In a move that typified the “what have you done for me lately?” nature of modern football, Chelsea sacked Roberto DiMatteo as their manager this week, a mere six months after he had secured the club their first Champions League trophy. The Blues had started the season strongly and were four points clear at the top of the league after eight matches, but last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat away at West Brom marked the fourth Premiership game in succession from which Chelsea had failed to emerge victorious. That recent dip in form had seen them drop to third in the table, themselves now four points behind the leaders, Manchester City – whom they host this weekend – and seemingly the final straw for owner Roman Abramovich came with a 3-0 defeat away at Juventus, leaving them third in their Champions League game with just one game to go. However, DiMatteo would have been within his rights to expect more faith from the Russian after he brought such success to the club last season, when their campaign had looked doomed under Andre Villas-Boas.
Chelsea will be hoping that the formula that brought them two trophies in May will work again this year, as they have appointed Rafa Benitez as the interim manager for the remainder of the season. Benitez also has unlikely European Cup win on his resume – in 2005 with Liverpool – and he takes charge of Chelsea in time to lead them at the Club World Cup, which will be held in Japan at the beginning of December. Nevertheless, even if the Spaniard is able to gain more silverware for the Londoners, he may not earn a long-term contract, as Abramovich has been an admirer of former Barcelona boss, Pep Guardiola, although he may now have competition for his services from the Brazilian national team, who sacked Mano Menezes on Friday.
Another, much more explainable, sacking occurred in West London this week, as Queens Park Rangers dispensed of the services of Mark Hughes, who had been unable to gain a single victory in the league this season, despite a large expenditure in the transfer market over the summer. During last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat against fellow strugglers, Southampton, QPR fans unfurled a banner pleading for Harry Redknapp to come and save them, a wish that appears close to being granted, as the former Spurs manager is on the verge of taking over at Loftus Road. Rangers away form was the most troubling aspect of Hughes reign, with his side picking up just two points from fifteen matches on the road during his ten month spell in charge. Redknapp – who was always quick to mention that Spurs had only two points from eight games when he took over in 2008 – will not be in place in time for this Saturday’s fixture, perhaps fortuitously as QPR face Manchester United at Old Trafford, a ground they have not won on since their famous 4-1 victory on New Year’s Day in 1992.
If results do not begin to turn his way, Andre Villas-Boas could be the next manager looking for employment, as his Spurs team have lost four of their last five Premiership encounters. In the North London derby last Saturday, Tottenham had taken an early lead after Emmanuel Adebayor had tapped in from close range, following a good effort by Jermain Defoe, but the Togolese striker saw red in the 17th minutes following a reckless challenge on Santi Cazorla. While going down to ten men certainly put the visitors on the back foot, it did not explain why the defence – in particular William Gallas – were unable to close down the Arsenal strikers, or adequately mark the opposition at set pieces. Mertesacker, Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla and Walcott all found the net to give the Gunners a second consecutive 5-2 victory over their neighbours, with the other Spurs goal coming from the right-foot of Gareth Bale. The poor run of form has seen Spurs drop down to 8th in the table – six points behind the coveted Champions League places – and if AVB cannot turn around the season soon, he may be leaving a London club prematurely for the second successive year.
In the other games last weekend, Manchester City were the beneficiaries of a bizarre penalty decision last weekend, as the assistant referee flagged for a handball in the box against Aston Villa defender, Andreas Weimann, but replays showed there had been no contact and none of the City players appealed for a spot-kick. Although the final score of 5-0 to the champions suggests that Villa would not have had much of a chance even without that penalty award, at the time Mancini’s men had led by a single goal and were far from comfortable. The three points put City top of the league and the maintained that position when their local rivals, Manchester United, fell to a surprising 1-0 defeat away at Norwich – the goal for the Canaries was scored by the world’s second most famous Pilkington, Anthony. That was not the only shocking result of the weekend: Everton lost away at Reading, giving the Royals their first victory of the season; Swansea beat Newcastle 2-1 at St. James’s Park; Sunderland won 3-1 at Craven Cottage against Fulham; and Liverpool gained three points at home for just the second time this season, defeating Wigan 3-0.
On Monday night, West Ham and Stoke drew 1-1 at Upton Park and the Hammers now face top eight sides in six of their next seven games, starting with Tottenham at White Hart Lane this Sunday. Alongside that game, and the aforementioned fixtures this weekend between Manchester United and QPR, and Manchester City’s trip to Stamford Bridge; Brendan Rodgers returns to Swansea for the first time since he left to become Liverpool manager in the summer; Newcastle boss, Alan Pardew also faces his former employers as he takes his current team to Southampton; Arsenal travel to Aston Villa; and Everton entertain Norwich. Stoke have a home game against Fulham; Wigan and Reading meet at the DW Stadium; and Sunderland host high-flying West Brom.
Last week, 4-6; Season 51-66
Sunderland vs West Brom – Draw
Everton vs Norwich – Home win
Manchester United vs QPR – Home win
Stoke vs Fulham – Away win
Wigan vs Reading – Home win
Aston Villa vs Arsenal – Away win
Swansea vs Liverpool – Draw
Southampton vs Newcastle – Away win
Chelsea vs Manchester City – Draw
Tottenham vs West Ham – Home win