Another week of soccer is in the books – can you believe the season is almost half over? It seems like we just kicked off! But we have a very frantic Christmas fixture period coming up, and this a time that can really start separating the men from the boys.
Coaches hate the idea of having to play four matches in ten days, with reason, but for the fans, this really is a feast of football. We’ve got a number of great games on FOX Soccer all through the holidays, so I do hope you can spend a bit of it with us!
I do want to start with Manchester United, who are guaranteed to be leading the league at Christmas after dispatching Sunderland. While you never crown the winner of the league in December, you have to say United deserve to be where they are. They’ve been the most consistent team, and I thought they were spectacular on Saturday.
When they are on song, they really are the most dangerous team in the Premier League. They play with width, they play with pace, and Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are clearly the best in Britain right now up top. Those two men are why Sir Alex Ferguson’s expectations this season are so high, and deservedly so.
I do think concerns remain at the back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a defensive midfielder or a quality defender came around in the window if United wouldn’t have a look. But getting Nemanja Vidic back gives them a little help and a lot of belief. Really, when United have everyone fit, they don’t miss much: top to bottom they are the most solid team in the league.
I was disappointed to see my old club lose this weekend to Manchester City, but credit where it is due: City bounced back really well and that was a champion’s performance. I think there’s no doubt now that Roberto Mancini has settled on Tevez, Silva and Aguero up front and now that Europe is out of the picture, they will be relentless in England. City are a force to be reckoned with and it could again come down to the final day between the two Manchester giants. Newcastle’s inconsistency I’ll leave for another day.
I also want to give a little love to Norwich. We often concentrate on the Big Four, but Norwich deserve their place in the spotlight after going unbeaten in ten league games. Chris Hughton has shown himself to be a very good manager — he was smart to build on the ideas of Paul Lambert and to keep them playing at pace with that hunger for goal. It’s great to see the Canaries, and the likes of Steve Clarke’s West Brom, playing some great football and winning games.
Now, the bad: UEFA’s ban against Serbia is a joke. Fining a country less money for racist abuse of another team than they did a player who displayed an advertiser’s slogan on his drawers is unconscionable. The fact that UEFA president Michel Platini is considering appealing his own board’s ruling tells you all you need to know. Racism is a huge problem in our society and our game, and “punishments” like that one really make me wonder if the people that run the game are taking the issue seriously. FIFA needs to step in and lay down a marker that this is not acceptable.
I was also very disappointed by Everton’s Maroune Fellaini. His headbutt on Ryan Shawcross deserves heavy sanctions from both his club and the FA. There is no excuse for trying to deliberately injure a colleague, and while he’s apologized to Shawcross, it cannot end there. This is really unfortunate because Fellaini has had a fine season — there was no reason for him to do this at all.
I do want to end on a high note, so congratulations to Harry Redknapp and QPR for getting their first win of the season. They’ve been a better team than they have shown and I expect them to now make it a battle. They have some talent, but they have lacked direction and confidence, and we’re already starting to see that back at Loftus Road. The great escape is on!
As always, you can follow me on my Twitter account @warrenbarton2 and ask a question any time to the entire gang @FOXSoccer. I really love hearing from all of you fans each week – thanks and keep it up! Finally, please join us for all the holiday games – there are some real crackers to come over the next fortnight. Happy holidays to all of you and thanks as always for reading!