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 Cane & Company 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. Every week, he tells us what's what and who's who in the Premier League. Dana?
We are through one quarter of the Premier League season and we can now begin to start drawing some conclusions based on the 9 matches played (sample size! Derp!). Before we get to the top televised matches in England over the weekend, I would like to run a quick (ridiculous) theory I came up with last weekend.
The biggest setback for soccer in America during the 1990’s wasn’t the epic failure that was the 1998 World Cup. That certainly didn’t help anything, and taught us a valuable lesson about the detriment of a player sleeping with another player’s wife - but that wasn’t the biggest setback.
The biggest setback was the 1995 movie ‘The Big Green.’ I am serious.
We were in the golden era of underdog sports movies for kids. Mighty Ducks (1992) started the "rag-tag youngers overcome adversity to beat the tougher, more physical opponents" genre that we still know and love today. Baseball got its own flick with The Sandlot (1993) shortly thereafter. There isn’t a man or woman above the age of 20 that doesn’t get a little dusty when Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez steals home with Scotty Smalls on the call.
Then, in 1994, the makers of Mighty Ducks somehow topped the original with D2. Also, with Little Giants, the fine people over at Amblin Entertainment got Devon Sawa to be on the cover of Teen Beat for 42 straight months, and caused me to Facebook the girl that played Ice Box many, many years later.
Then...we come to 1995. Hoping to ride down the smooth path of success already paved by Ducks, Giants and tobacco-chewing 12-year olds, Walt Disney limped to the barn and made The Big Green.
You know how you’re a kid and every show you watch and every movie you see is so awesome? I even knew at the age of 10 that The Big Green was awful. And I loved soccer! First of all, Disney was too lazy to spend more than an afternoon casting the movie, and just tossed in the kid from Sandlot.
Casting director 1: “The goalie is the linchpin to this film and we have to make sure we find the right kid.
Casting director 2: “Screw it. Just call the fat kid from Sandlot and let's go get lunch.”
Casting director 1: “....You read my mind.”
It has been so many years since I have seen it that I can barely remember the specifics of the plot. Something about a teacher from England, a bunch of goobers that sucked at soccer, a goat, and Steve Guttenberg. Thanks, Disney.
The United States would have won the last three World Cups, and LeBron James would have chosen to play soccer, had The Big Green at least been as entertaining as the Yule Log that Channel 45 puts on 24/7 each holiday season. But it wasn’t. And we must continue to press on and do our best not to stop every day and wonder "what if?"
All right, now that the important stuff is out of the way, we can get to the silly matches. There are couple sexy ones pairing top-six teams to highlight matchweek 10:
No. 3: Fulham vs Manchester United at Craven Cottage
When: Saturday at 10AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United bagged a full sack of points at the Cottage last season thanks in part to a goal by Wayne Rooney in the 79th minute.
Manchester United picked up a crucial three points by coming from behind twice to beat Stoke City at Old Trafford. The scene afterwards was something that is typically reserved for a massive Champions League win, or victory over Liverpool. Fans were jumping and hugging in jubilation, and the players simultaneously applauded the supporters while breathing sighs of relief so big the place almost collapsed.
It was a deserved celebration, as United finally showed the fighting spirit that has made them Manchester United. The commentators were wondering aloud whether or not this win against Stoke could be a turning point in their season, and things finally may be on track for David Moyes as he tries to navigate his first season taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson.
It reminded me immediately of the 2008-09 Chelsea season, when Frank Lampard scored in the 94th minute to (coincidentally) also beat Stoke City 2-1. Chelsea was not living up to expectations after losing to United the year before in the Champions League final. They sat in third place, and had a manager in Luis Felipe Scolari in his first season taking over for club legend Jose Mourinho. Calls for his head were being made, and pressure was on him. The announcers in that match also wondered aloud if this would be what turned things around for Scolari and Chelsea.
