Barclays Premier League, Featured, January 2015

Whiney Limey: The Premier League Buster Douglas’d En Masse

Mourinho couldn't believe his eyes as Chelsea's lead over a Division One side evaporated.

Mourinho couldn’t believe his eyes as Chelsea’s lead over a Division One side evaporated.

Guy Bailey

Editor’s Note: Guy Bailey writes columns for The Yanks Are Coming throughout the Barclay’s Premier League season. In those columns, he’ll discuss  the happenings overseas in the world’s most popular sports league, as well as The Championship, where many Americans ply their trade. 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 a year ago. He can be reached at guyrbailey@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter all EPL season at @guyrbailey.

Two week’s worth of Whiney Limey’s in one post, which means the title of this piece could be: “If you read one column about soccer written for Americans by a Brit all weekend– let this be it.” We’ll start with the week that was in the FA Cup. One we won’t soon forget.

EPL gets Buster Douglas’d en masse 29/1/15

I’ll stick with the boxing analogy I so successfully opened with last week (see below, bold). After murdering Swansea by 5-0 last week, Chelsea were drawn at home to face Bradford City from Division One – a match so uneven that no Boxing Federation on the planet would sanction it but this is the FA Cup. 

The received wisdom was right up until 41 minutes with Chelsea leading 2-0 and possibly already thinking of taking players off at half time to preserve them for the head to head clash with Manchester City next week.  Jon Stead lashed a shot into the top left hand corner that did not break Petr Cech’s hand so the game went in a little closer than it could or should have been.  This is when we morph straight into Rocky/Rudy territory. Firstly not only do Bradford equalise through a guy who was on the bench for Chelsea for Mourinho’s first ever game in charge nearly 10 years ago but then Andy Halliday, a roaming left winger/left back came into the box at the angle and hit a beautiful curler with the outside of his right foot into the corner with only seven minutes to go. By now Willian was on as the unlikely quadruple was slipping away and there was still room for one more goal but this also went to the visitors in injury time, meaning they could relax and celebrate for the first time that afternoon and Chelsea were out. Leaking four goals at home for the first time under Mourinho who rightly labeled the result a disgrace although he was still man enough to go into Bradford’s dressing room afterwards and shake every player and official by the hand and congratulate them.

EPL Sides playing the role of Tyson, falling to Douglas, in the FA Cup.

EPL Sides playing the role of Tyson, falling to Douglas, in the FA Cup.

This was the footballing equivalent of Buster Douglas knocking the then indestructible Mike Tyson onto those famous black shorts and beating the unbeatable in front of our disbelieving eyes.  

180 miles further north another shock was unfolding as Manchester City entertained Middlesbrough. Second in the championship with one of the best defences in the country, it would be a tougher test than Bradford but a team containing Navas, Aguierro, Zabaletta and Milner shouldn’t have had that much trouble. Goalless at half time, Boro took the lead in the second half with Chelsea loanee and much improved front runner Patrick Bamford deflecting the ball into the net from a Paulinho clearance.  It should have been more before Kike sealed the deal with a last minute breakaway. Lee Tomlin, dubbed the Carzola of the Championship, turned Vincent Kompany, making him look as bewildered as an old man who had walked into his kitchen in the middle of the night and now stood in front of the fridge and who can’t for the life of him remember what it was he wanted. Tomlin then crashed his drive against the post and it trickled agonisingly along the line before rolling to safety. Frank Lampard had a deflected shot do the same in the last minute but it would have been an injustice if Boro were denied for a masterful performance and a statement win.  No more flying under the radar for Aitor Karanka’s boys now. While James Milner did James Milner things to get over the defeat; Middlebrough look forward, as a trip to Arsenal awaits but after this and the Chelsea results there can be no more foregone conclusions surely?

The other EPL teams at home in the 4th round fared little better.

Tottenham lead struggling Leicester 1-0 before shipping an equaliser and then reserve goalkeeper Michel Vorm allowed a tame Schupp shot to creep under him in the last minute to see another favourite eliminated. Liverpool drew 0-0 with Bolton, Sunderland went down to ten men and were probably glad of another crack at championship Fulham after their game ended scoreless and Southampton, who might secretly be glad to concentrate solely on the league, will feel they missed a chance as Crystal Palace yet again came from behind to knock them out 3-2.  In all the excitement, Manchester United labouring to a 0-0 draw at League 2’s Cambridge United on the Friday evening went from being a punchline to a reasonable result within the space of 24 hours. Shock Saturday couldn’t repeat the magic on Sunday as West Ham, Aston Villa and Arsenal all overcame lower league opposition, heeding the warnings from the previous day.

