Premier League Weekend Review: Tottenham, Liverpool, West Brom, Manchester United and More
As I tried to stress last week, this is going to be a new era in the blog. Didn't bother to write a Friday, EPL(*) "preview" post, but we'll do some rapid-fire, knee jerk Saturday morning reactions.
(*) Look, I realize EPL isn't the proper nomenclature as the league is technically the "Barclay's Premier League" but everybody in America uses it. It's shorthand. It makes sense. No sense being stodgy, plus screw the English and their stupid bank sponsor which is also sponsoring the Brooklyn Nets' arena.
As I said, this is going to be a new year.
And with every new year, around this time my friends and I start ticking off the days until the release of the newest version of "FIFA" for XBox 360. Yes, if it's not abundantly clear by now, I am massively cool person. Like Luke Perry cool. Wait, that's not a timely reference, is it? Must be that I'm stuck in a 1990s Tumblr time warp.
Anyways, if you don't play "FIFA" you probably think to yourself, why drop $60 on a new disc for a game that's basically an MS-Paint update -- new rosters, new uniforms, a couple new songs on the soundtrack and that's it? For one in the strictest financial sense, you're right. It is silly and a waste of money, but for the (ugh) hardcore gamer, the subtle tweaks are certainly worth it.
For whatever the reason, as I woke up this morning with Swansea already beating West Ham United in the Ian Darke/Steve McManaman ESPN broadcast this popped into my head. Here's why: Swansea, first under Brendan Rodgers, and now under Brian Laudrup are like the "FIFA" series, constantly evolving, making the smart little moves to improve their overall footballing philosophy, whilst Sam Allardyce (and Mark Hughes) are still stuck with the manual to "FIFA 2004."
There's a major danger going overboard over Swansea beating West Ham and QPR by an aggregate 8-0 in the first two weeks of the season. That said, it's an interesting compare and contrast between how an outsider Welsh club is doing its business to a) gain promotion and b) stay up in the Prem vs. what the two London clubs are doing in similar circumstances.
It's a tad ironic as the English love to point out how they exported association football across the world -- note the Crosses of St. George in the club logos of clubs or shirts of places like Inter Milan or even mighty, revered and saintly FC Barcelona. Now, in a bit of a reverse Art Vandelay import/export(*), smart English clubs are looking to the continent like Swansea to Spain and it's possession/tika-taka game or Newcastle United plumbing France for speedy, two-way players to increased success, but not short-term shots in the arm, but long-standing planning.
(*) The Summer of 2012 might also be remembered as the Belgian Invasion in the Prem.
Clubs are finally starting to realize that maybe the centuries old model: :big guy up front --> kick it to him: isn't going to work in the 21st Century. Adapt to what everyone else is trying to do, or die. Simply look at the continued failings of England National Team.
Even as Swansea lost Rodgers and Joe Allen to Liverpool, it didn't panic. It simply added some players from Spain Laudrup was familiar with like Michu and Jonathan de Guzman and plugged them into a system that worked. (Adding Korean Ki Sung-Yueng from Celtic for a club-record outlay seems to buck this trend a little bit.) Long-term Swansea are going to take a hit if they lose Scott Sinclair to Manchester City as rumored since Wayne Routledge isn't going to continue playing like this for nine months. Then again, take the cash as Sinclair will basically be Shaun Wright-Phillips at Chelsea once he gets to City, his value will never be higher than it is at the moment.
Again, this is clearly massive overreacting to a pair of games, yet compare it to West Ham, which is stuck in the staid English tradition. Allardyce worked some of this alleged transfer "magic" getting Mohammed Diame for a free, which is an okay move. Yet he couldn't resist himself, adding putrid defender James Collins from Aston Villa or drop a boatload of cash to get ENGLAND'S Matty Jarvis from relegated Wolves for well over $10 million.
Hughes at QPR has been worse, grabbing whatever "name" English players or Premier League castoffs are available. It's building on the fly, doing every single move just to try to avoid relegation.
As per usual, were I smarter or more interested in "Daily Show" style politics, you could compare this line of thinking to the mortgage crisis, bailouts and fun stuff of that ilk. Quick fixes to, potentially, fuck over the future.
In any event, EA will get my $59.99 in late September for a new piece of plastic.
Bloody United: Quick question United fans, better goal Saturday vs. Fulham: Robin van Persie's stunning half-volley debut or Nemanja Vidic's cheeky back heel ... for an own goal, which made an easy 3-1 victory a 3-2 life-and-death struggle?
United are still United and even with an early goal from Damien Duff on a smart set piece by Bryan Ruiz are going to defeat Fulham at Old Trafford on muscle memory. Rafael scored, which is nice, but it doesn't gloss over his defensive liabilities which crop up against the bigger teams.
Sir Alex started van Persie and benched Wayne Rooney, who later had his fleshy tight torn asunder late in the game in a fashion that would make both Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes' stomachs turn. If anything, van Persie's presence with the Red Devils means Rooney's automatic place in the starting XI is in question. As we've seen a motivated Rooney is a dangerous Rooney.
The thigh injury is going to cost Rooney a month in the triage unit, your move Mr. Glass, err, RvP.
Fulham certainly looked bright sans Clint Dempsey. Not to make more declarative statements, but of all the things on a field, are goals the easiest to replace? If Arsenal had poached Breda Hangeland as rumored a few summers ago, wouldn't that have been a more crippling move?
Same old Spurs: Watching Tottenham fruitless try to pick apart West Brom for about an hour, in the eventual, inevitable 1-1 draw (replete with Jermaine Defoe scoring goals from offside positions) at White Hart Lane, I kept wondering ... is it ever a good thing for a top-tier soccer team (or one with those ambitions) when it's best players play out wide, as Gareth Bale does at Spurs? What good is the speed and ability to overlap with Kyle Walker if there's nobody in the middle?
Spurs were better, marginally, when Glyfi Sigurdsson came on for Rafel van der Vaart, but the likes of Sandro and Jake Livermore didn't do much to put a stamp on the game in the midfield, as West Brom grew more and more confident as the game went on.
The game turned when Steve Clarke brought on Chelsea-loanee Romelu Lukaku, who turned William Gallas into his personal bitch quicker than Adibesi could have done so on "Oz." Again with the knee-jerk thoughts, but as good as Emmanuel Adebayor has been in England scoring goals, he's getting older and has accrued plenty of miles on his bow legs. Put it this way, he's not as physically imposing (or motivated) as he once was at Arsenal or City. Lukaku -- unused and unloved by Andre Villas-Boas last year at Chelsea -- is still a very raw player, but he's strong and he scares short, slow defenders like Gallas simply by stepping on the field.
As much as AVB wants to turn Spurs into a quick, fast-moving 4-3-3 Portuguese-style team, he still needs some steel in the squad, as a big, lumbering West Brom club showed late in the match as it asserted its will inside the penalty box before James Morrison's stoppage-time equalizer, occasionally size still does matter.
Tottenham, regardless of whatever the club does, never has the guts to see out a 1-0 win, does it?
Fast Start: Who body-snatched David Moyes and replaced him with this impostor? Everton's not supposed to win games until January. What gives?
Credit Everton for smashing a thoroughly listless, dead, Aston Villa team with three first half goals, en route to a 3-1 win at Villa Park for six out of six points.
For all the woe-is-me Moyes has had over the years, he's finally getting a return on some investments, or at least buying-and-selling smartly, although a lot of it goes to the fortune of picking over the bones of Rangers as Nikica Jelavic has eight goals in his last eight games and solved the forward conundrum at Goodison Park. Still, flipping Jack Rodwell, Joseph Yobo and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and using that money to bring back Steven Pienaar (who never should have left), keep Leighton Baines and sign Kevin Mirallas from Greece helped build a squad with depth. Throw in getting Darron Gibson (don't laugh) on the cheap from Manchester United and Moyes has revitalized a squad.
It helps that Marouane Fellaini is playing out of his afro, too.
One quick thing on Aston Villa. If any team needs to make a Boston Red Sox-style trade and clean house, it's Villa. Something is rotten inside that dressing room. Enjoy it Randy Lerner now that you've divested yourself of the mighty Cleveland Browns.
Ponce de Liverpool: Have Liverpool finally found their Xabi Alonso replacement, as fans have unyieldingly pined for over the last couple seasons? Nuri Sahin -- surplus at Real Madrid -- could be that guy, though they're two different types of central midfielders.
What Liverpool fans should like about the German-born Turk is he thrived at Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund, a high-pressing, high-tempo team. That's a bit like what Rodgers wants to do at Anfield, so a nice little triangle in the middle of the field of Sahin, Allen and Lucas isn't too shabby. What it does to Steven Gerrard is open to debate, since all four probably can't play at once.
Now if only the club can find a sucker to take Andy Caroll or shore up it's defending issues ...
Seems like, for two weeks, Fox Soccer is now showing the early AM Sunday kickoff, meaning Fox Soccer Plus is only showing one live EPL game per week. In essence that entire channel is now built so it can show two concurrent midweek Champions League games. Guess that's a good business model. ... Didn't realize West Brom had signed Yacob from Racing in Argentina. First thing I saw him do was shove a player over. Makes sense. ... Wigan wins on the road. Beware Roberto Martinez, even without Victor Moses. ... Whenever you get a wide shot, you realize just how small some of these Premier League grounds truly are in comparison to what we're used to seeing in America. ... Sunderland/Reading was rained out. Bummed, always like Adam Johnson and he'll get ample playing time after leaving Manchester City. ... Watched about 10 minutes of Norwich City/QPR before my lingering self loathing took over and realized I needed to do more with my life. This coincided with the Vidic own goal, which was fortunate.