October 29, 2013

Could this be United’s turning point?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Was this just what David Moyes and Co. needed? A come-from-behind win against a normally strong defensive team? I think it was.

It was the sort of thing that Moyes’ predecessor was famous for: Late comebacks to steal three points after looking average throughout the contest.

It was looking grim for Manchester United – as per usual this season – against a team that is only out of the relegation zone on goal differential. Twice United trailed Stoke City despite leading handily in possession. To make matters worse, the Potters had scored just four goals heading into this game.

Well, railing 2-1 at the half, Moyes must have turned on Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous “blow dry” in the dressing room.

United turned it around, became more attacking and even challenged Stoke in the air – something that is quite difficult to get away with. But it paid off with two quick goals with less than 15 minutes to play. Headers by Wayne Rooney and the very under-used Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez put United ahead to roars of the crowd in the Theatre of Dreams.

This could be the very turning point that United needed this season. Sitting in eighth place and eight points from the top, it certainly needs the boost. Games against stragglers like Stoke City are the type that you absolutely need three points from, especially at home.

As long as Moyes can his men motivated and able to win games that they look poor in for large stretches, the Red Devils will be fine. While cracking the top four is going to be a tough challenge, United has taken a big step towards it.

LOOKING FORWARD

In this space next week, I’ll go out on a ledge and say that the main focus of the post will be on Liverpool-Arsenal.

How often do we get two of soccer’s in-form teams battling it out? Even when two top sides usually meet, at least one side isn’t running at full strength. That won’t be the case here.

In Liverpool, the new SAS is just plain cruising. Luis Suarez netted a hat trick – including a nice slaloming run and two nice headers – while Daniel Sturridge buried a beautiful chip at full stride. What’s a realistic prediction for the duo’s season goal total? 40? 50? The sky’s the limit.

Again, the concern with the Reds is their defence. They didn’t keep a clean sheet again and haven’t in almost two months.

And then there’s Arsenal, who looked solid against Crystal Palace and weren’t seriously threatened despite playing with 10 men for most of the second half. In fact, the Gunners actually extended their lead down a man thanks to some brilliant hustle by Olivier Giroud.

His two-man play with Aaron Ramsey clinched the game and allowed Arsenal to wall up in front of Palace even more.

This all sets up an incredible game next Saturday, with the top spot in the Premier League on the line. It will also go a long way to telling us if either of these sides is for real and how they can handle a top side in form. But either way, there should be some fireworks.

LOVE THE CONTROVERSY

It’s the sort of thing that you think would only happen in your local Sunday league – except, this time it happened in the biggest soccer league in the world.

During Saturday’s epic Norwich-Cardiff matchup, the game was into injury time when a Norwich player was hurt, so the Bluebirds put the ball out of play. Well, after the player had left the pitch and the ball was thrown back in, it wasn’t returned to Cardiff keeper David Marshall – the sporting thing to do – it was thrown to Norwich midfielder Leroy Fer, who deposited it into the gaping net.

Chaos ensued as Cardiff players and fans were rightfully outraged. It looked as though a skirmish may actually break out with a lot of shouting, finger-pointing and pushing occurred.

That’s when the referee stepped in and did something you don’t see every day – he took the goal off the board. Yes, the official ruling was that he hadn’t allowed play to continue after the injury, saving the game’s credibility in the process.

This time, Norwich threw the ball to Marshall, who booted it down the field. Crisis averted.

And who said a 0-0 draw between Norwich and Cardiff couldn’t be interesting?

AROUND THE PITCHES

Who do you think is more at fault for Chelsea’s winner against Manchester City: Joe Hart or Matija Nastasic? You can really blame either, Nastasic for heading the ball a bit too hard and/or not allowing Hart to get it, or Hart for coming out too strong, not calling off his defender or the general indecision of the whole matter. Either way, it cost City much-needed points on the road, something that it has been lacking so far … Is there anything scarier than seeing Fernando Torres in form? With a star striker playing to the top of his abilities, Chelsea is just that much scarier. The creative pieces in the midfield need that talisman up front to make the team most dangerous … A little bit of karma for Christian Benteke: Going down very easily to draw a penalty and then having his attempt saved … The only team Sunderland really gets up for Newcastle, which is good and bad for the Black Cats. While they did claim the win at home in the Tyneside derby, it was just their first of the season – making them the last side to taste victory. If only they played that hard against everyone, they wouldn’t be sitting on four points through nine games … Was that another Europa League hangover game from Spurs? This is a team that should be attacking enough and creative enough to do better than a 1-0 at home against Hull City. And you can’t blame the “tense” crowd, like Andre Villas-Boas did … Scary stuff about Andros Townsend’s fall into the photographers pit. AVB said he was unconscious when medical staff came to treat him. Hopefully he’ll be OK for next week’s game.

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