So … the big game of the weekend, if not the season — Chelsea vs. Manchester City — turned out to be a bit of a dud. In fact, all the usual drama, storylines, narratives, fireworks, etc. happened before the game started when Diego Costa picked up a three-game ban for violent conduct (aka stomping on Liverpool players’ ankles).
A boring, close-to-the-vest draw is par for the course from Jose Mourinho, particularly with both Costa and Cesc Fabregas absent. Sure, a win would have put Chelsea eight points clear of second-place City atop the table, but a draw maintains a five-point gap with 15 games to play. The Blues likely would have snuffed the game out after Loïc Remy’s go-ahead goal, but a Dan Patrick-style whiff by Thibaut Courtois allowed David Silva to redirect Kun Agüero’s shot, so the game finished 1-1.
I’d be hard-pressed to think of a big-time EPL clash like this that generated almost zero talking points afterward beyond what everybody already knew. That’s a good thing, too. Every game like this turning into a flashpoint over a call by the referees or something similar becomes tiresome.
Welcome Back Part 1:
Daniel Sturridge played his first match for Liverpool since August of 2014 and promptly scored in the second half of a tidy 2-0 win vs. West Ham. The return of the England international answers an important question at Anfield, namely giving the club a first-choice striker in front of Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini and Mario Balotelli. Due to the untenable situation in recent matches, Brendan Rodgers decided to use Raheem Sterling directly in front of goal, to improving dividends, including a goal on Saturday.
The question going forward is if there’s a viable formation that can utilize Sturridge, Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana all at once. Rodgers doesn’t need to figure it out immediately since Sturridge should be eased back into the rotation, still you don’t want to take Sterling or the red-hot Coutinho off the field. Fortunately all these attacking players are flexible — Sturridge has played some in a wide-left position — so there is all sorts of creativity or inter-changing possible.
Liverpool made it work last season with Sturridge and Luis Suarez (and Sterling) so Rodgers should figure this one out too. If he can find a starting XI that works, fourth place and a trip to the Champions League is now only four points away, albeit with Arsenal and Spurs ahead of the Reds. Anyways, a Sturridge goal and a clean sheet — despite all the bumps and bruises levied by Andy Carroll et al. is a pretty good afternoon for the Reds all told.
Welcome Back Part 2:
Let’s just talk about that Mesut Özil no-look flick to Olivier Giroud for a 100-odd words, right? A 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa left Arsenal fans (on social media) as happy as I’ve ever “seen” them in recent years. Thanks to Southampton’s surprising loss to Swansea City on Sunday, the Gunners are level on 42 points for the final Champions League spot.
The Champions League is probably where Özil could come in the most-handy. When the draw came out for the Round of 16, many Gunners’ fans smiled at landing Falcao and James Rodriguez-less AS Monaco on Feb. 25. That said, Monaco hasn’t allowed a goal in eight Ligue 1 matches. Özil’s vision and clever passing should be useful.
Let that be my way of saying that it’s probably best not to jump overboard at beating a hapless, awful Villa team — even by a 5-0 margin.
At one point during Arsenal-Aston Villa, the NBCSN announce crew brought up the worst team of the modern EPL era, 2007-08 Derby County which won just once, finished with 11 points and were relegated in March. (The season ends in May!) That’s dreadful — and if you were watching the league back then it’s not an exaggeration. There’s a twisted sense of beauty here: if you’re going to be bad, why not be an outright dumpster fire?
Using the eye test, Aston Villa and Hull City might be on par with that Derby side. In Hull’s case, Steve Bruce spent a bunch of money in the summer to make his team worse. Villa? If ever a team needed to basically start over and clean house from top-to-bottom, Villa fits the bill. Amazingly with but 11 goals Villa remain above the relegation spots, but that isn’t going to last forever.
Oddly enough, a lot of players from the Derby team wound up in MLS. U.S. internationals Eddie Lewis and Benny Feilhaber make sense, but also Tyrone Mears, Robert Earnshaw, Kenny Miller and Giles Barnes all wound up spending time in MLS.
Goal of the Week:
Christian Eriksen might be the most “in-form” player in the Premier League at the moment. The Danish international needs a nickname worthy of his insane free kick skill. Eriksen, Harry Kane and the rest of the surging Spurs squad faces a very important test on Saturday vs. a familiar foe.
Stat of the Week:
… and yet Harry Redknapp’s club isn’t even in last-place. Somehow Leicester City managed to be even worse this season so far.
Dope of the Week:
Get a gripe, pal.
Celebrity “fan” of the Week:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie showed up at the Emirates on Sunday to support Arsenal, apparently. Wonder how many times he’s made the trip to Harrison, N.J. to visit Red Bull Arena?
Photo of the Week:
Sorry, Ahmed Elmohamady but you can’t score goals with an extended fist. Even the inept EPL officials caught this one.
Juan Cuadrado joins Chelsea from Fiorentina, while Andre Schürrle goes to Wolfsburg in Germany. … Manchester United won with Falcao and Robin van Persie both on the scoresheet, granted it came against last-place Leicester. … The development of Kurt Zouma in the center of the Chelsea defense is something to watch, as John Terry isn’t getting any younger.
After 23 games played:
1. Chelsea, 53 points
2. Manchester City, 48
3. Manchester United, 43
4. Southampton, 42 (+20 GD)
5. Arsenal, 42 (+19)
6. Tottenham 40
7. Liverpool, 38
8. West Ham United, 36
17. Burnley, 20
18. Hull City, 19
19. QPR, 19
20. Leicester City, 17
Saturday is kind of a big deal with Arsenal-Spurs being the early-AM kickoff and Everton-Liverpool finishing the day’s slate later in the afternoon (in America). That means we’ll get a rare, night time Merseyside Derby.
[Photos via Getty]