Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 25

Courtesy of theglobeandmail.com
I promise this won't be just about the Manchester teams even though the EPL is starting to look more like La Liga with the top two teams pulling away from the pack (though still close to one-another). I had the chance to watch several matches on Saturday but due to travel I was forced to watch match casts and highlights for the Sunday games. I did however get to enjoy the Saturday morning offering from ESPN2 of Everton v Chelsea which may have been the best match of the entire weekend.

If you haven't been following the Toffees over the last two months you have been missing out on some excellent soccer. Since Landon Donavan joined the team on loan five weeks ago Everton has gone undefeated with a record of 2-0-3 for a total of nine points in five matches. Their record along the course of those matches is a perfect representation of how the season has gone for the team. The three draws were against Aston Villa, Blackburn, and Wigan but their two wins have been against league leaders Manchester City and on Saturday their latest victim was Chelsea. Everton grinds out points, they don't have the fire power of the bigger teams in the league; they have scored two goals four times and three goals twice in twenty-five matches this season. Saturday was a little different because the Toffees had the unusual advantage of scoring just five minutes into the match when Frank Lampard misplayed a ball and Steven Pienaar controlled the ball and fired it past an outstretched Petr Cech. With the early lead you would have expected Everton to put all eleven players behind the ball for the rest of the match, but not on this day. The Toffees continued to push the ball forward with Donovan patrolling the midfield and even firing a massive shot that ended up going straight at Cech. The half saw a frustrated Chelsea hit the locker room feeling slighted by the referee on a few several calls. Andre Villas-Boas, feeling the level of effort lacking from his team, subbed in Florent Malouda in an effort to offer more attacking opportunities. However it was Donovan who won a 50-50 with Ashley Cole and string a near perfect pass to Denis Stracqualursi who pushed the ball past Cech to give Everton the 2-0 lead which would stand. Since beating Manchester City in mid-December, Chelsea have only managed two victories and have been bleeding points as they now sit in fifth place. Everton has moved into the top ten and while Donovan heads back to the states after their FA Cup match this weekend, the Toffees have a head of steam heading into the end of the season.

Manchester United hosted Liverpool on Saturday in what was the first match for Luis Suarez at Old Trafford since he was found guilty of racial abuse of Patrice Evra during their match in the fall. With hope that Suarez had learned his lesson with an eight-match ban the teams lined up to shake hands and start the match. When Suarez got to Evra he pulled back his hand to which Evra then grabbed for and caused a bit of a stir before the match even kicked off. In my book it's just shear stupidity on Suarez's part, he set a tone for his team and provided motivation for United to beat up on Liverpool for his defiance. It was a fairly even match for much of the first half with the ball mostly kept in the midfield and only one real chance for United with a Ryan Giggs to Paul Scholes pass that was blocked away by Pepe Reina. At the half apparently Suarez's whining spilled into a pushing match in the tunnel as the teams headed to the locker room. Wayne Rooney decided to take the initiative in the second half with two goals in the first five minutes sealing the fate of Liverpool. Irony intervened when Suarez scored in the eightieth minute and nearly tied the match in stoppage time, but no luck. The Football Association reviewed all player's actions following the match and decided to sweep things under the rug and not hand out any more suspensions. For the moment the three points pushed United one clear of City in the standings with City left to play on Sunday.

Manchester City has had a shaky start to 2012 seeing their lead squeezed down to nothing and the wins on the road being their biggest problem. After losing at Everton two weeks ago the Citizens took their show on the road this time to Aston Villa to face a team who hadn't won at home since November; something that Roberto Mancini clearly savored. The first half was typical City, David Silva with deep runs in the midfield pushing the ball up to Sergio Aguero who fired at will but with all shots blocked or missed. Adam Johnson nearly scored just before the whistle firing a missile that passed for City keeper Shay Given but bounced off the post. Although City have scored sixty-four goals this season the amazing stat is that they have had sixteen shots bounce off the frame for non-goals. The second half got off to a slow start and Mancini nervously started pacing the sideline and reading his subs for the seventieth minute push to the end, but they weren't needed. A looper into the box by James Milner was headed back by Gareth Barry to a charging Joleon Lescott who slammed it home for the 1-0 lead. City maintained most of the possession in the rest of the half but Villa, having slept for most of the match, took stoppage time to fire away. It's amazing how Joe Hart can be untested for an entire match but then when called into duty in stoppage time he can provide some of the most incredible saves of the season. Such was the case when a late bullet fired at point-blank range by Darren Bent was saved but the fast, reaching hand of Hart to save the victory and the three points. For City they moved back two points clear of United and looking forward to two Europa League matches against FC Porto before hosting Blackburn in two weeks. Villa need to keep an eye on the standings as they are now just seven points clear of relegation, unthinkable even considering how poorly Villa have played recently.

As mentioned above, no matches next weekend due to the Champions League, Europa League, and FA Cup matches so get out there and shovel the driveway or mow the lawn depending on your geographical location. Here are the standings after 25 matches:

1. Man City - 60 pts, +45 GD (19-3-3)
2. Man United - 58 pts, +36 GD (18-4-3)
3. Tottenham - 53 pts, +24 GD (16-5-4)
4. Arsenal - 43 pts, +13 GD (13-4-8)
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17. Blackburn - 21 pts, -19 GD (5-6-14)
18. Wolverhampton - 21 pts, -21 GD (5-6-14)
19. Bolton - 20 pts, -22 GD (6-2-17)
20. Wigan - 19 pts, -27 GD (4-7-14)

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