By most accounts, a fun weekend in England's Premier League over the weekend. Best part about it, it's not over yet with Manchester United and Arsenal clashing later Monday afternoon. The two longtime rivals enter the match on 31 and 32 points respectively, even with Chelsea and Manchester City.
It all means, by about 5 o'clock on the East Coast we'll have a new league leader regardless of the result at Old Trafford.
Before then, let's look back at the weekend, shall we? (It's not as if you have a choice in the matter.)
Gomes with the Wind:
Tottenham 1, Chelsea 1.
Or, alternately, the Heurehlo Gomes 45-minute passion play.
All-and-all, this was an entertaining -- if sloppy -- match that ended with a fair result for both teams, though a result both side with rue not taking the full three points.
Spurs are going to regret failing to get up 2-0, when they had Chelsea on the ropes late in the first half and into the second. Unlike the last month, down a goal Chelsea played with some more fire and refused to leave White Hart Lane without a point. The Blues will still be the team kicking itself down the road, since if Drogba converts his second half stoppage time penalty, the Blues are back atop the table, if only for a few hours.
Yes, Petr Cech thumping a ball up the field, which Didier Drogba used a little bit of shoulder to knock down and blast through the hands of Gomes with about 20 minutes left will help. The Blues, though, seemed poised to strike -- even without Drogba -- as time wore on in the second half and Spurs didn't have the personnel or the mettle to see out a 1-0 win.
When you play high incident, highly entertaining football game-in, game-out it's hard to switch into bunker mentality, which might be a harbinger for the Champions League knockout stage for Tottenham. There was a sense the sand was slipping out of the hour glass for Spurs and they didn't have a way to turn it out or stop the flood. Sunday Tottenham was like a good comedy movie -- great for about 45 minutes, but lacking the wherewithal to find a way to wrap things up without some extraneous plotting.
Nice goal by one-time punchline Roman Pavlyuchenko, though. Beauty of a first touch to create acres of space around the John Terry -- he of the new, slick haircut -- and John Obi Mikel Obi. Guess it once again goes to show that fans might want to give a guy a couple games to get his feet wet before declaring him a flop. Maybe.
Being the Premier League, this match wasn't without late drama. After his mini-gaffe gifted Drogba an equalizer, Gomes being Gomes, gave a forearm shiver to Ramires to draw a late penalty. Of course the Brazilian found a way to drive the right way to stop Drogba.
In the words of John Sterling, who can figure this crazy game out?
Happiest man in Eastlands right now? Easy. Mario Balotelli.
Barely six hours after he was the topic of conversation for his bratty, petulance in City's comprehensive 3-1 win over West Ham -- which pushed them level atop the table -- the Italian lightning rod was old news.
It's all Carlos Tevez, all the time.
Forget the statements from the clubs or the allegations floated by his handlers, it's clear the guy has some major issues going on away from the game and wants out of England -- now. Is it a contract power play? Is it all about family? Could it possibly be about money, as a report surfaced he wants around an outrageous $475,000 per week? Is the club right to stand firm? How does Tevez have a problem with the "executives" but not with Roberto Mancini or Sheik Mansour?
Strange all around.
Double that when you remember Tevez is represented by Kia Joorabchian who basically "owned" the contracts of Tevez and Javier Mascherano, ushering them to West Ham all those years ago, eventually leading to Sheffield United suing the club when it was relegated after Tevez saved the Irons on the last day of the season. In the cesspool that is world soccer, Joorabchian seems slimier than most. Who knows what his machinations/power play with Tevez this really is?
After Saturday, City did indeed show there might be life without their Argentine talisman. David Silva, given a free role was excellent -- even if it was against woeful West Ham. Yaya Toure finally realized that Mancini wants him to attack, attack, attack. Gone was the tentative play that marked the Ivorian's time in England, in one fell swoop -- a hammer of the Gods thunderbolt past Robert Green.
Long term, too, City can always overpay for a forward like Edin Dzeko or whomever across continental Europe to technically replace Tevez's position on the field, saying nothing of the already-on-the-books Balotelli. The Robinho loan to Santos and eventual sale to AC Milan demonstrated City aren't afraid to be proactive in these potentially distracting situations.
The problem, of course, is Tevez is the fulcrum of the City attack with 10 of their 24 league goals.
Maybe though, the team can move on without him. Consider the fact that Tevez was probably bought by City as a way to tweak Manchester United and declare the club's grand intentions. With the sheer number of players Mancini's purchased, they needed time to figure out how to play. In that time, it was easy for Tevez to make a play, find a pocket of space to create something and deliver goals. Tevez, it might turn out, was a bridge during City's transition from the Sven Era to legit title contenders.
