There’s patient and there’s asleep at the wheel
By Steven Kelly
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking. LFC keep reminding me of movies lately. Now Brendan’s starring in his own version of Brewster’s Millions. Well, there’s €140m down the swanee for starters. Seriously, we look like we’ve been stiffed on every single purchase so far.
Yeah early days, blah blah. Tell it to Ronald Koeman. Better yet tell it to Villas-Boas who was informed last season he should be challenging for the title after spending all that Bale cash by a certain Northern Irishman who’s singing from an entirely different hymn-sheet now.
Of course the week wasn’t a total write-off (that comes next week). You can imagine all of Kenny’s acolytes being overjoyed with the current mantra “hey if we win the League Cup it’ll have been a good season”. Talk about worms turning; and have you seen Bournemouth lately, by the way? The undercurrent of dread as Newcastle’s results slowly improved told its own pitiful story but even after an hour of this game there seemed little to worry about. Pardew, one of those smarmy southern types who says “we was” instead of “we were” yet probably still gives northerners lip about “pwoper torking ‘n’ that”, surely wasn’t going to keep his run going? When you think our defence can’t stink any more than it does now, they always surpass themselves. It’s kind of impressive. We’d barely got near their goal ourselves because of one man up front, if Balotelli counts as such. If a thing fails ten times there’s no need to think it won’t work for the 11th. Right?
Rodgers is stubborn as hell, swallowing the “I’m-My-Own-Man” guide to football management whole, and he’s going to lose his job if he’s not careful. The midfield is packed because one player is 34-years-old and can’t function otherwise.
The ex-pros in the media salivate over Gerrard constantly but there’s something creepy about your captain seeping out contract gossip the day before a game. He’d be the first player to receive a huge reward for services previously rendered and already handsomely paid for.
Man of the match at St James? Look, it didn’t take much to stand out from that dross. He can Hollywood pass all day but with someone as immobile as Mario on his own it’s a waste. Henderson or Allen please, not both.
It doesn’t help when Coutinho goes into dozy-mode on away grounds. He was our best player for three straight Anfield appearances, but here he was on his travels meandering up his own arse again. Another example of persistence not paying off.
Johnson had the latest of many lazy days. Keep trying that left foot shot from 25 yards Glen, sure it’ll work someday. Lovren was okay against Swansea but looked lost here. As for Moreno he’s clearly been bought for his “dynamic” runs and nothing so tedious as common sense in his own box.
It was a tight, torpid game there to be won on a mistake but you knew damn well who’d make it. That’d be the team which always makes one. Rodgers continues to shrug and claim it’ll be better when we cut out silly errors, like it had bugger-all to do with him. When all the forwards are chucked on you know it’s over and merely triggered more gallows cackling about advanced coaching, learning from the best, 180-page manuals etc. Sturridge’s return date changes constantly but I’m not sure he’ll eradicate this mess. €45m’s worth of Lallana and Markovic wasn’t even seen, again.
It’s early days, they say. That means savouring talk about only being three points behind a top-four spot because soon it’ll be six, then nine, then “we knew it would be a tough year, we need to keep calm.”
There’s patient, and there’s asleep at the wheel. Did anyone actually think it would be this wretched? Can’t wait for tomorrow night.
By Bernard Azulay
So far this season, it’s been an all-too-rare occurrence for me to return home after a game and eagerly await the highlights on Match Of The Day. But with a selection of simply breathtaking efforts, amongst the Gunners’ 32 attempts on Burnley’s goal, it made for a pleasant change to find myself salivating at the prospect of seeing the best of these replayed on Saturday night.
It was a different story earlier in the afternoon, as the Clarets’ captain bravely threw his body in front of Santi’s goal-bound effort around the hour mark. We wondered if it was destined to be another disenchanting afternoon, with nothing to show for our domination, other than more dropped points.
As the terrace tom-toms beat out rumours of QPR’s surprising, but sadly all too brief resurgence at Stamford Bridge, the fickle mutterings of discontent mushroomed amongst the not so faithful, with 60,000 Gooners struggling with Le Gaffer’s unfathomable team-sheet logic.
Burnley began the season bristling with vivacious promise. Their travelling fans might be bloodied by not having seen their side win a single game since, but they remain unbowed and admirably vociferous, seemingly determined to enjoy their Premier League odyssey. But their confidence has taken such a battering that Sean Dyche’s side has been shorn of all that early season belief. This was all too evident in the limited ambitions of their team on Saturday, solely intent on “parking the bus”.
