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. He stops by to tell us about the Premier League, from time to time. Dana?
Time sure does fly. We are just past the midweek point of the season and things are just as close as we thought they’d be. After a flurry of Christmas games, just two points separates Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea at the top of the league. Since there are no league matches this week because of the FA Cup, I figured this would be a great time to go ahead and unveil….
THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS*
*Not the popular company with a similar name that sells boneless wings, but just buffalo wings in general.
I have nothing against the FA Cup. I actually love it, and not just because of Chelsea’s recent successes in it. It is a cool format. Imagine if other sports did it. The St Paul Saints vs the St Louis Cardinals in the 4th round! How much fun would that be?
I am mostly forgoing the standard match previews, because I don’t feel like doing a ton of research on Derby County. Oh, and my buddy Chad just reminded me on Twitter that it is Friday. I honestly had no idea what day it was. You could have put a gun to my head and asked me what day it was and I would have had a 1-in-7 chance of survival. The holidays do weird things to the brain.
THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS
1. Manchester City - A 3-2 away win at Swansea was disheartening to see for the supporters of every other title contender. City could very easily end up running away with this thing if they can get their road form sorted. They have already beat Liverpool and Arsenal over the holiday stretch, and are easily the most talented team in the league. If they can just find a way to harness that talent, while also navigating the knock-out round of Champions League - something they haven’t had to do in years past - they could easily lift the trophy before the final day of the season.
2. Chelsea - Jose’s men thrived during the past two weeks, tying at Arsenal while getting the full three against Swansea, Liverpool and at Southampton. More importantly, it seems Mourinho finally has his roster sorted. He made the big move in the 50th minute Wednesday, and it was aces. I loved the fist pump and immediate retreat into the locker room after the match was blown dead. Classic. Two of Chelsea's next four matches are against the two Manchester clubs, though.
3. Arsenal - I predicted in this space multiple times that Arsenal would not be top of the table come January 1, and I was proven wrong. Still, I don’t think they have what it takes to outlast Chelsea or City. The injuries are piling up, for one thing. But again, all credit to them for hanging around and continuing to deliver big results.
4. Everton - This might be my favorite story of the year. The Toffees are a point behind Liverpool for the fourth and final Champions League spot. This team has thrived under Roberto Martinez, and I hope they can continue it into 2014. The Merseyside derby looms on January 28th, and will be one of the biggest in years.
5. Liverpool - Tough losses to Manchester City and Chelsea were a bit of a gut punch for the Liverpool faithful in what was otherwise a very solid start to the season. They would be sitting much prettier if they could have at least found a way to snag a point in either of the two. But like Arsenal and Everton, they have definitely overachieved so far this year, and will be in the mix for the fourth spot come May.
6. Tottenham - I predicted a 3-0 loss for Spurs at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Totally called it. In all seriousness, great road win from a team that could have gone one of two ways after sacking Andre Villas-Boas. Their new manager Skippy Sherwood (I don’t remember his first name. Almost positive his last name is Sherwood. Googling this information would be easy but I am just gonna roll the dice. Life is all about taking risks, kids. Write that down) has them believing. (Ed note: His name is Tim Sherwood.)
7. Newcastle - A bad loss at West Brom kept the Magpies from being in the top 5 to start the New Year. Another great story from an extremely likeable fanbase. Rooting for them the rest of the way -- and not just because my best friend, the rocket scientist, is a diehard supporter. Just a cool club with cool history.
8. Manchester United - One of the most disastrous starts for a reigning champion in years, and yet they are still just 5 points out of the final Champions League spot. Not bad, all things considered. The loss to Spurs at home was a big, big setback. David Moyes says they aren’t out of things; whatever helps you sleep at night, bro.
9. Southampton - The darlings of the first 12 matches of the year sure fell back to earth in a hurry. Everton, Spurs and Chelsea quickly ended any talk of them staying in the top four. They’ll continue to be a mid-table team that can play spoiler to those above them.
10. Aston Villa - I definitely looked at them as relegation fodder at the start of the season, but three big points against Sunderland have them sitting 11th in the league and six points clear of the drop zone.
11. Hull City - Another team with a surprising first half of the season. A 6-0 demolition of Fulham also has them on 23 points and heading in the right direction to start 2014.
12. Swansea City - Flashes of good and flashes of really bad from this team. Without a win in their last six matches. They’ve shown enough good to think they won’t be in danger of relegation but ya just neva know.
