What We Learned From Prem Week 23

It’s Just Like Watching Madrid v Barcelona

And then there were (approximately) two. If this round of matches and catch up matches tells us anything it’s that class will out. No surprise, after all that’s the way with league football, and no surprise either that it’s the long term runners, Man U and Arsenal, who are going to be fighting it out for first place. Chelski seem to have utterly lost their mojo and now seem resigned to fighting it out for a Big Cup place, while new arrivistas Man City and Tottingham are finding out just how hard it is to maintain a serious challenge for the top four places. Both of the latter would consider a top four finish job done for the season, more interestingly both would consider fifth place as a major disappointment. More so than last year, where City effectively handed fourth place to Spurs with their tame, defensive tactics, this season’s Race For Fourth Place looks like being fascinating.

Equally the Fight For First looks like being a titanic struggle. On the one hand you’ve got Man U, who are just starting to get into their groove and playing some excellent football, a team that has pedigree and talent aplenty; on the other Arsenal, who are nothing if not potential unleashed but which lacks only the track record of success. Like Real Madrid and Barcelona last season this promises to be a full on fight, with neither team able to countenance even a draw in the run in. The pressure will be immense. Last season Real went on one of their best runs ever, yet no matter how much pressure they put on Barcelona it made no difference as Barcelona just kept on winning. This season in the Prem looks like being every bit as close.

Hi Ho It’s All Aboard The Magical Merry-Go-Round

So who’s going to be the big winner in the Darren Bent transfer saga? More importantly, who is going to be the big loser? Certainly not Villa, who in all probability will now coast it to safety if their two wins in two games since Bento arrived is anything to go by. Certainly not Sunderland, who’ve already got a perfect replacement for Bent in Gyan and are now in the market for every single halfway decent no 2 striker. Could the real loser be Stoke? Sunderland have put in a £3 million bid for Ricardo Fuller, which seems stunningly low although Stoke’s objection seems to be not the price but that Sunderland amazingly want to pay in installments. More stupefying still is that Stoke have taken Villa reject Carew for the season – presumably as a replacement for Fuller. So Villa get a ready made ‘get out of jail free’ card in Bent and get rid of useless moaning lump Carew, Sunderland get a sack of money and, apparently, Fuller for a song, while Stoke lose one of their most effective players and recruit someone who is every bit as ineffective as Emile Heskey. Sounds like Stoke are on the wrong end of a major stitch up.

Game On!

Both top sides began to bring the pain to their opponents. Man U demolished yet another side ruled by a ‘Fergie Pal’ that simply didn’t bother to turn up. Alex McLeish’s Boremingham looked every bit as ineffectual and useless as Fat Sam’s Real Blackburn did a few weeks ago. Possibly their minds were on the Useless Cup semi-final with West Ham, but that’s not really an excuse. And sure, Man U put in one of their best performances of the season with both Rooney and Berbatov being outstanding, their team up for Ryan Giggs’ goal was simply sublime, with a neat backheel from Chav Wanker and Berbatov at his languid, skillful best. 5 – 0 should hopefully put the kibosh onto Boremingham who are simply a foul football team. Man U subsequently went on to scrape through against Blackpool in midweek. Sadly the Bores managed to scrape past West Ham into the Useless Cup Final.

Arsenal continued their push for the top by doing for a desperately poor Wigan team, who were only kept in the game by a great performance from their keeper Al Habsi. It could have been about 6 – 0 at half time, yet was only 3 – 0 at the end and that was only down to Al Habsi being great and Van Persil missing a penalty. Still nowhere near as fluent as they were against the likes of Braga, Arsenal are getting back to their beautiful best. However, given they’re still in for four competitions, they’re going to have to find answers for their poor grade second team if they’re going to continue to win a game every three days. In particular the games around their Useless Cup Final and the two matches with Barcelona around the end of February. Possibly the most encouraging thing about the win was not the Van Persil hattrick (his first for Arsenal), but the impressive defensive performance of Koscielny and Djourou. Koscielny in particular looks to have begun to get the measure of the English game and this was another clean sheet for the defence.

