Man City back in it, Arsenal push on and Tottenham fall short again
Alex Sharp looks back at a dramatic midweek round of Premier League fixtures, as Manchester City closed the gap to United
On an incredible night of decisions only one man could steal the headlines without scoring and only playing for 24 minutes – Carlos Tevez.
After months of tedious speculation, the Argentine returned from his self-imposed six-month exile to set up Samir Nasri’s winner against Chelsea with a neat pass.
Patrick Vieira stirred up the title race, claiming the return of Paul Scholes to Manchester United shows “weakness” but surely United could claim the same for the return of Tevez.
Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko’s goals have dried up in recent months, coinciding with City’s stutter in form. The trio have only scored eight goals between them in City’s last six league games. That’s simply not good enough for title contenders.
Bringing Tevez on was a bold move which could have ruffled the feathers of his fellow underperforming strikers – but the decision worked and keeps City in touch.
Following an ineffective and wasteful performance, Balotelli was substituted at half-time. Gareth Barry replaced the volatile Italian which enabled the plethora of City talent to fly forward and bombard Chelsea’s fragile defence.
Roberto Mancini’s decisions were bang on but he will be concerned that the influential David Silva is in a dramatic slump in form, having not scored in the league since December.
Having Tevez back could prove to be crucial but what was telling last that City won without their general in the centre, Vincent Kompany.
In the race for Champions League qualification the results just keep falling Arsenal’s way and despite wasting numerous chances, an abysmal offside call and Everton’s lackluster attacking, the Gunners recorded another fine victory.
The linesman at Goodison park ruled Royston Drenthe offside when he looked set to equalise for Everton but the Dutchman was clearly a yard onside. The flag was baffling and meant Arsenal leapt above their capitulating north London rivals.
Back on 31 January, Arsenal were 13 points behind their local rivals Tottenham. In the last six games the Gunners have picked up a maximum 18 points, while Spurs have taken only five.
Did Spurs get complacent? Maybe. More to the point, Arsenal have begun to play with a combination of grit, passion and class.
In addition, since Fabio Capello resigned from his England post, Spurs have had a 0.8 points per game average, compared to a 2.1 average before. It’s evident the constant speculation surrounding Harry Redknapp is a cause for concern for Spurs, who face a huge task at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Losing out on Champions League football would be a catastrophic failure for Tottenham, who were so far ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea a few months ago and were challenging the Manchester giants.
Another fascinating decision last night was at Loftus Road, where QPR recovered from 2-0 down to defeat a dwindling Liverpool.
The result was a real lifeline for QPR in their relegation battle and Mark Hughes’ decision to take off an under-par Joey Barton paid dividends as his replacement, Jamie Mackie, struck an injury-time winner.
Kenny Dalgish is adamant that complacency didn’t cost Liverpool but what did? They were cruising at 2-0 up but completely disintegrated, which is a fourth defeat in five.
Dalglish could be admired for vehemently defending his side but seventh place, seven points off Chelsea in the Europa League spot is a dire situation. He needs to freshen the side up, change tactics and certainly change his approach.
Liverpool are lacking quality and look frail as another year without Champion League football looms large.