Aging strikers prove they still have the goods; more EPL thoughts
Sunday was the day three older dogs showed they still have teeth.
For 94 minutes at Old Trafford, Robin van Persie’s finishing confirmed the suspicion that, at 31, he is fading. But earlier on Sunday, Didier Drogba, who is 36, and Samuel Eto’o, who is at least 33, showed they still know how to find the net. Then, with time running out, so did van Persie.
When the ball dropped to him in front of goal in the dying seconds, van Persie lashed it in to give Manchester United a 1-1 home draw against Chelsea.
It was van Persie’s sixth shot of the game, and it produced only his third goal of the season. Thibaut Courtois was awesome in the Chelsea goal, but van Persie’s inability to beat him had suggested a loss of his magic touch. It returned at the crucial last seconds.
Once again, Chelsea travelled to Manchester, took the lead in the second half, then sat back in defense and conceded a late equalizer. The same happened against Manchester City in September.
On the other hand, Chelsea entered both matches top of the table and facing opponents that needed a home win to make up ground. Furthermore, Chelsea kicked off on Sunday knowing Manchester City, the team's closest challenger, had already lost this weekend. This second 1-1 draw in Manchester leaves Chelsea six point ahead of City and 10 points up on United.
“The performance is fantastic, the result is not so good, but acceptable,” José Mourinho told Sky Sports after the game.
Chelsea took the lead on Sunday after 53 minutes when Drogba leapt to meet a near-post corner and smashed a header past David de Gea. It closely resembled the last goal of his first spell at Chelsea – the 88th-minute header that saved Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern.
Drogba has won one Champions League medal. Eto’o has won three.
On Sunday at Burnley, Eto’o scored Everton’s opener with a sharp header in the fourth minute. He wrapped up a 3-1 victory with a quick spin and precise, curled long-range shot after 85 minutes. The goals showed that when he is healthy and hungry, Eto’o is still a great finisher.
There were moments after they each turned 30 when both Drogba and Eto’o seemed to be riding off into the setting sun to collect a few final fat paychecks before retirement. Aging strikers may be slow, brittle and, therefore, unreliable, but their fame means they are big at the box office.
In 2011, barely a year after his third Champions League triumph, Eto’o left Inter Milan for Dagestan where he signed a contract worth a reported € 20 million ($25.34 million) a year with Anzhi Makhachkala of the Russian league.
In 2012, almost immediately after his Champions League triumph, Drogba signed a contract worth a reported £200,000 ($322,000) a week with Shanghai Shenhua. Five months later he fled China for an 18-month contract with Galatasaray worth $13.5 million plus bonuses.
The two men seemed to be on lucrative farewell tours.
Then, in his moment of need last season, Mourinho brought Eto’o to Chelsea. This season he discarded the Cameroonian and drafted in Drogba, who was prepared to play third fiddle to Diego Costa and Loïc Remy, two younger men with histories of physical fragility.
Mourinho said on Sunday that Drogba has only been able to train fully in the last week. The timing was perfect. Costa and Remy are both injured.
Not for the first time, Drogba rose to the occasion.
• In the first half at White Hart Lane on Sunday, the Newcastle team that Alan Pardew selected was listless, lightweight and lucky to let in only one goal. Sack Pardew! At half time, the manager replaced a couple of the starters he had chosen, tweaked the tactics he’d adopted and, presumably, said a few motivational words he had neglected to utter before kick off. One of those subs, Sammy Ameobi, scored just six seconds after the start of the second half. As Newcastle began to show a little more fight, Tottenham wilted. After 58 minutes, the other halftime sub, Rémy Cabella, set up Ayoze Pérez for his first Premier League goal. Newcastle won, 2-1, its second straight victory. It vaulted out of the bottom three. Pardew for Manager of the Month!
• The Premier League introduced new guidelines this summer to ensure no one played while suffering a concussion or its after-effects. So why did no doctor check on Sunderland before it took the field against Arsenal? Concussion victims can seem fine only to suddenly show they don’t have a clue where they are or what’s going on. A week after suffering an 8-0 pummeling at Southampton, Sunderland seemed shaky and fearful but looked like a soccer team. Perhaps a tougher side than Arsenal would have tried a couple of thumps to the head, but in the end the Gunners did not need to. After 30 minutes, Wes Brown, who evidently had no idea where he was or what he was doing, scuffed the ball to Alexis Sánchez who scampered away to score as goalie Vito Mannone dived out of the way. In the last minute, Mannone, in front of his goal, cushioned the ball to Sánchez who scored. Arsenal won 2-0. The question for Sunderland is whether the damage will prove to be permanent.
• Sometimes the numbers do lie. Manchester City had 70 percent of the possession against West Ham at Upton Park on Saturday. The defending Premier League champions hit the woodwork twice as it outshot West Ham, 21-12. Yet West Ham won, 2-1. Whatever the stats suggest, The Hammers deserved it. This is a disciplined, well-drilled, industrious team that knows what it needs to do to win games. It neutralized Sergio Agüero, stifled Yaya Touré and Fernando, created three particularly good chances and took two of them. The Hammers deserve to be in the top four. Really.
• Neil Warnock seemed suspiciously relaxed as he rehearsed his usual moans about the officiating after Crystal Palace drew 2-2 at West Brom on Saturday. Could it have been that he was smiling because he knew that, for once, his complaints were justified? Almost all Premier League managers try to manipulate referees. Warnock takes the whining to irritating extremes. Last week he told his players not to shake the referee’s hand after a loss to Chelsea. The Football Association charged him with misconduct and probably gave a little fist pump as it did so. On Saturday, the worst of a series of unhappy incidents was the flying elbow West Brom's Craig Dawson planted on goalie Julian Speroni as Victor Anichebe was scoring for WBA. It was so blatant and dangerous even a WWE referee might have noticed. Mark Clattenburg apparently did not. Maybe he didn't want to shake hands with the irritating Warnock at the final whistle.