Another week, another sack-load of action. So much in fact that your usual ration of five talking points is increased by 20%. I spoil you guys.
1. Berb-on-top but things far from perfect at Old Trafford….
Since making his controversial £30m move from Spurs at the end of the 2008 summer transfer window Dimitar Berbatov has been the subject of much opprobrium, frustrating fans and teammates alike with his failure to to tap into his unquestionable natural talent but for only fits and starts. This season however, the languid Bulgarian has set off like a man on a mission………. a mission that some would have you believe may very well be centred around saving his future at the top level of British football. Should this be case, the six goals that he has scored in his five Premier League games is doing his cause no harm whatsover.
2 years and 5 days since making his debut for United in a 2-1 defeat at Anfield, there is now little argument that Berbatov (and not his much-vaunted srike partner Wayne Rooney), finally, is turning to as United continue to struggle to hit top gear. The joy in his game is clear for all to see, where in the past he was reluctant to celebrate the odd goal he’d score in disgust that it wasn’t happening more frequently, yesterday football fans around the world saw him slide on his knees in front of 70,000 adoring fans and then rejoice in the revelry of his teammates as his heroic hat-trick sank United’s sworn enemies. In March, Berbatov sat on the bench as an unused substitute when the same opponents came to battle. Funny how much can change in a matter of months.
His joy at the victory aside, Alex Ferguson must still be a worried man however. Yesterday was the third time this season that his side had let slip of a two goal lead, prompting questions whether his side had lost their killer instict and more importantly, their respect from the opposition. Those questions still remain after yesterday’s game. At two goals up and cruising, United began to self destruct, gifting two soft goals to a side who had not troubled the opposing goalkeeper all game. Nani, who had previously been tormenting Paul Konchesky reverted to his old, frustrating self. Jonny Evans, deemed a weak link in the United defense by many, and lucky to be playing after Rio Ferdinand picked up a virus, began to shake and Wayne Rooney along with others struggled desparately to keep possession each time he got the ball. United, for all their dominance over the majority of the game got off the hook and as Chelsea continue to power out of the starting gate, Ferguson will know that such displays of ineptitude cannot be tolerated in the future. For now however, he may just allow himself a glass of wine and a sigh of relief.
2. New Boys’ Rollercoaster ride continues
West Brom (10th): P5 W2 D1 L2 (Including a 6-0 defeat to Chelsea)
Blackpool (9th): P5 W2 D1 L2 (Including a 4-0 victory at Wigan, a 6-0 defeat to Arsenal and a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea)
Newcastle (6th): P5 W2 D1 L2 (including a 6-0 victory over Aston Villa, a 3-0 defeat to United and a 2-0 loss to Blackpool)
Whatever can be said about the footballing standards of this season’s newly promoted sides, they are certainly nothing if they’re not plucky. With each team currenly taking up a proud residence in the top half of the table and sporting a remarkably similar set of results it should be clear to anyone who may have doubted them that these clubs came up with very few intentions other than to fight for their lives. Every weekend at least one side seems to follow a humiliating defeat in the previous game with a rousing victory or a respectable draw as they attempt to power towards the 37-40 point total needed to maintain their top-flight status for next season, a mark testament to the ability of their manager’s to continually motivate his players and re-instill faith into beleaguered troops.
It is doubful that their current lofty positions will last come May, but established Premier League sides who were no doubt confident of survival in August may well be getting edgy……
3. Spurs showing their metal?
Having struggled earlier in the season following trips to Europe, their match against Wolves on Saturday was crucial. A 2-2 draw in Germany on Tuesday night was a fine entry point into the top tier of European football for the Londoners (and could have been so much better) but if Harry Redknapp failed again to lift his side domestically, alarm bells would be ringing around White Hart Lane. Admittedly, Spurs have been knocked with a wave of injury problems but a regular three game a week schedule allows for little time for a club to feel sorry for itself.
On Saturday, things looked for a long time that they would not be going Spurs way as they huffed and puffed at a Wolves side who were shaking but seemingly resistant to collapse. Three substitutes, no doubt bouyed by their fresh legs, entered the fray and turned things around. It was a resiliant performance from Tottenham and one that will give them a lot of confidence as they fight on multiple fronts in the coming months.
4. Sing when you’re….. getting battered
It would be wholly excusable for fans of a side losing 4-0 after 41 minutes, away from home, to the League champions to cover their eyes and wish for sweet relief to come and take them some place else but in Stamford Bridge Blackpool fans did themselves and their over achieving side proud. With an hour still on the clock and the home side rampant the Tangerine Army began to sing their hearts out and in doing so, inspired their team to avoid a demolition of monstrous proportions. At times, if you closed your eyes, it was hard to imagine there being any home fans whatsoever. If points were given for the best fans, Blackpool would surely be top of the league…… (just in case I hadn’t patronized them enough).
5. Arsenal’s treatment table now deemed more addictive than heroin.
Whatever is being added to the waters in North East London, I hope I never encounter it. With five first team players already being treated for long-term injury prior to this weekend the last thing Arsene Wenger wanted to see was Cesc Fabregas, playing once again at the top his ability, to hobble off the pitch before half an hour last Saturday evening. While Spurs’ injury load is a relatively new concern for their management, the problem at Arsenal is anything but and I challenge any fan, Arsenal or otherwise to recount the last time Wenger was able to pick from a fully fit squad.
The issue of heavy tackling toward them has already been well documented (and won’t be revisited here) and while it must be acknowledged, it is foolish to believe that it is the only cause of the backlog on Arsenal’s treatment list. What’s worse is that it always appears to be their most important or in-form players who get struck down. As pointed out by the ever excellent football365.com, this is the fifth different hamstring strain Fabregas has had to be substituted for in the past thirteen months. Something must be wrong somewhere. Do they have a medical team, and if they do, who the hell employed them?
6. Shay “Given” a golden chance?
Okay, last “Given” joke in this column, I promise, but Ireland’s number one keeper may well be on the move very soon. Forced to take a backseat at Eastlands due to the tremendous form of Joe Hart, the Lifford born shotstopper has admitted this weekend that he may well request a loan move in January should he be unable to displace the England international. While Given has said that he would consider a move over seas, is it anything but a coincidence that on the same weekend Steve Harper, his long term understudy at Newcastle broke a collar bone and was ruled out for an indefinite amount of time considered only “a considerable part of the season” by boss Chris Hughton?