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. 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.
HEADLINE | It's a topsy-turvy world so far in the Premier League this year, but even so, nobody really expected both Manchester teams to lose on the same day. United went down 2-1 to West Brom - at home, no less - while City lost 3-2 at Aston Villa.
City are reeling a bit - they've yet to win away from home this year, leading coach Manuel Pellegrini to start issuing reassurances - but it's United that are truly the story. It may be early, but you have to run your finger down to 12th in the standings to find ManU. The team that lost only five matches all season on their way to the 2012-13 title has now lost three of its first six, and new manager David Moyes is admitting in every forum that his team isn't good enough. For some reason, he came out and said that his team didn't have enough good players to win the Champions League, which may be true, but hardly seems worth mentioning, especially when your team has just failed to beat West Brom at home.
In less exciting news, Arsenal kept rolling along with a fifth consecutive win, beating Swansea 2-1 and staying atop the table, while Chelsea and Tottenham drew 1-1 and Liverpool beat Sunderland 3-1.
MLS | "You sure came a long way for this match," said the lady at the concessions stand when I showed her my ID. Even in Seattle, where they regularly draw crowds of 40,000 plus, they aren't used to Midwesterners trekking to the West Coast to take in a little MLS.
I was there to see the matchup of the best team in the east, New York, against the best in the west, Seattle. The star power of the match was diminished, however; Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry didn't want to risk reinjuring his Achilles tendon on Seattle's artificial turf, and Sounders forward Clint Dempsey missed the match with a hamstring injury. (No doubt ESPN, which was thus promoting Eddie Johnson vs. Fabian Espindola instead of Henry vs. Dempsey, was unhappy as well.)
It poured down for most of the match - shocker, there - and a late Tim Cahill goal gave New York a point, canceling out Brad Evans's first-half penalty to give the Century Link Field crowd a 1-1 draw.
The Sounders controlled the play, for the most part, especially in the first 45 minutes when the Red Bulls were mostly pinned inside their own half. Seattle deserved a goal, but New York hit the post and the crossbar in the second half, and really a 1-1 draw ended up being a fair result.
The draw left New York atop the MLS standings and Seattle tied with Real Salt Lake just one point behind, though the Sounders have played two fewer games than either of the other two.
EUROPE | There are three perfect teams left in Europes top-drawer leagues - Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in Spain, and Roma in Italy - but the big story, for SoccerCentric, is the continued success of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. We decided earlier this year that Caley had the best name of any team in Europe, and then completely forgot about them, but their 3-0 win over Hibernian on Saturday was enough to send them back to the top of the Scotland, ahead of heavy favorites Celtic on goal difference.
ICT has already earned a 2-2 away draw at Celtic, and though they dropped points with a 1-0 loss at Aberdeen, they still have to be considered the presumptive favorites to unseat Celtic from the top of Scotland. We here at SoccerCentric could not be happier that our endorsement is already bearing fruit.
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, because he is an expert and knows these things. Dana?
Welcome back to another life-changing edition of Nuclear Wessel. I really do appreciate you reading this. Mind if I ask a favor? This guy I know named David is going to need some steady work soon. Can you keep an eye out? He used to manage this really big soccer club in England but ever since his team walked off the field with their tails between their legs after their neighboring rival beat them 4-1, he might need work soon. So, ya know, just keep him in mind.
Another wild weekend in the books. Liverpool went from first to fifth, Chelsea went from sixth to fourth, Manchester United went from fifth to eighth and Arsenal are tops followed by Spurs and Manchester City.
No. 3: Tottenham vs Chelsea at White Hart Lane
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea won at Three Point Lane a year ago 4-2 after falling behind 2-1. The banished-to-the-bench Juan Mata had two goals and an assist in the October match.
The early match of the weekend is also the best match of the weekend, in my opinion. I have a love/hate relationship with the early weekend lid-lifter. In college they were great because we’d just stay up until the match kicked off because, ya know, that was both logical and responsible. Tougher to pull off these days. But I still always wake up. You should, too. DVRing matches is for Communists who hunt bald eagles for sport. You aren’t a commie who hunts bald eagles for sport, are you? Didn’t think so.
Plenty of history between these two sides, especially the recent years. The biggest sore spot for Spurs fans coming from 2011-12 when they finished fourth in the table to qualify for Champions League with Chelsea finishing fifth on the outside looking in. That was when Frank Lampard stood in front of the Chelsea locker and said:
Lampard: “Well then I guess there is just one thing left to do.”
Dider Drogba: “What’s that?”
Lampard: “Win the whole (expletive) thing.”