It didn’t. At least not for Scolari. He was sacked two matches later, after Chelsea lost to Liverpool 2-0. Chelsea, however, went on to finish third, made a semi-final appearance of Champions League and won an FA Cup under Guus Hiddink. Always putting the fun in dysfunction, those Blues are.
My point is, while the "Is this the moment they turn their season around?" narrative is fun and exciting, it doesn’t exactly pan out that way, and is grasped at way too often. It is up to the veterans on United’s squad to build off this and get their team back to respectability. I think they will, too. They seem to genuinely like David Moyes (for the most part) and want to play for him. In that Chelsea example, it was clear by November that the veterans wanted Scolari gone, and there are legends of secret meetings between the top players and Roman Abramovich.
United will almost surely bag another three points on the road against a Fulham outfit that has dropped two their last three at home and look in utter disarray. That must be tough for my colleague Eric Perkins who has adopted Fulham as his favorite club. He is serious about it, too. He asks me questions every morning and his laptop is routinely on Fulham sites during breaks. Perk even made it out to Craven Cottage for a match while he was in London covering the Vikings. I love to see stuff like that. People you’d never expect to see soccer are beginning to be passionate about it.
But, unfortunately for him, United will roll Saturday. Also, I totally went back on my promise not to talk about Chelsea. I owe you all a beer. (Editor's note: We didn't believe that promise for a second, Dana.)
No. 2: Arsenal vs Liverpool at Emirates Stadium
When: Saturday at 12:30PM on NBC - Yes, the big boy NBC.
Last year: This match ended in a 2-2 draw a year ago after a wild seven minute stretch where 3 goals were scored.
What a spicy little first vs. third matchup this will be. Absolutely cannot wait for this one, and making things even better is that it falls on a Saturday, rather than a Sunday. I guess the schedule makers also thought these two teams would be competing for fourth place and not the top of the table.
Liverpool can go top of the table by a point, while Arsenal could go five points clear of the boys from Anfield. Gunners may be tops a quarter of the way through the season but they’d be lying if they said they felt like they were in command. Although they are unbeaten in their last eight league matches, they have been reeling in other competitions; they lost at home in the Champions League last week, and were dumped out of the "Capital One Card Cup: Brought to you by the Fine People of Playtone Records and formerly known as Carling Cup."
I read some quotes from Arsene Wenger where he barely stopped short of calling it a must-win match. As I wrote about last week, Hell Month is about to begin for Arsenal, and they didn’t exactly end their October hitting the highest of notes. A loss to Liverpool could easily send them snowballing downhill in a stretch of matches where traveling to Anfield is one of the easier tasks on the docket.
Liverpool have gotten the full twelve points in their last four matches, and have been scoring so often they are killing the grass on the inside of the nets. Their confidence will be further boosted by the return of Philippe Coutinho. Arsenal may have the longest unbeaten streak in the league right now, but it just feels like things are starting to turn. The trainer’s room has been jam packed all season and it is bound to catch up with them eventually. Meanwhile, Liverpool are playing with confidence and seem to be relishing the increased expectations brought by their hot start.
This one will be fun, plus it will end right before Gopher kickoff. Get comfortable on the couch, you deserve it.
No. 1: Everton vs Tottenham at Goodison Park
When: Sunday at 7:30AM on CNBC. Yep, CNBC. This one got bumped for race car driving. Vroooooom!
Last year: Spurs appeared to be cruising to a 1-nil win last December, thanks to a Clint Dempsey goal in the 76th - but Everton had other plans, getting an equalizer in the 90th and a winner in the 92nd. It was one of those matches you want to burn onto a DVD, fashion it into a Chinese throwing star and chuck it at someone who says soccer is boring.
First vs. third and fourth vs. sixth? Well, isn’t this just a spicy little weekend in our favorite league.
Both teams enter this match in excellent form. Everton have won five of their last six, having only dropped points in a 3-1 loss at Manchester City. Tottenham has been almost as impressive over the same stretch, winning four, drawing against Chelsea, and somehow managing to lose at home to West Ham.
