You'd think a weekend that saw Tottenham end a nearly two-decade losing streak away to Arsenal and Chelsea lose a second straight league game would raise eyebrows, but that's the state of the Premier League in 2010.
Expect the unexpected. Crazy is the new normal.
Question: Could a man with the face of Harry Redknapp coach an American professional sports team?
I say no. Look at Brad Childress with the Minnesota Vikings. Granted he's an awful NFL head coach, but wouldn't he be given a slightly bigger leash if he wasn't bald with a laughably out-dated mustache? Wasn't he doomed in terms of earning his players respect from the start?
With his jowly, permanently red face there's little way Redknapp survives in the ESPN world.
Love him, hate him, laugh at him, Redknapp is tapping into something that's working at Tottenham since he took over. A Carling Cup trophy (terrible job, that was Juande Ramos. Oops.), a place in the Champions League and now the most satisfying victory of all, Arsenal on the road.
And you've got to love the way Redknapp went about it.
Quick aside. Two weeks ago in Fantasy Football I played my friend Mike, a rabid, diehard Oakland Raiders fan. Needing a wide receiver for the week, I added Darius Heyward-Bey. Okay, not the smartest move ever, but if I were able to win with "Hey-Bey" in the lineup it would be all the more satisfying. A classic tweak. As it turned out he put up a big, fat, goose egg, but there aren't any regrets. It was worth it to go for the double, tweak-aided win.
That's why I have nothing but respect for Redknapp handing over the captain's armband to ex-Gunner William Gallas to stick his finger in the eye of Arsenal fans everywhere, who's love for Gallas falls somewhere between dog poo on the bottom of their shoe and lukewarm halibut. The mercurial Frenchman repaid Redknapp with a very sound, defensive performance, only made seem more Herculean since he was paired with the walking punchline of Younes Kaboul.
Speaking of Kaboul it couldn't have been any other way, right? Could Tottenham have ended two decades of futility without Kaboul scoring an 85th minute header, capping a 3-2 comeback? In a season that's not making a lick of sense, the craziest stuff seems sane.
It was Kaboul, naturally, who was nutmegged by Maroune Chamakh in the first half, which made it 2-0 and on track for another Gunners romp. This came on the heels of Benoit Assou-Ekotto's comedic "defending" on Samir Nasri, who simply out-worked the Cameroonian international for a really fluky goal. Nasri, mind you, snubbed Gallas in the handshake line, setting the tone for the match.
Arsenal, even up 2-0, weren't exactly dominating the game even if Luka Modric playing as a holding midfielder alongside Jermaine Jenas allowed Cesc Fabregas a space the size of Hyde Park. For reasons unbeknowst to anyone -- first and foremost water bottle-slamming Arsene Wenger (animated .GIF?) -- Arsenal stopped playing. The Gunners were high-and-dry, so was it as simple as Redknapp taking off Aaron Lennon for Jermain Defoe and moving Rafael van der Vaart to the right?
Does that explain the Gareth Bale goal, set up by three passes, starting at the back from Assou-Ekotto, long to Defoe, who flicked to van der Vaart, who then headed it to Bale galloping in stride?
Or Fabregas deciding to stick up his hand, pulling Chamakh's with it, to gift van der Vaart a penalty? Even Pink Floyd's "Momentary Lapse of Reason" was more reasonable than the Spaniard's indefensible move in that spot.
Or letting Kaboul -- a dude known more for his piercing than his skills(*) -- for rising up and scoring a historic winner off a deep set piece?
(*) Kaboul is like the French Titus Bramble, well, at least he's taken the mantel away from Jean-Alain Boumsong. He's not much when it comes to defending, but he's not a horrible player, at least in the opponents end of the field, as an attacking right back.
At halftime I emailed by friend Hirshey, you know the Arsenal lover over at ESPN.com, this brief salvo, "Brilliant strategy by Arsene. Don't do anything special and wait for Spurs to shoot themselves in the foot, repeatedly."
Not sure what the hell happened. An hour later Hirshey, who apparently was in Amsterdam, was contemplating jumping in one of the Dutch capital's many canals.
By virtue of Chelsea's loss, Arsenal didn't lose ground, simply it lost an opportunity to move up in the table. The title is still asking for the Gunners to take, as if it's wearing an Alice in Wonderland (or John Blutarksy) approved, "Eat Me" sign.
Maybe, though, Redknapp is crazy as that old fox ... even if he looks like a bloodhound.
