English Premier Analysis: Man United, Blackburn and More


Another weekend in the wild, wacky world of the English Premier League brought to you by Barclays. Apparently it was the first time in the history of the division that all 20 teams scored a goal in the same weekend.

That's Entertainment:

"'Arry and Woy
'Arry and Woy
Up on the great white waaaaay."

That off-kilter diddy is a result of watching Larry David flub his way through "The Producers" during that season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," not from actually watching the musical on Broadway. Something about the god-awful attempt to be a serious song-and-dance man by Larry hits my comedy sweet spot, since he and I seem to share a similar ambivalence toward lavish Broadway musicals.

For yet another weekend, the bright lights of the Premier League shone on White Hart Lane.

And for another weekend Tottenham rescued points from a losing position, beating Liverpool with two second half goals in a 2-1 result. All told Spurs have come from behind to get points six times this year, winning a remarkable five of those. Is it a fluke, a trend or something else entirely?

Maybe some of us nerds in the America internet soccer closed society community give a guy like ESPN's Bill Simmons crap for (pretending) to be a Spurs fan, for not being authentic. The thing is, Tottenham's been on television in the States a lot over the last 11 months. If you're tuning into these games it's hard not to be walk away both impressed and entertained.

Or put it this way. Say you weren't much into soccer but Landon Donovan's "Gold Goal/Go Go USA" got you into the sport and when the Premier League season rolled around in August, you were intrigued. If you watched the games at face value, Spurs have certainly been more exciting that Manchester United and on par with Arsenal or the early season ass-kicking Chelsea.

Spurs games, they're never dull.

It's high-wire, rollercoaster, high-incident soccer every week in 90 minute doses. Doubled on Champions League weeks.

Maybe it all boils down to one thing: speed.

Tottenham have fast players across the field. Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, Luke Modric, etc. That speed kept Liverpool on the back foot for most of the second half as Paul Konchesky was beaten on like a bald, rented mule who just about every on the red side of Merseyside want to take behind the nearest tool shed and put out of his misery.

Of course Spurs' theatrics in the second half were the result of Liverpool's inability to go up 2-0 at the end of the first half and start of the second. Maxi Rodriguez's missed chances, including one set up on a beautiful little flick from Fernando Torres are part of the reason the Reds share the identical 5-4-6 as the three promoted teams: Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool.

Adding insult to injury is that Spurs' winner came from Aaron Lennon -- who's been pretty much useless this season until today -- and his Kriss Kross approved haircut and eyebrows. Or as Jon Champion put it, his "the man with the go-faster stripes in his hair."

Speaking of injuries, Spurs limped through the game with Rafael van der Vaart and Younes Kaboul both leaving in the first half with knocks. Not sure why Redknapp rolled the dice by starting the Dutchman, who needed to come off after about 10 minutes after attempting a ridiculous back-heel attempt on goal with his momentum going in the other direction.

Spurs also got through a game with the "defending" of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who's tactics seem to be running at a player and hoping he stops to laugh as his muppet-approved hairstyle. Off the bench, Sebestien Bassong -- playing with a gold stud in his nose -- looked he thought he was playing for 2009 Newcastle.

No idea how Spurs keeps doing this? Eventually it has to level out, right?

Hopefully it doesn't though, or if it does, it's Spurs coughing up late leads causing Redknapp's face to look even more downtrodden.

Sports are entertainment, first and foremost. Spurs are giving us that in spades, even if you're a neutral.

The Count:

Channeling my inner, horribly lame pan-Eastern European accent.

How many goals did Dimitar Berbatov score for Manchester United in it's 7-1 pwnage of Blackburn on Saturday at Old Trafford?

One ... two (hahahah) ... three ... four ... five (hahahaha)

"Sesame Street" references? Crickets? Is there a "Yo Gabba Gabba" equivalent?

Not much to say about this match, honesty. It wasn't like Blackburn appeared in the mood to muster much of a fight even before Berbatov's goal within two minutes. Pascal Chimbonda eventually made sure of that.

