In the parlance of Sweet Dee from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Round 9 of the Barclay's English Premier League didn't quite "pop" for me. Yet it was an eventful weekend, where a little more normalcy took place, as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool all won making it feel like 2008(*) all over again.
(*) Hey, I'm having a Guitar Hero party. You're all invited. We can talk about what lies ahead for President Obama or last Monday's episode of "Heroes."
It left the table looking a little more static, as well. Chelsea on 22 are the front-runners and favorites until further notice. Arsenal, United and Manchester City are all chasing at 17, with Tottenham lurking on 15.
Without any further adieu (or dated pop culture references), my takes on the weekend in capsule form for added riboflavin.
Up the Arse-nal:
You don't need me to tell you that Dedryk Tatum Boyata being sent off inside of ten minutes changed the match. Was it the sole reason Arsenal won in tidy, 3-0, fashion? No, but it certainly played a role.
It was, however, another curious mental mistake from City which ended up costing the team. Previously, it was the Carlos Tevez missed sitter coupled with a last-minute penalty by Darren Bent vs. Sunderland, while a communication mix-up between Kolo Toure and Joe Hart cost Citeh vs. Blackburn.
In a sense, this team could be neck-and-neck with Chelsea, but it doesn't seem to have the sharpness -- yet -- of a championship caliber team. If Tevez, who limped off early in the second half, is hurt for an extended period Roberto Mancini will have to change things up.
Down a goal early thanks to the nifty one-two passing of Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri, City didn't have a way back. For City to make that next level leap of ascension, somebody from the group of David Silva, James Milner, Adam Johnson or even Mario Balotelli as he gets healthy needs to help take the pressure off Tevez every week in the Premier League.
Put it this way, in "FIFA 11" Manchester City's default formation has Yaya Toure as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. Yeah, it's only a video game, but City might be the least exciting elite-level team in a while.
As for Arsenal, nice result, nay great result. The Gunners, with Cesc Fabregas back in action and recklessly laying his body on the line, got the job down without needing to break much of a sweat as City ran out of gas. Arsenal weren't even made to paid for passing the ball roughly 67 times in a movement before registering a shot, as Alex Song finally made it 2-0 late in the game.
There are a couple developments with Arsenal to track. First, Lukasz Fabianski -- horrendous mistake in last year's Champions League notwithstanding -- has done enough to merit the No. 1 keeper job ahead of Manuel Almunia. The young Pole made an excellent reaction save to stone Emmanuel Adebayor with the game still 1-0. Maybe he's not the greatest keeper ever and perhaps it won't quiet down the pining for a top-class player to grace the No. 1 shirt at the Emirates, but he's not Almunia and that's enough. There are simply too many bad vibes associated with the Ghost-chasing Spaniard at this point.
A little murkier, or at least a problem most coaches would like to have is what is Arsene Wenger going to do when Robin van Persie gets healthy? Are there enough minutes and places to effectively take advantage of Arshavin, Nasri, Maroune Chamakh, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Nic Bendtner (scoring late in his return as a sub) and van Persie. Granted this is a good problem to have and considering the fragility of some of these players, chances are they all won't be healthy at once.
Nasri, though, might be the Gunners most influential offensive player behind Fabregas. The squad hasn't missed a beat with him filling in for Walcott.
If there's a verdict here, both teams will push Chelsea for the title. City are going to be harder for average teams to break down defensively, chalking up a lot of 1-0s in the process. Arsenal, on the other hand, give you chances but when the Gunners are one their game you're going to have trouble keeping them off the scoreboard.
It was going to be deja vu all over again for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. We were about four minutes from the 2010-11 Red Devils calling card: blowing a lead in the second half, this time at Stoke City.
The culprit this time was going to be a guy who earlier this month had another falling out with his coach and looks like he bought his long, stringy mane from deceased singer Kevin DuBrow from the 1980s metal outfit, Quiet Riot.
How many Manchester United fans broke their remotes when Tuncay scored that pretty sweet individual goal in the 81st? Be honest.
Yet, for a change this season, United showed signs of life and pulled it back thanks to everyone's favorite Mexican, no not George Lopez (very funny) ... Chicharito, you dummies.
