Welcome back to another scintillating edition of Nuclear Wessel, the weekly Premier League preview that readers say is filled to the brim with such scorching hotness it makes the Fifty Shades of Grey movie look like a corporate training video.
We're sorry for the delay between posts. Two weeks ago Rand was in Arizona where he averaged 27.4 Instagram posts a day. And the PL was off last weekend because of the FA Cup and, lets be honest, I had the same amount of interest in previewing round of 16 cup matches as you did in reading them: very little.
Alright, enough time wasting. I know the internet has been clamoring for a new edition of Nukes Dub even more than the new book from that Harper Lee dude.
Onto the matches!
No. 1: Chelsea vs Burnley at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Newly-promoted Burnley last traveled to Stamford Bridge in August of 2009. Chelsea won 3-0 with goals from Michael Ballack, Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole. The Blues went on to win the the title and the Burnley would be relegated.
Chelsea return home to their Stamford Bridge security blanket after getting a favorable 1-1 draw in Paris this week against PSG*.
*I’ll leave it to more talented and knowledgeable writers than I to expound on this in other, more appropriate forums, but what those Chelsea fans did to that man trying to board the train in Paris was beyond deplorable and disgusting. The fact that people — regardless if they are Chelsea, Liverpool or LA Sparks fans — still act that way in 2015 is completely disheartening and I hope they get ID'd and punished.
The league-leaders play a Burnley outfit that sit in 19th place right now on 21 points and have struggled mightily away from home. Their only win away from their barn came back in November against Stoke. If the season ended today, which it doesn't, the season doesn't end until May, Burnley would be yet another promoted team sent right back down. But the relegation battle is tight. 15-19 are separated by three points and 12-19 are separated by six. The battle to keep fans from crying will go until the last day of the season.
Chelsea have been nearly unstoppable since the first of the year, only dropping two points and outscoring opponents to the tune of 26-4. But that list of nagging injuries seem to be piling up. Jose Mourinho said after the PSG game that nearly half the squad had been held out of training all week and Cesc Fabregas was in bed all week with the flu.
But all that aside, this seems pretty cut and dry. Burnley would do anything, illegal, immoral or otherwise for a point. Chelsea will be satisfied with nothing less than three. Advantage has to go to the league-leaders at home.
No. 2: Manchester City vs Newcastle at Etihad Stadium
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on Big Boy NBC
Last year: 4-0 route to the eventual champions City. All the usual suspects got into the fun, with David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri all scoring.
On New Year's Day Chelsea and City were level on everything. Points, goals for, goals against, most scarves sold in team shops, combined weight and age of all season ticket holders etc.
Since then, Chelsea have been pretty much killing it and City have been trying to keep their head above water while wearing cement shoes. The gap has widened to seven points after draws to Burnley and Hull City at home, a loss to Arsenal at home and road draws against Everton and Chelsea. Oh, and they also crashed out of the FA Cup with a 2-0 loss to Middlesbrough at home.
But fear not, City and Anybody But Chelsea fans! Your reinforcements are finally here. Yaya Toure has returned from his duty for Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations and he will be joined by compatriot and your January purchase Wilfried Bony.
In case anybody still doubted it, it Toure's absence proved that he is the sauce to City's buffalo wings. They only won one of the six matches they played without Toure. Add him and Bony to a mix that includes a guy like Sergio Aguero who found his form last week against Stoke and you have a team that isn't going to let Chelsea run away with things.
Newcastle have been, well, Newcastle. Just sorta there, ya know? Back-to-back 1-1 draws against Stoke and Crystal Palace have them in 11th in the table. Ya know, just sorta there. Middle of the table. Average old Newcastle.
We are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the last time Newcastle beat City in the league. Everybody start thinking of gifts for the Newcastle fans in their life to commemorate the moment. I am thinking maybe a nice brooch for my pal Dylan.
Given everything we discussed above I would not be shocked if some version of last year's 4-0 City win over Newcastle at Etihad repeats itself Sunday. But Newcastle can be pesky and did knock City out of the League Cup earlier this season, a match that City couldn't have been less interested, but a win is, as they say, a win. Hopefully it is at least an exciting match for the Big Boy NBC audience.
No. 3 : Southampton vs Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium
When: Saturday at 10:15am on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 victory last March at St Mary's when they were in the thick of their charge for the title that ultimately slipped away. Speaking of, Steven Gerrard scored a penalty in stoppage time in this one.
The scheduling gods saved the most compelling for last this weekend! The darlings of the Premier League Southampton continue to hang onto a spot in the top-four by the stitching of a football while Liverpool is just desperate to find an invite back to hang out with the cool kids at the top of the table.
Frustrating few weeks for Southampton. They dropped five points at home in the last three weeks and are just a point above Arsenal for fourth. It appears everyone's favorite underdog may be coming back to earth a bit at just the wrong time. HOLD ON, SOUTHAMPTON! 13 MATCHES TO GO! YOU CAN DO THIS!
Liverpool have gotten things back on track after their first few months of the season were an absolute school bus fire. They only have one loss in their last 17 in all competitions and have gotten match-winners from Mario Balotelli in two of their last three matches. So everything should be gravy at Anfield, right?
Ha, no. Of course not. In Thursday's Europa League match, Liverpool won a penalty late in a 0-0 match. Jordan Henderson, the acting captain since Steven Gerrard was out, grabbed the ball with the intent on taking the penalty, despite not being all that great at them. Mario Balotelli, who I honestly don't think he has ever missed a penalty, in a match or in training, blindfolded or otherwise, drunk or sober, rightfully grabbed the ball from him, set it down and scored a world class penalty for the 1-0 win. The players must be ecstatic with the win, right?
Ha, no. Of course not. Henderson acted like a little kid who got his binky stolen at daycare and sulked. And Gerrard, again, the Liverpool CAPTAIN, was doing TV commentary for the match* rips Mario on the broadcast! A captain blasting his teammate for scoring a match-winner. You can't make it up! Even if Gerrard took exception to what Mario did, which he shouldn't, manager Brendan Rodgers has explicitly said that Mario is to take the kick anytime Gerrard himself isn't on the field, then you do it behind closed doors.
*Has a guy ever done TV commentary for a game his team is playing in? It isn't like Gerrard suffered a season-ending injury and has nothing else to do. Bizzare.
Should be a pleasant locker room Sunday at St Mary's Stadium!
You typically don't like to call a mid-February match a must-win, but for Liverpool's top-4 chances, it basically is. Due to the aforementioned school bus fire, they have very little margin for error, especially against the other teams above them. Remember, Liverpool's goal-differential (7) is so far behind Southampton (21) and Arsenal/Manchester United (19) that they are even further behind the proverbial 8-ball.
A win from either side would be considered a big statement in their quest for European immortality. A loss would be a big blow to either's chances. So what does that mean?! A draw is unfortunately the most likely result. But I will be bold and say the visitors take all three points despite the fact they all hate the guy that won the match for them three days prior.
Alright, that'll do it for this week. Can't believe there are only 12 matches left after this weekend. As good ol JR used to say whenever Stone Cold Steve Austin came to the ring, business is about to pick up and it's about to pick up right now.
Wait, that didn't feel right. Let me try it again. As good ol' JR used to say whenever Stone Cold Steve Austin came to the ring, BUSINESS IS ABOUT TO PICK UP AND IT'S ABOUT TO PICK UP RIGHT NOW! BAH GOD, KING! ONLY 12 MATCHES LEFT?! WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN!?!
Until next time, keep your crosses crisp and headers down.