WHEW! Quite a few talking points as we look back on the 9 matches played and forward to the 10th match of round 31 of the Barclays Premier League. This weeks’ matches had most of us on the edges of our seats, the seat of our pants, and the balls of our feet at various points from whistle to whistle. The 7 matches on Saturday yielded a total of 27(!) goals with only two teams (Everton and Wigan) keeping clean sheets in a pair of 2-0 wins over West Brom and Stoke City respectively. Chelsea recorded their 6th away win of the season with a 4-2 victory at Villa Park that saw Fernando Torres add two assists and a goal to his season tally. Bolton Wanderers have continued meandering up the table with a crucial 3-2 away win at relegation rivals Wolves, taking them up to 16th in the table and grinding Wolves further down into the foot of the table. Mark Hughes and his QPR side recorded a rather surprising victory over in form Arsenal at Loftus road, halting the Gunners 6 game winning streak and bringing them equal on points (28) with Blackburn and Wigan, with Blackburn due to host the reigning champions later today. In the game that no one cared about apart from Fulham and Norwich fans of course, the Cottagers ran out 2-1 winners despite the Canaries pushing them hard for large portions of the match and in what may or may not have been a harbinger of things to come, Sunderland became the first team in 15 months to escape the Etihad stadium with a point having drawn 3-3- with Manchester City when they really should have won having been up 3-1 with only 7 minutes left on the clock.
Skip to Sunday and I was greeted upon waking with the news that Newcastle had beaten Liverpool 2-0, handing the Reds their ELEVENTH loss of the season and keeping pace with Chelsea on 53 points, just five behind a Tottenham side which had been struggling in recent weeks but rallied to beat an ever impressive Swansea side 3-1 at White Hart Lane.
This weekends’ fixtures threw us a slew of talking points with teammate to teammate clashes between the peoples favorite Citizen Mario Balotelli and the left back Aleksandar Kolarov, Ben Foster and Peter Odemwingie at West Brom, and Wolves goalkeeper Wayne Hennesy and captain centerback Roger Johnson. We also witnessed Fernando Torres cap another fine display with his first goal in the Premier League since netting against Swansea in early October against a Villa side who was still reeling from the recent news that their captain Stiliyan “Stan” Petrov has been diagnosed with acute Leukemia and will begin treatment today. Sunday saw the playing return of Andy Carroll to Newcastle where he continued his miserable run of form, dived like he’d been sniped from a nearby rooftop, and proceeded to swear as only an angry Englishman can at manager Kenny Dalglish as he stormed down the tunnel upon being substituted. Meanwhile Papiss Cisse, the man who inherited his #9 shirt and my vote for January signing of the season, netted a brace and took his tally to 7 goals in 7 games. More than Carroll has scored in 43 appearances for Liverpool since his big money move 14 months ago.
The spat between Balotelli and Kolarov came bubbled up when Balotelli and Kolarov both got it into their heads to take the same freekick. I have mixed feelings about this one. Mario had already scored and clearly fancied himself for what was clearly a right footed freekick. Kolarov DOES take the majority of freekicks but the angle was never on for a lefty really. People in the media will be quick as ever to slander Balotelli for throwing a bit of a tantrum but I think he was quite justified in staking his claim for that set piece. A fuming Balotelli later scored from open play and just 68 seconds after that Kolarov slapped one in too bringing the score level 3-3. Both get to be the hero. Disaster averted right? Not so sure. In his post match interview Roberto Mancini expressed his rather severe dissatisfaction with Balotelli, claiming he would have subbed the young striker off after 5 minutes despite the fact his second top striker netted a brace taking his league tally to 13 while the goal Kolarov scored was only his 2nd of the season. City seem to have lost the plot in recent weeks. As the season reaches its climax, Mancini’s men have looked increasingly out of their depth. Star performers of the early season David Silva and Sergio Aguero have largely gone off the boil and the squad doesn’t seem to be able to cope with that. Call it fatigue (City have largely used the same players week in and week out) or call it inexperience (City have largely used the same players week in and week out) or call it folly (City have largely used the same players week in and week out) but City have yet to realize that it takes more than just high wages and a few absurdly talented players to win a title, something that Sir Alex has known for some time now. If Roberto keeps his job over the summer after bottling this title run, he’ll have to learn from his mistakes. Whether he can rally the dressing room remains to be seen but I imagine that if United win today and go 5 points clear at Blackburn, City’s title hopes are juuust about done.
With that being said there is no guarantee that the red half of Manchester will emerge victorious today. Although United have scored the most goals, 75, and Rovers conceded the most, a staggering 62, football fans around know that its not always so simple. Blackburn have tightened up their leaky defense in recent weeks and with Wigan and QPR both winning this past weekend, are in danger of slipping back into the relegation zone. They’ll be fighting tooth and nail for every point from here on out and it promises to be an exciting encounter between table topping Manchester United and a recently reinvigorated Rovers side fueled in equal parts by desperation and desire.