Premier League: Five things to watch
Liverpool’s attempts to end a diffcult week on a high, the potential return of Darren Fletcher and Shane Long’s encouraging form are all discussed in this week’s Premier League preview.
Can Liverpool provide a fitting end to a difficult week?
It’s been an incredibly trying week for everyone associated with Liverpool football club. Of course it is great that the truth has finally come out, that the relentless campaigning on behalf of the families affected by Hillsborough has borne fruit and that the real aggressors have been identified, but it must have been hard to have to revisit that tragic day all over again.
The ideal way to cap the week off for Liverpool would have been with a resounding home win at Anfield, but the fixture list doesn’t work like that and instead, the Reds have been handed a tough trip to a Sunderland side playing their first home game of the season. Incidentally, their next home fixture is against Man United on Sunday week and the stadium will certainly be rocking for that one.
After the events of the last few days, the Liverpool players should be inspired to deliver a result for their supporters, but they’ll have to be calm and calculated in their approach and not let emotion get the better of them. On the pitch, Liverpool have only one point to show from three games and although it’s far from a crisis, Brendan Rodgers will want things turned around sooner rather than later.
The potential return of Darren Fletcher
Manchester United players admired by fans of any other club but their own are a rare enough breed – Gary Neville is the last one we can think of… yeah, right – but if any of the current crop fall into that category, Darren Fletcher is the most likely candidate.
It’s been nine months since the Scot announced that he was taking an extended break from football due to his battle with ulcerative colitis and there have been times since when United fans worried if he was ever going to appear in a red shirt again.
Having already been included in United’s Champions League squad for the season, Sir Alex Ferguson today named Fletcher in the squad to face Wigan at Old Trafford tomorrow afternoon. The current Wigan side are a lot better than what has gone before, but if normal service resumes tomorrow and they succumb to their usual Old Trafford collapse, there’s a good chance Fergie will throw on his compatriot to what would be a rousing reception before the finish. It’s good to have him back.
How Long can Trap keep ignoring Shane?
Shane Long is making a compelling case to be Ireland’s number one striker at the moment. Despite taking one of the worst penalties ever seen in the first game of the season against Liverpool, he’s grabbed a goal and an assist for West Brom and has started every game for the Baggies this season.
It was only Oman on Tuesday night, but Long looked the sharpest of all the Irish strikers on display at Craven Cottage. Apart from his goal, he looked lively and dangerous every time the ball came his way and Trap will have nodded approvingly at the amount of ball he won in the air from Ireland kick-outs and long balls.
If he can continue his form between now and the Germany game, Trap must surely consider starting him, even at the expense of Robbie Keane, whose days as the first name on the team sheet look increasingly numbered. Long is back at the Cottage tomorrow and another goal or two would give the Irish manager something to think about, at whatever time next week he gets around to watching the DVD.
It doesn’t get any easier for Southampton
It’s hard enough for a promoted side to cut their teeth in the Premier League, but Southampton must have thought the computer was taking the p*ss when they saw the fixture list. Games against Manchester City and Arsenal (both away) and Manchester United in their first four games? At least it should get easier after this weekend, in theory anyway.
Unsurprisingly, the Saints are pointless – as in they have zero points, not that there’s no point to their existence – so far, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Against both Manchester teams they were unlucky not to come away with at least a point and as seems to be the trend with promoted managers these days – big Sam excepted, of course – Nigel Adkins has got them playing an attractive brand of football. Their season mightn’t be kick-started away to Arsenal this weekend, but we’re confident they’ll make an impact eventually.
Is there any life left in Michael Owen?
It’s a bit of a shame that Michael Owen has become something of a laughing stock amongst football fans because of his lack of any meaningful contribution over the last couple of years.
This is a guy who was once European Footballer of the Year, who made a decent impact in a Real Madrid side full of stars and who had a record of better than a goal in two during his Liverpool days and besides, it’s not his fault that his body has betrayed him consistently in the second half of his career.
There are plenty of reasons not to like him, of course. Liverpool fans will probably never forgive him for joining Man United and he gives the haters plenty of ammunition via his often incredibly boring Twitter account. What his Twitter followers will also have noticed, however, is his relentless optimism and his complete faith in his own ability to still make an impact at the highest level.
Whether he’s capable of doing that in reality remains to be seen because at United he was always either injured or overlooked and his days may well be numbered. One of Owen’s most famous ever goals came against Manchester City; if he can score against them again this weekend, he might just convince some of the doubters.