Monday, September 21, 2009

Derby Highlight of EPL Weekend

Most of the substance of the terrific Manchester derby has already been covered by ARF, but there's just too much to say about it to not weigh in. As far as the timing issue, I couldn't agree more with the referee who allowed the minute and a half beyond the posted extra time in order to allow for the goal celebration and for the late substitution. Too often referees just blindly follow the posted time as if it were some sort of absolute figure. This avoids controversy, but fails to adhere to the purpose of stoppage time: to allow a full ninety minutes to be played, not including the times spent on goal celebrations, substitutions and injuries. To rigidly follow the posted extra time allows teams with the lead to stall by substituting; ironically, if the substitution was in normal time, this time would be added back on! Now whether Owen's game-winning goal was within the minute and a half was close and debatable. It appeared the goal celebration was fifty-five seconds and the substitution took about thirty seconds. So it's possible the goal was beyond time, though it can the be argued the referee didn't want to stop play in the middle of a threat to score. Regardless, I applaud the impulse to actually play the match to its finish.

Of course, Mark Hughes is still furious, wanting an explanation why ninety-seven mintes were played in total. The ninety-seven minute figure is silly, unless Hughes wanted the final whistle to be blown during the goal celebration. Hughes will get even less comfort from this Guardian study finding Manchester United typically receive an extra minute of stoppage time at home when they are behind or tied compared to when they are ahead. There's an obvious sample size problem when only twelve matches in the study are on the "losing or tied" end, but it's interesting nonetheless. Sir Alex promptly rubbed salt in Hughes' wounds by referring to City as "noisy neighbors" again and insinuating they could have won 6-0. Stay classy "Sir" Alex. And for further good news for City, the Manchester police and the FA are investigating an incident of Craig Bellamy shoving a fan who came onto the field after the game. If you charge the field and confront an opposing player, there's a good chance you'll get shoved. The real question is whether it was a punch rather than a shove. The photograph attached to this story isn't helping Bellamy's cause.

Outside the city of Manchester, the two most significant matches were at Stamford Bridge and Upton Park. Chelsea defeated Tottenham 3-0 to remain perfect after six matches, and are the lone side without a loss. Chelsea are of course expected to go the distance in the title race and compete to the end. After earning the full twelve points in the first four matches, the question was whether Spurs could do the same. That question appears to have been negatively over the last two matches against United and Chelsea: six goals conceded and only one goal scored. To be fair, those scorelines are somewhat harsh. Tottenham scored first against United and were in it until Rooney's late goal finished the match. Against Chelsea, Tottenham controlled play at times and created chances. But they didn't convert and Chelsea did, and that one phrase sums up the difference in quality between the sides. Perhaps the match would have been different had Robbie Keane been given the penalty he deserved before the second Chelsea goal. Perhaps not. Tottenham do have a much lighter schedule to come, having already faced Liverpool and United at home and Chelsea and West Ham on the road. A string of wins might once again establish the possibility of their title contention.

Liverpool's three points at West Ham were the result of one man, at least as much as that can ever be true in the game of football. Fernando Torres scored twice, single-handedly creating the first goal by beating his defender and toe-poking the ball past the keeper. The second goal came off a wonderfully directed header on a cross from the shockingly useful Ryan Babel. Babel has spent most of the season on the bench whining to the press about not being in the first team (while not deserving it), but now says he was misquoted and will attempt to earn his spot. Babel actually injected energy off the bench, and may find more playing time as a result. Liverpool continue to struggle at the back, with both Skrtel and Carragher in poor form especially in the first half, Carragher having also conceded a borderline penalty. Liverpool also conceded yet another goal off a set piece, this time a corner. The nine goals conceded already this season are not impressing anyone. But the Reds found three points thanks to brilliance from Torres, and remain in the early season title hunt. Liverpool now face a once-great Leeds side in the Carling Cup mid-week and host Hull next weekend. The schedule really ramps the next week with an away Champions League visit to Fiorentina and then a visit to Stamford Bridge. Liverpool will not want to let Chelsea open an early nine point gap with an away loss.

After the Carling Cup fixtures mid-week, next weekend doesn't contain any premier matches. United does face a tricky away fixture at Stoke, while Arsenal have to visit Craven Cottage and Fulham. Fulham lost unimpressively to Wolves and will be looking for a change in form. Chelsea go away to Wigan, while Man City host West Ham on a Monday fixture that will be televised on ESPN2.

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