A lot on the line for both teams as they fight for top four immortality. Everton have not lost at home and handed Chelsea their only league loss of the season within the cozy confines of Goodison Park. Spurs manager Andres Villas Boas might actually be pleased this match isn’t at White Hart Lane after he cut a WWE-style promo on the fans not being loud enough at last weekend’s 1-0 win over Hull City. Hey, AVB, maybe have your men playing well enough that it doesn’t take them until the 79th minute at home to score against Hull City?
You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time Spurs won at Goodison Park and as long as Timmy Howard has his neckbeard, I refuse to bet against the Toffees. This one is early but will be worth tuning into if you’re up early Sunday morning and can actually find CNBC on your cable package. I know I have it, but it will probably take me 30 minutes to find it.
Alright boys and gir...OK, lets be honest, I doubt any girls read this...until next time, may all your penalties be converted and your trips to Dairy Queen come no matter the final score.
Dana Wessel produces the Cane & Company 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. Every week, he tells us what to watch in the Premier League over the upcoming weekend. Dana?
My apologies for there not being a post last week, but I sincerely appreciate all your concern for my well-being. I felt like Ferris Bueller when he didn’t show up to school. The calls, the flowers, the telegrams were all amazing. I especially loved the Flash Mob that showed up outside my place dancing and singing ‘Let’s Get Nuc-lear’ to the tune of Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Let’s Get Physical.’
Alright, time for a quick peek at where our merry bands of European-based soccer clubs stand. Arsenal are tops. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham are lurking in that order. Manchester United are tied on points with Hull City and Newcastle. Fulham picked up three points Monday to get away from the drop zone. And Sunderland fans might want to to print out glossy 8x10s of that 1-1 tie against Southampton back in August because that might be the last Premier League point they get in quite a while.
On to the matches. Some intriguing matches leading up to the big one Sunday at 11am. As always, these are, in my opinion, the three best televised matches of the weekend in the order in which they air. Remember, every match can be seen via the NBC Sports Extra Time App -- including Saturday’s Aston Villa v Everton match, a battle of the two best American goalies Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. Well, they are goalies, so they aren’t really battling each other. I am willing to go out on a limb and predict neither will register a shot against the other.
No. 3: Crystal Palace vs Arsenal at the historic Selhurst Park
When: Saturday at 6:45am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: You have to go back to 2004 to find the last time these two met in the top flight league at Selhurst. It was a 1-1 draw with Thierry Henry (!!!) scoring for the Gunners.
The dream start and fine form for the Gunners took a brief shot below the shorts Tuesday in a 2-1 Champions League loss to Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates. It puts the Premier League-leaders level on points in the CL group stage with Dortmund and Napoli with three matches to play. A win would have put them in the drivers in what is one of the more difficult groups of the tournament.
But no time to fret, they are back in the cozy confines of the Premier League where they have been the big surprise story of the season so far. They are unbeaten in their last seven, a stretch that includes six wins and only one draw. Palace on the other hand have lost their last five matches and appear to be headed right back down to the Championship come May.
In typical Arsene Wenger fashion, it will likely be a match where some younger guys get some looks as this match is basically loser proof. More importantly, it will give them a chance to rest some legs before an upcoming stretch of the schedule that would make any Arsenal fan go lock themself in their room, put on the Invincibles DVD and rock back and forth reassuring themselves it will be OK.
After Palace, they play home to Liverpool, at Borussia Dortmund midweek in Champions League, away to Manchester United, home to Southampton, home to Marseille in Champions League before finally getting a bit of a reprieve to close the month at Cardiff City. That is a nut-buster of a November that no Gunner fan should be thankful for.
December won’t get much easier, either. In one seven day stretch they have Everton at home on a Sunday, travel to Napoli for a Wednesday match that could very easily determine if they advance to the knockout round of Champions League before heading to Manchester City for a Saturday match. Woof.
But that is the beauty of European football. There are no soft schedules or hiding out in a weak division. If you are a big club that wants to compete for the big trophies, you will always have stretches like this. Time to find out just what Arsenal are made of.
