Tottenham humbled by superior North London rivals
Everything was going swell for Tottenham during the opening fifteen minutes of the North London Derby. Emmanuel Adebayor had handed Spurs the lead, and Andre Villas Boas surprise game plan of fielding two strikers seemed to have unsettled Arsenal. The Emirates faithful were gradually becoming more frustrated with their side’s uninspiring start, and the visiting supporters were settling in for an enjoyable afternoon in Islington.
Cue one moment of madness from goal-scorer Adebayor that kick-started a reversal of fortunes for both sides. The Togolese striker’s mindless and potentially dangerous challenge on Santi Cazorla left Howard Webb with no option but to send him off. From that moment, the game belonged to Arsenal.
Their passing game returned instantly and their belief rocketed as they delighted the home fans with an emphatic win over their local rivals. Theo Walcott proved yet again that he is becoming a vital component of this Arsenal side, and a player that Arsene Wenger cannot afford to lose. As with every loss, the buck is expected to stop at the manager.
In this case, however, it would be unfair to criticise Andre Villas Boas. The Portuguese’s decision to play with two strikers seemed to be working perfectly up until Adebayor was sent off. Even with ten men, he insisted with playing two up front, and for a time there was a sense of unease around the Emirates with the score-line at 4-2 and Tottenham temporarily in the ascendency.
As it was, Theo Walcott ensured all three points to inflict a potentially damaging defeat on Spurs. A worrying issue for Villas Boas is his side’s lack of creativity. Luka Modric is sorely missed, and with Moussa Dembele out of action, there is a glaring issue with centre midfield. Sandro has been an outstanding performer in the league this year, but at times he is a one-man band such is the lack of quality Tom Huddlestone offers.
The return of Dembele and Scott Parker may rectify the issue, but from a creative sense, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson have yet to replicate anything like the form Rafael Van Der Vaart produced during his two years at White Hart Lane.
Norwich rejoice as they topple Man United
Having been selected for the Saturday tea-time kick off for the second consecutive week, Manchester United knew that they would uproot Manchester City as Premier League Leaders with a win away to Norwich City. As it was, City’s position at the summit was never in any danger, such was the poor display of Ferguson’s men.
Simply put, Ferguson got the team selection all wrong. The decision to place Ryan Giggs in central midfield alongside Michael Carrick resulted in a partnership that lacked drive or conviction. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are dreadfully out of form, and once again failed to service the front pairing of Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez.
The omission of Wayne Rooney was glaring, and served as a reminder as to how vital the England forward still is to Man United’s play, regardless of the £24m arrival of Van Persie. Rooney usually serves as the link between United’s midfield and their attack; yesterday, there was no such player, despite Van Persie’s unfruitful attempts at dropping deep to dictate attacks.
Nonetheless, Norwich thoroughly deserved to come away with a memorable win. Not only did they frustrate Man United with their excellent defensive shape and resilience, they posed a significant attacking threat in the likes of Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington. The latter was a thorn in United’s side all game as his constant threat limited Rafael’s attacking thrust. His header to hand Norwich the lead was brilliantly taken and fully deserved.
Chris Hughton’s side have seemingly steadied the ship after a worrying start to the season, and Carrow Road is becoming something of a mini-fortress. The Canaries have lost only one game at home this year, to Liverpool, and can add their victory over United alongside impressive wins against Arsenal in the league and Tottenham in the League Cup.
They currently sit five points above the relegation zone in 14th position, though they shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders given their recent form; they are unbeaten in five league games. United have surrendered 1st place to Man City, and they will have to drastically improve if they are to reclaim top spot. The issue of centre midfield is a problem that could prove fatal for Alex Ferguson and his side, and is one that needs to be addressed immediately.
Defeat to the Saints leaves Mark Hughes without a prayer
Surely Mark Hughes’ time at Loftus Road has to come to an end? After twelve games, QPR currently sit bottom of the table without a win and are slowly losing contact with the rest of the league.
Tony Fernandes was not even present to watch his side’s dismal defeat to fellow strugglers Southampton; he was enjoying the sunshine in Austin at the US Grand Prix due to his Lotus commitments, but had he been present at the match, Mark Hughes may well be unemployed this morning.
The fortune of this current QPR side proves that money is not the key to success in football. Fernandes spent big in the summer, both in terms of transfer fees and wages, to construct a football team that he hoped would make great strides following a tense first season in the Premier League.
However, the likes of David Hoilett and Esteban Granero can be accused of caring more about their pay packet than their club’s survival at the moment.
By half-time, the Saints were well in control of the game. Ricky Lambert had given Southampton the lead with a brave header on the goal-line, whilst Jason Puncheon, who was particularly impressive, doubled the lead with an accurate finish from well outside the box. QPR were slightly improved during the second half, but the accident-prone Paulo Gazzaniga in the Southampton goal was barely tested.
For all Rangers’ calamitous defending this year, it is their strikers that need to step up and guide the team to safety. QPR have only scored nine goals in twelve league games this season, and things will hardly improve against Man United at Old Trafford next Saturday.
Whether or not Mark Hughes will be in the dug-out at his old club next weekend is a decision that Fernandes and his board will need to make. QPR shouldn’t be at the foot of the Premier League.
With the players they have and the money that has been spent over the summer, they should be well clear of relegation and battling it out around mid-table. As it is, things will need to improve drastically to prevent Rangers’ dreadful start from becoming a season-long struggle. As for Mark Hughes, his head is surely on the block, and it’s only a matter of time before Fernandes swings the axe.
image: © Jan Solo