English Football Weekly Wrap: Weekend Stutters, Rafa’s Legacy, Promotion Watch

In my weekly column on SWOL, I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League and domestic cup action and the talking points that it throws up, as well as any significant news related to English football at large. Follow me @theredarmchair for regular updates throughout the week.

EPL Round 36 Recap: United Get Complacent, City Bore, Merseyside Underwhelms

Last weekend’s draw against Arsenal confirmed that Manchester United wouldn’t break Chelsea’s all-time Premier League points record, so naturally, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to play a weakened team to treat his Old Trafford crowd to a home loss against Chelsea. David Luiz’s smile after Rafael’s strong challenge has gotten all the headlines, but Ferguson’s shouts about his theatrics aside, it’s clear that the right-back’s challenge was high and rash. At least he didn’t roll around crying and clutching his shin.

It’s not that the Liberty Stadium is an easy place to visit; Swansea City have proved that with their voracious home support since their promotion to the top flight almost two years ago. It’s not even that Swansea have slightly dipped since the turn of the year; Michael Laudrup’s side could be forgiven for enjoying the rest of their season given their excellent League Cup achievement. It’s just that perhaps we expected more from Manchester City, who were in good form leading into the match and have designs on challenging again for the title next year. We wanted to see a convincing win, but it didn’t happen.

Not that anything happened at Anfield, either. For a traditionally fiery encounter – and considering it was boyhood Evertonian Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher’s last derby as a player – the 220th rendition of the Merseyside derby was strangely and disappointingly flat. Sylvain Distin had a goal disallowed by referee Michael Oliver, but then Luis Suarez also had a last-minute winner wrongly chalked off in the reverse fixture. Aside from that, the only other thing that caught any attention was Marouane Fellaini’s constant use of the elbow. He seriously needs to stop that.

The quiet legacy of the Interim One

Last week we wrote a section on Jose Mourinho’s possible/impending return to Stamford Bridge (depending on who you believe) and how he should be careful that any second spell doesn’t end with him losing his Special One luster. Not so fast. This season isn’t over yet, and Chelsea’s current coach isn’t over yet either. Rafa Benitez, the much-loathed, much-derided Rafa Benitez, has steadied the Blue ship – believe it or not – and is well on track to secure a Europa League trophy and a place in next season’s Champions League. He’s started to phase out John Terry and Frank Lampard. He’s also turned David Luiz from an erratic PlayStation defender to a reliable, laughing midfield general. So whoever it is that saunters through the Stamford Bridge doors in July should take a moment and thank Rafa for providing him with a solid platform to build upon. Rest assured the Chelsea fans won’t be doing the same.

Cardiff, Hull and…?

Any Championship fan who also followed an epic Saturday with the Premier League will have been massively let down by the top flight. Any Premier League fan who also followed the Championship on Saturday will have been fooled into thinking that the second tier is the footballing drama that it presented itself to be for a brief few hours. There is plenty to celebrate about another Welsh team making it to England’s best 20 teams, but at the same time, Steve Bruce’s Hull City beat Gianfranco Zola’s Watford to second place. And so the playoffs beckon. Here’s a tidy little stat: In 1997-1998, the bottom five teams in the Football League were Swansea, Cardiff, Hull, Brighton and Doncaster. 16 years on, four of them could be in the Premier League next season (courtesy of Mark Chapman). Now that’s not a bad story.

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