The most devastating news of the week was without a doubt Gary Speed's death by apparent suicide. My thoughts and condolences go to his family and friends. I saw Football Focus on BBC on Saturday where I watched him chatting about the game and reminiscing about his successful career. The more of a shock it was when the news came on Sunday. I just cannot shake off the thoughts of WHY?!?!?!
R.I.P. Gary Speed!
Top game: Liverpool's 1:1 home draw against Manchester City was a delight to watch. The visitors dominated the first half but were kept at bay by a very well organised homeside, the back line especially, as solid and reliable as ever. The second half was much more of a competition, Liverpool taking over the attack, hammering the City back line and goal with everything they had. Lucas Leiva and Luis Suarez were the stars of the show with intimidatingly sparkling displays. The draw was a fair result in the end, both top sides not deserving to lose.
Top team: Liverpool are unbeaten in ten matches since the 4-0 defeat away to Tottenham in September which sees them in the sixth spot of the league on 23 points, two behind Chelsea in fifth who have lost three out of their last five games and three behind Newcastle in fourth. Manchester City kept their unbeaten season record intact with their second draw added to their eleven wins taking them to 35 points which keeps them at the top of the league still five points ahead of their United rivals. You have to go back 15 Premier League games to find the last time City failed to score at least twice. Looking at those records and the table, December promises to be a mouthwatering month with some decisive fixtures and some surprises guaranteed, I am sure.
Top player: Joe Hart kept the goal saving his team's grace and ensuring them a point. His display with many breathtaking and exemplary saves serves very well as an ideal model for every goalkeeper to follow and be led by. Andy Carroll and Suarez were kept wondering what the hell they had to do to get a goal. In this case, Hart wouldn't even have let the ball be beamed through! Pepe Reina had a good game too proving his experience and status in the team but was not challenged anywhere near as much. Petr Cech and Tim Krul made some beautiful and crucial saves too for Chelsea and Newcastle respectively - it seemed to have been a goalkeepers' weekend!
Top goal: City's opener against Liverpool was a set-piece like out of the book. David Silva's inswinging corner was met decisively by Vincent Kompany. It looked like a fine header at first but on the second viewing the came off his shoulder and beat Reina. Javier Hernandez was in the right place at the right time too when he netted Wayne Rooney's volley which had ricocheted off Steven Taylor - although I have to say it looked very close to being offside. Both were not exactly breathtaking goals, but just nice goal exactly how they should be done!
Top news: A lot of cup action on and off the pitch this week: Carling Cup quarter finals and the semi finals draw; Europa League football with the group stage slowly but surely reaching its final stages; and last but not least the Euro 2012 group draw.
Flop game: Swansea's goalless draw against Aston Villa was hard enough to watch, I cannot and don't want to try to imagine how difficult and distressing it must have been for the players to get a game together after receiving the news of Gary Speed's apparent suicide. The images, tears and emotions of his close firend Shay Given marked the game and day. I would not have blamed them if they would have called the game(s) off on the day. It just puts everything into prespective and shows that football isn't everything.
Flop team: Chelsea did find back to their winning ways with their 3-0 home win against Wolves but I feel they should not try to fool themselves that everything is back to perfect. Wolves are fourth from bottom, hovering over the relegation zone and made the win nearly too easy for Chelsea. The Blues face Liverpool in the Carling Cup quarter final next and then have a trip to Newcastle to look forward to in the Permier League on Saturday. Those displays and results will show how much Andre Villas-Boas has learnt and changed from their defeats.
Flop player: Mario Balotelli proved himself as the ticking timebomb he is. It took him 17 whole minutes after coming on as a substitute to see two yellow cards and get the marching order after his elbow met Martin Skrtel in the air. Roberto Mancini was not happy with the decision but Kenny Dalglish correctly suggested for the Italian striker to 'look into the mirror' to find who was responsible. Too many times has his attitude cost him and his side and Mancini certainly showed his discontent to the player when he left the pitch so cannot deny his player's contribution to his own downfall.
Flop goal: The penalty decisions of this weekend have baffled me. How was Aaron Lennon's dive a penalty for Tottenham against West Brom when there was no contact made by Nicky Shorey? How was Rio Ferdinand's clean tackle on Ben Arfa a penalty when he obviously got the ball? And I think Victor Moses went down a bit too easily on Sebastian Larsson's tackle too to win a penalty for his Wigan side against Sunderland. Too many times do the referee's fall for the theatrical drama performances of the players and don't look at the physical facts and then they scare away from making the right decisions when it matters most! It makes me sick!
Flop news: Steve Bruce has become the first manager of the season to be axed, Sunderland are now eyeing up Martin O'Neill as his successor. I think it was a rather harsh move by the club, I can think of plenty of other managers that are (or I thought they were) walking on much thinner ice (Villas-Boas at Chelsea, Steve Kean at Blackburn, Roberto Martinez at Wigan, ...).
My predictions - Actual Results
Stoke 3:2 Blackburn - 3:1
Bolton 1:2 Everton - 0:2
Chelsea 0:0 Wolves - 3:0
Man Utd 2:2 Newcastle - 1:1
Norwich 3:1 QPR - 2:1
Sunderland 3:1 Wigan - 1:2
West Brom 0:2 Tottenham - 1:3
Arsenal 2:1 Fulham - 1:1
Swansea 2:0 Aston Villa - 0:0
Liverpool 2:2 Man City - 1:1