Winter has come to Wisconsin this weekend. I watched three games Saturday and one on Sunday: Manchester United – Newcastle United, Liverpool – West Ham United, the Major League Soccer Finals pitting Sporting Kansas City against Real Salt Lake, and Arsenal – Everton. I’ll be talking more about Newcastle in a longer post this week (I know, I know, I’ve been saying that for awhile), but it’s worth noting that manager Alan Pardew’s tactics were at least as important in the win as any shortcomings of Moyes. Man U were left to work without Rooney, out from yellow card accumulation, which left Moyes without his best player by a long distance this season.
The West Ham game was notable for having four own goals. Even knowing what happened, it was pretty darn confusing looking at the game summary. In fairness to West Ham, they defended well against a substantially better team, and they even had a strong spell between their 66′ goal and Suarez’s insurance goal at 80′. Though in part this is the way Liverpool always plays, West Ham’s loose marking system forced Liverpool into a fair amount of positional movement.
On the other hand, Martin Skrtel is now joint top-scorer for West Ham going back to the start of November (worryingly, only three players have topped Skrtel’s scoring record for Hammers all season). With Tottenham (in the Capital One Cup), Manchester United, and Arsenal on tap in December, West Ham needs to get all three points home against Sunderland next Saturday (as, really, they needed to do last weekend against Pulis’s “resurgent” Crystal Palace as well).
If you were lucky enough to start watching Saturday’s MLS final at the 75′ minute, you saw a pleasantly entertaining game. Both teams clearly thought they could win the game and wanted to. The quality of play wasn’t any higher than in the first 75′, it became a pacy, end-to-end affair for the rest of regulation and the majority of extra time. While a football game should never end in penalties, you can’t deny the excitement of the spectacle, and this one went to 10 shots before the crossbar denied Lovel Palmer and ended the shoot-out 7-6 in Sporting KC’s favor. Given the substantial advantage gained by going first in a shoot-out, the result wasn’t terribly surprising.
Writing earlier on the MLS play-offs, I suggested that the Portland Timbers represent the best and the worst of the league; new champions Sporting Kansas City highlight a lot more of the bad than the good. Even more than Portland, their defensive prowess is built on battering opponents in expectation of the lenient refereeing standards of the MLS. Center back Aurélien Collin leads the League in fouls. At least goaltender Jimmy Nielsen sounds like an interesting guy when ventriloquized by Paolo Bandini in his newly released autobiography.
I didn’t get to watch the Stoke City – Chelsea game closely, but in the past two games with Juan Mata filling in for the injured Oscar, Chelsea have shipped six goals against two teams averaging only a goal a game or less. As I’ve written before, it’s really not hard to understand why Mourinho prefers to have the young Brazilian in the center of the pitch. Mata wasn’t directly at fault for any of Stoke’s three goals today, but it is worth noting that both Jonathan Walters’s cross in for Stephen Ireland’s 50′ goal and Oussama Assaidi’s 90′ winner came down the flank Mata was playing at the time. In both cases, he was well down in Stoke’s end of the pitch.