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Weekend Review: Ten Talking Points (3rd-4th March)

Wednesday 7th March 2012
1)      AVB gone after Hawthorns defeat

AVB, the seventh manager under Abramovic's reign, must have known that Saturday's game against West Brom was a must win. However, after a flat performance and a Gareth McAuley winner, AVB was condemned to a board meeting on the Sunday. After just 27 league games, the young Portuguese coach was given his p45. The manager merry-go-round at Chelsea continues.

After being appointed in June, you couldn't help but think that AVB had a huge task ahead of him. The ex-Porto manager was brought in costing around 15 million euros in compensation. Already, the pressure was on for immediate success. Also, his young age asked questions about whether he was ready for the challenge. When joining Chelsea, people couldn't help themselves in comparing AVB with the special one, Jose Mourinho. Both managers had similar pathways in joining Chelsea. Despite both being young, both had long coaching careers already, with both having experience of working under Bobby Robson. Both players also had phenomenal success at Porto, with AVB guiding the club to a treble last season in his first year in charge. That's where the similarities end.

Potentially down to his young age, AVB seemed to lack the players support from the off. Also, he doesn't seem to have the charisma to inspire the players at important times. Mourinho on the other hand seemed to have an infectious character as Chelsea had a vital team spirit under Mourinho's reign. The team spirit under AVB seemed non-existent.

However, not all the blame can go on AVB, it has to go down to the players as well. For many of them, they have simply underperformed. At Porto, AVB could rely on the goal prowess of Hulk and Falcao, as between them they scored a remarkable 76 goals. So far this season, Drogba and Torres have responded with 11. Defensive mistakes have been a plenty, with Bosingwa and David Luiz showing uninspiring form.

Despite the poor season, there have been some highs that shows that AVB has what it takes to be a top manager. In December, a late Frank Lampard penalty caused Man City to suffer their first defeat of the season as Chelsea have always been touching distance in the Champions League positions. However, with Abramovic's ruthless nature this isn't good enough. With a win percentage of 47%, it is the lowest percentage in all of Abramovic's managers. And away to Napoli, AVB made the bold decision to leave Cole, Lampard and Essien on the bench. It didn't pay off. After that game Chelsea had won just one in seven and AVB was under huge pressure from fans and players, with Ashley Cole publically criticising his tactics. It's been a tough ride for AVB, and one you feel he wasn't ready for. There is no doubt that he is an astute tactician and he will be back. But for Abramovic who demands success, it simply wasn't good enough.

Full credit though has to go to West Brom, after a run of bad form; Hodgson has turned it around. West Brom have been on a run of impressive victories including a derby day win away to Wolves and a comfortable win against Sunderland. Hodgson, 30 years older than AVB is only 4 points behind Liverpool who sacked him last season. This alone will give AVB confidence that he will be back.

2)      Van the man as Arsenal form continues

There simply aren't enough superlatives to describe Robin Van Persie at the moment. At Saturday lunchtime against Liverpool, Van Persie showed why he is so important to Arsenal. Van Persie received two passes all game in the penalty box. He scored them both. Liverpool on the other hand must be wondering how they lost that game.

Fresh from Carling Cup success it started so well for the Anfield side. Luiz Suarez was back in the headlines again as he controversially went down in the penalty box, although an impressive double saved from Szczesny denied Dirk Kuyt. An inviting cross by Henderson saw Koscielny turn the ball past his own keeper, but as Spurs found out last week, the game wasn't over as Arsenal have seemed to rediscover some passion and bite. On virtually their first attack of the game, Van Persie guided a delicious ball by Sagna into the back of the net. Arsenal then rode their luck as Suarez and Kuyt could both only find the post. In the second half, despite Arsenal creating more and more chances, Liverpool still looked most likely to push on and get the three points. Which is why the winner was even more surprising as an exquisite finish by Van Persie sealed the points for the Gunners. After running onto a chipped ball by Song, RVP's first time volley flew past Reina into the back of the net showing extraordinary technique.

That was Van Persie's 31st goal this season, a sensational record. The future of Arsenal depends of what is going to happen to Van Persie in the summer as he is imperative for the squad. Without his goals, Arsenal would lie 15th in the table showing just how important he is to Wegner's side. With Van Persie on such scintillating form, you wonder what would happen if he was to have four or five chances in the return leg against AC Milan. That would be exciting wouldn't it?

3)      Business as usual for Manchester clubs

The weekend's results showed that it's becoming more and more obvious that it will be a battle of Manchester as to who comes away with the Premiership crown. Man City continued their irresistible home from with a routine 2-0 win against Bolton, which saw them equal Man Utd's record of 19 consecutive home victories. Man City went five points clear of rivals United who faced a tricky away tie against Spurs.

However, a master class of finishing saw United come away from White Hart Lane victorious and continue the two way battle. Despite it being a closely fought encounter a Wayne Rooney header set them on their way on victory. A difficult finish by Young followed by an impressive curler sent the message out that City would have to win the title the hard way.

With 11 games left, it's gearing up to be the most exciting finish ever. With both teams always playing at different times, it's going to be a long game of cat and dog, with a feisty encounter at the Etihad thrown into the mix. It's hard to call who will win the title, but one thing for sure is that the trophy is heading back to the North West.

4)      Last gasp goal saves Newcastle in feisty derby

A last gasp equaliser by Shola Ameobi broke Sunderland's hearts in a bad tempered derby affair. After running onto Mike Williamsons flick, Ameobi knocked in his seventh derby goal in his career in the 90th minute to share the spoils. It really was a great advertisement for the North East though.

