Sunday, 30 March 2014

Premier League Round Up: 30th March

Welcome to a Premier League Round-up blog!
All opinions are just that, so... yeah...

1. Man Utd are back!

Another capitulation at the hands of one of the POWER 3 (more on that later), Man City, to go with their similar result against Liverpool rightly led watchers to question 'could it get any worse?' for Moyes' United. Neither Liverpool or Man City had to play with particular verve for their results, so mundane were Utd.  It led me to think of similarities between Moyes & his Simpsons' lookalike Moyes Szyslak, the bartender; both unpopular, both helming businesses with little respect from their customers, both would (erroneously) claim they do not deserve this shoddy treatment & so on but no! Criticism was misplaced, for Mighty Moyes came roaring back to lead Utd to a 4-1 thumping of 1982 European Cup winners Aston Villa with goals from Rooney! Rooney! Mata! & Chicarito!

That's all great if you're a casual fan, but scratch beneath the surface and the usual unpleasantness resides.
They had 9 shots? That all? Yup.
They had zero corners? Yup. A Moyes team? Yup.

Getting Mata and Kagawa on the pitch together is a positive and fun, Fellani contributed solidly & it seems they have withdrawn somewhat from their cross laden 4-4-2 (Only 16 in this game), but the fact remains, Villa are bang-average at best, pretty bad at worst and Utd created very little beyond their goals.
But, it's respite, any 4-1 win is a good one & two fingers to that damn plane.

2. Pulisball.


Pulis has created his own mini-Chelsea; keep things solid, maybe pinch a goal & the points will follow.

But above all: give away nothing.

Mourinho might have noticed this had Palace not perfected their invisibility cloak in recent weeks. You can understand Jose's thinking here, he's still got his Spanish hat on; 'A promoted team? These teams are no good, it's fine. I have one eye on the Champions League!'
So Luiz starts in midfield and Lampard, and that's not quite as good as it could be but it's OK, and Torres is starting & he's doing jack-all & it all turns into a nothing game & Mourinho gets out-Mourinho-ed by Lord Pulis, who'd happily take 0-0 every match from now until eternity. Occasionally that turns into a 1-0 & you look like a genius. This was that occasion.

But beyond that why, Chelsea, why?

3. Chelsea are knackered

I was pondering this after the Villa game but then the cracks got papered over by them wreaking havoc on Arsenal.

A quick perusal of usual sources leads me to believe that Chelsea have over 70 professionals on their books, yet Jose has been predominantly using a core of 17/18 players all year (swap Matic for Mata, Salah not really featured yet).  When you consider 3 of those are misfiring strikers plus a couple of keepers, suddenly you realise he's voluntarily using about 14 Supermen for 9 outfield positions, Champions League included.
This is actually quite nuts, and explains their recent erratic form.  Hazard has played nearly every first team minute available in 2014, ditto Cahill, Ivanovic, Cech, Matic since he came in, Ramires, Terry.  All of these guys play 90 minutes nearly every week, often twice a week.

Regardless, these are largely great players & whilst they can be lethal when it clicks there have been signs to cause concern.
Wanna win the title? Don't lose to Villa or Pulis!
Patiently underperform against Spurs til they start chucking the ball into the net? Not recognised as a tactical scheme but seemed to pan out OK.

They're quite lucky they haven't had more injuries, because one or two key men going down could floor them completely.  We, the viewing public, are so used to Mourinho's underplaying of his side's abilities that we've taken it as classic Jose kidology, but is he telling the truth?
Are they trying to achieve FFP parity? They balanced the books in January & only part balanced the squad.
Just maybe he's been told he's got this enormous pool of players & that's it barring like for like sales.

And yes, I appreciate I was nice about them last week but now WE HAVE MORE EVIDENCE :)  .

4. Swansea turn the corner

I've written about Swansea not getting what they've deserved recently & finally they appear to have turned both the lucky corner (Flamini!) and the results corner (Norwich: perfect dinner guests).  They're safe now & deservedly so. Michu is back too & whilst he'll take time to get up to speed, it's a real boost.

5. Holiday teams

Newcastle have been phoning it in for a few weeks now. They recently lost to Fulham after all.
That Remy has been missing from the team through this malaise is no coincidence, as without him their firepower is nil.
Another trouncing, this time at the hands of always-solid-at-home-Southampton, in which they had 5 shots in total and seemed less intent on running than a latter year Marlon Brando showed a team clearly on holiday. 

Pretty shoddy stuff really, and similar signs that Hull might be going the same way having winkled out enough points to carry on next year. They were entirely toothless against Stoke with another 5 shot total.

