Monday, October 29, 2007

Premiership Weekend Roundup: October 27-28

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal
Liverpool finally got Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres back from injury, and immediately lost them again. This, to put it bluntly, sucks. It sucks hard. Losing Xabi for another six weeks or whatever is an especially serious blow. He started slowly against Arsenal but he was working himself into the match, and when he's on his game, he plays the same sort of role for Liverpool that Fabregas does for Arsenal, with his ability to find a pass and dictate the tempo -- although he doesn't get forward as much, and nor does he have the same sort of options in terms of players to pass to. (I also think that Xabi's defensive work is often underrated, although that's less of a consideration with Mascherano beside him, snapping into tackles.)

Rafa decided to start on Sunday with Torres up front, supported by Kuyt and Voronin, who are both hard workers but certainly not proper wingers, and also don't have the legs to cover the amount of ground that the needed to. (I'm still not sure why at least one of Babel and Benayoun wasn't on the pitch from the beginning.) Combined with the defence sitting deeper to avoid getting caught out by Arsenal's speed, that left Torres isolated too often, and a lot of space in midfield for Alonso and Mascherano to cover, with Steven Gerrard pushing forward.

Torres was evidently not match fit (despite Rafa having said that he was very close to playing against Everton last week); because of that he didn't seem to be able to hold the ball up as well as he usually does. Crouch -- who's been ignored for most of this season -- did a lot better once he came on at halftime, and sort of made me wonder why he hasn't been used more.

Overall, I think a draw was a fair result. Looking at the stats, I was surprised to see that the teams had an equal number of attempts on goal, and Liverpool actually had more shots on target. Nevertheless, I was nervous every time Arsenal came forward -- and they came forward a lot -- just waiting for them to pick holes in the back line. Jamie Carragher had to do a lot of last-ditch defending, and the team was helped by the referees once again ignoring some of his more physical play, as well as Arsenal hitting the post a couple times. (Seriously, how did Cesc miss that open goal?) It couldn't last, though, and Fabregas finally equalized in the 80th minute, cancelling out Gerrard's excellent free kick early in the first half.

The other thing about the injuries to Torres and Alonso is that they forced Rafa's hand in terms of substitutions. By the time Xabi went off for as the third sub, Arbeloa was pretty much the only option to bring on, and for some reason Rafa stuck him in centre midfield -- rather than, say, putting Arbeloa at left back, moving Riise to left mid, and having Gerrard drop in to hold centre midfield with Mascherano. And then Mascherano got hurt too; I'm pretty sure that he was limping by the time Arsenal scored, and I think Arbeloa was the one who was tracking Fabregas but lost him on that goal. Just saying.

On the other hand, Liverpool are still unbeaten, their upcoming string of games doesn't look too tough, Torres hopefully won't be out for too long, and Stevie G. seems to be playing himself back into form. I'm trying to look on the bright side here, people.

Manchester United 4-1 Middlesbrough
That would be four goals for United, in the fourth consecutive game. Not bad for a team that seemed to be struggling not so long ago.

Nani opened the scoring early by wriggling past a couple of defenders on the left and then unleashing a stunning, unstoppable shot into the far corner. Middlesbrough have often been a tricky team for United, though, and they came back almost immediately, with a free header from Jeremie Aliadiere from Tuncay's cross. You have to give credit to Boro for actually coming to Old Trafford to play football, not just to stifle the home team -- but that just meant that they ended up giving United way too much time and space on the ball. It looked for a while like it might be a close game. But then Rooney and Tevez clicked into gear, Rooney scoring the second goal and setting up Tevez for the third with a sublime combination, a one-two into the box and then a backheel to tee up the shot.

United confirmed today that Paul Scholes will be out for three months with a knee injury, which is a blow, but not as big as it could have been, with Anderson turning in another good performance and Owen Hargreaves back for only his fourth game to anchor the midfield. Cristiano Ronaldo was relatively subdued for once, but it didn't much matter with the other attacking options available. The trip to the Emirates on Saturday is going to be one hell of a game.

Chelsea 6-0 Manchester City
Yeesh. I think I liked it better when Chelsea were boring. This kind of powerful, incisive football...well, it's probably fun to watch for the neutrals, but less so if you hate their whole arrogant, overpaid, unpleasant team. This was an impressive result, though -- the more so because City have been doing so well until now. They were still in the game up to halftime, when it was only 2-0, but Drogba's goal just after the break meant that they basically collapsed, and the rest of the game was spent with Chelsea camped out in their opponents' half of the pitch. City just couldn't seem to get a grip on Chelsea in midfield -- and I have to give credit to Frank Lampard here; he had a good game, much as I dislike his stupid smug face and his stupid short shorts. Michael Essien, also, was tearing them apart down the right, while the City left-back, Javier Garrido, was essentially useless (I had to look his name up after the game, that's how invisible he was for 90 minutes). The icing on the cake for Chelsea: a 90th-minute goal for Andriy Shevchenko. I think I may have even seen Roman Abramovich smile.

Other results
Birmingham 3-2 Wigan
Portsmouth 0-0 West Ham
Reading 2-1 Newcastle
Sunderland 1-1 Fulham
Tottenham 1-2 Blackburn
Bolton 1-1 Aston Villa
Derby 0-2 Everton


weenie said...

You're right, Liverpool's 1-1 result was a fair one. I was quite happy with their performance - after the champions league fiasco, I wasn't looking forward to the tie against an on-form Arsenal. Too bad about Alonso (we've really missed him) and Torres' injuries - big blows.

Chelsea's 6-0 win over City was shocking - I'm hoping to see the return game at City next year - should be an interesting grudge/revenge match.

Jen said...

Yeah, I'm reasonably happy with the result against Arsenal -- I was dreading the match, after both teams' performance in the Champions League -- although I still see a lot of room for improvement. But I'm disappointed that they were so close to being able to close the gap to 3 points, and couldn't do it.