x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Premier League best and worst: Gallas left feeling blue in London derby

Paul Radley looks back at a weekend of highs for Raheem Sterling and lows for William Gallas in the English Premier League.

A dejected William Gallas walks away from the Spurs goal after seeing his side concede against former club Chelsea
A dejected William Gallas walks away from the Spurs goal after seeing his side concede against former club Chelsea

Worst memory - Gallas

Of all the subplots to an incestuous London derby at White Hart Lane on Saturday, that of William Gallas being reacquainted with his former employers was one of the most diluted.

After all, he did leave Chelsea six and a half years ago, when his latest manager Andre Villas-Boas was still in short-trousers, and he has played against them many times since.

Yet he was still struck by untimely amnesia. Apparently regressing to the days when he wore blue - rather than white, or even red - he did more good for Chelsea than Tottenham Hotspur.

First he ushered a good chance to open the scoring for Spurs wide, like any good defender would.

Then he conceded a weak corner. From said corner, he laid on the chance from which Gary Cahill opened the scoring for Chelsea.

After the break he set up the away side's equaliser for Juan Mata, too. Does he suffer from long-term memory loss?

 

Best confidence - Sterling

Anfield has never really been a place for superficiality and showiness. Not since the Spice Boys generation of David James, Stan Collymore et al went out with the white FA Cup final suits, anyway.

Take Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, for instance. When the two longest serving Kop idols take delivery of garish boots that they are contractually obliged to wear, they immediately set about limiting the damage by colouring them in with black marker pens.

And for most of their luminous careers, each of them has been plenty good enough to carry off a bit of bombast had they wanted to.

So you wonder what the archetypal short-back-end-sides duo make of Raheem Sterling, the 17 year old forward who is currently sporting a hairdo that is some sort of mohawk hybrid.

Just like with bright pink boots, you have to be good to wear a hair style like that. Luckily for Sterling, who became one of the Premier League's youngest ever goalscorers, against Reading on Saturday, his talent appears to be commensurate with his confidence.

 

Worst impostor - Rooney

Maybe it was Karl Power, the arch pitch invader who already has history with Manchester United. Perhaps it was his little brother, John, who is back in England after being released by Major League Soccer.

Or it could just have been Shrek.

Whoever it was, the bloke who ran out wearing the shirt marked "Rooney" for England and United over the past week was blatantly not the real one. And it took 27 minutes of the game against Stoke City for the impostor to be outed.

For the best part of two hours of football in Poland and Manchester, Wayne Rooney had been a pale shadow of the finest English player of his generation.

He was anaemic for the national team against the Poles in midweek, despite his lucky goal. Then he lackadaisically headed past his own goalkeeper early in the piece against Stoke.

Then Robin van Persie plonked one on his head that was equally unmissable, and all of a sudden he was back.

Must all have been a mirage.

 

Best ice-breaker - mascot

Wear-Tyne derby days are tense at the best of times. Or as Dermot Gallagher, the former Premier League referee put it at half time yesterday, "a powder keg ready to explode".

Steve Howey, a Sunderland boy who excelled as a centre-back for Newcastle United, said yesterday the fixture is way more fierce than the other one he played in, that of Manchester.

Everyone is tetchy. Most are spoiling for a fight. Even the mascots. In the tunnel ahead of yesterday's game the tension was broken when the Toon mascot held out his hand for John O'Shea, the Sunderland's captain, to shake.

And then promptly removed it, and held it in front of his nose while pulling a face.

O'Shea even cracked a smile, as if to observe: good one, kid - it is just a game after all, isn't it?

 

Best access - Loftus Road

There is no interaction between the multimillionaire players and their supporters these days, save for a little bit of faceless time on Twitter. And that does not always last, as evidenced by Kyle Walker shutting his account for the abuse he received on Saturday.

Unless you watch your football at Loftus Road. Unlike many of the identikit new-build grounds in the Premier League, which have been built straight out of the flat-pack from Ikea, the stands at the Loft are as close to the sidelines as it is possible to get.

In yesterday's first half, Phil Neville, Everton's captain, leant on an advertising boards in readiness for a throw-in, and a Queens Park Rangers fan in the front row stood up and whispered something in his ear.

When the same happened in the second half, Neville started the conversation himself. All jolly civilised.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

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