Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The EPL Heats Up Under Wintry Conditions

Ball Harambee By Bagga Wilks

Another battle of the giants in the EPL occurred in wintry conditions. The snow in London showed no signs of letting up but even under these brutal conditions, Manchester United and Tottenham rose to the occasion. The game ended with a 1-1 tie as Clint Dempsey, the American, scored in the closing minutes to rob Manchester United of a coveted victory. The incredible Van Persie opened the scoring in the twenty-fifth minute.

Tottenham fought back in the second half. The ex-Fulham acquisition, Dembele, and Dempsey played important roles for ninety minutes. Lennon had an outstanding game and kept beating Evra with his speed and guile. Manchester United’s lead has been cut to five and Manchester City is breathing down their necks. A loss by Manchester United would easily change the dynamic of the race if Manchester City can keep winning.

Rafael Emerges Triumphant

Chelsea mesmerized Arsenal in the first half as Mata, Oscar, Hazard and Ramires played like Jack Rabbits, running, interchanging and making rings around Arsenal’s back four.

In the second half, Chelsea, up by 2-0, the Jack Rabbits went back into their holes and Arsenal had Chelsea pinned in their own half, particularly in the latter part of the second half. Walcott boosted Arsenal’s chances with a magnificent goal. Walcott is much more effective playing in the striker’s role than Giroud who, like Gervinho, has a penchant for missing the target. Arsenal hustled and huffed and puffed but they failed to come up with the equalizer.

Ramires again “bossed” midfield, breaking up plays and making dangerous runs in the box. From one of his runs, Szczesny brought him down and with the penalty awarded, the departing Lampard made no mistake. Ramires is emerging as one of the top mid-fielders in the game. But Chelsea will have to stiffen its spine and recognize that a football match runs for ninety-minutes, not for forty- five minutes.

The Race to the Bottom

All signs point to a mad scramble at the end of the season to determine who will stay and who will go. Queens Park Rangers almost stole three points from West Ham. That game produced not only two teams battling to stay up, but individual players struggling to save their professional careers.

Chamakh, who failed miserably at Arsenal, started for West Ham, put out a lot but never was able to clinically put the ball in the back of the net. He was replaced by Carlton Cole who is always overlooked but was instrumental in West Ham drawing level as he stretched Julio Ceasar with a superb header that the resurrected Joe Cole placed in the back of the net. Joe Cole, having returned to West Ham, is trying to re-establish himself as a premier player in the English Premier League.

Aston Villa vs West Brom

The Aston Villa experiment is not going well. They have not learned to close out a game. They led West Brom 1-0 at half time and West Brom came back to knock them out of three points with a 2-1 victory.

Lukaku, the Chelsea youngster on loan to West Brom, is developing into being a big league striker. That will mean Chelsea will have an excess of strikers and questions the future of Torres at the club as the Spaniard is not in the same class as Demba Ba.

Liverpool vs Norwich

Unlike the experiment at Aston Villa, the Liverpool experiment is falling into place. The Sturridge acquisition gives them more potency up front and the combined play of Sturridge and Suarez is an investment that is paying immediate dividends. Gerrard is back contributing in mid-field and Wisdom at right full back and Sterling in the wings or in mid-field augurs well for the future.

Rodgers has gone about his building program most astutely. They are still missing vital pieces at the central defender position but Liverpool has demonstrated how to reconstruct a team without tycoon spending.

A Battle of Contrasts

Stoke City has beaten the odds in avoiding regulation. They almost never win on the road. They play ugly, old time English football but they have an excellent record playing at home. On Saturday, they traveled to Wales and were drilled in the art of modern soccer by Swansea. It wasn’t much of a contest as Swansea has mastered the art of the beautiful game. They have made their mark in the EPL and with the right influx of cash could easily become one of the elite teams. At home, they easily dismissed Stoke City 3-0.

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