Although Tottenham succeeding in stopping their run of defeats at three, with a 2-1 victory away at Swansea last Saturday, inept defending once again cost them in the first leg of their Europa League tie against Basel on Thursday, as they conceded two goals in four first-half minutes. Spurs managed to claw their way back to earn a 2-2 draw, but the return match in Switzerland next week in all likelihood now requires them to come away with a victory, as a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreline would see them exit the competition on the away goals rule. Some players in the back line can look fantastic one week, then awful in the next fixture – most notably Jan Vertonghen, who combined twice with Gareth Bale in the match against Swansea for a goal and an assist – but there is one squad member who has been very consistent – William Gallas.
As he had previous plied his trade for both Arsenal and Chelsea, Gallas was not a popular recruit amongst us Tottenham supporters when he was brought to the club in the summer of 2010, but his performances this season have spoken for themselves – he has been awful. The former French international has played 22 matches* for the club in all competitions this campaign and in those fixtures, Spurs have conceded 32 goals – an average of 1.333 per game; whereas when Gallas has not been on the field, Tottenham have allowed the opponents to score just 22 in 24 games – a rate of 0.91. Poor positioning, bad decision-making and a woeful lack of pace are the chief complaints that can be leveled against Gallas, but he also frustrates in the opponent’s penalty area, where he continues to believe he should be the target of every corner or free-kick, yet fails to convert even the easiest of chances – a far cry from the player who for Chelsea, ruined my one trip to Stamford Bridge with a 90th minute 25-yard screamer to send Spurs to a 2-1 defeat in 2006. If Tottenham are to have any chance of finishing inside the top four and progressing further in the Europa League, the biggest factor that can help them achieve these goals is not the health of Gareth Bale – who is expected to miss at least a fortnight following a bad-looking ankle injury sustained in the final minute of last night’s game – rather that Andre Villas-Boas stops picking William Gallas in his side.
*Giving him credit for the away match against Fulham, in which he came on in the 17th minute to replace the injured Michael Dawson; but discounting his substitute appearance versus West Brom where he came on for the last 18 minutes only.
Chelsea have played three games in the last seven days and came away with victories in both of the cup ties – against Manchester United in the FA Cup and Rubin Kazen in the Europa League – but lost 2-1 at Southampton in the Premiership last Saturday. That defeat saw them slip below Tottenham into fourth place, just two points above Arsenal, who beat Reading 4-1 at the Emirates, with Everton a further two points back in sixth following their victory over Stoke. Rafa Benitez’s men now face another three games inside seven days, but their congested fixture list is nothing compared with the one that Guernsey of the Combined Counties League must contend with in April. Due to numerous postponements, Guernsey – an island in the English Channel – must now play 15 games inside 30 days this month, including three matches in 42 hours next weekend, but they did start that run with a 6-1 away victory against Windsor last Monday.
In comparison to recent seasons, when the Manchester derbies have been significant fixtures in the calendar, there is very little riding on Monday’s encounter between City and United. With both sides winning last weekend – the champions thrashed Newcastle 4-0 at the Etihad, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat Sunderland 1-0 – the gap at the top remains at 15 points, with only 8 fixtures remaining. With the title all but secured for the red half of Manchester, City will be more focused on their FA Cup semi-final next Sunday against Chelsea and as they are in little danger of being caught for second place in the league, Mancini may decide to rest some of his players for the derby.
The defeat against Manchester United was the last game in charge of Sunderland for Martin O’Neill, who was relieved of his duties following that loss, which extended the Black Cats winless run to eight matches and left them just a point above the relegation zone. In his place, Sunderland have appointed former West Ham striker, Paolo DiCanio as their new manager, a man who enjoyed a successful 21 month spell in charge of Swindon, but who has a checkered past that includes pushing over referee Paul Alcock during a Premiership match in 1998, and praising some aspects of Benito Mussolini’s leadership of Italy in his auto-biography. While the appointment might prove to be effective in football terms as the club attempts to avoid relegation, it is never going to be good for your public image when a new manager is forced to make a declaration that he does not support the fascist movement
Elsewhere in the battle to avoid the drop – which is particularly important this season with the increase of television revenue that begins in August – Wigan continued their annual late revival with a 1-0 win over Norwich, which moved them out of the relegation zone; they were replaced in the bottom three by Aston Villa, who lost 2-1 at home against Liverpool; while QPR and Reading appear to be doomed as they are both now seven points from safety, following their away defeats against Fulham and Arsenal respectively. The other Premiership fixture last weekend saw West Ham beat West Brom 3-1 in East London, with Andy Carroll netting twice with a header and a superb volley.
Alongside the Manchester derby on Monday, the other fixtures this weekend see Tottenham, who will be without both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, host Everton; DiCanio’s first game in charge of Sunderland will be at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea; West Ham will have to do without Carroll, as they play his parent club, Liverpool; Fulham travel to Newcastle; and West Brom entertain Arsenal. Nigel Adkins gets a reunion with the club who fired him last month, as his new side, Reading, face Southampton; Norwich and Swansea meet at Carrow Road; Aston Villa have an away match against Stoke; and there is a crucial encounter at the bottom of the table, between QPR and Wigan.
Last week, 4-6; Season, 137-157
Reading vs Southampton – Away win
Norwich vs Swansea – Draw
Stoke vs Aston Villa – Home win
West Brom vs Arsenal – Away win
Liverpool vs West Ham – Home win
Tottenham vs Everton – Away win
Chelsea vs Sunderland – Home win
Newcastle vs Fulham – Home win
QPR vs Wigan – Away win
Manchester United vs Manchester City – Draw