There'll be a lot of this in the coming weeks and bettors amongst you could well pay attention.


Half time in Arsenal-Man. City & Arsenal have been generally abject.
THUS! It's clear that the SUPERIOR 7 has a superior subset this year: THE POWER 3.

Man. City, Liverpool and Chelsea routinely destroy other Superior 7 members & stride confidently onwards towards league domination.

Then Arsenal play quite well, City retreat and it ends up 1-1. Not in the script.
Where was the POWER?

Not in Yaya's boots, who had a stroller of a game.

Are Man City tired like Chelsea? Well, judging by the way this game panned out, it's a good theory but it doesn't really hold out. They've played similar line-ups recently, the last 6-8 weeks or so, but have rotated quite well throughout the year, so it probably isn't that.  Arsenal certainly shouldn't be tiring too much given their entire midfield is arguably second string at the moment. Their defence has been flogged a bit too much and poor Giroud has been somewhat called upon, but they were stronger, later in this game.

Maybe it's just March and everyone is a bit tired?  It's the English game after all: fast paced, loads of matches, no rests.

7. The Genius of Tim Sherwood 

Not much can be added to a pedestrian Tottenham showing followed by rumour, gossip, craziness & universal dismissal for Interim Tim's long term claims.

And that's fair enough.  Liverpool dispatch with simplicity & little particular effort because they can; they are POWER 3, Spurs are not.  Trouble for Spurs is where to turn?
A season that has lurched from chaos to crisis can be forgotten & hope restored only with the appointment of another 'right man' and the return of Sherwood to his Technical/Youth hinterland.  One of his major problems is he seems to be relying on the players that were thought to be replaceable to win matches & his tactical nuances are inpenetrable, maybe moreso than Villas-Boas' for the players aren't getting the message; a decent first half has been hard to find for many a week now.

Van Gaal would win the fans back, but beyond that likeable candidates are thin on the ground...

8. Everton efficiency: can it last?

Everton are riding their luck at the minute.
They got conspicuously outshot by Swansea last week (9-21) similar against Newcastle (8-16) and now Fulham, finally buoyed by Magath's military manouvres (14-23).

Yet they won all three matches and seemingly stride on clutching ever closer to Arsenal's coattails.  Their run in is tough though & surely they can't keep riding the shot count like this.
Pity Fulham too.  It's all too late for them but posting 23 shots & 8 SOT whilst making 35 (!) tackles is a very good performance, but they still lost 3-1.  They haven't enough games to make this improvement work for them & they sure as hell haven't got any luck. Magath arrived 3 months too late.

That is all... for now

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Premier League Round Up: 23rd March

Welcome to the millionth Premier League Round-up blog!
All opinions are just that, so... yeah...

1. Chelsix v Arsenil

In the crudest manner, Chelsea arrived drunk at Arsene's party, seduced his wife and vomited on his shirt.
Whereas they had the courtesy to wait an hour before dismantling Tottenham, the demolition was effectively complete inside 15 minutes here.  To throw back to last week's Tottenham v Arsenal game, Wenger's team appeared to have concrete tactics: if we score we defend. Maybe they only crystallised this once they had scored for here they appeared to turn up with the intention of matching Chelsea; a plan that died almost immediately. 
That both North London sides have been so regularly and similarly deconstructed by variously Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool has been widely noted, as has the length of their respective injury lists & both teams can gain no comfort from their residence in the lower tier of the Superior 7; that Arsenal top that group and will likely secure Champions League football is a major silver lining.

Wenger's only other solace will have been the comical sending off of Keiran Gibbs, which at least offered the game's greatest talking point and distracted from other more worrying footballing issues; the elephant in the room here being the implication that the referee could not distinguish between two young black men... dear, oh dear.

Still, Jose's ruthless killers march onwards and possibly upwards and are back on track with a marginally favourable schedule to come.

Write them off? I'd rather not.

FUN FACT: There were 4 indiviual errors for goals registered in this game plus a penalty & a red card. This 'improved' upon Tottenham's total of 3, a penalty and a red card from their fixture here. 

So bad.

2. Shit teams are shit

It must be hard following a lesser Premier League team.
A cursory glance at the form tables reveals thus:

1. West Ham LOST last 3
2. Swansea NO WIN in 5
3. WBA 1 WIN in 6
4. Palace NO WIN in 5
5. Sunderland NO WIN in 4
6. Cardiff 1 WIN in 6
7. Fulham 1 WIN in 6

Rubbish all round.

