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Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Look at Rafa’s meltdown

Rafa Benitez’s latest comedy press conference has caused quite a sensation. The interesting thing is, his biggest objection was that he was given that title of ‘Interim manager’, as if it was this alone that turned the Chelsea fans against him. Did he think that they would have backed him wholeheartedly if he had been called ‘Manager’ as he insisted last night?

Rafael-Benitez_5

Per BBC Radio 5 Live he said that; ‘He was only given the title so the club could “wash our hands” of him if he failed’. Now, this may well be true, but surely he knew that when he took the job. Everyone knew that he was just keeping the seat warm before a push to get Pep Guardiola to Stamford Bridge. When the news broke that he would be at Bayern next year it is possible that Rafa felt as if he would have a chance at getting the job permanently.

In fact, it is probable that when he took the job after Di Matteo he felt as if he was inheriting a no lose position. If he did well and got Chelsea back in to the Champions League along with the very real chance of winning the Club World Cup and the League Cup, which were both on a plate for him, he could either make a case for himself getting the job permanently or leave with his reputation enhanced.

The problem was, after a lot of comments about Chelsea when at Liverpool and the fact the he replaced Di Matteo so soon after he was dismissed meant Chelsea fans were against him from Day One. The fact that it was Benitez made it worse for Chelsea fans, but really the protests directed at him are the only way Chelsea fans can direct any opposition to the senior management. Short of Mourinho or an ex-Chelsea player replacing Di Matteo, it was always going to be a very hot seat.

The fact that results haven’t been up to scratch only makes things worse. Some superb performances have been mixed with some atrocious ones, a pattern of performance which is actually very similar to that which was produced under Di Matteo. But, Di Matteo won the Champions League AND played for Chelsea. You can argue the merits of Chelsea’s win all you like, but the trophy is in the cabinet, and it was Di Matteo who lifted it and that is how he is remembered.

The only way he could have won the fans over would have been with excellent results. Sky Sports News is showing a stat that Benitez has only won 52% of his games. He may well blame this on the fans but they were happy to cheer when Chelsea slayed Villa 8-0. Certainly the atmosphere doesn’t help the team but they can’t be blamed for the results.

How about blaming things like; resting Juan Mata in league games but playing him for 120 minutes in the League Cup and 90 minutes in the Europa League, not playing John Terry over Cahill/Ivanovic in important games, stumbling over the ability of David Luiz to play in midfield and then abandoning it , dropping the in form Azpilicueta against City with both goals coming down the same flank he’d be protecting and the big one, playing Torres over Ba despite all form to the contrary. These things don’t help with gaining popularity.

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Wigan Athletic – Blueprint for how to escape relegation

The Weekend Awards

Held every week in glamorous Watford, this weekend’s prize winners are;

Highlight of the Weekend

Papiss Cisse’s volleyed goal against Southampton

This narrowly squeaks out Rafael’s purely struck rasper against QPR for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there something magical about Newcastle number 9s that causes them to score these kind of goals. Secondly, there was something uniquely Premier League to it. The goalkeeper smashes it forwards, the defenders let it bounce and then the striker puts his foot through it. You could hear Peter Kay shouting ‘Have It’ even above the Geordie roars.

Lowlight of the Weekend

Fulham v Stoke

I mean, it just was wasn’t it? When the highlights package is a great volley, three acts of violent conduct and a penalty miss it doesn’t scream ‘Sky Plus me’

Hissy Fit of the Weekend

Steven N’Zonzi

Was he berating the crowd? Was he trying to elbow the physio? Was he showing the referee what had just happened to him? Who knows, but it was football pantomine at it’s best. The wronged hero has no witness for his injustice so seeks vigilante justice. Except, he punched Bryan Ruiz, not Berbatov. Woops.

Best Punditry of the Weekend

Alan Hansen & Alan Shearer

Hang on, best punditry of the weekend? On Match of the Day? Some mistake surely? Well, no. Messers Hansen and Shearer come in for a lot of criticism, often rightly, but they were on form on Saturday. Firstly, Shearer gave an illuminating and genuinely insightful piece of analysis on Adel Taarabt. He highlighted the fact that Taarabt doesn’t move in to space, preferring the Aaron Ramsey trick of running towards the ball possessor who is in oceans of speace in order to slow & narrow everything down. He may well have magic in his boots, but as Shearer showed us, he can’t do that from the halfway line.

