The English Premier League has entered the second half of the season and the second half is shaping up to be more unpredictable than the first half. Liverpool succumbed to Bolton, a team that prior to this weekend seemed hell bent for relegation. They were able to put three goals on the scoreboard against the once formidable Liverpool defense. Bolton played with new-found energy and new-found creativity. We will see if that high octane level of ball can be sustained for the critical second half.
Chelsea vs. Norwich
Chelsea was held to a nil all draw by the recently promoted Norwich. Villas Boas still can’t find the right combination. David Luiz and John Terry have become more comfortable playing with each other. Villas Boas has relegated Malouda from his previous starting role and has treated Lampard as a “has been” but Lampard is a mid-fielder who has a track record of scoring twenty goals for the season and is always dangerous when the game is on the line. Malouda is a player with great playmaking skills. Playing Mata and Malouda together as was done in the later stages of the Norwich game, could enhance Chelsea’s goal production. Torres needs a “bath” and Sturridge has lost some sharpness in recent games. Essien is back and should start as the defensive mid-fielder over Meireles. When Didier Drogba returns, with Essien catching his stride, hopefully, Chelsea can finish the season with greater potency than the disarray that characterized the first half.
Manchester City vs. Tottenham
The Manchester City vs. Tottenham Spurs encounter produced one of the scintillating games of the season. The first half was pockmarked with possession football and half-chances.
The second half began with a bang. Manchester City scored goals in the 56th and 59th minute. This was Nasri’s coming of age game. He made a superb run and the magical David Silva made a defensive splitting pass that led to a terrific finish by Nasri. The second goal was from a corner and an ensuing melee and the ball ended in the back of the net from Lescott’s header. It was 2-0 and Manchester seemed to be on its way to another home victory. But Harry Redknapp Spurs replied with typical fire power. Defoe took advantage of Manchester City’s over-celebration after the second goal and put one in the back of the net. Almost immediately after Lennon used his pace on the left-wing and squared a ball to Bale who beat Hart from a little beyond the penalty box with an exquisite curler. Tottenham had risen from the dead and Mancini was stunned. In the waning moments of stoppage time, Defoe just missed converting a cross from Bale that would have given Spurs three points.
On the other side of the pitch, Balotelli who had replaced Dzeko, was heading for goal in the penalty area when Tottenham’s Leslie King was forced to bring down the galloping striker. Balotelli took the penalty and Spurs had the long trek home to recuperate from a devastating loss.
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
The other Manchester team was on display but far from home as they played Arsenal at the Emirates. Arsenal had put behind their lackluster performance last week against Swansea. They played up tempo football. Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought into the starting team and looked like he deserves to be a starter. It was a Chamberlain run that ended with a superb pass to Van Persie that enabled Arsenal to tie the game after Valencia had scored from a Ryan Giggs cross shortly before the first half interval.
Throughout the game Nani and Valencia, playing on the flanks, mesmerized Arsenal full backs. Djourou could not cope with Nani and Vermaelen could not stop Valencia. It was a run from Valencia and a cross to Welbeck and the conversion that gave Manchester United the three points. The inexplicable Wenger replaced Chamberlain with Arshavin in the second half. Linares came in for the ailing Djourou and Ramsey was replaced by Chu-Young Park. Chamberlain is a far more intelligent player than Walcott who relies exclusively on his amazing pace.
Arsenal looked competitive with Manchester United but if they are going to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champion’s League, Wenger has to make some changes in mid-field. He has got to find a starting berth for Chamberlain when Gervinho returns from the Africa Cup.
Despite the injuries, the defense department has held its own in recent matches. Arsenal’s problem is in the engine room. There is the need for new pistons in mid-field. When Gervinho returns, Wenger should play Chamberlain in Ramsey’s position and if not, sit Walcott.
This was a triumphant weekend for the two Manchester teams. Chelsea has faltered. Arsenal has backfired. Liverpool is suffering from the Suarez fallout. And Tottenham suffered a crushing setback this weekend.
Silva seemed to have discovered his stride and Nasri looks like the player that he was at Arsenal. With the eventual return of Kompany and Yaya Toure, the Mancini experiment should mean an EPL trophy for Manchester City.