Thursday, 22 October 2009


The talk of the week has been focused on Rafael Benitez and Liverpool’s struggles, but I think it’s time to reflect on last weekend’s results in the Premier League and hail the newfound depth in England's top flight. Let’s not forget that not only did Sunderland fully deserve their victory over Liverpool, but so did Aston Villa against Chelsea and underdogs Wigan backed up their impressive win against Chelsea with a gritty home draw against billionaires Man City. Remember also that Sunderland could, and perhaps should have beaten Manchester United only a week before and we could be looking at the most competitive year of Premier League action in quite some time, not only in the challengers for the holy grail of the ‘top four’ but throughout the league.

But is that really the case? Manchester United and Chelsea have each won 7 out of 9 games, right in line with expectation and on pace to win 28 games for the season, Manchester United’s title-winning total of 08-09. Do a few surprise results really mean the status quo has changed or should we hold back until the end of the season? After all, Hull won 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium last season and went on to barely survive relegation by the end. Manchester United lost 2-0 to Fulham. Chelsea and Manchester United each drew 0-0 at home with eventually-relegated Newcastle and Liverpool lost 2-0 to equally-relegated Middlesbrough. Arsenal looked to struggle for the first half of last season before comfortably securing fourth place by the conclusion. It would not be at all surprising to see Liverpool do exactly the same. That said, all predictions wrong or your money back.

Stats of the Week No. 1: This week Glenn Hoddle questioned whether Arsenal make the most of the attacking opportunities they create and whether their scoring ‘ratio’ was good enough. Arsenal have scored 27 goals in their opening 8 league games – a new Premier League record.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Continuing on the Arsenal theme, they’ve scored 27 goals from 129 shots. Manchester United 21 from 128 and Chelsea 19 from 155. That ratio doesn’t look so bad now, does it?

Stats of the Week No. 3: Get enough balls into the box and eventually something will happen. Matt Jarvis of Wolves has made 88 crosses this season, one every 8 minutes on average, and created only a single goal.

Stats of the Week No. 4: Frank Lampard had taken 42 shots this season in league and champions league action before finally breaking his open-play scoring duck against Atletico Madrid.

Stats of the Week No. 5: Darren Bent has scored with 32% of his shots this season, as well as being joint top scorer in the league – a better total and ratio than Defoe (6 at 23%) and Rooney (6 at 19%).

Stats of the Week No. 6: 9 of Aston Villa’s 12 league goals have come from set-pieces. Their defeated opponents Chelsea have conceded 8 goals this season, 6 of those from set plays.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Liverpool have the worst record in that regard, with 10 of their 13 goals conceded coming from set-pieces

Stats of the Week No. 8: Jason Scotland and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake were directly involved in a combined 59 goals in the Championship last season. So far they have been involved in 0 in the Premier League.

Stats of the Week No. 9: Bobby Zamora’s goal against Hull means he has already equalled his total for last season – 2. The first ricocheted off his arse, the second off his face.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Jay Spearing, playing as a defensive midfielder in his first Premier League start against Sunderland, didn’t make a single tackle in the 71 minutes he played.

Sweet Plays of the Week: A number, surprisingly enough, from Blackburn v Burnley – Robbie Blake gave Burnley the lead with a thunderbolt before David Dunn tied the scores after being teed up by a delightful flick from Franco Di Santo. Later, Pascal Chimbonda made it 3-1. With the ball switched from right to left, Chimbonda made a great run to get on the end of Pedersen’s knock-down before skipping past Fletcher and finishing neatly.

Moving further afield, Gonzalo Higuain scored a sumptuous first-time chip over the goalkeeper in Real Madrid’s 4-2 win over Valladolid, running onto a tremendous through pass from Xabi Alonso and once again raising the question; does he really deserve to be behind glam-boy Karim Benzema in the pecking order?

While the move ultimately ended without producing a goal, Antonio Valencia came extremely close at 0-0 in Manchester United’s match against CSKA Moscow, rattling the crossbar with a thunderous drive following a stunningly intricate passage of one-touch play between himself, Berbatov and Nani.

