Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 5

And now a direct quote from last week's Monday Morning Keeper: "Keep in mind that this 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." Looks like Manchester City proved this to be the case with an embarrassing draw at bottom-feeders Fulham; while Manchester United laid the hurt on Chelsea at home.

City appeared to be in control the entire first half, almost toying with the Fulham midfielder as they completed 20 passes in a row trying to find the right opportunity. There were a number of chances that should have been converted, but City was only able to manage one goal before the half. Mancini must have drawn up the first play of the second half on his palm because off the free kick, Aguero scored 10 seconds into the half making it 2-0 for the match. Zamora was able to show a bit of hope for Fulham as he snuck one pass Hart in the 55th minute.  Perhaps the key of the match was a move to bring on defense-minded Zabaleta for Silva who had been the star of the match with his always impressive midfield work. From that point forward it appeared that City was playing on their heels, trying to hold on to their one goal lead. It would all be for not as Murphy was able to get a lucky bounce off the leg of Kompany to deflect the shot in and draw the match even. A disappointment for City, one that Manchester United was well aware of as they kicked-off against Chelsea in the next match.

It was typical United fashion at home, fantastic ball control, great set pieces, and early scoring. Just 8 minutes into the match Small put the Red Devils up 1-0 followed 30 minutes later by a cracking shot by Nani with a celebratory back-flip to boot. Rooney capitalized on a late clearance error by Terry to send United into halftime with a 3-0 lead. Chelsea was able to come out of the gates early in the second as Torres scored in the 46th minute, but that's when things took an odd turn. Rooney stepped up to take a penalty kick after a Nani take-down in the box, approached the ball and slipped right on his arse. As the ball sprayed wide of the net, Rooney applied the old golf adage of "replacing your divot" and patched the turf at the scene of his demise. Later, Torres had faked out De Gea and had a wide open net, only to push the ball just wide to the near side. It didn't matter though, Chelsea had nothing for United and the Reds were able to see out the second half for the 3-1 victory. It seems both Manchester squads reacted differently to the first week of Champions League, but there is an important statistic to keep in mind. For the EPL matches immediately following each of the 6 group matches in Champions League, United is home while City is away, for ALL 6 MATCHES! Coupled with the fact that City is in the "Group of Death" and you have to give the advantage to United.

Perhaps the match of the season came on Saturday between two of the worst teams in the league thus far, Arsenal and Blackburn. Arsenal's players accounted for 5 goals on the day, but 2 of those were into their own net and Blackburn added 2 of their own to take the win 4-3. Maybe it's my bro-mance with Ian Darke that makes me love every match he calls, but "me thinks" that a match that ends 4-3 can't be half bad either. The scoring chances were scattered throughout the match with Arsenal's Gervinho taking the lead in the 10th minute only for Aiyegbeni to draw the Rovers even in the 25th minute. Areteta scored for Arsenal in the 34th minute and Song in the 50th minute let up an own goal to pull the teams even at 2-2. From there the Rovers rolled with a second goal from Aiyegbeni in the 59th and a defensive gaff by Koscielny to let up Arsenal's second own goal of the match. With the Rovers sitting pretty at 4-2 the Gunners fired at will attempting to get the match back to even. Chamakh helped Arsenal pull within 1 with a goal in the 85th minute, but Van Persie and the could not capitalize as the final whistle blew. The Gunners are not looking good with just 4 point after 5 matches, but Liverpool was in a very similar situation last season and managed a top 10 finish.

In other news from the weekend, Stoke City looked just awful as they were destroyed on the road by Sunderland 4-0. 3 first half goals for the Blackcats left the Potters reeling and trying to find an answer, one which never came as the team showed a little rust coming off their Europa League draw at Dynamo Kiev earlier in the week. Adebayor, on loan from City, lit up Liverpool for 2 goals as Tottenham cruised to a 4-0 victory at White Hart Lane. It didn't help the Reds' chances when referee Mark Clattenburg handed out a red card to Charlie Adam in the 28th minute and Martin Skrtel in the 63rd minute leaving them with just 9 players for the rest of the match. For the first time (and maybe the only time) this season, all 3 newly promoted teams scored victories: Bolton 1-2 Norwich, Swansea 3-0 West Brom, and Wolverhampton 0-3 QPR.

United puts some distance between themselves and City for the first time this season as Chelsea fall further out of the lead with the loss on the road. Newcastle, being one of only four teams without a loss, move into the 4th place in the standings. The bottom of the table saw a shake-up with all of the previous teams earning wins except for Fulham who earned a draw with City.

1. Man United – 15 pts, +17 GD (5-0-0)
2. Man City – 13 pts, +12 GD (4-1-0)
3. Chelsea – 10 pts, +2 GD (3-1-1)
4. Newcastle – 9 pts, +2 GD (2-3-0)
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17. Arsenal – 4 pts, -8 GD (1-1-3)
18. Fulham – 3 pts, -3 GD (0-3-2)
19. Bolton – 3 pts, -5 GD (1-0-4)
20. West Brom – 3 pts, -5 GD (1-0-4)

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