Monday, March 21, 2011

EPL: The Tide Rises

Bagga Wilks

Tottenham vs West Ham

Every game in the English Premier League for the remainder of the season will be exceedingly consequential. When Tottenham faced West Ham on a glorious English afternoon, Tottenham sought maximum points to remain in the top four and thus be eligible to play in the Champion UEFA League next season. They triumphed over A.C. Milan and will face Real Madrid in the quarter final, quite a formidable undertaking.
West Ham is fighting to avoid relegation, to maximize points to remain in the Premier League. The 0-0 draw earned a valuable point for West Ham. The game was telling as it demonstrated that football is not just about talent and finesse but also about hard work and tenacity.

Tottenham has incredible fire power, speed and guile in their fairly young team. Lenon and Bale are like larvae to a defense and it is difficult to contain their volcanic eruptions from the left and from the right. Modric is blossoming to be quite a playmaker. There are lots of riches up front with Defoe, Van de Wart, Pavlyuchenko and Crouch.

Their defensive mid-fielder, the Brazilian Sandro is adapting to the League and has both defensive and offensive skills. Despite the abundance of talent, Avran Grant’s posse kept them from scoring for ninety minutes. Bale is just back from a back injury and is fighting to recapture his form. Defoe, a prolific goal-scorer, is suffering from the “Torres syndrome” and cannot buy a goal.

With much less talent but matching Tottenham with tenacity, West Ham showed that the future had a place for blue collar workers. The West Ham defense kept their shape and fought for every ball. They are still mired in the woods of relegation and Tottenham are in danger of missing out on Champion League ball next season.

Arsenal vs. West Brom

Arsenal is still in the running to win the coveted Premier League title. At half time they were down 0-1, and shortly after the second half, were looking down the barrel of a 0-2 defeat.

Without Djourou, Arsenal defense was in disarray. Squillaci and Koscielny make an odd couple and every time West Brom mounted an attack, the defensive fences were easily shattered. West Brom scored early from a corner as Arsenal’s two central defenders remained steadfastly flat-footed. The second half goal was from a reckless venture out of goal by Almunia and paralysis on the part of Squillaci.

Arsenal showed some character by fighting back from a 0-2 deficit. Arshavin showed his class and that he can turn a game around by his uncanny ability to rocket the ball in the back of the opponent’s net. Arshavin was also featured in the equalizer as it was his cross that allowed Bendthner to find Van Persie who eked out a point for the Gunners.

Chelsea vs Manchester City

Chelsea began the 2010-11 season like an unstoppable locomotive. They were blowing away teams and scoring goals in bunches. Then in the midst of battle, Chelsea seemed to be suffering from battle fatigue. Pundits wondered if the Chelsea juggernaut had become a spent force.

Chelsea’s owner is not a reluctant spender. In September, he went shopping for a midfielder and brought in the Brazilian, Ramires. Seeing that the Blues was sickened with the “blues”, Abramovich opened his inexhaustive wallet to re-energize his seemingly exhausted team. He brought in the Spanish-Liverpool striker, Torres and Brazilian central defender, David Luiz.

Against Manchester City, Chelsea appeared a resurrected team. Mancini’s Manchester City without Tevez looked like a non-creative defensive Italian national team. Chelsea got both goals late in the second half. Unquestionably, Luiz is a transformative player. He is quick, wiry and attacks the ball. He and Ramires run on both sides of the pitch until the cows come home. It was Luiz uncanny ability to attack the ball that resulted in the central defender scoring a superb header from a cross from Drogba.

Ancellotti has brought along Ramires rather gingerly. In his early struts whenever Ancellotti went to his bench, you knew that his Brazilian new to the English Premier League, would be yanked. In recent games, he has become the 90 minute mainstay of the right mid-field. Until his recent awakening, Ramires would play hard and was overly cautious. The ball would seldom break down around him but he was not transformative. Whether he has been infected by the audacity of Luiz, against Manchester City, Chelsea fans saw a confident Ramires who was not just galloping up and down the pitch but had morphed into a creative Brazilian finisher. He scored the second goal for Chelsea and it was a beauty to behold.

Chelsea will meet Manchester United in the quarter-final of the Champion League. If they continue the form they displayed against Manchester City, Chelsea will conquer another Manchester team and go through to the semi-final. The match-up should produce vintage attacking and defensive football.

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