My Saturday began with a dodgeball tournament, and for some reason I blocked off several hours in my calendar. Turns out it doesn’t take that long, especially when you’re not very good. Started the competition at 11am, eliminated by 11:45 and off to the bar for the 12:30 kickoff of Manchester City v Swansea City.
The match wasn’t that great. Swansea barely saw the ball, although when they did in the first half, they were quite dangerous with Luke Skywalker (I mean Michu) leading the line and Ashley Williams causing problems on the left hand side for the Swans. Second half, not so much, and I never felt they were getting back in to the game.
The Citizens won the game on the moment of brilliance from Tevez. Simple as that. The hosts had very limited moments of fluidity and by the end I was trying to figure what Mancini was trying to accomplish with Tevez, Aguero and Balotelli upfront. Felt Kolarov (substituted at halftime) was completely nondescript, which is fine, but you are playing with 11 players not 10.
Taking the big picture, Simon Curtis wrote this on the Manchester City blog for ESPN FC:
Mancini’s insistence on result over performance is logical, especially during a phase where performance is not up to last season’s high standards. There have been very few sightings of the slick, incessant passing, the overwhelming possession, the lung-busting powerplay that marked so many of City’s games during 2011-12. As in Amsterdam, it was again conspicuous by its absence, but the sight of City in second place in the table with nine games played, despite not yet having hit anything approaching their stride must be a sobering one for the rest of the top six.
After watching the longest game in Premier League history, we switched to the second half of Nancy v PSG. The game was disconcerting on several levels. Couldn’t tell if Nancy’s field was the latest in artificial grass technology or the finest pitch every created. (Confirmed the former by Cedrick Heraux, renowned Ligue Un expert living in Lansing, MI.) The lighting was weird, creating an unnatural sheen on the grass and every close up showed a perfectly level surface with no cut ups. Then there was PSG wearing the short sleeves with gloves. Not a big fan. Either go long sleeve or lose the mittens. The quality of the game was AWFUL. Menez was a turnover machine. He would not pass, would not shoot, would not do anything until he gave the other team the ball. Pastore was barely involved and Ibra was Ibra. Like the City game, one player won the match with a sick finish, stunning in its power and accuracy to take PSG to the top of the table. Jonathon Johnson on the PSG blog for ESPN FC heaped praise on Blaise Matuidi for his performance for the visitors. Didn’t pick up on it at all, probably because I don’t know very much about PSG and I was too distracted by the loose passes and crunching tackles.
The last game of the day for me was Rayo Vallecano v FCB. David Villa opened the scoring for the visitors and after a tightly contest affair of about an hour, the Blaugrana took absolute control, eventually winning 5-0. The hosts went down and responded by pushing forward which left them more and more exposed. Have to admire the fact that they did go for it but it was all for naught. Leo Baptistao was starved of service and I didn’t see much in the attack. As for FCB, I am really starting to wonder about Song and Sanchez. Song was moved into central midfield to support Cesc and Xavi and seemed to be well placed but I don’t know. Something is still missing. As for Sanchez, he is channeling his inner Bojan and trying so hard and not getting the results. On as a sub to grab an easy goal or two and build his confidence, he went the other direction, making things worse, constantly straying offside needlessly and usually picking the wrong pass or not delivering the correct one. Aggravating to watch.
Sunday I headed to the bar to meet with up the guys from Mid-Michigan United not knowing what awaited me over the next four hours—nine goals (that counted), too many talking points to mention, and unbelievable drama.
Everton 2 Liverpool 2
Suarez was immense. An absolute terror for the Toffees in the first half, he was, in the modern parlance, unplayable. Everton got back in the game and managed to equalize before halftime, which brought a sensational first period in the pouring rain to a close. End to end, tons of chances, and meaty challenges. Fantastic atmosphere.
What Liverpool did tactically in the second is beyond me. I’m thinking Coates for Sahin with Sterling an advanced forward, was part of a 3-5-2. The youngster was able to stretch the hosts’ rearguard with Suarez active underneath. Johnjo was brought in to for bite, but it almost seemed there were too many cooks in the Liverpool midfield kitchen.
