Soccerlens’s Hugo Steckelmacher looks back at the week gone by in the slightly crazy and always entertaining world of football.
In the Premiership…
Pool in the deep end before Crouch the hidden dragon roars
The week started and ended with a draw for Aston Villa, although in enormously different circumstances. A decent first-half performance from Liverpool, coupled with a number of uncharacteristic defensive mix-ups involving Laursen and Knight, looked to have eased the pressure on Reds boss Rafa BenÃtez, with Yossi Benayoun benefiting from loose defending to knock home the opening goal at the second attempt. Benayoun is looking one of BenÃtez’s better signings.
However, an inspired substitution by Martin O’ Neill had BenÃtez’s head firmly back under water: an excellent goal from the impressive Marlon Harewood, followed by an own goal by Reds defender Fabio Aurélio, putting the Villans ahead and set to over-take their rivals in the league. However, Peter Crouch once more came on to save Rafa’s blushes, with the man officially rated the fourth ugliest footballer in the world scoring a superb angled drive to level things at Anfield.
Having lost a lead at Anfield, O’ Neill’s young side rescued a point at home to one of their closest rivals for a European place, Blackburn Rovers. The tie pitted two of the brightest young managers in English football against each other, and possibly two candidates for the future opening at Manchester United — once Sir Alex finally chews his way to retirement, that is. In the end, it took a superb free-kick from Ashley Young to equalize Roque Santa Cruz’s 67th minute opener and secure a point for O’Neill’s Villans, although few would argue that Blackburn’s best player was midfielder David Bentley.
No weddings and a testimonial
The “will they? won’t they?” soap opera surrounding Keegan and Shearer continues at full strength. According to reports, the relationship between the two has been on the fritz since the former England manager failed to attend Shearer’s testimonial match back in 2006. Whilst the two insist that the hatchet will be buried good and proper, Keegan has announced that Shearer will not be returning to Newcastle as his number two, leaving the door open for the striker to join his team in some other capacity. The sooner this one gets resolved, the better.
Tuesday evening saw Spurs go some way to casting aside the demons of two seasons ago, when a trough of dodgy pasta hit their Champions League qualification plans right in the stomach. Passionate, composed, incisive — Tottenham totally outclassed Arsenal’s semi-reserve team in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup. A 5-1 scoreline will go someway towards healing the wounds of 2005-6.
Wenger could have been forgiven for suspecting foul play — his youngsters played as if in a drug-induced stupor — and such narcotic considerations may have been compounded when Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner’s nose magically began to spurt blood. However, it turned out that Bendtner’s injury was fruit of a quarrel with Togolese star Emmanuel Adebayor, although both players somehow escaped punishment from those paragons of consistency that are the FA, whilst Wenger’s tinted lenses again managed to miss the incident. Surprised anyone?
A cracking goal from Joe Cole away at Everton gave Avram Grant his first shot at silverware as Chelsea manager, leaving his counterpart David Moyes still searching for his first final appearance as Everton manager. With the Blues still going strong in the UEFA Cup, the odds are reasonable of the Scotsman ending his trophy drought this season.
More pasta-related news
Just 5 Minutes: Bianchi sending-off gives Lazio food for thought
Just four days after swapping Manchester City for Sven Goran Eriksson’s former club Lazio, pasta-craving, homesick striker Rolando Bianchi saw his debut cut short after just five minutes. The gloved marksman was sent off for two bookable offences — one a cynical hack and one a questionable elbow — and has earned himself some time out to get used to Italian food and football.
New-boy Pato takes Milan towards a new plateau
Alexandre Pato continued a dream start to his Milan career, scoring the only two goals for the Rossoneri at home to Genoa. Pato was consistently the most dangerous player on the pitch and, at just eighteen years of age, and whilst his compatriot Ronaldo ate up space in the treatment room, the Brazilian starlet took advantage of two defensive lapses to first head, and then fire Milan to victory. Pato was also the man responsible for Genoa’s reduction to ten-men: sprinting towards the goal, Pato attempted lob was handled by goalkeeper Rubinho outside the area, and the red card that followed was inevitable.
