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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