EPL Daily 1.2.08: SAF Lashes Out; Eddie Johnson where?; Rumors; and a New Year’s Run-Down

I’ll have a quick breakdown of readers’ allegiances and what not coming up either later today or tomorrow…for now, however, let the January transfer window commence as the EPL starts to heat up. I will post every significant transaction along with analysis as they arise. EPL match capsules below…

SAF: Sir Alex Ferguson lashed out at Manchester United’s supporters for Glazer-bashing and the fact that Old Trafford sounded like a ‘funeral’ during Man Utd’s 1-0 win over Birmingham yesterday. Carlos Tevez provided something to cheer about, but the atmosphere didn’t last for long. Maybe we should ask for competitive parity in the EPL before we require that supporter’s groups actually get excited to play a Birmingham City! Ferguson also slammed supporters on the topic of Glazer-bashing.

EDDIE JOHNSON: The Times Online UK has listed the suitors for Kansas City Wizards forward Eddie Johnson while the Daily Mirror has thrown one into the mix at well. A combined list includes Fulham, Manchester City, Reading, Derby County again, Middlesbrough, and Benfica. Johnson’s addition to Fulham would give the Cottagers an American army consisting of Keller, Bocanegra, Dempsey, and McBride. It seems Fulham will only make the move if their attempt to sign Liverpool’s wantaway Harry Kewell.

STEVEN PIENAAR: The South African winger for Everton is a rising stock in the EPL and his club loyalty confirms that. Pienaar has asked for special leniency to delay his African Nations Cup call-up in order to play in the Carling Cup semifinal against Chelsea on January 8th. The first match of the  African Nations Cup is January 23rd, but South African national team players are expected to report January 5th in order to prepare. He should find out either today or tomorrow.

TRANSFER RUMORS: David Villa to Chelsea, David Bentley to Chelsea or Atletico Madrid, Emmanuel Villa from UAG Tecos to Derby County, Dean Ashton to a number of clubs, but it was Liverpool midfielder throwing out the ultimatum – saying Liverpool either signs him soon or he’s out and it wouldn’t be very hard for him to find a home. I bet Mohamed Sissoko would like that…

New Year’s Day Matches

Chelsea 2, Fulham 1

A Hodgson-led Fulham side looked much more engaged and ready to play, but the Cottagers – thanks to a botched PK call on Michael Ballack – still took the loss. Danny Murphy put away Fulham’s PK chance in the 10th minute, but it was Salomon Kalou who has become a fixture in Chelsea’s first team who powered home a close-range header to start a 10-minute double salvo that pushed Fulham deeper into the relegation zone. Both Americans – Dempsey and Bocanegra – played all 90-minutes, while Brian McBride is apparently on the hot trail to return by the end of the month.

Arsenal 2, West Ham United 0

First twenty minutes and the game was already put away as the rising duo of Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva each grabbed a goal to ensure Arsenal’s first place position. Both goals were equally ‘magical’ – to quote Ray Hudson. Adebayor’s was put away at the most acute angle possible and Eduardo’s was a half volley with a feint of sorts that threw Robert Green off his mark. Carlton Cole made Manuel Almunia’s life on the pitch a miserable and deceivingly tough one, but the Spanish goalkeeper prevailed. The win over Man Utd put a noticeable fatigue on West Ham’s midfield but it was the early goal that took the wind out of their sails.

Manchester United 1, Birmingham 0

United kept pace with the Gunners and the scoreline looks tighter than it probably should have been. The Devils wasted several chances – especially a three-yard miss from Cristiano Ronaldo that could put away the game. Carlos Tevez scored the game’s only goal early on though and Carlos Quieroz kept them attacking, but nothing would go in. Sir Alex Ferguson’s discontent was somewhat visible as he sat in the crowd serving the second of his two-game sideline suspension. Park Ji-Sung – though regaining match fitness – showed glimpses of his old self, while Michael Carrick had his worst day in a while – bad first touch, terrible vision, etc. Overall, it was clear the West Ham loss took a bit out of the Devils. Tevez paid for his goal as it looks like the forward will miss the FA-Cup match against Aston Villa coming up with severe brusing in the ankle.

