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United's failure leads to epic showdown
What a difference a week makes. The Barclays Premier League title race is on again, and neutral observers ought to be delighted. But I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson is unhappy tonight, as his Manchester United side look like they’ve lost their sparkle after conceding points at Old Trafford of all places. Let’s get right to it:
This all started last week with United’s loss to Wigan. We witnessed how pressure can get to seasoned players. This week, against an Everton side that came out and asked questions, United showed they didn’t have as many answers as they thought. This demonstrates how even the most experienced teams can feel the heat.
Wilting under pressure is unusual for United, and while David Moyes has done a great job with Everton, United threw their lead away. The defensive problems, which were identified earlier in the season, came back to haunt United. If you want to point a finger at someone, it has to be Rafael. He was at fault for three of the four goals, and he has to take a hard, long look at himself. He is very aggressive going forward, but he doesn’t see the dirty work of defending as part of his job. The Brazilian defender was caught ball-watching, and failed to go with the runners. Sir Alex will have to address this before next week’s big match.
That game is, of course, against rival Manchester City. In sharp contrast to United, City looked very professional in their game on Sunday. Realistically, Wolves were already relegated, but they were playing at home and for pride. We’ve spoken about City not always being able to grind out results, but they showed that they can on Sunday. Sergio Aguero’s movement was excellent, and City had that commanding air about their game. They knew they had to make a strong impression here to set the tone, and they did just that. United’s slump and City’s rejuvenation, sets up an excellent and entertaining spectacle next Monday.
Joy of promotion
Congratulations are in order to Reading's Sir John Madejski and Brian McDermott. Both are good men with an excellent club. After the disappointment suffered last season at Wembley against Swansea, they’ve rebounded in tremendous fashion. Reading’s a mold of Swansea and Norwich, as those clubs have shown what a well-organized, realistic team can achieve. McDermott is a young, positive manager that will have Reading competing for a very long time.
There is clear communication in the club; down from the chairman, to the manager, the boot room, and fans. Being realistic and having that communication eliminates drama. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that this makes a huge difference. Reading will be a great addition to the Premiership next season. While they will find the play difficult, they deserve to test themselves against the best.
Robin van Persie deserves all the awards and praise directed his way. Some will say he hasn’t been scoring of late — though Wayne Rooney will likely pass him in the golden boot race — RVP’s been very consistent. Without him, Arsenal wouldn’t be where they are in the Premier League table. He’s shown maturity, capability and flashes of real brilliance this season.
I don’t mean to pour cold water on Arsenal, but my gut feeling is that this will be his last year with the club. Van Persie understands that Arsenal are four players short of competing with the very top clubs. At the prime of his career, the 28-year-old surely wants to add some silverware to his cabinet. He’s worked very hard, but he’s in the same situation as another man who worked very hard for Arsenal: Cesc Fabregas. Unless a miracle happens, this will probably RVP’s last season in an Arsenal shirt.
Newcastle shows colors
I can’t tell you how proud I am of my old team. All credit has to go to Alan Pardew and John Carver. I don’t think we’ve been in the top four all season long, and I know no one expected us to be here now. There’s been a lot said about Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, but I want to give a nod this week to Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye. They were completely outstanding against Stoke. Even though the results have gone Newcastle’s way, I think we have to say they deserve it at this point. Pardew may just be the manager of the year in the Premier League.
And finally, I am extremely proud to have been nominated as one of the best defenders in the Premier League’s 20th anniversary celebration. It’s a tremendous honor just to be nominated, but now I need all of you to go out and vote for me!
All kidding aside, I’m humbled to be named alongside the likes of Lee Dixon and Gary Neville. I was fortunate to play in the best league in the world. I’m proud of my accomplishments in the Premier League, and am privileged that I got the chance to be part of it.
We have two very big games Tuesday and Wednesday as the Champions League semifinals wrap up, and I hope you will join us on FOX Soccer and FX this week. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @warrenbarton2 and ask questions to all of us @FOXSoccer. Thanks as always for reading, and best wishes.
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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