Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He's here to tell us what to watch this weekend in the Premier League. Dana?
So, how about that Manchester City club? I, and many others, said for weeks and weeks that if City got their road form up to par that they could run away with this thing, and now: City put an exclamation point on a solid road streak Wednesday, with a 5-1 dismantling of at White Hart Lane (beating Spurs 11-1 on aggregate this season). They are now top off the table by a point, and have third place Chelsea coming in with a chance to put six points between the two.
It is obviously not over with 15 matches to go, not by a long a shot, but City just look the part of champions right now. They score with ease, don’t concede many (especially at home) and have - sorry I have to say it - some serious swagger to them, with 14 wins in 15 matches and no losses since a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland in November. November was a long time ago. I can barely remember November.
Chelsea have issues finishing right now (38 shots and no goals against West Ham), and it will likely stay that way unless Fernando Torres is spending his injured time furiously building a Flux Capacitor* to return to the form of the late 2000s. Arsenal are only a point back, but are facing a stretch of fixtures in February that would make the famed Arsenal Invincibles need to change their undies.
*Don’t bet on this. Torres strikes me as the kind of guy you could shuffle a deck of cards in front of him and he’d think you just did a magic trick.
You just have to like City’s chances right now... but things can change quick. Nobody knows that better than City, who were eight points back with six matches to go in 2011-12, before rallying to win their first and only Premiership.
On to the matches. Not exactly a slate worth ruining a relationship over by watching wall-to-wall soccer all weekend, especially with the big match of the weeknd not until Monday - but still some intriguing matches worth taking in.
No. 3: Newcastle vs Sunderland at St James Park
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Sunderland embarrassed Newcastle 3-0 in last year’s installment of the Tyne-Wear derby at St James Park. To be fair, it was 1-0 until the 74th minute before the Black Cats ruined the Toon faithful’s day.
Hold on one second.
*Opens up the big book of cliches*
You can throw out the record books when these two play! Talk about two teams who don’t like each other! No love lost between these two fanbases!
In all seriousness, though, this one gets ugly. The Newcastle fans caused a ruckus after the loss last year mentioned above. Something like 30+ people were injured and one guy even punched a horse. Punched a horse! Who does that? I don’t think they ever said if there was retaliation by the horse, but I think we all hope Mr Ed smoked him with a back-kick right in the [redacted].
Things aren’t pretty for Newcastle right now either. Their red card appeal for Loic Remy was denied, so he is in the cooler. It doesn’t look like Papiss Cisse and Yoan Gouffran will play either. On the other side, Sunderland come into this match on a hot run of play. They are unbeaten in their last five matches in all competitions, with four wins during that stretch. Even Jozy Alitdore showed some signs of life for the first time in weeks in their 1-0 win over Stoke City this week.
But I will be rooting for Newcastle mainly because I have a lot of respect for their fans and their history. My good friend Dylan is a diehard Newcastle fan and will always text me rants about their board and their play. Complaints about things that, as a Chelsea fan, I can’t even imagine. (To borrow a phrase from Morgan Freeman, maybe I don’t want to.) So I always have a soft spot in my heart for Newcastle, and Saturday will be no different.
And I don’t want any more horses getting punched.
No. 2: West Brom vs Liverpool at The Hawthorns
When: Sunday at 7:30am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool got their season off to a cracking start in last season’s lid-lifter by getting goosed by West Brom 3-rip at The Hawthorns. Liverpool got five cautions and a red in what would end up being a seventh-place, European-less campaign.
Man, I don’t want want to admit it. I really don’t. I already admitted above this that City are the favorites for the trophy and Chelsea could easily be left in their dust. So the timing of this next admission is terrible, but here it is.
I really enjoy watching Liverpool play. There, I said it. Are you happy?
Just goals on goals. The list of athletes I have less respect for than Luis Suarez isn’t even a short one, there is no list. I can’t stand the guy. This isn’t one of those "but if he played on my team I’d love him scenarios" either. Daniel Sturridge is lighting up the score sheet, and I wouldn’t want him back in Chelsea blue for all the buffalo wings in the world.
