Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 7

Courtsey of www.thesun.co.uk
I promised a friend that I wouldn't start of this week's MMK with any mention of the Manchester teams, so with the exception of my mention to mention I wasn't mentioning them, let's start off with Stoke City. The Potters have been looking like contenders for a top four finish in the early part of the season, showing excellent balance between their domestic schedule and their Europa League matches. On Sunday Stoke took their show to Wales to take on EPL newcomers Swansea City in what ended up being a bit of a stumble for the Potters. I have only seen two matches televised from Liberty Stadium, but from the looks of things it seems like packing 20,000 screaming fans into a closet and playing a match. The result is a lively atmosphere that usually pushes both teams to take chances and aggressively move the ball. Such was the case with Stoke in town as both teams played extremely tight possessions with hard and late tackles abound. The Swans got on the board in the 9th minute after Wayne Rutledge was taken down in the box and Scott Sinclair drilled home the penalty. Between that and the last 10 minutes of the match it was back and forth with both teams having chances, but mainly fighting to maintain possession in the middle third of the field. Swansea was able to put a one more in the back of the net in the 89th minute to maintain an undefeated record at home with the 2-0 victory. To say the match was "scrappy" is an understatement with the teams combining for 8 yellow cards with Stoke picking up 5 and lucky not to have seen red flashed during the match.

ESPN2 had the call for the Liverpool at Everton match on Saturday morning and the way Steve McManaman was talking you would think referee Martin Atkinson committed treason for issuing a red card to Everton's Jack Rodwell in the 23rd minute. The call was bad, Rodwell won the ball and at worst it was a foul, but for Macca to say Atkinson "throws cards around like they're confetti" is a bit of an overstatement. Atkinson has handed out 2 straight reds, 2 second yellows, and 20 yellows (2.86 per match) in 7 league matches so far this season so far this season. Compare that to Howard "The Duck" Webb who has handed out 27 yellows in just 5 league matches (5.40 per match) and you would have to say Atkinson is a teddy bear referee, relatively speaking. You can't blame Macca for feeling so passionate about the game, having grown up an Everton fan and then going on to play for Liverpool for 9 seasons, but he might have gone a little too far on railing on Atkinson. Everyone can agree that the match had a very different tone after the ejection, the boo-birds raining down at Goodison Park for every call in Liverpool's favor. What was lost in all of this was a terrific effort by USMNT/Everton keeper Tim Howard who stopped a penalty from Dirk Kuyt and kept the Toffees in the match until late in the match. Andy Carroll scored his first goal of the season in the 71st minute followed by "El Raton" Luis Suarez in the 82nd minute to give Liverpool the victory in the first Merseyside Derby of the season.

Can you keep a secret? Newcastle is one of the best teams in the league so far this season and no one seems to know about them. "The Professor" is a die-hard NUFC supporter and he has always said how there seems to be a "South England" bias when it comes to the matches shown on FSC and ESPN, and one would tend to agree. I am quick to point out that the majority of Brits live somewhere other than Newcastle and Sunderland so you could understand why the Southern teams get top billing on the coverage during the weekends. Newcastle hasn't been winning with a lot of flair, 3 out of 4 wins have been by just one goal, but they haven't lost and are earning points early in the season when they should be winning. They haven't faced the big squads yet, they have Tottenham at home next week, but they are playing good, steady ball with a squad that hasn't spent much in the transfer window. Newcastle's goal last season was to stay up in the premier league after being promoted; they did this with plenty of room to spare finishing in the middle of the table. This season the boys from the north-country will be setting their sights higher, perhaps on Europa League qualification. With just the league and domestic championships to deal with this season they have a lot less travel time and player strain than some of their neighbors at the top of the table.

Elsewhere in the league Arsenal fell at Tottenham on a 73rd minute "CRACKER" of a goal by Kyle Walker to hand the Spurs the 2-1 victory. Fulham chalked up their first win of the season by spanking QPR at home 6-0 with Andrew Johnson netting a hat trick and USMNT-er Clint Dempsey picking up a goal. Chelsea went up to the Reebok and laid the hurt on a depleted Bolton squad winning 1-5 with Frank Lampard picking up a hat trick. Cough, cough, Manchester United beat Norwich 2-0 while Man City won 0-4 at Blackburn to leave the teams tied at the top with just a one goal differential edge to United.

These soccer players take more breaks than my mechanic; it's time for another international break so no MMK next week so you can enjoy your Columbus Day Weekend. Here is a look at the top and bottom of the table going into the break.

1. Man United – 19 pts, +19 GD (6-1-0)
2. Man City – 19 pts, +18 GD (6-1-0)
3. Chelsea – 16 pts, +9 GD (5-1-1)
4. Newcastle – 15 pts, +5 GD (4-3-0)
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17. West Brom – 5 pts, -5 GD (0-4-2)
18. Wigan – 5 pts, -6 GD (1-1-4)
19. Blackburn – 4 pts, -9 GD (1-1-4)
20. Bolton – 3 pts, -12 GD (1-0-5)

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