Saturday was a beautiful autumn day in Lansing, with citizens out and about shopping, enjoying the weather and tailgating for the big MSU/OSU football game. How did I enjoy the day? Sat inside a home or bar and watched over eight hours of footy. The day began with the 7:45am Arsenal v Chelsea and ended with the 4pm Sevilla v FC Barcelona match.
Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2
Arsene Wenger probably did not sleep Saturday night. The Gunners are the most eye catching team in the Premier League at the moment, yet the results are not following. The hosts dominated the European Champions but were sucker punched twice and got nothing from the match.
The first Chelsea goal came out of nothing as Arsenal shambolically defended a free kick. The Ox, on for the injured Diaby, left David Luiz open. The Brazilian missed the header but Torres was able to volley home as Koscielny got twisted around.
The Gunners struggled without Diaby initially but eventually found their attacking strategy, which was to get into wide areas. Eventually the alien known as Gervinho made up for last week’s debacle with a fantastic finish. Halftime came with matters all square and Arsenal having every chance of winning.
They kept pressing after the interval but were wasteful in front of goal. Arteta did a solid job of winning the ball back, but he was slightly culpable for Chelsea’s second goal. He was slow to react after losing the ball and put Vermaelen in trouble. The resulting set piece was floated in by Mata and the bending ball was not dealt with. Then AFC put on their subs but these changes unbalanced the team, as the Ox ran around all over and Theo was marginal. Giraud should have equalized towards the end but his effort hit the side netting.
Chelsea put in a veteran performance and the Gunners did everything but convert their chances. The Blues probably only had a handful of chances, scored two and Torres, who was meh, made a hash of a break away. The back line for CFC was solid and Cech made two great saves. As for Arsenal, Cazorla was decent but missed two chances outside the box. Jenkinson was fantastic, showing real drive and determination at right back. Still waiting for more from Podolski though.
The Arseblogger tried to keep things in perspective after the Chelsea game, noting that Arsenal were superior for most of the match but failed to take their chances and made mistakes at the defensive end. Fair comment and I think the Gunners are a top four side, with one caveat—can they do it against the smaller clubs? When they play Wigan and Stoke and Reading can they unlock packed defenses and maintain concentration for the one or two moments they are under pressure? If the Gunners can, then they will be right there. If not, then a fourth place (or lower) awaits them.
Zonal Marking was not impressed by this clash of London teams (although he was impressed with Oscar), focusing his analysis on the each team’s left side and Arsenal’s substitutions and shape after going down 2-1. What I saw as Arsenal unbalanced after Diaby’s exit, ZM explained as a move to width as Ramsey moved inside and the OX, naturally a wide player, played in the right hand channel. As for the Gunners finish to the game, their lack of shape (ie almost no linked midfield) allowed Chelsea to maintain possession and kill off the game rather than keep it the high tempo which kicked in after the Blues’ second goal.
Fulham 1 Manchester City 2
The Cottagers got off to a great start as Mark Halsey, the villain of last week’s Liverpool/Manchester United match, awarded a very soft penalty. Petric converted and for 85’ minutes, it looked as if Fulham would hang on for a point. But alas, the Citizens overwhelming talent won the day.
Kun Aguero canceled out the opening goal just before halftime and then Mancini threw on attacker after attacker in search of the winner. Eventually it was Dzeko who won the points scoring almost immediately after his introduction with minutes remaining.
Big result for City given the outcomes of the day. Unfortunately for Fulham, who tried to hold into the second half, Riise’s poor clearance created the half chance for Dzeko. David Silva was head and shoulders the best player on the field, gliding past defenders, creating chances and pulling the strings. Special mention must be made of Brian Ruiz who did everything he could for the hosts.
I must have been watching a different game than Kristian of Cottagers Confidential. He felt that Fulham deserved a draw. True, they defended well and did whatever they could to stop the Citizens but they were hardly dangerous. Also, he didn’t feel Ruiz did enough, which, considering the circumstances, he did all he could for the cause. Fulham were surprisingly good for me. As I told my mate, I wouldn’t have thought that Baird and Sidwell were a Premier League center midfield pairing, but they marshaled the game well. The team as a whole was well organized and will give lesser teams trouble.
Suffering Bruin jotted down some thoughts after the game for the Bitter and Blue blog. Can’t agree with him enough about using some sort of video to weed out fouls and resulting penalties like the one on Riise. Despicable. He also mentioned the lack of pace for City. I don’t see it that way. I see clever, technical players who are able to maintain possession in tight spaces and create chances in other ways (example would playing in Zabaleta in time and time again) rather than mazy or heaving runs from all over the pitch. City are right behind the chasing pack and now turn their eyes toward Borussia Dortmund.
