This Monday's jaunt around the world of the English Premier League is going to take a slightly different format since it turned out to be a fairly momentous weekend across the Atlantic, one we have to marinate on for two weeks with the international break.
Also, it's a practical decision. Usually I write up these over Sunday, which was a bit of a physical and mental impossibility in the fallout of my friend Greg's wedding Saturday night followed by a 9 a.m. softball double-header on Sunday.
But as usual, in the words of Marti di Bergi, enough of my yapping:
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* Chelsea is Chelsea; Arsenal is Arsenal -- Due to the factors listed above, I only parachuted in during the second half with Chelsea up 1-0. I recently leased a new car, with a free trial to SiriusXM radio, so I attempted to listen to the match play-by-play on one of sports stations. Didn't turn out so well, as it basically sounded like nonsense. Whatever.
This was an enjoyable match to watch since there was so much skill and mutual respect on the field at Stamford Bridge. On nearly every advanced touch there was a audible gasp from the crowd in an anticipation of something to happen.
Chelsea did what it had to do. Didier Drogba scored a goal set up by another incisive run by Ashley Cole, this time from an impossible angle from where only the Ivorian or a handful of other players could put it in.
With that one goal in the bank Carlo Ancelotti pulled out his old Serie A playbook and blew the dust off the cover and had the Blues playing a cagey, tactical style that kept the Gunners always at an arms length. Chelsea almost took a page from the previous weekend with what Manchester City did to them. The Blues stayed back, defended in numbers and let Arsenal pass the ball around, but left absolutely no gaps in the 18-yard box.
Arsene Wenger called Lionel Messi, "A Playstation" during his virtuoso performance vs. Arsenal in last year's Champions League. Turns out, Chelsea took a page from video games itself, in that it's defensive discipline was like the rigid, A.I. of a "FIFA" on "world class" difficulty setting where no players were caught out of position. Arsenal strung plenty of passes together but it wasn't getting through the Michael Essien-Mikel-Ramires line, or the Alex-John Terry back ups.
And Alex's Brazilian missle that finished that match? Pure quality, after Nic Anelka and the rest of the Blues' forward line failed to ice the match, missing numerous breakaways and being caught offside.
From a Chelsea perspective there are two takeaways:
1. We still have Drogba and you don't.
2. Chelsea can still be the defensive Chelsea of yesteryear.
For Arsenal, well, the Gunners didn't play poorly and held their own vs. the defending EPL champs, but still ending up on the wrong side of the score line against a top-tier club.
Down a goal and Chelsea packed in deep, Arsenal needed a moment of magic, something they didn't get from Andrey Arshavin, Maroune Chamakh or Samir Nasri. They all had some chances, but nothing very threatening, mostly just rolling wide.
Nor did it get it from wide service from Gael Clichy or Bakari Sagna.
Wenger's outside backs summed it up, for me. The French duo can run up-and-down the flanks all day, but provide little offensive ingenuity. That seems to be a winning formula most of the time for Wenger, but in a game were they're up against a squad like Chelsea it comes back to bit them.
If you're an Arsenal fan, maybe you hang your head on the thinking if you swap out Abou Diaby for Cesc Fabregas it's a different game. Maybe. But was even the Spanish ace going to be able to break down the disciplined Chelsea defense? Arsenal isn't that far off, but one player won't bridge the gap by himself, especially a player with one eye on southeastern Spain.
Instead Arsenal fans should hang their hat on the fact Laurent Koscielny held his own against Drogba and might, if given time, appear to be a savvy buy by Wenger.
Fun match to watch, though in the end we didn't learn all that much that we didn't already know.
* The horror, the horror -- Monday, as I write this, Nigel de Jong's leg-breaker on Hatem Ben Arfa appears to be the big talking point, or at least significantly much more than when the Dutchman broke Stuart Holden's leg in March. The tackle seemed to make enough of an impact that de Jong was dropped by the Dutch national team for its European qualifiers.
Not much an argument here. In the words of Judge Smails from "Caddyshack," ... "The man's a menace."
Coincidentally enough, the weekend kicked off with Karl Henry's flying tackle in the Wigan/Wolves match. Henry, unlike de Jong, saw a straight red card.
Hard to see what can be done about serial offenders like de Jong. It's not hockey, were the goons can fight each other to settle the scores.
As for trying to draw conclusions from the rash of injuries from tackles in the EPL? Maybe it's a tad like the NFL -- bigger, faster, stronger players with lighter, molded cleats are all working in concert. All that can be done is hope de Jong receives a bad rep with the FA and refs will monitor him more sharply.
* I'm Sir Alex Ferguson -- Did the broken pipe in the Manchester United dressing home burst right over the head of Sir Alex Ferguson? Can anyone explain or justify the lineup he started Saturday at Sunderland? It might have been the weakest League match in years. Michael Owen and Kikio Macheda to start the match? Anderson?
Did Sir Alex say, eff it, I'm Sir Alex and whatever I touch turns to gold?
As weak as the lineup looked on paper, it didn't mean the Red Devils had to basically sleepwalk through the match.
Perhaps the only noteworthy long term takeaway from this match was since it started 20 minutes late it's running time blurred into the Miami/Clemson college football game on ESPN2. The Worldwide Leader stuck with stoppage time from the Stadium of Light instead of jumping to the first quarter of an October college football game.
The first five minutes of a football game vs. stoppage time of a tied soccer match, seems like a no-brainer, but considering ESPN's investment and promotion of college football you half expected the match to be farmed out to ESPN Classic. For all the terrible things ESPN has done with soccer over the years, this was a small win.
* Asamoah Gyan -- Rapper -- God bless you Ian Darke, god bless you. Darke, paired this week with Steve McManaman, was a lot more like his World Cup 2010 feisty-ness this weekend in the Manchester United/Sunderland match. The best aspect of Darke doing the EPL play-by-play on ESPN is that he's not beholden to the static commentary that the syndicated English-language feed must abide by since those matches are replayed throughout the week across the globe. For instance Darke informed viewers that Clint Dempsey had scored in the Fulham match and talked about other league-wide issues in real time.
Yet nothing compared to the nugget of wisdom he dropped about Sunderland's record-signing Asamoah Gyan being a guest rapper on a track by the (immortal) Castro the Destroyer.
* Dempsey the Destroyer -- Speaking of Clint Dempsey, the Texan played like a man possessed in Fulham's 1-1 draw with West Ham. Maybe that's not exactly true. Dempsey was the fulcrum for Fulham, with seemingly all the team's attack going through him.
More specifically, he took it upon himself to drive the game ... and paid the price for it. Dempsey took an absolute beating, including multiple elbows to the face, as he laid his body on the line. At the rate of incident Dempsey's playing, he might not be able to last the whole season. But who am I to tell Dempsey not to play with his fearless style? Hell, he almost scored on an overhead, somersault kick.
His goal was fortunate, as he latched onto a ball over the top and used his left foot on the half-volley to beat his personal whipping boy -- Robert Green. Yet it was the goal of an assured player at the peak of his professional powers.
The most encouraging thing about Dempsey's game was that in the wake of Fulham's injuries, he's taken the onus upon himself to become the Cottagers' alpha dog offensively. Would this make him the first American in England to become his team's primary offensive weapon? Would you have to go back to South African-born Roy Wegerle in the late 1980s?
Hope Bob Bradley can find a way to apply this to the USMNT the next couple weeks and years.
Dutch dominator -- If anyone gave Dempsey a run for his money in terms of "high incident" play this weekend, it's Tottenham's Rafael van der Vaart, who's shaping up as the bargain of the decade.
Two goals from the Dutchman brought Spurs back from a 1-0 halftime deficit from Aston Villa, which continues to ride the Emile Heskey train.
Van der Vaart is certainly making up for lost time, during his two forgettable seasons with Real Madrid. He might be 27, but he's got a lot less miles on his tread than others his age, due to his inactivity at the Bernabeau.
Not that Spurs were on the level of Inter Milan or Bayern Munich, but the Italians and German rode Real Madrid Dutch castoffs Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to the Champions League final (plus Serie A/Bundesliga titles.)
In short, Spurs needed a true alpha dog if they wanted to fight wars in the Champions League and Prem. Van der Vaart has assumed that mantle almost as soon as he set foot in White Hart Lane.
And hey, on the plus side, he hasn't broken anyone's leg yet.
Spurs fans should hold their breath, though. As we know these tricky Dutch Masters have brittle bones.
Liverpool ... what more can you say?: Disasters on the field. Disasters in the boardroom. Brewing discontent in the stands about ready to boil over.
As Ron Burgundy would say, "This is grim. Reeaal grim."
A loss at Anfield to Blackpool (which I didn't see it)?
Three points would have solved a lot. Now fans -- still hung up on Rafa -- want to run Roy Hodgson out on a rail, right alongside Hicks and Gillett.
Just guessing, but the International break is only going to make this crisis worse, as the Reds sit on six point in 18th place. Everton vs. the Pool on Oct. 17 at Goodison Park will feel like Armageddon.
And it goes without saying, Ian Holloway for O.B.E. Three wins in seven matches already for Blackpool. Who knew?
Around the League:
Missed the Manchester City/Newcastle match. Most reports say City got a fortunate penalty call, but Roberto Mancini has his team in second place. ... Fulham now have six draws in seven matches. Effective. ... Eddie Johnson started and was active, though any time he forayed into the penalty area bad things happened. ... Stoke City were bottom dwellers two weeks ago, but are now up to seventh. Mathew Etherington might be the Prem's most underrated player. ... Everton won a game, beating Birmingham at St. Andrews, sending El Brum to their first loss at home in over a year. Everton even scored a goal itself, through Tim Cahill after a Roger Johnson own-goal had given the Toffees a lead.