No. 2: Manchester United vs Stoke CIty at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United won this fixture last year 4-2 thanks to a hat trick by Wayne Rooney (if you count his own goal, two goals otherwise), one by Robin van Persie and another by Danny Welbeck.
Stoke City sit in 16th place in the Premier League on 8 points. A win on Saturday at Old Trafford would put them even on points with reigning champions Manchester United.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy typing that sentence. Know what? I might even type it again. Stoke CIty sit in 16th place in the Premier League on 8 points. A win on Saturday at Old Trafford would put them level on points with reigning champions Manchester United!
This clearly isn’t likely to happen as Stoke have been even more dreadful than United this year, but it is a rather jaw dropping way of framing how poorly the first two-and-a-half months have gone for United. They will be seeking just their second league win of the season at Old Trafford, where they have only secured 5 of a possible 12 points thus far. Thankfully for them this is an especially ratty Stoke side that hasn’t won in their last five and has never won a match at United in five tries.
Most people expected United to struggle under David Moyes but I think we all expected it to be in the Champions League, not the league. The top flight Europe competition is a beast with sides you’ve never seen in stadiums you’ve never played in. It would have been almost excusable for Moyes to have a rough go of it in his first year. But United sit top of Group A through three matches and are well on their way to qualification for the knockout stages.
Nobody expected it’d be fixtures like home vs West Brom that would be causing United the most stress. Moyes routinely did more in England with less talent and less money in 11 years at Everton than he has thus far with one of the biggest clubs in the world.
However, they are almost assured to pick up the full three on Saturday morning. A midweek win over Real Sociedad combined with the likely return of Robin van Persie from a toe injury should all but ensure they’ll have a laugh.
All of this early season turmoil will turn around for United and Moyes. They’ll be in the top four mix by season’s end and United fans will look back to the opening months of the Moyes-era and it will all seem funny. But for now, it is funny for the rest of us. So lets retype that last sentence one more time just for good measure, because we all know their fans have never shied away from having a laugh at the rest of us -- no matter who you support.
Stoke CIty sit in 16th place in the Premier League on 8 points. A win on Saturday at Old Trafford would put them level on points with reigning champions Manchester United!
No. 1: Chelsea vs Manchester City at Stamford Bridge
When: Sunday at 11:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: An utterly dull scoreless draw last November at the Bridge.
The two teams pegged by most, myself included, to duel all season for the trophy meet for the first time this season. It is the first meeting of two true Premier League heavyweights since United seem content to spend all day sparring with the pups rather than run with the wolves come night.
A winner from this match will have landed the first blow and have a leg up on the race for the podium.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. “But...but...but Dana! Arsenal are top of the league!” “Yeah! Yeah! And my Liverpool club are in third place ahead of City!”
Yes, yes, I know. And to be honest? I think it’s great. This cats and dogs living together, Rocky and Ivan Drago starting a joint small business, unpredictable start to the season has been nothing short of amazing. But if you take an objective look at things, and yes, I know, me saying Chelsea and objective in the same sentence is ridiculous, but these are the two teams best equipped to withstand the nine month grind.
Both sides are in fine form after struggling to get their boots on to start the season -- which is to be expected with such high profile managerial changes*. this has been a real one sided affair over the past few years. Chelsea haven’t beaten City in the past five matches against the Citizens, dropping four and drawing one.
*Speaking of managers, how cool is Jose Mourinho? Gets booted from the match and goes and sits in the stands next to some random chummer. What a legend. I can understand if you support a rival team and he gets on your nerves, but you have to respect the guy. Makes everything more interesting. Hell, even my girlfriend has a crush on him.
City, having just picked up their first road win of the season, will be up against it Sunday at Stamford Bridge, where Jose Mourinho has never lost in 64 career matches. City was also dealt a huge blow early Friday when Vincent Kompany was ruled out of the match Sunday. Meanwhile, Chelsea fans are smiling over the news that left back Ashley Cole will is fit to play.
