In a weekend where Manchester United opened up what appears to be an unassailable lead over Manchester City while Chelsea Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal look to have made the battle for the remaining two Champions League places a three-horse race, Shaun Curran assesses the talking points from another intriguing set of Premier League fixtures.
Roberto Mancini needs to look in the mirror, not blame his players
We wrote last week that the title race wasn’t definitely over, but let’s face it: it is definitely over now and no mistake. Even if Manchester City were playing well, a 12-point gap to Manchester United would be a mountain to climb, but the fact is they are not performing and, if we’re being honest, haven’t been all season.
Roberto Mancini has been quick to point the finger at his players, suggesting they can ‘stay at home’ if they play like they did in the 3-1 loss at Southampton and dropping hints that he will make sweeping changes to the squad come the summer.
But Mancini will be lucky if the sweeping change isn’t made in the Etihad Stadium dug-out.
His players may have underperformed, but that is nothing compared to the manager: to be so far behind in the title race after their disastrous and embarrassing Champions League campaign is unacceptable with the money City have spent, and the Italian should be under serious pressure.
Nearly all of his summer signings have been a disaster: Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Maicon have made just 20 appearances between them and offered nothing to the team, while established stars have been woefully out of form (Yaya Toure, I’m looking at you).
It has resulted in a terrible campaign and Mancini will be lucky if he doesn’t pay the price.
Chris Samba might not be worth £12.5m after all
As Harry Redknapp rightly pointed out, Swansea are a good side and Michael Laudrup has indeed done a good job with them.
But the pitiful resistance his Queens Park Rangers team put up in their 4-1 defeat at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday suggests an act of escapology isn’t on the cards and Redknapp needs his new signings to shape up and fast.
The Swans had failed to score in five of their previous six matches but could have had more against Rangers and the way the Rs defence looked all at sea despite having Chris Samba at its heart was seriously concerning.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but nothing stank of anxiety quite like paying £12.5 million for the former Blackburn defender, who is about as average a centre half as you are likely to find in the Premier League.
Leggy, off the pace and, it must be said, far too heavy, Samba didn’t even look like his old self in Wales and didn’t play like a man about to be the cornerstone of a survival bid.
And with Redknapp’s side now seven points adrift of safety, that bid is looking increasingly doomed.
Is the writing on the wall for Big Sam at Upton Park?
It is never a good thing when chairmen of football clubs start making statements, especially when you would think that there is absolutely no need to be making a statement in the first place.
But then again, West Ham United co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold make Jordan look like the shy, retiring type when it comes to courting the media, so it was perhaps no surprise to see the pair yet again open their gobs following the Hammers’ 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa.
Yet what they said was interesting. In refusing to completely back Sam Allardyce – Sullivan said no new contract will be discussed until Premier League safety is secured – while criticising the performance at Villa Park, you get the feeling that this marriage of convenience could be about to be annulled, with the hierarchy obviously getting twitchy about a run of three wins in 15 games.
It could be for the best: Big Sam has done his job if he keeps West Ham up after winning promotion last season, while the club can look forward to their (mooted) move to the Olympic Stadium with a younger man that the fans can relate to such as, oh I don’t know, some crazy Italian guy often seen around the Swindon area….
Frank Lampard will be Chelsea’s loss and somebody else’ gain
What is the Chelsea hierarchy playing at? It is a question that has been asked ad nauseum over the years for any number of reasons, but the steadfast refusal to give Frank Lampard a new contract is one of the most baffling decisions of Roman Abramovich’s near decade in charge at Stamford Bridge.
As Mark E Smith nearly said, 40,000 Chelsea fans can’t be wrong and they are just stating the obvious: the way Lampard is playing, he has to be worth keeping on for another year, even at a reduced level of salary.
In a week when the former West Ham star scored the winner for England against Brazil at Wembley and followed that up by scoring a cracker in Chelsea’s 4-1 win over Wigan – his 198th Blues goal -heads are being scratched all round.
Sentiment should have no place in football, but this is more than that. It looks like a no brainer. Alas, as Chelsea fans know all too well, only one man calls the shots and, as the song goes, he does what he likes.
As European action kicks off again, how will it affect the Premier League?
Both the Champions League and Europa League return this week and it could well be that Europe’s two club competitions may yet have a say in what happens back at home between now and the end of the Premier League season.
With Manchester United sure to go for the Champions League, how Arsenal juggle their commitments home and abroad could be key to their top-four aspirations.
But it is the Europa League sides that intrigue the most, with Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool hoping to do enough in the Premier League not to be in the competition at all next season.
Newcastle United are likely to be more concerned with Premier League survival, but with Andre Villas-Boas playing strong teams throughout and Rafa Benitez desperate for a trophy to mark his short stint at Stamford Bridge, there is every chance that five out of the six remaining English clubs could be going all out for European glory.
How far they go could be the difference in what competition they are playing in during 2013/14.