Monday, 17 January 2011

Taken for Granted: Weekend Observations 14th - 15th January 2011: Part One

Saturday saw Manchester City beat Wolves 4-3 and finally hit the dizzy heights of the top of the Premier League (albeit for a mere 24 hours) ahead of their crosstown rivals. However, what at one point what looked like an emphatic ascension to the summit turned out to be quite a nervy stumble over the finish line as the blues took their foot off the proverbial pedal whilst cruising at 4-1, almost allowing Mick McCarthy's side to come away from Eastlands with an unlikely draw.

The usually resolute City defence had VERY bad day at the office in a very unMancini-like performance. I've always said that winning the league, for any team, will require defensive solidity and stability. It would be going too far to suggest that the City backline is looking questionable but let's not ignore the fact that in their last league game at Arsenal, they looked far from secure in the opening exchanges and were it not for the home side's innate profligacy, Kolo and the boys would have been dead and burried before half time. In fact, this weekend's match was not dissimilar in style to the kind of matches overlooked by Mark Hughes last season. The epic draw against Burnley being a prime example.

It's hard not to be patronising or to resort to tedious 'never say die' cliches when talking about Wolves but what else can be said about their performance? A great first half display wasn't justly rewarded and as the home side almost found to their cost, Wolves also finished the game strong. Few would have begrudged them an equaliser had it come. They fully contributed to the most entertaining game of the weekend.

The highlight of an eventful game was the mazy run and finish by Carlos Tevez for his pant-wettingly brilliant first goal. With all the recent talk of unhappiness, homesickness and general moaning about life, other players would have wilted and you imagine many failing to maintain anything close to high standards on the pitch. Carlitos has been as effective for his team when smiling (a horrible sight!) as he is when doing his best Mr. Grumpy impression. If only his teammates "cough" Emmanuel Adebayor "cough, cough!" would adopt anything like the same sort of attitude.

The rest of the Man City attack also performed brilliantly despite the absense of messes Silva and Balotelli – a good response after all the criticism they faced for a percieved lack of ambition after the Arsenal game. The highlights gave the impression that 27 million pound man Edin Dzeko looked lively enough to suggest that he won't be out of place in the Premier League and that I might just find myself eating my words once more.

In what many are desperately trying to convince themselves is the most exciting title race for years and years and and years, third placed, no-title-for-seven-years Arsenal are keeping pace and enhanced their credentials with a rather convincing 3-0 hammering of... er, the hammers of West Ham. The ruthlessness and ease with which they dispatched of the East Londeners provided something of a fine response to the previous week's cup humiliations.

Any football fan watching could surely not help but be impressed by the fluidity of the passing and movement in midfield but what will please gooners most was the impact of part-time striker, part-time first aid dummy Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman continues delight with his ability as much as he frustrates with his constant injuries. Can he stay fit? Imagine the impact he could have on Arsenal's title challenge if he does. But as is always the same old story with Arsenal, the question is: IF?! Next week, they will probably drop points at home to Wigan and find themselves in 'crisis' again.

One team certainly in a genuine state of something resembling a crisis is the side Arsenal the put to the sword without breaking any sort of sweat. Rumours were abound all weekend that the West Ham board were about ready to get shot of the world's happiest man, Avram Grant and replace him with a man who already has claret and blue paraphernalia in abundance, former Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill. There has been a subsequent denial/show of support/vote of confidence from the club.

In truth, is it really fair to use a defeat against a side with title aspirations as an excuse to dump Avram? Recent results (the Newcastle massacre aside) would suggest something of an improvement in their fortunes. Bringing in a new manager at this point will surely just cause chaos in the changing room as a bunch of, let's face it, limited players try to adapt to a new way of thinking.

Besides, while admittedly achieving relative success at Wycombe and then Leicester, O'Neill's 'big' jobs at Celtic and Villa have involved something of a dependancy of being able to spend money. Something you cannot imagine he will be able to do at cash strapped West Ham. Is he a better manager that Grant? Almost certainly but you have to wonder if he could do any better with this current squad than the diminutive Israeli. You could argue that O'Neill would only damage his reputation by taking the Irons job. Keeping them up would be his minimum requirement and if he failed to do that he would be crucified.

However, if Grant had anything to do with the signing of Wayne Bridge, then that in itself is a sackable offence. What a shocker of a debut! The (thankfully) former England International was at some fault for all three Arsenal goals before putting the cherry on the cake by limping off injured before full time. People have suggested that he hasn't played much football recently and was rusty but whose fault is that? Bridge has been happy to sit on the bench at not one but TWO clubs for a number of years collecting a massive pay cheque and contributing the sum total of diddly squat. Bridge was SO bad that on Match of the Day, Alan Hansen who usually loves ridiculing poor defenders couldn't even be bothered to stick the boot in and so left him to Alan Shearer. When you have a striker and someone as dull as Shearer taking the piss out of your defending, maybe it's time to seek out a new career.

It wasn't a disastrous weekend for West Ham as almost all the teams in close proximity to them at the foot of the table failed to win their respective matches. The exception being West Brom who picked up a much needed and hard fought 3-2 win against a Blackpool side that continue to look at home in Premier League. Despite the loss, David Vaughan's opening goal for the tangerines was up there with some of the best at this level. Charlie Adam also displayed the kind of form that suggests there should be little surprise about the interest shown by other Premier League teams. If the likes of Steve Sidwell, Denilson, Keith Andrews, Lee Cattermole and Lucas can hold down careers at this level, then why not Adam?

Also down bottom, Fulham drew 1-1 at Wigan in a match where I was genuinely surprised to find out that Whites' goalscorer (in the loosest sense of the word) Andrew Johnson still existed.

For weeks I suggested Chelsea were going through a minor blip and would bounce back. The second I flip this and say that they might struggle to make the top four and their manager is in the firing line they decide to pick up the most routine of 2-0 victories over Blackburn. It is, how you say? Law of the sod. Branislav Ivanović, who opened the scoring showed footballers the world over the importance of shooting because the opposition defence may end up being just as abject as Rovers. Honestly, his shot seemed to have crept past the entire population of Blackburn as it trickled over the line! Speaking of whom, the Lancs club continued to make headlines for moments of sheer comedy by hiring former Arsenal barn door protector John Jensen as a coach. Given his almost tragic goalscoring record at Highbury, Rovers fans the world over will be hoping he isn't coaching their strikers.

Mind you his Only Arsenal goal wasn't that bad

Part Two to Follow...

1 comment:

George Butterworth said...

Yes Ibs!
Good work, well written, plus I didn't know you were so good at spelling.
One thing I thought I might add, for your own amusement but mostly to just be pedantic, John Jensen has actually been brought into Blackburn specifically as a shooting coach. No word of a lie.
Keep it up, you make more sense than Paul Merson! But that's probably just mostly a matter of comparative sobriety, that would be genuinely worrying if you lost.