Archive for May, 2011

What We Learned From Big Cup Final


Total Final

Sparkly new ball for the final

That was a proper final – not like many of them. This was real football. I don’t think anyone will be moaning about the pitch at Wembley any more. Now when people talk about Wembley, this is what they’ll be talking about.

Tactical Naivity

For all that Barcelona were brilliant, Man U got their tactics oh so wrong. Man U played like Stoke – 4-4-2, far too much long ball and the two banks of 4 defenders playing off their own 18 yard line with Hernandez lurking somewhere offside near Barcelona’s penalty area. Sure they were on top for, oh, 20 minutes in the first half, but they never looked like taking their game to Barcelona. Ironic that Man U’s only good move should be entirely played on the floor in the build up to the Rooney goal. They gave way too much space to Barcelona in between the two banks of four and Messi and co punished them there all night.

Ironically it had vague echoes of the Carling Cup final. Man U seemed to have one attacking tactic – hoof it to Hernandez, only Barcelona seemed more able to cope with it than Arsenal, reducing the little pea to little more than a series of offside decisions. Indeed watching this you can totally see where Wenger and Arsenal are going, although how long it will take them to get there is anyone’s guess.

[pullshow]Man U, who had won the Prem and dominated their Champions League games, just didn’t show up. Their talented players just never asserted themselves. Valencia never came into the game – in contrast to the matches against Schalke where he was a dominant player, Hernandez looked more like Jermaine Defoe than the Premiership poacher he has been, Nani and Scholes were substitutes, Berbatov didn’t even make the bench. You have to wonder whether the marginalisation of Berbatov is due to Rooney deciding he didn’t like working with him and Rooney having his say when he renegotiated his contract?

Barcelona, by contrast, were stuffed full of talent and they didn’t wilt. Messi, Xabi, Iniesta, Abidal, even Busquets and Pedro played outstandingly. [pullthis]Messi, 53 goals in 55 games. Many entire teams in the Prem don’t have such a good strikerate.[/pullthis] And boy do Barcelona play fast. Even if they don’t move around much. Lots of movement off the ball. In fact, they seem to run more when the opposition have the ball than when they do. They aren’t afraid to lose possession, they take risks, then make a lot of effort to regain possession. Anyone in their half is fair game. They don’t so much press the man as mark the space. They don’t worry because they know they’re going to get the ball back.

Where Now?

For Man U, there’s a dilemma. It seems that you need two different styles of football to win both the Prem and the Big Cup. It’s almost as if you need two separate squads, playing in two distinct styles. Mixing the two just doesn’t seem to work, just look at Arsenal, whose attempts to play Barcelona-style football in the Prem runs into the barriers, or Man U’s failed attempts to integrate Veron, who was brought in to help win the Big Cup, but ended up helping them struggle in the Prem.

It’s a real gamble because it’s clear that Man U’s style of play will get them so far – winning the Prem and getting to the Big Cup final ain’t no small potatoes – but it’s equally clear that unless they can beat Barcelona they’ll find it hard to win the Big Cup. Man U are in transition, their midfield especially looks anemic and tired, and they need to bring in real, established quality. The real challenge is do they bring in the quality to simply carry on winning the Prem, or do they gamble and bring in the type of players who might win the Big Cup but can’t guarantee the Prem?


Archive for May, 2011

Palace Tweets 2011-05-29


  • Given Man U stuffed Schalke and Barcelona just stuffed Man U, howich do you think Barcelona would have put past Schalke? #
  • Pop quiz. Who managed Barcelona before Guardiola? And everyone worried that Pep wouldn't be able to live up to him. No one's worrying now #
  • 'In goals we lose,' Vidic sums up football in a nutshell. #champions league #
  • O fucking lé David Villa scores. What a goal. #champions league #
  • Full blast on that washing machine. Goal Messi. #champions league #
  • Great first half. Esp the middle bit when Barca turned on the washing machine. #champions league #
  • Man U playing in white. Surely this is morally wrong. #
  • ITV really drowning the pony with their Champions League Final build up. Ad breaks ahoy interspersed with drivel from Chiles and sofa shite. #
  • I scored this week's outstanding goal at Friday Football. Two feints, a little run and a lashing into the net. Very satisfying. #
  • Redknapp lauds Spurs' "best season ever". Curious. Is playing in the Champions League and finishing 5th really better than finishing 4th? #
  • How fantastic, FIFA sets own hair on fire before eating its young. How many of the despots will be left when the music stops? #
  • The fat lady has finished singing and I do not like the tune – great quote from Blackpool manager Holloway as his side are relegated. Shame #

Archive for May, 2011

What We Learned From Prem Week 38


The Fat Lady’s Sung And I Didn’t Like The Tune

Tell me something I didn’t know. The end of the season, for that’s what this week represents, is always a bittersweet moment. You win some (hopefully more than some), you lose some (hopefully not a lot) and there’s a few draws in there for good measure. And at the end, there’s a Champion, some Euro placement and relegation.