Chelsea got back into character real quick on Tuesday with an extra time victory over Liverpool by a goal to nil to reach the League Cup Final but not without Cost(a). The fiery Spanish/Brazilian stamped on opponents not once but twice, both times missed by the officials but not the FA who have him before their disciplinary committee Friday afternoon. Chelsea may lawyer up to somehow put off the inevitable three game ban (it came Friday afternoon after writing was finished for this piece) until after the Man City game but it’s a tough loss in a can’t lose game. Still, as Gary Neville demonstrates, some across the pond didn’t find Costa’s actions objectionable. To each their own.

Spurs creaked past League 1 Sheffield United 3-2 on aggregate, drawing 2-2 on a snowy night in Sheffield, the final goal coming in the final minutes from Christian Erickson, the only real success from their £100m splurge last summer.

Apart from the EPL’s version of the Super Bowl on Saturday Evening, Man Utd and Swansea will look to make up ground on the loser with games at home to Leicester and Swansea respectively. Hull need something from visiting Newcastle who appointed coach John Carver as caretaker manager for the rest of the season. So called because that’s exactly what he’d look like if you put a broom in his hand. Sunderland also need something more than a gritty performance at home to Burnley and QPR look for their first away point of the season at a cold, cold Britannia Stadium in Stoke.  

Monday sees the closure of the transfer window with no real big money being splashed around apart from Arsenal’s capture of Brazilian defender Paulista but after Saturday’s results, the loss of £60m in income from relegation may break one or two managers brains so we’ll see who blinks first.

Now stepping back in time an extra week…

Quadruple Threat and Blue Insubordination 22/1/15

Boxing is particularly prone to the the damp squib phenomenon where the tape and build up looks very evenly balanced and matched and every pundit predicts a 12 round spectacular where both fighters swing a last punch at each other which connects, laying both men out so we have a Rocky style race to their feet, one winning by a single second.  What actually happens is that after the first bell and the initial jabs and feints, one of the competitors lands one straight down the middle and it’s “boom, boom, out go the lights” in a matter of seconds. Warren Zevon explains:

The footballing equivalent came to pass this week as Chelsea visited South Wales and administered a beating so brutal and ruthless you’d assume Gary Monk owed Jose money. 4-0 up by halftime, Swansea fans would have literally ran up against another immovable fact of modern football – automatically controlled doors and gates that do not open until 10 minutes before the end so the home fans would not be able to leave if they wanted to. Schurrle added another before the end to close the deal and then got an even better treat 24 hours later when the result came in from the Etihad.  

Arsenal finally beat a top four side, and with Paulista on the way in, it could get better for Wenger's group.

Arsenal finally beat a top four side, and with Paulista on the way in, it could get better for Wenger’s group.

Arsenal had looked like a pale imitation of previous sides so far this season but rolled back the years to the early 90s with a solid steel defensive performance and hit Man City with two sucker punches. The first a deserve penalty after the usually reliable Vincent Kompany hung out a leg on Monreal for Cazorla to score then Giroud got on the end of some incisive passing to seal an unlikely but much needed win. The race for 3rd and 4th keeps intensifying as Man Utd and Southampton both won away at QPR and Newcastle respectively while Spurs and Liverpool also beat strugglers Sunderland and Villa to keep up the heat.  Spurs welcomed back prodigal son Jermain Defoe in opposition colours after his ill-fated MLS stint, and most English pundits are hailing it as the deal of the century. Not so much for bringing back a proven top level goalscorer but for also unloading Jozy Altidore to Toronto at the same time.

The most entertaining game of the weekend was a ding dong at the bottom with Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace again coming back from behind to win for the second match in a row, this time from 2-0 down at Burnley who like a low level Terminator will not stop until their batteries run out.

West Brom at home was the chance for Everton to get their season reignited after their battling and brave FA Cup display at West Ham but it saw a spectacular reverse of fortune for one Kevin Mirallas.  Scorer of a dazzling free kick at Upton Park, the Belgian playmaker was determined to be centre stage and his chance arrived in the first half when ex-Blue Joleon Lescott handled in the area. Mirallas disobeyed team orders, taking the ball from regular penalty taker Leighton Baines and proceeded to put it wide of the right hand post.  Roberto Martinez quickly reinstilled his discipline and order withdrawing Mirallas at half time. The miss proved decisive as the game ended goalless leaving the Toffees in 12th, a respectable position but ominously only four points above the drop zone.

Chelsea took another step towards an unprecedented quadruple drawing 1-1 at Liverpool in the League Cup on Tuesday. Taking an early lead from the penalty spot through Hazard, they led until a stunning Sterling dribble and shot equalized in the second half and then had to withstand a home team barrage to go back to the Bridge level. Tottenham were overwhelming favourites to smash League One cup specialists Sheffield United at home but had to wait until 15 minutes before the end and a dubious Andros Townsend penalty to take a slender one goal advantage to a partisan Yorkshire on Wednesday.

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 on football and life made while living in America, where he married a southern belle and saw his son born, which you can purchase here. 

 

Guy Bailey