Welcome back, and in the time we’ve been at break, Chelsea unbeaten run has indeed ended, Sergio Aguero has indeed been cut down by a serious injury, and, with that sort of prophetic start, I think we can safely assume that Roberto Soldado has started banging in the goals, let’s just check Spurs’ latest results… a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace, a game in which it was literally impossible to score fewer goals. Ah. Well, you can’t correctly predict all the unlikely football phenomena in one mildly humourous article, can you? So, let’s press on with awards, shall we?
Biggest Comeback, so far: Leicester City vs Manchester United
Of all the presumptive awards that will be handed out tonight, the deserving victors of this particularly category are undoubtedly sure to remain the most deserving by season’s end. Leicester City, freshly promoted and with an entire first team squad worth less than Angel di Maria, were expected to, at best, be only mildly problematic for Manchester United when they met in September. United were feeling fine going into the clash with the Foxes, having just thrashed QPR 4-0 the week before. This back-to-back against two promoted sides was half over and another comfortable victory was supposed to be on the cards for Louis van Gaal’s team. And it was going to the script, as United scored within 15 minutes, after a beautifully weighted cross from Falcao was nutted expertly in by Robin van Persie. Angel di Maria then scored via a chipped finish that was so sublime, so casually gob-smacking, Leicester would have been forgiven for just lying down in lovesick submission from thereon in. Actually, they pulled a goal back within 15 seconds of the kick off, with Leo Ulloa finishing off a lightning-quick break. Much like Workaholics Adam DeMamp’s incredulous reaction to hearing the alleged effects of drinking Ipecac, that instant Leicester reply was like Manchester United pretending to gag, flirting with the heaving, shuddering fate they were probably still convinced wouldn’t come. Ander Herrera’s second half cushion, making it 3-1, only further disguised the bilious final third collapse that was lurking.
A penalty, awarded and then scored in the 61st minute, made it 3-2. *Retch*. Then, three minutes later, Esteban Cambiasso equalised, after an instance where the Manchester United defenders seemed to think the ball was covered in a particularly violent strain of Athlete’s Foot, because they patently refused to bloot it out of their own box. The veteran Argentinian was only too happy to spear it home, and suddenly the record of United never losing after leading by two goals was in serious jeopardy.*Retch*. With 20 minutes to go, Jamie Vardy, who had been the prickliest of thorns all afternoon, scored after a sumptuous counter-attack, sprinting into the space that had been generously vacated by Marcos Rojo (who was in the Leicester half when the goal was scored). *Splash*.
Delivering the final bullet, blasted into the collective United foot, Tyler Blackett slid in late on Vardy in the penalty area, and was sent off. The resulting spot kick was scored, and the comeback was more than complete. Leicester rejoiced in delirium, and then went on to win none of their next ten games. United crawled haggardly off the pitch and went on to lose only one of their next eight games. Still, we’ll always have that topsy-turvy, ding-dong comeback, eh Nigel? ‘Ave an Addy!
Goal of the Season, so far: Phil Jagielka vs Liverpool
Great goals can differ significantly from one another, but the very best are usually a specific cocktail. First and foremost, they have to be spectacular; superlative moments of supreme individuality, because scoring a goal is, ultimately, the work of a sublime individual. Or perhaps a majestic team effort, orchestrated in the higher, shared cerebral levels of conciousness that a group of players can only tap into in those fine, rare moments. However it comes about, like the gin in a Martini, this is the essential skeleton around which Goals of the Year must be fleshed out.
Then there are the standard accessories, the tried and true extras that turn a glass of, yes admittedly nice gin, into the Bond-worth beverage it can be; the olives, the twist of lemon, the drop of vermouth. These include, but aren’t necessarily restricted to; a goal in the 90th minute, a satisfyingly straight trajectory, a goal scored by the away team at the home end, an equaliser in a local derby, a strike hit effortlessly without breaking stride, and so on. And then, to top it all off, you need to have your perfect Martini served to you by Monica Bellucci, who winks at you as she puts it down. These are the extra, unexpected goal-garnishes that really get the goosebumps going, like, for example, if this Goal of the Year was scored by a club legend centre back who hasn’t scored for two seasons.
Phil Jagielka’s last minute screamer in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool had all of these things, and it’s unlikely to be bettered this season. After a fairly even contest, Everton found themselves behind after a fine Steven Gerrard free kick. Time was slipping away, and Anfield was swaying merrily, thoroughly enjoying their local rivals’ suffering. Every time an attempted surge was repelled, joyous cries rang out. It was, as the seconds fell away, looking like Stevie G’s 10th Merseyside derby goal had done enough. Then a fairly innocuous cross was played in by Aiden McGeady, more hopeful than anything. It was cleared easily, headed out to around 10 metres from the edge of the area. There was one of those lovely pockets of space there, strange and beautiful, and the ball bounced invitingly into it. Phil Jagielka, urged forwards by the desperate deficit, was there to meet it, and struck the ball first time and on the glorious half-volley. Heavenly cornets sounded, champagne fireworks exploded, Zeus himself looked upon it, smiled warmly, and extended a golden hand down to caress the realm of the mortals, as Jagielka smashed the ball into the top corner. The Kop had the best seats in the house, and were made deaf, dumb and blind by Phil’s moment of exalted magnificence. His first goal in two seasons and it was the goal of his life. Woof!
Save of the Year, so far: David de Gea vs Everton
It feels so long ago that Manchester United’s young Spanish goalkeeper was derided in England, was vocally written off as being too flimsy, not tough enough, too inconsistent. In three seasons the wiry shot-stopper has become arguably the best keeper in the league, and his final, match-winning save against Everton this season rightfully wins this coveted Addy. A narrow United lead needed protecting, and when Muhamed Besic struck his volley in the last moments of the match, de Gea rose to preserve it, somehow. Seeing the ball impossibly late, he sprung to his left and, at the apex of the leap, tipped the ball over the bar. He had to move his hand at the very last millisecond, finding the stinging shot just in time. As Roberto Martinez wheeled away, partly in awe of the save, he must have been thinking “How… how can this man be beaten?”. In the match, de Gea had already saved a Leighton Baines penalty, and had denied Leon Osman from point blank range, so this final save made it a breathtaking hat-trick. Former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once said that “A great goalkeeper is worth 15 points over the course of a season.”. Peter Schmeichel, Edwin Van der Sar, and now de Gea are showing his word to be all too true. Although, I s’pose for every great United keeper, there’s a Mark Bosnich to even things out though, so…
Alas, for break we must once again. But, and I’ll reassert it again, do stay tuned for more Addy’s, including the Team of the Year, so far!