The end of 2006 and the start of 2007
Talking points of the Premiership matches from the last football weekend of 2006. No fixtures spared for today, continuation tomorrow with two matches on Tuesday. I want to know why it is the matches could not be all arranged for Tuesday instead? Being that a Saturday match with one team could be followed by another match on the following Tuesday for the same team, thus ensuring a clear respite of at least 48 hours, is it regarded the players are paid so well and are so physically conditioned that they should be fine to play on a Tuesday after a Saturday performance? What of Charlton and Aston Villa kicking off early on Saturday and now late on Tuesday? Arsenal kicked off late on Saturday, Chelsea played on Saturday and both playing Tuesday evening, are these teams at a potential advantage? Discuss.
In the Charlton v Aston Villa match, Alan Pardew is now two games unbeaten, four points the better. Villa on the other hand have slumped in form, Olof Mellberg allowing, for an international and World Cup defender, quite a poor form of judgement when the long ball came over for Darren Bent to latch onto and head in. When results and form go poorly and there is a change of manager, the change in the players can be much more positive and that looks to be at The Valley where the hosts simply laid seige on Villa particularly with Gareth Barry dismissed. If that is so, the major test is the next match at The Emirates.
Equally the notion on changed management applies at Upton Park. West Ham had a strong victory over Man Utd, drew with Charlton and lost to Man City to a very late but nice finish by the US international DaMarcus Beasley. Coincidence both sides met with a player each suspended after respective failed appeals to the FA. Man City earned the spoils in the end, I understand City are interested in another US international, Clint Dempsey, who impressed me in the WC2006 with pace and passing, someone who I earmarked for Liverpool on the right wing before Jermaine Pennant's arrival. West Ham await Dean Ashton's appearance to further rejuvenate their fortunes, both Charlton and West Ham meet in late February at The Valley.
Referring back to Arsenal, they kicked off at Bramall Lane where the hosts made history with a win against a side unheard of since 1973. It was a superb dummy by Christian Node to outwit Kolo Toure and with Jens Lehmann so far out of goal it seemed to have made up Node's mind on what to do next, as I felt Toure could have recovered to thwart the Frenchman. Defensively, Phillippe Senderos was far away from Toure and should have been nearer to cover but the goal wasn't the main story. Paddy Kenny strained his groin and was replaced with Phil Jagielka with no keeper cover on the bench. So for the last half an hour, Arsenal faced an inexperienced keeper but couldn't get to put him to a thorough test until late with Robin Van Persie's touch tipped over. If Sheffield United become relegated, they will no doubt look on this result with some pride, considering that only Charlton from the teams beneath prospered too.
Then there's the two horse race at the top. The question on the BBC site raised was whether Chelsea would miss John Terry? I felt yes. So far one could argue the writing was on the wall from the Everton game, having to come back twice to eventually win. Superb commitment no doubt but concerningly they were conceding goals. They went to the JJB Stadium to squander a 0-2 lead and again eventually win in the dying minutes, again conceding twice. They have conceded twice now in their last two games, both at home. Jose Mourinho says they cannot defend but the media herald Chelsea for having a 22 of players who would enter into any Premiership side. They had a replacement for any first-team member absent, only that their replacement for Petr Cech in Carlo Cudicini is also injured. So Henrique Hilario steps in but after an initial appearance that seemed to supplement the goal, the keeper has been exposed by the defence. For Terry they have Khalid Boulahrouz but in Terry there was a harmony at the back that appears disrupted now in his absence.
Man Utd in the meanwhile have looked aside at their Upton Park defeat and have struck Aston Villa, Wigan and Reading for three each with only three conceded. They were almost pushed to the limit when Leroy Lita scored but like Leighton Baines' penalty, it came too late. Key to their surge has been Christiano Ronaldo. Last season Wayne Rooney was that player, this season has seen Ronaldo with both Rooney and Louis Saha early on and currently just Ronaldo. He is moving, running, passing and taking chances like someone on a clear mission with one thing in mind, and nothing from anyone outside of that covenant is effecting him. Where Utd have gotten this burst of energy since the season began is questionable considering how they were last season. Little has been added in pre-season, the same players from last season are the ones making a difference currently. Crucial has been Edwin van der Sar, who seems to not only fill Peter Schmeichel's boots, literally, but does so after the list of other keepers in Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll though I felt Raimond van der Gouw could have made a good keeper.
With tomorrow being their fourth game in 10 days, Liverpool narrowly lost out to Blackburn previously before having to go to a tough venue in White Hart Lane, where to my recollection Spurs have not lost at home in all competitions since Everton. Though both sides have good chances in the first half, Spurs came looking for the equaliser in the second and simply laid on the pressure in the last twenty minutes that we struggled to restrict. How Spurs didn't score is something, how the ball didn't go in off Steve Finnan's head is something else. With Bolton coming tomorrow to Anfield, the Reds are looking to continue their good home form to hopefully overwhelm their visitors and climb into 3rd place. It will be tough but such games are seldom not between top half teams.
Still on Merseyside, Phil Neville deserves a mention for his sweet finish against Newcastle to record his first for Everton, leading the side and since scoring for Man Utd four years ago. While Everton are missing the contributions of Tim Cahill, it was a ball from Mikel Arteta to Neville that provided him the opportunity and although he mis-kicked it, the ball went up and almost over but for a fingertip touch by Shay Given to little avail. Meanwhile Andy Johnson is still being a nuisance with his pace and his determination to go anywhere and pressurise defenders, while Arteta is the dead ball man who should simply be a contender for the Spainish national side.
And there you have it, it is 23.36hrs, 20 minutes plus to the end of 2006 and I thank all those who contributed to this site, thank you for 2006, from the EFT members to the commenters, for this is the sport we love, containing the teams we support indivdually, containing the special players that make them up, managed by those who aim one day to be the top of the league, the number one at the end of the season particularly in the Premiership, the indecisions, the streakers, the goals, the misses, the clangers, the chanting, the frustration, the half time break, the bad injuries, the competitions, the Football Association and lack of, the shirts, the pride that makes football the sport it is today, from the sport it began so many, many years ago.
Happy New Year 2007,