English Premier League: Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea


The hangover in which Dirk Kuyt scores a hat trick from a combined distance of five yards, nobody wants to win the Premier League title, Jermain Defoe finally finds his slumpbuster and the failings of first-world technology.


King Kenny is Good Enough, Good Enough for me:

Let's just get this out of the way right away. Dirk Kuyt and Sloth from "The Goonies" is my favorite soccer lookalike of all time. Probably my favorite sports lookalike, ever.

There is a simple beauty in the comparison if only for the pale-skinned homeliness of it all.

Sadly, after the goofy, grinning Dutchman's first career Premier League hat trick in Sunday's 3-1 win over first place Manchester United at Anfield, it just might be time to retire all references to, "Hey you guys," "Baby Ruth," "Sloth loving Chuck," etc. There is, friends, probably too much of a good thing, saying nothing of how "real" writers are look down their noses at lazy, dated 1980s film references to convey a point or cheap nostalgia-tinged laugh.

Alas, though I suppose if we need to come up with a nickname for Luis Suarez, "Pinchers of Power" is certainly available. Go ask Otman Bakkal.

Liverpool's new Uruguayan import is probably the story of the game, as his silky, slinky dribbling through a gauntlet of United defenders set up the first goal, a mere tap-in for Kuyt(*). Maybe a better nickname for Suarez would be "The Lurker" since he sits in that space behind the forward line, darting around with incisive runs and using his quick first step to blast past defenders. Together Kuyt and Suarez form the "Super Lurkers" -- creeping optional.

(*) Curious what Kuyt's "Madden Awareness" rating would be, 100? For those that don't get the reference, it was a seemingly metaphysical statistical category assigned a 1-100 numerical value to measure "awareness" in the eponymous video game. Knock him for scoring on three tap-ins, but it's a skill, especially out-racing the sluggish United defense to convert after Edwin van der Sar spilled Suarez's freekick, icing the game in the process at 3-0.

Outside of securing a Europa League bid, there's not a lot at stake for Liverpool now. Before Kenny Dalglish arrived at Anfield to rescue the Goodship Liverpool, the Reds dug themselves too much of a hole under the face-rubbing mediocrity churned out by Roy Hodgson. A top four position is out of the realm of possibility for 2011 barring an epic collapse by Chelsea or Spurs. Next year, however, it's going to be an absolute dogfight for those lucrative Champions League positions with Liverpool poised to claw tooth-and-nail alongside United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and (probably) Tottenham.

Once Liverpool finds a way to fully integrate Andy Carroll into the mix, this is going to be a dangerous attacking squad. Carroll, Suarez, Raul Meireles, Steven Gerrard and Kuyt as the multi-purpose Dutch garbage man. It's not a rigid team either that needs to be pinned to a certain formation. Imagine a lineup with Carroll as the tip of the spear, winning balls with Suarez, Meireles and Gerrard lurking behind, making runs into space when they open up. If Liverpool finds a suitable partner for Lucas in the middle and Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly can provide width, whoa, that's a tough team to contain.

Most impressive from Liverpool on Sunday was that it scored three goals and whooped Manchester United and didn't need a superhuman, inspirational performance from Gerrard, who was nothing more than a glorified role player for a change.

As for United? Three losses in the last five league games. The lead on Arsenal is down to three points, with the Gunners owning a game-in-hand. Don't write off Chicharito's stoppage time goal, since goal difference could decide the title. (United are three goals better than Arsenal at the moment.)

That was an abject performance from United, especially a limper than undercooked pasta offensive display in the first half. Throw in Jamie Carragher's tackle on Nani, which left the little Portugeezer in tears ... and a nasty, deep gash and it was an out-and-out disaster for the Red Devils. About the only fight United showed was Rafael getting in Martin Skrtel's face after he was tackled hard by Maxi Rodriguez.

United's makeshift backline of Chris Smalling and Wes Brown wasn't good, but it didn't cost United the game. More so, the continued ineffective play of Michael Carrick and running-on-empty Paul Scholes failed to let United control any sort of tempo for the second straight away game. Then again, Liverpool was buzzing from the get-go, so maybe nothing Sir Alex Ferguson could have done would have made a difference.

Well, Mr. Ferguson, what say you?

Oh right. Media blackout.

On the bright side, not having to deal with the press will give Dimitar Berbatov a few more minutes to read, "The Invisible Man" for the 100th time.

Spurs are still Spurs:

With apologies to old-time New York tabloid gossip maven, Liz Smith, only in Tottenham boys and girls.

Is there another club anywhere which runs the weekly high-wire act like Spurs? Once again Tottenham played a quintessentially Tottenham match, falling behind 1-0, going ahead 2-1 and eventually drawing at Wolves 3-3.

