Noisy Neighbours still have much to learn after Super Sunday in the Premier League

Yesterday afternoon was a fine exhibition of just why Manchester United must be considered the favourites to win the Premier League. That isn’t to say Manchester City can’t challenge strongly or indeed Chelsea, but the performance levels of each of the sides and the results that came with them are indicative of United’s favourable chances of retaining their title.

Nani was electric against Chelsea

On a fantastic afternoon of Premier League football there were several fixtures and results that caught the eye. Not only were the combined winners of the last seven titles going head-to-head, but there were several huge games going on around the country and each of them produced four goals apiece.

In the North East there was the battle of two sides who having invested heavily over the summer should really be aiming to go one step better than a mid-table battle this season. Sunderland and their visitors Stoke have brought in high quality buys from some of the league’s stronger clubs and will both hope to challenge for European qualification via their league placing. Big names such as John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Nicklas Bendtner have flocked to the Stadium of Light this summer and yesterday was maybe just the beginning of things to come as they trounced their in-form opponents 4-0. It is fair to say that Stoke’s big signings such as Peter Crouch,Wilson Palacios and Jonathan Woodgate (all formerly of Spurs) are still settling in following their moves to the Brittania but yesterday was a defensive nightmare, something not often associated with Stoke performances.The Black Cats will certainly hope to carry this form into their upcoming matches after a poor start to the season.

Sunderland's new boys seem to be settling in at last

Another 4-0 win was registered yesterday, and this was by Spurs. They like Sunderland have struggled for form thus far this season amidst the unsettling Luka Modric transfer saga, but new signings Scott Parker and Emannuel Adebayor continued their great starts yesterday as they provided a real freshness and willingness against Liverpool. Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was once again left upset by the performance of the referee in his side’s humbling but I would go as far as to say that the referee handled the key incidents perfectly. For me Charlie Adam’s red card was a dead-cert and Martin Skrtel was sent off for offences which are without question worthy of yellow cards in the modern era.

Could Adebayor be the signing of the summer on loan from City

Maybe the most significant result of the weekend was the 2-2 draw between Fulham and Manchester City. Having controlled the game and taken a seemingly comfortable initiative at 2-0 up City lost their way and with it the two of the three points they had firmly in their grasp. As has been the pattern this season Manchester City had the opportunity to lay down a marker for their more illustrious neighbours and up to this point they had done a good job of it. Yesterday though was the first plain indication this season that City do indeed have some frailties. Rather than the unbelievable claims of Roberto Mancini that he lacks midfield resources at present, I think the concession of their lead has much more to do with pressure and a lack of experience at leading the pack.

City are indeed dealing with notable absences such as Nigel De Jong and James Milner in the heart of their midfield but it is hardly a nightmare to have to cope with playing Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure in this role. After all they have won the Champions League, La Liga and FA Cup titles between them so they aren’t exactly mugs are they? It must be simply terrible to have the likes of Kolo Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Adam Johnson, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli on your bench mustn’t it? Give me a break.

Mancini's excuses were hard to stomach, but City are a huge threat under his guidance

On a more serious note it has to be said that Mancini must have been desperately upset with his team’s second half display to have lowered himself to such nonsense. However, City and in particular their new star striker Sergio Aguero are continuing to look a serious attacking threat and one which could cause Sir Alex Ferguson a few sleepless nights as the season goes on.

In stark contrast to City’s inability to turn a decent performance into three points was Manchester United’s rather erratic display which earned them a massive 3-1 win over major title rivals Chelsea. It was so hit and miss from United on the day but they still managed to down a Chelsea side that were playing with far greater purpose than they have done so far this season. In attack it was wingers Nani and Ashley Young that were once again in an extremely dangerous mood and they gave the Chelsea defence a torrid time. Though Rooney wasn’t his usual self in front of goal his contribution to the exciting build up play was once again magnificent and it was this that combined beautifully with the wide men’s persistent torment to provide an outstanding counter-attacking display which was reminiscent of Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. Not all the pieces of the jigsaw were quite there for United and a heck of lot was lacking at times but their winning mentality and attacking flair once again did the trick. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed  that the game was “painful” for him to watch, but even he must be staggered by the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as they continue to hush fears of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s absence in the heart of the United defence.

