City survives a test at QPR; Blackburn still under pressure
Five things we learned from Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League:
Ferguson, eager as always to praise a team managed by Steve Bruce, one of his former players, insisted Sunderland "hustled and played hard," but it was effort devoid of inspiration.
"Sometimes we have these emotional occasions," Ferguson told Sky television, by way of explaining the low-key display of his own players. "And sometimes it gets through to them."
Last week, after United beat Everton, Ferguson said it was nice to get a 1-0 victory. This week he seemed less sure of the virtues of such a result. "The last 15 minutes were torture," he said.
Ferguson wasn't very interested in looking back over 25 years. He just wanted to look ahead to the "pivotal" next three months. What his team needs to do, is "kick on. Kick on."
Kean wasn't the only manager under pressure. Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, is not known for his patience with coaches. Two consecutive league losses, including last week's 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal had brought Andre Villas-Boas a volley of criticism. He was called a "Muppet" on Twitter by Kevin Pietersen, a former England cricket captain, which is a first for the Premier League. He responded on Saturday by starting five midfielders. The result was a first half in which neither side wanted to lose and neither had a clue how to win.
"The first half was played to a low intensity by both teams,'' Villas-Boas told the BBC. It was dire.
Things improved a little in the second half. The Blackburn defense stood politely aside as Frank Lampard headed the only goal from close range. Chelsea's defense then creaked under pressure but was saved by Petr Cech, who had suffered a broken nose in the first half, Ramires and, right at the end, the crossbar. Both Villas-Boas and Kean ended with the results their fans expect of them. Villas-Boas was the happier. "We desperately needed to get back to winning ways," he said, a sentiment he repeated several times in his postgame interview. It was another unimpressive Chelsea display, but, with the pressure on, the result was the most important thing.
On Saturday, Newcastle raced into a two-goal lead after 29 minutes thanks to an own goal by Johnny Heitinga and a rainbow shot by Ryan Taylor. But confidence is not enough on its own. A team needs players. Newcastle started Saturday without two injured midfielders, Cheik Tiote, who is developing into one of the Premier League's dominant central midfielders, and the more erratic Gabriel Obertan. After 39 minutes another of Newcastle lost another midfielder when Yohan Cabaye, so impressive so far this season, limped off.
Newcastle's forward momentum largely evaporated. Jack Rodwell scored one for Everton, but the Newcastle defense, the meanest in the Premier League, held firm fairly comfortably. After the international break next weekend, Newcastle will play the two Manchester Clubs and Chelsea in consecutive weeks. Tiote should be fit for the next game, but Alan Pardew said after the game that Cabaye has a groin injury and will miss the next game. That will be at Manchester City, a team which can certainly match Newcastle for confidence.