Weekend in 100 words or less

Manchester United 83 Manchester City 80. Three points with three to play heading into their game one week from today. In a sudden turnaround in roles it is now the wise, experienced, ‘been there and done it before’ guys who are stuttering towards the finish line while the upstarts, who two weeks ago were ruled out of the chase by their own manager, cruised to another victory on Sunday just a few hours after hearing of United’s uncharacteristic collapse at home to Everton. The races for 1st, 4th & 17th remains fascinating as the season enters its final 20 days.

Baker’s Dozen – 13 observations from the weekend’s matches

1. There’s something magical about a 4-4 in the Premier League.

It is the highest scoring draw in the history of the Premier League and it has happened 13 times now, well thirteen since the Premier League began in 1992 anyway, and never before had Manchester United been involved in one. After all, to be frank, they are usually far too good to be on the side of such a match. This time was different, they simply weren’t very good, and the timing of such a game leaves the runaway favourites for the crown more than just a little nervous about their run-in. And so they should be (more about that later).

2. United collapse like never before in a Premier League home game - With seven minutes to go and United leading 4-2 I’ll admit I was starting to think about the possibility of them going to the Etihad Stadium next Monday and winning the title. After all, a win against Everton was certain and a lead of five points with three to play meant a win in the derby would have handed them the title. It turned out that I was wrong for thinking the win was certain as United conceded two late goals to draw the match, making it impossible for them to win the title next Monday. Except it wasn’t certain after all. It was a stunning collapse that made me wonder just how far off the mark I was for thinking it was certain.  I ran the numbers prior to Sunday’s match…….

Amount of PL home matches United have played since the PL started in 1992/93 – 378

Amount of times United have allowed a team to get a point once they’ve trailed by 2 goals – 2 (Chelsea in 2001/02 and West Brom in 2009/10)

Amount of times United have allowed a team to get a point when trailing by 2 goals in the 2nd half – 1 (WBA in 09/10 who scored in the 50th and 55th minute)

Turns out it was quite certain. Not once in their previous 378 PL home matches had they drawn a game when leading by two goals that late in the match.

3. Everton use width to attack United - There is no team that uses width as effectively as Manchester United and with more and more teams lining up in narrow formations of 4-3-1-2 or 4-2-3-1 they have become more and more a rare breed. They have also bec0me a team that is not used to defending against teams who spread the field as much as they do and that’s exactly what Everton did so effectively on Sunday. All three of the Toffees goals in the second half came from wide areas and although they were well worked goals, the defending (both before the ball was crossed and once it came into the box) was not good enough. Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand have had very good seasons and long-term won’t worry their manager but the defensive work in wide areas from the likes of Nani and full backs Patrice Evra and Rafael is alarming when put under pressure.  They just happen to not be tested very much.

4. Spurs fans would love to see Steven Pienaar playing for them right now -15 minutes in two substitute appearances is all Pienaar played for Tottenham this season in the Premier League whilst he was at White Hart Lane for the first six months of the season. Since he moved back to Everton on loan he has now started ten matches for David Moyes and been in absolutely terrific form. I realise some players fit better in teams that give them more playing time but surely Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp could have managed the South African better. Instead Spurs are allowing him to play at a top level elsewhere while their pursuit of the finish line is now down to a crawling pace.

5. Manchester City back from the dead & have title push in their own hands- On Sunday March 11th Manchester City lost at Swansea, handing the top spot back to Manchester United as they beat West Brom at home. City no longer had it in their own hands. They then failed to win three of their next four and just TWO weeks ago laboured off the Emirates pitch eight points behind Man Utd with six to play. Fourteen days on, the gap is just three and if they win their last three matches they will win the Premier League. Forget all of what has happened in the 35 games previous. Three games, three wins and their hands are on that trophy on May 13th and that is something every Man City fan would have taken in a heartbeat at the start of the season.

6. Terry Connor loses his Premier League status but not his dignity- If you don’t know already Wolves were officially relegated on Sunday after their 2-0 loss to Manchester City and it was clear caretaker boss Terry Connor took it very hard. Connor, who has been on the staff at the Molineux since 1999, was close to tears as he spoke to the media after the match but handled all of the questions with wonderful honesty and respect. I have seen some managers in my time get relegated from the Premier League and lose a lot of class as they get out their book of excuses but Connor was never going to do that. I hope he stays with the club next season and helps their next manager plan their quick return to the Premier League.

7. Wolves should recall McCarthy to manage them – Mick McCarthy remains unemployed following his dismissal from Wolves on February 13th. His sacking always seemed quite bizarre as it was clear their issues were more than just about the manager and his ex-side showed that by getting just two points from 10 matches since McCarthy left. They now have to get ready for life in a very competitive league and who better to prepare them than a man who is liked by the majority of the players, loved by the board members and who has already got them promoted from that league once before.

