Bad Weekend For: Rafa, Arsene, Keith, Micky & minnows

It Was a Bad Weekend For…

The Two Sides of ChelseaA magnificent first-half performance in which Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea tore into their London rivals West Ham United was marked by an intensity and tempo that was reminiscent of the Spaniard’s Valencia and Liverpool sides. The fluidity of the passing, the efficiency of the chance creation and the attitude of the players meant that most would have been surprised to see the score stand at just 0-1 (courtesy of a well-worked Juan Mata goal) as half-time came at Upton Park on Saturday lunchtime.

Much has been made since the game of Sam Allardyce’s half-time substitutions, and while there's no doubt that Matt Taylor and especially Mohamed Diame did make an impact, there's a strong argument to be made that the remarkable second-half turnaround was equally due to Benitez’s lack of reaction to his opposite number’s changes. The Hammers’ belief grew visibly with every passing minute and by the time the underwhelming Eden Hazard was replaced in a life-for-like substitution with Oscar, the home side had already equalised and were more than a match for Chelsea.

The 3-1 defeat is the latest awful result in a sequence that has seen the early season pacesetters winless since the 4-2 win over Spurs on October 20th. Though you can never predict the thought patterns of owner Roman Abramovich, is it inconceivable that if Chelsea fail to beat Nordsjaelland on Wednesday, and crash out of the Champions League, they could be looking for their third manager of the season before the week is out?

Misfiring GunnersSince they opened the season with back-to-back draws, every poor Arsenal result – and there have been a few – has prompted the “Worst Arsenal start to a season since…” statistic. The midweek 1-1 draw at Everton saw the counter click back to pre-Wenger times but the Gunners’ 2-0 home defeat to Swansea on Saturday has had the pundits once again scrabbling for statistics. Having been outshot by their opposition, Arsenal can have few complaints about a result which leaves them 10th in the Premier League and 15 points behind the league leaders Manchester United – but that, of course, doesn’t mean that the fans should be happy about it.

You’d have been forgiven for thinking that Rafa Benitez was in town, given the cavalcade of boos that greeted the final whistle on Saturday, but with only three wins in their last 10 home games, the supporters have every right to voice their displeasure. Arsene Wenger’s attempts to locate a silver lining following the game will have done little to appease the dissenting supporters, with his assertion that the poor form “is a good chance to stick together and show we're a strong club” sounding rather flat.

Before the month is out, the North Londoners face West Brom, Reading, Wigan, West Ham and Newcastle. They could win all of those games (and some would argue that they should) but with confidence and spirit alarmingly low, December could be Wenger’s toughest test yet.

BarnsleyMick McCarthy’s resuscitation job on Ipswich Town (the Tractor Boys now have seven points from the last nine following Saturday’s 2-1 win at Bolton) has left an opening in the bottom three of The Championship for a hopeless side in need of a break. And while Sheffield Wednesday have enthusiastically swan-dived down the table on the back of six consecutive defeats, they have a rival in the hopelessness stakes: near-neighbours Barnsley.

The mid-'90s Premier League darlings are having a strange sort of season where they can’t make up their mind if they’re a good side on a bad run or a bad side who get the odd good result – similar in many ways to Bristol City. The last six weeks have seen the Tykes draw with Crystal Palace, Bolton and Burnley – all good results – yet lose heavily to the likes of Nottingham Forest and Watford (who beat them 4-1 on Saturday).

With just 19 goals to their name from 20 games, it’s clear where Barnsley’s troubles lie: they have conceded just one more home goal than the magnificent Crystal Palace and the same in total as play-off chasing Leeds United. That nine of their strikes have been scored by one man, Craig Davies, and that five of their goals came in that remarkable 5-0 win at Birmingham further illustrate the mammoth task that manager Keith Hill has on his hands.

Next weekend they travel to Leicester, who boast the meanest defence in the entire league. Don’t be surprised to see Barnsley in the bottom three before too long.

Micky MellonDuring a playing career that took in stints at Blackpool, Tranmere, Burnley and Kidderminster with a loan spell at Cork, it’s unlikely that Micky Mellon drew many comparisons with Roberto Di Matteo. But following Mellon’s sacking from his position as Fleetwood Town boss on Saturday, there are parallels to be drawn.

Just weeks after Di Matteo led Chelsea to their first ever Champions League win in May, Mellon guided the Cod Army to the Football League for the first time in their history (just one season after managing them into the Conference). While Di Matteo started the season in fine form, steering Chelsea to the top of the Premier League, Mellon was busy consolidating Fleetwood into a respectable seventh place – good enough for a play-off spot in League Two.

But RDM was unceremoniously fired following a disastrous cup performance in Turin (the Blues’ 3-0 defeat to Juventus left their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread). And on Saturday, following a poor performance where Fleetwood were beaten 3-2 in the FA Cup by the struggling Aldershot Town, Mellon was also unceremoniously fired.

The man who became Fleetwood Town’s first ever full-time manager when he took on the role in 2009 will have woken up this morning wondering what else he could have done to earn a reprieve – but after a wonderful three years, he shouldn’t be out of work for long.

Giant-killingsFor a while in yesterday afternoon’s FA Cup Second Round tie (21 minutes to be exact) non-League Alfreton Town led their League One opponents Leyton Orient, setting up the tantalising possibility of the weekend’s first giant-killing. But that moment lasted all too briefly and before long Orient were in control, eventually running out 4-2 victors to set up a Third Round tie at Hull City in January.

Those looking for shocks elsewhere in the Cup were left disappointed on a surprisingly low-key day of football. There was, however, the treat of the Third Round draw which has thrown up some interesting fixtures in the shape of Brighton v Newcastle, Crystal Palace v Stoke and Tottenham v Coventry in a replay of the 1987 Cup Final.