[pullshow]Man U’s winning of the Championship was no surprise. Not least because they’d actually won it (in the sense of having more points than anyone else could possibly have) over a week ago. [pullthis]Although for pretty much everyone the deed was done as far back as Week 31 when they came from 2 – 0  down at half time to beat West Ham 4 – 2, with Rooney driving them on and scoring a hattrick[/pullthis]. The change came so fast and so imperiously it was as if the other teams (all of whom played after Man U) had been sucker punched by a thug with a knuckleduster. Truly the stuff of champions. I was texting a West Ham supporter at the time and my messages went:

“West Ham somehow 2 – 1 up at home to Man U with 20 minutes to go. Any hope they can pull this one off?”

Time was not on my side as almost as soon as I’d sent that I had to send this: “Apparently not as it’s now 2 – 2. Can your boys salvage the point?”

“Apparently not,” I sent mere moments after, “as it’s now 3 – 2 to Man U. Can your boys keep it to just the one goal down?”

“West Ham play the Crackerjack Joker card and bring on Robbie Keane. That’s what we call an all-in gamble.”

“The gamble goes tits up as Man U score again. Can your boys keep it to just the two goals down?”

“Well,” I sent at the end, “your boys kept it to just two down, which is what we call a little victory. Or a pretty comprehensive defeat. Take your pick.”

Bar their defeat of Chelski a few weeks later, the rest of the season, including the 1 – 0 defeat to Arsenal, simply seems like filling in time until you get to the inevitable conclusion.

Indeed, it was only down among the dead men, in the struggle to avoid either relegation or the opportunity to play in next year’s Europa League, that there were any vestiges of drama left. There’s no doubt that the decline in Prem standards has meant that this season has been, if not more competitive, certainly closer. More teams can have a realistic expectation of beating most other teams and all three newcomers, Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool, have proved capable of beating even big teams on their day.

So it wasn’t a surprise that on the last day there were five teams battling it out for only three places in the Prem next season. Blackpool, Real Blackburn, Boremingham, Wolves and Wigan were all staring into the abyss in a hideously Neitszchean fashion.

So? Who Got Out Of It Then?

Match of the Day was in ecstasy. The drama, the excitement. They were popping around from ground to ground like hyperactive children who’d done too much ribena and couldn’t hold the remote properly. So much so it made actually watching the football a little nauseous. But it was dramatic. And when the Fat Lady had sung, you’d never want to hear another tune.

Blackpool had the hardest task. Away to a Man U side who’d just won the title, they were obliged to form a guard of honour to welcome the Champions onto the field, before providing the hors d’oeuvres preceding the actual presentation of the trophy. Hardly the most auspicious of circumstances for a match that required Blackpool to get something out of the game. However, despite going a goal down early on, Blackpool were actually ahead 2 – 1 with 30 minutes to go. Could they do it? I almost thought about texting my Blackpool supporting friends. Too late as Man U draw level 5 minutes later.

Wolves, who’d spent so long in the bottom three that relegation had become an almost certainty were at home to Real Blackburn. A draw and both teams would have been safe. So it was no surprise that Real were 3 – 0 up at half time. And despite shipping two goals in the second half, Real were comfortable winners. Yet for Wolves losing has never been so pleasurable. Especially after Hunt scored a great last-minute goal to make it 3 – 2 after the crowd started singing “we only need a goal to stay up”. Once it was clear that both teams would survive the ball spent an awfully long time doing very little in the middle of the park.

With the least number of points and the worst goal difference coming into the game, Wigan needed to win. Fortunately they were away to Stoke, who, having lost the FA Cup in pathetic fashion, seem to have simply stopped caring. Not that that made it easy for Wigan, who struggled to stay in the match and would have been stuffed if goalkeeper Al-Habsi hadn’t been on form. Still they managed to score right at the death to win a place in the Prem next season.

