Sunday, 30 October 2011

Arsing about: Gunners Give Chelsea the Blues - Weekend Observations: 29th-30th October 2011

There was a time when the teams at the Premier League summit would go into matches against one another exercising caution and contesting dull, cagey low scoring encounters that did nothing to back up the claim that the English top flight is "The Best League in the World". However, all that seems to have changed this season. Who would have thought at just a quarter of the way through the campaign we would have seen the kind of jaw-dropping, pinch yourself, lay off the LSD type of scorelines from the head-to-heads between the top clubs? Manchester City have demolished crosstown rivals and current champions United. They also went to White Hart Lane and tore Champions League hopefuls Tottenham a new one. Spurs themselves responded to that beating by giving Liverpool something of a pasting.

Then there's Arsenal. A truly disastrous start to the season was compounded with a miserable afternoon at Old Trafford. The astounding 8-2 set back against Manchester United was less a football match but more a kind of snuff film. Going into this weekend's game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, not many people would have given them a prayer. I'm willing to bet that, to a man, every single Arsenal supporter on the planet would have taken a draw if offered on Friday evening. But alas, this unpredictable mistress that we call football pulls another surprise from of her bag of tricks in the form of the Gunners' astonishing 5-3 victory.

One of the many criticisms levelled at Arsenal over the weeks (years?) concerns a supposed lack of leadership. If Robin van Persie's umpteenth barnstorming performance and subsequent hat-trick are not considered a form of leadership then you're going to have to sit me down in a classroom and have a qualified teacher tell me what is. He may not be the 'shouter' that we are told every team worth their salt requires but by God does he lead by example. His latest treble made it 28 goals in 27 league matches this calendar year. If other players in the Arsenal team could find a level of consistency anywhere near that, then the team would be in far better shape that it currently finds itself.

One player in particular whose general performances are about as random as a bag of licorice allsorts is Theo Walcott. Having had something of a hit and miss season (career?), young Theo reserved his best showing for Saturday when he gave Ashley Cole more problems than a hairdresser with a kiss and tell story. His contribution to the scoresheet was something special too.

Having gone behind twice and then allowing Chelsea to equalise at 3-3, It was a surprising turn up for the books to see the Arsenal team stand firm and show rare but tremendous character to win the match so emphatically. Especially given the frequency of humiliating collapses that have occurred far, far too often in recent years. The win puts them just 3 points behind their vanquished opponents and, whisper it, back on course to challenge for a top four finish.

Since that fateful day in Manchester, talk of the club's supposed demise have filled more column inches in the Sports media than anything else. The number of back page leads declaring a crisis at the Emirates would probably exceed the number of journalists employed to write them.

What has gone unnoticed it would seem is the fact that since a befuddling 4-3 setback at Blackburn, the supposedly beleaguered Arsene Wenger has now led his team to 8 wins in 9 games in three competitions. If that's a crisis, 95% of football teams must be in complete meltdown.

More so than most teams, discussion of Arsenal falls foul of that lazy way of observing football whereby if something isn't fantastic then by default it must be complete shit. No other club is spoken of in such black and white terms and we're all guilty of it. The football is always described as 'wonderful' even when it isn't. The youth policy is always described as a success even when things go a bit Jérémie Aliadière. On the flip side, failure to win a trophy for a few years apparently means that the whole club needs rebuilding from the top down. People also draw the conclusion that selling player X automatically means the club is in freefall. Arsene Wenger is either a genius or a clown. They MUST buy or they MUST not. There is very rarely middle ground. Nobody in Islington will pretend that all is rosy in the Arsenal garden but the apocalyptic headlines that have been written about the club this season have bordered on absurd. The team have definitely started to show signs of turning that mythical corner.

Admittedly, the recent good run hadn't exactly seen them take on the cream of world football and they have been blessed with a number of home matches so when people spoke of a trip to Stamford Bridge being a 'true test' of any supposed Arsenal revival, the point was most certainly a valid one especially given that their last league win on the road was waaaaaay back against relegated Blackpool in the spring.

Not only did they pass the test, but they pretty much received top marks. It's not quite time to proclaim the second coming of the Invincibles but it might make one two people think twice before writing eulogies for the North Londoners.

