A duo of derbies feature in this week’s Premier League mixer.
Harry Kane Superstar
On Saturday, in what was one of the 2014/15 Premier League season’s most enthralling encounters, Tottenham defeated Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane. It was the 180th edition of the famed North London derby and one that will surely be remembered for a long while by Lilywhites, Gunners, and, probably, most of the viewing audience alike, though for varying reasons.
See, both Tottenham and Arsenal supporters hang onto derby moments like birth of a child, recalling who they were with and where they were sitting when they watched that particular game, whichever one it may be. But for most others watching — most of us — something needs to occur for the event to qualify itself into our memory banks. It can be a familiar yet baffling scoreline, an antagonizing gesture from a player, or, like on Saturday, the yawping arrival of a new hero/villain.
Harry Kane is the most in-form striker in the PL, bar-none. Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be that coming into this season. He was meant to be a drudging prospect that could potentially develop into something a couple of seasons down the road, if the stars above Bill Nicholson Way conveniently aligned. The 21-year-old’s moderate performances last season for both Leicester City and England’s U-21s would tend to validate those expectations as reasonable. Kane’s showing against Arsenal, however, proved that he’s progressed far beyond those suppositions — his first goal was a poacher’s delight, while his second was as perfect of a header as any brooding centre-forward could dream up — but how far beyond?
There’s reason to be excited, sure. After all, the soon-to-be-England-International has now scored 12 league goals this campaign. But perhaps more importantly, he’s scored 10 of those in the last 9 league matches. This fact indicates two things: 1) he’s sizzling hot at the moment and 2) he is still technically unproven, unless you believe that the laws of sample-sizing are irrelevant. 9 games isn’t that long of a time-frame; it’s about the length of an average Luis Suarez suspension.
So it’s okay to remain a tad skeptical over Harry Kane. But it’s also okay to enjoy him. Maybe try both.
Gerrard Bids Goodison Adieu
It was only fitting that one of the more stimulating English derbies of the last few years was followed by one of the dullest. Not that the 224th installment of the Merseyside derby — a 0-0 stalemate — was starved of narrative. For starters, both sides were clearly there for the taking after each undergoing wayward campaigns compared to last year. Liverpool will struggle to even sniff the top-four, while Everton are barely evading a relegation scrap at the moment. Additionally, the return of Daniel Sturridge was met with either intrigue and fear throughout Liverpool, depending on one’s allegiance. But for the most part, this encounter was bookmarked — ever since his MLS move was announced on January 7th — as Steven Gerrard’s final game against Everton.
Gerrard’s celebrated Liverpool career has been a contradictory mixture of highs and lows. For example, an unforgettable Champions League title in 2005 sits opposite of an equally unforgettable Premier League title-choke in 2014. His career was vast in that way, which makes it exceedingly difficult to judge the weight of his legacy. It was perhaps appropriate that his final derby operated on that same premise. It wasn’t a great game, nor was it the worst. It didn’t confirm him as the G.O.A.T., nor the goat.
But it was an uneasy game for Gerrard, and that much has stayed consistent throughout his career. His trials are tiresome, so much so that you can visibly see the strain on his face at times. Sunday’s match was even worse in that regard. There were multiple occasions where Gerrard misplaced passes and sought blame at the blameless receiving party rather than his own lead feet. They weren’t unbecoming moments exactly. They were just demanding moments, moments that felt sadder than they would for most athletes on their swan songs. But that’s what Gerrard’s Liverpool journey has been like: hard to watch at times, but always emotional.
Sam and Lou Compare Hooves
A late goal from Daley Blind gave Manchester United a share of the spoils on Sunday at West Ham. The home side opened the scoring in the 49th with a brilliant, juggling volley from Cheikhou Kouyate but were ultimately unable to hold out for all three points. The match ended 1-1.
In one of football’s most glaring pot/kettle/black situations ever, Sam Allardyce raised eyebrows after Sunday’s match by referring to the visitors as “long-ball United.”
Allardyce further clarified his statements by stating, “You might criticize Louis van Gaal for playing long-balls as much as I am sometimes criticized for being direct. In the end it’s paid off for them.”
Few managers in the world, let alone England, have experienced a more fulfilling 2014/15 campaign as Allardyce. At this time last year, the West Ham boss was having his head called for from every corner of the Boleyn Ground. Fans were livid with their team’s fruitlessly dim-witted performances week-in and week-out, often citing Allardyce’s long-ball or “hoofball” tactics as the primary reason for their collective disdain. And they weren’t wrong. Going back to his early managerial days at Blackpool, Notts County, and, most notably, Bolton Wanderers, Allardyce has always maintained a certain stylistic philosophy that centers around athleticism, size, strength, and, yes, direct play. He knows long-balls like Guardiola knows short ones. Which, of course, makes him uniquely qualified to recognize the model.
But things have turned for Allardyce at West Ham, and turned drastically. The Hammers now sit comfortably in the top-ten, with an outside chance of European qualification looming. And the football currently being played by his team is universally and patently unboring. His comments towards van Gaal and United could absolutely be construed as a jibe, but really, they’re just a sign of his evergrowing confidence and comfort. He has always played the alpha male to his coaching counterparts no matter their name or status. It’s just that now he can play the part behind a team that’s actually good, that can properly dub a home draw to Manchester United as “unlucky.”