Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

Manchester United hammered the first nail in Arsenal’s title coffin last weekend and yesterday Didier Drogba tormented the Gunners to leave us with an undoubted two-horse race in the Premier League. Liverpool’s bid for fourth (and perhaps even third) received a major boost this weekend.

Good Weekend

Didier Drogba: Chelsea returned to the top of the table with a comfortable win over Arsenal, led by Didier Drogba who simply loves facing the Gunners. The Ivorian bulldozer has now scored 12 goals in 10 starts (12 matches in total) against Arsene Wenger’s side and he simply brushed aside a brittle Arsenal defence all afternoon.

The 31-year-old scored two in November at the Emirates and could well have claimed a hat-trick at Stamford Bridge on Sunday with a late free-kick crashing against the bar. Besides Drogba, Chelsea were faultless at the back and soaked up Arsenal’s pretty patterns with ease.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side now face a tough trip to Goodison Park on Wednesday night and with Manchester United in fine fettle, even a draw at Everton could be costly. Increasingly, the clash with United at Old Trafford on April 3 looks like a title decider.

(Chelsea are 8/11 to win the league, Didier Drogba is 7/2 to be top goalscorer.)

Manchester United: The fact United hit five past a woeful Portsmouth side on Saturday does not tell us a great deal about the quest for a fourth successive title. Crucially, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have better goal difference than Chelsea after an incredible run that has seen them score 24 goals in their last seven matches.

There are some cracking games to come this month, including Aston Villa away on Wednesday, which is a rehearsal for the Carling Cup final. Next Tuesday, United travel to Milan to face the Rossoneri in the Champions League and there is also a tricky fixture at Everton to negotiate in the league.

(Manchester United are 13/8 to win the league, Wayne Rooney is 2/5 to be top goalscorer.)

Dirk Kuyt: The Merseyside derby was not pretty but once again Liverpool won out thanks to guts, commitment and a will to win that their opponents cannot live with even with a man advantage. Once again, embodying all those qualities was Dirk Kuyt who scored the winner (his 50th goal for Liverpool) with a typical piece of harassing that unsettled Everton and in particular Tim Howard.

The weekend was made even sweeter for Liverpool with Manchester City losing at Hull and Spurs and Villa drawing 0-0. A tough test awaits at the Emirates on Wednesday night but Rafa Benitez appears to have turned things round and with no goals conceded in their last four games there is a familiar solidity to Liverpool again.

(Liverpool are 6/4 to finish in the top four.)

Hull City: A week ago it looked a foregone conclusion that the Tigers were heading to the Championship and would endure another second half of a Premier League season similar to 2008/2009. Instead Phil Brown’s side produced two excellent performances to pick up a point off Chelsea and then see off Manchester City.

Terrific goals from Jozy Altidore and George Boateng secured the victory but it was another performance of terrific work rate and desire. Tom Crainey appears to be a real find for the cash strapped Tigers and if they can get Jimmy Bullard back on the pitch soon, another unlikely season in the Premier League is entirely possible.

(Hull are 7/5 to be relegated.)

Kevin Phillips: The 36-year-old striker took his tally to three for the season with a demonstration of what a deadly finisher he can be when coming off the bench.

Brian Laws: A first win for the unfancied manager in his fifth game in charge lifted Burnley to 15th in the table and they are another side who have been written off but could well surprise a few people. Laws should also take credit as new signing Daniel Fox chipped in with a goal and an assist.

(Burnley are EVS to be relegated.)

Jose Mourinho: As almost always seems to be the case, Inter Milan were the big winners in Serie A this weekend thanks to their 3-0 home win over Cagliari. Their lead at the top of the table now stands at eight points and with the Scudetto all but in the bag, the Champions League clash with Chelsea takes on major importance for the Special One and the Nerazzurri.

(Inter Milan are 1/10 to win the Scudetto.)

Roma: The win at Fiorentina took them up to second, two points ahead of third placed AC Milan. Claudio Ranieri is performing miracles in the Italian capital, Roma have won eight successive matches in all competitions and haven’t lost in 19 games.

(Roma are 1/4 to finish in the top three.)

Antonio Di Natale: The veteran Udinese striker claimed a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Napoli. Di Natale (pictured) is the top goal scorer in Italy with 16 goals.

(Di Natale is 13/8 to win the Italian golden boot.)

Kaka: The Brazilian Galactico scored his first goal in the Spanish La Liga for three months.

(Real Madrid are 14/5 to win La Liga.)

Barcelona: Won again, despite being down to ten men for much of the match. Lionel Messi’s opener was a class finish and forget the fact they haven’t lost in the league all season, they haven’t even been behind in a La Liga match.

