Manchester United took a big step forward in its pursuit of the Premiership title, applying the pressure on Chelsea and knocking down Arsenal’s momentum just as the two London sides prepare for another high level clash at the week-end. In Holland’s greatest derby, Feyenoord and Ajax battled to a draw amidst an electric atmosphere. Juventus and Milan suffered further anguish, while Roma is on the up and up. Barcelona and Real Madrid stayed on course, as Sevilla has found calmer waters.
Arsenal’s long unbeaten streak came to an emphatic end, the positive run providing little consolation to Monsieur Wenger who looked vexed and irritated throughout the game. Or is that his normal look? Arsenal’s passing game was missing, perhaps impeded by a tight and laborious Man Utd formation, the London team relying instead on individual efforts from Arshavin and Fabregas. The diminutive Russian came close on a few occasions, but it was man Utd who was unlucky not to go ahead in the first ten minutes. The first goal came on a stupendous move from Nani, nothing short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s best. Nani escaped two defenders on the touchline, beat a third then deftly lifted the ball over Almunia with a half cross, half shot, into the net. Applause for Nani, who never displayed this form previously. Is it for real?
As Arsenal pressed ahead for the equalizer without much coherence, the second goal came on a clinical counter. Nani, the absolute protagonist of the first half, was lead away by Rooney, who in turn sprinted 70 yards ahead and was rewarded for his effort, receiving the ball back from Nani on a silver platter, in stride, with time to coordinate his shot and inflict a heavy knock-down punch on Arsenal and Wenger. The second half started the same way the first one ended, Park’s beautiful goal sealing Arsenal’s fate. The Gunners kept pressing for pride, but so many players looked exhausted that even after pulling one back, there wasn’t enough left for a push at the end. Arshavin was understandably gutted, but why was Gallas barely jogging back after a corner near the end?
An uplifting and important win for Utd, especially if Arsenal and Chelsea play to a stalemate this week-end. But there is a long way to go and there are no easy encounters ahead. Rooney was tremendous on this day, maintaining his exceptional form of late. Still, if Arsenal re-groups, this year’s Premiership finish should be one of the most exciting in years with triple contenders.
Juventus changed managers, finally letting Ciro Ferrara go and replacing him with an inexpensive, practical, temporary solution in Zaccheroni, but the result was the same. Juve controlled much of the game, but went ahead unfairly with a revoltingly awarded penalty. This is why and how neutral fans go on to hate Juventus. Forever, Juventus always seems to get a controversial penalty or call late in the game. Divine justice prevailed this time around, as Lazio equalized and took away a precious point, surely to Mourinho’s delight. Another delight for Inter people was seeing Milan held at home by Livorno. In contrast, Roma won its fourth consecutive match and climbed further, now behind Milan only on goal difference.
Despite a disappointing home draw with Genoa, Napoli is now in an exceptional position to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League ahead of Juventus and Palermo. It would be a triumphant return to the European scene for a proud, fiercely supported club, but the road ahead is tricky with Inter and Roma coming up. If Napoli continues to generate points away from San Paolo, it will be able to take full advantage Juventus’ poor form and a sinking Fiorentina.
Ah, to be an Atletico Madrid supporter. After starting the year with three wins and excellent momentum, Atletico now lost in Madrid to Getafe and Malaga, deflating the spirits of their passionate contingent. What kind of ambitions can this club have with such inconsistency? There is talent at the club, but too many over-estimated, under performing big names. Antonio Reyes, Simao, Raul Garcia and Perea contribute too little. Wasted opportunities will lead to financial problems and to a reset of the build-up process.
No inconsistency from Barca, as it marched on toward another title with a hard-fought win at Gijon amidst some Madrid noise about refereeing favoritism. Please. Barcelona won six titles last year, none controversial. They could have scored seven against Gijon and in any case, Pedro’s goal was not offside. Still, Barca cannot afford to slip up as Real are ready to pounce on any opportunity prior to the mega clash later in the spring. In Ronaldo’s absence, Real won for the first time in 19 years away at Deportivo La Coruna, an important and difficult win that consolidated Pellegrini’s helm, for now.
The match of the week took place in Sevilla, where the local side restored its conviction with a critical win against Valencia in an entertaining battle between third and fourth place. These two clubs are capable of beating anyone on their best day. Sevilla well deserved the three points and what about Negredo’s finish on his second goal of the night? Pure sweetness.
Finally, in Rotterdam the hatred for Ajax is a rights of passage for all Feyenoord souls and this time it was no different in a super-charged Kuip stadium. Ajax dominated the first half, going ahead through Marko Pantelic and wasting a couple of good chances to put the game out of reach before halftime. But Feyenoord was galvanized by the insertion of veteran Roy Makaay and found an equalizer through Wijnaldum, who capitalized on a misunderstanding in the Ajax defense. The Dutch classic ended 1-1, leaving Feyenoord four points behind Ajax in fourth place. PSV and Twente are joint leaders of the Eredivisie.