This week it has, at times, seemed as though all eyes are on England’s seemingly crucial international encounter with Israel. But the domestic game hasn’t passed me by entirely; of all the fixtures played this week, Manchester United and Chelsea’s received the most coverage (of course); at this stage in the league calendar, everyone, regardless of their club loyalties, is keenly watching the bitter race for the Premiership. With both clubs getting three points, and with Man Utd still six points clear at the top, it should be interesting. Adding to the pleasure for neutrals and outsiders and compounding fears at Chelsea is a story that has dominated the back pages of today’s papers – namely that, were Chelsea to lose out on the title, Jose Mourinho would ‘jump ship’ and join Real Madrid, replacing Fabio Capello. By doing so, he would be leaving a team wallowing in the consequences of its own wealth; Chelsea are, ironically, in a similar position to the one Real Madrid used to be in – they’re over-stocked with over-paid, under-played stars, mainly due to Abrahamovich and Kenyon apparently claiming control over transfer dealings.
I’ll start with the Premiership, as it is where I normally focus most of my attention. So what went on? Man Utd looked increasingly confident against a slow-witted Bolton side, destroying them 4-1, with two fine goals from an in-form Rooney and a couple of snatches from Park. That was Saturday, but Monday brought even more success in their FA Cup Quarter Final tie against Middlesborough. A Cristiano Ronaldo penalty was enough to win the day and see United through to face Watford at Villa Park on the 14th April. Chelsea also made it through to the semis after beating Spurs 2-1 – they face Blackburn at Old Trafford on the 15th. Back to the Premiership, and West Ham showed spirit in their fight to stay up with a 2-1 victory over Blackburn, with goals from Bobby Zamora and Argentinian Carlos Tevez, who has shown more pluck than his fellow countryman Javier Mascherano by staying at the struggling London side and putting in some half-decent performances. Man City recorded a much-needed win that will surely relieve some, although surely not all, of the pressure on Stuart Pearce, and there was another poor performance from Newcastle; losing to a bottom three team (Charlton, 2-0) should never be acceptable, but after crashing out to AZ Alkmaar in the UEFA cup last week they really needed a win, something which Emre, Solano, Martins and co couldn’t produce. At least Glenn Roeder has one reason to be cheerful: Michael Owen is apparently well on the way to recovery, and could be fit enough to play at some point in the closing stages of this season. Michael, when asked, seemed a little cryptic on the subject: “I am kicking and running straight as hard as I like, and then it is the twisting and turning.” Hmm. Decipher that if you can (that is, by the way, a genuine quote). Arsenal may have been unlucky to lose to Everton after a last minute goal by Andrew Johnson, but they aren’t in a bad position, being third with a game in hand. But their loss must have made Liverpool’s failure to secure a win all the more difficult for Rafa Benitez, who is a man seeking assurances about his future; new Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks said yesterday that Benitez is “absolutely” the manager they have in mind to take the club forward, but although Benitez denies it fervently, he must surely be interested in the Real Madrid job he is apparently being offered (provided Jose doesn’t get it first, of course).
Unfortunately, the Premiership seems to lost a little of its verve. With Man Utd almost certain to win the league with only eight games left, and the bottom three trailing behind the rest of the pack, I’m finding it difficult to get interested in the final few weeks. So instead, news of the Gulls’ (for all you local Hashmark followers) impending doom. Since the optimism of last week they’ve reached a new low, losing 1-0 to Accrington Stanley, the football league’s whipping-boys, at the weekend. For those of you who aren’t aware of Accrington’s status, here’s the advert that signalled their rise to infamy:
For shame, Torquay, for shame. Still bottom of the football league, and now lacking the all-important dignity that should be present before a fall of catastrophic proportions. I have to say, it is a shame that they’re going the same way as our other local team, Exeter, who are still languishing in the Conference. Oh well. There’s always Plymouth.
In other news: the dust still hasn’t settled on the Arsenal-Chelsea brawl (read more here). FIFA president Sepp Blatter has got involved (as he frequently does) describing the events as evidence of an “illness” within football. This, coming from the most powerful figure in world football who is best known for being the target of repeated allegations of corruption, bribery and financial mismanagement, and for saying that female players should “wear tighter shorts” in order to make the women’s game more popular. Further proof of his growing irrelevance.