Send the children to their grandparents, put the dog in the garden, take the phone off the hook, and lend the wife your credit card for the afternoon. Massive. We’re about to see just how real Tottenham’s title-challenge is.
Refresh to update…
Goal Manchester City.
Mario Balotelli picks himself up after being brought down under Ledley King’s challenge. Howard Webb gets it spot on.
The Italian strokes it past Brad Friedel to preserve City’s 100% record at the Etihad.
Penalty Manchester City
Oh what a chance…
Stefan Savic with another howler, dispossessed by Gareth Bale who races into the box and squares for Jermain Defoe who can’t quite reach it. Think Gascoigne Euro 1996.
Four mins of added time added by Howard Webb
Steven Pienaar on for Aaron Lennon.
Mario Balotelli is a little lucky to be on the field. He and Scott Parker clash after the Englishman blocks his shot, and the Italian has a little nibble with his boot. Intent was there, contact – thankfully – was not.
Excellent defending from Joleon Lescott. Jermain Defoe cuts around him from a long ball, and the England defender sticks out a leg to – carefully – end the danger.
Spurs look the more likely. Bale terrorises Micah Richards and delivers to the far post, Gael Clichy cutting out infront of Jermain Defoe though.
City look shell-shocked… very, very quiet Etihad Stadium at the moment.
Van der Vaart does get hooked, but for Jake Livermore. 67 minutes gone.
Oooooooooh Goal! Tottenham (Bale)
Game on its head, via an absolutely stunning strike from Gareth Bale. Aaron Lennon cuts the ball in off the left, slides it into Bale on the corner of the box. Curved in over Hart from 20 yds.
Rafa Van der Vaart is starting to look very leggy. Change probably imminent. Pavlyuchenko the most likely.
Or maybe not…
Goal – Tottenham (Defoe)
Massive, massive errors from Savic and Joe Hart. A loose back-header gives commits the City keeper into no-man’s land. Defoe tucks the ball around the keeper and slots home. Neat finish.
Goal Manchester City – Lescott.
Typical, typical Tottenham. Self-destructing from a corner, flicked on at the near post for Lescott to poke home from under the crossbar.
City close to adding a second. David Silva – again – teasing Kyle Walker and sliding the ball across the goaline. Cut out by Kaboul.
Goal – Manchester City (Nasri)
What a pass from David Silva, gutting the Spurs defence – and Nasri hooks the ball into the top left hand corner past Friedel.
Tottenham now rising to 5.00, City 2.20.
That’s why James Milner gets picked. Fantastic last-ditch tackle on Gareth Bale as the winger advanced on the City box.
Lovely counter-attack from Spurs. Defoe collects an outball from VdV, exchanges passes with the advancing Kyle Walker, and tees up the Dutchman – who fires into the Spurs fans.
Good early pressure from City. Aguero/Silva prominent/drifting. Corner.
Right, second half – I’m ready for you now. Tea, Nicotine lozenge, cornflakes? Check, check, check.
Very, very even – with City probably looking the more menacing. Spurs have defended well though, and the hosts definitely look a little disjointed without Yaya Toure
Proper tackle from Scott Parker on Micah Richards. The crowd howls, but Webb gives nothing. Put that imaginary card away Roberto.
Edin Dzeko – remembering that he’s actually playing in this game – swivels on the edge of the box and fires into the stands. Not tremendous.
City aren’t a side that need momentum though, enough quality on the pitch to damage anybody at anytime. Spurs beware.
…Which Younes Kaboul puts into orbit.
Terrifying moment for Joleon Lescott. Bale runs at him, last man to beat – Lescott closes his eyes and hopes for the best. Foul. Free-kick Tottenham – 20yds out.
This is as even a game as i’ve seen at the Etihad this season so far.
Oh, Aguero should score…
Played in by Micah Richards’ raid down the left, cuts it inside for the Argentine – only for him to smash it straight into Friedel’s body.
Good goalkeeping. City at their intricate best – ball played in behind Spurs. Friedel gets his creaking joints moving to smother though.
Tottenham still at 4.00
City now raising to 2.00 for the win.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto has started really poorly. Profligate in possession, defensively unaware. Needs to settle down.
What a chance. Silva escapes down the left, gets to the byline and cuts the ball back for Aguero. Who has his effort blocked by Dzeko. Shades of Wigan.
Spurs’ problem in a nutshell. Ball played forward to Defoe, surrounded by three City defenders and crowded out.
