Game, Team and Player of Matchday 4

Yet another weekend has passed and the league is now starting to take shape with the likely frontrunners being Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City. The bottom of the table is also one many expect it to be come the end of the season with Southampton propping up the table and Reading only just above them. But with Liverpool, Sunderland and Norwich still not tasting victory they are not too far away from the other teams in the league. However, Liverpool showed signs of improvement at the weekend and will not be down there at the end of the season.

Now onto team of the weekend and I would just like to say that the game at Goodison Park between Everton and Newcastle United was definitely a tale of two halves. If Everton had played the way they did in the first half for the full game they would have won the game comfortably, but then again if Newcastle had played the way they did in the second half they could have come away with all three points. But football is a 90 minute game and a team that did perform for most of the 90 was definitely Aston Villa who have been steadily improving under new manager Paul Lambert. They picked up a great point away to Newcastle and followed that up with against previously unbeaten Swansea City. It will be a morale boosting win and exactly what the club needed as a whole because a defeat would have been hard to take especially when they played so well. Along with the good result, Paul Lambert will be pleased that two of his summer signings Matthew Lowton and Christian Benteke scored their first goals for the club. But, the clear and deserved winners are Arsenal. The only disappointing thing about their game is that they conceded a goal after a mistake by Wojciech Szczesny. However, their impressive front line made easy work of Southampton and they could have had more than the six they did score. The goals came from Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and Theo Walcott and two own goals. A lot of people wrote off Arsenal and I still don’t think they will challenge for the title but they should have a great chance of finally winning a trophy. A word of warning though to Arsenal fans getting carried away, every season there is a score line like this at the Emirates and the players haven’t been able to maintain this kind of form in the bigger games.

Player of the weekend is a battle between the players that scored twice for their clubs in my opinion and they are Demba Ba, Jermain Defoe and Dimitar Berbatov. So, let’s start with the Fulham striker because when he is happy, he plays sensational football and at home in particular he will be a threat to every team. The way he took his first goal was sublime and the way he placed it was so casual that you can just tell that he does that sort of thing every day and doesn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t just his goals that was impressive, it was his movement and he just has a knack of finding space near the opponents goal. His ability has never been in doubt but he showed the Fulham fans that if they play to his strengths he will score and create chances for his teammates. Jermain Defoe is playing in a position that he is slightly unfamiliar and that is as a lone striker. Usually, a lone striker is someone that can hold up play and bring others into play but this is almost the opposite of what Defoe wants to do. As soon as he gets the ball, there is only one thing on his mind and that is to get a strike in on goal. Reading had no answer to his movement and could only watch on as he expertly finished two of his chances in their game. My player of the weekend though is Demba Ba and I know he only played 45 minutes but when a single player can change the fortunes of a team in that short space of time, he deserves a lot of praise. Within a few minutes of coming on he had got Newcastle level and they looked a completely different team and then when it looked like his team were going home with nothing he reacted brilliantly to a superb knockdown from Shola Ameobi and placed a shot underneath Tim Howard.

I think it is pretty obvious which game impressed me the most and got me the most excited but still there were some entertaining games, in particular the Arsenal game and the Tottenham games. Arsenal created chances at will and scored goals for fun and Tottenham followed suit a day later but couldn’t quite get as many goals. Both of the newly promoted teams also scored past them so that may give them confidence for the future, but they should probably put these games behind them and move on. So, my game of the weekend, Everton versus Newcastle, this game had absolutely everything, goals that should have been given and ridiculous refereeing calls, as well as goals and missed chances. The most entertaining few moments of possibly the whole season occurred during this game, Victor Anichebe got a header in on goal which goalkeeper Steve Harper tipped onto the bar with Mike Williamson clearing it, however the ball was over the line, but the referee and his assistants missed it which led to a counter attack for Newcastle which saw Hatem Ben Arfa running with the ball against one defender with Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse breaking either side of him making it a three on one situation. However, they were stopped in their tracks when the referee called the game back for a free kick on Ben Arfa even though he had regained his balance and was looking to beat the defender. Two very bad decisions in the space of about 15 seconds. A draw was probably a fair result even though both will feel they could have grabbed all three points. Plus, Everton had a goal disallowed for offside even though Marouane Fellaini was onside so they may feel slightly more annoyed by the result.

