10 December 2012

Weekend reflections #14

There goes another Premier League weekend, so let's reflect on it. Today's points of discussion are: the Manchester momentum shift, Arsene Wenger's views on diving, and 15 minutes of pain for Tottenham.

This is what you could have won, Manchester City.

It's United's to lose
A thrilling Manchester derby culminated in United snatching a 3-2 victory just when it looked like hosts City would seal a point.

The result at the City of Manchester Stadium put United six points above their local rivals at the top of the Premier League. It also confirmed what we all knew - while the blue half of Manchester has the best players, the red half has the best team.

City dominated the first 15 minutes, having 78% of the possession in the game's opening stages. But in the 16th minute, the tide changed. United went on a counter-attack initiated by Robin van Persie, who could easily have moved to the other side of Manchester this summer. After Ashley Young charged up the pitch and played in Wayne Rooney, the Red Devils' star man cut the ball through Gareth Barry's legs and into Joe Hart's far corner.

Rooney was on the scoresheet again in the 29th minute. Rafael da Silva's delivey from the right flank was finished with power by Rooney, who didn't need too much luck this time. City's long-standing unbeaten league record was at serious risk of collapsing.

The Citizens were badly underperforming, and some of their players were particularly struggling. Obviously, the loss of captain Vincent Kompany to injury after 21 minutes did not help. In the first half, City left-back Gael Clichy was skinned by United winger Antonio Valencia, and Mario Balotelli was taken off early in the second after another inconsistent game.

Sky commentator Martin Tyler said during the match that Roberto Mancini was perhaps an "indulgent" manager to Balotelli. We all know how much Mancini loves Super Mario, but when the young Italian turns into Bonkers Balotelli on a regular basis, you have to wonder how long the scarfed one will stand by him.

Anyway, after Balotelli exited stage right, City's traditional Eastlands fightback began. Moments after Young had a third United goal questionably chalked off for offside, Yaya Toure clawed one back for the home team on the half-hour.

Four minutes from time, Carlos Tevez's corner was accidentally flicked back by van Persie to Pablo Zabaleta, who thundered in Manchester City's equaliser. 2-2, and City fans were wondering: "Have we been here before? Can we win it in injury-time?"

The injury-time winner did come... but not from them. In injury-time, van Persie's free-kick was turned into the City net by a deflection off the wimpish Samir Nasri's ankle. United could celebrate a famous victory, but not before Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin thrown from one of City's less human supporters.

Manchester City have looked very suspect defence-wise this season, and they don't share the team spirit that Manchester United have. The title momentum is with Sir Alex Ferguson's side, and they don't look like surrendering it any time soon.

"You're not Arsenal's messiah, Santi, you're a very naughty boy!"

When it suits you, sir
What are Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's true views about diving?

I refer the honourable gentleman to the statement Mr Wenger gave on 15 April 2012: "If an obvious dive is punished by a three-match ban, the players would not do it anymore. I would support it."

I will now refer the honourable gentleman to an incident at the Emirates Stadium in North London on 8 December, in which Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla, to quote the layman, went down like a sack of spuds in the West Bromwich Albion penalty area.

As a result, Arsenal won a questionable penalty which was converted by Cazorla's Spanish countryman Mikel Arteta.

At an interview post-match, Mr Wenger replied, "I am sorry if it was not a penalty but I have spoken to Santi and he said he was touched, lost his balance. Has he made a bit more of it? I don't know.

"Of course [I will speak to Santi if he has not been touched]. I will look at it, don't worry."

It was plainly obvious to all that Cazorla was not brought down in the box by Steven Reid, but rather by himself. If Oliver Stone intends to remake his 1986 film Platoon, he should cast the Spaniard as Charlie Sheen's character because that dive was literally winning.

Wenger, like Sir Alex Ferguson, is not renowned for being the most neutral managers, certainly not when it comes to decisions being made against his team. But Cazorla's dive was so pathetic that it can't really be condoned, and Wenger perhaps should have been more critical of his playmaker.

Santi Cazorla is a fine player, and one of the best signings of the season, but like many other foreigners (and to a lesser extent British players - I'm looking at you, Ashley Young), he... isn't adverse to the idea of gamesmanship. I, and many other football fans, lost patience with the football authorities on this matter a long time ago.

So, FA executives, why don't you finally get your acts together and actually try to stamp out diving? Wenger's plan would work very well... so long as none of his players get in trouble, of course.

Andre Villas-Boas, producer of the 80-minute Tottenham Hotspur show.

More fears for Villas-Boas
If the Premier League was played by the rules of the Under-16s Victory Shield tournament, Tottenham Hotspur would be doing pretty well for themselves.

What I mean is this: If all PL matches ended after 80 minutes, Andre Villas-Boas' Spurs would be top of the table. In fact, they are fifth, and that's largely down to them conceding 10 goals in the final 15 minutes of games this season. As a result, they have squandered 14 points from good positions after 75 minutes.

It's no wonder then that Villas-Boas often looks like Droopy played by a young Harrison Ford and talks like a 90s-era IBM computer on its last legs during post-match interviews.

Their latest crime came at Goodison Park, where they led Everton 1-0 going into injury-time. Clint Dempsey's goal on 76 minutes had put Tottenham on course to move back into the top four.

God knows what happened next or why it happened, but by the final whistle, Tottenham had lost 2-1. Firstly, Steven Pienaar scored against his former club with a diving header, and then Nikica Jelavic returned to scoring form by hitting the winner.

At the end of the game, Villas-Boas - who more than any other Premier League manager speaks like someone out of Mad Men - replied inconclusively, "Those goals have come through different situations.

"It's something that we are aware of and that's why we speak about it openly. It's something that we have to improve, seeing off the game and seeing off results."

Is it a lack of fitness or a loss of concentration that is contributing to Tottenham's struggles? We don't know as of yet, but it's something Villas-Boas absolutely must address if he is to stay in the job longer than he did at Chelsea.

He needs to make the Spurs players aware that it's no good starting a race like Usain Bolt if the race you're running is a marathon. Or at least he'll borrow something from a boardroom meeting at an American advertising company like he usually does.

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