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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Rauanq said...

Err Spurs beat Arsenal 2-1 last to last season as well. Danny Rose did a Walker back then.

Ibrahim Mustapha said...

Christ! That's the kind of idiotic factually incorrect oversight that generally means that no-one reads this nonsense. Edited now. No harm done...