Friday, March 16, 2012
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds. Under the microscope this week: the rising stock of Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers, reasons to be fearful at Molineux, the potential return of Carlos Tevez and alarm bells ringing for QPR.
It was the manner of Swansea's 1-0 defeat of Manchester City that was so impressive. This Welsh side, put together with a mere fraction of the budget of their English opponents, honoured their footballing ethos that continues to be admired. Their passing style has been eulogised, at times patronised, all season long, but Sunday's outcome was a fresh watermark. To slay a side built for around £500 million, to control possession against this team, to deserve the three-point haul - these feats are not to be sniffed at.
Brendan Rodgers' stock is spreading its wings; no wonder the Swans tied the 39-year-old down on a fresh contract in January. "We are under no illusions about the fact that we have got one of the best young managers around working for our club," said chairman Huw Jenkins, openly admitting he is one day braced for an approach from a more grandiose club. For now, though, the project continues in earnest, with the side who achieved promotion to England's top division via the play-offs last season currently 11th in the Premier League with 28 games played. Their points tally which stands at 36 just may be enough already to ensure fans of football are treated to more of their method in 2012-13.
Swansea's next game is against Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday, another team to have been purred over by this column for their alluring ways. Certainly, if we are not to revel in this sport when it is being played at its expressive then, ultimately, what is the point? This says much for the managers of both sides - Rodgers and Martin Jol - clearly men who urge their personnel to play without the handbrake on. Ergo, the purists should be rubbing their thighs in West London. These two teams are level on points in the table, aware victory would propel them into the top half, within touching distance of the likes of Liverpool. Should the visitors triumph, then talk of European football being played in the Welsh city might well be the talk of the town.
Molineux: Different motives
Potentially fascinating game this, with these sides thirsty for points for very different reasons. The home side, Wolves, are drowning under their caretaker manager Terry Connor, whom is seemingly out of his depth in his new post. Two of his three matches have ended in defeat, the latest of which came at the hands of fellow strugglers Blackburn, a match which was the proverbial 'six pointer'. Last week's Premier League Spotlight highlighted the quandary Wolves find themselves in, with an unproven coach at the helm needing time to cut his teeth, with the games and points ticking by. Such is the increasing panic that it has been whispered that perhaps Mick McCarthy would/should make a return.
Unlike with Rovers' Steve Kean, there is little, if no, ire directed at Connor. Instead, the vitriol is being launched at the club's hierarchy, with owner Steve Morgan the chief villain in supporters' eyes. The protests were in full swing at the weekend, when Morgan showed evidence of strain: "Do you know what? I wasn't on the pitch today - otherwise we would have scored." Having failed a vital test at Molineux last weekend, a chance for redemption presents itself on Sunday, yet this examination is a different grade entirely; this an opponent who are now top of the Premier League table, for the first time since October 15. Considering the winning mentality driven into United's charges by their manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils' claws will likely be gripped tight into what they have earned. They won't let go without a brawl.
It can be opined that United have the more routine run-in compared to their rivals for the title, Man City, and Ferguson is bullish of their chances of retaining their crown. "We have that experience and it does help," the Scot said. "We won't get nervous." And, with City not in action until next Wednesday when they host Chelsea, the opportunity is there for United to open up a four-point lead and truly test their foes' mettle. Having been the chasers for five months, a different, yet familiar, type of pressure returns. For City, it appears the unfamiliar feeling of leading from the front eventually had an adverse effect on them, so now perhaps that the tables have turned they may favour this position. Ultimately, this switch in positions could spice up the title race further.
Man City v Chelsea: Huge
With FA Cup fixtures to be played this weekend, just the four league games take place. During the midweek that follows, though, another six are scheduled, hence this being a farther-reaching Premier League Spotlight than usual. And, when looking at the fixture list, it is all but impossible to ignore this particular match-up. It offers the chance for us to see how City respond from their league setback, which should not have been as much of a surprise as it was to some as, with Roberto Mancini's men struggling away from of late, it was on the form cards.
And so it came to pass, this first defeat in five, the last again coming on their travels. Fortunately for City, their chance to return to winning ways comes on home soil, where they have been faultless: fourteen wins accrued from as many games, 42 goals scored and six conceded. But after Chelsea's old guard shook themselves from their strop to vanquish Napoli in thrilling fashion, the Blues just may fancy their chances of disrupting City's blemish-free run. Eyes will, of course, be on the team sheet, amid Mancini contemplating bringing back Carlos Tevez: the enemy, turned hero, turned enemy, turned hero/enemy.
QPR: In the brown stuff
'THE £60 MILLION GOAL,' belched one newspaper after QPR defender Clint Hill saw the scoreline unchanged despite his header crossing the line at Bolton Wanderers. Granted, it was a decision that, upon having the benefit of viewing television replays, was clearly incorrect, but the vilifying of linesman Bob Pollock has been misplaced, in particular after one famous Saturday night football programme stated that "he had previous". The error served as a neat distraction for QPR manager Mark Hughes, as his side, who were in fact in the same game awarded an offside goal that should not have stood, slipped to a fourth league defeat out of five. They reside in the drop zone, a point from safety, and, to make matters worse, arguably have the toughest of run-ins among their fellow relegation candidates. A home game versus Liverpool beckons, as does, it seems, the Championship.
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