Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 4

Normally we start right off with a review of all things Manchester, as the title is almost down to a two team race already, but not today. Instead we take a brief moment to reflect on the events of September 11th and the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that day. I thought it was a class act that both matches played yesterday had a moment of silence before their start and several players wore black armbands in remembrance. Having watched the memorial services in the morning prior to the matches, I thought it was amazing how so many people around the world were touched by the events of September 11th. American reinsurance company Aon, sponsor of Manchester United's jersey, lost 176 employees when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed that day. The impact of that day reached around the world and as an American it is good to see that the world still stops to reflect even 10 years after those events. Now, on with the show!

If you remember back to last season many of the studio analysts and bloggers were saying that the title would be decided between Manchester United and Chelsea based on goal differential, both teams were going to dominate. At the end of the season they were half right with Man U winning the title in comfortable fashion 9 points clear of second place Chelsea. Those talking heads are at it again only replaced Chelsea with Manchester City. Both the Manchester squads are off to fantastic starts, United winning at Bolton 0-5 and City comfortably handling Wigan 3-0 at home. I can't help but wonder if we might have two teams with more than 90 points at the end of the season, something that hasn't happened yet in the Premier League. I'm sure there will be a stumble along the way; a loss at QPR, Norwich, or Swansea. Keep in mind that is the point in the season where things start to "even out" as the top clubs begin their Champions League campaigns leaving them a little more vulnerable. Both of the Manchester teams have deep benches and should be able to weather the schedule, but don't be surprised if we see a surprise loss or draw in the next few weeks from either club.

How 'bout them Potters? Stoke City could be the sleeper team of the season, but how long will it take for the rest of the league to take notice? Undefeated and currently sitting in fourth place, Stoke have done it by grinding out victories and making the most of their opportunities. Some could argue that their 1-0 victory over Liverpool on Saturday was a gift (Jonathan Walters scored on a penalty), but the call from the referee was correct on replay and Liverpool can only blame themselves. With the goal coming in the 21st minute, the rest of the match was an onslaught of attacks by Liverpool trying to get the equalizer. The greatest exchange came around the one hour mark where Liverpool had five shots on goal in 20 seconds leaving the keeper and backline scrambling to block every attempt. The shots continued from the likes of Suarez and others right up until the final whistle sounded. Keep in mind that Stoke, by virtue of the FA Cup final last season, have already played 2 rounds of Europa League matches winning all 4 matches and making it into the group stages. With the addition of Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios before the transfer deadline, Stoke are an even better team than when they started the season. The Potters travel to Dynamo Kiev on Thursday for their next Europa League match before heading to Sunderland on Sunday to continue EPL play.

The match of the weekend (insert sarcasm here) had to be Fulham hosting Blackburn on Sunday; the two worst teams in the league. Fox Soccer's Highlight show offered way too much of this match if they only showed a minute. Ruben Rochina scored for Blackburn in the 32nd minute which was answered by Bobby Zamora in the 38th minute. The rest of the time it was a clear display of why these two teams can't seem to get going this season. Enough scoring opportunities in the second half for each team, I could count them on one finger. Clint Dempsey has yet to find his form from last season, scoring just once in the first four matches. It wasn't more than a year and a half ago that Fulham was playing in the Europa League final, but rest assured they will find a way to right the ship. Blackburn, on the other hand, appears to already be settling into a long season of fending off relegation.

As mentioned earlier, Champions League and Europa League group stages both get underway this week so the "big boys" will have to use their substitutions wisely to ensure reserves for their league matches next weekend. Here is a look at the top and bottom of the table after 4 weeks.

1. Man United – 12 pts, +15 GD (4-0-0)
2. Man City – 12 pts, +12 GD (4-0-0)
3. Chelsea – 10 pts, +4 GD (3-1-0)
4. Stoke City – 8 pts, +2 GD (2-2-0)
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17. Norwich – 2 pts, -3 GD (0-2-2)
18. Fulham – 2 pts, -3 GD (0-2-2)
19. Swansea – 2 pts, -5 GD (0-2-2)
20. Blackburn – 1 pts, -4 GD (0-1-3)

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