Editor’s Note: Guy Bailey will write columns for The Yanks Are Coming throughout the Barclay’s Premier League season where he discusses the happenings overseas in the world’s most popular sports league. Guy offers a unique perspective on the league as a Brit who lived for a long while in the United States before moving back to Teeside in the past year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter all EPL season at@guyrbailey.
A few weeks of action to review and we’ll begin mid-January where we last left you…
24/1/14 – The Red Devils inflict fresh hell on manager Moyes
I saw a picture a couple of weeks back of a cow with its head caught in a chain link fence. The caption read ‘Just when you think things have gotten as bad as they’re gonna get…’ the next picture showed the same cow with a horny bull walking up behind it with another caption ‘…then someone comes along to prove you wrong’. David Moyes must feel like that cow this week.
On the day he gets clearance to spend £40m on Juan Mata from Chelsea, his Man Utd team took on bottom-of-the-league Sunderland in the League Cup Semi Final with cross town rivals City waiting for them at the Wembley Final. They took the lead in the first half to level the scores on aggregate and if they saw out the game to the end of extra time then they were through. With one minute to go, David De Gea fails to gather a routine shot from Phil Bardsley and deflected it into his own net. Credit to United, they then morphed into the 1999 version and promptly went right down the other end of the field and scored to take the game to penalties. What happened next is going to be a punchline for years. In a 10 shot competition, only three players managed to score unopposed from 12 yards. Three.
Keen observers will also note that international striker Jozy Altidore was on the pitch at the time but not trusted to take a penalty in this situation which further cements his reputation in the UK as a top-heavy, flat track bully who’ll prosper in less defensively proficient leagues like the Eredivisie or the Scottish Premier League but will flounder against defenders who, you know, know how to defend. Gus Poyet this week however played the role of Patsy Cline— standing by his man and lauding the “magnificent” work rate of Altidore, who remains a fixture in the improved Sunderland lineup despite scoring twice since August…
And it keeps getting worse for Moyes: Rio Ferdinand is now openly suggesting that the gaffer will be sacked in short order (a horrendous idea) by United in the coming weeks. Nowhere to go but up.
Many might have thought the 2-1 scoreline was a misprint, or a repeat of the game score but there you go. United’s most realistic chance of silverware this season has gone and its Sunderland having a day out at Wembley on March 2nd. Although there is a delicious historical precedent here – last time they got to the League Cup Final in 1985 when they lost the final to Norwich City and got relegated in the same year so here’s hoping. The real winners of mid-January were West Ham whose 9-0 aggregate thumping by Man City over two legs has been totally lost in the United blameathon. Only for a week though as like Sunderland, they are in deep relegation trouble.
Now, Mata will undoubtedly help United, as will Fellaini, Rooney and Van Persie coming back from injury and I still expect them to finish in the top four in the Premier League and advance in the Champions League but there’s no denying that there is disharmony in the ranks – they are still the reigning champions after all and reigning champions shouldn’t be losing to the bottom team over two legs nor losing four times at home in the league already.
A lot of people are baffled as to why Chelsea have decided to sell Mata to one of their main rivals but it shows Mourinho’s pragmatism. He doesn’t consider United one of his rivals for the title this season, and he’s probably right. If he can finish above Man City he will probably win the title and as Mata is a bit player in his plans, he’s traded him for Basel’s flying Egyptian Mohamed Salah for £11m who will provide balance and an outlet opposite Willian so makes more sense for him. A lot of people still think they need another striker, especially with Torres injuring himself, but with a midfield this potent, we’ll soon see.
The following week saw a break in the EPL action as the FA Cup 4th Round took centre stage. Chelsea had the hardest tie with Stoke at home, and narrowly escaped 1-0; while Arsenal and Man City entertained Coventry and Watford respectively. Watford were particularly game– storming to a 2-0 lead that City had to work hard to erase in the second half before ultimately pulling away through an unreal talent gap, 4-2. Five other EPL teams had tricky away ties to lower league opposition – Fulham drew Sheffield United, only to suffer the humiliation of losing at Craven Cottage in the replay on February 4th; Hull handled Southend and former boss Phil Brown 2-0, Everton crushed Stevenage, Crystal Palace fell at holders Wigan and Cardiff survived a rugged affair 1-0 at Bolton. On paper, the most intriguing tie of the round saw Liverpool visit Bournemouth – a popular seaside resort town on the South Coast with an 8000 seater stadium but a good footballing philosophy under young manager Eddie Howe. It was actually a very entertaining 2-0, with Howe’s side attacking with gusto throughout. The fifth round begins mid-February, and with Charlton Athletic drawing Sheffield Wednesday, at least one “Cinderella” will find their way to a quarterfinal.
31/1/14 – The relentless pursuit of the well tailored man
Happy Transfer Deadline Day!
Sky Sports have singlehandedly created their own biannual football celebration marked with round-the-clock coverage and stakeouts of stadiums and training grounds all over the country looking for blacked-out Land Rovers and subnormal individuals in replica kits having gurning competitions behind reporters. The ringmaster is a peppy Scotsman called Jim White who anchors the whole thing from 7pm GMT onwards and is quite the spectacle as yellow ticker tape screams BREAKING NEWS! – Rochdale sign Bert Smith on loan – for five hours straight.
Not that many/any of the big boys look to be making moves however, despite an injury to Sergio Aguero, the Harlem Grasstrotters at Man City look loaded up front and Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness to buy an auxiliary striker looks even more perverse as he made known the club were after Schalke’s Julian Draxler, ANOTHER attacking midfielder. Mourinho also played his cards close to his chest, and Nemanja Matic’s return to the Bridge from Benfica adds depth, though it isn’t a particularly sexy signing. In the end, Wenger brought in only the world’s grandest digital footballer, Kim Kallstrom from Spartak Moscow, who promptly found himself where he usually resides, the training table. In order to make it seem like less of a colossal failure, we were greeted with various stories suggesting the Gunners knew he was hurt but approved his transfer anyway, a proposition which makes about as much sense as investing in ice when one lives in Alaska. More transfer window winners and losers here.
Some interesting results midweek – Sunderland scraped a 1-0 over Stoke to emerge blinking into the daylight outside of the bottom three for the first time this season with rejuvenated Adam Johnson scoring again. They have a chance now. Similarly Stoke now find themselves precariously placed above the trap door and even Swansea and Norwich in 11th and 12th respectively are only five points above. Bad luck, bad news or bad decisions could see any of them tumble in from now to May. Liverpool administered a brutal 4-0 beating to their neighbours Everton to assert Merseyside superiority at least but the race for 4th is going to be intriguing, as Spurs could still be in the mix despite another comprehensive trouncing at the hands of Man City 5-1. Villa won a pulsating Midlands Derby 4-3 over West Brom despite trailing 0-2 after 10 minutes while Palace and Swansea eked out crucial wins over Hull and Fulham respectively.
Mourinho was in rare form after West Ham secured an unlikely point in a dour 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge accusing his opponents of playing ‘19th century’ football. They certainly have a manager in Sam Allardyce who wouldn’t look out of place in turn of the Century photographs but I suspect if the boot is on the other foot on Monday night when Chelsea go to the Etihad in a monumental fixture and they scrape a 0-0 draw using similar tactics then this will be a professional defensive performance. A lot of people are rushing to anoint Man City as the greatest team ever because of their goalscoring prowess and award them the title on the last day of January. And of course, after Chelsea’s victory, I am looking quite intelligent in stalling the City coronation. The irony of Mourinho’s West Ham complaints doubled, both with the happenings at the Etihad and with “Google”, which reminded people that Barca faced a Chelsea side with one Didier Drogba, and tactically it was only the Ivorian who made what West Ham did at the Bridge any different than how Chelsea eliminated Lionel Messi and the “Greatest Show on Turf”- all respect to the St. Louis Rams.
So, I’m not about to crown Manchester City championsof anything. I remember back to the 1995/96 season when a similarly stocked attacking team, Newcastle United, was laying waste to all defences before it with Alan Shearer, building a 12 point lead over their closest rivals Man Utd by this point of the season. Man City are, after their defeat to Chelsea, two points south of Arsenal and ahead of Chelsea on goal difference.
Bit by bit however, Manchester United hunted that Newcastle side down and reeled them in culminating with a 1-0 win at Newcastle with Cantona scoring the winner in early March to reduce the gap to a single point. By May came around Man Utd had a two point lead going into the final day and Newcastle had to win at home and hope Man Utd lost at Middlesbrough. The same Middlesbrough with Utd legend Bryan Robson in charge. The same Middlesbrough that dropped regular goalkeeper Alan Miller for the match and put former Man Utd reserve keeper Gary Walsh in goal for the match. The same Middlesbrough who came to the ground with flags and banners displaying Mickey Mouse in a Newcastle shirt, and who, author included, would be quite willing to watch their team lay down rather than gift the title to their bitterest rivals.
There are a lot more twists and turns left in this Championship I feel and a Toure and Kompany-less City are a very different proposition.
Newcastle entertained Sunderland in an always fractious derby at lunchtime, and again Sunderland looked alive, winning 3-0 and silencing the raucous crowd while West Ham looked to enter this century’s football era and drag Swansea back into the mire– and at least accomplished half of that, playing “ugly football” according to the Swans but winning two-zero.
More shortly, as we move into the famed “Yes, but can he do it on a cold February day at the Stadium of Light” portion of the campaign.
As noted, Guy Bailey writes on the Barclay’s Premier League for The Yanks Are Coming. Want more Guy Bailey? We highly recommend his new book, Blessay From America, a collection of writings made while living in America, where he married a southern belle and saw his son born, which you can purchase here.