All that aside, if you like soccer, you have to enjoy watching Liverpool right now. I said in the last edition of Nuclear Wessel that I think it would take a big collapse, which if we're honest is definitely possible with Suarez, for them to not finish top four come May. I also stand by my statement that it is too early to rule them out of the a shot at the title. They are seven points out and have two teams between them and City, but their form before and since those back-to-back 2-1 defeats to Chelsea and City has been great. Don’t forget, they still have Chelsea, Arsenal, City and Spurs coming to Anfield.
You never know. They could make a big run at this thing. I could also just be attempting to oversell them in an attempt to reverse-jinx them. Sports are fun!
No. 1: Manchester City vs Chelsea at The Etihad
When: Monday at 2:00pm on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea couldn’t get much of anything going in this fixture a year ago. Yaya Toure made it 1-0 in the 63rd, and Carlos Tevez scored one of his final goes in a City shirt a few minutes later to seal the match.
I touched on the importance of this match and both teams and the impact it has on the title race. A win for City puts them six points clear of Chelsea, and gives them all the confidence in the world heading into their FA Cup tie against the Blues in two weeks. A win for Chelsea would obviously do the inverse. Put them level with City, potentially atop of the table, while a loss would leave them potentially just a point ahead of Liverpool for third place - assuming Liverpool win, of course.
This is a big, big match. I think I speak for all Chelsea fans when I say I would gladly take a point and run. Chelsea are going to a building where the home team has only allowed eight goals all season, after failing to score on 39 shots at home against West Ham. But these Chelsea players and their manager are no stranger to big matches and won’t be afraid of the big bad City, especially after beating them 2-1 at Stamford Bridge earlier in the year - although Joe Hart does deserve a tip of the hat for that one.
Even if Chelsea lose, they aren’t out of the title race by any means. They have a few tough fixtures to get through in February, but their run-up to the title is much more favorable than City and Arsenal.
It has been an emotional week at Chelsea. The draw was frustrating as can be. Saying goodbye to Juan Mata, although the right decision, is tough. Seeing him celebrate with Manchester United (first time I have mentioned them) was even worse. Strange times indeed at Chelsea, and I haven’t even mentioned the departure of a true Chelsea legend Michael Essien. The rollercoaster continues on Monday. As with every up and down at Stamford Bridge, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
OK. I have gushed on for long enough. That’ll do it for this week. Get out there and support your local soccer bars this weekend. Until next time, I’ll see you at the shooting board.
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. He stops by most Fridays to tell us all about the Premier League weekend. Dana?
Back for more, aye? I knew you would be. Welcome to the latest edition of Nuclear Wessel, the only soccer blog that is read weekly by a baseball writer at NBC’s Hardball Talk. Seventeen matches remain in the 2013-14 Premier League season, so it might be time to start looking at the run-in for the title contenders. Take a look at this handy-dandy table put together by @Behnisch on Twitter!
Much easier than reading words in paragraph form, right? Tough to really give anybody a clear advantage. All three teams have six matches remaining against the top seven, and eleven matches against the rest of the league. City have to play five of their remaining six against top sides on the road, which hasn’t exactly been their strength this year despite some recent wins. Arsenal have four straight matches that could derail anybody: at Spurs, at Chelsea, home vs City, and at Everton - all coming directly after a two-legged affair with the current European Champions Bayern Munich. Chelsea play six of their last seven against the bottom eleven teams in the league, but four of those matches are away from the security blanket they call Stamford Bridge.
Translation: Anything can happen. I don't think Liverpool is out of this either; they're just six points back heading into the weekend. It is going to be heck of a final three months. We fans deserve this, after Manchester United wrapped up the league in mid-October last year. Enjoy it. Because after this ends all we have to look forward to is...oh yeah, the World Cup. It is a great time to be obsessed with soccer.
No. 3: Arsenal vs Fulham at Emirates Stadium
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Fulham rallied from an early two goal deficit to earn a 3-3 draw in this London derby a year ago at Emirates. Berbatov had a brace (one was from the spot), as did Olivier Giroud for the Gunners.
