Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Tales of the unexpected - Weekend observations 25th - 26th September 2010

At Eastlands this weekend, cash rich Manchester City kept up any potential title challenge from themselves by beating current champions Chelsea thanks to a second half Carlos Tevez goal. Like many had called beforehand - possibly rather more in hope than expectation - this was going to be a tricky fixture for the West Londoners having had a rather easy time of it in the league up until this point, barely breaking a sweat as they swept aside the likes of West Brom, Blackpool and Stoke finding each game about as difficult as trying to convince Hollywood starlets to join you at a party where smack is served on arrival. I can't tell you if such parties actually exist of course but you get the point; Chelsea had not been tested.

And so, in what was billed as their first 'real test' against fellow lottery winners City, they came unstuck and suffered their first defeat of the season. What did this game and result tell us? Not a great deal we didn't know already to be honest. City have the potential to achieve great things this season and Roberto Mancini appears to be making sure his side don't suffer from the same defensive failings that ultimately cost Mark Hughes his job last season. They may not be football's great entertainers just yet - in fact, watching their games right now is about as exciting as sitting through a 90 minute lectures on kettles drying and paint boiling - but far less adventurous sides have had all kinds of success down the years and it would be unwise to write off The Citizens completely this season. I mean, he was hardly going to go out and try and outplay the blues, was he?

That said, Chelsea losing the odd game won't immediately make them a bad side. A close defeat by a single goal against a very good team who they also happened to lose to twice last season is no shock. You have to believe that from their rip-roaring performances thus far it's unlikely they will drop many points between now and May. There's every chance they will probably still walk the league thanks in part to the failings of their supposed rivals.

Speaking of whom, 24 hours after their noisy neighbours did them a favour of sorts by beating Chelsea, United once again struggled on the road after making the short trip to Bolton. More on this in a moment as a far bigger shock took place at the Emirates where The Arsenal lost 3-2 to a West Brom side who had probably forgotten what an away win in the Premier League even felt like. I doubt you would have found anyone on the planet crazy enough to have backed the Baggies to take even a point from a team considered in some quarters to be genuine title challengers let alone all three. And in such spectacular circumstances too.

By all accounts, the midlanders attacked from the very start and fully deserved the win with the final scoreline actually flattering The Gunners. Kudos to Mr Di Matteo for actually going out and taking a chance. Of course, on another day it could have backfired horribly but on this occasion it paid off.

What of Arsenal? Despite poor performances throughout the team, the big collective finger of blame has been pointed at Goalie Manuel Almunia after his clangers lead to both second and third goals for the away team. Those, in addition to the concession of a first half penalty that he redeemed himself from by saving. For me, it's completely misguided to simply lay blame at the feet of Almunia. He has never been a good keeper. Ever! But the fact he has the responsibility of being Arsenal number one is solely down to the manager who continues to select him. None of us could ever claim to be smarter than Arsene Wenger in a football sense but his continued blind spot to the obvious problems his team has "in nets" undermines and somewhat makes a fool out of him. You don't need to have managed, hell, you don't even need to have anything beyond a basic knowledge of the game to see that Almunia is a liability. For all his (Wenger's) achievements, failure to address the keeper problem that every single person bar him can see leaves him in danger of tarnishing his own reputation as a manager.

For all the criticisms leveled at his 'kids' for being inexperienced and supposedly lacking a winning mentality, Arsenal would certainly not have dropped as many points and lost as many important games in the last couple of seasons if Wenger had gone out and spent money on a decent goalkeeper rather than putting his trust in Almunia and his current understudy Lukasz Fabianski - between them, arguably the two worst keepers in the league. Even Scott Carson fills me with more confidence. Until a better goalie is brought in, the Arsenal trophy cabinet will remain as bare as the morally corrupting cleavage of a pop starlet on a children's TV programme.

The other 'challengers' Manchester United seem to be going through something of a malaise despite finding themselves in second place. The rate at which they've been leaking goals away from home so far this campaign has been nothing short of hilarious/shocking depending on your persuasion. The draws at Fulham, Everton and this week Bolton as well as the near collapse against Liverpool read for a very unstable backline right now. Johnny Evans and Nemanja Vidic, as good as they are individually, are as compatible as Joseph Goebbels and Nina Simone (can't imagine who would be who in that situation...) and appear to have no understanding whatsoever. Rio Ferdinand is still AWOL with no-one really knowing if he will ever effectively come back from his various ailments. Patrice Evra seems to be suffering a hangover from the French World Cup farce while John O'Shea is John O'Shea.

