FREE KICK - Rafa Benitez is Public Enemy No. 1 to Chelsea supporters, while fans of Liverpool treat the Spaniard as if he's the fifth Beatle. History adds a shine to Rafa's Liverpool resume; a Champions League crown in 2005 despite falling behind 3-nil at halftime of the championship game; the FA Cup trophy in 2006; a Champions League runner-up finish in 2007. Benetiz also did well domestically with the Reds finishing third in 2006 (a point out of second), and a second place result in 2010, his last with the club. Then there was his verbal sparring with Sir Alex Ferguson. It brought back memories of Tupac vs. Biggie from the 90's, a pure rapper's delight. Benetiz was punked on occasion but for the most part the portly one dished out as well as he received. The old met the new this past weekend when Rafa Benetiz and his Chelsea teammates visited Liverpool. Let's kick start this thing.
LIVERPOOL vs. CHELSEA - As expected the Anfield fans gave Benetiz a royal welcome but their smiles turned upside down in the 26th minute when Oscar headed home a corner kick. 1-0 Chelsea at intermission. Luis Suarez lobbed a change-up seven minutes after the re-start. Former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge would make no mistake with his volley and the game was tied at one. Suarez put hand to ball five minutes later allowing Eden Hazard to untie the knot, 2-1 Chelsea. It stayed that way deep into injury time when Sturridge and Suarez engaged in a role reversal. The Uruguayan would blast home the equalizer ending matters with a 2-2 stalemate. The game was over but the drama was just beginning. Late in the second half replays caught Suarez biting the forearm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic following a scrum in the penalty area. Expect the unexpected in the premiership, but gnawing on the opponent's flesh is new to me. It brought back memories from a generation ago when The Sheik and Freddie Blassie went Dracula on the forehead's of unsuspecting babyface wrestlers. Suarez will likely serve time in soccer's sin bin, courtesy of a well-deserved suspension. Liverpool-2 Chelsea-2.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs. MANCHESTER CITY - Gareth Bale, this author's candidate for MVP honors, returned to the Spurs starting eleven after missing the prior two weeks with a leg injury but City crashed the welcome home party through the majesty of Carlos Tevez. The Argentine weaved his way through the Tottenham midfield and back line like a seamstress before finding James Milner with a how-did-he-do that pass. With green acres at his disposal Milner would pick out Samir Nasri for the only goal of the first half. Spurs shifted into desperation mode in the second stanza and finally found the back of the net in the 72nd. Texan Clint Dempsey stood tall in the saddle delivering a sinker from five yards out, 1-1 with 20 minutes remaining. Substitute striker Jermain Defoe came out of the bullpen and unleashed a wicked fastball to the outside corner, 2-1 Spurs at the 79-minute mark. Bale would put the game to bed in the 82nd giving the home side a courageous 3-1 victory and improving their Champions League condition from critical to stable. Tottenham-3 Manchester City-1.
FULHAM vs. ARSENAL - The lone London derby on the premiership docket was turned on its head just 12 minutes in when Fulham's Steve Sidwell was found guilty of a dangerous two-footed challenge on Mikel Arteta. Sidwell was shown red and Fulham played 10-against 11 for nearly 80 minutes. Sidwell is a repeat offender having served a similar suspension earlier in the season. Branded as an ex-con, he's now required to serve a four-game sentence. Fulham would defend like the Union army at Gettysburg but would reluctantly wilt under Arsenal's aerial and ground attacks. Per Mertesacker used the old noggin for the only score in the 43rd. The gunners have now won eight of their last 10 and currently sit third in the premiership standings. Arsenal-1 Fulham-nil.
SUNDERLAND vs. EVERTON - The elite midfielders of the BPL such as Bale, Silva, and Mata travel like a luxury automobile while Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon motors around the pitch like a Land Rover. The rugged native of Benin scored the only goal deep into first half stoppage time courtesy of a charitable gift from the defensively-challenged Leighton Baines. Everton was found lacking on the offensive end justifying the result. David Moyes' side harbored hopes of stealing a coveted Champions League berth however this effort was worthy of a jaywalking ticket. Take a bow Paolo Di Canio; he'll never win a popularity contest, but with six points in two games, not to mention breathing space above the relegation zone, his skills as a manager are to be commended. Sunderland-1 Everton-nil.
NORWICH CITY vs. READING - Norwich had produced just one victory in their last 16 matches dropping them dangerously close to the premiership's outer limits. Goals from Ryan Bennett and Elliott Bennett (no relation) two minutes apart offset a 72nd tally from Gareth McCleary. The canaries are singing this week after a must-have victory. Norwich-2 Reading-1.
SOUTHAMPTON vs. SWANSEA CITY - The pitch was tilted downhill in Southampton's favor in the first 45 while Swansea enjoyed the better of play in the final 45. This one was a paperback instead of a hard-cover read. Southampton-0 Swansea-0.
WEST HAM UNITED vs. WIGAN - Wigan is within the final three drop zone, but also have an eye to the FA Cup final where they are to meet Manchester City. Me thinks that remaining in the premiership for the 2013-14 season is a more valuable prize than a claim to soccer's oldest trophy but it wasn't evident on this day. The hammers treated their opponent like a nail during the entire match. If this was a boxing or UFC bout it would've been stopped long before the end. West Ham enjoyed the comforts of home with Matthew Jarvis scoring from Wigan's front porch while Kevin Nolan delivered the goods from the doorstep. The 2-nil outcome doesn't accurately describe West Ham's complete domination. West Ham-2 Wigan-0.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION vs. NEWCASTLE UNITED - Newcastle reminds me of the young schoolboy who is constantly teased and bullied by the class muscle head. At the first sign of adversity they have a tendency to curl up in a fetal position. They walked tall and with a sense of purpose after taking a 1-0 lead into the halftime break. WBA's offensive attack, which was stuck in neutral in the first 45, went into overdrive in the second half. Billy Jones would deposit a loose ball into the back of the net and the two teams would share a point apiece. Newcastle would be well served to hit the gym to add some muscle and develop a spine. WBA-1 Newcastle-1.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS vs. STOKE - Some things in life are given; such as death, taxes, and disagreements between conservatives and liberals. Add to that list a demotion for QPR. Stoke has an allergic reaction to scoring but received goals in each half from Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters in putting QPR out of its misery. Stoke-2 QPR-0.
PENALTY KICK - Manchester United is poised to claim the Barclays Premier League title. It's the red devils’ sixth championship in the 21st century. They share the same approach once adopted by the late Al Davis. The Oakland Raiders owner wanted no part of the popular adage that a team should take what the opponent gave them. Instead he told his team to take what they want. It's that greedy, selfish, attitude that separates the great from the good.