Following this, Hansen gave an excellent demonstration of how Everton’s defence drops deeper and deeper towards the end of games and how this costs them points. The casual fan may well have watched thinking, ‘how does this keep happening to them?’, and Hansen gave a good explanation of just how they do. Well done lads.

Worst Punditry of the Week

Alan Hansen & Alan Shearer

Huh? Now I’m confused?! Yeah, it couldn’t last. After the Norwich summary, the lads were asked their opinion on Norwich. The consensus was ‘they’ll be all right’, ‘they’re having a great season’. The same Norwich who have just won for the first time in the league for the first time since December 15th? A time period that includes them becoming the first ever Premier League team to lose to a team in the 5th tier at home in the FA Cup? D’oh!

Anti-climax of the Weekend

Sunday’s televised games

Sky trailed the City v Chelsea game and Capitol One Cup Final with an arty slow mo filled piece to Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’. Well, let’s hope there is only day like this. City Chelsea didn’t really get going. If I ask you next week, or even tomorrow, to tell me something that happened what would you say? Well?…Exactly. As for the Cup final, that the commentators spent the entire game reminding us how historic Bradford’s efforts to even get to it were showed what a non event the game was. All credit to Swansea who did what Villa and Arsenal couldn’t and won at a canter but it wasn’t much of a watch.

Is this a Premier League game? Moment of the weekend

Wigan’s 2nd goal at Reading

The entire defence is in the Wigan half, why? The ball is then lost easily and poor Adrian Mariappa is then faced with 3 attackers. Unsurprisingly, Wigan sweep through to score. Any standard of professional team shouldn’t be conceding like that, never mind a Premier League one.

Easily deployed cliche alert of the weekend

ALL mentions of Wigan’s win

Well, it IS late season, and Wigan have just won again. So, all and sundry get the opportunity to wheel out the ‘they always do it’, ‘they’ve been there and done that’, ‘Wigan always leave it late and then escape’ type sentiments. Anyone want to offer any reasons as to why that might be? No? Thought not.

Monday Musings

A few thoughts on the weekend’s action

Man City 2-0 Chelsea

An absolutely dire, borderline unwatchable, first half sparkled in to life in the second half. Pre-match the commentators speculated that Mancini had selected a unit to grind out a result, and that’s exactly how it played out. A shattered looking Chelsea posed no threat at all during the game, despite Benitez heeding the calls to play Ba over Torres up front. Frank Lampard’s recent form deserted him, not just his penalty miss, but in open play he didn’t impose himself on the game at any stage. Only the always effervescent Juan Mata seemed to have any menace in his boots. They look like they need a week without a game, something that isn’t on the horizon for a while yet. The club’s reckless decision to pursue the League Cup with a full strength side is really coming back to bite them. The likes of Mata and Hazard have played an extra 4 games when they might have been resting. It’s all well and good looking to win everything you enter, but when you also take the World Club Cup to be important you are creating an extra 6 or 7 games that your main starters are playing, which translates to an extra month’s worth of action. All of this extra work is catching up with their main players now. This isn’t just a comment on the City game, Chelsea looked lacklustre against Sparta Prague, only just sneeking through with a last minute rocket from Hazard. If, as it seems, they are going to try and win the Europa League then more days like this could well follow domestically.

As for City, a side that seemed to be purring only a few weeks ago is spluttering along. They just don’t have that same zing as last season when Aguero, Silva, Nasri and latterly Tevez formed a lethal front 4 with the physical presence of Yaya supporting from behind, and this is what won them the league. However, only Tevez has hit any kind of form this year. Even then, he lost that during a 10 game barren spell in front of goal. Silva looks like the 5 years of consecutive football are affecting him now. Mancini himself criticised Nasri for resting on his laurels and Aguero has lost the potency of last year, indeed of his career up to this point . City really should have won this about 4-0 but Aguero spurned some unmissable opportunities. Maybe ex-Athletico Madrid strikers can only play in England for so long before forgetting how to play? Are you paying attention to this Falcao?

