This Week In: English Football – Is The Title Race Over?

Steven Gerrard celebrates his great strike at the Etihad against Manchester City
Steven Gerrard celebrates his great strike at the Etihad against Manchester City

Manchester City fell a further two behind their neighbours in the title race last weekend, as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.  It could have been worst for Mancini’s men in there bid to retain the Premiership trophy, as the Reds took the lead with 15 minutes to go through a wonder strike from their captain, Steven Gerrard, a goal that was reminiscent of the crucial ones he scored against Olympiakos in the Champions League group stages in 2004/5 and his late equaliser against West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup Final.  On both occasions, those goals helped Liverpool go on to win the competition, but this time his effort earned only a point for his team, as Sergio Aguero ensured the spoils were shared by rounding Pepe Reina, then finishing from an acute angle into an empty net.  There had been some controversy in the first half surrounding the first goal for Brendan Rodgers men, as Edin Dzeko – who had opened the scoring for the hosts – was down “injured”, but Liverpool refused to kick the ball out of play and Daniel Sturridge found the net playing against his old club.  Dzeko made a miraculous recovery and was able to continue for the rest of the match and, despite the argument that surrounded that goal, the Scousers were worthy of at least a draw, as they enjoyed 56% of the possession and had twenty-one shots, versus the home side’s nine.

The gap between City, the reigning champions, and Manchester United sits has now been stretched to nine points, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men earned a narrow 1-0 win at Craven Cottage against Fulham, thanks to Wayne Rooney’s strike with just over ten minutes to go.  While United are going to suffer fixture congestion due to their upcoming Champions League tie with Real Madrid – compared to City, who have no further involvement in European competition this season – their only remaining away game against a side currently in the top 8 is at the Emirates in April, while Mancini’s men must go to Everton, Swansea, Tottenham and Old Trafford before the end of the campaign.  Any more slip-ups from the Blue half of Manchester between now and their fixture against United, they are likely to be playing for pride rather than any realistic hopes of the title.

Tottenham’s decision not to purchase a striker in the January transfer window was made to look all the more foolish in their match last weekend against West Brom, as Jermain Defoe was forced off in the first-half with ligament damage that will rule him out for at least another three weeks.  Despite being forced to play with as many forwards on the field as Spain had in the European Championships last summer – none – they came away from The Hawthorns with a victory thanks to another great individual effort from their talisman, Gareth Bale.  The victory for Spurs consolidated their position in fourth place, while it also moved them to just a single point behind Chelsea in third, as the Blues were beaten 3-2 at St. James’s Park by Newcastle, with Moussa Sissoko scored twice on his home debut, including the winner in the final minute of normal time.  Just below Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification are Everton – who were held to a 3-3 draw by Aston Villa at Goodison Park – and Arsenal, who beat Stoke 1-0 at the Emirates last Saturday.

Elsewhere, Reading’s excellent run of form continued, as well as their habit of picking up points late in games, as they defeated Sunderland 2-1 with an 85 minute header from Jimmy Kebe; Wigan remained in the relegation zone despite picking up a last-minute point against Southampton, as their contest ended 2-2; West Ham beat Swansea 1-0 at Upton Park; and Queens Park Rangers extended their unbeaten league run to five matches – although four of those have been draws  – with a 0-0 stalemate against Norwich City.

Burkina Faso celebrate their penalty shoot-out win over Ghana in the ACN Semi-finals
Burkina Faso celebrate their penalty shoot-out win over Ghana in the ACN Semi-finals

On Wednesday, in a round of international friendlies: Jack Wilshere inspired England to beat Brazil at Wembley, 2-1; Wales defeated Austria 2-1, thanks to a goal and an assist from Gareth Bale; and Germany won in France for the first time in 78 years, with Mesut Ozil starring for Joachim Löw’s team.  In the African Cup of Nations, Burkina Faso’s dream of repeating Zambia’s achievement last year of winning the tournament as rank outsiders continued, as they followed up their quarter-final success over Togo, by beating Ghana in the semi-finals and they will face Nigeria, who had a comfortable win over Mali, in Sunday’s final.

This weekend, there are likely to be chants of support for Paul Gascoigne – who has been in the news again this week as his struggles with alcohol addiction continue – in the encounter between the two English clubs he is most associated with – Spurs and Newcastle; Everton’s unbeaten run, currently at seven, will be tested at Old Trafford against Manchester United; Wigan travel to Chelsea; Sunderland host Arsenal; and Stoke entertain Reading.  QPR will remain bottom of the Premiership no matter what result they achieve at Stoke; Manchester City are away at Southampton; Norwich and Fulham meet at Carrow Road; Aston Villa take on West Ham; and Monday’s fixture is between Liverpool and West Brom at Anfield.

Predictions

Last week, 4-6; Season, 104-134

Actually let’s have a look at this – I watch more football games than any other sport, yet my record in predicting the outcomes is far below my mark in the NFL, which I follow less closely and consider my knowledge in to be far inferior.  It is almost as if the games are not based on reason, rather they are being manipulated to reflect the desired outcomes of a Far East betting syndicate…or, you know, it could be that there is a 1 in 3 chance of me predicting the outcome of a Premiership match (Home/Away win or draw) versus a 50% probability for an NFL game against the spread.  I still think it’s the match-fixing that’s causing my poor record though…

Tottenham vs Newcastle – Home win

Chelsea vs Wigan – Home win

Norwich vs Fulham – Away win

Stoke vs Reading – Home win

Sunderland vs Arsenal – Draw

Swansea vs QPR – Home win

Southampton vs Manchester City – Away win

Aston Villa vs West Ham – Draw

Manchester United vs Everton – Draw

Liverpool vs West Brom – Home win

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