Sunday, October 17, 2010

Exit Stage Left

photo by W1LL13via PhotoRee

Late Word Out of England Overtook Today's Column, with all major London newspapers reporting that the troubled relationship between Sir Alex and Wayne Rooney has fractured to the point of no return, with Rooney and SAF no longer on speaking terms.  Tellingly, the stories are even being acknowledged by at least one of United's own employees via Twitter, and the expectations are high that Sir Alex will face a lively round of questioning on Tuesday at his press conference in advance of this week's Champions League game against Bursaspor.  

If true, the split is a stunningly swift turnabout in the formerly brilliant relationship.  The star forward has refused to sign an extension to his current contract, apparently blaming Fergie for his public treatment  and benching following the late summer revelations of Rooney's extra-curricular activities. Is Roo destined to follow the footsteps of Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ruud Van Nilstelrooy out of Old Trafford?  Only time will tell, but it appears increasingly likely that our talisman will no longer wear red, white and black on Saturdays.  

We'll find out much more tomorrow and Tuesday.  A season that is full of question marks becomes even more so based on today's shocking events.  Clearly not a good day for the club or its fans. 

Lots more thoughts on this tomorrow, but in the meantime here's the column I originally wrote:

A Strange Thing Happened On My Way to the Merseyside Derby This Morning: I got waylaid by intense boredom, and watched the match with only one eye half open (the one eye could have also been the result of a late night celebrating a friend's birthday, but I'll conveniently overlook that fact for the purposes of this analysis). . Liverpool (to my half eye) looked absolutely awful today, like a toothless tiger that was once a maneater but is now being paraded around by its trainer on a leash begging for scraps of soft food.  Theoretically it should be scary, but the overall effect is verging more toward laughable.  The Reds may have scored a couple victories in court this week, but don't appear to be in any danger of winning on the pitch in the near future.

I'm unsure who would have predicted this unfolding disaster at the beginning of the season. Sure, Liverpool's year was probably never destined to include meaningful Springtime games, and some getting used to a new coach's gameplan and methods was surely to be expected, but no one foresaw Uncle Roy's side having these sort of massive issues eight games into the season. I don't know whether their current sad state of affairs is due more to a lack of qualified players (certainly Rafa Benitez proved himself time and again a horrible judge of footballing talent) or an inflexible gameplan and formation that the current squad  is unable to carry out, but it's clear that something is wrong in Denmark (thereby perhaps also explaining Christian Poulsen's absence today...).

Bereft of ideas, and seemingly lacking quality touches at almost all times on the ball, the Reds suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of cross-park rival Everton today, 2-nil. Despite offering a ton of possession for the statisticians in the crowd (especially in the game's second half), Liverpool never played as if it were their collective intent to get on the scoreboard. Instead, their battle plan appeared to include holding the ball and kicking it aimlessly backwards, sideways and generally all over the pitch, in desperate hope that an odd bounce or two off an Evertonian would somehow find its surprise destination to be the back of Tim Howard's net.

Overcome by Boredom, I Was Struck by a Moment of Inspiration to focus my attention on watching Blackpool play City. With an impressive start to date -- made even more improbable when one realizes today was only their third home game of the season against five road trips -- England's own version of Atlantic City have been one of the surprise stories of the early EPL season. With a smooth, flowing style that includes long passes, overlapping runs, and quick, backheeling give and goes, Blackpool play a high tempo brand of football that is easy on the eye and magnetically attractive to watch as a neutral.  The opportunity to see them take on the Citizens, who were looking to gain two points in the standings on league leaders Chelsea, proved overwhelming.

I wasn't disappointed. Blackpool played inspired attacking football against a City side used to dictating a game's rhythm and flow, and controlled the ball for more than 60% of the first half [Ed. Note: one of footie's most loveable and often meaningless statistics; the slightly more important matter of the scoreline was still tied at half, nil-nil.] City looked surprisingly sluggish to that point, playing the first half as if they were less interested in on-pitch matters than they were in scouting the stands for good looking women.

Blackpool continued their vise-like grip on the match in the second half, narrowly missing several opportunities to breach the stout City defense, until an offide Carlos Tevez touch against the run of the play was allowed to stand, and suddenly the scoreline appeared as if by  mistake, 1-nil to the Citizens.

Blackpool's quality came through shortly afterward, with a well deserved goal resulting from Marlon Harewood heading Charlie Adam's free kick beyond the reach of City stopper Joe Hart. Before the crowd could even settle from the celebration, though, a cruel deflection off a Blackpool defender gave Carlos Tevez the league lead in goals, and City a stunning 2-1 lead.   

David Silva, who's second half introduction appeared to change the game to this watcher's eye, then quickly sashayed his way through the Blackpool defense, cutting them apart with a late kill shot for a 3-1 lead.  Blackpool added a last gasp goal to make the match's 93rd minute more tense than it might otherwise have been, but were ultimately hard done by the final scoreline in an entertaining match which they controlled  for long stretches.

I'm unhappy with the result, too: City back up to second in the League, and I'm farlieonfootie for October 18.

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