Monday, 20 September 2010

Weekend Observations 18th - 19th September: Part One

Part One...

At the risk of sounding like a cheerleading, lobotomised Sky Super-duper Sunday fanboy, English football's very own Superclásico between the country's two biggest and most successful clubs took place at Old Trafford on Sunday. That's right, Manchester United versus Liverpool. Despite the relative lack of success of the latter in the last couple of decades, you can generally always count on the two sides producing an entertaining, or at the very least, eventful game and this latest encounter proved no exception.

The performance of Dimitar Berbatov and his subsequent hat-trick, including a jaw-dropping early contender for goal of the season, has seemed to have gotten everyone in bit of a tizzy (Incidentally, I missed the winning goal because for some reason I was showing people this on YouTube at the time. Why? A story for another day!). Funny, given the universal condemnation the Bulgarian has generally received since his big money move from Spurs two years ago. While not wanting to take anything away from what was obviously a fantastic performance, some of the praise has been just as OTT as the criticism which preceded it. This one game does not make him the new Cantona in the same way some indifferent performances over the last couple of seasons didn't make him the footballing equivalent of Public sector pay (expensive and unpopular - that's right. I keeps it topical...).

But alas, the fickle nature of many football observers means that while one day you can be God's gift to the sport, the very next could see you as the proverbial steaming pile of horse manure. Case in point; on the flipside of the beaming Berbatov coin is the brooding, sulk of Fernando Torres, who, despite being one of the league's most deadly strikers in recent years, is this year seemingly reduced being about as effective on the pitch as a door stop. This criticism for a player that has suffered with injuries for years is somewhat harsh and given the glaring deficiencies of the team - Glen Johnson's terrible crossing included - surrounding him, I'm not sure he should be expected to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. Besides, for someone who is supposed to be out of form, he was still instrumental in both his side's goals as Liverpool attempted to stage something of a comeback at 2-0 down.

That said, getting back on level terms was less a reflection of Torres' or Liverpool's ability than it was of United's continued fragility. Following the draws at Fulham and Everton, the home side were on the verge of spunking away yet more points from a commanding position thanks to very questionable defending. They will certainly be thankful for Berbatov's apparently divine intervention (Maybe he had been blessed by the visiting Pope before the match this weekend).

One of United's other star performers on the day was Nani but rather than praising him for his football, most people will remember the laughable diving, play-acting and rolling around like he’d been shot every time there was a strong breeze in his general direction. What was just as amusing was the selective memory of his manager who conveniently overlooked this when criticising the above-mentioned Torres. As much as people respect Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements, it's this kind of one-eyed, sanctimonious bias that makes him one of the most unpopular characters in football.

Speaking of managers making unpopular comments, once again, Arsene Wenger has managed to piss off all and sundry with his views on so-called tough tackling and how his squad of children and midgets need more protection against the big bad bully boys of English football. Naturally, this has brought scorn from the likes of Sam Allardyce, Owen Coyle and what seems like the entire population of Stoke. While Wenger may well have a point given the number of Arsenal players that seem to pick up career-threatening injuries as a result of English football's more 'robust' approach to tackling, he clearly doesn't have much support and his 'moaning' has led him once again becoming public enemy number one. You almost think that most of the country celebrated Darren Bent's late, late equaliser as a kind of "in your faaaace! AHHH" moment on Saturday evening.

Wenger was also apparently displeased that goal came in the 95th minute after only four minutes had been signalled by the fourth official. As we tread tedious old ground yet again, it baffles me how people within the game don’t seem to get that added time is always the minimum to play beyond the 90 and not the maximum.

Of greater concern to Arsenal should be another injury to Cesc Fabregas who, after his two performances last week, was looking somewhere close to his best and will be sorely missed.

Even at this very early stage of the season, the two points dropped by Arsenal could well prove crucial as could those pissed away by Manchester United last week. The reason for this is because of the devastating ease Chelsea are ripping their way through anyone who dares to get in their way. On Sunday, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching Hurricane Igor pummeling Bermuda such was their ruthlessness in the first half against Blackpool. How they only ended the game with four is a mystery.

As predictable as the game and scoreline were, the second half was still quite an intriguing affair. The away team seemed to prevent total humiliation by actually trying to have a go at The Blues rather than parking the bus and actually came close to scoring on a couple of occasions. That said, the patronising tone in which messes Gray and Tyler on Sky were talking about 'plucky little Blackpool' and what a 'nice club they are' was nauseating.

As good as Chelsea have been, they are yet to face any of the supposed 'Big Boys'. That all changes next week when they face their fellow beneficiaries of what Arsene Wenger would complain... sorry, describe as financial doping. In the battle of the banknotes, Manchester City will welcome the Champions to Eastlands next Saturday lunchtime hoping to make a statement about their own title credentials after an indifferent start to the campaign so far.

As many will no doubt point out in the coming days, this will be Ancelotti's teams' first big test despite their blinged up rivals still finding their considerably expensive feet. But having done the double over Chelsea last season – including a cracker at Stamford Bridge - City, as well as everyone else who wants something close to a competitive title race this season, will be hoping for more of the same this Saturday.

Part Two to follow...

No comments: