Sunday, October 17, 2010

Groundhog Day

All Eyes on the Merseyside Derby Today, which finds itself in the unusual position of being a relegation "six pointer." Even more amazing, we're only in the season's 8th week, which truly says something about both Everton and Liverpool's performance to date. Check back on this space shortly for a more in-depth look at the game.....

photo by Aaron E. Silversvia PhotoRee

In the Meantime you'll have to settle for some more thoughts on yesterday's uncomfortable tie with West Brom. I'm still utterly disappointed to find the boys splitting points after leading comfortably by two goals, and surrendering the lead yet again. It's like the movie Groundhog Day:  I keep expecting this nightmare to end, but feel endlessly damned  to repeat it time and again.

The problem, in my humble estimation, lies in both the middle and back of the pitch. It's certainly not on the wings or up front, as United is putting the ball in the back of the net regularly, albeit possibly not as much as we should be. In any event, I don't think it's a problem of offensive output, with Nani, Chicharito and Berba (despite missing a sitter) all showing a good understanding of each other yesterday. Wazza was missed, but not much.

I'll lay the problem straight at the doorstep of the central midfield. With Scholesy unable to play every day (even the amount he is currently playing seems to be weighing on his performance, as his sharp early season form has dipped a bit recently), and Fletch rested for a likely mid-week appearance against Bursapor in the Champions League, SAF left the engine room yesterday under the control of Anderson and Michael Carrick. I'll shade the gameday performance between the two to Ando just slightly, on account of one or two nice tackles, but overall the performance of both players left much to be desired.

There's no denying it anymore: the midfield, barren of Scholes and Fletch, is just not cutting it at this level. If recent reports about Anderson are to be believed, he wants out of United and back to Portugal. Let him go, I say, and bring back Tom Cleverly post-New Year. Gibbo was also irrelevant yesterday after replacing Giggs, and the United midfield never grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and took control of the ball. There was hell to pay for it.

The problems in central midfield are compounded by separate problems in defense. Although I was hopeful that Rio's return would see our defensive form revert to the miserly days of the 2008/2009 season (the last time Rio and Vida played together regularly), I think I was mistaken, and probably misled by the last two shutouts. A few less goalposts, and few more accurate finishes from both Valencia and Sunderland, and we would have seen different scorelines. Both teams certainly had their opportunities and missed them.

Inexplicably, and in a very un-United like way, the Red Devil's defense looks panicky as soon as it concedes, as if a second opposition goal must inevitably follow the first. I'm taking a total SWAG here, but I'm estimating the average time between the first goal conceded and the inevitable second in the last few games must be less than 5 minutes. The personnel seem to matter less than the result: gone today were O'Shea and Evans, and in their places were Ferdinand and Rafael. No matter; the deer in the headlights look is still there.

Yesterday it was a sloppy drop for VDS (I'll forgive him; he's stopped a lot more of those than he's dropped over the past several years) that led directly to the second Baggie goal, but the defense immediately prior to that looked static and overrun. I still don't think Evra's head is quite right, and Rafael alternates between good games and less good ones, to be kind.  Centrally we look okay, not great, but perhaps with the midfield performing at a subpar level it's putting more pressure on Vidic and Ferdinand than they can handle at the moment.

In any event, I hope SAF figures out something, and soon: the ship has got to be righted if this team is to stay in title contention. Although yesterday's frustration was slightly mollified by Chelsea's draw against Villa, a day later I'm still stuck in a funk. There is this bit of silver lining to be found, though, if you look REALLY hard: we're the only undefeated team in the League (tongue pressed firmly in cheek), only five points back, and that's not a lot to overcome in 29 games. God, am I the eternal optimist, or what...?!

Props to the New Boys. Did anyone else looking at the standings yesterday find it hard to believe the bottom seven slots were populated entirely by "established" sides such as Liverpool, Everton, West Ham, Blackburn, Birmingham and Sunderland? I realize Blackburn and Sunderland haven't played yet this weekend, but cheers to the new boys, especially Blackpool and WBA, for more than holding their own. I don't know where these teams will finish the season, but it's nice to see some of the newcomers making their mark at this early stage. After an appalling thrashing at the hands of an in-form Chelsea side had many predicting their immediate relegation, Roberto DiMatteo's boys now sit in 6th place. No wonder he was named Manager of the Month for September.....

Chelsea and Villa Produced an Entertaining Draw, in which either side could have credibly claimed the three points on more than one occasion.  My friend John observed that Anelka is a "donkey," and based on yesterday's performance I'd have to agree. I'm certain Chelsea fans can't wait to get Drogba and Lampard back on this side of the doctor's office waiting room.....

And despite early reports to the contrary, John also confirmed that it wasn't Harry Potter waving his wand in midfield for the Blues, it was Josh McEachran making his second league appearance for a weakened Chelsea side. In my estimation, a point was probably not a bad result for the League leaders given their sickly state, and Carlo Ancelloti likely left the Midlands satisified with the result. It could have been worse if Nigel Reo-Coker, playing Lord Voldemort to young McEachran's Harry, hadn't pushed his chip shot wide after stealing the ball from the Chelsea midfielder in stoppage time and almost sealing a Villa victory.

¡Viva Los Colchoneros!  In other news from around the footie world, Atletico met Getafe in the mini-Madrid derby. The mattress makers made easy work of the Burger Kings despite the absence of Kun Aguero for the full game, and Diego Forlan for half of it. Simao Sabrosa supplied the lead with a gorgeous free kick, and Diego Costa capped off a beautiful free flowing move to nail down a 2-nil victory at home.  Well done, boys.

I'm outta here; that's all for farlieonfootie for October 17.

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