Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sobering Weekend for EPL Teams With Champions League Aspirations

Week Six of the EPL season provided huge insight into the main contenders and pretenders for the Premier League title.

Manchester City beat Chelsea in the first heavyweight bout of the season, while Arsenal amazingly slipped up against West Brom at the Emirates.

Liverpool's poor start to the season continued as Spurs lurched to defeat at West Ham in what is already looking like an incredibly inconsistent year ahead for Harry Redknapp's team.

Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea

The day kicked off with Manchester City's 1-0 win over Chelsea at the Eastlands Stadium.

The Pensioners, who before today’s result had gotten off to the best EPL start of all time, were second best for long periods and struggled to create anything of real substance.

That being said, the two teams were pretty even up until Carlos Tevez's superb strike from the edge of the box.

Bad defending by Ashley Cole and John Terry, combined with a great run off the ball by David Silva, was enough to let Tevez run unchallenged from the halfway line before tucking his shot away off the foot of the far post.

Frank Lampard was badly missing from Chelsea's engine room and without the English midfielder, they just did not provide any goal threat from midfield whatsoever.

Surprisingly, Didier Drogba also seemed to miss Lampard's influence as the Ivorian had a day he'll want to forget quickly.

City's tactics and Chelsea's lack of urgency contributed to reducing the Blues' attempts on goal to just four all afternoon. However, if they are to become genuine challengers to the title, Manchester City will have to be more ambitious going forward.

Ancellotti will have to pick up the pieces quickly as his team face Marseille in the Champions League midweek before they take on Arsenal next weekend.

Arsenal 2-3 West Brom

The biggest shock of the day came at Arsenal, where Roberto Di Matteo's West Bromwich Albion won for the first time in 27 years.

In truth, the score line was flattering on the Gunners, as they never got to grips with Peter Odemwinjie all afternoon.

The deadline day signing from Lokomotiv Moscow has been brilliant since moving to the Hawthorns and was almost untouchable today.

He was helped by a number of calamitous decisions by the haphazard Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal goal.

Many commentators have gone on record saying that Arsenal will not win the league with the Spanish 'keeper between the posts, and on today’s evidence it would seem that that is the case.

His shocking decision making and some shoddy defending by Koscielny led directly to West Brom's first half penalty, which Almunia made amends for by saving well down to his right.

It was to prove a false dawn, though, as the Baggies then raced into an unbelievable 3-0 lead.

Odemwinjie deservedly scored the first goal of the afternoon after Jerome Thomas raced away from a static Sagna to cross for the Uzbekistan-born Nigerian international.

Almunia then surely signed the death warrant on his Arsenal career by diverting an innocuous shot into the net when it seemed easier to pick it up before Thomas, having a fine day, scored the third after Almunia went for a walk and left his goal unattended.

Why he chose to chase Chris Brunt away from goal towards the touchline and leave his goal vulnerable is anyone’s guess, but it is fair to say that Arsene Wenger would have had words with him after the match.

Two late strikes from Samir Nasri made the score line look respectable but the manner of Arsenal's performance, Almunia's recklessness, and the sheer amount of mistakes the Gunners made will be of major concern to Wenger and anyone else who thinks they are credible title challengers.

In winning, Roberto DiMatteo seemed to take a leaf out of Steve Bruce's tactical manual and aimed many of their attacks at Gael Clichy.

Last week against Sunderland, he lost 23 of 29 challenges with Al-Muhammadi. This time around, Odemwinjie gave the French international another torrid time and helped set up the memorable victory.

West Ham 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Challenging for a position in the top four is already looking like impossibility for Harry Redknapp's blunt side, as they dropped another three points against a struggling side.

Spurs forced much of the game and a man-of-the-match type performance from the much-maligned English international goalkeeper, Rob Green, denied their London neighbours the win.

He pulled off a number of stunning saves from Rafael van der Vaart, Tom Huddlestone, and Robbie Keane, but the pick of the day saw him tipping Luka Modric's half-volley onto the crossbar.

Redknapp played Modric and van der Vaart together for the first time and on inspection they worked well together.