Do you agree with me? Who stood out for your team this week?

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Can Tottenham Hotspur still finish third?

Tottenham picked up a point at Stamford Bridge but is that really good enough if they want to finish third in the Premier League and challenge for the title in years to come.

Spurs couldn’t afford to lose the game and maybe this is why in the first half it was such a poor performance and they couldn’t get their normal passing game going. There were no quick counter attacks and anytime they had a chance to make a through ball the player on the ball decided to pas it square or back to the defence. However, they did create a chance right at the end of the half which Rafael Van Der Vaart should have done better but the Chelsea players did put their bodies on the line to make sure they made it to half time on level terms.

The cautious start would have seemed unnatural for Spurs but when you take a closer look at some of their score lines against teams in the top half it is not that surprising. Against Liverpool they played in exactly the same way and were fortunate to get anything from that game even though Gareth Bale missed a one on one near to the end. This is starting to be a problem for them as they also couldn’t hold onto a lead away to Newcastle United as Shola Ameobi scored a late equaliser.

A lot of people will be saying that the team aren’t performing because of the speculation about the England job and maybe that is playing on Harry Redknapp’s mind but the players are not playing to their full potential and they have to take the blame for it themselves rather than blame it on things they can’t control. They were missing Aaron Lennon today which does change the way they play but in the big games, their attacking players seem to go missing anyway. I think Bale is one of the best players in the Premier League but against their rivals he seems to be very quiet especially in the first half against Chelsea. However, in the second half he did look the most likely to make something happen and hit the bar with a header.

The second half was a massive improvement but still not as good as we have seen them this season. Emmanuel Adebayor had a chance when he rounded Petr Cech but couldn’t get it past Gary Cahill who had ran round on the cover. Luka Modric was the player that played through Adebayor but even he wasn’t as influential as he could have been today.

Man of the match went to Kyle Walker which in all honesty proves that it wasn’t a great game. He did perform well but when you are saying the right back was the best player on the pitch you know the attacking players haven’t performed brilliantly.

Tottenham should finish in the Champions League places and this should have been good enough but the fans expectations were raised as the season went on and now fourth place seems like a bit of a disappointment. None of the fans would have complained at the start of the season but now they are gutted Arsenal could finish above them, this just shows how quickly expectations change in football.

Shola Ameobi slays Sunderland yet again

Shola Ameobi has done it again against Sunderland and secured a vital point for Newcastle in a game that seemed to be drifting away from them.

He has not always been the most liked player and has been slated by many fans over the years but when it comes to the Tyne Wear Derby you know exactly what you are going to get from him. This was his seventh goal against Sunderland in only 12 games and this is why he will always be a cult hero. Only Jackie Milburn has scored more league goals in the derby than him. He may have got a bit lucky with his goal as Mignolet should never have been beaten at his near post with such a weak effort but at least he was in the position and connected with the ball.

It was a blood and thunder derby especially in the first half with many bookings and eventually early in the second half a red card which meant that recent signing Papiss Cisse could not really get into the game and makes you wonder if Pardew made the wrong choice. Everyone knows that Sunderland are sacred of Ameobi and he should have started. He didn’t have the greatest of days, Pardew, as Davide Santon was not looking very weak at the back and maybe Ryan Taylor should have started over at left back because when Hatem Ben Arfa came on he changed the game and put Newcastle on the front foot. He has at least given himself a good chance to start in the next game just like Ameobi has.

This day is about Shola and even though his record overall isn’t the best he does add something to the team whenever he plays, it was only a few weeks ago that he was a very important player in the game against Manchester United and although he didn’t score he should have been given a lot of praise for his performance. He has been at Newcastle his whole career (apart from a short loan spell at Stoke City) and you can see how much he loves the club and will do anything for it and anything to secure points for the team.

