Friday, October 5, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: October 4, 9:40 PM UK
Your reputation precedes you
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Diving: 'Honest Brits'
Talking points in football tend to be cyclical: goal-line technology, what constitutes handball, Gervinho's forehead. We go round in circles, usually driven by the media, and the current hot potato is diving. (Heck, by even writing these words this column is guilty of stoking the fire.)
The renewing of the debate came after Luis Suarez, he of the unshakeable reputation for simulation, was denied a certain penalty following Leon Barnett's absurd challenge from behind that saw the Norwich City defender fell the Uruguayan via a judo-esque elbow to the head. Nothing doing from the ref, though.
"Just WHAT does he need to do to be awarded a penalty?" some wailed, so beside themselves that they were chewing on their own knuckles. Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, said: "I could tell you about three or four strikers who go down in the box with very minimal contact, and all of them have had penalties this year. Everyone in the ground saw it was a penalty, apart from the referee."
What is possible next is that Suarez is wrongly awarded a spot-kick as a result of a debate that has U-turned from being one about the striker that went down as though snipered to one about a victim of referees doing wrong.
Officiating is a ridiculously difficult job at the best of times, so let us not presume that the men in black are operating with a player's stigma at the back of their minds - they have enough to think about as it is. Sure, Suarez warranted a penalty at Carrow Road - in a game Liverpool won 5-2, remember - but he must also accept that not making the most of challenges will ensure the right calls are made soon enough.
Granted, and as Rogers stated, Suarez is not the only guilty party. At Chelsea, there has been a theme of yellows waved at players for feigning being fouled. With Brazilian duo Oscar and David Luiz a recent offending pair - attracting the ire of Stoke manager Tony Pulis - further discussion was sparked as to whether "these foreigners" were more regularly on the naughty step than "honest Brits". Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck, was the one to opine this. Hmmm.
Queens Park Rangers: Money matters
The dreaded vote of confidence, via Twitter. What days we live in. After QPR slipped to a 2-1 loss at home to West Ham, the pressure was ramped up on manager Mark Hughes with the club at the foot of the Premier League table. QPR owner Tony Fernandes, subsequently expressed his backing of Hughes, preaching patience after some supporters booed the performance at Loftus Road. "Keep calm. Six games does not make a season. I have learnt from many wise chairmen," the Malaysian wrote.
These are refreshingly level-headed words to emanate from the executive box, but one wonders whether they represent a view shared by others who delved into their pockets.
Hughes is the current favourite with the bookmakers to be the first top-flight boss to be sacked this season, with the Welshman even moving in front of Southampton's Nigel Adkins, whose position, according to whispers, is fragile despite all that he has achieved. With Hughes, though, there is the added scrutiny that comes with the summer's financial outlay on a team's worth of new recruits.
One argument is that, six games into the 2012-13 campaign, no wins from six matches is unacceptable and, perhaps, Hughes' position should be under question.
However, the more sensible and correct view is that this is premature pressure. Three of QPR's opening games have been against sides with clout: Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham. Furthermore, it is common sense that such an overhaul of personnel means time is needed for a cohesive unit to emerge.
Their result on Monday just might have been different had Samba Diakite used his common sense so, perhaps fortunately for Hughes, his side travel to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday without the booking-waiting-to-happen.
Tottenham Hotspur: One in the eye
How about that for a celebration, eh? The sight of Andre Villas-Boas fist-pumping the air with such vigour at the final whistle of his team's 3-2 victory at the weekend was a true joy, as long as you aren't of a Manchester United persuasion.
A reminder: AVB woke up on the Saturday morning of Tottenham's trip to the Theatre of Dreams to suggestions in the Sun newspaper that his club were in "turmoil". Later in the day, Spurs, having blitzed the Red Devils in the first half and then gritted their teeth in the second, claimed their first win at Old Trafford in 23 years. This was their third league victory on the spin, too. Oh, the turmoil! Anyway, Spotlight is enjoying the bearded Portuguese's flicking of the Vs at his haters, so don't let us down by slipping up versus Aston Villa, Andre. Otherwise, "turmoil" will be being looked up in a thesaurus on Fleet Street.
Wigan Athletic: Smokescreen
Six matches played, one game won, four lost, five scored and 11 conceded. Wigan's 1-0 slump at Sunderland last time out was a third loss on the bounce - and the news gets worse, for they face in-form Everton on Saturday. Of course, words of worry might not be being written this week had the Latics not had Jordi Gomez sent off on 47 minutes in their loss on Wearside.
That dismissal has since been rescinded but as manager Roberto Martinez rightly pointed out: "It doesn't bring back the time lost when Jordi had to leave the field, but I am delighted we can draw a line under this incident and that Jordi is available for us on Saturday."
The cynic's view, however, is this incorrect decision is an ideal smokescreen for blame, when, even beyond this handicap, results have not been satisfactory.
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