Tottenham created a huge number of chances and really should have been home and dry before Frederic Piquionne scored a brilliant headed goal from Mark Noble's corner.

The goal provided the first win of the season for Avram Grant's improving side.

Harry Redknapp obviously had one eye on next week's Champions League game with Dutch champions FC Twente and dropped a number of players.

It cost Spurs dearly. If the manager keeps rotating so much and does not find a cure to Tottenham strikers' lack of goal-scoring, then there is no chance that his side will finish in the Champions League positions this season.

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

Liverpool's disastrous start to the season continues as the pressure mounts on their new manager Roy Hodgson.

A brilliant piece of awareness, combined with the most ridiculous piece of play ever witnessed in football, gave Liverpool the lead after Michael Turner's lazy back-flicked free kick caught Simon Mignolet unawares in the Black Cats goal.

Torres raced onto the ball before passing to Dirk Kuyt, who opened the scoring.

Darren Bent then scored twice to put Sunderland ahead, the first from the penalty spot before a phenomenal diving header gave his team the lead.

Glen Johnson’s lazy defending and dreadful positioning allowed Bent to get on his blindside before the ex-Spurs striker powered home the second.

It was a prime example of the type of play Liverpool produced all afternoon, and at this early stage, it is looking like it will be a very long and hard winter at Anfield.

All the early optimism of a good season has been drained away. Off-field problems and rumours seem to be affecting Steven Gerrard despite three goals in two games, while many Liverpool fans are becoming concerned with Fernando Torres' lack of urgency.

It is plain to see that Hodgson thought this job would be easier, but having had two months to analyse the squad, it is fair to say that he is extremely concerned at the lack of depth at Anfield.

Given the obvious lack of ability shown by many Liverpool players, it is clear now that Liverpool will find it next to impossible to break back into the holy ground of the top four.

For Sunderland, Steve Bruce was obviously happy with another good performance from his team but complained bitterly about the first goal.

If anything, his comments show that interviewing managers after the match provides little sense from them but good copy for the media.

The moral of the Liverpool game was "always look behind you."

Glen Johnsen and Andy Turner will do well to remember it.

Bolton 2-2 Manchester United

Having seen all of their major rivals for the title drop points the pressure was on the Red Devils to produce a win away to Owen Coyle's battling Bolton.

Once again though the underdog came through as work rate and urgency overcame a team who thought they only had to turn up.

It had happened to Chelsea and Arsenal the day before and one would have thought that those results would have snapped Alex Ferguson and United into action but the truth was another story.

Bolton, for their part, led twice before being pegged back by Nani and Michael Owen respectively with the Portuguese being one of United's better performers on the day.

Wayne Rooney, once again, was a shadow of his former self and was replaced after an hour by Federico Macheda. The young Italian did more in his 29 minutes on the pitch and caused more problems for Bolton than Rooney had mustered all afternoon.

Typically for United, Dimitar Berbatov had an off day too. He has been in brilliant form since the start of the season but today was a day when he needed his co-striker to rediscover his form. Funny how the early season is shaping up to be a mirror image of last year.

Uniited's weak spot this year has once again proved to be centre midfield with both Giggs and Fletcher being replaced as Alex Ferguson tried to re-shape his team to protect Jonny Evans in defence. This season has seen teams targeting the young United defender to physical contests and todays battle with Kevin Davies was over before it even began.

All in all it was a dreadful weekend for the title challengers, who all dropped points, while Manchester City enhanced their top four credentials with a well deserved win over Chelsea.

Elsewhere, Birmingham and Wigan played out a 0-0 draw. It was a game with little to talk about other than Barry Ferguson's continued excellent form and importance for Alex McLeish's team while James Mccarthy also continues to impress for Wigan.

Blackburn beat Blackpool 2-1 thanks to a Brett Emerton goal in the 93rd minute. Fulham's impressive start to the season rolled on as Mark Hughes' side earned another draw with Everton who are sliding towards a season long battle with relegation.

Truly, it was the strangest of weekends for all the major teams with the best note being that their rivals all dropped points too.