After a two-week gap for the F.A. Cup and League Cup to take center stage, the Premier League returns to action this weekend, with the top two teams facing each other on Saturday. Before looking at that Chelsea vs Manchester City game, here’s a recap of what happened in the cup tournaments over the last fortnight.
F.A. Cup 4th Round
Last weekend was possibly the biggest collection of upsets in a single round of the F.A. Cup, none were bigger than the one that occurred at Stamford Bridge. Early on, it seemed as though League One’s Bradford City were going to take a hiding, as they fell behind 2-0 to Chelsea inside half an hour. However, the Bantams pulled one back before half time, then scored three more after the break to record an astonishing 4-2 victory over the current leaders of the Premier League. It was only the second time in either of Jose Mourinho’s spells in charge of the Blues that he has lost at home inside 90 minutes to another club from the English leagues – the other being Sunderland last season.
Manchester City exited the tournament at the exact same time, as they also lost at home to lower division opponents, as Middlesbrough triumphed 2-0 at the Etihad. The reigning champions had returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates less than 24 hours before the match kicked off (in part due to a delayed flight, but mostly because of ridiculous planning to fit in lucrative friendlies in their owner’s home Emirate, Abu Dhabi). However, City still played pretty much their best players, so nothing should be taken away from Boro’s achievement.
In comparison to those two results, Manchester United’s 0-0 draw away at League Two’s Cambridge seems like a positive scoreline, especially since they now have a home replay to try to progress to the fifth round of a wide-open competition. Only United and Arsenal – who overcame a resilient Brighton comeback to win 3-2 – remain in the F.A. Cup out of the current top 6 in the Premier League, since Southampton were beaten 3-2 at home by Palace; while Leicester scored twice in the final 10 minutes to eliminate Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Bolton held Liverpool to a draw at Anfield; Blackburn knocked out Swansea 3-1; and the match between Sunderland and Fulham at the Stadium of Light ended goalless. Continue reading →
In the 2006/7 Premier League season, Alan Pardew started the year at West Ham United, but was sacked in December after his team had won just four of their seventeen games up to that point and were in the relegation places. Two weeks after he had left the club, he was appointed manager of Charlton Athletic, another team in the bottom three. By the end of the season, West Ham, who had appointed former Charlton boss Alan Curbishley as their new manager, avoided dropping down a division as results improved – but Pardew’s new team were relegated in the penultimate game of the season. Having failed to gain promotion back to the Premiership the following season, Charlton sacked Alan Pardew in November 2008 – the team had slipped into the bottom three in the Championship and the fans were calling for the manager’s head. Pardew’s next job was at Southampton in the third tier of English football – League One. This tenure lasted little more than a year, having missed out on the playoffs but won the Football League Trophy, the Southampton board dismissed Pardew saying that the morale of the squad was at an all time low.
After this succession of failures, it was little surprise that Newcastle fans were less than excited about the prospect of their club appointing Alan Pardew as the new manager following Chris Hughton’s sacking in December 2010. Fast forward almost a year and the Geordies are sitting in third place in the Premiership, unbeaten in the league this season and only a point behind second placed Manchester United. While they are yet to play either of the teams above them yet, Newcastle have been playing an impressive style of football, with lots of pace and flair on display. The reason they have been able to do this without huge levels of investment is because Pardew identified an opportunity in importing players from the French Ligue 1, a league full of skillful players, but where wages do not match the levels of the top English, Italian, or Spanish divisions. Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan (all French), were added to the squad, along with free transfer Demba Ba (French-born Senegalese), replacing Englishmen Andy Carroll (sold to Liverpool), Kevin Nolan (who went to West Ham to join up with his former manager at Bolton and Newcastle, Sam Allardyce) and Joey Barton (offloaded to QPR). These three were “strong-willed” and their departure has led to a more united squad, turning Newcastle into a team that appears to be playing for each other – rather than a club beset by in-fighting (which has in the past, manifest itself on the field of play).