First chance. Aguero gets a bit of space in the corridor, escapes the lunge of Scott Parker, and drives at goal. Deflected wide.
“oh Ledley, Ledley, he’s only got one knee, he’s better than John Terry”. Tottenham fans audible.
Moronic yellow card for Gael Clichy. Gets himself in the way of a throw-in, and now has eighty minutes against Lennon/Walker on a booking
Latest odds. City 1.90 Spurs 4.00 Draw 3.30
Tottenham are playing to be fair, no signs of being intimidated by the occasion. Good game.
First attack for City: neat interchange between Clichy, Silva, and Barry, but it peters out for goalkick.
Gareth Bale looks to be playing more centrally. Not a fan, he’s most effect on the touchline.
Players in the tunnel. Here we go. Keys? 1 – City’s midfield three handling Modric. 2. Younes Kaboul and Ledley King subduing Sergio Aguero. 3. Scott Parker vs David Silva.
I do like Graeme Souness as a pundit. Unbiased, agendaless, and yet opinionated.
The referee is Howard Webb by the way, he of the occasional mystifying decision.
Tottenham have actually been done a huge favour by Chelsea and Liverpool; Spurs can actually afford to lose this and still have a stranglehold on third place.
I don’t like Jermain Defoe up there by himself – he doesn’t influence the play as much as Adebayor. An unavoidable problem for Spurs, but problem none the less.
Ledley King is fit to start for and captain Tottenham
Savic is the weak link for me – he’s a world a way from providing the security and assurance that his absent captain does.
As thought, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko are starting for City, Micah Richards is fit, and Stefan Savic partners Lescott.
Interesting point on Sunday Supplement this morning; Tottenham’s ‘a point will do’ attitude towards today’s fixture is a symptom of the embedded negativity in the club. Hopefully the players will put that right today though, City are there for the taking at the moment.
We’ll get to Arsenal/United later – but just for the record I’m going for a Manchester double this afternoon.
So welcome to another pulsating weekend of Premier League… Oh. Oh no. It’s an FA Cup weekend.
I don’t know when I stopped being interested in the FA Cup, but I imagine it would have been at around the same time that I was able to see through rhetoric of romance and excitement that we get smothered with at this time of year.
Take the obvious points out of this; the FA Cup doesn’t suffer in my mind because of the growth in importance of the Champions League and contest to qualify for it, moreover I just don’t enjoy the footballing experience that the ‘world’s oldest cup competition’ offers.
The manner in which football is packaged on the terrestrial television channels in this country is dreadful. Either I have irritating ‘everyman’ Adrian Chiles asking purposely obvious questions to bland pundits, or I put up with the sycophantic mateyness of the BBC studio. Sophie’s Choice.
Then the commentary, with each microphone man’s tone of voice betraying just how desperate they are to see a ‘big’ side fall flat on their arse. The hyperbole, the monologues, the cliches – it’s relentlessly dull. I wouldn’t reject the competition quite so wholeheartedly if its significance wasn’t rammed down my throat with such force every year. Yes, I get it; it’s old, it has a lot of history, every now and again a big team beats a little one. Whatever.
But it doesn’t actually stop with the football; if just one year could go by without The Sun publishing one of their ‘look how little this dustman from Nowhere Town earns in comparison to the kit man at the big Premier League monolith’ graphics, then you’d see my apathy half itself.
Call me a killjoy if you like, but it’s a lesser brand of the game. The pitches are worse, the balls are invariably slightly strange, the presentation is inferior, and the whole exercise is templated within an inch of its life – the same interviews with the same ‘characters’ on the same subjects.
There’s been lots of conjecture as to the future of the Football League Show today, with the BBC seemingly under the impression that everything below the Premier League has gone into hibernation until the 14th of January. According to the broadcaster, the decision for the Boxing Day and New Year versions of the show to be withdrawn was ‘budgetary’ – which should give you some kind of indication as to the priorities up at White City.
Just a couple of thoughts before getting on to Match of the Day. On the basis that this decision is probably predicated on disappointing viewing figures, would it not be sensible to move the Football League Show to a Sunday morning slot? Depending on the length and start time of MOTD, fans of lower league clubs are having to frequently wait until after midnight for their team’s highlights – it can’t help. Maybe the BBC could give the show it’s own identity, rather than tacking it onto the back of a product that it already struggles to compete with?
This raises another question though, and that’s the long-term future of Match of the Day. Combine the internet, the various goal apps, Sky Sports, and illegal streaming, and how much demand is actually left for a watered-down highlights show on a Saturday night?
