Premier League Review Round 20

31 December 2007

Well as I beat the clock to get this in before midnight so I can celebrate the New Year, I’m back with something I plan on doing on Monday nights until I am able to resume full match reviews. Let me know what you think of this and based on your feedback, may use this format for half the games on the weekend and devote the full match review for the other half of the games. I would like to invite all of you into The Third Half Chat for the New Year Day’s fixtures. I’ll be around the entire day and hope to meet more of you throughout the day. I will be back shortly with the first rant line of 2008.

Birmingham City v Fulham: Fulham yet again this season let a lead slip in the second half, as Sebastian Larsson cancels out Carlos Boacanegra’s opener to finish honors even at St. Andrews at a goal a piece. Birmingham City will be ruing the fact they had chances on goal, but were unable to convert on them. However over the balance of play, 1-1 was the right result. Fulham now have nine draws on the season along with only two wins. That number simply isn’t good enough, epically when you are playing a side who is in the bottom six. Fulham have to start getting wins from somewhere, and with a new manager in charge for the New Year’s day game against Chelsea they will need a full workmanlike effort in order to grab even a point.
Golden Chance: Gary McSheffrey beats Paul Konchesky to the pass from Mikael Forssell and despite only having the keeper to beat, blasts the ball over the crossbar from eight yards out. 0-1: Off a Fulham corner, Simon Davies goes near post and Carlos Bocanegra beats Franck Queudrue to the ball and heads home near post. 1-1: Counter attack pays off for Birmingham City. Cameron Jerome plays the ball to Fabrice Muamba. Sebastian Larsson was in all alone and turning to the inside of Elliot Omozusi, uses the defender’s foot to carry the ball past Antti Niemi who was expecting a shot drilled right at him. Instead the ball bounces in going to the keeper’s right. Great Save: Free kick to Birmingham City and it’s McSheffrey who makes Niemi punch clear, but only to Frank Queudrue. Queudrue goes near post and Niemi was very lucky to save that second effort. Red Card: Hameur Bouazza with a stupid yellow card for saying the wrong words to Mark Clattenburg. The second yellow card was for a late tackle on Franck Queudrue studs up.

Chelsea v Newcastle United: Newcastle United were simply robbed of a point that they deserved based on their play in the second half as Chelsea despite missing six or seven chances that went straight at the keeper, found aid in a referee who needs to be checked for color blindness. Kalou was obviously offside, Claudio Pizarro was in a blue kit and not in a Black one, but it was a goal that stood at Chelsea win under colorful pretenses 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Now for all those who say Chelsea did not look good, well explain why according to the stats they out shot Newcastle by a 4 to 1 margin? Granted yes their finishing has been poor, but considering the amount of chances they are getting, that stat is being skewed. Seven goal they have scored so far over this Christmas period and so far seven points to go along with them. This is a team that right now has without a doubt four key players not completely fit in Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba not fit and really they lost to Arsenal and got some lucky breaks in drawing Villa. If anything right now, Chelsea could be the luckiest club in the Premier League, something you just have to be at times.
While Chelsea maybe the luckiest club in the Premier League, Sam Allardyce has to be the unluckiest man. His side have only scored one point during this festive period and with Manchester City coming to town on Wednesday, it maybe their best chance at grabbing points (considering Manchester City’s away form this season has been as poor as those sides sitting in the bottom five) before the FA Cup Third Round. If Newcastle don’t then, one would almost think Allardyce won’t make it to the FA Cup Third Round as manager. That though would be an ultimate shame, though he’s brought a lot of it on himself being insistent he stick with the same tactics he used at Bolton, while not adjusting to the players he has with club he currently manages.
Golden Chance: Obafemi Martins gets between Alex and Bridge, but loses the ball under his feet which gives Alex all the time he needs to get back and block the Martins shot. 1-0: Poor defending from Newcastle. Wright Phillips shot is blocked and Nicky Butt miss kicks the ball clear. Kalou gets the ball off his hip and it lands at the feet of Michael Essien who from point blank range with a keeper down, rarely misses…and this time he does not. Golden Chance: Off a Shawn Wright-Phillips center ball on the edge of the eighteen, Nicky Butt nearly scores an own goal had Shay Given not parried over the crossbar. 1-1: Perfectly placed counter for Newcastle. N’Zogbia gets through the challenge of John Obi Mikel on the byline perfectly and sends the ball into the onrush inside the six. The ball is flicked on by Martins right to Nicky Butt. Butt benefits from a poor first touch as Bridge is unable to clear and Butt finishes what he was trying to start. 2-1: Boy this one will cause all sort of talking points. Mikel’s shot goes through traffic and touches off Claudio Pizarro. Kalou, who was a full three yards offside rushes to the ball as the flag stays down. Kalou then puts just enough pace on the shot to slide it under Shay Given to give Chelsea a great escape. Now before I go on, there this goal must be discussed. I am under the impression that the linesman was convinced the ball was deflected by Michael Owen. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Pizarro’s flick off was taken by Kalou who was a full two yards offside thanks to Habib Beye not moving. That linesman should not be on the pitch for at least two full weeks, which looks unlikely as the FA Cup Third Round Proper is about to start.

