"That's not too crazy," -- Caucasian Crackhead, "Observe & Report."
Here we are, Manchester City vs. Manchester United Monday at the Eithad for all the 2011-12 Premier League marbles.
All-in-all, isn't this about what we expected?
As shocking as Manchester United's 4-4 draw with Everton at Old Trafford was Sunday morning, cutting United's advantage over City to three points, looking at the big picture is it all that hard to believe? Yes, coughing up a 3-1 and 4-2 advantage thanks to goals from Maroune Feliani and Tim Cahill about 80 seconds a part in the final 10 minutes is about as atypical as anything you'll see from a Sir Alex Ferguson squad.
Peel the onion away, however, and haven't there quietly been issues all season with the United defense, dealing with injuries to leader Nemanja Vidic as well as Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Or the strangely erratic play of Wayne Rooney and sudden disappearance of Chicharito.
More than that, hasn't one of the major themes of the 2011-12 EPL season been that this decidedly non-vintage United team was about to win yet another title in spite the millions upon millions spent by it's so-called "noisy neighbors"? What exactly are United's true colors? The team that went undefeated in the league from the second game of January to the middle of April? The team that got knocked out -- at home -- in the Champions League to FC Basel? Somewhere in the middle?
However you frame it, as talented and as much potential as he might exhibit in flashes, Danny Welbeck is a huge step back from when United could call upon Cristiano Ronaldo(*) and Carlos Tevez to supplement Rooney.
(*) Semi crazy thought popped into my head during El Clasico. Since Mesut Ozil is clearly the future (and present) at Real Madrid, would United making a play for Kaka be totally insane? Suppose his best spot might clash with Rooney who likes to drift deeper in the midfield nowadays. This probably never happens since Kaka's wages wouldn't jive with the fiscally prudent United ways and Brazilians and England don't exactly mix but the he probably still has some decent seasons left -- for somebody at least -- likely not Real Madrid.
If United do end up blowing their brief eight-point lead over City, it's themselves to blame -- losing to Wigan Athletic for the first time in modern history and then allowing Everton winless since the first Bush administration to cost them three points at Old Trafford Sunday.
Despite the meltdown at the Emirates on Easter, isn't this where we expected City to be with the finish line in sight? Perhaps not with the Carlos Tevez melodrama, but City were marching toward its first title in the Premier League era until a few hiccups in March. Wouldn't it be more of a surprise if this current incarnation of Manchester United ran away and hid with five games to go against a vastly deeper City squad?
Fortune shined on manager Roberto Mancini. Mario Balotelli gets himself a three-match ban, ending that headache, meaning City could return to its squirt quartet of Tevez, Kun Aguero, David Silva and Samir Nasri to get results, granted a win over relegated Wolves isn't much to write home about, but the recent shit-stompings City have applied in the last three matches -- winning 12-1 on aggregate -- are basically why they control their own destiny heading into Monday's all-or-nothing match.
Hell, you could even argue Aguero's tacked on goals in these routs are as valuable as anything done by any player this season?
This is clearly where we were headed all season:
A dangerous United squad running fueled by tradition, history and Sir Alex's hellbent pursuit of winning vs. City's million-dollar all-star team, trying to break the league's established hegemony.
'Arry, no Endersons:
On the plus side, it looks like Tottenham is going to gag away England's fourth place in the 2013 Champions League, but it's going to go to Newcastle United, not the nefarious team in blue from London which shall not be named. Having said that, it probably just means said team will finally end up winning the Champions League in May, thus clinching a spot and rendering the race for fourth place moot -- a scenario enough to get your humble author to give up watching the sport.
At this point, what can be said of Spurs utter and abject collapse from title-contenders to Europa League (maybe) also-rans?
It's easy to say, that the shit hit the fan as soon as Fabio Capello's undying love for John Terry forced him to resign from the England manager position in February, thus setting off waves of stories linking Harry Redknapp to the job. "Harry for England" -- was it sarcastic, sincere, who knows at this point.
You could point, too, to the injury of Aaron Lennon, forcing Redknapp to juggle his lineup to find balance on the right side, including the ill-fated attempts to turn Gareth Bale into both a right winger and a central playmaker.
