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 K-TWIN 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.
It's cold outside, but the Premier League will keep us warm - and Dana is just the person to tell us what to watch each week. Dana?
And we’re back! That pesky international break is over! I only call it "pesky" because of the poor results for the USMNT, but how could anybody complain about the team? A first place finish in CONCACAF, a Gold Cup trophy, the return of Landon Donovan and the winningest calendar year in US history? As Lou once so eloquently stated when Chief Wiggum asked him to check out the park job in 7-A, “Oooh, that’s sweet.” (If you got that reference, you are invited to my birthday parties from now on.)
The next date to look forward to for the US supporters (or supporters of the other 31 World Cup teams) is two weeks from Friday, when the draw takes place. Now, the World Cup draw is the worst thing on earth. Literally the worst. Four years of waiting, a grueling qualifying campaign, and in the end it all hinges on some ping-pong balls. It is unbearable to watch. During the 2010 South Africa draw, I was dating a girl that happened to smoke cigarettes and, depending on if my parents read this, I may have been burning heater after heater to calm the nerves.
But no sense firing up heaters now; the Premier League is back. A quick refresher on how tight the table is before we take a peek at some matches: Arsenal tops the table with 25 points, but only six points separate them and eighth-place Manchester City.
No. 3: Everton vs Liverpool at Goodison Park
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The Merseyside derby at Goodison last year ended in a 2-2 draw. It looked like this would be an all-timer, with all four goals being scored between the 14th and 35th minute, but play settled down and both teams seemed content with a point each.
I really wish the Premier League schedule-makers would take into consideration the sleeping interests of a non-Everton-supporting, non-Liverpool-supporting radio producer in Minneapolis who wakes up at 2:30AM on weekdays. But alas, they do not. So I will be up early for this one. Derbies are amazing. Especially when you don’t have to deal with the nerves of having a rooting interest in one of the teams. Therefore the Merseyside version is one of my favorites each year.
There hasn’t been one in recent memory that has been sexier than this one, either. The stadiums are separated by less than a mile, and the two teams are separated by just three points, after both have had dream starts this season. Liverpool sit alone in in second place with 23 points, while the Toffees are in sixth place on 20 points, and only trail Manchester United in goal differential for 5th place.
You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time Everton has won this derby, but they are playing with form not seen at Goodison Park in recent years, under first-year manager Roberto Martinez. They have lost just one match (against Manchester City) and have been superb defensively, conceding just ten goals, which is good for a tie for second-fewest allowed in the league. Further, American goalie and future President of the United States of America Tim Howard has a 240-minute-plus shutout streak going.
Timmy and the Everton defense will need to tack on as many minutes to that shutout streak as possible against Liverpool. Seemingly every time I turn on a Liverpool match, Luis ‘ The Human Cannibal’ Suarez and Daniel Sturridge combine to score a goal. It almost gives me a panic attack every time it happens, because I feel this deja vu that makes me worry I’ve become Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day.
Liverpool’s away form hasn’t exactly been something you put a gold star on and hang on your mother’s refrigerator, having won just two of six away from Anfield, including getting run off 2-0 at Arsenal last time out.
As the old cliche goes, you can take a Merseyside derby record book, light it on fire and drop-kick it out the window with the intensity of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat. (Full disclosure: I honestly have no idea if the Dragon had an intense dropkick or not, I just thought it sounded cool here. And you, the reader, have no idea either, so I could have not admitted this, but in an effort to gain your trust, I want no secrets between us.)
There is always a ton of pride on the line in this match, but for the first time in a while, there is plenty at stake in the table. Brendan Rodgers has his men believing they can win the Premier League for the first time ever, and Martinez has his men believing they can qualify for Champions League for the first time ever.
Set your alarms; this will be a good one. I have confirmed with Brits Pub that they will be opening up bright and early before the sun comes up for this one. Liverpool supporters will no doubt pack the Long Room.