If you narrow those fields down just to include Sky’s Goals on Sunday and the BBC’s MOTD, that’s not a particularly flattering comparison. Ben Shepherd and Chris Kamara are always supported by guests who complement the action; managers, players, ex-professionals etc. It’s of better quality, it’s at a time that doesn’t obstruct your social life, and you don’t have to tolerate the half-arsed punditry of Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, or Mark Lawrenson.
The way the BBC presents football is almost apologetic. The coverage is watered-down to almost a self-parodying level – “yes I know it’s just a game of football, but it’s important to us”. It’s as if the target audience is intended to be housewives who can’t work the TV guide rather than actual fans of the game. It’s irritating.
If you’re not someone that can be bothered to sit through highlights, and is more of red cards/goals/serious-injury type of fan, then you’re now able to have seen all of that before 7pm. There’s a wide range of internet sites that exploit the grey areas that exist in the foreign broadcasting regulations, and they give you the highlights on your own terms – no Motson, no running-order, no ‘Dad jokes’ from Lawrenson and Lineker.
The BBC may like to think of the Match of the Day brand as a leading light of their channels, but in truth football is no longer something that the broadcaster does particularly well. I think where once fans would have been mortified at the prospect of it disappearing from their screens, now there exists a much more apathetic attitude towards the prospect. Alternatives to MOTD have sprung-up and grown with the demand for the Premier League product, and the original has neglected to modify its format or its approach to counter that.
So then the obvious question; for how long does the BBC continue to pay the huge salaries that exist on the Saturday night sofas? Or, more importantly, how long does the license-payer tolerate that expense?
Blackburn’s defensive performance at Anfield
While Kenny Dalglish curses the profligacy of his misfiring team, credit where it’s due to Blackburn. Ravaged by injury, populated by teenagers, and rock-bottom of the league – a recipe for a hammering at one of the biggest grounds at the country? Not so.
Given the lack of experienced Premier League pedigree that Steve Kean has at his disposal, surely the much-maligned Scot deserves to take some credit for instilling within the players he does have enough desire to rage against the odds.
Blackburn are were they are in the league because of a lack of resources and the deception of their owners, conversely, the effort and determination of their players on Boxing Day was a credit to the club. Adam Henley, Grant Hanley, Jason Lowe, reserve goalkeeper Mark Bunn – Steve Kean has to be praised for equipping these players with enough belief to withstand the onslaught they faced on Monday.
What the fans who so shamefully abuse Kean might have to wake up to, is that while they may not like the manager, the players seem willing to play for him. Similarly, maybe they also need to recognise that they are part of the problem at Ewood Park.
Howard Webb’s penalty decision in Sunderland/Everton
Another game altered by another ridiculous refereeing decision. Those who cling to the ‘objectivity’ of an officials role need look no further than the Stadium of Light on Monday, because it’s an example of an ‘error’ rather than a ‘difference in opinion’. It’s not a penalty, it’s a farce.
How much longer must we wait before technology finally banishes this kind of absurdity from the sport? Maybe when the sport was amateur this kind of thing was acceptable, but not now, not with so much riding on each individual game. Fixtures should never be decided by referees, but the last few weeks has seen a flurry of games taken out of the hands of the teams by the official.
It’s just time, debating injustices has become utterly tedious – the game needs to catch up with every other major sport and embrace the assistance on offer rather than arrogantly dismissing it.
Honourable mention to Phil Dowd by the way.
It’s one of those issues that is truly divisive, and there don’t seem to be many fence-sitters regarding Liverpool’s support of Luis Suarez at Wigan on Wednesday night.
I understand Kenny Dalglish’s desire to support his player, much as I do the Liverpool players’ unity in the face of adversity – but this was the wrong gesture at the wrong time. Liverpool, as a club, are and always will be bigger than an individual player, yet the decision to warm-up in those T-shirts almost created a question mark against the club as a whole rather than just against Suarez. Obviously that’s just a perception, but it shows how poorly thought-out this public relations exercise really was.
On what grounds were the rest of the squad convinced that such solidarity was a good idea? Presumably because they ‘know’ and ‘like’ Luis Suarez, and think that he ‘isn’t a racist’. Well, I don’t think anybody really thinks that the Uruguayan is actually a racist – he’s charged with making racially-inappropriate comments. He can be innocent of one and guilty of the other – and remember, all the Liverpool players have already admitted to not having heard the exchange between Evra and Suarez.