This match had a little bit of everything, notably a couple dubious referee decisions and a brace from Jermain Defoe -- his first goals from open play in the Premier League in over a year. Both were out-of-nowhere crackers, too. Lesson here, if you're going to break out, you got to go big.

Let's get the bad from this match out of the way, referee Mark Halsey was utterly lost. First, for failing to send off Alan Hutton for a clear dragging down of a Wolves player alone in the box, then for bailing out a laughable Gomes flap for a very suspect foul to wave off the would-be equalizer from Richard Stearman.

They ought to consider changing that old cliche to, "Those who can't, referee English soccer."

The general level of base incompetence on a game-by-game basis is hard to stomach. It's not all the referees fault with the players and managers like Sir Alex wielding so much power, but the variance from one ref to the next over what's a red card or a bookable offense and what isn't hurts the game. It's a blessing when the outcome of a major match in England between two marquee games isn't determined by the whistles.

If (and probably when) Tottenham miss out on a return trip to the Champions League, it could because of this match. Spurs have made a habit of claiming points from losing positions, but coughing up a late header to Stephen Fletcher just before stoppage time is a pretty lousy way to piss two points down the drain, especially on a day you get three goals combined from Defoe -- who also hit the post late -- and Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Fully expect Spurs to roll through AC Milan by some crazy 5-2 scoreline at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

There is no other way.

Credit, of course, to Mick McCarthy and Wolves. Sitting 19th in the table, this team isn't bad.

The (London) Times Oliver Kay said it best the other day after the Manchester United/Chelsea game in a tweet, that this season the Premier League will crown (points wise) its weakest team ever, but probably relegation its strongest team ever.

Inconvenient truths:

Missed Arsenal's 0-0 draw at the Emirates vs. Sunderland on Saturday. Saw the highlights and read a few match reports. Not to repeat myself, but Arsenal simply seem pathologically incapable of winning. So be it.

One, somewhat different, thought about the plight of the Gunners is this. Almost as rote, in light of the Carling Cup loss or any hiccup by Arsenal is a kneejerk reaction to blame Arsene Wenger for not buying a clear No. 1 keeper or a quality central defender. (Myself included.)

The more you think about it, though, how often are names cited as to whom the Gunners should go out and get? Who is that elusive defender that would turn Arsenal around? Gary Cahill? Wouldn't that be a move simply to allay the idiots in the English media?

This isn't 1989 Serie A. Not too many teams in England, or elsewhere, are winning games consistently by 1-0 scorelines. Teams in the modern game allow goals. It happens.

Wenger's insistence of playing Wojciech Szczesny is strange, but not why you might think. The young Pole looks like he might be a top class keeper one day. When you're Arsenal -- a club that is one of the Top 10 in the world -- you shouldn't need to be in the position to be auditioning keepers on the fly. It's the one spot on the field where it pays to have a tested, proven player. Let a young keeper work out the kinks at a smaller, feeder club regardless of his upside. You can't afford hiccups in goal, since those cost you titles and trophies.

Saying all this, Wenger and Arsenal's biggest flaw is he's built his club around players who can't stay on the field. Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas are all world class talents, but they're all about as durable as a movie-prop glass. Throw in oft-injured players like Tomas Rosicky, Thomas Vermaelan, Abou Diaby, etc. and all those missing bodies are just as costly as the defensive lapses at the Emirates.

If you're going to be a team that plays in upwards of four concurrent competitions, you have to employ players who can stand up to that punishment.


Saturday was a rarity, as I had to give the proverbial Mike Francesa handwave to the Prem.

Tried to follow the action the best I could on my phone with the Fox Soccer Channel application, as well as the various scoretrackers. The FSC app is usually money, but it faded in-and-out and lost the live feed for all the games aside from Newcastle United/Everton -- did see Leighton Baines dastardly free kick which Phil Jagielka turned into the gamewinner, at least.

Yeah, first world problems, I get it.

Still, from following the scores it was interesting to watch as Aston Villa gagged away a late 2-1 advantage at Bolton, losing 3-2, while Fulham and Blackburn traded punches into another 3-2 win by the home side.

Around the League:

Birmingham lossing 3-1 at home to West Brom is a debacle. Still El Brum has two games in hand, it must win one of them. ... Everton are now exactly where it probably should be, 10th place, zero goal difference. ... Manchester City winning 1-0 at home to Wigan, can honestly say not too sad I missed this. ... Aston Villa all of a sudden have a pretty deep squad at most positions, but Gerard Houiller has no idea how to best utilize it.

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Bad week for all the big fantasy guns. Fittingly Hank Cole's "Who Are Ya?" take the top honors for the week with a mere 46 points. Captaining Mikel Arteta for 14 points along with Suarez's 10 were the difference.

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