English Premier Review: Manchester United, Chelsea and More


For all the off the field troubles and out-and-out wackiness the English Premier League presents, at least we don't have to worry about helmet-to-helmet hits or 40-year-old quarterback sexting sideline reporters.

Wonder if Roger Goodell, the NFL commish, talked about that in his week of PR in London to promote what turned out to be a dreadful 49ers/Broncos game at Wembley.

Makes me wonder if there's some dude in England doing for the NFL what we over here do for the Prem?

Don't dwell on that question. Let's move on to the Round 10 EPL vignettes. Enjoy.

Duck, Duck, Goose:

Around 11:12 a.m. Saturday, not sure which was more surprising: a "national" game (i.e. on ESPN2 or Fox Soccer) involving Chelsea wasn't already done-and-dusted, or that Arsenal hadn't figured out a way to put a ball past Robert Green and West Ham. At the rate these matches were going, the little mouse inside my television that operates the picture-in-picture function was going to have a heart attack if had to run on his wheel any longer.

Naturally, order was restored before the final, peep, peep, peeeeep of the referee's whistles.

Chelsea, which remained stuck in second gear most of the match, eventually got a goal when Branislav Ivanonic nodded in from close range, to break Blackburn's pluck resistance, 2-1.

Minutes later Alex Song dove to get a head onto a nicely delivered cross from Gael Clichy, to give the Gunners a 1-0 win over determined West Ham at the Emirates.

Meanwhile, at Molineux, Manchester City couldn't find a way back to turn around a 2-1 deficit against Wolves.

Minutes from a Sir Alex Ferguson fantasy -- think Ursula Andress or Helen Mirren feeding him grapes -- he was left to settle for his cross-city rivals dropping points.

Anyone and everyone will tell you, in a single-table, non-playoff system this is the key to success. Finding ways to grind out points on days when you clearly don't play your best.

Does anyone know what Chelsea's best is these days?

The Blues haven't been seriously tested in months, probably since the Champions League knock-out by Inter Milan last spring. Is it possible a slight sense of complacency settling in with the Blues. Not a big one, but a slight one.

At Blackburn it seemed like Chelsea rolled out of bed, ate some porridge and expected to walk away from Ewood Park with three points. Yes, the Blues eventually did so, but it wasn't a memorable performance. Professional and tidy, seems more like it and Saturday they didn't feel all that interested in chasing Benjani -- yes, that Benjani -- around the field.

Part oft this is, frankly, if you're Chelsea what inspires you as a player? The squad Carlo Ancelotti has assembled is so sturdy, strong and resourceful, it can sleepwalk for most of a match -- like Saturday -- and still get that small moment of brilliance from Didier Drogba, flicking a ball back to Nic Anelka, or Ivanovic finding himself unmarked at the back post, it doesn't matter.

My bigger question, which teams in the world can beat Chelsea without some kind of fluke? Granted, City did do that earlier this year, with Carlos Tevez beating John Terry and Petr Cech on a counter. Arsenal, despite dominating play according to Arsene Wenger, couldn't do it. Doubting Manchester United or Tottenham have the will to stand toe-to-toe with the Blues either. In Europe, Barcelona and Inter create match-ups to hurt the Blues. Real Madrid, with Jose Mourinho on the touchline, would probably definitely have Chelsea's number, too.

It probably doesn't hurt Chelsea in the Premier League, long term, but in Europe once Chelsea has to play 180 minutes against a quality team will it be able to turn it on? And is that all that matters at Stamford Bridge? The Champions League Holy Grail?

Admittedly, with Arsenal, the game remained in the smaller picture-in-picture box for most of the day, so I didn't get a good grasp on the game. It seemed Green stood on his head, for the most part.

One time I did flip-flop the picture, Theo Walcott struck the post. So there's that. Considering Arsenal's big win the week before against City, I'm more inclined to give them a pass, since three points were deposited in the bank.

For all the ups-and-downs, Chelsea and Arsenal still have that ability to snatch wins late inside their DNA.

City, on the other hand don't have this gene yet, proving again they're a tinge too reliant on a certain Argentine striker.

Gifted a dream start takes to David Silva being tackled on the touchline and subsequent Emmanuel Adebayor penalty, City sat back and saw Wolves take the game to them and earn three well-deserved points. For Wolves, it was the second-straight hearty performance, a week after losing 2-0 bravely at Chelsea.

