22 April 2013

Weekend reflections #19

Today, The Daily Transfer Request looks at Luis Suarez's latest controversy, and assesses the contrasting fortunes of Manchester's top two. We'll also be wondering if Queens Park Rangers can get out of freefall.

Would you like fries with your beefburger, Mr Suarez?
Bite me!
You can say what you like about Luis Suarez as a footballer, but as a man, he is certainly far from brilliant.

During the second half of Liverpool's 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea, Suarez seemed to feel a bit peckish, and had a bite at the arm of Blues defender Branislav Ivanovic in the Chelsea penalty area. The Serb was far from pleased to be on the Uruguayan's lunch menu, and Ivanovic showed referee Kevin Friend the bite marks on his upper arm. Friend didn't take any action.

But whenever Suarez has been hit by controversy, he has more often than not followed it up with brilliance. Liverpool were trailing 2-1 at the time of the big incident, but Suarez saved a point in the seventh minute of injury time, scoring an equaliser with almost literally the last kick of the game.

The Reds had got a draw, but - rather ironically - Suarez could have cost them that point. Early in the second half, Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge converted the Uruguay international's cross to cancel out Oscar's first-half opener for Chelsea. Five minutes later, though, the Blues had a penalty when Suarez handled a corner, and Eden Hazard made the most of the resulting spot kick.

In the space of 52 second-half minutes, including injury-time, Luis Suarez had turned from hero to villain, and then back to hero again, but he is almost certainly the villain of the piece now.

Pundits were very quick to condemn the 26-year-old's actions. Former England defender Warren Barton, now a soccer pundit for Fox in the US, said, "The FA and Liverpool have an obligation to do something about this, and do something pretty strong.

"It's not the first time (that he's bitten a player). It's not a person that's just lost his cool. This is an attempt to try and bite someone. I've been in the game for 20-odd years and I know you get frustrated, and you want to tackle or hit someone, but to go and bite someone? Come on."

As Barton and many other pundits, like Sky Sports' Jamie Redknapp, touched on, Suarez has previous when it comes to nibbling at opponents. In November 2010, two months prior to his big-money transfer to Liverpool, the then Ajax striker received a seven-game ban for biting PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal after being sent off.

Suarez has also committed plenty of other indiscretions during his two years at Anfield. He's been accused of diving countless times, and also of stamping on an opponent and cheating to score a goal. That's bad enough without even mentioning his eight-game suspension for racially abusing Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra in 2011.

If he can pick up an eight-match ban for one act of racial abuse, what will he get for his second act of biting an opponent? The ban he receives this time around might be so severe that he might have to consider taking up another sport to pass the time before he comes back!

The FA can take action against Suarez because Kevin Friend didn't, but the worrying thing is that, if Friend had seen the incident and merely booked the striker, the FA's disciplinary panel would've had their hands tied behind their back. Justice will surely be done in this case, but there are plenty of other cases in which the FA have done nothing because they don't want to undermine the referee (cough Sergio Aguero). That flaw in the disciplinary system must be dealt with ASAP.

As for Suarez, he has proven once again that he is just as horrible an individual as he is an excellent footballer. If you want to put money on him winning The Daily Transfer Request's Player of the Year award, I can give you odds of 1,000,000,000/1 right now. There's more chance of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick: a PFA Player of the Year nominee.
Champ20ns
It is likely to be officially confirmed tonight, but there was never any real doubt that Manchester United would win the Premier League this year.

After losing the title in such dramatic fashion last season, Sir Alex Ferguson's team were determined to set things right. Like many great sportspeople and sports teams, they have roared back, looking even better than ever.

Tonight, United are at home to relegation candidates Aston Villa, the team who gifted them their first Premier League title in 1993 and could hand them their 13th, two decades on. 17th-placed Villa are unlikely to put up much of a fight at Old Trafford, so it looks inevitable that the Red Devils will secure their 20th league championship here and now.

United have been absolutely clinical this season. In 33 games, they have notched up 26 wins, 3 draws and just 4 losses. The summer signing of Robin van Persie from Arsenal has helped them to reach 75 goals - some way short of the 89 they managed last year, but still nine ahead of their closest rivals on that statistic, Chelsea. What's more, if they win their last five matches, they'll set a new PL points record of 96.

I've always seen United as having a much better team than Manchester City, and that has been evident throughout this season. That said, some of their younger first-teamers have excelled as individuals in this campaign. Goalkeeper David de Gea finally seems to have settled in as United's number 1 after a shaky start, and Rafael da Silva is now firmly established as first-choice right-back.

Some have said that this current squad is better than Ferguson's Treble-winning team of 1999. I say that's hogwash. They've been made to look dominant because Manchester City have been so slack at times, and of the class of 2013, I believe only van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic would've been good enough for the squad from 14 years ago.

