Archive by Author | therabees

Some New Season Predictions

The more astute of my readers (disclaimer: I have no justification in making that word plural) will have noticed that I haven’t updated this blog in a long time. This is for a variety of reasons, but mainly because Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea caused such intense psychological damage that it’s taken several months and several hundred counsellors to get over it (though that is still probably less time than it will take Stevie G).

Anyway, I’m back, at least until Gerrard slips again. And now that the new season is almost upon us, it’s time for some almost-certain-to-be-wrong predictions. To that end, I’ve manage to rescue Mystic Matt from the hideout of some nice gentlemen in Russia (it was like Die Hard V only I have hair), and he’s agreed to write some out as long as I don’t reveal the location of his safe house.

So without further ado, his predictions for the Top 4…

1st: Manchester City

Oh boy, oh boy. Let’s face it, it’s between Man City and Chelsea for the title, all the way through. They have the best squads, the best first elevens, the most money, and though it pains me to say it probably the best managers too. City won the thing quite easily in the end (MAN ON STEVIE! MAN ON!), and have only strengthened their team since. Bacary Sagna and Eliaquim Mangala have come in to replace Joleon Lescott (the man

Yeah, I know, I couldn't resist...

Yeah, I know, I couldn’t resist…

with the world’s largest forehead) and the poster-boy for overhyped and English, Micah Richards; midfielder Fernando has replaced Javi Garcia, the one Spaniard who can’t play football*, and Willy Caballero has come in to challenge Joe Hart, who is no longer Head and Shoulders the best‘keeper at the club. All excellent players in their own right, all improving a squad that was easily the best in the League last season, and all coming in quietly and with little fuss. If Pellegrini can keep Jovetic injury-free to ease a little of the burden on Sergio Aguero, I can’t see them dropping many points to anybody. Except maybe…

2nd: Chelsea

Another side that have strengthened significantly over the summer, Chelsea are going to push City all the way this season. Having managed to get

Pictured: David Luiz vs Germany

Pictured: David Luiz vs Germany

rid of liability David Luiz, who during the world cup showed all the footballing skill of Sideshow Bob, for a ridiculous €50 million is already the best transfer deal of the year. When you consider he’s been replaced by Felipe Luis (which will in turn allow Azpilicueta to push across to right-back and Ivanovic into the centre), well, they aren’t going to be letting in many goals this season, especially with Thibault Courtois between the sticks. Admittedly this wasn’t Chelsea’s problem last year; they deservedly finished behind Liverpool thanks to their inability to break teams down or play anything like pleasing football unless given space to counter-attack (NO STEVIE, MAN ON!). The signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa should help there, you’d think, especially if Oscar can be reintegrated alongside them. Mourinho, for all his personality flaws, remains an excellent and proven manager, and will be confident of leading his team to success… but they’ll come second, because despite Costa’s arrival, you won’t win a league when your back-up strikers are Fernando “How did he miss that?” Torres and Didier “How old?” Drogba. They’ll score more goals this season, yes… but it still won’t be quite enough.

3rd : Arsenal

And so onto the least remarkable of all the Top Four positions, second loser. Though on many internet message boards the arrival of Messiah Van Gaal has persuaded football fans that Man Utd will claim this spot, Arsenal are clearly a superior team, and for once have recruited pretty damn wisely in the transfer market. Alexis Sanchez has a good shout of being the best player in the Premier League this season, he really is that good; with Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and Walcott around him, not to mention excellent support acts in Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Gunners are going to play some lovely and what’s more effective football. They look a little light at the back-Debuchy in for Sagna is reasonable, but asking Calum Chambers to deputise for all four defensive positions is a little risky- but like Liverpool last season, an irresistible attack should make up for any shortcomings there. They haven’t quite got the squad depth to mount a consistent title challenge, not with the way Chelsea and City’s squads have lined up; but with Liverpool losing Suarez, and Man Utd retaining Chris Smalling, they should have enough to finish a comfortable third.

