English Premier League Stock Watch
Rafa Benitez might be the Interim One, but Chelsea fans might just be stuck with him until the end of the season.
After a Wednesday that included blasting supporters, criticizing management and melting down on national radio, Benitez capped off a weird, wild week with a win in the English Premier League. The victory moved the Blues back into third place briefly, but what did it do for Benitez's stock?
That's just one of the burning questions in this week's edition of the B/R English Premier League Stock Watch. Keep reading for the rest.
Stock Up Ahead of the Big Match: Manchester United
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The big game is almost here. First, though, Shinji Kagawa had his big day.
Real Madrid visit Old Trafford on Tuesday with a place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals at stake. Jose Mourinho's Blancos beat Barcelona twice in the past week, so United will need any momentum they can find ahead of the showdown.
Kagawa provided some of it with an impressive hat trick in United's 4-0 destruction of Norwich on Saturday. Not only did the Japanese international more than double his offensive output for the season, but he also helped lift United through what manager Sir Alex Ferguson called a "ragged" period of the game.
"Midway through the second half, I didn’t think it would end up 4-0 as I think we were a bit ragged for that period," Ferguson said (via ManUtd.com). "But, when we brought Shinji into central midfield, it made a difference to us and he ended up with a hat trick."
Ferguson added: "It’s brilliant for him. The lad is a good finisher and his second goal was so composed and an intelligent finish while his third was absolutely brilliantly taken. It’s been a great day for him."
Real Madrid will enter Old Trafford in scalding form. Fortunately for the neutrals, United—who are 15 points clear atop the table until Manchester City play Monday—are looking strong as well.
Stock Level: Rafael Benitez
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That he still has a job should be considered a massive victory in itself. But to call the week a success for Rafa Benitez would be an enormous stretch.
On Wednesday, the 52-year-old Spaniard lashed out at Chelsea's fans, promised to step down after the season and bemoaned his own status as the Blues' interim manager (full transcript here) in a surreal rant following an FA Cup victory at Middlesbrough.
Considering his boss' less-than-patient record with managers, Benitez must have at least suspected his tenure would end before the weekend. And yet there he was on the touchline for Chelsea's 1-0 home win over West Brom.
The boos made their customary cameo, but Chelsea moved up to third place ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, though only briefly. What's more, since he has survived this long, Benitez now must be thinking he'll make it to the end of the season.
Stock in Flux: North London Derby
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Tottenham Hotspur moved seven points clear of Arsenal with a 2-1 victory at White Hart Lane on Sunday. With 10 matches left in the season, it's far from certain, but the most likely scenario is that Spurs will finish above Arsenal in the league for the first time since 1995.
That makes the news of an impending takeover bid (Daily Telegraph) at Arsenal all the more pertinent. Not only have Arsenal and Arsene Wenger fallen well behind Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Now their North London neighbors have surpassed them as well.
Unlike City and Chelsea, Tottenham have done it without an embarrassment of riches. For Arsenal, that might be the most embarrassing development of this depressing downward spiral.
Stock Up: Luis Suarez
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Luis Suarez has, according to his manager, no equal among Premier League strikers. When Suarez performs like he did Saturday, when his hat trick inspired Liverpool to a thumping 4-0 win at Wigan, there's no point arguing.
The three goals took Suarez's tally to 21 this season, the most in the Premier League. Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale, the two other men being tipped for the league's end-of-season honors, are two and six behind, respectively.
Though van Persie and Bale might be playing for more at this point in their seasons, it would be hard to argue either has meant more to his team than Suarez has meant to Liverpool in this up-and-down campaign.
Admittedly, Spurs have been called a one-man team lately in response to Bale's torrid form. But where would Liverpool be with Suarez?
"For me, there is no better striker in the Premier League," said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers (via the Independent). "He is clearly the player of the year for myself and for many Liverpool people. Forget his quality—it is his hunger and desire that stand out."
And not just to Liverpool. Bayern Munich are reportedly interested (via Daily Mail) as Pep Guardiola plots his new empire in Bavaria.
Even for a return of £40 million, though, the loss of Suarez would be damaging to Liverpool's future plans.
Stock Up: The Hardworking Harry Houdini
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Queens Park Rangers on Saturday recorded their third league win of the season, beating fellow strugglers Southampton 2-1 in a relegation six-pointer at St. Mary's.
Loic Remy opened the scoring, Jay Bothroyd grabbed the late winner and manager Harry Redknapp was back to his relegation-beating best.
Well, almost. Redknapp might yet pull off another escape—Rangers are suddenly only four points and goal differential away from safety—but before he earns the nickname Houdini again, QPR at least need to lift themselves from the foot of the table.
Instead of magic, however, Redknapp focused his post-match energies on preaching the value of hard work.
"I picked a team that worked today, a team where everybody was going to work," he said (via PremierLeague.com). "We didn't have anybody not working. When we didn't have the ball, everybody worked. That is the only way anybody can win football matches—everybody has to put a shift in."
Stock Not Quite as Far Down: Everton
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Before Saturday, back-to-back league losses had left Everton seven points adrift of the top four and the Premier League's Champions League places.
Winning 3-1 at home to Reading will steady the ship somewhat, but it hardly helped the Toffees' fading Champions League challenge.
Ten matches remain, and seven points by no means represent an impossible total to make up, but Everton's European hopes likely now rest in the Europa League, if they're not entirely dead.
“We haven’t given up on Europe,” said midfielder Steven Pienaar (via EvertonFC.com), who scored Saturday with a sweet left-footed blast. “Hopefully we can sneak in by the back door. There is a bit less pressure on us to push. We will see how the other teams do but hopefully we can get there."