Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 12

When the scheduling gods wrote in a mid-November meeting between Manchester City and Newcastle, I'm pretty sure none of the high holies imagined it would be between the last two undefeated teams in the league sitting first and third in the standings. For City, it was first bookend to their busy week which has them going to Napoli on Tuesday for Champions League and then to Anfield to face Liverpool in League play on Sunday. For the Magpies this was their first real test of the season, the first in a two week period that will see them play City, United, and Chelsea consecutively. If either team lost it would mean nothing to the standings, both would retain their positions. Coming off an international break that saw most of the City starters in action for their respective country; Roberto Mancini had to wonder whether his team would continue their winning ways. The match started in typical fashion for both sides, lots of testing possessions trying to feel out the defense and determine a point of attack. Honestly, my time spent at the stove cooking brunch for my (Man City) party guests during the first half was probably a wise choice since few scoring chances were had. It wasn't until the whistle nearly blew for halftime that City caught a break off a Ryan Taylor handball in the box. Mario Balotelli, never one to just put the ball in the net, added a bit of flare to his penalty attempt pushing the shot in off his outside foot. With his arms crossed he gave a steely stare towards the goalie and Newcastle supports perhaps trying out for the starring role in Kazaam II (see picture above) if Shaq turns down the gig. Pouring salt on the wound, Micah Richards was able to pounce on another Ryan Taylor gaff and put the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead at the half. The restart offered little sign of life from Newcastle, both teams seemed almost content to play out the match and let the result stand. Richards had another opportunity inside the 18-yard box but was taken down yielding the stage to Sergio Aguero to finish off the PK and to give City the victory. Dan Gosling had a great finish in the 89th minute to keep Joe Hart from earning another clean sheet, but in the end it was all City in the 3-1 victory.

If you didn't catch the Swansea v Manchester United match this weekend, good news, it was the exact same match they played on October 29th, just change the home team from Everton to Swansea. In repeat fashion, Javier Hernandez scored in the first 20 minutes of the match and then United played defense for the next 70 minutes to secure the 1-0 victory on both occasions. Sure it's a road victory for the Red Devils, and 3 points in the win column is all that matters... unless they go to goal differential. All though United have managed 3 straight wins since they thumping by City at Old Trafford, all is not well for the East Manchester squad. In their last 5 Premier League matches they have scored just 1 goal in each match. 5 goals in 5 matches from the likes of Rooney, Hernandez, Nani, Welbeck and Young; that's not going to fly in this league. Sir Alex has to be counting his blessings that those 1-0 results didn't go the other way or the gap with their Manchester neighbors would have ballooned beyond the current 5 point spread.  It will be interesting to see if United feel their scoring woes are just a rut or a signal that some new blood (a la Wesley Snyder) is needed when the transfer window opens in January.

The other match of the weekend was Chelsea hosting Liverpool in what was the Blues chance of securing their spot in the top 3 and putting some space between them and the rest of the pack. Um, not so much. Perhaps John Terry was thinking more of harassing other players verbally than guarding the backline because his error allowed Maxi Rodriquez to draw first blood for Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge was able to pull one back after the break, this time off a lovely cross from Florent Malouda. Although it was defense that allowed the first goal for each team, it was impeccable ball handling and skillful shooting that decided the match. With the 90th minute fast approaching Glen Johnson gathered a drop shot from Charlie Adams into the box, avoided a driving Ashley Cole and put the ball in the corner of the net to give Liverpool the 1-2 victory. With the result, Liverpool sits just ahead of Chelsea on goal differential, both teams having earned 22 points through 12 matches leaving them each 12 points out of first place.

No change at the top of the table for now, but Tottenham have a chance to move into forth with a victory and +3 goal differential against Aston Villa this afternoon. Both Manchester squads put some additional space between them and the rest of the contenders. New to the bottom four is the plummeting Wolverhampton Wanderers who were sitting in the top 5 just two months ago. Oh how the Wolves find their way back to the basement every time. Here's a look at the top and bottom for this week.

1. Man City – 34 pts, +31 GD (11-1-0)
2. Man United – 29 pts, +17 GD (9-2-1)
3. Newcastle – 25 pts, +7 GD (7-4-1)
4. Chelsea – 22 pts, +8 GD (7-1-4)
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17. Wolverhampton – 11 pts, -7 GD (3-2-7)
18. Bolton – 9 pts, -10 GD (3-0-9)
19. Blackburn – 7 pts, -11 GD (1-4-7)
20. Wigan – 6 pts, -13 GD (1-3-8)

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