God save the fans
You know how it's become all the rage for away teams that lay ostrich-size eggs to beg forgiveness from their psychotically committed fans who traveled 208.9 miles from, say, London to Manchester to witness an 8-2 atrocity?
First Wigan, then Arsenal resorted to the now-standard issue mea culpa: a bout of managerial self-flagellation followed by an offer of free tickets to another away bludgeoning of the didn't-they-learn-the-first-time supporters' choice.
But what about the rest of us? Where's the patronizing prize for those poor bastards who trudge, bleary-eyed and in various stages of undress, to their local pub on Saturday and Sunday mornings, only to be rewarded for their insane loyalty -- or, in my case, stupidity -- with the kind of performance that makes a man ask the bartender for a shot of absinthe before 9 a.m.?
Where's our recompense? Shouldn't the clubs for whom we endure traffic, low-def TV and the company of Spurs fans be considerate of our suffering, too?
And I'm not just talking about Arsenal fans, whose masochism rises to astonishing new heights every week. Did Liverpool, Chelsea, and Man City supporters -- many of whom I witnessed crying into their beers this weekend -- not feel as if they sacrificed their self-esteem and marital harmony for the opportunity to be sucker-punched in the face? Perhaps it's time that our fealty was repaid in kind. Here are a few suggestions as to how the top teams -- plus Arsenal, of course -- can make it up to us for those two hours we'll never get back.
I realize it's a bit unfair to lump the Blues into the same shameful slag heap as Arsenal and Liverpool, but I don't really care. True, Chelsea did produce some enterprising first-half efforts, despite yet another Flaccid Frank Lampard display. But when your megabucks center forward rounds the keeper in the 83rd minute to miss a goal so wide it could have been the mouth of Joey Barton, then your prawn-munching fans deserve some extra cocktail sauce. United was perfectly content to sit back and absorb the Chelsea pressure, a luxury a team is afforded when it scores on its first three shots on target. The only reason Petr Cech was better than a lamppost was that nobody relieved himself against the Chelsea non-shot-stopper.
At the other end of the field, Fernando Torres did have his moments, notching his first goal of the season by twisting and turning in the box to cheekily dink the ball over the keeper -- a finish of the true Liverpool vintage Roman Abramovich thought he'd purchased when he gave his weekly pocket money to John Henry & Co. in January. Sadly, the worm turned but 37 minutes later, when El Misso made the daily highlight reel for all the wrong reasons, butchering perhaps the easiest chance of his career for a goal that would have kept the Blues' hopes alive at 3-2. What a confidence-builder that howler is sure to be for Nando, who otherwise had an excellent game (and an excellent week), and even though it wasn't quite the full-on resurrection I had envisioned in my Friday column, he'll hopefully take solace in the fact that he could have scored a hat trick instead of dwelling on his comical shank in front of a braying Stretford End.
ESPN FC on Twitter
Don't miss a moment of the latest soccer coverage from around the world. Follow us on Twitter and stay informed. Join »
What Chelsea should offer its fans: A Torres dunking booth outside Stamford Bridge so people can take out their frustrations on his invisibility when it counts and his sheer audacity in finally scoring when it made little difference. Then again, if that's their justification for erecting such a carnival attraction, where's the one for John Terry?
Meet the new and not particularly improved Liverpool, folks, a version that upon second glance looks eerily like last year's soul-sapping and inconsistent iteration. You remember those rascals in red: the side that featured new golden boy Joe Cole for a brief pre-France interlude; the one that saw Roy Hodgson run out of town just after Christmas. On Sunday, at White Hart Lane, the sporadically resurgent Reds put forth a display of such fecklessness that not even their face-rubbing boss of old ever conjured up anything as hapless as this. King Kenny had most of his new toys unwrapped and out of the box, but somehow managed to lose two of them during 90 minutes of play.
Tottenham's newly minted midfield duo of Scott Parker and Luka "I'm still here" Modric played with the Liverpudlians like a cat with a three-legged mouse. Chubby Charlie Adam simply had no answer for the pace and movement of the home team, but managed to end his suffering within 28 minutes by mindlessly scything down Parker. At least Charlie got to take a warm shower, while the rest of us had to watch the dismantling. Martin Skrtel's heavily tattooed neck was the most menacing part of the Liverpool defense, as Jamie Carragher's lack of mobility has become so pronounced that it should be deemed an act of cruel and unusual punishment to run directly at him. The fearsome-looking Skrtel was also asked to leave the party in the 63rd minute, and once his multicolored wattle was gone, the score quickly ballooned from a respectable 1-0 to a humbling 4-0. The A-defoe-bayor Show had begun.
