The headlines coming out on Thursday will probably have a lot of people in England wishing it was just a glorious April Fool’s prank. Unfortunately, that will more than likely not be the case as the whole of England holds its collective breath, waiting on the news from the impending scan of the ankle of Wayne Rooney. To say it happened at a bad time would be a gross understatement of the situation at hand for Roonchester United.
Not only did he go down in a heap as Bayern Munich began the counterattack that would bring the Champions League quarterfinal first leg between the two sides to a thrilling conclusion (in the Bundesliga outfit’s eyes anyway) but he was later spotted wearing a protective boot and leaving on crutches. With the return leg in a week and a little match with Chelsea at the weekend, the entire landscape of the title race may have damningly shifted away from SAF’s charges. Granted, the injury could be minor, maybe missing the weekend contest and possibly the return leg against Munich and all would be well.
But you get the sneaky suspicion that this will not be a minor knock and that pressure will be mounted against SAF and Co. to let him rest for the World Cup. It’s a problem that has yet to be resolved as neither country nor club can afford to not have him on the pitch game-in and game-out. (The subtle notation “Roonchester United” is not an overstatement of his value at all)
Rooney’s apocalyptic goal scoring pace has made him almost undropable from any situation (save for matches against bottom feeders) and the wear and tear being placed upon him is beginning to finally catch up to him. SAF will not let him sit when he has to have goals; Capello will use him for anything that has an England stamp on it. Can the man hold up? We shall soon see.
At this point, 12 clubs have officially been determined “safe” this term, while 1 is all but officially relegated (And, by the by, what more could Pompey suffer this term? Watching two more players shelved for six months is maddening), leaving seven clubs still hanging in the balance. One side (Sunderland) is almost out of danger, but needs to get a result or two more to ensure it. Three clubs (Wolves, Bolton, Wigan) are in a sort of twilight zone, needing results but not in immediate danger…yet. That leaves West Ham, Hull and Burnley in a perilous position. Burnley’s situation is looking more and more untenable as Brian Laws has seemingly no idea what to do at the moment. (Then again, he really hasn’t had a clue this year, so why would now be any different?) West Ham seem to be in crisis mode, yet Hull are being led by the man that propped them up last term by hauling Newcastle down.
The races are getting tight. Next week will be a preview of the final run in for each squad, what it needs to do and where it is likely to finish.
Manchester City made life difficult for themselves (not hard to envision, I know) by dropping a home match to that pesky Everton side that still thinks they can jump four squads and make the Champions League. They got help as Villa dropped two points against a beatable Sunderland side. Chelsea got goals galore against Pompey, including a howler that will go on the “Roast of David James” tribute video. Blackburn continued their late season surge by nicking three off Birmingham thanks to a David Dunn double, ensuring safety for Big Sam’s unit.
Arsene Wenger was not particularly bemused heading into the match with Birmingham at St. Andrews. With memories of a haunting challenge still lingering in the air, not to mention a fresh one to remind him of the aforementioned Eduardo tragedy, he must have been smirking after Samir Nasri stole three points from the Blues. Except he forgot that the other end of the pitch had Manuel Almunia on it, as he couldn’t keep up with Kevin Phillips’ (Ol’ Man River himself) bouncer and surrendered two points in a title race that might have been blown open again. Chelsea are doing their damndest to perish those thoughts after they ran roughshod over a pathetic Villa side, though, admittedly, all those years of ballet paid off for Yury Zhirkov as he claimed two rather ridiculous penalties that made a Villa fightback impossible.
Hull managed to undo a Fulham side who are pretty much done playing in the Premier League as long as the Europa League is still going on, placing pressure on both West Ham, who lost to Stoke City, and Burnley, who would play the following day. Wolves and Everton did last week’s prediction no good as they went 0-0 at Molineux. Spurs brushed away Pompey, who by now have apparently pissed off every deity in the universe, considering their ill-luck of late. United closed the day by whipping Bolton 0-4, trying to keep pace with the suddenly goal-mad Blues from London.
Blackburn continued the gloom and doom of Burnley after Martin Olsson was granted a rather generous penalty, slotted it by David Dunn, while Jason Brown was somehow not handling that ball outside his box. I have to say this, while we are here, that Mike Dean has had a terrible term as an official. He has been consistently inconsistent (like Sunday) and has to be driving managers mad due to his unusual decision making.
This led into Liverpool’s cruise-control three points over Sunderland, who have been inconsistent of late. The Reds need to continue the winning, as they are still slightly behind the eight ball in the race for fourth, considering the Wigan disaster a couple of weeks ago. They were hoping that Wigan would do them a favor against City the following day….
…And they nearly got it. Wigan hung tight against City and looked the better side for an hour. Then Stuey Atwell got trigger happy and sent Gary Caldwell packing for a robust challenge on Tevez, one that was fair if perhaps a bit over-the-top, but surely not red card worthy. Wigan nearly got a goal but then succumbed to a Tevez triple that turned the tide totally towards City. …And I’ll stop there before anyone gets hurt trying to say that out loud.
The New Week
So much hinges on the result of Wayne Rooney’s scan that the fates of United and Chelsea, already on edge with their impending match this weekend, may be exasperated by a Chelsea win. Arsenal host Wolves, who have been playing better of late and would love nothing more than to nick a point off the Londoners. Villa need points but so do Bolton and at the Reebok it will take something special from a suddenly defunct Villa side to get anything from the Trotters. Pompey will hope to come out of the Blackburn match with enough healthy bodies for the following week’s FA semi-final match with Spurs.
Stoke host Hull in a match that pits the two sophomore sides against one another, with Hull in desperate shape and Stoke comfortably in midtable. Fourth place hopefuls will be on the road as Spurs travel to Sunderland while City look to continue the misery of Burnley. The following day, Liverpool travel to St. Andrews, knowing that dropping points now could have disastrous consequences, but also knowing that the match is crunched inbetween a two-legged affair with Benfica, the side that undid Everton by a combined 7-0 in two group stage matches in the Europa League.
Fulham will host a desperate Wigan side, a side that knows full well that they can get three points from the Cottagers while they entertain themselves with European football. Everton will face an equally desperate West Ham side, one fraught with turmoil, in an attempt to crash the Champions League party late in the proceedings. Villa may be their last great hurdle to clear in terms of matches, and it isn’t out of the picture that they could win out and put some serious heat on the other European front runners.
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, Wolverhampton Wanderers