Manchester United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3
Much was made of Spurs poor record at Old Trafford so of course United crapped their pants and gave up a 23 year unbeaten run. The Red Devils first half was utter dreck as their defense was exposed time and time again. Vertonghen got things up and running, driving right at the United defense and no one picked him up. His shot ricocheted off Evans and put the visitors up just two minutes in.
Things got worse minutes later as Bale beat Rio for pace and scored the second. The opening 45 minutes showed a couple of things—Spurs have got real pace that unsettle the best teams; Giggs and Scholes can’t start and or play together at present; every time RvP goes down, the Red Devil Nation holds their collective breath.
The second half produced the usual United fightback, as Nani converted a fine cross from Rooney. Dempsey immediately replied as Defoe wriggled free, setting up Bale, who unleashed a vicious blast that was only partially saved by Lindegaard and Dempsey tapped in. Kagawa was able to quickly reduce the margin back to one but that was to the end of the scoring. A fine effort from Spurs and despite dropping into a defensive shell, they left with all the points, their third league win in a row.
Rooney’s introduction gave the hosts a spark and he was terribly unlucky on his free kick that hit the post. Kagawa is still positive but doesn’t play towards goal so his impact can be negated. Scholes still has it but the team must be working around him for to influence the game. The comeback was inspiring and depressing at the same time. Southampton required an amazing effort and Liverpool needed the helping hand of the referee. 12 points from six matches and yet this team is nowhere near top form. Only time will tell if this is the typically slow start and if real problems are on the horizon.
Spooky was thrilled with the result. His thoughts at Dear Mr. Levy see a team starting to move in the right direction, full of speed and hunger and led by a coach coming into his stride. I agree with him that Walker struggled and will need to improve defensively in order to shore up the defense, but with the firepower available, performances like the first half could be the norm.
Reading Doron’s comments at the Stretford End 24 hours after the match put things in perspective. Besides praise for Scholes’ second half, the lack of presence in midfield, which affected the entire first half, and Rooney’s introduction, Doron addressed the fact that Fergie got the line up wrong, simple as that. He will not make the same mistake next time. My guess is that he will use a more athletic, high energy team that stretches Spurs as they exposed United in the first half. He made the changes and almost salvaged something from the match, but the poor start and key moments went against the Reds. His statement towards the end should be put on the United locker room bulletin board:
Why oh why can’t United start games like they seem to have to start second halves? In every game bar one in the league we’ve had to come from behind which isn’t good enough at all. Can’t the players be motivated from the off or is it more to do with Fergie picking the wrong team to begin with and having to make changes?
MMMSL Over 30 Playoff Final
CCFC claimed the over 30 playoff title last night in a 4-3 in Double OT thriller over Grand Saints. Down 2-0 early (Hagan and McNally?), we battled back to 2-1 (Christensen) before halftime and then the two teams did their best Manchester United/Tottenham impression. CCFC scored right at the beginning of the second half through James Glenn before Grand Saints responded moments later to make it 3-2 (Drauer?).
Later on Brett earned a penalty, which was converted by Wael Awad to make it 3-3. There were several chances for both teams to win it in regulation but extra time it would be. Not much in the first period, but early in the second session, Brett won another penalty. Will Robinson slotted it home to put CCFC ahead.
We then had to survive an onslaught to run out winners. Fantastic season for the lads. 12 win and 2 draws in the regular season (Champions) and playoff champions. Our first double since 2006 that made the post match beers that much more satisfying.
Jonathan Wilson commented on Liverpool’s start to the season (the worst since 1902) ahead of the weekend’s fixtures. Their poor start may be down to two factors—tough fixture list (Arsenal, City and United) and conversion of chances (somewhere in the neighborhood of 6% before Saturday’s match). On the plus side, while passes attempted remains static, their completion percentage is higher, so Rodgers may be having some sort of effect and the Reds are pleasing to the eye. Wilson posits that: The good news for Rodgers is that passing, the absolute core of his philosophy, has improved, even given the tough start. The bad news is that individual errors keep undermining the effectiveness of the overall structure. Maybe the season really did start on Saturday with their 5-2 thumping of Norwich.
Grant Wahl touched a couple of interesting tidbits in his weekly column for Planet Futbol. Klose’s honesty (he admitted using his hand and got a goal overturned); Stuart Holden’s return to Bolton; Sounders vote of confidence of their GM; and Columbus hosting USMNT games.