15 December 2014

Arsenal have reeled in Southampton; is Man U next in line?

Glimmers of optimism peek through after what might have been our most-fluid ninety minutes of football in a long, long time. Still, we’re on the outside looking in as the top three made the most of their weekend. It looks like the bloom might be off of Southampton’s rose, though, and the right sequence of results next weekend could see us crack the top four. No sense counting eggs before they’re hatched, though. For now, let’s look at, uh, the eggs that did hatch. Or something. I'm not sure what the follow-up to that old cliche is. Onto the, um, eggs.

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 11-3-1
● Points: 39 (81.25%)
● Form: WWDWLW
● Key matches: Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea, Chelsea 3-0 Tottenham (14 pts from 18)
● Last match: Chelsea 2-0 Hull
Chelsea got back to winning ways with a comfy win over ten-man Hull, seizing an early lead thanks to a sharply headed goal from Hazard in the sixth minute. Tom Huddlestone was sent of in the 59th, and Chelsea put this one to bed shortly thereafter with a goal from Costa. Whether Chelsea’s loss to Newcastle reinvigorates Chelsea to redouble its assault on the Prem is the next question. They’ll go into what could be a challenging string of fixtures (at Stoke, home to West Ham, away to Southampton and then Tottenham), but it looks like their toughest foe will be complacency as they (and Man City) pull away from the rest of the Prem.
● Next match: Tuesday at Derby (League Cup); Monday at Stoke (Prem).

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 11-3-2
● Points: 36 (75%)
● Form: DWWWWW
● Key matches: Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 4-1 Tottenham, Man City 1-0 Man U, Southampton 0-3 Man City, Man City 1-0 Everton (17 pts from 21)
● Last match: Leicester 0-1 Man City
City had a bit more trouble than Chelsea did in seeing off their promoted foes as Leicester had the better of them in the first half, repeatedly testing but never besting Joe Hart, and it was only through a scruffy goal that City finally broke through as Nasri found Lampard unmarked in the box; all he had to do was tap it in. It wasn’t impressive, but it got the job done. Perhaps more interesting to us is that City did manage to qualify for the Champions League knockout-stage despite an anemic start. Dzeko and company join Jovetic and Aguero on the injured-list; a few more fixtures could be just enough to sap some strength from the squad.
● Next match: Saturday vs. Crystal Palace (Prem)

Man U
● Position: 3rd  
● Record: 9-4-3
● Points: 31 (64.5%)
● Form: LWWWWW
● Key matches: Man U 2-1 Everton, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 1-0 Man U Arsenal 1-2 Man U, Soton 1-2 Man U, Man U 3-0 Liverpool (13 pts. from 18)
● Last match: Man U 3-0 Liverpool
Has there been a weaker squad to win six in a row? Doesn’t matter. A squad is only as weak or as strong as its results.  We can point to flaws and weaknesses all we want. At the end of the day, the only metric that matters is the scoreboard. On that account, Man U are doing just fine. A confident victory over Liverpool, inspired by some fine goalkeeping from David de Gea, have Man U flyin’ high. It’s not that he turned in a blinder, but he made some fine saves. More of that, and it won’t matter whether Man U scores three or just one. Call it Liverpool Redux: eliminate non-Prem distractions. Score in bunches. Just don’t slip.
● Next match: Saturday at Aston Villa

● Position: 5th
● Record: 8-2-6
● Points: 26 (54.2%)
● Form: WDLLLL
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 0-3 Man City, Arsenal 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 1-2 Man U (zero points from 15).
● Last match: Burnley 1-0 Southampton
Tailspin, entered. Four consecutive losses have the Saints reeling and on the ropes. It’s one thing to lose away to Man City, Arsenal, and Man U (in succession, no less), but surely Koeman’s crew looked to their trip to Turf Moor as a chance to stanch the bleeding. Instead, a bit of industry and a spot of luck allowed Burnley to nab a goal late in the second half; a botched clearance squirted into the box and Barnes’s shot glanced off of Alderweireld’s heel, catching Forster diving in the wrong direction. Still, such is the strength of Southampton’s start that they’re still top five, level with us on points but sporting a superior goal-differential. Things get a don’t get much easier going forward; do they have the confidence to bear up under the strain?
● Next match: Tuesday at Sheffield United (League Cup), Saturday vs. Everton (Prem).

