May 1, 2012

Soccer’s on one hell of a roll

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Soccer has been on quite a roll lately and it didn’t slow down at all with Monday’s Manchester derby. Last week sports fans got to watch Chelsea’s incredible ability to hold Barcelona while down to only 10 men after John Terry’s idiotic red card, and then the next day watching Bayern Munich and Real Madrid go back and forth, only to see the semifinal decided on penalties.

In Manchester, the game wasn’t as exciting as the result. The chances were few owing to some good defence although the lone goal did come thanks to some shoddy marking on Chris Smalling’s behalf.

Smalling’s inclusion in the lineup was thanks to a late injury to Jonny Evans, but the something’s-off managing from Sir Alex didn’t stop there. Instead of the red-hot Antonio Valencia starting on the wing, or even Ashley Young, Ji-Sung Park was afforded his first league start since January. In the back four, Phil Jones took over for usual starter Rafael – who did take part in United’s 4-4 draw with Everton.

It was interesting that Ferguson would dramatically change his lineup on such a big stage. Even his substitutions, like inserting Danny Welbeck instead of Chicarito, weren’t all that conventional.

The most riveting part of the game may have been a near altercation on the sidelines between Ferguson and Roberto Mancini. After Mancini hauled off Carlos Tevez for Nigel de Jong, the bowling ball of a midfielder proceeded to go in for a harsh slide tackle on Welbeck, a move that surprisingly didn’t injure the United forward. A lot of finger pointing and yelling went on – probably deserved since de Jong has a history of that sort of foul.

But, like I said, this wasn’t about the game, it was about the result. With their victory, Manchester City is now atop the Premier League by virtue of goal differential. United will have to either hope that City stumbles in the last two games of the campaign, or rack up a ridiculous goal differential in getting two wins.

United has a game at home against Swansea and then a visit to Sunderland on the last weekend. City has to travel to Newcastle – a really tough game – and then host QPR, a sure win.

Of course, anything can happen in English football. We could see either team lose any game or we could see a stunning final day.

Anything’s possible, after all, the English FA did just name West Brom’s Roy Hodgson as manager of the national team. This came only two days after Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp – the previous favourite for the job – led his team to a victory and shed his awful losing ways.

Stranger things have happened in English football.

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