It is not often you will find the Stoke City manager Tony Pulis too much at odds with Sir Alex Ferguson, but there was a significant difference of opinion after Peter Crouch's first league goal since his £10 million ($15.5M) move gave Stoke a well-deserved point in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United. Crouch capitalized on Phil Jones' momentary inattentiveness to leap unchallenged and head the ball goalward in the 52nd minute. "He fouls all the time," harrumphed Ferguson, afterward. "He gets off with it because of his height, but he jumps on top of defenders all the time." "I thought he was magnificent," countered Pulis, on the club website.
So it always seems to be with Crouch. The goal means he has scored for a sixth different Premier League side, granting him admittance to a small club that includes strikers as far apart on the scale as Andrew Cole (93 goals in 195 games for Manchester United) and Marcus Bent (93 goals in 489 games for 14 different clubs), and consensus still has yet to be reached on where Crouch sits between them. Though he has never yet proved indispensable to a team, being of use to a number of different clubs with varying systems demands a certain nous, and barring the four-month wait for his first goal at Liverpool, Crouch's debut goals have come, on average, in his third competitive appearance. This is hardly shoddy. So how to measure Peter Crouch (and don't say with a step ladder)?
There are certainly drawbacks to using him. Though Ferguson was irate at the referee's performance on Saturday, Crouch does not tend to get the best of officials' decisions; no Tottenham player gave away more fouls than Crouch did in the league last season. Any advantage offered by his height is often negated by how awkward an aerial challenge looks between him and an immobile defender. Crouch has said in the past that he prefers service to his feet, but dropping into space to receive the ball on the ground takes him out of the box, from where he scores about 90 percent of his goals; Crouch is not the kind of player to magic his way out of a crowd of defenders. Though his partnership with Rafael van der Vaart was briefly thrilling (Crouch tallied a career-best nine assists in the Premier League last season), the temptation to lump the ball forward whenever a match threatened to overwhelm Spurs irked many fans. Emmanuel Adebayor has provided a striking contrast so far this season.
It is probably rather unfair that such a comparison is there to be made, however. Crouch's heading ability is better than he is given credit for (in the last eight seasons, 46 percent of his league goals have been scored with his noggin), and though his goals-to-chances ratio isn't brilliant (he put two wide from close range against United), in comparison with similar strikers, he fares well. In the last eight seasons he has scored 61 goals, and provided 46 assists; Kevin Davies (Bolton) has 61 goals, and 43 assists, while Emile Heskey (Aston Villa) has 45 goals and 24 assists. Crouch should thrive at Stoke; the system is more complex than its caricatures -- "Hoof!" -- but it has been engineered to suit a player such as Crouch without forcing him to graze the penalty area alone, knocking the ball back for a wee man.
A few choice cuts from the weekend's Barclays Premier League action:
Such is the strength of Manchester City's front line that its members seem to be in competition to see who can set up a goal scoring opportunity in the most sparkling fashion. This week Sergio Aguero laid on City's first goal by dancing across the front of Everton's penalty area before backheeling the ball to the goal scorer Mario Balotelli; David Silva provided James Milner with the second after a dainty pirouette and flicked pass.
"I have nothing to say, it looks a good decision by the referee" -- the Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas remains calm and objective as he comments on Fernando Torres' sending off against Swansea. Doesn't he know he's a football manager?
Should you wander into your local bookies this week, you'll find that the best odds available on the Premier League's third-placed club (Chelsea) being top at the end of the season are about 6/1; fancy a punt on the club a place behind, however, and you'd be looking at a return of up to 2000 to one. There's a lot to be said about the long-term, twisted competitiveness of the Premier League, and you might be best served by keeping your cash in your pocket, but the point is that the team currently in fourth is... Newcastle United. The owner Mike Ashley doesn't seem to have put a foot right since first pulling a black-and-white shirt over his stout middle, yet his troupe of cut-price replacements has now gone 11 games without defeat in all competitions, with Demba Ba's hat trick against Blackburn on Saturday putting them a point behind Chelsea and two ahead of Liverpool.
The goalless draw between West Bromwich Albion and Fulham was a meat-and-potatoes kind of match, but there was a moment, about an hour in, that had the distinct tang of caviar: after the Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer batted away Peter Odemwingie's shot (set up by a superb through-ball from Youssuf Mulumbu, incidentally), Brede Hangeland stepped in and nonchalantly juggled the ball from right foot to left despite the proximity of the West Brom midfielder Chris Brunt, before sliding it out of the box to Steve Sidwell.
Arsenal have conceded twice as many goals as they had at this point last season -- only Bolton Wanderers, visitors to the Emirates on Saturday, have conceded more, and in the title-winning season of 2003-04, it wasn't until the middle of January that the Gunners let in a 14th opposition goal. Yet Wojciech Szczesny is one of Arsene Wenger's better performers this season; he pulled off a particularly good save from Bolton's Darren Pratley in the second minute to lay the foundations for a 3-0 win.
A word also for Manchester United's David de Gea; it's not often that any goalkeeper, let alone one capable of looking so vulnerable, has to keep United in a game, but Stoke could have got more than the draw at the Britannia this weekend without de Gea's interventions. Diverting Andy Wilkinson's shot was a particular highlight.
Nine -- the Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne added a ninth career own-goal to his collection in the last few seconds against Queens Park Rangers on Sunday. The unfortunate rebound from Stephen Warnock's clearance made him the scorer of the first home goal at Loftus Road this season, rather oddly, but the point it gifted QPR was no more than they deserved for another inventive display.