This Arsenal team just keeps chugging along, despite a revolving door of injuries. It's scary to think of what this team could do if everyone was healthy at the same time. They lose Theo Walcott for the year two weeks ago in 2-0 FA Cup win over Tottenham (he had an epic troll of the jeering Tottenham fans while being carted off), but they regain Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil Monday in a 2-1 victory at Aston Villa.
It is hard for a guy like myself who bleeds Blue to compliment Arsenal (Ed. note: Whatever do you mean, Dana?) but you have to give credit where credit is due. This team went into this season with the general consensus that, at best, they could squeak out a top four finish, with many including myself thinking Tottenham could finally overtake and get the best of their North London rival.
They appeared to be in trouble after a stretch where they drew Everton, lost to Napoli in Champions League, got walloped at City 6-3, and drew at home against Chelsea. But since then, they have won five straight in all competitions and remain top of the table, where they have been the majority of the season.
They’ll need to extend that winning streak and get as many points out of the next three league matches before the next latest-greatest difficult stretch comes. After Fulham at home this week, they go to Southampton, then host Crystal Palace. After that, eight of their next 11 matches look like this: at Liverpool, home vs Manchester United, home vs Bayern Munich (CL), at Bayern Munich (CL), at Tottenham, at Chelsea, home vs Manchester City, and at Everton.
Woof. That is rough. But they have made it past every hurdle this far and made the people who keep trying to write them off look stupid, including me. At the very least, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. That is an awfully tough stretch of matches upcoming, but this team has proved pundits and arm-chair center backs wrong all year.
No. 2: Liverpool vs Aston Villa at Anfield
When: Saturday at 11:30 on Big Boy NBC
Last year: Villa knocked Liverpool in the mouth at Anfield last December to the tune of 3-1. It wasn’t even that close, either. Steven Gerrard netted one in the 87th to make the scoreline look a bit better for Star Tribune blogs a year later.
Liverpool are scary. And don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. The only difference between them being in fourth and first are the two 2-1 losses at Chelsea and Manchester United within four days of each other. Also, it doesn’t mean a lot, but it is definitely worth noting that they led 1-0 in both of those matches. They also played that stretch without Daniel Sturridge, who had been out since November, but is now healthy and scoring goals again.
Yes, that is a lot of the ‘What if?’ game, but it is just another example of how tight things are at the top, and how you shouldn’t rule Liverpool out of the title race - especially since they get Chelsea, City and Arsenal all at Anfield in the final 13 matches of the season.
Their odds of lifting their first-ever Premier League trophy are long. Leapfrogging three top sides is a gargantuan task. But they are a team on the rise, and the favorites to grab that fourth and final Champions League spot. Liverpool fans should view that as their trophy. Getting back into Europe’s highest competition for the first time since 2009 would be a massive achievement, and will prove they are returning to their former glory.
Development-wise, they are probably a year or two away from realistically contending for the title. But they are most definitely a top four-worthy side, and have locked league-leading scorer Luis Suarez down long-term. Things are looking bright for Liverpool, after fumbling with mediocrity the last few seasons.
This match should be nothing more than a formality, if they are the Champions League contenders that Suarez says they are, and the Premier League title contenders Brendan Rodgers says they are. Villa have won just one of their past six in a stretch that has four losses. Should be easy pickings for the lads from Anfield.
No. 1: Chelsea vs Manchester United at Stamford Bridge
When: Sunday at 10AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Manchester United got the best of Chelsea in their own backyard last October 3-2. Chelsea found themselves down 2-0 inside of 13 minutes thanks to David Luiz putting one in their own net and Robin van Persie finding some glory of his own. Mata and Ramires each found the back of the net to make things level but Chicharito found the winner in the 75th.
Easily the biggest match of the weekend, and one that supporters of both clubs have had circled for quite some time. This match doesn’t quite have the same shine as it has in previous years, when both teams were vying for a title, but don’t understate just how massive this game is for both clubs.
The scoreless draw between these two teams earlier this season at Old Trafford left a lot to be desired, but that surely won’t be the case this Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have won five straight matches and seem to finally be rolling under Jose Mourinho after a sluggish start to the season. Chelsea want to keep the pressure on Arsenal, and City and would love nothing more than for those three points to come from their down-and-almost-out rival.
