Premier League review and team of the weekend; week 5
00:57, 25 Sep 2012
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Aside from the moving memorial to Hillsborough, this really could have been any Liverpool-Manchester United fixture from the last few years. Indeed, it’s difficult to remember a match between the two sides that didn’t produce some kind of controversy that goes beyond the more general rivalry.
Perhaps more pointedly for Liverpool, though, this could have been any match from the past few weeks. Once again, there were positives in the performance. By the end, though, there were again only negatives in the result.
In contrast, this was another stuttering display by United but one would that produced a striking result: a first win at Anfield since 2007.
On the surface of it, that difference would appear to come down to the fact Liverpool were reduced to 10 men. In a match between one team that look to command possession and another who look to contain, as Alex Ferguson has curiously done on a number of occasion at Anfield now, an extra man in favour of the latter can have a big effect.
Moreover, though, Jonjo Shelvey’s red card would appear to sum up many of the borderline decisions that ultimately settled the game: ultimately, Mark Halsey had to make major calls out of only the swiftest glances at the relevant evidence.
Consider the Shelvey challenge against that of Jonny Evans. Given the high manner in which the Liverpool midfielder went in, it simply looked a more dangerous, reckless tackle. As such, it was the one most people were looking at – including Halsey. By contrast, the nature of Evans’s challenge was only apparent on the replay. And, obviously, Halsey didn’t enjoy the benefit of that.
As such, it’s somewhat unfair on him – or, indeed, any referee in such circumstances – to expect them to get it 100% right. Until referees are aided that will simply be impossible.
For Liverpool, though, that is all the more galling because it is yet another big game in which the borderline moments went against them. But, the issues of depth surrounding their squad notwithstanding, the performance at least suggests that may change too.
As regards United, something deeper as regards their displays should not be discounted. This, of course, was the fifth of six games in all competitions in which they’ve conquered without really convincing.
But it’s also going on the fifth season in a row. Since the summer of 2009 in which Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez departed, and even arguably the close season before when the dynamic of the team was changed with the signing of Dimitar Berbatov, Manchester United have absolutely mastered the discipline of winning without playing wondrously or even well.
And, for all the talk of central midfielders, for all the issues about a fifth gear, sometimes you just have to credit that capacity. Throughout his career, Ferguson’s main quality has been as regards psychology. He’s arguably never illustrated that more than in the last few years.
Performances, of course, point to long-term trends and it is entirely probable that such issues will eventually cost United when the margins are tightest. But, in the meantime, Ferguson will at least have them competing in the long term too.
After their sensational start to last season, it’s also interesting that Manchester City are potentially suffering from the same issue. So far in this campaign, they have yet to keep a clean sheet or even play well. Much like Liverpool, Arsenal arguably merited more than they ultimately got.
Parting like it’s 2005
Is the honeymoon period over for Michael Laudrup? That statement does of course not mean that his marriage to Swansea will end unhappily but, at the very least, it is interesting how his team have responded when they haven’t been gifted an early goal. Shape does seem to be an issue for his sides, going back to his first managerial jobs in Spain, and, if his players aren’t playing with complete confidence – as provided by early leads – it seems that gaps can become more apparent than at other sides. On an afternoon like Saturday, mind, they were unfortunate to come up against such a convincing team as Everton. Given the simple balance and cohesion of David Moyes’s first XI, not to mention the force, they look like they are capable of matching anybody. If the Scot only had a bit more depth behind it, they might have been a decent shout to put in a Newcastle-style – or, indeed Everton 2004-05 style – challenge for a Champions League place.
Swansea are actually among a curious number of sides in that have yet to really reveal how good or bad they are. Just like Southampton, Aston Villa, Reading and Fulham, their performances and results have oscillated wildly. That’s a quarter of the division. A sizable amount and one that can pay havoc with predictions.
By contrast, we already know exactly what we’re getting from the likes of West Ham United, Sunderland and West Brom: sturdy defending and, at least in the case of Steve Clarke’s side, some admirable new innovation in attack.
QPR undeservedly find themselves underneath all of these teams except Reading but they have already shown enough to suggest they’ll surge past a lot of them. Given the amount of signings at Loftus Road, they’ve already evidenced admirable integration, especially in midfield between Esteban Granero and Ale Faurlin.
Team of the week
1. Brad Friedel (Tottenham Hotspur)
2. Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal)
3. Jan Verthongen (Tottenham Hotspur)
4. Phil Jagielka (Everton)
5. Per Mertesacker (Arsenal)
7. Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United)
6. Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur)
8. Marouane Fellaine (Everton)
9. Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
10. Victor Anichebe (Everton)
11. Juan Mata (Chelsea)
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