Sometimes there are Premier League weekends where it’s all paradigm-shifting, faith-questioning madness that makes The Reducer pull off Johan Cruyff Turns in his living room and Zidane-headbutt the drywall. This was not one of those weekends. So rather than deep dive on one match, let’s speed race through several different results.
Tottenham 3, Bolton 0
There’s something about watching Spurs play at home — from that strange, vertigo-inducing television angle at White Hart Lane — that makes the matches look like a video game. Well, if that were the case, that kid from The Last Starfighter is currently controlling the Tottenham team. They are playing absolutely cosmic football.
Spurs played most of Saturday’s match against Bolton with a one-man advantage after Bolton defender (and Spurs transfer target) Gary Cahill was sent off. It was a harsh decision, and one that let any competitive air out of the game, but what was worth noting is how the red card was a product of Tottenham’s relentless pressure on Bolton, with Emmanuel Adebayor hounding Cahill into giving up the ball to Scott Parker, whom Cahill brought down for the red-card offense.
The Reducer keeps watching Spurs, and every week they make the simple look sublime. They are steady and stoic at the back, led by their one-legged (not that you’d know by watching him) captain Ledley King, and their Master-Blaster midfield of Parker and Luka Modric are brilliant precisely because neither is married to some kind of brains or brawn role. Parker is a subtly sharp passer and Modric is no shrinking violet when it comes to getting stuck in. Elsewhere they have the most athletic, quick wing play in the league with Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon’s breathtaking relay runs every weekend, and with the combo of Adebayor, Rafael van der Vaart, and Jermain Defoe, they have a wonderful mixture of hustle, creativity, and luck.
Watching Spurs score a team goal is one of the great pleasures in sports right now, and their second goal, which came off the boot of Lennon but was the product of a very smart little Parker pass, a brilliant diagonal from Walker, a great run by Adebayor, and some brilliant off-the-ball movement from Defoe and Modric, was one of The Reducer’s favorites this season. Those white shirts moved in harmony, like they were controlled by some benevolent god of football or a very, very good gamer.
Chelsea 3, Newcastle 0
If The Reducer were Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, I would (a) really think about never wearing black on black again, (b) take heart in having possibly the best keeper in the Premier League in Tim Krul, and (c) burn down an entire forest as an act of vengeance against the cruel goalposts that seemed to reject countless Newcastle efforts.
As for Chelsea, David Luiz continues to use his time on the field to do his best imitation of John C. Reilly sleepwalking in Step Brothers, and he should have been sent off early in the game when he hauled down Demba Ba. Daniel Sturridge had the run of the right side of the field all game, but seemed far more interested in trying to knock Krul’s hands off with his shot rather than squaring it for the centrally located Didier Drogba (Sturridge finally got his goal in the 94th minute against a 10-man, deflated Newcastle). For years Drogba has been Chelsea’s dependable battering ram, and he did get a goal on Saturday, but it might be time to play Sturridge up the middle; it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have the passing instincts to play on the flank. Andre Villas-Boas, for his part, disagrees and intends to keep Sturridge out wide.
There was a lot of interesting body language on and off the pitch: Frank Lampard cut a figure disturbingly similar to a kid listening to Tool in the mall food court when he was substituted after an hour, and Villas-Boas looked a lot like a man who knew he’d just seen his job saved when Salomon Kalou knocked in Chelsea’s second goal. Sometimes analyzing this kind of stuff is for suckers, but with Chelsea there’s always a secret history bubbling up at the surface, and part of the fun is piecing together all the clues. For instance, isn’t it interesting that the same week that the Daily Mail ran a critical piece calling Villas-Boas Jose Mourinho’s “DVD guy,” Lamps, notoriously chummy with the Fleet Street press, gets yanked after an hour? It is interesting, but The Reducer may very well need to stop viewing Kevin Costner’s JFK monologue before watching football.
Look, The Reducer likes Villas-Boas and likes the idea of someone finally changing the way Chelsea plays and operates, but if he doesn’t beat Valencia this week and take the Blues into the next round of the Champions League, he probably won’t be the one to complete (much less start) that project. If the Portuguese boss makes it through Christmas, expect a clearing-out of unhappy faces at Stamford Bridge, including Nicolas Anelka (who might play anywhere from PSG to the Montreal Impact), Alex, and possibly even Lampard.
Arsenal 4, Wigan 0
The last time Arsenal lost in the Carling Cup was at Wembley Stadium to an inferior Birmingham team. Losing out on a trophy that was in touching distance was too much for the North London team, and the rest of the league season saw the side collectively storm off to its room, listen to the Cocteau Twins, and make mood boards full of desolate images of abandoned factories and polluted beaches (by which I mean it lost a lot and barely got into the Champions League).
So why was this year’s exit, in the quarterfinals at the hands of Manchester City, so different? Well, for one thing, Arsenal played a team of kids, featuring the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Ignasi Miquel, and held its own against, yes, a reserve City team but one that still included Sergio Aguero, Nigel de Jong, Edin Dzeko, and Samir Nasri, a player who was thought to be essential to Arsenal’s future before he was sold to City over the summer.
After the game, rumors swirled that Frimpong and Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh had gotten into an altercation with Nasri (who endured 90 minutes of Arsenal taunts like, “Are you happy on the bench!?”). Arsenal may have lost the game, but you had to appreciate the fight it put up.
