|Hair vs. Hair match: EPL style.|
Another classic Premier League scheduling madness is upon us, with a series of midweek games seemed in on the season winds down. With that in mind, basically everything written will be rendered partially moot by the time you're probably reading this so ...
Let's just take a quick run through the weekend matches -- which saw Manchester City's title pursuit go up in flames -- and then make a couple quick guesses about what's ahead.
* Manchester City was totally listless for 94 minutes Sunday in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal on Mikel Arteta's late winner, which could have been worst if Robin van Persie wasn't in a mini-rut in front of goal and or Thomas Vermaelen didn't block a clear goal for his own team. Naturally the entire focus for the loss will be on Mario Balotelli, who nearly broke Alex Song's leg and later got two yellow cards and was spent off -- likely for good at City.
Is Balotelli the only reason City's title chase is all but over, eight points behind Manchester United after the Red Devils' 2-0 win over QPR Sunday? No. It's an easy scapegoat -- even Roberto Mancini said the FA should discipline him -- but City knew what it was getting into from the start. The Italian's antics are funny to follow and his "YOLO" lifestyle is definitely amazing for memes and all other forms of Internet laughs, but if you're inside the City dressing room it must piss you off. Plus, it doesn't help, that Balotelli seems to only play when he feels like it. It's either all-in, or totally whacked out. No in-between, aka, what a true professional brings to the table.
Not to get too Grantland-y, but you can't put your hopes in a player who's antics might even make a guy like (youth culture alert!) make Tyler, the Creator shake his head.
* If the Jose Mourinho, as rumored, manages City if Roberto Mancini is fired, Balotelli is out -- but other than his admitted favorite club of AC Milan is he going to end up?
* When you boil it all down, Mancini hasn't done a bad job with City. He did win the FA Cup last season and assembled a very good, if not great, team. His undoing is going to be putting way too much faith in the dual insanity of Balotelli and Carlos Tevez. Is it Mancini's fault his most influential player, David Silva completely ran out of gas? Well, yes, he could have rested him here-and-there, but Mancini did buy Samir Nasri in the summer and the Frenchman hasn't exactly been the type of midfield orchestrator that Silva is, so without the Spaniard pulling the strings the City attack is completely rudderless.
* Glossing over in the Balotelli headlines, City's defense hasn't been nearly as good as it was last season when Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure lead the way. Both have been in and out of the team, leaving too much time for Jolean Lescott.
* The biggest failure of Mancini was not cloning David Pizarro and getting him to play all 11 positions.
* Credit here, too, to Arsenal. God only knows what sort of European, soccer-form of HGH Tomas Rosicky has been ingesting or injecting, because who knew the Czech still had it in him? If Arsene Wenger doesn't tinker too much and finds a little bit out depth at the outside backs and -- again -- a dominant center back that can marshall the line the Gunners are in pretty good shape for 2012-13 with the addition of Lukas Podolski and return of Jack Wilshere.
Problem is, it's going to be hard to bottle this form the Gunners are in right now and extend it another 14 months. That said, they'll be back in the Champions League and with City melting down, looks like van Persie isn't going anywhere.
There is no excuse why Arsenal can't compete for the League title next season. None.
* Funny line somebody, probably @Vincent_Vega_ re-tweeted, that this is the best City team in generations and the worst United, yet the Red Devils are going to win the title.
* The weird thing is, more is probably going to be written in the offing about City's collapse and Arsenal's weird season than Manchester United's title-win. There wasn't anything glamorous or, ahem, "sexy" about it -- sorry Paul Scholes return from a brief retirement doesn't qualify even with his bonus points for being a ginger. Just result, after result, after result.
Here's Manchester United's 2012 Premier League form: LWWWDWWWWWWW.
Hard to think Sir Alex Ferguson is bumping that "All I Do Is Win" song, but it's the truth.
* All that said, is United's season underrated since we're used to comparing it to the past? Wayne Rooney might be his usual brilliant self, but he does have 22 league goals and hasn't allowed the "red mist" to descend. Antonio Valencia has been a joy to watch on the right, while the patchwork United defense ravaged by injury has held together -- all while breaking in a new keeper.
* Massive talking point after this one was Shaun Derry's red card penalty on Ashley Young, which was a) from an offside position and b) a bit of a dive.
I definitely liked Martin Tyler's (and his analyst not sure the name) stringent condemnation of diving as a whole on the game commentary, saying in part that if Young were non-English he'd be booed and jeered -- think Luis Suarez. At the same time, too, Tyler went as far as to say there's no diving or "simulation" in the women's game, which is food for thought.
Tyler also suggested that giving a red card AND a penalty is a bit too harsh, which is fair to consider. I do kind of like the either-or situation. It wasn't quite a 'last man' argument, nor was it violent conduct. Losing a man and a goal is a tough pill to swallow.
In QPR's spot, down a man and a goal at Old Trafford, even with 80+ minutes to go is a mountain too steep to climb.
* Slept through all but the final eight minutes of Tottenahm's 0-0 draw with Sunderland. Sir Ian Darke took to Twitter to say the game was dull and dreadful, so you know you didn't miss much. Sir Ian doesn't put lipstick on a pig, which is why we love him.
* Chelsea, as usual, are the worst. A 2-1 win over valiant Wigan made the stomach turn with Branislav Ivanovic's first goal being clearly from an offside position. Create the Serb, though, for making a play at the other end to block a would-be tying goal from Wigan seconds later.