Portsmouth v Middlesbrough: For the seventh time this season at home, Portsmouth have failed to scored. Two of the last three have resulted in 1-0 losses, as was the case today. Sylvain Distin failure to mark Tuncay after James had made a finger tip save gave the Turk all the space he needed as Middlesbrough get lucky off a couple of missed chances by Portsmouth in escape Fratton Park with a win. Portsmouth are just in free fall at home, only 2 wins on the season to go along with 5 nil draws and another 1-1 draw. The sad thing is you knew this game was over after an hour when David Nugent was brought on for John Utaka. Nugent in his time in the Premier League is showing why he will always be a Championship striker. Middlesbrough keep getting results when you least expect them to and as long as they can get points against teams at the bottom, will end up staying in the Premier League season another season. You also have to wonder how long it will be before Tuncay ends up at greener pastures playing for a European club.
0-1: Off a long ball played into Stewart Downing, the ball is crossed across the face of goal to Gary O’Neil who’s one timing volley is tipped by David James, right to Tuncay who makes sure the ball was going across the net. No one picked up Downing while Sylvain Distin left Tuncay all alone after the ball was crossed into O’Neil, something he should have known better to do. Golden Chance: Centering pass into Diop who should have put the ball on the frame of goal, instead went well over the cross bar in what would have made an NFL field goal kicker proud. Golden Chance: Off a Portsmouth free kick, Kanu is unable to convert on the near post as his shot from point blank range goes off the woodwork.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers: Sunderland score three for the first time in the Premier League in over six years as Kenwyne Jones was involved in all three goals as Sunderland shake off a poor Bolton side 3-1. Sure there were not many chances in the game, but Sunderland capitalized on their chances, Bolton did not. Gary Megson still has problems in the midfield, the area of the park that ended up responsible for all three goals given up on the day. For Sunderland this was just the type of day they needed to stay around in the Premier League another season. They simply outplayed a side they had to beat at home, a job they did and did very well. Kieran Richardson is a type of player that if given chances, will eventually fine a vein of form similar to the one Roque Santa Cruz is on. Kenwyne Jones also had a day not to forget, something Roy Keane will need to see plenty more of as the season starts to wind down.
1-0: Kenwyne Jones does extremely well in the midfield to break past Joey O’Brien and spot Kieran Richardson unmarked on the edge of the eighteen. From there it was the true definition of a one timer by Richardson that gave Jaaskelainen any time to make the save. 2-0: Off a Sunderland corner, Kenwyne Jones beats Joey O’Brien to the spot Richardson put the ball to and with a flash header beats Jaaskelainen’s hands to the spot right over the Bolton keeper’s head. 2-1: After Liam Miller concedes a free kick, El-Hadji Diouf gets the free kick past Paul McShane who makes another mistake trying to clear the ball and despite Gavin McCann looking to touch the ball, Craig Gordon was unable to stop that one from going in at the far post. 3-1: Kenwyne Jones in the midfield flicks on to Daryl Murphy who out muscles Danny Guthrie in a shoulder to shoulder challenge to slot home going far post. Jones sets this one up beating McCann in the air at the edge of the attacking third to play the ball onto Murphy who uses his strength to finish off Sunderland’s win in stoppage time.