If you're a United supporter you certainly take heed in the fact that the Red Devils are right now atop the heap of a very mediocre group of 20 teams. Eight wins, seven draws and zero losses is best in England, which is hard to fathom.

Better yet, United can hang its hat on the fact an improving Wayne Rooney seems to bring out the best in Berbatov, who is easily the most frustrating player around. The Bulgarian is capable of such wondrous goals and impressive skill, yet it's not a week-to-week thing for Berbatov.

Consider him the anti-Bruce Springsteen. You know with Bruce he's bringing his best for a two and a half hour concert regardless of the town. He's doing it for the folks. Take it from Peoria to Pretoria, "Spirits in the Night" is going to bring down the house.

Berbatov is more like a long-touring "Jam" band. The kind of band that has message boards devoted to fans dissecting performances and determining when the band is "bringing it" or when they're going through the motions on a 20-minute experimental "noodling" session.

Doubt there's a chance in hell Berbatov has ever heard a song by Phish, Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, .moe, Disco Biscuits, etc.

Tying Bravely:

It made perfect sense, naturally, that Bolton gets a week's worth of praise evolving from unwashed, long ball Allardyce philistines to enlightened soccer evangelists under the Church of Coyle, then the team goes out and falls behind to Blackpool with both goals coming from headers on corners. Doesn't this happen every time, no matter the sport?

The kneejerk reaction is that it's all Stuart Holden's fault for failing a fitness test on his hamstring. Guess it does go to show how important the American midfielder is inside the Bolton midfield puzzle.

Down 2-0, Bolton could have rolled over, could have pretended they were still playing for the hapless Toby Flederson lookalike, Gary Megson.

Nope. The stat community doesn't love the intangible of "heart" but Bolton certainly showed that with two goals in the final 14 minutes. Three points are three points, and at best Bolton is looking at a place in UEFA Cup, so in a weird way rallying in such rousing fashion is almost more impressive than a ho-hum win.

Once Martin Petrov slapped in the first goal, it seemed like Bolton almost knew one way or another it would find a way to level. Figures that a total unknown, Mark Davies, finds the way to get that second goal.

The usual question moving forward with a team like this is how does talent and belief mesh over the coming games? Bolton don't have a ton of players in reserve after its first 14 or 15 players, Saturday at least the club showed its got plenty of guts.

Tying Lamely:

Whomever the first British media hack was to coin the term, "Smash-and-grab," bravo. It's a perfect summation of what we see plenty of times. A favored, more talented team gets dominated or frustrated by a scrappy underdog, only to break their hearts with a goal from out of nowhere in the final 10 minutes.

Saturday at Stoke City, Micah Ricards, smashed, grabbed, dummied and left defender Danny Collins with his pants on the ground ... which it should be noted was covered in a thin layer of snow in certain places around the Britannia. Pretty sure Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez had an unofficial contest to see who could a) wear the bigger neck warmer and b) trigger the fastest exit story in the Brit tabs due to their hatred of the English winter. Good times.

Up a goal from nowhere, City got a little sloppy and let Tuncay play a ball beautifully off his chest to an on-running Mathew Etherington in stoppage time. Great effort by Stoke, which was in the relegation zone a month ago and is now up to eighth. Lesson of the season -- keep grindin', jack like Clipse.

Again City are undone at the end, unable to close out a game.

And again, too, the team has to wonder about the enigma that is Balotelli, who has the physical gifts to rival any player in the world, but the mentality of a 13-year-old girl who got skunked on Jonas Brothers tickets.

With a single-table, non-playoff system in the EPL you could conceivably do it every match, wondering about dropped points. Since the league is so wide-open, City could realistically contend for the title. These two points will sting.

Good teams win games. Great ones know how to kill them off.

Patrick Fabregas Theory?:

Conventional, probably true, wisdom is Cesc Fabregas is the undisputed best player on Arsene Wenger's traveling soccer circus. Influential, blood-and-guts midfielder. Captain's armband. Engine. Fulcrum. Talisman.

