Trecker's Monday Morning Wrap
Manchester United ensured that the Premier League crown is theirs to lose with a stunning 4-2 comeback win over West Ham on Saturday that showcased their championship mentality.
United got plenty of help: on the same day, a sad-looking Arsenal side slumped to a third straight draw, this time a 0-0 result against ten-man Blackburn while Stoke stunned Chelsea with a 1-1 draw at the Britannia to quash the Blues’ title comeback hopes. Only Manchester City kept up the pace, whipping a sorry Sunderland 5-0 on Sunday to move within three points of the Gunners in second.
In a week filled with questions about Wayne Rooney, the young England striker chose an auspicious time to answer his critics, firing a hat-trick past a stunned West Ham after his United side had gone down to an unlikely 2-0 deficit. Mark Noble had scored twice from the spot to stake West Ham to an early lead, but when Nemanja Vidic was lucky to escape a sending off for a foul on Demba Ba, the tide may have turned against the Hammers, who were en route to a vital three points in their own relegation battle.
Then, Rooney put the team on his shoulders, first beating Robert Green with an inspired free kick, then blasting the equalizer across the 'keeper’s body to the far corner. Rooney would complete his day from the spot while Chicharito added a late exclamation point. Rooney may yet pay a price for his "celebration" after giving his side the lead as the FA will review his "comments" into the TV lens.
The win left United looking down at Arsenal by seven points and despite a tough schedule yet ahead - including a Champions League tie on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge - firmly in the driver’s seat.
Arsenal’s title hopes evaporated the same day like so much dew on morning grass, another punchless and disjointed performance that has even Arsene Wenger’s staunchest defenders starting to call for a major shakeup at the club. It has been six long years since the team has taken a trophy, and they are unlikely to take one again this season after a spectacular collapse that saw them miss out on four winnable titles.
Saturday, they were held scoreless by Blackburn in a game that saw little guile and a lack of leadership. Manuel Almunia almost gifted Rovers a win with another shaky outing; insiders say Jens Lehmann will be in the nets next weekend.
Chelsea’s resurgence was stopped short by a battling Stoke side, 1-1. Stoke might well have won had it not been for the steel of Petr Cech and the woodwork. John Walters got the opener with a dazzling run from the halfway line, and then Stoke peppered Cech with shot after shot in the second half to no avail. Didier Drigba did grab a fine equalizer off Nicolas Anelka’s cross, but the power of Kenwyne Jones was the difference on a day that made Chelsea’s back four look very ordinary.
Roy Hodgson got a measure of revenge with a 2-1 win over his former employer Liverpool that gave West Bromwich Albion some badly needed breathing room. Chris Brunt scored twice from the spot, earning the winning attempt when Pepe Reina was forced to foul Peter Odemwingie in the area. Liverpool were hobbled on the day, losing Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson to early injuries, and never were able to regain full form.
Elsewhere, minus Stuart Holden, lost for the season to injury, Bolton slumped to a 2-1 loss at Birmingham. Brad Friedel’s Aston Villa and Tim Howard’s Everton traded punches, but the teams deadlocked 2-2 in one of the wilder games of the day. Michael Bradley did not make Villa’s bench in a continuing freeze-out by manager Gerard Houllier that is beginning to raise eyebrows. Villa’s midfield has hardly been positive; Bradley was the best holding player on an awful Borussia Moenchengladbach team and was expected to slot in at Villa Park. Why he has not is an open question.
Wigan held a listless Tottenham to a 0-0 draw while Newcastle whipped bottom-boys Wolverhampton 4-1. Clint Dempsey’s Fulham got a solid 3-0 win over a reeling Blackpool on Sunday. And Manchester City ran riot over Sunderland, with Adam Johnson leading the way on a day that saw five different City players find the back of the net.
In Germany, St. Pauli’s reputation took a major blow when their game with Schalke had to be halted after a linesman was felled by a glass of beer. With only two minutes to play and the home side already down 2-0, ref Deniz Aytekin pulled the plug after the linesman was knocked down, and required medical attention. The Bundeliga is investigating the match and may award Schalke the game on forfeit. St. Pauli has already expressed regret for the incident and is launching its own inquiry.
