ToÂ write that there was late drama inÂ the Premier League this weekend simply wouldn’t be doing it justice. Two incredible games have ensured that this title race is turning into a classic with the most unlikely heroes. Elsewhere in England there were some crucial results at the bottom and in Europe Wolfsburg’s mauling of Bayern Munich continues to send shockwaves around the continent.
Federico Macheda, Cristiano Ronaldo & Sir Alex Ferguson
We may have to wait a few more weeks to ascertain just how crucial Federico Macheda’s wonderful curling effort will be on the title race, but at the current time it feels like one of the most crucial strikes of the season. The 17-year-old Italian has produced a debut that Roy of the Rovers may have blushed at, such was the quality of the goal, the importance andÂ itsÂ timing (three minutes into injury time), after United had ridden their luck against a spirited Villa side.
Macheda has announced himself to English football and the hype could now get out of hand, following 10 goals in 16 games for the reserves, including the hat-trick against Newcastle at the beginning of last week. (Incidentaly, this was featured on 101gg last TuesdayÂ and can be seen here.) As an aside we can also await a pronouncement from Michel Platini or Sepp Blatter who will no doubt question the signing of the Italian from Lazio, a practice the powers that be describe as “child trafficking” and transfers of players under 18 are likely to be banned in the coming months.
Most importantly, Sir Alex Ferguson has once again proved that his gut feeling is usually correct. Eyebrows were raised when a 17-year-old came on for Nani and this masterstroke has left United in pole position for the title. Cristiano Ronaldo could easily be forgotten here, but the Portuguese winger provided two fantastic goals and there is enough time left in this campaign for the Real Madrid bound attacker to sign off with a final flourish.
Nevertheless, the scrappy nature of this win means United haven’t won the league just yet and Liverpool’s belief and momentum could still see them win the Premier League.
Yossi Benayoun & Liverpool
It has long been argued that Liverpool only have two match winners, you know who they are, now Benayoun could be establishing himself as one thanks to another late winner after a fine Liverpool performance ground out a 1-0 win.
The Israeli winger should be credited with his cameo performance since he had endured a difficult week with his national team who gained just one point from two games with Greece and look unlikely to make next year’s World Cup. To make matters worse, Benayoun was stretchered off in the first game and only came on as a substitute in Crete.
Unlike many of Liverpool’s performances this season, a 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage would have been a travesty as they could and should have had the game wrapped up by half-time. The Merseyside giants played some excellent football and in particular the one-two chanceÂ created byÂ Gerrard and Torres that saw the Spaniard hit the post would have been an excellent goal.
Rafa Benitez’s side could ill afford to drop points on Saturday and the dramatic late winner will have only heightened the belief at Anfield that this is their year. If any more proof were needed that Liverpool can win the Premier League title, take a look at the last time they won the league and you will see that an Israeli played a prominant role in the run-in.
Current title odds: Manchester United 1/3, Liverpool 5/2, Chelsea 16/1 and Arsenal 150/1. (Bet here.)
This wasn’t vintige Chelsea, but the Blues faced a tough away game and picked up all three points. In particular Frank Lampard had an excellent game, wrongly booked in the first half, he went on to dictate the pace of the game and looked the most likely player on the pitch to score.
Anfield awaits and Benitez will not have missed the fact that Branislav Ivanovic played right back on Saturday, most likely in preparation for the first leg Champions League quarter final. Hiddink has the tactical nous to win over two legs against Chelsea but do many of the older players at the Bridge still have the legs to take on the in-form team in Europe? (Liverpool-Chelsea Champions League odds here.)
Cesc Fabregas & Emmanuel Adebayor
The two returning players combined for both goals against Manchester City as Arsenal cemented their Champions League spot. Adebayor produced two fine finishes and Fabregas a couple of excellent assists with the second in particular an exquisite ball.
It is easy to forget what an excellent squad the Gunners possess when they have a few injured players and they are really coming into form now with the returnees. Villareal on Tuesday will be no pushovers, they have proved that time and again in the Champions League, but Arsene Wenger’s side are playing as well as they have done this season, going into the most crucial games. (Villareal-Arsenal Champions League odds here.)
There were many who felt, including this author, that Gianfranco Zola was making an almighty mistake taking over at Upton Park. The diminutive Italian alongside Steve Clarke has produced one of the best footballing sides in the division and crucially has stayed loyal to the clubs roots by promoting from the Academy.
James Tomkins has established himself in the West Ham first team over the last month or so due to the injury to James Collins and looks like a real threat at set-pieces. Similarly, Junior Stanislas appears to be one of the hottest prospects in the division and after his recent hat-trick against Chelsea in the reserves was rightly rewarded with a place in the first XI.
The Hammers future looks safe in Zola’s hands and the likes of Tomkins, Stanislas, Sears, Nsereko and Jack Collison could ensure the future is bright despite what happens off the pitch.
There must be a few reasons why Sir Alex Ferguson recommended his fellow Scot as a potential successor at Old Trafford. Moyes has an incredible eye for a bargain in the transfer market. Brazilian striker Jo was a steal on loan from City, he has now claimed five in seven and Marouane Fellaini was one of the purchases of last summer. The Belgian with the afro is only 21 and if he can cut out the yellow cards could go on to be one of the best midfielders in Europe. Everton are now just a point behind Aston Villa.
