Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A COUPLE of months ago, my predicted Premier League top four looked like this:
1 Manchester City's billionaires
2 Tottenham's 'Arry army
3 Manchester United
4 Robin van Persie's Arsenal
My crystal ball upset those of a Chelsea and Liverpool persuasion but after last night's Boxing Day resumption I'm tempted to stick with a first title for City (yes, Sir Alex, they ARE going to buy the title like Blackburn Rovers did with Alan Shearer and Co in 1995) finishing just ahead of a brilliantly reconstructed Spurs.
Tonight Redknapp's men go to Norwich City, who have coped well with promotion. They won't cope with Gareth Bale and Company at Carrow Road I'm afraid. And it's only just over two years since Spurs were languishing at the foot of the table under some Spaniard called Juande Ramos. Incredible.
Though a win will leave Spurs seven points adrift with a game in hand, Redknapp's men have neither the Champions League nor it's evil little brother the Europa League to worry about. I can honestly see them pushing City all the way and ending ahead of a strangely disjointed Man United.
Did you see them last night? A crushing 5-0 win over weary Wigan, with Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov scoring a neat hat-trick. Wayne Rooney? Over-rated, over-weight. And rested for a match which saw United go level on points at the top with their sky blue neighbours.
Connor Sammon was sent off for a hand in the face on Michael Carrick and Berbatov was given a fairly dodgy penalty on a night when many will have seen referee Phil Dowd as Sir Alex Ferguson's habitual twelfth man in black. But that would be trite. United are far from a spent force - with Ryan Giggs proving 40 is the new 20 as he approaches an age when most have gone for the pipe and slippers years ago.
Remarkably, just as I predicted on South Africa's www.metrofm.co.za yesterday morning, Manchester City were held by Roy Hodgson's West Brom despite the huge gulf in economics between the two clubs. Did I ever tell you guys about me and Roy, Pretoria circa 1976? Yup, Hodgson started his coaching journey in Pretoria, now Tshwane, many years ago.
The Hawthornes very nearly witnessed a serious shock, but Jerome Thomas hit the post late on after Shane Long had inexplicably missed with a headed chance minutes earlier. City looked like millionaires - billionaires if you talk in South African rands - often do. Spoilt, brattish and lazy. Africa's newly-crowned player of the year Yaya Toure found himself chased down and frustrated. Mario Balotelli hit the bar (the wooden on across the top of the goal rather than the various bars in downtown Manchester) and generally enhanced his reputation as an arrogant entertainer rather than a deadly striker.
Given an Arsenal win against lowly Wolves tonight - Robin van Persie needs two goals to equal Alan Shearer's all-time record of 36 in a calendar year - the top four will be much as I predicted. City lose the Toure brothers to the African Nations Cup soon, which won't help their quest - while Arsenal are threatening to sign legendary top-scorer Thierry Henry on loan to help them over the period with Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh off on their CAF duties.
But just below the top four, the battle for Champions League qualification rages. Rock-bottom Blackburn produced two heroes in the last minute of their epic - and surprising - 1-1 draw at Liverpool.
Charlie Adam's own goal put Rovers and under-pressure boss Steve Kean ahead just before half-time but Maxi Rodriguez levelled to give the Reds hope. But in the final minutes with Stevie Gerrard on as a back-from-injury-saviour-sub, stand-in goalkeeper Mark Bunn produced a stupendous save to deny Andy Carroll and teenager Adam Henley made a brilliant goal-line clearance to secure the point.
Chelsea had it just as tough. With John Terry doing a lot better than Luis Suarez under the racism spotlight, they went ahead against Fulham but everyone's favourite American Clint Dempsey secured a point for the Cottagers. Fernando Torres? He produced an excellent early volley which deserved a long-awaited fourth goal for the Blues, but was brilliantly denied.
With 11 points between his side and the Mancunians at the top, Chelsea's 34-year-old boss Andre Villas-Boas appeared to throw in the towel. He said: The former Porto coach showed his inexperience, admitting to the BBC: "The difference between us and the top will be big.
"With City and United continuing to get the points they are getting at the moment, it'll be difficult.
"We have to focus on our position at the moment and make a real assessment. Maybe the Premier League is over for us at the moment."
Down at the bottom, Bolton eventually crumbled to a 2-0 defeat against Newcastle - their first win in six - while QPR go to Swansea tonight.
And the award for the least festive of the Boxing Day games? That goes to Aston Villa and Stoke City, who made so many bleary-eyed post-Xmas football fans stay up late for a match which deserved a place in South Africa's Premier League. No imagination, no craft, no guile.
And come to think of it... why haven't we got a range of fascinating Boxing Day fixtures on the menu in South Africa? Do we really have to wait six weeks for a resumption of the Absa Premiership? Madness.


  1. Drat. Arsenal unable to beat Wolves, held 1-1 at a frustrated Emirates thanks to an inspired Hennessey and over-reliance on Robin van Persie. Spurs comfortbale 2-0 winners over normal Norwich at Carrow Road. Gareth Bale's first two League goals of the season, seven in all competitions though. 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp: "That was a very good performance, we're on a good run." Yup, 16 games, 12 wins and they're the only side really chasing the two Manchesters. I think my prediction of second place could be spot on... not so sure about Arsenal finishing in top four ahead of Chelsea though!

  2. Of the ten Boxing Day fixtures over two days, only Newcastle, Manchester United and Spurs won... the other seven were draws. Makes a big difference... about to talk about it on www.metrofm.co.za at 8.30am... listen online in England at 6.30am if your an early riser!