Arsenal 2-1 Villa

I’ve written about Arsenal this week and their problems haven’t changed since then. Giroud is not a top calibre striker which he demonstrated again with a hat load of misses, Szczesny is not an elite goal keeper as his pathetic attempt at saving Weimann’s decently hit strike showed yet again, Mertesacker is too slow and cumbersome, Vermaelen has forgetten how to defend, Arteta is not a holding midfielder, Jenkinson is not a Premier League player, etc. etc. etc. Yes, they won, but since when do Arsenal only beat relegation fodder 2-1 at home?

Fulham 1-0 Stoke

This was chosen as the TV game? Interesting…Incidentally, interesting is not a word that could be used to describe this. Aside from Berbatov’s lovely volleyed goal there was precious little quality. Indeed, the main story of the game was two red cards which weren’t shown. Berbatov’s elbow which re-arranged N’Zonzi’s face was sly and should have been punished, before he scored as well. N’Zonzi lost his head at that point and then responded by punching Bryan Ruiz, Which was also unpunished…A great advert for the World’s Greatest League TM

QPR 0-2 Man Utd

Two words; Champions, performance. Redknapp’s strategy of trying to draw his way to safety has seen QPR hold City and Spurs at home and win at Chelsea, all without conceding. So, with this in mind it was always going to be a tricky game for United, but in the event it wasn’t. They were untroubled throughout, with only a Rafael goal line clearance of any note. Rafael’s annihilation of the ball in to the top corner of Cesar’s net was good, but his pass which van Persie narrowly failed to convert was even better. The man of the match in this game only had one candidate, indeed, Rafael could claim the man of the weekend award.

QPR continue to struggle in front of goal, part tactics, part lack of quality. An unusually illuminating piece of analysis on Match of the Day highlighted the myth of Taarabt as the magician to pull QPR out of trouble. No magician can perform tricks without taking the stage and he doesn’t grab hold of games at this level. They are doomed.

Reading 0-3 Wigan

Even despite a couple of beautiful goals from Wigan and a truly appalling lunge from Pogrebnyak to get himself sent off, the highlight of this match was Brian McDermott’s analysis. He somehow got confused on the story of the game, thinking Pogrebnyak had been sent off before the 3rd went in. Although by no means at Steve Keen levels of saccharine positivity, he is starting to increasingly head that way. The passing resemblance doesn’t help.

Wigan though seem to be on their usual late season charge. Although Reading defended unbelievably badly Wigan punished them with some technically proficient and very well taken goals. The returning Arouna Kone in particular gives them some much needed quality and composure in front of goal.

Newcastle 4-2 Southampton

French day at Newcastle but luckily for them, they didn’t repeat the performance of the French rugby team this year. Their shopping spree in January has really stood them in good stead, with Moussa Sissosko heavily involved yet again and Debuchy rampaging forward from right back to great affect. Papiss Cisse returned to wonder goal scoring form, but Pardew needs him to contribute more consistently to help them continue to pull away from trouble. Their horrible slump left them as something of an outlier in the table and this resurgence is seeing them return to a more realistic position.

Pardew knows the French market better than Wenger! Seriously? We’re still doing this? Comments in various places to this extent have evidenced themselves again. So yes, Pardew DOES don a beret, hop on the Eurostar with his copy of ‘French for Beginners’, string of onions around his neck before sleuthing around some Ligue Un outpost to spot his latest bargain, the signing of which he then personally negotiates. Happy now ‘The Media’?

Norwich 2-1 Everton

How did Everton not win this? David Moyes will be asked the same thing, and contrary to his post match comments, I’m sure he doesn’t blame the referee. If he does, he’s looking in the wrong place. They throw away so many leads late in games, for two reasons. Firstly, they simply don’t score enough goals. Jelavic has joined the ‘forgotten how to score’ club this year and whilst there are pretty touches from Pienaar, Mirallas and Osman, they’re not able to make up the deficit. They score near enough every game, but usually only in 1s. Because of this, late in games they find themselves dropping back to defend increasingly direct play from opponents. But, they can’t defend balls in the air. Despite the height and power of Distin and the experience of Heitinga, and ‘he’s English so he’s good’ Jagielka, they simply don’t defend them well. Look back at the goals they concede late and it’s the same thing each time; long ball pumped forward, Howard frozen to his line, defence let it bounce or don’t get anything forceful on it, opposition pounce and score. This very turn of events happened in the reverse fixture, and Norwich took it one step further to win this one.