Even if Pardew is unable to lead his team to a top 6 finish this season, Newcastle’s success so far has helped improve the esteem in which he is held among fans and pundits of the English game alike. This is not the first time he has shown himself to be an effective manager either – he gained promotion to the Championship with Reading in the 2001/2 season, then led them to a fourth place finish in that division the following year. While his time at West Ham may have ended under acrimonious circumstances, he took them back to the Premier League in 2005 and consolidated that with a 5th place finish in their first season back in the top flight. That year, Pardew also took his team to the FA Cup Final – a trophy they were minutes away from winning, before Steven Gerrard equalised with a wonder-strike. Should Newcastle continue to succeed this season and beyond, more than 5.5% of fans may want him to be their club’s next manager.
Stop! You Must Not Have a Poppy!
Every year around Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, the Royal British Legion sells paper poppies to raise money for veterans and commemorate those who have lost their lives fighting for their country. This year, the FA have been campaigning FIFA to allow the England players to wear poppies on their shirts for this Saturday’s friendly game against Spain. This request was denied as it contravenes a regulation that bans any political, religious, or commercial messages or symbols being present on player’s equipment – a compromise made today allows the England team to instead wear the poppies on black armbands, but only after the English Football Association complained bitterly about the ban. Despite having played in November every year but one in the last twenty-five, and in 2001 and 2005 those games, like this year, were the day before Remembrance Sunday, the FA has never made this request before, nor complained about the prohibition of such symbols. So why now? I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was not because bitterness from the FA because England missed out on hosting the World Cup in 2018 – that decision went to Russia earlier this year – but because they want to honour those who have died fighting for the country. If this is their primary concern, wearing poppies for the 90 minutes of the game is not the only way they can do that. The players should be encouraged to donate a week’s wages to the Royal British Legion, the money and publicity this generosity would do for the cause far surpasses the impact of wearing a poppy on the shirt for the first time. Another way that veterans, who have fought to keep the United Kingdom a free society which welcomes people of all backgrounds, would be to not tolerate racists in the team – especially if they are the captain.
Spurs Do Not Pay The Penalty
In all the years I have supported Tottenham, I have always felt that they got the worst of refereeing decisions made against them (though I am sure most club’s fans feel that way). This was typified by a game against Manchester United in 2005 when Mendes scored from the half-way line in the last-minute at Old Trafford, only for the goal not to be given. However, last Sunday, Spurs were the team who benefited from bad officiating. In injury time at the end of the match against Fulham at Craven Cottage, Tottenham were trying to hold on to a lead as the home team scrambled for an equaliser. During the melee, Spurs’ right-back, Kyle Walker, attempted to block a shot but his momentum carried him and he ended up cradling the ball in both of his arms – not a deliberate action and thus giving the referee the option not to give the penalty. When the ball broke free again, another shot came in and again it hit Walker in the arm – this time it appeared less accidental – but again no infringement was called. Fulham fully deserved a draw out of the game, having put Brad Friedel, Tottenham’s goalie, under immense pressure in the second half – indeed he was probably the man of the match for the visiting team, alongside referee Peter Walton.
That was one of few talking points in a Premiership weekend that saw 7 of the top 8 teams win their games – the only outlier being Liverpool, who drew at home to Swansea. As Spurs have now gained 22 points out of a possible 24 in the league, they have the look of a team who will challenge for not just a place in the Champions League, but a potential second or third place finish. They have flattered to deceive before though, making fans wary of being too hopeful, expecting a string of bad results to undo the good that has gone before it. It’s like watching Andy Kaufman do his Elvis impersonation for the first time – you assume it will be terrible because his previous portrayals have been laughably bad – making the impression of the King all the more brilliant. In the same way, so many campaigns have gone by where Tottenham have looked like they will be genuine contenders in the upper echelons of the league, only for those hopes to be dashed by the turn of the year. Perhaps this will be the season when the league is all shook up…
The two Manchester clubs have occupied first and second in the Premiership for about as long as the “99-percenters” have resided in Zuccotti Park. Now Newcastle United, still unbeaten this season, have moved into third place, meaning the five Premier League clubs from London find themselves playing catchup. Chelsea are in 4th place, ahead of Tottenham in 5th on goal difference, though Spurs have a game in hand; Arsenal reside in 7th; QPR in 12th; and Fulham, the lowest side from the capital, in 15th. Over the last decade, the quest to be London’s top team has been between Arsenal and Chelsea – Spurs have not finished above either of them in that period – but this season is looking like a three-horse race.
While Chelsea may still harbour ambitions of breaking up the Manchester hegemony in the title race, they are more likely to find themselves in a battle to remain in the Champions League by the end of the season. Last week’s 5-3 defeat to Arsenal showed the weaknesses in Chelsea’s defence – in particular John Terry’s positioning and lack of pace – which Robin
Van Persie and Theo Walcott were able to exploit effectively. In attack, Juan Mata was an astute signing and gives them a player capable of changing the games – but outside of that. the options are lacklustre. Fernando Torres has finally found some level of scoring form, yet still looks like a shadow of the striker who won Euro 2008 for Spain. Neither Drogba, nor Anelka, look capable of leading the line in the way they have done in previous seasons, so the best option for Chelsea’s manager, Villas-Boas, appears to be Daniel Sturridge – the youngster has scored four goals in just six league appearances so far this year. In the midfield, Frank Lampard is enjoying a renaissance this season and Mata is providing the creativity, but the Blues miss Michael Essien – a tough tackler, who adds grit and balance to their team – they hope to have him back by the end of next month. Chelsea’s top four position to this point of the season, has come via wins over teams who they would expect to beat (West Brom, Norwich, Sunderland, Swansea, Bolton, and Everton), while they were held to a draw by Fulham and lost to Manchester United, Arsenal, and QPR. Before the turn of the year, they have to play Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester City, and Tottenham – should they lose two or more of those games, any title aspirations will have to be forgotten and the battle for fourth will be their focus.
It is hard for Arsenal fans to accept that their, seemingly perpetual, dominance over local rivals Tottenham may be overturned this season – like people who persist in calling the cute and furry creatures from down under, “Koala Bears,” because they have always thought that to be true (they’re marsupials, it’s just “Koala”). While Spurs may have been the lowly neighbour for a long time – it has not always been so. Tottenham were the first club in the 20th century to win the League and Cup double; the first British team to win a European trophy (the Cup Winners Cup in 1963); and, finished above Arsenal five times in the 1980s – things do change. Looking at the teams this year, Spurs can argue that they have at least as good a playing squad as their North London rivals. The first choice goalkeepers are pretty much a wash – with Szczesny playing as well as ever for Arsenal, and American Brad Friedel providing Spurs with a much more reliable pair of hands than Gomes gave them last year. Neither team’s defence is the strongest part of their squad, though the Gunners will be hoping that a partnership of Mertesacker and Vermaelen will help the ratio of goals they give up – so far this season Arsenal have conceded 21 in 10 games, more than the rest of the league other than Bolton and Blackburn. Tottenham have been missing Michael Dawson, who is out with an Achilles injury, and Ledley King is hampered by having only one working knee – but other than the two Manchester clubs, teams have been scoring an average of less than one a game against them. While the full-backs are of a similar standard (Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto for Spurs, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs, when fit, for Arsenal), it is in the midfield that Tottenham have the clear advantage. For their rivals, Theo Walcott plays well once every four games, Arteta was last good in 2009, Frimpong times his challenges about as well as Paul Scholes did, and Rosicky and Arshavin are washed up and now fringe players at best. With Jack Wilshere out with an injury, Arsenal’s strongest midfielder this season has been Aaron Ramsay, but he had an awful game at White Hart Lane, where he gave the ball away many times. In contrast, Tottenham are struggling to fit all of their good players in a packed midfield – Scott Parker has added the grit that has been missing for so long and freed up Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart (who has scored in five consecutive league games) to play more attacking roles. On the wings, Aaron Lennon has been providing better end products to his dashing runs than he has done in previous years, and Gareth Bale continues to destroy right backs with a combination of speed and strength. With Sandro, Huddlestone, Krancjar and Pienaar more than capable fill-ins, should there be injuries or suspensions, Spurs have strength in-depth in the middle of the park. Up front, Robin Van Persie is the most in-form player for either of the two clubs, but other than that, Arsenal do not have a reliable striker – Chamakh and Gervinho are both wasteful in their finishing. Tottenham look much more of a threat with Adebayor leading the attack than they did with Peter Crouch, and Defoe has improved his all around game and remains deadly with half a yard of space anywhere around the penalty box. Overall, Spurs have looked the more balanced team with a quarter of the season gone – which is reflected in their position three points above Arsenal, having played a game less than their rivals. For the first time since 1995, there may not be a St. Totteringham’s Day this season – the point of the season that Arsenal celebrate that their rivals can no longer mathematically finish above them in the league.
