By Shane Evans
Either you have it...or you don’t.
When placed in a less-than-favorable position, certain teams are able to shrug aside the obvious drawbacks of the situation and can pull themselves out of the muck they are in and change their fortunes.
Others, most others I should say, can’t.
That situation was exemplified perfectly this past weekend in the EPL as two teams at opposite ends of the table experienced differing outcomes, where the will to win was an integral part of the equation.
Manchester United on the one hand played a horrid first half in their match against Tottenham. The way things were going, Spurs could have went into the break up 4-0, instead of the 2-0 score that they took into the second stanza. The Red Devils just looked out of it, and Tottenham were all over them in the first 45 minutes.
I’m not sure what happened in the dressing room, but as the second half began, it looked like a whole new match. From the tap, United were all over Spurs and made life difficult for the leading side all over the pitch.
Five goals and another 45 minutes later, United came away 5-2 winners of the match, with a clear mental edge of their competition as the title race draws to a close. It was simply a brilliant performance by Sir Alex’s men as they not only came back to tie and take the lead, they pushed further and netted two more goals to send a message to the league.
That kind of determination is the stuff champions are made of, and when United lift their third straight title in the coming weeks, they’ll look back at this match as a big reason why their hands are on the trophy once more.
Then we travel east from Manchester to the down-trodden city of Newcastle. Their hope of staying in the Premier League is dwindling as quickly as the time they have left to save themselves. Their match against Portsmouth on Monday night put another nail in their coffin.
First, you have to give credit to Paul Hart and Portsmouth. They aren’t fully out of the bog yet, and the points were important to them also, but they entered a hostile environment and got the job done. A virtually unknown manager, Hart has come in and done an excellent job (only two losses since taking over, against ManU and Chelsea), and by the looks of things, he has saved them from relegation.
As much as it pains me to say it, the same can’t be said about Alan Shearer. I was behind him when he took over and hoped he could do the job, even up to my last column, but this match has made me rethink things a bit.
His team needed to score goals, and badly. They weren’t able to get any. Not one. Not a single goal to put the pressure on Pompey to fight their way back into the game. Granted, their opposition didn’t score either, but in the circumstances, scoring by any means necessary is paramount.
But it was not to be. The Magpies couldn’t put one goal passed David James and now they find themselves in a very precarious position. Hull and Sunderland are slipping, but Newcastle have to play Liverpool, Fulham and Aston Villa, along with Middlesbrough, a team who is one of their main foes in the relegation battle.
When Shearer was appointed, I thought he was going to bring that little bit extra to the squad. That moral boost they sorely needed. The will to win. It appears that only certain managers have it, and more importantly, are able to transfer it to their players. Sir Alex has been doing it for 20 years. Paul Hart is making strides. Shearer seems to be left scratching his head.
It’s been two weeks since the last FCS, and the last two matchdays have done me well. I am on a strong streak that I hope can last until the end of the season. A win by Spurs against Newcastle then a loss by the same team against Manchester United kept my win column padded. Three draws (Liverpool-Arsenal, Everton-Chelsea, Newcastle-Portsmouth) are off the books. My only loss was Everton, who amazingly lost to Manchester City.
I really hope the Citizens start playing with some consistency next season. They can be hard to watch at times. Luckily for them Robinho has said he’s dedicated to the cause, which is a plus, because he is their most talented player, even if he is a bit of a prima-donna.
Keeps getting better and better. Another 15 or so matches remain for me to preview this season so we’ll see if I can end up with a record that’s as positive as it is now.
If it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday in April, you can pretty much guarantee there is some type of European football going on. This week is no different. The Champions League returns for the semi-final round and again, three of the four teams are from the Old Blighty.
I am much more excited for the Barcelona-Chelsea tie, as I feel it would serve as a great final. The teams seem pretty evenly matched and the Blues will go into Camp Nou a confident team.
Obviously, Barcelona are quite the force to be reckoned with and no team should take them lightly, but I just can’t help but think that they may struggle against Chelsea. They are the strongest competition they have faced thus far in the tournament, and could cause them problems, given the style of football played in England compared to Spain.
The other tie between Manchester United and Arsenal should also be interesting, as both teams have been playing extremely well lately. I really like what Arsene Wenger has done with his team and how he has molded it. Sir Alex on the other hand has done more of a ‘keeping it together’ type of thing and the dividends are about to be reaped, as a third successive EPL crown is now in sight.
What I’m getting at is does the situation (three out of the four being English) show the dominance of the Premier League as the world’s top footy division? Or it is just a coincidence that teams from England play well on the continent? You could argue either, but with the same thing happening for the third straight season it’s beginning to look like the English ‘big four’ is becoming Europe’s ‘big four.’ Your thoughts on this are much appreciated and most definitely encouraged.
So that’s the Champions League. One superstar who didn’t participate in the tournament this season is Kaka. Now the rumors began to surface late last week that the Brazilian magician may be on his way to Manchester United if Ronaldo jets off to Real Madrid. Some people even went as far to say that Kaka and Franck Ribery will be bought if Ronaldo leaves.
First of all, how on earth will Manchester United be able to afford both players? Virtually impossible if you ask me. The endless pockets of Man City couldn’t pry Kaka away from the San Siro, though that was more over the lack of Champions League football I think. Personally, if I was Sir Alex, taking Kaka over Ronaldo is a no-brainer. He’d fit in well with the Brazilian-Portuguese niche he has carved out at Old Trafford, and it would certainly tick off the aforementioned Citizens.
We shall see though. You and I both know how fabricated and gossipy football transfer rumors are. They make me feel like I’m in high school again sometimes. Oh, those were the days…
Player of the Week: Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal
Do you really have to look any further than this little Russian spark-plug. That match was insane. Yes, I have questioned his skills before. I said he was a one-off. The Euros were a fluke. Yada yada yada. I was wrong. Coached by two of the best managers of this generation in Arsene Wenger and Guus Hiddink, Arshavin’s ‘late bloomer’ tag should officially be removed. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and the league now has him on their radar.
Not-so-team of the Week: Tottenham Hotspur
I understand the excitement that must have surrounded the team going into halftime up 2-0 at Old Trafford, but ending the match 5-2 is an embarrassment. I would have accepted a 3-2 loss, but it seemed like when United tied the game, anyone in a Spurs shirt turned French and automatically surrendered. They were like human white flags. I’m not a professional athlete, so I don’t truly grasp what it’s like to be on the field at that time, but sometimes you have to wonder where the drive goes. Dare I say...the will to win?
Goal of the Week: Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal (v. Middlesbrough)
A lovely goal typical of how Arsene Wenger wants Arsenal to play. Lovely fluid movement resulting in a well-placed shot by Fabregas to put the Gunners up 1-0. If they could score goals like all season, and not just against ‘Boro, they might convert me to the dark side. Probably not, though…
Gaffe of the Week: Newcastle United
Do you really want to stay up? Start scoring goals, then. One goal in an entire month is not going to cut it. Come on, Alan...didn’t you score all the time back in your hay? Yes you did. Make it work, or things are going to get very dicey.
Game of the Week: Liverpool 4-4 Arsenal
Could be game of the season. A truly great individual performance. A great comeback. Back and forth action. What more could you ask for? I know, how about an illegal internet stream that works so I could watch the whole thing! Uhh, I mean a winner would have been nice? Makes me wish I was back home, if nothing else.
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Shane Evans is an Associate Editor of Goal.com. His feature, “Fish & Chip Shots” runs weekly. Contact Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments and concerns or follow him on Twitter.