Sunderland's two games in hand gives rise to the idea that they could bridge the gap to the other bad teams ahead of them; that may well be misleading. BUT all of these teams are falling away just when they need points and wins, much like Norwich and Hull did until they all but secured their spots for next year by winning ONE game.

As I said last week, it is fortunate for others that Cardiff and Fulham are so bad; routine demolitions at the hands of title contenders reinforced that view, and it could be bloody fortunate that Sunderland have such a horrible run in. It's certain that they will be ruined by Liverpool in midweek, but straight after they have a genuine... wait for it... 6 pointer (!) at home to West Ham.

If they don't win that, then realistically they are toast.

3. Crystal Pulis are in the Premier League.

Pulisball, so beloved of the stats community, may well succeed this season but most will have not noticed the minor tweak that he's gambled on.
By regularly involving themselves in unthrilling, non-goal laden matches, they are worrying close to achieving actual stasis.  And by achieving this, the media, fans and maybe even the Premier League itself are dangerously close to forgetting Palace even exist.

If you don't exist, you can't get relegated.  You merely remind the league makers of your existence prior to next year's fixtures and presto:

'The greatest trick Pulis ever pulled was convincing the world Palace didn't exist'

4. Swansea are cursed

Swansea did well at Everton:
21 shots to 9, 60/40 possession.

Everton are a good team at home, they are a SUPERIOR team in the league, after all, they've only lost 5 games anywhere all year and yet they were functionally outplayed by a resurgent Swansea who keep outdoing the opposition AND GET BEAT.
Swansea keep playing pretty well.  Their matches against Napoli were thrilling & they could have got something out of the WBA match.  They even scored 3 v. Liverpool, although that's become more common recently. But still they struggle.

Their run-in is OK and they should pick up points somewhere & do better for being out of Europe. Last match is Sunderland away though so they really need to get on with it. However, they play a good few holidaying sides before then, and mostly at home (Villa, Norwich, Southampton). There must be points for them somewhere.

5. Big players do big things

Stating the bleeding obvious: Rooney, Suarez, Toure, Snodgrass: 9 goals between them in one weekend.
There's a reason these guys are feted & they show why every week.


Ha! No they can't.
Any team that concedes 3 to Cardiff ain't winning no title!

It's fun to see them try though. Seemingly rejecting any concept of careful play, Brendan Rodgers has given his team it's head, so to speak and boy have they responded.  After routinely crushing Man Utd last week, it's turning into parks football for Liverpool now. Turn up, have some fun, try some tricks, score a few goals, get the three points, Alan.

Maybe they can do it? If it wasn't for the fact that Chelsea and particularly City are so equally superior to the rest, I might believe it...

Sunderland, Tottenham and West Ham lie in wait & I, for one, expect goals.

7. Obligatory Tottenham bit

Continuing their LEAGUE LEADING total for 'errors leading to a goal' were two more Kyle Naughton howlers, which brings their total to 16. Naughton, so often a boo-boy, has to his credit been performing well in recent weeks deputising for Kyle Walker, but this game was intriguing, for again, Tottenham galvanised themselves and ultimately had the better of a game, only this time completing a comeback and securing a result. Where Arsenal held out last week, Southampton obligingly added a couple to their own ERROR total.

There are strange signs of coherence in some of Spurs' recent performances. That this coherence only seems to occur after routinely going behind is concerning but there are players out there improving and playing at a good level. Southampton didn't get a kick in the second half here.

Bentaleb, still a mere child of 19, has nous and a gift to make the right percentage calls.  His efforts have been underappreciated as he has been unfortunately bestowed the title of 'Sherwood's Love Child'; not his fault, he's very good.  Chadli, a lab designed ideal footballer: strong, massive, good touch & with a good shot has started to look like the player he has threatened to be.

And Eriksen! He's just nifty.  Even Soldado was good today. Lennon, as ever, was not. The MLS calls for him, surely.

Liverpool next, so, yeah.

That is all, for now...

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Premier League Round Up 18th March

Welcome to the cheapest, most basic, GIF-free, table-free, round up you'll ever see.
All opinions are just that, so... yeah...

1. Shooting wildly gets you nowhere

Across the weekend certain teams posted average to good shot numbers:

Chelsea: 15
Tottenham: 17
Man Utd: 13
Sunderland 19

What all these 4 teams had in common was two things:

1. None of them scored &
2. They posted a grand total of 7 shots on target between them.

That's 10.9% SOT between them, which is dismal.
Of their combined 64 shots, 27 were blocked & 30 were off target. 
Whether this reveals effective defensive strategies versus ineffective offense or just ineffective offense is a moot point but clearly the SOT correlation to goals was pretty stark here.  Ask Big Sam (25% SOT in a meek performance at Stoke); SOT means goals for.

