x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Premier League: Best & worst of the weekend

Mario Balotelli discovers there are other ways to score a goal in the Premier League.

Mario Balotelli, right, does not need just legs or his head to score as he proved against Norwich City during the weekend.
Mario Balotelli, right, does not need just legs or his head to score as he proved against Norwich City during the weekend.

Worst attire - Garry Grey

Garry who? He is the kitman at Chelsea and therefore should, you would have thought, have access to all the club apparel.

Yet while Alan Pardew, the Newcastle United manager, and Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea's Portuguese's tactician, were decked out in trendy overcoats and woolly jumpers zipped up to the neck to insulate themselves from temperatures of 7°C in the north east of England, Grey amazingly sat on the touchline in socks, shorts and, wait for it, a sleeveless T-shirt.

As Frank Lampard, Juan Mata and Didier Drogba were all substituted Grey was on hand to greet them with a warm coat and the customary drink without so much as a shiver.

With temperatures set to drop even further during a cruel winter, Grey would be advised to dip into the 1,400 items of kit he said he once took on a pre-season tour and keep himself warm before worrying about pampering the players.

Worst luck - Villa Park

Jonathan Calderwood, the Villa groundsman, came within a blade of grass of winning the Premier League Groundsman of the Year award for the second season running earlier this year so he would have been out inspecting his immaculate pitch on Saturday night just to double check the surface was not to blame for an unusual spate of injuries during the game with Manchester United.

Javier Hernandez, Shay Given, Jermaine Jenas, Chris Herd, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Young all exited the match because of injury.

James Collins, Marc Albrighton and Darren Bent also required treatment. It was not even a physical match. With an injury rate like that it is no wonder teams send on two physiotherapists to tend to an injured player these days. It used to be some bloke with a sponge and a bucket of water.

Best use of body - Balotelli

Why always him? Well, because he is such a complex character full of idiosyncrasies and who seems to always illuminate a Premier League weekend one way or another. Last week his stray arm caught Marin Skrtel, the Liverpool defender, and led to him being sent off.

On Saturday he used his upper limbs to better effect, nonchalantly nudging the ball over the goal-line with his shoulder, of all things.

The eyes of any other striker in the league would have lit up at the chance to boost their goal tally with such a simple finish.

But not Balotelli. The Italian saw it as another opportunity to pull off the unexpected, although this time the execution was far better than the summer when he tried to score with an outrageous back-heel. Who says the game lacks characters?

Worst discipline - Bolton

The decision by Owen Coyle to give his players the week off during an international break has baffled some of his struggling team.

Usually, the break has been granted after Bolton have been on the receiving end of a heavy defeat and instead of sunning themselves on a beach, the time would surely have been better spent working on shoring up a leaky defence or striving to improve discipline and timing of tackles.

The red card shown to Gary Cahill on Saturday was extremely harsh but it masked the fact the challenge was poor and ill-timed.

It was the fifth time Bolton have been reduced to 10 men this season and the only real surprise is that the names of the combative Paul Robinson and Kevin Davies do not feature in the list of shame. Still, we are only 14 games into the season.

Worst inconsistency - Refs

The officials have a thankless task, particularly in the age where every decision is subject to forensic analysis.

Managers cannot expect referees and their assistants to get every decision correct, just like they would not expect their strikers to convert every chance.

But what they are reasonably entitled to ask for is consistency. Mike Riley, the Premier League referees chief, will have a tough task explaining to the respective managers of Newcastle and Bolton Wanderers the justification for two different outcomes to key incidents on Saturday.

Gary Cahill was astonishingly shown a red card by Stuart Atwell for foul on Scott Parker when the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder had half the length of the field to run before reaching the goal.

Yet Chelsea's David Luiz remained on the pitch for an equally cynical foul on Demba Ba who had a clear run on goal. The punishments were hugely disproportionate and, if anything, should have been the other way round.


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