OK. That probably didn’t happen in the Chelsea locker room. That exchange actually took place between catcher Jake Taylor and 3rd basemen Roger Dorn in the popular 1989 baseball comedy Major League where a ragtag group of ball players have to come together in the face of adversity. And boy oh boy, what a motley crew these Cleveland Indians were! They had this one guy named Rick who last played in the California penal league! Oh boy, as you can imagine, this guy was pretttttty rough around the edges! What? OK. Sorry. I'll stop.
Anyway, Chelsea did end up winning Champions League, thus qualifying for next year’s competition and breaking the hearts of Spurs fans everywhere. We all know I support Chelsea, but I can’t even imagine the simultaneous punch to the stomach and kick the groin that must have been. Sorry, guys.
A lot has changed since then and Tottenham find themselves in second place on 12 points (they trail Arsenal in goal differential) with Chelsea not far behind with 10 points. Spurs can put some early distance between themselves and their London rivals and Chelsea can play leapfrog with a victory.
The Gareth Bale-less revamped Spurs side have been defending like gangbusters but have had trouble scoring (although Chelsea haven’t exactly been ripping holes in the net either), which is to be expected from a team with this many new pieces. The defense always clicks before the offense. They have scored just three goals from the run of play and needed every last second of stoppage time to beat Cardiff City last week.
But credit to them, snatching three points from the jaw of one point is what separate the top teams from the rest of the table -- and it is something Spurs have struggled with the past few years when their Champions League hopes came up just short.
All the drama on the field plus the added drama between AVB and TSO makes this one a must-watch. Set your alarm and leave the bar earlier than you normally would. It will be worth it. Or, if you’re younger than me, just make it an all-nighter.
If you’re looking for a place other than your couch to watch this one, check out Brits or The Local in Minneapolis. They have both confirmed they’ll be open. Brits is more of a Chelsea bar and Local is more of a Spurs bar. I propose we all march down Nicollet at halftime and settle this thing like men -- WITH A WEST SIDE STORY INSPIRED DANCE-OFF!!!!!
No. 2: Aston Villa vs Manchester City at Villa Park
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City took the full three a year ago at Villa Park after Carlos Tevez (never forget) yoinked a goal right before the half.
I was afraid of this. We were all so excited about the possibility about a wide open top of the table that we hushed the voice in the back of our heads telling us that City could very easily run away with the table.
That 4-1 de-pantsing of Manchester City last Sunday was the convincing win of the season for any side. It also made Chelsea fans immediately stop thumping their chests about that 0-0 draw at Old Trafford a few weeks ago. Yes, Robin van Persie was sitting on the bench, but it wouldn’t have made much a difference. City were clearly the more prepared team, the more confident team and the downright better team. United looked afraid and were quick to give up on the match -- not exactly a characteristic of United teams we came to know under Sir Alex Ferguson.
One of the big things that City have going for them is how they’ll seemingly fly under the radar and the microscope this season. Gone is the drama that came with Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini. They seem to have found stability under Manuel Pellegrini and will avoid the drama that seems to follow their London-based neighbors and, suddenly, their Manchester counterpart.
They sit on 10 points and are in third with a PL-best goal differential of eight (12 for, 8 against). They have rebounded nicely after a 3-2 loss to Cardiff City (let's be honest, City took them lightly) and could be a team that could continue to run off a string of points while avoiding all the back page tabloid drama.
Should be an easy three points Saturday at Villa Park before the big test next Wednesday home against Bayern Munich in Champions League.
I am reading way too far into one big home win against a United side missing their biggest playmaker. There is a lot of season left. 99 points for each team are still up for grabs.. But right now they seem to be in the best position of anybody to run away with the league, and the team best built to handle the long grind that comes with a nine month season.
No. 1: Sunderland vs Liverpool at Stadium of Light
When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: These teams drew 1-1 at Stadium of Light (such a cool name, sounds like a castle in Zelda). Steven Fletcher scored early before Luis Suarez (who will be known for the rest of time in this column as Hannibal Lecter) equalized in the 77th.
Top of the table a week ago. Seemingly in great position gain some momentum towards a top four finish. Then they dump one at home to Stoke and lose to United 1-0 in the Capital One League Cup Formerly Known as the Carling Cup Brought to you by the Fine People At Odoreaters and Jukt Micronics.
To make matters worse, it was a strong Liverpool side that Brendan Rodgers tossed out there against United. Meanwhile, credit to David Moyes for throwing a bunch of reserves on the field for the match and not panicking after being publicly shamed by City. A team like United doesn’t, nor should they, care about the Capital One League Cup Formerly Known as the Carling Cup Brought to you by the Fine People At Odoreaters and Jukt Micronics. For Liverpool, however, the Europa League spot that comes with winning it could have been a big deal if they end up on the outside looking in of qualification spots.
But enough about Liverpool and their continued era of ineptitude. We’re here to talk about Sunderland and their, well, century of ineptitude.