Tottenham v Reading: Dimitar Berbatov doubled his Premier League scoring output on the season by scoring four goals as he sliced Grahme Murty and Ibrahima Sonko to shreds as despite winning the game 6-4, there should have been controversy as to how Tottenham scored their fifth goal. Taking a look at Berbatov’s stats this season, the only time he has scored goals that have won games are against Portsmouth and in the game Saturday (the other three games he scored goals in resulted in two draws and a loss). It’s pretty apparent that Berbatov is going in January, the summer at the latest. Really the key to this game boiled down to Robbie Keane’s missed penalty. It should have been retaken and Defoe given a yellow card. Given Keane’s form from the spot lately, that retake would have been a major doubt. Reading will be just fine, but the need to look into at least picking someone up who can solidify the central defense and at the rate Marcus Hahnemann is conceding goals, it maybe time to give Adam Federici a shot between the sticks to see if Reading over the summer need to make a decision on who their number one keeper will be.
1-0: Berbatov slices through Murty and Sonko and takes Keane’s centering pass perfectly slotting home far post. 1-1: Free kick that Paul Robinson did not clear properly. Given right to Cisse who from the edge of the penalty area slots home near post. Robinson couldn’t see through traffic. 1-2: Ivar Ingimarsson takes advantage of not being marked by Tom Huddlestone properly off a corner kick. 2-2: Berbatov takes advantage of Murty’s pathetic attempt to clear the ball as his clearance went right to Berbatov who scores near post. 2-3: Shorey’s corner goes to Kitson who beat Berbatov and Kaboul to the ball near post and scores across the face of goal. 3-3: Berbatov takes advantage of Chimbonda’s high ball off the corner and the fact Sonko went to kick the ball clear instead of marking Berbatov. 3-4: Poor pass from Boateng that sparked the break. Dave Kitson gets in between Lee and Kaboul to take Hunt’s pass. 4-4: No marking in the penalty area as Huddlestone’s pass to Malbranque is in space and all he has to do is turn Sonko. 5-4: Penalty decision to Spurs after Sonko trips Robbie Keane. However Robbie Keane misses going across his body, but Jermaine Defoe races to the ball first and scores, however that penalty should not have stood. Defoe was inside the penalty area when the penalty was taken. No wonder Reading didn’t move, they thought the penalty was going to be taken again. However, they have to know better and simply play on. 6-4: Berbatov beats Ingimarsson to the long ball from Kaboul.

West Ham United v Manchester United: Goals by Anton Ferdinand and Matthew Upson after a missed Cristiano Ronaldo penalty gave injury riddled West Ham United a deserved, yet shock 2-1 win against at the time table leading Manchester United. West Ham may have scored both goals on set pieces, however they took advantage of the weak marking from Darren Fletcher on the first, and an unmarked Matthew Upson on the second. It’s the kind of marking that loses games, and it’s marking that is completely unforgivable. Vidic should have went out to mark Upson on the second goal, as had Upson had to do a little bit of work, he wasn’t going to get too the ball. West Ham have to simply be estatic despite being the walking MASH unit of the Premier League at present to get a result of this magnitude while it appears that Manchester United are carrying one hell of a hangover from the after effect of Rio’s party that saw Jonny Evans arrested.
Golden Chance: Mullins and Noble should have scored on seven minutes, Mullins off the woodwork staying onside well, and then Noble has an empty goal mouth to score in. 1-0: Simply a Ronaldo gift, Neill is baited in which gives Ryan Giggs all the space he needs. Then Ronaldo does extremely well to get into the space George McCartney should have gotten into and takes the Giggs cross home at the near post. Missed Penalty: Jonathan Spector makes contact with the ball on his arm, but it does not look inside the penalty area. However Ronaldo puts too much power into his shot going across his body and it ends up going out on the far post. The word poor doesn’t do that penalty justice. 1-1: Noble’s corner ends up to Anton Ferdinand who simply rises over Darren Fletcher to get the ball. 2-1: Patrice Evra concedes a bad free kick on John Pantsil. Late challenge and despite all his protest, that will always be given a free kick. Mark Noble takes the free kick and it’s Matthew Upson was unmarked from the start and then rose above Nemanja Vidic to the ball and slots home back on the upper near post. Vidic was hamstrung by the fact Upson ran into the right spot to make contact, and there was a mass of people where Vidic needed to jump from.

