FOX Soccer Exclusive
Others stumble, but United stays strong
FOX Soccer's lead analyst reflects on the latest news in and around English soccer.
What a week of football we’ve just had, and I want to start with praise for Lionel Messi. He’s had an incredible season, and after seeing him make history in Europe, he may be the best ever to play the game. Seeing performances like that one remind you why you love this game.
Before we get into the winners and losers of the week, we have to talk about Monday. Arsenal are to play my club, Newcastle, and it is a critical game for both teams. I think for Arsene Wenger, it’s a must win.
Arsenal's Top Four, Newcastle's Top Five Hopes
PREMIER LEAGUE RESULTS:
|Saturday, March 10|
|Sunday, March 11|
|Man United||2-0||West Brom||Recap|
|Monday, March 12|
|More: England | Premier League|
If Arsenal have aspirations of finishing in the top four, these are the games you must win, especially when you have Chelsea winning behind you and Spurs losing ahead of you. They had a very tough midweek result, but they must overcome the fatigue and the disappointment and win this game. They will have to win all their home matches to keep in touch.
For Arsenal, this will come down to fitness, Robin van Perise, and Wenger’s selection in midfield. They have to shake off Europe, and they have to get a lot out of players like Tomas Rosicky and Alex Song tomorrow, to control the tempo of the game. Van Persie is obviously in magnificent form, and he’s vital, but I also think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be a factor.
For Newcastle, I think the important thing is to get Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse firing together. This is a big test for them, and I think they are really going to be given a hard time by the Arsenal midfield. Down the road, I think it’s clear that if Newcastle want to be a top-five team, then they have to go to places like the Emirates and not get beat. But right now, getting that partnership sparked, getting the two guys in sync – that’s what I want to see Newcastle take away from this trip.
City, `Pool, Spurs: Downward inertia
Let’s talk about the losers this week: Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham all stumbled. I think all three teams are starting to feel the pressure and fatigue, but all of them have different things they need to address.
First and foremost, Roberto Mancini’s selection at Swansea let him down. It was very comfortable for the Swansea back line, and as the game materialized, it became clear that City were not able to really get around them. It was a great performance for the Welsh, but the weakness was at the back for City. Vincent Kompany was out hurt, Joleon Lescott wasn’t in, and I think that was the vulnerability that Swansea went at. City matches up like for like with the best anywhere in midfield and up top, but when you take those two defenders out, they’re at a deficit.
Now, City have to pick themselves up and get results. They have a tough run-in, but I think they have to go back and address how they responded to getting in the rut early today. I’m not giving up on them yet, but they have to address those gaps in the back.
A top-four finish now looks gone for Liverpool, and the belief is fizzing away. I think they’re going to say all the right things about a European place, but I don’t know if they believe it. That said, Liverpool also have to be mindful that they’ve won a trophy and done well in Kenny Dalglish’s first season. Saturday, they missed Steven Gerrard, and you have to credit what Martin O’Neill’s done at Sunderland. Coming off this result, I do think the Reds ought to be careful about not putting all their eggs into one basket — the FA Cup next weekend is going to be tough, but win or lose that game, they cannot let it define their year.
Tottenham’s decline has come with all the talk about Harry Redknapp being the next England manager, and I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence. They have played some good teams to be sure, and caught an Everton team Saturday that is on a good run, but this patch started with that 5-2 loss in the North London derby. Even against Stevenage in the Cup, Spurs were chasing in that game. I think what we are seeing is that they are not as strong as other teams — if they are without Gareth Bale or Scott Parker or Luka Modric, they suffer — and the pressure may be getting to them.
Manchester United finding favorite's form
The winners this week are obviously Manchester United. The return of Paul Scholes has proved to be a masterstroke, Wayne Rooney has been superb, and I think Michael Carrick has been very valuable as the holding midfielder. They just know how to win games. Today, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Rooney showed that they are getting back in sync, and the winning goal was of superb quality. They also remain the best at managing distractions, and they have got past all those injuries.
If I had to pick the winner of the Premier League today, I’d have to go with United. They have all the momentum. But I’m not going to – at the start of the year I picked City and I’m not going to jump ship. Why? I remember what Blackburn went through the year they won the Premier League, and how they hung in there at the end after being on top for so long. There are still a lot of games left. While United have the easier run-in, I think City will hang in as well.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @warrenbarton2 and ask questions via the @FOXSoccer feed. We have a big week of Champions League action coming up, so I hope you’ll join us Tuesday and Wednesday for that. Thanks as always for reading, and see you next week.
Former England international Warren Barton is the lead analyst for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage.
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