English Premier League Review: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool


Tony Soprano would argue that "remember when?" is the lowest form of conversation.

A compelling counter-argument could be made for weather related chit chats being the bottom of the conversation barrel. Friday, on the East Coast at least, it seemed like everyone and their youthful grandmothers felt compelled to update their status to proclaim how much they just looooove the first hints of spring. Never mind that fact this should be an unwritten, accepted rule of general humanity. Unless you're Morrissey or a member of a late 1980s shoegaze revival group, is anyone actually against warm, sunny weather?

In a way it's like American news outlets trying to put a political spin on the current Japanese nuclear power plant crisis. You're telling me there are people rooting for a meltdown?

Let's put it this way. In the year 2011 there aren't a lot of similarities across the entire swath of global humanity. Can we at least universally agree that sunny, 68-degree days in March are good and nuclear meltdowns are bad.

Is that too much to ask?

Allow that to serve as my typically long-winded introduction to what transpired in the Barclay's Premier League this weekend. While the soccer itself wasn't all too thrilling, as the fatigue of the season, coupled with the rust of last week's off seemed to coincide. Still, it at a very base level it was nice waking up Saturday morning to see games played with the sun shining across the pitches.

Small victories.

This is why they hate them:

Manchester United are a great, yes great, because the club expects to win games like it did Saturday, beating Bolton 1-0 in a grim, boring encounter with the winner coming from a tap-in by Dmitar Berbatov after the 80th minute.

It's also why many soccer fans across the globe revile the efforts of the Red Devils and their James Bondian villain manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (now with white courtesy phone!). Just when you think they're dead ... they arise from their grave and snatch a vital three points.

And make no mistake, this isn't a outwardly lovable incarnation of Manchester United. Aside from a few moments of brilliance from Nani and Wayne Rooney and the penalty area circus act of Chicharito, this is a thoroughly forgettable team, which would be thought of in a completely different light if not for wearing the famous red shirt.

But this is still Manchester United and they still find a way to win games in light of both starting center backs on the shelf and now lead Arsenal by five points, albeit with one more game played. Factor in we're at the stage of the Premier League season where results -- by any means necessary -- are paramount, not style points and we'll probably see more this forgettable soccer from United until May.

Oh, that tackle:

Here's something I'd never thought I'd do -- pay a compliment to Nigel 'The Butcher' de Jong.

At least the Dutch hatchet man has played in a World Cup final, producing the meme-worthy kung-fu kick to the sternum of Xabi Alonso.

Safe bet Jonny Evans is never playing in a proper World Cup game, let alone the final with Northern Ireland.

What's there to say of his needlessly reckless challenge on Stuart Holden? Unless you're Rio Ferdinand or drinking the SAF Kool Aid, it's a play that's impossible to defend. Evans did call Holden to apologize and it certainly wasn't intentional, but the damage has been done.

After some initial optimistic on Sunday that the injury would only require 26 stitches, news broke Monday that Holden will be out the next six months. You'd have to guess it's some kind of ligament damage, which is pretty disturbing to think about. When we throw around the term, "horror tackle" it's usually when bones are broken. Somehow thinking that Evans lunged into Holden's knee and ruptured a tendon or ligament is much more depressing from an anatomy standpoint.

The shame of it is, Holden has played so well and integrated so seamlessly at Bolton you didn't even think about him very often when they played. He was a cog in the machine, a highly effective cog that is, who played nearly every week as an automatic starter in Owen Coyle's XI. Now he's going to miss the club's trip to Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup semifinal vs. Stoke City next month, as well as all the US games this summer.

Holden's loss will be felt as soon as this weekend at the U.S. friendly against Argentina this weekend. It should make Bob Bradley's job easier since it opens a clear path to play Michael Bradley or another defensive-minded player instead of the increasingly two-way Holden.

Ironically, I made this tweet on Saturday, which now seems a little morbid. Sorry Stu. Getter better.

You the Manuel Now, Dawg:

You can't make this up. You really can't.

The Manuel Almunia error, or lack of communication with Sebestian Squillaci during Arsenal's eventual 2-2 draw at West Brom was a lot of things: high comedy, predictable, pathetic, sad, etc.

It makes you wonder, is it a self-fulfilling prophecy at Arsenal? Has all the continual talk of the goalkeeping and overall defensive foibles at Arsenal made the chicken become the egg or vice versa?

How else to explain what Almunia was thinking? The Spanish keeper wasn't lost at sea, he was sucked into a Dharma Initiative wormhole to another place in time.

Now I've been writing for a while, now, that the idea that every goal Arsenal allows is the end of the world. Teams allow goals. Good teams concede more often than not. Great teams don't keep clean sheets 100 percent of the time.

Yet the way Arsenal makes mistakes. The high-incident, self-inflicted gaffes are hard to fathom.

Credit, yes, the way the Gunners showed a little resolve for a chance and battled back to make it 2-2. The Andrey Arshavin finish was quality. Same with Robin van Persie.

It never should have come to this because Alumnia turned a simple hoof up field by West Brom into a goal by Peter Odemwingie.

Good thing Arsene Wenger was able to sign Jens Lehmann from out of retirement. Possibly batshit insane Germans always make everything better, right?

It's not like he was the first keeper ever sent off in a Champions League final or anything.

He's Hardcore:

Special little spot to highlight the old school, decidedly 1880s approach by West Brom's James Morrison, who after a head-to-head collision with Laurent Koscielny went into the dressing room, got about 10 stitches and returned to play a few minutes later. Rugged.

So is he:

Clint Dempsey. Bravo.

