This Week In: English Football – Honors Even on Merseyside and A Game I Will Not Talk About

Chelsea's top scoring striker this season, Romelu Lukaku wracks up his seventh goal for Everton during his loan spell
Chelsea’s top scoring striker this season, Romelu Lukaku wracks up his seventh goal for Everton during his loan spell

In the most exciting game of the weekend – and perhaps the best one so far in the Premiership this season – Everton and Liverpool shared six goals and the points following an exhilarating derby at Goodison Park.  The Reds had taken an early lead through Phillipe Coutinho, but that advantage was wiped out in the 8th minute by Kevin Mirallas, only for Luis Suarez to give his side the edge once again when he curled a free-kick into the bottom corner, threading the ball through a gap Steven Pienaar had left on the end of the Everton wall.  Ten minutes before half-time, the Toffees should have been reduced to 10 men when Mirallas went in on Suarez with his studs up and caught the Uruguayan in the thigh – most likely an act of retaliation for a tackle in the derby last season that left the Belgian on the sidelines for several weeks.  However, referee Phil Dowd chose to brandish only a yellow card and it was Mirallas’ hard work following up a Romelu Lukaku free-kick that enabled the ball to come back into the area for the on-loan striker from Chelsea to equalize in the 72nd minute; then the same combination worked again from a corner to give Lukaku his seventh goal of the season and the home team a 3-2 lead.  Nevertheless, Everton were not able to enjoy their first Merseyside victory in over three years, as substitute Daniel Sturridge gave the visitors from across Stanley Park a point with a flicked header from Steven Gerrard’s cross.  In all, it was a fair result as both teams had multiple chances to score more, but Liverpool will be particularly disappointed not to have taken all three points as, when they were 2-1 up, Joe Allen had a simple opportunity to extend their lead after hard work from Suarez had put him one-on-one with the keeper, but the Welsh midfielder put the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.

That was not the only other high-scoring match of the Premiership weekend, as on Sunday there was another involving one of the Manchester clubs – nope, not that one, I am not talking about that game – as United were held to a draw in Cardiff.  The champions had taken the lead through Wayne Rooney in the first half but, like Mirallas the previous day, the England striker should not have been on the pitch to effect the game as he should have been dismissed for kicking out petulantly at Jordon Mutch in the 7th minute.  Despite the setback, Cardiff were not overawed by the occasion and got back onto level terms through former Red Devil Fraizer Campbell, only to concede again just before half-time when Patrice Evra headed in a corner kick.  David Moyes’ side then held onto the lead up until injury time at the end of the match, but were forced to settle for only a point when Kim Bo-Kyung headed in  Peter Wittingham’s free-kick, though Rooney could still have won it for the visitors before the end, but he opted to attempt a pass when through on goal instead of finishing himself and gave the ball straight to Cardiff keeper, David Marshall.  The draw leaves United seven points behind the leaders, Arsenal, who beat Southampton 2-0 at the Emirates on Saturday, with both goals being scored by Olivier Giroud, though the Frenchman will not have had an easier brace.  His first was a gift from the Saints goalie Artur Boruc, who inexplicably attempted to take the ball around Giroud instead of booting it clear, then slipped and left the Arsenal striker with an open goal; and the second came via a penalty spot after Per Metersacker had his shirt pulled at a corner by Jose Fonte.  Somehow Southampton, who have the tightest defence in the Premiership so far this campaign, have also conceded two of the most ridiculous goals: that opener for Giroud on Saturday; and the 13 second strike by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic a few weeks ago.  That wind-assisted shot from Begovic is now only the joint fastest so far this season, as there was an equally quick opening goal at the Etihad on Sunday scored by Jesus Navas – but I am not saying anything more about that game.

Elsewhere, Chelsea had a routine 3-0 away victory over West Ham, with Frank Lampard scoring two against his former club and Oscar grabbing the other; Jonjo Shelvey came off the bench to score a cracker to give Swansea a 2-1 win at Fulham, heaping the pressure on manager Martin Jol; Stoke stymied Sunderland’s recent revival with a 2-0 defeat of the Black Cats; and Hull fans protested their club’s proposed name change to “Hull Tigers” during their match with Crystal Palace and their mood will not have been lifted when they saw their team lose to the bottom side, who had also been reduced to ten men a couple of minutes prior to scoring the only goal of the game.  Newcastle moved into 8th place in the table after a 2-1 victory over Norwich City, leaving the Canaries just a point above the bottom three; in the Midlands derby on Monday night, Shane Long struck twice in the first 10 minutes to give West Brom a 2-0 lead, but Aston Villa fought back in the second half to force a 2-2 draw; and Manchester City maintained their 100% record at home in the Premiership this season when they took all three points from their encounter with Tottenham.

There is European action this midweek, as the Champions League returns…wait, what? I should say more about the City vs Spurs match? I told you, it’s not going to happen…and on Tuesday, Arsenal host Marseille and they can have one foot in the knockout stages with a win, since Borussia Dortmund and Napoli – who are tied on 9 points with the Gunners – face each other; and Chelsea need only a point away at Basel to qualify from their group.  On Wednesday, Manchester United can assure their own passage if they get three points from their trip to Germany to face Bayer Leverkusen, though a defeat would leave them vulnerable heading into their final fixture against Shaktar Donetsk; while Manchester City can rotate their squad for the visit of Victoria Plzen, with qualification already assured, meaning Joe Hart might get his first game in nearly a month.  In the Europa League, Swansea require two points from their final two fixtures to ensure progress and on Thursday face Valencia, whom they beat 3-0 in Spain; Championship side Wigan host SC Zulte Waregem and need a victory to keep their hopes of staying in the competition on track; and Tottenham, who are already through to the knockout rounds, head up to Norway to face Tromsø, though I would force all of the players who were involved in the debacle at Manchester City on Sunday to travel up to more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle to play this match, the useless tossers…

Okay I guess I am going to have to address Manchester City 6, Tottenham Hotspur 0.  Let’s start with a couple of quotes:

Andre Villas-Boas appears to have formed the team into a close group who want victory over all else and the effort displayed from all of the players, but particularly new arrivals Eriksen, Paulinho and Soldado, suggests that if their style clicks alongside the work rate, this will be a very enjoyable Tottenham team to be supporting.