13. Stoke City - They currently sit 12th after picking up a big point against Everton. I see them making a run up the middle of the table in the second half. They just have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
14. West Brom - Sure.
15. Fulham - Skyrocketed up the table after their big 2-1 win over West Ham. The eventual inclusion of Clint Dempsey will help. I didn’t think they’d get relegated even when they were at their lowest and I still don’t think they will.
16. Norwich City - Sounds about right.
17. Cardiff City - I don’t have a lot to say about Cardiff City.
18. Crystal Palace - Doing better than I thought they would in their first year back up in the first division. Still, it will be tough to stay up. Pulling for them, though. What a cool name.
19. West Ham - They haven’t won a match in their last seven. The loss to Fulham was like a double kick to the groin. Gonna be an uphill battle for them the rest of the way.
20. Sunderland - An unbeaten stretch of four matches that included a win against Everton took a hit when the Black Cats lost to Aston Villa. They keep showing fight, but it will take a lot to crawl out of the cellar. Sure would like to see Jozy Altidore score a few goals.
And there you have it! The first ever edition of the THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS! Hope you enjoyed that, and that your face is okay after being blown away by my ability to rank teams in biased, somewhat arbitrary order. Enjoy your weekend, and stay warm.
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. We like to have him tell us about the Premier League, because it is enjoyable. Dana?
Hello Premier League enthusiasts, friends who read this to be nice despite knowing nothing about soccer, and anybody else who stumbled down some weird internet wormhole and ended up here by accident!
The holidays are the happiest time of the year for PL fans. Between now and the 5th of January there are four rounds of league games, as well as the third round (the first involving Premier League and Championship teams) of the still-beloved FA Cup.
It is the happiest stretch, but also an absolutely terrifying stretch, for fans. You better hope your squad is fit and your manager is sharp about rotating fresh players. A lot can happen in the next two weeks. The rich can get richer, or be left with their thumbs in the wind. The poorer can get poorer, or find a run of form that keeps them safe.
There is a constant stream of matches over the holidays. It is kind of like college football bowl season, except the matches aren’t thrown together at random, the results actually matter, and the games are worth watching.
It is stressful, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a great time of year. Take advantage and enjoy it. Head to the pub early in the morning with friends new and old. And, you know what? It’s the holiday season; buy a pint for somebody wearing the kit of a team you cannot stand. We’re all in this together. And I’d take a Manchester United fan any day over a mouth-breathing NFL fan yelling about how punters aren’t actual players and guys should play through concussions.
Before we get to the weekend preview, I’d like to use this platform to share a few groundbreaking thoughts on the Champions League draw you won’t find anywhere else but Nuclear Wessel. I was inundated with tweets (I got one), and I know people are clamoring for some HOT NUCLEAR CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 SPORTS TAKES.
This week's slate is not exactly a fixture list to run home and tell mom about, but - CLICHE ALERT - every point matters!
No. 3: Fulham vs Manchester City at Craven Cottage
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City got a late 2-1 winner at the Cottage last season from Edin Dzeko in the 87th minute after Fulham nabbed a 1-0 early lead with a penalty.
A Manchester City side that can take the league-leaders Arsenal out behind the woodshed 6-3 should be a terrifying thing for any other title contender - but this result was expected from City. They were playing at home, where they have won all eight matches, scoring 35 goals while only conceding five. At home they invincible. They are like the Turtles against the Foot Clan. The battles are just formalities. The Foot inflict almost no damage, while the Turtles just laugh and high-five their way to an easy victory. Nobody watching on TV thinks the Turtles have a chance to lose. These are just time-wasters before the real battles happen against Shredder.
And, for Manchester City, Shredder has been whoever they have played away from the Etihad. City have won just two games out of eight on the road, while drawing two and losing four. No real shame in losing four road matches if they are against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool - but that isn’t quite the case. They have lost to Cardiff, Aston Villa and Sunderland.
On paper, Fulham hosting City looks like a no-brainer. And it probably is, seeing as Fulham have lost five of their last six. But City need to show they can routinely earn points away on the road -- especially against teams on the bottom half of the table. You can’t win the trophy by winning only at home, and you can’t rescue April without taking down Shredder.
I certainly hope Fulham can pull it together and get out of the drop zone. They obviously hold a special place in a lot of American hearts. The news that Clint Dempsey may return there on loan would be fantastic, not only for the Craven Cottage faithful, but also for UMSNT fans. Dempsey needs a run of matches against the highest level of competition leading up to the World Cup. It will only help him -- and don’t anybody go with the "But what if he gets hurt?!" argument. He could trip and fall headfirst into the toilet and drown tomorrow, too. But you have to be willing to roll the dice.
