It was a weekend where the top feeders got some playthings to chew on while the race for the fourth spot became more muddled than it was last week.
It was also a week in which many questioned the sanity of a certain Spanish gentleman and wondered how he still has a job. In fact, there are five good reasons why Rafa Benitez is still in a job. Let them be known:
1. Cash Constraints
Rafa Benitez has a £20 million buyout clause in his contract, based on the pay over the years he would be given. Considering the financial hardships of the club and that they are very unwilling to actually spend any cash in the transfer market, what would make anyone think that they would splash the cash to make Rafa disappear?
2. The Squad
As has been pronounced multiple times by now, the team consists of Carragher, Reina, Gerrard, and Torres. Everyone else is interchangeable and for all intensive purposes marginalized. That is a shame, since talent like Yossi Benayoun, Javier Mascherano, Martin Skrtel, Glenn Johnson and Dirk Kuyt have been productive, run around all day long, but aren’t able to alter a match like the aforementioned four. Past who has been mentioned, no one else can really distinguish themselves for any particular merit. Benitez has painted himself into a corner of sorts with the players he has and anyone who takes over has to figure out a way to incorporate what is there into something resembling an attacking force. Or, if nothing else, watching them become the first regular users of the 6-4 formation like they had against Stoke. Yes, Kuyt and Ngog were out there as “forwards,” but they don’t have a real front man outside of Torres, no matter what the formation sheet says.
Who exactly would be inane enough to take the job right now? Some suggest Kenny Dalglish would be a suitable candidate for the job. Then again, Dalglish has not managed since the beginning of the decade. Much has changed not only within the club but the game itself. There is no guarantee he could have success in the new Premier League.
Jose Mourinho said he would be interested, assuming they get some spending cash. That says a lot about the squad right away that Mourinho has no faith in what they have currently and would need to probably completely reshape the outfit. Mark Hughes it out floating about, but may be still jaded after being dropped by City. Guus Hiddink is always available it seems, but needs the Roman Abramovic blessing before doing anything. Of course, the ownership still has a chubby for Jurgen Klinsman, though why that is no one seems to know. With all of those names, though, there is still no definitive answer to who could take over the team and salvage things.
If a new man were to take charge, they would get all of two tune-up matches (after the Wednesday scrap with Spurs) to get ready for a three week hell-run of Everton, Arsenal, and City, which would put nearly immediate pressure on the new head honcho to have his system and instructions in the players’ minds and ready to go. Everton suddenly look formidable, Arsenal is in the title race, and City will be under pressure to bury the Reds. Sure, they have Rovers at the end of the month, but who’s to say that Blackburn won’t be in full out survival mode by then? They could easily not get a solitary point out of the month, and would be lucky to claim more than three points. April isn’t much more promising either with Birmingham, Fulham, West Ham (relegation scrapping) and Burnley (also relegation scrapping, and at Turf Moor). The schedule is not exactly the Mancini plan.
5. The Package Deal
The ownership of the club, outside of trying to pile in enormous amounts of debt, is also a comedy show that often is in the U.S. but makes headlines all the time. The fans are caught in the crossfire of hating the owners but not exactly enjoying the football. The stress, the press, the legends, Ryan Babel, everything on the face of the earth that screams out “FAILURE!” will be merely footsteps behind a new Liverpool manager as they are still expected to be in the Champions League at the end of the campaign.
You really think anyone wants to jump into this mess voluntarily?
Let’s talk some football now. It’s an anomaly, you know, that nine games made it out of the remnants of the big freeze, and since we are on the topic of Liverpool….
Stoke City 1 – 1 Liverpool
So, trying out their new 6-4 formation, Liverpool went to the Britannia and were, to say it nicely, every bit as ugly as the host side normally are. Don’t be fooled by the team sheets; there was no forward to be seen, even if Kuyt and Ngog are “listed” as forwards as they have played on the wings in nearly every appearance this term. Factor in the shield in front of the defense (Mascherano and Lucas) and there wasn’t really any attacking impetus at all from the Reds. Fortunately, Stoke are a long ball side, and this allowed them to hang in for nearly the entire contest. Liverpool could win the ugly goal of the year contest as Kyrgiakos (also a candidate for the yearly ugly awards) sorta kinda touched it across. Fortunately, Liverpool pulled a defender for Maxi, an actual winger, and Aquilani showed up to do nothing, like usual. Without their sixth defender, Liverpool was unable to clear pretty much the last Stoke move of the contest and allowed Robert Huth to put in the tying tally. There was enough time left for Kuyt to show off his non-scoring ability as he dented the post with a bullet of a header.
Ideally, Liverpool would love to play Stoke every week, because that style of play meshed perfectly against the long ball tactics of the Potters. Spurs are slightly more versatile, however, and will not be so likely to push in the long ball at every offensive move. If Crouch is on the field, though, they will figure out a way to get him to get called for every foul. You watch and see.
Stoke got what they deserved, which was a point in a contest that was trying it’s damndest to set football forward 20 years. (I’d say back 100 years, but, if you know the history of the game, that would not be correct.)
Chelsea 7 – 2 Sunderland
Let’s get this straight right now: a sieve would have offered more resistance than the Black Cats offered Chelsea. When Steve Bruce says you were “inept,” you were pretty bad. Ancelloti is probably not totally satisfied, though. The backline gave up two goals, and, even if they were up five, still let Bolo Zenden score. Let me say that again, for effect: they let Bolo freakin’ Zenden score.
Pitiful, really. Must have been too much gloating going around after Ashley Cole pretty well made the entire Sunderland backline obsolete in about a five second span…after his table was set by John Terry. Maybe Steve needs to see if he can convince his side the season is restarting in February in the hopes they start playing like it was the beginning of the season again.
