We’re now more than a fifth of the way through the Premier League season, and it’s safe to say that David Moyes’s Manchester United look like an average team. They currently sit tied for eighth place on 11 points, trailing Premier League–leading Arsenal by eight, and are five points out of the last Champions League spot. That’s not good. So what's the problem with Manchester United?
The reason so many people write so beautifully about soccer is that sometimes it’s only in the writing that a game as dull as yesterday’s Manchester United–Chelsea match, which ended in a 0-0 draw, can live up to its potential. The sad fact of the matter is that the 90 minutes that United and Chelsea spent on the field were the least interesting part of the histrionics surrounding the game.
Even from a tactical standpoint, the biggest surprises happened before kickoff. David Moyes’s inclusion of Wayne Rooney in the starting lineup added further drama to the will-he-or-won’t-he saga that has surrounded both clubs. On the other side of the ball Jose Mourinho opted for Andre Schurrle as a striker, the third one Mourinho has selected in three games (none of whom, somehow, has been Romelu Lukaku), and decreed Juan Mata fit enough only for the substitutes' bench after his midweek start. All of which created plenty of intrigue, which then went to waste as both settled into an extremely conservative tactical stalemate.
Mike Goodman: Philippe Coutinho is downright terrifying. That’s really all there is to it. Technically he starts on the left side of Liverpool’s three-man attacking front line, but in reality that left-sided position is somewhere between a vague suggestion and a dirty, dirty lie. In reality, Coutinho is as close to a classic attacking “no. 10” playmaker as the Premier League has. When Liverpool are in possession he comes off the left side and takes up positions all over the field to receive passes and turn and create for the attackers ahead of him. There’s close to zero positional bias in where he receives the ball. He’s all over the field.
Ferguson. Moyes. Mancini. Scholes. Barbara Walters. The greats say good-bye and heads roll at season's end. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett dissect the decapitations and even find time to debate the origins of pie with special guest and Manchester City lover Marc Stein.
In case you were busy finally piecing together why the Buffalo Bills' mascot is a Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a battle of reigning Cy Young winners, David Price's Rays upended R.A. Dickey's Blue Jays, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Blue Jays, preseason favorites in the hypercompetitive AL East, now sit at the bottom of the division with the second-worst run differential in baseball. Meanwhile, something deep stirs within Cito Gaston, and he rises to dust off the ol' Blue Phone, the one wired straight to the Rogers Centre, awaiting a call that he knows is coming soon.
The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a comfortable 5-1 win as they won their first playoff series since the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. "I guess fives are Wild," said Marian Hossa, who had two goals for the Blackhawks, after the game. When met with silence, Hossa explained, "In my native Slovakia, we have a game called poker in which sometimes, in smaller less serious games, some cards are deemed wild and can be used in a number of different hands. One might say 'Fives are wild' in Slovakia, meaning they can replace threes or fours or any other card. I was referencing that situation, and also the fact that we were playing the Wild and we scored five goals, which is wild." Hossa then furrowed his brow and promised to stop trying to make references that Americans cannot understand.
Brett Koremenos: The Arsenal-Everton showdown today has massive implications for the Champions League. Bottom line, if my Toffees can't even manage a draw, you can kindly wave good-bye as they fade into your rearview mirror. Should they win, however, both our clubs are going to be part of a crazy, four-team chase for the final two spots in the top four. How are you feeling about your club's chances heading into this match? Or have you not been able to think about it because you're still mourning the fact that the Andrei Arshavin era is ending this summer?
netw3rk: Rooting for Arsenal has amply prepared me for crazy late-season jockeying for Champions League spots. Or, as I like to call it, “The Arsenal Cup.” So I’m feeling pretty good; Arsenal sits third, one point above Chelsea and Spurs, and four points clear of Everton, entering Tuesday. Still, it is Arsenal, and I’m just as ready for a collapse as I am for a Champions League place.
It was the year a man became very famous for possessing an unshakable belief in math and basic reasoning skills. This probably says less about Nate Silver and more about the small armies of Silver skeptics, gut-driven intuitionists uninterested in parsing the differences between probability and prediction, correlation and causation. But in the weeks leading up to election night, Silver cemented his role as our all-seeing eye. His name and fine-tuned, closely guarded formulas became an instant salve anytime someone started freaking out: “Nate Silver says ” Between his bestseller, The Signal and the Noise, and near-flawless election predictions, nobody had a better year reputation-wise than Silver.