Suarez-Evra feud shows no signs of abating; Donovan proves his worth
The Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra feud will likely continue after yet more controversy
Harry Redknapp's Spurs squad could be on the verge of greatness
Landon Donovan has proven he's a quality performer in the Premier League
Five things we learned in Barclays Premier League action Saturday:
1. What we leant when Man United and Liverpool were playing soccer. Wayne Rooney does a lot of good creative work in the middle of the field, but where he does the most damage in the penalty area. He scored twice like a true center forward at the start of the second half to put United in control against Liverpool.
Luis Suárez is a very different player but he too contributes cleverly and skilfully to Liverpool's build up play. Yet what his team most needs from him is the goalscorer's instinct he showed with 10 minutes left to set the stage for an exciting finish at Old Trafford.
In the end, United was better and won, 2-1, to climb into first pace for the first time four months. It is in contention for another league title. Liverpool stayed in seventh place. It will struggle to move up three places and qualify for the Champions League.
2. What we learnt when they weren't. Before his first start since his long ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, Suárez refused to shake the Frenchman's hand. Evra reacted by angrily grabbing the Uruguayan's arm.
" Suárez was a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club," Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager said of the incident, according to Sky television. He added helpful advice for his rivals: "He shouldn't be able to play for Liverpool again.''
Later events suggested, maybe Suárez was right not to give Evra his hand. Evra didn't seem to be in the mood to let it go.
Within 30 seconds of the start, Evra had come surging across from left back to lunge at a ball that should have belonged to Rio Ferdinand. Suárez stepped back like a matador and Evra plowed into his teammate. Ferdinand was lucky to escape unhurt.
Suárez felt aggrieved after a tackle by Ferdinand deprived him of a run at goal. Suárez made clear he believed he had been fouled. A free kick would have meant a red card for Ferdinand, but the referee, Phil Dowd waved play on. When Dowd blew the halftime whistle the ball, inevitably, was at the feet of Suárez who turned and belted it angrily in the direction of the United bench.
Players of both teams jostled as they left the field.
Suárez "could have created a riot," Ferguson said. Indeed there seems to have been something like that in outside the locker rooms at half time. Evra, evidently still feeing he had unfinished business, reportedly tried to remonstrate with Suárez . Players clashed. The police and stewards intervened.
At the end of the game, Evra, the winning captain celebrated wildly running cavorting, perhaps accidentally but probably not, just past Suárez as he did so.
There was reportedly another fracas in the tunnel.
While Ferguson had no doubt that Suárez was the cause of all the trouble, his opposite number at Liverpool took a diametrically opposed position.
"I think you're bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for anything that happened here today," Kenny Dalglish angrily told a Sky reporter before adding that he had not been aware that Suárez had spurned Evra's hand shake. He also said he had not been elsewhere when trouble flared at halftime.
"It could have been resolved between the two players today,'' said Ferdinand, who refused to shake hands with Suárez after Suárez had spurned Evra. "After this it's not great."
Evra and Suárez aren't the only angry men. This feud will run and run.
3. Harry's game. It is perhaps ironic that the best league campaign of Harry Redknapp's long managerial career has come in a season when he has faced a string of distractions from his job. First, there was the heart surgery, which forced him to miss two games. Then there was a trial, which kept him away from training for the best part of two weeks and from Monday's draw at Liverpool. No sooner was he acquitted on Tuesday than Fabio Capello resigned as England manager. Pundits and fans instantly installed Redknapp as the overwhelming favorite to take over.
Maybe his return inspired his team. Or perhaps the players he has assembled can do very well with an absentee manager. Certainly he didn't have to do much during Saturday's game against Newcastle except do little dances of joy on the touchline. Spurs gave a euphoric first-half display, scored twice in the first six minutes, twice more before the break and finally crushed Newcastle, 5-0.
Managing England would, of course, be the crowning honor of Redknapp's career, but his choice is not so simple.
