The 2010-11 Premier League season has thus far played out like a well written mystery novel where readers who stick with the book continue to gain these little figments of knowledge through each chapter (Gameweek). These fictitious creations rarely help us in predicting a title winner yet we cling to them with hope that we'll somehow be able to predict a league's outcome when so much is left to play out. After second guessing oneself, those tidbits of information filed away into the memory and intellect of the reader will of course reveal the killer in the end but not before a few red herrings present themselves, jangle around, and exit stage left when their purpose in the story has been exhausted.
While the Premier League's red herrings have been largely invisible as of late, at least as their possible existence pertains to the title race, the once thought of "Big 4" of English football looks more like a "Wide 5", maybe a "5 Alive", as Manchester's United & City lay claim to top spot with 41 points a piece. Followed by a trio of London Town's finest: Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and defending Champions Chelsea, the Champions that will be crowned this year (yes, it's 2011 now), will emerge from a race with more runners in it than years past.
So as our little booky wook continues to shed light upon potential title winners, charlatans, swindlers, the real deal, runners up and Champions League participants for next year, Gameweek 21, which was preceded by weeks 20 and 19 in the thick and fast holiday fixture list, has revealed what? Well, consider it the chapter that you could have easily skipped only if you had read the previous few and the ones to follow.
Both Manchester clubs enjoyed three points in matches where their best football wasn't witnessed. United lived ever so dangerously through the exploits of Gary Neville as the one time holder of the league's best right back title has allowed age and injury to catch him and continues to spend his last minutes on the pitch skating on thin ice. United, however, skated that same ice as they still couldn't reach next gear away to West Brom on Saturday. A welcomed Wayne Rooney goal from open play was canceled out by a wonder strike by Brom's James Morrison before Peter Odemwingie skewed his game-changing penalty attempt wide left and United, through young boy wonder Javier Hernandez, played snatch and grab at the Hawthorns.
City's win against Blackpool at Eastlands proved two things. First, the blue half of Manchester can win when not at their best, and also that Carlos Tevez is human after all - the Argentine footballing machine too missed from the spot while his error, unlike Odemwingie's, didn't change the game's final outcome. An Adam Johnson first half strike was enough to see City remain level with United while fine goalkeeping from City's Joe Hart and Blackpool's Richard Kingson were both on display and went a long way in keeping the score 1-0.
Chelsea continued the kind of one step forward, two steps back slide that has seen them, well, slide down to fifth spot. As last year's Champions have simply aged a year older and struggled with injury, form and cohesion in recent weeks, this week Aston Villa exposed a frail back line not once, but twice after an Ashley Young penalty got the Villans started.
Moments of Madness
First, Emile Heskey told Chelsea's Jeffrey Bruma, "Son, allow me to teach you a thing or two about winning a header", when he used and abused the Dutch youngster (who was making his first Premier League start) for Villa's second by heading home emphatically from a Villa corner. After Chelsea had clawed back through tried and true blue Didier Drogba and John Terry late on, Villa's Ciaran Clark seemingly waltzed into the Chelsea box during the game's 91st minute totally unmarked and headed past Petr Cech to notch the game 3-3 and reclaim a point for a struggling Villa side. Who should have been marking Clark you ask? Well, all variables point to Ashley Cole while a confused Chelsea back four stood shocked and amazed as Villa celebrated their fortune.
Having won all three of their holiday-themed fixtures in recent weeks, Tottenham Hotspur find themselves in a semi-familiar position - that of fourth spot as they look to progress on in this season's Champions League competition and also hope to secure some form of passage for next year's as well. Spurs hosted London rivals Fulham at White Hart Lane and were another side not at their best, possibly due to playing three league games in a week, but will enjoy an end result of three points nonetheless. For Fulham under Mark Hughes, while creating some in attack, the little London club that could still seem to struggle due to Bobby Zamora's absence with injury as a reliable strike force, partnership or tandem has yet to emerge this season for the Cottagers.
There Won't Be Goals & Other League Strugglers
While Zamora recovers from an earlier season leg break, Fulham languish in 18th, both in the league table and in goals scored as Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Co. search for answers under the Hughes regime. Also struggling and underachieving after a successful season last time out are Everton. Under David Moyes (no, he hasn't yet resigned, regardless of what Twitter says), Everton also struggle with their forwards, or lack thereof. Losers over the weekend away to Stoke City 0-2, Everton's Louis Saha, Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford have all struggled either with injury or form this season while Tim Cahill readies himself to leave for 2011's AFC Asia Cup. While David Moyes has been a fixture at Goodison since 2002, just how long the Scot has to right the ship in Liverpool remains to be seen.
West Ham won gloriously at home in a relegation six-pointer against Wolverhampton Wanderers which surely made Avram Grant smile, finally. The lugubrious one has saved his job for at least another couple of weeks as a determined West Ham, through Scott Parker, Robert Green and Carlton Cole, have pulled themselves from table-propers to 16th in just a few weeks. If Nick Frost is happy, I'm happy.
Rounding Up The Rest Of The Premier League
Other title challengers Arsenal made a big statement on Saturday as they beat Birmingham City at St. Andrews by a score of 0-3. Big, because Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Spurs were unable to beat the Blues at home while Arsenal, through Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, seemingly made it look rather easy.
Liverpool 2-1 Bolton - The Reds will celebrate a late Joe Cole winner which snatched two additional points when one looked to be shared with Bolton, but Roy Hodgson still has plenty of detractors to prove wrong over the course of the next few weeks. Fernando Torres got back to his scoring ways thanks to a nice ball from Steven Gerrard, but the forgotten midfield captain needs more time to get back to his best form. With the win, Liverpool jump to ninth in the table.
Wigan 0-1 Newcastle United- The Latics were without their best attacker in Charles N'Zogbia but so were Newcastle as Andy Carroll missed out with injury. Through experienced midfielders Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Cheick Tiote and attackers Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands, Newcastle found a way and awarded Alan Pardew with his first away win in charge of the Toon. The story for Wigan: too poor in the final third and in defending in their own box could show more football fans that they're destined for relegation.
Sunderland 3-0 Blackburn- Steve Bruce's Sunderland are currently in sixth spot, pushing for a European position and look to be clicking on all cylinders. Bouncing back from their defeat against Blackpool, Sunderland got goals from Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck and summer signing Asamoah Gyan in the home route against a Blackburn side under new ownership and needing direction.