That was the weekend that was.
1. Were the last ten minutes at Old Trafford yesterday the most important of Man Utd’s season so far? Following Liverpool’s last gasp win which took them briefly top, all the pressure was on Fergie’s men to produce a response, even more so given they had lost their previous two Premier League games before the international break. Villa were good value for a point but were undone by a Ronaldo double and a fantastic goal from a seventeen year old debutant that I would doubt many United fans had heard of, let alone anyone else. Federico Macheda was only on the bench due to some good form in the reserves and Berbatov’s injury but he had a debut to remember with a lovely turn and curling shot past Friedel in stoppage time.
The five minutes of stoppage time was slightly dubious (anyone remember Steve Bruce in 1993? A vital winner in the eighth minute of injury time! Unbelievable!) but of course Fergie won’t mind. The effect of a similar last minute winner so soon after Liverpool will no doubt galvanise United and should see them home. Man Utd go back to the top and still have that game in hand (though not till May 13 against Wigan) but I would imagine that it will probably depend on how the respective title challengers do in their home games against Arsenal that will decide the destiny of this year’s race.
2. Talking of Arsenal, the returning Fabregas and Adebayor duly slotted straight back with the former providing two very nice assists for the latter (thanks as ever to the fantastic 101greatgoals). While you could argue that a seventeen game unbeaten run in the league show that they arguably haven’t been missed, I would say that their return for the run in ensures that a strong base for next season can be developed. Wenger appeared to be trying a Liverpool style 4-2-3-1 formation which saw Denilson and Song playing the Alonso/Mascherano roles; Walcott and Arshavin patrolling the right and left wings; and Cesc playing quite far forward just behind Adebayor (a la Gerrard/Torres).
Of course it was only one game but I could see this becoming quite a regular option for Arsenal. The holding midfielders need improving but it offers flexibility in that Cesc could drop back, while Arshavin plays Gerrard and someone like RVP plays wide left or vice versa. Idle speculation for now but with the Gunners likely to next season have Fabregas, Nasri, Ashavin, Walcott, Adebayor, Van Persie, Bendtner, Vela, Eduardo and dare I say it Thomas Rosicky (haha) all battling for five attacking slots it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
3. Looks like Shearer will need more than just the feel good factor to drag his beloved Newcastle out of trouble. Chelsea was always a tough ask in his first game but it puts a huge amount of pressure in the last seven games. Stoke away next week is critical, but winnable, no matter how good Delap and co have been at the Britannia this season. Tottenham and Blackburn follow and it will be important to gain at least five points from these three games but ideally seven. A three point deficit is not much but with an inferior goal difference to boot the pressure is on. A win next week coupled with Sunderland defeat to Man Utd would likely see them swap places, for a week at least. Momentum is key at this stage though and you feel that if they got out, Newcastle may well stay out of the dreaded bottom three.
4. It’s always a bit odd when a player completely fails to produce for one team, but then changes his surroundings and starts scoring left right and centre. Jo scored just once for Man City in a 6-0 thrashing of Portsmouth in September but he now has five in seven since joining Everton on loan in January. This for a team, which arguably creates less chances and is more defensive than Mark Hughes’ side. Everton have always been a solid outfit but have lacked a good striker to rely on since Yakubu decided to essentially stop scoring after August and then injure himself for the season just to make sure. If David Moyes can find a way of getting Jo to stay at Goodison next season then they could perhaps again be a threat for a top four position.
5. West Brom are going down, they have been for ages. Following Middlesbrough’s 4-1 spanking at Bolton, we can safely assume they will join the Baggies. There seems to be a resigned look about Gareth Southgate’s men, and unlike the last couple of times they went down, they don’t seem to be fighting till the end. I like Southgate, but you just feel he is not one who particularly inspires when the chips are down. His demeanor has always appeared pretty negative in recent months and that is not a surprise given they have won once in nineteen. Even changing managers at this stage wouldn’t prevent their relegation.
Ultimately Southgate will be judged by the players he bought, and specifically the £6million man Mido and the £13million man Alves. Both as fat as each other, Mido has gone on loan to Wigan having scored just six times in 25 appearances while Alves has ten in 38. Three of Alves’ goals came in a meaningless end of season 8-1 hammering of Man City last year. Ultimately if your top forwards have a strike rate of one in four (Tuncay also has a similar rate but he’s actually played quite well), you shouldn’t be surprised when you struggle.
6. It saddens me that the three most horrible teams in the league (Blackburn, Stoke and Bolton) all now look like staying up. Here’s hoping that next season their negative, niggly, cheating ways (I’m especially looking at you Fat Sam) don’t wash and all three go down. The Premier League would not be poorer for it.