Premier League review and team of the week, 13
17:43, 26 Nov 2012
Not for the first time this season, events off the pitch took attention from the action on it. This time, though, it was much closer than usual; right on the touchline in fact as fans of both West Ham and Chelsea faced criticism for very different kind of sentiments.
First things first: the chants from the away end at White Hart Lane were utterly unforgivable and should be condemned and punished. End of.
The Chelsea situation, though, is much more complex and isn’t quite as simplistic as putting it down to the supposed reprehensibility of some Stamford Bridge regulars.
To begin, it must be said it is difficult not to have sympathy for Rafa Benitez given the sheer scale of the unrest. Similarly, given the extremes that seem to surround all debate about around him, it is a little too easy to forget that he is, at the least, a good manager with some very good traits and an occasionally excellent CV - if one that has a few flaws as well.
It’s also not his fault that Roman Abramovich decided to get rid of a man as popular at the club as Roberto Di Matteo.
It is Benitez’s fault, though, that he said such things about the Chelsea fans and flags while at Liverpool. Because, when you think about it, criticisms like that from opposition managers are actually extremely rare and, worse, cut to the heart of what is to be ‘credible’ as a supporter.
Given that specific comment alone, then - added to all the emotion about Di Matteo himself - the unhappiness of the Chelsea fans is completely understandable.
This looks like it’s going to take much more than results to change.
It’s been said in this column before that it’s not advisable to put too much stock into how the table looks in November. There are a litany of examples of positions completely changing from then on in. But, as we approach the last few fixtures of the month, it is notable just how odd this season seems to be. In a few cases, position doesn’t match the mood around the club or even, bizarrely, the stats. Take Liverpool. They are now eight games unbeaten but still lie in 11th, closer in points to the relegation zone than they are to the Champions League places. And, on the whole, that placing appears to go against a rising sense of positivity at the club and a feeling that it’s starting to come together a little bit for Brendan Rodgers’s approach. Well below them, Aston Villa have been able to feel a bit more optimistic but yet suddenly lie in the relegation zone while, above them, Tottenham will fancy themselves to be back in Champions League contention despite just a second win in six and a first in four. Add to all that a few surprises around the table: West Brom surging up the table, Southampton finding form, Martin O’Neill having such difficulty and Newcastle falling apart.
How things play out is going to be intriguing. There are, at least, a few fascinating questions for the next few months: how ‘real’ West Brom’s form is; who will get sucked into what looks set to be an open enough relegation fight and whether the North East two can recover some of the energy of the past.
Manchester United comeback update: Alex Ferguson’s side have now come back to win from a losing position in 10 of their 20 games this season. Of course, there was also a recovery which has an even greater emotional significance. Just months after many were saying that Darren Fletcher may never actually play again, the midfielder sealed United’s comeback with the key goal to finally put them ahead. The irony, of course, is that this was another game that illustrated how much United have missed a fully fit Fletcher: a lack of fire and shape in midfield.
In the other game that directly concerned United, of course, there was a lack of fire and shape all over the pitch, if not off it. The flatness of the game between Manchester City and Chelsea did not match the ire for Rafa Benitez in the stand.
Team of the week
1. John Ruddy (Norwich City)
2. Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
3. Leighton Baines (Everton)
4. Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
5. Sebastien Bassong (Norwich City)
6. Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
7. Chris Brunt (West Brom)
8. Jordi Gomez (Wigan)
9. Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur)
10. Gaston Ramirez (Southampton)
11. Zoltan Gera (West Brom)