Out of Ammo

Sadio Mané’s injury looked serious, but turned out to be not so bad. How fortunate!

It’s this time of the year. The legs are heavy. The star players are creaky. Even the mediocre defences are holding steady. This Premier League weekend featured 19 goals – the joint-worst quota for a full gameweek this season, alongside with the week 9 and 19. Out of all big-name forwards, only Sergio Agüero showed up, producing a calm, bottom-corner finish in what’s been hailed as a game of the weekend.

Others? Diego Costa only picked up his usual yellow card. Lukaku had his first valuable contribution to the game after 70 minutes, when he dropped deeper to help his teammates create something – yet he still finished the Merseyside derby without a single shot, let alone strike on target. His main rival to the Golden Boot, Alexis Sánchez, might’ve been utterly destroying Jesus Navas down the wing, but still with no cigar. Suspended Zlatan Ibrahimović and injured Harry Kane did not feature at all.

It is not going to get better anytime soon. This was just the first in line of heavily congested fixtures coming right after an exhausting international break. The heroes of this season are already tired and with that and injuries coming along to haunt them, the insipid, defensive sides like Crystal Palace, Leicester, Hull and West Brom are on the rise. It’s just this time of the year – and, unless EPL schedules change, we’re set for more of the same in the future.

However, before the customary points have been split, we got to watch a customary bending over of Everton in the Merseyside derby. The last time Toffees have beaten Liverpool was back in 2010, when Romelu Lukaku had his breakout season at Anderlecht and David Moyes’ starting eleven at Goodison Park featured Phil Neville, Sylvain Distin and Leon Osman. How, in view of that, anyone could be surprised by “in-form” Everton collapsing? I don’t know.

To be fair to Ronald Koeman and his lads, they were sort of forced into fielding a reserve team. Mason Holgate, Matthew Pennington, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all made a start at Anfield and even though one of them managed to score a corner-kick tap-in – their lack of experience was bound to get exposed anyway. Liverpool’s dazzling forwards against an experimental setup by the visitors… the result could only be one.

To magnify Everton’s demise, the senior professionals, who were supposed to inspire the team hardly did their jobs either. Lukaku, I’ve already mentioned; Ashley Williams, the newfound leader of EFC’s back-four has embarrassed himself while trying to defend the third goal. Ross Barkley, the supposed link of play upfront, has only emerged once, when his ridiculous, diving tackle nearly broke Dejan Lovren’s ankle. It was a nightmare to watch.

In the end, it was Philippe Coutinho, who sank that blue Titanic. It was only his second goal and second assist in the year 2017 but, to be fair, they were both quite brilliant. With Lallana’s thigh crooked on international duty and Sadio Mané suffering a knee injury after a wild scramble against Leighton Baines, it will be down to the Brazilian to create things in the final third against Bournemouth. The 3rd place finish is still on the line…

The Eagles have a thing for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Last season, in times of post-Eva Carneiro darkness at CFC ground, they’ve come there and snatched a sensational 2-1 victory thanks to their least likely hero, right-back Joel Ward. This time around, the man in question was partly responsible for conceding the opener by the visitors, as he got hypnotised by Eden Hazard’s footwork. However – as it turned out, the final result was all the same.

Wilfried Zaha. Four years ago, the Crystal Palace stalwart was on a brink of starting a superb career when he moved to Manchester United. One year, two weeks and thousands of weird accusations of sleeping with David Moyes’ daughter later, the lad finally flourishes. This season, crowned by a goal against one of the best defensive setups in the league, has been a massive statement from the young Ivorian. He’s fast, he’s decisive and he’s taking the responsibility for his teams’ fate: something neither Jason Puncheon nor Andros Townsend have been able to do. And it’s probably not even his final word this season.

The other superhero of Sam Allardyce’s unlikely success on Saturday was Wayne Hennessey. Last summer, upon the signing of Steve Mandanda, it seemed that the Welsh keeper will share the fate of Julian Speroni and get replaced like a needless car part. It’s now March 2017, Mandanda is struggling to get back in fitness after a surgery of his injured knee and Hennessey is performing miracles in CP’s goal. By defending with ultra-deep line, his teammates have handed him a chance to prove his worth – and 10 saves he’s made against Hazard, Costa and Pedro have only cemented his position as Big Sam’s number one. Palace going from strength to strength; Chelsea’s coronation delayed.

If only Tony Martial was as good as Ibra…

When Leroy Sané’s superior positioning and pace bamboozled Héctor Bellerín to fire City in the lead, it seemed that various Gooner banners urging Arsène Wenger to leave this summer will find one more match to justify themselves. The clock at Emirates was showing only five minutes gone and it’s visitors’ experimental side that started the game better, causing all kinds of trouble to the hosts. Once again, the duo of Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka struggled while Pep Guardiola’s key man, Fernandinho nearly cloned himself to both intercept the dangerous passes and cover the teammates’ mistakes.

Fortunately for Arsenal, City weren’t able to maintain that level of intensity all through the match and soon, they’ve had to face their own issues. Amidst the fitness issues of Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna, their manager has plopped Jesús Navas as a makeshift right-back, handing the Spaniard a task of containing Alexis. It was a bitter, uphill struggle for the ex-Sevilla winger, who could’ve been sent off if it wasn’t for the referee’s leniency. To his credit, he did prevent Sánchez from making his 28th goal contribution of the season. On the other hand – this wasn’t nearly enough to improve MC’s pathetic quota of clean sheets.

A draw is a defeat for the visitors. Given the recent form of Arsenal, the troubled dressing room situation that is rumoured to remain at Emirates, the two-times earned lead on Sunday – they’ve had all the ability in the world to win the match. And then, a failed clearance combined with Clichy’s sloppiness, produced the 1-1 result; Otamendi’s late jump against an otherwise unmarked centre-back has settled the 2-2 scoreline.

As Shkodran Mustafi nodded home AFC’s second equalizer, it became clear that Pep’s team remains an unfinished article. With one point won against Spurs, one against Liverpool and fluke four stolen from Arsenal (beating Gunners at Etihad through two offside goals), their spoils of war against the top six are looking rather pathetic. What’s worse, in order to keep up with the race for the second place, they absolutely have to do what Crystal Palace just did and beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Which is doable – but first, they have to master a difficult art called ‘keeping the lead’.

On paper, this was the actual Game of the Weekend. One relegation-threatened side against the other relegation-threatened side. One team under pressure (as Palace and Leicester have won on Saturday) against the other team under pressure (as Hull picked up 3 points too). Defensive calamity (Swans have conceded 63 goals in 29 matches) against attacking incompetence (Boro has scored only three times in the league since the start of 2017). At Vitality Stadium, everything was set for an epic six-pointer.

NOPE! This was the game for FA to shove under the carpet and never show it to the public. It was bad enough to be immortalised in a Hall of Fail, alongside with several West Bromwich games and the entire Newcastle United’s 2015/16 season. No quality, no creativity, no belief, not even a shred of ambition to take a chance and risk a difficult pass instead of giving the ball to the nearest teammate, often standing behind the one’s back. That, plus a bunch of fouls and a fair share of time-wasting – here’s what this game was all about.

Only two moments to remember from this pile of sweaty bollocks. Right at the start, Álvaro Negredo has exploited the traditionally abysmal Swansea’s offside trap and got on the end of a decent, through ball – only to ruin it with possibly the worst first touch you’ll ever see from a Premier League player. Apart from that, there was a class, fierce shot by Gylfi Sigurðsson that was nicely saved by Victor Valdés. All things considered: watching those two lads getting demoted to taking part in this mockery of football contest felt pretty sad.


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