Sour Play of the Week No. 1: Dida of AC Milan, in one of his team’s most critical games of the season, decided to fumble an extremely tame shot from Esteban Granero directly at the feet of Raul to allow Madrid to take the lead. Dida’s blushes were spared as Milan recovered and went on to take the game 3-2, largely thanks to...

Sour Play of the Week No. 2: Not to be outdone by his opposite number in the same game, Iker Casillas, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world, came rushing out of his area at the sight of a long ball over the top of Madrid’s flimsy defence only to miss the ball entirely and allow Pato to score the simplest of tap-ins and give Milan a 2-1 lead.

These events prompted Richard Keys of Sky Sports to question whether there are any good goalkeepers in Europe at the minute, with not one of his panelists suggesting Gianluigi Buffon, winner of the IFFHS World Goalkeeper of the Year award in 4 of the last 6 years.

Sweet ‘N’ Sour Play: Andriy Arshavin took his opportunity superbly with a delicate finish into the far corner, but why were Arsenal allowed to move the ball from their goalkeeper in their own penalty area to Arshavin in Birmingham’s entirely unchallenged? Fabregas ran forty yards with the ball without being closed down or tackled and similarly the only opposition Arshavin faced was the most pathetic of attempted blocks by a player who clearly could not be bothered, Stephen Carr.

Fortune Favours the Bold? At 1-1 in their Champions League game with Lyon, Rafael Benitez replaced midfielder Yossi Benayoun with striker Andriy Voronin. Seven minutes later Lyon scored the winning goal.

Christmas Creep: Is it ever too soon to describe something as an “early Christmas present”? Sam Allardyce thinks not, describing his team’s win over rivals Burnley as just that on October 19th, the day before his own birthday. In my own hometown Currys and Phones4U are advertising ‘Christmas temp’ jobs “starting immediately.” Today is October 22nd. Perhaps whichever manager lifts the Premier League trophy come May will thank his team for giving him an early Christmas present.

Adventures in Officiating: Mike Jones awarded the bizarre “beach ball” goal at Sunderland, though the Laws of the game clearly indicate it should have been disallowed. What’s more is that on an occasion where a manager would have been well within his rights to decry the referee, Rafael Benitez refused to do so apparently because he, like Mike Jones, had no idea what the rules of the game he’s paid millions to work in are: “It’s a very technical question. It could be a goal, it’s difficult to say. In this case, it has to be a goal.” Steve Bruce was equally philosophical, declaring anyone who knew the rule “a saddo.”

Expect the Expected: What better way to demonstrate that you’re not up for the physical battle of defending than to take to the field wearing a gum shield? True to form, Marcelo went on to lose his man at the far post and give Pato all the space in the world to score Milan’s third and winning goal in the dying minutes against Real Madrid.

Limited Understanding of the Ancient Language: Dr. Rush of Stargate Universe has been seen regularly bemoaning his crewmates’ limited usefulness aboard an ancient starcruiser lost halfway across the universe. He worked himself into a nervous breakdown because he’s the only one on the ship with the knowledge to do anything of worth to help their situation. So why not use your body-switching, unlimited range ‘communication stones’ to bring some more experts onboard at the expense of some of the many useless members of the expedition? It’s got to be more helpful than using them almost solely for visits home to invoke melodrama among family members and long lost wives. But then what do I know, I’m not a supposed super-genius?

Obscure World Score of the Week: Changsha Ginde 2-1 Chongqing Lifan. A vital result which lifts Changsha Ginde out of the relegation zone and, with only two rounds to go, condemns Chongqing Lifan to near-certain relegation.

Cosmic Coincidence: This weekend Manchester United, owned by the Glazer family, face a Liverpool team on its worst run of form since 1987. On the flip side, the Glazers also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are on their worst run of form since 1977 and this weekend face the New England Patriots at Wembley in a game that kicks off directly after Liverpool v Manchester United.

Next week: delayed due to postal strike.

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