No. 2: Southampton vs Tottenham at St Mary’s Stadium
When: Sunday at 7:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The Spurs took all three points last year with a 2-1 win. Dempsey (!!!) scored the second goal in the 39th. Southampton got one back in the 66th to make it look better for the papers.
OK, I know a Chelsea supporter scolding another team for sacking their manager too quickly is a hilarious concept, but, I mean, who else is more of an expert on the matter? I was fine with Andre Villas-Boas getting the sack from Spurs, because I don’t particularly care for him or the team he managed.. His brief tenure at Chelsea wasn’t exactly memorable, and his attitude and comments towards the club made him seem like a pretty big jerk.
But looking at things objectively, as best I can, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense to send him to the unemployment line now. I don’t see a ton to gain. There isn’t exactly a line of world-class managers lined up looking for jobs right now, especially with a World Cup being six months away.
AVB led Spurs to 72 points a year ago, which was the most ever for a team that didn’t qualify for Champions League. Sure, it has been a struggle to implement the talent they bought with the dump trucks of cash they got for Gareth Bale. But can whatever caretaker they bring in do any better? This team seems destined to finish just shy of a top four spot, whether they fired AVB or not. So why not just accept your mid-table fate and give it another go next year when it is more clear how to get this new roster to play together?
I guess a 5-0 home loss to Liverpool, and a 6-0 road loss to City, just are too much for a guy to overcome in the knee-jerk sports world in 2013. Oh, well. Like I said, I’m fine with it. Feel bad for Spurs fans. Sort of.
The match with Southampton is a big one. The Saints have fallen back to earth a bit after rubbing elbows with the top four early in the season. But they sit just three points adrift of a Spurs club that no doubt has the in-fighting that comes along with the changing of a new manager.
No. 1: Arsenal vs Chelsea at Emirates Stadium
When: Monday at 2PM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea took down Arsenal in their own backyard last September thanks to goals by Fernando Torres and the eventual winner by Juan Mata in the 53rd.
This is clearly the match of the weekend, and one of the bigger of a season that is near half-over already. Shame it has to land on a Monday, but hopefully enough folks are already on holiday break, or can sneak away from the office for 2 o’clock kick, to enjoy what is sure to be a good one.
Chelsea can overtake Arsenal with a win and, depending on what Liverpool (who are ahead on goal differentia)l do, could be top of the league heading into Christmas/Boxing Day a few days later.
Neither of the two biggest clubs in London can be too happy about their current form. Arsenal are winless in their last two matches, allowing Everton to come back with a late equalizer two weeks ago at the Emirates that led to that 6-3 debacle against Manchester City. Add that with the Gunners getting paired against Bayern Munich for the second straight year in the knockout round of Champions League, and things aren’t exactly peachy.
On the other side of London, Stoke City handed Chelsea one of their most deflating defeats in recent memory, definitely the biggest sandbag to the junk under Jose Mourinho. Giving up a lead twice and conceding three goals left The Special One dumbfounded afterwards, saying the team was in trouble and not wanting to reveal his true feelings. Don’t blame him.
There is a lot more to be said about this one, but I'll leave it to those who aren’t as emotionally invested as I am. I am much better at writing about Chelsea when things are going well. I’m mature like that. Really hoping for an early Christmas present on Monday.
Not sure what the plan is for this space over the holidays. Definitely going to try to get some content up, but with matchdays coming left and right, a preview piece becomes old news within 36 hours. But if you ever want to talk soccer, shoot me an email (danajwessel at gmail) or hit me up on Twitter.
I really appreciate everyone who reads these each week. I have an absolute blast writing them. Everyone have a happy holiday, and may your favorite club make it through the next three weeks as unscathed as possible.
Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN 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. We like it when he tells us what to watch in the Premier League this weekend. Dana?
OK. Has everyone simmered down and adjusted their underpants after Wednesday afternoon’s slate of matches? What an afternoon. An American scored, Spurs scored twice in 15 minutes to win, and the reigning champions find themselves in ninth place after yet another home loss.
The World Cup draw is this morning at 10am, and will be broadcast on ESPN2 starting at 10:30. This will set the opening matches for the US.
Regardless of what the draw holds, don’t fret. Even if we are in the Group of Death. We are the United States. The days of fearing other teams is over. Other nations are now afraid of us. We have gotten out tough groups before, and we will do it again. Now is a time to be excited, not hyperventilating over Nation X. This is the best US team we have ever sent to a World Cup, and it is going to be one heck of a ride regardless of who we draw.
