Saturday’s first game was a harbinger for the day – unfortunately the blueprint was not a positive one.
The Chelsea – Everton game lacked flow and individual inspiration. If the game had been decided on points rather than penalty kicks then Chelsea would have been the judges’ unanimous choice.
Although Everton enjoyed the better of the first half the second half pattern was of Chelsea pitching camp in the opposition’s half. Every time the Everton defence cleared the ball back it came like clockwork.
Under normal circumstances (over the last few seasons anyway) Frank Lampard’s goal would have been enough to see Chelsea through.
But in the last few months Chelsea appears to have taken on board many of the frailties that have haunted Arsenal the last few years. Games are not put to bed and errors no longer lead to let offs but to goals conceded.
A needless free kick given away by Ivanovic with only a minute or so left gave Baines the chance to curl the free kick beyond a statuesque Petr Cech (did he really think that Baines was going to hit the free kick anywhere else but the top left hand corner of the Chelsea goal?) and so to penalties.
Chelsea have also taken on the mantle of England when it comes to penalty kicks. Another miss from Anelka and Cole could not even hit the target after Chelsea had gained a double advantage through winning the toss and a miss from Leighton Baines.
You get a sense that Chelsea needs everyone to pull in the same direction over the next three months or this could turn very ugly both on and off the field.
The Inter performance against Cagliari was pretty much standard pre-Champions league fare. An early and somewhat controversial goal from someone (I have read and heard of three different scorers) gave Inter a lead and then they played like a team that had other things on their minds.
Cagliari were happy to cooperate and put in a performance that lacked zip and any cutting edge with the exception of a 10-15 minute period when they laid siege to the Inter goal.
Julio Cesar was bombarded with shots but Inter survived to gain another three points and to stay in touch with the top two.
The Manchester United – Crawley Town cup-tie offered something for everyone – everyone except the neutral interested in watching a decent goal of football.
United got their win although they played extremely poorly, the TV commentators got to drone on about brave Crawley Town, the thrill of playing against United at Old Trafford, what a brave showing they put up, how unlucky they were not to score and how brave they were etc.
West Brom v Wolves, relegation battle, 1-1 draw, exciting finish, terrible game apart from that – enough said.
Another just enough display from Milan in Serie A. After a first half goal from Robinho, Milan played in the hope that it would be enough for three points.
A second half equalizer from Gelson Fernandes – a very nice back post header – put paid to such a thought and it was to take a moment of incisive play from substitute Pato for Milan to regain the lead and to eventually run out 2-1 winners.
There is very little in the way that Milan are playing or set themselves up that make them endearing. It has been painful to watch over the last few weeks.
Like Chelsea you see a team that is struggling to hold together.
It took until the last Sunday match in England to get a sense of cup excitement and it took until the last few minutes. But it was still a poor game to watch. Apparently Arsenal played over 800 passes – pity less than ten of them were telling ones.
Three League One clubs presented as FA Cup opposition and a struggle each time for Arsenal. They had the opportunity to put the game away but could not do it.
For Leyton Orient there was not one player who stood head and shoulders above the others but there was no one who let the side down either. Every player and substitute stuck to the task at hand and they were duly rewarded with a cracking equalizer from substitute Jonathan Tehoue.
A replay at the Emirates beckons.
Napoli against Catania was another disappointing match. Napoli were even able to miss a penalty (Cavani) and still win albeit be a single goals scored by Juan Zuniga.
Catania started with Maxi Lopez on the bench and that immediately limited their potential to attack – and they had very little to start with.
Walter Mazzarri did make a number of changes to his normal Napoli line up.
Lavezzi was suspended and replaced by the more orthodox Sosa, Santacroce came for Campagnaro, Yebda in for Gargano, and Zuniga for Dossena.
So Napoli got their three points to stay within two of Milan, rested some players and can now focus on a second leg Europa League match against Villarreal on Thursday then a table-top battle with Milan on Monday February 28 at the San Siro.
The last stop was the Nou Camp and a tricky fixture for Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao. Alas even Barcelona seemed to be suffering from the February blahs. A nice build up led to an early David Villa goal but that was about it from Barcelona in the first half.
Sloppy play cost Barcelona a penalty and presented Bilbao with an equalizer. Abidal played a poor pass to Busquets who started at centre back with Pique and Busquets fouled Fernando Llorente and Andoni Iraola scored from the spot.
Barcelona got all three points with a Messi goal but overall it was uncharacteristic display by Barcelona.
Is there anyone out there that collects statistics on incomplete passes, balls bouncing off shins and knees and generally diabolical play? If they do then this past weekend must have set a new high water mark – certainly if it was based on the matches I watched.
Leyton Orient’s late equalizer means that it is now eight games since Arsenal kept a clean-sheet in the FA Cup.
Udinese will not have been happy with a scoreless draw at home against Brescia but nonetheless it continues a unbeaten run in 2011 to nine matches with six of them wins.
Everton’s penalty kicks win at Chelsea was their first away win against Premier League opposition at a Premier League ground in the FA Cup.
Hannover have now won 13 Bundesliga games this season – a new Bundesliga high for the club. From Opta Franz.
West Brom’s late equalizer was the 15th goal conceded by Wolves (out of 47) in the final quarter of an hour of play. Even more telling is that it is the 7th goal they have allowed in the final three minutes of play that have cost then points – 7 in all.
Conversely Wolves have only scored one goal in the same period of time that has gained them any points – a 89th minute effort from Ebanks-Blake that gave Wolves a 3-2 win over Sunderland.
After beating Stuttgart 4-2 on Saturday Bayer Leverkusen have scored 16 goals in their last 5 home games against Stuttgart.
Auxerre qualified for the group stages of the Champions League but their form lately has been dreadful lately. A 1-1 draw against Arles-Avignon means they are winless in their last 15 games in all competitions.
Player of the Weekend Nominees
I could not find enough decent performances so it will not be awarded for the second week in a row. I will however take nominations in case I have been overly critical. Did I miss anyone?
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