Shola now has 7 goals against Sunderland

He has never been a prolific goal scorer with him never getting to double figures in the Premier League and this is quite remarkable as he has played a lot of games and should have a higher scoring ratio but there is no doubt that he was a vital part of the team that won the Championship and got the team back to where they belong.

I hope he enjoys his goal and it lives long in the memory of the Toon fans because it has allowed them to have the bragging rights this season and if you are from the North East you understand how important not losing this game is. Sunderland will be devastated and they should feel a little ashamed of themselves especially club captain, Lee Cattermole who got himself sent off after the final whistle for verbally abusing the referee. You had your chance Sunderland and you blew it.

Newcastle’s striking dilemma

Demba Ba has been one of the best signings in the Premier League this year and Newcastle need someone to step up to the plate and fill his boots while he is away on international duty.

The options they have are Peter Lovenkrands, Shola Ameobi, Hatem Ben Arfa and Leon Best. Sammy Ameobi would have had a chance to try and cement his place in the starting line up but he picked up an unfortunate injury which could keep him out for months in a reserve game against Wigan.

Since coming back from injury himself Ben Arfa has been blowing hot and cold for Newcastle producing wonderful moments that any player in the world would be proud of with his goal against Blackburn where it seemed like the ball was stuck to his foot. But, in other games it has seemed like he hasn’t got back to his best and has looked off the pace. A lot of the Toon Army want to see him playing on the right wing but manager Alan Pardew seems reluctant to do this, seeing him as more of a number 10 type player that drops off the main striker and dictates play from there, in the way that Dennis Bergkamp did so effectively for Arsenal.

Shola Ameobi can be one of the most frustrating footballers in the world (especially to Sunderland fans as he seems to perform to the best of his abilities in the Tyne-Wear Derby) because at times he looks like he is a good player, for example when he rescued a point for Newcastle earlier in the season with an unstoppable left foot strike against Tottenham. He can cause problems to defences, using his height and power to his advantage but then there is the other side to his game. He frustratingly gets caught offside countless times in a game and trips over his own feet. When he is good, he is very effective, but when he is bad, he looks more like a Sunday League footballer.

Leon Best is another player that can be frustrating, he had to wait almost a year to score his first goal for Newcastle but he did have limited chances when Andy Carroll was at the club. He contributed magnificently when Carroll left for Liverpool in keeping Newcastle in the Premier League by finishing the season with an incredible six goals in 11 league games. Then he started this season where he left off and was a potential candidate for the coveted number 9 shirt. After his double against Fulham and his equaliser against Aston Villa he has struggled slightly but in his defence he has picked up a few niggles recently and has been on the bench. Many people would argue Ba produced his best alongside the Irish international as he challenged aerially and didn’t mind putting in a shift for his team.

Peter Lovenkrands has been frozen out of the Newcastle squad this season and will be desperate to prove a point to his manager but I can’t see this happening as he has lost a yard of pace and that was his main asset. He will be loved by the Newcastle fans because of his performances in the Championship and also playing and scoring in a game against West Brom despite having just returned from Denmark after his father died. He will be remembered very well by the Newcastle fans but I can’t see him making much of an impact unfortunately

I believe Newcastle play at their best when they have two out and out strikers on the pitch and therefore should play Best and Ameobi however I do believe the team needs slightly more creativity and that is why Ben Arfa also needs to be in the team, although I think he should play on the right wing as Gabriel Obertan has looked very poor so far.

Alan Pardew will be hoping to get through this period
picking up as many points as possible and then hoping to end the season with a flurry of points upon the return of Demba Ba as they look to secure European football at St James’ Park next season

Newcastle United vs Manchester United- Head to head battles

This result could prove to be very pivotal in both teams seasons with Newcastle only winning one of their last eight after starting the season with an 11 game unbeaten run and Manchester United now losing two games in a row and conceding six goals in the process. This isn’t very Manchester United like and the performance against Newcastle further highlighted the need for strengthening at Old Trafford with the Toon Army having firstly more drive and determination but also more skill and ability.

