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This is our first review of the football in 2011 and after taking a one week break at the end of last year we catch up with some of the big football stories – good and bad – from the last two weeks. You can listen to these and other stories on our weekly podcast. Explanations of key vocabulary (in bold) can be found at the foot of the post.
With most of Europe taking a break eyes were on the Premier League in England with its traditional feast of football – despite the weather disrupting many matches, Premier League teams were expected to play 4 games in 11 days. Because of this flurry of games this part of the season is often seen as a make or break time for relegation-threatened clubs and championship contenders. Coming top of the form table over this period was Manchester United, who despite failing to impress picked up 10 points out of 12, opened up a two-point gap with two games in hand over their nearest rivals, Manchester City. Next up for the Red Devils are Liverpool in the FA Cup on the 9th of January and then a big away clash against flying Tottenham, who picked up 9 out of a possible 12 over the same period.
The pick of the games in the Premier League this week was Arsenal versus Manchester City, two teams with title ambitions, but it wasn’t the players that grabbed the headlines but the referee. Mike Jones sent off both the Blues’ Zabaleta and the Gunners’ Sagna when the two squared off after a tackle by the City player. It was the final minute of the game, and while the referee was correct according to the letter of the law – Sagna pushed his head against Zabaleta’s forehead repeatedly, a yellow card for the Arsenal defender might have been enough. However, Zabaleta simply stood his ground as Sagna forced his forehead against the City player’s – Zabaleta was simply standing his ground. The ref decided both should go, however, and they will now both miss three games unless they appeal the decision. Mike Jones has form with strange decisions as well – last season he allowed a goal to stand for Sunderland when the ball bounced off a beach ball in a game against Liverpool.
Yes, I agree that was a poor decision by the referee. Now, for my ugly this week I am going to focus on the short-termism in the Premier League, particularly with respect to the situation of some of the managers there. Aston Villa’s Houllier, West Ham’s Grant, Liverpool’s Hodgson and remarkably, Chelsea’s Ancelotti are all under huge pressure thanks to a run of poor results, a pressure that many are predicting will see them being sacked. Of course, the nature of managing a football club is a precarious one indeed but it seems that the short-term attitude of clubs these days does not allow a manager to impose his style or philosophy onto a club, while player-power is increasing to such an extent that it is a wonder that some teams even think they need a coach at all.
feast of football: a feast is a big, delicious meal, so a ‘feast of football’ is a period when there are a lot of good, exciting games happening
flurry: a short period of excitement, a period when lots of events happen one after the other
in hand: (have games ~) to have played less games than your rivals, to have more games to play
The Red Devils: Manchester United’s nickname
The pick of the games: the match that stands out, the best game to watch for neutrals
Square off: to stand ready to fight, like a boxer
According to the letter of the law: following the rule book, but not using common sense (good judgement)
Stand (your) ground: to not retreat, to not back down, to not move backwards
The ref: (casual) The referee
precarious one : Not a very stable one