By Paul O'Donnell
EPL Round 17
The EPL elite must have read the report showing they are the lowest scoring of all of Europe’s top pro leagues. The result: an explosion of goals that even had Liverpool putting 4 in the net for the second match in a row after averaging 1 goal per game in the first 15. The 8 matches on Saturday produced 26 goals (3.25 goals per game) far above the season average for the league as a whole which was well under 3 before the weekend.
Even better than the sheer number was that almost all of them came from the run of play and not the penalty spot which has figured far too frequently in the outcome of games so far this season.
West Ham 0
The Hammers are a team in crisis and Pardew doesn’t seem able to find the answer. Last year they played every match with enthusiasm and a dedication that was inspiring as they were determined to earn another year in the top flight. That spirit and the flowing play carried them to the FA Cup Final where they lost in penalties after a dramatic 3-3 draw with Liverpool. This year who knows? The post match press conference would be his last in charge of the Hammers. Apparently his new boss didn’t like hearing him say “this was a fair result” as he spoke of this thumping loss. Frankly speaking, he was right. Despite the Hammers poor effort they were in this one until the second period being down only 1-0 after a 16th minute strike from Davies. In the 51st he’d add another and it was over. The only question then was how big the margin would be. Diouf added another for Bolton in the 76th and then Anelka a minute later for the final score on the day.
First half goals from Obefemi Martins and Steven Taylor staked the Magpies to a deserved 2-0 lead before Henchoz was sent off in the 40th minute. Pedersen got Blackburn back in the game in the 46th. It would prove too little, too late for Rovers as Martins got another in the 90th to settle things. Ten man Rovers outplayed their rivals for most of the second half but just couldn’t produce the quality finish they needed. Bennie McCarthy is proving to be something less than what was expected of him and without Bellamy and Dickov this Rovers team is nearly totally dependent on him at this stage. Mark Hughes said he’s proud of the effort of his team despite being down a man but he must be getting tired of McCarthy not making a more substantive contribution.
A scoreless draw at the half ended with a 53rd minute strike from Gerrard on the rebound of a saved penalty followed by the unlikely goal from Carragher in the 60th (his first since 1999), Garcia in the 65th and Gonzalez in the 90th set the Kop alight. The win puts Liverpool 4th tied with Pompey with 28pts.
Speaking of Pompey two supreme quality goals, the first from the edge of the circle catching Tim Howard asleep and off his line by Taylor (his 3rd in the last two games) and a terrific side-footed volley from Kanu earned all 3pts for Portsmouth. Since the loss of Cahill Everton have come unglued as they have slipped to tenth in the table winning only 7pts from the last six games.
Yakubu won the point for Boro in the 67th after Camarra had cashed in the only penalty on the day in the league in the 23rd for Wigan. The Latics slide down the table now has them in 11th.
First half goals from Berbatov and Tainio (against the run of play) put Spurs on top and a 42nd minute OG from Dawson would be Charlton’s only real satisfaction despite their spirited challenge in the first 45. The second half White Hart Lane pitch was all downhill for Spurs as goals from Malbranque, DeFoe and Berbatov’s second on the day settled the score. Spurs climb to 8th and have won 3 of their last 4.
Despite all their hard work the Hornets without Marlon King just can’t seem to find the net. Fortunately for them on this day the Royals couldn’t either. Each winning a point was a fair result. Reading holds 7th with the point and is the 2nd most productive team in the league over the last six games winning 13 of 18 points.
Man United 3
Man City 1
United continued their fine form with goals from Rooney (5th minute), Saha and Ronaldo put it out of reach for City who got theirs in the 72nd minute from Trabelsi in this 146th Manchester Derby. City have not won at Old Trafford in 32 years. The wait goes on.
If you didn’t see this one I feel sorry for you. It was one of the few of those hyped up games that actually measured up to the advance billing. It was simply terrific and it had a little bit of everything; cards, some given and some not, periods of back-and-forth open play, closely fought and tight marking too. It even had a keeper getting into a pushing and shoving match with an opponent when Lehman pushed Drogba down and he got up and body slammed the keeper (both got yellows).
Arsenal’s patented game paid dividends with Flamini blasting home to end one of those quick touch passing sequences in the 78th minute to take the lead 1-0. This after Chelsea had a bushel of chances that weren’t converted. Now, with the heat on the Blues subbed on Sean Wright-Phillips and Robben for the final push and did it ever count in determining the outcome.
They opened the Arsenal defense and chance after chance resulted with a post here or there, another cleared off the line and then came the hammer from Essien. A laser from 35 yards high into the corner to knot the score at 1 in the 83rd. The game carried on as neither side was quite ready to call it a day and 2 minutes into stoppage time, that same man, Essien would miss from two yards off a rebound and hit the crossbar! An attempt from Drogba was cleared off the line and Lampard hit the post from 5 yards as he scrambled to make something from the rebound of a shot from Robben just before the final whistle.
Once in awhile you hear somebody say “this one was a classic”. And you know what?
This one was a classic. One of those that you wish you’d see more often. Besides that, it very well could have determined the winner of the EPL title, since the draw puts Chelsea now 8 points down to Manchester United.
With all the words spoken and written about the Blues Arsene Wenger may have touched on one of the keys that has them off the pace of ManU when he said he “questions their ambition”. Having won the EPL title in successive seasons is it a lack of ambition that has dulled their edge? There may be more to that than first comes to mind when you hear it. Chelsea’s undisputed excellence is in doubt at this stage. They have conceded more often and have scored far fewer goals of their own than ManU. Not that their far off as this match showed but is it that lack of ambition that just may have those shots hitting the post, the crossbar or being narrowly wide or over? Would Lampard have failed to put the ball in the net off of three or four golden chances last season as he did on this day? Would Essien score that brilliant goal from distance and yet miss two others from well inside the six yard box? When will Jose finally tire of Scheva’s bungling chances?
There is no doubt that the desire, the ambition as Wenger puts it, helps a team to stay on that keen edge and it is also very difficult to stay there as he well knows. Was it that ambition that drove the young Arsenal to this impressive outing at Stamford Bridge?
As you know I’m not real fond of Arsenal or Wenger for that matter, but he just may be on to something that explains the difference between Chelsea of the past two seasons and the current edition. Can they get it back and win that three-peat? It will be very interesting to watch and find out.
Sheffield United 2
Aston Villa 2
This one barely got started, literally, when Petrov put Villa on top in the 2nd minute (his 1st for Villa). It would stay that way until the 49th when Quinn leveled for United who held the upper hand for much of the match with their spirited play. In the 63rd the pressure paid dividends with a sublime piece of skill by Webber put United up 2-1. A minute later it was level again at 2 on a goal by Baros for Villa and it took some sparkling play in goal to keep it that way as the Blades kept up the pressure on the Villains who were fortunate on the day to earn a point.
Inter’s run continued with their 8th straight victory in league play and their 3-0 win over Empoli extended their margin at the top to 7pts over Roma who lost the Rome Derby to Lazio by that same score. Inter remains unbeaten through 15 league games. No question about motivation here.
Werder Bremen rebounded nicely from their Champions League loss at Barca with a 6-2 demolition of Frankfurt. Schalke stayed with them with a 3-1 win at Dortmund. Bayern lurks within striking distance after a 2-1 win of their own over Cottbus.
Barca wins again to hold top spot as Sevilla goes 2nd with a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid. Beckham put Real in the lead in the 12th minute only to see Kanoute level 4 minutes later. Chevanton got the match winner in the 76th for last years UEFA Cup winners.