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EPL Monday: Kissing Cameras, Selfies, Stamps ... Anything for Drama

Manchester United v Liverpool - Premier League

If you make the decision to invest some of your free time watching the Premier League, eventually you begin to wonder if the powers that run the league are crazy. As in crazy like a fox.

The Premier League remains arguably the most well-known and popular sports league in the entire world. Yet at the same time, in the last month we’ve seen English club teams brushed aside in the knockout rounds of both the Champions League and second-tier Europa League, meaning for all its excitement the most popular league in the world might not exactly currently be the “best” league going.

And still we watch.

Part of me wonders is this all due to the way the EPL is packaged. There is always something going on outside the realm of the actual game itself that keeps people talking, whether its a star player biting an opponent or a manager headbutting a player on the touchline or something else equally ridiculous. You almost come to the conclusion the EPL hires and assigns borderline incompetent match officials to the high profile fixtures in order to ensure peak drama to keep the pundits and people talking about the league.

Unlike last season when Manchester United had basically already clinched the title by this point in the season, we’ve got some genuine top of the table drama with two months of games remaining, thanks to Chelsea’s slip-up at Aston Villa independent of the extracurricular stuff.

Jose Mourinho — who launched into a diatribe at the lack of accountability EPL refs must display  —  still has his Blues in first place, but the position is precarious. Chelsea lead on 66 points with 30 games played. Liverpool and Arsenal are right behind with 62 points with one less game played. The big question mark is Manchester City, which won at Hull City 2-0 after Vincent Kompany was sent off early. Manuel Pellegrini’s team is on 60 points with 27 games played, so even though City is currently in fourth, they’re the title favorites via ESPN’s SPI Index.

Although there’s going to be plenty of dumb stuff to happen between now and mid-May, the title race should provide more than enough compelling reasons to tune in and watch the world’s “best league.”

Chelsea Loses Its Cool

First-place Chelsea saw its grip on the EPL title loosen Saturday with a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa. That’s the driest possible lede to the story, since Mourinho & Co. melted down in the final 15-odd minutes at Villa Park. First, Willian picked up a (questionable) second yellow and was sent off by Chris Foy. Minutes later Fabian Delph scored a Goal of the Season contender with this unreal game-winner.

Could Delph do that again if he tried? And get it through the forest of limbs in front of Petr Cech? (No.)

delph

It went even more pear-shaped in the closing minutes for Chelsea when Ramires picked up a straight red card for a cowardly stamp on Karim El Ahmadi. There’s a dumb cliché in England, “he’s not that type of player” to justify red cards/bone-breaking tackles (See: Shawcross, Ryan). Most times we laugh at it, but since moving to Chelsea from Benfica, Ramires has never been that type. If a player could exude anti-personality, it’s Ramires. That’s not a knock on the Brazilian, since his tireless running and ability to go box-to-box is a key to Chelsea’s success, but he’s never really done anything remotely emotional during his time in England.

Losing Ramires for — at minimum one game — will hurt Chelsea since it hosts Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in the early Saturday kickoff this week. If the Brazilian receives an additional ban for the violent conduct, the Blues should be able to navigate the immediate future without him, as their games after Arsenal come against Crystal Palace, Stoke City and Sunderland.

Big picture, is the loss at Villa (a place Mourinho has never won) the first crack in the armor for Chelsea? Call it course correction. Chelsea’s repeatedly pulled results out of the fire — most notably Everton and West Brom — so it was only a matter of time before they’re on the wrong end of a 1-0 result.

Can Liverpool do it?

Liverpool completely and throughout outclassed Manchester United Sunday — a day David Moyes lined up Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata in his starting XI, no less. The win all but assured Liverpool’s absence from the Champions League (dating back to 2009-10 season) is over. The bigger question: can Brendan Rodgers’ rampaging team led by the Luis Suarez/Daniel Sturridge attack beat Chelsea, Arsenal and City to the finish line?