Which left Boremingham. They shouldn’t have even been near the bottom, but 8 points from their last 12 games has seen them fly down the league and take their place at the bottom of the form table (closely pursued by Arsenal). Their away match to Tottingham, who were looking to cap off an exciting, if not totally successful season with an emphatic crowd pleasing win, looked to be tough. However, Spurs were poor, failing to boss the game as they have when they’ve been at their most dominant this season, and it ground down to a 1 – 1 stalemate, which Boremingham strangely seemed to accept even though the result would not have saved them. In the end they were beautifully and triumphantly relegated by a great strike from outside the box from Pavlyuchenko of all people. It was harder to tell who was the most shocked, Boremingham or the Spurs fans.

While the Champions League places had been resolved last week, the relative positions of Arsenal and Man City remained to be decided. Despite their best efforts the former had proved incapable of losing enough games to fall out of the big four, but needed Man City, top of the form table, to slip up (just like Arsenal did) away to Bolton. Man City provided further evidence that the secret tale of this season has been good defence and did their bit to ensure themselves third place. Arsenal continued their own personal voyage of discovery by only drawing at Fulham. You have to feel that with Champions League football assured and a cup final won, Man City have just had the season that Arsenal should have had.

Strange that the Europa Cup, what with its opportunity for huge amounts of Thursday evening European football (17 matches or nearly half a seasons worth from start to finish) and glamorous locations (like ten time zones away in Eastern Europe), doesn’t seem to hold the attraction of the Champions League. Could it be that the potential revenue increase (circa £5 million in TV and prize money for a finalist) doesn’t match up to the increased aggravation of an expanded squad left playing Prem matches on Sunday or Monday for much of the season? Certainly Loserpool RedSox and Tottingham seem to have lost their love for a European competition that isn’t the Champions League as they attempted to outdo one another and not qualify for fifth spot and the opportunity to join Boremingham and Stoke in the little cup.

Still, Tottingham couldn’t resist the opportunity to win their last game of the season at home, which kind of condemns them to the Europa League. Loserpool themselves did their bit by losing to an Aston Villa side who’ve yo-yoed up and down the league this season.

Who would have thought that a match on the last day of the season between two of the promoted sides would be so utterly inconsequential? With both Newcastle and West Brom Lovely Boys firmly marooned in mid-table mediocrity, it was very much a case of job done for both teams already, although this appears to be a greater achievement for Uncle Wroy than it does his Newcastle counterpart Alan Pardew. Newcastle proved to be nothing less than fully entertaining at home as they let a three goal lead slip to draw with West Brom. Three up and you only get a draw, only Arsenal can match that.

Everton, who appear to be becoming little more than a Premier League afterthought, finished their season by beating a Chelski side who had clearly lapsed into holiday mode and played some truly disinterested football, which reminded you of the worst periods of this season. Five points clear after 9 games, they should have won the league by a canter. In the end they appear floored by their own indifference and, in this case, an outstanding solo goal by Jermaine Beckford.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Sadly no Hilarious Gomes on show at Tottingham, and while Szczesney might not have had his best day in goal for Arsenal he was fundamentally competent, if letting in two goals can be called that. And with no catastrophic rushes out of the six yard area and no stunningly incompetent back passes from the defensive minded, it’s been a poor week for the Rob Green Save Of The Day. So I guess the award has to go by default to West Ham’s Rob Green, if only because he’s never looked really stable at the back. Whether this is down to his goalkeeping prowess or, more likely, the result of having to play behind a defence as unutterably incapable as West Ham’s.


Archive for May, 2011

Palace Tweets 2011-05-22


  • Started Cycle with @cyclemeter at 16:40, on a new route, see http://j.mp/mNi6co, Cyclemeter will speak your replies to me. #
  • Top info on the finances (and debts) of the Premiership. http://bit.ly/mybSF6 Nice work Graunsters #
  • That Europa League – it's really, really rubbish. Like watching League 1 but with a load of half arsed teams. C5 should be ashamed of it. #
  • Given it's at Landsdown Road it's appropriate that Braga & Porto are playing tedious Jack Charlton hoof n hope rubbish football. #

Archive for May, 2011

What We Learned From Prem Week 37


That Was FA Cup Weekend That Was

There’s a song that goes something like, ‘Everybody’s talking bout wage inflation, defenestration, pitch invasion…. nobody’s talkin bout me‘ or words to that effect and so it is with the FA Cup. Everybody’s talking about how goddamn terrible it is that the Prem should be playing on the same day as our hallowed previously-the-only-live-match-on-TV knockout football final when really they should be talking about how desperately tragic the game itself was.

