Posted by: mdegeorge | November 10, 2010

Title revelations on a Wednesday in England

When you get into the midweek rut, there’s nothing that helps bring you around quite like a weekend-worthy slate of games.

Luckily, 16 teams in England and 18 in Italy (plus a slew of cup ties in Spain and a quirky slate in Scotland) obliged to ease the transition to the downside of this week. Though the calendar has barely turned to November, each docket gave us stark revelations as to who we can expect to top the tables once May rolls around.

England

The headline match was an intriguing—though goallessManchester derby the simultaneously decried the title contenders of both sides of the city.

Eastlands Manchester City v Manchester United Premier League 10/11/2010 James Milner (Man City) crosses as Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd) closes him down Photo: Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Manchester United dominated possession and had Man City on the back foot for the bulk of the confrontation. But the Red Devils didn’t produce much in the way of quality scoring chances, rarely offering serious challenges to Joe Hart’s clean sheet. It’s been symptomatic of what’s prevented Man U from taking the early initiative in the EPL all season.

They’re still the only team without a loss this term (in fact, the every other team has at least two), but they’ve drawn six times, five away from home. Those dropped points have them four behind leaders Chelsea, making the difference between the Red Devils and the league lead a mere two goals. Some of the draws have been inexcusable—two goals in stoppage time by Everton, a missed penalty that would have sealed the deal against Fulham, a home draw with West Brom.

Today’s game against their cross-town rivals enters that category. They enjoyed the better of play throughout, controlling the midfield despite the Citizens’ bruising presence there, and had Man City’s paltry attack corps (more on that later) constantly back on their heels. This lack of killer instinct—which certainly has to be directly correlated with the absence of an on-form Wayne Rooney—will keep them looking up at Chelsea for a while.

As for the blue side of the city, any questions asked of Roberto Mancini’s tactical acumen are plenty justified. Doubts have long circled over the Italian’s ability to adapt to the more-attack minded brand of English football, and his team sheet today didn’t quell that debate.

His ostensibly attack-minded trio of James Milner, Carlos Tevez, and David Silva lacked pizzazz, in addition to anything resembling an aerial threat. The use of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, and Nigel de Jong in the midfield provided plenty of snarl, but little in the way of offense. Seeing Toure being asked to provide support in attack on a regular basis was equal parts comical and painful. The decision to hold onto the victory at the expense of an attacking substitution (and no, the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor for Tevez with 90 seconds left doesn’t count, though it was marginally offensive) bordered on negative football.

I’m all for the financially and mentally sound decision to allow Mancini, a successful manager, his time to tinker and form the squad to his liking. But his tactics have to change, both for the sake of Blues position in the table and Mancini’s popularity.

Elsewhere…

Chelsea continued to roll on its way to the title behind a first-half goal by Michael Essien, who was dismissed in stoppage time for his second yellow card. They, unlike Manchester United, possess the killer instinct to win the toss-up games, which their West London derbies with Fulham always seem to be despite the Cottagers one win in over three decades.

The offensively starved Cottagers are another one suffering from a full-blown case of draw-itis. They’ve managed just 13 goals in 12 matches, which has them mired in 15th place despite having being the owners of the fifth-least goals allowed and seventh-best goal differential. When Clint Dempsey leads the way in goals scored (four), there are problems. Bobby Zamora will be on the sidelines for at least another two months (then back and hurt again in no time with his luck), so the likes of Zoltan Gera, Dimoansy Kamara, and the brothers Johnson (Eddie and Andy) better step up soon.

We can assume Hugo Rodallega effectively halted the assembly line churning out Liverpool revival t-shirts with his goal that earned Wigan a draw at the DW StadiumAston Villa’s back in the top half after grinding out a 3-2 win over Blackpool…The brakes are temporarily on Newcastle’s European bandwagon thanks to a 2-1 loss to Blackburn. The Andy Carroll love-fest rolls on though with his goal tonight…West Ham and West Brom drew 1-1 in the unofficial West derby, though the former remained in the “wrelegation zone”…Arsenal quietly skated past Wolves, 2-0…Everton showed a lot of moxie by recovering from a Marouane Fellaini red card to equalize via Jermaine Beckford against Bolton, 1-1. Bolton nonetheless has been one of the surprises of the season and is a somewhat unlikely challenger for a European spot at this juncture.

To hear more about the day in Italy, check back later.

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Responses

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