Darren Bent cashed in some of his transfer money as he helped Villa bring down Man City. One touch in the box, one goal in the net. That’s what £24 million gets you. So what does £27 million spent on the best striker in the German league get you? One good headed attempt at goal, two shots off target and three shots from outside the box, which were all blocked. True City besieged Villa’s goal once they went behind, but Tevez aside they didn’t seem to be able to break Villa down. And it reiterates the core belief that Mancini’s sides are fundamentally geared up to defend and while they are great once they’re ahead, they seem unable to fight their way back into a game once they’re behind. Villa made it two for two by continuing Wigan‘s fall from grace in midweek.

Interestingly enough, Week 23’s fixtures were the mirror image of Week 19. The most interesting element being that so  many pairings ended up differently. Take Loserpool Redsox and Wolves. Last time, at Anfield, Wolves managed to sneak an early goal and beat Uncle Wroy’s Old Boys and hammer the pressure onto the Loser’s hapless ex-manager. This time, back at their own place, an apparent mudbog covered in a light patina of green slime that does little to conceal the pudding-like surface, they were comprehensively outplayed and stuffed by an apparently resurrected like one of them movie zombies Loserpool. Loserpool even scored a couple of good goals from Torres and Meireles, the latter a great one touch volley from outside the box. They then compounded our misery by beating Fulham in the most jammy of circumstances.

Westy Ham continue their outstanding ability to transform potential victory into defeat, or in this case a draw against Everton, by playing atrociously as soon as they have managed to take the lead. This time idiot boy Freddy ‘The Moron’ Piquionne managed to get himself sent off for not one, but two utterly unnecessary bookings. This not only reduced the Hammers to 10 men but ensured that he would play no part in the upcoming Useless Cup Semi-Final (which they naturally managed to lose having got themselves into a winning position).  Wonder how his teammates will feel about him. Everton still look way more effective without Tim Cahill than they did earlier this season, which is nice.

Similarly, Newcastle showed that they can’t be relied on to see out the full 90+ minutes as they let another late extra time equaliser slip through their defences. This time against Tottingham. So once again Newcastle scrape a draw against a ‘big’ side, which should be enough to see them safe this season, while Tottingham confirm that they may not have the legs to both compete in the Big Cup and maintain an effective challenge to qualify for next year’s competition, which would be somewhat sad.

Fulham did everyone, not least themselves, a great favour by stuffing a really crap Stoke. The match was doubly beautiful as useless defensive grunt Shawcross was sent off once again for utterly incompetent defending. Fulham still look like a really dreary Mark Hughes team though. You’ve got to hope that they begin to improve once Zamora returns.

Chelski appear to be very slowly turning the ocean liner as they got a relatively easy win over Bolton. However, despite the 4 – 0 scoreline, which kicked off with an outstanding goal from The Drog, Chelski are nowhere near their early season fluency. Rather the truth is that Bolton were truly shocking and they look less and less like qualifying for Europe and more and more like sliding down the table to join the relegation cockfight.

Real Blackburn continue their own special journey from Fat Sam luddites to a vaguely interesting football team by doing for West Brom. It would be funny if all the four teams starting with W took up the bottom four places, then they’d all be fighting to be simply the best team starting with W in the league.

Blackpool are having a bit of a hard time right now. Not content with having the supposed ‘big’ teams descend like vultures on their players, they’re having trouble on the pitch. Admittedly they are still playing their own brand of attacking, full  on football, it’s just that other teams have sussed that they are still vulnerable to the late 90th minute attack. This is particularly apparent when Blackers are at home as the onus of attacking is more focused on them, rather than when they’re away and can work on the break. This time they lost to first Sunderland, then Man U, where they were two up at half time.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

One for the Gareth Southgate Balloon It Over The Bar Memorial Trophy, it’s Robin Van Persil‘s spectacular penalty miss. He would have had a hattrick, he would have made the win utterly comfortable, instead he ensured that the game felt tense until he finally got his hattrick five minutes from time.

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