Outside of London last weekend, both Manchester United and City picked up three more points, away to Everton and home to Wolves respectively. Norwich came from 3-1 down to draw with Blackburn at Carrow Road; Liverpool beat West Brom at the Hawthorns; Newcastle continued their good form thanks to a hat-trick from Demba Ba, helping them win away at Stoke on Monday night; and Bolton’s wretched season continued as they lost in Wales against Swansea. Wigan remain bottom of the table, after losing at home to Martin Jol’s Fulham, and Sunderland and Aston Villa shared four goals and the points in a match at the Stadium of Light.
I covered last weekend’s action here – City thrashing United and Terry’s racism stories were too compelling to wait on – so now my weekend’s premiership predictions.
Last week 4-6, Season 33-26
Everton vs Manchester United – Away Win – Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United tend to respond well to defeats – when that loss is to their local rivals and by a 6-1 scoreline, their next opponents will be fearing a backlash. The Blues did win their last game away to Fulham, but they have lost Phil Neville and Tim Cahill to injuries.
Chelsea vs Arsenal – Home win – Chelsea have won all four of their home games and Arsenal are yet to win away from the Emirates this season. The Gunners have defender Thomas Vermaelen back for this game, while Chelsea will be without Drogba and Boswinga, after the pair were sent off against QPR last week. The home team do have Torres back from suspension and Arsenal are lightweight in the middle of the park since selling Fabregas and Nasri and losing Jack Wilshere to an injury. All of this means I think Chelsea will have enough to win this game, sending Arsene Wenger’s side to their fifth defeat of the season.
Manchester City vs Wolves – Home win – These two sides actually met on Wednesday in the Carling Cup at Molineux, City winning the game 5-2, but neither team had their first choice XI on display. It’s impossible to imagine anything other than a home win here – Manchester City have only dropped two points all year, scoring thirty-three goals in nine games and conceding just seven; whereas Wolves, who won their first two league games of the season, have not won any of their last seven since then.
Norwich vs Blackburn – Draw – Blackburn are rock bottom of the Premiership and face a tough trip away to Norwich, a team who two seasons ago were in the third tier of English football, but Rovers showed plenty of fight in their loss to Tottenham last week and could pick up a point at Carrow Road.
Sunderland vs Aston Villa – Away win – Villa started the season strongly and were unbeaten until they faced Manchester City two weeks ago and then lost the Midlands derby with West Bromwich Albion last week. Sunderland picked up just their second win of the season away to Bolton in their last outing, but will be fearing their former striker, Darren Bent, coming back to haunt them this Halloween weekend.
Swansea vs Bolton – Home win – I have not seen either team play yet so far this season, so going purely on perception with this pick. Bolton have been better away from home, winning 2 and losing 2, than at the Reebok Stadium, where they have lost all five of their games this season. Swansea have been the complete opposite: unbeaten at home and yet to win away so far this season.
