February 4, 2014

Defence trumps offence, once again

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

For the second day in a row, we learned the valuable lesson that defence does trump offence.

After watching the Seattle Seahawks batter the Denver Broncos in Sunday night’s Super Bowl, Chelsea took to Manchester City, handing the Sky Blues their first loss at home this season and snapping their 20 game unbeaten run.

Yes, once again, the league’s best defence trumped the league’s best offence.

Both teams set up in a more defensive manor, with each side starting usual centre backs in the midfield, almost guaranteeing a low-scoring game from the start.

Without Sergio Aguero, City looked to lack that certain spark it usually has going forward. There was also some moments of miscommunication between Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic in defence, but that can be expected with Nastasic making his first start in a month.

What the real difference seemed to be was Chelsea’s speed. The Blues had several chances to widen the gap on some breaks, but couldn’t quite control the ball well enough in the area or make the required decisions.

This result leaves those two teams two points back of Arsenal on top of the table. With a six-point gap between them at Liverpool in fourth, it’s getting safe to say that this league has turned into a three-horse race.

The Gunners are in pole position, but can they hold on? That’s the big question heading down the back stretch.

MAN, UNITED STINK

It has been a season of first involving Manchester United, but not in a good way.

It seems that every week a new opponent is breaking some sort of winless streak against the struggling Red Devils. This week it was Stoke, which picked up its first win ever in EPL play over United.

It seems that Juan Mata isn’t the panacea that many had hoped.

United now has three top players – Mata, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney – but that’s not enough in today’s Premier League. Look at the depth that teams like Chelsea, Man City and even Arsenal have. Each of those sides have a world-class midfield and are capable of rotating their squads and still looking solid.

While Mata is a strong addition and the creative influence that United needed, it’s not enough. United also needs better holding midfielders than just Michael Carrick and better wing players than Ashley Young.

Who’s to blame here can be debated, but David Moyes’ inaction in the transfer market and his seeming refusal to change his strategies. For some reason, United keeps on using the wings to set up its attacks, but it is far better for it to go through the middle with the likes of Rooney and now Mata there. Young and Antonio Valencia aren’t getting it done; it’s time to move on and change things up.

Too bad that it might be too late.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

After hitting a home run late in the summer transfer window, Arsenal struck out swinging this time out. The Gunners’ only signing was Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom, who was hurt in his first training session and may never play for the Gunners now. Arsene Wenger needed to bring in some depth in the defensive midfield and insurance for Olivier Giroud, but got neither. How this affects their title run will be a big story going forward … Is it just me, or does Newcastle never get up for the Tyne-Wear derby? Sunderland waxed its rival again and looked great doing it. For a team that sitting in eighth place, the Magpies sure are a team in trouble. Selling Yohan Cabaye and not finding a replacement was a bad idea and now the club’s chairman Joe Kinnear has stepped down after seven months on the job. This is a team that is in need of stability … Everton bounced back from its tough loss in the midweek Merseyside derby. It’s a sign of a truly good squad that it can forget about those rough ones and the Toffees did just that … With Cardiff City actually winning this week, it puts much more pressure on faltering Fulham. Manager Rene Meulensteen estimates his team needs seven wins out of the remaining 14 games, which may too much to ask of his team. It looks like the Cottagers run in the Premier League is coming to an end.

FANTASY CORNER

Can you say “Adam Johnson for England?” He now has six goals and two assists in four games and a whopping 51 fantasy points in that time. That’s actually more than Willian or Juan Mata have all season.

THE LAST WORD

In a season where there hasn’t been much going right, West Ham were surprisingly able to hold on to pick three points and a clean sheet against Swansea despite losing Andy Carroll to a red card with more than 30 minutes to go.

Sure, it was against a Swansea side that has looked awful this season in league play, but it’s not like the Hammers have been much better.

This was a proverbial six-pointer in the relegation battle and will go a long way towards sorting out the bottom of the table.

As for Carroll, you could argue both ways if it deserved a straight red. I’m not sure if there was intent to hit Chico Flores in the head, but he did clip the Swans defender none the less. And with the ref looking straight at the situation, you can’t argue that he missed anything.

I personally would have given the yellow since the two had been tangled up before the foul, but I’m more lenient on those things than most.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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