At United, David Moyes’ bunch has reached a critical juncture in their season. They managed to get three points and their first win of the calendar year last week against Swansea, but that hardly alleviated any of the mounting pressure at Old Trafford. As they sit right now, they are five points out of the fourth and final Champions League spot ,and have two teams (Everton and Spurs) ahead of them in the race to catch Liverpool. A loss at Chelsea combined with a (very likely) Liverpool win at home against Villa puts them eight points back.
Desperate times, indeed. If there was ever anything that could jump-start things, it would be to hand Jose Mourinho his first ever league loss at Stamford Bridge. However, the odds are stacked quite heavily against them. Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and Patrice Evra have been ruled out of the match, and a whole host of other United players will have their status determined later today.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are quite fit right now. Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard are injured, but the Blues certainly have the depth to overcome the loss of those two.
All signs point to Chelsea winning this match handily, but when you wake up Sunday morning you can go ahead and pour every rivalry cliche in a blender, chug it with your shirt off, and slam it the empty blender down when you’re done, because this is a strange game sometimes, and this is definitely a bitter rivalry.
The Chelsea fans of the Twin Cities will all be at Brit's Pub Sunday morning for this match. Doors open at 9:30AM, and the parking ramp behind Brits should be open for free parking. Come and enjoy the match. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of these clubs or the sport in general, just view it as a nice appetizer before Championship Sunday begins.
Until next time, let’s all grab a fresh glass of orange juice and toast to the weekend!
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. He knows about the Premier League. We like when he tells us about it. Dana?
And we’re back! We survived the holiday season, we enjoyed the first (third, you know what I mean) round of the FA Cup - well, except for Manchester United and Tottenham - and now it is time to buckle back in for some weekend Premier League matches.
(By the way, before we get started, did you know that Nuclear Wessel is a Star Trek reference? Because I didn’t. Our friend Stu named the blog for me and I just thought it was a funny take on the whole HOT SPROTS TAKE revolution. Nobody even bothered to point out the reference to me. I feel Happy Gilmore when he didn’t realize he was standing in front of Daniel Lafferty’s tee shot.)
The table hasn’t changed since the last time we all got together, shared an orange juice, and talked some soccer here. Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea sit at the top of the table with 45, 44 and 43 points, in that order. There is also an equally tight battle for the fourth spot, with Liverpool, Everton and Spurs at 39, 38 and 37 points respectively.
There is nothing overly sexy on paper in this week's matches, but every match is crucial. It will be May before we know it, and every point matters from top to the bottom. I apologize (or maybe I should say you’re welcome?) for a more abbreviated version this week than normal.
No. 3: Hull City vs Chelsea at The KC Stadium
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Well, it wasn’t last year. It was February of 2010 the last time these two met in the Premier League. The match ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw for Chelsea, with the only goal coming from Didier Drogba (awww). Chelsea would go on to win the table by a point over Manchester United.
Bright and early! These early matches can be really, really good or really, really bad. Waking up that early on a Saturday stinks, but if your team wins, you take a happy cat-nap and are in a good mood for the rest of the slate of matches/weekend. However, if your team loses, you stew around the house a bit, mad you are up so early and are tired. Then you get pissy when a rival in the next match takes three points, and it bugs you the rest of the weekend.
Well, at least that is how well-adjusted adults like myself take things.
This one will be a tricky match for Chelsea. Hull are sitting in an overachieving 10th in the table this season, but have run into some tough form of late thanks to some tough scheduling. They have only won one in the past six (a 6-donut drubbing of Fulham) and have lost two of their last three (vs Manchester United and Liverpool).
They are definitely impressive at home this season, having notched five of their six wins at the KC Stadium. But Chelsea are starting to hit their stride; they are unbeaten in their last five with four victories (the lone draw came at Arsenal) since the shock defeat at Stoke City. They beat ninth-place Southampton with ease 3-0 in their last match away from Stamford Bridge, and Jose will be hoping his lads can find a similar result on the road against a similar opponent. These are the types of results teams need to get if they want to lift a trophy at the end of the year.