Now, back to across the pond...
No. 3: Manchester United vs Newcastle United at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The eventual champions won a wild one in the corresponding fixture last season 4-3 on Boxing Day. Chicharito slotted the match-winner in stoppage time to annoy every non-United in the entire world. Thanks for ruining my favorite holiday, jerk! Seriously, what is Boxing Day? All I know about it is there is a ton of soccer on. Is that it? A soccer holiday? Somebody look this up and call me with the answer.
I have no real opinion on David Moyes one way or the other. Seems like a decent enough dude, I guess. But man, you just have to feel for him. He tried for eleven years as Everton manager to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, only to watch Everton come in and win in his first year as manager at United. Hope his whiskey cabinet was stocked Wednesday night.
You also have to feel for how delusional and in over his head he seems. The headlines after the match were how he admitted that United are playing catch up in the title race and face a tough road ahead.
In honor of Moyes’ stunning revelation I will also admit that I face a tough road to make the NBA (Slamball is a different story. You’ll wanna get on my entourage now, because once it comes back, it’s all over) and I may not have as good of a chance with Anna Kendrick as I claim.
I understand Moyes has to go with the coach-speak but maybe it is time for him to be realistic and actually admit the real truth: United, the reigning champions, face tough odds to even qualify for Champions League this season.
After this weekend we will be through 15 of 38 matches. The table has taken shape. I think we can all say pretty confidently that the current top three of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City will finish in the top three in some order. That leaves Liverpool, Everton, Spurs and Manchester United battling for the fourth spot. And that isn’t even including Southampton and Newcastle - I think we all can agree they will regress to the mid-table teams we all know they are.
As of now, United really isn’t even in that dogfight, going winless in their last three league matches and trending downward. They welcome in a plucky Newcastle club that had rattled off four straight league wins, including a decisive 2-0 win over Chelsea, before taking one in the shorts against Swansea, 3-0 on Wednesday.
It is funny calling an early December home match against Newcastle a must-win for United, but that is the reality of the situation. It is a reality that Moyes and the boys are fully aware of. Surprisingly, United are just 3-2-2 in the fortress they call the Theater of Dreams, grabbing just 11 of a possible 21 points.
No. 2: Sunderland vs Tottenham at the Stadium of Light
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Spurs bagged all three road points in this fixture last season 2-1 thanks to a Aaron Lennon goal in the 51st. Can’t say I recall seeing this match.
I hope Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas bought Chiriches and Holtby a plate of wings or something, because he was about 15 minutes away from having a lot of time on his hands the rest of the winter. It's crazy how much difference 20 minutes makes. It was looking like a 1-0 Fulham win that would have pulled them out of the drop zone, the kind of victory to inspire the club after sacking their manager this week.
It also appeared that AVB, who seemed almost resigned to his fate after the 2-2 tie Sunday against Manchester United, would be on his way out, having gone five straight without winning - including that now infamous 6-0 loss to Manchester City.
But two goals flips the script, and possibly saved a job along the way. Spurs are riding high after an emotional victory and now have a trip to bottom-feeding Sunderland where a win would put them right back in the thick of things.
Hopefully the Black Cats don’t hang their head too low after an emotional loss to Chelsea Wednesday at home. They took a 1-0 lead on a Jozy Altidore goal, his first of the year (Ed. note: I deleted 93 exclamation points that Dana inserted here). They fought back to equalize at 2-2. They refused to quit when falling behind 4-2, earning themselves quality chances at an equalizer before falling 4-3.
That type of fighting spirit and resolve can get a team out of the drop zone and save a season as long as they don’t let themselves get too down. Points will come. All credit and congratulations to Jozy, for his first goal in the Premier League since about 20 years ago with Hull City (editor, please fact check). (It was February 2010 - Ed.) Say what you will about John Terry, but he is still a class defender and Jozy just posted him up and smashed one past Peter Cech, one of the best goalies in the world. Hopefully that is the boost young Josmer needed.
I am also a major loser, and see it as a total sign that he got his first goal of the season less than 72 hours before the World Cup draw.
No. 1: Arsenal at Everton at Emirates Stadium
When: Sunday at 11AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: This one ended without a goal from either side last April, in a match where both teams needed all three in their chase for a top four spot.
How could you not be happy for Everton? I thought the away stands at Old Trafford were going to fall over on Wednesday after that final whistle blew. Sheer joy and euphoria for the supporters who have waited 20 years for that moment. 'Tis why we watch.