Oldsters will remember a time back before the Prem (the pre-Premian era?) when the entire day was dedicated to a televisual extravaganza of sport-oriented gloating from all the major television companies (well the both of them that were covering the match), in a desperate bid to keep fans nailed into their seats. And while ITV did indulge in a spot of self-aggrandisement at the start, this year’s coverage was barely a minute old before they admitted defeat and cut from Gareth Southgate to the first ad break. After all, the cup final’s not exactly a Ford Super Sunday is it? I suspect what with it being sunny that many people Skyboxed it and watched it later rather than go for the full live experience.

Certainly this one wasn’t a classic, but at least with the Skybox you can fast forward over the boring bits. Featuring two teams who’ve really not set our blood pumping, the dour billionaire boys club of Man City and the anti-football hack n hoofers of Stoke, this was very definitely a final in the mould of 2007/08’s Portsmouth vs Cardiff City. And in some ways it underdelivered even that. Stoke, bar one vaguely mazy run from Jermaine Pennant, and a one on one between Kenwynne Jones and Joe Hart, offered nothing beyond their usual hoof n hope play. Rory Delapp’s fabled (ie thoroughly tedious) long throw being largely negated by Wembley’s greater width and Man City’s defence. Never genuinely threatening, the best they can be said to have done was to break up City’s play.

City themselves looked set up for one of their fabled 0 – 0 results, where they claim the moral high ground for not having conceded, while never leaving their own half. Tevez looked ineffective, Silva was invisible, while Ballotelli had a few nice touches to no great consequence and was probably most effective when he didn’t overreact to being punched in the face by Huth. Still, through some miracle City conspired to fashion a chance for YaYa Toure and he duly smashed it into the net. One of those hugely satisfying, net-bulging smashes that made the other 90+ minutes of this tawdry occasion almost bearable.

Games

Meanwhile, back in the Prem (home to real football) everything had a decidedly predictable feel.

Man U actually won the Championship that they had effectively won all those weeks ago, even if they won’t actually be presented with the trophy until next week. They once again came back from a goal down against Real Blackburn. Which must have been a bit of a shock to Man U seeing as in their previous led-by-Fat-Sam-Allerdycé period Real used to leak goals to them. Certainly it appeared to be a shock to Real keeper Robinson, who promptly gave away a totally pointless penalty and allowed Man U to grab an undeserved equalised. Given that both sides needed a point to achieve their respective destinies (Championship on Man U’s part, staying in the Prem on Real’s) it was not a surprise that the game ended a draw.

Chelski probably secured second by scraping a draw with Newcastle. The latter scored in last gasp Fergie time, which must have irritated the Chelski defence and illustrates the need for rebuilding there. Having lost to Man U, Chelski seem to simply have run out of puff for the season.

After having (takes deep breath) thrown away the Carling Cup final, been knocked out of the Big Cup, and the FA Cup and lost the Prem and the Race for Second all in the space of some six or seven weeks, Arsenal now seem intent on throwing away the Race for Third all by themselves by losing at home to ‘haven’t got nuffin to play for but somehow fifth in the form table’ Aston Villa. Suddenly Arsenal Wenger’s declaration that finishing third would be a genuine achievement is starting to look horribly prophetic, especially since securing third place is out of their hands. According to Wenger it is now “a big setback to finish fourth”, which is a long way from admitting Arsenal could win a quadruple way back in the bowels of February. More and more he looks like King Canute failing to hold back the waves. A move which in Canute’s case was intended to show his own knights that their king was not omnipotent in Wenger’s just seems to indicate his inability to actually affect situations. You sense that, bar the mathematical certainty that they can’t actually finish below fourth, Arsenal would be giving challengers in the Race for Fifth a good run for their money. 18th in the form guide (with only Boremingham and West Ham below them) tells its own tale.

