This Week In English Football – Premiership Midweek Review and Weekend Preview
Queens Park Rangers played their seventh game in January on Tuesday and held he reigning champions, Manchester City, to a 0-0 draw at Loftus Road. In their contests during the month, QPR drew with City, Tottenham, West Ham, and West Brom (the latter in the FA Cup); beaten West Brom (in the replay) and Chelsea; and lost just once – 4-2 at home to League One’s MK Dons in the 4th round of the Cup. Harry Redknapp will be pleased that his new charges are showing a resilience that had been lacking prior to his arrival and he has clearly made them hard to beat, but they remain at the bottom of the table, four points away from safety. Because of this – and Redknapp’s history of buying and selling many players at all of the clubs he has managed – Rangers were the busiest Premier League side on the last day of the January transfer window (yesterday), when they paid £12.5 million for central defender, Christopher Samba, and also brought in midfielders Jermaine Jenas and Andros Townsend from his former club Spurs. If the month’s new recruits – QPR also signed Loic Remy from Marseille for around £8million earlier in the window – are able to help the club survive in the Premier League, then the outlay will prove to be worthwhile; but, with Samba alone reported to be earning £100,000 a week, relegation could send them into a financial downward spiral similar to the one Portsmouth suffered after Redknapp had departed. (Photo: Samba claims the number 5 and a 6 figure salary at QPR)
Before their encounter with Chelsea on Wednesday night, Reading had won their two previous Premiership fixtures thanks to late come backs – scoring 3 times against West Brom in the final 8 minutes to turn around a 2-0 deficit; then beating Newcastle 2-1 with two goals in the last 20 minutes from the substitute, Adam Le Fondre. At the Madjeski Stadium against Rafa Benitez’s side, the Royals once again found themselves 2-0 down, as Juan Mata and Frank Lampard had given the visitors what looked like a comfortable lead, which they held until the final 3 minutes or play. However, once again Le Fondre – whose name is actually French for “the great replacement”* – struck twice to earn another crucial point for Reading and increased the frustration of the Blues fans with Benitez. Chelsea now find themselves thirteen points behind the leaders Manchester United, who came from behind to beat Southampton 2-1 at Old Trafford, though they also suffered some nervous moments at the end of the game as the Saints searched for an equaliser. Because of City’s draw with QPR, Ferguson’s men once now hold a 7 point lead at the top of the table heading into February.
*Not really, it means “to melt”
Two other teams came back from two goals down to earn a draw – though neither left it as late as Reading – as Arsenal rallied in the second half to share the points with Liverpool, who still have not beaten any team above them in the table; and Wigan earned a draw away at Stoke, as strikes from James McArthur and Franco Di Santo wiped out earlier efforts from Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch. Tottenham, who were unusually quiet on the final day of the transfer window, had to rely on a fantastic solo goal from Gareth Bale to take a point away from Carrow Road against Norwich, though there was cause for hope for Spurs fans in the shape of new signing, Lewis Holtby. The attacking midfielder – who had been set to join in the summer, but a season-ending injury to Sandro encouraged the club to pay a fee to bring him in immediately – only played for the final 20 minutes but in that time, he showed a great touch on the ball and provided a link between the midfielders and the front line that has been absent since the sales of Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart last summer. It was the Dutchman that Holtby reminded me of most in terms of his passing and ball control ability, but alongside those assets he also showed the industry and energy of Dembele, a combination which could prove very beneficial to Spurs and makes his price tag of £1.5 million potentially the best bit of business that any Premiership club did this January. One side note, the match commentators noted that when he was booked for dissent after giving away a free-kick, he told the referee he had committed just “one foul” and they laughed that he probably only had time to learn two words of English since signing and this is what he had picked up. That’s Lewis Holtby, son of an Englishman and who speaks the language fluently – great research guys!
PSG’s little known new recruit David Beckham
In the other midweek games, Swansea and Sunderland ended goalless at the Stadium of Light, making it six draws in the ten Premiership fixtures that were played over Tuesday and Wednesday; Newcastle won away for the first time all season in any competition, beating the hapless Aston Villa 2-1; Fulham beat West Ham 3-1 at home; and Everton’s great run of form continued with a 2-1 victory over West Brom at Goodison Park, moving the Toffees to within a point of Tottenham in the fourth Champions League qualification place. What will be even more encouraging for David Moyes is that the transfer window has closed without him losing either Leighton Baines – a reported target of Manchester United and scorer of both goals against Albion – or Marouane Fellaini – in whom Chelsea had shown an interest. The other big transfer stories from January were Manchester City finally ridding themselves of trouble-maker Mario Balotelli, who went to Milan for £19m; David Beckham has signed for Paris Saint-Germain and will donate all his wages to a children’s charity in the French capital – top bloke; Arsenal signed cover at left-back in the shape of Nacho Monreal from Malaga; and Peter Odemwinge did not leave West Brom, despite driving down to Loftus Road in an attempt to engineer a move to QPR – two days after he had his club had given him compassionate leave to miss their fixture with Everton as his baby had been taken ill.
This weekend, Everton have a home game with Aston Villa; Stoke travel to Arsenal; Demba Ba will have an early return to Newcastle with his new club, Chelsea; QPR host Norwich; Reading fans will be hoping that their side do not need more late dramatic comebacks when they entertain Sunderland; Swansea and Manchester United are both in London to play West Ham and Fulham respectively; and Southampton have an away match with Wigan. On Sunday, West Brom and Spurs meet at the Hawthorns, while Liverpool have another fixture with a team above them in the table, this time away at Manchester City.
John Lally, Political Footballs
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