Some thoughts, random and otherwise, on Round 18 in the BPL:
o The round's big winners were obviously Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. With City, Arsenal and Chelsea all drawing (despite the latter two sides playing weak opposition at home), the title chase narrowed down to a three horse race. The blue half of Manchester is starting to look a bit tentative, and the free flowing goal machine has become a bit unglued. The rest of the season will be full of ups and downs for all three contenders, but the next three or four games could be crucial for all involved.
o Chelsea under AVB seem a very different beast. They're up for games against the big teams, and the adrenaline and muscle memory alone would seem to fuel their ambition, but the Blues this year are struggling to win against the middling clubs. They used to win games like the Boxing Day contest against Fulham 4-0 just a couple of years ago, and I think their "new look" is down to more than (a lack of) talent. It's about a team that's struggling to find its way in a new system, caught betwixt and between, and until they figure it out the harsh truth would appear that they're not much better than a mid-table club. o Based on his Monday look, at tonight's performance, Paolo Ferreira will be playing the role of the Phantom of the Opera. o How often does Manchester United score five goals and fantasy football managers don't profit at all...? Quiet games on Monday from fantasy mainstays Nani and Wayne Rooney (who, to be fair, was used only as a late game substitute) led to a paucity of points from United's leading players. I'm fairly confident that almost no fantasy managers own Dimitar Berbatov (3 goals, owned by 1.2% of players) and Ji-Sung Park (1 goal, owned by 1.6% of players), while only slightly more field Antonio Valencia (1 goal, owned by 2.3% of players) in their squad. Making matters worse (from a fantasy perspective, obviously) was that my United defender, Jonny Evans, picked up a yellow card and played only 45 minutes -- picking up zero points in the process, despite the Reds' third consecutive shutout. It led to perhaps the most frustrating rout in my time playing the (fantasy) game -- I mean, what are the odds that United absolutely batter a team and I pick up virtually zero fantasy points...? o Round 18 was the round of the soft red card. First, Phil Dowd canned Connor Sammon against Manchester United for a perceived elbow to the face of Michael Carrick. Overlook the fact it was an inadvertent forearm to the collar bone. Not to be outdone, Stuart Attwell tossed Nenad Milijas for a two-footed challenge in the Arsenal penalty box. Never mind the fact neither foot left the playing surface. Expect both cards to be appealed and overturned.
o Clearly upset at not being in the limelight himself, Howard Webb went one better and awarded Everton a enlty despite the fact that Leon Osman tripped himself while attempting to shoot. And this guy's the best that England's got?
o Gareth Bale's second goal against Norwich on Tuesday was a thing of beauty. Not only did it seal the three points for Spurs, it showcased the Welshman's stunning speed to great effect. I haven't always been Bale's biggest fans -- his game's a bit one dimensional for my taste -- but he's semi-quietly racking up a much more impressive season than last year (in which he earned a few plaudits, by the way), and may be in the process of living up to his all-star billing.