After struggling to score early in the season, Chelsea have scored 14 goals in the their last four games with Samuel Eto’o finally grabbing his first against Cardiff City last weekend. Fernando Torres has also seemed to find some confidence in Europe lately, scoring two goals against Schalke before unselfishly giving up a chance at a hat trick by making a run that allowed Eden Hazard to score. This scoring confidence combined with the reassurance that Kompany won’t be anywhere near the field is immense for the Blues.
For City, all eyes will be on Yaya Toure, the physical Ivorian who has the ability to terrorize Chelsea’s undersized midfield. Chelsea has a skilled midfield but nobody can come close to matching the physicality of Toure who will likely impose his will.
Despite being at home and having some injury news work in their favor, Chelsea are still likely to play conservatively, especially with Toure wrecking havoc in the midfield. Logic points to either a one goal Chelsea win or a draw.
Alright folks, enjoy the matches this weekend. Chelsea fans will be at Morrisey’s in Uptown if you feel like coming by. We are a friendly bunch.
Until next time, may your passes be one-touch and your position never be offside.
HEADLINE | And as it came to the end, Mexico was out of the World Cup.
The Mexicans had lost 2-1 at Costa Rica on Tuesday night, and Luis Tejada had scored six minutes from time to give Panama a 2-1 lead over the USA, at home - a pair of results that would see Panama into fourth place in the final North America & Caribbean World Cup qualifying standings. Panama would thus advance to a playoff against New Zealand for a place in Brazil in 2014, while Mexico - mighty Mexico, the team that as of last year had an argument to be one of the top three teams in the world - was going to miss out on qualifying.
All the USA had to do was roll over in the final few minutes against Panama, and their greatest rivals - and their fans, who have consistently treated Americans like dirt - would be on the outside looking in next summer, while Panama had a chance to go to the finals for the first time ever.
By the end, the website of Mexican newspaper El Universal carried the banner "If not for the USA, El Tri would be out," and #YoureWelcomeMexico was trending on Twitter. It was one of the more thrilling conclusions to qualifying ever - for Mexico, if not for Panama.
The USA, Costa Rica, and Honduras qualify automatically for Brazil next year, with Mexico going into the playoff - even though they won just two of ten matches in the final qualifying round.
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING ELSEWHERE | Over in Europe, qualifying went down to the final day, as well. Bosnia-Herzegovina secured their first-ever berth in the finals with a 1-0 win against Lithuania, while England sealed their own spot with a 2-0 home win against Poland. Spain and Russia also sealed automatic qualification, while Iceland clinched a spot in the playoffs, keeping alive their chance to be the smallest country to ever qualify for the finals. France, Ukraine, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and Croatia will also head to the playoffs for a shot at the final four European qualifying spots.
In South America, Uruguay beat Argentina 3-2 but still ended up fifth in the standings, thus condeming them to a playoff for an astonishing fifth consecutive time. They'll play off against Jordan, the fifth-place team in Asia. Despite the loss, the Argentines finished first, qualifying automatically along with Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador.
The only confederation yet to finish qualifying is Africa, which held the first leg of its five two-legged playoffs to determine the five African teams to qualify. Most notably for American fans, Egypt - coached by former USA coach Bob Bradley - lost 6-1 to Ghana, giving the Egyptians a rather insurmountable task to qualify. Reports surfaced that Bradley had been fired following the loss, but they were refuted by the coach himself.
Eleven spots of 32 remain - five for the African playoffs, four for the European playoffs, and for the winners of Mexico-New Zealand and Uruguay-Jordan. Soccer's greatest spectacle is thus almost set.
HEADLINE | Most of the major leagues in Europe are already settling into the status quo. Eleven points already separates first place and fifth place in Spain; the gap is eight points in Italy and seven points in Germany. It's a game of haves and have-nots across the pond, and most of the leagues are a two- or three-horse race, even now, two months into the season.
