Premier League review week 34
23:06, 16 Apr 2012
From falls involving Tottenham, David Moyes and Ashley Young to the rises of Wigan, Carlos Tevez and Andy Carroll, Miguel Delaney analyses the weekend's action and picks his team of the week
Watch all the weekend’s goals here
Pride after the fall
First things first: in relation to Tottenham, Chelsea, Celtic, Ashley Young’s dive and even the usual propaganda in Spain, we’ll be doing a larger piece on referees later in the week.
The short of it, however, is that officials face an impossible job. They are expected to be dead-on accurate despite having to make split-second decisions in a sport that is only getting faster and faster. Until some form of technology is introduced, their errors should be excused.
Young’s antics, however, should not. As Stuart James wrote in a fine piece in the Guardian today, he is undeniably a serial diver. And, as much as Ciaran Clark unluckily left his foot out there, the winger blatantly went looking for contact.
But, as utterly lamentable as it was, it shouldn’t take away from Manchester United’s performance. Suddenly under pressure after a limp defeat to Wigan and their lead being cut to two points, they had to respond. And, even before the dive, they did so in resounding fashion. United started the game like a whirlwind and continued blowing Villa away.
Some of the quick interchanges on the wing, in particular, were devastating.
That also, perhaps, illustrates that the previous Wednesday’s performance was no more than complacency from an overly comfortable position. City altered the situation... before United – and Young – did the same again.
A tale of two Cities
How do you square the misery around Manchester City eight days ago with the multitude of goals they’ve joyously spanked in over the time since then?
At the Emirates, after it all, it didn’t seem like they had just meekly surrendered the game... it seemed like they had given up the title.
But, all of a sudden, Manchester United at least know they’ll have to fight for it.
When you break it down, there appear to be two major reasons for this.
The first is the most obvious: the name that appeared on the scoresheet four times over the last five days. And, not only did Carlos Tevez smack his own strikes, he linked up spectacularly with Sergio Aguero. The latter’s first against Norwich, in particular, was sensational.
But, as much of a world-class match-winner as Tevez is, this perhaps wasn’t so much an issue of the identity of the forward. Rather, it seemed to allow Roberto Mancini to finally change the angles and approach of his attack. As has been argued on these pages over the last few weeks, a big issue with the recent dip has been the manager’s reluctance – or, perhaps, simple inability – to alter the forward line despite so many opposition teams seemingly figuring them out.
But against Norwich – and against West Brom during the week – they at last had a different, less containable option. In short, they were able to surprise teams again.
The second reason, however, has also allowed the squad to enact that approach in a more exacting fashion. Because, given that this has been this City team’s first title race together, they were always going to feel the pressure in some shape or form. With the defeat at Arsenal, the subsequent eight-point gap and the assumption the race was over, though, it was immediately lifted. So it’s perhaps natural that City were able to express themselves a little more freely again.
With that in mind, Mancini has admittedly been clever over the last week – and perhaps played his only right move in this run-in. By insisting that the title race is still over, as he did again after the 6-1 victory, the Italian helped foster that mood further. For the moment, this City team seem to play best when they think it doesn’t really matter.
That does raise a question over how they will respond if they do actually manage to get ahead against United or even beat them. But, at the least, that game will mean something again thanks to this revival.
We wrote here last week about the reasons for Wigan’s drastic improvement at the end of the season... for the second campaign in a row. But their recent run of form now goes beyond mere improvement. It has been utterly remarkable.
The likelihood now is that Wigan will actually escape with something to spare. And that, inevitably, will make it look more routine than it actually was.
Because, in truth, this pretty much defines “great escape” so far.
On 23 March, after all, Wigan were three points off safety and had just drawn two relatively winnable games against Norwich and Wigan having only won once in their previous 13. Next up was a five-game series involving Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal away as well as the champions – and the not exactly negligible challenge of Stoke – at home.
Yet, somehow, it produced their best form of the season.
And that’s an understatement. Wigan didn’t just beat four of those teams; they bossed almost all of them.
And those twelve points from the 15 available put Roberto Martinez’s five clear of the relegation zone and three clear of the team immediately below them, QPR.
But, more importantly, you wouldn’t bet against them beating anybody now. Sure, next up are two equally in-form teams in Fulham away and Newcastle at home. But even if Wigan’s own run is checked, they’re left with games against the two relegation-threatened sides who are in freefall: Blackburn away and Wolves at home.