Demba Ba was a constant threat and should have had a penalty when he was blatantly took out by Rio Ferdinand in the box but this probably evens out what happened earlier in the season when Newcastle won a penalty against Ferdinand which was clearly a mistake by the officials.

The first two Newcastle goals were through a little bit of individual quality and they had clearly watched Manchester United’s previous game against Blackburn where they also looked suspect at the back. Newcastle deserved their emphatic victory as they had more shots and even under slight pressure they held strong and only really looked like conceding once or twice.

As a team, Newcastle won the battle obviously as the stats suggest but what about the individuals.

Krul vs Lindegaard

Krul didn’t have much to do in the game but has proved time and time again this season that he is valuable to the squad and that goalkeeper’s are so important in this league and can win you points almost singlehandedly in some games. He dealt with everything that was thrown at him quite comfortably apart from one Nani shot in the first half which he didn’t take cleanly but recovered quickly enough to get control of the loose ball.

Lindegaard must be quite a confused man this morning, conceding three goals, yet he also didn’t have much to do. The first two goals were unstoppable and even if him and De Gea had been in goal it still would have been 2-0 Newcastle. He does not look convincing though and when put under pressure he could struggle with Williamson putting a header over the bar after he came for a corner and got nowhere near it. Also, a worrying part of his game is his communication with his defenders which was shown when Phil Jones put the ball into the back of his own net.

Winner= Tim Krul

Simpson vs Valencia

This may have been Danny Simpson’s best performance in the Premier League for the Magpies as he attacked very well and attempted to support Ryan Taylor whenever he could, although his final ball at times was poor. But it was his defending that was most impressive especially after his shocking performance against Liverpool, he was strong in the tackle and his positioning for the most part was spot on. His goal line clearance was celebrated like a goal by the team and so it should have been because if the team from Manchester had scored then we would probably have been looking at a different result.

Got to feel sorry for Valencia, he isn’t a right back but always puts in a good shift wherever he is told to play and was no different in this game. He always looked to get forward and was probably their most attacking threat. Like Simpson his final ball let him down but his work rate, getting up and down the wing time and time again was commendable.

Winner= Danny Simpson

Santon vs Evra

Davide Santon was signed with quite a big reputation from Inter Milan but couldn’t seem to shift Ryan Taylor a makeshift left back from the team and a lot of fans were wondering is this guy the real deal or just another flop we have signed from Europe? Based on his performance last night you can see why he was highly rated by every Inter manager apart from Mourinho. But like most fullbacks these days he is better at going forward than defending producing jinking runs and alleviating the pressure on him and his fellow defenders with his ability to keep the ball. Performed well against Nani who is quite a tricky customer when he is on his game.

Patrice Evra, this season for me does not look as solid as he has done in previous seasons and this was shown again at times as he got beaten for pace by Ryan Taylor and allowed him space to cross time and time again which the central defenders won’t have been too happy with. He was given the captains armband but I don’t understand why, he doesn’t not seem influential or inspiring as captain at all. Going forward he didn’t really have a chance and this is the best part of his game. Poor performance but will surely before the end of the season prove he is one of the best left backs in Europe.

Winner= Davide Santon

Williamson vs Jones

Just back from injury, Williamson adds much needed height and power to the Newcastle defence especially after the injury to Steven Taylor which ruled him out for the rest of the season. He sometimes looks suspect when dealing with a bit of pace and movement but he does win a lot of aerial battles and can tackle when he gets the chance. Also, he gives the team another attacking threat from set pieces, missing a simple chance in the process but he will be happier with the way he and his fellow defenders snuffed out the threat from the opposition.

Phil Jones there is no doubt about it, is one of the most promising young players currently in England with his ability to play in several different positions. But he played centre back against Newcastle and was given a lesson from Shola Ameobi and Demba Ba. He could not deal with their power and pace. Losing the first header in the first goal and giving away the free kick for the second. For the third, he probably wished the ground would open up and swallow him after a breakdown in communication with his keeper, he went to header the ball but misjudged it and it his knee and went into the back of the net. A night to forget for the young lad but he will prove to be a very good signing for United.

