Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Weekend Observations 11th - 13th December 2010: Part One

Big Story of the weekend comes from Eastlands where Man City’s Carlos Tevez has handed in a written transfer request. Aside from despairing billboard manufacturers in the city, the club’s fans can’t be too pleased either. As recently as last month they were lording it over their neighbours from Old Trafford when Wayne Rooney did something similar before changing his mind. Rooney stayed and now it is City’s talismanic striker who wants to leave Manchester. You have to wonder what is wrong with the place...

This situation however, differs in a number of ways from that of the potato-headed Scouser. Tevez, currently pocketing a reported 280 grand every 7 days, has never been backward in coming forward to express his feelings of disillusionment about the game. The Argentine has even been vocal on the subject of quitting football altogether. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that he is one unhappy bunny at the minute. Last week’s touchline spat with Roberto Mancini was just an indicator of his current state of mind.

Tevez, despite claiming repeatedly that money is not his primary concern, has cited a breakdown of a relationship between himself and ‘some executives’ indicating a potential contract dispute with those at board level. The City hierarchy have intimated that this is indeed the case but my suspicions are that they are simply looking to besmirch the striker’s character by painting him as just another money-grabbing mercenary.

Whether this is true or not, remains to be seen. I expect a lot more name calling from both sides before the saga draws to a close. From what I understand, homesickness rather than money is the main reason for this dramatic decision. Tevez and his babymother have split up and she has taken their children back to Argentina. Tevez is understandably unhappy at being so far away from his family so maybe his request to leave is not that unreasonable. Putting two and two together, I’m thinking that the club has maybe reneged on certain promises to allow him time off to go home every so often. The likelihood of any Argentinean team being able to afford to rescue him is another issue completely though.

In stark contrast, Tevez’ continued impressive performances give off no impression of any external problems. You won’t find many people arguing that the captain hasn’t been City’s best and most consistent player over the last year or so. Whatever you think of this whole mess, his professionalism on the pitch has to be commended. Unlike wantaway players of days gone by, Tevez says he will still play for the club. Despite his obvious displeasure, he still puts the effort into every game as if it is his last – which of course, it may well be.

If he does leave, it would do serious damage to any potential City assault on the title although, in his absence, Saturday saw the blues stroll past Abject Avram’s West Ham with Yaya Toure taking centre stage. Then again, this is West Ham we’re talking about. They are to football what Sepp Blatter is to gay rights.

City’s win momentarily put them joint top of the league alongside Arsenal until the gunners were replaced by Manchester United who beat them 1-0 on Monday night.

You have to wonder though, what is the point of Arsenal? Yes, great football, financially stability and a commitment to the development of young talent is all very commendable and certainly a model you’d hope many others will follow before the inevitable day in the not too distant future when the completely unsustainable nature of football finances sees top clubs start toppling like dominoes.

But what good is any of that if it can’t be converted into success on the pitch? Nobody supports a club because they have a good bank balance. Arsenal fans have not seen their side win a trophy for over five years and based on Monday’s predictable surrender the drought, as far as the league is concerned, sees no sign of abating.

Admittedly, they are going good guns (no pun intended) in the Carling Cup but you have to ask if winning the football’s second least prestigious competition (behind the SPL) is good enough for one of England’s so called biggest clubs.

It looks like they’ve balls’d up their Champions League campaign this season and defeat at Old Trafford has left them trailing their old rivals who now also have a game in hand. More than that, having lost against Chelsea already this season, Arsenal’s continued failure in these big Championship six pointers looks once again to derail any rumoured title challenge. Arsenal have now lost 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games in all competitions against United and Chelsea – a recent record worse than the likes of Birmingham and Fulham respectively.

Arsenal barely showed up at Old Trafford and spent a lot of the second half passing the ball from side to side in what could only be described as an attempt to bore the United defence into conceding somehow. Of course, this didn’t work. Having conceded to a fortuitous Park Ji Sung header just before half time, a little more urgency would have been welcome in the second 45. It didn’t come and Arsene Wenger’s side got exactly what they deserved from the game: nothing!

The one positive they will take from the game was the performance of debutant Wojciech Szczesny (15 minutes to verify the spelling!) in goal who pulled off some decent saves and showed a safe pair of hands on a number of other occasions. A competent Arsenal goalkeeper? Who would have thunk it?

The scoreline could have been more emphatic when everyone’s favourite referee awarded United their Annual undeserved penalty at Old Trafford (The fifth they have ‘won’ in eight seasons against Arsenal). Wayne Rooney summed up his mediocre season by ballooning the ball straight to the moon.

2-0 would have flattered United. For Arsenal, one of the most frustrating things about this defeat for the gunners was that fact that the home side weren’t actually any good. Thanks to the powder puff nature of any Arsenal attack, it’s not unfair to say that the Reds deserved their win but only by default on account of simply being ‘less worse’ than the visitors. United played the way that secured them the win and fair play to them for being smart enough to do so but I don’t think I’m out of order for suggesting that the tactics they employed after scoring were not dissimilar to a League One side protecting a lead against Premier League opposition in some sort of cup match. Yes, the mighty Manchester United were reduced to defensive long ball merchants, AT HOME! How they are top of the league and still unbeaten is anyone’s guess.

Whether they stay there or not is different story as they head to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side they have failed to beat away from home in the league since 2002. Funnily enough, a year before The Blues were doped up to the shinpads by Roman Abramovich’s roubles.

Chelsea themselves are still going through a somewhat dodgy period and a 1-1 draw against Tottenham in Sunday’s big game could be seen as another stumble as they attempt retain their crown. Despite going behind, Chelsea will look at this as an opportunity lost given the circumstances at the end of the game when Didier Drogba’s ego cost his side two points.

Having been dropped, Drogba set out to prove a point to his manager by burying the equaliser right through the apparition of Heurelho Gomes. However, Drogba’s insistence on taking the last minute penalty ahead of the returning Frank Lampard that could have won the game bordered on selfish and by missing it, he could well have hindered Chelsea’s championship ambitions even further.

For the record, Gomes did not go from ‘villain to hero’. He gave away the first goal and conceded the penalty. Ultimately, it was his fault Spurs dropped the points all he did was prevent his team paying a further price for his ineptitude. Saving it did not vindicate him in the slightest and hopefully ‘arry gave him an earful at in the changing rooms afterwards.

Chelsea may have stuttered in recent weeks but are still very much in the race. Their ‘spine’ of Terry, Essien, Lampard and Drogba is just about complete once again and a win against Manchester United at the weekend should give them the momentum to kick on in the second half of the season. Their second half performance at White Hart Lane was ominously good and it seems only a matter of time before they are battering teams up and down the land as they were at the start of the season.

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