September 30, 2014

A thrilling Derby Day across England

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Everybody loves a good sports rivalry and nothing gets better than ones that have existed for nearly a century.

That what we had this weekend when on Saturday, Liverpool and Everton squared off in the Merseyside Derby and Arsenal and Tottenham battled in the North London Derby.

As expected, both games were a bit testy with the usual intensity between the sides.

Liverpool looked the better side and were mere minutes away from clinching the crucial three points at home. That is, until the most unlikely strike of the week knotted it up in the 91st minute.

When the ball fell to centre back Phil Jagielka a few yards outside the box, I’m not sure that even he thought that his shot would scream into the top corner. In fact, watching his subdued celebration, he might’ve been in shock at what just happened.

For the Reds, dropping those two points hurts even more with Champions League this week. Without injured Daniel Sturridge and sold-off Luis Suarez – the SAS, if you will – Liverpool’s attack has been lacking this season.

This team usually doesn’t have much trouble in the Merseyside Derby, this draw shows that it might be on the decline.

As for the North London derby, Arsenal didn’t just drop two points – it dropped two players.

With Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsay both going down and getting subbed off in the first-half the Gunners depth will be even further tested. This is already a side playing without a true right back and with barely any cover remaining.

With this week another Champion League grind, we’re undoubtedly going to see some academy players on the team sheet soon.

As it usually happens with Arsenal, it allowed a goal when it looked most likely to guy ahead. Against the run of play, Spurs hit on a counter attack which saw Nacer Chadli slot one home, leading to one of the most curious yellow cards I’ve ever seen.

While there have been some justifiable excessive celebration cards, this was not the case for one.

Seriously, look at what he did to deserve the discipline.

Either way, it didn’t hurt Spurs any in the end, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put home the tying goal roughly 20 minutes later to knot things up.

And, while many saw that Danny Welbeck was dummying the ball to Ox, it certainly didn’t look intentional. What the former Manchester United player did was execute one of the most awkward-looking miss-hits that I’ve seen. If not for Ox being there to pound it home, it could’ve ended up on misplay reels everywhere.

OH CAPTAIN, NO CAPTAIN

Wayne Rooney’s game against West Ham was him in a nutshell: He scored a very skillful goal and then got sent off for kicking a guy in the nuts.

It’s fairly apparent that Rooney isn’t the right man for the job of captain at United, as his outbursts like that kick on Stewart Downing happen all too often and nearly cost his team dearly.

If not for an offside call on Kevin Nolan, this would’ve been a draw and more points dropped for Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford.

At least with Rooney suspended for three games, it will give Juan Mata a chance to actually play. I’m sure he was getting flashbacks to last season with Chelsea while sitting on the bench and having little chance of getting in the game.

It might have helped Mata if he was a defender though. United started 19-year-old Patrick McNair and left back Marcos Rojo in the middle of defence. It also brought on young defender Tom Thorpe as a sub late on.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Burnley has now sunk to the bottom of the table after getting crushed by an average West Brom side. I must say that Saido Berahino looks like he could be a star one day for the Baggies … Southampton now have four wins in six games and look like its summer exodus actually made it better. Of course, its competition hasn’t been the best yet, but racking up points never hurts. With a few decent results against top sides, the Saints could legitimately contend for a European spot … It used to be that you would expect ManchesterCity to fall after seeing a pesky team like HullCity come back the way it did early. Instead, the Sky Blues fired back in the second half and even got a second goal in as many games from a resurgent Frank Lampard … A week after being absolutely stupendous, Eliaquim Mangala was stupefying. The centre back scored an awful own goal and then conceded a penalty on a bad tackle. Let’s see if he can bounce back, or if his confidence will be shaken … Another week, another easy Diego Costa goal, another Chelsea win. Have the Blues clinched the title yet? … How in the world is Newcastle still backing Alan Pardew after another scoreless loss? How much more can the board watch before finally sacking him? … Only one game on Sunday? What’s up with that? Spread these fixtures out, EPL.

THE LAST WORD

So, everyone loved having two derbys on one day, right? How would you feel about even more?

Why can’t the Premier League schedule an entire gameweek of derbys? While I’m sure that it would be a logistical nightmare, there’s no reason why at least a couple more could be added to the two that we just watched.

I also understand that you want each derby to have it’s own TV time slot, so take a look at this potential schedule and tell me how salivating it sounds.

Saturday, 7:30 a.m.: Liverpool-Everton

Saturday: 10 a.m.: Aston Villa-West Bromwich Albion

Saturday: 12:30 p.m.: Arsenal-Tottenham

Sunday: 9 a.m.: Chelsea-QPR

Sunday: 11 a.m.: Manchester United-Manchester City

Monday: 2:30 p.m.: Newcastle-Sunderland

Now who wouldn’t love being stapled to your couch for that series of games?

Apologies of course to the teams that don’t have derby rivals. If you wanted to get the rest of the league involved, you could slot in matches like Swansea-Southampton, WestHam-CrystalPalace, StokeCity-LeicesterCity and Burnley-HullCity somewhere too.

Of course, burning all these lovely matches on one weekend seems like a waste when you could spread them out, but it would be incredibly marketable as Derby Weekend and you could build around that.

Then again, the FA has been doing pretty well for the past 100 years, who am I to argue?

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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