Winner= Williamson

Coloccini vs Ferdinand

‘Captain Colo’ has been in fantastic form this season and never looks flustered under pressure producing moments of magic the most attacking players would be proud of. He didn’t get much of a chance to maraud forward as much as he likes to from centre back but it is his defending that has improved dramatically since he first arrived in Newcastle. He is quick along the ground and seems to see danger very quickly to get across and clear for his team. It’s not just luck that he seems to be in the right place at the right time over and over again. His curly locks in his first season were noticeable for his mistakes but now everyone not only notices his flamboyant hair but his abilities as a top class central defender.

Rio Ferdinand was very lucky not to give away a penalty after a tangle of legs in the box and this just typified his night. He didn’t seem to be at the races almost gifting a goal to Demba Ba after a poor first touch, he could not deal with the strikers just like his much younger and less experienced partner Phil Jones couldn’t. But surely we expect better from the man that is hoping to lead England’s defence at Euro 2012 (if John Terry is banned for racism then surely he can’t play for England? But this is an issue for another time). He just didn’t look his normal composed self at the back and maybe it’s because he is getting older or maybe it’s because he doesn’t have any confidence in his goalkeeper and players either side of him. Not all his fault but should have been tighter on Ba for the first goal.

Winner= Coloccini

Taylor vs Nani

Ryan Taylor is fast becoming a cult hero for the Toon Army with his impressive displays at left back and obviously his winning goal in the Tyne Wear Derby against Sunderland. But he played on the right of midfield and he was energetic and full of life always asking for the ball and most of the time keeping good possession. He provided Simpson with a lot of support and was a very hardworking performance from the Scouser. His set pieces were always a threat as usual causing panic in the Manchester United defence from his corners.

Nani didn’t have his best game in a United shirt but it was down the right hand side that they caused the most threat but still he couldn’t produce a moment of magic to unlock the Newcastle defence. A couple of good runs and little flashes of skill were just not good enough but at least he did try a few different things. He seemed to stay on the wing for much of the game and maybe should have drifted inside more but if he did that and didn’t cause problems he would have been slated as well and told to stay out wide. So maybe it just wasn’t his night and he was fighting a losing battle

Winner= Ryan Taylor

Gutierrez vs Park

As always the Argentinean did his job and worked hard winning free kicks for his team in tight positions and covering every blade of grass down the left hand side. Sometimes his final ball lets him down and going forward he can be frustrating but that is all forgiven when the fans see him working hard and at times running the length of the pitch to get back just so he can give extra support to his teammates which not every winger is willing to do. He is nothing more than an average player but he is worth his weight in gold and Newcastle are very glad they have him.

Park is similar to Gutierrez always works hard for the cause but he doesn’t seem to get as much credit probably because being a Manchester United player you need more than just hard work but Park doesn’t seem to offer anymore. Possibly only still at the club because of the financial side of the game as he will bring even more money in from Asia for the champions. Maybe this is a little harsh on Park but from his performance he does not look good enough for a team wanting to win the league.

Winner= Jonas Gutierrez

Cabaye vs Giggs

A fantastic free kick capped off a fine performance, was an absolute steal for Newcastle when they signed him from Lille. His passing has been a vital part to the way Newcastle play with his ability to accurately send cross field to passes to the winger on the opposite side. Against Man United he played slightly differently to normal as he looked to break forward a lot more and get into the box, having a few shots which he is capable of hitting with both power and accuracy with either foot. But his free kick will be remembered by the Geordie faithful for quite a long time. He could be in the running for signing of the season but unfortunately for him and fantastically for the Newcastle scouting team who deserve huge amounts of credit he probably hasn’t even been Newcastle’s best signing. He has a great partnership with Tiote but even earlier in the season when Tiote was injured he formed a good partnership with Danny Guthrie so it just proves his quality and his ability to adapt his game to whoever is playing alongside him.

The Welshman for the first time actually looked his age against Newcastle, dominated by the opposition and unable to produce any magic we still expect from him. Playing in the centre of midfield he looked a shadow of his former self and this may be down to the performance of the Newcastle centre midfield. Maybe it’s time to call it a day although against a less pressurising team he could still do a job for United but it may be better just to play him in the home games. In my opinion Paul Scholes could have had more of an impact on a game like this if he was still playing.