Of course, one thing that still seems inescapable are the prevalent frailties in defence. Arsenal's makeshift backline was typically far from secure. Andre Santos, Per Mertesaker and Johan Djourou had a torrid time of it on Saturday lunchtime and were culpable for at least two of the three goals conceded and made a number of other laughable mistakes throughout.

However, if this is an accusation you can lay at the door of the Arsenal team, what then does one say about Chelsea? The Blues conceded five at home. FIVE! An unthinkable scenario in recent years. Since their Abramovich-funded ascension up the table, one thing you could always say about Chelsea was that they were built on a solid defensive base. All that seems to have gone straight out of the window because right now, they look a complete mess. In Jose Mourinho's first year in charge, they conceded a miserly 15 Premier League goals all season. They've conceded that many in just 10 games this year. Last week, our learned friends in the football media pointed the collective finger at the erratic David Luiz. This week the Brazilian wasn't in the side which would suggest that there is something wrong with new manager Andre Villas-Boas' tactical approach which, while very exciting going forward, evidently leaves them far too vulnerable at the back. The personnel hasn't changed but it's obvious they are playing a far more open game than they are used to.

If they are to make waves domestically and challenge for the ever-elusive Champions League crown in Europe, something needs to be done to shore things up because the ease at which Arsenal were able to slice them open time and time again, is something that will encourage any half decent side Chelsea will face between now and the end of the season.

All that said, I'm sure I speak for most people when I say that John Terry falling on his face for Arsenal's all important fourth goal filled me with great joy and wonderful, wonderful feelings of schadenfreude. Karma is a bitch, isn't it, John?

Away from West London, it was a pretty unremarkable weekend in the Premier League (I write this before the inevitable 6-6 draw between Stoke and Newcastle on Monday night...). Spurs and Liverpool both won as expected against QPR and West Brom respectively. Gareth Bale appeared to have made Sky's Super Sunday panel simultaneously climax as he scored an impressive brace for the former in comfortable 3-1 win that taught us nothing. Meanwhile, my love-hate relationship with the odious and despicable Luis Suarez continued as he put in another scintillating showing in the Scouse side's 2-0 win at the Hawthorns.

Special shouts to Norwich and Swansea who continue to perform above expectations. Blackburn's draw at Carrow Road was the only point picked up by either them, Bolton or Wigan in the bottom three. Things could and should have been better for Rovers who were cruising at 3-1 and were very unfortunate to have a last minute penalty awarded against them as the match ended 3-3. It almost makes you feel sorry for Steve Kean... almost!

People looking for a 'reaction' from Manchester United after their pummelling last weekend may well have been left disappointed after the reds laboured to a Javier Hernandez inspired 1-0 win over Everton. People spoke before the game as though Sir Fergie's team would show up at Goodison Park and tear the Toffees to shreds. Or more fittingly, chew them up and spit them. That was never going to realistically happen but more important than achieving a 'big' win was just getting any sort of win at all. As an added bonus, United kept a clean sheet a huge and significant achievement given the many question marks over their defence.

Keeping pace at the top of the table, City beat Wolves fairly comfortably for the second time in a week without really breaking a sweat and despite being reduced to ten men. If you're wondering whether that is down to how good City are or how much Wolves are struggling at present, I can confidently and lazily state that it's both.


Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal
Everton 0-1 Manchester United
Manchester City 3-1 Wolves
Norwich 3-3 Blackburn
Sunderland 2-2 Aston Villa
Swansea 3-1 Bolton
Wigan 0-2 Fulham
West Brom 0-2 Liverpool

Tottenham 3-1 QPR

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Monday, 24 October 2011

Too Sixy for his shirt - Super Mario's Fire Power downs United: Weekend Observations - 22nd-23rd October 2011

Far be it from me to make almost ludicrous and churlish comparisons between football and genuinely serious world events but isn't it peculiar that for the second time in less than a week a long standing dominant, repressive regime has been toppled and a perceived benevolent dictator toppled and humiliated in his own back yard as a new ruling force comes into power? For Libya, see Manchester. For Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, see Sir Alex Ferguson. For the NTC, see Manchester City. As Libyan rebels took control of pro-Gaddafi stronghold Sirte this past Thursday, the Blues similarly marched into the impregnable fortress that is Old Trafford, where the home side had won 24 of their previous 25 matches, and came away with an emphatic 6-1 victory over the champions that probably had Fergie wishing he was hiding in a drainage pipe on the outskirts of Salford.

The United manager proclaimed afterward that it had been his worst day in football and you would be hard pressed to argue. The result was the reds' biggest defeat on home soil since 1955 and the first time United had conceded six goals at home since before the second world war (1930). More stats you ask? City's biggest away derby win in 85 years, first time City have scored 6 in a derby since 1926 and the scoreline also equals the biggest margin in Manchester derby win. When I was younger I saw a rampant Man Utd side destroy City 5-0 at Old Trafford. Never in a million years did I ever think I would see that reversed.

The massacre began with a goal from headline magnet Super Mario Balotelli who was in the news less than 24 hours earlier thanks to his premature Guy Fawkes celebrations going somewhat awry. After opening the score with a deft finish following great work by James Milner, mad Mario nonchalantly lifted his top to reveal a t-shirt emblazoned with the now famous question “WHY ALWAYS ME?”. Whether there is an answer that doesn't require the services of an entire team of mental health professionals, I cannot say for sure but I think I speak for most people when I say, I hope it continues to be 'always you', Mario.

The Italian grabbed a second after the break before Sergio Aguero, David Silva and two from substitute Edin Dzeko all made sure that the trip back to Surrey for the Old Trafford faithful would be a long and painful one. Darren Fletcher arguably scored the goal of the game by way of a response but it proved to be totally inconsequential.

The blues looked magical at times with the unplayable David Silva pulling the kind of tricks that would make Derren Brown look like Tommy Cooper. The little Spaniard put in one of the all time great Premier League performances and for my money, was the indisputable man of the match in team that had so many others playing so fantastically well. Micah Richards played like a man possessed both defending against Ashley Young and getting forward to contribute in attacks. James Milner was dominant in the midfield while Vincent Kompany put in a typically assured performance at the back. Even Joleyon Lescott looked like a competent defender for the most part.

It was always inevitable given their resources, that when this team got it together they would prove the toughest of nuts to crack but few envisioned that they could pull out a performance as jaw-dropping as this this against their nearest and dearest. The win leaves the expensively assembled cash rich Citizens now five points clear at the top of the table. After a result like this, it is difficult to see how anyone else is going to be able to keep pace with a squad so strong in every department as well as in reserve. Just think, the likes of Nigel de Jong and Samir Nasri weren't even needed at Old Trafford. That said, we all know that trophies aren't handed out in October so it would be tantamount to stupidity to declare them as champions elect at this stage.

Similarly, you'd be a fool of gargantuan proportions to write off their vanquished opponents. Anyone with even a passing interest in football knows that you dismiss United at your peril. As supporters of other teams, it is our right, nay, our DUTY to enjoy their humiliation, rub it in their faces as much as is humanly possible, and ridicule them until our throats are hoarse because deep down, we all know that we don't get the opportunity all that often. Let us not forget that off the back of previous thumpings, Sir Alex's teams have rallied and come back strong. 5-0 defeats in 1996 and 1999 by Newcastle and Chelsea respectively were followed by title wins in the same season as was the 4-1 setback against Liverpool in 2009. The Red Devils' powers of recovery would put Wolverine to shame.

However, it is all too simplistic to use these previous examples to suggest that things will be the same this time around. Firstly, as stated, the strength of City team is like no other and would require a Lindsey Lohan style self-destruction to balls things up this season. Secondly, and most importantly, you have to seriously question how good this United side actually is. In the end, six was actually generous on a United defence that continues to look about as secure as James Cordon's belt buckle. The reds have conceded an average of 20 shots to the opposition per game at home in just five outings this season. To put that into perspective, the bottom three Blackburn (15), Wigan (16) and Bolton (17) have all allowed visiting teams less shots per game on average (Stats courtesy of The fact that City enjoyed so much freedom in the attacking third will be no surprise to anyone who saw United get away with it against Cheslea and Norwich where the profligacy of the opposition did as much to contribute to victories as anything the home side did.

Constant changes in personal at the back haven't helped one bit but the questionable form of the players that have been called upon is a massive worry. The less said about Rio Ferdinand's current state, the better. Against City, one could argue that the scoreline may not have been so bad had Johnny Evans not been dismissed at 1-0 but let's be honest, Evans only has himself and his glaring limitations as a defender to blame for his red card.

Evan at that stage, you would expect a team of United's stature to show something in the way of caution and damage limitation against such a potent attack. Mind you, without any protection from an increasingly powerpuff midfield, the defence is always going to be in trouble. The likes of Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Gibson etc are simply not up to the standard of a top class club. Looking at the midfield's of Barca, Madrid, Chelsea and of course City, United falls well, well short and must improve drastically in this area if they want to continue to consider themselves in this upper echelon of football teams.

With great reluctance, I've long since extolled the virtues of Manchester United and unashamedly reeled off clichés about their ability to 'dig deep', having a will to win, not knowing when they are beat and possessing a winning mentality that all of Sheik Mansour's billions wouldn't be able to buy. However, none of this was evident against City as they imploded in such a horrific fashion it could have reduced small children to tears. In a local derby too, that is just not acceptable.

We all expect United to 'bounce back' but let's not take it as given this time around.

Also on Sunday, another derby took place down in my working locale of West London as Chelsea went to QPR for the first time in the Premier League in some 15 years. To the surprise of pretty much everybody, the Superhoops won 1-0 but the scoreline failed to tell the story of another eventful, if poor, match. The only goal was scored when the increasingly erratic David Luiz inexplicably fouled Heidar Helguson in the box before the Icelandic dusted himself down to convert the resulting penalty. The end of the scoring, but far from the end of the incident as Chelsea had Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba sent off before half time and had to play the entire second 45 with just nine men. I can't be sure of another occasion when a result has ever reflected so badly on the winning team. QPR, despite a two man advantage were abject and created very little. Neil Warnock's team seemed to want to play on the counter attack but a general lack of quality throughout the team meant every attack broke down. To their credit, Chelsea were by far the better side for the remainder of the match. They dominated possession, carved out a number of chances and most certainly deserved something for their troubles including a nailed on penalty that ought to have been awarded when Frank Lampard was fouled by Fitz Hall.

After the game, Andres Villas-Boas had a massive whinge about the referee Chris Foy who for once, actually had a decent game bar the Lampard penalty appeal. There can be no complaints about either dismissal. Bosingwa prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity and Drogba's tackle was two-footed and dangerous. End of. However, it does say a great deal about the standard of Foy's usual refereeing that only getting ONE decision wrong is reason for praise.
Ultimately, the result is a huge upset but one that almost goes under the radar thanks to the events in Manchester.

Another talking point from the match was England Captain John Terry apparently being caught on camera racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. The England Captain supposedly shouted that Ferdinand is a “fucking black cunt”. If the England Captain did say this, then I'm sure I'm not the wouldn't be surprised. We all know exactly what kind of person the England Captain is. Some typically blinkered Chelsea fans who fail to realise they worship a complete scumbag, have tried to suggest the England Captain was in fact 'only' calling the referee a “fucking BLIND cunt” as if that is acceptable. Even if this was the case, it's good to see the Captain of England in full support of the FA's RESPECT campaign.

However, having seen the video myself, I have to say that nothing is conclusive although my actual first thought was that he was in fact saying “fucking PIKEY cunt” to Paddy Kenny after a clash between the two. Still pretty offensive.

Terry himself has said it was a misunderstanding but he's hardly likely to say anything else, is he?

I would provide a link to draw your own conclusions but it of course the damning evidence can no longer be found. Presumably after the Premier League Stasi had it removed.

Elsewhere in London, Arsenal started to look something like their old selves beating Stoke 3-1 and playing with a kind of swagger that hasn't been seen at the Emirates for quite some time. That said, it was against a team that seems allergic to keeping possession. The frightfully prolific Robin van Persie, who was rested from the starting line up, came off the bench and scored the two decisive goals. Gervinho, who had his best game since signing in the summer, set up both the Dutchman's strikes after himself scoring the first. Peter Crouch had scrambled in an equaliser but it proved irrelevant. Whether the gunners are 'back' remains to be seen but they seem to be turning something of a corner following an absolutely wretched start to the campaign. The big test comes next weekend at Stamford Bridge but 5 wins in their last 6 should put them in good stead going into that encounter.

North London rivals Tottenham predictably beat Blackburn at Ewood Park (amid more protests against the hapless Steve Kean) with their own Dutch hero Rafael van Der Vaart grabbing a brace and keeping Spurs well on course to grab that much sought after last Champions League place. That said, it would be thoroughly disrespectful to a still-unbeaten Newcastle who beat Wigan to consolidate fourth spot on Saturday.

Other fourth place hopefuls Liverpool huffed and puffed but could not get the better of the Canaries of Norwich in Saturday evening's 1-1 draw at Anfield. Having dominated the game pretty much from start to finish, the final result was a travesty but quite simply, if you don't put away presentable chances then you don't win football matches. Grant Holt's equaliser in front of the Kop may not have been deserved but it was suitable punishment for the home side's comical wastefulness. I'm sure I'm not the only person in the country who laughed heartily as £35m uber-donkey Andy Carroll sent his stoppage time header to win the game wide of the target. Luis Suarez, for all his quality, must be disappointed with his conversion rate as he certainly doesn't score as many goals as his ability deserves. 'King' Kenny, without irony it would seem, made a point of discussing the need for protection for his diving cheat of a striker but would be better served getting the Uruguayan to spend a few more hours at Melwood practising his finishing.

Merseyside rivals Everton finally had something to smile about after beating Fulham 3-1 in a match that will be remembered a great Fulham goal and a great Fulham miss. Bryan Ruiz opened his his account for the Whites with a delicious chip that will go some way to be bettered this season and left the home fans in raptures. Their joy sadly turned to despair as Bobby Zamora missed a last minute chance to win the game by smashing the ball into the Thames when it would have been easier to score. Everton immediately went up the other end to score not one, but two goals to rub salt into the Fulham wounds. The worst thing about this is the fact that people STILL believe that Zamora should play for England.

Finally, the furious West Midlands derby between Aston Villa and West Brom was not going to pass without incident. For the record, Chris Herd's sending off was a joke. The fact that Chris Brunt took one of the worst penalties ever seen was a measure of justice. That said, Alan Hutton should have walked for a scandalous tackle on Shane Long that could have easily crippled the Albion man. It baffles me how stupid football people are when they think they can justify dangerous play by saying things like 'he played the ball'. Hutton's disgusting tackle is proof as if any is needed that winning the ball does not mean that a tackle isn't reckless. A foul isn't negated by winning the ball and I wish people like Alex McLiseh among others, could actually understand that.



Aston Villa 1-2 West Brom
Bolton 0-2 Sunderland
Liverpool 1-1 Norwich
Newcastle 1-0 Wigan
Wolves 2-2 Swansea

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke
Blackburn 1-2 Tottenham
Fulham 1-3 Everton
Man Utd 1-6 (six) Man City
QPR 1-0 Chelsea

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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Derby Daze - Weekend Observations 1st-2nd October 2011

The major talking point of the Premier League this weekend came in the early kick off on Saturday and the so-called 'Friendly' Merseyside derby between the Blues of Everton and the reds of Liverpool at Goodison Park. These games are often quite close but on the occasion the game was over as context when referee Martin Atkinson chose to dismiss Everton's Jack Rodwell for having the temerity to execute the perfect slide tackle during the first half. Of course the pathetic reaction of Luis Suarez didn't help the Everton player but you didn't even need two working eyes to see that his ball winning slide was clean. Atkinson was right on top of it too so you wonder how he came to the baffling conclusion that Rodwell had to walk. Refereeing incompetence at it's finest. After his whinging about officials in weeks gone by, 'King' Kenny's silence after this terrible decision spoke volumes.

A word on Suarez. I feel so conflicted when I watch him. On one hand, A glorious footballer that we are privileged to have gracing our league - and so he proved with yet another well taken goal in this game - but on the other, a filthy, disgusting cheat. The whole world saw the diving and feigning injury for both Rodwell's red card and a missed Dirk Kuyt penalty later in the half. The fact we all saw it (aside from a minority of idiotic Liverpool fans inexplicably defending their man) and generally agree that his behaviour was not acceptable should be all the evidence needed for the authorities to start handing out retrospective punishments for this type of thing.

As I said, with a beleaguered Everton a man down, Liverpool went on to win 2-0. Most humiliating for the Toffees was the fact they allowed even Andy Carroll to score despite playing like a lame horse for the most part. The reds were able to secure their second away win of the season. Curiously enough, the victory was only attained after the opposition had been reduced to 10 men – exactly the same circumstances as their only other win on the road at Arsenal. The win keeps them 5th in the table.

The only other talking point in the game was the moronic Everton fans who felt throwing objects at Liverpool was acceptable. If this had taken place in Europe, we'd all be screaming blue murder (no pun intended). The club has since said they would take 'firm action' against any guilty party and so they should. If you can't enjoy football without being able to control your emotions then you certainly shouldn't be able to allowed to watch the sport around other people.

More fan shame in the other big derby of the weekend at White Hart Lane where fan chants have seemingly taken up more column inches than the football. Some Arsenal fans were quite vocal in their feelings towards their former striker Emmaual Adebayor who now wears the white of arch rivals Tottenham. I'm all for a bit of 'banter' at football but I think singing about how you wish somebody was shot and killed in a tragic incident that actually saw innocent people lose their lives, then, regardless of who you support, you are a fucking idiot. Although, the condemnation from 'Arry was a bit precious given the fact Spurs fans were themselves guilty of giving the Togo international years of abuse before he became one of their own. I guess selective hearing meant that he didn't hear the home fans calling the Arsenal manager a 'pedophile' (and not for the first time either). Let's also not forget the fact that the wheeler dealer himself previously condemned the Tottenham faithful for their very own 'filthy' abuse aimed at a certain Sol Campbell some years back.

Both clubs have made a joint statement promising to root out any culprits and ban them for life. A noble sentiment but I seriously doubt it can be enforced with such large numbers involved. Games behind closed doors is the only solution in my most humble of opinions. Not ideal I admit but having the same tedious conversations whenever people chant about Hilsborough, Munich and the like is beginning to grate. The idiots only ever learn if you take away their ability to go to games. Of course, it is a completely unworkable idea. You would have to be very naive to believe that any club will ever accept this a solution due to the masses of revenue they will lose. Given that we are all aware that football as a whole cares more about making money than stamping out these problems then you have to wonder why any of us waste our breath even talking about it.

Anyway... the match itself saw Tottenham secure only a second home league win against Arsenal since 1999. The score that day was 2-1, as it was in 2010 and Spurs won by the same scoreline yet again on this occasion as goals from Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker gave Spurs a fourth successive league win and condemned Arsenal to fourth defeat in just seven games this season.

The result came a day after the Arsene Wenger celebrated the 15th years in charge of the gunners. At no point during that decade and half could one ever really doubt the at times embarrassing superiority Arsenal had over Spurs. Wenger has faced no less that eight different Tottenham managers since arriving from Japan in 1996 and only once during that long period was he side ever at risk of finishing below the team from Haringey. It seems a bizarre coincidence that this anniversary signalled something of a dynamic shift. You'd be hard-pressed to find a gooner with his head buried so deep in the sand that would argue against the fact Spurs look the better of the two teams right now and even at this early stage, are well placed to end the season well ahead of their arch rivals. Of course, the comical injury situation at the Emirates has played it's part but it has merely served to show how weak they are beyond their first XI. Man for man, you'd be looking to Tottenham High Road rather than Finsbury Park for the better all-round squad.

Arsenal didn't actually start that badly and on another day van der Vaart's goal could and should have been ruled out for handball. However, Wenger's better teams of years gone by would only considered this a minor inconvenience before re-establishing their dominance. As we have seen time and time again in recent years, the current side are totally incapable of responding to set backs. A fact punctuated by the total lack of attacking endeavour in the time remaining following Walker's stunning winner. There is a lazy regurgitated assumption that they 'lack leaders' but when you watch them surrender games so meekly, there is little else to say.

I don't care enough about the Clive Allen-Wenger spat to comment on it by the way.

Another team who suffered a derby day defeat were QPR who were on the wrong end of a 6-0 lashing by a Fulham side that looked like world beaters in spells. Yes, Neil Warnock's team were pretty shocking but some of the Fulham football was outstanding. Had Barcelona played like the West London Whites, you wouldn't be able to walk for all the sticky stuff in your underpants.

The link up play between hat trick hero Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora was at times quite delicious with the former looking to re-establish himself as something of a ruthless goal-getter after some years in the wilderness thanks to injury and the like. Goals from Clint Dempsey, Danny Murphy and Zamora himself completed the rout. After an indifferent start to the season, this sort of win is exactly what was needed at the Cottage. I've never had any doubts that Martin Jol is going to do a decent job down by the Thames.