On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund moved closer to their coronation as they downed Steve Cherundolo’s Hannover in convincing fashion, 4-1. Lucas Barrios scored twice to lead the team seven points clear atop the Bundesliga and snap a slight slump. Leverkusen remain second after edging Kaiserslautern 1-0 thanks to Sidney Sam’s late goal, while Bayern got a 1-0 win over an awful Moenchengladbach side thanks to Arjen Robben. That win was played out against a backdrop of fan protests against president Uli Hoeness. His sin? Offering aid to near-bankrupt crosstown rivals TSV 1860.
Elsewhere, Mainz were held by Freiburg 1-1; Ricardo Clark and Frankfurt got a 1-1 away draw at Wolfsburg; Hoffenheim fired blanks against Hamburg, 0-0 and Werder Bremen drew 1-1 with Stuttgart. Koln pipped Nurnberg 1-0 on Sunday.
In Italy, AC Milan won the Milan derby in stunning fashion, getting two goals from Alexandre Pato to cruise 3-0 past Inter. It was a remarkable win that put Inter squarely in the rear-view mirror and allowed Napoli to leap frog Leonardo’s men into second place. Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto’o were totally marked out of the game, and Pato scored after only 45 seconds to set the tone after Julio Cesar spilled an attempt by Robinho. Both teams finished with ten men after Cristian Chivu and Antonio Cassano were ejected in separate incidents.
Sunday, Napoli took second with a blinding 4-3 win over Lazio thanks to a hat-trick by Edinson Cavani. Napoli roared back from 2-0 down, then saw Cavani snatch a late winner when he lobbed 'keeper Fernando Muslera after beating the trap. Cavani became Napoli's all-time single-season scoring leader with the game; Napoli also have not lost at home since October.
Elsewhere, Lecce stunned Udinese 2-0 while Catania beat up Palermo 4-0. Genoa’s Euro hopes were ended with a 1-0 loss to Cagliari while Bari retained slim hope of avoiding the drop with a late 2-1 win away to Parma. Brescia handled Bologna a 3-1 whipping while Chievo and Sampdoria did nothing in a 0-0 draw. Cesena and Fiorentina struggled to a 2-2 draw while Roma crushed 2-0 by Juventus.
In Spain, Jose Mourniho saw his team lose a home game - for the first time in over nine years. Real Madrid, depleted by injuries, were stunned 1-0 by Gijon thanks to a late goal from Miguel de las Cuevas that likely ends the giants’ hopes of catching Barcelona for the title. The result allowed Barcelona to open up an eight-point gap with their 1-0 win over Villarreal thanks to a goal from Gerard Pique. Both teams are in Champions League action at midweek.
Elsewhere, Valencia downed Getafe 4-2; Hercules tried to climb out of the drop zone with a 3-1 away win at Sociedad and Espanyol slumped to a 2-1 home loss to Santander.
In France, Lille opened up the gap atop Ligue 1 with a 3-1 win over Caen on the same day as Rennes were held 0-0 by Auxerre. Marseille kept up with a 1-0 win over Lens.
Elsewhere, Carlos Bocanegra’s St. Etienne were held 1-1 by Valenciennes; Lyon were stifled 2-2 by Nice and PSG’s hopes took a big dent with their 0-0 draw to Lorient.
In Holland, Twente beat PSV 2-0 in the showdown at the top of the Eredivisie. Oguchi Onyewu was an unused sub as Theo Janssen scored twice to open up a two-point lead. Chasing Ajax beat Heracles 3-0 on Sunday.
In Scotland, Maurice Edu and Glasgow Rangers were stunned 3-2 at home by Dundee United. Celtic’s match at Inverness was called off due to a waterlogged pitch, so they were unable to stretch their two-point lead. Hearts and Hibs drew 2-2 in the Edinburgh derby on Sunday.
Finally, in women’s play, England shocked the top-ranked U.S. national team 2-1 in a friendly. It was England’s first win over the Americans in 23 years.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.