Two teams at OT needing a win, Championship strugglers, and some FA Cup hopes
So United have lost three of their last five matches, the first time this has occurred since 2004.
But it was the manner of defeat at Anfield that was particularly galling. Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, Evra, Rooney, Berbatov, Evans… the list of players not currently playing to full potential is longer than possibly ever before in the last decade.
Whether Fergie’s infamous hairdryer treatment has lost its edge, the United squad is in need of a galvanising if they are going to reclaim their Premier League crown.
What better way to get back on track than to dispatch Arsenal from the FA Cup, and in the process burst the third of the Gunners’ four balloons.
As the red half of Manchester consistently delights in reminding their blue cousins, it is 35 years since Manchester City last won a major trophy. Sunday’s game is a step on the road to erasing that memory. The title has gone, and dangerous teams await in the Europa League.
If they can avoid the winner of the big tie of the weekend, then City should reach the FA Cup final. But they should have beaten Fulham at home two weeks ago.
Reading have already gained significant notoriety this season, beating Everton and West Brom on route to this stage. Manchester City are a step up. City need to ensure that step to is too great to take.
If there was an underlying suspicion that Arsenal had a soft underbelly, a vulnerability that left them liable to the self-implosion, then the last two weeks have served to fuel this notion.
Time to face facts: Arsenal are out of the Carling Cup. They are out of the Champions League. They are second favourites in the league. And they are second favourites in this game.
Arsenal have won one out of the last 11 competitive games against United away from home or on neutral soil, and in their last six games have a solitary 0-0 to show for all their efforts.
The big question is: at what point does a rut become a disease? Come Saturday evening we might have a clearer answer.
In January 2010, Nottingham Forest won 3-1 away at West Bromwich Albion, cementing their second place in the Championship. They then embarked on a run that saw them comfortably miss out on automatic promotion, and fall over against Blackpool in the playoffs. Self-destruction, it’s what they do.
On 5th February, Forest had just beaten Watford at the City Ground. They were in second place, one point clear of third but with two games in hand.
After Tuesday’s loss to Sheffield United (who recorded their first win of 2011 in the process), Forest’s record since that Watford game reads: P 8, W 1, D 4, L 3.
Questions are resurfacing in Nottingham as to whether a lack of boardroom ambition has put paid to another promotion challenge. Nothing quietens dissenting locals like three home points.
Football has the remarkable propensity to provide moments of glory that pierce an existence of monotony and regularity. But it also works in the opposite spectrum, large bumps accompanying what we could label as ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ syndrome.
Just ask Birmingham fans. The day before they paraded their Carling Cup trophy at St Andrews they were being schooled by Roy Hodgson’s West Brom at home. The last part of that sentence is not oft-repeated.
But whatever the league crisis, Saturday offers an opportunity for Brum to reach Wembley for a second time this season. In a campaign that may end in woe, fans will be looking for another Lord Mayor’s show. (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it etc)
Amongst the media coverage of Blackpool’s slide down the table, another club has taken a nosedive alongside them. Stoke City have taken just 4 points out of their last 21 available, the last minute smash-and-grab of Sunderland at the Britannia.
Stoke will probably not be relegated this season (although I am a mile away from saying ‘they are too good to go down’), but only because there are three worse teams in the league (Wigan, Birmingham and Blackpool are my candidates if you care).
The FA Cup therefore gives them a chance to please their fans, and this weekend they are provided with the perfect opportunity to gain immediate retribution; the Potters were worse than dreadful at Upton Park last Saturday.
Much like Forest before them, Cardiff have hit a rut. Except that in Cardiff’s case, the pressure may be greater. Rumours are still rife within the game that Cardiff have gambled on promotion to the Premier League. The new owners are looking for reimbursement, and that can only occur through the diamond lights of Premier League football.
Whether this proves true or not, it is a bad time to hit a bad run. Two defeats without scoring doesn’t seem like panic stations, but the way the Championship looks at the moment, staying still is moving backwards.
Leeds and Norwich continue to march on, and with Burnley, Hull and Reading breathing down their necks, a home win against Barnsley is required.
A strikeforce of Chopra, Bellamy, Bothroyd, Emmanuel Thomas, Keogh and Parkin should be doing better.