Right, that’s it for the top 3. I’m off to cry about Liverpool again. More predictions to follow, if Mystic Matt can keep a low profile….

Doing the Teapot Dance won't change the past, Stevie...

Doing the Teapot Dance won’t change the past, Stevie…

 

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Not very Cleverley

It's OK, Tom. I'll sort it out on my seldom-read blog.

It’s OK, Tom. I’ll sort it out on my seldom-read blog.

This Cleverley thing’s escalated quickly, hasn’t it?

Once touted as one of England’s great young hopes, the Manchester United midfielder’s decline has become so great that Glen McConnell, on t’Internet, has started off a petition to get him banned from the national team. At the time of writing, it’s reached 18,145 signatures.

And, as so often with football-related things on the Internet, it’s really stupid. I’m going to recite the manifesto here, line by line, and explain why it’s less well conceived than Jesus:

Tom Cleverley, owner of 13 England caps, six more than Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Leon Osman combined, has been regularly selected by Roy Hodgson in his squads without possessing any genuine qualities whatsoever.

Is that the Ross Barkley, 19, who only broke into the first team this year? The Adam Lallana that’s only been in the Premiership for two years, was at a relegation struggler last season, has only displayed consistent form for this half of a season and is still a dead cert to go to Brazil? The Leon Osman who is a neat passer and offers pretty much nothing else to a team (the English Jo Allen, perhaps?)? Gosh, isn’t it a travesty that a footballer at the centre of a title-winning Manchester United team for two years, providing energetic running, passing as neat as Osman’s and experience of top-level European football should have a few more caps than these players?

In fact, I’d argue that it was these “genuine qualities” (as opposed to all those fake qualities you see lying around) are exactly what England’s midfield needs if, which is another cert, Gerrard is our midfield lynchpin. Just like Scholes and Carrick, whom Cleverley has thrived next to in Manchester United’s midfield, Gerrard is a fantastic passer of the ball who needs some energetic protection to make up for his failing legs, and a neat passer to give him the ball in some space. You might argue that, at the current moment, Jordan Henderson possesses these qualities to a greater degree than Cleverley, and you’d be right; but that’s not been the case for the last two years, and it goes a long way towards explaining the 13 caps Cleverley’s amassed over two years. Incidentally, Stewart “No goals, no assists” Downing, Wayne “On the Bench” Bridge and Jermaine Jenas all have more caps than Cleverley, despite being utterly, soul-destroyingly dire, but I can’t find that fact in the manifesto.

Ok, point made. On to the next bit of lunacy:

We believe for the reputation of this proud footballing nation that he should be prevented from participating in this summer’s international showcase.

Sorry, the “reputation of this proud footballing nation”? What reputation? As serial bottlers who, one tournament on home soil excepted, have been beaten by pretty much every competent footballing nation every time we’ve played them in a game that mattered? As a team that can’t keep possession, can’t form a cohesive unit, can’t win anything, and not so long ago couldn’t beat Algeria in a World Cup? Frankly, even if Cleverley is as  piss-poor as the petition manifesto makes out, there’s not a lot he can do to ruin England’s reputation; in fact, a bit of genuine ineptitude might provide some light relief to the despair at watching straitjacketed talent lose out to the mighty Costa Rica this summer.

Whilst England are considered to disappoint at major tournaments, further embarrassment could be avoided by not having his inept performances undermine the rest of the team’s efforts.

Well, he’s got the first clause right, but his argument doesn’t really hold up when you consider that, Cleverley or no Cleverley, England are going to be embarrassed at the next World Cup. It seems dreadfully unfair to single out one mediocre player in a squad full of mediocre players with a mediocre manager and one of the dullest styles of play since Tony Pulis’ Stoke heyday. England haven’t got a prayer of winning the World Cup-I’d be amazed if we even got out of the group-and frankly even the idea of scapegoating one player like this smacks of pre-emptive excuse-making. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to stomach that England are so poor, and it’s a human thing to look for someone to blame; but directing this much hatred towards one youngster isn’t going to change anything, and what’s more is passing into the realms of cruelty.