Portsmouth 2, Reading 0

This game marked a great day for Marcus Hahnemann – despite the loss and two goals conceded. The American keeper triggered a clause in his deal that guaranteed him a new deal if he played in 20 EPL games on the season. Mission accomplished and Hahnemann stays a Royal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that Pompey unravelled the Royals led by Sol Campbell. Reading didn’t do much for themselves though as three minutes in Ibrahima Sonko was sent off after levelling Benjani in the box. Niko Kranjcar missed the attempt, however. John Utaka added the clincher in the 66th minute as Reading fought against a potent offense that never once let up. For those of you worried about Bobby Convey leaving in the 7th minute, it was merely a tactical decision made by Coppell in reaction to Sonko’s ejection.

Everton 2, Middlesbrough 0

Finishing and a man known as Tim Howard set the tone for Everton’s 2-0 shutout of Middlesbrough. Howard made some remarkable saves allowing Everton’s offense the time to finally put one home. It took until the 67th minute but Andrew Johnson found net and opened the door for James McFadden to add another 5 minutes later. Other than that, the rainy day made it a scrappy affair but Everton corrected their form and seem ready to resume their challenge for Europe.

Aston Villa 2, Tottenham 1

A pair of defenders were the difference on both sides of the field as Villa shut down Berbatov and company. Heading into January, Juande Ramos’ biggest concern his holding onto the Bulgarian striker with Darren Bent most likely on his way out too. Olaf Mellberg powered home a header early on only for it to be snuffed out by Jermain Defoe’s late strike in the 79th minute. Martin Laursen – another central defender – albeit one with 5 goals! – put one home in the 82nd minute off yet another set piece. Michael Dawson was made to look like a lost little puppy by the defenders who scraped and clawed their way to freedom in the penalty box. At least, in post-game interviews, it was reiterated that Berbatov will, in fact, stay at White Hart Lane.

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EPL Weekend: Boca scores, United falls, Arsenal pushes forward

Saturday, December 29th, 2007 

Tottenham 6, Reading 4

You almost HAVE to start out with this one as weird results such as this one don’t come around to often in the EPL. Dimitar Berbatov had 4 of the 6 Spurs’ goals and reiterated after the game that he was poised to leave come the New Year because he still thought Tottenham (even with the new coach) had no chance at trophies. His four put him at 8 for the year and right into the thick of the scoring leaderboard. It was Reading, however, that went up 2-1 with almost a half to go but then all went to hell. There were 7 goals in the last 40 minutes. Robbie Keane was kept quiet on the day despite a PK chance that was snuffed by Marcus Hahnemann. Dave Kitson scored two for the Royals pushing his total to 8 as well, but it was still Reading’s 2nd lopsided drubbing of the campaign (remember that 7-4 loss to Portsmouth). Not a good habit to get into…Khalifa Cisse and Ivar Ingimarsson scored the first two goals for Reading, while Tottenham got a rocket from Steed Malbranque and a PK miss follow-up from Jermain Defoe to go with Berbatov’s 4 goal performance.  

West Ham 2, Manchester United 1

The hiccup that no one expected would happen, especially with the recent form of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo showed up to play yet again, scoring in the 14th minute to put the Devils up 1-0 and things seemed dandy. It was the Hammers that took control though, creating more chances, and giving Tomasz Kusczak some trouble in goal. They didn’t break through Rio and Vidic until the 77th minute when guess who? ANTON Ferdinand (Rio’s brother and West Ham’s central defender) headed one home. Matthew Upson then provided the winner aerially about 5 minutes later, bringing ManYoo crashing back down to Earth. What’s worse is it was Cristiano Ronaldo who could have effectively put the game away in the 68th with a Jonathan Spector PK gift, but he missed wide right proving he’s not a soccer God yet.

Fulham 1, Birmingham 1

The Cottagers looked like the home team and both Americans – Bocanegra and Dempsey had good days. Boca found the net early on with a near post run as he nodded it past the sprawling Maik Taylor putting Fulham up 1-0 and making new boss Roy Hodgson jump a bit for joy in the stands. They pressed forward again and again, but it was Sebastian Larsson’s Omozusi-deflected (poor kid yet again) long range blast that tied the game up. Dempsey really did look effective, but nothing of worrisome proportions to Taylor in net. Fulham will have to gear up for a tough second half of the season and expect some personnel changes to prepare for that…Michael Parkhurst anyone?

