Friday, November 30, 2012
Underlining your discontent
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
From booing to the silent treatment - and these are adults we're talking about. Quite what either the booing or the silence are meant to achieve is anyone's guess, because ultimately it was not Rafa Benitez's fault that the job he chose to accept was made available by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. You've paid your money to attend the game. You've brought along your A4 piece of paper decorated with words and italics. You've hardly made a point that will have any repercussions.
That Benitez's reign has begun with two goalless draws is as surprising as Fernando Torres having remarkably not yet rediscovered his world-class ways. Rather than bemoaning that a win has not yet been achieved under the Spanish coach, perhaps people could be at least mildly impressed that he has already helped bring about two successive clean sheets, with the Blues having failed to record one in the ten matches before the draw with Manchester City. This is Benitez's way: he is hardly a negative manager, rather one who will build a platform from the back - hence a plateau is likely before a rise.
The North-East: Grim
Because Newcastle United stirred the loins last season, their demise so far this campaign has not been as well-publicised as it might - which is strange, as one would think the glaring chalk and cheese-ness of form/performances would heighten attention. Alan Pardew's side have suffered four consecutive losses to leave them in 14th place, just two points above the relegation zone.
Certainly, injuries have played their part, with the absences of Steven Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye being felt. But perhaps, had the club bolstered significantly in the summer, they would be a little better off when dealing with this plight. The eight-year deal handed to silver fox Pardew is also troublesome, for if an iffy season follow the headiness of the last, questions will rightly be asked - that contract was a backing of staggering proportions. Needless to say, Newcastle's match at home to Wigan Athletic on Monday night is big.
Down the road, they are also having a tough time of it - only a point separates Sunderland and the bottom three. A corner looked to have been turned when they beat neutrals' favourites Fulham recently, but that result came against ten men. Since then, a drubbing at the hands of West Brom and a goalless draw on home soil versus bottom club QPR have brought back the sense of gloom on Wearside. It is a hardy Norwich outfit next, and beyond that December looks to be an unforgiving month: they take on Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, among others.
Anderson: Chosen one
Anderson was handed only a second Premier League start of the season in Manchester United's 1-0 win over West Ham United after the Brazilian's drive had created enough momentum for United to overcome QPR in their previous outing. That proved enough persuasion for manager Sir Alex Ferguson to wake up and, in part, smell the coffee with regard to what his midfield has been missing.
Ferguson told MUTV after the Rangers result: "I thought Ando won the game for us. His performance was outstanding. He took the game by the scruff of the neck, and he was so positive and determined in his play that he picks himself on Wednesday."
All eyes on Saturday's team sheet, then, and if Anderson is not selected for successive fixtures (how else will he shift that extra timber anyway?) United fans just might be banging their heads against the recently-unveiled statue of Sir Alex. While Reading away may not be the most daunting of tests, it is no place to begin with, say, Ryan Giggs - who on Thursday turned 39 (thirty-nine!) - in the centre of midfield, for that roll of the haggard dice backfired against Norwich City.
When, on Twitter this week, that tweet about 'Brendan' preaching that possession was more significant than goals after Liverpool's 2-1 defeat at Tottenham occurred on a spoof account, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was the real thing. The Reds' 65% of the ball at White Hart Lane yielded only one goal, and a comical own goal by Gareth Bale at that (did he consider marking his literal gobsmack into the net with an upside-down heart celebration?). Now, for 12th-placed Liverpool, an eight-match unbeaten run has become the much less encouraging-sounding three wins in 14. What a difference a result makes, and that's ultimately what matters in football.
Darren Bent: Misplaced bile
As the footballing cliché goes, Darren Bent is being 'frozen out' by Paul Lambert. The striker, signed for £18 million from Sunderland in January 2011, last appeared for Aston Villa in a League Cup game against Swindon. And, despite apparently being fit, he was left out of Lambert's last two matchday squads, with former Chesterfield forward Jordan Bowery preferred in his place.
The uproar from some sections post Villa's 1-0 win over of Reading was bemusing, to say the least, though. Bent's replacement, Christian Benteke, scored the match-winning goal, which surely justified the whole business. It's QPR next as Lambert's tireless team aim to continue their improvement, sans Bent who is sure to depart in January.
Harry Redknapp: It begins
Segue! Queens Park Rangers do indeed host Villa in Harry Redknapp's first home game as manager. The last game played at Loftus Road was a 3-1 loss to Southampton, and it proved to be Mark Hughes' final match in charge following a bitter outcry about the nature of the defeat.
Redknapp was afforded a watching brief at Old Trafford, while a draw on his debut at the Stadium of Light was a solid enough beginning to his tenure. Progress will be demanded, though - and fast progress at that, with the club marooned at the bottom of the table.
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