The FA’s penalty may well seem harsh to Liverpool, and that’s presumably because there remains so much uncertainty about what actually happened in that Anfield penalty area – but then equally, if that grey area does exist, how can Liverpool make such a definitive statement about the player’s innocence.
What will happen if something else comes out of this; a previously unheard detail that further incriminates Suarez? If the published judgement further stains the South American’s character, how do Liverpool back-track through Dalglish comments and those T-shirts? Wouldn’t the club then face the embarrassing reality of forever being tied to this incident?
This has all become too tribal. Liverpool fans think Suarez is being harshly-treated, most others disagree. That’s fine, because that’s the nature of the support that has grown around the game. But that shouldn’t extend to the club, it’s a business – removed from supporter passion, and should have reserved judgement until a complete explanation for the verdict had been received from the FA.
Without dumbing this down to a ‘no smoke without fire’ debate, eight game bans are not just handed-out for no reason. The FA works without prejudice, and with the aim of protecting the interests of the game in this country, and so there must be something within this case that they believe warrants the suspension handed-down.
Thursday 8pm, White Hart Lane
Tottenham 13/8 Draw 12/5 Chelsea 13/8
Had this game taken place six weeks ago, I don’t think you’d be getting such a high price on Spurs for the win. However, a Chelsea resurgence and a mini injury-crisis for Harry Redknapp has narrowed the gap between the sides.
For the home side; Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson are all out, while Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe, and Emmanuel Adebayor are all doubtful. Younes Kaboul returns from suspension, while Ledley King should be fit to lead his side.
Chelsea could be without David Luiz and Ramires, although the latter has the better chance of making this fixture – John Terry will overcome an achilles problem though.
A lot will depend on which Tottenham side actually takes the field tonight, and more specifically whether Gareth Bale does in fact start. Spurs are a different side with and without him, and if he’s included then that will be a big step towards the points. Expect Rafael Van der Vaart to move to the right wing, with Harry Redknapp likely to partner Defoe with Adebayor up top.
In light of his recent impact, Didier Drogba will surely be preferred to Fernando Torres, with Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge providing the width. The battle down the flanks will be interesting, as Tottenham possess two of the quickest and most attacking full-backs in the league in Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker – that means a defensive as well as attacking responsibility for Sturridge and Mata. Oriel Romeu, Frank Lampard, and Ramires/Mikel/Meireles will make-up the away midfield.
Andre Villas-Boas will hope that Chelsea’s extra numbers in midfield will nullify the obvious threat of their opponents – Luka Modric cannot be allowed to wander between the lines as per usual at White Hart Lane.
This is always an entertaining fixture, and usually one with goals (over 3.5 goals at 15/8). Expect Tottenham to start fast and to impose themselves on their local rivals, but Chelsea to have enough belief and resilience to emerge from North London with a point.
Interesting Fact: Matches involving Tottenham average 3.29 goals per game this season.
Best Bet: Tottenham to win either half at 4/5
Wednesday 7.45pm, Villa Park
Aston Villa 4/1 Draw 5/2 Arsenal 3/4
If I was a Villa fan, and I had to pay to watch the insipid rubbish that Alex McLeish has served up this season then I’m not sure I’d have any optimism approaching many games – especially not ones involving the top 6.
Darren Bent, Emile Heskey, and Chris Herd are all sidelined for the visit of Arsenal, but Gabby Agbonlahor is available after suspension. For the visitors, Johan Djourou is absent after suffering a groin strain at the weekend, and Alex Song starts a one-match ban.
One of the big criticisms that Villa have faced this season is over their inability to successfully link their forwards into the play. There were fleeting moments against Liverpool where Charles N’Zogbia looked like an effective conduit, but they were all to brief – the return of Agbonlahor should help them pose more of a threat, but Bent’s continued absence is an obvious weakness.
All over the pitch Villa are substandard; they can’t pick anybody up at set-pieces, they’re lightweight in the middle with Fabian Delph, and both full-backs are suspect.
Arsenal’s renaissance may have been founded on Robin Van Persie’s goals, but the Dutchman’s form has been the catalyst for a number of players lifting their own level of performance. Slightly ungainly though he may look, Gervinho looks more of an attacking threat week-on-week, and Aaron Ramsey was outstanding against Manchester City. The defence too is noticeably improved since the dark days of August – the development of Koscielny, the return of Vermaelen, and the performances of Szczesny all add up to much healthier picture.
