(Reuters) - An incredible Premier League weekend that rained goals, upsets, comebacks, penalties and stoppage-time drama has produced a media mountain of comment about its egalitarian nature.
League leaders Manchester United lost their unbeaten record against bottom team Wolverhampton Wanderers while Newcastle United came from 4-0 down at home to draw 4-4 with title-chasing Arsenal.
Even “unglamorous” fixtures such as Everton against Blackpool (5-3), Wigan Athletic against Blackburn Rovers (4-3) and Stoke City v Sunderland (3-2) produced 20 goals between them to back up the idea that England’s top division provides entertainment to burn.
The weekend was finished off with the wonderful theatre of Fernando Torres making his Chelsea debut against former club Liverpool only for the 50-million pounds man to be relegated to a sideshow as Liverpool continued their renaissance under manager Kenny Dalglish with their fourth successive victory.
However, although the upset results maintained the pattern of the season, a scratch beneath the surface gloss reveals that fundamentally very little has changed.
A top six of United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool hardly points to a changing of the guard.
Similarly a February bottom six of West Ham, Wolves, Wigan, West Brom, Birmingham City and Blackpool would not have been too far from most people’s predictions when the action kicked off last August. Wolves, who were denied a draw at Old Trafford only by a last-minute goal in November, deserved their 2-1 win on Saturday and coming after victories over Chelsea and Manchester City it was hardly a fluke. Yet they have also lost to Fulham, Wigan, Blackpool, Blackburn, Stoke and, the team who have replaced them at the bottom - West Ham United.
West Bromwich Albion, promoted this season, have beaten Arsenal and Man City and drawn at Old Trafford - but still sacked manager Roberto Di Matteo on Sunday - while Blackpool, red-hot relegation favourites at the start of the season, have done the double over Liverpool.
The excitement and variety certainly puts other leagues in the shade, not least Scotland where Sunday’s 2-2 Cup draw between Rangers and Celtic means that there will be a record seven Old Firm derbies this year.
“People talk about the strength of La Liga and the incredible quality of Barcelona but you simply do not get the bottom team in Spain beating the top team,” former Liverpool defender-turned analyst Alan Hansen wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
“In the Premier League this season any of the top four teams can play away from home and get turned over.”
The high-risk attacking approach of teams like Blackpool and Wolves means they have more chance of snatching a headline win than battling for a point but it also leaves them open to hefty beatings and both could easily find themselves in the bottom three come May.
Manchester United barely broke stride in defeat as Arsenal’s draw and Chelsea’s home defeat cushioned the Molineux blow and though they have drawn eight and lost one of their 12 away games this season they remain four points clear and odds-on for the title.
Qatar to host 2022 Cup alone in summer – Blatter
(Reuters) - The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be played in the summer as originally planned and will not be co-hosted with neighbouring countries, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.
Blatter, reiterating comments made by soccer’s governing body two weeks ago, said there were no plans to stage a winter World Cup and any request to do so would have to come from the Qatari hosts who have already said they plan to stage the event in summer.
“Everything is settled now for summer and with all 64 matches in the territory of Qatar,” he told the BBC in an interview.
“In the bidding documents it was clearly established that the executive committee reserved the right to change anything in the bidding process, but here in this case it must come from Qatar.
“Qatar has not moved for the time being. I think for the time being this matter is on ice because we have just signed in the last days the final documents.”
Qatar were chosen as hosts in December, winning a contest also featuring Australia, Japan, South Korea and United States.
Their bid was based on a summer World Cup using air-conditioned stadiums to combat the desert heat.
Despite this, there has been wide support for a winter World Cup with Franz Beckenbauer and UEFA president Michel Platini backing a January-February tournament.
Platini also suggested a “World Cup in the Gulf” with Qatar sharing matches with neighbouring countries.
Blatter denied supporting a winter tournament himself and said he was impartial, although he feared a winter tournament could clash with that year’s Winter Olympics.
“I’m not in favour of one or the other although January and February would be in conflict with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) of which I’m a member.
“Who said first we should play in winter? It was Franz Beckenbauer, secondly Michel Platini, thirdly it was the professional players’ union, FIFPro.”