10 November, 2008

Gameweek 11 – The Fallen

Greetings faithful following and a somewhat delayed weekend review, as is becoming the custom these days unfortunately. But it is worth reading, I assure you!

Anyway, plenty of goals, shocks and last-minute drama this week as the league has been once again been given an all-mighty shake. We start as ever with the top dogs, and defending champions Manchester United appeared to be giving new boys Hull a lesson in class with an hour on the clock, leading 4 – 1, before the ever-spirited Tigers fought back to get within touch distance of an equaliser before the final whistle blew.

No such trouble for Chelsea though, who continued their imperious form against a Sunderland side who were frankly awful, for the second time in four days. Anelka bagged a hat-trick without actually doing anything, and in all honesty 5 – 0 flattered Sunderland.

Arsenal’s bad week continued as well though, with Arsene Wenger’s side already sitting on three defeats after just 11 games. Stoke City swung the axe this time, as a cacophonous and hostile Britannia Stadium saw their heroes romp away to a 2 – 1 victory, while Wenger and his underpowered Gunners were left licking their wounds and complaining about the Potters physical approach.

UEFA cup hopefuls Everton bagged their first home win of the season against a flat Fulham side, but once again left it very late, with new signing Louis Saha netting against his old club. The Toffees are up to seventh in the table now, having played pretty terribly all season so far, but maybe things are finally starting to fall into place for David Moyes’ men.

Not a good week for the other teams realistically eying a top-6 finish however, as Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Manchester City flopped against supposedly-lower-grade opposition to continue their frustratingly uneven starts to the year. Controversy, as ever, surrounded Newcastle on Monday night, but they were more than worth their 2 – 0 win over Martin O’Neill’s fluctuating Villa. Portsmouth are in danger of self-destructing with Harry Redknapp’s departure, and in typically-awful conditions at Fratton Park, Wigan grabbed a last minute winner to steer them out of the relegation zone. Manchester City meanwhile can’t have any excuses for losing 2 – 0 to a scrappy Bolton side, as they really did not show up at the Reebok on Sunday. Maybe Robinho isn’t quite used to playing in freezing rain in front of 15,000 people quite yet.

The last couple of games then saw a couple of competitive draws between some potential relegation fodder. Blackburn left it late to equalise against West Brom, with former MK Dons man Keith Andrews marking his Premier League debut with a goal to thank Paul Ince for his leap of faith. Finally, Middlesbrough and West Ham shared the points in a pretty entertaining match that saw Boro keeper Ross Turnbull pull off a fantastic double save at the death to deny first Lee Bowyer and then Jack Collison.

Game of the Week – Tottenham vs Liverpool
Ok, the Man United game had the goals, and the Stoke game had the upset, but for sheer can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it drama, White Hart Lane was the place to be this weekend as the worm perhaps finally started to turn for Spurs. The title-chasing Liverpool took the lead after just three minutes through Dirk Kuyt, and looked to be cruising as the two teams traded midfield blows, until just before the 70-minute mark Jamie Carragher bizarrely headed into his own net. In the very last minute of the game then, with a draw looking a decent enough result for Tottenham, Russian prodigy Roman Pavlyuchenko turned home Darren Bent's cross to cap a wonderful victory, and send the home crowd into the stratosphere.

(Almost) Comeback of the Week – Hull
It’s rare that any team scores three at Old Trafford; in fact, the last side I remember doing it was Real Madrid the year they won the Champions League. Christ, I never thought I’d be comparing Hull to the Galacticos, but it’s been that kind of season so far hasn’t it? Anyway, at 4 – 1 down the Hull players would’ve been well within their rights to just crawl up in a corner and wait for it to end, but the belief Phil Brown has installed in them is admirable to say the least. Shock goals from Mendy and Geovanni set up an entertaining finish, but even in defeat this was far from a disgrace against the best team in Europe™.

Player of the Week – Rory Delap
Say what you want about Stoke and their tactics, but ultimately the history books will show that they beat Arsenal. What people have to understand is that, to survive, all teams must play to their strengths, and if you had a weapon like Delap’s throw in your locker then you’d be mad to not use it. To call him just a catapult does Delap a real disservice though, and anyone who watched the extended highlights over the weekend will realize that he, and Stoke as a whole, can actually play football too. On Saturday, he not only set-up both goals, but he was literally everywhere for 95 minutes, crowding the Arsenal midfield in possession and distributing the ball with class.

Here’s a nice and smug Stoke-compiled selection of Delap’s exploits this season to date then:

Goal of the Week – Ishmael Miller
Difficult one this weekend as no-one really scored anything outstanding, but for sheer individual skill the honour goes to West Brom forward Ishmael Miller for his side’s second against Blackburn. Gathering the ball on the edge of the box, he expertly turned his defender before smashing home a pin-point strike into the far corner past Paul Robinson.

Worst Goal of the Week – Seyi Olofinjana
We’re not trying to pick on Arsenal, but for sheer comedy, Stoke’s second is surely worthy of comment. Coming from (once again) one of those long-throws, Nigerian international Olofinjana seemed to sort of fall into Ryan Shawcross’ flick-on, half heading it and half chesting it through Almunia’s legs. As a wise man once said though: they all count.

Whinge of the Week – Arsene Wenger
Who else but the Emperor of Excuses, ‘Doctor’ Wenger. Rather than accept defeat and move on, he once again reeled out his usual barrel of finger-pointing and blinkered unacceptance. Unfortunately, it's exactly this level of ungracious whinging that turns everyone else in the country against Arsenal, despite the beauty of their passing football:

“Do you think Delap tried to play the ball when he tackled Walcott? Or that Shawcross tried to play the ball when he tackled Adebayor off the pitch?
“All I can say is they (Arsenal) are brave and, for me, you need to have more courage to play football when you know that someone is tackling you from behind without any intention to play the ball.

“If other teams are physical we can deal with that. We have just got to think of our own game and the way we play. If teams want to kick us we will deal with that and still come out on top. We will have to stick our foot in and tackle and then play our football when we have the ball.”

Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson offered this succinct rebuttal: “It’s probably sour grapes from Arsenal. If they can’t deal with the intimidating atmosphere and the way we play, that’s their problem, not ours.”

Accolade of the Week – Frank Lampard / Emile Heskey
These two chaps take a lot of stick, not just from STT but from the whole country if we’re honest. However, Frank Lampard and Emile Heskey both grabbed their 100th league career goals this weekend, and it is certainly a milestone for each worth celebrating.
Lampard did it with a header against Sunderland, which only confirmed his wonderful goal-scoring talents from midfield. Despite the mockery we dished out last season, it seems that this year Frank has remembered how to play, and has been instrumental alongside the magical Deco in Chelsea’s success, and also (whisper it) rising popularity.

Take nothing away from Heskey though, because he might not get 20 a season like some strikers, but he’s more than worth his place in virtually any team because of the work he does off the ball, the space he creates for other players. Just ask Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.


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