So next Sunday sees 2 pivotal games played in the EPL, Liverpool host Manchester United — which is always a little bit tasty — and Chelsea travel to the Emirates to play Arsenal — usually equally sumptuous. So the big 4 playing each other on the same day; and the FA tells us the fixture list is random…
A mixed weekend for the top 4 this week though. 2 wins for last seasons big 2, 2 losses for last seasons lesser 2. So, a quick summary of each team then…
Nobody ever really believed that whipping boys Derby County could take anything from Old Trafford, even under the leadership of survival expert
Ray Mears Paul Jewell. The 4-1 was more or less to the script; I say more or less as Rooney didn’t return to the score sheet, Steve Howard actually scored, in fact Derby actually scored away from home, but it was a good performance on the whole. Carlos Tevez was in good form again, so they look in good shape heading into this week.
The first team squad have got the week off in truthfulness; Champions League Super 16 status already gained, and also they will top the group no matter what happens, they can afford to take a minimal squad to the Olimpico to face AS Roma. Also no big injury worries ahead of the visit to Anfield next week, so Sir Alex is in buoyant mood and high spirits, one might feel. He has however reiterated his standpoint on foreign players, calling for the quota system to be introduced. Other than that, a decent weekend for Sir Alex.
The ghost of Mourinho still lurks at Stamford Bridge these days. They are starting that old Jose chestnut on producing ‘ugly’ football whilst beating the lesser sides. Last week, West Ham were less than swept aside 1-0, and this week it was Sunderland who were beaten by an Andrei Shevchenko tap-in and a Lampard penalty 2-0. I’m not criticising of course, you get 3 points I don’t care how a team plays, and as a result they are obviously a good team for taking 3 points. However, another Mourinho party-piece was producing scintillating football when required. Be afraid Gunners, be very afraid…
Like United, the first team squad will get a rest at home to Valencia one feels. Qualification to the Super 16 assured as group winners, so they can rest a few players for the short trip across the capital to play Arsenal. Big worry for next week though is who can lead the front line. Didier Drogba has had surgery on his dodgy knee. Brighter news at the back though, Petr Cech is due back after a calf injury. Also Avram Grant has had his say on foreigners, saying that they are good for the English game and the system is currently working. Good weekend for Grant and Chelsea on the whole.
Shitty weekend for Liverpool. Simple as that. Steve Coppell lulled us Scousers into a false sense of security saying that ‘I’m not really bothered…Liverpool will win anyway‘ — this doesn’t overshadow my favourite Coppell quote though; ‘I’m being linked to the England job but everyone keeps putting an ‘O’ on the end of my name‘. Nice wit Stevie. In truth the 3-1 score-line didn’t at all flatter Reading, it was fully deserved on the run of play in my opinion. Of course Andre Marriner didn’t help not giving Liverpool 3 stone-wall pens and giving Reading a pen for a challenge outside the box, but I think take away those challenges then Liverpool fans will agree there were very little or no chances for Liverpool to kill the game off at 1-1, and save 2 Torres chances had no clear cut chances throughout the game, and very few half-chances.
Huge week ahead for Benitez and Liverpool, which will shape the way the rest of the season will pan out for the club. Firstly, the must-win in Southern France against Marseilles, then the bosses are coming over, then United are coming. Its all go for the ‘Pool at the moment, and there will be no let up for any of the first team (one suspects — lest we forget that we are talking about the incarnate of Claudio Ranieri). No new injury problems for Rafa B as yet though, and he is focussed solely on Europe for the moment.
An equally shitty weekend for Arsenal. Really top game at the Riverside though, and Middlesbrough fully deserved the 2-1 victory. It seems that the Premiership have found the key to unlock Arsenal’s free-flowing football, which is just get in the way of the ball when they pass it and put pressure on the ball carrier so that he has to make the pass quickly. God, how long did it take O’Neill, Allardyce and Southgate to work that out?
Seriously though since the second half of the Villa game we have seen a vulnerable Arsenal. Villa could have taken a point against the Gunners, maybe even could have won it. The second half against Newcastle was the same, the Magpies very unlucky not to take more from the game. And ‘Boro continued the trend, and finally took all 3 off Arsenal. Its up to the judgement of the individual on whether or not its teams breaking Arsenal down, or Arsenal breaking themselves down.
Arsenal have a relatively laid back week compared to Liverpool, as although Super 16 status assured, they aren’t top of their group, which may prove troublesome later in the competition. They need to win and hope that Sevilla lose if they are to go top of the group, which means your guess is as good as mine as to whether some of the squad will be rested. Certainties to miss out however include Cesc Fabregas and Aliaksandr Hleb, who are still recovering from injury. Expect a return against Chelsea for the pair though, who apparently are close, yet no cigar. Also Wenger has been quite vocal this weekend, saying that Jens Lehmann is staying on the bench at Arsenal and nowhere else, and that foreigners are also good.
So 6 days to go, what are your thoughts ahead of Grand Slam Sunday?