This weekend a Premier League manager said some very foolish words in a press conference, words that may go on to have a deep and adverse psychological effect on his players. It was a surprisingly defeatist statement given the pedigree of the man in question and one that will have no doubt had his team’s fans tearing their hair out.
Indeed Luiz Felipe Scolari’s admission that defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday would leave them “…in trouble” in the title race could indeed do more damage to his side’s chances than the defeat otherwise would have done.
Of course less conspiratorial observers will point to Chelsea’s apparent lack of anything approaching guile in United’s half today as a sign more worthy of alarm, but let us not forget that it is the manager who determines the mood within the camp; hence the air of invincibility that surrounded Chelsea during Mourinho’s tenure.
Yesterday Arsenal desperately clung onto their distant glimmer of title hope through a hard-earned 1-0 win over Bolton with a brave finish from the workmanlike Bendtner. By the time Fabregas returns it will of course be too late for a title tilt, but I can still see them going far in the Champions League if they can scrape through without him, mostly because of the awesome Robin van Persie. No amount of attention from defenders is seemingly enough to stop him affecting games; such sublime control.
Liverpool dropped more points against the despicable Stoke City and some of their fans will be growing nervous if United win their next couple of league games, but I don’t think they should be too concerned with the draw yesterday. The more weathered Liverpool fans who remember their last title win, know that titles cannot be lost in early January. With the returning Torres ominously combining with Gerrard late on, only for the captain’s poke to trickle painstakingly onto the post, Liverpool fans can feel encouraged; even if their manager does his best to draw attention (and with it extra pressure, no matter what anyone says) onto the team.
Elsewhere there were predictable home wins for both Aston Villa and Everton who will inevitably be duking it out for 5th come May time. Villa excite me with their pace up front and remind me a little of last season’s Man Utd with its three pronged interchanging attack. If they can add a third talent to equal Young and Agbonlahor in the place of Milner/Carew this summer, I can see them genuinely challenging for 3rd place next term. Arteta continued to be Everton’s only watchable player as they powered their way through Hull City’s flattened side and added another fantastic strike to his show reel that will no doubt be playing on Sky Sports News this summer as Guillem Balague discusses Villarreal or Sevilla’s interest in the classy playmaker.
Newcastle fans will be doing cartwheels over the great white hope that is Andy Carroll after his first first-team strike against West Ham and can look forward to many a smarmy smile from Shearer on MOTD as he jizzes over his every touch over the coming weeks and months. For me the jury’s out after seeing an earlier far post header frustratingly planted into the side netting but we shall see. West Ham on the other hand already have the finished article in Craig Bellamy who has been consistently impressive this season and took his goal very coolly indeed. Like Arsenal with van Persie, West Ham cannot afford to not have him in the side. If they do keep him and finish the season respectably (which I believe they will) then I can see a lot of European based players being interested in a move to London this summer given Zola’s stature.
Middlesbrough and Sunderland played out a draw that will have stung Southgate’s players after leading for so long. Despite their positions in the league I think both sides have just about enough goal scoring ability to survive.
Tottenham continued their bewildering regression against a buoyant Wigan side today with a defeat that provides real cause for concern for Harry Redknapp. Eradicating late errors and collapses was something he addressed immediately after his appointment and he will be seething at this latest one. Work to be done.
The story of the weekend though was undoubtedly the slightly haunting sight of a Chelsea team devoid of creativity or indeed desire at Old Trafford. Couldn’t have anything to do with the manager could it?
Goal of the Weekend – Mikel Arteta vs. Hull
Quote of the Weekend – “We have 18 games left starting from now but if you lose three points against a direct opponent you are in trouble.” Scolari ahead of Man Utd game.
Hero of the Weekend – Robin van Persie. For single handedly keeping Arsenal alive.
Loser of the Weekend – Tony Mowbray. For refusing to “bleat” about the referee, before talking about nothing else in his post-match interview.
Arsenal 1-0 Bolton
Aston Villa 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
Everton 2-0 Hull
Man Utd 3-0 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 1-1 Sunderland
Newcastle 2-2 West Ham
Stoke 0-0 Liverpool
Wigan 1-0 Tottenham