Samuel Eto'o takes his chances in Chelsea's win over Man. U; more EPL

Sunday January 19th, 2014

Samuel Eto'o scored a hat trick in Chelsea's 3-1 win over Manchester United to keep his team in third place in EPL.
Adrian Dennis/Getty Images

Eto'o takes his chances -- In a way, Manchester United's 3-1 loss at Chelsea on Sunday might have offered David Moyes hope.

On one level, Chelsea won because Samuel Eto'o, Chelsea's lone striker, took three chances, while Danny Welbeck, who started alone up front for United, couldn't take any.

What might United have done if its two damaged superstars, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, been fit?

United started by tearing into Chelsea. The home defense creaked. But United could not score. Adnan Januzaj dazzled, yet Welbeck seemed to have no idea where he needed to be, going back when he should have gone forward and sideways when he should have shot. Once, when the ball broke to him unexpectedly in front of goal, Welbeck hesitated, as if surprised, giving César Azpilicueta enough time to close in and kick him. It could have been a penalty. It should have been a goal. It was neither.

In contrast, Eto'o made himself some luck with his scoring instincts. Eto'o's little shimmy turned Phil Jones into a statue to create the space for a shot. Michael Carrick tried to block with an angled foot and the ball looped into the net.

Eto'o's next two goals were both tap-ins after United's defense had failed to clear corners. For the first, Eto'o was the only player moving as Gary Cahill drove the ball back into the goalmouth. For the second, Eto'o was being held by Antonio Valencia, who failed to notice the ball bounce on the goal line behind his back. Welbeck again hesitated, while Eto'o, a true predator, smelt the meat, spun out of Valencia's grasp and gobbled up the chance.

"Football is about scoring goals and we didn't score today and Chelsea did," Moyes told Sky, which broadcast the game.

Eto'o could enjoy a long run on the team. He was replaced by Fernando Torres who injured a ligament.

Chelsea was dominant. But José Mourinho did not go for the kill. He brought on John Obi Mikel to lock down midfield. Moyes brought on his pea-sized predator, Javier Hernández who pinched a goal after Mikel played him onside. But that merely saved United's face.

Mourinho's first victory as a Premier league coach was against United. This was his 100th in 142 matches, the fastest in the Premier League era. It's a tribute in part to his talent, but mostly to Roman Abramovich's money.

"Of course it's nice, a record in the Premier League it's obviously one more fantastic achievement for my career," modest Mourinho told Sky. "But the most important thing is to win the match."

The defeat leaves United seventh, 14 points behind Arsenal the leader and 12 behind Chelsea in third. Mourinho was asked if United could still fight their way to the top of the league.

"ManU is ManU," he said. "Mathematically it's possible, but I think it is hard. Maybe one team will collapse but for three teams to collapse is not possible. I think they will fight for fourth place."

Sherwood Simplifies -- Tottenham continued its surge under its new manager with a crushing 3-1 victory at Swansea on Sunday. Since Tim Sherwood took over, Tottenham has won four and drawn one in the league -- although it has also been knocked out of both English cup competitions.

Sunday's victory suggested there is more to Sherwood than simply sending the boys out to work hard and have fun.

After Sherwood took charge and immediately jettisoned André Villas-Boas' intricate formation, there was a lot of talk about tactical naivety. The formation Sherwood first adopted is the default of all British and many northern European players. They grew up in 4-4-2. In effect, the new coach was returning to the factory settings. He was rebooting the team and clearing out a lot of the mental, emotional and tactical clutter.

It should not have been surprising, then, that,after seven games in charge, Sherwood was prepared to try something a little more complex on Sunday. He reverted to a five-man midfield. Maybe it was a response to the opposition. Maybe it was a little planning for the next league opponent, Manchester City. Or maybe it was a reaction to talk from Nacer Chadli's agent that the midfielder wanted to start or leave. Chadli replaced striker Roberto Soldaldo.

Swansea had the first five shots. But those numbers were deceiving. Right from the start, Tottenham was forcing poor passes from the normally surefooted Swansea midfield. Under Sherwood, Tottenham has gone from the team with the worst ratio of shots to goals to the team that converts the highest percentage of shots.

"Even when they were having lots of possessions, I thought we were the more dangerous side," Sherwood told Sky TV after the game.

Early in Sunday's game, Tottenham ignored long-range shooting opportunities in favor of an extra pass in an attempt to create a better chance. After 35 minutes that tactic paid off when Tottenham's first strike at goal was a header by Emmanuel Adebayor from two yards. He scored.

After that, Spurs dominated. Ashley Williams and Wilfried Bony, who hit a late goal, shone for Swansea, but essentially, Tottenham had better players in every position

"We played well," Sherwood said straight-faced. Don't be fooled. He knows more about tactics than he's letting on.

Cabaye or Ozil -- In mid-August, when Arsenal offered Newcastle a reported £10 million, or $16.5 million, for Yohan Cabaye, the French midfielder was on keen to force a move, he briefly went on strike. Newcastle (like Liverpool with Luis Suárez and United with Rooney, but unlike Tottenham with Gareth Bale) stood firm. A week and a half later, Arsenal bought Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid for a reported £42 million (thus helping fund the Bale move).