Here again, City were undone by a defensive mistake. After Nenad Milijaš' expertly placed equaliser, it was Kolo Toure's Onyewu-esque clearance to nobody in particular which allowed Kevin Doyle to strike first at the edge of the box and David Edwards to tap in the rebound.

Down a goal, where did Roberto Mancini turn?

How about pulling the ineffective Tologese giant for ... Pablo Zabaleta.

Or later turning to Jo, as Mario Balotelli failed to make much of an impact.

For all the money City's spent, the team far too often seems to run the, "let's let Tevez" make something happen system, a little like an NBA team running isolation plays in crunch time to its designated "star". Guys like Silva, James Milner and Adam Johnson are all having nice seasons, but their impact seems minimal, or they'll be strong one week, invisible the next.

Looking in the crystal ball, expect City to sell off Adebayor to the nearest Serie A sucker and make a hard push for Edin Dzenko, Fernando Torres or even Karim Benzema.

As it stands currently with City -- which could be the most fascinating team in all of England -- is too much like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, or specifically, Carlos and the Heartbreakers. Remove the frontman and it's a good, solid band, yeah, but nothing that jumps out at you ... there's that guy with the black hair playing the guitar, right?

For City to be a team that's a legit EPL contender and one that wants to be a Top 10 in the world, it needs to evolve into the Wu-Tang Clan, where the sum ends up better than it's very talented individual parts.

Acey, Duecy:

Clint Dempsey, take a bow.

What more can be said about the Texas-born Fulham midfielder? Two great finishes -- converting crosses from the right and left -- in the first half vs. Wigan Saturday propelled his team to a tidy 2-0 win, which could have ended in the 6-0 range as the Cottagers dominated the Latics.

Dempsey kept pushing the issue, with his teammates trying to get him a third goal. Alas, it wasn't to be, which is nice since it might have forced some U.S.-soccer geeks to change their underwear. Part of this was due to Fulham manager Mark Hughes bringing on Andrew Johnson, which forced Dempsey to a deeper role, as the bald, oft-injured English striker tried to rev-up his once prominent penalty-kick drawing traveling circus.

For me, with Dempsey it's all about mentality. He's always been a cocksure player, whether it was the New England Revolution or now Fulham. Dempsey the a-typical American, since he's not afraid to shine when given the spotlight. More importantly, he's good and knows it.

Making that transfer across the Atlantic sounds easy from where most of us sit. Go to a new club and so long as you get playing time -- viola -- success.

It's not that simple.

A big part of breaking into a first team of a top flight club --- where there's perhaps more competition for a job more than any other sport simply by sheer number of players -- is having the belief in yourself that you belong. If you're going to be an American jumping across the pond for fame and fortune, follow the Dempsey's lead and play with an edge.

Dempsey brings a solid effort every week and has been Fulham's most consistent offensive guy in the massive string of injuries the club has faced, so it was nice to see him erupt and have something tangible to show for those efforts, aside from black eyes and tired tendons ... even if the first goal was set up by Carlos Salcido. Then again, if Kenny Powers can come together and embrace his inner Meixcan, maybe it's time to put the USMNT/El Tri rivalry aisde, the stuffed suits at CONCACAF seem hell bent on doing this for us, anyway.

Madden Awareness 100

Manchester United 2, Tottenham 0. In other words, Spurs have been about as successful at Old Trafford these last 20 years as Winger, Warrant and other hair bands on the mainstream music charts since 1989.

Fun first half, though the action petered out in the second until Nani's sneaky, cheeky goal.

At first it was a little confusing, with Ji-Sung Park out there for United. I thought he was exclusively used for the Champions League.

Either way, United supporters had to be a little bit giddy seeing the snarling Serb Nemanja Vidic raise up -- Petey Pablo style -- and power a head past the hapless defense of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Little Mac had a better chance of stopping a Mike Tyson NES-uppercut than the Cameroonian international did in that spot, well, unless the ball deflected out of bounces off his hair poof.

Tottenham's defense, without the physicality of Mathew Dawson, Ledley King or even Tom Huddlesone was prone to that sort of goal. Younes Kaboul reminded us all, that you might win games with him in the lineup, but that's flirting with disaster against strong, teams.

Spurs, down a goal, did some good stuff. Again it was Rafael van der Vaart, pinging balls all over the place, but it seemed his touch was a bit off or his teammates found him a half-second too late. The set play from the corner to tee up Luka Modric from outside the box was a nice piece of training ground gold.

Even with Manchester United's penchant for dropping points, once the Red Devils went ahead it seemed a lot of the wind was out of Spurs' sails. Gareth Bale made a nice, cutting diagonal run but fired wide of the post. All the talk during the match was about the Welshman needing a break, maybe that was true. Harry Redknapp does have Niko Kranjcar rotting in reserve. Might be worth a mild case of cycling the lineup for the long, tiresome winter months.

Also, Tottenham might need to adjust tactics, or a slight tweak. Teams are figuring out they can't allow Bale space. Also, just like Johnny Heitinga did the week before, Manchester United used Darren Fletcher to chase around van der Vaart, who himself limped off with an injury and would seem doubtful for Tuesday's Champions League showdown with Inter at White Hart Lane. (Apparently van der Vaart should be okay for Tuesday.)

Oh and Robbie Keane -- given a rare start -- did little more than looking like the world's oldest 30-year-old.

So let's talk about the Nani goal, which boils down to the face, when Gomes is your keeper, Gomes is your keeper.

For all the great work the Brazilian has done in the past year to overturn his laughingstock status, it might have been undermined by that pesky Portuguese winger with Michael Jackson's jheri curl.

It was a weird play. Nani thought he'd won a penalty, which was debatable. He definitely handled the ball. Gomes thought it was a foul, but tried the freekick not even close to were the foul took place -- hard to factor what he was thinking. Credit Nani for a heads up move and playing to the whistle.

Spurs certainly don't have much to complain about in light of stealing that goal against Fulham when William Gallas was clearly offside.

Karma is a fickle bitch.

Sunday Follies:

Halloween marked the end of Carp Energy's foray into fall softball, and as a by product the last time those early a.m. doubleheaders will force me to miss the bulk of Sunday action in the EPL.

Aston Villa and Birmingham ending 0-0? Eh. Let's move on.

Newcastle's 5-1 thumping of rival Sunderland ... that certainly caused my eyes to pop out a little bit reading the score on my phone. Guess Kevin Nolan is having the last laugh from his at the time head-scratching move from the relative calm and quiet of Bolton to the hectic world of St. James Park. Newcastle are all over the map, but one thing you can expect with the Magpies is goals.

Watching the condensed MOTD highlights, it was party time at St. James Park. Newcastle can be that proverbial, "little girl with the curl." When the Mapgies are good -- with Nolan, Andy Carroll and Joey Barton flying around, they looks awesome -- yet there is no way this club maintains that week-to-week consistency.

Sunderland is a team I've taken an interest in this season, but the Black Cats are a team without a rudder right now. When you're getting tuned up by Shola Ameobi, well, that's not a good thing for Steve Bruce's team, which played the second half down to ten men when Titus Bramble realized it was Halloween, so he turned back into the pumpkin people love to kick around.

Finally, Liverpool won away at Bolton 1-0 late through Maxi Rodriguez, or more specifically in Jon Champion terms, "Rodriiiigueeeezz."

Saw bits and pieces here, seemed by all account a forgettable match but three vital points for Liverpool. The Reds are still middle of the pack on 12 points, but they're not mentioned in the same breath as the "R" word, which is a bonus. Did see Joe Cole limp off, so Roy Hodgson may have to scramble to fill the left side with Dirk Kuyt still out of the team. (For a comprehensive Liverpool breakdown, as always, consult Nate at "Oh You Beauty."

Good to see Stuart Holden once again hold his own in the center of the park against a vaunted English club, too.

Other stuff:

Yakubu scored a nice goal, cutting it back to himself, otherwise Everton's 1-0 win over Stoke was immediately forgettable. ... Ian Darke brought his "A" game during the Chelsea/Blackburn match. Historical references, skeptical views of the week's news, enthusiasm over Dempsey's goals, just terrific stuff from him Saturday. ... Less great was Gareth Southgate during the Manchester United/Spurs game. Goes to show generic ex-player announcers can find work on both sides of the Atlantic. Calling Berbatov "languid"? You can do better than that. It's not like you spent the weekend working on a Halloween mask, did you Gareth? ... Denilson bought his cornrows off Kenny Powers. ...

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Scott Graham's Bayer Leverarchfile had a huge week with 80 points, with plenty of strong performers including Nani, Kevin Nolan, Drogba and a very solid defensive unit of Phil Jagielka (8), Liam Ridgewell (6) and Bakari Sagna (6).


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