The English Premier League
Deadlocked at top! Title race wide open! David Moyes’ endless humiliation still without end!
Aston Villa set the stage with a narrow, pedestrian but ultimately wonderful 1-0 win over Chelsea in the late match on Saturday, featuring a Ramires red card tackle that was the worst Jamie Redknapp has ever seen. That teed up what was probably the game of the weekend in Man United’s unsavory 0-3 capitulation against Liverpool on Sunday, in which the home side made Old Trafford look as banal a calendar stop as the Britannia. Three penalties against United were awarded by Mark Clattenburg, who seemed liberated by the idea that one could award spot kicks at OT without the searing ad hominem of Alex Ferguson waiting for him at the edge of the pitch.
I personally couldn’t make heads or tails of it. United lacked any and all creativity up front, managing a single shot on target over two halves of football courtesy of a Wayne Rooney who seemed to get tired of waiting. De Gea to his credit managed to do this though.
The other big Sunday fixture was the North London derby, in which Spurs manager Tim Sherwood made some daft late substitutions and strutted around with a demonstrative angry face, throwing the ball at Bacary Sagna on the touchline like a petulant child eager to prove to the world that while he can’t prepare a multi-million pound side to play a tense football match against their bitter rivals, he can “out-desire” them. For Arsenal supporters, it was an unpleasant nerve racking experience that ended with some cute Per Mertesacker selfies. Unlike Ellen though, Per was in imperious form, clearing almost everything at the back and saving Arsenal some early second half blushes.
Earlier on Saturday Southampton has a stormer against Norwich 4-2, and Man City beat hull courtesy of an in-form David Silva making up for Vincent Kompany’s sending off.
The big news involved Lionel Messi hitting 370 goals for Barcelona in club and friendly competitions following a hat-trick against the porous Osasuna in a 7-0 thrashing, surpassing Paulo Alcántara’s record. The goal itself was, well, Messinian. The man is only 26 years old. We are merely witnesses to his greatness. Amen.
Now for the dirty business of the league standings. No doubt those seven unanswered goals will help in the GD department at the business end of the season, but they also provided a media break to Tata Martino after a boost midweek in securing progress to the Champions League quarterfinals against Manchester City. But Atletico and Real Madrid were no slouches. The former saw Diego Costa net one in the 55th minute against Espanyol (apparently just as Ray Hudson warned obviously that this of all matches was one they desperately needed to win). Real Madrid meanwhile beat Malaga 1-0 via Cristiano Ronaldo, and Pepe’s true colours shone through. Barca are four points off first, Atletico second with 67 and Real Madrid still top on 70. Tight like a tiger.
Juventus left it late but Pirlo’s 89th minute free kick against Genoa widened the Old Lady’s lead over Roma to 17 points, though Roma has two games in hand and faces Udinese tomorrow.
But the real point of the weekend was Parma’s stunning 2-4 victory over Milan, the fourth consecutive defeat for AC coach Clarence Seedorf, and a failed comeback in which the Rossoneri keeper Christian Abbiati was sent off for fouling Ezequiel Schelotto in the 5th minute of play. With ten men, Milan went down 2-0 but then rallied for 2-2 after Mario Balotelli scored from the spot, but Parma was back ahead within minutes and sealed the win after a late goal.
The defeat caps a terrible week for Milan, including a 4-1 loss to Atletico which sent them out of the Champions League. Parma meanwhile are on the outskirts of a Europa League spot and then who knows? Mathematically it’s still possible they’ll nab the last CL spot from Napoli but no, they won’t do that at all.
So what exactly is exciting in the Bundesliga anymore? I ask seriously as Bayern are now 23 points ahead and unbeaten in 50 matches. The league is over. They’ll probably win it next (refusing to do math). Their latest triumph was a routine 2-1 win over ostensible opponents Bayer Leverkusen, with goals from Mandzukic and Schweinsteiger.
What is faintly interesting is the current battle for the remaining Champions League spots, and here we have an earnest race between Dortmund, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusn, Mainz, Wolfsburg, woah, Gladbach…and Augsburg eve? To that end, this weekend saw Mainz leapfrog past Wolfsburg with a 2-4 win over Hoffenheim, a hard fought match in which the away side came back from two goals down with an Okazaki brace. Gladbach also beat Dortmund 1-2, and Schalke took advantage of an inevitable Leverkusen loss to beat Augsburg and jump to third. So, yeah. There are exciting thing afoot in Germany yet.
Major League Soccer
We’re still far, far too early in the season to make any statements whatsoever unless you want me to give you the ole ‘momentum’ BS, but there were some notable moments. Probably the biggest was Toronto FC dropping a Defoe-sized gauntlet in Seattle with a 1-2 win over the Sounders with Jermain netting a brace. Certainly the early returns look good, and true to form in topsy-turvy MLS, Toronto had 32% possession. Still, considering the away form of the team in recent years, this is a refreshing change for beleaguered Reds fans. Dempsey scored, but that wasn’t as impressive as this.
Elsewhere Chivas USA continue to defy expectations, and were nine minutes away from an unlikely 0-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps until sub Kekuta Manneh scored for the home side in the 80th minute. That Chivas drew 1-1 with ten men is impressive in its own right. So a win and a draw. Small sample size but kind of cool for a team owned by the league to be throwing off memories of 2013. Houston are undefeated and…guys. It’s early. It doesn’t matter.
Oh this was fun…San Jose’s Victor Bernadez with the free kick of the year against Real Salt Lake with his team down 3-1:
He won’t mind though…he went on to score two goals to help his side get a point in a 3-3 draw.