The same is usually true in England. Manchester United have won the Premier League in 13 out of its 21 seasons. Add in Arsenal's three titles, plus the oil-soaked riches of Chelsea and Manchester City in the last ten years, and the league has been rather formulaic; every year now, it's City, United, and Chelsea for the title, with Arsenal in fourth and occasional cameos by Tottenham, Everton, or Liverpool.
That's why things are so much fun in England right now. First and fifth in Spain are separated by 11 points; in England, first and 18th are separated by just nine. Eleven teams are within six points of league leaders Arsenal.
That includes United, which got two second-half goals from eighteen-year-old Belgian-Albanian-Turkish wunderkind Adnan Januzaj to beat Sunderland 2-1 - thus lifting the league champions all the way to ninth. City also won, 3-1 over Everton, to get all the way up to sixth.
Up at the top of the table, Arsenal needed a second-half Jack Wilshire goal to rescue a 1-1 draw at West Brom, while West Ham scored three times in 13 minutes to humiliate Tottenham 3-0. Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 3-1, with Daniel Sturridge adding to his league-leading goal total. And of course powerhouse Southampton - nearly-relegated-last-year Southampton - beat Swansea City 2-0.
That leaves Arsenal and Liverpool tied atop the table, with Chelsea and Southampton just two points behind and Manchester City and Tottenham one behind them.
Will it last? Probably not. But we can hope. There'd be nothing better than - for once - a seven-way title race in England.
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING | Next week, club soccer takes a break in favor of the international game, with World Cup qualifiers scheduled around the world. Here at home, the USA plays Jamaica on Friday night and Panama the following Tuesday.
Though qualification for next year's World Cup is assured for the Americans, the team isn't set for next summer, and a number of players will be making a push for inclusion. Neither Clint Dempsey nor Michael Bradley will be available for the final two qualifiers, which could open up some playing time for guys like Brad Evans in the midfield or Aron Johannsson up front.
INVERNESS CALEY THISTLE | We are saddened to report that the team with the best name in Europe had its momentum rather arrested this weekend. Caley began the weekend on top of the Scottish Premier League, but got waxed 4-0 by a St. Johnstone team that hadn't won since August 17. The report described ICT as "lethargic," which is not at all what we like to see.
However, last week's update did prompt Twitter user Sam to remind me of one of the great newspaper headlines of all time, following the team's 3-0 win over Celtic in the Scottish Cup in 2000: SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS. So there's always that.
Dana Wessel produces the Cane & Company 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. Given that he is a Premier League expert, we could think of no one better to tell us what to watch this weekend. Dana?
I am done making any sort of predictions this season. My goodness. The English Premier League almost prides itself on predictability. For years and years there were the Big Four of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal that finished in 1-4 in some order or another (except for Liverpool finishing tops -- that has never happened). Many years the race for the title would be over before the final week, and most of the excitement came from the relegation battles at the bottom of the table.
But there have been signs of change over the recent years. Liverpool failed to qualify for Champions League in 2010-11 and haven’t been back since. Manchester City got an influx of cash, and the success and glory that typically comes along with it. Tottenham, long the kid brother to Arsenal in North London, became a serious top four threat as well. The traditional Big Four faded away and it became the Big...5? Big 4.5? Things were no longer black and white, Big Four and Other 16. We were seeing more shades of gray and parity in this league than ever before.
But through six matches, we are no longer seeing hints of parity; we are seeing full blown chaos. And it is awesome. It is like as a kid, when you’d smash something you made out of Legos, and rebuild it a completely different way.
Arsenal, long thought to be dead in the water and a Europa League candidate, are now tops of the league, and riding an impressive winning streak that saw them dispatch Napoli in Champions League this week in a group nobody gave them a chance to get out of.
Manchester United, in their first season without Sir Alex Ferguson popping his gum on the sideline find themselves sitting firmly in 12th place, just three points above the drop zone. The chances of a 21st league title are almost laughable, and it is October 4.
Chelsea, everyone’s title darlings in August, sit in fifth place tied on points with...Southampton. Oh. Manchester City followed up last their dominant 4-1 win over rival Manchester United by blowing a 2-1 lead to Aston Villa and are now in seventh tied with…Hull City. Liverpool and Tottenham have shown they are here for more action than just flirting with a top four finish, by having 13 points through six matches and being in second and third. Everton are unbeaten and in fourth.
The league that naysayers long bellyached was too predictable has become as unpredictable as picking Powerball numbers.
So, ya know what, what the heck? I will make a prediction for the end of the season. I predict that Liverpool and Southampton will finish top of the table tied on points and goal differential, and will play in the first-ever Premier League tiebreaker match for the title. It will be played on the moon. And David Beckham will referee the match. Wearing a jetpack. In his undies.
The way things have gone thus far, that doesn’t seem all that inconceivable, does it? Especially the undies part.
Onto the three best matches you can see on TV this weekend without having to get out a computer, iPad or a passport:
No. 3: Manchester City vs Everton at Etihad Stadium
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: This fixture ended as a 1-1 draw last December. Tevez (from the spot) and Fellani each scored. What a difference a year makes.
For the second straight week the spiciest match of the weekend is also the first and earliest. Oh, well. Like former Minnesota North Stars player and current Eden Hall Academy hockey coach Ted Orion once said, “You gotta get up early if you want to hunt goose eggs.”
A week ago at this time, I worried out loud in this blog if it were possible that City were gearing up for an unbeaten run and beginning to separate themselves from the pack. Since then, they blew that aforementioned lead to Aston Villa. Then, in a mid-week Champions League match against Bayern Munich, they embarrassed themselves in a 3-1 loss. I am guessing the fans stood out by the players lot and threw carrots and called them donkey as they drove by.
There is no shame in losing to Bayern. They won the trophy with the big ears for a reason last year. But there is shame in falling behind 3-0 at home before scoring a garbage goal, and trailing in completed passes 463-219. Woof. Pack a lunch. Not exactly how you show you’re serious about advancing from the CL group stage for the first time in club history.
Now they face an Everton club who remain unbeaten, and are riding a three match winning streak after drawing the first three to open the campaign. A lot of this has been because of the Belgium beast Romelu Lukaku, who has three goals in four matches after being loaned out from Chelsea for the season.
Now, as a Chelsea fan, you have to sign an oath in blood never to question any decision Jose Mourinho makes about anything, from which striker he sends out on loan to whether or not he puts his socks on before or after he puts his pants on. But, man. Lukaku sure would look good in a different shade of blue right now. Lukaku has three goals. Chelsea strikers have zero goals combined. Now, with Fernando Torres out for a month (right after it appeared somebody lit a fire under him), Lukaku could get 10 before a Chelsea striker gets one.
This will be by far the biggest test of the season for Roberto Martinez’s unbeaten Everton side. A win would further solidify their current top four status and be a big sign that they are for real. The pressure is also on the men who call the Etihad home. The Manchester natives are getting restless, and a much-needed three points could calm some nerves. Should be a good one. Set your alarm.
No. 2: Sunderland vs Manchester United at Stadium of Light
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United won this fixture a year ago after somebody named Titus Brabmble scored an own goal in the 27th minute. I don’t recall watching this match. Or I may have just blocked it out of my memory like the time I may or may not have bought Swimfan on DVD and watched it. Whatever. Don’t judge. That girl was pretty cute. Let me know if you want to borrow it. Sorry, regular definition only, no Blu-Ray.
This is almost the worst possible fixture for David Moyes right now. United are in trouble right now. Losing to City away is one thing. But to follow it up by allowing a team to come into the vaunted Theater of Dreams and win for the first time since 1978 is another. Add in a blown lead in a midweek Champions League match at Shakhtar, and you have a club that is finding absolutely no joy.