West Brom 2-1 Sunderland

It’s ridiculous that Chelsea would loan out Lukaku when they need a striker, typical Benitez!

Where to start? Chelsea loaned Lukaku out because they didn’t feel he was ready to play for them and would benefit from first team experience. Lo and behold, it’s working! He’s playing games, scoring goals and getting better. Imagine he played for West Brom and wasn’t on loan. He’s going to end on around 20 goals this year. How much would Chelsea pay for a 19 year old who scores 20 Premier League goals? Would he be considered an upgrade on Torres, and maybe even Ba? The answers; at least what they paid, and yes, a big upgrade. So, welcome back to Chelsea next year, ready to lead the line Romelu. They’ve also got the best young keeper in the world out on loan and doing amazing things with Athletico Madrid. The point is though, he wouldn’t be getting the game time he is now, and the point of the loan was the ready him for next year. Mission accomplished by Chelsea.

Oh and Sunderland really are appalling in attack.

This weekend’s awards will be coming later.

Where now for Arsenal? Wenger has lost the ability to replace that which he sells.

Fantasy Football Questionnaire Part 1 – Results

Following on from last weeks Fantasy Football Questionnaire, here are the results;

Q1 – For how many seasons have you been playing Fantasy Football?

3-4 seasons: 47%
5 seasons or more: 25%
2 seasons : 18%
1st season: 10%

Q2 – How many different Fantasy Football games do you play?

1: 64%
2: 25%
3: 6%
4 or more: 5%

Q3 – How often do you look at your team?

Several times a day: 47%
Once a day: 26%
A few times a week: 25%
Once a week: 2%

Q4 – Do you discuss Fantasy Football with friends or online?

Often: 62%
Sometimes: 33%
Rarely: 4%
Never: 1%

Q5 – Do you support a Premier League team?

Yes: 67%
No: 17%
Kind of: 15%

Q6 – How do you prefer to select your players?

I pick players in good form: 54%
I pick players with good fixtures: 36%
I pick players who have scored points previously: 7%
I pick my favourite players: 3%

Q7 – How do you feel if a player in your Fantasy Football team scores against the team you support?

Happy as long as my team wins: 57%
It doesn’t affect me: 17%
Delighted, I need the points!: 15%
I’d still be disappointed: 10%

Q8 – Would you captain a player in your Fantasy Football team against the team you support?

Only if they were the best option: 41%
Yes, without questions: 36%
Never: 17%
Only if they were the only option: 6%

Q9 – How much does a good Fantasy Football score affect your mood?

It has some affect: 57%
It heavily influences it: 36%
It has no affect: 7%

Q10 – How much does a bad Fantasy Football score affect your mood?

It has some affect: 58%
It heavily influences it: 29%
It has no affect: 13%

Part 2 will go in to more detail in to the motivations for playing fantasy football. If you have any suggestions for questions or any comments/soundbites please feel free to comment below or tweet me @MaxClaytonRobb

The Weekend Awards

Held every week in glamorous Watford, this weekend’s prize winners are;

Highlight of the weekend

Birmingham City 0-4 Watford

Forgive the slightly biased nature of this one. However, even objectively speaking this was the best performance of the weekend in the Championship. Coming of a second half horror show against Crystal Palace, a visit to St. Andrews was always going to be a tricky ask. However, a free flowing display of attacking and counter-attacking football produced a thorough demolition of the lovable (?!) Lee Clark’s team.

Runners up: City 4-0 Leeds & Luton 0-3 Millwall. You get the idea.

Lowlight of the weekend

Arsenal

Arsenal’s first defeat to a non-Premier League club under Arsene Wenger helped celebrate the 10th anniversary of the unbeaten season.

