Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 27

Courtesy of REUTERS
If anyone thought this was still a three horse race for the EPL title, they were proven wrong this weekend as United went into White Hart Lane to show Tottenham they are pretenders and not contenders this season. In the marquee match up of the weekend, second place United was looking to keep pace with their Manchester neighbors by winning the match over the third place Hotspur and repeat the result they had in August with their domination at Old Trafford. Tottenham was fighting an uphill battle before the match even started with several players out of the starting line-up including Scott Parker, Gareth Bale, and Rafael van der Vaart do to injury or illness. Considering those players were all available when the them was thumped 3-0 by United earlier in the season, it was amazing to see the Spurs control position in the first half and have the majority of the scoring opportunities. It looked like Emmanuel Adebayor had put Tottenham ahead in the 38th minute, however referee Martin Atkinson ruled correctly that a hand was used to re-direct the ball before the goal. It appeared the Spurs had the clear advantage heading into the locker room at the half until Wayne Rooney headed a ball pass the keeper off a corner kick giving United 1-0 lead just before the whistle. At the restart Tottenham again looked in control, driving deep through the middle and working long crosses in from either sideline. But a gaff on defense left Nani open for United who crossed the ball into Ashley Young's path and he directed it home to increase the lead to 2-0 in the 60th minute. After that, the breath had been taken out of the Tottenham fans and players, it looked like they realized that was the goal that would end their title run hopes. Nine minutes later Young would fire a fantastic curling shot from outside the box pass the keeper and moved United up to 3-0. Jermaine Defeo's late game goal for Tottenham was little reward as the team had lost all drive and will to push for more once they went down 3-0. Amazingly enough United was able to hold Tottenham to 1 goal in their two matches this season while scoring six of their own, amazing stats against one of the toughest teams in the league.

Unlike United's battle of top three opponents, City faced the lowly bottom-feeders of the league Bolton who were simply holding on for survival and likely realized that City were unbeatable at home. The big story line from the match was not City's perfect 13 (and now 14) wins at home this season, but the poster child for what's awesome in the league, Mario Balotelli, and his latest antics. Apparently he was out in Liverpool in the wee hours of the morning before the match at a strip club, breaking the team curfew. Roberto Mancini stated in his post game interview that he had only found out about the incident just before the match and decided to stick with Balotelli in the starting line-up. A wise choice because Mario was on, firing at will, and nearly scoring on three separate occasions before the 19th minute when the first goal was a deflected own-goal by Bolton to give City the 1-0 lead. Still the pressure on the Bolton defense continued, but the timing was off for City on several scoring attempts, reminiscent of last year's team where they looked for the perfect shot too much. Although Balotelli appeared to be inches from scoring all day, it was a perfect pass from Adam Johnson that set Mario up for his goal in the 69th minute and gave City the 2-0 lead which they road out until the final whistle. There weren't many highlights for Bolton except that USMNT starter Tim Ream played the entire match and kept several of City's chances away from the keeper; great play and growth opportunity for the former RBNY player. For Balotelli he picked up his 11th goal of the EPL season and although he sits behind Sergio Aguero (16) and Edin Dzeko (13) in scoring for City he is the hottest player for the team, if he can only keep his head.

Other news from around the league. The dashing Chelsea coach, Andre Villas-Boas, was finally sacked by Blue owner Roman Abrmovich after several weeks of team meeting and discussions with the owner. The final dagger came on Saturday when Chelsea lost at West Brom 1-0 giving the Blues just one win in their last five league matches. The popular wager right now is for Real Madrid and former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho to return to the club at the end of the season, but knowing the tailspin the club is in "the great one" may not want to return to that mess. Elsewhere in the league Fulham put on a clinic against Wolverhampton, destroying the Wanderers 5-0 at Craven Cottage on a hat trick from Pavel Pogrebnyak and a deuce from Clint Dempsey. For Dempsey he now has 12 goals on the season and also picked up the lone goal for the USMNT in their 1-0 victory over Italy earlier in the week; he is playing at his peak right now.

The weeks are ticking down for teams at the top and bottom with just 11 matches to go in the season. Still plenty of time for those teams in the relegation zone to recover and the battle for third place and Champions League automatic birth will get interesting. Here is where we stand after 27 matches:

1. Man City - 66 pts, +50 GD (21-3-3)
2. Man United - 64 pts
3. Tottenham - 53 pts, +19 GD (16-5-6)
4. Arsenal - 49 pts, +17 GD (15-4-8)
17. Blackburn - 22 pts, -22 GD (5-7-15)
18. Wolverhampton - 22 pts, -26 GD (5-7-15)
19. Bolton - 20 pts, -27 GD (6-2-19)
20. Wigan - 20 pts, -29 GD (4-8-15)


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