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. Last year, Dana wrote about the Premier League for us just about every weekend, and after long negotiations, has agreed to do it again. Dana?
Welcome to season two of Nuclear Wessel! Voted as the best Premier League column* in 2013-14!!!
*on the Star Tribune website written by a local radio producer who has a female name
If this is for your first Nuclear Wessel experience, I implore you to go back and read the entire season one archives. You don’t just jump into "Godfather II" all willy-nilly, do you? Every masterpiece must be experienced from the beginning in order to be fully appreciated. Except "Weekend at Bernie's". You can enjoy II without seeing I.
The start of a new Premier League season is always full of excitement, but this year feels a little different. The greatest sporting league on earth has been gaining a steady stream of new fans for each of the past four or five years. But the World Cup last summer has really thrown some proverbial gasoline onto the proverbial fire. So before we get to the the weekend preview, I would like to welcome the newcomers and share a bit of wisdom to make everyone’s season more enjoyable. Last year I did an in-depth look into the soccer bars into the Twin Cities, but if you saw the World Cup, then you know where the hotspots are: Brit's, the Local, Nomad, the Roseville Olive Garden, and so on.
I'll start by addressing the big question: who to root for? Fans curious about the Premier League always talk about which team they should “pick” to root for.
Let me tell you, that is the worst possible way to go about things. Don’t pick a team. Let a team pick you. I understand the desire and temptation to hit the ground running with a new team at the start of the season, but what is the rush? You’ve waited this long to get into the Premier League, what is a few more months to make sure you get it right? I know many people who pick a team and come to regret it down the road, but stick with that team despite being indifferent about them at the end of the day.
So here's my advice: You’re single! Get out there and mingle a bit! Grab drinks with Newcastle after work. See if Chelsea wants to meet up with you and your friends at the Gopher tailgate. Tell Liverpool you’ve got an extra ticket to the Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters Show. Hell, if it’s late at night, and there is nothing on TV, and you're 100% certain your buddies won’t find out, invite Tottenham over.
Point is, take in a bunch of games. Learn a bunch about the league. Talk to fans of different teams. Ask questions. Eventually one team will grab a hold of you. And before you know it, you’ll be hugging a random stranger in a bar one Sunday morning before the sun comes up, with beer spilled all over your shirt, and you’ll have completely forgotten what life was like before the Premier League. (I am totally going to tweak that sentence and use it in a romance novel someday.)
Also, don’t let anybody give you crap or talk you out who you decide to put your ponies behind. Like any other sport, fans like to bust balls. Just know there isn’t any “wrong” team to latch onto. If you pick a top four side, Tottenham fans will call you a glory hunter. If you pick Tottenham or Everton, fans the bigger clubs will laugh at you because your club hasn’t won anything since this country was under British rule. If you root for Burnley, then, well... just don’t root for Burnley.
Enough business. We have matches to watch this weekend! A lot of them. Take your significant other out for dinner at some point, in one last Hail Mary attempt to make up for the next nine months of early alarm clocks on the weekends and screaming at the TV before the Star Tribune (see what I did there? I worked in a plug!) is even dropped off on your doorstep.
It's not the sexiest crop of matches this weekend, but who cares? They all count the same. Three points in September counts the same as three points in May. The 38-game playoffs start now.
No. 1: Manchester United vs Swansea City at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 6:45am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United took this corresponding fixture last January two-rip. Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia each scored for United. Don’t expect to see this one pop up on Premier League Classics on NBCSN this weekend.
(/movie trailer voice) “The people who brought you last winter’s blockbuster smash ‘Manchester United: The Post-Sir Alex Ferguson Era’ are back. This time, with more money, more expectations, more Chevrolet...and MORE DUTCH. It’s Manchester United: The Post-Sir Alex Ferguson Era II: The Sequel: This Time It Counts: Manchester Harder.”
So the David Moyes era went about as well as the bank robbery in "Reservoir Dogs" - but all that is in the past. Moyes is sitting on a couch counting the fat check United cut him. United did some quality business over the summer, and have a manager that won’t make their biggest superstar sulk worse than a teenager at a family-reunion picnic.
United are ready to move past last season’s unmitigated disaster and build off what has been an impressive preseason for the 20 time champions. Louis van Gaal has returned a sense of authority to a club that badly needed it. Moyes gave off a big ‘substitute teacher’ vibe. The players didn’t respect him, and it showed. That won’t be the case this season.
