Tottenham secures historic win at Man United; more EPL thoughts
Tottenham beat Manchester United 3-2 for its first win since '89 at Old Trafford
Manchester City still looked like an EPL title contender with its win at Fulham
Plus: Arsenal's tickets, John Terry's attitude, and Luis Suarez's big outing
Five thoughts from Saturday's English Premier League action:
1. Beating the jinx. Before Saturday, Tottenham had not won at Old Trafford in the history of the Premier League. Back in 1989, Tottenham might have thought winning at Old Trafford was easy as it won a league cup game there by three goals and within a few weeks a league game by one. Since then there have been nothing but nightmares. Until Saturday evening that is, when Spurs somehow won, 3-2.
Part of the problem over recent decades has been that United was very good and Tottenham wasn't. But in 2005, Roy Carroll, the United goalie, dropped a 50-yard shot from Pedro Mendes across the line and got away with it. The game ended 0-0. In 2009, Tottenham led 2-0 at halftime. After United was awarded a soft penalty, Spurs, with Harry Redknapp in meltdown on the touchline, collapsed and lost 5-2.
So when Tottenham led 2-0, on Saturday evening, maybe Alex Ferguson had Spurs where he wanted them.
Except in 2009, Ferguson was able to start Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney and was able to throw Carlos Tévez on at halftime. This time he threw on Rooney, who immediately set up Nani for a goal. Barely two minutes later, Shinji Kagawa also scored. Unfortunately, for United, in the intervening seconds, Clint Dempsey had finished off a Tottenham counter-attack with his first goal for his new club. When Anders Lindergaard saved Gareth Bale's low shot, the rebound fell kindly to Dempsey. Except that anticipating where the ball will bounce in the penalty area, is one of Dempsey's talents. Like his team-mates, Dempsey helped make his own luck.
That was just about the end for Tottenham as an attacking force. It had restricted United to one shot on goal in the first half. In the last 25 minutes, the team abandoned the high, and exhausting, pressing game André Villas Boas favours and huddled around its penalty area. The defense stayed calm under intense pressure, not always a Tottenham trait. And, at last, Spurs managed to ride its luck at Old Trafford. Chris Foy, the referee, for once, did not heed any of United's many penalty claims (some more plausible than others). United also hit the woodwork twice. Spurs won, 3-2.
There are reasons why United's luck against Tottenham ran out. Spurs are better. How much better remains to be seen. The United squad lacks depth. The team is still a work in progress. The home team, harassed by Spurs, played poorly in the first half. But when Rooney's free kick thumped against the post, there was also an element of fortune.
2. Winning ugly. Earlier this week Roberto Mancini declared that Manchester City would retain its Premier League crown. It's the sort of thing managers say when they are worried that their players are losing faith. On Saturday, City won, 2-1, at Fulham with the sort of display that suggests both that the champion is far short of the team it was at this time last year and second that it could still prove Mancini right.
City fell behind after 10 minutes to penalty at Fulham. For much of the rest of the first half it was clinging on. Yet Sergio Agüero levelled just before the break. In the second half, City dominated, but threatened only sporadically. Fulham seemed to be heading comfortably for a draw, when, with three minutes to go, deluxe substitute striker Edin Dzeko did what deluxe substitute strikers are meant to do, pouncing on an error and scoring. City won, 2-1.
City had not played very well, yet it won away to a strong team. City didn't show much, but it did show the character of a champion.
3. What fans get for their money. Arsenal set a Premier League record on Saturday in the area where the Premier League most focuses on setting records: money. The lowest price for the game against Chelsea at the Emirates was £62, making it the most expensive cheapest ticket in the league's history. The price raise may, in fact, be a sign of softening demand for Arsenal tickets. The club has also dropped prices for games against the least glamorous opponents (Wigan, for example). So the days when Arsenal could count on selling out the Emirates for every match are over. It has to charge more for the best games to break even.
The Emirates was built to allow Arsenal to match Manchester United in revenue and so contend. On one level it has worked. Between them Arsenal and United generate 40 percent of the Premier League's match-day revenue. Arsenal, as Saturday's home loss to Chelsea showed, is not quite a contender. Borrowing lots of money to build a shiny new stadium is not, it seems, as effective an aid to competitiveness as acquiring a spendthrift billionaire owner.
For the fans in their expensive seats, there was certainly plenty of money on the field on Saturday -- most of it in Chelsea shirts. The problem, in a match that started brightly and gradually lost the plot, was that the stars produced very little valuable action. Gervinho had one of his inexplicably rare moments of lucidity in front of goal. But the high-priced highlight was a moment in which the most expensive player on the field justified his huge tag. Fernando Torres scored with that stroke of invention and inspiration that is the hallmark of a great player. Was that moment of genius worth the price of admission?
The Arsenal fans probably didn't think so. The truth is that the matches for which home clubs habitually charge most are also the ones that they are most likely to lose. On Saturday, most customers went home dissatisfied.
4. John Terry doesn't care what you think. Whatever the wrongs and rights of the FA's decision to ban and fine Terry, all the evidence over the length of his career is that the man, even if, as he insists, he isn't a racist, he is,often a colossal jerk. On Saturday, out on parole as he appeals his four-match ban, Terry must have heard the Arsenal fans echoed pretty much everyone else in English soccer this week, and boo him relentlessly. It didn't make a blind bit of difference. In a big match, Terry gave a big performance. He doesn't seem to care that so many despise him. Maybe that deserves some respect.
5. Feeding the goal-scorers. Sometimes scoring looks easy and inevitable. Just ask Luis Suárez, Demba Ba and Steven Fletcher.
Sometimes it can simply seem impossible. Just ask Luis Suárez, Demba Ba and Steven Fletcher.
Suarez swept away Liverpool's early season crisis as he cracked as hat trick in a 5-2 victory at Carrow Road. It was Liverpool's first away league victory since April, when it also won at Norwich. Suarez scored a hat trick that day too. In 2012, he has scored twice as many league goals at Carrow Road as at Anfield. Maybe it's simply that he matches up well against the ponderous Norwich defenders, maybe the speedy, energetic young team Brendan Rodgers is picking helped create the chances. Or maybe its simply karma that the ball kept dropping just right for the striker.
Last season Ba scored 15 goals for Newcastle before leaving to play in the African Cup of Nations in January. On his return, he found compatriot Papiss Cissé in the team and scoring. Cissé hit 13 in the second half of the season. Ba hit one, and was slowly pushed out to the wing. By the second game of this season, at Everton, Ba was starting on the bench. He came on at half time and scored twice to secure a draw. He scored two more on Saturday as Newcastle drew, 2-2, at Reading. He has six league goals this season. Cissé has none. Perhaps it's simply a case of defenses picking their poison. Or it could just be the way the ball is falling -- the second strike Saturday game off Ba's arm as he fell over.
Fletcher scored the only goal as Sunderland won, 1-0, at home to Wigan. Fletcher has scored all five of Sunderland's league goals this season. Fletcher is limited, but he will score if his teammates put good crosses into the penalty area. That makes him a good fit for Sunderland. He has a habit of starting seasons quickly, but last season he dried up for much of the long winless run in spring that doomed Wolves. This season he has scored his five goals with just six shots on target. That suggests great efficiency and also that the balls are falling very well for Fletcher. It won't last.