Today’s EPL schedule served up three mouth-watering matches: First place Manchester United against second place Manchester City (last season’s champions, with Man U as runner-up); fourth place Tottenham against sixth place Everton; and tenth place West Ham against twelfth place (but clearly better than that) Liverpool. Each match turned out to be a gem.
Manchester City dominated the early play against their old enemy, but its attacks kept breaking down, thanks mainly to poor play by Mario Balotelli, the talented knucklehead City manager Roberto Mancini oddly elected to start at center forward. City paid the price when Wayne Rooney scored a pair of first half goals for visiting United.
The match turned when Mancini finally replaced Balotelli with Carlos Tevez after 52 minutes. City scored just 8 minutes later and therefter pressed persistently for the equalizer. It came in the 86th minute on a rocket from Pablo Zabaleta.
City remained on the front foot as the match headed into “stoppage time.” But United won a free kick and Robin Van Persie, with the help of a very slight deflection, planted it in the City net for an improbable game winner in the 92nd minute.
With this win, United moves six points ahead of City, atop the Premier League. But City is out of European competition, while United, still alive in the Champions League, will have to cope with an overload of tough matches as the season progresses.
Liverpool also left it late, but not as late, in their 3-2 win at West Ham. Missing their star player, the cheating Luis Suarez, due to a suspension, the Shite found themselves down 2-1 with only a quarter of an hour remaining.
But after West Ham’s star defensive midfielder Mohamed Diame had to be replaced due to injury, Joe Cole, one-time West Ham (and England) “starlet” but now a seldom used Liverpool reserve, struck a venomous equalizer (to quote Soccernet) in the 76th minute. And three minutes later, West Ham defender James Collins, under pressure from the impressive, bullish Jonjo Shelvey, scored an own-goal that proved to be the game-winner.
The victory, in a match as hotly contested as the Manchester derby, pulls Liverpool into tenth place, one spot ahead of West Ham. Look for Liverpool to continue to climb. And let’s hope that West Ham, some of whose fans engaged in anti-semitic chanting last month, continues to fall. However, off of today’s performance, and assuming Diame’s injury isn’t serious, I’m not counting on it.
Playing at home against the red hot Spurs of Tottenham, Everton was well on its way to another dominating but futile performance as the game entered the 90th minute. Spurs led 1-0 thanks to a deflected strike from American star Clint Dempsey.
But Seamus Coleman made a fine run down the right flank and ex-Spur (briefly, in between excellent stints with us) Steven Pienaar scored on a header that America goalkeeper Brad Freidl might have saved had Tottenham selected him.
With just stoppage time remaining, it now looked like we would draw our eighth match in the last 10. But two minutes into the four added ones, Nikica Jelavic, the goal poacher we’ve been waiting years for, pounced on a loose ball in the penalty and nicked home the winner.
The win moves Everton into fourth place, albeit only on goal difference. That’s Champions League territory, though it’s premature to think in those terms. And I can’t avoid the thought that, but for some poor refereeing decisions, we might well be alongside Chelsea in third place.
NOTE: This post has been slightly edited from the original.