8. Tired Tottenham pay the price -Spurs are lost. They had lots of the ball against QPR on Saturday but did very little with it and look nothing like the side who tore apart defences earlier this season. Many believe the Harry Redknapp to England story has had a telling toll on their players but the real truth is Spurs are exhausted and are now paying the price for overuse of their best players early in the season. Never one to rotate (see Pienaar under #4) at the best of times, Redknapp is now watching his best players run low on energy at the wrong time. Take a look at the players on the clubs in the top six who have started 28 games or more in the Premier League this season:

Man City (6) – Hart 35, Silva 30, Aguero 28, Barry 28, Kompany 28, Y Toure 28

Man Utd (2) – Evra 34, Rooney 29

Arsenal (6) – Szczesny 35, Van Persie 34, Walcott 32, Song 31, Koscielny 30, Arteta 29

Newcastle (6) – Krul 34, Simpson 34, Gutierrez 33, Coloccini 31, Cayabe 30, Ba 28

Tottenham (8) – Friedel 34, Assou-Ekotto 34, Walker 33, Bale 32, Modric 32, Kaboul 29, Parker 28, Adebayor 28

Chelsea (3) – Cech 32, Cole 30, Mata 28

9. Aston Villa & Bolton fail to take advantage and set up a monumental clash on Tuesday -Bolton’s draw against Swansea was just their third of the season and although the point finally got them to the 30 point mark it wasn’t enough to lift them from 19th position. It was also the most they deserved after getting outplayed for long periods by the Swans. A fortunate point was also what Aston Villa claimed at h0me to Sunderland as the home team, despite having the majority of the play, watched in despair as Nicklas Bendtner scored in the second half, only to see it disallowed for offside. It was a very close call and one many assistant referees would not have flagged for. Both these results set up a massive game on Tuesday as the two teams make up the match that was postponed in the wake of what happened to Fabrice Muamba last month. If Villa win, they’ll be safe and Bolton will be in deep trouble. If it ends in a draw or a Bolton win, both teams will really be in a fight for relegation.

10. Blackburn players respond once again to their gaffer - Back in September, Blackburn had 1 point after four games and the fans had had enough. They came to Ewood Park angry and Steve Kean was their target. The players responded with a 4-3 win over Arsenal. In December they lost at home to Bolton in what was billed as the ‘sack off’. Except Steve Kean didn’t get sacked and his players didn’t play like they wanted him too either as they went to Liverpool and Manchester United and got four points. Last week they lost their fifth in a row and their manager told his players they had to beat Norwich on Saturday. And they did, 2-0, in convincing fashion. With games at Tottenham and Chelsea to come, Rovers look set to be relegated but be careful ruling this team out quite yet. They’ve been enjoying people doing that for the past nine months.

 11. Newcastle relive the glory days of Alan, Les and their mates – It was a battering. The scoreline suggested otherwise but a 3-0 win over Stoke could quite easily have been double that and gave Newcastle their sixth successive win in the Premier League. They’ve not done that since 1996. This all sets up a fascinating final four games for Alan Pardew’s men who now find themselves as the hunted as they sit in 4th, three points ahead of Tottenham and four points ahead of Chelsea. And just look who they have left to play: Wigan (a), Chelsea (a), Man City (h), Everton (a).

12. A point is better for Arsenal than Chelsea – The dull 0-0 that the pair played to start off the weekend was not one that will be remembered by many but Sky Sports in their post-game analysis felt it was a good point for the visitors and two points dropped for the Gunners. Clearly a win for Arsenal would have practically secured them a top four spot but the point still effectively ensured they’ll finish above Chelsea for the first time in eight years and unless Chelsea win the Champions League it now looks like Arsenal will definitely be in that tournament again next season.

13. Many will forget the match but the managers will be wise to remember it – Chelsea made eight changes and clearly had more than one eye on Barcelona but Roberto Di Matteo will still have learned a fair bit about his fringe players in this game. Daniel Sturridge is clearly a player who still needs a lot of development despite the hyperbole that has surrounded his season. Used out wide he is a liability defensively, while up front he remains too selfish and makes poor decisions in possession. Jose Bosingwa is a limited right back who still is a threat when he gets forward but is lazy in defence and falls asleep far too much on set pieces. If Di Matteo is given the job full time, Bosingwa would likely be sold as the Italian seems to have little time for full backs who motor pass the halfway line as often as Bosingwa does. Without Mikel Arteta, Arsenal really lack fluency and have trouble moving quickly from a slow tempo to a fast one. Aaron Ramsey does not get the best out of Alex Song and actually looks like a player who would be best served playing a few months in the Premier League on loan elsewhere.

Six Super Stats

  • Sunday’s game was the first time in more than 53 years that Manchester United scored four or more in a top flight match at Old Trafford and failed to win. That was a 4-4 draw against Newcastle United in January 1959.
  • Manchester United conceded at least four goals in a top flight match and avoided defeat for the first time since 1970. The last time this happened was on Boxing Day 1970 when Derby County drew 4-4 at home against United.
  • Wayne Rooney scored his 180th goal for Manchester United in all competitions, which takes him ahead of George Best and Dennis Viollet. He has three players ahead of him now on the all-time list: Bobby Charlton (249), Denis Law (237) and Jack Rowley (211).
  • Everton join Manchester City in scoring four or more goals at Old Trafford this season. It is the first time since the 1957/1958 season – just after the Munich Air Crash – that Manchester United have conceded four or more goals in two different home matches in the same season.
  • Manchester City won back-to-back PL away matches for the first time for five months.
  • Since Roy Hodgson took over as manager of West Bromwich Albion, his club have taken as many Premier League points (66) as Liverpool.

For more stats like the ones in this blog follow Infostrada on twitter by clicking here.

Don’t forget to catch more detailed analysis on all the major talking points in Monday’s Footy Show EPL Podcast that will be available this afternoon.

Kristian Jack