Manchester United 3 – 0 Burnley
It took far too long for United to take this game by the scruff of the neck and choke the life out of Burnley. Dimitar Berbatov missed enough chances to spread out over three or four matches. Burnley, who were under the charge of new man Brian Laws, could have actually taken the lead if Steven Fletcher was not busy doing his best Berbatov impersonation. Eventually, United got it together long enough to put three past Jensen, with Berbatov lucking into one and Rooney cleaning up yet another Berbatov failure to score. Burnley probably weren’t expecting anything from this match, but certainly have to feel good about taking the defending champs to the limit under new leadership.
United, meanwhile, have to wonder just a bit about where they stand. The fans are growing even more restless than usual after the Glazer debt fundraiser was announced, and some even went so far as to ask SAF to step down. What should be more concerning is that they couldn’t put Burnley away. Was it a case of looking ahead to City, or is there Liverpool-esque concerns about the players?
Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 0 Hull City
Harry Redknap put it bluntly when he said, “The keeper has had an unbelievable day and will never play like that again in his life. They were miraculous saves, five or six incredible, world-class saves.” He’s probably right, as Boaz Myhill was the man of the week in the Premier League after denying an unreal amount of Spurs’ strikes in keeping the match at a 0-0 line. Hull have to be ecstatic. Spurs are pissed. And Liverpool is next. Pepe Reina better channel his inner Myhill, because I imagine Tottenham are coming with guns blazing.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 – 2 Wigan Athletic
In the “how unlucky can you be to be watching this?” match, Schizoid Athletic watched a penalty get saved, then were bailed out by the official again as he blocked off probably the only Wolves player who could challenge James McCarthy’s eventual goal at the hour mark. Of course, Wolves tried to get back into the contest, only to watch Charles N’Zogbia seal the deal fifteen minutes after the winner. Wolves probably didn’t deserve anything from this contest, and many others wonder exactly why Wigan can play so well at times then look more Derby County at others. In the scheme of things, though, it yanked Wigan out of the relegation zone and left Wolves dangling dangerously close over the cliff, a whopping 1 goal better than Hull (at -21 to -22, mind you).
Everton 2 – 0 Manchester City
Well, you knew City couldn’t keep winning forever. You also could say that Everton were due a win after they were unjustly denied by Arsenal. Put two and two together, and you get a dominating performance that only Spurs could say they are privy to have handed City. An aggressive Everton side put pressure on the still being tweaked City, who lost Roque Santa Cruz within 10 minutes, and sent on super-shlub Robinho, who proceeded to do nothing for the next hour, and was subbed later in the match. Meanwhile, far less well paid players like Tim Cahill, Steven Pienaar, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Louis Saha, Marouane Fellaini, and Landon Donovan (who, collectively, might make about the same money as Robinho and maybe a second City player) raised hell within the City defense. Fellaini in particular was in fine form, even twinkle-toeing around Bellamy when the Welshman tried to dribble straight at him. No matter who was on for Everton and City, Everton dominated and City, save for Martin Petrov and Shay Given, looked woefully inadequate on the day, as Pienaar bent a free kick right where De Jong should have been, stranding Given, and Saha busted a penalty in the first half to send City to their (gasp!) third loss of the campaign. Of course, there is that little Carling Cup deal with United to attend to, so maybe City needed some inspiration? (Right…)
Aston Villa 0 – 0 West Ham
West Ham desperately needed to stalemate Villa, who were looking to try and jump back into fourth place in the Premier League. The Hammers got their aims met, as Villa looked woeful in the attack and when they mustered up a good shot or two, Robert Green looked like a #1 goalkeeper and made the saves needed to hold the ship steady. The result pulls West Ham into the “perilously close to the relegation zone” plateau, while Villa have to look at the second leg of the Carling Cup semi with Blackburn. With a goal on the road, they might be in good position to pull things out, but then again….
Blackburn Rovers 2 – 0 Fulham
Blackburn got some confidence back as they downed a suddenly prone Fulham squad. The Cottagers didn’t seem to bring much to the table as they were toothless in the attack and more injuries aren’t making things better. Christopher Samba might have been a little fortunate with the opener but Ryan Nelson’s tap of Benni McCarthy’s free kick sealed up the points. They’ll need that confidence in order to topple Villa in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi. There is no truth to the rumors, though, that Fulham’s injured have been sent to find horse placenta treatments this week.
Bolton 0 – 2 Arsenal
Owen Coyle’s reward for switching to Bolton was to get Arsenal twice in a week. What joy that surely must have brought him. Cesc Fabregas put in another quality shift as he worked a wonderful 1-2 for the opener. Bolton came back with their usual furor, though someone would have done well to explain to Matty Taylor where the goal was exactly as he missed multiple opportunities to claw Botlon back into the contest. Had they scored, an already unsettled Gunners side might have been more prone to giving up a second, but, as it was, they were the ones able to stamp out the contest.
While Bolton is still stuck in the relegation zone, another Arsenal win (and with a solid goal haul) could see them jump to the top of the Premier League. It’s just as well, considering United are trying hard to get out of the race and Chelsea need some one to keep them company at the pinnacle of English football.
Portsmouth v Birmingham
Almost got them all in. Probably just as well for Pompey, as they aren’t sure who to square off with more: their opponents or the FA over their decision to send the TV money to the teams that Pompey owe money to, rather than keep around the cash so they might have a shot of paying their players on time, for once. Birmingham, meanwhile, decided to split town and train in Malta for a few days.
Sure as hell beats the South coast.
Tags: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Hull City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Portsmouth, Premier League, Soccer, Stoke City, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Wigan Athletic