Rivalries. How we sports fans adore them. The Lakers and Celtics feuded on the pro hardwood, Duke and North Carolina renewed acquaintances on the college floor, and if your favorite sport is played on blades, then Saturday night's Canadiens/Maple Leafs tilt was for you. Of course, the Democrats and Republicans made noise. Something about contraceptives and religious organizations; I tried like heck to avoid the argument. While I avoid politics, I'm attracted to the premiership. On Saturday, it served up a special rivalry when Manchester United played host to Liverpool. Let's kick-start this thing.
The quality of the first half was especially dull and tasteless. Liverpool's finishing in the final third of the field was particularly sour. Man U wasn't much better in the first 45, but could point to a Paul Scholes header in the 30th minute as a source of pride. The Red Devils came out with nostrils flaring in the opening minutes of half No. 2. Wayne Rooney would score twice in the opening six minutes. On the first tally, he outmuscled Liverpool defender Glen Johnson. On the second, he was the recipient of a Jay Spearing donation.
Luis Suarez was a man on an island for Liverpool and flattered his team's scoreline in the 80th minute. However, his refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra before the match was childish. Head coach Kenny Dalglish should also be faulted for not demanding that his striker grab hands with the Man U captain. By Sunday, Suarez and Dalglish saw the error in their ways and issued an apology. Let's hope this matter is put to rest.
Manchester United 2, Liverpool 1.
Chelsea appeared to be in a daze. No doubt they had a difficult time erasing the memory of last week's three-goal collapse against Man U. Steven Pienaar outraced Branislav Ivanovic to a loose ball in the fifth minute, and Everton had the winds at their backs the rest of the match. I'm grateful to only have to spell Denis Stracqualursi instead of pronounce it; the Argentine made it 2-nil in the 71st with American Landon Donovan providing the help. Chelsea was below lackluster, offensively. If they don't finish in the top four, it'll be R.I.P. for A.V.B.
Everton 2, Chelsea 0.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR-NEWCASTLE UNITED
This one was over before it began. Emanuel Adebayor was the cog that drove the Spurs engine. The home side played much faster and quicker than its overmatched opponent. Benoit Assou-Ekotto opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Two goals from newcomer Louis Saha and one each from Nike Kranjar and Adebayor completed the thrashing. So much for the rumors swirling around Harry Redknapp creating a distraction. Newcastle got absolutely nothing from Demba Ba or any of their other players.
Tottenham Hotspur 5, Newcastle United 0.
ASTON VILLA-MANCHESTER CITY
The premiership leaders got the three points, but it wasn't easy. Once again City had problems when it came time to finish their handiwork. Joleon Lescott ventured up from his fullback position and scored from the doorstep in the 63rd minute. Joe Hart demonstrated why he's the best goalkeeper in the UK with a fantastic palm save on a Darren Bent volley in the game's waning moments. Help may be on the way for city with Carlos Tevez rumored to be returning, not to mention the suspended Mario Balotelli.
Manchester City 1, Aston Villa 0.
All the goal scoring came in the second half. The Gunners suffered a bad break in the 70th when their tower of power, Per Mertesacker, collapsed to the pitch with an apparent ankle injury. That allowed James Mclean to pick up the scraps and give the Black Cats a 1-0 advantage. Five minutes later Aaron Ramsey pin-balled a shot off both goal posts to equalize at 1. And in typical Hollywood fashion, Thierry Henry volleyed home the game winner in injury time. Merci to the veteran Frenchman, as he's set to return to MLS in the first week of March.
Arsenal 2, Sunderland 1.
SWANSEA CITY-NORWICH CITY
Norwich proved once again why they are the premiership's road warriors. Steven Fletcher scored one of the most attractive goals of the season to knot the score at 1 shortly before intermission, but two goals by Grant Holt gave the Canaries all three points.
Norwich City 3, Swansea City 2.
WOLVERHAMPTON-WEST BROMWICH ALBION
WBA would score five goals on the afternoon and, truth be told, they deserved to score at least four more. Several squads have allowed 7 goals in a game this season but Saturday's defensive effort by Wolves was the worst that this observer has seen. They gave up acres of space, weren't tenacious in their one-on-one defending and never tracked back to defend the counterattack. This reminds me of the famous line when a coach was asked to describe his team's execution and the reply was that he was all for it. Head coach Mick McCarthy had to be hotter than July when this one was over. On Monday he was relieved of his job.
WBA 5, Wolverhampton 1.
Nothing fancy to report from this contest. It was the London side that put its hard hat and construction boots to work. Recently acquired Pavel Progebnyak delivered a lightning bolt in the 16th minute with Clint Dempsey also providing thunder from 30 yards out. Regrettably, it goes in the record books as an own goal, but Dempsey should take credit for a shot well-taken.
Fulham 2, Stoke 1.
BLACKBURN ROVERS-QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Wow, Yak is back for Rovers, and he helped lead the home side to a 3-0 lead at intermission. QPR would strike twice in the second half to create some sweaty palms for the home supporters, but Blackburn did enough in the first 45 to record the win.
Blackburn 3, Queens Park Rangers 2.
A battle to escape the premiership's danger zone belonged to the visitors. Gary Caldwell was free and clear to give Wigan the advantage in the 43rd, but Bolton would equalize via Route 1 in the 67th. A lengthy goal kick found the boot of Mark Davies, and he would make no mistake beating Ali Al Habsi to the far post. The contest sprang to life from there. My main man Victor Moses turned on the jets to burst down the left side. His shot from eight yards out was blocked, but James McArthur was johnny-on-the-spot to drive home the game winner. Before the three points were cemented, Al Habsi denied Ryo Miyaichi in the 85th. In the first two months of the campaign Al Habsi splashed about his net like a dolphin at Sea World. In the last two months he's been barbell strong.
Wigan 2, Bolton 1.