To be fair, there is little doubt who had the worst weekend in the sporting world – that particular feat belongs to the England batsmen who mustered just 51 inÂ their secondÂ innings against the West Indies. But, this is a football blog and the likes of Rafa Benitez and Ryan Giggs can be pleased with their work this weekend. Whilst the big losers of the last few days would have to be Tony Adams, Emmanuel Eboue and Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The Welsh wizard underlined yet again the immense amount of quality in the United squad. If any more evidence were needed, the ball from Paul Scholes for the goal just showed how many match winners Sir Alex Ferguson has at his disposal.
Giggs has scored two goals this season, the other coming in a 1-1 draw at Celtic in the Champions League in November which secured a late point. The 35-year-old seems to be in a rich vein of form following his man of the match display against Chelsea in early January which was followed by an importantÂ cameo appearance in the win at Bolton. He also popped up with three assists in the 5-0 rout of West Bromwich Albion.
Besides the fact that there are major question marks over Liverpool’s title challenge, Manchester United just look way too strong for almost any team in the world bar Barcelona at the current time. Edwin van der Sar deserves enormous praise for their 13th consecutive clean sheet in the league but it is the strength of the squad at the disposal of Sir Alex Ferguson that is behind this incredible feat.
Before Liverpool play again in the league, United have home games against Fulham and Blackburn, it wouldÂ beÂ a major surprise if they let in a goal, never mind drop any points.
It has been so easy to criticise the Spanish waiter recently that this week we have to laud Benitez who tactically, just in the nick of time, got it spot on at Fratton Park. Like a top general using his troops where they can be most effective, Benitez used Kuyt, Alonso and Torres to do the most damage at the best possible time.
In particular, Dirk Kuyt was impressive, having a hand in the first and scoring the second from a tight angle whilstÂ Torres is now making it a specialty ofÂ his to score late winners. Along the same lines, one could also argue that Benitez did well to rest Yossi Benayoun for much of the early part of the season as the Israeli playmaker has become a key player for the Reds.
Quite simply, if Liverpool would have lost at Fratton Park, or even drawn, with the 3-4-3 formation (or was it 5-4-1?) the criticism directed at Benitez would have been deafening. Combine this with Liverpool’s form since the famous “rant,”Â the fact that Robbie Keane was sold at the beginning of the week, the FA Cup defeat at Goodison Park and for the first time Benitez’s position at Anfield could have been under real pressure.
As it is Liverpool are still very much in the title race and with this kind of resilience a title challenge now looks possible.
Another impressive away win at Ewood Park set a new club record. In a season where most of the Premier League can lose to any other team in the division, Martin O’Neill’s tactics have been spot on. The youth, pace and energy of James Milner, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor looks likely to achieve a Champions League spot and should keep Villa near the top of the table for many years to come.
David Moyes & Jo
David Moyes can spot a bargain and in Jo may have found just the right player at just the right time. The Toffees are only four points behind Arsenal and the FA Cup tie against Villa next Sunday could be a game to savour if the 3-2 at Goodison Park a few months ago is anything to go by.
A win at the Hawthorns hasn’t always been easy for WBA’s relegation rivals this season. To claim the victory when your manager is hospitalised is an even more impressive achievement.
The first goal Barca claimed against Sporting Gijon was a masterclass in counter-attacking. In addition, it has long been forgotten that two-goal hero Samuel Eto’o was very close to leaving the Nou Camp in the summer. The Cameroonian striker now has 24 goals in 26 games this season.
Last week, Bayern lost whilst Hoffenheim, Hamburg and Hertha Berlin all won. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side turned the tables this week, with only the “Village Team” registering a point. Munich were impressive in their victory over Borussia Dortmund and their clash against Hertha Berlin next week is looking tasty.
Ajax lost again, FC Twente drew and a resurgent PSV are 15 points behind. AZ Alkmaar claimed two wins during the past week and now have an 11 point lead at the top of the Eredivsie.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Inter Milan since the winter break but the 3-0 win at Lecce was crucial ahead of the derby game with AC Milan next weekend. Mourinho’s side could put the Rossoneri out the Scudetto race on Sunday and the Portuguese coach will fancy his chances in a run in against Claudio Ranieri’s Juve.
Not so long ago, the Ivorian was compared by his manager to arguably the greatest Brazilian footballer of all time, Garrincha. Now, Eboue is a laughing stock and it would be no exaggeration to claim that he is the least intelligent footballer in the Premier League.
There was some sympathy for Eboue when he was booed by his own fans in the home game against Wigan in December but Gooners will find it difficult to ever find affection for him again after his reckless sending off at White Hart Lane yesterday.
Ironically, Eboue was Arsenal’s most impressive performer early on against Spurs and was unlucky to have a goal disallowed. His comments after the game were equally revealing:Â “For the second booking, I touched him. I put my leg up because [Modric] had touched me before in front of the referee and he did not say anything. He kicked me when I tried to go forward and I put my leg up. The second card is normal, I accept it.”
Whilst he may not have agreed with the first yellow card, his behaviour after receiving the second is shocking. Who could blame Arsene Wenger now if he took Eboue off the pitch every time he received a booking. Eboue was only playing because Abou Diaby was suspended, once Arshavin is fit andÂ Fabregas and Walcott returnÂ it is difficult to see him playing for Arsenal again.
The Gunners have a run of winnable league games coming up (Sunderland (h), Fulham (h), West Brom (a), Blackburn (h)),Â time is running out to claim a Champions League place.
Big Tone is on his way from Fratton Park and the media are bemoaning another English managerial casualty. In truth though, Adams’ record at Pompey was a resignation note which Peter Storrie and Alexandre Gaydamak simply could not ignore.
It was most noticeable during Adams’ reign that his team played without the qualities that made him such a great competitor. Mistakes where common practice in recent weeks and whilst Liverpool did well on Saturday they were helped along the way by some schoolboy errors, most notably from Peter Crouch and Sylvain Distin.
There is only one Premier League game next weekend and Pompey’s home match against Manchester City is a must win before they travel to Stoke a week later. Whether any of Avram Grant, Alan Curbishley or Sven (!) are the right men for the job will be another intriguing sub plot to the relegation battle that just keeps on giving.
The statistics are damning as the Blues endure their worst home record since 2001. Chelsea look a shadow of the team that made the Champions League final last season and Michael Essien cannot return quick enough.
Luiz Felipe Scolari is unlikely to be in charge at the start of next season and this summer could see a major overhaul of the Chelsea playing staff. The Roman revolution is falling apart at the seams and Champions League football is now no longer a certainty next season.
Aston Villa go into the league game with Chelsea on February 21st as strong favourites.
At any other club or with any other chairman, Gareth Southgate would be out a job by now.
Defeat to Real Betis is always hard to stomach but now Sevilla have lost three of their last four Primera Division games and the chasing pack are closing in.
As rivals Roma storm up the Serie A table, Lazio are in freefall, it is now four consecutive defeats in Serie A.