That was the weekend that was.
1. Martin O’Neill must be sick of Stoke’s last minute antics this season. Following their stoppage time winner in the August game at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke remarkably came from two goals down at Villa Park with four minutes to go to draw a match they had no right to get anything from. O’Neill must be a touch concerned at Villa’s relative lack of form at a key time of the season. They are now without a win in five in all competitions and this run has coincided with the injury to Martin Laursen, a key figure in the side. I doubt Arsenal would have been able to make up an eight point deficit, but now have a chance to cut it to three by the time Villa play next if they manage to beat bottom side West Brom. Whilst Wenger will be delighted at Villa dropping points, he of all people will know what it’s like to be in that situation having conspired to do the same against Spurs in October.
2. The Spurs and Villa results over the weekend got me thinking about the importance of having a settled team and not worrying about resting players too much. Of course certain games are a priority and players get tired at this stage of the season but at the same time matches are also about confidence and routine. Both sides could have played a few more first teamers in the UEFA Cup whilst still ensuring not too much effort was made to prevent elimination. Sometimes going seven to ten days without a match isn’t actually all that good as you can lose your touch and match practice. There’s a reason why winning teams are rarely changed and I think both Villa and Spurs might have had better results at the weekend had they played a few more of their first teamers midweek.
3. Rafa now thinks Liverpool would have been closer to Man Utd had Torres been fit for more of the season. That may be so but Man Utd have also had their fair share of injuries with Ronaldo, Rooney and several midfielders all out for good portions. The whole point is that you’re not meant to rely on one player and if Robbie Keane wasn’t the answer/alternative, Rafa should have ensured that someone else was. Fergie’s Berbatov, Rooney and Tevez compared to Rafa’s Torres, El Zhar and N’Gog? I know what I’d choose.
4. A week after writing off Gareth Southgate, he oversees one of Middlesbrough’s best results of the season. Boro’s next six games are all against teams around them in the table. They will hope to have pulled a little clear by the end of this run as the two matches that follow are Arsenal and Man Utd.
5. Reputations count for a lot. Robin Van Persie is having a good season but has been guilty of some quite poor misses over the past few games. Had those chances been missed by Bendtner or even Adebayor for that matter we would be highly critical. RVP has escaped (thus far) on account of him producing in big games. However, great player though he is, Van Persie is certainly not prolific. The less said about Arsenal’s 4th consecutive goalless draw the better. Luck would have it that they face West Brom next but then they were meant to beat Sunderland, and Fulham, and…
6. Man City lost yet again away from home and yet again Robinho failed to do anything of note. He hasn’t scored since November and there has been many a muttering about his lack of effort away from the City of Manchester Stadium (he’s only scored twice away). Mark Hughes has built his success on hard working sides and while the Brazilian is a major talent, you feel that he is not one for a relegation battle. City are only six points clear and a lot could still change at the bottom of the table. He’s doubtful with an ankle injury for the next game and it may well be a blessing in disguise.