● Position: 6th
● Record: 7-5-4
● Points: 26 (51.1%)
● Form: LLWWLW
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Arsenal 1-2 Man U, Arsenal 1-0 Southampton (6 pts. from 18)
● Last match: Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle
We turned in what might have been our best Prem performance to date and did so against a squad that came in brimming with confidence if not available bodies. The Welbeck-Giroud-Alexis attack looked fluid and incisive. Yes, we conceded a set-piece goal, but it felt more like “shucks, there goes the clean sheet” than “oh, crap, it’s gonna be 4-4 all over again”. We may be without Ramsey for a few weeks, but it looks as if Cazorla and Giroud are finding some form. Injuries continue to frustrate us, but versatility and resilience may be enough to see us through. The new year may even see us return to something resembling full strength
● Next match: Sunday at Liverpool (Prem).

● Position: 7th
● Record: 7-3-6
● Points: 24 (50%)
● Form: LWWLDW
● Key matches: Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Man City 4-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 2-1 Everton, Chelsea 3-0 Tottenham (7 pts. from 18).
● Last match: Swansea 1-2 Tottenham
Feh. Just as I was relaxing, ready to enjoy a draw that would suit our strategic if not spiteful needs, I’m forced to endure yet another week of cringe-inducing Harry “Hurricane” Kane references. If this continues, Scorpion will enjoy a renaissance heretofore unseen in the history of “heavy” metal. As it stands, Harry Kane opened the scoring in the third minute and Eriksen added the winner in the 88th. The result was harsh for the hosts, to be sure, but it was enough for Spurs to climb three spots to sit two points behind us. It’s in keeping with Spurs’ proclivity for winning away from White Hart Lane. If they can find any kind of comfort at home, they might just prove an actual threat, -2 goal-differential notwithstanding.
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Newcastle (League Cup), Saturday vs. Burnley (Prem).

● Position: 8th
● Record: 6-5-5
● Points: 23 (47.9%)
● Form: WWLDWL
● Key matches: Newcastle 0-2 Man City, Soton 4-0 Newcastle, Tottenham 1-2 Newcastle, Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool, Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea, Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle (9 pts. from 18)
● Last match: Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle
Hard to tell which Newcastle showed up on Saturday. Was it the early-season side, winless in its first seven, or the more-recent one, winners of five in a row? In either case, it’s probably fair to admit that, rather than enjoying a confidence-boost after beating Chelsea, an injury- and suspension-depleted Toon suffered a letdown against Arsenal. Compounding their woes, Janmaat and Tiote picked up their fourth cautions, meaning they’ll have to be extra-polite until 31 December, if not longer. Pardew will certainly complain of how injuries have sapped his squad, and it remains to be seen whether there’s enough depth or versatility in it for Newcastle to continue to compete.
● Next match: Saturday at Arsenal (Prem).

Everton were gone a week ago; Liverpool are dropped this week after I threatened to do so last week. It’s one thing, Scousers, to lose to Man U; it’s quite another to make de Gea look like he can stop global warming by putting all of your shots directly at him. This is not to say that Liverpool or Everton have been written off entirely,  just that I’m too lazy busy to keep tabs on so many squads all at once. We’re nearing the halfway point and, with it, a more-crystallized sense of who matters. With apologies to West Ham, I’m going to use your draw to Sunderland as an excuse not to add you—yet. Looking ahead, we have the Champions League draw (Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal) and Europa League draw (Everton, Tottenham, Liverpool), plus a number of League Cup fixtures (Chelsea, Southampton, Tottenham, Newcastle, Liverpool) to keep us entertained.