Football Round-Up (EPL Week 15)

A big derby win for United, somewhat unexpected, but one that leaves them in a dominant position as we head towards Christmas. Being top of the table as the year comes to an end is always a plus, and United are now odds on to that.

It was one of those games that ebbed and flowed, and judging by passing/possession really could have gone either way. United successfully used the Rafael/Valencia connection down the right to great effect, just as they did against Chelsea and Rooney picked a great time to find his scoring boots again. His running for the second goal especially was brilliant.

United suffered in other parts of midfield though, with Carrick and Cleverly routinely swamped by the pace, counter-attack and movement of Silva, Toure and Aguero. The absence of Tevez, perhaps in the hope that Balotelli would have one of his good days, was a gamble that did not pay off, and “Mario” really struggled in the time that he had. I was surprised that Balotelli’s services were even retained during the summer, and i really do think he is a detriment to the City side. Tevez, when he did come, was electric, with his pass for Toure’s goal being one of the best assists of the season.

De Gea did all right in goal, though a few nervy moments when dealing with crosses means question marks remain. The kid has just been struggling for so long that you begin to wonder if he just isn’t suited to the premier league.

The United defence stood firm for as long as it could, which is as good as you could really expect after the season that it has had. Rafael was outstanding in his defensive work and attacking breaks, and the others were competent enough. The tackles were flying in throughout the game and it was certainly a bit dirty, but overall I was impressed with the backlines grift and cohesion. The failure to pick up Toure and Zabaleta as they raced into the box for their two goals was the standout flaw. Players like Ferdinand are certainly lacking pace.

RVP actually had a quiet enough game, and his freekick at the end probably only wound up in the net as a result of Tevez’ bizarre absence from the wall and Nasri’s ineffective blocking. Joe Hart, not his greatest day, was also a step too far to his left.

A win is a win, even if it isn’t from a commanding performance against major rivals. But Ferguson got his tactics spot on, trusting his defence to soak up the Man City pressure while a counter-attack and opportunistic forward line took their chances.

This is no season ending performance for City but it is undeniable that they have been poorer than expected this season. It would be foolish to demean them completely – 2nd in the league after all – but they have struggled in the “big” games, have relied on late goals a lot more than you would expect, and were truly atrocious in Europe. It isn’t a lack of care anymore (like was very much evident in the CPL) but defensive clangers (Kompany’s absence was keenly felt yesterday) and a few players (Barry, Balotelli, Nasri) who aren’t pulling their weight considering the salaries they are on.

As for elsewhere, Liverpool have proved that they are more than a team completely reliant on Luiz Suarez, fighting back well to get a result against West Ham who have been playing quite well lately.  The recovery is on for the Reds, who are only four points outside the European places. Have they finally found a manager worth keeping?

Chelsea took advantage of an awful Sunderland side to rack up the goals early and stroll to an easy win. Torres has been banging them in in the last two games, but only against sides of very mediocre quality. Out of the Champions League and really trailing quite badly in the league, Benetiz has his work cut out for him.

Arsenal are back to winning wins, thanks to a poorly disciplined defence that gave away two penalties for Arteta to put away. With Everton grabbing a late late win against spurs, the rivalry in East London is an especially close and tense one this year. I would back Spurs to finish ahead of the Gunners this year, with only serious changes in the management of Arsenal to be contemplated in order to reverse that.

West Brom are still riding high, but three straight defeats, to opposition that you could argue they should be able to handle, are introducing a dose of reality. The packed schedule of Christmas is the wrong time to be having a blip, and if any of the “small” clubs are going to finish higher than expected, I would expect it to be Swansea, thanks to the wonderful Michu.

And while getting three points in their last three games I actually an improvement for QPR’s form book, it will not be enough to save them as things stand. Whoever is last at Christmas always goes down, and this year that looks like being Harry Redknapp’s boys.

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