‘Quality over quantity’ was the weekend’s mantra as we saw the likes of Rooney, Van Persie, Nani and Kranjcar fashion the spectacular from the unlikely – all in a 48 hour period that saw the most unassuming of games become potential title-deciders across Europe.
This weekend was always going to struggle to emulate the feats of the one it followed, but Wayne Rooney did his best to help it keep pace. His wonderful overhead volley was fit to win any game – that it settled the Manchester derby will have made it all the more memorable for him. Alex Ferguson’s assertion that we may never see another goal like it was stretching things, but is was still mighty good.
Manchester City now sit eight points behind their city rivals; with March fast approaching it would take something seismic for them to overcome that deficit. Arsenal’s task would appear more realistic, yet they still find themselves four points adrift of Manchester Utd, in spite of a comfortable afternoon against the only team to beat the leaders so far this season.Wolves were never really in danger of causing a second successive upset and, after a brace from Robin van Persie settled matters, they subsequently fell back to the foot of the table.
Admittedly, that wasn’t looking likely at half-time, with West Ham being torn to pieces by West Brom at The Hawthorns.If Roy Hodgson, watching his new charges from the stands, was wondering if his services were really needed as the Baggies roared into a 3-0 lead, by full-time he was under no illusions as to the enormity of the task ahead.
For their part, West Ham’s comedy defending in the first half was remedied by a purposeful attacking display after the restart. Demba Ba grabbed a brace on his full debut either side of that rarest of things – a Carlton Cole league goal – to secure an unlikely point. Hammers fans might yet get to cheer a Premiership side from the other side of a running track.
Spurs’ Niko Kranjcar once again popped up with a brilliant winner, this time accounting for Sunderland.William Galas was busy changing his football boots when Asamoah Gyan brilliantly put the hosts ahead, but Michael Dawson levelled things before Kranjcar struck. Spurs will arrive in Milan in good heart.
In Spain, Barcelona’s sloppy display at Sporting Gijon means they now have a meagre 49 points from their last 17 games. It’s nice to know that even if their football is regularly sent from the gods, they sometimes can be brought down to the earth occupied by mere mortals. Arsenal will be hoping they can keep Barca down here a few days longer when the two sides meet at The Emirates on Wednesday.
Real Madrid, however, had a somewhat more uphill struggle against a Europa League-pushing Espanyol after seeing Iker Casillas sent off after just 90 seconds! In just the second dismissal of the Los Merengues captain’s career, Espanyol forward Jose Callejon went down a little too easily under the ‘keeper’s challenge just outside the box.
Thankfully, a couple of tactical substitutions later, Madrid were able to take a single goal lead via Marcelo at the mid-point of the first half; leaving Ronaldo & co with enough of an advantage to close the gap between themselves and Barca to 5 points with 15 games to play.
Whilst many have joked about the two-horse races of the Scottish Premier League and La Liga, Italy’s Serie A has quietly been hotting up into one of the most tightly contested of any club competition on the planet, with just 12 points separating the top 7 and underdogs Napoli nipping hard at the heels of leaders AC Milan.
Without Gareth Bale in the squad Spurs might have to be ready to grind out a result against the Rosseneri – but Harry and the Hotspur should be warned, after scrambling to the top of the pile in such an embattled Serie A, don’t expect the normally-elegant Milan to be above doing the same.