Manchester City – Winning away to Hull may perhaps not sound like a massive achievement considering they have little to play for this season after all-but securing their Premier League status, but to do so with your talismanic captain (and only decent excuse for a centre-back) sent off suddenly makes this a big win. Couple that with Chelsea’s implosion at Villa Park and this could well prove a big result for City as they attempt to bounce back from Champions League and FA Cup elimination over the last couple of weeks.
Referees’ integrity – You won’t find much complaining about referees on this blog as I am a qualified one myself and can testify to how demanding the role is. I am also extremely concerned at the rate at which referees are losing the respect of fans, players and managers. From Manuel Pellegrini’s “not impartial” comments made after the first Barcelona game to Jose Mourinho’s request on Monday that Chris Foy shouldn’t be allowed to referee Chelsea matches anymore, I think referees are only likely to suffer more as youngsters look at how they are treated in the mainstream press. However, to see three penalties awarded at Old Trafford (the last one albeit missed by Gerrard in a sporting gesture as Sturridge clearly dived) was refreshing and what’s more, it was the first time in Premier League history more than one penalty has been awarded to an opposition team at Old Trafford. The cynical could suggest that this says more about the fearless demeanour referees have now Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t in the home dugout, but I think it is about referees feeling like enough is enough. Diving, violent touchline clashes and habitual abuse have all crept into the game and I for one am glad to see any hints that referees are asserting their authority.
West Brom and Pepe Mel – Boy, did West Brom need a win. I for one did not see it coming at the Liberty Stadium but I think this shows the danger of having little to play for come the business end of the season. The bottom line is that Swansea are out of every cup they entered and are safely in nestled in mid-table. West Brom, on the other hand, are out of every cup they entered but are staring down the very real barrel of the relegation gun. However, away wins are the making of a successful escape from the abyss. I was extremely doubtful when Pepe Mel came in, not just because of his CBBC-style comedy name, but because West Brom weren’t actually doing badly. Admittedly, the Nicolas Anelka affair can’t be blamed on the Spaniard but the lack of wins could be. But now, he has his first win in England and Anelka has waved bonjour, potentially for the last time, to the Premier League. What a difference a week makes.
Arsenal – On Sky Sports after the Tottenham match, Paul Merson suggested that Arsenal have no chance of the title playing the way they did in the north London derby. Arsenal has an image of a squeaky-clean club that does everything with class and style. So, for them to win ugly is considered by the press to be a chink in their Emirates-sponsored armour. Over the years, the same pundits have lauded the Chelseas and Manchester Uniteds of the league for winning in exactly the same conditions (Tottenham managed a whopping 59% possession against their closest rivals) but for Arsenal it is apparently the sign of weakness. I believe fairness is important here because the poor Gunners won a big game on Sunday and, for no reason that I can see, are getting precious little credit for it.
Tim Sherwood – Anyone who fancies their chances as the next Spurs manager will have been writing their letters of application in earnest on Sunday evening. Despite having a decent record since taking over Tottenham Hotspur, pundits and bookies alike are suggesting Tim Sherwood’s reign will come to an end in the summer when Spurs look for a bigger name to take them forward. The 1-0 defeat to north London rivals Arsenal will have stung and, although the actual performance was creditable, it surely puts if the not the final, then certainly one of the last few, nails in the Top Four coffin. With Champions League football looking a long shot, Sherwood’s time looks up in the summer when chairman Daniel Levy attempts to find a buyer (or a pretty display cabinet) for the £100m of underperforming playing staff he splashed out on last summer.
Juan Mata – If you are worth £37.5m, you would expect to have a team built around you. What Juan Mata has walked into, during a World Cup year remember, is a team that is falling apart around him. Wheeled in as the Spanish saviour in January, Manchester United’s record signing is struggling to make an impact. With his favourite ‘number 10′ position taken by a very rich and popular Scouser, he is finding it difficult to influences games to justify his hefty price tag. A humbling defeat to the old enemy will have hurt everyone in and around the club, but there will surely be a few voices of doubt creeping into the diminutive Spaniard’s head after his decision to jump from Chelsea’s bench to Old Trafford. All of this and he is forced to watch the Chelsea pantomime from outside – which I bet is only half as fun.