(Barcelona are 2/5 to win La Liga.)

Bayern Munich: The only team in the top five of the German Bundesliga to win this weekend. Louis van Gaal’s side are currently in a brilliant spell of form, unbeaten in 14 matches and have won their last eight games. The icing on the cake was the goal scoring return of Franck Ribery but Daniel van Buyten and Arjen Robben once again stole the show.

(Bayern are 2/5 to win the Bundesliga.)

Grenoble: Ligue 1’s bottom side stunned Auxerre with a 5-0 home win that was only Grenoble’s second victory of the league season.

Matt Derbyshire: The former Blackburn striker now has three goals in two games for Olympiakos. Does Fabio Capello know he exists?

Bad Weekend

Arsene Wenger: For the second week in succession Arsenal looked sloppy in defence and short of a cutting edge up front. The Chelsea second goal caught the Gunners on the break just as Manchester United did last week and this must be particularly galling for Wenger who previously used to watch his Arsenal side destroy teams in a similar manner.

There is much to blame Wenger for despite the fact calls for his departure from the Emirates are way too premature when one considers what he has brought to Arsenal and English football. It should not be lost on anyone that Drogba came from France and for all “The Professor’s” famed scouting, he missed out on one of the best strikers to emerge in Ligue 1 and the Ivorian has come back to haunt Arsenal on numerous occasions.

Returning to this season, Wenger has paid the price for not investing in a target striker to replace Robin van Persie. Arsenal’s title rivals have sat deep on successive weeks and sucked up the Gunners football which has little end product. Nowhere was this more evident than all the crosses lumped into the Chelsea box that never looked like being converted by the smurfs in red.

With the attack failing to function, the Arsenal defence was woeful in their attempts at marking John Terry and Didier Drogba for the first goal and there was a sense of inevitability about the second goal with no Arsenal defender strong enough to stop the Ivorian. In particular, Gael Clichy had a mare and the French full back is symptomatic of Wenger’s faith in certain players not being repaid as Arsenal fans watch the same matches over and over again.

(Arsenal are 7/2 to finish in the top two.)

Roberto Mancini: Mark Hughes was sacked for less. Mancini has now presided over three defeats as Manchester City boss whilst his predecessor only lost two games in 2009/2010.

The dapper Italian, already a darling of the English media has tasted defeat at Everton, Manchester United and Hull. Besides the first leg Carling Cup semi-final win over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, Mancini has not overseen a win over a decent team.

Also worrying for Mancini was the poor performance from Patrick Vieira at the KC Stadium. Upcoming matches against Bolton, Stoke (twice, in the Premier League and FA Cup) all need to end in wins before a testing run against Liverpool (h), Chelsea (a) and Tottenham (h).

(Manchester City are 7/4 to finish in the top four.)

Portsmouth: Three own goals at Old Trafford sums up their season. Pompey have now claimed five points away from home in the league which looks likely to equal the number of owners they have collected in a season. A win against Sunderland tomorrow night is an absolute must.

(Pompey are 1/5 to be relegated.)

West Ham: A disappointing defeat at Burnley has left the Hammers in the relegation zone. New owners David Sullivan and David Gold have not brought the results on the pitch and Gianfranco Zola needs a win to boost confidence.

(West Ham are 4/1 to be relegated.)

Sunderland: Now without a Premier League win in 12 games. Sunderland are in freefall.

(Sunderland are 9/1 to be relegated.)

Discipline in Spain: An incredible 59 yellow cards and nine reds were handed out in Spain over the weekend.

AC Milan: Just weeks ago it looked like the Rossoneri would challenge Inter for the title, since their 2-0 defeat to their rivals from the San Siro, Leonardo’s side have failed to win in three matches. David Beckham played just ten minutes as a substitute for the Rossoneri yesterday with new signing Amantino Mancini preferred on the right.

(AC Milan are 1/4 to finish in the top three.)

Juventus: Still no victory for new coach Alberto Zaccheroni, the “Old Lady” are now seventh in Serie A, three points off a Champions League position.

(Juventus are 2/1 to finish in the top three.)

Bordeaux: Laurent Blanc may well be the new darling coach of the European press but his Bordeaux side only hold a three point lead after a disappointing defeat at Rennes.

(Bordeaux are 1/2 to win Ligue 1.)

Steve McClaren: FC Twente’s 3-0 defeat at Ajax leaves them playing catch up to leaders PSV and with only a six point lead over the Amsterdam giants.

(FC Twente are 14/5 to win the Eredivisie.)

Hertha Berlin: Lost again at Werder Bremen, Hertha have picked up just 11 points all season.