It is possible that even if he'd got Cabaye, Arsène Wenger would also have wanted Ozil. The Arsenal coach cannot have enough midfielders. Whether the club would have been prepared to buy both is another matter. So, is Arsenal better off with Ozil than it would have been with Cabaye?

On Saturday, Cabaye was again the classic midfield general as he guided Newcastle to a 3-1 victory at hapless West Ham. He scored twice. Cabaye has hit seven league goals this season. This is his team. He has guided it to a comfortable eighth place, one point behind Manchester United.

Ozil, meanwhile, had another of his floaty days as Arsenal overcame stubborn Fulham, 2-0, at The Emirates. He completed more than twice as many passes as Cabaye, but then again, Arsenal completed almost twice as many passes as Newcastle. That's its way. Unlike Cabaye, Ozil did not attempt a tackle. That's not his way. He did have two shots but neither was dangerous.

On Saturday, others got the job done. Jack Wilshere provided the midfield drive. Santi Cazorla added the cutting edge, scoring twice in five minutes in the second half.

On the face of it, Ozil was not worth four times more than Cabaye, although the German sometimes gives the impression that he thinks he's the most precious thing on the pitch. His time at Arsenal suggests he's right. Even though there have been quite a few matches where he has been largely decorative, he's the reason Arsenal is a contender again.

Cabaye is very good. He will probably start for France at the World Cup. But Ozil exudes greatness without even trying. He has balance, pace, skill, eye for a pass and intelligence. He is one of those players who always seem to have time and who look graceful even when they are falling over. Carlo Ancelotti might not have been prepared to put up with his sporadic work rate at Real, but, as Wenger hinted last week, Ozil's arrival at Arsenal convinced the rest of the squad that the club didn't only sell world-class players, it could buy them too.

Ozil hasn't always been great for Arsenal. But, perhaps it is not an accident that his arrival has coincided with other Arsenal players, like Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey stepping closer to greatness. And the club believing it can be great again.

Reputations dive hard -- Luis Suárez hasn't bitten anyone for a while. He hasn't racially abused anyone for a while. He's stopped lashing wild shots everywhere but into the net. He's also learned that he can stay on his feet.

It would be naïve to imagine that the Uruguayan has turned into a footballing Mother Theresa, yet the fuss that followed after he fell over Brad Guzan, the Villa goalie, on Saturday, seemed to have little relationship with reality.

Steven Gerrard converted the penalty to salvage a 2-2 draw. Yet the two dropped points widen the gap between Liverpool, in fourth, and the top three.

For almost 45 minutes, Villa flowed while Liverpool played like drains. Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann put Villa two goals up. Daniel Sturridge in his first league start after missing seven weeks, replied just before half time.

After 53 minutes, Suárez broke into the area. Guzan dived. As Suárez flicked the ball away from the goalie and the goal, Guzan pulled his arms back. But he still rolled into the striker with his chest and caught him with a foot. Suárez did not need to dive. He could not help falling.

After the game, Paul Lambert, the Villa manager opened the can of worms when he told the BBC: "I don't think it is a penalty."

The BBC's analysts, poring over the slo-mo, were sure it was a foul and a penalty. That did not stop the BBC conducting a telephone poll of viewers. Two thirds voted that Suárez dived, which says more about their club allegiances and Suárez 's reputation than about what had happened. The Sunday papers followed suit, stoking a controversy based on reputation rather than reality.

It's almost possible to feel sorry for Hannibal Suárez.

What comes up must come down -- Tony Pulis has earned notoriety with a coaching career seemingly dedicated to putting the ball repeatedly into the air. Jason Puncheon achieved infamy by doing it once.

Pulis took Stoke into the Premier League and turned the Potters into a solid mid-table team with the most military and unappealing long-ball tactics.

Stoke might love Pulis, but grew bored with his style of play and the limitations it placed on further upward movement. Stoke replaced Pulis with Mark Hughes in the summer. In November, Pulis was hired by Crystal Palace who were last and in no position to worry about style points.

Puncheon, who achieved notoriety by leaving the field for a toilet break during a game for Southampton last season, attracted further ridicule last week when he skied a penalty very high, very wide and very ugly against Tottenham. He seemed to be trying to curl the ball inside the left post, but missed by an awfully long way.

Some of the taunting from pundits bordered on abuse. Puncheon seemed very upset. He reacted particularly badly to criticism from a former manager, Neil Warnock. Warnock, the man clubs hire if they can't get Pulis, said he would never have trusted Puncheon to take a penalty. It might be true but didn't seem a wise, or nice, thing for an active coach to say in public. Puncheon replied, in effect, that clubs should not trust Warnock with their teams.

A week later, Stoke came to Palace. The Stoke fans wore Pulis baseball caps. They waved Pulis photos. They were rewarded by having to watch not one but two teams play Pulis soccer.

The only goal came after 51 minutes. Stoke made a hash of clearing the ball. It fell to Puncheon. He took aim and curled a shot just inside the left post. So that's how it's done. It was the goal that won the game, 1-0.

The goal was vindication for Puncheon. The victory was a vindication for Pulis. Palace climbed out of the bottom three and to within two points of Stoke. Maybe his ugly soccer is beginning to look more attractive to his old employers now.

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