Look, Tom Cleverly isn’t that great a footballer. He’s never going to be Xavi or Iniesta, or even Steven Gerrard for that matter. But to direct such abuse and vitriol towards a player who is only 24, has shown glimpses of genuine talent when playing under a manager who sets up his team to play football (as in not Moyes, whose Man Utd team display more pointless crosses than an evangelical church), and who wasn’t necessarily getting in the squad anyway (what with Lallana and Henderson’s improvement this season)… well, it’s frankly ridiculous.

*Oh, and to the commenter on the petition who compares Cleverley to “footballing genocide”, well done-I didn’t realise people with single-figure IQs had the necessary motor skills to type things, but thanks for enlightening me there.

Predictions At (Just Over) Halfway: Part 3

Well, well. It’s the third part of the current series, and the one that some people will actually care about. So who, in my ill-informed and ever-changing opinion, will be crowned the Champions of the Premier League in 2014?

Well, nobody, because they don’t make you a monarch for winning it. But anyway, here goes…

3rd: Arsenal

Shit, a football! What do I do?

Shit, a football! What do I do?

They’ve been the pacesetters for most of the season but injuries are just starting to tell in this Arsenal side. With Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season, and the team thus lacking the threat his pace and finishing abilities, they might not quite have enough in their lockers to sustain a challenge, especially with the tough run of fixtures they have around the Bayern Munich ties. They’ve been reverting to a kind of past-Arsenal stereotype in recent weeks, passing the ball prettily but without penetration and having a couple of wobbles in defence; the ball doesn’t seem to be sticking to Giroud as much as it did earlier in the season, and they miss Aaron Ramsey (a sentence I never thought I’d type). Of course, they can always fall back on Niklas Bendtner…

2nd: Chelsea

This image is burned onto my retinas, and now, yours too.

This image is burned onto my retinas, and now, yours too.

As much as I genuinely hate preening arrogance-machine Jose Mourinho-and it is genuine hate, burning up in my gut like a bad vindaloo- he’s a pretty good manager, all told, and I can’t see Chelsea finishing lower than the top two this season. They’ve not been particularly convincing this season, and should definitely have been better to watch with the creative players they have, but with Matic (re-) signing, they’ve actually got a midfield now, rather than having to rely on Frank Lampard, who I’ve been informed is eligible for a free bus pass at the end of this season. It is a bit saddening to see genuinely amazing players of the past struggling as much as Eto’o (til the last few games) and especially Torres have this season; it’s like watching Elvis in his final few years, when the burgers started catching up with him. But they are increasingly solid at the back and seem to get away with nasty niggling fouls more than any other team in the league, with that combination, and Hazard and Oscar’s current form, set to see them challenging right to the wire.

1st: Manchester City

Celebratory blowjobs all round, lads!

Celebratory blowjobs all round, lads!

Some might accuse me of trying to please my one reader here, but seriously, Man City are the best team in the league by fair, and one of the most entertaining teams to watch as well. Granted, any defence with Martin Demichelis included is asking for trouble-he dives in more than a scuba team- but going forward, I can’t see how any team can honestly hope to stop them scoring. They have the best midfielder in the league in Yaya Toure, a superb foil for him in Fernandinho, and the forward line is second only to Liverpool’s in terms of lethality. Their home form is frankly ridiculous, and though they might drop a few points on their travels, where they’ve looked a mite patchy, it won’t be enough to stop them lifting the Premier League Trophy (again). What with Man Utd’s current travails (read: shitness) and my obviously 100% certain-to-happen prediction, City fans must be pretty happy right about now…

They aren’t going to win the Quadruple, though.