Winner= Yohan Cabaye

Tiote vs Carrick

Cheick Tiote will be a massive miss now he has going to the Africa Cup of Nations and it’s not just coincidence that when he got injured Newcastle went on a winless run. Last season he was constantly criticised for the amount of bookings he picked up and yes he did get booked yesterday but it was one that goes in the category of had to be done for the team. Which is what Tiote is all about, everything he does benefits the team and is another fantastic acquisition for Newcastle. He is so strong and his ability on the ball is definitely underrated. He gets about the pitch and does all of the dirty work closing down the opposition and making tackles so the more attacking players can play their natural game. It’s not surprising he is linked with the biggest teams in Europe and if Newcastle are ambitious and want to progress they have to keep hold of their holding midfielder

Another holding midfielder but plays very differently to Tiote, he is more of a passer than a tackler although he doesn’t mind getting stuck in at all. The game seemed to pass him by and as a Geordie probably wanted to perform at St James’ Park but this wasn’t great and is probably glad Fabio Capello does not come up to the North East to watch football or it could have reduced his chances of going to the Euros. Although he is a player who’s work often goes unnoticed, in this game he was invisible and lacked the needed quality to break down this resilient Newcastle team and is further proof that Fergie needs to invest in a central midfielder. Maybe players like Cabaye and Tiote would be good signings.

Winner= Cheick Tiote

Ameobi vs Berbatov

Shola Ameobi affectionately known as the ‘Sunderland Slayer’ by the Geordies had arguably one of his best games in a Newcastle shirt, he caused a threat every time the ball was in the air and won a large majority of flick ons to his teammates. He is often criticised because of his lack of ability but he made up for it with his determination and movement. He won the flick for the first goal and then dragged the defender out of position so Demba Ba could attack the space and win the free kick that led to the second. Shola along with the other strikers will have to step up to the plate in the next month with Ba away on international duty but this performance should give the fans some hope.

Simply anonymous. Hit the post with a deflected header in the first half and was then substituted in the second. That’s about it for his performance which is quite disappointing seen as though he was on a good run of form. Just couldn’t get into the game and didn’t look interested although with his languid style even at the best of times he doesn’t look that interested

Winner= Shola Ameobi

Ba vs Rooney

What more is there to say about this man? He has such fantastic ability on the ball but it was his hard work that impressed me most , he chased down everything and led from the front in not giving any Manchester United player time to settle on the ball. But, his goal showed how good of a player he is, what fantastic technique to hit the ball first time like that and it finding the corner of the net. He is a constant menace and seems to be scoring goals for fun and for a free transfer surely must be the signing of the season. Fans wondered where the goals were going to come from and how would they replace Andy Carroll. Demba Ba has stepped up and surpassed even the most optimistic fans expectations. It’s not surprising fans and pundits are running out of superlatives to describe his season. It’s just unfortunate not only for the Newcastle fans but also the Premier League that his season is being disrupted by the African Cup of Nations.

Wayne Rooney was not at the races at all, and it was clear to see when he was played through and his touch let him down, it was a chance he would usually gobble up, especially against Newcastle, who he has such a good record against. Substituted for Anderson and this basically emphasises how bad of a night it was for the England striker, losing by two goals and taking off a player that is usually feared by every defender in the country. With him not playing against Blackburn it seemed to be written in the script that he would be influential in the game but this was ripped up and never happened.

Winner= Demba Ba

Newcastle won the battles all over the pitch and although ability wise they may not have the same quality as their Manchester counterparts but they made up for it in deteremination and desire to win the game. Huge praise has to go to Alan Pardew because not many managers over the years have got one over Sir Alex Ferguson tactically. He called it perfectly, and got everything spot on, he wasn’t wanted at Newcastle to begin with but now the fans see him as one of them, if he can secure European football he will probably be considered their best manager since the great Sir Bobby Robson