They have been impressive, relentless, worked together as a team fantastically well and looked brilliant at times  – yes you heard it, even this disenchanted, cynical Spurs fan is optimistic about his side’s chances for once.

aoYBsVxWhoever wrote those words must be completely embarrassed to have got it so wrong, especially when all the evidence of history pointed to this exact type of collapse at some point.  Of course I am quoting myself (from here and here) and I of all people should have known that this was going to happen.  To be fair, that second sentence ended with me adding the caveat that all of my optimism could come crashing down with a home game against Chelsea (which Tottenham drew 1-1), but in fact, it was the fixtures against West Ham, Newcastle and Manchester City that would completely destroy the strong start Spurs had made.  Here are the facts of the game and the season:

  • Spurs have only scored 9 times in 12 Premiership games this season – this is not exactly news to anyone who watches the games or reads anything about it, since the figure has been mentioned in all of the last three matches, none of which have seen Tottenham add to their tally.
  • Jermain Defoe – who has started only one game in the league this year – has nine goals in all competitions for the club in 2013/14, yet was left on the bench on Sunday and Emmanuel Adebayor, who had yet to feature all season, was brought on at half-time instead.
  • Roberto Soldado cost £26m from Valencia and thus far has scored three penalties and one goal from open play in 11 Premiership starts.  The other Spanish striker Spurs were linked with over the summer David Villa, cost Atletico Madrid £4.2million and has scored 8 times in 14 La Liga appearances for his new club.
  • Of the other replacements who came in to “make up” for the loss of Gareth Bale, Christian Eriksen has shown flashes of brilliance – most notably against Norwich, which gave me such optimism – but has been peripheral in games since then and is now out injured for six weeks; Erik Lamela, the club’s record signing, finally got off the score sheet in a Europa League match and although he has shown nice touches and an eye for a pass, he has yet to make any sort of impact that his £30m price tag would suggest; and Paulinho, the first of the big money signings, has been the most impressive of the new recruits, establishing a strong partnership in the center of midfield with both Moussa Dembélé and Sandro.  Etienne Capoue has also shown signs of being a good acquisition, though since an injury against Arsenal he has struggled to establish himself in the team, yet his tough tackling alongside Sandro would have been very useful to prevent such a capitulation as occurred on Sunday.
  • Andre Villas-Boas – who has had my complete support from the moment he was appointed and I continue to believe he can move Spurs up a level – has been too rigid with his style of play and has not sent his team out to play with the kind of gusto, attacking-minded spirit that is part of the Tottenham tradition.  His decision to criticize the fans following the narrow 1-0 victory over Hull at White Hart Lane was baffling and their continued singing in the face of adversity at the Etihad last weekend shows that the problem very much lies with those on the pitch and in the dugout, rather than he supporters in the stands.
First set to Manchester City
First set to Manchester City

As for the actual game on Sunday, well Tottenham were behind within 13 seconds thanks to a poor clearance by Hugo Lloris gifting City possession, which they cashed in on thanks to a smart finish by Navas; then, after a spell when Spurs controlled the ball but showed nothing in the way of invention going forward, Manuel Pelligrini’s men struck twice more before the break through a Sandro own goal (which was unfortunate of the part of the Brazilian, as he got in the way of Younes Kaboul’s attempted blocking of a short) and Sergio Aguero.  In the second half, Aguero made it four, before a fantastic turn and finish by Alvaro Negredo (whom Graeme Le Saux in the match commentary said was lucky that the ball ran for him, missing the brilliant piece of skill from the Spaniard) took the tally to five; with Navas adding the sixth and final goal in the last minute.  Assuming that Villas-Boas does decide to rest some of his squad for what should have been a meaningless trip to Tromsø – but one that now carries with it the chance to gain back the confidence that has been decimated in recent weeks – he still faces the daunting prospect of taking on the champions, Manchester United, in the club’s next Premiership match this Sunday, with a positive result desperately needed.

The other fixtures in the league this weekend see the leaders Arsenal travel to Cardiff; Manchester City, who have now scored 26 goals in their 6 home fixtures so far, face Swansea in their seventh; Tony Pulis, who has just taken the reigns at Crystal Palace, travels with his new club to Norwich, while his old team, Stoke, are away at Everton.  Newcastle hope to extend their winning run to four games in their match against West Brom at St. James’s Park; West Ham and Fulham meet in a London derby with both teams in desperate need of points to move away from the relegation zone; Aston Villa entertain Sunderland; Chelsea take on Southampton at Stamford Bridge; and Liverpool travel to Hull.

Predictions

Last week, 7-3; Season, 64-56

Home teams listed first

Aston Villa vs Sunderland – Draw

Cardiff vs Arsenal – Away win

Everton vs Stoke – Home win

Norwich vs Crystal Palace – Home win

West Ham vs Fulham – Draw

Newcastle vs West Brom – Draw

Tottenham vs Manchester United – Away win

Hull vs Liverpool – Away win

Chelsea vs Southampton – Home win

Manchester City vs Swansea – Home win

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