Here’s the Liverpool remaining fixture list: at Cardiff; vs. Sunderland; vs. Spurs; at West Ham; vs. Man City; at Norwich; vs. Chelsea; at Palace; vs. Newcastle. Liverpool controls its own destiny. If the Reds can beat City and Chelsea at home — and take care of business otherwise — the first title of the Premier League era for the Merseyside club is indeed possible, meaning Steven Gerrard might end up kissing a lot more cameras, assuming Liverpool can get the business done vs. the relegation candidates. Those games could be trickier for the Reds since they might not be able to break out on their deadly counter attack if the West Hams of the world sit back with 10 men behind the ball.

Also, how incredible is it that United hadn’t been called for a penalty in EPL play at Old Trafford since Dec. 2011 and Liverpool earned three from referee Mark Clattenburg on Sunday? Okay, with the Sir Alex Ferguson element it’s not that crazy, but even so three in one game is remarkable for any game let alone Liverpool/Manchester United.

As for United? Liverpool fans summed up the day for David Moyes quite nicely. (I’d be shocked if van Persie is still with the club come Sept. 1. Moyes remaining at Old Trafford has to be less than a 50/50 proposition by now, too.)

Cheer up Arsenal, you could always be Spurs

Tim Sherwood stopped one step short of dropping trow at the halfway line of White Hart Lane and pinching a loaf. It would have been warranted. Tottenham was absolute shit, or shite (if you’re English) Sunday in the North London Derby, losing 1-0 thanks to Tomas Rosicky’s goal barely 90 seconds into the match. Credit Sherwood for stealing a tactic from Mourinho: make your antics the story when your team lays an egg.

sherw

I’ll again admit I was totally wrong misreading Life After Bale at White Hart Lane. The plan — if there was even one to begin with — hasn’t worked, duh.

As we wind down the current season, Spurs might as well scrap everything and start over. The idea of Tottenham rallying to make the Champions League — now seven points behind fourth-place Manchester City (with three more games played) — is laughable. Nobody wants to see Spurs in another Europa League campaign, do they? Trying to split the baby in half, as it were, with the vestiges of the team Harry Redknapp built mixed with the Andre Villas-Boas signings and Sherwood’s contribution — recalling Emmanuel Adebayor and promoting Nabil Bentaleb — is  a strategy that is doomed to fail. (Good luck to whomever is appointed to take over in the summer.)

Spurs fans are beginning to grumble about chairman Daniel Levy, hosting a brief #LevyOut protest on Sunday. Problem for Tottenham, with another Champions League-less season to look forward to, players like Jan Vertonghen will be handing in transfer requests right around the time international squads begin to convene for the World Cup. With Liverpool’s return to form Spurs are in definite trouble since they don’t have the spending power of Manchester City or Chelsea. The window to win the league or at least become a Top Four staple is over. It likely closed the day Bale took a jet from London to Madrid.

It might be nearly a decade since Arsenal has won anything of substance (beware the Ides of Wigan), but Arsene Wenger’s team at least makes the Champions League and embarrasses Tottenham at least once per season. (It’s better than nothing.) The rest of March will make or break the Gunners’ title chances starting next week at Chelsea followed by a mid-week game with Swansea and then a crucial game with Manchester City at the Emirates on March 29.

Stupid Story of the Week

Some folks were actually mad — on social media at least — when Arsenal players including Wojciech Szczęsny and Lukas Poldolski had the audacity to take a #selfie at White Hart Lane following the win vs. Spurs.

People should have bigger and better things to worry about. As the refrain goes, “sing when you’re winning.”

Football League Highlight of the Week

Burnley are in position for one of the two automatic promotion spots to the Premier League along with Leicester City. Clarets manager Sean Dyche is in an accordingly chipper mood and didn’t seem too upset a journalist’s phone rang during a press conference.

Dyche is now being lauded by Burnley fans as the “ginger Mourinho.”

Around the League

Fulham finally won a game, beating Newcastle United 1-0 at Craven Cottage. The club is still in 20th place, four points from safety. … Jozy Altidore came on as a sub for Sunderland in the second half but didn’t do much in a difficult-to-watch 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace. … Everton, a 2-1 win vs. Cardiff City, appears to be the only Premier League team that actually wants to make the Europa League next season, based on performance anyways. … If you watched the Saturday morning slate of games this week, more power to you. Those were some ROUGH matchups. … On Monday the FA rejected Hull City’s request to change its team name to Hull Tigers. Yay?

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