Apologies for the recent lack of posts. We’ll be back to normal this week. Anyway, let’s look at the weekend that was…
1. We’re starting to see a lot of nothing performances from teams who have nothing let to play for. Wigan have been at the beach for around the past five weeks and are second bottom of the form table with one goal in five. Having started the year challenging for a Europa Cup spot, they are slowly sliding down the table. What I don’t get is with each place in the league being worth around half a million more than the one below, why Steve Bruce isn’t motivating them more. The drop from seventh to tenth could be worth as much as two million in prize money, which to a club like Wigan is a big deal.
2. Gerrard and Torres have started 12 games together this season. Of those twelve, Liverpool have won nine and drawn three and got 16 goals from the two. They took just two minutes to unlock West Ham at the weekend and showed again what a good understanding they have. If Benitez can get them to play 30 games together next season, Liverpool may finally win the title. That said, Rooney and Ronaldo have only started 17 games together for Man Utd. The difference being that Fergie has Berbatov and Tevez to choose from too, while Rafa tried and sold Keane and must focus on buying another alternative option in the summer.
3. Another listless performance from Man City in the Manchester derby. Is Mark Hughes more likely to be sacked for failing to finish seventh or failing to motivate star players like Robinho and Elano? If he can’t keep egos like that happy, what chance has he got with the proper superstar players who will no doubt be summer targets at Eastlands. You’d feel the Europa League is a must in terms of trying to persuade anyone world class to join and even then you have to wonder whether Hughes is a man capable of handling the world class talent it will take for City to break into the elite.
4. Ten points ahead of Aston Villa in fifth but now nine points behind Chelsea in third. Arsenal really are in a league of their own at the moment. Clearly not good enough to challenge the top 3 when it ultimately matters (failure to beat any of them in the four recent games in league and Europe), Arsene Wenger finds himself with much work to do in the summer. You can track their regression from last season quite accurately. They had 77 points in third place at this stage last year, which is what Chelsea currently have in third this season. The 1-4 scoreline against Chelsea on Sunday was a touch harsh given how well they started the game but at the same it was what we’ve come to expect over the years – plenty of possession and chances but no killer instinct to finish the game off. We’ll touch on what’s needed in more detail later in the week but needless to say experienced reinforcements will be on the agenda. You only need to look at the impact Arshavin has had since January to illustrate that you sometimes need to pay for quality. It’s interesting too for the chasing clubs like Aston Villa and Spurs dreaming (literally in Tottenham’s case) of breaking into the top four. If you can’t do it when one has an off year then when can you?
5. Could West Brom do it again? They stayed up in 2005 despite being bottom at Christmas and are making a pretty good fist of it again. I feel they’ll ultimately fall just short given they have Liverpool in the next game. That said, if Man Utd win the title next Saturday against Arsenal, Sunday will be a pretty good time to play Rafa’s side. I would be happy if they stayed up, even if they aren’t very good. They at least try and play decent football and Tony Mowbray is more likeable than many of the other managers in and around the drop zone (I’m looking at you Phil Brown). It so often comes down to form for the bottom clubs trying to escape and they currently are displaying mid-table form, unlike all their four north east rivals.
6. Gareth Bale started for the first time since January 18th on Saturday. Needless to say Spurs didn’t win. I make it 24 league games without a win for the Welshman. Jinx!