Friday, October 23, 2020
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Weekend Premiership review - Church mice & chewing gum

In the build up to the weekend's fixtures, the major talking point was the astonishing Rafa rant against Alex Ferguson and all things Manchester. Let’s cut through the (venom) bulls**t of it all. Sir’s much vaunted mind games are somewhat of a myth seeing as the only person that has ever been affected by them is Mr ‘Loov It’ Kevin Keegan, and I would suggest that he is hardly the most difficult of men to outsmart. 

Yet, despite this, a throw away Ferguson remark about Liverpool being under pressure, which should have been easily rebuffed, instead sparks a remarkable four minute tirade. Benitez, whose attire at the press conference did nothing to dispel his fat Spanish waiter image, went on the verbal rampage and berated the Man Utd boss over several issues.

 


Benitez concluded the statement by accusing Ferguson of being "scared" and then made a rod for his own back by saying the result of the Man Utd-Chelsea fixture was irrelevant as long as his team beat Stoke.

Sit on the fence sages wisely concluded that the results of the weekend’s fixtures would go some way in deducing whether the 'mind games' had indeed caused Rafa to crack, and now smugly assert that they certainly have.

A lot of nonsense, if you ask me. In amongst Benitez's ravings, he may have a semblance of a point. On the eve of a crucial weekend’s fixtures was certainly not the time to raise these issues, however, and he should have spent less time on his dossier and more time on preparing his team to face Stoke - but if you ask me did this press conference ballyhoo have any impact on the results, I would answer unequivocally: no.

Liverpool drew at Stoke not because the debacle had put them under an undue amount of pressure - they're under pressure anyway - but because tactically, Benitez is a pussy. As much as people may dislike them, managers like Ferguson & Mourinho have won titles by taking gambles. Benitez on the other hand, is as cautious as a shrew peaking from beneath the church eves. He didn't take a risk and try and capitalise on Arsenal being down to ten men at the Emirates earlier in the season, and he rocked up at the Brittania Stadium fielding a team with two holding-midfielders and both Keane and Torres on the bench. How negative is that! 
 

 

Granted, the Brittania is a throw back to old school intimidating cauldrons of yore and at home, their brand of physical football has unsettled some of the league’s better teams, but surely if you have designs on winning the Premiership, this is a fixture you have to look at as one to win. It was an even game and ended as a stalemate, which is exactly what Liverpool deserved - absent of ambition as they were.

Meanwhile, the mutterings of the
Spanish Ming the Merciless didn't inspire Man Utd to their 3-0 romp over Chelsea. The Blues ineptitude saw to that. Many in the media claimed that this had draw written all over it, but given the steady downturn of Chelsea’s season, I was confident of a Man Utd victory in this fixture long before Rafa made a fuss (so much so in fact, it was the final result in my weekend accumulator, which would've netted me a tidy sum if not for bloody Wolves, the Black Country benders).

Chelsea seem to be a team at a crossroads. In the last few weeks a scene has been painted of continual dressing room unrest, of a bunch of over-paid, under-motivated, ageing stars whose malaise is characterised by the indifference of star striker Didier Drogba, and by the financial turmoil surrounding owner Roman Abramovich.
 Does the Russian Oil Magnate really care any more? He's definitely not willing to stump up the cash like he used to. Of course, this could be merely a result of the current economic climate, but perhaps he has lost interest following the disintegration of his dream as his charges lost the Champions League Final in his own backyard.

Of course, a few good results in a row could see them back on top and wondering what the fuss was about, but it doesn't seem likely that they will get them. It was not just the result against United, but the performance itself that was atrocious and would've left the likes of 90minuteonline editor, Mofty, weeping into his trilby.
They were too narrow and their packed midfield was void of movement, creativity and energy.
 Recent weeks have seen Scolari cut an increasingly forlorn and bewildered figure, shrugging his shoulders, expelling puffs of air and looking generally bemused in his post match interviews. There is talk of a clear out and a change in philosophy in acquiring younger, hungrier players, whose wage packets won't be so hefty and judging by this performance, that sounds like a plan.

As good as the Man Utd performance was, one thing irked me. Last week, Ronaldo's petulance in spats with Boro captain Emmanuel Pogatetz saw him go unpunished (w***ker) and on Sunday, Wayne Rooney got away with his typical antics, kicking out at people, screaming in the faces of the linesmen, swearing at the referee and so on.

Quite how he gets away with it, I don't know (perhaps now he's done with Ferguson and David Gill, perhaps Rafa could compile a list of facts on the subject for me), but it concerns me from an England perspective. I was in Gelsenkirchen and I shudder at the memory of Rooney’s gormless moon face gaping up as the red card was raised before him. I can just see him undoing all of Fabio Capello's hard work with an act of thuggery at a crucial moment in 2010. Another stock phrase in the pantheon of football cliches is one much beloved by the likes of Andy Townsend who say "he wouldn't be the same player if you took the aggression out of his game". This is rubbish, of course, a professional should be able to channel his passion into making committed challenges rather than lashing out.

For those of you who are counting by the way,
Cristiano Ronaldo creamed his Ferrari into a wall this week making him a prize w***ker. It's just too easy. Also his smirking interview for Sky Sports was as annoying as sneezing whilst taking a piss.

