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 stops by every week to preview the Premier League and make fun of Arsenal. Dana?
Welcome to another edition of Nuclear Wessel that is sure to leave you inspired, feeling alive and ready to conquer your weekend. Chelsea sit alone on top of the table heading into a big slate of matches. Arsenal trail by a point and Manchester City by three (although they have a game in hand on Chelsea and Arsenal).
It has been an eventful two weeks for English soccer. The FA Cup has been whittled down to eight teams with big clubs Chelsea and Liverpool exiting stage left. Manchester City and and Arsenal both took one on the chin midweek at home in the opening leg of the Round of 16 in Champions League.
And no, Arsenal fans, this isn’t where I am going to point out how Chelsea had no trouble converting penalties against Bayern Munich in 2012. Nor will I point out that you were at home in the Round of 16 and not playing Bayern in the final in Munich.
Same to you, City fans. I am not going to sit here and brag and carry on about how Chelsea beat a much better Barcelona team on the road in 2012 than the one you lost to at home Tuesday. I especially won’t point how Chelsea also played them with 10 men. I wouldn’t do that. I am clearly above such petty trash talking.
(Editor's note: He's just the worst, isn't he, folks?)
Only one real crucial head-to-head match as far as the top of the table goes, but with twelve to go, every point matters. Finding a way to turn one point into three and zero points into one is what separates winning the league and just qualifying for Champions League, and what separates qualifying for Champions League and just being another 5-10 side.
It all matters. Every game is a “playoff” game. That’s why we love it so much. On to the matches!
No. 1: Chelsea vs Everton at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 6:45 AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea took the money in this fixture last season 2-1 thanks to goals from Juan Mata (never forget) and Fernando Torres. The Blues left it a bit late too, with Torres’ winner not coming until the 76th minute. Steven Naismith scored for the Toffees.
This is without question the match of the weekend (so of course it is the Saturday early match) and massive for each team. Chelsea come into the match atop the Premier League table. The Blues are coming off a disappointing 1-1 draw at West Brom where they had multiple chances to kill the match with a second goal but ended up conceding late and only leaving with one point. The FA Cup loss at Manchester City stings a bit, but shouldn’t do anything to their confidence level after securing all three points against City 10 days earlier in the biggest result of the season.
They now face a desperate Everton team who is desperately trying to cling on to Champions League hopes after their top four prospects were dealt a big blow with losses at Liverpool and Tottenham in the last month. The Toffees sit in sixth place, eight points behind Liverpool for fourth, and five behind Spurs for fifth place. They do have a match in hand over both the clubs, and that match is home against Villa, so they have good odds of cashing in on those points.
Everton have gotten two draws in their last five matches at Stamford Bridge and were the first team to defeat Chelsea this season, so this should be anything but a laugh for the home side.
It is still unclear if captain John Terry will be fit to return after missing the last three games with a muscle issue. Given the sometimes spotty defense the last two matches, the Blues could certainly use him. But with the big Champions League showdown with Galatasaray and Didier Drogba coming Wednesday, expect Jose to shuffle the lineup a bit.
This is always a weird one for the proprietor of this here column. Rooting for American goalie Timmy Howard to get scored on just feels dirty, like I am doing something wrong. I always want to pull an Ace Ventura and torch my clothes in a barrel and take a shower when it is all over. Here is to Timmy giving up a few goals tomorrow and then not giving up another between now and the end of the World Cup (and staying healthy).
No. 2: Arsenal vs Sunderland at Emirates Stadium
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on USA Network -- note the channel. Olympics bump this one to US, which actually be good for some fans because that channel is more readily available than NBC Sports Network.
Last year: Scoreless draw between the Gunners and Black Cats last season at the Emirates. I either didn’t watch this match or blocked it from my mind like some sort of trauma victim.
Arsenal need to put whatever lingering feels they have about missed penalties, red cards, and inappropriate hand gestures heading into the tunnel. And for crying out loud, would somebody give Mesut Ozil a hug? Michael Ballack was right when he said this week it doesn’t look like the Arsenal players have fully accepted the German hired gun. He looks like an outcast. Kinda like that new kid that comes to your school that is really good at sports and everybody is afraid he is going to steal their girlfriend.
First of all, Arsenal players shouldn’t worry about Ozil stealing their girlfriend because he sort of looks like something that would come out of Jim Henson’s Muppet laboratory. Secondly, Arsene Wenger needs to give Ozil an afternoon off and make the rest of the players watch the original Mighty Ducks. Ozil is Adam Banks. The Ducks needed Banks more than Banks needed the Ducks. The Ducks wouldn’t accept Banksy and made that known. Banksy could have coasted through the season and gone back to the Hawks once his dad and the lawyers redrafted the boundaries, just like Ozil can say ‘screw it’ and demand a move this summer.
Basically, the Gunners need to take a page from a Disney movie with more plot holes than a soccer net and embrace the goofy-eyed German. Granted, his form hasn’t been up to par lately (he lost every shred of confidence once he missed that penalty Wednesday), but a good part of that could be coming from the lack of acceptance in the locker room.
Everyone knew this month-long stretch of matches would be difficult for the Gunners, and adversity was going to present itself. This match against Sunderland is one of the few easy patches during Hell Month. Three points will be crucial if they want to keep pace with Chelsea and not be overtaken by City. They can’t let up and they can’t let Tuesday’s result linger.
And somebody needs to give the German a hug.
No. 3: Liverpool vs Swansea at Anfield
When: Sunday at 7:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool gave Swansea a beating usually reserved for gym class when the teacher lets the students pick their own teams before a game of capture the flag. 5-rip with four goals in the second-half gave the Anfield faithful walk out after the game singing their song with a smile on their face. Liverpool haven’t lost a league match this calendar year and Swansea has only one league win this calendar year. Liverpool rolls.
And, as Forrest Gump once said, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
It’s snowing (I write these on Thursday afternoons) and I feel like playing some 8-bit Nintendo. Plus, there is no way I can top that Arsenal/Mighty Ducks bit so might as well go out on a high note.
Enjoy the weekend of matches, and be sure to tip your waiters and waitresses at your favorite soccer watering hole. Ill see you there. And remember, it is your turn to bring the orange slices.