At the other end of the pitch, Wayne Rooney is playing more like Micky Rooney at the minute. His freakish form from last season feels like a lifetime away as he struggles to even trap a ball or make a simple pass let alone show anything by way of productivity in front of goal. This is where I would display an example of my mediocre attempts to be funny by inserting tediously repeated joke about scoring off the pitch but maybe his time with that brass is actually relevant to the present discussion. I've always been of the opinion that footballers should, without judgement, be able to do whatever and whoever they like as long as a) it doesn't break the law and b) it has no on-pitch implications. Far be it from me to assess mental states and body language from atop my ivory tower like some kind of snooty amateur psychologist but I don't feel it's unfair to speculate and come to the conclusion that Wazza's extracurricular activities and the subsequent revelations about his private life are directly linked to his stuttering start to the season. His team are also suffering from his as a result. Hell, when even professional nonsense speaker Kevin Keegan has a point then you know you’ve got problems.

Another striker not quite reaching the heights of bygone years is Liverpool's Fernando Torres. That said, the effeminate looking Spaniard has been involved in all of his side's last four league goals despite not scoring any. But alas, not all of these assists have passed without controversy. We all had to put up with Sir Alex Ferguson's overblown accusations of cheating last week. This week, it was a former United player and Sunderland manager Steve Bruce who was spitting and snarling about a perceived injustice when Torres set up Dirk Kuyt for one of the most bizarre goals you are ever likely to see (although perhaps not the weirdest in a Sunderland/Liverpool match).

I'm not really sure how people are saying the goal should have stood. Attwell prevented Michael Turner from taking the kick early as if to say "play my whistle". When Turner backheeled it to Mignolet, Attwell wasn't even looking so surely could not have sanctioned the kick. Is it me of is this guy deliberately making inexplicable errors just to get himself some limelight? The fact he failed to punish Steven Gerrard for his WWE style elbow smash on Danny Wellbeck was a scandalous. I guess making mistakes puts you on the map as an official. Who knows? Enough mistakes might see you rewarded with the biggest game in football despite your ineptitude.

If Spurs weren't playing Champions League football, this season would be in danger of tailing off before it's even got going properly. Consistently inconsistent would be the best way of describing 'arry's team at present given the erratic results in recent weeks. This is a symptomatic condition of European novices. Unable and unsure how to balance this new competition alongside domestic commitments, Tottenham have already sacrificed one chance at silverware following their pummelling at the hands of Arsenal last week and with defeats against Wigan and this week, West Ham already, they look unlikely to hit last season's dizzy heights once more. Of course, simply by virtue of being in the Champions League, the club have improved vastly on years gone by but if they are to better last season’s achievements, 'arry will have to get them to win the damn thing. However, with a backline more decimated than that of a 'specialist' adult film star, I'd be prepared to say right now that their chances lie somewhere between highly unlikely and damn near impossible. I doubt Andreas Iniesta is quaking in his Nikes at the prospect of going toe-to-toe with Jermaine Jenas somewhere down the line.

Speaking of mediocre former Nottingham Forest players in the top flight, it didn't take very long for my prophecy last week to come true that James Perch would be responsible for costing Newcastle precious league points, did it? At least he didn't get booked this week.

Last week's blog also boldly predicted the meteoric rise (literally) of Kenwyne Jones and how he was an absolute must for any Fantasy Football team while playing for Stoke. I'd love to be sat here with a look of extreme smugness 'pon my boat race but sadly I didn't take my own advice. Went for Chamakh instead. Pissed!

Finally, Emile Heskey grabbed his second goal in a week scoring in consecutive games for the first time since Jesus was in Huggies. In other news, Satan was spotted buying Ice Skates after it was reported that Hell had frozen over. It's obviously far too early to say whether Ged Houllier has revitalised Heskey's career but how weird would it be if he actually realised at this late stage of his career that he's supposed to be a goalscorer? Forget Chelsea losing, Arsenal getting humped by the Baggies and Kuyt's goal. Of all the unexpected things to happen this weekend, the idea of Heskey using his winner against Wolves as a springboard to becoming a prolific striker would be the weirdest by far.

Tweet with me. You know you want to...

No comments: