Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Spured On - Weekend Observations : 28th September - 1st October

Game of the weekend
Manchester United 2-3 Tottenham

It's almost become something of an accepted fact in English football that a trip to Old Trafford for Tottenham is something of a wasted journey. Without a win up there in over 2 decades, the only reason the Tottenham faithful have had any good reason to head up the M6 is seemingly to indulge in masochism as their side are only ever likely to endure some sort of humiliating defeat or witness repeated refereeing injustices that are often as laughable as they are infuriating. Ryan Giggs' sister-in law doesn't get screwed as regularly in Manchester as Spurs do.

However, recent years have seen the North Londoners go through something of a revolution and have found themselves flying up the table. At best an inconsistent and at worst a mediocre team, for a good while Tottenham were marooned in mid table obscurity with a penchant for the odd act of self harm - particularly against United. Now, they find themselves in the Premier League's upper echelon harboring not unrealistic expectations of competing in the Champions League regularly. This status firmly enshrined with a unexpected and historic 3-2 victory over Manchester United on Saturday.

This victory was far from fortunate either. Jan Vertonghen wasted no time setting the tone for what was a brilliant first half performance with his deflected first minute strike before Gareth Bale provided the perfect 'football reason' for Roy Hodgson to justify Rio Ferdinand's continued exclusion from the England set up. Not for the first time this season, United were being outplayed and struggled to get anywhere near an inspired Tottenham team who certainly didn't play like a team with a 23 year hoodoo hanging over their collective heads.

After Spurs controlled the first 45 minutes, the expected fightback from United inevitably came after the break but three goals in as many manic minutes when both sides simply said 'fuck tactics' saw the away side take a 3-2 lead. Despite numerous chances for the home side and a couple of penalty appeals, that was how it stayed and as the final whistle echoed around Salford, both Spurs and new manager Andre Villas-Boas were able to party like it was 1989.

Speaking of whom, the win was an emphatic way for the Portuguese manager to go some way towards answering back to his many critics. One of the recently adopted and accepted maxims, although one that seems solely to exist within the tabloid press, is that the club's decision to replace 'Arry Redknapp with Villas Boas was the wrong one. And that's being polite. Reading many of the papers over the last few months and you'd be forgiven for getting the impression that Redknapp was some kind of managerial sage with wisdom of Socrates while AVB was/is no better than... well, David Brent.

The fact Villas Boas has both won a domestic title in his native land as well as a European trophy (neither of which Redknapp has even came close to achieving) apparently went unnoticed in some quarters and attempts to undermine him have been frequent and persistent ever since he set foot in this country. A fleeting, albeit disastrous spell at Chelsea at the start of last season has created the false image that he is somehow some sort of clueless oaf who has no business managing in the Premier League. However, despite 'Arry's high finishes with Spurs over the last three seasons, it wouldn't be unfair to argue that the last six months of his tenure, when he somehow guided his team from touching distance of the top of the table to complete failure to qualify for the Champions League after spunking away a huge lead, was far, far worse than the failings of AVB at Stamford Bridge. Yet rather than being subject to scrutiny within the sports media for this catastrophe, Redknapp was protected has been able to emerge completely blameless for his failings. Meanwhile AVB continues to be crufified. Consequently, the conclusion is that he doesn't 'deserve' to manage Tottenham. Maybe victory at Old Trafford might allow people time to reassess him.

Of course, this result by no means suggests Villas-Boas will prove to be the second coming of Bill Nicholson but talks of crisis beforehand and the absurd notion that was touted just two weeks ago was that he was three games from being sacked just looks ever more daft in light of the win. Instead, the three successive league wins that have followed might want to make the agenda driven cynics wait a little while before penning absurdly premature obituaries.

As for United, they were once again nowhere near best this season and this match showed that continued decay their midfield seems to be accelerating at a rapid rate. Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey - the latter scoring what proved to be the winner - were both instrumental for Tottenham and you have to wonder why Sir Alex Ferguson failed to even look at either player over the summer. Each would certainly be an improvement on what is there already.

Player of the weekend
Luis Suarez.

Norfolk must be sick of the sight of the Uruguayan after he scored he second hat trick in successive seasons at Carrow Road as Liverpool put Norwich to the sword with a devastating 5-2 demolition job on Saturday.

