13 April 2015

And then there were two—Arsenal and Man U...

Only the most optimistic among us would still suggest that we can somehow overtake Chelsea. The weekend’s results all but pave the way for them to claim the title, and all that’s really left is to sort out is the next three positions. Arsenal and Man U are now vying for second place, each getting result after result after result, and Man City seem to be on the verge of collapse—at least enough to revive hopes from Liverpool and Southampton. Those two won’t reappear here just yet because we’re focusing on the top-four, but if City can’t be bothered to try a little harder, well, we’ll see. In news of a more-*schadenfreude*-ian variety, Tottenham lost at home again and risk failing to qualify for their cherished Europa League spot. More’s the pity, I guess. Let’s get to the rundown…

Chelsea
● Position: 1st.
● Record: 22-7-2
● Points: 73 (78.5%)
● Form: DWDWWW
● Last match: QPR 0-1 CFC
I’ll just go ahead and start this bit with the same opening sentence as the last rundown: Chelsea continue to fail to impress. This time through, though, they eked out a victory by the slimmest of margins as Cesc “I’ll always think of myself as a Gunner” Fabregas ended 88 minutes of toothless football by scoring on Chelsea’s only shot on target. With a game still in hand (against Leicester, who sit bottom of the table), it looks like Chelsea’s title to lose. They may not excite or scintillate, but they’re built not to fail, and we can be sure that Mourinho will do his level-best to play not to lose. At this point, Chelsea can safely drop nine points from their seven remaining matches and still win the title. In other words, while they can’t quite start mailing it in; they don’t quite have to fight tooth-and-nail either. Come to think of it, that seems to describe their approach over the last month or so…
● Next match: 18 April vs. Manchester United

Arsenal
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 20-6-6
● Points: 66 (68.75%)
● Form: WWWWWW
● Last match: Burnley 0-1 Arsenal
A pedestrian 0-1 win over Burnley might have been the calmest such victory we’ve had in a while, and though it would have been nice to see us bang in a few goals, if only to demonstrate a bit more ruthlessness or to apply a bit more hypothetical pressure on Chelsea vis-à-vis goal difference, the lads seemed content to play out the match after Ramsey’s 12th-minute goal. Like Chelsea’s result, there wasn’t a whole lot to get us excited other than for how it briefly brought us closer to chasing Chelsea down. After the heady demolition of Liverpool the previous week, we might have suffered a bit of a letdown. After Chelsea’s late win, we must now turn our attention to defending our position against Man U, who continue to dog us and pose a serious threat to our aspirations. We’ll take a break from Prem action in order to play the FA Cup semi against Reading, which takes place almost simultaneously with the Chelsea-Man U match (our kickoff is ten minutes earlier). In an ideal world, we might have hoped for Man U to beat Chelsea, but that’s not the world we live in…
● Next match: 18 April vs. Reading (FA Cup Semifinal at Wembley)

Manchester United
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 19-8-5
● Points: 65 (67.7%)
● Form: WWWWWW
● Last match: Man U 4-2 Man City
That 4-2 scoreline in the Manchester derby flatters the visitors by quite a bit, in my opinion. Aside for the first ten minutes, City looked completely disinterested and overwhelmed, and it’s a wonder that Man U didn’t demolish them even more completely. None of this is to take away from Man U’s efforts. Although they did benefit from a bit of help here and there (Mata, for one, looked to be offside before scoring the third goal…), they poured it on against a side and might even feel a bit miffed that they didn’t bang in a fifth or sixth goal. By the time Aguero netted in the 88th minute, it seemed almost a bit pathetic, as if Man U couldn’t be bothered with trying to deny him. Since losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup, Man U have scored 12 goals in four matches. This latest result seems to send a strong signal of intent, even if City rolled over and played dead.  They’ll have a chance to draw level with or even overtake us, however briefly, next weekend if they can get a result at Stamford Bridge.
● Next match: 18 April at Chelsea

Manchester City
● Position: 4th
● Record: 18-7-7
● Points: 61 (63.5%)
● Form: LWLWLL
● Last match: Man U 4-2 Man City
Whoa. I thought last week was pathetic. Man City followed their loss at Selhurst Park by doing their best imitation of a team fighting off relegation—only six clubs have taken fewer points from their last six matches. Their trip to Old Trafford was meant to give City a chance to reclaim some kind of respect if not their “rightful” position as defending Prem champs. Instead, there’s now open and pointed talk of Pellegrini’s dismissal and the overhaul of the entire squad. It doesn’t sound like breathless exaggeration, either. At a risk of moralizing, this situation presents a cautionary tale of hiring mercenaries. They’ve glutted themselves and are suffering a hangover. Yes, it would be nifty to have added a Champions League title, but who’s got the time or energy? City have looked jaded and uneven for long, long stretches, and that they couldn’t muster a bit more pride for a Manchester derby suggests that they’ll be content to coast along in fourth place.
● Next match: 19 April vs. West Ham

That’ll do it for now. Liverpool may have won 0-2 over Newcastle, but they still trail Man City by four points. If City continue to flounder, they’ll present Liverpool and Southampton an opening. I won’t even mention Tottenham again. At the top then, we would need to win almost all of our remaining matches while hoping that Chelsea stumble a few times (just not next weekend, please…). Chelsea’s lead and City’s fade mean for now that the biggest battle will now be between Arsenal and Man U over who finishes second. It’s ours to lose, no mean feat in a season ravaged by injuries and fought across three fronts (Prem, UCL, and FA Cup). If we can hold off Man U’s revamped roster and win the FA Cup as well, that would be something, wouldn’t it?