Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Roo Beauty! Weekend Observations 12th-14th Feb 2011: Part One

There are times when you sit down to watch this absurd sport we call football where you forget your allegiances, ignore your prejudices and can do nothing other than applaud certain moments of greatness. There are those instances of individual brilliance that one can only look upon in awe.

Of course, one of these rare moments of magic took place in Saturday's Manchester derby and I think it is fair to say that every fan of the beautiful game was thinking the same thing:

Just how did David Silva manage to direct that ball into the top corner off his back?

I kid. Of course I refer to Wayne Rooney's overhead wunderstrike to win the match for United against crosstown cash-rich rivals City 2-1.

In this country we have become accustomed to everything that revolves around Old Trafford, and Rooney in particular, being spoken of with the kind of over exaggeration that would even look out of place in a Jim Carey movie. Manchester United Football Club has almost become a synonym for hyperbole. On this occasion however, when people immediately speak of this as Goal of the season with still a third of the campaign left to play, it's actually quite difficult to argue.

Aside from being just a technically brilliant strike that you imagine 90% of professional footballers would be unable to execute so effectively, the quality of the goal becomes amplified thanks to the situation in which it was scored. If Rooney scored that goal against someone crap like, say, West Ham, while United were cruising at 3-0, we would still praise the quality but we are no longer speaking about it in such glowing terms.

This goal is instantly 'better' because of the added significance: The winner, in a Manchester derby, with both teams going for the title, and Rooney himself having an otherwise poor game. There are few bigger stages on which to score the best goal of your career. After his disrespect towards the club last autumn, the few United fans with any common sense would have been right to be suspicious about where 'Wazza's' loyalty truly lay. Saturday might have just done enough to finally earn their forgiveness though.

After the dross the two teams served up at Eastlands in November, it was refreshing to see two of the best sides in the country put on a far more entertaining spectacle. City and Roberto Mancini get a lot of grief for their style of play and are often lazily labelled as dull or negative. After Saturday, anyone who held this view ought to change their opinion given the fact that it was indeed the Citizens who came out of traps the faster and for my money, were the better team over the 90 minutes. David Silva and Yaya Toure were the best players on the pitch in the first half and had the former put away his early chance, who knows how the game might have turned out? Vincent Kompany put in one of the defensive performances of the season. The eventual matchwinner never had a sniff and it was always going take something sensational for United to emerge victorious.

It is this very trait of The Reds however that has and will continue to lead them to victory after irritating victory this season. Excuse me for indulging in sycophantic cliché but sometimes it is necessary. For all the money spent by their neighbours, there is something present at Old Trafford that all the oil money in the world cannot buy: Team spirit and a winning mentality. This exactly why United will more than likely be celebrating their record-breaking 19th league title come May.

Ferguson's team are now eight points ahead of City while sandwiched between them remaining four points off the lead are Arsenal who showed no ill-effects of last weekend's dramatic capitulation with another comfortable home win. The 2-0 win over Wolves was mainly down to Robin van Persie who grabbed his 9th and 10th goals in 7 league games since the turn of the year. Blackpool are now the only current Premier League team he is yet to score against. Once more, you can only imagine what might have been over the last 5 trophyless years if the Dutchman had stayed fit. If Rooney gets the plaudits for a great individual goal, Arsenal's second gets the team award after a fantastic flowing move.

Mick McCarthy's frank admission that his team were spanked was about an honest an assessment you could get from an opposition manager. 2-0 flattered the away side as the gunners insisted on missing chance after glorious chance to make the final scoreline far, far more emphatic. The overall performance was encouraging given their date with their superior selves on Wednesday. However, if they manage to create even half the number of opportunities they did Saturday, Arsenal must stick them away because there isn't a snowman's chance in Hades they will get away with such profligacy against Barcelona.

Climbing into the top four were Spurs who went up to Sunderland without many of the players who have helped elevate them to such dizzy heights and came away from Wearside with a valuable 2-1 win. No Bale, Van der Vaart, Modric, King or Crouch. All signs pointed to a home win; particularly after the ever-impressive Asamoah Gyan gave the Black Cats a deserved first half lead.

But once again this season, Spurs showed impressive resilience and belief as they fought back from a losing position to take the points - despite the best efforts of William Gallas whose need to change his footwear more often than Carrie Bradshaw led to the concession of the opening goal. The winner was a fine volley scored, once again, by Nico Kranjcar whose recent contributions should force 'arry into a rethink before offloading him in the summer.

Sunderland will ultimately achieve nothing until they learn how to defend – a surprising fact given that they are managed by one of the best Premier League defenders of the early 1990s but less so when one realises that Titus Bramble is tasked with marshalling the backline. Going forward, they are an exciting and quite dangerous proposition but this open nature to their play will always give their opponents hope. January additions Sully Muntari and Stephane Sessegnon will hardly help combat this problem. Michael Dawson wouldn't have found it any easier to score the equaliser if he was playing against nobody.

Liverpool's recent return to form stuttered this week after a 1-1 draw at home to Wigan. Every week there seems to be some debate about active/inactive and first phase/second phases of offside. None of that should have been relevant at Anfield as defender Steve Gohouri scored the most offsidest of offside goals you are likely to see.

For the home side, Raul Meireles was once again the man of the moment after his volley gave them the lead - his 5th goal in six games. After an indifferent start to the season, all of a sudden, the Portuguese has become something of a player. It would be easy to put this down to the 'Dalglish effect' and to a point it's probably true that he has been liberated under the new manager. However, it would be folly to ignore the fact that, like most players from Foreignland, he, unfortunately for Roy Hodgson, needed time to settle in.

Some players however just come over and give the idea of an 'adaptation period' a swift kick in the balls and can become something of an instant hit. Luis Suarez looked dangerous yet again and was unfortunate not to add to his tally of one in one at Anfield after hitting the post and crossbar. When he gets a run of games, the Uruguayan is going to be a frightening prospect for defenders up and down the country for more reasons than his cannibalistic tendencies.

Part Two to follow

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