On a Super Sunday of Premier League football United once again asserted their authority and continued to deal with their absences without fuss, whilst this time City came up short. The Noisy Neighbours are gaining momentum and are a huge threat to United’s crown, of that there is no doubt, but yesterday suggested that they are still playing second fiddle in the City of Manchester for now. Tons of goals and tons of entertainment mean that I haven’t even got the time to mention Fernando Torres’ horrible miss…

Advertisements

Familiarity breeds contempt, and Haskell can’t bottle it up any longer

Another day another stuttering victory for England. Another day another bout of criticism, only this time it has come very firmly from within as well as from the media and supporting public. James Haskell’s frank dressing-down of England’s display was on one hand refreshing and on another entirely worrying. It is rare for a sportsman to come out and speak with such bluntness and clear dismay at the performance of their under-fire team mates so in that sense it was a strange and rather wonderful spectacle. However, the very thinly veiled harshness of Haskell’s message is indicative that much is not right within the England camp at present.

An angry Haskell felt obliged to air his misgivings yesterday

Usually you would expect members of the side and the coaching staff to support an unconvincing showing provided that it brought with it a solid victory, as was the case today. Whilst offering aid to the cause it is often common place to hear acceptance that things weren’t quite up to the mark but that they soon will be. Haskell’s appraisal of the current state of play though was far less sympathetic as he stated that they can’t possibly “win the World Cup” if things remain as they are, an opinion which was publicly shared by Martin Johnson. One has to wonder whether Haskell’s words were directed entirely at the on-field efforts given the difficult week that the England camp has endured under the scrutiny of the world and it’s wife in the wake of off-field troubles.

I think it is wise to steer clear of an in-depth analysis of the week’s off-field dramas other than to say that things clearly got out of hand. You would expect Martin Johnson to defend his men unless huge misdemeanours came to light and this was the case with his moment of tabloid gold in saying “rugby player drinks beer…shocker!” This was a defiant line designed to demonstrate his contempt for the ‘excessive’ media coverage of events but ironically it was lapped up like sweet nectar by the press. His message is understandable and there was a dry-ness to it that provoked a chuckle, but maybe given the furnace-like pressure amidst World Cup fever it would have been wiser to avoid such a provocative remark.

Anyway, moving on to yesterday’s match itself… It is fair to say that the game provided a little more optimism than the opener against Argentina but not enough to satisfy the doubters. There was a familiar pattern to the previous match in terms of the game being littered with errors and ill-discipline hence the frustrations that were vented by Haskell and Johnson. Though these are certainly issues to be dealt with before matches against Romania and Scotland there were at least some real positives to be taken from the game.

Ashton flying again?

In attack there was a greater intent and desire to move the ball through the hands, which is highlighted by the fact that wingers Chris Ashton and Delon Armitage shared three tries between them. Shontayne Hape and Manu Tuilagi in the centres were also given greater invitation to run attacking lines and this resulted in them each getting on the scoresheet as well. The increased opportunities for the back-line runners must be attributed to the greater urgency and distribution provided by Leicester half-backs Ben Youngs and Toby Flood who were re-introduced as the starting playmakers in the line-up. Flood also must be credited for a stronger goal-kicking performance than Jonny Wilkinson’s against Argentina under the roof at the Otago.

There is certainly reason for ongoing concern given that yesterday’s opposition were considerably weaker than Argentina, but Georgia did play beyond their means and England did  manage to put forty points on them. The mistakes were again there for all to see and they were alarmingly similar to those present in the nail-biting win over Argentina, but certainly in attack there were signs of improved conviction and invention which should hopefully serve them well going forward. A tough week has now come to an end and England have managed to produce a victory with the always helpful addition of a bonus point for their greater assault on the try-line. Minor improvements there were, but major scope for improvement remains. The England camp will be praying on a quieter week this time around and with it a comfortable win over Romania should be achieved. Familiarity breeds contempt and the off-field dramas need to stop as do the indifferent performances.