The less said about Juan Mata's winner in stoppage time, via a Fernando Torres shot which hit the post, the better.
* Maybe Wigan have the right idea -- do nothing for four months and then try to turn it on for the final 10 matches to avoid relegation. Victor Moses seems lively enough and the team seems to have some spirit, so maybe Roberto Martinez pulls off another miracle.
* Also the worst, John Terry's denim jacket.
* Clint Dempsey committed some American on American crime, hurting the chances of Premier League survival for compatriots Tim Ream and Stuart Holden with two goals in Fulham's 3-0 road win at Bolton. Dempsey is now about to, approximately, 124 goals in all competitions this seasons.
* Since we talk about it seemingly every time Dempsey scores, who the hell knows if he'll move away from Fulham in the summer. The cards are in his hands, since he just signed a new contract not that long ago. There was one of those classic English tabloid rumors from nothing last week about a move to Arsenal, so expect that to ratchet up as we hit the summer. You'd have to make one hell of an offer to Fulham, considering he's scored 15 of their 42 league goals, making him a strong contender along with Robin van Persie of the EPL's hypothetical MVP.
Unless Dempsey is moving to an Arsenal-type club, it's probably a move backwards, even if it means the fringes of Champions League football with a continental team. I'll stick with my theory from a couple weeks ago that Tottenham would be a perfect landing place for him, even if it cuts into his playing time.
* Don't think I've picked a single West Brom game correctly this season, as they thumped Blackburn 3-0 on Saturday. Fun.
* Stoke City sent Wolves to their eight straight loss Saturday. Wolves appear to have given up. Guys like Kevin Doyle know that they'll find another home as soon as the club is relegated, so why put up much of an effort for a lost cause? Definite bad vibes at the club.
* If only a big club, such as Rangers, went into administration every year, then maybe David Moyes would be living large. Nikica Jelavic is the player the Toffees needed and they got him cheap. Everton only drew Norwich City 2-2, but are still ahead of Liverpool, which drew Aston Villa 1-1.
* Alex McLeish, you might rival John Terry for the worst. The only thing keeping you from it is you don't have a terrible haircut.
* It's pretty clear Mike Ashley made a deal with the devil, because how is Newcastle United batting 1.000 in the transfer market nowadays? Papiss Cisse -- with one hell of a goal on Friday -- looking more like a steal, as Champions League football doesn't look too far flung.
Song of the Week:
Chromatics new album came out recently. Enjoying it greatly, from what I've pieced together since it's not on Spotify as of yet.
"Kill For Love" is great.
* Newcastle United v. Bolton -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) The one guy Newcastle probably needs to fight to keep is Tim Krul, because the young Dutchman might be in demand. Bolton, through 31 games, have two draws. Two. That's the lowest total of any result for any club in the Premier League. The Trotters have a joint league-high 20 losses. The reason Owen Coyle's team is where it is, makes sense. ... Newcastle United 2, Bolton 1
* Everton v. Sunderland -- (Live, ESPN3, 10 a.m.) Took two games to separate these two in the FA Cup quarterfinals, and with reason since they're just so darn even. These two could be again fighting it out for a Europa League spot next year, too. ... Everton 1, Sunderland 1
* Tottenham v. Norwich City -- (Live, ESPN3, 10 a.m.) No other way to put this, absolute must-win for Tottenham. No excuses. Norwich, though, aren't a team to roll over and are loaded with goal-scorers. ... Tottenham 2, Norwich City 1
* Aston Villa v. Stoke City -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 p.m.) Somewhere in the world somebody out there can find something nice to say about this matchup. Not me. ... Aston Villa 1, Stoke City 0
* Fulham v. Chelsea -- (Live, ESPN2, 3 p.m.) All these weeks later, how much is that missed penalty by Clint Dempsey in the first meeting between these two is looming now. That point Chelsea clung to keeps them in the mix for the Champions League. Chelsea, despite it's eight-game unbeaten run, hasn't been all that impressive, rather more of the grinding out results type. Fulham certainly will be up for trying to stymie their West London rivals. ... Fulham 2, Chelsea 1
* Blackburn Rovers v. Liverpool -- (Live, FSC, 3 p.m.) Maybe Liverpool will be in its giving mood once again? Not quite there yet, but eventually Kenny Dalglish is going to have to consider buying Andy Carroll a free ticket to the Springfield Mystery Spot. ... Blackburn 2, Liverpool 2
* Wolves v. Arsenal -- Arsenal just need to avoid anyone getting hurt here. This would seem like a place for a letdown game, especially with Laurent Koscielny missing due to yellow card accumulation, but Wolves have already capitulated. Consider this another game where Theo Walcott will impress for Euro considerations. ... Wolves 0, Arsenal 3
* Manchester City v. West Brom -- On muscle memory, alone, City have to find a way to win this one. ... Manchester City 2, West Brom 0
* Wigan v. Manchester United -- (Live, FSC, 2:30 p.m.) In short, if Wigan beats Manchester United we will officially know the Mayans were right about 2012. ... Wigan 1, Manchester United 2
* QPR v. Swansea City --Wagering a guess here, QPR have spent, easily, five to ten times as much on transfers than Swansea City in the last nine months, yet QPR is nearly relegation and Swansea is a bright, young, fresh up-and-comer. One again it proves that a form of identity and direction over buying random players is the way to go. ... QPR 1, Swansea City 1
Last round: 5-5