Good golly, where to start a Monday morning English Premier League wrap-up-o-rama after what transpired Saturday?
Actually, after giving it a little thought, there's a easy place to go.
As an American, you have to feel good for the USMNT No. 1 after his involvement Saturday morning in Everton's -- frankly unbelievable -- 3-3 draw at Goodison Park vs. Manchester United. Howard made two patently ridiculous saves in the first half, one a diving, overhead cartwheel kick-save and later a point blank denial, keeping the Toffees close. Too bad shoddy marking allowed Manchester United to pull back a 2-1 lead through Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic. (As per usual, Zonal Marking does a fine job breaking down the tactics of a game that featured 10 defenders and just one natural striker at opening whistle.)
United's third, a beautiful long pass from Paul Scholes to Dimitar Berbatov(*)? Not much Howard -- or any keeper -- could do to stop that piece of fried gold.
(*) For those scoring at home, Peter Drury did indeed call him "languid" upon the Bulgarian's first touch, keeping that Cal Ripken-like streak alive by English announcers.
As for the specifics of Everton's thrilling comeback after the 91st minute?
What words can do it justice? Two goals in stoppage time against a team like Manchester United? Guess we'll never see anything like that again, though I'm sure a few fans across Bavaria poured themselves a tall cold one watching Sir Alex Ferguson's reaction.
That's twice in two road games this season where United couldn't hold its nerve to see out a game. And that has nothing to do with whether or not Wayne Rooney was sex-iled to the bench by Ferguson. Maybe it's bad luck. Maybe it's quirks. Maybe it's years of comeuppance all paying due at once.
United are still United. The team still expects to win and as long as Scholes pretends he's 2009 Brett Favre, the Red Devils will be hard to beat. Soccer, though, is always weird. Once these fluky defeats start happening, it creates a bad vibe and sticks with teams mentally. United's nerves a usually rock solid. United fans should start jumping out of windows quite yet, but the way the team gagged vs. Fulham and Everton would raise the threat assessment up a peg.
It's not too far out of line to say those four dropped points vs. Everton(*) and Fulham -- recall Nani's missed penalty -- have already put United up against in the title chase vs. Chelsea, which shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
(*) Not to be Debbie Downer, but let's not let the last two minutes mask over Everton's glaring issues, namely a laissez-faire defensive level and it's Herculean struggle to score goals from anything other than Tim Cahill's kangaroo jumps to knock down balls in the box. Everton is sitting on two points because, against type, its players are being out-worked.
However it plays out, it's fitting that this thrilling game was relegated to Fox Soccer Plus/.tv.
ESPN2 has been showing the early Saturday EPL kickoff since last season, but had West Ham v. Chelsea at 10 a.m. This weekend, for whatever the reason (rights-related, I'm sure) the WWL shows its traditional outdoor programming and misses the wildest finish the Prem probably will ever offer this year. Meanwhile two hours later, inside of two minutes Michael Essien is heading in for Chelsea, rendering the next 88 minutes at Upton Park a mere formality on ESPN2.
I'd imagine even Chelsea diehards had trouble sticking around for that one with all the other 10 a.m. sporting options.
Perhaps this is jumping to a major conclusion, yet if any team is going to apply pressure to Chelsea, it might be Arsenal. Yeah, the same Gunners who I poke more holes in than a spaghetti strainer on a given week. The same Arsenal who's back four and keeper inspires as much confidence as an undrafted rookie NFL quarterback taking snaps in a regular season game.
Yep, that Arsenal.
Even without Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, the Gunners didn't miss a beat, out-slugging a game Bolton team 4-1 at the Emirates.
Sure there are holes in the squad. The consistent injuries. The inconsistency of Ardrey Arshavin. Manuel Almunia's Iberian Comedy Show, which you never know when is going to pop out and spook you. Throw in Arsene Wenger finding something or someone to bitch about every weekend and Arsenal'a hopwa seem about as fail safe as Michael Cera's ability of opening a would-be summer blockbuster.
Yet we saw Saturday how good Arsenal still can be when Cesc Fabregas is running across the field, pinging balls all over the place. If he is indeed Barcelona-bound, Fabregas seems to have enough loyalty to the red-and-white to give it his best effort in an Emirates would-be swan-song. So long as he's doing his best Jeff Lebowski rug impression and tying the Gunners together, they'll nipping at Chelsea's heels.
One stat you have to like about Arsenal is it doesn't give up games, at least against, the non-Big Four/Five/Six. In 2009-10 26 percent of it's league goals came in the final 15 minutes. Arsenal have that knack.
There's nothing scientific about it, but with the whole Rooney situation(*) casting a shadow over Manchester United, coupled with its defensive issues it might not be the Red Devils season. Same thing for Manchester City, which doesn't have a call girl scandal, but the same glaring inabilies to grind out results with consistency.
(*) United are better without Rooney? Really? ... Really? Are English writers sure they want these columns on their C.V.s? Funny how the English media picked up Moyes' hints it was Ferguson sending Rooney as message and ran with them.
If it's not Arsenal putting up a chase to Chelsea, who else can it be?
