs point to Chelsea having a laugh on Saturday, but I learned my lesson about being over-confident last week.
No. 2: Sunderland vs Manchester City at the Stadium of Light
When: Sunday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Sunderland actually managed to pick up three of their 39 points last year, at home against City in a Boxing Day match, with a 1-0 win.
I think we all can admit now that Jozy Altidore and Sunderland’s season together hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. The Black Cats survived relegation a year ago by the hairs of their chinny chin chin. It will take some doing the rest of the season to survive again this year.
But let's focus on the positives, yeah? Sunderland picked up their first league win of the year two weeks ago, when they handed a loss to Newcastle, 2-1. They are still very much in the drop zone, but to be frank, I couldn't care less if they get relegated or or not; all I care about is how Altidore performs, and that he gets the matches he needs to get ready for the World Cup next summer.
(My apologies to my massive readership in Sunderland)
And there is some good news for the young Altidore, who celebrated his 24th birthday this week. That isn’t a typo. He just turned 24. The problem with being a household name (in the American soccer world) since you were 16, is that jerks like me write you off before your 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd birthday. My bad. Jozy was massive in both the win over Newcastle (quite a coming out for your first Tyne-Wear Derby) and on Wednesday in a 2-1 Capital One Cup Match win over Southampton - one of the darlings of league this season.
Jozy assisted on both goals, and played the unselfish kind of match that managers love. And wouldn’t ya know it? His manager loved it. Gus Poyet (former Chelsea player!) raved about the Great American 2014 Striker Hope after the match, lauding him for his play in what was a huge win for the team. He also took jabs at other players for not getting Altidore more looks on net.
Poyet was hired less than a month ago and has only been in charge for three matches. You always worry when a player transfers to a new club (especially a huge upward move like Jozy made, moving from the Netherlands to the biggest league in the world), and the manager getting sacked within the first month of the season only added to those worries. But it appears the man from Uruguay has taken a liking to young Josmer.
Jozy has had issues in his club career finding his place and fitting in. You need to look no further than his extensive loan record for evidence. It would be so detrimental if he was buried on the squad, and lost all semblance of form leading up to this summer. The fact that he is getting both playing time, and the backing from his manager, leaves me with visions of World Cup runs dancing through my head.
The Black Cats welcome Manchester City into the Stadium of Light Sunday. The result means little to me. City will likely win. I just want Jozy to play and score. And continue to play and score.
No. 1: Manchester United vs Arsenal at Old Trafford
When: Sunday at 10AM on NBC Sports Network -- shame this one isn’t on the big boy NBC. Last week, Arsenal-Liverpool got 990,000 viewers which was the highest of the season. I bet United/Arsenal would have topped the million mark.
Last year: United won this fixture 2-1 last November, behind goals by Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra. This one wasn’t as close as it looked, either; Arsenal scored in the 95th minute to make it look better for the papers.
This is an absolutely massive game for two of the biggest clubs in England - for completely different reasons.
Nobody would have been surprised if you told them that one of these teams had the opportunity to go 11 points clear of the other with a victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. But most would have thought you were crazy if you said it would be Arsenal in a position of authority over the defending champions.
Arsenal are five points clear of a three-way tie between Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham right now, and it might appear there is some room for error for the Gunners here - but there really isn’t. United have shown themselves to be vulnerable at Old Trafford this season, with a loss to West Brom and draws to Chelsea and Southampton. A loss would put Arsenal just two points up - it's unlikely that Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs will all lose winnable matches - and all of a sudden, United would be back within striking distance of the top of the table again, after their nightmare start.
A draw would be serviceable, and is a very likely result, but Arsenal have such a grand opportunity here. I am not going out on a limb by saying that few have fully bought into the dream start they have had through 10 Premier League matches and four of six group stage matches in Champions League.
Although they’d never admit to anyone else, even the biggest Arsenal fans appear to be going about this excellent start with guarded trepidation. We all know it is only the first week of November, and April/May are a long, long time away. A lot has been made in this space and others about how soft the fixture list had been for the Gunners up until this point. They deserve full credit for beating an in-form Liverpool side last week. They deserve even more credit for beating Borussia Dortmund in their barn. Winning a Champions League group stage match in Germany is never easy. Winning a Champions League final in Germany against a German team is even more difficult. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
But that won’t mean much if they come out Sunday and get dumped by United, and van Persie bags a pair. Then they come back to the pack a bit, and the story (fairly or unfairly) shifts. But a win gives them that massive result people have been waiting for, and would shut people like me up for a bit, and cause me to tip my cap.
United will clearly be motivated in a match that will certainly define their season one way the other if someone snatches the full three points. United have won three of their last four league matches but definitely could have used the confidence boost that a win at Real Sociedad in midweek would have provided them, but they settled for the 0-0 draw and we all got Hilarious Chicharito Botched Goal From Inside the Six Volume 43.
And just like a Arsenal loss would cause doubters to say “I told you so!," a United victory would cause their fans to say “I told you so!” to all the David Moyes-doubters. I'm hoping there are some fireworks in this one. I think there will be. The 10 o’clock kick is perfect, since it will be over right as NFL cranks up. No reason to miss it. Grab a friend who usually doesn’t watch soccer, and get them into it.
Next week, there are no Premier League matches, because of an international break. The World Cup play-in ties get decided (go New Zealand!), while a lot of other nations play friendlies. The US play in Scotland next Friday, and in Austria the following Tuesday. Awesome tests. Love Klinnsy’s scheduling.
Until we chat again, may your goals always be golden and headers always be diving.
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