Funniest moment of the weekend

Michael Brown attempts to intimidate Yaya Toure

I mean, it’s Yaya Toure Michael. He had just scored the opening goal. He was lifeless against Southampton and needed something to put some spark in to him. He’s 6’4′ and can out sprint you when he’s jogging. He can take over an entire game against good players. What happened afterwards again?…

Punditry of the week

Craig Burley, ESPN Press Pass

Burley was at his tumultuous best when analysing the Celtic Juventus game. Berating the referee for not given penalties to Celtic for the wrestling in the box and berating the European officiating style in general. On Sunday he was on commentary for the Man City Leeds game and had a very different view of the penalty given for the pull on Aguero in the box. It was ‘soft’ and as co-commentator John Champion added, ‘if you give them you give 10 every game’. So, which one is it?

Tree impression of the week

Phil Jagielka

In scoring Everton’s second goal against Oldham, Jagielka feel to the ground in the manner of a gracefully falling Oak that has been logged. With the defender wrapped all around him, he managed to get his head to the ball and just continued his fall, seemingly frozen out of excitement.

Mudbath of the week

Huddersfield’s pitch

Having hosted a Rubgy League game the night before the pitch was not in good shape, looking like it had been used to film the Top Gear Rugby stunt to practice before Twickenham. The ensuing mess didn’t seem to stop both teams from playing some decent stuff and allowed for references to cup games of yore when big teams had to compete on the local marsh. ‘The great leveler’ is always a bad pitch, but on this occasion it just saw Wigan level Huddersfield.

Monday Musings

No match reports here, just looking for the interesting bits.

Liverpool 5-0 Swansea

Liverpool could make a charge for the top 4 based on this Erm…no. Taking anything about Liverpool’s current stock from this is a fallacy.

But Swansea are the first team in the top 10 they’ve beaten all year and are the Carling Cup Finalists?!

Yes, but not this Swansea team. There were only 4 regular starters in Michael Laudrup’s team as he heavily rotated before the afore mentioned cup final. This meant they had Kyle Bartley (2 Premier League starts) and Garry Monk (Garry Monk!) in central defence and with no Michu upfront they lacked any physical presence to bother the out of form Liverpool defence. Agger in particular will be grateful for a quiet afternoon after he was bullied by Romelu Lukaku against West Brom. Similarly, without Ki in midfield and with an uncharacteristically awful showing from de Guzman the usual Swansea midfield passing carousel ground to a halt.

But surely it wasn’t just Swansea playing badly? Liverpool must have been good? Well, yes and no. They registered 33 shots, 18 of which were on target.

Wow, that many shots?! Yes, but they only scored 5. Only one in 7 shots on goal went in and just about 1 in 4 of shots in target found the net. If they are going to get that many shots every game then they can afford that kind of profligacy but in game where they need to be clinical and efficient it costs them. Just look at the game in Russia on Thursday. They only managed 6 shots in that game, only 2 of which were on target. Going at the rate they did yesterday they’d have needed a few more shots before scoring, but how often are they going to get good shots away against top defences? With their defence leaking badly at the moment they need to be scoring at least twice per game, and as shown at City and Arsenal even that might not be enough. So to be getting 2 goals, they need to have about 14-16 shots. A dangerous pattern to be getting in to.

Oh right, I hadn’t thought of it like that. But I read that Suarez was unplayable? He was. He torched Monk (!) and was roaming wild and free in the space he was afforded. His finish for his goal was expert and his pass for Coutinho’s goal was sublime. However, he has caught ‘Dempseyitis’. Symptoms of this affliction cause the sufferer to shoot when given any opening or a favourable bounce of the ball. This is caused by being surrounded by team mates that have inferior ability to you and a belief grows that you need to do everything yourself. However, this isn’t last year and Suarez now has capable team mates to pass to. You could forgive him last year for looking up, seeing Carroll, Downing or Henderson and just putting his head down and shooting in to the crowd. Coutinho could prove to be his medicine, the two of them linked up consistently and menacingly.