Persistent diving, racial abuse, harassing referees. Like him or loathe him (and I make no secret of the fact it's the latter...) you'd be an imbecile to attempt to deny his ability as a player. That said, for all the fleet-footed dribbling, dazzling movement and the unrivaled way he is able create chances for himself out of absolutely nothing, questions still remain over his finishing. 11 league goals from 128 shots last season is hardly a reflection of a forward who is exactly clinical in front of goal. What people say if those were Emile Heskey's numbers?

But alas, throw enough darts and you'll eventually win the lottery (or something. I'm no good with metaphors...). Some very generous Norwich defending provided Suarez with the freedom of East Anglia and he duly obliged with a trio of well taken goals that has gone some way to lifting the doom and gloom that was making itself somewhat comfortable at the club like some unwanted house guest in recent weeks. If Suarez can continue in this vein, Brendan Rodgers might actually crack a smile sometime this side of new year.

Goal of the weekend
Adel Taarabt

I already had this section written up about Demba Ba's excellent volley at Reading until QPR's Moroccan midfielder had to go and spoil everything in Monday evening's London derby against West Ham with a stunning strike that had no place in an otherwise in a strangely watchable game devoid of any real quality. Having been reduced to something of a bit part player this year, Taarabt wasted little time after coming on as a substitute, using his quick feet to create space on the left hand corner of the penalty area before unleashing a vicious but precise strike into the top right hand corner leaving Jussi Jaaskelainen in the West Ham goal rooted to the spot.

Sadly it proved to be nothing more than a consolation - merely halving teh two goal deficit the Hammers had already established. The 2-1 defeat has The Hoops floundering at the foot of the table and with Mark Hughes' team selections continuing to baffle there seems to be little reason to suggest that will change in the coming weeks.

Dive(s) of the weekend
David Luiz/Carl Jenkinson

In direct contrast to QPR, West London rivals Chelsea made themselves comfortable at the top of the table thanks to 2-1 defeat of Arsenal at the Emirates. The blues were good value for their victory but their Brazilian defender single-handedly attempted to blot their copybook with a dive so bad it was hilarious. Rather than ride a perfectly fair tackle by Arsenal's own clown in chief Gervinho, Luiz instead proceeded to throw himself to the ground in both dramatic and comical fashion in a manner befitting of his hapless animated doppelganger Sideshow Bob. Thankfully the referee saw fit to yellow card Luiz for his troubles.

Not be outdone, Arsenal full back Carl Jenkinson later decided he wanted to get up close and personal with the beautiful Emirates turf he somehow managed to win a foul after losing a 50-50 challenge with thin air and going over his own feet.

Miss of the weekend
Oliver Giroud

The same game saw Arsenal superflop Olivier Giroud find his way onto this list after fluffing a fantastic chance in the dying moments of the game to salvage a draw for his side. Having latched onto a fine pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Frenchman found himself with the ball at his feet, took it past Petr Cech and fashioned the opportunity to slide home a golden chance that would preserved the Gunners' unbeaten start to the league campaign. Sadly, when the vital moment came, Giroud showed all the composure of newborn foal and all the technique of a Parkinson's sufferer trying to play Jenga as he inexplicably lashed his shot into the side netting when hitting the target would have been easier.

I hope you can forgive the damn near radical thinking on my part, but I don't think I'm wrong in thinking that a striker should really be able to put the ball into that rather large white stationary netted box thing at the end of the pitch. Given that others strikers Nikica Jelavic, Steven Fletcher, Mladen Petric, Sergio Agureo, Edin Dzeko, the abovementioned Luis Suarez, Steve Morison, Grant Holt, Demba Ba, Noel Hunt, Shane Long, Darren Bent and, hell, even Fernando Torres managed to find the target this weekend suggests I'm not crazy for having that view. Although on the evidence of this miss, it might be stretching it to actually believe that Giroud can strictly be called a striker.

His own manager, seemingly as baffled as anyone watching, couldn't actually find a reason as to how his misfit frontman failed to hit the back of the net.

Giroud has yet score for Arsenal in the league and is perhaps coming to terms with the change of environment. For some players it takes time and maybe he'll come good one day but there is little room for extended periods of patience in the modern game. When you join a club to replace the best striker in Europe the previous season, you need to hit the ground running. Right now, he's just looking like a bit of an expensive mistake.

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