Monday, December 17, 2007

Premiership Weekend Roundup: December 15-16

Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United
Poor Rafa just cannot win. He rotates his team and people slag him off for that; he keeps an unchanged team from the one that steamrolled Marseilles, and they look toothless.

Maybe it wasn't the greatest football on display -- mostly a lot of hustle and bustle in midfield -- but I thought it was great fun to watch because of how tense it was and how closely matched the two teams were. The difference basically came down to Carlos Tevez versus Fernando Torres. Tevez benefited from a defensive lapse by Liverpool -- first nobody picking up Wayne Rooney on the edge of the box at a corner, and then Yossi Benayoun staying glued to the post to play Tevez onside -- to score United's only goal.

Torres, on the other hand, had his best chance on goal with a free header from a couple yards out with the keeper out of position, but sent it just wide. Torres definitely wasn't at his best in this game, but on the other hand he didn't get much help from the rest of the team. Steven Gerrard was playing a bit deeper and didn't get forward in support as much, while the wide players were not particularly effective -- although that was a problem for both teams, not just Liverpool.

And neither team actually created all that many real shots on goal; probably because they were giving up possession too easily to let them develop the play. In fact, some of Liverpool's best chances came from braincramps from Edwin van der Sar, who kept coming off his line and running straight into a defender. But they didn't capitalize on their lucky breaks, and United did, which means Liverpool are now 10 points behind Arsenal at the top of the table.

It's really not a great result for Liverpool; they may indeed be out of the title race. But I don't expect this to actually precipitate a crisis at the club. Let's face it, the owners are fundamentally practical, and they're going to recognize that the win against Marseille in midweek was far more important to the club's finances than losing to United here.

As for United, this should be a morale-booster for them. Not that they were exactly lacking in morale before. But I think the game was a reminder that they do have a good enough squad that they should be serious contenders for more than one trophy this year.

Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea
Well, Manuel Almunia turns out to be basically the only one of the "big four" goalkeepers who came out of this weekend with his reputation enhance. Petr Cech? Not so much. I have no idea how he missed that ball, but he did, leaving William Gallas to once again step up with a crucial goal for Arsenal. (Although I am still dubious about Arsene Wenger making him captain. Also dubious: his mohawk.)

Anyway, like the United-Liverpool game, I found this one quite entertaining, despite the lack of pretty football. Mostly I was amused by how chippy the game was, seeing as I dislike both teams. Arsenal at least can present this as a rebuttal to people who say that they can be bullied out of games, because they gave as good as they got against Chelsea. Also I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for the injuries to John Terry, who was being his usual petulant self, or Emmanuel Eboue, who makes JT look like the epitome of gentlemanly behaviour by comparison.

Other results
Wigan 5-3 Blackburn
Manchester City 4-2 Bolton
West Ham 0-2 Everton
Portsmouth 0-1 Tottenham
Sunderland 1-1 Aston Villa
Birmingham 1-1 Reading
Fulham 0-1 Newcastle
Derby 0-1 Middlesbrough

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