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. We like to have him tell us about the Premier League, because it is enjoyable. Dana?
Hello Premier League enthusiasts, friends who read this to be nice despite knowing nothing about soccer, and anybody else who stumbled down some weird internet wormhole and ended up here by accident!
The holidays are the happiest time of the year for PL fans. Between now and the 5th of January there are four rounds of league games, as well as the third round (the first involving Premier League and Championship teams) of the still-beloved FA Cup.
It is the happiest stretch, but also an absolutely terrifying stretch, for fans. You better hope your squad is fit and your manager is sharp about rotating fresh players. A lot can happen in the next two weeks. The rich can get richer, or be left with their thumbs in the wind. The poorer can get poorer, or find a run of form that keeps them safe.
There is a constant stream of matches over the holidays. It is kind of like college football bowl season, except the matches aren’t thrown together at random, the results actually matter, and the games are worth watching.
It is stressful, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a great time of year. Take advantage and enjoy it. Head to the pub early in the morning with friends new and old. And, you know what? It’s the holiday season; buy a pint for somebody wearing the kit of a team you cannot stand. We’re all in this together. And I’d take a Manchester United fan any day over a mouth-breathing NFL fan yelling about how punters aren’t actual players and guys should play through concussions.
Before we get to the weekend preview, I’d like to use this platform to share a few groundbreaking thoughts on the Champions League draw you won’t find anywhere else but Nuclear Wessel. I was inundated with tweets (I got one), and I know people are clamoring for some HOT NUCLEAR CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 SPORTS TAKES.
This week's slate is not exactly a fixture list to run home and tell mom about, but - CLICHE ALERT - every point matters!
No. 3: Fulham vs Manchester City at Craven Cottage
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City got a late 2-1 winner at the Cottage last season from Edin Dzeko in the 87th minute after Fulham nabbed a 1-0 early lead with a penalty.
A Manchester City side that can take the league-leaders Arsenal out behind the woodshed 6-3 should be a terrifying thing for any other title contender - but this result was expected from City. They were playing at home, where they have won all eight matches, scoring 35 goals while only conceding five. At home they invincible. They are like the Turtles against the Foot Clan. The battles are just formalities. The Foot inflict almost no damage, while the Turtles just laugh and high-five their way to an easy victory. Nobody watching on TV thinks the Turtles have a chance to lose. These are just time-wasters before the real battles happen against Shredder.
And, for Manchester City, Shredder has been whoever they have played away from the Etihad. City have won just two games out of eight on the road, while drawing two and losing four. No real shame in losing four road matches if they are against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool - but that isn’t quite the case. They have lost to Cardiff, Aston Villa and Sunderland.
On paper, Fulham hosting City looks like a no-brainer. And it probably is, seeing as Fulham have lost five of their last six. But City need to show they can routinely earn points away on the road -- especially against teams on the bottom half of the table. You can’t win the trophy by winning only at home, and you can’t rescue April without taking down Shredder.
I certainly hope Fulham can pull it together and get out of the drop zone. They obviously hold a special place in a lot of American hearts. The news that Clint Dempsey may return there on loan would be fantastic, not only for the Craven Cottage faithful, but also for UMSNT fans. Dempsey needs a run of matches against the highest level of competition leading up to the World Cup. It will only help him -- and don’t anybody go with the "But what if he gets hurt?!" argument. He could trip and fall headfirst into the toilet and drown tomorrow, too. But you have to be willing to roll the dice.
No. 2: Southampton vs Tottenham at St Mary’s Stadium
When: Sunday at 7:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The Spurs took all three points last year with a 2-1 win. Dempsey (!!!) scored the second goal in the 39th. Southampton got one back in the 66th to make it look better for the papers.
OK, I know a Chelsea supporter scolding another team for sacking their manager too quickly is a hilarious concept, but, I mean, who else is more of an expert on the matter? I was fine with Andre Villas-Boas getting the sack from Spurs, because I don’t particularly care for him or the team he managed.. His brief tenure at Chelsea wasn’t exactly memorable, and his attitude and comments towards the club made him seem like a pretty big jerk.
But looking at things objectively, as best I can, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense to send him to the unemployment line now. I don’t see a ton to gain. There isn’t exactly a line of world-class managers lined up looking for jobs right now, especially with a World Cup being six months away.
AVB led Spurs to 72 points a year ago, which was the most ever for a team that didn’t qualify for Champions League. Sure, it has been a struggle to implement the talent they bought with the dump trucks of cash they got for Gareth Bale. But can whatever caretaker they bring in do any better? This team seems destined to finish just shy of a top four spot, whether they fired AVB or not. So why not just accept your mid-table fate and give it another go next year when it is more clear how to get this new roster to play together?
I guess a 5-0 home loss to Liverpool, and a 6-0 road loss to City, just are too much for a guy to overcome in the knee-jerk sports world in 2013. Oh, well. Like I said, I’m fine with it. Feel bad for Spurs fans. Sort of.
The match with Southampton is a big one. The Saints have fallen back to earth a bit after rubbing elbows with the top four early in the season. But they sit just three points adrift of a Spurs club that no doubt has the in-fighting that comes along with the changing of a new manager.
No. 1: Arsenal vs Chelsea at Emirates Stadium
When: Monday at 2PM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea took down Arsenal in their own backyard last September thanks to goals by Fernando Torres and the eventual winner by Juan Mata in the 53rd.
This is clearly the match of the weekend, and one of the bigger of a season that is near half-over already. Shame it has to land on a Monday, but hopefully enough folks are already on holiday break, or can sneak away from the office for 2 o’clock kick, to enjoy what is sure to be a good one.
Chelsea can overtake Arsenal with a win and, depending on what Liverpool (who are ahead on goal differentia)l do, could be top of the league heading into Christmas/Boxing Day a few days later.
Neither of the two biggest clubs in London can be too happy about their current form. Arsenal are winless in their last two matches, allowing Everton to come back with a late equalizer two weeks ago at the Emirates that led to that 6-3 debacle against Manchester City. Add that with the Gunners getting paired against Bayern Munich for the second straight year in the knockout round of Champions League, and things aren’t exactly peachy.
On the other side of London, Stoke City handed Chelsea one of their most deflating defeats in recent memory, definitely the biggest sandbag to the junk under Jose Mourinho. Giving up a lead twice and conceding three goals left The Special One dumbfounded afterwards, saying the team was in trouble and not wanting to reveal his true feelings. Don’t blame him.
There is a lot more to be said about this one, but I'll leave it to those who aren’t as emotionally invested as I am. I am much better at writing about Chelsea when things are going well. I’m mature like that. Really hoping for an early Christmas present on Monday.
Not sure what the plan is for this space over the holidays. Definitely going to try to get some content up, but with matchdays coming left and right, a preview piece becomes old news within 36 hours. But if you ever want to talk soccer, shoot me an email (danajwessel at gmail) or hit me up on Twitter.
I really appreciate everyone who reads these each week. I have an absolute blast writing them. Everyone have a happy holiday, and may your favorite club make it through the next three weeks as unscathed as possible.
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