Predictions at (Just Over) Halfway: Part 2

Well, then. Already doubting the relegation predictions (Stoke would go and sign a proven goalscorer, wouldn’t they?), it’s on to the predictions for the top 6. In reverse order, to provide the illusion of tension…

6th: Manchester United

He could do with a few Nandos, look how thin he is!

He could do with a few Nandos, look how thin he is!

Without wishing to add to the seas of people who are saying Moyes is out of his depth, United (I make no apologies for calling them that, you know who I’m talking about) do have the feel of a sinking ship about them this season. Nautical allusions aside, they’ve been god-awful under their new crazy-eyed manager, with the Fergie-laden fruits of an ageing and imbalanced squad really ripening over the festive period especially. They obviously still have some quality players, and their chances of proving me massively wrong aren’t hurt by the signing of Juan Mata, who is just amazing; the problem they have is that their midfield is old and slow, their defence is looking shakier and shakier and contains Chris “did the ball just fly over my head again?” Smalling, and Wayne Rooney is just a massively bad egg in the dressing room, it seems. Whether his ego can withstand being third string to a Spaniard who couldn’t get into the Chelsea team and an 18-year-old Belgian/Albanian/English wunderkind taking diving lessons from Ashley Young , well, only time will tell. They have big problems in their squad and, already 5 points behind current Everton, I can’t see them getting any better than maybe-in-Europe-if-loads-of-convoluted-events –all-happen, also known as 6th place.

5th: Everton

I still wake up at 3am screaming "Just foul him, Gareth!"

I still wake up at 3am screaming “Just foul him, Gareth!”

Because I’m assuming Tottenham will start to drop points as soon as Emmanuel Adebayor resumes his usual sulk, or opponents work out that if they defend deep Spurs can’t break them down, it’s a toss-up between the two Merseyside clubs for who comes fourth and who comes fifth. I think Liverpool will just beat the Toffees to the last Champions League spot, just because Everton have a marginally harder fixture list, and just as many injuries. They are an excellent team but maybe they don’t quite have the experience of success that at least some of the Liverpool squad have, and with a lot of their creative players currently injured, they might draw just too many games to make it into the Champions League. That said, their defence is genuinely excellent, as is the base of their midfield (and I never thought I’d say that about a pairing containing Gareth Barry), so I can’t see them losing many games either; and with Lukaku, Barkley and Deulofeu in the squad, they’ve got goals in them too. A lot of it depends on how Martinez copes with his ridiculous injury list, though he’s had plenty of practice with that while at Wigan. It’ll be close, is the gist of what I’m saying…

 

4th: Liverpool

Pictured: Massive hole, formerly known as Liverpool's defence

Pictured: Massive hole, formerly known as Liverpool’s defence

So, onto Rodgers’ Reds, who are in the depths of an injury crisis just as bad as Everton’s, don’t really have a defence and insist on playing Steven Gerrard, the definition of “his best days are behind him”. The loss of Lucas, one of the most underrated overrated players ever (it does make sense, trust me), is a massive blow, but more pressing for Rodgers is the issue of how to incorporate both Sturridge and Suarez in the same team. While he sorts this out, Liverpool are going to ship a lot of goals; but they are also going to score a hell of a lot, as they have been all season, and when you have a player as amazing as Luis Suarez leading the attack, well, even awful performances can be rescued by moments of magic. Assuming he doesn’t do something crazy like bare his enormous testicles at Howard Webb, he’ll probably be the key figure in getting Liverpool into the qualifiers, before fucking off to Real Madrid as they crash out in the first qualifying round to an unknown team from Romania…

Part 3 of this miniseries-the top 3-tommorrow!

Predictions at (Just Over) Halfway

We’re halfway through the Premier League Season, nearly at the end of the January transfer window, and I haven’t written anything on this blog for ages. So now seems like a pretty good time to throw considered, cautious reasoning to the wind and make some massively bold claims about what the league table will look like at the end of the season.