Back in August, my personal expectations for Tottenham were low, think I picked them for seventh or eighth due to some course correction -- that was before the Emmanuel Adebayor loan signing.
The weird thing about Spurs, for all the allegedly fabulous talent -- Bale, Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart, namely -- it seems like all the stars need to align for the team to click. It's never easy for Tottenham, is it? The one time it was -- the 5-0 destruction of Newcastle -- set each team on completely different paths. Since that game on Feb. 11 Spurs are 1-3-5 (WDL), culminating with Saturday's 1-0 loss to QPR on a free kick from ex-Tottenham player Adel Taraabt which wrong-footed Brad Friedel in his 300th consecutive EPL match.
It's enough for Redknapp -- and the rest of the team -- to listen to that sappy, "Best of You" song by the fat singer Adele for the next three or four months.
If Tottenham can learn something by this year's failures it's 1) the defense needs a clear-out. Relying on the washed up William Gallas to provide cover for the perpetually knicked up Michael Dawson and Ledley King was a disaster. 2) Sandro, despite his golazo vs. Chelsea last year almost always seems to be a detriment to the team. 3) Open up the purse strings Daniel Levy and get a legit forward, look what Newcastle's done with the two Dembas. 4) If a club wants to throw a ton of money to buy Bale, take it. For all he can do at full-pomp, seems like most English teams have figured him out. Can't have your "best" player only at his best every third or fourth match. 5) For as good as van der Vaart is, he's a player you have to make too many changes to the rest of your team to get the best out of him. At his age and fragile health, is it worth it.
Bottom line, Spurs took a shot the last three years with this core. It probably peaked. It was a fun ride, but the biggest mistake in sports is trying to recapture something once the light goes out.
Guess it wasn't all Gomes fault after all.
Aces for Ashley:
How Mike Ashley is having the last laugh at Newcastle is absolutely remarkable.
More than that, how did the Magpies of all teams come up with the best scouting network in the Premier League?
What's truly crazy is Newcastle is playing perhaps the best soccer of anyone in the division at the moment and are on track to make the Champions League -- fully deserved, too. Everything Newcastle has done, since it's relegation four seasons ago bucks tradition and the norm.
Most important, the team bucked its history of trying to cater to the pale-faced Geordie fans by trying to get "one of them" to play the leading role at the club. So instead of chasing the next Alan Shearer through guys like Michael Owen or Andy Carroll, the club went the other way and went Francophone. Plus they got rid of English headaches like Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan, but kept solid Argentine workers like Fab Colocinni -- very good this season in defense -- and Jonas Gutierrez.
Not exactly sure how every single big transfer -- Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Yohann Cabaye, Chieck Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa, Tim Krul, Davide Santon -- the club has made as thus far panned out. (Boy, that pass from Cabaye to set up Cisse in the 3-0 win vs. Stoke City was dipped in honey, wasn't it?)
In April Newcastle is 4-0-0, out-scoring opponents 9-0.
It could all fall apart at a moment's notice, but for now it's a great story.
Around the League:
There's definitely a special place in for the English self-loathing when they won't allow themselves to accept that unfancied players like Danny Grahamn or Grant Holt are actually good soccer players. Glad my old friend Hirshey recognized Holt on his best XI for the season. ... Anyone really want to waste time on Arsenal's 0-0 draw with Chelsea? Theo Walcott got hurt. ... Philippe Senderos, yes, was the man who stopped the Good Ship Wigan, scoring the winner in Fulham's 2-1 victory at Craven Cottage. ...Not going to get wrapped up in the PFA Team of the Season. Why not wait until the final games are played? Don't feel as if Bale or Scott Parker deserve a place over Clint Dempsey and the lack of inclusion of a Newcastle player is insane. Robin van Persie was probably the player of the year, or at least was the most dominant player for the longest stretch, but his on-going goaless streak casts a mild pale over it. ... Adios Wolves. Your mustard hides will not be missed or mourned. ... Didn't watch a second of West Brom's 1-0 win at Anfield over Liverpool. Feel like this was the proper decision.
One Other Thing:
Noting to say in this space this week.