It's only four games, sure, but Chelsea know how to crush and demoralize their oppositon. Without Frank Lampard or the red-hot Flourent Malouda starting on the bench (yep, added him and captained him in fantasy), Chelsea brushed West Ham aside like a gnat. Unless Carlo Ancelotti goes insane or Roman Abramovich makes a shock move to reacquire Andriy Schevchenko in January, how is anyone going to slow down the Blue machine?
Chelsea might run away with it, though with my positively Derby County 2007-esque start to prognosticating this EPL season, take that with a grain of salt.
Other Match quickees:
Watched nearly everything for a bit on Saturday -- thanks FSC.tv, aside from when West Brom/Tottenham's signal transformed into Sky News for five minutes.
* West Brom 1, Tottenham 1 -- Rafael van dar Vaart started and took a key role for Spurs, who should have maybe won the game, except for another terrible gaffe from Carlo Cudicini. Shouldn't rag on the guy after his horrific motorcycle crash, but his missed flap gifted the Baggies a point. West Brom started Paul Scharner, winning the "You're a winner and a loser" honors of the weekend.
* Newcastle 0, Blackpool 2 -- How to read this game? Blackpool scored on a late first half penalty kick and off a break after Newcastle sent everything forward? The Mapgies had plenty of chances and couldn't convert. Blackpool, for all it lacks, has a team that plays on the same page and can pass the ball very well on the ground. Oh, the Tangerines play Chelsea this weekend. Fascinating match all of a sudden.
* Manchester City 1, Blackburn 1 -- A totally unforced communication error between Kolo Toure and Joe Hart gifted Rovers a goal, as Niko Kalanic capitalized on another keeping gaffe, like Round 1 vs. Everton. Man of the Match was Blackburn's Christopher Samba, was was immense all game and blocked a certain tap-in by Jo late on the goal line. City have better personell for the counter-attack as opposed to when they have to take the game to a packed-in defense. Carlos Tevez does have weeks where he's merely Bruce Banner.
* Fulham 2, Wolves 1 -- Four games in, the best transfer I've seen play is Fulham's Moussa Dembele. Right now he's carrying the Cottagers, both scoring and creating goals. He'll never get as gifted a free-kick as the one that beat Wolves late Saturday, when the either defensive wall jumped out of the way, leaving Marcus Hahnemann helpless. Weird quirk, all three goals were scored by Beligans with Dembele's double and Oguchi Onyewu-antagonizer Jelle Van Damme for Wolves.
* Birmingham City 0, Liverpool 0 -- Missed this all but the final 15 minutes for my softball doubleheader loss. Seems like I didn't miss much. Raul Meireles came on later and pushed Steven Gerard further back on the field. Strange. ... If you need a little more meet, fellow "Venture Bros." aficionado Nate over at Oh You Beauty breaks down Liverpool's ineptitude.
When Injuries Attack(non-Arsenal section):
Plenty of good men went down this weekend.
Of note, Luka Modric limped off on crutches, but X-Rays Sunday were encouraging. Blackburn captain Ryan Nelson left at halftime. Bobby Zamora figures to miss most of the rest of the season with a broken ankle, opening the door for Eddie Johnson to see some extended minutes at Craven Cottage. My buddy Ahmed El Mohamady left in the first half for Sunderland, too.
Around the League:
Asamoah Gyan scored. Lee Cattermole got a red card. All-and-all, your typical 2010-11 Sunderland match, drawing at Wigan 1-1. ... Scott Carson borrowed Chris Kirkland's baseball cap. ... Not sure why, but I'm convinced Gary Neville and Joey Barton trade their shitty goatees back-and-forth between games. Oh, we can probably throw Rafael van dar Vaart into the Snidely Whiplash equation. ... Watching a lot of games at once, did Stuart Holden do much for Bolton? Didn't seem like it, though the Trotters royal blue away kits looked nice.
On Track for Worst "FIFA 11" rating vis-a-vis real life:
Adam Johnson, Manchester City.
When he's played as an "opposite winger" on the right, cutting inside to use his left foot, he's like a slightly sturdier, well, massively sturdier Arjen Robben with a little less pace. Figure "FIFA 11" rates him in the 75-78 range, when his current form should push him closer to an 83-85. Fortunately if you don't mind paying for the weekly league updates, Johnson's form will be adjusted.
Wonder if he'll look like that dude from "Big Bang Theory" in digital form?
He's still alive awards:
Dusting off a couple here, Pascal Chimbonda came on at halftime for Blackburn as I'd simply forgotten of his existence.
Next, the aforementioned Patrick Vieira brought his creaky old bones into the Manchester City midfield, to give Gareth Barry a respite after dual-England duties.
Andrew "Don't Call Me Andy" Johnson was briefly shown on the Fulham bench Saturday. Again, forget he was still amongst the living.
Lastly, Luis Boa Morte played and started for West Ham. No offense, but he seemed washed up five years ago at Fulham. The Portuguese winger isn't the sole reason West Ham in 0-0-4, but the fact he's seeing minutes against the best team in the league doesn't bode well for Los Irons.
Tweet of the Week:
From @xtiandc ...
"FSC's insistence that concurrent games are being played "later" is so very lame. Just give us ht scores & highlights please."
So true. Yes, there are probably people that will wait to watch a game, but it's much easier for those trying to avoid spoilers to leave the room at halftime or change the channel than to deny 95 percent of the viewers an update. Maybe it's some byzantine rights issue. Always seems to be that way.