There are few things I hate more than seeing the Togolese malcontent looking happy and scoring goals, and Reds fans now share that pain. Modric's first-half screamer into the top corner set the tone for an emphatic defeat from which Dalglish can derive no positive spin.
What Liverpool should offer its fans: The chance to play in midfield next time its starting XI is reduced to a IX shambles. After all, some half-cocked Scouser in sneakers can't be much worse than Adam or Jordan Henderson.
I'm fully aware that City was less odious than the other teams in this column, as evidenced by its wringing a point out of its visit to Craven Cottage. But given its early-season dominance, a 2-2 draw with lowly battlers Fulham can't sit well with those who made the trip to watch their obscenely paid heroes throw away a two-goal lead and several gilt-edged scoring chances that even Andy Carroll would have put away. (Who am I kidding? Andy Carroll couldn't put away a meat pie if he was starving.) On a personal note, I was delighted that after a promising start to his City career, Samir Nasri looked less like a stylish, lethal-pass-dispensing playmaker and more like the former Gunner who faded down the stretch last season.
To take nothing away from the Cottagers' spirited, well-deserved comeback, Man City had a chance to ice the game at 2-1 and failed to do so thanks to the kind of craven substitution Roberto Mancini routinely made in 2010. Rather than continuing the bold attacking ethos he instilled in the team over the past five games, the Italian reverted to the risk-averse pedigree that dogged the baby Blues last season. Off came creative linchpin David Silva, replaced by the brawny Pablo Zabaleta to lock down a struggling midfield. The gambit might have worked were it not for the fact that Zabaleta is not a midfielder but a fullback, and Danny Murphy took merciless advantage of the out-of-position Argentine to lash home the deflection-aided equalizer.
What Man City should offer its fans: Jose Mourinho
I'm not sure what hurts more: getting stomped by the best team in the league or suffering self-inflicted wounds against a club fighting to stave off relegation.
For more from David Hirshey, check out his columns on all things soccer.
• The All-EPL Team, 2011-12
• Saying goodbye to Chinaglia
• Time to dethrone King Kenny Dalglish?
• In praise of Fulham
• The comeback artists
• Call it a comeback
• Death by Manchester
• The battle for third
• Spurs' title credentials
• EPL's best starting XI
• City handed first EPL loss
• Chelsea pushed to brink
• Fragile egos crossing
• City and United
• Is Newcastle for real?
• The bad-behavior derby
I guess if you're as arrogant and deluded as Arsene Wenger, you could qualify Saturday's farcical 4-3 loss to Blackburn as some kind of perverse progress. After all, the last time the Gunners ventured up north, they conceded eight goals, and you could point out that technically they did score five in this one. But unlike after the United annihilation, Wenger couldn't resort to his usual excuses of injuries and suspensions forcing him to blood teenage defenders. Not after his 11th-hour transfer spending spree that saw Messiah Per Mertesacker and Savior Andre Santos acquired to usher in an epoch of defensive robustness. Against Blackburn, both the German and Brazilian internationals appeared together on the newly reinforced back line for the first time. The result? The Gunners only gave up two goals scored by the opposition. See? Progress! One-fourth as many as they leaked against United, unless you choose to be a killjoy and count those two own goals against them as well.
Regardless of your math, Wenger still doesn't have a clue about what constitutes an acceptable defense in the Prem. In the wake of his hand-picked transfers, the question needs to be asked: Is there a slower player in the league than the 6-foot-6 Mertesacker, a man so ponderous that sundials should be named after him? And apparently Santos' time in Turkey did not include defending against set pieces. Perhaps those league rules don't permit foreign players to sully themselves with such basic tasks. Instead, Wenger had a bird's-eye view of how to play center back, as Rovers' Chris Samba -- another Gunners target whom the Arsenal manager refused to pay market value for -- gave a clinic in imposing a muscular presence in both penalty areas. It is doubtful that Samba would have simply stood there, admiring the free kick floated into the box and watching in horror as it pinged off Alex Song's thigh and dribbled into the goal. And he certainly wouldn't have allowed Martin Olsson to rampage into the area and unleash an unassuming cross along the goalmouth for Laurent Koscielny to inexplicably spoon into his own net. Even Wenger admitted that "we had a lack of focus on what we knew they were strong at -- corners, free kicks."
What Arsenal should offer its fans: The chance to list Wenger on eBay, as long as the club promises to reinvest the proceeds.
David Hirshey has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and has written about the sport for The New York Times, Time, ESPN The Magazine and Deadspin. He is the co-author of "The ESPN World Cup Companion" and played himself (almost convincingly) in the acclaimed soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime."