Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 13

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Manchester City took their unbeaten league record on the road to Anfield on Sunday to take on a Liverpool team that was firing on all cylinders. After losing on Tuesday to Napoli in Champions League play, the Citizens and their supporters were a little leery of facing the likes of Suarez, Adam, and Kuyt on their home pitch where they haven't lost a match this season. Fans had hoped for a better showing than the last marquee match-up when City destroyed United at Old Trafford and that was indeed the case with what could rank in the top five matches for the season by year's end. Liverpool came out swinging early, pushing forward in a 4-4-2 that at times looked more like a 4-2-4, pressuring City with crisp passing and deep cuts inside the 18 yard box. For all of their pressuring, it was a Vincent Kompany header (more like a shoulder) off a corner kick by David Silva that pushed City into the lead in the 31st minute. Before the traveling City fans could finish singing "Blue Moon", Joleon Lescott mentally defecated in the backfield by deflecting a benign shot into the net. From that point forward it was on for both squads with attack after attack and great pace up and down the pitch. The teams came out of the halftime break with the same energy and determination to get the go ahead goal for their squad. Roberto Mancini, sensing the City attack was growing stale, decided to put in Mario Balotelli for Samir Nasri. Super Mario has been a scoring machine in recent weeks and Mancini must have had confidence that his young striker had matured enough to keep his head in this high pressure match. He was wrong. In just over 15 minutes of play Balotelli picked up a yellow card for a pulling down Glen Johnson, slipped inside the 18 yard box on a scoring chance, and then dropped an elbow on Martin Skrtel to earn a second yellow and early exit from the match. Liverpool knew they could get in the Italian's head, and they did it successfully. As he walked off the pitch Mancini gave a look to Balotelli that resembled that of a disappointed father. From there until the end it was all Liverpool and Joe Hart single-handedly keeping City alive. No less than 3 key saves in the final 10 minutes and it was City who were counting their blessings to walk away with the draw 1-1 and just 1 point from the match. For Liverpool it was a tremendous display and further justification for why they deserve to be in the top four this season.

Newcastle traveled to the west side of Manchester on Saturday to take on United after losing to City the previous weekend 3-1. Hoping to avoid the same fate as Tottenham did with the "Manchester Double" earlier in the season, Newcastle appeared to be content with holding the ball as much as possible and only pushing the issue when the opportunity presented itself. United, on the other hand, had pretty clear matching orders, fire at will and force Newcastle to make a mistake. To say United was attack minded would be an understatement considering they totaled 28 shots during the match, but only 7 of which were on target. After the half it was Chicharito with the go ahead goal for United pushing his league total to 6 and starting to look like the primary scoring option over Wayne Rooney. Even with the lead United continued to pummel Tim Krul, but the young goalkeeper for Newcastle kept his cool deflecting shots and directing the backline. The match was turned upside down in the 64th minute when Rio Fredinand for United clearly tackled a ball away from Necastle's Ben Arfa inside the 18 yard box. Neither player thought the tackle was more than just a clearance for a corner kick, but linesman John Flynn thought otherwise and awarded a penalty. Demba Ba switched up David De Gea on the penalty and drew the match even for the Magpies. The penalty almost invited open-season for hunting and tackling other players. Slide tackles, elbows, and pushing from both sides continued right up to the final whistle, but the defense for both sides held and each team earned a point in the 1-1 draw.

With both Manchester squads earning draws, the opportunity was there for Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham to make up points on the league leaders.  Chelsea hosted a Wolverhampton team that has fallen faster than a teenage girl for Justin Bieber. The Wolves can't seem to stop the bleeding and Saturday was no exception when they lost 3-0 at Stamford Bridge to further solidify their spot in the relegation zone. West Brom suffered a similar fate as they hosted Tottenham, the Spurs ended up on the top side of a 1-3 road victory. As for Arsenal, they could only squeeze out a draw at home with Fulham.

Just over a third of the way through the season and the top teams are shuffling for position with Tottenham jumping over Newcastle and Chelsea to move into 3rd. As for the bottom feeders, the end of the season can't get here quick enough so they can slide down a division and maybe start winning.

1. Man City – 35 pts, +31 GD (11-2-0)
2. Man United – 30 pts, +17 GD (9-3-1)
3. Tottenham – 28 pts, +10 GD (9-1-2)
4. Newcastle – 26 pts, +7 GD (7-5-1)
17. Wolverhampton – 11 pts, -10 GD (3-2-8)
18. Wigan – 9 pts, -12 GD (2-3-8)
19. Bolton – 9 pts, -12 GD (3-0-10)
20. Blackburn – 7 pts, -13 GD (1-4-8)


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