After scoring a goal with the back of his head(*) in the first half, the Little Pea rode to the rescue. The second was less spectacular, a simple tap-in in front of the net. It was enough to send the United supporters into rapture, including one over-zealous fan who ran onto the pitch at the Britianna, slipped onto his ass, got up and hugged the young Mexican forward. As I demanded on Twitter, we need an animated GIF-file of this epic soccer falldown fail.
(*) Back of his head, off his face in the Community Shield? My guess is his next trick will be nudging a ball over the goal line with his posterior.
The flopping fan was a much-needed moment of levity for Manchester United after a week of Rooney melodrama. Wonder if this rumored transfer war chest that the Glazers are offering Sir Alex is real? United need a new keeper, naturally, and probably a serviceable backup central defender. More than that, the club might need another game-changing, dynamic player to take the pressure of Rooney. Chicharito is a fun player to watch, but he's not that. He's a finisher, a very good one, but not a guy that can take over a match. Nor is that mysterious chap, Own Goal.
If United fans have a reason for optimism Monday, it's that Patrice Evra looked like the quality left back that he was from 2007-2010, not the mutinous, sullen, jerk he was for France over the summer.
It's impossible to guess what was coursing through the minds of the Anfield faithful moments before kickoff Sunday. The new American owners had apparently offered the olive branch to the Kop in the form of Gerry, yes, the Gerry from Gerry and the Pacemakers to sing, "You'll Never Walk Alone." (Cool video on the history of how "YNWA" became the iconic song it is today.)
Though it's not the most pressing issue, hopefully the new NESV owners realized that Liverpool and Anfield are intertwined and tied-at-the-hip like the Red Sox are at Fenway Park. Sure a new stadium would mean more money, more seats, but it wouldn't be the same. This is the area where Liverpool fans should be happy about John Henry, Werner, et al. They haven't come to Merseyside with big talks and rattling the saber about a new stadium as the ticket to the glory days. If you have to sell some pink Liverpool caps, or more appropriately, pink scarves, so be it.
However, "Sweet Caroline" at halftime, well, that would be war.
Tom Werner, part of the new ownership group, even sang along ... smirking, not sure if he was doing the right thing. I'll appluad him for his honest reaction.
But hey, who cares about songs? Liverpool managed a result against Blackburn, grinding for 90 minutes for a 2-1 win. It left Los Reds still in the relegation zone, but even on nine points with Fulham -- what happened? -- and the visiting Rovers.
It might have been a little easier for Liverpool, but Paul Robinson apparently cured himself of the "English Goal-keeping Disease" and made a bevvy of great stops in the first half.
The worry for Liverpool is that it has to fight tooth and nail, turning every 90 minutes into a life or death affair. Nothing seems to come easy for the Reds at this point. The days of sitting back and waiting for Fernando Torres to do something amazing and coasting to three points seem a long time ago.
To contrast with City to use a "FIFA" analogy, if you look at the XI Roy Hodgson puts out there, it would be fun to use in a 4-2-3-1. Of course, Joe Cole hasn't been right since the start of the season and Maxi Rodriguez hasn't had a memorable moment since signing from Atletico Madrid in January. Maybe the Lucas Rual Meireles combo is one to go forward with.
The worry is in the defense. Jamie Carragher had another own goal. He's 32 years old and looking every bit of it, especially when pressed to play an outside role. Good thing he resigned with the club.
Cech It Out!:
Chelsea played the ultimate big brother/little brother game with Wolves, beating them 2-0 Saturday. The Blues didn't do much, but kept the hard-working, organized and determined visitors at arm's length without breaking much of a sweat.
Wolves are shaping up as the Buffalo Bills of the Prem. They try hard and give an effort, but don't have enough talent to overcome the two moments of Chelsea brilliance inside the box and walk away in the relegation zone. Mick McCarthy's team was actually quite impressive, notably shutting down Chelsea's space in transition. Marcus Hahnemann -- sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee that made him look like a generic cable TV villain -- came off his line to stone Didier Drogba before the Ivorian had time for he play to develop.
For a change, Chelsea needed a vintage, 2005-era performance from Peter Cech in goal as the big Czech was pressed into service time-after-time with the John Terry/Branislav Ivanovic central defensive pairing allowing Wolves plenty of chances. The irony here, was that Cech's vintage performance came against a team with Stephen Hunt in the lineup. As you'll no doubt remember the wild-haired Irishman crashed into Cech's head, fracturing his skull and ushering in a new wave of Rugby helmet fashion in West London.
Cech might never have been the same since that injury, but Chelsea -- which seems to have everything else on the field you could want -- quieted any whispers that it's one weakness is found in net.
What to do with West Brom?:
Is West Brom actually good?
Even manager Roberto di Matteo doesn't know himself:
"Results so far have been beyond our expectations, but the way the team is performing we deserve the points we have," Roberto Di Matteo said. "I have absolutely no idea how long we can keep it up, but I still think we can improve. Our plan is to carry on trying to do that, and see where we end up at the end of the season."
The last few years have yielded promoted teams who've taken the league by storm, think Reading in 2006-07 or Birmingham City last year. Why couldn't West Brom do it this year and finish in the 7-10 range? The Baggies have beaten Arsenal and drawn Manchester United, so they must have some quality led by the unassuming Chris Brunt.
Either way, it's fun to say, "Youssouf Mulumbu."
Richard Dunne set the all-time Premier League-era mark for most own goals, giving Sunderland a 1-0 win in a instantly forgettable match at the Stadium of Light. Aston Villa did lost captain Stylian Petrov for two months. Looks like Stephen Ireland might need to wake up and realize the 2010 season has started, since he figures to play a more prominent role. ... Fulham's "Sigmund and the Seamonster" inspired third uniforms won't make anyone forget about Tottenham's ill-fated brown stain kits from a few years ago, will they? ... Slade's version of "Cum on Feel the Noize" at halftime at Anfield? Ok. ... Tottenham's 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane was a fun first half, a dull second half which actually put me back to sleep. Not a lot to say here, even with the amount of players on both sides I enjoy watching. Tim Howard's drop that gifted Rafael van der Vaart was discouraging, as was Ian Darke trying to make excuses for the American. Most interesting takeaway was Gareth Bale ending the game -- I think -- on the right side. Seems like English defenders might be figuring out the Welshman, or at least bracketing him with two defenders. ... Oh and Benoit Assou-Ekotto's hair looks like something straight out of "Fraggle Rock." ... On that note, best ponytail in the Premier League: Andy Caroll, Kenwyne Jones or Sotirios Kyrgiakos? ... Nice game from young Master Carroll, in light of his court-ordered house arrest that forced him to live with teammate Kevin Nolan. Naturally, the two hooked up on both goals in the Magpies 2-1 win at Upton Park over West Ham. It's flatly depressing to watch games at Upton Park these days, especially at night. Seems really dark and dank, about fitting for the team on the field that might have too many holes in defense -- Mathew Upson limped off -- to stay up in the top flight. It could get ugly pretty quick, which is right in line with David Sullivan's George Costanza-inspired Russian hat.
Fantasy Team O' the Week:
kekacakan_1, who's team name is ... kekacakan_1 takes top spot with 68 points, mainly thanks to 28 points from captain Samir Nasri. Ben Foster added seven savvy points, too.
One other thing:
Nigel de Jong needs to be stopped. (Clearing my throat for my best Judge Smails impression) ... "The man's a menace!"
What's surprising, how has he avoided the retaliation of any other players in England? The English FA let him get away with breaking Hatem Ben Arfa's leg, so why wouldn't some team retaliate. I'm all for hard, physical play, but de Jong is developing a dirty player rap right up there with head-hunting Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker James Harrison.
I'm not the world's biggest hockey fan, but if de Jong did what he did, an NHL enforcer would certainly have taken him out by now, right?
It's worth point out, City play Wolves this weekend, a team with a hard-tackling rep. I don't think any managers in the world would mind if Mick McCarthy instructed his players to go hard at the Dutch City midfielder. Guess we ought to give the English sporting mentality some credit, since the other 19 clubs in the Premier League are taking the high road with de Jong's cynical tactics.