The Toffees have more confidence than they’ve had in a really long time, after finally vanquishing the the (once) mighty Manchester United in their own backyard. They’ll need it. The scheduling gods didn’t exactly do any favors for Everton, with back-to-back matches on the road against United and Arsenal within a four day span.
Make no mistake, the victory over United wasn’t one of those "Well, it hasn’t happened in 20 years, so it was bound to happen eventually" kind of victories. Everton earned the much-deserved breakthrough in the 86th minute, were the better side on the day, and are the better side in the standings.
Arsenal will be a much tougher test for first year manager Roberto Martinez’s overachieving side. This will be an intriguing one and one of the toughest domestic tests of the season for the current league leaders. Other than the season curtain-jerker at Emirates, when Arsenal lost 3-1 to Aston Villa (and we all laughed maniacally, thinking that was a sign of things to come), the Gunners have been untouchable at the Emirates, grabbing all 18 points from six matches and only conceding six goals.
They're four points clear of Chelsea, but this is the stretch of the season everyone has been pointing at for Arsenal ever since they started rattling off wins in September. After hosting Everton, they travel to Napoli Wednesday for the final match in their Champions League group of death, where qualification is still up in the air. Then they head to Manchester City, and host Chelsea in consecutive Premier League weekends.
Arsenal cannot get ahead of themselves. Everton will have never been riding a bigger high than this. The smart money will surely be on the home side, but I think a scoring draw is very possible.
That’s it for this week. Myself and the rest of the Minneapolis Chelsea crew will be at Brits Saturday for the Stoke City/Chelsea match at 9AM. Come say hello!
Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN 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.
It's cold outside, but the Premier League will keep us warm - and Dana is just the person to tell us what to watch each week. Dana?
And we’re back! That pesky international break is over! I only call it "pesky" because of the poor results for the USMNT, but how could anybody complain about the team? A first place finish in CONCACAF, a Gold Cup trophy, the return of Landon Donovan and the winningest calendar year in US history? As Lou once so eloquently stated when Chief Wiggum asked him to check out the park job in 7-A, “Oooh, that’s sweet.” (If you got that reference, you are invited to my birthday parties from now on.)
The next date to look forward to for the US supporters (or supporters of the other 31 World Cup teams) is two weeks from Friday, when the draw takes place. Now, the World Cup draw is the worst thing on earth. Literally the worst. Four years of waiting, a grueling qualifying campaign, and in the end it all hinges on some ping-pong balls. It is unbearable to watch. During the 2010 South Africa draw, I was dating a girl that happened to smoke cigarettes and, depending on if my parents read this, I may have been burning heater after heater to calm the nerves.
But no sense firing up heaters now; the Premier League is back. A quick refresher on how tight the table is before we take a peek at some matches: Arsenal tops the table with 25 points, but only six points separate them and eighth-place Manchester City.
No. 3: Everton vs Liverpool at Goodison Park
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: The Merseyside derby at Goodison last year ended in a 2-2 draw. It looked like this would be an all-timer, with all four goals being scored between the 14th and 35th minute, but play settled down and both teams seemed content with a point each.
I really wish the Premier League schedule-makers would take into consideration the sleeping interests of a non-Everton-supporting, non-Liverpool-supporting radio producer in Minneapolis who wakes up at 2:30AM on weekdays. But alas, they do not. So I will be up early for this one. Derbies are amazing. Especially when you don’t have to deal with the nerves of having a rooting interest in one of the teams. Therefore the Merseyside version is one of my favorites each year.
There hasn’t been one in recent memory that has been sexier than this one, either. The stadiums are separated by less than a mile, and the two teams are separated by just three points, after both have had dream starts this season. Liverpool sit alone in in second place with 23 points, while the Toffees are in sixth place on 20 points, and only trail Manchester United in goal differential for 5th place.
You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time Everton has won this derby, but they are playing with form not seen at Goodison Park in recent years, under first-year manager Roberto Martinez. They have lost just one match (against Manchester City) and have been superb defensively, conceding just ten goals, which is good for a tie for second-fewest allowed in the league. Further, American goalie and future President of the United States of America Tim Howard has a 240-minute-plus shutout streak going.
Timmy and the Everton defense will need to tack on as many minutes to that shutout streak as possible against Liverpool. Seemingly every time I turn on a Liverpool match, Luis ‘ The Human Cannibal’ Suarez and Daniel Sturridge combine to score a goal. It almost gives me a panic attack every time it happens, because I feel this deja vu that makes me worry I’ve become Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day.