However, you can't deny that Manchester United are worthy winners of the Premier League in 2012/2013.

Heaven knows that Roberto Mancini is miserable now.
Lacklustre City
I've just said that Manchester City have been slack at times in this Premier League season, and yesterday was a case in point.

With 16 minutes to go at White Hart Lane, City were 1-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur. Gareth Bale was hardly being noticed, and the noisy neighbours' even noisier neighbours were having to put their title celebrations on hold for another week.

Seven minutes later, it was all change. In the 75th minute, Bale's trusty left foot provided Clint Dempsey with a cross to tap past Joe Hart, and the Tottenham fightback was on.

Four minutes later, two of Andre Villas-Boas' substitutes dealt a massive blow to City's title hopes. Lewis Holtby supplied a pass to Jermain Defoe, who jinked past Citizens captain Vincent Kompany and curled home for 2-1. City centre-back Kompany was inpenetrable for the first five-sixths of this match, but all of a sudden, he and his team-mates didn't look like they could protect a kitten, let alone a lead.

The Spurs comeback was complete on 82 minutes, with the help of another Villas-Boas sub. Tom Huddlestone hit a killer through-ball to Bale, and with a cool chip over Hart's head, the Welsh wizard wrapped up all three points. Three important points that, on the day of reckoning, could see Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League.

That was only City's fifth league defeat of the season, but here's the problem - they've drawn, and in this case lost, too many games from good positions. They have lost concentration far too regularly since 13 May last year, while United have had their eye on the ball ever since their surprise opening-round defeat to Everton.

It was City's lack of concentration that cost them a famous win at Real Madrid, and ultimately, a place in the Champions League knockout stages. It could also be their undoing against Wigan Athletic, a team that every man and his dog expects to be beaten by the Sky Blues in next month's FA Cup Final.

Other things have contributed to the champions' downfall. They haven't spent wisely, especially not with signing English midfielders Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair. Rodwell's season has been devastated by injury yet again, and Sinclair has been very anonymous since he disappeared from Swansea City.

Manager Roberto Mancini has made tactical blunder after tactical blunder, and Hart has been more butterfingers than safe hands in goal on a number of occasions. Even selling Mario Balotelli didn't change City's fortunes.

When the season is over, Manchester City could be Premier League runners-up and FA Cup winners. That is never enough for Roman Abramovich, so will it be enough for Khaldoon Al Mubarak? If not, the Citizens' greatest manager in decades could be packing his belongings 12 months after his greatest hour.

Queens Park Rangers are coming to Dean Court and London Road next season.
Hoops in a vicious circle
If Harry Redknapp can save Queens Park Rangers from relegation, then he'll probably be the greatest manager that has ever lived.

But after a 2-0 home defeat against Stoke City left his team 10 points adrift of safety with just 12 left to fight for, even Redknapp gave up the ghost. "It's almost impossible now, for sure," he said of survival. It will be absolutely impossible if Aston Villa stun Manchester United tonight - a Villa win would condemn both QPR and Reading to Championship football next season.

To be fair to Redknapp, he has done his best to get QPR out of their rut. The writing was on the wall as early as last autumn - they took until December to register a PL victory, and after 34 games, they have managed just four wins in total.

Since their 2007 takeover by Flavio Briatore, QPR have spent vast amounts of money, firstly to get themselves into the Premier League, and then to try and establish themselves as a top-flight force. The first mission was completed after four years in 2011, shortly before Tony Fernandes took the helm. The second objective, trying to build on their last-day survival from last season, has been very difficult.

On paper, it should've been much easier, considering the number of top-quality players that they have in their ranks. Some of their signings have performed brilliantly - namely Julio Cesar, Loic Remy and Andros Townsend - but others haven't.

The hard-working Park Ji-Sung was meant to be their captain marvel, but he has been so far from marvellous that he is considering retirement at the end of next season. His Korean compatriot Yun Suk-Young has done precisely nothing since his arrival in January. Esteban Granero, David Hoilett, Stephane Mbia and Christopher Samba all came in with big reputations - none of them lived up to the hype.

There are so many underperforming players on such high wages that relegation to the Championship would leave QPR in a potential financial quagmire. What's more, Fernandes has pledged to leave if Rangers do go down, so he'll be under pressure to stand by what he said and sell up.

With a massive wage bill to cut, and possibly a new manager to appoint if Redknapp is sacked, QPR are certainly not in a good position to go straight back up to the Premier League. Indeed, it's more likely that they could go into freefall.

Blackburn Rovers had a big-money takeover and tried to get into the Champions League - they could be in League One next season. Portsmouth had great ambition and lots of investment from a series of multi-millionaires - they'll be spending next term in League Two. Who's to say that Queens Park Rangers will be the latest former top-flight club to slide down the divisions?

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