Once again this weekend Arsenal played without their oft-injured captain, looking strong (offensively) in a 4-2 win at Aston Villa.

When and if Cesc's wandering heart returns to the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Arsenal might not miss a beat.

Are the Gunners better with Fabregas? Sure.

Can they live without him? Probably.

Saturday we saw Samir Nasri drop deeper in the Arsenal midfield triangle, with Tomas Rosicky (wearing the captain's armband) taking over on the right wide forward spot ahead of Theo Walcott. It helped, too, that Andrey Arshavin was active from the get-go, playing one of his best games in red-and-white. Russians must love playing in the cold, or at least that's what the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos" taught me.

On a more cynical note, it's pretty much proven that the framework and structure of the Premier League eventually turn players muscles, tendons and sinew into chewed up grist. Perhaps Fabregas, only 23, doesn't have a lot of prime years left. It's concerning how often his hamstring is starting to waylay him.

Wenger be wise to sell him while his value is still near it's peak, and use that windfall from Catalonia to buy, you know, a goalkeeper or a central defender that knows how to mark and win a header inside the penalty area.

When and if Fabregas leaves, the sky won't fall from the Emirates. It's not like the Gunners have won anything with him leading the way, have they?

Obligatory Clint Dempsey is God mention:

Burly header from up close, powering over a pair of Birmingham defenders to get Fulham a 1-1 draw. Par for the course.

Ssssh. Pay no attention that Fulham is 17th in the table.

Around the League:

Blackpool's Gary Taylor-Fletcher might be the most nonathletic-looking player in a long time. There are guys playing beer league softball that look more Premier League-worthy than him. ... Didn't see much of this one, but where did Wolves 3-2 win over Sunderland come from? ... Also, had to sleep through Newcastle's 1-1 draw with Chelsea after a looooong Saturday night's journey into morning. As bad as Chelsea's been the last month, the Blues are only two points off the pace. It's going to be that kind of year. ... Speaking as a person with no dog in the fight, let's see a lot more Nathan Delfouneso the rest of the season instead of John Carew. Intersting how as recently as two years ago Villa had the smallest senior squad in the League, now they seem to pull some unknown 19-21 year old into the lineup on a weekly basis. Ciaran Clark and his two goals filled the role Saturday vs. Arsenal. ... Weird incident in West Brom's 4-1 beatdown of Everton. West Brom's Gonzalo Jara threw two burly elbows at Everton players. No calls. Mikel Arteta went in on him hard and attempted a stamp while the Chilean was on the ground. Rare moment of madness from the classy Spaniard, though he did get in that Three Stooges slapping/finger pointing kerfuffle with Gamst last season. ... The unintentional comedy was off the charts for ESPN's telecast. From Ian Darke's officially licensed MLS mittens -- purchased from the Toronto Airport (YYZ!) duty free shop, no doubt. And Steven McManaman dropping into the live game commentary mid-bite of a meat pie? Can't make this stuff up. ... On the other end of the spectrum David Pleat's analysis during Liverpool/Spurs was cringe-worthy, especially bringing up and praising the positive qualities of Robbie Keane mid-match. Dreadful stuff.

Great Job!

Can you hit a free kick better than Chris Brunt's curling effort that left Tim Howard screaming into the cold English wind?

Absolute beauty.

For that moment of brilliance, Great Job! (Pencil noises.)

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Much love to Luke Sebastian's Paddy's Pub putting up 95 points behind Berbatov's 50 in the captain's role. Well done sir.

Almost as strong as this season of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which has experienced a Berba-like return to form this year. ... Go suck an egg if you don't agree.

One other thing:

Actress Paz de la Huerta is in the midst of a Cristiano Ronaldo circa 2008 goal-scoring streak. Well, instead of scoring, let's call it casual (and graphic) pay cable nudity on "Broadwalk Empire."

The gauntlet, or in this case, baggy 1920s underwear has been thrown down.

Add in the degree of difficulty since the show is set almost 90 years ago in Prohibition-era America and this is like the Babe Ruth of television nudity.


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