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.
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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 staying optimistic in his latest weekly check-in. Dana?
Well, so much for that "title match" between Chelsea and Liverpool! But much, much more on that in a second.
The season is winding down. Where did the time go? There have seriously been 35 matches played already? There are only two weeks left in the season after this one. Just two more weeks of Nuclear Wessel before we get shut down for the summer.
But we have matches to preview and rants to go on! Let’s get Nuclear!
No. 1: Southampton vs Everton at St Mary’s Stadium
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These two played to a 0-0 draw a year ago at St Mary’s in a match where surely everyone watching kicked themselves for not going out to breakfast instead.
I am excited to watch this match because I want Everton to keep pushing Arsenal for fourth. That’s all I've got.
Editor's note: Arsenal and Everton have three games each to play, and Arsenal are one point ahead of Everton for the fourth and final Champions League spot.
No. 2: Manchester United vs Norwich at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 11:30PM On NBC Sports Network
Last year: United had a laugh last March against Norwich, beating them 4-donut at Old Trafford on their way to their 20th top-flight championship.
So what do you think they are going to do with the David Moyes ‘Chosen One’ banner hanging up at Old Trafford? Make a blanket out of it? Send it to a third-world country like they do with the t-shirts for the team that lost the Super Bowl? Use it as a cleat rug?
If you are like most readers, and have printed off each edition of Nuclear Wessel and bound them in a leather book, you can flip back to the first column and read that I predicted that Moyes wouldn’t last the season. Before I pat myself on the back too much (and because you all have a leather-bound book with every edition of Nuclear Wessel printed on that fancy kind of paper you used in college when you were trying to fool a professor into thinking your paper was better than it actually was), though, I will say that I gave him too much credit. I predicted he’d be out around February, and Sir Alex would be chomping his gum up and down the sideline of the Theater of Dreams.
So here is my apology to David Moyes: My bad, dude. You lasted longer than I thought you would, but the end result was the same. Now enjoy some time off and hopefully you have a chance to manage another team to the middle real soon.
I feel bad for the guy; he was set up to fail, and now his name will always be a punchline even though he is a great manager for a mid-table team, as he showed at Everton. Now he has to sit at home on Saturday, and watch his former players come out flying all over the field and beat a lowly Norwich side to try to show it was his fault all along. The dinks in the stands will be singing some dumb Ryan Giggs song, and United’ll win 3-0 while doing their best to not accept the harsh, harsh reality that faces their club going forward.
Was a lot of this Moyes’ fault? Yeah, certainly. The tactics that worked at Everton can’t be the tactics you use at a club like United. Was it also the players’ fault? Absolutely. And I am not sure I necessarily blame them. Lord knows I stuck up for John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba when they went crying to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to get Luis Scolari fired. Robin van Persie came to United a year ago to play for Sir Alex, not Moyes. That’d be like LeBron heading to San Antonio to play for Gregg Popovich and he retires a year later and they hire (insert a middle-of-the-league coach from the NBA. I don’t care. Taster’s choice. I don’t pay attention to leagues that make the WWE and the Harlem Globetrotters look like legitimate sporting competitions).
Anyway, United will be fired up to play, and I hope they win. I want Fulham to stay up. Who cares about Norwich.
No. 3: Liverpool vs Chelsea at Anfield Stadium
When: Sunday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: I don’t even want to talk about it. This was the match where Luis Suarez equalized in the 97th minute after BITING - yes, with his mouth and teeth, bit - Branislav Ivanovic’s arm earlier in the match, earning himself a 10-game suspension. Gross. I can’t stand Liverpool.
RANT #1: Well, it isn’t the title match people were hoping for but it definitely won’t lack controversy. Jose Mourinho has asked for, and been granted, permission to field a b-squad side Sunday at Liverpool, and I applaud him for it and I am happy the board is allowing it.
Here it is in the simplest terms: Chelsea have a very small chance at winning the Premier League and don’t control their own destiny. They would still need Liverpool to lose to Palace or Newcastle even IF they win Sunday. Chelsea have a much better chance at winning the more prestigious Champions League, and they do control their own destiny in that competition.
It's a no-brainer, right? The match is on Sunday and the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final is just two days later. Rest your starters’ legs, and play for the the big trophy. But of course there is controversy because people look for every excuse possible to hate Chelsea. And if you are a City fan upset Chelsea is fielding a less-than-full-strength team, I don’t blame you. It annoys me too.
But don’t be mad at Chelsea. Direct your anger at the FA for not moving the match. It is utter nonsense that Chelsea is forced to play a match this big just two days before the second leg of the Champions League semifinal. The Spanish sides got their matches moved to Friday or Saturday this weekend. Why couldn’t the same be done for Chelsea? Especially when you consider England would be in danger of losing their fourth Champions League spot if it wasn’t for Chelsea’s continued success in the competition. That would mean no fourth-place achievement for Arsenal every season, and nothing for smaller clubs like Everton and Spurs to dream of because - let's be honest - none of them are capable of finishing third.
RANT #2: There seems to be this annoying trend in soccer where apparently teams playing for trophies late in the season owe everyone else entertainment. As if they should put their own success aside and put on a show, like this is some sort of circus for people to enjoy.
Chelsea were criticized on Tuesday for playing defensively against Atletico. Fans of other teams who are already knocked out of this competition, or never came within a sniff of qualifying for it, berated them for playing “negative football.” When you are playing a team on the road that has scored in every Champions League match this season , and has scored in every game it has played at home, you have to play defensively to survive. Call it parking the bus, call it disgraceful, call it whatever you want. That is how the sport works. If you don’t like the basic principles and want more action, go watch old Slamball games on YouTube.
In a competition like Champions League where legacies are being written by the match and careers change with every goal, a club doesn’t owe anything to anybody except themselves and their fans. People speak of Chelsea’s defensive-minded tactics and “parking the bus” as if it were as easy as entering the cheat code at the beginning of Contra. If defending high powered teams like Barcelona and PSG is so easy, how come more teams don’t copy Chelsea? Because they don’t want to win? Because they don’t want the glory? Because they don’t want the money that comes along with it? Please. It is because they can’t. They aren’t strong enough physically or mentally. And rather than just admitting that, it is much easier to act like Chelsea somehow “dishonor” the game. Please. Take your very evident jealousy and go win a trophy on FIFA.
THIS MATCH: Where were we? Liverpool? Love the decision to play a b-side from Chelsea. If anything, just puts more pressure on Liverpool. You beat Chelsea’s JV at home with your first league trophy since 1990 on the line? Well, good, you should have. You lost to Chelsea’s JV at home with your first league trophy since 1990 on the line? Are you serious? And it isn’t like Chelsea’s b-squad is Nottingham Forest. They won’t be favored to win, but I highly doubt they get routed.
That made me feel a lot better. Did any of that make sense? I sure hope so, because Lord knows I am not going to go back and proofread it before I send it to Marth for posting. (Editor's note: /takes shot of whiskey to steady trembling hands)
All right, that’ll do it for this week. Everybody enjoy the matches. It is supposed to rain all weekend in Minneapolis so you won’t feel bad for sneaking off to the pub or lounging on the couches for the weekend slate. Remember to tip your bartenders and waitstaff at your favorite soccer watering hole. They work hard at early hours to support our weird obsession.
Until next week, keep your sheets clean and your oranges sliced!
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