Sunday, 13 April 2014

Premier League Round-Up: 14th April

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

Saturday Review:

(If I type 'Premier Lague' once I type it a hundred times...)
A thrilling goalfest here in the Premier Lague League with 6 goals in the West Brom/Tottenham game and 5 in all the other Saturday fixtures.  But that's OK at this time of year because it's all about RESULTS and GRINDING OUT RESULTS and EKEING OUT RESULTS.  Plus none of the goal-monster teams played, so a merry band of 'relegation haunted outfits' & 'holidaying' clubs tossed coins & decided who really wanted 'the three points'...

1. Everton are now in the Top 4

And well done to them.

But once again, for the 5th game in a row, they were outshot by the opposition.  Their overall performance against Arsenal merited a downgrading of this stat to 'not relevant' last week, but this time they were playing Sunderland
and went down 24-20 in the shot count.  Say again?

Yup, 44 (!) shots registered in a 0-1 scoreline. That's quite some game.
Once again Martinez's magic skills enabled Everton to come out ahead and this result all but...

2. ...relegated Sunderland

If football had an employment market similar to the real world, you'd be forgiven for thinking Wes Brown was attempting to get the sack.  Here he added an own goal to go with his league leading 3 red cards. 

Sunderland have 2 games in hand but it doesn't matter. They've lost 5 straight, are 7 points from safety, spirits are low and have had no luck. This is a miserable recipe & that they're beneath Cardiff, who are routinely awful, is damning.  Nor is their long-term potential very sound.  Adam Johnson should be able to secure a contract in the PL but the only player I've been impressed with this season has been Vito Mannone, who has shown good qualities in a busy job.

The rest of the squad looks like what it is: a bloated and weird amalgamation of ill-conceived signings, both inexperienced or too old, cast in the image of multiple managers. There is a huge job in front of somebody next season, not least the paring down of playing staff & removal of high earners, and I don't think Poyet has done enough to suggest he's up to that task.  He talks a good game, does Gus, but his message hasn't made it past the Beats headphones on the team bus.  Farewell Sunderland & may your luck improve next year.

3. Felix Magath

'This is my football, this is my shirt. (This is my football, this is my shirt.)
We run til we drop, we run til we hurt. (We run til we drop, we run til we hurt.)

It's the media's fault. So gleefully did it report Felix Magath's drill instructor tendencies when he arrived at Fulham that I envisaged hilarity as Premier League primadonnas were worked to within a sliver of their souls all in the name of SURVIVAL. And indeed, at the time, it looked a case of kill or be killed.  Fulham's barely twitching corpse had lugged it's way around the league like a proto-Sunderland; aging players, a United Nations of cultural integration, no shortage of fancy-dans, the wrong players and Flight Lieutenant Scott Parker.

All this amounted to nothing, or at least nothing for the Fulham side of things, for the defense regularly accommodated opposition sorties, enemy supply lines were well stocked and poundings became regular.

No more!

As hinted last week. Magath has got shit together. Sorry?

'Sir, Gunnery Sergeant Magath has got shit together, sir!'

That's better.

The big win in the massive six pointer (AKA Norwich's Last Stand) has taken his record against the lesser teams in the league to 3-1-1.  This, despite the small sample, is out-Pulising Lord Pulis! It does also lend credence to the idea that a grizzled relegation freedom fighter is better in the trench than some fresh-faced rookie. Both Pulis and Magath are getting degrees of success with tried and tested methods, not something Solskjaer or Poyet can claim to have behind them.  Anyway, they've 4 games left and when you're Fulham, despite this upsurge, none look like guaranteed points.  However, one win might be enough (target: Hull) and two or more would surely do it (Operation Stoke or Crystal Pulis). Hell, Spurs can be accommodating at times.

The looming visage of the Championship tends to focus certain teams each year, and Fulham, right now, have the look of a team that has seen the edge of it's soul and doesn't want to see it again.  
And that's thanks to Gunnery Sergeant Hartman Magath.

4. Saturday snacks 

  1. Southampton did what they usually do at home: dominate possession & outshoot and restrict the opposition. This was to be expected, after all they were playing league punchbags, Cardiff.  A 3-0 win was no more than they deserved.  But wait! They lost 0-1? Ah football, surprise is rarely far away.
  2. Pulis won again to go 10-3-9. Southampton are 13-9-12 all year. Pulis & Palace are efficient. AS I THINK I MAY HAVE MENTIONED BEFORE?
  3. Newcastle are 4-1-10 in 2014 with goals F & A of 9-29. 5 of those goals were scored between Cabaye (long gone) and Remy (owned by QPR) & they are lacking in assets. Truly dreadful form and certainly a difficult summer awaits.
Sunday Review

5. Liverpool march on

In an understandably emotionally charged environment up at Anfield, Liverpool came through what might be their biggest test on their way to a potential title win. A 10 game win streak and figures of 13-2-0 since the turn of the year is indeed the form of Champions and it's likely that the visit of Chelsea stands squarely in their way of landing the big pot.  Whilst some, mainly City fans, will have considered them fortunate in parts today, their opening salvo and effort to lead 2-0 was again typically irresistible.  That they almost gave it away was testament to the majesty of David Silva and the soft defensive core that may yet undermine Liverpool.

