Should they be playing football? Lots of people want the Premier League to institute a winter break. Help the English National Team, they say. Give those hardworking players some well-deserved rest, they say. Bollocks, I say. Holiday football is fun. And yes, I too hope that some day a fully fit Wayne Rooney (12.0) will lead the England squad in a drunken post-World Cup rendition of “Three Lions” – which, in this fantasy, is amusingly ironic and most definitely not a sad example of England’s capacity for self-hatred — and that when he gets to the “Thirty years of hurt” line, he’ll brandish a shiny winner’s medal. Yeah, you’re not the only one who dreams at night. It’s just, well, I like watching Boxing Day football.
Here’s a recap of gameweek 19 with some tips on who to pick for gameweek 20:
Chelsea scored eight goals: About ten minutes into Chelsea’s 8-0 win over Aston Villa, I started to think about Fernando Torres (9.7) and What Might Have Been. Torres’ monstrous, this-is-what-I-could-do-when-I-was-good header – which put Chelsea 1-0 up within two minutes of the opening whistle and crushed Aston Villa’s defensive spirit – made me want to cry, and this is coming from a Manchester United fan who actually did cry after Liverpool’s 4-1 win at Old Trafford in 2009. Torres has been so disappointing for so long that it seems crazy to expect him to improve. But that header was bloody brilliant.
Stoke’s brilliant defense: Now feels like a good time to salute Stoke City’s back four, and that’s not because I think Begovic (5.1) is about to run out of luck, or because I’m worried a 4-0 loss will make the Shawcross (6.0)-for-England bandwagon irrelevant. Just the opposite, in fact. I have complete faith in Stoke, and especially in Asmir Begovic. He’s big, Bosnian, and pretty intimidating, and if you mess with him, you’re also messing with Robert Huth (5.7), who once killed a man with his bare hands — or, at least, looks like the kind of guy who might have. Stoke’s scary.
Because we’re all feeling a little guilty about what we said last year: Let’s get this straight: Stewart Downing’s 2011/12 was embarrassingly bad. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near the England squad. He played like Theo Walcott circa 2009, except worse. This season, Brendan Rodgers has experimented with Downing’s position – probably because Rodgers wants to burnish his own reputation as this, like, mystical pseudo-Cruyff who rotates players every week since, in the end, individual players are just cogs in one big match-winning machine. (Anyone who watched Being: Liverpool knows this is total BS.) Downing (5.7) is a competent left back, and he scored a great goal against Fulham, which has a terrible away record and an increasingly disgruntled Dimitar Berbatov (7.1).
What!? Berbatov’s disgruntled?: Yup. And Fulham is getting worse every week. At the beginning of the season, Jol’s team rocked a you-think-we’re-nice-but-we-really-aren’t attacking style, which produced a lot of goals and turned the super-cool Bryan Ruiz (5.4) into a symbol of the new Fulham. Berbatov, who wouldn’t look out of place in a mob thriller, fit right in. Then everything fell apart. At the moment, the Cottagers are mid-table, which is probably where they will finish the season. Some things never change.