Although seemingly suffering from the same affliction, Daniel Sturridge is dealing with a case of ‘Bendtner’s’. Unlike ‘Dempseyitis’ which is born of being a superior player and not adjusting your game when playing with good players, ‘Bendtner’s’ causes the afflicted to believe that they are the superior player when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The diagnosis is ‘Well at least he…’ followed by the relevant redeeming quality.

Oldham 2-2 Everton

Everton held by giant university student
Football’s bizarre fascination by players who have been to university resurfaced with Oldham striker Matt Smith heading in a last second equaliser. The idea that because a player goes to university he automatically brings brains and intelligence is so ingrained that it goes unchallenged every time it is wheeled out. Although most got it out of the system after his performance against Liverpool, there was still mention of it. As both a tall player and a fairly well spoken ex-student Smith makes for an obvious headline. In fairness to him, he seems like a genuinely smart bloke, and he went to a really good university. It’s also nice to see a player talk confidently and coherently on camera after a game. Hopefully his cup heroics will go some way towards removing the sense of mystery around the educated in football. The really bizarre thing is that nowadays all top level coaches have been in education for longer than an average university student and even the densest footballer knows a lot more about diet, nutrition, exercise and application than any student ever would. They’re probably better at computer games too.

Luton 0-3 Millwall

This was a really interesting one for the neutrals. ‘Which one of the teams do I want to lose more?’. In the event it was Luton through a combination of dire defending and some good play by Millwall winger James Henry.

On a side note; When did Luton start playing in orange? Last time I saw them, in the Championship, they were in white. That was the 2005/06 season when Watford were promoted the Premier League, a feat they are threatening this year. Watford’s kits that year; Yellow and Red. What colour do yellow and red make? Coincidence?

Arsenal 0-1 Blackburn

Why is Wenger picking a reserve team in the only cup Arsenal can win?!

Szczesny; Coquelin, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Monreal; Diaby, Rosicky, Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud, Gervinho

7 first choice players. Now, their 3 key players were on the bench but let’s get this straight; that team should be beating a mid table Championship team at home without any difficulty. And I mean any difficulty. They slashed Blackburn 7-1 in the Premier league at this time last year, a game in which 7 of this team started. Sure, there’s no van Persie now but so what? The simple question to answer is this; Does this kind of thing happen to Man United? No? OK, let’s move on.

Blackburn defended manfully, but they were lucky not to get beaten heavily again. Arsenal had 26 shots, 13 on target. That should equal an easy win. However, praise where it’s due, they didn’t give away anything soft. Manager Michael Appleton who is playing his version of the 92 grounds game by trying to manage every club in the country got the signature win he needed to win over the fans. And just to get these out of the way; Arsenal played like chickens which meant Blackburn avoided getting fried like last year.

Man City 4-0 Leeds

This is how it feels to be City, this is how it feels to be small, you sign Phil Jones,we sign Kun Aguero,
Kun Aguero, Kun Aguero.

Ouch, Leeds fans have to listen to City mock Man United for signing a player they couldn’t possibly dream of signing. And the worst thing is, the United/Leeds rivalry used to be red hot, but now Leeds know that United don’t care about them. At all. Instead, they have to watch their team get trashed by City, United’s actual rivals, whilst those same City fans taunt United. Did you enjoy the game Colin?

Huddersfield 1-4 Wigan

The ‘I’m not going to sacrifice my TV allocation for that’ game that actually had some really good goals. I can’t imagine the TV audience was much bigger than the ‘crowd’ at the ground though. #Magicofthecup.

Coming soon, now in it’s own segment, ‘The Weekend Awards’.

Fantasy Football Questionnaire

Just click below to answer the questions.

Thank you for your help!

Monday Musings

Not match reports just some thoughts on the weekend’s Premier League games.

QPR 0-0 Norwich

Both teams look seriously short of innovation in attack. QPR in particular looked nonthreatening and a glance at the selected offensive personnel shows why. Redknapp started with a front 4 of Townsend, Taarabt & Wright-Phillips in behind Mackie. Who is scoring the goals in that? Mackie is hard running but is not a goal scorer. He also doesn’t bring any height or pace so that was a weird selection. Taarabt is seen as the creative force that can pull them out of trouble but a lot of the time his creativity amounts to a few drag backs before smashing a shot in to the crowd. Townsend looked lively but the flaw in the 4231 is that you need goal threats in the front 4 a la van der Vaart and Bale as Harry had at Spurs or it just looks a bit one dimensional.

