Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

The Premier League came up trumps again, with some incredible games on Saturday, following a midweek full of drama. The seven-goal thriller at Old Trafford, Tottenham’s revival and Stoke’s win over Arsenal proved yet again just what a strong league it is.

Good Weekend

The relegation battle

This season it appears as if we will witness a title fight between Chelsea and Manchester United (again) and with a bit of luck Liverpool will stay the course. But whilst a three-horse race for the title and potentially an Aston Villa assault on the top four would set the pulses racing, it is very possible that over half the league will be fighting relegation.

Whatever Newcastle’s result tonight, there are now just six points seperating 20th position with seventh. Everton put two wins together (both through late goals), climbing to seventh but the Toffees remain only four points off the drop zone.

Perhaps it is due to Spurs’ revival but every team bar Sunderland in the bottom half of the table picked up points. There is no Derby County this season, one may be able to pinpoint some weaker teams in the division (Stoke, West Brom, Bolton etc…) but all of them have some quality and in most cases a lot of fight.

It could be an epic relegation battle come April and May.

Harry Redknapp

When the final whistle blew at White Hart Lane to cap another Spurs fightback, Harry Redknapp had still not even been manager of Spurs for a week. It is often said that the most important quality a manager needs is luck and Spurs were beneficiaries of this by the bucket load against Liverpool.

Rafa Benitez’s side dominated the first 45 minutes and in the 15 minutes following the break, the Reds had a number of chances that if they had been converted would surely have won the game. But Spurs under ‘Arry, at least in the first week, do not know when they are beaten. Juande Ramos claimed Darren Bent and Roman Pavlyuchenko couldn’t play together, yet they combined for the winner. Whilst David Bentley, who was average at times, had a hand in both goals.

The table now makes much more pleasent reading for Spurs fans. They might not be out the bottom three but there is no likelhood of them being cast adrift. A run of easier games should now see them push on and such is the nature of the league that a mid-table place is not so far off.

The real Harry Houdini was known for his daredevil escapes at the last moment, such is the nature of the revival by Redknapp, that it is unlikely Spurs will need until May to secure their Premier League status.

Stoke

All the headlines surrounding Stoke’s comfortable 2-1 win have centred around Arsenal but we shouldn’t forget just what an impressive result this is for Stoke. Half of their goals this season have come from Rory Delap’s throw-ins but for as long as teams are unable to defend this tactic, Tony Pulis’ side will continue to reap the benefits.

The Britannia Stadium is becoming a bit of a fortress with four wins at home for Stoke, if they can get something on the road, having gained just the one point at Anfield, they will have a good chance of staying up.

Chelsea

The Blues responded to their first home defeat in 86 games by scoring eight goals in demolitions of Hull and Sunderland. More than anything the quality of their football is a joy to watch and now they are top of the league it will be a brave man who bets against them.

Gary Megson

A very important victory for Bolton who had dropped to bottom of the table before the clash with Manchester City. It is so easy to criticise managers so this is the perfect time to praise Megson. The introduction of Ricardo Gardner was an inspired move, the left sided player scored the first and set up the second – if Wenger or Ferguson had made such a substiution…

Rubin Kazan

Fans in England will be amazed that the new Russian champions boast a strike force of Savo Milosevic and Sergei Rebrov. Yesterday they sealed the league with a 2-1 win over Sarturn Ramenskoye – a fitting way to mark their 50th anniversary.

Hoffenheim

The “Village team” are now top of the league, having won five games in a row, scoring 17 goals in the process. The clash away at Bayern Munich on December 5 is looking very tasty.

Hatem Ben Arfa

After getting into a strop last week when he was a substitute, the tempremental 21-year-old returned with a goal and two assists.

Xavi

Following his two-goal haul, one a cracking free-kick, the other a fine left-footed volley, the Barca schemer admitted “I couldn’t remember scoring twice in a game since the youth team days.” What a class act.

Bad Weekend

Arsenal

The defeat at Stoke could be as damaging as the infamous defeat at St. Andrews last season. Two goals came from the expected Rory Delap long throws and the Arsenal defence failed spectacularly. Add in injuries to Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor as well as the nonsensical Robin van Persie sending off and a Gunners title challenge now looks unlikely.

Defeats to Fulham, Hull and Stoke suggests this Arsenal side fail to really raise their game against the weaker sides in the division, something that may have contributed to the final minutes of the 4-4 with Spurs. And question marks have to be raised about Manuel Almunia, an average goalkeeper at best, who after being at fault for two of Spurs’ goals then failed to deal with Stoke’s direct game at the Britannia.

This now leaves a mouthwatering clash against Manchester United next Saturday afternoon and how Arsene Wenger’s side bounce back could shape their whole season. This is followed by league games against Aston Villa, Manchester City and Chelsea and November, which has started so badly for Arsenal, could be make or break, not just for claiming the title but also proving to Cesc Fabregas that the necessary quality is there for him to stay longer.

Sunderland

Since beating Newcastle the Mackems have now lost to Stoke and been hammered by Chelsea. Of all the teams in the bottom half of the table, Sunderland were the only team not to pick up a point in the past week and judging by the form of some of the teams around them, this is a bad time to be in freefall.

Roy Keane admitted that his team were “outclassed” and for the second season running question marks will be asked of the former Manchester United captain if they continue to struggle. Yet again, Keane has had a lot of money to spend in the summer and it is not abundantly clear that his team is making progress.

Before they travel to Manchester United at the beginning of September, Sunderland face Portsmouth, Blackburn, West Ham and Bolton in the league – these four games are crucial if Sunderland are to be lookign up the table rather than behind them.

Portsmouth

Chances were missed by Defoe and Crouch and Pompey hit the woodwork four times. Perhaps Tony Adams is not a “lucky” manager. There has been a nagging suspiscion that the fall guys of Harry Redknapp’s move would be his former club.

Pompey haven’t won since beating Stoke at the beginning of October and Adams faces a baptism of fire with upcoming games against Sunderland, West Ham and Hull. Before AC Milan come to town.

Rafa Benitez

The Spaniard is a sore loser. Benitez said following the game: “Perhaps Harry should be a little bit embarrassed. I agree with him that this was difficult to explain. If you analyse Tottenham’s last two games, it shows that in football you sometimes get a lot of luck.”

Presumably the Liverpool manager has forgotten the late victories his team have gained this season against Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Wigan.

German Denis

After scoring a hat-trick in midweek, the Argentinean striker ruined all his side’s hard work by heading into his own net with four minutes to go.