The Gunners really should’ve taken advantage of our guests’ timidity, with the sort of bold starting line-up that would signalled our intent to steam into the opposition, instead of patiently prodding the ball around until Burnley had their feet under the table and forgot all about feeling overawed.
If Giroud had been fit, perhaps Arsene might’ve been more inclined to make more of this rare opportunity to fulfil his AGM promise to play 4-4-2 at some stage this season. But if Wenger’s disinclination to play with a pair of strikers came as no surprise, we could have afforded to sacrifice a defensive midfielder or two.
Despite our agonising lack of first-half tempo, after having peppered Heaton’s goal, we really should’ve put Burnley to the sword long before Steve Bould rose from the bench to recall our subs, as desperation eventually forced Arsene to ring the changes with 30 minutes left on the clock. Nevertheless, for all our dominance, much like at the Stadium of Light last weekend, it was yet another demonstration that Alexis Sanchez possesses more desire than that of all the players on the park put together.
I wouldn’t have gambled on the diminutive Chilean beating Duff in the air to head home the opener. In fact our aerial limitations have become such a standing joke, it would almost be preferable to avoid the constant anti-climax of our endless succession of corners, by handing the ball straight to the opposition keeper for a goal-kick.
Remarkably, we did at least manage some return for our 18 corners on Saturday. Podolski’s supersonic volley could’ve been a goal of the season contender if Heaton hadn’t managed to get a miraculous hand on it and no sooner had I uttered the words “surely the law of averages must eventually prevail with someone getting on the end of a set-piece” than my prayers were answered by Chambers scrambling home his first Arsenal goal.
At 2-0 up, Theo Walcott had his tracksuit off and was itching to come on. I’m guessing Podolski will be going from Gooner to gonner at the earliest opportunity though, judging by his comparative lack of urgency to ready himself from the bench.
However with Ozil and Giroud still to return, and Koscielny to be reinstated, prior to encountering more meaningful opposition while Monreal remains in situ at centre-back, there’s some sense the Gunners are finally beginning to grind through the gears. Never mind Ebola, north London remains afflicted with an epidemic of Cesc psychosis. Although two wins on the bounce offers a much needed antidote of optimism, it will take more than mere bravado to nullify our “flat-track bully” persona.
For all the fabulous prospect of more scintillating football, I fear that without a physical midfield presence, we’re only ever riding towards the inevitable fall at the first opportunity for the big boys to put our toy football back in its box.
By Trizia Fiorellino
I was looking forward to Saturday, not because it was derby day — QPR aren’t the foe they once were — but for the return of Costa.
The effortless manner in which he has transformed our team makes it look a little bereft without him.
And from the off the rottweiler was back — running, making himself a nuisance, actively looking for the ball, keeping their defence busy. There was no goal this time but he still made his mark.
The main talking point from Saturday was Jose’s dig at the fans. As someone who travels everywhere with Chelsea I know we are no better or worse than any other team in the Premier League. There are certain clubs who hold themselves up as a cut above us mere mortals and claim that they truly are the 12th man, the template to which we all must aspire. However, anyone who attends matches regularly knows that this is garbage.
Most fans have their good days and their bad days but rarely if ever do most achieve the noise of the good old days (or the bad old days depending on your point of view) and the reasons behind that are numerous, discussed to death and of no interest to the money men that run football these days.
The fact of the matter is that football has become, for the most part, sterile. You can’t stand, you can’t smoke, you can’t drink, you can’t swear. And if you do there is a good chance you’ll be spotted by the stewards and banned by the club. And if the stewards don’t get you, clubs have set up phone and text lines for fans to grass up their fellow supporters. And then they’ll charge you anything up to £70 for the privilege of being treated like a child.
Mourinho should also remember that it was his decision to move the away fans, which put an end to the vociferous interaction between them and our most vocal stand.
Instead they are now concentrated in enviable seats while our family section laments having the worst view in the house.
What confuses me is why Mourinho chose this game to make these comments. The atmosphere was actually okay in the main. Of course I should point out that his comments were taken a little out of context — he was actually talking about the first 20 minutes before Oscar scored his audacious opener, a period where it could be argued the team were actually playing in quite a complacent manner.
