Monday, December 12, 2011

Yes, But Can They Do it on a Cold December Night in Stoke?: Week 15 in the EPL

O&E dress

Lots of 10am Kickoffs on Saturday meant the inability to really watch and concentrate on more than one game at a time -- and loyal readers of this space might have a hunch that it was the Manchester United match that got the closest view.  Consequently, this column is a bit more focused on Sunday's action than is typical:

o Steve Keane looked dressed for a funeral yesterday on the eve of his one year anniversary at the helm of Blackburn, wearing a gray suit, silk rep tie and black overcoat as he stood stolidly on the Stadium of Light's sideline. The Manager could have been forgiven for thinking his choice of dress was appropriate, as he was just about in the process of laying the "sack Steve Keane" movement to rest before his side gave up an 85th minute equalizer and a 93rd minute winner at the Stadium of Light -- a result that was extremely harsh on the visitors and that may well lead to Keane's own demise.

o Keane may have lost the Blackburn fans, but he clearly hasn't lost the locker room, as evidenced by the way his boys threw their bodies around the box in a determined effort to keep Sunderland out of the net -- especially in the game's second half, a 45 minute rampage that saw the Black Cats throw wave after wave of attacks at Rovers.  The two late goals will mean even more calls for the Keane's head, though, and one can perhaps find fault with the team's increasingly deep lying positioning, which left Yakubu more isolated than Robinson Crusoe, and gave the impression that Roves were more interested in hanging on to their early lead than they were in trying to finish the game off with a second goal.

o Watching John O'Shea play yesterday for Sunderland made me wonder if Sir Alex is regretting letting him go. The Scotsman doesn't strike me as someone who looks backward a lot, but with all the defensive injuries the Reds have suffered this campaign, I wonder if the Gaffer isn't thinking back longingly to O'Shea's durability, versatility, and outstanding consistency. He was rarely the best player on the pitch, but even more rarely the worst. "Plug and play," in tech parlance, the Irishman could be inserted virtually anywhere in the lineup and give a performance which could be depended upon. A far cry from United's current state, in which you never know who's going to be on the trainer's table, and even more so what kind of game you're going to get out of those who are fit.

o Sunday's match at the Britannia offered an interesting contrast in footballing styles, as the long ball and big bodies of Stoke City met the English Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, the current masters of free-flowing, one touch, fast moving football.  As if to settle the age old debate about "Yes, but can they do it on a cold December night in Stoke?," Sunday's game gave Spurs a resounding answer: MAYBE. Looking a bit like the Miami Dolphins running their warm weather offense on a cold December night in New England, it took Spurs until well into the second half to figure out how to cope with Stoke's physical nature.

o Hate to say it, but Luka Modric pulled a Luis Suarez on Sunday in an effort to pull his side back into the contest. Sure, the Croatian was likely fouled by Glenn Whelan inside the box, but I have a nagging suspicion he went down just a bit too easily -- to borrow a phrase from a certain Man United central defender, I'm fairly certain Lionel Messi (as well as a host of others) would have been able to "stay on [his] feet."

o What Referee Chris Foy giveth, though, he soon tooketh away: if the penalty on Whelan was a bit harsh, so was the decision not to whistle one on Ryan Shawcross just a short while later after his WWF-style takedown of Younes Kaboul right in front of goal. Making matters worse, Foy compounded his mistake as he somehow also missed Shawcross' handball clearance of Kaboul's stinger off the line, and his Assistant incorrectly flagged Emanuel Adebayor's equalizer offside -- both plays coming in quick succession as Spurs threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Potters.

o So how did Foy atone for his mistakes?  Simple: he handed Kaboul a second yellow card for a soft foul, and directed him to leave the pitch.  Talk about feeling picked upon....
o Spurs' fans are right to feel aggrieved by the result, but if you believe in Karma they were likely receiving payback for their controversial 2-1 victory in this same fixture last year -- a game in which Stoke City's clear equalizer was denied by a Tottenham handball on the line. As we've said before on this blog, ain't karma a bitch?

o The highly coveted farlieonfootie Player of the Week award goes to Manchester United's Luis Nani, who broke a long cold spell to absolutely dominate Wolves with two goals and an assist to his name.  Nani's stunning form could hardly come at a better time for the Reds, as they look to bounce back from a tough week and prepare for the glut of crucial late December fixtures that are on the horizon.

A quick question, in closing: How is it that Stoke City have two long throw specialists, Rory DeLap and Ryan Shotton, while the rest of the League have none?

This is farlieonfootie for December 

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