January 2, 2015

Ringing in the new year with a tie atop the table

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It’s quite amazing that this late in the EPL season, the top two teams are only technically separated by alphabetical order.

In fact, if the season were to end right now, there would be a playoff between Chelsea and Manchester City to determine the champion.

After the Blues shocking upset at rival Tottenham on Thursday and City’s close win over pesky Sunderland, both teams are now tied atop the table with 46 points from 20 games, 44 goals scored and a goal differential of 25.

Having two teams tied like this anywhere in the table at this point of the  season is incredibly rare.

Heading into the weekend, you would’ve thought that Chelsea would’ve been able to increase its lead in the title race, not lose it.

City has had a tough time with the Black Cats for several seasons now, regardless of Sunderland’s poor overall performance. Even in this game, the Tyneside squad evened things up after trailing 2-0. If not for Chelsea legend Frank Lampard – whose loan stay with City from New York City FC has been extended until season’s end – fired home the eventual winner. It was the same type of heroics he had been performing at Stamford Bridge for the better part of a decade.

Speaking of the Blues, they usually relish a trip to the place they affectionately called “Three-point Lane.”

Instead, they found a Spurs side that is rounding into form and gave the title hopefuls their best game of the season.

Watching the 5-3 Spurs win was thrilling, with plenty of offence going both ways – a stark contrast from Chelsea’s usual lock-it-up style.

Every time that Chelsea attacked, the Spurs had a counter. Youngster Harry Kane was particularly excellent, scoring two nice goals and setting up two more. He’s a star on the rise for the North London club.

So one day into the New Year and it looks like we’re in for one hell of a title race. Heck, with a couple of slips by the top two teams, even Manchester United could crawl their way into it.

But as for games like Tottenham 5-Chelsea 3, we hope there’s a lot more like in the year to come.


Who says the big clubs don’t get the favourable calls? Oh yeah, everybody says they do.

That was certainly the case for Liverpool and Manchester United on Thursday, with both sides getting the benefit of the doubt on penalty calls.

Liverpool received its first penalty of the game after a non-existent handball was called. How non-existent? The ball clearly hit Leicester defender Wes Morgan in the face while sliding on the ground. It was pretty plain to see.

The Reds second penalty came on a 50-50 handball call, when another defender blocked a shot but his arm was only slightly off his body.

It’s a shame that Liverpool’s defence is so terrible, as the Reds couldn’t take advantage of their two-goal lead, blowing it to the relegation-battling Foxes.

Remember how I said that sort of call is a 50-50 thing? Well it went the other way in the Manchester United-Stoke City contest.

Chris Smalling went up to block a shot, was struck on his slightly off-his-body arm and nothing was called. Again, the sort of thing that is at the ref’s discretion and always seems to go the big clubs’ way.

A penalty would’ve given the Potters a well-deserved lead and possibly three points.

At least the football karma gods caught up to both teams with the end results.


The starting XI that Arsenal fielded against Southampton was quite, well, suboptimal.

With the holiday crunch of having to play two games over three days thanks to the Boxing Day games, followed by New Years Day games, the Gunners didn’t have much choice.

How bad was it? Starting in the midfield were two defenders in Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin. Unheard-of-defender Chupa Akpom came on as a sub later in the game.

And we thought that Manchester United’s injury woes were bad.

Southampton took full advantage of the Gunners ‘C’ team and picked up the three points and clean sheet to move into fourth place.

Well, at least next year Boxing Day is on a Saturday. That should cause fewer headaches.


Sadio Mane’s goal against Arsenal was just about the best impossible-angle we’ve seen in years. That should earn him a big boost in his “curve” rating in the next FIFA 15 update … Lukas Podolski shut up false reports from the Mirror in style on Thursday, responding to an article with a Facebook comment. Poldi has always been ahead of the curve when using social media to address rumours … The transfer window is now open. Prepare for a million reports from a million “sources” every day for a month … Aston Villa and Crystal Palace drawing 0-0 is a result that everyone should’ve seen coming … What’s up with Burnley? The Clarets have scored five goals in two draws against Manchester City and now Newcastle. They also came back to get the point in both games … Cesc Fabregas’ 14 assists this season are already more than anybody had in the EPL last season … I never thought I would see Steven Gerrard opt to leave Liverpool. There must be something serious going on between him and management or with Brendan Rodgers for a lifer like Stevie G to want out.


We’re just past the halfway point of the season, which means it’s time for the axe to start falling and underperforming coaches to start getting the sack.

After this week, we’ll have seen three clubs make managerial changes – and one that we’ve really been waiting to see for a while.

Ironically, they all involve Crystal Palace. First Alan Irvine was canned by West Brom and replaced by former Palace manager Tony Pulis – you know, the guy that quit the team on the eve of the season.

Then the Eagles cut loose Neil Warnock the day before their New Years game against Villa. He’ll be replaced by Newcastle’s Alan Pardew – who was still under contract with the Magpies during their Thursday tilt.

Pardew has been on the outs with management for what seems like forever. The fans have wanted him gone for the better part of 2014. It was only a matter of time before he left the Northeast.

With the revelation that Pardew had little input on transfers over the years, it’s amazing he stuck it out with the Magpies this long. Who the club chooses to take over should be interesting, with current captain and centre back Fabricio Coloccini a rumoured favourite.

But the real questions is: Who’s next? Villa’s Paul Lambert, Leicester’s Nigel Pearson and QPR’s good ol’ Harry Redknapp had best be watching their backs.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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