Mourinho seemed in a spiky mood generally and has been for some time. The laconic smiling Jose has been replaced by what looks like an agitated, bad-tempered misery and I’m not exactly sure what the problem is.
We’re top of the league (even though I don’t think we are yet playing to our full potential), his summer buys have settled in remarkably quickly and we’re going great guns in the Champion’s League — so what’s he got to be miserable about exactly? I do wonder if the lack of controversy is getting to him. We all know that Jose likes nothing better than a bit of a bust-up — he feeds off the energy and uses it to somehow make the team more competitive. The FA, opposition managers and fans, referees, governing bodies are all fair game in my opinion but you are playing a very dangerous psychological game when you start so publicly on your own fans.
Both Ferguson and Wenger have done this in the past with no difference in crowd volume; indeed all it will achieve is alienating supporters further.
Anyway, next weekend we come up against Liverpool — a game where often form goes out the window. Usually this is a bad tempered affair on and off the pitch and one which fans are desperate to win. They are going through a difficult period at the moment with Rodgers trying to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke and that they weren’t a one-man team.
They will also be well aware it was Chelsea who effectively ended their title dreams last season — after they’d had the T-shirts printed and everything — which will give it even more of an edge.
By Richard Kurt
The media had their pre-prepared stats ready for full-time yesterday. “Four losses in a row to City for the first time since 1970!” announced several outlets, presumably knowing how that would chime darkly with those of us who know our history.
1970 would be the last year that that particular United team could still be thought of as clinging onto the label ‘contenders’, fit at least to breathe the same air as a then-dominant City.
We were about to go into a shocking steep decline.
But 2014 is not 1970, and there’ll be no crying into cornflakes this morning. Vincent Kompany may have declared afterwards that “this is massive (!) — it gives us our city (!) back,” but you didn’t have to be wearing red-tinted specs to see some signs that history will not be repeating itself.
The real winner yesterday was Chelsea, of course. True, their supposed nearest rivals clawed back three of the nine points separating the two clubs, but they will surely have seen what we also did: that City are simply not what they were. Admittedly, David Silva was a significant loss but the contrast with this time last year was surely clear to all.
When Moyes’s United went to City, it soon became an annihilation; yesterday, City were clinging on for dear life for the last quarter of an hour against 10 men and a makeshift defence, the cringing crowd audibly gripped by fear.
For the second time in a week, a United side that, earlier in the season, had often appeared barely able to function during the last half hour, rallied magnificently as the whistle approached.
Had it not been for some abysmal corner-taking and chance-snatching, we’d have claimed a point and — gulp — ‘the moral victory’. (Sorry to use the phrase which Brendan’s Liverpool have long since trademarked but it suits the purpose here).
If you’d told any Red at the moment the brainless dolt Smalling got red-carded that United would not only go on to concede just once but would also go close to snatching a draw, he’d have stared at you in disbelief.
So hats off to the lads who earned their mentions in dispatches: De Gea, Fellaini, Shaw, McNair, Carrick and Blind all displayed the United spirit we had grown so accustomed to under Fergie, and which sadly became so fleeting under Moyes.
Fellaini, for the second time in a week, had some Reds muttering — with jaws dropped — “man of the match?”: for the first time since the monster Touré arrived in Manchester, we had someone capable of stopping the beast marauding through our midfield.
Instead, it was the big boys who let us down: RVP, Rooney and Di Maria, with a combined value greater than most full Premiership teams, ran the gamut from disappointing to awful. You would not expect all three to be simultaneously so under-par very often in a season: so that was one dollop of bad fortune, the other being the pre and in-match injuries.
Thankfully, Lady Luck kindly evened out matters to some degree by inflicting the majority of the ref’s many terrible decisions onto City, not us.
When you reflect that we could easily have been down to nine men, and had at least two penalties given against us, you can understand why so many Reds seemed surprisingly upbeat after the match, despite the defeat.
Twenty years ago this week, United beat a wretched City 5-0 in a derby that still brings a sentimental tear to our eye, and kick-started City’s descent to the Second Division.
Twenty years almost to the week before that, we knocked them out of the League Cup, and began our phoenix-like rise from the old Second Division ashes.
How will we remember this one in 20 years’ time, if at all?
In every Red heart will beat the hope: that it was the day Kompany got it so wrong, because it was the day United showed we intend to take OUR city back.
And that would, indeed, be massive.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved