Five days, twenty games and plenty of talking points (five of which are featured here). The final whistle had hardly stopped echoing around Anfield last Sunday when it was time to kick off another round of action it seemed. How good is midweek football that’s not the Champion’s Leaague group stages by the way?
1. Don’t believe the hype.
“The most expensive parked bus in history” is how one witness of last night’s game described the Manchester City side put out by Roberto Mancini and I find it difficult to offer a more accurate assessment for you. The Italian spoke of the fact that seeing Alex Ferguson deploy a similar formation to his own indicated the respect they have for his team, but it’s hard to see this as being anything other than naive. Although correct in his assessment (both United and City utilized a 4-5-1 formation with three deep lying midfielders), City had the distinct advantage of playing on home turf and still managed to surrender the majority of possession and territory, leading to a frustration amongst City fans who dream of seeing their star-studded, multi-million pound squad finally let free of their bosses’ shackles.
In truth, the media hype leading up to the game could never be matched, but few fans who tuned in could have expected both sides to effectively nullify each other so conclusively. Whereas derby games are often close, edgy affairs that neither side want to lose it is rare that they are this uninspiring. The memories of last September’s 4-3 classic in Old Trafford seemed all too far away.
2. Liverpool’s progress slow, but steady.
If offered a haul of four points from their next two games last Saturday, many a Liverpool fan would have snapped your hand off to take them. That they should succeed in gaining these points in a slightly unexpected manner (a victory against Chelsea and a draw at Wigan) is surprising, yet clear progress is still there for all to see. The JJB has never been much of a happy hunting ground for the Reds so a point gained from a game where Fernando Torres also continued his rehabilitation should not be that disappointing. That Roy Hodgson chose to effectively settle for the result by removing Dirk Kuyt for the more defensively minded Christian Poulsen will not have been well received by some who already question whether their manager lacks a sufficiently strong ”big-club” mentality but the facts remain that recovery for a club who have not won a league in over twenty years and were earlier this season being mentioned as relegation candidates will not happen overnight.
It’s worth noting that since the derby day disaster, the Merseysiders have picked up four wins and two draws from their following six games pointing to a marked response to the stability that new ownership has finally afforded them. A tough trip to the Brittania stadium is next on the agenda and one feels that should Liverpool truly believe that they can still snatch fourth place this season (an achievement not completely unthinkable) they must follow up yesterday’s “minor” setback with all three points.
3. Tick….tick..tick…..boom…. The timebomb that is Joey Barton
That it took this long for Joey Barton’s mask of composure and maturity to slip off is someway commendable I suppose, yet the effect of his punch on Morten Gamst Pedersen last night is to clearly illustrate that controversy will never be far away from the midfielder who has been key to Newcastle’s excellent start to the season.
While obviously no where as bad as past indiscretions it shows a weakness to his side that opponents will continue to target and continue to reap benefits from. The fear for all concerned with the player is that eventually he’ll be wound to breaking point and thrust into a fury that will have far longer consequences than the three match ban handed to him today by the F.A.
That his own progress is halted will be disappointing to Toon fans, but further bad news comes when it is noted that all four of Andy Carroll’s most recent goals have come directly from balls delivered by Barton….. meaning the effect of his absence may be more widely felt than initially feared.
4. Ian Holloway following a dangerous precedent.
While the total of fourteen points that Blackpool already have after twelve games is more than some predicted they’d attain all season they still sit only three points away from the drop zone meaning the seasider’s cannot afford to rest happily on their laurels for one second. Everyone loves a plucky underdog and none come more clear cut than the Tangerine’s, their story however is not a new one.
Only two seasons ago, Hull City managed by the then popular Phil Brown found themselves joint league leaders after nine games before imploding and going on to win only two more. The lasting memory of that season was Brown’s general demise in the eyes of the press and the fans. Beginning the season in jovial form, the Hull boss slowly became more obscure in his actions and often aggressive in tackling criticism of side before he infamously sat his side on the pitch at half time while losing 4-0 to Man City and delivered a heated team talk to them, a moment when many say he lost the dressing room once and for all (figuratively and literally it seems).
While Ian Holloway has always been erratic, to put it mildly, he is seemigly losing some of the last few marbles he has left. First came his rant over the Wayne Rooney saga and now a “stick to your guns” style stand off with the F.A. over the possibility of a fine for fielding a weakened team against Aston Villa last night. The fact that I believe him to be right in both cases won’t save his side from suffering should Holloway lose focus on the real job at hand. Holloway has now let rip in two press conferences in a matter of weeks and it won’t be long before the press mutate his quirkiness into the ravings of a mad man who has no idea what he’s doing and no place in the league. Few people relatively escape unscathed from such a position.
5. There’s really nothing in it….
This is the closest league season I can remember and I must say, I’m finding it particularly enjoyable. The form (and general quality) of the promoted sides has a lot to do with this and it’s refreshing that every weekend its genuinely difficult to predict the vast majority of results…. although its a complete nightmare for accumulator enthusiasts.
Currently, six sides have sixteen points and Wigan Athletic are only two wins away from swapping the final relegation spot with a European place. In a beautiful form of symmetry, the sides who reside in the middle of the table (9th, 10th, 11th) Liverpool, Villa and West Brom each have won four games, drawn four games and lost four games so far this season.
For the first time in a long time I can’t point to a team who are playing consistently poorly and almost guaranteed relegation….. and long may it continue.