After the fantastic, if too brief, flurry of games between Christmas
and the new year the FA Cup has left us with a bit of a lull in
Premier League action and just at a time when this correspondent could
really do with some solid distraction too. Left with nothing to do
but sit on a beach all day here are some thoughts from the just past
the half-way point in the season mainly in a team by team manner
except if the team is too boring or pointless to think about. The
2008 part of the season has actually been fairly even with there even
being a stretch of three weeks right at the end where none of the big
clubs won, helped of course by ManU being over in these parts for two
weeks winning the Sepp Blatter trophy.
Liverpool: 1996-97 was the last time that we saw Liverpool at the top
of the table at Christmas, they finished fourth. In fact only one
team other than ManU and Chelsea has managed to hold onto such a lead
since the inception of the Premier League and that was Blackburn back
when I was starting high school. Still, of all the seasons that are
supposedly going to be Liverpool’s this one looks like having the most
chance of success about it; the team is playing a fast and exciting
brand of football while sacrificing little of their usual stinginess
on defence. In the last month Gerrard has scored more goals than
Middlesbrough and Stoke City combined, a resurgent Robbie Keane as
many as his former club Spurs managed in the same time all while
TBSITL (the best striker in the league) Torres is showing off his
scarf and coat collection waiting to come back from injury. If not
for a couple of draws against Hull and West Ham things would be
looking mighty rosy from the top, still what would you rather have
received for Christmas, a nice away grey Gerrard 4 shirt or a 5-1
demolition of Toontown?
Chelsea: For some reason the Premier League is one of streaks. Maybe
that is what is needed to keep a league where only four different
teams have won in the past two decades interesting. Previously
Chelsea had their home record to defend – 86 games before Liverpool
ended it then Arsenal rubbed it in a bit – and so obviously this
season it is all about the away games; try this eight wins, two draws,
twenty three goals scored and only three given up. And all this has
been achieved with no Essien, Carvalho only just returned in the last
match, and very little Drogba. But what I’m puzzling over most right
now is who to pick this weekend with the Blues stated away form
against Man U’s home record of seven wins and a draw, William Hill are
going with the home team if that helps.
Man U: A positively deceiving position for the Red Devils to end the
year in. The important part of their table placing is the two games
in hand which could be further cemented this weekend with a win over
second placed Chelsea. That they coped so well with star prat (a true
honour in a team that includes Rooney and a Neville brother) Ronaldo
out for the first ten weeks is perhaps less of a surprise in such a
stacked team than the emergence of perennial “how the hell does he
even make the squad” Scot Darren Fletcher into not only a regular
starter but a points rescuing goal scorer at that. Hang your heads in
shame Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick.
Aston Villa: First a note of caution; Villa Park plays host to one of
the smallest squads in the league and who are also having absorb the
demands of a multi-pronged season with UEFA and FA cup commitments.
But enough of that, have you seen these boys play? Full of young,
insanely fast (Agbonlahor), skilful (Ashley Young), giant (Carew,
Laursen), experienced and with a point to prove (Barry, Reo Coker),
ginger (Sidwell), and one of the best keepers around in the ageless
Brad Friedel who is still capable of games where you just know nothing
will get past him.
Arsenal: I’m writing this as though it were about Arsenal, but apart
from the briefest of moments, this year’s team has barely resembled a
Gunners team of the past decade’s brilliance. Fluency – gone, passing
– gone, ability to hold a lead – gone, even the games where they would
create 20 chances yet fail to score are gone, now they just fail to
score or create chances. Unfortunately the only thing that isn’t gone
is Eboue. One thing that never got written about during last season’s
collapse was the injury to the still missing Czech Tomas Rosicky.
When it was him, Fab and Hleb as an attacking midfield there was
always something special in the air. Nasri is a decent replacement
for Hleb but please, oh please get better Rosicky just so I never have
to see the name Eboue on a team sheet again.
Everton: How can a team be doing this well without any strikers? Of
course you’re asking for it if you sign the likes of Louis Saha who
lasted the whole of an hour after replacing Yakubu, injured in the
11th minute against Spurs. Look for any team with spares to be adding
a premium after receiving phone calls from Goodison headquarters.
Their current formation would be like Chelsea playing Lampard up front
as a lone striker.
Wigan: If you were to be asked which team finished the year the
strongest, the Lactics would probably have been my 10th answer and
that just because Zaki has been doing so well for my fantasy team.
Taking 15 of 18 points and only losing once since October sure is some
way to stay out of trouble.
Hull City: Yeah, yeah newly promoted team expected to struggle
somehow spends half the season in the top six. Yes there have been
some truly remarkable results (beating Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates,
2-2 with Liverpool at Anfield) but this story got boring a while ago
and if the players are any good they’ll turn up in a team you like
just as quickly as Hull go down next year.
Fulham: Last season there was a stat that if all games had finished at half time then the Cottagers would have finished in the top 6, instead they just avoided the drop through some last gasp heroics. This year they seem to have discovered how to play a second half, if not totally able to lose their prediliction for draws and an abysmal away record, typified by their fighting 2-2 draw with Chelsea last week.
West Ham: How good is it to have Gianfranco Zola back in the Premier League?
Bolton: Nothing to say here, boring team in a boring place in the table.
Portsmouth: How can a team that has been renowned for strong defense and with the like of Campbell, Distin, David James in goal and a manager who in his day was one of the greatest defenders ever in the top flight have a goal difference of -12? At least theres £7.5 million profit from selling Defoe back to Spurs for double what you bought him for less than a year ago to invest in someone slightly more dependable than Younis Kaboul.
Man City: The most important month for Citeh in this season is the one just starting. That is when we will see how much pinger the richest club in the world has to throw around. Quite a lot by the looks of it if you’re willing to part with £10 million for a second string left fullback.
Newcastle: Did you know that Michael Owen only just turned 29? In such a soul suckingly depressing season at St James’ Park, even by Newcastle standards one needs to look for anything to distract one from the action on the pitch. At least their owner, Mike Ashley, is one of the people.
Sunderland: It was a shame to see Roy Keane leave the sidelines, but at least Sunderland fans still have Djibriel Cisse’s multi-coloured hair to look at, just not the racoonesque beard that Keane sported to keep the northern chill out.
Spurs: File this under what happens when you sell the most dangerous strike duo in the Premiership and in trying to become more defensively sound invest in a Brazilian who can’t catch.
Blackburn: I feel very sorry for Ryan Nelson. If Blackburn do go down however, it would hopefully be a good chance for him to move into some more illustrious Premiership digs.
Middlesbrough, Stoke City, West Brom: This would be a good trio of teams to go down at the end of the year. The relegation battle this season could be one of the most interesting developments, currently 7th placed Wigan is only 10 points ahead of bottom placed WBA. That’s a lot of tension for a lot of clubs and desperation can only be a good thing for competitiveness.
– Teeth Benitez