Liverpool’s away form hasn’t exactly been something you put a gold star on and hang on your mother’s refrigerator, having won just two of six away from Anfield, including getting run off 2-0 at Arsenal last time out.
As the old cliche goes, you can take a Merseyside derby record book, light it on fire and drop-kick it out the window with the intensity of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat. (Full disclosure: I honestly have no idea if the Dragon had an intense dropkick or not, I just thought it sounded cool here. And you, the reader, have no idea either, so I could have not admitted this, but in an effort to gain your trust, I want no secrets between us.)
There is always a ton of pride on the line in this match, but for the first time in a while, there is plenty at stake in the table. Brendan Rodgers has his men believing they can win the Premier League for the first time ever, and Martinez has his men believing they can qualify for Champions League for the first time ever.
Set your alarms; this will be a good one. I have confirmed with Brits Pub that they will be opening up bright and early before the sun comes up for this one. Liverpool supporters will no doubt pack the Long Room.
No. 2: West Ham vs Chelsea
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on the Big Boy NBC
Last year: West Ham sent Chelsea back home to Cobham with a load in their shorts after a 3-1 defeat. It was also the first loss of the Benitez-era. I apologize to other Chelsea fans for even bringing it up.
Well, how do you like this? Another derby! A bit overshadowed, given what takes place a few hours before, but it's still a huge match for both clubs.
Before last year’s debacle for Chelsea I referenced above, you have to go back to 2003 to find the last time the Hammers defeated their London rivals... but Chelsea aren’t exactly keeping their blue flag flying high right now. Their last two times out in the league saw them lose to Newcastle (who let them out of the fridge by the way? They are ninth right now and could go ahead of Spurs or City depending on results this weekend) and jank, JANK, out a draw against West Brom.
Hopefully (for Chelsea fans, anyway), the team used the international break to get their minds right, and Jose Mourinho instilled the fear of god in them after the West Brom mess. A win here could potentially set the Blues up for a nice December. Their upcoming schedule: Southampton (the surprise team of the season) at home, at Sunderland, at Stoke, home versus Crystal Palace, and then the big showdown with Arsenal at the Emirates two days before Christmas.
West Ham aren’t exactly playing the type of soccer right now that makes kids get in fights over who gets to play with them on FIFA. They have only won one of their past six matches; granted, it was against Spurs, but that doesn’t make up for dumping full points to Hull City and Norwich City.
The lineup Mourinho comes up with at West Ham will be interesting to see. The Special One still hasn’t found a preferred lineup. It has led to a lot of frustration and bickering amongst Blues supporters, as the team sits in fourth place after being projected by nearly everyone to lift the trophy.
The Chelsea supporters will be hanging out at Morrisey’s Irish Pub in Uptown so come on by if you feel like hanging out with us. All are welcome. Also, speaking of soccer bars, I owe Local an apology for ripping them before the season started. I stopped by for the start of Manchester United/Arsenal two weeks ago and had a great experience. Granted, I was surrounded by more Arsenal fans than I would have liked, but the breakfast buffet is incredible. Full spread. The works, really. And the staff couldn’t have been cooler. So, there you go.
No. 1: Hull City vs Crystal Palace at The Kingston Communications Stadium
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Extra
Just kidding. I would rather watch RandBall and RandballsStu leg wrestle, best out of seven, than watch this match. (Wait a minute, that was supposed to be an insult, but now that I think about it, watching those two leg wrestle sounds awesome. Let's make it best out of fifteen! Let's set that up, next time everybody is in town!)
No. 1: Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium
When: Sunday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City rallied from a goal down in the second half with goals from Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.
We round up the weekend with the Battle of the Congested Top of the Table Bottomfeeders! Well, technically the PL weekend wraps up with Manchester United/Cardiff City, and West Brom/Aston Villa but, you know, gross.
Tottenham and City sit in seventh and eighth place heading into this match, and that sounds disastrous for both clubs with December looming - but the truth is, with the table so tight, both teams are within two points of a top-four spot.
City supporters are thanking their lucky stars this match is at home. For whatever reason, City play like a bunch of U-14ers that are more concerned with the girls' team practicing on the next field over, when they are on the road. They lost their last two road matches to Sunderland (SUNDERLAND!) and Chelsea, and have lost four away from home overall this season.
The sweet confines of the Etihad is a completely different story. City have scored 20 goals and conceded only two - not too shabby. That two goals conceded is the biggest worry for Spurs, who have only scored a comical nine goals in eleven matches. That is fewer goals than such world-beating outfits as Aston Villa, West Brom, Stoke City, Swansea City, and Sunderland - all in tenth place or worst.