Arsenal’s A-Team was back in action against Wigan, but it had the same swagger its reserve side showed against City. And this time it got a result to match its attitude.
After an early Wigan scare, courtesy of red-hot Spanish midfielder Jordi Gomez, Arsenal shut this thing down. Over this run of eight unbeaten matches, the Gunners, always known for their possession game and their precise passing movements, have been playing with a refreshingly unpredictable and free-form style. Nowhere was this more evident than on Mikel Arteta’s goal, which was born out of a long, albeit totally unmarked run by Laurent Koscielny.
Back in the Cesc Fabregas/Samir Nasri era, Arsenal always seemed to wilt not only from bad luck but from the pressure, perhaps applied by manager Arsene Wenger, to play beautiful football full of patient, perfect passing. Now, with expectations lowered, the Gunners seem to just be going about their business and really enjoying their work. Arteta’s long-range goal, Thomas Vermaelen’s getting a header off a corner (yes, Arsenal scored off a set piece. It’s also 60 degrees in December in New York. I don’t even know anymore), a Gervinho tap-in off a rebound. The Gunners used to be criticized for not doing the little things; people used to say they played like certain elements of the game were beneath them. Now, with a solid, veteran lineup, the hottest striker in Europe (Robin van Persie’s late-game knife twist makes it
38 32 goals in 2011), and an increasingly staunch defense, Wenger’s team seems to finally have figured out that if you take care of the details — the set pieces, defending, and positional awareness — the beautiful football is a lot easier to play.
• Manchester City put another five spot on a team, this time drubbing Norwich at home. Micah Richards again looked like an absolute gladiator down the right-hand side, Samir Nasri scored one of the more soft-batch, weak-sauce free kicks The Reducer has ever come across, and, naturally, Mario Balotelli scored a goal with his shoulder. One thing worth noting is City’s plus-35 goal difference. If a team, be it Spurs, United, or perhaps Chelsea, is going to make a run at City, it’s going to have to eclipse City in the table, not go neck and neck. This occurred to The Reducer when looking at that April 28 Manchester derby on the schedule. United needs to be even on points going into that match if it wants to win the title, because there’s practically no way it’ll make up the 17-goal differential between the two sides.
• Especially without Javier Hernandez. United lost its brilliant Mexican forward for four weeks when “Chicharito” went down with an ankle injury against a terrible Aston Villa team. This could mean Sir Alex Ferguson might need to bring Dimitar Berbatov in from the cold, or he could alternatively play Nani up the middle or rely more on a returning Danny Welbeck. Of course, after the match against Villa, maybe Phil Jones can just do everything all of the time.
• A lot of the attention on Northeast football has been focused on Newcastle and its excellent start, but expect a lot more scrutiny on Sunderland in the coming weeks. The Magpies replaced Steve Bruce with the enigmatic, Yorkshire-Ripper-obsessed Northern Irishman Martin O’Neill.
It will be interesting to see whether O’Neill sticks with an old playbook, the one he used at Aston Villa — namely, signing veterans, playing basic, counterattacking football, and motivating extraordinary performances out of ordinary players — or if he deviates a bit, playing youngsters like Connor Wickham and Ryan Noble.
• If Blackburn fans took a break from their unrelenting protests over Rovers’ ownership and management, they might just enjoy their totally schizophrenic team. The Reducer understands it’s a lot easier to say than do, especially if you’re not a Blackburn supporter, but Steve Kean’s team has been involved in some insanely fun games this year (recall its 4-3 win over Arsenal). Ruben Rochina and Junior Hoilett are bright, young things, and you never know what you’re going to get when they step out on the field — as was the case with their 4-2 victory over Swansea, featuring four goals from Yakubu Aiyegbeni. Blackburn might go down, but it’s not going to be a boring ride.
• It’s always a shame when a Premier League player goes down for the season, but it’s especially rotten that Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva injured his knee against Chelsea in the Carling Cup. Lucas was having a career year, arguably playing the holding role better than almost anyone in Europe and finally making Pool fans forget about Javier Mascherano.
About now, the rumors surrounding possible transfers for the January window will start to heat up and get more and more insane. The few that caught The Reducer’s eye so far have been related to the two main North London clubs, with Arsenal being linked with Lyon’s midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, German striker Lukas Podolski, and Borussia Dortmund wunderkind Mario Goetze. It could definitely use some reliable backup for Robin van Persie. Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp seems to be parked outside of Stamford Bridge waiting to see who gets jettisoned in the rumored clear-out at Chelsea. He’s already talked about his affection for Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, but perhaps the most compelling move could be made for Frank Lampard. Redknapp is, after all, Lampard’s uncle. It’s been suggested that Lamps could go to Spurs with Modric completing the move to Chelsea that he agitated for earlier in the summer, but at this point, why would Modric want to go to West London when the North is treating him so well? (Oh yeah, lots of money might do it.)
Goal of the Week: Aaron Lennon, Tottenham
1:15 in. If you ever need to show anyone what a counterattack looks like, there you go.
Quote of the Week: Harry Redknapp
Ending off this Spurstastic week on The Reducer is the Tottenham boss, in an act of both raising and playing down expectations at the same time: “I never said we would win the league, I just said it’s not impossible.”
Chris Ryan is a staff writer for Grantland.
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