Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Big Time Weekend Review - 26-28.09.09

Sorry for the delay... I'll try to post earlier in the future...

It was another fertile weekend in The Big Time. Thirty seven goals were scored in ten matches, almost four goals per game in average. It was the story of defensive errors galore and strikers gone wild, with Robbie Keane hitting four and Torres happy with three. But it wasn’t just the bottom-half teams that let in the goals; Ancelotti’s Chelsea lost their 100% record in an awful display of defending at Wigan, while Villa’s defense helped Blackburn to the other surprising result of the weekend. With the bottom teams beating each other - Birmingham beat Hull last week but lost to Bolton this time - and six teams at the top separated by just three points (United, Chelsea, City, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal), the start of this season seems very promising. So now, let’s take a look at the scores around the country....
Wigan Athletic v Chelsea - They had to wait 34 games, but finally Wigan beat one of the “Big-4”. And they did it in style, too, although the score may have been different if it weren’t for Cech’s dismissal. But even before then, Chelsea’s defense had a terrible day, reacting painfully slowly to Wigan’s moves, leaving players completely unmarked in the box and allowing the Latics miles of space in attack. It seemed as though Chelsea were certain the game was theirs for the taking, and when Drogba equalized a minute and a half after the restart, it seemed it was going to be business as usual - three times already Chelsea went down 0-1 and still won the game. And they had a good chance to do that before Wigan stormed forward, exposing Chelsea’s over-confident back four once again, and getting a penalty, a decision which was nothing but spot on. After that there wasn’t much to report about, Scharner sealing the win for Wigan, assuring that there would be no last gasp lifeline for Chelsea as there was at the Britannia two weeks ago. Martinez is keeping his promise that Wigan will play exciting football against everyone, and maybe this amazing result will give them the push they needed. It finished
Wigan 3 (1) Chelsea 1 (0) - DW Stadium.
Liverpool v Hull City -
Torres, Torres, and again - Torres. How much talk did he hear about Xabi Alonso’s role in Liverpool’s great season last year, and he’s coming back even better this year. Sure, Hull’s defense, at least the way they played at Anfield, is pretty much as poor as it gets in the Premiership, but you need to take the mistakes when they come and Torres did just that. Hull, who already conceded 4 from Sunderland and 5 from Spurs, need to do something. Many pundits said at the end of last season that had the league gone on for ten more games, Hull would’ve been relegated. Unless major changes will happen, Hull will go down this year, and not in a respectful manner. Their defenders will surely suffer from reoccurring nightmares of Benayoun and Koyt waiting roaming freely in the box, waiting for the ball to fall for them. And one final word needs to be said on Gerrard’s amazing goal, a true piece of brilliance.
Liverpool 6 (2) Hull City 1 (1) - Anfield.
Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley -
Burnley continue their tradition of winning at home and losing away. But they won’t win all 57 points at Turf Moor, which means they’ll have to start picking up points away at some point, although they may feel that their aim is to collect the points from Molineux and Fratton Park rather than White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge. They’ve played some of the hardest fixtures they’ll face this season, and they did so with honours. This time, though, they exhibited terrible defending, with Keane being left alone in the box time after time. It was a great day for the striker, and like Torres he was helped by the visiting defense. It’s a good response from Spurs after two painful defeats at the hands of the Champions and Chelsea. Final score Tottenham Hotspur 5 (2) Burnley 0 - White Hart Lane.
Stoke City v Manchester United - Tricky game for the Champions, but they came out unscathed. It was an 84th minute strike from Tevez which won this fixture for them last time around; Tevez isn’t around anymore, but the assist was delivered by Berbatov, who was desperate for a goal after the countless misses in that Manchester derby, and got it. Nani and Valencia still don’t appear to be making the step-up they’re required and expected to be making, with another disappointing performance. Unlike them, Fletcher continued his great start to the season with another top-notch performance. Stoke displayed great defending, which is a refreshing sight in this year’s Premiership, forcing United to take shots from outside the box, but in the end United wore them out, Giggs came on and saved the day again. After a hat-trick of assists in the derby, he delivered two more, and made the difference for the Champions. But if Stoke’s defense keeps playing the way they did, the Potters will once again avoid the relegation dogfight. In the end it was Stoke City 0 Manchester United 2 (0) - Britannia Stadium.