Sunderland became the first team to fire their manager in a PL season for the third time in ten seasons after they dusted Paolo di Canio. Englishman Kevin Ball is just the caretaker while owner American owner Ellis Short continues to search for a replacement.
Any other year Sunderland sacking their manager would be about as important to me as a MLB mascot race. But this year is different because American Jozy Altidore is a Black Cat and this change could have huge ramifications on how much of the field he sees the rest of the season. The World Cup is within losing-sleep distance and the Great American Striking Hope needs all the minutes he can get against great competition.
There are big names out there to be had. Former Chelsea man Roberto Di Matteo (!), Roberto Mancini, Steve McClaren etc. Whoever it is, every United States Men's Soccer fans are holding their breath that it will be somebody who not only favors Jozy but wants to play a style that fits his game.
Jozy was on the bench last Saturday in favor of Steven Fletcher and Fabio Borini, but Fletcher separated his shoulder so Jozy figures to be back in the lineup against Liverpool. What if the new manager only plays one striker? Three guys vying for one spot? Oh lord. I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
We know Jozy is the type of striker that rides the highs high and the lows low. He has yet to score despite getting absolutely hosed against Arsenal. The longer this drought runs the more we begin to worry he slips back into the form that saw him go over a year without scoring for the Yanks.
The Black Cats don’t exactly have an easy schedule coming up to make this turmoil any easier. Three of their next six PL matches have them drawn against Liverpool (Saturday), Manchester United (Oct. 5) and Manchester City (Nov. 10).
So fingers crossed he starts, scores and contributes to Liverpool’s increasingly lost season.
That’s it for this week. As always, may your free kicks always be direct and your midfielders always be box-to-box.
HEADLINE | To say that Manchester United manager David Moyes had an impossible job this season is accurate. Moyes, the longtime Everton manager, took over for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, a season after United won the league title with a month left to play.
There was, in short, nowhere to go but down for the Red Devils - and seemingly, they've already found the bottom, losing 4-1 at Manchester City on Sunday in a game that probably deserved to be an 8-0 loss. Kun Aguero scored twice, either side of halftime, to lead City to a comprehensive stomping of their rivals.
I suppose Moyes can take heart from two things. First, the season is only five games old, and odds are that by Christmas, United will be right back among the league leaders.
Second, it's worth remembering that Ferguson himself once went to City and got stomped, 5-1 in the fall of 1989. Fans called for him to be fired. Journalists encouraged the protests. The manager would later describe the period that followed as "the darkest period he had ever suffered."
United stuck with him, though they hadn't won anything since his hiring as manager in 1986. Three years later, they won the league, the first steps on their road to twenty years of dominance in England.
ELSEWHERE IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE | We all knew that Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio was, shall we say, something different. He once was suspended eleven games for shoving a referee, for example, and he's a well-known fascist who called Mussolini "deeply misunderstood."
He will be remembered by Sunderland fans for beating Newcastle 3-0, and really, not much else.
Elsewhere, Arsenal beat Stoke 3-1 and Tottenham beat Norwich 1-0, while Liverpool lost 1-0 against Southampton, meaning that - for the moment - the two North London sides are tied atop the league table.
MLS | Seattle got a disputed goal early in the first half and clung on for a 1-1 draw in Los Angeles, while New York benefited from a Dallas own goal to win 1-0 and re-take the lead for the Supporters' Shield.
The results set up a battle between the league's two best teams on Sunday in Seattle, as Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls try to pull away from the Eastern Conference pack, and Eddie Johnson and the Sounders try to do the same in the West. (And if you think I'm mentioning this because I will be at Sunday's game - yep, you got it.)
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. He stops by every week to tell us what to watch this weekend in the Premier League. Dana?
Welcome back to another thrilling edition of Nuclear Wessel, where you can learn more from a 1,000 word blog post than you ever learned in school. OK. That isn’t true. I just realized I haven’t slipped a Springsteen reference in one of these yet and wanted to change that. Stay in school, kids.
The table looks like this: 1. Chelsea 2. Manchester United 3. Manchester City 4. Tottenham 5. Arsenal 6. Liverpool.
Just kidding. No it doesn’t. But that would have made total sense if I asked you before the season to predict the table in Week 5, right?
The table actually looks like this: 1. Liverpool 2. Arsenal 3. Tottenham 4. Manchester City 5. Manchester United 6. Chelsea
Yes, the complete inverse of what people would have thought a month ago. I had a feeling this was going to be a wild season, and so far there has been no lack of surprises or fireworks. We deserve this after last year’s title snoozefest, when United seemingly clinched the trophy in mid-December.
Alright. No time for chit-chat. Lets get to the matches.
