It takes something truly remarkable to bring a football writer on hiatus back to the pen and the blank page (or the Mac and the Calibri, whatever stirs the imagination). Something that shakes the very foundations of the footballing world.
Arsenal winning a trophy, Mourinho praising a referee, Zlatan scoring and not taking the credit, someone else scoring and Zlatan not taking the credit, Real Madrid lasting one week without being linked to a German, City lasting one week without being linked to an Arsenal player, Marco Reus lasting one week- all of these are fine examples of such oddities of the football universe.
This weekend witnessed one such outlier which has compelled me to get back to inflicting my opinions, such as they are, on my ten(s) of readers. A referee gave Manchester United a penalty at Old Trafford- and, unlike the red card that followed it, it was the correct decision.
The subsequent penalty was put away by defensive midfielder Wayne Rooney who was making a rare appearance in a forward role this season. He is now the highest scoring defensive midfielder in the history of the league.
The race for the top four places in English football has been a very forgiving one. Every team that gets up a head of steam seems to feel almost ashamed to be pulling away from its cohorts and takes it upon itself to slip up and let the others back into it.
If somebody had told Brendan Rodgers that Liverpool would be in with a shout of the top four after they lost 3-0 to United at Old Trafford earlier in the season, he’d have probably laughed politely and blamed Balotelli as he was wont to do back then. But the truth is, now, they really are in with more than a shout.
Many opined that with European football keeping the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal occupied, Manchester United would have an advantage with more resting time between games. But, Liverpool and Arsenal have done everything in their power to nullify that advantage.
Liverpool travelled to Turkish side Besiktas and did their best to lose in 90 minutes only to be thwarted into 30 minutes extra time and finally counted on ever-reliable latest failed signing Dejan Lovren to revitalize their campaign by knocking them out of Europe.
Arsenal, too, proved that the Champions League draw is totally irrelevant and that if they play badly enough, they can lose to absolutely any team in the Round of 16. Arsene Wenger relied on the clinical finishing of Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck who delivered, spurning sitter after sitter as Dimitar Berbatov’s blistering pace on the counter was far too much for the already sprightly Per Mertesacker.
Arsene is optimistic about the return leg, where he intends to use the experience of Francis Coquelin and Serge Gnabry to finish the job. Not to be left behind, Tottenham Hotspur is also a football club.
Southampton have no European football to be concerned about, but they do have European footballers to be concerned about- Graziano Pelle has had an awful time recently netting just thrice in his last 22 appearances. Koeman has been forced to ridiculous extremes and has reportedly even considered taking Radamel Falcao on loan from- oh wait, that’s for the other Dutch guy.
Louis van Gaal declared recently that Manchester United are the best in-form team in the league. Some have posited that that was actually heard wrong- he had said that Manchester United are the best INFORMED team in the league. While the latter may not make much sense, unlike the former it has a shot at being true.
United lumbered over the weekend to a 2-0 victory over Sunderland- relying on the ever-faithful Wes Brown and John O’Shea to get them over the line. The mid-week trip to Tyne-side was described by a fan after the game as “like watching paint dry”. United have defended themselves claiming that said fan is a painter and happens to love watching paint dry.
West Ham United have picked up one win now in their last 11 games and are just about still in the top ten. Big Sam maintains they are still on course for European football. The course just happens to be a long one, I suppose.
This race for the top four is so enthralling that Manchester City, too, decided to spice up their season by giving up the laborious and frankly pointless pursuit of Chelsea and throw themselves into it. From a seemingly unassailable 8 point lead over the team in third place, City have seen that reduce to just four. Pellegrini said recently that if Arsenal get any closer, they will buy Alexis Sanchez.
It all comes down to who can handle squeaky bum time. The final games are upon us and with them comes massive pressure, big performances, hilarious mistakes and plenty of stories for football writers to regurgitate. There couldn’t be a better time to get back to the old MS Word and font size 12.
The Premier League Grand Opera is playing its final symphony. But who is it four?