Wigan vs Fulham – Home win – Fulham have been an enigma this campaign – they put 6 past QPR two weeks ago, but that is their only win so far, and they lost at home to Everton last time out. Wigan are second bottom and desperately need the points, having lost their last five league games. Much as I love Fulham manager Martin Jol from his time at Tottenham, it looks like he needs more time to work on their squad and think they will slump to another defeat again this weekend.
West Brom vs Liverpool – Home win – Former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson will try to lead his West Brom team to another win over his former employers, having done just that last season. Last week, Albion had an impressive away win against Aston Villa, while Liverpool were wasteful in front of goal – particularly Luis Suarez, who himself missed 11 attempts – as they were held to a draw at home by Norwich.
Tottenham vs QPR – Home win – Spurs, unbeaten against every team that does not hail from Manchester, go into this London derby full of confidence. QPR are currently in 10th place and last week they beat local rivals Chelsea – though they looked very tentative in that game in the second half, playing against just nine men and with the lead. This week (I hope) will be a case of the morning after for Rangers and Spurs should continue their push for a top four place.
Stoke vs Newcastle – Draw – Newcastle have not lost yet this season and are in fourth place, Stoke are unbeaten at home. The Geordies have a large french contingent and they will be put to the test in this most anecdotal of games – the English Press is often keen on saying about foreign imports to the Premier League: “Could they do it on a cold Monday evening in Stoke?”. City lost their last game away to Arsenal and have had problems scoring goals this season (only 7 in 9 games) – but they have only conceded one in four matches at the Britannia so this one has 0-0 written all over it.
In the Manchester derby on Sunday, City thrashed United 6-1 – with David Silva pulling the strings in the midfield and grabbing the headlines with two goals and a tongue-in-cheek t-shirt. Sir Alex Ferguson would have done well to put on some Bob Dylan after the match to heed a warning:
Come gather ’round Fergie
Wherever you roam
And admit that Man City
Around you has grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be fearing Blue Moon
If United to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start winnin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Was this result evidence of a significant shift in power towards the blue half of Manchester, or just a freak result that will be
looked back on at the end of the season as little more than a blip in another title run for United? It has happened before: during the 2008/2009 season Manchester United lost 4-1 to Liverpool; in 1999/2000 Chelsea beat them 5-0; and the 1996/7 campaign saw them lose 5-0 to Newcastle and 6-3 by Southampton – all of these thrashings came in seasons in which United won the title. More evidence that the scoreline does not reflect a major change, is that City were playing against 10 men for almost half of the game, as Jonny Evans was sent off in the 47th minute, and scored three of their goals in the final few minutes, when United were forced to chase the game and left themselves exposed in defence. Also, their six goals were scored with just seven shots on target in the whole game, suggesting they were clinical rather than dominant. But the table shows that nearly a quarter of the way through the campaign, City are top, 5 points clear of the reigning champions and have won all but one of their nine games thus far, scoring 33 goals in the process. If United are going to win the league again this year, they will need other teams in the division to start getting positive results against their cross-city rivals.
The North London rivalry is another case where the more successful team from recent years, Arsenal, is trailing their neighbours in the league – as Tottenham are three points above them, with a game in hand. Spurs have recovered well from their tough start to the season, losing their first two games to the Manchester clubs, and have won five and drawn one of their six games since then, including a win in the North London derby. As their scheduled opening match against Everton was cancelled due to the riots in August, they have played a game less than the teams above them, yet trail Chelsea in third by just three points. Emmanuel Adebayor has made a promising start to his time at White Hart Lane and has shown himself to be a good foil for both Jermain Defoe and Rafael Van der Vaart up front. Tottenham’s upcoming fixtures (QPR, @ Fulham, Villa, Bolton, @West Brom) are all winnable and give them an excellent opportunity to build on this strong start and push for a Champions League place for next season.
In West London, it had been a while since Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea had met in the league, as QPR had been in the lower divisions since 1996, but the two sides met at Loftus Road last weekend and again the underdog prevailed. Chelsea had two men sent off in the first half and were a goal down from a penalty conceded by defender, and part-time Sideshow Bob impersonator, David Luiz. Their attempted comeback in the second half fell short due to some fantastic saves from Rangers’ keeper, Paddy Kenny, coupled with some poor finishing. All of this action has been overshadowed since the game, as the focus has been on John Terry, who is alleged to have racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
This video appears to show him calling someone (not in the shot) a “f***ing black c***” – although for the record I am not a lip-reading expert, so you can decide for yourself. However, Terry does have previous cases of such behaviour – in 2006, he was sent off against Tottenham after he allegedly told Ledley King to “shut up you lippy black monkey” – though it was covered up by the media and the reason for the then England Captain being sent off was never disclosed (I was 11 rows away from the incident in the Paxton Road end, the reaction of the players around him spoke volumes – since then I have never supported the England team because of John Terry). There are other incidents that show his unsavoury personality : the weekend after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, Terry and his Chelsea teammates, Frank Lampard and Jody Morris, were fined two weeks wages after they had been mocking American tourists in a hotel bar near Heathrow Airport. And, of course, there was the story two years ago of him cheating on his wife, and mother of his children, with (his club and country teammate) Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend.
If the enquiry into this latest incident proves Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand, Chelsea and England should drop him from their sides and show that this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated. I am sure that football issues, rather than ethical ones, will prevail and, if he is considered good enough, he will continued to be selected. So join me, an Englishman, and support Spain, Germany, France and every other team that is not England, in the 2012 European Championships.
After a break for international fixtures, including the final group games in the qualifying tournament for Euro 2012, the Premier League returns with a full slate of matches this weekend. The marquee game of the bunch is the first one that will be played, as Liverpool face their old rivals, Manchester United, in the early kick-off on Saturday. In the last round of games, there was the North London Derby, but these two North-West clubs might dislike each other even more than Spurs and Arsenal do. While there is no doubting the fans animosity towards each other in those games, with Manchester United and Liverpool the divide is not just between the clubs, but also the cities they call home.
In the days of the Industrial revolution, the two cities were in direct competition with each other for business. In 1894, when the Manchester Ship Canal was completed ships were able to bypass Liverpool and dock directly in Manchester, resulting in less revenue for the former’s merchants, which ultimately lead to job losses in the city. From here a rivalry between the two places was formed, nowadays it is framed in each city’s most successful football clubs. While Liverpool and Everton derbies mean a lot to families who are divided between red and blue; and Manchester United and City games have taken on a new relevance in the last two seasons, as both teams are in the upper echelons of the league and are competing for titles, it is Saturday’s game at Anfield that supporters of both clubs will most want to win.
When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at United in 1986, Liverpool were the dominant team in English football and, in 1990, they won their 18th league title. At that time, the Red Devils were sitting on a total of just 7 championships, and had not won any since 1967. Since the dawn of the Premiership era in the early 90s, Ferguson has revitalised the club and Manchester United have won 12 league titles since 1992/1993. As Liverpool have not won any in that time, they now trail their rivals in the overall title count by 19 to 18 – though they still can cite their 5 European Cup triumphs, compared with United’s 3.
The personnel involved with the two teams do not like each other either: when he started his reign at United, Sir Alex had talked about wanting to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch”; Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has many shirts he has swapped with opposing players displayed in his house, but none of them are from a Manchester United player; and recently retired Red Devil, Gary Neville, was famously antagonistic towards Liverpool, running the length of the pitch to celebrate a last minute winning goal in front of the away supporters in a game at Old Trafford in 2006. The two clubs will not do business together, no player has been transferred between the two teams since 1964. When Gabriel Heinze requested a move to Anfieldfrom Old Trafford in 2007, he was vilified by the United fans, the transfer was blocked and he ended up being sold to Real Madrid instead.
Manchester United have not won in the league at Anfield since 2007, having lost all of their last three Premiership away games against Liverpool. This season, Ferguson’s team have only dropped 2 points out of the first 21 available to them, and they will be looking to continue their good form against their old enemy this weekend. Liverpool have had a reasonable start to the season, and beat Everton in their last league game – a win on Saturday would take them up to 4th, with Newcastle not playing until Sunday. You can predict the winner of the game in this week’s poll question – found at the bottom of this article.