No. 3: Liverpool vs Southampton at Anfield
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool got the money in this fixture a year ago thanks to a Daniel Agger (who could return from injury Saturday) goal in the 43rd minute.
Week five of the Premier League, and Brendan Rogers’s side are alone at the top of the table and are one of two unbeaten sides left (Everton being the other, except they have drawn three matches). We knew they’d be better than they have been the past few years, but I don’t think even the biggest Liverpool supporters predicted this kind of start.
Liverpool ran into a bit of a bump in the road midweek at Swansea in a 2-2 draw, where their weakness in the back line was on fine display. But that shouldn’t take anything away from what they have accomplished thus far, and they will have full momentum going into a very winnable match Saturday.
Now, let's talk about Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge for a minute. He has scored in all four matches so far this season, and became the first person in club history to do so. He is turning out to be a hell of a player, after being a source of frustration for Chelsea fans.
Just look at the numbers: Sturridge scored 13 goals in 63 games in a blue shirt. He has scored 14 goals in 18 games in a red shirt. Sweet!
But all Chelsea bias aside, good for him. He is a young kid, only 24, and appears to have a bright future. Despite a good loan run at Bolton, I would be lying (and so would everyone else) if I said I saw this coming.
And ya know what? As long as I am in a good mood and doling out warm fuzzies, good for Liverpool. I obviously never want them to beat Chelsea or finish ahead of them in any competition -- including a Frank Lampard vs Steven Gerrard 8-pint deep gunny sack race. (I’d pay a lot of money to see that happen. So would you. Don’t lie.) But I like to see big clubs with great histories be at the top of their game and be playing well. It just makes the league more fun and competitive as a whole.
Look for Liverpool to win Saturday and be tops of the league again next weekend as well. They can stay there for a while too -- or at least in the top four. While Chelsea, United, City, Arsenal and Spurs get beaten up during midweek European matches, they will be resting and staying healthy.
A top four finish and a return to Champions League would be massive for the Merseysiders. There is a big difference between 38 matches and four matches, but things are looking good so far.
No. 2: Chelsea vs Fulham at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Scoreless draw a year ago at the Bridge in this West London Derby.
OK, everybody. Calm down.
I know every non-Chelsea fan is rushing to call this a “crisis” and making dumb jokes about firing managers. But you know who isn’t worried? Every Chelsea fan. Look at the absolute messes this club has found themselves in the last few years. Everything will be fine. This is nothing.
Look at the last four matches that have caused this supposed crisis.
A scoreless draw at Old Trafford. Any team in the league (or continent) would take that scoreline.
A 2-2 draw (lost 5-4 on penalties) against the reigning Champions League winner Bayern Munich in the Super Cup. A strong result that showed that Chelsea (down to 10 men and nearly killed off the game 2-1) can play with the best.
A 1-0 loss at Goodison Park against a strong Everton side. Not a bad result. You’d hope to at least steal a point late in the match, but it is by no means the end of the world, or time to light your hair on fire.
A loss at home to Basel to start the group stage of Champions League. A shock loss, no doubt, I'll give anyone that. But how quickly must we forget history? Just two years ago a very similar Basel team eliminated Manchester United with a 2-1 win the 2011-12 group stage to end their 17-year streak of making it to the knockout round. Basel also tied United 3-3 at Old Trafford earlier in the group stage.
I know everybody loves the "Excrement is raining on Chelsea, hahahah! Let's all go put some rolls of quarters in a sack and go beat up John Terry!" narrative, but let's cool it before we board up Stamford Bridge.
But if they lose Saturday to Fulham? By all means run with it. Hell, my overly-emotional self will probably join you. But I just can’t see that happening. Fulham have only beaten Chelsea once in their last 34 meetings. The last time they won at Stamford Bridge was 1979. Yes, Fulham are desperate for a result, having won just one of their first four, but there is simply more riding on this for Chelsea.
Manager Jose Mourinho is no doubt taking his time with the team sheet. You think he is basically forced at this point to play Juan Mata, right? The Chelsea Player of the Year two years running has been wasting away on the bench and, after two straight losses, there is no time left to be stubborn, even if Jose doesn’t feel he is the best fit in his system.
Captain John Terry likely to see his return after getting the midweek match off and I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Fernando Torres either. Sweet!
It will be a tense match. It always is in this one. Hoping Chelsea can grab the full three and we can table the crisis talk.
No. 1: Manchester City vs Manchester United at Etihad Stadium
When: Sunday at 10am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Pablo Zabaleta equalizes in the 86th only for Robin van Persie to score the 3-2 winner in extra time.
Like I could possibly say anything about this match that would get you to watch it if you weren’t going to do so already. This is the big derby. It needs no introduction. Get up early, make some breakfast and watch the perfect appetizer to the Purple.
Until next week, may all your runs be overlapping and all your nines be false.