No. 2: Manchester United vs Swansea at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on the big boy NBC
Last year: United took the full three points in this fixture last May when Rio Ferdinand scored the winner in the 87th minute. They had already locked up the title at this point. Must seem like five years ago for United supporters.
What an opportunity for the defending Premier League champion and world superpower Manchester United! A win on Saturday would do a number of things.
Talk about a massive match. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often, and I bet Manchester United fans have been nervously pacing around their houses all week, momentarily allowing themselves to daydream about the thrill of victory and the glory that would come along with pulling off the upset against Swansea at home.
But seriously, at what point do we start to feel bad for United? Never. That is when. I don’t care if you support Arsenal or Nottingham Forest FC, you have had to deal with the neverending arrogance and smugness from United fans. They deserve every cheap shot that comes their way.
United have nobody but themselves to blame, either. It its easy to point fingers at David Moyes, but ol’ Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t exactly leave him with much beer in the fridge. But that doesn’t matter, all fingers are pointed at the man Fergie appointed, rather than the man that assembled this roster and all but refused to develop young talent in his final years.
There is no quick fix, either. The title went out the window a long time ago. Even worse, it will take a couple teams pulling a Panthers-getting-the-measles-in-Mighty-Ducks-and-forfeiting-the-season type of thing, in order for United finish in the top four. It isn’t impossible; a match at Stamford Bridge looms large in two weeks. But at this point, it is asking a team to climb a mountain when they haven't even proven they can climb a molehill.
Firing Moyes would be a total knee-jerk move. So is spending big money in January to try to cash in on the small hope of finishing in the top four. Even finishing fifth, for a spot in the Europa League, doesn’t even seem all that realistic right now.
The only real move left is to stay the course, try to keep the never-healthy Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie healthy, and get back that goal against Sunderland in the second leg of the League Cup semifinals and gaining entry to the final, where Manchester City will be waiting*. Winning the League Cup and a trip to the Europa League doesn’t seem like much, but it is much better than the alternative. A trophy is better than no trophy. Some European matches (and the TV money that come along with them) are better than none.
*Prediction time! United rally to make the final to play City (assuming they hang on to that 6-0 win over West Ham in the first leg) in the final. City starts a MUCH stronger than necessary side for a League Cup final they don’t need and stomp United by multiple goals. That would be delicious.
This is uncharted territory for an entire generation of United fans. It is a new world. But it happens to big clubs. Look at Liverpool a few years ago. Even more drastic, look at AC Milan this season.
But things can turn around. It all starts Sunday when they hope to pull the upset against Swansea and get revenge for the FA Cup knockout, snap their four match losing streak and get their first win of the calendar year!
No. 1: Newcastle vs Manchester City at St James Park
When: Sunday at 8AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: City won the last meeting at St James between these two teams last season in December. A 3-1 final that saw Demba Ba score for Newcastle in one of his final matches in a Newcastle shirt before transferring to Chelsea. Aguero, Garcia and Toure all scored for City.
This is just what Chelsea, Arsenal, and any other team thinking they still have a shot at the title were afraid of. It appears Manchester City are starting to win away from home. City won just two of their first six on the road, losing four and drawing two more. They have won their last two on the road and their last five games overall.
They were by no means pretty wins (3-2 at Swansea and 4-2 at Fulham), but it is a step in the right direction for a team that looked scared walking into the venue of a recently promoted team. This match at St James Park should be a great litmus test to find out just how far their road form has come. Newcastle find themselves in a very respectable eighth place with 33 points (just one behind Manchester United).
Newcastle haven’t exactly been dominant at home this season, with their ten wins being split between home and road. They will be motivated after a pair of tough 1-0 loses over the holiday period (at West Brom and home vs Arsenal) and would like to see themselves get back on the track that had them flirting with the top five right before the crunch of matches as the calendar flips.
Alright kiddos, that’ll do for this weeks edition of Nuclear Wessel. Head on out and support your local soccer bar this weekend.
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.
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