The game could only end one way: Suarez, the current villain, for the win. As the headline and journalists were about to hit enter, the AR raised his flag. At first we thought it was for offside but there were some reports on twitter that the infringement was on Coates for climbing up the back of his marker. Regardless, the goal was chalked off, and the two city rivals shared the points.
Chelsea 2 Manchester United 3
Having seen the Reds and Blues of Liverpool put on a show, the Reds of Manchester and the Blues of London saw the controversy, comebacks and goals of the Merseyside Derby and raised it. United, similar to their explosive start against Newcastle, overran Chelsea in the opening 20 minutes or so, went 2-0 up and looked set to blow the title race wide open. And then the new Chelsea took over, aided by United’s lack of drive.
RvP had the goals but it was Mata that was on fire in the match. His free kick was truly special and it gave the Blues the platform from which to salvage something in the second half. Truth be told, once Ramires nodded home from close range there was only one team winning the game. Until Clattenberg intervened. Young’s run on Ivanovic was clever and put the Serbian defender under pressure. The Chelsea defender did nick him and deserved a card but not to be sent off. United still could not break down the Blues and Mata continued to look dangerous. And then Torres saw red. I felt it was a dive from the off. I guess Evans claimed later that he did touch him but I don’t know. As one of the fans at the game said afterwards, the ref has got to realize the context of the game. You can’t send Torres off there.
Chelsea down to nine men hung on bravely before conceding the winner in debatable circumstances. Cech took the sting out of RvP’s shot and then a gang of Chelsea defenders beat Chicharito to the goal line to clear. Rafael instantly fired back into the goal box and the Little Pea was first to react. Cries of offside are still being claimed, and based on the replay maybe he was. Here’s my take. Complete pandemonium, players reacting in split seconds, the critical moment, all lead to the time for a decision. How is a human supposed to keep track of all that? On another day he’s offside and each side leaves with a point.
My biggest concern is that United has already used up a ton of luck, karma, and get out of jail cards. Comebacks against Southampton and Stoke; absolute screw jobs against Liverpool and Chelsea. We are only a quarter of the way through the season, and the Red Devils may lack the rub of the green later in the season when the title hangs in the balance.
Chelsea are the real deal. I fear them above City because once they started moving through the gears, the results were stunning. There is a concern that they may fade after the break, which RdM needs to start addressing. More Sturridge. More Betrand. More guy with the unpronounceable name. He knows his best eleven and has a group that can bring the title back to London, but he needs to save it for the key games and not burn it out in November. A three horse race in May? Could happen in the season of the weird.
Scott the Red tried to keep things in perspective after United’s controversial win at Stamford Bridge. Any of the calls could have gone a different way, but the Reds got the breaks and broke a 10 year streak without a win at Chelsea. While Rooney dominated the first half hour, RvP was called out for special praise and De Gea is his #1 choice in goal. United are back in the hunt and there is still a lot of the season ahead of us.
Karan at the Chelsea SB Nation blog took the long view in his post, noting that Chelsea are actually surpassing expectations this season and have now been given chip on their shoulder for the upcoming fixtures. I have watched the Blues twice this season, away at Arsenal and at home against Manchester United. The match against the Gunners was a classic counterpuncher’s effort while the United game saw them lose the opening rounds, completely take over the fight, only to have the judges steal it from them at the end. This team can win the league. There’s not doubt in my mind now.
Zonal Marking analyzed the match on his website. He saw United’s 4-4-2 morph into a 4-1-4-1 once the lead had been established while Chelsea came back into the game but were not able to unlock United from open play. I agree with him that it would have been interested to see how the game would have played out at 10 v 11. I imagine it would have been similar to the Chelsea/FCB Champions League semi.
All in all, a fantastic weekend of footy. This weekend was a glimpse into what life would be like without a wife and kid, sitting on barstools, drinking, yelling, absorbed by men kicking a ball made of space age polymers.