Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Nani State - Weekend Observations 30th October - 1st November 2010: Part One

First major talking point comes, not for the first time, from Old Trafford and another, let's say, favourable example of officiating from which the home side were able to benefit. For anyone that didn't see it, Nani scored United's decisive second goal in the 2-0 win over Tottenham after throwing himself to the ground rather easily, handling the ball deliberately before getting up and putting the ball in the back of the net when the Spurs goalkeeper justifiably believed his side should have been awarded a free kick by Mark Clattenburg.

A crack team of the finest minds on the planet couldn't work out why the Durham official allowed the goal to stand. Firstly, if the ref did not feel Nani deserved a penalty, the Portuguese should have been yellowed (yes, yellowed!) for what in football-speak is known as simulation (diving to you and me). If not, and Clattenburg deemed the tumble to be accidental, there can be no denying that Nani deliberately handled the ball while on the ground. Again, this could have been punished by a yellow card (although a rudimentary google search tells me that a card of either colour is not mandatory for this offence) but at the very least Spurs should have had a free kick. If Clattenburg didn't see the handball as some have suggested, the whole world saw his assistant set him straight. Why did he ignore this advice and gave the goal anyway?

The defence put forward is that Spurs were given the opportunity to play an advantage although I'm left scratching my head as to what 'advantage' there was to be gained when Gomes put the ball down with Nani standing near enough to ultimately score the debatable goal. In truth, Heurelho Gomes made the ultimate schoolboy error by not "playing to the whistle" something you are instructed to do from the very day you lace up your first pair of Gola football boots and regularly toe-punt the ball into no particular direction from a young age. However, was it really unreasonable of the Brazilian to think he deserved a free kick after Nani's deliberate handball? Clattenburg stood shrugging his shoulders. Since when has that been the signal to 'play on'? He should have made it clear that he was allowing an advantage.

As for the culprit himself, unsporting as it may have been, he had no option but to put the ball in the net. As Darren Fletcher so eloquently put, he would have been on the receiving end of a 'bollocking' had he not done so. Modern football is bereft of any sense of fair play that players will get continue to try and steal an advantage wherever they can until they are punished appropriately by the officials; something Clattenburg and his colleagues failed to do in such spectacular fashion on Saturday evening leaving 'Arry rightly peeved. It's also a shame for Nani himself as this moment overshadows what was other a very good performance from him.

There is a perception in the English game that the bigger sides, Manchester United in particular, often get the big decisions go their way and incidents like this do nothing to change that view. What also doesn't help is the fact that Clattenburg sent away all the Spurs players - booking Modric in the process - but allowed Rio Ferdinand to continue to mouth off next to him while conferring with the assistant.

But while Spurs were right to feel hard done by (let's be honest, this isn't
the first dodgy decision to go against them at Old Trafford in recent years... come to think of it, it's something of a regular occurrence) let's not forget they were still 1-0 down at the time and it was very late in the game. Of course, we will never know if they would have managed to grab an equaliser in that time but on the evidence of the game, it didn't look likely. Nani's goal was the difference only between either losing 1-0 or 2-0. Also, it would be unwise to ignore the fact that they themselves have been on the receiving end of favourable decisions so far this season against Stoke and Fulham respectively. C'est la vie. If I knew what people meant when they say 'Swings and Roundabouts' I'm sure I could apply it here too.

The away side had lots of possession but this ultimately failed to translate into any clear cut opportunities against a United side many would have argued beforehand that they had the beating of. Current crowd favourite Rafael van der Vaart has been considered something of a revelation at White Hart Lane thus far with his pant-wettingly impressive performances. Looking a bargain at a mere 8 million quid and already being prematurely touted as signing of the season, many would have thought he would provide to inspiration for a Tottenham team looking to win at Old Trafford for the first time since the Berlin Wall was still standing tall, Nelson Mandela was wearing stripped pyjamas and the B-52s were tearing up the charts inviting us into their "Love Shack" (1989 – simpler times). Unfortunately, 21 years of hurt for Spurs is set to continue for another season as the Dutchman failed to make any impact baring one shot that rattled the post in the first half. One of the most noticeable things about the former Real Madrid man's performance was his instance on trying to do everything by himself and failure to acknowledge better placed team mates. As good as he appears to be, he doesn't strike me as much of a 'team player'. 'Arry gives him license to do as he pleases and while it works against smaller sides, he needs to be less selfish against the better teams if he is to pose the kind of threat expected of him.

Mrs. van der Vaart. Why? WHY NOT!?!?

That's not to say that Tottenham are, or need to be, solely dependant on one player to pull their proverbial strings. One team that may have become guilty of this are United's affluent cross-town neighbours City whose attack, sans Carlos Tevez, can only be described as flaccid. I warned a couple of weeks ago about the need for greater contribution from the rest of Mancini's Millionaires and for all their talent, this hasn't transpired in their two most recent Premier League games culminating in Saturday's shock 2-1 loss against a Wolves side who, for my money,are getting relegated this season.

Dusting off the Big Book o' Clichés, I am compelled to use the expression that a week can be a long time in football. Last Saturday people were talking about Man City being the only team capable of challenging Chelsea. Two defeats later and the same people are now questioning whether Roberto Mancini is up to the job and with rumours of internal conflicts also continuing to surface, it just makes the whole bizarre situation at the club even more surreal. For me, it's damn near impossible to comprehend that a squad bloated with that much talent wont find a way of coping without Tevez, however long the Argentinean is out for. If they manage to secure victory in the forthcoming Manchester derby in a few weeks, those people claiming that the club is in 'crisis' will be backtracking once more.

That said, they now look some way off the Chelsea side they managed to beat a few weeks back. The Blues managed a late 2-1 win against a spirited Blackburn side that actually looked as though they set out to play a game of football rather than their own unique brand of rugby league that Sam Allardyce usually sends them out to pla... oh, can't say that now, can I? Anywho, with the game locked at 1-all in the second half, Rovers had their chances to win it and by right should have inflicted the West Londoners second defeat of the season right there at Ewood Park. Jason Roberts was undoubtedly guilty of squandering the best of these chances, scuffing wide a 1 on 1 when it would have been easier to score... blindfolded! With that kind of finishing, it's no surprise that Roberts has averaged less than one goal every FIVE appearances for Blackburn to date.

Chelsea eventually won the game with a late Blanislav Ivanovic header and remain a fairly comfortable 5 points ahead of the chasing pack. In second place are Arsenal who themselves scrambled an 88th minute Alex Song winner against bottom club West Ham in a game where The Gunners somehow managed to look fairly average in despite damn near total domination of possession. Cesc Fabregas limped around with an achy-breaky hamstring which, going on the usual recovery time of injured Arsenal players, could yet rule him out of some important fixtures once more over the coming weeks. When he's on the pitch and not playing well, it's worrying to see how much this transmits to every other player in Red and White and this was no more evident than on Saturday. Still, 3 points iz 3 points, innit? The Hammers wouldn't have expected much from the game but would also not have been too happy to see wins for fellow relegation candidates Wolves and Liverpool...

Part Two to follow...

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