Granted this seems like a major knee-jerk reaction in light of the news, but it's something to think about.
And if you think you have any real idea how this all culminates, buy a lottery ticket, too, while you're at it.
I Can Haz Face Rubz:
Newcastle 3, Liverpool 1.
Don't worry, there's less of a media presence back in Finland, where he's likely to be in a matter of months, anyway. John Henry and the rest of Red Sox Nation can say what they want from Boston, once they got a grasp of the English game, hard to see Hodgson with a long spell at Anfield, especially with Damien Comolli now serving as technical director.
A slightly less meme-worthy picture sums up the Newcastle side of the equation, with owner Mike Ashley, cackling with delightful like some petty schoolyard bully after Joey Barton put the Magpies ahead in the second half. Ashley was bashed universally for firing Chris Hughton on Monday, so here he was in Alan Pardew's first match in charge at St. James Park having his cake and eating it to, if for one match.
Could there be a larger contrast in sports owners than the reserved, analytic Henry and the cartoonishly brash -- and sometimes shirtless -- Ashley? When you line up those two, think I'll take Henry in the long term, even if he's the same guy that signed off on a seven-year $150 contract for the Red Sox to sign Carl Crawford.
Oh, in case you needed reminding, too, that Andy Carroll fellow is pretty, pre-tay good. You just might want to consider marking him on set pieces.
God do I hope some intrepid writer in England is channeling his inner Gay Talese, becoming a fly on the wall to document the wild, wonderful and wacky 2010 experienced by Blackpool. The simple fact that Ian Holloway is involved, would make it a crime if this doesn't happen. The man could basically write the story for you.
This is a sports literary gold mine.
Saturday, with the other four 10 a.m. matches duller than all hell, my focus was on Blackpool's 1-0 win at Stoke. It was nothing special. Charlie Adam made a nice incisive pass, setting up a cross that D.J. Campbell bungled (accurate word) into the net. The Tangerines then withstood the remaining 40-odd minutes, as Stoke kept on mis-firing. Chalk the win up as impressive since it was on the road, and Stoke had entered the match in great form.
What strikes me about Blackpool is how downright nonathletic the team is. As noted a couple weeks ago in this space, Gary Taylor-Fletcher looks more likely to be ripping cigs outside a bar, than playing Premier League football. Defender Ian Evatt looks downright dumpy.
Somehow this motley assortment is winning games, pretending all the preseason talk of them challenging Derby's record of futility on their end.
Blackpool is a fun story. The club's improbable win the Championship playoffs followed by immediate Premier League success might be the most unlikely sports tale of the year, aside from Butler reaching the Final Four.
All Stu Does is Win:
Yep, Stuart Holden's 88th-minute winner for Bolton against Blackburn was a little bit of heaven and an exclamation point for the American's excellent 2010, putting a cherry on his seamless transition from MLS standout to established start in the EPL.
If there's one caveat with Holden, it's his style of play seems better suited to be fully appreciated by the week-in, week-out league action, opposed to the more one-off style of internationals vis-a-vis the USMNT. Or at least that might be Bob Bradley's logic. Less defensible is that for 85-percent of CONCACAF games the U.S. doesn't need more than one defensive/shield midfielder. Why not turn over the midfield creativity reigns to Holden, who's got both vision and touch.
In any event, enjoy the hug from Matty Taylor.
Bored to Death:
Congrats Everton/Wigan and Fulham/Sunderland you week co-honors of boring match of the year. Your honor is a tub of sour cream with a bow on it. Enjoy!
Around the League:
Aston Villa converted two crosses, one off Emile Heskey's shoulder and beat West Brom 2-1. That makes me about 0-for-1,042 picking Baggies matches this years. Eric Lichaj did start for Villa. ...Derek Rae? Handwave. ... Wolves win over Birmingham moved the club one point away from the relegation zone. ... One highlight for Everton was Tim Howard's late save to deny (I want to say) Ronnie Stam, can't remember. ... Late update: Sam Allardyce out at Blackburn. Shame. Guess he's off to Madrid, now.
Fantasy Team O' the Week:
Former League winner Corey Shambaugh's "Shambolic Defending" takes weekly honors -- pre-Arsenal/Manchester United with 50 points. Caroll, Kevin Nolan and Luka Modric were his big earners.
One Other Thing:
One of my favorite British soccer expressions is, "damp squib."
If there is a better term to describe my New York Jets 10-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, please feel free to inform me.