This will take the form of three posts. Obviously I don’t have the application to talk about every single team, but I’ll have a go at predicting, based on relative strengths of team and squad, who’ll be relegated this season, who’ll be in the top 6, and then Mystic Matt will shout his predictions through the ceiling of the cellar in which he’s hiding from Russian gangsters. Hope you like them, if not, I’m not forcing you to read them.*

Without further ado, the teams who are gonna go down…

20th: Norwich

Seriously? You're playing Elmander and not me?

Seriously? You’re playing Elmander and not me?

There’s just no goals in the Norwich team. Gary Hooper is willing and a decent penalty box finisher, but nobody seems to be laying on chances for the poor bloke, while Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, despite having the best name in the Premiership, is playing like a poor man’s Cameron Jerome, also known as a Cameron Jerome. The less said about Johan Elmander, who makes a tree look mobile, the better. It still seems odd that the club’s most creative player, Wes Hoolahan, isn’t getting a game, as the perfect player to lay on some chances for their one competent striker, with the rest of the squad just not really looking up to Premiership standard (with the exceptions of Fer and, perhaps, Ruddy). I quite like Chris Hughton, but if he’s pinning his hopes on Jonas Gutierrez, Argentina right-back, providing the much-needed creative spark and goal threat, then (AWFUL PUN ALERT)  the Canaries look likely to fall off their perch.

19th:  Fulham

Fulham's pre-match warm up routine...

Fulham’s pre-match warm up routine…

Oh, Fulham. It genuinely hurts to think that a team including the majestic Dimitar Berbatov is probably going to be relegated, but despite the fag-smoking Bulgarian’s genuine class, the team around him is just too geriatric to consistently do well in such a fast-paced league. There’s nothing wrong with experience, but when your two main central midfield players need zimmerframes to get around, and neither were all that brilliant at the height of their careers, well, it’s time to invest in some youth or prepare for the Championship. Add in John Arne Riise, whose “Release the Kraken” moments seem to be far behind him now, as well as Damien Duff, Darren “Missed Again” Bent and the truly awful Philippe Senderos, and…well, the problem’s obvious. Fulham’s squad has some genuine quality, the aforementioned Berbatov and the excellent Martin Stekelenburg coming to mind, but the main spine of the team can’t run, and apparently that’s quite important in football. Losing 6-0 to Hull, and having the worst goal difference in the division at this point, displaying absolutely no confidence in their play… you don’t come back from that.

18th: Stoke

Hughes, just out of picture (below), gives Walters some extra-hard playing time...

Hughes, just out of picture (below), gives Walters some extra-hard playing time…

Now, this one’s difficult. There are plenty of sub-par Premier League teams this season, and pretty much anyone below tenth has a chance of going down; but while it’ll go right to the wire, I think that Stoke are just a little bit worse than the rest. It seems odd after years of Pulis-induced solidity to say their defence is poor, but it genuinely looks leakier than an ill-fitted catheter right now, and the managers’ continued insistence on playing Jonathan Walters in front of literally anyone else, including the ball-boys or indeed Jonathan Walters’ mum, suggests the forward has some serious dirt on Sparky. They, like Norwich, are struggling for goals, and whilst Mark Hughes’ desire to get them playing something worthy of the name “football” is laudable, they just don’t have the players to do it properly. Watching Ryan Shawcross trying to play the ball out of defence, for example, is like watching Anne Widdecombe try and pirouette on Strictly, but with a marginally slimmer chance of pulling it off. They’ve got two great keepers, and a decent striker in stick-figure Peter Crouch, but their traditional goal-struggles are being made more obvious by the lack of organisation at the back, and the other relegation candidates might just pull in front of Stoke because of this.

That said, I wouldn't want to be marking her at a corner...

That said, I wouldn’t want to be marking her at a corner…

Well, there you go. Come back soon for part 2: the top 6!

