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 (@DanaWessel) produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00a, with Mark Rider, as well as Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. Every week – well, most weeks – he writes this collection of wonderful about the English Premier League. We are thrilled to have him back for this year. Dana?
Welcome back, Nuclear Warheads! It’s time to once again preview the weekend’s Premier League action. Typically it takes a while for the top of the table to sort itself out, but after one week it looks like this:
2. Manchester City
How many people would be willing to bet straight cash, homey on that being the exact table at the end of week 38? I would.
Anyway, that somewhat disturbing smell you may be noticing is coming from United fans washing their unmentionables after last week’s home loss to the mighty Swansea City. You can’t help but smile picturing David Moyes sitting on an expensive couch that Manchester United paid for, smoking a fine cigar that Manchester United paid for, and drinking expensive whiskey that Manchester United paid for – and all with a doo-doo-eating grin on his face, courtesy of the good people at Manchester United. Fun times!
Last weekend’s matches ended up being a lot of fun, despite being on paper as sexy as irritable bowel syndrome. This weekend? It’s more scorching than a hot tub full of Inferno buffalo sauce. And the best news? The 6:45am Saturday match is an absolute trainwreck, so there is no need to set an early alarm.
No. 1: Chelsea vs Leicester City at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 9:00am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These two last met at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup in 2012, with the eventual champions Chelsea winning 5-2. Their last Premiership encounter at Stamford Bridge was back in the 2003-4 season; Chelsea dominated that encounter as well, 4-0.
Chelsea make their 2014-15 Stamford Bridge debut, after a 3-1 win at Burnley in which they looked like the champions - just as many predicted they will be, come May. Meanwhile, recently promoted Leicester got off to a dream start, with a 2-2 tie against Everton.
Other than an early defensive lapse at Burnley that put Chelsea down a goal, the opener went just about perfect for Jose Mourinho’s overhauled roster. Their new big shiny striker Diego Costa scored the opener. Sure, it was right place, right time. But as far as goals from strikers at Chelsea, they’ll take it. The Cesc Fabregas pass to Andre Schurrle was remarkable enough that even those who detest Chelsea spent their week watching it over and over again online.
Leicester managed to get two past Timmy Howard* last week. But they’ll be away from the friendly confines of St. Bellow Higgenbottom Terrace (I don’t know where they actually play without looking it up, but neither do you, so let’s just go with “St. Bellow Higgenbottom Terrace”), where their fans were letting go all the pent-up emotion that comes with a decade away from the Premier League. The emotional high of the first game back in the Premier League will have subsided, and reality will set in. And that reality is a very good Chelsea team.
*I’m happy for Timmy. If you hadn’t heard, he is taking a year-long sabbatical from the USMNT to spend more time with his kids. He’s earned it. The US will be in fine hands with Brad Guzan at the Gold Cup next summer. Timmy will have to fight for his spot when he comes back next September, so there is no guarantee he will put the crest on again. If this is it for Timmy, it was a hell of a career. Half of me wants to be happy I got to grow up watching him and Landon Donovan play; the other half of me wants to “first 10 minutes of ‘Up’”-sob-cry that they both might be done.
No. 2: Everton vs Arsenal at Goodison Park
When: Saturday at 11:30am on big boy NBC
Last year: Everton took all three points in a 3-0 rout last April against the Gunners. This was during a four-match winless streak for Arsenal, where it looked like they were going to fall out of the top four. Arsene Wenger then led them on a five-match win streak to save their top four status and his job.
Speaking of Tim Howard! Everton fans living in England must be happy about the news that he won’t be going off for international duty in the next calendar year. World class athletes and that blah blah blah, but those miles add up. Trips back and forth across the Atlantic take a toll on your body and your internal clock.
Road draws happen, but the worst news so far this year for Everton has to be the Ross Barkley injury. There are still varying reports on when he will be back. Five months? November? Either way, it is a huge blow for Everton. Barkley was one of the big reasons Everton had a crack at the top four last year, and they needed similar production from him to have another crack.
In week one, Arsenal narrowly avoided lighting two points on fire and watching them burn. They needed a stoppage-time goal to beat a Crystal Palace team at home that doesn’t even have a manger. Seriously. They don’t have a manager. They have a monkey in rollerskates wearing a Crystal Palace scarf managing the team. He knows NOTHING about soccer. Nothing. They got him from the zoo. He just poops a lot. Very messy situation. Both literally and figuratively.
Just kidding; they have an interim manager but are having trouble hiring someone to replace Tony Pulis, who left the club shortly before the season after winning Manager of the Year last season. Maybe they should buy a pair of rollerskates and go find a monkey? I dunno. I’d watch more Palace matches if there was a rollerskating monkey involved.
The Gunners are also coming off a mid-week draw in a Champions League qualification match. No rest for them. This will be an intriguing match for both sides. Everton will be trying to prove that they belong amongst the top four, while Arsenal want to show the rest of the league they can win the big matches in which they so often failed in last season.
I think this one ends up a scoring draw. 1-1, 2-2, 15-15, etc.
No. 3: Manchester City vs Liverpool at Etihad Stadium
When: Monday (Ohhhhhhhh whhhhhhy Monday?) at 2:00pm on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool coughed up an early lead on Boxing Day last year (something that became a bit of a habit) and lost to City 2-1 thanks to a Alvaro Negredo goal late in the first half.
This is the first big-time match of the season. Sorry, Arsenal-Everton. Your match is important, but it’s a consolation game of a middle school basketball tournament compared to this one, as far as the title goes.
It is crazy to think about how close we were to this match featuring Liverpool, as champions, heading to Manchester City for the first big match of their title defense. But that scenario will just have to stay in a “Back to the Future”-alternate-1985-style universe. The reality of the situation is that Liverpool blew a golden opportunity to win their first ever Premier League crown, and are back at square one facing the daunting task of putting together another dream season.
The big news ahead of this fixture is of course Liverpool swapping one borderline-psychopath striker for another. Mario Balotelli is returning to the Premier League! Yay? I guess? The guy is entertaining. He’ll actually fit into Liverpool’s system pretty well. And although he is weirder than those people who run with those sock shoes with the toes, he isn’t a threat to bite anybody like Luis Suarez. I think.
The signing isn’t official as of this writing, so he won’t be available to play in Monday’s match, which is too bad. That would have added a delicious wrinkle to an already spicy affair at the Etihad.
This is the first big Monday match of the season where you might want to fake an afternoon sales meeting, or just go hide in a broom closet with your laptop. Mondays suck anyway. Might as well mix in what should be an entertaining match. I see City getting the full three points in a 3-2 or 2-1 situation.
All right Nuclear Warheads, that’ll do it for this week. As always, remember to keep your oranges sliced and your goal lines cleared.
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