The other team from that part of the world had an equally comprehensive victory. Chelsea went to the Reebok and tore Bolton Wanderers a new one in a 5-1 hammering that actually flattered the awful home side who prop up the table with 6 defeats from 7 and a goal difference of minus 12. Despite this, people still talk favourably of Owen Coyle like he's the sliced bread of management or something. His record with the Trotters has been nothing short of appalling and had he been anyone other than the likeable media-friendly Scot who is actually well-intentioned in his belief in how to play the game, you imagine he would have been handed his P45 already. People will point to their tough start and the fact that the fixture computer wasn't exactly kind to them having had to face Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea in the opening weeks and to an extent I would agree. However, the manner of some of these defeats has been unacceptable.

We all know Bolton are a tiny football club in terms of resources, stature, location and support but cruicially, since returning to the Premier League over a decade ago, they had always been notoriously hard to beat. A trip to the Reebok has always been a potential banana skin and even when welcoming them to your place, you know you are in for a frustrating time. This was the way under Sam Allardyce for years and dare I say it, even Gary Megson's teams provided a sterner test to opposition teams. Under Coyle however, their all too open and inviting approach exposes their obvious limitations and allows any half decent side to pick them off at will. The sheer quantity of goals they concede is astonishing.

In the Chelsea game, many will focus on the terrible performance of Adam Bogdan in goal but let's be fair, his defence offered him no protection whatsoever – even “past it” Frank Lampard managed a hat-trick! The real test for Owen Coyle comes in the next few weeks when the fixtures are slightly kinder but if they are still floating in around the wrong end of the table come Christmas then serious questions will need to be asked of the manager. The first being why he is so highly thought of if he cannot rouse his team from their current state of malaise which, let's be brutally honest, is a continuation of a poor end to last season too.

There is a similar narrative at Lancashire neighbours Blackburn where a once hardened outfit are no more than a sad, unfunny joke. This weekend, the hapless Steve Kean sent out a team to bend over for Manchester City. A team whose continued improvement was further emphasised by the fact they were able to do the very un-City-like thing of sweeping aside the controversies of last week and responding with an emphatic 4-0 victory. Adam Johnson, Samir Nasri and Stefan Savic all scored their first goals of the season but yet again the main talking point centred around a hot-headed, controversial striker. Of course, this time it was all positive as Super Mario Balotelli scored his third goal in a fortnight for the Blues. Since his arrival last summer, very little talk of Balotelli has centred around his football. Such is the frequency of some crazy off-field antic he is involved in that many would have been forgiven for thinking he was only signed to provide entertainment as some sort of comic sideshow to the football. People are actually scratching their heads in bewilderment as they realise he is actually a half decent player and yet another vital cog in this seemingly unstoppable Manchester City machine powering it's way through the Premier League.

The timing of this apparent blossoming from Balotelli could not be better given the Carlos Tevez affair and the fact Sergio Aguero may be waylaid with injury over the coming weeks. Now that the Italian is getting game time, one would expect he won't be so 'bored' and might actually go on to be the quality player that so many have touted him to be.

Neighbours Manchester United won 2-0 against a Norwich City team that were unfortunate not to actually beat their more illustrious opponents. The Canaries were almost given the freedom of Old Trafford, creating chance after chance but fluffing their lines at the crucial moment, time and time again. Anderson and Danny Welbeck sealed win but the goals did not tell the full story. The United defence hasn't looked convincing at any point this season and how they kept a clean sheet this past weekend is a mystery to one and all. A more clinical Chelsea team would have put them to the sword a few weeks back, Stoke caused all kinds of problems last week while Basel's draw in midweek owed much to the these obvious weaknesses in the United back line. Johnny Evans looks so far out of depth he might have to start playing with an inflatable rubber ring around his waist while Rio Ferdinand could easily be mistaken for his inept brother Anton these days. Summer signing Phil Jones' tenacity and attacking intent masks some very big defensive flaws to his game. It's difficult to criticise a team that is still top of the league and flying but I think it would be crazy to ignore the problems at the back. If things do not improve, it's only a matter of time before they are caught out.

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