*Please read them. This is the closest thing I have to a social life…

FA Crap: The Cup’s lost its Magic

So, after watching several FA Cup games over the weekend, though not the Liverpool-Oldham game I wanted to because it wasn’t being broadcast anywhere on the planet, I’ve come to the following conclusion:

If there was any FA Cup Magic flowing around, in the good old days of leg-breaking challenges, proper English No. 9s and the flat 4-4-2 (more on that later), it’s definitely all drained away by now.

Look, it’s still nice to have lower league teams beat higher-league teams. Big congrats to Notts Forest in particular, since they thoroughly deserved their 5-0 win over West Ham, who are… well, looking like an entire team of Stewart Downings, frankly, willing enough and with the knowledge that talent is there but unable to show it and ultimately, a bit disappointing. Oh, and with the players (including Downing himself) getting a lot more money than they deserve. Sorry, it’s so hard not to get carried away with Downing analogies; they always promise so much and deliver so little. Where was I…

downing

He can’t even finish off the Teapot Dance. Oh, dear…

Oh yes… the FA Cup. Well, it’s still nice to have giant-killings, but when the killers themselves are playing for a draw (I’m looking at you, Macclesfield) in order to get a well-paid replay… well, there’s no shame in a struggling club doing that, but it’s hardly magical. What with West Ham’s line-up and the general attitude of teams (other than Wigan) towards the FA Cup, there’s an argument that the League Cup is now seen as more important to teams; there’s both a feeling that there’s more chance of winning it, that it’s a little less bloated, and that exciting youngsters get a chance to shine (rather than being forced into the line-up when they aren’t ready, a la Big Sam Allardici).

And when the one interesting tie in the round (two if you count Swansea beating Man Utd, which made me laugh a lot) turns out to be pretty uninteresting in the end, well… the magic’s definitely fading away.

The interesting tie I’m talking about, of course, was Arsenal vs Spurs, Wenger vs Tactics Tim, and definitive proof that 4-4-2 doesn’t work against even a vaguely decent team. Dembele and Bentaleb actually didn’t play that badly, but facing three midfielders and two technically competent (OK, brilliant) wingers drifting inside, they didn’t have a hope. They weren’t helped by Sulking’s Adebayor refusal to drop into any kind of space to create a passing angle, by Eriksen’s invisible man performance or the fact that Danny Rose has come out as a secret and devoted Gunner, or by an admittedly excellent Arsenal performance, but… The kind of boxy 4-4-2 Sherwood is trying to implement, as a way of gaining favour with supporters, just isn’t going to wash against teams with well-drilled and technical midfielders, because they’ll just happily pass the ball around the isolated Spurs midfield whilst always having a spare man to intercept the kind of square balls 4-4-2 forces a team to play. Any half-decent midfield 3 is going to completely dominate Spurs once the initial “new manager” furore has run out.

Which brings me on to Man Utd, who lost to Spurs in the League recently and lost again to Swansea. It’s hard to see what Moyes can do at Man Utd, really; he seems to be lacking ideas, his players don’t seem to be motivated, his midfield is still looser than a sphincter after curry night and his defence are wobblier than drunk jelly. They’ll still probably challenge for fourth in the League, if only because so many of the bottom teams are just dire, but… it’s not the same as when Fergie was there (the manager, not the Black Eyed Peas “singer”). Obviously, the players are missing his influence, and there’s an argument that the older ones (ie most of the squad) over-exerted themselves a bit in Fergie’s final season and are paying the price for it now, which is hardly Moyes fault, but it does get me a-wondering if Moyes’ appointment wasn’t made precisely because Fergie knew his successor was doomed to fail.

Behind those glasses lies the cold, calculating mind of a killer... (at managing, of course)

Behind those glasses lies the cold, calculating mind of a killer… (at managing, of course)

Hear me out (well, read me out. Or don’t, I don’t care that much really). We’ve heard that Moyes was Fergie’s choice, and we also know Fergie is pretty much the master of manipulation, mind games and tricks, and also dedicated to Man Utd like very few others (for evidence, see every single Premier League season). We also know, and so does Fergie, that any manager replacing him was going to have a massively tough job, probably second only to the England job in terms of impossibility, and in all honesty, whatever their talent, wouldn’t last long. So, it didn’t make sense to appoint a really top manager-they were doomed to fail anyway- but it also wouldn’t do, for Man Utd’s future success and for the marketing brand, to appoint a genuinely, notoriously shit manager to take the fall while Fergie-love and Fergie-memories were still at their peak.

So step forward David Moyes; a perfectly understandable choice, easy to sell to the fans as a good choice because of his success with Everton, but not, with all respect, amongst the very top bracket of managers (Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho even though he’s a hypocritical wanker). He’ll do an OK job-the club won’t slide into ruin under his watch- but when he’s moved on, in a couple of years’ time, it won’t cause any great ripples. The idea, as I see it, was to appoint a guy to keep Man Utd around the European places, so that, when the time is right, a truly excellent manager can be appointed to lead them onto success. Moyes fits the bill perfectly, and it’s hard on the guy that he’s been given such a poisoned chalice.

Having said that-I almost cried with laughter when Bony scored. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

 

Some Late-Year Observations

Now that I’ve overcome the seething tide of anger at Howard Webb and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, I thought it would be fun to have a little look back over some of the festive premier League games. The ones I watched, anyway. And, in the finest traditions of football journalism, I’ll throw in some grandiose claims based on a tiny sample size and crow about them mercilessly if they are shown even for a second to be in any way accurate.

Taken moments before the Liverpool game, Mourinho slipping Webb twenty thou-(SNIP)

Taken moments before the Liverpool game, Mourinho slipping Webb twenty thou-(SNIP)

So, onto the things I saw (I won’t say “learnt”, because I’m not the Guardian and I suspected a lot of this stuff anyway).

1)      Man City are going to win the league.

Yes, they are. I know that the team who’s top of the league at this time of the season has gone on to win it for the last four years, but this is going to be the year the trend is well and truly bucked. City are just, obviously, the best team in the league at the moment, definitely the team with the best midfield and attack and the best options in these positions. Admittedly, their victory over Liverpool was a bit contentious (read: that linesman was wearing an Aguero shirt under his black top), and relied on a miss from six yards by sex addict Sterling (he’s got 3 kids! 3! At 19!), but still, they were good for at least a point. Maybe. Or at least the kind of fawning over a “good performance” that Liverpool got after being cheated out of badly-needed points for the first time this Christmas…

Ahem. Seriously though, the variety of City’s attacking play at the moment is second to none; they have serious defence-springing ability from Nasri (and who’d have thought I’d be saying that this time last year?) and Silva, in Navas they have devastating pace on the counter-attack, superb, physical forwards in Dzeko and Negredo, flair in spades from Aguero and Jovetic (still to make an impact-watch this space), threat at set-pieces, muscularity from midfield… Liverpool gave them a proper game, a real spectacle, but you could just see the Man City experience giving them the edge on Boxing Day. And, what’s more, their keeper is back and performing, and they’ve even started to get stupid, match-changing decisions going their way, the sign of destined champions.

Not that I’m bitter. And on a completely different topic-does anyone have that linesman’s address?

2)      Mourinho’s definitely back

Yes, Howard. Two penalty decisions you completely ballsed up. Well done.

Yes, Howard. Two penalty decisions you completely ballsed up. Well done.

Whilst I’m not being bitter, let’s get this one out of the way. Liverpool’s match against Chelsea yesterday took me out beyond the fields of anger into the sea of absolute fury, as well as proving to the world that Howard Webb’s ego has definitely grown to the point where it’s obscured his vision. Not only should Liverpool have had two penalties, the second one as stonewall as you will see with Webb standing about three yards away, but Eto’o, scorer of Chelsea’s winning goal (courtesy of another Mignolet weak hand, by the way-this needs to be sorted promptly by Rodgers)-Eto’o should have been off the pitch after his assault on Henderson. And for once, “assault” isn’t hyperbolic; well after the ball had gone, the Cameroonian raked his studs down Henderson’s legs, and this after three minutes of the game.

People are trying to defend Webb for his ridiculous decision not to award anything other than a free-kick for this, saying it would have ruined the game as a spectacle for a player to be sent off so early on, but I’d say it ruined the game as a spectacle to have Liverpool’s second-best performer in recent games hobbling around unable to make his imperious driving runs because he’d been crippled, wouldn’t you? Anyway, this had all the hallmarks of a Mourinho-game, where his team are instructed to kick the crap out of a technically superior side and get some goals on the counter. Oh, and just to wrap it up-Oscar should have gone, too, though it doesn’t excuse Lucas’ reaction.

Hey, maybe I’m not over it yet. Oh well, moving on…

3)      Arsenal need another stiker

Yeah, yeah, heard it all before. But it’s still true; Arsenal are going to pay, and recently have been paying, for the lack of cover for Giroud. I think the Frenchman’s importance in Arsenal’s performances early in the season has been really underplayed; he was genuinely excellent up until December, bullying and occupying centre-halves so that Arsenal’s tiny midfield goblins had space to run the show, and chipping in with the goals too. But he’s been looking really tired and jaded in recent weeks, only to be expected given the physical nature of his role, and Arsenal have been suffering for it.

They’ve ground out a few results (and Walcott looked pretty good against West Ham and Newcastle, I’ll admit) but they’re really missing that battering ram up front, and have started doing that typical Arsenal thing of passing it around nicely in front of a defence without penetrating, as in previous seasons. Podolski is a different type of player to Giroud, and not the answer (though, as his performance against the Irons shows, an excellent option to have); and with Ramsey missing for the next few weeks, and Ozil too, a forward who can lead the line and give Giroud a break is looking more and more important for Arsenal’s title fight.

4)      Fulham are going down; Sunderland and Palace might not

Oh, Fulham. To let Hull-that’s Hull City, whose best player hadn’t scored for two years previous to the Fulham game and who play Danny “how did he miss that? Oh wait, it’s” Graham up front- score 6 goals in one half is just pathetic, there’s no other word for it. A midfield of Parker, Sidwell and Karagounis just doesn’t have the legs, even if it has the determination, to run around in a Premier League game for 90 minutes, especially when allied to the laziest forward line-up ever assembled (Taarabt, Bent, Berbatov and Ruiz? So we’re defending with 6 men, then?). Hull were great, don’t get me wrong, and the Hudd in particular was brilliant… but Fulham are in serious trouble now.

Whilst on the subject of who’s going down, Villa are crap and need to buck their ideas up sharpish. Benteke, who pretty much single-handedly kept them up last season, is looking disinterested, and hasn’t scored in ages; most of Lambert’s new signings are, to put it nicely, shit, especially Tonev, who seems to have had a botched brain operation that makes him need to shoot every time he touches the ball; and now that teams have worked out that Villa can only play on the counter-attack, they’re really struggling. But in better news (for Palace and Sunderland fans), Palace and Sunderland are starting to look like they at least have the grit necessary to stay up. Belasie’s return has really given Palace a boost, they actually look like they have a threat going forwards now and especially with Chamakh returning (after several years’ absence) to form they might actually scrape together some points; and under Poyet’s management Sunderland at least look like they have some guts, fighting back from 2-0 down against Cardiff. With Ki, Borini and Mannone really starting to come good, they could just yet prove lots and lots of people wrong. At least, if they stop playing Jose Altidore, who isn’t even good enough to be called the American Emile Heskey.

I'm just annoyed at anyone called Jose right now. He's still crap, though.

I’m just annoyed at anyone called Jose right now. He’s still crap, though.

 

 

 

 

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