Tottenham's title pursuit rests heavily on a core of aging veterans (Brad Friedel, Scott Parker), injury-prone stars (Rafael van der Vaart) and players who are both old and frail (Ledley King and William Gallas). The center forward (Emmanuel Adebayor) is only on loan and the club lacks depth, particularly on the flanks.
Yet Tottenham has a quartet of youngish players on the verge of world class (Younes Kaboul, Kyle Walker, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale) with others (led by Sandro, Tom Huddlestone, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Aaron Lennon) not far behind. As Saturday's display suggested, Spurs could be on the verge of greatness.
The same cannot be said of England. If Capello thought England had a realistic chance of winning Euro 2012 he presumably would have stayed. It's true that talent-poor teams can win the Euros. But Denmark and Greece did it with the organized and disciplined defense-first approach for which Redknapp has never shown a talent, or an inclination. Maybe he could coax one last hurrah from the "great generation" of Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, John Terry, if he shows up, and three players Redknapp knows well, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and the late-developing Parker.
But the popular support puts Redknapp in a strong position for a little wheeling and dealing. He could ask to take England for a test drive in Poland and Ukraine. That would give him a chance to see if he could handle the job and the media frenzy that goes with it. And by mid-July it should also be clear whether Tottenham are going to be able, once more, to fend off richer clubs who covet their rising stars.
4. The last scientist. Landon Donovan's second Everton cameo in the league came to an end Saturday. As so often in the American's two stints at Goodison Everton claimed an important scalp. The two scorers were other loaners, Steven Pienaar, also in his second stint at the club, and Denis Stracqualursi. Donovan set up the second goal with a typical elusive run and clever and well-weighted reverse pass.
At the age of 17, Donovan, a Californian being groomed for stardom by the IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida, caught the eye of Beyer Leverkusen, a club with a knack for developing talents others had missed. Donovan was one of its failures. After six years, large chunks of them on loan to the San Jose Earthquakes, and only two starts he developed into a star in MLS. His teams won trophies. Donovan scored goals, piled up individual awards and U.S. national team caps.
In 2008, Bayern Munich took a long look at Donovan, playing him in five preseason friendlies then decided they did not need what they'd seen. Perhaps he was simply too small, too slow or not strong enough for the big leagues. His skills are smooth but not spectacular.
It was perhaps telling that his next chance in the European big time was a brief loan spell at penurious Everton. Donovan was not a regular during his two-month stay. But in the six league games he started, including matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, Everton picked up 13 points.
In the days when Everton won three league title led by Howard Kendall, first as a player and then as a coach, the club was known as English soccer's "School of Science." It out-thought opponents. That's what Donovan does. When he gets the ball he almost always improves his team's position. Coming in cold to the Premier League he gave Everton the guile and intelligence its hard-running team needed and in a style its fans adored.
Everton was too broke to bring Donovan back the next season, but he returned this year to again spark Everton and confirm the impression he created two years ago. Despite his limitations, he is skillful enough and smart enough to play at this level.
5. Why we love Martin Jol. Normally a manager who has just signed a new player, tries to boost the new man's morale, and show off his own acumen, by telling the media how good the signing is. Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, took a different tack after Fulham acquired Pavel Pogrebnyak, a Russian striker who had scored just 22 goals in 90 appearances for Stuttgart including just one, from the penalty spot, this season.
"Pavel hasn't had a great time at Stuttgart, but if he had, we wouldn't have got him," said Jol. "We have to take them when they are playing badly, otherwise they are not in the market for us."
If Jol was trying to inspire his new signing, rather than simply obeying the urge to speak the truth, it worked. On Saturday, Pogrebnyak struck after 16 minutes to put his new club on course for a 2-1 victory over Fulham. Jol, having played down expectations, could be excused for feeling smug.
Peter Berlin has been following English soccer for 45 years and reporting on it for 25 years.