Their entire season has been defined by the continued fitness of their star men.  Again today their bench looked sub-par, a huge step down from the front 6 that have served them so effectively but influence was not needed from there as in the absence of goals from Sturridge & Suarez another S & S came to the fore: Skrtel & Sterling.  Skrtel, a player who I particularly dislike thanks to his scurrilous ways, has masked any defensive malignancies with 7 goals this season whilst Sterling has truly come of age in 2014 and is regularly unplayable.

In contrast, by the time City were required to chase the game, it looked as if Silva was all they had left. Only he, and a spirited but unexpected cameo from James Milner, showed the will & quality required.  The absence of Aguero & now Toure has hampered City's title challenge for when the best get injured the rest merely fill in. Javi Garcia to replace Toure? Is that it? They now look to lack options as players such as Navas & Negredo have flattened off and week-in, week-out Dzeko is his profligate, erratic self.  No team can star without their key men and the title is now an outside but by no means longshot bet for City, though fascinatingly Chelsea and (to an intriguing extent for fans of Pulisball), Palace are the exterior influences that conceivably remain on the 2013/14 race.  

Henderson's late and unnecessary red card adds a smite of intrigue for the casual observer. Ever present and to my mind key in the side this year he now misses 3 matches.

6. 26th August 2013

Back in August, a pragmatic Jose Mourinho sent his new Chelsea team, a group of players he was largely unfamiliar with, up to Old Trafford to take on the Champions.  A classic in non-football, Jose was content to shut down the game and collect a point whilst Moyes, in his first big test, was unwilling to gamble either.

Looking back now, I suspect Mourinho has regularly cursed his percentage play for the 1 point gained that day now looks all the more like 2 points lost.  And by some coincidence that's the difference between Chelsea and Liverpool at the the top of the league.

Today, Chelsea clasped a slight win against the 10 men of Swansea to keep their title hopes at least conceivable.  Last week I presumed Chelsea were about to win nothing this season and thanks to the Gods of Football, it's perfectly possible that they could win 2 trophies.  Unlikely, yes, but nonetheless, in a world of the mega-offenses of Madrid, Liverpool, Atletico, Man. City & Bayern, Jose's defensive structures remain standing. 

Only now faced with such trials does Jose's pragmatism become his greatest asset.

7. Obligatory Tottenham bit

All the fun of the fair up at the Hawthorns where unlucky Pepe Mel walked into a last minute equalizer again with all the verve of a man stepping on a rake.
Tottenham's deficiencies in defence have become so pronounced now that early concessions are no longer a surprise, nor is entertaining attempts to dig themselves out of the holes they've climbed into.
That the 6th consecutive game that they've conceded the first goal generated a point by the bitter end was a reward for non-stop Sherwoodian attack but no more did it endorse his claims for an extended tenure than anything that we've seen before.  Not that it matters of course because Tim's finished, is into holiday mode and enjoying his last few minutes on the rollercoaster.

Youth is what Sherwood knows and now he's flaunting his wares.  Whilst Bentaleb has been unfairly tarnished by association, it might be that the last thing Sherwood does is also the best.  Harry Kane has started the last two Premiership matches and has scored 2 goals. He's 20 years old, an England Under-21 international and has only seen fleeting substitute minutes until now, although his previous appearance against Benfica was a 19 minute 2 assist cameo.

What he's doing well, above and beyond hitting the scoring ground running is shooting.  In two matches he's taken 13 shots (8+5) and is showing an uncanny ability to take up good positions. Whilst his actual finishing needs work, that he's making the right runs, receiving the ball and getting shots off is a solid blueprint for the future.

That is all... for now

*COMING SOON (probably Monday/Tuesday):

A detailed statistical analysis of Arsenal's midfield contributors, their effectiveness and impact on Arsenal's form and how injuries have hindered Wenger's plans. 

1 comment:

  1. hi, i really like the insights gained from your reports about the EPL.
    You describe Chelsea as the last defensive team in the Champions League, but i think the Atletico cant be counted as one of the
    mega-offenses. Especially in the second half of the season(they "only" scored 25 goals in 14 games). I would say they are better known for great defense. It will be a great couple of matches between Chelsea and Atletico.