A lacklustre first-half performance from Liverpool saw Havant & Waterlooville twice take the lead at Anfield, although the southern side were eventually pegged back, but not disgraced, by Liverpool’s multi-million pound men: goals from Monday’s heroes, in the form of a Yossi Benayoun hat-trick and a Peter Crouch tap-in, were enough to again save BenÃtez’s blushes. Liverpool, meanwhile, depicted as the big bad wolves due to their refusal to donate their gates to struggling Luton two weeks ago, showed their charitable side — their defence parting like the red sea to give H&W two goals at Anfield, before the higher-ups sponsored the non-leaguers’ £100,000 bender at a Liverpool club on Saturday night.
Juande Ramos will be wishing that he had been as hung-over as the H&W lads on Sunday evening: a pulsating cup-tie in which a resilient Tottenham side had taken the lead at Old Trafford was settled by two moments of schoolboy defending by Spurs defender Michael Dawson, both of which were duly capitalised on by Carlos Tévez and Christiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo then proceeded to rub salt into the wounds by scoring his 25th goal of the season, although in truth his 88th minute drive would most likely have been stopped by Havant & Waterlooville keeper Kevin Scriven — Scriven saved a penalty in the Blue Square South side’s victory of Swansea in the third round — as well as by several thousand grannies up and down the country.
Al-Fayed won’t up the tempo as King and Nevland slip through the net
Fulham saw two of their major January transfer moves thwarted this week, and the search goes on for a top-class striker to replace Championship flops Diomansy Kamara and David Healy. Fellow Londoners Watford celebrated life without Marlon King, who completed a transfer to Wigan this week, by crashing to a 4-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whilst Erik Nevland’s Groningen drew 1-1 with 4th placed Feyenoord, with whom they are level on points.
The Hutton Report
Following unconfirmed allegations that Mr Loyalty Pascal Chimbonda has requested a move to Newcastle, where he wishes to emulate the trajectory of a certain Albert Luque, Tottenham have apparently returned with an improved offer for Rangers right-back Alan Hutton. Spurs fans are sure to take kindly to Hutton should the Scotsman move to White Hart Lane — nothing says “I want to play for your club” more than twice rejecting moves there before being forcibly transferred through the use of a sophisticated ejector-seat mechanism in the form of a £1 million bonus.
Meanwhile, Spurs physios are said to be heaving a sigh of relief, as a third club have agreed a fee for Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate. Spurs briefly thought they had realized Damien Commoli’s wish of having a top-quality English centre-back partnership line the Spurs treatment room, but Arsenal’s apparent intervention may save the Lilywhites from having even more egg on their face.
Whilst Spurs fans wonder if Commoli has secretly bought stocks in Middlesbrough (the double-bullet of Downing and now Woodgate seems to have been miraculously dodged) Kevin Keegan was unable to hide his disappointment at being unable to lure the injury-prone defender to Tyneside, apparently whispering “I would love it, love it, if he got injured” under his breath in a press conference. Okay, I made that bit up. Newcastle fans seem divided over the issue, although personally I happen to think that reuniting Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate is a recipe for injury disaster if ever there was one, especially with Joey Barton in the vicinity.
Americans yank the chain as Premiership looks to make top dollar
Finally, Derby County became the fourth Premiership club after Manchester United, Liverpool and Aston Villa to announce that they are owned by our friends from over the sea, when they made known their takeover by US group General Sports & Entertainment (GSE).
Whilst this is excellent news for Derby fans who have had little to smile about this year — misery compounded after the club capsized 4-1 at home to struggling Preston North End — and the club do represent a reasonable investment (good fan base, pleasant city, time to rebuild with relegation more or less assured, and a quality manager already in place — even if he will be regretting ever having trodden the hallowed land of Pride Park), the threat to English control of the Premiership as a global brand continues to gain in strength.
Hugo’s weekly column will return (hopefully) every Sunday.