The former Southampton striker was one of the signings of the season. For 2.5 million pounds, Stoke have been rewarded with six goals in ten games from Beattie and look almost certain to stay up, a fact which will be confirmed if they beat Newcastle next week.
A cracking goal sealed Real Madrid’s win at Malaga. Why has Maradona not picked Higuain yet for the Argentinean side? Such has been his form this season that one can only deduce that the versatile 21-year-old is too tall at 6.0ft to play with the likes of Messi, Tevez et al.
Keen followers of Serie A will know that the Chievo striker has been one of the most underrated players in Italy for a while now. He scored 22 goals in Serie B last season and has now scored six in his last four games. The Flying Donkeys should also be praised for their part in a terrific game with Juventus yesterday.
Felix Magath’s side produced one of the performances of the season. Despite the protestations from their coach, Wolfsburg look like the team most likely to win the Bundesliga this season thanks to probably the best strike force in Europe in Grafite and Edin Dzeko.
Wolfsburg literally tore into Bayern’s fragile defence to score four in 14 minutes in a mesmerising spell in the second half. Grafite’s second goal will go down as one of the best of the season but Dzeko’s second is a master class in finishing, the in-form Bosnian controlled with the left and then finished with his right.
Following eight consecutive wins and with an almost perfect home record (one draw and 12 wins), Wolfsburg could well be the shock winners of the German league when thoughts will turn to how they keep hold of their incredible strike force.
Martin Jol’s side keep humming along and claimed their fourth victory in a row againstÂ the free-falling Hoffenheim. The job the former Tottenham manager has put in at Hamburg will be put into perspective this week when they face Manchester City in the UEFA Cup and come up against Nigel De Jong and Vincent Kompany, who were both prised away from the club by the riches of Dubai.
Four points seperate the top five teams in France and this year there is no doubting that Lyon have a title challenge on their hands. The top five all won and finally, after so many years of waiting, the end of the season in France could be spectacular.
The Toon army are used to Messiah’s failing and it was clear on Saturday that even an in-form Alan Shearer from ten years ago might not have been able to save Newcastle. Quite simply, this current Newcastle team look like they are going down because most of their players are not good enough.
Only Steve Harper, Jonas GutierrezÂ and Nicky Butt could say they played well on Saturday and their were a number of woeful performances against a Chelsea side missing Didier Drogba who often makes the Blues a much harder team to play against.
Fabricio Coloccini made a horrible mistake for the first goal and the fact he has been an ever present this season means Newcastle’s current position should come as no surprise. Kevin Nolan was also anonymous and his departure looks like good business from Gary Megson.
Martins and Owen were also largely anonymous up front and look like a strike pairing who have scored just two goals between them this calendar year. The fact that Newcastle are relying on a striker past his best who is almost certain to leave at the end of the season says a lot about the way the club has been run in recent years.
Shearer wasn’t helped by other results on Saturday, five of the six teams above Newcastle all picked up something and with seven games to go, the next two away at Stoke and Spurs are two of the biggest games in the club’s recent history. Stoke can go eight points clear of Newcastle with a win next Saturday, the Messiah had better get to work.
(Newcastle are now evens to go down, Premier League relegation odds here.)
The real worry for Sunderland fans now is that if Shearer does manage to turn it round at the Toon, they are the team most likely to take the place of Newcastle in the bottom three. Ricky Sbragia bemoaned the defending and marking at set pieces against West Ham but in truth the Mackems hardly looked like scoring and it is now over 225 minutes since their last Premier League goal.
The next game against Manchester United at home has all the makings of a humdinger due to the situation at both ends of the table. But, for many, this will be a match marked by the absence of Roy Keane and questions will surely be asked whether the fiery Irishman should have been left to walk as he did earlier this season.
Boro are all but down and need a miracle of “Great Escape” proportions to stay in the Premier League. Of their seven remaining games they face Arsenal, Manchester United and Aston Villa having lost nine successive games away from home and have picked up just one win in their last 19 league games.
Will Steve Gibson be praised for great loyalty to his manager when Boro are playing Championship football?
The Baggies are down, it wasn’t embarassing like some teams in the Premier League but West Brom will probably do better next time they return, likely to be 2010/2011 if recent years are anything to go by.
Harry Redknapp was in a furious mood after the defeat at Blackburn but the late goals conceded by Spurs should have come as no surprise to anyone. Tottenham have now lost to all the teams below them in the league and yet incredibly have not been defeated by any of the “Big Four.”
The signing of Wilson Palacios has rightly been lauded as a fine piece of business by ‘Arry but the sending-off of the Honduran and subsequent collapse proves how little steel and fight there is in the rest of the team.
The hammering at Wolfsburg was the second time the Bavarian giants have conceded five in the Bundesliga this season and is a poor indictment on Jurgen Klinsmann. Not the best possible preparation for a trip to the best attacking side in Europe on Wednesday.
Two defeats in a row and now even a Champions League spot doesn’t seem that likely.
A side packed with talent are staring relegation in the face after a 3-0 home defeat to Marseille. Proof if any were needed that the curse of Damien Comolli lives on.