10 goals in the Premier League, the first American to do so? Legendary.

The best thing about it, you know Dempsey could care less about that feat since it came in a 2-1 Fulham loss to Everton. (Watch here.)

Even though he came up as a fancy dribbling trickster with the New England Revolution, since going over to England Dempsey has been about all business. He doesn't tweet. Doesn't seem wrapped up in his image domestically or abroad. Hell, he doesn't even cut rap videos any more.

All he does is go out, he lay his body on the line and typify what a solid professional should do every week.

Clint Dempsey is a baller.

Going Down:

If, by chance you're Don Garber, skip to the next section since we're about to talk relegation.

Here's the best way to put it, after losing to Liverpool 2-0 at home, is Sunderland -- ninth place with 38 points -- now in the relegation discussion?

Put it this way the only teams that aren't officially in the relegation mix are Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool.

Instead we have 10 teams all within four places of the drop and an additional four within six, so trying to predict how it all shapes out is impossible. Unlike years past, winning a game here or there isn't going to be enough and nobody is going to feel safe until the final whistle is blown in May.

Even teams that appeared in a tailspin found a way to salvage draws this weekend, with Blackburn and Wigan rallying to snatch late equalizers against Blackpool and Birmingham respectively.

Although they sit 17 and 18 in the table on 32 points, the heart shown recently by West Ham and Wolves is commendable. Both could have rolled over in January and given up the ghost, instead Avram Grant and Mick McCarthy have rallied the troops and gotten some quality reinforcements to help the cause in the likes of Thomas Hitzlsperger, Demba Ba, Jamie O'Hara, Adam Hammill, among others.

West Ham showed a newfound defensive resolve Saturday, shutting down Tottenham(*) thanks in large part to a couple great saves from Robert Green.

(*) One thing about Harry Redknapp's "roll the ball out there" coaching philosophy, which is light on tactics. It comes back to bite you in a game like Saturday. Both Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart are running on fumes, with beaten up bodies. Spurs kept trying the same stuff to no avail against West Ham and didn't look like scoring until Roman Pavlyuchenko came on.

As for Wolves, the club won for the first time in 31 years against Birimingham-area rival Aston Villa, moving up in the table and heaping tons of pressure on Gerard Houllier. The underrated(*) Matt Jarvis scored the winner with a well-taken strike in the first half. Wolves have a lot of pluck, they're playing with a purpose and have proven capable of beating anyone in the league.

(*) Wrote that before Jarvis got called into the England squad. Good for him.

Aston Villa look dead, lost and unhappy ... the Premier League equivalent of being fat, drunk and stupid. Not good.

Blue market:

It seems like in a span of a month we've gone from writing Chelsea obituaries, to thinking maybe ... just maybe the Blues have an outsider title run in them. The Blues all of a sudden seem to have as much mojo as any club in the Prem, even with the ordinary play seen from Fernando Torres.

The addition of talismanic, match-winning defender David Luiz has certainly helped re-shape Chelsea's image with his revelatory play. His goal from a corner got Chelsea going Sunday to beat Manchester City 2-0.

How good will Luiz be long term? We'll see. One thing is for certain, if Chelsea wants to become more of an impact club worldwide it'll sell more jerseys or convert more nuetral fans with the flop-haired Brazilian back there as opposed to John Terry, aka the World's Most Unlikeable Man. Even me, an admitted loather of all things Stamford Bridge can't help but be impressed by the dynamic displays Luiz has put forth since coming over from Benfica at the end of January.

It's still hard to get a full gauge on Chelsea since you don't know if Carlo Ancelotti is sticking around long term. The Italian's future probably hinges on the Champions League quarterfinal with Manchester United in April.

Once again the less said about Manchester City, the better. The one plus, Mario Balotelli didn't embarrass himself or the club Sunday. That counts for something.

Around the League:

Gareth "Christ" Bale signed a deal to stay at Spurs through 2015. This being soccer, it shouldn't do much to quell the nonstop transfer rumors around the Welshman. ... Liverpool got a gift of a penalty vs. Sunderland. Amazing the refs continue to screw up so badly. At least Luis Suarez scored a pretty sick goal from a sheer angle to quell Sunderland's protests. The Reds still have an outside spot for a European place if Spurs stumble. ... Not sure why I'm mentioning this, but Bobby Zamora was on the PFA Second Division team of the year back in 2002 for Brighton & Hove Albion. ... Everton are up to eighth. Never doubt David Moyes. ... As far as a straight Most Valuable Player award for the Premier League this year, hard to pick anyone but Charlie Adam, right?

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Tie for weekly honors on 79 points this week from Scott Graham's Bayer Leverarchfile, which used big weeks from Charlie Adam, Robin van Persie, Nani and Seamus Coleman to tie top spot with William Olsen's Bad Run of Form, who had almost the identical lineup but Clint Dempsey in the mix. Double great job!

One Other Thing:

The NCAA Tournament this weekend was great, especially with all the games spread live across four different networks. It's a shame shoddy officiating seems to loom large over everything. Oh well.

Having casually watched somewhere in the range of 12-15 hours of tournament games since Thursday maybe I ought to consider cutting Fox Soccer Channel some slack for the nonstop assault of Katy Perry ProActiv commercials and Andy Gray screaming about how beautiful Sylvania TVs are.

Suppose advertisers really don't think too much about me since every ad during the NCAA tournament is an insulting to your intelligence. Domino's, Applebees, Miller Lite, sheesh, can we set the bar any lower?

Oh wait, yes we can.

Nappa knows how.

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