Moyes Sacked by United
It was somewhat fitting that David Moyes’ final match in charge of Manchester United – yes, he was sacked this week, if you had not heard then I apologize for not breaking the news to you more gently – was against his former club Everton, who appear to have taken a big step forward under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, while the Red Devils have gone from Champions to also-rans in the season after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. As had been the case on ten other occasions this season, Moyes oversaw a Premiership defeat for his last game, as Everton kept up their challenge for fourth place with a 2-0 victory and that scoreline was kind to the visitors, who were completely outplayed. By Monday, the rumor was that David Moyes was going to be fired and that came to pass by the following morning, a strange decision to take with only four matches remaining in the season and nothing to gain from a change of manager, other than a symbolic move that they could not even wait until the summer to get rid of the Scot. The only other explanation for the timing of the move would be if they wanted to have the opportunity to assess the interim manager’s suitability in the long-term, and the man in that position is Ryan Giggs, someone who has shown himself to be comfortable filling someone else’s shoes in the past (just ask his brother…). Alongside Giggs in the dugout this weekend for the visit of Norwich will be three other alums from the class of 1992, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, so their success as players is likely to buy them good will with the fans who doubtlessly will be relieved that a change has been made. As for Moyes, his ability as a manager has not vanished due to one poor campaign – he had several of them at Everton as well, but managed to bounce back on each occasion and eventually got them back to the top third of the table on a regular basis – and he will likely turn up at Newcastle United by the beginning of next season, unless Spurs decide to make him the next coach they sack after 18 months in charge.
Mourinho Loses At Home
Despite their 3-1 victory over West Brom on Monday evening, Manchester CIty’s title hopes were dealt a blow last weekend when Sunderland beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, marking the first time that Jose Mourinho had lost a home Premier League match in his 78th such fixture. The reason that loss affected City’s hopes of finishing first is that now the Blues are five points behind Liverpool – who held off a spirited second-half performance by Norwich at Carrow Road to beat the Canaries 3-2 last Sunday – and, with Mourinho’s men playing their Champions League semi-final either side of this Sunday’s trip to Anfield, the Portuguese manager has said he might put out a weakened team in order to increase their chances of progressing to the final of the European competition. While I take anything that Mourinho says with a grain of salt (I’m not convinced that he has given up on Chelsea’s hopes on winning the Premiership yet and would not be surprised to see him put out a very strong team against Liverpool), one thing he was correct about was that referee Mike Dean had a poor performance in the Blues’ defeat by Sunderland. Samuel Eto’o had opened the scoring for the hosts in the 12th minute, only for the advantage to be wiped out six minutes later by Connor Wickham’s third goal in a week and the match remaining at 1-1 until the 82nd minute, when Fabio Borini – on loan from Liverpool – converted a penalty that was awarded for a foul on Jozy Altidore by César Azpilicueta. That was one big decision that Dean got wrong – contact was minimal at best and Altidore was already on his way down when the Chelsea defender touched him – but the other favored the Blues, as the referee and his assistants failed to spot Ramires hitting Sebastian Larsson in the face with his elbow, a foul that has seen the Brazilian midfielder retroactively punished and suspended for the rest of the Premier League season.
In the Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid, Chelsea earned a credible 0-0 draw at the Calderon as they were able to hold the leaders of La Liga at bay, despite losing both Petr Cech and John Terry to injuries during the match. After the encounter, Atletico boss Diego Simeone complained about the negative tactics adopted by the Blues saying, “It’s very difficult to play a football match when only one team wants to play, very difficult. A match is about two teams playing. This match was only one team playing and another team not.” Oh no, wait, sorry, that was a quote from Mourinho after West Ham held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in January – I guess in the last three months he has decided that football matches do not necessarily have to involve two teams adopting attacking tactics. However it was achieved, the stalemate means that the 2012 European Cup winners will be the slight favorites to progress heading into the second leg at Stamford Bridge, though they must be careful as a score draw would see Atletico advance on away goals. In the other tie, Real Madrid beat the reigning champions, Bayern Munich, 1-0 (also in Madrid, which was the epicenter of European football this season) and the Germans were lucky it was not a heavier defeat as Cristiano Ronaldo uncharacteristically missed a golden opportunity to add a second shortly after Karim Benzema had opened the scoring. Bayern are very unlikely to keep Real at bay in the second leg, especially as Ronaldo’s recovery from an injury will be further advanced and Gareth Bale will be available to start after having flu-like symptoms prior to the first leg, so in order to make their third consecutive final, Munich will need to score at least three at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday.
Given that it was Easter last weekend, it was appropriate that Sunderland – who had looked dead and buried prior to their midweek draw at the Etihad – resurrected their hopes of Premiership survival with that victory over Chelsea, but Fulham’s recent recovery came to an end with a hapless performance in their 3-1 defeat at Tottenham. Spurs were not even very good in the match – although Mad Men’s Harry Kane did score for the third time in three starts and Christian Eriksen put in two stupendous crosses that not even his teammates could miss – and the Cottagers will need to improve massively if they are to complete and unlikely escape from the bottom three as they face Hull this Saturday, who beat them 6-0 at the KC Stadium earlier in the season. With Cardiff drawing 1-1 against Stoke, the bottom three are now all within a point of each other and 17th place Norwich – who have the hardest run-in – have a cushion of two points between themselves and the drop-zone. West Brom remain just one point better off than the Canaries following their loss at Manchester City, then comes a bunch of clubs who can all be glad that there appear to be at least three teams who are more inept than they are this season: Aston Villa, who last week at least held Southampton to a goalless draw at Villa Park; Hull, beaten 3-0 by Arsenal on Sunday in a preview of the F.A. Cup final; and Swansea, whose relegation fears were eased somewhat with a 2-1 win away at Newcastle, who stopped playing competitive football sometime around December.
One side who are now mathematically safe from relegation are Crystal Palace, after beating West Ham 1-0 to ensure that for the first time in five attempts, a Premiership season for the Eagles will not end in relegation. Tony Pulis, who took over from Ian Holloway in October when they only had three points from eight matches, should be one of the main candidates for Manager of the Year, although I would still give it to Brendan Rodgers if Liverpool win the title, since not only has he taken his club from seventh to first, he did it when at the start of the season, his main player was agitating for a move away from Merseyside and seemed very unsettled. It remains to be seen if Palace can play spoiler in the title race – they play Manchester City this weekend, then Liverpool the week after – or if they will be on the beach already now that safety is assured.
The other matches this weekend see Sunderland face Cardiff in a fixture that would see any loser in serious danger of dropping into the Championship come August; West Brom host West Ham; Swansea take on Aston Villa in South Wales; and Stoke entertain Tottenham. In the battle for fourth place, Everton travel to Southampton on Saturday, while Arsenal have an easy Monday night home fixture against Newcastle.
Last week, 5-5; Season, 175-172
Home team listed first
Southampton vs Everton – Home win
Fulham vs Hull – Away win
Stoke vs Tottenham – Draw
Swansea vs Aston Villa – Home win
West Brom vs West Ham – Draw
Manchester United vs Norwich – Home win
Sunderland vs Cardiff – Home win
Liverpool vs Chelsea – Draw
Crystal Palace vs Manchester City – Away win
Arsenal vs Newcastle – Home win