The Premiership Party
Carlos Tevez did an Eric Cantona this weekend: popping up with a vital goal after an undistinguished display a la the Frenchman’s final season in football. The late equaliser at Blackburn could be the goal that will win the title at United. Even if Chelsea beat them 5-0 at Stamford Bridge, two wins in their last two games will secure one of United’s more impressive championships. However…don’t rule out the improving Wigan – who United take on at the JJB on the final day – from making it tense.
The Relegation Race
Fulham and Birmingham occupy the two remaining relegation positions – the two teams I predicted to go down with Derby a few months back. It will be tight though – Birmingham need to beat Fulham to condemn them for sure and then face a last day tug-of-war with Bolton for that remaining slot. At home to Blackburn, who have nothing to play for, it’s possible Birmingham might be able to pull it out of the fire. Bolton will be at Chelsea – who may have to win to win the league.
The only reason I watch the Champions league is to watch the English clubs lose so unfortunately I have to pick a favourite between Liverpool and Chelsea this week. Liverpool has been there before so I’d prefer to see Chelsea advance. Also I dislike the way Bentiez has put all his eggs in one basket (again), sacrificing the league to advance in a tournament that is arguably easier to win. I think the first leg at Anfield will be a 1-1 draw. Meanwhile, Man United may not have the outstanding individual talent that Barcelona does but with the Spaniards unable to buy a win recently the English Champions-elect are slight favourites. I think they’ll win 1-0 at the Nou Camp.
If it’s true that Liverpool want Gareth Barry, Rafa Benitez will never learn. You can file Barry alongside Benayoun, Bellamy, Zenden and Pennant: decent Premiership players who are not going to distinguish themselves at the “business end” of the season. The problem for the likes of Martin O’Neill at Villa is that Barry is a semi-international who is 27 years of age and unlikely to command a huge fee despite being the heartbeat of his current club. It’s a similar situation to what faced West Ham last summer who ended up only getting £5m for Benayoun despite his importance to the club – he has started 14 league games for Liverpool this season.
Lita back at Reading
I like Leroy Lita and was surprised he struggled to make his mark this season with Reading. They loaned him to Charlton but have now recalled him for their three remaining critical Premiership games. I predict that Lita will play a part in keeping Reading up.
Man City v Portsmouth
An entertaining clash won 3-1 by City. A few points from the game.
1) David James: This guy is a clown. Yes, he makes some wonderful saves but you can bank on him fluffing something in every game. This time he got stranded outside his area and Portsmouth directly conceded from his behaviour. That he’s on the shortlist for Player’s Player of the Year is a farce.
2) Darius Vassell: Always liked this guy and he’s in really good form for City at the moment – Eriksson has been a positive influence on his career.
3) Benjani: He might not score much but Benjani looks to be a model professional – great attitude, works his socks off, skilful. One of my favourite players to watch.
4) Manager’s myopia: After Manchester City’s impressive substitute, Sam Williamson, was yellow carded for a late challenge in the 65th minute, Portsmouth’s management team of Joe Jordan and Harry Redknapp were absolutely incensed, gesturing angrily to anyone who would give them attention on the sideline. Presumably they thought Williamson should have been sent off.
When Portsmouth right-back Lauren was carded for a far worse scissors-tackle on the same player five minutes later, they seemed less animated – as were the Manchester City coaching staff who didn’t run around moaning for the sake of it. Some people may scoff at Sven-Goran Eriksson but at least – with the exception of Faria Alam – he conducts himself with dignity. Redknapp is a wagon.