Now, you have the dreaded ‘everything to lose, nothing to gain match’ against the bottom feeders of the table. Sunderland have yet to win, don’t have a manager and couldn’t look more lost. If United win, and I am sure they will, everyone will pat them on the head and give them an insincere congrats for beating a team that is already getting ready to sew Championship patches on their jersey for next season. If they struggle, tie, or god forbid lose, things are going to get ugly.
I’d be lying, and so would every other non-United supporter, if I said I wasn’t enjoying this. They will surely turn it around. They have too much talent and too much legacy not too, but for now, this is outstanding. My favorite part is when they show the table on TV and they do it in two chunks 1-10 and 11-20. “Oh, hey, where is United?” “Just wait bro, you’ll see where they are after the commentators are done talking about the top 10 teams and the graphics guy flips it to see the bottom half.” Couldn’t have happened to a more condescending fanbase.
Sir Alex Ferguson also came out this week in an interview this week and said he has zero interest in returning and attempting to rescue this team. I don’t blame him. The guy has done all there is to do and now he is gonna go enjoy retirement. He even said he wants to check out The Masters. Respect. It was also Classic Fergie that he tried to knife Chelsea one more time by unearthing the story that Roman tried to lure him away from United when he first bought the club. Somebody still salty about that match at Old Trafford last May, Fergie old boy?
This Sunderland club is about as hapless as the Little Giants in the first half-hour of the movie, and guess what? Junior and Rick Moranis are not walking through that door. It bums out every US Soccer fan to see this happened. We started the season watching each match hoping Jozy Altidore would score. That made way to just hoping he would play. Now I just hope he doesn’t get hurt ahead of next week’s World Cup Qualifiers at home against Jamaica and at Panama to wrap up the Hex.
No. 1: West Brom vs Arsenal at The Hawthorns
When: Sunday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: 2-1 to the Gunners last year thanks to a Rosicky brace.
The only way I could have pictured myself getting this excited about a West Brom/Arsenal match is if I knew I would be watching it over a plate of wings with Landon Donovan, Anna Kendrick, and Bruce Springsteen.
But, here we are. Both teams are playing with confidence right now, Arsenal with their five match win streak and West Brom enjoying their historic win at Old Trafford.
OK. Here is the part where I rattle off a bunch of compliments for Arsenal and then toss in a giant BUT, cool?
The signing of Mesut Ozil is not only the signing of the season but also a massive bargain. What a great bit of business by the Frenchmen and the rest of the gang over at the Emirates. Their start to the season is without a doubt the biggest storyline happening in English football. Anybody who called for Arsene Wenger to be fired should be forced to apologize and beg for forgiveness at the feet of his giant puffy coat.
Let’s pump the brakes just a bit here. They have 5 wins, 1 loss and zero draws so far in the league. The lone loss came in the curtain jerker home against Aston Villa. They beat Spurs and Stoke at home and beat Fulham, Sunderland and Swansea away. Some nice results in there, especially when coupled with their perfect start to Champions League.
However, things are about to get dicey schedule-wise for Arsenal. After the WBA match, they are at Norwich and at Crystal Palace on consecutive Saturdays. From there, their next three PL matches are home vs Chelsea, at Liverpool and home vs Manchester United. Toss in home-and-away CL matches vs Borussia Dortmund, and at Napoli - and don’t forget a December that has home vs Everton, home vs Manchester City, and a trip to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea.
I am not by any means saying they are going to come crashing back to earth and we will all point and laugh at them. I am just pointing out that the next two months will show exactly what kind of team Arsenal are. They have yet to face much of any adversity and are, understandably, enjoying their run with some brilliant football that has been amazing to watch.
So we shall see. They could very easily handle this next stretch the way they opened this season and be just fine. They could very easily have injuries stack up, see a slip in form and their early season confidence shatter. This is why we watch.
Quick programming note. International break next week, so there will be no Premier League. I will be in Kansas City for the US/Jamaica game. Hit me up if you’re heading down as well. It is going to be a blast. I am giddy with excitement.
So until next time, may all your headers be diving and all your goals be golden.