Dempsey a hero in draw with United; more EPL thoughts
Before this season, Dempsey had scored 67 goals in England. None of them had been against Manchester United. That's changed now.
In September, Dempsey scored what turned out to be the deciding goal when Tottenham ended its long winless run at Old Trafford. On Sunday, more than two minutes into three added minutes at the end, Dempsey rolled the ball in from six yards to give Spurs a 1-1 home draw with United.
It is the first time in the two decades of the Premier League that Tottenham has not lost at least one of its two games to United.
Dempsey had squandered an earlier chance when he burst between two defenders, stayed on his feet, sent David de Gea the wrong way but put his shot too close to the goalie. De Gea somehow reached back and blocked.
"Man, I couldn't believe he saved that," Dempsey told Sky after the game.
But Dempsey got a second chance. He seized it. In a way, the game Sunday represented another opportunity for him.
He was the main man last year at Fulham. In recent weeks, he has not been part of Tottenham's preferred first team. That's partly Dempsey's fault. He's often looked slow and tentative for Tottenham. There were occasions again on Sunday when he took too long to work out what do and was stripped by United.
There are also problems that aren't of Dempsey's making. In theory a deep-lying striker fits with the sort of formation Andre Villas-Boas prefers. But if the main striker is the tiny Jermain Defoe, then the Spurs attack can be easily overpowered. That's why the manager has preferred the muscle and pace of Emmanuel Adebayor in recent weeks.
Adebayor is more of a traditional center forward. He might have made something of all the high crosses Tottenham lobbed into the goalmouth on Sunday. Yet he has scored fewer goals in more starts this season than Dempsey. While Adebayor is off enjoying the South African summer as he plays for Togo in the African Cup of Nations, Dempsey can seize his chance.
On Sunday Dempsey did just that. He showed that he still deals in soccer's most valuable currency: goals.
Tottenham has deadly pace on the counter attack. But it lacks creativity in tight spaces now Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart are gone. Last week, QPR defended deep and in numbers. Tottenham could not lay a glove on them.
On Sunday, Ferguson stuck Phil Jones in midfield, left his wingers, and Wayne Rooney, out and played the same way. Of course one huge difference between United and QPR is that United can score. In the 25th minute, it caught Tottenham's defense briefly disorganized and pounced. Robin van Persie finished a ruthless counter-attack with a clinical header.
After the game, Ferguson lamented that his team did not show the same surgical precision later in the game.
"On the counter attack we should have killed them off in the second half," he said.
Yet United was living dangerously. It managed only five strikes at goal in the whole match. Tottenham had 26. United rode the first 25 punches. But it could not keep on dodging. The last one caught it on the chin.
United was brave. Its defenders blocked 11 shot. United was lucky. Two of those attempted blocks turned into wicked deflections that somehow did not go in. One led to another of de Gea's remarkable saves. United was good. The goalie and the back four was impressive for 92 minutes. In the end, the pressure told. De Gea punched weakly. The ball fell to Aaron Lennon, who was, had no United player policing him. He passed through a thicket of United defenders to Dempsey.
Yet even though both the clubs immediately behind it won, United can head off for some warm weather training in Qatar still five points clear at the top of the league. Presumably it won't be practising playing like QPR.
As Ferguson, swaddled in overcoat, zippered track suit top and scrunched woolly cap, worn backwards in an old geezer gesture at hip-hop style, trudged off a snowy field after a pitch inspection an hour before kick off against Tottenham, it truly was White, White, White Hart Lane. The snow was still falling. Yet at kick off the surface was a pristine green. It stayed that way throughout even though the game looked as if it was being played in a snow globe. The flakes melted as they landed on a surface heated to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
There was a time when t even if a game survived heavy snow, teams would have had to change their footwear, bring out the orange ball and prepare for an afternoon of slipping and sliding. That would have been followed by months of slogging through mud on the churned up fields.
Yet, on a weekend of heavy snow, the remarkable thing was not just that all nine Premier League games went ahead. It was that there was hardly a speck of mud in sight.
At Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Ramires sported a snowy white ring on his bald dome after heading a ball clear near the end. Yet after nearly 90 minutes of throwing himself around in another impressive midfield performance, there was not a speck of dirt.
One thing Premier League clubs have spent their money on is the paying surface. It's not just the heating that melts the snow and prevents the surface freezing. The grass is different, bred for soccer and mixed with artificial turf. It usually sits on a bed of sand, rather than earth, another reason why there is no mud.
David Silva and Juan Mata did not grow up playing in snow. Neither is suited to slogging through mud. Yet both thrived on an English winter weekend.
On Saturday, Silva sparkled in a lacklustre display by Manchester City. He scored both goals in a 2-0 home victory over leaden Fulham and could have scored a third.
On Sunday, his clone, Juan Mata, scored the opener for Chelsea against Arsenal. Then he made the pass that freed Ramires in front of goal and led to the penalty from which Frank Lampard scored the second.
Mata did seem to seize up in the cold in the second half, as did much of the Chelsea team as it ended up hanging on to a 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was a man who couldn't run around to keep warm. While that hardy Scot, Ferguson, was wrapped up like a Christmas present at White Hart Lane, at Stamford Bridge Rafa Benítez took off the puffy jacket and sat on the bench in shirt, tie and club blazer (and trousers too, of course) as he peered through the snow at the action. That's macho.
There have been injuries. Nearly every important player has missed chunks of the season. There have been departures. One talisman, Demba Ba has gone. Another, Fabrizio Coloccini, might soon follow.
What Saturday's 2-1 loss showed was how much belief has drained away. Newcastle led 1-0 at half time. It could have been five, if Papiss Cissé wasn't suffering from such a funk in front of goal. Alan Pardew, the manager, showed his lack of confidence when he replaced the attacking Sylvain Marveaux with the defensive James Perch. This was at home, against Reading, while leading. Most of all the lack of confidence has brought the journeymen, like Perch, who make up so much of Newcastle's squad, back to earth. Last season they played as if they believed they were Premier League players. This year, they are playing as if they suspect they aren't. If they go on like this, they won't be for much longer.