Man United march on; Peter Crouch earns some measure of redemption
Alex Ferguson's verbal outbursts seem to inspire Man United's form
Peter Crouch scored two goals for Spurs in a vital win over Stoke
Chelsea's Fernando Torres still has yet to score but came close against Wigan
Five things we learned from Saturday's action in the Premier League:
1. Seeing red. Admirers of Jose Mourinho have argued that his more outrageous antics have a cunning purpose. They are not simply the expression of an obnoxious personality, nor of a craving for attention nor even of a mischievous desire to find out just how much he can get away with. They are attempts to draw attention, and pressure, away from his players.
Perhaps that is the explanation for the latest outburst from Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson He is completing one touchline ban and seemed to be courting another one with his reaction to Wayne Rooney's own ban for swearing into a television camera after completing a hat trick against West Ham last weekend. Rooney again played a match-winning role as he scored the only goal at Chelsea in the Champions League on Wednesday. But he missed Saturday's game against Fulham and will miss the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City next week.
Ferguson's response was over the top, even by his own, vaulting standards. He said it was "obvious" that United was being victimized, suggested that referee Lee Mason's career would suffer and lit into the Superintendent Mark Payne of the West Midlands police. Payne said in a blog that Rooney had set a bad example and would have been arrested if his "aggressive stance", and "foul-mouthed rant" had come anywhere but on the soccer field. Ferguson called Payne a "wee man" and said that young men in Wolverhampton needed no encouragement from Rooney to get themselves arrested. Maybe he wanted to draw media scrutiny away from his battered squad as it limps from victory to victory on three fronts.
Ferguson is a serial apologist for bad behavior from his stars. Maybe he expects it will tie them more closely to them. But Rooney's lack of maturity is holding him back and Ferguson does not seem to be encouraging his star to grow up.
Maybe Rooney would not have started on Saturday anyway. With the second leg against Chelsea coming up Tuesday, Ferguson made seven other changes to his team. The man who replaced Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, put United ahead after 12 minutes with his 22nd goal of the season. Antonio Valencia added a second 20 minutes later. Fulham huffed and puffed but United won, 2-0, to pull 10 points clear of Arsenal.
2. Getting closer. Chelsea did not pay £50 million ($81M) to have Fernando Torres sit on the bench. It bought him to score goals. For that money it wanted brilliant goals and lots of them. But in nine appearances before Saturday, Torres had not scored. So he began the game at home to Wigan as a spectator.
No one looked like scoring for Chelsea in the first hour, so on trotted Torres. Torres repeatedly escaped the Wigan defense. He was just too late to reach a low cross from Didier Drogba. Then, alone in the area, he failed to control a long ball from Petr Cech. Next, with just Ali Al Habsi to beat, he shot tamely at the keeper. Finally he shot hard at Al Habsi, who saved. So there was progress.
Torres did play a role in the goal that won the game. Roberto Martínez, the Wigan manager, complained to Sky television after the game that Torres impeded Al Habsi at a corner in the 67th minute. Al Habsi spilled the ball, Florent Malouda stabbed it in and Howard Webb, the referee, allowed the goal. Brilliance is nice. Luck is priceless.
3. Rebirth of the Blues. Everton's years are beginning to settle into a rather disconcerting pattern. Every summer Bill Kenwright, the chairman, moans about the club's debts. The team makes an awful start to the season. Louis Saha is injured. In the spring, the club surges up the table to finish in a respectable position just below the league's elite.
Everton is a well-supported big city club with a history of success and a productive youth system. Yet it seems wedged in the Premier league's second tier. In 2005, Everton finished fourth to earn a possible Champions League place, its campaign was short and disastrous and its season went into a tail spin so bad it finished 11th. In the four seasons since, the Toffees have finished safely tucked into the no-risk zone between fifth and eight.
This season, Everton did not win any of its first six league games and was as low as 15th as recently as February. On Saturday, Everton at Wolves was without two long-term casualties, Mikel Arteta and, of course, Saha as well as Tim Cahill and emerging star Jack Rodwell. By halftime it had blown Wolves apart with a header from Jermaine Beckford and bullets from Phil Neville and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. The rest was a pleasant stroll in the spring sun as Everton won, 3-0, to cement its grip on seventh. Once again, Everton is finding its form when it doesn't really matter.
4. From zero to hero. On Tuesday, Peter Crouch picked up two yellow cards in the first 14 minutes at Real Madrid to earn a red card that probably sunk Tottenham's Champions League hopes. On Saturday, he rose to the challenge, scoring twice with headers as Spurs won 3-2 at home against Stoke. Harry Redknapp has usually rested Crouch in league games immediately before Champions League matches and the second leg against Real Madrid is on Wednesday. But because of his red card, Crouch is suspended for that match, so he played Saturday and doubled his season total of league goals.
5. Bouncing Baggies. Less than two weeks ago, West Ham appeared to be zooming way from relegation danger. But its recovery hit a bump when it lost at home to Manchester United last weekend and on Saturday it subsided limply at Bolton. Daniel Sturridge scored twice as the home team won, 3-0. He has hit six since being loaned to Bolton to make room for Torres at Chelsea.
The team that has raced away from the bottom is West Brom. The Baggies trailed at Sunderland but won, 3-2, to stretch its unbeaten run to seven games since Roy Hodgson took over as manager. The victory lifted it into the top half of the table, seven points ahead of West Ham and Wolves. Liverpool fans might disagree, but Hodgson is beginning to look like a genius.
Peter Berlin has been following English soccer for 45 years and reporting on it for 25 years.
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