You have to take Arsenal here, because they have the quality of movement and the personnel to open their hosts up. Plus, who’s providing the goals for Villa? There’s really not an area of the pitch from where you get create an argument for a home win – very bleak times, and you’re hard-hearted if you don’t sympathise with what Villa fans are having to put up with.
Interesting Fact: Arsenal have only led at half-time in 25% of their matches.
Best Bet: Draw at half-time, Arsenal win at full-time (7/2)
Exactly as it says on the tin; highlights of Liverpool’s new signing Jordan Ibe – who will join the club in the Summer of 2012. Liverpool will pay an initial £500,000, rising in undisclosed increments based on appearance and goals in the Premier League.
Tuesday 8pm, Ewood Park
Blackburn 11/10 Draw 10/3 Bolton 7/2
A hammer-blow for Blackburn this weekend, as defender Scott Dann has been ruled out with what is euphemistically being described as a ‘groin’ injury, he joins soon-to-be minor surgery patient Gael Givet on the sidelines. Junior Hoilett returns to the squad.
David Wheater is again suspended, as he completes his four game ban for his dismissal against Everton – meaning that Owen Coyle will likely select the same squad that lost to Fulham at the weekend.
Where to begin with either of these teams? Bolton, sinking without trace, bereft of confidence, unable to defend anything – and Blackburn? Well, much the same – but with added fan pressure. Not good times in Lancashire.
A strange statistic – Blackburn have scored in every game they’ve played away from Ewood Park. Sometimes when a team struggles, and the manager’s under pressure, playing away can be an advantage – the focus is more on the home team rather than their visitors. Given the magnitude of this game, what it will do to the loser’s confidence, and the relationship between the fans and the team – Blackburn would probably prefer to be playing at the Reebok.
There were signs at Fulham on Saturday, that Bolton aren’t quite as poor as the table suggests – and if you look at the eleven players they’re putting on the pitch, then surely this is a team that has to start performing eventually. A deflection, a fortunate refereeing decision, whatever – that’s what Bolton need. Just a bit of belief – losing’s horrible, but it’s infectious. Still, Mark Davies, Fabrice Muamba, Ivan Klasnic, Gary Cahill? These may not be spectacular players, but they’re good – and certainly don’t belong in the relegation debate.
I say this every week, but the first goal is crucial – really this time. Blackburn don’t want to hear the crowd’s reaction to going behind, and Bolton’s confidence is too fragile to rebound from conceding early on the road. There’s just a bit more to the visitors though, and they’re more capable of grinding something out than their hosts – that, and Scott Dann’s absence just about tip this.
Bolton edge it, 2-1.
Phil Jones’ performance against QPR
A performance to warm the heart of Englishmen everywhere. What a player he is. There was an interesting moment in Sky’s analysis yesterday, where Graeme Souness was asked where the young Manchester United player was best utilised – ‘anywhere’ was the answer.
That’s the beauty of Jones, he’s just a footballer. He’s not categorised as a right-back, a centre-back, or a holding midfielder, because his attributes are such that he can bring something to every position. He still has to develop some nous in certain parts of the field, but how can you not be excited by his energy, drive, physicality, and enthusiasm?
Petr Cech’s error at Wigan
The time has come for Chelsea to seek alternatives arrangements between the sticks. Petr Cech has been a cornerstone of the most successful period in the club’s history, and while that shouldn’t be forgotten, you can’t trade off nostalgia forever.
One of the challenges of being a goalkeeper at a big club, is that the action you see during a game will be sporadic – 88 minutes a spectator, two minutes a point-saver. Cech used to be a living and breathing example of how to play that role, but now his errors are costing Chelsea points in games they need to be winning.
At 29, Cech is hardly finished as a goalkeeper, he’s just no longer in that elite bracket. A lot has been made of the size of Andre Villas-Boas task, and the egos he must navigate on his way to refreshing this team – but one of the biggest challenges he faces is finding a replacement number one.
If you’re searching for excuses for Wigan’s equaliser, you can point to the traffic infront of Petr Cech, and Ashley Cole’s obstruction of his goalkeeper, but really it wasn’t good enough – Chelsea should be heading into their game with Tottenham ahead of their London rivals on goal difference, and not two points behind.
Interestingly enough, Thibaut Courtois is making quite a name for himself in La Liga with Atletico Madrid, so it will be interesting to see if the Belgian – although only 19 – can make a run at being first-choice number one next season.
Football’s cruel in the way in which it disregards the past, but Petr Cech’s present is unfortunately undermining Chelsea’s future. Time for a change.