I believe Saturday will be the start of a season that sees United make it back into top four and qualify for Champions League. They never were as truly dreadful as they looked last season. They won’t have any pesky European competitions to deal with, much like Liverpool’s return to top four glory last year. Also, their aging superstars will once be motivated. Wayne Rooney now wears a captain’s armband, and knows full well his United legacy hangs in the balance. Robin van Persie has a manger he knows and trusts and, for United’s sake, hopefully won’t pout as much. They are aging, but they are still two of the best in the world, and can lead this bunch back to Champions League.
It's a relatively easy opening draw for United, with Patrick Reusse’s Swans coming to Old Trafford. Look for United to get all three points and to officially kick off "Manchester United: The Post-Sir Alex Ferguson Era II: The Sequel: This Time It Counts: Manchester Harder."
No. 2: Liverpool vs Southampton at Anfield
When: Sunday at 7:30am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Southampton got all three points a year ago at Anfield. Dejan Lovren found the back of the net in the 53rd to secure the win for the visiting side. Had Liverpool won this game, or any of the other six games they lost last season, they’d be champions.
Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool. Where to start?
The obvious question will be how they replace the 37 goals Luis Suarez scored last season. The answer to that is simple. They won’t. And they don’t need to. Liverpool didn’t lose the title* last year because they needed to score more than the 101 goals they scored. They lost it because they gave up 50 goals.
*Technically they lost because Steven Gerrard slipped, but that’s beside the point.
That’s why I think a lot of people are making a bigger deal about Suarez taking his chompers to Spain than there needs to be. They got a dump truck full of cash for a guy that will never be worth the headaches. Smart business, in my mind.
It is hard to picture the stars aligning as much as they did a year ago for Liverpool, as far as the title is concerned, but they will definitely be in the mix for a spot amongst the top four. They made some quality buys this summer. Unfortunately for them, so did Tottenham, Manchester United and Everton. Let's not forget, the glory of finishing in a Champions League spot also requires you to play in the Champions League. That is a lot of extra miles on legs, and squad rotation becomes key. We’ll see how Brendan Rodgers handles his first swim in the deep end.
Like United, Liverpool can hit the ground running at home against Southampton. Sad summer over at St Mary’s. The darlings of the Premier League last year were shipped out in a fire sale that would cause the Miami Marlins to cry foul. They went from No. 8 last season to relegation fodder this year, unless they reinvest some money - and fast. Making $170 million is great, but not if your big splash reinvesting it is Shane Long.
It could be a long season for the Saints. Liverpool will have a laugh on Sunday.
No. 1: Newcastle vs Manchester City at St James’ Park
When: Sunday at 9:00am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The eventual champions scored early and late (8th minute from Edin Dzeko and 95th from Alvaro Negredo) for an easy 2-0 victory at St James’ Park.
Can anybody give a compelling argument that the defending champions will finish any lower than 2nd? I can’t. And if I didn’t have 20-something Chelsea jerseys in my closet and own a John Terry Halloween mask, I doubt I’d think they could finish any lower than first.
I have a feeling both Chelsea and Liverpool will be kicking themselves for not taking advantage of last season’s open title window, because City look even more dangerous this year. They somehow got deeper. I didn’t think that was possible. But they did. This team is so loaded that I don’t think winning just one trophy could be considered a successful year. It’s at least a double or it’s a failure. They finally got out of the Champions League group stage last year, and will be poised to continue their progression in that competition as well.
As for Newcastle, well, I dunno, they’ll finish somewhere in the middle of the table. Their fans will clash with owners. Good players will be sold. Terrible replacements (might) be bought. They’ll finish somewhere in the middle or lower. My buddy Dylan the rocket scientist is the biggest Newcastle supporter this side of the Atlantic. I asked him if his beloved Magpies stood a chance against City Sunday. Here was his response:
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014-15 Newcastle squad!
In all seriousness, I could see Newcastle janking out some kind of draw. I don’t think it will happen. But it won’t cause me to choke on my Wheaties if it does. How about THAT for a sizzling hot sports take! I don’t think it will happen….BUT I WOULDN’T BE SURPRISED IF IT DID! The title of this column promised you’d get NUCLEAR HOT SPORTS TAKES and by golly you got one there.
Alright, folks. There is your opening weekend. Not a lot of sexy matchups, but who cares? Every Saturday and Sunday from now until May will be filled with Premier League goodness. Soak it all in and enjoy. It looks to be the tightest race 1-7 ever. The traditional Big Four is dead.
If this is your first go-round with the Premier League, enjoy. Take it all in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are a surly veteran to all this, be nice to the new guys. You were in their shoes once too. If we want this soccer thing to keep growing we have to be in it together.
Until next week, may your free kicks always be direct and your midfielders always be box-to-box.
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