Birmingham City v Bolton Wanderers - Terrible marking by the Birmingham defense in both goals and in general. Bolton should’ve had the game wrapped up long before the 86th minute, and nearly paid the price for their misses. But they will find that not all teams will allow them to score vital late goals away from home as Pompey and Birmingham did, and they will have to start taking more of their chances. In the meantime, though, they already won 6 crucial points against their direct rivals, so they’re on the right track. On the losing side, McLeish blamed his defense - and rightly so, but he made an almost unforgivable mistake in playing a lone striker at home against a direct dogfight rival. And so it was Birmingham City 1 (0) Bolton Wanderers 2 (1) - St. Andrew’s.
Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa - Can anyone stop Agbonlahor? The on-form Villa striker really helps in taking the mind off Barry; even a complete mishit like his 3rd minute strike here gets in there. But when your defenders make mistakes like Villa’s made on the equalizer, you could score a century and it still won’t matter. Terrible defensive play by the visitors lead to this surprising scoreline. And the penalty? If it was given for dangerous play, it’s an excellent decision, but if it was for a hand ball, it’s an outrageous one. Blackburn, after a tough start, are looking to be headed in the right direction. Blackburn Rovers 2 (1) Aston Villa 1 (1) - Ewood Park.
Fulham v Arsenal - And this week’s London derby(...) was a late kick-off which saw Fulham nearly take the lead a few times before van Persie finally scored Arsenal’s winner midway through the second half. The Gunners, who defeated Wigan last week, looked this time inferior not only to the other top three, but to Spurs and City as well. They allowed far too much space for Fulham, and it was only a moment of brilliance which saw them through. So which is the real Arsenal? The team that walked all over Wigan and Everton, or the one that barely survived the trip to the Cottage on the Thames? Either way, to remain a part of the “Big-4” they will have to show some consistency. Great performance by Arsenal’s sub keeper, Vito Mannone. Fulham 0 Arsenal 1 (0) - Craven Cottage.
Portsmouth v Everton - The Big Time feels that Pompey are going down. Another home defeat (the third) in what was once a great fortress. And again it was gravely painful, as they were extremely unlucky not to get a draw, even considering the perfect day Howard had experienced. The question is whether this performance will show Pompey that they CAN do it and start making their way to what would already be a memorable escape, or whether this will brake them, and we will have another Derby of 2008. The players definitely looked shattered in the end. Everton, on the other hand, continue to recuperate from that nightmare of a start, but the story is definitely Pompey, with 0 from 21. Portsmouth 0 Everton 1 (1) - Fratton Park.
Sunderland v Wolves - There seems to be a rule of thumb for Sunderland this season; play well (as in Burnley) and lose, play poorly (as against Blackburn) and win. It was the same story again at Weirside on Sunday, as the Black Cats were outplayed by the golden Wolves, who also deserved a penalty, but failed to take a bite at the home side. If Wolves can feel deprived by the ref, Sunderland can consider themselves lucky with the first penalty, although from where he stood you can see how he thought it was a foul. Wolves went down 0-2 despite being the better team, but did very well to come back to 2-2 in a place like the Stadium of Light, albeit they received great assistance from the Sunderland defense. Sunderland themselves did great to take the lead again, and at 4-2 the competition was over. Mick McCarthy and his lads can take great comfort in an incredible comeback and in their performance, but they can be just as disappointed with scoring two goals away and coming back empty-handed. Then again, they won’t play at Sunderland every week. A great match, a true Premiership classic, which ended Sunderland 5 (1) Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 (0) - The Stadium of Light.
Manchester City v West Ham United - The Big Time regrets to inform that due to the fact that the match was held at the end of a Jewish holiday which he spent with his significant other at his in-law’s, and only got home late at night, he did not watch this game or its highlights. It was Tevez’s day as he started his scoring account at City, although he had much preferred it had been last week against his former club, than this week against his first club in England. West Ham will have to look for points elsewhere, i.e. where there are no oil-lords spilling hundreds of millions of Pounds... Manchester City 3 (2) West Ham United 1 (1) - The City of Manchester Stadium.
Player of the Week: Fernando Torres (Liverpool) - You’d have thought scoring a hat-trick would make him this weekend’s top scorer, but Robbie Keane’s quadruple of goals aside, Torres’ impact in Liverpool’s defeat of Hull was immense, especially when the game was tied at 1-1. If he avoids injuries this year, Liverpool will pose a threat on the title once again.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