No. 2: West Ham vs Chelsea
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on the Big Boy NBC
Last year: West Ham sent Chelsea back home to Cobham with a load in their shorts after a 3-1 defeat. It was also the first loss of the Benitez-era. I apologize to other Chelsea fans for even bringing it up.
Well, how do you like this? Another derby! A bit overshadowed, given what takes place a few hours before, but it's still a huge match for both clubs.
Before last year’s debacle for Chelsea I referenced above, you have to go back to 2003 to find the last time the Hammers defeated their London rivals... but Chelsea aren’t exactly keeping their blue flag flying high right now. Their last two times out in the league saw them lose to Newcastle (who let them out of the fridge by the way? They are ninth right now and could go ahead of Spurs or City depending on results this weekend) and jank, JANK, out a draw against West Brom.
Hopefully (for Chelsea fans, anyway), the team used the international break to get their minds right, and Jose Mourinho instilled the fear of god in them after the West Brom mess. A win here could potentially set the Blues up for a nice December. Their upcoming schedule: Southampton (the surprise team of the season) at home, at Sunderland, at Stoke, home versus Crystal Palace, and then the big showdown with Arsenal at the Emirates two days before Christmas.
West Ham aren’t exactly playing the type of soccer right now that makes kids get in fights over who gets to play with them on FIFA. They have only won one of their past six matches; granted, it was against Spurs, but that doesn’t make up for dumping full points to Hull City and Norwich City.
The lineup Mourinho comes up with at West Ham will be interesting to see. The Special One still hasn’t found a preferred lineup. It has led to a lot of frustration and bickering amongst Blues supporters, as the team sits in fourth place after being projected by nearly everyone to lift the trophy.
The Chelsea supporters will be hanging out at Morrisey’s Irish Pub in Uptown so come on by if you feel like hanging out with us. All are welcome. Also, speaking of soccer bars, I owe Local an apology for ripping them before the season started. I stopped by for the start of Manchester United/Arsenal two weeks ago and had a great experience. Granted, I was surrounded by more Arsenal fans than I would have liked, but the breakfast buffet is incredible. Full spread. The works, really. And the staff couldn’t have been cooler. So, there you go.
No. 1: Hull City vs Crystal Palace at The Kingston Communications Stadium
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Extra
Just kidding. I would rather watch RandBall and RandballsStu leg wrestle, best out of seven, than watch this match. (Wait a minute, that was supposed to be an insult, but now that I think about it, watching those two leg wrestle sounds awesome. Let's make it best out of fifteen! Let's set that up, next time everybody is in town!)
No. 1: Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium
When: Sunday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City rallied from a goal down in the second half with goals from Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.
We round up the weekend with the Battle of the Congested Top of the Table Bottomfeeders! Well, technically the PL weekend wraps up with Manchester United/Cardiff City, and West Brom/Aston Villa but, you know, gross.
Tottenham and City sit in seventh and eighth place heading into this match, and that sounds disastrous for both clubs with December looming - but the truth is, with the table so tight, both teams are within two points of a top-four spot.
City supporters are thanking their lucky stars this match is at home. For whatever reason, City play like a bunch of U-14ers that are more concerned with the girls' team practicing on the next field over, when they are on the road. They lost their last two road matches to Sunderland (SUNDERLAND!) and Chelsea, and have lost four away from home overall this season.
The sweet confines of the Etihad is a completely different story. City have scored 20 goals and conceded only two - not too shabby. That two goals conceded is the biggest worry for Spurs, who have only scored a comical nine goals in eleven matches. That is fewer goals than such world-beating outfits as Aston Villa, West Brom, Stoke City, Swansea City, and Sunderland - all in tenth place or worst.
These City-Spurs matches have been goal-fests the last two years. All four meetings have had at least four combined goals. It could very easily happen again Sunday, but given how things have gone for these two clubs, it is more likely to be 4-0 or 3-1 City than anything favoring a Spurs result.
That will do it for this week’s explosively controversial edition of Nuclear Wessel. Until next time, may your free kicks always be direct and your midfielders always be box-to-box.