Wigan Athletic v Aston Villa: Wigan continues to concede goals when they shouldn’t as Curtis Davies and Gabriel Agbonlahor cancel out Titus Bramble’s opener as Aston Villa come from behind in the second half and beat Wigan Athletic at the JJB 2-1. Wigan did poor in the second half being responsible for anyone and were eating once off a set piece and then bitten on a well worked counter attack that saw Wigan’s back four look completely lost. It’s amazing to me how Wigan played decently in the first half and were so woeful in the second. Full credit has to go to Martin O’Neil who made the changes at halftime and opened up the game more, something that on a pitch as dire as the one at the JJB was on the day, was enough to do the business.
1-0: Off a Wigan corner, Titus Bramble takes the header over Carson as Martin Laursen and Gareth Barry get in each other’s way. Poor job between those two as Laursen should have gotten into the space and headed the ball clear. 1-1: Off a Villa Corner, Curtis Davies gets in behind Mario Melchiot and heads the ball between Chris Kirkland and Denny Landzaat who was on the far post. 1-2: Ashley Young does very well to keep the ball in on the byline while beating Mario Melchiot and crosses into Gabriel Agbonlahor who gets in front Titus Bramble and heads the ball on and in off the far post. Nigel Rio Coker does the business in the midfield to set this goal up.

Everton v Arsenal: Everton gets busted by their ridiculously high line as Arsenal go long not once, but three times as Arsenal changed their plan at halftime and in the end overcame Everton in a game that saw two red cards 4-1. I have to give David Moyes credit for the fact he said it was their mistakes that cost Everton the game, tactically playing a high line that Arsenal broke down with ease. It also didn’t help that Phil Jagielka didn’t play up to his potential in the match. What got me about Everton’s play is they really didn’t create any quality chances on goal, something that Arsenal did plenty of. Also losing Mikel Arteta is going to make the team more reliant on Tim Cahill, something that will be considered a massive drop off in terms of chances that will be created. It truly is a blessing they play Middlesbrough, Oldham Athletic, and are in the League Cup against Chelsea in the first leg for those three maches. I do have to give credit to Arsene Wenger for spotting that high line at halftime and changing his style accordingly, even getting a true Arsenal goal in second half stoppage time to rub salt into Everton’s wounds.
1-0: Off an Arteta corner, Nicklas Bendtner makes a mistake in not clearing the ball and it ends up between Yakubu and Cahill. Yakubu goes to head and Cahill uses a high foot to tap the ball in where Bendtner should have stayed. Dive That Should Have Been Called: Yakubu goes down way too easily off a Kolo Toure touch. Just for the over exaggeration on the effort, that should have seen Yakubu booked for simulation. 1-1: Long ball played into Eduardo as Everton gamble with too high a line. Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott the two well out of position as Eduardo fills the space they should have been in as he slots the ball home far post. Golden Chance: Arteta gets into space and the cross into Yakubu has to be headed on goal, instead it goes well wide of the near post. 2-1: Clichy long ball that takes a touch off Bendtner. Again Eduardo takes advantage of a high line produced by Everton as he beats Phil Jagielka to the ball, the goal should not have counted as Eduardo used the arm to handle, however Eduardo slots home near post on a goal that should not have counted. Red Card: Nicklas Bendtner is taken out of his misery. The first yellow card was for a stupid push on Joseph Yobo and I think Martin Adkinson would have forgiven him except he had a few choice words after the fact. The second yellow card in all honesty could have been a straight red. A one footed stomp high on the leg of Andy Johnson and the second yellow card was never a doubt. 3-1: Another long ball played in that bounces over the high line Everton produced. Emmanuel Adebayor gets to the ball as Joseph Yobo and Tim Howard were caught between two minds who would play the ball. Adebayor simply rounds Howard and taps into an empty net. Red Card: This is unforgivable from Mikel Arteta. After being beaten fairly to the ball by Cesc Fabregas, Arteta sticks an elbow in below the eye of his fellow countryman. 4-1: Beautiful passing sequence from Arsenal. Instead of playing the ball into the corner which is what it appeared they would be doing, Adebayor plays to Diabo who lays off to Tomas Rosicky who was left to his own devices by the Everton defense. Andy Johnson goes to try and play the ball, however it was well too late. Rosicky just scores in the space Howard had vacated.

Derby County v Blackburn Rovers: A missed Steve Howard penalty ended up being the turning point in a highly entertaining affair at Pride Park as Derby County give up two goals in four minutes after the penalty miss as Blackburn end up with a comfortable 2-1 win. You have to give Derby credit for not giving up and getting plenty of chances in the second half to at least equalize, however they didn’t take advantage of those chances, unlike Blackburn. What gets me about Derby is while their defending has gotten better, it is still miles off being anything that would qualify as Premier League standard. There were four chances that I can remember that Blackburn were unmarked in the penalty area and Lewis Price did everything he could too keep Derby in this game. For Blackburn, it must be nice to know they have Roque Santa Cruz on their side.
Golden Chance: Off a corner, Roque Santa Cruz nearly scores on the near post save the fact that Lewis Price and Giles Barnes were there to deny. 1-0: Completely against the run of play, Tyrone Mears ball into the penalty area makes it’s way to Giles Barnes who lays off to Matt Oakley who was completely unmarked due to Ryan Nelsen not staying with his man. Penalty Miss: A howler from Ryan Nelsen as he trips Kenny Miller inside the penalty area. He was going to be beaten. Steve Howard takes and it’s Brad Friedel who saves. Howard went across his body and didn’t even get the ball on the near post. 1-1: Long ball that makes its way to David Bentley. Bentley turns McEveley and then crosses into McCarthy. McCarthy’s shot is saved by Price but right onto Roque Santa Cruz who saw Claude Davis go for the first shot instead of staying with the man he was responsible for. Poor defending all around and that will sting even more as it came only a moment after the missed penalty. 1-2: After some head tennis in the midfield, The ball ends up at the feet of David Bentley who then turns and causes Claude Davis to go to ground and using Michael Johnson as a guard, shoots on the near post. Lewis Price never had a chance. Missed Decision: Aaron Mokoena gets studs up on a challenge of Matt Oakley. Despite getting the ball first, the nature of that challenge should have seen a yellow card, which would have been red for him. Golden Chance: Warnock goes across the face of goal to Bentley. Bentley finds Roque Santa Cruz completely unmarked seven from goal and Lewis Price has to make a great reaction save to prevent it from being 3-1 to Blackburn.

Manchester City v Liverpool: Joe Hart and Richard Dunne play the games of their life as Liverpool attacked with vigor, yet were unable to capitalize as Manchester City’s tactics held firm and despite not capitalizing on the counter, they will feel glad to get a nil draw against Liverpool. The only thing I have to question with regards to their 4-2-3-1 formation. However the biggest issue on the day was the physicality that the man in the middle allowed. Really Richards was questionable early on for a red card (it should have been a foul yes, and possibly a yellow, but it was not a red). However Manchester City are doing just what their manager is asking of them. Liverpool though have to finish one of the twenty chances they got on goal. It’s amazing to see that Alvaro Arbeloa and Yossi Benayoun were the only two players who really got good chances on goal. It was a bit embarrassing that Torres only got one legit chance he got put off on by the keeper, and that Dirk Kuyt only got one chance that happened to be cleared off the line. If you’re a team of Liverpool’s stature, you have to win games like this if you want a prayer of winning the title.
Golden Chance: Elano’s cross into Vassell bounces high and Darius Vassell forces Arbeloa to head out for a corner. Golden Chance: After a poor ball from Joe Hart, the ball lands at Fernando Torres who looked offside. However Torres lets Joe Hart’s put him off and get the best of him as his poking effort goes just wide of the near post. However you don’t think it would have gone in as Richards and Dunne were there to make sure it didn’t. Off the Line: Carragher’s ball onto the edge of the six goes right to Dirk Kuyt. Hart does well to save it and give Dunne just enough time to get back and clear that ball before it goes over the end line.

Until the first rant lines of the New Year, may the debate begin!

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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