While the Race for Fifth wasn’t actually decided, the face off between the two teams (Arsenal excluded) still capable of winning this most Pyrrhic of victories saw Tottingham halt the runaway train that has been the post-Wroy Loserpool RedSox. That’s good work from a Tottingham side who’ve only won 2 of their last 14 games. Apparently neither side really want the distraction of playing in the Europa League next season which comes with fifth place like a bucket of cold sick, preferring to leave it to the likes of cup winners Boremingham, cup losers Stoke and fair play champions Fulham. It will surely be a race next week to see who actually wants it less, with Spurs at home to the Bores and Loserpool away to Villa. The fans’ favourite has Spurs beating Boremingham for a triple whammy of Spurs in the Europa League, Blackpool in the Prem and Boremingham in the Championship.

Certainly Boremingham did themselves no favours at all by losing to Fulham. That’s the same Fulham that capitulated so massively to Loserpool earlier in the week. They’re now above the drop zone on goal difference only. The crowd are starting to believe. What with Arsenal having collapsed and Boremingham facing relegation, that Carling Cup magic is really starting to flow.

Blackpool are threatening to make a go of it (as if they haven’t been making a go of it all season). Their have a go and damn the defence mentality has been one of the few refreshing aspects of this duller than usual season. And their match with Bolton was one of the most exciting this season. Bolton, who haven’t travelled well this season, obviously benefitted from the close proximity to Blackpool and were a constant threat, while Blackpool were as defensively catastrophic as they were offensively excellent. And, in keeping with the spirit of the game, it was great to see offence actually triumph as Blackpool managed to scrape a thrilling win. Sure they’re still in the relegation zone, but a win next week should see them safe. And that’s a win against a Man U side preparing for the Champions League final. They could do it.

So, amazingly, could Wolves. And they’re not even in the drop zone! How did that happen? A team who’d been nailed on in the bottom two or three all season and they suddenly scrape a couple of wins together. But while the win last week against Uncle Wroy’s Lovely Boys was a real victory, this one, against Sunderland was a cakewalk. It seemed to epitomise all the apparent benefits of the English game. Here grit and determination triumphed over mediocrity (there was precious little skill involved in either side). Wolves simply ‘wanted’ it more than Sunderland.

Another side who apparently still ‘want it’ are Wigan. I mean go figure. There I was thinking that a season-long stay in the bottom three indicated a desire for relegation. Still they were playing West Ham, a team whose season-long stay in the bottom three really has indicated a desire to play Championship football. 2 – 0 up and West Ham blow it again. They must hate being 2 – 0  up. Really hate it. Especially after they were 2 – 0 up at home against Man U. That was their Arsenal in the Carling Cup final moment that was. 2 – 0 up and they lose 4 – 2 and have all the morale sucked out of them like marrow being sucked from a bone by a rabid dog. Wigan amazingly still have a chance. Given their last match is against Stoke I’d say that’s a good chance.

Oh and Uncle Wroy’s Lovely Boys West Brom beat Everton. A match that had little significance. Still it’s amazing what Everton can do on a shoestring and what Uncle Wroy has done in half a season, taking West Brom from the relegation zone to almost the top half of the table. You almost wonder what he might do if he were given the chance of managing a so-called big team. Like Loserpool. Or not.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Most of the time the worst that can happen to a Rob Green Save Of The Day winner is that they lose a match. Occasionally they can lose The Carling Cup final, but usually it’s just a match. This week Real Blackburn’s Paul Robinson didn’t just lose a match, he didn’t even lose a match, he certainly didn’t lose the cup, but he did lose the Premiership. His awesomely ill-advised rush off his line to take down Hernandez when the latter was as close to the corner flag as he was to Robinson’s nearest post effectively handed the Prem title to Man U. After 37 weeks of struggle, how silly do you think he’s feeling?


Archive for May, 2011

What We Learned From Prem Week 36


I Did It My Way… But There’s No I In Team

This was the week when Man U finally sealed the title. As if they hadn’t sealed it before. The terrifying thing about this season is that this is still possibly the least good Man U team in Prem history (they’ve lost to Chelski, Man City and Arsenal not to mention Wolves this season and were there for the taking for much of the early months), with fewer standout, big name players, but in the last few months they’ve undoubtedly begun to gel.

Unlike previous Man U sides, this is a team that is very much more than the sum of its parts with a great attitude, which could win an amazing double and you sense that they’re only beginning to get into their stride. The watershed moment was undoubtedly the Rooney inspired comeback at West Ham. At half time they were 2 – 0 down, by the end they were comfortable winners. Sure they’ll need a new goalie, but you can expect them to buy big (and probably buy a second, reserve keeper too) and they’ll certainly have to reinforce the midfield.