Perhaps he's embracing this new era of the Premier League, where the giants no long tower over the rest of the league. Where a team like Tottenham can show some ambition and try to win it all.
Ben Foster(s): English for Keeper:
Glad Fosters are bringing back their "Australian for beer" ads. The world is a better place with giant, novelty sized beer cans and Australian stereotypes. Anything that might get Yahoo Serious working again. (Keep the giant booting to yourself, Oz.)
Bad, dated, pop culture jokes aside, hard to think we'll see a better performance by a goalkeeper in the Premier League over a sustained amount of play than Ben Foster for Birmingham City in its 1-0 win over Chelsea. Crazy to think under Alex McLeish Birmingham is unbeatable by the big clubs at home and nothing but mediocre vs. everybody else.
Birmingham's goal was besieged as Chelsea must have thought it was Stalingrad, not St. Andrew's. It felt like 90 percent of the second half was played with eight or nine Blues -- in neon green as it were -- camped out around the penalty area.
Set pieces, crosses, corners, open play? Nothing Chelsea tried seemed to work.
The best chance for Chelsea was a through ball played to Ramires, stopped by an excellent (clean) sliding tackle by Roger Johnson. It left Ramires floored and Chelsea fans wondering if they'd purchased this decade's Kleberson.
Nice win by Birmingham, since nine times out of 10, Chelsea finds a way to get a goal in that game and salvage a draw.
Chelsea? Call it a continued run of poor form. Once Lee Bowyer -- yeah him -- scored a nice, quick goal on Birmingham's one shot on target, the Brum closed up shop and played defense.
When Chelsea was straight merc-ing teams, it was in quick, rapid transition. Stuck in "half-court" game, Chelsea didn't have any idea, nor a pinball Frank Lampard deflection to bail them out.
The way this season is going, impossible to count out Chelsea. The Blues just need to keep their ends above water for the rest of 2010, with games against: Newcastle, Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Bolton. It might even serve Chelsea to drop off a bit, instead of coping with the pressure of leading the pack each and every week. The title is going to go all the way to the finish in May, so the one priority is to stay in the mix, which shouldn't be too difficult.
Dead Team Walking:
Liverpool erupted for a, gasp, easy 3-0 evisceration of woeful West Ham on Saturday. Nice job for the Reds, who won without Steven Gerrard and with Glen Johnson.
Priority No. 1 for the club has to be consistency and making sure every week isn't a life-or-death referendum on the team and Roy Hodgson. Showing some guts at White Hart Lane next weekend is a start.
Meanwhile, West Ham is teetering on the brink of 3-point ATM status.
This club is lacking everything, spark, vision, pride and most of all, talent.
In 2008-09 West Ham was 10th and respectable. Bear in mind the precarious financial situation the club faced, excellerated by it's Icelandic ownership group going broke, but look at some of the quality players the team let go: James Collins, Lucas Neill and Mathew Etherington. Throw in the injuries that ended Dean Aston's career and this is a club that's lost more talent that it's brought in.
Avram Grant, a miracle worked at Portsmouth last year, has been anything but that.
Tired of Hanging Around:
It makes perfect sense that Manchester United, playing very "meh" soccer is now joint-leaders with Chelsea. Figures the Red Devils labor for a 2-0 win over eventual nine-man Wigan, getting headers from Patrice Evra -- huh? -- and Chicharito -- duh -- to pull up into the penthouse.
In a year nobody is setting the world on fire, it might be cagey old Sir Alex Ferguson with the last laugh, sitting back, grinding out results.
Oh, right, Wayne Rooney played ... and no it wasn't in the non-stop "FIFA 11" ads. He actually played on the field at Old Trafford. Didn't do anything memorable, though he looked a little slimmer.
And after having its obituary written, here's Roberto Mancini's boring old Manchester City blasting Fulham 4-1 at Craven Cottage, sitting only three points off the pace.
Hey, guess all City needed were a pair of shanked defensive clearances and a night of partying with Diego Maradona to turn a slow, uninspired team into a bunch of ass-kicking world beaters.
Nice to see Yaya Toure decide to take a shot, instead of holding up the play and waiting for something. Guess playing Jô was the answer all along. (Question, pardon my ignorance. Does the accent over the "o" in Jo mean anything? It certainly doesn't seem to change the way it's pronounced.)