These City-Spurs matches have been goal-fests the last two years. All four meetings have had at least four combined goals. It could very easily happen again Sunday, but given how things have gone for these two clubs, it is more likely to be 4-0 or 3-1 City than anything favoring a Spurs result.
That will do it for this week’s explosively controversial edition of Nuclear Wessel. Until next time, may your free kicks always be direct and your midfielders always be box-to-box.
Dana Wessel produces the Cane & Company morning show on 96.3 K-TWIN. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11 and airs Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. He explains it all, when it comes to the Premier League. Dana?
And we’re back! Welcome to the eleventh edition of Nuclear Wessel. This week’s edition promises to be the most nuclear-est edition yet!
I’ve actually started to submit this column in print form, with a $20 bill paper-clipped to it, in hopes that Marth might go through the archives and scrub my predictions involving Arsenal in the first few weeks. Yikes. I definitely alluded to the possibility of them not qualifying for the Europa League. Now they sit in first place, and could lose 142-0 this week (Marth - check to see if that’d be a record) and they would still be in first place next week. But that’s why I write about soccer here, rather than bet on games in a Vegas penthouse while being served buffalo wings by Anna Kendrick in a full Chelsea kit.
(It's kinda concerning that "Chelsea kit" was my go-to outfit for her to be wearing, right? I should probably go back and change that... Oh well. What’s done is done. Wheel of Fortune is almost on, and Marth has requested I submit these to him on Thursday evening rather than on Friday morning. Unbelievable right? What a demanding editor. I guess I could always just watch Wheel on DVR later, and go and polish that sentence - naw, somebody might tweet me a Wheel spoiler, and that would just leave a sour taste in my mouth heading into Friday. You never want that.)
A rather average slate of matches this weekend culminates with an absolute doozy between a Manchester United team desperate for a big result, and an Arsenal team desperate to prove to everyone they are for real.
Let’s get to it. We start with Chelsea, but I promise I kept it brief this time.
No. 3: Chelsea vs West Brom
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea bagged the full three points in a very nondescript 1-0 match, with Demba Ba snapping a seven-match scoreless streak by netting one in the 28th minute.
Woof. That Chelsea/Newcastle match sure was something, huh?
Now let’s never speak of it again.
(Editor's note: For those who didn't remember, Chelsea lost 2-0 at Newcastle last week. Wait, does this count as speaking of it again? Sorry, Dana.)
I was happy to see Jose Mourinho absolutely destroy the club after the match, because everyone except for John Terry deserved it. But the boys in blue responded like you knew they would, in a 3-0 home Champions League win against Schalke.
Samuel Eto’o scored two goals mid-week, and could be asked to start again Saturday against West Brom after Fernando Torres picked up a knock and appears set to lose the race to be fit by Saturday. Speaking of being fit, it doesn’t appear Nicolas Anelka will be ready to play against his former club. If Eto’o gets the day off, it would be Demba Ba up top; Ba put the cherry on top of the sundae on Wednesday, with a goal of his own.
It is so refreshing for Chelsea fans to see forwards scoring goals. It’s also great to see the Captain playing so well. I was planning on writing a lot about him here, but I don’t want to lose the non-Chelsea audience so quickly, so I'll just wrap up this up. West Brom have just one win in their last five road matches, and Chelsea have never lost at home under The Special One. All signs point to Chelsea having a laugh on Saturday, but I learned my lesson about being over-confident last week.
No. 2: Sunderland vs Manchester City at the Stadium of Light
When: Sunday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Sunderland actually managed to pick up three of their 39 points last year, at home against City in a Boxing Day match, with a 1-0 win.
I think we all can admit now that Jozy Altidore and Sunderland’s season together hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. The Black Cats survived relegation a year ago by the hairs of their chinny chin chin. It will take some doing the rest of the season to survive again this year.
But let's focus on the positives, yeah? Sunderland picked up their first league win of the year two weeks ago, when they handed a loss to Newcastle, 2-1. They are still very much in the drop zone, but to be frank, I couldn't care less if they get relegated or or not; all I care about is how Altidore performs, and that he gets the matches he needs to get ready for the World Cup next summer.
