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Nov 9, 2012

A little perspective, please

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Suarez v Torres: Enigmas

How lovely that Luis Suarez was being talked about in the positive last weekend. Beneath the diving and petulance, there is a supremely gifted footballer capable of the jaw-dropping. Indeed, the manner in which he dispatched Liverpool's goal that earned them a point against Newcastle United was evidence of his gift, for the ability to execute a vision of true manipulation of a leather sphere is what separates the average from the brilliant.

Alas, this positive spin comes with a caveat for Brendan Rodgers, as Suarez's sole attacking nous reiterated the Reds' reliance on him. Beyond the Uruguayan, who only last season was being lamented for his own profligacy, there is cause for concern as to where the goals will come from.

Take the instance when the he left Fabricio Coloccini in a daze with his wriggly run in the second half, only for the cut back to Jonjo Shelvey to come to nothing. That, right there, was the difference between one and three points - they have now won only three of their last 15 Premier League matches at Anfield. One would imagine, then, that the star striker they sold to Sunday's opponents, Chelsea, for £50 million is being pined after. He is, but only in the manifestation of nostalgia.

In spite of what Fernando Torres won last season - the Champions League, the FA Cup, the European Championship and its Golden Boot - he remains a shadow of his former self. He is but an enigma, once capable of draining the blood from the face of a defender - the Spaniard seemed a split second ahead of his marker, and the goalkeeper, too.

Now he operates in slow motion, making the wrong decisions and generally clogging what is a phenomenally flowing Chelsea set up, as the triumvirate of Oscar (what a goal on Wednesday), Juan Mata and Eden Hazard effervesce. Roberto Di Matteo has a decision to make, with Victor Moses perhaps warranting a chance as the leading man, if he is to fulfil his aspirations of winning the title.

Mancini v AVB: Expectation levels

"Was goal! Was goal!" Oh, Roberto, you and your scarf are looking frayed around the edges. That Mancini marched onto the pitch to confront the referee - which he somehow escaped UEFA action for - after his side's 2-2 Champions League draw with Ajax raised an inquisitive eyebrow. What his demonstration, which was hardly the type of behaviour he probably preaches Mario Balotelli to partake in, indicated was the strain he is under; this rant coupled with a verbal snap at a recent press conference when quizzed about job offers from elsewhere.

One win, and that a nervy home affair against Swansea City, from their last four fixtures in all competitions is not a return to soothe the pressure, although it is worth flagging that they are third in the league table and unbeaten at that. The balls-up of their Champions League group cannot be excused, however, even if it was a draw of heavyweight proportions. Next up, prior to the international break, Mancini and his men have a chance to put right their failure to convince thus far, as they host Tottenham Hotspur, whom only recently they were competing with for fourth place. Money will alter your ambitions all right, and apace.

The mood at Spurs, like at rivals Arsenal actually (see below), appears to change game by game, after Andre Villas-Boas was booed by sections of the home support for his taking off of Jermain Defoe and bringing on of Emmanuel Adebayor in their 1-0 home loss against Wigan Athletic. For shame on those that booed, as this is a team level on points with fourth-placed Everton and is still a work in progress under the Portuguese. "It is not something that is very pleasing to see," reflected AVB regarding the pantomime.

Arsenal: The agony

There is an argument that the manner of Arsenal's 2-1 defeat at Manchester United was in fact worse than their 8-2 humbling last season. The latter was something of a freak outcome, as a depleted team were fully taken advantage of by some clinical finishing. Last Saturday, though, the sheer inevitably of a Red Devils victory was truly troubling. Arsene Wenger's players looked defeated from the first minute, and the scoreline ultimately flattered them, even though United barely broke sweat.

The gap has become this great between Arsenal and their former title rivals, as the club's worst start in the Premier League under Wenger washes over them. Oddly, the team have the best defensive record in the top flight at present, but numbers and statistics can be misleading: just look at the Celtic-Barcelona game during midweek. The blame game currently lies at the flat-footedness of Andre Santos after his utter ineptitude (and lack of cover from Lukas Podolski) was exploited in glaring fashion at Old Trafford, so much so that Wenger reacted during midweek.

Thomas Vermaelen, the club's captain, was moved out to the left back, allowing Laurent Koscielny to come back into the side versus Schalke. Yet watertightness was not achieved, as two goals (it could have been more) were shipped and a two-goal advantage let slip. In relying on Kieran Gibbs' fitness, just has been done with Abou Diaby, Wenger has made a rod for his own back, that and awarding Vermaelen, he of poor form for a while now, the armband, meaning he is only droppable with questions asked. On Saturday, versus a Fulham team unafraid to attack, it could be another rough ride for the North Londoners.

Norwich: An impression

A big game is Reading versus Norwich, if seemingly not alluring on first glance. After going their opening seven matches without a win, Norwich's impressive scalp of Arsenal has calmed matters and also injected belief. Seven points have been garnered by Chris Hughton's side in their previous three fixtures, with just one conceded - the Canaries doing their bit for convincing defending amid a spate of leakiness. This run has afforded Norwich a five-point gap between them and their weekend opposition, Reading, who remain winless. Considering that Manchester United and Everton follow the trip to the Madejski Stadium, here lies an opportune moment to build a further buffer.


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