But the strength of the side is evident when you play the swopping game – who of this team would you swap for another team, for members of your team to make the side better? The first team defence Van Der Saar, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic and Raphael/Fabio stays the same with Smalling coming along nicely, as does the Valencia, Rooney, Nani/Giggs, Hernandez attack, it’s only the midfield where you feel they’re inadequately served, with either ageing players like Scholes, water carriers like Park and Fletcher (vital but easily improved on), or inadequates like Gibson, Anderson and Carrick. Certainly it’s where they lost the battle against Man City and Arsenal.

Yet how many other Prem midfielders would be shoo-ins? On this year’s form precious few – Silva and Yaya Toure from Man City? Great game changing players, yet they’ve not really pulled up many trees. Wilshire but not Song from Arsenal? Modric from Spurs? Anyone from Chelski? Liverpool? Not for the midfield. Not this year. You could argue Dirty Suarez  or possibly Van Persie instead of Hernandez, but that seems to be simply replacing like for like for the sake of it. After that you’re really into crazy gambling territory. You play the game with other teams this season and you find yourself making wholesale changes – like who do you keep from the Arsenal defence?

Chelski show that their mid-season slump wasn’t just a slip up and was something a little more serious. They have an ageing squad that seems to have lost its way, with an inadequate wellspring of youth to come through. Like the post-Makelele Galactico Real Madrid they are the exact opposite of Man U, a team of stars that is somehow suddenly less than the sum of its parts. They need a clear explanation for their total mid-season slump and an injection of new life and vitality – the kind of kick up the arse that Liverpool have had this year.

Arsenal have been found wanting again (and again) this season. It’s hard to say which is the more remarkable, that Arsenal have yet again managed to mess up a potentially title winning position or that they were actually in that position to start with. Wenger continues to damn his side (and with it his philosophy) with ever fainter praise. Apparently now third would be an achievement, a far cry from that quadruple people were talking about only a few months ago. But, the Man U match aside, it’s been a dramatic crash and burn for the Arse since they blew the Carling Cup.

And yes, Wenger’s right in a way, third is some kind of an achievement, it’s what looked great at the end of September, but it’s so much less than they promised. Unlike Man U there are no selfless engines in this side, nor does there appear to be a driving, winning mentality anywhere to be seen. How they would like an unselfish, fully committed player like Man U’s Park instead of insipid second string whining dilettantes like Arshavin and Bendtner.

This is now a critical off-season for them. How will Wenger adapt? Because it’s clearer than ever that this side is missing something(s). Simply letting them become a year older as seems to have been the case for the last couple of seasons clearly isn’t going to reap the necessary benefits. He will have to do something about their performance anxiety not least in the ‘little’ games where they seem perpetually not up for it. For the first time in ages the issue of whether Fabregas goes to Barcelona will not be the most important thing happening to Arsenal in the close season.

That coming in third actually is an achievement is reinforced by Spurs, who won’t even come in fourth (or possibly fifth if they’re really unlucky). A side that many claimed was the ‘best squad in the Prem’ has significantly failed to emulate the achievements of last season despite having what can only be described as ‘a good cup run’. Clearly the Big Cup was a step too far too fast for ‘Appy ‘Arry and his lovely boys. Like Arsenal they’ve taken defeat to heart and haven’t been the same since they were beasted by Real Madrid (who themselves have been left smarting by Barcelona), and it’s easy to feel that the players felt that the rest of the season was an anticlimax. Still with the slow rise of Man City and the apparent resurgence of Loserpool RedSox, Spurs could be out of Europe for a generation.

And with no Big Cup action, either next season or more worryingly ever, what price the likes of Bale, Modric or even Van Der Vaart hanging around if top Champions League clubs come a-calling? Being Welsh Bale is never going to do well internationally (no Euros or World Cups for him), so his real pinnacle has to be Big Cup. This close season is his window, certainly he won’t enhance his value or desirability by playing a non-Big Cup season in a Prem that fundamentally isn’t watched by the big European teams. Sure he’s taken advantage by negotiating a new deal, so if no one comes for him he’s done alright, but right now he can’t lose by being open to offers/opportunities. And that’s got to be a worry.

