Expect much self-congratulatory back-slapping this week when
a minimum of three Premier League clubs reach the last eight of the Champions
It is impossible to deny that English club football is the
strongest in the world, but is that really a good thing?
Early Doors could go in a number of directions with this particular
hot potato - a lack of opportunities for homegrown players; 'lesser'
clubs getting an ever-smaller slice of TV revenues; even the crushing dullness
that comes with three English teams in the Champions League semis.
But how about this: English football just isn't much fun to watch any more.
The statistics suggest the Premier League is far from the
undisputed entertainment capital it once was. This season, goals have been
scored at 2.44 per game, nearly half a goal less than La Liga.
But the problem is not so much the lack of goals as the way
the unpredictability and entertainment have been sucked out.
English football is a jaffa cake, and some greedy sod has
whipped the orangey bit off the top while nobody was looking, leaving nothing
but a dull, spongey base.
ED has been fortunate enough to see some cracking foreign
games over the last couple of weeks (and unfortunate enough to watch them on a
TV in some dank office in the South-West London hinterland).
Anyway, a week or so ago it saw an amazing 3-3 draw between Inter
and Roma in which Mourinho's boys
came back from 2-0 and 3-1 down.
By the end, the Special One was beside himself on account of
the complete tactical anarchy on display, and not even the absence of Francesco
Totti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could dampen an absolutely barnstorming encounter.
ED would have called it the game of the season, had Atletico
Madrid not minutes earlier completed a frankly
preposterous 4-3 victory against Barcelona,
in which both sides showcased their 50s throwback 2-3-5 formation.
This Saturday just gone, Atletico were at it again in a
rollicking derby draw against Real Madrid that the 1-1 scoreline didn't even come close to doing justice. Atleti were
only prevented from winning handsomely by the hopeless finishing of Diego
Forlan (some things never change) and Sergio Aguero's
decision to stop playing and appeal for a penalty when he could just as easily
have taken a shot.
In fact these games resembled a rather more recent time than
the 50s - the Premier League in the 90s; a time when teams attacked without thinking
about the consequences, flair players had time on the ball, and the tyranny of
pace, strength and size had not taken hold.
Were the likes of Matt Le Tissier, Gianfranco Zola and Dennis
Bergkamp truly world class? Who cares? The Premiership might have little more
than a retirement home for ageing stars, but it was a bloody exciting one.
A decade on, we have just endured one of the most turgid
weekends of football imaginable.
FA Cup sixth round win at Coventry
was so completely lacking in drama that ITV would have been better off showing
90 minutes of Tic Tac adverts.
Just when it looked like conclusions could not get any more
foregone, Manchester United ambled to a humiliatingly easy 4-0 win at Fulham. Roy
Hodgson's men are supposed to be
good at home, but this was more one-sided than a Soviet show trial.
United are supposed to have the most devastating attacking
force since the Visigoths, but we very rarely get to see it in full flow,
even in a thrashing of Fulham.
Teams are so petrified of getting caught on the break that
they retreat en masse to their own penalty box.
So United never score from the kind of thrilling end-to-end
move in which the team of Eric Cantona, Andrei Kanchelskis and junior Ryan Giggs
used to specialise - they just pass it around the opposition half unchallenged
and then somebody knocks it in from the edge of the box.
You can't argue
with the effectiveness of this tactic, but it is all just a bit tame.
Sunday was no better. Arsenal's
win against Burnley was predictably convincing, but even Everton's comeback against Middlesbrough
bore the hallmark of wearying predictability.
Down 1-0 at half-time, David Moyes brought a decent attacker - Louis Saha - off the bench and within 15 minutes the
Toffees were in front. Easy.
The Premier League supposedly finds itself under attack from
the credit crunch and UEFA generalissimo Michel
Platini - but if fate conspires to take the Greatest Show On EarthTM down a peg
or two, it could be good news for everybody.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Ronaldo bigs himself up after scoring his first goal for
Corinthians. He was booked for excessive celebration. "I'm very sorry for the incident, but I couldn't contain my emotions. Putting modesty aside for a moment,
I dominated (the ball) to perfection. If I didn't
know how to do this, I wouldn't have
got where I am today."
FOREIGN VIEW: Four players were sent off as
River Plate beat Arsenal 3-1 in a stormy encounter in Argentina's
Luciano Leguizamon put Arsenal ahead from a
penalty in first-half stoppage time after a foul by Nicolas Sanchez, who was
Despite being a man down, River replied with
a Radamel Falcao Garcia header and a delightful chip from Marcelo Gallardo early
in the second half.
Arsenal had Sergio Sena sent off for a foul
on Gallardo in the 73rd minute and River Plate substitute Rodrigo Archubi, who had
only been on for 10 minutes, followed immediately for lashing out at an
Gallardo added a third in the 77th minute
before Arsenal had defender Anibal Matellan sent off for a second bookable offence.
Defending champions Boca Juniors also had two
players dismissed in a 2-0 defeat at lowly Independiente.
COMING UP: No live football today, but stick around as we
wrap up a (hopeless) weekend with an FA Cup team of the week, winners and
losers and all manner of feature-based fun.