Two Little Broadcast Notes:
* Adrian Healy filled in for MLS Cup-bound Ian Darke during the North London Derby. Healy -- who's work has been praised here in the past -- kept the puns to a minimum and generally meshed well with Efan Ekoku. One thing that jumped out at me was during the break ESPN panned the expansive Emirates, focusing in on the duo's perch in the upper tier calling the match. Like most British Stadiums, the broadcasters are exposed to the fans and not encased in some glass, protective booth which keeps them away from the fans and the elements. Guessing there's no way Joe Buck would be able to call a game in Europe, since the exposure to the fans would clearly result in a punch to the face. Multiple punches to the face.
* Kevin Davies has usurped the unofficial crown away from Ryan Giggs as the players English commentators love to lionize. During Bolton's 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle the slobbering from the booth was almost as bad as John Madden and circa 1996 Brett Favre. (Really, this pre-kick guessing on the penalty kicks is getting absurd.)
Around the League:
Was it me, or did Maroune Chamakh seem on the verge of tears all game? ... The ref in the Chelsea/Birmingham match was wearing a mauve shirt. Found that interesting. ... Another nice goal by Blackpool's Luke Varney. Good little player. This is just a gloriously hit volley. ... Starting to think West Brom might not be that good after all. Not sure the Baggies have that much Premier League ready talent once opponents start to get enough of a "book" on them. ... Stoke City: six wins, one draw, seven losses. All the way up to eighth. ... One team that's for real is Bolton. Owen Coyle figured something out as this team is rolling, Tupac-style. Every part of the team is clicking on the field, with Johan Elmander in Swedish Beast Mode. Amazing to think the universally derided Gary Megson signed him. As a U.S. fan, every time I see Bolton I just pray Bob Bradley is thinking of ways to utilize Stuart Holden in the middle of the field. ... Favorite play of the weekend was Dickson Etuhu going in hard on Nigel de Jong. Hope it starts a trend. Hey, I just want to see more of Patrick Vieira playing for City. I'm selfish like that.
Obligatory (Great Job!) this weekend go out to my old favorite, Morten Gamst Pedersen who's brace for Blackburn sunk Aston Villa 2-0 at Ewood Park in front of Rovers new Indian poultry-magnate owners.
Over the last month Pedersen has been downright lethal on long free kicks from the extreme right side of the field. Sunday he duped former Rover Brad Freidel, no small feat.
There's not a lot to excited about Blackburn under Sam Allardyce and his worldwide football Walmart shopping, but Gamst -- a holdover from the Mark Hughes era -- makes watching the team tolerable on an occasional basis.
It might even be time for Gamst to release a new Norwegian pop song.
So even if Blackburn's new Indian owners want to rename Ewood Park after their poultry company, Gamst still gets this week's Great Job! (pencil noises.)
Fantasy Team O' the Week:
Lots of goals. Lots of points this weekend. If you're into the fantasy, teams with Johan Elmander are roaring past the Didier Drogba-lead teams. Top scores go to Jared Dunn's Sparta FC, with an all around big week, with Foster, van der Vaart, Elmander and Tevez.
One other thing:
As I've said in the past, it'd be nice where we get to the day the talk surrounding MLS is about the actual, on-field stuff, not the schematics of how Don Garber runs the league.
Then again, for the second-straight season, a mediocre regular season team -- this time the Colorado Rapids -- lifted the Cup, in wintry Toronto, as it were. Figures MLS is decided by a tough own goal and Connor Casey scoring a from flat on his ass.
Now, I'm not a person who's hell-bent on a single-table, non-playoffs situation. Playoffs one of the original ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. They're not going anywhere and in Garber's mind they're unalienable.
That said, adding two playoff teams for the 2011 season, devalues the regular season even more, even with 18 clubs in the mix. Knockout, one-off soccer is so much different than that 30+ game regular season, not sure how MLS can adjust to this fact.
Look at it this way in the other major American sports:
* NFL: 16 regular season games, four rounds of playoffs, i.e. 25 percent ratio (regular season-to-playoffs.)
* MLB: 162 regular season games, three rounds, at most 19 games, i.e. eight percent ratio.
* NBA: 82 regular season games, four rounds, at most 28 games, i.e. 34 percent ratio.
With MLS, you play 30 games, then your fate is decided by two games in the first round, then two one-offs if you want to win it. Doesn't seem to reward the strong regular season teams enough. You run a marathon then it's a quick 5K sprint at the end.
Garber seems open to changing things, though adding teams isn't the best course of action. Byes, making the opening round three-games, with the higher seed getting two home games.