Even better for them, they were the only one of the four teams in the actual battle (Wolves are surely doomed, as betrayed by their meek draw at Sunderland) that picked up any points at all this weekend.
In all, Wigan don’t just have the style of play that the other teams around them lack. They have the form and the belief.
In the end, it was the ultimate redemption for Liverpool: a late winner in a do-or-die derby to put them in another cup final, with the goals coming from their two most criticised players.
Moreover, after a period in which there were renewed doubts about Kenny Dalglish’s ability to sufficiently motivate a modern team, the second-half display was a hugely creditable response to the misery of the first against Everton.
And, in that, the manager, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll might have just saved their seasons.
Liverpool’s league form had got so bad and their position so low had probably offset the high of the Carling Cup win. As such, they arguably needed at least an FA Cup final appearance – and especially a victory over their neighbours – to turn it into a positive again.
All of sudden, the complexion of the campaign looks very different again.
He’s not the messiah... he’s just a very good manager
While that FA Cup final may have defined Liverpool’s season anew, it did the same for Everton. Instead of a truly upwardly mobile campaign finished with a first trophy in 17 years, it feels like the same old, same old: much done... unable to do any more.
The worst part for David Moyes is that he will possibly never get such a good chance to win a trophy with this team. Yes, of course there was the 2009 final when his side led Chelsea early on. But that was still in the “big four” era and there was a certain inevitability to Chelsea’s comeback.
By contrast, Everton were the most in-form and competitive team in a semi-final line-up that otherwise consisted of faltering sides. It looked there for the taking.
Only, not for the first time, Moyes failed to grab it.
Of course, this is not exactly a criticism of the Scot or an urge for Everton to replace him. That would be ridiculous. He’s clearly done a great job.
But that does not mean he is a great manager... in the truest sense of the word.
The real greats, after all, defy economics and expectations to extreme degrees – think Jose Mourinho with Porto and Alex Ferguson with Aberdeen.
The United manager, however, has described Moyes in similar terms and even put him forward as a successor.
But can he be really thought of as such if he is not able to take that extra step? Would a young Ferguson have accepted Everton’s meek second-half implosion? Would he have allowed it?
This is the real issue with Moyes. He is an exceptional manager at getting a club to a certain point. But when it requires something extra – another attacking dimension, a truly transformative signing or substittion – he doesn’t seem to have it.
In that, Saturday’s game – and Everton’s entire cup run – might have represented his whole managerial career in microcosm.
Walking the line
Spurs were understandably, inevitably and justifiably aggrieved with the decisions that went against them in the semi-final against Chelsea.
But, when you take a step back, those are minor details in a major loss of form.
Take the circumstances of Gareth Bale’s goal. Yes, Petr Cech might have been sent off.
But why dwell on what went against you rather than build on what went for you: an actual goal. It did, after all, bring Tottenham right back into the game. And there was half an hour left. But, instead of upping the ante, they imploded.
It betrays bigger problems than bad decisions.
Ultimately, Tottenham’s atrocious second-half-of-season demise – and the main reasons that they were such apparent hostages to fortune yesterday – is down to four factors:
1) Harry Redknapp’s overuse of his starting XI. Seven of his players have started 29 league games or more... far more than anyone else in the top positions. It’s little surprise they can’t play with the same pace or intensity.
2) That leads into another problem: like Mancini for so long, Redknapp’s reluctance/inability to alter the attack. Although many teams figured Spurs out, he didn’t know how to react other than misguided wheezes like putting Luka Modric on the left and Gareth Bale in the middle.
3) Inevitable confusion surrounding Redknapp’s court case and his next job...
4) Regression to the mean. For a team who – like City – had never been in a title race, their early-season form was always going to be unsustainable to that degree.
Team of the week
1. Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan Athletic)
2. Rafael (Manchester United)
3. Neil Taylor (Swansea City)
4. Gary Caldwell (Wigan Athletic)
5. Jonny Evans (Manchester United)
6. James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic)
7. Nathan Dyer (Swansea City)
8. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
9. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
10. Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
11. Victor Moses (Wigan Athletic)
Miguel Delaney is a European football journalist who writes for the Evening Herald, the Irish Examiner, ESPN, the London Independent and ourselves. In 2011, he was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year.
Follow him @migueldelaney
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