On with the review and if people are suggesting that Benitez and Scolari are cracking up, what about
Harry Redknapp who layed into his players following their last gasp 1-0 defeat away at Wigan?

I think Harry should look a bit closer to home when it comes to the blame game for that defeat as he made several errors that contributed towards it. The Spurs team started with a new look 5-3-2 formation. Nothing wrong with that and they got into half time looking relatively comfortable at 0-0. However, the second half would go on to see Redknapp make a string of inexplicable decisions.

Firstly, a few minutes in, he seems to lose patience with his new formation and abandons it, bringing on Bent and Lennon, moving O'Hara out to the left and reverting back to 4-4-2. The problem is he brought on two players who don't hold the ball up, for two players who can and were in Pavlyuchenko and Modric. Suddenly Tottenham found themselves under far more pressure.
 Secondly, when Gomes injured himself, Redknapp refused to take him off, leaving a limping crocked keeper on the pitch who couldn't even take goal kicks.  Thirdly, with ten minutes to spare and Tottenham hanging on, he brings on Jenas who can't defend for toffee rather than Huddlestone who could've sat in front of the back four, thrown some tackles in and sprayed the ball around.  The consequence was that Wigan got a late corner, an immobile Gomes was rooted to his line and Honduran Maynor Figueroa escapes the attentions of Jenas to head in his first goal for the club, giving Wigan their fourth consecutive league win.

Unbelievably, Aston Villa go a point behind Chelski after their victory over West Brom. Now, don't get me wrong, Martin O'Neill is a genius and deserves all the plaudits that are coming his way, but I am not getting carried away. Villa were jammy against Hull, fortuitous in the cup tie versus Gillingham and they rode their luck once again here, with their less illustrious neighbours outplaying them for large spells of the game.

A Curtis Davies header from a Gareth Barry cross put us in the lead against the run of play and then a Villa break resulted in the unlikeliest of goals as Gabriel Agbonlahor drove into the box and with only 5 West Brom players for company fired a shot in from an unlikely angle that somehow squirmed underneath Scott Carson....and yes it should go down as an Agbonlahor goal, BBC and ITV both reported it as such before Sky started claimed that it had to go down as an OG - why? If a shot is going well wide and then takes a wicked deflection to go in then so be it, but surely it can't be argued that this was way off target.

Regardless, a James Morrison goal for the Baggies ensured a nervy second half, but Villa won again despite not playing well. It is said to be the hallmark of champions to play badly but still win, but if our performance levels carry on like this, the results will soon match them. I hope we can get back to the fierce swashbuckling counter attacking style that was on display away to Arsenal a month or so ago.

Speak of the devils, the Gunners needed a late goal from substitute Nicolas Bendtner to triumph over Bolton.
Afterward, Wenger bemoaned the fact that since he came to these shores in 1996, a lot of tactical negativity has crept into the top flight game and stifled it to some extent.

My immediate reaction was to dismiss these remarks as the arrogant utterings of a manager whose squad has an array of attacking talent. Of course, it would suit Wenger down to the ground if teams came to the Emirates and had a go rather than
"parking the bus" and it should be up to him as a highly paid manager to work out how to break down sides who employ these methods.

However, that evening I watched Mallorca and Osasuna gamely try to match Real Madrid and Barcelona. The Barca game in particular was thrilling viewing as the bottom side held an unlikely 2-1 lead before squandering it late on and going down 2-3.
 It made me think and upon reflection I have watched a lot of dull Premiership games in the last few years where teams sole motivation have been to grind out a bore draw. Possibly, Wenger has a point, although there is an element of sour grapes to what he says, the nerve of some teams just coming to the Emirates to defend! Wenger lives in this ideological bubble and envisages a league where every team plays fancy football, but this just isn't realistic - just look how far it is getting West Brom.

Everton ensured that Hull's miserable run of form continued, comfortably dispatching them 2-0 at Goodison Park. The first goal was scored by
barnet boy, Fellaini, who should be looking at Geordie goal scorer Andy Carroll for tips on how to control wild hair.

Carroll scored his first goal for the club, a late equaliser for Newcastle in a 2-2 draw with West Ham.
Carroll sported some unlikely braids and looked about as cool as a man pretending to chew gum, but never the less, he headed home for his local club. Other notable aspects of this game were Michael Owen's first Premier League goal from outside the box since 2002(!), and a West Ham goal created and scored by former players Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy, the latter being severly loathed on Tyneside after his acrimonious departure from the club. Then again, he's severely loathed in most places. The performances of Parker and Bellamy may see them on the move as both have been heavily linked with Man City in recent days.

Finally, the Tees-Weir derby ended all square as Middlesbrough and Sunderland played out a 1-1 draw. Kenwyne Jones scored late on for the Black Cats, leveling Alfonso Alves first league goal for three months. Boro haven't won in nine Premiership games and Southgate must have been wiping the sweat off his beak as it could've been a lot worse with Djibril Cisse muffing an easy chance at the death.

Results: Arsenal 1-0 Bolton, Aston Villa 2-1 WBA, Everton 2-0 Hull, Middlesbrough 1-1 Sunderland, Newcastle 2-2 West Ham, Stoke 0-0 Liverpool, Man Utd 3-0 Chelsea, Wigan 1-0 Tottenham.

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