After weeks of being unable to do so, I am staying away from Merseyside this weekend. Obviously, unless you have been down a Chilean mine you will realise that there is still a fair amount occurring in the city of Liverpool, but this week I am keen to keep things on-field.
Owen Hargreaves has played in one competitive match since September 2008. Manchester United’s home game against West Brom may mark an emotional return for the midfielder, but can also be placed in a box named ‘last chance saloon’. If Hargreaves is unable to deal with the rigours of Premiership football over the next few months, then he may be faced with the reality of a career in ruins. Any fan of English football that saw Gareth Barry play against Montenegro will argue that this would be one hell of a shame.
It has been a strange season for Newcastle’s new number nine. He started in blistering fashion, culminating in a hat trick against Villa at St. James, even resulting in tabloid clamours for him to be included in Capello’s England squad.
However, October has very much been a month of discontent. Carroll was dropped from the Newcastle team to face Manchester City, and was overlooked for the England Under 21 squad for their playoff against Romania.
On Saturday Newcastle host Wigan. This is a game in which Carroll will hope to score if he wants to establish him a sa genuine Premier League striker. After signing a new five-year contract during the international window, Carroll will hope to recommence his bid for an international call up.
Nigel de Jong
It will have been a long two weeks for Nigel de Jong. While the large proportion of his Citeh team mates have been venturing on international trips, the Dutch midfielder will have been twiddling his thumbs, possibly with an understandable degree of frustration.
But if he thought that the reaction to his tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa had been overplayed, just wait until he hears the abuse from opposition fans. I have already explained why I think van Marwijk was wrong to drop de Jong, but what is certain is that starting from Blackpool away, Nigel is in for quite a test of resolve and temperament. Karl Henry and Lee Cattermole failed theirs; de Jong’s reaction remains to be seen.
Another week and another step down the fall from grace ladder. On Tuesday Rooney’s performance for England was as ineffective as so many before. Whether this is a blip or a terminal dilemma, England’s brightest star is undoubtedly waning.
Then on Wednesday Wayne did nothing but exacerbate the problem, stating that there was nothing wrong with his ankle, and this was not the reason for his poor form. Crucially, this directly negated a point made by Alex Ferguson just two weeks previously:
“It is a straightforward ankle injury. Nobody likes to be injured but he is. There is nothing you can do about it. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to describe every ligament? Christ.”
Whether or not Rooney has significantly rocked the boat at Manchester Untied remains to be seen, but Fergie is unlikely to be enamoured by Wayne’s soundbite.
More importantly, Rooney last scored a goal from open play for United in March. A return to form against West Brom is critical if the doubters are to be appeased.
At teatime on Saturday, Middlesbrough take on Leeds United live on Sky. To describe this as a must win game for Boro and Gordon Strachan is understating the importance. By kick-off, the home side could be level on points with the relegation zone. They were the pre-season favourites for the title. Having spent six million in the summer in addition to the free signing of Kris Boyd from Rangers, Strachan was always going to be under pressure to succeed, and succeed quickly.
However, Boro have already lost to Ipswich, Barnsley, Milwall, Watford and Derby. Previous manager Gareth Southgate was sacked when only a point off the top of the Championship because he had ‘lost the town’ after an attendance of 17,459. This season, four of Boro’s five home games have attracted less than 16,000.
Lose on Saturday, and Strachan may well be looking for a new job.