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Monday Morning Centre Back

Week five of the 2012/13 Premier League season is officially done and dusted, and it was another action packed, controversy filled weekend. The talking points this weekend include:

• Another lacklustre display from the Champions.

• Everton and Fulham setting themselves up as early season top six gatecrashers.

• Why does Randy Lerner own a football club?

But there is only one place to start…

Officials Burst Liverpool’s Bubble

Liverpool vs Manchester United is always a feisty affair, with much hatred existing between the two teams and their rival sets of supporters, and Sunday’s game proved no different. Liverpool ultimately fell to yet another defeat this season, losing 2-1, but will feel very hard done by, by what they believe was some poor refereeing from Mark Halsey.

The game ultimately turned on Halsey’s decision to give Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey a straight red for what he deemed was serious foul play, as Shelvey lunged into a 50/50 with United defender Johnny Evans and did not win the ball. However, Evans lunged into Shelvey, and escaped with not even a ticking off. There was no way that Evans should have stayed on the field. Consistent refereeing just does not exist in the Premier League. Liverpool had utterly dominated the first half, and that 38th minute red would have its consequences most felt in the 2nd half, as Liverpool’s ten men started to tire.

Liverpool fans will also angrily protest the penalty awarded to United with less than ten minutes to play. However that decision, Halsey got right. What on earth Glen Johnson was doing diving into that tackle on Valencia. Valencia had run out of room and ideas. Reina had closed him down and there was no one in support. Valencia did the only thing he could do, and play for the foul, and Johnson duly obliged. Just a bad, boneheaded decision by Johnson, and one that would cost Liverpool a point.

As for Liverpool going forward, one thing is clear, Kenny Dalglish’s 18 months in charge has completely ruined this football club’s immediate future. He spent an obscene amount of money on players not fit to clean Steven Gerrard’s boots with their own toothbrush, leaving Brendan Rodgers with a roster depleted of talent, and a transfer budget that does not allow Rodgers to make wholesale changes. Liverpool fans just have to be patient.

As for Manchester United, every passing week they seem to have a competition to find just how badly they can play and still pick up the three points. They were putrid at times today, with a midfield that struggles to control possession and actually win the ball, whilst van Persie cast a lonely, subdued figure up front for almost the entire game. Yet United are second, and have won four in a row since their opening day defeat at Everton. They cannot continue to play like this though.
Someone’s Kidnapped The Champions

It was yet another lacklustre day out for the Champions of England on Sunday, as Arsenal deservedly entered Fortress Etihad and left with a point.

City’s defence has come under heavy criticism this season, after failing to keep a clean sheet so far this season, and the wait will continue for another week at least. Joleon Lescott’s failure to adequately clear an Arsenal set piece allowed Laurent Koscielny to bury the equaliser with ten minutes to go, and City couldn’t find a winner. Lescott’s selection was something of a surprise, considering how well 19-year-old Serbian Matija Nastasic played at the Bernabeu in midweek, and his place in the starting XI must surely be under serious threat now, he was very poor all game long, never looking comfortable. If City wants to retain their title, this defence is going to have to tighten up and quickly, it’s costing them precious points.

As for the midfield, Javi Garcia has not yet taken to life in the Premier League adequately. He looked off the pace and didn’t offer the defence any protection whilst Yaya Toure was rather subdued, and failed to exert his sheer mass and power onto the game. David Silva popped up with the assist for the City goal, but his slow start to the season continues, he has been hugely underwhelming so far.

It must have been sheer relief for City fans to finally see hero Sergio Aguero return to action after a month out with a knee injury. He was not quite his usual sharp self, but it won’t be long until he is back on the score sheet, he has been desperately missed.

When City eventually find a rhythm and play to their potential, this team will be near unstoppable, but so far, they have looked like a pale imitation of the team that dominated the Premier League for almost the entirety of last season.

Everton & Fulham Making Early Claim for Top Six

For almost the entirety of David Moyes’ ten years in charge of Everton, they have been contenders for a European spot, be it for Champions League or Europa League, but they have traditionally been slow starters under Moyes, well not this season. Everton have well and truly flown out the blocks this season, lying in third after this weekend’s game. What has changed this season?

Well, for starters, Moyes has made some outstanding signings of late. Nikica Jelavic, Kevin Mirallas and the re-signing of Steven Pienaar have proven to be excellent pieces of business and all three combined cost less than Stewart Downing! Moyes has also gotten Marouane Fellaini to play some of the best football of his career. With Tim Cahill’s injury problems and eventual departure over the summer, Moyes moved Fellaini further up the field, hoping to utilise his size and sheer power to replace Cahill’s goals, and my oh my has it been paying off. Fellaini has been outstanding so far this season, at times he has been simply unplayable.

For now, Everton are early season Champions League contenders, but that is surely out of the question long-term. This team is no doubt talented enough to finish 4th, but there is a serious lack of depth and a huge talent drop off in some areas, especially in defence.  If they can stay healthy, don’t be surprised if Everton stay in and around the top six all season.

Fulham’s rise is rather more surprising. Martin Jol has quietly gone about building a very good team that at times, are a joy to watch. The signing of Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United, shows an ambition from Jol that he is not simply willing to accept a mid table finish, he wants Fulham competing for the European places. Berbatov, at £4million, will end up being the bargain buy of the season.

