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 Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He's our Premier League expert. Dana?
The title is very much undecided after last Sunday’s "title match" between Liverpool and Manchester City, and if the results of Wednesday are any indication, we won’t know who will lift the trophy, get relegated, or finish fourth until the final Sunday of the season.
Speaking of that Sunday, there are a few housekeeping items I want to get to before we preview this weekend’s crucial matches:
1. All 10 matches will be televised on the NBC family of networks on Sunday, May 11th at 9:00am. As is the custom in the Premier League, to not give away any advantage, all 10 matches kick off at the exact same time. You better get to a bar that has 10 TVs and a sick cable package, buy nine extra TVs for your living room and return them (big box retailers are so desperate for happy customers that they’d allow it. Give the dude at Best Buy 50 bucks and he’d probably let you rent them from him, just for the morning), or start exercising your flipping thumb right now.
2. Sunday, May 11th is also Mother’s Day, ya hooligans. Don’t let your excitement over the final day cause you to forget about the woman that gave you life, so that you can be excited over ultimately-trivial things like 11 dudes in matching costumes running around kicking a ball. If you and your mother don’t live near each other, don’t use soccer as an excuse not to call her. If you are planning on seeing her, don’t get caught up at the pub and be late.
That said, maaaaaybe mix in a few extra phone calls and visits between now and May 11th so your mother might maybe potentially be cool with pushing back Mother’s Day brunch until 11am when the matches are over. Frame it that you want to let her sleep in on her big day! Just a thought.
Now that I am on the short-list for the Worst Son of the Year Award, I’d just like to say mom, I love you, and I'll happily skip the Chelsea match to spend the morning with you. But wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in on your big day?!?
No. 1: Chelsea vs Sunderland at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 11:30am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Ugly game between these two last April at the Bridge. They exchanged a pair of own goals before Branislav Ivanovic (the dude on Chelsea I’d most want on my side in a bar fight) found a winner in the 55th.
Chelsea are one of two teams, along with Liverpool, that control their own destiny with four matches to go. Thanks to City coughing up two points to Sunderland, Chelsea’s opponent Saturday, the Blues can now win their final four matches and raise their third PL trophy under Jose Mourinho and fourth overall.
This is easier said than done, especially with a scheduled trip to Anfield next Sunday, but it is quite a position to be in. Speaking of Anfield, Jose will be sure the men aren’t looking forward to next Sunday while overlooking a Sunderland team playing for their Premier League lives - and playing with confidence, too. Oh, and they also can’t be looking ahead to next Tuesday, either, when they’ll be playing in the semi-finals of Champions League.
There are six, potentially seven matches left to go in this season, and a double is still on the table for the Blues. The wins haven’t been beautiful, but nobody remembers that once a trophy is lifted. Jose has them playing with confidence and his classic "us-against-the-world" mentality.
I am always confident in my favorite team, but I am also - understandably - very nervous. I carry around a brown paper bag to hyperventilate into wherever I go and I always make sure I am within 50 feet of somebody trained in CPR. Having your favorite team, regardless of the league or sport, on the brink of something huge is stressful, nerve-wracking and ratchets up the anxiety to an 11, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, regardless of how the next month plays out.
No. 2: Norwich vs Liverpool at Carrow Road
When: Saturday at 6:00am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Norwich fans didn’t exactly frame their ticket stubs after this one last year at Carrow Road. Liverpool was up 2-0 at half, 4-0 in the 57th and ended up winning 5-2. Liverpool fans will be hoping for something similar Sunday. Chelsea, City and Norwich (and, I suppose, Liverpool-hating Manchester United fans) will not be.
Nothing like waking up at 6am on a Sunday for 1 vs 17! The Canaries' loss to Fulham has them on life support now, desperate to stay out of the drop zone. The league leaders coming to town isn’t going to do much to help that. Or maybe it is just what they need to give them a shot of confidence. Or maybe I am just a delusional Chelsea fan trying to talk myself into the notion that Norwich can somehow get a point Sunday.
In all honesty, I am fine with Liverpool winning. That showdown at Anfield would be one for the ages. I am stressed out already just typing about it. The big matches, the big moments are what make sports so special, and this would be one of the biggest matches I've seen.
Liverpool are all but guaranteed to roll here. Maybe Norwich can nick one early, and get the crowd behind them, but even that seems unlikely. Sounds like Daniel Sturridge and his 23 goals will miss the trip this weekend, and manager Brendan Rodgers was quiet about whether or not he’d be ready to face his old club a week from Sunday. It shouldn’t matter Saturday against Norwich, but it would definitely be a big blow against Chelsea.
No. 3: Everton vs Manchester United at Goodison Park
When: Sunday at 10:10am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Everton won this fixture a year ago 1-0 when Fellaini scored in the 57th minute. If that happens this season, the other team will win. That is because Fellaini now plays for Manchester United, you see.
Ah, yes. One final opportunity to laugh at David Moyes before we forget about Manchester United until next season, since their remaining matches are about as meaningful as a generic ‘happy birthday’ Facebook post to somebody you stopped talking to years ago.
This match would have been a lot more sexy had Everton not messed the bed against Crystal Palace on Wednesday. How pesky are Palace, by the way? Without a doubt the most annoying team to play. Oh, and guess what place they are. Don’t look it up. Off the top of your head guess what place they are in. I'll wait.
11th! 11th! How did that happen? Tony Pulis absolutely deserves to be manager of the year after taking over for Ian Holloway last fall. I would have bet my Starter Jacket collection that Palace would have been dead in the water by March. Not really sure where I am going with this, but ya know, good for them.
Back to Everton and my man Timmy Howard, who had his 116th clean sheet last weekend (Wednesday would’ve been a good time for his 117th, but lets not be picky) and signed a contract extension through 2018. What a story they have been this year. Moyes bails. Takes Fellaini with him. Now the mighty Manchester United are looking up at the Toffees.
Everton still have an outside chance of finishing in the top four, but the Palace loss may very well be the bullet they put in their own foot. They need Arsenal to slip up at least once, and they still have to play a Manchester City side desperate to get back in the title race.
But no Toffee player or fan should hang their head. In a season with little to no expectations, they were one of the best storylines all season. Qualifying for the Europe League, would be a huge consolation for this side and it would be great to see them and Timmy Howard playing some European football next season.
Alright, that’ll do ‘er for this week. Enjoy the matches this weekend and remember to tip your servers at your local soccer establishment.
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