Last Sunday, Kenny Dalglish led Liverpool to their first trophy in six years, as they overcame Cardiff on penalties at Wembley to win the Carling Cup. The Welsh side had taken a surprising early lead through a Joe Mason goal, but were pegged back when Martin Skrtel equalised for Liverpool on the hour mark. In extra time, Dirk Kuyt’s strike appeared to have clinched the trophy for the Merseysiders, but Ben Turner forced the game to penalties with a late goal for Cardiff. Cousins Steven and Anthony Gerrard both failed to convert penalties for their respective teams, and the latter’s miss sealed the cup for Liverpool, who won the shootout 3-2. Dalglish and John Henry, Liverpool’s American owner, will be hoping this is a catalyst to further success – starting with this season’s FA Cup, a competition in which the club has reached the quarter-final stage.
In the Premiership last weekend, Manchester City secured a routine 3-0 home win over Blackburn, while their rivals United kept up their challenge thanks to a last-minute strike from Ryan Giggs that gave them a 2-1 victory at Norwich. Chelsea’s troika of trouble-makers – Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Ashley Cole – were reinstalled to the lineup for their clash with Bolton at Stamford Bridge and they were able to prove their value to Andre Villas-Boas as his team ran out 3-0 winners. However, this was against Bolton, at home – a game that most teams would expect to win, let alone one with Champions League aspirations. In March, Chelsea face an FA Cup replay away to Birmingham; the return leg of the Champions League tie with Napoli, which they currently trail 3-1; and a home Premiership encounter against Tottenham. It will be these three matches, rather than the victory over Bolton, that will be the true test of both Villas-Boas’ stewardship and the value of his aging squad.
Terry Connor, who has been appointed as Wolves manager until the end of the season, saw his team show some fight as they came back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw away at Newcastle. Martin Jol sent out a very attacking lineup for Fulham’s trip to QPR and, although it was not a resounding victory, they did pick up all three points thanks to an early goal from Pavel Pogrebnyak, who converted Moussa Dembele’s fantastic through ball. Rangers have now lost four of the six league games they have played under new manager Mark Hughes – winning just once – and are outside of the relegation zone solely on goal difference. Wigan remain bottom, but picked up a valuable point with a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa at the DW Stadium, inching them closer to the three sides directly above them (Bolton, Blackburn and QPR), who all lost. West Brom surprised everybody by beating a previously rampant Sunderland side 4-0 at the Hawthornes; Stoke earned a 2-0 win over Swansea; and there was one other match last weekend also, but I can’t quite remember who was involved in it…oh right…this.
There was also a round of international friendlies in midweek: England, led by Stuart Pearce for the first (and probably only) time, came from 2
goals down against the Netherlands to draw level in injury time – only to lose 3-2 after Arjen Robben’s wonder strike. Wales paid tribute to their former manager, Gary Speed, during their match with Costa Rica – the Central Americans ran out 1-0 winners, but the result was incidental to the occasion. Spain beat Venezuela 5-0 at home, in part thanks to a second half hat-trick from Valencia striker, Roberto Soldado, who may end up replacing the misfiring Fernando Torres in the squad for the European Champions – and France recorded an impressive 2-1 win in Germany.
This weekend’s Premiership slate is bracketed by games between four sides that have at various times dominated the English game: Saturday’s first fixtures sees Liverpool, who were the team of the 80s, take on an Arsenal, who won five league titles between 1989 and 2004; then the last game on Sunday has Manchester United, now the most domestically successful English league club, travel to Tottenham, who apparently were really good once back in the 60s…in black and white…long before I was born. Pessimism after last weekend’s loss to Arsenal aside, this is a crucial game for Spurs, who need to maintain their position of third place in the Premiership and not be dragged back into a fight with their North London rivals, Chelsea and Newcastle to secure a berth in next season’s Champions League. United also need to keep winning, as they do not want to drop any further behind Manchester City, who just keep on winning. This weekend, Mancini’s side host Bolton, thus are likely to have stretched their lead at the top to five points prior to kick off at White Hart Lane.
Elsewhere, two struggling sides meet at Ewood Park, as Blackburn entertain Aston Villa; Everton travel to south-west London to face QPR; Stoke are at home against Norwich; Chelsea have an away game against West Brom; and Fulham and Wolves clash at Craven Cottage. The other big game of the weekend is the North-East derby on Sunday between Newcastle and Sunderland. Both sides suffered poor results last weekend and will be looking to get their season back on track. Alan Pardew’s team is challenging for a European place for next year, while Sunderland have endured a revival under Martin O’Neill and hope to continue their push up the league.
Last week, 5-4; Season 100-129
Liverpool vs Arsenal – Home win
Blackburn vs Aston Villa – Draw
Manchester City vs Bolton – Home win
QPR vs Everton – Away win
Stoke vs Norwich – Home win
West Brom vs Chelsea – Draw
Wigan vs Swansea – Away win
Newcastle vs Sunderland – Draw
Fulham vs Wolves – Home win
Tottenham vs Manchester United – Away win