Chelsea 2, Newcastle 1

The Magpies falter yet again. Salomon Kalou’s 87th minute put-away amongst offside controversy put the death grip on Sam Allardyce’s job status. Either way, Newcastle managed only 2 shots on net, 1 of which hit its target. Michael Essien put away the first goal of the day in a penalty box-scrum, but ultimately he had one of his more forgetful performances of the season. Nicky Butt equalized on a well-executed counter attack that saw him start the play and end it, but after that, Newcastle went limp. Nothing to report except that Chelsea’s class took over and Allardyce was relegated to admitting defeat.

Arsenal 4, Everton 1

Tim Howard looked particularly helpless in goal but it certainly wasn’t as if received any real help from his back four. Eduardo – Arsenal’s Croatian Brazilian – picked apart Lescott and Yobo repeatedly for two goals cancelling out Tim Cahill’s opener at 19 minutes. Adebayor added his 11th of the year and Tomas Rosicky hit for a near-post screamer to add insult to injury. There were two sent off in this fixture and for about ten minutes, Everton had the upper hand as Nicklas Bendtner was ejected for a childish tackle. Mikel Arteta – a great deal older – threw a brutal looking elbow on Fabregas minutes later and was given his marching orders as well. A 4-1 win puts Wenger’s boys on top by two points and proved me stupid as only a couple days ago I had announced Everton’s “arrival”. Oh well.

Middlesbrough 1, Portsmouth 0

Southgate’s Boro grabbed a shock away win against an impotent Portsmouth squad. It was Pompey that provided most of the attacking flair but they were repeatedly tempered by a Woodgate-led back four. Pompey manager turned felon Harry Redknapp cited fatigue as the biggest factor in the loss, but whether it was fatigue-induced or not, the finishing was pretty much piss-poor. Why the Kranjcar/Muntari set-up was given a rest, with the African Nations Cup coming up and Muntari leaving, is beyond me…

Aston Villa 2, Wigan 1

Another hard fought Aston Villa win. Two late goals from Curtis Davies and Gabriel Agbonlahor sealed the deal at Wigan, ruining Titus Bramble’s first-ever goal celebration with the Latics. All-in-all, the game produced few real attacking efforts and if it came down to a defensive stand-off, I would bet my life on the Villans. The man of the day was Curtis Davies though as he looked like a guy worth keeping, something Martin O’Neill has been waiting for all season. Wigan still sits in the relegation zone with Liverpool looming and not making matters any easier.

Sunderland 3, Bolton 1

Roy Keane’s boys continued Bolton’s downward spiral, putting a three-spot on the lowly Wanderers. Former Man Utd winger Kieran Richardson hit first in the 13th with hot prospect Kenwyne Jones following suit twenty minutes later. It was a finishing clinic as there weren’t many chances in this one, nor were there expected to be many. El-Hadji Diouf tried to take matters in his own hands, pulling one back before half-time but the Black Cats held strong. Darryl Murphy provided the icing on the cake in injury time, but the real question after this result was: is Nicolas Anelka moving on?? Without Anelka, I can only see relegation for the Wanderers unless someone learns how to spend money over at Reebok Stadium. Sunderland aren’t in a great way either and sit – along with Bolton – right above the relegation zone.  

Sunday, December 30th 

Blackburn 2, Derby 1

Roque Santa Cruz scored his third goal in 2 games and this one ensured at least a point with lowly Derby County. The Paraguayan striker now has 10 on the year and is rapidly closing in on Cristiano Ronaldo at the top. It was David Bentley however, who also has had a great past couple games, that provided the gamewinner and the heroics for the Rovers. Matt Oakley opened the scoring for the Rams as they converted on their first real offensive drive but fizzled after that. The Rovers poured on shot after shot (a whopping 18 on goal), but the true turning point was Steve Howard’s botched penalty attempt. Brad Friedel guessed the right direction and kept Derby’s lead at only one. Then Santa Cruz and Bentley took over.

Liverpool 0, Manchester City 0

An exciting deadlock to say the least. Big men of the day were Man City’s Vedran Corluka and Irish veteran Richard Dunne. Not that Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher had a bad day or anything, but it was pretty quiet on Pepe Reina’s side of the field. Sven’s Citeh fought off a rather tame barrage and centre-back Dunne probably blocked at least 5 of those attempts himself and kept Torres at bay. Carragher on the other hand kept Elano quiet, snuffing any chance Man City had to move up in the standings. Dunne took the cake for best performance of the day with his acrobatic clearance off the line after a nifty Joe Hart save almost trickled into Man City’s goal.