As is the way these days, Sunday seemed to be the focus of this weekend’s action, with four pretty entertaining games taking place, including the two big derbies. We’ll come back to the afternoon game in London later and instead start t’up north with the defending champions Manchester United. Having done the double over their local rivals last year, and on the back of a superb performance against Arsenal last weekend, I think everyone expected a bit more of a contest from the blue half of Manchester. City however didn’t really turn up until about an hour had passed, and even after that, rarely threatened Edwin van der Sar as United dug in after Ronaldo was dismissed for an unexplainable handball.
Elsewhere Tottenham and Blackburn’s relegation struggles continued, with Everton and Portsmouth respectively taking the points against them. Spurs failed to create much at home in a hard-fought game where chances were few and far between, before Pienaar popped up late on to fire a shot in off Corluka. Things were a bit more exciting down at Fratton Park though where Blackburn slumped to their fourth straight loss, despite a spirited second half comeback that saw them come from two goals behind. With Paul Ince finally looking almost buoyant though, Sean Davis glided into the penalty area and a deft finish over Robinson lifted Pompey to 8th in the table.
Blackburn were sparred further misery however with relegation rivals West Brom and Sunderland also both losing, and Newcastle’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough kept them firmly involved too. Wigan were the latest team to inflict heartbreak on Tony Mowbray’s plucky Baggies, coming from a goal down to snatch all three points with a late Emerson Boyce winner. Sunderland received another afternoon of humiliation as Bolton’s decent form of late continued away at the Stadium of Light, despite Cisse’s opener giving the Black Cats some hope.
Finally then, Villa scuppered the chance to move up to third as Fulham held them at home, while the better two of three newly promoted sides shared a point in hazardous fog at the Britannia Stadium. Marlon King’s decent first half strike continued Hull’s excellent away form, while a late Ricardo Fuller penalty saved a point for Stoke, who continue to defy critics by moving up to 13th.
We seem to be entering a strange realm these days where top-4 clashes are (whisper it) almost entertaining. This was a lively little affair that saw yet another twist in the Arsenal tale, as they came from behind to show Chelsea their second home defeat in six weeks after more than 80 games undefeated under Mourinho and Grant. Scolari is rightly upset that van Persie’s equaliser was offside, but it’s a decision that isn’t going to change, and with half an hour to recover, Chelsea offered little fight after the Dutchman scored his second three minutes later.
Player of the Week – Johan Elmander
A bit of a shock buy this summer for huge money, Elmander has yet to really repay his faith to Bolton boss Gary Megson. However, with three goals in his last two league appearances, form might well be returning to the tall Swede, with two well-taken finishes this Saturday and even the chance to bag a hat-trick.
Not many great contenders this week, but hats off to the brisk Senegalese forward for showing superb invention and unexpected acrobatics to catch on to Paul Robinson’s horribly misjudged header.
With Joe Harte’s strangely being encouraged to challenge for a corner in United’s penalty area, Giggs broke with the ball and fed Rooney who, from a good 50-yards out, fired a long-range strike at the City goal. Between them, Harte and SWP just about kept it out, but still an unreal attempt from the United man.
How best to deal with Stoke City’s long throw is as much a recurring training ground topic as how to stop Robinho. Ok well maybe not, but still, it’s causing plenty of coaches severe headaches around the country. This weekend Hull employed a couple of interesting tactics at the Britannia, the first of which being goalkeeper Myhill opting to just boot the ball straight out for a corner rather than give Rory Delap the chance to wind up a throw. More amusing however was Brown’s use of substitute Dean Windass, who intentionally stretched and warmed up right next to and in front of Delap as the Irishman was starting his run-up. It only worked twice before Windass was booked, but still, kudos for thinking outside the box.
Ok so Robin van Persie’s blatant offside is ruffling a few feathers, but it’s not really controversial because it was so obvious. What was bizarre though is Ronaldo rising for a free header and then attempting to catch the ball when he looked perfectly placed to nod it in and effectively win the game for United. So what really happened then? Well according to Sir Alex, Cristiano was “protecting himself” from being hit in the face with the ball, “got a little shove in the back” as well, and also “thought he heard the referee’s whistle.” Ah, I didn’t realize, well strike the red card then and award Manchester United a bonus penalty goal.
Taking Point of the Week
Welcome to the first in a new series for STT, giving the weekend reviews a bit more of a discussion element that we feel we’ve been missing of late.
I read something Alan Hansen said over this weekend that I thought was pretty interesting. He said that recent poor form at Sunderland, Blackburn and West Ham has given their managers Roy Keane, Paul Ince and Gianfranco Zola a cruel lesson in understanding: “if you've played at any of the top clubs,” he said, “you have to realise that the players you manage will not be as good as you and they might not have the same hunger and desire.” I guess this is kind of obvious, but the frustration it brings hasn’t ever really resonated with me, especially when the aforementioned three players were so unbelievably successful for so many years.
The problem is though, where does this line of thought inevitably lead you as a manager? Either side of the coin is dangerous: accept that they can’t ever live up to your expectations and you learn to live with failure, but arrogantly looking down on your players for simply not being good enough just leads to insurrection. The answer seems to be simple: only go into management if you were a decidedly average player, just ask Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson…