Dec 29, 2007

Saturday Soccer Summary, Dec. 29, 2007

Just when you thought you were ready to anoint Manchester United as repeat champs, Sir Alex' men went down to a team that was supposed to be a candidate for relegation. Meanwhile, a squad many had written off (Chelsea) pulled a victory out of their arse and one I thought to be a sure bet for a place in Europe (Portsmouth) lost at home to one of the weaker sides in the Premiership. What gives here? Does my original thesis still hold or does everything get thrown out the window?

It still holds, baby. Today was just a temporary blip, not a correction or even trend reversal (to borrow some financial lingo. Quite appropriate given the amount of cash sloshing around the EPL these days). Pompey is still Euro-worthy, they just need to find a way to score goals at home. That and David James needs to forget about this bogus campaign for England and concentrate on the games he is paid to play now. Also in Portsmouth's favor is suspect competition for European spots: Everton did not impress me today despite taking a first-half lead against Arsenal and Aston Villa went down to Harry Redknapp's men earlier this month. And the teams behind Pompey in the table are with one exception (more on Spurs in a bit) decidedly mediocre. West Ham is now ninth, for example--with a game in hand to boot. (Show of hands: how many of you thought West Ham would ever see ninth place this season? If your hand is up you're either from the East End or lying). Man. City are obvious front-runners for fifth (or maybe even fourth. Stay tuned as they host Liverpool tomorrow) but that leaves a handful of European spots, one of which Pompey certainly have the ability to claim for themselves.

So what did in Man. United at Upton Park today? Two things: complacency and Wes Brown, though not necessarily in that order. When teams play this many games in this short a time period, weird stuff is bound to happen. It's hard enough for players to keep their focus when they're playing different competitions, i.e. in Europe versus domestically. When it's this much action within one single league, complacency is bound to set in at some point. Exhibit A: Cristiano with the penalty kick gifted by Jonathan Spector's hand ball. I'm not entirely sure what Ronaldo was trying to do with that PK. Maybe experiment a bit with a new technique? As for Wes Brown, I have wondered for some time why Sir Alex keeps playing this guy. Darren Fletcher isn't much better either. Surely Man U have somebody better to take those spots? If Red Devils do not win the Premiership it will likely be due to the play of these two.

Tottenham Hotspur continued their winning ways (four goals from Dimitar Berbatov, whom I have started in my fantasy league team thank you very much) albeit without an ability to play defense. Maybe Ledley King isn't England-worthy just yet. But hey, give Juande Ramos' side credit for playing entertaining football at least. Spurs move up to 12th with the victory.

Give Chelsea credit for today's victory over Newcastle, which I thought they clearly deserved. Avram Grant's side was the better team throughout the game and had the lion's share of possession (63%, according to ESPN Soccernet). If it hadn't been for Shay Given's heroics, Chelsea would have booked the victory much earlier. Still though, without Drogba and Terry, Blues are simply not as good as Gunners and Man. U.

Speaking of giving credit, and speaking of Gunners, Arsene Wenger's men impressed me with their poise today. The North Londoners basically took the first half off, it looked like. That Brazilian/Croatian fellow Eduardo is quite good but Cesc Fabregas is a pussy. Sorry, but that was not a red card. More like good acting from the Spaniard. Don't get me wrong, good acting has its place--in film and theater. In soccer it is ruinous and I will call out a-holes like Fabregas any chance I get.

But yes, the EPL is still a two team race, at least with the teams in their current make-up. There are due to be changes, maybe even significant changes, in the January transfer window that could reshuffle the deck a bit. But until then, expect my patterns will hold.

One non-Premiership game of note: in the Greek Super League. Olympiakos (Chelsea's opponent in the Champions' League Round of 16) pulled out a 2-1 victory over ninth-placed Xanthi to reclaim first place from AEK Athens. One of Olympiakos' goals was scored by a guy EPL fans may have heard of before: Lomana Lualua.

1 comment:

  1. ManU was flat as a pancake today. They were lucky not to be down 1-0 early when Noble botched a sitter. My boy Tevez had his worst match in memory. Looks like they missed Rooney's fire to me. But like you say, just a blip.