January 30, 2014

The Red kings of Merseyside

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

With all forgiveness to Manchester City and its triumph to take the top spot in the Premier League, this gameweek was all about the Merseyside derby.

The second game between Everton and Liverpool this season wasn’t as feisty as the first and it certainly wasn’t as thrilling as the 3-3 draw from a few months ago at Goodison Park. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a sight to see.

The Reds dominated their rivals, cutting through their high line defence like butter.

For once, it seems like Roberto Martinez’s management was off. Tottenham had tried to play that same high-line style of defence and was butchered for five goals. A good scout would have seen the flaw in that plan, especially considering the Toffees were missing two of their top defenders with Seamus Coleman and Sylvan Distin sitting out.

The fact that Coleman was replaced by a teenager should have been enough for Martinez to change his strategy.

When Steven Gerrard headed in the opening goal, you could tell things were about to get a lot worse for Everton. Not only did it open the floodgates, but Everton’s best scoring threat, Romelu Lukaku injured his ankle on the play and had to be subbed off.

Daniel Sturridge would score two goals on breakaways before the half and Luis Suarez would add the game’s fourth later on.

The only real drama from the second half was if Liverpool would add even more to the tally – and would have if not for Sturridge’s terrible penalty attempt, which would have given him a rare Merseyside derby hat trick.

Even worse for Everton is how this result impacts their spot in the table. Losing to another team chasing the final Champions League spot sets it back quite a bit. The Toffees now sit four points behind the Reds and are now 18 goals back in differential.

While anything is still possible, it seems that Everton’s dream of Champion’s League play has probably been dashed.

A NEW TABLE TOPPER

It looks like we’ve seen our first crack in Arsenal’s title hopes.

With the Gunners being held to a draw by the one-team midtable, Southampton, Manchester City was able to capitalize and take pole position.

We had been waiting and watching for Arsenal to slip up and it finally happened. This is a team that has basically been leading the EPL since the season started, but have a penchant for blowing it and slumping, as it has in many seasons past.

Perhaps the rumoured addition of another attacking German, Julian Draxler, will put the Gunners back on track, but that move has yet to go through and it’s the defensive midfield that may need some work with Mathieu Flamini banned for four games.

As for City, scoring five against a top-five club like Tottenham and doing so away from home was somewhat unthinkable heading into the contest.

Spurs were on a hot streak heading into the game on the back of their new manager, Tim Sherwood. But it was City that put on the attacking clinic, getting five goals from five different players.

It’s that kind of balance that makes you think that seeing Sergio Aguero limp off with a hamstring issue isn’t that big of a deal. After all, forgotten summer signing Stevan Jovetic scored his first of the season – giving the amazing citizens yet another scoring option up front – as if they needed another.

NOT FOR LACK OF EFFORT

Chelsea was the other club with a chance to go top, but couldn’t put one past West Ham keeper Adrian.

It wasn’t for lack of trying though, as the blues took an amazing 39 shots, putting nine on target and had a mind-boggling 72% possession. The Hammers had a solitary attempt, though it was on target.

Chelsea came in waves, swarming West Ham’s goal and giving the hosts little chance to offer a counter.

Adrian will certainly be showing up in every columnist team of the week for that performance.

AROUND THE PREMIERSHIP

While we did just call Southampton the one-team midtable, Aston Villa is closing into that group. And if Newcastle drops a few more points, we could see a three-team midtable. Bearing in mind there’s little drama when midtable teams play, it’s for the best that this group stays as small as possible … Manchester United won its first game with Juan Mata in the lineup, but I’m sure that it would have won with just about any lineup out there. Cardiff City is in big trouble, as evidenced by the fact that Ashley Young scored against the Bluebirds … Mata wasn’t even the biggest addition to the Red Devils lineup, with Robin van Persie returning. His presence was felt early, heading home the game’s opener … The Magpie’s deserved better than the 0-0 draw they were held to against Norwich. While you can credit the Canaries for their defending, Newcastle did hit the woodwork a few times and should have walked away with three points … With the sale of Yohan Cabaye, you could tell that Newcastle was really missing that creative influence in the attacking third. Cabaye could have been the difference between a draw and a win in that game … A nice little dustup between Norwich and Newcastle saw the two sides finish the game with 10 men. Is it just me, or is Norwich the feistiest team in the EPL? … What a shootout in the Midlands derby. Six first-half goals saw Aston Villa and West Brom go into the half even at 3-3 before Christian Benteke won it for the Villans with a penalty. Who would have thought that this derby would have been exciting as the Merseyside affair?

FANTASY CORNER

After scoring yet again this week, Sunderland’s Adam Johnson now has 43 points in the past three weeks. Usually when you’re the game’s lone scorer, that would also get you some bonus points, but that wasn’t the case here. So, Johnson could have actually been even better.

THE LAST WORD

That was some seriously sketchy stuff that Samuel Eto’o tried late in the game, stealing the ball from an inattentive Adrian and firing one home, only to have it disallowed. This isn’t the first time that Eto’o has done something cheeky like this either, as you’ll recall from earlier this season. If one thing’s to be learned, it’s that you have to always be paying attention to the Cameroonian striker at all times.

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