What an extraordinary weekend in English football. Manchester United held at home by struggling Fulham. Manchester City held at Norwich, having just lost at home to Chelsea, scoreless for the second successive game after all those goal bursts at home. Arsenal destroyed and humiliated by Liverpool at Anfield the first time they had even lost there for so many years.
Perhaps the most heavily significant moment of the Manchester United Fulham game came when United went ahead at 2-1 and David Moyes in his ecstatic relief went dancing on to the field in his joy. While Alex Ferguson whose memoirs however uncharitable have now sold well over 80o,000 copies looked on from the stand. After Fulham’s late, indeed very last gasp, equaliser, Moyes had a good deal of self-justifying things to say, none of them making great sense.
Yes, United may well have had 75% of the play. But so what? Right the way back from 1925 and the invention of the third back game counter attack has been so common. While not only were Fulham’s two goals both facilitated as Moyes admitted by sloppy United defending, but Richardson missed a glorious opportunity on one of Fulham’s few but dangerous breaks to make it 2-0 when he shot shockingly wide from a mere six yards. It has been pointed out that in sharp contrast with what has come to be known as Fergie Time, the last vital minutes of a game when under Ferguson United at Old Trafford would pull their chestnuts out of the fire, it has been five times this season that United, playing at home, have conceded in these closing minutes.
Somewhat odd to see that one notable football writer found it “surprising” that Fulham at centre back should replace the towering Brede Hangeland with the newly acquired Johnny Heitinga from Everton. Some Fulham fans believed that despite his prowess in the air – at both ends of the field – Hangeland’s constant booting of the ball upfield high and hard had become a liability. And out of 81 crosses by United, a mere 18 found a man in the penalty box. Nor did Moyes help his attack by deploying a lively Wayne Rooney so deep. It was a triumphant return to Old Trafford, where he had been number two to Ferguson, for Rene Meulensteen. And Fulham are still waiting for the £12 million Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou to shake off an injury.
Arsene Wenger made a somewhat token attempt to take the blame for Arsenal’s pitiful display at Anfield. Their supposedly solid defence which, let us remember, had conceded six goals at the Etihad was a fiasco. Luis Suarez though he had once hit the bar with a stupendous shot didn’t even have to score. Alan Smith, once an Arsenal centre forward, has written that Wenger pays little attention to defence. As for the midfield, how it missed the injured young Welsh star, Aaron Ramsey, who before being hurt had been in such splendid form. And how the team has lately been suffering by the mysterious loss of form of the costly young German Ozil.
But Manchester City have hardly of late been flying high. In their case the grievously missing man has been the injured Sergio Aguero. After that fusillade of goals, his absence was alarmingly felt in an attack which fired blanks, not just at Chelsea, but at very modest Norwich City. A defeat and a draw.
The sudden rise from training with the youth team of Emmanuel Adebayor, scorer of that late, superbly fashioned, goal to beat Everton at Tottenham, makes you understand why he has told Andre Villas Boas, who exiled him from the first team, how wrong he was about that and his over cautious tactics. Under Tim Sherwood, new and inexperienced manager, Adebayor has not only returned to the team but is flourishing. How long for, who knows? A costly figure with Arsenal and Manchester City, he should never be lightly discarded. At least Sherwood seems to know how to inspire him.