That game at St. James’ Park sees Newcastle taking on a Tottenham team who also won a derby game last time out, overcoming Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Spurs have won their last four games, having started the season with two defeats to the Manchester clubs, and will be looking to strengthen their own quest for a top four spot this weekend in the North-East. In other games, Manchester City take on a still unbeaten Aston Villa side at Maine RoadCity of Manchester Stadium theEtihad Stadium; 15th takes on 16th at the Emirates when Arsenal host Sunderland; two of the newly promoted sides, Norwich and Swansea, play at Carrow Road; and two of the bottom three meet with Bolton making the short trip to Wigan. Fulham, who won 6-0 in their last outing, travel to Stoke; while QPR, the team on the wrong end of that thrashing by the Cottagers, hope to get back on track as they are at home to Blackburn Rovers. Bovril will be in short supply in the Midlands this weekend as there is a derby between West Bromwich Albion and Wolves; while Chelsea will look to keep the pressure on the top two of United and City by beating Everton at Stamford Bridge. After a delay of two weeks, it will be good to be back to a full round of Premier League fixtures again.
Actually, the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets seems rather tame in comparison to the North London derby – after all Romeo and Juliet ultimately bridged the divide between the two families through their deaths, nothing has yet done that for Spurs and the scum Arsenal. I’ve covered my distaste for the other lot before; I was thrilled to write about Spurs’s fantastic comeback last year when they won at the Emirates, but the importance of every game never diminishes to supporters – we are never satisfied with the history – the next game is the one we really want to win.
This year, there’s something different about the upcoming game – Tottenham should actually consider themselves favourites to win. They sit 7 places and 2 points above Arsenal, despite having played one less game, following three straight victories over Wolves, Liverpool and Wigan. In contrast, the Gunners have been struggling for form and have won just 2 of their 6 league comes – those triumphs coming over Bolton, who have lost 5 in a row, and Premiership newcomers Swansea City. Away from home their form has been even worse, taking just 1 point from a possible 9 and conceding 12 goals in those games – although 8 of those did come at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Looking at the probable starting line-ups, there is no reason for Spurs to consider themselves underdogs for a change. With Scott Parker adding grit to a midfield full of flare with Modric, Bale and Van der Vaart, and former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor having made an excellent start since joining on loan from Manchester City, Tottenham have the core of a very strong team. In contrast, Arsenal lost their two best players last year as both Nasri and Fabregas left for pastures new, have little up front other than Robin Van Persie, and still look very vulnerable at the back despite the addition of German defender Per Mertersacker. Spurs have a great opportunity to put a significant gap between themselves and their North London rivals this Sunday – for once I am confident they will be able to do it.
Elsewhere this weekend, it is the Merseyside derby as Everton host Liverpool; Manchester United try to return to winning ways, having drawn with Stoke last week, when they play Norwich at Old Trafford; Blackburn take on Manchester City; Aston Villa, who have shared the points in 5 of their 6 games this year, are at home to Wigan; and Chelsea will be picking up 3 more points at Bolton.
After both Manchester sides had won all four of their opening league games, last weekend Fulham became the first team to take points off either of them, as they came from behind to draw 2-2 with City at Craven Cottage. Meanwhile, up at Old Trafford, United suffered no such slip up as they dispatched title rivals Chelsea 3-1. Having been three down at the interval, Fernando Torres gave Chelsea some hope when he scored just his second goal for the club a minute after half time. All of that good work was undone, however, when Torres later contrived to miss an opportunity that had to be seen to be believed. The Spaniard did everything right to get into position, timing his run perfectly – he then went around Man United’s keeper de Gea with some great footwork, only to then blast the ball wide from 6 yards with an open goal in front of him. With only 10 minutes left in the game, that miss effectively killed off any chance of Chelsea getting anything from the game.
