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. When he can stay awake long enough to write, he previews the weekend in the EPL for us. Dana?
This must have been an awful week for anybody who can’t stand Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. A lot of credit was deservedly given to the Chelsea players and The Special One after their 1-0 win at Manchester City, in what was without a doubt the result of the season thus far.
There wasn’t anyone - from pundits to rubes - that gave Chelsea much of a chance. But Mourinho went ahead and switched his style up, and if they hate let ‘em hate and watch the points pile up. (Yeah, that was a 50 Cent reference from a song that is now over a decade old. What are you gonna do about it?) It was vintage Mourinho and vintage Chelsea; how great was it that Jose had the team masseur give the team talk before the match? As a Chelsea fan: man, that was fun. It was one of those matches that reminds you why you love this sport so much in the first place. I could carry on and on, but for the sake of the non-Chelsea fans reading, I'll get on with it.
The result assured that nothing is assured in this rowdy season. Things are guaranteed to be shaken up even more this weekend with league leaders Arsenal heading to fourth-place Liverpool. Also, in the battle for fourth place, sixth-place Tottenham hosts fifth-place Everton.
Before we get to the matches, be sure to note that the matches are on USA Network this weekend so the NBC networks can get us up-to-the-minute updates on whether or not people are able to hit the can comfortably over in Sochi.
No. 1: Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield
When: Saturday at 6:45am on USA Network
Last year: Arsenal managed to get all three points at Anfield in early September of last season thanks to goals from Lukas Podloski and Santi Cazorla.
This is an ugly start time for us Yanks, but it will be well worth waking up early for this one. Brit's Pub in Minneapolis will be open (not so bright and) early, and will no doubt be busy.
There is a lot at stake for both clubs in this match, when both will be pushing for the full three points. A win from Liverpool puts them within five points of Arsenal at the top of the league and, no matter how much manager Brendan Rodgers tries to downplay their chances, they want to be in the running for the trophy.
Three points for Arsenal would be a great way to kick off the stretch that Arsenal fans have been dreading and everyone else has been drooling over. Check out this stretch of matches that will surely determine whether or not Arsenal can add a trophy to their cabinet for the first time since the Emirates opened nine years ago.
Sweet mother of creamed corn. I get anxiety and want to dig out my childhood teddy bear TaTa just thinking about playing that fixture list on FIFA. They get a bit of a break in between the Munich fixtures, but make no mistake, this is an absolute gut-busting stretch. It's like Arsenal just blew past the last rest stop for a few hundred miles on a road trip, with a 3/4ths a tank of gas and a relatively empty bladder. They will either find sweet relief at a Texaco without running out of gas and their bladder bursting, or they’ll find themselves broken down on the side of the road with their thumb out.
This makes Saturday’s match all the more important for the Gunners. They are riding a seven-match unbeaten streak and are feeling confident as this journey starts, and they haven't lost in their last six visits to Anfield. Continuing that stretch against a big rival would give them a big mental boost before heading into these desert roads.
Liverpool have been on a great run themselves, going unbeaten in their last eight, but there were no doubt some cleats being thrown around The Hawthorns last Sunday, as they couldn't find a winner against West Brom. Martin Skrtel* has said they plan on toppling Arsenal Sunday. Arsenal want to keep their top spot. Liverpool want a shot at that top spot before the season is up. This match: Can’t miss.
*Skrtel would be the captain of the all-EPL bar fight team, right? I’d hate to run into that dude after he has had a few whiskeys.
No. 2: Chelsea vs Newcastle at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 9:00am on USA Network
Last year: Chelsea took care of business in tidy fashion a year ago, beating Newcastle 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard netted a penalty before Torres put it out of reach in stoppage time in the first half.
Talk about two teams riding completely different waves of emotion. Chelsea are returning home after a clean-sheet win at Manchester City, while Newcastle are heading to Stamford Bridge after losing the Tyne-Wear derby at home 3-rip for the second consecutive year.
Newcastle have gone somewhat off the rails lately. They have losses to Sunderland, Cardiff and West Brom, plus a scoreless draw with Norwich City in their last six matches. Add in the Joe Kinnear drama and things aren’t very stable up Newcastle way. But Newcastle supporters must be pleased they are in the top half off the table.
You have to like Chelsea’s chances in this match at home (then again, you also had to like their chances last week against West Ham when they drew 0-0); the Blues are right where they want to be right now. Jose is guiding them along smoothly and players and fans alike have completely bought in. For the first time in years there isn’t some type of managerial/John Terry distraction taking place and they are laying in the weeds going about their business.
Newcastle will be just fine with a draw and will be content playing for one, but I think Chelsea are just playing too well and riding too high for it to be anything other than a full three for the home side.
No. 3: Tottenham vs Everton at White Hart Lane
When: Sunday at 7:30am on USA Network
Last year: This fixture at White Hart Lane was a fun one last April. Adebayor made it 1-0 within seconds of the opening whistle. Everton would equalize in the 15th and take the lead in the 53rd before Spurs got their equalizer with just three minutes left in regular time. Just one of many fixtures Spurs fans probably look at with frustration after just finishing one point behind Arsenal for fourth place.
Another match on early this weekend but definitely worth sacrificing an extra hour of sleep. Just take a nap in the afternoon. It’s not like there is NFL to watch this week. The race for the fourth and final Champions League spot right now is Liverpool’s to lose but if anybody is going to make them earn it, it is Spurs and Everton.
The Toffees have been one of the surprises of the PL season. Conventional wisdom had Manchester United ahead of both of these sides, pushing them both back a spot to sixth and seventh, but here they are. Everton can overtake Liverpool with a win combined with an Arsenal victory. Spurs, meanwhile, could pass Everton with a win and a potentially be level on points with Liverpool.
Both teams are at disadvantage in the long-term race with Liverpool for the fourth slot because of goal differential, meaning a tie at the end of 38 matches does them no good. Spurs somehow have a -1 goal differential. Everton a bit better at 12. But Liverpool can’t be caught at 29. For reference, Man City are at 41.
So….the odds of this one being a goal fest obviously aren’t very good, but hopefully the magnitude of the fixture will bring out some desperation. Everton have only one won of their last five away from Goodison Park, but have only lost two of their last 13 matches against Spurs. Should be a fun one. I look forward to Spurs fans tweeting about this one after they catch up on DVR later in the afternoon.
Enjoy the matches and be sure to support your local soccer bar. They’ll only keep opening as long as we keep going.
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