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's here to tell us what to watch this weekend in the Premier League. Dana?
So, how about that Manchester City club? I, and many others, said for weeks and weeks that if City got their road form up to par that they could run away with this thing, and now: City put an exclamation point on a solid road streak Wednesday, with a 5-1 dismantling of at White Hart Lane (beating Spurs 11-1 on aggregate this season). They are now top off the table by a point, and have third place Chelsea coming in with a chance to put six points between the two.
It is obviously not over with 15 matches to go, not by a long a shot, but City just look the part of champions right now. They score with ease, don’t concede many (especially at home) and have - sorry I have to say it - some serious swagger to them, with 14 wins in 15 matches and no losses since a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland in November. November was a long time ago. I can barely remember November.
Chelsea have issues finishing right now (38 shots and no goals against West Ham), and it will likely stay that way unless Fernando Torres is spending his injured time furiously building a Flux Capacitor* to return to the form of the late 2000s. Arsenal are only a point back, but are facing a stretch of fixtures in February that would make the famed Arsenal Invincibles need to change their undies.
*Don’t bet on this. Torres strikes me as the kind of guy you could shuffle a deck of cards in front of him and he’d think you just did a magic trick.
You just have to like City’s chances right now... but things can change quick. Nobody knows that better than City, who were eight points back with six matches to go in 2011-12, before rallying to win their first and only Premiership.
On to the matches. Not exactly a slate worth ruining a relationship over by watching wall-to-wall soccer all weekend, especially with the big match of the weeknd not until Monday - but still some intriguing matches worth taking in.
No. 3: Newcastle vs Sunderland at St James Park
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Sunderland embarrassed Newcastle 3-0 in last year’s installment of the Tyne-Wear derby at St James Park. To be fair, it was 1-0 until the 74th minute before the Black Cats ruined the Toon faithful’s day.
Hold on one second.
*Opens up the big book of cliches*
You can throw out the record books when these two play! Talk about two teams who don’t like each other! No love lost between these two fanbases!
In all seriousness, though, this one gets ugly. The Newcastle fans caused a ruckus after the loss last year mentioned above. Something like 30+ people were injured and one guy even punched a horse. Punched a horse! Who does that? I don’t think they ever said if there was retaliation by the horse, but I think we all hope Mr Ed smoked him with a back-kick right in the [redacted].
Things aren’t pretty for Newcastle right now either. Their red card appeal for Loic Remy was denied, so he is in the cooler. It doesn’t look like Papiss Cisse and Yoan Gouffran will play either. On the other side, Sunderland come into this match on a hot run of play. They are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions, with four wins during that stretch. Even Jozy Alitdore showed some signs of life for the first time in weeks in their 1-0 win over Stoke City this week.
But I will be rooting for Newcastle mainly because I have a lot of respect for their fans and their history. My good friend Dylan is a diehard Newcastle fan and will always text me rants about their board and their play. Complaints about things that, as a Chelsea fan, I can’t even imagine. (To borrow a phrase from Morgan Freeman, maybe I don’t want to.) So I always have a soft spot in my heart for Newcastle, and Saturday will be no different.
And I don’t want any more horses getting punched.
No. 2: West Brom vs Liverpool at The Hawthorns
When: Sunday at 7:30am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool got their season off to a cracking start in last season’s lid-lifter by getting goosed by West Brom 3-rip at The Hawthorns. Liverpool got five cautions and a red in what would end up being a seventh-place, European-less campaign.
Man, I don’t want want to admit it. I really don’t. I already admitted above this that City are the favorites for the trophy and Chelsea could easily be left in their dust. So the timing of this next admission is terrible, but here it is.
I really enjoy watching Liverpool play. There, I said it. Are you happy?
Just goals on goals. The list of athletes I have less respect for than Luis Suarez isn’t even a short one, there is no list. I can’t stand the guy. This isn’t one of those "but if he played on my team I’d love him scenarios" either. Daniel Sturridge is lighting up the score sheet, and I wouldn’t want him back in Chelsea blue for all the buffalo wings in the world.
All that aside, if you like soccer, you have to enjoy watching Liverpool right now. I said in the last edition of Nuclear Wessel that I think it would take a big collapse, which if we're honest is definitely possible with Suarez, for them to not finish top four come May. I also stand by my statement that it is too early to rule them out of the a shot at the title. They are seven points out and have two teams between them and City, but their form before and since those back-to-back 2-1 defeats to Chelsea and City has been great. Don’t forget, they still have Chelsea, Arsenal, City and Spurs coming to Anfield.
You never know. They could make a big run at this thing. I could also just be attempting to oversell them in an attempt to reverse-jinx them. Sports are fun!
No. 1: Manchester City vs Chelsea at The Etihad
When: Monday at 2:00pm on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea couldn’t get much of anything going in this fixture a year ago. Yaya Toure made it 1-0 in the 63rd, and Carlos Tevez scored one of his final goes in a City shirt a few minutes later to seal the match.
I touched on the importance of this match and both teams and the impact it has on the title race. A win for City puts them six points clear of Chelsea, and gives them all the confidence in the world heading into their FA Cup tie against the Blues in two weeks. A win for Chelsea would obviously do the inverse. Put them level with City, potentially atop of the table, while a loss would leave them potentially just a point ahead of Liverpool for third place - assuming Liverpool win, of course.
This is a big, big match. I think I speak for all Chelsea fans when I say I would gladly take a point and run. Chelsea are going to a building where the home team has only allowed eight goals all season, after failing to score on 39 shots at home against West Ham. But these Chelsea players and their manager are no stranger to big matches and won’t be afraid of the big bad City, especially after beating them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge earlier in the year - although Joe Hart does deserve a tip of the hat for that one.
Even if Chelsea lose, they aren’t out of the title race by any means. They have a few tough fixtures to get through in February, but their run-up to the title is much more favorable than City and Arsenal.
It has been an emotional week at Chelsea. The draw was frustrating as can be. Saying goodbye to Juan Mata, although the right decision, is tough. Seeing him celebrate with Manchester United (first time I have mentioned them) was even worse. Strange times indeed at Chelsea, and I haven’t even mentioned the departure of a true Chelsea legend Michael Essien. The rollercoaster continues on Monday. As with every up and down at Stamford Bridge, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
OK. I have gushed on for long enough. That’ll do it for this week. Get out there and support your local soccer bars this weekend. Until next time, I’ll see you at the shooting board.
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