I've written enough of these now to realise that predictions are dangerously vicious: they often come back to bite. Sunderland are down, for instance & Poyet has failed to get any belief into his flailing team, whereas General Magath has stiffened his unit to such an extent that a 4-1 defeat at Stoke is unthinkable. Yep. That's how it will go.
Cardiff are dreadful & deserve to be relegated too. This one came true!
So weirdly in the space of under a week, what looked like an exciting 'nothing is certain' league has become the opposite & we now know that:
CL qualifiers: Liverpool, Chelsea
4th place title winners: Arsenal
Squad too small for Europa League: Everton
Squad big enough for Europa League: Tottenham
No Europe & squad far too big for next season & all on big wages so tough to ship on: Man Utd
17th place Champions: Sunderland
Thanks for coming, you needn't have bothered: Cardiff.
OK, it's not certain but surely even Sam Allardyce can't frustrate City to deny them, can he?
1. City go for home
Everton away is a tough place to have to try and cement title hopes, and i'm not giving any credence to the fan-biased 'they'll chuck it to stitch Liverpool up' theories. City's performance here, much like their pro-standard victory against Palace owed a lot to spirit & tenacity & they are now in the driving seat of the Premier League car.
Look at the game & a couple of things become apparent. All of City's 5 attacking players either scored or assisted in the match. Coaches must dream of such footballing communism, utterly justifying their selections. The only midfielder not to contribute in such a manner was Garcia, who has played a lot recently. Fernandinho, previously thought untouchable, has dropped to the bench & City have started to grind & compress rather that flatter & flail. In some stat analysis I did, Garcia was almost the king of DMs with stats akin to that of such players as 'The Wall' Jedinak & suchlike. Just NOTHING in the attacking sense & massive defensive numbers. Fernandinho was far more of a midfielder-of-all-trades & maybe that extra stiffening has benefitted City. Kudos to Pelligrini if this has been a conscious part of his plans.
Everton, as previously discussed, had ridden the shot count in quite a few recent games. Again they were out shot here(9 to 18), and this time it made a difference, but hey, they stitched Liverpool up so are probably delighted with losing & missing out on win bonuses... Yep? Ok, nope.
2. LOL @Giggs
Never underestimate the possibility that two former Man Utd centre backs & a ex-Arsenal keeper might be motivated to play at Old Trafford. In years gone by this would have, of course, been irrelevant but not now. Under the tutelage of Alan Shearer, Man Utd reverted to type against supposedly lesser opposition. I've tried to work out what is firing Sunderland to this Martinez-esque run of form (10pts in 4 games), but apart from noting they're playing a 4-1-4-1, there doesn't seem to be much new going on.
When they came to Tottenham in early April they played 3-5-2 and left after a truly abject 1-5 defeat. Since that match, they narrowly lost to Everton in a crazy 44 shot shoot out, were unlucky not to pinch 3 points from City in a well contested but tight game, got annihilated by Chelsea but won, simply dispatched poor Cardiff & now shut out Utd.
The only consistent part is an average of 2pts a game & beyond divine influence, their safety is determined.
And as for Giggs. Well. He got away with dodgy team selection last week by rolling over Norwich but this week, an unfathomable Nani/Young wing axis provided predictably little & you almost felt he played people he'd left out last week as some kind of democratic gesture. Maybe places were up for grabs at the midweek golf day that I suspect was organised...
Anyway, the CLAMOUR FOR GIGGS should shut right up now and sense may prevail; sense in the form of employing Van Gaal.
'Sense' & 'Van Gaal'. You read that correctly.
3. Manager Personalities
I was mean about Solskjaer briefly last week but it's clear to me that he never had the force of personality to effective transform his team's fortunes. Ditto Chris Hughton. Ditto 'Uncle' Martin Jol.
These are nice guys and these nice guys have contributed significantly to the relegation of their teams. Is your manager a bastard? It could well be the key indicator of success.
Just ask Ferguson.
4. Passports at the ready, lads.
Villa 3-1 Hull
Newcastle 3-0 Cardiff
Swansea 0-1 Southampton
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom
This week, both Newcastle and Villa won football matches.
This is a rarity. Trouble is we're so far down the road that half the league has got one foot firmly on a jetski in the Caribbean. The Arsenal match was particularly non-eventful and next week's matches could end up being even more futile and pointless. What does this all mean?
NOT A LOT.
But the World Cup is a bout 6 weeks away. So let's get excited about that instead. :)
5. The best attacking midfielders in the League (who may or may not be lazy)
Is Mourinho right?
This week he rounded on Eden Hazard a bit and the implication was clear: 'Stop skiving off, keep running.'
So has he got a point? As anyone who has read some of the articles on here will have seen i've developed *drum roll* Impact Values (IV)! They're player ratings benchmarked within the league and devised to examine strengths or expose weaknesses or just tell us who's good and who is not so good. Like ratings do. So far i've put most work into the midfield ones and one of the intriguing parts of these ratings is that the have an attacking (OP) and defensive (DP) component.
As such, you can see which players are either a) bone idle or b) haven't been charged with so many defensive responsibilities because they are amazingly good.
Here are the attacking midfielders:
What do these figures mean?
- Silva is by far and away the best pure attacking midfielder in the league
- Eriksen has had a very good second half to his season
- Ozil is particularly not defensively minded
- Lallana is OK but probably not £25m worth of OK.
- Mata has been very good at Utd.
- Mirallas has had an effective year
- Players like Coutinho & Nasri offer a lot going forward & a little more in defense than other pure AM types
- Sterling, Januzaj and particularly Deulofeu offer immense promise beyond their obvious hype
- Ben Arfa is on this list. Hmm...
When Hazard was out against Sunderland, Mourinho employed Willian in the creator role and he did everything & had a monstrously big game. Willian's first year has been slightly compromised* by playing a more disciplined role with Hazard in the team, but Mourinho started with him as the hub vs Norwich, flanked by pace in Salah and Schurrle, with Hazard benched. Again his contribution was solid, and maybe this is how Mourinho sees his future line-ups, theoretically with a lethal Costa-esque striker in front.
(*Willian's figures are OP 0.65 DP 0.51; more rounded & defensively more solid)
That's all for now.
Still working on a Tootenham seasonal round-up. Wrestling with the fact that Villas-Boas' team figures are superior to Sherwood's but Sherwood's individual performance figures are superior to Villas Boas' (could be a -scoring/+ball retention issue) and i'll try and get a few snap articles like this attacking midfielder one out soon.
All the best!