Monday, April 28, 2008

Premiership Weekend Roundup: March 26-27

Chelsea 2-1 Manchester United
So, it looks like the title race is going to go down to the wire. Chelsea are now level with Manchester United on points, after beating them on Saturday. But United's destiny is still in their own hands, thanks to their stupendous goal difference; as long as they win their last two games, against West Ham and Wigan, they'll win the Premiership. I don't really like that it's still so close, but think that United will do it now that they know there's no margin for error.

Actually, I think that was part of the problem with this game: Chelsea knew they had to win, whereas United were just playing for the draw, and it backfired on them. You'd think Sir Alex would have learned by now that United are much better when they play to win, but apparently not. How else do you explain a midfield of Nani, Park, Giggs, Carrick and Fletcher? Sure, let's leave the team's top goal-scorer and the PFA player of the year on the bench, why not? It's not as if this was an important game or anything. Oh, wait.

Anyway, Chelsea were definitely the stronger team in the first half. It didn't help that United lost Vidic to injury in the first 15 minutes, after he got kneed in the face by Drogba and busted up his lip. Hargreaves came on at right-back and Wes Brown moved into the centre, and I don't know if it was because of the defensive shake-up or not, but there was absolutely nobody marking Ballack when he drifted into the box to score from a header just before halftime. Seriously, y'all, he's a big guy, he's hard to miss.

United equalized early in the second half, as Wayne Rooney latched onto a boneheaded back-pass from Carvalho and slotted it past Petr Cech (despite the fact that he'd been limping around clutching his hip just a moment before), and it looked like they were starting to get into the game a bit more. But the lineup wasn't quite clicking -- it didn't help that Nani made the exact wrong decision every single time he got the ball -- and it was Chelsea who ended up with the winning goal, when they were awarded a penalty in the 84th minute for a supposed handball.

Now, I've only seen one version of the replay -- maybe from another angle it would be more obvious -- but from what I saw, it was really hard to tell if the ball actually hit Carrick's arm or not. From his reaction -- he looked totally stunned when they gave the penalty -- I didn't think it was handball, and even if the ball did hit his arm, it was down at his side at the time, certainly not being moved deliberately to block the shot. So I think it was a questionable call at best. Regardless, Ballack stepped up to coolly take the penalty, and thus destroyed any goodwill I might have had for him after his little spat with Drogba.

United had a couple of chances to equalize again late in the game, but they were both cleared off the line, the first by Ashley Cole, the second by Andriy Shevchenko -- possibly the most useful thing he's done all year, unless you count batting his eyelashes at Milan as useful, which I do not. So it was all to no avail, and the United players apparently took out their frustration by screaming at the officials and getting booked (Hargreaves), kicking a steward (Ferdinand; way to go on demonstrating your maturity to Capello, Rio), and getting into a fight with the Chelsea groundskeepers (Evra & co.).

Who says Chelsea v United is always a boring game?

Birmingham 2-2 Liverpool
Just like against Fulham last week, Liverpool fielded an understrength team ahead of their Champions League semi-final. You would have expected some of these fringe players to step up their game and try to prove that they deserve a spot in the starting lineup against Chelsea -- or not to be shipped out in the summer. And yet most of them played as if they just couldn't be arsed, as Birmingham took a 2-0 lead with one goal in each half. Jermaine Pennant was one of the few Liverpool players who came away with much credit, sparking their comeback in the last half-hour with a great run past three defenders to set up Peter Crouch for their first goal. Yossi Benayoun tied things up with a deflected header, as Birmingham threw away their lead and remain in the relegation zone, while the point for Liverpool guarantees them fourth place. So, job done, I guess.

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

  • Fighting for a spot in the UEFA Cup, Everton and Villa played out a scoreless first half, before Everton took the lead through Phil Neville's deflected goal in the 56th minute. And then the game exploded late in the second half, with three goals in six minutes as Villa equalized twice -- but they still trail Everton by three points in the table.
  • Fulham came back from 2-0 down in the last half-hour of their game, squeezing out a victory in extra time to give them a tiny glimmer of hope that they'll survive this season.
  • Sunderland also scored an injury-time winner, which guarantees their spot in the Premiership for next year. Roy Keane may even have cracked a smile.
  • West Ham and Newcastle played out an entirely meaningless game that showcased both teams' attacking talent and simultaneous defensive ineptitude -- which bodes well for their meetings with Man Utd and Chelsea next weekend.

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