In my weekly column on SWOL, I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League action and the talking points that it throws up, as well as any significant news related to English football at large. We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.
Big Sam the Genius; Lucas the Savior; Michu the Head of Class; Old Trafford the Theater
Oh, the irony. First there’s the unfortunate appointment of Rafa Benitez. Then there’s the unfortunate two-goalless-draw run. Then there’s the unfortunate capitulation at West Ham. Then—oh, the irony—there’s the unfortunate tactical outwitting of Rafa Benitez by Big Sam Allardyce. Perhaps when the striker who cost £50m pulled the ball back for Juan Mata to open the scoring, we all thought for a second that, hey, maybe Benitez isn’t such a disaster. But Big Sam thought otherwise, and he made the brilliant tactical move of the weekend by sending on Mohamed Diame at half-time. Diame, who joined the Hammers on a free this summer, singlehandedly destroyed Chelsea’s midfield and scored the all-important second goal. And now there are reports of Avram Grant being lined up for a return to Stamford Bridge? Oh, oh, oh, the irony.
Who said Liverpool are a one-man team? They might have been relying on Luis Suarez’s magic to get them out of trouble every week, but Lucas’ surprise start against Southampton proved that he’s now the player that makes the Reds tick. His long-awaited return from injury—during which his powers were escalated by the Anfield faithful to legendary proportions—finally got Joe Allen out of an anchorman jail and allowed Steven Gerrard to finally show up in a Liverpool game. To think, Kenny Dalglish was reportedly after a certain Mohamed Diame this summer. How different Liverpool’s season would be if Brendan Rodgers were able to call on him in Lucas’ absence.
A few weeks ago, Swansea played Liverpool better than Liverpool and knocked them out of the League Cup. On Saturday, Swansea played Arsenal better than Arsenal and solidified their position above the Gunners in the league. It was supposed to be the start of a good set of December fixtures for Arsenal, but instead the Swans brought their brand of football and looked like the Arsenal of old. With his two late goals at the Emirates, Michu is now joint-top goalscorer in the league with 10. He’s pure class, that Michu. And he cost £2m in the summer. That’s TWO million pounds. Best signing of the season.
You have to applaud Manchester United for continuing to pick up the wins and the points while not playing well. Their 4-3 win over Reading was exhilarating as it was worrying for Sir Alex Ferguson, because while they did go three points clear at the top of the table, play well they most certainly did not. The Manchester derby takes place next weekend, and with City looking to continue their record against United, Fergie will be looking nervously at his out-of-sorts defence. Can van Persie and co. do unto Kompany and friends what Aguero and Tevez will Ferdinand and Evans?
Liverpool: How NOT to run a Premier League club
The Premier League agent fees list came out last Friday, and for the second year in a row City placed first in the standings. The worrying sight is Liverpool’s second place on the rankings, whose accounting period was from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012. They didn’t make any signings in last year’s January transfer window, and only signed Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, Oussama Assaidi and Samed Yesil this summer. And still they paid out a £8.6m total in agent fees. Add that to the astronomical wages that Joe Cole is still on, and the significant wage packets that currently go out to benchwarmers Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson. And that’s before the transfer fees shelled out in that notorious summer of 2011. No wonder John Henry and FSG are cutting costs at Anfield. On the other hand, let’s look at Swansea’s second-from-bottom placing, with only £1.1m spent. Then look at their league position and the number of fantastic signings they made this summer. That’s how you run a Premier League football club, folks.
Platini’s grand idea promotes renewed debate on European football
So, Michel Platini, that ever-meddlesome president of UEFA, is considering scrapping the Europa League (after multiple attempts) and revamping the Champions League. News? No. Annoying? Yes, given the number of times we’ve heard that in the past few years. Necessary? Actually, maybe, yes. One of the main problems with the Europa League as it currently stands is that teams that come third in the Champions League group stages are parachuted into the knockout rounds of its less prestigious brother. If that doesn’t instantly take away the legitimacy and pride of the EL, what about its group stages, which are frankly not exciting at all? There is a lot of potential within the EL to make it a much better competition for both UEFA and for clubs around Europe, and while extending the CL to 64 teams sounds absurd, the need for reform is clear. Maybe Platini should consider eliminating that CL group stage parachute, turn the EL into a strictly knockout tournament, and giving the winners a CL spot for a start. Let the debate begin…
Beckham signs off, but the real legend might still be in the making
And finally, we can’t end our English football roundup without a mention of David Beckham, who rounded off his career with the LA Galaxy by winning the MLS Cup this weekend. More interesting should be the direction he goes now. Regardless of what club, league and country he chooses to go, his post-retirement activities will grab the attention. The potential of Beckham doing things on a sport-wide level is much more fascinating than him just taking the managerial road. There are already plans in the DB camp to get involved in owning an MLS franchise in the future. Down the line, can we really write off the prospect of Beckham returning to England and the Premier League with ideas he’ll have picked up from MLS on how to run a league? There’s certainly a lot of stuff being done in the US that the folks at the FA could pick up on. Watch this space.