Monday, February 25, 2008

Premiership Weekend Roundup: February 23-24

Liverpool 3-2 Middlesbrough
Just in case you needed reminding: Fernando Torres was worth every penny that Rafa Benitez paid for him this summer. His hat-trick here -- which was his second of the season, by the way -- was pretty much the only good thing about Liverpool in this game. Plus an honorable mention to Sami Hyypia, who's having a much better season than anyone expected and had to shepherd Alvaro Arbeloa through the match at centre-half.

Liverpool's back line is carrying a few injuries right now, and Jamie Carragher was suspended on Saturday, so maybe that's why their defending was so awful all game. Tuncay scored Middlesborough's first goal with an unmarked header, and could have had a second goal if he hadn't decided to put the ball in the net with his arm rather than his head. All because of sloppy play by Liverpool, who seem to be making things way harder for themselves than they need to be.

But back to Torres: He's got strength, speed, skill on the ball and, at least at the moment, lethal finishing. (I've also seen him guilty of some shocking misses, but right now, wow, is he on form.) He pounced on a brainless back-header from Julio Arca for the first goal, rounding the keeper and avoiding a couple of tackles before slotting the ball home. For his second, just a couple minutes later, he made himself a yard of space and smashed the ball past the keeper into the corner of the net with a combination of power and precision that Steven Gerrard would have been proud of. The third goal I didn't see, no thanks to Setanta, but we'll assume it was just as good.

As for the rest of the team, the less said, the better. I thought that Lucas in particular was useless, and I'm not just saying that because of my thing about Xabi Alonso. I do like the 4-2-3-1 formation that they were playing, but I think it works better if you've got two proper wingers (i.e., not Dirk Kuyt). It also can leave you playing very narrow if the fullbacks don't get forward -- or, alternatively, vulnerable on the flanks to crosses like the ones Boro were putting in all game.

I feel like I also should say something about the red card for Aliadiere at the end of the game, but did it really make a difference? Maybe Mascherano was lucky not to be sent off as well; maybe the ref didn't see it; maybe he figured it was less serious since Mascherano didn't actually take a swing at another player. Who knows.

Newcastle 1-5 Manchester United
Newcastle really are a farce, aren't they? There were points during the game on Saturday where Manchester United just looked like they were playing with them.

The most glaring problem is their defence, or lack thereof. (I kind of wondered when Shay Given went off at halftime if it was not because of an injury but because he just couldn't cope with the incompetence in front of him anymore.) It was obvious from United's first goal, when Cristiano Ronaldo's cross found Wayne Rooney in acres of space in the box, after N'Zogbia had decided that marking him was optional. The second goal was more about a great ball from Michael Carrick -- who had an excellent game, and I feel compelled to point this out because I've criticized him a lot in the past, but he's getting quite good at those perfectly weighted passes through the defence for the strikers to feed on.

The third: well, more hopeless defending; I think some Newcastle player tried to make a tackle, but failed utterly and let Ronaldo in on goal for his second of the game. Newcastle did pull a goal back off a corner late in the second half, but it was too little, too late. And United responded by scoring again almost immediately: Newcastle didn't clear their lines and Rooney looped the ball into the top corner. Plus another one in stoppage time, as Rooney, despite being on a hat-trick, unselfishly set up Louis Saha, who was in a better position to score and did. United haven't had many easier games this season -- aside from maybe the last time they played Newcastle. And with Arsenal dropping points earlier in the day, they've cut the gap at the top of the table to a very slim three points.

Arsenal 2-2 Birmingham
No schadenfreude from me today. I can't really take pleasure in any game with an injury as horrific as the one to Eduardo, even if it does end up with Arsenal dropping points. I haven't seen any graphic pictures of the tackle, but based on what I've read, I don't want to see them either. (I'd prefer to be able to play tonight and not be paranoid about getting hurt.) I don't think Martin Taylor intended to hurt Eduardo -- it didn't look like a malicious tackle, from what I saw -- but it was late and high, and he thoroughly deserved to be sent off.

Birminham, surprisingly, took a first-half lead with a free kick by James McFadden, as the Arsenal players looked a bit shell-shocked by what had happened. But Arsenal came back strongly after halftime with two goals from Theo Walcott -- his first and second Premiership goals ever. Arsenal dominated for the remainder of the game but didn't convert that dominance into another goal. And they paid for it when Birmingham were awarded a penalty deep into stoppage time, with Gael Clichy switching off for a moment instead of clearing the ball and then committing a foul trying to win it back.

Finally: I was thoroughly unimpressed by William Gallas's behaviour at the end of the match. I've come across other commentators saying that he was upset because he'd wanted to win the game for Eduardo, but to me it looked more like he was pissed off at his teammates for fucking up. Not very captainly.

Other results
Blackburn 4-1 Bolton
Fulham 0-1 West Ham
Portsmouth 1-0 Sunderland
Reading 1-2 Aston Villa
Wigan 2-0 Derby

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