Dicey situation for Mancini's crew
Manchester City gets a chance to end a 35-year drought when it faces Stoke City
After failing against Chelsea, Spurs' goalie Heurelho Gomes starred vs. Blackpool
Of the six teams with fewer than 40 points, five played Saturday and four drew
1. A question of priorities. It's been 35 years since Manchester City won a trophy. It has a chance to end that drought when it plays Stoke City at Wembley next Saturday.
Yet City is also chasing a less prestigious but potentially far more lucrative prize: fourth place in the Premier League and a place in the qualifying round of the Champions League. It faces Spurs, the team that edged it for fourth last year, on Tuesday, just four days before the FA Cup final. Victory on Saturday could have sealed fourth place and allowed Roberto Mancini, the City manager, to rest his starters on Tuesday.
With such a large and expensive squad, Mancini is almost obliged to rotate high-priced players, yet Everton is a team that has given City fits in Mancini's two season on charge, so his team selection on Saturday was a little puzzling. Edin Dzeko and James Milner, who had not begun a league game since the 3-0 loss at Liverpool in early April, and Patrick Vieira, who only started three league games this season, were all in the lineup.
City dominated the first hour, but with Dzeko, who has yet to acclimatize since moving to England in January, alone up front, it struggled to create chances. Yaya Touré, a defensive midfielder by trade, was City's most dangerous player, scoring a goal in the first half and missing a glorious chance in the second.
When Sylvain Distin, a former City player, leveled with a header, and the tide began to turn. When Leon Osman put Everton in front with another header, City was incapable of responding. City's fourth straight league loss to Everton means that, even though Spurs threw away points against Blackpool, it must still avoid losing at home to Tottenham on Tuesday.
"If we had won today we could have prepared very well for the FA Cup final but now we'll have to play very hard Tuesday," Mancini told Sky television after the match.
2. The Gomes Show. There is a certain grim fascination in watching Heurelho Gomes, the excitable and unpredictable Spurs goalie. Last week, he let the ball through his legs to concede the goal that turned the tide to Chelsea in a potentially pivotal match. On Saturday, with Spurs handed a lifeline by City's loss at Everton, he made a string of dazzling stops against Blackpool culminating in a diving penalty save against Charlie Adams. Gomes pushed the ball round the post for a corner. That is when things went horribly wrong. As the corner swung in, Gomes, perhaps carried forward by a surge of adrenaline, flew out to meet it. He only managed a feeble punch and just kept on coming, chasing furiously after the ball as it fell to Adams. Gomes bundled Adams over, conceding a second penalty. Adams did not miss this one.
The match ended 1-1. Spurs had lost two more precious points.
Harry Redknapp told the British media this week that Gomes will remain his first choice. Maybe Harry is simply trying to avoid further undermining his goalie's confidence with games still to play. But maybe Harry also calculates that with Manchester United and Arsenal being linked to every goalie with two legs in Europe, this summer may not be a good time to be shopping for that position and, in any case, the biggest problem may not be Gomes. Saturday's game against suggested that Harry might need to save his cash for a striker or two.
3. Pointless points. Sports coaches like to set targets. For most managers of the clubs brawling at the bottom of the table, 40 points has been the objective of choice this season. After Saturday's games, it looks more and more as if 40 points will guarantee safety while one, or even two clubs could finish on 39 and go down. Of the six teams with fewer than 40 points, five played Saturday and four drew, 1-1: Blackpool at Tottenham, Wigan at home against Aston Villa and Blackburn and West Ham t Upton Park. The fifth struggler, Birmingham, lost, 2-1, at Newcastle.
Blackburn's draw lifts it to 39 points, the same as Birmingham. Blackpool and Wigan both have 36. All four have two games left. Wolves has 34 and three games to play. West Ham lost the most by not winning. Its point leaves it on 33 with two games to play -- the first of them at Wigan next week. It is the only team that cannot reach 40 points.
"We needed to take the points and we didn't take the points,'' Avram Grant, the West Ham manager told the BBC, before adding that he took positives from the way his team had outplayed Blackburn.
"When you score first away from home you probably think its points dropped,'' Kean said before adding that he took positives from the way his team had outplayed West Ham.
But the big difference is that while Blackburn missed a chance to ensure its safety, it still has 39 points with two games left. West Ham is six points further back.
"We will probably need one more point,'' said Keen. "It's taken us a point closer."
For West Ham, the draw has taken it two points further away.
4. Taking their places. Norwich was already guaranteed a return to the Premier League as the second-place team in the Championship before the final round of games Saturday. Bizarrely, there was still some doubt about the team above it in the standings. But just before the games kicked off at lunchtime, Queens Park Rangers, which topped the standings, announced that it had only been fined, £850,000, or $1.4 million, after a Football Association inquiry into the signing of Alejandro Faurlin, an Argentine, last season. QPR was found guilty on two of seven charges relating to the ownership of the player. The inquiry decided it could reach no verdict on five other charges on the more serious allegation that the club had misled the soccer authorities about the player.
A simple fine to end the matter is, of course, the neatest solution. But Swansea, which won on Saturday to finish third, is grumbling. Brendan Rogers, the Swansea manager, also complained about the "disrespectful" timing of the QPR announcement. Huw Jenkins, the club chairman, has said it might still take legal action.
This is where things could get messy. The four teams who finish third to sixth go into a playoff for one more Premier League place. The winner is also promoted -- the three losers have to be satisfied with the profits a lucrative series of televised games. If QPR had been punished with a point's deduction of more than nine points, Swansea would have jumped to second and avoided the playoff. Swansea is due to start its two-leg playoff with Nottingham Forest Thursday.
So, if there is still a problem, as Jenkins has suggested, it may be one that will have to be resolved with some of the money that QPR will make in the Premier League being shared around with the clubs which don't make it up.
5. Déjà vu all over again. On a sunny spring Saturday a shadow hung over the Premier League games. It was cast by the showdown Sunday between the two dominant teams of the last decade, Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford. At one this season stage, Chelsea trailed United by 15 points. If it wins Sunday it will move into first place with two games left. United has not at home since April of last year. But that defeat was to Chelsea. It was victory that put Chelsea in first place and on the way to the title.