Norwich looked compact and tidy and in Snodgrass they had the best player on the pitch. His craft and driving runs gave them menace but their lack of a genuine goal getter looks starker each game. They are one of those teams that look OK and should have enough about them to stay up but they need to start scoring multiple times in a game.

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke City

Arsenal lurch from free-flowing and potent to slow and cumbersome yet again. Wenger decided to rest Cazorla for the first time this season and the results were immediate. Even with (because?) Arteta back Arsenal struggled to break down a recently porous Stoke defence, despite (because?) Wilshere moving forward behind Giroud. Wilshere is a nice footballer but he doesn’t offer that edgy attacking threat so perhaps needs to be deployed further back.

Tony Pulis complained that Wenger doesn’t like teams that work hard and run about but said nothing of Shawcross’ latest x-rated lunge or Michael Owen throwing the lamest punch ever thrown at Arteta.

On a side note, this game had more examples of ‘Really?!’ behaviour from certain players. When Arsenal’s goal was laughably ruled out the players ran over to the linesman. He talked to the referee who confirmed to his little friend that if the ball hits a Stoke player with no Arsenal player not only not in the vicinity but not even inactively offside then they can give a goal. All the Stoke players saw what happened and yet Shawcross was ranting and raving. Sigh…After Owen had stroked Arteta, Jack Wilshere ran over to push the ex- England captain hard in the chest. Why? His action was far more forceful and absurdly over the top.

Everton 3-3 Aston Villa
or Everton – Heitinga 3-0 Villa

11th July 2010; Jonny Heitinga lines up in the starting XI as Holland nearly overcome Spain in the World Cup final.

2nd February 2013 15:00; Jonny Heitinga as reigning fans’ player of the year lines up for Everton against a Villa side in terminal decline.

2nd February 2013 17:00; Jonny Heitinga sobs alone in the Everton dressing room wearing a dunce hat.

So, Heintinga had a bad game you say? Well only if you consider being singularly at fault for all 3 Villa goals a bad game. Benteke was at his flat track best plundering goals on another unfortunate.

Newcastle 3-2 Chelsea

Moussa Sissoko is the best signing in the history of the Premier League. Martin Keown added his pearls of wisdom on Alan Pardew’s transfer strategy on Match of the Day. He knew what he wanted and went out and got it. No wonder they struggled over the first half of the season with all that time he was spending in France personally finding all these players. Mmm hmm…

That aside, Newcastle look good as is unsurprising given the quality of the players they’ve brought in. Back when France was the in vogue country to shop in, Sissoko would cost you £18m and Gouffran something similar but they both arrived for a combined £3.5m. The inter-rail pass that Mike Ashley bought Graham Carr has been put to superb use.

Chelsea meanwhile lurch from funny to hilarious. With only Mata and Lampard playing well at the moment Benitez’s options are limited. Despite all the fuss around them they are still in 3rd and show signs of being excellent. They scored 2 beautiful goals and should sort themselves out soon enough.

Reading 2-1 Sunderland

How are Reading only 17th? They seem to have been churning good, and particularly late, results for a while now but their awful start has bogged them down. Their late game comebacks are now getting so common place that you take them for granted. A team of players all pulling in one direction that look fit, organised and full of desire is a good cocktail but they can only make up for their lack of quality for so long. Surely?

Sunderland looked wretched again. Another game passed them by without generating any sustained attacking menace. Statistically Sunderland are a very efficient attack but that is only because they register painfully few shots. They don’t really have a style. They can’t pass it well enough to move it quickly and both wingers like to beat their full back as many times as possible to avoid crossing it on time. They don’t have the pace to break rapidly and the central midfield are plodders. A couple of recent big wins have masked over some more fundamental attacking issues.

West Ham 1-0 Swansea

As exciting as the scoreline suggests but some positives for both teams. With Carroll back in the attack Nolan suddenly looked dangerous again for West Ham and Swansea’s impressive away defence continues to be strong.

