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. He knows about the Premier League. We like when he tells us about it. Dana?
And we’re back! We survived the holiday season, we enjoyed the first (third, you know what I mean) round of the FA Cup - well, except for Manchester United and Tottenham - and now it is time to buckle back in for some weekend Premier League matches.
(By the way, before we get started, did you know that Nuclear Wessel is a Star Trek reference? Because I didn’t. Our friend Stu named the blog for me and I just thought it was a funny take on the whole HOT SPROTS TAKE revolution. Nobody even bothered to point out the reference to me. I feel Happy Gilmore when he didn’t realize he was standing in front of Daniel Lafferty’s tee shot.)
The table hasn’t changed since the last time we all got together, shared an orange juice, and talked some soccer here. Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea sit at the top of the table with 45, 44 and 43 points, in that order. There is also an equally tight battle for the fourth spot, with Liverpool, Everton and Spurs at 39, 38 and 37 points respectively.
There is nothing overly sexy on paper in this week's matches, but every match is crucial. It will be May before we know it, and every point matters from top to the bottom. I apologize (or maybe I should say you’re welcome?) for a more abbreviated version this week than normal.
No. 3: Hull City vs Chelsea at The KC Stadium
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Well, it wasn’t last year. It was February of 2010 the last time these two met in the Premier League. The match ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw for Chelsea, with the only goal coming from Didier Drogba (awww). Chelsea would go on to win the table by a point over Manchester United.
Bright and early! These early matches can be really, really good or really, really bad. Waking up that early on a Saturday stinks, but if your team wins, you take a happy cat-nap and are in a good mood for the rest of the slate of matches/weekend. However, if your team loses, you stew around the house a bit, mad you are up so early and are tired. Then you get pissy when a rival in the next match takes three points, and it bugs you the rest of the weekend.
Well, at least that is how well-adjusted adults like myself take things.
This one will be a tricky match for Chelsea. Hull are sitting in an overachieving 10th in the table this season, but have run into some tough form of late thanks to some tough scheduling. They have only won one in the past six (a 6-donut drubbing of Fulham) and have lost two of their last three (vs Manchester United and Liverpool).
They are definitely impressive at home this season, having notched five of their six wins at the KC Stadium. But Chelsea are starting to hit their stride; they are unbeaten in their last five with four victories (the lone draw came at Arsenal) since the shock defeat at Stoke City. They beat ninth-place Southampton with ease 3-0 in their last match away from Stamford Bridge, and Jose will be hoping his lads can find a similar result on the road against a similar opponent. These are the types of results teams need to get if they want to lift a trophy at the end of the year.
No. 2: Manchester United vs Swansea at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on the big boy NBC
Last year: United took the full three points in this fixture last May when Rio Ferdinand scored the winner in the 87th minute. They had already locked up the title at this point. Must seem like five years ago for United supporters.
What an opportunity for the defending Premier League champion and world superpower Manchester United! A win on Saturday would do a number of things.
Talk about a massive match. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often, and I bet Manchester United fans have been nervously pacing around their houses all week, momentarily allowing themselves to daydream about the thrill of victory and the glory that would come along with pulling off the upset against Swansea at home.
But seriously, at what point do we start to feel bad for United? Never. That is when. I don’t care if you support Arsenal or Nottingham Forest FC, you have had to deal with the neverending arrogance and smugness from United fans. They deserve every cheap shot that comes their way.
United have nobody but themselves to blame, either. It its easy to point fingers at David Moyes, but ol’ Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t exactly leave him with much beer in the fridge. But that doesn’t matter, all fingers are pointed at the man Fergie appointed, rather than the man that assembled this roster and all but refused to develop young talent in his final years.
There is no quick fix, either. The title went out the window a long time ago. Even worse, it will take a couple teams pulling a Panthers-getting-the-measles-in-Mighty-Ducks-and-forfeiting-the-season type of thing, in order for United finish in the top four. It isn’t impossible; a match at Stamford Bridge looms large in two weeks. But at this point, it is asking a team to climb a mountain when they haven't even proven they can climb a molehill.
Firing Moyes would be a total knee-jerk move. So is spending big money in January to try to cash in on the small hope of finishing in the top four. Even finishing fifth, for a spot in the Europa League, doesn’t even seem all that realistic right now.
The only real move left is to stay the course, try to keep the never-healthy Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie healthy, and get back that goal against Sunderland in the second leg of the League Cup semifinals and gaining entry to the final, where Manchester City will be waiting*. Winning the League Cup and a trip to the Europa League doesn’t seem like much, but it is much better than the alternative. A trophy is better than no trophy. Some European matches (and the TV money that come along with them) are better than none.
*Prediction time! United rally to make the final to play City (assuming they hang on to that 6-0 win over West Ham in the first leg) in the final. City starts a MUCH stronger than necessary side for a League Cup final they don’t need and stomp United by multiple goals. That would be delicious.
This is uncharted territory for an entire generation of United fans. It is a new world. But it happens to big clubs. Look at Liverpool a few years ago. Even more drastic, look at AC Milan this season.
But things can turn around. It all starts Sunday when they hope to pull the upset against Swansea and get revenge for the FA Cup knockout, snap their four match losing streak and get their first win of the calendar year!
No. 1: Newcastle vs Manchester City at St James Park
When: Sunday at 8AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City won the last meeting at St James between these two teams last season in December. A 3-1 final that saw Demba Ba score for Newcastle in one of his final matches in a Newcastle shirt before transferring to Chelsea. Aguero, Garcia and Toure all scored for City.
This is just what Chelsea, Arsenal, and any other team thinking they still have a shot at the title were afraid of. It appears Manchester City are starting to win away from home. City won just two of their first six on the road, losing four and drawing two more. They have won their last two on the road and their last five games overall.
They were by no means pretty wins (3-2 at Swansea and 4-2 at Fulham), but it is a step in the right direction for a team that looked scared walking into the venue of a recently promoted team. This match at St James Park should be a great litmus test to find out just how far their road form has come. Newcastle find themselves in a very respectable eighth place with 33 points (just one behind Manchester United).
Newcastle haven’t exactly been dominant at home this season, with their ten wins being split between home and road. They will be motivated after a pair of tough 1-0 loses over the holiday period (at West Brom and home vs Arsenal) and would like to see themselves get back on the track that had them flirting with the top five right before the crunch of matches as the calendar flips.
Alright kiddos, that’ll do for this weeks edition of Nuclear Wessel. Head on out and support your local soccer bar this weekend.
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