With the imperious Brede Hangeland leading the back line and Berbatov leading the front line, the midfield may be lacking somewhat. Jol has been willing to give starts to youngsters Alex Frei and Alexander Kacaniklic (with the latter being  particularly impressive), but ultimately, that midfield may end up being their undoing, but so far so good from the Cottagers.

Why does Randy Lerner Own Aston Villa?

For those that don’t know, Randy Lerner is the American billionaire owner of Aston Villa. He has an estimated fortune of somewhere in the region of $1.5 billion and that came before his $1billion sale of his NFL franchise the Cleveland Browns over the summer. The reason Lerner decided to sell the NFL team his father bought, was that he was supposedly not interested in the NFL and had no interest in the day-to-day running of an American Football team. His real passion lay in the world of soccer and the Premier League team he owns, Aston Villa.

Knowing all this, one has to ask the question, why is he not investing in the team? Ever since Martin O’Neill quit Villa Park in August 2010, Villa have been rapidly falling down the table. Villa finished 6th in O’Neill’s last full season in charge (2009-2010), then followed that up with a 9th place finish in 2011/11, before struggling mightily last season, finishing 16th and avoiding relegation only on the penultimate day. The reason for this is Lerner’s seeming reluctance to give his manager a transfer budget that will furnish a squad that has become seriously depleted over the last few seasons.

Lerner even went out and appointed one of the brightest young managers in the Premier League in Paul Lambert over the summer, but failed to open his bulging bank account and back his new manager with quality new players. As such, Villa’s downward trajectory continues apace. Last weekend’s surprise 2-0 win against previously inform Swansea was a welcome surprise and perhaps hinted that a recovery was on its way. But they were brought back to reality on Saturday, as they travelled to the Premier League new boys Southampton, who were winless and pointless, and were shellacked 4-1.

Aston Villa therefore seems primed for yet another season of struggle, but it just does not make sense. If Lerner has no intention of using his vast wealth to make Villa in anyway competitive, why is he chairman and owner? January is a few months away, Lerner better cough up or it may be too little too late come May.

Hero of the Week

Rickie Lambert, Southampton

This may be a surprise selection by many, but no player contributed more to his side’s victories this weekend than Rickie Lambert. After a quiet first half, where the Saints were trailing 1-0 at home to Aston Villa, Lambert came up big in the 2nd, absolutely dominating a poor Vila defence. His first goal was a thing of beauty. Receiving an excellent pass from Adam Lallana, his first touch on the edge of the area took out three Villa defenders, giving him enough time and space to smash the ball past Guzan and level the scores. His second goal was a penalty deep into stoppage time, but before that he even turned provider, setting Jason Puncheon through to score the 3rd, although the dubious goals panel may award it as a Ciaran Clarke OG. Lambert’s performance will only continue to add to the growing calls for him to be called up to the England squad. If he continues to perform like this he deserves to be.

Goat of the Week
Glen Johnson, Liverpool

Glaring errors and mistakes were hard to come by this weekend, so the award ever y footballer dreams of winning, goes to Glen Johnson this weekend. His aforementioned reckless tackle on Antonio Valencia led to a United penalty and winning goal. If you were being particularly harsh you may also partially blame him for Rafael’s equalising goal. Instead of staying with his defence, he got dragged out to the ball when he should have left it to his midfield, and therefore vacated space in the penalty area which Rafael exploited. An afternoon to forget for Johnson

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) That was one lacklustre display from Chelsea. Stoke rarely make an effort on their travels to the big clubs, but Chelsea sure did make hard work dispatching them. If Chelsea are to maintain a legitimate title push, they must improve.

2) Arsenal 2012 > Arsenal 2011. Even without RVP and Alex Song, this team is just so much better. Cazorla is just magnificent, and the defence has improved tremendously. Top four with ease.

3) Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Carl Jenkinson looks the part. Great start to the season for the young full back.

4) Dropping Demba Ba looks to have been an inspired decision by Alan Pardew. Thats three goals in two games now, which have gifted Newcastle 4 points.

5) On the topic of Newcastle strikers, Papiss Cisse, what has happened to him? 6 games without a goal this season and a missed penalty on Sunday to boot. He is starting to resemble an imposter.

6) If Reading reach 20 points this season, count that as a minor miracle. This team was just not ready to make the giant leap from Championship to Premiership. The lack of quality is frightening.

7) West Brom continue chugging along nicely. It’s now 10 points for Steve Clarke’s boys and they are flying. Every team is going to dread playing at the Hawthorns this season.

8) Nice comeback win for Spurs, they desperately needed a win in front of their home support. Back to back wins for AVB and co. Old Trafford next.

9) Swansea are on the slide. That’s back to back defeats and no wins in three. Good start going sour and fast. That defence just keeps making mistakes. As for that front line, how many gilt-edged chances do you want?! That was an exhibition in how not to score against Everton Saturday. Bad defeat for the Welshmen.

10) Many laughed when Sunderland parted with £12million for Steven Fletcher, but if he can keep his current form going throughout the season, he will have been worth every penny. That’s three in two now, none too shabby.

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