Arsenal had suffered a bad start to the season, but scored five in their game against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park – unfortunately for Wenger’s team, two of those goals were into their own net and they slumped to a 4-3 defeat. The North London club is suffering its worst start to a league season in almost 60 years and this week Arsene Wenger was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the board – usually a sure sign a manager is about to be replaced in English football. This time, that is unlikely to be the case – Wenger has a good relationship with his employers and has developed enough goodwill during his tenure at the club to ensure he will have the opportunity to turn things around. The win for Rovers was much-needed relief for their own under fire boss Steve Kean as some of Blackburn’s supporters had been protesting his position as manager prior to kick off.
In the other games last weekend, Tottenham dismantled Kenny Daglish’s Liverpool team 4-0 at White Hart Lane, the last three goals coming when the visitors had been reduced to 9 men following the sendings off of Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel. All three of the promoted sides won, with QPR and Norwich winning away at Wolves and Bolton respectively, and Swansea taking care of business at home against West Bromwich Albion, scoring their first (and second, and third) Premiership goals in the process. As predicted here, draw specialists and not yet beaten Aston Villa and Newcastle United shared the points, while Everton beat Wigan, and Sunderland got their first victory of the season in impression fashion, putting four past a previously unbeaten Stoke side.
This week’s fixtures sees Arsenal host Bolton, hoping to get their season back on track prior to next weekend’s North London derby with Tottenham; Spurs travel to Wigan looking for their third straight league win; Manchester City entertain Everton, while Manchester United face a tricky away game in Stoke. There is an early bottom-of-the-table clash between 20th placed West Brom and winless Fulham; Blackburn hope to build on their win over Arsenal when they take on Newcastle at St. James’ park; and Torres will be watching as other strikers get the chance to put some goals past Swansea at Stamford Bridge.
This Saturday sees the return to Premier League action, following a break for international fixtures last weekend. After three games, the Manchester clubs are the only two teams in the whole of the English League system to still have a 100% record, as both City and United have won all three of their games thus far.
Unfortunately, at least for us Spurs fans, that has left Tottenham Hotspur languishing at the bottom of the table having played just two games, but both of those were losses against the Mancunian teams. Up next for Spurs is a trip to Wolves, who are unbeaten thus far having taken 7 points from their first 3 games. With Van der Vaart injured and Peter Crouch now
sold (despite this plea to Modric less than a month ago), the forward line will take on a new look, with on-loan, former Arsenal man, Emmanuel Adebayor set to partner Jermain Defoe. Luka Modric (who’s desire to leave this summer I covered here) remains in the squad and manager Harry Redknapp will be hoping that the Croatian’s head is in the right place for this game – interest from Chelsea having been given as the reason for his no-show against United and his insipid performance against City.
In the other fixtures, Arsenal have a great opportunity to register their first league win of the season as they host Premiership newcomers Swansea City. The Gunners boast new signings Mikel Arteta from Everton and Yossi Benayoun on loan from Chelsea, bolstering their team from the side that lost 8-2 at Old Trafford in their last outing. Manchester City have a local derby of sorts as they take on Wigan at Maine Road…oops, make that the City of Manchester Stadium…wait, what? The Etihad Stadium? Okay, fair enough, sounds all above board and not like they’re just trying to get around the FIFA Financial Fair Play rulings coming into effect next year.
Another Lancashire derby sees top-of-the-table-by-a-goal Manchester United travel to Bolton, Wanderers having been indifferent at the start of this season and likely to offer their traditional capitulation against the Red Devils. Chelsea have a long away trip to Sunderland; while Stoke, with their new signings Crouch, Palacios and Cameron Jerome, host Liverpool. The other Saturday game sees Arteta-less Everton take on an Aston Villa team who look a lot less dangerous now that Ashley Young is plying his trade with Manchester United.
Sunday’s games are not exactly marquee fixtures, with Martin Jol’s Fulham taking on a struggling Blackburn Rovers; and Norwich City playing West Brom, a match that sounds like a Championship game, but is actually a Premier League one.