Last Weekend’s Action
It seems like a long time ago now, but Tottenham’s first nine visits to the Etihad Stadium in all competitions brought them six wins, two draws and just one defeat. However, since 2011 Spurs have lost all five of their trips to Manchester City’s new(ish) home and last Saturday’s 4-1 capitulation was in fact a significant improvement on the 6-0 thrashing they suffered last season. There was plenty of action in the match: four penalties; two of which were correctly given (the second and third for City), two were just bad decisions (Lampard dived, Roberto Soldado was outside the box when he was fouled; two of them were converted (both by Sergio Aguero) and two missed (one by the Argentinian striker and one by the inept Soldado). A sending off; Federico Fazio for pulling back Aguero in the box and giving away the fourth penalty. Two fantastic goals by Aguero, one by Christian Eriksen which came about thanks to a brilliant challenge by Ryan Mason in the midfield. The one thing that the game did not have was any effort from the Tottenham players in the final quarter of an hour, something I think should have resulted in them being docked 15% of their wages, to see if they ever gave up on a match again.
Nevertheless, despite the poor performance it was still not the most lopsided scoreline of the weekend in the Premier League, as that honor went to Southampton for their 8-0 thrashing of Sunderland – a result that must have made the more than 300 mile return journey seem even further for supporters heading back to the North East. They will not have been cheered on that long trek had they been listening to BBC Radio 5 Live, as they would have heard their closest rivals, Newcastle, beat Leicester 1-0 to move within 1 point of the Black Cats, who sit just above the relegation zone. That win for the Magpies – their first of the season – was in a match that was delayed for an hour because a new big screen at St. James’ Park was swaying wildly in the wind and had to be secured before supporters were allowed into the stands, perhaps giving credence to members of the Toon Army who have felt like the sky has been falling on them during the reigns of Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew. Newcastle’s success means that Burnley are the only top flight club who have not yet registered a win this season, as they were beaten 3-1 at home by West Ham, who have lifted themselves up into fourth place in the table.
The most exciting game of the weekend – at least for from the 85th minute onwards – was at Loftus Road, as Queens Park Rangers fell to a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool in dramatic fashion. The Reds had opened the scoring through an own goal by Richard Dunne, who now has 10 in his career and more Premier League goals this season for the Merseyside club than Mario Balotelli; but the home side equalized with 3 minutes of the 90 remaining and looked to have earned themselves a valuable point. However, with the clock at 89:44, Philippe Coutinho put Brendan Rodgers’ mean ahead, only for Eduardo Vargas to pull Rangers level again. Four minutes of injury time had been signaled by the fourth official and 13 seconds into the fifth minute, a cross by Rahim Sterling was diverted into his own net by Steven Caulker, who now has more Premier League goals…etc and so forth. That result moved Liverpool up to fifth in the table, nine points behind the leaders Chelsea, who beat Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park, with both teams being reduced to ten men before half-time. Elsewhere, Stoke made the most of a dubious penalty award to come from behind and beat Swansea 2-1, leaving the Welsh club without a victory since they opened the campaign by winning their first three fixtures; and Everton took three points at home for the first time in 2014/15, dispatching of Aston Villa 3-0 at Goodison Park.
The Continuing Rise of the 2-2
Last weekend, two games ended up with 2-2 score lines: Arsenal scored first, but then had to rely on an injury time strike to get a point against Hull (the fourth point of the eleven they have so far that has been earned with a goal in the 90th minute or later); and West Brom were unlucky not to get all three points against Manchester United, as they twice took the lead but ended up with a draw due to Daley Blind’s first goal for the Red Devils. Interesting games, sure, but what I was most interested in is the continued prevalence of the 2-2 scoreline in this season’s Premier League. Last month, I noted that there had been 8 such score lines in the opening 50 fixtures; that total has risen to 12 in the first 80 – a rate of once every 6.66 games (slightly down from where it was in late September, but still twice as fast as any other campaign in the last five years). Here are some stats (interesting only to me perhaps, but still) of the meteoric rise of the 2-2:
- The current tally of 12 for 2014/15 is only one fewer than the total of 2-2 score lines in 2011/12 – with 300 games still to be played.
- 15 of the 20 clubs have been involved in a 2-2 draw – the exceptions: Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Liverpool and Aston Villa.
- Two sides have had 3 2-2 draws in their first 8 games: Hull and Arsenal, who of course drew 2-2 last Saturday.
- I don’t really know what any of this means in terms of tactics or approaches to matches, but one thing I know is that I do not remember witnessing a bad 2-2 draw.
