Liverpool beats West Ham amidst controversial officiating; more EPL

Sunday April 6th, 2014
Steven Gerrard converted two penalty kicks, one that was controversial, as Liverpool beat West Ham 2-1.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The end of the world -- After Southampton lost, 4-1, at Manchester City on Saturday, Mauricio Pochettino, the Saints manager, went through the motions of complaining about the officials.

"We were the victims of two dumb refereeing decisions," Pochettino told the press conference.

Certainly the pivotal goal by Samir Nasri, which broke a 1-1 tie in added time in the first half, should have been disallowed. David Silva, who assisted, had been five yards offside.

On the other hand, for the penalty from which Yaya Touré had scored City's opening goal, the word dumb should be applied to José Fonte, a Southampton center back, who lifted a leg into Edin Dzeko's midriff after being wrong-footed by the City striker.

Southampton outplayed the home team for the first 45 minutes, a fact that Manuel Pellegrino, the City manager readily acknowledged. Yet at half time, City led 3-1.

One reason is that City is ruthless in turning errors, whether made by opponents or officials, into goals.

"We scored three goals," was Pellegrini's in-depth analysis of the first half.

Another reason was that the game mattered a great deal for City, who's trying to win the league, and not very much at all for Southampton, already sure of a respectable mid-table finish.

For Southampton, and perhaps for Roy Hodgson, the England manager who was in the crowd, the key moment of the game came after 26 minutes. Jay Rodriguez leapt to trap a ball with no City player near him. He landed awkwardly, curled up in agony and was carried off on a stretcher.

"We do not know the extent of the problem yet because we have not completed an assessment, but it is not looking good," Pochettino told the press conference. "All the players are really upset, they can see how severe the injury is."

Adam Lallana, the other Spanish-qualified England international on the Southampton team, reiterated the point.

"We are all absolutely devastated for him," Lallana told the BBC. "Forget the decision for the offside, forget the result, forget everything, we are just disappointed for our teammate."

And, if Rodriguez has damaged knee ligaments, forget the World Cup. Rodriguez, who made his England debut in November, was not a certainty for Brazil, but he had a strong chance of making the squad. Instead, trying to reinforce his chances in an otherwise meaningless late-season match, he may have ended them.

Rodriguez is not the only player for a mid-table club to suffer a potential World Cup-ending injury in recent days. Christian Benteke, a striker for the rising Belgium team, of Aston Villa ruptured an Achilles' tendon in training on Thursday.

Marc Wilmots, the Belgium manager, might be tempted to ask Everton to put his other center forward, Lukaku, in a box of cotton wool for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Everton still has something to play for.

Indeed, the coming weeks will provide some difficult decisions for players expecting to star in Brazil, like damaged Wayne Rooney, Sergio Agüero or Jack Wilshere whose clubs all need help as they fight for trophies.

Should Rooney rush back from another toe injury to attempt to salvage Manchester United's Champions League quarterfinal in Munich on Wednesday? Man City's Agüero has missed four matches with a hamstring problem, always a scary injury to return from. The hamstring stops hurting even when it isn't properly healed. Agüero worked out before the game on Saturday, and should be, Pellegrini said, in "perfect" shape for the visit to Anfield next week.

An awful lot of players who are hoping to spend their summer in Brazil will have watched the slow-motion replays of Rodriguez and dealt with a strong shiver of terror.

More Mourinho mischief -- English is not Mourinho's mother tongue. It may not be even his second language, that's probably Spanish. Yet he has no real rivals in the Premier League as a smart and surprising talker. If it's sometimes difficult to work out just what point he is making, that's not because of his poor command of English grammar, it's because he doesn't always want to make it clear what message he is sending and who he is sending it to.

Sometimes Mourinho can send a message without saying anything. That's presumably what he was up to when he declined to pick either of his healthy central strikers in the starting lineup away to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last Tuesday. He was driving home his point that Roman Abramovich needs to splash out on new attackers. Abramovich might have had other, less cooperative thoughts after Chelsea lost, 3-1, with an uncharacteristically nervy defensive display.

Back home on Saturday, the defense was back to its dominating best against a far less talented adversary, Stoke. Chelsea won, 3-0.

The victory took Chelsea briefly back into first place. After the game he was asked, repeatedly, whether he still thought his team could not win the league.

"The situation is the same," he told the BBC. "The table is fake."

So far so good. Mourinho is still trying to cast his team in the role of underdog.

But the brief rant that followed is more puzzling:

"The table is again with lots of matches in hand," he said, referring to the fact that third place Manchester City, which is two points behind Chelsea, has played two fewer games.

"You look to the top part of the table and, some teams, they have more matches than others...This, in the best league in the world, I don't think it is the best image we are giving and it's not the best situation...To play matches in hand in the last week of the season, I don't think is adapted to this top football country."

City has those games in hand because it was more successful in domestic cup competitions than Chelsea and because its game with Sunderland was a victim of the English weather. That could happen even in a league run to Mourinho's exacting managerial standards -- unless he can control the wind and the rain, which is one superpower he has never publicly claimed.

If Chelsea had to play an extra league game in the middle of the last week of the season, as City do, Mourinho would, no doubt, complain about that.

What is he trying to do? Make City feel guilty, or nervous, because it has matches in hand? Pressure the Premier League into canceling these games?

Perhaps he's simply frustrated by the fact that the destination of the league title is out of his control. If City wins all of its remaining games, it will be the Premier League champion. The same goes for Liverpool. Chelsea needs one of its rivals to slip.

"In the top of the league we cannot say we need 'X' points to be champions," he complained.

Well, if Chelsea had picked up five more points somewhere, it would be in a position to know what it had to do to win the league.

The bad truth -- If Mourinho's outburst was puzzling, Wenger's meditation on hair care excursion earlier in the day was deeply bewildering.

Wenger chose his press conference ahead of the Everton game to warn of the dangers of hair-restoring products.

"If you lose your hair, and if you've taken something to make your hair grow, it might not be good, especially for the rest of your body," he said.

Such products can lead to muscle injuries he said.

"Some of them are down to the medication that the players take that you don't even know about," Wenger said of the injuries. "Then you realize afterwards that they took this medication but that's not prudent. The liver doesn't work as well, toxins don't leave the body as quickly as they should and they get tired."

Wenger has spent almost 18 years battling with such masters of psychological warfare as Mourinho and Alex Ferguson. Was this some ploy to undermine Martínez, his rival the next day, who, unlike Wenger, is balding?

Maybe he was trying to bait Everton's shaven-headed players, who are presumably disguising some hair loss: Howard, Naismith and Leon Osman. Maybe Wenger did get under Osman's scalp. The Everton captain gave himself a concussion fouling Bacary Sagna after just 10 minutes. Naismith and Howard seemed unruffled.

Or is Wenger sending a message to Arsenal fans? Is he suggesting that the team's catastrophic injury problems were caused by hair products? Arsenal's collapse is not his fault, it's due to hair restorers. It's an original and intriguing excuse.

It would be good to get to the root of the mystery.

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