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Citizen Sven's surprise


It's the same old, same old in the English Premier League standings: Manchester first, Chelsea second. But, much like the closing moments of The Sixth Sense, with an exciting new twist: It's Manchester City -- not United -- that leads the way.

Sven-Göran Eriksson's new-look City team has three wins in three matches, including a 1-0 victory over United at the City of Manchester Stadium last Sunday thanks to a 25-yard curler from Geovanni. With reference to ruddy-faced United manager Alex Ferguson's rising blood pressure, English tabloids termed the result "Swede 1, Beetroot 0."

United dominated possession, but its final ball was often astray, the team clearly missing Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. New signing Carlos Tévez huffed and puffed, but when he missed from two yards in the 90th minute; it rounded off a frustrating day for him spent largely in the back pocket of City center back and man of the match Micah Richards.

Combining the speed of Justin Gatlin and the strength and battle of Floyd Mayweather -- take it from ol' Team Limey -- this boy is going to be world-class. Already on the English national team at age 19, Richards was England's star performer in its 2-1 midweek friendly defeat to Germany, and looks set to replace Gary Neville as first-choice right back.

But back in EPL play, United left Eastlands with just two points from three games, in 16th place and to ironic chants of "Going down" from the jubilant City faithful. No one doubts United will regroup and contend for the title, but a victory at home to Spurs this weekend now seems a must.

Meanwhile, City travels to Arsenal, where a win will surely spark dreams of a challenge for the top four. But with the bookies pricing a City win at 9-to-2, more likely is post-match talk of a top-half finish and challenging for a UEFA Cup place.

Chelsea is in second place with seven points after taking the luckiest of lucky points home down the M6 highway from Anfield. Liverpool took the lead with a classy far-post finish from man of the match Fernando Torres, who ghosted past Tal Ben Haim to create the opportunity. But Chelsea equalized when referee Rob Styles erroneously awarded a penalty to Florent Malouda, who ran into a faultless Steve Finnan.

Twelve minutes later, Styles made a second blunder when he clearly showed a second yellow card to Michael Essien without dismissing the Ghanaian. After the match, Styles claimed he was reiterating the yellow just given to John Terry, but was later suspended from refereeing duties for one game.

Last season, Rafa Benítez had all the menace of a cuddly elementary-school teacher, but with his new goatee, the Liverpool manager now looks like an insalubrious nightclub bouncer -- so much so that when he fumed about the "invisible penalty," Team Limey quaked at the back of the press conference, not daring to mention that Liverpool's winning goal against Aston Villa the previous week arose from a dubious free kick.

This week the English media has been surprisingly sympathetic to the plight of Spurs manager Martin Jol. Normally the press pack bays for blood, but with Jol having taken Spurs to successive fifth-place finishes, it was considered to be lacking common decency when Spurs "didn't" try to replace him with Sevilla's Juande Ramos so early in the season.

At least that's what the club maintains in its statement that "no individual was or has been offered the position of manager/coach at this club while that position has been held by Martin Jol." However, Ramos tells a different story, announcing that "they made an excellent, dizzying offer, but I'm under contract and my decision is to fulfill it."

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Sevilla looks set to qualify for the Champions League group stages, and continuing the development of the UEFA Cup holders is probably a more attractive future than reading Ledley King's doctor's notes, especially since days after he "didn't" have talks with Spurs, Ramos' salary at Sevilla reportedly rose from $1.6 million to $3 million. Coincidence?

Team Limey's reaction differs significantly from the rest of the media. After sticking our necks out further than Marie Antoinette by predicting Spurs will finish in fourth place this season, we were hoping for a better return than a miserly three points from three games and a clutch of threatening e-mails from disgruntled Arsenal fans.

Nestled safely behind the battlements of Castle Limey, we offer the following statements: 1) If Jol doesn't look like he'll make our preseason prediction come true, Daniel Levy should sack him immediately without remorse or sentiment; and 2) though threatening and abusive your e-mails may be, it doesn't disguise the fact that being Arsenal fans, you probably have a penchant for sandals, organic mung beans, saving whales and tight, tie-dye T-shirts advertising charitable causes.

Speaking of blubber-covered mammals, Emile Heskey was on the score sheet this week as Wigan crushed Sunderland 3-0 to move into third. Everton is in fourth and is on the brink of a $22.5 million deal for Middlesbrough's Nigerian international striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni.

On Friday, the club also announced that fans had voted 60-40 in favor of a proposed moved to a new 50,000 all-seater stadium in the Kirkby area of Liverpool. The two reports are thought to be unrelated, despite some early speculation that Everton might need a larger home for Yakubu, whose stated weight of 182 pounds on the 'Boro Web site looks suspiciously low.

Other major transfer deals have seen Real Madrid outlay $42 million to buy Arjen Robben from Chelsea and $16 million for Gabriel Heinze from Manchester United, while Chelsea welcomes Brazilian defender Juliano Belletti from Barcelona reserves, with an envelope containing an undisclosed amount of euros passing the other way in a dark corner of La Ramblas.

In our last column, we asked for your thoughts on the new EPL season. Michael Bains of California is hiding with us behind the turret of Castle Limey as a mob of angry Arsenal fans flick lentils up via catapults made from self-sustaining wood. He predicts that on the last day of the season, Arsenal will be in fourth, Tottenham fifth. Arsenal's team gets some bad lasagna the night before the last game and loses. Tottenham win and finish fourth. Oh, the irony will be sweet.

Dave Konopka of Kennewick, Wash., took a very different view, arguing that the surprise of the season will be Arsenal challenging for the title. He feels that without the ego of Thierry Henry in the locker room, the team has a much better spirit and will play more as a team.

Geoff Russell of Ogden, Utah, notes that the Gunners still move the ball around and maintain flowing possession better than any other team in the EPL, while John McGill is also pleased to see Henry's ego depart and thinks Newcastle will make the top seven.

Rafael Polanco of Maracaibo, Venezuela, feels Man United will win the league because its summer picks were supreme, especially Tévez, who will link up well with Rooney and Ronaldo. Rafael thinks Utd's dominance will leave Chelsea focusing on the Champions League, but it will fall short there, too.

Matt Dipane of California is bullish about Liverpool's title prospects due to its summer signings of Torres, Ryan Babel, Andriy Voronin and Yossi Benayoun, as well as the purchase of Javier Mascherano in January. Matt considers the 21-point deficit at last season's conclusion to be somewhat misleading as the last five matches saw a mixture of first-team and reserve players take the pitch with a top-four finish guaranteed and a top-two finish out of reach.

It has been speculated that UEFA President Michel Platini is going to unveil plans next week for the fourth Champions League qualifying place in England, Italy and Spain from '09-10 to be awarded to the winners of the major knockout trophy (the FA Cup, Coppa Italia, Copa del Rey) instead of the team that finishes fourth in its league.

Send your thoughts on that and any other banter to