Enough of my sudden 2-2 obsession and onto the Champions League action, which started this week with Manchester City’s visit to CSKA Moscow that ended…2-2. The Russian club had been banned from having any supporters in the ground due to their behavior in an earlier group match against Roma, but luckily for them, a group of 360 sponsors invited by UEFA all seemed to be CSKA fans and also appeared to be at least twice that many people. Still, no City fans were allowed in, so Moscow were really punished for that misbehavior…
The other English teams had varying success: Chelsea enjoyed an easy 6-0 victory over Maribor, though they lost Loic Remy to injury and now Didier Drogba is their only fit striker heading into their weekend fixture against Manchester United; Arsenal performed more late heroics to come from behind and beat Anderlecht 2-0 in Belgium; and Liverpool were soundly beaten 3-0 at Anfield by the reigning European champions, Real Madrid. Afterwards, there was much criticism aimed at Mario Balotelli for his decision to swap shirts with Pepe at half-time, with his manager – who substituted him at the interval anyway without knowing about that exchange – apparently reminding him of the “club’s culture”. While the exchanging of kits at half-time may be a bizarre step to take, I do not really think it is that big of a deal. What I find bizarre is that out of a team that also featured Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, Balotelli wanted to get Pepe’s shirt.
In the Europa League, at the time of writing Everton just earned a 0-0 draw away at Lille, while Spurs have just kicked off against Greek side, Asteras Tripoli, needing a victory to kickstart their campaign in the competition.
The highlight of this weekend’s slate of top flight fixtures is the aforementioned contest between Manchester United and Chelsea, clubs that between them have won 16 of the 22 titles in the Premiership era and last season was the first time since 2001/2 that both of them had ended up outside the top 2 in the same campaign. With Diego Costa and Remy injured, Chelsea will be relying on Drogba to provide the firepower up front, though their midfield will be more than happy to provide the goals as well. As for United, they have had the easiest start of any club in the Premier League so far, but three of their next four games are against the Blues, Manchester City and Arsenal – so their current position of 6th is likely to be a distant memory by the time it gets to the middle of November.
In the early kick off on Saturday, high-flying West Ham host the reigning champions, Manchester City; then Stoke face high-scoring Southampton; Arsenal will be looking for goals away at Sunderland; Liverpool entertain Hull; and West Brom host Crystal Palace. In the evening kick off, Swansea face Leicester; the Monday night fixture is between QPR and Aston Villa at Loftus Road; and on Sunday, Burnley take on Everton and Tottenham face Newcastle.
Tottenham vs Newcastle
August 1999: I am 18 years old. It is my first ever Spurs game in person, Tottenham vs Newcastle at White Hart Lane. I am with my sister, we are sitting in the Park Lane Stand, two rows from the front not far from the corner flag. My cousin is playing for Newcastle, but my loyalty is solely with Spurs. The visitors take the lead through Nolberto Solano in the 16th minute, but David Ginola – my favorite player – works his magic seemingly just in front of me on the left-wing and sets up Steffen Iversen for the equalizer on the half-hour, then Les Ferdinand gives Tottenham the lead on the stroke of half-time. In the second half, Tim Sherwood extends the advantage and my first experience at White Hart Lane is a winning one. I get to meet some of the players afterwards (on the pretense of meeting up with my cousin, whom we do not actually see that day in the end): Ginola is cool; Jose Dominguez is about a foot shorter than me.
January 2003: I am now a season ticket holder in the Paxton Road end and this is the second game of that ticket (it started midway through the campaign). This is my fourth ever match at White Hart Lane and the first time I see them lose, with Jermaine Jenas scoring in the final minute of the match. It will be a feeling I will experience many times over the next four and a half years.
March 2005: I make the 600 mile round trip up to Newcastle for an F.A. Cup quarter-final which Tottenham lose 1-0, to a Patrick Kluivert goal scored in the fifth minute. The drive home seems to be twice as far as the drive up.
New Year’s Eve, 2005: A home Premier League game against the Geordies, which we win relatively comfortably 2-0 to consolidate a top four spot heading into the new year. Teemu Tainio and Mido scored the goals – at some point I actually rated both of those players.
January 2007: the last time I saw Spurs play Newcastle before moving to Brooklyn the following April. Jermain Defoe and Dimitar Berbatov each gave Tottenham the lead, but two goals in two minutes – the first an absolute cracker by Obefami Martins – results in a 3-2 defeat. Overall record of Spurs vs Newcastle in games I went to: Played 7, Won 4, Lost 3.
Last week, 6-4; Season, 34-46
Home team listed first
West Ham vs Manchester City – Away win
Liverpool vs Hull – Home win
Southampton vs Stoke – Home win
Sunderland vs Arsenal – Away win
West Brom vs Crystal Palace – Draw
Swansea vs Leicester – Home win
Burnley vs Everton – Home win
Tottenham vs Newcastle – Draw (2-2)
Manchester United vs Chelsea – Away win
QPR vs Aston Villa – Home win