Sunday, December 16, 2007

Big weekend in the Premier...once again Liverpool falls short

This was the "big weekend" at least big sunday in the Prem where all of the big four were facing one another - Liverpool v Manchester United, Arsenal v Chelsea. In the end the two favorites showed why they remain favorites - Arsenal and ManU both getting 1-0 victories.

I was not able to see the ManU game but did see highlights and it would appear both sides had plenty of opportunities, of course Van Der Saar seemed at times to be playing like a drunken sailor on shore leave - staggering around the PK box looking for something he could not find without $50. But the owners of Liverpool cannot be happy seeing this prior to meeting with Benetiz who has finally somewhat shut his pie hole about needing more funds after breaking the bank in August. With a manager such as Mourinho on the side line, will Hicks and Gillett stand by much longer with the Spaniard? And could Benetiz be looking to shoot his way out of Liverpool hoping to land one of the big two jobs in Spain next season? Time will tell.

As for the Arsenal game, that I was able to watch. The game was everything that Arsenal - Chelsea games have become in recent history. A tight affair with neither side giving nor asking for quarter. It was also clear that the Arsenal players had it in for Cashley Cole, understandably so, I think he is a punk as well. Neither side dominated play nor the opportunities. So here are some observations:

  • Chelsea is not the same without a healthy Drogba. Sheva tried his best to imitate the Ivorian up front but clearly no longer has the pace nor guile needed to be a lone striker. The times he was dangerous was latching on to broken plays and putting quick strikes onto the goal. Otherwise he never really put the Arsenal defenders at risk. With the rumors of Drogba leaving next summer, Chelsea must find another striker...otherwise they will struggle with what they have.
  • The Chelsea midfield seems disjointed without Essein. Lampard, Cole, Makelele and SWP did okay individually but there did not seem to be a good rhythm or system to the Chelsea midfield. Lampard appeared to have to drop deeper to pick up the ball than he was comfortable with. Cole was everywhere but many times would find himself trying to take on too many defenders alone with no outlet. Then again, it is not surprising that without a player of Essein's caliber your team suffers.....
  • Arsenal still looks thin up front, Adebayour had some nice moments but I was never truly under the impression he would give the Chelsea back line too much trouble. He was more dangerous at the end of the match when he took advantage of the Chelsea need to throw bodies up front to get the equalizer, but otherwise I did not see a striker that put the fear of god in any defender.
  • Almunia played well ... well enough to keep Lehman on the bench. The Spaniard made some quality saves through out the match, in particular at the end when Sheva uncorked a violent free kick forcing a firm save from Almunia. While I am still not convinced he is the long term answer he at least is not making any shocking mistakes that Lehmann has been known to make.
  • There is clearly no love lost between Cashley Cole and the Arsenal lads. Seeing the challenges put on Cole and the anger in the faces of most of the Arsenal players when they came close to him it is clear that his shooting his way out of north london and then subsequent trash talking has left a bad mark on his former teammates. None more clear than the vicious challenge by Cesc at the end of the game, the scissor tackle from behind has but one intent...cause damage and pain. Clearly Cole was aware and told Cesc about it in his reaction. Then again, what should Cole expect from his former team?
  • Flamini was wise not to leave Arsenal. I think the Frenchman has demonstrated his worth this season, he is clearly the #1 foot soldier in that midfield. He tirelessly tackles and does all the dirty work necessary to allow Hleb, Rosicky and Cesc to express themselves to the fullest. His current form actually makes his appearance for France in next years Euros a real possibility...who would have thought that 8 months ago
This weekend did not determine who will win the trophy, but I think it went a long way to determine who will have a real shot....and Liverpool is not one of those teams. With the loss the Reds fell out of the top 4, Benetiz's hot seat just got hotter. Maybe if he stuck with a somewhat normal line up his team would build momentum over a long championship season....or maybe not. Manchester United is still favorite, mainly because they will host Arsenal and Liverpool in those rematches. I also think ManU has too much depth. Arsenal lost valuable points when they drew with Newcastle and lost at Middlesbrough, those 4 points will come back to haunt them...of course Wenger could go out and make a big splash in the January transfer window (Benzema? Nasri? Anelka?).

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