Spurs need to address pretty much all areas of their side, not least a hugely expensive attacking lineup that simply hasn’t delivered, either as a consequence of the changes necessary to accommodate Van Der Vaart (Crouch and Defoe) or through sheer lack of skill/application (taxi for Pavlyuchenko and Keane). Plus there’s a bloody great hole in the defence. Spurs’ first choice of Gomes, Ledley King and Woodgate leak goals and lack basic fitness. You have to feel that having both permacrocks King and Woodgate on the same payroll is one of those financial cesspits that only really stupid people sign up to. One Owen Hargreaves or Vermaelen is unlucky, two or more smack of carelessness.

Man City are playing it as cool as you can when you’ve got an economy of petrodollars and an ambition the size of the planet behind you. They will comfortably achieve their goal of fourth and probably win the FA Cup (a nice little bauble bonus), while cementing their place in the big four. Their most impressive moment to date has been the FA semi final against Man U, where they turned the screw on their opponents and ended up dominating the game. They manage the difficult feat of looking almost impossible to beat while being relatively toothless up front. Expect big changes here too with Tevez looking to make another fast buck by jumping ship and a whole swathe of new faces attracted by both the Big Cup and the billions on offer.

Games

Man U sealed the championship with an authoritative win over Chelski, who were comfortably outthought and outplayed from minute 1. Looking back on Man U’s last week or so (victory over Schalke, loss to Arsenal, victory over Schalke, victory over Chelski), you have to feel that the Arsenal game was the one that Fergie felt fairly relaxed over losing. Sure they were outplayed by Arsenal, but if you had to lose one of those four matches, the Arsenal one was the one that had the least impact. Chelski will be left wondering how they transformed a brilliant run of form into one of the most inept displays we’ve seen at Old Trafford since Fat Sam Allerdiché last brought one of his supine rollover sides here.

Arsenal showed that they really have mentally capitulated this season by being overrun by Stoke. This was a comprehensive win for the purveyors of humiliating anti-football, who outthought and outplayed the supposed masters of technique and ‘proper’ football. One of these sides still has something to play for this season and it doesn’t appear to be the team from North London. It’s a bit touch and go who played the most cowardly football, Chelski or Arsenal.

Man City did their best to inject a small amount of tension into the hugely uninspiring Race for Fourth by being overwhelmed by Everton, not that you would have given Everton any credit in the first half. Rather like City themselves did in their FA Cup semi final, Everton soaked up a lot of pressure, conceding a goal, before pulling themselves back in the second half.

Tottingham then failed to add to the tension by only managing a dour draw with Blackpool, a result that suits neither club. Six points behind with just three games to play, one of which is against Man City, Tottingham are all but mathematically out of the Big Four unless they win against City. Despite playing some nice football, neither side appeared to want to seize the game and go for the win.

Not wanting to be left out of the upcoming Race for Europa/Fifth, Loserpool RedSox continued their excellent end of season run by absolutely stuffing a pretty poor Fulham. Another hattrick for previously useless footballer Maxi and another outstanding performance from Champion Cheat Dirty Suarez. In an interesting quirk of fate Loserpool’s next match is against Tottingham – the Race for Fifth decider! Who will drop out of the Europa Cup places? Does either team actually care?

Not wanting to be dropped out of the Prem, a partially resurgent Wolves did for their local rivals West Brom Lovely Boys. One of those inexplicable matches where a side is somehow comprehensively beaten with ease for no discernible reason. Uncle Wroy was left scrunching his face in the manner he made popular at Loserpool earlier this season.

None of which will be good news for West Ham, who barely scraped a draw with Blackburn, where both sides really needed the win, or Wigan, who only drew with Villa. This left Wolves out of the bottom three for the first time in an age. Oh and it’s West Ham v Wigan at the weekend. That’s what they call a six point £40million match.

Midtable mediocrity awaits both Bolton and Sunderland, neither of whom have anything worth playing for and who accompany that with pretty poor form. Stunningly Sunderland actually managed to win a game.

Flirting a little too close to the relegation zone (they can’t be relegated with 39 points surely) Birmingham managed to add a bit of squeak to their season by losing to Newcastle. They can’t be relegated this season can they? Surely not? Still always worth hoping for.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Some of Mark Schwarzer‘s attempts against Loserpool were thoroughly shocking, and Petr Cech had a bit of a nightmare against Man U, but the winner for the second week is Tottingham’s Hilarious Gomes, who managed to first save a penalty before immediately going a bit walkabout mental and conceding a second one, which he let in to allow Blackpool back into the match and effectively give up on the Race for Fourth. That’s six points in two games and that’s the end of Big Cup football down at the Lane.