Filling the boots of regular A Different Week contributor Mike Hayes will be a tough task, but perhaps not quite as tough as the one facing poor Alberto Aquilani. The Italian watched once more from the sidelines, this time as his new club succumbed to a 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa. In approximately five weeks’ time, when the Italian midfielder is slated to make his debut having recovered from the latest in a series of career-hampering injuries, Aquilani will be asked to be ‘Xabi Alonso plus’. That means being the heartbeat of a top Premiership side, pumping blood in the direction of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres shaped arteries, while also arresting the flow of enemy cardiac cycles. Confused? So is Rafael Benitez.
Liverpool weren’t especially awful against Villa on Monday night, but lacked the sort of precision passing to cut through the ‘two banks of four’ Martin O’ Neill placed in front of the visitors’ penalty box. Gerrard plays his football further up the pitch now, so with Javier Mascherano in the holding berth, the aortic role has passed on to Lucas Leiva – a man whose most eye-catching distribution of the night came from an Aston Villa free-kick. Spare a thought, then, for the ex-Roma playmaker, who will walk straight into an XI for whom ‘home defeat’ was a previously forgotten piece of vocabulary, fully aware that for the Anfield side to mount a serious title challenge, the rather more familiar ‘home draw’ will have to happen a lot less often than it did last season.
But just as you were thinking red is the new blue, things are pretty grim on the other half of Merseyside as well. Joleon Lescott’s protracted transfer saga came to a close on Tuesday as Manchester City wrapped up his £22m switch from Everton. Given what his front looks like, many Toffees fans might be glad to see the back of Lescott, but they have undoubtedly lost a versatile and talented defender who could get into most starting line-ups outside the top four. At least David Moyes has managed to hold on to Tony Hibbert, winner of August’s A Different Dive competition. The right-back’s frog splash into the penalty area during the 1-0 defeat at Burnley reminded everyone that conning referees is not the exclusive venture of foreigners, and that actually, people from England are pretty good at it too (although Arsenal’s Eduardo’s was also extremely professional).
Pan over to Old Trafford and you find one of the few football reasons that might have persuaded the pirate-faced Lescott to jump ship. Rio Ferdinand just cannot get fit, can he? It is a worry. With John Terry having picked up more injuries last year than in any season prior, Rio’s thigh strains and back strains are placing a strain on England’s bid for the 2010 World Cup. The likelihood of starting the tournament without our flagship central defence seems to get greater from month to month, and the Joleon Roger will be all too pleased to be showcasing his undoubted talents in a side that will spend much of the season under the media spotlight‘s powerful glare. Yet Lescott’s reported unsavoury behaviour prior to his move away from Goodison begs another pertinent question – what happened to nice England defenders? Tony Adams, despite being a wretched alcoholic in the privacy of his own home, was a fantastic ambassador for the sport, and Gareth Southgate is a charming chap. Of the current first-choice back line, three have been arrested while a different trio have been caught cheating on their gorgeous, A-list girlfriends.
Yet fans of the Three Lions do have one reason to smile. That would be Jermain Defoe, whose goal-scoring form promises to be the answer to England’s recent striker dilemma. Defoe registered his fourth goal in two games to help defeat his former club, West Ham, pouncing in predatory fashion on a mistake by his fellow England colleague Carlton Cole. The Hammers frontman had continued to press his own claims for an international starting spot alongside Wayne Rooney with a sumptuously taken goal to open the scoring. However, as Defoe seized on Cole’s wayward pass to bury the ball in the back of the West Ham net, the watching Fabio Capello will doubtless have been reminded that the Tottenham forward possesses something which has been sadly lacking from England’s play in the last couple of years – killer instinct. While pundits such as Alan Hansen have, in the past, harangued Defoe for not being clinical enough, that is a criticism which can’t be levelled at him now. His hat-trick against Hull was an exposition of footballing brilliance – darting runs, deft touches and crashing drives combining to shoot down Phil Brown’s Tigers in spectacular fashion. Oh, and Michael Owen scored against somebody too.
Two questions this week, with sweet FA at stake for those who come up with the right answers:
a) Which members of the England back four have been arrested AND cheated on their girlfriends?
b) What item did Glen Johnson attempt to steal from a B&Q store in Dartford?
Send responses to email@example.com
A Different Week
Michael Owen’s move reminiscent of The Boss – July 10
The City Circus – July 17
Beckham – End of an American dream? – July 24
Trouble at the Toon – July 31
Chester’s plight reflective of modern ways – August 7
What will happen – August 14
Joleon Lescott and the ugly side of a modern professional player – August 21
Defoe is Jermain man – August 28