After a strong start by Newcastle, the first half was Martin O'Neill's. Playing exciting, counter attacking football, Sunderland carved out a few half chances but couldn't get anything to trouble Krul, who signed a new contract on the Saturday. Then after half an hour, Mike Dean shocked the whole of ST James Park. He cautioned Mike Williamson for holding onto Turner, a correct but very bold decision. The pressure was on for Bendtner to score and he coolly did so. Newcastle failed to break down the resilient Sunderland defending except for when Demba Ba thundered his header against the bar.

The second half continued with Newcastle controlling the ball but failing to break down the impressive O'Shea and Turner. Then after an hour, the hugely impressive Sessegnon was sent off for elbowing Tiote, although Tiote didn't impress anyone with his over-reaction. That set the tempo for the rest of the game as Newcastle tried to find a way through but failed to do so. Even Ba, who has been prolific this season couldn't find his way past Mingolet as he had his penalty saved as it looked like it was going to be Sunderland's day, until Ameobi stepped up to haunt the Wearside Club yet again.

The match was a feisty affair with seven yellows and two red cards. Lee Cattermole set the tone after 30 seconds with a crunching tackle which was deservedly punished. Cattermole then got sent off after the full time whistle for foul language towards the referee, spoiling a faultless display. A draw was a fair result with both teams happy with the point. The match was also a perfect advertising for the derby match, showing grit, passion and skill resulting in an exciting encounter. Well for the neutrals anyway.

5)      Worrying time for Wolves as Fulham score five

After an impressive comeback against Newcastle, Terry Connor took his struggling side to Craven Cottage in an attempt to stop Fulham winning their third game in a row. However, Jol's side played some delightful football as they went on to crush Wolves 5-0, with a hat-trick for Russian Pogrebnyak much to the commentators despair. Although Fulham were highly impressive, especially Dempsey who chipped in with two goals of his own, Connor will be concerned at the way that his side seemed to capitulate. It was the second time in three games that Wolves had shipped five goals, with the other being the 5-1 derby defeat to West Brom which cost McCarthy his job. With only 2 points separating the bottom five teams, it looks like any of the five have a genuine chance of going down, but the recent form will worry all the Wolves fans especially with the dwindling goal difference. Next week's six-pointer against Blackburn could give us a huge indication if Wolves have what it takes to stay up. Although with what we have seen in recent times, anything can happen.

6)      Wigan closer to drop after uninspiring display

One of the five teams who face the drop, and currently are the team who sit at the foot of the table is Wigan. Two Sigurdsson wonder strikes were enough for Swansea to take all three points at the DW stadium, ensuring that Wigan still haven't won at home since August. The main problem for Wigan is simply that they don't score anywhere near enough. Wigan have only scored 23 goals this season and have failed to score in 11 out of 27 games. Even after Nathan Dyer was given a straight red, Wigan failed to break the resilient Swansea defence resulting in them rooted to the bottom of the table after only winning one game in 12. With the worst goal difference in the division, it's obvious as to why Wigan find themselves in so much trouble. The front two against Swansea, Sammon and Di Santo have only mustered four goals between them all season, all of them coming from Di Santo. If the fortunes don't change, Wigan's seven year stint in the Premier League will be over.

7)      Saints march on to promised land

Southampton weathered a huge second half storm but managed in the end to grab all three points against Leeds and move four points clear at the top of the table. A thunderous first half Ricky Lambert strike, his 20th of a hugely impressive season set Saints on their way but the real star of the show was Kelvin Davis. With Premiership experience when at Sunderland, Davis's heroic second half saves kept Saints at the top, and his display was appreciated when he was mobbed at the final whistle. For Leeds, who had 22 shots, it is a huge dent for their play-off hopes, but Neil Warnock is already looking to strengthen over the summer to maintain a promotion place next season. If Southampton continues their irresistible form, they will be favourites to return back to the big league, eight years after their devastating relegation.

8)      Meanwhile, it's looking pretty bleak for Pompey

Naturally, it must be horrible to see your local rivals be top of the league and looking assured to be promoted. Especially when you're a Portsmouth fan as they could even be heading in the opposite direction, down to League one. That's if they even survive until then. On the 17th of February, Portsmouth went into administration for the second time in two years. The ten point deduction dragged them straight into the relegation zone and it's looking hard for them to get out. A 3-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough on Saturday capped off a disastrous week, which saw Captain Liam Lawrence being loaned out to lower the wage bill. The result leaves them in 23rd place, five points off safety with thirteen games left. That's if the club still survive. Even with Bristol City and Nottingham Forest in horrific form this season, you can't see Portsmouth surviving this season in the Championship. Fingers crossed the club survive overall.

9)      Oldham stun Blades for performance of the weekend

There is no doubt what the biggest result this weekend was, probably much to the punters display. A last gap Shefki Kuqi penalty gave Oldham all three points in a 3-2 victory over third place Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. The result was even more shocking as Oldham, who are currently 13th were 2-0 down against the in-form team. Although the Blades ended up with nine men, you can't take anything away from Oldham, whose second half remarkable turnaround was definitely the result of the day.

10)   Barcelona still have the magic without Messi

Barcelona started their Saturday match against Sporting Gijon, still 10 points behind Madrid with star man Lionel Messi suspend. And they made hard, hard work to get all three points. Iniesta put the Catalan club ahead as Barca looked to push on for a comfortable victory. However, a red card and a Gijon equaliser early in the second made sure that it was going to be anything but comfortable. With Barcelona looking short of ideas, the team was screaming for someone like magical Messi to inject some quality into the display, but unfortunately for them, he was in the stands. However, two delightful goals, one a lovely finish by Keita and the second being a Messi-like finish by Xavi ensured that Barcelona kept up the pressure on rivals Madrid. The game showed that Barcelona have another side to them apart from the skill and flair as they battled their way to an important victory. Just a shame Madrid went on to win 5-0 the following day.
Craig Lishman

Total articles: 9

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