Two hundred thousand a week
Liverpool beat Derby 2-1 on a late winner by Steven Gerrard. It was another unfortunate result for Derby who should have earned at least a draw for dominating Liverpool in the second half.
The Reds were once again plagued by their inconsistency, with only the individual brilliance of Torres and Gerrard salvaging what was a woeful performance. Whether it is tactics, rotation, or the wrong combination of vitamins in their drinks, at least part of the blame has to reside with Rafa Benitez.
Half-way through the season, the squad still displays about as much natural chemistry as Spencer and Heidi on the Hills. With the manager and potentially the ownership situation in flux, Liverpool looks more likely to be fighting to stay in the Champions League in April than winning it.
Chelsea drew Aston Villa 4-4 in a candidate for match of the season. With eight goals, two penalties, and three red cards, one can hardly complain.
Andiry Shevchenko scored a brace and had, perhaps, his best performance in a Chelsea shirt. He got a big hug from fellow 100,000 pound a week bete noire Michael Ballack, though the other players seemed reticent.
Ballack also contributed a goal from a free kick. But his contribution is mitigated by the fact that he still roams the midfield with the pace and fluidity of a wounded hippopotamus, covering his 20 square feet of the midfield with aplomb.
Starting Cech in goal was a mistake, as his blunders lead to eat least two of Aston Villa’s goals. A defender of midfielder can pull himself through the match on adrenaline and grit, a goalkeeper relies on fitness and reaction time. A great keeper won’t win a match for you, but an injured keeper can certainly lose one.
Chelsea’s title hopes also appear to be fading fast, as their stars are literally out of alignment. Drogba will be fit again approximately when he and Michael Essien begin their sabbaticals in Africa. Their defense will be in trouble for the next few weeks with John Terry injured and Master of the Dark Arts Ricardo Carvalho facing a three match ban after an atrocious two-footed tackle. At 7 pts off the pace, it’s hard to see them making this a three-horse race.
Arsenal drew Portsmouth 0-0. It is a damaging result in the mind, as Man U have taken a crucial one pt lead at the midway point in the season. But, in reality, a draw in a tricky away match is not the most terrible result in the world.
The Gunners still haven’t recovered fully from their injury spell. The midfield combo of Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas, so crucial to their early success, remains a bit off the pace. Fabregas, in particular, had a woeful performance on Wednesday.
The early season criticisms about their dearth of wide players is coming to fruition. Rosicky is a fine player, but far more effective in the interior than on the wing. Eboue is an adept attacking full-back, but as a winger his crossing and shooting leave much to be desired.
The tactic of playing Adebayor as the lone-striker in a 4-5-1 should also be re-examined. Far too often, he dips back into the midfield to get the ball rather than holding his position and drawing the attention of defenders. Dropping into the Henry position is fine, with a second striker. But, when Adebayor drops back on his own it converts Arsenal to a 4-6-0 and forces them to pick the lock to provide a player with a decent scoring opportunity. With a disciplined defensive effort like Pompey’s, this proves an arduous task.
It’s far too early to be composing Arsenal’s epitaph, but there are certainly questions that must be answered if they are to win the title.