(My apologies to my massive readership in Sunderland)
And there is some good news for the young Altidore, who celebrated his 24th birthday this week. That isn’t a typo. He just turned 24. The problem with being a household name (in the American soccer world) since you were 16, is that jerks like me write you off before your 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd birthday. My bad. Jozy was massive in both the win over Newcastle (quite a coming out for your first Tyne-Wear Derby) and on Wednesday in a 2-1 Capital One Cup Match win over Southampton - one of the darlings of league this season.
Jozy assisted on both goals, and played the unselfish kind of match that managers love. And wouldn’t ya know it? His manager loved it. Gus Poyet (former Chelsea player!) raved about the Great American 2014 Striker Hope after the match, lauding him for his play in what was a huge win for the team. He also took jabs at other players for not getting Altidore more looks on net.
Poyet was hired less than a month ago and has only been in charge for three matches. You always worry when a player transfers to a new club (especially a huge upward move like Jozy made, moving from the Netherlands to the biggest league in the world), and the manager getting sacked within the first month of the season only added to those worries. But it appears the man from Uruguay has taken a liking to young Josmer.
Jozy has had issues in his club career finding his place and fitting in. You need to look no further than his extensive loan record for evidence. It would be so detrimental if he was buried on the squad, and lost all semblance of form leading up to this summer. The fact that he is getting both playing time, and the backing from his manager, leaves me with visions of World Cup runs dancing through my head.
The Black Cats welcome Manchester City into the Stadium of Light Sunday. The result means little to me. City will likely win. I just want Jozy to play and score. And continue to play and score.
No. 1: Manchester United vs Arsenal at Old Trafford
When: Sunday at 10AM on NBC Sports Network -- shame this one isn’t on the big boy NBC. Last week, Arsenal-Liverpool got 990,000 viewers which was the highest of the season. I bet United/Arsenal would have topped the million mark.
Last year: United won this fixture 2-1 last November, behind goals by Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra. This one wasn’t as close as it looked, either; Arsenal scored in the 95th minute to make it look better for the papers.
This is an absolutely massive game for two of the biggest clubs in England - for completely different reasons.
Nobody would have been surprised if you told them that one of these teams had the opportunity to go 11 points clear of the other with a victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. But most would have thought you were crazy if you said it would be Arsenal in a position of authority over the defending champions.
Arsenal are five points clear of a three-way tie between Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham right now, and it might appear there is some room for error for the Gunners here - but there really isn’t. United have shown themselves to be vulnerable at Old Trafford this season, with a loss to West Brom and draws to Chelsea and Southampton. A loss would put Arsenal just two points up - it's unlikely that Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs will all lose winnable matches - and all of a sudden, United would be back within striking distance of the top of the table again, after their nightmare start.
A draw would be serviceable, and is a very likely result, but Arsenal have such a grand opportunity here. I am not going out on a limb by saying that few have fully bought into the dream start they have had through 10 Premier League matches and four of six group stage matches in Champions League.
Although they’d never admit to anyone else, even the biggest Arsenal fans appear to be going about this excellent start with guarded trepidation. We all know it is only the first week of November, and April/May are a long, long time away. A lot has been made in this space and others about how soft the fixture list had been for the Gunners up until this point. They deserve full credit for beating an in-form Liverpool side last week. They deserve even more credit for beating Borussia Dortmund in their barn. Winning a Champions League group stage match in Germany is never easy. Winning a Champions League final in Germany against a German team is even more difficult. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
But that won’t mean much if they come out Sunday and get dumped by United, and van Persie bags a pair. Then they come back to the pack a bit, and the story (fairly or unfairly) shifts. But a win gives them that massive result people have been waiting for, and would shut people like me up for a bit, and cause me to tip my cap.
United will clearly be motivated in a match that will certainly define their season one way the other if someone snatches the full three points. United have won three of their last four league matches but definitely could have used the confidence boost that a win at Real Sociedad in midweek would have provided them, but they settled for the 0-0 draw and we all got Hilarious Chicharito Botched Goal From Inside the Six Volume 43.
And just like a Arsenal loss would cause doubters to say “I told you so!," a United victory would cause their fans to say “I told you so!” to all the David Moyes-doubters. I'm hoping there are some fireworks in this one. I think there will be. The 10 o’clock kick is perfect, since it will be over right as NFL cranks up. No reason to miss it. Grab a friend who usually doesn’t watch soccer, and get them into it.
Next week, there are no Premier League matches, because of an international break. The World Cup play-in ties get decided (go New Zealand!), while a lot of other nations play friendlies. The US play in Scotland next Friday, and in Austria the following Tuesday. Awesome tests. Love Klinnsy’s scheduling.
Until we chat again, may your goals always be golden and headers always be diving.
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