He Ow(e)ns This City: Manchester United 4 (1) Manchester City 3 (1)

The Manchester derby on Sunday raised a few questions, about both teams. For the losing side, while City’s supporters might focus on the time added on at the end of the game, Mark Hughes (who also focused on the added time when interviewed after the match) will definitely want to address the fact that for the whole of the second half, his team looked utterly shocked and overwhelmed by United’s wave after wave of attacks, and were completely under the ball. Defensive errors may have allowed City to score twice in that half, but they looked by far inferior to United, more so than in any other derby in the memorable past. He will also want to ask questions about players doubting his decisions (or lack there of) and arguing with him in front of the cameras, in the height of what may very well be the team’s most important match of the season. Finally, he must be outraged with the fact that time and time again during the second half, City failed to cope with United’s crosses, and that in injury time City panicked and instead of keeping the ball and running down the clock, they just kicked it back to the United players. Specifically, he will be furious with the way Michael Owen was left open and onside in the winning goal.
In the home team’s dressing room, shoes were thrown, no doubt, on the alleged replacement of VDS. Foul or now foul by Tevez in the first goal, that ball should by then have been long under Foster’s control. The second may have been an unstoppable strike, but simply falling in front of Bellamy in the third goal, hoping for the best, is more Barthez-like than VDS. If Foster is truly aiming to become United’s, and indeed England’s, no.1, he has to improve dramatically. It would help, of course, to have a good defence in front of you, and in that aspect Rio’s outrageous error in the build-up to City’s third equalizer was the stuff of amateurs. And it’s not a one-off; against Arsenal it also seemed United’s defenders stopped playing once the clock hit 90, and nearly paid the price, Arsenal's goal being rightfully disallowed for offside. I thought when Bellamy equalized they were handed the bill, but they were saved again. Still, the club which most famously took advantage of time added on at the end of the game, can’t allow this mistake to happen again, and trust Ferguson to make sure they don’t.
And how about those misses? Sure, you can say Given is a top-class goalkeeper (which he is) who had an amazing day (which he did), but United should’ve taken more of their chances - nothwithstanding the fact they scored four - when the game’s tied you have to take every chance you get. And, considering Owen’s winner, you have to wonder whether Berbatov would’ve scored that, and in light of that who should be United’s second striker - and this from someone who told anyone who’d listen what a crazy signing Owen was.
And so, a crazy month for the Manchester teams ends with lots to think about. City will have to improve their performances against the “Big-4” (which they are NOT yet a part of), while United need to shake up their defence, because Chelsea won’t be dropping many points this year. And that, I feel, is the bottom line- both teams (assuming City does have title credentials) will be chasing Chelsea.

Manchester United 4 (1) Rooney 2" Fletcher 49", 80" Owen 90"(+6)
Manchester City 1 (1) Barry 16" Bellamy 52", 90"
Old Trafford, Manchester

1) Ryan Giggs, in one of his greatest ever games, with 3 assists and many more “would-be” goals, and this only two months and a bit before his 36th birthday.
2) Darren Fletcher, enjoying a great start to his season, bringing United back to life with two second half headers.
3) Craig Bellamy, rediscovering his joy of the game at City, scored two more goals. His goals may have been allowed by defensive errors, but they were beautiful nonetheless. And he may be forgiven that foolish slap to the face of an even more foolish United supporter who ran on to the pitch after the winning goal.
4) Emmanuel Adebayor, you have to wonder what the score would’ve been had he played, not Tevez.

They Blew It:
1) Carlos Tevez- other than an assist to the first goal, a very disappointing performance from the man who had everything to prove.
2) Ben Foster - needs to improve, ASAP.