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.
The last set of fixtures before November and real Autumn came along two weekends ago and saw two horror stories averted but one playing out that has been bubbling under for weeks now.
Arsenal took the lead against bottom-of-the-league gaffer-less Crystal Palace but had to survive a second half siege from a Palace team who exposed an Achilles heel and soft centre which experts have been noting for weeks – their line is too high and their centre halves/defensive midfield shield are not athletic/intuitive enough to cover the inevitable gaps. Arsenal sealed the game with a last minute breakaway but more inventive and dangerous teams would surely punish this tendency – as Chelsea did on Wednesday evening in the league cup with Juan Mata pulling the strings and exploiting the very gaps made apparent earlier…The thinking from your author is still that there is an American around who could right the Crystal Palace ship…
David Moyes could be forgiven for thinking that he was starring in his own horror movie this season as Champions League apart, his stuttering Manchester United are being nipped and assailed in all directions at home. The curse struck again two Saturdays past as Stoke City, led by former United great Mark Hughes twice took the lead. Fans had been keeping their murmurings to themselves generally despite a home loss to West Brom and a draw with Southampton but another home defeat would have certainly loosened some sharp tongues. United came back to win through Rooney and Van Persie, the two unimpeachable talents that will keep them in the honours hunt.
The title crisis club moved approx 12 miles to the west from Sunderland to Newcastle as the previously hapless Mackems beat their fiercest rivals in successive derby matches for the first time in years with a 2-1 win, heaping the pressure on Newcastle manager Alan Pardew. His position not helped by his owner’s mood, banning the local media after reporting on a supporters march against his presence in the city the previous weekend. A good cup result in midweek against Manchester City would have bought Pardew some time and space but a routine 2-0 win for the Blues leaves Pardew firmly on the hotseat, and this was compounded by a visit from team Chelsea Saturday lunchtime. Somehow, however, Pardew’s men stood up to the “Special One’s” unit and delivered a decisive, seat-cooling victory. Pardew’s team isn’t talented enough to keep the seat cool for long, and this will be an interesting story as the league moves toward Christmas.
Stamford Bridge saw the inevitable result when hubris and arrogance met loss of form and a personal nightmare unfolded for Joe Hart..
With the game set at 1-1 and both Chelsea and Manchester City seemingly settling for the draw, a hopeful Chelsea punt was intercepted by the Man City defence and headed back to the edge of the 18 yard box where a regular, confident goalkeeper would be. Hart is not that man right now, under pressure for his club and international place, and having already committed several high-profile errors this season, he came tearing out of his area, totally missing the ball leaving a surprised and delighted Fernando Torres to continue his rejuvenation under Jose Mourinho and seal the victory.
Manuel Pellegrini notably refused to exempt Hart from blame and with 6 ft 8 in Romanian International Costel Pantilimon keeping a clean sheet in the League Cup win against Newcastle in midweek, there is a real chance Hart may not keep his place much longer. Hart’s problem has been a lack of quality competition domestically and internationally so has drifted in focus since. While Pantilimon can put the pressure on at home, his poor form coupled with England’s Brazil 2014 qualification mean the hunt may be on for a challenger for Hart’s wobbly England crown.
With November firmly here, the EPL gets down to the hard slog as pitches get heavier, niggles start to crop up with increasing regularity, usually before a midweek trip to the North East, and the first real sign that we are into the dark seasons in England – the white ball is replaced by it’s luminous yellow cousin.
We saw some hard blows delivered this past week too. Primarily to a shell-shocked Norwich City defence that leaked seven goals against a rampant Manchester City who, to be fair, have been threatening to throttle somebody for a little while now. As is often the case in these games, the Norwich goalkeeper and England hopeful John Ruddy was probably their Man of the Match and made some great saves to keep it respectable… well, as respectable as that scoreline could be. One of the worst feelings in football is when you see the oppositions score spelled out in words on the results page just so viewers know that 7 is not a misprint. My dad works in Norwich and is going to a function at Carrow Road stadium on Friday Evening this week. I told him not to order the 7-Up.
Not the heaviest blow received this weekend either – that would be Hugo Lloris on the receiving end of Romelu Lukaku’s knee as the on-loan Belgian chased down a loose ball during Spurs visit to Everton. Both players left the pitch for treatment, Lukaku literally having insult added to injury with a yellow card while Lloris decided that against doctors advice, he was fit and well enough to continue and promptly went out and made some good reaction saves to ensure a 0-0 draw. Equally, somebody could have told him he was Sylvester Stallone in ‘Escape to Victory’ and he was acting the part of Hutch, as having 16 stone of Belgian muscle connect with your temple at speed will render you somewhat susceptible to suggestion, if not the emergency room. AVB, and I’m always suspicious of managers who are referred to as initials or monograms, tried to pin it as the goalkeeper’s decision but this is the same faulty logic relied on by fraudsters in court who bilk their elderly relatives for millions while keeping them locked in the shed – “but they said we could have the money!”. As we’ve already seen with the NFL, head injuries and concussions in sport are no longer the subject of light ribbing and ‘tough it out; advice, and Football should be no exception. Not that I want to see teams running around in those stupid Wayne Rooney boxing headguards but maybe the decision to continue should be taken out of the managers hands in such instances. The less-discussed victim here is Lukaku, who Everton absolutely must have to continue their fast-paced start that should position a talented team for a run at Europa League play next season.
The first ever non-English Premiership match ended in a 1-0 victory for home side Cardiff against near neighbours and rivals Swansea. The build-up to the match had been dominated by the difference in approaches taken by the two teams. Debt-free Swansea playing in a community owned stadium, with elected fans on the board, a footballing ethos laid down throughout the club with urban foreign manager Michael Laudrup overseeing their first major trophy last year with the League Cup and their first European campaign in years this season. Cardiff are the nouveau riche arrivetes, funded by Malaysian money, literally selling their soul for a shot at the big time as the Bluebirds became the Red Dragons with kit change to match and widely respected gritty Scottish manager Malky Mackay having every decision questioned by the owner, with tactic suggestions texted down at halftime and his trusted director of recruitment replaced with an illegal Kazakh immigrant friend of the owners son, indicating that all is not well behind the scenes. The victory will placate some of the fans for now but you get the distinct impression that a fresh crisis is not far away and Mackay should be advised not to ask Santa Claus for a permanent parking space sign. The ownership literally make Washington’s Dan Snyder look benevolent.
Arsenal continued their soft march to the top with a 2-0 win over Liverpool. It was a really good performance from the Gunners against a genuine rival and did well to shackle the SAS strike force. Manchester United kept in the hunt with a 3-1 win at struggling Fulham while Chelsea surprisingly lost 2-0 at Newcastle despite bossing possession of the game for the first hour, they then fell to a set piece and a breakaway sucker punch proving that you can have all the possession in the world but the only stat worth a damn in soccer is the scoreline. Take that, Bill James!
This week sees the first round proper of the FA Cup, the oldest and most romantic cup competition in the world. The top non-league clubs and League’s 1 and 2 enter at this stage, the EPL and Championship clubs exempt until Round 3. Some choice ties include former winners AFC Wimbledon v Coventry on Friday night, village side Bishop’s Stortford entertain bottom of the league Northampton Town and nomadic Gloucester City, who haven’t played in their home city for over six and a half years.
And if you doubt the romance of the cup, ask every Englishman what they dreamed of when they were growing up – scoring the winner in the Cup Final or coming 4th in the league? Show me somebody who says the latter, and I’ll show you a morally bankrupt loser. Here endeth the lesson.
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.