But maybe they’d have scored if they’d kept Danny Graham! Yeah maybe, he has scored 3 goals this season after all.

Wigan 2-2 Southampton

See, I told you they shouldn’t have sacked Nigel Adkins. Well yes, clearly that was a bizarre decision but Pochettino is getting the usual bash him because we don’t understand sackings treatment. Sir Alex said that Southampton were the best team Man Utd had faced at Old Trafford this year but they conceded sloppily and couldn’t score twice. They dominated Everton but couldn’t score in his first game, and this time they scored twice but conceded two appalling goals. Saints out passed and out pressed Wigan, a style which is their stock in trade and should have won this about 5-0. Very positive signs for Southampton but they need to put it all together in the same game.

Fulham 0-1 Man Utd

A pretty lively game with both sides hitting the woodwork with Suarez like accuracy. Craven Cottage’s audition to host a Superbowl went to plan with a power cut just before half-time. Chris Waddle was impressed by Van Perzee. Man United grind out a 1-0 away from home.

United looked much better for having Evans back in central defence but that will not get the headlines like the Rooney goal. Although he took it well, I’d like to hear Senderos’ explanation to Jol. ‘I didn’t want to mark my sparkling head boss’. United roll relentlessly on to reclaiming the title.

West Brom 0-1 Spurs

Gareth Bale was speaking in the week about modelling his game on Cristiano Ronaldo and this was certainly in evidence in this game. Deploying Bale in the middle of the pitch was a good decision by Villas-Boas who has got Spurs looking rock solid at the back but is still trying to find some spark up top. For the second game in row it was a Bale wondergoal that won it in an otherwise lackluster effort from Spurs. That was until the hugely impressive Lewis Holtby was brought on. He brought directness and relentlessness and also meant that the West Brom defence had something other than Bale to deal with. Before the Popov red Bale had been marshaled two at a time by West Brom but with the extra space he had Bale took over the game. If they can harness him fully, and note to Dempsey; this doesn’t mean you shooting instead of Bale, and also get Holtby buzzing around him they could overhaul Chelsea in 3rd which would be sweet revenge.

Popov provided the ‘Really?!’ moment in this one, sent off by the eagle eyed Mark Clattenburg for spitting at Kyle Walker his immediate response was ‘What for?’. Please deal with this Steve Clarke…

Man City 2-2 Liverpool

4 excellent goals in one of the best matches of the season. It’s hard to imagine many games where Sturridge’s goal would only be the third best of the day with Gerrard’s technical masterpiece and Aguero’s sublime genius sharing the honours for best goal of the weekend.

In truth though, City weren’t really in this one for most of the game as for the second time this week Liverpool dominated a game against a top team away from home. On the other hand they managed to squander two wins this week. The signs are positive though as Rodgers has started to get them purring in attack. Defensively however, they look wobbly again.

There will be concerns for Mancini who chose to criticise Dzeko and Aguero after the game but this seemed misplaced. Aguero was at his rampant best, showing that Suarez’s current form is an imitation of him rather than vice versa. However, their midfield lacked ideas and couldn’t really get in the game. Garcia and Barry are OK at what they do but they won’t scare teams and combined with an incredibly off colour David Silva City just couldn’t get in to the game. City verge from looking incredible to listless incredibly quickly.

Highlight of the weekend

The best moment of the weekend was Liverpool’s first goal. Not because of the quality of strike but because it struck a blow against players cheating and feigning injury at convenient times to stop opposition attacks. Why should Liverpool kick the ball off just because Dzeko is sat on the ground? He clearly wasn’t injured as was evidenced by his sprint to berate the linesman after the goal. Sure it should have been a foul but kicking the ball off needs to be for injuries not because a player is lying on the ground. Let’s hope we see more of this.

Lowlight of the weekend

Popov. Spitting at a player? Seriously?

Illogical punditry of the week

From a few days ago but it raised it’s head again. Will City miss Balotelli now that he’s gone? Erm…no? This was a strangely widely asked question for a player that pundits and media have been queuing up to get rid of over the last couple of years.

Honorable mention to any reference to Pardew’s work in the transfer market.

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