United's Vidic dominates; West Ham's Bridge falls flat in debut
Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:
It should be entered into England's statutory law that Blackpool and West Bromwich Albion play one another annually, regardless of the division each is in. There was a case for saying that their earlier meeting, a fantastic set-to in November, had the wet and windy conditions to thank for its breathlessness, but after a five-goal thriller Saturday that could easily have ended with either side on double figures, we must conclude that this just is a dynamite fixture.
As open -- crazily, suicidally, brilliantly open -- as you'd expect from two teams determined to do it their way, the game made blinking feel dangerous: 34 shots, some of them wildly off target, some of them agonizingly close. DJ Campbell could have scored for Blackpool within seconds of the kickoff, and was denied by a frantic scramble in the final moments; in between, Peter Odemwingie and James Morrison created enough chances to see West Brom through 3-2.
It's a toss-up between two of Manchester City's four goals against Wolves (who scored three of their own in another compelling match). For the
Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic was a fistful of Rafael van der Vaart's shirt away from perfection Sunday. This shouldn't be taken as a compliment to Spurs' attack (13 shots off target!), but since United's attacking threat was limited and Spurs enjoyed the majority of possession, Vidic was kept busy. He was on his toes at all times, categorically winning the aerial battle with Peter Crouch (who got his head to a measly two Tottenham crosses) and smothering van der Vaart in the second half. He played the ball out of the defense well on the whole, too. Anyone still wondering how United are maintaining their unbeaten run without playing that well should look no further than the return to fitness of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
No, you can't have three guesses -- only one man prompted a nationwide debate about the worst debutants ever. While it was generally agreed that
David Bentley had a rather more successful debut, at Birmingham City, which smiled as the announcer named him Man of the Match against Aston Villa. He brings genuine width to City's right and, though his long-ball game wasn't quite on the money, his eagerness to get forward will please the fans. But a word for the central duo of Alexander Hleb and Barry Ferguson. Hleb has sometimes looked a little dwarfed by the task of linking City's midfield and attack, but he kept it buzzing around the edge of the box with short, sharp passes. Ferguson, who was at the heart of Birmingham's best soccer, roamed all over the middle, pinging passes around with his habitual ease and finding several probing forward balls as Birmingham controlled the game around halftime.
Everton's David Moyes was virtually a footnote in the buildup to Sunday's Merseyside derby, as Liverpool supporters prepared to mark Kenny Dalglish's return with a flag day and the media got caught up in the frenzy. After two defeats in his first two outings as manager, this was the fixture to kick-start Liverpool's season. Moyes wore a suit, for once, but still he couldn't tempt the cameramen away from Dalglish's glistening eyes as Anfield rang to the sound of
But whatever Moyes said in the dressing room at halftime certainly did the trick. Everton never got to terms with Liverpool, which could have scored a handful but put away only one, in the first half, but scored the tying and go-ahead goals in a seven-minute span to start the second half. Pressing and harrying, Everton forced Liverpool deeper and deeper, interfering with the partnerships that had tick-tocked perfectly in the first 45. Liverpool earned a draw with Dirk Kuyt's penalty kick in the 68th minute.
Birmingham City's Ben Foster has been widely credited with tipping Nathan Delfouneso's shot onto the bar to preserve a 1-1 draw in an entertaining West Midlands derby. Despite repeated viewings, with and without specs, I can't quite make out the touch, which makes it either an absolutely amazing save, or no save at all. Let's go with the former.
The weekend's unluckiest goalkeeper must be Newcastle's Steve Harper, who made it through 93 minutes largely untroubled by Sunderland's wayward shooting, but then parried Phil Bardsley's last-gasp strike straight into Asamoah Gyan.
"I think our bad moment is over."
22 -- The number of months Andrew Johnson, beset by injury problems, had gone without scoring before putting away Fulham's late equalizer against Wigan. He didn't let a fortunate deflection off Antolin Alcaraz stop him from celebrating properly.
Just as it became certain that West Ham's 3-0 capitulation to Arsenal would be the most dispiriting soccer match we watch this season, a moment to cheer the soul: The camera panned to pick out three separate members of the crowd fast asleep.