By Peter Berlin
February 03, 2014
Branislav Ivanovic, left, celebrates his goal that gave Chelsea a 1-0 win at Manchester United on Monday.
Lindsey Parnaby/EPA

Losing Touch -- There have been a lot of good weekends this season for Liverpool. Not this past one, though. On Sunday, Liverpool might have expected to close the four-point gap on Chelsea. By Monday night, the gap was six points. City or Arsenal might collapse, but it is more likely that the Reds will spend the rest of the season looking down, not up. They are battling the teams behind them for fourth place.

In the first half at West Brom on Sunday, Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe look capable of dismembering the Baggies. They didn't. West Brom worked out how to stop them and fought back to draw, 1-1. Liverpool had dropped two points in a match it should have won.

On Saturday, Everton started against Aston Villa as if still hung over from its drubbing at Anfield. It recovered to win, 2-1. But that four-goal thrashing by its biggest rival put Everton's qualifications in context.

The same applies to Tottenham in fifth. It limped to a 1-1 draw at Hull, its recently rising confidence clearly severely damaged by another humiliating defeat against one of the clubs it imagines it is chasing, this time at home to Manchester City last Wednesday.

David Moyes could plead bad luck after Manchester United lost, 2-1, in the rain and wind at Stoke. But, with 14 games left United has already lost eight league games, more than in any previous season in the Premier League era.

Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are going to adore playing with Juan Mata, who set up the Dutchman for United's goal. At the other end though, United's problems are piling up.

One center back, Jonny Evans, limped off with a calf injury after 11 minutes. The other, Phil Jones, was carried off concussed before half time. Although both Stoke goals came from long-range shots by Charlie Adam, any Stoke ball into the penalty area in the second half caused chaos. Nemanja Vidic is about to return from suspension, but Rio Ferdinand is still injured. It could be a long 14 games for the United defense.

For Newcastle, it is goodbye Yohan Cabaye, goodbye happiness. The depressing reality of modern soccer is that clubs, even historically big clubs, just below the Champions League elite cannot keep their best players.

The Magpies looked lifeless as they lost, 3-0, at home, to their revived rivals Sunderland. In his 200th Premier League appearance, Adam Johnson scored his seventh goal in seven games. He seems, at last, to have worked out what to do with the talent so long admired by so many, including three England managers.

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Striking Terror Into Friend And Foe -- Andy Carroll made only his second league start of the season for West Ham on Saturday against Swansea. He lasted less than 60 minutes.

For 58 of those minutes, Carroll showed why, if he is healthy at the end of the season, Roy Hodgson, the England manager will be tempted to take the striker to Brazil. For the last few seconds he was on the field, Carroll showed why Hodgson might think twice.

Carroll won 10 headed duels in his hour on the field. Six were in the Swansea penalty area. Of course West Ham responded to his return by hoicking high balls into the goalmouth, but Carroll still had to reach them. He did not just reach them; he used his head when he headed them. He set up his mate Kevin Nolan for two goals with superbly controlled headers. That was enough to set West Ham on course for a 2-0 victory.

Swansea's defenders are no mugs. They have a couple of robust center backs, Ashley Williams and Chico Flores, whose job includes repelling the aerial bombardment which remains more common in British soccer than in most countries. They knew what was coming. They couldn't cope.

Carroll offers West Ham a security blanket. He could do the same for England. It might be a rather tactically threadbare blanket, but it works. He could also offer England something very different from the other strikers available for Brazil. Carroll is a more muscular, more macho, version of Peter Crouch. Crouch, who is almost three inches taller but a few pounds lighter, is the most successful England striker of the last two decades.

Crouch has scored 22 goals in 42 England appearances. Since many of those were as a substitute, Crouch's England strike rate is 0.91 goals per 90 minutes played, way ahead of Rooney or Gary Lineker (Jermaine Defoe is, in fact, second). Critics object that Crouch scored many of his goals against teams such as Andorra, Jamaica and Belarus -- but the same can be said of most international strikers.

At halftime, Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, might have told Carroll that he was terrifying Swansea and to keep it up. Unfortunately, Carroll, who has a history of violence off the field, can sometimes be a little too macho.

Flores won a headed battle with Carroll by using the ancient trick of jumping onto his opponents back and holding him down. Carroll reacted by trying to throw Flores. As the two landed Carroll swung an arm, perhaps to regain balance. Flores fell to the floor and performed a few high-speed rolls -- a reaction to pain that, among all life form on this planet, is displayed only by professional soccer players.

It was not in Howard Webb's power to nominate Flores for an Oscar. He played his role in a melodramatic situation by showing Carroll a red card. It was, incredibly, Carroll's first Premier League red card. It was harsh. Allardyce said West Ham would appeal. But Webb, who has already been selected for the World Cup, was only doing what the vast majority of referees in Brazil will do, and sending a player off for a flailing arm.

It was a moment that might terrify Hodgson.

Hire Me Get My Friends For Free -- In the days when people still kept their business contacts on file cards, it was often said that an executive was hired for his (or her) Rolodex. When Cardiff's executives hired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they might have congratulated themselves on acquiring a bright young manager. It seems they also acquired the smart young manger's extremely well-stocked smartphone contact list.

Last week, Solskjaer, picked up the much-coveted Wilfried Zaha, on loan, and Fabio, for an undisclosed (i.e. likely embarrassingly low) fee, from Manchester United. That would be the same United where Solskjaer played for 11 seasons, and which still owes him big time for winning the 1999 Champions League final and might well have an eye on him as a possible long-term replacement for Moyes.

Solskjaer also exchanged Peter Odemwingie for Kenwyne Jones with Mark Hughes at Stoke. They were swopping problems, as mates do. Hughes, another United old boy, is the man Solkskjaer effectively replaced at Old Trafford.

On Saturday, against Norwich, David Marshall, the goalie, might have been Cardiff's best player. Yet, at the other end, Zaha set up one goal and Jones scored the other to give Cardiff a precious 2-1 victory.

Perhaps Solskjaer texted his thanks to numbers in Stoke and Manchester. That sort of thing strengthens connections.

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