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Liverpool seem to have got through their sticky patch and continued failures from Chelsea and Arsenal have limited the damage.
After convincing wins over Bolton and Newcastle Liverpool are clear at the top of the table and will stay there going into 2009.
So is it going to be a happy new year for Liverpool fans? I blogged the other day about (what seems to me) Liverpool’s need for another forward or midfielder with the wow factor but Steven Gerrard seems to be playing that role to perfection just at the moment. Can he carry on in this form until the end of the season?
Liverpool’s biggest problem, of course, is the prospect of Manchester United continuing their ominous rise up the table. United have three games in hand and if they win all three they’ll be within a point of the top.
The 16 teams that reached the Champions League first knockout round were again the usual suspects expected to go through. The group stage of Europe’s premier club competition unfolded rather predictably after a few early shocks.
Ten of the teams qualified for the same stage last season while the other six include twice winners Juventus, who returned with a roar after a two-year absence, as well as former finalists Panathinaikos and Atletico Madrid.
Defeat to Arsenal means Luiz Felipe Scolari is facing his first big test as Chelsea manager and there are plenty of people waiting to see how the volatile Brazilian handles it.
Until a few weeks ago everything was sweetness and light at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea set the pace in the Premier League title race. They were scoring goals for fun and Scolari was seen as a breath of fresh air with his jovial manner.
The William Gallas saga behind them, Arsenal have reached the last 16 of the Champions League after a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev.
A late winner from substitute Nicklas Bendtner was enough to send the Gunners through with a game to spare but will Arsene Wenger have to change things if his young side are to progress further in the competition?
Arsene Wenger’s appointment of Cesc Fabregas as captain is more than just a strategic move, designed to ward off Barcelona attempts to recover the one that got away. The decision also says something significant about the way Wenger sees Arsenal Football Club.
Wenger has changed the youth system, the players’ diets and the style of play and he has now appointed a captain made in the image of another gifted Catalan, Josep Guardiola i Sala.
“There’s a lot of cover-ups sometimes and players need to stand up and be counted. I’m not sure that happens a lot at this club.” — Roy Keane, May 7, 2002.
“When you play for Manchester United nothing should interfere with what you are doing during the week and during a match. I have felt that one or two of the younger players have slackened off in training. I have not been happy about it. I have said it to them but maybe I have had to say it in public for them to sit up and take notice.” — Roy Keane, Feb 19, 2004.
For 12 years, Arsenal fans have been used to a manager so loyal it borders on the belligerent, but that quality appears to be lost on the team’s captain, William Gallas.
Even manager Arsene Wenger has no clue which version of Arsenal will turn up to matches at the moment.
The one that swept aside Manchester United last week with a dazzling brand of football, thrashed Blackburn Rovers 4-0 away and dismantled Fenerbahce in Istanbul or the one that lost at home to Hull City, got bullied into defeat at Stoke City and was well-beaten 2-0 at home by Aston Villa last weekend.
Real Madrid were knocked out of the King’s Cup by third-tier Real Union this week and Chelsea lost to second division Burnley in the Carling Cup, but which sides were really celebrating?
Chelsea would much rather concentrate on the Premier League while Real need to focus on the Champions League after two defeats.
In September, Mitch Phillips argued here that the League Cup should be shuffled off into retirement. Who could argue for prolonging the life of this tired, unwanted “third competition”? Well, actually, after this week’s action, I would.
Arsenal and Tottenham, who together served up such a thrilling 4-4 draw when they met in the league at the end of October, were at it again separately this week, playing the same direct, fearless, attacking football despite featuring much changed line-ups.