Manchester United gain breathing space, Chelsea phone it in again
Image courtesy of WellOffside.com
* Tonight represented another intriguing shake-up of the top teams, and a much-needed gain for Manchester United. The real race begins here, with a seemingly perfect story in Darron Gibson scoring the goal that sunk Manchester City. Such a result, however, was sorely needed by United – their next four games are against Chelsea, Liverpool, Norwich, and Spurs. City, on the other hand, will face Fulham, Aston Villa, Blackburn and Bolton. It’s hard to envision United coming out of those four games better off, but tonight ensures that they’ll be well within reach of City even allowing for slip-ups.
* Paul Scholes may well be the only player to see his stock increase after coming out of retirement. It took him roughly a game and a half after his six-month absence to return to ‘key player’ status – only Berbatov, and to a lesser extent Ferdinand share his level of composure, but Scholes seems the only one capable of instilling the same in his teammates.
* Paul Pogba must have hated Ravel Morrison. A world apart from his previously anaemic first-team appearances, the youngster gave a thrilling display in the 30 minutes of game time he received – a display which included everything, from wonderful touches and turns, productive and intelligent movement on and off the ball, a series of excellent crosses, and a few Scholes-esque long passes. On tonight’s evidence, he should be on United’s bench for every game – he looked more than capable of providing energy and creativity to a relatively pedestrian United team. If he leaves, this will be one of the cruellest farewell performances in the club’s recent memory.
* Chelsea phoned in another in a very long list of performances this season to simply be labelled ‘not good enough.’ They were not at the required level at any aspect of the game, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to pinpoint exactly where they need to strengthen most. A team that lasted far longer than anybody could’ve predicted appear to all be going out with a whimper at once, and on this season’s evidence, the scale of the rebuilding job could be frightening. Furthermore, Ashley Cole’s red card will now mean that they are without a left-back worthy of the name against Manchester United – whoever does come in will face the toughest test possible in Antonio Valencia, who continued his imperious form tonight.
* Tottenham got themselves back onto stable footing with a comfortable beating of Wigan tonight, and are now just 5 points off the top – though any thoughts of a title challenge should be shot down in evidence of by far the most difficult run-in of the top six. Should they make it to the middle of March still within sight of first, then they will have as good a chance as anyone, but it’s difficult to see it happening.
* Manchester City’s “striker crisis” continued as they were forced to start a league game with just Aguero and Dzeko up front. Neither proved able to break down the Everton defence, but the latter in particular looked hopelessly ill-equipped for the job. He has shown flickers of supreme, match-dominating form, but he seems reminiscent of Yakubu – you can tell five minutes into the game whether he’s going to score a hat-trick or actually hinder his own team’s play. Tonight it was the latter, and City have paid a heavy price.