Premier League Mixer: Aston Villa plot their escape, while Chelsea and Manchester United pick up vital wins in midweek Premier League action.
Villa Flip the Script
Every PL season hits a point of no return. A critical mass that signals a sprint towards the finish line. It typically comes around Matchday 27-30 — early in the final third of the campaign — and is signified by a specific match. This match is often a relegation six-pointer. And it always ends with a significant result. But what indicates this moment more than anything else is the crowd of said game tearing a hole in the universe. This year, the privilege fell to the Villa Park audience on Tuesday night as Aston Villa jumped out of the relegation zone by defeating West Brom 2-1.
The role of Evita on the balcony was played on Tuesday by Villa manager Tim Sherwood. Taking a few pages out of Alan Pardew’s touchline celebration book — along with a few excerpts from Paolo Di Canio and Brian Kidd’s respective books — the new gaffer played to the Birmingham crowd like Joel Osteen directing his flock. It was tough to tell if they were hyped because he was hyped or the other way around, but either way, you got the feeling watching it that the passion bubbling over had been years in the making. If Villa had indeed become bottlers under Paul Lambert, this was the bottle exploding.
Of course, Sherwood and Villa aren’t out of the, ahem, “forest” yet.
The fact remains that they can’t score goals, even with a fully fit Christian Benteke. Luckily, relegation fights are a phenomenon conquered through obscure means, not necessarily “goals,” per se. Qualities like commitment, toughness, and dedication are the ultimate trump cards this time of year. There are plenty of points to be stolen simply by outworking the opposition. This is why managers like Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce are invaluable late in the season for struggling bottom feeders. They’ve mastered how to get an extra dose of labor out of a downtrodden group of footballers.
In truth, we still don’t know much about Tim Sherwood as a manager. Things could go horribly wrong from here on out, blacklisting him from ever coaching in the top-flight again. But if Tuesday was a genuine peek into his coaching locker, then Sherwood might actually be a decent appointment. And Villa might actually stay up.
Blues Exhibit Title Spirit
Chelsea kept their pace atop the Premier League table with a pivotal 1-0 against West Ham at Upton Park. The lone goal of the match was provided by Eden Hazard, his tenth of the season.
Believe it or not, there’s a mutual respect that exists between Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce. They’ve publically voiced an admiration for each other’s managerial acumen in the past, and are always visibly cordial on the touchline before-and-after their respective teams clash. They also have a tendency to push the buttons of their more sensitive counterparts, namely Arsene Wenger. Despite one being from England’s Midlands and the other being from a coastal fishing town in Portugal, Mou and Big Sam are simply cut from the same cloth. Their occasional “stupid and silly” feud confirms it.
It’s then perhaps fitting that a match between the two managers’ teams would play out in an intriguing way. Though Chelsea won the possession battle, after Hazard’s goal, and through most of the second-half, West Ham pressed the Blues against their own goal with fervor and intent. The ever-apparent absence of suspended Nemanja Matic was firmly felt, however, the return of Thibaut Courtois proved critical as the Belgian stopper made several key interventions throughout the 90 minutes. Despite taking more shots-on-target and creating more clean-cut chances, West Ham were unable break down Chelsea’s formidable backline.
But, as expected, a Jose Mourinho side grinds out all three points in a crucial away fixture that, all things considered, they could’ve drawn or even lost. That’s what’s truly amazing about the man-managing footballing genius that is the Special One: because he so often defies convention and reason, the exception that he is becomes the rule when we discuss him. When all exterior variables point towards his team losing, when the run of play indicates they should concede and a bevy of opposed intangibles tower upon them, that’s when you know Jose’s got things under control.
Krul Bails United Out
A ghastly error from Tim Krul gifted Manchester United with a late win over Newcastle at St. James’ Park on Wednesday, keeping the Red Devils in fourth-place in the Premier League.
Louis van Gaal’s side were terrible against Newcastle on Wednesday evening, though gravestones aren’t likely to be carved for United quite yet for a couple of reasons. One, they still managed to win; through miraculous levels of luck, albeit. And two, they were categorically out-sucked by the Magpies. You can only be chastised so much when you were technically the “better” team.
Tim Krul’s 89th minute Magi-like gift to Ashley Young was a bronze-worthy sports gaff. The precision with which the Dutchman side-footed the wayward ball right into Young’s gracious, unbothered feet was art in itself, free-of-context. Add in the time on the clock and the dreadful state of the prior 88 minutes, and Krul’s debacle is worthy of a marathon floor-roll-while-laughing-fest. A necessary end to a fiasco.
To be fair, it wasn’t all unfulfilling at St. James’ Park. David De Gea was as spectacular as he’s been all season, including a game-saving stop on a Papiss Cisse header in the 90th minute. Though the crown of the night deservedly belongs to Jonas Gutierrez. The Argentine returned to action after a seventeen-month-long absence to undergo treatment for testicular cancer. Upon entering the match in the 65th minute, Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini immediately handed over the armband to his compatriot and friend. It was a charming gleam amidst an otherwise stark night of football on Tyneside.