|Courtesy of Skysports.com|
Contrary to popular belief, "The Keeper" was not holding out for a new contract or a trade as part of the mid-season transfer window. In all honesty with Christmas and New Year's falling on weekends, Monday didn't lend itself well to blogging about the weekends matches, especially if I didn't watch any of them. Instead I spent the time with family, which is a rare occurrence with us spread out all over the country. Don't get me wrong, there was some soccer in my holidays. Santa brought me a nice selection of Manchester City swag including a garden gnome, calendar, and "Why Always Me" t-shirt so I can channel my inner Mario Balotelli. Besides, with the mix of mid-week games over the last several weeks it is hard to delineate the end of one week's worth of games and the start of the next. Anyway, enough about my excuses, let's get to the task at hand, Week 21 of the EPL and the second half of the season.
Let's get the big boys out of the way first, United hosted the lowly Bolton Wanderers while City traveled to Wigan. Neither of the Manchester squads have looked great in the last few weeks; United lost to Blackburn and Newcastle in back-to-back weeks while City drew at West Brom and lost at Sunderland. In addition City lost to United in Round 3 of the FA Cup and also fell 0-1 to Liverpool in the first leg of their Carling Cup match-up. No one expected Bolton to complete with United, it was rather a question of how many goals could the Red Devils score to cut into the goal differential of City. United simply forced their will on Bolton with maintaining possession, well played forward passes, and lots of shots at the keeper. After a shove in the box halfway through the first half, Wayne Rooney stepped up to take the penalty and for the second straight time his attempt was blocked. Bolton felt a bit of wind in their sails following the block by Adam Bogdan, but it was United who drew first blood just before the half with 97-year-old (actually 37) Paul Scholes knocked home a Rooney cross ball. The second saw more of the same for United, multiple shots on net that eventually led to goals by Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick to seal Bolton's fate with a 3-0 win. Bolton managed only one shot on goal for the match, United had 8 at the keeper; those number show why the gap between the top and bottom teams is so significant. United drew even in points with City through the weekend as the Blues had the only Monday match against Wigan at DW Stadium. Edin Dzeko was the recipient of an excellent free kick by David Silva to head the ball pass the keeper and give City the early lead in the 22nd minute, but that was it. The rest of the match saw more scoring chances for City, but they just could not convert especially with Sergio Aguero looking frustrated with the Wigan defenders. The lack of Vincent Kompany at mid-back for City, as he serves his suspension for a red card last match, meant that Joleon Lescott had to fill in the gaps. Wigan had a few chances, but only put Joe Hart to work twice in the second half with otherwise ordinary saves. For City the victory puts them 3 points clear of United in the table, still with a sizable nine goal differential advantage. But City have to keep an eye out for another team in their rear view mirror, one that has been coming on fast and strong.
Since Week 3 of the season, one team stands along with the best record in the EPL, the Tottenham Hotspur. After losing to both Manchester squads to open the season, they have rattled off a 14-4-1 record with their only loss coming on the road at Stoke City back in early December. Tottenham is not winning by simply scoring at will on their opponents either; their goal differential of 18 is almost half that of Manchester United's 32 and well short of City's 41. They don't have one stand-out striker, Emmanuel Adebayor who is on loan from City is leading the team with nine goals. No, Tottenham are grinding out wins in close matches with a fast-paced style of play that runs down their opponents and usually leads to late goals. Their defense has been one of the best in the league especially at home where they hadn't allowed a goal in almost 350 minutes of play. As one of the few teams talking very little about making moves during the transfer window, which remains open until the end of the month, Tottenham look to make a title push with the squad they have. With their eyes set on a share of the lead, the Spurs welcomed the hot-cold Wolverhampton Wolves to White Hart Lane. From the start it looked like the Wolves had nothing to offer their opponent, not surprising since Mick McCarthy's squad hadn't won since early December. However, the soccer gods always have a way changing things up and in this situation it came off a Steven Fletcher goal in the 22nd minute for the Wolves to send the Tottenham fans into panic mode. The Wolves took the lead into halftime, but Luka Modric came out from the locker room and fired a cannon from 20 yards out through a forest of Wolves players to draw the match even. Both teams had chances throughout the remainder of the match, but game finished in a tie and Tottenham fell two points behind United and 5 behind City by the end of the weekend.
Some of the other storylines from the last few weeks of the league include the battle for relegation with five teams (Wigan, Bolton, QPR, Blackburn, and Wolverhampton) sitting within three points of each other. Much like last season, the three relegated teams will likely be decided on the last week of the season, perhaps by goal differential if teams tie. The other big story is the transfer window with teams looking to "make it rain" cash as they try to stock up for their push to the end of the season. The biggest name likely to move might be Carlos Tevez finally leaving City for either Inter Milan, AC Milan, or Paris Saint-Germain.
So that's where we stand, 21 weeks into the season, let's take a look at the top and bottom of the table:
1. Man City - 51 pts, +41 GD (16-3-2)
2. Man United - 48 pts, +32 GD (15-3-3)
3. Tottenham - 46 pts, +18 GD (14-4-3)
4. Chelsea - 40 pts, +15 GD (12-4-5)
17. Blackburn - 17 pts, -12 GD (4-5-12)
18. Queens Park Rangers - 17 pts, -17 GD (4-5-12)
19. Bolton - 16 pts, -21 GD (5-1-15)
20. Wigan - 15 pts, -24 GD (3-6-12)