2. Tottenham were better & Arsenal are able to change strategy

It added up to the same thing in the end & the shape of the game was clearly dictated by the early goal but it was revealing that Wenger's strategy in a NLD should be so staid.  With a not dissimilar side that he used in the 2-0 FA Cup win earlier in the season, Arsenal's entire strategy was reactive to the perceived weaknesses of Tottenham: let them have the ball, they'll not do much with it.  This is a rarity for Wenger and a surprise that he should change his normally consistent gameplan against a team he might usually have expected to dominate, for all that it was a derby.

Barely any 'pretty' football from Arsenal but job done and mixed emotions for Tottenham who probably felt they had done enough to gain at least a point.

3. Utd are genuinely woeful

That Liverpool were able to beat Man Utd was no surprise.  That they were able to do it so comprehensively without the need to play particularly well was.

With a seemingly strong first 11 on the pitch, there must've been real hope amongst the Utd fans prior to kick off but once again, none of their stars showed up and they played like strangers. The freakish run of penalties made it easy for Liverpool and without casting too many aspersions, it's hard not to feel that under Ferguson that wouldn't have been the case.  Ferguson's culture of fear vs Moyes culture of apathy? Even the refereees fear nothing now...

It's getting worse in Red Manchester and there are no signs of encouragement for the formerly vocal and brazen fan base to grasp on to.  None of their players are in good form, and Ferguson's decisions last year to rely on Van Persie over Rooney rather than play them side by side now looks like a decision made by a smart manager who realised they do not function well together.  Moyes will do well to survive the season now.

4. City can thank Silva

Long cited as the man who can make 'the difference', David Silva's key contributions that dug his team out of a potential pit can't be too highly commended.  A marvellous finish followed by the killer ball to Barn Door Dzeko gave their wavering title aspirations a shot in the arm.  When a top side can outclass a mid-table team with 10 men, it only goes to show the disparity between those with and without.  Hull have been largely mundane yet admirable this year but need to keep their eye on the ball.  A couple more wins should see them well safe but any player with his eye on the summer holidays should realise that it's not over yet.

5. Southampton at home are consistent.

Come rain or shine, if Southampton are at home they will do the same things:

1. Dominate possession
2. Dominate the shots

That this hasn't created a better home record is a bit of a mystery but against a poor Norwich side there was little doubt how it would pan out.  It's to Saints credit to that their focus is remaining high considering they have little to play for.

In contrast:

6. Swansea keep doing the same things & it's not improving

Come rain or shine, if Swansea are at home the will do the same things:

1. Dominate possession
2. Disappoint

With only home wins against league runts Cardiff and Fulham since the New Year, Swansea aren't winning the games they need to.  Against a moderate West Brom, they had every chance of winning a match against a direct rival.  That they led, threw it away and continue to flatter to deceive has become unsurprising & worrying.   They're not safe by any means.

7.  Mourinho is funny... most of the time

Classic Mourinho nonsense at Villa Park.  95% of the time his antics are all part of an amusing attention grab, whilst the other 5% he deflects poor behaviour from his own players & creates utter chaos.

This was the latter & distracted from the paucity of his own team's offensive quality; something that had been masked by the Tottenham Hotspur benevolent fund the week before.  It's quite possible that Chelsea are tired.  He hasn't rotated much in recent times and seems pretty set on 8/9 of his starters.  Still playing CL football may have an impact here and big tests will follow.

Villa, as is their wont remain enigmatic, but Benteke is looking encouragingly effective and he finally looks to be on the road back to last year's 'beast-mode'.


So in the course of one weekend, suddenly (!) 4 teams could win the league; although almost certainly only one will. ;) My bet is Tottenham at 33/1 but that was placed in August out of loyalty and delusion; ironically the same delusion that leads legions of Liverpool fans to wade in at 25/1 and up at around the same time.  That they have a chance of collecting is an amazing testament to Brendan Rodgers skills and the lack of a dominant points collecting outfit in the league this year. Meanwhile the battle for the coveted Europa League spot rages on...

The run for least bad team will remain interesting too: Sunderland, Palace, Norwich, Swansea, West Brom & Hull are all dangling on the precipice. It's too late to rely on pure stats; the run in is about guts and belief alone and the team with the least will fail.  Sunderland can at least hope, with games in hand, whilst all can be glad that Fulham and Cardiff have retained such a lack of quality for so very long.

That is all, for now...